Jul 31, 2011

Interview with the Query Goblin

Today I'm visiting with the incredibly intellectual and talented Jen DeBenedictis, aka The Query Goblin. I found her web site a few months back and was totally jazzed to a find fast, detailed and coherent critiquer that took on every single query sent. After lurking and prepping my own Q, I sent it to her and got wonderful feedback.

But I had to wonder...who is this Superhero of Query Crits? What makes her tick? Is there a sinister reason behind her generousness? Or is she simply building karma that'll bless her later on?

1. Why in the world do you want to regularly critique queries?
One of my reasons is generous; the other is diabolical and crafty.
The first is just that writing is hard, figuring out how to write an entire book of publishable quality is harder, and sorting out those infuriating, unnatural beasties known as query letters and synopses is hardest of all. I really empathize with people who struggle to learn these skills because hey--I did too. And if I can make the journey easier for a few people, then it makes me happy to do so.
My second reason is a bit more fiendish. I work in education, and the realization that startled me most in my first year of teaching was that if you want to learn a subject really well, teaching it to someone else is incredibly effective. So by critiquing the query letters of others, I'm learning to write a better query myself. Helping others will hopefully pay off in my own writing career.

2. What credentials do you bring to your editing?
Um, this is embarrassing. I wrote a novel, and on its strengths I got an agent, and she found an editor who wanted to make an offer on the book, and then the economy tanked. The deal was nixed, so I was omg-this-close to being able to call myself a professional writer, but I'm not. I do, however, have another book I'm doing final edits on and I'm hoping it will be The One.
But that's my only writing credential. You're definitely getting a garden variety critiquer in the Query Goblin. I do my best.

Whoa, I think we are career-twins separated by 10 years or so. The exact same thing happened to me...in 2001 right after 9/11. Sigh. Someday our bad timing genes will evolve to good. *taps foot* Still waiting...

3. Have you had any queries that were so bad, you didn't know where to start?
Not on my own site, but on other sites, yes. It's totally okay for a person to be at square one. If a piece I'm critiquing is kinda dreadful, I ask myself what one piece of advice I can give the person that will improve what's there the most. It's often something simple like, "get rid of all those adjectives and use strong nouns and verbs instead," or "start at the moment when the protagonist's life changes."
Also, I advocate using the "sandwich" method for critiques. A little praise, the meat of your criticism, then more praise. Always make sure the person knows they did something right. A de-moralized student can't learn because they're too depressed to try anymore; praise is as important as the feedback that allows a person to correct their mistakes.

4. Have any queries you've edited that went on to land an agent?
I wouldn't know unless someone told me, but I do know that the query for "Eyes of Stone" by Beckahrah got two requests for pages right away (which doesn't surprise me at all, because it was a rockin' query before I ever got to it.)

5. Essential ingredients for a rockin' query?
I've got two posts on query craft here:
Query Writing Craft, Part 1
Query Writing Craft, Part 2

And now, a madly maniacal meme from the awesome Anita Grace Howard:

When was the last time you ate lion meat? (or any other kind of oddball meat. Or if you're a vegetarian, a really weird veggie.)
Oh, wow--I've had ostrich meat, but I'm not sure that counts as oddball. I'm afraid it might even be trendy. When I was in grade three, my family went to Disneyland and I had swordfish. To be honest, it tasted just like tuna and I was much more impressed by the deep-fried ice cream I had at the same meal.

Upload a heartwarming picture of something that makes you smile.
This one's a bit poignant now, for a science geek such as myself:

I just wiped away a tear. Last...space flight...for...space shuttle. I am so OLD!

If you could go back in time and kick the crap out of someone, who would it be?
Probably myself.

Seriously? My answer to that one is always Hitler.

What song would you play while you kick the crap out of that someone?
"The Greatest Love of All" by Whitney Houston

This song definitely wouldn't go with Hitler kicking.

Name one habit that makes people plot your demise.

My blithe lack of awareness of the fact that I'm annoying them.

Thanks, Jen!

Jul 28, 2011

Pitch contest with Victoria Marini

Details available here. Deadline is July 29 - winners will be posted Aug. 1. Good luck!

Upcoming interviews

It is gorgeous here in Alaska today, folks. For those of you swelting away in the Lower 48, you have my sympathies. I'm shoving my writing sked to later tonight and heading to the lake with the kiddies but before I go, I wanted to share two awesome writers who've agreed to put up with answer my intellectually stimulating and personally invasive questions.

First up next week will be The Query Goblin, aka, JJ DeBenedictis. Send her any and all queries here and she'll rip them to shreds with her helpful advice. Seriously, she's extremely gentle and always has useful suggestions.

Then I'll be finding out how Becky Wallace landed her agent. She hooked the lovely Jennifer Laughran at Andrea Brown Literary *jealous* and is willing to share her experiences despite being crazy busy.

So do check in next week and in the meantime, check out these ladies' most perspicacious blogs.

Jul 26, 2011


There's a cliche that life is like a blank page, implying that what we do each day fills those pages with writing. I wish that were so, especially when I've screwed up in my usual spectacular fashion. Because then I could go over what I did with a delete key - or an eraser - and revise.

My kids do this all the time. Whenever something breaks or the youngest starts crying or the living room is a mess, they react by revising what actually happened to suit their POV. It wasn't my fault. He started it. That's not my mess. I didn't do it.

This is what makes writing a first draft so satisfying. My characters do and say (usually) exactly what I want. They are my creations; they don't talk back, or leave messes or welts on each other's faces. My yearning is for perfection...and that's bad. Very, very bad in fiction.

Fighting against this urge for perfection drives my revision process. As much as I'd like to avoid it in My Own Little World, I need the conflict. My invisible minions need warts, pimples, bad tempers, sneaky tendencies. They need foibles and personality quirks. Or there's no story. That constant good/evil fight drives everything. When my story lags, I look at the conflict. Chances are, there isn't any.

What else do I look for? Timing of events. Believable dialogue, which means I read out loud all the time like a crazy person. Careful word choice in descriptions. Chapter length. Does each chapter drive the story or can I ditch it? What's my message or is my world view consistent in these characters? And any info dump has to go.

I'm striving for perfect imperfection...which brings me back to real life. God didn't give us a delete key for two reasons: so we know we need Him, and so we're always moving forward. I'd be pressing that delete key all the time, spending my days trying to redo something rather than get it right the first time. Real revision in life centers around my attitude,(message) my reactions, (timing) the words I speak (careful choice). If I could learn to live as well as I want to write...well, that's the kind of revision I crave.

Jul 25, 2011

Kathleen Rushall interview

In case you'd like to know more about our featured agent our last week of Deana's blogfest - besides the fact she's totally wonderful for casting an eye over our entries - check out her Writer's Digest interview.

Jul 24, 2011

First 200 words

I'm soooo excited about this final week in Deana Barnhart's blogfest. This week my YA mystery, Saving Andromeda comes out of the vault for my initial revisions - which will be major - so I covet your suggestions on how to make this better. I've fiddled with the word choice in this, particularly the part about the sister - she's white and gold, etc.

Those of you born editors, have at it. Please let me know if it's not clear Buddy is Andie's brother in the second main graph. I might need more words there. This whole prologue is only 300 words and I'd like to keep it as tight as possible. This is a mystery so you should have questions - I wrote it that way on purpose! :)
Thanks in advance and I look forward to reading/commenting on all the other first 200s!

Nineteen years ago

Blood was everywhere.
Only some of it belonged to Andromeda.

Ricky Murphy lay in the entryway in front of them, his mouth twisted in a snarl. His hands clawed at the gaping wound in his stomach, catching on intestines leaking like soft grey rope.

“Bitch,” he muttered, panting.

Buddy grunted and Andie reached for his hand without looking at him. The image of her brother’s broken face was seared in her mind– four squares of skin split by jagged scars so raw they looked like a cross drawn by a preschooler with a red marker.

Their sister leaned over Ricky, her blond hair sliding over one shoulder. In the dim light of the hall, she was a figure of white and gold, her eyes glittering like sea glass.

“They’re waiting for you in hell, Ricky,” she murmured, one ruby-tipped finger caressing his pallid skin. “Go on, now.”

Ricky flinched but couldn’t move away.

The knife handle grew sticky in Andromeda’s palm. It was their father’s best fillet knife, its blade wickedly curved like a scimitar. She’d watched Dad gut countless flounder with it after he’d pounded their heads to pulp with an oar.

Jul 21, 2011

The Borders meltdown and a reality check

I'm a bibliophile. My family will tell you I'm never without a book nearby, usually at most five feet away unless it's in my car while I'm out and about. Bookstores are my idea of heaven on earth and must be avoided unless its Christmas or my birthday because I cannot go inside one without buying something. So as a reader, the news Borders is moving from Ch. 11 to Ch. 7 and liquidating everything makes me measure how much space I have on my bookshelves. Liquidation = tons of book on sale. New books, not the ratty used ones with mysterious stains, bent pages and wrinkly spines. I hate shopping but book sale shopping...that's a jacket of a different color.

As a writer and fellow human being, Borders closing is BAD NEWS. (Eleven thousand people are now without jobs!!) The chances of a new writer breaking into publishing are already only slightly better than winning the PowerBall lottery. Now publishers have just two major marketplaces to sell: Amazon and Barnes & Noble. (There are many indie booksellers out there but a few close every day.) The flood of printed books from Borders on the market means prices drop, profits drop and so do acquisition editors' budgets. Ironically, it's never been easier for a star to make money bc of all the virtual connections out there, but I don't think it's ever looked more glum for an unknown. And even established authors can't quit their day jobs. I saw a post on an agent's blog by one of her authors (I think it was BookEnds but it's been a few weeks). This author writes mystery books and has been around for a while. She's midlist, I'd say, perfectly respectable with a book or two out every year. Her writing income last year: $18,000.

These facts definitely temper my enthusiasm for publishing. Will I still write with an eye to someday see my name on a spine? Yup. But a lot of the anxiety is gone from the process for me now. I'm learning to enjoy the journey because, chances are, I may end up being the only one who takes it. Each project deserves my best but I'm starting to see each MS as more of a pet than a child.

So my question is: How does the current financial climate affect your dreams? If not, why not? I'd love to know the Secret of Eternal Optimism!

Jul 18, 2011

First 500 words contest!

We have a month to sign up for WriteOnCon's first 500 word contest for MG/YA which, in addition to giving $1000 TO THE WINNER, also puts your work in front of agent Catherine Drayton. Here's the link. Follow the directions by Aug. 18 to enter.

This blends perfectly with next week's blogfest on our first 200-words. So let's bring it, fellow awesome writerly types!!

Jul 16, 2011

Query for blogfest

This query has a good track record but would love your input prior to seriously submitting in September.

I'm looking forward to reading all your Qs. Beginner queriers: be sure to check out Agent Query, Query Tracker and Pitch University for additional resources or critiques. Good luck everyone!!

Dear awesome agent:

blahblahpersonalizedflattery, I'm seeking representation for Saving Andromeda, a 75,000-word YA mystery.

When Emma Hudson turns 18, her parents share three devastating revelations: Emma was adopted from Nova Scotia. Her biological father is internationally famous folk rocker Michael Fletcher. And her birth mother is a convicted killer called Andromeda Bain.

For a girl with her future mapped out, this knowledge blows Emma's plans apart. She ditches her summer job to embark on a cross-continental quest and track down her roots. Traveling from her home in southeast Alaska to California and Nova Scotia, Emma learns her family tree includes unknown relatives, hidden relationships and simmering feuds stretching back three generations. As Emma discovers the true passion of her parents' romance, she also realizes Andromeda did not commit the 19 year-old crime. But with a hostile crew of new relatives who'd rather sweep family secrets under the hooked kitchen rug, finding the truth is as elusive as filling a jar with fog. And the real killer is watching Emma's every move.

bio blurb here. Saving Andromeda is based on a true story.

Thanks for your time and consideration,

Jul 14, 2011

Out of the writer's closet

I used to be a professional writer. For 13 years, I was a journalist and covered arts/entertainment, education, health and features for newspapers in four states.
Then print media collapsed. When my employer announced cutbacks, eventually shedding 70 percent of us, I took a buyout and decided to switch careers. My goal was to finish grad school by the time my youngest started kindergarten this year and get a job teaching.
Mission accomplished. But the economy still sucks and there are no jobs in my district.
When people ask what I do, I hate saying I’m an unemployed teacher. I also cringe at saying I’m a writer because then they ask what I write, which leads to the confession I’m unemployed at that right now, too.
The fact is, I’m totally employed by writing. I’m just not getting paid yet. And I struggle with confessing something that maybe, just maybe, will never happen. This makes me think of the early auditions of American Idol, the ones filled with delusional people who have no idea they can’t sing. They open their mouths and liquid garbage streams out. When they’re told this by the judges, many of them rail, sob, and deny the simple truth they have no talent.
They’re NEVER going to be singers. It doesn’t matter how much they practice or how many voice coaches they have. The gene pool skipped them.
And I wonder if I’m one of them. Am I just as deluded to think my style, my voice, my story is unique enough to catch an agent’s attention? Yes, I need to persevere. Yes, there will always be somebody who thinks I have what it takes…but I wish there was a litmus test for this business.
In the meantime, I’ll start freelancing again after a 15 year hiatus. I made money doing that before; I can do it again. Nonfiction remains an old friend while Fiction, that skittish bitch, controls the popular crowd I still want to join.
Whether she ever accepts me or not, I cannot stop writing. I want to stop - I’d exchange my miniscule talent for something else in a heartbeat.
A voice for singing, maybe?
My name is Melodie Wright and I’m a writer.

Jul 13, 2011

Blogfest story chain

We're almost to the end of Dio's tale and it's been a wild ride. Check out the post before me at awesome Angie's blog

OR read the whole thing at once on Deana's blog tomorrow morning!

My assignment was to begin wrapping up from the climax and use the words: blue, carriage and seldom.

But when Dio looked out the window, she nearly sighed with relief. It was just Tony.
But as he neared, Dio’s relief was short-lived. Because the Tony she knew had a solid face, not one that shifted and moved like pixels on a computer screen. Tony’s entire body was made of Grandoolex. They were tiny, buzzing swarms of blue insect-like creatures. Besides their wings, the biggest things on them were their giant pincers.
“It’s not the pincers you need to worry about,’ Roddern told her quietly. “They seldom use those.”
Dio stared at him. “Well, what should we worry about then?”
Roddern pointed. “That.”
Her eyes followed his finger to Tony’s body, which wavered and then split to make way for a golden carriage pulled by mosquitoes. The Grandoolex bowed as it passed. Dio squinted. Was one of them holding a trumpet?
It was. As the carriage door opened, the blue creature piped a tiny tune. Out of the carriage came Tinkerbell.
Well, Dio thought as she observed more closely, more like a cross between Tinkerbell and Glinda the good fairy. She had a crown and a sky-blue dress and a smile almost wider than her tiny face.
Dio wondered if fangs would pop out of the Grandoolex queen’s mouth. She moved closer to her Dad, who still seemed dazed, and took his hand for courage.
But no. The queen bowed deeply to Dio and then Roddern, who started with surprise.
“Greetings, fair one. We have waited for years to see the All-Seeing Stone to be returned to our land. And now, it’s here.”
Dio blinked. “What is?”
The queen pointed at her father. “The All-Seeing Stone, of course. It has chosen for us a new leader! Thanks to you, my people will live in peace.”
Dio’s Dad cleared his throat. “What are you saying? I’m not royalty.”
The Grandoolex queen nodded. “Now you are. Any human purified by the All-Seeing Stone is worthy. Hail, mighty king!”
“Hail King!” piped the Grandoolex.

Check out the fabulous ending at Kristin's blog, the Neophyte Writer.

Pitch contest with agent Vickie Motter

Here's another one - first 50 entries only! YAtopia.

Jul 11, 2011

The next big idea...

Up until this week, summer here in Alaska has been fantastic. Our weather's been better than average - 3-to-1 for rain/sun, when it's usually 5-to-1. My kids kept busy and although hubby dearest (HD) has been gone for almost two months, we were cruising along pretty well.

Then I finished Saving Andromeda. For the past six weeks, I'd lived, breathed, and dreamed this story. When other writers described this experience, in my heart-of-hearts, I was a bit skeptical. Seriously? I thought.  Lived, breathed AND dreamed? Uh huh. Sounds to me you're trying to make other writers feel insecure/jealous/not-like-real-writers.

Then, like a stroke of literary lightning, I got zapped. Every day for hours I could fall, entranced in this world hardly able to stop typing. I wrote chapters surrounded by five year-olds playing Thomas the Train, took the laptop into the kitchen to type while making sure the Rice-A-Roni wouldn't boil over. At night I couldn't sleep for plotting. (The daylight helped, too.) During conversations with real people, I'd drift away thinking about my imaginary people. I was a ditzy as a teenager in love for the first time.

Now, alas, it's over. The MS is in the vault and I'm twiddling my thumbs wondering what happened to the magic.  Because when I re-read my precious darling after a month away, the honeymoon will be over. I'll see all its warts and back hair, wonder why certain scenes smell like my son's dirty socks and roll my eyes at misplaced sentimentality. Or dive into despair because there's NO passion at all even during the kissing scenes. My relationship with this MS is a beautiful illusion - of course I know this, I knew it even in the middle of my fall - but oh, I hate when the magic fades.

I'm forcing myself to finish The Weight of Angels, the MS I abandoned chasing after SA. It's a good story but I'm thinking that it'll always be my rebound relationship. Meanwhile, I wait  for the Next Big Idea to strike....
Anytime now.

Jul 7, 2011

The road to query success

I'm a slow learner. It's taken me years to realize this (ha!) because in school, when someone is handing me information or on the job when I have to think quickly, I was one of those kids who rolled her eyes at every question and wondered why everyone else was so dense.

So in my first query experience this past year, I did all the wrong things. I queried too early and had no idea there were so many web sites to get critiques on a query. Also, my first pages weren't great AND my concept was overused. Honestly, if I had to do it over again, I wouldn't have written the WIP for that last reason. But I had no idea of any of this until I queried and was rejected. Our of 54 queries, I had 5 requests and no offers. Yikes. So I shelved the MS and wrote Saving Andromeda in six weeks.

This time around, I wrote my query when I was halfway through my MS. I posted it on several boards - including an agent critique on Pitch University. The agent who reviewed that rough query wants to see pages when I'm ready to seriously submit. (Yay!) I revised the query about five times w/ input from betas and decided to send a test query to this agent who has fast responses and is also totally awesome. I sent it two days ago, figuring it was July 4 week and it'd take her a few weeks to respond. My plan was to use that time to polish and revise in case she bit. (I didn't think she would, tho - she's awesome, but her list doesn't include a lot of YA mysteries and her standards are high.)  She responded with a partial request five minutes later.

So now I know my query rocks. I'm also much more confident in my story  - it's based on a true crime in Nova Scotia that's haunted me all my life.  Hopefully these two elements will get me an offer this time around...as long as I don't rush revisions.

So  - do you have a query success story? Or how about a revision method (outside of critique groups) that works for you? How do you know when to ignore your beta?


Jul 3, 2011

Gearing up to find an agent blogfest writing questions

For week 1:

Thanks to Deana Barnhardt for hosting this fest!!  I have two burning questions - please pick either one to answer.

1. For unpublished writers: do you have a cut-off point when you'll stop trying to get published and just write for fun?

2. Can you recommend a good critique site for YA writers?