Monday, December 25, 2017

11 Tips To Round Out Your Reading List In 2018

I hit my goal to read 70 books in 2017 last month while I was traveling. There's nothing like a good audiobook an a long flight to boost your reading list productivity. Click here if you want to check out what I read in 2017.

And now it's time to think about 2018.

Usually I just pick a number and try to hit. I range between 60 and 80, depending on what my writing schedule is for the year. In 2017 I read over 70 books and wrote two as well, so for 2018 I thought I'd make my challenge go beyond just a number.

I got the idea after looking at my 2017 reading and realized how many of my books - print and audio - came from libraries. So I broke it down:

23% from library
12% bought at book festivals or directly from author
11% bought from independent bookstores
45% were ARCs

In 2018 I want to accomplish a few things. I want to up my library usage to at least 30% of my list, and I’d like to make a third of my list books that I already own  - I have a TBR that have books I bought 15 years ago on it. I want at least ten of the books I’ve read to have been written before 1900, and I want to read five books not originally written in English.

This is just a sampling of what I'm doing. Below are some ideas for anyone who wants to break out of reading only bestsellers.

1) Read diversely Read POC authors for sure. Read books that have been translated from their original language. Read books not set in your country. Here are are some great lists to get you started, as well as some recs from me.

2) Read short stories Honestly, there are some fantastic anthologies out there, and some great collections from authors you should know, but might not have heard of if you don't wander outside of novels often. I suggest HER BODY AND OTHER PARTIES by Carmen Maria Machado, HEARTBREAKER by Maryse Meijer, KNOCKEMSTIFF by Donald Ray Pollock, and SONGS OF LOVE AND DEATH, edited by George R.R. Martin.


3) Read non-fiction Nearly 25% of my list from 2017 was non-fic, and while a lot of it was for research purposes for novels, I truly enjoy reading non-fiction. Suggestions below! ASYLUM ON THE HILL is about the asylum in Athens, Ohio, where A MADNESS SO DISCREET is set.

4) Listen to audiobooks I've always argued that I can read faster than the narrator (which is typically true), but now that you can adjust the speed of the reading on a digital download, audiobooks have become useful to me.

5) Give lit mags a try You can discover knew voices and get a dash of poetry, art, or an essay. Two publications that fit my taste and never let me down are The Indiana Review and The Missouri Review.

6) Read some essays Yeah, I'm serious. It might sound like the last thing in the world you want to do, but give me the benefit of the doubt. Essays are like short stories for non-fiction, and I became a fan in college. It's called a reading challenge, right? So challenge yourself. Suggestions below.

7) Read about writing Truly. It can be lovely to have the experience of feeling the intensity of belonging, even when you're entirely alone. The suggestions below can help you improve your craft, or are just good for a read that lets you know that somebody else gets it.

8) Read something that will screw with you The best books are the ones that you can't get out of your head, the ones that you talk over with friends and argue about with strangers. The ones where you're not quite sure what actually happened...

9) Choose a cover art theme Not for your entire list, for sure. But say you only want to read books that are written for adults that have dogs on the cover...

(Here's a fun one. Find fiction written for adults that has a CAT on the cover and is NOT a mystery).

10) Read something you've been meaning to read I have books on my TBR that are over 15 years old, books that have been literally mouldering away waiting on me to pick them up. Find yours. Read them. That's what they're for. Here are two of mine:

11) Find your Great Unread I mean that author that you have never heard of, and most other people haven't either. But they're really, really good. Mine is someone you're going to hear me talk about a lot this year. Dawn Powell grew up ten miles away from me, and ended up being friends with people like Tolstoy. She was mildly famous in her time, but largely forgotten now. I only know about her because I finally walked up to the moldy historical marker in front of the local library and read it. In 2017 I read seven novels - thousands of pages - by Dawn Powell, and can tell you that she mastered the unlikable character that keeps you reading, regardless.

Saturday, December 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.

With a suspended federal prison sentence looming compliments of an ex-boyfriend’s betrayal, Fatál Wood, a third-generation Romani, accepts an almost-legal request to hack the computer system at the small Ohio college where she’s rebuilding her life. Wow, that's a convoluted sentence. I had to unpack it, which is not good for a hook. What's the actual hook here that gets the plot moving? The hack? Probably. Anything for her boss, a fellow scorned female who took a chance hiring an ex-con. The previous sentence might not be necessary. But when Fatál bypasses security protocols and hits an unexpected firewall, she discovers the school director is using the network to support his night job: collecting gambling debts. Her discovery leads to a second betrayal, this one by her boss. Fatál is left unemployed and angry, and plotting revenge with her best friend and former co-worker, Carmen.

Okay, so there's a LOT going on in this first para. We learn that she has prison sentence coming up, yet she's enrolled in college, has an ex boyfriend, takes a job that uncovers something, gets betrayed again, then ends up plotting revenge. Figure out exactly what elements are important to the actual plot and which are background noise that don't belong in the query.

But one of the gamblers had double-crossed the director to use the network as a conduit for stolen military secrets, and Fatál inadvertently disrupts his plans. Carmen is hit by a bus – literally – and the stakes jump from a lost paycheck to death. Fatál is framed for the crimes, and she’s caught between rival federal agencies, a suspicious probation officer, and a murderer. She must learn to trust again before her family pays the price for her errors. Fatál marshals her personal geek squad and combines twenty-first century tech savvy with an inherited Gypsy sixth-sense to balance the scales of justice…although not as evenly as she would like.

FATAL ERRORS clocks in at 80K words. Those who enjoy strong females and high-tech intrigue with a more-than-a-cozy mystery will enjoy this story. My many years in computer desktop support – and marriage to a white-hat hacker! – provide the resources to present Fatál’s computer-ese for the layperson. I am a member of Sisters in Crime and teach writing in several venues and formats.

Your second para is pretty strong and your bio is spot-on. My biggest concern is that there are too many character mentions in this query. It clouds the query and leaves the reader sorting out who's who. Water down, water down, water down. Plot, characters, everything. I know that's hard with mystery, but that's the essence of what makes a query work.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Book Talk & Giveaway: GENESIS by Brendan Reichs

Noah Livingston knows he is destined to survive.

The 64 members of Fire Lake's sophomore class are trapped in a place where morals have no meaning, and zero rules apply. But Noah's deaths have trained him--hardened him--to lead the strongest into the future . . . whatever that may be. And at any cost.

Min Wilder knows that survival alone isn't enough.

Trapped in a violent world where brute force passes for leadership, it's tempting to lay back and let everyone else fight it out. But Min's instincts rebel against allowing others to decide who lives and who dies. She's ready to fight for what she believes in. And against whomever might stand in her way.

Want to help me with all the mailing costs? I do giveaways at least once week, sometimes more. It can add up. If you feel so inclined as to donate a little to defray my mailing costs, it would be much appreciated! Donating has no impact on your chances of winning.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Wednesday WOLF

Before we get to this Wednesday's WOLF, I want to let everyone know that I'm currently out of people asking me to hit them with a sharp instrument. I know that's hard to believe, right? If you're looking for a free query critique from me, check out the Saturday Slash requirements - first come, first serve!

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

In case you're not a smartass like me, I'm going to give you the best sarcastic idiom of the ages: That's the pot calling the kettle black. Oh, how I love that one! It's the socially acceptable way of calling someone a hypocrite.

First off, what does it mean? And secondly, where does it come from?

The idea behind the insult is that the pot (which is the color black) is taunting the kettle for being... black. And by the way, this has zero racist connotations - when the phrase was coined pots and kettles would've been black, not silver.

However, I recently came across another interpretation of it, which I thought was quite interesting. In this version, rather than the pot and kettle both being black, the pot is sooty because it is usually placed directly on a fire, whereas a kettle retains a shiny silver sheen because it's typically on top of a stove. When the pot looks at the kettle, it sees its own reflection and accuses the kettle of a fault that belongs solely to the pot. Got that? We also call it projection. But that's not as much fun to say.

The earliest written use of this saying comes from Don Quixote:

"It seems to me," said Sancho, "that your worship is like the common saying, 'Said the frying-pan to the kettle - Get away, blackbreech!' You chide me for uttering proverbs, yet you string them in couplets yourself."

Later on, Shakespeare would rephrase and use the same idea in "Troilus and Cressida," when Ajax condemns Achilles for faults he himself possesses. Ulysses (one of my favorite literary smartasses) says, "The raven chides blackness."

So now you know, and don't you feel better for the knowing?

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Author Gia Cribbs On Being A Big Time Planner

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Gia Cribbs, author of THE DISAPPEARANCE OF SLOANE SULLIVAN, which will be available in May of 2018 from Harlequin Teen.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

I’m a big time planner, which is not a surprise to anyone who knows me! Before I write a single word, I know everything I want to happen in the story and how I’m going to get there. It’s easier for me to set up all the twists and turns when I know what’s coming. Outlining also helps me get to know my characters better. But of course as I write, sometimes a character does something that surprises me and that’s great! When that happens I just go with it and find a way to work it into where I want things to go.

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

I typically spend a month or two outlining and researching first (see my definitely-a-planner answer above ☺). As for actual writing time, I wrote THE DISAPPEARANCE OF SLOANE SULLIVAN fairly quickly, in a little over three months. I tend to revise as I write, so there weren’t many big changes I needed to make to that first draft of SLOANE. I probably spent about a month revising before I was ready to enter it into some contests and start querying. I can only hope all my books get written that quickly!

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

I prefer to work on one project at a time, but that’s not always possible. I think having outlines and planning things out helps me jump between projects a little more easily when I have to.

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

Not really. No one other than my immediate family even knew I was writing a book, so I didn’t feel any pressure or expectations from anyone other than myself. I had the typical I don’t know what I’m doing type of doubts you get whenever you try something new, but I wanted to tell the stories bouncing around in my head and the only way to do that was to try. Being able to sit and write just for me was a really great experience. 

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

I wrote one book before SLOANE, but I never tried to query it. It was more of an experiment to see if I could really write a whole book. But I don’t completely consider it trunked because I love those characters. Maybe one day I’ll be able to come back to that one!

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

I do have a partial manuscript hidden away on my computer that I stopped writing when it wasn’t any fun to work on anymore. I figure if I’m not having fun writing it, no one’s going to have any fun reading it!

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

My agent is Steven Salpeter with Curtis Brown, Ltd. When I was searching for an agent, I tried both entering online YA writing contests and the traditional query route. I queried Steven and knew as soon as I talked to him that he was the right agent for me. For those in the query trenches, slush piles do work!

How long did you query before landing your agent?  

Not counting the time I spent entering SLOANE in various contests, my query process ended up being super quick. I queried for a little over two weeks before Steven offered representation. I queried him one afternoon, he asked for the full manuscript almost immediately, and he read it that night and called me the next morning to offer representation, which was amazingly fast on his part! There were other agents that had the full, and I ended up receiving one other offer, but I picked Steven and it’s been the best decision!

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

Don’t give up! Rejections suck and it’s okay to let yourself feel that for a little bit. It always takes a few hours (or maybe a day or two, who am I kidding?) for a rejection to work its way through my system. But the important part is to keep going and don’t let the doubt take over! Publishing is subjective. Not everyone will like your manuscript but it really does only take one yes. While I was querying, the one thing that really helped me was to send out another query every time I got a rejection. That way the hope helped block out the sting of rejection.

How much input do you have on cover art?

My publisher has been great about asking for my opinion on the cover. When I saw the first cover concept, I was blown away. I can’t wait to be able to share the cover with everyone!

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

The thing that’s probably surprised me the most so far is how publishing can feel both super slow and really fast all at the same time. Sometimes it seems like nothing much is happening, then all of a sudden everything is going on at once. It’s a wild ride and I’m so excited to be on it!

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

I’m on Twitter (@giacribbs) and I’ve got a website in the works that hopefully will be up and running in a few months. As my publication date gets closer, I’m definitely planning on doing more marketing myself.

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

I didn’t have a platform at all until after I got my book deal, which is definitely not the usual way of doing things. So while I don’t think you have to have a platform before you get an agent, being on social media to connect with other writers, find out what agents are looking for, and see what’s going on in the YA world is definitely something I’d recommend doing sooner rather than later.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

As a reader myself, I love seeing what other people are reading and recommending on social media so I can find new books to read too. From that word of mouth basis alone, I think social media can help build your readership.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Monday Winter Blues

I'm sick.

Like, really sick. I don't half-ass anything, so I totally whole-assed this sickness and have been lying around like a deflated balloon for about five days. I was in Missouri doing school visits when the germs chose me, and I flew home knowing that I might be the equivalent of Patrick Dempsey in Outbreak, but I just wanted to get home so badly I didn't care about the world's population.

Sorry, Jimbo.

I'm home now, recovering slowly while I sleep a lot and don't accomplish much. For a long time, people have commented on the fact that my older sister and I sound exactly alike. And I mean, exactly. Back in high school when everyone only had land lines, there were a few awkward moments when our boyfriends got us confused.

That was funny to me, and as you can imagine, I may have used to it my advantage.

Regardless, one of my symptoms is that I have laryngitis, so my sister may or may not have recorded the introduction and breaks in this week's podcast episode for me. See if you think she did... or didn't.

Saturday, December 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.

Eleven-year-old Alexander Sighs hates being the middle child. I think you'll need a stronger hook here. His mother spends most of her time with his youngest sister teaching her the art of beauty pageants, while his father spends his time with his older brother teaching him little league jousting and sword fighting. Sounds like an interesting family... but I think we need to know more about Alexander himself - what does he like? What are his interests? Why aren't they fostered is this home? His family never notices when he’s there, so he decides to teach them a lesson and run away from home. His original preparations get botched when he captures two leprechauns. Hmmm.... maybe a little more about the how of that?

Alexander is convinced to join them on a quest to find unicorns that were stolen by the evil King. It'd be just like running away only better because he's promised an exciting adventure, fraught with danger. Unfortunately, leprechauns take that promise seriously. They get unexpected help from the evil king's daughter--a witch. While she helps Alexander escape one near-death experience after another, he is surprised to find himself on the King's most wanted list for helping her run away. If Alexander fails to retrieve the unicorns, leprechauns and all they stand for will cease to exist. But if he succeeds, his own existence might come to an end.

But why? Like in order to succeed he has to die? Or something else? We definitely need to know more about what is going on here, plotwise. Is he in our world chasing these unicorns? Or another one entirely? What's the actual danger here? The King? Why? What can he do / not do to Alexander? Why did he take the unicorns in the first place? How did Alexander help the princess run away? Why would he do that, anyway? 

Also, I think we need to know more about why Alexander wants to run away. It sounds like his family is slightly quirky if they have a jouster in the family - what is it about Alexander that doesn't fit in?

ALEXANDER is a 40,000-word MG standalone fantasy novel, with sequel possibilities.

I am a member of Springfield Writer’s Guild, and the Ozark Romance Authors, where I have been the Vice President for the past year. I also have one historical, CHASING ETERNITY. THE LAST CHANCE, and one MG book, A SOMEWHAT TRUE ADVENTURE OF SARA ROBERTS published. Traditionally, or self-pubbed? You'll want to clarify. Also, if your sales aren't good for these, I wouldn't mention them until you are at the phone call stage.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: BLOOD, WATER, PAINT by Joy McCullough

Her mother died when she was twelve, and suddenly Artemisia Gentileschi had a stark choice: a life as a nun in a convent or a life grinding pigment for her father's paint.

She chose paint.

By the time she was seventeen, Artemisia did more than grind pigment. She was one of Rome's most talented painters, even if no one knew her name. But Rome in 1610 was a city where men took what they wanted from women, and in the aftermath of rape Artemisia faced another terrible choice: a life of silence or a life of truth, no matter the cost.

Joy McCullough's bold novel in verse is a portrait of an artist as a young woman, filled with the soaring highs of creative inspiration and the devastating setbacks of a system built to break her. McCullough weaves Artemisia's heartbreaking story with the stories of the ancient heroines, Susanna and Judith, who become not only the subjects of two of Artemisia's most famous paintings but sources of strength as she battles to paint a woman's timeless truth in the face of unspeakable and all-too-familiar violence.

Want to help me with all the mailing costs? I do giveaways at least once week, sometimes more. It can add up. If you feel so inclined as to donate a little to defray my mailing costs, it would be much appreciated! Donating has no impact on your chances of winning.


a Rafflecopter giveaway