Saturday, September 30, 2017

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.

I write to submit a query for my historical novel The Peddler of Wisdom, a stand-alone narrative at 80k words. Typically, I suggest starting with your hook. Agents can assume you are writing them to query, and titles and word counts aren't going to grab them. I always say start with what makes you unique.

Widowed many years, protagonist Irene works as a traditional healer wouldn't she just be referred to as a healer? Only in a contemporary setting would her healing be called traditional in the tiny French village of St. Dalmas le Selvage. Being single and plying a trade are scandals indeed for a woman in the 16th century, even more so when Irene talks to pre-Christian spirits I don't think you need the pre-Christian phrase here. Talking to spirits in general can be viewed as non-Christian (typically) and again, she herself wouldn't identify them as pre-Christian for guidance. One midwinter morning a hunting party arrives from the Provencal coast. Within hours these soldiers seize the village, dynamite the bridge, and storm the medieval castle. The invader, Duke Domenico, prince of Sardinia, has been plundering towns throughout the Mediterranean and has set his eyes on St. Dalmas' salt mine, salt having huge value during Renaissance trade.

Irene knows Duke Domenico must be assassinated or expelled. With the help of the duke's own physician, heart-throb alchemist, Juaquino Durande, she builds a puppet ghost to haunt the paranoid duke, who has enfeebled himself with mercury experimentation and the attendant kidney failure and hallucinations. He won't go without a fight, however, and sends into the fray a mechanical warrior, a brass automaton empowered with the magic of a homunculus summoned from the lab. The Renaissance monsters burn down half the mountainside in their battle and no Sardinians survive, but Irene and Durande will build a new town on St. Dalmas' ashes. Cool. This sounds like fun.

The Peddler of Wisdom will remind fans of Elena Ferrante how even rural peasants should have access to careers and as Margeret George's Confessions of a Young Nero describes, tyranny will not last where there are educated women. Indeed, my village of St. Dalmas plays host to such enlightened moments as the arrival of the telescope, New World trade, the specialization of surgery, and the use of kitchen gardens as healing agents. Like The Golem and the Jinni, my story animates an era customarily describing men and fills those roles with everyday women.

I think you would do better to infuse the progressive ideas that you summarize here in this last paragraph into the query itself. As it stands, it feels like a checklist of cool stuff, not elements that are actually incorporated into the plot.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS by Julie C. Dao

An East Asian fantasy reimagining of The Evil Queen legend about one peasant girl's quest to become Empress--and the darkness she must unleash to achieve her destiny.

Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is beautiful. The stars say she is destined for greatness, that she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. But only if she embraces the darkness within her. Growing up as a peasant in a forgotten village on the edge of the map, Xifeng longs to fulfill the destiny promised to her by her cruel aunt, the witch Guma, who has read the cards and seen glimmers of Xifeng's majestic future. But is the price of the throne too high?

Because in order to achieve greatness, she must spurn the young man who loves her and exploit the callous magic that runs through her veins--sorcery fueled by eating the hearts of the recently killed. For the god who has sent her on this journey will not be satisfied until his power is absolute

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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately...

1) There's money in wedding photography, but divorce photography would be much more interesting.

2) Methodist churches need to stop shortening their name to "Meth Church" for signage purposes.

3) Likewise, "Sunday Worship" probably shouldn't be shortened to "Sun Worship." Not the same thing.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

#PitchWars Critique: THE FREEDOM DREAMERS


My PitchWars mentor-partner Kate Karyus Quinn and I agree that we didn't read a single query that was bad - nor did we read any first pages that were unsalvageable. And honestly with as many submissions as we had, we were surprised at the quality of them. Which is why we decided to offer query and first page critiques on our blogs to everyone who submitted to us.

Quite a few people have taken us up on the offer. Through November, Kate and I will be posting these critiques on Mondays and Wednesdays. Any writer can learn from these - not just the author of the material being critiqued. You'll see my comments in green. Echoes are highlighted in blue.

Query:

In 1968, sixteen-year-old Jill Collins is reeling from the death of her mother, and she hasn’t seen her father in years. With no reason to stay in her sleepy Maryland town, she boards a bus to pursue her dream of acting in a Broadway musical. Arriving in New York, she runs into a group of young, long-haired “freaks,” led by the charismatic Lee and his flower-child girlfriend, Tina. Jill has never seen anything like their color and vibrancy, and she’s irresistibly drawn to them—especially to Eric, a sexy dropout on the verge of draft eligibility. Great so far!

The whole tribe settles into a Lower East Side walkup, where Jill’s days become a dizzying blur of drugs, free love, and hedonism. At first she basks in her newfound sense of belonging, but life isn’t all peace and flowers: the specter of Vietnam is ever-present, and the risk-taking comes at a tragic price for some of her friends. Specifics here. A YA novel that features "drugs, free love and hedonism" in a positive way needs to have the specific blowback of that very present, so you'll need to illustrate what the balance is here in the query.

After reconnecting with her former neighbor Suzanne, Jill sheds her hippie identity in favor of a more conservative lifestyle. Shallow but well-meaning, Suzanne pushes Jill to refocus on her Broadway ambitions and to contact her long-absent father. Careening between two worlds, Jill must decide what is most important in life: following her dreams of stardom or standing up for a cause with the friends she loves.

THE FREEDOM DREAMERS is a 46,000-word YA novel that captures the energy of the turbulent ’60s: the music, the experimentation, the fear of the draft, and the hippie tribal culture’s seductive offer of total freedom and acceptance. It would appeal to fans of Sarvenaz Tash’s THREE DAY SUMMER  or Janet Nichols Lynch’s MY BEAUTIFUL HIPPIE.

Right now this is a well-written query, but my concern comes in with there not seeming to be a lot of plot. She experiments with free love, then swings back the other way, and has an identity issue as a result. That's fine, but we need to see what exactly is at stake here. You mention Vietnam, but not the specific role it plays in the book. You say "standing up for a cause," which I assume is Vietnam, but I don't see how a Broadway career would exclude her from protesting Vietnam. In order for these "two worlds" to appear vastly different from one another, you're going to have to illustrate that. Otherwise the choice doesn't seem like it has to be made in the first place. Also, I'm afraid that you're word count is a bit slim. I don't know if 46k is enough space to build the complex world of 1960 NYC, or to illustrate the changes that have to take effect in order to transform rural country girl into a free love hippie, then transform again.

I have a master’s degree in English, specializing in rhetoric and composition. I worked as a professional editor for more than ten years, and my short stories have won awards from the Atlanta Writers Club. I’ve included the first page of THE FREEDOM DREAMERS below and would love to send you the complete manuscript if you are interested. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

1st Page:

Manhattan, 1968

I stepped off the bus perhaps a bit too slowly, and the little old lady behind me gave me an impatient shove with her pocketbook and muttered, “Hurry up, damn it!” Which just goes to show that everything in this world can be disappointing—even cute little grannies. I moved out of her huffy way and turned to take one final look at the silver-sided Greyhound bus as its doors closed and it rumbled away down the street. The ride from Hartzville, Maryland, to New York City had taken six hours, and my legs were cramped from sitting so long. So far, so good.

I jammed my hand into the pocket of my jeans—“So unladylike,” my mother would have said—and felt for the one hundred thirty-seven dollars that was all I had left after the bus fare. I had no idea how long that money would last me in New York. I needed to find a cheap place to stay tonight, and then tomorrow I’d start looking for a job. Anything would do, to begin with; maybe I could be a waitress or something. I’d make some money, find an apartment with a roommate or two, and then . . .
But it was probably better not to go on thinking in terms of “and then.”

I hadn’t eaten all day, so my first priority was to get some food. Fainting from hunger on the sidewalk would not be a good start to my new life. I spotted a cheap-looking little diner, settled my duffel bag more comfortably on my shoulder, and headed off in that direction.

As I walked, I looked curiously at all the people crowding the sidewalk around me, who seemed to be all different sizes, shapes, and colors from what I was used to. No one looked back at me. Everyone seemed to be in a huge hurry, pushing their way around everyone else or stepping off the curbs in front of oncoming cabs, which then blared their horns angrily. It was so noisy and chaotic compared to the quiet suburb where I’d lived all my life. But then, wasn’t the excitement of the big city what I had run away to experience? Only, right now, I couldn’t tell if my racing heartbeat was due to excitement or just plain terror.

Good fish out of water opening. The text is fine, punch up the query to get more of the actual conflict into it.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

THIS DARKNESS MINE Trailer Reveal!

I am so excited to bring you the trailer for THIS DARKNESS MINE! If you're anticipating the book this should tide you over... or maybe make it worse.


Kim Ventrella On Waiting To Query Until You've Got Something Good

Today's guest or the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Kimberly Ventrella, author of THE SKELETON TREE. Kimberly believes that fiction is more true than true, and so she write worlds she wants to live in. Worlds where bad things happen, but also worlds where magic lives and people always find the courage to overcome.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

Currently, I’d say I’m a Planner with the soul of a Pantser. Now that I have to turn in proposals before getting started on a longer project, I’m learning to love the art of outlining, but at heart I think I prefer discovery writing.

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

If we’re talking first drafts, then I have to write those fast, before the idea gets stale. So, anywhere from 10 days to a month on average; Skeleton Tree took two weeks. I usually don’t start a first draft, though, until I’ve already gone through a string of failed ideas. After I finish the draft, the self-editing and official editing process usually takes about a year.

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

I tend to start a bunch of projects that I scrap before I get to one I really like. I wish I had a more straightforward process, but I’ve had to accept that this is just how I write.

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

Novels always seemed like these magical, completely inexplicable creations that I could in no way conceptualize or hope to create. Then, the longer I was writing, the more I began to see how you could put one together piece by piece. It was a long process, though, in terms of demystifying the novel. And, of course, I still pick up books all the time and think, okay, I have no idea how this author did what they did and I could never hope to achieve it. I think that’s good, because it challenges us as writers to be constantly honing and improving our craft.

How many trunked books (if any) did you have before you were agented?

Only before I was agented, ha! How many zeroes are in a trillion? No, for reals, I would say about six or seven. Since then, I probably have another four or five.

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

Ha, another funny question! Have I ever quit on a manuscript? Let me see, yes! In fact, certain people (i.e. my agent) might say I quit way too easily. It goes back to my trial and error method of writing books. If one story isn’t working, I’m more than happy to move on to the next one, and the next one and the one after that. I’m sure (read: hopeful) that this will evolve as I grow and change as a writer, but it’s worked for me so far.

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

My agent is the indomitable Brianne Johnson of Writers House. I read in her Publishers Marketplace listing that she loves Roald Dahl and other creepy, dark middle grade novels, and I was hooked. I’d say my secret to landing my agent was to keep writing. I first queried a novel called QUIMBY. She said it was actually too creepy for her, ☺, but asked if I had anything else. Thankfully, I did!

How long did you query before landing your agent?  

My process was pretty short, but only because I basically didn’t query for the first ten years I was writing. I sent three queries for QUIMBY. Brianne asked me to revise and resubmit, or send her something else I’d written. I sent her SKELETON TREE, and the rest is history.

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

I would say don’t submit until you’ve written what you feel in your heart is a good book. I think, most of the time, you as the writer know in your gut whether or not you’ve achieved what you set out to achieve. If it’s not quite good enough, try again. If it’s the best possible way to tell the story, and you’ve done it to the best of your ability, then find an agent that’s a good match. If they get your writing, if they connect with it emotionally and stylistically, then it’s likely you’ll make an awesome team.

How much input do you have on cover art?

I loved Scholastic’s choice of artist for SKELETON TREE, and I was definitely given the opportunity to respond with my ideas for the cover. It was a big learning experience for me, because the Sales team brought up factors that I would have never considered, and they helped me appreciate and understand the choices that were made. In the end, Lisa Perrin created a beautiful cover, and I’m so happy that I discovered her as an artist (I’ve already ordered some of her other artwork for my apartment).

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

Early on in the design discussions, I had suggested making SKELETON TREE into a flipbook (i.e. when you flip the corner, you see a moving picture). My editor, Mallory Kass, actually made that happen! Now, when you flip the pages of the finished version, you will see a skeleton walking by and waving at you. I was so happy and surprised by Mallory’s persistence and belief in my idea.

How much of your own marketing do you?  

Scholastic is amazing at reaching the school and library markets, and I really couldn’t ask for more in terms of marketing. You can find me online on my site, Twitter, and Instagram.

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

I think the most important thing is to write a compelling book that readers will connect with emotionally. I also heard some awesome advice from author Ally Carter at a recent conference. She said the single best thing you can do to promote your first book is to write your second. I totally agree!

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

For middle grade authors, I think social media is especially great for connecting with librarians and educators.

Monday, September 25, 2017

$1.99 E-Book Deal - THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES

I'm rolling into the beginning of October excited about the upcoming release of THIS DARKNESS MINE! If you want a taste of how I do thrillers, try out THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES for $1.99!


2017 Tayshas List Selection * YALSA Top 10 Best YA Fiction of 2017 * School Libray Journal Best of 2016 * Junior Library Guild Selection * The Globe and Mail Best Books of 2016 * Bustle’s Best Young Adult Books of 2016 * Mashable’s 8 Best YA Books of 2016 * Seventeen's 10 Best YA Books of 2016 * CCBC Choices 2017

Edgar Award-winning author Mindy McGinnis delivers a relentless and riveting contemporary YA novel that examines rape culture through alternating perspectives. A stunning, unforgettable page-turner.

Alex Craft knows how to kill someone. And she doesn’t feel bad about it.

Three years ago, when her older sister, Anna, was murdered and the killer walked free, Alex uncaged the language she knows best—the language of violence. While her own crime goes unpunished, Alex knows she can’t be trusted among other people. Not with Jack, the star athlete who wants to really know her but still feels guilty over the role he played the night Anna’s body was discovered. And not with Peekay, the preacher’s kid with a defiant streak who befriends Alex while they volunteer at an animal shelter. Not anyone.

As their senior year unfolds, Alex’s darker nature breaks out, setting these three teens on a collision course that will change their lives forever.

#PitchWars Critique: CAMBION




My PitchWars mentor-partner Kate Karyus Quinn and I agree that we didn't read a single query that was bad - nor did we read any first pages that were unsalvageable. And honestly with as many submissions as we had, we were surprised at the quality of them. Which is why we decided to offer query and first page critiques on our blogs to everyone who submitted to us.

Quite a few people have taken us up on the offer. Through November, Kate and I will be posting these critiques on Mondays and Wednesdays. Any writer can learn from these - not just the author of the material being critiqued. You'll see my comments in green. Echoes are highlighted in blue.

Query:

As the product of a union between a human mother and a demon father, sixteen year-old Gabriel “Gabe” Geoffries is what is known as a Cambion; a demonic creature with the potential for near limitless power. Despite this, Gabe has always tried to maintain a normal life. Unfortunately, a normal life is no longer an option when Gabe is attacked by a Fire Elemental, sent to track him down.

So far, so good. You've done a great job of getting the basic idea of your story into the first para, with a decent hook as well. The only thing that raises questions for me is the line about him having "near limitless power." It makes it hard to believe that he would face much in terms of a struggle or obstacles then, plotwise.

Gabe discovers this Fire Elemental was sent by a centuries-old demon named Vanitas that wishes to use Gabe’s power for his own malevolent ends. Which are what? Gabe and those closest to him are able to avoid this looming threat until his mother, Alice, is kidnapped to be used as bait to lure Gabe to Vanitas. With no other choice, Gabe must rescue his mother, knowing he is walking head first into a trap that he may not escape from.

But in order to rescue his mother and defeat Vanitas, Gabe must give into the power within him, Has he struggled against this power before? You say he wants a normal life, but you don't mention that it's a hard decision to make or a struggle to maintain while simultaneously unleashing a great darkness that could threaten his very humanity and consume him. But if Gabe refuses to tap into the full extent of his power not only will Vanitas succeed in claiming Gabe for himself, Gabe will also be forced to watch those he cares about most die.

CAMBION is a young adult contemporary fantasy, complete at about 56,000 words.

I think what we need here is a better feeling of the overall plot in terms of motivation - on Vanitas' end. Why does he want Gabe and his abilities? What is his end goal? Is the end of the world an option? Does he want to enslave humanity? What's at stake here if Gabe fails, other than losing his mother? And we need to know more about Gabe's power - what is it? What can he do? Only bad things? Does he worry about his own nature? Does tapping into his power create problems? These are the kind of questions that need addressed in order to make this something more than a shadow of Percy Jackson.

1st Page:

A bead of sweat trickled down the side of Gabe’s face. He was hot; very hot. Although, most people would be hot if they were holding off a dome of fire that was trying to engulf them, with nothing but their mind. Sentence structure is a little awkward here.

Gabe was trying to maintain his focus, but that was becoming more and more difficult because he had been at it for over an hour and all he wanted to do was sleep. He didn’t think some sleep was unreasonable since it was almost one-thirty in the morning. The fact that he's thinking about sleep takes away from the danger of the fire dome.

“Keep it up, Gabe. Keep it up,” said a tall, skinny man with a mess of salt and pepper hair, who was standing twenty feet away next to a shorter woman with long, blonde hair. Lots of character description and un necessary specifics about how far away they are. This could just be me, because I'm not a fan of character description or over description of movements (or lack of). But I think you need more strength in a first page than details like this.

The blonde-haired woman was biting at her fingernails like a beaver on a log while occasionally glancing over her shoulder as if expecting company. There's only one woman in the room that we know of, you don't have to specify her hair.

“Alice, it’s one-thirty in the morning,” said the man with the salt and pepper hair. “No one is coming to Heuser Park at one-thirty in the morning.” Same comment as above.

“I know, Wylt. I just worry that one of these nights we’re gonna get caught. That dome of fire that Jimmy is using on Gabe isn’t exactly subtle,” Alice said as she continued to bite the nails of one hand while using the other I think we can assume that she's pointing with a hand, and you don't need to say that she's still biting the other. The point of showing nail biting is to illustrate that she's nervous - which, that's a good job of showing instead of telling. However, to say that she's still doing it creates echoes to point at a boy standing about ten feet in front of Gabe as he shot a pillar of fire at Gabe.

Again with specifics about distance, I don't think it's entirely necessary, but it could be my own likes and dislikes coming through. Right now opening with these two boys throwing fire at each other in a practice setting is a good opening, but the writing needs punched up.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

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.

Eighteen-year-old Dallas might be a girl, but she fails to understand most other girls: why they spend hours getting ready, why they actually want to wear dresses, and why they don’t mind perpetuating myths that girls are magical creatures who don’t abide by laws of biology. You'll want to be careful with your wording. I don't know that most girls do want those things, or fall into those categories. Sure, some... but not most. She’s especially mad that Valerie, the girl who everyone knows will be prom queen, claims girls don’t poop. Dallas might be a lesbian, but girls don’t have to be lesbians to realize Valerie’s version of femininity is a straight jacket, right? It’s also annoying that Dallas has an unexplainable crush on the not-gay-at-all Valerie, and that the two are in the running for the same college scholarship. It might be better to rephrase this a lot of this opening para little more succinctly - she has a love / hate relationship with Valerie, who represents everything Dallas isn't, and they are in competition for a scholarship. Everything else here is a little overwritten for query purposes.

When Dallas’s English teacher says students can do social media activism projects in lieu of their senior papers, Dallas jumps for the chance to start vlogging. Her topic: girls should ditch the constraints of femininity and appropriate the subtle perks masculinity could offer them if they weren’t so keen on depriving themselves. The project title: #GirlsShitToo. You've really got to get #GirlsShitToo into your hook. It's beautiful. Valerie is not a fan. And neither is Adree, another girl from Dallas’s English class who starts a counter project that accuses Dallas of unfairly condemning femininity and all that’s great about it. Nice! I like that you're addressing the opposite argument, too. When their two projects turn into a vlog battle, they garner an audience far wider than their English class. Hello, unexpected online fame. The worst part: sometimes, Adree is right. In front of the whole Youtubeverse. Dallas wishes she could despise her, but she starts crushing on her, too. Oops. And their viewers, including Valerie, must sense it, because they start shipping “Dalladree,” and Valerie’s sudden interest in Dallas’s love life turns them into...good friends!?

When it seems like things couldn’t get more interesting, the high school principal, Mr. Runsberger, catches wind of Dallas’s project. Taking issue with the “vulgarity” of the title, he tells her she needs to terminate the whole thing or face expulsion. Her topic, he says, is “making a mountain out of a molehill,” and might damage her chances of winning the Hearst scholarship. Hello, self doubt. Once faced with a discrimination complaint and public accusations of sexism, Runsberger agrees to let Dallas continue the project with a different title...but it’s clear he’s pissed off and intends to find other ways to punish her before she graduates.

Again, more of a summation here would be great. She's running into backlash in both her real life... and I think it's safe to assume in her online life as well. Surely not everyone is on her side, especially if the two vlogs both have big followings. Summarize: Facing backlash in both her real and virtual lives, Dallas' shot at the scholarship she's gunning for is jeopardized. (See how concise that is?)

With everything that’s happened, Dallas isn’t even sure she should continue, wondering if opting for the senior paper will put an end to all the ridiculousness. But Dallas’s fans aren’t going to let her quit that easily. And the semester has been thrilling...but how will it conclude? Don't end with a rhetorical, it's a tease. Also, this last para needs to pull the other two vloggers back in, along with how their relationships have changed as a result of their vlog war, and if the other two play any part in her decision to continue or quit.

#GST (80,000 words) will appeal to readers who celebrate contemporary YA with diverse characters in progressive places (Upside of Unrequited); and with feminist themes, including explorations of identity (Girl Mans Up); and that illuminates how social media has become an inseverable part of many teens’ lives (Queens of Geek).

Great comp title. I highly suggest just titling this #GirlsShitToo, dropping the acronym. It's attention getting, and titles always change through the course towards publication. Having such a working title won't preclude you from publication. It could, in fact, get attention.

I have a Master’s in English Rhetoric and Composition and a desire to assist the movement to get more diverse books published and change the world along the way. Please consider representing me!

They know you want them to represent you. The please won't help :)

Watch your echoes. I hi-lited them in blue. Overall, work on being more succinct. You've got a great premise here that I think could really take off, but you need to get more plot and less voice into this query. 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: ALL THE CROOKED SAINTS by Maggie Stiefvater

Any visitor to Bicho Raro, Colorado is likely to find a landscape of dark saints, forbidden love, scientific dreams, miracle-mad owls, estranged affections, one or two orphans, and a sky full of watchful desert stars.

At the heart of this place you will find the Soria family, who all have the ability to perform unusual miracles. And at the heart of this family are three cousins longing to change its future: Beatriz, the girl without feelings, who wants only to be free to examine her thoughts; Daniel, the Saint of Bicho Raro, who performs miracles for everyone but himself; and Joaquin, who spends his nights running a renegade radio station under the name Diablo Diablo.

They are all looking for a miracle. But the miracles of Bicho Raro are never quite what you expect.

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Want to help me with 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! Donating has no impact on your chances of winning.






a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

#PitchWars Critique: IT ONLY HURTS WHEN I'M DEAD


My PitchWars mentor-partner Kate Karyus Quinn and I agree that we didn't read a single query that was bad - nor did we read any first pages that were unsalvageable. And honestly with as many submissions as we had, we were surprised at the quality of them. Which is why we decided to offer query and first page critiques on our blogs to everyone who submitted to us.

Quite a few people have taken us up on the offer. Through November, Kate and I will be posting these critiques on Mondays and Wednesdays. Any writer can learn from these - not just the author of the material being critiqued. You'll see my comments in green. Echoes are highlighted in blue.

Query:

In what was supposed to be Charlie's first night alone--truly alone--with his boyfriend, Joe, Charlie gets chased out of the house by Joe's cultist family. It might be best to explain why he's chased out. Because of his sexuality is implied, but I think clarification is necessary. He’s then rescued by a pack of werewolves in a night so surreal that he can't quite believe any of it actually happened. Because these two things are so disparate, you need something stronger here than "can't quite believe..." and with more of a teen voice. Something like WTF?, if that fits the voice of the novel.

Joe may be a cultist or a victim. I'd rephrase as "cult member" To find out, Charlie turns to the one person he's spent years avoiding--Joe's never-quite-ex-girlfriend Augustina. Together, they discover that the wolfling pack is a supernatural police force. And that Joe's family is willing to murder children in order to resurrect their father. Whose father? The way this is stated it sounds like the father of the wolves, but that can't be right because the wolves saved Charlie from the cult. And how do those things tie together? The wolves are police force, okay, but why does the cult have their attention? Are they trying to stop this "father" from being resurrected? And why? Right now what you have here only implies these things - you need to specifically state them.

To help the wolves, and rescue Joe sounds like they've decided that he's a victim, then?, they must first access the magic deep inside of themselves. Augustina is a natural wizard, but a lifetime in the closet blocks Charlie. Not even a werewolf's bite can change him. To unlock his magic he must pass through the underworld. Why? What he becomes puts everyone at risk. This is a tease, which doesn't work in a query. What does he become and what effect does it have on the plot?

Right now you need to draw things together a little more than they are. Are Charlie and Augustina working with the wolves side by side? Or are they two separate groups sharing the same goal, but not conspiring? 

It Only Hurts When I'm Dead is where The Howling meets Portlandia. It was inspired by my love of a good horror story, and the native Oregon philosophy to take nothing too seriously. I hope it will appeal to readers who like the humor of Me Speak Pretty One Day and the suspense of Sunshine. It is complete at 96,000 words.

I think the mashup and comp titles here are great. If this is an #OwnVoices story, you'll want to mention that. The only thing I'll add is that 96k is pretty long for a debut novel, especially for one that is humorous. I'd take a really hard look at what you've got and shave off as much as 25k.

Currently a Boston resident, my short story "Contra Dance" appeared in The Louisville Review.

Nice bio!

1st Page:

Charlie jogged into the dark night, gravel skittering beneath his shoes, excitement rising with every step. A porch light gleamed ahead of him, but otherwise Joe's house was dark. The driveway stood empty. But that was all part of the scam. They'd made up a story of camping with the Alden family so they could spend a weekend together--alone--and never leave the bedroom, if possible. This is fine, but immediately raises the question of their story. The problem isn't that they have a story to explain their absence (fine), but that they don't have a story to explain their presence... they're alone at Joe's house - which is what they're actually trying to cover. What you need to explain here to the reader is the absence of Joe's family, but Joe still being present. (Or honestly, just skip that bit. He's home alone. It happens).

He ran up the porch steps and slammed into the door. Because it was locked. For a second, heart racing in his chest, he thought Joe had bailed on him. But then he heard shuffling inside the house. The door cracked open. A hand flashed out and yanked him inside. Joe slammed him against a wall, kissing hard before the door even shut.

Alone. Together. No parents to keep quiet for. No siblings to avoid. Charlie had staid stayed over at least a dozen times before, but always slept on the floor because Joe was so scared. Of consummating or of being caught? This would be the first night truly together. Joe was all raw, uninhibited passion, so hot he was on fire. No more modest pecks. No more fleeting kisses before running off like a beaten dog. This was the real Joe, kissing with such intensity that it made Charlie giggle. He couldn't help himself.

Yeah again - the family that has been preventing this action is gone. Explaining that is what needs to happen. Is the Alden family mentioned in the first para Joe's family? So are they camping? So the excuse about camping is Charlie's excuse to be absent from his home, but what is Joe's excuse for not being along with his family camping? Anyway, as you can see, there's a lot of confusion mixed up in this. Might be better to drop the idea of them setting up a scam in the first place, and just leave it that there was an opportunity.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Katherine Locke On Setting Hard Deadlines - And Holding Yourself To Them

Welcome to the SNOB - Second Novel Ominipresent Blues. Whether you’re under contract or trying to snag another deal, you’re a professional now, with the pressures of a published novelist compounded with the still-present nagging self-doubt of the noobie. How to deal?

Today's guest for the SNOB is Katherine Locke, author of THE GIRL WITH THE RED BALLOON and the forthcoming companion. She writes about what she cannot do: time-travel, magic, and espionage. Katherine not-so-secretly believes most YA stories are fairy tales and lives with two good cats, two bad cats, and one overly enthusiastic dog.

Is it hard to leave behind the first novel and focus on the second?

I only just turned in Book 2 so this is all fresh in my mind! It wasn’t that hard to leave behind the first novel and focus on the second because while I was still working on my first book with my editor, I’d written it in 2014, three years ago. I am not even sure I thoroughly remember that process. But it was hard to leave behind the feel of the first book. I had it stuck in my head that my second book (same world, different characters—more of a companion book) needed to have the same structure, voice and feel of the first book. That had me all sorts of stuck for several months.

At what point do you start diverting your energies from promoting your debut and writing / polishing / editing your second?

I turned in my second book between BEA/Bookcon and ALA Annual, so it was a little bit of a balance this spring. But my first book was through copy-edits when I started drafting the second book. I only had to pause to do proofreads. I found that balancing drafting and marketing/editing isn’t difficult for me, but I really can’t draft two different books at the same time. I like to have one in brainstorm stage, one in drafting stage, and one in editing/copyedits stage.

Your first book landed an agent and an editor, and hopefully some fans. Who are you writing the second one for? Them, or yourself?

I was very leery of feeling like my second book had been written for someone else. That’d happened before, and I didn’t want it to happen again. At the same time, I also always pick something to teach myself with each new book. And for my second book, I decided I wanted to learn how to write a tighter plot, something with more of a thriller feel. So I had to balance the desire to write something outside my wheelhouse with the desire to write something that also felt like a Katherine book.
As for the part where I inevitably have more cooks in the kitchen for this book, when I needed to make changes to the book, away from the proposal my editor had approved, she and my agent were very supportive. They both wanted me to write the book I could and wanted to write. I added a new point of view, changed the main arc and added another plotline for that new POV. They weren’t insubstantial changes. I should have known that was coming, though, because I did the same thing between drafts one and two of book one. In the end, I really felt like the book I turned in was my book, not for anyone else. But I sure hope other people enjoy it!

Is there a new balance of time management to address once you’re a professional author?

Definitely. I should have written Book 2 over the winter after the proposal was approved. But I was stuck between rage and despair after November and had a hard time getting going. Then my deadline moved up several months (the worst direction for a deadline to move) which turned into a blessing in disguise. I am extremely motivated by external deadlines. I wrote and revised my second book four times in 100 days.

That’s not my ideal schedule, but it was the one I had to work with, and that made me very efficient. I wrote every night, most mornings and 5-8 hours a day each weekend day (I have a dayjob, so sadly, I can’t write all day.) I used all the tricks in the book (blocking the internet, headphones, and using whatever process worked for the book) to get it done. Because there wasn’t an option not to get it done.

Like I said, though I’m very good at sitting down and doing the work when I need to, I have to set hard deadlines for myself and treat them as real deadlines. For my book 2, I took my editor’s deadline and worked backward from that to set my own first draft deadline. Friends, including some writer friends, would say, “Well, it’s not a real deadline. That one’s in June.” Except my deadline for the first draft to be done April 1st was just as real as that one, because otherwise I wouldn’t make my June deadline. I have to treat my own personal deadlines as real and as serious as any deadline imposed by a contract, editor, or agent.

What did you do differently the second time around, with the perspective of a published author?

I would have started Book 2 earlier. But, again, there were external world events and I know I wasn’t the only one derailed by those. But I would have started Book 2 earlier because that pace wasn’t my preferred pace. I should have also asked for phone calls about Book 2’s proposal with my editor prior to the first proposal that I eventually threw out the window. I think I was in the mindset that I’d mess her up when she was working on Book 1. I think talking it out with her would have solved my plot, POV and structural problems much faster and I would have written it with fewer tears. Or maybe not. I guess I’ll find out next time!

Monday, September 18, 2017

#PitchWars Critique: SOMA



My PitchWars mentor-partner Kate Karyus Quinn and I agree that we didn't read a single query that was bad - nor did we read any first pages that were unsalvageable. And honestly with as many submissions as we had, we were surprised at the quality of them. Which is why we decided to offer query and first page critiques on our blogs to everyone who submitted to us.

Quite a few people have taken us up on the offer. Through November, Kate and I will be posting these critiques on Mondays and Wednesdays. Any writer can learn from these - not just the author of the material being critiqued. You'll see my comments in green. Echoes are highlighted in blue.

Query:

For a lab-grown Sri Lankan boy with combustion problems, seventeen-year old Soma is fairly well adjusted. Great hook, I love the humorous voice. Make sure though, that this voice is consistent with the voice in the manuscript itself. Most days, he is too busy scavenging trash spheres and fixing toilets to notice to notice something usually implies discovery, and I'm assuming Soma already knows he's the only human. Perhaps a word change to something like "care?" he is the only human in his colony.

To other humans living in orbit around nuclear-ravaged Earth, the synthetic people who make up Soma’s colony are a disposable workforce. To Soma, they are the only family he’s ever known.

When all the synthetics in Soma’s colony are culled, he is left among the lifeless bodies of his loved ones. Why are they culled? He flees his colony, chased by an enigmatic black ship, Why is he being chased? and is then drawn into an assassination plot Drawn in by whom? against the kleptocrat who rules over human colonies—the ruthless Man of Means.

Soma becomes entangled in escalating acts of synthetic terrorism: a reluctant child soldier in a war with no moral high ground. Strange, when all he wanted was a place to sleep—and maybe galactic peace, so he has time to properly fall in love with the boy who might be an enemy agent.

What you have here is well-written, but the plot pieces are so vague that I have no idea what is actually going to happen in the book, or who else might be in it other than Soma, and the ultimate villain. Get your supporting characters in there - one or two - and illustrate the plot by answering (succinctly) the questions I posed above. Otherwise this comes across as a bit of a mish-mash with no real focus. Also, you mention that he has "combustion problems." Like, a firestarter? how does this play into the plot? Does his ability have a spot in the assassination attempt?

Soma is my first foray into YA fiction. I have a Master of Arts degree in English from the University of Calgary. My short stories have appeared in Canadian magazines such as NōD and Dandelion. My short story “Rabbit Control” was nominated for the 2011 Journey Prize. Inspired by Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince and Garth Nix’s Shade’s Children, this manuscript is 89k words and features an intimately diverse cast probably should give them some space in the query then and an LGBTQ protagonist.

Great bio!

1st Page:

Soma knew he shouldn’t start fires. This one… this one wasn’t his fault.

Still, just in case, he hid under his cot and cradled his blistered fingers while the young doctor gathered up his charred toys and sketches. She whispered a bad word, covered her face with shaking hands, and left him in the char and smoke of his glass room.

That night, the doctor returned—but it wasn’t to give Soma needles before bed. She gave him a cocoa bar instead, bundled him in a gray bed sheet, and smuggled him out. From between the fabric, Soma saw a dozen glaze-eyed children in identical glass cells, each with tubes in their arms and burn scars across their hands. They boarded a ship and pulled out of the orbital compound. Soma bounced in the co-pilot seat, babbling about how much bigger Old Earth looked outside picture books. The doctor listened, brushed silver hair out of her pale eyes, and gave him tight, thin-lipped smiles whenever he paused to breathe.

Two naps and a pee-break later, they arrived at a dirty outer-ring colony that smelled like socks. The doctor stashed Soma in a jagged crack under an Indian take-out restaurant, touched his cheek, and warned, “No matter what happens, little brother, remember. No fire.”

Then she left. Her chrome-and-amber ship drew a long wake.

Soma was a little scared, but mostly excited. He’d never left his glass room before. Or been without artificial gravity, or seen stars. He crawled out of the crevice and stared.

This strange colony was made up of thousands of floating boulders—lunaroids—with nanocables webbed between them. When Soma squinted, he saw that the larger lunaroids had been converted into buildings, hollowed out and framed with aluminum hatches and windows. Occasionally, there were man-made structures—grinding wheels and eccentric factories that looked like animal skulls. Old Earth hung overhead, like an enormous ceiling made of burnt toast, with the inner colony ring a trail of cream across it. Soma grinned, determined to love it all. He crawled back under the restaurant, finished his cocoa bar, and dreamed of loud noises.

This is quite good, but I feel like we need to know Soma's age? The only action we see him taking here is crawling... he could be an infant or a toddler not sure on his feet yet. I realize this probably operates as more of a prologue, since Soma is seventeen in the actual manuscript. Generally speaking, prologues are not a good idea. Yes, it's an interesting jumping in point, and the beginning of Soma's story, but he doesn't have a lot of agency here. He's hiding, being assisted by someone else, then abandoned. The first line of dialogue in a book that is titled with his name doesn't belong to him. I suggest finding a better starting point for this book, with Soma the age he is throughout the text, and working his backstory in. Yes, it's hard -- but so is hooking an agent with a prologue.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

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.

Seventeen-year-old Juliet doesn’t want to grow up. Growing up, apparently, means getting forced into therapy after what her mother calls a “psychotic break.” Good beginning. Juliet just calls it trying to fly off a balcony to join Peter Pan in Neverland. But instead of Neverland, she finds herself in a weekly group for “troubled young women.” The meetings already sound like torture to Juliet, who hates opening up to people almost as much as she hates getting older.

Growing up means finding out that her snooty classmate Rachel is in the therapy group too. To her surprise, though, Juliet discovers that Rachel has her own demons. Her high-achieving older sister isn’t as perfect as anyone thought, and without her role model, Rachel’s lost her own way. As Rachel’s life falls apart, she and Juliet form a tentative friendship, helping each other to become more vulnerable and vowing to make it out of group alive.

But for Juliet, growing up also means running away from her emotionally abusive ex-boyfriend, Theo, who always—always—finds his way back to her. So when Theo comes crashing back into her life once again, Juliet’s dreams of moving past her breakdown, creating a tentative friendship with Rachel, and feeling “normal” again seem as impossible as finding Neverland.

In the same vein as Words on Bathroom Walls and Under Rose-Tainted Skies, THE LOST GIRL is a 60,000-word YA contemporary novel sprinkled with Peter Pan quotes and Juliet’s letters to the titular character.

Honestly dear, this is fantastic! Send it out into the world!!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Book Talk & Giveaway: ONE DARK THRONE by Kendare Blake

The battle for the Crown has begun, but which of the three sisters will prevail?

With the unforgettable events of the Quickening behind them and the Ascension Year underway, all bets are off. Katharine, once the weak and feeble sister, is stronger than ever before. Arsinoe, after discovering the truth about her powers, must figure out how to make her secret talent work in her favor without anyone finding out. And Mirabella, once thought to be the strongest sister of all and the certain Queen Crowned, faces attacks like never before—ones that put those around her in danger she can’t seem to prevent.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

#PitchWars Critique: WINGS IN THE WIND


My PitchWars mentor-partner Kate Karyus Quinn and I agree that we didn't read a single query that was bad - nor did we read any first pages that were unsalvageable. And honestly with as many submissions as we had, we were surprised at the quality of them. Which is why we decided to offer query and first page critiques on our blogs to everyone who submitted to us.

Quite a few people have taken us up on the offer. Through November, Kate and I will be posting these critiques on Mondays and Wednesdays. Any writer can learn from these - not just the author of the material being critiqued. You'll see my comments in green. Echoes are highlighted in blue.

Query:

Sixteen-year-old Madison Winslow attends the elite, yet peculiar, Aisling Academy where she’s been nominated to win a crown scintillating in I think this should be "scintillating with not in." Regardless, don't use words like scintillating in your query if it's not something that would pop up in the pages of the book itself as well diamonds and internship opportunities. She discovers her best friend, Brooke, sprawled on the ground dead below their dorm room’s balcony. Madison’s life begins to disintegrate into anguish. So, you said that the school is "peculiar" but there's nothing to clarify if this is supernatural, mysterious, or what. Also, is this crown a literal object, or an epitome of something? 

Madison becomes the primary suspect in Brooke’s murder. As the semester spirals out of control, Madison has to clear her name and unveil who killed Brooke. When she stumbles upon her BFF’s shocking secrets – drug usage and an affair with a married councilman – the murderer tries to end Madison’s nagging questions permanently. Madison nearly suffocates in her school’s laboratory and almost drowns in a lake. I have to point out that's essentially the same mode of death.

Madison has to navigate her way through a maze of questions about friendship and loyalty while trying to dodge being the killer’s newest target.

Wings In The Wind is a 54,000-word young adult neo-noir mystery similar to Pretty Little Liars and Veronica Mars. Wings In The Wind is my first novel. I have a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and am currently a freelance writer.

This query needs specifics in order to stand out. Right now it reads like any other "someone died and the main character must clear her name while also protecting herself and trying to get good grades as well" story. What makes this one different from the others? How is the school peculiar? Are there any supporting characters at all? Madison and the victim are the only named characters in the query. Why is it titled Wings in the Wind? That last question isn't necessarily important to explain within the query, but thinking about that might give you some ideas about how to differentiate this story from hundreds of others just like it.

1st Page:

The light pole's glare technically, the light pole doesn't produce light shined on her body like a spotlight. Her arms and legs weren’t sprawled out like an angel, but instead like a rag doll with no control. Her beautiful dark strands of hair were blowing in the wind near the flowerbed while other strands were already sinking into puddles of blood. Lots of comparisons at work here, resulting in echoes.

I turned away from the dorm room balcony ready to scream. A scream is a very primal thing, not something you really prep for. I couldn’t help myself; I looked again out of disbelief. I wanted to see if she was sprawled on the ground below me. Disbelief is one thing, this is more like a memory wipe - she's checking it see "if" she's sprawled on the ground. She knows she is.

I turned away from the balcony and called school security. My hands shook as I told the guard my roommate, Brooke Holt, had fallen out of our dorm room window on the eighth floor. How does she feel? Right now we have a good physical description of what she's seeing, but we don't know how she really feels.

I rubbed my forehead Is that an important physical action? and blurted out, “She’s been my best friend since we were little kids!”

The guard asked me if Brooke was moving. I heard a cry I've never heard before. The guttural "no" came from me.

The next couple of hours were blurry. I know I ran along the dark hall to the elevator. My hand shook when I pressed the key for the first floor. The way this is phrased it sounds like the second and third sentences themselves took hours to transpire, which I doubt is your meaning.

I paced back and forth in the elevator praying Brooke was fine. Maybe she was resting from the fall. Perhaps she was knocked unconscious and would wake when I got to her.

Right now what you have here needs to be more woven together for a narrative. These are a lot of short, concise sentences that need to be brought together with the character's feelings in the moment, and also more environment. You said there's snow - is the room cold? Is the main character leaning over the balcony? Is the railing frozen? Does she have goosebumps? How does her stomach feel, seeing her friend like that? She blurted about being friends as children, but what caused that? Was she thinking about a particular moment in their childhood when she said that? Give us more internalization and paint the environment more clearly to really bring the reader in.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Amanda Hosch On First Lines That Appear From Nowhere

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 Amanda Hosch, author of Mabel Opal Pear and the Rules For Spying, which releases October 1. Amanda loves writing, travel, and coffee. She lived abroad for almost a decade, teaching English as a Foreign Language. A fifth generation New Orleanian, Amanda now lives in Seattle with her husband, their two daughters, and a ghost cat. When not writing, she’s a reading tutor for elementary school kids or volunteering at the school library.

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 was doing dishes when this strong voice popped into my head to say, “My parents swear they don’t hate me, but all the evidence contradicts their feeble denials.” Intrigued, I jotted the sentence down on a piece of paper. I didn’t know her name, but I knew her nickname was Moppet (after the kitten in Beatrix Potter), her parents were spies, and she knew their secret. It was summer so I didn’t have a lot of free time and I was querying a middle grade adventure. However, every time I sat down to manage my queries, Moppet shared more of her secrets. When my kids went back to school in September, I really knew Moppet’s backstory. I finished the rough draft in six weeks writing in three-hour intervals, three times a week. 

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

Mabel knows that her parents love her, despite her constant complaints at being left home when they are out on a mission. One of the first things I did was rewrite and expand the Moscow Rules from Mabel’s point-of-view. Once I had her Rules for a Successful Life as an Undercover Secret Agent, I build the plot around the question of how would an eleven-year-old act as a spy in her own home/hometown when the enemy was estranged family members who were eating up all of her favorite food?

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

For other books, yes. But MOPRS, while changing and growing, stayed remarkably similar to how I envisioned it. If I were to physically plot out on a map the actions/places of MOPRS, it would look remarkably the same from the first draft to the final. However, the motives, reasons, and even how the characters move about changed so much. Plus, the HEGs went from being mean girls to being super-nice and friendly (way too friendly). Also, Mabel’s cousin Victoria changed a lot. She’s a much richer and fuller character now (thanks to amazing guidance from my amazing editor).

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

Sometime, the shiny new ideas come at me like a fire hose. Other times, it’s nothing.

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

I’m currently working on two WIPs right now. One is a hot mess YA (historical) that breaks me all the time. Seriously, some days, I’m writing through the tears. However, it’s a story that I’ve felt compelled to tell for years and years. I never thought I was quite up to writing it until last year (see answer 6.) I probably would have quit writing it many times except for my writing group who are so encouraging.

The other one is a fun MG, which brings me joy to write. It’s similar to MOPRS in that I love the characters and the world. I haven’t shown it to anyone yet because I sort of need to keep it to myself for a bit. In many ways, it’s my reward to write the MG.

2016 was not an easy year. Do you draw any inspiration from the world around you, or do you use writing as pure escapism?

Oh, yes! I remember how I felt at the beginning of 2016—so optimistic and happy! I had a book deal (finally!) and my editor was a joy to work with. However, 2016 took a very bleak turn on Valentine’s Day morning. Got a call from a New Orleans police detective. As soon as she introduced herself, I knew what she was going to say. By the time she contacted me, my older brother had been dead for a few days. I flew out as soon as possible to officially identify his body. Before I left home, I wrote my brother’s obituary as an act of service to him. It took half a day, but I wanted to highlight the good he had done as a public school teacher.

This all happened when I was doing the final edits of MOPRS. It was only afterwards that I realized if I could write my brother’s obit, I could write anything—no matter how difficult (see hot mess of YA historical).

And then there was the election, which broke me all over again. So, yes, I’ve used my rage from the last year (and on-going rage this year) to fuel my writing, to keep me going when I feel like stopping, and remind myself that stories are needed.

However, writing and reading are also refuges for me, places of joy and replenishment. So, I try to honor that also.

Monday, September 11, 2017

#PitchWars Critique: KILLERS


My PitchWars mentor-partner Kate Karyus Quinn and I agree that we didn't read a single query that was bad - nor did we read any first pages that were unsalvageable. And honestly with as many submissions as we had, we were surprised at the quality of them. Which is why we decided to offer query and first page critiques on our blogs to everyone who submitted to us.

Quite a few people have taken us up on the offer. Through November, Kate and I will be posting these critiques on Mondays and Wednesdays. Any writer can learn from these - not just the author of the material being critiqued. You'll see my comments in green. Echoes are highlighted in blue.

Query:

When Katie’s stepfather murders her mother and Katie shoots him dead, she and her half-sister Rosa are forced to live with their grandmother in Nowhere, Maine—as far away from San Diego as possible, where there is nothing but blueberries, ocean and snow. Great hook... then it wanders. Break at the statement that she shot him, then rephrase about the move. Where everything is uglier. Especially the girls in her new high school, who say killer shirt You want to italicize or put in quotes what they say when she walks by. Katie knows they aren’t talking about her t-shirt, they’re talking about her: she’s a killer now. Her sister Rosa seems okay with the transition, until all of a sudden she isn’t. Why? We need to know that. 

Their grandmother, May, searches for the identity of Katie’s father, and for the reason her daughter (their mom? might want to rephrase) ran away from home and never came back. When Rosa is faced with the same danger that drove her mother away, they all learn what they are capable of, and ultimately, what makes up a family. I think we need to know that danger is in order to understand the plot of the book.

Complete at 88,000 words, Killers is told from the alternating perspectives of Katie, Rosa and May, and addresses loss, bullying and grooming/sexual abuse. This gives us some indication of what may have driven mother away, but come out and say it in the query and what the ramifications are for the plot.

My short fiction won the WOW! Flash fiction Contest and the Binnacle Ultrashort Competition, and has been published in such magazines as Green Mountains Review, PANK, Hobart, Vestal Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, Black Heart Magazine, Prick of the Spindle, Liquid Imagination, and The Legendary. Originally from Maine, I now live in southern Vermont with my husband and three daughters, where I volunteer with the Brattleboro Literary Festival.

Great bio! Congratulations on the short fiction publications - those are nothing to shrug at!

1st Page:

Nana flits about us like a bird protecting her nest, which is pointless—there is no saving us now. The dark took over the moment I picked up the gun. This is a little bit vague "the dark" - it carries allusions that she wasn't in control when she acted. It was heavier than I imagined, and surprisingly cold; I always thought it would be hot with power. I catch Nana staring at me, and I think she must know about the dark, how it’s still right there, itching under my skin. Maybe if she stares at me long enough we could go backward. I could pick up the gun faster and Mama would still be here. We wouldn’t be leaving San Diego for Nowhere, Maine, with a grandmother who thinks there is something left to protect. Hmm... okay, not bad at all. Introducing "the dark" is not a bad idea, because it shows that the MC is considering elements of herself that she may not be completely comfortable with. But the fact that she says the dark "took over" in the second line implies that it is still in control, not "itching under skin" - which implies containment. Do some rephrasing.

A day late and a peso short, Emilio would say, if I hadn’t killed him. Great line.

Rosa and I have never flown before. Neither had Mama. I want to tell her it’s cramped and just a little scary, not exciting like we’d imagined. She would have liked the cart that fits perfectly in the aisle and she would have watched the woman with the long fingernails that served us drinks. She would have elbowed me and whispered, “Didn’t know planes had waitresses.” Then she would have thought for a second and said, “Must be hard to get dressed with those talons.” Now Mama will never be served drinks on a plane by a dragon-fingered waitress. Now she’ll never fly.

Rosa sleeps on my shoulder, her braid hanging tired over her shoulder. A freed curl covers her eye and I tuck it away from her face and pull the blanket up to her chin. I can feel Nana watching me. I want to say it’s the least I can do, Why would she feel defensive about exhibiting care towards her sister? but instead I lean my head against the plastic wall of the plane and let the vibrations run down through my body.

“You must be tired,” Nana says quietly.

I don’t look at her. “I don’t think I can sleep,” I say.

“Do you need some Advil?” Nana asks.

I shrug into the airplane. Like Advil can fix any of this. Like anything can.

This is not a bad opening at all, and the query is quite good. Maybe more of an indication that Nana was a stranger to them until now?

Friday, September 8, 2017

Book Talk & ARC GIVEAWAY: WE ALL FALL DOWN by Natalie D. Richards

Theo's always been impulsive. But telling Paige how he feels? He's obsessed over that decision. And it's time. Tonight. At the party on the riverbank, under the old walking bridge, site of so many tales of love and death.

Paige has had a crush on Theo since they first met, but she knows her feelings are one-sided. She's trying to move on, to flirt. A party at the river is just what she needs. Except a fight breaks out, and when Paige tries to intervene--Theo's fist lands in her face.

All Theo and Paige want to do is forget that fateful night. But strange events keep drawing them back to the bridge. Someone, something is determined to make them remember...and pay for what they each did.

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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

#PitchWars Critique: ONE CALL AWAY


My PitchWars mentor-partner Kate Karyus Quinn and I agree that we didn't read a single query that was bad - nor did we read any first pages that were unsalvageable. And honestly with as many submissions as we had, we were surprised at the quality of them. Which is why we decided to offer query and first page critiques on our blogs to everyone who submitted to us.

Quite a few people have taken us up on the offer. Through November, Kate and I will be posting these critiques on Mondays and Wednesdays. Any writer can learn from these - not just the author of the material being critiqued. You'll see my comments in green. Echoes are highlighted in blue.

Query:

I am seeking representation for my manuscript, One Call Away. It is YA contemporary fiction and is complete at 73,000 words. The story of Pygmalion has been retold in many different ways but never quite like this… Hmm... So normally I say that you should put your title, genre, and word count at the bottom of the query, because there's nothing here that will distinguish you from anyone else. You're someone seeking representation for a book with a title that has a certain number of words in it. However, I like your Pygmalion call out. 

There’s nothing really wrong with Banes Van Wyck other than the fact that he’s lazy. Okay, I actually like this hook better than the Pygmalion reference. I'd do as I usually suggest and move that first para to the bottom. This shows us an unlikeable character from the get-go, and that's interesting. He won’t study. He’s not dating, not that it matters, because the only girl he wants doesn’t even notice him. His friend Addie wants him, but he could have her. Where’s the fun it that? He wants to be popular, but he doesn’t like to socialize. All he really wants to do is play X box. Too bad you can’t get high school credit for it. He honestly sounds like a total effing douchebag. And that's fine. These people exist.

When his grades drop so low that his parents are forced to transfer him from private school to public, he fears that he’ll be the most unpopular Senior not capitalized there. The newbie no one will talk. not a sentence In short, he’s screwed. Desperate for a solution, he turns to his best friend, Charlie.

Desperate for a solution, he turns to his best friend, Charlie. Hmm.... you repeated this line? An aspiring fashion designer, Charlie, comes up with a plan so daring, it just might work. In a makeover a la Queer Eye For The Straight Guy, Charlie doesn’t just upgrade Banes’s wardrobe, he makes him hit the gym and the spa, changing his eye color, hair color and his confidence level. With a little coaching on dating etiquette thrown in, Banes is ready to start his new school year.

Success! The plan works perfectly…maybe, a little too perfectly. As the demands of his new found popularity grow, Banes no longer has time for Charlie, leaving him farther and farther behind. Fed up and frustrated, Charlie lashes out, resulting in a tragedy no one can have foreseen. He’s always been there for Banes. Always just one call away…until now.

This is actually a pretty great query. If you can find an agent that is looking for unlikable narrators this could work. I will take a very specific kind of person to be willing to take on this much of an asshole MC, though. Does Banes have any redeeming characteristics whatsoever? If so, they need to be present in the query.

“Oh, no. No, no, nooo,” Charlie groans. “This can’t be happening.” His elegant Southern drawl drips with contempt. Don't tell us his tone is contemptuous. Show us by using contempt in his dialogue. He slides his dark glasses down his nose and raises his perfectly arched eyebrows to indicate that he can’t believe what he’s seeing. This is a show - he raises his eyebrows, which conveys incredulity - followed by a tell - he can't believe what he's seeing. Not a good mix. Also, I'm anti-description, so I have to tell you that most of this opening does not work for me at all. The look of horror on Charlie’s face is comical, but only because I have a vague idea of why it’s there.
     Scrambling for a way to distance myself from the unfolding drama, I glance down at the cup of coffee I’m holding. Starbuck’s Bold. Venti, of course. Not only don’t I feel guilty that it’s my second, I desperately wish I had a third. If I had a family crest, the words on it would read: A day without coffee is a day I’m spending in bed. Probably along with a migraine and a whopping case of withdrawal shakes. I don’t even want to go there in the hypothetical because I can’t imagine anything better than the smell or taste of freshly brewed coffee to start my day. Not what I’d call a religious experience, exactly, but damn, if it doesn’t come close. I’m staring at the cup like it’s going to give me the patience I need to get through this. Like it’s my best friend instead of the outraged boy standing next to me. Not bad. You're showing us that he really doesn't care about whatever his friend is overreacting to, and giving us a glimpse of his personality.
      I can’t help the sigh that escapes me. This is how I start every school day. Every. Single. One.
     My back is against the wall. Literally. It’s the only thing holding me up at this ungodly hour. It’s not even eight o’clock yet and I’m exhausted and bored senseless, reduced to watching the morning sunlight as it filters down, too brightly, through the hallway’s glass roof above us. Glass roof. I roll my eyes. Not only is the roof glass, but the walls are, too.

Not a bad opening, has decent voice. Get that first para under control. Maybe instead of going immediately into the architecture of the school, tell us what Charlie is reacting to.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Lorna Hollifield On Processing Feedback

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 Lorna Hollifield, who began her professional writing journey as a tourism and travel blogger, before finally deciding to pursue her dream of publishing fiction. Her first novel, Tobacco Sun, released June 13th from Pen Name Publishing.

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

Umm. Nothing. I had this finished manuscript, with no idea how to get it published. I learned quickly though, because I was hungry to get it done. I started reading articles, researching how my favorite authors did it, and reading books on the process. I did a lot of research, but still made it a priority not to get lost in the planning stage.

Did anything about the process surprise you?

The rejection. I mean, I knew I would get it. I knew it would sting and I knew it was normal. But it still sucked. But, silver lining - I was just as surprised when I got the YES! That was the best feeling in the world!

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

The average agent might not even respond if they aren’t interested. However, the more professional ones will at least send a form letter out in about 6-8 weeks. Some are quicker, some are slower. I’ve noticed the ones that are interested tend to respond after a couple weeks, but that’s just my experience.

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

For me it helped to feel like I was always moving forward. I would busy myself with going to conferences, writing groups, book signings, events, ANYTHING where I might meet someone who could get me close to my goal. I’m most anxious if I’m still too long.

If you had any rejections, how did that feel emotionally?  How did that compare with query rejections?

Query rejections hurt, but become common pretty fast. The worst is when you start actually working with an agent or editor, and something falls apart. It’s like you are about to get married, you’ve already said the vows, and right before “I do,” he calls the whole thing off. When that happens I take the advice my mother gave me: “You can cry for a day. Feel sorry for yourself, stay in your pajamas. But you only get a day. Then you clean up, put a smile on your face, and try again.”

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

I take an editor’s feedback very seriously because they know the business. I would only revolt against it if it were just completely horrifying creative differences that changed the work. With beta readers, I tend to take everything with a grain of salt. However, if everyone says the same thing, it’s definitely worth looking into. One or two people can be wrong. But usually 10 in agreement are onto something.

When you got your YES, how did that feel?  How did you find out?  Email?  Telephone?  Smoke signal?

Haha! It was amazing. I was crying so hard that my husband thought someone had died. I couldn’t speak to tell him they were tears of joy. I received an email expressing their desire to pick up the novel. It was 10 days after I submitted, and they were so excited about the project. It made everything worth it!

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

Yes, and yes. I shared it with my closest friends and family because I couldn’t hold it in. But I wanted to shout it from the rooftops! I was finally able to let the cat out of the bag after about a month and it was thrilling. I was blessed to have a lot of people rooting for me!