The Ups and Downs of Querying

Apr 29, 2011

I'm going to tell you a secret. I sent out my first queries for Devolutionaries back in January.

I only sent two. I'd entered a logline contest and had 2 agents request to see a query and some pages. Blissfully unaware of how totally not-ready my manuscript was, I sent it off. I did get a partial request, but in the end, I got 2 rejections. Let this be a lesson to you: DO NOT QUERY BEFORE YOUR BOOK IS READY. I kind of cringe when I think of the state Devs was in when those agents saw it.

Anyway, in the last four months, I've revised my brains out and had 2 sets of beta readers go over it. Last week, I started querying for real. You know that part in the movie Tangled, where Rapunzel is all, "This is the best day ever!" and six seconds later is like, "I'm a despicable human being!"?

That's what it feels like. One minute I'm sure my book is going to knock their socks off, and the next I'm in mega-panic mode, clawing at my screen to try to take back the sample pages I've sent. It's a little like this:

And so on and so forth. I can't decide from one minute to the next if it's awesome or if it sucks. My crit group has told me it doesn't suck, so I'm clinging to that.

So tell me, my friends, do you ever have this waffling feeling about your writing? How's your querying and/or writing going?

Sometimes, Life Wants you to Succeed

Apr 27, 2011

So this is the week of insane craziness/aka big work project/aka playing daycare. Meaning I don't have much for you today because my energy levels are hovering around the zero range.

But I just had to say, sometimes, don't you just feel life wants you to succeed?

Okay, maybe not always. Sometimes life is basically kicking your rear just so it can knock you down to punch you in the face. But occasionally, life gives you a little nudge of encouragement.
This is from a fortune cookie I opened recently. I put it up next to Tennyson the Muse-fish's tank, and it makes me smile every time I look at it. It gave me that little nudge I needed to keep on keepin' on.

So, my friends, consider this life nudging you today as I pass this message on to you. Your life will be prosperous if you use your creativity!

Choosing the Right Words, and the Hilarious Embarrassment of Failing to do so

Apr 25, 2011

I think I've mentioned before that I'm short. Short enough that in elementary school I got called shrimp by the boys. Nothing ticked me off more than Cade and Shaun (yeah, I remember their names) calling me Shrimpy Shallee. So I'd chase them, determined to pound some sense into them. It was really too bad I never caught them.

At any rate, I eventually embraced my hobbity size. In fact, on a trip to Disneyland with the in-laws, I found a shirt in Tomorrowland. On the back was Yoda standing next to a "you must be this tall to ride this ride" sign. On the front, it read "Judge me by my size, do you?" I thought it was hilarious. It was a kids shirt, but I found one big enough to fit me.

Last year, we had another Disneyland trip with the in-laws, and I wore my shirt. When we stopped at a gas station, a guy started laughing when he saw the shirt.

"I need to get one of those for my girlfriend!"

I smiled. "Yeah, us short people should stick together!"

He gave me a confused look, and it wasn't until I got back to the car that I realized he thought my shirt meant something else. And really, who could blame him? I had "Judge me by my size, do you?" plastered across my chest.

I was mortally embarrassed, though now I can laugh about it. But it brings me to the actual point of this post-- words. And their meanings. As writers, words are our tools, and it's amazing to me what a difference a single word can make in my writing. Even now, I'm re-reading Devolutionaries on my Nook (I know-- AGAIN) and finding small things to tweak.

When you put a word into a sentence, it takes on meaning. If you switch that word out, even with a synonym, it can drastically change the whole context of a sentence. Mark Twain said it best: "The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter--it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning."

Sometimes, the wrong words, or just words in the wrong context, can be funny. But to really hit your reader with that stroke of lightning genius, you need the exact right word. It's hard to say what that word might be, and how to find it. I know for me, I get this quiet inner nudge when something isn't working right. I'm training myself to pay attention to that, so that even in edits, I can go back and change my lightning bug to lightning.

So what about you, my friends? Any stories about the wrong words causing hilarity? How do you know what the right words are, and how do you know when to change the wrong ones?

Book Reviews for Writers: Nexus Point by Jaleta Clegg

Apr 23, 2011

When I was in college, my roommate came home one day with a CD. She said her boss's wife was a writer, and had offered to let my roommate read an ecopy of the book she was working on. When I found out it was sci fi, I immediately wanted to read it too. I popped the CD in my computer...and read half the night.

I loved the story so much, my roommate gave me the CD. For the next few years, I would pull it up every once in a while and read it again. One day, I decided to find out if the book had ever been published. And lo and behold, it was! I was thrilled, and immediately bought it for my Nook. I even finally met the author at the LTUE conference and got to tell her how much I loved it.

So now, for your reading pleasure, I give you Nexus Point by Jaleta Clegg!

Dace's wants are simple - a trading ship and the freedom to fly where she chooses. But on her first trip, her crew betrays her, her ship explodes, and she finds herself stranded on Dadilan, a planet locked in a feudal age.

Survival is hard enough when you have no technology or resources. It's even harder when you have drug smugglers hunting you. Dadilan is the source of shara, a drug that enhances psychic abilities, a commodity so rare and precious people will kill for it.

Trapped between rival smugglers and the Patrol undercover investigation, Dace has one hope of rescue: convincing Tayvis, the undercover agent, she's an innocent bystander. But those don't exist on Dadilan. No one lands without authorization, unless they are smuggling.

Her ignorance may cost her life.

This is a wonderful, adventurous space opera. I loved Dace's character, and sort of developed a crush of my own on Tayvis. There were other fascinating characters-- including a hilarious delusional guy who thinks he's Robin Hood. The plot was complicated enough to keep me guessing, but not so complicated I couldn't follow it. And the best part was the adventure. The pacing was perfect, and there was constantly something fun/dangerous happening.

And that's where I'm taking the review for writers today: adventure. Sometimes, I think we get so caught up in the rules and the shoulds and the shouldn'ts that we forget to just have FUN with the book.

One thing I've found is that the first draft is the best place to let all the creativity flow so the fun comes out. I try not to worry as much about the details here-- I just want to tell a story that's fun to write. Of course, all those "details" are important to the fun. Character development and pacing and sentence structure are all key; if those things aren't there, they get in the way of the fun. But sometimes, it's good to just stop and let the plot be an adventure.

If you're looking for a good example of a well-written adventure, read Nexus Point! And keep an eye out for the next books in the series-- I've read a few of them on those early CDs, and they're just as fun!

Writing the Query: Believe it or not, you already know how

Apr 20, 2011

It's coming, my friends. The next step: querying. That's right, I finished Devolutionaries last night! I sort of hate to say "finished," because I don't think it'll ever be really finished until it's in the hands of readers (fingers crossed). But at any rate, it's ready for that next step. And I'm two parts excited and one part nervous.

I've been working on my query for literally months. I have three completely different versions, and each one has gone through at least a dozen revisions. And, call me crazy, but I actually kind of like writing queries. Of course, it's still hard. There's a reason a lot of us freak out about queries. I don't know how to do this! we cry. It's so different from writing a novel!

And it's true. In many ways, query writing is very different from novel writing. But in all the revisions I've done on my query, I realized something else.

Writing queries is not so different from writing novels after all.

You know what that means? You already know how to do this. So how exactly is a query the same as writing the actual book?

You're telling a story. A story has the 4 c's: A Character in a Conflict who makes a Choice with certain Consequences. A query is the exact same thing. As Sarah LaPolla says in her recent post on queries, the query doesn't have to be complicated. All you need to do is TELL THEM WHAT THE STORY IS ABOUT. Who's the character? What's the conflict? What choice do they have to make, and what are the consequences of that choice?

You already know how to do this-- you just did it for a whole novel! Writing it shorter is of course harder in some ways, but that's okay. Writing a novel is pretty gosh-darn hard too. Try starting as short as possible by writing your one-sentence pitch that contains the four C's. Then, add a few well-chosen details. It's a lot easier to expand from one sentence than it is to shrink down 70,000 words.

Choose specific details. You've got 250 words in a query. You can't show a clipping of the scene where your character discovers his mysterious power. I tried to do that initially, and it was just too long. However, if you just say, "One day, he discovered he could shoot laser beams out of his eyes," that's a little generic. So how do you find a balance? In a novel, you choose specific details to show a setting or a character. It's the same thing in a query. You can't show all the details, but you can pick a few specific ones to show the uniqueness of your novel.

Too many details: "Jeb crept through a dank forest on a hunt for the zombie squirrels who attacked his sister. When a squirrel lunged for his face, Jeb's instinctual reaction caused laser beams to shoot out of his eyes, frying the squirrel mid-lunge." Just enough details: "When Jeb is attacked by the same zombie squirrels that maimed his sister, he defeats them by discovering he can shoot laser beams out of his eyes."

Don't forget critiques and rewrites. You've done it on your novel for many months/years. People have torn it apart. You've rewritten it. They rip it apart again. You rewrite it again. A query letter is no different. You cutcutcut those unnecessary words, then go back and realize you can cutcutcut some more. You restructure. You write it again from scratch. People rip it apart again. And eventually, it's better. In fact, it's pretty freakin' awesome. A query doesn't have to be awesome from the start. It takes as many or more drafts as a novel to get it right. And you've got lots of experience in rewriting now!

So, my friends, don't freak out. You know how to do this! It's hard. But really, writing a novel is harder, and you've already done that. You've got the skills, so have confidence. And share with us-- do you have any tips and tricks that helped you write your query?

How to Kindle your Imagination, or This One Time I Slapped a Guy

Apr 18, 2011

Thanks to everyone who gave help and advice on my which-story-to-write conundrum. I made my decision, but before I tell you which story I chose, let me share a little story. I promise, it relates.

Freshman year of college, I was in a fabulous creative writing class. My friend Reece also happened to be in the class, and one day we got a sort of odd assignment. The professor wanted all of us to go do something we'd never done before-- something that would get us out of our "box," that would give us a new view of the world. Something that would expand our minds, and therefore our imagination and creativity.

As Reece and I talked about it after class, we came up with a brilliant idea. I joked that I'd never slapped a guy. He'd never been slapped by a girl. And neither of us had ever made a public spectacle.

Have I mentioned we were freshman?

We enlisted the help of our friend Emily and went to the local skating rink, and the spectacle began. I "found" Reece in the skate rental area, and pretended to be confused to find him there, as he'd told me he had homework. Then Emily arrived, and the "truth" came out-- they were on a date. I began to yell, berating Reece for "cheating" on me. Then, I took a deep breath...and slapped him across the face. Hard.

The entire skating rink was staring at us. After a bit more yelling from all of us, we stomped out. As soon as we regrouped outside, we all laughed until we couldn't breathe.

And did that hilarious experiment actually get me to look at things differently? A little. Probably not as much as the professor had hoped. So how exactly does this relate to which story I chose to write next?

I spent a lot of time the last week thinking about the plot of Black and Blue and the main character in The Unhappening of Genesis Lee. Whichever I chose, I knew I'd have a lot of work to do in one way or another. Yesterday, I was outside playing with my son. I was wearing a twirly skirt, and had an impulse to do something I haven't since I was a kid: twirl. So I did. I took off my shoes and twirled around the grass while my son ran in laughing circles around me.

It took me out of my box. My adult/mommy/responsible adult box melted away and I saw the world how I used to see it. I was a teenager again, and the world was full of possibilities and I wanted them all. And that's where I found Genesis Lee, inside my own teenage self.

So, my friends, I am excited to get to work on The Unhappening of Genesis Lee! Have you ever done something you've never done to kindle your imagination? What could you do today to get outside your own box? What do you do to get your creativity fired up?

Confessions of a Guilty Writer

Apr 12, 2011

So here's the thing. I'm a creature very often driven by guilt. I feel guilty when I write because I should be cleaning/cooking/working/spending time with family/etc. I feel guilty when I don't write because I love writing and want to be published so I know I need to work at it. I feel guilty that I didn't come up with a great blog post today and that I don't plan my posts ahead of time.

Yeah. I know. I'm a little bit ridiculous.

So today I would like to write my confessions. Just to get them off my chest so I don't have to feel guilty anymore. Here we go.

I haven't read hardly any blogs in the last week, and I haven't commented much on the blogs I've been reading in the several weeks before that. I'm sorry. I really do love you all and your blogs.

Last week, I let my son watch two movies in a single day more than once. Not TV shows, movies. 4 hours of TV for an 18 month old. Yikes.

I'm suddenly a lot less sure I'm going to finish Devs by my May 1 deadline. I just got a new work assignment and agreed to watch a friend's kids for a week since her regular daycare person is going out of town. I'm totally panicking about it-- all of it.

Last night I ordered Chinese food and had them deliver while the hubs was at work. And tonight, it's frozen lasagna. I don't think I've made a meal from scratch in...two weeks? A month?

It's kind of funny that I posted just last week on finding balance, and now I'm feeling desperately short of it anywhere in life right now. I'm sure I'll be fine, and hopefully get rid of the guilt I feel when things are out of balance. Sometimes, it just helps to confess.

So, my friends, do you ever feel guilty for writing/not writing, cooking/not cooking, etc. etc.? What helps you deal with it? Any confessions of your own to share?

The Tug of Two Stories

Apr 9, 2011

My writing progress for the last week or so has been sort of dismal. I'm crawling through edits on Devs right now at a much slower pace than I'd prefer due to a drated sinus infection (will the winter never end??). I think I'll still meet my end-of-April deadline, though, so I'm not too worried.

Instead of working away at Devs these last few weeks, I've actually been thinking a lot about what's coming next. I fully intended to work on The Unhappening of Genesis Lee once Devs is done.


I got a brilliant idea for Black and Blue, the story on hiatus. And now I have a problem. I LOVE the story of TUGL, and it's begging to be told. But I'm having trouble getting into my main character. With BaB, I LOVE my main character, but am still having some trouble with the story.

I've never had two stories warring for my attention this way. I've written the first three chapters of both of them, and just don't know which one I love more. Any advice, my friends?

Finding Balance in the Writing Life a Day at a Time

Apr 7, 2011

We writers tend to share similar concerns-- that's one of the reasons I love blogging. I read someone else's post on something that worries me too, and think, "I'm not alone!" Recently, I've been thinking about something I've seen on several blogs that's a big concern for me too. We call it "finding balance."

Typically, the answer for finding balance is to simplify. Cut out TV, get the kid's help with housework, wake up earlier, etc. And it's a great point. Simplifying life is actually quite refreshing. But still, life is still busy. There are some things you just can't "simplify" out.

I'm a stay-at-home mom of a toddler, so compared to a lot of you, I'm not actually that busy! Seriously, I don't know how some of you do it. You're amazing. But balancing all the balls I've got is still something I worry about. A lot, actually. I'm somewhat paranoid about making sure I don't sacrifice my family to my writing-- I never want them to feel they're second on my priority list.

Here's the thing. That paranoia and worry was stressing me out. I tried making up schedules on Excel sheets, and even that didn't work for long. "Finding balance" became another ball to juggle. Until yesterday, when I realized something.

Finding balance is not a one-time thing.

Using the word "finding" makes it sound like balance is an object we're searching for, and once we've got it, we'll be fine! Not so, my friends. Not so. When I tried writing my schedule, I realized, I CAN'T schedule my life right now-- it changes every day. Some days I need to do major housecleaning for a few hours. Some days I need to take my son to the park and just have fun with him. Some days I have to take the car to the shop. That's when it hit me.

Finding balance means taking it a day at a time.

That's not to say I shouldn't have a schedule, and that I can't plan some things out. But life is always in flux. I have to look at this particular day and decide what the balance will be. Some days, it'll be tipped in the direction of family, some days in the direction of writing, and others in the direction of the daily crisis. As long as the scale isn't tipped in one direction for too many days in a row, it's okay for things to be "out of balance" for a day or two!

So, my friends, don't be afraid to let your balance scales tip back and forth. What things do you do to keep your balance in life? What things do you worry about?

Book Reviews for Writers: Matched by Ally Condie

Apr 5, 2011

This weekend, I got news that Ally Condie, author of Matched, was signing at a local bookstore. She lives nearby (ish), and had her launch party in my town, but I missed it because I was sick, so I was determined to go meet her and get a signed copy of Matched.

The Kiddo came with me since the hubs was at work, and when we got to the store I almost turned back. Okay, not really, but it was PACKED. They were having a Ladies Night, and I had to fight my way to the signing table. It was worth it, though. I had a lovely little chat with Ally, got my signed book, and got a picture with her.
I'd been lucky enough to read an ARC of Matched, but I'm glad to have my own copy now-- and signed! It reminds me of The Giver in some ways, which is my favorite dystopian of all time. Here's my review, though I've decided to do something a little different with my reviews. I want to focus on things I learned from the books as a writer, and to pass them on!

Here's the blurb from Amazon: "Cassia Reyes is a model student, daughter, and citizen. How could she not be when the Society has everything planned and functioning perfectly? All of her needs are met: food, shelter, education, career training, and even her future husband are selected by officials who know what is best for each individual by studying statistical data and probable odds. She even knows when she will die, on her 80th birthday, just as the Society dictates. At her Match Banquet she is paired with Xander, her best friend and certainly her soul mate. But when a computer error shows her the face of Ky, an Aberration, instead of Xander, cracks begin to appear in the Society's facade of perfection. A series of events also shakes her dedication to Xander and puts her future in jeopardy."

The story is a little slower than I first anticipated, but that doesn't mean it isn't a gripping read. Both times I've read it, I finished it in a single day. I love the characters, especially Xander and Ky, and I love that the love triangle actually MAKES SENSE. I didn't spend the book going, "She's so stupid, why can't she just make up her mind!" I was torn between the boys too.

As a writer, the biggest thing I learned from Matched is that your actual WRITING counts! I've read some books lately where the plot was interesting, the characters fun, and the writing clean, but they didn't have that...oomph to their prose. I loved Matched in part because of the gorgeous prose. It was all the more engaging because of the lyrical rhythms that came out as Cassia's voice.

This isn't to say all your writing needs to be lyrical and poetic. Your character's voice-- and your own authorial voice-- might not be like that, and that's fine! But when you put your words together and string them into sentences, try to find a way to make them flow however the story dictates.

One thing that helps me immensely is to read poetry-- and lots of different poets. It helps to get a feel of how I can use words in different ways to create different moods, voices, and rhythms. So don't forget your prose!

So, my friends, have you read Matched? What were your thoughts? Do you try to focus on your prose at some point when you're writing? What tips can you share with the rest of us?

Shallee McArthur © 2013 | Designed by Bubble Shooter, in collaboration with Reseller Hosting , Forum Jual Beli and Business Solutions