Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Wednesday WOLF

I've got a collection of random information in my brain that makes me an awesome Trivial Pursuit partner, but is completely useless when it comes to real world application. Like say, job applications. I thought I'd share some of this random crap with you in the form of another acronym-ific series. I give you - Word Origins from Left Field - that's right, the WOLF. Er... ignore the fact that the "from" doesn't fit.

Everybody likes a little privacy sometimes, right? People figured out a long time ago that putting high posts on each end of your bed and hanging curtains from them served as a protection from draft, and also kept the overly-inquisitive at bay. A lot of the conversations that went on behind these sheets were of a private nature- be they emotional exchanges, family secrets, or just good old gossip. If you wanted to keep something on the down low, you told you listener it was between you, me, and the bedpost.

But that one's kinda obvious isn't it? You want something a little less so? OK, I can do that.

A long while ago it was fashionable for men to wear removable shirt cuffs. Barkeeps used to keep a patron's running tab written on their cuff for safekeeping, then erase it when the drinker paid up for the evening, taking it off the cuff. Interesting, but what the hell does that have to do with anything? Well, when you're speaking off the cuff, it means that you're not referencing any written material.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Thing I Hate Most About Breast Cancer Is...

... that my friend Demitria Lunetta was diagnosed last month, at the age of 35.

Demitria is the author of IN THE AFTER, IN THE END and the upcoming BAD BLOOD, as well as a contributor, editor, and project spearhead of the anthology AMONG THE SHADOWS.

If you are able to help with the cost of Demitria's medical bills that would be fantastic. If you are not, there are non-monetary ways to help through social media shares.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

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.

Rowena Andalynn expected her homecoming to be joyous after a childhood spent as a diplomatic hostage to a neighboring country. This first sentence doesn't necessarily set this up as a fantasy. It's not until the second one and the inclusion of "court" that we get that feeling. She endured a treacherous court by honing her skills in violence and cunning. Survival forced her to ignore what she was born to be - a Wishkeeper, one who dispenses wishes granted by the Divine. Lots of good info here, but I'm not sure that it's a hook. I think you need to get the idea of being a diplomatic hostage and violence and cunning into one sentence for the hook.

Now she's allowed home awkward phrasing to assume her holy birthright. In the land of Boldenwhite, Wishkeepers channel Divine will to grant three wishes a year. Trained in wisdom, Wishkeepers are icons of grace for believers. Not sure there's anything in the underlined sentence that is necessary to the query.

But when her official return is marred by a disastrous first Wish that dooms not only her Order, but that of the government she serves, Rowena realizes that being a Wishkeeper does not mean unending blessings. And when Wishkeepers start dying, Rowena discovers that an enemy is enemy called Scian March. A product of Boldenwhite’s notorious prison, Scian has spent all her seventeen years planning revenge and revolution. The name actually sounds like an organization, so when I first saw it I didn't process it as a character.

In the battle over Boldenwhite’s future, Rowena battles on two fronts - against Scian’s bloodthirsty allies - and with everything she thought she believed. which was? The calling that defines her may become the trap used to kill her world, how so? if Rowena doesn’t win The Wishkeeper’s War. is it on her alone?

For the most part this is a good job of getting plot, world building, and conflict into a tight space - not easy with high fantasy. However, some elemental aspects are missing. Rowena battling against "everything she thought she believed" is, I think, a callback to her realizing that "being a Wishkeeper does not mean unending blessings," but it's not explicitly clear. If Rowena has had no training in her gift because of her upbringing and is therefore somewhat naive about it, that might be something to clarify. 

Also, clarification on what precisely is at stake would be good - how are the Wishkeepers gifts being used against them? Does Rowena have any allies herself? You mention that Scian does, but it seems to be on Rowena alone to win the war, which seems a bit odd given that she hasn't lived in Boldenwhite for most of her life. Some more details about Scian would be good too - why was she in prison in the first place? Does she have some dark power? Clarify some key points, pep up that hook sentence, and I think you're ready to take this query out.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Book Talk & Giveaway: THE ROMANTICS by Leah Konen

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.

Love doesn't always get it right. When Gael's parents announce a split and his own girlfriend breaks up with him, Love realizes maybe she hasn't been keeping a good enough eye on either situation. Love can fix this though. She's got a good idea what Gael needs - the girl who's been tutoring his little sister.

But sometimes the girl you see everyday isn't the one that gets your attention, and a chance meet-cute with a manic pixie dream girl has Gael's head spinning. Love knows she's not the right one, but somehow Cara has all the hallmarks of every rom-com Gael's ever seen... even if he'd rather watch a good horror flick.

Armed with the knowledge that things have gone horribly off track (and a bag of tricks) Love sets out to make things right for Gael.

Want to help me with all the mailing costs? I do giveaways at least once week, sometimes more. It can add up. If you feel so inclined as to donate a little to defray my mailing costs, it would be much appreciated!

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Thursday, November 17, 2016

Thursday Thoughts

This weeks thoughts brought to you by my personal grooming regime -

1) If you pee in the warm shower it smells like popcorn. I do not understand.

2) I probably overwax my eyebrows, but I lived through the 80s and I don't want to go back to that place.

3) Flossing makes me feel super clean. I wonder where else it can be applied.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Traci Chee NYT Bestselling Author of THE READER, On Whittling Down The Word Count

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Traci Chee, author of the NYT bestselling YA fantasy THE READER. An all-around word geek, she loves book arts and art books, poetry and paper crafts, though she also dabbles at piano playing, egg painting, and hosting potluck game nights for family and friends. She studied literature and creative writing at UC Santa Cruz and earned a master of arts degree from San Francisco State University. Traci grew up in a small town with more cows than people, and now feels most at home in the mountains, scaling switchbacks and happening upon hidden highland lakes. She lives in California with her fast-fast dog.

Don't forget to enter the giveaway at the bottom for some sweet swag from Traci!

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

I’m a natural pantser—I love the discovery of writing, luxuriating in a detail, chasing down a surprising development, or finding out what’s going to happen at the same time as my characters. (It all gets cleaned up and smoothed in revision, after all.) But I’m always looking for new ways to improve, and I’m trying to learn some plotting techniques to help me become a better writer.

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

The only two novels I’ve ever finished are The Reader and its sequel. I worked on The Reader for 18 months before I signed with my agent, but I worked on its sequel for only 6 before I turned it in to my editor! That draft was rough. But at least I got to the end!

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

I wish I could work on more than one project at a time, and hopefully that will change in the future, but for now, it’s all I can do to inhabit (or to be inhabited by?) one story, one world at a time!

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

I think I wrote my first story (about a dragon and a princess) when I was seven or eight, and I definitely had no fear then. But I really sat down to give myself a shot at being an author when I was twenty-eight, and by that time I’d learned to fear all sorts of things (derision, shame, financial ruin, etc.).

However, I also had this stubborn belief that I could learn to do almost anything if I worked hard enough. And I knew that at that point, just me at my desk with my computer, the only way to fail was to quit.

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

I was really lucky to sign with an agent with the first novel I ever completed, but there was over a decade of creative writing courses, workshops, short stories, and half-written manuscripts behind it!

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

I have this one short story that I really love the idea of. (It’s about a girl with a brother made of metal who talks to God. Or about a boy who talks to God. The details kept changing.) I rewrote it at least seventeen times, and while it’s readable, none of those revisions ever got it right. There was no spark to it. No resonance. No shine. That’s something you learn to spot the more you read, I think, as you find the novels or stories or poems that really sing to you. And as much as I loved the idea of that story, I could not figure out how to fix it. So I’ve left it behind—at least for now, until I gain some more insight or skill that will help me tear it apart and build it back up again.

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

I finished revising The Reader in the spring of 2014. It was 121,000 words long, and I thought, That’s a little long, but the writing is solid so that’s okay right?

Spoiler: No, it is not okay.

I started querying, and as rejection after rejection after rejection rolled in, I realized that The Reader was not ready, not ready at all. So I stopped sending out new queries and resolved to cut 21,000 words from the manuscript before trying again.

By mid-summer I’d gotten it down to 114,000, and through the awesome kidlit community on Twitter (more on that later), I discovered that Pitch Wars was coming up. (For those who aren’t familiar, Pitch Wars is this incredible online contest run by the inimitable Brenda Drake. Thousands of writers submit their manuscripts to mentors, publishing pros like agented authors and editors, who pick one “mentee” to work with. Then for two months, they hack, slash, revise, rebuild, and otherwise improve the mentee’s manuscript for the agent round, when Brenda enlists a parade of excellent literary agents to check out everyone’s pitches and first pages and make requests.) I’d heard amazing things about this contest, so I cut another 7,000 words by the submission deadline and entered.

And I got in! The phenomenal talent that is RenĂ©e Ahdieh, author of The Wrath and the Dawn and The Rose and the Dagger, picked me for her mentee, and she helped me cut another 10,000 words, sharpen The Reader’s hooks, and polish my prose to a high shine. A week after the agent round, I had a handful of offers, and one of them was from agent/warrior, Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, by whom I’m now represented.

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

Try to keep your creative spark. I’m fairly confident when it comes to craft, but all those rejections were demoralizing. I doubted my work, my passion, myself. I couldn’t write. Really, it was all I could do not to sit there, full of dread, refreshing my inbox. Who would reject me next? How quickly? What else could I do wrong?

So I decided to get my spark back. And what better way than to summon up my arts-and-craftiness and make some rejection book art? It didn’t change my rejections (only a brutal look at my manuscript and months of revision did that), but it helped me to believe in myself again. You can check out the results of that little project here!

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

I haven’t actually seen The Reader in stores in person yet, but someone just tweeted me a photo of it on the shelves at a Barnes & Noble in Southern California, and it really struck me, for the first time, that my book is going to be out there. In the world. My words, read by strangers. It is thrilling and humbling and nerve-wracking all at once!

How much input do you have on cover art?

I was very fortunate in that I’ve gotten a peek at a ton of the cover design process, from bouncing around ideas with my editor to checking out the initial sketches to seeing variations on what became the final. I did give some feedback here and there, but that beautiful cover is absolutely due to the brilliance of art director Deborah Kaplan, designer Kristin Smith, and illustrator Yohey Horishita. Truly, the best thing has been learning about the process and watching such extraordinary talents at work!

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

You know what’s weird? I am such a Type-A personality—I love making plans and organizing schedules and ensuring that everything goes off without a hitch—but I’ve learned over the course of this year, there’s so much that’s beyond my control when it comes to my book (sales, publicity, marketing, to name a few), that the less I know, the better I can focus on the one thing that I really do control: my words. I think in part this is because if I knew all the things that were happening I’d be able to do nothing but stand there wringing my hands, alternately fretting and screaming at my own impotence. The other part is that I’m really lucky to have an extraordinary team in my agent, editor, and publisher, who I can absolutely trust are working behind the scenes doing the making and organizing and ensuring so I can just write.

How much of your own marketing do you?  

I’m fortunate in that I get to leave most of the marketing to my publisher, but I do try to stay active on social media. I have a website (it’s also a Tumblr), Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, which are platforms I enjoy using anyway, so that makes it easy to check in consistently and keep updated with what’s going on. I also have a newsletter that goes out once a month (ish) so readers can get news, bonus content, and exclusive giveaways delivered right to their inbox!

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

For me, I think in general “platform” is less important than “making friends and staying updated with the community.” That was definitely true before I got an agent, when I used Twitter to learn more about Pitch Wars, what agents were looking for (especially via #mswl), and watch what was happening in the online kidlit community. I didn’t set up my website or Facebook page until after I had a book deal, and I didn’t discover Pinterest until my edits on The Reader were almost finished, but again, I participate in these platforms because they’re fun and interesting and educational. Probably your most essential online presence is your website, which you should keep updated, but everything else? I’d say do what you like and leave the rest!

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

I hope so! I spend quite a lot of time on it anyway, haha. I haven’t found a way to really measure the impact my social media presence has on book sales, so for the time being I think I’ll just keep doing what’s fun and save the work work for writing!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Where I'll Be This Week...

Lots going on for me this coming week and weekend!

If you're in Central Ohio come out to my alma mater, Otterbein, to see me tomorrow night! Reading, selling, signing Q&A. Also cookies, I've been told.

Then on Saturday, November 19th I will be at the Miami Book Fair!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Gail Nall On Finding Inspiration In Your Obsessions

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 Gail Nall, who lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her family and more cats than necessary. She once drove a Zamboni, has camped in the snow in June, and almost got trampled in Paris. Gail is the author of the middle grade novel, BREAKING THE ICE and the author of the young adult novel, EXIT STAGE LEFT. Another middle grade novel, OUT OF TUNE, releases TODAY from Aladdin/S&S!

Be sure to scroll down for the giveaway!

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 did! I have a tiny (huge) obsession with reading travel blogs, and I kept running into blogs from families who lived on the road. As in, they sold everything and moved into an RV. With kids. And pets. I was fascinated, and I knew it was something I had to write about. As a parent, I totally get the motivation behind a decision like this, but as a twelve-year-old, I would've been horrified. And a horrified twelve-year-old always makes a great book.

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

Once I knew I was stuffing a family into an RV to travel the country, I needed a reason for Maya, my main character, to desperately want to get back home. This reason changed entirely from the first draft to the published version, which meant a lot of rewriting to turn Maya into an aspiring country singer who wants to audition for a reality singing show. Then I had to figure out all of the crazy stuff she was going to do to try to get back home and the obstacles that were going to stand in her way. And – the most fun for me – I had to decide where her family was traveling.

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

Oh yeah, definitely! I rewrote the second half of this book twice before even showing it to my agent because I didn't like how the plot changed as I wrote it. The first version had Maya and company getting lost in the mountains instead of taking a long a bike ride. In my head, it was really light and funny, but as I wrote it, it got more serious (not enough food, wild animals, etc). So I ended up with a second half that didn't match the first half at all. Hello, rewriting!

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

I keep an ideas file on my computer, but usually I have anywhere from one to three ideas sitting in the back of my brain, demanding to be written. Of the three taking up space in my head right now, one came from a co-worker's unique experience (day jobs are great for inspiration!), one came from something I love to do, and one was inspired by a song.

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

This is the hardest part. I write both MG and YA (and last winter, I even tossed a chapter book into the mix to keep things interesting), so it depends on which one I'm in the mood to write. But once I choose, I don't let myself work on another project, unless the other project is already in the publication process and needs attention rightthissecond. Once I decide MG or YA, I pick the project that appeals to me the most at the moment – the one I can see myself excited to get up and write at 5 a.m.

I recently got stitches in my arm and was taking mental notes the entire time about how I felt before, during, and after the process of being badly injured. Do you have any major life events that you chronicled mentally to mine for possible writing purposes later?

Ha, yes! I had a great scene in OUT OF TUNE with slugs attaching themselves to a frozen towel. That came from a real life experience when my washing machine died (while filled with sopping wet towels, of course). Let's just say I had no idea that many slugs lived in my backyard, and I had to Google “how to remove slugs from frozen towels.” (Spoiler alert: Google was unhelpful.) I ended up cutting that scene, but it still lives on my computer, hoping to fit into another book some day.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Help Warm My Cold, Black Heart (Plus An E-Book Sale!)

So, most of you have realized by now that my books usually don't end in a wedding or with babies. (Actually, I do have an upcoming book that ends in a wedding. But, being me, there's a twist). In any case, I've been doing a lot of school and library visits, and the most common question I've been getting is, "What's wrong with you?"

Weird thing is, I don't have an answer.

My parents are nice people. I like my sister. I grew up on a farm. I had pets that lived long, happy lives. So basically, I don't know.

But - I do hate being cold. It's a thing with me. And my local library could really use a new furnace. It's a very small rural community, and funding is always in short supply. So, if you'd like to help give towards their $10,000 goal, that would be really awesome.

Also, I write there sometimes. Maybe if I'm not cold one day I might write a book with a happy ending...

And, in cool news - the E-book version of NOT A DROP TO DRINK is currently $1.99! I have no idea how long this will last, so make a grab with that two bucks burning a hole in your pocket.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Debut Author Tara Sim On Finding Your Community Online

Today's guest for the SAT is Tara Sim, author of TIMEKEEPER coming Nov. 8 from SkyPony Press. When she’s not writing about mischievous boys in clock towers, Tara spends her time drinking tea, wrangling cats, and occasionally singing opera.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

A mix of both, actually. I’ve found that the best method for me is making a bare bones outline—an idea for the opening, middle, and most important, the ending—and then I’ll fill it in with details as I’m drafting. A lot of the time I’ll discover things as I write, which I’ll incorporate into the outline somehow. It usually all comes together by the end.

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

I’m a pretty fast drafter. My fastest book took two weeks, and one time I wrote 300k in two months. I’d say my average time is two months to do a first draft, although my current WIP is taking much longer because of all the detail and research that needs to go into it.

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

I prefer doing one project at a time. Now that I have a series being published, however, I’m learning how to multitask projects better. One month I’ll be revising one book, the next month I’ll be revising another, and the next month I’ll be drafting yet another. Sometimes it helps to jump between projects so that you don’t get burned out.

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

I’ve been writing all my life, so it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment I sat down and wrote with intention. I do remember sitting down and writing a scene that would eventually become my first finished novel—thankfully unpublished—and there was no fear, just fun. It’s a little different now that there are pressures and deadlines and an audience to think of. Sometimes I have to remind myself about the fun I felt back then, and try to write just for myself. Excitement for what you’re writing will usually surpass fear, in my experience.

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

Nine. I had an epic fantasy trilogy I wrote in my teens, two standalone fantasy novels I wrote in college, and a high fantasy series written before I wrote Timekeeper, which is my tenth book and the one that got me an agent/book deal. I didn’t seriously query any of my previous books—the series before Timekeeper only went to five agents—but all of them were integral in learning how to write and what I wanted to write.

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

I’ve started and stopped a few projects, yes. A couple of them I’m still interested in and may go back to, but ultimately, I knew they weren’t right because I just wasn’t excited enough. When writing a book feels only like work, it might be time to step back and reevaluate if it’s something you want to stick with. You should be excited about the work on some level. That’s how heart gets on the page.

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

My agent is Laura Crockett of Triada US. I had just done Pitch Wars that year, which really strengthened my manuscript. A few of the Pitch Wars agents had the book, so I continued to query and heard that Laura was interested in the Victorian era. I queried her the traditional way, was asked for a partial, and got an email a few days later asking for the whole book. Shortly after, she called to offer me representation.

How long did you query before landing your agent?  

I queried for about seven months, but one or two of those months were dedicated to Pitch Wars. I sent just a little over 40 queries total. Since Timekeeper is a very specific type of book, I had to research agents like crazy to figure out who exactly to send those queries to.

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

KEEP GOING. I definitely hit a point where it felt like the end of the road, and then I got my offer. In those seven months I was querying, I heavily revised the book twice, so if you have a new idea or a way to make it stronger, take the time to do so. Oh, and find your people! I can’t tell you how helpful it is to have a community of writers who’ll listen to your woes and sympathize.

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

My first book won’t be out in the world until November 1, so I can’t say! However, the first time I saw the ARCs was surreal. My story, printed and bound like a real book! It was pretty cool.

How much input do you have on cover art?

A lot of authors don’t get asked or don’t have any input, but I was lucky in that my editor wanted to make sure I was happy with my cover. The first one I saw was lovely, but ultimately not right for the story, so I asked for a slightly different approach. The result is the cover I have right now, which I love! So it never hurts to ask.

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

How much time and energy it takes. I was warned that I wouldn’t have much time to write for myself once I got a book deal, and I didn’t believe it. Now I believe it.

How much of your own marketing do you? 

 I do the majority of my own marketing. In this past year I’ve set up a website, newsletter, swag, giveaways, character reveals, and submitted proposals/been accepted and/or invited to book conventions and festivals.

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

I think that before you get an agent, you should focus primarily on finding your community. The more people you befriend, the better. That way, when you get an agent/book deal, you’ll already have people interested in you and your brand and your book. From there, expand. Get a website. Promote yourself. Promote others. Reach out and find your readers.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

Absolutely. I’ve met so many amazing book bloggers, librarians, teachers, and booksellers on Twitter alone! Book bloggers in particular keep stunning me with their level of dedication and creativity. This is going back to the idea of community. Be a good member of the community, and they’ll help you spread the word about your book. Hosting giveaways and book teasers and the like on social media really boosts your presence too. Also, it’s just fun!