Monday, February 29, 2016

The Power of Perseverance

Seventeen years ago I was sitting in my college dorm, fuming at the world because I thought I could write a better book than the one I had just finished reading for class (FYI - I couldn't. Trust me. That first novel of mine is pure stink). A seed had been planted a few months earlier by a true crime show I'd caught on cable - college was my first experience outside of network TV - so I said, "Screw it, Mindy. Write the damn book already."

Fifteen years ago I was working part time in retail (at a Hallmark, if you can picture it), reading Euripides on my lunch break and jotting down notes on the Furies as sidebars to a project I'd been reworking, revising, and revamping since my sophomore year in college, titled THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES.

Thirteen years ago I took a job at a high school library, having amassed literally hundreds of rejections for that novel, a handful for the second novel I'd finished, and a deep familiarity with the guy at the Post Office who had patience with me while he weighed my sample pages and put the right postage on my SASE (you old dogs will know what that means).

At the time I didn't know if I would be able to work forty a week and still write, but I wanted to. When I moved into my new office I printed out a copy of the Rudyard Kipling poem "The Female Of The Species," from which I'd taken the title of my first novel, and hung it on the wall facing my desk. It was a reminder to persevere, that even though work was done at three I might not be, and that there was something more I wanted to do with my life.

Over time little notes started decorating that wall as well, things I'd jotted down to remind me how to run certain reports, where the I Spy books were on the Dewey, little notes from students, senior pictures, and random things smaller kids would gift me that they found on the floor. My Kipling poem wasn't the only thing on the wall anymore - in fact, it was becoming an overshadowed lower layer. But it was still there, and I still saw it.

Last week the dust jackets for my next release showed up at my house. THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES releases on September 20th, 2016, seventeen years after the idea first occurred to me. The manuscript that you'll see on the shelves bears little to no resemblance to that first draft - and that's a good thing - but the concept and characters have been true to themselves.

So whatever the book of your heart is find a way to put it in your line of sight every day, as a reminder that there's something more you aspire to.

Then make time for it.




Saturday, February 27, 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.

Kinetic: The First Alliance is the story of intergalactic betrayal and revenge that will forever shape the lives of five teens back on Earth as they struggle to find the meaning of their existences and keep their humanity in the process. One by one, they’re forced them to fight a war light years away that they never asked for, or wanted to be a part of. This para isn't bad by any means, but it feels very much like a summation to put at the end of a synopsis rather than to use as the hook for a query. 

In the not (so?) distant future, Alex Carter is a southern since you say she's from Texas you don't need this teen from Houston, Texas I don't think you need this either, since you can probably assume the agent knows where Houston is :) who had dreams of going to college and living a nice, boring existence. However, his life just took watch your tenses. This needs to be "takes" in order to work with the rest of the tense in this sentence. a turn for the chaotic when he is visited by Shyra, a beautiful and deadly alien from a far off world. After revealing Alex can control electricity, and must use his powers to try and save the world.  This needs to be a comma rather than a period, otherwise it's an incomplete sentence. She manipulates his need to protect his grandfather, the only family he has left, and he chooses to leave with her into the night. This is a very vague para - how did Alex not know he could control electricity? Is this shocking for him? How does he feel? How does Shyra manipulate him? Right now you're just narrating what happens. I don't know what Alex is like or how he feels about the situation. 

The curt and brazen alien rips four more kinetics, each with different amazing abilities from their homes and forces them to be soldiers for an upcoming interplanetary battle-royal to the death. So who are they fighting for? Who are they fighting against? Where  does Shyra come in? Is she bad? Is she good? Alex is forced to grow up and become a man and hero in just one year before the evil Zenakuu arrives.

Alex juggles a wide array of emotions for his team and mentor such as love, jealously, brotherhood, and hatred to name a few. Who is he in love with ? Who is he jealous of? Who does he hate? When war finally makes its way to Earth’s doorstep, Alex must choose between either surviving the day, or sacrificing himself to save the lives of his team.  The fate of humanity lies in the hands of a teenager who is only sure that he’s impossibly unsure. This is a great ending line, and definitely sums up how a teenager would feel in this situation. 

 “KINETIC: THE FIRST ALLIANCE” is the first installment in a Sci-fi, Young Adult series as a debut author you have a much better chance of pitching this as a stand-alone with series potential - but only if you can actually make it that way and is 123,000 your word count is very high. You'll need to get this to at least under 100k if you want to get positive responses. Untried, unpublished authors have a tendency to overwrite, and while I don't know if that's actually the case with your book, the word count will make it seem that way to a prospective agent words. It’s pace and theme will appeal to the readers of such books as Pittacus Lore’s “I AM NUMBER FOUR,” and “STEELHEART” by Brandon Sanderson. Good comp titles.

Right now this query doesn't tell me what makes your story any different from all the others similar to it. You've got a beautiful alien girl, a team of unlikely teen heroes with special abilities, and an upcoming invasion of Earth that only they can save it from. That could be any number of YA titles, and I bet they see several queries for novels just like this one in their inbox if not daily, then at least weekly. What makes yours different, better, stronger, faster, more interesting than theirs? Figure that out and get it into the query.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Tamera Will Wissinger On Jotting Down Notes When Inspiration Hits

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 Tamera Will Wissinger, who writes stories and poetry for children including Gone Fishing: A Novel in Verse, This Old Band, and There Was An Old Lady Who Gobbled a Skink. Her verse novel Gone Camping arrives in 2017. You can connect with Tamera online at her website, on Twitter, or on Facebook.

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? 

It was spring of 2006. (I know; even low word-count books can take their time.) As sometimes happens in my writing, fishing and the water’s edge crept into the work. As I was toying with rhythm and rhyme, some funny images emerged when I began to rhyme unexpected words – line and dine, bobber and slobber. As I played I remembered the old folk tale, There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, and the concept of a fisherwoman gobbling her bait and tackle at the shore sprang forward. 

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

That summer I had enrolled in a rhyming picture book workshop with Jill Esbaum. One of my first drafts began with the old lady swallowing her boat. Jill gave me good feedback and suggested that it might work better if I started small and worked my way to the bigger items. That made sense, so I tried it and built from there. 

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

Yes. This book morphed a number of times as I worked with different trusted readers. At one point I called the old lady an old fisher, then old angler, but learned those words might not resonate with young readers. And there was also a gar in the story at one point which was…bizarre, so the gar had to go.

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

Story ideas do come to me often. I invite them, actually, and am always on the lookout for funny or poignant conversations and situations. Whether I’m at the grocery store or jolted awake at night with an idea, I try to jot story ideas down as soon as I recognize them. Otherwise they may disappear. Only a small percent of those ideas develop into a poem or a story – many times they seem wonderful in the moment only to fall flat when I begin to explore more deeply. That’s okay with me, though. Who knows; maybe I’ll be able to do something meaningful with those ideas later.  

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

Hmm. I usually go with what’s tugging most at my heart – the characters or situations that are dancing or jumping for me to turn their way. Writing shorter stories and poetry it’s a tricky balance, though, because often more than one story begs for attention. If that happens, I do divide my time. When I see one story that’s emerging most strongly, I’ll focus more energy there until I’ve seen it through.

When it comes to naming characters, I just rest my hands and let them tell me what their names are. What’s your process? 

I like your process of resting and listening to your characters. Most often I’ll begin to write using a name that I like, knowing that it may be a filler name. As the character grows it becomes more apparent to me whether or not the name fits the personality of the character. If the name no longer works, I go searching for the just-right name. Often I wind up researching on a baby name website. Some sites give name definitions, which I find interesting and informative, too.

Thank you for hosting me today for this interview, Mindy. It was fun to think about your WHAT questions.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Cover Reveal For THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES & Excerpt!

It's time!

I'm very proud to share with you the cover reveal for a book of firsts for me - my first contemporary, my first attempt at writing a male main character, and my first book with multiple POV's. Check out the cover below and then head over to Epic Reads to read the first four chapters.



I'll be doing an ARC giveaway as soon as I have some, so stay tuned!


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.

Amanda lives in the most boring town in the world very tiny nitpick- I'm not sure if you want your hook to have the word boring in it. It's not necessarily representative of the beginning of the book, but pages where characters are sitting around being bored are in fact, boring. You might consider rephrasing—New Pines. She calls it Picket Town, though, because every single house is completely identical identical implies completely and is surrounded by the same-exact, we've got it, they're the same dull, white picket fence. The only thing remotely interesting—and kind of creepy—about New Pines is the never-before-seen bacterium that broke out in it a month ago. Awesome! The mysterious disease only infects kids, and apparently nobody who’s come down with it has recovered from it yet. Oh - we definitely need to know a little bit more about the bacterium, right now. What are the symptoms?

But after an inspiring Social Studies lesson on famous explorers, Amanda investigates the forbidden woods by her house, yanking her friend Sam along for the mission. Much to their  just go with surprise utter shock and horror, they discover what appears to be a giant spaceship in the forest’s clearing. Not only that, but they secretly witness every grownup in town, including their parents, fly out of the ship by themselves. They also spot the school nurse carrying the bacterium’s latest unconscious victim into the ship.

Totally terrified now, Amanda and Sam put two and two together—aliens must have replaced all the adults in town and are testing the bacterium on the kids before using it for global domination. Amanda and Sam race to alert the authorities in the next town over, but the aliens always seem to be one step ahead. Couple that with the fact Amanda and Sam start exhibiting signs of the debilitating bacterial infection themselves, and they’re running out of time not just to save themselves, but all of mankind. So.... where do the fences come into the plot? You gave your whole first para over to them - why?

This sounds totally fun and awesome. It's well-written and with a few nits is ready to go out, I think, if you can explain why the fences matter (if they do). If they don't, they shouldn't get the attention they do in the query. The only other thing I'll add is consider putting the MC's age in the first para so that the agent knows from from the first line if they're looking at MG or YA.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Jen Doktorski On Making Swag You Can Legally Mail

Most authors will agree that the creative part of the job is where we excel, the business and marketing side, slightly less. It’s lovely when the two can meet in the form of SWAG – Shit We All Generate. I’ve invited some published authors to share with us their secret to swag… little freebies that can sell a book longer after the author is no longer standing in front of a prospective reader. In order to create great swag, you have to be crafty – in more ways than one.

Today's guest for the SWAG is Jen Dokstorski, who has held various jobs such as speech writer, bank teller, ghostwriter, bookkeeper in a lampshade factory, pet shop clerk, and music zine editor. At one point in her life she wrote obituaries for eight months. Her YA books HOW MY SUMMER WENT UP IN FLAMES and FAMOUS LAST WORDS were released in 2013. Her recent release, THE SUMMER AFTER YOU AND ME was published in May 2015 by Sourcebooks Fire.

Finding something that represents your book and hasn’t been played out by a million authors before is difficult. What’s your swag? 

So true! It’s not easy to be original. For my first YA novel, HOW MY SUMMER WENT UP IN FLAMES, I wanted to get custom-made matchbooks with the book’s cover on one side and my website on the other. However, my publicist warned me that mailing those might be an issue, so I wound up ordering pens that look like matchsticks. My second YA novel, FAMOUS LAST WORDS, was about a girl who gets a summer job writing obits at local newspaper. For that book, I purchased official reporters notebooks to include with giveaways.

How much money per piece did your swag cost out of pocket?

The pens were $.79 each at Office Playground. I ordered 100 and I still have three left. The reporters notebooks came in a 12-pack for $18.75.

Do you find that swag helps you stand out at an event? 

The pens gave me something to talk about because people didn’t know what they were at first. I always got a laugh when I clicked the top and showed people it was a pen. Ultimately, I think cool posters attract more attention than swag does. I had posters made for each of my books.

What do you think of big item swag pieces versus cheaper, yet more easily discarded swag like bookmarks? 

I think big item swag pieces can be fun to include with giveaways, but may not be very practical or effective for widespread distribution. I’ve made up tote bags with my book covers on either side and this past summer, I teamed up with two author friends, J. Albert Mann and Bethany Crandell, who also had summer releases. Bethany is the author of SUMMER ON THE SHORT BUS and Jen Mann is the author of the Sunny Sweet middle grade series and the forthcoming YA historical novel SCAR. We held a giveaway for all three of our books and had a charm bracelet created to include with the prize package. I wound up liking it so much I had one made for myself! 




What’s the most clever / best swag by another author? 

This isn’t swag so much as a promotional item, but the aforementioned Jen Mann, had giant decals made depicting the cover of SUNNY SWEET IS SO NO SORRY and turned her car into the Sunnymobile! Adorable and attention-grabbing.

And the biggest question – do you think swag helps sell books? 

Sigh. I honestly don’t believe swag helps sell books, but it can be so much fun to hand out! Bookmarks seem boring, I know, but I believe they’re a great way to get your name out there. I’ve dropped them off at libraries in my area, mailed them to libraries in other states, and handed them out to random strangers when they’ve asked me about my books. My latest YA novel, THE SUMMER AFTER YOU & ME is set at the Jersey shore and a lot of local businesses were willing to keep my bookmarks on the counter by the cash register.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Wide, Wide, World of Reality

People often ask me what it's like inside my head.

The honest answer is that it's the Beetlejuice soundtrack in there, and it's easy to get lost.

I'm an outdoors person, and an athlete. I try to run, or get my daily dose of sunshine in (even when it's cloudy, those rays get through!) regardless of the workload. It helps keep me connected with the real world, to humanity in general, keeps depression at bay, and also keeps my ass at a manageable size.

The boyfriend is an outdoors-y guy as well as a creative, (I've said before- think a Thoreau/Daryl Dixon mashup with a photography degree), and his view of the world always amazes me. I can make up shit in my head all day long and sell it to you, convince you to care about things that never happened to people that don't exist. But he can look at something mundane and see the amazing, capture the magical qualities of a corn stubble field in the snow that I never knew existed.

I've lived around cornfields my whole life, and yes, I've always known there was something a little eerie about the stalks - green or dry - rubbing against each other in the wind. They have their own special sounds, they can slice your skin like paper, and if you wander more than four rows in you WILL get lost. Sometimes for a good long while.

But I've never thought about the stubble, the mowed off, unproductive sentinels that simply wait six months to get plowed under. They're distinctly unmusical. A remnant. Until my boyfriend went out yesterday and took some shots that make them look like a tiny invading alien army wading through the snow to come kill us.

I think as writers we sometimes spend too much time in our heads, neglecting the world around us, and the amazing qualities even the most mundane objects can hold if we change our perspective. So think about it today as you go about your routine - oh, yes, the routine, that will make you blind to everything except the task in front of you.

Make your desk chair a little higher, or a little lower. Take a pen and put yourself on eye level with it and really look at it for second. Find something you see every single day, and look at it a different way.

You'll see something new.

Saturday, February 13, 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.

Niya Coleman killed herself on October 3rd, the night of homecoming, because all she wanted, more than anything in the world, was nothing. Good hook. The only thing I'd suggest would be perhaps eliminating the exact date to make the sentence flow a little better. The idea that it's homecoming is enough.

Unfortunately for Niya, the first thing she discovers about death is that it’s the opposite of nothingness. It’s full of all the sounds and lights and people she hated most while living and, consider breaking up this sentence right here. It's very long. even worse, all the things people hated most about her — like her bluntness and her aversion to touching and the fact that she has to rely on her handy emotion dictionary to remember that lips turn upwards when people are happy, downwards when they are sad, and purse when angry— have all followed her to the grave. And now, just as in life, Niya finds herself in a special class, confined with hundreds of other spirits to the Suicide Room.

The Suicide Room, with its blindingly white walls and endless rows of waiting room chairs, isn’t for all the (d?)early departed. It’s only for those poor souls who had the misfortune of dying before fulfilling a purpose. A purpose so important that the universe would be even more damned if it goes unfulfilled. A bit wordy again. Consider blending these two sentences concerning purpose and ing a little more economy of words. And it just so happens that Niya’s purpose revolves around the same two people who made her crave nothingness most of all; her perfect twin sister Nadiya, who noticed Niya’s eccentricities more then she did, and Nadiya’s sometime boyfriend Desmond Mallot, who Niya never really cared for, even before he raped her. Raped who? Niya or Nadiya? 

Guided only by Hawtha, the ancient and secretive host of the Suicide Room, and Bernardo, the always smiling boy who needs help testing his theory that memories, a hidden door, and a dangerous visit to the living world lead can lead to fulfilling purposes, Niya has to choose between the lesser of two evils. She can focus her energies on discovering how she’s meant to help her rapist and the sister she spent her life wishing away, or she can risk not fulfilling her purpose, never getting her nothingness and spending eternity in the Suicide Room.

The Suicide Room is complete at 85,000 words. It is a YA, fantasy Hmm.... not sure this qualifies as a fantasy. Look into the genre of magical realism and see if that might be a better fit novel centered around a girl who has broken from the weight of her differences, and now has to examine her past to rebuild a life she’ll never get to live.

Overall this is quite good. I did some strikethroughs to illustrate spots where you can practice more economy of words, but that's my biggest nit. Look for spots where you can tighten up - even slightly - and you're in good shape. The concept is sound and interesting!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: THIS IS WHERE THE WORLD ENDS by Amy Zhang

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.

Micah can't remember what happened to Janie, his best friend since elementary and the secret love of his life. Except, their friendship was also a secret, since his Uber-geek status didn't exactly fit her picture perfect, popular life. All that ended when there was a fire, and something happened to Micah's head that won't let him remember what happened to her, or where she is now.

Recovering from a major head injury and with arson investigators asking questions he doesn't know the answers to, Micah dives into what he does remember about Janie. Meeting her at their special spot in the quarry, getting drunk together for the first time, floating in a boat that probably wasn't quite safe. But there are not so great memories too, times when Janie said hurtful things or manipulated him - and he let her.

As his memories slowly come back, Micah pieces together the good and bad parts of their friendship since their childhood, as well as the last night they were ever together. Even though he knows the end might not be what he's hoping for.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Award Winning Picture Book Author Pat Zietlow Miller On Inspiration

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 Pat Zietlow Miller, who has four picture books in print and six more on the way! Her debut, SOPHIE’ S SQUASH, won the Golden Kite Award for best picture book text, an Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor and a Charlotte Zolotow Honor. It also won the Midwest Region Crystal Kite Award and was a Cybils’ finalist.

WHEREVER YOU GO briefly made Midwest Booksellers bestseller list, and SHARING THE BREAD was – at one point – the No. 1 Amazon.com release for new Thanksgiving books. Pat blogs about the craft of writing picture books at www.picturebookbuilders.com. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with one wonderful husband, two delightful daughters and two particular cats.

Her newest, THE QUICKEST KID IN CLARKSVILLE releases today from Chronicle!

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

My new book, THE QUICKEST KID IN CLARKSVILLE, had two specific points of origin. I started writing the story because I had read the wonderful picture book THE NEW GIRL … AND ME by Jacqui Robbins and Matt Phelan. It was so amazing that I really wanted to see if I could write something anywhere near as good. So I started writing my own friendship story featuring two girls – Alta and Charmaine – who both wanted to be the fastest kid on their block.

The resulting story was perfectly fine, but not particularly noteworthy. I set the story aside and it didn’t take out again until I attended the Rutgers One-on-One Plus Conference and talked with Random House editor Chelsea Eberly. She suggested adding a historical element. The second she did, I know just what I was going to do.

That’s how Olympic gold-medal-winning sprinter Wilma Rudolph joined the story. She gave my girls a common hero and gave the story a specific setting – 1960 Clarksville, Tennessee. 

The story wouldn’t be what it is today without those two pivotal moments.

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

When I researched Wilma Rudolph, I learned she was more than the fastest woman in the world. I learned she’d overcome physical and economic challenges to earn her success and that she’d played an important part in integrating her hometown. I worked those elements into my manuscript, as well.

The story’s basic plot stayed the same, although I changed how the girls competed to see who was faster so that their challenges were loosely based on Wilma’s three Olympic events. And, I made Wilma’s real-life welcome-home parade the final event in the story where Alta and Charmaine realize they can be friends instead of competitors.

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

My drafting usually goes one of two ways. 

1. My first draft is exactly what I had in my mind as it moves from my head to the paper because I had it fairly well thought out before I started. Of course, then it changes when as I think about it further and share it with my writing friends.

2. My first draft is nothing like what I had in mind because I started out with only a few words or a fragment of an idea and I figured it out as I typed. Stories that start this way also usually go through a lot of changes as I revise.

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

I almost hate to say this, because I don’t want to tempt fate, but I get a lot of ideas. Those don’t always turn into things that are worthwhile, but I’m constantly noticing things odd, interesting or unusual things and pondering how I might be able to turn them into a story.

I think writers tend to notice stuff other people look past. My husband is a sports reporter, and I remember accompanying him to a high school basketball game. He was evaluating the players and analyzing the defense and tracking points and rebounds. I played basketball, so I understand the game, but my big takeaway was the cool socks one team was wearing. I think that says a lot about how I think.

I wrote a blog post about where writers get ideas that you can see on Tara Lazar’s Picture Book Idea Month blog. Spoiler: It mentions rolling grapes.

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

I go with whichever idea I’m most excited about at the time. Usually, there’s one that I just can’t stop thinking about. So I follow that one until I’ve exhausted all its possibilities. 

I usually have several manuscripts in various stages at any one time. But, one of those is always the primary manuscript and I only work on the others when I’m stuck on the primary one or when it needs to rest for a bit.

Sometimes the perfect word eludes me. If I can’t come up with it in the moment I usually write something in ALL CAPS like A GREAT WORD HERE and move on to catch it later in revision. Do you roll with the flow, or go find that word right away?

My preference is to find the right word or phrase at the moment I’m writing. I’m kind of compulsive that way. But although that’s what I want to do, it’s not always the best thing to do. So I often put notes in manuscript saying things like: “ADD SOMETHING FUNNY HERE.” 

That captures my ultimate plan for the manuscript, lets me keep going without losing momentum and lets whatever I need to eventually add simmer on my brain’s back burner for a while. And, eventually, the perfect thing bubbles to the top.

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Beautiful Dichotomy Of My Life

As you may know, A MADNESS SO DISCREET was recently nominated for an Edgar award in the YA category. I was still in a little bit of shock from that announcement when I received my invitation to the ceremony, which is a black tie event in NYC.

I'm good with black tie. I'll have to shave and wash my hair and find some non-expired makeup, but I can pull it off in a pinch. But I've got a +1 on that invitation, and the boyfriend is something of a mix between Thoreau and Daryl Dixon. So if you can imagine trying to get either one of those guys in a tux and into NYC you see my dilemma.

I broached the subject while we were splitting wood this weekend. Yes, we heat the house with wood that we cut ourselves - that's how we roll. So I explained about the nomination and the ceremony while yelling over the wood splitter. And in between losing my breath from hauling logs as thick as my waist I added the bit about it all being black tie.

So we're pretty filthy, sweaty as hell, and wearing Carhartts when the boyfriend said sure, he'd put on a tux and come to NYC with me.

And... now I need a dress.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

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.

Twelve-year-olds Abby and Brandon couldn’t be more different. Abby is a little rough around the edges, and lives in a cramped trailer.. Is this an ellipsis or a period that got cocky? She doesn’t have any friends, but that’s probably because she threatens to punch anybody in the face who gives her a sideways glance. Phrasing is a little awkward here, switch them around.

Brandon, on the other hand, has it all—a big house, perfect hair, and a pearly white smile. He’s impressed everybody except the person who matters the most—his super successful, workaholic dad.

But when a dead uncle names Abby and Brandon in a will, they discover they’re cousins--a small detail their estranged fathers forgot to mention. All Abby and Brandon have to do to inherit their dead uncle’s massive fortune and famous chain of pizza restaurants is to compete in a series of challenges designed to test their skills. It’s winner take all--and loser go home. Nice! This sounds fun.

As they compete to out-smart, out-create, and out-cook each other, Abby and Brandon discover things aren’t as they seem. Like, maybe neither one of them deserves the inheritance, and maybe their dead uncle isn’t all that dead, and maybe there’s something more important than money. Family. Use an em-dash here at the end before "family." 

PIZZA PALACE is a fast-paced and laugh-out-loud 42,000-word contemporary MG novel told in Abby and Brandon’s alternating perspectives. It will appeal to boy and girl fans of humor, action, and adventure.

This is great! I love the concept and it's a well executed query. Polish off a few things here and you are ready to query.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: MY LIFE WITH THE LIARS by Caela Carter

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.

Zylynn knows nothing other than the compound, that Mother God loves her, that the Light is good and that the Father will save her if she does as she is told. Hungry days are hard, but important lessons tot teach her and the other members of the Light how to behave properly. In a world where the constant buzz of ceiling lights has never stopped, and the only hugs she's ever felt came from the women - who were always leaving to harvest more souls for the Light - Zylynn is terrified of the Outside, where the Darkness is.

But a man - a Liar - from the Darkness comes for her before her 13th birthday, a man who says he is her dad. He takes her to a world where she has a room with pink stripes, her own bed, privacy, hot baths, and food... so much food she doesn't believe it's all for her. Afraid that mistakes have been made and it'll be taken from her, she hordes it under her bed for when she finally prepares herself to make the journey back to the compound.

The Father has not come to get her, and she must be at the compound before her 13th birthday, so that she can become a permanent part of the Light. The Liars buy her clothes, give her food, comb the mats from her hair - but they are still Liars. Zylynn has to make a decision soon - to become a permanent part of the Light, or risk a life with the Liars out in the Darkness.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Debut Author Andrew S. Chilton On Writing The Ending First

Welcome to another SAT (Successful Author Talk). Today's guest is Andrew S. Chilton. Andrew is a member of The Class of 2k16, and his MG fantasy novel, The Goblin's Puzzle: Being the Adventures of a Boy With No Name and Two Girls Called Alice was released on Jan 19th by Knopf.

Are you a Planner or Pantser?

I'm definitely a pantser, though I usually have a rough idea of what the story is in my head. Some pantsers will tell you that when they start, they have absolutely no idea what is going to happen. I'm not that extreme. I think it's important to have a general idea how the story ends. In fact, I usually write the ending first.

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

It depends. I can do a first draft in thirty days, but that means setting aside thirty days to do no other kind of work. Getting that much uninterrupted time is a challenge, and if I have to stop and start up again, that adds a lot of time. And even if I get my thirty days, what I have is a very rough first draft. I'd say it takes a minimum of six drafts to get something into any kind of decent shape. Allowing for cooling off time between drafts and beta reading, I'd say that 18 months is the minimum for going from writing “Once upon a time” to hitting send on the email to my editor.

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

I do better work if I stick to one project at a time, so that's what I try to do. My brain, however, feels differently about this. (“Ooo, look! Shiny!”)

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

Like a lot of writers, I have this part of my brain that's constantly telling me, “This is dumb. You can't write. You're an idiot. And not a funny one, either.” But that doesn't feel like fear to me. It's just negative self-talk, the kind of stuff you have to learn to ignore if you're going to do anything at all. But fear? No, I didn't really feel afraid. What is there to fear? Failing? Making an ass of yourself in public? I've done both of those enough times to have learned that they're no big deal (not fun, but not that bad.) There are things worth fearing in this life, but none of them will happen to you because you wrote a book.

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

The Goblin's Puzzle was the first book I ever finished, but if we include projects that I worked on but did not finish, the answer is several dozen. I just peeked in my writing folder. There's about twenty abandoned titles in there, and I only keep the ones I think there's some kind of chance I might go back to.

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

Yes, but it was never a conscious decision. They all just slowly dribbled away.

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

My agent is Pam Howell with D4EO. Basically, I just sent her a query, but there's a little more to the story than that. A friend of mine is a middle grade author with a couple of books published. He'd read The Goblin's Puzzle and really liked it. (Well, he really liked it after I redid the opening scene—twice.) Anyway, he was kind enough to pass it on to his agent (who ultimately passed on it). While looking for other possible agents, I ran across Pam's book review blog. On it, she said that my author friend's latest book was her favorite middle grade of the year. So, with his permission, I included his endorsement in my query to her. 

How long did you query before landing your agent?  How many queries did you send?  

I kept pretty good records. Pam was the forty-first agent that I formally queried. I sent my first query on September 26, 2011. Pam called me to offer representation on July 8, 2013. So it took just over twenty-one months to land an agent. (Answering this question is the first time I ever actually worked out how long it took. It was a surprise how much shorter it was than I remember. At the time, it seemed like it took forever.)

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

Try not to think of it as Hell. It's hard because our books are so much a part of who we are that having them rejected—especially having them rejected for no obvious reason—can be painful. It's best to try to get over that as fast as possible. Sure, some people land an agent the first time out. Or the second. But most don't. I know one author who queried 140 agents before finding representation for a book that went on to be a New York Times bestseller. Every individual query is a longshot. Think of it as rolling a pair of dice looking for double sixes. What happens if you don't? You pick the dice up and throw them again.

Of course, it's all going to be a lot easier if your book is good enough...

How much input do you have on cover art?

More than I knew what to do with. I don't have a very visual imagination. When Katherine Harrison (my wonderful, wonderful editor) asked me for ideas about the cover, I think I said something like, “Uh, maybe we should have the main characters on it?” She went out and found the amazingly talented Jensine Eckwall to do the cover and interior illustrations, which are beautiful. Hire her if you get the chance.

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

You hear a lot about how publishing isn't like it used to be and no one really edits anymore and so on. This was not my experience at all. We went through several rounds of editing, and Katherine worked very closely with me on the book.

How much of your own marketing do you?  

I do some of my own marketing but probably not as much as some other authors. I do have a Twitter account and an author page on Facebook, but I mostly use them to announce upcoming appearances.

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

I'm probably not the best person to ask this, but my inclination is to say that you shouldn't worry about this too much. If you enjoy having a blog, then you should have a blog. But if it you don't, I wouldn't bother. Every agent I've talked to will say that platform doesn't really matter to them. (At least not in fiction. Non-fiction, I understand, is another story entirely.) That said, every agent I know is a total social media monster. So, there's that.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

I think it helps more with young adult than middle grade. Your middle grade readership isn't on social media (or isn't supposed to be, anyway), so you have to be indirect. It's about building relationships with people like librarians and booksellers, people who will put your books in kids hands.

Monday, February 1, 2016

So You'd Like To Follow My Blog, Eh?

Last week I suddenly lost about 70 followers, according to Google Friend Connect, which had me wondering how I managed to offend. My mom is fond of telling me I could stand to be a little nicer, but I'm 36 now (37 next month) and I think she's going to have to acknowledge the fact that I'm never going to be the roses type.

All that being said, it turns out I didn't do anything wrong (duh) but rather Google (of which Blogger is a product) chose to remove the ability for people without a Google account to log into Google Friend Connect. Quoting from their forum below:

In 2011, we announced the retirement of Google Friend Connect for all non-Blogger sites. We made an exception for Blogger to give readers an easy way to follow blogs using a variety of accounts. Yet over time, we’ve seen that most people sign into Friend Connect with a Google Account. So, in an effort to streamline, in the next few weeks we’ll be making some changes that will eventually require readers to have a Google Account to sign into Friend Connect and follow blogs. 

As part of this plan, starting the week of January 11, we’ll remove the ability for people with Twitter, Yahoo, Orkut or other OpenId providers to sign in to Google Friend Connect and follow blogs. At the same time, we’ll remove non-Google Account profiles so you may see a decrease in your blog follower count.

Mystery solved. Yet I'm saddened. I feel a little hole in my heart - I do have one - in roughly the shape of the number 70 plus a number in the tens place. So, if you're one of the people that got the Blogger boot, feel free to follow me via email (sign up in the sidebar to the right - but be warned you'll have an email in your inbox every single time I post), or bite the bullet and get a Google account.

I promise you'll only feel the twinge of conformity for a second.