Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Getting the Call: Hope Gillette

Here's the story of a new friend of mine who has been very generous with her time. Hope's first book will be releasing in August. She also writes YA fantasy and has been practicing and perfecting her craft since childhood. I wish her all the best on her upcoming book and invite her back for a release party.

I was ten when I first summoned the nerve to showcase my writing to the public. At that time, “the public” consisted of the three younger girls sitting near me at the back of the school bus. With more than an hour ride to and from school, I had taken to writing in a notebook, and one day my constant scribbling was met with curiosity by my peers.

While I was initially reluctant to read them my stories of mystical places, otherworldly beings and strong heroines, I found myself reading almost daily on the bus and running up the hill to my house to finish the next chapter for the following day.
That love of writing and the thrill of enthralling an audience kept me typing through my entire school career and into my professional life. It is a steady flow of creativity that never stops—even now that I have signed a contract for my debut novel, Journey Through Travelers’ Tower.
I wrote J3T, as I call it, to prove I could write something outside of the cookie-cutter fantasy genre. While I will always harbor a deep love of elves, dwarves, dragons, wizards, and princesses, I knew if I wanted to break into the young adult market I was going to need something unique.
During an evening thunderstorm, a story about the childhood fear of monsters evolved into a multi-dimensional world unknowingly entering a struggle between good and evil. Into this world were born Quin and Klass, two orphaned sisters with a latent ability to Read. This talent sees them through separation, battles, torture, enslavement, love, and the final triumph and union of their world.
Satisfied with the story line and the characters, I completed the manuscript in a record number of months, sent it to an editor, and polished the final copy to be sent for review.
I don’t remember getting the call from my publishing company as much as I remember receiving an email stating they enjoyed my novel and wanted to offer me a contract. I had queried publishers directly, having received advice from fellow authors to avoid the hassle of agents if at all possible. (This is something I recommend new authors research. I make no recommendation either way.)
Leery of skipping the middle man process, I queried a small sampling of publishers and was pleasantly surprised to receive interest back from the majority of them. Due to certain exclusive review policies, I selected the presses which seemed most reputable and those without a listing on Preditors and Editors!
Among those was Divertir Publishing, a small press out of New Hampshire. While the company was still growing and relatively new in the commercial world, a wonderful mention of them in Writers Digest clenched my decision to submit sample chapters.
After a refreshingly short review time, I received an email offering to publish my novel. For someone who had been writing for decades, I was speechless from the knowledge my story would one day be available to the masses. I read the contract thoroughly and then had it reviewed professionally. Content none of the provisions seemed a cause for concern, I signed on the bottom line and opened the door to professional writing.
You might think that’s where the story ends, and for many people the journey does conclude with a publisher taking over the reins on a project. For me, however, because I was an unknown author starting with a small press, I knew I had my work cut out for me.
I immediately started posting my short stories in online forums to generate a following. I submitted my writing to contests and online magazines. After placing in the top 100 in a national Writers Digest competition, I found that little slice of credibility opened up many more doors. I was able to get my work published in international circles, and as I became more confident in my writing, I was able to eventually quit my veterinary job and become a freelancer writer.
Now, as a writer for national and international companies, my name is no longer that of an obscure author, but of a woman who has a complete professional and creative writing resume.
As for my YA novel, its debut is still a dream come true for me, but I have learned to express my love of writing in so many other ways along this journey. Getting the Call changed my life unquestionably; it has touched every aspect of my personal and professional life, and I look forward to the challenges and accomplishments that are sure to come.
 Find Hope at her website

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Getting the Call: Robert Lewis

This story gave me chills, though I can't believe he did it without beta readers. There's talent! I'm glad to welcome Robert Lewis--our first male guest Yay!-- as he shares his story. I also met Robert through Agent Query Connect. (The place to be if you write, people. Go there.) You know him there as ThrownBones. His novel, Untold Damage, releases April of 2013. I  hope he'll come back for a release party.

The Call.
            It’s actually really funny, because after over a decade of working towards getting an agent, I never really got “The Call”. I got “The Email”. My wife got “The Call”, as it came to our home in the middle of the day while I was at work. She happened to be home because she was recouping from rotator cuff surgery.
            Let me give you a little bit of history before I continue…
            Previous to the thriller that landed me my fabulous agent, Barbara Poelle, I had written an urban fantasy novel. I’d shopped it EVERYWHERE I possibly could. I literally queried like two hundred and fifty agents. Yes, you read that correctly. Only received a few requests for partials, maybe one full. All for nothing.
            About halfway through those agents, I realized I would need another book.
One day I was sitting at my desk wondering what that book would be. On the corkboard I have above my desk were two pieces of writing. One was a short story I’d placed in an online literary journal. This story was about a junkie shooting up in a confessional and it was called Needle Priest. It was my personal favorite. The other was a bit of flash fiction from the POV of a child killer as he fed his latest victim before killing her. That one was called Little Visitor. It was up there because it was THE ONLY piece of writing that I’d ever done that my wife felt had that magic “something”. I was literally sitting there looking from one to the other… junkie… child killer… junkie… child killer… junkie GOES AFTER A CHILD KILLER!
But how can I make that happen, right?
            Because he was an ex-cop.
And so Mark Mallen was born. Out of sheer desperation. After that, the book came pretty quickly. I never showed the book to anyone, really. No one ever read the drafts. I workshopped the opening chapter one time. Other than that, the only people to ever read the novel were the agents who had requested partials or fulls. And no, I do NOT recommend you do it that way. I felt I could do it because by that time I’d been writing long enough (over ten years) to feel confident enough in my inner critic. And also? Honestly? I felt in my gut that THIS one was going to be “The One”, the book that got me an agent.
            Anyway, once I was done, I went over to one of the greatest websites around for writers, Agent Query. The agent database on that site was invaluable to me. I worked like a dog on the query, and even took the plunge and used an outside editor to look it over and help me with it. I ended up using The Editorial Department. They were fantastic. It wasn’t cheap, but I really wanted to get this one right.
I started sending out queries in January 2009. I sent Barbara an email query on February 28th, along with a partial of the first thirty pages. Barbara was on my “A” list because when I was researching her, I found a LOT that I loved. She didn’t mind turning a “maybe” into a “yes” and this worked for me as I felt that if I didn’t have a “yes” of a book on my hands, I sure as shit had a “maybe”. I also read that she had told one prospective client that she would get into a monkey knife fight to represent that client’s book. How could you NOT love her, right?
By this point, mid-March or so, I had a handful of fulls out. I nudged Barbara via email on April 30th, using the original email so if she needed to, she could reference back to our conversation easily. And by nudge, I mean politely nudge. These are very busy people, with a stable of clients, a barn-full of manuscripts, and a warehouse of queries to read. I gave her eight weeks or so, then nudged. She emailed back that very day, thanking me for nudging her and at that time requested the full. I sent it off, feeling like this was going to maybe be good.
            May 15th , the day it happened, was graduation day in the college department where I work. It’s literally the busiest day of the year, hands down. I was running around like a mad dog. Got a chance to check email once. I think it was sometime in the early afternoon. There was an email from Barbara, saying she’d just called her husband to cancel their dinner plans as she was loving the hell outta the book and that she would call me when she was done. Well, you can imagine how THAT made me feel, right? I gave her a very enthusiastic, though professional, response telling her that I was happy to hear she was enjoying the book, and that I was looking forward to chatting. About an hour later, as I was exiting the building to where I work to set up the champagne and food for the graduating students and their parents, my cell rings. It’s home calling. I answer, thinking that my wife needs me to pick up something on the way home to help alleviate the agony she was enduring after her operation.
            “Hey,” I said.
            “You have an agent,” she replied.
            And you know what? I almost cried, right then and there. Seriously. I mean… I’d been looking for an agent for well over thirteen years if you add in the years I’d spent writing screenplays. I’d been writing six days a week, on average forty-nine weeks a year in all that time.
Yes, I had to fight back the tears.
My wife then told me that Barbara had chatted her up a bit, and that I should check my email, which I immediately did. And there was “The Email”. I now have that email pinned to the corkboard over my desk, and have ever since that day.
That was May, 2009. It took us another 2.5 years until I got my two-book deal. And the book that landed me my agent wasn’t even the book that sold! I had to write two MORE books before we got to one that did it. One thing to always remember: a really good agent believes in you and your talent, not just the book. They want to help build your career.
One last thing: you have to play the long game here. Just assume it’s going to take a long time. That way if it doesn’t, then cool beans and you’re happily surprised. And if it does take a long time? Well, then you’ve already been prepared for that eventuality.
            My story is, if anything, a really a good example of never giving up, never giving in. And if it can happen for me, a guy who was dyslexic as a child and dropped out of high school mid-way through his second year, it can happen for anyone.
            Happy writing!

Robert Lewis is represented by Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Agency. The first novel of his Mark Mallen series, titled Untold Damage, arrives 04.08.13 via Midnight Ink

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Getting the Call: Jean Oram

     I'm so pleased to mix things up a little after the holiday week and bring you an agented non-fiction writer. The method of getting an agent is a little different for non-fiction where the proposal and your platform are so important, but The Call emotions are the same.
    Jean, it sounds like your book and blog would appeal to so many people. Especially in the summer, it is so hard to come up with ideas that get kids involved and away from the electronics. Thanks for sharing your story!

Getting The Call for my nonfiction children's 1,001 play ideas book is a bit of a long, rambling story.

How the Book Idea Came to Be:

When my daughter was about a year old I saw an idea for a bean plant teepee in a magazine. (You grow beans up a bamboo teepee frame to make a mini fort.) My daughter wasn't old enough at the time to enjoy it so I snagged it out of the mag and slapped it in a notebook.

And thus The List began. Within two days I had HUNDREDS of kids play ideas written down. They literally poured into my brain after glueing that one magazine picture in the notebook. My mom laughed and said I was writing a book. At that point I was a school librarian on maternity leave, but not a writer. A book wasn't a bad idea though.

The First Queries:

About 700 play ideas later, I typed them up in my computer and queried them straight to a publisher. Yeah. This long list with a few instructions. I got rejected. I shrugged and carried on with life. I had tried. (And I think a part of me knew the book wasn't what it should/could be yet.)

A few years later I got into writing novels. That's when I learned about query letters (what makes 'em good), how to write a bit better (okay a WHOLE lot better), what a literary agent was, etc.

After querying a few novels, I decided… I should give away my list of kids play ideas. So I whipped up a website, put some of the ideas on it and pretty much forgot about it. I didn't even publicize the poor site. I just let it languish. Oh, and I blogged about some of the ideas for awhile. Like, one a day for over a year and burned out. 

It all lacked something.

Plus, I was way too chicken to really tell people about my site and get enthusiastic about it all. Way too scared. And I needed to build a platform and put myself out there if I wanted to do this. As well, I still didn't quite know what my niche was. Play ideas, yes. But? There was something missing. And, of course, a part of me (read that: a large, secret part of me) hoped people would magically discover my site and make it that whatever it wasn't.

A Push From Friends:

Around that time a friend in the publishing world, Molli Nickell, encouraged me to query literary agents. She started sending me information on how to write a nonfiction proposal and offered to critique my proposal for me. So, I wrote one. She provided feedback and off it went to agents. I can't recall exactly how many, but it was like 10 or so. It didn't feel right to pursue it at that point.

WEbook came along and I entered some stories and then tried their querying system. I queried some fiction projects and also a few nonfiction queries for kicks. No replies. Again, shrugged and moved on with fiction work and improving my craft. The timing didn't feel right.

By now many years had passed since The List began and I was pregnant with #2. My critique partner and friend, Calista Taylor, was approached by literary agent Neil Salkind of the Salkind Agency after finding her online. He was looking for someone to write a steampunk craft book. (Coming out this fall!) She signed with him and got a book deal in a matter of days and then asked him if he'd be interested in my project. (Got to love friends who believe in you!)

He told her to ask me to send a query. So I sent off a query as well as my (updated) proposal in case he was interested. (Meanwhile I was worried how this was all going to pan out since I knew I could end up on months of bed rest and possible a lengthy hospital stay with this pregnancy--what was I going to do if this whole book thing worked out?)

He was. Within five days we had a signed contract for representation.

Getting The Call:

Neil replied to my query within a day or two (with apologies for taking so long if you can believe it) and asked if he could call me. That morning he had to delay the call by a few minutes. Why? He was selling a book. (Good omen? I dunno, but I like it!)

It was strange. I wasn't really nervous. I was calm and felt almost like it wasn't real. My mom was over working on the stained glass piece she had made me for my birthday when Neil called to discuss my project. I wouldn't let myself believe that he might offer to represent me.

We chatted for about 10 minutes and in that time he totally pinned my project in the bigger market and what he saw happening in the world of parenting. It was incredible. It was inspiring. It was like someone cranked the shutters on my mind all the way open. (I couldn't believe I hadn't seen this and that he still saw the potential in my lame and misguided query.)

During the call I couldn't think of any questions to ask. And those that I did I ask, I think I asked twice. Everything he said just made sense. Plus he was way ahead of me. He was already brainstorming foreword authors and had a new title in mind. Did I have any thoughts on what we could add to the title?

Um… Uh? Hello brain? Any thoughts?

It was like I had been ambling along down the sidewalk and he'd zoomed by in a speeding a car and grabbed my hand. Problem was my (pregnant) brain was still back there ambling on the sidewalk, struggling to waddle fast enough to leap back into a position where it could do some thinking.

There wasn't much for me to say or to ask, but I felt I had to say something. The call doesn't last 5 minutes! (He offered to represent me in the first five.) And how do you accept? What do you say? What words do you use? I accept you because you complete my project? You are the missing piece?

The poor guy probably thought I was mental. My mind was galloping with all these new thoughts and my mouth felt like it needed to move!

But I didn't gush. I was professional--if a little slow sounding.

After The Call:

The big thing about The Call was this: Neil understood the vision I had for my book. He shared it, but also saw it in relation to what was going on in the world around us. He got it more than I did! And suddenly I could see what my project really was and how it could make a difference in the world.

I was inspired.

This. Could. Happen.

I went upstairs after the call (still a bit stunned around the edges) and said to my mom, "I think I have a literary agent. I have an agreement to sign." And then I sat down, watched her work on the stained glass on the dining room table. (And later went and made notes, printed out the agreement, signed it, and sent it back.)


It's been a year and a half since The Call. In that time we've come very, very close to a publishing contract in a very crowded and specific market. In that time I have learned A TON! Currently, I am updating my proposal. (Neil provided all sorts of great insight and tips on how to improve that 54 page document for our first go 'round and now I am adding things in that I have done in the past year and a half.) We plan to hit the editors again this fall, if not sooner. Wish me luck!

Thank you Michelle for allowing me to share my story on your blog. And thank you to Neil for all his hard work. Here's to more editor queries this fall!

BIO: Jean Oram is a mother to two healthy kids--and didn't end up on more than a day of bed rest after all. Wahoo! She loves to write and is currently working on breaking into the magazine market to help expand her audience and nonfiction platform. She loves to ski, play, climb trees, read, moderate for her writing friends over on, pin play ideas on Pinterest (, talk play with parents on Facebook (, tweet funnies and play articles on Twitter ( as well as blogging about silly play and other great fun things for kids on her website and blog ( She also has a blog about writing (

Monday, July 9, 2012

Fire in the Night - When Life Sucks, Write It

There is an old saying, “There is no substitute for experience.” After last night, I can tell you, this is true.

As a writer, it’s our job to make our readers feel every experience our characters go through on a visceral level. We must place our characters in jeopardy (for without that, there is no conflict), put them in the worst possible situations and watch them get themselves out of said situations, all the while summoning forth every emotion we can from the character’s gut, even, and perhaps especially, the most intense and frightening.

Grief. Rage. Hatred. Fear. Many writers have written their characters into scenes most of us only see in movies and television. Floods. Tornadoes. Car crashes. Hijackings. House fires. But how many of us get to experience those things before we write them?

It’s one thing to write about a car crash or a house fire based on how other writers write it, or through a second hand account. It feels a whole lot different to write about something like that after you’ve gone through it.

Ok, let me back up and tell you the story.

On Friday night, the hubby and I were at home, enjoying his first week off in six months. We’d invited my BFF to come down from Brantford for the weekend. It was one of those perfect weekends where you think nothing could go wrong. Hubby had made us his famous sausages (famous in our house anyway), and we’d spend a few hours watching one of our favourite TV programs before my friend and myself decided to leave hubby to his internet surfing and turn in for the night. I’d only been asleep for a couple of hours when I heard people screaming outside on the street.  

Someone was screaming bloody murder, right outside my house. In retrospect I should have jumped up and gone to check things out right away. But I had just been ripped from sleep, and I was still in that confused state you’re in when you come out of a dream. That, and the neighbour who was yelling and his girlfriend fight all the time, often having public shouting matches in the street every so often. I thought this was just another fight.

Then my hubby went to the door, and I heard him talking to a panicked sounding neighbour. Little did I know, he had already called 911, and while I had slept on, outside, a nightmare unfolded. But something in the neighbour’s voice began to seep into me now. I scrambled out into the living room. And that’s when I heard it.

Outside, from what sounded like the backyard.


Still confused, I tried to see what was going on. Then the neighbour said, “The house next door is on fire.”

I tried to ask if we should leave the house, but the neighbour had left, my hubby was on the phone, calling 911 for the second time. Amazingly, my friend was still half asleep.

Then, someone came up the steps and I heard a man’s voice, fearfully say, “That house is going to blow.”

It was as if those words snapped me out of a daze. I can’t describe the fear those words imprinted on me in a way that does it justice.

The three of us bolted from the house. I remember someone helping me down the stairs, and then we were running. I remember sparks flying, and a large chunk of burning ash flying passed my head. My friend froze for one horrible moment as the house next to us burned from the inside out, an orange blaze trapped inside a flimsy shell.

I remember ordering my friend to run. My hubby grabbing me and pulling us along. I have terrible knees, and they were screaming in pain, but the glow of orange light chased me from behind and I kept going.

“That House is going to blow.” Those words. Yeah, I ran faster than I have run in years.

Once we were across the street, I looked at the blaze and saw that in fact two houses were going. I thought ours would soon catch flame.

I remember that horrific moment when I realized our cat was inside and there was no way to get her out. She hides, and when she does, finding her is impossible. I think that’s when I started to scream for someone to get her out. I started to cry. I remember my friend holding me while my hubby tried to see if our house was going to go.

I noticed that the street was filled with people and at some point, fire trucks had pulled up our street, at least 4 of them, along with at least one police car. And smoke. There was so much smoke.

I remember us having to walk through it, down the street to get away from the blaze. The smoke was like a thick fog. I couldn’t breathe. None of us could. I couldn’t see. I could hear my friend behind me, and feel my hubby pulling me through the wall of white.

When I could see again I was down the street and a neighbour was helping us up her steps, her on one side, hubby on the other. She gave us water, a bathroom, and for my friend and I who have trouble standing for extended periods of time, places to sit.

We were safe.  For us it was over.

Our house remained untouched. It would be the next day before I would realize how close it was to going up. The metal fence that runs between our house and the next had melted, burning half way to the side of our house. Our entirely wood house.

Our next door neighbour’s house and the one beside it are unliveable. The fire gutted the homes. At least temporarily, four families have no place to live.

With the seriousness of the fire and how hot and dry things were, all it would have taken was one spark, one falling piece of orange debris, and our house wouldn’t be here. My hubby, my friend, my cat, or I, might not be here. Had the wind carried the flames and smoke in our direction, our house would be gone instead of the one on the other side. We are all alive and unharmed, because a neighbour had the sense to get us out in time.

Because the wind chose to blow north instead of south.

Now, at the time, I was barely thinking from one moment to the next, and much of the details I only recall now, as I write this. But now, I find myself trying to notice which details would stand out on a page and how various characters in my novels might react, what they might notice. I’ve written more than one fire scene, but how differently will I write it when another one is called for, now that I have witnessed one firsthand?

I might be tempted to go for the obvious. The memory of how the smoke choked me. The distinctly fearful voice of the neighbour telling us to get out. The almost eerily calm way my hubby called 911 even though this was the second time he called, the house next to us was ablaze, and they still hadn’t come. The way my friend froze, staring at the flames in horror. The absolute horror that my cat might die and our house be devoured in flames.

Many writers seem to have similar ways of describing things and when they replicate a scene such as this from somewhere, they tend to duplicate the same sensory details as everyone else. But after you go through it firsthand, what might you see that wouldn’t be in the text if it was second hand or based on something you saw on tv or read in the paper?

To me, as a writer who puts this in prose fit for a book, the neighbour’s voice wasn’t just fearful, or filled with the concern for others that mirrors the good Samaritan tone you always hear about. It carried the edge of a steel blade as it’s pulled free with a concerned hand. (Yes, you can tell I wrote medieval epics. LOL).

To me, the smoke didn’t just choke or block my view with a wall of white. It seared my throat and closed my airways until I wondered if I could breathe long enough to get through it. My throat hurt for a good day afterward.

When the neighbour said the next house was going to blow, I didn’t just picture us all dying as our house was consumed in flames. I pictured orange death roaring toward me for one final moment before I saw my hubby’s and my friend’s faces reduced to fiery light, and then my own life gone in a single blast of agony. 

I wasn’t just gripped with fear of losing our home or our cat once we got outside. My mind raced with thoughts of what we would do if we lost either, knowing we had nowhere to go.

And hours later, when I could think straight again, I worried that my friend’s parents would refuse to let her near our house once they heard about this. I was even afraid this might be the last time I visited with her.

And the whole time, I remember thinking not only how lucky we were to have come out of this unscathed, but how fortunate we were that my hubby happened to be on holidays, that he’s almost storybook hero cool in a crisis, and that a hundred other things that could have gone wrong, didn’t. I doubt my friend and I could have gotten out without him. I kept thinking, if I didn’t believe that a benevolent god watches over us before, I do now. 

And as a writer, when the need for such a scene arises, as painful or frightening as it may be, I will try to put myself in the head of those who lost their homes, imagining how they feel so that I can better describe how my characters feel. Not with the same clich├ęd descriptions everyone else uses, but with the much more powerful, rare, real life descriptions that come only from seeing or feeling it first hand. 

My point. Most of us are never faced with the kinds of ordeals we as writers must thrust upon our poor characters, and I would never hope or wish for this to happen to myself or anyone again. But these things do happen in real life. And when they do, there is no better way to make a book come alive, a scene feel more real for our readers, than to mine the worst, and best, events of our lives for our stories, putting the diamonds we find amidst the rubble onto the page and letting the readers see it as though they are there with us every step of the way. 


Monday, July 2, 2012

Lit to Film: The Hunger Games

Today’s Lit to Film post is on The Hunger Games, a YA dystopian fantasy by Suzanne Collins. Picked up by Lionsgate and released in March 2012, both the novel and the film follow our heroine, Katniss Everdeen, and her struggle to win the Hunger Games—a televised, annual event where twenty-four tributes from the ages of 12 to 18 are taken from each of the twelve Districts where they live, to fight to the death in order to entertain the public. This event ensures that the government keeps its citizens under their control.

The film follows the book closely, however there are slight differences. The novel is told in Katniss’s first-person POV, while the film explores a broader scope. Along with Katniss’s reactions, we see how the Districts react to the death of their loved ones and the reaction of the villain, President Snow, to this growing unrest in the Districts.

Another difference between the two was the visuals. In the novel, Collins did not go into too much detail with Katniss’s surroundings, how people dressed and spoke. It all felt a bit vague. In the film, everything—to the settings and costumes and accents—gave viewers a clearer picture of the futuristic setting and the strangeness of the Capitol. There were also advantages in world building that the book couldn’t explore like the arena control room. We see the advancements of this world and how exactly the Gamemakers throw obstacles in the way of the tributes.

Another difference was the pace. In the first half of the novel, the pacing was slow with moments of tension, setting up for the tributes time in the arena. Once the tributes entered the arena, the pace picked up. In the film however, the set up and preparation seemed quicker then the scenes in the arena—the pacing became uneven, seemed to drag in places then speed up again and lacked the same punch that the novel had.

Speaking of punch, a thing that struck me was that the film did not carry the novel’s message of how our culture has become desensitized by violence. In the novel, I felt the horror of the violence, could feel the characters react to it and gained an emotional attachment. In the film, I expected the same but, instead, did not. There felt like little to no visceral reaction from the characters, not enough emotional attachment—thus not enough investment. The characters felt a bit distant to what was happening to them but perhaps that’s a personal preference.

Overall, I am satisfied with this adaptation. Not sure which version I’d prefer out of the two though, both had their advantages and disadvantages.

Which one—the novel or the film—in your opinion, was the best version?            


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