Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Saturday Slash

Meet my Hatchet of Death (or, some other colorful description RC Lewis and I come up with at any given moment). This is how I edit myself, it is how I edit others. If you think you want to play with me and my hatchet, shoot us an email.

We all know the first line of a query is your "hook." I call the last line the "sinker." You want it to punch them in the face, in a nice, friendly kind of way that makes them unable to forget you after having read the 300 other queries in their inbox.

If you're looking for query advice, but are slightly intimidated by my claws, blade, or just my rolling googly-eyes, check out the query critique boards over at AgentQueryConnect. This is where I got my start, with advice from people smarter than me. Don't be afraid to ask for help with the most critical first step of your writing journey - the query. My comments appear in green.

Two years ago, Davinder Jones lost her husband in an accident. Now, at twenty-four years old, Davin has learned no matter how much it sucks, life goes on. I think your hook might be here instead of the opening line you have, which is just a statement of fact. Also, just be sure that the language you use in the query matches the language of the ms. So if "life sucks" is something your MC would say, all is good. If she'd put it more eloquently, use something else. Along with drowning in her grief, she struggles to navigate being a bestselling author and single mother to her twin boys. But even her amazing fresh start cannot replace what she lost, since she refuses to let go of her first love. Fresh start implies that the bestselling author bit came after the death of her husband, if that's the case you might want clarify that just a little. 

Twenty-two-year-old Zachery Blazer would do anything to get un-blackballed from Tinseltown. Hell, he’d even swear off women if it got him a part, and with his reputation— that says something. With his drunk driving escapade no longer front page tabloid news, he jumps at the chance to steal the leading role in the next ‘big’ thing— a bestselling novel film adaptation— and books the part. Hello A-list status, goodbye ladies. This is written fine, but I question whether drunk driving and womanizing would get him blackballed from Hollywood... a reputation, maybe. Blackballed? 

When their paths cross on the backlot, Zach realizes he’s met the one woman worth being with… after declaring no one will come between him and his revived career. Stupid resolution. But if he thinks getting Davin to look his way will be easy, he’s hella wrong. As Zach turns on the charm, she feigns naivety, making the chase after her that much more maddening. If he consumes himself with easy women and cheap liquor, he’ll re-damage his reputation and be back where he started, but he’s not sure he can be sane unless Davin is his. Okay, but on the resolution - wouldn't being with a single mom of twins actually help repair that reputation? Why would being with Davin come between him and the revived career? It doesn't seem like a huge deviation from his resolution, to be with a down to earth, career minded, single mom.

While Zach continues to push the boundaries, Davin knows it’s only a matter of time before he breaks into her personal life— and her heart. If she can’t learn to let go, she’ll end up alone. But if she lets Zach in and tells him the truth about her past, she risks him doing what he does best—flaking out, then bolting. And Davin’s heart won’t survive being shattered twice.

THE LUCKIEST is a 78,000 word adult contemporary romance told from the alternating points of view of Davin and Zach. It will appeal to fans of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s After I Do and Jamie McGuire’s Beautiful series.

Honestly I think the query itself is fine, I just am having a hard time wrapping my mind around the content. However, I don't read romances so it's very possible that this is right up that market's alley. Good luck!

Friday, August 26, 2016

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: ONE WAS LOST by Natalie D. Richards

My book talks are coming at you from a librarian, not a reviewer. You won't find me talking about style or craft, why I think this could've been better or what worked or didn't work. I only do book talks on books I liked and want other people to know about. So if it's here I probably think it won't injure your brain if you read it.

It's supposed to Sera's senior year experience, not her last one.

When she signs up for a camping trip deep in the Appalachians, Sera is just looking to tick off a requirement for graduation. But when she and her campmates wake up one morning to find one teacher dead and another drugged, it becomes a matter not of graduating, but surviving.

To make matters worse there are mysterious words written on each of the survivors' arms.

Damaged is Sera's bunkmate, a girl with a haunted look and mysterious bruises.
Deceptive is the rich boy who seems to think he's better than the others, even in the middle of nowhere.
Dangerous is for the boy Sera might have feelings for, despite his violent past.
Darling is Sera's own word, inked blackly on her arm.

Each morning brings something worse; bears lured into their campsite, stick dolls dressed as themselves acting out a murder, and their favorite foods packed in a cooler and left for them. Similarities between their situation and a story they thought was only an urban legend become too much to bear, and the countdown outside their tent each morning is winding down to zero.

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Book Talk & Giveaway: The Big Thing by Phyllis Korkki

The Big Thing cover

About The Big Thing

Hardcover: 256 pages Publisher: Harper (August 9, 2016)

A New York Times business journalist explains why itís important for people to pursue big creative projects, and identifies both the obstacles and the productive habits that emerge on the path to completionóincluding her own experience writing this book.

Whether itís the Great American Novel or a groundbreaking new app, many people want to create a Big Thing, but finding the motivation to get started, let alone complete the work, can be daunting. In The Big Thing, New York Times business writer and editor Phyllis Korkki combines real-life stories, science, and insights from her own experience to illuminate the factors that drive people to complete big creative projectsóand the obstacles that threaten to derail success.

In the course of creating her own Big Thing - this book - Korkki explores the individual and collaborative projects of others: from memoirs, art installations, and musical works to theater productions, small businesses, and charities. She identifies the main aspects of a Big Thing, including meaningful goals, focus and effort, the difficulties posed by the demands of everyday life, and the high risk of failure and disappointment. Korkki also breaks down components of the creative process and the characteristics that define it, and offers her thoughts on avoiding procrastination, staying motivated, scheduling a routine, and overcoming self-doubt and the restrictions of a day job. Filled with inspiring stories, practical advice, and a refreshing dose of honesty, The Big Thing doesn't minimize the negative side of such pursuits - including the fact that big projects are hard to complete and raise difficult questions about one's self-worth.

Inspiring, wise, humorous, and good-natured, The Big Thing is a meditation on the importance of self-expression and purpose.

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Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

My thoughts:

I don't typically read a lot of books on or about writing, because I often find myself disagreeing with what I find in them. I often tell people that write every day is the worst writing advice I've ever heard, because I feel that it alienates creatives who don't have that kind of drive (not to mention drive), and therefore feel like there's no point in trying if they can't write every day.

So when I saw the the title of this book above creativity included the words lazy, self-doubting and procrastinator, I thought. "Okay this one looks like it's a little more my style." While I'm definitely not lazy, I think just about any creative can relate to the other two terms.

Korkki does a wonderful job of addressing our modern society and how small, easily digestible bursts of creativity (think viral videos) are so quickly rewarded - but also so quickly die out and are forgotten, replaced by the next "small thing." She addresses the long arc of our "big thing" - be it a novel, recording an album, or finally pulling that sculpture out of your mind and onto the marble - and how to incorporate that overall arc into your daily life in small doses that can add up.

Another chapter I enjoyed regarded the transformation of suffering - be it physical or mental illness, grief, or addiction - into creativity. She addressed how the dark moments in our life can be utilized as a spawning pool for our imagination, and hopefully the resulting creativity or project can bring some meaning to those moments beyond our pain.

However my absolute favorite part of the book was where she tackled the gaping possibility of giving up on your "big thing." She asks hard questions about our motivations for whatever our "big thing" is, be they intrinsic or extrinsic, and whether or not, in the end, we believe we can succeed - and how we will define and measure that success. 

It's typical in the creative world to tell one another to never give up, that if you just keep going you will succeed. I think this does more harm than good - to the aspiring and to their relationships. Korkki takes a much more realistic view of asking - why are you doing this? 

There were a few chapters I wasn't as interested in, such as one about how to breathe properly and how posture can affect your creativity, but I can see how others might find it useful. Overall I think it's a good read to consider for anyone who needs some reinforcement (or a reality dose) about their Big Thing.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Wednesday WOLF

I've got a collection of random information in my brain that makes me an awesome Trivial Pursuit partner, but is completely useless when it comes to real world application. Like say, job applications. I thought I'd share some of this random crap with you in the form of another acronym-ific series. I give you - Word Origins from Left Field - that's right, the WOLF (oh, how clever is she? She made an acronym out of her agency's name!) Er... ignore the fact that the "from" doesn't fit.

The suggestion for today's WOLF came from my crit partner, RC Lewis. I was stumped a couple of weeks ago on what to WOLF about when she asked me where the term jaywalker comes from. Great question. And by the way - you guys can ask me stuff, too!

While jaywalking is a fairly laughable crime, it is in fact not legal to cross the street anywhere other than a crosswalk, or to cross against a traffic signal. Americans might have a laugh at it, but I actually did see a jaywalker get clocked when I was in Paris. Don't eff with the French.

Is it really that dangerous to jaywalk? While our speed limits and congested streets keep things pretty safe for footers, it hasn't always been this way. The first instance of the use of jaywalker was from the Chicago Tribune in 1909 (although it didn't make the dictionary until 1917). Back in 1909, people were adjusting to even having cars in the streets, and speed limits were a thing of the future. Horses and buggies kept a pretty calm pace, except when a horse flipped it's lid - and if it did, a sign saying, "Hey, not so fast, Mr. Horse," wasn't going to stop him.

So city streets in the early 1900's were actually pretty dangerous. Motorists pretty much did as they pleased - which made horses and buggy drivers mad - and pedestrians pretty much kept doing what they'd been doing... crossing the street wherever they felt. And while that might fly with Black Beauty, Mr. Model T didn't necessarily have the stop-on-a-dime that we do today - or a speed limit to tell him not to go so fast in the first place.

City dwellers caught on pretty fast - cross on the crosswalk or at your own peril. But newbies to the city and skyline gazers wandered into the road fairly often, earning the ire of those behind the wheel. At the time, rural folk and country dwellers were often called jays, thus anyone inexperienced in crossing a city street and foolish enough to walk in front of cars were... jaywalkers.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Debut Author Tom Crosshill On The Meeting Point of Personal Passion & Public Interest

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask any writer where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers, and in that vein I created the WHAT (What the Hell Are you Thinking?) interview. Always including in the WHAT is one random question to really dig down into the interviewees mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well.

Today's guest for the blog is a seriously interesting person. Originally from Latvia, Tom Crosshill moved to the US as a teen and now lives wherever his adventures take him. A black belt in aikido, he has operated a nuclear reactor, worked on Wall Street, and toiled in a Japanese zinc mine, among other things. You can see why I like Tom.

Tom’s fiction has been nominated for the Nebula Award (thrice), the Latvian Literature Award and the WSFA Small Press Award. He has won the Writers of the Future Award. In 2013, and was a resident at the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa — where he started THE CAT KING OF HAVANA. To find out more about Tom’s fiction — and to read some of his short stories — visit his website.

Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your book?

As with most of my projects, CAT KING was born at the intersection of several inspirations:

-- Being a passionate salsero, I did a dance movie marathon one day and realized most were kind of bad. Entertaining, sure, but not particularly nuanced or true to life. I was inspired to write a dance story which, while fun and fast-paced, would also make dancers go -- yes, that's what it's like! (I also wanted non-dancers to go -- now I want to learn to dance!)

-- I was a nerdy non-athletic kid and it sucked. I wanted to help others in my position develop the confidence to get out of their shell and try some physical activities. More, I wanted to help kids discover the strength and passion required to keep going even in the face of the inevitable struggles and failures and setbacks. The story of a cat video geek who gets it into his head to learn salsa seemed like just the ticket!

-- I wanted to go back to Cuba, an island that has fascinated me since my first trip there, but I couldn't afford to. I figured writing a story set in Cuba would be just as good -- and would help my readers visit too!

Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?

I'm a big believer in structure -- in stories that have a beginning, a middle, and an end, with particular functions and requirements for each part. Before I sit down to write a word, I need to know what challenges will be set up for the protagonist in the beginning, how these will evolve through the middle, and what resolution the protagonist will (or will not) find by the end. 

With CAT KING, I had the story of Rick Gutierrez, a cat video tycoon who becomes obsessed with salsa dancing -- and with Ana Cabrera, this smart & cute girl he meets (beginning). 

Following both obsessions takes him to his mother's native country Cuba, where he discovers that love and dance are both a lot more difficult than he ever imagined (the middle). 

Then (the end) Rick comes face to face with Voldemort and must destroy the seven. . . oops, wrong book there. I guess I won't be spoiling the ending of CAT KING after all!

Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?

Absolutely, this happens a lot -- in fact, I believe that it should, otherwise you're not writing a living, breathing story but executing a construction blueprint. With CAT KING, I discovered a lot of layers I hadn't anticipated including in the story initially (such as the mystery of Rick's mother's past and the anti-government struggles of his cousin Yolanda). In your head, the novel is a shimmering ghost of a thing, full of promise but insubstantial. As you sweat and hack and struggle through the arduous process of dragging the story across the imagination/reality boundary line, you discover all sorts of unexpected wonders. 

Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?

Ideas as such come to me often, but ideas I burn to write about come by only once in a while. I know other authors have dozens of ideas they'd love to write at any given time, but I don't. I'd rather go dancing or do a business deal or read a book than write about an idea I'm only moderately interested in. I'll work to put together something that electrifies me and then get to work. 

How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?

Because of the reasons I mentioned above, this is typically not a problem for me. But generally I tend to look for the intersection of passion and public interest. Between two ideas that I'm equally excited about, I'll pick the one that I think more people will love reading about.

I recently got stitches in my arm and was taking mental notes the entire time about how I felt before, during, and after the process of being badly injured. Do you have any major life events that you chronicled mentally to mine for possible writing purposes later?

Sure -- pretty much everything, every day, from the time I broke my jaw to the time I watched Lehman Brothers go bust in real time on a trading floor, to that one time I was overcharged for a pound of chicken at the grocery store. I try to reassure acquaintances by noting that my characters are always compositions of several real life figures, seasoned liberally with imagination. Similarly, I don't lift scenes one for one but mix and match. But certainly, every mortifying conversation, every sublime experience of beauty and joy, every hilarious mistake, every medical struggle, every sweet little daily moment gets stored away for later retrieval.  

Monday, August 22, 2016

My Scar Is A Meh Face & Other Mindy Updates

Judging by the click rates, comments and general entertainment value of my post about being seriously injured, I should probably try to almost die much more often. Apparently it would be good for my career.

Given the amount of scars I have (idea - scar inventory) I can say with a fair amount of conviction that I will get hurt again fairly soon, and I'll be sure to let everyone know. Just FYI - I am going fishing later this afternoon.

I am healing quite well, thank you, and while I was inspecting the damage the other day I noticed that my scar is a meh face. It's not impressed. It thinks I could've done better. It's seen more dedication in divorce rates. It says, muscle was exposed but not bone, so stop bragging.

Elsewhere in my life, if you follow me on Twitter or Instagram you know that I did a lot of canning last week. I made a vegetable ladder of priorities in my kitchen, a thing that once done, cannot be undone. Count so far: 4 pints honey pickles, 3 quarts zucchini dill pickles, 2 jars blackberry jam, 18 pints pizza / spaghetti sauce, 8 quarts tomato juice, 3 quarts tomato soup, 3 quarts dried corn. 

Yes, you can come over when the world ends, but you need to know ahead of time that it's going to be like the Fight Club Paper Street house - you have to prove yourself on the porch. I'm thinking some sort of skill other than enduring patience. Also, there is no whining in the apocalypse. People always ask me who I am most like of all my characters, and the answer is probably Mother. That should help you decide whether or not you want to come over.

Books, you say? Yes, I write those. Here's some important book stuff that is coming up or going on now!

September 6: A MADNESS SO DISCREET paperback release
September 20: THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES release date

GIVEN TO THE SEA signed ARC on YABC: Ends Aug 25
THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES giveaway on Goodreads: Ends Aug 31

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Saturday Slash

Meet my Hatchet of Death (or, some other colorful description RC Lewis and I come up with at any given moment). This is how I edit myself, it is how I edit others. If you think you want to play with me and my hatchet, shoot us an email.

We all know the first line of a query is your "hook." I call the last line the "sinker." You want it to punch them in the face, in a nice, friendly kind of way that makes them unable to forget you after having read the 300 other queries in their inbox.

If you're looking for query advice, but are slightly intimidated by my claws, blade, or just my rolling googly-eyes, check out the query critique boards over at AgentQueryConnect. This is where I got my start, with advice from people smarter than me. Don't be afraid to ask for help with the most critical first step of your writing journey - the query. My comments appear in green.

Sixteen-year-old Ephraim Cutler has blood on his hands and a hellhound on his trail. I am so listening right now. Ephraim hunts and tends crops these are two separate actions but the phrasing can be read as he "hunts and tends crops," like, he finds them, then tends them. Not, he hunts animals and also tends crops. Try saying instead that he relies on hunting and farming to care for himself and his mother, who has been slowly going insane since the death of her husband in the Civil War. Fiercely loyal, Ephraim does his best to hide her madness from the neighbors, but small-town folk tend to talk. Very good.

When Ephraim’s mother coerces him into killing an innocent Yankee veteran maybe a little reasoning here... if he knows she's a little nuts and yet he still follows through on killing someone for her, we kind of need to know why... otherwise he comes off as seeming a bit simple. Does he think he's protecting her? Their property?, he finds himself in a whirlwind of tribulation. News of his crime spreads through their isolated Appalachian community like a plague. With a bounty on his head, Ephraim flees to the hills and hollers. There, on the darkest night of his life, he is tracked and bitten by a beast that can smell his guilt—the devil’s own hound.

Desperate to redeem himself, Ephraim is torn between two clashing figures: Barefoot Nancy, a granny doctor rumored to be a witch—and Reverend Boggs, the local preacher. He must decide who to trust, evade the hangman’s noose, and spare his true love’s heart—all before the hellhound’s bite poisons his soul.

This sounds awesome and fun and the query is really well done. The only thing I have to say is that the sudden entrance of love and romance there at the end kind of threw me for a loop because there was no mention of any such thing until the very last sentence. Overall though, this is very well done and I'd totally be drawn in by this if I were an agent.

Some Dark Holler (70,000 words) is an Appalachian gothic, fantasy YA. It is the first book in a planned series. Possible hangup there, hopefully it has the ability to stand alone. Usually the best route is to call it a standalone with series potential. However, only say this if that is, in fact, true.