Monday, March 31, 2014

There's No Such Thing As Writer's Block

Don't shoot the messenger, but this is what I believe.

Just like you, I've sat down to a blinking cursor on a blank page and been terrified that this time I won't be able to do it. The words won't flow, the plot won't come, the characters are just going to stare at me, hoping for direction. And every time, once I get my fingers warmed up and I type two or three pages of crap that I have to write first, I'm able to get to the good stuff buried underneath. This is why I say there's no such thing as writers block.

It's actual name is procrastination.

And the actual name of procrastination is fear.

We put off writing because we're afraid of the blank page, the dormant characters, the crappy dialogue that we're sure to produce. We're afraid of the plot kink that hasn't quite worked itself out yet, so we put off having to deal with it by jumping on Twitter, checking out Facebook, or surfing Tumblr for just a few more minutes.

I always tell new writers that they can't be afraid to suck, but I think that established writers need to be aware of that as well. Sucking is part of the process. No one has ever produced a first draft that anyone other than their mom would praise.

We ambush ourselves with self-doubt, whittling away precious minutes with ultimately useless activities, then tell ourselves that we'll write tomorrow. Tomorrow there will be more time. But the single paragraph that you write tonight puts you one paragraph ahead for tomorrow, and the three sentences you tack onto it during your lunch break gives you a head start on the evening. All those short paragraphs written in stolen moments, and choppy sentences you forced out of yourself before going to bed can be massaged into a coherent narrative when you're editing.

So don't be afraid.
Write the words.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Saturday Slash

Meet my Hatchet of Death (or, some other colorful description RC Lewis and I come up with at any given moment). This is how I edit myself, it is how I edit others. If you think you want to play with me and my hatchet, shoot us an email.

We all know the first line of a query is your "hook." I call the last line the "sinker." You want it to punch them in the face, in a nice, friendly kind of way that makes them unable to forget you after having read the 300 other queries in their inbox.

If you're looking for query advice, but are slightly intimidated by my claws, blade, or just my rolling googly-eyes, check out the query critique boards over at AgentQueryConnect. This is where I got my start, with advice from people smarter than me. Don't be afraid to ask for help with the most critical first step of your writing journey - the query. My comments appear in green.

Sixteen-year-old Deirdre Walsh knew that going to stay with her grandfather was a bad idea. Even if he lives in Paris. Rules and curfews; that’s what her summer will look like. Then, on the night she arrives the house gets ransacked—all because of some stone her grandfather inherited from his father. I'm definitely interested. There's a new slant to the live-with-grandparents in that it's a relocation to Paris, and of course the mystery element is there. You did a good job establishing your genre out of the bat.

Soon after, Deirdre meets Sean, an American boy, who for someone just studying French at the Sorbonne seems eerily familiar with her life. It feels like he's not necessarily familiar with her life, but about the stone, so this line is a little bit confusing / misleading. He knows about the stone, and he knows that it used to belong to an ancient race of human-hating faeries that has descended upon Paris to take it back. Definitely interesting. Everything here seems to be working. Also, how does Deirdre feel about this fairy angle? Is she completely accepting this, or is she skeptical?

When Deirdre’s grandfather vanishes and a woman passing for a detective leaves her voiceless, why is the detective involved? Deirdre puts aside her reservations about Sean and teams up with him. I didn't have the impression before that she had reservations, unless it freaked her out that he knew so much about the stone. If that's the case, say so. His connections prove invaluable, especially when it comes to…well, recovering lost voices. Deirdre may be dealing with centuries-old faeries, but if she’s learned one lesson from eating frog legs and moldy cheese, it is that she can take on anything, including finding the hidden stone and getting her grandfather back. She might even test the bond her grandfather insists she has with the stone and stop the fey from enslaving humanity. If she has a bond with the stone, I think it should probably be mentioned a little sooner. Also you may want to say how she feels about her grandfather disappearing.

Deirdre may not have signed up to save the world, but she may be the only one who can.

Complete at 89,000 words, MIST is a Young Adult urban fantasy that would appeal to fans of Maggie Stiefvater’s LAMENT and Cassandra Clare’s THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS. I was born and raised in France and spent the last twenty years working in Marketing in the US. MIST is my third completed manuscript, and I would be delighted to send you a copy at your request.

This is a great bio, lots here about why you're the person to write this book. I think you have the plot here, but we need to know more about our MC, how she feels about the situation, the boy, and her grandfather. Other than that, this looks pretty good!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Book Talk: CITY OF A THOUSAND DOLLS by Miriam Forster

My book talks are coming at you from a librarian, not a reviewer. You won't find me talking about style or craft, why I think this could've been better or what worked or didn't work. I only do book talks on books I liked and want other people to know about. So if it's here I probably think it won't injure your brain if you read it.

Even in an city of orphans, Nisha is an outcast. Unwanted girls have always come to the City of A Thousand dolls to find a place to belong in the world. Trained as musicians, courtesans, artisans and healers, the world's unwanted little girls have a chance to grow into sought-after positions. Except for Nisha. She is an assistant to one of the Matron's - a head of house within the City - and her closest friends are the large cats who always shadow her footsteps.

Feeling useless in the presence of all these well-trained girls, Nisha doesn't find her true calling until a series of murders within the city lead to a mystery that none of the Matrons can puzzle out - or maybe they simply don't want to. There have always been rumors of a hidden house within the City where female assassins are trained. Following her senses and using her brains, Nisha tries to discover who is trying to destroy the only home she's ever known.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately revolve around things I should've figured out sooner....

1) Until very recently I thought a "doge" was some new fashion breed of dog pronounced "doje."

2) For awhile I thought YOLO was a twist on Marco Polo for internet users.

3) Apparently Kitten Day, Hump Day, and Hot Guy Day are all the same thing (I think?) and this gets fairly confusing for me. I think Darwin would agree.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

In A Handful of Dust ARC Giveaway

I've had my hands on a few ARCs of IN A HANDFUL OF DUST for awhile, and since my mom got to read one it's time to open up that privilege to the rest of the world as well. Enter to win in the Rafflecopter below!


The only thing bigger than the world is fear.

Lucy’s life by the pond has always been full. She has water and friends, laughter and the love of her adoptive mother, Lynn, who has made sure that Lucy’s childhood was very different from her own. Yet it seems Lucy’s future is settled already—a house, a man, children, and a water source—and anything beyond their life by the pond is beyond reach.

When disease burns through their community, the once life-saving water of the pond might be the source of what’s killing them now. Rumors of desalinization plants in California have lingered in Lynn’s mind, and the prospect of a “normal” life for Lucy sets the two of them on an epic journey west to face new dangers: hunger, mountains, deserts, betrayal, and the perils of a world so vast that Lucy fears she could be lost forever, only to disappear in a handful of dust.

In this companion to Not a Drop to Drink, Mindy McGinnis thrillingly combines the heart-swelling hope of a journey, the challenges of establishing your own place in the world, and the gripping physical danger of nature in a futuristic frontier.

Monday, March 24, 2014

My First Fan Fiction... About Carl the Carrot

Samuel Wilderness wins at everything. My tweets about my little kitty get the most RT's (+100 and counting on his Christmas tree shot), he made Buzzfeed before I did, and his Instagram shots are my most liked.

I don't mind riding the wave of kitty love, though I have to laugh that he might have more name recognition than I do. So it's kind of cool that I get my first piece of fan fiction the other day... and it's about Carl the Carrot. If you don't remember Carl, let me refresh you with this YouTube video of me with an orange face and green spandex around my head.


Carl's story was so moving that a lovely fan who I've been in contact with in the past felt that Carl should be given a second chapter. And so, I'm posting the continuation of Carl's story below, with permission of the author.

The Further Tribulations of Carl The Carrot
And His Temporary Reprieve From Personal Torture

I fumbled across the cold, wet plexiglass refrigerator shelf in the dark for what seemed like hours, searching for the plastic lip along the shelf edge. I rolled uncontrollably since my outer flesh had been peeled smooth and no longer possessed any leafy head to steer or slow my progress. I bumped into so many in the frigid blackness and was shoved violently in so many directions that I could no longer find my crystal dish, nor the mayonnaise jar that had temped me from across the fridge.

At last, I felt the shelf lip stop my endless rolling and I rested there, hoping desperately the dizziness would soon dissipate. As I lay there, with nothing to do but contemplate my fate and the fate of my family and friends, I wanted it all to end. I thought about just giving myself one last little push over the edge but I doubted the short fall to the refrigerator floor would’ve been enough to splatter me into the juicy state I longed for.

But then, inspiration came to my rescue! If I could take the fall without breaking my now more delicate, wounded body, I might hide in the space between the rail and the floor of the bottom door shelf and simply roll out when the door next opened. It was a magnificent plan, barring any fractures to my flailed and shivering shaft, and so I flung myself from that very spot.

As I fell a terrifying thought occurred to me: what if I fall short of the door, ricochet off the bottom shelf, miss the rail and roll into the door crack! I’ll be trapped in the wrinkles of the vinyl door seal forever, hidden beneath the bottom door shelf until I rot. I mean, look around this place these people never clean the inside of their fridge.

My short life flashed before me as I fell and then bounced off the top edge of a rail, hit the bottom door shelf and rolled neatly to my goal, perfectly positioned to make a break for it when the door would swing open.

I didn’t have to wait long, by now morning was upon us and soon the family would prowl about the kitchen seeking breakfast. My moment came, the door opened and I rolled quietly off the shelf and kept on rambling toward the patio doors and freedom. But my momentum was slowed by the gaps between the floor tiles and I rolled to a stop just short of the sunlight streaming into breakfast nook and falling across that damned tile. I lay there—defenceless, exposed—I could feel the warmth of that sunlight on the tile across the grout from me.

Then I heard the horrifying sound of great paws hitting the floor in a thunderous rhythm, her nails crackling against the ceramic like lightning. Agatha, the family’s mastiff came galloping toward me, her spittle-soaked jowls dancing through the air, spraying the room with her foulness.

Her dull claws screeched to a halt on either side of me, her terrible face hovering over me. She tilted her head in that quizzical way dogs have. I had seen this sort of behaviour before in other dogs, just before they yanked my siblings out of the ground and mashed them to pulp inside their horrid mouths. And now the same was about to happen to me, just when my plan had been going so fabulously. Oh, dark and cruel is the life of a farm vegetable.

Agatha’s massive, wrinkled lips closed on me, their wetness thick and hot against my body. I felt her huge tongue wrap around my slender waist and she gripped me in those sharp, smelly teeth. I braced myself for the inevitable crack that would signal my end. But it did not come.

She held me there in those gobby lips and carried me right out of those patio doors, which someone had opened for her to venture out into the yard. She carried me away from certain death and into the gorgeous morning sunlight and I cried freedom!

Then I remembered I was still in the jaws of a two hundred pound omnivore whose hunger has never been closer than halfway to satiation. Once again, panic gripped me. But, again, the end did not come. Agatha deposited me gently in the grass and trotted off to find a bone she had previously buried somewhere in that yard.

I saw my chance and rolled away through that cool, green grass and under the fence. Who knows where I’d end up but anywhere outdoors was certainly better than inside that cold, dark refrigerator.



Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Saturday Slash

Meet my Hatchet of Death (or, some other colorful description RC Lewis and I come up with at any given moment). This is how I edit myself, it is how I edit others. If you think you want to play with me and my hatchet, shoot us an email.

We all know the first line of a query is your "hook." I call the last line the "sinker." You want it to punch them in the face, in a nice, friendly kind of way that makes them unable to forget you after having read the 300 other queries in their inbox.

If you're looking for query advice, but are slightly intimidated by my claws, blade, or just my rolling googly-eyes, check out the query critique boards over at AgentQueryConnect. This is where I got my start, with advice from people smarter than me. Don't be afraid to ask for help with the most critical first step of your writing journey - the query. My comments appear in green.

Chicago, 2007: a skyscraper-dotted, wind-swirling dream of a city filled with aching promises and nighttime delights. For two married janitors, David and Mary, it’s a dystopia. This is a great hook. The only advice I would have would be to take away the colon and work the location / time into the sentence in a less straightforward manner.

It didn’t start that way. It never does. This second use of a choppy sentence kind of breaks up your flow. After all, I'd drop the "after all" but that's a personal preference it’s here that David, a half-black man who’d rather be full-white, meets and marries his white wife on the happiest day of his life. But it’s also where they learn that their six-year-old daughter, Penelope, will die unless they can pay for her medicine. I think it would be important to note here exactly what the illness is. As their insurance company’s manager forces Mary into twisted sexual servitude in return for saving Penelope, David learns, even to half-blacks, this city is not kind. Perhaps more of a concrete notion of how David's race plays into the plot. So far race has been mentioned twice, yet it doesn't seem to be a driving voce plot-wise.

While Mary—a devout Christian but even more devout mother—descends into a spiral of guilt because of the manager’s demands, David searches for another way. The money the manager’s promising isn’t enough. Their only other option comes from those David tried all his life to distance himself from—the poor blacks of Chicago’s south side. Not clear how going to poor people for money is an option? The ones his black (and bruised) mother had told him to stay away from long ago. Here is more implication of how race is important to the novel as a whole, but I think you still need a reference as to why David feels this in the first para - or strike the reference there. I think you could do the second one easily as it's not lending anything to the query that this second para doesn't already address.

Mary goes to them without a second thought, and David has to deal with it. It’s the only way to save Penelope; these people’s underground methods of fundraising might be able to pay for the medicine. I think this needs to be made clear in your first reference, otherwise it leaves the reader wondering. Also, I think more info about the underground methods is necessary. Now, none of David’s childhood lessons matter. To beat this city, all one has to do is survive, but for David and his family, that's the hardest part.

This is a well-written query with an excellent hook and what sounds like an emotionally charged plot. With the already addressed little nits above, I would add that you need a little bit more of an amp on that sinker. Right now it's very generic- tell us more about how David feels about going to the people he was taught to avoid for assistance in order to pack more of a punch. Give us more than David "has to deal with it." It sounds like the driving point of the book is race related, so hit on that in your closer in terms of your MC's emotional state.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Book Talk: THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE by Jennifer Matheiu

My book talks are coming at you from a librarian, not a reviewer. You won't find me talking about style or craft, why I think this could've been better or what worked or didn't work. I only do book talks on books I liked and want other people to know about. So if it's here I probably think it won't injure your brain if you read it.

Everyone knows what Alice did, even though it happened behind closed doors. The gossip mill churns after a party where she slept with two guys in the same night, and turns vicious when one of the boys - the star quarterback - dies in a car crash while he was distracted by Alice's sexting.

The Slut Stall in the girls' bathroom says it all in Sharpie. The sex, the death, the abortion. Even her one-time best friend's handwriting is there. Everyone in town knows everything about Alice. The students, the teachers, the parents, the adults. Her once well-tailored wardrobe has become a baggy sweatshirt with the hood always up, her face hidden as she traverses the high school hallways.

But gossip isn't fact, and there are people who know the truth about more than one rumor that everyone takes as gospel. The quarterback's best friend who was with him in the crash, Alice's one-time friend who wrote her own truths in Alice's name in the Slut Stall, and the boy who has volunteered to tutor her, who knows more about the true nature of the dead quarterback than most.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately are isolation-centric, as I've had a head cold for about a month.

1) You can tell a reader by how they approach you when you're reading. It's simple - they don't.

2) Finding absolute silence is very difficult. Bugs. Heaters. Cars. Your own heartbeat if you're paying attention. In my case, the snot percolating in your nostrils. Dear God. It's never quiet anywhere.

3) You also don't realize how much your body moves involuntarily. I got a new iPhone 5 with the compass app and was holding utterly still while trying to hit true North. Almost impossible. Try it sometime. You'll go insane.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Bethany Crandell, Author of SUMMER ON THE SHORT BUS, Takes The SAT

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Bethany Crandell, author of SUMMER ON
THE SHORT BUS. Bethany wishes she had some mysterious secret to reveal about herself in hopes that you'd find her interesting...but she doesn't. When it comes to Bethany, what you see is what you get. And what you get is an irreverent, sarcastic and emotional girl who writes stories about characters with these same traits.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

I tell people I’m a Panster because it sounds cool, but the truth is I get very frustrated when I don’t have a least a rough idea where the story is going. Hello, I’m Bethany and I’m a Planner.

How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?

Every book is different based on my life circumstances at the time. SUMMER ON THE SHORT BUS took about six months, the two novels I wrote after that about nine months.  I’ve been chugging away on my current WIP for almost a year and I just hit the ½ way point. *scowls* Can we please talk about something else now? I’m suddenly feeling very unproductive. 

Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi-tasker?

There’s way too much blonde at work here to do more than one project at a time.

Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?

I didn’t then, but I do now. 

When I first started writing, I wasn’t writing for anyone other than myself. It was just balls-to-the-walls, straight-up what I wanted to say without regard for how it would be received. Your perspective can change though, once you know your agent and editor will be reading it. Then you start to second-guess yourself and that’s when you can get scared. I have to squash that fear on a daily basis. 

How many trunked books did you have before you were agented?

One, which I am currently reworking. 

Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?

Yep. I have two, half-written manuscripts buried somewhere in the depths of my Dropbox folder. I knew it was time to step away when they frustrated me more than inspired me. 

Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them? 

My road to representation was pretty textbook: Query to slush pile. Slush pile to first ten pages. First ten pages to threatening emails. I’m represented by Rachael Dugas of Talcott Notch Literary Agency.

How many queries did you send? 

The exact numbers are fuzzy, but I sent out over 90 query letters, (And probably had about that many revisions to the query itself), and it took roughly eight months.

Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?

Get advice from people who have already been there. I know it’s terrifying to let someone critique your work, but your query is like opening the front door for your prom date. You want to make the best first impression possible. Take your time, revise, get critiques, revise, get more critiques, revise, revise some more, and then go for it.

How did it feel the first time you saw your book for sale?

Like someone was playing an April Fools’ joke on me. 
Which, sadly, makes sense given my April 1 release date.

How much input do you have on cover art?

A lot! My publisher was very generous when it came to giving me a voice on the cover. 

What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?

How non-glamorous it would be. Don’t get me wrong, it’s beyond exciting, but it’s sort of like when you first learn you’re pregnant. You’re all moony eyed about this baby coming into your world, but soon the reality hits and you realize you have nine, long months of stretch marks, nausea, and swollen boobs ahead of you before you get to hold that little critter.  It was really easy to fast forward from the “We sold the book!” moment to the, “Look! There’s my book on the Barnes & Noble shelf!” moment, but the truth is it took hours and hours of work to get to that point. And while you do feel a teeny bit important, successful, glamorous, <insert adjective of your choosing here>, more than anything you’re just freaking tired and want to take a nap. Nothing glamorous about that.

How much of your own marketing do you?  

Just like every author I know, I do a lot of my own marketing. (Though it NEVER feels like enough) I do have a blog on my website, and also hang out on Twitter and Facebook. Tumblr is where the cool kids go. Sadly, I’m not one of them yet.

When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?

I don’t think there’s a hard and fast rule on this. I think you need to focus on whatever is inspiring you at that time. If the marketing bug is biting you before you have an agent—go for it. As writers, every creative thing we do benefits our work so don’t subscribe to the notion that there’s a certain formula you have to follow to be successful.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

Definitely. Social media allows you to interact with people you wouldn’t otherwise have an opportunity to know. Even if I wasn’t trying to build my readership I’d be out there getting to know people—it’s fun!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Saturday Slash

Meet my Hatchet of Death (or, some other colorful description RC Lewis and I come up with at any given moment). This is how I edit myself, it is how I edit others. If you think you want to play with me and my hatchet, shoot us an email.

We all know the first line of a query is your "hook." I call the last line the "sinker." You want it to punch them in the face, in a nice, friendly kind of way that makes them unable to forget you after having read the 300 other queries in their inbox.

If you're looking for query advice, but are slightly intimidated by my claws, blade, or just my rolling googly-eyes, check out the query critique boards over at AgentQueryConnect. This is where I got my start, with advice from people smarter than me. Don't be afraid to ask for help with the most critical first step of your writing journey - the query. My comments appear in green.

After Lacey's best friend commits suicide, she needs to heal and Carter is the perfect solution, Choppy sentence here. I'd move your comma to after "heal" and put a period after solution. Start with a new sentence here > but what happens when their troubled tale turns into a forbidden love story? Generally speaking it's not a good idea to end your hook with a question, but I actually think this one works. Overall this is a good hook, and it makes the reader want to see why this romance would be forbidden.

The Boy in my Head If this is the title of your book you need to either capitalize or italicize it. Also, it's better to treat the query as if you were reading the back cover of a book to learn what it's about. The agent already assumes that this is a book that tells a story and that it has a title. It's better to keep your query to the details of what your story is tells the story of a troubled teenage girl, Lacey, who is nothing more than a figment of existence What do you mean by this? It makes me think she's not actually real. , that is until she’s given a guardian angel named Carter. Carter pushes Lacey to free herself from insecurities, grief, guilt and her very small comfort zone. The task is harder than it seems. Lacey has forgotten the beauty of life, and one push could send her off a cliff. Carter and Lacey quickly develop feelings for each other that are no doubt “forbidden.” You don't need to put forbidden in quotes here. No good can come from a mortal and an angel falling in love; Carter knows that better than anyone. So has there been a similar affair in his past? Lacey rejects his warnings, fully believing that their love could be her cure. Carter believes this as well, but he’s not willing to love her then live the rest of his life without her. Why would he have to? By the end of the book, Lacey understands what she’s been missing for so long: Life may not have all the answers, but it sure is worth all the questions. This is a very vague leading statement about what may or may not actually happen in the book. 

The Boy in my Head is very relatable and life changing. This really isn't for you to say - of course you find it relatable, your wrote it :) As a teenager, I know some of the difficulties teenagers face. I know what they’re thinking and feeling. Honestly I would not mention your age. I know a few young writers who have landed agents on the strength of their story alone, and that is what you have to show here - that your writing is strong enough to merit a look. Your age is irrelevant if you have that ability. With this capability, I can write a teenager’s life better than most. Not necessarily - what you're saying here is that you are a teen and therefore you can reach other teens. But if that's your strong selling point then technically any teen who has written a book has the same qualifications as you do. The Boy in my Head has a moral that is unique from most trending Young Adult books. Lacey learns that life may never be perfect or solve all her problems, but accepting and loving life anyway is worth the struggle. This sounds like another allusion to your ending sentence in paragraph two, you need to get what exactly about the story that conveys this message into the query, not state the fact that it is so. I think that’s a moral everyone, not just teenagers, should learn. That's great, but agents and publishers aren't looking for books that are going to teach lessons everyone should learn - they're looking for books that will sell. The Boy in my Head takes a different and more realistic approach to fantasy YA literature. It’s not just a story about a hot angel guy. No, it’s about something important and so very real-something that can not only entertain, but empower. This entire paragraph is about why you think this book is important, and what it stands for. That's great, but a query is not the place for it. You're talking in abstract terms about the message within the story, and not the story itself.

Hello, I’m [redacted] and I’m a teenage author. Again, I wouldn't mention your age. It's not necessarily a strike against you, but you need to hook the agent with your story, not yourself. The Boy in my Head will be my debut novel, that's assumed but it is not the first time I have written a piece for a venue. I have participated in school writing contests, won a writing award, is it a big one that is nationally recognized? If not it's not worth mentioning.  published book reviews on missliterati.com, and completed National Novel Writing Month of 2013. With that said, I have been writing for most of my life and plan to make this novel my debut into the career of my dreams. I hope to show you just how prepared and willing I am to enter the beautiful world of being an author. I understand that you're trying to show your dedication with your bio paragraph - and that's a great thing. However, everything you've mentioned here is something that many, many writers have accomplished - writing book reviews, doing Nano, etc. If you don't have something that truly distinguishes you, don't fret over the bio para. I never had anything remarkable for my bio para either,  so it's not going to sink you. 

Right now the major problem here is that you're spending a lot of time talking about two things that aren't that relative to a query - your own relatability to the audience and the message of the book. Don't get me wrong, these are good points and you've clearly thought them out. However, a query isn't the place to put this much detail towards them.

Your hook is good. What you need to focus on is getting across the actual events of the story in a way that differentiates your angel book from every other angel book. Which, I understand, you tried to do by taking about the message. But you need to give more concrete details about the events of the book that get that message across without flat saying - this is the message which makes this book stand out. Does that make sense?

Look at my comments within the second para and flesh out more in that arena. Give us more on world-building - why can't an angel and a mortal be together? Is it dangerous for one of them? Does he has to give up eternity to be with her? How does Lacey go about learning this lesson that life is worth living? What events are there in this book other than the forbidden romance?

Check out this fantastic post that I just found by Googling about teen writers. There are great examples here of what a query is and what it's supposed to do - and I swear it's purely accidental that my own query is listed here. However, there are other great examples listed throughout this post. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Book Talk: BELLE EPOQUE by Elizabeth Ross

My book talks are coming at you from a librarian, not a reviewer. You won't find me talking about style or craft, why I think this could've been better or what worked or didn't work. I only do book talks on books I liked and want other people to know about. So if it's here I probably think it won't injure your brain if you read it.

When Maude ran away from her rural French town for Paris, she never imagined that life could be harder than it already was. But even though jobs can be found, it's hard to make enough money to afford rent. She answers an ad looking for young women - propriety ensured - and arrives at the interview to find that she is to be used as a foil: an unattractive female hired by Parisian elite to make themselves look more attractive by comparison.

Insulted, Maude leaves the interview only to find herself so shaken she makes mistakes at the laundry where she can barely make enough to live on. The pay for a foil is good, and decent food is provided. With her pride damaged Maude returns to the agency to be picked by one of the premiere Paris families to offset their daughter in her debut season so that she can land a choice husband. The only catch is that their daughter Isabelle doesn't know that Maude is a foil.

Pretending to a distant poor relation, Maude enters Paris society only to find herself drawn in by Isabelle's new ideas. The debutante is in love with the idea of chemistry, and dabbles in photography. Maude is drawn into the beauty of the medium and the two find themselves connecting over the art form. But Isabelle's intention of secretly taking entrance exams for college and thwarting her mother's designs for her in the marriage market run directly in the face of Isabelle's job as a foil. With her living on the line and her loyalty tested, Maude has to decide what her values are.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Cover Talk With STITCHING SNOW Debut Author RC Lewis - ARC Giveaway!

I love talking to debut authors. Our experiences are so similar, yet so very different, that every one of us has a new story to share. Everyone says that the moment you get your cover it really hits you - you're an author. The cover is your story - and you - packaged for the world. So the process of the cover reveal can be slightly panic inducing. Does it fit your story? Is it what you hoped? Will it sell? With this in mind I put together the CRAP (Cover Reveal Anxiety Phase) Interview.

Today's guest is super-special because she's also my critique partner and my keeper - which means she takes care of my reality-based needs, like reminding me periodically of what time zone I live in. RC has an amazing debut in STITCHING SNOW, which I'm allowed to say because I was with her through editing and have probably read it at least four times - and I liked it every time.

Princess Snow is missing.

Her home planet is filled with violence and corruption at the hands of King Matthias and his wife as they attempt to punish her captors. The king will stop at nothing to get his beloved daughter back—but that’s assuming she wants to return at all.

Essie has grown used to being cold. Temperatures on the planet Thanda are always sub-zero, and she fills her days with coding and repairs for the seven loyal drones that run the local mines.

When a mysterious young man named Dane crash-lands near her home, Essie agrees to help the pilot repair his ship. But soon she realizes that Dane’s arrival was far from accidental, and she’s pulled into the heart of a war she’s risked everything to avoid. With the galaxy’s future—and her own—in jeopardy, Essie must choose who to trust in a fiery fight for survival.

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Did you have any pre-conceived notions about what you wanted your cover to look like?

Not really. I thought a girl-in-a-dress cover might be a little strange given my main character—her personality and her circumstances—but beyond that didn’t have any ideas.

How far in advance from your pub date did you start talking covers with your house?

During the first round of edits, my editor mentioned they were thinking of incorporating an apple somehow in the cover design. Nothing detailed, but it gave me a little idea.

Did you have any input on your cover?

Sort of? My editor sent an early rough version of the concept—what they would give to the illustrator they hired to show the direction they wanted—and asked what I thought. I loved it, sooooo ... I didn’t have much else to say.

How was your cover revealed to you?

My editor emailed it to me and my agent.

Was there an official "cover reveal" date for your art?

My editor told me I could reveal it anytime after January 15, and that it would be sent to various places like Amazon, B&N, etc. about a month after that. So I did a reveal with YABooksCentral on January 22.

How far in advance of the reveal date were you aware of what your cover would look like?

The early comp was sent back at the end of Summer 2013, and the pretty-much-final version was emailed at the end of November.

Was it hard to keep it to yourself before the official release?

Kind of! A few people knew I had my cover and were really anxious to see it, so I had to do a lot of “Soon, I promise!”

What surprised you most about the process?

I’m not sure anything really surprised me. My publisher didn’t like the results of the first illustrator they hired (I never saw that version), so they went with someone else and tried again. It was nice to see they were willing to make extra effort to ensure we got the best possible result.

Any advice to other debut authors about how to handle cover art anxiety?

Don’t think about it too much? That’s kind of what worked for me. It helps when you love a lot of your publisher’s other covers, because then you have confidence they’ll do a good job for you. If you do have issues with your cover (and I have several friends who’ve experienced that), talk to your agent before sending a rant to your editor. If you and your agent decide it’s appropriate to speak up, either let your agent handle it, or make sure you voice your concerns in a calm, logical manner. Above all else, covers are a business tool, so rationality speaks louder than emotion, I think.

Enter below to win a signed ARC of STITCHING SNOW! All your friends will be jealous.

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Monday, March 10, 2014

My Bucket List: Celebrating SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY by Julie Murphy

Next week brings two very exciting things on the same day - my birthday and the release of SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY by Julie Murphy. In honor of Julie and her debut, I'm putting together a bucket list of my own. Scroll down to see what I want to do before I kick it.


What if you’d been living your life as if you were dying—only to find out that you had your whole future ahead of you? 

When sixteen-year-old Alice is diagnosed with leukemia, her prognosis is grim. To maximize the time she does have, she vows to spend her final months righting wrongs—however she sees fit. She convinces her friend Harvey, whom she knows has always had feelings for her, to help her with a crazy bucket list that’s as much about revenge (humiliating her ex-boyfriend and getting back at her arch nemesis) as it is about hope (doing something unexpectedly kind for a stranger and reliving some childhood memories). But just when Alice’s scores are settled, she goes into remission.

Now Alice is forced to face the consequences of all that she’s said and done, as well as her true feelings for Harvey. But has she done irreparable damage to the people around her, and to the one person who matters most? 

Julie Murphy’s SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY is a fearless and moving tour de force about love, life, and facing your own mortality.

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So what's on my bucket list? I have ex-boyfriends, but I think I get along pretty well with all of them so I don't anticipate getting any kind of revenge there. I don't really have an arch nemesis, although if I did it would probably be an elephant poacher or someone who litters a lot. But I do have a few things I'd like to accomplish that I can think of off the top of my head, so here goes.

1. Go To Ireland - This one might seem easy, but in true fashion I'm going to make it more difficult than the average hop across the pond. My goal is to trace my ancestors back to Ireland (I'm close) then trace that line forward to living relatives that I can go visit. Maybe they'll pick me up at the airport and let me sleep on their couch.

2. Ride A Mechanical Bull - Why? I don't know. I think it's because I saw Urban Cowboy too many times when I was growing up because I had a Charlie Daniels addiction. For whatever reason, riding a mechanical bull seems like the biggest way to express your lack of inner concern. Also a grew way to damage your spine permanently, which is why I should probably do it sooner rather than later.

3. Throw My Drink In Someone's Face - I've never really had this opportunity. I generally get along with people and have never had anyone insult me to my face to the point that I felt like dousing them with alcohol. Mostly when people do get really mad at me, I'm so amused at their reason that I mock them. Besides it's a waste of a drink.

4. Way Overdress For A Trifling Event or Way Underdress For A Really Important Event - This just seems like something I would do. I don't know that it would be a smart move, it just seems like a Mindy move. Like I'm going to wear my wedding dress (is there such thing as an ex-wedding dress?) to a book signing and wear jeans to the Oscars (because obviously I get invited every year and just haven't gone yet).

5. Make A Dress Out Of My Book Covers - It would be interesting. I could wear it to the Emmys (which of course, I'm also invited to every year and just haven't made room in my schedule for) and sit next to Lady Gaga.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Saturday Slash

Meet my Hatchet of Death (or, some other colorful description RC Lewis and I come up with at any given moment). This is how I edit myself, it is how I edit others. If you think you want to play with me and my hatchet, shoot us an email.

We all know the first line of a query is your "hook." I call the last line the "sinker." You want it to punch them in the face, in a nice, friendly kind of way that makes them unable to forget you after having read the 300 other queries in their inbox.

If you're looking for query advice, but are slightly intimidated by my claws, blade, or just my rolling googly-eyes, check out the query critique boards over at AgentQueryConnect. This is where I got my start, with advice from people smarter than me. Don't be afraid to ask for help with the most critical first step of your writing journey - the query. My comments appear in green.

Wayden’s head is way crowded, hosting the consciousness of an annoying wizard. The wizard is always pestering Wayden with statements like ‘Don’t waste a valuable opportunity to study.’ Wayden’s brother is too somber as well with statements like ‘I can’t play Wayden, a vision is coming, I can taste it.’ How do you taste a vision anyway? It’s not like the succulent apple crumble the maids are keeping for themselves. There's good voice here but I don't have a grasp of the MC's age or any idea on setting. The mention of maids, wizards and visions makes me think high fantasy, but it could also be a historical setting with a magical edge. I don't have a lot to go on in that sense.

Neither Wayden nor his twin understand the watercolor prophecy of their mother meaning she painted it? clutching a red flower until their manor is destroyed and a red blossom blooms on their mother’s lily-white dress. Is she dead? How was it destroyed? What does that blossom actually mean?

Seven years later, now fifteen year-old Wayden meets other soul hosts. So his wizard-voice is a soul? Wayden learns the leader of the kingdom created the soul hosts, and is planning to try the ritual again, this time sacrificing hundreds of innocents. Wayden and his friends need to stop him, but they are surrounded by enemies, those around them, and those they keep tucked deep inside. I like this phrase here at the end about enemies tucked deep inside, but other than that I don't have a clear picture at all about what's going on here. What does their mother's dress and blossom have to do with anything? Where have they been for 7 years and how were they surviving? What is their situation now? What happened to the twin brother who isn't mentioned at all in the last para? Is being a soul host bad, or good? Why would the leader need to sacrifice hundreds in order for the ritual to work? What does the leader have to gain in the first place by using soul hosts?

All of the questions above are ones that you know the answers to. You need to re-read your query as if you were a stranger to the entire concept of your own story and you'll be able to see all of the holes that your brain auto-fills because you already know the answers. Motivation is key in any query, and right now I'm not clear on what the motivation is for the villain, or for our MC. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Book Talk: One Crow Alone by SD Crockett and Giveaway!

My book talks are coming at you from a librarian, not a reviewer. You won't find me talking about style or craft, why I think this could've been better or what worked or didn't work. I only do book talks on books I liked and want other people to know about. So if it's here I probably think it won't injure your brain if you read it.

Ten years of bitter winters, each lasting longer than the one before have left much of Poland without reliable electricity. As the eleventh winter settles in, Magda cares for her ailing grandmother in the rural areas where most of the comforts of modernity have slipped away over time. The night after grandmother's death,  relief teams from the cities come to round up the country dwellers for their own protection. Magda hides in the basement, fearing thieves. She emerges in the morning to find her village utterly empty.

Alone, Magda finds the last pony in the village and decides to try for London, where her mother works as a servant. Misjudging the latest storm, she finds herself stranded in the woods. Luck leads her to an abandoned cabin, and a fellow wanderer named Ivan finds her fire. The two try to make their way together, amid mistrust and guarded conversations.

But London is a war zone, with starving citizens rioting in the streets and tanks patrolling the edges of town. Unable to find her mother, Magda does locate her townspeople and faces the choice of settling into a work camp or taking a chance at survival with Ivan, who is transporting illegal passports out of the country.

As the winter stretches and her hopes fades, Madga finds herself questioning the worth of living in a world where there is no hope, and spring never comes.

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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately...

1) Sometimes when I'm shopping in the dairy section and there's a person on the other side stocking from the back, I have this perverse desire to talk to them. But there's a wall of milk there. Somehow it's socially unacceptable to break the fourth wall of milk, and I instinctively know this.

2) Why do we give people presents on their birthdays? Shouldn't we give the present to their mom?

3) I'm going to see Phantom of the Opera this weekend for the third time. I'm Team Phantom, and every time I'm like, "Maybe THIS time...."

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Successful Debut Author Talk with Kate Jarvik Birch

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Kate Jarvik Birch, author of DELIVER ME, available April 15th from Bloomsbury Spark.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

Very much a planner! In fact, one of my favorite parts of writing a novel is the initial plotting stage. Maybe it’s because I’m still totally smitten with my idea (SNIS: shiny new idea syndrome) and everything is chock-full of possibility! At this stage the idea is still perfect. Of course, once I start writing it’s exciting to see the story morph and change into something alive, but it never stays exactly the same as that initial seed of an idea.

How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?

It varies, but I’m usually pretty speedy with the first draft. It can take anywhere from a month and a half to three months. It’s the subsequent drafts that end up taking MUCH longer.

Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?

I’m not the greatest multi tasker because I tend to get pretty obsessed with whatever idea I’m currently working on. Maybe it’s because for the book to really come alive it has to percolate inside my head 24/7. Who knows when a great idea is going to hit. It usually seems to happen in the shower or while I’m driving. But if the story hasn’t been given room to just sit quietly inside my skull, those epiphanies don’t tend to happen. I’ve had to learn how to divide my energies while working on revisions with editors, but it’s still difficult for me.

Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?

Always! Every time! What if the words don’t come? What if I can’t make this scene work? What if I don’t have any original thoughts? Those first few minutes sitting down to write are always difficult, but I’ve noticed that it’s like warming up a muscle and after a few minutes those cold, hard feelings soften and melt away and the real writing can begin.

How many trunked books did you have before you were agented?

Completed novels… 2. But there were many, many attempts before that. Let’s just say it took about 16 years of real writing to get there.

Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?

I’m not sure I’ve ever REALLY quit on one. I’ve put them aside, but always with the promise that I’ll come back and try again some time.

Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?  

My super-agent is Kerry Sparks from Levine Greenberg. I’ll forever be grateful that she picked my query out of the slush and saw some promise in me.

How long did you query before landing your agent?  

I actually queried a middle grade novel that I ended up shelving before I wrote the book that landed me my agent. But once I had the right book, it only took a couple of months.

Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?

If this project doesn’t find you an agent, don’t give up. It isn’t the end of the world. The most important thing is to keep writing. Keep growing. Keep putting in the hours. You’ll get there.

What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?

It isn’t necessarily a surprise, but I’m still so grateful for the amount of work that goes into making a book. It doesn’t really seem fair that only one name makes it onto the cover. 

How much of your own marketing do you?  

I’m lucky to have marketing teams with both of my publishers that have great outreach, but I’m still involved with marketing. I’ve got a website and a blog and spend WAY too much time on Twitter and Facebook. Just recently I started a street team and I’m excited to see it grow. 

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

I’d have to say a resounding YES!!! There’s a wide array of authors that I’ve only discovered through social networks whose work I wouldn’t have found on my own. I can only hope that the same thing will happen once my own books are out in the world.

Monday, March 3, 2014

A Decisive Moment In the Life of This Reader

I've been ripping through the TBR lately, as you've probably noticed from the giveaways that have been hanging around on the blog. I've been continually victimized by polar vortices and because of this have made leaps and bounds forward in writing, reading and knitting. I also may have become slightly anti-social and stopped wearing makeup.

But I'm not sure that last bit has anything to do with the weather.

In any case, as I plow through my pile of ARCs I've also been wading into more weighty tomes. I'm a fan of the classics and I've recently rediscovered a less-well-known author of British parlor-room-and-Parliament drama, Anthony Trollope. If you have a spot in your heart for Dickens or Thackeray I highly recommend delving into Trollope as well.

The title I just finished - CAN YOU FORGIVE HER - is the first in what's called the Palliser novels by Trollope. I grabbed an old tattered paperback at a library sale some years ago. I love well-worn, cheaply made books. I really do. The pages are like onion paper, the print is smudgy, and there are various fingerprints all over the thing. All four corners are feathered from who knows how many pairs of hands rubbing their thumbs on the edges while they hope and pray that the wellborn women they're reading about make the right choice of husband. Sigh. Yes, even I fall prey to such things when couched properly.

So having escorted one such lady to the proper decision, I'm happy to move on to the next title - PHINEAS FINN - when I discover that the overly-handled set of paperbacks I grabbed on a whim a few years ago doesn't have that one. It's an injustice and an inconvenience so I tromp up the stairs from my library, up to my flannel-sheeted bed and burrow in to order a copy.

Except... I don't really have to. Because I can download it. For free.

Now I'm in a pickle. A few minutes ago I'd been grumbling under my breath about inconvenience and here I find that I can have the words I'm searching for delivered to me. Right now. For free. But... my iPad doesn't feather on the edges when I grip it during tea-time with a rascal, and the only fingerprints on the shiny screen are my own. What's the fun in that?

On the other hand, I'm also a highly practical person and I'm unsure I want to spend money on something I can have for free. So I hit up some lovely book swapping sites - Bookmooch and PaperbackSwap - only to find that I appear to be the only person in the world with a Trollope addiction.

It looks like I'll be spending money in order to fill out my Palliser set. I'm fine with that. Spending money on books is a good expenditure. Except... I can spend $9.00 on a brand new paperback and have it delivered for free because I'm an Amazon Prime member, or I can spend roughly the same amount of money and wait extra time for shipping because I'm buying used.

Yes. I am essentially volunteering to wait longer and pay for a dirty book.

I guess I just learned something about myself.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Saturday Slash

Meet my Hatchet of Death (or, some other colorful description RC Lewis and I come up with at any given moment). This is how I edit myself, it is how I edit others. If you think you want to play with me and my hatchet, shoot us an email.

We all know the first line of a query is your "hook." I call the last line the "sinker." You want it to punch them in the face, in a nice, friendly kind of way that makes them unable to forget you after having read the 300 other queries in their inbox.

If you're looking for query advice, but are slightly intimidated by my claws, blade, or just my rolling googly-eyes, check out the query critique boards over at AgentQueryConnect. This is where I got my start, with advice from people smarter than me. Don't be afraid to ask for help with the most critical first step of your writing journey - the query. My comments appear in green.

When Antheia's father is killed after an attack on a visiting princess, Antheia inherits his magical power. Only thing is, she never even knew he was a maege. And now that he's gone she has no idea how to use--or even control--his magic. Good hook. I'm drawn in. The only suggestion is have is a slight change in the wording on the first sentence. I had to re-read it twice because it almost sounds like he's the one who attacked the visiting princess. It could just be me, but I'd reconsider a slight rewording.

Her enemies are everywhere: agents who enforce the empire's proscriptions against maeges; the woman who killed her father and claimed to be his sister; and the brother of the princess who was assassinated. Antheia's lack of control over her magic makes her more dangerous to herself than to others. Pursued by both allies and enemies, she needs to obtain three things: access to a teacher; information about her parentage; and revenge. Her loyalties become dangerously tangled when she begins to suspect that her father lied to her about everything. This is all good and well written and does a great job of showing us the danger and adventure in he story, but we know nothing of what our MC is doing on a daily basis here. If her father was killed in an attack on a princess, I have a feeling of court life... but that he could have been in court because he's the cook. I don't know if he was a king or a jester, or what her position is in life on a daily basis aside from being a maege.

When she finally learns the truth about her heritage, Antheia must choose between the conflicting demands of blood-ties and friendship. I definitely need to know more about the conflict here. Friendship to who? Is it the princess? You haven't mentioned any other characters and she sounds ver isolated. She must rethink everything she thought she knew about her father. And most importantly, she must decide what she will do with the power she inherited. The world is changing around her, and she will have to choose a side. But first, she must learn who she truly is, and what she might become if she makes the wrong choice. Good -well written, and we know what the main thrust of the story is. The problem here is that we have no concept of the day to day life of our MC, or even much of a grasp on her personality. Is she happy? Sad? Good? Bad? Wicked? The only thing I know about her right now is that she's conflicted - and that's great. But we need a more human angle on this to be really sucked in.

My short story "Changeling" recently appeared in the anthology The Modern Fae's Guide to Surviving Humanity. I attended Clarion West Writers Workshop in 1997. Good mention on the first bit, I'd scrap the second as it was so long ago as to not be relevant anymore.

LIKE BREATHING is a 122,000-word fantasy. As per the current submission guidelines, I have posted (whatever the guidelines request) below. Thank you for your time and consideration. You don't have an age range indicator on this. Is it YA? The presence of a father makes me think yes, but the MC could be in her 20s for all I know. Make that clear either in the query by stating her age or calling it YA here (if it is). Also your word count might be a tad on the high side. Yes, fantasy gets wiggle room for world building, but even so it's smarter to try to keep it under 100k for a debut searching for representation.