Thursday, July 29, 2010

link love

i thought about posting another video blog, but i chickened out - again - so instead, i'm sharing some of my favorite things around the web this week.

before you click this first link, i have to warn you, it is overflowing with spoilers from "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," so don't click it if you don't want to be spoiled. you've been warned.

i've mentioned before that i'm not a book reviewer. reviews are being done well elsewhere in the blogosphere. plus - most of the time when i have a lot to say about a book it's because i did NOT like it. and writing negative things about other authors in a public space like a blog makes me feel icky.
that said, i will confess to totally agreeing with a review by someone else (especially since it is about the one book i have already admitted on this blog that i didn't love).

i'm sure most of you are already following the rejectionist, but if not, then at least follow this link through le R's blog to read the great review. and by great, i mean well written - not a glowing review. not in the least bit. in fact, the review is titled:

"The Girl With the Lots of Creepy Disturbing Torture that Pissed Me Off."


i also recommend you enter this "Totally Epic Summer Contest," hosted by writers Roni Griffin and Julie Cross. and here's why:

you know how i like to brag about my awesome beta and aren't-i-lucky-you-can't-have-her-she's-mine-all-mine!!!!! well, she can be yours too... for 5 pages. then you have to give her back.

my beta, Gem, will be interviewed next week on Roni's blog, and if you follow the hosts of the contest, you will win a chance to have your query or first 5 pages critiqued by Gem or by Meredith Barnes. (if you are not already salivating, then you must not know that Gem is rocking an internship at Fine Print Lit and that Meredith is an assistant to the one and only Janet Reid!)
((and if you are still not salivating, because you don't know this FP Lit or Janet of which i speak, well then... i can't help you. but i can suggest you get over to Absolute Write immediately and start doing research on all the fabulous people and places of publishing.))

finally, this has been out on the web for awhile, but i only recently discovered it. if you don't cringe at the f-word, this should make you laugh out loud.
seriously... if you click no other link in this post, click this one. i almost peed myself laughing.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

what else ya got?

if you are serious about writing, this is a question you will (hopefully) be asked over and over and over again.

in so many words, it was one of the first questions my agent asked me.
and it's a question you WANT to be asked... because if people don't like your writing, they won't be asking to see more.
you want agents, editors and especially readers to always being asking:
"what else ya got?"

in fact, if you're very lucky, you will get this question so fast and frequent you won't be able to keep up with the demand. (unless you are one of those freaky fast writers who churn out books in a matter of days. man, i hate admire you guys.)

it is possible you have just one great story to tell, one opus that will soar into literary history and make you a household name without ever writing another word. or perhaps you are in it for the money and are just talented and lucky enough to pull it off - that impossible 7-figure debut. if you achieve those goals and feel finished, then by all means retire and enjoy!

but if you're like me, you have way too many voices in your head to write just one. when i go on sub, if editors ask "what else ya got," and i have only empty hands to show them, i won't feel like i'm letting the editors down; i'll feel like i'm letting my characters down. each of them deserves a story. now, whether that story ends up in a trunk or on sub is a very different matter. i love Trapper, Andi, Boston and Tuna, but 'kids, get comfy. you're gonna be in that trunk for a looooong time.'

so now i'm hard at work telling the story of my two new favorite characters and hoping i do them justice... because there's a tiny bit of pressure in that question of what else you have cooking - this itty bitty, unspoken sub-question:
"and is it better?"

if you're learning and growing and pushing yourself as an author, the answer should probably always be, "yes, it's better." but when you're going from working on a revised, polished, finished manuscript to a new rough draft, it's kinda hard to see much that's better.

the point is to keep writing. work on one project at a time if you must (i certainly do), and work it until it's sparkling. you can even take a break afterward. but then push that diamond away (preferably in the direction of an agent or editor) and get back to digging through the dirt for the next rock you can polish into something precious. KEEP WRITING.

Monday, July 26, 2010

tales from the jury box

so the bad news is:
i did NOT get selected for jury duty.

the good news is:
that means i now have permission to blab all about the case and my experience!

for those of you not following the jury saga, this was my SEVENTH summons. but it was the first time i ever actually got called out of the holding pen and into court. it almost didn't happen. out of about 160 people called for jury duty last Thursday, a whopping 150 got called into courtrooms. i was the next-to-last person in the last group!

first, let me say, my group got called up to the 13th floor. wtf? do buildings still have 13th floors?
there has to be a story in there somewhere... the last group of jurors called at the end of the day to the mysterious 13th floor where they judge something much more than your average criminals - they judge your souls.
i mean, i don't write that kind of stuff, but just sayin'. someone else write it. i would read it.

so jury selection is a little like how i imagine an AA meeting or some other type of group-sharing experience. i thought we would fill out questionnaires with perhaps some probing questions, then slip our papers up to the front of the court for privacy.

oh no. the judge asked such questions as:
have you ever been convicted of a crime?
have you ever been the victim of a violent crime?
have any of your family members or close friends spent time in prison?

in answer to these questions, in a big open courtroom, we held up 8x10 bright pink laminated signs to answer "yes."
THEN, on top of airing our answers to the court, each time we answered yes, we had to stand up one-by-one and EXPLAIN OURSELVES.

*this included a woman tearfully explaining that she distrusted lawyers and police, because her son is -she believes- wrongfully imprisoned.
*this included a man telling the story of his many drug-related crimes, then - probably feeling like he had to defend himself - also explaining how long he spent in rehab and how he has cleaned his life up since.
*this included a man asking the court for a private Q&A, because he didn't want to explain in public the exact nature of the violent crime his daughter was a victim of.
*and this included soooo many people having to stand up in front of a court full of people and explain just how little money they were making - if any at all - and why being in court would be a financial hardship. ...stories that, in this time of recession, were very personal and uncomfortable.

so as fascinating as all of this was to a voyeur like me, i actually think it is a flaw in the system. too many people are embarrassed to speak up and could taint a jury pool. sure, there is the option to ask to explain yourself in private, but let's face it - everyone had an idea of what happened to that guy's daughter.
i, myself, did not like standing up and telling the court of strangers that i was the victim of a major burglary and then having to answer on the spot with a definitive "yes, i can put that aside and judge this guy fairly."
(on day two of jury selection, during the defense attorney's turn to question us, he looked right at me when he said: "you may think you can put things aside and not realize until you get to the deliberation room that you really can't." hey! who's being judged here?! haha.)
anyway, i'm pretty sure that's why i didn't get picked.

now, you know how everyone's always talking about trying to get out of jury duty?
yeaaaahhh... i think that's only because 99% of the cases being tried are BO-RING.
not this one. it was a juicy case. and you better believe most of the people in my jury pool were working harder to convince the court they should serve than trying to get out of it.

the case involved a violent home invasion and burglary, in which the homeowners were tied up and threatened with guns. those are the basics anyway. i suspect there is more to it, since today, the prosecutor brought in the victims - an interracial couple - and started asking us questions about race.
further, the judge asked us questions about tattoos (the defendant had many), which i thought nothing of, until one older woman stood up to say - in a thick Polish accent - that she had a problem with just one tattoo... the one under the defendant's eye. (i could not see this small tattoo from a distance, but apparently it was an iron cross, a symbol of the German army during WWII often associated with neo-nazis today.) the defense attorney proceeded to question her extensively about her experience in WWII, which family members she had lost in the war, etc... until the judge called him up to the bench and basically told him to knock it off.

this woman was mercifully dismissed. i can't even imagine how she must have felt.
other immediate dismissals in my jury group:
*the guy who said he used to train lawyers for the county attorney's office. (dismissed after the prosecutor recognized him and said "oh yeah, he trained me!")
*the guy with a criminal past who suddenly stood up to tell the judge: "i didn't realize it until he turned around, but i recognize the defendant. actually, we used to hang out." (dismissed!)
*the retired school teacher who, it turns out, taught at the defendant's grade school and might-just-might have been his English teacher when he was little!

i don't know if all juries have such crazy coincidences, but it sure made my experience interesting!

Sunday, July 25, 2010


i am, admittedly, not a big reader of non-fiction.

most of the non-fiction books on my shelves have been gathering dust since college. and in my "favorites" book cases, there are only two tiny shelves populated by non-fiction:

(and if you look closely, you can see a few fiction titles creeping their way into the non-fiction sections, threatening to push the true stories off the "favorites" shelves altogether.)

a quick glance shows most of the books are memoirs, because even in my non-fiction, i want to read a good story.

however, it occurred to me today there is one non-fiction book - a reference book, no less - that i have read at least half a dozen times. in fact, i'm reading it right now.

The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World is 850 pages of facts - no fiction.
and every time i plan a trip to WDW or DisneyLand, i read the unofficial guide cover-to-cover.
every. single. time.
why? (well, because i am a type-A commando vacation planner, especially when it comes to Disney.) but also because it is laugh-out-loud funny. it is great writing, plain and simple. it takes what could be an overwhelming chore and turns that chore into entertainment.
for example:

"Country Bear Jamboree has run for so long that the geriatric bears are a step away from assisted living and the fleas all walk with canes."

"When Disney first rolled out Magic Your Way, the No Expiration option actually was pretty reasonable. Well, they couldn't let that continue, could they?"

"Disney is sending a message here: FASTPASS is heaven; anything else is limbo at best and probably purgatory. In any event, you'll think you've been in hell if you're stuck in the regular line..."
some of the humor may be lost on non-disney fans, so i'm not advocating anyone go grab this book for a beach read or anything. i'm just making the point that non-fiction can be entertaining, and i need that reminder sometimes myself.

if your own non-fiction shelves are sparse like mine, and you're looking to fill them up, i personally recommend these titles:
The Genius Factory, by David Plotz and The Google Story

outside of my 4 copies of the Unofficial Guide (yes, four. don't judge me), Genius and Google are my fave non-fics.

i'd love recommendations from all of you. what other non-fiction out there tells a great, entertaining story? what should i add to my own shelves?

Friday, July 23, 2010

pinch me

you know that story writers always tell about "the call" - the one where the phone rings, and all their dreams come true, and they sing and dance and celebrate and can't stop grinning?

this is not that story.
(at least not at first...)

and you know the stories you hear about writers who get multiple offers and have their dreams come true DOUBLE and are in the lucky position of getting to choose and therefore must be DOUBLY HAPPY?

this is not that story either.
(at least, not the doubly happy part, and i think you'll see why.)

but this IS the story of.... drumroll.......................


normally i try not to write long self-indulgent posts, but i know when i was querying, i relished reading every detail of other writers' experiences landing an agent, so settle in. this may be long.

i started querying in February. i was very fortunate to get 4 requests out of 11 queries. two of those 4 ended up being invitations to revise & resub. one was a phone call from someone who came to be known on the blog as "Agent Almost." i spent the next few months doing revisions for AA. earlier this month, while still waiting for a response from AA, i decided to start querying again.

i also decided to resub to one of my first choice agents - one who had given me an R&R - because her comments were in line with the revision i had done and, in fact, i had used many of her suggestions in my revision for AA, because i agreed with them so much. she agreed to read it again.

i got a very quick request/full read/offer. i might have done that dance i mentioned at the top of this post. ;)

i did what everyone suggests you do and let the other agents with queries or fulls know i had an offer. AA stepped aside with the kindest well wishes, and we both agreed we hope to cross paths in the future. what a class act! his clients are in great hands. then something unexpected happened. despite being terribly busy, the agent with the resub agreed to read it in time for me to make a decision.

a few days later i had a holy-shit-amazing conversation with the offering agent. i might have danced again. THEN, later that very night... perhaps you've guessed by now: i had ANOTHER holy-shit-amazing conversation - and yes, another offer on the table.

and i stopped dancing.

in fact, i threw up. (well, not right away. first i slept on it and let it all churn up in my stomach for 24 hours.)

then i made a decision. and THEN i threw up... because here's the thing:

when we write a story, we put a little piece of ourselves into it - no, actually, a BIG piece. so when someone says they like your book, it's like they're saying they like you too, and the last thing you want to do is let that person down.

i let my stomach settle, took a deep breath, picked up the phone and said the words i have dreamed about: "I ACCEPT."

i still felt ill about it, but here's what's great about my agent - (MY AGENT! whoa, still getting used to that) - when i told her i knew i was supposed to be excited, she finished my thought and said "you feel sick." she totally gets it.

the next morning i placed a difficult phone call to the MOST GRACIOUS AND AMAZING person, who wished me well and whose praises i will sing forever.

and then i started to feel it... first a little toe tapping, maybe a sway of the hips - the dancing had begun. and the grinning. oh yes, grinning like a maniac, because of these two comments on twitter:

**Today: One new client, Two new contracts to read, One offer, Two client mss delivered, One pitch written... no wonder querybox is stacking!

**For those of you keeping score, this is the 1st new client I've signed all year. This tweet brought to you by the Bureau of Grim Statistics.

...because i am the client, and the agent who tweeted those comments is MY agent - the fiercely honest, uber talented, relentlessly funny.....

Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary Agency

now, if you'll excuse me, it's time.
i must go dance my ass off.

Monday, July 19, 2010

bending the rules

this post is a little tricky to write without sharing everything that's happening on my path to publishing (which i really hope to update here very soon!), but let's give it a shot.

what i want to say today is a message for authors seeking representation, and the message is this:
you DO have some control over your future. you just have to advocate for yourself. and to do that, you have to BELIEVE IN YOURSELF.

i have learned so much from the amazing online community of writers. i would have been lost without everyone's advice when it came to querying/submitting/formatting/etiquette/etc...
however, there are some things people can't prepare you for, simply because there are too many variables in publishing. every agent is different; every submission is unique; every rule has an exception. no matter how prepared you are to start seeking representation, you will likely have a handful of new questions along the way about how to handle a particular situation. sometimes you have to just jump in and learn as you go.

so here's what i'm learning as i go. these are my personal caveats to the common knowledge:

1) publishing is a slow business. you must have patience.

***totally agree and am working on getting this through my "everything-on-a-deadline-now!now!now!" journalist's skull.
HOWEVER, you are not always at the mercy of time. if waiting months to hear from an agent on a full is making you antsy, you have the option - the power - to keep querying. (now just my opinion, but i recommend you keep your query list manageable. personally, i only have X number of queries out at a time and stop querying if i get Y number of full requests. fill in your own X and Y.) but unless you've granted an exclusive, i see no reason to wait and wait on one or two agents who are reading.
publishing is a slow business, yes, but why make it slower by not actively searching while you're waiting?

2) query widely.

***no, at least not at first. start with a small group of agents whose names and interests you know before you even research them. these are probably the agents whose blogs you read and love, who represent authors you admire. these are your "dream" agents before you really know what your dream is. i found the experiences with that first batch of agents fine-tuned my idea of the "perfect" agent. i learned what kind of rapport i want with an agent.. whether i want someone editorial or not.. what kind of communication i prefer (phone/email/chat) and how fast or slow i'd like that communication to flow back and forth. once i'd figured out my likes and dislikes, i looked at what might influence those factors: size of the agent's client list, tone of the agent's online presence, etc.
once i had that information at hand, THEN i queried widely. because you don't always know what you're looking for until you set out to find it.

3) don't spam/pester agents.

***yes,yes,yes! follow this rule. but also know what is and what is not pestering. i have blogged before about why it's okay to nudge. there are plenty of "okay" reasons to hit up an agent with a question or follow-up email. in my case, i had to muster up a little courage to actually take an agent up on an offer to revise&resub - and 'Lo and Behold!' - they actually mean it when they say it. :)
i've also learned, if you have an offer on the table, you are not "bothering" an agent when you write or call to let them know - even if you just emailed them yesterday! honest! they appreciate it! (in fact, i've learned if an agent ever did seem bothered by a courteous update from my end, they would not be the agent for me)

these may not be big revelations for you query aficionados, but i thought it might be helpful advice for those authors just getting on the path to publishing, because half of this i only learned in the last few weeks, despite being 5 months deep into query hell.

by the way, i don't find querying hellish at all, i just like the expression. i actually think querying is a lot of fun.
masochistic much?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

summer blues

and bonus! a few more "best lines" from the book i read on 4th of july by the pool. those lines in a moment, but first:

is it just me, or is the blogosphere slowing down for summer? a handful of blogs i follow are on hiatus for various reasons - summer events like vacations or internships - summer family time, etc..
it also sounds like quite a few people are taking a break from writing right now.
finally, with agents and editors taking their own vacations or preparing for summer conferences, it seems news about deals and signings is a little slow too.

it's giving me the blues, because i felt like i had a lot of momentum going this winter, and now that my own path to publishing has slowed down, i don't even have as many other folks to live through vicariously. le sigh.
looking forward to fall when things get hopping again!

NOW... about those best lines.
last weekend, i read Rebecca Stead's award-winning "When You Reach Me."
i was half done with the book before i thought to start earmarking pages for quotes. it just reads so fast and smooth you almost don't notice the amazing one-liners, because you feel like you're living the book instead of reading it. (or maybe that's just fan-girl me)

so much of this book is about discovery as you go, so there are many many great lines i can't quote here, because they would give away something in the story. however, these two are spoiler-free and just as lovely:

"It soaked into me like water into sand, fast and heavy-making."

"Sometimes I wanted to squeeze Colin's cheeks until his teeth fell out."

love love love those lines.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

a page from my childhood

back in april, i took this trip down memory lane. <--link! click it!

well, it turns out, my mom didn't just save everything i'd ever written as a kid but also everything i'd ever read. she tells me there are boxes and boxes of books getting dusty somewhere in the attic, and it got me thinking (with mom's help) about the books i read growing up.

Pat the Bunny

i didn't remember this one until my mom mentioned it, and in fact, when i first posted this, i described the book wrong (which mom pointed out, of course). but now i clearly remember the fuzzy pages and the peek-a-boo mirror. apparently, it was my favorite.

Berenstain Bears

i needed a nudge from mom to remember this too, but oh yeah, i was totally into these bears. i think i had every book.

East of the Sun & West of the Moon

this is my all-time favorite childhood book. it always creeped me out a little, especially near the end, but the artwork was so beautiful, and the writing so memorable. in fact, i think i still have parts of that book memorized to this day. i hope hope hope this is one of the books in mom's dusty boxes.

Charlotte's Web

this was my first "big girl" book, and i remember thinking it wasn't much harder to read than all the thin books. mom claims i read it in a single day, and she didn't believe me, so she sat me down to quiz me on the story to prove it.

i don't remember that, but i do remember reading this book over and over again, to make it last longer.

Sweet Valley Twins
what can i say? i was ten. i was a girl. i was an only child who dreamed of having a sibling - especially a twin!
also, i was more of a jessica than an elizabeth... at least, i wanted to be. ;)

Fear Street books

i picked these up as a pre-teen. pure escapism.
all i remember is that the main characters were always 17 years old.

Watership Down

and this was my graduation from kids books to adult books. it was at least a decade before i knocked that literary chip off my shoulder and went back to reading young adult stories. it was another decade after that that i started writing them.

and i have all the books on this list to thank.

so please share!! what books tell the story of your childhood??

Monday, July 5, 2010

book shopping, a family affair

i love people-watching at my local borders. i almost always see something that interests me.

when i did nano last year and spent lots of weeknights in the borders coffee shop, i loved watching the ladies who got together once a week to play mahjong late into the evening.
when dan brown's last book came out, my heart soared seeing people who'd come only for that book venture deeper into the store - like they'd just remembered they love reading - and come out with armloads full of books, not just brown's.
and around christmas time, when i stood behind a woman and her son in the checkout line, complaining about how there were no non-fantasy books for teenage boys, i had to bite my tongue to keep from saying: "i am writing a book for you!"

those interactions - the ones between parents and kids - are the ones i most like to observe. it surprises me how much of a role parents play in choosing what their children read.

yesterday, i watched a mother and her young daughter pick apart the children's section. the mom steered her daughter toward the shelf i was at, saying, "here are the award-winning books. let's pick from this section."
i wanted to hug her.
i already had "when you reach me" in my hands, but i lingered at the shelf to listen as mom and daughter went through book-by-book, talking about which ones they read, how much they liked "wrinkle in time," how they'd never heard of this one, how so-and-so recommended that one... and so on. then dad showed up and gave his input on the pile they'd picked out.

in the next aisle over, an older girl was reading the back cover and inside flap of every single vampire book on the shelf, while her mom moved behind her, picking up only the ones her daughter had added to the "to buy" pile. this pair had graduated past the family discussion over which book to read, but mom was still silently approving the choices.

i'll have to ask my mom, but if i remember right, i was always set loose in the bookstore to grab whatever i wanted. i would hang out by myself in the kids' section until mom came to tell me it was time to check out. then i'd pick up my selections and follow her to the cash register. occasionally she'd say, "all of those?!" and raise her eyebrows, but she never asked what they were about or sensored my choices in any way. and neither did my dad.

i wonder if times have changed or if it just varies from parent to parent.

either way, i love seeing families together at the bookstore. i love watching kids/teens pick up stories on their own or listen to their parents' input. i love spying on what goes into their bags at checkout time. and i love love love overhearing kids talk about which books they liked or didn't and why.
the hope that my name might someday be a part of that discussion is what motivates me through this sometimes frustrating path to publishing. i am so proud to write for young readers.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

best lines, the sequel

so, i'm currently rereading the hunger games and catching fire, to gear up for the release of mockingjay later this summer. and as i was reading book one, i got thinking about my post on "best lines," because this book has some doozies too.

i don't review books on my blog, partly because there are so many blogs out there doing such a better job of it than i could. but i thought it might be fun to start a semi-regular feature in which i share tidbits with you from whatever i'm reading right now. nothing spoilerish, of course, and no long passages - just the stand-alone lines that knock me down.

these lines may not be quite as fabulous, taken out of context, but perhaps they'll entice you to pick up the book, if you haven't already.

so here are the lines that made me catch my breath (even the second time around) from The Hunger Games:

"To the everlasting credit of the people of District 12, not one person claps."

"And then, because it's Effie and she's apparently required by law to say something awful, she adds..."

"In our world, I rank music somewhere between hair ribbons and rainbows in terms of usefulness."

and from Catching Fire:

"'It must be very fragile, if a handful of berries can bring it down.'"

there are so many other brilliant lines, especially when read in context, but they give away too much of the story, and i don't want to spoil.

if you haven't picked up this series yet, i highly recommend it. Suzanne Collins will blow you away.