Monday, June 28, 2010

Contest for Substantial Edit 100,000 words or less

C.A. Marshall is offering a fantastic opportunity over at her blog in the form of a contest.

Skip on over to check it out! Here's the gist:

And so, to celebrate the glowing review and for reaching 100 blog followers and 700 twitter followers (that just blows my mind!) I'm giving away a FREE substantial edit! (That's plot, pacing, character development, etc, up to 100k words) to one lucky reader!

+1 for becoming a new follower of the blog
+3 for being a current follower of the blog
+1 for becoming a new follower of my twitter
+3 for being a current follower of my twitter
+2 for tweeting about the contest (once per day, include links to actual tweet in your comment)
+5 for blogging about the contest (once per day, include links to actual blog post in your comment)
+1 for asking a question about writing/editing, or something else I can blog about that I haven't covered already (as many as you can think of!)

All you have to do is leave a comment with your total number of entries!

"Contest is open worldwide (but has to be in English) as everything is done by email, and ends Friday July 2nd at Midnight. I can wait up to a month for you to finish your MS if it isn't finished by July 2nd, SO GET WRITING!"

So far I've got 11 points.

Also, if you've got an adult MS complete, there's another contest over at the Query Tracker blog where agent Suzie Townsend will be judging twitter-length pitches. Could be very promising for those of you who write adult books. (Hee hee. Every time I say adult books, I think of....well, nevermind.)

Mock-Me Monday: My Worst Sci-Fi Short

Facetious flash fiction for Mock-Me Monday. Today we'll try science fiction.

Strung Out

The inter-galactic module under the astro-belt flickers with a faulty warning light, sending me into intermittent panic attacks. These, at least, are peppered with the auto-voice's soothing assurances.

"You are not in fatal peril. There is a 65% chance you will survive." It's amazing how much the sound of an almost-human voice can calm you even when you're on the brink of death.

My oxygen-deprived brain sends me back to orientation where Filriddle-bot and I laughed when the cyb-instructor played the assurances audio file just so we'd know what to expect.

"65% chance of survival?" I'd laughed. "That's supposed to be soothing?"

Filriddle-bot laughed with me, as she was programmed to do.

Now where was Filriddle-bot when I needed her most? Golfing with Jera's stupid leisure-bot, as though the fate of the universe didn't rest in their hands. If only I could reach the control panel! But the ship is too far. I'm going to die out here, tethered to the ship by a stupid miscalculation.

After five minutes of emergency breathing, a technique that supposedly increases my survival chances by 25%, I'm beginning to feel more than light-headed. Space is black already, but the stars around the edges of my vision begin to blacken now.

The last thing I hear as I lose consciousness is Filriddle-bot, shouting her golf score into my helmet-com.

"Fifty-two! I won!"

What I Want from YA: Fun, not Twisted Morals

I'm a lifelong reader--of young adult books in particular. I started with Lord of the Rings as a bedtime story, fell in love with Anne of Green Gables, graduated to Jack Weyland novels some time around fourth grade, and never looked back.

Why do I read YA?

  • It's exciting, like my journal entries from that age. Everything means something, and when I wrote those journal pages, I had the time and compulsion to record every detail along with what I thought it meant. Whether my date led me into the dance by the hand or by the small of my back, or he walked five feet in front of me the entire evening--I had just learned the skills to decipher this behavior. I eagerly tried my hand at amateur psychology, detailing my first dates, first boyfriends, and myriad groundings and lectures.  

  • Novelty. Even though it was a time of angst, it was also a time of wonder. Everything was new back then. If I went on a date, chances are that something happened I had never experienced before, sometimes things I never expected to happen. This wasn't always good, but it was always an education. 

  • Nostalgia. I like to read YA now, in part because it's like reading my journal, without the embarrassment. I get to discover the world with somebody else, reliving his or her mistakes instead of my own. 
  • I enjoy the unique voice of each book, meeting new friends and getting to know them one Truth or Dare at a time. 

  • And I LOVE fantastic elements that aren't full-blown high fantasy, which sometimes feels too much like a history class for me to enjoy. YA fantasy tends to be shorter, bringing out only as much of the world as is relevant to the main character's journey. It's a moving, enticing way to enter another world. Through the character, the magical world stays with me long after I close the back cover. 

But what I want from YA is the same as it has ever been, and it's fairly simple to deliver.

Listen up, YA writers.

  • I want vicarious living, not high morals. (That goes for both ends of the moral spectrum.)
  • I want an active main character who thinks and acts like a teenager (which isn't far from what adults think and act like, but with flourish and attitude). 
  • I want quirky character flaws, not full-on sex-drugs-and-rock-n-roll delinquency. More on this...

The latter may be okay for one book in twenty, but lately I'm finding book after book filled with somebody else's idea of an acceptable coming of age. It's disturbing. I read on the writerly blogosphere that edgy YA is somehow more realistic--and therefore more desirable. I don't believe either claim. It is no more realistic than the story of a sweet girl who can't play sports to save her life and is suddenly forced to play the most brutal of them all: dodge ball.

These types of YA are worlds apart, and I'm more inclined to think of the edgier sort as an adult book dressed up as a seventeen-year-old. If you must write edgy YA out of a need to record or process your own edgy upbringing, so be it. But I wonder how many authors go to YA with the false conception that they must be edgy to compete. The truth is that not all teenagers are going to parties, getting hangovers, and having sex with everything on two legs. And the ones who don't are being washed with images of the ones who do, not only on television but also now in literature.

I can just imagine myself at fourteen picking up one of these edgy books. With my earnest desire to be cool, would I have experimented with alcohol after meeting some cool, aloof characters who know the difference between rum and schnaaps? Would I have felt antiquated and ridiculous for maintaining virgin status past the age of sixteen?

Hell yeah. Before you write, please ask yourself if you're writing something edgy just to please a twisted market, or if you're writing it because it's really the story in your soul that begs to be told. If you're doing it to fit in, stop. Teens get enough peer pressure at school. They don't need it from the twenty- and thirty-somethings writing YA purely for shock value. In truth, edgy YA is just as preachy as spiritual YA. It's preaching from the other end of the spectrum.

If you write the F-word every other sentence and have your characters in and out of beds, back seats, and basements, I may accidentally buy your book--referred by some misguided friend who doesn't know how much I deplore the charade. But I'm not going to keep it in the house for my sons to stumble upon.

Not any more than I'll leave the butcher knife down low where they can reach it.

*Note: I'm sure many people disagree with my sentiments, and that's fine. But what I'd really like to see in the comments (if you have them) are book recommendations for a mom who is tired of the F-word.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

PageToFame: WEbook's Revolutionary Literary Experiment

The future of scouting?

If you're a writer who hasn't heard of PageToFame, I highly suggest you read all about it in's FAQ.

Basically, PageToFame is four rounds of totally objective rater feedback on your work. 

Round 1: 1st page (descriptive blurb and genre categorizations included at the top)
Round 2: 1200 words (w/ optional 4000-word sample which interested readers can continue reading)
Round 3: 50 pages (possibly rated exclusively by industry pros)
Round 4: Full manuscript (likewise)

At the end of each stage, an agent or publishing professional reads and rates anonymously. These ratings don't affect your elevation, but it is interesting to see what a pro thinks of your work.

There is a small fee associated with this service (summer special of $3.95, I believe), but I have found it well worth the price. While reading your piece, raters will have no personal information about you. They won't know your name, your username, your age, your cuteness factor (though I'm sure that would only help my ratings [totally joking]). There is no quid pro quo, mutual back-scratching, or even directing fans to your rating page--it's impossible. This saves WEbook's PageToFame from some of the pitfalls rendering Authonomy a less-than-accurate scouting program.

On your side, you won't see any info about your raters other than the total percentage who want it elevated (and rated your work a 4 or 5 out of a possible 5). You will also see which percentage rated it 1 or 2 or 3. You won't know who these people are. They are in no danger of retribution from an author scorned, so they're free to be completely honest in their appraisal of the excerpt.

This is incredibly freeing for the author, too. It's not just your mom saying, "This is fabulous!" It's not even your critique partner saying, "Very good (I hope you're nice when you critique me back)." It's a completely anonymous person rating a piece of work, separate from his or her opinion of the author. 


The only way to conduct real research. And this is definitely research. It's the best kind, as far as publishing pros are concerned, because it's market research. Agents and publishers should love this because the author pays for it, volunteers do the rating, and they then have the option of picking successful work--not from a slush pile, but from a list of market-proven literature. PageToFame takes some degree of risk out of the publishing industry. 

I've submitted five of my own 1st pages, two from the same project where I simply retitled and reworked the first page. Ratings went up in the second 1st-page sample, but still not high enough. This kind of feedback is helping me to see which projects resonate with my public, and which ones aren't worth pursuing.

PageToFame is fairly new and still evolving. For instance, initially, there were only ratings, with a box to check if you didn't like the subject or genre (though you can easily avoid this as a rater by selecting your favorite genre from a drop-down menu). Now raters can also check whether they think the concept is unoriginal or the writing needs work. Both are very useful statistics to the author. 

Each of my five submissions is in a different stage of the rating process. 

My very first attempt leveled out at only 28% of raters wanting it elevated to the next round. It didn't make it past 85 votes in Round 1 (first page only). I changed it completely and resubmitted. The second time around, it has garnered 141 votes and 40% approval. Still not high enough for Round 2 (which is a longer sample of 1200 words). Of those who didn't like it, 13 said it was not original enough and 2 said the writing needs work. Based on these results, I'm setting this project aside for the time being. It obviously needs a totally fresh makeover and I have other projects that are already more promising. 

Two of my girly YA 1st-page submissions have achieved 50% or higher approval, so I'm waiting to see what happens with these. If they continue to do well, I'll devote more time to writing them. Of course, I don't completely depend on these ratings to choose projects to work on. Sometimes the muse bites and I just have to write a certain story. But PageToFame has acted as a reliable guide, telling me which projects have commercial viability, a buzz-term agents everywhere can appreciate. 

My most successful project so far is the humorous MG (8-12 target age range) book, which is currently in submission to literary agents as well. It's in Round 2 with 24 ratings and a 75% approval rating. In Round 1, it garnered 210 votes with 61% sending it on to the next round. Pretty impressive sample size, considering the difficulty unpublished authors usually face in finding willing readers. At this point, you can see the consensus hovering around the same number, not getting higher or lower with the addition of one vote, let alone ten. WEbook has developed an algorithm which tracks the trend in ratings, and determines when a piece probably won't garner enough positive votes to pass the round. 

Though this experiment is still pretty new, it has already proven very useful to me, personally. I predict that it will be helpful to authors, agents, and publishers in the future. Imagine being able to gauge accurately the marketability of a concept, or general reader reception of an author's writing style--all from page 1. 

I know what you're thinking. You can't tell a best-seller from a dud in just one page, but agents and editors have long been facing the same challenge. And a back-cover-blurb paragraph does accompany the 1st page of PageToFame, so it's the same as a bookstore patron perusing the back cover and first page to determine buyability. Okay, so I made that last word up. What do you want? I'm a kidlit writer.   

If you're intrigued, just head on over to and check it out yourself. If you're a voracious/insatiable/avid reader (did I miss any cliches?) then jump straight into 1st-page reading and rating. You'll be surprised how addictive it can be. Plus, you may be getting a first look at the best-sellers of tomorrow.

Friday, June 25, 2010

BREAKING NEWS: I am on TV at the Eclipse screening

Video Proof that I was there. (you can also watch it on HULU)

Click on the proof link above, people. That's the episode over at called Total Eclipse of the Heart with Jimmy Kimmel. As stated before, I'm the blonde in the tie-dye and dark glasses on the right side of the theatre (your right). You can see that my physical reaction matched my blog reaction. We were very excited and very surprised.

I hope you enjoy the interviews with the cast and the excitement that you can clearly see even through the lens. Eclipse was seriously epic. You will be blown away.

Also, a fantastic fan site for all things Eclipse is

Fancy Friday #2- Wherein I try to be Shakespeare (again)

For this Part II to make complete sense, you'll want to skip on over to PART I to read the beginning of Lilac's sad tale as told by her surviving boyfriend in the lyric story I'm calling SHUFFLE.

Part II:

My parents walk inside and see my head
Burrowing my hands into its cave
I hear the steady breath of my dear mom
Who never saw a soul she couldn’t save.

Are you alright? she asks as I glance up
And look away at once. I cannot see
The furrowed pity from her aging brow
She never knew my Lilac from a tree.

Son. Now Dad is steadying his voice
To bring me home, away, away, away
But I can’t breathe unless I’m here with her.
I’m sure that if I tried, there’d be no day.

Endless night is life without her quirks:
The playful fights, her sweetly fading smirks.
She loved to trick, to catch me in the dark
And now it’s done without her winking spark.

Without a word, with just one angry scowl
I send them off, those people who don’t know.
I’m glad I stayed when through the flapping doors
Walks teary eyes, stained scrubs, a face of stone.

They found this in her clothes, the woman sobs
But catches then the waver in her chest.
I thought that you should take it home with you.
I’m sorry. Then she flies away to rest.

Shock doesn’t wear, it’s fresh as its first sting
But I look down and in my hands it lies:
The only thing the car did not destroy,
I hold it tight, my consolation prize.

Absently, I touch the tiny start
The music player spikes its cruel knife:
“I Never Knew” is blasting, loud and clear
Into my ear, my brain, my hollow life.

She never ran without its constant hum,
The tiny box that bled her heart and soul,
And still it sings, though she will bleed no more.
This fragile thing alive, still here, still whole.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Little Successes: From Straw to Gold (and sometimes back again)

The writing biz is exciting. Nobody can deny that months and months of solitary work followed by months and months of solitary waiting...

Okay, maybe that part is a little dull.

But the publishing biz is an ever-evolving jack-in-the-box of possibility. That's what made me fall in love with publishing, aside from a tenacious desire to see my work on a shelf (weird dream, I know). One day, you might be languishing over a spot of dialogue or a fight scene that just won't sing, and the next, you're winning an online contest or pitching to an agent at a conference (and they like it).

Things can go from crummy to pure YAY in a matter of seconds as you refresh your email inbox over and over and over....

And, unfortunately, at any step of the process they can turn right back around and land you in Crummyville once more.

This is why our spouses, children, and BFFs describe our lives and moods as a roller-coaster ride.

But I submit that the little successes that put us over the moon on our sometimes lonely journey are worth the preceding (and sometimes subsequent) downs.

Agent/author Mandy Hubbard has a motto: "A published author is an amateur who didn't quit. Don't quit."

She's so right (as usual). I don't have much more to say about this, so I'll open it up to my faithful readers (hi guys!). Shout out about your successes. Whisper your failures (these comments can be in all lower-case). Share the roller-coaster ride.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Query Season is in Full Swing!

It's Query Season!

I'd say so, at least. Eric over at PimpMyNovel is talking about rejection again, and according to query tracker, this is a busy time of year. More people are querying. More people are getting positive responses, as in partial and full requests.

You have only to follow a few literary agents on twitter to see jewels from their slush piles and cryptic, excited messages about the ones they want to represent rather than simply mock. (Though the mocking is hilarious, too.)

So if you've got a project that's ready--really ready--get out there in the open and try to be the biggest target you can be for those agents...but in a good way.

  • Or follow agent Colleen Lindsay on twitter to take part in today's controversial discussion on author advances, and whether or not they should be eradicated. 
(And yes, I do have queries on the brain. I'm so pathetic, I dreamed of getting a follow-up letter from the agent with my full manuscript, just to let me know she hadn't gotten to it yet. As if agents have time for stuff like that! Silly brain!)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: Excerpt from STRANGE'S GREATEST THRILL

Here's an excerpt from one of my many potential WIPs. If you like it, vote for it in the comments. Still trying to decide where to go after Drats! Foiled Again!.

There was nothing Micki Strange couldn’t—or wouldn’t—do on a dare. He once ate a live lizard, head first, just to show his second-grade teacher he wasn’t afraid of anything. His more recent exploits were less gastro-intestinal and more aerial. Skydiving was child’s play compared with this:
“I’m not doing that,” Gunner said, his voice shaking.
Micki sighed. “You ditchin’ out again? Aren’t you getting tired of sitting in the back of the Jeep? Senior year, man!”
“Yeah!” Gunner’s fists clenched, bringing back a bit of the Gunner he used to know and love. Gunner hadn’t been quite so fearsome since his dad got in a minor car crash in afternoon rush hour a few months before.
“And you wanna go out with a bang, right?”
“So let’s do this! Are you with me?”
“Hold on a sec. I just wasn’t ready.”
Micki’s stare didn’t even faze Gunner, who looked like he was counting the boulders on the shore way…down…there.
So Micki looked to Pete instead. “You’re with me, right?”
Pete gave him an arrogant half smirk that said he was crazy for even asking.
“Let’s do it!” Micki yelled. “For the Glory!”
“For the Glory!”
Pete and Micki roared as they ran three steps to the ledge and jumped. There was nothing but ocean and air below, and right now, it felt like the air went on forever. This was what Micki lived for. This was the gold that made everything else silver.
Absolute freedom. Absolute adrenaline. Absolute…
The school bell rang, killing the bliss of Micki’s flashback. Last weekend had been off the hook. He had to come up with some way of making this weekend even better.
He closed the black binder labeled AP Government, splashed with silver sketches of snowboards, carve-boards, and wakeboards. The inside was just as ornate, including the sketch he had just finished of Wasuchi Bluff, the highest point local cliff-divers had ever braved. He could still feel the impact of the water, like a slap on the nose—but all over his skin. The numbing cold of the waves had felt like kisses on his stunned body afterward. More tangibly, he still felt the ache of the landing in every joint and muscle as he rolled his shoulders till they cracked. But oh, had it been worth it. Just to feel alive—really alive—for those few free-falling seconds. 

Unicorns, Self-Publishing, and Honesty

We lie as a hobby--or for some of us, a business. We're writers. We make stuff up. It's beautiful. It's heart-wrenching. It's exciting. It's all a lie.

But that's not what this post is about.

I want to talk about the real lies writers tell themselves and each other. I hope they're not as pervasive as they seem to be, and maybe it's just a fringe division (hee hee. Fringe Division) of the writing world who are engaged in this puffed-up-ness. I sure hope so.

There's a post over on the QueryTracker forum about self-publishing. Actually, it's about a harsh editor's response to an author's question about self-publishing. Whoo! Mouthful. The author signed on unwittingly with a vanity publisher who he thought was legitimate. Now, because he wants to find an agent, he's asking what he should include in his query about previously published books. This editor's advice was not to mention it since vanity publishing or self-publishing is as imaginary as unicorns. (I paraphrased the crap out of this. He was much meaner.)

My reactions:

First, I want to say that I think he was unnecessarily harsh and kind of wrong, since plenty of agents have expressed an interest in knowing if you're previously self-published. Also, this person obviously felt swindled, and was humble about his mistake. That deserves something more than a "Tough luck, kiddo. You just took a ride on a unicorn."

Read what he actually said HERE.

Second, I want to stand up for self-published authors who really know what they're doing. They edit their books, or have them professionally edited. They hire cover artists and marketing teams. They basically do everything a publisher and agent would do, but all by themselves. They're like super-authors because they're also entrepreneurs! I admire these people. I will never be one. (Stints with both Mary Kay cosmetics and Avon have proved my lack of mettle as a salesperson and self-employee.)

Third, I want to agree with Mean Unicorn Guy about some self-published authors being as legitimate as unicorns. Hear me out.

I was lied to.

One day, I was minding my own business on twitter, retweeting other people's cleverness (not quite minding my own biz), when somebody sought me out to help them spread the word about their book. Through the course of tweeting, instant messaging, and blogging, I came to think of this person as a published author. Naturally, as an aspiring author, I look up to published authors because of what I assume they went through to get that status. I'm going through it now:
  • writing
  • editing
  • receiving criticism from partners
  • editing
  • querying agents
  • submitting work to agents
  • getting rejected
  • hoping, hoping, hoping
  • finally getting that offer of representation
  • more criticism
  • more editing
  • submitting to agents
  • more rejection
  • acceptance
  • criticism
  • editing
  • editing
  • editing
  • waiting
  • waiting
  • waiting
BAM! Published.

Looks like fun, huh? 

It's not. Well, some of it is. But a lot of it is not. It's easy to see why people might want to circumvent the whole deal and just publish their book alone, especially when holds promotions, letting you publish practically for free. 

The problem is that they don't provide the intensive editing service you get from a traditional publishing house who has a vested interest in your book being the best it can be. 

This is your story

This is your story with professional editing

Any questions?

So I end up buying the aforementioned twitterer's book for $20 (it cost less to buy two of Ally Carter's awesome spy novels at TJMaxx, btw). I don't mind the extra cost for a really great read, but I can't even get past the first three chapters before the writing makes me feel sick. The MC is as likable as a cockroach, and the supporting cast is a mixture of cliche and bad-original. What do you do when you're reading a horrible book? I flip it back over to look at the cover. Ah, there it is...

The publisher who thought this was worth the paper its printed on.

Vanity Publisher X.

A quick google search clinches it for me. The author was either swindled, or he knowingly swindled me. Point-blank, I had asked this person about how he found his agent (curious aspiring authors love these stories, if you published authors are looking for something to blog about). He lied. There's no way this person has an agent. There's no way he has an editor. The book is just too bad. 

If you look at this person's twitter or facebook profiles, you'll see post after post about awards he's won, new books he's working on, library workshops, book signings, etc. He acts, talks, and walks like a published author, but his work is derivative, stale, and unpolished. 

Normally, I wouldn't knock another writer's efforts like this, but I'm feeling justifiably angry. It's not just that I bought the book. It's that I bought the person he pretended to be. 

If you want to self-publish, more power to you. Don't lie. Don't say you have an agent and a traditional publisher and editors who are bugging you to get a blog up and running. Poseurs in any industry are at best laughable, and at worst, con artists.

Just be honest. We are all trying to do the best we can. As a fellow writer, that's all I expect of my peers. You don't have to be a pita. It's okay if you're just a tortilla. Really.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Presenting Sandy Shin with The Social Butterfly Award

My amazing blogger friend, Amparo Ortiz, passed this award along to me. I'm going to pass it along in turn to the five bloggers whose posts I have up RIGHT NOW. Yep, they're that compelling that I clicked on them as soon as I saw them. I hope you find something/someone new you like in the mix.

For One Lovely Blog, I award:

Kristin Miller (I find myself back at this blog just about every day!) Blog (seriously useful info on the biz)
Kiersten White (not a comedian, but she may as well be!)
Jill Corcoran (a literary agent who reps MG and YA authors, very useful info on slush and queries)
Jennifer Laughran (not only does she have a last name that makes me think of childhood laughter and running, but she is also a very personable literary agent who keeps it real and answers questions)

And....drumroll for this next part...

Sandy Shin deserves her own special award for being just about the sweetest and most prolific commenter I've seen on the blogosophere:

Sandy, don't worry about keeping up with everybody on the web. I think you do an amazing job, and I hope you enjoy cutting back a little bit, per your last post. You deserve a rest. Those wings of yours must be exhausted!

Mock-Me Monday: My Worst Query Letter

So I'm just making this up as I go along, but since I'm in the querying process right now, I thought it might be cathartic to write a purposely BAD query letter (you know, to make me feel better about the accidentally bad query letters I usually write).

Here I go:

Dear Alice,

Can I call you Alice? I feel as if I know you, since I've been blog- and twitter-stalking you for the past five weeks. And, hey, I love the Lakers, too! Can't help you with your three-year-old, though. Mine is a little monster most of the time. Remember when you tweeted about Paranormal Romance? Well, I am in the process of writing one of those, but right now I want to pitch you my Middle Grade Adventure book.

You'll will love this book! Have you ever wondered why beans take so long to soak? They're really cocoons for the darker cousins of fairies. When Tomas Venezuela discovers a batch of dark fairy beans in his mom's crock pot, his life turns upside down. His mom wants him to teach them the Macarena and use them to make money. His little brothers still want to eat them. But the dark fairies tell Tomas he has a greater purpose: keeping them safe until they're big enough to seize power.

Some really exciting stuff happens in the middle, and you won't believe the twisty ending! But can Tomas stop the dark fairies before they take over the world? Or will he decide to be their pawn, and take a chance on love? Only Jessica Bling knows for sure, and she's not telling.

Bean There, Done That is a Middle Grade Adventure book, complete at 140,000 words. But it's really way too complicated to sum up in a query letter, so I hope you'll ask for a partial, at least. Also, I have a friend who can illustrate it. He's really good; he works for Disney. And almost twenty people read my blog now, so I can totally sell it to all of them, and if they each tell twenty people, I think this book could be the next Sense and Sensibility.

Yours Truly,

Refried Beans (that's my pen name. If you want my real name, you have to request pages)

Ah...that made me feel so much better about my accidentally bad queries. :-) Feel free to add your own fake query letters in the comments. You'll love how it makes you feel.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

PERFECT CHEMISTRY by Simone Elkeles: My Review

Blurb from the cover:  
When Brittany Ellis walks into chemistry class on the first day of senior year, she has no clue that her carefully created “perfect” life is about to unravel before her eyes. Forced to be lab partners with Alex Fuentes, a gang member from the other side of town, Brittany finds herself having to protect everything she’s worked so hard for – her flawless reputation, her relationship with her boyfriend and, most importantly, the secret that her home life is anything but perfect. Alex is a bad boy and he knows it. So when he makes a bet with his friends to lure Brittany into his life, he thinks nothing of it. But the closer Alex and Brittany get to each other the more they realise that sometimes appearances can be deceptive and that you have to look beneath the surface to discover the truth.

My thoughts:

Definitely rated Edgy YA for swearing, sex, and violence. But that's kind of a no-brainer since this book is about what happens when a gangbanger falls for a pom squad captain. The story is well-written and believable, and--though I had to put the book down to get some sleep--the characters were still fresh in my mind the next morning. I couldn't wait to find out what would happen to them, mostly Alex Fuentes. Brittany was a little too perfect for my liking. The cracks in her picture-perfect image only serve to make her sweeter, more self-less, and more likable. That's fine, but it made her seem a little unrealistic to me, too. Her only flaw was her obsession with image. What about real flaws, like being too judgmental or having a chip on her shoulder? Alex was a very well-rounded character, however, and brought a gritty sense of reality to their love story.


Other reviewers have called the ending overly saccharine, but I thought it was perfect. Then again, I've always been a sucker for sweet and sappy romances. 


I loved the quirky, funny moments in the book, especially with Paco, Alex's BFF. The bathroom scene at the wedding is hilarious. If they ever make this into a movie, that's the scene to watch for.

Things I loved about the book:

  • Gangs are not glorified
  • Promiscuity is not glorified (in fact, it's seen as rather pathetic)
  • The author's faithfulness to the good, bad, and ugly in gang life
  • The themes of loyalty to family, to love, to self
  • The theme of progress: you create your own future, no matter how stuck you feel
  • The theme that you can't control everything
  • A truthful and compassionate look at life with special needs (love Shelley!)
Overall, a worthwhile read. As a mom, I wouldn't want my kids to read this until they are at least 16, which I think is probably a pretty standard caveat for edgy YA with high school seniors as the MCs. But for adults who can take the nearly constant swearing, you might enjoy this emotional love story, and learn something about gang culture in the process.

I applaud Simone Elkeles for taking on such difficult subjects and maintaining truth and compassion throughout.

Next Read: EVERMORE by Alyson Noel. Read along with me and join the discussion next week!

Friday, June 18, 2010

And the Best Beta-Reader Ever Award Goes To...

I need to take a moment to recognize a spectacular fellow writer and blogger who helped me out recently by beta-reading my MG manuscript. She read it fast, and she gave me line-by-line reactions, thoughts, and corrections. It was incredible, and incredibly helpful! 

Thank you, Amparo!

Fancy Friday- Wherein I try to be Shakespeare

*Note: This feature may be retitled "Freaky Friday" in the event that I can't come up with something brilliant. You decide.

So I thought I'd try my hand at a verse novel, but I've never written one before (also, I need book recommendations so I can read the modern-day take of this old concept [hint, hint, commenters]).

The truth is, I've always preferred metered, rhymed poetry to the other sort, so when I started trying to write SHUFFLE (based on a pretty heart-wrenching story), it came out like this:

Part I:

I never thought I’d want to see her once
The void of death had filled her empty case,
But when I heard the news of her demise,
Nothing ached like my heart for her face.

Not family, they said at the white doors
As if there lived a tighter bond than ours
What age had granted them in wisdom, truth,
It stole from them in love and desperate youth.

So here I wait in this abysmal seat
Forbidden past the point of no return
Where she was lost forever from my sight
And lost without a knowing heart to yearn.

Sterile, cold, infested with decay—
The last place she would want to fade
At seventeen our choices aren’t our own
We’re lost, they say, as if we stand alone.

I knew when I first saw her, she was mine
And I am hers, the summer to her snow,
Or so she said last August as the sun
Slipped into nightly shadows I well know.

The truth is that there burned no brighter light
Than Lilac with her sweet terrestrial scent
And golden hair, that swept about her face.
She was my reason, faith, my argument.

To be continued next Friday...
Also check out:

Thursday, June 17, 2010

I'd Like to Thank the Academy--I mean, Amparo Ortiz

This is my first ever blog award! I like it. Thanks, Amparo

BTW, Amparo Ortiz happens to be a fantastic beta-reader! Just sayin.
Okay, here are the rules I must follow:

1) Thank and link back to the person who gave you this award.
2) Share 7 things about yourself.
3) Pass the award along to 15 bloggers who you have recently discovered and who you think are fantastic for whatever reason! (In no particular order...)
4) Contact the bloggers you've picked and let them know about the award.

Seven things about myself:

1) I'm querying for Drats! Foiled Again! and celebrating every tiny success, lamenting every small failure.

2) I have a fantastic husband (my own Tall Bright and Handsome) and two make-you-green-with-envy-adorable boys. Not posting pictures. You'll just have to take my word for it. 

3) I'm really fascinated by comic book heroes (and villains, obviously). 

4) Bloody, gory shows are on my can't-watch list. It ruined Heroes for me after a few episodes.

5) When given the choice to nap or write, I pick writing 9 times out of 10. The tenth time, I pass out on the couch.

6) I'm still kind of new to blogging author-style, so any tips are more than welcome!

7) I'm as surprised as anyone that my first novel to get requests is a middle grade boy book. But it makes me really happy when I think my boys may get to read it someday, unlike my YA spy girl books from 2007 and my adult sci-fi from 2008 (made me a little embarrassed when I thought of them reading those).

And now, here are the blogging buddies I've chosen to tag:

Congrats to all of you!! You are truly awesome!

Come on back to the blog tomorrow. I'm doing something new: Fancy Friday, wherein I try to be Shakespeare and let you all laugh at me.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

My 3-Year-Old Comedian Quotes my Characters

So I was just feeling dark and down about the uncertainty in my publishing future when my darling little boy put his fingers up, itchy-fingers-style, and quoted one of my villainous characters: Countess Bula.

"They think they're so special!" (shrieked like the wicked witch of the west)

(3yo says this monster is eating a red sock)

How did he come to be acquainted with one of my villains? you ask. Well, aside from the fact that I read my middle grade manuscript to him at nap times, he overheard me doing an impression of Countess Bula to my husband in the car one day.

Yes, I am a huge, monster geek.

I do impressions of my characters. Countess Bula is one of my favorites because she's positively rotten to the core.

"Why do we hate good people?" Her tongue waved out of her mouth like she was ejecting the bad taste from saying the g-word. 
Everyone answered whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, so it was tough to decipher one answer from the roar of noise echoing off the stone walls.
“So true!” the skinny, clawed woman agreed, sitting at last behind a huge metal desk. “As you say, they are hypocrites. They do care way too much about what people think. And they do write horrible poetry. What else?”
Another assault of yelling and snarling ensued, but Robert could hear one answer above the rest. A sickeningly high voice from the back of the classroom screeched, “They think they’re so special!” 
“Aha! You’ve got it,” Countess Bula grinned. “You, Violent Violet, have pin-pointed the #1 reason why we hate those people. They think they’re so special."
It's one of my favorite scenes because it's the first glimpse of the villain community (oxymoron, right?) and we can really see what motivates them at the very core. Also, I just like thinking about a bizarrely bad teacher and what she might teach her pupils.

So you can imagine how big my smile got when my lil' guy spouted Countess Bula's thesis about why villains hate good people.

Lil' guy saves the day again!

Now I will go back to refreshing my mail box over and over again. Make sure to leave comments so I can get notifications in my email. Gotta get SOMETHIN'!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

745 Words for Teaser Tuesday: A five-yr-old's POV

From my group's all-but-abandoned literary science fiction project: Jaydo's Orb of Peril :
If you'd like to contribute to this story: click on the link, read the prologue and then contribute away!!
Ch. 1: Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

My chapter contribution (to be read after the Prologue, but it kind of stands alone):

On the other side of the world, a different storm was brewing. The kind with lightning strikes and charging stampedes of thunder. 
Five-year-old Bianca stuttered her ABC's into the moist windowpane like Nana taught her, trying to make Nature's war outside less troubling.
With her daddy on a very long business trip across the sea, Bianca's nightmares had started up again. There was only so much that Mommy could do. She didn't know how to sing the bass parts to Jericho: "And the walls came a-tumblin' down!" Only a man as big and strong as Daddy could do it properly.
So Bianca waited by the window, watching the torrents of rain like one child watches another's tantrum. Watching and waiting.
She could hear Mommy talking to Nana on the phone in the kitchen, but only muffled syllables that all sounded like, "mmm hmmm..." in different octaves. It was a song, but not a happy one.
The tension inside matched the storm outside. Bianca wanted to cry, she missed Daddy so much. He'd been away for business before, but never this long. It was several weeks, at least. He did send her a package on her birthday, just after he'd been called away. That was December, and now it was March. Her fingers tapped against the dark, cool glass as she counted the months in between.
"Bianca," came her mother's soft voice. The little girl whipped around. She'd been so absorbed in the thunder--and getting to Z--she hadn't heard the phone call end. Mommy's face looked sorry. "Dinner's ready, honey." 
As troubled as Bianca felt, the mood wasn't a conversation suppressor. As always, she had plenty to say, and plenty to ask. 
"Is Nana coming for St. Patrick's Day? Are we gonna do cookies with green frosting?"
Mommy smiled, but not with her teeth. "Sure. It's tradition, isn't it? Eat your food, please. Don't play with your peas."
"What about Father's Day. That's next month, huh?"
"No, sweetie. Not till June. There are two months in between, right?" Mommy was always quizzing her.
"Oh yeah! January, February, March, April, May, June!" It felt good to have the right answer, especially on nights like this when nothing felt quite...right.
Mommy was back to brooding in silence, twirling spaghetti much longer than it needed.
The phone rang, and Mommy jumped up to answer, leaving Bianca at the table, her mouth still open mid-question.
Bianca stewed, scratching the food around her plate. Scritch. Scritch. Scritch. 
Nobody poked a head back in to reprimand her, so she set her fork down and slumped. Mommy had darted into the front room this time--any room Bianca wasn't in. That seemed to be the phone rule these days. 
Bianca slid out of the high-backed chair and crept across the dark wood floor to the open door frame--the only door frame in the house without an actual door inside. She liked how open it was, especially now.
"A what particle? Slow down, sweetheart." Mommy took a deep breath. "Okay. What should we do? Can we come there?"
Bianca had to strain to hear as the words went from clear to muffled to clear again. Pacing, pacing.
"What difference does that make!? If it blows, it blows! Damn the world! I want to be with you!"
She didn't mean to give herself away, but a sharp gasp came out just the same. Mommy never swore. Well, aside from dang and crap, and Daddy said those didn't count. 
For a second, Mommy made eye contact with Bianca, her face wrinkled and tight. Then the harried woman marched into her bedroom, and locked the door. 
Stunned and hurt, Bianca charged off to her own bedroom, throwing her face into the puffy blue pillow. When she came up for air, her skin streaked with tears that felt hot like acid. Her eyes rolled back in her head as she sobbed, then came to rest on her birthday present: a winking monkey. She pulled him in and squeezed. He wasn't soft like her old giraffe, but he won her heart the second Mommy read the card from Daddy.

A monkey for my little monkey, to join in your monkey business. I love you, Bianca.   
Keeping her eyes wide open against the threatening nightmares, she sang to herself, "Joshwa fit the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho. Joshwa fit the battle of Jericho, and the walls came a-tumblin' down."

Time for a Serious Post: Slush

Okay, after my epic fangirliness from the past two posts, I think I need to simmer down a bit with a topic of interest to my 17 readers (I love you guys, by the way).

Since we are mostly comprised of writers here, I thought SLUSH would be the perfect topic to bring us back to reality. So here goes...

Slush: an aspiring author's hopes and dreams squeezed into a one-page query letter and dumped into a cyber-stack (sometimes a physical stack, in the case of snail mail) of other aspiring authors' hopes and dreams.

Who reads slush? Depending on the practice of the literary agency or publishing company, your readers will be either interns, agents, or editors.

What are they looking for? Well, after reading several Publishers Marketplace agency summaries, I feel somewhat qualified to answer this (bullet-style, of course):

  • Compelling premise
  • Tight plot
  • Unique/strong voice
  • Interesting, well-rounded characters
  • Brilliant hook
  • Marketability (this isn't usually listed in their literature, but it's a no-brainer)
  • No typos, grammatical, spelling, or punctuation problems

Beyond that, there are specific tastes to consider:

  • Do they represent children's books or adult novels? Both?
  • Do they hate hard science fiction and love paranormal plots? Or do they accept only memoirs?
  • Are there formatting considerations? (graphic novels, illustrations, etc.)
  • and, perhaps most importantly, what type of query will they accept? Synopsis? First 3-10 pgs?
Before we query, we have to discover all these unique preferences for each and every agent on our WANTED list. Otherwise, we face the risk of an automatic query fail. And nobody wants an automatic fail (take it from somebody who had to take her driver's test three times at age 20).

So the key to breaking out of the slush pile is simple: knowledge.

I said it was simple, but I didn't say it wasn't unendingly difficult, too. Finding all this knowledge, even with the brilliant resources on the web ( and, to name two), is extremely time-consuming.

But it is necessary. Besides, as authors, we will have to learn to manage our time to balance writing, editing, promoting, and otherwise living. Might as well start learning that balance now.

There. I promised you a dose of reality and there it is. If you're feeling kind of down, mosey on over to....

SLUSHPILE HELL: a fun little blog making fun of querying writers who we hope aren't us.

Update: Check out Amparo Oritz's 10 Step Program for the Query Wuss for another fun list.

Monday, June 14, 2010

OMGoodness! ECLIPSE, ECLIPSE, Jimmy Kimmel, ECLIPSE!

Update: I now have PROOF that I was there. I'm the geek in the tie-dye and dark glasses, clapping like a fool. Well, we were very surprised. Check out this video. Fun stuff.

Just got back (I may have broken a few traffic laws in my haste to blog) from the Eclipse advanced screening at Grauman's Chinese Theatre on Hollywood and Highland. It was AMAZING! 

In case you missed the previous post, my 5 adjectives (as they came to me on the lunatic drive home):
1) Charming
2) Spontaneous
3) Exquisite
4) Intimate
5) Masterful

Now I will explain them, in case you find them a bit fuzzy.

Charming: Such sweet romance, with just the right dash of humor so that the Kristen/Robert and Kristen/Taylor scenes feel like a conversation you'd have with your own significant other (except for the vampire/werewolf/human stuff). Aww! and *sigh* were heard throughout the theatre at several points.

Spontaneous: This could refer both to action and humor. Wow. David Slade, you are my hero! It was just....I mean...I'm rendered speech-awkward. 

Exquisite: Okay, this was the best word I could think to describe the intensity of emotion. The tent scene, and the scene right after it (no spoilers here) played out on the screen exactly as I imagined them in the book. Kudos to the top three actors (Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner, and--as I accidentally called him tonight--Edward Pattinson). You guys seriously pulled off a knock-out performance. I've never been one of those people calling you bad actors to begin with (silly gooses, they are), but now I can honestly say you are three of the most talented actors I've seen on screen. Those scenes were chock full of emotion per the books, and yet you pulled them off truthfully and faithfully. If the point of acting is to connect with your audience, then well done. Well done. 

Intimate: I almost put "familiar" here, but that didn't quite sum up the connection I felt as a member of the audience to the big people on the screen. Taylor as Jacob's character, especially, pulled off a presence so credible, I felt like I was watching my own flesh and blood up there, like a brother or a dear friend. Aww, Jacob, I thought. That's such a you thing to do. Inside jokes, yes. But more than that, there's an intimacy between fans and the characters that I suppose has only been building over the past several years. This film led it to its epoch. All Breaking Dawn director, Bill Condon, has to do is keep from spoiling it (and I fully trust him with this, of course). 

Masterful: Okay. Whoooh. No spoilers. No spoilers. No spoilers. Let me just say that there's a moment in the film that I thought would be painful to watch, and instead it was so beautiful as to be rendered a masterpiece all by itself. If you watch this on the 30th and still don't know what I'm talking about, then come on back here and I'll set you straight. But I have a feeling you will know it when you see it. It's the moment when everyone around you gasps in awe, and you find yourself mouth-agape as well. 

Now for the OTHER amazing part:

About twenty minutes into the show, the screen goes blank. We're all sitting there like, Umm, Hello! We're trying to watch an advanced screening of the year's best movie here! And some guy comes in and goes, "Sorry, we're just having technical difficulties." That's when I point to the giant camera being wheeled in and whisper to my neighbor, "Umm, I thought they said no cameras." It was RIGHT in front of me! Then the screen comes back on and it's Jimmy Kimmel's face...and he's talking to us. Like, as in, he sees us and we see him but he's actually across the street filming. It's not like I've never webcammed before, but this was just so unexpected.

So then the screen zooms out and we see that the three main stars of the film are there with Jimmy Kimmel, and the crowd goes wild! They're looking all cool and quiet like they always do in interviews (I got a big kick out of the on-screen reaction when the dude behind me yelled, "I love you, Taylor!" or something equally geeky), and then the theatre around me really bursts into craziness...

Into the front of OUR theatre walks Dakota Fanning, Peter Facinelli, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Xavier Samuel (that's Jane, Carlisle Cullen, Victoria, and Riley for those of you who know the books but not the actors). 

I don't think I've ever been that close to a movie star. The lucky ducks on the front row got their shirts signed by Carlise--I mean Peter. But we behind the camera definitely got more camera time. So I don't know if you'll be able to see me on the clip. At first I was trying to hide my face, but then I realized that was stupid and futile anyway. So I'm the one in the ridiculous homemade yellow and blue tie-dye. If I'm there, you won't be able to miss me. 

That was my whirlwind of an evening in Hollywood.

And I didn't die in traffic, either. Cloud 9, here I come. Goodnight.

*collapses in an exhausted blur of euphoria*

Update: Go HERE and HERE for info on the Jimmy Kimmel show.