Thursday, August 30, 2012

What's in a name?

Now that my book is in the editing phase, a lot of the control is blissfully and terrifyingly out of my hands. I know it's all for the better - the team at WiDo is fantastic and I have the utmost face in their ability to polish a story 'til it shines. I'm very curious about any plot/character tweaks they'll want to make, and I hope I can deliver the changes they want.

One of the things about the book we keep bouncing around is the name. The first couple of years I worked on it I refered to it as "Origins." But then I started thinking about the word "Origin." Saying it made me feel a little funny. And I think there's a store called Origins. Or a shoe company. Or both. Either way, I am positive it wouldn't be the first book called Origins. So then I started calling it "Be Seeing You." The new label has more to do with the relationship between my protagonist and her love interest. But my submissions editor reassured me that the name is likely to change - and to change several times - between now and when it hits the shelves. So for now I'm referring to it as the first book in the Tanzy Hightower series, although the series will also be named something different too. Oiy. The good news is: there's an entire marketing department who is really good at diving into the heart of the story and digging out a name fitting for such a twisted, devastating adventure.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Flirt Squad Challenge - August 2012

The challenge question is: What is the silliest thing you've ever done to get someone's attention.

I'd just parked my car at my apartment complex and was walking towards the stairs when I saw a very cute guy standing on the curb talking to several movers. I tried not to stare but he was really really attractive. I did my best to pretend I didn't notice them, I think I even pretended to talk into my cellphone as I went by (see how BUSY and INTERESTING I am, cute boy?)

Well it didn't seem like he noticed me either. So I went to my apartment and got my dog Charley who is very good off leash - and needed to go out anyway, right? I walked back towards where they stood and whispered to Charley: "go get him." He bounded up to the guy who thankfully reached down to pet him instead of cringing, yelling, etc. I hurried up to them saying something to the effect of: 'oh thank you sooo much. i don't know what got into him. he usually stays right with me.' We talked for a few minutes and I learned that he was moving in instead of moving out (yay!) I made some lame excuse that I'd come up to the parking lot to close my windows because it looked like rain (it did!) But once we said goodbye, did I actually go to the parking lot and carry out my excuse? Nope. I turned around and went right back to my apartment. Smooth. But he must've given me an A for effort... we've been married for over three years now. :)

If you want to join in on the fun, check out the Flirt Squad:

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Review: "Wake" by Amanda Hocking

In a nutshell, I read the first 200 pages in one night, and the following day counted down the hours and tasks and jobs and mommyhood that stood between me and the ending. To conclude: I can't wait for the sequel - "Lullaby" which is set to be released next winter.

Now to dive a little deeper. What I enjoy most about all of Amanda Hocking's books is how real her characters feel on the page - no matter how fantastical their DNA. If I pick up one of her books, I know I can count on believable, endearing quirks, true conflict, quiet sacrifice, and natural dialogue, and "Wake" did not disappoint. I really appreciate that her characters have limits: they get brassed off if someone does something mean, sneaky, shady, etc. As they should. And it's so refreshing.

Amanda also did a great job presenting the story through two third-person points of view. There wasn't a ho-hum page from 1-309*, driven forward seamlessly from one sister's perception to the other. I was also very pleased with how the first book in this new series ended. Yes, there are a ton of loose ends, but a critical decision is made and carried out in the last few pages.

A couple of side-notes: I am a sucker for a great character name, and Gemma -the water-loving protagonist in Wake - is now at the top of my list for favorite names ever. The only thing that really unnerved me about the book was that Gemma goes swimming in the ocean alone at night on a regular basis. It works for the character and the story, but it 100% creeps me out. I get paranoid in the deep end of a swimming pool and am scared to touch the bottom of a lake. The idea of diving into a big black pool with things that can and will eat me on a nightly basis honestly gave me a case of the heebiejeebies every single time she headed for the bay.

* the hardback version of "wake" has 309 pages :)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Lessons from my first week

This new social network of mine is about a week old now, and I've learned more in a week than I have since... well maybe ever. Just when I feel like I'm getting a little handle on it, something hilarious or humbling comes along and reminds me that I'm still getting my sea legs. But the good news: it seems like 99.9% of writers/publishers/readers/professionals who are spinning this invisible web of information and camaraderie are NICE. Like, really nice. Southern hospitality nice. It's an industry that seems to want only the best for its contributors. Neat.

As I've toured (okay, stalked) a dozen or so writer blogs this week, I've been struck by the dialogue that occurs between an author and his/her readers. I can't wait for my book to come out so that part can begin. I am also inspired by how much of their souls these writers and readers bare. C.J. Redwine wrote a blogpost about a book called "Speak," and then spoke very candidly about the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of a relative. Readers were set free by her confession, pouring their hearts out in their comments about their own experiences. It brought me to tears. Not only have I picked up tips for writing and marketing, I'm learning how to be a better person. That's amazing.

Of course, I'm also learning the value of triple checking my work. It's so easy to hit the "publish" button or send a tweet out into the stratosphere, but when all of your pages are connected, one glaring error then becomes five glaring errors. Oops.

And then there's the value of key words. My first two posts got hundreds of views in just a couple of days and I thought: WOW, I must be doing something right. Then I checked my stats page and saw a link to the top contributing website, clicked on it, and then closed my internet explorer as fast as humanly possible: I came face to face with more anatomy than I have ever seen. "How has this happened?" I gasped with horror. "Have I been hacked?" Nope. But I did use the words "sexy" and "half-dressed" in my second blog post. And the view counter lit up like Las Vegas. Of course there's a good chance the same thing might happen again since the words are making an encore appearance in this post.

Who knows what the next seven days have in store for me...

Friday, August 24, 2012

End-of-summer trip and reading list

We're planning on going to the beach in a few weeks. I'm looking forward to sun, sea, and built-in-babysitters (my parents are coming with us) so that I can get some reading and writing done. I've just signed with WiDo Publishing (LOVE them!) and will likely have a first round of edits to tackle (very nervous, very excited.) I also have a few books I'm looking forward to escaping into:

Wake - Amanda Hocking. This girl is an inspiration for me. She built her own online empire from the ground up and then graciously moved into mainstream publishing. And her other books kept me up til I finished them.

Clockwork Angel - Cassandra Clare. I am so interested in this series, but I haven't read any of them yet so I'm starting with the prequel, which is a best-seller.

Platform - Michael Hyatt. A coworker of mine is one of those amazing people who can inspire anyone within five minutes of meeting her. Example: a few years back she gave up everything (and i mean everything) she owned and moved to third-world parts of Africa to do whatever she could to help. So what does this have to do with Michael Hyatt's book: Now she's back and has started a blog. She's linked to other blogger/author people and they all swear by this book for developing an author platform. Cool. I'm in.

Upcoming releases: I'm also very excited about a couple of releases coming up soon: "Defiance" by C.J. Redwine and "Super Sweet 16th Century" by Rachel Harris. I've heard fantastic things about Rachel Harris's new book via pre-release reviews. Check out this one I just read: And I just watched the trailer for Defiance (check it out here: OMG it gave me goosebumps.

This feels like a reasonable place to make a plug for my most favorite book of all time: "Bloodroot" by Amy Greene. Rural south, mountain folk, magic, love, and betrayal.... what's not to like?

Feel free to comment about your own summer reading list or books you think should be on mine!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Hook, line, and sinker

For me, the hardest part of a query letter is the hook. Okay, that's a lie. The hardest part was summarizing the entire plot in a few tightly-articulated sentences that had to showcase enough personality to set my summary apart from the hundreds that agents and publishers receive every day. And honestly I wasn't very good at it at first. But the hook was something I thought about constantly, revised it one hundred times every time I took a shower, tweaked it while I brushed my teeth. I submitted over 40 queries in batches of 5-8, changing the query letter (and definitely the hook) with each batch.

The disclaimer here is that they did not all necessarily evolve in keeping with Darwin. I kept trying to make my hook about my protagonist - that she had a gift with horses (snooze), that she had a secret (who doesn't), that there was a boy who'd give up everything for her, even love, to keep her alive (well there better be!) And I wasn't getting any bites. I read several great blogposts about query letters and hooks (see below for a list), and realized that I wasn't using my hook to point to what makes my story unique. Truth be told, my query letter that minimally featured my protagonist is the one that got the most bites. The writing sample will likely showcase your character, but your query is a great place to showcase the conflict. As literary agents Mary Kole and Kristin Nelson have both said during different webinars: "Make me care!" What gives the story a sense of urgency? Why should you care if the worst case scenario goes down? For "Be Seeing You," if Tanzy and company collide with worst-case-scenario, this world of ours is going to be sucked through a tiny trap door and spin all of us into elemental mush. And so came my final hook: "Have you ever seen what's left in the bottom of a test tube after it's been spun through a centrifuge?" Now that's different, and it got a bite with almost every query that I used it in.
I feel compelled to say that a hook is as individual as we are - some people like to go the question route, others like to drop a bottle of wine on a tile floor (a BANG start, if you will) but for me, I like a start that creates an invitation. Step inside. Take a look around. I also feel compelled to say: read what the agents want in your query. Sometimes they're very specific - like one who asked for 12 point Georgia font double spaced. Another one said: don't sweat it, just tell me about yourself and what you wrote about. So make sure you learn as much as you can about who you're querying and what they're looking for.

Other blog posts about queries/hooks:


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Once upon a head injury

"Be Seeing You" was literally inspired by a dream. I'd taken a head-dive off of a horse (not a dream) and landed in the E.R. with a bad concussion and a neck injury. I was doped up to the high-heavens on pain medicine and had the wildest dream: deserts and sexy, half-dressed, greek-god looking men and a tough chick with black hair and a soul the color of stardust. I woke up and thought: man that would make a good story. That was November, 2009. I "finished" the story this March and started querying away. (And boy-howdy do I have a lot to say about querying. But I digress.)

By May I had almost 20 rejection letters to my name. (Side note: for those of you who are in or about to begin the querying phase, is an awesome resource for lists of agents and publishers who are accepting unsolicited queries.) Yes, they stung. But they also helped. Those rejections made me tighten and clean and change and hone. Those rejections were my teachers. Don't get me wrong, most days I thought to myself: well clearly so-and-so just didn't get my vision. But once the thanks-but-no-thanks started piling up, I realized they might have a point. So I took a break, and then took a long, hard look at my manuscript all at once. I had some work to do. I also kept revising my queries, and stored my rejection letters in an email folder to keep myself motivated. (I can move mountains when I'm trying to prove someone wrong.) Those rejections made my story right at the right time.

I think back to a quote that kept me going - that is literally taped on my desk so I can see it whenever I start toying with the idea of pretending I never wanted to be a writer in the first place: "Because the 64th time was yes." It's a quote from a book called "The Wednesday Sisters," a group of mothers who meet at a playground and form a writing group. One mother has been querying her tail off in secret, and finally, on the 64th attempt, gets a yes. It just takes one.

I promise the next post won't be a proverbial happy dance, but I'm on cloud nine and I really want to spread the love. :)

Tanzy and me

I am a big believer in pen-to-paper: I hand write my first drafts. Of course back when I wrote the first draft for "Be Seeing You," this first book of mine, the story had a completely different angle, different names for characters, and a completely different ending. Back then I also thought there was only a second draft between the first and final copies like a school essay: first draft, second draft, final draft. Ha. Three years and more drafts than I can count later, the story that I've wanted to tell all along has finally come to life.

My protagonist Tanzy Hightower and her fantastic journey have taught me invaluable lessons: namely, the power of letting go. I had one ending in mind and Tanzy read it, scowled, tore the pages into little pieces, and tossed them into the air. Okay, obviously it didn't happen exactly like that, but you know what I mean. I kept trying to force her in a direction that wasn't working, only I didn't recognize it at first. I just noticed that certain parts weren't connecting, other parts felt forced. So I took a huge leap of faith and cut the last 20,000 words. I paced my office like a madwoman, desperate to make the old ending work, just in a new way. And by 2am I'd outlined my new path to the old ending. And it still didn't work. Finally, I crawled into bed, teary-eyed and battle scarred, and fell into a fitful sleep. For the next few days I avoided my office at all costs. I read, I watched mindless reality TV, I ate a lot of cookie dough, and I took an online seminar given by literary agent Mary Kole about character development. That seminar made me realize what was wrong with my ending: Who Tanzy is at the beginning of the story might've gone that route I was trying to force her down, but who she has become by the time she arrives in that last, brutal scene is someone completely different (as it should be, right?) The new Tanzy would take matters into her own hands. So at last I let her, and it was magic.

Now that I've learned to listen to my characters instead of trying to tell them what to do, the story naturally unfolds and I just try to keep up. There are still moments when I frown at my screen for so long I go cross-eyed, but I've discovered a few tricks to turn mental roadblocks into speed bumps most of the time (and I will definitely share them in a future post.)

Right now, a publisher has my finished manuscript in their hands, and they just sent word that they like it. Really like it. It's not a done deal yet, but it's looking good. The whole process has been thrilling, humbling (and i mean really humbling,) exhausting, inspirational, frustrating, and fantastic, and I've learned so much along the way that I want to share with fellow first-time writers, readers, and whoever stumbles across this blog and happens to read to the end. I'll catch you up on the last few months (in a word - or three - the query process) and take you with me on this next part of my journey. I'll tell you fun facts about Be Seeing You, give you a glimpse into my cluttered brain, give some stuff away, ask for your opinions, and more. I hope you'll come with me - it's been an awesome ride, and I have a feeling the best is yet to come.