Thursday, March 31, 2011

Whidbey Island Writer's Conference

This weekend is the annual Whidbey Writer's Conference. For the first time however, it's a full weekend event. In past years, the conference was one day.

What am I excited about? Besides the fact it's a local conference and I know several of the people organizing it? Let's see...
  • Garth Stein, author of The Art of Racing in the Rain (fabulous book that even I enjoyed even though it isn't normally my genre) will be there!!!
  • Sessions, instead of being held in conference rooms, are held in homes in and near Coupeville. These "chat houses" provide a friendly environment and relaxing setting, and a very unique format in which to conduct things.
  • It's Coupeville! Despite the fact it will probably rain, this town is adorable and the surroundings GORGEOUS.
  • Manuscript critiques and agent pitching
Check out the site here.

Looking forward to seeing those of you who can come. I'll be there as a volunteer, but please find me and say hi! (You can pitch me if you'd like, even though I won't formally be taking pitches.)

For those of you not attending, I'll be bragging about it on Monday and perhaps convince you to attend next year.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wednesday Reads: XVI

I'd been waiting for this book to come out forever! Okay, a few months. And now I've read it. Why was I waiting for it? The synopsis. Loved it! The idea of girls in a Dystopian future being branded at sixteen and used for sex? Oh ya, love it!

XVI by Julia Karr.

"In the year 2150, being a girl isn’t necessarily a good thing, especially when your sixteenth (read sex-teenth) birthday is fast approaching. That in itself would be enough to make anyone more than a little nuts, what with the tattoo and all – but Nina Oberon’s life has taken a definite turn for the worse. Her mother is brutally stabbed and left for dead. Before dying, she entrusts a secret book to Nina, telling her to deliver it to Nina's father. But, first Nina has to find him; since for fifteen years he's been officially dead. Complications arise when she rescues Sal, a mysterious, and ultra hot guy. He seems to like Nina, but also seems to know more about her father than he’s letting on. Then there’s that murderous ex-government agent who’s stalking her, and just happens to be her little sister’s dad."
First Sentence: ""Nina, look." Sandy jabbed me in the ribs." An okay way to start with dialogue. It's the first page that really chapters your attention, because you are immediately plunged into the dualities between Nina and Sandy--the girl who acts like a sex-teen, and the girl who abhors the practice.

Beefs: While the World Building was mostly fantastic, we never learned why the world is the way it is. What happened to make people think objectifying women like that is ok? The fact that the media now controls the government explains a little, but not enough. There were also some terms that weren't clearly explained. Maybe I missed it, but I don't know what PAV stands for, or what exactly a rapido is (some sort of pencil), or that their vehicles fly (I got that a few chapters in, but not right away when they are first mentioned).

Brownie Points: Plot and concept. 'nough said.

Ending: Open enough to leave you wanting more.

Recommendation: Read it if you like the genre/concept. It's a good read, definitely not a waste of time.

Would I represent it? Probably based on the concept alone, haha.

Happy reading!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Tips for Agent Speed Dating

You have a limited amount of time to pitch your book. You need to make use of every second.
The pitch: use specifics. What sort of obstacles is the protagonist facing? Identify the genre and targeted age group (this will be useful to the agent to decide right away if it is what they are looking for). IF it makes your pitch stronger, compare it to something the agent will recognize (popular books or movies--don't use something obscure). Tell us a little about the protag and other main players (ie: love interest). What makes the protag unique and interesting?
One Liners: Also helpful in speed pitches, but get a good one line pitch in case you need to fire it off in the hallway or for some reason you're running out of time (don't pitch in the bathroom, the answer will be NO). One liners can consist of comparisons to books and movies, but no matter what it needs to get to the heart of your story, be unique, and be memorable.

The delivery: Don't read from paper. You should know your story well enough to give us the key points. (We do understand if you have to read from paper, but you'll come across stronger and more confident if you can do without). Eye contact. Speak up. It's usually very loud in speed pitching rooms. Make yourself heard (but don't shout).

Etc: Be prepared for whatever the agent might ask you including but not limited to: Who will this appeal to? Where will it sit on the shelf? What makes it unique? What writing experience do you have?

Giving us business cards isn't necessary and don't give us pieces of paper or anything else. We are either interested or we are not. And we'll be asking you to contact us with the asked-for materials. We have no need for your other material.

We're here to help. Make use of all your time. If you have a little extra time in your pitch session, ask us some questions. We'll happily give you advice on your pitch, other people you should contact/pitch, what you can do to fluff your bio.

Most importantly, be confident, have faith in your work, and convey your excitement. And have fun! We are just people, not scary at all. We want you to succeed.

Happy pitching!

Friday, March 25, 2011


Language has a lot to do with voice. What is it about your characters (in whatever world they are in --this world, a Dystopian world, another world, etc), and how they talk that make them unique?

What do I mean? Look at Maze Runner, a fantastic example. These boys are in a maze with no memories, so they start making up their own names for things and using their own terms in place of "stupid," "lame," and the F-bomb. They have developed their own language, but one any reader can easily understand and believe.

Across the Universe also achieves the same, though not to quite the extent. They say "brilly" instead of "brilliant" and "frex" in place of many swears.

And, though I hated the book (respected yes, but it's one of those things that creep the heck out of me, like Chuck Palahniuk or Thomas Pynchon), Feed by MT Anderson also has great language. So much so that if I read too many chapters at once, my internal thoughts starting sounding like the narrator. Talk about effective.

Once again, all my examples are dystopian or futuristic or sci-fy. On the contemporary side, John Green is a master with language. Specifically, An Abundance of Katherines, in which their F-bomb substitute has a nerdy explanation. Not only is the language amazing, but it plays directly into VOICE.

I'm not expecting you to go so far as to create an entire new language. But (they'll be speaking English I hope, haha) they need their own way of speaking. If your story centers around a royal family, how is their speech different than a commoner's? If they are on a spaceship, I hope that their language (and VOICE) reflect a scientific bent. If they believe in multiple Goddesses, I don't want to see "Thank God"--use maybe "Thank the Goddesses." If it's a contemporary novel, how does the character's use of language reflect their voice?

Language/voice isn't only about replacing a few F-bombs for censorship-sake however (please don't do it for censorship-sake, do it because it fits your world and characters--if your world and characters drop the F-bomb every other word, then have at it!). It's about creating a language that's engaging but realistic, something that makes your characters/setting engaging.

So, based on language, what are your favorite novels?

Happy reading!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wednesday Reads: Along for the Ride

I actually LOVED this book. Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen. When I get more time, I'll probably read her other books too, it was THAT well crafted. Voice, plot, characters. Everything. Love!

First, a rave review from Amazon, which I agree with completely:
Dessen has built a well-deserved reputation for delicately depicting teen girls in turmoil. Her latest title showcases a socially awkward young woman who seeks solace in the comforting rigidity of academic success. Auden is about to start college in the fall, and decides to escape her control-freak professor mom to spend the summer with her novelist father, his new young wife, and their brand-new baby daughter, Thisbe. Over the course of the summer, Auden tackles many new projects: learning to ride a bike, making real connections with peers, facing the emotional fallout of her parents’ divorce, distancing herself from her mother, and falling in love with Eli, a fellow insomniac bicyclist recovering from his own traumas. The cover may mislead readers, as despite the body language of the girl in pink and the hunky blue-jeaned boy balanced on a bike, this is no slight romance: there’s real substance here. Dessen’s many fans will not be deterred by the length or that cover; they expect nuanced, subtle writing, and they won’t be disappointed.
Now the synopsis:

It’s been so long since Auden slept at night. Ever since her parents’ divorce—or since the fighting started. Now she has the chance to spend a carefree summer with her dad and his new family in the charming beach town where they live.
A job in a clothes boutique introduces Auden to the world of girls: their talk, their friendship, their crushes. She missed out on all that, too busy being the perfect daughter to her demanding mother. Then she meets Eli, an intriguing loner and a fellow insomniac who becomes her guide to the nocturnal world of the town. Together they embark on parallel quests: for Auden, to experience the carefree teenage life she’s been denied; for Eli, to come to terms with the guilt he feels for the death of a friend.
First Sentence:
"The e-mails always began the same way. 
Hi Auden!!
It was the extra exclamation point that got me. My mother would call it extraneous, overblown, exuberant. To me, it was simply annoying, just like everything else about my stepmother, Heidi."
I had to give you more than the first sentence, because it's funny. Well, I laughed. She so perfectly captures both Auden, her mother, and Heidi. You don't learn everything there is to know about them in the first page (good thing!). What this does is set us up for learning about them, which we do, slowly throughout the entire novel.

Beefs: Hm... nope, fresh out.

Brownie Points: The other characters. Yes, I loved Auden. She's witty and funny and serious and has great voice. But what really set this apart from other witty, funny, serious, great voiced books, are the supporting cast. I loved each and every one of them. I could clearly imagine them, would have hung out with them.

Ending: The problems in this novel didn't magically get better at the end. There was a sense of finality while showing that things don't end--there is no Happily Ever After, cuz the story keeps going (in the magical land where books characters exist and their lives don't end on the last page)!

Recommendation: If you like YA contemporary romance, read it. If you've been thinking about trying a YA romance, read it. If you like complex characters and a great read, read it.

Would I represent it? Previously, I hadn't considered myself as a YA romance kind of girl. I am now.

Happy reading!

Monday, March 21, 2011


"Past is Prologue." Or at least that's what it says on my PNWA bag from last summer's conference. Let's contemplate this a moment, shall we? Yes, past can be prologue, but what about "Future is Prologue"? No? Few of the many questions in the great prologue debate.

Let's first talk about ways in which to use a prologue (examples, not necessarily books, are in parenthesis). Then dos and don'ts.

Let's begin.

Past is Prologue:
  • If your novel is about someone in the present discovering some link to history (paranormal or not), you might show a scene of a significant event that will be important in the future (present) (The Mummy)
  • You show the murder or crime (without giving away the killer or thief) (Dan Brown)
  • An extremely important event that doesn't quite go with the body (maybe for POV or VOICE reasons) but you must include it
  • The character died and the body is about their afterlife (Heaven, Angel, Vampire, etc)
Future is Prologue:
  • Foreshadowing a death or near death (Twilight)
  • Foreshadowing some horrific experience
  • Reflection upon the events in the story (The Notebook)
  • The character died and the body is about their life

More often than not with manuscripts, I find myself skipping the prologue (I even do this with some published books, naughty naughty me, I know). You've heard people say that maybe your ms doesn't start in the right place? Don't discount the prologue. It might not be working. You've heard people say (me especially, it's a dedicated section in my Wednesday Reads) how important the first line and page are. That includes the prologue. Many times in my Wednesday Reads you'll notice how I'll give you both the prologue first line and first chapter first line, probably because the prologue wasn't thrilling.

  • Have action
  • Have intrigue
  • Have VOICE
  • Leave unanswered questions

  • Give too much detail. It isn't a textbook of history or of events in your novel
  • Use it as a back story dumping ground (and/or info dump)
  • Use it as a device to reveal information not found in the body--important information in the first page can easily be forgotten by the reader
  • Include a prologue just because you think it will sell more books

Here's the answer to all prologue questions: when using a prologue, no matter what it does, reveals, or foreshadows, it must fit with your story. It must work. And it must be interesting. Don't include it for the sake of having a prologue. The majority of books on the shelf probably don't have one, and they haven't suffered any for it.

Favorite prologues? Any books in which you didn't like the prologue?

Happy writing!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

World Building

The other day on my blog we were talking about Setting as Character. As I read your delightful comments, I started wondering how far off topic World Building was. Is that essentially what we were talking about? No. Setting as Character is one thing, but when I started mentioning dystopian novels and paranormal, I began to cross into another topic (or dimension--key weird music).

So let's talk about World Building, albeit briefly, because honestly, can you cover everything there is in one short blog post? I read this someplace else, so I can't give full credit for it (I apologize, I seem to have misplaced the link), but I feel that it really sums up what you need to do to build the best world possible: make your own rules and stick to them.

Of course, this implies that you need rules to begin with, right? Since you're in another world, or a world parallel to this one, or an alternate world to this one, or a futuristic world (etc, etc), that world and the characters in it need to act accordingly. These rules apply to government, magic, geography, marriage, language, rivalries, culture, history, etc, etc.

Implement these rules into the story. It isn't enough to just have these rules and write a rule book about them, we need to see your characters interacting with the rules. What is impeding them? How do they feel about the rules? Is it possible to change the rules? How do the rules effect their journey? How have the rules shaped them?

Based soley on World Building, my favorite books:

  • Terry Goodkind: Sword of Truth series
  • Beth Revis: Across the Universe
  • Julia Karr: XVI
  • Suzanne Collins: The Hunger Games
  • Libba Bray: A Great and Terrible Beauty
  • Scott Westerfeld. Anything he writes.
  • Diana Peterfreund, Rampant
In other words, anything over on my favorite books list. These authors have managed to weave a story so complex, and yet so easy to understand, that it's impossible not to be sucked in. They have other things going for them of course, but the characters interact with the world so well, you can't help but believe it, and imagine how you would have turned out if you had been in that world too.

Ok, so your favorite books? Based on World Building alone.

And, how much different is World Building from Setting as Character? Can you interchange them all the time? Some of the time? Can you have Setting as Character in a Built World, but not World Building in a Character's Setting?

Any great resources you've found for World Building?

Happy writing!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wednesday Reads: Story of a Girl

Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr.

When Deanna's father catches her having sex in a car when she is 13, her life is drastically changed. Two years later, he still can't look her in the eye, and though Tommy is the only boy she's been with, she is branded the school slut. Her entire family watches her as though she is likely to sleep with anyone she sees, and Tommy still smirks at and torments her when she sees him. Her two best friends have recently begun dating, and Deanna feels like an intruder. She tries to maintain a close relationship with her older brother, but Darren and his girlfriend are struggling as teenage parents. Deanna learns to protect herself by becoming outwardly tough, but feels her isolation acutely. Her only outlet is her journal in which she writes the story of an anonymous girl who has the same experiences and feelings that she does. Through this, readers see the potential that Deanna cannot identify in herself. This is a heartbreaking look at how a teenager can be defined by one mistake, and how it shapes her sense of self-worth.
First Sentence: "I was thirteen when my dad caught me with Tommy Webber in the back of Tommy's Buick, parked next to the old Chart House down in Montara at eleven o'clock on a Tuesday night." The entire book is very honest, starting with her no-nonsense opening page. Deanna has a unique voice in the first person narrative. Honest, at times witty, not over done.

Beefs: I never felt the Wham Bam I like in novels. The book was short, sweet, and to the point.

Brownie Points: Fantastic story about a girl learning more about herself, her family, friendship, love, confidence, and forgiveness. Through its unique plot, it weaves a tale girls should read. A fantastic coming of age and self-awareness that many girls are lacking. And the subject of sex, while not openly discussed in brutal honesty, is given enough thought to be very relevant. I like how young the character was when she first had sex (13) because as much as we don't like it, it is happening, and girls should be aware of that and its consequences (boys too).

Ending: A good story about a girl learning who she is.

Recommendation: All middle school and high school girls should read this.

Would I represent it? Hopefully I would have dug it out of my slush pile, but I might not have. It didn't have that zing.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Movies Made from Books

I've criticized the movie business for years. With each story line ripped from a novel or each sequel spawned, my faith in the world's creativity crumbles a little. After finding this list of movies made from books, I had to sit back and think about it. Some of them I will go see, for the sake of seeing. But why? Aren't I a hypocrite? Maybe if I can justify my actions, I can live with myself.

Here's the link for upcoming movies. Yesterday, I went to see Beastly, the book was originally by Alex Flinn. I went in knowing it was going to be different, so I sat back and decided to judge it on the movie alone. I actually enjoyed it. It was a cute tale with some funny moments (especially blind tutor Will), a good message, cool effects (the beast was scarred rather than hairy), and a warm fuzzy in your stomach happy ending.

Reasons to see movies ripped from books.

Story lines. I used to say that movie makers (screen writers, producers, etc) can't come up with any good story lines. Now I say that movie makers recognize good story lines and want to put it out there for non book readers to share in. Hunger Games, Maze Runner, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Great and Terrible Beauty are four I will definitely see. I loved the books, and am curious to see how it will transfer to film (the complexities of Katniss's complex character especially). Part of me wants to share in them, because I want to experience the plot again, without having to read the book (usually I'm a one-time reader, there are few books on my shelf I'll read twice). Of course, I have been disappointed before. The Harry Potter movies made me sad at life because they couldn't capture the true magic of the books (Movie 7 part 1 can be excluded from this for the most part). Ella Enchanted made me want to run screaming from the theater (the only book I've read more--much more--than 10 times).

Drag your friends to see it--the friends you couldn't get to read the book. Perhaps their interest will be piqued and next time you suggest a book they might just read it.

Feel superior that the world's entertainment is becoming dependent upon the imagination of writers--ironic considering the state of publishing and bookstores. But still, we can thank amazing people like JR Tolkien, JK Rowling, Stephanie Meyers, among others.

I don't have to read the book anymore--but I can pretend. It's sophomore English all over again (Shakespeare was better with English accents and tights). My guilty list: Beautiful Creatures (good book, not my favorite though and I'd like to see what movie magic makers can do with it); Forest of Hands and Teeth (as much as I wanted to love it, I couldn't get into it); The Mortal Instruments (another I wanted to love but I couldn't get into).

If you weren't thrilled with the book, the movie might redeem it. I never read the book Stardust was based on, but I heard that the ending in the book was horrible. Plus, the acting in the movie was fantastic. I'm glad I never read it. It's actually one of my favorite movies of all time.

Experience the magic again. It's been years since I read the Narnia books; so long, I forgot which ones I had read and the plots of most of them. But I didn't really feel like picking up MG/YA books and reading them for the sake of reading them when my list is already huge. Maybe some kids don't want to read them because they are "outdated" or something silly. Enter the movies, and suddenly it's like new again. Maybe some kids were inspired to rediscover the books (go books!).

You'll notice of course that this list is purely YA. I'll expand the genres for the answering portion of today's post.

What's your favorite movie that's been made from a book? Why? Least favorites? What are you looking forward to seeing, whether or not you've read the books?

Happy watching!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Rejection Rate

Lucky 13th day again! Time to report my stats of query letter rejection. For those of you who are new, every month I report how many query letters I've rejected for that month, and offer a few words of advice/observations for the month.

This month, I rejected 82% of queries, a huge difference my previous 70%. Don't be too discouraged, a good number of these queries were completely the wrong genre for me, not a reflection of query quality. This number is good for showing how many people don't do their agent research or haven't perfected their queries yet.

Perhaps a better number to look at is how many partial manuscripts I've rejected, and how many I've requested. This number shows you how many people's manuscripts aren't ready when they query (for a number of reasons, but that's an entirely separate post--and book). This month, I also saw a huge difference in my numbers. 95% of partials were rejected, which means I only requested additional pages from 5%.

Discouraged? The beauty of this business is that there is always room to learn, and there are always people wanting to teach. As an agent, I get discouraged sometimes too, always wanting to find that ms that I will dream about, can't stop talking about. Remember all the books you probably read in a year; how many of those books will you talk about nonstop weeks after reading? That's what I'm looking for--that ms I'll LOVE.

Don't think the query business will pan out for you? It can, if you keep at it and learn from failure. I signed one author this month who I found just that way--through queries. I signed another this month, and I found her--or she found me--at the San Fransisco conference. So, to up your odds, query and attend conferences. You'll learn a lot both ways.

So now, things I've thought about/ learned/ realized this month:

My eyes sort of glaze over when I see "vampires" in the query. I think it's dried up in the YA world, but I'll consider it for adult Paranormal or Urban Fantasy. Make it original. Make it sparkle (but not in an Edward Cullen's fairy sort of way).

That said, don't start your query telling me how different or awesome or how sick I am of seeing vampire queries. Present your query. It should speak for itself.(This goes for everything else. You don't need to spell out why your book is needed in today's climate. We're agents--it's our jobs to know these things.)

Be clear if the book you are querying is self published already. In which case, the only thing we care about are numbers, no matter how awesome your query is. Because that's all publishers care about. General rule of thumb, if book sales aren't at least 5,000 in the first 6 months, neither agents nor publishers will look at it. And if it's older than 6 months (without spectacular sales), it's old news. (Very general rule of thumb, and it varies depending on who you talk to.)

Sign your name, not just your initials. It's all well and good if you want the name displayed on your book to be your initials (it works, just look at JK Rowling), but when signing your query letter, please use your first name. I like to know who to address it to. I'd feel awkward composing an email as "Dear JK."

I seem to be getting a lot of queries for superhero novels lately. Whatever the reason for the sudden influx, and whatever the age group, I don't represent superhero novels. To me, they belong in movies, comic books, and graphic novels. Leave the novels to the sparkly vampires. (Not saying it won't pan out for you, there are people out there who will like it--love it, sign it, buy it, give you lots of money for it--you'd just really, really, really have to sell me on it.)

I'd like to know a little about you, gentle readers. On this Lucky 13th day, what good things have happened to you this month? This can range from selling a book, getting represented, getting a partial requested, attending a cool workshop, finishing a page, getting inspiration from a walk--anything really.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Wednesday Reads: Across the Universe

No longer just a reference to a sixties boy band! Across the Universe by Beth Revis was another one of those "this is why I love this genre" sort of books. It's described as a YA sci-fi mystery. Maybe with a touch of dystopian. But totally awesome. (By the way, admire the cover.)

A love out of time. A spaceship built of secrets and murder.
Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awake on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into a brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.
Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone—one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship—tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn’t do something soon, her parents will be next.
Now, Amy must race to unlock Godspeed’s hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there’s only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming.

First Sentence: "Daddy said, "Let Mom go first."" Not the very best first sentence, but it's enough to make you wonder and read on. It's the first scene that will captivate you though. It is so unique and emotional that you can't help but keep reading. Far from anything you'd expect. And I was thoroughly hooked.

Beefs: Hm... there is one in here somewhere I think. Maybe it's that I figured out the ending--the "who dunnit?"--before we were told. But, as my mother tells, me I always ruin the endings because I can figure it out. Maybe I'm the only one. Maybe not. But honestly, this wasn't a major draw back because I didn't know exactly HOW things happened, WHY things happened, or WHAT was going to happen next. It's a ride this one, one you'll enjoy. (and there is a little delicious twist I definitely did not see coming--not giving anything away though.)

Brownie Points: Do I talk about POV a lot? Voice, yes (which is also well done here). But POV? Well, let me start. When alternating first person POV is done well, it's a big asset to the book. It can be trick of course. I did have to concentrate on the new chapters/POV shifts and remember who was talking (though most of the time the voice was distinctive enough to clear it up), but most of the time it was superb. All over, the major brownie point is craft--on everything: plot, pacing, characters, world building, etc, etc. Study this one if you want to write YA, mystery, sci-fy, or dystopian.

Ending: Wholly and completely 100% satisfying. You didn't know exactly how it was going to end, and believe me, you won't expect the twist (even I didn't). You'll believe in truth again, and courage.

Recommendation: Do you even remotely like any of the genres/sub-genres? Read it.

Would I represent it? Contemplated making my yes in really, really big, annoying font. But decided against it.

Happy reading!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Setting as Character

At the San Fransisco Conference, I listened to a great panel (Cara Black, Bharti Kirchner, Kemble Scott) talking about Setting as Character. I'd considered this before. In a few manuscripts I felt myself wanting more setting, especially if it was in a city that was interesting. In more manuscripts than I can count, there are faceless, nameless cities and towns that can be interchanged with countless other cities and towns. This isn't always a bad thing (but sometimes it is). In other manuscripts, it made me want to dive in even more, because the writer obviously knew what they were talking about.

So, when do you know setting is a character in your novel? Bharti says that you know you've achieved it if you take the story and set it in a another city and then examine it. Is it the same story? If the story no longer works, then you know you've made setting a character.

Kemble's stories take place in a specific neighborhood in San Fransisco (which means he's also got a built in audience). There is no way he could take the story out of the neighborhood, it wouldn't be the same story at all.

Now, I'm not saying to rush out and make setting a character, so necessary that we learn so much about it we want to puke. But I am saying to reexamine your story. Is there any place that could be made a little more interesting by exploiting the setting?

Dystopian novels are obvious: think Hunger Games. Setting was a HUGE part of that novel. The world, the district, the town, the house, the government, were key players in every scene. Make sure in your Dystopian (or SciFi or post-apocalyptic) novel that the setting is absolutely necessary (and developed, and flawless, etc).

But contemporary novels can work just the same way. I'm thinking of Will Grayson, Will Grayson. The towns that both Wills lived in didn't strike much of a cord with me, but the city they went to, did. There's a scene in which one Will is staring at his distorted reflection in the Bean. Does the artwork mean anything to me? Not really. But it got my imagination going and I started picturing the city as if I've never seen it before.

Thirteen Reasons Why is set in a nondescript town that could be anywhere in America. Thinking back, I can't even remember if we're even told what state it's in. But the town was vital to the plot, while the character is led from one landmark to another.

Historical novels are another great example. A Great and Terrible Beauty really captivated me because it is set at first in India, then England, and then in a fantasy land. Each, no matter how small, was beautifully crafted, small nuggets spread around for our pleasure. It never hit us over the head with historical facts, they just were; they sat there like o ya, that's the way it's supposed to be.

Now, my examples aren't solid examples of Setting as Character (check out the authors of the panel to see how to do it), but my examples do show how to sprinkle in a little flavor.

So whether you add a lot or just a little, make sure you add enough to get the reader interested, thinking, imagining. But don't go overboard and pepper us with lengthy descriptions (it's not the nineteenth century anymore, you'll bore your readers).

What are your favorite books based on the setting?

Happy writing!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Author Bios

I've been getting a lot of questions about what to and what not to include in your author bios lately. I answered this question a couple months ago, but I think it's time to revisit it.

First, what NOT to include:
  • You've been writing since kindergarten. 
  • Your Mom (best friend, Grandma, class) thinks you're the cat's meow!
  • Elementary, Middle School, High School, college credits (paper, yearbook, etc). If you were published in recognized magazines during that time, then, yes, include it.
In my last post about bios, I said I didn't care and that I paid little attention to them. I've changed my tune slightly since then. I've been paying a little more attention to bios in query letters. If you're part of writing organizations, attend conferences, participate in an active critique group, if I'm on the fence about your query, you'll probably get a request instead of a rejection. But if your query is just plain bad or uninteresting or the wrong genre, no amount of credits are going to sway me.

What to include:
  • If you've been previously published: where, when, what, etc; magazines are a great way to break into the writing world. Several published articles (especially in the genre you're querying) will look impressive.
  • Groups you are a part of (RWA, PNWA, SBCI) (but you don't need to mention if you attend conferences regularly, but there are ways around it; say, if you met a great contact such as a writing mentor, famous author that is now your friend, or an editor requested your material, then slide in the conference--but really, it's just padding)
  • critique groups
  • classes you've attended (if you've studied with, say, Donald Maas)
  • if you have a mentor who's been recently published and well recognized (not someone who has been independently published and no one has heard of her).
  • Awards
  • Degrees (MFAs, masters, graduate school)
  • if you're a teacher or librarian or have taught classes specific to your genre
  • if you have a high traffic blog or contribute to a high traffic blog well known in your genre
NOTE: I don't pay attention to MFAs or things like that (but they look pretty and I love sending those along to editors). And, just because you have a major in English Literature, doesn't mean squat (I'm an English major too, doesn't mean I can write a good novel). Some agents don't care for a lot of this list. Some will tell you to take it out. It's all subjective really. Sometimes I completely skip the bio if it doesn't seem all that interesting. I skim and look for words like "published in such and such magazine" or "attend such and such a class with Donald Maas." But, if you haven't been published, you don't personally know Stephanie Meyer, and your only followers on your blog are your mother and cats, make sure to pad it with relevant stuff (second group of bullet points, not the first one). And you don't necessarily have to include your bio in your query (most agents like it, I like having it there to refer back to if I need to while I'm reading the partials), but make sure your bio is the best it can be for when it's requested.

And yes, your bio will be different in your query than a full author bio, especially if you have a lot of credits. If you do have a lot of credits, give us the highlights, then go into detail in the full author bio. If you have few credits (try to fix that) then your query bio and full bio might look the same. Some people like adding cutsie stuff like you'd see on the back flap of a hard back--but that's really not necessary. I want the hard facts.

Update in response to question: It's not necessary to have an author bio. I like concentrating only on the query. But make sure to read an agent's preferences first, if they specify at all. Some say to include it, if they don't, then it's up to you. If you have something impressive that will get you requests, then include it, otherwise don't worry about it.

Happy writing!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Wednesday Reads: Hunger

I read the back cover of this book and just had to read it. I love the idea, the plot--it's beautifully morbid in all the right ways. Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler.

Synopsis: (from Amazon)
Lisabeth Lewis is seventeen, anorexic...
and the new Famine, one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Seventeen-year-old Lisabeth is fighting a series of demons the only way she knows how: by refusing to eat. Her cold, acerbic mother; distant father; and friends who disapprove of her and each other all trigger her inner Thin Voice, which derides food, confirms her fatness, and shames her into the control necessary to reject food. As she sinks deeper into anorexia, she summons Death, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, who in turn assigns her a black steed and a scale and transforms her into Famine, another of the Four Horsemen. Kessler has written an unusual allegory about eating disorders, one that works on several levels. As Lisabeth gallops across the world, she witnesses examples of both gluttony and starvation. Using her newfound power, she combats famine, visits horror upon the privileged, and strives to bring balance to the world, all while ignoring the need for balance in her own life. Kessler offers a refreshingly new approach to the YA eating-disorder genre that reinforces the difficulty of conquering these diseases. 
First Sentence: "Lisabeth Lewis didn't mean to become Famine." I'm usually not a fan of first sentences in which a character is introduced by name, but it's such an excellent hook that it works. Who doesn't want to keep reading after that?

Beefs: I couldn't help but imagining what this book would have been like had it been longer, for an older audience, and more in depth. As it was though, it worked, and was an excellent read.

Brownie Points: The characterizations of Lisabeth and her friends, especially her bulimic friend Tammy, were wonderfully done. Heart wrenching in every way, honest enough to be real, but written in a style that's in-your-face without pummeling-your-face-in.

Ending: As it should be. A wonderful self-discovery.

Recommendation: Teenage girls should definitely read this, especially girls with a penchant towards fantasy, because it mixes just the right amount of fantasy in with the real world to be very effective. I'm not saying this book will make an anerexic girl better; but it is a good self awareness book for all girls.

Would I represent it? I've said before that I like longer books, things much more in depth. So I'm not entirely sure what I would have done with it had I found it in my slush pile. I'd like to think I would have snatched it up, but who knows? I love the idea of girls becoming the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, so I'd love to see something like it.

Happy reading!