Friday, July 31, 2015

Book Talk & Giveaway: THESE BROKEN STARS by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

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.

Lilac LaRoux knows better than to show interest in any boy - ever. Her dad - the richest man in the universe - doesn't think anyone is good enough for his only daughter... and he proved that the last time she thought she was in love. So when the luxury space-liner Icarus crashes into the nearest terraformed planet, leaving Lilac and nobody war-hero Tarver as the only survivors, she knows that she'll have to rely on him to survive - but not betray the slightest inkling of liking him if she wants him to live, too.

Tarver Merendsen shared a few words with Lilac before he knew who she was, before the Icarus and everyone on board besides themselves died. The girl he spoke with was nothing like this spoiled space brat he's found himself marooned with. But as the walls between them come down the longer they have only each other for company, and the true nature of the planet they're stuck on becomes apparent, Tarver and Liliac discover that the only thing they can trust is what's been built between them.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Sarah McGuire On Getting Past The "I Suck"

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Sarah McGuire, author of up the upcoming VALIANT. Sarah loves fairy tales and considers them the best way to step outside of everyday life. They’re the easiest way, at least: her attempt at seven to reach Narnia through her parents’ closet failed. She lives within sight of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, where she teaches high school creative writing and math classes with very interesting word problems.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

Both. Right now, I write fairy tale retellings. I need to have a sense of what’s going to happen, and what parts of the original tales I’ll keep vs. those I’ll change. So before I start writing, I’ll have a page’s worth of scrawl about major plot points and characters. And then, I launch myself towards those points, trusting I’ll find the story as I go. 

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

I suppose it depends on whether you’re talking about a first draft or something a bit more refined. 
I wrote the rough draft of Valiant over a summer. (I’m a teacher- it’s when I had the time to do it!). However, I took a few months to revise Valiant before I sent it out. So the time from when I started writing it to when I signed with my agent was a year. 

And we won’t even discuss how many years I spent on the novel before Valiant, the one that will probably never see the light of day. ☺

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

So far, one at a time. I don’t know how this will be in the future, but so far, I’ve discovered that just about the time I’m having to really dig into the hard revisions on the novel, my mind starts going to the next story. So I’ll be wrestling with a particularly knotty issue, and then I’ll be taunted with lovely, shimmering fragments from the new story. I’ve learned to jot down notes of the ideas, but to keep at my old story. So far, it seems like sometimes the new story does well if I actually let it sit for a while. 

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

Oh good grief, yes! I still do. They normally run along the lines of a really sad grammar exercise, like I’m conjugating the verb ‘to suck’. As in, I suck. You (other writer who I admire) never suck. We (as in every bit of writing I’ve ever attempted) suck. It sucks. You get the idea. 

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

I’m going to combine these two questions, if I may. I trunked one manuscript: another fairy tale retelling. I’d spent four years working hard on it, and for most of that time, I was applying every new bit of writing craft I’d learned. Finally, though, I hit a point when I didn’t know how to make it better, even though I knew it needed to be better. And I just knew it was time to set it aside. (It’s actually a long-ish but cool story that involves opera, of all things. If you’d like to read about it, you can go here.

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

My agent is Tracey Adams. I’d met her at the Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program maybe three years before I queried Valiant (before I wrote Valiant, actually!). We were FB friends and over the years, I had a chance to see how cool a person she was. However, I didn’t really think seriously about querying her till a crit partner suggested it. So when Valiant was ready, I sent a query out to Tracey and another fabulous agent who’d seen pages of Valiant and wanted the manuscript when it was ready. (I should say here that I did NOT shoot Tracey a FB message about the query! I submitted it through her website. And despite the fact that she knew me, her lovely then-assistant read Valiant first. ) 

Anyway, the other agent asked to talk, and suggested a spot-on revision, which I began to work on. Though Tracey had originally shown interest, I didn’t hear from her for a while. But then, after spring break, Tracey emailed and said she was still liking Valiant. She emailed again a little later and asked if we could talk the next day. I pretty much blathered my way through the conversation. It couldn’t have been too bad, however, because Tracey offered representation. And then the other (fabulous!) agent offered representation. 

In the end, I chose Tracey, and it’s been a wonderful relationship. 

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

Keep at it! Don’t give up, but be willing to revise and revisit your work- especially if you’re getting consistent feedback about a certain aspect of it. But, if you’re like me, I’d say don’t let your fear of doing it wrong keep you from the attempt. You’ll make mistakes, but that’s okay. 

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

I have to say that getting the author copies was a pretty amazing experience. (This was after Egmont USA had closed, and I had no idea when (or if!) the author copies would arrive. I came home late one evening after a series of meetings, and was opening a box, thinking it might be a late batch of ARCs. Instead, it was … my book!

I was on my landlady’s front porch, keys in hand (I’d used them to slice open the box). I stood there and, in that mixture of dusk and porchlight, I saw Valiant for the first time. I couldn’t move for a moment. 

I had a whole series of Golum, my-preciousssss, moments when I sat on my sofa a few minutes later and actually held my book. And it had a smell! Did I mention that?? My story had a book-smell and I realized it was actually real. 

So imagine that same reaction when I see Valiant on a bookstore shelf. I still can’t quite believe this is happening. 

How much input do you have on cover art?

Very little. But Egmont, and the wonderful artist Shobhna Patel, did a fabulous job anyway. 

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

I thought I knew this, but it was driven home again and again: the people who create and publish children’s books are an incredible community. I’m ridiculously grateful to be part of it. 

How much of your own marketing do you?  Do you have a blog / site / Twitter? 

Now that’s a story. I expected that I would do as much marketing as the next debut author. However, when Egmont USA closed, I did a lot of work with Egmont’s Last List, the Egmont authors who banded together to help with each other’s releases. 

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

I may change my mind about this when I’ve had more experience in the industry, but it seems to me that the best platform I can build as a novelist is made of . . . novels. (Platform is a different beast for nonfiction writers.) While I want to be savy– or at least not stupid– about marketing, I think the best way to keep people interested is to write really good books. Lots of them. 

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

To be honest, I don’t think that my tweets have had much to do with building my readership. However, I know that social media helped the reading and writing community rally around Egmont’s Last List. So much of our support came through social media.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

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.

Nothing terrifies 17 spell out numbers year old Isla Blume more than the thought of being alone, and now that fear may come to life. When mysterious collector droids steal most of her family and her boyfriend Daniel away, Isla and her mom are left alone. No one hears from collected survivors again, and Isla has a feeling she knows why: They don’t survive collection. Right now I'm not understanding if collector droids are part of everyday life - like avoiding them is just part of the routine, or if this is a life-altering, holy shit robots are taking over the world moment. I don't have a feel of whether this is post-apoc routine, or if it's the beginning of the actual apocalypse. You use the word "mysterious" to describe them, but I don't know if it's b/c their arrival is mysterious or if it's b/c these particular droids are outside the norm.

On a regular supplies run See, this sentence makes me think that we're existing in a post-apoc world, which means you need to clarify why the particular droids that took her family were mysterious, Isla and her mom discover not only that a group of soldiers have resurfaced 25 years after the nuclear holocaust began, but that they have murdered an entire town of survivors looking for Isla by name. To make matters worse, they’ve left collector droids at Isla’s house to take her and her mom too. I think you're starting your query in the wrong place. I now understand that we're post-nuclear, but I think I needed that earlier. Also, are these soldiers people that were supposed to be dead? Or a resurfacing of a group / shared vision contingent?

When the droids collect I'm not understanding exactly what "collect" implies. Are they just taken? questioned? kidnapped? forced labor? murdered? her mom, Isla fights to keep what’s left of her family, but after a failed attempt to fight off the droids using magnets—she read that might work in one of her books—she is collected too. Just when she is sure she will die, Deathless rebels, scientists planning to overthrow what’s left of the government I didn't have a feeling that there was a government at all until this point, save both Isla and her mom.  Now if she wants answers to the questions eating away at her, she will have to fight to find her place within the Deathless as their impending war approaches.

How does the government know her name? Could her family and Daniel still be alive? And is any of this connected to the new star in the sky? Ending with a rhetorical question is not a good idea. And you just introduced another new concept - a new star in the sky. If this is important to the plot, get it in there.

Complete at 81,000 words and featuring a diverse cast of characters, I AM DEATHLESS is a young adult science fiction novel that will appeal to fans of Veronica Roth’s DIVERGENT and Kass Morgan’s THE 100. I am currently developing the storyline into a trilogy. As a debut it's better to have a standalone novel with series potential, just FYI.

I have a BA in Creative Writing from the University of Pittsburgh where I studied with Siobhan Vivian. I continued at the University of Pittsburgh to earn my MAT in Secondary English Education in 2012, and I have been teaching my target demographic ever since. I am a member of She Writes, as well as a Wattpad featured author with a Watty Award winning YA novel on the site. This is a fantastic bio.

You definitely need to get the query itself into more of a comprehensive flow. Let us know where we are right from the beginning - post-nuclear survival with a government in place. I don't know what the droids or the soldiers actual represent - is this the overarching government? The rebels are good, I'm assuming, and they're scientists, but why are the fighting this government? What makes the government bad?

Another thing is that right now this query reads like the back flap of a book, not a query. You're doing a lot of leading but an agent needs to know that there's a plot that makes sense here. In other words, go ahead and tell them why the soldiers are looking for Isla. She's special - great. There's a lot of chosen one stories out there so why is yours different? Get that out there. 

Lastly I have no feel for your character's personality. Right now this is all plot, no feelings. She tries to fight with magnets and apparently she reads books, but that's all I'm getting out of her. So is she smart? Interested in science? Is she tough or scared to death? Why is she so scared of being alone? Get the personality of your MC in there along with all the plot mechanics, as well as what makes her special enough that the government is after her. 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Book Talk & Giveaway: PROMISE OF SHADOWS by Justina Ireland

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.

Zephyr has always been a sub-par harpy, better at snappy comebacks than wielding magic. But when her sister is murdered for an affair with a god, Zephyr shoots back with a dark magic she didn't know she had - and kills a god in the process. She shouldn't able to call the dark, let alone be powerful enough to kill a full god when she herself is only a half god - and not a very good one at that.

In deep trouble and banished to the underworld, Zephyr is pretty sure she's going to spend the rest of her existence digging trenches - until a childhood friend (who grew up to be pretty hot) delivers her from hell... except she's not so sure she wants to hear what he has to say.

The other half-gods have been at the mercy of full gods forever, but Zephyr's ability means she may by the Nyx - a dark goddess reborn to even the scales. But Zephyr doesn't believe she can be the Nyx - she's hardly even a harpy anymore since losing her wings in the fall to the underworld. But the half-gods are looking to her, and fate can't be avoided.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Chelsea Pitcher On Letting The Rejection Hurt... Then Moving On

If there's one thing that many aspiring writers have few clues about, it's the submission process. There are good reasons for that; authors aren't exactly encouraged to talk in detail about our own submission experiences, and - just like agent hunting - everyone's story is different. I managed to cobble together a few non-specific questions that some debut authors have agreed to
answer (bless them). And so I bring you the submission interview series - Submission Hell - It's True. Yes, it's the SHIT.

Today's guest for the SHIT is Chelsea Pitcher. Chelsea is a karaoke-singing, ocean-worshipping Oregonian with a penchant for wicked faerie tales. She began gobbling up stories as soon as she could read, and especially enjoys delving into the darker places to see if she can draw out some light. She is the author of THE S-WORD (Simon and Schuster), THE LAST CHANGELING (Flux), and THE LAST FAERIE QUEEN (Flux 2015).

How much did you know about the submission process before you were out on subs yourself?

Almost nothing! I knew publishing houses would be considering my work, but I was fairly clueless about imprints, second reads, acquisitions, etc. Luckily for me, I enjoy a good investigation, so I learned a lot while I was on sub. (And it never hurts to have author friends who’ve been through the process!)

Did anything about the process surprise you?

Oh, definitely. The timeframe can be hard to handle at first. Especially when some people get deals within three days, and others, three years! That’s why it’s so important to be doing other things while you’re on sub. If you put all your focus into one project, it will drive you up the walls.

Did you research the editors you knew had your ms? Do you recommend doing that?

I’ve peeked a little bit. I mean, what’s the harm in a simple Google search? A couple of minutes reading interviews? Checking a Twitter feed? Hopping over to Absolute Write . . . Yeah, it’s really easy to fall down that rabbit hole. And the farther you fall, chasing one particular editor, the more a rejection will feel like a piano falling on your head.

So search cautiously, my friends! I’m definitely a fan of being informed, but once you get that fluttery “OMG, WE WILL WORK PERFECTLY TOGETHER” feeling, run away. Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if their Twitter feed is hilarious, you love the same band, and can both quote The Little Mermaid in its entirety. What matters is that they fall head-over-heels in love with your manuscript.

What was the average amount of time it took to hear back from editors?

It really varies. The average would be maybe two months. But I’ve received responses within two weeks, or after six months. It all depends on the editor’s workload, their level of interest in your premise, and a myriad of other factors (is it conference season? Are they finishing a deadline of their own? Did they just request eight manuscripts?) Still, when you’re on sub, it’s hard not to check your email every few hours!

What do you think is the best way for an author out on submission to deal with the anxiety?

First and foremost: start working on your next book! Falling in love with a new project can so lessen the anxiety. But there are lots of ways to cope with the stress of submission (chocolate and margaritas are two suggestions I’ve heard, and I’ve certainly tried both!) But the truth is, what works for one person won’t always work for everyone.

For me, I’ve found that working out a lot helps lessen the stress of submission. I’m not exactly a person who works out regularly, but the first time I went on sub, it helped me a lot. So now it’s a part of my process (and that’s probably a good thing, considering how much time I spend sitting in a chair, typing away!)

If you had any rejections, how did you deal with that emotionally? How did this kind of rejection compare to query rejections?

Best advice for dealing with rejection? Don’t try to use logic to talk yourself out of an emotional reaction. Sure, you know it’s just one person’s opinion. Sure, you know reading is subjective. Still, rejection hurts. So allow yourself to grieve, cry if you want, feel angry if it helps you. And then, once you’ve let out all those negative emotions, you really will feel better. And all that logical “it’s just business” stuff will sink in.

As for querying vs. submission, it felt different at first. When you’re on sub, you feel so close to everything happening, and all you need is one yes. So each rejection felt like a door closing. Now, though, I’ve realized that “yes” is only about halfway up the mountain (because next you need good marketing, good reviews, good bookstore placement…) so agent and editor rejections feel much more similar. In both cases, it’s all about finding the person who can’t stop thinking about your work, who reads passages of your book out loud to their colleagues, who can’t stop taking about your writing. And if you found an agent who feels this way, that editor “yes” could be right around the corner!

If you got feedback on a rejection, how did you process it? How do you compare processing an editor’s feedback as compared to a beta reader’s?

When a beta reader says something that really resonates, you can dive into edits right away. With an editor, it’s trickier, because you’re already out on sub, and what one editor dislikes, another might love. It’s really best to wait for three (or more) editors to say the same thing, and then think about revisions.

Another thing to consider is, while beta readers will tell you what isn’t working in a story, editors might reject a story that is working for personal reasons. Maybe the book just didn’t resonate with them, or maybe they just bought something with a similar premise. And because they’re so busy, they can’t necessarily list all the reasons they have for rejecting a project. That’s why it’s so important to give your projects to betas before you go on submission. They’ll help you hammer out all the plot issues, the pacing, the characterization, so once your book lands on an editor’s desk, they’re less likely to reject your book because there’s something wrong with it.

When you got your YES! how did that feel? How did you find out – email, telephone, smoke signal?

It was surreal, shocking, startling, amazing! Both times, I got the news over the phone. And the first time, it just felt like a whirlwind, because we’d gone through second reads and acquisitions over the winter holiday, and I didn’t know about it. So when my agent called to give me the news, she didn’t just say they were passing the book up the chain; she said the book had reached the TOP!

Did you have to wait a period of time before sharing your big news, because of details being ironed out? Was that difficult?

Yes! We had to wait about two months (between verbal offer and written contract). Most authors I know have experienced the same thing. Even though a verbal offer is taken very seriously, there’s so much more to consider (advances, world rights, film rights, option clauses) and publishers often want all of this hammered out before anything is announced. And yes, it can definitely be hard to wait, but most people tell their close family members before they tell the world. So really, you get to reveal your news two times: once to the people closest to you, and once to everyone in the book world. Which makes for two celebrations instead of one!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

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.

Ivy, James, and AJ are used to the abnormal. Demons, monsters, witches – they have seen them all. They are Protectors, charged with the responsibility of maintaining the balance of good and evil in an ever-waging war. But when a mysterious grimoire shows up, an unknown threat emerges, poised to destroy everything and everyone they hold dear. This is well written enough, but the problem is that this is very generic - a war of good against evil. This particular story has been told - you need to be clear what the unknown threat is in order to make yours stand out in a sea of similar plots.

A grimoire is an ancient spell book, but unlike most, this one is a bound grimoire, said to have demonic powers and able to latch onto the soul of a reader. It is so powerful that it can tear holes between earth and hell. With this kind of book in play, the Protectors must find it and incapacitate it.

While the grimoire seems to pose the largest threat, Ivy and the others soon discover that an even greater threat looms, the Phoenixes. Who they are is uncertain. What is certain is that unexplained disappearances, deaths, and attacks only spell trouble. What makes the Phoenixes special? What is their power / character? Again, unexplained attacks on the good by the bad is very basic plot structure executed time and time again.

Armed with innate gifts like what? What makes them different from other paranormal good guys in the genre?, the Protectors must combat an unknown enemy before the situation explodes. Ivy struggles to keep herself in control when she realizes that the Phoenixes are after her, trying to recruit her by any means necessary. She and the others must prepare for this danger even though it is hard to discern where and when the next attack is coming.

THE PROTECTORS is a complete young adult fantasy manuscript at 69,000 words. It is designed to be the first book in a trilogy. This is my first novel. I am a graduate of the University of Mississippi where I received a B.A. in religion and attained the Evan Harrington Scholarship Award for Writing.

Overall, this is a well written query, but the problem is that it is also vague. Everything you're saying could be theoretically about any number of YA paranormals. You need to get the specifics of what makes your book different from them into this query in order to stand out.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Book Talk & Giveaway: ALIENATED by Melissa Landers

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.

Cara has the perfect transcript, but the only thing that could make it look better for college applications is being a foreign exchange student... in space. The L'eihrs made contact two years ago, and now they want to find three Earth households to host teen aliens, then return the favor. Cara is thrilled to be picked... but not everyone agrees with her.

The L'eihrs have their detractors, Cara's boyfriend and best friend being among them. Plenty of people think the aliens have ulterior motives by planting teens around the planet, and not a few have no problem with blaming the humans who house them as part of the problem.

Aelyx, Cara's assigned L'eihr is easy on the eyes, which doesn't make her boyfriend any happier about the situation. While Cara and Aelyx grow closer, the forces separating them grow stronger. An organization against the L'eihr alliance is gaining strength, Cara's former boyfriend and best friend (now a couple) among them.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Shannon Grogan On Inspiration... From A Commercial

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask any writer where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers, and in that vein I created the WHAT (What the Hell Are you Thinking?) interview. Always including in the WHAT is one random question to really dig down into the interviewees mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well.

Today's guest for the WHAT is Shannon Grogan, a second grade teacher who writes at night (and while her kids are at ballet and baseball) in a small logging town east of Seattle. She holds degrees in education, and graphic design/Illustration. When she isn’t writing, she's baking, reading, watching scary movies, and wishing she were at the beach.

Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your book?

When I got the idea for FROM WHERE I WATCH YOU, I was revising another story. The only thing I had in place was a MC who wanted to be a baker. Then I was driving down the highway and a Campbells Soup commercial came on the radio. By the time it was done I was pulling over to jot down notes. By the time I pulled back onto the road I had my MC’s mother (a crazy lady who thinks her pea soup was blessed by Jesus and has healing powers) The rest of the story came from this point—my MC who wanted to become a baker and also wanted to escape her life and her crazy mom.

Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?

I figured my theme was leaning in the direction of escape, so I added in the baking contest, which if she won she’d get a scholarship to culinary school, and away from her mom. I also wanted something ghostly, so I decided to have her dead sister hang around so she’d want to escape this and the bad memories associated with her. I love contemporary and focused first on the betrayal, and ultimately, the forgiveness within her family, but I also love scary thrillers, and romance. So I added those elements in along the way: a stalker to escape, and a boy to love and push away/escape from (also betrayal and forgiveness).

Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?

I usually have the main plot really solid in my mind and it pretty much comes out on paper the same, mainly because I use a quick visual plotting method to help me. But the subplots change the most, and/or are added/deleted.

Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?

I seem to have times where story ideas come one after the other. I write them on index cards and file them away. Most of the ones that come that are total crap on their own. But one idea might combine with another idea or two to form a good story idea. When they do I give them their own page in my book idea journal.

How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?

Ooh, this is happening to me now and I’m leaning towards the one I enjoy writing down notes on the most.

Given the choice of losing your feet or your hands, what goes?

Feet. I need my hands to type and write and draw. And eat. And hug my kids.

Monday, July 13, 2015

If You Feel So Inclined...

...please consider supporting this IndieGoGo for a friend of mine who has written a picture book to memorialize his deceased son. The book aims to foster more quality time between parents and their children at bed time. His son's favorite time was "Snuggle Time."


Saturday, July 11, 2015

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.

It’s hard being pretty. Good hook, I'd keep reading.

At least, so thinks glamazon Wynter Roberts: local royalty and resident man-eater. Nothing is so serious it can’t be solved by a shopping trip or makeup sex. So what if Wynter's not exactly valedictorian? Everyone knows it’s all about your social circle anyway. The only person not enamored by her shimmering crown in their southern suburb is her best friend Kate who has spent most of her life trying to escape Wynter’s enormous shadow. This reads fantastically - the only tweak I would suggest would be to get the "southern suburb" bit up into the first sentence so that the "local royalty" has a bit more grounding.

Now that Kate is off to New York City to attend the Juilliard School for dance, she thinks she will finally take the throne to her own life. She’s literally struck the attention not sure what you're saying here? Meet-cute where she hit him? of a hunky male dancer and a spot on her world-renowned instructor’s talent list looks promising, much to the chagrin of the reigning prima ballerina with laser eyes targeting Kate’s head.

When Wynter follows her to the city to pursue modeling, she’s got her sights set on fame, fortune, and Kate’s crush! With competition from all sides, can Kate learn to fight for the spotlight? After all, there’s only room for one princess in this town and there’s always someone waiting in the wings.

You Win, Princess capitalize or italicize your title is a contemporary new adult novel about chasing one’s dreams through the cutthroat challenges of the real world. The completed manuscript at just over 100,000 words is available at your request.

I am a professional writing graduate of the University of Oklahoma. In addition to two self-published short stories, I have been published in Outlook Magazine, Blogcritics, and the OU Daily. My passion is in women’s literature geared toward the next generation of readers.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I hope to hear from you soon.

This query is excellently written, and the bio is very strong. The one thing I would warn is that your word count is high. I don't know enough about NA to know what the parameters are, but I do know that 100k is high for a debut author, and contemporaries do tend to run shorter than their genre counterparts like fantasy, SF or historical - which allow more room for world building.

I highly suggest paring down your ms before you start querying. You don't want a good book and a solid query to be sunk by a bulky word count. Look for scenes that aren't accomplishing anything different from previous scenes, and also do a simple Find on words that you just don't need - check out my blog post here for advice.

For more on word count and genre parameters, check out this fantastic post by agent Jennifer Laughran. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Book Talk & Giveaway: THE NIGHTMARE AFFAIR by Mindee Arnett

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.

Dusty Everhart is the only nightmare at Arkwell Academy, a boarding school for magickind, where her mother is infamous for breaking rules and getting her way. Dusty, on the other hand, is just now learning how to handle her abilities - breaking into people's houses and sitting on their chests to feed on their dreams can be slightly uncomfortable at times.

It gets worse when she has to feed on Eli, the hot guy at her normal school. Not only does it make her feel awkward, but the first nightmare of his involves a murder at Arkwell... that comes true. Now her superiors want Dusty working with Eli to help figure out who is killing magickind, and why.

With Eli clued in on their existence and instantly attracting a siren for a girlfriend, he's navigating the halls of Arkwell better than Dusty ever did. But the killer knows what Dusty is up to, and she'll have to stay focused in order to stay alive.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Debut Author Randy Ribay On Rolling With The Plot Changes

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask any writer where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers, and in that vein I created the WHAT (What the Hell Are you Thinking?) interview. Always including in the WHAT is one random question to really dig down into the interviewees mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well.

Today's guest for the WHAT is Randy Ribay, debut author of the contemporary YA novel AN INFINITE NUMBER OF PARALLEL UNIVERSES (Merit Press, October 2015). He's also a book reviewer & blogger for THE HORN BOOK and a high school English teacher. He can be found in Camden, NJ walking his dog-children, gaming, or making lightsaber sound effects with his mouth.

Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your book?

I began with some vague shape of the kind of story I knew I wanted to tell. When I started writing AN INFINITE NUMBER OF PARALLEL UNIVERSES, I was coming off of writing a post-apocalyptic zombie novel (that nobody will ever read!). I like mixing things up, so I knew I wanted to go in the opposite direction and try something realistic. From there, I knew I wanted to tell the story of a nerdy kid. And as I started writing his story and building his world, I became interested in his friends and their stories. That’s how I ended up deciding to ignore every piece of writing advice ever about how to structure a story.

Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?

I’m a diverse person who has lived a diverse life. Having been starved for literature that reflected my world as a child, I knew I wanted to my characters to convey a variety of experiences. So even though I was writing about a group of nerdy friends (who found each other by playing Dungeons & Dragons), I did not want them all to be the same type of nerd with the same background and the same struggles. So I began by creating my characters, and once I knew them, I gave them each a problem they needed overcome that would be true to their character. And once they each had a problem, I gave the group a problem that they would have to collectively resolve. I wrote to help them solve those problems.

Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?

My plot(s) kept changing right up to the final draft. Given the unique structure of my story (four parallel storylines that eventually converge), I constantly struggled with making sure that the individual plots intertwined sufficiently to necessitate that they be told jointly. On top of that, I had to ensure that the larger arc would help resolves the individual arcs. This, or course, made revision a…challenge. Every time I altered a plot point in one section, I had to then go and change every other section. Good times.

Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?

It took me a long time to start writing because I always felt like the first thing I wrote had to be a complete masterpiece. However, once I finally realized that that was bullshit (can I curse here?), I was actually able to write. Since then I’ve been able to find new ideas all around me. A lot of the times I’ll begin with an image—usually something I see in my daily life—and simply wonder about the story behind the image.

How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?

In between novels, I’ll do a stint of short stories. And I’ll basically keep writing short stories until something sticks, until I get to that point where I can’t stop thinking about one of the stories and its characters. So even though I always have a few bouncing around my head, it’s the one I’m most curious about that I’ll expand simply because I feel like there’s more story that I want to uncover.

Given the choice of losing your feet or your hands, what goes?

Feet, hands down (see what I did there?). My hands help me write, type, make omelets, play video games, pet puppies, build sandcastles, etc. My feet get me from point A to point B. Sometimes they kick things. I feel like they could be replaced with wheels or robot spider legs or a jet pack, and things would work out. Maybe I could even get stilts and finally be taller than Mindy McGinnis.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Fan Art Is Good For The Soul

I haven't had a lot of fan art so far, but I do love what I have had... so much so that I keep a Pinterest board of it. I've been word-slinging non-stop since the end of May, and while that's not a complaint (boredom is my worst enemy), I do sometimes have to remind myself that absence can be what makes the heart grow fonder.

So I took a few days off for the 4th of July weekend, partly because I was road-tripping and partly because it was time to separate from GIVEN TO THE SEA for a breather before diving back in for the grand finale. A little bit of space can mean all the difference in delivering a satisfying ending, rather than rushing for the finish line because it's in sight.

But a few days away from the keyboard can also serve to remind you how much easier it is to not write. There's no that's-not-quite-the-right-word-but-I'm-going-forward-anyway syndrome, no idly tearing off your fingernails while waiting for the subplot to tie itself off in your mind, no wondering why that supporting character won't stop trying to steal the page.

So while I was enjoying my freedom, I was also a little sluggish on social-media, taking some true Mindy Time. I picked up my phone and hopped on Twitter at one point to see what was up, and a follower drew my attention to an amazing piece of art by Charlie Bowater that had been inspired by NOT A DROP TO DRINK.


Seeing someone else take put this much care into representing Lynn was pretty awesome, and I have to say I think the art is just breathtaking. Fan art is a good reminder for writers that while writing is a solitary endeavor, the end product is anything but.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Book Talk & Giveaway: THE DARKEST PART OF THE FOREST by Holly Black

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 who lives in Fairfield knows better than to wander into the woods, or antagonize some of the less than human residents of their town. It may be a go-to location for tourists looking to spot a fairy or hoping to live out a real life fairy tale - but that doesn't mean it's safe. Every now and then they lose a tourist, but the townspeople are not fair game.

The glass coffin in the middle of the woods attracts a lot of those tourists, the horned sleeping boy inside drawing them in. But when the unbreakable coffin shatters, and the boy is free, lifelong residents Hazel and Ben know they must do something - because suddenly townspeople are being killed, and all bets are off.

As children they played at being knights of the woods, arming themselves with sticks and stones to take down what they knew lived there. Now there are threats that they may need real weapons to fight  - and more importantly - they have to decide whose side they're on.

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