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.