Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Saturday Slash

So, I opened up myself to critiquing queries, and quite a few of you said - "Yes! Me! I love it when other people jam their grimy fingers into my carefully polished words!

OK - my hands aren't actually grimy, but I don't make any promises about the cleanliness of my editing tool. Meet the BBC 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. And a little bit of BBC literary info.

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. Also, at the end, I'm going to tell you what I think your story is about, based on your query. I know how hard it is to get your ideas across succinctly, and how easy it is for your author's brain to fill in the blanks and not see the gaping holes that the average reader may very well fall into.

Also, for my brave Saturday Slash volunteers I will gladly do follow-up slashes (each more kindly than the next) on your query if you post them on the Query Critique board over on AgentQuery Connect. You'll get advice from me, and also people who are smarter than me. If you do post on AQ, be sure to follow the guidelines and let me know you posted so that I can follow up!

And now for our next brave soul. For clarity, my comments are in purple.

Missing at Sea is a 45,000-word YA mystery with a creepy genetic twist. Definitely get this first sentence out of the way, I always put title, word count, and genre at the end of the query. Make your hook the first thing they see - anyone can start a query with a title and word count - show them that you're special right out of the gate.  Rumors of secret experiments have always plagued the King Pharmaceutical-sponsored Senior Leadership Cruise I like *parts* of this hook - rumors, secret experiments - great! But then I feel weighed down by the talky-talky words right here in the first sentence. It feels crammed, which is expected of queries, but it doesn't have flow - and you need that. Also, the way it reads right now it feels like the rumors are about the Cruise itself, not necessarily King and Co. What I would do is split this sentence up, get the rumors and experiments and King name in the hook, then follow up with the mention of the the queen bee and the cruise. but when the queen bee disappears, three high-achieving teens partner together to investigate.  Think The Breakfast Club meets Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I love this right up until your comparison sentence. I'd chop it. Everything works pretty well until that, which feels forced.

Shy nerd ARIELLA SUN Capitalizing character names is mostly used just for a synopsis, not a query. embarks on the cruise to understand more about her brother’s death at the hands of King Pharmaceutical. Sex goddess KIANNA MATTHEWS tries the resist the charms of a rich bad boy. Bitchy blonde VIOLET ASH struggles to move past a secret from freshman year. When their mutual friend LAUREN TOWNSEND disappears without a trace, the girls individually search for the truth, only to realize they are stronger as a team. As told from multiple viewpoints, I envision this as a first in a series. Each book will solve a new crime while the series mystery will focus on King Pharmaceutical. I feel like you're giving very broad strokes here in this paragraph, and while it works very, very well at getting across the rough basics of your characters, you're not telling the story of what this first book is actually about. What does Kianna and Violet's backstory have to do with the main plot? Right now this feels like a gathering of character sketches rather than a query for a book.

I have an MBA from the University of Michigan, spent 8 years at Procter & Gamble marketing to young woman typo - women and am a member of SCBWI and Sisters in Crime. Thank you for your consideration. This is good, you definitely show why you are good person to write this book so I would keep this in there, for sure.

Basic thoughts: I think you've got a great idea here, and a fresh concept for a contemporary series. However, you need to focus on what the main plot arc of the first book is for your query, and get *that* across before trying to talk about series potential and backstory for a handful of characters that the agent doesn't give a fig about yet. I feel like the experiments and missing girl is the crux of the story here, but I know nothing about them other than the fact that they exist. Ariella's dead brother does merit mentioning, I think, as it shows she has an axe to grind with King. I would focus on Ariella, the experiments, the disappearance of Lauren, and keep your other two supporting characters in the background for the purposes of the query.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Hey Check It Out - I'm Actually A Writer!

NOT A DROP TO DRINK is on Goodreads! I'm not sure how that happened, in fact, someone else told me so it was an awesome surprise.

DRINK on Goodreads!

I'm going to put it on my bookshelf... technically should I mark it as "Read"?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Smothered by the Muse & Well Wishes

So, it's totally doable for me to get the WIP done before 2012. But that requires that I sit down and write. I went to do exactly that here a few moments ago and the muse plopped down on top of me. He's not been feeling well so I don't want to dislodge him, instead I'm peering over his back while hacking out today's word goal. For your viewing pleasure:


But the muse has been good to me this year, so I'm not complaining. The rest of 2011 is dedicated to writing and hacking out that WIP - I'll be back in 2012 to blog at you some more! Happy Holidays to everyone, and good luck cracking out those end of the year goals!

The Saturday Slash

So, I opened up myself to critiquing queries, and quite a few of you said - "Yes! Me! I love it when other people jam their grimy fingers into my carefully polished words!

OK - my hands aren't actually grimy, but I don't make any promises about the cleanliness of my editing tool. Meet the BBC 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. And a little bit of BBC literary info.

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. Also, at the end, I'm going to tell you what I think your story is about, based on your query. I know how hard it is to get your ideas across succinctly, and how easy it is for your author's brain to fill in the blanks and not see the gaping holes that the average reader may very well fall into.

Also, for my brave Saturday Slash volunteers I will gladly do follow-up slashes (each more kindly than the next) on your query if you post them on the Query Critique board over on AgentQuery Connect. You'll get advice from me, and also people who are smarter than me. If you do post on AQ, be sure to follow the guidelines and let me know you posted so that I can follow up!

And now for our next brave soul. For clarity, my comments are in purple.

In the cold of winter, Eri runs out in the dark, after a warning bell, seeking a beast even though it wants to eat her. There are a lot of commas, and a lot of different thoughts running around here. I like the words "cold" and "dark" and of course, "winter," are all setting us up for where we're at and giving us a visual. I also like the idea of a "warning bell" because that gives us a medieval / fantasy feel - BUT - what's not working here is the flow. Read it out loud to yourself and give each comma a definite pause. You'll see what I mean.  She doesn’t care—no—she can’t help herself. I'd kill the warring ideas of not caring vs. not being able to help herself, go with one or the other and end off with the idea that it's calling to her.  The beast calls to her. Overall this is a decent hook in that you're telling us your genre, giving us something of a setting, and also signifying somewhat how your character is special. However, the flow isn't here. You need some reworking with these same ideas to really get a punch into this hook.

The calling belongs solely to the secret guardians watching over the village.  No one knows the identities of the Protectors, but everyone knows they exist and hold this unparalleled qualification assuming this qualification is the simple fact that they are "called" in the first place? I'd make this more clear, if there's something else involved, like a birthright. The "unparalleled qualification" makes me question that assumption. enabling them to fight the beasts lurking along the borders. Again - is the simple fact of being called what enables them?  Most importantly, everyone knows Protectors are men. OK - honestly when first read that I was like, Yes! Awesome! That's a neat idea! And then I was like wait... if no one knows who they are how does everyone know they are men?

Eri should not feel the pulsating hatred drawing her toward the beasts, but the link is growing within her, the connection beyond her control.  Eri can’t hide the calling forever. This sinker leaves me flat - more to follow.

So what we've got here is a (high?) fantasy involving the beasts that endanger the village and the people who are enabled to protect, them all of whom are men. And now a girl is feeling that urge. OK - that's great! Seriously, I love the idea - but way too many questions here.

I think the biggest one is this: if the identity of the Protectors is a secret, how would Eri (or anyone) know that they're all men? How would Eri know that she should be hiding this new, secret part of herself? What's the punishment if she outs herself as a Protector? Is the biggest problem here the beasts, or the idea that she's a woman in a man's world? And what's involved in the calling? A simple answering of the call? Or do the called get special training of some sort once they step forward? Is Eri cheating herself of something by not claiming her calling? Because if they don't get anything neat-o by being called, what's the big deal? She can just run out whenever she feels the call, same as the other (male) secret Protectors, and then run back into the village after killing beasts, no big deal. What's she sacrificing by not claiming her call?

Also, I know from your word count line (not included here) that this is a YA title, but that was my first indication. I know it might feel clunky, but include Eri's age in the first line so that the agent knows right away they are looking at YA.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

An SAT With Debut Author Miriam Forster

I'm lucky (or cunning) enough to have lured yet another successful writer over to my blog for an SAT - Successful Author Talk. Miriam Forster learned to read at the age of five, wrote her first story at the age of seven and has been playing with words ever since. Her debut novel, HOUSE OF A THOUSAND DOLLS is being published by HarperCollins. In her daily life, Miriam is a wife, a terrible housekeeper and a dealer of caffeine at a coffee shop. In her internal life, she imagines fight scenes, obsesses about anthropology, nature shows and British television, and reads far too many books. Miriam is represented by Jennifer Laughran of the Andrea Brown Agency. 

Writing Process:
BBC: Are you a Planner or Pantster?

MF: Definitely a planner. I work mainly in lists, list of scenes I need, lists of characters, lists of settings.  That way, if I run out of words on one scene or setting, I can go work on another.  Then after the first draft is done, I go through it with a basic plot outline in hand to make sure the pacing is right.

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

MF: Every book is different. DOLLS took me a year to write, the novel after it took about three or four months. But I have done a first draft in a month before.

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

MF: When I first draft, I’m very focused and don’t work on more than one thing at a time.  But I’ve been known to be a multi-tasker when I edit.

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

MF: Every part of the process has a fear attached to it, and most of them revolve around the fear that this time I won’t be good enough. Oddly enough, the first time I sat down to write a novel, I was in high school and there was no fear. I just thought it would be fun to try.

BBC: How many trunked books (if any) did you have before you were agented?

MF: THE HOUSE OF A THOUSAND DOLLS was the second book I ever wrote. The first one is firmly trunked, which is kind of a long story, but I did write three more books  between the time I wrote DOLLS and the time it sold

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

MF: I quit on ideas all the time, or write the first page and nothing else. But if I get into a first draft, I finish it. So far I’ve only trunked one novel, and that had more to do with content and the market changing than giving up on the actual book.

Querying and Agent Hunt Process:
BBC: Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?  

MF: My agent is the awesome Jennifer Laughran, and I got her through the traditional query process. Actually, it was a fabulous piece of serendipity. I was pretty sure she’d say no, I was just long-shotting a query to make myself feel better about yet another rejection letter.  But she loved it.

BBC: How long did you query before landing your agent?

MF: I queried this book for about two years, but that was really off-and-on. I would query a batch or two of agents, collect rejections, sit on the book for a while, query again, etc. At one point I shelved it for about six months and then did a major rewrite. All together, I think I sent around 40 queries. (Not counting the ones I sent for other projects in between querying DOLLS.)

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

MF: Sending out another query is a great way to celebrate a rejection. ☺
Actually, the BEST advice I ever got was “Write another book.” One of the reasons I think I made it through query hell with only a few scars was that I kept writing. Having another book lined up in the queue that could be the one, is a great comfort.

On Being Published:
BBC: How did that feel, the first time you saw your book for sale?

MF: When I saw the Publisher’s Marketplace announcement, I squealed. I squealed even louder when the book went up on Goodreads. I can’t imagine how loud I’ll squee when I see it on the shelves. It feels unreal, amazing and a little scary.

BBC: How much input do you have on cover art?

MF: Contractually, not much. But my editor is awesome, and she sent me an email asking if there was anything I really wanted or didn’t want on the cover. That really made me feel included. But I’m not a marketer, so whatever they put on the cover is fine with me. (As long as it’s not fugly.)

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

MF: I was surprised how much work the edits are. I was expecting to edit, and I even managed to avoid most of the “OMG, my book sucks” reaction that is very common. But the edits were intense. It was like taking a master class in storytelling.

Social Networking and Marketing:
BBC: How much of your own marketing do you?  Do you have a blog / site / Twitter?

MF: Fortunately, I started blogging and getting into social media several years ago, so I feel a lot more prepared to do promotion than I think I otherwise would. I have a blog, a Facebook page, a Tumblr, a Goodreads profile and a real author. J

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

MF: I think social media is a great thing to get into before you get an agent. But it should be less like building a platform and more like joining a conversation. If you view us as a market and not as people, we will know. Most people on the Internet can smell insincerity from the first word you tweet, and they tend to avoid it.

BBC: Do you think social media helps build your readership?

MF: As I said, social media is a great way to join the conversation. If you view people as people and genuinely connect with them as friends, they’ll respond. And it’s very likely they will want to support you and buy your book.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Hey Wolverines! Want A Cat??

So, because I am the way I am, after finding out that my man is a Turkish Angora I decided I had to have another one. And look what I found - a gorgeous alter-ego of my alter-ego... in the wrong state, and about to be euthanized. My Michigan followers, if you've been thinking about a kitty for Christmas and would like a muse of your own, think about this fella... I want him for me but I think the USPS probably has an issue with shipping cats. PETA too, for that matter.



Please, someone adopt him before I'm
forced to share my home.

When The Muse Has A Head Cold

The beautiful man to whom I owe my alter ego has not been feeling so well. Nothing serious, just a head cold. But when you're accustomed to being perfect and walking around looking indignant, a sudden bout of sneezing can really drop a whammy on your ego. So the man, he suffers, and we've been curling up together with the first snowfall in Ohio and taking some time out.

And what did we do? A little research for the WIP, a little self-searching for BigCat. I've always known there was something special about my man, other than being my muse. He has a very distinctive look, and after a little research I learned that he's a Turkish Angora cat, and that the pure black ones, while awesome, are not the highly prized type. I didn't tell him that though.

He feels bad enough already.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Saturday Slash

So, I opened up myself to critiquing queries, and quite a few of you said - "Yes! Me! I love it when other people jam their grimy fingers into my carefully polished words!

OK - my hands aren't actually grimy, but I don't make any promises about the cleanliness of my editing tool. Meet the BBC 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. And a little bit of BBC literary info.

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. Also, at the end, I'm going to tell you what I think your story is about, based on your query. I know how hard it is to get your ideas across succinctly, and how easy it is for your author's brain to fill in the blanks and not see the gaping holes that the average reader may very well fall into.

Also, for my brave Saturday Slash volunteers I will gladly do follow-up slashes (each more kindly than the next) on your query if you post them on the Query Critique board over on AgentQuery Connect. You'll get advice from me, and also people who are smarter than me. If you do post on AQ, be sure to follow the guidelines and let me know you posted so that I can follow up!

And now for our next brave soul. For clarity, my comments are in purple.

There’s no way fourteen year old Jonathan Stevens is going to his first day of public school in May. Really? Why not? 'Cause school sucks? Was he home-schooled until now? Does he have a big boil on his nose?  So cutting class to wander around a park seemed tense problem here like a better idea... until a storm forces him into a bathroom stall, and he falls face-first into a giant hole caused by an earthquake. So there's two natural disasters at work here? A big storm and an earthquake? That's fine (I love chaos) but it can be a little confusing as worded here. And did he fall down through the pooper? Cause that's how I'm visualizing this as it's written.

Waking in the underbelly of the earth, Jonathan discovers he’s been kidnapped by a pain-in-the-butt sorceress named Tamara, who insists he is an immortal and he's on the top of a very long hit list. I like the idea of them being underground, but why are they? Hiding? Natural habitat? But Jonathan isn't like any other immortal. I don't know that this is that important at the moment - we already know that J is an immortal, if he's THE immortal that's great and all, but it feels a little clunky here in this para. Just the idea that he's special enough to be an immortal in the first place and is in danger because of it is enough to get your idea across in a query. He was created Created how? And by who? to save the immortal realm from the Master, an overlord with the power to locate immortals strong enough to challenge him before they are old enough to know how. I like this idea.

Jonathan learns from Tamara’s allies that the Master has discovered the means to control mortals--and he intends to test that power on Jonathan's parents. Okay, that's cool. Brings up the question of whether or not J's parents knew all along her was an immortal though.  To destroy the most dangerous man in two realms, Jonathan will have to risk his life by triggering an unknown power too early. Also cool, but is this like his own special immortal power? Does every immortal have one and he needs to learn what his is and how to control it?  And if he fails, his family--as well as every other mortal and immortal in existence--will suffer for it.

The query is pretty well-written, and I like the idea. I don't know if it has the originality to stand out in a pile of Percy Jackson look-alike queries though. The idea that he has a latent power that could kill him and injure others is what I think makes your story different, and I'd like to see that fleshed out more here. It sounds like that is the crux of your story -> special boy, special powers. We've got the boy front and center, so now let's get those powers out in front instead of buried in the third para. I also feel like I need to know more about his circumstances - Why does he not want to go to school? Was he home schooled? Is he bullied? Is he odd? Does he fit in in the real world at all? Do his parents know what his deal is? And what's the story with Tamara? Is she in his age range or older? Is there a romance at work here?

Yeah, that seems like a lot of info to jam into a query, but it's the kind of information you need to bring clarity and originality out into the open. As it stands right now the plot sounds interesting, the underground setting is unique, and the power that could harm him when he wields it. So bring those elements out, make them your centerpiece so that the points that make your book different from every other "special kid with power to save the world" book.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Book Talk - AKATA WITCH by Nnedi Okorafor

AKATA WITCH is one of those books that makes you realize you've been viewing everything through Harry Potter tinted glasses for awhile.  I'm going to say that up front because once I start explaining the plot you'll think, "Oh, Harry Potter set in Nigeria, I get it." To which I'd have to say, "Uh, that's like saying GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is James Patterson set in Sweden." What's the difference? Voice distinctions and cultural framework.

Sunny is an albino Nigerian who was born in New York City. When her parents return to their home country Sunny doesn't fit in for a lot of reasons. 1) She's an albino 2) She's perceived as an American and 3) She keeps seeing the end of the world inside candle flames.

Sunny is smart enough to keep this information to herself, but her odd qualities draw the attention of Orlu and Chichi, fellow students at her public school who are Leopard People (magical folk) and suspect Sunny may be as well. Although years behind in training and study, Sunny is distinct even in the magical realm of Leopard Knocks. She's a "free agent," a Leopard person born of two non-magical parents.

And no, Leopard Knocks isn't Hogwarts. Not even close. Instead of flying around on broomsticks and throwing balls through hoops the adult champions of this magical realm fight each other to the death in a yearly entertainment spectacle. The winner is the winner, the loser is... a saint. And going to your next class isn't as simple as looking at your schedule and manipulating moving staircases. The path to their teacher's hut is a test in itself, one that could kill them if not traveled properly. This is a place where group work is rewarded by everyone surviving to the next day and your juju knife chooses you not by obeying your commands but by slicing your hand open when you reach into a bag.

So why are children being subjected to these tests? To drive them into a sacred bond, as they have been selected by fate to bring down a serial killer. Black Hat Otokoto has been kidnapping Nigerian children and returning them minus eyes and ears. He's gathering black magic to him in order to call up a dark spirit whose power will unleash the vision that Sunny has seen in the candles. Sunny has a limited amount of time to harness the power she's inherited through her Grandmother's spirit line to stop him from succeeding and bringing about the end of the world.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Thursday Thoughts - Library Style

I know I said that I wasn't going to be able to produce more thoughts until 2012, but it seems I'm not in control of my own brain. I love my job, and I know so few people that do. Just yesterday it provided more entertainment and internal commentary than the average circus. So my thoughts today are work-centric.

1) Now that news of my book deal has spread, the students have conferred super-hero powers upon me that I just don't have. They want me to contact authors much higher in the echelon than myself and encourage them to write books faster. They want me to "tell" major publishing houses to move pub dates forward. And lastly, they want me to put bugs in the ears of prominent authors on what exactly their next book should be about. I just tell them I'll get on that.

2) You know how your brain tends to meld things together into a bastardized form of what you're actually thinking about? Today I had a student asking me if SHIP BREAKER had come in yet, along with a kid who was looking for a biography of Sitting Bull. I won't repeat what I ended up saying at the circulation desk while talking to both of them at once, but I will give you the hint that it was craptacular.

3) Migraines have the ability to steal your soul. Migraines while processing books lead to very odd choices in cataloging. Like accidentally putting ATTACK OF THE MONSTER PLANTS in non-fiction. Which led to giggling. Which hurt my head.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

In Which I Share A Secret

I'm human, and not actually a cat. I know. Shocking, right?

In the theme of being human I'm not at all prepared for the rest of December, shopping, cleaning, decorating, bathing, being socially acceptable, etc. So the blog may suffer slightly because of my human qualities over the rest of the month while I focus on my year-end writing goal, which is to finish the WIP.

I've still got some great interviews lined up for you and also some book reviews coming down the pipe, but I might just be skimping out on the WOLF's, and the Thursday Thoughts probably won't be publishable until January.

Today I give you School Library Journal's top Non-Fiction picks for 2011. Check it out if you need to round out your Christmas list for any little readers in the fam.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A BBCHAT with Tina Wexler of ICM

Today BBCHAT continues! Bigblackcat's Humane Agent Talk: In Which A Particularly Agreeable Agent Answers a Series of Questions that Have Nothing to do with Queries or Submission Guidelines. Yeah, don't try to make an acronym out of that last bit.

The BBCHAT is designed to get the personality of the agent in the spotlight, and an enterprising querier can use this information to figure out if the agent is a good fit for them, rather than just another agent who happens to cover their genre.

The last question involves something that oddly resembles a contest, and ties in with the blog name. Note the rules: to participate you need to follow the blog (so include your screenname in the email so that I can identify you), and your answer must come in an email to me, not a post in the comments section. First person to email me with the correct answer wins. You'll notice the "email me" link above my followers box to the right. Or maybe you won't notice it. In which case, you'll be totally flummoxed. The handy-dandy Contact link on the bar above is helpful too.

Tina Wexler is a literary agent at ICM, representing authors in both the children’s and adult marketplace.  On the children's side, she’s interested in young adult and middle grade fiction, with a particular fondness for psychological thrillers, retold myths and legends, and gothic love stories. Current and forthcoming titles include FLIP by Martyn Bedford, CROAK by Gina Damico, OLIVIA BEAN, TRIVIA QUEEN by Donna Gephart, and BREADCRUMBS by Anne Ursu. She lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband and son.

Not only is Tina a powerhouse agent, she's also a super-awesome person who has volunteered to supply the lucky winner with A STACK of books. Yes, those are her words. A STACK of books. I think it's worth repeating: A STACK of books. Yeah, so my lovely lurkers - now is a good time to hit the Comment button (er, well, the email button).

BBC: What are you reading right now and why do you like it? 

TW: VIRTUOSITY by Jessica Martinez. I really like stories that grant me entry into a world previously unknown and unknowable to me, so this story about a brilliant violinist immediately pulled me in. I also love stories about teens who are the best at what they do, who feel the pressure to remain the best--and the lengths they will go to keep it that way. And I love love stories, the more complicated/conflicted the better, and this one starts the way the best often do—with insults and embarrassment!

BBC: Paper (books) or plastic (e-reader)? 
TW: Paper.

BBC: What's on your bucket list?
TW: [Blank stare. Fumbles for To Do list. Scribbles “Make bucket list.”]

BBC: Have you ever ridden a mechanical bull? 
TW: No, and just the thought makes me queasy. Also preemptively saying no to rollercoaster rides and revolving restaurants. (Why do these things need to exist?!)

BBC: What type of agent are you?
            a) Cheerleader
            b) Therapist
c) Bushwhacking Guide 
            d) Red Ink Saturation Committee Member

TW: e) All of the above, at various times throughout the day.

BBC: If you had a guaranteed sell, what type of story would you like to represent?

TW: Oooh, this is a tricky question. And I’m already starting to over-think it so let me go with my first response before I get too in-my-head about it: I would sell that heartbreaker that’s impossible to summarize in one sentence, the one that normally would be passed on for being “too quiet.” The one where not a lot happens, even though so much happens, where, when you finish reading it, you have to sit quietly for a bit because you need to get your bearings. Because we--as readers and as people--sometimes need more “quiet.”

BBC: Tell me three things about yourself, one of them being a LIE!  First person to email me with the correct guess as to the lie gets... something awesome. 

TW: 1) I’ve always wanted curly hair.
        2) I don’t like musicals.
        3) I went to Italy on my honeymoon.

Monday, December 12, 2011

In Which You Experience Something Awesome

So I'm experiencing a complete and utter failure to come up with anything decent for an author photo. I complained about this on Twitter and one of my followers and AQers came up with a rather odd amalgamation of a pic of me, weapons, a crown, and the universe. My weekend has been a trail of those un-writerly times when the real world demands you pay attention to it, and so I've got nada for the blog today. And so you get me, on top of the world, packing heat and wearing a crown.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Saturday Slash

So, I opened up myself to critiquing queries, and quite a few of you said - "Yes! Me! I love it when other people jam their grimy fingers into my carefully polished words!

OK - my hands aren't actually grimy, but I don't make any promises about the cleanliness of my editing tool. Meet the BBC 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. And a little bit of BBC literary info.

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. Also, at the end, I'm going to tell you what I think your story is about, based on your query. I know how hard it is to get your ideas across succinctly, and how easy it is for your author's brain to fill in the blanks and not see the gaping holes that the average reader may very well fall into.

Also, for my brave Saturday Slash volunteers I will gladly do follow-up slashes (each more kindly than the next) on your query if you post them on the Query Critique board over on AgentQuery Connect. You'll get advice from me, and also people who are smarter than me. If you do post on AQ, be sure to follow the guidelines and let me know you posted so that I can follow up!

And now for our next brave soul. For clarity, my comments are in purple.

In 1952, San Angelo is a boy’s paradise providing ten-year-old, Allan, kill the commas surrounding Allan with endless adventure. But when his mother becomes ill, Allan discovers it’s not adventure echo here with "adventure." Try using "excitement" or something similar he longs for, but the gift of friendship. This is a pretty darn good hook. Other than the unnecessary commas (my own biggest sin).

Allan spends most of his days looking for adventures Here's the a-word again like riding down a 128 foot dam on his best friend, Raymond’s, handlebars, this is clunky b/c of the use of R's name. I think you can easily say "best friend's handlebars" and be fine surviving a ride on a bucking bronco, and winning the best Concho River storytelling contest while on a campout with his three friends.

San Angelo, where stories of Comanche Indian raids still permeate boys’ recess tales, has its share of quirky characters that provide some interesting escapades too, like John the rodeo rider with the glass eye, the lady barber whose mustache is only slightly more noticeable than her big orange hair, Mr. Franklin who has the gift of taming wasps, and Aunt Hope who teaches Allan to catch, kill, and fry up chickens and wrangle snakes. This paragraph is great and tells us a lot about the supporting cast, but I'm not learning about what is going to bring the MC around to his coming-of-age. How is he learning that he wants acceptance and friendship? If the people mentioned above are the catalyst to make that happen that's great, but it needs to be clear how they factor in to the plot arc, as opposed to being presented as interesting side-shows, which is how it feels as is.

RIDING THE DAM is an almost all true I'd kill the "almost all true" and simply present it as fiction to avoid confusion coming-of-age MG novel complete at 40,000 words. It’s a story about a boy’s perfect world that is changed when his mother becomes ill—knots in her lady parts is how the doctor puts it.  It’s a story about family, a perfect friendship, and growing up. This all feels like summary, and since we already covered specifics it doesn't work well - it's like watching preview after seeing the movie.

While this is the first novel I have written, I have twenty publications in peer-reviewed academic journals and professional magazines.  Currently, I am a school counselor with the largest school system in the Southeast. The boy in RIDING THE DAM is my father. Again, in my opinion I'd keep the "almost true" bits either off the paper, or sell it as an MG biography / memoir. I'm not sure that the published academic journals are going to be that impressive when we're talking fiction - but I would *definitely* play up the fact that you're a school counselor. The entire "coming of age" and MG psychology angle is exactly your area, so you need to hit hard on the fact that you know what you're talking about.

Weed out the unnecessary, and get the focus of the novel out there. We get that he wants to go find fun, and that's great - all boys do at that age. But we need to see how he comes to the self-discovery about wanting friendship, and how the supporting cast plays into that. Right now these two plot arcs are stated and set side by side, but the query isn't showing how they interact with each other. As far as the fiction vs. non-fiction, I'm honestly not sure what to tell you on that. My personal opinion would be that it's best pitched as fiction, and you have to be sure to change names, places, etc. Even though you may be saying perfectly nice things about the real people mentioned in the pages, their descendants (or they themselves) might not appreciate it. I don't know a lot about how those things work, so perhaps some of my followers can help in that arena.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Book Talk - THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE by Jandy Nelson

Indecisive female heroines tend to make me slap-happy. As in, I want to slap them. However, Lennie - the grieving main character of Jandy Nelson's moving THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE made me rethink this policy. Even though Lennie makes bad choices at times, the reader understands the thought process that leads her to them, and empathizes. That's a neat trick for a writer to pull, especially when the MC in question is indulging in spontaneous make-out sessions with her deceased sister's boyfriend.

What did I just say? Yeah, that's what I said. And guess what? Nelson sells Lennie's frame of mind so completely that while you want to scream at her, "No! No! Don't sabotage yourself like that!" another part of you is also gently saying, "Yeah. I totally understand."

Weeks after her older sister's death, Lennie's houseplant (so called because her eccentric family believes it is mystically tied to her own well-being) shows no signs of recuperating. In fact, it's getting worse. Lennie's room, previously shared with her sister Bailey, still has Bailey's dirty laundry in the basket, her clean clothes in the closet, and her cluttered desk remains untouched.

Lennie's mind won't let go of Bailey either. Although she will not open up to her family members (Gram - the local rose grower of magical love flowers and Uncle Big - pothead and mad scientist who attempts to resurrect dead houseflies) Lennie looks for release through writing poetry on trees, scraps of trash paper blowing in the wind, fast-food cups, and her own shoes. Her feelings are literally blowing around the town, and unbeknownst to her, being collected and cherished by the new kid in school; clarinet prodigy and super hot Joe Fontaine.

Even as charismatic and patient Joe wears away the protective covering around her scarred heart, Lennie finds herself entangled with Toby - Bailey's grief-stricken and attractive boyfriend. Their shared love of Bailey erupts into passion for each other that Lennie doesn't understand, and though her mind tells her that it's wrong, she can't always control her emotions when Toby is around.

THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE is an amazing story of self-discovery, and the love triangle is only the first layer. Lennie is dealing not only with the death of her sister, but also some realizations that come crashing down upon delving into Bailey's desk regarding the truth about the enigmatic mother who abandoned the girls when they were only children.

Lennie has lived in Bailey's shadow for so long, it seems she doesn't know what to be when she is no longer Bailey's Little Sister, but simply Lennie.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Thursday Thoughts

I have a roving mind. I'm sure that's a shock to everyone. Through the course of each week I tend to accumulate random wonderings in my mind, most of which never evolve into anything other than a niggling question that's going to bother me until I 1) ask someone who knows or 2) go find the answer myself.

Thoughts lately:

1) Most people have a TBR pile. I have a TBR room. Yes, ChezBBC has its own library, and it's stocked (or is that stacked?) I know the librarians are laughing right now... In any case, I have to wonder if I've got the lifespan to read all of them. Is there some kind of program I can use to figure out my reading rate, number of pages in each book, and my life expectancy?

2) When people tell me not to do something I've got to try it at least once to see if they're right. Canning on a smooth stovetop? I got away with it... until last night. Yep. Thought it was a gunshot. In retrospect, my action of running towards the noise was not incredibly intelligent.

3) Actually, once I thought about it, I have a long history of moving in the direction of perceived danger. I think it has something to do with my inability to handle anticipation. However, if the trend continues I imagine it will have an impact on my imaginative algorithm from Thought 1.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

SAT with WANT TO GO PRIVATE? Author Sarah Darer Littman

It's time for another SAT (Successful Author Talk)! Today's guest is Sarah Darer Littman, author of WANT TO GO PRIVATE? which I reviewed here. WTGP? has had such a profound effect on the students here in my library that I wanted to open up this SAT a little more, and get into the bones of what drove Sarah to write about such an emotional topic.

BBC: WANT TO GO PRIVATE? deals with a sensitive issue - sexual predators online. Why did you choose to write this story?

SDL: I was actually trying to write a completely different book when I heard Supervisory Special Agent Tom Lawler of the FBI’s New Haven Office speak about Internet Safety at my son’s school two years ago. But I was already extremely aware how many parents are flying blind when it comes to their kids’ online activities, and how easy it is for young people to make mistakes that have lasting and far-reaching consequences.

After SSA Lawler's presentation, he told me about a case in CT where a girl had left with a predator. Fortunately, her mom was a reasonably clued up parent and had the passwords to the girl’s accounts, so they were able to figure out what had happened pretty quickly, but even so, by the time she and the predator were apprehended they'd almost reached the Canadian border. What struck me most – and what inspired me to write WANT TO GO PRIVATE? – was her reaction when the police apprehended the predator. It wasn’t “Thank heavens you’ve rescued me”, but rather “Don’t hurt him!”

As soon as I heard that, I turned to SSA Lawler and said, “That is the book.” Kids today have been getting Internet Safety training since elementary school, and this girl’s mother was obviously clued up enough to have the passwords to her account, so I imagine there had been discussions in the home. How then, did she travel from having had all those warnings to the point of “Don’t hurt him!”?

That question wouldn’t leave me alone.  It pursued me and nagged me until I called my agent and said, “I need to write this book.” Fortunately, Jen Rees, my wonderful editor at Scholastic, was extremely supportive, so I was able to start the research that would help me find the answer that question and thus tell Abby's story.

BBC: What kind of sources did you use for your research? At any point was it too emotionally difficult for you to push forward?

SDL: I was very fortunate to be able to get permission to work with the New Haven Office of the FBI for my research. I also consulted with detectives at my local police department in Greenwich, a friend of mine who is a well-known expert on pedophiles, and read extensive research on the topic. I found it extremely difficult at times, both doing the research and writing some of the scenes. The most difficult scene for me to write was one of which only a fraction appears in the book. When I sent the book to my editor, one of the notes in the editorial letter was that it seemed like Abby and Luke only went on a car ride together. I realized that subconsciously, I really didn't want to know what had happened to Abby. As a victim of childhood sexual abuse myself, it was extremely painful to think about, like picking a scab off a wound that I thought had healed. But to do justice to Abby's story, I had to open the door to that motel room and look inside. When I tried at first, I started having really bad nightmares and had to stop. But then I got to the point in revisions when I had to do it in order to continue. It was one of the most difficult writing days I've ever had.

BBC: Some of the scenes in WTGP are very disturbing, yet necessary for the message. How did you decide where the line was drawn in terms of your audience?

SDL: I wrote the first draft without too much thought to language, because allowing an internal censor can be crippling. But before I sent it to my editor, and then with every single subsequent edit, I thought about every single word. Literally. I had friends of mine, an 8th grade media specialist and an 8th grade language arts teacher (who are now immortalized as Officer Ball and Office Domuracki) read early drafts for language and content. Karen Ball highlighted every single swear for me:



I went through and cut out as many as I possibly could - only keeping the ones that I felt were necessary in terms of the story. I do feel that I achieved this, because while most of the reviews mention the graphic nature of some of the scenes, I don't think there are any reviews that have said that I've used graphic language gratuitously.

The bottom line is that real predators get very dirty very quickly. I tried to focus more on the seduction angle of the relationship between Luke and Abby in order to minimize the content, but let's face it, you can't write a realistic book about the grooming process without some language and content. My view is that it's crazy to say "we shouldn't let our kids read this book because of the language and sexual content" while we're letting them loose on the Internet. The letters I'm getting from readers who have already had experiences with predators and tell me how much they relate to the book, some as young as 12 - bear out the danger of the denial strategy.

BBC: The website that Abby meets her attacker on is www.chezteen.com which is a real website devoted to educating teens about internet safety. Where did this stroke of genius come from?

SDL: *blushes* Well, thank you for calling it a stroke of genius : ) I actually registered the url as I was writing the first draft of the book with the thought that I would make it into an Internet Safety site. I knew that the first  thing I would do if I were reading the book as a teen would be to go check out the website to see if it was a real site. YA authors still have a very strong inner teen - that's how we write with a teen voice.  So I wanted to make sure I owned the site and could use it for a positive purpose. I'd hoped to make it into a discussion site but unfortunately that would take more time and money than I have available.

BBC: One of the most compelling things about WTGP is that Abby is a booksmart girl from a fairly normal home. What motivated you to place such a character in this situation?

SDL: An FBI agent who did a presentation sponsored by the Greenwich Penwomen talked about a common misconception that the kids who are taken in by predators are only "bad" kids with "bad" parents. I think so many kids hear the Internet Safety talks at school and think, "That wouldn't happen to me, I'd never be that stupid". But there's a big difference between academic intelligence and emotional maturity, which takes longer to develop.

So I wanted Abby to be academically smart and "a good kid" and her parents to decent people, but like many parents, busy and distracted because they both work and don't always have the downtime to just sit and allow the conversations to happen.

A huge thanks to Sarah for coming onto the blog today and sharing the process involved in this powerful novel! If you haven't read it, put it on your TBR pile.

Monday, December 5, 2011

How Waxing Your Eyebrows Is Like Editing

Waxing doesn't feel good. Neither does editing. But don't you feel improved when they're both done?

I'm blessed with a head of dark Irish hair, which is great until my eyebrows start trying to mate with my hairline. Eyebrows are kind of like those support words we use in our writing - a less kind phrase would be "crutch words." Those words don't seem so bad at a glance. They're like that one little hair that escaped you and is hovering off by itself to the left of where you actually wanted your eyebrow to end.

But then the little follicles spot that solitary solider, and they send out a rescue party. Pretty soon you've got scouts going out to check the terrain. They report that it's okay, so the recovery team goes out and you know what? It's actually pretty comfortable out there. So they stay. And then the commanding officers think they might as well fill out the ranks and pretty soon the entire army has reappeared, marching right out across your face like the wax never happened.

Letting your brain get comfortable with using the crutch words is a dangerous business that leads to a manuscript in desperate need of a slashing. Or a waxing, as I've taken to thinking of it.

I'm very aware of what my crutch words are - just, then, that. Those are four-letter words to me in more ways than one. So how do you identify your own crutches? There's a great free tool to help you out.

Wordle can be incredibly useful in your editing process. It creates a word cloud based on the text that you paste in. Here's what Wordle made for me, based on the first 20 pages of NOT A DROP TO DRINK:


I'm pretty happy with that. Not only are my main characters prominent, but if you look at the larger (more occurring) words you can get an idea of what the book is about, even if you haven't read my query. Even better, I don't see my crutch words in there. That means I did a good job of rooting them out. 

Give Wordle a shake and see if it can help you identify your crutch words, then pour the self-editing wax on and rip 'em out by their roots.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Saturday Slash

So, I opened up myself to critiquing queries, and quite a few of you said - "Yes! Me! I love it when other people jam their grimy fingers into my carefully polished words!

OK - my hands aren't actually grimy, but I don't make any promises about the cleanliness of my editing tool. Meet the BBC 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. And a little bit of BBC literary info.

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. Also, at the end, I'm going to tell you what I think your story is about, based on your query. I know how hard it is to get your ideas across succinctly, and how easy it is for your author's brain to fill in the blanks and not see the gaping holes that the average reader may very well fall into.

Also, for my brave Saturday Slash volunteers I will gladly do follow-up slashes (each more kindly than the next) on your query if you post them on the Query Critique board over on AgentQuery Connect. You'll get advice from me, and also people who are smarter than me. If you do post on AQ, be sure to follow the guidelines and let me know you posted so that I can follow up!

And now for our next brave soul. For clarity, my comments are in purple.

Although she was raised human, Rena has a destiny to be the vampire queen bringing her face-to-face with a rogue vampire hell-bent on taking her royal blood as a means to gain unimaginable powers. First of all, the hook is one long sentence. It'd be easy to bust up. But as hooks go, it's already raising questions. So she was raised human but isn't actually? I have to admit to not knowing enough about what's out there in terms of already existing vampire lit to know how original this is, but I'm guessing right now you've got to be REALLY freaking original to get interest in a vampire query. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, I'm just saying it seems like a tough sell.

Never in a trillion years did Rena think vampires were real, or that becoming one flowed in her veins Not sure if this sentence actually works... it feels clunky. Then Rena spots Cryder at school: the drop-dead sexy new student that she's been dreaming about, literally. He's her vampire king, her blood-mate, and they are rightful heirs to the throne. The two must band together to end the rogue's vampire plan, but there is a twist. I feel like you need a better way to to say this other than "there's a twist." It sounds more like you saying directly to the agent, "Get this twist!" rather than it fitting organically into the query. Rena learns they must drink each others blood and in doing so awaken latent powers. Interesting, this seems original to me, but again, I'm not that familiar with the vamp lit. The crazed vampire, Bristol, demands Rena's royal blood; if she doesn't deliver, he will expose the true existence of vampires to humans and kill everyone she loves. Hmm... that seems like a pretty odd plan, considering he's a vampire too. Why isn't just killing everyone she loves good enough of a threat?

Rena has only months Months seems like a long time, for the plot. In real life, sure, I'd need a couple months to accept that, but in fiction it doesn't feel like it's adding a lot of urgency to the plot. to accept she is a vampire before all hope is lost. In order to save her loved ones and keep the vampire race's secrets safe, she must fight her own doubts This is the first indication that perhaps she doesn't want to be a vampire, or doesn't think she's capable of being the Queen. Earlier you mentioned that she didn't necessarily believe in them, but that's the only kind of doubting that's been mentioned. and truly let herself become queen.

I feel like I can't give you a really decent crit on this one because what's going to be imperative is distinguishing yourself from every other vampire novel already out there, not to mention the unpublished millions that have probably been crossing their desks in the past years. What I *can* say is that it feels like the crux of the novel is around Rena's choice - does she, or does she not want to / feel that she is capable of being the Vampire Queen? There's romance here, but no triangle (hey, that's just fine!) but again that's not the focus of the novel, it's the choice that's the key - or at least that's the impression I get after reading the sinker. And we don't get to that idea until the last line.  Also, let's talk about these humans that she loves. Does she have a human family? Why was she raised human in the first place? Did her vampire "parents" hide her with humans? Was she in some kind of danger?

Reaching out to my readers, since they might know a lot more about vamp lit! Does the premise stand out to you?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Book Talk - WANT TO GO PRIVATE? by Sarah Darer Littman

Before you get your BBC Book Review of the week you need to know (you *really* need to know!) that I'm up over at From the Write Angle blogging about those very special people in our lives. Betas.

Most of my followers undoubtedly realize that I tend to read Sci-Fi and Fantasy of varying degrees, magical realism, urban fantasy, steampunk - whatever YA feels like throwing itself at me in the moment. A contemporary title has to have something special to get my attention, a degree of realism and depth of character that I can relate to. WANT TO GO PRIVATE? by Sarah Darer Littman delivers on all these levels with a punch that leaves the reader contemplating going offline - forever.

So many contemporary books take the average teen and put them in situations to prove that they are anything but. I felt that WTGP did the opposite. Instead Littman chose an exemplary student - Abby, the highly intelligent yet socially unsure incoming high school freshman - and showed that the phrase "It Can't Happen To Me" isn't applicable to anyone.

Abby feels the pressure of being "the smart girl" the second that an attractive upper classmen asks if he can copy her homework in class. She complies, only to be swiftly overshadowed by the better-looking popular girl to his right. That same afternoon, she fails to follow alongside her longtime best-friend when she faints from stage-fright during play tryouts.

Her little sister is popular and cool, while Abby operates on the nerd side of society. Dad constantly works late. Mom has a career of her own and is divided between two children, a household, and a marriage that needs more time than it's getting.

So when Abby meets Luke in a teen chat room, she's starved for attention. He says all the right things, knows what she's thinking and asks how she's feeling. She's a smart girl who knows about the danger of online predators, but he seems to genuinely care about her. As their relationship deepens and her schoolwork suffers as she stays up late to talk with him, Abby questions her own actions. But he's in the computer - it's not like he can actually hurt her, right?

Until she goes private with him.
Until she turns on the webcam.
Until he sends her a cell phone.
Until she agrees to meet him.
Until she gets into his car.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Thursday Thoughts

I have a roving mind. I'm sure that's a shock to everyone. Through the course of each week I tend to accumulate random wonderings in my mind, most of which never evolve into anything other than a niggling question that's going to bother me until I 1) ask someone who knows or 2) go find the answer myself.

Thoughts lately:

1) There's a basic misunderstanding about libraries and bookstores. We're not arranged the same way. So, for example, when a kid walks in and asks me where they mystery section is, I kind of want to stab myself in the face.

2) Smart people do really stupid things sometimes. I was cooking and freezing pumpkins this weekend and realized after putting the pumpkin in the Pyrex and the Pyrex in the oven that I hadn't added the water in the pan. I like to do things the right way, so I added the water. Yeah. Even as I heard the shattering that preceded the POP of the pan exploding (inside the oven and right in front of my face, btw) I thought to myself; "Huh, what I just did was really stupid. I even understand the science of why this is about to-" KA-BLAM!

3) If you accidentally search for "pumpkings" instead of "pumpkins" it will really skew your Google results.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

An SAT with INCARNATE Author Jodi Meadows

I'm lucky (or cunning) enough to have lured yet another successful writer over to my blog for an SAT - Successful Author Talk. In this case I snagged my editor-sister (hooray!) and internet omnipresence Jodi Meadows. Jodi's debut YA novel, INCARNATE will be available from Harper Collins / Katherine Tegen on January 31, 2012.

BBC: INCARNATE is about Ana, a new soul in a world where everyone is reincarnated. Did you do a lot of research on reincarnation in order to write it?

JM: I did a little research on reincarnation in various cultures and to see what type of reincarnation books are already out there, but I came to the story with a very clear idea of the world I wanted to write about. And because it was the entire society being reincarnated, I had to consider a lot of the potential consequences and drawbacks, too.
As a result, I did a TON of daydreaming about the way the society might work around these problems. (Jobs, laws/punishment, inbreeding, etc...) Lots of the worldbuilding won't find its way into the story for lack of relevance and room, but I did try to leave little clues throughout. For example, they are *fierce* about keeping track of genealogies, and no one has siblings!

BBC: You've described Ana's personality as "prickly." What made you decide to create an MC that might not be the type you crush to your bosom in a soul-hug five minutes after meeting?

JM: Ana's personality came from the way she was raised. As the only new person, she was viewed not as special, but a bad omen. She replaced one of the old souls! Understandably, many (including Ana's mother) were afraid of what that might mean for their existence, and frightened people aren't always very nice.
Ana is an abuse victim. Her mother abused her emotionally and physically, and while Ana has managed to hang on to a little innocence and hopefulness, she's defensive and untrusting. She doesn't read people very well (like spoken language, body language is something you learn by immersion), and until she meets people who *don't* hate her like her mother does, she tends to assume everyone is out to get her.
I do hope people like Ana -- she's a good girl, overall -- but I also really hope they understand her.

BBC: You're very active online, including your own site, Twitter, and the amount of time you donate over on Authoress' blog - Miss Snark's First Victim - to help aspiring writer's attain their goals. Do you believe having an online presence helps boost your readership? Do you recommend aspiring writers begin an online platform before, during, or after the agent/editor hunt?

JM: In some ways, yes. It definitely didn't hurt to have a relatively popular blog and Twitter feed before my deal, but I don't think it's necessary for success, either. Hanging out on social media and helping with Authoress's blog occasionally is something I enjoy doing. If I didn't enjoy it, I definitely wouldn't bother because it can be pretty time consuming!
For authors looking at jumping into social media, I'd say start when you're ready (and only if you want to). You can't have an audience too soon, and if you have a popular blog or Twitter, your agent may use that as a selling point. "Look, she comes with an audience!"
The only other reminder I'd give is to remember your "audience" is made up of people. Treat them like friends, not potential buyers.

BBC: Who is your agent and how did you land her?

JM: My agent is the smart and lovely Lauren MacLeod (@bostonbookgirl on Twitter). I got her the old fashioned way: I developed a major agent crush with her on Twitter, queried, sent her manuscripts, and kept trying until she said yes.
Now we do normal agent/author things together, like holding baby tigers. Wait, that *is* normal, right?

BBC: You blog, tweet, knit, raise ferrets, and write. Any time management tips for writers?

JM: Give up sleep.
To be serious (sort of), I'm in the very lucky position of not having another job, so I can write full time. I also don't have kids, the ferrets sleep 15-18 hours a day, and my husband goes to work. This leaves me with lots of time to create and destroy worlds with my brain.
I've had to learn very little time management so far. I'm driven to write, and I will work hard to meet deadlines. Occasionally I have to prioritize things, and I try to get to emails and other obligations quickly so they don't pile up, but writing always comes first.

Monday, November 28, 2011

There's A Monster Under My Bed

No really, there is.

It's a trunked ms, and it's like an ex-boyfriend that you know has serious issues, but he's got a great voice so you keep taking his calls. Yeah, it's like that.

So my goal for this Thanksgiving break was to give that monster ex-boyfriend an attitude adjustment, make him see his wrongdoings and wrangle him into good shape. In other words, he graduated from under the bed to in the bed. But don't misinterpret that last bit; it's where I do my writing. :)

This particular ms was suffering from some tense issues. Every now and then my 1st POV narrator wanted to slip into present tense while speaking about the past. I call it The Wonder Years Syndrome. In my head, it worked. But every one of my betas was like, "Dude, you've got a tense issue here." And I was like, "No, it's The Wonder Years Syndrome." But that never seemed to be a sufficient explanation.

And after leaving Monster Ex-Boyfriend under the bed for a year I have to admit, that yeah - it doesn't work. Betas are good people. Mine are very patient on top of that.

Hopefully my tough love knock-down drag-out did the trick. Awaiting feedback...

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Saturday Slash

So, I opened up myself to critiquing queries, and quite a few of you said - "Yes! Me! I love it when other people jam their grimy fingers into my carefully polished words!"

OK - my hands aren't actually grimy, but I don't make any promises about the cleanliness of my editing tool. Meet the BBC 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. And a little bit of BBC literary info.

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. Also, at the end, I'm going to tell you what I think your story is about, based on your query. I know how hard it is to get your ideas across succinctly, and how easy it is for your author's brain to fill in the blanks and not see the gaping holes that the average reader may very well fall into.

Also, for my brave Saturday Slash volunteers I will gladly do follow-up slashes (each more kindly than the next) on your query if you post them on the Query Critique board over on AgentQuery Connect. You'll get advice from me, and also people who are smarter than me. If you do post on AQ, be sure to follow the guidelines and let me know you posted so that I can follow up!

And now for our next brave soul. For clarity, my comments are in purple.

Sometimes you have to freeze everyone out. . . to avoid getting burned. Not a bad hook. It doesn't tell me a lot about what the story could be about, but I'm interested enough to keep going.

Sydney knows how horrible the foster system is. She’s been in it for seven years, thanks to her mom, a crack-smoking prostitute. I feel like this isn't important to the query. All we need to know is that the MC is in foster care, not why. The why would be useful in a synopsis, but I don't think it has a place here. Now it’s time to move on to her seventh family, the Claytons. Sydney knows immediately that she won’t fit in with their extravagant life and the spoiled stuck-up Brooke. I assume that Brooke is the daughter of the family but that isn't made completely clear here. I also think that we need some spice in this para to differentiate your book from other YA titles. How has the foster system been horrible to Sydney? Why is she on her seventh family? Is it her, or is it them? I need something here to connect me to that "frozen" idea from the hook, too. Right now I get that she knows she won't like the Clayton's, but it seems like it's a socio-economic thing rather than a personality quirk of the MC.

Sydney refuses to get close to anybody, here we're getting somewhere, that it's a choice on the MC's part. Get this in here sooner. including Brooke’s best friend Got an echo there with friend and befriend Dani, who tries to befriend her. She resents the snobby kids, especially Brooke’s boyfriend Corbin, who flirts with Sydney—much to Brooke’s dismay. Gah! Stock phrase! Kill it! Corbin is just like all the other overprivileged kids; but he’s hot and Sydney can’t help but be attracted to him, even as she hates him. Good, here we've got some internal struggles that are going to help differentiate your book. Get to this sooner, and capitalize on it. 

After discovering that Brooke and Corbin’s relationship is a sham Meh? How's it a sham? Is Brooke gay?, Sydney begins to learn that the perfect kids are not so perfect and that even Corbin has his secrets Like what? Is he a serial killer? Corbin likes Sydney, but Brooke refuses to let him go Why? Just 'cause she's a bitch and doesn't want to see our MC happy?. Even if Brooke breaks up with Corbin, Sydney doubts it will ever work with him. He’s the popular, rich kid and she’s the daughter of a crack whore. There you go, see, you can slip the crack-whore in here (the things you find yourself saying...) And really… if her own mom had given up on life… had given up on Sydney, how could anyone else ever truly love her? Aha! Not a bad sinker there. We've definitely got internal conflict like crazy, with her own feelings for Corbin, and her feelings about herself. Very nice.

I feel like you've got a great hook and sinker going on, but the meat in between needs some trimming and rearranging. The main idea here is that we've got an MC with serious self-acceptance issues that lead to her protecting herself by freezing out the rest of the world. Get that out there sooner, and more vividly. Even your title is about the chip on her shoulder, so turn it into a boulder that you can throw to get some attention. I also think the mention of Dani needs to go, as she's only mentioned once and tends to clutter up the query. If you get across the idea that Sydney is cold early on, you don't need the example of Dani. Focus on the screwed-up love triangle of the sham relationship, and explain why it's a sham. I feel like not knowing the answer to that is a tease, and a query shouldn't be a vehicle for a tease. Also, the idea that Corbin has secrets (I read this as layers) needs to be capitalized on as the moment where our MC begins to thaw towards him as an individual, yet the problem of her own self-acceptance still stands in the way.

Overall, not bad. Shape it up and get the important details out there where they can get the attention!

Jump in, my followers! Let our brave volunteer know what you think!