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.