Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Pay It Forward: Daisy Whitney

Sometimes this writing business--especially the writing for publication part--is rough and bumpy. We all go through the ditches, and feel we're alone. It's easy to look at other writers and think it was easy for them, or that they have some kind of luck or talent we don't have.

This week, a whole big bunch of us are turning the spotlight on those who are almost there, writers who are agented but haven't quite got the deal yet, or writers who have sold but their books aren't quite out. Join us this week for 70 (yes 70!) success stories!

Each day this week I'm going to post an interview with one of these writers, to hopefully inspire you, provide hope along your way, and prove that you CAN succeed in this crazy business. You guys--you're going to LOVE these interviews. They were so inspirational to me!! They're doing it. You can too.

Click here for more inspiration: Lisa and Laura RoeckerBeth RevisLeah CliffordVictoria SchwabKirsten HubbardElana Johnson, Dawn MetcalfKim HarringtonCarrie HarrisAmy HolderKathy McCulloughSuzette Saxton and Bethany Wiggins, and Tiffany Schmidt.

Daisy Whitney is a superstar.
Oh, you think I'm kidding, or exaggerating. I'm not. On her own website, she describes herself as: "a producer, on-air correspondent, podcaster and raconteur in the new media business." She hosts the popular New Media Minute. AND she happens to write fiction, and has a book coming out with Little, Brown in Fall 2010. I was thrilled when Daisy agreed to be interviewed for the Pay It Forward series. Enjoy!

1. Tell us about The Mockingbirds!

The Mockingbirds is about an underground, student-run justice system at a prestigious boarding school that operates as the judge, jury and prosecution -- of the students, by the students. They take their name from "To Kill a Mockingbird" and their mission is to be the honor code the school doesn't have. The main character decides to turn to the Mockingbirds for help after she is dated raped her junior year. Ultimately it's a story about justice, honor and speaking up and fans
of romance will be happy to know there is some good forbidden romance in the story too!

[Don't you guys want to read this RIGHT NOW?]

2. Can you tell us a little bit about your road to publication (finding an agent and editor)?

Ah, it was a long and winding road with many many twists and turns. In fact, there are so very many that Courtney Summers has assured me she will travel in a small backpack on any book tour I might do and pop out from time to time to remark on my journey! She's been with me for
many steps along the way. I suppose I can best sum it up in numbers: four novels, three agents, more than two years on submission, more than 45 editor rejections for various projects, many more agent rejections, two rewrites while on submission. AND THEN I GOT A TWO-BOOK DEAL FROM AN AMAZING PUBLISHING HOUSE!! The point being, it's not easy. It's not supposed to be easy. If it were easy everyone would do it.

3. Was there ever a time you felt like giving up? Why didn't you?

I never felt like giving up because that is not in my nature. I once did a bike ride called The Death Ride. It's a one-day, 129-mile ride over 5 mountain passes with 16,000 feet of climbing involved. I am not athletic, I am not fast, and I am actually a complete dork. I did not even train well for the ride. But I was determined to finish and I did -- I was one of the last riders to cross the finish line and now I can say "I finished the Death Ride!" But more so, I just made a decision when it came to writing to keep at it, to keep writing, to keep learning, to keep growing, to keep going. Plus, I held onto my favorite quote from Randy Pausch when I was being rejected six ways to Sunday: "Brick walls are there for a reason. To let us prove how badly we want something."

4. How have your writing goals/dreams changed since you started the process?

At first you focus on each step of the process - finishing a chapter, then a book, then landing an agent, then an editor, etc. Now, I'm eagerly awaiting my novel's release in November and my goals are more specific. I want the book to matter. I want it to matter to teens. I want it to matter to readers. And I want to hear from them  if it does matter!

5. These interviews will hopefully inspire those who are just beginning the writing process. What's the one piece of advice you wished you knew when you started?

This might be a downer, but getting an agent doesn't mean you'll get a book deal. So keep writing! If the first one doesn't sell, maybe the second one will. If the second one doesn't, maybe the third one will. If the third one doesn't maybe the fourth one will. Yes, I was agented
for FOUR projects and it was the fourth one that sold. Which really means my advice is "Hold onto that dream and fight for it. Fight for it by putting your butt in the chair every day and writing."

Thanks so much, Daisy! I loved this.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Pay It Forward Interview: Sean Ferrell

Sometimes this writing business--especially the writing for publication part--is rough and bumpy. We all go through the ditches, and feel we're alone. It's easy to look at other writers and think it was easy for them, or that they have some kind of luck or talent we don't have.

This week, a whole big bunch of us are turning the spotlight on those who are almost there, writers who are agented but haven't quite got the deal yet, or writers who have sold but their books aren't quite out. Join us this week for 70 (yes 70!) success stories!

Each day this week I'm going to post an interview with one of these writers, to hopefully inspire you, provide hope along your way, and prove that you CAN succeed in this crazy business. You guys--you're going to LOVE these interviews. They were so inspirational to me!! They're doing it. You can too.

Click here for more inspiration: Lisa and Laura RoeckerBeth RevisLeah CliffordVictoria SchwabKirsten HubbardElana Johnson, Dawn MetcalfKim HarringtonCarrie HarrisAmy HolderKathy McCulloughSuzette Saxton and Bethany Wiggins, and Tiffany Schmidt.

Sean Ferrell is awesome.

Not enough for you? Okay: he's my client-brother, and in many ways feels like a real big brother. He's wicked funny, a dad, and a dedicated and fabulous writer. I say this even though I haven't had the chance to read his book yet. I KNOW IT anyway. And this interview? Inspired my socks off. Read on, my friends.

1. Tell us about NUMB!!
What's Numb? Oh, right. My book. Numb is the story of a man who wanders into a circus without memories or the ability to feel pain. He follows what few clues he has from the circus to New York City, makes money exploiting his talent for nailing himself to bars, and ends up meeting more than a few people interested in taking advantage of him. In short, I am not very nice to the poor fellow.
2. Can you tell us a little bit about your road to publication (finding an agent and editor)?
It was easy. I clicked my heels together and there they were. And you were there, and you, and... Hold on, that's not right.

My pursuit of publication was just like so many other writers' paths. I call it the shampoo theory of publishing: lather, rinse, repeat. You work on something, you submit, you get rejected, you rework, submit elsewhere, etcetera etcetera. I was lucky enough to have Janet Reid want to read my book. Then she offered to rep it. Then the shampoo theory reactivated only this time she was the one in a lather. I tried to let her do her job without troubling her for too many updates. What good would it be to have me calling and asking "well, well, well?" Instead, I worked on another book. And another, and then another. Not only did she find an editor who liked Numb, she found an editor who saw the same book I do, and I am lucky on every conceivable front: I have a great agent, an amazing editor whom I like and respect and trust, and I look good in a suit.
3. Was there ever a time you felt like giving up? Why didn't you?
I think it depends on how you define "giving up." I know most people want to hear "ME? QUIT? NEVER! CAP LOCK!" The reality was that in some ways I did feel like giving up. I found excuses to not work. I found things to distract me from the work. I planned great writing sessions, if only the dishes were cleaned first I better do them and oh the rugs need to be vacuumed and I could really iron the napkins even though they are used and paper. For a time I thought about going back to school to pursue a degree in animation. It wasn't until my wife was pregnant with our son that I had a "What the #&@% are you doing?" moment. I was sitting in my living room in the dark, staring at a blank computer screen, and I heard a voice ask me, "When your son asks you what you do, what do you want to tell him?" The next morning I started getting up at 5AM to write. I did that for several months, even after he was born. Then we moved to a place in Brooklyn where my commute to midtown Manhattan was ninety minutes both ways. I wrote on the train, by hand, in leather-bound journals. Eventually I got a small netbook. I still get a majority of my writing done on the train, even though my commute is shorter now and my son older. Pregnant women and the elderly hate me. "No, you can't have this seat. Because I'm an artist, that's why." Through it all the reason I kept at it was "What will you tell your son what you are?" Did I follow my passion? Did I do what I HAD to do. At first, no. But eventually, yes. And I know now that it has stuck. I won't be stopping anytime soon. 

4. How have your writing goals/dreams changed since you started the process?

At first it was very goal oriented. "I want to have a book published." Then you think you've become a "serious" writer when you no longer want the publication but instead just want an agent. That's bullshit. It's as much of a distracting goal as publication. The moment--and I am serious when I say "moment"--that I knew in my heart that I only cared about getting the words in the right order good things started to happen. Do I want my books to sell? Of course. But when I sit down at the keyboard I am completely absorbed by the issues my characters are facing and how to make the sentences clear, the plot work, the descriptions true. I have brilliant moments of self-doubt, beautiful certainty that I suck at this. I think of these moments as brilliant and beautiful because they remind me of what's important: the writing writing writing. Thank God I have those moments of doubt. The second I stop having them is when I'll be going through the motions and writing work that will most certainly be crap. Doubt is a sign of passion. Embrace it.

5. These interviews will hopefully inspire those who are just beginning the writing process. What's the one piece of advice you wished you knew when you started?
I'm a bit of contrarian. Sometimes for humorous effect, sometimes just because, and sometimes because by law I'm forced to utilize my Philosophy degree in SOME way. However, when it comes to writing, I really go the opposite direction from a lot of "how to"s. Some of the things I do wouldn't work for everyone. Some people are outliners; I'm not. Some people say "write in the morning" or "never listen to music, eavesdrop to learn dialog" or "Revise the day after/week later/month after you finish." I would never be so arrogant to recommend that others should write the way I write. What makes my way so special?

But there is one piece of advice I would question: "Know your audience." Why? Am I going to drive them to the bookstore to pick up the book? I always assume that my audience are people who like the things I like. If I fill a book with things I think are cool, people who might be like me will probably find some (I hope most) of it cool too. However, I enjoy lots of different things, and my tastes can change based on mood, weather, time of year. If MY interests and tastes can develop and shift how am I going to meet the interests and tastes of some anonymous "audience?" I spent a lot of time trying to write for a specific audience in grad school. The effect: I wrote very little, and what I did write was like someone else's work. 
Thanks, Sean!! Go see Sean's blog for more general amusement AND advice, or follow him on Twitter @byseanferrell!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Pay It Forward Interview: Jodi Meadows

Sometimes this writing business--especially the writing for publication part--is rough and bumpy. We all go through the ditches, and feel we're alone. It's easy to look at other writers and think it was easy for them, or that they have some kind of luck or talent we don't have.

This week, a whole big bunch of us are turning the spotlight on those who are almost there, writers who are agented but haven't quite got the deal yet, or writers who have sold but their books aren't quite out. Join us this week for 70 (yes 70!) success stories!

Each day this week I'm going to post an interview with one of these writers, to hopefully inspire you, provide hope along your way, and prove that you CAN succeed in this crazy business. You guys--you're going to LOVE these interviews. They were so inspirational to me!! They're doing it. You can too.

Click here for more inspiration: Lisa and Laura RoeckerBeth RevisLeah CliffordVictoria SchwabKirsten HubbardElana Johnson, Dawn MetcalfKim HarringtonCarrie HarrisAmy HolderKathy McCulloughSuzette Saxton and Bethany Wiggins, and Tiffany Schmidt.

My own interview will be featured on Tiffany Schmidt's blog this Tuesday. Please go check out all the posts this week, because you never know who's going to say exactly what you need to hear to keep moving forward.

Jodi Meadows likes books so much she decided to write them, and recently found representation with Lauren MacLeod of the Strothman Agency. Before that, she spent a year and a half reading submissions and evaluating requested materials for another well-known agent. She's a smart cookie. LISTEN TO HER. And I don't know about you, but *I* want to read her book!

1. Tell us about your current book.

My current project is called THE NEWSOUL TRILOGY. The first in the series is ERIN INCARNATE, and I'm working on the draft of ERIN ASUNDER.

The idea behind the series is one I've been cooking for a few years now, but didn't have the guts to try until recently. It's pretty simple, I think, but there were a ton of places it could go, and consequences from just the worldbuilding...  It was intimidating!

Since the beginning of recorded time, people are reincarnated over and over. They remember all their past lives, develop their society, and so things go for about five thousand years. Then someone new is born.

The story is about Erin, the newsoul, and her journey to finding out who she is, why she was born, and learning whether there are more like her. There's a lot of science, magic, and romance.  Also a lot of death and mayhem. My favorite things!

2. Can you tell us a little bit about your road to publication (finding an agent and editor)?

Let me 'splain.

No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

Once upon a time, I had another agent. We parted ways on good terms and I thought to myself, "Okay, I've had one agent. How hard can it be to get another?"

Famous. Last. Words.

Fast forward roughly two years of slaving over a hot keyboard, writerly angst, and several announcements -- mostly just in my head -- that I was going to quit the goal of publication and just write for my own darn self.
Well, obviously it didn't end up like that. I stink at avoiding my goals, so I kept writing new stories, kept querying, and got a job working as a slush reader for my former agent, which was really educational and gave me a lot of insight into what agents do and how writers interact with them on a submission level. I did note in my query letter that I worked for an agent, but aside from possibly garnering a couple more requests or personal responses than I'd normally get, it didn't really affect my submission process -- except once. It, ah, ended up a rejection.

Okay, so there was a *lot* of drama involved with finding a new agent. Two years of angst, ect.

At some point, I joined Twitter and met a bunch of cool people. There was this one chick who called herself @bostonbookgirl and her profile said she was an agent, though I hadn't seen her on AgentQuery before. After I'd gotten to know Lauren -- as much as you can get to know anyone through Twitter -- I sent her a query for the dark adult urban fantasy I had recently applied a new coat of polish to. And she requested the full! Hurrah!

Then she rejected it. She liked my writing and all that, but something about it didn't work for her. So I said okay and after I thought she had enough time to recover, I sent her a secondworld fantasy YA.

Well Lauren rejected that one too, saying she loved it...but... But she didn't know the right people to send it to. Honestly, I'd already known that secondworld fantasy was a hard sell, but a girl's gotta try.

After that, I was determined to write something Lauren a) loved, and b) could sell. I happened to be working on ERIN INCARNATE then, and of *course* she was the first one I queried when the project was ready. (I also queried a bunch of other people. I'm no fool. Well, not a fool like that anyway.)

No one will believe that's the sum-up version.

3. Was there ever a time you felt like giving up? Why didn't you?

Goodness, yes. As I said, these were mostly announcements in my head to see how it worked out. Never very well.

I never actually intended on quitting writing -- I knew that was impossible -- so I just tried to give up the goal of getting published. But as it turns out, I really like that goal. It drives me to do better and work harder, even when it hurts (really bad) sometimes.

I want to share my stories with other people, and the best way to do that is to get an agent and publisher. So I guess *really* wanting to do that is what kept me from quitting for real.

4. How have your writing goals/dreams changed since you started the process?

I was just about to say they haven't changed, but that's not true. I've learned a lot about the industry and I think the biggest thing has actually been very simple: people run it.

How did that change my goals? Easy. I went from thinking any agent/editor would do to realizing I want someone who's as passionate and committed to their jobs as I am to writing, and someone whose working style matches mine.

It's definitely harder to find the right person, but it's worth it. Perhaps any agent/editor can help me succeed, but the *right* agent/editor can help me succeed better. (And with 10x more fun.)

5. These interviews will hopefully inspire those who are just beginning the writing process. What's the one piece of advice you wished you knew when you started?

I ate one of those little pudding cups (vanilla with caramel on top, if you must know) for inspiration on this question, because I didn't want something generic like, "Don't give up!" or "Write better, yo!" but those aren't bad. (The pudding was sugar-free, which might have something to do with the lack of inspiration here.)

Okay, how about this?

Agents and editors aren't our enemies. They aren't trying to keep writers from getting published. They are, in fact, cheering us on and waiting for us to send them The Project. The one they a) love, and b) can sell.

We just need to give it to them.

Thanks, Jodi!! You can You can also find Jodi's blog here, or follow her @jodimeadows!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


There are two favorite times in my day, every day.

One is none of your business. :) Two is my wake-up time with Child.

Every school morning I get up at 0-dark, stumble around and get myself ready. Then I open the curtains, turn on lights if it's November-March, and pad to Child's room.

"Good morning," I say, softly.

She's a much better morning person than I am. She whispers "Good morning." I warn her, and then turn on her light.

I sit on the end of her bed, in the little space next to her feet. When she's ready she pulls the blankets off her head, sits up, rubs her eyes, and climbs right into my lap.

I know this probably won't last much longer. She's 8. She's a big girl, and getting more independent by the day. But I treasure these moments. She's warm and sleepy, bright hair rumpled, and she clings to me, buries her face in my neck. We don't say anything for a while. Just hug. Sometimes I rub her back, feel her knobby spine. Every once in a while she'll rub mine, or comment on how soft my shirt is, or that I smell good, "Mommy-smell."

It is the moment I feel most complete, most brimming with love.

After a few minutes she pulls back, and we talk a little about how she slept, what's going on today. We laugh. We say "I love you." And "I love you more." And then she gets up to get dressed, and I head off to make lunches, make breakfast, get everything going.

That moment--that lasts me all day.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

P, P, and P

I'm going on vacation on Friday!! Yeehaw!

Therefore, the next few days are all crammed full of planning/preparation/packing (the three Ps) and getting work done.

HOWEVER, next week will be exciting! Even though I'm gone, I'm going to be participating in something really, really cool, with posts every day...

Now you're just going to have to wait in suspense to see what it is!

*out for the 3 Ps*

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St. Pat's!

I don't actually celebrate St. Pat's. Three reasons, really:

  • I have not a DROP of Irish in me.
  • It's HUGE HUGE HUGE here, because we have a massive Irish population, and I'm such a curmudgeon sometimes I don't want to participate just because everyone else does enough participating for all of us. Plus uptown is taken over by drunks from about 10 AM on.
  • I'm still just a touch resentful of all those pinches from grammar school. I'm just saying. 
But I did wear green today, to please Child. She's all into it, and who am I to deny her an extra holiday?

The weather has been absolutely thrillingly gorgeous here since Sunday, with full sun and 50-60 degree temperatures. We've taken full advantage. Sunday we swam outside, took an hour long walk/bike ride on the walking trail (Child on her bike), and played tennis. Monday hubby and I walked at lunch and while Child was in dance class. We tried to play tennis again, but the darn high school kids apparently take over the courts in the afternoon/evenings. Hubby jokingly said, "Get inside, kids! Go play video games!" But no. Yesterday we tried again, and ended up shooting hoops for an hour instead.

I love it. It's a whopping spoonful of summer when we should still be mired in snow. Mind, it's supposed to snow again tomorrow, but I will not complain!!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Blogiversary Re-post #1: How Publishing is just like America's Next Top Model

LAST Blogiversary post!!!
Hope you enjoyed the look-back. It was fun for me!
From October 2, 2009:


I watch America's Next Top Model. I've admitted it before. (I actually get an absurd number of hits from that one mention of ANTM and bikinis, and now I expect I'll get more!)

You might think it odd that I'm obsessed with this show. I'm 5'3". I'm not model age, nor remotely model-like--I've never for an instant wanted to be a model. I'm not even girly! The show is kinda wacked, and the shoots they get up to are pretty...kooky.

Not situations I--or, um, anyone I know--is going to be getting into in everyday life. So why the fascination?

I finally figured it out: because I have empathy with these girls. Because America's Next Top Model is Just Like Publishing.

I'm serious.

Let's break it down, and you'll stop mocking and see what I mean.

1. The first step for wanna-be models in ANTM is to be good-looking. Not in a typical "pretty" way, but some original take on beauty: an unusual mouth, odd-shaped eyes, the ability to walk on a runway with a "trademark walk" and pose well for the camera. This is equivalent to WRITING A BOOK. Your book also must be more than what's already on the shelves, something still "pretty" (entertaining) but different. Something that will make readers ooooh. Sure, it's a little more labor-intensive than...being born...but the similarity is THERE.

2. ANTM hopefuls make videos of themselves, trying to convince Tyra that they are not only beautiful but interesting, have a life story that will inspire others, and can handle themselves. This is THE QUERY LETTER. I don't even think I need to explain this one.

3. Hopefuls are then culled to a small group that will compete for the final prize. These girls are just like writers REPRESENTED BY AN AGENT. These select few get special advice and training from experts (revision), and then they have to put that advice into practice in photo shoots. In photo shoots they may have makeup and wardrobe and helpers, but in the end it's all up to the individual to perform, to show the best side of themselves. This is still revision, taking all the advice given to you and finding a way to weave it into the manuscript to make it the best possible work you can achieve. 

4. After the photo shoot we head to the judging panel, where each model's fate is decided. This, of course, is SUBMISSION. Fortunately, we don't have to stand there in person while the judges critique not only our photos (our books) but the outfits we're wearing to panel, our hair, and that unfortunate scarf. Our agents handle both the submission and the possibly-brutal feedback. But we do have to remember that when we're putting ourselves all over the internet, blogging and tweeting and facebooking, we're still kind of standing there in panel. That unfortunate comment we made about a book that editor happened to love is just as bad--or worse--than an unfortunate scarf. I've seen girls get eliminated because of what they wore to panel being consistently bad week after week, when they didn't listen to judge's suggestions. Listen to your agent. Pay attention to how you appear. Don't be an ass.

Actually the judging criteria parallel submission and acquisition even more closely. Here are some qualities that are important both in ANTM models and wanna-be authors, if they want to seriously compete:

  • You have one chance to make an impression. The most important factor to the judges is that week's photo. Even if you rocked last week (last book), it doesn't really matter. What's in front of them right now, the book you're submitting, is what matters.
  • Presentation and personality do count when there is a decision to be made. ANTM judges will often favor the girl with a more positive, engaging personality. If you were an editor, would you choose the author who was easy to work with, upbeat, and willing to compromise, or the one who is always whining and complaining?
  • I said this above, but don't be an ass. Difficult, mean people never make it far.
  • Persistence matters. Attention matters. Judges look for improvement, for girls who listen to the advice of their experts. Who are willing to revise and revise and keep trying and striving, who put themselves into their effort wholeheartedly.
Now thank God, it's not *all* like ANTM. Authors on submission don't all have to live in the same house, on camera, and bicker at each other. We don't have to be naked on a horse (usually) or roll around in weeds or dirt or wear big poofy clown wigs. Usually. That stuff's just fun to watch.

But I'm in that critical SUBMISSION phase, standing there in front of the judges day after day. And every time I get a positive email from my agent, or even news that we're still out there, still under consideration, this goes through my head, in Tyra's voice. And I smile (smize), because I'm still IN there.

You're still in the running towards becoming America's Next Published Author.

Blogiversary Re-post #2: My 3 Life Lessons

From January 23, 2009. Because they're still true, and I still need to learn them.

I've slowly come to the realization that there are 3 major lessons I keep re-learning, over and over and over. Each time they dawn on me as Truth, as Revelation, even though I'm well aware I've learned them before. It's just so easy to forget. If I believed in reincarnation or karma, I'd say these are the lessons I'm working on in this life.

So I'm going to put them in writing this time, hoping that will help me keep them in mind. Y'all feel free to remind me, too.

  1. Give without expectation. If you give love freely, or do things for others freely, without expecting anything in return (this is the hard part for me), the love will come back to you. People will choose to do things for you. CHOOSE, instead of being expected to, which is different and vastly better.
  2. Do the work first, and inspiration will follow. This is really just a different version of butt-in-chair, but it is SO easy to get frustrated when writing or life isn't going the way you want it to, and want to give up because it isn't coming. I realized this one again yesterday when (whew) I had a big plot revelation for SSP...after banging my head against a wall for 11,000 words. Yes, I start with ideas, but the story doesn't coalesce until I put the hard work in. Often I struggle to scrape the words together for my daily goal, only to find that at the end of the session words come, I get into the flow, and I go over my word count. You have to go through the hard part.
  3. Things happen for a reason. I know. This is an old saw, and can seem pretty flat when the world is falling apart around you. But it's true.
Example: I had some pretty miserable school experiences. I mean bad. At one point in 5th grade there was an "I hate Susan club", and many of my classmates were members. Yeah. Because I went through all that a little part of my psyche is still there, still dealing with social struggles and rejection.

Unforeseen Result: Now I write YA. I couldn't, if I hadn't suffered then. I understand what that place is like.
Example: Both my husband and I were laid off within 3 months of each other. We had a 6-month-old child, we had no income besides Social Security, and the economy was tight in our industries, so we had trouble finding jobs (sound familiar?).

Unforeseen Result: Instead of having our child in daycare, I was able to stay home with her for a year. Then I got a really good job in Montana, in a small town, and my husband stayed home with her for another year, until she was ready to start at a fabulous preschool that she loves. My mom moved here a year later (from somewhere else), and now Child is able to have a close relationship with her grandparents that she would not have otherwise had. It worked out in a way I never would have guessed 6 years ago.

I am NOT saying change is easy, or work is easy, or giving of yourself is easy. None of it is. It's freaking hard, and that's why I keep forgetting these lessons. (over and over and...) But I welcome the moments when I realize them again, and feel that surge of YES.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Blogiversary Re-post #3: Be Afraid

This is my most popular post by far. Mostly just because Janet linked to it, which spread it far and wide from there. :)

What is your biggest fear?

Rejection? Death? The unknown? Loss? Is your main character facing down that fear?

Why not?

I don't know where I read or heard this first: Robert McKee, maybe, or quite possibly Donald Maass, in his Surrey master classes. The advice: Find your fear, and dump it on the page. Make your character deal with it in just the way you've always dreaded. 

It's hard. I've done it, stared at the screen thinking "No, I can't talk about that. Even thinking about that scares me silly. How can I possibly live every day with that ache, that trickle of fear, for months?" You can. You should. It brings a vividness to your book that will otherwise be missing, that will become the vague, undefined lack earning you "I just didn't love this" comments by the bucketful.

However, if you truthfully portray your fear, and your characters react to it honestly, your book will resonate with readers. See, the trick is you're not the only one with that particular fear. If it's cathartic for you to deal with it on the page and come through the other side, it's cathartic for readers as well. They'll recognize the truth, connect with the powerful emotions. Rip through the pages to see if your MC will overcome it. Cheer for her when she does.

Like everybody, I've got several fears that underlie everything, that can rise to the surface with one word. One is rejection.

I'm not talking about book rejection—that's just a step in the process, in my opinion. I'm talking about when your best friend for years starts going cold. Stops calling you. Tells you one day, in front of all the people you most want to impress, that she can't believe she was ever friends with you in the first place, you're such a loser.

Yes, that happened to me.

Or when your boyfriend, or husband, starts spending long hours away from you. Turns away when you try to kiss him, or worse, pretends. But you can tell. It's different. It's over, you just haven't admitted it yet.

Or when you're a kid, and one of your parents leaves, for reasons that are perfectly valid from a grown-up's perspective, but to a kid just means they've failed somehow.

Jenna dealt with that fear. Natalie's facing it too, in a different way from a different source. But I think it's a common anxiety, and important. And very, very real to me. 

Another one I didn't even realize until I wrote Jenna was the fear of losing control. I hadn't realized the true terror of that moment when—because of medical reasons, or because you're just a kid—decisions about your life are taken out of your hands, and you no longer have a choice. I did that to Jenna. Of course she took control back, but she had to lose it first. I had to, to understand it.

Don't hold back. Don't sugar-coat issues, to make them safe. Face your fears. Make your characters go through those particular layers of hell. 

And then, at the end, let them win.

Blogiversary Re-post #4: News (yes, finally!)

This is a re-post of another of my seminal moments in writing life so far, signing with the wonderful, sharkly Janet Reid.

When I posted this, I think I rather thought the rough bits of my writing journey were over completely, but not quite yet. Still hanging in, but so glad to have Janet on my team!

I am absolutely THRILLED to announce that as of this morning I have signed with Janet Reid, of FinePrint Literary Management!!!!!

I first ran across Janet at Surrey, as part of the panel of the dreaded SIWC Idol workshop. As in previous years, I submitted my 2 pages, this time of JENNA, to be read aloud and critiqued. Kristin Nelson stopped the reading, but Janet stood up for it, and said she loved the beginning and would have kept reading.

I didn't really consider submitting to her, though, because I knew she didn't take YAs. However, I ran into her again at the banquet, and reminded her that she'd liked my book...and she asked for pages right there. Sadly, I didn't have them hiding in my cocktail dress, but I slipped the first chapter to her the next day. She said she'd get in touch with me.

Fast forward to November. I hadn't heard from her, but I'd been submitting to other agents, and I still had her on my list as a long shot (no YAs, remember?). So I sent her a follow-up email with the first chapter again. Didn't hear right away, but that's standard. Kept submitting. In the meantime a few other agents asked for the full.

On December 18th, I got a wonderful email from Janet saying she couldn't believe she hadn't asked for the full right away, and could I please send it?

She read the whole thing IN ONE DAY and called to offer representation that night. She loved it. (okay, I feel like Sally Fields now; I will refrain)

We had to wait until the other agents considering the full had a chance to respond, which is why the long radio silence between then and now. But from the moment I talked to her that night, I wanted to sign with her. She's wonderful, and she LOVED THE BOOK. Just as it is. (yes, I did watch Bridget Jones last night, why do you ask?)

As to not repping YAs? I asked Janet that. She said "Well, we're just going to change that right now, aren't we?" :)

So there you have it. I have an agent.

Thanks to all of you for your support through everything!!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Blogiversary Re-post #5: Oh, it was a good one

From December 26th, 2007:

Usually, Child wakes me up with a gentle tapping on my back. Sometimes it incorporates into my dream, like the alarm buzzer, but she just keeps up the tapping, tap tap tap, until I respond.

Yesterday it was more of a thump thump thump.

"HE CAME!" she said, in a barely restrained whisper. I rolled over immediately, to find two big eyes, right there. "He CAME and you'd never believe it I've never seen so many presents IN MY LIFE!"

She bounced up and down, clutching her teddy bear, beaming.

"Really?" I whispered back, snapping out of grogginess pretty quick. "Did he eat the cookies?"

"YES! I looked, and there were only CRUMBS LEFT! And he drank all the milk except for THIS MUCH!" She scrunched her fingers together in a fist, showing me a teeny gap, and grinned. Bounce, bounce, bounce. "And I've never seen so many presents, and you have to come look, and there's a present on top that's shaped like a TURKEY! Come ON!"

There was no "okay in five minutes" yesterday. There was only a smile between me and hubby, and a quick throwing on of socks and such, and an even quicker push of the coffeemaker button.

And then it was Christmas.

The rest of the day was wonderful, filled with surprises and playing and phone calls and a lovely time with grandma and grandpa. But that...that was my favorite moment. That lasts me all year.

Hope you had a wonderful Christmas.

Blogiversary Re-post #6: I Wonder

Today, the theme is Child. I have a bunch of "favorite" posts about Child, but I narrowed it down to two. I think. Both from 2007!

Here's the first one, from May 2007, called I Wonder.

It hit me this morning, the perfect word about raising kids. In fact, I think this word was made to describe the experience of raising kids.


In that first moment, when you hold your first baby in your arms, wonder overwhelms you. Look at the little toes! The pink, squashed cheeks! The tiny swirl of hair! It is completely amazing that this...person...grew inside you, and is real.

And the sense of wonder really doesn't stop. You hang over her, entranced, as she sleeps. Breathing! Snoring! Then as she takes her first steps, toddling straight into your arms. As she says her first word. As she writes her own name. As she goes to school, as she learns to swim. If you're anything like me, you're constantly struck by how cool, how wondrous, all of these achievements are, day by day.

But there's the other kind of wonder too, and that's an equally huge part of being a parent.

I wonder what she'll be when she grows up?
I wonder if she'll like to read, like me?
I wonder what she's doing at school today?
I wonder how she can behave like that, when we've had this discussion before?
I wonder if I'm doing the right thing?

When I signed up for being a parent, I hadn't realized there'd be so much uncertainty, so much doubt. Sure, there are all the jokes about wishing they'd come with a manual, and the sober advice that they're all different, and you have to make up new rules for each one. But I had no idea that I'd constantly be wondering if I was making the right choices, doing enough, saying the right thing. Or worrying about her even when she's not with me (especially when she's not with me).

I'm not really looking forward to the teenage years, when my central worry might be "I wonder where she is right now?". Fortunately, I also expect there will still be some of that other kind of wonder--the amazement kind, at what an awesome kid I'm raising--to balance it out.

**side note, on Question 2: Last night when we were discussing reading, Child said "I can't IMAGINE not loving to read. It's so FUN. And you learn things!" So I guess I don't have to wonder about that one. :)

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Blogiversary Re-post #7: Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

I love this old post, from February 12, 2007, for personal reasons: it was when I flipped the switch and changed my writing life, turning completely from historicals to YA. I dropped a book on Isabella of Castile I had 9,000 words on, because I was starting to hate it, and I just didn't feel I wanted to write that way anymore. So I had a long talk with a friend, and posted this after making my decision. The VERY next day I wrote out the starting point and characters for JENNA, and found my voice.

There are some big changes going my head. {s}

On Friday I took a hard look at what I'm doing--what my writing goals are, what I'm passionate about, what kind of career I want to build. And what's not working for me now. With the help of a good friend, I realized that if I want to change course I need to do it NOW, before I get stuck on a track I don't want to be on.

In short, writing historicals isn't making me happy right now; it's making me UNhappy. I dread the research, I'm bored with characters whose lives I already know, in a world I can't experience yet have to stick to. I feel like I'm writing with both hands tied behind my back, and it's stopped being fun.

I'm yearning to write something of my own, a story that's wholly mine. Where I don't have to stick to a script--I make up the script. Where I can include elements that excite me, where I can let go and use my real voice, instead of trying to re-create someone long dead.

And I was thinking, la la la, I can write this new book, in a new genre for me, and still try to sell TMT.


If I sell it--and I still think that I could, if I spent some time really improving it--I will be expected to write historicals for a good long time, to build my career. And I don't want to do that.

I made a list of all the things I love to read about, to think about. Of the things that I love from my favorite authors of all time (the humor of Douglas Adams; the other worlds of Susan Cooper; the adventure and pacing of Mary Stewart, etc.). And folks, I am going My Own Way.

So you will see a change already in the blog...the Book 2 counter is gone. The references to historical fiction are gone. And guess what--instead of that medieval lady over there in the profile that I was hiding behind? There's me. (Well, a cartoon representation of me, but that's the closest you get for now.)

And the Medieval Word of the Day? That was nice, wasn't it? But I'm sorry, that has to go too.

My word of the day: transform: To change the form of; to change into another shape or form; to metamorphose.

Blogiversary Re-post #8: The Sensation of COLD

Happy Tuesday!! This re-post is just because I think it's useful in describing what Really Cold feels like. Before coming to Montana I had no idea. Thankfully today it's about 30 above zero, so this is a memory of what December was like this year...

From January 12, 2007, I bring you: BRRRR.


This morning it is -24 degrees. Fahrenheit.

It's difficult to describe what that kind of cold feels like, but for the sake of an exercise, I'll try.

I bundle up of course; you have to. I'm wearing silky long johns under jeans, a long-sleeve shirt under a hooded sweatshirt, boots, a lined coat, gloves, and a hat. I never wear a hat unless it's really cold, but at this temperature it's necessary or there's a very real danger that my ears will get frostbite. It's happened before--with mild frostbite the lobes turn a mottled red and the skin flakes. Yuck. So I'm wearing a pale blue tuque that I got, unbelievably, at a San Diego Padres baseball game. Much more useful here than in San Diego.

I also have a soft black scarf wrapped around my neck and over my mouth. I wish I could wrap it over my nose too, but I wear glasses, and that means instant fogging up. Not good to be stumbling around outside when the goal is to get IN, as fast as possible.

Even with all this protection it's still painfully cold for that top half of my face that's still exposed. The worst, really, is my nose. The instant I step outside my nose hairs freeze--I'm not kidding! It's a nasty sensation. Tickly, but sharp, like hundreds of little doll-size needles inside your nose. I try not to inhale very much, or very deeply. My cheeks and my forehead ache with cold before I take ten steps. My glasses freeze and the metal frames become heavy; I'm aware of each point they touch my face. In spite of my gloves, the tips of my fingers ache and tingle, sending a warning to my body that I recognized even when I was a newbie at this. ("This is ridiculous! Why are we outside in this? Get the hell in!")

Cars, even new, fancy cars, don't start when it's this cold. Our CRV did, but only reluctantly after a couple of tries. Once you do get on the road every car pumps massive clouds of steam out the tailpipe, a rolling chain of fog. Everyone goes slower, because you have to wait for the car-cloud in front of you to clear before you go. If you stop somewhere for an hour or so the warmth inside the car, from your breath or the remnants of the heater, freezes inside the windows, and you have to run it for 10 minutes or so or drive anyway, peering through patterns of ice.

But we're in Montana, and we're supposed to be tough. So everybody smiles at each other once we're in, rubbing our gloved hands, stomping our feet. "It's a bit cold out today," someone says. "But actually not that bad," someone else answers. "Remember when it used to be -40, for 3 weeks at a time? We have it easy now."

Yeah. We have it easy.

Medieval Word of the Day: inlaw: One who is within the domain and protection of the law: opp. to outlaw.

(Okay, I had to laugh at that one. That would be confusing for time-travelers, wouldn't it?)

A poem

A poem, just because.

by Susan Adrian

My shoulder blades itch.
I think it is because
they miss their wings
and want them back.
I tell them to hold on
for a few more years.
I am so not ready
for the burden of wings

Monday, March 08, 2010

Blogiversary Re-post #9: Critters

Apparently in early 2006 I was thinking an awful lot about critiques and feedback. Here's a handy little post, hopefully still useful, on how to choose critique partners.

How to Choose Critique Partners (aka critters)

To me, critters and readers are a vital part of the process of writing. I wouldn't feel comfortable sending a book off to agents without knowing that somebody besides me had read the thing.

I expect my critters, in general, to:

--tell me if the story "hangs" together
--point out plot holes or inconsistencies (why did Davy's eyes change from green to blue?)
--check pacing (did they want to keep turning the pages? was there anywhere it sagged?)
--note any oddities in language that pulled them out of the story
--tell me about character (did they like Katherine? did they hate the villain? why? Were their feelings mitigated or changed at the end?)
--say, as a reader, if the ending and the story arc was satisfying. Were they happy when they closed the book?

These are from regular critters. "Expert" critters I expect to really just look at their portion of expertise. I had someone read TMT to check that my descriptions of the countryside and flora and fauna of northern England were correct. She also had some excellent comments about the little bits of dialect I have, since she's a native-born of that area. I had a monk look at the scenes in an abbey of his order. I had an archaeologist look at the scenes in the abbey that he's excavating. These readers may or may not have other comments, but you really need them for their expertise.

So what things do you look for in a critter, to give you all this feedback?

1. Honesty. This one is absolutely imperative. It's up to you whether it needs to be honesty couched with tact, or plain-speaking brutal truth, but you need to know what they really thought. Not what you want to hear.

2. A critical eye. I don't think critters need to be writers; a reader's perspective can be just as valuable (that's who you're selling to in the end, after all!). But it won't help you if they read it and say only "it was great!". They need to be able to evaluate it and be able to express what they liked, and what they didn't. How it could be improved.

3. Patience. I doubt this one is just me. I tend to pepper my critters with questions after they finish a read, at least for a day or so. They need to be able to deal with questions.

4. Expertise. If they're one of your expertise readers, but of course.

What do they get out of doing this monumental task for you? Well, if they're writers, you might offer to read their work critically in exchange. This is almost always a good deal. If they're experts, they get the thrill of having been asked, and being able to talk about their expertise. (you laugh, but this seems to be enough) If they're readers and like your genre, they get to read a book, hopefully a good one, when no one else has had a chance to see it yet.

And of course, they get a mention in your acknowledgments when you do get published. Never forget your critters in the acknowledgments; they helped you get this book out to everyone else.

Medieval Word of the Day: selcouth: Unfamiliar, unusual, rare; strange, marvellous, wonderful.

Blogiversary Re-post #10: Listen and Reflect

I've had this blog for 4 years tomorrow. Wow! That's a lot of blathering.

To celebrate, I scoured back through my ancient posts to find the ones I liked best. There's a good mix of craft, Child, news,'s been interesting to see where my head was through all these books, through these 4 years.

The posts aren't in favorite order, because I simply couldn't decide. I'm going to go from oldest to most recent. So here's a gem from April 2006, when I was in the midst of writing my first book, The Murderess's Tale. It's called Listen and Reflect.

Today I'm thinking about feedback, and how critical it is in the process of becoming a writer. Not just that you get feedback--that is vital, unless you're a random genius who is perfect, and then we would all have to hate you--but how you judge it, and how you accept it.

Newbies, for example, are often swayed by the slightest breeze of a comment. I tread particularly carefully when critting newbies, because they are so very easy to crush. "You have an opinion about my work? (You actually read my work, wow!) Of course you're right! I'll change it right away!" And then the next critiquer comes along and says the opposite, and the newbie changes again. And again. We have all been there. Finally at some point it comes home, with a slam. How can all of these people be right, when they contradict each other? And why should they know more about my characters than me?

Unfortunately, this leads some into the donkey phase. I will not budge my work is right I am the only one who knows here let me explain to you what this really means and why you just aren't seeing it correctly...

Hmm, perhaps this should be the "toddler phase" instead.

Donkey/toddler people think that they want feedback, but they don't. They want validation that their work is perfect as is, and praise up the wazoo. When they don't get that, they either argue or they lash out, but they don't listen. (Some writers are, I fear, trapped in the donkey/toddler phase.)

At a certain point, if you're really taking this thing seriously and want to succeed, you have to move into "listen and reflect". Here you ask a variety of people for feedback (of course, not just your friends, your mom, or your co-workers; also ask experts in your field, your historical area, the region your book takes place in, and agents, if you're that far in), and you LISTEN. Carefully. Attentively. With as much distance as you can muster. You resist the urge to jump in and say "but but". You write down their comments, or you save them in neat files. You say "thank you very much; your feedback is so important to me." Then you don't look at it for a while (more distance).

When you've gathered a bunch, you take it all out and look at it again, all together. Chances are those points that seemed so hurtful and mean the first time (and yes, sometimes they still do) seem much calmer and more reasoned now. So now you can analyze it. Is there a pattern? Are different people saying the same things? Weigh them based on their expertise. Put more weight on the regional critiquer's comments about the landscape than your neighbor's. ;)

Then, most important, reflect. Which ones resonate with you? Which suggestions are things that had crossed your mind, but you really didn't want to admit it? Which ones make you excited to think about changing? Which ones cause you to think differently about the whole work, see how it could be better?

This is what I'm doing with TMT. I've gotten a little flak here and there that I'm "changing it for agents" or "changing it based on a few comments". No. Three agents read it and made comments, and some of those comments were RIGHT ON. I knew it, after my defense mechanisms shut down. I knew that the book was okay as is, but if I did these things it would be oh so much better. I'm not writing "to" anybody, except me. But I asked, then I listened, and then I reflected. I think if you do anything else in this business--if you're a swayer or a donkey--you're sunk before you start.

Medieval Word of the Day: recolage: wanton or riotous conduct.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Concert Shenanigans

Today hubby and I helped chaperone a gaggle of kids from Child's school to the annual Symphony Kid's Concert. Elementary kids from every school in town + several from nearby towns for an hour of classical music!

It wasn't too bad. Most of them aren't used to concerts like Child is, so there was an awful lot of fidgeting and whispering and poking and putting feet through the seats and making faces at each other. In our group there was also 1 nosebleed, 3 potty runs, and 2 cup-of-water runs. I'll be glad when Us Three go to the full concert tomorrow night so we can actually pay attention to the music, but it was fun.

I enjoyed watching Child and Girl Next To Her do Egyptian Princess snake-slithery movements to Aaron Copeland. :)

NEXT WEEK I'll be revisiting 10 top posts of the past 4 years, to celebrate my 4th blogiversary. Two a day, Monday through Friday. I hope you'll come back and check them out!!

Tuesday, March 02, 2010


Weird Fact I Just Realized: As of the 9th, I've been blogging for 4 years. 4! Years! 745 (746) posts. 750, probably, by then.


I hope it's been entertaining and useful to somebody besides myself and my BFFs. :)

To celebrate, next week I'm going to do a little retrospective and post my Top 10 Hits. Okay, the posts I like best. WHY THE HECK NOT?


Anyway, that's fair warning. Today I'm going to do an imagery puzzle post. This is the approximate content of my head right now. Try to figure it out if you dare.

(image from one of the employees in my office)


(image from iStockPhoto)

(oops. HIM again)

Monday, March 01, 2010


Sometimes I walk in the dark.

When my vision went bad, it went fast. At the beginning of 7th grade I tested as 20/20. By the end of 8th grade it was 20/200. I couldn't sit in the back row anymore. I was squinting. I forgot what the world looked like in clarity, in detail--it was all a bit of a blur.

I got contacts, of course. I could see again, the glorious vision of individual leaves instead of green blob-trees. But my vision without help continued to deteriorate. Within another year or so it was 20/400. That's legally blind without correction. (Fortunately, correction works fine for me.)

I was 13. I didn't tell anyone, but I deduced, on my own, that it was just going to keep getting worse. I figured they probably wouldn't tell me, but at this rate I'd be really blind before too long.

So I started practicing. I'd close my eyes and navigate around my room, around my house. I'd find my way around walls and furniture with my hands. I'd pour drinks with my eyes closed, judging by sound or my thumb on the edge when to stop. And at night, often, I'd go through the whole house without turning lights on, testing myself.

I don't know when I started to believe that the worst wouldn't happen. But last night I went to check on Child after all the lights were out, and I realized I still do it. Not for the same reason: just to challenge myself. Have I paid enough attention to where all the toys are, where we left things? Do I remember the sharp jut of the desk here, the chair there?

I collect bruises, sometimes, but I keep trying.

Writing is like walking in the dark, isn't it? Especially for pantsers like me. I don't have an outline, a map, a light. I start with a character in a situation and I follow along. Walk bravely in the darkness to see where it leads me.

I collect bruises, sometimes, but I keep trying.