Monday, April 26, 2010

teasEr tuesDay

teasing early because i won't have time to blog tomorrow.

i thought it was about time for a little something more from BUTTER. this is the start of the second chapter.
for those of you who don't like swearing, please be aware of the F-bomb in this excerpt!

Breakfast the next morning was the usual fare: egg white omelets and turkey sausage for Mom and Dad; pecan waffles, Canadian bacon and poached eggs for me. No syrup for the waffles this morning, though. I didn’t ask why because I could guess the answer. Mom was trying to sneak the sugar out of my diet again.

When it came to feeding me, Mom bounced between whole grain and whole fat, vegetables and cupcakes, hope and resignation, the way I bounced between binging and purging.

I shoveled the dry waffles into my mouth and tried to catch my dad’s attention over his newspaper. “What’s the word, Dad? Anything interesting in there?” I poked the back of his paper.

Dad directed the answer at Mom. “The Cardinals are never going back to the Super Bowl if they keep playing like this.”

Mom, who could not have been less interested in sports, merely hummed.

I tried again. “Do they have anything about the jazz fest in there? They’re supposed to announce the lineup this week.”

Dad grumbled something to himself about preferring the Beatles and lifted his paper higher in front of his face.

Remember I said my mom had stopped talking about my weight? Well, my dad stopped talking to me altogether. It happened about a year ago, when I first tipped over 400 pounds. At that 4-0-0 benchmark, there was so much of me to see, nobody could miss me. To my dad, though, I just became invisible. He talked around me, if he talked at all.

But you know what? – And I know this is going to sound fucked up – I didn’t care. Seriously, my dad was kind of a prick. I mean, I knew he loved me somewhere deep… deep down, and I loved him. We just didn’t like each other very much.

Growing up, my dad thought my big frame meant I was built to play football. When I started growing out, he just didn’t know what to do with me, and by then, it was too late for him and mom to start over with a new kid. So he tried to get me into the gym, shove his nasty egg white omelets down my throat and tell me I wasn’t a lost cause.
I was actually pretty relieved when I hit 400 pounds, and he finally just shut the fuck up.

Friday, April 23, 2010

read my rejections... and requests

i thought it might be fun for folks who haven't quite made it to the query stage to see a sample of responses from agents... and those of you who have been through query hell can chuckle along when some of these letters look familiar. ;)

here is every single response i got to my 11 queries, both requests and rejections.
(the names of all agents and agencies have been omitted to protect the innocent).

first, these are what we call "form rejections" - or the emails agents copy and paste in response to authors when they're not interested in seeing the manuscript.
they have to do this, guys, otherwise they'd do nothing all day but write personal emails to people they are not going to represent. And that just doesn't make sense. They are working for a living you know.
writers spend hours, days even, agonizing over the meaning behind these rejections, but let me tell you - they all pretty much say the same thing:

"I'm just not that into you."

Thank you for your query. I'm afraid that your book isn't right for me at this time and I'm going to pass. Please keep in mind, however, that the publishing business is a subjective one and this is only one agent's opinion. There may very well be another agent out there for whom your work would be a better fit.
Due to the sheer volume of queries I receive, I regret that I am unable to give a personalized reply or any additional feedback on your query.
All the best,
Dear Erin:
Thanks so much for considering us. Although this sounds quite interesting, it is not what we are looking for at this very time.
Thanks so much for giving us the opportunity and good luck in your quest for publication.
Dear Author:
Thank you so much for sending the (XXX) Agency your query. We’d like to apologize for the impersonal nature of this standard rejection letter. Rest assured that we do read every query letter carefully and, unfortunately, this project is not right for us. Because this business is so subjective and opinions vary widely, we recommend that you pursue other agents. After all, it just takes one "yes" to find the right match.
Good luck with all your publishing endeavors.
Thank you very much for thinking of me and (XXX) Management for representation. Due to the large volume of submissions that I receive, it is impossible for me to answer every query individually, however I assure you that your material was carefully evaluated. After consideration, I regret to say that your project is not right for my list at this time. As you know, this is a subjective business and another reader may feel differently. To that end I wish you the best in finding enthusiastic representation.
Dear Erin,
Thank you for your query. (XXX) asked me to reply after he evaluated your submission.
We’re afraid your project does not seem right for our list, but thank you for thinking of (XXX), and best of luck in your search for representation.
Thanks for your query.
As to your material I'm afraid I must pass -- I'm just not enthusiastic enough about the premise of your story to feel that I'd be the right agent for the project. Our agency represents a very full list of fiction writers and we must be highly selective in adding to it. I realize it is difficult to judge your potential from a query; nevertheless please know that I give serious attention to every letter, outline, and writing sample I receive.
Sorry I couldn't give you a more positive reply. Thanks for thinking of me, though, and best of luck in your search for representation.
This is an example of a semi-personal rejection:
Dear Erin,
Thank you for your recent e-mail and for your help with the contest, I appreciate it. I regret to say that I don’t feel that I’m the most appropriate agent for your work.
However, opinions vary considerably in this business, and I wish you the best of luck in your search for representation.
Best wishes,
And these are (WooHoo!) - REQUESTS!
Dear Erin,
Thank you for querying me. I'm interested in your idea and would like to request the full manuscript. You can email it to me as a Word attachment (.doc or .rtf file) or you can mail it to me at the address below.
(followed by extensive submission guidelines)
Dear Erin,
Thank you for your email. Your novel sounds interesting and we would like to read the manuscript; you're welcome to send it as a Microsoft Word or Adobe PDF attachment. We'd prefer to consider your novel on an exclusive basis for two weeks, if at all possible.
We look forward to reading your work.
All best,
Hi Erin,
Please send me the full! As a word or rtf attachment is fine -- but please not a "docx"
Hi Erin-- Happy to read, please do send by email,

I especially like that last email. Short, sweet, and my first ever full manuscript request! :)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

revision math

for the first time in i-can't-remember-how-long, i spent a saturday night at home by myself.
but i wasn't alone. i spent the night with my characters - one in particular.

i got so much agent feedback that Butter's crush, Anna, was too perfect. At first I tried to infused some negative traits into her character, but it wasn't adding up. suddenly she went from being unrealistic and perfect to extremely dislikeable and very confusing, coming off as a different person from scene to scene.

i am still struggling with revisions at this hour, but i can say i think - i hope - i have at least figured out Anna. the key wasn't to pile on negative qualities but to strip away some of the perfection.

and that means i had to let go of some scenes i really... really liked. it's the first time my revisions have been painful. some changes have been stressful, but these cuts actually hurt.

that bit when Anna shows she's braver than Butter by letting a scorpion crawl right up on to her hand? gone. makes her just a little too cool.

that part my mom loved when Anna tricked Butter into saying something revealing about himself? out. makes her just a little too clever.

of course, the revisions i did tonight may get stripped and rebuilt AGAIN tomorrow, but this much i know for sure: sometimes you can give a character more dimension by subtracting instead of adding.

(as i've been looking at a laptop screen for about six hours, please forgive that this post is short and unedited. i'm one sleepy writer.)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

strange things at stoplights 3

actually, today's edition of strange things at stoplights is more like... inspirational things at stoplights.

i snapped this one yesterday morning while stuck in rush hour traffic in the parking lot - i mean, on the freeway - headed home from handsome's house.

you see so many silly things on license plates these days, but using your car's rear real estate to send a positive message like this is rare.
it got me thinking about the things in life i bitch about and the things i'm grateful for. there are too many to list, so let's stick with those applicable to writing.

have you ever said any of these things?
-i don't have time to write.
-i'm still not published.
-this process takes forever.
-i don't waaannnnnaaaa revise!!

yes? me too. every single one of them. but honestly, i have a lot more to be thankful for than i have to complain about.
- a wonderful community/support group of writers at AW
- supportive parents who love to read
- a job that rarely, if ever, requires me to bring work home.. so that my home time is free time and thus, potentially writing time
- agents who are gracious enough to write lengthy, descriptive letters with suggestions on how to improve my work
- a boyfriend who understands if i need time to myself to write

and the list just goes on.

what are you grateful for?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

teaSer tueSday

about this time last week, i was in the middle of a feverish two days devoted almost entirely to revisions. now, i'm embarking on a two day BREAK from those revisions. sometimes, when it's getting ugly, you just have to walk away for a little bit. (at least, that works for me.)

anyway, i know it's getting late for you east coast writers/readers, but i hope you have time to read one more tease!

this is the very rough opening page of BILLY D. & THE BULLY. as with the last teaser from this story, there is an ugly "R" word.

I had a foot on some kid’s throat and a hand in my pocket, searching for gum, the first time I saw Billy D. He was standing across the street, staring – not even trying to be sly about it, just staring out from under those huge lids that somehow made his eyes look slanted and round at the same time.

“What are you lookin’ at?”

His mouth fell open in a silent little ‘o,’ but he didn’t respond. He didn’t leave either, just kept on staring.

Something gurgled inside the throat under my foot. I glanced down. The kid looked like he might be struggling to breath, but his face wasn’t red or anything yet, so I turned my attention back across the street.

“Get out of here! Or you’re next!”

That was kind of an empty threat. Even from across the street, I could tell by the kid’s vacant expression, that slack jaw and the strange way he hunched his shoulders, that he was challenged, probably flat out retarded, and I didn’t pick on retards.

Standards, y’know?

“Hey, you deaf or something? I said GET LOST!”

He hesitated, shuffling a step first to the left, then to the right. He looked once more at me and at the boy under my boot, then he moved his gaze to the sidewalk and stomped away.


Saturday, April 10, 2010

trust and rejection

so i got a response from the final agent with my full manuscript - a rejection.

unlike the last rejection, this one left me feeling a little blue, only because i really liked what the agent had to say about my manuscript and know i would be able to work with her.
however instead of a "revise for me" letter, she wrote a "revise and resubmit" letter. that is a GREAT invitation, because her suggested revisions are so similar to those of Agent Almost, i feel like i have a place to send the new manuscript right away if Agent Almost ultimately rejects it.

bottom line - she liked it but didn't love it. i figure that's not too shabby for an agent who says she only requests one full out of every 50 to 80 queries and only takes on about 1 or 2% of the fulls she requests.

i feel good about that, but i am now in a scary place where all of my eggs are in one basket. the pressure to make my revisions perfect for Agent Almost has multiplied by a thousand.

it has me reading my revision letter over and over and calling my parents in the middle of the night to bounce ideas off of them. but one of those late-night freak-out calls resulted in some AMAZING advice that i want to share with all of you aspiring writers.

i'm paraphrasing here, but essentially, my dad told me:

"Take the notes from [Agent Almost], consider them, then do what feels right to you. Remember, he liked your first draft. Give him a chance to like your revisions. Don’t over-think it. TRUST YOURSELF."

the "trust yourself" is not paraphrased. that's a direct quote and a rule to live by.

i have to remember that i am revising for someone who already believes in me, in my story, in the words that came from inside me. if i stay true to that voice inside, then chances are he will like what comes next. but if he doesn't, at least the revisions/rewrites are still mine.

i am not guaranteed and agent or an editor or a publisher or readers. the only thing i know i will have FOR SURE at the end of all this is my book, so it better still feel like MY book.
and i think that attitude will ultimately result in the best final product. after all, who knows Butter better than I do? ;)

so i'd like to take my dad's advice and pay it forward... to any writer struggling with revisions (for betas, for an agent, for an editor, etc...) just remember:


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

hard work

i've always thought this path to publishing would end when it stopped being fun or started feeling like work. there's no guarantee of a payday at the end, so you better at least be having fun along the way.

and writing is still fun. but revisions? that's hard work.

the shocking thing is - it's enjoyable work. it's difficult, frustrating, stressful, satisfying, fulfilling, entertaining WORK. and i love it. who knew?

don't get me wrong. i've always loved marking up my manuscripts with red pen:

but revising for an agent? there are high stakes involved, and i can't red-line my way through it. it requires organization and my full attention. it also requires a dedicated work space:

for me, revisions that could make or break my chance of getting an agent can't be done on my couch while watching Lost.
(also, you should never be doing ANYTHING else while watching Lost. focus people! only 5 episodes left! every second, every frame of video is critical in the countdown to the end!)

okay, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

the point is, this whole writing/revising process is still fun. but it's evolving into something better than "fun." the fact that there's "work" involved makes me feel like something i used to call a dream could actually be a reality.

fun? great.
hard work? now we're getting somewhere.

Monday, April 5, 2010

memory lane

so, i tease my mom a lot about never throwing anything away, but after visiting home this weekend, i am sooooooo grateful for her ocd saving habits, because she found something priceless.

it turns out, i finished my first book at a much earlier age than i realized.

introducing my first "book," LISA AND GRETEL. (and if you think Gretel is stolen straight out of a fairy tale, just wait. it gets better.)

i'll spare you the entire book, but here are a few highlights. (i hope you can read the pages. they're as big as i could make them):

yep, that sounds like me in third grade. ;)
now, before you forgive the pictures because of my age, i have to confess, my drawing hasn't really improved.

hey, i never claimed to be an illustrator.
but i could tell a story:

the last remaining fairy on the run from the evil fairy-snatcher, Dark Heart? hey, little third grade me, sounds like you've got a plot there!

although, young me had not learned the word "plagiarism" yet.... obviously:

weaving straw into gold? hmmmm. where have we heard that before?

also, i had yet to master the art of endings. once lisa and gretel gave dark heart the gold made from straw, he let the fairies go and turned out to be a friendly fellow. what happened to turn him from evil to good? good question:

yep, just happened.
this ending is not so different from the ending of BUTTER... which is probably why Agent Almost asked me to rewrite it. ;)

but i do still like a happy ending:

so that's my little trip down memory lane, courtesy of a closet cleaning with mom.
now i can't wait until my next trip home, so mom and i can tackle some of those mysterious boxes of mine in the attic! who knows what literary treasures we might find!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

strange things at stoplights 2

see? i told you it would be a regular feature. and this one isn't nearly as freaky as last month's.

here is today's strange STOPLIGHT snapshot:

i got the camera out as soon as i saw the big stuffed ball on the back, but it wasn't until the suv started to turn that i spotted the bunny ears.

who thinks this stuff up??

in writing related news, i'm finding my usual routine (sneak some writing in whenever/wherever i can) doesn't work well for revising. i need to sit and stay focused for a long stretch of time. so i'm taking a couple days off work next week to really immerse myself in my rewrites. wish me luck for two productive days!!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

on second thought...

...maybe i won't pass out compliments.

i just don't feel like it, and you all don't really deserve it.


of course i'm still giving compliments!!
in honor of hitting my first little blog milestone - ten followers - i am making good on my promise and fattening up your egos with some well-deserved flattery.

Emmychka - Emily runs three blogs AND tweets AND works as a missionary in the Ukraine. AND she manages to stay on top of all that while working closely with children, who i imagine demand quite a lot of time and attention. now THAT is dedication, people! i'm so impressed by Emily's many blogs and reading some of her posts challenged preconceived ideas i had before i dove in. Emily wants to be a YA author someday. this is something that requires a lot of writing, determination, dedication and faith... and Emily - those are skills you have in spades!

Stone - it's my long lost buddy Dan! anyone who knows how much i love halloween will know how huge this compliment is that i am about to pay. i do believe Dan Stone had the best halloween costume i've ever seen. a full 3 halloweens ago, Dan did not just dress up like L. Ron Hubbard... he nailed it - scientology brochures and all - and didn't break character once.
See how talented Dan is here, at his website.

Kate - i know Kate's not in it for the link love, but i'm going to link her up anyway. click here to see how broad her talents are. you will be humbled. sure, you can write. but can you also quilt and sew and speak spanish and grow a garden all while raising two kids and working? Kate Hart can. it's okay to be jealous. oh, AND she contributes to YA highway, quickly becoming THE must-read website of the YA blogosphere. but you know what's cooler than all of that? Kate still finds time to follow a billion other YA bloggers. i know this, because i see her face smiling up from the followers section of just about every blog i click on. Kate, you rock!

....ummm, i have to pause now and apologize. if i keep the compliments this long, this blog post will be long enough to stretch around the world twice, so i'm going to have to be more concise. JUST AS FLATTERING... but more concise.

now back to business.

Annie - Annie has, in my opinion, the best writing blog title around. Reading, Writing, and Waiting. wish i'd thought of it! also, follow the link to see why Annie McElfresh is one rockin' query writer! so good that in a world full of agents plastering the internet with examples of what NOT to do in a query, Annie's query got posted as an example of how to get it right!

Lauren - it's hard to pick one nice thing to say about someone you've known for 15 years, so allow me to say three. Lauren Carter is a triple threat - singer, dancer, actress - and tremendous at all three. she's a dreamer who does more than imagine, she goes out and gets - chasing down dreams in a way most people never have the balls to do. and finally, can you say STUNNING? (that's her modeling for the cover of siri mitchell's next book. cool, huh?!)

Gem - a fearless self-editor, brave enough to strip away character traits and remold her MC for the good of the story. tremendously kind for reaching out to a fellow writer walking the same path to publishing and sharing experiences so that i may learn and offering to help me along my own path. (and hopefully forgiving of that poorly formed sentence.) finally, check out this blog by Gem for a beautiful example of how to be a writer, even outside the pages of your manuscript. we can all learn from her.

damn, i can't seem to make these shorter. i'm really going to try for brevity now... for reals this time.

Suzanne - check out Suzanne's blog for two of the cutest bunnies you've ever seen and some truly inspiring photos. Suzanne's mad photo skills demonstrate the kind of creative eye some writers only dream of posessing.

Daphne - you should all be so lucky to have a friend like this. the kind who doesn't need a call to just show up on your doorstep late at night to hold your hand, after hearing some evil bastards broke into your house and stole family heirlooms and violated your privacy and threatened your safety. and you should all be so lucky to hear this angel sing. Daphne Adato can WAIL!

Michael L - the very definition of a family man, putting wife and child first and still somehow billed as "best friend" to no fewer than half a dozen people. one of the smartest, most creative and talented people i've ever known. you've heard 'jack of all trades but master of none?' well, meet the master of many. few people are lucky enough to be SO good at SO much.

and last but not least...

Matt - i could gush for quite a long time about this one, but in the interest of ending this blog post already, i'll sum up:
funny, smart, supportive, generous and look!

sooooo handsome!

but hands off, ladies! get your own charming, clever, talented and handsome! this one's mine. :)

i don't even want to tell you how long this post took me to write, but let's just say handsome will NOT be pleased when he shows up in 20 minutes and sees i've done NOTHING to get ready tonight.
better run! see ya!
(please forgive typos, poor spelling and worse grammar in this post. i don't have time to copy edit.)