Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Oops! I Did it Again

First off, I'd like to thank Amy Sonnichsen at The Green Bathtub for bringing to my attention that the website I referred to as Miss Snark's is not actually Miss Snark (her blog has been discontinued but is still accessible on the web), but is Authoress, Miss Snark's First Victim. Sorry about that, and thank you Amy!
It's Thursday again, and here's what I'd like to toss around today: What books are on your shopping list at the moment?

Those of you who have been following me for a while know that I have a penchant for buying way more books than I could possibly ever read (a common problem among us writers, I imagine.) I even wrote a post about my stack of books waiting to be read, which is even taller than I am (and I have the proof.) So why in the world did I go out and buy even more new books the other day? Well, look at them. Who could resist? I bought:

Wake by Lisa McMann - I've wanted to read this ever since I read her query letter in a query letter how-to article (and all the great things I've been hearing about it on other blogs didn't hurt either.)

Hush Hush by Becca Fitzgerald - I'm so behind the times, I don't even know what this book is about, but I've seen it featured on several blogs, and who can resist that cover photo? This looks like my kind of book.

Fang by James Patterson - Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while also know that I love, love, love the Maximum Ride series. My kids and I have been waiting for this one to come out for a long time. I haven't read it yet, but both my daughters finished it right away and loved it.

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness - I read a comment on another blog recently about this book having an opening line that draws you in and doesn't let go. That's something I have to check out! I haven't read the opening line yet, though - it will have to wait its turn.

I ordered Hooked by Les Edgerton. It should come in in a few days, and when I get it, I'm going to revamp that first chapter so it grabs the reader and doesn't let go. (NOTE: You have a chance to win your own copy of Hooked by entering Christine's contest, so go enter, and good luck!)

So, how about you? What books are on your shopping list right now?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Three Things Plus More Wrap-Up

Since this is my third post in a row on agent blogs, and I'm not used to talking so long about one subject, I decided to throw in a few random thoughts about my life at the moment.

#1 - I bought a new vacuum cleaner last week. I absolutely love it - it works so well it makes vacuuming a joy. Seriously. I vacuumed the entire lower level of our house yesterday just for fun. It's amazing how excited a twenty-nine-(hee hee)-year-old woman can get about a vacuum cleaner.

#2 - My daughter makes her First Communion on Thursday. At our church, First Communion isn't a veil and gloves type affair, but I did buy her a new spring dress for the occasion. Of the approximately twenty-five dresses to choose from, she tried on about twenty. When her high school prom rolls around, she may have to rent out her own dressing room.

#3 - WIP progress is slow, but slight progress is being made. I'm hoping to send it out to the second round of readers in about six weeks. As I commented on another blogger's blog last week, I'm trying to sprint to the finish line, but life just keeps getting in the way.

And now (drumroll please), on to the wrap-up:

Since so many agent blogs were suggested on last week 's Toss-Around Thursday, I split the list in two. Here are several more awesome blogs for you to check out:

Query Shark: readers submit queries and some of these are selected and critiqued on the blog. Cool!

Kristin at Pubrants: Some of my favorite features of this blog were the blog pitch workshops, the Agenting 101 blogs, and Q&A posts where Kristin answers reader questions. I'm definitely going to be spending a lot more time at this site.

Bookends: This blog has some good info with posts such as Query Formatting, Follow-Up to Submitting a Partial, Pitch Lines that Don't Work, and Questions to Ask Before Signing with an Agent (I hope I need to read that one some day!) The site accepts reader email questions and has an impressive list of "Must Read Posts" on the sidebar.

Dystel & Goderich: This blog includes posts by different agents at the agency, and I especially like the little sidebar feature that tells what each agent wants to see more of - good info!

Bent on Books: This blog includes a guest post by Susan Hawk, the new children's book agent at The Bent Agency, and a detailed post on Rookie Mistakes.

The Swivet: Here I found an interesting post by guest blogger Ari Marmell, fantasy author, and the #Askagent Twitter chat ("agent/editor/writer free-for-all, where a group of agents, editors, and other book industry pros open themselves up to questions from writers for a couple of hours or until they drop from sheer exhaustion") looks very interesting (but alas, I don't Twitter.)

Chuck Samuchino: This is one of several Writer's Digest blogs. I found some great stuff here, including applying Donald Maass's Writing the Breakout Novel to blogging, a Worst Storyline Ever Contest (now closed), and New Agent Alerts.

Mark McVeigh: I'm partial to agent Mark McVeigh, since I won a 15-minute Skype chat with him, so I know from personal experience he's a great guy. His blog includes some good information including book launch party invitations, book trailers, and cool industry news.

I found some great stuff on all these blogs. Like me, you probably don't have time to keep up with all of these, so if you were going to check out just a few, I'd recommend Miss Snark (love those contests), Mary Kole at Kidlit, and Kristin at Pubrants. That's just my humble opinion though. In any case, I don't think you can go wrong with any of the agents on this list.

Happy Tuesday Everyone!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Agent Blog Wrap-Up Part I

Thanks to everyone who responded to Toss-Around Thursday and told me about the agent blogs that you frequent. I checked out your suggestions and would like to share just a few of the tidbits I discovered as I perused these blogs/websites. There were a lot of them, so I'll spread them out between today's post and Tuesday's.

Before I get started, I'd like to point out that several of you mentioned that you prefer to spend most your time on the blogs of fellow writers. I couldn't agree more! You guys are the best - I love reading about your trials, triumphs, lessons learned, and day-to-day stuff. You make me learn, laugh, sometimes cry, and always feel blessed to be part of such a wonderful community of writers/bloggers.

And now, on to the wrap-up:

Mary Kole at Mary includes her email address and invites writers to email their questions, which may be featured on the site. Her latest posts include Workshop Submissions where she gives an in-depth critique of material submitted to the workshop. I found these critiques very enlightening - a valuable read!

Rachelle Gardener at Rants & Ramblings On Life as a Literary Agent: Rachelle gives in-depth query critiques (very helpful!) and answers such questions as Should I Hire a Freelance Agent? and How Long Does the Submission Process Take?

Kathleen Ortiz at Neverending Page Turner: Kathleen's blog includes a great article on query etiquette and announces an upcoming contest (prize: an 8-minute Skype chat with Kathleen and Suzie Townsend of Fineprint Literary.) Rules for the contest will be announced March 31 - stay tuned to her blog!

Suzie Townsend at Confessions of a Wandering Heart: Suzie's blog includes a book review of The Dead Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan and an interview with author Claudia Gray. She's also hosting a contest to award a copy of Hourglass, the third installment in Claudia Gray's Evernight series (yes, I entered the contest while I was there - I can't resist a good contest!)

Miss Snark's First Victim: I have to admit, I've heard about Miss Snark's First Victim time and time again, but I never checked it out until now. You probably know this already, but her First 25 Words Critique, where writers submit the first 25 words of their manuscripts and others comment on them, is very cool - a must read.

Janet Reid: Janet includes a query letter checklist and tackles such topics as Are You Ready to Query? and How to Send an Electronic Query for a Novel.

I hope you guys have a few minutes to check out these blogs, and thanks again for everyone's awesome suggestions!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Toss Around Thursday - Agent Blogs

There is so much good information out there on the blogosphere. I learn (and laugh) each time I take a tour of the most recent posts. There are a couple of agent blogs that I follow, but I know I should be reading many more. So I'm hoping today with Toss-Around Thursday, I (and hopefully other readers) can get some good agent blogs to check out. So, how about it? Which are your favorite agent blogs?

Like I said, I don't read nearly enough agent blogs, but one I do like to visit and have learned a lot from is Nathan Bransford's blog. If you haven't already, I highly recommend you check out this awesome blog.

Happy Thursday!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Prologue Poll

I've been thinking about first chapters lately. I posted the first chapter of my wip a couple of weeks ago, and so many of you were gracious enough to stop by and give me wonderful words of encouragement and helpful suggestions. But I've been thinking about that first chapter and wondering if it's enough to catch an editor's attention. The first chapter has to be so compelling that someone with seventeen ceiling-high stacks of manuscripts beside their desk can't put it down. While my chapter does what it has to do, I don't think it has the zing necessary to keep that editor reading.

I've often read/heard the advice not to start with a prologue, but I think that's what this book needs. So I started looking around at other books in the same genre. I consider Killing Kessler a paranormal romance, so just a quick survey of first chapters of books on my bookshelf reveals:

Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr - a one-and-a-half page prologue that describes an event that took place before the book begins and is connected to the rest of the plot, but still separate from it;
Tithe by Holly Black - a five-page prologue which takes place shortly before the events of the book and could have been called Chapter One;
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer -a one-page preface that describes the climax scene but isn't actually included in that later chapter, a snippet of something yet to come;
Fallen by Lauren Kate - a seven-page prologue that describes an event that took place before the book began and, like Wicked Lovely, is connected to the rest of the plot but still separate from it.

This is a sketchy list, to be sure, but it does reveal that prologues are very much in use today. So now I'm wondering how the rest of you feel about prologues. Do you use them or try to avoid them? Have you been given any good advice that you could share? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Good To Be Back

Greetings Blogging Buddies!

My family made it back from a week of skiing in Colorado all in one piece (despite a harrowing drive down the mountain in a pre-dawn snowstorm), the laundry's done, there are groceries in the kitchen, I've even spent a little time with my wip and complicated Tabitha's life a bit more. Now I've finally got some time to rejoin the blogosphere. I'm certain I've missed some great posts, but I can't wait to catch up with everyone!

I had some nice surprises waiting for me when I got home: awards! So my first order of business is to pass these on to some of my newer blogging buddies.

Thank you to Abby Annis for giving me the Silver Lining Award! For this award, all I have to do is pass it on to five bloggers. I'd like to pass this one on to:
3. Anne at Piedmont Writer.
5. Jen at Unedited.

Next, thank you to Nicole Ducleroir at One Significant Moment at a Time for presenting me with the Prolific Blogger Award. Nicole let her recipients choose which award they'd like to receive, and this one stuck out to me. Its inscription, "By definition, a prolific blogger 'is one who is intellectually productive...keeping up an active blog that is filled with enjoyable content,'" is a worthy goal which I am continually striving for.

I'd like to pass this award to:

3. Christine at Christine's Journey.
4. Myrna at Night Writer.

And last but not least, Abby Annis tagged me. I need to answer these questions:

I like getting up early and having the house to myself for some quiet writing time.
I like a full pot of hot coffee.
I like a great book.
I like a day when I don't have to go anywhere.
I like warm spring weather.
I like naps.
I like spending time with friends.
I like coconut and seafood - my two favorite foods.
I like jeans that fit just right.
I like my routine.
I like walking my dog through the park.
I like a clean house.

I love watching my children shine.

Today (Sunday) was peaceful and relaxing (so far - it's only 11:30am).

I hate realizing I've hurt someone's feelings.
I hate cleaning bathrooms.
I hate feeling rushed.
I hate when I let my schedule get too busy.
I hate when friends move away.
I hate beets.
I hate too much noise.
I hate missing my morning writing time.

I (secretly) like sitting at my son's soccer practice (as long as I have my laptop.)

I love blogging buddies.

And in return, I'd like to tag:

1. Kelly at Cross Your T's.

I hope you'll check out these blogs and get to know these fantastic bloggers.

Gotta go now - I've got some blogs to read and I can't wait to get to it!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sneak Peek 2/The Mouse's Fate

Thanks to everyone who read my last post, the first half of the first chapter of my wip, Killing Kessler. I appreciate everyone's suggestions and encouragment! I didn't realize readers would be so concerned about the mouse. But since many of you asked what happened to him, I decided to post the second half of the chapter. If you haven't read the first half yet, please click here.

"Violent process, isn't it?" Murphy stood up and dusted glass splinters off his jeans. "Kind of makes you wonder what happened to the mouse."

"When you invent a time machine that rides like a Cadillac, you be sure to let us know," Adam snapped. Adam had no sense of humor under the best of circumstances, and having the fate of the entire human race resting on his ability to make the machine work wasn't helping his mood. Deep laugh lines creased Murphy's face as he suppressed a chuckle.

Leila sniffed. "Is it supposed to smell like burnt rubber?"

Murphy's laugh lines deepened as Adam glared at her.

"When will it come back?" Tabitha asked.

Adam glanced at the remote control. "I programmed it to come back at 4:15 this afternoon. That's just over a minute from now."

Tabitha nodded. "And how will we know if it actually went into the past?"

"We won't," Adam said. "All we'll know is if the mouse survived the trip. If he does, I'll test it out myself."

"Not a chance," Murphy said, his tone suddenly serious. "I'll test it out. If you end up getting stuck in the middle of the Ice Age or World War II or whenever and can't get back, then the whole world is screwed."

Surely Murphy knew right away what he'd said, but if not, Leila's gasp made it clear. Murphy looked uncomfortable as he ran calloused fingers through his short brown hair. "We'll get your dad back," he told Leila. "We'll stop the Virus first, and then we'll get him back."

"We can't stop the Virus," Leila said. "But we can get Dad back."

"Leila," Tabitha said, her voice a low warning.

"What?" Leila croaked. "Yes, the machine may work, but that doesn't mean we can reweave the entire fabric of the universe to fit our own agenda. We should be concentrating on getting Dad back. That is something that was not meant to happen, and would not have happened if he hadn't been messing around with this dumb machine in the first place."

Leila's stubborness infuriated Tabitha, but it also frightened her. Though only fourteen years old, Leila had inherited a double dose of intelligence from their scientific genius parents. If she thought their attempts to alter the past were futile, then maybe they were.

"We should concentrate on getting Dad back," Leila repeated, a quaver in her voice this time. Tabitha felt a pang of sympathy. Leila had been only four years old when the Virus struck and their mother disappeared. Their father was the only parent she'd ever really known, and she'd been most affected by his disappearance two years ago.

The floor began to shake again.

"Here it comes," Adam said.

The hatch slid open, unleashing the same earsplitting racket and whirlwind of cold air as before. Again, Tabitha fell to her knees. Sharp pain pierced her hand as a glass shard cut into her palm, but she barely noticed. Finally the machine thrust through the hole in the floor, hovered in the air just long enough for the hatch to slide closed, and then landed with a loud clunk. The room went still.

"I can't believe it came back," Tabitha whispered.

"Your confidence in me is overwhelming," Adam muttered.

The lights blipped: yellow, blue, red, yellow, blue, red. Then they went dark.

"Well?" Murphy said after a few seconds. "Are we going to be cleaning mouse puree out of there or not?"

A vein pulsed in Adam's forehead as he stared at the machine. "What if he's dead?"

"We'll never know unless we open the door," Murphy said.

Adam took a deep breath and held it as he pushed the black button at the top of the remote. The machine opened. The mouse ran out, scurried to its cage, and found the hunk of cheese Adam had left out.

Murphy hooted a triumphant laugh. "Well, how about that? Looks like it worked."

Like I said before, I welcome your comments and suggestions. Please be honest!

Also, I'm going to be unplugged next week. I'll miss you guys, but it's time for a break. Happy spring, all!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Sneak Peek

This is the beginning of the first chapter of my wip, Killing Kessler. The book is about Tabitha, her brother (Adam), sister (Leila), and friend (Murphy). In this scene, they're testing out the time machine first built by Tabitha's father and then perfected by Adam. They plan to use the time machine to go back ten years in the past and kill Griffin Kessler, the man responsible for creating a virus that wiped out 99% of the world's population. So, without further ado...

The mouse squeaked when Adam put it in the machine. Tabitha wrapped her arms around her stomach and concentrated on not puking. Sucking air past the lump in her throat felt enough like swallowing crushed glass to make her forget about breathing, at least for a while.

Adam pushed a button on the remote control. The machine's metal door slid shut, locking the mouse inside. "I've already programmed his arrival and return times," Adam said. "For this test, I'll send him twelve hours into the past. According to Dad's calculations, that's the minimum amount of time the machine will allow."

Adam adjusted his ridiculous goggles and scratched his tangled mop of jet black hair. He'd been working nonstop for the past week. It had probably been at least that long since his hair had seen a comb. Throw in his unshaven face and bloodshot eyes, and he had his classic mad scientist look. Tabitha remembered her dad looking the same way when he was on the verge of a breakthrough and couldn't be bothered with routine hygiene. She ignored the familiar ache in her heart and refocused on the test.

Stepping outside the red taped lines that formed a perimeter around the machine, Adam pressed a button on the remote. "Here goes nothing."

The row of lights over the door came to life, flashing in a symphony of yellow, blue, and red. The machine began to vibrate, shaking the floor until the entire room danced a jig. Tools bounced off the workbench and crashed on the linoleum. Adam's newspaper collection, every paper containing every article he'd been able to find covering the Salamander Virus, spilled off the bookshelf and fluttered around the room. A framed picture of their family, taken before either of their parents disappeared and before Murphy came to live with them, fell from the wall. The glass shattered.

Tabitha braced her legs and leaned against the wall for support. Long blonde curls fell in her eyes, and she wished she'd left her hair in a ponytail. She tossed her hair over her shoulder and glanced at Murphy. He watched her with light blue eyes that almost seemed to glow against his sun-browned skin. He gave her his typical broad smile and a quick wink. He was only about sixteen years old, just like her, but he had a way of making her feel safe like no one else could.

She turned to Leila, who used one hand to grasp the window frame while pressing the other over her ear to block out the machine's high-pitched hum. Leila's glossy black hair tumbled in her face and her ebony eyes looked wider than normal. Her perfect olive complexion had a faint pea soup tinge. "I know it will work," Tabitha mouthed. This was a total lie, of course. But Leila nodded and almost smiled, so Tabitha didn't regret saying it.

The metal hatch in the floor slid open, releasing a deafening rattle and a blast of frigid air. The machine plummeted into the ground with a jolt that sent them all to their knees. The hatch closed back up. After a few more tremors, the shaking stopped.

Comments? Suggestions? I'd love to hear them! I've been working on my thick writer skin, so go ahead and be honest.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Be Your Own Duck

My dog and I like to take walks through the park by our house. We pass a pond with a pretty sizable duck population. For quite a while now, I've noticed one duck in particular who is always alone. Some days he's the only duck on the pond.

And some days he's surrounded by other ducks, but still remains separate. This little guy is, without a doubt, his own duck.

Of course, this got me thinking about my writing (I mean really, what doesn't?) It brought to mind a recent rejection I received. Here's the gist of my query:

Not long after 12-year-old Nadine Foster moves into her great-aunt's house, she realizes something tragic happened in the stable, something her mother and great-aunt don't want her to know about.

At first Nadine thinks she's imagining the mysterious unseen presence in the stable. She can even explain away the terrifying dreams of a young couple trapped in the stable as it burns to the ground. But when a hostile ghost begins waking her before she can identify the concealed third person in her dreams, the person everyone insists was not there, she knows she has to find out what really happened.

With the help of her new friend and her eccentric neighbor, Nadine digs for answers. When at last she uncovers the shocking truth, the lives of those closest to her, including her own, will be changed forever.

The response I received: "This isn't a bad idea per se...this story doesn't seem big enough to stand out against other middle grade mysteries. I feel like it's been done before."

Even though this wasn't "a bad idea," it didn't stand out from the crowd enough to capture this agent's attention. There are millions of good ideas out there. An idea has to be unique, original, something the agent doesn't see all the time, maybe even never before. They say there's no new ideas under the sun, and I'm sure that's true. But even if an idea has been done before (ghosts, vampires, boarding schools for wizards...), it still needs to find a way to be original. This query reminded me not to settle for a good idea. I have to go beyond that, to push myself harder and dig deeper until my query makes an agent jump up and say "I've got to read this!"

It's not good enough to be part of the flock. Those who get noticed in this business are those who dare to be their own duck.

Until Thursday, happy writing, and may your coffee pot never run dry.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Toss Around Thursday - Queries

This Thursday, two of my Wadmates and I are tossing around a subject near and dear to every writer's heart: queries. I am by no means an expert, but I've been very lucky recently to have won a Skype chat with agent Mark McVeigh and a query critique by agent Jennifer Laughran of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Today I'd like to share some of what I've learned, both from these agents and from other writers. Please also check out Sharon's blog and Amy's blog for more on the subject.

#1 - Don't begin your query with a rhetorical question. You probably know this already, but I did not. I'm glad I know it now.

#2 - Keep it short! The first sentence should be a killer hook. After that, use 100 words or less to introduce the protagonist, conflict, and resolution. This is difficult to do, but a must.

#3 - If you're unpublished, don't feel compelled to bring it up. I had heard that a new writer should just say "this is my first novel." This concerned me because I have two completed novels that I am still sending to agents/editors. (I tend to drop everything when I get caught up in a wip. Both these books need revision, but I can't bring myself to put aside my wip and start a new revision right now - soon, I promise!) Anyway, from now on I plan to just leave this sentence out. This isn't going to make or break the query anyway.

#4 - Don't include a non-related publishing credit, even if it's your only one. I write fiction, but I have a non-fiction magazine credit. I was told to just leave this out, it distracts the reader from the letter and is not a real concern to them.

I hope some of what I've learned these past couple of weeks will be helpful to a few of you. Writing queries can be one of the most difficult challenges a writer faces, but a well-written query will give your manuscript a fighting chance!

Okay, your turn. What is the best query advice you've ever received?

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Truth Revealed!

The time has come to reveal which of my seven "facts" is actually true. Most of them had at least a grain of truth, which I will explain as we go along.

#1 - When I was young, I had two pet iguanas named Cheyenne and Rufus. FALSE. Growing up, we had two cats, a dog, assorted guinea pigs, fish, and birds, but no iguanas.

#2 - I skipped second grade. FALSE. Okay, not even a grain of truth to that one.

#3 - The first book I ever wrote was about alien body snatchers from the planet Xydor. FALSE. The first book I ever wrote was about aliens from the planet Botchula, but they didn't snatch any bodies.

#4 - I was once suspended from middle school for taking part in a cafeteria food fight. FALSE. I did once get sent to the principal's office in elementary school for taking part in a cafeteria food fight.

#5 - I was once the editor of my high school newspaper. FALSE. I didn't even write for my high school newspaper, though I did write for my middle school newspaper.

#6 - I once sang "On the Good Ship Lollipop" in my school talent show. TRUE. In sixth grade, two friends and I performed "On the Good Ship Lollipop" for my elementary school talent show. We called ourselves Shirley and the Temples. I was our frontman, Shirley. I can't sing at all, so I really don't know what we were thinking.

#7 - I went to high school with Gillian Anderson who played Dana Scully on the X-Files. FALSE. Though she did move to my hometown, Grand Rapids, Michigan, when she was 11, and we were born in the same year. So we could have gone to school together, but we didn't.

Thanks so much to everyone who played along, and congratulations to Old Kitty and Niki, who both guessed correctly!