Monday, December 21, 2009

To all you honest scraps

Today (or technically, Saturday, when I was out procrastination-shopping and trying my best not to kill people), I became a recipient of the Honest Scrap award. (Thanks, Weronika!) I've seen it floating around for awhile now, and I must say, I've been a little green behind the ears (figuratively only, I hope).

So anywho. Rules are, I have to share 10 honest things about myself and then pass the Honest Scrap award on to 10 other "Scraptastic" (best word ever, I think) bloggers. Without further ado:

1) I have had a horrible, no good, very bad month. Okay, it wasn't that bad, but it went something like this: (a) fell down in front of court house in the rain and sprained foot--too embarrassed to say anything, so ran away really quickly; (b) one week later to the day, fell down half of my stairs at home and REALLLLLY sprained same foot, plus hurt lots of other things and maybe hit my head on a porcelain dog bowl; (c) spent week on crutches and in foot brace thing; (d) finally got into shoes again (flats only--no heels yet!), and then picked up some sickness; (e) kept sickness for so long that throat closed up and had to get on steroids just to get food down; (f) worked late pretty much every day and spent no time writing; (g) realized about 3 weeks too late that I should start holiday shopping. But I'm better now, so it's all good. Here's to 2010--you can't get here soon enough.

2) Sometimes, I can be long winded. If you made it through number 1, you probably realize this already. I'll attempt the brevity approach for 3-11.

3) I'm a firm believer in a few, quality friends over a large quantity of acquaintances.

4) I haven't had any time to write lately, but it's all I can think about doing. In fact, I get kind of pissy when I haven't met with my characters in awhile. I feel like I'm missing out on something super important.

5) I used to be really good at forging signatures. I did it for all my friends in high school. Which made me totally cool. No, really. It did. (Okay, I was a total nerd. Let it go already.)

6) I ask my husband a lot of weird questions that I know he has no idea how to answer--almost always related to something crazy I'm writing and don't feel like researching--because it amuses me almost as much as it amuses him.

7) I try to like things that are cool, like foreign films and sushi, but I just don't like subtitles, and uncooked fish isn't my thing, no matter how much cream cheese you stuff in with it.

8) I do, however, love middle eastern food. I could live off of gyros, kabobs, shish tawook, pita, hummus, and cucumber feta chicken. Heaven on a plate and in my mouth.

9) If I could have any job in the world, I'd either be an author or that person who picks out music for television shows. Ideally, I'd be both.

10) If my reading, writing, television, movie, and music selections are any indications, I don't think I'll ever grow up. Bring on the YA reads, the CW network, the Bring it On's and the Jimmy Eat World/Dashboard Confessionals of the world. Forever teen at heart, here I come.


Now, this is typically the time when I'd pass this award along to 10 other Scraptastic bloggers. But the thing is ... SO many of my scrappy friends have received this award already, and I'm just not good at choosing! So what's a girl to do?

I can either shriek and hide under the covers and pretend like I can't follow directions, or I can break the rules and ask you all:


Happy, Happy Holidays to all!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Are you a writer?

Words of inspiration from someone* who is:

" ... I didn't become a writer the first time I put pen to paper or when I finished my first book (easy) or my second one (hard). You see, in my view a writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, because everything she does is golden. In my view a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway. Wasn't until that night when I was faced with all those lousy pages that I realized, really realized, what it was exactly that I am."

You can find the full article here. It's definitely worth a read.

*Junot Díaz's novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Bored now ...

If you're freaked about whether your first 250 words are good enough, do yourself a favor and read this post.

That is all. Short and sweet.

Happy Monday-is-almost-over to all!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

If I were an agent, I'd need more meds.

Have you ever heard of the Secret Agent contest? It's held once a month at this amazing blog, and if you haven't checked it out before, you must. Basically, you enter the first 250 words of your completed work, and that month's Secret Agent reads the entries and picks one or more winners. These winners get really cool prizes, usually in the form of submitting a partial or (eek!) a full to the agent in question.

Since my MS is nowhere near ready for public critique, I didn't submit this time. I did, however, attempt to comment on as many of the entries as possible. Here's what I learned this go-around:

1) Being an agent must be tough. Agents are attentive, persistent, and patient. Really, really patient. In fact, they may be gods.

2) I'm not crazy about people starting their stories with things like, "My momma always warned me not to play near rose bushes," or "My best friend, Roberta, always said that life is like a box of crayons." This kind of beginning sets itself up for an internal monologue or, worse, an info dump. And dumps aren't pretty, no matter what color you paint them.

3) Typos are killer. Proofread, proofread, proofread. And, for the love of all things holy, proofread!

4) Prologues: I could leave 'em or take 'em, so long as they don't read like backstory. Backstory makes me a little drowsy. And it kind of makes me cringe.

5) And here's the real kicker: If you don't pull me in within the first 2 or 3 lines, you've lost me. I don't need you to start the story off with a literal BANG! (in fact, that's normally too much for me to handle); I just need you to start the story off where the story actually starts. Granted, my limited attention span has probably caused me to miss out on a few slow-building gems over the years, but it's also opened my eyes to the works of authors I'd never heard of before and just-so-happened to pick up one day, whilst wandering aimlessly through the bookstore (one of my favorite activities, by the way).

Moral of the story? I may not be an agent, but I AM a reader, and an avid one at that. So, if you want me to read your stuff (and you might not; that's your perogative), then write something true (or truly fantastical), something honest (or honestly deceptive). Write something that is worth being said. And make sure you are able, from the beginning, to get a reader to care. Because if you can't do that, then the incredible world you've spent months (or even years) building may never make it any further than a word doc on your computer.

Monday, November 16, 2009

If you want people to compliment your baby, wash its face first.

If you're like me, your MS is your baby. You change it. You clean it. You feed it. You watch it stumble and tumble and crawl and fall, and you try not to cry when it skins a knee. Like any other mother I know, you also have a difficult time seeing its flaws. You block out the unruly hair, the pudding-stained chin, the (gasp!) smelly diaper. Your baby is your life, and it is perfect, by God. Every last inch of it.

So what do you do? You enter your baby in a beauty pageant, of course! Because your baby is the cutest baby alive, and you're sure all the judges will see it, too. You fluff your baby's hair. You pile on the makeup. You wrap your baby up in a big, sparkly dress. And then you sit on the front row, video camera in hand, and wait for the victory you know will come.

Except, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes, the judges don't see what you see. Sometimes, your baby gets rejected.

It's cruel and it sucks, and you find yourself getting a little bitter about it. "That judge didn't know what she was talking about," you tell your friends. "My baby is perfect," you repeat ad nauseum. And you ignore the looks on your friends' faces, because if you really pay attention, you'll realize that maybe, just maybe, those judges weren't so wrong after all.

Beauty is subjective. We all know this. But that doesn't mean we can throw a tiara on a dirty, smelly kid and pretend everything's A-OK. Judges are harsh. They have to be, what with the upteen bazillion Pageant Queen wannabes they see every week. If we want our babies to win, we have to make them shiny and pretty and sparkly and genuine, before we send them onto the stage. Anything less and we're not only wasting the judges' time, we're also wasting ours.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tuesday Newsday: early signs that November will rock.

Last night, I was all mopey and tired and hating work, so I logged on for a blogger high (um, I mean pick-me-up. like coffee. totally legal.). And what did I find? Only the best news I've heard so far for November:

The lovely sister-sister writing team of Lisa and Laura Roecker (a.k.a. "LiLa") is going to be published!! Can I get a woot woot?

*The crowd says, "Woot Woot!"

Here's their Publisher's Marketplace blurb (which I totally stole from their blog; don't tell): From Publisher's Marketplace: Lisa Roecker and Laura Roecker's A Kate Lowry Mystery: THE HAUNTING OF PEMBERLY BROWN, a quick-witted mystery starring a private-school sleuth with attitude and pearls, who receives an email from her dead best friend, to Daniel Ehrenhaft at Sourcebooks, for publication in Spring 2011, by Catherine Drayton at Inkwell Management (NA).

Congrats, girls! Try to remember the little people. Or, at least don't have us arrested for stalking if we show up in your backyard in Team LiLa t-shirts, bearing Twizzlers and "Vote 4 LiLa" bumper stickers. (Um, I mean at your front door. With like, a card or something. Whoa. Creepy moment there.)




Monday, November 2, 2009

Dear silly, teenage me,

I'm getting older now--and, hopefully, a little bit wiser--so I think it's time I tell you a few things. Dispel rumors. Make life easier for you. So, without further ado, I present to you, my so not-grown-up self, a list of things I wish I'd known when I was your age.

1) Enjoy the days where it takes you 5 minutes to roll out of bed and throw your hair into a ponytail and your body into the first clean t-shirt you see, because someday soon your face will refuse to walk out the door with you. At least not without concealer, and mascara, and of course some lip gloss, and a little blush couldn't hurt.

2) You follow him around. You leave anonymous notes in his locker. You act like an idiot any time he's within eyesight. This is not love. This is infatuation. In fact, it might even be a crime. Find a new hobby.

3) What this, you say? You still think you're in love with him just because he's pretty? Try this one on for size, then: He marries his high school girlfriend b/c he knocks her up on the senior trip, and then he cheats on her a million times and gets older and divorced and wayyyyy less hot than he was in high school. The world is no longer his castle. You do not want to be his de-throned queen.

4) Nice guys are better than jerks. Hang out with nice guys instead.

5) Those girls you think will be your BFFs-4-life and smile big and cheesy beside you in fancy bridesmaids' gowns? Not one of them will come to your wedding, much less be in it. So enjoy it while you can, but remember this: your lifelong friendships will not develop in high school. And yes, this is actually for the best.

6) Oh, and your very, very best friend? She was selfish in 7th grade and she'll stay that way for as long as you know her. Accept that and move on, or let her go. And if you're mad at her, talk to her about it. Don't let it fester. Because if you do, then one day the two of you will be so far apart that even sharing an apartment can't hold you together any more. One day, you won't even know her.

7) Stop being such a jerk to your little sister. She IS your friend. You DO love her. She is probably the greatest person you know. And she WILL be standing next to you at your wedding ... even though she's so sick she can barely walk, much less smiile for the camera.

8) Read more. Write more. Live more. And for the love of Pete, do not throw away all of your old journals! They are nowhere near as humiliating as you think, and no one cares enough about who you crushed on in 6th grade to publish it to the world. No one except for you, that is. Your journals are gold. You will kick yourself in the ass on a daily basis if you don't realize this now.

9) Yes, you are in love. No, it's not meant to be. These things happen. Don't put off the inevitable because you're worried about hurting him. He will be okay. You will be okay.

10) Sometimes, thinner is not better, so put the tweezers down and step away from the mirror. Slowly, with your hands over your head ... Trust me, you'll thank me for this some day. (And while you're at it, could you throw that blue eyeshadow into the trashcan?)

11) Don't be cruel to others just because you can, or just because other kids are doing it. It doesn't make you cool. It makes you a bully.

12) Your parents love you and they mean well, but they are not always right. Don't blindly accept their world views as your own. Research. Meet people. Open your mind, and your heart.

13) Sometimes, it's okay to be selfish. Don't go to law school just b/c you think it'll make your parents proud. Think about what will make you happy first.

14) Your fourth grade dreams were not made of pipe. You can be a writer. It would help, though, if you got more practice now so you could play less catchup later.

15) Sure, it's fun to sneak into adults-only clubs and sip wine coolers when no one's looking, but no, you don't wish your were grown up already. You'll (hopefully) have plenty of time to be an adult later. With lots of grownup responsibilities and problems. You only have a few more years to be reckless and stupid, so take advantage of that while youth is still a valid excuse.

Bonus) Say it with me: MySpace. Facebook. Twitter. Start them. Invest in them. whatever. And, if all that sounds way too technical, I give you one word: Snuggie. It may never make sense to you, but if you make it, they will come.

With love,


Friday, October 30, 2009

Twilight, we need to talk. You see, I'm in love. With someone else.

So here's the thing, Twilight. You know I'm a sucker for you. I fell in hardcore lust when I first read you, and I fall over and over again when I see a new movie trailer. For me, you're that one relationship I can never really get over, even though I know you're bad for me. Even though "you and me" doesn't make sense. Even though you do things that really piss me off.

Like, for instance, repeating yourself over and over, like I didn't hear you the first time. Or using purple prose like it's going out of style. Or, even worse, watering down my idea of a vampire.

You see, Twilight, you made me forget how scary vampires can be, how unpredictable and thrilling. Yes, they're all beautiful. I get that. We all get that. But vampires are so much more than eye candy. Throw one vampire into the mix, and you have created conflict, tension, suspense, heartache. Throw a second vampire in, who just happens to be the super hot, bad boy brother of the super hot, good-boy-with-a-bad-past vamp, and you've got my new favorite guilty pleasure.

You see, Twilight, I've always liked vampires. But, more than that, I love that edge-of-my-seat rush I get when a show I think will be predictable pulls a 90-degree turn on me. And that's just what the Vampire Diaries has done.

Yeah, yeah, I know what you're thinking. The Vampire Diaries was super corny when we first met, too. Like almost nerd-in-suspenders corny. (Not to mention that its "VD" abbreviation is kind of icky ...) But I've had a soft spot in my heart for the Vampire Diaries ever since I read the books in the 90s, and, I have to say, I'm falling in love all over again.

You see, Twilight, you're that guy with the stare so intense that your liquid topaz eyes turn me into gravy every time I see you (no matter how much it pisses me off), but the Vampire Diaries is the friend that became something more--the relationship that comforts me and surprises me all at once, that has become something so good that I learned, early on, to stick with it through the rough patches, because I know this love is real.

(Or maybe the guys are just so damn hot that I can't see straight? You be the judge.)

I'm sorry, Twilight. I really am. It's not you, it's me. I just need some time alone, some space. We can still be friends, if you want. And I promise we'll hang out again soon. (It's not like the Vampire Diaries and I are exclusive, or anything ...) As a matter of fact, I have an open spot on my calendar November 20.

Now, come on, Twilight. Don't be like that. You know very well the Vampire Diaries didn't "steal your flava." The Vampire Diaries is old enough to be your dad, or at least your cool older brother. With fangs. And it's never good to piss off someone with fangs. Of course, you wouldn't know anything about that, now would you?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Because who doesn't like an awesome writing contest?

So, I've been a little MIA lately. It's like someone tranq'd me and I went into a week-long coma. I'm thinking conspiracy. Government secrets. The whole she-bang.

On with the point: As I was catching up on all of the awesome blogness I missed this week, I came across a kick ass contest on Lauren's Crammed Bookshelf. Basically, you submit the first 250 words of your YA manuscript, and then the nice individuals hosting the contest pick winners. And give prizes!

Here's a little snippet I stole from Lauren's blog (hopefully, she won't sue; Lauren, please don't sue!):

The top 20 submissions will all be read by a panel of five judges comprised of top YA editors at Random House, HarperCollins, Harlequin, Sourcebooks and Penguin. All 20 will receive free autographed copies of Writing Great Books for Young Adults by Regina Brooks. Of the 20, they will pick the top five submissions and provide each author with commentary. ONE Grand Prize Winner will win a free 10-week writing course courtesy of the Gotham Writer’s Workshop.

Please submit all entries via the contest website at One entry per person; anyone age 13+ can apply. Open to the U.S. & Canada (void where prohibited). Entries for the YA Novel Discovery Contest will be accepted from 12:01am (ET) November 1 until 11:59pm (ET).

This contest is in honor of NaNoWriMo month and is meant to encourage aspiring YA authors to lose the "aspiring" part and to actually start writing.

Are you entering? I know I am. I could use a really swift kick in the rear!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Don't hurt the readers!

My first thought when I heard about the bestseller's pricing war** was, "Yay! Now I can buy two instead of one ... It's like BOGO, but with books!" My second thought was, "Uh oh ... What does this mean for my local Borders? Or for the cutesy little bookstores downtown?" My Publishers Lunch email today had several quotes from people in the biz about what they think about price wars. The one that concerns me most is below.

"It's the chain bookstores and the readers that are going to be hurt by this the most. Chain bookstores can't do what what independents can do, nor can they pay their bills by selling toothpaste and electronics. Readers will suffer the most, however. If the general public learns to expect cheap books, publishers won't be able to afford to take a chance on new writers, so quality, story, research and expertise will slowly disappear from new books, and we'll only have those most commercial and bland books to choose from. Again, you get what you pay for." Nikki Furrer of Pudd'nhead Books, Webster Groves, MO

My thoughts after reading this: YIKES!

Stop it, Amazon and Walmart (and Sears and Target, while we're at it). If you let your pride continue to get the best of you, next thing you know we'll be buying all of our books on iTunes for the price of a song, and that couldn't possibly be good for the business. You and your big corporate heads should be ashamed of yourselves.

**For a really good breakdown of the consequences of playing rough, check out this post.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The post where I become angry.

So, here's the thing. I'll tell you anything you want to know about me, but it's harder for me to share about the people closest to me. I almost feel like it's not my place to tell these things. But when I see stories like this, stories that shock every inch of humanity inside of me, I know it's time for me to speak up. So today, I'll give it a shot.

1. My best friend is one of the most honest, compassionate, and understanding people I know. She is funny. She is brilliant. She loves her family. She works hard for what she has. She is also Muslim-American. She dresses modestly, but she doesn't wear a hijab, so people don't think when they speak to her. They don't realize that when they make Muslim jokes or call an entire religion of people terrorists based upon the extreme actions of a select few, they are insulting her. And her mother. And her little sister. And her husband, who was raised by a Southern Baptist mother and father and recently converted to Islam. And her children. These people don't think. Truth is, they don't want to.

2. My parents work hard. They love me and my little sister. We love them. They made sure that, no matter how hard or how many hours they had to work, our family never went without. My parents are also bigots. I could sugarcoat it more than that, but I'm not going to. They were both raised very Christian, and, although neither leads a particularly religious lifestyle now, both are so set in their ways that you couldn't move them if you tried. And try, I have. Not because I think my way is the right way, but because there is something they don't know. Something they should, but maybe never will.

3. My sister is my other best friend. She is wicked smart. She is funny and beautiful. She psychoanalyzes me when I talk, which totally creeps me out. She texts me weird things in the middle of the night. She reads by candlelight with me when the storms knock out our power. She colors my hair, and I color hers. When I need her, she always answers. My sister is also gay. She gets the butterflies, just like the rest of us. She falls in love, just like the rest of us. She gives her heart to people, just like the rest of us. She breaks into pieces, just like the rest of us. So you tell me: Is she any less of a person just because she doesn't conform to what society deems "normal"?

Say what you will and feel what you want, but it is not okay to legislate your morals. It is not okay to discriminate. It is not okay to judge others. It is not okay to hate.

And that's my 25 cents.

Monday, October 19, 2009

5 things I learned (or had reinforced) this weekend.

1. I have little shopping self control. Sunday afternoon, I went into Dillards to get a lip gloss from MAC. That's it. Just an overpriced, creamy, shiny, non-sticky gloss. Problem is, I had to walk past the shoes to get to the MAC counter. And of course, I had to look at the shoes. And then I found a pair that I loved, which I just had to try on. Even though they were wayyyy too much money. After all, what were the odds I'd actually like them once they were on my feet? Well ... Odds in my favor or not, I loved them. And I had to have them. Or, as Little Ms J would say, I had to rescue them. Because, ya know, a bunch of shoe-abusing bandits would obviously take every pair in my size before they went on sale. Then, on to the gloss.

2. The MAC people aren't nearly as intimidating as I'd thought them to be (they're just serious about color), and makeup is like a bag of Lays. I went there for gloss. I left--after a full tutorial on how to use purple glittery eyeshadow--with the lip gloss ... and with a bunch of other stuff that I wasn't aware I needed until that nice, unintimidating MAC guy put it on my face.

3. Say what you what about reality TV, but it does what it's intended to do. It hooks you to your couch for the full hour, and maybe the next, if it's a marathon. Because you just have to know which Tool gets sent home, and whether his girlfriend goes home with him, and whether Antonio picks his crazy ex-wife in the wedding dress or one of the blondes, and who goes into the Duel and loses to Wes. And, if that episode was addictive enough, next thing you know you're recording the rest of the series. Or at least Googling the show for more information. Or maybe that's just me?

4. It is very annoying when Netflix randomly skips disc 3 in a series--which was at the top of your list--and sends you disc 4. What the H??

5. Being jealous isn't fun, but I can't help it. Right now, my husband is on his way to L.A. for some work-related training, and all I can think about is all of the Lebanese food and pinkberry he's going to be eating while I'm sitting in trial after trial this week. Not. Fair. Not fair at all.

And that's about it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tuesday News

This just in: I'm stalling on my current WIP, and I think I know why. Let me count the reasons.

1. Word counts are too much pressure.
When I'm trying to hit a certain amount of words per day, I find myself in a similar situation as to when I set any other kind of goal that seems unattainable: I panic and slowly walk away. I feel like I can't cut out a big section that, as it turns out, is totally irrelevant and let myself be carried in a different direction, because OMFG no WAY can I make up for all of those words that I'll be losing! I know word counts work for many of you--especially the ones doing NaNoWriMo this month--but for me, they make writing feel like work. I don't want my creative outlet to feel like work. I have enough real work already, damn it!

2. Work blows.
'Nuff said.

3. I'm slightly addicted to technology.
When I'm overworked, I soothe my fried brain with free online games and crap TV. Unfortunately for my WIP, I've got a DV-R filled with trashtastic television. Plus, since I've been keeping a daily word count, writing has started to feel a lot more like a weight loss regimine and a lot less like a relief from everything. So t.v. wins out sometimes. Most of the time. Okay, as of late, almost every time.

4. And here's the real kicker: I'm terrified of my new project.
No, I'm not writing a horror flick, and no, I don't have any tragic deaths planned. But, unlike my previous forrays into the land of YA, my current WIP is strictly realistic fiction. No ghosts or witches in sight. Just one girl with a best friend, a boyfriend, and a morally skewed compass leading her in a less-than-noble direction. My problem? Putting the decisions my MC has already made to writing scares me. It makes me uncomfortable. It gives a voice to the wrong choices my MC has made, and it threatens every relationship in this world that I've spent so much time crafting. Conflict may be the most important part of your story, but it's also a scary mother. Don't let anyone tell you any differently.

My solution?
Axe the word counts. Bring fun back to my writing. Limit screw-off time. Write. Write. Write. And stop holding in all of the pain, confusion, and mistakes, because these things are what make a story real.

And, for those times when I forget my own advice and end up curled into the fetal position, play Eye of the Tiger and dance around like a boxing superstar until I remember.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Winner of Luna giveaway!

And the winner of Luna by Julie Anne Peters is ...


Please contact me (either by responding to my email or by commenting on this post) by Wednesday evening. Congrats, Shawna, and thanks to everyone for participating. :)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

I am proof the earth is flat.

What, don't believe me? Then YOU explain how I fell off of it. Last thing I knew, I was walking along, making quick pause for Tim Gunn and Grey's. Then, suddenly ...

BAM! Off I fell.

And that's all she wrote, folks.

In all seriousness, the past month or so has been CRAZY for me, with my new puppy (which I have to post a picture of b/c he melts my heart), work that just will not slow down no matter how much I beg it to, and life in general. I just wanted to let you all know that I am, indeed, alive and kicking (or at least alive and twitching), and I promise to be less absent. Okay, I promise to try to be less absent. There. Best I can do.

What about all of you? Are you in the group that's stoked b/c things are finally slowing down and you now have all this time to write and play, or are you sailing on my banana boat? For your sake, I'm hoping it's the former!

Friday, October 2, 2009

What I've learned from the writers of Grey's Anatomy (and Tim Gunn): Make it Work

So it's not exactly a secret: conflict in a story is important. As in, try to write a book without it, and you'll be just about the only person to ever read it. Except maybe you're mom.

My problem is that I don't care much for abusing my characters. A sadist, I am not. But I'm working on it.

When I need inspiration, I turn to Grey's Anatomy. If you don't watch it, you probably still know of it. It's always in the news, with someone running their jaws off about something or another. Those guys can't shut up, usually to their detriment. And who has to deal with the fallout from all of this chick-fight blunder? The writers, that's who.

Example 1: One regular drops the f-bomb (the six-letter one) on another regular. Someone says to the writers, "So ... yeah ... I know you had this whole neat-o storyline worked out and everything, but ... we're going to need to axe this guy. Mmm 'kay? Great. p.s. I'm thinking spin-off. Are you thinking spin-off? Bloody brilliant, I tell ya." Writers go wallow in a bottle of wine for a few hours, and then they follow the infamous words of Tim Gunn and "make it work."

Example 2: Season 4, writer's strike. "Yeah, so you whiny little bitches bailed on us and now we need you to fix it. Gotta cut episodes. Condense storylines. Got it? Good. Oh, and try not to rush things, but go ahead and end where you'd planned when you had an extra 5'ish episodes to get there with. Great." Kinda self-induced misery, so Writers make it work.

Example 3: "Great idea ... let's go gay! And let's go bi as well! Man, this is gonna be so much fun." Writers make it work. And then: "Yeah ... so it just ain't workin'. I know this is kind of last minute, but ... could you write out the blond gay one? And do it in the next episode, if you can. K? Thanks. And while you're at it, let's nix that whole bi storyline, too. Not sure what genius thought of that, but it's wayyyy too gay, don't ya think?" Writers contemplate killing the messenger. Go to anger management classes instead. Then decide to go ahead and make it work.

Example 4: "It's crossover time! P.S. I know you just rewrote those totally gay storylines, but 2 of our leads may not be coming back next season. Think you can work with that? It might mean you have to come in on Saturday .... Greattt..." Writers take deep breaths. Do yoga. Meditate. Apply skills learned in anger management classes. Make. It. Work.

(note: There are more roadblocks coming up this season, but in the off-chance that the fat mouths over at Grey's haven't spilled the beans to the entire word, I won't spoil it for you.)

Why the hell am I rambling on about Grey's Anatomy, you're wondering? What is my freakin' point?

To which I answer: my point is that when you've got your neat, tidy little MS, with your happy go-lucky characters who have come out on top of the world smelling just a little too peachy, step back and think, "What can I do to make it harder for them? How can I create more conflict? What if I took this guy out, and moved this arc around, and hooked her up with him instead of that other guy ... And oh my effin' g, what if it was her mom in that explosion instead of some random bus driver?!?"

If the kiddos over at Grey's Anatomy can roll with the punches and still produce heartfelt stuff, so can we. So let's roll up our sleeves, think outside the box, and kick our characters while they're down.

Let's make it work, people. Let's make. it. work.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Word Nerd Award: and now I pass along the crown

Monday, the amazing TereLiz awarded me the Word Nerd Blog Badge. Thank you, Tere, for making me smile and for brightening my day. :)

I've spent the week basking in my glory, but now it's time to pass along the love. It was a tough decision, but the bloggers I've chosen as the next Word Nerds are two girls that always make me laugh or smile. Not only are they funny, they're also candid, both about others and themselves. Almost every day, they spill their hearts onto a platter and serve it up to the world.

Have I dragged out the suspense long enough? For everything that you do (for me and for anyone else lucky enough to stumble upon your blog, with whatever crazy Google search of the week), I award the Word Nerd Blog Badge to ...

Lisa and Laura (a.k.a. LiLa) at Lisa and Laura Write!

Thank you for your celebrity poems, your teasers and WIPpets, your truthful Tuesdays, your industry insights, and, of course, your D-Bag-O-Meter. On the days when I'm too swamped to read everyone's blog posts like I want, I always take 5 minutes to see what's going on in your corner of the world. And, if ever I start to forget, you remind me why I read YA, why I write it, and why I love others who do the same.

Keep rocking on, LiLa, and we'll all keep buying front row tickets. I'd tell you not to forget the little people when you hit it big, but I already know you won't. That's just the kind of girls you are. :)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

My very first interview!

Lauren, over at Lauren's Crammed Bookshelf, very graciously interviewed me for her blog, and today, it's posted! If you've got a few, please check it out. If you've got less than a few, please check it out, anyway! :)

Lauren: If you're reading this, thank you. You just made my Thursday a heck of a lot better.

Book Giveaway--Luna by Julie Ann Peters

SYNOPSIS (pulled from Amazon):

"Yeah, I loved her. I couldn't help it. She was my brother." Regan has always been there for her transgender brother, Liam, sacrificing her needs for his, but when he announces that he is ready to "transition" into Luna permanently, Regan is not sure she can handle the consequences. She has been his confidant all her life, letting Luna dress in her room, buying underwear for her when Liam couldn't, and giving support. However, when the attractive new guy in chemistry class shows an interest in Regan, she wishes her sibling would just go away and give her a chance to live her own life. Liam realizes that in order for his sister to be free, he, too, must free himself to become the woman who lives inside him. Told from Regan's point of view in the present and in flashback, this novel breaks new ground in YA literature with a sensitive and poignant portrayal of a young man's determination to live his true identity and his family's struggle to accept Luna for who she really is.

I think the synopsis says it all. This novel is groundbreaking, sensitive, and poignant. It opened my eyes to another world. I empathized both with Regan, the MC, and with Luna, her transgender sibling. I felt Regan's compassion, her embarrassment, and her guilt, because I experienced all of these emotions while reading her story. Julie Anne Peters brings such amazing authenticity to Luna that I would've sworn she had a transgender sibling herself, if her website didn't tell me otherwise. I'm sure there were some flaws with the writing and/or the storytelling, but it's been a few months since I read this, so it's difficult to recall. One interesting element is that the flashbacks are told in present tense; this is at first jarring, but there is something to be said for being original. I would definitely recommend this to others. Read it, then pass it along. It's time to spread the word, which is the only reason I'm parting with my copy! :)

+1 Leave a comment on this post. If you don't have a blogger profile, leave an email address, too, or I won't be able to contact you.

+4 if you already follow/subscribe to my blog
+2 for becoming a follower/subscriber to my blog

+2 for posting a link to this contest somewhere on the Internet (sidebar, Myspace, Twitter, etc.)--be sure to leave me a link here if you post one.
+4 for posting an actual blog about this giveaway--leave me the link.

+1 for letting me know who referred you.
+1 for every person who says you referred them here.

+3 for telling me about a book that changed your life and why.

Open To: US and Canada residents only.

Ends: Thursday, October 8, at midnight, central time.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Review: Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick

Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick

For Nora Grey, romance was not part of the plan. She's never been particularly attracted to the boys at her school, no matter how much her best friend, Vee, pushes them at her. Not until Patch came along. With his easy smile and eyes that seem to see inside her, Nora is drawn to him against her better judgment.

But after a series of terrifying encounters, Nora's not sure who to trust. Patch seems to be everywhere she is, and to know more about her than her closest friends. She can't decide whether she should fall into his arms or run and hide. And when she tries to seek some answers, she finds herself near a truth that is way more unsettling than anything Patch makes her feel.

For Nora is right in the middle of an ancient battle between the immortal and those that have fallen - and, when it comes to choosing sides, the wrong choice will cost her her life.

The Good: I went into this expecting a lot, and Becca didn't disappoint. The tension was there, the humor, the intrigue, the overall creepiness. Vee was great comic relief, without being a cliche. Nora (unlike a certain female heroine of a recent pop culture sensation) was likable. And Patch ... my GOD he was hot! So self-confident and self-assured that you just knew he wasn't human. An added bonus: for a first time novel, it was very well-written.

The Less Good: Okay, now I know I said Patch was hot, and I meant it. But he was also scary, so obviously so that I wanted to hit Nora upside the head on many occasions. I wish Nora was a little more developed--her likes and dislikes, her hobbies, etc.--and the "coincidental" meetings b/w Nora and Patch were a little overdone. A part of me also wishes I didn't know Patch's big secret going into the story, b/c it would've been fun to discover everything with Nora.

The "Ugly": I didn't think angels would be my thing--fallen or otherwise--but I can't wait for the sequel. In my very humble opinion, the synopsis doesn't do the story justice. This is not a ripoff of Twilight, nor is it derivative of any other paranormal story I've read. If you haven't preordered this one yet, you must. I know I am. :)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Review: Hate List by Jennifer Brown

Hate List by Jennifer Brown

Five months ago, Valerie Leftman's boyfriend, Nick, opened fire on their school cafeteria. Shot trying to stop him, Valerie inadvertently saved the life of a classmate, but was implicated in the shootings because of the list she helped create. A list of people and things she and Nick hated. The list he used to pick his targets.

Now, after a summer of seclusion, Val is forced to confront her guilt as she returns to school to complete her senior year. Haunted by the memory of the boyfriend she still loves and navigating rocky relationships with her family, former friends and the girl whose life she saved, Val must come to grips with the tragedy that took place and her role in it, in order to make amends and move on with her life.

The Good: Bold, brave, gutsy, and groundbreaking, Hate List had a little bit of everything we all strive for in our own writing. I found Natalie to be sympathetic and relatable. I wanted her to have a happy ending, to find her way out of the pain and the guilt. The story was heavy, and yeah, so there were tears. Lots of them toward the end. And they were all well-earned.

The Less Good: Some of the secondary characters are a little one-dimensional. There was a bit too much "I" sentence repetition in parts, sometimes 6-8 sentences in a row beginning with "I." The timeline could be hard to follow, with flashbacks within flashbacks at times, and for about 50 pages, the book stopped forward momentum and went back in time--to just after the shooting. All of this information was important and added to the story, but I found myself thinking, "I want to know how she's doing NOW!" But when it picked back up again, it didn't stop.

The "Ugly": Definitely check this one out. Despite its flaws (which StephSu does a great job of pointing out on her blog), I really enjoyed Hate List, so much so that I stayed up until 2 a.m. to finish it. So much so that I wish I had had the kiwis to write it myself.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Do you skip to the good parts?

So you're writing. Maybe it's a newbie, fresh out of your warped, writerly brain. Or maybe you and your WIP have been involved for some time.

Regardless, you have The Scene in your head. The one that you know is going to be amazing once you get to it, but you're just not there yet. Or maybe it's not The Scene, but, rather, a dozen or so scattered scenes that don't cohesively fit one after the other and won't make sense without 5 chapters of preparation.

Do you (a) keep writing, piece by piece, step by step, until you reach The Scene(s), or do you (b) skip the appetizer and plunge into the main course/favorite side dish/yummy dessert?

Lately, I've tried (a). I thought, "Jess, you need to stop being so impatient. Write through the grit so the fun part is more rewarding." But this process has been frustrating. I end up sighing and staring off in space and thinking even more about The Scene(s) and, before I know it, I'm playing online Scrabble.

So next week, I'm resolving to try the whimsical approach. Write what I want, when I want it, and put the puzzle pieces together later.

What about you? Do you think I'm crazy? What do you think works best?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

In my USPS box

I'm not usually an "In My Mailbox" kind of girl, b/c, to my dismay, I just don't get cool stuff in my mailbox. And you all know you can't sit at the cool kid table without bringing the goods.

Yesterday, after 2 weeks (!!) of (im)patient waiting for the California FedEx guys to get my order to the Florida USPS guys, my Borders books have finally arrived! And here are the goods:

Hate List by Jennifer Brown (Eek! So excited to crack this one open.)

Five months ago, Valerie Leftman's boyfriend, Nick, opened fire on their school cafeteria. Shot trying to stop him, Valerie inadvertently saved the life of a classmate, but was implicated in the shootings because of the list she helped create. A list of people and things she and Nick hated. The list he used to pick his targets.

Now, after a summer of seclusion, Val is forced to confront her guilt as she returns to school to complete her senior year. Haunted by the memory of the boyfriend she still loves and navigating rocky relationships with her family, former friends and the girl whose life she saved, Val must come to grips with the tragedy that took place and her role in it, in order to make amends and move on with her life.

Psych Major Syndrome by Alicia Thompson
Using the skills you've learned so far in Introduction to Psychology, please write a brief self-assessment describing how things are going in your freshman year. Presenting Concerns: The Patient, Leigh Nolan (that would be me), has just started her first year at Stiles College. She has decided to major in psychology (even though her parents would rather she study Tarot cards, not Rorschach blots).
Patient has always been very good at helping her friends with their problems, but when it comes to solving her own...not so much.

Patient has a tendency to overanalyze things, particularly when the opposite sex is involved. Like why doesn't Andrew, her boyfriend of over a year, ever invite her to spend the night? Or why can't she commit to taking the next step in their relationship? And why does his roommate Nathan dislike her so much? More importantly, why did Nathan have a starring role in a much-more-than-friendly dream?

Aggravating factors include hyper-competitive fellow psych majors, a professor who's badly in need of her own psychoanalysis, and mentoring a middle-school-aged girl who thinks Patient is, in a word, naive. Diagnosis: Psych Major Syndrome

The Hollow by Jessica Verday

When Abbey's best friend, Kristen, vanishes at the bridge near Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, everyone else is all too quick to accept that Kristen is dead?and rumors fly that her death was no accident. Abbey goes through the motions of mourning her best friend, but privately, she refuses to believe that Kristen is really gone. Then she meets Caspian, the gorgeous and mysterious boy who shows up out of nowhere at Kristen's funeral, and keeps reappearing in Abbey's life. Caspian clearly has secrets of his own, but he's the only person who makes Abbey feel normal again...but also special.
Just when Abbey starts to feel that she might survive all this, she learns a secret that makes her question everything she thought she knew about her best friend. How could Kristen have kept silent about so much? And could this secret have led to her death? As Abbey struggles to understand Kristen's betrayal, she uncovers a frightening truth that nearly unravels her—one that will challenge her emerging love for Caspian, as well as her own sanity.

After by Amy Efaw

An infant left in the trash to die. A teenage mother who never knew she was pregnant . . .
Before That Morning, these were the words most often used to describe straight-A student and star soccer player Devon Davenport: responsible, hardworking, mature. But all that changes when the police find Devon home sick from school as they investigate the case of an abandoned baby. Soon the connection is made—Devon has just given birth; the baby in the trash is hers. After That Morning, there’s only one way to define Devon: attempted murderer.

And yet gifted author Amy Efaw does the impossible— she turns Devon into an empathetic character, a girl who was in such deep denial that she refused to believe she was pregnant. Through airtight writing and fast-paced, gripping storytelling, Ms. Efaw takes the reader on Devon’s unforgettable journey toward clarity, acceptance, and redemption.

Crash into Me by Albert Borris

Four troubled teens embark on a cross-country trek to visit the gravesites of celebrity suicides. Along the way, they bond over their own dark impulses prior to their planned demise in Death Valley. A darkly funny novel, the story combines the intensity of human desperation with the unpredictability of teens on the open road.

"Crash Into Me puts readers in the driver's seat with four teens teetering on the edge of suicide. But will their cross country odyssey push them all the way over? Only the final page turn will tell, in Albert Borris's finely-crafted tale of friendship forged from a desperate need of connection. An exceptional first novel."--Ellen Hopkins, bestselling author of Crank

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

For years, Grace has watched the wolves in the woods behind her house. One yellow-eyed wolf--her wolf--is a chilling presence she can't seem to live without. Meanwhile, Sam has lived two lives: In winter, the frozen woods, the protection of the pack, and the silent company of a fearless girl. In summer, a few precious months of being human . . . until the cold makes him shift back again.

Now, Grace meets a yellow-eyed boy whose familiarity takes her breath away. It's her wolf. It has to be. But as winter nears, Sam must fight to stay human--or risk losing himself, and Grace, forever.

Go ahead. Tell me my FedEx box doesn't ROCK. To make it even better, I got Hush, Hush in last week, and I have 2 Sarah Dessen library books (Lock and Key and Dreamland) sitting on my coffee table. I need to take a reading sick day!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Pssshtt ... Who says I have responsibilities?

Mary E. Pearson, author of The Adoration of Jenna Fox and, most recently, The Miles Between, has posted an amazing article entitled "What YA Lit Is and Isn't" over here. She talks about who writes YA, who should read it, and the general suspicion some people still have about the entire genre.

One of my favorite parts is where she discusses the responsibility YA writers have. Her conclusion? We don't. Here's a little bit of what she had to say:

Recently I’ve heard some discussion about the “responsibility” of YA books and YA authors. Oh, I hate that word when it comes to books ... YA books are not meant to raise children. They are everything any adult book is. They are entertainment. They are a place to see ourselves. They are a place to get lost for a few hours. They are a place to make us think and wonder and imagine. They are a place to evoke anger, disagreement, discussion, and maybe tears. Books have no other responsibility than not to make the reader hate reading.

Can I get an Amen? Seriously, the entire article is quite amazing, and if you write YA, you should check it out. I found myself nodding along and saying, "Right on!" more than once.

Now, perhaps I should finally get around to buying The Adoration of Jenna Fox. I've been meaning to for months now and just ... haven't. Too many books, so little time! Has anyone out there read it, or anything else by Pearson? If you haven't, def check out her article, at the very least!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Uglies/Pretties/Wintergirls giveaway--And the winners are ...



Winner #1 (your choice of Uglies + Pretties or Wintergirls) is ... Jenny N!

Winner # 2 (whatever Jenny doesn't pick) is ... Yessenia!

Please contact me by Thursday at noon'ish. Congratulations to the winners!

Friday, September 11, 2009

2 things

1. Don't forget to enter my Uglies/Pretties/Wintergirls giveaway --- it ends in about 2'ish hours!

2. I should blog. I really should. I should say something witty or funny or sad or serious or even just plain stupid. After all, it's been a week since I've opened up a new post. A week! Unacceptable in blogland! But ... I can't. Because I got something in the mail this week. Something that I'm only 2 1/2 chapters into and already addicted. And that little something is an ARC that I won of Hush, Hush, by the lovely Becca.

All I can say is, "EEEEK!!"

Off to get high on Patch. See you all again when the withdrawal symptons kick in. :)

(... Okay, okay, I promise to take a breather to post the winners for my giveaway. But other than that, I'm going to be pretty useless until I hit that final page. )

Friday, September 4, 2009

And for the end, I go out with a BANG (or, a writing recipe for everyone's palette)

Don't get your hopes up: I'm not actually going anywhere. But my SCBWI notes are. As in, I've reached the in. This is the last one, and then I'm going all Disney and sticking them in the vault (i.e., the blog archive). I think this is a goodie, so I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did!

SARAH DAVIES—A Recipe for Writing the Breakout Novel: 5 Ingredients for Success

Agent at Greenhouse Literary Agency
-Specializes in children’s/teens literature. Greatest specialty is MG/tween/YA (submission guidelines are on the website)

-She is a lover of language—language has shaped her life.
-She considers her work to be her vocation and can’t think of anything she’d rather do than help others achieve success.

How do turn a dull story into a gripping one =
-explore characters
-strengthen your premise
-work on your plot

The breakout novel = the one that keeps people up reading at night and enables you to go on writing as a career.

Publishers make 90% of their revenue on 10% of their books. This 10% is greatly depended on and helps pay for everything else; it gives the house its name.

In the book world, an agent must feel passion about your project.
-There is always room (on her list) for something that is wonderful and ignites her heart. There is “always time for a shiny nugget.”
-She’s looking for a voice that shines out of her, even if the plot is rough. But, take a lot of care with your work before sending it out (i.e., only send it out when you feel it is as good as you can make it).


1) Your work must be unique; you must have an inspired concept
-Know the market, but write only what you can write.
-If there’s a story you want to read that hasn’t been written, write it.
-Domestic/paranormal = about 80% of what she sees. You need a really fresh twist to make yours stand out.
-USP = "unique selling point" of your story; the strong, fresh idea with real commercial appeal
-**Your concept should be developed before you start writing. Don't write until you have a really clever pitch (clever pitch = only a couple of sentences) that you can articulate efficiently.
-Think big. Be prepared to research. Sometimes a concept can go a very long way to selling a story in the marketplace.
-->Example of a high concept idea = Princess for Hire by Lindsey Leavitt
-BUT ... concept alone isn’t enough. You also need great writing.
-->E.g., Jay Asher's 13 Reasons Why is more than a sad story; it’s like a thriller with the tension increased due to the short passage of time.

2) Principal characters must be vivid and true and must leap off the page.
-**Know your principal characters and their back story so well that they reveal themselves as you go along. You shouldn’t have to stop to do this as you write.
-Q: What were the journeys your characters took to get them here?
-Developing your principal characters before you write helps to show, not tell. It avoids info dumps about characters in the main character’s world.
-"Let your characters develop themselves in whispers." -- e.g., Valerie Patterson – Another State of Blue
-The sole purpose of description is to reveal character. -- e.g., What do your character’s torn jeans, or the way they push back their hair, tell you about them?
-Character is revealed by conflict and dynamic, all of which have to move us toward a revelation at the end of the story.

-Dialogue can’t be flat.
-People don’t use long, carefully crafted sentences when they talk.
-90% of people’s sentences are self-interested.
-What is unsaid is at least as important as what is actually said.
-**The external of conversation needs to reflect the internal agenda of your characters.

3) Tell a high stakes story
-High stakes = where the characters have a lot to win or lose; a story with a twist in the tail.
-Q: What do your characters stand to win/lose? Work these wins/losses so that they escalate, building tension toward the end.
--> E.g., Valerie Patterson’s Another State of Blue
--> E.g., Tender Morsels—explores the evil and sweetness of the world; the cost of living in a world where evil doesn’t exist, and why we need both, despite how hard it might be.
-*High stakes are vital for one to be passionate about your story.

-Know where you’re going, especially how you’ll reach the climax/ending.
-A good outline prevents you from stalling or getting really confused.

4) Your story needs a deeply-felt theme
-Q: What is the unique moral/spiritual message of your story? This should be something that stays with the reader after the book is finished and gives newly perceived truth of what it means to be human; something integral to the concept.
-*Do not attempt to teach.
-Think: What is your message and how are you going to get it across?
-->E.g., 13 Reasons Why—the deeply-felt theme is the effect we have on others’ lives, but we can grow through this and realize, at times, there are some things we can’t do.
-->E.g., Princess for Hire—the MC is not vapor; she can be herself, and she has enormous value.

-The best books teach us more about ourselves than about our characters.

5) Include a vivid setting
-A vivid setting = one imbued with emotion in which geography and sense of place in your story almost become character themselves.
-->E.g., the city of London in The Devil’s Kiss

6) Find your voice
-Are you a musician? If not, become one.
-Are you aware of language? Train your inner ear and develop a musicality about language.
-Language has a cadence. Develop a cadence with words. Speak it aloud.
-The beauty of your voice needs to be “silvery and luminous” to convince an editor, “I must have this.”

-Writing is a craft, like cooking, playing the violin, and painting in oils. It takes a long time to master this craft, like any other.
-There is more reward in fighting through the pain of revision than in giving up and starting something else.
-Writing is 50% perspiration and 50% inspiration.
-“There is no way of writing well and also of writing easily.”

-Story is created by revelation of the internal and the external.

Example of a story that does it all right = Slumdog Millionaire (the movie; she hasn't read the book)
-extraordinary concept
-unforgettable characters
-unbelievably high stakes
-a deeply-felt theme (i.e., love overcoming survival)
-vivid, authentic setting


So that's that! Truth be told, the sessions I enjoyed the most and found the most inspiring were those led by the authors. But Sarah Davies was ah-ma-ZING. I'm not sure if all translates to paper, but if you ever get the chance to see her, do it.

I hope these notes have been as helpful to everyone else as they have been to me.

*off to think of something interesting to say now that I'm out of wise words from others* :)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

More SCBWI: Tools for fast-paced plotting

CHRIS EBOCH—What I Learned from Nancy Drew: Tools for Fast-Paced Plotting

Note: Chris gave us a handout for "growing an idea into a story," which addressed incomplete ideas. The focus of the below notes is where the writer already has a beginning, middle, and an end, but wants to make the plot move well. That said, I don't have a fully fleshed out middle or a definitive end, but I found this session very helpful. Hopefully you will, too!

- Nancy Drew books are ghostwritten (like the Hardy Boys) by 4-5 writers, including Chris Eboch.

1) Start fast, with a funny, provocative, ominous, or shocking first line.

2) Accompany this first line, early on, with something that’s happening. You need to get an editor’s attention within at least 5 pages.
--Get into the action quickly, but also give readers a chance to catch up with what the action is and who the characters are. If readers don't have some idea who your characters are, they'll care less about all the action.
--Give an intro to the setting and the characters, but start in the scene where something is happening.
--Put research/history tidbits second and focus on plot first. This may mean you have to lose some historical facts that you love, if they slow down your plot.

3) Look for places where you can add more danger, excitement, and tension. Make things more difficult for your characters.
--Rule of 3 = the MC should try and fail twice before achieving the goal.
--You can have interim goals within the story, with steps to be accomplished, before the characters reach the main goal(s). But, make sure that these interim goals add to the story or make it better and aren't just included for the sake of conflict.
--Ways to expand and add complications to the pot = keep your characters in places where danger could happen.
--Q: Are you using your villain as actively as you can? Make sure he/she is actively plotting against your MC, not just waiting for the hero to do something and then reacting. Villains create their own problems, which adds to your story. This works with secondary characters, too, when they want something different than what your MC wants. (e.g., parents/teachers doing things in a way that causes trouble, even if well-meaning.)
--If you don’t have enough going on, consider adding a second "villain" or more effectively using the "villain" you already have.
--You want peaks in your story, but continue to raise tension so the highest point of tension is at the climax (i.e., save the most dramatic scene for last).

4) Use cliffhanger chapter endings.
--Cliffhangers keep people reading.
--If your chapter is dragging, look for a smaller moment mid-chapter to beef up and make stronger, and turn this into a chapter ending.
--**Don’t just get the action on and over with. You need a slow build-up to the intense action. Slow down the detail so there is a closer focus (longer and more detail), building up tension of something about to happen.
--Focus on the MC’s thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations when working up to cliffhanger endings to chapters.
--Make the reader what to turn the page to see what happens next.
--Make the reader ask: “What’s next? What is it?”
--You can end a chapter mid-scene if it’s at your most dramatic moment. However, it’s okay to have a quieter chapter moment. Including quieter chapters occasionally helps not to frustrate your reader when he/she is looking for a stopping place.
--If you’re using a quiet ending, make sure it shows more is to come (e.g., something ominous is around the next page).
--Don’t cheat. Cliffhangers should fit naturally into the plot. They shouldn’t be there just for the sake of suspense.
--Choose a dramatic moment in the plot--e.g., “We have everything under control/nothing could go wrong”--to end the chapter. This gives the reader a sense of foreboding and lets them know something bad will likely happen (at least with older YA readers; MG readers may take you more literally and think everything is, in fact, under control).

5) Shorter paragraphs/sentences = faster, more intense.
--Try using shorter paragraphs/sentences at the end of chapters to create more intensity.
--i.e., your character doesn’t have time to speak in long/conjunction sentences when something is falling at his/her head. The sentences will be shorter, sharper, more to the point.

We have almost reached the end of SCBWI, but I have at least one more really awesome post for you all. So don't jump ship just yet! :D

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Book giveaway: Uglies+Pretties or Wintergirls -- winner picks!

It's giveaway time again! The votes are in, and it was pretty close between two of the options. My solution? 2 winners!

Winner #1 gets his/her choice of (1) Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, or (2) Uglies and Pretties by Scott Westerfield. Winner #2 gets the "leftovers." (If you can call anything written by LHA or SW "leftovers" with a straight face!)

Now, for a quick Q&A:
Q: "But Jess," you say. "I want to read Uglies, but I totally already have Wintergirls. What happens if I get second choice, and that first place winner bitch takes Uglies? Can I beat him/her over the head with my Wintergirls?"
A: Violence, while amusing (and a video will certainly be requested), is not necessary. I have other books you can choose from if the dreadful above-scenario happens to you. So enter away!



Everybody gets to be supermodel gorgeous. What could be wrong with that?

Tally is about to turn sixteen, and she can't wait. Not for her license -- for turning pretty. In Tally's world, your sixteenth birthday brings an operation that turns you from a repellent ugly into a stunningly attractive pretty and catapults you into a high-tech paradise where your only job is to have a really great time. In just a few weeks Tally will be there.

But Tally's new friend Shay isn't sure she wants to be pretty. She'd rather risk life on the outside. When Shay runs away, Tally learns about a whole new side of the pretty world -- and it isn't very pretty. The authorities offer Tally the worst choice she can imagine: find her friend and turn her in, or never turn pretty at all. The choice Tally makes changes her world forever.

My (brief) review:
I didn't love Uglies, but I liked it. A lot. It was a great thrill ride, with a little bit of a love story thrown in for good measure. That said, sci-fi isn't really my thing, so the futuristic society was hard for me to get into at first. I'm also not big on third person, but there were enough interesting things happening to keep me reading. Westerfield knows how to build the suspense and keep you clinging to your seat. While it doesn't make my list of favorites-I-would-read-again-and-again, I'd still recommend it to others.

(I'm not going to post a synopsis of Pretties, because it gives away too much of what happens in Uglies. So if you win them, don't read the back of it until you finish Uglies!)

Dead girl walking, the boys say in the halls.

Tell us your secret, the girls whisper, one toilet to another.

I am that girl.

I am the space between my thighs, daylight shining through.

I am the bones they want, wired on a porcelain frame.

Lia and Cassie are best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies, competitors in a deadly contest to see who can be the skinniest. But what comes after size zero and size double-zero? When Cassie succumbs to the demons within, Lia feels she is being haunted by her friends restless spirit.

In her most emotionally wrenching, lyrically written book since the multiple-award-winning Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson explores Lia's descent into the powerful vortex of anorexia, and her painful path toward recovery.

My (brief) review:
Wintergirls is ... WOW. That's all I can say. The imagery is powerful, the language even more so. LH Anderson knows how to take you inside the mind of a teenage girl struggling with anorexia, and the scary thing is, she keeps you there. If you've never read anything by LH Anderson, this is the book you must read.

+1 Leave a comment on this post. If you don't have a blogger profile, be sure to leave an email address, too, or I won't be able to contact you.

+4 if you already follow/subscribe to my blog
+2 for becoming a follower/subscriber to my blog

+2 for posting a link to this contest somewhere on the Internet (sidebar, Myspace, Twitter, etc.)--be sure to leave me a link here if you post one.
+4 for posting an actual blog about this giveaway--leave me the link.

+1 for telling me why you can't wait to read either Uglies/Pretties or Wintergirls.

+1 for letting me know who referred you.
+1 for every person who says you referred them here.

+5 for telling us all about your first kiss, or at least the first one you remember. (If it helps, pretend we're sitting around a campfire and you just picked "truth.")

Open To: US and Canada residents only.

Ends: Friday, September 11, at midnight, central time.

Monday, August 31, 2009

5 tips, 5 goofs, submitting to Egmont, and changes in children's publishing

ELIZABETH LAW—Five Tips, Five Goofs to Avoid, and a Bit About Egmont

5 goofs to avoid:
1) Writing something you don’t like or something you’re not good at.
--Write what’s real, not what you think will sell. Do what your strength is, and don’t try to write to the market. *Pay attention to the feedback you receive (from critters, etc.) about what your strength is. It may not be what you think.

2) Spending too much money hoping to make your book big, instead of just writing a good book and going from there.
--She gave an example involving a story about a whale who spurts emotions from his blowhole, or something like that (hi-larious, by the by), with the moral basically being: you shouldn't make a product line based around the characters in your book until you have a good book that sells. T-shirts advertising your whale do not a good book make.

3) Changing the age of the MC to try to fit into something popular.
--e.g., making your middle grade story young adult b/c it's popular right now

4) Not talking to your agent/editor enough.
--Be as organized and helpful to the person on the other end as possible, but don’t use this as an excuse to not ask questions. Be courteous of the time taken, but don't be afraid to ask questions.

5) Not taking your career into your own hands.
--This plays off of #4. You have to be involved.
--Be short, polite, and respectful, but ultimately, your career is up to you.
--Follow up with an agent/editor if they have your MS and you haven’t heard back from them in about 12 weeks. if an exclusive was requested, write back w/in 4’ish months to advise you’re sending the MS on to others, but will withdraw it if you hear back from them.

5 tips:
1) Social networking
--Start early
--Publishers are “enormously interested in social networking to reach readers directly.”
--Network, but don’t let social networking keep you from writing and/or submitting your work.
--Join critique groups.
--Get in the game. Take control of your own life/career.

2) Have a story to go along with a good voice.
--Both voice and story are important.
--Voice, on its own, isn't enough, no matter how good or unique it is. There must be something the characters work out (i.e., a story).

3) Do what you do well and feel strongly about—don’t write to the market.
--Pay attention to the positive feedback you receive--listen to what other people tell you you're good at, b/c it may not be what you think--rather than trying to be something you’re not.
--It’s not necessarily a bad thing to not know what other books yours is like. If it’s good, people will read it and advocate for it, which will lead others to read it and advocate for it.

4) Follow up (with agents/editors) on your work.

5) Don’t complain to professionals.
--“The nicer you are, the guiltier we feel.” (For when they haven’t replied to you yet.)

A bit about Egmont:
--It’s like the new Bloomsbusy/Candlewick; finally coming into America.
--Focuses exclusively on children’s books.
--In America, Egmont is doing a viable trade list—15 books are coming out this fall, 13 of them from America
--All profits of the company go to a Scandinavian charity (not-for-profit corporation), but they take their work very seriously. Finding good writers is what they believe in.
--The books they acquire are ones that they can say, "I understand why children would read this."
--There are 3 editors in the company + an assistant and interns.
--Examples of Egmont books:
...Julia Keller – Back Home
...Pam Bachorz – Candor
...Allen Zerdoff – Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have
...Lindsay Eland – Scones and Sensibility
...Bree Despain – The Dark Divine
...Alexandra Bruckin – Brightly Woven
...David Patneaude – Epitaph Road

Submitting to Egmont:
--Submit electronically
--What Egmont is looking for: specifically looking for good MG and heartwarming chapter books. Also reps YA—Egmont has a lot of books with yearning on the list; also loves humor. Not doing much PBs, but those with a purpose (e.g., those teaching something) will be considered. Non-fiction that ties into an event (e.g., the Olympics or a holiday) get better store coverage than others.
--submit to:

ELIZABETH LAW—From Johnny Tremain to Edward Cullen: How Children’s Publishing is Changing, and How to Meet the Challenges Head-on

--Children’s books are the stable and/or growing area of publishing.
--*YA hardcover is growing.
--Look at Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games for a good book on pacing. Suzanne is great at economical writing.
--Changes in recent years = books are now more overtly sexual for teenagers
--*Tip: Don’t read others’ work to find out what the authors do, Read to immerse yourself in the characters, which will inspire you to write better.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Reasons why your MS gets declined, and little tidbits from way smart people

More SCBWI (yep, I'm nearing the end):

WENDY LOGGIA—I Wanted to Love This: 7 Reasons Why Your MS Gets Declined

1) Good writing, but no story—i.e., lacking plot/action
-She’s not willing to take a chance just b/c of good writing.
-Question to ask: Why is someone going to buy your book?

2) Your MS is too similar to other novels the editor has worked, to other books in the marketplace, to other books on the editor’s list, or to other books on the list that aren’t doing well.
-A book suited to her taste is good, if it’s not too close to something she’s already working on.

3) She doesn’t know who the reader is for your MS.
-Need at least the national palette market (Borders/B&N) or the school market.
-Your book can’t fall too far off the list of what works for their audience.
-Questions: Who do you want to write for? Who will your reader be?

4) The writer seems like a difficult person to work with, or the editor likes the person but the writing is bad.
-Editors google writers and read their blogs.
-Be careful about criticizing books edited by a house.
-Editors don’t want to see things about how many times you’ve been shot down, or you complaining about how hard it is to write.

5) She loves the concept but can’t connect to the voice.
-Not special enough; can’t see teens connecting to the narrator or attracting children; too much telling/distraction from the reading process.

6) Submitting too early/before the project is ready.
-This speaks for itself, I think.

7) Your work doesn’t stand out.
-A big publisher might pass on books that are small to mid-list if they aren’t very passionate about the book.
-The editor must be passionate about your work to represent it, especially in today’s marketplace.

And now, for a few words of inspiration from really smart people:

-“Kids can smell it on you when you’re insincere. Do what you love. You’ll find your audience; you really will.”
-If you write PBs—-pictures tell the story. Words tell you things the pictures can’t convey. Words should never tell you what the picture can tell (e.g., the color of pillow is told by the picture, not by words).
0You can find an audience for personal work that comes from deep inside. Stick to your vision, and don’t take rejection personally.

-She quoted Richard Peck in saying: “We write by the light of every book we have ever read.”
-Stories don’t only teach; they also shield people from real life.

INGRID LAW—Writing Magic: From the Head to the Heart
-Don’t listen to the “maybe someone won’t like that” voice. Just write. You can’t imagine/predict what readers will and won’t like.
-Put everything you are in your work. Everything you experience becomes part of who you are. The good and the bad experiences serve to inform whatever is coming next and to create whatever magical potion you remain to create.
-Don’t just use your head. Put your heart into your work. Your heart makes your work glisten and pulse.

-“A story is only as strong as the voice telling it.”
-->e.g., Wintergirls shows the purpose of fiction; dramatizing truth no one dares to touch; shows the world children create the minute an adult turns his/her back.
-“A story is a question, not an answer, and we dare ask the questions no one dares to ask.”
-“Questions are roadmaps to show the illiterate out of town.”
-“All stories turn upon epiphanies. Epiphanies are when everything changes and you can’t go back.”
-There are different types of despair. Solitary (working alone), nightmare (e.g., getting to the end of your third-person book and realizing it should've been in first person), and endless (e.g., waiting on a non-ringing phone to ring). But there comes a day when there is no room for the luxury of despair. It's when you see a kid “trying to dig out. You know you can’t help, but you wonder if story can, if companionship will.”
-“That’s what we do. That’s who we are.”

NEXT UP FROM SCBWI--Tools for fast-paced plotting, tips and goofs to avoid, a bit about Egmont, and a 5-ingredient recipe for breakout-novel success. Stay tuned!

And the winner of 13 Reasons Why is ...

The winner of book giveaway episode two, 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher, is ....

Ashley at BooksObsession! (Ashley, please reply to my email by Tuesday.)

Thanks to everyone for participating. The next giveaway will start soon, so don't forget to cast your vote!

**Edit: For all of the super perceptive ones out there like Abby, I got a little overzealous and ended the contest after 1 week instead of 2 (on August 29 instead of September 4). I certainly can't take it away from the winner (congrats, Ashley!), but I will make the next contest extra special. Promise! (*ducks head in shame--bad, Jessica. Bad!*)

Friday, August 28, 2009

My next giveaway: you pick the book!

First off: don't forget to enter for a chance to win Jay Asher's 13 Reasons Why--the giveaway ends tonight at midnight!

I thought I might stop after those 2 giveaways, but I really love this whole "sharing great books with the world" idea. But now I'm stumped as to what to giveaway next. You tell me. (Pretty please?)

*I wanted to add one of those neat little surveys, but I'm not that technologically savvy. So we'll do this the old-fashioned, "add a comment" kind of way. Sorry, ye who are much, much wiser than me. (If it makes it any better, I'm using pictures!)

Option 1:

Option 2:

Option 3:

Option 4 (both Westerfeld books included):


"But Jess!" you say. "What if the one we really want doesn't get picked?!"
Answer: No worries, because I'll give the others away in upcoming weeks, with the order most likely based on popularity of votes. OR ... I'll consider other suggestions, such as combining books, or doing a big giveaway with the top winner taking first choice, etc. Just let me know what you think, but by all means, please vote!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The state of the business, from the people who know it best.

Yep, that's right. More SCBWI. I know, I know, you're all thinking, "Geez, girl ... don't you have anything else to talk about?" But I feel like I can't stop until I've shared it all. It's a sickness, I know. I can't help it. :)


(1) Marietta Zacker

About submitting:
-Nancy Gallt Agency
-Accepting manuscripts—snail mail is better, but email is okay
-Represents every age group and genre
-Send: query + synopsis, via snail mail or email

On the economy: editors are not taking anything for granted; i.e., they’re having deep conversations, etc., to find out exactly what they’re looking for prior to taking it on.

Willingness to edit: agents are not scared to work on a manuscript with an author.
-Authors should expect editing to happen during the agenting process, as well as a heck of a lot more editing after that.
-An agent is trying to edit the work to a point that he/she is confident that it can sell, since editors now want books at a more ready state before considering them for acquisition.

(2) Kelly Sonnack

About submitting:
-Andrea Brown Agency, which specializes in children’s literature
-Specializes in children's books (PB, MG, and YA)
-Send: query + first 10 pages, via email

On the economy: the market is hurting a lot less in the children’s market than in the adult market. When there’s a dip in the market, debut PBs (picture books) tend to get hit first, but these are still being sold.
-Andrew Brown Agency sold 16 books last month (July)
-There is no crisis, but publishers are being more selective and are less likely to take on risks than before. Things are changing, but people are handling it.
-Adults are reading YA, which helps the children’s market.

Willingness to edit: does a lot of editing to help authors get the book as good as they can to get as good of an offer as possible. Doesn't want to send something off a week early if it means the offer will suffer for it.

(3) Dan Lazar

About submitting:
-Writers House, senior agent
-Represents mostly MG, but more YA now.
-List = “weird kids in small towns” theme
-Loves graphic novels, which are being embraced more by the children’s world now
-Send: query + first 5 pages, via email

On the economy: books may be selling for less, but great stuff is still selling.

Willingness to edit: will go through 6 months+ revisions with an author if the book needs that kind of editing, prior to sending it out. This helps sales go more quickly.

The most successful queries are the ones that don’t harp on themes and ideas. Specific details are what’s interesting.
-Include what a character says or what he/she looks like in the query.
-E.g., from a query he received (and I directly quote, so the F-bomb to follow)—“Young Nicole and her museum of fucked up things” made him want to read more.
-Present yourself in the best, most evocative way possible.

(4) Stephen Fraser

About submitting:
-Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency—boutique agency
-Represents children’s lit and teens
-Unpublished submissions welcomed.
-Looking for careers they can cultivate, not just people with one book in them.
-Looking for real/fresh ideas—“dazzle us”

On the economy: believes things are starting to turn back around.

Willingness to edit: will thrash out ideas with existing clients and act in an editorial capacity as much as he’s able to.

“Every good book has a home. There is a place for your good book.”
-Agents want to fall in love with your work. The thrill of finding/discovering new talent is what they’re looking for.

(5) Sarah Davies (p.s. this woman is amazing; more on her to come later, so stay tuned)

About submitting:
-Greenhouse Literary Agency—launched in Jan 2008
-Willing to assist in editing if she sees a great voice, but make your work the best you can before submitting.
-Represents Lindsey Leavitt—Princess for Hire
-Being a literary agent is her passion and her vocation; it’s not just a job.
-Send: view for submission guidelines. Send e-query + first 5 pages.

Willingness to edit: she’s looking more for potential with writers than completion. She can work on plot, but she can’t create a voice for an author.
-She has gone through complete rewrites with authors before.
-She does this to get an author the best deal she can.

An awesome quote from her (it must be said in a British accent to get the full awesomeness effect): “Squeeze the juice from your fruit. Take your characters. Take your plot, and wring every ounce of juice out of them for me.”

(6) Brenda Bowen

About submitting:
-Sanford J Greenburger Associates Literary Agency
-Represents Dan Brown and author of “Fancy Nancy”
-New agent—for about 5 weeks now (as of the date of the conference)
-She started an Imprint at Harper Collins, which was thereafter axed.
-Represents PB and MG (never stated whether she reps YA, so check website prior to submitting).
-She’s looking for strong voices, creative use of language, and confident writing.
-Send: email materials; see website for submission guidelines

General info from panel: (i.e., I have no idea who said these things b/c my note-taking got kind of shoddy near the end):

Publishers want as finished a book as they can get from an agent/editor. The work needs to be very finished and polished before submission.
-Publishing houses are under pressure b/c of flat sales/downturn.
-Books are still selling, including books by new authors, so remain optimistic.

Focus on your craft—learn to write and create great voice and a fresh premise.

Things to look for in contracts:
-Option clause
-High discount royalties (the higher the discount your book is bought at, the more likely you are to have reduced royalties).
-Out of print clause (protect the second life of your book)

That's it for now. Hope this helps at least one of you!