Monday, December 21, 2015

Am I Icelandic?

This has been making the rounds on my facebook feed:
And I find it delightful!

I love getting books for Christmas, but my family claims it's hard to know what I've read already, so they don't usually try.  I always buy lots of books for the people I love--my favorite part of Christmas morning is when my kids lose interest in opening gifts because they have a new book that the REALLY WANT TO READ.  What's cozier than that?

Some of the books I've bought this Christmas include Woven by David Powers King and Michael Jenson, Rook by Sharon Cameron (I actually bought 5 copies of this for my favorite folks!  I LOVE THIS BOOK), The False Prince series and The Mark of the Thief by Jennifer Nielsen, Leviathon by Scott Westerfeld, Reckless by Cornelia Funke, The Origami Yoda series by Tom Angleberger, The Eighth Day series by Dianne Salerni, Vargic's Miscellany of Curious Maps: Mapping the Modern World by Martin Vargic, Symphony for the Dead: Shostakovich and the Seige of Leningrad by MT Anderson, and a bunch of others I didn't intend to buy but intrigued me in the bookstore.  Bookstores are dangerous places for me!

Happy reading!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Pitching to Editors & Agents

I love writing conferences.  Pitching to agents and editors can be nerve-wracking, though.  I've had several opportunities to pitch manuscripts, and while I've found great information online about that pitch, I haven't seen much about the rest of the 10-15 minute appointment!  Honestly, the pitch will last about 30 seconds, and then you'll have to talk . . . off-script.

A lot of questions will be manuscript-specific, of course, but here are some questions I've been asked and what I've learned from them:
  • What is your writing process like? I think the editor was feeling out how experienced I was as a writer.  Not that either plotting or pantsing puts you ahead of others, but mentioning outlining, research, critique partners, a writing group, trunk novels, and extensive revising shows that you're investing in your career as a writer.  I learned . . .that editors want to work with a writer who treats writing like a job, not a hobby.
  • What have you learned at the conference? I enjoyed and appreciated this question.  The editor seemed sincerely interested--she said that while she enjoyed meeting writers one-on-one, she missed attending classes--and we had a great chat about an interesting class on story structure I'd just attended.   I learned . . . that listening to pitches all day was probably quite wearying!
  • Have you thought about writing this as a romance novel instead? Well, since it was a middle-grade adventure novel, no.  No, I had not.  I learned . . . not every agent is a good fit for me.
  • What books would you compare your manuscript to?  Everyone asks this.  Sadly, titles and authors fly out of my head when I'm on the spot! I like to compare a couple different aspects of my manuscript to published books--for example, the plot is similar to Code Name, Verity but the tone is like Ally Carter's Heist Society books.  Or the pacing is like The DaVinci Code but the setting is Gone with the Wind.  Or the tragic love story is very The Fault in Our Stars but the voice is Edgar Allen Poe.  (These comparisons are getting worse and worse.) I learned . . . that it is way fun to talk books with other book-lovers.  And that it's important to know where your manuscript fits in the marketplace.
  • What TV show or movie would you compare your manuscript to? This one was hard to answer, because I pick TV shows based on what's funny for laundry-folding time. I learned . . .  that this editor and I watched none of the same movies and shows.
  • How much of the plot is romance?  This editor specialized in romances, so she wanted to know whether the love interest was a side plot or a major player.  I learned . . . that I probably wouldn't thrive writing romance, since my favorite books have side-plot romances.
  • Is your plot big enough for me?  This was an odd question, and not one she really wanted answered--it was a springboard for her thoughts.  But I'm so glad she asked it!  It's stuck with me as I've plotted other manuscripts.  I think about it a lot.  I learned . . .stakes can be raised so much higher than I sometimes envision originally.
These are great--if slightly terrifying--conversations.  Where else can an introvert find 10 minutes to talk with an industry professional about her project?  If you're waffling about whether it's worth spending that extra money to pitch at a conference, go for it!  The agent or editor's questions might amuse you, or they might send your thoughts down a brand-new path for revisions.

Good luck!

Monday, November 23, 2015

November's Best Books

I'm behind in my book reviews because I have been in a positive glut of amazing, wonderful, re-readable books.  I remember when I stopped working and started staying home with my one-year-old, I'd go to the library and walk up and down the aisles (sighing) (also surreptitiously sneaking the baby a graham cracker) and come home with a stack of books that I never read past the first chapter.  They just didn't hit the spot for me, and besides an occasional recommendation (which was usually for a bestseller anyway), I didn't know where to find books I liked. 

How things have improved!  I love you, internet, and I love you, all my writer friends who read even more than me and recommend exactly what I'd like. 

I'll break these into a few posts so you don't buckle under the weight of these fabulous books when you leave the bookstore. 

Image result for ink and bone

Here's the official blurb:

In an exhilarating new series, New York Times bestselling author Rachel Caine rewrites history, creating a dangerous world where the Great Library of Alexandria has survived the test of time.…   Ruthless and supremely powerful, the Great Library is now a presence in every major city, governing the flow of knowledge to the masses. Alchemy allows the Library to deliver the content of the greatest works of history instantly—but the personal ownership of books is expressly forbidden.   Jess Brightwell believes in the value of the Library, but the majority of his knowledge comes from illegal books obtained by his family, who are involved in the thriving black market. Jess has been sent to be his family’s spy, but his loyalties are tested in the final months of his training to enter the Library’s service.   When he inadvertently commits heresy by creating a device that could change the world, Jess discovers that those who control the Great Library believe that knowledge is more valuable than any human life—and soon both heretics and books will burn.…

And here's my gushing:

Wow!  Ink and Bone is clever, inventive, interesting--the characters are flawed and still likable--and the plot is twisty.  I loved the world she created so much that probably would have read a 'Reader's Companion' or something just to soak in all the details.  The author hit on so many interesting alternate paths regarding history, literature, wars, literacy, ownership, debauchery (ink-lickers eat rare books, people!).  And the visuals of these libraries--temples of learning--are gorgeous.

Somehow I hadn't read anything by this author before, but I'm hurrying to change that while I wait for the next book to come out!

Image result for six of crows

Here's the blurb:

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price--and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can't pull it off alone... A convict with a thirst for revenge. A sharpshooter who can't walk away from a wager. A runaway with a privileged past. A spy known as the Wraith. A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.  A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.  Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz's crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction—if they don't kill each other first.

And my gushing:

I'd been counting down the days until Six of Crows released.  I loved the author's Grisha trilogy, mostly because it was set in a Russian-inspired fantasy world.  There aren't nearly enough of those!  This book delighted me in all the same ways.  I loved seeing fantasy versions of Amsterdam and Finland . . . plus it was a heist.  I LOVE HEISTS.  

Usually I really like books about good people, but Leigh Bardugo has such a knack of taking really, truly bad people and giving them just enough humanity to make us feel torn and to root for them.  I am in awe.  I wish the others were out. . . it was the only thing that took the edge of my migraine the day I read it.

(Yes.  I read for migraine relief.  We all have our quirks.)

Image result for walk on earth a stranger


Lee Westfall has a strong, loving family. She has a home she loves and a loyal steed. She has a best friend--who might want to be something more. She also has a secret. Lee can sense gold in the world around her. Veins deep in the earth. Small nuggets in a stream. Even gold dust caught underneath a fingernail. She has kept her family safe and able to buy provisions, even through the harshest winters. But what would someone do to control a girl with that kind of power? A person might murder for it. When everything Lee holds dear is ripped away, she flees west to California--where gold has just been discovered. Perhaps this will be the one place a magical girl can be herself. If she survives the journey. The acclaimed Rae Carson begins a sweeping new trilogy set in Gold Rush-era America, about a young woman with a powerful and dangerous gift.

And from me:

This was another book I was dancing with impatience to read--her Girl of Fire and Thorns series is one of my all-time favorites.  This book was so sweet.  I loved the main character and her best friend.  I liked the life lessons she learned along the trail west, I liked the cast of characters who grew and evolved along with her.   I really liked how Lee's eyes were opened to the secrets others carry and that she experienced a lot of love and kindness along with abuse and humiliation.

I did want more of the magic of the world--why could she sense gold, did others have special abilities, etc.  It's such a cool premise!  I would have loved more 'alternate' in the story--other than her gold sense, it's a pretty straight (and wonderful) historical fiction.

Friday, November 20, 2015

How Not to Pitch an Agent

My favorite writing conference of the year, LDStorymakers, is hosting a video competition with the prize of a free conference admission.  I am so not a video girl!  I have no patience for watching them.  I might be the only American who still hasn't seen a cute cat (or dog, or panda, or baby) video on facebook.  I NEVER WATCH THEM.  Every not and then I'll click on something and give it about three seconds to enchant me (which hardly ever happens).

But this one, by the ever talented Darci Cole, cracked me up and up and up.  She wrote the song "Popular" from Wicked . . . from an author/agent perspective.  She calls it, "How NOT to Pitch an Agent."


And, wow, that girl can sing!

I'm hoping they show this at the conference over and over again . . . maybe on a loop on TVs outside the agent pitch sessions . . .

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Fantasy Novelist's Exam

At my recent writer's conference, Jessica Day George gave a hilarious talk on 'How to Write Fantasy' ("Only the broadest topic ever," she said, "right after: 'How to Write Fiction').

I have a love-hate thing going on with fantasy.  I didn't read it growing up based on two things: my older brother loved it, so it was his thing, and I really, really hated the covers.  I remember a lot of this kind of thing lying around his room:

Probably a great book, but not for the teenage me.  Puns AND a skeleton AND a centaur?

Other than the Narnia books and Madeleine L'Engle, I didn't crack a fantasy book on purpose until I was an adult.  Once I did, the creativity and the epic scale of good versus evil sucked me in.  But I still never headed to the fantasy section--I thought of those wonderful recommendations as aberrations, not typical.  And I picked up a few with portrayals of women that really got under my skin.

My younger brother kept raving about this fantasy author named Brandon Sanderson.  I checked Mistborn out of the library at least three separate times, because I couldn't bring myself to read it.  It was that darn fantasy cover!

Finally, book drought desperation got to me, and I opened it.  And I'm not sure I put it back down until I'd read all three in the series.  And then everything else Brandon Sanderson had ever written.  I recommended it to everyone I knew (mostly the only people who read it were my friends' husbands or their teenage sons).

Anyway, after a month of glutting myself on Brandon Sanderson's epic fantasies, I had to acknowledge that I actually might be falling for the genre.  I've noticed when I look at my Shelfari page, a good chunk of my 5-star ratings go to . . . fantasy!

I've found that I particularly love YA fantasy.  LOVE.  Here are some recent and all-time favorites:

Image result for stolen songbirdImage result for an ember in the ashesImage result for leigh bardugo booksImage result for false princeImage result for false princess

(See how amazing YA fantasy covers are? Take a hint, adult publishers.)

Read these.  All of them, and immediately.  Thank me later.

Jessica Day George's class reminded me this hilarious site called 'The Fantasy Novelist's Exam.'  It sums up exactly why I couldn't get into fantasy for so long.

Here are some highlights:
  1. Does "a forgetful wizard" describe any of the characters in your novel?
  2. How about "a wise, mystical sage who refuses to give away plot details for his own personal, mysterious reasons"?
  3. Would "a clumsy cooking wench more comfortable with a frying pan than a sword" aptly describe any of your female characters?
  4. Would "a fearless warrioress more comfortable with a sword than a frying pan" aptly describe any of your female characters?
  5. Is any character in your novel best described as "a dour dwarf"?
  6. Do you think that the only two uses for ships are fishing and piracy?
  7. Do you not know when the hay baler was invented?
  8. Did you draw a map for your novel which includes places named things like "The Blasted Lands" or "The Forest of Fear" or "The Desert of Desolation" or absolutely anything "of Doom"?
  9. Does your novel contain a prologue that is impossible to understand until you've read the entire book, if even then?
  10. Is this the first book in a planned trilogy?
  11. How about a quintet or a decalogue?
  12. Do you see nothing wrong with having two characters from the same small isolated village being named "Tim Umber" and "Belthusalanthalus al'Grinsok"?
  13. Do you think you know how feudalism worked but really don't?
  14. Do you ever use the term "plate mail" in your novel?
  15. Heaven help you, do you ever use the term "hit points" in your novel?
  16. Do you not realize how much gold actually weighs?
  17. Do you think horses can gallop all day long without rest?
  18. Does anybody in your novel fight for two hours straight in full plate armor, then ride a horse for four hours, then delicately make love to a willing barmaid all in the same day?
  19. Do you not realize it takes hours to make a good stew, making it a poor choice for an "on the road" meal?
  20. Is your story about a crack team of warriors that take along a bard who is useless in a fight, though he plays a mean lute?
Go read the whole thing--it's hilarious!  Thank goodness so many writers are playing with these tropes and turning them into something marvelous.