Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Retreat and a Review

So a couple of weekends ago, while in the midst of my word-cutting revision, I had the fabulous opportunity to go a on writer's retreat with my lovely writing buddies: Emily, Kim, and Valynne. (Darn it all, Sara was too busy launching her online shoe biz to come). In honor of Emily's birthday, the sale of her second manuscript, and the imminent release of her debut novel, THE WAY HE LIVED (more on that in a minute) she rented out a three bedroom condo in Eden, Utah and invited us along. Em and I went up early on Friday and enjoyed the afternoon writing (me revising) and then Kim and Valynne joined us that evening. We spent the rest of the weekend checking out local restaurants, writing, enjoying the amazing scenery, and debating everything from gambling to proposition 8. And despite my insane diet restrictions, I still managed to eat my weight in Swedish fish and sour patch kids. There's nothing like a weekend of hard work, interactions with like-minded people, and a sugar coma to give you the burst of creativity needed to tackle a bunch or revisions. Thanks for the weekend, Em. You rock!

While on the topic of how awesome Emily Wing Smith is, I want to give a shout out for her book debuting November 1st. THE WAY HE LIVED is an amazing story told from the points of view of six teens dealing with the loss of their friend/sibling Joel Espin who died on a tragically ill-lead boy scout trip to the Grand Canyon. Each teen reveals different aspects of Joel's life, letting the reader piece together the reason why Joel may have chosen to sacrifice himself in order to save his fellow hikers. Em summarizes it better than me:

Six stories. Six voices. One reality.

Monday’s Child has just lost her brother, but that’s not why she’s crazy. Tuesday’s Child is a star and wishes she wasn’t. Wednesday’s Child is obsessed with getting revenge. Thursday’s Child is on a quest to find herself. Friday’s Child is in love with a dead guy, and Saturday’s Child is in love with a guy in gray sweats–who isn’t her boyfriend. And the child born on the Sabbath day is the one to set it all in motion.

(Sorry Em, I stole that from you blog, but since I'm promoting your book, I figured you wouldn't mind.)

The book was originally titled SUNDAY'S CHILD but her publisher thought teens would be reluctant to buy a book that had the word "child" in it. Personally, I prefer the original title, but hey, I'm not a marketing expert.

Anyway, Emily is amazingly talented and an extremely hard working author. I'm totally biased since she has been my wonderfully patient critique partner for the last 4 years, but I think her book is wonderful and everyone should read it. Our writing styles are quite different. Emily's writing is sparse, thoughtful, poetic, realistic, literary, and character-driven. I, on the other hand, write the plot-driven romance/thriller type stuff. Emily has always been patient with me, and because of her influence, I now have rich characters to populate my plots (at least I think so, but then again, I'm completely biased).

I have learned so much from Emily over the years, and I think she deserves to have a smashingly wonderful book debut. THE WAY HE LIVED hits book stores on November 1st, but you can preorder it now on amazon.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

More revisions!

The revisions are clipping along nicely (along with the tightened pace of my novel :). In the past two weeks, I've cut the book from approximately 87,000 words to 81,000 words. I was quite relieved when I finished late Saturday night (the 25th) and sent if off to Ted. Then I snuggled up to watch SNL and thought about how I'd have a whole week before I'd have to think about any more revisions. Not so!! Ted sent me notes Monday morning. How's that for fast? So I'm back to work. We're still shooting for pre-Thanksgiving submissions to editors, but these revisions are a bit more in depth than just simple word culling. Unfortunately, if we don't get it off before Thanksgiving, we'll have to wait for the new year since the publishing industry pretty much goes on Holiday for the entire month of December. I'm excited AND nervous about this next round of revisions. We're so close to having it ready, but there's still so much to do. Wish me luck.

Friday, October 24, 2008


Ted said book too long.
Must cut words.
Two weeks revising:
4,000 words axed.
Learning to be spare.

Will blog soon when revisions finished.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I have a big announcement . . .and no, I'm NOT pregnant

I have an agent!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
(I'd go on with the exclamation points, but I think you get the point.) I have accepted representation with the fabulous Ted Malawer of Firebrand Literary. I can finally say those four wonderful words I've been waiting to say for the last NINE years: I have an agent! I can also say things like those writers in movies who are terribly busy and successful--things like, "I don't know, let me check with my agent," or "My agent just called," or "Run that by my agent." I'm giddy just thinking about it.

So for my friends who don't know what an agent does (and can't figure out why I'm so excited), an agent is someone who sells your book for you, brokers your publishing contracts, manages your career, and tells you that you are wonderful and talented when your crippling self-doubt gets out of hand. Since 80% of publishing houses won't even look at your manuscripts if you don't have an agent (I totally made up that figure, but it's close, if not on the low side), getting an agent is like getting the "golden ticket" and then eventually moving on to the final 3 on American Idol. It's not a guarantee you'll get published, but it ups your odds by about 95% (yet another made up statistic, but it's close, I swear). The biggest conundrum in the publishing industry is that it is nearly impossible to get published without an agent, but almost more impossible to get an agent without being published. Seriously, why would anyone wonder why writers are so neurotic?

So you can see why little old me is so darn excited.

For anyone who is wondering, this is how the process went (Warning, this goes on for a bit):

1. Wrote a book.

2. Revised, revised, revised, and revised book some more.

3. Realized 1st book was just for practice and started a second book

4. Repeated step 2 (plus a little more)

5. Sent queries (1 page letter describing yourself and your book) for the 2nd book to about a dozen agents. Half flat out rejected it. Half asked to read the first few chapters of the book. One or two asked to read the whole thing. In the end, all rejected it with positive feedback and well-wishes . . .they "liked" it, but weren't "in love" with it.

6. Being several months pregnant and void of all brain-power, I decided to put the book away for awhile and let it percolate.

7. Started a 3rd book and after several months, ideas for the 2nd book started conflicting with the third.

8. Put the 3rd book in a drawer and picked up the 2nd book again (almost 1 year after I put it away) and set to work completely rewriting 75% of the novel and adding 101 pages of new content.

9. Had the first chapter critiqued by an editor at a conference who said she loved the story and wanted to see the rest of it as soon as it was finished (May 2008). Joy. Self doubt. Stress. Panic.

10. Sent MS off to the editor at the end of August 2008

11. Decided to look for an agent instead of twiddling my thumbs

12. Did research and narrowed my list to about 8 agents who I thought would be the best fit for my manuscript.

13. Wrote query, showed it to writers groups, revised, revised, and revised it some more

14. Sent very first query to the top agent on my list with the first 2 pages (What was I thinking?! Who queries their top choice first?)

15. Sent out second query with client referral and first 5 pages. Got immediate response asking to see the full!

16. A couple of days later, #1 agent responded asking for the full asap because he's leaving on a trip and wants to take my MS with him!!!

17. Sent MS right away. Obsessively checked email for a few days. Convinced self that both agents were probably never going to respond even though it had been less than a week. Sent out 3 more queries without any pages of my MS. Got almost immediate rejections on all 3. One rejection came in less than 2 minutes from when I sent the email query (Was that a world record?) Major self doubt ensued.

18. Wait, exactly one week after sending full to agent #1, got email saying that he's almost done reading the manuscript and he LOVES it. Wants to show it to the other agents in his office on the following Tuesday. Do I have a synopsis I can send him for the other agents to look at? Sure, I have a synopsis. It's over here somewhere . . .

19. Hurried and wrote a synopsis. (Actually, I had a synopsis but I hadn't revised it since I sent out the manuscript the first time over two years before--and it stank!)

20. Sent synopsis Monday morning. Got one of the best emails of my life from agent #1 outlining all of the things he loved about my book and promising to get back to me after his meeting on Tuesday.

21. Tuesday came and went and no matter how many times I refreshed my email--no email from agent #1 appeared. Major self-doubt ensued. . .convinced self that the other agents must have hated the manuscript and convinced #1 that he must be on drugs if he liked it. They're staging an intervention right now . . .

22. Wednesday afternoon: received email saying he got great feedback from other agents and wants to call me on Friday so we can chat. Later that afternoon, received email from agent #2 with a very complimentary rejection of the manuscript with an invitation to send other materials. Couldn't care less--still doing the happy dance about #1.

23. Thursday: another email asking if we can postpone chat until Saturday. (Somebody just shoot me now. I can't take the anticipation anymore!) Used the meantime to do more research on #1, talked to a couple of his clients. Convinced self that he must just be calling to give me some revision notes or something. Husband said, "Why would he call you on a SATURDAY for that?"

24. Paced anxiously around the house for the next 48 hours and practically jumped out of my skin when the phone rang and then sat down and gave the fakest-calm, "Hello . . .this is she. Hi, Ted . . ." you've ever heard. And to make this very, very long story short: He offered representation and I accepted. The happy dance has yet to stop at our house!

So that's the story in a very large nutshell. And since Ted is an awesome agent, I will hopefully have more announcements to come in the next few months. So stay tuned . . .

P.S. Thank you to all of my friends, family, and teachers who have supported me, and helped me revise over all these years. You know who you are. XOXOXOXOXOXO

I watch way too much TV

It's a fact. I couldn't live without Tivo or Neflix. It's sad, I know, but Tivo changed my life. In good ways. If I can zip through Heroes in 45 minutes instead of an hour--that's 15 more minutes of my life I get back for writing. . .or justifying just one more episode of 24 before bed. But don't watch more than two episodes of 24 before going to sleep (seriously stressful dreams will ensue). On a less frivolous note, watching TV is actually great "homework" for a writer (along with reading as much as possible). There are all sorts of lessons to be learned about character development, building suspense, teen drama, plot pacing, hot guys . . .ahem . . .emotional levels etc. from watching a well-crafted television show or movie. For extra-credit (if using Netflix), you can re-watch the episode with the director's commentary to find out why he/she made certain choices.

Here are some of my favorite "study materials." I tried to narrow it to ten, but alas, I could not. These are my TV favs, I'll list my favorite movies another day.

12. Smallville (The early years. This season... not so much.)

11. The O.C. (teen drama at its best)

10. Heroes ("normal people" with superpowers--'nough said.)

9. 30 Rock (That Tina Fey-- she cracks me up.)

8. 24 (This show seriously stresses me out . . .but I love it.)

7. Chuck (It's like the new Scarecrow and Mrs. King but with a dweeby/cute guy--what's not to love?)

6. X-Files (Oooo the chemistry between Fox and Dana.)

5. Flight of the Conchords (I don't have HBO, but I love these guys so much I had to buy the show on DVD.)

4. Freaks and Geeks (I can't hear you. Oh wait, let me switch to my bionic ear.)

3. Scarecrow and Mrs. King (Best show ever! ... at least I thought so when I was 13.)

2. Veronica Mars (Okay, so this is the best show ever.)

1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (No wait, really, this is the best show ever.)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Why I write

I write because I love to tell stories--a trait that gets me into trouble in real life because I love to make the mundane more fantastic. As a kid, I'd staple folded papers to make my own "novels." As a tween, I wrote stories in my notebook while the girls in my dance class waited for the next page to be finished. My teachers told me I should be a writer. But I thought only "special" people could be writers, so as the years past, I settled into the idea of becoming a lawyer or something else just as ordinary.

I rediscovered my love for stories during college when I spent a summer writing and directing plays for at-risk kids from inner-city Philadelphia. Writing made me happy! When I got back to school, I filled my schedule with as many creative writing classes I could talk my way into, and started my very first real novel. But regular life kicked-in, and a couple of years later I was married with a new baby, working full-time as we struggled to make ends meet, and only had 80 pages of a manuscript. That's when the universe decided to throw a pick-up truck in my path. No, literally--a big, white, pick-up truck crossed the median on a stormy night just before Christmas of 2002 and hit us head-on. My baby and husband were okay (thank goodness!) but I was looking at surgery and months and months of learning how to walk again.

I realized at that moment life was too short to not be doing what you absolutely love. I knew that if I had died, the two things I would have regretted the most were not being with my family, and never becoming a real author. A few days later, my wonderful husband brought a refurbished laptop to my bedside and said, "You'd better start writing." My life hasn't been the same since. I'm now a full-time mom and writer, determined to become an author. And the most satisfying thing in the world is when my now six-year-old son asks, "Mom, can I tell you a story?"