Monday, January 30, 2012

365 Days of the Query: Issues and Solutions

So a few more queries have been sent out. Per the advice of a critiquing buddy, I'm not going to post specific stats, as I originally intended. For those who want them, feel free to email me off list (cloudhime (at) gmail (dot) com).

Here are some issues that have come to my attention in the past few weeks, and possible solutions to them:

Issue 1: The sound of silence
I haven't been querying that long, but can already see how easy it is to get mired in the hollow silence that results after you send your query into the back and beyond of cyberspace. From what I've read from agent blogs, they receive hundreds of submissions a day, and thousands a month. So don't sweat it. If your novel is ready, keep querying. Start writing or revising the next book you plan on submitting. As we all learned from Meet the Robinsons, "Keep moving forward."
Solution: Work on other things, and remember to have fun and enjoy what you do.

Issue 2: Bonehead mistakes that make you feel like an ass hat
One of the last queries I sent was like forgetting your sweater when you go out. So you go back inside, put on the sweater, and walk outside and realize you forgot your sunglasses. And you go back in and out, and realize you forgot your wallet. Moral of the story: double and triple check the agent's specs before you hit the send button. Did you include the 1-2 page synopsis they wanted? The hyperlink to the article you wrote? You don't want something missing when it's too late to fix it. While it's okay to send corrections on minor things (see Janice Hardy's post here (scroll down to Don't Sweat the Small Stuff)), sometimes you have to let go and say, "At least I learned this sooner rather than later."
Solution: Mistakes are inevitable. Learn from them, and try not to dwell on them.  

Issue 3: Terminology and formatting confusion
One agent is looking for a short synopsis within a query, another is requesting a 1-2 page synopsis in addition to the query. Another wants a pitch. So how to tell a synopsis from a pitch, and a short synopsis from a long one?

A pitch is a few short lines that summarize the crux of the novel, and is meant to grab the attention of your reader (or potential agent or editor)
A short synopsis is the who, what, where, when and why that's supposed to go in the query. 1-2 paragraphs, 150 words maximum.
A regular synopsis is written in third-person present tense, and is the sum of all important parts of your novel (including twists, turns, and plot reveals). This is probably one of the hardest things to write--a recent quote I saw said, "Writing a novel: like pouring champagne. Writing a blog: like pouring syrup. Writing a synopsis: like wading in liquid concrete."

Another common emailing pitfall is formatting mistakes, like this one. Be sure to copy/paste your content into Notepad before pasting it into an email, or your work may run the risk of being less than readable. (Mac users: Do you run into same sorts of formatting issues? Please feel free to comment.)
Solution: Do your research, and use computer tools to your advantage. If you make mistakes, see the solution to Issue 2.

Issue 4: Not thinking everything through
Sometimes I get caught up in the excitement of it all, which sometimes breeds mistakes if I don't stop and say, "Wait a minute." I'm sure I'll tame this with time, but it's always good to be as professional as possible, both within the query and during in-person networking experiences. Note: It's entirely possible I'm self-sabotaging here, and that I'm able to deliberate just fine. Great post from Kameron Hurley elaborates on the dangers of selling yourself short.
Solution: Be as professional as possible, and respect the time of your fellow writers (and agents, and editors)...but be sure not to sell yourself short

Issue 5: Overworrying
Don't let the sound of silence from Issue 1 compound the insecurities you have. Believe in yourself.
Solution: Stop what-iffing, and get back to writing (and querying).

Above all, make sure you have a good support group of people to lean on when things get rough. When my husband and I attended a comedy show this past weekend, he texted "Karen is a great writer" to the advertising board. While this may or may not be true, it certainly made my day.

Addendum: Readers, make sure you see Anjelica Jackson's comment--a great example of a good pitch. Feel free to comment and leave your own examples.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


This week I'm happy to feature Meredith Zeitlin's upcoming book, FRESHMAN YEAR & OTHER UNNATURAL DISASTERS, slated to come out in late-February/early-March. After the book releases, I'll have a contest, giveaway, etc here on the blog...more details to be revealed then.

Synopsis, from Goodreads: Kelsey Finkelstein is fourteen and FRUSTRATED. Every time she tries to live up to her awesome potential, her plans are foiled – by her impossible parents, her annoying little sister, and life in general. But with her first day of high school coming up, Kelsey is positive that things are going to change. Enlisting the help of her three best friends — sweet and quiet Em, theatrical Cass, and wild JoJo — Kelsey gets ready to rebrand herself and make the kind of mark she knows is her destiny.

Things start out great - her arch-nemesis has moved across the country, giving Kelsey the perfect opportunity to stand out on the soccer team and finally catch the eye of her long-time crush. But soon enough, an evil junior’s thirst for revenge, a mysterious photographer, and a series of other catastrophes make it clear that just because KELSEY has a plan for greatness… it doesn’t mean the rest of the world is in on it.

Kelsey’s hilarious commentary throughout her disastrous freshman year will have you laughing out loud—while being thankful that you’re not in her shoes, of course…

Below is my interview with Meredith:

I see from your author bio that you are also a voiceover artist. As an aspiring writer with a full-time job, I'd be interested to know more about how to balance two different careers. What are some lessons you've learned in this process?

Yep - I've been doing v/o for almost ten years now (yikes!). If you're interested, you can find out more about that here: Here's the whole truth, though: my “full-time” v/o job isn't really very full-time. There are days I'm in the city running around to four or five appointments, but that's not necessarily typical; there are just as many days that I have nothing to do at all and stay in my PJs all day. So, I'm incredibly lucky to I have a ton of time to spend writing. I'm unlucky because I'm the world's worst procrastinator – in fact, it's actually on my busiest days that I tend to get the most writing done, because I can't keep putting it off for the nebulous block of time known as “later.” I have friends who are professional writers and keep very strict schedules - I honestly have no idea how they can be so disciplined, but I am totally in awe of them.

I'm glad you've found a way to do both! More writers are blogging about managing time/avoiding burnout, and the balancing act can be challenging for all of us...

 I found it interesting that you named your website domain after your protagonist. How did you come to that decision, and what would you recommend to aspiring writers to promote their online platform?

Ah, good question! Well, I actually bought the site domain a long time ago, when the book was called "The World vs. Kelsey Finkelstein." Then after we changed the title, I had a few choices: leave it as it was, change it to an insanely long name (the new title), change it to an acronym that wasn't a real word and I was afraid no one would remember, or use my own difficult-to-spell-and-pronounce name. I ultimately decided that people would be most likely to remember how to spell Kelsey Finkelstein and left it at that.

As to promotion, the biggest thing I've learned is that it really is up to the author to self-promote. I made my own website, my own trailer... the publisher does a few things, but on a much smaller scale (which makes no sense, I know, but that's the way it is). Anyway, I'd recommend getting on Twitter and build a following if you can, approaching people you know who are social-network savvy, begging your Facebook friends to repost your updates about the book... I'm really still figuring it out as I go along!

Promotion is definitely a must! Thanks for the tips, and I hope those promotional avenues bring returns on your efforts! 

I can tell from the premise of FRESHMAN YEAR AND OTHER UNNATURAL DISASTERS that you are able to effectively insert humor in your writing. What advice do you have for writers who want to incorporate humorous elements into their stories? How important do you think a sense of humor is for an author?

Hm. Well, trying to be funny - or to write funny - is never a good idea. If it comes naturally, it will read naturally, and that's when it works, I think. You never want the reader to feel like what they're reading took WORK, if that makes sense - and that goes for comic and serious pieces. Just like, when you're listening to a song, you don't want to be aware of the singer's struggle to hit the high notes - it should sound easy so the listener can relax and enjoy the performance, instead of worrying if she'll crack at the top.

I think every author definitely needs a sense of humor, though - not necessarily so they can write funny material, but so they don't take things too seriously. My personal journey with this book was loooooong and often extremely frustrating. If I hadn't been able to laugh about it (and I wasn't always able to!), I think I'd have gone nuts.

I absolutely agree. A sense of humor can make most anything more bearable. How did you come to the decision to pursue writing as a career? What do you love most about it?

I actually come from a family of writers, and it's something I've always done. I entered poetry competitions as a kid, wrote for the high school paper, and later became its EIC. I was in a 12-person screenwriting program in college. I wrote essays, articles and reviews for various publications and websites after I graduated, and was usually working on something creative of my own as well. "Freshman Year..." was the first big project I completed and decided to move forward with, tho - I really wanted to get the book out there. And without question, what I'm loving most is finding out how teens and tweens are reacting to it. Because as much as I love hearing what my friends and colleagues think (and their opinions are extremely important to me), I really wrote the book for the awkward 14 year olds out there.

So true--I think there's an awkward 14-year-old in all of us! What are some other projects you're working on?

Well, I wrote a children's book that my agent is pitching now. And I wrote a horror script - VERY different from the book! - with a friend that we're hoping to find a home for. I also have a new YA novel brewing that isn't a sequel to "Freshman Year..." but takes place in the same world. So look out! You might see some of the characters again...

I look forward to it! The tone in Meredith's book is refreshing, and she does a great job of capturing a unique character voice. Keep on the lookout for this book when it comes out!

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Versatile Blogger Award

Thanks to Julia for nominating me for the Versatile Blogger Award! You can find Julia's blog by clicking on her name. A few weeks back, I was also nominated for a Kreativ Blogger award, thanks to Tarah Dunn. For those looking to buck up their manuscripts, Julia is a free-lance editor. You can follow her on Twitter at @julializzbeth.

So here's how it works:

1. In a post on your blog, nominate 15 fellow bloggers for The Versatile Blogger Award.
2. In the same post, Add the Versatile Blogger Award.
3. In the same post, thank the blogger who nominated you in a post with a link back to their blog.
4. In the same post, share 7 completely random pieces of information about yourself.
5. In the same post, include this set of rules.
6. Inform each nominated blogger of their nomination by posting a comment on each of their blogs.

7 Random Pieces of Information (per the Versatile Blogger rules)

1. I didn't see snow fall until I was fifteen years old. We flew to Wyoming when I was eight to see it snow there, but while we were gone it snowed in my hometown and stuck.

2. My grandfather (on my father's side) was born in 1897. I am the product of a second marriage--my dad is 76 and my oldest brother is fifty-something. (I'm the youngest, at 31). My oldest brother taught me how to tie my shoes.

3. In the sixth grade, I collided with a parked Ford pick-up on my bike. And yes, that did make it into my novel (except my protagonist has braces--much more gruesome).

4. Like Julia (listed above), I roll my own sushi (with a Japanese rice cooker and my husband's help).

5. I have one cat, Amazon, who was a stray, abandoned when her owners moved. She is a Maine Coon, has lots of fur and hates other cats (which is why we don't have more). A version of her also made it into my novel.

6. One of my best friends encouraged me to get first my novel on paper. Ironically, her last name is Page (and she's a great writer).

7. Some of my favorite sayings come from my grandfather (on my mother's side), who used to travel around the country giving speeches on how to sell better. I may build blog posts based on them, as a lot of them pertain to writing (and marketing yourself). Here are two of my favorites:

"There are two ways to climb an oak tree--one is to climb the tree, and the other is to sit on an acorn and wait."

"When you stop getting better, you stop being good."

And the 15 Bloggers I'm nominating (in no particular order)...

Eliza Loves Sci Fi
An aspiring writer from Ireland, Eliza blogs about writing, science, technology, and other fun stuff.

Tarah Dunn
Mentioned above. A great testimony to the journey toward publication, with a whimsical twist.

Juliana Haygert
Another aspiring writer who really knows her stuff. And the cover art on her projects are fantastic.

Young Adult Books-What We're Reading Now
This blog, written by Pamela Thompson, was nominated for a Best Blog 2012 award for the Texas Association of School Librarians. Great recommendations for YA reads (a reference to her blog was originally in my School Library Journal article, but was very unfortunately cut due to space constraints). Be sure to check it out!

Literary Rambles
This blog has 2000 followers, and is great for researching agents. Get this one in your blogroll if you haven't already.

Ryan Writes
Author of LUMINANCE HOUR, set to come out in 2013.  Right now she's posting about her editing/revision process.

The Ruby Slippered Sisterhood
A blog run by a group of Golden Heart Winners from RWA (Romance Writers of America). One of the members, Anne Becker, heads up NARWA (Northern Arizona Romance Writers of America) and just published ONLY FEAR, a great book of romantic suspense.

Sarah Duncan
Useful blog by a published author with great info. Check out this post on how to format picture books before submission.

Written by the great Chuck Wendig. Offers great writing advice, like this. Chuck also wrote a book, 500 WAYS TO BE A BETTER WRITER.

distraction no. 99
Blog of Nova Ren Suma, author of IMAGINARY GIRLS. Lots of great guest posts from other authors also.

Angela Scott-Whimsy & Writing
Great blog from an aspiring writer. She talks about balancing writing and family life, among other things.

Elle Strauss
Her novel CLOCKWISE is available on Amazon. Great for info about indie publishing.

Anna Staniszewski
Her novel, MY VERY UNFAIRYTALE LIFE was just published. Also a great example of good blog design.

Hyperbole and a Half
Great for laughs, especially this post.
A blog written by Meredith Zeitlin, named after the protagonist of her new book, FRESHMAN YEAR AND OTHER UNNATURAL DISASTERS which comes out very soon! I'll be featuring an interview with her later this week!

Thanks to all the nominees! I've learned a great deal from you all.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Useful Books for Writing Crime Fiction

Last November, I reviewed two books about writing crime fiction. While I was reading them, I discovered the information within them could be useful to both writers of crime fiction and aspiring writers in general. Excerpts from my reviews are below (the full reviews can be read in the December 2011 issue of Library Journal):

Budewitz, an attorney-at-law who has been published in mystery magazines, wrote this book to help crime writers wade through the time-consuming and often confusing process of legal research.  The book covers 160 topics, including proper legal terminology, realistic courtroom behavior and dialog, proper procedure (both at the state and at the federal level), and the legal system as a whole. The frequently asked questions featured in each chapter are also arranged by topic within the table of contents, enabling readers to pick and choose the legal aspects most relevant to their writing.

 Topics include how to plot thrillers, create realistic detectives and villains, and write suspenseful crime scenes. The chapters are divided by subject; each is written by a published mystery and/or crime author (some concepts, such as "setting as character," are presented by multiple authors). Sections like Meg Gardiner's "Ratcheting Up the Suspense" focus on thrillers, while others, like Jane K. Cleland's "Avoiding Saggy Middles," can be applied to general fiction. Each chapter offers writing exercises to help readers put knowledge into practice.

Though crime fiction isn't my current genre, I found both these books useful to my writing. Books, Crooks, and Counselors provided much needed insight into a character of mine who was put into a juvenile facility, and Now Write! Mysteries offered a ton of writing exercises that I plan to use both in my current WIP and future stories.

So if you're writing a crime or mystery novel (or even if you're not), both these books are worth a read. Be sure to check them out.

Monday, January 16, 2012

365 Days of the Query, Phase One: Getting Started

Over the next year, I'm going to send out query letters for my new novel, TRISKELEON.  I will keep track of my progress on the blog, probably in a format like this:

Agents queried: 1
Partials requested: 0
Fulls requested: 0

 If you're on this journey too (or in a place where you're thinking of querying), here are the steps I went through before  I even thought about submitting:

Attend a workshop (or view examples) to figure out what (and what not) to do.
When my book was complete, but not yet ready, I attended an workshop hosted by an agent I was interested in querying down the line. I might have been getting a bit ahead of myself here, but the knowledge I gleaned during this workshop was golden. The agent who ran it even agreed to see our query drafts.

Get feedback from a trusted source.
The agent who revised my letter let me know I was somewhat on the right track, and what aspects of the letter needed improvement. After that, I waited until my manuscript was ready, and I revised my query with the help of a writer friend who's already represented by an agent.

Below are three different drafts of my query, to let you know the evolution it's been through (please note that I haven't included all the ways I customized the introduction (and conclusion) for the agent, but that is something everyone should ALWAYS DO--your agent needs to know why you're querying them in the first place).

First Draft:

I’ve completed a YA fantasy adventure novel entitled Triskeleon, with series potential, that I hope you might consider.

In the land of Anderli, the trees are dying, the lake has disintegrated, and the fungus that ravaged the farmlands is showing signs of re-emerging. All hopes are pinned to Weatherby, whose spells have failed to reverse the damage. After his master disappears, he remembers Rags, a local beggar who is rumored to know the source behind the madness.

When Marnie arrives in Anderli by the aid of a Triskeleon, the ancient bracelet linked to her bloodline, she doesn’t believe she is the one fated to save Anderli and its people. But under Weatherby’s tutelage, she soon discovers powers she didn’t know she possessed, skills remnant of a dying breed of people known as Momenta. In the process, she meets seventeen-year-old Quinn, who she wishes would notice her as much as she does him. She also wishes she knew how to reverse the corruption, especially when she finds out who Rags really is, and what will happen if Anderli continues to unravel.

 Triskeleon capitalizes on the unique traits that that we all naturally possess—and how they can be used to overcome insurmountable obstacles. It’s not just about traveling from one world to another—it’s about the relationships formed during the journey.

 In the coming week, I will be contributing to the Literary Rambles blog with a piece entitled “YA Books in Libraries.” The article is about a survey I conducted to determine YA titles most popular with librarians and library consumers. I am also in discussions with School Library Journal to publish an expanded version of this data.
 For more information, you are welcome to visit my website, or my blog, “The Writer Librarian” ( 

 Boring and vague, right? The agent's feedback on this draft was very kind and useful. She told me to include details about the main character to make her "pop" a bit more, and she said it wasn't as well-written as it could be, which would indicate to an agent that the manuscript might not be all that well-written either.

But what didn't occur to me was Weatherby appears to be the protagonist instead of Marnie. Below is an updated draft (after many iterations) to try and fix this:

Later Draft:

Dear [Agent Name],
 I saw on your blog (PW, Facebook post) that you sold a novel called ______ and was wondering if you’d be interested in TRISKELEON, a 101,000 word YA fantasy/sci-fi novel with series potential.

 In the land of Anderli, the trees are dying, the lake has disintegrated, and the fungus that ravaged the farmlands is showing signs of re-emerging. When Weatherby’s magic fails to stave the damage, he looks to Rags, a local beggar, for answers.

 According to Rags, Anderli’s fate lies in the hands of fifteen-year-old Marnie Sayebrooke, whose latest claim to fame is colliding with a parked Ford pick-up on her bike.

When Marnie arrives in Anderli by the aid of a Triskeleon, the ancient bracelet linked to her bloodline, she doesn’t believe she is fated to save Anderli and its people. But under Weatherby’s tutelage, she soon discovers her abilities to manipulate time and space, skills remnant of a dying breed of people known as Momenta. If only she could stop melting into a puddle every time seventeen-year-old Quinn winks at her.

 To save Anderli, Marnie must locate the impostor who works for Terrsarah, a powerful being fueled by her strong hatred of Momenta. As thick-armed beasts invade rivers and set forests afire, it becomes imperative for Marnie to find Terrsarah’s access point within the land, especially after she discovers Rags’s true identity. If Rags is right, and Anderli is destroyed, the universe will twist into a state of unravel.

 Last July, I contributed to the Literary Rambles blog with a piece entitled “YA Books in Libraries,” accessed here. An expanded and updated version of this article will be published as a feature in School Library Journal this month. For more information, please visit my website, Twitter feed, or blog. 
I hope to hear from you. Thank you for your time.
Karen McCoy

A few notes here. First, notice that all my contact info is below my name (this is the proper way to do it, I'm told). There's more detail about Marnie as a would-be clumsy hero, which hopefully makes her stand out a bit more. I've also added stakes, which weren't there before, so the agent knows what my character is up against. But the error I'm running into now is what the Query Shark and others call "character soup," in which I'm introducing a bunch of characters (Rags, Weatherby, Quinn, Terrsarah) without specifying where they fit. And what do the beasts have to do with anything?

After some more helpful feedback, I've ended up with what I have below, an iteration of which I queried an agent with this afternoon:

Most Recent Draft:

In the land of Anderli, the trees are dying, the lake has disintegrated, and the fungus that ravaged the farmlands is showing signs of re-emerging. According to Rags, a beggar with a keen sense of Anderli’s place among other worlds, the land’s fate lies in the hands of a fifteen-year-old redhead--Marnie Sayebrooke, from Spring Oak, California. Unfortunately, Marnie’s latest claim to fame is colliding with a parked Ford pick-up on her bike.

When Marnie arrives in Anderli by the aid of a Triskeleon, the ancient bracelet linked to her bloodline, she doesn’t believe she is the one to save Anderli and its people. But she soon discovers her abilities to manipulate time and space, skills remnant of a dying breed of people known as Momenta. Weatherby, a warlock helping her hone her talents, has enlisted Quinn, a warlock-in-training, to support her, even though Marnie can’t stop stammering and blushing when Quinn shows her defensive tactics.

 Before Anderli disintegrates, Marnie must locate the impostor who works for Terrsarah, a powerful sorceress fueled by her hatred of Momenta. But it isn’t until she discovers Rags’s true identity that Marnie understands the full implications of Terrsarah’s corruption—that if Anderli is destroyed, the universe will separate into an irreversible state of unravel.

For the past four years, I've reviewed books for Library Journal, and my background as a librarian has allowed me insight into the ever-changing tastes of teen readers. Last July, I contributed to the Literary Rambles blog with a piece entitled “YA Books in Libraries,” accessed here (linked). An expanded and updated version of this article was published as a feature in School Library Journal, entitled “What Teens are Really Reading,” found here (linked). I am also a P.A.L. member of SCBWI. For more information, please visit my website, Twitter feed, or blog.

I hope to hear from you. Thank you for your time.

Karen McCoy

So it still needs work. I can probably get rid of that blurb about Weatherby in the middle--but I'm not sure how else to introduce Quinn in context. It's a work in progress.

Also, make sure you are 100% clear on your agent's specifications before you submit. The agent I queried today wanted a synopsis as well as a query, so I took out the synopsis from the middle and put it below. After I sent it, I realized it was possible that the agent wanted a pitch in the query as well as a synopsis. Next time I'll ask the agent about specs before I submit, to make sure I'm doing everything right.

So, one query sent, and many more to go. I'm pretty sure that not much will come out of my first query (especially if I got the specs wrong), but I wasn't expecting an instant win. Expecting a win from a first query attempt is like getting a job offer after writing only one cover letter. Not likely.

It's a process, with lots of phases. I'll be sharing what I learn as mine unfolds.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

DITCHED: A LOVE STORY, by Robin Mellom

I'm really excited to feature DITCHED: A LOVE STORY, by Robin Mellom that debuted this week!

Synopsis, from Goodreads: High school senior Justina Griffith was never the girl who dreamed of going to prom. Designer dresses and strappy heels? Not her thing. So she never expected her best friend, Ian Clark, to ask her.
Ian, who always passed her the baseball bat handle first.
Ian, who knew exactly when she needed red licorice.
Ian, who promised her the most amazing night at prom.
And then ditched her.
Now, as the sun rises over her small town, and with only the help of some opinionated ladies at the 7-Eleven, Justina must piece together — stain by stain on her thrift-store dress — exactly how she ended up dateless. A three-legged Chihuahua was involved. Along with a demolition derby-ready Cadillac. And there was that incident at the tattoo parlor. Plus the flying leap from Brian Sontag's moving car...
But to get the whole story, Justina will have to face the boy who ditched her. And discover if losing out at prom can ultimately lead to true love.
Filled with humor, charm, and romance, Ditched: A Love Story by debut novelist Robin Mellom will have readers dreaming of love on their own prom nights.

I can't wait to read this book! I really admire authors who can effectively infuse humor into their fiction.

Robin was also kind enough to answer some questions I had:

I read on your website that you used to be a teacher, and I love the creative ideas you used to get your students jazzed about writing stories. How did your own enthusiasm for writing originally develop? 

I was the daughter of a teacher, so I spent all my afternoons hanging out after school with other teachers. I'd erase their boards and they'd all gather and tell each other stories, which were usually very funny or totally heartfelt. Teachers are amazing storytellers, so I think spending EVERY afternoon of my childhood listening to them is what led me to want to write stories for children.

I love that you've inserted humor into your new book, DITCHED. Where did the idea for the story come from, and why do you think this book was successfully able to sell?

I once had my own experience with a date-gone-wrong where the guy drank more than he should have and ran around unzipping all the girls' dresses (including mine). That "dress malfunction" was the nugget that led to DITCHED. Except I decided to make it a prom and make the zipper dress incident just the beginning of when everything goes all terribly wrong...

I think the book sold because it maintains the fun, rompy feel all the way through, and yet there is a moment of tenderness where the emotions are laid out. A combination of humor and tenderness is what my editor always wants to see, and I hope readers are looking for that too.

I saw that THE CLASSROOM is your next release, and this book looks like it's geared toward a much different audience! What are some of your favorite genres to write in, and why?

I will always write humorous stories because I rarely know how to be serious. It's like an issue for me. So I'm sticking to the goofy and writing for the middle grade and teen audience.

And finally, I have to say, I love the design elements on your website. What recommendations do you have for aspiring writers who want to build a web presence?

Thank you! I almost went nuts trying to figure out how to design the website since I write for different age groups and genders. How do you appeal to 16-year-old girls AND ten-year-old boys at the same time? Ha! Not super easy. So we decided to combine chalkboard drawings and photography. Luckily my husband is a photographer so he photographed all the icons at the top of the page. (Those green shoes are my actual shoes I wear pretty much every day.)

For aspiring writers, I would definitely start a blog. That's what I had for many years and it worked wonderfully. They are amazing now because through Wordpress and Blogger you can create "pages" where you can have your bio, info on your work, etc., and its essentially like having a complete website for free. Plus blogging is a great creative outlet and you meet other writers and readers.

Thanks for having me, Karen! And thanks for letting me interview you, Robin!

DITCHED is available now, so be sure to get out there and get yourself a copy, like I just did!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Dangers of Overstructuring

I had an interesting discussion with a coworker this morning about classically trained musicians versus musicians who improvise. As an improvisational musician, he told me how astonished he was at how uncomfortable his classically trained friends were with playing music on the fly. As a fellow classically trained musician (I played piano for about fifteen years) I could relate--if someone gave me a drum beat and asked me to make up a tune, I'd be petrified.

Later, when visiting my usual writing blogger sites, I ran across Eliza Green's newest post about what happens when writers feel too boxed in while plotting out their novels. And I realized I was reading about the same issue I'd discussed my coworker. Writers, like musicians, grapple with the dangers of improvisation. How to let creativity flow while keeping stories successfully structured.

But if worrying about your plot structure starts to sap your creativity, I say stop. Plotting, per my last post on this subject, is about parameters and benchmarks. Nothing more. Let your plot grow in unexpected ways, and don't reign yourself in too much. Only use those parameters when you need them.

Here's why. The classical music world can be a very tense business. My experience was all written tests, theory, and sight reading exercises. This is why I quit playing the piano--there was no heart, no soul, no feeling in the music. It was all practice, practice, practice.

But it doesn't have to be the same way with writing (though practice is indeed important). We should let ourselves have fun, put our hearts and souls into the words and sentences we compose. Where would Mozart have been if he hadn't done that with his music?

So write. Play. Revel in unexpected feelings, places, and experiences, and only use parameters when absolutely necessary. I leave you with the very question I'd wish I'd been asked about my music: How does your writing make you feel?

Monday, January 9, 2012

What Teens Are Reading

The article I wrote a few months back, the one I mentioned in this November 2011 post is now published in this month's issue of School Library Journal! (It's entitled "What Teens are Reading: a librarian's informal survey uncovers the hottest YA fiction" and can be viewed here).

Now that the article is public, I can delve into deeper depths about what it's about and why I wrote it. Here are some reasons:

1. Aspiring authors (myself included) want to know what's popular before we query.

Casey McCormick of Literary Rambles was the one who originially came up with the idea, and she expressed an interest in which YA books were popular in libraries. It's a point-of-view that hasn't often been  discussed: we know what's on an Amazon bestseller list, but what books are libraries purchasing? Since I was in charge of the children and teen's collections at the time, I decided to use my own data as well as survey others. Results revealed that libraries are just as likely to purchase books with staying power along with new releases (especially to account for replacements and repairs)--and this is a marketing demographic that booksellers (and publishers, and agents) may want to explore.

2. Librarians (especially those new to the field) are always looking to beef up their collections in order to best meet the needs of their users.

When I was in charge of selecting teen materials, I always appreciated a list of recommended titles--ones I knew would circulate, and justify the cost the library paid for them. A children's librarian new to her position was particularly interested in my findings, once they became available, so that she could ensure her collection stayed up-to-date.

3. I want to pay it forward to fellow writers. I figured librarians would likely purchase some of the titles I listed, and that might boost the publicity of the authors who wrote them.

Most authors listed already have a significant following, but new releases also had a place on the finalized lists. For example, although Marie Lu's dystopian, Legend, just released, it's still getting significant buzz among librarians, and it made the Top 20 list within the article (linked above).

For more comprehensive data (I received recommendations for hundreds of titles and series) feel free to email me at cloudhime at gmail dot com or leave your email in the comments section.

Phew, I'm exhausted, and my cat is meowing at my door. I've probably neglected her too long. Happy reading, everyone!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


I'm very happy to feature SOMEONE ELSE'S FAIRYTALE, by E.M. Tippetts (she also writes science fiction under the name Emily Mah). She's the first writer I know of who, in addition to writing and jewelry making, maintains two blogs-- one under E.M. Tippets and the other under Emily Mah.

Here's the summary from Goodreads:

Jason Vanderholt, Hollywood's hottest actor, falls head over heels for everygirl, Chloe Winters, who hasn't gotten around to watching most of his movies. It's the ideal fairytale... for most people. The last thing Chloe needs is public attention as this brings back dangers from the past that she's worked her whole life to escape.

Emily was also kind enough to let me interview her. Here's what she had to say:

When did you decide to become a writer? Could you tell us a bit about your journey since then?

I've wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember, and to put that in perspective, I remember my first day if preschool in detail, from the way I felt abandoned to the magic marker drawing of a horse I had with me, drawn by my cousin, Sarah. So it's been a long journey since then. I wrote a lot as a kid and as a teenager. When I was nineteen I got a letter from DAW that said they really liked my manuscript, suggested some changes, and invited me to submit again. I was so inexperienced that I didn't know what that meant (it means you're very close to making a sale), so I didn't pursue it, just dove into another novel. After law school I decided to turn my attention to writing and I attended the Clarion West Writers Workshop for Science Fiction and Fantasy. After that I was invited to join Critical Mass, a critique group in my home state of New Mexico. Back then I had the naive idea that with all my practice and a good credential like Clarion West, I'd then start selling short stories, eventually get an agent, sell novels, and so on. While there isn't anything I truly regret about my life, I would counsel anyone else still in high school who wants to be a writer to get training sooner, and keep it up. It took me five years after Clarion West to sell my first short story, and now, another five years after that, I'm juuust to the point where I can sell to the major markets. I sold a chick lit novel to a small LDS press in 2007, but ended up parting ways with them soon after the book came out. I shelved my other chick lit ideas for a couple of years, and then when the indie movement got going, I decided to publish my chick lit that way, since most mainstream publishers aren't interested in chick lit these days. 

New Mexico is a great place to write! I first put my novel to paper when I was living in Farmington, encouraged by a good friend (another aspiring writer). Who are some of your influences?

Probably too many to name. Orson Scott Card and Anne McCaffrey introduced me to soft science fiction, which I write a lot of. My Clarion West instructors were invaluable. They were Octavia Butler, Nalo Hopkinson, Bradley Denton, Connie Willis, Ellen Datlow, and Jack Womack. Then there are of course the members of Critical Mass: Daniel Abraham (who also writes as MLN Hanover and James SA Corey), Terry England, Ty Franck (the other half of James SA Corey), Sally Gwylan, George RR Martin, Vic Milan, Melinda Snodgrass, Jan Stirling, S.M. Stirling, Ian Tregillis, Sage Walker, and Walter Jon Williams, among others whom I've surely forgotten to name. They're the ones who picked apart everything I wrote for ten years and told me what it was I did wrong, and I'll always be grateful to them for that. As for who influences my actual style of writing and the stories I tell, I can honestly say that it was getting away from other people's influences that helped me start to sell stories. I find I've got my own way of putting together a narrative, which doesn't necessarily show in the finished product, but is what enables me to do the best work I possibly can.

It's always great when you can find your voice as a writer! I think many of us struggle with that.
Where did you get the idea for this story? What do you think are the most important themes, and what would you like readers to take away after reading the book?

Someone Else's Fairytale got its start when I was reading entertainment headlines and wondering why people care so much about celebrity. I though how if I got hit on by a celebrity, I'd probably laugh, and then I had my idea. The rich guy/poor girl story is an old one, but I thought I'd play it for humor. The love interest, Jason Vanderholt, is mega-famous, like Robert Pattinson or Justin Bieber. Millions of women fantasize about him. My main character, Chloe Winters, just doesn't care, which creates a funny situation. Could you imagine having everyone else's heartthrob show up on your doorstep to spoon feed you ice cream? The theme is, obviously, fairytales, our dreams and fantasies and what is it about them that makes them endure like they do. Even now, in an era of liberated women and no reported dragon sightings for over a hundred years, I think fairytales are relevant, because they were never really about the prince with a palace who could rescue a damsel in distress. What I'd like readers to take away is that, we all need our dreams. Life is pretty bleak without them.

I agree--dreams provide much needed hope for us all. I also enjoy fairytales, and usually choose books that include them in the title or plot (which is why I was originally drawn to your work). What are some other projects you're working on?

Right now I'm working on a science fiction short story. I've sold a couple of these to Analog Science Fiction and Fact, and hope to sell more. They're a great magazine.

I'll be sure to remember that title when I consider submitting short stories! What do you love most about writing? Why?

Getting better at it, I guess. Despite my lifelong love of the craft, I don't feel like I ever had much natural talent, so every word I put on the page is the result of over a decade of hard work, study, and practice. Ten years ago I'd get stuck as I tried to explain a sight or frame some dialogue, and that still happens, but not as often.

Thank you Emily, for sharing your experiences and insight! SOMEONE ELSE'S FAIRYTALE is available on the Kindle, Nook, and through Smashwords. Be sure to check it out!

Monday, January 2, 2012

2012: Dispelling Old Ideas and Trying New Things

Congtatulations to Bibliotropic, last week's commenter and winner of  THE BOOK OF LOST SOULS!

And now, on with the blog...

The longer I've been writing, the more I've had to change my perceptions about the process. The nice thing about the New Year is that it allows an opportunity to reassess before moving forward.

Here are some "truths" I've dispelled:

1. If you want to write seriously, turn off your television

This is true to a certain extent, and reality television is definitely off the table. But good scripted shows offer a look at plotting done right, and let viewers know which plot elements work (and which don't). Or, if you are looking to improve your ability to write dialects, a good documentary of the country/region where your novel takes place helps. My new mantra: "Turn off cable television and Netflix shows with good scripts."

2. If your idea is taken, forget about trying to publish it

A short trip in the blogosphere reveals that this isn't as true as I thought it was. When I was about 200 pages into my manuscript, I saw a published book that made me want to cry. The plot was similar enough to mine that I thought my work was done. But I soon wrote down more ideas and added different elements to make the plot more exciting. It even led to unexpected twists in subsequent books.

The agents I follow are looking for good writing, unique plotlines, and memorable characters. So even though dozens of stories have been told, and re-told, re-hashed, and told again, if you make your plots and characters readable, interesting, and most importantly, unique, you don't have to doom your manuscript to the trunk just yet.

My grandfather once said, "When you stop getting better, you stop being good." I think the best writers have this mindset--that they can always get better, no matter how good they (or others) think they are. Even Neil Gaiman said "yes" when asked if he thought his writing needed improvement. In the spirit of reassessment, here are some new things I've tried (and plan to try) in order to improve:

1. Write in different mediums

Literary agent Janet Reid periodically has contests on her blog that flex a writer's muscle. The most recent involved reversible poems. I was quite daunted by this, as I don't consider myself a poet, and, with the exception of Emily Dickinson, despise poetry. But, I gave it a whirl, and found it a wonderful challenge. My entry (with recent revisions) is below:

Brittle and breaking,
You hide, soft 
berneath your hard candy shell
Listen. You’re next.
Don’t criticize, because
Most people do

Criticize themselves
Most people do.
Don’t criticize, because
listen—you’re next.
Beneath your hard candy shell
You hide--soft,
brittle and breaking

Contests like this are fun, and it doesn't matter if you don't win. The practice is well worth it. I've also entered NPR's "Three Minute Fiction" contest even though short stories aren't my genre of choice, and I took a creative nonfiction class to buck up my description and structure. What outside genre would you write in? Have you tried it yet?

2. Live more outside the box

I've encountered some writers who, shall we say, don't get out much. It's like their novel is their sole purpose in life, and they hole themselves inside to weave together their masterpieces (and their skin is so pale you can see blue veins pulsing). But interaction with people and outdoor experiences is a necessary part of writing. It gives plots, characters, and settings the depth they need to jump off the page. I always take a tiny notepad with me on a hike or a day trip, and usually something catches my eye and becomes a part of a world I'm trying to build. Interacting with people also helps attune an ear for dialogue. In the coming year, I'm planning experiences that I haven't yet had, like a trip to Slide Rock (an earth-made water slide), a venture to the Grand Canyon, and, if money allows, a flight to Japan.

3. Try to be a successful learner

The best writers are successful learners, and the best way to be a successful learner is to keep an open mind. Accept useful feedback. Ask as many questions as you can. In an article from Poets & Writers, an agent stated she was surprised more aspiring writers weren't asking the following questions of agents:

a) Whom do you represent? (Sometimes this is easily accessible online).
b) Which publishing houses do you work with?
c) Which editors do you like?
d) How do you go about deciding where you're going to send something?

The best thing about being a successful learner is that it's okay to make mistakes, and sometimes those mistakes can teach you valuable lessons that carry you through.

So, a happy and healthy New Year to everyone. Two questions for all: What ideas are you dispelling? What new things do you plan to try?