Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Art of the Query and Other Bits of the Biz

First Impressions



First impressions are so important.

A GOOD first impression might be...

Bringing your new math teacher a box of chocolate on the first day of school (ahem… hint hint)

An example of a BAD first impression:

Throwing up in the front seat of new guy’s truck on the first date

People tend to be more forgiving if you slack after making a good first impression. But it’s really hard to recover from a bad one.

As I rolled in for the South Carolina Writers Workshop Conference in Myrtle Beach this past weekend, I had “first impressions” on the brain. In writing my latest novel, I knew that I needed to start off with a bang. Hook my reader immediately. Make that good first impression.

And I wasn’t sure if my first pages were compelling enough, soooo I chose “Let’s Roll up Our Sleeves: An Intensive Look at Two of Your Pages” as my first workshop of the day. Suzie Townsend of Fine Print Literary discussed the essentials that should fill your first two pages.

She said the main purpose of the first two pages is to hook the reader. And if you can hook the reader in the first line? Bo-nus.

What exactly does your hook need?

1) needs to establish character and voice
2) needs to establish conflict and move the story forward
3) needs to establish the tone of your novel
4) needs to give some indication of the setting

She went on to talk about the goals of the first two pages (going beyond the hook!) and said the first two pages should

a) create interest in the character and the plot
b) create a sense of intrigue (oooooh!)
c) create investment

And then she gave some amazeballs examples of some truly compelling openings. Like this one from You by Charles Benoit…

You’re surprised at all the blood.
He looks over at you, eyes wide, mouth dropping open, his face almost as white as his shirt.
He’s surprised too.
There’s not a lot of broken glass, though, just some tiny slivers around his feet and one big piece busted into sharp peaks like a spiking line graph, the blood washing down it like rain on a windshield.
He doesn’t say anything clever or funny, doesn’t quote Shakespeare, he just screams. But no one can hear him, and it would be too late if they could.
You’re thinking, this wasn’t the way it was supposed to go, this shouldn’t be happening. And now things are only going to get worse.
You’re just a kid.
It can’t be your fault.
But then there’s all that blood.
So, maybe it is your fault, but that doesn’t make things any better.
And it doesn’t matter one way or the other.
Think.
When did it go wrong?
The break-in?
No, before that.


Hoo boy. Must. Buy. Now.

And if you’re a writer, struggling with your first pages, Suzie Townsend suggested other books as great examples of novels that make great first impressions.

Like….

The Electric Church by Jeff Somers
Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell
Halfway to the Grave by Jeaniene Frost
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

She offered quite a few others, but if you’re a voracious reader who would lock yourself away for two years to even just make a dent in your extensive reading list (like me), then you may not want me to keep going.

The workshop definitely carved a fabulous impression in me… I learned A LOT and it gave me a sort of checklist of things I need to accomplish in my first two pages.

And maybe I can make that awesome first impression… draw in my reader… so maybe they’ll be on the edge of their seat, yearning to know what happens. Never wanting to put my book down.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Wow

So I just got back from Myrtle Beach and the South Carolina Writers’ Workshop Conference and I can sum up that baby in one word:

A-mazing!

I attended a plethora of fabulous workshops, met a lot of really cool people, and ate way too much fabulous food (PS – hitting the elliptical to-night). I received highly insightful feedback on my query and my book and hob-nobbed with agents, editors, authors… and the most fantabulous writers.

And—bonus—somebody wants to see my book. Yeah—like the whole thing.




Um… just a little stoked here.

I won’t regale all the nitty-gritties about the conference now, but throughout the week (while polishing my manuscript) I’ll share some of the tips I learned and talk a teensy more about my experiences.

But since I haven’t seen my kids or my husband for a few days, I’m going to say adios for now. Toodles. TTYL.

Okay—you get it—I’m out.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

NaNoWriMo

Guess what I'm doing in November?






I just registered today and I am sooooo excited!!!

NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. The challenge is to write 50,000 words—a 175-page novel in 30 days. Um... that's an average of 1667 words per day. WOW!

It is unedited writing (save the editing for December!) and is supposed to be a novel from scratch, but whatever. I’m going to use NanoWrimo to FINISH the novel I started in September. Or at least I’m going to try.

Will def be a gihugic challenge, but I’ll be writing. Which I absolutely, positively love to do. And last year I used a similar program to finish my most recent novel.

So who’s with me? If you need more info or if you want to register, click here.

Come on. Check it out! Who knows… you could just be the next fresh-off-the-presses debut novelist!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Funked Up



Funk.


What exactly is funk?


Some web definitions: a dejected mood, a severe state of depression



Well... that pretty much describes my October.



Huh?



I mean, I'm a humongo fan of fall, football, and Halloween, so October should be, like, the best month of the year, right?

Wrong.

Year after year, Shocktober blows in like a hurricane, bringing with it a full month of school (yeah—thanks Tropical Storm Nicole), a butt-load of work, report cards to issue, a gazillion places to go for soccer, dance, and everything in between, and it’s the LONGEST freaking month so stretching my paycheck to month’s end ranks up there with some of the most formidable challenges from Survivor.

Well, far be it from this year to be any different—I spent the entire past week trying to keep my head above water from the ocean of paperwork waving over me and headed into my weekend with six research papers to edit, my own MATH papers to grade, grad school reading, a query letter to finish (shoot me now), reference letters to write. Oh wait—I forgot I’m a mom and just might want to spend a little time with my family. AND I missed my tap class TWO weeks in a row.

And because of all the stuff I have to do, I’m left with very little time to do the thing I love the most—write.

Needless to say, last week I fell into a deep, dark funk.

And after trudging through half my workload, still feeling down in the dumps, I figured I had three options on how to avoid getting totally funked up:

1) Sleep for the next three days
2) Down that bottle of wine enticing me from its spot on the kitchen counter
3) Or I could write

Fortunately for you, my dear blog readers, I did not choose option two; otherwise, I’m sure this blog post would’ve looked like this:

Ow we wanmt tjhe funkkkk
Goive upp the fumk
owwe ened thes funhk
gotttsa hahfe that ffunjk



Instead, I closed the door on reality and held hands with my netbook. And wrote. And wrote some more. Four thousand words later I emerged from my weekend feeling renewed, rejuvenated—totally de-funked yet amazingly funky.





According to the fabulous Will Schuster from Glee, “funk” is soul meets anger. It’s passion is in its emotion. And dude--that was so me this weekend. I channeled my anger, depression, passion—all my funk into something completely funky fresh. And I wrote some pretty awesome stuff.

Those depressing times can be when writers pen their most poignant words, when an artist creates a profound and inspiring masterpiece. It's when singers bang out those a-maz-ing ballads. And actors bring incredible, believable life to their roles.

While I don't look to stay in a funk forever, I do find that when I'm angry, when I'm sad... my soul pours into my characters and brings them to LIFE. I write furiously and with HEART. And I crank out some of the best stuff I've written in weeks.

Praise the Lord I’m not a soulless automaton.

So bring on da’ funk. I want the funk. Take me to funky town.




Cause when I’m in a funk, I go to my happy place for a while. And it’s a pretty funky place to be.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Fantastic Lines



I anticipate the new season of So You Think You Can Dance like a trip to Disney. It’s magical. It’s exciting. And at times it’s hot, hot, hot. And while Disney may promise me long lines, SYTYCD often features “fantastic lines”.

Every week there’s a Nigel Lithgow or a Mia Michaels comment about someone having “great lines”, “fantastic lines”. I hear that and I know they are a beautiful technical dancer, but really. What exactly is a “great line”?

A good line is absolutely indispensable to the classical dancer. A dancer is said to have a good or bad sense of line according to the arrangement of head, body, legs and arms in a pose or movement.

A great line stretches through a dancer’s fingertips and toes.

And a fantastic line exemplifies an ethereal grace that makes me run to my computer and update my facebook status with “A-mazing”.

Soooo—as I watched Glee the other night (PS—awe-some) and Schuster challenged the group to perform a perfect duet for the chance to win a dinner for two at Breadsticks, Kurt decided he’d sing by himself. And snarky cheerleading witch Santana retorts with

“How can you do a duet by yourself? Isn’t that like vocal masturbation?”






Now that was a fantastic line.

And after I cleaned up the Diet Coke that had spewed out my nose, I thought about fantastic lines in novels. In television and movies. In songs. How a fantastic line can totally make a movie for me. How cleverly executed dialogue makes me not want to put a book down.

And then I thought about… what makes a line “fantastic”?

Well, there are the classics:

“Here’s lookin’ at you, kid.”

“Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

Or those lines that break my heart as it’s breaking Heath’s of House of Night:

"Last time I saw you, I said that it hurt too much to love you. But I was wrong about that. The truth is it hurts too much not to love you.”

Or it could be a powerful opener:

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. (1984—George Orwell)

Yep - lines we never forget. But what makes the line epic? What makes it unforgettable?

For some people, it’s the poignancy of the words or the timeless beauty in them. The line may be something many people connect to. Or maybe two ill-fated words that take your breath away.

For me—the most epic lines and the ones that tend to stick with me—are the funny ones. The LOL, pee-my-pants moments in a book or movie that leave me laughing for days. Like Ron Weasley’s attempts at talking to Harry on a telephone in the Goblet of Fire. Or Alan’s wolf pack speech in the Hangover.

Here are just a few more of my favorites:

• Does Barry Manilow know that you raid his wardrobe? (Bender—The Breakfast Club)

• Without rules, we all might as well be up in a tree flinging our crap at each other. (Red Forman—That ‘70s Show)

• Gazzy:"What does that mean?" (points to sign saying Stay off third rail)
Fang:" It means the third rail has seven hundred volts of direct current running through it. Touch it and you're human popcorn” (Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment)

• “Because you are the superhero fledgling. I’m just your more attractive sidekick. Oh, and the herd of nerd are your dorky minions." (Aphrodite: House of Night)

• I just like to smile! Smiling's my favorite. (Buddy—Elf)

Rachel Hawkins, author of Hex Hall, recently discussed “Bringing the Funny” at the Writeoncon kidlit online conference this summer. She said, “I never set out to write funny.” She wanted to write a dark mystery, but then she wrote a character’s impression of her new creepy boarding school.

“Awesome. I always wondered what it would be like to live in someone’s mouth.”

And, well, she delivered "funny".

That’s how it is with me. On a daily basis, I can be snarkier than Alex Russo and as corny as Wayne and Garth (sch-wing!). But I ne-ver see myself as funny. I mean, I write stuff that has me stifling a giggle or two, but I don’t particularly think it’s that funny and I certainly don’t set out to write that way.

And yet, my betas comment with frequent “LOVE!” or “Bahahahaha”. One agent, upon rejecting my story, commented on my funny and feisty narrator and added, “The supporting cast is just as lively and funny as Jamie.”

So here’s a little of my funny… (from Mind Rants of a Teenage Superhero—Jamie, recuperating from a blow to the head, realizes she got hit by a spirit flag)

I spent half the night worried about getting body slammed to the ground by a two hundred pound linebacker. Instead, I get pummeled by Yolanda’s death stick. Nice.


So I’ll keep bringing the funny.

Cause for me, funny delivers a most fantastic line.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

On Rejection


I’m not going to lie… rejection—well, it SUCKS. And the thought of getting rejected—crazy scary.

So why do we put ourselves out there? Why do we continue to throw ourselves to the fire if we’re only going to get burned?

Because, for most people—it’s the ticket to success.

In my writing experience, I’ve encountered plenty of rejection—the rejection letter, the rejection e-mail. People tell me it’s just part of the process and while I really want to slap them in the face, I realize… they’re right. It’s a growth process. And the process is different for everyone. Some people snag an agent with their first venture, others hit the jackpot with their second, fifth… shoot. I know of someone who wrote over fifteen manuscripts before acquiring a book deal.

Tons of authors get rejected before getting accepted for publication. Stephen King got so many rejection letters that he used to nail them on a spike in his bedroom. One of his rejection letters for Carrie read “We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.”

What-ev-er.

Here’s what someone said about Joseph Heller’s Catch—22: "I haven’t the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say…Apparently the author intends it to be funny – possibly even satire – but it is really not funny on any intellectual level."

Or take someone’s dismissal of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies:
“an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.”

John Grisham’s first novel, A Time to Kill, was rejected by a dozen publishers and 16 agents before breaking into print and launching a best-selling career.

And... AND... JK Rowling was rejected by, like, everybody. Thank goodness for the Bloomsbury CEO’s eight-year old daughter who begged her father to print the book.

And my all time favorite failure-turned-success story: (See if you know who THIS is)

In…

1831 This guy failed in business.
1832 Ran for state legislature and lost.
1832 Lost his job. He wanted to go to law school but couldn't get in.
1833 Borrowed some money from a friend to begin a business and by the end of the year he was bankrupt. He spent the next 17 years repaying that debt.
1834 Ran for state legislature and won. (SEE—SUCCESS!)
1835 He was engaged to be married and the lady he dreamed of marrying died.
1836 Had a total nervous breakdown and was in bed for six months.
1838 Ran for speaker of the state legislature and lost.
1840 Tried to become and elector, but was defeated.
1842 Admitted to practice law in U.S. District Court.
1843 Ran for Congress and lost.
1846 Ran for Congress again, and won. He went to Washington and did a good job.
1848 Ran for reelection and lost.
1849 Tried to become land officer in his home state and was rejected.
1854 Ran for Senate of the United States and lost.
1856 Sought the Vice-Presidential nomination at his party's national convention and got less than 100 votes.
1860 Elected President of the United States.



Yep -Abraham Lincoln.








Hmmmm.

One of my facebook friends recently asked this question about rejection:

"Is it okay to be afraid of rejection even when you know it’s inevitable?"

My response: abso-freaking-lutely.

Rejection is a big scary monster. My heart jumps into my throat every time I send out a query. My fingers shake when I submit those requested pages. It’s the anticipation of hoping… just hoping that this is the person who may just want to represent me and realizing at the same time—that they might not. It’s exciting! And it’s frightening.

I’m getting ready to query again and the rejection is inevitable—not because my work is crap or because I don’t believe in myself. It’s just that my work will not resonate with everyone. SO why bother querying those people? Well, because frankly I don’t know who those people are.

I received the best advice from a very established literary agent: QUERY EVERYBODY.

Yeah—do your homework. Find out what kind of projects those agents typically take on, but you never know—there could be someone in the big agenting world who never takes on young adult paranormals—but can’t put down your novel from page one.

Soooo—I’m going to query. And I’m going to experience rejection. Probably a lot of it. Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries slipped through 17 publishers before being accepted and hitting the presses; Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind: 38

And in the meantime - I'll keep writing. And learning. And growing.

Rejection happens. But I won’t get published if I don’t try. And I’ll try everyone. Because as Stephenie Meyer well knows: it only takes one YES to achieve success.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Contest Here, a Contest There...

For all my writer peeps out there....




Guide to Literary Agents hosts the sixth (free!) "Dear Lucky Agent" Contest. Here's a little blurb from the blog as to who can enter and what you need to do!

If you're writing a book-length novel that's paranormal romance or urban fantasy, this sixth contest is for you!

HOW TO SUBMIT

E-mail entries to sixthagentcontest@gmail.com. Please paste everything. No attachments.

WHAT TO SUBMIT

The first 150-200 words of your unpublished, book-length work of urban fantasy or paranormal (adult fiction and/or YA fiction are both accepted; no "high fantasy" with dragons, elves or other planets please). You must include a contact e-mail address with your entry and use your real name. Also, submit the title of the work and a logline (one-sentence description of the work) with your entry.

Please note: To be eligible to submit, I ask that you do one of two things: 1) Mention and link to this contest twice through your social media—blogs, Twitter, Facebook; or 2) just mention this contest once and also add Guide to Literary Agents Blog (www.guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog) to your blogroll. Please provide link(s) so the judge and I can verify eligibility. Some previous entrants could not be considered because they skipped this step!


CONTEST DETAILS

1. This contest will be live for approximately fourteen days—from Sept. 22 through the end of Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2010, EST. Winners notified by e-mail within three weeks of end of contest. Winners announced on the blog thereafter.
2. To enter, submit the first 150-200 words of your book. Shorter or longer entries will not be considered. Keep it within word count range please.
3. This contest is solely for completed book-length works of urban fantasy and paranormal romance (both YA and adult novels are accepted).
4. You can submit as many times as you wish. You can submit even if you submitted to other contests in the past, but please note that past winners cannot win again.
5. The contest is open to everyone of all ages, save those employees, officers and directors of GLA's publisher, F+W Media.
6. By e-mailing your entry, you are submitting an entry for consideration in this contest and thereby agreeing to the terms written here as well as any terms possibly added by me in the "Comments" section of this blog post. (If you have questions or concerns, write me personally at literaryagent@fwmedia.com. The Gmail account above is for submissions, not questions.)


PRIZES!!!

Top 3 winners all get: 1) A critique of the first 10 pages of your work, by your agent judge. 2) A free one-year subscription to WritersMarket.com.


Cool, right? If I had a full-length paranormal romance or urban fantasy completed work, I'd be submitting - oh wait - I do!

Annnndddd... to celebrate her blogiversary, my writing bestie Ricki Schultz is sponsoring a contest that's just in time for Halloween...



THE CONTEST

Write her a scary short story.

THE RULES

There aren’t many.

1.) Write a scary short story—whatever your interpretation of that is

2.) 1,000 words or less

3.) e-mail it to her (at ricki [at] rickischultz [dot] com) no later than Sunday, Oct. 24, 11:59 PM EST.


THE PRIZE(S)

She’ll pick two winners.

The first will receive a book + DVD combo of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein . . . and Kenneth Branagh’s mutant of a movie adaptation of the same name. Second prize is a 10-page critique from her!


I tend to be rather verbose in my writing, too much to condense my thoughts to a short story, but I may just have to enter that one too. Twould be a spooky little challenge...

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Name Game


What’s in a name?

You know - when it comes to people’s stories. How do we get household fixations like Edward Cullen or Stephanie Plum? Is there as much magic to picking a name like Ron Weasley as there is in his defective wand? Would Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants have been different had cantankerous Carmen been named Maria?

Seriously. Where do these fabulous masterminds of fantastical novels come up with names like Frodo Baggins or Maximum Ride?! Or even Arthur Fonzarelli? Or (swoon) Jay Gatsby?!

Some authors will actually discuss the answer to this question on their websites. Other website creators offer insight and dole out suggestions as to how you might emulate the greats.

How can you pull off the memorable appellation? Or that name that completely defines who your character is? I mean, not every character's name has to mean something, but I want to name my imaginary friends something other than Joe Schmoe or Suzy Q. (which - PS - aren't that bad!)

Perhaps pull a JK Rowling and arrive at a name through an anagram describing the character: I am Lord Voldemort equals Tom Marvolo Riddle (You know... “You know who’s” given name)



Or mutate or combine names of people you admire. George Lucas did this with "Anakin."





Write names backwards. See if they sound cool. You know – like my daughter’s: Eiznekcm.

Yeahhhh – no (Okay - maybe if I wrote sci-fi)

Soooo—there are lots of faboo ways for authors and screenplay writers to create names for characters we come to know and love. (Or hate)

As for me?

Do I...

1) search through baby name books and go to websites like www.thinkbabynames.com and discover some really cool names and their meanings

2) use the names of my children

3) fiddle with names already out there (Drew Brees, Serene Winter. I personally think Donovan somebody would make a really cool villain)


4) Or do I close my eyes, flip to a page in my grade book, circle my finger in the air, and choose that one

For some of my characters—yeah—I do a little of all of the above. I mean, I just have to use Aidan somewhere. And I’ve taught for nineteen years—my students have some pretty cool names. And a few have made it into my stories (hehe – President Starzynski) Others haven’t, but will (I'm bound and determined to put a Tova or a Rico in my stories!).

But for the most part, I can sum up my name-choosing experience in two powerful words:

Divine Intervention

Yes – I know you’re laughing, but really. I seriously believe God is behind the names of quite a few of my major characters.

Case in point…

For my first story, I desired my leading lady to have a name that just sounded like a Clark Kent or a Diana Prince. Maybe even a Peter Parker. That memorable alias to their respective Superman or Wonder Woman. Bu-ut I also needed the name to coalesce with a mathematician (uh, nerd much?). A Calculus founder at that. And considering my protag is a female—that research lent to many a fist-pounding-the-couch morning.


Eventually, I created Jameson Bernoulli Peters aka Jamie Peters. And she stuck.

But holy far-reaching implications, Batman.

Little did I know that her name would impact a story thread so powerfully. For me, it was like God steered me to the Bernoulli section and had me choose Jakob (James) and not Daniel (she could’ve been a Dani!) How his name and things he said and did would tie into a personality I’d already created for her. I didn’t know ANY of that when I chose her name. Maybe I just steered the story based on her name, but I choose to think God knew all that was to unfold.

I could babble some more about her neighbors Alexa Caldwell and Marcus Huff (double *swoon*) and the things that popped into my head AFTER I’d already named them, but I’ll just tell you I voiced many a PTL (Praise the Lord) after I finished that novel and still do as I continue to write its sequel.

Exhibit B

My second story is a YA paranormal on one of the seven deadly sins, so I was going for a little Biblical thing with some of my supporting characters' names. I chose Moses for my protag’s best friend and when Josh popped into my head for her annoying lab partner, I went with the eat-at-my-gut instinct.

And then half-way through the writing of that story, I had a 2 AM epiphany.

Moses led God’s people to the Promised Land. Joshua saw them through.

That’s about all the spoiler you get, but zoinks! It explained soooo much of what I’d already written. Notice I said “already written”. Yep—convinced. God had a hand in that for sure.

And finally—the story I’m working on now…

My protag’s a quarterback and one of the plot lines involves his friendship with his left tackle and how they always have each other’s back (think a little Blindside with a side of The Last Song). Okay. It’s also got the whole Biblical element with another of the seven deadly sins. Uh-huh. It just seemed all too natural for me to choose Jonathan and David (not familiar—engage in a little bedside reading of I Samuel).

But then into the room walks Nate (helloooo—where did you come from?), a football bud from Wisconsin, and the dynamics of my story changed when God zapped the whole Nathan the prophet story into my head.

Freaky?

More like Thank you, Jesus.


So there you have it - I create characters with a little help from the Big Guy.


As for you, my fab readers, tell me YOUR favorite character name? Could be one you created. Could be from a fav book or movie.


Go ahead... click the comment button. I'm all ears.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Seriously My Next Book











Click THIS! Too funny.













So - maybe not my next book (uh, since it's already a book), but I'll find a way to work it in.

Thanks Janet Reid for the laugh. Still snorting when I watch this.


Happy Friday!