Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Sisters Red Giveaway

I promised a Sisters Red giveaway, many eons ago, to mark the end of NaNoWriMo. Let's ignore the fact that it's almost January and get this contest started.

The Prize: A hardback copy of Sisters Red, signed by the very funny and very gracious Jackson Pearce. In addition, because I was late with this contest, I will throw in a mystery prize to sweeten the pot. I promise the 'mystery prize' will not be my dog Hope (aka Li'l Sofaeater).

Book Summary:

Scarlett March lives to hunt the Fenris—the werewolves that took her eye when she was defending her sister Rosie from a brutal attack. Armed with a razor-sharp hatchet and blood-red cloak, Scarlett is an expert at luring and slaying the wolves. She’s determined to protect other young girls from a grisly death, and her raging heart will not rest until every single wolf is dead.

Rosie March once felt her bond with her sister was unbreakable. Owing Scarlett her life, Rosie hunts fiercely alongside her. Now Rosie dreams of a life beyond the wolves and finds herself drawn to Silas, a young woodsman who is deadly with an ax—but loving him means betraying her sister and has the potential to destroy all they’ve worked for.

How to Enter:

1. I'm going to change it up and do a random drawing this time. All you need to do is respond to this post and you'll automatically be entered into the contest. The winner will be chosen by my beagle, Lucy. How, I'm not quite sure, but I'm already working on some sort of Rube Goldberg type contraption.

2. For extra credit (and one extra contest entry), please answer the following question: You are skipping towards Grandma's house, carrying a basket full of gifts and supplies. Out of nowhere, you are attacked by a Big Bad Wolf. Using just your cloak and/or the items in your basket, how do you fight back?

3. If you're my little brother, you can't enter.

4. You must follow my blog. You could also follow me on Twitter (@LiteraryMouse), but you don't have to if you don't want to.

5. The deadline is Monday, January 10, at 9pm EST.

If you have any questions about contest rules, please leave them in the comments!

Update: The contest is closed! I'll announce the winner either tomorrow or Friday. Thanks to everyone who entered.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

NaNoWriSlow: The Aftermath

November has passed. The increasingly sad-looking pumpkin that was sitting on my porch has been put out of its misery, the temperature's dropped about 20 degrees and suddenly, everybody's talking about this jolly fat guy in a red suit who'll be making a visit on the 25th.

How'd my NaNoWriSlow experiment go? Well, it went slowly, as you might have guessed. I got a grand total of... 18 pages done! Nowhere near my goal, but the words I did get in were polished and prettified and I managed to work out a major plot issue, so I'm pretty happy with the results.

I promised a giveaway. Having rooted around my prize lair, I've decided to give away a signed copy of Jackson Pearce's Sisters Red. Stay tuned for contest rules and regs!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

NaNoWriSlow: Update

I can't believe November is almost over. What happened? I vaguely remember taking down Halloween decorations, getting ready for Faeriecon, then...BAM! All the sudden it's the day before Thanksgiving. What's up with that, space-time continuum? I think I lost an entire week somewhere in there.

How is everybody's NaNo projects coming along? Feel free to give updates in the comments. I'd love to hear how you all are doing. As for me... I've gotten 13 pages done! That's actually not bad, because as you might've guessed by the title of this post, and the turtle pic below, I write slow. But I don't go back to work until Tuesday, so I have an extra long weekend to get more writing done.

As I've mentioned, I'm working on a sequel to my Knights of Avalon mss, about the Knights of the Round Table reincarnated as New Jersey teens. Here's a description of Knights of Avalon from my query:

Sixteen-year-old Justine Kwiatkowski doesn’t believe in magic, she doesn’t believe in reincarnation, and she never planned on having to fill King Arthur’s shoes. All she knows is that last night, the best friend she’s ever had, Gwen Martinez, went missing outside the town of Avalon and she’ll do whatever it takes to get her back.

But if she wants to rescue Gwen, she’ll have to believe in a world she thought only existed in legend, because her best friend happens to be the reincarnation of Guinevere, and fifteen hundred years after the fall of Camelot, the Knights of the Round Table have returned, reborn as New Jersey teens.

Problem is, Mordred and Morgan le Fay are back too, having kidnapped Gwen, and unlike most of the knights, they remember who they once were.

With Mordred murdering the knights before they can regain their memories, Justine has to figure out how to track down the few remaining survivors – a star football player, a brilliant artist teetering on the brink of madness, a high school dropout working odd jobs to support his family - and convince them to bury centuries-old grudges and work together. If she can do that, she just might save her friend, and maybe, the world.

In Knights of Avalon, my MC Justine is up against Mordred, even though she has no idea who Mordred is until the end of the book. Or to use a visual metaphor, it's like this:

Two opponents, equally matched, trying to outmaneuver the other. Awww, aren't they adorable? Thinking they're so tough and bad-ass.

In my sequel, it's Justine vs. Morgan le Fay, which goes down something like this:

Morgan le Fay is the orange cat, if you couldn't guess. The idea is that Justine is way out of her league on this one, and has to do everything in her power just to stay alive. We'll see how it works out.

Monday, November 1, 2010


Hi, my name's Melissa and I write slow. And that's OK!

Also, I never focus on word count, because I've learned from experience that just doesn't work for me. It's all right if you're different!

So, NaNoWriMo? More like NaNoChanceInHell. But I do want to participate, and I love setting unrealistic and unattainable goals for myself (it's like a hobby), so I'm going to give it a go, playing by my own set of rules.

My goal: Finish the rough draft of the sequel to Knights of Avalon by 11:59pm on November 30.

I'm already about 35% done and I have a definite idea of where the story's going, so it should be less daunting than writing a novel from the ground up.

The Rules

1. It's OK if I don't finish. Even in trying this, I'll have made more progress than I otherwise would have.

2. I won't sacrifice quality for quantity. Channel the spirit of the turtle, slow and steady is the way to go.

3. I don't have to write every night. With my job and other responsibilities, it's just not possible.

4. Most importantly, I will have fun!

The Prizes

Because everything's better with prizes. Here's the deal: I'll post updates throughout the month on how I'm doing. I doubt it'll happen, but if by some miracle I meet my goal, I'll have a huge book giveaway. Even if I don't finish, I'll still do a contest, with me giving away more stuff the further along I get in the story.

I guess I better get started, because I've got a lot of writing ahead of me. Onwards! (Slowly)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Query Update: Neurotic Writer Is Neurotic

I'm not particularly thrilled with the name, but my blog is called 'Surviving Writing a Book' for a reason. There are days, many days, when I feel I haven't so much embarked on a quest to get published as I've embarked on a slow descent into madness.

Just so you know where I stand with things: I have a YA Urban Fantasy called Knights of Avalon, about the Knights of the Round Table being reincarnated as New Jersey teens. I love my story. Yeah, yeah, I know all writers love their stories, but I fully, 100%, believe in this story, in a way that I didn't know was possible until I wrote it.

Problem is, I've been querying for over a year now and have piled up enough rejections to create a very pleasant bonfire with which to roast marshmallows over. I know my query isn't the problem. I've gotten too many partial and full requests for that to be the issue. No, it's something with the manuscript itself.

Some of the agents who have rejected me, very kind and awesome agents, have told me that they just didn't fall in love with the manuscript. I get that a lot and really, that's not a bad response to get, but at some point, when you hear that over and over, you wish there was a more fixable problem. Something like, "There's a giant plot hole...right over there." Yeah, I could fix that. But how do I make someone love something? Maybe have an agent read the manuscript over a candlelight dinner? With a violin concerto softly playing in the background?

I have my suspicions...maybe my main character is too unsympathetic, maybe my words somehow lack emotional impact, maybe I just don't write well enough... but I'll keep working at it, always trying to make my story better, because while I believe 100% in Knights of Avalon, I also believe 100% that there's still room for improvement.

I'm kind of running out of agents to pester though, and at this point, I have the feeling I'm not going to find one. Not right now, at least. It's frustrating, and I would prefer to have one, because my beagle can negotiate a contract better than I can. But I'll go it alone if I have to, and I think I'm going to start querying publishers (reputable ones) who accept unagented submissions. And you better believe I saw Sourcebooks' call for YA manuscripts and sent mine in weeks ago. Wish me luck, because so far my luck's been pretty lousy, and I'll let you all know how it goes!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Zombies vs. Unicorns: Winners Announced

Thanks to everybody who entered. Considering myself to be somewhat of an expert on the subject of Zombies vs. Unicorns, I thought I had heard just about every conceivable argument on the matter. I was wrong. Not only did you guys make some really thoughtful and creative points, but oftentimes you had me laughing hysterically while you made them. Well done!

After much consideration, rending of garments and gnashing of teeth, the winners are:

First Place: Dr. Beatrice Alfalfa-Scrimstone...er, I mean, Stephanie!

Runner-up: Reena Jacobs, who had me at "Unicorn Jello"

Congratulations to you both!

Thanks again to everybody who entered. I had a blast doing this and hope to have many more contests in the future.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Zombies vs. Unicorns: The Contest!

Yes, a contest. My first official contest. Why am I so nervous? I don't know, there's no reason to be.

But yes, I am having a contest. There have been many great debates in our time: Tastes Great vs. Less Filling, Pirates vs. Ninjas, Do Dolphins Secretly Rule the World or Do Mice?, and now... Zombies vs. Unicorns. Here's your chance to weigh in, have some fun, and in the process, perhaps win a prize.

Contest Details:

The Prize: A copy of the highly coveted, much sought after Zombies vs. Unicorns anthology signed by Holly Black, Justine Larbalestier, Diana Peterfreund, Kathleen Duey, Scott Westerfeld and Carrie Ryan.

How to Enter:

1. You must choose a side. There will be no Switzerland. I will have no Team Zombiecorn or Unicorn Ninja or Sparkle Zombie on this blog. It is forbidden.

2. Explain to me, as creatively and convincingly as possible in the comments section below, why zombies or unicorns are better. I'd also love to see some arguments in favor of the practical value unicorns or zombies might have.

3. You can enter three times. Any entries above and beyond that will be thoroughly ignored.

4. If you're my little brother, you can't enter.

5. You must follow my blog. You could also follow me on Twitter (@LiteraryMouse), but you don't have to if you don't want to.

6. The deadline is Wednesday, October 20, at 9pm EST...or whenever America's Next Top Model ends.

Entries will be judged on creativity, passion, and humor. I reserve the right to add more cool prizes if there's a ton of responses.

Update: Because of the awesome entries, I'm going to add a prize for the runner-up: A copy of Rampant signed by Diana Peterfreund. Keep those answers coming!

Update2: Thanks again to everyone who entered! I will announce winners Saturday evening, when I'm not in a sleep-deprived, work-induced haze.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Zombies vs. Unicorns at the Baltimore Book Fest

The day before the National Book Festival, Aine and I headed to Baltimore's book festival to check out the epic Zombie vs. Unicorns panel and to hear author/illustrator Ted Naifeh speak.

The two festivals couldn't have been more different. The National Book Fest was all about the speakers and signings. You couldn't even buy books there. The Baltimore Book Festival had some fun panels, but there was also great food and shopping (I got a new journal, are you shocked? You shouldn't be).

The highlight of the day though was Zombie vs. Unicorns. It's the most crazy fun I've had in ages, and that says a lot, because I'm lucky enough to have crazy fun on a regular basis. On Team Unicorn we had the magical, the glittery, the fabulous Holly Black, Diana Peterfreund, and Kathleen Duey. Facing off against those do-goodin' Unicorn lovers were the fiercesome threesome, the supporters of brain-munchin' individuals everywhere, Justine Larbalestier, Scott Westerfeld, and Carrie Ryan.

With Team Unicorn tossing packets of glitter and lollipops into the crowd, the two sides prepared to battle. Let's get it on!

Scott Westerfeld kicked it off with a comparison of zombie vs. unicorn literature. He quoted from the zombie classic, World War Z, and then noted all the other great zombie books out there. He then cited some sappy, gods awful self-published work as his example of great unicorn literature. Now I cry foul, because how can he cherry-pick such a bad example when Diana Peterfreund is sitting right across from him? Not to mention he completely ignored Peter Beagle's The Last Unicorn.

But Team Unicorn hit back with Diana noting the complete lack of zombies in classical art, while unicorns have been appearing in art for centuries. She cited a work of Raphael's (the artist, not the Ninja turtle), as well as countless medieval tapestries and the work of 80's artist Lisa Frank.

Team Zombie then argued that what was so great about zombies was preparing for the coming zombie apocalypse. Let's face it, they said, zombies are at the top of the food chain. While Justine Larbalestier described unicorns as "just horses with deformities on their foreheads," and horses are easily frightened creatures. Team Zombie also noted that unicorns are sexist, since they're usually depicted as hanging out with female virgins.

But Team Unicorn turned their argument around. What's the end game of a zombie apocalypse? Total annihilation of the human race, and that's not good. People run from zombies, but people would run up to unicorns to pet them.

The two teams then discussed the practical value of zombies and unicorns. Unicorns can heal and are symbols of hope. Let's face it, zombies aren't. Plus, unicorns spend a lot of time with their heads in ladies' laps, which is positive and cheerful. Zombies would never put their heads in ladies' laps, unless the ladies had cut off the zombies' heads first.

Someone, I think an audience member, then pointed out that zombies could be used as slave labor. The two teams got into a discussion of the ethics of using zombies as slaves, with the suggestion that perhaps zombies could be unionized. What about unicorns, then? Should they be unionized too? Holly Black responded that unicorns didn't have a union, but they did have a business, called 'Unicorp.'

There was then a discussion of what a unicorn apocalypse would look like, and how much cooler it would be than a zombie apocalypse. Unicorns would descend from the sky, charging towards you, with rainbows and glitter everywhere. People would run up to pet the unicorns, only to be speared by their pointy horns. It'd be terrifying, yet very confusing at the same time.

Justine Larbalestier pointed out that a unicorn apocalypse wouldn't be very fun though, because anyone can kill a slow-moving zombie, that's part of the appeal of a zombie apocalypse, while only virgins and SWAT team members would be safe from fast-moving, clever unicorns. And do we really want to live in a world filled with just virgins and SWAT team members? Plus, a unicorn apocalypse would suck because after you killed a unicorn you'd feel bad.

Holly Black then opened the floor to the audience, so that they could make their case for Team Zombie or Team Unicorn:

* For Team Zombie: There were zombies in Thriller, and Thriller is awesome

* For Team Unicorn: Zombies don't read, while the unicorn in Peter Beagle's book quotes Nietzsche

* A librarian made an interesting point for Team Zombie: If your parents find a unicorn book in your room, they won't be bothered by it. But if they find a zombie book, they'll get worried. So read about zombies, because they'll freak your parents out.

* Ted Naifeh also joined in to make, not so much an argument, but a good point about unicorns. That in terms of girls' interests, that they're part of a continuum that starts with bunnies, moves to unicorns, then goes to sparkly vampires, and finally ends up with real, actual boys.

Ted also made one of the best arguments for Team Unicorn, which is, if you're a zombie, you've already lost. You're dead, so even if you wipe out the whole human race, you can never really 'win.' It's a lose-lose situation.

I think Holly Black's closing statement in favor of unicorns was the best though, and was so convincing that I went from being a fence-sitter to being firmly and proudly on Team Unicorn. According to Holly, if you look in a mirror and see a zombie looking back at you, then that sucks, because you're dead, you've either killed your family or are going to try to eat them, and you're decomposing and gross. But if you look in the mirror and see a unicorn looking back at you, then you're happy, because that unicorn will probably pull you through that mirror and take you to a magical world. A magical world where you're the lost member of a royal family and can understand small woodland creatures. You probably also have a special power that no one else has.

In other words, unicorns are symbols of happiness and hope, and in this world, we definitely need more of that. Team Unicorn for the win!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Down With the Capitol! (Er, Wrong Capitol)

I admit, it's been a frenzy of book festivals this year. A veritable Book Festivalpalooza. Last week, I continued the streak with visits to both the Baltimore Book Festival and the National Book Festival in DC.

The day before, in Baltimore, the heat had been absolutely brutal, but I woke up to promises from numerous weatherpeople that Saturday would be about 15 degrees cooler and infinitely more bearable. The weatherpeople LIED. I propose they be punished by being dumped into an arena and having to fight to the death on live TV. Just a thought.

With the cruel sun beating down on us, Aine and I made our way to the National Book Festival, where Suzanne Collins would be speaking. I was so excited. When it comes to books, I'm hard to please, and it's a rare book that makes me fall in love the way Hunger Games did (I was deeply disappointed in Mockingjay though...don't get me started).

To a packed house (or rather, tent), Suzanne Collins started by talking about her background. She used to be a writer for such shows as Clarissa Explains It All, The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo, and Clifford's Puppy Days. Awww, Clifford, isn't that sweet?

Uh-huh. Keep that in mind as she segued into a discussion of her first book series, the Underland Chornicles, about a boy who falls into an underground world beneath New York City filled with giant cockroaches, rats, and other creatures. The way she structured it, the focal point of each of the series' five books centered around an aspect of war: For example, Book 1 was about an attempt to rescue a POW, Book 2 was about assassination, Book 4 was about genocide.

Assassination. Genocide. Clifford's Puppy Days. As Suzanne herself put it, she comes off as this cheerful, crunchy granola type but there's some dark, dark stuff in her head. Where'd it all come from? Well, it starts with her being a military brat. Her father was an officer in the Air Force, a specialist in international relations with a PhD who taught at West Point. And her father made sure his kids knew their history too.

The first movie Suzanne ever saw in a drive-in was Patton, she got to go to Waterloo, the site of Napoleon's defeat, for her 12th birthday. Her father would read the Roman classics out loud to her as a child.

Sometimes war hit closer to home though. When she was about six, her father was sent off to Vietnam. When Suzanne asked where he was going, she was told he'd be in the jungle. Well, everything she knew about the jungle at that point came from George of the Jungle, so she wasn't worried for her father, until the day she caught some war footage on the news and realized how much danger he was in. When her father returned, he was haunted by what he had seen and forever interested in the ethics and justness of war. He was also strongly opposed to the Iraq War.

As you can see, she poured many of her childhood experiences into the Hunger Games, but Suzanne was also strongly influenced by the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. For those who don't know the story, after a bloody war between Crete and Athens, Athens was defeated and required every year to deliver seven of its finest young men and women to Crete to be devoured by the Minotaur. Suzanne noted that throughout Greek and Roman myth (and I'm sure in myths around the world), that the death of one's children is worse than your own death, because children are, quite literally, the future.

By the way, before I continue, I should note that this entire discussion was being held right next to this:

Just sayin'. So, besides Greek myth, Suzanne was strongly influenced by gladiator/toga movies. She's loved them since she was a little girl, when her family would have marathons of Spartacus and Ben-Hur on Easter. Having watched so many, she soon figured out that there were three key ingredients to a good gladiator movie: 1. A ruthless government 2. A fight to the death 3. The fight must be a form of popular entertainment. The Hunger Games certainly had all three.

Ultimately though, Suzanne got the idea for the Hunger Games when she was channel-surfing one day, and kept switching between images of Reality TV and the Iraq War. From there, the idea of Katniss just sprung into her head. She noted, having lived in Manhattan during 9/11 and seeing the effect the attacks had on her son, that children notice more than parents think when it comes to war. Her hope is that by starting a dialogue, and making children think about the impact of war early on, that there'll be greater support for non-violent solutions.

She then opened up the floor for a Q&A session. Having at that point only read about half of Mockingjay, I have to thank her for enforcing a strict no-spoilers policy. Here's some highlights:

* She used her experience on TV sets for many of the prep scenes leading up to Katniss and Peeta's television appearances.

* She was surprised by how many people were on Team Finnick.

* Asked to pick between Peeta or Gale, she demurred and said that when she was writing them, that she wanted both guys to be equally worthy.

* She loves to watch Glee, classic movies, the news, Masterpiece Theater, and Make It or Break It.

* Her favorite books include Percy Jackson, A Wrinkle in Time, and Boris, by Jaap ter Haar, the story of a boy trying to survive the siege of Leningrad.

* She refused to say where the various districts were, though she did mention that Panem included the US AND Canada...so which district is responsible for hockey sticks and maple syrup? All she would say is that District 12 was in 'Appalachia' and that the Capitol was somewhere in the Rockies. Also, when she reads, she makes a point of using a 'futuristic Appalachian' accent for Katniss so that no one can accuse her of having an accent that's off.

* 13 districts = 13 colonies

After her talk, the plan was to get my copy of Mockingjay signed/stamped, but when I reached the line, it already had about 500 people in it, and everyone was roasting in the mid-day sun. Instead, I went off to grab a delicious and cool mango smoothie and then found Amy Brecount White (I swear I'm not stalking you, Amy!) at the National Botanical Garden, doing tussie-mussie demonstrations. Tussie-mussies are basically Victorian flower bouquets that hold special meanings. Here's a picture of the one I made, along with my copy of Mockingjay.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The PAYA Chronicles: Chocolate for the Greater Good

I had survived the Listen and Critique Workshop. I felt like I could run to the end of a certain doomed oceanliner and scream, "I'm the King of the World!" Like I could do a tapdance routine atop the nearest book-covered table. Now, if you remember from several weeks back, the very lovely authors who had critiqued my opening pages had pointed out a whole slew of weaknesses. Also, I had launched a unilateral air strike on a fellow writer with my pen. Accidentally!

So why was I so happy? Because there's nothing worse than knowing there's a problem with your manuscript but not knowing how to fix it. All right, killer clowns that peer into your window late at night, those are probably worse. Natural disasters are also bad. But not being able to fix your manuscript? It's maddening.

Giddy and excited, I made my way back into the main hallway with my friend Aine. There were books that needed buying, you see, but before I could do that, there was an important matter that I had to attend to. More to the point, there was chocolate, in brownie, cookie, and muffin form, that urgently needed my attention.

PAYA was having a bake sale to benefit Pennsylvania libraries. OK, besides my desperate need at that point to eat, how brilliant an idea is that? You mean, by eating this here chocolate muffin, sitting on the table all sad and lonely, I get to help spread the joy of books to Pennsylvania teens? I can promote books by eating chocolate? Sign me up! And while you're at it, toss another muffin into my mouth, thanks.

After I had blown a decent amount of cash on baked goods helping Pennsylvania libraries, I went to get some books for myself. Children's Book World had brought a number of authors' books to sell at PAYA, and I ended up getting Shannon Delany's 13 to Life, Jon Skovron's Struts and Frets, and Amy Brecount White's Forget-Her-Nots. Which seriously, I should have bought a long time ago. There were plenty of other ones I wanted, but my cash resources were becoming fast depleted at this point.

With books in hand, I went to get them signed. I also wanted to talk to the authors, and by 'talk to the authors', I mean I hovered around them nervously, listening to them talk to other people, while I worked up the courage to tell them how awesome they were. Though I don't think I said more than four words to Dianne Salerni, author of We Hear the Dead, I had fun listening to her discuss with Aine the thought process behind the book's amazing cover (no, really, check it out).

I also had a real, live, wonderful discussion with Ellen Jensen Abbott, author of Watersmeet, who was incredibly encouraging. Finally, I also met Josh Berk's Dad. He admits to being slightly biased, but he thinks his son is brilliant and that everyone should go read his book. So go read it! Josh Berk's Dad said so!

Before Aine and I prepared to head for home, we waited for the results of the raffle PAYA was holding. There were all sorts of prize packs that included t-shirts, signed ARCs, and yes, swag, glorious swag, with all the money going to benefit Pennsylvania libraries. I really wanted the swag prize pack and I won it! I now have a 13 to Life mouse pad, tons of buttons, a journal (and I love me some journals), signed bookmarks, and more. Yay for swag! Especially when I'll be giving some of it away, along with signed books, in my very first contest. Which will be happening sometime soon-ish.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Quoth the Mockingjay, "Nevermore"

Once upon a Monday dreary, while I worked on revisions, eyes so bleary,
Over many a quaint and curious chapter I had gone over many times before,
While I nodded to SJ Tucker, feet a'tapping, suddenly there came a rapping,
As of some one gently tapping, tapping at my bedroom door.
"Goddamn cats," I muttered, "tapping at my bedroom door —
Wanting food, and nothing more."

Then into my bedroom bursting, my temper within me burning,
Soon I heard again a tapping somewhat louder than before.
"Knock it off cats!," said I, before noticing something at my window sill;
"What the hell?", said I, "I've never seen anything like this before" —
Let me get these hungry cats away from it before this creature becomes nevermore
Before this creature becomes nevermore

Lifted I the window sill, when, with many a flash and flitter,
In my bedroom stepped a Mockingjay; with feathers black and white with which to soar
"You can't be real," I said to he; "You don't exist, you can't be"
"It's a poem, just go with it" said the Mockingjay; "Now listen to what I have to say, or you'll be spoiled to the ending of Mockingjay forevermore"
"Or you'll be spoiled to the ending of Mockingjay forevermore"

Much I stared in horror at this imaginary fowl to hear news so scary,
For I had managed to stay unspoilered, unspoilered since August Twenty-Four;
"But the National Book Festival is coming," the Mockingjay reminded me
"With Suzanne Collins signing and reading, Surely there you will run into spoilers, spoilers galore"
"So no excuses, no more blogs or Twitter, you must read Mockingjay by September Twenty-Fifth or be spoiled forever, forevermore"

But before the Mockingjay could say another word,
My fat orange cat sprang through the air and tackled it to the floor
Madly thrashing, with feathers flashing, the Mockingjay bolted for the window
And with a shout of "Team Katniss" it spread its wings to fly, disappearing into the night as I told myself, "Wait a minute, it's Jabberjays that are supposed to speak"
But the Mockingjay told me not to over-analyze as it faded from sight and I reached for the book I had gotten at the store, so that I could start reading, my hungry cats still ignored


My apologies for the long absence, after the awesomeness that was PAYA, I got overwhelmed with work and revisions. OK, the revisions were pretty fun. Work? Not so much. I'll have the final installment of my report from PAYA in the next couple of days, but for now, I've got to get started on Mockingjay, or else!

Update: Thanks to work, and my bothersome need to eat and have a roof over my head, I was only able to get half way through the book before I heard Suzanne Collins speak. Luckily for me, Suzanne very kindly but very firmly announced a 'no spoilers' policy at the beginning of the Q&A session, and when one girl wanted to ask a question about the end of Mockingjay, Suzanne told the girl to talk to her after the session was over. So, spoilers averted, and I finished the book early this morning.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The PAYA Chronicles: And Then It Hit Me

So, PAYA's Listen and Critique Workshop. NOT.SCARY.AT.ALL. Actually, it was great. After listening to the authors speak, we were broken out into two groups, each with three authors and three/four writers. I'm going to say it again because it can't be said enough: What an incredible opportunity. I feel like I won the writer lottery, because from everything I've heard, you don't usually get this much attention from one author, much less three, and they were awesome.

In my group, the authors were Amy Brecount White, Shannon Delany, and Jon Skovron. I know this is going to sound silly, but woohoo! That's pretty much how I felt. And along with myself and Aine, I was joined by fellow writers Lillie and Ilene, who are very talented.

Lillie and Ilene went first and let me just say...when I get nervous, I play with my pen. At some point, while playing with my pen, I accidentally launched it into the air and hit Ilene. The pen then fell to the ground, and thoroughly mortified, I quickly reached down to get it. And slammed my head on the edge of the table we were all sitting at. Because I have many talents, but apparently hand-eye coordination is not one of them. Now I was beyond mortified, because I had just embarrassed myself in front of Amy Brecount White, Shannon Delany, and Jon Skovron, who are like rock stars as far as I'm concerned, but what can you do, and at least the pen didn't go flying through the air and poke anyone in the eye. That'd be REALLY embarrassing.

Finally, it was my turn. I handed out copies of my lovingly prepared three pages for critique and Amy Brecount White kindly agreed to read for me. Yes, I'm painfully shy, but with her reading, I could take notes and pay attention to people's reactions, so thank you, Amy!

Here's the three pages that Amy read, from my manuscript Knights of Avalon, about the Knights of the Round Table being reincarnated as New Jersey teens, and Mordred is hunting them down and killing them:

Last night, the most extraordinary person I had ever met vanished. She was my best friend Gwen, about the only friend I really had. The call came at three in the morning, one of those calls that I knew would change everything. It was Gwen’s Mom, Mrs. Martinez, asking if I had heard from her daughter that night. It was never the type of call you wanted to get, not when there was a murderer out there, targeting the brightest and most brilliant teens in New Jersey.

I had known Mrs. Martinez for over ten years. The lady was unshakeable. She never raised her voice, never lost her cool. Not even that time Gwen and I had come home covered from head to toe in mud when we were little. She had just stared at us in horror, burst into laughter, and grabbed the garden hose.

Now she was a wreck. According to her, no one had heard from Gwen since 11pm, when she had called her boyfriend after their date and told him her car had broken down in Stone Harbor, right off its main street. Except when the family drove there to pick her up, no one could find Gwen, or the car.

No, I hadn’t heard from her, I said. Not since earlier that day. Mrs. Martinez, ever polite, apologized for waking me up, promised to call back the moment the family had any news, and like that, I was left to fear for my friend in the darkness.

Something had happened to Gwen. Sure, she was sixteen, and us sixteen-year-olds had a habit of staying out late and doing bone-headed things, but Gwen wasn’t like that. We had our adventures, we got into our share of trouble, but Gwen would never scare her parents. Maybe her cell phone had run out of power, maybe it was the other possibility, the possibility I didn’t even want to think about, but she was thoughtful, she was kind, she wouldn’t forget to check in. If she hadn’t called, it was because she couldn’t.

My best friend was the most beautiful person I had ever met, and I wasn’t talking about her looks. I mean, she was pretty enough, slim, with long black hair, dazzling honey-colored brown eyes, and a sublime grace. That’s not what made her beautiful. She had an inner light, a compassion that shone through.

I, on the other hand, was about as huggable as a porcupine. I was a big girl, and I was OK with that. My family was Polish, my last name was Kwiatkowski, but I must have had a great-great-grandmother in my family tree who was a Viking warrior. There wasn’t much else to explain how I had gotten to be 6 foot and built like a linebacker. Well, there was my father, who was 6’2” and built like a linebacker, but I didn’t want to dwell on the thought that I might take after him.

I wasn’t the easiest person to get along with. I was OK with that too. I kind of didn’t care. I had, in fact, given up on caring a long time ago. But Gwen put up with me, which meant maybe I wasn’t as awful as I thought.

When I was five years old, I had found her playing by herself by the creek one day. Gwen always played alone, none of the other kids in the neighborhood seemed to know what to do with her. Not like they knew what to do with me either. Gwen had been trying to catch frogs in a pool that had formed off a sandbar. She was playing in my creek. In my favorite spot. Catching my frogs. I told her that if she wanted to hang out in my spot, that she’d have to prove herself by crossing the creek on a rickety old moss-covered log. Gwen was up for that. She danced across without a moment’s hesitation. Then she dared me to do the same. I wasn’t afraid. But I wasn’t as graceful as she was, and I wasn’t as light. I slipped off into the water, twisting my ankle. Gwen braved the creek to fish me out. Our friendship was instant.

Now, my best friend was missing. My first impulse was to go out and look for her. It was three in the morning and she was two hours away, but part of me wanted to try anyways. What if she had had an accident? What if she had gotten her car going, only to have it break down again in the middle of nowhere? There was a murderer on the loose, searching for his next victim. I couldn’t bear to think of her out there, scared and alone.

I had woken up my mother to talk to her about it. She said I’d have to wait until morning. I didn’t know how she expected me to just go back to bed. I stared across the room, at the Bruce Lee posters on the walls, thinking about Gwen. My room was up on the second floor of our family’s Cape Cod, painted in a tropical blue with a neon purple chair in the corner. Gwen sometimes joked that I must have been color blind, but I just liked it that way. Who said colors needed to coordinate?

I kept my cell phone by my side, hoping Gwen’s parents would call back soon. Better yet, maybe it’d be Gwen on the other end of the line. I know it was stupid, but I tried her number and was taken directly to her voicemail. It felt strange to hear her voice, so breezy and cheerful. I sent a text message next. I really didn’t know what I was expecting. I might’ve tried her boyfriend, talk to him about what had happened, but I had never met him, I didn’t even know his last name, much less his phone number.

Wow, would you look at all that telling and not showing. Way to take a great concept and suck the life right out of it with a bunch of exposition up front. I can see it now. I couldn't see it before. A lot of times when I revise, I have an Ah-ha! moment (as opposed to a "Muhahahaha!" moment), where there's a shift in understanding. That's what I was hoping for with this workshop and that's what I got. As Amy read my manuscript, I could feel the energy just die on the page whenever we got to the exposition, and there's a lot of exposition. So I think I finally get what I've been doing wrong with my opening.

Here's some of the specific feedback I got:

  • Add dialogue, the action is too far removed
  • There's no paranormal here
  • No sense that Justine is heroic
  • Play up the murder mystery

OK, now here's my revised opening. Hopefully it's better. Because my main character, Justine, is a skeptic, I couldn't really figure out how to bring the paranormal into the opening pages, but I could definitely play up the murder mystery.

“Hi, Justine. I’m sorry to be calling so late.” The voice on the other end of the line sounded scared, exhausted. “Gwen’s not with you, is she?”

I fought to get my bearings in the darkness, the cell phone clutched in my hand. I was in my bedroom, the Bruce Lee posters on the walls told me that much. I peered at the alarm clock, the numbers flashed 3:11 back at me. This wasn’t good. This was one of those calls you never wanted to get, certainly not at 3am on a school night. Not when there was a murderer out there, targeting the brightest and most brilliant teens in New Jersey.

“No,” I said, trying to get my brain to work right. “Why would she be?”

“You haven’t heard from her at all?” There was desperation in Mrs. Martinez’s voice, a desperation I had never heard before.

“No, what happened?” I asked, throwing the blankets back and sitting up straight, my heart starting to race. “I mean, we talked earlier this evening. But that was it.”

I was wide awake now. It was three in the morning and the mother of my best friend was calling to find out where her daughter was. Only I had no idea.

Mrs. Martinez took a deep breath, trying to steady her voice. “According to Gwen’s boyfriend…” That last word dripped with something bordering on contempt. “According to him, Gwen headed home from their date around 11pm. He’s saying her car broke down in Stone Harbor, right on its main street, that she called him to pick her up. But Gwen’s not there, and neither’s her car.”

“What?” None of this was making sense. “Did he pick her up or not?” I turned on the light, blinking as my eyes adjusted to the sudden brightness. I’d get her myself if I had to. I didn’t care that I was over two hours away.

“He said when he got there, Gwen was gone,” Mrs. Martinez repeated, struggling not to lose her composure. “We went there ourselves, we can’t find her either. It’s like she vanished.”

That’s not what I wanted to hear, because Gwen Martinez wasn’t just my best friend, she was the most extraordinary person I had ever met. A straight ‘A’ student who planned on becoming a heart surgeon and working for Doctors Without Borders one day, she had an inner light, a compassion that shone through. There had always been something different about her, something special. Just like the other victims.

They had vanished too. But it was more than that, they hadn’t just disappeared, it was like the Earth had opened up and swallowed them whole. Then they turned up dead, slashed to death with what investigators guessed was a very long knife. No witnesses, no hint of anything suspicious before they went missing. How could a killer do that? And the lack of evidence meant no suspect.

Twelve kids found dead: A fencing champion destined for the Olympics, a martial arts prodigy, an organizer for Habitat for Humanity. One poor boy had won the Hero of the Year award for rescuing a child from drowning only a month before he was killed. They were like Gwen, they were amazing.

“I didn’t mean to scare you,” Mrs. Martinez continued, realizing that perhaps she had said too much. “Gwen probably got her car towed to a gas station, and maybe her cell phone ran out of power. I’ll call you back the moment we hear from her.”

“And if she does call me, I’ll let you know right away,” I promised as I walked to my dresser and grabbed some clothes. It might’ve been three in the morning, but I was already coming up with a plan to help search for Gwen. Because something had happened to her. Sure, Gwen and I had had our adventures, we had gotten into our share of trouble, but Gwen would never scare her parents. Maybe her cell phone had run out of power, maybe it was the other possibility, the possibility I didn’t even want to think about, but she was thoughtful, she was kind, she wouldn’t forget to check in. If she hadn’t called, it was because she couldn’t.

“Thank you,” Mrs. Martinez said, ever polite, even in a situation like this. Somehow, I didn’t know why, but what I said had given her some comfort. “I’m so sorry for waking you up. Try to get some rest and we’ll be in touch.” Then she hung up, leaving me to fear for my friend, alone somewhere out there in the darkness.

Like I said, hopefully this is better!

Monday, August 23, 2010

The PAYA Chronicles: The Alligator Duck Stalks at Midnight

I don't know if PAYA will be held in the same location next year, but if it is, all I have to say is this: If you follow the directions and find yourself driving around an industrial park, convinced there's no way you're in the right place, you're in the right place.

PAYA, like many a gem, was hidden away amongst a collection of paint stores, construction firms, and automotive supply centers. Thankfully, there was a sign...

No, not like that. But there was one colorful sign that told us we had made it to our destination.

PAYA was being held at West Chester's Center for Performing and Fine Arts, which meant as we waited for the Listening and Critique Workshop to begin, and as I tried not to freak out, we were able to enjoy the art on display. There were a couple of pieces that stood out to me, but strangely enough, the one I remember most was a drawing that said, "A is for Alligator Duck." Apparently alligator ducks have big, fearsome teeth, so if you run into one in your neighborhood, best to run the other way.

The workshop started right on time with six incredible authors: Amy Brecount White (Forget-Her-Nots), Jon Skovron (Struts and Frets), Josh Berk (The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin), Stephanie Kuehnert (Ballads of Suburbia), Jeri Smith-Ready (Shade), and Shannon Delany (13 to Life). The gathering was intimate, which is my way of saying there were about seven people in attendance, including Aine, who was allowed to tag along, since she had woken up at 5am to get my late-waking butt there on time.

Six talented authors, seven attendees. I don't think I'll ever have such an incredible opportunity again. It started with each author speaking on an aspect of the writing process:

  • Jon Skovron spoke about rough drafts and how they don't have to be perfect. Give yourself permission to have a rough draft that sucks. It's more important to get started writing than to never write at all for fear that what you're putting on the page isn't perfect.
  • Jeri Smith-Ready discussed the revision process. For her, the process includes three steps: 1) The Re-write, where the writer steps back and assesses the entire book, tries to re-imagine it and to really take a look at the work as a whole. 2) Revision, where gaps in the story start to be smoothed out. 3) Polish, where the writer gets into the nitty-gritty and focuses on things like overuse of words and sentence structure.
  • Josh Berk talked about working with an editor and how much his novel, The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin, was changed and improved in the process. Honestly, this scared the heck out of me, as I'm very open to revisions, but Josh's editor asked him to change tense (I can do that, I've already changed POV at an agent's suggestion), asked him to change the starting point of the story (I could do that too), and asked him to get rid of one character and to include a new one (eeeek!!!). OK, it's that last one that scares me. I get very, very attached to my characters. But I guess I'd deal with it, if and when it came to that.
  • Amy Brecount White gave six tips on originality: 1) Think like a freelancer, always be on the lookout for a great story idea, don't wait for that idea to be handed to you. 2) Write for an audience you care about. 3) Write the novel that only you can write. 4) Figure out what you love and what you want to share with the world. 5) Pay attention to your life - What do you know that is unique to you? 6) Listen to the universe. Sometimes the universe will give you little hints as to what direction to take (or sometimes it'll hit you over the head with a 2x4).
  • Stephanie Kuehnert talked about character development. The way she does it, each of her characters has a notecard with their name and birthdate, then she includes details like nervous habits, physical description, etc. She also writes a scene for each character, from their point of view, on the defining moment of their lives. By doing this, she's basically trying to answer the question: Why is the character the way they are?
  • Finally, Shannon Delany wrapped up by telling us one important truth about being an author: Writing a book is a group effort. To be a good writer, you have to be a good team player. Embrace your support system, from your agent, to your editor, to the marketing team and cover artist on down.

Not bad advice, huh? Next up, the Critique, and how I almost gave myself a concussion in the process (because I'm smooth like that).

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Road to PAYA

It started at 6:38am. That's when I was woken up by the insistent buzzing of my cell phone. I peered blearily at the caller ID, it was Aine...who had come to pick me up at 6:30am.

I had overslept. I never oversleep when I'm this excited about an event. Usually I'm up half an hour before the alarm goes off. Not this time.

I screamed, I actually screamed. Not quite the Darth Vader, "Nooooooo!" More like an "AHHHHHH!" of sheer panic. Luckily, I had packed and laid out my clothes the night before. After scrambling about like a mad woman, I had the dogs walked and was out the door in a little under a half an hour. Aine pointed out, probably quite rightly, that maybe next time I should spend more time getting to bed early and less time tweeting and blogging till 2 in the morning. Just an idea.

We got on the road, and it was a beautiful drive up to West Chester, PA. We crossed over picturesque stone bridges that spanned rushing creeks, drove through lush forest, and finally passed some lovely parks. At one point, I suggested that maybe we pull over and frolic in one particularly inviting green meadow, but Aine said there would be no frolicking (no frolicking!), as we had to get to my Listen and Critique Workshop on time.

Oh yeah, the Listen and Critique Workshop. As we entered West Chester, I started to panic all over again. Would I make a fool of myself? (most definitely) Would I get the feedback I needed? (heck yeah) And most importantly, how had we ended up in this industrial park and where was PAYA?

One of many parks in West Chester. I could frolic here! Frolic!

Friday, August 20, 2010

It's a Mango, It's a Pineapple, No, It's Paya!


No, PAYA! AKA, Bringing YA to PA, a coalition of authors, bloggers, librarians and readers dedicated to promoting YA literature in Pennsylvania. PAYA is having their first annual event...oh, TOMORROW, and my BFF Aine and I are going. There'll be over eighteen YA authors there, signing books, along with a used book sale, a listen and critique workshop, and a bake sale.

How excited am I? Probably a little too excited. It's like Christmas in August as far as I'm concerned. I even packed and prepped ahead of time. I never do that. Here's what I'm bringing to the Festival:
  • My backpack, with stylish Mockingjay pin attached (Team Katniss!)
  • Ten copies of the first three pages of my manuscript, Knights of Avalon, for the listen and critique workshop
  • Five pens, in case four of the pens run out of ink
  • Two notebooks, one is small and pink and covered in smiling kitty cats. I usually bring a larger, more practical notebook as well, but I just discovered they're all filled up, so I'll bring my leather-bound journal instead, aka "The Noodle Book," because I noodle around with ideas on its pages
  • Cash, for books and baked goodies

Though my latest manuscript, Knights of Avalon, is finished, revised, and currently running amuck in Query-land, I decided to do the workshop because I've never done one before and it promised to be an incredible learning opportunity.

Plus, I'm still having issues with the beginning of my book. I like to think that I'm getting a lot better at 'diagnosing' weaknesses in my work and fixing them, but in this case, my instincts are horribly off. What I think works doesn't work and vice versa. I've revised and revised and sometimes only made the problems worse, not better, so maybe I need to step back and get some perspective. Maybe if I can see what works for other writers, I'll be able to apply those lessons learned to my own story. That's the idea, anyways.

I know the draw of the listen and critique workshop is that there'll be several YA authors there to give feedback, but the reality just hit me, and oh my gods, THERE'LL BE PUBLISHED YA AUTHORS THERE TO GIVE ME FEEDBACK. La-la-la-la, I can't hear you! Not curling into a ball and freaking out.

Somehow I had convinced myself it'd just be me and some fellow writers. I think I could handle that. We'd be like The League of Not Yet Extraordinary Aspiring Authors, there'd be some comraderie and it wouldn't be at all scary. But now...there are going to be real, live, actual authors there. Yikes!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Green Men, King Arthur, People Singing to My Camera!

Somewhere, long lost to the mists of time, I promised to regale you all with my adventures at RenCon 2010. So let's go back, back to April 2010, when you could buy pop for a nickel and children always listened to their parents, and I shall tell you a tale of myth and legend and retail therapy.

This was the first ever RenCon, and as such, I didn't really know what to expect. I was thinking 'Indoor RenFaire,' and it was definitely some of that, but along the way, the convention got some Steampunk in their Renaissance and some Renaissance in their Steampunk. Not that that was necessarily bad. I can't hide it anymore, this Steampunk thing is growing on me. Which means by the time I've fully embraced it, it'll be out of style.

But besides the Steampunk and inordinate quantity of fairies, there was this scholarly vibe to the con which I really liked. There were panels on Renaissance food and dress, on the Green Man, and yes, on King Arthur. Because how can you have something called RenCon and not mention King Arthur?

I think as most of my readers know, my YA Urban Fantasy, Knights of Avalon, is about the Knights of the Round Table being reincarnated as New Jersey teens, so I especially wanted to attend those King Arthur panels.

Unfortunately, I missed the one on the Holy Grail, due to my bothersome need to have a job, and to keep a roof over my head and to eat, but I was able to attend the Arthurian Love Triangle panel led by Caitlin Matthews. Yes, THAT Caitlin Matthews, legendary author, artist, and scholar. OK, she's a legend to me, and she's insanely cool, and she sang to my camera, but more on that later.

I've heard her speak before and not only does she know her stuff, but she's a riot to listen to. She actually spent a lot of time discussing Welsh love triangles (for example, the story of Lleu Llaw Gyffes, Blodeuwedd, and Gronw Pebr), before tying them into the Arthurian ones and discussing the concept of the Flower Bride as it pertained to Queen Guinevere. What's a Flower Bride? It's basically an archetype, a woman who represents the strength and life of the land, who is intimately tied to the kingdom itself, and who men constantly fight over, because to have her as a wife is a symbol of right of rulership.

Which is why poor Guinevere is always getting kidnapped, because she's a symbol of legitimate authority.

Towards the end, Caitlin Matthews somehow got onto the subject of how Lancelot became known as Lancelot du Lac (Lancelot of the Lake). As the story goes, his father was a powerful king caught in the midst of a bloody war. As his castle was being stormed, Lancelot's mother took her infant son and fled. During all the confusion, she set her son down for a moment and Viviane, the Lady of the Lake, stole him away. Only Caitlin Matthews acted it all out to hilarious effect. She ran around in a panic, pretending to be Lancelot's mother, then did her best impression of Viviane, sneaking up to the baby and grabbing him when Mom wasn't looking. I guess you had to be there, but it was pretty awesome.

After the panel was over, I went up to Caitlin to ask her a couple of questions and to take her picture...and my camera died. Caitlin was unfazed. She told me she had a trick to getting electronic devices to power up: She sang to them. In her lovely, rich voice, she bade my camera to turn on, and you know what, it did.

Before I left the convention, I did some shopping. Not much, due to the aforementioned need to eat and have someplace to sleep, but I did get myself two pendants: One of Brigid, Celtic Goddess of Fire and Inspiration, and one of the Lady of the Lake.

Monday, August 2, 2010

If I Had a Pen Name

Hanging out with my Dad a couple of weeks ago, he asked me out of the blue what my pen name was going to be. The conversation went something like this:

Me: Um, pen name? I was thinking of using, you know, my actual name.

Dad: But you could have a pen name. Don't you want a pen name?

Me: Nah, I think I'm good. I know my name's not the most exciting or catchy, but it works for me.

Dad: Or you could write under your beagle's name, since anytime anyone asks for a picture of you, you just give them a picture of your beagle. Then you could write stuff like, "Marley & Me," but from the viewpoint of the dog (this is admittedly true, if you ask for a photo of me for a blog interview, for example, you're going to get a lovely, photogenic picture of Lucy the beagle).

Me: So my pen name could be Lucy T. Beagle then? There is a famous author called Peter Beagle, I guess it could work.

Dad: What's the T. stand for?

Me: The, as in Lucy The Beagle.

While I do want to use my real name, I admit I've been toying with the idea a little, and I think I'd like to add a middle name at some point. You see, I don't have a middle name in real life, so part of the fun would be in choosing one. I have a couple of ideas, but all I know is that it has to start with the letter 'A'.

Why that letter? Because at my work, everyone is required to have a middle initial, it's just how the computer system works, and by committee, it was pretty much decided that my middle initial would be 'A', because that'd be cool. No really, the CFO declared that having my initials be 'MAB' would be 'cool'. It was either that or 'MOB', but he said he didn't want to be mean.

Shortly afterwards, on some paperwork completely unrelated to my job, I saw that my middle initial was listed as 'A'. I figure it's a sign from the universe, so I'll go with it.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Here There Be Fairies

Last month I made my semi-annual trek to the Spoutwood Fairy Festival near Glen Rock, PA. As far as I'm concerned, it's one of the highlights of the year, filled with food, music, shopping, and yes, plenty of fairies.

It's a dog-friendly event and this year, I feared against my better judgment, I decided to bring along my hound mix Hope, aka li'l dingo, aka the evil sofa-eater. As much as I wish I could've brought the beagle, Lucy is terrified of crowds and the Rottweiler...well, that just wasn't going to work out either.

Much to my shock, Hope was the star of the show. Well, except for that unfortunate ATM incident (if you saw a girl in a silver car at the ATM, with a strange brindle hound mix hanging half-way out the window, the girl hanging onto the dog's collar for dear life...yes, that was me). But otherwise she was fabulous. People were petting her, hugging her, kindly feeding her pepperoni and other treats. I've never seen Hope look so happy, not even after she ate my couch. For the record, I have no idea what type of dog she is. She is a mystery, wrapped inside a furniture-eating enigma.

While it's not a book-centric event by any means, it's a lot of fun and a great place to get creative and to find your inspiration. And there was at least one booth there dedicated to books. Browsing through them, I've pretty much decided that I'm going to have to read Incarceron at some point. It just might take me a while as I still haven't made a dent in my considerably large TBR pile.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Look! An Interview!

Soooo....I've been so busy lately that I totally forgot to post about my first ever interview on my very own blog. Clearly I must work on this self-promotion stuff if I am ever to become a successful author. Me=Fail.

Did I mention it was my first interview? Ever? How cool is that?! And many thanks to Dorothy Dreyer for the interview and for her excellent site. The one thing I learned, having never done one of these before, is that interviews take time. At least it did for me. Maybe I'll get better at it with more experience, but I have a new found appreciation for all those authors out there kind enough to answer a few questions for the bloggerly masses (*cough* Amy Brecount White *cough*).

Coming soon to a blog, possibly this blog, soon: Pics from several cons and festivals I've been to, as well as a recap of the first annual Gaithersburg Book Festival, where I totally made a fool out of myself in front of Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

It's Time to Update the Blogroll

Actually, it was probably time to update the blogroll months ago. So, who should I include? I'm taking suggestions from my lovely readers, and yes, feel free to suggest your own blog in the comments.

In addition, if any of you ever have anything you'd like me to promote on the blog or on Twitter, drop me a note in the comments and I'll do my best!

Quick update on the agent search: After an initial flurry of partial requests (and one full) for Knights of Avalon, I've had nothing but a string of rejections, I think I'm up to eleven or twelve in a row now. Ouch! I've revamped my query, gone back and made sure the manuscript is extra, extra polished (it's so polished you can now use it as a mirror, it's true!), and I'll keep at it. I think I've got a good story, now I just need some luck.

I said I need some LUCK...

...there, that's better.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Interview with Forget-Her-Nots Author Amy Brecount White!

I had the pleasure of meeting Amy at the fabulous launch party for her YA novel Forget-Her-Nots. It took me a couple of days to work up the courage, but I asked her for an interview (my very first author interview) and she kindly agreed.

Besides the interview, which is below, I highly recommend everyone read Amy's thoughts on writing the novel that only you can write. It's one of the best takes on inspiration and originality that I've seen. Now, on to the questions!... OK, first the blurb, then the questions!

About Forget-Her-Nots:

When someone leaves three mystery flowers outside her dorm door,Laurel thinks that maybe the Avondale School isn’t so awful after all — until her own body starts to freak out. In the middle of her English presentation on the Victorian Language of Flowers, strange words pop into her head, and her body seems to tingle and hum. Impulsively, Laurel gives the love bouquet she made to demonstrate the language to her spinster English teacher. When that teacher unexpectedly and immediately finds romance, Laurel suspects that something — something magical — is up. With her new friend, Kate, she sets out to discover the origins and breadth of her powers by experimenting on herself and others. But she can’t seem to find any living experts in the field of flower powers to guide her. And her bouquets don’t always do her bidding, especially when it comes to her own crush, Justin. Rumors about Laurel and her flowers fly across campus, and she’s soon besieged by requests from girls — both friends and enemies — who want their lives magically transformed — just in time for prom.


1. I've read about the inspiration for your novel, which has a truly unique premise, but I was curious about your inspiration for Forget-Her-Nots' main character, Laurel. Was she based on anyone you know? How did you come up with her?

I think all main characters have a lot of their author in them. (It's funny, because a friend from high school whom I haven't seen in years just told me she recognized much of me in Laurel, too! LOL.) Most importantly, I wanted Laurel to be someone most people could relate to. She's still trying to figure out where she fits in to everything and how to handle the tough things life has handed her. She's a strong person, but in her own way. I also coach my daughter's soccer team and played some myself, so the team aspect of Laurel's life was important to me, too.

2. The novel takes place at Avondale, a boarding school in Charlottesville, Virginia. I actually tried searching for this school online, wondering if perhaps it was real. Have you ever attended a boarding school? Is there a real Avondale out there?

I attended a public high school in Dayton, Ohio. There's a boarding/day school in Charlottesville, but I've actually never been there other than to drive through the campus once. (I did live in Charlottesville for four years, though.) Avondale is entirely fictional. I wanted a place that I could imbue with a rich history and amazing gardens. I didn't realize there were quite so many boarding school books out there!

3. You've mentioned that it took about 8 years to write your novel and get it published, and that, as with many books, it was a long and winding road. Can you tell me a little more about that journey? We can probably guess the high point of the journey, but what about the low point? The bumps along the way?

The low point was some difficulties I had with an agent. (Not my current wonderful agent, Steven Chudney.) I think I said somewhere that agent X "promised me the moon and left me in a ditch." I don't name names, but just be careful if an agent asks you to do revisions before signing. Be sure to get very good recommendations, although that's tough if it's someone new. I ended up wasting a lot of time and energy. The road was also bumpy in part for me, because I was writing something really original that was hard to pigeon-hole. FHN isn't a fantasy; it's not paranormal, and it's intergenerational. Lots of people loved the idea, but they wanted me to take it places I didn't want to go.

4. If you were going to create a tussie-mussie (a bouquet of flowers chosen for their meaning) for an aspiring author, what flowers would you use?

Oh, fun!! Snowdrops for hope, because you need lots of that to survive rejection. Rosemary to remember so that the events of your life will be vivid and memorable and inspire you. Red camellia for unpretending writing excellence. Mountain laurel for ambition, because you REALLY need to want to do this, and sage because I esteem and admire your efforts!

5. From what I've read, you've done a lot of traveling and a lot of gardening. After reading Forget-Her-Nots, where would someone go to learn more about flowers and enjoy them in person? Do you have any hidden gems to recommend, both locally (DC area) or nationally?

Any conservatory or public garden is a fabulous place to start, especially if the plants are labelled. Their gift shops might even have a language of flowers book in them. Locally, I love the U.S. Botanic Garden and conservatory on the mall. The gardens near the Smithsonian "castle" are always fabulous, too. I used to take my kids to Meadowlark Gardens near Wolf Trap a lot. Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, MD, is wonderful, too. River Farm Gardens in Alexandria has some amazing heirloom plants and a fabulous view of the river. This is my favorite place to picnic.

Nationally, I love the gardens around Duke University in N.C. and also those of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Longwood Gardens and Winterthur in Pennsylvania are amazing to visit.

6. Finally, do you have any upcoming appearances, panels, workshops or projects you'd like to announce?

Sure! I'll be at Aladdin's Lamp in Arlington on 4/11 for a reading and signing and other fun stuff. I'll be at Fountain Books in Richmond on 4/17. I'll be signing and selling at the Friends of the National Arboretum Plant sale on 4/24. I'll do a May Day reading and celebration at Hooray for Books! in Alexandria on May 1st.

I've applied to some festivals, so watch my website for updates.

Thanks so much for having me, Melissa!!

You're most welcome and thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

VA Book Part 3: The YA Panels, and the Agent I Did Not Stalk

Fun Fact: Until the Virginia Festival of the Book, I had never met an agent. And by 'meet an agent' I mean, never been in the same room as one. I suppose I could've been in the Greenie aisle of the local PetSmart with Colleen Lindsay or at the Baltimore Aquarium's shark tank with Janet Reid and not known it, but this was my first, genuine sighting of a literary agent in the wild.

I walked into the room for the 12pm "Getting Published - Picture Books to Young Adult" panel and spotted Andrea Brown supa-agent Laura Rennert kindly explaining to someone how they could query her via e-mail: Be sure to put 'query' in the subject header and include the first ten pages of the manuscript in the body of the e-mail. In other words, exactly what the web site tells writers to do. She was very patient and I watched a couple of other people approach her as she made her way to the front of the room.

Though I didn't talk to her, because let's face it, she was being bugged enough as it was, I could tell that she was smart, scary smart. If contract negotiation was a martial art, she'd be a ninja master. Whenever the panel touched upon the issue of agenting or deal-making, she'd get this gleam in her eye and you could tell she was in the zone. She probably doesn't walk out of editor meetings so much as vanish in a veil of smoke.

I know there wasn't much to my agent sighting, but yes, it totally made my day in a, "Oh my gods, agents DO exist! They're not just figments of my imagination" sort of way. Besides Laura, who was there to talk about her new picturebook Buying, Training, and Caring for Your Dinosaur, authors Deborah Heiligman, Bonnie Doerr, Emily Ecton, and Ruth Spiro were also on the panel.

Though the panel was supposed to cover everything up to YA, a good deal of the discussion focused on picturebooks and just how different they were from other types of juvenile fiction. Because there's a visual component to the book, you really don't need descriptive words, yet every word you do use should set a mood and tone.

I also knew that picturebook authors didn't get to choose their artists, but I didn't know that they oftentimes don't even see the final product until their book is about to hit the shelves. That was quite the shock!

Besides the subject of picturebooks, there was an interesting discussion on the role of literary agents and whether or not you needed one. I think two of the authors on the panel were unagented, but everyone pretty much agreed that you should get one if you can, but make sure that the agent is reputable and a good fit. In particular, Deborah Heiligman mentioned that her award-winning non-fiction YA on the marriage of Charles Darwin, Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith, would never have happened without her agent's support. Not only can agents negotiate better deals, but they can offer long-term career guidance and act as a sounding board, letting you know when to push ahead with a project and when a project needs more work.

My second YA panel of the day was "Hot Young Adult and Teen Fiction" with David Macinnis Gill (Soul Enchilada), Jennifer Hubbard (The Secret Year), Paula Chase Hyman (Flipping the Script), and the wonderful Amy Brecount White (Forget-Her-Nots). See the picture above! Each author read an excerpt from their books and though contemporary YA isn't my thing, I was surprised by how much I liked the work of the two contemporary writers on the panel, Jennifer Hubbard and Paula Chase Hyman. Of course, Amy Brecount White and David Macinnis Gill were amazing too. Amy's excerpt from Forget-Her-Nots had me on the verge of sniffling and crying, which is a little bit embarrassing, and David's sneak peek of his upcoming sci-fi YA set on Mars had me laughing out loud (it's not a comedy by any stretch, but the scene involved the main character high up on a platform, miles above the Martian landscape, fighting with an artificial intelligence that was calling him chicken for being scared of heights).

What followed next was a really good discussion of inspiration, 'edginess' in YA, future YA classics, and what responsibility do YA authors in particular have to their underaged readers.

Up Next: My interview with the author of Forget-Her-Nots, Amy Brecount White!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

VA Book Part 2: Revealed! The Secret to Getting Your Book on Oprah

I stepped into the Omni Hotel, where much of the VA Festival of the Book was being held, sometime around 9am. I had been to a number of conventions before, Faeriecon, Otakon, and the like, so the first question that leapt into my mind was: Where are the cosplayers?

Lesson #1 of Book Festivals: There is no cosplay. Good thing I left my Katniss Everdeen costume at home.

My first panel of the day was at 10am, Book Promotion for the 21st Century, and I have to say, I'm really glad I went, even though the panel had a heavy non-fiction tilt. The panelists were Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Carleen Brice, author of Orange Mint and Honey and creator of the blog White Readers Meet Black Authors, publicist Kelly Powers, and the author of I'm Not Hanging Noodles on Your Ears, Jag Bhalla. And yes, one of these authors got themselves featured in Oprah's magazine. Dun, dun, dun!

Before I go on, I'd just like to state that besides all the great information I got about publicity, I learned from Jag Bhalla, whose book is about amusing idioms found around the world, that the Germans have a saying, "Living like a maggot in bacon." How can I work this into my everyday conversation?

Listening to the panelists, four common themes jumped out at me:
  1. You're going to have to do a lot of legwork yourself. Pub house publicists are going to do their best to help you, but they're insanely busy people. They might have dozens of other books they have to promote at the same time as yours. Unless you're already a big name with a track record of success, they're probably only going to be able to devote a limited amount of time to you and your book. The industry standard for how long a publicist will work on your book is also about 120 days, which leads to the next point...
  2. You should be working on publicity months, even years, before your book ever comes out and for months after it's published. Publicity requires long-term thinking and network-building well in advance of the actual pub date.
  3. Be creative, use every angle you can to promote your book. Don't unintentionally limit your options. For example, as I mentioned, Jag Bhalla's book is about idioms around the world. Because a lot of those idioms are food-based, he approached food and cooking magazines and pitched stories to them. He also went to NPR and volunteered to write an entire episode of the quiz show "Wait wait..don't tell me" based around his book.
  4. Tailor your pitches. Don't just send a book to the Washington Post, for example, and hope it'll get reviewed. Give the person on the other end a reason to care, a reason to be intrigued. In some ways, it's a lot like writing query letters, you don't write a generic query letter and send it to every agent in the universe (OK, you SHOULDN'T do that, if you are, please don't). You research the agents' individual tastes, find out if they represent your genre, and adjust your query letter accordingly. When trying to publicize your book, make your pitch specific to that person or organization.
Other things I learned:

* Don't have a platform? Then build one. It took author Rebecca Skloot about ten years for her book to get published (it truly is an epic saga, involving one editor getting temporary amnesia and one of her publishers going out of business, amongst other mishaps) and during that time, she worked on her platform by doing freelance writing for magazines, hosting panels at book conferences, and networking in the scientific community.

* This is also how Rebecca got her current agent. She would host these conference panels and would usually be invited out to lunch beforehand to do some panel prep. Well, panel prep lasted about 5 minutes, at which point the editor or agent would ask her what projects she was working on. She'd tell them about her book and then they'd ask her who her agent was. She'd smile innocently and say, "Oh, I don't have one yet!"

* Web sites are essential. Other social media sites like Twitter can be helpful, but first and foremost, you need a good web site. Also, keep your blogroll updated (peers at own blogroll...yeah, I need to work on that one).

* Consider hiring your own publicist. What do publicists do? They help strategize and coordinate and can draw upon their own network of contacts to promote your book.

* Get booksellers and libraries on your side. Build these networks long before your book ever comes out. Bribery in the form of donuts and baked goods is surprisingly effective.

* Whatever you do, it's important to be comfortable doing it. I think this is especially important for us shy writers out there (people = scary, SCARY). Remember why you wanted to write in the first place, focus more on telling your amazing story and less on selling the book. You'll actually sell more books that way.

* Do book reviews, become part of the writing community and part of the conversation. Send out ARCs to book bloggers. The panelists also mentioned goodreads.com and booktour.com.

* Amazon pre-sale numbers can be very important. If you can get 1,000 or more pre-orders on Amazon, that can really help build buzz for your book.

* Don't just take, give! Build relationships. Maybe if an independent bookstore promotes your book, you'll come and do free signings and point people towards their store.

* Sales representatives can really help to push your book, but most people don't even know they exist (I didn't know about them!). Sales reps are employed by publishing houses, work by region, and are responsible for selling the publisher's books to retailers. If you can get them on your side, they can convince retailers to purchase more of your books.

* Keep your expectations in check. One media exposure does not necessarily equal sales. For example, Carleen Brice got a full feature in Essence magazine, but it didn't send her sales skyrocketing. Rather, you need to keep building on the publicity you receive, and as always, repetition, repetition, repetition is the key. Maybe the first time someone reads about your book in a magazine, they won't buy it. But the second, third or fourth time they hear about it, they might decide to check it out.

* Your resources, and that includes time, is finite. Choose wisely where you spend it.

* Publishers follow success rather than create it.

All right, so that author who got her book featured in Oprah's magazine? If you said Rebecca Skloot and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, you guessed right! How'd she snag Oprah's much sought after seal of approval? Well, it took a lot of work, planning, and a well-tailored pitch.

When she was building her platform and working as a freelancer, Rebecca did some writing for O Magazine and got to know the editors there. Months before its release date, she was able to pitch the book to the editors and suggest they do a feature. Given the subject matter, the story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor black farmer who died from cervical cancer, and whose cells ended up revolutionizing the field of medicine, she knew it'd be a perfect fit for the magazine. The editors agreed.

Next up: My report on the festival's YA panels, how I got within five feet of the legendary literary agent Laura Rennert and totally did not tackle her, and an interview with YA author Amy Brecount White! Also, I'll be updating my blogroll.