Start the New Year Off with a Pitch

2011 is just around the corner, and already some exciting new opportunities for writers are stacking up.

Starting January 24, the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest will be open for submissions, including your pitch. Each winner will receive a publishing contract with Penguin, which includes a $15,000 advance. There is a general fiction category and a young adult fiction category, and last year it was really interesting to read all the entries during the 4 elimination rounds.

One of my crit partners made it through to the semi-finals, and got a lovely Publisher's Weekly review to show for it. I am planning on entering in 2011, if this round of agent submissions doesn't pan out.

The other opportunity to stretch your pitching muscles comes with the launch of the Pitch University site on January 1. Their manifesto lets you know what to expect:

Writer POV:

1. Writers write books.
2. We re-write books.
3. We do not pitch.
4. We do not sum up in "sound bites."
5. That is foreign and evil.
6. We especially do not sum up in person, because we are not salespeople.
7. In fact, sales is never taught in creative writing classes, because it is a totally unrelated career.

The Dilemma:

1. Editors and Agents need us to sum up.
2. So do Readers.
3. They believe us when we say what our book is about.
4. But we suck at this and are apt to stutter, wander, and make something brilliant sound like fragmented (yet earnest) dream-lings of a lunatic mind.
5. Or just something lacking characters, plot, and any hint of conflict.
6. They--the editors, agents, and readers--offer to meet us in public, face-to-face, at conferences, pitchfests, and bookstores.
7. We call this the public land of our suckiness.
8. Because the hardest thing of all is that we actually keep trying to get this right.
9. We love what we do.
10. Enough to learn to pitch.
11. Yeah, that much.
12. Today, we're here at Pitch University, and we are ready to rock.

Sounds good to me--I have a query that I like, but whenever anyone asks, "What's your book about?" I'm left with my mouth hanging open as I fumble for a response that does my story justice. NOT professional, and I used to be a professional storyteller, for Pete's sake! We got a camcorder for Christmas, so now there's no excuse for me not to try this.

A week ago, Blogger friend Kate Hart did a post on Dream Writing Spaces, with pictures of fantastic little buildings in inspiring settings. It got me thinking of what my dream writing space would be, but I had to admit that I am spoiled to already have 2--no, 3--places that I love to write in.

I should say that I don't have kids and my husband works full time, so that means I have the house all to myself for long stretches. And the kinds of distractions that people often complain about when working at home are a bonus for me; I have a bad back, so getting up to hang laundry, check on dinner, and feed the cats (okay, that last one happens way too frequently throughout the day) is better for me than parking in front of the computer for hours straight.

Now, on to the photographs!

This first room is where I write when I don't need the computer: writing longhand, editing hardcopies, or just staring dreamily at the fire (there's a fireplace out of frame) or out the window while I compose in my head. I also do research here since this is where most of the nonfiction books are. BTW, that's just nonfiction--there are 4 bookcases of fiction in the dining room, 1 bookcase with YA/MG titles, and 1 more with cookbooks and miscellaneous stuff. Yes, we are recovering bookstore employees, why do you ask?

My office is a converted bedroom, and it is cozy enough that I can sit in the chair and touch my drafting table and the computer desk at the same time. I could have described it as small rather than cozy, but I really do like having everything within reach. I can do artwork on the drafting table, roll over to the computer and check email, and the copy machine and fax are ready and waiting for when I need them.

There are also fewer distractions in this room and, most importantly, a door that will close. I take advantage of this when the cats get too demanding (they would say it's not possible for a cat to be too demanding--the humans should be grateful for the attention bestowed upon them) or when my husband is home and has the TV on or something.

And the third writing space, I don't have a picture of, but it's a patio just to the right of this herb bed. When the weather's nice, I can turn on the fountain, and sit out at the table. I must admit that I don't get quite as much writing done out there, it's just too tempting to enjoy the birds and sunshine. But the ambiance does lend itself to writing poetry, so I tend to go out there when I'm feeling poetic.

Road Trip Wednesday is a "Blog Carnival," where YA Highway's contributors and followers post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on our blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This week's topic: give a book character a Christmas gift!

My first ideas on this topic were gifts for some of the characters from Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse books (Eric Northman, Bill Compton, Quinn, etc) but those gifts would land me squarely on the NAUGHTY list. It would be a heck of a way to end the year, and deliciously naughty indeed.

So my more G-rated answer would be to give an assortment of colorful flower bulbs to Mary from The Secret Garden. I would give her a few that were forced into bloom early so she could enjoy them now, but the rest I would just leave as a surprise. She wouldn't have any idea what kind they were until the spring, when they sent up shoots and flowered. Ooo, and a kitten too. In fact, kittens all around!

I reread The Secret Garden recently on my Kindle, so that explains why I thought of young Mary.

So I'm on facebook, I have this blog, I have my art website, but I'm dragging my feet on joining Twitter. I've found the Twitter pages where I can stalk some agents, but I haven't set up my own account yet. Mainly for the time constraints--as you can tell, my two-three-times weekly blog posts fell to occasionally-weekly when I was wrassling my rewrites.

Twitter seems like it would be fun, but time-consuming as well. And apparently there are politics to worry about, too. It just hasn't gotten to a tipping point yet where I think it's worth it.

And then, a local mall got hit with a flash mob. I actually know a person in one of the choirs, and she was telling people for weeks ahead of time about the secret upcoming spontaneous event. Of course as a writer, I had to argue the semantics of calling a planned event of this magnitude a spontaneous event, but the official designation was "Random Act of Musical Kindness."

I also questioned how it could be a secret if she's telling everyone. She said, "I have to tell my friends, and the more the merrier." Well apparently the organizers did not allow for the Twitter factor: a secret told to one friend, or even an overheard conversation, can spread like a fire (okay, that was a bad analogy, considering the mall was hit by a fire last month) with the power of Twitter.

And like the old shampoo commercial, where friends tell friends ad infinitum, the crowd of participants and performers swelled to 5,000--when they had only planned for 500. That's some pretty powerful tweeting, even if it did turn out pretty scary for all the people that got caught up in the crowd and had to be evacuated.

And they're off!

I sent out my queries for Spirits from the Vasty Deep today; everybody cross their fingers for me!

Here's the "meat" of the query I sent out:

As a child, Olivia Herald encounters a malevolent spirit that is beyond any that she has perceived before—one that is so strong it can take physical form and harm the living. After that traumatic experience, she turns her back on her powers to communicate with the dead, fearing any contact with the spirits will expose her to further peril.

Years later, Olivia inadvertently creates an entire ship's worth of sinister spirits by causing the destruction of the Empyreal and its crew. The men are not entirely blameless; after all, they raped and murdered her companions, and intended to do the same to Olivia. An escape attempt is her only option, and she couldn't foresee that the fire she starts as a diversion will doom the Empyreal and its crew.

But now the ghostly crew wants retribution, and so do the authorities. While the prospect of a death sentence hangs over her, Olivia must rekindle her abilities to speak with the dead for the final reckoning with the vengeful Empyreal's crew.

Sometimes I Scare Myself

I am a total wimp about scary movies--I can only take them if they also have a large dose of comedy. I can handle Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, and movies like that, but I hate the jump-out-and-get-you type especially.

To this day, my husband teases me about when we were watching The Changeling, and I left the room after a moment that I will freely admit was only a "gotcha". A stained glass window burst, and I'd had enough, after all the other spooky stuff that came before that. And as much as I love and admire the LOTR movies, I can't watch them within a few hours of bedtime because they are just too disturbing for me.

As you might expect, my wimpiness carries over into scary books too. I don't even attempt most horror books.

But I've been stepping up the paranormal in this rewrite of my book, and sometimes after I write a scene, I have to set it aside and not look at it for a while. Not because I need to set it aside and come back to it with fresh eyes, but because it scares me! That just might be a new record for wimpitude.

But I do have to say I've had some weird things happen before, so I have plenty of genuinely creepy stuff to draw on. In the end, I don't think this novel will be classified as horror, but I hope I've done my job and at least unsettled a few people.


Some of you may have noticed that my Blogger profile started showing 2 blogs a while back--this one, and another called Fat Kitty City Nitty Gritty. FKC NG is the blog for a no-kill animal sanctuary I volunteer at, and I just wanted to direct you to a post over there for a fundraising calendar of my digital paintings.

Rejoining the Teaser Tuesday

This one's longish for a teaser at 500 words, but I wanted to give a little glimpse into a new section from revisions. They are on Antigua, leaving English Harbour for St. John's:

Even through my tiredness, the town piqued my curiosity as we drew away from the harbor. The houses were a hodge-podge of styles: some looked a hundred years old, and others looked like flimsy huts erected that morning. Occasionally an overgrown drive led only to a pile of rubble or a blackened shell collapsing in on itself. Right next to such a sad sight would be a freshly-plastered house brimming with sounds and activity.

"I have heard about the dwindling fortunes of sugar growers—is that what those abandoned houses reflect?" I asked.

"Parts of the town are still being rebuilt from several disasters," Duncan said. "Ten years ago, a fire swept through and claimed a lot of the oldest buildings. Then a few years later, an earthquake shook apart more buildings—including our St. John's Cathedral. Plus, every hurricane season a few more houses get blown or washed away."

"Is it hurricane season now?"

"Yes, but it's been a while since we've had a really bad one. Of course, that probably means we are overdue."

I met his mock-concerned tone with an eye roll, since I knew any other response would only encourage him.

He turned back to his tour guide duties. "That one is said to be haunted." He pointed to a ramshackle stone house, overrun with vines, and a gaping blackness seeping out of the windowframes.

I studied it as we went past, but I didn't feel any particular presence. "Do you believe in ghosts?" I asked. Because no matter how hard I try not to, there they are tugging at my proverbial sleeve, I added to myself.

"There are a number of superstitions in the islands—and among sailors, too, of course," he said.

"Is it all just superstition, then?" I pressed. "What do you believe?"

"I have heard some strange stories from men who were otherwise truthful. About witches, and duppies, and making the dead walk—if it is true, it's not the sort of thing I'd like to have dealings with."

I sank back into the cushions without a word.

"What a topic of conversation for a sunny day," Duncan said, and gestured to the view. He described Shirley Heights and Fig-Tree Hill, popular spots to look out at the beauty of the whole island.

"Such vivid names—what do they call the area where your mother lives?" I asked.

"It was originally my father's place on Scotch Row. A lot of Scottish families set up their shops in the same area, with living quarters attached to the storefronts. The part that used to be my father's office is where my mother teaches music."

As we climbed higher, a refreshing breeze lifted my hair from my sweaty brow. Duncan said the lower elevations at this time of year were often hot, but the breeze cut through the heights. Seeing my heavy eyelids, Duncan let the rest of the trip pass in an agreeable silence. I dropped off once or twice, and when the coach came to a halt I woke to find myself nestled against Duncan's shoulder.

I'm beginning to see the light . . .

at the end of the revision tunnel. I've added scenes (thereby adding about 2,500 words, yikes) and am in the process of chopping scenes. I think it will end up about 93,000 words, in keeping with the length of previous versions.

One thing I thought was interesting is that my husband has a hard time anticipating my work schedule. I'll work all day and into the evening for several days in a row, and then set everything aside and say, "Let's go do something fun! Anything but think about this book."

From the outside, it probably does look like a bit manic, but for me it's just part of the process. A period of needing to work intensively so that everything stays in my head is always followed by some time where I work on another project or do something completely unconnected to this project. This lets me go back to the original project with the proper detachment, so I can see all the flaws (and even fall in love with it all over again).

As a bonus, here's a link to an excellent post by Roni Loren on how to identify and avoid author intrusion.

RTW--Best Book(s) of November

Road Trip Wednesday is a "Blog Carnival," where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on our own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This week's topic is: What's the best book you read in November?

Okay, I added the s to the "book" for my blog post, because I read/listened to 3 books that went really well together. Of course, if you read them back to back, you might end up with a slightly twisted mindset like I exhibited in my previous post. BTW, I showed those figurines to my hubby and he didn't think they were interesting or amusing AT ALL, just grotesque. He liked the Humanimals, so I thought he'd go for them. No accounting for tastes.

Anyway, the first book up was The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan on audio. For a book with zombies, the writing was very lyrical in spots. The focus was on the love triangle between Mary and two brothers from her village, and the Unconsecrated (zombies) were almost another aspect of the scenery. Except when they're attacking of course. Without being spoilery, one scene was truly heartbreaking, almost unbearably so for me.

I read the companion book, The Dead-Tossed Waves, on my Kindle in just a few days. Again, atmosphere and mood as an aspect of setting was so well done. A love triangle figures in this one also, and it felt so similar to the setup in the first book that I was almost annoyed, but the author pulls it off. This book was also more layered than the first one, and it seems like she'll need to do another book to pick up some dropped storylines. But still a good read, even with less focus.

The last book was The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman on audio. It's actually Neil Gaiman on the audio, and he does a stellar job. It doesn't hurt that I'm a sucker for British accents ;) This is a more quiet book, sort of a series of adventures that eventually tie into a greater story arc. A great winter CD, it's perfect to listen to on gloomy days. Don't worry, he story itself is not overly gloomy--in fact it ends on a really hopeful note.

My Brain Hurts

Doesn't that look just like a lovely rosy cabbage? I should preface the following link with warnings that:

1. I have been spending much of my free time on revisions of my novel, which means I've been hanging out in the spirit world, and with ghosties .

2. In between, I've been reading/and or listening to The Forest of Hands and Teeth, The Dead-Tossed Waves, and the Graveyard Book.

So that will hopefully explain why I haven't been blogging lately, and why I found these so very amusing.

Secret of Kells

Saw a lovely little animated film the other day, Secret of Kells. It's beautifully made and well worth seeing.

But what made it particularly interesting is that we were just discussing The Hero's Journey in our crit group. There is a book called The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler, and he uses Joseph Campbell's ideas of the hero's journey as a way to plot a story.

Secret of Kells hit on all those points, so it was timely to have them reinforced. Vogler's model has since been used for many films, especially Disney films, and another good example is The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

Trailer for Secret of Kells below, and here's a link to the poem Pangur Ban

Was it worth it?

So I have emerged from days of query hell with the following blurb:

As a child, Olivia Herald encountered a malevolent spirit that was beyond any that she had perceived before—one that was so strong that it could take physical form and harm the living. The traumatic experience led her to turn her back on her powers to communicate with the dead, fearing that any contact with the spirits would eventually expose her to the same kind of peril.

Now, years later, Olivia has inadvertently created the same kind of sinister spirits—an entire ship's worth. Her actions leading up to their deaths were justified in her mind; after all, the crew had just raped, tortured, and murdered her companions, and meant to do the same to her. Her only option was escape, and she couldn't have known that the fire she started as a diversion would doom the Empyreal and its crew.

But the ghostly crew feels differently about her role—and unfortunately so do the authorities—and now Olivia will have to face up to the consequences of her actions. That will mean a trial, with a hanging if she's convicted, and taking up her powers once again for the final reckoning with the vengeful Empyreal's crew.

I think this one is a winner--but then each of the stinkers before this one also had a point where I thought they would do the job. Comments welcome!


Surfacing from the depths of query despair to let everyone know that I posted some of my digital paintings on my other blog, Fat Kitty City Nitty Gritty. Nice change from wrassling uncooperative summaries, yes?

Query Hellions

Over at the Absolute Write forums, the place to post your queries for feedback is known as Query Hell. That about sums up most people's feelings about the process of crafting your query and then holding your breath while you wait to hear back on it.

But if Query Hell doesn't quite cover it for you, Amanda Hannah has posted a contest, where you can write a haiku, limerick, song lyric, or poem--whatever best captures the query process for you.

Be bitter, be creative, be mopey--but have fun, it's a great way to channel your frustrations!

Here's my entry:

You launch your query bird
Into the wide blue sky
Only to see it fail and fall
A few weeks later.

You can't bear to look at it right away
But eventually you doctor it
And send it off again
Weighted with your dreams.

The worst times are when
It's left endlessly soaring,
Waiting for an an answer to it's call
That never comes.

So you craft another pair of wings
Strong enough to carry you with them
Over the walls blocking your way
To land in nurturing hands.

Just kidding! This was a completely alcohol-free event where we got together for headshots, and had a group portrait done with props from the Wacky Hat Bag. We are clockwise from left:
Nancy Ashcraft Herman (in the brown)
Rachel Allen Dillon (in the flower garland)
Thelma White (in the dark hat w/red flower)
Lori Mortensen (in the jester's cap)
Christina Mercer (in the boa)
Angelica R. Jackson (in the pirate hat)

And for the record, our mouths are open because we are saying, "Cannibalism!" An inside joke for our critique group (everybody in the photo but Lori). We meet at a local market cafe, and we've gotten some weird looks as people walk by and we're discussing such esoteric subjects as cannibalism, violence, and sex (in the context of our books).

Exit Nathan Bransford from the Agency Theater

Blogging literary agent extraordinaire Nathan Bransford announced that he is leaving agenting behind for a position at CNET.

Say it isn't so, Nathan! You've been my go-to guy for the lowdown on queries, the latest publishing news, and general publishing etiquette. I know that sometimes I didn't get to your posts everyday, and I didn't always give my comments freely, but can't you give me (us all) another chance?

You say your mind is made up? Well, I will have to comfort myself with the knowledge that you will make wonderful contributions no matter where you focus your energies.

Buena suerta!

Poke the Tarantula (That's Not a Euphemism)

I am not posting a picture of the tarantula, in deference to any arachnophobic readers. One of my garden work buckets had a lovely little boy tarantula trapped in it, so I spilled him out. He reared up--very fierce! I left him there, but came back about 10 minutes later and he was still in the middle of the walkway.

So I did the natural thing and went to get a stick to nudge him out of the way. Man those suckers are fast! He whipped around, reared up, and struck the stick several times. They must be really strong, too, because I could feel each strike transmitted up the stick. Luckily, he was not so ballsy as to run up the branch and onto my bare arm.

Let it be known that I am not a fan of overly large insects (potato bugs!!) or arachnids (camel spiders!!) but I don't feel the desire to wantonly kill them. So as long as he doesn't figure out how to use the newly-installed cat door, we should all get along just fine. And maybe he'll take care of some of those nasty centipedes while he's out there.

As for me, no more late-night trips out to the backyard for cat herding while in my bare feet or socks. Knowing that tarantulas are native to this area and seeing one that close to the house are two different things. Denial and reality, respectively.

Title Teaser Tuesday

My brain hurts! I have just finished major revisions on my novel, to the tune of adding another 2,000 words! I continued with the idea of the MC conversing with her father (even after his death) by using snippets of Shakespeare's works, like I showed in this teaser a few weeks ago. That required some new scenes and dialogue, plus I(hopefully) ironed out some of the questions and issues about Isabelle's abilities. Yep, 2,000 words to do that, though I'm sure I'll be able to do some trimming in later drafts.

So now the plan is to run this version through our critique group and maybe find a few betas that haven't seen it before. At least I know better than to think I'm finished!

The big news is that although the title that I loved, Those Lost at Sea and Drowned, survived many previous edits, it no longer applies to this very different draft. So I'm tentatively re-titling the book Spirits from the Vasty Deep. Surprise, it's from Shakespeare's King Henry IV, Part I:

I can call spirits from the vasty deep.

Why, so can I, or so can any man;
But will they come when you do call for them?

Other possible titles are A Tempestuous Noise and Damned Spirits All. Any thoughts or care to cast a vote?

It's On--But You'd Better Hurry!

Operation Awesome's November Mystery Agent Contest is open, so I hope you have your one-sentence pitch ready to go!

The mystery agent is looking for
contemporary YA and MG, especially thrillers and mysteries
paranormal, sci-fi and post-apocalyptic/dystopian
adult fiction

Good luck to everyone who enters, and if you miss it, the entries are a great source for pitch ideas.

P.S. If you like cats and animal rescue groups, you might want to check out the blog I started to highlight the adoptable cats and resident felines of a sanctuary that I volunteer at, Fat Kitty City.

Road Trippy Wednesday: Best Book in October

Road Trip Wednesday is a "Blog Carnival," where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on our own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This week's topic: What was the best book you read in October?

Okay, so the photo above has nothing to do with the books I'm going to mention--it's just something I saw on the way home. What appeared to be a large shrubbery merged onto the highway; the pickup was so overloaded you couldn't see the vehicle at all from the back. I had to take 3 photos before I got one that shows a wheel to prove there is indeed a pickup under there.

I thought to myself,"Boy are the Knights Who Say Ni going to be happy when he brings them that shrubbery!"

On to the books: my picks are three books from the same series, Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate. I've already blogged about how I dipped my toe into Soulless and was then sucked into a vortex of do-nothing-else until I had read Changeless and Blameless also, but I'm not sure that counts as a proper review.

I haven't read steampunk very widely (does The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson count? That's one of my all-time favorite books), but as far as I can tell they fit the genre, with the added bonus of vampires and werewolves. And yes, I too am reaching saturation on vampires and werewolves, but I'm always on the lookout for books that put a new twist on the fuzzies and the fangies.

And Gail Carriger does manage a new twist, both with the paranormals and the alternate history/world she has created. The main character's voice is so strong, and it fits her personality so well. I can't wait to read the next book (2011!), even though I thought the third one dragged in places. These are just great, fun reads, with a little bit of sass and spice thrown in.

3 Exciting Contests for YA Novel Writers

Since they've been dropping hints, I expect Operation Awesome to announce their one-sentence pitch any day now. So have that one-sentence pitch ready to go!


Along with the logline (one-sentence pitch), the Guide to Literary Agents blog wants the first 150-200 words of your finished YA manuscript. "Top 3 winners all get: 1) A critique of the first 10 pages of your work, by judge Tamar Rydzinski. 2) A free one-year subscription to" This is the 7th contest he has run, so there might be similar opportunities in the future. No entry fee, but he does ask that you spread the word about the contest and/or add him to your blogroll. Contest is open Oct. 21-Nov. 3, with winners notified "by e-mail within three weeks of end of contest. Winners announced on the blog thereafter." Found via Rachel Allen Dillon


For an entry fee of $15, Gotham Writers' Workshop has a Young Adult Novel Discovery Contest opening on November 1. They want the first 250 words of your YA novel plus the title, and the Grand Prize Winner will have the opportunity to submit an entire manuscript to YA literary agent Regina Brooks and receive a free, 10-week writing course, courtesy of Gotham Writers' Workshop.

The Top Five Entrants (including the Grand Prize winner) will receive a 15-minute, one-on-one pitch session with Regina Brooks, one of New York’s premier literary agents for young adult books. They will also receive commentary on their submissions by editors at Candlewick, Scholastic, Harlequin, MacMillan, Viking, Roaring Brook Press, and Sourcebooks and receive a one-year subscription to The Writer magazine.

The First 100 Entrants will receive a copy of Writing Great Books for Young Adults by Regina Brooks. Winners are announced on Feb. 4, 2011, and be sure to read all the official rules.

For their "grand opening" in September, the blog Operation Awesome ran a one-sentence pitch contest judged by a mysterious agent. They naively said that the contest would end at 50 pitches or the end of September, whichever came first--they had their 50 entries in twelve hours!

I entered fairly early, and kept badgering my critique partners to do the same before all the slots were taken. The badgering paid off for one of those partners when she caught the eye of the agent, Mandy Hubbard. Nancy didn't even win the prize of a full read, just a mention that her pitch sounded intriguing; she still had to go through the query-full-phone call process. (Gaah--I couldn't sleep at all when Nancy told me she'd gotten an email asking a good time to call!)

Well, she ended up signing with Mandy Hubbard and got an agent out of the contest! Here is Nancy Herman's story. So now you know these contests work!

P.S. Operation Awesome has been dropping hints that they are about to run another contest, so be sure to check their site often!

Apples to Apples

YA Highway and friends are at it again for Road Trip Wednesday.

Road Trip Wednesday is a "Blog Carnival," where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on our own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This week's topic: what are your comp titles/authors?

This question is bound to come up at some point in the submission process, so it's well worth some thought. But, like queries and pitches, it can be frustrating because comparisons often don't feel like they capture the uniqueness of your book. Makes sense, though--if your book is exactly like another (published) one, why write it? Why would anyone buy it, for that matter?

For YA books, I think mine is most similar to the Blossom Culp books by Richard Peck. Different time period and the protag is younger than mine, but otherwise similar in that Blossom and my Isabelle both communicate with spirits. And those around them react with varying levels of acceptance.

I also think The Historian would be a good comp--except that my book is only about 93,000 words, only a fraction of Kostova's 241,000 word tome. And I'm less likely to use that as a comp anyway because it seems like an overly ambitious choice--sort of like saying "I guarantee this book will be a multi-million copy bestseller" in my query. I've heard not to do that. Or was it that you should do that, I can't remember?

Bryce Bonanza

As promised, here are a few pictures from our Bryce trip. Storms made for fantastic clouds. There are a few more in my scenics gallery.

Soulless Confession

Yesterday afternoon I was all set to post for Road Trip Wednesday, but I made a rookie mistake with the new Kindle:

I downloaded a sample of Soulless by Gail Carriger. Then I read the sample. Then I hit buy. Then I did nothing but read Soulless for the rest of the day and evening.

Laundry? Pfft!
Dinner? Boil some turkey hot dogs and open a can of beans, toss in direction of husband.
Finish the reading for Thursday's critique group? There's always Thursday morning . . .

I know I'm somewhat late to the game for this title (again!) I really don't know why it took me so long to read it, there are so many great elements: vampires! werewolves! steampunk goggles (man am I jonesing for these for myself)! bustles! unseemly wrestling on the settee! witty banter!

What more could you ask for? Exceptional writing, you say? That's there too! And yes, I enjoyed this book so much that it justifies all these exclamation marks cluttering up my post!

Teaser Tuesday, new section from revisions

I've mentioned that I'm working on revisions for Those Lost at Sea and Drowned, and I wanted to post a section I've redone. The original version had Isabelle hearing her father's voice about a month after he'd killed himself (if you're new to the story, she can hear spirits but has renounced her powers after a terrifying childhood encounter in a haunted room) and shutting him out instantly, but I realized I'd missed a good opportunity to shed some light on what kind of relationship they'd had. So I'm trying this out:

Hoping that a good night's sleep would take the strain from my features, I went to bed while it was still light. As I was drifting off, I heard someone whisper my name.

"Papa?" I was still half asleep, but even in my groggy state my father's death seeped into my memory. "No—"

A pressure in my ears, and the voice came again, "Isabelle, listen . . ."

"No, I won't listen." I curled the pillow around my head. "Not even for my own father. That way madness lies, and I can't bear it."

"Filial ingratitude! In such a night to shut me out! Your old kind father . . ." His dramatic delivery ended in a chuckle and I wondered if he'd gone mad.

Despite myself, I sat up and was about to question him when I recognized his words from Shakespeare's King Lear. We'd made a game of it since I was a child—entire conversations trading lines from literary works.

"No, I will weep no more," I said, keeping to the same passage. "The tempest in my mind doth from my senses take all feeling. No more of that."

He must have gotten my meaning that if I let him in it would open the way for other spirits, for Papa did not speak up again. I squeezed my eyes shut and rolled into a ball, and eventually I dropped off to an undisturbed rest.

P.S. go to the Novels page above or click on the Teaser Tuesday label to see more teasers from this book

I had a conversation last week with some friends about emergency food stores, and at the time I realized that I might need to pay special attention to having staples on hand since my food allergies wouldn't let me just go loot some Doritos at the end of days.

Didn't think anything more of it, until I had a dream last night. A dream where the zombies were coming (old-school slow, shuffling zombies) and we were going to have to pack up the car and hightail it to the desert or some other unpopulated place. So I'm running around searching the cupboards, and a whole army of the living dead is coming up the street. At one point, there is an old man trying to chomp my arm through my sweater, and I'm yelling to my husband, "All we have is applesauce! And garbanzo beans!"

Horrifying! Especially because I hate garbanzos--applesauce is all right though. And zombies are bad, of course.

Some highlights from the announcement on Delacorte Press's website:

The prize of a book contract (on the publisher’s standard form) covering world rights for a hardcover and a paperback edition, including an advance and royalties, will be awarded annually to encourage the writing of contemporary young adult fiction. The award consists of $1,500 in cash and a $7,500 advance against royalties.

1. The contest is open to U.S. and Canadian writers who have not previously published a young adult novel. Employees of Random House, Inc. and its subsidiaries and affiliates, and members of their families and households are not eligible.

2. Foreign-language manuscripts and translations are not eligible.

3. Manuscripts submitted to a previous Delacorte Press contest are not eligible.

1. Submissions should consist of a book-length manuscript with a contemporary setting that will be suitable for readers ages 12 to 18.

2. Manuscripts should be no shorter than 100 typewritten pages and no longer than 224 typewritten pages. Include a brief plot summary with your covering letter.

1. Manuscripts must be postmarked after October 1, 2010, but no later than December 31, 2010.

Writers will be notified between January and April as submissions are evaluated by the editors. Final contest results will be announced on our Web site on or around April 30, 2011.

Addendum: They announced the winner on their contest site.

Revision Swamp

Deep in the revision swamp since we've been back from our trip, so I haven't been posting as often. Or trolling my blogger friends' sites, sorry. But the pumpkins ripening in the garden made me feel Halloween-ish and I thought I'd inflict the following videos on you:
P.S. I should warn you that I found these videos as a result of my nephew declaring a "terrible music day" where we all nominated videos in a facebook thread

Agent Pitch Contest on Market My Words

In a similar contest on Operation Awesome, one of my critique partners got an "honorable mention"--which led to a request for a full! This is a great exercise, also, to distill your book into just a few sentences.

Pretty simple to enter on Shelli's blog ; this month's agent is Susan Hawk of The Bent Agency.

Scenic northern California coast? Check! A collection of well-known editors, authors and agents? Check! An entire weekend devoted to intense discussions of your writing and children's writing in general? Time to concentrate on writing without being distracted by all the everyday demands of home? Check and check!

Two separate chances to attend the Big Sur Children's Writing Workshops, one in December (December 3-5, 2010) and one in March (March 4-6, 2011).

I've heard good things about these workshops and the resulting successes, but haven't had a chance (or the funds) to sign up yet. They take place near where my husband grew up in Salinas, so we actually have the option to visit family in the area and get the "commuter rate." But that only knocks off $120 from the registration, alas.

Back from a real-world road trip

YA Highway and friends are at it again for Road Trip Wednesday.

Road Trip Wednesday is a "Blog Carnival," where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on our own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This week's topic:What's the best book you read this month (September)?

We just got back from a road trip to southern Utah, where we explored Bryce Canyon, Zion, and Escalante. Beautiful country and we stayed in a great little house, with a kitchen and sunrise/sunset views. It pretty much made the 2-day drive each way to get there worth it (I am not a pleasant long-drive companion--my inner 10-year-old comes out: "when are we going to get there?" "I need to get out and play, we've been in the car for hours" This last whine starting at about the 20-minute mark)

We did listen to the Book Thief on CD; I had read it but my husband hadn't, so that was a great choice. We walked around calling each other soumensch and soukerl for the rest of the trip--although we made sure to do it softly when there were Germans around, which seemed to be a lot of the time. And Italians, too. There was a really cute group of young Italian women that just chattered away the whole shuttle trip, and I'm pretty sure teasing sounds the same in any language. And they teased each other mercilessly.

We also got most of the way through an audio of Bite Me by Christopher Moore, which could almost be YA considering that it's narrated by a wonderfully snarky, annoying Goth teen. She has some of the greatest lines--mostly insults. I would say this was my favorite book of the trip even though I technically listened to it rather than reading it. But I would recommend reading the first book in the series, Bloodsucking Fiends, before tackling Bite Me. Incidentally, the beginning of Bite Me is pretty much a recap of the second book, You Suck, from different POVs. You can skip the second book or savor it, whichever you please.

Phone sex with Stephen Hawking

Ever wondered what it would be like to have phone sex with Stephen Hawking? You know you have! So here's what you do:

1.Get a kindle

2.Download the trashiest romance you can find (I got one called Slow Hands for free)

3.Find a particularly juicy passage (I picked one featuring a velvet member and other picturesque phrases)

4.Turn on the text-to-voice feature and prepare to be wowed. It's like your own sexbot, or the aforementioned phone sex with Stephen Hawking

Bonus points: on a romantic getaway with your husband, put on the sexy black lingerie you stashed in the suitcase, and coyly say, "A little something to put us in the mood . . ." before you start the text-to-voice. Then when you fall down laughing, you're both in a convenient horizontal position. TMI?


The interview that follows up on my story, Ebb Tide, for winning 3rd place in the WOW! Women on Writing Spring 2010 Flash Fiction has been posted! It's actually the second interview that I've done in the last month or so (the first one accompanied my story, Hornworms, on Hunger Mountain) and it's a little strange for me to write about my writing process.

Both of these interviews were done by email, but especially in the first one I tried to preserve the spontaneity of a spoken answer. I typed the answers pretty quickly, and then only edited them for typos or spelling. I sent it off, and of course when I looked at it later, my internal editor said, "You repeat the same things--you could have cut this, and is this really relevant. . ." and so on.

I felt like I was a little more coherent in the WOW! interview, partly because I took some time to think about the answers before I sat down to type. Still followed the same pattern of only fixing typos and spelling though.

So for those of you reading this that have a few more interviews and publicity stints under your belts, any advice for how not to come across as a blithering idiot?

Contest For Crime Novel Writers

Although I write primarily YA for novel-length works, I stumbled on this contest offered by Minotaur Books (an imprint of St. Martin's):

First Crime Novel Competition: open to previously unpublished writers, manuscript must be at least 60,000 words and "Murder or another serious crime or crimes is at the heart of the story" Entries must be postmarked by November 30, 2011.

Now through November 30, WOW!'s quarterly flash fiction is open to submissions. Minimum length is 250 words and maximum is 750 words. They have an open prompt again, so anything goes! All ages (and genders) can enter, too.

Guest judge this time around is literary agent Wendy Sherman, and the entry fee is $10. You can also get a critique for another $10.

My interview for my 3rd place win in the Spring 2010 contest will be going up next Tuesday on the WOW! blog.

That's a very film-noir way to put how I feel about my first novel now. I did a major rewrite a few months back to address some issues with the characters and plot, ran some sections through the critique group, and then happily sent off the "finished" product to betas. I say happily not so much because I was convinced it was a perfect manuscript, but because I was good and ready to move onto something else after working on this one novel for soooo loooonng.

I got the first full beta back today (thanks again to the wonderfully insightful Karla Nellenbach) and, sure enough, some of the things that I thought I'd fixed (or at least addressed) were still there. I'd figured that out somewhat on my own, because I've started the sequel and was running into the same kinds of questions, but Karla pointed it out very eloquently.

One of the issues was to find the balance between the paranormal and the historical romance story elements. I do believe there's room for both in the book-as long as they are both fully realized. The problem is that in their current incarnations, neither one genuinely is. So back to the trenches, and the second book will have to wait a bit, but will ultimately benefit from the wrinkles I'm ironing out in the first book.

How My Garden Does Grow!

Our garden has finally started producing some nice green beans, cucumbers, and watermelons. Everything is about a month behind, except that the fruit trees seem to be on schedule. This is the first year we've gotten any Asian pears, since the tree was just a baby--but what a harvest! They looked so pretty in their basket that I had to do a digital painting of them.

"Hornworms" Live!

My middle-grade short story, Hornworms, is online with the newest issue of Hunger Mountain. Check out the other great YA and MG fiction and more--I feel my hornworms are in great company!

YA Highway and friends are at it again for Road Trip Wednesday.

Road Trip Wednesday is a "Blog Carnival," where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on our own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This week's topic:What's the best book you read this month (August)?

I had to laugh this morning when I logged onto Blogger and saw all the posts for Road Trip Wednesday that featured a graphic of Mockingjay, the final installment in the Hunger Games trilogy. Most people that got it on the release date read it in a few days, so I knew it would figure prominently in this topic!

I want to cast my vote for Catching Fire, the second book in the series. I did read it for the first time in August; I read Hunger Games last year and I wanted to wait to read Catching Fire until all 3 were out. So about a week before the Mockingjay release, I re-read HG and then read CF.

I loved the twist in the games that features so prominently in Catching Fire. As a reader, it made me so fired up (had to say it) on behalf of Katniss and the other surviving tributes. As a writer, my mind was spinning at a million miles an hour with all the things you could do with that situation, all the different directions you could take the characters and the districts.

And I was perfectly satisfied with the choices Suzanne Collins made for CF, but I think the biggest reason why I have more affection for CF than I do for Mockingjay is the feeling of hope that it ends with. I've already posted on the violence in the last book so I won't repeat all that here, other than to say I thought the ending was true to the book and the world Collins created. I thought CF ended on a "We can do it!" note, and Mockingjay ended on a "We survived it!" note.

Both valid and true experiences, but it will be a while before I can go back and re-read Mockingjay again.

Surreal Weekend Roundup

Surreal things happened this weekend; some made me laugh, and some made me cringe.

First up was the Stephen King Special ice cream truck that came through our neighborhood. The fact that an ice cream truck found our street was pretty amazing (he was already doing better than 90% of our visitors, who get lost trying to find us), but the music on this thing was ultra creepy. The new music system is not an improvement over the ol' Pop Goes the Weasel.

This ice cream truck had a recording that featured a calliope (the deceptively cheerful carnie instrument) and the voices of children singing something about "come out before I melt away." I kid you not, it was like a chorus of trapped souls. I don't know if Stephen King has featured a sinister ice cream truck in any of his stories, but this had shades of "It" that made me afraid to make eye contact with the driver.

The second thing was seeing a vanity plate that said AC230--you guessed it, on a Mercedes C230. It cracked me up to imagine this guy's thinking process, "Hmmm, I want to pay an extra $50 for a vanity plate, but I don't want it to be too obnoxiously ostenatious." I guess ASEDAN was already taken.

And lastly, apparently there is a (flabby) arms race going on with chain restaurants, wherein the novelty fried foods are escalating. Cheese seems to figure prominently in all of them, which makes me ever so grateful that I can't have dairy, thereby removing the temptation to consume my entire day's worth of calories (and week's worth of sodium and fat) in one sitting.

Violence in the Hunger Games Trilogy

Don't worry, no spoilers if you haven't read the books--I won't actually be discussing the story in this post!

The Absolute Write forums and the blogosphere are all abuzz with reactions to Mockingjay, the final installment of the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. One common thread to all the reviews is the discussion of the amount of violence, especially in Mockingjay, and whether they are appropriate for a YA audience. Today, I'm going to dish out my opinions on appropriateness, for what it's worth.

Firstly, I read a lot of YA and know firsthand that the YA genre has a pretty wide age spread. Some publishers say YA is meant for ages 13-18 or 19, but I personally know 11- and 12-year-olds that read YA--and some readers in their 30s and 40s too. And the target age does not just encompass reading level, it's also about the emotional level, which varies for each individual (yes, even the ones in their 30s and 40s).

For example, I am a fan of John Marsden's Tomorrow When the War Began series. Like the Hunger Games (HG from here on), it features teen protagonists forced into what amounts to geurilla warfare. And as much as I admire how well written John Marsden's books are, I don't recommend them to everyone because of some of the dark events.

The same has turned out to be true for me with HG. Do I think these books are appropriate for my 12-year-old niece, whose mother barely lets her watch G-rated movies? Absolutely not--even though she wants to write books and the HG trilogy are wonderful examples of how to create a well-rounded world and characters, without resorting to the purple prose so often found in fantasy and speculative fiction. But when she's older, yes, I will recommend them to her.

What about my 14-year-old niece, whose mom is a lot more permissive about things like books and movies, or the 13-year-old nephew? Yes, with the caveat that these books give an opportunity to have some discussions about the cycle of war and the repercussions of it.

The HG books, with the completion of the trilogy, for me become about finding YOUR line in the sand and where to draw it. That is definitely a worthwhile discussion to have with your kids, in my opinion.

One post that raised the question of violence, she said the line that was crossed for her was the lasting psychological damage some of the characters were left with. I thought that was one of the most realistic parts (that's a big part of rehabilitating child soldiers in places like Africa) It's a case of not being true to the characters and the story, if everything became fluffy kittens and puppies after all the hardships and trauma.

The trials and tribulations of fictional characters can't even begin to match the unbelievable stuff that happens in real life.

I finished my rough outline for my next novel, and I began to feel a little sorry for my main character and all the new hardships she has ahead of her. She didn't exactly have a blithe holiday in the first book, but this one looks to have some pretty traumatic experiences in store. How much can one poor woman live through? History shows us, quite a lot.

As part of my research into the California Gold Rush, I'm re-reading They Saw the Elephant: Women in the California Gold Rush by Jo Ann Levy, and I had a vague recollection of a story about a woman's experience sailing to California on a ship carrying coal--and the coal caught fire. I found the reference, and Mrs. D. B. Bates's experience was even more arduous (and melodramatic) than I remembered.

Mrs. Bates set out on a ship captained by her husband, and during a storm the coal in the hold ignited. Although the sailors tried to contain it, the peril came to her attention when gas and smoke filled her cabin. Mrs. Bates spent days tied to a chair on the deck, exposed to the ongoing storm, while the ship tried to make it the 800 miles to the Falkland Islands.

Once in the Falklands, the ship was scuttled and the Bateses took passage on another ship bearing a cargo of tar, liquors, and coal--whereupon, twelve days later, the ship promptly caught fire. This one burned while the passengers and crew watched safely from the longboats, and luckily a passing ship picked the Bateses up. Only to put them aboard another ship bound for California--and bearing a load of coal.

Out at sea, Mrs. Bates swore she could smell burning coal, but it took three days for the captain of the Fanchon to find the source of the gases in his hold, where the coal lay smoldering. It took them another 3 weeks to make it safely to Peru, where the ship burst into flames as it was scuttled.

Mrs. Bates did eventually make it to California on a steamship, but the fact that she was even willing to set foot on any ship at that point fills me with admiration. Sure, it's not a tragedy on the scale of the Donner Party or anything, but I would have taken all that misfortune as some sort of sign and stayed put in Peru.

But in fine American tradition, she had the good sense to put her sensational story in a book, entitled Incidents on Land and Water, or Four Years on the Pacific Coast, and published in 1858. Versions of it are available to read for free on the web, if you want to read her account for yourself.

New Preston Castle Pix

I posted my newest Preston Castle Pix--enjoy!

Tiny Teaser

So it's a little bit of a teaser about the sequel to Those Lost at Sea and Drowned. Isabelle meets a spiritualist that can help her master her powers--but at what cost? Will she forever lose herself, and Duncan, in the process?

Working title for the sequel: Those Voiceless and Bound

I wasn't consciously trying to follow a formula of Those ______ and _______, but when I sat down to do an outline, that's the title that leapt out at me.

Clearing the Decks

I won't be posting Teaser Tuesdays very regularly, since I'm clearing the decks to start on my next novel. I will probably be squeezing some new short fiction and poetry in there, too, but I don't want to tease with those since I submit those to publications. I'll still be posting contests, prompts, and participating in things like Road Trip Wednesday (hopefully).

I'll be finishing up some new Preston Castle photos in the next few days, also, and I'll post a link when I've uploaded them. To follow up on my earlier ghostly post about the castle, in the pix I took in the alcove, there is an amorphous shadow that moves around in the 3 shots I took.

I also took one shot up the stairs from the kitchen to the dining room that has all kinds of light streamers in it. The same area, I took some more shots a few minutes later and they're all fine.

Upcoming Book Reading and Writing Workshop

When I went to the Roseville Litfest a few weeks back, I met Kim Culbertson, author of Songs for a Teenage Nomad. A critique partner just lent me her copy of the book, and I'm excited to read it before my rapidly-narrowing fiction window closes (I start a new novel next week, and I can't read fiction while I'm plotting). The synopsis reads eerily like my own childhood (see my bio on the WOW! contest page).

But if you're in the greater Sacramento area, you might want to join Kim at the Grass Valley Center for the Arts for a reading and workshop focused on songs and memory.

Suggested donation is $10, which supports the Center's writing programs.

Road Trip Wednesday--Unmentionables

YA Highway and friends are at it again for Road Trip Wednesday.

Road Trip Wednesday is a "Blog Carnival," where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on our own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This week's topic comes from a prompt at SCBWI:
What does your character hide in their underwear drawer - or other secret location?

Isabelle from my YA historical/paranormal novel, Those Lost at Sea and Drowned, moves around a lot (the U.S. to Spain, to Jamaica, to Antigua, to Rhode Island, to the spirit world) so she doesn't have anything as permanent as a drawer for her linens.

She always manages to keep a book with her, though, and among its pages you will find a hair from the tail of a white stallion and a scrap of black lace from a fine Spanish mantilla

Teaser Tuesday!

I'm having a harder time selecting teasers that aren't also spoilers! This section picks up shortly after the disastrous dinner with the captain.

After that disastrous meal, Captain Lee invited us to dine in his cabin quite frequently. Repulsed by him and his friends, I rarely accepted again, but Doña Catherine often went by herself or with the other women.

I was given permission to go above as long as I stayed out of the crew's way, so I spent most of my evenings on deck. I found a spot in the bow where I could nestle down among the coils of anchor rope. From there, I could watch the sea roll to either side of the prow, or look up as the clouds streamed amongst the stars. Anyone climbing in the rigging could probably see me if they looked, but I could not be seen from the deck.

If conditions were just right, the crew's words fell on me like cinders on the wind. Too bad it was mostly ugliness I heard from the men. The longer we were at sea, the meaner and baser the crew became. Coarse jokes, petty quarrels, and drunken fights were the norm.

A typical example was a man called Taylor, a braggart who thought himself an artful wit. His group of hangers-on treated every one of his words as if it were on a par with Mr. Beau Brummel’s. If Taylor made a jest and someone didn’t laugh, he was bound to take his annoyance out on the humorless man’s flesh—his knife being much quicker than his intellect.

I felt safer walking the decks in the morning, when the watch changed and most of the crew were too groggy to bother me. I always stopped at the stall that held Doña Catherine's horse: a white Moorish stallion, gentle and patient. Doña Catherine loved Alud because he had faithfully carried her husband, not just for his value as a stud. Devoted to her in turn, the horse would nuzzle me all over, searching out every last essence of her scent on my clothes.

Breaking News--Contest Winner!

I just got the news that my story, Ebb Tide, placed third in the WOW! Women on Writing Spring 2010 Flash Fiction Contest!!!

I wrote that story as a YA piece based on a prompt from Nathan Bransford's blog, so it paid off for me.


My mom cracks me up sometimes, but usually not intentionally. She could give Yogi Berra a run for his money on mixed-up aphorisms, but she's funniest when she is being absolutely serious.

My favorite example is from some years ago; somehow Mama Cass came up in the conversation, and my mom said:

"You know, Mama Cass posed for Playboy."
"This was before she was dead."

Last night, we were talking about an upcoming camping trip, and she said she'd bought a port-a-potty for their tent so she wouldn't have to stumble to the camp bathrooms in the dark.

Me: You bought a potty? That's really roughing it!

Mom: The only problem is that it has a maximum capacity of 200 pounds.

Me (after pressing the mute button so she couldn't hear my laughing fit): And you think that's not enough?

Mom: Well, my husband weighs more than 200 pounds so I guess he can't sit on it.

I guess he'll have to hover-poo. And I'll just leave you with that potty humor.

Need an excuse to come to Lake Tahoe?

If you've been writing for a while, you've probably heard of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers workshops and events (this is their 41st year!) at some point.

But what you may not know is that they post a schedule of events on their website (you can also sign up by email) and many of the events are FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC. That's right, you don't have to be accepted and enrolled as a participant. So if you can find a way out there, you have a feast of valuable writing input just waiting for you.

Lest you think free might translate into poor quality presentations, I have to mention the Roseville LitFest that I went to last Saturday. It was funded by some grants and corporate sponsorships, and the speakers were not paid, so the library was able to offer this as a free event.

There were maybe 50 booths for authors and other writing-related organizations, and it was so fun to walk around and talk to everybody. Some of that fun was the fantasy of, "Someday I'll be on the other side of that table," but some was just the opportunity to make a connection with the author. They all were so enthusiastic about their projects.

There were even panels and writing workshops; for the most part, I thought it was a similar experience to the SCBWI Spring Spirit Conference that was held in Rocklin. Except I had to pay money for that one (I didn't mind, it's to support the organization and the authors that spoke, and I made some great connections).

For the LitFest, I figured that I may not learn anything very new, but at least I wouldn't go away thinking I didn't get my money's worth! We've all been to at least one of those conferences or workshops where we say, "Man, I should have used that money for postage and printer ink."

Addendum: Article in the Sacramento Press on the Roseville Lit Fest


We saw this nature show on Alaska once, filled with incredible scenery and footage of amazing wildlife. Wildlife surrounded by seething clouds of mosquitoes. After the program, there was a "making of" feature that showed what the crew had to go through to get those shots--it cemented my belief that I am not nearly dedicated enough to make it as a real nature photographer.

Well, we had a little taste of that last Sunday when we went to Wright's Lake in the Sierras. In order for me to take any pictures, my husband had to stand behind me and flail like he was having an attack of jazz hands. The skeeters weren't so bad if you kept moving (walked the loop in record time), but if you stopped even for an instant they were on you.

I think if I'd had a magnifying glass, I would have seen little cartoon mosquitoes with jackhammers and pneumatic drill bits--they even went right through my bicycle gloves. Hubby had a tidy little row of bites on his neck, between where his collar ended and his hat began.

The irony of the whole thing was that we went up there to scout for a future canoeing trip. Wright's Lake has all these marvelous channels to take a canoe (as in the photo above), and now that we have a Highlander we can rent a boat. When we got there, absolutely nobody was out on the water, they were all huddled in their cabins. We thought it might have to do with the looming thunderclouds, but the real answer became pretty obvious.

October might be better for the mosquito problem, but the water will be freezing if we fall in. That sounds like it could lead to more hilarious hijinks for the blog.

First Ever Road Trip Wednesday

Every Wednesday, YA Highway does something called Road Trip Wednesday: they post a question or writing prompt, and people answer it on their own blogs. I'm a RTW virgin, but no more!

What's the best book you've read this month?

I finally got around to reading Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr. It reminded me of Lips Touch: 3 Times by Laini Taylor, but only because they both deal with the fae and temptation (and they're well-written).

I picked up Wicked Lovely on the way to a doctor's appointment, and it was a perfect fit. It engrossed me enough that I could tune out all the office/waiting room chatter, and then distracted me while I waited for the radiologist to come back (much better than just sitting there worrying!) So double duty, mission accomplished.

Runner up book for this month:
Fat Vampire by Adam Rex

Love the True Meaning of Smekday, so when I heard Adam Rex had another YA book coming out, I was counting the days. This one is a little Christopher Moore-esque--but that's a very good thing indeed! I should be so lucky as to be compared to CM someday. The highlight: teenage awkwardness compounded by newly-undead status.

I'm about to start on writing another novel (YA contemporary fantasy, working title Crow's Rest) so that means I won't be reading much fiction for a while. I'll be on the lookout for some good non-fiction though.

7/31: It's still technically July, so I want to add another book, The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood. This one is like The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and Jane Eyre rolled into one, with a dash of Lemony Snicket's sensibilities. It also brought to mind an old Gothic I loved, On the Night of the Seventh Moon by Victoria Holt. I can't believe I have to wait until March 2011 to read the next adventures of the Incorrigibles!

Tease from Ch. 3

Kind of a low-key section today, featuring an early conversation between Isabelle and Duncan (the Love Interest). The rescue ship is nearly to Jamaica, and Isabelle is worried about finding a way to support herself and Sonia, and a place to lodge, while they wait for word from the States on the sinking of the Empyreal.

"If you go to Antigua, my mother sometimes takes in boarders," Duncan said. "She can be very flexible about the rent."

She would have to be, since I had no money and little chance as yet of making any. "I should like to meet her," I said, "but I'm not sure how we'd even get to Antigua from Jamaica."

"Can you swim?" He sounded reasonable, but there was that mischievous light in his eyes again.

I had to smile. "Not well enough for that, I'm afraid. Besides, aren't there large fishes in these waters?"

"That depends on your meaning of large—there are certainly large whales, but they eat creatures small as your fingernail. To see a big fish, though, you should've been there when I caught the biggest grouper ever seen in the West Indies. I was just a boy and it outweighed me by fifty pounds —"

And so I was treated to an account, illustrated with gestures, of his ultimately unsuccessful encounter with a giant fish. At one point, another crewman walked by; he must have recognized the story.

"The big fish story. May the Lord have mercy on you, Miss—he's not even halfway through."

I laughed, but the crewman's comment only earned him a scathing look from Duncan as he continued. By the time he was finished, I had gotten into the spirit of the thing and he accomplished his mission of making me forget my cares momentarily.

Unsympathetic characters

A friend of mine recommended I check out "Nurse Jackie"; we like a lot of the same shows so I added it to the Netflix queue. I watched the first disc last week and we had a discussion about whether we could actually like the main character.

I don't think it's too much of a spoiler if you've never seen the show to say that she's a nurse with a prescription drug addiction. In the first few episodes you see her doing "Scrubs"-like activities (standing up to bad doctors, finagling extras for patients--just trying to make a difference) and also trysting with the hospital pharmacist. In between, she's taking drugs in every possible form.

Through all that, I didn't exactly identify with her but I did have sympathy for where she was coming from (high-stress job with impossible hours, along with severe back pain). That is, until she goes off shift and heads home . . .to a husband and two little girls.

That cast a whole new light on her relationship with the pharmacist for me: was she screwing him just for the drug access? How can she possibly reconcile the "work Jackie" with "home Jackie"? It was so off-putting that we had to think about whether we were going to keep watching. There are some real laugh-out-loud lines in the show, good writing, so we'll give it another chance.

But it made me think of the line between an unsympathetic character and a villain. I've posted my prologue that features a mean schoolteacher, and I've been surprised at how much of a reaction she's stirred up. Miss Bonney is a fairly minor character in my mind, but she's definitely a villain.

I also have my MC abandoned by her traveling companion, and I had a hard time striking a balance with Mrs. Jensen. She's a charming woman and Isabelle genuinely likes her, so how is this woman able to just walk away when Isabelle is left penniless? Mrs. J is definitely a pragmatist above all, but she's also ended up being kind of a Dickensian character.

Anybody else have trouble finding that fine line between a well-rounded character and one whose flaws outnumber their virtues?

Teaser Tuesday from Chap. 2

I was planning on posting the results of another exercise from the dialogue and POV class, but there wasn't anything else I was very excited about. So this is from Ch. 2 of my novel, Those Lost at Sea and Drowned. The women have barricaded themselves in their cabin, but Isabelle emerges to see what the crew is up to. . .

At this point I was so nervous that I no longer felt hungry, but my friends were expecting me to bring back some food. After tying a loose knot to hold the boat canvas, I snuck down to the galley. The cook snored in the corner, his head lolling side to side with the motion of the ship. I quickly grabbed bread and cheese, wrapping it in a bundle with a few boiled eggs.

As I reached for a large meat knife, the ship rolled heavily and I bumped a pot. It crashed to the floor, the clang waking the cook. We stared at each other, and he opened his mouth to call an alarm.

"Oh, please don't give me away," I whispered.

He licked his lips as he considered.

"I won't," he said, "as long as you're nice to me, girl."

I backed away at his approach, which only made him more eager.

"Now, now, you wouldn't want me to holler and bring some of my friends running," he said.

I shook my head and stood rigidly as he pinned me up against the wall. I gagged as his foul breath enveloped me, his hands squeezing my breasts painfully. He shifted to unbutton his trousers, and I twisted from his grasp. Grabbing the bundle of food, I ran from the galley.

"Come back anytime, and bring the other gals." His voice chased me. "We'll have us a party."

Slush Pile Hell

Kristin at PubRants posted a link to the Slush Pile Hell blog and it's just too funny not to pass on.

June 17th is my favorite!

Memoir (and) Contest and Submissions

The literary journal, Memoir (and), is offering a $500 prize "to the most outstanding prose or poetry memoirs—traditional, nontraditional or experimental—drawn from the reading period."

That means that all regular submissions are eligible for publication and the prize. Deadline is August 16, 2010. They consider poetry, prose, graphic memoir, and photography, with 1st through 3rd prizes in prose/poetry, and separate prizes for graphic memoir and for photography.

And no entry fee! Good luck!

I've come a long way, baby

My Texas nieces were in town last week, and the older one (12) is crazy for Twilight--partly because that's what her peers are into, but also because her mom has only let her read the first one. That makes the other books forbidden fruit, but I happen to agree that the later books are a little too mature for her.

But I did lend her a copy of an older vampire YA book I have, The Silver Kiss by Klause, and my niece said it gave her lots of ideas for a story she's writing. She asked me about when I first started writing, and I laughed sheepishly.

My first book was written (and illustrated) for a school assignment in 5th grade and was called Camilla, the Unicorn at the End of the Rainbow. Keep in mind, I skipped a grade so I was only 8.

When I started my first novel at 11, I stuck with the unicorn theme and added in some flying horses and shapeshifters. They were battling some bad guys called the Undergods . . .need I continue?

I don't think I've featured any unicorns in my stories since about age 15, but I do continue to write a lot of fantasy. And historical fiction, which I think requires a heavy dose of fantasy since most historical conversations and events were not documented word for word.

Anyway, my early attempts at writing were overwritten, cliched, and funny only to me and a few friends. I'm a firm believer that one of the best ways to improve your writing is to write. There is a lot of bad writing that you have to get out of the way, to experiment with and then discard.

Hopefully, I'm at the point where I'm striking gold more often.

Teaser Tuesday: A Little Exercise

I'm in the midst of a dialogue and point of view writing class with Naomi Williams and I thought I'd tease today with the results of an in-class exercise.

We were talking about the part that tense (present tense, past tense, etc) has to play in POV. The assignment was to share a true story (but it didn't have to be your own experience) and start out telling it in past tense, and then move into present tense. I immediately thought of this story, because it is still so vivid in my mind all these years later. Some details have been changed to protect the shamefaced.

In this assignment, we could choose to tell the story in past tense and then retell it in present tense, but Naomi told us to switch tense after five minutes of writing, right when I was going into dialogue. So I chose to make the dialogue in present tense and leave the exposition in past tense.

And I hope I don't have to keep posting warnings or disclaimers for my posts, but this does have some scatological crudeness in it.

I saw part of this play out, or I might not have believed the rest. Me and Joe were working the checkout near closing time, and the store was quiet even for a bookshop.

Then a girl came in, set down her duffle and struck up a conversation with Joe. Her accent struck me immediately: French with a nasally undertone. I stifled a grin; Joe wrote comic books, and the sexy villianesses or tramps often sported a Pepe-le-Pew dialect, so I knew she had his attention.

They left together, every fantasy he'd ever had about exotic foreign women writ large on his face. The next morning, he gave me the dirty details:

"She says right up front that she needs a place to crash, and she's willing to share my bed for the night. I take her back to my apartment and ply her with frozen burritos and St. Pauli Girl beer.

"The whole time we're eating and talking, there's this weird stench in my apartment. We both comment on it in passing. I check the garbage can, run the garbage disposal, sniff the refrigerator--nothing.

"It's not til I go into the bathroom to rummage for a condom that I see it, a giant turd that's been stewing in the toilet since this morning.

"I flush it (three times) and I feel like I have to say something about it when I go out. So I do, and I follow it up with "I understand if you don't want to stay now . . ."

"And, unbelievably, she does."

A note: when they left together, I genuinely expected his story the next day to include, "And when I woke up, she was gone, along with everything of value in my apartment."

Good Guys vs. Bad Guys plus a contest

YA Highway has a guest post by Courtney Allison Moulton on crafting well-rounded characters, specifically male ones.

My comment on the post mentions that I had a hard time with creating realistic male characters at first. They were either unredeemably evil or saintly good. Truthfully, both types make for boring reading.

Some good conflict comes from characters doing something unexpected, but still in keeping with their background and experiences.

At the end of the post, you'll find details on how you might win a copy of Angelfire.

Point of View

I start my creative writing certificate this weekend with an intensive course on dialogue and point of view. I feel fairly confident about my dialogue (I used to think dialogue was my weakness, so I worked on it) but I have a confession about POV: I nearly always write in first-person for fiction.

First-person has even crept into my articles occasionally, but only if the magazine's guidelines state they have a conversational or folksy style. Gardening magazines seem to like first person, for that "chatting over the fence" feel.

Anyway, one of our assignments is to bring in 250 words of our own writing--not a polished piece, but one that we feel we are having trouble with. That will definitely mean one of my third-person pieces (I've never tackled second-person). I'll probably bring in one of my picture books since the sample only needs to be 250 words.

And I'm a little bit nervous, which I haven't felt about my writing in a while. That means I'm being pushed out of my comfort zone, which is a good thing!

Anybody else venture out of their comfort zone, and if so did you discover a talent you didn't know you had?

Teaser Tuesday (Part 4 of 4)

And now, the conclusion of "Never Buy Another Self-Help Book Again!™," my short story. Some sexual language in parts one and three, so skip those if you're put off by that sort of thing.
Part One
Part Two
Part Three

I was still on the phone with Tammy when Steve came back in the door. He looked upset, so I got off the phone quickly. It turned out he wasn't mad at me; it was the cruise people.

One of the kitchen workers was diagnosed with hepatitis and all the passengers had been exposed to it. The cruise line was going to cancel the trip and give us vouchers for another ship, but the passengers raised such a stink that the new plan was to bypass Catalina and just cruise on to Mexico. Since we were going to be stuck on this ship together, Steve and I called a truce and tried to get along.

I thought we were doing fine until my phone rang at dinner. Before I could even find out who it was, Steve snatched it out of my hand. He ran over to the rail and pushed the talk button before he threw the phone over the side. I didn't say anything, though, because I hadn't heard him laugh like that for weeks.

Steve suggested that maybe he could do the planning from now on, and I agreed. I said I didn't care what we did, as long as it was spontaneous. He wasn't sure what I meant by that, so I told him all about the article I'd read and how it gave me the idea to plan this cruise. He goes, "Let me get this straight—the author says that to be spontaneous you have to make plans in advance?" I ignored his smart-ass comment for the sake of our truce.

The next day was better between us, but then the captain announced that because of the hepatitis we couldn't go to any of the cities we planned. One little coastal village was willing to overlook the chance of infection for the chance at some tourist dollars, but they would only let us anchor offshore, and we would have to go to town in lifeboats.

The first day in the pueblo we went to an old colonial church and then got something to eat from a street vendor. I ordered a burrito, but I got some kind of tough, grilled meat. The second day we went to a religious art museum, and that about covered the points of interest in town.

We did a lot of walking in the park instead. At first I was really bored—I mean, when you can start to tell the pigeons apart, you’ve spent too much time watching them. I kept wanting to pick up the remote and change the channel.

It was good in one way, though, because Steve and I talked and listened to each other better than we had in a long time. I rediscovered that in his way Steve is kind of wise, like Yoda but without the funny voice.

Steve told me there wasn't a self-help book in the world that held the secret to perfect happiness and that I would have to find it on my own. He even made a joke about how much money we would save by me giving up my habit of buying every new book that came out. When he put it that way, he almost made it sound like my relying on self-help books so much was some kind of addiction.

That was when I got my best idea yet for a career. I came up with a whole motivational workshop and video series on breaking the addiction to self-help books and called it "Never Buy Another Self-Help Book Again!"™ After we got back from the cruise and I started mapping out my plans for the "Never Buy Another Self-Help Book Again!"™ workbook, Steve seemed really supportive at first. But when he got to preview the finished video and workbook, he totally lashed out.

He had the nerve to say I wasn’t curing people of their addiction to self-help books, I was just regurgitating a bunch of ideas from other people’s books—in video format. And then he topped it off by mocking my workbook, laughing hysterically at the way it’s called "Never Buy Another Self-Help Book Again!"™ and it just happens to be a book. All he had to do was open the cover to see that it’s not a self-help book, it’s an individual-support companion to my videos.

Kristal was there for Steve’s tirade, and she warned me that I needed to get his bad spirit out of my life. So I divorced Steve, but I’m not alone on the road. Kristal quit her job and goes everywhere with me. Officially she's my manager, but emotionally she's my anchor. She even handles all the finances so that my math phobia doesn’t kick in and undermine my self-image. And who cares if we’ve been audited two years in a row—it’s got to be a government conspiracy.