Saturday, September 3, 2016

How To Tell People You're a Writer

Recently I ran into an acquaintance in line at Starbucks.  Polite conversation was made and, not knowing I'm a writer, he asked where my office was.  Confused for a moment, I finally gestured around me.  "Right here!"

He followed my gaze to the chairs, half-filled with a mixture of business execs, retirees with papers, college students, and Lulu Lemon-wearing moms pushing strollers.  If I'd been confused, his expression was otherworldly.  He cocked his head.  "Oh, I thought you..."

And then, for the millionth time, I got to explain to someone that I'm taking a break from my solid, sensible career to see if I can make a go of ... well, writing.  Of all things.

I'm still not sure how to tell people I'm a writer.

Because you never know how a person will respond, you know?  We've all gotten at least one of these:

(a) How exciting!  What do you have published?  Would I have heard of any of it?
(b) Oh, that's great!  So nice to get to spend time with your kids while they're young.
(c) Huhn.  What does your husband do? 
(d) *blank look* *changes subject*

To which I internally respond:

(a) Well, I've written a book.  But it's not published yet.  Um, I'm working on other stuff, too, though.  *shuffles feet*
(b) Um ... pretty sure Nick Jr. babysat my kids half the summer so I could revise my book for the umpteenth time.   
(c) Okay, thankfully, I haven't actually gotten this response, but I've gotten reactions that make me wonder if the person wants to ask this.  Or I'll just get looks that accuse me of being a hopelessly impractical dreamer, which, let's face it, I am.
(d)  I get it.  Plenty of people have very little idea of what a writer actually does.  Some find it interesting, and some don't.  That's okay. I don't find underwater basket weaving very interesting.  Everybody has their thing.

So here's my challenge:  The next time someone asks you what you do, respond as one of your characters.  Here are some examples:

I'm looking for a little green person with pointy ears.  He's partial to grande caramel macchiatos.  Have you seen him?

Actually, I'm a mermaid.  I grew these legs so I could come get a cup of coffee.  

Well--did you know this place is about to blow up?  I'm just sayin'.  I mean, I know we all need our caffeine fix, but we should really all get out outta here.  *checks watch*  Maybe after my latte.  

Hey, beautiful.  I can't actually tell you what I do.  *whispers*  But I can show you.  

Will you buy me this juice box?  I think my mom left.  

Doubtful?  Okay, well, bare minimum, it'd be a great conversation starter.  Well ... or ender.  Okay, you just might increase your chances of getting response (d).  Fair warning.  But at least YOU will find the conversation interesting.

No?  Well, I guess there's always honesty:

I'm a writer.  Sometimes I ignore my spouse and kids, even when screaming is involved, to finish a scene.  I forget to shower and eat real food.  (Do popcorn and chocolate count?)  I spend hours each day with people I made up out of thin air.  Or that I made up based on people I know.  (You'll never know which.)  I enter contests, I submit queries, and I fail.  A LOT.  But I wouldn't trade this life for anything else.  We writers are a great bunch of people.  We cheer each other on, giving pats on the shoulder and swift kicks in the rear when needed.  Or sarcastic tirades.  So look us up on Twitter sometime.  We'll do coffee.  You know, or #1linewed.  

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Finding an Agent

Missy Elliott's Pep Rally has been on loop at my house and in my car for the past two weeks, and I've been dancing badly (but enthusiastically) to it the whole time. 

As of last Friday, I HAVE AN AGENT!!!  Carrie Pestritto of Prospect Agency has offered to rep me and I've accepted.  Eeeeeeee!!!

There's a lot of advice out there about how to get an agent.  There's a lot of GREAT advice.  And I feel timid about adding to that wealth of information; I wasn't querying for that long. 

Some of it just comes down to luck.  And you can't control luck.  It either happens or it doesn't. 

But the rest are things that you can control.  So here is my humble advice on how to control the things that you can.  Feel free to add to it in the comments! 

1) Make criticism your lifeblood.  This is my best piece of advice.  In every part of this process, from planning stages to publication, seek feedback from others.  Since writing is something we do alone, deep down, we're tempted to try to complete every part of the process in a vacuum.  Or, to use a more specific space analogy, since I write sci-fi, in a wind tunnel.  Wind tunnels are used by aerospace companies to test the viability of new space- and air-craft.  But not all of the testing takes place inside these sealed, intense environments.  Most of the planning and testing happens in offices, meetings, and on computers.  With a team of people. 

We writers, we're often introverts.  We like spending time with ourselves.  Which is great.  But ultimately, if we're writing for publication, we're writing to connect with a reader.  And the best way to find out what a reader is thinking and whether what we're saying makes sense outside our own heads is to get readers. 

Treat feedback like water, keeping you alive.  Don't just tolerate negative feedback; seek it out.  Yes, it stings.  And I'm not recommending you turn your feelings off to that sting--sometimes it takes a few days to lick your wounds before you can see what someone is saying. 

There are stages, of course, where you DO lock yourself in a cave and pound out participles in a self-contained bubble.  You have to.  Or you'd never get anything done.  All I'm saying is, come up for air and find other humans to connect with over your writing every so often. 

2) Pay attention to rejections.  I know, they hurt.  They can hurt a lot.  But listen to them.  I once read that if you're not getting any requests, there's something wrong with your query, and if you're getting requests but no interest, there's something wrong with your manuscript.  I took this to heart.  Writer friends helped me retool my query at different points.  And I squeezed the crap out of every rejection I got that was the slightest bit personalized, revising my manuscript accordingly.  I signed with Carrie after completing several Revise & Resubmits for her. 

Don't brush off rejections; listen to them.  Okay, after you eat some ice cream and maybe have a good night's sleep.  

(If you take time to let the hurt wear away and you still don't agree with the feedback, that's okay too.  It's your book.  And if you try to make changes you don't agree with just to get agented/published, your heart won't be in it and it'll sound like it.  Trust your gut.  Just make sure it's not your ego you're listening to.) 

3) Find writer friends.  Because rejections hurt, and only other writers truly get it.  Not to mention, they'll often give you the most incisive (and possibly kindest) feedback as beta readers. 

They're also more reliable beta readers.  I had tons of betas lined up to read my book before I queried it.  When it was finally at a "done" place, I sent it off to those wonderful friends of mine, sure they were panting with expectation to get to read my book.  A month later, only the writer friends had read it.  They gave me great feedback I could use to improve it!  But the non-writer friends--*gasp* *choke*--never read it, or never got further than the first couple of pages.  (Which was also feedback, incidentally, and made me overhaul the beginning.  Later on.  After I got over my disappointment, and other people verbalized specific feedback about the opening.)  I got guilt-filled texts full of excuses why my non-writer friends hadn't read it yet. 

Okay.  Let me say this:  It's not their fault.  My non-writer friends were well intentioned, but this isn't their trade. 

Have you had a similar experience?  Your book may not be your non-writer friends' preferred genre, either.  Writer friends have a vested interest in making your manuscript better--because they're likely going to get the favor returned at some point. 

So don't strain your regular friendships.  Make new friends--and it will help you keep the old. 

4) Enter contests like Pitch Madness and Pitch Wars. I entered Pitch Madness this year and did not get in.  But it was hands down one of the best things I've done as a writer.  I followed the hashtag on Twitter religiously, from the time I submitted my entry to just after the winners were announced.  Contests are a great way to meet other writers!  You can commiserate while you wait for results.  People play games on the hashtag.  And you might even find some beta readers. 

Winning is great, but there are HUGE benefits just in playing the game. 

5) Work on something else.  You've heard this one before.  But shoot, do it.  As soon as you let fly that first round of queries, you'll find you finally have some free time. 

And a whole lotta crazy inside!!!

Best remedy for both?  Well, rest a bit, clean up a bit, and then open a crisp new Word file and start typing.  Or take a trip to get ideas for another book.  Go somewhere.  Do something.

This post on Publishing Crawl has more great ideas for what to do while you're waiting. 


There's plenty of awesome advice out there, and all of this is nothing new.  It's just what worked for me.  And it's what will, I hope, continue to work.  But I'll keep revising my strategy if it doesn't. 

I'm not published yet.  We still have a long way to go. 

And remember, getting an agent is NOT the end of your journey.  It's just the end of one stage of it.  I think we're all tempted to feel that way when we're querying, because that's the goal we're working for.  We stalk agents on Twitter.  We stalk them on MS Wish List.  We comb through agent interviews and advice on how to get an agent/get published.  But there is life after this process, whether you get an agent or seek publication without one.  A lot more life.  And you'll get there. 

What's worked for you in your process towards getting agented/published? 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Ally Condie's Summerlost Release-Day Blitz AND GIVEAWAY!

I was lucky enough to receive a pre-release copy of Ally Condie's new middle-grade debut, Summerlost, which releases today. And let me tell you: It. Is. Beautiful.  

Summerlost hits shelves TODAY!!! I'm participating in a blog blitz, hosted by Word Spelunking and Penguin Kids, to celebrate the release and spread the word about this gorgeous book.

(And yes, they're doing a giveaway!)

Ally Condie, author of the internationally bestselling Matched trilogy, has crafted a tale to remember. Summerlost follows 12-year-old Cedar's grapple with the loss of her father and younger brother to an accident a year ago. As she settles into life in her mother's small hometown for the summer, she befriends Leo, and together they become absorbed in uncovering the truths behind the historically mysterious death of a local Shakespearian actor.

Themes of life and death are subtly woven together to give the reader a very moving and realistic portrait of grief, and in particular, how life is able to move forward after the loss of someone you love.

Here's the info, including a letter from Ally Condie and the giveaway link ...


A Spring 2016 Kids' Indie Next List Top 10 Pick!

Named one of Publishers Weekly’s Most Anticipated Children’s and YA Books of Spring 2016

« “Condie (Matched) strikes a deep emotional chord with this coming-of-age story.” – Publishers Weekly, starred review

« “Multiple, seemingly random details, including a family of turkey vultures that now roost outside Cedar’s window, an absurd soap opera narrative of a woman buried alive, and Leo’s quest for a trip with his father, coalesce into metaphors that help Cedar make sense of her grief and the life she now has to look forward to. Thoughtful, poetic chapter endings guide readers new to psychological depth toward meaningful connections between plot events and thematic reflections.” – BCCB

“A moving tale of friendship and loss. I loved these characters—I wish we could have been friends when I was a kid.” –Brandon Mull, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Fablehaven and Five Kingdoms series

“Ally Condie’s first middle grade book might also be my favorite out of ALL her books to date. Summerlost is a story packed with nostalgia, heart, and gorgeous prose.” – The Novel Novice

“A nuanced portrait of grief deeply grounded in the middle-school mind-set.” – Booklist

“Honest, lovely, and sad.” – Kirkus Reviews

“A sweet, heartfelt story.” – School Library Journal

“Achingly good.” – Summer Laurie, Books Inc.

Letter from Ally:

Dear Readers,

I think most of us have had our hearts broken. Sometimes we can see it coming, and sometimes it comes down with the unexpected force of a sudden gale of wind or a rising of waters that we thought were still and safe. Loss is universal to human experience, but the way we each feel and recover is one of the most personal things we do.

In Summerlost, Cedar is dealing with the loss of her father and younger brother. And my intent was to show how hard their deaths are for her. But this is also a book about the healing power of friendship. Most of us have been broken-hearted; I hope that most of us have also discovered the miracle of friendships that were just what we needed. Cedar and Leo’s friendship is based on someone I met when I was twelve. Like Leo, my friend was fun and liked to enlist me in crazy adventures (although we never gave a secret guided tour of our town the way they do in Summerlost). And, like Leo, he thought I was wonderful and of worth at a time when I needed it most.

SUMMERLOST is my attempt to pay tribute both to the pain we feel and the friendships that save us. Thank you so much for supporting this book, and for your willingness to give Cedar’s story a try. I hope it makes you think of a wonderful friend of your own, whether that is someone you met in the pages of a favorite book or outside, in the world where it is often hard and beautiful to live.

Best wishes and happy reading always,
Ally Condie


Buy Summerlost:

Enter the Giveaway:  
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Read an Excerpt:

Host: Word Spelunking and Penguin Kids

Word Spelunking:
@WordSpelunker ;

Penguin Kids:
@PenguinKids ;

Monday, March 28, 2016

Characters You Hate to Love

With two Trekkie parents, it was hard to grow up ignoring Star Trek.  

We didn't go to conventions or anything. And my parents didn't have the costumes. But several models of Enterprise have adorned my dad's desk since forever ago, and both of my parents are wild about tribbles. 

As for me, I fought the obsession for a while, but have finally succumbed. Hubby & I are drooling with anticipation at the prospect of a new series premiering in JANUARY 2017!!!

But while we zipped through Enterprise & Voyager together in the past year, we're currently slogging our way through Deep Space 9.  *sigh*  We tried to get through DS9 a few years ago and got bored somewhere in the middle of the first or second season. We're just starting the third season, though, and it's finally getting better. 

Today I began to reflect on why we kept watching, because both of us found the first season slow and predictable. True, there's the fact that we're fans of the other Star Trek spin-offs--and that's huge. But brand loyalty will only go so far. For me, the single biggest thing that kept me going back each night throughout the first season was Quark. 

This is him:

Deep Space 9 takes place on a space station hundreds of years in the future. The station was placed at one end of a wormhole somewhere near Earth; the other end leads to deep space (the Gamma quadrant). So all kinds of interesting travelers visit the station. The commander is a black single dad with a teenage son (the first black Starfleet captain!); the first officer is an angry rebel from a nearby planet; and their security officer is a shape-shifter, the only known one of his kind (at first). But it's obvious how you're supposed to feel about each of these characters. In the first season (in my humble opinion), they're often face-value and have few secrets that impact their lives for more than a single episode. 

Quark, however, is the station's bartender, and a member of the fictional race called the Ferengi. The Ferengi are notorious throughout the quadrant, known as profit-grubbing mysoginists with giant, sensitive earlobes. 

So why the heck would a profit-grubbing mysoginist keep me watching a TV show?

That's an excellent question. But he is--against all odds--my favorite character. Unlike the others, he frequently exhibits layers of depth. Though he lives up to Ferengi stereotypes most of the time, he surprises me every so often by hiding a fugitive or giving up a cloaking device for free when he could've garnered a huge profit. He's the character I hate to love. 

This is a good lesson in writing, too. What keeps a reader reading what you've written? Don't underestimate the importance of characters that surprise. Because, even if a reader likes the characters in a book, even if they identify with them, if the character only follows expectations, there's little reason to keep reading. There are no hidden depths for the character to surprise us with. As a reader, I love finding out that a character I wrote off as a good guy was actually working for the enemy all along, or finding out that the bad guy actually has a moral compass that's been hidden inside a troubled past all along. 

This goes double for love interests. Bad guy/good guy fall in love? It's a common theme, but there's a reason for it--it works! Show me a love interest that isn't quite reliable or carries a game-changing secret, and I'm there. I need to know what drives him/her. I want to know whether he/she will overcome this secret and commit to a relationship with someone, or whether it'll be the undoing of them both. 

Show me a character that I hate at first, but begrudgingly am forced to love. Change my mind. Show me depth, little by little. Set me up and win me over. 

I'll keep watching DS9. After all, it made me love a Ferengi. 


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Editorial Tips From the Garage

I killed my first line today.  *sniff*

And I don't mean that like, Haaaayyy, girl. I'm killin' this line.
If only.

A beautiful first line, it sparkled with foreshadowing of my book's essential themes.  At least in my mind.  Problem was, it just didn't fit the scene.  Actually, I'm not sure it fit the voice of the book.  And I've tried so hard to make it work.  I really have.  And I've been in denial about it.  But finally, after receiving some expert advice (thanks Michael Mammay!), I've killed it.  In a very non-celebratory kind of way. 

Killing part of a manuscript is HARD.  Killing parts of our lives is, too. 

Sometimes life hands us cruel ironies.

While my book was off with beta readers recently, the hubby & I took advantage of both that and his break to sort through our stuff.  See, we moved back to California (from Iowa) almost two years ago, and stored A LOT of stuff in my grandparents' garage to get our Iowa house ready for showing.  Since then, that stuff has stayed there.

And stayed there.

My grandfather died last fall, and my grandmother moved out a few months ago.  The house has got to go soon, and so does our stuff.  With the clock ticking on us, we've dragged our feet, reluctant because we've known, due mostly to a lack of storage space currently, that most of the stuff would not belong to us anymore when we were done.

And in the midst of sorting and cleaning and breaking up with my stuff, I realized that I took a break from editing on paper (well, screen) only to edit with objects.  Aaaaaaaarrgh!!!!!

And they are BOTH hard in the SAME ways!  But it's so, so necessary to kill things that are no longer useful or meaningful.  (Not people.  Don't go killing people.)

With that in mind, here are some very basic manuscript editing tips brought to you straight from an overstuffed garage: 

(1) Set it down.  You've heard it before.  Take a break, and your ms will read differently when you've got fresh eyes.  Just like, if you have your stuff in storage for two years and you come back to it, you find that a lot of it just makes you say, "Why did I keep that?"  And you'll dump the broken cassette tapes and crumpled high school history papers.

(2) Read it out loud.  Another truism, that I scoffed at at first.  Then I started reading my ms out loud to my daughter, and realized a whole bunch of things that were still wrong with it.  In the garage, this is where you say out loud, "I own a coat whose buttons I have safely tucked into the pocket one by one as they've fallen off so I can sew them back on someday."  When you realize what you're saying, you'll then say: "Self, you're a deluded idiot.  You've got the sewing skills of an antelope, and you've already replaced the coat anyway.  Huck it."  Reading aloud makes you face uncomfortable truths like that.

(3) Use a tool.  Or more than one.  A friend recommended Rayne Hall's The Word-Loss Diet to me, and it's already changing the way I write.  Every fledgling writer should use this book.  It's short; it's followed its own advice.  And it holds your hand as you get rid of the extra words we all put into our rough drafts: "said," "look," "smile," "turn," "see," etc.  In the garage, our tool was a system.  We'd screen each item:  Is there need for this item in my life now?  Does it have strong sentimental value?  Does it have all its working parts?  Is it free of rat pee?  Was it in a box that's been sealed?  You get my meaning. 

(4) Get feedback.  This one's a must.  Not convinced?  Okay, who do you hope is going to read your book?  If it's just you, then you're right, you don't need anybody else.  Otherwise, you've got to have true, fresh eyes on it.  Meet people on Twitter, take a writing class, join a writers' group.  Pay an editor (for content, not just style, if they're you're only reader--though I wouldn't advise that, either).  I'm still working on this one, too.  And I don't think that ever stops.  But honesty to your face is priceless.  Find someone (better yet--multiple someones!) to read it and tell you what they really think.  In the garage, get your spouse to tell you that the shoes you love have been worn into nothing and it's time for them to go. 

(5) Keep a (small) graveyard.  Two things in the garage were too hard for me to get rid of.  I'll likely never use either one again.  But I kept them.  First item: my 3-inch-thick folder of college coursework from Syntax I.  It's a trophy.  That class was the bootcamp of my major, and I'm still proud to have made it through the grueling quarter that I took it.  Second item: the bag of cloth diapers.  *sigh* Both of our kids are out of diapers, and we're 99% sure we're done having kids.  Nobody I know wants them.  But they were expensive (they're the fancy, modern kind), and represent hours of hard work.  And I'm so proud that I diapered my kids in cloth, at least for some of their babyhoods.  So the folder and the diapers, completely against common sense, stay.  With my manuscript, when I have to delete lines or sections I love, I keep them in a separate file.  Then I can still check on them and be proud of them. 

And so, with all of that in mind, my first line will join the graveyard...

The Mars International Research Dome was both sanctuary and prison for almost everyone Tian had ever known. 

There.  Now I can still visit it. 

What kinds of things have been hard for you to get rid of in your manuscripts?

Monday, February 1, 2016

Word Choice: Why 'Red' and I Are No Longer on Speaking Terms

Ah, ‘red,’ you were my first-draft love.  We described Martian dirt together.  We reveled in Martian dust storms.  We even spoke of characters’ hair together.  And buildings.  And rocks.  And mountains.  And looking back, I began to get tired of you.  I realized that you were simply always there.  You became a stalker.  I began to dread seeing you again in my manuscript.  And finally, ‘red,’ I’ve had to ask you to leave altogether.  Don’t come back, or I just may file for a restraining order!

Sometimes there are words of our own that haunt us in a manuscript.  There’s the classic ‘look,’ ‘smile,’ ‘said,’ and others, but what about colors?  As I’m editing my novel (which is set on Mars, if you didn’t catch that from the above paragraph), I’m realizing that I need to add ‘red’ to my list of words to replace or cut—at least, for as long as I’m writing books set on Mars.  I used the word 29 times in the first draft!  So it’s time to get to work. 

Do you overuse a color in your WIP?  I’ve consolidated synonyms for the basic colors from three online thesauruses below.  Just be sure to look them up if they’re new to you; not all of them convey the color itself in the fullest meaning.  Enjoy!  (And ‘red,’ you’ve been replaced!  Well, in most instances, at least.)

bittersweet, bloodshot, blooming, bloomy, blush, brick, burgundy, burning, cardinal, carmine, cerise, cherry, chestnut, claret, cochineal, copper, coral, crimson, dahlia, damask, flame, flaming, florid, flush, flushed, fuchsia, full-blooded, garnet, geranium, glowing, healthy, inflamed, infrared, magenta, maroon, pink, puce, rose, roseate, rosy, rubicund, ruby, ruddy, rufescent, russet, rusty, salmon, sanguine, scarlet, titian, vermeil, vermilion, warm, wine

apricot, bittersweet, cantaloupe, carrot, coral, gilded, ochreous, peach, salmon, tangerine, titian

amber, aurulent, bisque, blond(e), buff, canary, champagne, chrome, citrine, citron, cream, fair, flavescent, flax(en), gold(en), ivory, lemon(y), saffron, sand, tawny, xanthous

acid, apple, aqua, aquamarine, beryl, bice, chartreuse, emerald, fir, forest, grass, jade, kelly, leafy, lime, lush, malachite, moss, pea, peacock, pine, sage, sap, sea, spinach, verdant, verdigris, vert, viridescent, viridian, willow

azure, beryl, cerulean, cobalt, cyan, indigo, lapis lazuli, navy, Oxford, periwinkle, royal, sapphire, saxe, sky, teal, turquoise, ultramarine

amaranthine, amethyst, heliotrope, lavender, lilac, magenta, mauve, mulberry, orchid, periwinkle, perse, plum, pomegranate, violaceous, violet, wine

amber, auburn, bay, beige, biscuit, bister, brick, brindle(d), bronze, brunette, buff, burnt sienna, café au lait, camel, caramel, chestnut, chocolate, cinnamon, cocoa, coffee, copper(y), drab, dun, dust, ecru, fawn, ginger, hazel, henna, khaki, mahogany, mousy, mushroom, nut, ochre, puce, russet, rust, sepia, snuff, sorrel, tan, tanned, tawny, terra-cotta, toast, umber

charcoal, clouded, coal, dark, dingy, ebony, gray/grey, inklike, inky, jet, murky, obsidian, onyx, pitch, raven, sable, shadowy, slate, sooty, starless

achromatic, alabaster, ashen, blanched, bleached, bloodless, chalky, clear, colorless, faded, faint, fair, frosted, ivory, light, lucent, milky, neutral, pale, pallid, pasty, pearly, snowy, transparent, wan, washed-out, waxen

(The best site for colors by far was  The other two sites only had a few of the colors each!)