Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sunday Confessions...

...just because I have some.

1. The "X" key on my desktop's keyboard hasn't been working for the last month. Every email I've sent to Gina, or anyone else, for that matter, has featured creative words like "eample" and "ecited." Also, Gina's MC is "A." Ooops. Sorry, anyone affected.

2. I thought I found my dream agent not once, but twice today. Subsequently, within five minutes of further research, realized that said agents have about a 2% chance of agreeing to represent me.

I am SO not ready for this (insanely insane process of querying.)  Looks like I'm going to be living in Excel for the next several weeks, making my A, B, and C lists, till my MS is allowed out of the hard drive.

(At least my MS is ready, I've decided. The query's not doing too badly for itself over at Krista's contest...if you feel like taking a look. If you do, make sure to tell Krista how much SHE RULES.)

Friday, July 29, 2011

Friday Obsessions

Everything I was obsessed with this week. 
(I'm trying out an easy Friday meme, let's see if we like it.)

First! Beth Revis, her writing-advice prowess, and most especially her breathtaking book.
This is my book.

Second! The song of the same name, sung by Fiona Apple, blasted at full volume, while driving on the highway (but really it's good anywhere.)

Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones

Third! (I'm not going to clutter this one with words)
EW, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Hunger Games

(I need my smelling salts. Stat.)
(Guess which team I'm on. Wait, everyone already knows.)

Have an awesome weekend, everyone!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Neither Can Live While the Other Survives (Crit Diaries)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
(Just in case you needed any clarification, I'm Voldemort.)

I'm talking about me and the first page of the THE TRAVELERS, of course.

The fabulous Krista is hosting "An Agent's Inbox" contest, where a Mystery Agent checks out queries and first pages from 25 projects and shares her thoughts, along with other entrants. It's an incredible opportunity, and having a completed MS, I thought I'd jump on board.

The advice I've gotten in  the comments is super-helpful, even (especially?) the parts that are discouraging.

The most discouraging thing? No one loves the opening. And it was one of my darlings.

Now, I know what some of you will say. "It's your story! Only you know how it has to be told!" But the thing is?
1. I agree that the opening isn't as grabbing as it could be and
2. A book with a first page no one likes won't sell. It just won't. Not to an agent, and definitely not to a publisher.

Yeah, it's good enough. It conveys emotion, and I think it says what it needs to say. It's good enough. But in writing,  "good enough" is just not going to cut it. We all know it, in our gut.  I'd rather face it down than let it sit there, festering in its stinking, slimy pile of good-enoughness.

My poor, poor opening page. I've written it about 30 times over. It's tired and scuzzy and almost defeated.
But I don't care, because it is trying to kill me.
And, unlike Harry Potter? It won't win.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Author Crush - Kristin Cashore

Three years ago, before the second love of my life (the Kindle, duh) was on the scene, I went to Barnes and Noble looking to buy a copy of A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray. I found the "B" section, but instead of finding the book I came for, all I found was an empty space of cold coppery metal bookshelf.

I am so so happy that "Cashore" is so alphabetically close to "Bray," because this book was in the spot next to it.

I normally don't love fantasy. I can't be bothered to break my head learning new places, species, languages, kingdoms, social stratifications, blah blah blah. But the premise of this book was interesting enough - a world where some people are born with a Grace, which is kind of like a superpower, and Katsa, a girl who fights for the right to use hers for good and not evil - for me to bring it home with me.

I am so. glad. I did.

You guys, in the YA Author's Pantheon, Kristin Cashore gets ultimate storyweaving goddess status.  She weaves worldbuilding elements, characters, plot points, and emotional hooks together with her sweeping narrative voice so seamlessly, that before you know it three hours have passed, you're moving to one of the Seven Kingdoms tomorrow, you're reasonably sure you're Katsa's best friend and/or that she would kill you if you crossed her, but you would jeopardize it all to jump on her handsome Prince friend, and most of all?

You feel like you've just left a freaking five star story spa. 
I'm not even exaggerating. You feel relaxed and content and blissful and AWASH in the awesome, awesome story. Kristin's writing is like a cashmere blanket made out of letters and words; rich, luxurious, and one of the best things to wrap yourself up in.

Yeah. I know.

And that's just her books.

Kristin is one extra-classy authoress.

She is absolutely effervescent, though she is not hyper or even perky, really. Her love for writing and for her characters radiates off of her, whether on her blog or in person (which you would know if you had a serious author crush on her and plugged her name into YouTube.) Watch this video of her detailing her writing process for an audience of admirers.

Yeah, you heard her right. She writes all her stories longhand. IN A NOTEBOOK. Don't you just want to (buy yourself a notebook and some pens and) hang out in a coffeeshop with her and write magical stories with strong heroines and hunky Princes? 

As if all that wasn't enough, she is such an awesome cheerleader for other writers. She wrote some beautiful words about writing, fear, and letting go here, and her NaNoWriMo Pep Talk from a couple of years ago is truly inspirational. 

Her next book, Bitterblue, is being released soon. They haven't announced a date, but Kristin posted some photos of the manuscript (Yes! It's paper! Full of Post-It notes!) on her blog the other day, and I totally freaked out. In a good way, you know.

That makes it official! I have a ginormous author crush on Kristin Cashore.

Have you read Graceling and Fire? Are you as obsessed as I am?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Delighted to be Devastated (Crit Diaries)

Two-Way Street Sign
cc Phil Gilbert
PSA: I seriously THANK GOD for the day that Gina agreed to read my atrocious first draft. She has been my biggest cheerleader on this project, and if I ever make it to publication some day, she'll be a huge part of the reason. She's not mean, beastly or monstrous - she gave me just the critique I needed. And she rules. Okay, on with the show.

My post from yesterday about my unflappable crit partner, Gina, garnered a couple of concerned comments. "Don't change your story just to please people."

I'm here to assure you - I didn't. Example? Sure.

There's one particularly evil character in my first (I know, never-gonna-be-published, blah blah) novel.
Gina said she wasn't buying it. That character isn't evil. Not in the least.
I could have made the character nice, which would have made Gina happy.
But that's not the story I want to tell.  I just knew - KNEW - this character was going to have to be pretty nasty. Be redeemable in the next book, (ha!) maybe, and even a little bit in this one - but NASTY. It was going to be key in a couple of other character's developmental arcs, and I just couldn't sacrifice it.
So I talked with Gina about it (clarification - I have never actually talked to Gina.) and she helped me figure out how to make this character a little more contemptible (G is still not happy with this whole aspect of the story, btw, and for now I don't care.) 

This is crit that helps. This is crit that makes us grow. It is collaborative, it listens, it discusses, it challenges.
It is two-way. TWO WAY.
When Gina brought up a problem with my story, it was because she was invested in it, invested in me. She wants to read it, and she wants other people to read it, the way I see it. She wants the story to be its best.
Writers, would you have it any other way?

My author crush Beth Revis wrote an incredible post on this today, complete with a diagram, for those of you who like that sort of thing (I do.) I'm printing it out and tacking it on my wall.

It's not just true of writing, you guys. It's true of life. Criticism stings. We've all gotten it, in nice ways, in not-so-nice ways, in ways that make us cry but end up being good for us. (Oh, hey, High Holidays sermon.)
But if we hear it right, if we respond to it right, if we use it as a challenge, it make us grow. And isn't that an incredible thing?

(Now, do me a favor and go shine some light into Gina's Revisions Cave.)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Great Crit Partner Will (Crit Diaries)

A great crit partner is the cross between your best friend, a perfect grammarian, someone you've never met, a wonderful writer, and your biggest fan.

Assuming she is the perfect balance of all these things, she will:

  • Tell you when your main character is being dense.
  • Tell you when your romantic hero is acting like a douchebag.
  • Remind you that, though the action you've written seems like fun, it is only possible in Mary Poppins. Or the Matrix.
  • Tell you when your romantic hero is acting like an old man.
  • Correct your dialogue tag punctuation. Again. And again and again and again. And...oh! One more time.
  • Scold you when your main character is being denser.
  • Tell you when your romantic hero is creepy, creepy, EW, CREEPY, Leigh Ann!
  • Scream at you when your main character is THE DENSEST GIRL THAT EVER LIVED.
  • Fire up the cheese-o-meter and tell you when no couple, no matter how much in love they are, would ever say that to each other.
  • Remind you about birth control. Not yours, your character's. (Or maybe yours too.)
  • Tell you that if your characters are going to talk that way and/or use that language, you might as well be writing GA (geriatric adult) fiction.
  • Endure (and sweetly respond to) dozens of insipid emails from you with titles like, "Let's talk about kissing"
  • Give you permission, and even encouragement, to write more kissing scenes.
  • Add up the number of days that have passed in your story.  Remind you that 10 days does not equal 1 week.
  • Read a scene a second time. Tell you that's still not good enough. She knows you can do better.
  • Give you query fever.
  • Read the scene a third time. Tell you to do the happy dance, because now you've got it. And she knew you would.
  • Talk you down from query fever.
  • Knock you over the head with stories of her form rejections to save your mortal soul from query fever.
  • Break your heart.
  • Cheer you on.
  • Make everything about your story SO. MUCH. BETTER.

Thanks, Gina.
Can't wait to see your gorgeous book in print. It is a pleasure to read and a privilege to give feedback, and even more of a privilege to get feedback from you.

PSA: I seriously THANK GOD for the day that Gina agreed to read my atrocious first draft. She has been my biggest cheerleader on this project, and if I ever make it to publication some day, she'll be a huge part of the reason. She's not mean, beastly or monstrous - she gave me just the critique I needed. And she rules. Okay, on with the show.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Friday Playlist! Arcade Fire, the Fray, and the Postal Service

I have an obsessive personality (I think it takes one to write something book-length, no?), and so it's no surprise to me when I realize that I've listened to the same few songs on repeat for pretty much the entire week to inspire writing, revising, polishing, etc. I think I'll put the list up every week - sometimes it's one song, sometimes it's ten - just for fun.

Here we go!

Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones

Arcade Fire: "Wake Up." - This is one of my all-time favorite songs to put on the car when you're driving down the freeway with windows open. It's driving, powerful, and feels like a freefall every time it's on. Love it.  Perfect for the "your characters just kicked ass but now are kind of scarred by it" muse.

The Fray: "Ungodly Hour." - So haunting, so sad, just like all the best Fray songs. Still there's a deep love in here. Perfect for writing the gut-wrenching stuff.

The Postal Service: "Brand New Colony" - Words can't describe how much I love this song. Optimistic in the face of suckiness, and we all have days when we need  that, right? Right?

Have an awesome weekend, you guys! I'm planning a reading binge myself, with Hourglass and Blood Red Road on the front page of my Kindle.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Pitch Contest with Agent Victoria Marini

If you're ever going to get published, you need a champion for your novel, a Batman to your Robin. That's why agents are so awesome (I hear,) and why it's also nearly impossible to find the perfect one. So, when Chanelle describes her agent Victoria Marini as" a dream agent," I sit up and listen.

Lucky for us, Victoria is listening to up to 150 pitches in a contest via Chanelle's blog! You need a completed MS and a two-sentence pitch. It ends on July 25, so head on over and throw your hat in the ring. Or, um, your sentences in the slush pile.

Thanks so much for the opportunity, ladies!

Sending Our Babies Off (Querying)

Well, folks, it's official. I have query fever. (I blame Gina.) Last night I sat down to try my hand at writing a query letter for my (so close I can taste it) completed novel.

Querying is the terrifying, soul-ripping art of telling an intensely critical stranger enough about your 80,000 word novel in just 250 words to make them want to buy it.

I'll just let that sink in for a sec.

This novel is my fourth baby (the only one made out of words.) I have three human ones (made of skin and bones and souls.)

If you asked me to tell you about my first (human) baby, here's a tiny sampling of what I might tell you:
When  he was born, I could have written a love letter to his tiny wrinkled feet, I was so obsessed with them.
 I wrote a blog post that was mostly concerned with the scent of his baby breath.
I remember that time he gave himself a black eye with a plastic spoon, and how his first word was "ball."
When he was two, he loved to tromp around the kitchen in only his diaper and dress shoes.
His right eye closes a little bit more than his left when he smiles.
 When he says the word "elephant" it sounds like "oh-fant."
His favorite color is blue, unless you're talking about superheroes, in which case it's red, for Iron Man.
Yesterday, he braved the honey bees to pick me a bouquet of clover flowers from our backyard.

But here's what his preschool registration forms want to know about him:
His name is Asher.
He is four years old.
He does not have any allergies.

So, if you ask me to tell you about my novel,
I might go on and on and on about my main character's struggles and insecurities, what bugs her about her mom, what makes her heart race.
I would tell you about how she misses her dad, and how he's the only one who could have helped her make sense of the conflict.
 I would tell you how running makes her feel powerful, and how her boring life secretly always made her feel safe, and how actually being powerful now makes her scared.
I would tell you how thrilled I am for her that she is falling in love so hard and so deep.
 I would talk about how the most difficult choices in her life are going to also turn out to be the most rewarding.
 I would tell you how much I love her, and the other characters, and how proud I am of them, because I know that what they did took a lot of guts and bravery.

But agents and publishers? Here's what they want me to tell them:
 Who is the main character?
 What's the main conflict?
How many words are in it?

Ugh. Consider my heart torn out plopped down on an 8 1/2 by 11 sheet of paper. 

And that's a query letter.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Forever by Maggie Stiefvater - Elana Johnson's ARC Contest! (Author Crush)

What makes a great story? I mean, what really sticks with you, grabs onto your heart and never lets you go?

The answer is "a lot of things," of course, but for me, a few of them are: stunning prose, gut-wrenching obstacles to be overcome, incredible characters, and a timeless love story.

Oh. And a beautiful cover doesn't hurt.

I've been in love with Maggie Stiefvater Maggie Stiefvater's "Wolves of Mercy Falls" series since I accidentally downloaded the first one, Shiver onto my Kindle. (True story.)

The third and final book came out last week and It. Is. INCREDIBLE.

What? You want some sample lines? Nooooo problem.

"Overhead, the stars were wheeling and infinite, a complicated mobile made by giants." 

I know, I know. Now, how about this:

"There is no better taste than this: someone else's laughter in your mouth." (*sigh* *swoon*)

It's these kinds of things that make me fall in love with an author and leave me star-struck by her. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Maggie Stiefvater is a prose goddess in the pantheon of YA authors, and I bow to her.

You know what might be approaching how incredible this series is? The fact that Elana Johnson (another author crush and prose goddess, yes, you'll hear more about her from me later, DON'T WORRY) is giving away a SIGNED ARC of the last book, Forever today on her blog!!!!

If I win it, I won't send it to any of you, but I will let you borrow my Kindle copy. So, that's something.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Girl Power (Crit Diaries)

I've always hated Belle.

Belle is a tricky character. You think she's all, "ra-ra-Feminism, yay!" She is independent! She walks to town by herself! She sings in a meadow and doesn't care who hears!

 For crying out loud, she loves books! BOOKS!

And she refuses this guy, so we all think she's doing pretty well for herself.
Screen shot 2010-12-11 at 3.42.01 PM
(Um, gross.)

But we all know the story. She lands at the Beast's castle, hates it, decides to ditch. In the middle of the winter. In the middle of the night. With no map.
(What? I never imagined there would be starving, vicious wolves in these dark winter woods! I'm scared, a need a big strong man to save me!)

Sadly, Belle is my go-to example of a girl who looked like a promisingly strong, smart female character, and then just....wasn't. She reads books, sure, but does she learn anything from them? Sadly the answer seems to be "no." It always frustrated me so much. (Luckily, my baby girl will have Princesses Mulan and Tiana to learn from....)

So, when I set out to write a strong female main character, what did I do?

Yeah, you guessed it. I wrote about a girl who cries a lot, is pretty dense, whines even more, and has a little bit of trouble making strong decisions without the help of her man. Did I mention she's dense?

Katniss would not be happy.

Today's task: Go through the MS and delete all references to my MC being a total dolt. And then add some opportunities for her to show up her boyfriend(s) and her enemies, and to kick some ass.

Anyone else have thoughts on what makes a strong girl character, and how to write one? It's not as easy as you might think, I'm learning....

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Punching Your Readers in the Gut (Crit Diaries)

I had an incredible writing day yesterday. I didn't mean for it to happen, necessarily, but I got into a great conversation about choices in my story with the unflappable Gina.

She wanted a love triangle, and I told her there was one, but it wouldn't show up till the very end of the book. She told me that was stupid, and she was right. So I moved one character's confession of love up about a dozen chapters, which is two thirds of the way into the book. And the confessee told the confessor her choice. I thought it was awesome, you guys, and so wonderfully sad for the  guy who didn't get a "yes."

I sent it to Gina for approval, all proud. She sent it back. "Try again. Not good enough."

She told me that, while the conversation involved a lot of pain on each of their parts, it wasn't painful enough for the reader. Why? There was no impossible choice for the character to make. Her choice seemed too easy. When she finally made it, it wasn't painful. It didn't hurt Gina to read about it. And she wanted to be punched in the gut.

This entry in the crit diaries has a happy ending. I busted my head over the scene, and I finally got the "good job" and approval to do a writer's happy dance I was waiting for. And I learned an important lesson. It's not only the physical stakes that have to be high for the characters, but also the emotional ones, to be a great story.

(The Jury's still out on how great the story as a whole actually is, btw, because my two readers for this round haven't gotten to the end. Still nervous as all getout. Obviously, I'll keep you posted.)

What's that? You want to read a little bit? Okay, sure, since I don't have any stats for you.

She realized how badly part of her wanted that existence back, that place where she could stand here and choose him without the nagging feeling that she was choosing wrong.

So, when he moved close to her, put his arm around her waist, and pulled her toward him, even though everything told her she had to turn away, had to refuse him, she didn’t. He kissed her once, then pulled back slightly. She stood there, unable to bring herself to move. So he kissed her again, and her lips moved against his, testing, remembering. Her heart warmed, and soared toward him, toward a future that she had dreamed of for years and years. Their kiss was knowing, and wonderful, and safe, but it didn’t grow deeper. It lingered there, a memory of a hope that she couldn’t quite let go of.
She drew her palms up and put them against his chest, lightly, stopping this. He had to stop, had to leave her poor heart to thud out of her and fall to the floor in peace.

Anyone else have a critique or revision experience with forcing your characters to make difficult emotional choices?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


You can read all over the writing blogosphere how painful the critique and revision process is.

I have to confess, I wasn't actually prepared for it. I expected to be gutted, depressed, and emotionally-eating up a storm. My reaction has been a little different than that.

Maybe it's my critique partner, the ever-fabulous Gina, for her loving and brilliant comments and observations. Every time she (lovingly) tears something down, I feel like someone tore my heart out. Or my stomach. But about five seconds later?


Here's why, I think:  I thought the story was good, and I thought the characters were awesome, and then along comes this comment that COULD CHANGE EVERYTHING YOU GUYS, and now the CHARACTERS ARE GOING TO BE SO MUCH MORE KICKASS.


So, I'll go on record. I love revisions. I love the rollercoaster ride that changes every single day (well, if you're lucky enough to have a fast crit partner like I do), I love despairing about my story and then changing one thing and then feeling like it is better than ever.

What. A. Rush.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go move a confession of unrequited love. And add some kissing. *sigh.*

(Because you know you want to listen to the song now.)

Friday, July 1, 2011

I'm Pretty Sure I'm the Next Stephenie Meyer

At least, that's what I've had to tell myself to keep myself going through this whole thing.

I'm exhausted. I really should go to sleep. But what if....?
My kids really want me to play superheroes with them for the thousandth time. But what if...?
I really should get up from the computer and  cook something decent for dinner tonight. But what if....?

This novel has allowed me to dream, and I am not a dreamer.  I never stood in front of my mirror with a hairbrush and gave the fake Oscar acceptance speech.

But with this project? The other day I even tapped out the "thank yous" that would only ever be seen if this book goes to print. (Yes, Gina, you would be there.) It felt really good, on a lot of levels.

So even if this first draft sits in the Cloud forever, or even if it sits on Amazon and sells three copies, I'm so, so glad I did it.

It's now on quasi-sub, and the very first feedback comments have been on the positive side. So we'll see what happens.

Official "The First Draft is Finished" Stats:

Words: 80,018
Pages: 377
Chapters: 36, plus epilogue
Time from first note to typing "The End": 7 months
Amount of Love for the characters and the story: endless

Thanks for reading. I'll keep you posted.