Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Still trucking

Since my last blog post, I (not so ) successfully completed my month-long goal of following all the rules in the First Corinthians "Love is patient, love is kind..." verse. I tried my best, but patience is not my strong suit.

I finished the first draft of the book that experiment was preparation for, and I'm currently in the process of editing it. I'm hoping to have the edits complete by the end of this week so that I can send it out to beta readers.

I was tooling around online yesterday and I noticed that The Book Doctors are going to be in New Jersey with their famous Pitchapalooza which is basically the "American Idol of books." Really successful people (such as Genn Albin, author of Crewel) have gotten their big break by winning Pitchapalooza, so it's a big deal. I've attended one pitchapalooza event and unfortunately wasn't randomly selected to give my pitch. I then tried to go to two others, but they were both cancelled due to weather (one because of a hurricane, and another because of a freak October blizzard). I'm hoping next week will be my big chance. In preparation, I've been working on my pitch.

Here's what I got so far:

My Contemporary Middle Grade novel, PROJECT SINNERS CAN BE SAINTS, is Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret meets the Pennsylvania Dutch.

Twelve-year-old Emily Pincus is half-Jewish, half-Mennonite, and the wrong half for both.

Emily’s parents divorce, and her mother takes her to live with her Mennonite grandparents. (Think coverings and no television, not horse & buggies and no electricity). While her family loves her, Emily feels like an outsider. It’s small consolation to be one of “God’s chosen people” when you stick your foot in your mouth all the time.

After Emily’s cousin says that her parents’ marriage was doomed to fail because only Christians can know true love, Emily sets out to scientifically prove her cousin wrong. She might not know Ishmael from Issac, but she makes it her to goal to strictly follow all the rules laid out in the Bible for being a loving person.

Being perfectly loving is easier said than done, however, especially with an annoying little brother, a needy friend at school, and a cousin who seems perpetually irritated with everything she does. No matter how hard it is, though, Emily is determined to prove her cousin wrong, because if she’s right, where does that leave Emily?

Other than that, I've been dabbling in short stories, so I've submitted one to a handful of journals. I've already gotten my first rejection letter for that, so whoo-hoo! A whole new format of rejection!

As far as my other two novels, Michelle & I just got another request for TRAVELER and I just got another request for GOOD GIRLS. The agent who requested GOOD GIRLS seemed really upbeat and positive and she said she'd get back to me in 3 weeks (it's been almost 1 now). Just even hearing back would be nice because one agent has had GOOD GIRLS for 3 months, and two others have had it for 2 months. Don't they know how painful waiting is?! ;)

To end on a positive note, I've recently been hired to do regular local reporting for CBS's Arts & Culture beat in Philly. I just submitted my first article about the top Opera events in the coming year, although it won't be published for about a month. Not only does this make me feel like a "real" writer, it also pays cash money which is always nice.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

My 40 Days in the Wilderness

Everyone's heard the 1 Corinthians 13 passage during wedding services, but do you think any couple actually tries to literally follow its advice?

For those of you who forget the passage:

1 Corinthians 13

1 If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Following this passage to the letter is what I'm going to try to do for the next 40 days, not just with my husband, but with everyone. I was looking for a "New Testament 10 Commandments", and in my mind, this is as close as you get.

Right now I'm thinking the hardest parts to follow will be always being truthful, trusting, and hopeful. While I'm generally a truthful person, everyone tells white lies now and again, so that one is obviously going to be difficult. I don't consider myself naive, so always being trusting will also be a stretch. (Let's hope no Nigerian scammers get past my spam filter, because I have a feeling that rule would dictate I'd have to send them money. I'll have to give that further thought.) As far as being permanently hopeful, while I think this will be difficult (I am a worrier by nature), it should be nice to have to force myself to think positively. I'm hoping that while this experiment will be difficult, it'll also be uplifting in the end as well.

The reason I'm undertaking this experiment is to get in the head of the protagonist in the next book I'm writing. It's a Young Adult/Middle Grade book (I haven't decided which yet) about a girl that does this very same experiment. I purposefully chose to do this over the holidays because I figured (1) the holidays will add a higher layer of difficulty with traveling and being around family and in-laws, and (2) what better time to try to more closely follow the Bible than during the Christmas season.

I'll keep you updated on my progress. So far this morning all I've done is check my email and write an examiner.com article. It was entitled "The Party of Stupid" so I don't know how "kind" I was. I maintain that I was following the advice to be honest, and that's honestly how I felt. (Seriously, though, I'm exempting my examiner articles because good writing is all about honesty.)

In general, though, it's going to be quite difficult to reconcile being kind with being honest. I think that's going to result in me just keeping my mouth shut most of the time. Especially if Max says something ridiculous or my in-laws attempt to make gravy. ;)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Max's 30th Birthday

This isn't entirely writing related, but I wanted to write a full description of Max's surprise birthday weekend, and a facebook status update just wouldn't cut it.

In advance I told him that he needed to take off a day from work on Friday so we could head out on Thursday night to parts unknown. When he saw that we were flying into Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport, he was a bit surprised, to say the least.

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(It might not be famous, but it is beautiful.)

Northwest Arkansas doesn't exactly fit the schema for dream vacation destination, but as our rental car approached Eureka Springs, Max quickly figured out where we were heading. I'd visited Eureka Springs with my best friend Michelle a couple of times because it's not too far from her house in Springfield, Missouri, and I'd told him how much I'd enjoyed it.

Eureka Springs is a town of contrasts. Hippies and Jesus Freaks live happily side-by-side in this small town that looks more Old West than Ozarks.

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(One of the town's two main streets. It's not a huge place.)

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(Park in center of town.)

In one shop you'll find a sign that says "Let your freak flag fly," and right next door you'll find a sign that says "Let your freak flag fly...somewhere else." [That's not a metaphor. We actually saw both of those signs.]

You can see a show with a medium that claims to be able to speak to the spirits, or you can see a passion play performed right next to the largest statue of Jesus in North America.

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(His official name is "Christ of the Ozarks" although some call him "Milk Carton Jesus." I'm not sure which name is more offensive. Also, the grassy hill actually makes him look smaller than he is. In fact, this statue is 7 stories high.)

When we pulled up to our rented tree house, Max was met with balloons, a birthday cake, and champagne. Even though we were in a tree house, we definitely weren't roughing it. It was pimped out with a hot tub, fireplace, and flat screen.


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(It was dark when we got there, so this is a picture from the next day.)

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(The view from our balcony.)

The next day (Friday) we went sightseeing in Eureka Springs and we saw "The Ghosts Have Answers," an illusionist/medium show. It was super fun, if not world class. The performer was so nice that he actually called me twice to ensure that we knew that the location for the performance had been changed. Yes, I said the performer called me...twice.

Saturday was Max's actual birth date. In the morning we got spa treatments (mineral baths, steam tank, clay masks, and massages). Then we went to the Onyx Cave.

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That evening we went to Rogue's Manor for dinner.

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When we got there, who was there, but most of Max's family and Michelle & her family! Max was incredibly surprised. He never guessed that I had been coordinating with his mother & Michelle for months to make this happen.

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(Michelle & her husband Steve.)

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(Michelle & Steve's beautiful children. They were incredibly well behaved. From left, Violet, Rhys, Alisha, and James.)

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(Max's mom & dad.)

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(Max's grandmother and brother.)

On the table were letters sent by various friends and family letting Max know how much they love him. Michelle was kind enough to coordinate all of that.

All-in-all we had an incredible time. Max & I have been lucky enough to have been on a number of incredible vacations in our short marriage, but for me, this one was by far the best one we've been on. If this weekend shows just a sliver of the love that I have for Max, then it was a success.

Thanks for everyone who helped me out with this weekend. I really appreciate it!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Writers Conferences and the In Between

A few weeks ago I went to the James River Writer's Conference in Richmond--my first writers conference.  I have to admit I was slightly terrified.  I wanted to drag my mom along with me, but she was off in Florida.  I was scared everyone there would see me for what I am.  See that I'm not really a writer.  I'm just some girl (lady? woman?) who sits at her cheap Compaq laptop and writes what comes into her head. 

I don't know exactly what I was expecting, but whatever it was, I didn't find it.  Everyone was really welcoming.  The speakers were all incredibly inspiring.  (I currently have a literary crush on Robert Goolrick.  I just finished his memoir The End of the World as We Know It which was incredible).  I realized that half the people there hadn't even finished their novel.  I was one step ahead of them. Sure, some of the people did have agents.  Some of them had published books, but somehow, there, they just seemed a step ahead of me.

The conference was wonderful.  It made me realize I am a real author and feel proud of myself, somehow.  I've written a novel--one and a half, even.  That's something that a lot of people talk about, but few actually accomplish.  I know I have talent (even some of the rejection letters I get tell me so).  I just have to keep at it.  It's a numbers game.  If you don't give up, eventually you get published.  At the conference, I met with an agent and she requested the first thirty pages of my solo project.  I'm pretty sure she did that for everyone, so I'm not holding my breath, but when I got home I queried 10 agents for that project.  One requested the full manuscript that day (but sadly rejected me the next day).  Another one rejected me saying that the project wasn't right for her but at the bottom of the form letter she took precious seconds out of her day to write "Good voice, good comparisons".  I was happier about that than the request for the full.  I pride myself on my comparisons.  Max made me a shirt once that read "Queen of Analogies".  It was nice to hear from a professional that even if I'm not the Queen, I'm at least the Page.

Since then, a new agent has requested a partial of the book that Michelle & I wrote.  Since our revisions I'm feeling pretty good about it, but we'll see how it goes.  That (amazing superstar) agent has it on an exclusive basis, so fingers crossed.  In the end, though, if she wants to represent it, awesome.  If not, we'll soldier on.

This morning I outlined a new book.  It's a book of women's book club fiction (that is, it would appeal to women and it's of the sort that book clubs would select).  My last book was sad so I'm looking forward to writing this new book--everyone gets out alive.  It's got an interesting premise.  It's one of those premises that if I told you, you'd think "I could've come up with that," but I've googled it, and I can't find any book quite like it.  I think it's going to be fun to write.

In parting, I just have to mention how lucky I am to have such a wonderfully supportive husband.  I said to Max last night that while I might be part of the 99% in income, I'm definitely part of the 1% in lives.  I have the best husband, the best mother, the best friends (best friend and otherwise).  Obviously I hope one or more of these books finds an agent/publisher soon, but if they don't, I'll make it through until they do.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

So much news to report, although still no agent

I really need to start blogging more consistently.  In any event, here is a (brief, I hope) run-down of what's going on right now.

First, the Traveler full manuscript is still out with one agent, but with time passing, it's looking quite likely it'll be a pass.  From the feedback we've gotten, we realized that the pace at the beginning needs to be sped up considerably, so we've been working on edits to accomplish just that.  We're almost done with that process, cutting about 10,000 words if that gives you any indication of the depth of our cuts.  Before we start sending it out again, I want to post it on Critique Circle to get feedback from other writers.  If all looks well from the critiques then we'll pick back up on querying.

Speaking of Critique Circle, I've found it to be a great learning tool.  On it, you can spend credits to post your work for critique, and you get those credits by critiquing other people's work.  I haven't yet had my first piece up for review, but I've been spending a lot of time critiquing other people's work.  I've found this to be amazingly enlightening about what works and what doesn't.  Also, I read the critiques by other writers on pieces that I critiqued which shows me even more things that I may not have thought of.  I highly recommend the site (or others like it) for all writers.  It has already greatly enriched my own writing and editing process.

Beyond that, since the last time I posted, I wrote another novel (I wrote the entire thing in 3 weeks--I was inspired, what can I say?).  This one is a Young Adult Contemporary piece that is very important to me because it's loosely based on real events that happened in my own life.  Right now I've put it away for a few weeks so that I can get some distance from it before I begin my edits in earnest, but I've posted the first three chapters on Critique Circle to get feedback.  I'm excited to find out what they have to say (although a bit terrified).  

In non-writing news, I decided not to go back to Temple so that I can focus on my writing (grad school is a 50+ hour per week venture).  I am determined to make my writing a success (which I define as getting published), and there was no way that I could do both.  Plus, as it turned out, I'm just not into research which is what you do in grad school.  The program doesn't pay enough for me to stay in it if I don't love it, so I figured the fair thing to do would be to leave. 

Moreover, I've accepted a Fall Fellowship with the Obama campaign that runs from mid-September to early December.  I'll be organizing volunteers (after I round some up), and I'm looking forward to it, although I'm concerned about my workload.  The hours I'll work for the fellowship are 1-9, so my plan is to use the mornings to work on writing/editing/querying.  That's going to make for a lot of long days, but since I love writing and I love politics, hopefully it won't seem that way.  I'm doing this for two reasons: (1) I love my country and if I can volunteer to help out I want to, and (2) it gives me community organizing experience which is a good Plan B.  (Moreover, while this is not a paid position, these fellowships often lead to paying positions inside the campaign, so I have my fingers crossed about that.)

I'm also planning on getting more involved in local politics (both to buttress my work for the Obama campaign as well as because I enjoy politics).  Next week, for instance, I'm planning on going to the local Cheltenham democratic meeting.  Hopefully that'll be fun.  I'm going to spend the next few months shaking a lot of hands and handing out a lot of cards.

Speaking of cards, I got a bunch of business cards to use at the writer's conference that I'll be attending next month.  I have a pitch session in front of an agent lined up that I'm excited about.  I'm going to pitch my new novel because Michelle & I had already queried this agent re: Traveler.  I'm also going to mingle mingle mingle and hope that I can land my big break.

Another way that I'm increasing my chances of my big break happening is that this coming weekend I'm going to attend a local pitchapalooza.  For that, 20 people out of a crowd of usually hundreds are randomly selected to give their pitch, and the winning participant is set up with an agent.  Just such an event is how Genn Albin (an amazing new author that I am lucky enough to be friends with--well, at least on facebook--she does comment on my posts sometimes ;)) got her big break, so I'm hoping that lightening can strike twice.

I love all of you and I want to say thank you for all of your support.  I know that Michelle's & my break is right around the corner, and you know that when it happens, you'll be the first to hear about it.  (OK, that's a lie.  Michelle will be the first to hear, then Max, then my mom, then anyone within shouting distance, and then you.)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

When no news is definitely not good news

No new news to report in the finding an agent front.  I cannot begin to describe how excruciating this process is.  Michelle & I sent out our first batch of ten query letters on July 2nd and got three requests for the manuscript.  We've heard back from one of those three people, and obviously it was a no, or I would certainly have something to report.  Then two weeks ago we sent out a second batch of ten query letters, but we haven't heard back from any of those agents yet.  July is a busy month, and the agents we just queried have an average response time of 3-4 weeks when they give positive news, so this doesn't mean that we won't be getting any more requests.  Going a few weeks without hearing anything from anyone, though, has been trying, to put it mildly.

Notwithstanding our anxiety about hearing back from agents, we're plowing ahead with the second book of the series.  We already had a good idea what was going to happen in the next book (we have a plan for the entire 4-5 book series, actually), so it hasn't been that difficult.  We're in the home stretch of outlining the book, and I'm really happy with it so far, although it has been slightly harder to outline than the first.  There are continuity issues to contend with as well as decisions about what we want to reveal when.  I think we've struck the right balance between revealing a lot of new and interesting information while still leaving a lot of grist for later books.

It's hard, though, working on book two when we're still in limbo regarding book one.  I still feel good about what we produced.  All of our beta readers loved it, and one of the agents who requested our manuscript said that she "greatly enjoyed [our] beginning" so I hope she feels the same way about the rest of the book when she finally reads it.  (I'm hoping that the fact that we haven't heard from her yet is because she hasn't had time to read the book.  That's not an impossibility because her average response time when she agrees to represent a book is close to a month from submission.)

The other night when Michelle & I were working, I really started to think about about what it would be like if our book didn't get published.  When you spend this much time with your characters you honestly come to love them as if they're real people, and the idea that they would never get put into print can only be described as akin to the idea that your child would never get to be born.  Maybe that's a bit of hyperbole, especially since I don't have any children yet, but I'm sure Michelle would feel the same way and she does have her share of lovable rugrats. 

I've been saying for weeks that I have a feeling that after we finish outlining book 2 we're going to start hearing back from people.  Since we will be finishing that tonight, I guess my premonition is about to be put to the test.  Let's hope that this premonition is as prophetic as when I told my roommate in New Orleans that I just had the strongest feeling that she wasn't going to be in school in the coming semester with absolutely no reason to believe that until a week later when Hurricane Katrina hit.  Maybe I'm good at predicting cataclysmic life changes, and this certainly would be one for us, although hopefully one without such devastating consequences.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

The Ups and Downs of Getting Feedback

This last week has been chocked fulls of highs and lows both in my professional life and my personal life, but for brevity's sake I'll just stick with the professional.

This past Wednesday we were to receive feedback from our beta readers about the book.  However, we'd already heard back from a number of them personally, and the feedback was almost universally positive, so last Saturday night at 11PM we just couldn't resist, and we began querying agents.  The way that you do this is you send your query letter (which is like a cover letter that describes your book in 2 paragraphs and tells a bit about yourself) and any other materials they request (such as the first few chapters) to the top 10 agents on your list.  Most people never hear back (positively) from any of their top 10 agents, and so then they move down to the next 10 agents, etc. until they find one.  Well, by 5 PM on Sunday, we'd already gotten our first request to see the full manuscript.  We were excited because not only did an agent want to look at our manuscript, but he was a very big name agent and he got back to us in 24 hours during a holiday weekend!  The following Monday we got two more requests for the manuscript, one from an agent who had already read the first chapter which she "greatly enjoyed," so we were feeling pretty good about everything.

On Wednesday we sat down with everyone who had read our book to get feedback.  Now, Michelle & I really did write this book together.  There are many lines that she wrote and many that are mine throughout the entire book, but I wrote the first draft of the prologue (which was meant to be very different in tone than the rest of the book since it's set in the 1800s), and she wrote the first draft of all the other chapters.  This was fair because I did an extensive amount of research on Irish Travelers and other things relevant to the story arc of the series, so we ended up doing essentially the same amount of work (I may have worked a bit more hours, but the work that she had to do was more draining).

Anyhoo, so it was difficult to hear at the book club that people loved the writing of the book overall, but just didn't think the writing quality of the prologue matched the rest of the book.  I think they thought they were helping cushion the blow by repeatedly emphasizing that the writing in the rest of the book was so much better, but little did they know that they were just twisting those screws in further and further.  While no one said anything at the actual book club meeting for fear of contradicting what others said, three people who've read the book have told me privately that they liked the prologue.  I still stand by the fact that it is purposefully written in a different style that may appeal to some people and not others.  I'm interested to see what agents think about it.  I'm certainly willing to re-write it and there are some things about it that I think would be good to change, but I think if you didn't use more formal language, etc. (which were a chunk of the comments) then it would lose the feeling of being in the past.

Regardless of my own ego (which I need to get over, but it's really hard when you want to make writing your career and you have 4 people tell you that your writing is just meh, or at least it was difficult not to take it that way), the vast majority of the feedback about the book was positive.  In particular people really liked the characterization of the male lead, Shay.  They liked the plot and the female lead as well, but the most effusive praise came regarding Shay.

So the next day, I was still feeling pretty down (partially because of the feedback from the book, but partially because of things going on in my and a number of my friends' personal lives), and I wake up to a rejection from the first guy who requested the full manuscript.  He said that there was too much exposition, particularly in the dialogue, and that we also needed to work on characterization, especially with Shay.  Well, after the feedback from the beta readers, we were totally floored.  I went back and re-read the first chapter to see what he was talking about re: exposition, and while of course there is some amount of exposition in any dialogue at the beginning of a book, that was something that I gave great care to when we were planning out the book/editing.  I certainly don't think any of the dialogue sounds forced to cram in backstory. 

So that was depressing.  After reading the letter about 5 times and having Max read it, Michelle & I really think that the person never read past the first chapter.  If there was a lack of characterization for Shay, then there must have been an even greater lack of characterization for Spencer, but she's not mentioned (and since she doesn't come in 'til Chapter 2, that would make sense if the agent didn't get past the first chapter).  This agent generally represents more high fantasy, and so we're just hoping that he was expecting magic to happen on the first page and so when he had a whole chapter about Travelers in a Traveler camp, he was like, "This is all exposition!  Get to the story!"  When in reality our book isn't a fantasy book that happens to have Travelers in it.  It's a book about Travelers that happens to have some supernatural elements.

The only thing that Michelle & I can comfort ourselves with is the fact that another agent has read our first chapter and "greatly enjoyed" it, so perhaps this guy just doesn't see our vision whereas that woman will.  Only time will tell.  Obviously, if we receive the same feedback from others then we'll have to reassess.

It hasn't even been a week since we started querying, and it was a holiday week at that, but this wait is killing me.  I don't know how other people do it who don't even hear back from anyone.  Plus, I know that at least one of the agents who we queried hasn't even read it yet, because she (very thankfully) posts on her blog through which date she's read all queries, and she's only up to June 23rd.  There are also a lot of writers' conferences going on right now so people are busy.

I have high hopes that we'll hear more back this coming week.  I mean, really, it takes 2-3 weeks on average to hear back about a query letter (when the response is positive), and it takes on average 3-4 weeks to hear about the manuscript, so we're already light years ahead.

On Sunday I'm going to Springfield for 3 weeks to be with Michelle.  We just  need to put all of this querying out of our minds (well, as much as possible) and focus on outlining the next book.  That is so much easier said than done.