Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ode to 2009

All I can say about 2009 is WOW! Especially when you consider my New Year’s Revelation. (I don’t do resolutions. I don’t have the self-discipline to follow through.)

2009 started with a partial manuscript request from the first agent I ever queried on my first real novel. That scared the snot out of me, in truth, cuz only after I got the request did I realized it wasn’t nearly good enough. It was the first valuable lesson of the year and of my writing career—a rookie mistake that a lot of authors make.

But it was a harbinger of things to come. If you read my last post, you know the whirlwind of events after that. Personal Demons was conceived in February and sold in December. If I had bothered to set goals for 2009, I would have exceeded them and then some.

It makes setting goals for 2010 tricky, cuz nothing can measure up to this year.

Except—well…there’s the thing about my book maybe being published in 2010. That’s pretty cool… So, I guess my goals should include something about not giving my fabulous agent and my awesome editor ulcers. Working with Melissa and Tor is going to be great—everything that goes into getting a debut in shape to go out into the world. I’m really looking forward to diving in.

There’s also the thing about a three-book deal. So it seems another goal should be getting book two, Original Sin, in shape. (First draft is done.) So, that’s going to be fun.

Plus, there’s all the networking. Getting to know readers and other writers out there in YA land. Yay!

Okay, so even though it’s a tall order, maybe 2010 will be better than 2009. We’ll see. I’m just thrilled to have proven my New Year’s Revelation wrong!

All the people who made my 2009 a resounding success deserve a shout out. You've heard from me privately, so here the public THANKS!!!

Nathan Bransford for all his invaluable info, without which I never would have found an agent in the first place.

Jen Laughran, whose encouraging feedback spurred me to make Personal Demons the best it could be.

Eric Elfman, Graeme Stone, Marty Allen and Stephanie Sneddon (my Big Sur group) who gave me the confidence to write this book with no apologies.

Andrea Cremer, my crit partner extraordinaire, who was the first of us to prove my New Year’s Revelation wrong when her debut, Nightshade, sold in August.

Stephanie Howard for keeping me on track.

Suzie Townsend, my truly fabulous agent, for believing in me and my work, and knowing just what my mss needed to be even better.

Melissa Frain, my seriously awesome editor, for having faith enough to take me on for three books.

And most of all, my family:
My husband, who kept us all from starving to death months ago.
My daughters, who have been my inspiration from the beginning.

And thanks to all of you who take the time to visit me here! I love hearing from you all! What are your goals for 2010, and what can I do to help?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Ho, ho, ho and a book deal for you!!!

I must have been EXTRA good this year, cuz Santa made a special trip today and gave me what I really wanted.

It was nearly impossible for me to bite my tongue during (Unofficial) Official Agent Appreciation Day because I wanted to shout from the rooftop exactly how amazing my agent, Suzie Townsend, was. But, alas, it wasn’t official yet, so I couldn’t. I’ve always known she’s a rock star, and now I have proof.

*drum roll*
I’m beyond thrilled to announce that Suzie has sold my young adult debut novel, Personal Demons, at auction to Tor/Macmillan in a three book deal.

My shiny new editor, Melissa, still loves me because she’s only known me for one day. Also—she’s never met Suzie in person, which has worked out for the best cuz, if she had, she undoubtedly would have noticed Suzie’s bald spots, which would have prompted the question “What happened?” to which Suzie would have had to cross her fingers and reply “Alopecia. Runs in my family,” or risk losing our book deal. (Suzie is lovely, really, and her hair will grow back, I think, once I become a less frustrating client.) ;)

But I digress.

So, I’m blessed that my book (actually my three books!) has found a home with an awesome editor. I’m so looking forward to the next months/years getting to know Melissa and working with her to make my books the best they can be. I can never properly express my gratitude for her belief in me and my work.

All right. For those inquiring minds that want to know, here’s my story. If you really don’t care, stop reading now because, though the timeline is relatively short, I’m a writer which means, by definition, the story is going to be long.

First, let me say, I’ve read a LOT of author blogs about their road to publication. Many of them talk about their lifelong aspiration to write—how they knew they were destined to be a writer at age 5 when they started scribbling captions in their coloring books or writing plays for their friends and family.

That was SOOOO not me.

Not only did I never even consider writing a book—I hated to read them. I devoured Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings in 7th grade and read a hand full of Stephen King books in high school, but other than that I was able to fake my way through four years of high school English without ever reading a single book. I was well out of college with a Masters and a Doctorate (for which I rarely cracked a textbook) before I took any interest in reading at all.

So, along comes my daughter, who’s an avid reader. I was thrilled that she took an interest in reading. And, being the diligent parent I am, I felt it was my responsibility to know what she was reading. I started browsing her books and found that I really enjoyed a lot of the YA novels she was accumulating. Then, in some unexplainable stroke of insanity, (maybe some kind of aneurysm?) I decided last July (2008) to do something special for her 14th birthday. I sat down and wrote her a 120K word YA thriller that I finished in October, in time for her birthday. I thought I was done—but my Muse had other ideas. I’d caught the bug.

Orlando is my Muse, in case anyone cares. Here's him looking particularly Musey...

I started my second novel (a realistic contemporary YA) in October and queried in January. I’d done a lot of blog reading and got that the road to getting published was nearly impossible. My true belief was that I didn’t have a prayer. So I was shocked out of my socks when five agents requested manuscripts. I got a lot of positive feedback, but no offers. Still, I was one step closer, and realized I must know how to write a query if I was getting requests. So all I needed was a really great book.

On February 2nd, 2009 I was listening to Saving Abel (one of my favorite new bands) and reading a bio where they said they got their name from a biblical quote: “there was no saving Abel.” That got me thinking about Cain and Abel, and I was mulling over ideas for a book when a name popped into my head. I thought to myself, Lucifer Cain, what a fun name for a demon. That was the beginning of Luc and Personal Demons. Even though his name was inspired by Saving Abel, his theme—the song that totally shaped his character and the story from his perspective—is Savin’ Me by Nickelback. Frannie, whose story this really is, was inspired in the same way by the song You Found Me by The Fray.

I don’t have any logical way of explaining how I felt as I was working on Personal Demons except to say I knew this was going to be “the one.” I typed away like a crazy person, trying desperately to keep up with my Muse, and I just felt like I was “in the zone.” (The “typing like a crazy person” was a challenge, as I worked full time and my husband didn’t know I was writing until I signed with my agent in September.)

A few weeks later I went to the San Francisco Writers Conference, where I met some great people and heard about the Big Sur Writers Workshop. That workshop was in March. I had to send a writing sample to be critiqued right away, and all I had completed (that I was willing to show anyone) was the realistic contemporary YA manuscript that was out with agents, but I figured that ship had already sailed. So even though I was only eight thousand words into my first draft of Personal Demons, I decided to take a risk and send it.

The critique groups and agents there were awesome and I got some VERY encouraging feedback as well as a request for the full manuscript when it was finished, so I got serious and finished it. I sent 18 queries in June and July and got a lot of manuscript requests really quickly. (I'd share my query letter, but there are spoilers—things I thought necessary to capture agents' interest and show them my book was different than the multitude of YA paranormal books already out there.) But then everything seemed to stall. I tweaked the manuscript while I waited on agents, but didn’t want to mess with it too much.

In August I was on a business trip to Sydney and was surfing the web when I found a blog interview with a new agent at FinePrint Lit—Suzie Townsend. (Thanks Realm Lovejoy.) I sent my e-query to this new agent and one other agent at 10am on 8/29/09. That was a Saturday. I figured if she was fast, I might expect to hear from her sometime the following week. So I nearly fell off my chair when an email came at 11:30am THAT SAME DAY requesting my manuscript. Less than two hours after my query, my full manuscript was in her hands.

I already had eleven other manuscripts out, some since the middle of June, so I figured I was in for a wait. But another email came just over two weeks later in which she told me she was having some second readers take a look. Coincidentally, I had received a call from another agent that same day offering representation, so I emailed Suzie back to tell her and she sped up the process on her end, calling to offer representation two days later. I received two other offers and sat down with my options.

I ended up choosing Suzie for a multitude of reasons, the biggest of which was her sheer enthusiasm for my novel for no other reason than she loved it. All the agents said they loved it, but they all had personal stories of how the themes of the novel related to their lives. That was nice, and it made me feel really good that my story touched someone, but in truth, I wanted the person representing my novel to just flat out love the writing and the story—no heartstrings attached. That was Suzie.

Suzie had some excellent revision requests, which I worked on for about two weeks, and four weeks after signing with her, we went on submission. Seven weeks after submissions went out Melissa phoned with an offer. Mad scramble—auction—and then my new and totally amazing editor. Whew…

Two months after the original submission, deal done and my novel has an awesome new home. Ten months from concept to sale. I’m truly blessed.

Now for revisions...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Top Ten. Or Fab Five times two...

Since I recently started writing and have decided, though my tastes run broad, that I’d focus in the YA realm, I’ve done a lot of catch-up reading this year. I still have a huge TBR list, but I got to many of the books I’d wanted to read. Here are my ten favorites. (Keep in mind that they were not all published in 2009.)

Realistic contemporary:
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher: Love his style.
Cracked Up To Be by Courtney Summers: Laughed and cried through the whole thing.
Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta: Beautifully written.
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead: This may belong below, but I'm putting it here.

Graceling and Fire by Kristin Cashore: I’ll read anything this woman writes.
The Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins: On the edge of my seat.
Nightshade by Andrea Cremer: Sorry, you’ll have to wait until October. (I’ve got an awesome crit partner!)
Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl: I’m actually in the middle of it right now and loving it.

So, there’s mine. What about yours?

Friday, December 11, 2009

There aren't words...

On this, (Unofficial) Official Agent Appreciation Day, I wanted to put together something to express how truly amazing my agent, Suzie Townsend, is. But there just aren’t words—so I made some up. ;)

Suzie is:
S: a Sensible and Savvy Superstar, Sacrificing her Sanity for her schizo clients. ;)

U: Undeniably the Ultimate Ultra-Uberagent.

Z: Zen, in the Zone with Zest and Zealousness.

I: Incredibly Intelligent.

E: Extraordinarily Enthusiastic, Energetic, Eager, Excited and Encouraging.

In other words, everything a client could ever want in an agent.

Thanks Suzie!!!!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Slow down and smell the mistletoe

Tis the season. My seventh grader is not only an athlete, but also very musically inclined. So, of course, that means we’ve been inundated with musical engagements to celebrate the season. Last night, junior high band concert. Tonight, junior high choir concert. Sunday, piano recital.

I’ve never been the kind of person who lets their emotions run away with them. I don’t cry at weddings, and rarely during movies (books, sometimes) so I found it surprising that I started tearing up a little during the band concert. Don’t get me wrong, the kids did a great job, but they’re no Boston Pops. And it wasn’t just maternal pride. It was often during numbers my daughter wasn’t playing in.

So, as I sat analyzing my reaction, it occurred to me how easily we all get sucked into the grind of our lives to the point were we’re just living it and not experiencing it. Especially this time of year.

I know—seems like a little bit of a jump from getting choked up at a band concert to an existential transformation, but that’s how it happened. And it really reminded me how art in general, and music in specific, transcends all levels of consciousness.

So, moral of the story—for me, at least: Slow down and smell the roses—or coffee, or whatever. And hear the music—and other stuff too.

You get it.

Friday, December 4, 2009

OMG! I won!!!!

I’ve waited for this moment all my life! I’d like to thank my director and my producer for all their dedication and hard w…what?

Not an Academy Award…?

*\0/* I’m so embarrassed.

So it’s a…?

Honest Scrap award? What’s an honest scrap? Are there dishonest scraps?

So, I’m supposed to…what?

Tell stuff about me? And it needs to be the truth? Are you kidding me?

All right. Starting over. *clears throat*

I’d like to thank my crit partner, Andrea Cremer (whose racking up foreign sales for her awesome book, Nightshade that will be out October 14th) for bestowing this prestigious award upon my humble self. Interestingly enough, it came in a roundabout way from my agent sister Sarah With a Chance, so I can’t pass it back to her. (though I might anyway)

The deal is that I’m supposed to tell you ten things about me and pass this award on to ten others, but since Andrea parted with protocol and only did five, I’m thinking two and a half would be good. Or maybe five half-truths, which I can probably handle.

Okay…so five mostly honest things about me.

1. I only watch sports on TV except *swallows hard* American Idol. I’m addicted even when everybody sucks. It’s like watching a slow motion train wreck.
2. I HATE to fail at anything, but if no one knows I never have to fess up, so not even my husband knew I was writing until I signed with my agent.
3. I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV…oh, wait…no. I am a doctor. But I’ll have to kill you if you call me that.
4. I could live forever on nothing but skittles and Dr. Pepper.
5. I won’t swim in my pool at night without the lights on because I’m terrified of sharks. (There could be one in there, you know.)

It is now my very great honor to pass this award along to some awesome author bloggers:

Victoria Schwab
Paul Greci
Kristin Miller
Nikki Loftin
Debra Schubert

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Santa's new contract

There’s a chill in the air (it dipped to a nipply 62 degrees today) and the decorations are going up. It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. Course, if you hang out in department stores or at the mall, you probably thought that sometime in mid-September.

So, ho-ho-ho and all that.

Unfortunately, the economy has taken its toll on the North Pole. A new contract for Santa has finally been negotiated. He’s asked me to post the following:

To Whom It May Concern:

I regret to inform you that, effective immediately, I will no longer be able to serve Southern United States on Christmas Eve. Due to the overwhelming current population of the earth, my contract was renegotiated by North American Fairies and Elves Local 209. I now serve only certain areas of Canada and the northern boarder states.

As part of the new and better contract I also get longer breaks for milk and cookies so keep that in mind. However, I made certain that your children will be in good hands with your local replacement who happens to be my third cousin, Bubba Claus. His side of the family is from the South Pole. He shares my goal of delivering toys to all the good boys and girls; however, there are a few differences between us.

Differences such as:

1. There is no danger of a Grinch stealing your presents from Bubba Claus. He has a gun rack on his sleigh and a bumper sticker that reads: These toys insured by Smith and Wesson.

2. Instead of milk and cookies, Bubba Claus prefers that children leave an RC cola and pork rinds [or a moon pie] on the fireplace. And Bubba doesn’t smoke a pipe. He dips a little snuff though, so please have an empty spit can handy.

3. Bubba Claus; sleigh is pulled by floppy-eared, flying coon dogs instead of reindeer. I made the mistake of loaning him a couple of my reindeer one time, and Blitzen’s head now overlooks Bubba’s fireplace.

4. You won’t hear On Comet, on Cupid, on Donner and Blitzen . . ., when Bubba Claus arrives. Instead, you’ll hear, On Earnhardt, on Wallace, on Martin and Labonte. On Rudd, on Jarrett, on Elliott and Petty.

5. Ho, ho, ho! has been replaced by “Yee Haw!” And you also are likely to hear Bubba’s elves respond, “I herd dat!”

6. As required by Southern highway laws, Bubba Claus’ sleigh does have a Yosemite Sam safety triangle on the back with the words “Back off”. The last I heard it also had other decorations on the sleigh back as well. One is a Ford or Chevy logo with lights that race through the letters and the other is a caricature of me (Santa Claus) going wee-wee on the Tooth Fairy.

7. The usual Christmas movie classics such as “Miracle on 34th Street” and It’s a “Wonderful Life” will not be shown in your negotiated viewing area. Instead, you’ll see “Boss Hogg Saves Christmas” and “Smokey and the Bandit IV” featuring Burt Reynolds as Bubba Claus and dozens of state patrol cars crashing into each other.

8. Bubba Claus doesn’t wear a belt. If I were you, I’d make sure you, the wife, and the kids turn the other way when he bends over to put presents under the tree.

9. And finally, lovely Christmas songs have been sung about me like “Rudolph The Red-nosed Reindeer” and Bing Crosby’s “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”. This year songs about Bubba Claus will be played on all the AM radio stations in the South. Those song titles will be Mark Chesnutt’s “Bubba Claus Shot the Jukebox”, Cledus T. Judd “All I Want for Christmas Is My Woman and a Six Pack”, and Hank Williams Jr.’s “If You Don’t Like Bubba Claus, You can Shove It.

Sincerely Yours, Santa Claus
(member of North American Fairies and Elves Local 209)

(thanks to

I’m leaving Wednesday for Portland, where I fear it’s going to feel a lot more like Christmas. I’m not sure my thin California blood is ready for anything below 60. Maybe Bubba will come keep me warm.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Self published titles readily available on Amazon

In all the uproar over Harlequin’s vanity publishing branch last week, one of the issues was distribution—which self-pubbed authors get no assistance with except a listing in some catalogue or another. This isn’t a great distribution model for a physical book. For and e-book, however, it’s a great model.

Especially if that catalogue is available through the worlds largest book distributors.

So I found it interesting that, through their premium catalogue, Smashwords, an e-self-publisher, has now formed distribution agreements with Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Sony. And Smashwords’ services are free! If you were going to self publish, why would you pay Harlequin, or any other vanity press, for a paper book with no chance of wide distribution when you can pay Smashwords nothing and be distributed through Amazon et al?

I know that e-books account for a small percentage of overall book sales but, seriously, how many copies of a self-published paper book do you really expect to sell? The reality is, unless it’s non-fiction in a subject where you have a HUGE platform, the correct answer to that question would be not many.

My understanding is that, even within the Amazon, B&N and Sony distribution channels, these catalogues will be clearly designated as “Smashwords” titles, and an educated reader will get that that means self-published. Which is important considering the following quote off Smashwords’ “how to publish” page:

“At Smashwords, we've always believed it's not our role to judge the quality of an author's work, and we expect this policy will remain in place with few exceptions. We think every author and publisher should have the right to publish and the most qualified arbiter of quality is your reader.”

Or, to paraphrase: “Yeah, you can get a 99 cent book off our site, and expect it to be worth exactly what you paid for it.”

I get what everyone’s issues are with traditional publishers getting in on the self-publishing money wagon but, truly, I think self-pubbed titles being readily available through all major e-book distributors is going to dilute the literary pool much more significantly—and longer term since, let's face it, e-books are the wave of the future.

So, if you’re going to self publish, and you actually want to make a little money, the choice seems clear. But remember another point that was made in the Harlequin uproar: Don’t self publish anything that you’re hoping to get through traditional channels ‘cause, for the most part, once it’s out there, no agent or editor will touch it.

Just my 2 cents. And you get what you pay for.

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Seriously! Check it out!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Writing is like giving birth.

So, you’re writing a book. Great! And your book has characters, probably. Cause…well, I’m not sure it’d be much of a book if it didn't. I’ll have to try that sometime—a book with no characters.

But I digress.

So you have characters. That’s good. Do your characters come to you fully formed? Do you know their names before you start, or do you write a while and try to get to know the person that shows up on your pages before you name them? Do you know their physical traits, their hobbies, their bad habits, insecurities, hopes and fears all up front? What about their personalities? Is it something you work out before you start writing? Maybe in an outline? Or is it something that evolves as you write?

That’s a lot of question marks, but I’m curious how the process works for y’all. I write so freeform that I usually have nothing when I start but a name. But it’s fun to see my characters be born and grow into a whole person on the page. And often, they turn out nothing like I might have expected. Sometimes they let me down. Sometimes they piss me off. Sometimes they make me cry. Often they make me laugh. And every once in a while they shock the hell out of me.

Sounds like my kids.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

It's just half a glass of water, stupid!

Agent Nathan has a timely post for me today. It’s all about waiting and how we—on the waiting end of things—have no control over the process. For some, this can be extremely nerve-racking. He talks about the “breaking point” were writers start to lose it—checking email every ten second, losing faith in their project.

I have to honestly say that I’ve not reached that point. The biggest part of that is I have a rockstar agent who keeps me in the loop—and thankfully, the loop has been encouraging so far. Another part of it is that I’m writing like a crazy person. Ideas in head. Can’t get onto paper fast enough. Don’t bother with full sentences—too slow.

But, really, I’ve thought a bit about my approach to things lately. People who know my work is on submission to editors ask how it’s going. I don’t have any definitive news, so I get the “no news is good news” comments or “the glass-is-half-full” people telling me I’ll hear soon and then my book is destined for the NYT bestseller list.

What I realized about myself through this whole process is that I’m not a glass-half-full person. But I’m not a glass-half-empty person either. I’m a “It’s half a glass of water, Stupid!” person. It is what it is. Nothing more, nothing less. No new is just no news. Not good or bad.

So where do you fall?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Characters on the loose! Get out of the way!

One of my characters really pissed me off today.

It’s my own damn fault, really. I know I could keep my characters in line (literally) if I wrote with an outline. And I’ll tell you one thing for sure. If I outlined this story, it certainly wouldn’t be going where it’s going, and my character definitely wouldn’t have done that.

But, I’ve learned that I just have to let it happen. Because, truly, where I thought the story was going was much more predictable and pretty darn boring.

So, what I’ve learned in all of this: I don’t necessarily have to like what my characters are doing to my book, but I’m darn well going to let them do it.

But I’m still pissed.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Stop the insanity!

So, I have a confession to make. I’m neurotic—sort of. I’m a perfectionist. I hate to make mistakes. Because of that, and the fact that the voices in my head never seem to shut up, I’m a compulsive reviser/editor of my manuscripts. I can pick at a manuscript forever and never be totally happy with it.

I’ve been working on book two of the series for which book one is currently on submission to editors. (Did that make any sense?) Anyway, I’ve made some minor changes to book one as issues came up in book two. Mostly setting up characters or situations for a smooth dovetail between the two books. Other than that, I’ve tried to pretend the first manuscript doesn’t exist so I’ll stay the heck out of it.

So, my question to you: When do you stick a fork in your manuscript? When do you stop editing and call it done? I’ve read agent blogs that say: “when it’s perfect” but in my world, perfect doesn’t exist. I can edit out all the typos, grammatical errors, etc, but that doesn’t stop my characters from coming up with some new, really witty line that I have to add, or some really cool new scene from popping into my head in the middle of the night. When do you stop?

Please make me stop!!!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Good writing versus beautiful writing: is there a difference?

I’m back to writing—every waking minute and some not-so-waking minutes—but this summer I took some time off writing to read. A lot. I caught up on everything I’d been wanting to read this last year but didn’t because I was absorbed with my own characters. I found some new favorite authors and read a few lemons, but the two I still can’t get out of my head are The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher.

I love the way they write. Their styles, though very different, resonate with me. Simple and beautiful. They’re some of the least obtrusive writers I’ve ever read, meaning their words never distracted me from the story. And they had me crying, I don’t know, like twenty times.

There are some beautifully written stories out there that are sometimes too beautifully written. I know it sounds crazy, but if the prose is so beautiful that I start thinking about the prose, I’m no longer living the story. As a writer, I’m thinking that’s not such a good thing.

Am I wrong? Is there a difference between a well written story and a beautifully written story?

What do you think?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Where do you get your ideas?

Managed to get 22,000 words in this week in between work, soccer games, horseback riding, volleyball practice and general survival activities. (ie: shopping, laundry, cooking, cleaning) We’ve got lots of steamy sex scenes, cheating boyfriends, murdered best friends—all the staples of a good story.

In the midst of all that, I got the standard “Where do you get your ideas?” question from a patient who is also an aspiring writer. The question made me think about the creativity and great storytelling in the books I’ve enjoyed reading and how intimidating that can be to a new writer. Because I remember being in absolute awe upon finishing a book I really loved and thinking I could NEVER come up with something like that.

My criteria for a good read has always revolved around the story being not only unforgettable, but also how well the author keeps me wondering—and wanting more. I’ve always been disappointed in a book if it was predictable. Basically, if I could have written it, I think it’s boring.

Which is why I never thought I could write a book. Because, if I wrote it, it’d be…well…boring.

That’s mostly because I’ve never considered myself to be a terribly creative person. I think of myself as pretty much common-sense-down-to-Earth. And that’s why I give so much credit to my Muse and the things he comes up with to keep me awake all night. When I go back and read my work the first time through for edits, I’m always surprised to find myself not bored. Even smiling sometimes. Who would have thunk?

So, back to the question: Where do I get my ideas? Seriously, my two novels started with the tiniest spark. A fun name popped into my head. (Dusty Lane for a cowboy and Lucifer Cain for a demon.) That’s it. Then I just took that and ran with it. No outline. No plot arc. Just me and my Muse. He figures out how to put my ‘fun name’ character into a situation that he needs to be written out of. Then we write.

The point of all of this is that everyone has a story to tell, (even me, it turns out.) and the way each of us tells it is likely to be different, and maybe even exciting to the people who didn’t write it. So, when you get that idea—no matter how small—don’t think it’s useless because it’s been done or doesn’t seem exciting enough. Take it and run with it—and trust your Muse. Because you never know how it’s going to turn out until it’s done. And maybe I—and a whole bunch of other people—would love it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

How do you handle rejection?

There’s an interesting discussion over on agent Nathan’s blog today about writers sometimes being oversensitive to criticism. That post got me thinking about my own journey through the publishing jungle and how I’ve handled it. (And will continue to handle it as we start submitting to editors.)

It’s really hard for most people to take criticism objectively. Especially if it seems mean-spirited. I’ve learned through my other careers that you can’t make all the people happy all the time. But one experience—or really, series of experiences—taught me a valuable lesson in rolling with the punches and coming out a better fighter.

One of my three jobs is teaching medical seminars. I work for and institute in Florida and am sent all over the world to lecture. Similar to writing, there are a multitude (thousands) of people who would love to teach for this institute and only 20 of us do, so they’ve devised a sure-fire way to be sure they get only the crème de la crème, so to speak. Once you’re invited to teach for them, they have a system I liken to hazing to decide who actually makes it to the front of the classroom. “Apprentice” instructors are required to lecture bits and pieces of the material over a series of classes that are being taught by certified instructors. Then, not only does the instructor need to think the apprentice did a bang-up job with her little piece, but the students need to rate her nearly perfect on their class evaluations at the end of the four day seminar, or she’s out. And, let me tell you, if they didn’t like something you said, did, wore, the way you don't pronounce the t in often (seriously!)—they let you know it on that eval. And not always in a healthy, constructive manner. It’s enough to make many “apprentices” run home with their tail between their legs. Those of us who make it devise a system of processing the feedback so it doesn’t cut quite so deep.

Here’s mine:

When I receive criticism, no matter how nasty, first, I thank them (Internally--I don't chase them down. That would be creepy.) for taking the time and making the effort to give me the feedback in the first place. Then, second, I really work to find something I can take away from it to make me a better ____. (fill in the blank: person, writer, doctor) This attitude has saved me thousands of dollars in therapy bills.

You wouldn’t be human if negative feedback didn’t sting a little. Even with years of practice, I still get that initial gut clench and feel that defensive backlash when someone says something negative about my work. Because, of course, it’s going to hurt when someone doesn’t love what we’ve invested so much of ourselves in. But, in the end, when I find the positive message I can take away from that criticism, I’m always happy for it.

What are your strategies to keep your chin up through all the rejection we writers face?

Friday, October 16, 2009

What would I do without Suzie?

I can’t even begin to describe how awesome my agent, Suzie Townsend, is. As I mentioned in a post last week, I was struggling to write a synopsis for the sequels to Personal Demons. Finally, I slapped the basic story arc for the rest of the series down and, in a bit of a frustrated tantrum, emailed it to her, imploring her to do something with it.

She turned it into something beautiful.

I read the “series concept statement” she put together, and now I’m absolutely dying to read my books!

Suzie made the point that when a writer is so involved with the work, it’s hard to be clear and succinct in a synopsis.

So, what tricks to you use to write a good synopsis?

Friday, October 9, 2009

YA query trends--what's hot and what's not

My awesome agent, Suzie Townsend, did a guest blog on query trends in YA. Very insightfull and informative if you are a YA writer. You can check it out here.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Outline or no outline?

I finished my revisions of Personal Demons for my awesome agent last week and sent my manuscript off to her. I'm a compulsive tinkerer, so It's been really hard to keep out of the manuscript while she copy edits. To that end, I've tried staying busy by submersing myself in book two. After all, if I have to write a synopsis for that book before submitting to editors, I better know what it’s about, right? But it’s turning out to be a bit of a trick since I don’t write with an outline. As a matter of fact, I have no idea where a book is going until it’s there. My characters (and my rock star Muse) are in charge. I don’t always like their choices but, as I've said before, I’m just the poorly paid help with the laptop. And, in the end, their choices always seem to produce an interesting outcome. So I always defer—just get out of the way and let it happen.

That’s a really long way of saying putting together a synopsis for a book I haven’t written yet is turning out to be a challenge.

So I’m curious. Do you know where your book is going before you start writing? Or are you like me, writing by the seat of your pants?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Friday, September 25, 2009

When are you a writer?

A few months back, Nathan Bransford asked the question on his blog: When does one become a writer? It made me think, because in the medical field (my day job) credentials are a big deal. In order to call yourself something, be it doctor, nurse, physical therapist, there are benchmarks and specific criteria you need to achieve in order to demonstrate your proficiency and be able to use the credential. For example, you can’t call yourself a doctor without a doctoral level degree in something and usually some state licensing procedure.

But writing is different. Even if the only thing I’ve ever written is a drunken manifesto in blood on a series of bar napkins, I can call myself a writer. Even if I’ve written nothing, I can call myself a writer. There are no benchmarks, no credentials. (unless you have and MFA) It really doesn’t seem fair to me.

Personally, I’ve only been writing for about a year and, until this week, no one in my family knew I was doing it except my 14 year old daughter, who I wrote for. (I finally fessed up to my husband Wednesday night, after I signed with my agent.) So, the truth is, I was embarrassed to call myself a writer, even though I spent in the ballpark of 20 hours a week doing it. It just felt like I was overstepping, somehow.

But something changed this week. I had several agents read my work and love it. So, to me, getting the stamp of approval from industry professionals is a benchmark of sorts. And, all the sudden, it doesn’t feel presumptuous to call myself a writer. So, guess what! I’m a writer!

Author is a whole other matter. I’m not there yet. Maybe the benchmark for that is getting published?

What do you think?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Remembering how to breathe again

Okay. So the dust has settled and here it is…

After twenty-one queries, twelve manuscripts requests and three months of agonizing waiting, I had multiple offers of representation. All from really awesome agents. This was not a problem that I had anticipated.

Each of them was amazingly encouraging. They all seemed extremely energetic. They each had a really great submission plan for my novel. And they all seemed so friendly.

I think I asked all the right questions and gotten solid answers. I talked to some of their clients. I researched books they’ve sold and to who. And they all looked wonderful.

I didn’t want to say no to any of them.

But, finally, I made my decision. And I’m really happy with it.

I just signed my contract with Suzie Townsend at FinePrint Literary Management.

Now to work on revisions! (Which, believe it or not, I love!)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

OMG 2!

I'm stunned...and speachless.

More later.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Okay...sooo...okay...the phone is ringing...!

More later!

Saturday, September 12, 2009


So, I mentioned that I entered Personal Demons in a few contests this summer, just for fun... Just got score sheets back from the second one and I finalled there too. Both judges were published authors and their feedback was awesome. One judge (multi-published and very cool) gave me a perfect score and called me "intimidatingly good". (Can you see my head swelling? Seriously. I'm gonna need a wheelbarrow if it gets any bigger.)

So, I'm gonna brag on myself some more, because she also said, "It’s hilarious, original, incredibly clever, and truly meaningful." And also something about letting her know when it sold and we'd watch it hit the best seller list. From her mouth to God's ears... She put her name on the score sheet and, though I don't really know her, it turns out we're following each other on Twitter, so I just tweeted my thanks.

Maybe I don't suck? Lots of manuscripts out...waiting for the phone to ring... *stares woefully at phone* Any second now...

I'm lecturing in Seattle this week. I love Seattle! And...what's that...? SUN? No way! The weather is beautiful, but I'm stuck in the Embassy Suites ballroom, as usual. Tomorrow they'll let me out to play. Can't wait!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A funny thing happened on my way home from the bookstore...

I just realized that my favorite author isn’t very good. I’ve been really disappointed in his last two novels. His stories are interesting, so I keep reading them, but the writing really sucks.

I’m a relative newcomer, a mere novice, in the writing profession, so other than my status as a frequent book buyer and avid reader, I realize I’m in no way qualified to make judgments regarding someone else’s writing. But all the things I struggle so hard to avoid in my own writing—using the same phrases over and over…and over and over; using too many dialogue tags (especially the character’s name) over and over…and over and over; putting my characters in the same situation over and over—okay, you get it, I know—he does, over and over…and over. And his attempts at suspense are kind of lame and very predictable—which is bad, since he writes thrillers.

I’ve decided that I need to go back and read the first book of his that really sucked me in. Then I can figure out if I was just a less discerning reader before I started writing or if his suckiness is more recent—maybe due to deadlines and being rushed. He’s a NYT best seller and puts out at least two books a year, so he clearly knows more about writing than I do…

But it’s really disappointing to realize that someone I looked up to (and recommended to a lot of other people) isn’t as great as I thought he was.

I know. You’re rolling your eyes and yelling at the screen that I need professional help. Hero worship and all that… And you’re probably right.

I’ll reread some of his earlier books and report back.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

My muse is a wannabe rock star

I went to one of the most insanely good concerts I’ve ever been to in my life last night—Saving Abel, Hinder, Papa Roach and Nickelback. My muse and I were in ecstasy. Saving Abel is the best new band on the planet and they rocked the house. If you haven’t checked them out, you can do that here. (Seriously—check them out.) Hinder and Papa Roach melted my face off and then Nickelback burnt the place down. It was seriously just about the most fun I’ve ever had. And I got home at one in the morning and wrote all night.

Being relatively new at this whole writing thing, I’m not sure how it works for everyone else, but my muse is the boss. I’m just the poorly paid help with the laptop. (Okay—slave labor, really. I won’t be poorly paid until we actually sell something.) And one thing has become glaringly apparent. My muse is a wannabe rock star. Which, I’ve decided, is a good thing, ‘cause so am I.

My last book, Personal Demons, started when my antagonist’s name popped into my head. That was the spark for the concept of the story. But his whole character was inspired by, and developed around, one song (Savin’ Me, Nickelback). My protagonist—same thing, different song (You Found Me, The Fray). I’ve had people read my novel and say that I’m really inside my characters' heads. Truly, I’m inside the song, but the songs become my characters. It’s really cool when I read back my work and it feels like the character embodies all the meaning and emotion of the song. (As I see it, anyway.)

So, thank God for rock stars and muses that want to be them. Another great song from the concert: Nickelback, Rockstar. Enjoy.

Going to bed now. G’night.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

My muse is nuts...

So, I got home from my business trip to Austin on Monday and found out that our family reunion was moved to my house. Today!

It turned out to be fun, and I think everyone had a good time, but I’m glad it’s over. Now back to writing.

I have three works in progress, and I know I should be working on the other two, but the one that’s really speaking to me (I mean that literally. My characters won’t shut up.) is a sequel to Personal Demons—which I have out on submission with agents. I’m trying really hard to redirect my muse, but he’s not hearing any of it. Problem is, even if my muse isn’t, I’m smart enough to know that spending time and energy on a sequel of a book that hasn’t sold is a waste to time. I’m thinking about writing it anyway—just to shut him up—and leaving it in first draft while I work on the others. By the time I finish those, maybe Personal Demons will have found a home with a really cool agent and editor. Who knows?

Along those lines, I’m still getting requests for manuscripts, so I have lots of really amazing people reading my work, and it’s very exciting and a little scary, but in a really good way. I’m staying optimistic. I will get a call from one of them. Soon. Maybe now… *stares at the phone*

Okay…maybe not right now…but soon.

So, what do you think? Should I bash my muse unconscious with a baseball bat and move on to a new manuscript, or just do the sequel and get it out of the way so my muse will be happy and move on to other projects with me? Truth is, I’m pretty sure I can’t write without him. After all, my job is really just dictation. So he may get his way in the end whether I like it or not.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


I'm lecturing in Austin this week for a great group of really nice people. One of my local teaching assistants took pity on me. She loaded me in her car last night and showed me around her lovely city. Though I've been to Austin before, I've never really seen anything except the airport, my hotel room, the hotel ballroom where I'm lecturing, and the inside of a really loud Irish pub. (which I only vaguely remember) It was fun seeing the city, but I'm starting to question my grasp on reality.

Part of my first novel, Dusty Lane, is set in Austin and, as we were driving around, I found myself looking for Dusty's (my lead character) truck. And I was sure I saw his aunt's ranch from the air as we flew into the airport., I'm mostly joking. I know he's fictional. But it's kind of fun to look around a place I've written about and see how accurate I was with descriptions. It's also fun to imagine that I could actually run into my character here.

Does anyone else do this, or am I in serious need of professional help?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Sing something for me

I wanted to start my first post of my brand new blog off on a wicked (I can say that—I’m originally from Boston) positive note by sending a HUGE and ENTHUSIASTIC shout out to my crit partner, Andrea Cremer, who just signed a two book deal with Penguin! Woot! Look for her amazing Nightshade in late 2010! She was the first of us to prove my New Year’s Revelation wrong.

My news is also wicked positive. I’ve officially been writing for one year (so sing something for me) and am loving life. The truth is, the books just sort of write themselves. The only effort on my part is taking dictation and trying to keep up with the voices in my head. I went to the SF Writers Conference and the Big Sur Writers Workshop and got really fabulous feedback at both, so that was fun.

On sort of a whim I entered the SF Writers Conference contest with my first manuscript, Dusty Lane, and my submission finalled. (And shocked the hell out of me!) So, for kicks and giggles, I entered my new manuscript, Personal Demons, in a few contests this summer. I just heard from the first of those that I finalled there too. I’m starting to think maybe I don’t suck at this. So it’s pretty much been: writing, writing, writing—submitting, submitting, submitting—waiting, waiting, waiting. But it’s all good. Response has been very positive and I have several manuscripts (both Dusty Lane and Personal Demons) out with major (and majorly awesome) agents. So, while you’re singing for me, cross something too!

So a question for you… (yes you…the only one besides me reading this)

I can pick at a manuscript forever. When do you decide to quit? I’ve read agent blogs that say “when it’s perfect” but in my world, perfect doesn’t exist. I can edit out all the typos, grammatical errors, etc, but that doesn’t stop my characters from coming up with some new, really witty line that I have to add, or some really cool new scene from popping into my head in the middle of the night. When do you stop?