Friday, November 19, 2010

Literary Rock Star Alert: Angela Ackerman, The Bookshelf Muse

Ladies and gentleman, we have a literary rock star in our presence. She's a muse to every tired writer in need of that elusive synonym. Her gifts to writers everywhere include the Emotion Thesaurus, Setting Thesaurus, Color, Textures, and Shapes Thesaurus, and Symbolism Thesaurus.

Picture nabbed from her client profile at the Herman Agency

Here's my interview with Angela Ackerman 

Katrina: Angela, how did you feel the first time you completed a novel?

Angela: Pretty awesome. I completed it during Nanowrimo years ago, and wow it felt so good to write something that long and type ‘the end’. The book was horrible of course, riddled with purple prose and clich├ęs and would need a freaking lobotomy to make it work. Still, the feeling was addictive and I knew then that novel writing was definitely the path for me.

Katrina: What was the hardest aspect of novel-writing for you to master (I’m guessing it wasn’t descriptions)?

Angela: Voice. Boy it took a long time to figure out how to find voice. The breakthrough came when I stopped thinking about the reader and what ‘a proper writer should write about/what a proper character should be like’ and instead thought about me, me, me. I realized voice will not happen unless the writer risks everything and writes straight from the gut—good, bad, ugly. The writer’s job is not to be nice or model good behavior for readers, but to reveal the truth.

Katrina: How many novels have you written to date? And what is your latest about?

Angela: *thinks* Eight. Three chapter books, three young adults and two middle grades. And one malformed story I can’t even bear to call it a novel, but it’s a solid idea and one day I will make it work.  (It just wasn’t ready when I tried to write it. Sometimes that happens.)

My WIP is a Middle Grade Mythology Suspense. Osiris, Egyptian God of the Dead, resurrects in modern times and attempts to take over a dying town in the Nevada desert by replacing the inhabitants’ souls with those of his loyal dead followers.

Katrina: What advice would you give to someone who is just beginning to write his or her first novel?

Angela: Plan first, so you really understand what the story is about and what you want to accomplish. Then write and have fun with it.  Don’t worry, don’t revise…just write.

Katrina: What advice would you give to those of us in the query trenches?


#1 Don’t query until your book is brilliant. NOTE: it is not brilliant if you are tired of looking at it and so you decide it’s ‘ready’. OR if you think, ‘Yeah, this is good enough.’ BUT, when you are certain you know craft well, can shelve it for a period of time, then reread and find nothing worth revising beyond a word here and there…AND you love it so hard you want to dress it up and show it off and talk in a cutesy voice to it…then it’s probably brilliant. (Still, make sure crit partners agree.)

#2 Honor your MS by spending time honing your query, and learning what a good query is. Then see rule #1 and apply it to your query letter. 

#3 Target well. Don’t send it out to every agent that has a pulse. Send it to people you’ve researched and know will take good care of your MS. This is your career, not a plate of brownies for a bake sale. 

#4 Believe in yourself and your book. This is a hard path. Hold your head up high and feel good about who you are, all you’ve learned and what you’ve created.

#5 Remember rejections are not failures. They are proof of your dedication and that you are in it to win it. Personal ones are opportunities to reassess, learn and improve. 

Katrina: You and our Angela Townsend of Operation Awesome share a literary agent! Angie is always passing along her helpful writing advice. What’s the most important/helpful thing you’ve learned from your awesome agent, Jill Corcoran?

Angela: Jill is a gem, and I mean that from the heart. I think the most important lesson I’ve learned from her is to be adaptable. Sometimes I get stuck looking at a problematic scene from one viewpoint, like tunnel vision. She challenges me to move past it by discarding that view all together and finding an alternate way to bring events about. This always leads to epiphanies.

Katrina: You offer an incredible service to writers in your free emotions thesaurus, settings thesaurus, etc. Is there ever such a thing as too much description, in your opinion? If so, how do you know how much is too much?

Angela: Oh zombies, yes! The key with description is to offer a few strong details that paint a picture, not bloated, unwieldy paragraphs that derail both flow and pace. Every writer is different however, so it often comes down to writing the way you are meant to write. Some can make language dance on the page, and others have a crisper, tighter sense of prose. Regardless of style, successful description will only showcase details that forward the story. Choose details that act as a window into the POV character’s head and convey the stakes of the scene.

Katrina: Name an author whose work leaves you feeling giddy.

Angela: I’d have to say Rick Riordan. I love his voice in the Percy Jackson series, so snappy and sarcastic and hilarious. Too, his modernization of Greek mythology was nothing short of fantasmic.

Katrina: What makes zombies awesome?

Angela: They’re just so…honest. It’s all about that craving for flesh. There’s no pretense about it, no snobbery or entitlement. Rich, poor, successful or not…whatever they were before doesn’t matter because now it’s just about finding the next meal. Plus, they’ll make excellent minions for world domination…whenever I get around to it.

Katrina: Do you have any news or something you’d like the OA readers to check out?

Angela: Definitely check out CRITTER! He’s a cartoon cow that has been all over the world, promoting creativity and living with writers and authors (Beth Revis, Cynthia Leich Smith, PJ Hoover to name just a few). Creation of Ian Sands, he’s now hanging out with me in Calgary, Alberta and making appearances at The Bookshelf Muse. He’s collected tons of signatures, including world famous Naturalist artist Robert Bateman, and after his visit here will be auctioned off to benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. This is such a worthy cause that everyone in the Kidlit world can identify with! (Psst--BIG Critter contest is up at The Bookshelf Muse… Critter Palooza!)  

Thank you so much for the delightful glimpse into your writing process and the awesome query advice. And THANK YOU for the incredible resource you've given us! (What we really need is a thesaurus entirely devoted to the concept of awesome... Hey, THIS ONE might do the trick. ;)

Find more Angela Ackerman on the web:

The Bookshelf Muse Thesauri in Print on facebook (if you dream of seeing this resource in print, click like on the other end of this link)

If you have ever used Angela's and Becca's awesome writing blog in your own writing, here's your chance to say hi and thanks. 

And if you'd like to learn more about CRITTER and his mission for St. Jude's Children's Hospital, see our interview with his travel agent, Christy Evers.


Katrina L. Lantz said...

Thank you, Angela and Becca, for creating something so incredibly helpful! I refer to your emotion thesaurus often when revising to get rid of my million character sighs, groans, and grins. What would I do without you?

And thank you for the interview! I'm on my way to check out Critter's homecoming prize party!

Happy Friday, everybody!

Matthew MacNish said...

Literary Rock Star. Awesome. That is the perfect term for Angela, she is nothing short of AMAZING!

Thanks ladies, great interview.

Golden Eagle said...

This is a great interview! It was fun learning about Angela and her writing.

Anonymous said...

This is a GREAT interview! So inspiring!!!!

Angela, you've done a great deal to help us writers--thank you!!!!! :D

Stina said...

I'm lucky to get to call Angela one of my friends. She's totally awesome . . . and funny. (Which is dangerous when you eat lunch with her.) :D

Michelle Gregory said...

i LOVE Angela's blog. what a super resource that you just can't find anywhere else.

Angela Ackerman said...

*blush, blush* Thanks everyone for all the kind words, and to Katrina & the rest of the OA crew for being so incredublifabulous! (yes, I really did need to create a new word to convey the level of awesome of this blog!)

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

Kelly Polark said...

Excellent interview. I love how Angela said Rejections are not failures!
Angela is a rock star!

C.R. Evers said...

Awesome interview! I luv Angela. She is fabulous!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Angela is one of the best resources on the web! I'd be LOST without her - lost, I say!! This was an awesome interview. Your WIP sounds fun, Angela! :-)

Julie Musil said...

YAY FOR ANGELA! Girl, you are amazing.

This was such a great interview, thanks! It was fun getting to know Angela (and her zombies) better.

Becca Puglisi said...

Great advice about waiting until your project is brilliant before querying. But it's so haaaaaaard. Thanks for the reminder, Angela, and thanks, Katrina, for interviewing Her Awesomeness!

kathrynjankowski said...

I was lucky enough to win a first-page critique from Angela and she was wonderfully helpful. Thanks for the interview.