Thursday, December 31, 2009

Reflections and Resolutions!

            It was a year ago today when I sat up and said, “Somebody should write a book about vampires at DragonCon. That would be funny.” I often summon that mythical someone to fix broken things, invent awesome technology, right the wrongs of the universe, and take out the garbage. Not me--somebody. (Ok, the last one I summon my hubbie for.)
            Well, it was me this time. (Not the garbage -Ewww, no -the book!) New Year’s Eve is about reflection and resolutions.  So much about me and my life has changed over the course of the year. I don’t even think 2008 & 2009 versions of me would recognize each other.  And I love it! I started out 2009 on a whim, and I’m ending it with a dream.
            In the past year, I accomplished the following:
-          Wrote Iron Thirst and revised the crap out of it. (Isn’t that so eloquently put? Maybe I should go into literary fiction with prose like that.)
-          Completed two short stories.
-          Joined the Atlanta Writers Club and Sisters in Crime
-          Took two “Pitch” workshops and one Fiction Workshop.
-          Schooled myself on the mad art of query writing and the dark scary world of publishing.
-          Entered WOW! Fall Flash Fiction contest.
-          Started two new novels, about 10K words into them.
-          Started a blog and bribed 17 people to follow me. (Check’s in the mail, I swear.)
I accomplished other in my personal life, but I’ll stick to the writing world in this post. But not bad for not even knowing that I had the ability to write a novel.
So onward and upward. I have some pretty hefty goals for 2010, but let’s stick with the ones that I have control over.
-          Query Iron Thirst with great passion both written and verbally.
-          Finish a second novel. Either one of those that have been patiently waiting on me or a brand new one. I will have to follow my instincts on that one, and currently they are off on holiday. (My instincts are very British.)
-          Join the Romance Writers of America, both nationally and my local chapter.
-          Attend the Atlanta Writers Conference, and one other large one that involves me getting my happy self on a plane.
-          Write two more short stories for contest submission.
-          Continue to grow the blog. (AKA write more checks.)
-          Develop a strong writing schedule.
I have a feeling that this is going to be a great year & an even better decade.  I wish you all the best! May all your dreams come true in 2010.  Sorry this is a short post for me, but there is much drinking to be done.
Happy New Year!!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Top Third

We interrupt your normal broadcast with a brief update…

About two months ago, I submitted Canary Yellow (it’s over there on the sidebar if you haven’t read it) to the WOW! Women on Writing Fall Flash Fiction contest. I had originally wrote it as part of a writing prompt/contest for Public Query Slushpile. I polished it up a little more and sent it off to a real live contest, one you have to pay to enter, which was a first for me.
I completely forgot that I had done it until yesterday. I was driving to take some last minute packages to the UPS store. (What? I’ll plan ahead next year. Focus!) Anyway, I was driving to the store and my droid buzzed at me. The little Google icon was proudly flashing at me. (Yes, I also read my email while I am driving. Stop fussing at me; I am trying to tell you something.) I clicked and then screamed in joy. (No, I didn’t win. Stop interrupting me; you’re killing the story.)  It said, “Congratulations! You have made it past the first round of judging.”
My first thought was, “Yay! I followed the directions and they are going to actually read it!” But then I kept reading. Turns out they dwindled down the limited 300 stories to the top 100, and Canary Yellow was one of them. I didn’t see that coming. So math says it was the top third of the stories they allowed in the contest.  I like it. I’m actually pretty happy with that.
So, what happens next is they will then select the top 25. Of that, the top 10 will be published in their Ezine, and the top 3 get cash prizes and interviews. It will be in late January before the top 25 is selected and early February when the other winners will be notified.
My plan is to go back to forgetting about it, and taking this as a nice little victory.
What about you? Do you participate in contests? Any luck?

Friday, December 18, 2009

How I Do It: The Truth Revealed

My non-writer friends often ask me how I do it all. Work full time, nine hours of college per semester (including summers), be a parent, a wife, and still find time to write.
I will let you in on a little secret. It’s time I reveal something about myself. Please sit down. I’ll wait. You see, I am really a …(say it)…vampire.
I don’t sleep so that frees up a great deal of time right there. I am a special breed of vampire that doesn’t need to suck blood. I survive off of coffee. I don’t sparkle in the sun, but I do shine and will burn (It’s more the Irish blood than the vamp that causes that though.) I can’t transform into a bat, but occasionally I have been a fly on the wall. Not sure if I am immortal—never really tried to die. Don’t want to risk it. But seriously, how else would you know? (Mmmm… there’s something there.)
Well, since you can’t become a vamp too, let me give you some more time saving techniques to free up additional hours that you can spend honing your craft.
-The first thing you should do is down enough coffee, soda, or Redbull that your body gives off a faint hum like that of a power plant.
-Immediately, trade all live plants for silk. Unless your plants are Venus flytraps, then keep. They are useful when you stop washing dishes.
-Collect take-out menus. They also come in very handy to eat pizza off of when you forget to buy paper plates.
-Teach children how to cook their own microwave meals. I mean if you treat it like it’s a video game—they will also get an entertainment value as well as feeling proud for being so darn helpful.
-Learn to use the steering wheel in your car as a desk. The car is a quiet place, and seriously, what else are you going to do at red lights. And remember, a person honking at you to go is not a bad thing. Just a friendly reminder. People like to help.
-Stop dusting. When your friends start to notice tell them that you are growing cobwebs for the most awesome realistic haunted house ever. Then the only time you have to dust is the day before Halloween, when you will tell those same friends that you changed your mind.
-Quit your job and live off the government. I heard they’re throwing in a health plan soon.
-Drink heavily. This helps you lose all sense of time, and ensures that everything you write it SuperFreakinHeelarious or tormented and deep. And I’m sure it will reduce the amounts of edits. See HEMINGWAY.
-Oh, speaking of edits. Only use spell check for edits. It catches everything, right? Just select all and move on.
-Reduce the amount of time you spend querying by creating one letter that reads:
Dear Every Agent Out There-
Please consider my book GREATEST STORY EVER WRITTEN. Better than Twilight or that Dan Brown guy everybody raves about. I didn’t read his work, only watched the movie. He can’t be that great if he did that to Tom Hanks's hair.
Love – Me

Then email to all agents at once and rest assured that you will be represented. 

Writing is hard, and it’s time consuming, but we do it because we love it. Or at least we should. If you don’t’ love it, don’t do it.  With the exception of paying bills. No one love paying the bills, but if you don’t they’ll turn off your electricity. And it’s impossible to blog stalk without the interwebs.

Seriously though, to answer the question of how we do it all… I do it because I can’t not do it. It’s like breathing.

Please read this with the humor with which it was intended. And for the love of Twain, do not follow any of the advice on this post. (Although I have used my steering wheel as a desk at red lights, I am a trained professional stunt driver. Do not try this at home.)

Please feel free to play along by adding your own time saving techniques ;-)  Have a great weekend!!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Just a Wookie Pitcher

In May, six agents will descend upon Atlanta. Authors will line up to tell them about their book. Give them the ole verbal pitch. Authors, the introverts, verbally selling their book, by talking, out loud. Oh boy!

I knew this would be a great opportunity, but like other writers, I am terrified of the thought.  Lucky for me, the Atlanta Writers Club offered two sets of Pitch Critique Workshops; one in  December and one in January. I participated in the one that just passed.

Here’s how it worked. First, I sent in the first 20 pages of Iron Thirst to have critiqued by Joshilyn Jackson (there were three authors to choose from), and then showed up on Dec 5th to receive her critique of those pages. In addition, I sat down with her a second time and gave her my pitch, and she critiqued that as well.

Preparing for the pitch was unlike anything that I’ve ever done before. I started off with my query letter and ballooned it and made it more conversational. Then I removed all the extra buzz words, rehearsed it a few times, realized that it sucked, threw it in the trash, started over, and stumbled upon something…

The verbal pitch is a golden opportunity. It’s not just the opportunity to meet the agent and put a face with the name. It’s a chance to read the agent, not just have them read the query.

What is the biggest problem with the query letter? It’s not just that the agent receives hundreds of them either daily or weekly. It’s not just that you are trying to sell your 80K word story in 250 words or less. It’s that you can’t see their reaction. You can’t tell when you are losing them. You can’t answer their questions when they get a puzzled look on their face.

Writers are not generally great talkers, but we are excellent readers. We are good at watching people’s body posture, and at reading their emotions. It’s what we do with our characters, right? The verbal pitch lets us see when we need to detour, speed it up, slow it down, or wrap it up.

Watching their body cues is the greatest advice I can give when it comes to giving a verbal pitch. But in addition to that, here are a few other tips I will offer from my experience.

  •   Research the person that you are going to be pitching to, and find a way to make a connection with them. Do they represent an author that you admire? Share a common bond of scuba-diving? Do they have a blog?

  • When you first sit down, do not launch directly into your pitch. Take a moment to speak to them as people and not as someone you wouldn’t be talking to unless your book’s life depended on it. No one likes to feel used. (But don’t worry, they know why you are there.) Then throw in that common bond or that you loved the book they wrote or represent.

  • Your pitch should be prepared, but not sound rehearsed. Know what you are going to say, but don’t sound like you are delivering something from a manuscript. Just talk to them, and tell them the story.

  • Don’t use all of your time pitching. Leave room for questions.

  • Anticipate questions. Have answers ready.

  • And ask questions. Agents are a wealth of knowledge.

  • The beauty of a pitch is that you can actually talk a little bit more about your book and why it is different. You don’t get that opportunity in the query letter.

  • Be excited about your book. If you sound bored when you are pitching it to them, they don’t want to read it. You wrote it and you don’t seem impressed.

  • Relax. These are people. People that love books. 

The critique of my mock pitch went very well. Joshilyn said that she would ask for pages. Stupid me didn’t take her up on it. Granted she is an author and not an agent, but she seemed very interested in the story, and it would have been flippin awesome to have her read it. *slaps forehead*  She is an awesome person, and a lot of fun. Her blog cracks me up.
If you are in the Atlanta area, there is another critique workshop next month. Head over to the Atlanta Writers Club website. If you are not a member, ah-hem, do that first. Clubs are awesome, but that’s another post. (Yay, an idea for another post!!)
The big conference is in May. Wish me luck!
So, have you ever participated in a verbal pitch? How did it go? What is some of the best advice that you have received regarding the verbal pitch?

Friday, December 4, 2009

My Little Secret

I didn’t grow up with visions of best seller lists dancing in my head. I had a wild imagination, but never made the connections to becoming a writer. So it was quite the surprise to me when I finished the first three chapters of Iron Thirst (which was once Iron Obsession).

My husband knew what was going on. He watched me write, but beyond him, I didn’t tell a soul. I hid behind my keyboard at night – my dirty little secret.  I was terrified that if I said it out loud it would stop. Or worse, people would think I flipped my skull. I mean – it was just a phase, right? Like marathon running, painting, or interpretive dance (ok – never did the last one, just making sure that you are paying attention.)

But it didn’t stop. I continued to write, keeping my new passion hidden from the world. When I realized that this was more than just a fun past time – that it was a dream – I knew I would have to go public. Come out of the writing closet. The book was nearly finished. I was halfway through act three.
I made the leap and mentioned it to a friend at work, and waited for the look. You know- THAT look, one eyebrow up, smirk, switch to dead-pan, “Oh, that’s nice.”

But it didn’t come. She was proud, excited, curious. Ok. Let’s try again.  New person. This one had dreams of being a writer and never made the leap. He had tons of questions of how to get started.
And as I continued to share, I found more and more people who wanted to write, but didn’t know where to start. So the blog was born.

Now, fast forward to WIP. I haven’t been as secretive. I talk about it, and people want to know the plot and the characters. Me, having an open door policy, tell them. Ahh, but here’s the problem.
I ran across a hole shooter. Met one? “Well, that won’t work.” “That’s been done.” “I don’t think I would read that.” Pick one. Anything negative. This is all stuff that I was able to work out on my own in the early stages with Iron Thirst, but we are still in the beginning. It’s fragile, and the negative is, well, cramping my style.

Luckily, I realized what happened and have shut the door. I’ve learned that I write much better, stronger, with the door shut. I’ll open it back up on draft two, but for now this is what works for me. I plan on keeping my little secret until it’s a fully developed story, and then I’ll beg the hole shooter to find the valleys in between the good to help make it better.

So – when you started to write, did you openly talk about it? Or was it your secret? Do you openly discuss your WIP?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Where the Heck Did You Go?

Writing serves a selfish purpose in my life. It is the one place that I come to that is my own. When I write, my audience is me and I try not to worry of the effects it will have on others (at least in the beginning stages. Editing is when I think of the consequences, and make the decision of whether to self-censor or not).

I heart my chaotic life. (No, really!) I work full time as an assistant. My day is to serve clients and bosses and to keep them happy. After that comes school, where my job is to keep the professors happy and earn my big fat “A”. Motherhood is a very rewording role (my favorite and the most important), but it does require keeping irrational short people safe, fed, and if at all possible, happy.

This semester added a new layer in the form of two group presentations. This caused me to team up with two groups in order to create projects that will be a large chunk of our final grade. And although, I love my group, it does add an extra few straws on the stress donkey’s back.

When life gets too full, the first thing that disappears is reading for fun. It’s replaced with textbooks and studying. Once the reading for fun stops, the writing well is the next to dry up. I try to keep writing. It is my release; my escape from the world, but I’ve noticed the relationship between the amount of words that go in and the amount of words that come out. And when one stops, the next slowly disappears. It becomes physically painful when the words stop. And it has been nearly two weeks since I wrote anything new. (Ouch!!)

I finally broke down and force fed myself a few books to get back into the swing of things. Over the holiday break, I inhaled Joshilyn Jackson’s The Girl Who Stopped Swimming. It is a much different type of book from what I normally read, but I really enjoyed it. It gave me some perspective on some possible future books for me – opening some closed (locked and hidden) doors.

The reason that I picked up this book was also a bit unusual. I signed up for a Pitch Critique Workshop. Joshilyn Jackson has been in the possession of my first 20 pages since mid October, and I thought it only fair that I read her novel. This weekend she will be giving me my critique. Then in a separate time slot, I will be giving her my pitch, and she will critique that as well. Since I turn into a bumbling idiot when someone asks me about my book, this should be quite entertaining. (Toss some more hay on there, Sweetheart. He can take it. LOL)

Currently, I am reading King’s The Shining. It’s just what I need to get in the right frame of mind for my current WIP. Another issue in itself. We’ll come back to that one later. I may need real therapy by the time this book’s done. Haha.

There are two more weeks left in this taxing semester, and then I’m back. I will try to do a better job of posting in the meantime – and adding a few more words daily to that WIP over there on that side bar. Maybe not the thousand or so words a day that I was doing, but each word makes a dent.