Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Daily Inspiration: Ghosts and Murder, but not Zombies

So, I know I said I was going to talk about children's fiction today, but I changed my mind. We writers are allowed to do that, right? The old bait and switch, or something like that.

Anyhow, I just got back from Savannah, Georgia a couple days ago. Hubs had signed us up for a midnight zombie tour, which sounded like a barrel of monkies to me. I thought it would be cheesy and fun and you know, about zombies. How silly of me. Apparently the tour guide is more sneaky than us writers. So, here I am at a few minutes 'til midnight standing next to a huge cemetery, in the dark (yeah, funny how there's no light out at that time), and this dude starts telling all this creepy historical stuff about how Savannah is the most haunted city in America and the city's built on the remains of 17,000 bodies, etc. Yeah. And I'm thinking, when the heck do we get to the cheesy, touristy zombie part?

Let me tell you a secret. I'm not even that embarrassed to share it. I believe in ghosts. Really and truly. I've known too many people that have had unexplainable things happen to them. So, I'm standing there in a dark cemetery, and he's talking about all the camera failures and people passing out and bringing ghosts home with them after this tour, and I start to get really freaked out.

Then we go walking about visiting lovely places where lovely events happened. Like when he had us follow him into the middle of this park and then says we're standing on the bones of 1,100 slaves less than four feet below us. And how it's a portal to ultimate evil or something and women that come here start getting followed by these shadow creatures that make your life miserable. Yeah, women, because we're more psychic or something. Of course, this tale can't be complete without kids getting murdered by their parents and dropped off roofs to be impaled by wrought iron fences. It was a barrel of monkies, alright. And no freaking zombies!! Not a single mention of them. What the heck, right?

Needless to say, I had a hard time going to sleep that night since I had been told I might wake up to find the shadow thing had followed me home. Oh, what fun. But, all in all the trip was good, and I have lots of good fodder for a book.

So, do you guys have any creepy stories that have inspired your writing? Or un-creepy vacation tales that put you in the writery mood?

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Perfect Pitch

I've already told my story of meeting Chuck Sambuchino on the first night of the conference. I was of course keeping my sneaky little hawk-eyes out for the agents, too. I saw Katharine Sands at one point, and walked over to introduce myself. I tried to say something like "I'm Alexia Chamberlynn. I have a manuscript critique with you tomorrow. I'm really excited." But it came out at super speed, and I think I tripped over about every word in the sentence. She was super nice though and ignored my lack of speaking ability. Then she made a joke about how she had her own boardroom for the critiques, whereupon I repeated, "I'm really excited," and decided at that point fleeing was my best option. Oh, to be an agent.

So, in addition to being a gracious soul, Katharine was a great speaker. She's actually written a book on pitching to agents, titled Making the Perfect Pitch. Here are the notes from her workshop:

- Agents are looking for sparks of potential. Your goal in querying is to make them feel a spark.
- Use the following formula for query letters: Place/Person/Pivot. She also shared Donald Maas' formula: Setting/Protag/Problem. Basically, the place or setting grounds the reader in what period of history and general location the story is taking place. This shouldn't be an info-dump of backstory in your query letter, but just enough to set the stage. Person/Protag tells us who the story is about. And Pivot/Problem tells us what the main issue of the story is - what does your MC face, what's at stake?
- Querial Killers (mistakes in query letters)
       - Avoiding the elements of the above formulas
       - Lack of a takeaway. Being unclear, lack of cohesion. My first query letter was like that. I thought it sounded lovely, but looking back at it later I realized it was vague and didn't really give anyone a clear idea of what went on in my book.
       - Hubris or humility. Being either overly confident or self deprecating are turn-offs in a query.
- Ask yourself, why does the world need my book? Make sure you know the answer to this and can communicate that in your query (not directly, but through crafting a compelling query with the P/P/P formula.

Katharine had a couple bits of information that contradict what other agents have said, but I'll share them and you can decide.

- Don't include word count in your query letter. She says that if the letter is well written, no agent will reject you for leaving it out. Including it is one more reason they could reject you (if your book is too long for instance).
- Query widely, and don't be hung up on a personalized approach. Her point here was that agents often don't know what they'll love, and you never know when an agency might have just gotten a new agent or assistant that loves your genre, even if their website says otherwise. I don't think she meant not to target agents that love your genre, and do research so that you can include something personalized in your query letter such as how you love such and such a book they represent. I think her point was not to limit yourself only to agents who accept your exact genre.

If you get an offer for representation, these are appropriate questions to ask:

- Why do you want to be my agent?
- What experience do you have representing this kind of book?

So, there it is, writer friends. Ammunition for your querying arsenal.

I'm off to Savannah, Georgia with my hubs for our second anniversary. I will be back to the blogosphere on Wednesday with tips on writing fiction for kids. Also, I'm rather behind on my commenting right now, and hope to get back on the bandwagon soon. That pesky thing called 'life' keeps rearing it's ugly head.

I hope everyone has a great weekend!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Guide to Literary Agents - Passing Along the Wisdom

Last Friday evening was the opening night of the Tallahassee Writer's Association conference. It started at 6, and there were tasty things to nibble (other than my fingernails), beverages to sip, and mingling to be done. Let me let you in on a secret: I am not a social butterfly. My heart had been pounding erratically all day at the thought of attending an event where I didn't know a soul and introducing myself to strangers. I'm sure a lot of you fellow writers feel the same in such situations. But, we all know that if we become published authors, we have to get the hell over it.

So, I arrived on scene. I discovered that 'cash bar' is a quite literal term. As in, no card machines. Since I never carry cash, that meant no libations for me. Totally sucky, since I was counting on a little liquid courage. I saw one of my mom's friends and went to say hello. Then another writer came up and introduced herself. Then I was on my own again. That's when I saw Chuck Sambuchino out on the patio talking with a group of people. You know, the editor of Guide to Literary Agents? Probably the most popular writing blog ever? I wandered over in a starstruck daze to introduce myself.

You know when you approach a group of people already in a conversation, and they all have their backs to you in a little circle and you kind of walk up and wait there awkwardly for someone to notice you? Well, that totally didn't happen. Chuck immediately gestured for me to join them, and did this to everyone else who approached. He asked for everyone's business cards and got us all used to the drill. I think he could tell that a lot of people like me didn't know what the heck they were doing and were a hot second away from passing out from nervousness.

I harrassed him We got to chat a few other times over the course of the weekend, and he was just really cool and laid back. If you ever get a chance to attend one of his workshops, I highly recommend it. You guys probably know, since of course you read GTLA every single day, that Chuck is also an author, of both Formatting & Submitting Your Manscript and How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack. He wrote an awesome post the other day about his publicity plan, which you should check out. Right after you finish reading this. Oh, and if for some heinous reason you are not currently following his blog, the link is in my sidebar as usual.

Man, can I blab or what? Okay, so here's what Chuck talked about in his workshop on agents. Well, not everything, but I think most of you probably know the basics. I took notes on the things I'd always wondered about. Email me if you have a question about something I don't cover here.

- Send 5-7 queries at one time. If you get nothing but rejections and no-responses, you probably need to edit either your query letter or the beginning of your book. Work on this, then send another batch, so you don't burn through all your contacts at once.
- Only include publishing credits for things you've been paid for. So, if you've written an article in a small local paper, you can list it if you were paid for it.
- If an agent doesn't state what their response policy is, follow up in 2-3 months via email and politely inquire.
- If an agent asks for an exclusive read, 4 weeks or less is reasonable.
- The preferred format for a synopsis these days is 2 pages double spaced. Of course, a particular agency may state their preferred length, but if they don't specify use the above guidelines.

So, consider yourself wisdomized. Questions? Tips to share?

On Friday I will feature what I learned from agent Katharine Sands at her workshop on pitching!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Three Exciting and Exhausting Days

I tried to come up with a really clever post title for my weekend at the Tallahassee Writer's Association conference, but you'll note the reference to exhaustion and hopefully forgive me. But, before I spill my tale, let me announce one of the winners of the SPD blogfest! The other winner is announced over at Colene's blog.

First let me say that I loved reading everyone's post. You guys wrote some awesome stuff! And there were awesome video clips and songs and poems and pics (including some delicious Irish boys). So, it really sucks to have to choose one favorite, and it was a hard decision for me and Colene both. But, that's how contests work. Without further carrying on, the winner is Sarah McCabe! Sarah, please email your mailing address and new release choice to If you haven't already, go check out Sarah's awesome flash fiction and video clips.

Okay, so I realized that at the conference I got enough fodder for quite a few blog posts. I attended a lot of great workshops with awesome speakers, and I want to pass on what I learned to you. But, I know you guys want to hear about the agents first.

I had my manuscrupt critique session with Katharine Sands of the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency at 2:50 in the afternoon on Saturday, and then my pitch with Melissa Flashman of Trident Media Group at 3:10. So, I had almost the whole day to get good and nauseated. I was able to stay distracted in the morning workshops and push off my panic for the most part. But right after lunch, about 1 PM, butterflies pretty much attacked my stomach in a violent manner. I was tripping out! For about an hour. Which seemed. To. Drag. On. For. Eternity.

Then, at around two I started to calm back down. Somehow the nearness of it (the sound of inevitability, right?) (kudos if you get my reference) chilled me out. So, my palms were only sweating a little when I finally stepped into the boardroom with Katharine. Katharine was really nice, and said my writing was strong and she is interested in my story. She pointed out a few things I needed to work on, and said she wants me to submit pages to her after I have. These are the things she noted:

1) My setting was too generic. My novel takes place in NYC, but I didn't make it specific enough. She mentioned that there are lots of different New Yorks: old money New York, drag queen New York, etc. I need to pick the subculture that my characters engage in and flesh it out.
2) She said my opening was really tense and scary (which is the point), but she kept getting distracted wondering what my character is. You know he's something paranormal, but I don't say what. To me, that made it more mysterious, but she said I needed to at least hint at it.
3) Something that surprised me was that she said I actually needed more backstory at the beginning - readers need to know a little about why my villain is stalking my MC.

We talked about some other plot points that she liked and wanted me to develop more. So, it was really great feedback, and I have an invite to submit. Yay!

Directly after my manuscript critique, Melissa called me in, so they were literally back to back. I gave her my pitch, and while I'm sure it wasn't stellar, I remembered all my lines, and delivered them in a natural conversation and didn't strangle on any of my words. Hooray me! I knew from my research ahead of time that Melissa didn't rep any urban fantasy, and she admitted that it wasn't her area of expertise. But, she said her assistant likes urban fantasy and that her assistant vets all the fiction submissions first, and to submit in a couple months when she's back from a medical absence. She also gave me the names of a couple agents that rep my kind of work. She was really cool and laid back.

So, all good stuff! It was a great weekend and I got lots of good feedback and tools for revising my book. Here's a sneak peek of the posts I'll be doing on the workshops I attended:

- Chuck Sambuchino's advice on everything agenty
- Katharine Sands tips on pitching (she actually wrote a whole book about it)
- James Scott Bell on a whole lot of stuff (he's a bestselling thriller author)
- Adrian Fogelin on writing for kids and teens (she's won about a dozen children's writing awards)
- Ron Cooper's exercises for voice and POV

So, I realize that was like a bible-length post. If you're reading this, you rock. Happy Monday, writer friends!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Huzzah Ireland! It's the SPD Blogfest!

Happy Saint Patrick's Day! And Happy Luck O' The Irish SPD Blogfest! This is the first blogfest I've hosted, and I couldn't have done it without my fabulous and lovely co-host, Colene Murphy. Now there's an Irish girl that seriously rocks!

My SPD entry is below, and further down is a list of all the awesome participants so you can hop with ease! I'll be at work all day Thursday, but I promise to visit everyone's blog when I get home in the evening.

Don't forget that there will be prizes! Colene and I will each pick our favorite SPD entry and announce the winners on Monday. Entries can consist of flash fiction or a favorite SPD memory/story. The prize is a new release of your choice! If you want to peek at me and Colene's original posts about the fest (for more details and all that good stuff), click here and here.

So, writery lads and lassies, I present to you my SPD flash fiction:

Smoke wafted up into the air. The young witch sat back in the thick grass of the meadow and smiled in satisfaction.

A moment later, the smile fell away as a strange sound filled the air, like the whistle of a train. Something flew towards her, coming down through the sky with frightening speed. Bright and colorful and…

The rainbow hit the ground beside her, splashing color over her cloak like melted crayons. Beside it stood a little man with greenish skin and copper hair. He wore a bright green suit and on a chain around his neck hung a huge golden badge.

“Limerick O’Malley, Magical Environmental Protection Agency. You’re in violation of Code 287.11523, use of a faulty wand that produces harmful smoke.”

“You’re who? With what?” stammered the witch.

Ignoring her, the leprechaun flipped out a small pad of paper and continued. “I’ll let you off today with a warning, but I’ll have to confiscate your wand.”

“Since when do leprechauns regulate the use of magic?”

“You’re new around here, aren’t you? They may let you get away with murder in America, but in Ireland we take the protection of our meadows very seriously.” He finished writing and handed her the ticket. "Your wand now, lassie.” He flattened his palm before her face imperiously.

"No way. No miniature man is taking my wand,” she said sullenly, one hand on her hip.

A deep sigh escaped the leprechaun’s lips. “I was afraid it’d come to this.” In one swift move he pulled out a pair of gold handcuffs, flicked the wand out of her hands, and latched the cuffs around her wrists.

“You can’t be serious! This makes no sense whatsoever!”

“Actually it makes perfect sense. I’m green. I protect the green.” He hauled her towards the rainbow. “We’re headed to the other side now. And there ain’t no pot of gold for you there, either.”

See below for all the other SPD entries. Blog hop til you're tipsy like you've had too much green beer!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Final Countdown and a Lovely Poem

It's here. The week of my first conference. At the very beginning of January when I signed up it seemed like ages away, but here it is.

But there's something else big happening this week: me and Colene's Luck o' the Irish SPD Blogfest!! If you haven't signed up yet, hop over to Colene's blog to sign up. Also, see this post, where she shows a number of the pretty new releases coming out that could be yours free! And to further entice you, I've written an elegant poem. Try not to get too teary-eyed at its beauty:

Saint Patty’s Day totally rocks
Our blogfest will knock off your socks
Anything Irish will do
And there’s free stuff in it for you.

Leprechauns, clover and green beer
Will put you in good Irish cheer
Blarney, rainbows and pots of gold
Are always cool and never get old

Join the ranks of Stoker, Wilde and Yeats
Give us your best literary feats
But 200 words is all we ask
And in your awesomeness we all will bask

Two Irish lassies will pick their fave
But we’ll love you all for being so brave
Your bloggy friends will love you too
Go forth, write and the luck o’ the Irish be with you

Ha, hope you enjoyed that. And yes I know Yeats and feats don't technically rhyme, but hey.

Okay, now to conference talk. I promised a final checklist, so here it is:

- Write, practice and memorize pitches
- Research agents
- Make list of questions for agents
- Practice answers to questions commonly asked by agents
- Print several sets of sample pages to bring for agents and publishers
- Order business cards
- Test record function on cell phone to make sure it works for taping critique session with agent
- Decide on outfits
- And of course, get a total hair makeover

Just joking on that last one, this actually resulted from a year of debate and getting more and more bored with my hair... but I figured what better time than before my big writery debut?

So, see you guys Thursday for the blogfest and then I'll report next week with all the juicy conference details!

Friday, March 11, 2011

I'm Only Slightly Neurotic and Obsessive

I've made myself a conference preparation to-do list. I've written, practiced and memorized my two shorter pitches (still working on the long one). I've cyberstalked Googled the agents I'm meeting to find out what kind of books they represent and who their clients are (I did a quick look a couple months ago, but nothing in-depth). I've been compiling all the feedback I've gotten on my excerpts that were critiqued this week, and am going to do some edits this weekend so my sample pages are prettier. And I've only started hyperventilating once... Just joking, but I did have to force myself away from my laptop last night and eat a PB and Nutella sandwich.

So, today I reveal the promised pitches! I know I mentioned a vlog. Right. Well, that's not going to happen. Sorry, but I taped myself with the webcam and it was really scary. So, moving right along....

I decided to do a one-sentence, one-paragraph and two-paragraph pitch like Nathan Bransford mentioned. Here you go:

One sentence:

A young, corporate climber discovers she’s a witch who’s lived countless lifetimes and must escape the immortal sorcerer intent on possessing her soul.

One paragraph:

Eva Westvale, a young corporate climber, is thrown into oncoming magical traffic when she attracts a cloaked stalker and begins to have strange visions of magic and times long ago. With the help of overly-confident shapeshifter Ambrose and sassy teen witch Elspeth, she discovers she’s a witch who’s lived countless lives. To escape her hunter and keep her soul, she must regain a millennia worth of memories and power.

Two paragraph:

Eva Westvale is a young corporate climber, planning the perfect wedding to her college sweetheart. Everything changes when she attracts a cloaked stalker and begins to have strange visions of magic and times long ago. With the help of overly-confident shapeshifter Ambrose and sassy teen witch Elspeth, she discovers she’s a witch who’s lived countless lives.

As her memories and power begin to return, Eva is caught between rival shapeshifters and coven politics. She must learn to control her growing powers and figure out what triggered their return. And most importantly, she must unravel the mystery of her cloaked hunter so she can survive, soul intact.

I still have time to edit these, so feel free to offer any feedback you may have! On Monday I'll share my conference checklist. Have a great weekend writer friends!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

There's Blood in the Water...

I'm getting critiqued over at Carol's blog today!!
Pop over and take a look - she does an excellent job of identifying lots of technical writing things. I'm trying to get better at that stuff. Learn from my public flaying! Heck, flay me yourself :)

Oh, and remember how bummed I was that I didn't get into the Miss Snark's First Victim critique thing last week? Well she did a second round and I got in! I think she's going to post all twenty-five excerpts tomorrow or Friday. I'm entry number 44.

Two in one week? Yeah, I'm a masochist.

Stop back Friday for my pitches, and then Monday will be my final pre-conference post before me and Colene's blogfest on Thursday the 17th.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Pitchpalooza Continues!

Um, so I'm completely obsessing about this pitch. I got some great advice from you lovely writer friends on the last post, and this post will continue with the terrifying theme of verbally pitching agents. Eleven days until my conference! The countdown has begun.

So, to summarize the tips you guys left on Friday's post, these are the major themes that developed:
  • Practice, practice, practice
  • Stay calm, remember to breath
  • Remember you are just sharing your passion for your book
  • Come up with one sentence that summarizes your whole book and memorize it
I hit the interwebs today to see what agents had to say on the matter. I was unsurprised that my pals Nate, Janet and Rachelle had excellent blog posts about this very subject. Double yay! Here's a summary of what I learned from them:
  • Always start the pitch with a friendly greeting (don't just start rambling), introduce yourself, state your genre and word count
  • Create three pitches: a one sentence, one paragraph and two paragraph
  • Memorize them, but be flexible and allow the conversation to be two-sided
  • There was some debate as to how long a pitch you should give - Janet suggested asking the agent what kind of pitch they like in conference settings
  • Be prepared to answer questions (Rachelle's post has a good list of potentials)
Nate's has actual examples from his forthcoming Jacob Wonderbar book, which is immensely helpful. J.R.'s points out what should be different between a query and a verbal pitch. Rachelle has two posts on the subject, one with a very detailed do and don't list, and the other which points out the positives of a verbal pitch as opposed to a query.

I've started brainstorming my different length pitches and I'm going to post them here on Friday. I might do a vlog. No promises, though. Whether I do or don't will depend on a) if I can figure out how to use my webcam, b) if I can keep from LMAO while trying to record it, and c) how cringe-worthy I am on camera.

Two other bits of business. First, don't forget to sign up for me and Colene's SPD blogfest on St. Patty's Day! Second, Carol Riggs is doing a critique of the first 250 words of my novel Countless on her blog on Wednesday. Fun stuff! Have a great week fellow writers!

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Dreaded Pitch and a Teaser

Happy Friday! Today I need your help, writer friends. I think the thing I am most nervous about at the conference is giving my verbal pitch to an agent. There's a reason I'm a writer, guys. I'm not always the best speaker. There are a lot of "ums" and "like" and "you know?", paired with a tendency to ramble and make lame jokes.

So how the heck do I pull off this pitch thing? Do I have to come up with one of those run-on sentences that sums up my whole book? Do I do it sort of like I'm reading my query letter? Am I supposed to memorize the thing? How long should I talk for? Has anyone reading this ever done one? Spill forth knowledge to me (us)!

In other news, I was trying to submit a 250 word excerpt from Countless to one of Miss Snark's First Victim's critique posts, but it is limited to 25 entries and I missed it. Which was very frustrating, because I pulled over on the side of the highway so I wouldn't miss the opening of the submission window, and at exactly 6:00 I sent the excerpt via my phone. However, the dumb email bot said I had submitted at 5:59 and rejected the entry. By the time I was able to get back into my email and submit again 3 minutes later, it had already filled up. This incident was followed by expletives and angry monster noises. So, I'm going to post my clip here to relieve said frustration. Enjoy!

He looked at her with a strange intensity. “You should know what I am. You should know what you are.” A vortex of emotion swirled in his eyes – frustration, fascination, even a trace of fear. “How is it you don’t know?”

She closed her eyes and shook her head. “Know what? What is it I’m supposed to know?” Her voice quavered.

He put his palm on the side of her face and her eyes opened. “You should know that you are the biggest mystery of all.”

Eva’s brain was trying to swim through what he’d just said, when suddenly his lips were pressing against hers.

She struggled and shoved back hard on his chest. “What the hell are you doing, Ambrose?” But through her anger she felt something emanating from him, a swirl of magic like she’d felt in her vision.

"I’m trying to show you something,” he said, pulling her against him again. His lips found hers and the power washed around them and she didn’t pull away.

The magic felt familiar and normal, it surrounded and melded with her. Then a power of her own shimmered against it. It felt so recognizable that she didn’t know how she hadn’t noticed its absence before. Like a missing limb or lack of vision, it was so vital a part of her she couldn’t imagine not having it.

“Do you understand now?” he asked, piercing her with a laser gaze.“You’re not normal, Eva. We share that.”

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Linkage to Awesome Writing Stuff With Which to Bribe You

Why do I need to bribe you? We'll get to that in a sec. Let me butter you up first. I offer a collection of articles/blog posts I came across in the last week which I found immensely helpful:

First, I'm sure you guys have all heard about the woes of adverbs. They tie in to the whole showing-not-telling business, and we're not supposed to use them that much, lest we be branded as lazy writers. On the Rejectionist's blog, she wrote a very amusing post in which she illustrates the overuse of adverbs quite well. Click!

Second, a really great article on Guide to Literary Agents about self-promotion. The author mentions book trailers! I feel so validated now.

Third, Carol Riggs wrote a great post about sentence makeovers. She's also having a critique contest right now if you want to get in on the goods.

Okay, so now to the reason I'm bribing you. Because today is March 1st. And March is the month I am going to my first writing conference ever. Therefore, March is the month I'm going to anal-retentively obsess about everything pertaining to the conference. For instance, I've been planning my outfits for a couple months now.

But! Before you avoid my blog for the next 30 days, let me bribe you further. Because while I am going to be doing a lot of pre-conference posts, asking for opinions, etc., I will also spill the juicy details after the conference. I have sessions with two different agents, one a pitch session and one a manuscript critique. I'll share my public evisceration with you, blog friends. Because I love you that much. Because I want you to learn with me.

So, here's a toast to an exciting March! Stick around for the madness!