Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Getting the Call: Guest Blogger Angie Sandro

I asked my talented friend and fellow writer, Angie Sandro, to give us a taste of her success.  She graciously wrote a post describing what it was like for her getting the call to be represented by an agent. Angie writes YA paranormal and her manuscript, Juju's Child, is currently on submission to publishers. Please check out Angie's blog for more.

Thank you for inviting me, Michelle. I am honored to be able to share how I found my amazing agent, Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency.

I happened to be on Joyce Alton’s YESTERNIGHT’S VOYAGE blog in which she listed a new agent who represented young adult. I clicked the link and presto, I was at LOVE YA blog reading Monica’s interview with Kathleen.

Kathleen said,” Topics of particular interest to me include reincarnation, the occult, the supernatural (not in a zombie or vampire context, more psychic, or witchy, or fey), ghosts (a scary ghost story? yes, please), and psychology.” She also disclosed that her guilty pleasures are Vampire Diaries and Gossip Girl.

Hot diggidy dog! Her interests covered the various plots of all five of my manuscripts.

I was so excited. I immediately queried her and received a full request for the manuscript half an hour later. That night we emailed back and forth, and learned we had common interests in books and movies. It felt surreal. I didn’t want to get my hopes up because I’d faced rejection in past. But I liked Kathleen so much (insert whine to the heavens).

I thought, “This is a person I would like to work with forever.” And isn’t that what we all want in an agent? A partner. A friend.

By the next morning, I was losing my ever-lovin’ mind. To distract myself from refreshing my inbox every two minutes, I went on a ten mile mountain bike ride. THE CALL came while I was in the middle of the woods. I almost crashed my bike into a tree trying to dig my phone out of my tight bike shorts.

All poor Kathleen heard was screams, and finally, when I actually heard her say how much she loved Juju’s Child, and her offer of representation, she had to listen to more screams. Although, when I think back to that moment, I like to pretend I was dignified. In actuality, my brain totally shut down.

The list I had made of “things to ask if an agent offers representation” was at home while I still huddled in blissful euphoria beneath the tree that had almost decapitated me.

When I returned home, I gave Kathleen a call. We had a lengthy discussion about revisions and our ideas for improving upon the existing story after I returned home. Her revision suggestions and mine meshed. I notified the other agents who were considering the manuscript and those that I had queried, and informed them I would be making my decision in a week.

It was kind of predestined thing. Kathleen was meant to be my agent. The reason it took so long for me to find her was she wasn’t representing YA when I first started my agent search. Thank goodness, I found her because I can’t imagine being with any other agent. Not that there aren’t a whole lot of awesome agents out there, but because I feel like I’m going through this process with a friend.

Editing Blues

Due to technical difficulties, I'm posting this topic for Ree Vera.
- HC 

Ah, the internal editor. We try so hard to resist it. We fight it, smother it, and do our best to just plain ignore the urge to let it have its way. Until at last…our MS is ready for that final thing. (dun dun dun!)
*cue horrified scream*
Every writer, at one point, must go through it. I mean—our goal is to one day publish our work, right? And you can’t do that without some sort of editing.
Well, you could….I guess.
So I’ve been going through some major editing blues. I’m not usually one to get defensive when it comes time for editing, but this go round really had me on the edge. So I thought I’d share what I’ve been going through…

The shock.
The: ‘You want me to do what?!’
The: ‘Pfft. You can’t perfect perfection.’
I mean come on. You’ve labored on this story for so long that I’s like….it’s your baby. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it. Don’t they know amazing when they see it?
Haha. Yeah.
There is no perfect first draft. No such thing.

Oh the blind confidence. You take a look at those suggested revisions and think it’s going to be a piece of cake. Cross a few t’s, dot a few i’s…no big deal. How bad can it be?

Then you see it. The bleeding plot holes and loose threads. Dry dialogue.  Overused clich├ęs. Wordy chapters , misspelled words, and all those damn commas you can’t seem to stop using cuz you’re a junkie and need help!! *breathes* Ahem. Sorry. Where were we?

I loved being in denial. LOL. I really did. Those loose threads? Pish posh. Nobody will notice. They’ll be so amazed by my story that even that character I kinda forgot about won’t even be an issue. I’ll just make a few minor adjustments and…voila!

So many corrections. You look at  your MS and it seems like once you find one thing wrong…a billion other things come into sight. It’s awful! Or so you think. So I thought. I even thought about just throwing in the towel. Giving up. It was a brief notion, but a notion just the same. I read, watched movies, skyped, and pretty much everything except think about writing. Or editing. I think I even cried.
Ok, yeah, I did.
*sad violin music*
I say this because I don’t want you to think you’re doing something wrong if you feel like this at some point. Being a writer doesn’t make you superman/superwoman. You’re still human. It’s okay to get a little desperate cuz it happens. Just don’t let it get the best of you. Pout. Cry. Scream if you have to.
Then move on.

Friends. Writing Peers. Loved Ones.
They help you when you’re feeling down. Whether it’s a shoulder to soak with your tears or the kick in the pants you need (but don’t really want)…they’re so important. As writers, it’s so easy to withdraw. To isolate ourselves. We think and see things differently. Get lost in our own world.
Don’t get so lost that you lose those ties with the ones who truly care. They’ll be your saving grace.

I got that pep talk and felt inspired. So with renewed hope and confidence, I pulled out that MS and got down to business.

All this dawdling had taken two weeks off my time limit. So I would have to get to business fast. Some long hours and a couple of red eyes later….the revisions were done. I hit send and leaned back, relaxed….

Yeah….there are more revisions needed. It’s a process. But I’m not going to freak out.
Too much.

So are you at that stage yet? Editing? Have you experienced anything like this?
Or maybe I’m just crazy after all…who knows?
Happy Writing!!
~Minerva Ree Vera

Monday, March 12, 2012

Don’t Talk About the Weather

Over the last few years, writers have been hearing a lot of fuss about certain types of openings in books, and one of the most hated openings for agents and publishers - and veteran writers - is the dreaded weather opening.

You’ve seen them. Those books that start with something like, “The sun rose high over the crystalline water…” Or “Thunder rumbled over the little hamlet…” But why are these sorts of starts considered no-no’s?

Starts like these are often used by beginning writers who see this as an easy way to bring the reader into the world of the story. But where novices seem to think they’re interesting, more often than not they’re boring and slow. These starts are rarely half as interesting as the writers would think.

But, we have all read more than a few openings based on weather in many a bestselling novel, and writers have found success with such beginnings. Is there a trick to constructing an effective opening to a novel based on the weather going on outside your house right now? What if you just have to start with this kind of opening? How do you get the attention of an agent or a publisher instead of landing in the slush pile?

Based on several novels I’ve read on writing by bestselling novelists, including The Breakout Novelist by literary agent Donald Maass, there are three tricks to creating an effective weather opening.

1)      Make the weather active.
2)      Incorporate tension into the prose
3)      Tie the weather into the conflict of the plot if possible.

Now keep in mind I’m not an expert, and the examples are off the top of my head, so they won’t be stellar or publish-ready. But they should be good enough to illustrate my point. So let’s take a look at these aspects one at a time.

Make the weather active.

What do I mean by active? By this I mean, write the description of the weather so that it appears to be doing something. Active as appose to passive.

I’m told this is very hard to do, and I think for most, it is. But for me, this is the easiest of the three. Look at the example below to see what I mean.

I sat on my bed, watching the rain pour down from the sky, leaving watery trails on my windowpane. The sky looked down, a gun-metal gray that did nothing for my already sour mood. The memory hit me so suddenly I blinked in horror. I left it outside! My heart sank as I imagined the water washing away such an important piece of evidence, evidence of his crimes.

Now if you really pay attention to that paragraph, it isn’t entirely bad. In fact, after the first two lines, it could work for a compelling opening. It raises lots of questions and produces tension. What crimes? What evidence? What piece of critical evidence will the rain wash away? The wording suggests something ominous and perhaps even horrible happened before the character came across the page. Questions abound. Which is what you want in the opening of a novel. It’s the first two lines that are the problem. Why? Because nothing is happening. The words just lie on the page, evoking no emotion, no curiosity, no desire to read on. And we all know, first impressions are everything. You only have ten seconds to hook a reader. It’s within that first ten seconds of opening a novel that readers often decide whether to pick up a book by a new author or move onto something else. So how do we change the first two lines to make them stronger? First, make them more active. Use more compelling word choices. Let’s see that again.

The rain slashed at my windowpane, relentless as the thoughts that threatened to drown me in my own fear. Photos of him lay sprawled across my bed. I pushed them off and they scattered, as if whipped by the wind tearing through the maple trees outside.  The sky glared, a cold, steely grey slab. The memory hit me so suddenly I blinked in horror. I left it outside! My heart sank as I imagined the water washing away such an important piece of evidence, evidence of his crimes.

See the difference? The weather in the second example not only does something, but it seems to take on a personality, and one that fits to set a tone for a story. Do you want to read more? Good. That’s the point.

But we’re not done yet. The start of the paragraph is better, but it could be better still. So let’s add the second layer, the tension. The changes to the start of the paragraph already created some tension, but it’s too low key. And it’s a bit derivative. We need more. Try this.

The rain slashed at my windowpane, relentless as my own whirling thoughts. The memories of what he’d done held my mind in a stranglehold of panic, icy as the coming winter. Photos of him lay sprawled across my bed. I pushed them off and they scattered, as if whipped by the wind tearing through the maple trees outside. The sky glared, a cold, steely grey slab. The memory hit me so suddenly I blinked in horror. I left it outside! My heart sank as I imagined the water washing away such an important piece of evidence, evidence of his crimes.

That’s better, isn’t it? See how the weather takes on a menacing tone that seems to match the unnamed character our heroine is worried about? The suggestion of an unpleasant character rests in the wording, and rather than merely laying on the page in static repose, the weather only serves to amplify the sense of alarm. But can we make it better still by adding the third layer?

This, tying weather description into the plot of your story, is perhaps the hardest part. For this to work, not only do you need the active tone and tension, but the weather has to somehow either produce or increase the conflict in the story. This, without feeling like it’s contrived. Let’s see what we can do to fill our paragraph with weather induced conflict.

The rain slashed at my windowpane, its deluge cutting off my only escape. Photos of him lay sprawled across my bed, the images holding my mind in a stranglehold of panic icy as the coming winter. I pushed them off the bed, and they scattered as if whipped by the wind tearing through the maple trees outside.  By now the banks would be flooded. I wouldn’t get far. The sky glared, a cold, steely gray slab. Power lines stretched across the horizon, near the too small house, lightning strikes causing flashes of electricity to play across them in deadly arcs. If I fled, a single strike would stop my heart. The realization struck like a blow to the chest. I left it outside! My heart sank as I imagined the water washing away the only evidence of his crimes.

Whoa. Now it’s getting interesting. That paragraph breathes conflict. I’m not saying agents would jump at the chance to read a book that started with this, but I trust you see my point. In general, readers don’t care about weather. They want something to happen, something exciting, intriguing, interesting. And publishers and agents get so many manuscripts a day, so you need to really wow them to get them to read past the first line. The standard rule is that weather is none of those things. It doesn’t wow. But there are ways to use even weather as an effective hook. If you can make your weather riveting, do it. If not, best pass up the sunny opening in your head for something more gripping.


Monday, March 5, 2012

Rule #1

Don't use prologues.

Don't use flashbacks.

Don't do this.

Don't do that.

Blah blah blah blahibbitty blah.

If you're like me (and something tells me you are) in the search to better your craft you come across a lot of articles and books about what to do. Whether it be from the internet or a magazine there are a ton of voices telling you how to improve your writing and what publishers are looking for. I can spend hours pouring over them and engraining the rules into my already frayed noggin. But something I realized lately is that I'm fed up with it.

Sure you need know grammar and how to properly compose your manuscript. You don't want to spit in the face of the industry you want to be apart of. However with all the rules you can become a slave to them, thus lose yourself in the process.

To me anyway, the no prologue rule is new. Now for me if i were to take out prologues from each story I've written I'd have no stories. Zilch. Nada. Bupkiss. Every story since the age of ten has had one. It's a part of me and how I write.

Another one is don't start in the middle of a story. Uh, hello! Didn't the epic Star Wars start in the middle of the story before creating a subpar beginning? Can you disagree with George Lucas? Well...yeah you can. Did you see the The Phantom Menace? Yeah, putting it in 3D does not make it better. Grrr.

Or how about no dream sequences? Again, I run into the same problem. What happens when the rules infringe on what your story says? How it speaks to you?

The main rule of writing should be to write the story YOU were meant to write. To hell with the rules! When you look over the books you love do the authors seem trapped by the rules? Doubtful. They wrote the stories they wanted to. Now it’s your turn.

Write the tale your heart tells you to.

Okay that was short and sweet. So get to writing….well….GO!!  J


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