Monday, August 15, 2016

My #Litoutfit Project

Behold, the #Litoutfit project. My quest to make book recommendations matched with visually interesting outfits. I got the idea for this project when I was scanning through all those outfit postings on Pinterest. I thought, everyone loves clothes, why not clothes matched with books? Why not visual book recommendations?

So, I've matched up Middle Grade and a couple YA books I've enjoyed with an outfit that says something about the plot, or has to do with the main character. And a project was born. For example, my outfit for FRIDAY BARNES is the outfit the protagonist detective, Friday is described as wearing everyday throughout the book.
Friday Barnes by R.A. Spratt

My outfit for RED BUTTERFLY however, was more focused on the setting, as most of RED BUTTERFLY is set in China, detailing the hopes an American mother trying to adopt the Chinese daughter she rescued as a baby. And how her daughter navigates the tricky and emotionally charged journey of adoption.
Red Butterfly by A.L. Sonnichsen

Some others are perhaps outfits inspired by the obsessions of the characters, such as in the photo for WARP SPEED by Lisa Yee. I decked out most of my Star Trek gear and Next Generation action figures to replicate Marley's obsession with all things Star Trek, (although to note, he was an Original Series kind of guy.) Also, I have already worn this outfit in real life.

Warp Speed by Lisa Yee

And that led to others....

Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood

Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath

The Sleepover by Jen Malone

I post out a picture once a week, on Instagram, Twitter under the hashtag #litoutfit, a Pinterest boardlabeled #Litoutfit, and Facebook. Feel free to stop by one of those social media venues for a visual book suggestion once a week. As an artist, visual learner and former art teacher, this is my way of trying to share all the awesome books waiting to be read.  

Monday, August 8, 2016

Big Literary News...

I know this big news is a long time coming, but it's finally happened... I got an agent. After several manuscripts and a year of querying the most recent novel with 65 agents... I've signed with Carrie Hannigan at the HSG Agency.

I thought it would be more useful if I took some time to experience life with an agent and then write a bit about what it's like before I made this announcement. As I found out after I first got one, there are a ton of blog articles out there about getting an agent, but not many about life with one. I highly recommend this series of articles by Caroline Richmond about what happens after you sign.

I think the thing that surprised me the most was, now that I could focus on the writing, it suddenly felt pretty intimidating. Before, I tended to be focused on one project at a time, writing and finishing a draft before moving on to something new. But lately, with the title “professional writer,” I'm finding it's psyched me out a bit. I keep flipping from project to project. One day, I'll have this great picture book idea and maybe this manuscript will finally turn out not to be cutesy, the next day I'll remember that I really was making some progress on that ghost mystery rewrite (third time is the charm,) and then the day after that, I'll get an idea for Middle Grade Sci-Fi that might finally break my curse with Middle Grade manuscripts...

Don't psyche yourself out.

You're still the writer you were before you got an agent, even if there's more of a chance that an editor will see your manuscripts. Personally, I'm still working on this one. 

Also, I think there's this period where you feel like every time you're e-mailing your agent that you're bothering them. I think it's because as a writer, we spent so much time, culling each word of a query to a prospective agent, that you feel the need to examine every syllable of correspondence to your new agent. I think I'm starting to get past this phase, but I still reread all my emails about 15 times before I send them. 

The last thing is, I was surprised at how much time I'm saving. Before, I would spend hours researching agents, pitches, how to query in my free time when I wasn't writing. Not having to worry about the business side as much opens up more time to research craft, see what new books are out there in my genre and figure out what kind of writer I want to be.

So, having an agent is freeing but also intimidating at the same time. What are your thoughts about what changes when you have an agent? 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

First Impressions of a Main Character

The moment the main character first crosses into the story.
The first time a reader meets the main character. It’s a great moment, as the reader first glances at who they’ll be following for the rest of the novel. As a writer, that can be an exciting moment to write, but it can also be intimidating. How does a writer give just enough information about the character, to get the reader interested, without slowing down the story?

Right now, I’m editing a novel written in first person. It was a new experience for me, as I tend to write in third person, but I really felt this character just needed to talk directly to the reader. As I dive into editing, (and try not to hyperventilate with all the comments I’m getting back from critique partners,) I started thinking about how the protagonist introduces himself/herself in first person. How does that brief impression start the reader out in different novels?

To look into this closer, I found several of my favorite first person middle grade novels to analyze the information given about the main character. There was another reason I wanted to look closer at this topic too. I’ve been getting some comments back about including more physical description of the main character and I wanted to see how other writers interwove that into the first chapter. The following is a couple of strategies that I noticed authors using in first person:

  1. Using other characters opinions to give a brief portrait of the protagonist- I saw this method a lot in first person books. Generally, it starts with the main character telling the reader that their father or mother says that they are <>. Katie Kelly uses this opening in Here’s the Thing About Me: Lucy Rose, when she notes that her dad says she’s a “smart cookie.” In Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, Jack Gantos gives a one second snapshot of his character using this method in the very first sentence. “At school, they say I’m wired bad, or wired mad, or wired sad or wired glad, depending on my mood and whatever teacher has ended up with me.”
  2. Explaining their name- I noticed a couple of first person stories that started with a brief explanation of where their name came from. In this method, the main character normally has an unusual name. In Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff, the beginning is dedicated to the mishap of how the character was named. In Lisa Yee’s Warp Speed, Marley the main character starts by telling us, “I share my name with a dog, a dead guy and a ghost. Is it any wonder my life sucks?”
  3. Comparing the character to the setting- I only saw this in one book, but I thought it was interesting enough to mention. In Polly Horvath’s Everything on a Waffle, the character compares her features to the landscape in her town on the coast of Canada with, “eyes like a summer storm.” It really sets the reader into the mood of the story and pulls them further into the setting, while developing the character.
  4. A situation that characterizes a yearning for the character- Some characters are too concerned about their current dire situation to tell us anything directly about themselves. But their situation tells a lot. For example, in Dork Diaries by Rachel Renee Russell, Nikki Maxwell tells us about her lack of a cell phone and how everyone else at school has a designer phone. She also further explains that she likes to draw and spends all her money on art supplies. This situation tells us that Nikki is embarrassed to be different from everyone else, that she likes art and it also tells us a bit about her personality in how she deals with the situation. Rather than be caught without the trending object, Nikki buys a used phone off Ebay and tries to pass it off as the designer item. Hilarity ensues.

I’m sure these aren’t the only ways to introduce a character in first person, and I’d love to hear about other methods or favorite first person books in the comments. What is your favorite thing to learn about a character in the first chapter?

Monday, January 11, 2016

Instead of a Resolution...

Dreaded Resolution Time!
I find that lots of resolutions have an expiration date. After a month or so those great lofty goals to eat healthier or go running more often, suffer a terrible death the first time I come across White Castle hamburgers or sucomb to my potato chip addiction... yet again.

So instead of writing about resolutions this year, I thought I'd make a list of new things to try. Feel your writing is in a rut? Rather than making uncharacteristic goals, it's better to simply add a new aspect to the experience.

  1. Write in long hand. I came across this in a BuzzFeed article about Neil Gaiman's writing process. The article notes that he feels writing in long hand allows him to process the writing in a more thoughtful manner, ending up with better draft in the end. I noticed he also leaves the left pages blank to jot notes. This is one of the things I'm trying this new year with a snazzy new blank Star Wars blank book and pen set my husband got me for christmas. (There's something so inspiring about having C3PO on your pen.)
  1. Start a writing schedule. While it's sometimes difficult to fit in, I love having a set time during the day to write. There can be a lot of creative ways to set this into a schedule, (although I'll admit sometimes it is pretty impossible.) But with writing longhand, a commute on a bus or metro can be writing time. I also find those long waits in bureaucratic lines to be really useful for plot points. For ideas on getting a writing routine, try out the amazing book, Rituals, which chronicles the work routines of different artists.

  1. Try a new planning structure. While sometimes planning structures work and then sometimes they just don't, try out a new plot structure. You never know what it could spark, and nothing says you have to stick to it rigidly. Some that I've found interesting are: The Snowflake Method, The Blake Snyder Beat Sheet, The Three Act Structure.
  2. Try a new writing haunt. Write at home? Try a coffeehouse. Write at a desk? Try the couch with an afghan. Shaking things up a bit might also shake up your perspective.
  3. Take a walk. Don't worry, I'm not suggesting you start a new exercise regimen filled with crack of dawn sprints and raw eggs for protein afterwards. But taking a stroll could help loosen up some ideas that are stuck rattling around in your head. Or if you don't have time for that, fold laundry, do the dishes and keep a pad nearby for ideas.
Anyone else have new things they want to try in the New Year? I'm interested to hear. 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Tis the Season to be Editing

Ah, the holiday season. Stores have started hanging decorations and Starbucks has switched to their holiday cup design. And that makes me think... of editing. The time after NaNoWriMo when many writers start reworking manuscripts. Albeit, I'm not participating in National Novel Writing Month this year, but for anyone who is and is finding the prospect of editing daunting, I thought I'd write down some of my favorite methods of keeping editing interesting.

1. Read your manuscript out loud to your favorite stuffed animal. (To be fair, this one comes from my husband who thought my stuffed Darth Vader would be the perfect listening buddy. When it comes to editing, there will be no one to stop us this time.)

2. Cheryl Klein's Aristotle Plot Checklist. I love her thoughts on emotional plot and action plot. A completely fresh perspective to consider your novel from bird's eye view, particularly if you have a feeling that your plot is currently stuck together with duct tape.

3. For individual chapters, I know I mentioned this in a previous post way back, but I really find cutting a chapter apart into paragraphs and laying them out on the table useful. Obviously, this isn't necessary for every chapter or scene, but if I'm having trouble with a particular scene, I find it can jumpstart my brain.

4. Interviewing your character. This can be useful if you're stuck with a character's motivation or if the character really didn't take shape in the first draft. I've heard of people who do this verbally, but I prefer writing letters to my character and then switching ink color to have the character write me back. If your characters get terse with you, all the better, you're halfway to figuring out the problem.

5. Read the first couple of chapters and then the last couple of chapters. Blake Synder suggests this for scripts in his book, Save The Cat, but I think it's equally interesting for novels. Worried your character doesn't have a strong enough arc? Comparing the beginning to the end side by side can be a quick way to start examining this.

Obviously, these methods just scratch the surface when it comes to editing, but perhaps there's one or two that are useful. Anyone else have favorite editing methods that I didn't mention? I'd love to hear other's techniques!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Querying: The Epic Struggle

I've been querying for a couple months now after a fresh round of more edits. In addition to giving me time to consider all the reasons my manuscript could be rejected, it's also given me some time to step back from the query process and think about which strategies and resources have been the most helpful. For other writers who are also, #amquerying out there, I thought I'd share some of the things I found the most useful.


  1. Find books that you've loved in the past that are in the genre you're writing and use the acknowledgments or google to find out who represents those authors.
  2. Go to the #mswl feed on twitter to find what manuscripts agents are interested in right now. #agentwishlist also serves this purpose, but I haven't found it as useful. Plus if you go to the #mswl website, you can sort by genre, thus pulling up any agents that might be currently searching for something specific. Think of it as the personals ads for the publishing business. Maybe someday they'll even come out with a Missed Connections section. I would love to see what that would look like. (You: A well-edited sci-fi with steampunk accessories I noticed from across the room. I: An agent in search of well written steampunk adventure.) But I digress. I've had a lot of luck with this resource, I even got a full manuscript request and quickly from a posting, so this would be the number one resource I would suggest checking out. Lesser known is also, mswlparagraph, a more expanded version where you can peruse longer wishlists by agent.
  3. Publisher's Marketplace. I know, you have to pay a monthly fee. And that probably means you'll have to give up your sushi habit, or your potato chip habit, (don't judge me) to accommodate for it. But it's worth it. Publisher's Marketplace will list most deals for agents, (some aren't reported,) and this information gives you a much better idea if your book would be a fit for them than online interviews or agency websites because you can get a feel for the type of books they're interested in. For example, if they list middle grade on their website, PM can tell you if they've repped vampire trapeze artists or a story about a girl in drama club whose childhood best friend just betrayed her.

I'd love to hear about other resources and strategies others have used below in the comments. And good luck to anyone out there who is querying! 

Monday, June 29, 2015

Query Time

Yep. It's that time again. Querying time. I feel like I should be engaging in some type of superstitious activity to improve my chances,  i.e. surrounding myself in a four leaf clover made of lucky pennies. (Heads up of course.) Or maybe again, it could just be having a good story? To anyone else out there who's querying right now. Here's a wish to hang in there. You're not alone as you check your inbox every twenty seconds. The above image is meant to be inspirational and guide you to query glory.