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, 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 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.