Monday, December 5, 2016

In Which My Life Comes Full Circle

The summer before I started high school I participated in the ELCA's (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) Lutheran Youth Gathering. This was in 1994, and the location for the "2 Be Alive" themed gathering that lasted for an entire week was Atlanta, Georgia. There were 30,000 of us there, with many of the events taking place at the Georgia World Congress Center. It was my first time flying on a plane, my first time in a big city, the first time I ever drank New Coke.

The following fall I entered 8th grade and my English teacher asked me if I wanted to try my hand at writing a short story for the NCTE (National Council of English Teachers) Promising Young Writers Program. I said sure and wrote about Thanksgiving from the point of view of a carrot - which you can read in its entirety here. That short received a superior writing certificate, making it the only thing I was going to win with my writing for a very, very long time.

Both of these things occurred in 1994, when I was 14 years old.

I returned to Atlanta - and the Georgia World Congress Center - last month at the age of 37 to be a guest author and panelist at ALAN/NCTE.

In the intervening years I've flown on a ton of planes and been in a lot of cities - I've even won a few more writing awards (though I've avoided New Coke.) Being back in the Georgia World Congress Center and seeing the NCTE logo everywhere (I still have my letter of recognition, that logo stamped upon my psyche as proof that yes I CAN do this), really threw me back to being fourteen.

Most writers will tell you that we never really feel like we've made it. There's always an event you weren't invited to, a distinction you haven't received, a sales goal you haven't met. I'm happy to walk up to just about anyone and introduce myself (ask Maggie Stiefvater) but that doesn't mean I don't get starstruck, or worry that after I say, "Hi, I'm Mindy McGinnis," they will blankly say, "Who?"

I think that humility is good, personally. If I ever think I'm the best in the room it means that I'm no longer improving. And I'll be the first to tell you that awards, sales, and contracts don't shush that little voice in your head when you sit down to write that says, "This time you're going to fail."

But this past November in Atlanta I felt pretty good about who I was, and how I got there.

Which means it's time for a new challenge.

Saturday, December 3, 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.

Seventeen-year-old Emile Dodgson is in an asylum with only a vague memory of who he had been before and no knowledge of why he is there. If you read this aloud the little word phrases "is in an" and "who he had been" can get a little tripped up. I would advise rephrasing every so slightly, such as Seventeen-year-old asylum resident Emile has no memory of who he is, or why he is there. Otherwise this is a good hook, just be aware of those little connectors that make your brain have to parse as your read With the help of his doctor, Emile tries to patch together the memories he does possess. As these fragmented memories begin to come back, Emile wonders if he truly does want to remember his disturbing past. Highlighting in yellow some echoes - you've got three in one para here. Not necessarily a huge red flag, but it might make the agent wonder if the ms is littered with such problems. It's a nit-pick, but that's what I'm here for.

Two years earlier, Emile looks forward to leaving school and beginning his apprenticeship with his father, a hatter in the late 1860s Oxford. When Emile meets Alice Smalls, the daughter of a prominent watch maker, he feels his life is clicking into place with a precision he’d never dared to dream for. You've got some great imagery at work here - "clicking into place" alongside the watch mention, for example. However, this is slightly confusing as it seems these events precede your hook. I'm assuming that this story is what the doctor pieces together from his memories, and that your story isn't told linearly, instead alternation between his sessions and the past, correct?

Soon, Emile notices the same symptoms in himself that plagued his father and claimed the life of his grandfather. He can’t always explain the disturbing images he sees or sounds he hears. He hopes his love for Alice will be enough to protect him from going insane, but as Emile spirals further into madness his behavior becomes more and more unsettling to those who care for him.

Drawing imagery from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, this standalone book tells the real story of the Mad Hatter’s descent into madness. ALICE AND THE HATTER is a 70,400 word young adult historical fiction told in alternating chapters between Emile and Alice. Wait! Alice has a POV? That needs mentioned as more than an aside down here. It should get half of the query, if it gets half of the book.

I’m a youth services librarian with over ten years of experience working with teens. (Nice, this was pretty much my bio when I was querying too - it helps!)

Overall, this is pretty damn great. The actual writing here is good and the premise is awesome, but the execution makes me curious about the setup of the text. Is it merely bookended with Emile already in the asylum (a la THE GREEN MILE) or do his chapters go back and forth between the present and the past? Needs to be clear within the query. 

Friday, December 2, 2016

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: CARVE THE MARK by Veronica Roth

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.

In their world everyone is tapped into the current, a force that gives each person a unique gift. Cyra's is to cause pain - both to herself and others - something that her brother, Ryzek, the cruel ruler of Shotet, revels in. Though she knows and respects the culture of every planet in their system, she is known throughout the universe as someone to be feared.

Akos is from Thuve, a peace loving nation where his mother is much respected as one of the great oracles. Though his currentgift seems odd - he can cancel other people's gifts - it's extremely useful to Cyra, to take away her daily pain and torture. Also, one of the Oracle's children will be the next oracle, and Ryzek would rather take that power for himself using his currentgift, than rely on someone else to tell him the future.

Kidnapped for these abilities, Akos is installed as Cyra's companion. He's ready to hate her, and she him. They're both very surprised when something blooms between them instead.

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Thursday, December 1, 2016

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately come to your from a bout with insomnia...

1) When I can't sleep I have the double-edged guilt of looking at the clock and thinking, "I'm not going to get up at a decent hour at this point" to thinking, "I might as well get up now because it's practically morning and then I'm an early riser."

2) If I fall asleep with my ear bent over even for a few minutes, the agony will last forever.

3) When I do mange to grab a few minutes sleep on these nights, I usually get extremely odd visuals. Last time it was a human-sized Furrby who was a much-in-demand court recorder because he could multitask and do one machine with each foot.

Wednesday, November 30, 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. Er... ignore the fact that the "from" doesn't fit.

Everybody likes a little privacy sometimes, right? People figured out a long time ago that putting high posts on each end of your bed and hanging curtains from them served as a protection from draft, and also kept the overly-inquisitive at bay. A lot of the conversations that went on behind these sheets were of a private nature- be they emotional exchanges, family secrets, or just good old gossip. If you wanted to keep something on the down low, you told you listener it was between you, me, and the bedpost.

But that one's kinda obvious isn't it? You want something a little less so? OK, I can do that.

A long while ago it was fashionable for men to wear removable shirt cuffs. Barkeeps used to keep a patron's running tab written on their cuff for safekeeping, then erase it when the drinker paid up for the evening, taking it off the cuff. Interesting, but what the hell does that have to do with anything? Well, when you're speaking off the cuff, it means that you're not referencing any written material.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Thing I Hate Most About Breast Cancer Is...

... that my friend Demitria Lunetta was diagnosed last month, at the age of 35.

Demitria is the author of IN THE AFTER, IN THE END and the upcoming BAD BLOOD, as well as a contributor, editor, and project spearhead of the anthology AMONG THE SHADOWS.

If you are able to help with the cost of Demitria's medical bills that would be fantastic. If you are not, there are non-monetary ways to help through social media shares.


Saturday, November 19, 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.

Rowena Andalynn expected her homecoming to be joyous after a childhood spent as a diplomatic hostage to a neighboring country. This first sentence doesn't necessarily set this up as a fantasy. It's not until the second one and the inclusion of "court" that we get that feeling. She endured a treacherous court by honing her skills in violence and cunning. Survival forced her to ignore what she was born to be - a Wishkeeper, one who dispenses wishes granted by the Divine. Lots of good info here, but I'm not sure that it's a hook. I think you need to get the idea of being a diplomatic hostage and violence and cunning into one sentence for the hook.

Now she's allowed home awkward phrasing to assume her holy birthright. In the land of Boldenwhite, Wishkeepers channel Divine will to grant three wishes a year. Trained in wisdom, Wishkeepers are icons of grace for believers. Not sure there's anything in the underlined sentence that is necessary to the query.

But when her official return is marred by a disastrous first Wish that dooms not only her Order, but that of the government she serves, Rowena realizes that being a Wishkeeper does not mean unending blessings. And when Wishkeepers start dying, Rowena discovers that an enemy is rising...an enemy called Scian March. A product of Boldenwhite’s notorious prison, Scian has spent all her seventeen years planning revenge and revolution. The name actually sounds like an organization, so when I first saw it I didn't process it as a character.

In the battle over Boldenwhite’s future, Rowena battles on two fronts - against Scian’s bloodthirsty allies - and with everything she thought she believed. which was? The calling that defines her may become the trap used to kill her world, how so? if Rowena doesn’t win The Wishkeeper’s War. is it on her alone?

For the most part this is a good job of getting plot, world building, and conflict into a tight space - not easy with high fantasy. However, some elemental aspects are missing. Rowena battling against "everything she thought she believed" is, I think, a callback to her realizing that "being a Wishkeeper does not mean unending blessings," but it's not explicitly clear. If Rowena has had no training in her gift because of her upbringing and is therefore somewhat naive about it, that might be something to clarify. 

Also, clarification on what precisely is at stake would be good - how are the Wishkeepers gifts being used against them? Does Rowena have any allies herself? You mention that Scian does, but it seems to be on Rowena alone to win the war, which seems a bit odd given that she hasn't lived in Boldenwhite for most of her life. Some more details about Scian would be good too - why was she in prison in the first place? Does she have some dark power? Clarify some key points, pep up that hook sentence, and I think you're ready to take this query out.