Tuesday, January 16, 2018

BEING FISHKILL Author Ruth Lehrer On Stumbling Into Inspiration

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask any writer where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers, and in that vein I created the WHAT (What the Hell Are you Thinking?) interview. Always including in the WHAT is one random question to really dig down into the interviewees mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well.

Today's guest for the WHAT is Ruth Lehrer whose debut YA novel, BEING FISHKILL, is set against the stark reality of an impoverished rural landscape, and offers a stunning, revelatory look at what defines and sustains “family.”

Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your book?

Several years ago my partner’s mother was sick and we were commuting to Queens NY every weekend for months. Up and down the Taconic Highway, several times a week. Both ways you see the exit sign for the towns of FISHKILL/CARMEL. “Wouldn’t that be a funny girl’s name?” I said, “Some deluded mother naming her kid Carmel Fishkill ...”  Once she had a name, Fishkill easily stepped out into the world. 

Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?

I didn’t really build the plot. I was lucky enough to have the characters, Fishkill and Duck-Duck, knock loudly on my creative door. I wrote the first sentence in the car outside a writing group and then wrote the first couple pages when I went inside. Fishkill and Duck-Duck were fully formed people who walked up and pretty much dictated their story.

Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?

The plot of Being Fishkill shifted in small ways during the process of writing and editing but my second book, which I am in the process of writing, is a squishy slimy animal and seems to change every time I sit down to write. 

Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?

Poems come to me often, mostly whenever I sit down and let them. (They’re not always good poems, but hey ...) Story/novel ideas are harder to come by. I wish I knew where that particular place was where characters like Fishkill are just waiting to latch onto an author. I seem to have stumbled there once. Maybe it will happen again? 

How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?

Usually I have one main project I’m working on and various stray poems. I don’t seem to be able to juggle more than one novel. I envy folks who can. 

I have 8 cats (seriously, check my Instagram feed) and I usually have at least one or two snuggling with me when I write. Do you have a writing buddy, or do you find it distracting?

No cats, no dogs, no birds, no lizards. Sometimes I write with a human friend, either in person or virtually. I have a drawing of an owl on the wall near my desk. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Welcoming Pat Zietlow Miller To The Podcast!

I'm excited today to bring my first ever picture book author to the podcast, Pat Zietlow Miller, who has received multiple awards for her many picture books. Her titles include SOPHIE’S SQUASH, WHEREVER YOU GO, SHARING THE BREAD, THE QUICKEST KID IN CLARKSVILLE, and the newly released WIDE-AWAKE BEAR. Pat joined me to talk about how querying a picture book is different than querying a novel, the misleading ease of each project being 700 words or less, and why a children’s book writer who wants to be traditionally published should not seek out an illustrator before submitting their work.

As always, if you find the podcast helpful or just enjoy listening, please consider donating by visiting Go Fund Me or clicking here.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Saturday Slash

Meet my Hatchet of Death (or, some other colorful description RC Lewis and I come up with at any given moment). This is how I edit myself, it is how I edit others. If you think you want to play with me and my hatchet, shoot us an email.

We all know the first line of a query is your "hook." I call the last line the "sinker." You want it to punch them in the face, in a nice, friendly kind of way that makes them unable to forget you after having read the 300 other queries in their inbox.

If you're looking for query advice, but are slightly intimidated by my claws, blade, or just my rolling googly-eyes, check out the query critique boards over at AgentQueryConnect. This is where I got my start, with advice from people smarter than me. Don't be afraid to ask for help with the most critical first step of your writing journey - the query. My comments appear in green.

One sketch from Laurain Hart and two humans fall in love. Oh, nice hook.

Thirteen-year-old Laurain wants nothing more than to continue spending the afternoons with her mystic classmates, drawing pictures that create an enduring romance. Ah, so Laurain herself is not human. Got it.

When an ancient enchanter casts a spell disrupting the order of the calendar days, Laurain’s visions vanish, so it's her visions that allow her to do the drawing? What's the connection there? starting a countdown to the day when humans can no longer discover true love. Paired with a time-traveling leprechaun, who is more interested in stealing gold than helping, Laurain must locate the rogue enchanter and restore the missing day. Slightly confusing in that you said the days were "disrupted" before (I thought, out of order, maybe) but now we learn there's one missing? Why would that cause a chain reaction that has anything to do with love?

She travels across the human and mystic realms battling gruesome ghouls, hostile witches, angry elves and, scariest of all, finds herself developing a crush on a teenage human boy. To make troubles worse, Laurain develops the powers of an enchanter. So being an enchanter is bad? It's not just that one bad apple? If the other mystics find out, she’ll never be allowed to draw her visions again. How long can she keep it a secret?

With time running out, Laurain must learn how to control the gold-hungry leprechaun, come to terms with a new, magical ability that could get her expelled from school and defeat the most powerful enchanter who ever lived—all while lying to a boy she may be falling in love with.

THE STOLEN DAY, a middle grade fantasy complete at 38,000 words, introduces us to the mystic realm, providing a behind-the-scenes look at how much work goes in to (one word) protecting humans.

Overall, this is good. Interesting premise with a fresh take. Clear up the questions I have above about cohesion and you're in good shape.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: DEVILS UNTO DUST by Emma Berquist

Ten years ago, a horrifying disease began spreading across the West Texas desert. Infected people—shakes—attacked the living and created havoc and destruction. No one has ever survived the infection. Daisy Wilcox, known as Willie, has been protecting her siblings within the relatively safe walls of Glory, Texas. When Willie’s good-for-nothing father steals a fortune from one of the most dangerous shake-hunters in town, she finds herself on the hook for his debt. With two hunters, including the gruff and handsome Ben, to accompany her, she sets out across the desert in search of her father. But the desert is not kind to travelers, and not everyone will pass through alive.

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


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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Wednesday WOLF

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

Last week I was racing around securing anything that could blow away outside and referred to it mentally as battening down the hatches. Because I'm a major dork, I immediately wanted to know where that came from, even though there was a chance I would freeze to death before learning the answer if I stood outside too long wondering.

I knew it was from sailing (and man do we get a LOT of stuff from them) but I didn't know specifically how it applied. A hatch I've got covered because I watched Swiss Family Robinson a lot as a kid. For those of you who aren't so blessed, a hatch is basically those little wood gratings that flip up, leading down into the underbelly of the ship where the men sleep. It's grated instead of having a solid cover because... well, because men smell bad.

The battening part comes in when a storm is expected. Everyone goes below deck and the grated hatches are covered with a tarp to prevent the water from coming in, and the edges of the tarp were weighted down with wooden strips called battens

After learning all that, my next question is... if everyone is below deck, who does the battening???

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Debut Author Sarah Henning on the Power of Social Media

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Sarah Henning, who has worked for The Palm Beach Post, The Kansas City Star and The Associated Press, among others. Her debut, SEA WITCH, releases July 31st from Katherine Tegen Books.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

I’ve always said I’m a decent hybrid of the two. I generally start with plot points that are pretty spread out and then allow my gut take over from there. I’ve found that my gut then surprises me with things I didn’t see coming between plot points, and if I’m surprised, my reader will be too. That said, the more books I write, the more I can see the forest for the trees in what I’m setting up. This has lead to more rat-a-tat-tat plot points before I write, but I still let my gut lead the way and change my plans at will.

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

My first drafts generally take anywhere from three to five months, depending on how complicated the plot is and how busy I am in the rest of my life. I also consider my first drafts to be pretty fully formed, so I’ll typically only revise for a week or two after that before shipping it off to my agent.

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

I used to be a one project a time type-of-gal but having a book deal has changed that. I’m always working on something while waiting to work on something else, it seems. I think it keeps me sane to have a project to come back to while navigating rounds of edits on something else.

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

Nope. I’ve always wanted to be a novelist. I spent most of my early career in newspapers as a reporter and copy editor, so I’m used to having to come up with something solid in a very short amount of time. This seems to translate to fiction writing in that I’m never wandering around a scene, trying to figure out what I’m doing. I also tend to revise a lot as I go because of my journalism background. I like having my “first” draft as close to final as possible.

How many trunked books did you have before you were agented?

I had two that I wrote as an adult (and countless that I wrote as a child) that won’t ever see the light of day. The third book snagged me an agent, but the fifth book was the one that sold first. Publishing is definitely a long-haul journey.

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

I have one that I didn’t finish and I think it’s just because I’m still not sure how to write it. I know what I want to do but not the best way to tell the story. I’ll figure it out, but for now, it’s just got to sit and marinate.

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

My agent is the lovely Rachel Ekstrom of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency. She is rainbows and sunshine but a complete pit-bull when necessary. I was lucky enough to be a mentee in the very first year of Brenda Drake’s Pitch Wars contest. I received four offers as part of the contest and loved everyone I talked with, but Rachel just seemed to get my goals the most. She signed me for adult crime fiction but the first book we sold was a young adult fantasy—not every agent would’ve been down for such varied writing interests, but she has been, 100 percent.

How long did you query before landing your agent?  

The first two trunked manuscripts didn’t really get off the ground. I had the oldest of my two kids after I wrote those and they just kind of sat there while I tried to figure out the whole parenting thing. When I was ready to query that third book, I only did one small round before being chosen for Pitch Wars. 

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

Do your research—if you can afford it, a subscription to Publishers Marketplace is so invaluable in knowing what’s selling, to who and by who.

How much input do you have on cover art?

For SEA WITCH, I made a private Pinterest page with images of characters, places and symbols in the book and sent it to my editor at Katherine Tegen, the wonderful Maria Barbo. Maria has an MFA in painting and a fabulous eye and so I knew that wherever she went from there would be great. I didn’t worry a second. In the end, Maria and the Harper art department found this amazing artist named Anna Dittmann who drew the perfect cover art for it. PERFECT.

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

I don’t think I really understood anything about the way rights worked before my deal. I mean, I knew enough that I could ask questions, but I didn’t understand how nuanced subrights could be. It’s one of those things where it’s hard to understand until you’re out of the hypothetical situation and into a real one, I think. Unless, of course, your day job is as a lawyer!

How much of your own marketing do you?  

At the moment, I do it all myself. I probably spend the majority of my time on Twitter and Instagram. My husband is a web nerd, so he set up my website, but it’s nothing fancy. 

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

This is a trick question for me because I was a features reporter in my town before I ever got my agent. I covered food and even though it’s been years since I left the newspaper, I still get recognized at the grocery store by people who used to read my articles, columns and blogs. So, for me, I have a sort of weird tangential local platform. About a third of my Twitter followers can be attributed to my former life and the rest are writing-related.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

I think it does. Honestly, after SEA WITCH’s cover was revealed on Twitter and Instagram, I had people from all over the world reaching out to me in a way that wouldn’t have happened without those two platforms. I also think Instagram is especially helpful in the YA book world because so many of our YA books are just SO BEAUTIFUL that people want to take pictures of them. I know I do and I know a lot of book people I follow do. And I think a well-done Instagram picture of your book's cover can go a long way in helping it find an audience.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Think Of Self-Publishing As A Business Endeavor, Not A Creative One

I'm welcoming in the New Year of podcast guests with Alex Lidell, author of THE CADET OF TILDOR from Penguin, as well as the TIDES series, which she self-published. I've known Alex since 2013, when we debuted together, and have watched her flourish as a hybrid author.

I invited Alex onto the podcast to share her wealth of knowledge when it comes to self-publishing, but many of her insights transpose to traditional publishing as well. Listeners of all types will gain a lot by tuning in, and be sure to follow through to the end... Alex likes to give things away.

If you enjoy this episode - or any that aired in 2017 - please consider donating so that I can keep the podcast on the air.

I started this blog shortly after landing my first book deal. I decided to pay it forward by hosting a blog where I asked published and agented authors all the questions I'd had when I was aspiring. The blog has been regularly updated for seven years now, taking a lot of my time and attention, with no monetary return. Often I have thought it was time for me to hang it up, but whenever the thought crossed my mind I would get an email from a follower who let me know how the blog had helped them on their publishing journey.

In 2017 I decided that if the blog was going to keep existing it also needed to grow and offer my followers something new. The Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire podcast came from that idea. I have been broadcasting weekly since March of 2017. With 40+ episodes aired, over 1200 followers and almost 10k downloads, I can call the podcast a success.
It is however, not a monetary success.
Costwise, I pay $108 for hosting and $240 for recording software. These are revolving costs, and while not high, the real expense comes from the time involved. This is a one-woman show. I set up interviews, record, edit, and go through post-production with each episode. I'm putting in anywhere from 5 to 8 hours with each epsiode. Weekly episodes means I'm putting nearly 400 hours each year into the podcast. That's something I can't maintain in 2018 without compensation for my time.
If the blog or podcast have been of any assistance to you in your writing life, I would very much appreciate monetary support so that I can continue to produce them.