Sep 29, 2011

Mindy McGinnis and the query giveaway

Today is a conversation with a Queen Blogger (kinda like a queen bee but virtual). She moderates on Agent Query, contributes to The Write Angle and has her own blog she somehow manages to keep updated without breaking a sweat. If you've spent any time in Queryland, you've run into her and probably benefited from her advice/encouragement.
Because she knows a LOT about Queryland. She was a resident there for TEN - yes, that's 1-0 - years. She puts the 'e' in perseverance, she shames the Energizer bunny, she never quits...she's Mindy McGinnis!! *cymbals, confetti, happy dance*

Ten years is a whole lot of perseverance. Why didn't you quit?

Short answer: Because I knew I didn’t suck. Long answer: But that doesn’t mean I didn’t have periods when I was completely convinced I sucked. Humility is a must for a writer. I can’t tell you how many agent interviews I’ve read where they say that cocky writers are almost always bad writers, and a cocky query goes into the trash before they even get to the pages. So in a way, it’s a great thing that I went through a decade of rejections on multiple mss. I needed to learn that lesson.
Conviction played a huge part in my decision to push through the sh*t and keep going. Writing is what I do. I double-majored in English Literature and Religion, which made me pretty popular when it came to decoding LOST but other than that I’m not a useful person. My brain is a fun place, but ultimately, not a practical one.

Talk about the MS that landed you an agent. How was it different from the others?

There were a few factors at work. I’m definitely a much better writer than I was, so the ms itself was stronger. But also the market was in my favor, as it’s a dystopian title, and I also managed to totally click with Adriann Ranta over the phone so it was a big rolling ball of positive happiness that week. NOT A DROP TO DRINK is about a time in the near future when our freshwater resources have been exhausted, and people will literally kill for a drink. It’s bleak and realistic, no magic, creatures, or sci-fi elements, which sets it apart from a lot of dystopian. Adriann liked that about it, and hopefully an editor will too.

Is the writing life different with an agent? In other words, is the pot of gold really at the end of that rainbow??

At first it felt odd, I admit, when I sat down to write after being agented. I thought, “OK Mindy, this actually matters now.” But once the fingers started moving across the keyboard I was still me, agented or not. The thing that is awesome about being agented is that you don’t have to agonize some decisions quite as much. For example, if I think, “Oh man, I don’t know if this plot twist is going to totally sink the whole ms,” I can answer that with, “If it does, Adriann will tell me and we can fix it together.” Having a professional in your corner makes your corner a more comfortable place.

You are a super blogger - you have your own and you contribute to another (From the Write Angle) as well as serve as a site moderator for the writing community at AgentQuery Connect. What kind of time does that require?

Great question. I started up Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire intending to post once a week, but my brain is an active place, so it turned into three times a week, and now I’m posting daily. I tend to churn out five or six ideas at a time for blog posts, so I front load like crazy.
Team blogging on From the Write Angle is a real treat. We’ve got everything from middle school teachers to erotica writers to lawyers and a former XENA writer, so we have a good time. We each contribute once a month so it’s not a heavy load, and the return is incredible. I get so many redirects to WriterWriter off of FTWA it’s amazing.
And AgentQuery… I can’t say enough about that community – and obviously I’m a talker. There is no doubt in my mind that I would have never landed an agent without the support and advice of my fellow AQ’ers, and while it might sound lame, I’m all about giving back. It’s a kind, welcoming community. We host a weekly chat there on Thursdays @ 9PM (EDT) and newbies are always welcome! I’ve never clocked it but I’d guess I spend about seven or eight hours a week over there, and I don’t resent a second of it.

How do you avoid being sucked into the social media machine?

Getting swallowed by and losing my soul in the social media world? I’m not really worried about it, I’ve got so much to say I need to spread it around a little!

Explain AQ to newbies, and then share how you became a contributor.

AgentQuery is an online writing community designed to help aspiring writers tone their queries, find agent information, connect with other writers, share their thoughts on the industry… just about anything, really. I stumbled across it about three years ago while searching for agent contact information. I lurked, then joined after seeing the quality of the responses the veteran members provided for newbies. I got up some guts and approached a few vets personally and asked them to look at my query – which they did – and shredded it for me, politely. I posted the revised query on the forums, and it went through a positive transformation in a matter of days. I went from a collection of form rejections to a smattering of requests.
The site moved to a new software system about a year ago. A few of the veterans were asked if we’d like to be more involved with moderation on the revamped site. We immediately said yes and were handed a few of the keys off the kingdom’s keyring.

What are some unwritten blogging rules you've discovered over the past few years?

Don’t talk about yourself too much. Don’t treat your blog as a ME billboard. No one cares. Offer your followers something in your content that isn’t just about selling your book.

Are there types of posts that get more responses?

And now I’ll contradict myself – the posts featuring interviews, queries that worked, advice from bloggers and agents tend to get the highest traffic, but the posts with the highest comments are almost always the ones about something silly – like me falling down the stairs and cracking my head open.

Speaking of responses, in your experience, what kind of queries get good ones?

The ones that show they’ve done their homework. Yes, it’s frustrating to hear that. You want your talent to take you through to the top, not your research skills. But it is what it is.

What are some good guidelines for tailoring a query?

I always start with the hook, put my title, genre, brief bio and word count at the end. As far as personalization, if the agent has requested something of mine before, I do mention it. Other than that I’ve not had a lot of luck off queries that I put a lot of time into personalizing.

When do you know your query needs reworking?

I sent out batches of ten, and if I didn’t get at least two requests of some sort (partial, full, etc.) I’d rework. The exception to that is if I had rejections that were obviously personalized, but the agent was passing for some reason. In that case I knew it wasn’t the query, but a matter of subjectivity. If you’re getting form r’s – sign up at AQ!

Agreed - AQ and QueryTracker are the best tools on the web for Queryland. Bar none.

Fast five:

Celebrity you would marry:
Oh, I have to marry them? In that case, Edward Norton. I could have conversations with him the rest of my life.

Oh, agree! Edward Norton is totally hot in a cerebral way.

Biggest pet peeve while driving:
Being pulled over.

Um...does this happen a lot to you?

Word you hate:
Penalized – when it’s pronounced like “penal colony.” Pretty much anything with “penal” is just not a good one to toss out there often.

It's just too close to penis. There. I said it. (You were all thinking it!)

The first thing you'd wish for if you had a magic wand:
A book deal. But I also want a zero turn mower, so that’s kinda tough. turn, not that tough.

Favorite movie you saw last summer:
Well, I don’t get out much. I only saw one movie last summer. I’ll say that my favorite things I watched late summer were shows on streaming. I don’t have cable so I have to catch up on DEXTER and BREAKING BAD a season late.

Netflix streaming movie selection isn't great. :( But I'll definitely check out those shows the next time I sign off.

Thanks so much for having me, it’s awesome to be on this end of an interview!

Now that you know her street creds, wouldn't it be great if Mindy looked at your query?? I know! It would be awesome! So comment below w/ your email address and a link to how you shared this (FB, tweet, blog, etc.) for a chance to have her read, critique and suggest ways to improve. If Blogger doesn't let you comment, drop me a note at: rewrighter (at)gmail. Who knows - with her help, your stay in Queryland may be short!

Sep 28, 2011

Research for your WIP

I'm a bit behind on my mid-week post this week, due to news blogging stuff and the fact I can't tear myself away from my new WIP, Things We Save. This one is set mainly in Israel on an archaeological dig. The plot involves a mosaic and a talisman coin, a hidden vault and a prophet's tomb. Oh, and a movie star to make it all super interesting. (doesn't that sound COOL?) While I spent a summer on an Israeli dig in college, it's been a few decades while so I've been hitting the books and online for research. I absolutely love to do research, have a lot of practice with it and thought I'd share a few tips for those of you thinking about branching out in your writing.

Besides the most obvious site - Google is my home page, is it yours? - check out Google Scholar when you get a chance. When you visit its homepage, be sure to look over the tutorial by clicking the 'about google scholar' link just below the title. Then set your customizations before you do your search. Click on the little blue 'advanced scholar search' link right next to the search button. You'll get a screen that lets you choose what kind of search words, author, if you need a specific publication, collections and legal docs. This site is great for medical or legal research.

Then there's,
an online research storage site for everything you collect. While this is an excellent tool for teachers (who can share research links with an entire class for a project!) it also offers highlighting, bookmarks and sticky notes for those documents you pulled up in Google Scholar. Plus - and this is the awesome part - you have access to what everyone else has found who is searching for the same topic you are. Once you set up your account, you can organize it all by document type (image, doc, notes, etc.) in Your Library. You can also tag everything you save with key words, so it's easier for you to find later. I used this a LOT in graduate school because it's great for provenance - or proving your research is valid/authentic.

Next is the Library of Congress's research site. Practically the whole institution is online *gasp* which is a really big deal because the place is ginormous. (Can you imagine the time it took to type all those books into a database? They must have whole colonies of library elves!) They've got everything from other libraries' catalogues - 300 of them and counting! - to a bibliography of Korean history to a whole archive on how to find stuff within the archives. *minor hyperventilation followed by chocolate intake* I could spend days in here. Days. Take a browse and don't be surprised if you lose a few hours improving your brain. :)

The last tool is one used a lot in classrooms (or it should be) and I'm adding it for its simplicity and educational content. WebQuest
will walk you through the steps of online research, explaining how to find, how to share and how to organize. One really cool tool is the QuestGarden, which allows you to move your documents around from one server to the other - ie from an Apple computer to a PC. This site is targeted at educators but the tools/info here are extremely helpful for newbies...or a great site to check if your topic has hit a brick wall with any of the other sites.

What are your favorite research tools/sites? Please share in the comments. And plan to stop back soon. Interview with two blogging queens/debut authors are in the works. You won't want to miss!

Sep 25, 2011

Print v. blogging and call for guest posters!

This week, three friends who are former colleagues and I semi-launched a news blog to cover our small Alaskan town. I say semi-launched because we've yet to run our first news story. At this point we're soliciting input from our target audience to make sure whatever we do cover is what our readers want. We're attempting market research on the fly.

Although all of us have more than 50 years (eep!) of reporting between us, we're all newbie bloggers. And in case you haven't noticed, blogging is WAY different than print journalism. (The term 'citizen journalist' came about because bloggers who saw news happening wrote about it. The term makes me wince for the same reason a professional soldier would at hearing 'citizen soldiers' were running onto the battlefield. It's safe to say that 'citizen journalists' are responsible for putting real journalists out of work by the thousands. And before you shrug and think it's no loss, consider this - there are fewer journalists covering the halls of power, whether it be your city council, your state government or school district budget meetings. Fewer journalists = fewer gov't oversight = more corruption.)

*stepping off soapbox* Anyway, it's easy to SAY blogging is different than writing a news story but how is it really? As the Queen of Lists, I've started one. Please add your ideas in the comments, or share any thoughts you have about the difference between news blogging and newspaper coverage. And please share a link to your favorite news blogs. (Market research!)

1. Accountability. Professional journalists are accountable for what they write. They must have legitimate sources and verifiable information before going to press. And if they rush to press with bad info, careers are lost. Think Dan Rather.
Bloggers, on the other hand, are beholden to no one.

2. Sources. A good news story has at least three sources, preferably from different POVs.
Bloggers: generally one POV - the blogger's.

3. News worthiness. The city editor keeps a budget of story ideas. Before a reporter's story gets added, the reporter must prove it's worthwhile, interesting and valid.
Bloggers: anything is blogworthy. Anything.

4. Objectivity. A reporter cannot cover a story with a personal connection. Ever.
Bloggers: it's all about the personal connection. See #3.

5. Voice. With the exception of features, reporters write in a dry, methodical informative style. Every word counts - anything extra is axed for space.
Bloggers: The joy of blogging is to share your unique voice.

6. Organization. Reporters follow AP style, which is partly about language (#5) and partly about the way information is arranged within a story. The hook leads. The second graph is the nutgraf - the meat of the story. Always.
Bloggers: hook? *shrugs*

7. Editors. The scourge and savior of newsrooms, they slash, burn and encourage reporters to do better, get the story, stay on track. *sigh* I miss editors the most.
Bloggers: Unless you have a co-blogger with a yen for slashing/burning, you're out of luck.

And now, in the spirit of community blogging, I'd LOVE to hear from you if you'd like to guest post here.

(See my bold print? that means I REALLY mean it!!) Email me at rewrighter (at)gmail if you're up for the challenge!

Sep 22, 2011

An e-dialogue with Elisa Ludwig and book giveaway

I'm excited to introduce you to Elisa Ludwig, an upcoming debut novelist of Pretty Crooked, and co-blogger on the brand new YA/MG mystery blog, Sleuths, Spies & Alibis. When she's not plotting fictional mayhem, Elisa writes about food for a daily paper in Philadelphia. As someone who used to write about local eats for a Seattle-area paper, I can tell you food writing is a sweet gig. (pun intended) Not great for the waist line but super-de-duper for snagging a great table...and the desserts are *must say it* usually to die for.

*chocolate break*

Elisa's mystery comes out in March (obviously a HUGE month for debuts!), joining an e-book, June of Rock. She's experienced traditional and epub in one year, giving her lots of insight in our ever changing publishing world. Two cool things about her right off the bat: she went to high school with Bradley Cooper (drooolll); AND she snagged a professional film crew to shoot the book trailer for her mystery. Check out her blog to get the deets on that adventure.

Speaking of deets, read below for a chance to win a free book!

1. Your debut, Pretty Crooked, comes out in March. Tell us a little about your publishing journey - how you landed your agent and the process of going on sub.

I landed my agent, Leigh Feldman, for June of Rock back in 2009. We submitted that book for about a year. The feedback was good, but almost every editor agreed that it was "too quiet." The last editor we submitted it to was Claudia Gabel, who, based on that book, offered me the opportunity to write the Pretty Crooked series. So it was an unconventional story, but as a good writer friend told me, things never happen the way you think they will, and that's for the best!

2. You published epubbed June of Rock. Why did you decide to go this route with this story?

June of Rock just didn't hit with traditional publishers but both my agent and I still felt it was good enough to send out into the world, so I decided to try the ebook route to see if I could connect with readers that way.

3. Describe the surprising ways the ebook process has been different than traditional publishing.
For me, the ebook is somewhat of an experiment, but I felt that with my official debut coming out, it would be good to get it out there and see what happens. It has been a more vulnerable experience in the sense that it's just me, with no team of people behind it. On the other hand, it has been very laid back, because I'm not putting too much pressure on myself. In the end I will devote much more time to marketing Pretty Crooked. I'd love for June to find readers and I am just sort of trusting that it will, one way or another.

4. What are your favorite promotional tools for your ebook?
So far, it's been bloggers! A few of them stumbled on the book on their own and I sent a few copies to others to review. The response has been amazing. I really think bloggers are the most generous people ever!

5. You're a journalist too! You get to write about food which, back when I was an A&E writer in Seattle, was one of my favorite gigs. Talk about that - are you a critic, a foodie or report the trends?
I used to be a critic and I would review restaurants in Philly but I gave that up about three years ago—I was tired of being the messenger for bad news all the time and it was starting to become increasingly difficult to stay healthy with so many meals out. These days I write features on food trends, nutrition issues and I test a lot of recipes. I love food writing, and I someday hope to integrate it with my YA writing—just not sure how yet.

6. Where do you find the energy to write fiction after working at nonfiction all day? Or how do you stay creative?
Good question! It can be challenging. Since I got a contract and have gone professional with the fiction side of things, I try to put in my hours drafting my manuscripts early in the day when I'm the most energetic (and the least self-critical). Then I block out time for for my other work, according to deadlines. On weekends and some evenings I will work on edits. The energy issue is probably why it has taken me as long as it has to break into publishing, but on the other hand, I think having to write on deadline all of those years has made me much less precious about my writing and much more disciplined. I don't do anything in particular to stay creative except try to take in as much reading, film, music, art, etc. as I can in my day-to-day life.

7. You've written both YA contemp. and mystery. In your experience, is plotting for mystery different than for other genres?

Considering I was a full-on pantser before I wrote Pretty Crooked, yes! But Pretty Crooked and its sequel Pretty Sly, which I'm working on now, fall somewhere in between the contemporary and mystery genres, so I would say that it's not all that different ultimately. You still need to think through all the possibilities, you still need to create drama and raise the stakes and parcel out information very selectively.

8. Talk about the formation of Sleuths, Spies & Alibis. How did you all meet? And what was the reason for starting this YA/MG mystery blog?
Most of us met in the Apocalypsies, the group of childrens' authors who will be debuting in 2012. The blog was Diana Renn's brainchild, so she would have to give you more of the specific insight into how she decided to start it. But the general idea was that there really wasn't much like it out there, and we wanted to provide resources to readers, writers and educators.

9. How often will you be posting on that blog?
Right now, about once a month on open topics, but contributing regularly to our ongoing features like DNA and Mystery Mondays.

BTW, there's a great interview up now featuring Ben Winters, who writes MG mysteries as well as the Jane Austen parody, Sense and Sensibilities and Sea Monsters.

10. Any fun posts/contests coming up you'd like to share?
We just had a giveaway for readers to guess our first Interrogation Room (interview) Suspect (author), and I think that contest will be ongoing with future interviews.

Fast five:

Your favorite candy.
Aero bars, but I never see them in the States!

Ah yes, the airy version of Three Musketeers found in *ahem* countries that tax American candy. *cough* CanadaandUK

Age when you got your first kiss.

Best song on your playlist.
Right now, I'm really into "Bizness" by tUnE-yArDs.

Fictional hero after whom you lust most.
Drawing a blank! I tend to like my lust objects in three dimensions.

What?! No Mr. Darcy or Rhett Butler (dating myself here) or Aragorn or Luke Skywalker...*minor hyperventilation followed by chocolate intake*

Best read in the last six months.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz.

Thanks Elisa!
And to increase her awesome quotient, she's giving away, Don't Murder Your Mystery, a helpful handbook for anyone who wants to avoid WIP death. Comment below with your email to have your name added to Melvin the Magic Sorting Hat.

Second campaign challenge

From Rachael Harrie's Campaign - The challenge: to write no more than 200 words including the following vocab:

imago— n an idealized mental image of another person or the self
miasma— n an influence or atmosphere that tends to deplete or corrupt
lacuna — n a gap or missing part
oscitate— v to gape; to yawn
synchronicity — n an apparently meaningful coincidence in time of two or more similar or identical events that are causally unrelated

Imago Fail

It was a perfect synchronicity that her train arrived the same time as mine. I disembarked with the crowd, coal dust and smoke settling in my coat, adding to the miasma of confusion in the station. I held her imago in my mind - wide brown eyes, curling dark hair, lips that sat like strawberries in the oval dish of her face.
Then I saw her through the train car window. She was like a Persian kitten in the midst of a baying hoard, so helpless I ached to protect her. Her head drooped, her flawless lips stretched wide in delightful ocitation as the man beside her shifted his weight.
Those arching brows rushed together, her fruity lips twisted. With both hands, she pushed the lout off her foot, snarling a curse that carried clearly to my ears.
Had she called him imbecile, idiot or beast, I could’ve overlooked the lacuna of her decorum. But the epithet was too common, too familiar in her mouth to please me. She was no kitten but a full grown cat with unsheathed claws. I turned and walked away.

Sep 20, 2011

Ten things and upcoming interview

So the kind and comment-magnet Carrie Butler gifted me with two pieces of bling awards last week. I stuck them to the right of what you're reading because both of them are sooo pretty...and they're like badges of belonging to the blogger community. I have to pass them on to other worthy sites and share a few of my personality quirks for your visual pleasure. Which I am happy to do!! :)

1. When I was in high school, I rode in a cattle car through what was then Yugoslavia. I remember riding through the country side with my legs danging out the train's sliding door and smelling of cow poo. It was awesome.
2. I love Dots. Or any kind of candy that's squishy and tastes like fake fruit.
3. In college, I volunteered at an Israeli kibbutz. It was also awesome.
4. I read ALL THE TIME. Seriously. At least four books a week.
5. All first daughters are named Mary in my family. I'm the ninth; my daughter is the tenth. The first was the daughter of a Revolutionary War soldier. Our names are inscribed on a silver porringer that will be passed on to my daughter when she has her daughter.
6. This one isn't about me technically but it's too cool not to share: One of those Marys lived next door to Emily Dickinson. They wrote letters back-and-forth that are in her Amherst museum.
7. I met my husband at summer camp. We've been married almost 19 years.
8. I'm jealous of women who can sew. Or do any kind of craft.
9. I compare every place I've ever lived to Nova Scotia.
10. I've visited all 50 states.


And now *drumroll* to pass on the lovely awards:

Lisa Regan: because she was my first blog interview and is a gracious, generous person with much to say.

Suzanne Lazear who posts the greatest video clips and upcoming covers.

Sarah Pearson for her amazingly creative posts and her musical obsessions.

Tracy Jorgenson for her video talent and wondrous artwork.

Rebecca Hamilton who offers periodic free editing and lavish encouragement to newbies.

Please join me later this week for an interview with Elisa Ludwig, a debut author and one of the co-founders of the exciting Sleuths, Spies and Alibis blog aimed at YA/MG mystery writers and readers. An agent tweet turned me on to the site and I am SO excited to see where Ludwig and Co. take things.

See you Friday!

Sep 18, 2011

Why WIPs die

We all have them. Paper ghosts in drawers or digital phantoms that appear, vainly waving their titles every time we search for a file. They are the Ones Who Never Were, the ideas we chased fervently, half-heartedly and then not at all. They lie in the WIP graveyard of lost hope.

There's a saying that every author has at least four failed MS in a drawer before getting good enough to publish. This is definitely true for me. Four is a low number, actually. And at the beginning of my fiction attempts, I couldn't figure out why my WIP ideas petered out half-way through an impressive word count.

So after intense naval gazing reflection, I came up with the following six reasons our shiny ideas tarnish in digital drawers.

1. No clear idea of the ending. Yeah, this seems obvious but I've been known to get so excited about a concept, I just dove right in and figured the ending would unravel itself the closer I got. This HAS happened to me ..but it's the exception.

2. Premature feedback. I was in the middle of a very cool supernatural WIP when an online critique site opened for beta testing. Totally jazzed at the idea of fresh eyes adoring my new creation, I threw it up there...and got stuck revising the beginning so many times in response to criticism, I lost enthusiasm for the whole thing.

3. Wrong setting. If our setting doesn't call to us, we don't want to go down the writing rabbit hole. I find all kinds of excuses not to go. I had this happen with one of my current WIPs - figured out I didn't want to be where the book was set and changed the setting. Voila! In love again.

4. Affair with a new idea. I'm currently fighting this one. A dystopian I started based on a really interesting concept is now taking second place to an action/adventure story set in Israel. In my case, this kind of goes back to #3 bc right now, with an Alaskan winter looming, I'd rather be in Israel in my head. When summer comes again, I'll long for Maine, the setting of my dystopian. Or so I hope. *fingers crossed*

5. Boredom. If this list was in order, this would be #1. The story doesn't sizzle. It lays there limply in the pan like a piece of wet bacon. There are so many issues with the MS - plot holes, weak characters, dead-ends, crossed genres - it's easier to walk away.

6. It's too big. Your idea requires so much research or draws from an area of expertise you don't have, that you write yourself into a corner. Your WIP is an unwieldly monster threatening to overwhelm you so you consign it to digital darkness.

This is a short list, so please share your WIP killers, as well as what's helped you overcome your WIPs death throes, in the comments. I'll be taking notes!

Sep 15, 2011

A slice of life with Cole Gibsen

The wonderous Cole Gibsen joins me today fresh from a weekend at DragonCon, where she witnessed some amazing costumes, popped up in odd places and resisted using a window squeegee for self-defense. She's counting down the days until her debut release, Katana, comes out in March, after which she'll be world famous and able to retire her squeegees in favor of brass knuckles. Or maybe a super sophisticated sewing machine because she's also a bit of a fashionista in her spare time.

1. Your blog says you first picked up a pen because you love super heroes. Explain that a little more, please!
My childhood was rough. I had strong negative influences on my life at a very young age. What I loved about comic books was, that the good guys always won. No matter how bleak the situation, how tough the bad guy, the heroes always persevered. That really hit home with me. I knew that I wanted to inspire the same type of hope with my writing that comic books gave to me.

2. How long have you been seriously writing?
I always wanted to be a writer. I’ve been writing little bits of stories, poetry, and songs from the moment I learned how to form words. Unfortunately for me, I had a person in my life who delighted in telling me how stupid I was and how I’d never amount to anything. And, being a young, impressionable child, I believed this person. So I never took writing seriously. It was nothing more than a creative outlet. But in 2007, the economy ate my small business. Without a job, I had to decide what I was going to do with my life. My husband was the one who told me that losing my business was a blessing. It was an opportunity to do what I wanted with my life—to pursue my dreams. And so, with literally nothing to lose, I decided to do just that.

3. How many books did you write and shelve before Katana? (Or write, query and shelve.)

Oh my goodness, I think I started and stopped at least a dozen different books. The first book I finished was this really clich├ęd paranormal romance. I made all the classic mistakes including querying as soon as I wrote the words, “The End.” Oy. Luckily for me, and all readers who enjoy good books, that particular novel is tucked safely away on my flash drive of despair—never to plague humanity with its awfulness.

You wouldn't be a real author without *whispers* a secret file of shame.

4. The quick pitch of Katana is: "Kill Bill meets Buffy," which sounds awesome. How did you come up with that?
I wish I could take credit for that, but that line is 100% the creation of my agent. Now if only I could get him to stop taking credit for my hair...

5. Did you do any martial arts research for Katana? Or if you drew from your own life, explain how that experience wove into your writing.
I’ve dabbled in various martial arts styles (everything from taekwondo to kickboxing) my entire life and used what I’ve learned to write the fight scenes in Katana. I had to stop when I became pregnant several years back and have been itching to get back into it. I’m also lucky to be friends with a third-degree black belt and martial arts instructor. If I have any technical questions or wonder things like, “How can Rileigh fend off a bad guy with nunchuku using only a window squeegee?” he’ll come over and show me (often multiple times) until I can visualize the scene in my head. Interesting fact: Window squeegees are pretty badass weapons. Who knew?

6. Talk about your agent, Chris Richman - why you chose to query him and what you think hooked him.
When I queried Chris, he was an intern at Firebrand who had just been promoted to agent. I read an interview with him where he stated he was looking for “fantasy that didn’t take itself too seriously” and I immediately thought, “That’s me!” So after I queried him, he immediately asked for the full. And a few weeks after that he asked for a phone call. When I was on the phone with him, one of the questions I asked was, “How available are you?” He answered, “Why? Are you asking me out?” It was right then, because of his quirky sense of humor and his obvious enthusiasm for my book, I knew he was the agent for me.

7. How long after signing did you revise? Did Chris give you any general revision suggestions you could share? OR do you have a tried-and-true revision technique?
Chris is a very hands-on editorial agent. He’s the Mickey to my Rocky. Something that really stuck with me was Chris’s fondness for action packed short chapters. If I had a chapter than went over ten pages, he either had me break it into two chapters or cut it for the sake of tension and readability.

8. Tell us how The Publishing Call is different from The Agent Call.
The Publishing Call is fun because it takes you completely by surprise. When I received The Agent Call, I knew it was coming. Chris had expressed interest through his emails and we had set up a date and time to speak on the phone. I was literally in the middle of painting my basement when Chris called me to let me know we had an offer. It was a definitely a punch to the kidneys—but in the best possible way.

9. Did you revise Katana again with your book editor? Was this process different than with Chris?
Chris and I revised Katana 729 times. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating, but it sure felt like that many times. And the edits that we did were very detailed and intense. This paid off because when it came time to revise with my editor, the edits weren’t as daunting as I was anticipating. My editor told me there wasn’t much that needed to be done because my manuscript was in such good shape upon sale.

10. So now you're gearing up for pub day. Tell us what you're looking forward to about that day, and what scares you the most.
Okay, so my biggest dream (no lie, just ask my husband) is to go out in public and spot someone reading my book. But, with the ever-growing popularity of e-readers, it’s going to be harder to spot. I think my biggest fear is getting the police called on me for ripping people’s e-readers out of their hands to see what they are reading.

Fast five: Fun, fluffy questions of no particular purpose to which you give witty, optionally truthful and erudite answers - pick as many as you want. Except 5. That one's mandatory bc I need suggestions for my Netflix queue.

1. If you were a vampire, which celebrity would you sink your teeth into?
Joe Manganiello. *Drooooooooooool* Sorry, what were we talking about?

I don't know who that is. *googles frantically* ooohhh.

2. What's your middle name? Your REAL middle name.
Cole. Little known fact, my real first name is Funky and my real last name is Medina. *sigh* Okay, it’s not really. But I’m seriously thinking about having it changed because how cool would that be? Oh, and the real answer is Renee’. With the ‘ because I’m exotic like that.

Renee? That's it? Why did everybody but my parents give their kid a normal middle name?
3. You're stranded on an island. You have a monkey and a ball. A ship passes by. How will you attract attention?
By screaming my head off because I’m on an island with a monkey. (see question 4)

Well, that behavior will surely allow the monkey to survive...

4. What secretly scares you?
Monkeys. Seriously. I don’t know what it is about them that freaks me out so much. If I were to guess I’d say it was because of their opposable thumbs. I mean, no good can come from that, right? We’ve all seen Planet of the Apes.

You definitely should not read Next by Michael Crichton, then. Definitely not.

5. What's the best movie you watched last summer?
No question, X-Men First Class. ;)

I think James McAvoy is weirdly hot. Not as hot as Hugh Jackman, bien sur, but James is definitely worth the rental. (snuck a little high school French in there, as I am wont to do when excited.)

Thanks, Cole! And thank you for stopping by! I'm off to buff up my Tae Kwon Do moves (yeah, I have moves) but would love to read your comments.

Sep 12, 2011

Giveaway winner, upcoming interview and how every experience matters

Thanks to those who posted their pitch and critiqued this weekend! Melvin the Magic Sorting Hat was tough to poke awake (he hates Mondays) but he finally spat out the name of:


Congratulations - I sent Jolene your contact info. You two can confab on what works best in the critique arena. Good luck!

On Friday, the ComicCon goddess Cole Gibsen will share her publishing journey. Her debut, Katana comes out in March, 2012 and has been dubbed a 'supernatural samurai' by her publisher. A super cool stealth assassin writer by day and fashionista by night, you don't want to miss her.

Now *deep breath* I must confess this weekend has been a nadir in my parenting experience. I've heard some writers say their MS is like a child to them, and honestly, my response is a bit of eye rolling. Really? A child? Uh, no. I can shelve my MS if it doesn't work/sell. That's not an option with my kids - who, BTW, walk around with my heart in their bodies. And when they hurt, I do, too. Right now my insides feel like they've been pounded with a mallet. Part of me hurts...the other part of me perks up and says: hmmmm. Interesting. How can I use this later?

Because this is the truly great part of the writing life. Everything is of use. The more it hurts, the more I file away because we all have these moments. Sharing and recording them is what connects us all. It's what we call the human experience. And it's these moments that can make a writer great.

Sep 10, 2011

A chat with Jolene Perry part two

Thanks to those of you who posted your pitches below! I hope the feedback helped you.

Now for part two of Jolene Perry's awesome interview. (She's pictured here with her two lovely kids.) Please continue to post your two-sentence or Twitter pitch in the comments - rules are below.

7. How was The Pub Call different from The Agent Call?
Very different. The Pub call was HUGE. WAY HUGE - even though they're a smaller publisher. The more I learn about them, the happier I am that I ended up with them. Their distribution is INCREDIBLE for being smaller. That was, again January of 2011
The agent call - I had my head on a lot more straight when Lauren called me. That was June of 2011. I was still shaking with excitement, and then, as happens often, I had more than one offer. I knew, because of friends like Kelley, that finding an agent was simply another step. I ADORE Lauren, I love how enthusiastic she is, and how hard she works.

8. You're working on more projects (a LOT more projects) Tell us how the process of writing now is different than it was for The Next Door Boys.
I'm a better writer by far. I'm not sure that my process is really any different. I write the major scenes and events first, I rarely write in order. I write the end before I hit 10,000 words. It generally needs to be changed up a bit later, but it gives me a place to get to. I tried the whole starting on chapter one on my last two projects, and I find that I just get irritated, and that I lose steam. I think the biggest thing is that I'm MUCH better at self-editing than I used to be. I can see my mistakes, and how the story could be made better so much more clearly. Not all of them (SO important to have good critique people)

9. You're on the 'board' of For the Love of Contemporary, a new blog aimed at (in case the name didn't give it away) YA contemp. Talk about the start of this idea and how it evolved.
Kelley mentioned off-hand that she'd thought about doing a group blog dedicated solely to contemporary, and that we'd only talk about stuff we LOVED. Later that day I made the blog header and sent it to her, and a week later we'd asked a few friends to join with us. All are VERY talented, published authors. I've read everyone's book but Kelley York's which comes out this December. If I had to choose one genre to read forever, that would be it. I love stories that take place in the real world.

10. How does managing this blog and your blog, affect your writing schedule? I mean, you've got kids, right? Do you never sleep? :)
I don't sleep nearly as much as my body wants me to. Seriously.
My number one is keeping on top of email. Also, once your blog gets to a certain point, it sort of runs itself. I think it was more work when I only had 100 followers than it is now. I have people whose blogs I almost always visit, and of course I pop by those who visit me. It all works. I've slowed to three days a week on my personal blog, and I'm only in charge of a few items a month on the contemporary blog. So, it all works. Some days I ignore my blog in favor of writing, but usually I'm in and out in both. As soon as my fingers slow on my keyboard while in my current project, I'll bounce into email, check and answer a couple, and then go back to my WIP.

Bonus: 11. And now...for everyone who doesn't live where we do - share the best part of living in Alaska. 'Cuz we know they're all jealous. Er...until winter hits anyway. :))
I have to remind myself of the best parts OFTEN, lol.
I run into people I know when I go into Wasilla. I live on two acres and can see no other homes from my backyard, but I can see all of Hatcher's Pass, which is just beautiful. We get moose in our yard all the time. I LOVE to go snowmachining (snowmobiling to those out-of-staters) and there's LOTS of time for that. I also love how quiet it is. When Mike was in law school we lived behind the Walmart off the corner of Tropicana and Pecos in Las Vegas. It was NEVER quiet. So, I love that. It's also just beautiful. It doesn't matter if I head north up the highway, or south, it's just a beautiful place to live.


Now, to recap, please post your pitch in the comments using this format:


And critique at least three other pitches (assuming that many are posted). The drawing Monday will determine a winner to discuss with Jolene the kind of short critique desired. Good luck!

Sep 8, 2011

Interview with Jolene Perry...and the Twitter pitch giveaway

I ran across Jolene Perry's blog while wandering around For the Love of Contemporary, the just-launched YA blog aimed at (you guessed it, smartie!) contemporary fiction. And squee if she doesn't live in Wasilla, or about 20 minutes from my house. Give or take. Anyway, I jumped at the chance to learn all her secrets interview her which is my sneaky way of picking her brain. Her book The Next Door Boys comes out next month (happy early pub day!!)and she's currently balancing debut authorhood with mom/wife/general manager/writer/blogger. We all can relate, right?

In addition to sharing the secret of Jolene's multi-tasking wizardry, we're hosting a pitch practice in these here comments. The rules of the giveaway are below.
And now, heerre's Jolene!

1. Talk briefly about your decision to switch careers from teaching to writing full-time. Was it all the timing (ie, first book sale?) or did you just jump w/o a financial net?
I stopped teaching to stay home with my daughter who was born with Moebius (google it, not even her doctors know what it is). My husband was in law school at the time, and one of us needed to be with her constantly to make sure she could eat. We plowed through law school (incurring more than your average debt with me being at home and all) and now he works for the state - which is definitely not the best paying, but we can JUST cover everything if we budget carefully. So, really, I write while chasing little people, and, occasionally, myself. Up until about a year ago I thought I'd go back to teaching, but I don't have time for that now!!

The Moebius Syndrome site has a lot of info. Click on 'about us' and then 'meet people with Moebius' for a snapshot of living with this condition.

2. You are obviously a networking queen. Tell us how you met your writing partner, Kelley Vitollo, and the most valuable social networking tool you use.
Wow - Networking Queen - you make me sound so supercool ;O
Kelley and I met through blogging. I've met SO many incredible people through blogging. SO many. Kelley kept putting up these books that she'd read, that she LOVED, and I started reading them. So we got to know one another that way. We now text, and email back and forth a ton. We have a joint YA project that our agents are working on a sub list for right now. So, we're VERY excited about that - it should go on sub later this week or next.

3. Why do you write YA?
I taught high school, and still work with the youth, so that's the easy answer. I do have a few women's fiction projects, but I'm just in the groove with the YA thing right now. I LOVE how much good lit there is for teens now, and I love that the genre has expanded into the adult market as well. It's just fun to write.

Me, too! Am very excited about New Adult, which is rumored to cover the 18-22 age group. Fingers crossed it takes off soon.

4. How many MS did you write before The Next Door Boys (NDB)? How did you know this one would take you places?
The Next Door Boys is my second novel. I thought my first might go somewhere, but it's shelved until I'm ready to just use the outline and rewrite the whole thing (love the story, but the writing is a disaster). The Boys started out as something completely different, and I wasn't sure if it would ever go anywhere. So, I guess I didn't know it would take me places until CFI picked it up. I love, love, love the story (still one of my favorite guys I've ever written), but my writing has much improved in the time since I wrote it. I wrote it in past tense, and I've learned through MANY more projects that my voice comes out better in present.

5 . How long did it take you to write NDB before you landed a deal? (Include any revisions with your agent.)
My agent had nothing to do with NDB. I finished my first draft in the spring of 2010 (my first drafts go pretty quick - I think a month). It was VERY rough, but I had no idea that it was rough. I sent it to ONE publisher who responded in the NO. The project was shelved for several months while I worked on other stuff. I read more, and started to find critique partners. I won a first chapter critique by submitting a line from a WIP (If you care the line was - "Today, love walks out the door with me, keeps my hand in his and I don’t even notice when we pass my safe place - I’m already there.") So, from that one line I got a critique that CHANGED how I wrote. She offered to help me finish the book (LisaAnn Turner) and I went painstakingly through each and every chapter, adding and subtracting, and I swear the only thing that stayed the same was the dialogue, and a very few other lines. I submitted it to CFI and they came back THREE weeks later telling me that they wanted to publish The Next Door Boys. That was Jan of 2011. Hubs and I celebrated by going to dinner.

6. What was your 2-sentence pitch for The Boys? (Or twitter pitch if you had one.)
After spending what should have been her freshman year at home fighting cancer, Leigh is finally out on her own. She's determined to be independent despite her over-protective brother and ever-expanding line of young men ready to be in love with her.

You'll notice that some of this pitch, ended up on the back cover.

Now it's your turn, readers! Boil down, cut, slash and shrink that pitch, then polish and post. Include your two sentences, or Twitter pitch (140 characters) for others to critique/marvel at. Any genre is welcome, although Jo's area of expertise is obviously YA. Please include the info below AND critique at least three other entries (assuming there are that many). Would love it if you followed and/or Tweeted this giveaway but honestly, I'm just happy if this helps you. On Monday, a random winner will confab with Jo on the type of critique desired.

Stop by tomorrow for Part II with Jolene.

Sep 7, 2011

Jolene Perry and the Twitter pitch contest

So this week I cyber-met the amazing Jolene Perry and found out she lives by me. *minor hyperventilation followed by chocolate intake* YA writers are a bit thin on the ground up here so I jumped at the chance to stalk her every move have her be on the blog. Not only did she agree, she turned the interview around in five seconds flat. (She types a million words per minute.) Her book, The Next Door Boys, comes out next she's one of the cofounders of For the Love of Contemporary (meaning YA) blog which just launched Sept. 1. So we'll have lots to talk about.

And, the best part is she agreed to help you all out with your Twitter pitches. On Friday and Saturday, stop by and share your 140-character book pitch. OR two-sentence pitch, if you can't quite squeeze it down yet. Everyone else will critique them before Monday, when Melvin the Magic Sorting Hat will choose one lucky writer for a tete-a-tete with Jo. She'll critique your first three chapters or your query or synopsis or whatever your little heart desires as long as it's not super long.

I can't wait for Friday!

Sep 6, 2011

First Campaigner Challenge

This week, the campaign challenge is to write a 200 word story/poem/essay/whatever starting with "The door swung open" and ending (optional) with "The door swung shut." My entry is below.

Those of you wanting to get in on the fun, networking and blog hopping, visit Rachael Harrie here.

The door swung open a smidge and there they were.
Her husband and Linda, laughing it up in Sharon’s kitchen. She sank back on her haunches, her fingers closing around a rock. Her best friend had another think coming if she thought she could move in on Rick.
Sharon tensed as a car pulled into her drive. She knew it belonged to her kidnappers, aka Marge and Bert, her neighbors. They’d spirited her away on some pretext this evening but Sharon had seen through that. She knew something was up.
And now she had proof.
“Sharon!” hissed Marge. “Oh Bert, I think we lost her. Rick is going to be so mad.”
“We’ll find her,” Bert said. Sharon considered diving into the shrubs as he neared but it was too late. Bert’s beefy face lit up when he spotted her.
“Here she is!” he told Marge. “She outsmarted us. I guess the game is up.”
“It sure is,” Sharon said, rising.
“Honey, we should go in first,” Marge said. But Sharon shook her head.
“I already know what’s going on,” she said and stepped inside.
“Surprise!” the huge crowd of people yelled. Sharon’s jaw dropped as the door swung shut.

Sep 4, 2011

Characteristics of an emerging writer

I'm almost finished with a graduate program that requires a LOT of academic writing. This is a totally different genre from fiction, as Calvin demonstrates so succinctly.

Fiction writing, on the other hand, defines itself by carefully orchestrated simplicity. As authors, we take our readers by the hand to lead them down our winding story road. If we lose them, in most cases it's because they fell into a plot hole or were stolen by an evil, off-topic tangent.

Just like little kids first learning the mechanics of writing, we all have weak areas that show up in our writing. Our mastery of language comes through in what we write. This is why college professors, MFA instructors, and editors urge writers to read Strunk & White’s Elements of Style and other books on writing. If writing is an art, our grammar, word choice and structure are the canvas on which our stories are painted.

The difference between a master and a student is simply this: enough practice to recognize/catch these tendencies in the first draft. (And I’m nowhere near able to do this – which is why I have critique partners!)

1.A whole lot of nothing. In other words, your words take the reader nowhere. It takes 850 words to get your MC out of bed, or the MS reads like a playbook of movements – from the house, to work, to lunch, etc., with zero plot points to tie it together. Yawn. *checks watch*

2.Rambling/useless chapters. This is similar to #1 except the concept extends to chapters instead of scenes. Chapters are like rungs in a ladder – they’re supposed to take a reader to the next level. If they don’t move the story, your ladder turns into a treadmill.

3.Plotted like a potato plant. Here in my part of Alaska, we grow a lot of potatoes. To plant one, cut a potato in half and watch it grow. An emergent writer starts out with a great idea and then, presto, soon there are shoots popping out of the ground every which way. The reader has no clue which is the main idea because there’s so much going on.

4.Overwriting. Agent Mary Kole wrote a great post on how this rears its ugly head. All I’m going to say is: don’t tell us what you’ve just shown us is happening in your MS. It’s the equivalent of leading us there and then grabbing our face while yelling: “Look!”

5.Not enough tension. The reader needs to know why he/she is reading your story. Even a formulaic romance has the break-up. This is one I’m struggling with and it reminds me a bit of keeping a bunch of rubber bands tight while juggling a ball with one hand. According to Kristen Lamb, conflict must be constant.

6.Grammatical errors. Spell check is great but if you correctly spell a misused word, it’s still misused. Whether it's the incorrect use of they're, their or there, or the misunderstanding that you DO NOT add a possessive to a plural word (ie parent’s when you mean the two people who raised you) routine errors shout AMATEUR.

7.Thin skin. Emerging writers are reluctant to send out their work and react with anger/fear/sorrow when given constructive criticism. Sometimes they avoid it, or say they’re writing just for themselves. My response to that: keep a diary. Stories are meant to be shared.

So what did I miss? Share more characteristics in the comments!