5.11.2015

How Solitaire and Organic Chemistry Inspired FOTL


So... this weekend was groundbreaking. Life-changing. Momentous.

Why, you ask?

Because for the first time in over two years, I closed the purple spiral notebook containing my ELEGY notes and started writing on the first page of a new one. It may not seem big to you, but it is to me! After all of that time revising... do I even remember how to plan anymore? Can I draft a whole new story? That remains to be seen.

But, at last, FOTL is taking center stage and I couldn't be happier. A fresh universe to explore! New characters to love (and torture)! Uncharted territory waiting to be traveled after taking a backseat for years and years!

I actually came up with the idea when I was about 13. My parents had bought a brand-new desktop computer for the den, which distracted my brothers and allowed me free rein over the old one downstairs. I spent hours typing stories on that thing. But sometimes, I played a game or two, and my favorite was this beautiful version of Solitaire we'd downloaded from somewhere.

The game had a dark, melancholy mood that suited me perfectly. The background was always eerie: a forest under a night sky, an empty castle dungeon, or a hall with a single shadowed throne. The music was classical and lovely, ranging from Beethoven to Debussy. Each gold-lined card featured the most exquisite art: proud, bearded kings and handsome, smirking knights.

But it was the queens who captured my attention. They were gorgeous but grim, young but somehow world-weary. The game was just simple Solitaire, but as I played it, an idea took root in my mind. I imagined an entire world of kingdoms ruled by fierce and beautiful queens, each determined to outwit the others in a bloody battle for crowns and glory. I turned off the game, opened a new Word document, and titled it DECK OF CARDS. But the most I ever wrote was a story outline and a few chapters. The series seemed too big, too difficult, too unwieldy.

Fast forward seven years, to me as a perpetually tired college sophomore. I hadn't written a word in years, having dedicated my life to being pre-pre-med and then pre-med. Looking at my first semester schedule was like staring into the fiery abyss of Hell: organic chemistry lecture, organic chemistry lab, physics lecture, physics lab, physics recitation, two biology classes to satisfy my major, and research on the side. All of them at the highest level offered by the university. (Yeah, don't worry, it's not just you. I don't know what I was thinking either.)

Look, I consider myself to be okay in the smarts department. I'm not a computer whiz like my brother who's heading the IT department at the State House, or a brilliant engineer like my other brother who's interning at NASA this summer. But I'm not dumb. However, I certainly felt dumb having to study twice as hard just to get the same grades as all my friends.

I sat between my buddies Dan and Ben in every single class. Ben was famous (infamous?) for never studying until the morning of an exam, and Dan was... well, quite frankly, Dan was high 85% of the time. Yet they aced every single test. I, on the other hand, was lucky to get an 80 (without the curve, because most times Dan or Ben would crush everyone else's chances by getting a perfect score).

So, one night in my dorm room, while nourishing my withered body with Ramen and instant mac-and-cheese, I slammed my 500-pound textbook shut and said, "Screw this." (I used juicier language, but I'm trying to cure myself of my potty mouth.) "Screw this," I said, "I'm going to go back to what I'm good at. Something I can do easily."

For some reason, DECK OF CARDS popped into my head. And that night, instead of studying IUPAC nomenclature and acid-base theory, I opened a Word document and wrote a chapter for the first time in years. It was more like a prologue, detailing what was to come in the pages ahead, but it was some of my best writing to date at that point. I stopped writing again for some time after that, but always kept that prologue on a flash drive and transferred it from laptop to laptop.

Well, that document has survived to tell its tale today. Somehow, it stayed with me all those long years and eventually morphed into the epic fantasy I affectionately call FOTL. Yesterday, I sent it off as a one-page overview for my agent's approval, and I couldn't feel more content or complete. The story and I have come full circle, and I'm hoping and praying for the honor of sharing it with you all one day!

What about you? What are some wacky, unexpected things that have inspired your stories?

5.07.2015

Fun-in-the-Sun Photo Shoot!


Happy Friday Eve!

I, for one, am looking forward to the weekend so I can catch up on sleep! I'm running on only a few hours at this point, but still feel alert and energized. It must be the glorious weather we've been having. The sunshine even makes me feel better about my commute, which has been awful this week for some reason. The other night, it took me almost four hours to get home!

So I've been sacrificing sleep to work on my latest round of edits, but it is 1,000% worth it. It's as satisfying as scratching an itch to go through the manuscript, cull out unnecessary words, and tighten up the writing. (A weird analogy, maybe, but true for me.) One of these days, I'm going to sit down and do a side-by-side comparison of this draft with the rough draft. I'm sure they will seem like two completely different books!

Last Sunday, my friend Jill Cetel offered to do a photo shoot with me in the park and surrounding neighborhood. I've been wanting new blog and Twitter photos for a while now, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity! Jill's amazing behind the camera and has even won contests for her photography, so I was psyched that she wanted to do this for me. Thanks, Jill!

I did my own hair, but thought it might be a good chance to use my free Sephora makeover. The artist, Felix, did a great job! My eyebrows were especially on point (or on fleek, as the kids are saying these days?).

We took about a hundred photos, and I've included a few of my favorites below.

All of the credit goes to Jill for how well these turned out, seeing as I'm extremely unphotogenic 99% of the time and a hundred kinds of awkward in front of a lens. But she knew just how to get the best shots!












I'm just so thankful spring is here at last after that abysmal winter. Seeing all of the beautiful flowers come out is giving me new life. I fully intend to enjoy the season as much as I can!

Hope you are all loving the spring weather, too!

4.28.2015

Revisions & NYC Trip!


I am way behind on answering and returning blog comments, and for that, I apologize! My goal is to catch up on visiting your blogs in the next week or two, so if you've left me a comment here, hang tight!

Life has been crazy busy these last few weeks. Luckily, most of my writing buddies are very patient with me when I just can't get to reading their manuscripts or returning their messages promptly. My falling off the face of the earth from time to time should never be taken personally by anyone. There are always things to take care of outside of the writing/online world, and that's just the way it goes!

Last week, I finished my first round of (post-agent) revisions and turned them in! Hooray! So now I am waiting and eying the notes for my epic fantasy. I'm not going to start seriously drafting until ELEGY is on submission, because FOTL is just so involved. There is an entire universe that I need to create and I have to immerse myself in it completely. But I'll use the time to flesh it out and add to my super fun FOTL Pinterest board, which is playing a big part in the planning process!

Every single weekend lately has been jam-packed, and this past one was no different. I got to check off a huge item on my writer bucket list: getting coffee with my agent in NYC!!!



Isn't she cute?! I had such a blast meeting Tamar and getting to talk to her in person. You can have a perfect working relationship with someone over phone and email, but there's nothing like chatting face-to-face. The LDLA offices are bright, sunny, and filled with books, and that shade of robin's egg blue you see in the photo is exactly the same shade as the walls in my room growing up. Destiny!

I got to meet Laura, too, who kindly took the photo of us. Both ladies were so warm and welcoming that I felt right at home. I spent over two hours with Tamar, just talking about everything. I've never doubted that my book and I are in the best of hands, but our meeting further confirmed the knowledge. I feel truly lucky and happy, knowing that all of that time and endless work I put in led me here.

The rest of the weekend was devoted to my cousin, who is getting married in September and asked me to be her bridesmaid! She, her sister, our other cousin, and I grew up together in upstate New York. Our moms are sisters, so we're all like sisters, too. Now we're spread across the country, so it'll be fun to celebrate her big day when we're together again!




I got to see her dress and veil, and try on several dresses of my own. Then we got massages and tried on a zillion expensive perfumes at Bergdorf Goodman, ate gourmet pizza at Eataly (I ♥ Mario Batali), strolled through Central Park in perfect weather, and saw the magnificent revival of The King and I at Lincoln Center.




The whole time, we caught up on life and I explained the publishing process to her and her fiance. They wanted to know exactly what an agent did and what happens after a book sells. It's hard to remember, after being wrapped up in this writing world for so long, that most of the process is a complete and utter mystery to everyone else. It was fun to help them learn about it.

And that's one of the best perks of getting an agent: my family and friends taking more of an interest in my writing. They can see now how important it is to me and how serious/real it's becoming. This is something I can never, ever give up, and they've been nothing but loving and supportive since my news. I would always have kept on writing with or without their consent. I don't need their blessing. But it's a nice thing to have, you know?

If you have an agent, what has changed for you? And if you don't yet, what do you think or hope will change?

4.19.2015

Two Quick Announcements!


I hope you are all doing well!

I am busy wrapping up this latest round of revisions, but I wanted to stop in quickly to make two announcements.

#1: I did an interview with QueryTracker after I signed with my agent, and it just went live on the site yesterday! Please check it out HERE if you'd like! I'm so appreciative of all the hard work that Pat McDonald and the QueryTracker team do in support of aspiring authors. I highly recommend opening at least a free account on the site if you are querying!


Art by S.P. McConnell


#2: I was invited to be a Pitch Wars mentor this year! So surreal and amazing, seeing as I was being mentored myself just a year or two ago by the phenomenal N.K. Traver and Stephanie Garber! Per Brenda's request, I will be mentoring middle-grade submissions only. So if you write MG and are interested in entering the contest this August, I would love to see your book! I will not be revealing specifics on exactly what I'm looking for just yet, either here or on Twitter, but please keep me in consideration if you've got a manuscript in this category. And keep an eye out for my wish list post in a few months! I would love to be your mentor-cheerleader!

Okay, now it's back to work for me. I have something exciting coming up at the end of this week - something MAJOR on my writer bucket list - so stay tuned!

4.01.2015

"What! You Too?" OR: An Ode To Critique Partners

Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another:
"What! You too? I thought that no one but myself..."
- C.S. Lewis

That quote is the one that pops into my head whenever I think about my critique partners. It describes exactly how I feel!

"Wait, what? You also spend your Friday nights in pajamas in front of a glowing screen, making up imaginary people instead of socializing with real ones? LET ME LOVE YOU."

"You've revised your manuscript seventeen times, and now you've decided to shelve it and write and revise another one seventeen times? YOU ARE MY SOULMATE."

"I'm sorry... you've gotten 65 form rejections and instead of giving up like a normal person, you've decided to rewrite the entire book from scratch? I got 67 form rejections! LET'S NEVER BE APART."

Honestly, I don't know where I would be today without my critique partners. They are my friends, my champions, my cheerleaders, my coaches. They read my manuscripts first before anyone else in the world. They take joy in my successes and buy me strong drinks when I need them. They send novel-length emails and texts in which we discuss anything and everything, and sometimes we just find absurd GIFs and emojis and laugh over them. Because you can't take your writing journey too seriously, or your brain will explode. There are studies.

On New Year's Day of this year, I got two form rejections. Yes, you read that right. New Year's Day. Form rejections. TWO.

January 1, a day of new beginnings and possibilities, and I was referred to as: "Dear Author."

*tiniest violin in the world plays*

Even such an arguably small thing like that can feel devastating. As writers, we hope for so much and put our hearts on the line. Sometimes, I think that is forgotten, and that's why form rejections happen like that, or someone tweets about passing on your query because it was so bad (this happened to an acquaintance and she was upset with good reason). So having a solid support network is absolutely essential. Writing is emotionally messy, and you should always have a kind shoulder or two handy.

That being said, a critique partnership is not all flowers, puppies, and rainbows.

It's a LOT of work.

I got an email recently from a long-time blog reader who liked my relationship with my CPs (they are pretty awesome, aren't they?!), and asked for advice on finding her own, and any do's and don'ts. I thought it might be a good idea to blog about the things I shared with her, so here goes!

  • You are a critique PARTNER. Writing is inherently selfish, yes; we all have our own books and journeys to focus on. But you are a partner in a partnership, and that implies reciprocity. Make sure your CP is as willing to listen to you as you are to them. Make sure they take the time to ask how you are doing. Someone who only ever talks about themselves may very well be someone who only cares about themselves, and that is probably not a CP you want to keep with you on your writing journey long-term.

  • Know yourself. Are you the kind of writer who wants gentle feedback or harsh, 100% honest critiques? Do you like surface feedback like line edits, or do you like in-depth opinions on character arcs and world-building? Find a CP who can give you what you need. It really stinks when you take the time to carefully read a manuscript and give thorough feedback, and then the person only give yours a cursory look and edits that are all opinions on word choices ("You should say glanced instead of peeked."). Think about your strengths and weaknesses, and find someone with complementary strengths and weaknesses. For example, I'm extremely organized and my strengths lie in plot continuity and pacing, but I know I need work on character arcs, world-building, and more concise writing. I have many CPs for whom those are strengths, so they can help me in those areas.

  • Be honest. Sometimes, a partnership doesn't work out. My first partnership just didn't turn out to be the right one for me. We weren't at the same level writing-wise, since they had started out much later, so I found myself having to teach and advise and didn't get the kind of help I craved for my own work. So I sent them an email and was up front about it, and we are still friendly today (and working with other CPs). This leads me to...

  • Find someone who is near your level of experience. If you are an advanced writer, it might be frustrating to CP with someone who still has trouble with basic spelling and grammar. And if you are a newer writer, having a CP who's much farther along might feel overwhelming because you're still learning what the hell a query letter even is. Plus, it's much more fun to interact with a CP who is going through the same thing you are. My oldest CP, DL Hammons, and I started out together as blogging babies back in 2008, and this year, we landed agents within a week of each other. It's nice to have someone go through the same stages as you!

  • Be truthful with your critiques, but be kind. Unless your CP specifically requests that you be mean in your critique (hey, it takes all kinds to make a world), be as tactful as you can. I wrote this post wayyy back (five years ago!!!) about my critiquing style, but I think it's still pretty relevant to how I do it now. Feedback should be honest, but should never be given in a mean, harsh way. Also, give lucid reasoning for why you make certain suggestions, especially if they might result in big changes to the manuscript. I had someone once mock my enthusiasm in my query letters and tell me to cut out my entire prologue because "prologues are bad. Just bad." Well, I got an agent with that same query letter and prologue intact, so... I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions. 

  • Have multiple CPs, if you can. Having different eyes on your writing is always a smart idea, and the different critique styles can satisfy different requirements for you. For example, you might have one very nice CP who's afraid to tell you what's not working, but is an awesome cheerleader, so you can balance this with a tougher CP. Or you might have one CP who's picky about line edits, which is great for more finalized drafts, but you might want to go to the in-depth CP who delves into plot problems for you in the initial exploratory drafts.

Hope that helps you if you're looking for your own CP, or working on being a better one! This will be one of the most important relationships of your writing life and you'll want to have a good one to carry you through.

Does anyone else have any advice on being or finding a CP? Please feel free to share in the comments!

3.18.2015

Metamorphosis


When I was a little girl, I had my whole life planned out. (Yes, my obsessive need to plan was rampant even then.) This is what my life plan looked like:

  • Go to college.
  • Become a world-famous writer.
  • Buy a house with a stable full of Arabian horses and a library exactly like the one in Beauty and the Beast.
  • Get married.
  • Have three kids and a dog, just like my mom.
  • Live happily ever after.

As I grew older, and had to start picking out AP classes and prospective colleges, this life plan suddenly became not okay with my father. So he made a new life plan for me:

  • Go to college and graduate summa cum laude.
  • Go to a prestigious medical school.
  • Get married.
  • Have at least three kids.
  • Become president of a hospital and be rich and buy him a mansion.

I followed this plan until I turned 21, woke up one day, and decided that I was sick of living out someone else's delusions of grandeur. So I made another new plan:

  • Try my hand at medical research. Verdict: Nope.
  • Decide whether I really wanted med school myself. Verdict: Definitely nope.
  • Combine my degree with writing, the one thing I have ever been good at. And still write creatively on the side. Verdict: This seems promising!
  • Get married.
  • Have three two kids and a dog.
  • Live happily ever after.

So, I packed my bags and left my sleepy town behind for the city.

I fell in love with the tall, gleaming buildings, the summer afternoons when heat rose in waves from the well-trodden pavement, the crowds rushing about their business to the soundtrack of taxis honking and live music from a park somewhere. I hopped from train to train, ate foods I'd never heard of, saw shows at the opera house, ran on the bike path by the river as rowboats slid by.

Slowly, the city became my home. But its novelty also began to wear off.

I began to feel homesick for rolling green mountains and fresh country air and cows grazing by red barns in the sun. I missed being able to walk outside and politely say "Good morning" without being followed or harassed for money. I longed for peace and quiet and a calm way of life, which I used to think was boring.

Basically, I wanted all the reasons I'd left home in the first place; it just took five years away to realize that.

So what's my plan now?

Well, I don't really have one. I've learned that making a set, long-term plan is a little pointless. Life is going to take these unexpected twists and turns, so isn't it better just to roll with it? I mean, I know what I'd like to do in my immediate future. First order of business: move out of the city. Second order of business: focus all of my time and energy into my writing for one whole year, and see what happens.

Bilbo Baggins (or, rather, J.R.R. Tolkien) once said: "It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door. You step onto the road and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."

I love this quote with all of my heart. It's how I feel about writing the first page of a book. It's how I feel about living life. You really don't know where the hell you're going to end up, and that's terrifying to someone like me who needs to know, and plan, and be prepared.

I thought by now that I would have a few (well-received, ahem) published books under my belt. I honestly thought I would be married to someone I met a few years ago. I thought he and I would buy a house and be starting our family by now. I thought I would know, at the spry age of almost-30, where in the world my life was going, and be secure, and be certain.

But I'm not, and it's scary. However, it's also exciting, because even as things I expected didn't happen, things I didn't expect did happen. I'm in a good place right now. I feel happy and optimistic, but in a different way than I thought I'd be. And I think, more and more, that I'm okay with that.

The universe is pushing me in this new direction, and I just have to follow it and see what happens.

2.20.2015

Hello Revising, My Old Friend


What a week this has been! Thank you all for your warm messages and congratulations! I felt very loved, and the milestone was that much more special because I got to share it with all of you.

It's been five days since it became official, and I still can't say or write "my agent" without a stupid grin on my face or feeling like I sound like a pretentious douche.

Half my family and friends think this news means I'm published and are confused as to why they can't seem to find my book on Amazon. The other half vaguely grasps what occurred, but fail to see why this is an achievement and also want to know how much I am getting paid. (Ha!)

The way I've been trying to explain it is: your agent is your guide. She has connections and relationships with publishing houses. She knows which editors might want your book and how to pitch it to them. Basically, she opens doors that an unagented writer would find difficult (or maybe impossible) to open themselves.

Because it helped me to read the blogs of writers who went from unpublished to agented to published, I will try to share with you what details I can as I go along. Obviously, when we go on submissions, I will need to be discreet. But I will try to give an overview of the process as I learn and go through it myself!

On Tuesday, my agent (*stupid grin*) sent me my editorial letter. This letter summarized her ideas on how to improve ELEGY. All of them are obviously brilliant. We had already discussed them on the phone, so they weren't new to me. A couple of suggestions include inserting a new side plot to make the villain even more of a villain (!) and increasing the ghost's presence to make the book scarier and more mysterious.

One of the things I love best about Tamar is that she likes ELEGY's focus on friendship. The relationship between two best friends is my novel's central driving force - not two lovers. I've gotten quite a bit of feedback on this, ranging from wanting a kiss to wanting a whole love triangle. But why should every YA have to focus on romance? It's not every teenager's #1 priority. I didn't date at all in my teens because I cared more about school and friends, and Tamar told me her experience was similar. I knew without a doubt that I would choose her when she strongly agreed that it's okay and important for girls to have goals and dreams other than boys. ELEGY has cute dudes, don't get me wrong, but my main character's focus is always, always on her music.

It's an exciting time for me, and I intend to enjoy it as much as possible, seeing as it took me so long to get here!

I would've snorted at this a month ago, but I'm slowly starting to realize that the seven years of toil might have been a blessing in disguise.

I am 29 years old. In the world of publishing, I wouldn't consider myself to be all that young, since there are girls like half my age landing book deals. I used to envy them and wish I had their talent, but I also strongly believe that things happen - or don't happen - for a reason. These years I have spent maturing as a writer have also been spent developing relationships with other writers. And who knows where these bridges might lead?

Plus, if we sell my book and it becomes a BOOK, I already have a built-in support system in place. The silver lining of a long road to publication is that you meet a lot of folks along the way and you create a wonderful writing family to celebrate with. (As evidenced by the three glorious days it took to reply to all of your lovely tweets and comments!)

Please remember that, if you are still plodding along. These years aren't being wasted. If you have a story to tell the world, and you want to do it badly enough, things will come together at some point. If it happened for me, it 100% can happen for you.

Another perk to the seven-year climb? Not being a revision newbie. I've been through this enough times that I can revise on command and feel confident doing it. With R+Rs, I was basically flying blind. With an agent, I now have a co-pilot to help me along. So, I'm pumped and ready to dive in and impress my agent (*stupid grin*) with my mad revision skills.

Here's hoping, anyway!

How are you guys doing? Are any of you revising this weekend, too?

2.16.2015

I HAVE AN AGENT!!!!!!!!!!!!


 Making it official! Me and the contract I signed last night!


This is the post I always hoped I'd get to write one day.

Today, I can finally share with you that I am now represented by the incredible Tamar Rydzinski of the Laura Dail Literary Agency!

Make yourself comfortable, because this is going to be a LONG entry!


- The Long Road to An Offer -

It has not been an easy journey for me. I came close to giving up many, many times. In fact, last month, I decided to take a break from trying to get published. I quietly told a few people that I wanted a year or two to dust myself off and just write for fun. No sending out queries, looking up agents, or entering contests.

I still had materials out: 10 fulls and a 50-page partial. But I'd had twice that many out at once before, and almost all had come back with the same glaring words: Not for me. I spent six months doing revise-and-resubmits (R+Rs), and one of them - the one I truly thought would offer - ended up asking for another big revision.

So I gave up, thinking that the materials I had out would end in the same place and it was time to move on. That was when everything turned around.


The moment you're about to quit is usually the moment right before the miracle happens.


This quote was sent to me by many lovely friends on the toughest days. I thanked them, but I didn't believe the words until they came true.

Before I launch into my story, I would like to take a moment to say to those of you reading this: If you are thinking about giving up, don't. I know it's not what you want to hear right now. I didn't want to hear it when I was struggling and full of frustration, reading giddy "How I Got My Agent" posts where the writer advised people to not give up. But I mean it. I mean you. Don't lose hope. Something could be coming around the corner to turn all of that upside down, just as it did for me.

I've known all my life that writing is what I want to do, and each time I moved away from it, I came right back. For some reason, I couldn't let it go. So, in 2008, I started to write more seriously with the goal of publication.

Yes, 2008. SEVEN years ago.

There are so many "How I Got My Agent" posts out there where the writer found representation after months or even weeks, which is awesome and amazing for them. But it doesn't happen fast for everyone, you know? When I was querying, I wanted SO badly to know that my years of struggle were normal. I watched blog friends snap up agents and book deals and hoped I could do it too someday, even though it seemed to take me much longer.

Well, if there's anything I've learned, it's that there is no normal. There is only a combination of crazy hard work, bull-headed persistence, very thick skin, and the right stars aligning at the right time. What takes one person a year to accomplish may take someone else a decade. I won't tell you not to compare yourself to others because I think it's hard not to do, as a writer at ANY stage of this business. What I will tell you is not to let it define what you think about yourself and your writing. There's nothing but heartache in that, as I know well.



- ELEGY Timeline: From Rough Draft to Offer, and All the Contests in Between -

I can't recommend writing contests enough. They gave me an invaluable boost of confidence. They gave my name and my writing exposure in the community. They helped me meet some of the most important people in my writing life, people I'd be proud to call my friends forever.

And, of course, they helped my agent find me.

I do think that traditional querying is still the best way to get your book in front of an agent. Contests should be used as more of a fun networking experience, and whatever else comes - like an offer - is the cherry on top.

I say that because I know what it's like to enter a contest and be the one with the fewest requests on the team. When I did Pitch Wars in 2013, Team Tallahassee killed it: the mentee got like nine requests and the other alternate got five or six. I, on the other hand, got hardly any interest at all. Guess what? A little over a year later, I've signed with a top-notch agent for that same wallflower manuscript.

So if you enter a contest and don't do as well as you'd like, don't beat yourself up. Enter other ones, and don't stop querying.

Here's my timeline for ELEGY, from rough draft to offer:

  • 2012

    • Spring/Summer: I came up with the idea for ELEGY. I wanted to write a ghost story with a lush, historic setting, the drama of a competitive music school, and a strong friendship between girls.

    • August: I wrote the first 35,000 words for Camp NaNoWriMo. I knew the story needed quite a bit of work, but I fell in love with it from the start.

    • Fall/Winter: I got an R+R for my MG fantasy, so I put ELEGY aside to work on it. The R+R fell through, and by late December I went back to writing ELEGY.

  • 2013

    • March: I finished the rough draft and spent the next several months doing multiple rounds of edits with my CPs. By late summer, I had a draft I felt fairly confident about.

    • August: I posted an early query and first page at WriteOnCon. This was when I first knew there was something different about this book. I'd had little interest in my previous ms (an MG fairy tale in a market packed with MG fairy tales), but now I immediately scored two ninja agent requests. Unfortunately, they both ended in rejections, as did a few early queries I sent out.

    • December: This month changed my life. I met two of my closest writing buddies, in addition to two mentors who are still, over a year later, my mentors as well as dear friends. I entered ELEGY into Brenda Drake's Pitch Wars contest, and where almost everyone got chosen by one mentor, I was chosen by two. I started getting emails and tweets congratulating me on my query and pages, which my mentors had shared with their peers. Knowing I had a strong, compelling hook and writing helped boost my confidence.

  • 2014

    • January: The Pitch Wars agent round came at last, with high hopes and optimism... and I only got ONE last-minute request from my mentor's agent. It soon turned into a kind, personalized rejection. I was devastated, having expected to do better after that warm reception from the mentors and other writers.

    • February: Disappointed but undaunted, I entered another contest, Cupid's Literary Connection. This contest featured the query letter (whereas Pitch Wars required a short blurb), and I felt good because I knew I had a very strong query. Once again, where most were picked by one "bouncer" (a published/agented writer who read through the slush), my manuscript was chosen by two. I ended up scoring five requests from major agents.

    • March: Around the time Cupid was wrapping up, I also participated in a Twitter contest called #PitMad. My 140-character pitches snagged me nine requests from editors and agents, one of whom was Tamar, who upgraded my 10 pages to 50 pages to a full manuscript within one month. I also began querying in earnest, focusing selectively on agents with whom I felt my book might connect well. For every 2-3 queries sent, I got at least one full request, which meant my query was doing its job.

    • May: I entered one final contest for ELEGY, called The Writer's Voice. Again, I had two coaches who wanted this manuscript. I ended up with seven agent requests, the most on my team. Around this time, I attended the NESCBWI conference, where I got a critique from a senior editor at Spencer Hill Press. She also requested the full, but I put it carefully aside as I had done for all editors' requests. I knew, deep down, that I wanted an agent.

    • June: Rejections began to pour in. Most said the same thing: gorgeous writing, but I can't connect to Stella (the main character). At the end of the month, two agents called me on the phone addressing this very problem, as well as some other suggestions. I told them I had a lot of materials out, so I couldn't grant exclusive R+Rs (and didn't want to, even if I could), but they were fine with it. They had similar ideas that I liked, so I agreed to work on them.

    • July-December: I worked my tail off on the R+Rs, then commissioned a fresh army of beta readers. The ELEGY I ended up with was very strong. I asked the agents with my materials whether they'd like the new draft, and they all said "yes" immediately, Tamar being one of the first. But after I sent it out in December, the painful rejections began to trickle in. On the bright side, they were almost always pages long, full of encouragement and advice. Three agents told me they knew I'd sign with someone soon, while others asked to see other work. Knowing how desperately close I was kept me going, but every day I was losing hope. "Maybe it won't be this book," I thought. "Maybe it will be my next one."


- Getting the Calls! -

All of that brings me to 2015.

January was a crappy month. I got numerous rejections in the first week, many from agents I felt sure would love ELEGY. The R+R I hoped would turn into an offer only became another R+R. AND, to top it all off, I fractured my knee, so I couldn't even go for a run to vent my feelings! (Long story, but no surgery needed and I'm doing much better now.)

I was tired and unhappy. I told myself the timing was just not right and I needed a break.

And then, on February 3, I returned to my desk at work to find a missed call on my phone. It was a NYC number. Now, I've gotten calls from mysterious NYC numbers before, and have hyperventilated only to discover they were from telemarketers. So I thought nothing of this one as I opened my voicemail to listen to what undoubtedly would be another ploy to get me to switch to a different carrier or something.

Well, it turns out that the NYC number belonged to a NYC literary agency. And the person calling from that NYC literary agency was a wonderful agent who had connected to my book.

Her voicemail was short and sweet: "Hi Julie, this is Tamar Rydzinski. I'd love to talk with you about ELEGY. Please call me back."

I freaked out and texted my CPs, who assured me it would be an offer, though I was convinced it would be another R+R. I set up a time to call Tamar back the next morning, and then I went home and didn't sleep a wink.

The following day, in a blur of nerves and exhaustion, I shut myself up in an empty office and dialed her number. Right away, she put me at ease. We laughed and joked and it felt more like a conversation, not a Phone Call. She talked about her vision for the book and made excellent suggestions on what she thought could change. It was clear to me that she had given it quite some thought. I scribbled down everything she said, and though I was excited, I had the sinking feeling that yep, this was another R+R.

And then she asked me how I felt about her ideas. When I told her they lined up well with my own, she said the magic words.

"Sooooo... am I taking you on as a client?"

I screamed. (Inside. I didn't want to scare her!)

I spent the rest of the call asking a zillion questions, which she patiently and intelligently answered. She mentioned possible future homes for ELEGY and I was in heaven. We talked about my other book ideas, especially FOTL, my epic fantasy - a genre in which she obviously has quite some expertise! - and she sounded enthusiastic and happy about all of them.

I asked for a week and a half to think, then emailed everyone with my query and/or materials with the subject line "OFFER OF REPRESENTATION." It was like waving a magic wand. Queries and partials transformed into fulls, fulls got read immediately, and by Friday, I had fourteen people reading my book and asking me not to make a decision until they got back to me.

On February 9, I received another phone call from a 212 area code: someone from one of the most prestigious agencies in NYC. This agent was both funny and energetic, and she didn't hesitate to tell me how much she loved ELEGY. She even mentioned specific scenes that she had enjoyed and told me she wanted to run her hands through my heartthrob character's hair! She offered representation in an email directly after the call, at which I screamed (out loud this time, but it was fine since I wasn't speaking to a publishing professional right then).

The CP emails I sent all had the same subject line: IS THIS THE REAL LIFE. And everyone gleefully sent back "Yes, yes it is."

Being in the position of having two offers from outstanding agents was amazing, surreal, and not something all writers get to experience. Seven years of knocking on the door in vain, and suddenly I was over the threshold and people wanted to know me. I was grateful, but at the same time, I had stress oozing from every pore. I slept only a few hours each night, tossing and turning and worrying over my big decision.

Tamar kept in close touch throughout the process. She sent me a sweet email thanking me for our call and telling me she hoped she made it clear how much she loved ELEGY. She was awesome and attentive and thoughtful, and even as I dutifully weighed my options, I kept coming back to her again and again. I contacted two of her clients, who raved about how hardworking she is, how invested she is in their careers, and how she goes above and beyond for them. I asked for a second call, to confirm my gut feeling that she was the one (despite my connection to the other equally lovely agent), and within ten minutes my phone was ringing and we were chatting comfortably. In addition to her passion for her job and her genuine respect for her clients, I knew that I also loved her vision for ELEGY, which in the end better aligned with my own.

To top it all off, I could see so clearly that Tamar believed in me. She didn't want to just help me with this one story; she wanted to be there for my entire writing career. Plus, she's a total superstar, an all-around amazing agent who never hesitated to give me a real chance.

My choice, I think, became obvious!



- The Numbers -

Queries Sent (including contests): 65

Full Requests: 28

Partial Requests: 9

R+Rs: 2

Offers: 2

Agents Chosen: 1!!!!!



What Happens Next? And Some Thank Yous

The plan is to get ELEGY into tiptop shape before it's submitted to editors at publishing houses. The rest is up to the universe! I know that there is much work to be done and many more mountains to climb, and my signing an agency contract is certainly not a guarantee of anything. But I'm thrilled and overjoyed to be on the next stage of my writing journey, with someone who is as lovely, kind, and professional as Tamar supporting me and my book the whole way. My dream is another huge step closer to coming true!


ELEGY-themed gifts from my wonderful friends and CPs to celebrate my news!


I know this post is already of ridiculously gargantuan proportions, but there are folks in my writing family who I really need to thank for seeing me through to this milestone:

  • DL Hammons: You have been with me from the beginning, for longer than any other CP. It is truly an honor to know such a gentle, humble, and selfless soul, and your unwavering support and encouragement have touched my life more than you know. Thanks also to your beautiful wife Kim, who kindly read an early draft of ELEGY! My love and respect to you both!
  • Marisa Hopkins: Thank you for the emoji-filled texts of love and commiseration (they don't make enough alcohol-related emojis, that's for sure!), and for never doubting that this day would come. You are a phenomenal writer and artist, and an even more precious friend. I want to read all of your words and treasure all of your art, because they make the world more beautiful. ♥
  • N.K. Traver and Stephanie Garber: You are my writing/publishing oracles. Yours are the first opinions I seek whenever I need advice, and your wisdom and insight never fail me. Thank you for choosing me for Pitch Wars. You gave me strength and confidence when I needed them most, and I am proud to call you my mentors and friends. I owe you both so much. When we finally meet, drinks are on me!
  • Melody Marshall and Katie Bucklein: I love you two more than I love cake. Your GIFs and texts and smiling faces brighten my life. I will always bless Brenda, Stephanie, the writing gods (The Dogly One?!), and whatever other twist of fate brought the three of us together to be Team PPU. I cannot wait to have your signed books on my shelf one day and remember how it all started. M, you're next!
  • Nancy Bruckman: I think your pep talk over dinner, that night I teared up over my burger and told you I was thinking of quitting, gave me the good vibes I desperately needed. You're always ready with a word of encouragement and spot-on publishing advice. Also, you're my ARC fairy godmother, armed with a new book you think I'd like whenever I see you! You are a treasure, my sweet and generous friend! ♥
  • Dianne Salerni, Erin Fletcher, and Margo Berendsen: You ladies helped shape ELEGY into the manuscript that made this all happen. Your astute advice, respectful criticism, and bountiful praise made me a better writer, too, and I thank you all from the bottom of my heart. I hope you know I am the staunchest supporter of your careers and would aggressively hand-sell your books to frightened teenagers ANY DAY.

Thanks also go to: Kristin Rae, for your referral, our Twitter conversations about Thornton vs. Darcy, and your thoughtful advice; Tiana Smith, for always being so supportive and ridiculously talented as evidenced by this gorgeous blog design; Alex J. Cavanaugh, for being the best ninja captain and friend and also the first to comment on 95% of my blog posts with encouraging words; Patrick Long, for your support since we first made PBS buffer together and for all of our lunches on the quad that became writing therapy sessions for me; and last, but most definitely not least, to all of my blog and Twitter friends: you are too numerous to name, and I don't want to leave anyone out by mistake, but please know that you all mean the world to me and you've made this whole journey so incredibly worthwhile.

2015 is looking up! ♥

2.04.2015

Terrible Titles Bloghop: The ELEGY Edition


My very stylish and lovely friend Alice at A Nudge in the Right Direction tagged me for the Terrible Titles Bloghop months ago. Alice, sorry I'm just now getting a chance to participate!

Here are the rules: Writers scroll through their manuscript and stop in random places. Whatever words/phrase the cursor lands on becomes one of eight terrible titles.

So, without further ado, here are some alternate titles for ELEGY that I'll be sure to consider:

  1. WING OF BEDROOMS
  2. EACH SWEET NOTE
  3. PROUD AND A LITTLE SAD
  4. THE EMPTY DOORWAY
  5. PROTECTING IT, PROTECTING HER
  6. WHAT ABOUT AT NIGHT?
  7. UNTIL THAT MOMENT
  8. A WEAK CHUCKLE

I did not cheat, but now I wish I did because these aren't as funny as other ones I've seen! I feel like EACH SWEET NOTE could be a pretty good title if this were a contemporary. And I'm kind of partial to WING OF BEDROOMS, though I highly doubt the story would be classified as YA... what do you think? :)

I'm tagging my fabulous CPs and Pitch Wars 2013 teammates: the uber-talented Melody Marshall and the brilliant Katie Bucklein, who just announced that she signed with an awesome agent today!!! *confetti downpour* You can congratulate her on Twitter here!

Have you done the Terrible Titles challenge? What are some fun ones you've come up with or seen?


1.16.2015

2015: The Year of Writing FOR FUN


Why do I write stories?

This is a question I've been asking myself a LOT lately. And here are the answers that always come up:

  1. I write because I love it.
  2. I write because it makes me happy.
  3. I write because I want to make readers happy.

These three things are so simple. So simple. But as simple as they are, it's just as simple to lose sight of them. 

I guess I've just been tired and worn out and a little bit sad lately.

Which is not the way I want to start a bright new year.

Which is not the way I want to feel when I think about writing.

SO! This is to say that I have an exciting announcement - a new venture that I would like to try.

I've talked about it before, but for those of you who missed it: I first started writing seriously after posting a novel online. I used one of the many free fiction sites out there and posted chapter by chapter under a penname. No one in the world knew it was me, not friends, not family, and it was the most liberating experience ever. Over time, I amassed a significant readership and won several awards, including best novel of the year on that site, entirely thanks to the kindness and support of strangers. 

I connected with people who knew me only through my words. They left reviews, and I responded, and we opened a dialogue about the story, the characters, the setting. They told me what they liked and what they didn't like, and I listened and learned and started growing into the writer I am today.

That's what I want to remember. That's what I want to go back to: that rush of having people READ MY WORDS, not with the intent to maybe sell or pitch or market. No, they wanted to read my words because they enjoyed them, because they connected with something in the story. They wanted to read my words for fun! One person even confessed that they had printed my novel out and read part of it on the toilet that morning, and I was psyched and pumped and hysterically laughing.

There is so much joy to be had in writing, and I don't want to forget that. Not this year.

So this is an announcement that I'm going back to my roots. This year, I will be posting a novel on Wattpad for anyone and everyone who wants to read. I talk about writing on this blog constantly, but only a handful of you have ever actually read anything I've written. So this will be my exciting new venture, my reminder to myself that I should value writing for fun, for myself, and for connecting with readers above all else.

The novel is going to be a brand-new one, and it's my mermaid idea that I've had for a long while. It's called SEAWALL, it's a YA historical fantasy, and it's The Little Mermaid meets Downton Abbey set on the Irish coast in the early 1900s. There will be magic, romance, a battle between good and evil, heartache, lightning-tossed seas, and betrayal (I suddenly feel like the grandpa from The Princess Bride), and I am so excited to share it with you. I'm going to be writing it and posting it chapter by chapter, so the story will unfold for me at the same time that it does for you.

SEAWALL was never something I would contemplate one day putting through the publishing wringer, anyway, so I thought this would be a good way to kill two birds: 1) share my work with readers once again, and 2) explore this with a fun, fresh, no-limits, no-pressure story that I would be writing for pure fun and escapism.

I hope you'll stick around and let me know your honest thoughts! I'm still in the planning stage, but once I decide to put something up, I'll let you know here! Oh, and if you are on Wattpad, you can find me HERE.

Hope you're all having a great start to your new year so far. ♥

1.11.2015

Wanderlust


I've been feeling the travel bug lately, and reading JUST ONE DAY and JUST ONE YEAR by Gayle Forman didn't help! The first is about a girl breaking out of her shell on a trip overseas, spending one magical day in Paris with a stranger who just might be her soulmate, and the second is about that stranger finding himself as he searches the world for her, from Mexico to Amsterdam to India.

Being a structured, practical person, the idea of getting rid of maps and schedules and packing lists in favor of wandering really appeals to me. But would I ever actually do it? I hope so! There's something about traveling, about stepping out of my comfort zone, that makes me feel like a different person. Like a brave, adventurous one. Like someone who can take the watch off her wrist and just live in the moment.

One of my new books is a historical fantasy set on the Irish coast, which is why Ireland is so high on my list. I'd love to see those castle ruins and cliffs for myself before I write about them!

When I was in college, my parents took my brothers and me to London and Paris for two weeks. They were gorgeous, wonderful cities, full of new sights and sounds. (All pictures that follow were taken by me.)




We saw the Changing of the Guard outside Buckingham Palace, and even got to go inside on a tour! Walking through those gilded rooms felt like stepping into history. We strolled all around the city, got delightfully lost on the Tube, and rode one of those obnoxious tourist buses past Westminster Abbey.




We went inside the Tower of London and saw jewels and armor. We visited Madame Tussaud's wax museum and even got to view a collection of Princess Diana's gowns inside Kensington Palace.

After a week of sightseeing in London, it was off to Paris via the Eurostar train! It was on that train that I had what I thought was the best croissant of my life, and then we actually arrived in the city and I had the real best croissant of my life: chocolate of course, and flaky and perfect. I sat at that outdoor cafe with a cup of coffee, wearing a powder-blue beret that my dad bought me in Galeries Lafayette, and felt so worldly and well-traveled...light-years away from the silly small-town girl that I really was!

Of course, everyone knew we were Americans before any of us even opened our mouths. It could have been the baseball caps my brothers insisted on wearing. Or our stark-white socks and sneakers. Maybe it was the enormous camera dangling from my dad's neck. Or the beret I was wearing, as I didn't see a single French girl with one on.




My friend Stephanie, who had studied abroad in France for a time, tipped me off that admission to the Louvre was always free on the first Sunday of the month. (Not sure if that is still true!) I remember we spent no more than three or four hours inside, and that was barely enough to cover one-tenth of that massive place. I could have spent an entire week there and still not have seen everything!




But in the short time we were there, I still got to see amazing works of art with my own eyeballs. The Mona Lisa was tiny and we couldn't get closer than ten feet to it because of the enormous crowd. This is where having six-foot-tall brothers comes in handy, so they can take a picture for you!

That night, we saw the Eiffel Tower lit up and sparkling against the sky. I saw firsthand why so many romances are set in Paris!



The next day, my mom was feeling a little sick, so our parents stayed at the hotel. My brothers and I were given free rein of the city!



We bought pastries and ice cream, watched people painting AMAZING things on the sidewalk, and signed our names on this huge petition for world peace in the Champ de Mars. Then we returned to the Eiffel Tower and took the elevator as high as it would go. I will remember that view for as long as I live!



The next day, when my mom was feeling a little better, we took a train out of Paris to the Palace of Versailles. The palace inspired the Chateau Champlain in ELEGY! It was a thousand times more beautiful and glorious than I had ever imagined it would be.



I can't believe people actually used to live inside. We saw tables and chairs that had been used by the royal family, and Marie Antoinette's sky-blue furnishings and even the door to her private salon. And then there were the incredible gardens:



As thrilling as this trip was, and however lucky I felt to be able to see and walk through such fantastic places, I think my next journey - wherever that may be - will be a lot slower-paced. Less touristy stuff. More hanging out at local spots and taking time to savor the experience, rather than seeing as much of everything as possible.

I'm also much more of a country person...something about rolling hills and vineyards appeals much more to me than the hustle and bustle of the city (ironic, isn't it, since I now live in a major city!). So I think that my next traveling destination will be somewhere rural and quiet and windswept. Somewhere I can take a tour and have time to wander and stare out to sea for hours, absorbing a whole new story to tell in my own words.

Let's hope that this year - the year I find a new beginning as a writer, the year I put away old stories and goals and start afresh - will also be the beginning of many travels!

Where in the world would you go tomorrow, if you could?

12.29.2014

2015 Goals!


Well, it's that time of year again! Time to look back and reflect on everything that has happened, and time to look forward to a whole new beginning.

2014 has been pretty calm for me in terms of life stuff - not a bad thing! But in terms of writing stuff? Talk about a whirlwind. When I really think about it, this past year has been my biggest writing year to date. It was the year of the contest, the year I threw caution to the winds and flung my book baby into the universe.

I got the idea for ELEGY in mid-2012, and then I spent all of 2013 writing and revising it. In late 2013, I jumped headfirst into Pitch Wars, then into Cupid's Literary Connection, PitMad, and the Writer's Voice, and with each contest, as my query and pages were posted for all to see, I grew bolder. I felt stronger. Things were happening that had never happened with my previous book. Something had changed. And when I really think about it, I think that the something is me.

I went to my first writer's conference in May 2014, the NESCBWI meeting, where I met my Pitch Wars teammate and now close friend/CP. I spoke to agents I had only ever communicated with via email, got advice on the ending of ELEGY from a lovely editor, and absorbed as much as I could from everyone who gave their time to help us. It was an exhilarating experience.

In August, I plunged into the most intense revisions I've ever done. Weeks ago, I resurfaced with a book of which I'm truly proud. More often than not, I don't doubt that writing is what I should be doing and what I want to be doing with my life, but 2014 cemented that knowledge.

So I'd say the bar has been set pretty high for 2015!

My resolution? Go full speed ahead on FOTL, my epic fantasy. I think this was the same resolution I had last year, and I couldn't accomplish it because I was so wrapped up in ELEGY and all its happenings. But this year, I really aim to draft Book 1.

And here are some other goals for the New Year:

- ♥ - Forgive myself for taking breaks. When I go out to dinner, when I read a book, when I walk aimlessly around the city, I'm going to tell my workaholic self not to feel guilty. I don't have a lot of free time, it's true, but not all of it has to be spent writing. I want to get out there and live a little. I'm hoping to travel to Ireland sometime this upcoming year, and maybe take a few smaller trips too. Clearing my head and enjoying time with people I love will only strengthen and enrich my stories, not detract from them.

- ♥ - Give myself more credit. I'm still learning that being humble does not mean I have to be unkind to myself. I hate that I always have an explanation when I get a compliment, or when something good happens. Did well in a contest? Just luck. Got good feedback? They're just being kind. Lots of traffic on my blog? It's because I've been around for a while. I never acknowledge how hard I've worked to write a very strong query and pages, or how tirelessly I try to make my blog fun and informative and enjoyable to read. People are responding to the effort I make, and they stick around for a reason.

- ♥ - Dive deeper into a story from the get-go. I don't regret the crazy revisions I had to do for ELEGY. But I know now how to better prepare so that future drafts might not have to go through the same intense process. For FOTL, I'm doing very detailed character and relationship sketches before I start writing, which I didn't do with my other books. I think it'll help show me all of the layers and develop them better, and the end product will be a lot closer to "finished" than it would be otherwise.

- ♥ - Be more confident about my work. Sharing stories online - whether it's on a blog or Pinterest or a contest - naturally poses the risk of poachers. But I am the only person who can tell my story the way I envision it, with my style. There is no other writer on this planet who can. Someone once said: Ideas are cheap; execution is everything. I will try to remember that all of my books are uniquely me. Plus, there's more where they came from in this brain of mine!

- ♥ - Remember how lucky I am. I'm no stranger to that unique despair that only writing can cause. The despair of writing something not quite up to par (in your estimation or someone else's). The despair of trying again and again, and being unable to reach the goal (yet). The despair of wondering what's wrong with you because you don't have what someone else has (a.k.a. the dreaded comparison demon!). But I have so much love and friendship in my life...so many people who care about me and want to see me succeed. I have the drive and the ability to accomplish my dream, which is a privilege that not everyone has. The next time I find myself standing on the brink of depression, I will remember this and let it bring me back again.


Guys, I thank you for this every year and this time around is no different. Thank you for reading my blog. Thank you for your encouraging comments and tweets and emails. I can't tell you how much it means to me to have such a wonderful community of writer friends, and I hope one day I'll get to meet at least some of you in person! Wishing you all a very bright, very happy new year.

12.19.2014

Deja Vu Blogfest: Me Write Pretty One Day [Re-Post]


Today I am participating in the Deja Vu Blogfest hosted by my long-time friend and CP, DL Hammons! I've chosen to re-post an entry that I originally published back in February of this year. It's a look back at all of the books I've written so far and what each of them has taught me.

Thanks for reading! I'm looking forward to seeing what everyone else has re-posted!





When you're a writer looking for advice on how to improve, it doesn't matter where you go: an established author's blog, a conference, a book signing, a writers' group... One of the first pieces of advice will always be: "Just write." The more you write, the more you learn and the better you will be.

You know that saying about not seeing the forest for the trees? Well, I think I've been so focused on big trees - like writing the perfect query letter, finding the perfect agent, and just, you know, my LIFELONG DREAM of seeing my name on a real, live book - that I've lost sight of the forest. After all, the whole point of this crazy attempt of mine is to become a better writer. I want to write something one day that resonates with somebody. I want them to wake up and think about my story. I want them to read a sentence I've written and say, "Dang. This girl can write."

So I got to thinking. I've been writing books nonstop for the past six years, but have I become a better writer? Have I learned anything?

SECRET NOVEL: I've been writing forever, but this book was my first written as an adult. I was 22, trying to pretend I was happy and actually wanted to be a doctor. I worked in a medical research lab, but this was my real experiment: writing secretly at night, posting chapter by chapter online under a pseudonym, knowing that the reception would make or break my decision to pursue publication.

It is thanks to this novel that I wrote other novels. I learned about pacing, because writing a story in serial format - and having people want to read more - is not only just about hooking the reader, but keeping them hooked. The need to pace the story evenly became the need to outline my chapters, so I would know exactly what was happening and when. And now I can't imagine writing without an outline!

RICE FLOWER MEMOIRS: This book taught me about characterization. A lot of writers pull inspiration from people they know in real life, but the skillful ones do it in such a way that no one can tell who they're supposed to be. When I gave chapters of RFM to some of my family members, EVERYONE knew who they were supposed to be. And some of the descriptions were less than flattering. It was terrible! I learned to borrow defining characteristics, but to mold the characters into unique people in their own right.

PUMPKIN PATCH PRINCESS: I knew the basics about young adult (YA) and middle grade (MG). I had read widely in both categories. But I never really understood them until I started writing this book, which began YA and became MG. The difference between them might seem really obvious to you, but when I started writing, I had to learn the hard way that YA vs. MG is not just about age. It's about the characters' viewpoints, their goals, their dreams, and what drives and motivates them.

Noelle's wide-eyed exploration of the future - and the very tentative romance - made the book much too young to be true YA, and I'm ashamed to admit it took several CPs, agents, and an editor to make me realize that it should have been upper MG all along. But upper MG it eventually became!

ELEGY: This was my first attempt at a ghost story, and it was a crash course in the art of suspense. I winged it, wrote a truly terrible rough draft, and had to struggle through various rewrites before it became anything resembling something exciting enough to keep reading. I had never written anything with high stakes or the supernatural - witches, maybe; fairy godmothers, yes; but never ghosts or curses - and so it was a tough lesson in juggling smooth plotting, world-building, and tension all at once, all the while making sure my characters were behaving the way they should.

I also learned - really learned - that it is impossible to make everyone happy. You can write nice characters and people will say they're too Mary/Gary Sue, and you can write not-so-nice characters and people will say they're too unlikable. You can kill someone at the end, and people will say you need a happy ending, and you can let them live, and people will ask "Why?" I learned how to absorb and apply feedback, but to also stay true to the vision that I have for the book.

THREADS: My NaNoWriMo 2013 project was based on Theseus and the Minotaur, and I did a crap ton of research before I started writing. I thought that if I tried to learn everything about everything, and to incorporate it in my book, that it would be a better book. I wrote about the texture of linen, and the taste of the wine (always watered down in ancient Greece; it was considered barbaric to drink it straight), and the architecture of the buildings, but got so bogged down with trying to include everything that the story suffered a lot. (It definitely helped the word count go faster, though!)

The manuscript has been gathering dust on my desktop ever since, because I'm too scared to look at it, but I learned a lot about doing thorough research and then choosing what to include, rather than dumping it everywhere.

FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS: This is my 2014 book. I've got several chapters written, so I probably haven't learned anything yet, but I have a feeling that all of those previous experiences will help make this novel a lot better than it might otherwise have been. It's an epic fantasy, and I want it to span multiple books, so even pacing will be a must; as always, I am pulling inspiration for characters from real life, so learning what to include and what not to include will be needed; and all of the research I have done will need to be distilled and sprinkled into the framework of the story, bit by bit.

Have I become a better writer? I'd like to think so. There's so much left to learn, but I'd like to think that I've learned something from all of my stories and that I'll be bringing the experience with me to every book I write from here on out.

What has writing your books taught you? Are there any specific lessons you've learned from each one?

12.05.2014

Riding the Revision Rollercoaster


Oh, revisions: the only way a book can get better. Always satisfying at the end, but often maddening throughout. I've talked about my drafting process before, which is my absolute favorite part of writing. But I haven't talked in depth about how I revise. Since I just wrapped up six grueling months of reworking ELEGY - the latest draft of which is now with betas! - I thought it would be interesting to take a look back at all of the twists and turns and ups and downs that led me to the book I have now.


Revision Rollercoaster Step 1: Prep. Empty stomach optional.

I prepped by gathering every single piece of constructive feedback I'd ever received for ELEGY. I collected tidbits from every email and every Word document with comments or tracked changes. I never waste a critique from anyone. What I do with the suggestions later is at my own discretion, but I consider absolutely everything. I don't want to start revising without a complete picture of what every single person whose eyes have crossed this manuscript is thinking.

In a clean Word doc, I organized the feedback by type, like characterization, plot/pacing, and world-building, and also divided them into CP notes and agent notes. Then, with a big yellow highlighter, I marked up anything that appeared more than once. Those were the major things to address. For ELEGY specifically, the biggest items were Stella's likability factor (being a prickly diva in the early drafts) and the ending of the book. The whole process helped me get a clear idea of what I would have to work on in the coming months.


Revision Rollercoaster Step 2: Pick a spot to sit and plant yourself down (firmly).

I think with revisions, where you start depends on whether you're a plotter or a pantser. I'm a plotter, so it felt natural for me to start with a story outline. I never draft without an outline in hand, but for revisions I made a completely new one. I took a week off to refresh my brain before rereading the manuscript from top to bottom and scribbling down each chapter's major events.

So after I did that, I now had two vital tools:
  1. A list of suggestions to address, with highlighted ones sticking out as most important.

  2. The skeleton of my entire story, so I could visualize - sometimes to the exact scene - where the changes needed to happen.

Revision Rollercoaster Step 3: Buckle your seat belt and hold on tight!

I took out my trusty neon Post-It notes and pasted them everywhere on the new outline. Here are some of the things I wrote on them:
  • Insert new scene: Brunner in bell tower

  • Stella character devel: talking to Aria about Ralph
  • Cut scene, replace w/ solo auditions
  • Make this a LIE (the word "lie" was underlined several times)
  • Move chapter to before Henri diary entry #4

Other Post-Its were so long, they looked like mini-novels! Those were the new chapters I wanted to write in, with everything I had to accomplish in that space. I think about 65% of the book I have now is made up of brand new scenes and chapters I wrote in to accommodate the changing plot and character motivations.



Revision Rollercoaster Step 4: Enjoy the downhills...while they last.

I began applying the changes, and some of the new words flowed like buttah! It was exhilarating, hands-in-the-air, screaming-with-fear-and-joy awesome.

There were scenes I could visualize so easily in my head, most notably the one in that first bullet point. I didn't know Stella would be the one to discover Brunner sneaking around in the bell tower. I didn't know how or when it would happen. For all of my planning and plotting, this book always has surprises in store for me, and that scene just spilled out and accomplished everything I wanted it to.



Revision Rollercoaster Step 5: Know that every uphill will eventually lead to a downhill. Key word: eventually.

There were so many long, torturous uphill stretches. I climbed and climbed and climbed, and sometimes lost sight of what the heck I was trying to do in the first place. (See this blog post.) I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all of my poor CPs and writer friends who had to endure my long-winded, freaked-out emails and texts. I am pretty sure I exhausted Google Image's supply of angsty/sobbing/heavily-drinking GIFs during this timeframe.

But I knew that eventually, there would be a downhill again. And there was!


Revision Rollercoaster Step 6: Repeat steps 4 and 5 copious times. Abandon empty stomach metaphor and eat ALL THE THINGS.

It doesn't even matter if this rollercoaster might make ALL THE THINGS come right back up. Get some caffeine (or in my case, chocolate and carbs, since I don't drink coffee/tea/soda).


Revision Rollercoaster Step 7: The home stretch.

There is a scene in LITTLE WOMEN where Jo finishes writing the book of her heart, the one Professor Bhaer inspired in her. She ties it up with a ribbon and then she just sits there silently for a moment, looking at it. I think there's a line that says something like: "That quiet moment showed how earnestly she had worked on her little book."

That's what I did. I sat there dumbly, staring at my manuscript. I had done it. I had done it under a rigorous deadline (well, rigorous for me) and a LOT of stress and pressure, with a ticking clock in my ear. But I had done it. I survived the biggest, most intense revisions I've ever had to do.




I can't fully convey to you in words how gratifying it is to see that beta feedback pouring in. I can't express how happy and whole I feel when someone who saw the earliest drafts now tells me: "This is the one. This is your book, as it was meant to be."

I can't tell you what it means when someone offers to blurb my book when it becomes a book, not if...when someone says that they were late to work because they just had to finish reading...when someone tells me they planned to save the book for Thanksgiving break, and ended up devouring the whole thing the same day I sent it.

Guys, this is the whole reason I write.

Honestly, I don't know what's going to happen when I start resubmitting. But what I do know is I've done everything I can to make this the best book I could possibly write. It's been one crazy ride, and I know there are many more rollercoasters ahead - for ELEGY or for other books - but whatever happens, I'm ready. Throw it at me!

11.20.2014

Giving Thanks!


So, the other day, I realized that this is going to be my blog's sixth Thanksgiving! Crazy how the time flies!

Every year so far, I've written a post about the things for which I'm thankful. Now that I'm feeling back to my old self after that slump, I want to temper some of the negativity with a list of (maybe surprising) things that make me grateful. I'm one of those people who fixates on how far I have left to go, instead of appreciating how far I've already come. I don't see that changing anytime soon, but it's good to reflect! So, without further ado:


Thankful Thing #1: I am thankful for rejections.

I have never had great self-esteem. But writing has always been my thing. Unfortunately, I was spoiled in school, where teachers petted me and I coasted through my lit/writing classes without breaking a sweat. This, combined with the reception I got when I posted an early novel online in 2008, led me to be over-confident. It didn't help when I wrote another novel, blissfully submitted the rough draft (!!!) to a major contest, and saw it go through to the quarterfinals.

But my big head got a big reality check when I started querying. I was greener than green, and it showed. 2008 me was shocked and discouraged by the early rejections; 2014 me is thinking, I was nuts to expect anything else. I had a lot to learn, and I learned it (and am still learning). I got knocked down again and again, but I've gotten back up every time so far.

Without those rejections, I would be a weaker writer with a weaker book. I wasn't ready then, and each "no, thank you" was a sign telling me so. There have been so many other signs since then, particularly this year. Good ones, exciting ones, and even I can see how much my work has grown and matured. I am older, I am humbler, and I am more ready with every book I write.

The only tricky part will be remembering that the next time I take a detour into the doldrums...


Thankful Thing #2: I am thankful that I have limited time to write.

I work full-time and I have a long commute. This means being away from the house at least 12 hours every single day. I always used to envy writer friends who didn't have to work. They were so lucky to have all that time and that luxury, I thought. But the grass is always greener, and I'm learning that having the time to write doesn't necessarily equate to using the time to write.

Having to work means that the few precious hours I steal on the weekends are even more valuable to me. I have no choice but to make the time, so the time means more. And I am so grateful to have a job at all, not to mention one that I like and that helps me live comfortably.


Thankful Thing #3: I am thankful that I found a family who will support my writing.

And that is you guys! My real-life friends who know that I write, my blog friends, my CPs, my mentors, my wonderful funny Tweeps, and all of you who come to read and comment.

I won't linger long on this, since this post is meant to be positive, but many of you know my family has never been supportive when it comes to writing. I think many of us have been or are in that boat, though, which is why we've found this amazing community where we get the push we need that we might not be able to find elsewhere.

You are all a huge, huge part of why I keep going. Your believing in me makes me try harder to believe in myself, and I probably wouldn't still be here blogging if it weren't for you guys.



I hope you all have a wonderful, happy holiday (if you're in the U.S., that is!), and that you have much to be thankful for this year.

♥ ♥ ♥

11.11.2014

A Solitary Business


A week and a half ago, I hit one of the biggest writing slumps I'd had yet to experience.

Have you ever read THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH by Norton Juster? In it, the main character finds a mysterious tollbooth leading to The Lands Beyond. When he drives his toy car through, he ends up getting lost in the Doldrums, a gray, colorless place where laughing and thinking have been outlawed. The inhabitants tell him he can do: "Anything as long as it's nothing, and everything as long as it isn't anything."

I spent an entire week there. I moped and yawned and slouched. I cried tears of stress and frustration. I nearly bought real estate in the Doldrums - that's how bad it was.

Every time I turned on the laptop and tried to revise, my brain shut down. I did all of those cute little tricks to get you writing again ("Just write one sentence!" or "Work on a different scene!" or "Do a character sketch!"), but none of them worked. I fell into despair, as melodramatic as that sounds. I told myself I was wasting time, and I had messed up everything, and readers were waiting for this draft - geez! why couldn't I write faster?! - and other useful, encouraging things like that.

Well, I'm happy to report that I made it out eventually, and revised four chapters and wrote seven thousand new words this weekend!

So what helped me?

1) Writing about writing. The old-fashioned way: by hand, with a pen, in a leather journal.




For twenty years, every time I've felt upset or needed to think through something, I have written in a diary. I still believe that the physical act of putting pen to paper is the best therapy in the world. It's slower than typing, but that's why it helps: you have to think things through even more thoroughly while your hand is catching up.

I let loose for a few pages, and it felt like I was bleeding out anxiety and irritation instead of ink. I highly, highly recommend journaling if you ever hit a writing slump or hurdle or pothole of ANY kind. I wish I had done this sooner, but I would love to start a journal to go with every manuscript that I write. It would be fun to have a volume where I document each book's process and record my thoughts as I write and later revise. I guess I kind of do that with my blog, but it would be nice to have a personal space for all of those thoughts and worries, too.


2) Recognizing that writing is a solitary business, just like everyone says.

We are writers, but we are people first. And people tend to need other people. So I turned to my friends and CPs, hoping they would make everything go away, hoping they would fill in the seismic cracks that had begun to form in my confidence. But here's a dirty little secret about writing: as supportive as the community is, as wonderful as your buddies are, the only person who can get you out of the Doldrums is YOU.

There are places you go as a writer where no one can follow you, not even your closest friends. Everyone is at a different stage in the process. Everyone has their own situation to focus on. It's hard to realize you're all alone on the landing and your buddies are on other steps of the same staircase: some are very far behind you and stressing about just sending their work out; some are moving on to new books and putting together another agent list; and others are worrying about their editor's suggestions or why their agent hasn't gotten back to them yet.

It's easy, when you seek reassurance, to feel unfulfilled because no one really understands what you're going through right now. Don't get me wrong: the sweet emails, supportive texts, and virtual pats on the back are wonderful and inspiring and can often give us the push we need. But at the end of the day, you have to climb out of the slump yourself. No one can do it for you.

That's what I'm learning. And if you're a glass-half-full person like me, it won't be so much "I'm alone" as "I can depend on myself and I can do this!"



How have you escaped the Doldrums? Any tricks or tips to share when you're in a slump?

10.28.2014

The One Lovely Blog Award



My sweet friend June, who blogs over at Miss Bluestocking, gave me the One Lovely Blog Award last week! Personally, I think her blog is the lovely one! If you're into lyrical writing, Austen, and period dramas in general, be sure to follow her. Here are the rules for accepting this award:


Rules:
  1. Share 7 Lovely Facts about myself
  2. Link to 15 blogs (or as many as possible) that I enjoy reading
  3. Nominate the authors of those 15 blogs to participate and do the same, linking back to the original Lovely blog. (That would be this page.)

Here are some random facts that my revision-fried brain came up with:


1) I was a Girl Scout for two years. Not sure why this came to mind first, but maybe I have cookies on the brain after eating so healthy lately! My parents made me join because my fourth-grade teacher was concerned about my lack of social life and strong preference for reading over playing with the other kids. I remember it was really boring, because all we did was get together to sing and make crafts, but my best friend Talia (who some of you may remember from this adventure) made it a bit more bearable. I did like the play we put on for our parents, which was based on the story of Kirsten, the American Girl who traveled over from Sweden (I played the thrilling role of Mama). And, of course, I liked the cookies, especially the Thin Mints and those sandwich-looking ones with the strawberry filling. Mmm! Selling them was always a breeze, too; I just handed my parents the flier to pass around to their engineer friends at work. Boom.

2) I have only ever owned silver cars. Not because I only want silver ones, but that's just the way it's always worked out! Maybe I'll branch out in a few years and buy a red one next.

3) My favorite food of all time is soup. It is my ultimate comfort food. I could eat soup for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I make a different one every week, and the crockpot is always in commission during the fall and winter. This month, it's been corn and potato chowder, beef barley, and this Vietnamese chicken rice soup that I love. I'm hoping to get my mom to teach me how to make pho sometime. The way she does it is pretty involved, with soup bones and anise stars and seasonings cooking on and off over the span of two days, but it's sooo worth it. And the house always smells amazing!

4) Here's a Halloween-y one: in college, I spent one spooky night in a haunted dorm. There's an enormous, gray stone dormitory on our campus that looks like a castle, and legend has it that it's haunted by a stressed-out med student who hung himself in the attic years and years ago. One of my friends lived in this building and I stayed with her one night after a late class, not wanting to walk all the way back to my dorm. We sat up studying for our organic chem midterm the next day, and a lot of weird things happened that my friend said were pretty routine: the door slammed shut by itself even though all the windows were closed, the lights flickered several times even though it was a nice night, there were footsteps repeatedly coming down the stairwell but no one ever appeared, etc. The phone rang, but no one was on the other end (which also happened when we were watching "The Ring" with her floormates another night!). Maybe there was a ghost, trying to convince us not to be pre-med. Well done, sir.

5) I was born on one of the hottest days on record in New York. It was 95 degrees in September! You'd think that would mean I love heat and summer weather, but I hate it. I'm much more of a chilly weather person and I think anything above 80 is unbearable. It's so much nicer to bundle up in layers and scarves and blankets.

6) I own more books than I own anything else. There's a gorgeous built-in bookshelf that takes up one wall of my apartment, with scalloped woodwork and plenty of shelf space. I use it to store all of my favorite books and series, including all 56 original yellow hardcover Nancy Drews, a collector's boxed set of Harry Potter paperbacks, and three different editions of The Lord of the Rings. There's a special space for ARCs, which a publishing friend kindly supplies, and a space for books written by people I know. I'm also a knickknack hoarder, so you'll find paperweights, old music boxes, glittery feathered masks I bought in New Orleans, a framed picture or two, and the two Chinese jade elephant figurines I've had since I was a kid.

7) I dream extremely vivid, detailed dreams. I used to write them all down in a journal, but even without recording them, I can often remember minute details and tell you about them the next day. Common themes are: elevators, shopping malls, running away from someone or something, and being late. I also often dream about acquiring something - whether it's finding a lost object or buying new clothes - and wake up thinking that I'm still holding whatever it is. Maybe this is why I love THE DREAM THIEVES by Maggie Stiefvater so much! #greywaren



Now to pass this award on to others. I'm going to give it to seven of my oldest and dearest blog buddies:




Hope you're all having a good week so far! I should be blogging more frequently when revisions are over, as I need to take a writing break before jumping into the next book. I still haven't decided what to draft next, but I'm leaning toward FOTL. Hopefully I'll have a new excerpt or two to share with you before the end of the year, since I know you're all sick of hearing about ELEGY! ♥
 
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