Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Accessing the Love

Thanks to the goodness and brilliance of my CP, Marieke, (and the subsequent input of a handful of other CPs, love you ladies) I have a gorgeous new query for ONE, so I spent this morning sending a third query flurry. So. This post will be short.

(That's supposed to be me, sending off a query flurry.
Yep. I look just like that. Right now.)

So. When I was smack-dab in the middle of drafting ONE, I blogged about it. The feeling. That surge of affection you get for your work-in-progress that drives you to stay up late, wake up early, and keep your butt glued to your desk chair during your lunch break just to get in a couple hundred more words.

Sometimes, it just happens. Yesterday, I thought of a particularly awesome line from the original Bible story I'm retelling in my WiP, that takes on a completely new meaning and yet means EXACTLY THE SAME THING in Chrome, and OMG you guys. Seriously. I wanted to write for hours. (Of course, I was elbow-deep in dishes and laundry, but what can you do?)

Other times, though, you have to push The Feeling. I know that when I'm in need of a writing boost, there are a few things that help me. One is listening to the soundtrack. The other is taking a moment to revisit the themes, characters, and lines I most love about the WiP. Almost always, taking a look at photos of my characters helps.

I mean, seriously. Look at these beautiful people and just TELL ME you don't want to write something about them.

So, sweet readers, please tell me - in your writing and/or reading universe, what brings on The Feeling? Tell me, so I can maybe add it to my bag of tricks! 

Monday, February 27, 2012

A Different Story

So, as I have more than sufficiently whined on this blog, I'm having a tough time getting into the voice of the third WiP.

Because I somehow felt that I hadn't whined ENOUGH here on the blog, I also sent a whining email to Chessie. She said she knew how I felt, because it had happened to her when she was writing a character that didn't think/talk/react like some of her others had. The characters that behaved more like her, she said, were easier to write. But those that didn't were more of a challenge.

Which is when it occurred to me - ONE's main character thought about and reacted to things in a way that felt really familiar to me.

This main character? Not so much.

When I realized this, the rest of it came to me in a rush:
Not only is the main character different - the entire book is different, you guys.

I know. This probably should have been obvious to me before I started trying to write the darn thing. After all, here are the things I  knew about this book even before I started drafting:

  • The main-main character undergoes a sudden and dramatic life change right the beginning. She has a character arc, of course, but the events that make it up are kind of crazy and tumultuous as opposed to quiet and steady.
  • But that's not all! The book actually has two main characters.
  • The main love story is between the main character and a minor supporting character, and is tangential to the main plot.
  • The story is futuristic sci-fi, and requires extensive worldbuilding.
  • It has some really terrifying bits (at least to me) and people die. Kind of a lot of people.
  • There's a resolution, but really no happy ending.
  • No one would call this story fluff. Unless they REALLY weren't paying attention.
For the first  couple weeks I was (purportedly) working on this project, I acknowledged all the above things, but somehow didn't realize what they all meant:

This story is different, so it has to be written differently.
  • It requires a lot of research, most of which cannot be accomplished by Googling stuff.
  • It has two main characters whose goals dovetail about a quarter of the way through the story, despite wildly differing backgrounds and motivations.
  • Which means the story must be (gasp!) outlined. (I have never outlined any aspect of any story before ever ever ever)
  • I might have to do some writing exercises to really get into the head and the voices of these characters, and to make them distinct. (I have never done writing exercises. Thinking about writing exercises makes my skin crawl.)
I'm not used to doing any of this. I don't know how to do any of this. 

But that doesn't mean I'm going to quit. What does it mean? 

This story is different. So I have to learn to be a different writer.
Or, less dramatically, I have to accept that writing this story requires skills I haven't mastered yet, then buckle down and work my butt off to get those skills and totally rule at them.

It would be so, so easy to throw my hands up in the air, give up on CHROME, and write another story just like ONE. To let another main character with the same slightly sarcastic and vaguely optimistic first-person present voice tell another story about finding herself in some unexpected and beautiful way (and kissing a very cute boy quite a lot along the way.) 

Don't get me wrong - ONE is a good story. It's a strong voice. It has sweet characters. I love it deeply, and I believe in it with all my heart. 

But I didn't start writing so I could write the same story over and over again. 
 I don't want to get better at writing one way - I want each new book to make me a better writer in a different way.

And, what do you know - as soon as I really, truly accepted all this?
Writing got a little easier.

I don't know if it was me giving myself permission to let the suck flow, just like I did while drafting my very first manuscript (yep, the one before ONE.)
I don't know if it was finally accepting that I didn't know that much about how this MC would sound, and letting myself experiment with that.
I don't know if it was admitting that yes, I did need at least some semblance of an outline before tackling the writing (which I jotted down before I started.)

But this weekend, I nearly doubled CHROME's word count.
(Amidst a slog of a birthday party, a two-hour-long work thing, a morning of baking, and sundry childrearing and household responsibilities.)
Yep. Somehow, just accepting that this story-writing would be different - not harder, necessarily, but a completely new experience - let me just get the words out onto the screen again. It feels awesome.

Okay, sweet readers. Please share your stories of writing breakthroughs. How have your stories made you a better and better writer with each one?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Friday Obsessions: A Girl Who Reads, No Envy, No Fear, and Fountain Sodas

Happy Friday, sweet readers! It's been another week of lows sprinkled with a couple of sparkly little highs in the query trenches. As I say, it could always be worse.

Writing itself is going pretty slowly, I'm sad to say, and I'm looking for a voice-finding breakthrough to strike me this weekend. When I was drafting One, Merrin's voice just flowed, and this one....? I know it's in there somewhere, I just have to figure out how to get it from my brain into my heart, you know? My CPs have had some suggestions, and I'd love to hear yours- at this point, I'll try anything.

Anyway, that's the update. Without further ado...

Everything I was obsessed with this week.
Because I know you want to know.

1. Spoken Poet Ryan Grist on a Girl Who Reads. (Warning: Begins and ends with a couple of slightly objectionable words for body parts. WORTH IT.)

I don't normally go for spoken word poetry, but this is AMAZING. Might make me reconsider. I know it's annoying when people say "just watch the video," but...just watch it. (I've hit "replay" at least 30 times this week.) Yum.

2. Joshua Radin's No Envy, No Fear. Just another calming song for another tumultuous week. Plus, I like the idea - "No envy, no fear." A good goal for a writer, even if I'm far, far from it.

3. Fountain Soda. 
Oh, fountain soda. Pop from a can is one thing, but there's something about the way the fizzies diminish in just the right way and the ice so perfectly chills it that makes me OBSESSED with fountain soda. I don't know if it's a blame-the-fetus thing, but I'm craving it even more now. Especially the ice. Lots and lots of ice.

And now a bit from the WiP.  You might be able to tell what a struggle it's been...*shrugs.* I think I'm going to try some writing exercises this weekend (guh. I've never needed exercises) to get the juices flowing.

In the meantime, meet Princess Laila. She's Havah's big sister, and they're getting ready to walk the carpet into a club for Laila's eighteenth birthday extravaganza.

“Besides,” Laila said, “With as often as you sneak away, you should be wearing an EMP too.”
Havah snapped her head around to look out the window again before Laila could see the flood of red to her cheeks.
“Who are you seeing, anyway, when your bionguards lose you? What are you doing?”
Havah was quiet.
“It had better not be a boy. Mother would kill you.”
“What does Mother care about me and parties? Or boys, for that matter? If there were any. And what do you care? We all know you’re the one everyone’s watching.”
“Havah,” Laila’s voice became softer. “I may be the next Queen, but I’ll always need you.”
Havah turned back, blush gone, and smiled. She leaned in, reaching for Laila’s hand and threading their fingers together. “I know.” Then she wiggled her eyebrows, darted her face toward Laila’s, and smacked a big wet kiss on her cheek.
“Havah!” Laila screeched. She moved to swipe at her cheek but stopped her hand at the last moment, patting gently at it instead. “My paint!” She glared at Havah but didn’t pull her hand away.
Havah giggled. “You’re lovely, Lai. Paint or not, and you know it.”
Laila glared. “Princess Laila once we’re outside. Princess Havah.”
“Of course, LaiLai. Will you calm down? Let’s just have fun. Okay? Party time, birthday girl.”

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Next Generation of Readers

I was one of those kids. You know the ones - who sit in the shade with their noses buried in books, when they're "supposed to be" racing their bikes up and down the street with the other neighbor kids. Or the ones who take books along with them to slumber parties. Or snuck one under the table when it was supposed to be family dinner time.

Pretty much nothing could yank my nose out of a book once I'd started reading. I was about eight or nine when I first remember becoming completely obsessed. It was via a copy of Little Women. I don't know if it was the whining little sister I identified with, or the dashing Laurie I already swooned over, but I have vivid memories of sitting in a corner and dropping tears on the pages of my mother's copy when Beth died.

Even as a child, I was a voracious reader, and so I needed more books - LOTS more books. At nine, Ramona was already a bit young for me, but I read all those. Then I plowed through Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret? But after that, for some reason, all I really remember reading was The Babysitter's Club (ad nauseum) and Sweet Valley High (though I never did like those girls.)

For a couple of years, for some reason, that was pretty much all I found. One bright shining spot was A Wrinkle in Time - oh, goodness, I think ten-year-old-me still has a girl crush on Meg Murry - and another less sparkly one is The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.

By the fifth grade, I was getting pretty tired of EVEN MORE Babysitter's Club (obviously, I was never that fond of children.) But still, every once in awhile a book would come along, now for class reading, that would make me re-obsessed with reading. The Devil's Arithmetic and The Giver ignited my love for dystopian (yes, I know The Devil's Arithmetic is Holocaust, but still dystopian, no? Not trying to diminish it, obviously.), but when no more of those books for children could be dug up for me in the library, it was a huge bummer. I remember being so frustrated about having to pick up those serials again.

But somehow, just at the right moment, my fifth grade teacher got it. She knew I had to read and she knew it had to be something good. I'll never forget the day she handed me a copy of Jane Eyre.

I. Was. In. Love.

And it was about more than Jane and Mr. Rochester, although they remain my absolute favorites to this day. I could read grown-up books! And, even better, my teacher thought I was smart enough to read grown-up books! I read Fahrenheit 451 and 1984. I read Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, and Persuasion (oh, Captain Wentworth!) I tackled A Tale of Two Cities and The Count of Monte Cristo.

I was reading about love! And horror! And social politics! And corrupt government! And starcrossed love! And war! And revenge! It was absolutely amazing. (I thank God every day for that teacher) And even though it was all in grown-up books, I understood everything. I loved it. And I wanted more.

This experience of being a mildly precocious reader has left me with a couple of realizations as an adult:

Kids can read books written for adults, and they should be able to,
They shouldn't HAVE to.

When I look at my kids, I want them to be able to get their hands on books that are written for them, that feature protagonists with whom they can identify, but that are smart enough to challenge their hungry little minds. I want the books to take them to new worlds, make them believe in impossible things, and tug at their heartstrings. I want the books to acquaint them with sadness and fear, and tough situations. I want them to drop tears on the pages of a paperback (or reader screen) because the words on the page are so powerful that they've just had their little hearts broken.

In the book-publishing biz, we hear a lot of talk about what will sell. I guess that I wish, twenty years ago, there had been a lot less talk about what would sell and a lot more talk about what would do all that stuff I just said above. Maybe then there would have been more Middle Grade Count of Monte Cristo on the shelves in front of me, to balance out all the Babysitter's Club.

So. Today, I thought we'd do a bit of cheerleading.
Or, you know, copious cheerleading. I love cheerleading.

I, for one, am looking forward to hoarding some of my YA favorites for my kids to read. Here are my top three loves for that particular purpose right now:

Break by Hannah Moskowitz
Possession by Elana Johnson
Graceling by Kristin Cashore

All very different - Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Dystopian, Fantasy. Wildly divergent protagonists on all levels. Some have swearing, some have sex, all have kissing. All are multi-layered and ripe for wonder, excitement, discussion, and obsession. There's something about Hannah's books in particular that are dear to my mother's heart, because I can shove them in my kids' faces and say, "See? Teenagers can write important things, too."

Here's where my CPs come in. (of course!) We're all on the tough road to publishing, and some of us know that the books we're querying now might not make it (chv'sh ptuh ptuh ptuh). But I'll be darned if my kids aren't going to have the chance to read about conflicted Kelsey, spitfire Maggie (and dreamy Tommy,) brave Grey, smart Avery, stubborn Tam and Izuko, and schizophrenic Alex.

It is at this point that I take a moment to reflect on my gratitude for e-readers. 

At the end of the day, I really don't care what sells. I want to pass stories about bravery, hope, and believing in oneself to my kids and all their cutie friends. Because even if they never get published by a Big Sixer, they're the stories I wish I could have had twenty years ago. Maybe, just maybe, one of them will make one of my kids fall in love with reading.

And I'm sure they'll never, ever forget it.

Your turn, sweet readers! What books made you fall in love with reading? Which ones do you wish were around when you were a young reader? And which ones are you looking forward to passing on to kids you know?

Monday, February 20, 2012


So, you know how I have three kids, a part time job, a husband, a household, and a fetus to manage? And how I can still write a book in like six months? And how people think I'm nuts?

Well, the only way that works is that I tell myself that it's something I have to do. I have to make the time for it. I have to wake up at four in the morning and type chapters on my phone and quit whining and just write the darn book. And there's no such thing as an obstacle so huge as to make me stop working on a project, especially during those precious weekend hours.

It's true. There is no obstacle so huge as that. There is, however, one small enough.

The stomach virus.


Yep! Caught a DISGUSTING stomach virus this weekend and spent all of Sunday in bed, either at home with a bucket or at the hospital with an IV stuck in my arm.

 I even got all excited because I was going to the hospital for a few hours, where it's Calm! and Quiet! I merrily packed up my Kindle and netbook (well, as merrily as one can with extreme nausea,) and a ton of cords. Turns out, though, that the nurses can just stick something in your IV without telling you that it'll knock you out STONE COLD FOR SIXTEEN HOURS. Which is what happened to me.

Which means I didn't get anything done, writing-wise, this weekend. Also, my house exploded with laundry and kitchen debris.  

So, yeah. I'm not invincible. And I've been put in my place, by a freaky microscopic organism. I've been SCHOOLED, that sometimes I can't write and sometimes that's not because I'm lazy or whining.

On the upside - I'm really glad I had the experience of being knocked unconscious with drugs, because I need to do that to Havah anyway, and now I'll know exactly how it feels. (See? Can't stop my brain. For the most part.)

What about you, sweet readers? When's a time that you've been put in your place, writing-wise or otherwise?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Friday Obsessions: Imogen Heap, Pinterest, and Spiderman Trailer

Well, friends, it's been a tough week in the querying trenches. (Which, as my CPs know, is a serious understatement.) So, I'm just gonna pretend the trenches don't exist. Manuscript? What manuscript?

Please join me in going to my happy place, as I bring you....

Everything I was obsessed with this week.
Because I know you want to know.

1. Imogen Heap's "Hide and Seek"
So, someone suggested this song as a calming thing for me last week. If you just sit back, crank it up, and let the sounds wash over you, it's perfect for calm. But the lyrics are quite sad.
I realized that it fits perfectly with a certain sequence of scenes in the WiP, and so I've begun to associate it with that mood - that of a tragic inevitability. Awesome.

2. Pinterest
Not so much an obsession as a happy discovery at the outset of this WiP. When I write, I'm really inspired by visuals, and so Pinterest is AMAZING - You can pin All The Pretty Things up on one board! That you can access anywhere! It basically lets me paint the scenes of my WiP for reference any time, anywhere, and has already been invaluable.

(Check out my board for Chrome. Awesome.)

3. The Spiderman Trailer
I'm just psyched for this movie summer in general, but oh man oh man. Spiderman. The wit! The drama! ANDREW FREAKING GARFIELD. Ahem.

Just watch it. (Sorry. I can't find one without an annoying ad before it.)

Annnnnnd the WiP. I haven't done very much good work on it, so you know what that means. I need some tough love. If you can find it in your heart, leave some in the comments. Thanks. <3

(Meet Sarra. She's one of the Iver - the slave class that lives underground.)

“Nedda,” Sarra breathed, “Thank you.”
Nedda smiled wearily, and led her in to the tiny room, that held twenty small girls. They huddled around bowls that fit in the palms of their hands, focused on getting every last morsel into their mouths. One of the littlest ones, Brona, who must have been about four years old now, squealed, jumped up, and threw her arms around Sarra’s waist. Nedda caught her by the arm, leaned down. “Shah, Bron. We don’t want anyone to hear.”
The girl looked down, blinking back tears. Sarra crouched down to her eye level, feeling soft and full of love for the first time in days. Weeks, maybe. She kissed each of Brona’s cheeks and hugged her tight. The girl’s body relaxed against her, then clung to her as she slung her arms around Sarra’s neck.
Sarra couldn’t deny the rush of pleasure the girl’s excitement to see her brought. The poor sweetheart had lived her entire life in the cold, cramped quarters, and if she could still find warmth in her heart, Sarra wasn't about to deny her that. She’d never shush one of the little ones for showing love. 
Sometimes, she thought that love for each other was all the Iver had left. Especially these girls, who held the Ivers’ future in their hands, though their existence was a crime.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What Tugs You Down the Writing Path?

Let's take a moment to put it all on the table.
We're so busy. So, so busy.
We all have so much stuff every day that we have to do besides writing.
It's insane that we're writing at all, really.

Here's my stuff:
Three preschoolers to take to and pick up from school, feed, clean, clothe, etc. Every day.
A house to keep non-condemnable. (Low standards!)
A husband to look at and speak to once in awhile.
30-35 hour a week day job.
Extended family visiting 1/2 of weekends.
Theoretically, working out. (I'm hosting a fetus right now so I give myself a break till May.)
I should sleep? Probably?

Now. I'm grateful for these things. These things make up my life, one that I consider myself very lucky to lead. There could be a lot of extra, not-so-positive things thrown in the mix that I'm SO GRATEFUL are not there.

There's just one thing I know about all this. I have to fit writing in somewhere. HAVE TO.
For one simple reason - I'm a miserable beast when I don't.
(I've learned this through trial and error, and it's not pretty.)

But, especially for the unagented, it's really, crazily difficult to fit writing in. Where's our motivation? What are we really doing here, anyway? No one even wants to buy our stuff! (So it seems.) 

It's so ridiculous to spend our valuable time and energy writing something that'll never go anywhere, right? It's just a big old waste.

What business do we have tossing hot dogs and apple slices in our kids' general direction while staring at the laptop perched on the kitchen island, or depriving ourselves of sleep just to get an extra 200 words in? Who do we think we are, spending way too much money on a babysitter for two hours just to sneak in a bit more brainstorming? Or ignoring our classwork, or secretly rejoicing when our husbands announce they'll be on a boys' night out again?

Well. None, really. But if you're anything like me, you know you'll be miserable if you don't.

So, what pulls you down the path to get started? To keep going, till you've hit 75000 words (or whatever,) then to painstakingly edit, then to go through rounds and rounds of CPs/revisions/edits, then to cry over queries and synopses and rejections?

Well, for me, it's tough love, made up of equal doses of bullying and guilt, with a little flattery on the side.
Like this:
 "Stop whining and JUST WRITE."
"Here, let me spend valuable time brainstorming with you about plot/themes/worldbuilding. NOW WRITE." "You'd better write this story, because it's going to be AMAZING."

So I do.
I "just write" a kissing scene between two characters that kicks off a whole element of the story I hadn't anticipated.
I force my brain to navigate a tough bit of worldbuilding with Chessie's help, and when it's finally there staring at me, my mind is blown with how awesome and exciting it'll be to write.
I take a minute to think about my main character's arc and want to cry a little bit with how difficult things are going to be for her. I fall in love with her.

Then I realize - after just a little bit of work, NO ONE is going to be able to write this story like I can. My characters and the world are speaking to me, and now they're on the "Just Write the Darn Story" team.
And if I don't write it, no one else will ever hear them.

Then I start thinking about my CPs, and I get really grateful that they threw crackers at their kids or ignored their husbands or didn't prep for midterms or lost sleep or made their fingers ache typing that whole chapter on an iPhone during carpool. Otherwise I never would have met Kelsey and David, Emma and Alex, Amity, Damien, Rory, and Viv, Tam and Izuko (oh, Izuko,) Avery, Jack, and Stellan, Alex and Miles, Maggie and Tommy, Grey and Xan and Edward and Nathan. I would have never had their stories tug at my heartstrings and change me just a little bit forever. When I think about how those stories will be published and other people will get to know them too, I'm really, really, REALLY glad those authors kept going. Otherwise, their stories would be stuck in their heads forever, without anyone else to ever love them.

Now, that would be a waste.

Monday, February 13, 2012


The internet is an amazing place for writers.
It's where we can find incredible critique partners, more writing forums than we have time for, the best agent-finding resources, and a ton of information on improving our craft. Heck, it's basically a DIY MFA playground, if you're willing to use it.

And then, there are the contests.

Every once in awhile, some kind-hearted, self-sacrificing individual will step up and run a contest on her blog. Writing is posted for critique and, if we're very lucky, agents flock to fight over the chance to review that work more in depth, in a (mostly) civilized and (entirely) exciting manner.

(ONE is playing in one such contest, the brand-new Cupid's Literary Connection, today. I'm so excited.)

Here are the reasons that I think contests can be a great opportunity for the querying writer.

1. It elevates my work above the slushpile.
Even if there are fifty or even one hundred entries on display for agents' perusal, that still amounts to two, ten, or a dozen agents looking at one hundred queries as opposed to one lone, hard-working, exhausted agent wading through slush to hopefully pull my manuscript out.

Plus, whether or not the contest is selective (meaning: the person running the contest somehow narrows entries down to what she has determined to be the "best" ones) the dirtiest of the slush has already been cast aside. No crazy queries, no YouTube videos of shirtless men. So when the agent gets to my query, hopefully she's not so slush-weary that she can't read it with a happy heart.

2. I've had success with contests.
Well, what I'm calling "success," anyway. Three of the full requests on my last manuscript were the result of one blog contest or another. Even though I drawered that manuscript, I did get a sense of which agents I would LOVE to query in the future, and their feedback was, in some cases, invaluable.

3. It helps me get to know agents in what I call a "soft query" environment. 
Agent Fabulous might say that she wants Young Adult Romance, for example, and then completely ignore every entry that seems to be a solid one of those. If I'm querying a Young Adult romance, I can then take that information and decide whether it's worth querying that agent. Or, more optimistically, I can see what about YA romances that agent loves, and highlight those aspects of my MS in the query I'll send to her later.

In past contests, even when I haven't gotten a request out of it, I have had agents point out their concerns about or approval of my query and first page, which let me either tweak it or leave it alone, and go forth formally querying with confidence.

4. Contests are how I found a bunch of my CPs.
Checking out the work of my fellow entrants gives me a chance to see whose work I'm absolutely head-over-heels in love with/excited about, which I think is essential to a great CP relationship.

5. I'm really not afraid of anyone stealing my work, or ideas, or whatever.
If anyone can take my query and first pages and use the ideas and voice in there to fully reconstruct my 76,000 word manuscript, I'll probably hand them a cookie and congratulate them. Not only would that be crazy freakish, but it would also free up a lot of my time and stress.

But seriously. I can give a crowd of twenty writers the idea of "half-superpowered teens" and they will write 20 completely different novels. Which would actually be kind of awesome.

Bottom line: It's ridiculously difficult to get an agent as it is. Anything that helps improve my chances can't hurt that badly, and the cheerleading and community-building possibilities are some seriously thick icing on the cake.

Now. Just like anything else, contests *do* have cons. Just some things to consider before you let my above points get you all gung-ho excited for the next contest.

1. Anonymity is tough to preserve
These contests are supposed to remain anonymous, so that they don't become a popularity contest. Obviously, though, the internet is one big web of hyperlinks, and it's pretty easy to connect most of the projects on display to an individual if you really want to. I try to stay anonymous, just because I think it's way classier, but I'm not sacrificing the information I have posted about my MS on my blog or any tweets about it for the sake of staying under the radar while I'm contesting for two weeks.

2. It's tough to keep up self-confidence while watching your work be rejected in real time. 
The point of every contest is for an agent or agents to pick their favorite entries. Sometimes, this occurs in real time, meaning that during a given period of one or several days, agents can leave comments saying, "not for me," "yes, this is good," or "YES PLEASE PUT IT IN MY INBOX NOW." It can be nervewracking and insane, but the worst is when every other entry seems to be getting comments but yours. Yes, it happens. No, it doesn't mean your MS sucks - it just means it doesn't appeal to those agents. But, again - it takes a darn chipper and mature person to remember that. (Spoiler - I'm not always that chipper or mature. I know, you're shocked.)

3. Feedback is not always positive.
One of the stated purposes for all these contests is to receive feedback from peers, but I've never really bought it. Mostly because one of the rules is usually "only submit completed and ready-to-query manuscripts." Now, I don't know about everyone else? But to me, "completed and ready-to-query" means that the MS has run the gauntlet of multiple critiques, revisions, and line edits. Not to mention much agonizing. Usually I'll contest an MS while I'm also querying it.
Now. If I'm confident enough in the MS to query the darn thing, I'm pretty much only looking for cheerleading from my peers, and maybe some gentle suggestions for minor improvement. But every once in awhile, some uppity writer will roll in and leave PARAGRAPHS of feedback, often quite critical, on everything everyone is doing wrong with their entry. This can be annoying at best and crushing at worst. Most of the time I can ignore these jerks, but if you're ultra-sensitive about the soundness of your submission, this might be a big deal.
Note: Some contests are SOLELY for the purpose of feedback, and don't involve agents, in which case the above obviously doesn't apply.

Just some things to remember about contesting:

  • It can be a great opportunity to shove your work directly in front of agents.
  • It can be an awesome community-builder and confidence booster.
  • Subjectivity is a b*tch. Let this be your contesting mantra. Not everyone loves everything. It's okay.
  • It only takes one agent to love your work and get you a book deal. There's always another contest or another query. If this contest doesn't work out, don't let it ruin future contests for you.

What about you, sweet readers? Have you participated in blogged writing contests? Do you plan to in the future? Why or why not?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Friday Obsessions: Rainbow Sponge Lady, Bourekas, and NEW WORDS

Okay, everyone. I've learned my lesson: I should never, ever, EVER stop writing. This week: the story of how I got started again. (It's short, I promise.)

But first (and segueing into the story!) 
Everything I was obsessed with this week. 
Because I know you want to know.

1. The Rainbow Sponge Lady.
If you're having kind of a rough morning, Just watch her. Trust me.

2. Bourekas.
Here's another "the last thing I want to do is cook because CAN'T YOU SEE I'M WRITING" recipe. Get yourself some frozen puff pastry dough. Unroll it. Cut it into squares with a pizza cutter. Mix up some shredded cheese, egg, and garlic. Plop it in the middle, fold it over, and bake them at 350 for 25 minutes. Eat one and freeze the rest. When your husband/kids/roommate goes looking for food, tell them to get their noses the hell out of your monitor and microwave themselves some of these. You're DONE.

3. The New Chrome Playlist.
So, here's where the story starts. You guys gave me some amazing advice about getting out of my between-projects slump on Wednesday. The words that most resonated with me were, "Just Do It."
My CP Chessie has some sort of sixth sense about my writing self, and so she sent me an email pep-talking me. When that didn't work, she pulled out the tough love in a comment on that post pushing me to write. But the final push off the cliff was when she actually spent time MAKING A PLAYLIST FOR Chrome. This involved not only her valuable music-combining skills, but also an informal questionnaire about the book's mood and also READING THE BIBLE. And, if the playlist in itself wasn't amazing, the guilt alone would have pushed me to write.
Luckily, the playlist Chessie made is spot-on perfect and totally kicks butt. Embedded below -the first seven songs are ones she pulled.

Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones

Aaaaaaand last but not least. A little snip of the first thousand words I wrote for Chrome. Meet Havah and Jarrod. Havah's a princess and Jarrod's a douchebag.

Havah drew back, stood tall, and cleared her throat. “My guards will be looking for me.”
“Let them search," he said. "Give those stupid blue lights something to do besides menace all the boys out there trying to touch you.”
Havah ducked under Jarrod’s arm again, and reached for the door, wrapping her fingers around the handle one by one. His hand covered hers, and an unsettling wave of warmth moved through her. She looked him straight in the eye, knowing the chill their icy blue brought to her body would steady her.
“There are others who would have me, Jarrod.” But no others I want. She blinked back tears.
“Havah, my own. Please.”
“I am no one’s own.” She spoke loud and clear now. “And you are boring me.”

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Between-Projects Slump.

I've written about the inital-query freefall before. What happens when you've been querying for nine days, and the form rejections start to roll in? Well, at least for me, my self confidence does this:

Yep. BIG nosedive. 

I thought my MS was good.
My CPs thought it was good (didn't they?)

But agents don't want it.

What was I thinking?
How could I have thought this MS would EVER work?
Will I ever be published?
Can I even call myself a writer anymore???

Yes, I am fully aware of how irrational this all is. Which is why I normally have a backup plan:

The Work In Progress.

Even though working on something new can't give an immediate rush to counter the initial crash of queries denied (and those awful red frowny faces Query Tracker gives you when you record them, what's UP with that?) a new project at least gives us a handlebar to clutch onto as our self confidence slowly inches back up.

You write some snappy dialogue - Wooo!
Anchored down some more plot points - You are a GENIUS.
That scenery description? - NAILED IT.
Wow, that kiss was incredible - *happy dance*

The rewards of working on that WiP are small, but they come at regular intervals.
Best of all, if it's a second, third, or tenth MS that you're working on, you've had the first draft high before. You can see the top of that goshdarn rollercoaster, and you know gazing out from the peak feels absolutely amazing. Your motivation to get there is HIGH.

This time around I know what the rollercoaster looks like. I have a super-shiny idea for my newest project, and I even know most of the plot points and a bit about the characters.

So, what's the problem?

For some reason, I can't make myself get in the seat. Can't write a word.

Anyone ever been in this position? How did you kick yourself in the bottom to tackle that blinking cursor?
My CPs are telling me to write something fun. (In case you need a translation, that means "a kissing scene.")
That sounds mildly appealing...I guess. *sigh*


Monday, February 6, 2012

How I Query

So....ONE has been querying for a week! Yaaaay!

Just wanted to do a little post on how I query, since I know a good portion of my critique team thinks it's crazy. This is mostly an attempt to convince them - and myself - that it actually makes sense. In some universe.

So, before I do this, I'm just going to make the blanket statement that this is MY querying practice, because I think it's the right way FOR ME to query AT THIS TIME in my career. If you do something different, and you like it, and you're happy, well, that's all that matters, my love.

Now that that's out of the we go.

First of all, I work on my query until I'm sure it's good and clear and voicey and hook-y. I don't post it on forums, because I don't know the folks over there, and I don't have the emotional or physical energy to deal with people who tear things up just for the sake of tearing them up. I send it to some people I "know" or have "met" via Twitter, critique groups (CPs of CPs) and then my actual CPs for this. Just like when they're critiquing my novel, they're not afraid to tear it up, tell me something doesn't make sense, and I know it's all with the intention of making my novel succeed.

Second, I set up an initial list of agents I'd like to query - somewhere between 60 and 80. I spend a good week on Query Tracker, scoping out agents listed as representing YA, making sure that they'll look at Science Fiction, and noting what projects they've sold to see what kind of styles and voices they like. (I don't stress too much about the styles-and-voices thing, because I know that for an agent, it's all about finding a book she loves. How many of us have fallen in love with a book completely different from all the other ones we've ever loved?) I make notes about what materials they're asking for, so setting up queries later is easy-peasy. (Yes, obviously, this is not as easy as it seems. Hm.)

I query my Dream Agent first. This is for a few reasons.

  • One, she's the agent I'm most nervous about querying, and so if I get over my terror of clicking "send" on her query, it's all downhill from there. I mean, sending every other query is relaxing in comparison to that experience.
  • Two, if she sends me a form rejection, then I'm not stuck wondering "what if" for the rest of my queries. I know she doesn't want it, so I can set my sights on other agents and move on.
  • Three, if she IS interested in the material, she gets first crack at it and I have no qualms about (please please pretty please) signing with her.
Then, I begin a series of what I like to call Query Flurries.
I send an initial query batch of 20-30 (I think this time, contests and web forms included, it was something like 26)

I like to throw in a couple of agents I'd LOVE to work with, some that I know are awesome but I have no special attachment to, and some that I haven't really heard of, but seem to have great clients and sales.

Now, I know you're saying, "Hold on. 20 agents is a whole heckuva lot at one time." 
But here's the thing. A good request rate - like, a really good one - is about 20%. So, let's say you and your query and your writing sample totally kick butt. You send out 20 queries, and get four requests. You are ON FIRE. If one of those agents reading your manuscript is totally in love, and wants to sign you, that means that you still have three others considering your work at the same time. This puts you at a great advantage.

(Personally, I'm not really believing that a 20% req rate is very possible these days. I'm thinking more like 10% would be admirable. But that's neither here nor there.)

After I send the first query flurry, I wait until I get a decent number of responses.
This past week, I got two requests and eight rejections.

So, today, I'll send out eight more queries, to make up for the eight rejections I got last week.

In this way, I always have about 25-30 queries out in the universe.
(I'll also be contesting my MS, which I consider a "soft query." It'll tell me which agents aren't interested, without me sending an actual formal query to them.)

"But, Leigh Ann," you might say. "How do you know that all those rejections aren't because your query SUCKS?"

Well, I don't. But I don't stress that much about it (unless I'm getting 100% rejections for awhile) for a few reasons:
  •  First of all, I've done the research and worked really hard on my query, remember***? I've had a lot of feedback on it. I'm super-confident in its ability to do its job.
  • Rejections come for lots of reasons other than a query sucking. It could be that the agent likes science fiction about cyborgs, but not superheroes. Rejection. It could be that the agent just signed a superhero novel, or for whatever other reason is not confident in her ability to sell it. It could be that the agent is really only looking for multi-ethnic fiction. It could be that she hates first person present, or she had a rough commute, or her kid is obsessed with X-men and she just can't bring herself to deal with anything else regarding superheroes. All reasons that might make me, personally, not want to read a book, let alone try to sell it. REJECTION.

  • Lastly, form rejections almost never come with any helpful feedback on the query itself. Agents don't have the time to tell you WHY SPECIFICALLY they don't think that they can sell your book. So, I could try to change the query purely based on the fact that I'm getting a lot of rejections, but without agent feedback, how do I know WHAT to change?
(***If you are worried about your query, GET MORE FEEDBACK. Run it by people who you know are supportive but haven't read your book and don't know you - i.e. don't really care about upsetting you that much. Make sure they're people who know what grammar looks like, and who understand query basics. Read QueryShark. Read From the Query to the Call. Do your homework.)

As I get more rejections, I send more queries.
Along the way, I might tinker with my first page or query to see if it gets more bites. But overall, again, I don't sweat it.

I do this until I run out of agents to query.

When I've run out of agents to query, I put the book in a drawer and gear up to query the next one....

And I'll blog about that on Wednesday.

If you feel comfortable sharing, my loves, what are your tried-and-true-and-loved querying practices? Have you changed anything since you first started querying? What are some resources you love?

Friday, February 3, 2012

Friday Obsessions - Names, Men with Swords, and Marshmallow Cereal

Well, friends? It's been a bang-up writing week over here.  The first official queries for ONE went out on Monday and I've been delighted to send out some requests by Friday. So, rule. I'm convinced this good fortune is due to your good vibes, so keep 'em coming.  (Thank you!) 

Up next week on the blog, I'm planning posts on how I query, since I know some of you think my method is insane, and also how to stay sane while querying.
(Not that I'm a paragon of success in that endeavor. But I try.)


Alright. Here we go.
Everything I was obsessed with this week.
Because I know you want to know.

1. Names
I've always been sort of obsessed with names. Their meanings, the stories behind them, etc. And being a Lady Who Knows Her Bible (part of the day job description, you see) I took great joy in naming my children in the same way the matriarchs did - with stories and deep, personal meanings behind them.  Now that the fetus has a name, I'm pretty much done with that bit of fun.

Luckily, I write. Making up new characters allows me to name things without going through labor or wiping any additional bottoms, which, now that I think of it, may be one of the top ten reasons I write. Huh.

The characters in my first two books were not named like that at ALL. I just...named them things I liked. For Nik, I wanted a girl with a boy's nickname, because...I liked it. I wanted Davis to have the kind of last name that could serve as the first. "Merrin," I just liked, and "Elias" just sounds sexy-but-geeky to me. (Did it work, CPs?) I named Leni after my grandmother, who is even more kickass in real life.

But CHROME, the alleged WiP, demands a bit more thought and care in this regard. Each of the names I use for this one has to pack a punch of meaning as well as have some seriously awesome linguistic roots. It took me for-freaking-ever to come up with Havah's name, and I'm still not sure I'm keeping it.

So...yeah. Obsessed with names these days.

2. Men with Swords

I've obsessed over Prince Charming from Once Upon a Time, and I promised myself I would shut up about this particular obsession, but I'll be darned if I haven't picked up two CPs this year who have Men with Swords in their manuscripts.

I'm reading one now. It's really distracting. You know, in the best way possible.

Marieke! Our man Nathan looks like this, right?
man with two blades

Or maybe this?

(ignore my girl Mia, she's just there as a prop in this case)

But preferably - HOPEFULLY - like this?  Yes??? Okay. Good.

3. Marshmallow Cereal
Some obsessions are just unhealthy and bad for you, and there's no way around it. I know I should be eating raisin bran or Greek yogurt or oatmeal. I know.

But I CANNOT STOP THINKING about marshmallow cereal. It's talking to me, you guys.
I might have eaten a (couple) bowls this week. Oops.

Let's blame it on Merrin. She loves junky food.

What about you, sweet readers? What were your obsessions this week?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Making Stupid Mistakes

Well, you guys?

This is my second tour through the query trenches. I know better than to make stupid mistakes.

(Here are some examples of stupid mistakes:

  • Writing a bad query letter (one that doesn't talk about the book, disparages published books, etc.)
  • Addressing your query to "Dear Sir or Madam"
  • Sending a query to an editor
  • Sending an attachment with a query
  • Not following submission guidelines)

So, when I sent out my first batch of queries Monday, you'd think I wouldn't make any of those mistakes, right?

Yeah. You'd think.

Here's the story in all its brief, harrowing detail:

I've been watching my query inbox just in case I get a request, so I can send it out quickly.
I ran over to the agency website for one of the queries I'd sent and been on especial watch for a response to, to see if I should even EXPECT a reply. (Some agencies are "no reply means no," so this would be normal.)

While on the site's submission page, I skimmed over the part that said I should send a query letter, first chapter, and synopsis.

Right, okay.

Wait. WHAT? Because I know - I KNOW - I only sent a query letter and synopsis.
Knew it down to my bones. Knew it without even having to scramble through my "sent" box to desperately re-check.

How did I know that, so clearly and certainly?

 Because. The one and only query I messed up?


I drafted that query for A WEEK. (I personalized it because she read a full of my last MS.)
 I knew (thought I knew) her sub guidelines inside and out.
I wrote a synopsis JUST FOR HER. (A lot of agencies don't require one.)

I know my chances of getting a request from her were low anyway, just like with any other agent.
I know, from reading some of her stats, that she only requests 1-2% in the first place.
I'm sure my query would have fallen in the 98%, so it's no big difference - or loss, I guess - if she decides to just chuck it outright.
I know that, at this point, getting a rejection from her would be her doing something REALLY nice.

I'm not going to blog about how things happen for a reason, or how everything works out for the best.

(Incidentally, I don't believe that everything happens for a reason, or that everything works out for the best.)

I have nobody to blame for a stupid mistake but myself.
And this one? Was pretty epically stupid.

Hold me.

Please regale me with stories of stupid querying mistakes (or really any stupid mistakes in general) you've made, so I don't feel like quite so much of an idiot.