In which I talk dystopian fiction, my bucket list, and my protagonist's best friend

Not here!  The lovely Lenore Appelhans invited me to do an interview for her #dystopianfeb theme month, and it can be found here.

Important writing lessons

I want to print these out and put them on the wall:

How to Write a Novel

and, for advanced writers:

How to Write a Great Novel

Music Monday is full of luuuurve this week

I was going to celebrate the 80's this week, which probably tells you how much attention I pay to Valentine's Day, but I remembered this morning that it's tomorrow, so here we are.  The following is one of my "Swoons" playlists, which take turns going on repeat when I need characters to look all starry-eyed at each other  Some of these may be a little on the morbid side, but this is, you know, me.

  • The Decemberists - The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned):  Random fact: there are 572 songs in my iTunes library with "love" in the title, and this one may be the swooniest.  If "With this long last rush of air/let's speak our vows in starry whisper/and when the waves came crashing down/he closed his eyes and softly kissed her" isn't the prettiest love-lyric ever written, it's close.  
  • Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Brompton Oratory
  • Nick Drake - Northern Sky
  • Ryan Adams - Desire
  • Feist - Secret Heart
  • The Civil Wars - Dance Me to the End of Love (Leonard Cohen cover)
  • The Swell Season - In These Arms
  • Army of Me - Love Song
  • Bright Eyes - First Day of My Life
  • Okkervil River - Mermaid:  Another contender for swooniest lyric.  "My hands meet, and they press to a point in the air/but my mouth fills with more panic than prayer/and my skull fills with more color than care/and my heart fills with love, with too much love to bear."
  • The National - Slow Show
  • Death Cab for Cutie - Transatlanticism
  • The Smiths - There is a Light That Never Goes Out
  • The Cure - Lovesong
  • Suede - By the Sea
What song makes you swoon?

Query Contest results!

First of all, I want to say thanks to anyone who participated.  This was a lot of fun and hopefully I'll run this or something similar again in the near future.

Second, to anyone who was worried about word count, I know different pieces of software count differently and allowed for that.  You all made it and were all judged.  (Let's ignore the way that sentence sounds like it should be said by an evil overlord in a dark cloak, shall we?  Good.  Moving on.)

Brooks, of course, took his job very seriously and read through all the entries this weekend.  As per the updated rules, we're awarding more than just one prize because you were all such superstars with the entries and the quality of them was excellent.  Seriously, they were ALL good, but since we have to narrow them down...


P. Adams, for your MG modern fantasy.  I wasn't part of the judging, but I will say we both loved this.  You win the critique no matter what, but Brooks would also love to see your first three chapters ASAP.


Most sinister scheming: J. Matthew Saunders, adult/dark fantasy.

Most cause for revenge: Laurie Muench, YA paranormal suspense.

Most likely to ruin family Thanksgiving: Trisha Leigh, historical/mythological YA.

Most likely to dissuade me from seeking physical affection ever again: Matthew Bryant, adult science fiction/urban fantasy.

Brooks would like to invite the four of you to query him with your letters and the first three chapters of your manuscripts when you're ready, and they will jump to the top of his query pile.

Please send all materials to brooks [at] fineprintlit [dot] com.

Thanks again for playing, everyone. :)

From catastrophe to fresh start

While Brooks is busy judging contest entries, I'm going to talk about my week.  It was one of those weeks.  You know that part of one of the HP books (3, I think) when Harry and Ron are working on their Divinations homework and coming up with fake predictions of a different horrible event they'll experience every day for a month?  This week was like that, except it all really did happen, and without my prior consent.

Most of it's stupid, boring stuff involving a cold and ripping one of my favorite shirts, but some was particularly fun.  My internet going out for 24 hours while I was in the middle of researching Book Stuff was a good time.  (Warning:  Doing in-depth historical research on an iPhone for a whole day will give you a wicked headache.  So now you know.)   I'd had my connection back for about twenty-three seconds (ok, a few hours) when I had a ridiculous accident with a French press and my trusty old MacBook.  It was...not pretty.  Trusty Old MacBook is now in the Great Apple Warehouse in the Sky.

So now the week is over, I'm online from a swishy new Shiny Thing, my book deal present to myself landed in my hands (Best. Headphones. EVER.) and things are looking up, especially thanks to an unexpected silver lining.  As you can expect from an old computer, it was filled up with all kinds of crap I didn't need or particularly want, but who ever feels like sitting down and clearing things out when the Sparkly Internet is there just waiting to distract and entertain?  Not me. 

I'm thrilled I managed to rescue the data that wasn't already backed up, but I've been able to choose to transfer only stuff I need onto Shiny Thing.  I'm feeling wonderfully uncluttered and very clearheaded.  I've done a fair amount of writing in the past day or two, and it may be the stress (or relief from it) talking, but I'm noticing a difference in quality and clarity.

It's not quite spring yet, but maybe there's something to this cleaning out/fresh start business.  This nightmare of a week has turned into a pretty good one, though I will still whine about one thing:

That was one *($@)^@#*$ expensive cup of coffee.

Query contest: UPDATE!

Brooks and I are blown away by how quickly the 15 filled up, and the quality of the entries.  This is so cool.


We're upping the number of entries to 25.  I think there are 16 right now, so there's time for a bunch of you to get yours in before Friday.  There will still be only one winner of the full, detailed query critique, but some of you are going to get honorable mentions and such.  More details on that after the contest closes.

Keep writing!


Contest Entry Post!

This is it.  Post your 100 word short story from your villain/antagonist's perspective in the comments below.  Contest runs from the moment this posts to 3 p.m. EST on Friday.  The first 15 25 valid (as in, are 100 words exactly) entries will be judged for the chance to win a query critique from Brooks.  For more info, see Sunday's contest post.

A Real Thing happened on the way to the theater...

OK, I wasn't on my way to the theater or anywhere else, but a Real Thing happened! I discovered earlier today that CODA is now on GoodReads: !!!

This is another Thing That Means This is Really Happening, so obviously it's very exciting. I can't believe people are already adding it to their shelves. Thank you, lovely people.

Query Critique Contest!

It's time!  I'm thrilled to welcome agent Brooks Sherman (@byobrooks) of FinePrint Literary Management, who I can tell you is super smart, interesting, and--as per his twitter bio--really does look like Paul Rudd in real life.  Brooks will be judging the entries and critiquing the winner's query letter, but we're going to make you work for it a little because it's more fun like that.

Brooks is specifically looking for dark fantasy (think The Monstrumologist series or The Book of Lost Things), horror, sci-fi, contemporary fantasy in realistic settings, and he'd love a good MG that reminds him of The Goonies.  Your MS doesn't have to be any of the above to enter for the query critique, but it might catch his eye if it is.

The contest goes thusly:

1.  Write a 100 word short story from the POV of your antagonist/villain.  It can be his/her/its perspective on an event that actually occurs in your story, but that's not required.  Before, after, or an unseen event are fine, too.

2.  Post it, along with age group/genre, in the comments of the entry post which I will put up at 9 a.m. EST on Tuesday, February 7th.  Contest closes at 3 p.m. EST on Friday, February 10th or when we get enough valid entries, whichever comes first.

3.  The first fifteen valid entries will be judged, just to keep Brooks's workload reasonable.  If you aren't one of the first 15 but really wanted to be, post your disappointment in the comments.  If there's enough of you, I'll try to scare up another agent and run this again.

4.  Entries must be 100 words, no more, no less.  I'll be counting.

5.  Please enter only if you have a completed manuscript ready to query.  This contest is for the query letter only, but we shouldn't rule out the possibility that Brooks will fall in love with something and want pages.

6.  Following this blog or tweeting about the contest isn't necessary to enter, but either or both would be loved.

7.  Judging will be complete on or around Monday, February 13th.  I'll post the winner and explain how to get in touch with your letter.  Brooks will then critique it so it can be whipped into agent-ready shape.

Questions?  Ask below.

A tiny bit of housekeeping

If anyone would prefer to read/follow the blog on Wordpress, you can do so here.

Don't write someone else's book.

No, this isn't a post about plagiarism, although that's an interesting subject.  This is about an obvious writing lesson I really had to learn the hard way.

Writers are told to read widely in their chosen genre/age group/subject matter etc, so we know what's out there, what's been done.  I touched on this briefly in an earlier post, but that can be a double-edged sword for people, like me, who tend to accidentally pick up on style and let that color whatever I'm writing.  I know enough now to steer clear of things where that's a risk.

Unfortunately, for a long time that didn't stop me from doing it intentionally.  I have this project I've been working on for...a long time.  I've redrafted and reinvented this thing more times than I can count.  I'm determined to make 2012 the year I'm happy with it.  And for years (not kidding, years) I've told myself that it's a specific kind of book and so it needs to have a specific kind of voice.  I've fought with my protagonist, my supporting cast, my villains.  I've been thisclose to throwing my computer out the window and abandoning the idea completely, but I can't because I love it too much.

2011 was a busy year.  I wrote a different book, did several rounds of edits, found an agent, edited some more, CODA went on submission--and that's just the stuff related to that one book.  I have a Real Life that demands attention, too, just like everyone else.

I was tired of fighting Secret Project.  For a while at the end of last year, the temptation was again there to abandon it, but fuck that.  In one of those moments of bizarre lucidity that only come from some form of exhaustion, I finally saw that there's a different way to stop fighting.  I can just write like me, and let the damn story be told the way I want it to, the way the characters have demanded from the start.  Yeah, there are some rules that I need to adhere to, like not swearing up a storm in a MG manuscript, but I'm allowed to use my voice.  I don't need to use the voices of the writers whose ranks I hope to join with this book.  I'm allowed my style, my fun.

And it will be better because of that.

I'm wide awake now, and I don't think it's the 4,876 cans of diet coke.

Just a quick post today...

But watch this space!  Something FUN is coming up that may or may not involve a query critique contest from a real live agent.