Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Time, Time, Decision Time

The new year is fast approaching and I'm thinking about my game plan for 2011. I haven't gotten many bites for Kings & Queens, a few, but nothing substantial, but maybe there's a reason for that.

I'm thinking more and more about what I want for Kings & Queens and I'm not so sure landing representation for that novel is the right thing. Here's why:

In the industry, Kings & Queens would be considered Young Adult. Hands down. But, it's sequel, Sapphire Reign, which opens ten years later with some of the same characters, is clearly Adult, even though one of its five threads is a teen's perspective.

In YA, the whole book needs to be about and for teens. SR is not.

But I believe readers will want to catch up with old friends, even though their story picks up ten years later. The industry cares about shelving. Readers do not. They just want good books. And if your first book is good, they'll jump to the second, at least out of curiosity. And I really want a series. I do. I don't want just one book. I want 2 or 3.

Sapphire Reign is good. I mean, really good.

It's not perfect of course, what book is, but it's way too good to be shelved in my own library or tossed into File 13. I'm surprise I wrote the thing. It's dark, it's gritty, it's twisty, it's romantic, it's hot, it's tense, and it contains tenacious characters that many pre-readers have already fallen in love with and cheered for.

And Sapphire Reign is so different than anything I've ever read. I know there are books with braided story lines that crash together in the end, but mine has 2 adult perspectives, one teen and a child, all pertinent.

You'd think my book being different would be an asset, but with nothing to compare it to, nothing to point to and say my book is this-meets-that, it makes it difficult for the pros to see the marketability in that.

I was offered an opportunity to publish Kings & Queens with a smaller outfit, but I think I want to hold off for now.

So, my plan is to finish Dropping Like Flies and hopefully get repped for that. Once I have a book or two out or a little bit of popularity, I will either self-publish my other books as a series or go with an outfit that will allow me to keep them together.

I've been refining my covers and I'm excited about the way they look. In a publishing house, you have no say about cover design or content. I want to be in control. I want to publish both and for them to be together. And I might want to pen a third. Maybe. But I want the option, should a plot reveal itself.

I have a vision and I'm not so sure the industry would share it.

Does that make sense? Am I stupid?

~Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Friday, December 3, 2010

I Can't Believe It's December Already

...and a couple days into it??? Insane!

Man. Father Time is seriously ODing on speed. Just as soon as you get used to writing the year on checks, it changes again. Remember the whole Y2K scare? That was almost eleven years ago. Crazy.

Well, I did NOT write 50,000 words for Nano like I'd hoped. (What sicko picked November anyway? It's a super busy month as it is!) I was gunning for that goal but only managed to pen 38,523.

So, what stuffed me like a great red zone defense?

Well, I started a new part-time graphic design job (4 days a week) at the beginning of Nov. and also had to cough up six, yes six, CD covers and faces for my saxophone playing friend, Joe Wilson, who was gearing up for his gig at the mall on Black Friday and the following 2 days. (And I did some Christmas concert posters for him too.) Fun stuff but total time munchers.

And then there was Thanksgiving and all the food, thanks giving and football...and more football...that goes along with it. You didn't really think I'd skip all that did you?

My local CBS channel did NOT air the Iron Bowl. Apparently, it has a digital channel too, available to Comcast users ONLY, (I have DirecTV) and they aired it on that. Um, how 'bout airing it on the main channel, which everyone has, and bumping those cheesy infomercials you ran to the digital channel? I mean, am I out of line here? It was Thanksgiving Weekend! Total Blood Wars!

So, needless to say, I had to watch the Iron Bowl online. Lovely.

I did write the station manager that morning to complain and was surprised to get two responses. First, he wrote to tell me about the digital channel airing it. And then when I responded that I have DirecTV, Dear John, rattled on about his continued decision (A PRETTY DUMB ONE) to not air Friday-after-Thanksgiving football. And it seems he's going to be sticking with that plan. But, he also hopes their digital channel becomes available to all cable subscribers.

Um, again, I have DirecTV, not cable. So what good does that do me??? Are they going to stop airing NFL games too when they feel like it? They said it was based on public demand, but they really expect me to believe more people were interested in watching a Bare Essentials infomercial than a rivalry game on Rivalry Weekend? Yeah. Try again.

So, anyway, I'm about 2/3rds done with Dropping Like Flies, which is good. I'm still going to be plugging away at it.

I'm also going to cease querying until after Father Time does his confetti-tossing-calendar-flippy thing. Now is a busy time for everyone, including agents.

Can I finish my YA novel by the end of the year? Who knows. I will certainly try, but life could throw more curve balls and cranberry sauce my way.

Oh. Has anyone tried Edy's pumpkin ice cream? I got the S'Mores, but I'm wondering if I should've gone with pumpkin. If the pumpkin had had graham cracker crunchies and cinnamon-caramel swirl, it would've won, hands down. But plain pumpkin??? I dunno. I like stuff in my ice cream. If a given ice cream I love doesn't have stuff in it, like coffee, black raspberry or watermelon, I add it. (e.g. dark chocolate flakes, marshmallow sauce, etc.) I'm gonna go search now and see if Ben & Jerry's has a pumpkin one with stuff? They're the kings of stuff.

Oh. Last year, Ben & Jerry's had pumpkin cheesecake with graham cracker swirl as a limited edition flavor. Sounds yummy! Maybe they'll dare to go pumpkin again.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Friday, October 29, 2010

November News

Heads up! I'm doing Nano this year.

That's it. The end.

No sir. Just kidding, crickets.

Anyway, I've been struggling to stay motivated in my penning of Dropping Like Flies. I believe NaNoWriMo, with its call to writers far and wide to ink out 50,000 words in one month, will lead me to the finish line...or almost. Yeah, I know, I know, you're supposed to start with a NEW book, but I've only written 4 and a 1/2 chapters AND I'll only include NEW content in the word count dump on the site. What do you think I am, a cheater? Like A-Rod with his Whaaat??? slap? Okay. Maybe I'm a little bit of a cheater, but I really need to finish this novel, and isn't the main point of Nano the word count anyway, or accomplishing that goal? For me it is. Once I get my badge, I can then get some feedback on my work.

I think the main thing that slows me down is that I stop to edit everything as I go, and I toil over the chapters I've written again and again. And with Nano, you just write, plow through, get it done. With Nano, you're allowed to write junk. You're allowed to be stupid and ugly with words. You're allowed to let loose.

I'm still seeking representation for Kings & Queens, and I've revamped my query letter, again, since my newest one wasn't getting many bites. Hopefully the new one hooks, but I have a feeling it's the concept and not the plot description. I've spun this thing in multiple ways, heavier on character, heavier on plot, hints of the conspiracy, total exclusion of it, ending hinted at, ending revealed, plot scaled down to bare bones, and it still gets the same results.

That's the main reason I want to finish Dropping Like Flies. Then I can get it critiqued and start editing it. It's just a bit higher-concept than K&Q and I think I'd have an easier in with that one.

Are you doing it this year? If so, add my as a buddy. I'm majesticmadness over there.

I may pop in to update you on my progress and groan about my football team, but if not, catch you on the flip side when the dust and leaves settle.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Will I Spring Forward in Fall?

Hmm. Well, there's not much going on in the agent hunt, so I can only hope for some good news this autumn. One agent does have a partial of Kings & Queens, so I could be much closer to getting a thumb's up. Who knows. But, I think maybe my query is just not getting it done. Or it could be my concept, I dunno.

I've submitted so many different versions to little response, my head is spinning now, and I can't even tell good from bad now.

It's hard to know what to include and what not to. My book has weirdness and conspiracy, but trying to succinctly mention those aspects is difficult and stirs up a whirlwind of questions. It makes me sound like a crackhead and that the book is a result of me being a crackhead. Yet when I boil it down to the central conflict, as query-writing-lovers love to suggest, a teen jumping into a massacre plot doesn't sound so special.

My novel centers around this massacre, but the tone and other aspects keep the story from being too heavy and depressing. It has bits of humor and tenderness and shock, and it also features baseball, romance, conspiracy, high school tension, family drama and a dash of sci-fi.

Do you think massacres are far too ugly for YA? I'd think not. I mean, the Hunger Games is popular, which I'm about to order, and that's about teens who kill. And Jodi Picoult's Nineteen Minutes centers around a teen shooting, and although it's shelved in adult, it crosses over into the teen market. But my YA novel, Kings & Queens, is not so much a topical one like Picoult's or a futuristic drama like HG. Mine's a whodunit with flair and depth. Beyond holding a core mystery, it delves into the psyches of those who've been manipulated and victimized and set-up.

But, man oh man, why didn't I think to include faerie wings or some sort of shape-shifting? How can I make a massacre sound more appealing? I do have some brainwashing going on and evil people can see through one teen's eye, so you'd think that'd be oo-factor enough. Nope. Not quite.

Maybe I should've made those evil people warlocks. Oh wait. Some of them ARE warlocks technically, but I forgot about that since it's not the commonality bringing the bloodthirsty blokes together. But I do have warlocks. And supersoaker wars with goat's blood. And some steamy kisses. And a ragdoll with a key that unlocks a box of new mysteries.

Um, did I mention my story was complex?

Maybe this sounds like a hot mess on the glowing paper you're now reading, like it's all too much content for one story, but it's not. Everything is intricately woven and fits together like a choreographed number with different types of performances.

Everything in this fictional world is affected when these characters are pushed to their limits, when they're forced to confront the malevolence not only in their world but also within themselves. And I like to show that struggle and revelation. I believe readers get more out of the story that way, when you give them both an intricate plot and deep, well-rounded characters.

I got two compliments recently that showed me the impact of my writing.

The first said, that even though it had been a while since she'd read Kings & Queens, the story has stayed with her all this time, and she thinks of my characters fondly. And the other reader said she didn't think it would be her kind of book, but it quickly sucked her in and she 's been having such a hard time putting it down. She absolutely loves it.

When you can provide an unforgettable journey with a pen and impact a few readers, it makes all the rejection worthwhile.

But, publication is the one industry where your dedication and skill do not really matter. It's more about hitting the right chord at the right time with the kind of story you wrote. It's about the perceived marketability of that book. Even if an agent and editor love it to pieces, the table full of suitcoats can still squash your dream.

I may have to enter the market with a different book first, one that's more strategic. Dropping Like Flies has a more gripping premise. And if I have to set K&Q aside for a time or come up with a new plan, like going with a smaller publisher myself, I'm cool with that. But Kings & Queens is too great a novel and too cool a reader experience to scrap. It would be a sad, sad thing to ever stick that in a drawer. So I won't.

~Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Damned if You Do, Damned if You Don't

I'm a Christian and not an I-do-my-best-on-Sunday type but rather, one who's striving to grow. I'm also a writer who primarily pens secular YA. In YA these days, anything goes, as long as it's in moderation. Maintaining a junkfood mentality is best. You can show grit, violence, sensuality, sex, racism, drug abuse, alcoholism, profanity, cutting, pregnancy, even incest or other taboo moderation. And I like that this door has been opened. It allows writers to show reality as well as fantasy.
Teen readers don't WANT to be shocked, they want works that get them, that don't preach, that take them somewhere they've never been or let them experience something they'd never dare or get or want to in reality. YA readers are the most passionate readers out there. They know when you're being fake, when you're cutting corners. They want characters they can identify with, books that aren't afraid to tackle or talk about the issues they or their friends are dealing with. Because, frankly, not everyone has a rosy life, and no one lives in a bubblegum world.

And when I'm writing any given book, especially for this age group, I'm never thinking, how can I maintain my moral center in these most awesome words? I just write. I let loose and let my characters be however they are. If I'm thinking at all about what I'm penning, it's ALWAYS, what would a character truly think, feel, do, say? What's true voice here? What's real? And when you write in that rawness, someone, somewhere will be offended.
Am I trying to be offensive? No. And I going for shock value? No. Am I being lazy? Um, do you know me at all? Have you not heard my almost daily rants and raves about excellence? High-throned, Christian writers who are opposed to profanity in works like to use the "lazy" tag. "You told when you could have shown...You could have been more creative, like the air around him turned blue." Ugg. Well, sometimes swears are woven into what someone is saying. Sometimes they're not isolated or anger-driven or derogatory, like, "What a bitchin' day." Sometimes there are no suitable euphemisms. You try and come up with one for "wiseass" from a teen's mouth! There isn't one. Wiseguy? I think not. I can't use smart aleck either. The character it's said to IS Alec.

You call your brother a jerk if he plays a joke on you. But what do you call or say to the guy who shoots your best friend in front of your face? What would you really say and do? Would you really be thinking What Would Jesus Do in that moment? Come on, be honest.

If you want readers to feel as your POV character does, if you want to show the scene for all its worth, you show what's real and organic.
If you're writing about gangs or prisoners or skinheads, or teens even, "showing" bad language all the time is not only tiresome for the writer but the reader as well. You have no credibility when you do that. You, as a writer, are too present in the work. Readers are constantly aware that YOU are censoring and playing morality cop, that you're bending over backwards to avoid using bad language. If you put in substitutions that you KNOW shouldn't be there, you're a cringe-inducing wuss, let's be real. If you have to overthink what you're writing, it's not organic and true.

Readers can read the whole work, even think it was all right, but they'll never identify, they'll never truly "feel" it. I'm not saying you HAVE to use profanity or violence or sensuality or go against your comfort level. I'm saying you should be daring enough to be real and true to the characters and story, however that is.
The Bible is full of sensuality, violence, bad language and grit so that it can make its point, so that the good and bad in humanity can be shown. So, why can't I do that? Why can't I express the fallen world we live in? I'm not afraid to tackle issues that other Christian writers shy away from.
For instance, I'm writing a Christian novel now with a husband and wife on different pages sexually and it contains frank sexual dialogue. Why? Because it's a REAL issue. Because marriages are breaking up over it. Because spouses are being tempted to cheat or are filling voids in wrong ways. I'm trying to show life how it is, not make people blush. I'm trying to present this very real struggle and demolisher and provide a springboard for communication and show the danger in NOT communicating. So what if it's not sterile or morally approved! So what if it's not your cup of tea! If this sort of conflict is not an issue for you and sends you running off for Q-tips to clean out your tainted ears, fine, the book's not for you then, but that doesn't mean others aren't dealing with it. This book may even be too edgy for Sheaf House, so I may have to self-pub it, and I'm okay with that. A book like this has to be honest and frank, otherwise it makes no impact.

If you write, if you dare to pick up that pen, you'd better be prepared to deliver whatever the story demands.
I know I am going to be judged by many Christians and that when I do publish they'll say hurtful things. I know many of my friends will NOT like my work. But I cannot dilute or censor a story just because a few people will get ruffled feathers. There are times when I show grace and redemption, characters making bad choices, grappling with guilt, leaving darkness. If I don't dare to be real and credible in all things, then those more important spiritual matters will never be taken seriously. None of my writing will be.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Afflictions That Bug Me

Most writers develop crazy and/or unexpected afflictions, bugs and glitches. Insomnia. Coffee Addiction. Procrastination. High blood pressure. Self Doubt. Neck and back kinks. Here are some maladies I’ve developed since deciding to start a writing career.

Typing Dyslexia. My ideas formulate much faster than I can type. I know, I know. You’ve never heard of TD cuz right now it’s not recognized by medical and educational pros, but I'm working on that. I do have it for real. While I know how to spell, more often than not, I type letters all out of sequence, like earlier, broken was robken, and even worse, callings was cassling. See? Way off. Not even close. I never used to have this problem when I worked in advertising, typing up newsletters, brochures or whatever. Since I‘ve been writing larger works, I’ve acquired not just fumbly fingers but a muddy brain. TD keeps me moving at a moderate pace and I can't fly according to my super sonic preference.

Skepticism. In needing to research things so much for long fiction and examine human behavior, I now view the world, its inhabitants and events in broader and deeper terms and have become skeptical of politicians, the media and propagated information. On the flip side, as a reader I have no problem suspending disbelief for fiction when it's well-written.

Hunger. No. Not for Doritos or chocolate, though in all honesty, that could apply too. My bigger hunger is for inspiration. I’m a gathering junkie. I cannot be somewhere, church, the mall, Six Flags or Walmart without thinking about how things I observe could apply to my writing. Everywhere I go, I see people who would make good characters or I hear bits of dialogue that fascinate me. I went to the beach last week with my family, and as I was sitting on the blanket with my daughter, I was people watching and wishing I’d brought a pen. I can't even relax for one afternoon. I read news articles with the specific purpose of finding tidbits. I’m never sure how and where I will use such pieces, but I like to jot them down in my Xany Files for future use.

Eloquence. I’m a total Word Nerd. I love words. I love building my vocabulary and learning new jewels. But glitzier words are not always appropriate to use when you‘re writing. So I’m always battling to make my work fresh and zingy yet simplified at the same time. For one of my POV characters, I wanted to create a more ominous tone and he’s super intelligent, so I allowed myself to use meatier words in the narrative, but usually I have to keep them hidden in my pocket with the lint balls and gum wrappers.

Tossing-Turning Syndrome. When I'm really inspired or under pressure, I have what I call working dreams. I think that's a lucid dream, where I'm sleeping and know I'm sleeping and dreaming. Anyway, somehow I decide to work while I'm sleeping. In my delusional brain, I actually feel excited that I'm making good use of my time and being productive while sleeping. I end of flopping around like a dying fish all night. I think I'm so brilliant until I wake up in the morning exhausted, feeling as though I never slept.

I’m sure I have many other ailments, but those are my big ones. If you’re a writer, have you come down with sneezes and sniffles? If so, what?

Curiosity. That’s another one of my bugs, but I’ve had that since childhood, so it doesn’t actually count.

Write on. Rock on. Be blessed and inspired.

~Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What Kind of Writer Are You?

I'm all visual. My scenes are primarily action and dialogue. If there isn't much to be done, said or experienced, it isn't much of a scene to me. And I usually let my scenes, especially really intense ones, play in my head for a while before I write them down, and this gives my writing a more cinematic feel.

I don't like build-up scenes or ones that show characters getting somewhere, unless that ride is interesting. I don't like reflection scenes, where characters stop to mull over what's happened. I prefer to move fast, and not give readers much time to breathe and or relax.

I prefer to write scenes that are truly scenes, with characters doing something or talking with someone. Description and introspection are written with a delicate hand. I give the basics for orientation and that's it. You won't hear me going on and on about some meadow, unless something dangerous is lurking therein. You won't see my characters moaning and complaining for five chapters, doing nothing, being passive. I don't like wallflowers, saps, blobs. So I don't write about them. You won't see my story standing still.

I love to skip all the pleasantries and get into the heart of things, drop readers right into the middle of scenes, and I fully trust that they'll get it. I usually have to go back and add a little introspection and surrounding narrative in order to provide a better flow.

In YA, word economy is so important, so I don't like to waste words on unimportant details. When you only have about 80,000 words to tell your story, and that's the top end where everyone starts to get squeamish about book length, I just can't bear to keeps pages of fluff when the complexity of my plot is far more important.

So, what kind of writer are you?

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Guest Post: How My Publishing Deal Found Me…

Please welcome my guest blogger, K.L. Brady, author of The Bum Magnet. I asked her to share her story, since she has such a cool one.

K. L. Brady is a D.C. native but spent a number of her formative years in the Ohio Valley. She’s an alumnus of the University of the District of Columbia and University of Maryland University College, earning a B.A. in Economics and M.B.A., respectively. She works as an analyst for a major government contracting firm and is an active real estate agent with Exit Realty by day—and writes by night (often into the wee hours of the morning). She lives just outside of D.C. in Cheltenham, Maryland, with her son, William, and two pet Betta fish, Spongebob and Jerry, and lives to eat chocolate, shop, read, and write.

How My Publishing Deal Found Me…

Some say luck is when preparation meets opportunity. I probably wouldn’t consider myself “lucky” any other way.

A few short months ago I was offered a two-book deal with Simon and Schuster on the first novel I ever wrote. Authors go years and years waiting for the fortuitous “break” to happen—sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t. So, I’m often asked what was the secret ingredient? Karla, how you did get an editor to notice your novel? The easy answer is, “I dunno!”
The complex answer is I prepared like hell for opportunity, and when it came, I was ready.

For those who may not be aware, I self-published my debut novel, The Bum Magnet officially in October 2009, after fruitlessly trying to find literary representation. By February 2010, an executive editor at a publishing house had expressed interest in my book. A month later, I had an agent, and within another month I had a deal.

So, how did I prepare?

1. I wrote a pretty good book. It’s commercial which, in short, means the editors think it has the potential to sell a lot of copies. In all the letters I received back from editors, rejections or expressing interest, nearly every single one said they are looking for good commercial fiction and asked my agent to send it the moment he got his hands on it.

2. I also workshopped it and had it proofread and edited pretty well. Not perfectly mind you, but pretty well. I quite frankly could not afford to get the line edit from a former editor at a publishing house like I really wanted to do. So, I opted for the cheaper manuscript review in which she read the entire manuscript and gave me tips on plot, structure, pacing, etc. The suggestions she made were VERY minor, she was surprised that it required so little—but this was after it had been workshopped on

3. I designed the book so that it looked professional, that includes ensuring that it had a catchy book cover. Feedback has been about 70-30 in favor of the design. Can’t please everyone…but you can try to please as many as you can.

4. I designed and implemented a comprehensive marketing strategy.
The ebook versions on Kindle and Smashwords were as much a part of my marketing strategy as they were a part of my sales strategy. I sold them for 99 cents and got them into A LOT of hands. My Amazon rankings shot up high and remained there for a long time. My priority was getting my work out there, not profit.

I promoted my book like CRAZY. Every single day, I did at least 3 to 5 marketing activities. Posted it anywhere they would allow you to post a book. Promoted everywhere I could, including on the Amazon Discussion Boards which is where I think I had the most success. I also marketed heavily to book clubs.

5. Got it reviewed. I sent it out to book blogs, book clubs, and review sites and requested reviews. Among the most helpful were the book clubs and the Midwest Book Review, at least I believe that’s where I got some attention.

Along came Luck…

Fast forward to sometime in early February 2010. To this day, I don't know how she found me, but the editor from Kensington sent me an email and said that she was interested in talking about my book. Needless to say, I was over the moon. We spoke the next day for about 45 minutes or so.

The details are foggy now. I just thought it was surreal to be talking to her. She has a number of African-American NY Times Bestsellers on her list (Carl Weber, Mary B. Morrison, Mary Monroe). I knew exactly who she was and I knew the publisher well. As a matter of fact, I had sent a partial in mid 2009 but never heard from her. (For those of you not aware, you can query Kensington editors directly. You don't need an agent.)

So, she asked me about how I got into writing, how I went about publishing my book, what kind of marketing plan I’d put together, etc. In one of the funnier moments in the conversation, she asked me if I'd queried any agents or editors. I said, "Well, as a matter of fact I sent my partial to you."

She got quiet and I heard her fish around her desk. She had my query sitting in an envelope right in her overhead. Ha! How's that for coincidence? Of course, she was mortified. I told her not to feel bad. I truly believe that things happen for a reason. There was a reason that she didn't read it back then. So, she suggested she'd be making me an offer. She asked me for a copy of my manuscript and to see my two works in progress. So, I sent them to her.

I was advised to get an agent and sent a note to the editor asking if she minded. She said no. As a matter of fact, she referred an agent to me.
At that point, I knew she was serious.

I queried a few agents, including the one she recommended for me. I went on Publisher's lunch and found agents who worked with author in similar genres. I wanted someone with experience in selling African American (AA) fiction. Within a few days I had a few that were very interested. I ended up picking the agent who represented two female best-selling AA authors who write in different genres than mine. He had great credentials (a former editor for big houses) and he knew how to sell AA fiction. I couldn't go wrong.

He asked me to make a few edits to the manuscript. Admittedly, I was reticent only because my book was already out there. But it came down to the fact that, even though I'd sold a couple thousand copies (ebook and paperback), I hadn't sold enough to the point where changes to the manuscript would impact millions of readers.

So, I got over myself and my few measly sales and I made the changes he suggested. He sent it out wide—meaning submitted to all the major editors at the major publishing houses that he thought would be interested. He submitted it just as he would an unpublished manuscript but in the accompanying letter, we let them know that it had been self published, received great reviews, was building word of mouth, yadda yadda yadda.

So, two weeks go by and the rejections start rolling in. After about 4 or 5 I asked if I should get depressed and he said we had a long way to go. Finally, an editor from S&S said she liked it and was passing it around. The original editor who expressed interest from Kensington was still interested and waiting on her boss to return from vacation. Then another editor from Grand Central (Hachette) expressed interest. After all the offers and counteroffers, we finally accepted the one with Pocket.

That's pretty much the story.

To answer some of the questions I received, no one ever asked about my sales numbers until after the offers were made. I did not query anyone after I published the book. I queried before I published but not after. So, I can't really say whether trying to query an agent or publisher after you've self-published will work for you. I didn't have to query.

How do I think she found me? Well, my book had been reviewed on several sites where her authors book were also reviewed. Mine was one of the few self-published books to get a 5-star rating, "favorite," or "top read" status. My book also stayed in the Top 100 African American fiction list on Amazon. I went through the list at the time, and I was the only book on the list that didn't have a publisher. I'd also been reaching out to book clubs and stuff like that. So, there are a lot of ways she could've found out.

I was also asked why if an author, such as myself, was doing well in distributing my book and getting good reviews, why would I relinquish control and sell my rights to a publisher?

Without a whole lot of work, there is no way I could reach the audience that S&S or another major publisher could reach. It was not about the advance for me. It was about the opportunity this deal offered to build my author brand and I plan to take advantage of every perk the brand and affiliation with a house comes with to market and sell more books. As a new/first-time novelist, I also wanted the chance to work with an editor so that I can improve my craft.

So, the long and short of this story is, I didn’t really find this deal, it found me. Your deal is waiting to find you too, and it all starts with writing a good book. When opportunity knocks, just make sure you’re ready!

Thanks, K.L, for sharing your story and what worked for you. Check out the synopsis and trailer for The Bum Magnet.


Real estate agent Charisse Tyson seems to have it all-a great job, a dream car, and a McMansion in high-and-mightyville. Everything in her life is just right...except the Mister. While lamenting the break-up with her most recent "the one" during a holiday meltdown, Charisse realizes she has a type when it comes to men—players, players, and more players. A magazine article motivates her to swear off men and examine the complex roots of her romantic fiascos.

Just five simple steps to turn her life to the stuff of legends, right? Life is never that easy... Charisse commences her do-it-yourself therapy project and barely cracks open her emotional toolbox when she encounters the monkey wrenches: an irresistible new beau, two persistent ex-flames, and an FBI agent with life-altering secrets threatening to turn her world upside-down. A tug of war ensues and Charisse is dead center, trying her best to distinguish the Don Juans from the Romeos. As her love life is propelled into unpredictable twists not even she could imagine, will a twenty-seven-year-old secret keep Charisse from finding the right “one”? Laugh loud and often as Charisse discovers whether her choices in men reflect more than a penchant for good looks, great sex, and bad judgment.


Thanks so much, K.L. Very informative post. I especially enjoyed the marketing aspect, which included things I hadn't thought of.

Swing by K.L. Brady's blog and website if you'd like to connect or learn more about her upcoming novels.

~ CV

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Writing, Passion and All That Jazz

I've been pondering my love of music. I enjoy all different kinds. I listen to more styles than anyone I've ever heard of. And there's something kinda cool about Indie bands, untapped musicians who are trying to make it, playing their hearts out, writing because they're passionate about the art they create. Some indie musicians, like writers, are truly awful, but in the vast sea of sludge there are some true gems to be found. And when you discover one, your day feels a little bit brighter.

Kris Allen's unlabeled CD Brand New Shoes for instance, features songs that are quite lowkey and James Taylorish but definitely awesome in their own right. And I'm not trying to knock him, but his new album with 19, entitled Kris Allen, lacks something.

I'll attach the singles Beautiful Moon and Live Like We're Dying so you can see what I mean.

Beautiful Moon

Live Like We're Dying

Beautiful Moon is gorgeous, right? Live is a good song too, but it's a little too commercial, a little too polished. You know what I mean? See how bluesy and free and sung-from-the-heart Beautiful Moon is? And sure he sings Live full gusto, but Kris's unique style gets lost in all the gloss.

And take jazz on another note. Yeah, you can listen to those greats like Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Miles Davis and his glorious sextet with the amazing John Coltrane, all remastered on CD, stripped of all grit with the tracks separated and then remixed the way Scotty at the controls thinks they should be, but you end up with much less than what you had before.

You see, there's something amazing and enjoyable about kicking back and listening to old music on LPs a.k.a. records. (Those vinyl discs with the holes in the middle for all you sprouts who've never seen them outside of Flickr.) Vinyl showcases more. The crackles. Vocal glitches. That one part where the sax rules the room. I love those imperfections, as though the musicians are just jammin' in a room somewhere. And you can picture your grandma or great grandma swinging on her porch and sipping lemonade as she daydreams of dancing with her true love who's off at war.

The glossed-over, perfectly mixed, auto-tuned music of today is slapped together for mass consumption, but it's vastly empty. It lacks substance and, more often than not, fails to move people.

1960's tunes, on the other hand, encapsulate history. Pick up nearly any album and you'll get a stance on war, drug culture, loss of innocence, civil rights or free love. Where is that today? Sure, you get the occasional Linkin Park song or whatever, but where is the urgency, the fury, the fire, the passion, the drive to sing about the things that matter, the things that affect our world and threaten out freedom?

And sometimes when you write, what comes out of you first, all raw and passionate, IS what's best. You CAN over-edit, where your work ends up so very pretty on the outside but a shell of what it once was. Taking the advice of too many critters can strip your work of its original rawness, of its best stuff. Use your judgment. Only you can tell your story and know the best way to tell it.

I think I've done this with Kings & Queens to a degree. Don't get me wrong, the novel did need major help, I was way too wordy and used too many be-verbs, but I inadvertently removed some of my best stuff. I let others alter my voice and scrub my work too much. My stupid drive for excellence! It's too late really to go back now, and I am liking the way it is, but it gives me something to keep in mind as I go forward.

For future novels, I'm going to handle the red pen a little more delicately and not be quite so vicious. I don't want a work to lose ALL its rawness and the passion with which I wrote it. Because just like camps of CD listeners versus LP, someone will notice the difference.

Write on, rock on and listen to your soul.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Unleashing Your Awesomeness

Sometimes our work is just not cutting it. Everyone knows it, even your mom, even Santa Claus. You need to be honest with yourself in order to bring your work up to snuff. You may have an unsnuffable work that you need to scrap, as I did with my first novel, and that's okay. Move on. Pick up the pen. Try again.
Really, really, really read books on craft to give yourself good blueprints and so you can write well and recognize quality from trash.

And even if your work IS cutting it, there are some jewels you should always include to make sure it goes from workable to downright awesome.

1. Good flow

Create good flow, pace and rhythm not just in the plot but in your narrative, the way things unfold, the way sentences and paragraphs connect.

This means varying your sentence length, starting with a gerund every now and then, mixing things up, avoiding crutch words or awkward turns of phrase, not having every sentence start with He/She/Sue. You don't want to have a choppy read nor do you want to one that forces readers to struggle through shattered and plentiful ten-line sentences.

Avoid dumps of description and backstory. Even if you're writing omniscience and can do it seamlessly and the point-of-view character is super observant and truly notices everything you point out, don't go overboard. Consider those details to be ribbons, sequins, accessories. They should dress up your work, not make up the bulk of it. If readers are tugged into a quagmire of verbage, no matter how great it sounds to you, you risk losing them somewhere in Ch. 6.

In my novel, Kings & Queens, I made the mistake of including a few paragraphs of backstory on my character Derek when I opened his POV, but that clashed with my close perspective. I slashed all that and took it down to a line or two, as it applies to his thoughts in the scene.

Sometimes we get caught up in wanting to include everything, and too much info can be overwhelming and annoying. Think of your prose as music. Only important details are needed in that score.

When you think you're all polished and ready to shop, email yourself the first couple of chapters and random sections. It sounds weird I know, but reading scenes out of your text document will help you notice issues with pace and rhythm especially. I noticed some choppiness and sludgy spots in my chapter 1 this way, which is the first thing agents see. Now I'm good to go.

2. Unforgettable Characters

It sounds obvious. Every wants unforgettable characters, but as a reader, how many times have you read a great book, then a month or too later, can't recall names? Then you have to skip over to Amazon to check 'cause the not knowing is bugging the snot out of you.

I have photographic memory, and this happens to me. A lot. Even if I loved a story and the characters in it.

Don't' let readers experience amnesia. Let your characters jump off the page and demand to be noticed and not quickly forgotten. Develop your characters so that they're nearly palpable, then tether aspects of plot to their identity and desires. Give an extraordinary quality or interest that's rarely seen and this will create the memory stickiness you hope to achieve.

3. Fresh Voice

Your voice is in everything you write from tweets to novels. Be inspired, but don't emulate the style and voice of others. Let your own uniqueness emerge. Voice is an expression of the weird way your mind works, your personality in written word, your take on things, your way of speaking. Even this post has voice.

It should flow out naturally. Even if you write with different tones or various quirky First Person narrators, a bit of you should still shine through. If you're feeling unsure or self-conscious, it will be noticeable. The only way you can gain confidence and to find YOUR voice is to practice.

People have called my writing quirky and different. I love giving readers golden nuggets of my weirdness. It puts a branding on my own works.

4. Balance in The Force

Your work can be packed with darkness, conflict and obstacles aplenty, but it should have some kind of forward momentum. In darker works, add some ribbons of dark or dry humor, irony, hyperbole, romance, tone shifts, brief moments of peace, lightness and success. This will bring more scope and needed contrast into your work.

Also, if your work is lighthearted, you should have present or brewing trouble, a paperboy who wants his two dollars, office cat fights (they happen!), insomnia, a stalker, a death in the family, skeletons in the closet, the annoyance of every Starbucks within twenty miles being out of whipped cream so there's no way to gloriously top off that Java Chip Frapp.

Always think about balance and contrast. My novel, Kings & Queens, deals with violence and psychological terror, but it still has bits of humor and scenes that tug at the heart.

So, I've given you some direction towards making your work shine. Go write and make your work AWESOME.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

TWILIGHT: From A Writing Standpoint

So, I’ve been putting off reading Twilight because I know it’s in First Person, and not the best demonstration of one. But I decided to throw caution to the wind and snatch it up to see what all the Edward Flair and tomato throwing’s about.

Well, it wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be, but it was far from excellent. My rating reflects a combo of reader fulfillment and applicability to novel writing.


It’s one of those books that has a nice concept but its potential far outweighs execution.

I consider every book I read to be a learning experience, whether for good or bad, and there are things that can be learned, even in a book like Twilight, which divides readers into passionate, bloodthirsty camps:

Loved It! Most Awesome Book Ever!!!!
Hated It! And Stephenie Meyer Should Be Shot And Left In A Ditch For Putting Such Crap On The Market!

Team Edward!
Team Jacob!

Great Love!
Unbelievable Love!

Edward IS AMAZING & BEAUTIFUL, Takes Such Good Care of Bella!
Edward Is A Freakin’ Stalker And A Control Freak, One Step Away From An Abusive Nutjob!

Millionth-time Reader! Aaaand Counting!!!
Never Ever Read It. Don’t Plan To. And I Hope Every Copy Burns So Those Poor Strangled Words Can Be Free.

Well, no matter which camp you’re in, here are the good and bad points about Twilight, as it applies to novel writing in general. (And I’ll be referring to Stephenie Meyer as SM for brevity’s sake.)


Unique adaptations. Well, SM gets laughed at about the sparkly skin of her vampires but so what. SM created her own version of vampire that worked for her story and rocked it. And her brand of vampire inspired writing possibilities, kickstarted a subgenre and pulled droves of readers, who never would've considered reading YA, to the genre. Her vampires can sparkle in sunlight rather than burn if she wants them to. They can be strong, insanely fast and beautiful, “vegetarian”, play baseball in thunderstorms. It’s her story, her characters. Who’s to say you have work within the confinements of myth. Creatures of lore are fictional, so I applaud her for stepping outside the box and being creative. I think that’s what makes Twilight feel fresh, because she took a concept and turned it upside down. Tolkin had his own elves. Stephenie can have her own vampires. Next.

Excellent use of sexual tension. Sexual tension is one of the most powerful hooks. Like in Star War—aside from the few who crushed on Luke—everyone could see the real sparks were between Han Solo and Princess Leia. Sexual tension carries more hooking power than action or constant bliss because it’s conflict, and conflict always wins. Of course, almost everyone loves to get into the thick of it, to reach that long-awaited kiss, but the teasing, the getting there is so much fun. In the end, that’s when tension can finally be put to rest and buried for all eternity.

In Twilight, Edward and Bella love each other but can’t get toooo close because Edward’s sexual desire is so closely aligned with his thirst for blood, and Bella’s blood is far too enticing. The sexual tension was so expertly drawn in fact, that if you use sexual tension, and your work is Urban Fantasy, or maybe even generic YA, it will be compared, there’s no way around it, because Twilight set the bar.

Evident story question. The story question of “will Bella end up with her star-crossed, oh-so dangerous, fang-bearing soulmate” carries strong and flows throughout the series. It is this question that keeps readers reading and pushes them on quickly to the remaining books. It makes the books seem as though a spell has been cast on them. There is no spell, just an evident story question readers care to see resolved. And in that way, I suppose, readers are charmed.

Every writer should strive to include a story question, that subconscious thing that plagues readers and urges them onward, even if you plunk in history, even if you take detours, even if you have countless subplots. If you have that question out there to grab and hang onto, readers will follow you wherever. I tried reading The Last Juror by John Grisham. I normally love his books, but this one has no story question or track at all really. It lost me about ten chapters in and I have no urge to revisit it. Every book should have a point, a mainline. If yours doesn’t, give it one.

Solid conflicts, both internal and external. Conflicts abound in Twilight, both internal and external. Bella has issues with self-esteem, and wonders why Edward can’t stand her when they’ve never met. Then they both struggle with their building emotions. There’s an underlining enmity between werewolves and vampires, that is really just hinted at in Twilight and comes into play in greater detail later. Rife also exists between vampire sects and that explodes as the story wraps up. She did great here. The more types of conflicts you can layer in, the stronger your story will be.

Fascinating secondary characters. Twilight has interesting secondary characters. And this almost makes me wish the story wasn’t in First person, because the perspective through Bella’s eyes is just too limited. I wish to know more about the others and don’t get that satisfaction. Jacob doesn’t have a major role in Twilight, but he’s interesting and there’s something there between him and Bella. Even this early on, you can see the potential for future conflict, which works as another hook. The groundwork has been laid. And Edward’s family is full of interesting characters, each with their own history and talents, that come to the forefront at different points in the story. Interesting secondary characters will make your work much more interesting.


Underdeveloped main characters. The main characters have little essence. Bella only seems to exist to be with Edward. She’s been nothing until she sees him. Characters need to feel more real and more well-rounded. So he’s beautiful, so she smells good. What else? Why are they drawn to one another? Why do they connect? My only view of Edward is through Bella, and she focuses so much on his outward appearance that I don’t think she sees his good qualities or bad. And she is so paper-thin, I find it implausible that in his 117 years on the planet he’s never found anyone more fascinating than this drippy, boring doormat with suicidal tendencies. It’s the author’s job to expose what’s beneath the surface so I and everyone else can totally “get” it.

I get that SM wanted young readers to feel like Bella could be any one of them, that there was nothing really special about her, that their love was “just because”, but all that hits me as lazy.

Super thin story for one so wordy. In 118,000 words, there’s not much meat here. The central characters don’t start hanging out until the middle of the book, so the beginning is sloooow build-up and fluff. Then they fall in love rapidly, no, they don’t even fall in love, they just are in love--automatically, just because. But they can’t “Be” together because he’s a vegetarian vampire--denying himself human blood--who might give into his primal urges in the heat of passion, and well, eat her, because she smells so stinkin’ luscious.

And she cannot live without EdwardWell, why not?BecauseBut I wanna know why?Just because she can’t, okay? He’s sooo beautiful, remember? He sparkles evenOh, yeah. How could I have forgotten with SM telling me that ad nauseamHe’s her life. She’s nothing without himTrue, very true.

Then, after pages of nothing much happening except for some close-call snuggle sessions and baseball during a thunderstorm, dum-dum-dum, evil carnivorous vampires rush in wanting to kill her and drink her blood because it smells better than anything they’ve ever sniffed. A fight ensues. But you don’t see it. Someone wins. The end. I want the events to change Edward and Bella in some way, I want more purpose, I want more arc, I want them to realize their love has been superficial and to seek something real and better and stronger.

A bland and rambling First Person narrator. Bella just had no personality or strong voice. I’ve never had to plod through such doldrums, that didn’t have a bent towards economics, with greater effort in my life. If a character is going to relay a story with his or her ONE perspective, I want that character to be engaging, interesting and fully-developed, not a fill-in-the-blank Mary Sue. If you use First Person, do it well. Many readers connected with Bella’s voice, were able to hop right into the story, so I know I’m in the minority, but with a little bit more oomph, the story could’ve been so much more. Fiction writers should aim for more than MAD-lib, fill-in-the-blank sketches of voice, character and plot. Just saying.

Gutless actions. Not by the characters, no, no, by the author. SM shrinks from grit here, hence Bella’s blackout at the highest point in the book. Then we hear about what happened when Bella wakes up in the hospital. What? No. As writers, we need to be willing and daring enough to write scenes that make us uncomfortable sometimes. Why else would SM pull us away from a cool battle, the BEST part of the book--Hello!!!--if not for fear or discomfort in showing violence or utter laziness, I don’t know. Maybe she intended on getting back to it later, and said, “Oh, what the cawing crow! Blackout. Perfect. Done.” Violence can still be tasteful, but the scene needs to be written. Not writing it, and instead telling us what happened after the fact, totally robs readers. This takes me to my next point…

A false climax. The true climax in any given-story is not necessarily action-packed, although it can be, it’s rather the point of revelation. It’s where the most layers peel away, where the obstacles break down, where lovers decide to be together, where the sleuth discovers the killer, where the protagonist and antagonist face off, where forces collide, where a big choice must be made, where everything that's been learned can finally be put into action. But instead, we get a very telly, after-the-fact, word-of-mouth version of what happened in a climax that should have been SHOWN. The movie shows the scene. Why? Because it’s important and interesting. How dull would it have been if Edward had shown up at the hospital and told Bella what happened? Well, that’s what happened in the book! Edward is not the protagonist and that is what’s wrong with this behind-closed-doors fight. It should have been a joint effort, a true testament of their love, but we get nothing.

Which brings me to the next point…

Weak love. This is the main drive the book, right? Everyone talks about their love being so passionately akin to that of Romeo and Juliet. But as is, it is too fanciful and unbelievable for me, given the lack of chemistry between the two leads and reason for its existence. Just because an author says they love each other is not good enough. I want to know, why? I want to see it, understand it and feel it. Why these two? Their love should be as dense as good, well-rounded characters should be, and because these characters are closer to chimeras than people, their love is vapid and so much less intense than it actually could have been with proper construction all around.

Inadequate editing. Twilight is sloppy with many grammatical errors and first person glitches. And the dialogue tags with action after EVERY single spoken line are insanely annoying. Come on. I know a few errors are bound to slip through the cracks, it happens, but they are just too numerous here to not mention or care about when I’m hoping for quality on the market, especially in such a highly loved work. The work feels very rough. How could Twilight get past so many levels of professionals and remain in this blatant first-draft state? How was it that no agent, editor, suitcoats at the cherry wood table or copy editors cared to trim the meandering fat or fix the parts of Twilight that are such a hot mess. That is so baffling to me, I don’t even know what to say about it. I’ll leave it at that.

So those are the good and bad things about Twilight. Have you read it? Do you plan to? What are your thoughts?

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Vampires Suck Trailer

Well, I'm working on my Twilight post. Here's something to tide you over until I put it up. So funny! And this movie stars the lovely Matt Lanter, whom I want to play Derek, if Kings & Queens is ever turned into a movie. Enjoy.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Learn How To Grow As A Writer

The cool thing about writing is you get a lifetime supply of do-overs. If one piece doesn't work, you can scratch it and start something else. You can also try your hand at different things, poetry every now and then, a flash piece or even a song.
And no matter where you are in your writing career, hobby or graffiti scrawls, you can always improve and get better.

Here are the main things that taught me about writing and helped me improve once I put paper to pen:

Reading books in my genre. You can't really reach your intended audience or break into a market if you know nothing about either. Dip your toes in and try out different subgenres and things you may sneer at at first glance. You never know when someone's writing will spark an idea in your own. Read, read, read. I read Twilight, which wasn't wonderful for me, but it had good points and bad. I learned things from it about writing which I'll share in an upcoming post.
Reading books on craft. There are tons of books out there on craft. Some good ones are How To Write A Damn Good Novel, How To Write A Damn Good Novel II, The Fire in Fiction (one of the BEST books I've read of late!!!), Writing The Breakout Novel, Characters & Viewpoint, The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes. What I typically do is wait for these books to be sold inexpensively by outside sources, that way I can build my own resource library for cheap.

My husband took a creative writing class with the Stafford Institute, and reading the books he got in the mail was what inspired me to write my first novel. It wasn't a perfectly marketable book—my structure's all wrong, my protag is an unlikeable age (19) and I rely too much on coincidence—but it's still a really great first effort with an adorable romance. Reading books on craft is what helped me see why it falls short. Without that knowledge, I'd falsely assume I've got a wonderful story on my hands.
Diving into the blogosphere. Writers who are in the trenches as you are provide inspiration, and those who have published can give you the do's and don'ts, the ins and outs, and agents will tell you flat out what they're looking for, what works and what doesn't, how to write queries, how to pitch, etc. So many helpful tidbits are out there for free, just waiting for you to gather them up.
Joining a critique group. I can honestly say, my work is a thousand times better because of my wonderful, stupendous critters. I have just learned so much from exchanging reviews, I can't even tell you. Not only will you learn how to improve your own work, the feedback you get and give will help you learn the major things you need to know about writing, from avoiding plot holes to understanding how POV works. Writing is an isolated effort but revision should be a team job.

You can certainly learn a lot from beta readers as well, but with a crit group, you can get more sets of eyes and more diverse perspectives on your work.

Sometimes deeper issue opinions can be wrong, a critter can be wrong, so you want to be able to balance all the input, to figure out for yourself what works and what doesn't for your story.

Go find a group, either online or in person, whatever works best for you.

Joining good forums. In forums, like Absolute Write Water Cooler for instance, you can ask questions about research details or when an issue pops up in your writing, get feedback on your work and submission pieces and make some writer friends. There are hundreds of forums out there and you can generally find them to go with your genre, if you want to get more specific.

People always ask me how I learned about writing, and those are the main avenues that have helped me learn technique to begin with and continue to improve. So open your ears, eyes and hearts to the bounty of information that's out there. It doesn't matter how awful you are now, you can grow.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Search Stories

I just heard about Search Stories at YouTube from Dara at Tales from the Writing Front today, and decided to make one for my own WIP, Dropping Like Flies.

Their existence is news to me, but it was pretty cool to make and it only took me about five minutes. Search Stories might be another way to get your name and book out there, especially if you can get really creative with it. Some are very popular. I couldn't find mine on the Search Stories channel, so I hope I did it right. I've never put anything up on YouTube before. Well, here it is anyway, my Search Story for Dropping Like Flies.

Here's the channel if you want to check it out.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Characters: Keep on Surprising Me

When I wrote chapter 1 for my WIP, Dropping Like Flies, I was following inspiration and just spit those 1500 words out. I liked the thing, but it sat for months without me giving it much thought as I finished Sapphire Reign and jumped into an agent hunt.
Now that I'm picking it up again, I realize my character was not at all who I thought she was. I thought she was a peppy girl, left broken by abusers and now had to grapple to cope and move on. Nope. Wrong.

She's not that girl. She's jaded and angry, pissed really, even vowing to hurt those who've hurt her. Due to bottled-up pain and turmoil, she cusses like a trucker and blows my aim for a profanity-free work right out the window. She's cool one minute, furious the next. She's both withdrawn and outspoken. Oh, what. You didn't think such an oxymoron was possible? Neither did I! She's seriously a walking contradiction.

It's so weird how I had one idea and she came out with fists flying and a completely different agenda and way of doing things. She ransacked my perceptions and said, "Um, no. THIS is me. Don't like it? Too bad. Write some other story then! This is mine." She wanted a new name, so I gave. She hated her appearance, so she took it upon herself to change her look, adding magenta streaks to her hair. She sounds just like a real teenager, so I guess that's a good thing.

But wow. How did my creation get so far away from me? How does that happen? She's not real. I invented her. So, how can she shock me? How can she be so ready to own and distort the pages I'd planned when I didn't even do a character sketch? She's emerging however the hell she wants as I'm lending ink to her story. And after writing chapter 2, I had to change chapter 1 to sound like the real her.

Though she bounces from extreme to extreme and may do or think things that make her lean more anti-hero at times, her thread of decency and pain, I think, is what will make readers connect with her. She's brutally honest, real and raw. With her life in complete turmoil, with crazy things happening, she has no one to talk to, nowhere to turn, so the story she's relaying is her only outlet.

My characters always surprise me, no matter how well I think I know them. I'm only three chapters in, and I can't see where this girl takes me. I love the unexpected.

Do your character surprise you? Or am I the only freak with a pen?

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

3 Newbie Mistakes I Nixxed

When you begin writing novels, you're pretty clueless about a lot of things. I knew about head hopping, passive voice and showing, but I needed to know more in order to write well. My first novel is stashed in a purple folder somewhere, destined to stay there unless I feel an itch to give it a major rewrite.

Here are the top three mistakes I made:

1. Flimsy Story Question. When I wrote my first novel, I didn't know there was this thing called a story question. A story question is the main concern the protagonist adopts at the beginning of a novel. Sometimes it's birthed in a call to action, a shocker, a stated goal, a fresh start or a conflict.

Can a meek hobbit like Frodo actually destroy the ring? Will this jaded woman find true love? Can this rookie cop find the Beatles serial killer who arranges his death scenes to match Fab Four songs?

You can tell a story without one, but you have to work extra hard to hook readers.

I recently read Green by Jay Lake and there's no story question to speak of, nor arc. The main character is sold into slavery as a toddler and trained to be a courtesan but you have no clue where the story is going. It's not a bad book at all. It's lushly written, the MC is feisty and strong, the voice, distinct, description, light-handed, but it's not very hooky. I'd put it down and not pick it up again for weeks.

That's okay for some writers, but that's not what I want in my books. I want to have works that readers hate to put down and feel a bit sad over when they reach the end.

In order for your story to have that kind of hooking power, you should have a story question. Even literary fiction can have a story question. An MC, for instance, who wants to uncover her family's buried secret, may do a lot of reflecting on every detail she finds. The questions would then be will she discover the whole truth and how will she deal with it if and when she does. The longer you keep the questions unanswered, the more gripping your story will be. You can create tension and suspense with the simplest thing. If the main character cares deeply, the reader will care as well.

The mistake I made with my first book was I answered the story question before the climax and the story's tension dissolved. Use any kind of plot pathway you want, three acts, a circle, a rollercoaster, doesn't matter, your biggest structural concern should be that question and keeping it taut until the climax or later, if possible. Then, you'll be able to create a gripping read.

2. Be-verb Overload. I honestly never gave Be-verbs much thought at all until one of my reviewers pointed them out. Be-verbs work just as good as any in getting your point across, however, they're blah and reflect laziness. Stretch yourself for juicer verbs. They'll breathe more life into your prose. Those other little buggers that fly under the radar die on the page and may also indicate you've used too much passive voice.

I try to only use no more than 15%. You should only really use them if it's the true voice of the narrator or if not using one would be too awkward.

3. Purple Prose. When I first started writing novels, I often would go the round-about way of saying everything. I notice this mistake a lot with many new writers, that's why I'm bringing this up. I thought that was my voice: lush, lyrical, descriptive, eloquent. It sounded good to me, pretty, intriguing, writerly. I didn't go all historical Harlequin exactly, but still, my work was chock full of superfluous fluff that wasn't needed.

Purple prose and flowery rills are okay in small doses, but if your story is packed with such chunks, it'll be more difficult for readers to get through and become engaged. You need to know that. It becomes more about the words than character or plot or story.

If you're going for arty-fartsy, knock yourself out. But if you're trying your hardest to write right, to sell your book to the masses, stop going all over the place and get to the point. Your readers will appreciate it and your writing will be tighter and overall better.

So, those are my top three book killers. What tips have you learned that have improved your writing once you implemented them?

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Putting Tell in Its Place

As Writers, the "show don't tell" mantra gets chucked at us more than any other rule. Nothing, not even "no head hopping", can stir up such hellfire and fury. So, what is it about show that's so important?

... engagement...
For readers to care about your story, they need to be able to engage in some way. It doesn't mean you can't have an interesting work, or a fun or terrifying one, but there's just no way readers can become engrossed in your book without lots of show.
Think of showing as the beads of your story, and telling, the string. You need both in order to have a functional, beautiful work, like a homemade necklace, but the showing is what is meant to dazzle, while the telling merely holds everything together. Too much telling will always leave you with a dull, tangled mess.

Tell should always be an underlining, barely noticed thing. There are times to definitely use it. Tell can bring clarity to the show, trim words if you're in a dangerous count zone, control pace and sum up what's not worth showing, like a detective getting nowhere in his investigative questioning; including all those scenes is just not important.

Show reveals character, makes your work more colorful and visual, puts readers into the story and helps them to identify with characters. So, use it for the most part.

... show...

Like, think of ways you can show your character has an Ivy league education, loves sports, hates her mom, is persistent, is an emotional rock, has idiosyncrasies, works well under pressure, is tensing up in that traffic jam, is quirky, maintains life-long habits from living as an exchange student in Japan for one year, is suddenly afraid.

Relying on tell to reveal those kinds of things is lazy and nothing will make your work more dull and lackluster.

If critters are complaining that your characters don't seem realistic or engaging, too much telling is likely the culprit. Come on. Even a pumpkin-headed horseman can be realistic.

If you want readers to become engrossed, for your characters to come alive, for your story to be gripping, your work needs plenty of clunky, funky beads. What's so special about a necklace that's predominantly string? Not much. There's nothing wrong with some tell every now and then, but it should simply support and hold everything together. Never let tell overshadow or steal the show. Put tell in its place.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Going for Distance

At least twelve people with sharp, eagle eyes and red pens in hand have read my book, Kings & Queens, from beginning to end. And as wonderful as they were in helping me make my work a MILLION times better, I was the one to find the severe glitch in my timeline. And I only did this because I'd put some distance between me and my baby.

I've had this novel written for a couple years, but it's gone through two critique circles and several edits, which have taken time. I've worked on this thing, again and again and again.

Then a few weeks ago, after I was happy with my word count, I let it sit. When I came back to it, that's when I noticed. Following a traumatic incident, I had my MC going to school for two days, then she has an accident on the second day, then I had her off for two days, and back again for two. Um, six days? Noooo! Not in America. The weird thing is I drafted a timeline when I wrote the book, I did, as well as a stat sheet for a baseball game, though I'd only shown a couple at-bats. I pay attention to details. So, I'm not even sure how this albatross landed in my work.

I dunno. Maybe I thought it sounded cuter in the prose to say her (intended) day off had slipped into two, or maybe I felt bad for my MC and absentmindedly changed the wording in a revision round. But, the two days off has been in there a LONG time. I only saw it when I decided to add commentary about how weird the teacher was for introducing fetal pig dissection on a Thursday, when it was a four-day lab. And I was like, wait a minute! If she has her accident on Tuesday...Crap!

Huge goof! At least, it was an easy fix to knock off the extra day of rest, but I cannot stress how important it is to put distance between you and your work. When you do that and come back with fresh scrutiny to see how each scene can be made better, tighter, wittier and more interesting, then glaring errors like this one, have a better chance of hitting you right between the eyes.

Hey, yeah, it smarts for sure, but that little sting is much better than the severe head trauma and lifelong migraines you'd get from having the copyeditor at the publishing house find it, or worse, one of your fifteen-year-old fans.

Write your best, and always, always go for distance.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Fixes & Trims

My query process has been pretty slow going cuz I usually just send out a few handfuls, then wait for responses. I consider my first several months of querying to be like toe dips into the water. Sure, you could cherry bomb into the pool and hope for the best, but if you instantaneously get fifty people wet with rank hideousness, it skims your best picks right off the top, leaving you with lesser-thans.

If I get no requests after ten or twelve, I make changes. I'd do this for a while, then stop to make changes, but without feedback, it's hard to know where I went wrong. Was my MC too whiny, wimpy, dull, what? Does my concept suck? Is my letter pure crap? It's so impossible to know...Maybe not.

Well, I feel dunce-cap-worthy it took several months for the light bulb to finally flick on over my near-empty skull, but I decided to just query agents who requested a query letter only, then I'd know for sure if the main glitch was with my letter. I kept sending out my query, then I'd revise and try again. I didn't find much interest.

I mean, maybe the main conspiracy of my novel comes across too unbelievable boiled down into one sentence of explanation and tucked into a couple paragraphs of what's, who's and how's.

So, I scratched my letter completely and wrote an entirely new one that is huge on voice and character with minimal plot points.

One agent requested a full, but she thought the work would be better in First person, which told me she'd only read a few chapters because anyone who's read further on would never in a million years think that. My MC doesn't know the greater details of the plot until the epilogue, so, a limited perspective just wouldn't work. The bulk of the story's big mystery is revealed to readers through my parallel protagonist's journey instead.

However, hints of that didn't break open in chapter 8. So, I bumped his weirdness up to his first POV scene in chapter 4. The bit of commentary I'd received was not entirely right for my particular story, but it helped me to see I needed to point the good guts out much earlier.

If my book were simply a girl against two would-be-killers, then First person would probably work great, but it's not. Originally that was my concept, 'tis true, but sometimes stories just grow and unexpectedly surprise the writers penning them. And that's what happened with me and my story.

Even if I don't wholly agree with suggestions, they do usually help me to see where I've gone wrong and what adjustments need to be made. If you have Betas or critters of any kind, consider their opinion valid, even if you don't agree. If you give it some time, you may see they're right. Maybe they're not, but keep the notes and try to see your work through fresh eyes. Maybe a part of what they're saying is correct. Maybe it hints at a different, deeper problem like mine did.

Even though I liked it, I had to change my first chapter after several people complained of it being too confusing. The advice you get, whether prickly or smooth, could be just the thing to make your story even better. As the writer, you owe it to your story and your readers to write the best you can and edit with that same drive.

And if you're in the querying stage like me and frustrated by all the form rejections you're collecting that say, "Not for me" or "I'm not the right agent for this", without so much as a hint of feedback to suggest where you misfired, try querying agents who only request the letter. Start there. If you're get nothing but form letters from agents who rep the kind of work you write, and you don't have 200,000 words or some likewise monstrous book, your letter needs some work, so have it critiqued and keeping working on it until it shines and gets results.

If your letter is sparking interest and several agents request a partial or a full, then turn you down without much feedback, you'll know the error is with your work, probably within the first few chapters. So set that sparkling jewel of a letter aside and take a hiatus to work on your manuscript. Once it's ready, get back in the game.

Happy writing, happy hunting!

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Editing Surprises

I took a brief hiatus from querying to sharpen my MS and hack and slash some words. I went from over 106,500 words (which I had this past spring) down to an astonishing 88,000. I didn't think I could cut that much, I really didn't. And when at 98,000 words, I even stated on my writing site that I could maybe cut 5,000 but NOT 10000 or whatever it was, but I DID. Yes, yes, yes. Doing a happy dance. Join in if you want.

In the word slashing stage, I really needed to look at each sentence with a fresh perspective to see if it was truly needed or if it could be changed up. I condensed passages of exposition, tightened dialogue, omitted anything unnecessary, already obvious or redundant. My mistake in the fall was that I was simply looking for words to cut. But, when I did that, my scenes lost personality. I ended up returning much of what I'd taken out to fix that. I mean, voice is what really makes your work stand out.

Along the way, I discovered some new and better turns of phrase and brought an even greater sparkle to my already quirky voice than I had before. So I'm really exicted about the end product.

I even added some things like some more internalization or action around dialogue, deeper perspective voices. So, I still can't believe I cut nearly 20,000 words. That's an amazing feat in my opinion, especially because I didn't have to hack off scenes.

Well, I did remove three small mom scenes, but I'd only added them later to make my work seem less YA, but now that I'm going YA, I made the mom's arc extremely minimal. But in all, these particular extractions only amounted to about 1500 words.

The new approach really worked for me and made my work much, much stronger. Now, I'm back in the hunt again.

So, when you're going through to edit, really think about how you can keep the essence of each sentence while relaying it with a more succinct, sharper, wittier delivery. That will take the sting out of killing your darlings. You'll be super excited with your work's shiny new luster and will be a better writer for it.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Don't Be Shark Bait in the Treacherous Ocean

I have a couple of phobias. One of the things most likely to make me faint is knives. I'm terrified of them, well big ones, sharp and horrifying. Like the Chef's knife, that diabolical slicer made most famous in Psycho. I'm not quite sure why I jump back and shudder at the presence of a knife or why I can't use or wash one in the sink, but that fear is just there. I could never keep the block of them on top of my fridge cuz on the freakish chance you bump into it while getting HalfBaked, the block could tip over and the alliance of daggers would then butcher you to death, or at the very least cut off your eyebrows or do some serious damage to your girls or piggies.

My fear is so intense I can't even watch someone dice carrots or a knife infomercial. Honestly. That Rock-n-Chop is not of God, right out of hacker-slasher hell, and my best friend had the nerve to send some sales guy over to my house for a demonstration. [I don't care that he was earning money for college or whatever. That's Sick!!! WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT? WHY? How would you like it if I sent a moose over to your house? You wouldn't. That's right. Sick freak.]
And if you've ever seen Predator, you know how violent it is, but the only part I can't watch is where a guy is shaving with a straight blade. Uggghh. I CANNOT watch a guy get shaved that way at the barber or even think of seeing Sweeney Todd live. Panic attack for sure.

I'm also afraid of bees, even so much as to run several feet away from my children to avoid them. I shriek and wiggle and pull over my car if one of those mean creatures invades my space. If I were ever on Fear Factor and bees were involved, I'd forsake the million, or whatever the prize was. I understand their importance, but I despise them nonetheless.

And my worst fear of all is sharks. Though I'd go hang gliding or jump out of a plane no problem, I won't go on a shark dive or surf or do many oceanic activities that might bring me into contact with them. I totally hate that about myself because I love adventure. With writing, I'm afraid of what's out there in the unknown, but I have no choice but to jump in the deadly ocean and watch out for sharks. I do hope to be published, and that's my first plunge into making it happen.

Once work is polished and ready for submission, some writers don’t know what to do next or how to go about finding representation. You’ve written the query, the synopsis. Now what? Don't send work directly to a publisher. Go find a literary agent, a good one. Searching for agents on the web can be overwhelming. In the scary murk, with hundreds of sharks out there hunting for young and na├»ve prey, how do you find the dolphins, who have the communication skills, connections and muscle to get work sold? To avoid being chum, here are some red flags to look out for so you can find the good guys.

If an agent charges reading fees or anything upfront, RUN. Some agents in smaller agencies charge for supplies, but look for sold work, talk to represented authors, make sure there’s a cap on expenses and know exactly what you’ll have to pay, and really only choose an agent like that if you’ve exhausted all other options. Agents should get paid off commission, not nickel and dime writers into the poorhouse.

If there’s no proven track record of sales and more sales, RUN. Look for works sold in the genres they say they represent. Good agents aren’t secretive about their sales. Who would hide published success? Really.

If a website is too vague and sparse, no agents or bios in sight, authors with only first name and last initial giving glowing testimonials, RUN. Sometimes they’ll sweeten their appeal by offering a 10% commission instead of the customary 15. These “agents” are salivating for fresh, young meat. Really. Run.

If an agent’s website is lacking clarity or full of errors, grammatical or otherwise, RUN.

If an agent is not a member of the AAR, the Association of Authors' Representatives, PAUSE and do some more research before sending in or signing anything.

If an agent is running ads to get business, WALK AWAY BRISKLY. Even if it’s a legitimate agent who’s starting up and wanting to get his name out into the world, opt for an experienced agent with contacts. New agents have no clue what publishers are buying or how to get in the door. This is your work we’re talking about. Would you let some inexperienced doctor operate on your child just because he ran a good ad campaign? Think not. Let some other writer be the Good Samaritan and business booster. Top agents don’t have to reel in writers. They’re swamped with submissions already.

If an agent offers to represent you ONLY if you use such and such editing services first or their suggested rewriter, RUN. Kickback is in play.

If an agent hasn’t sold works to the big houses, WALK AWAY BRISKLY. Your book might have the potential to be the next best seller, but who would know? With a smaller press, your spankin’ new, published book could die right out of the box. A good agent knows what type of publisher would be best for your work and has contacts all over the map to get the right deal done.

If an agent works with subsidy or print on demand [POD] publishers, RUN. You could just as easily do that yourself if you wanted to go that rout. Why pay the extra fees?

Check out Writers Beware for already tagged sharks.

You can find a comprehensive list of agents with bios and contact info at these FREE sites: LitMatch and Agent Query. Advanced searches can pinpoint agents by name, genre, location—not only the U.S. btw. You can also organize and track submissions instead of having to set up a spreadsheet in Excel. There’s also a resource page listing agent blogs.
Look for agents who are seeking and selling what you write. Every agent has their own personal guidelines and tastes. Don’t do a blitz submission or even write a form query letter. It’s really impersonal, unprofessional and ineffective. Choose agents carefully and write individual query letters for each one.
Nothing to fear. With your eyes alert and your mind sharp, you can avoid being shark bait and find your way in the treacherous current. Now off you go. Nothing to fear? Maybe I will take a shark dive sometime. Haha. Doubt it. Not without Valium and an army of prayer warriors on their knees.

~Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.