Monday, October 31, 2011

ONE in Pictures

To celebrate finishing the first draft of my second novel (!!!), ONE -
here it is, in photos.
For the past three months, I've been itching for you all to see how beautiful it is.
(In my head, at least.)

(Please, gush along with me in the comments. <3)


Friday, October 28, 2011

Friday Obsessions: "The Worst Witch," New THG Posters, and Jellly Donut Challah

Everything I was obsessed with this week.
Because I  know you want to know.

1. The Worst Witch.
Best. Halloween Movie. EVER.
So, me and my sister grew up with this when it was a seasonal HBO special. It's about a girl at a witches' academy who's a bit of a disaster and just can't seem to do anything right.

It may be needless to say, but as an 11-year-old, I could TOTALLY relate.

This year, I discovered that I could buy it on DVD on Amazon, and I flipped out. We've been watching it all week.

2. New Hunger Games Posters. 
The fabulous Lori Lee linked to these on Twitter and I had to take a good five minutes out of my day for deep breathing and composing myself.

Hold on. Gonna have to take another minute.


3. Jelly filled challah.
So, remember when Francesca was hungry on Monday? And you know how my Jewish mother genes get all twitchy when I hear about hungry students? And how I started freaking out and brainstorming how I could create a shippable Toaster Pastry?

Yeah. This happened. I think this is better. (Of course I taste tested it. And then, um, ate a whole loaf.)


And here's the big big superhugest news of the last three months.

The first draft of ONE is done!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I am too giddy and have waaay too many posts to write about this first draft, its messiness, its beauty (at least to me!), and its relentless pull at my heartstrings. But for now, I'll just share my very favorite most beloved line(s) of the whole thing so far.

The ground beneath my feet buzzes, like it’s too solid to handle me, like I don’t even belong there. Not anymore.

Eeeek! Can't wait to share more with you! 

So - What about you? What were you obsessed with this week?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Anti-Procrastination Live Blog

- My CP Maggie's Monday Anti-Procrastination Live Blog was pretty much the best thing ever
- I'm not going to work until 3:00 today
- I have a ton of stuff to get done before I have to leave at 2:30...

I decided to add more to my plate and do an Anti-Procrastination Live Blog of my own today! Wheee!

5:15 - I drag myself out of bed, an hour and fifteen minutes late. Remind myself that if I want to wake up at 4, I have to be in bed by 9:30. No exceptions.

5:22 - Read an email between me, Maggie, and Chessie. It seems I've offended Maggie. Or Maggie thinks she's offended me. Or something. And I went to bed before I saw that reply. Better remedy this via tweet. (Make a mental note to form the subject of the email into a  blog post. Topic: What constitutes "typical YA?")

5:32 - The children are laughing and playing (read: AWAKE OMG HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE) in their room, but I hop on the elliptical anyway. I open BEAUTIFUL CHAOS on my Kindle, even though THE SCORPIO RACES is there too. TSR is meant to be lingered over and savored, like Thanksgiving dinner, while BC can be slammed down in satisfying five-minute chunks, like a power bar. The ladies do not fail to disappoint, with this definition of "heartache":
"That feeling - the pain that wasn't pain...the perfect ache I felt in the empty places she usually filled."

5:59 - Done on the elliptical, and off to the races. The kids know that "six-zero-zero" means they can leave their room, God help us, and I want to be ready.

6:02 - Forget the kids. Tweet about Gina's Last Call for Free Books. She's hit 200 followers and is giving away a bunch!

6:23 - Finish torturing the baby getting the baby dressed. Oldest says he is freezing and husband says he has a fever. Run to CVS to get Tylenol.

6:25 - CVS is closed. WTH?

6:35 - Return home from grocery store with overpriced Tylenol and some stuff I need for today's baking. Administer Tylenol. Take oldest's temperature. He does not, in fact, have a fever of any sort. Probably did that backwards.

6:45 - Start a load of laundry. Pick smashed muffins from this morning's breakfast out of living room carpet

6:55 - Start a batch of challah dough in the bread machine, unload dishwasher, and wipe down counters.

7:35 -Pack all the children are in the car to go to school! Husband and I decide the car needs an oil change but he can't do it. I need to go to work at noon instead of 3 to make up for the hours I'll lose doing that tomorrow. Panic.

7:54 - Challah dough is out of the bread machine, pizza dough is in. I (finally) have an English muffin and some coffee. T-one hour till I need to tend to the baking and laundry. Let's see what I can get done, writing wise.

8:23 - Replied to 2 emails from CPs (first priority!) and commented on a few blogs. Now to writing. Want to get in 500 words before I braid this challah.

9:00 - 200 words down. Run over here to post an update. Realize that this url is crashing Chrome on my computers.  PANIC.

9:28 - Still trying to figure out why the F blog is crashing Chrome! (Works fine in IE.) Is it virused?

11:26 - Pizzas are done and challahs in the oven, but you guys? I CANNOT FIGURE OUT WHAT'S WRONG WITH THIS BLOG. I've removed links from this post (sorry Maggie and Chess) and a twitter widget from the sidebar. It's now crashing IE also. I'm a little stressed because I've never backed it up and now I'm afraid I'll have to delete the whole goshdarn thing.

As of right now, I pretty much hate blogger and chrome and the whole internet. And I think I invented some new curse words. So my house is still filthy, and I've only written 200 words, and now I have to leave for work. Hopefully better news later today. Thanks for bearing with me.

12:06 - IT WAS THE SHARE BUTTONS!!! Grrrr. (Thanks to Kate over at O My Heart for her help!) Still have not left for work.

12:54 - Finally got myself together (I look GREAT, thanks for asking) and arrived at work. No more writing till at least 7:30 PM, and now I've agreed to a word war with Maggie. Have to do 1300 more words by the time I go to sleep. What have I gotten myself into?

 And now I have accepted some vague word count challenge from Maggie. It's not looking good for me.

2:15 - Ohhhh my.....geez.

*Ahem* Back to work.

5:01  - Thought I'd get at least a couple hundred words in between visits with students, but it's been an INSANE day  here at the office. Grateful to see so many students, not looking forward to having to get another 1300 words out once the kids go to bed. But I'll do it, because I promised Maggie I would.

6:03 - Home from work, dropping off a student at her south campus dorm (because I am awesome) and stopping at the grocery (oooh! Avocadoes.) Light the jack-o-lanterns, restart the dryer, throw the pizza I made earlier into the oven and the veggies in the microwave, cut an avocado in half.

6:05 - Open Twitter so I can trash-talk Maggie about our word war at 7:45. BECAUSE I AM GOING TO OWN HER.

6:35 - Another 375 down. Rewarding myself with pajamas.

6:39 -  Just found out (via Facebook) that David is a FREAKING SAINT and has taken all the children to Jiffy Lube for the oil change so 1. I don't have to do it tomorrow and 2. They are out of my hair for at least another hour.

7:31 - After a particularly harrowing dinnertime in which I asked Asher (4) to bus his table and he went from horrified to outraged to indignant, deciding I was the Worst Ima Ever (yes, he went to time out) AND the baby flung homemade pizza sticks  at my head, the children are finally in "circle time" for a bedtime story. Thank. God.

My crit partners have graciously pushed Word War to 8:00. *Cracks knuckles* Can't. Wait.

7:57 - Prep for word war with Coke and chocolate. David says, "Don't embarrass me by losing." Cute.

8:00 - It's ON. Can't believe I'm pantsing this sucker.

8:20 - 699 words!  Woo! I'm so close to what Maggie challenged me to now!

8:48 - We are crazy and did ANOTHER one. This one wasn't as good - 494 - but I'll be darned if Maggie isn't the smartest thing next to those fabulous shoes I wore today. These word wars pushed me to just over 1700 words for the day - almost a whole page over what Maggie challenged me to!

Obviously, I bow to her.

(Oh! And she and G did a bang-up job in the word war too. Gina even punctuated stuff! And spelled it correctly!)

Whew! I'm spent. Gonna crit for awhile, then turn in.

9:42 - No crits done - got distracted by Prince Charming on Once Upon a Time (he reminds me of Davis.) Going to bed now so I can wake up at 4 tomorrow, and hang out with THE ELITE then.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Writer's Therapy

Imagine Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter all happening in the same month. Now make one of them a week long. (Are you panicked yet?)

That's been my life for the last month.

The cooking, the cleaning, the decorating, the prayer-services-going, the dressing up, the laundry, the managing children on vacation from school. It's all the same for Jewish holidays as for Christian ones, just in the early autumn when it's not, for the rest of American society, normal.

On top of the normal household holiday stress, it's my day job to plan and facilitate prayers services and events for all of it.

 I looked up in the sky last night and almost cried when I saw this:

The lunar month is nearly over. The holidays have died down until Chanukah, which is actually not that big of a deal. I finally took a deep breath.

So, at this point, you won't be surprised that the writing part of my life has fallen far short. It's no secret I've been ignoring my WiP, but I'm ashamed to say that I've ignored a lot of other stuff that writers need to do to succeed, too.  

I need some writer's therapy. So here's the plan.

Real, Solid Writing Time
I've been doing a couple hundred words in the 23 minutes it takes my challah to bake, another fifty while I wait for my kid to finish using the bathroom, a couple sentences waiting in line at the grocery store. There's a reason I've only done about 6K in 23 days, and even those words suck. I need some solid writing time, uninterrupted by beeping kitchen timers, laundry that needs to be turned over, temper tantrums or tussles over toys.

And no one's going to give it to me - I've got to claim it for myself.

Here's an inspirational photograph about how something can sprout, flourish and blossom
(Or: what happens when I don't clean out the potato bin for two months. Oops.)

I've had an absolutely amazing project in my inbox for a month, and another one just arrived. These writers are also part of the critiquing team for ONE, and of course I owe it to them to do my critiquing best on their work.

More than that, though, critiquing makes me a better writer. Not to mention that it's pure writer's therapy to weed passive voice out of a mostly gorgeous manuscript, or to get that "Aha!" moment when you figure out which two words to move around it a sentence to make it really sparkle.

Plus, you know, all the kissing scenes you get to read. Because you can only put so many of those in your own book. (I know. It's sad.)

I'm back to critiquing an hour every morning before the kids wake up, and maybe another hour after they go down to bed, and it feels SO. GOOD.

The last published book I read obsessively cover-to-cover was over a month ago. Not. Okay. Not at all. Especially when I have at least EIGHT on my Kindle I'm dying to read.

First of all, you can't write if you don't read, widely and raptly. I know this. But the fact that I haven't dropped everything to devour these books says a lot about how stressed I've been. Normally I'd be finished with them in less than a week. Yikes.
The Scorpio Races
Here's just one of the many.
 Seriously, just looking at this COVER is making me want to call in sick to work.

Taking Care of Myself
I'm a working mother trying to write and publish a book, so I don't even spend TONS of time taking care of myself physically on a good day. But before the holidays, I was at least exercising regularly, taking care of hair cuts and colors, and painting my nails once in awhile.

Another biggie is sleeping enough. Because I don't. As it is, my only really productive writing time is morning through midday, because by 8 PM I am so exhausted I can't formulate original thoughts, let alone make them into coherent and beautiful sentences. When I don't get enough sleep, even the morning/afternoon hours are forfeit, because I'm dozing off or riding a caffeine buzz (also not great for the fetus, sorry baby) that only really makes me jittery, not productive.

So, that's my plan for getting back to healthy writer-dom! When you need writer's therapy, what works for you? I could always use more suggestions.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Friday Obsessions: ALIAS, Moody Music, and Ramen with Sriracha

1. Michael Vaughn ALIAS.  I got the first season of ALIAS as a birthday gift in 2005.  David and I watched all four seasons (yeah, I know there were five, but that fifth one sucked so hard we're just gonna pretend it didn't happen, mmmkay?) obsessively straight through, and it seems like we're going to do that every six years or so, because we started back at Season 1 this week. 

It's perfect. He watches for Jennifer Garner  the awesome action and fight scenes and I watch for Michael Vartan/VAUGHN the smart spy stories and awesome, cliffhanger-y writing. 

And we both watch for the explosions. Duh.

Seriously, though. Vaughn taught me that boys are sexiest when they're called by their last names.  (Now you know why no one calls Davis "Emerick." Except Chessie.)  Also, Michael Vartan is actually age-appropriate for me in real life, unlike all these YA heroes I tend to have a crush on admire in a non-creepy fashion.  Ahem.

Here's the screenshot from my favorite Vaughn-ness of Season 1. Sydney asks him to go on a mission with her. She says, "You in?"
 He says, "Yeah. I'll break into the Vatican with you."

2. My "I'm in a Mood" playlist. Here in Ohio this week the weather has been cold and nasty followed by colder and nastier. And my attitude about everything I have to do in life BESIDES writing (mostly doing dishes, trudging through our damp basement to do laundry, and cleaning EVERYTHING) has been even colder and nastier than the weather.

When life gets like this, one of the things that makes me feel better is my "I'm in a Mood" type music. It's music that sounds kind of emo and depressed, but if you listen to the lyrics it's actually pretty uplifting.

Here are the four songs I've been cycling through:

3. Ramen with Sriracha (rooster sauce.)  Ohhh my goodness you guys. I think I've eaten five packages of ramen with sriracha sauce this week. So not-awesome for me at all. So delicious, warm, spicy, and comfort-food-y, especially given the week I've had. Nom nom.
This is not a picture of my ramen with sriracha. I ate it all before I remembered to bring out a camera.
Yes, every time.
So, the WiP. The great news is that I WROTE THE FINAL SCENE. Like, typed "The End" and everything!

The awful news is that I still have the three or so chapters before it to write. Womp womp.
Between more Jewish holiday stuff (yeah, this is the last of it till Chanukah, believe it or not) and a baby with a broken toe and me in the ER for nearly five hours one other words except those lonely 800 got written.

In other words? I pretty epically failed ONE this week.

Anyway. Here's a sweet scene between Merrin and her dad, after she hangs out with Elias one night. Thanks for reading, you guys make me smile.

I reach for my white waffle-weave bathrobe and wrap it tight around my body. I head toward my room, but when I’m just about there, Dad calls up the stairs, “Mer Bear? Sweetie?”

“Right here, Daddy.” I say. His head cranes around the banister.
“Everything okay, honey? Where’s the car?”
Oh my God. I am even more out it than I thought I was.
“I, um. I walked home. I guess I left it…” then I give myself over to the trembling in my legs and sit on the front steps, look at him, and shrug. I can’t say anything because I know I’ll burst into tears.
Now my lip’s trembling, too, and I must looked wrecked, because Dad looks at me sadly and climbs the stairs to sit there beside me. He wraps his arm around me.
“Is it a boy?”
“Yes…no…I don’t know, Daddy.” I say, and turn my head into his shoulder, and really let loose, soaking his shirt with my tears.
“Did he hurt you?” Dad asks after a moment.
“No…Elias? No. Not at all.”
“Elias.” Dad says, turns his head into mine, kissing the top of it.
Then a bright blue-white light pans through the front windows of the house, and I just barely hear the hint of a car door slamming. Five seconds later, a light knock on the door.
Oh, my God. He is too perfect.
Dad runs down the stairs, and I listen to his gruff voice exchanging with Elias’s younger, velvet one.
“I’m sure Merrin’s asleep, but I wanted to get this back before the morning.”
I hear the clink of keys changing hands. How could I have been so stupid as to leave the keys in the car? Or did I leave them in the dirt next to the house? This boy takes my head away from me.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Feeling

I started writing ONE on August 1st. It started with an idea, and very, very quickly picked up character to embody it. A girl and a boy - Merrin and Elias - who had grown up in the same tough situation, and handled it very differently.

I wrote a scene, a long one, two thousand words long, that first day.
This first scene-that's-now-a-whole-chapter was one of discovery, exhilaration, romance, and devastation all at once.

That night, after I finally closed my computer and sighed with the relief of this scene finally having WORDS, this idea finally having skin and bones to it, I went to bed and woke up with it.

 The Feeling.

Yep. Writing that scene gave me The Feeling, without a doubt. Then and there, I fell in love with the story. But more important than that, The Feeling allowed me to believe in Merrin and Elias, in how awesome they are, in what they can do. Enough to spend hundreds of hours writing the whole darn thing out, word for painstaking word, to give it form and shape, and way way way more soul than even that first scene has.

 It's not obsession, exactly - it's more like the story is bonded to my heart, that the characters have taken up residence inside my head, and both have made it very clear they're not going anywhere for a very long time.

Now, sixty-five thousand words later, two and a half months later, and in the homestretch of finishing the first messy, messy draft, that scene is almost exactly the same as it was the day I wrote it.

I love Nik and Davis from THE TRAVELERS - yes, absolutely. And maybe it's just because I've spent three times as long with them, revising them and their story, getting to know them, worming through their brains, watching them struggle and then struggle some more.  But my love for them is more...familiar? Fond? Motherly, even, maybe? Ardent, and deep, to be sure...but it's not the same as the way I feel about ONE.

Merrin and Elias - right now, my love for them, and their story, and the degree to which I'm rooting for them - it's FIERCE. And it's desperate, like I'll die if they don't make it. Whenever I think about them and their stories, both before and after they met each other, my heart twists.

It's The Feeling, multiplied a dozen times over. And it's truly incredible.

When did you get The Feeling about your story? Was it a slow burn, or hit-you-like-a-Mack-truck sensation? Do you still have it? 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Giveaway: Lauren Myracle's SHINE

Long story short: A fabulous author, Lauren Myracle, who wrote a great book, SHINE, with an amazing message totally got humiliated this week. (Not to mention got the shaft.)

 After being shortlisted for the National Book Award, she was told that SHINE wasn't really supposed to be on the shortlist after all - it had been mixed up with the book at was actually supposed to be there -  then asked to withdraw her book altogether.

Yeah. Not cool.
(If you want to read all the sordid details, click here, here, or here. The first link is my favorite.)

So, here's where the knife really digs in on this situation for me. Have you heard what SHINE is about?  I hadn't either, until yesterday. Here's an excerpt from the LA Times Review of the book:

SHINE follow[s] a 16-year-old girl as she attempts to solve an antigay hate crime in a small North Carolina town where methamphetamine use is rampant and illiteracy and unemployment rates run even higher.
Before Chapter 1 has even begun, that subject is revealed with a newspaper clipping. Seventeen-year-old Patrick Truman has been beaten and bound to a guardrail outside a convenience store with an antigay slur written in blood across his chest. Patrick was well known in his hometown of 743 residents for being "light in his loafers" or "swishy," as some of the townspeople called him. The question at the center of "Shine" is, who would beat him bloody with a baseball bat and leave him for dead?
This book NEEDS to be recognized. It NEEDS to be bought, and promoted, and lauded, and shouted from the rooftops about. As a member of the human race, as a clergyperson, as a mother, and as a young adult writer, I believe that from the bottom of my heart.

Want to know something that makes Lauren Myracle even more awesome? I mean, moreso than just authoring the darn book makes her?

Instead of throwing a fit when she was asked to withdraw her book from the shortlist, she suggested that, to make up for their mistake, the NBA make a $5000 donation to the Matthew Shepard Foundation, a charity focused on respecting human dignity among young people. And they agreed.

So, even though Ms. Myracle already classed up this whole disaster a lot more than anyone would have expected her to, I'd like to do my part to class it up just a little bit more.

I'm giving away a copy of SHINE to one commenter on this post. Extra entry for tweeting about it with the hashtag #isupportshine. (Just leave a separate comment with the link to your tweet.)

You don't have to follow this blog, because that's not what this is about. It's about getting at least one more copy of this book out into the hands of readers, and passing the word on about what an incredible example Lauren Myracle, her classiness, her talent, and her bravery is to all of us.

(I'll also make a donation to the Matthew Shepard Foundation proportional to the number of commenters on this post. I was going to say $1/person, but if I freakishly got like 1000 commenters that's really not in the budget. You get it.)

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Questionnaire for Potential Crit Partners

Are you worried about whether the critique partner you've just met is the right match for your needs? Relax. I've devised a simple eight-question survey to determine if you are a good match.

(You're looking for as many matching answers as possible. There is no right or wrong here.*)

Have fun!

1. What time do you go to bed at night/wake up in the morning?

  • Morning Person
  • Night Owl
  • I never sleep. 

2. How comfortable are you talking about your personal life?

  • Not at all. This relationship is about writing and writing only.
  • Once we get to know each other, I might leak some personal details.
  • I will tell you about my religious beliefs, deepest darkest fears, and sex life right now.

3. How do you feel about sending and receiving care packages?

  • I would probably call the bomb squad if I got one from you.
  • Only if it relates to our interactions as critique partners - for example, a book we discussed.
  • I just sent you one that weighed twenty pounds. It includes some homemade cookies and a set of jim-jams I thought you'd like.

4. Are you comfortable gushing about how wonderful my book/writing skills/general person when I'm in the lowest of the drafting/revising/querying trenches?

  • I really don't want to inflate your ego. I'll be one hundred percent honest with you, even when self-doubt is at its worst.
  • If I feel really sorry for you, I'll give you as much hand-holding as I can muster.
  • You are the best author I know. I can't believe you don't have an agent yet. Wait. What was the question?
5. If I send you a panicked email about a minuscule detail in my query letter, how will you respond?
  • I'll brush it off as quickly as possible. Talent speaks for itself, and that query letter isn't going to make a difference in whether you get an agent.
  • I'll respond about the distinction between the "or" and the "and" in that sentence, once, but after that I'll ignore you. Chill the eff out.
  • I will drop everything to analyze every word with you until you calm down/your query letter sparkles like it's meant to. This is important!

6. Can I come stay at your house if I feel like taking a vacation?

  • No. Never ask me that again.
  • Maybe. If I decide you're not too weird.
  • Absolutely. And I will cook for you, leave chocolates on your pillow, and scent your bedsheets with lavender. How soon can you get here?
7. If I'm having a really bad day, will you email me a kissing scene and/or near miss scene and/or sex scene from your WiP to cheer me up?
  • Why would a kissing/near-miss/sex scene cheer you up? Are you some kind of pervert?
  • I don't really feel comfortable sharing details of what I'm working on, but for you I might.
  • I'll send you three kissing scenes right now, just in case.

8. Can I have your phone number to save in my speed dial under "In Case of Catastrophic Agent Rejection?"

  • No. Are you kidding? That is freaky.
  • If you promise to call only if you really, really need to.
  • I thought you'd never ask. Here's my work number too. 

*I lied. The last answer is always the right one.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Friday Obsessions: WWF, Bruno Mars, and Chipotle

1. Words With Friends - I've picked up this game again with a vengeance thanks to my smarty-smart CP Francesca. Yeah, she's smart, but she's not brilliant enough to beat me. (Okay, she did in our first game, but it was only by a few points and I still had one tile left so I have no idea how that happened.) 

This is not a screenshot of one of our games,
but the score disparity is representative.

Anyway. Now I like it even better because there are STAKES for the WiPs. The loser has to use a word from the board in the WiP of the winner's choosing. Which rules.*

*Or not, because ONE will now feature the word "titi." Somehow.

2.  Bruno Mars's "It Will Rain" - It's on the "Breaking Dawn" soundtrack. I am obsessed. End of discussion.

3. Chipotle. I get the veggie burrito bowl. (If I didn't keep kosher, for the record, I would be all over that barbacoa. But that's neither here nor there.) Black beans, fajita veggies, guac, lettuce, and allll kinds of salsa. But mostly the guac.
Ohhhhh stars, look at that GUAC.

4. The WiP. Okay. So here's the story. I am in a SERIOUS writing funk with the end of this book. I wrote about 4K this week and I had to pry every. single. letter out of my brain with a pair of pliers, basically. I know who's IN the end, but I can't really decide who's going to be conscious or unconscious or in a drug-induced stupor, and who's going to blow something up and who else is going to destroy something that needs to be destroyed and who else is going to save some people who are in a pretty bad situation. And, you know, the words they're going to say and where they're going to stand and how much they're going to cry. 

Oh! And when and where the kissing will happen. In the end, that is. Most of the book's kissing is written and tucked safely in my CPs' inboxes, strategically sent to combat the query doldrums and general life gloominess. Because that's how we roll.

All this is in way of saying....I still have, like, 8K to go. And I told myself I'd have that done by....the end of the weekend. Hahahahahahhaa. 

While I'm cracking up at myself, enjoy this section from ONE.

The sun’s starting to set, but it’s protesting like a a kid who doesn’t want to go to bed, flinging its light angrily at anything it can. Elias walks out with the cider. He’s framed in bright-against-dark shadows that made me blink into the sky and tent my hand over my eyes just to look at him. Something about his hands wrapped around the handle of a mug of hot cider for each of us makes my heart swell.
“There’s nothing else in it?” I pray he knows I’m joking with him, even though I can’t make my face smile, not even a little.
He half-laughs, and shakes his head slightly.
We sit there, blowing ripples across the surface of the mugs and letting them warm our hands.
“You weren’t in school today,” I say. Thank you, Captain Obvious.
“Doctors’ Appointments. Uh, physicals. For basketball. Starting practice soon,” he explains, eyeing me with a little curiosity.
Then I feel brave. “Well, come back tomorrow, okay? Leni’s other friends are a pain in the ass.”
He laughs, and the smile lingers for a second. Then he nods, looking out across the farmer’s fields that stretch miles and miles before of his house. Like he knows what I mean. Like he expected this to happen.
Not only can I not avoid being messed with for a whole week at a new school, but even Elias thought it would happen. Great.
“They don’t matter,” Elias says, quietly, staring at his hands, his fingers gripping each other. “I learned that a long time ago.”

Monday, October 10, 2011

Querying Lessons - Finding the Balance

One of the most-repeated pieces of querying advice is to do your homework. Research, research, research. Read interviews with the agents - all of them you can find. Troll their list of clients to discover what kind of writing draws them in. If you haven't read any of their clients' works, read them - all of them, preferably. Find out exactly what that agent loves - and hates - to see in a query letter. Then edit your query letter accordingly. Check out their tweets to see if there's a font they hate (okay, this is a little extreme, I'll admit. But I do remember one agent tweeting about which fonts she hated...)

If you're like me, when you started out querying, you did all this. It took at least an hour or so - more if you actually read their clients' work (I did) -  to get each query together, but it was okay, because you were Doing What You Were Supposed to Do. Playing by the rules. You invested your time, hours that could be spent writing or critiquing or sleeping for God's sake, but it's fine! Really! Because you put a lot of work, careful thought and consideration into this query, and determined that you and this agent would be a perfect match. After all, you were Doing Everything Right. You were only querying the agents you were sure would be a perfect fit for you. You sent your query off, smiling, optimistic, and slightly smug.

Thirty minutes later, your email pinged. You nearly jumped out of your seat. You rushed to check it, fidgeting while the page loaded. You looked at your inbox and...

It was a form rejection. "We're sorry, but we don't think your work is a good fit for us."

Oh! NO! This can't be! You Did Everything Right, right?

Wrong. You did one thing wrong.

You fell in love.

When you were doing what you were supposed to do, researching agents looking for the Perfect Match, you let your love for your character and your novel and your hopes and dreams get all mixed up into imagining how you and this agent would work together. And you fell in love with the agent. And now that agent has sent you the message, loud and clear - "Never. Gonna. Happen." You mixed up "business partner" with "New BFFE."

How do I know this? I fell for an agent. And when I got my rejection from her last week, it was not pretty. I might have cried the ugly cry. (I definitely cried the ugly cry.)

How am I preventing this from happening again? I'm implementing strategies to strike a balance between love and business.

(I liked how the trays on this balance look like nooses. Because that's kind of how this whole thing feels.)

My pre-query research consists of reading the agent's bio and wishlist to make sure she's looking for the type of material I have to offer. I'll search for an interview if there is any confusion. Of course, I'll check out her agency's submission guidelines and make sure that my query conforms to those. If I already know some of her authors' work, I'll squeal a little and squirm in my seat while clicking send. (It's exciting to query famous peoples' agents!) But if I've never heard of any of her authors, I'll send anyway.

I have my documents all ready to go so I can just add them into the body of an email, no nail-biting or worrying. Sometimes I'll alter a query slightly if I think it'll draw the agent more from what I read in an interview. Usually I don't end up altering it.  Of course, I always make sure to type the agents' name at the top, and spell it correctly.

That's it! No one query takes up much more than ten or fifteen minutes, tops. If I get form rejection, I've lost the time it takes to eat an ice cream cone, not the time it takes to write half a chapter in my WiP.

Now, here are my suggestions for finding balance AFTER sending the query:

Once you query, consider un-following the agent on Twitter, and maybe even un-following her blog, until you hear back from her. Nothing will change the more you stalk her, and every time she mentions she's reading slush or that a certain character type (yours!) annoys her or that she hates the use of a certain phrase, you will go nuts. (Why yes, I do know this from personal experience.)

Once an agent requests something from you, CONTINUE TO QUERY AS NORMAL. That agent with your chapters, or your full? She might never respond. Odds are, she will eventually reject your MS despite having asked to see more. She might even send you a form rejection.  On a full. This is how agents do their jobs. It is nothing against you. Don't put your whole querying life on hold because that agent maybe, might, fall in love with your ms on her Kindle amidst the hustle and bustle of a New York cafe.

One last thing - every time I click "send" on a query, I expect it to come back as a rejection. This may seem fatalistic to you, but I'd rather be very surprised by a request than very crushed when I get a form rejection. It's just part of how I'm finding the golden balance between agent love and agent apathy while querying.

How do you find the querying balance between love and business? I'd love some more tips to keep me even less crazy...

Friday, October 7, 2011

Friday Obsessions: BREAK, Glee, and Hot-Sauced Eggs

Everything I was obsessed with this week.
Because I know you want to know.

1. BREAK by Hannah Moskowitz.
I don't usually like books that are narrated by boys, are graphically violent, or have lots of swearing in them. This book has all of the above and I am not even kidding you, I could not put it down.
It's the themes out the wazoo that really impressed me. This book has some Deep Stuff in it, you guys. I'm basically writing my Yom Kippur sermon all about it.
Not to mention Hannah Moskowitz is a freaking phenom (sophomore junior in college who just got her sixth book deal,) and you know I always love to be impressed by college students.
Also, she's a M.O.T. ("Member of the Tribe," for the unintiated.) So, Hannah:  Have an easy fast, you incredible lady, and thanks for the stellar sermon fodder.

2. Glee is back! 
Even though Mr. Schu has creeped me out since early in the second season, his skeeziness was way overshadowed by all the beautiful high schoolers! Confident! Happy! So assured of their futures! So in love! Such wonderful singers!

This show almost has me convinced that high school was really chock-full 
of musical sing-songiness, and I'm just remembering it wrong. Almost.

3. Eggs with hot sauce.
This is a picture of someone else's eggs with hot sauce. But it does the job.

This is a straight up blame-the-fetus craving. I cannot stop eating them. Yes, I know. I am just like Bella Cullen.

4. Aaaaand ONE. I think I finally figured out the series of events and players to end the book, and with just about 10K to go, I couldn't be happier. Here's a bit:

“I missed seeing you the last couple days,” Elias says. I really can’t get my head around how boldly he says it, like he either knows what my response is going to be or it doesn’t affect him in the least what I say.

He peers into his locker, but it’s almost empty. He doesn’t move to take anything out of his bag. “I would have called, but I don’t have your number. Besides, the first day know...I could barely get my head off the pillow.” He pauses, still looking at nothing in his locker.
I want to reach up and touch his shoulder, turn him, make him look at me. But I don't. Instead, I just say, “Wait. You were sick, too?”
“Too? What happened to you?” Now he looks really concerned.

Your turn! What were you obsessed with this week?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Incognito Writers

Do you know someone who (you think probably) is an incognito writer?

My brother in law is one of those people. He's ultra smart, he reads a ton - a book a week, or more. When he talks about a book he loves, he sits forward in his chair, waves his hands, moves his eyebrows, raises his voice. He can analyze a character or throw down a deconstruction of plot into theme like a mofo. He cares - like, really cares - about grammar rules. He's a social studies teacher, so this past summer, he had way more time on his hands than he was used to.

Yeah, I think he's probably a writer. He's probably staying up late and waking up early to write, brainstorming on his commute every day, and jotting down notes on the grocery list pad in between washing dishes and wiping the counter after dinner.

Anonymous Writer by Matt Adams
Photo credit: Matt Adams
I was an incognito writer for awhile. I didn't even tell my husband what I was trying to do (write/publish a novel) until five months in to my last project. (Of course, he knew.)

Why? I was embarrassed.  This isn't what I went to school for. I don't have an MFA. I'm not even an English teacher, or a stay-at-home mom with an English degree. I mean, my career ambitions when I graduated from college were lofty, and I went through years and years of graduate school to do the job I do now. Which is not writing books.

I thought I would be even more embarrassed if I failed, in the ten thousand ways there are to fail at this business - not finish the book, have everyone hate the book, query but get all form rejections, never get an agent, never publish (yes, I'm still working on those last three steps.)

I still am incognito, in a way. Yeah, I've got this website with my name as the URL. It's on my twitter profile that I write books.

But I still do try to play it down. When people I see face-to-face ask me about the book thing, I'm still saying things like, "It's no big deal," or "It's just a hobby," or, "Yeah, it's lots of fun," or, "It kept me from being bored when I was home with the kids."

I tell people in my everyday life that it's no big deal if I never get an agent, if I never publish.

But it is. A big deal, that is. And I never say, "It's a big dream of mine to publish a book. I have a lot of heart and hard work invested in it." I act like I'll be okay if it never happens. I act like a small part of me won't die.

The thing is? Incognito writers are everywhere. Just in the past few months, I've met not one, but FOUR other  rabbis who are working on novels. My dad wrote a novel and part of a sequel in the wee hours of the morning sitting up with my newborn sister - he was an RN and an officer in the US Air Force. One college student I know personally is outlining her memoir - and it's going to be hilarious.  I've heard of lawyers writing, doctors, t-shirt sellers, chefs.

So, agents, and fellow readers and writers - next time your taxi cab driver, or your dental hygienist, or your dry cleaner, or your florist, or your priest tries to tell you about their manuscript - don't discount them. Don't roll your eyes and think, "Here we go again."

Incognito writers are everywhere. And our stuff isn't half bad.

Are you, or were you, an incognito writer? Why or why not? Do you ever plan on changing your ways?

Monday, October 3, 2011

An Important Author Lesson to Learn RIGHT NOW

You are learning the most important lesson you need to be a published author right now.

Right this moment. Whether you're just beginning your very first draft ever, going through the critique process, beginning to query, or deep in the query trenches, you need to focus on learning this lesson right now.

How to say, "Thank you."

Because an author's platform is so very much anchored in cyberspace, she has more opportunities than ever to say "Thank you."

 It's a phrase that is no longer confined to the acknowledgements section of a published book. Every person who reads your book, every tweeter who tweets about it, everyone who recommends it to a friend or does a blog post mentioning it, is making your success as an author. And each of those people deserves a "thank-you."

I've seen authors act with so much class in this regard, it's not even funny.

Elana Johnson has commented on this little blog a handful of times, and given me a heart attack each one. Beth Revis has commented, too, and she even gave me a pep talk over at Formspring when I started querying. (Yeah, it took me a day or so to get over the shock of that.)
Brodi Ashton and Gennifer Albin have deigned to tweet and Facebook with me. (eeep!)

These ladies don't have to do that. But they do, because they are smart (and sweet.) They get it. They know that if they're going to be successful each individual reader has to be treated like she's worth her weight in gold. And so they do it.

I will read and cheer on any book they write, ever, from here unto eternity. Just because they've done this.

By now, it might go without saying, but I've also mentioned some authors via Tweet or blog, in a non-crazy way, mind you, who have acted exactly the opposite of classy in this regard. Just the other day I tweeted that I pre-ordered a book, mentioned the author, and she didn't tweet back! Needless to say, I'm far less likely to read their future work, and if I do read the book, I'm less likely to look kindly on it. (I mean, seriously? How much time and energy does it take to respond to a tweet from a fan to say "thank you?") 

Anyway. I figure I'd better get this skill down cold right now. Saying "thank you" like it's your job should come naturally to any published author because...well...IT IS YOUR JOB. So here we go.

To the online writing community:

  • Thank you for writing such informative and inspirational blog posts, to help me improve my craft and knowledge base about the industry.
  • Thank you for throwing amazing conferences like WriteOnCon and contests like "An Agent's Inbox" and "Mystery Agent" to help the pre-agented get more exposure and give our queries a greater chance.
  • Thank you for hosting bi-annual networking campaigns to connect us with other writers like us.
  • Thank you for commenting on my blog, and letting me know that you value what I have to say.
  • Thank you for keeping track of my WiP and being such amazing cheerleaders in my writing process. Ditto for queries.
  • Thank you for being a real-time writing-and-query panic support group via Twitter and email.

To my critique partners:
  • Thank you for reading my horrendous drafts and ten incarnations of scenes I just can't get right. And not minding a minute of it.
  • Thank you for endlessly brainstorming what must seem like minute, trivial character details and plot points with me. And not minding a minute of it.
  • Thank you for giving me loving lectures on the accuracy of science in my books, birth control, and query panic, and not thinking less of me afterwards (and, if you do, not telling me about it.)
  • Thank you for drawing pictures of my characters, and making me cry.
  • Thank you for telling me when a song makes you think of my book, and making me cry.
  • Thank you for sending me care packages with inspirational notes, and making me cry.
  • Thank you for loving my book and its characters almost as much as I do. That's what I call belief in something, and it's powerful stuff.

To the agents who have asked to see more of THE TRAVELERS:
  • Thank you for spending any of your valuable time considering my work.
  • Thank you for being unafraid of a brand-new writer.
  • Thank you for continuing to read when you run across the occasional mistake or pet peeve.
  • Thank you for any feedback you (might? hopefully?) give.
  • Thank you for giving me a chance.
To anyone who has ever asked to read my book, just because you thought it sounded awesome:

Just...thank you.


Okay, your turn to practice! Who do you want to say "thank you" to? Or, what is another important authoring lesson we can learn before we're agented or published?