Thursday, December 29, 2011

You Tell Us....

What was your favorite book of 2011? Or books...because heaven knows I can't pick just one :D

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Happy Holidays!

Just a short post today, but I wanted to say a huge Happy Holidays to everyone.

Here is a little festive message from the BBC that always makes me smile when I watch it. Enjoy: 

P.S. I think my favourite bits are these:

Something about the Twister playing/dancing Cyberman that makes me laugh. 


Are you ready for the festivities?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Your WIP = Zombies. For reals.

So. There's this show I'm obsessed with. Actually, I'm obsessed with a lot of shows. But this post only works with this one:

AMC's The Walking Dead

Many people (writers included) suggest aspiring authors not to watch TV. The quality's terrible. It's filled with cliches/stereotypes/bad dialogue and plotting. As an avid TV watcher, I can safely say that yes, some shows are like that. But guess what? The opposite is also true. It's important to soak in as many stories as you can, especially if you're a writer. Even author Janice Hardy backs me up on this. And since she's a lot wiser and awesome-er than me, you should totally believe her.

Which leads me to The Walking Dead.

Sure, it's got zombies and blood and all that jazz. But the show, and the graphic novels it's based on, are about a group of people who're struggling to find hope in a dying world. They're also struggling to survive. Part of that survival is learning how to leave things behind. More importantly, leaving those we love behind. 

What the heck does that have to do with your WIP?

If you won NaNoWriMo, or if you didn't participate but are currently revising a manuscript, you have to think like the characters from The Walking Dead

Here's a timeline:

Stage One

Before loved one gets infected = Reaching THE END on your first draft = You are so happy it hurts and life is awesomesauce.

Stage Two

Loved one gets infected = You reread your first draft = O_O HOW DO I FIX THIS NOW????????

Stage Three

Loved one turns into a zombie + You don't want to kill them = Edits are going to be daunting + You don't want to start them = *does nothing*

Stage Four 

Loved one wants to eat you for dinner + Loved one is no longer the same person after infection, and is lost forever = First draft can't be queried/sent to editors because it will eat your career for dinner + First draft won't be the same after edits, but it will be so much better = Survival instincts kick in.

Stage Five

You off your loved one = You revise your first draft.

My point? In order to go from aspiring to the real deal, you have to know when to follow your heart, and when to follow your head. Revisions are a bit of both. It's up to you to figure out how to proceed from there. 

And remember, this is what your first draft looks like to you:

And this is what it really looks like:

Nuff said.

Now tell me: what's the infection/post-drafting experience like for you? Good? Bad? A bit of both?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

My middle-grade novel has found a home!

So finally I have some good news to report here on Operation Awesome!

I sold my MG novel, DEADWOOD PARK, to Pugalicious Press, a new small publisher specializing in MG/YA fantasy and adventure. My book should be out September 2012! I'm so excited to have found the right home for DEADWOOD PARK, and I couldn't have done it without the women of Operation Awesome.

Truthfully, I don't think I would have finished the novel without them. I had written my first novel without any other readers except my husband until I got my agent. When that book didn't sell, I was devastated. Now I know how common that is, how many manuscripts many writers craft before finding one that hits all its marks to reach an agent, editor, and readers, but then, the last thing I felt like doing was finishing the draft of another book when the first one hadn't sold. But I knew I had to keep writing. While on submission, I had a lot of wonderful writer friends, but I was intimidated. I needed something new to find a way to push through.

Despite my reluctance to share work, I joined the talented women of Operation Awesome. I showed them my very raw first pages, and they encouraged me to keep going. It felt worthwhile and achievable, and at the very least, I had to write enough to have something to turn in when my time was up for critiques.

I'm very proud of DEADWOOD PARK, and I'm so happy to have found Pugalicious Press so I can share this story with readers.

So thank you to Operation Awesome and to all the awesome writers, agents, and readers who have supported us. Thanks to all my writer friends on the magical interwebs because now it all starts again as I try to write my next book.

Here's the story:

Twelve-year-old Army brat Martin Cruz hates his rotten new town. He counts the days until his mom returns from Afghanistan to rescue him from his controlling aunt, who barely feeds him and won’t let him play his favorite multiplayer online role-playing game. Then two things change everything. His aunt forces him to join Junior Junior Executives of Tomorrow. And he gets a text message from a tree telling him it’s cursed — and so is he.

It’s not just any tree. It’s the Spirit Tree, the ancient beech the high school football team carves each year to commemorate the home opener. Every year they lose. And Junior Junior Executives of Tomorrow isn’t just any club. If he can find the connection between the two, he can heal the cursed tree and reverse the town's crappy luck. But first the curse turns more sinister. If Martin can’t save the town he despises, he’ll be stuck in Deadwood Park at the mercy of the psycho who cursed it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

We'll Start At The Very Beginning

"It is the truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

Did I get your attention? Then I'll begin.

They say the opening is the most important. It's the one that grabs the reader. The one that makes us want to spend 300+ pages with the hero/heroine. It's also the one that can have us staring at the blank page tearing our hair out.

But how do you get that opening just right? How do you go from an so-so opening to a great one? You know the one I'm talking about, right? The one that makes agents excited enough to read on. That makes them see the potential in you/your MS baby and request your full and then offer representation. The opening that - once published - makes readers buy your book and set up those fan pages dedicated to great quotes.

Sorry, I got a bit carried away there. Back to reality.

His Dark Materials author Phillip Pullman was asked how he wrote great books. His reply was that it's easy; all you have to do is write a brilliant first page. And then a brilliant second page. And then a brilliant third page... And well, you get the idea.

My first line trick? Get the darn first draft out of the way. Once the whole thing is done, I can then go back to focus on the first line during edits. It may be that killer opening line is a sentence or paragraph further down. Time and re-reading (and amazing CP's) can help pull it to the surface.

 I wish I had a magic formula to share. If they're are any hard and fast rules then I'm still looking, but there are a few other things that can help:

Choose a few books off your shelf. Read the first lines. See what grabbed you as a reader.

You can also check out these links:

Stina Lindenblatt has a few posts on awesome first lines here.

So over to you. Do you have a favourite opening of a novel? How do you work on yours to make it great?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

New YA Publisher: Strange Chemistry

A while back, I wrote about my submission to the publisher, Angry Robot. They had an open door month a while back, and I was able to climb my way up the slushy ranks to the editors desk. Well, 9+ months later, I am STILL waiting. Just think, if I were pregnant, I could have already scheduled a C-section and gotten the dang thing over with. But since the birth of a book takes a lot longer than the creation of of a human....I just have to deal and wait.

So it goes a lot of times in publishing. Waiting. We've blogged about it a lot. I'm sure you've all experienced the excruciating pain of waiting for an answer. If not with a publisher, with an agent. If not with an agent, waiting in line at the store. IT. NEVER. ENDS!

Ah, hem.

Anyhow, during all of this waiting, I've learned a few things. If you haven't heard by now, Angry Robot is opening a new imprint for YA. It's called Strange Chemistry. You can learn more about them here.

So while you wait for an answer, you can write. Or, if you are feeling petrified to write, at least find something to do besides click on your email refresh. It isn't healthy. I know. Really. I KNOW.

So for your enjoyment, I took it upon myself to put some creativity to use. I browsed the Angry Robot website and instead of lamenting about an answer, I looked over the cover artwork to see what would inspire me to paint. (I'm a face painter, in case any of you don't know that about me.) Using the cover of Andy Remic's book, Vampire Warlords, I came up with a face paint inspired design.

Here is the cover:

Here is my replication. Enjoy. :o)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Magan Vernon's HOW TO DATE AN ALIEN: Book Review/Interview!!

High school senior Alex Bianchi's estranged father gets her an internship at Circe Operations Center to pad her college applications. But Circe isn't your typical military base. It's an alien-run operation center and not all of the aliens are friendly, especially the one that tries to kill Alex on her first day. When Ace, a dark-eyed Caltian, enters and saves the day, she can't help but be drawn to him. Can these star-crossed lovers survive when they're on the brink of intergalactic war?

I've been following YA author Magan Vernon's blog for quite a while now, and let me just say: she sure can entertain. That's why it's no surprise I freakin' l-o-v-e-d her debut novel, How To Date An Alien. Alex Bianchi is not only a fun narrator, but a relatable one. She's self-conscious yet confident. Kind yet badass when the situation calls for it. I particularly love how she reacts to the whole aliens-and-humans policy inside Circe--aliens are forbidden to date humans, and some members of the latter believe themselves to be superior than the former. The novel's tone is light and fun, but scenes where this bias was explored really spoke to me. How mean can people be to those they don't understand? To those they feel threatened by? Alex certainly had a few low points in regards to learning how to deal with this, but as the story goes on, she manages to handle herself like a pro (an awesome moment inside a cafeteria will forever be my favorite scene). 

And my other fave part about this book? Ace. A-c-e. He's probably one of the most complicated love interests in YA, and that's why I love him. At times, I was like, "Ooooh, I SEE WHAT YOU'RE DOING THERE, ACE." Then I was like, "Umm... WHAT?" But I never stopped rooting for him. As a victim of prejudice and petty jokes, Ace is guarded. He's dedicated to his work (monitoring blogs/websites to make sure aliens aren't revealing their true identities to humans), and he treats Alex with respect, but at a distance. Their chemistry is undeniable, though, which grows even stronger as the story moves along. And I LOVED how they weren't afraid to tell it like it is to each other (a conversation about guyliner comes to mind...). By the end, I understood why they'd fallen in love, and why they'd done everything they did in order to protect that love.

If you like your scifi with a buttload of laughs, How To Date An Alien is for you, folks. 

And now I have a special treat for y'all: an interview with ze author herself, Magan Vernon!!

Check it out:

On the book

1) Tell us about How To Date An Alien's inception. How did this story come to you?

Oh geeze, good question. About two years ago I started really focusing on writing. I wrote a contemporary new adult novel that didn’t get anywhere when I started actually looking at trends. The market was so saturated by vampires at the time that I thought, “You know, I think we need to throw some aliens in the paranormal mix.” Slowly but surely the idea of an alien operations center and a kick-butt heroine came into play and the seed of How to Date an Alien was planted.

2) Your novel is described as a YA sci-fi. What is it about science fiction that appeals to you?

 Truth be told, I’m deathly afraid of aliens. I think that is probably why I’m so attracted to the idea. Aliens may frighten me, but they also intrigue me at the same time. I can’t help but get sucked into all of those alien specials on the History channel even though they give me nightmares.

3) You recently blogged about why you went with an indie publisher for How To Date An Alien. What have you enjoyed most about going indie? What's the hardest thing about it?

The thing I love the most would have to be DarkSide publishing. The girls are so supportive and I love how they’ve given me suggestions that have made my story even better than I ever imagined. I also love the freedom. I was able to pick out my own book cover and I had the final say on changes. The hardest thing is the fact that Indie publishers don’t exactly get the same respect as traditionally published. Somehow we got a bad reputation and people will try to knock us down just because we aren’t with a big publisher. But I’m a fighter and I know that fans of this story will agree.

4) Is How To Date An Alien a standalone, or does it have sequels on the way? 

There are two sequels (I’m not giving away the titles yet) and then two shorties that will go along with the series. The first one is Ace’s story, which is titled ‘A Very Alien Beginning.’ That should be out in Spring of 2012 and the second book in the series should be out by Summer/Fall of 2012.

On writing

1) Are you a pantser or a plotter? 

Pantser, all the way. I actually had no idea where How to Date an Alien was going the entire time and just let the characters tell me.

2) Revisions. Love them or hate them?

I used to hate them, but now that I’m working with DarkSide I actually enjoy them. GP Ching, Karly Kirpatrick, Megg Jensen, and Angela Carlie give the best suggestions and I look forward to my revisions when I get their notes back.

3) How much of How To Date An Alien's first draft made it into the final version?

Funny you should ask. The first chapter was written and re-written at least five different times. Alex’s name actually started out as Sofie White (shortly after she became Italian and Bianchi means white in Italian.) There were a lot of changes along the way and I didn’t even have a name for Ace until Stacey Kade came up with it. About the only thing that made it into the final version from that original draft was an alien operations center and a girl with glasses.

4) What's your #1 piece of advice for aspiring authors?

Never stop loving what you do. If you stop loving the story, then it’s time to move on.

On randomness

1) Favorite TV show/movie: Roswell the TV series and Dogma the movie

2) Favorite candy: Reese’s

3) You're stranded on an island by yourself. Which book would you read over and over again? Ugh this is a hard one!  I would probably go with the Bible. Not only for the religious aspect, but there are so many different stories to choose from with so many different interpretations.

4) If you weren't a writer, you would be: I currently work as Claim’s professional for a   major insurance company by day and I actually love my job. It’s kind of like people watching on the  phone.

Thanks so much to Magan for letting OA be a part of her blog tour!!! Make sure you go follow her blog, her Twitter, and buy your copy of How To Date An Alien over at Amazon!  

Friday, December 9, 2011

Be happy with where you are

I cannot believe it's Friday again (which is why I'm posting in the evening rather than this morning when I was supposed to). :)

December has got to be the fastest month in the history of the calendar. As soon as December 1st arrives, I get this rushing sensation like hanging onto the bar of a convertible jeep on the freeway. Yeah, it's that fast!

After the fast writing marathon of November, December is usually break month for a lot of writers and agents - a time to focus on family and the warmth-inspiring holidays.

To be honest, I've been taking a break from writing for a while now. I haven't really gotten back into it since my accident in June. I'm all better now from that, but the writing splendor I was enjoying daily prior just hasn't returned. Maybe it's because I needed some time to let my survival soak in. My husband told me the guys at the impound lot, or junk yard or wherever they take cars to die, took one look at the non-existent front of the car and asked wide-eyed what happened to the driver. I don't take my survival for granted. My kids and I are still here because of angels. So that's something that has taken a lot of processing.

Now I'm expecting my third child and taking care of two little munchkins who are growing up way too fast - like every day is December 1st. Sometimes there are things in life that just throw you for a loop, make you realize what matters the most. That's what this accident did for me. Lying in bed the next day, unable to move at all without tremendous pain, the concept of my mortality felt really close.

While there was a part of me that thought what a waste all my rough drafts would be if that had happened, it was a very small part. I LOVE writing. But not as much as I love being a wife, a mother, a sister, and a daughter.

I'm not giving up on writing by any means. Now that November is officially over (It's December 9th already!!!), I'm sure I'll get a swift kick in the rear from my awesome CPs and we'll start sharing again. I'm looking forward to that because writing is something that fulfills me, even if it's not THE THING that fulfills me or makes me ME.

To be honest, I'm kind of relieved to have discovered that. It's liberated me from this deep-rooted competitiveness within that made me feel less-than just because I'm nearly 30 and not published. Because of my accident, I'm staring down my high school reunion at the end of this month, just a few Christmas-y weeks away. And I'm excited.

Who cares what I've accomplished? I'm alive and I'm in love with my husband and my kids. I fall for them more every single day. That's who I am.

Writing is just the cherry on top.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

We've Got A List... Of Winners

Just a quick reminder that the December Mystery Agent contest winners have been revealed.

Third place (query critique):

28. Siege of the Heart (historical romance) (Bluestocking)
7. Woven (YA paranormal fantasy) (David P. King)

Second place (partial request):

19. Thief of Hearts (historical romance) (Elizabeth Michels)

First place (full request):

43. Wandering Star (YA sci-fi) (Kendall A.)

Please send your materials to me at and mention that they're from the contest.

You can check out the full post, and an interview with the awesome Hannah Bowman, here.

Monday, December 5, 2011

December Mystery Agent Winners!!!

That's right! Our agent of awesome has her winners already chosen! First off, let me introduce you to our fabulous December Mystery Agent....

Hannah Bowman of Liza Dawson Associates!!!!

Hannah answered a few questions for us so we can get to know her -

OA: Is there anything specific you’re just dying to get your hands on?

HB: I’d really love to find a big, epic space opera (think Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga), a YA high fantasy in the vein of Tamora Pierce, a sweet, funny contemporary romance or women’s fiction, and a quirky YA contemporary in the vein of John Green or Maureen Johnson.

OA: What is your biggest pet peeve when it comes to queries or submissions?

HB: No pet peeves, really! I just want a query letter that tells a story itself and that’s so vivid that I have to read more.

OA: What is your favorite part of being an agent?
HB: Getting to work with amazing authors. I love doing revisions with clients and watching their books get better.

OA: What book are you currently reading?

HB: Fiction-wise, I’m in the middle of Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind, which is beautifully written and just envelops you in the fantasy world. I’m also reading Shantung Compound by Langdon Gilkey, a nonfiction book published in the 1960s about Americans in a POW camp in China during World War II, which is a fantastic description of how people interact under pressure (and a great source of character inspiration for writers!).

OA: Do you have any fun client or agency news you’d like to share?

HB: Our agency is always excited about our authors’ successes. Among other things, last month Robyn Carr’s newest romance debuted at #1 on the New York Times mass-market bestseller list, Rob Ziegler’s debut SEED (Night Shade Books) received a starred review from Publishers’ Weekly, and Sarah Prineas’ new middle grade fantasy WINTERLING (HarperChildrens, January) made the Winter 2011-2012 Kids’ Indie Next List. Plus Rachel Neumeier’s THE FLOATING ISLANDS, Jennifer Sattler’s PIG KAHUNA, and Charles Stross’s RULE 34 all made the Kirkus Best Books of 2011 list. And that’s just a sampling!

OA: Any last thoughts for queriers?

HB: The key things for me when I’m reading a query are: 1. Who’s the main character, and why is he or she interesting/appealing?; 2. What’s the plot, and how will it surprise me and take my breath away?; 3. What’s the setting, and what interesting elements of it make it seem real? If I see a compelling, three-dimensional character in a well-realized setting (whether it’s realistic or speculative) with a page-turning story to tell...I’m hooked.

Now - on to our winners!!! Hannah had a wonderful surprise - she picked not 3 winners...but 4!! And included a ton of awesome comments as well. So I'll turn the blog over to her :D


These were a fantastic bunch of pitches! Pitching is really hard, so I'm very impressed, and it made my job much harder. In the end, my decisions were very subjective (so other agents may feel differently), as they were influenced by my own preferences both in story concept and pitch style. I'll try to give you some insight into my thought process, though.

As I read the pitches, I had two basic criteria in mind: 1. concept and 2. structure. By concept, I mean both the concept of the book and hints at interesting setting or worldbuilding that come through in the pitch. By structure, I mean how elegantly the pitch was written and how well it expressed an interesting narrative. A one-sentence pitch is just telling a story in a very short form, and that story is generally expressed by first, the description of a cool concept, and second, a clue as to where the plot goes from there (the structure).

In terms of concept, the things that I found were the most important were hints at worldbuilding (from something as simple as an unusual name or description), and that the elements in the pitch made sense together and shared some logical connection. You want to hint at enough elements of the world that it's clear the concept can carry an entire novel, but you don't want the pitch to feel like a list of cool stuff that doesn't quite cohere into a story.

In terms of structure, I found that the most effective pitches were short and specific. It's very hard to distill a story into a short pitch, but almost universally I found that the longer pitches seemed less clear and exciting. Your pitch doesn't need to contain everything, or even most of everything, in your story, but only the real narrative heart of it. I also generally prefer pitches that either have some kind of reversal or show how the stakes are raised dramatically partway through the story--otherwise the plot seems flat to me. But it's important that the description of the reversal or stakes be specific, or the story doesn't stand out.

Again, this is all very subjective! It's relatively easy to say which pitches worked for me, but harder to explain why. And I was really impressed by all the entries, so it was hard to pick just three winners (I actually cheated and picked four). Congratulations to all of you on your great pitching skills!

Without further ado, the winners:

Third place (query critique):

28. Siege of the Heart (historical romance) (Bluestocking)
7. Woven (YA paranormal fantasy) (David P. King)

Second place (partial request):

19. Thief of Hearts (historical romance) (Elizabeth Michels)

First place (full request):

43. Wandering Star (YA sci-fi) (Kendall A.)

Please send your materials to me at and mention that they're from the contest.

And thanks again, everyone, for participating!


Congrats to the winners!! And a HUGE thank you to Hannah for being our Mystery Agent this month!

If you'd like more information on Hannah and the Liza Dawson agency, check out the links. Thanks again everyone!!

Hannah's blog
Liza Dawson Associates

Thursday, December 1, 2011

December Mystery Agent Contest!!

Good luck!

Welcome to 2011's last Mystery Agent Contest!!! 

This month our agent is taking ONE SENTENCE PITCHES. 

Genres Awesome Mystery Agent would like to see:

Fiction: all kinds of commercial fiction, especially:

  • science fiction and fantasy (and all subgenres) 
  • high-concept women’s fiction
  • contemporary and historical romances 
  • cozy mysteries
  • young adult books, including sci-fi and fantasy

No MG or picture books.

Non-fiction: particularly interested in books on popular mathematics, popular science (especially anything about particle physics), and spirituality, especially church history and philosophy (but not for the Christian market).

We'll accept the first 50 entries (pay no attention to the number of comments you see - when we've reached 50 eligible entries we will close the contest).

The prizes will be: First Place - a FULL manuscript request; Second Place - a partial manuscript request; Third place - a query critique.

What a fun way to end our year!!

And now...Le Rules:

1) Entries must be left in the comment section of today's post. (Please do not email us your entry.)

2) You must have a completed manuscript and be ready to send it upon request.

3) You can only pitch once per contest. If you participated in any of our previous M.A. contests, no worries--you can submit your pitch today, too.

4) Please include TITLE and GENRE along with your pitch.

5) Pitches are to be one sentence and one sentence only. We spent a lot of time during the last contest trying to contact people whose entries weren't eligible so they could fix them. We aren't going to do that this time. Please be sure your pitch is only one sentence long or it will be disqualified.

Good luck everyone!!!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Polish Those Pitches

Don't forget that tomorrow is our December Mystery Agent contest.

Get those one-sentence pitches ready.

Here's a reminder of the details:


Fiction - pretty much any and all commercial fiction, but especially: science fiction and fantasy (and all subgenres), high-concept women’s fiction, contemporary and historical romances, cozy mysteries, and young adult books, including sci-fi and fantasy. 

No MG or picture books.

Non-fiction - popular mathematics, popular science, and spirituality, especially church history and philosophy (but not for the Christian market).

The contest will open at 9 am EST and will go till we hit 50 eligible entries.


See you tomorrow.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Heads Up - Mystery Agent Heading Your Way!

We have another awesome Mystery Agent contest coming up on Thursday Dec 1st!! This time we are looking for ONE SENTENCE PITCHES.


Fiction - pretty much any and all commercial fiction, but especially: science fiction and fantasy (and all subgenres), high-concept women’s fiction, contemporary and historical romances, cozy mysteries, and young adult books, including sci-fi and fantasy.

No MG or picture books.

Non-fiction - popular mathematics, popular science, and spirituality, especially church history and philosophy (but not for the Christian market).

So get those one sentence pitches polished up and head over here bright and early Thursday morning! The contest will open at 9 am EST and will go till we hit 50 eligible entries.

See you Thursday!!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Fast Novel-Writing a la Melissa & Joey

It's Nano month, and even though I'm abstaining because of my serious need to re-outline a previous project, I understand the frenzy of writing that takes place while trying to eek out 50,000 words in 30 days.

It. is. hard.

That's why last night's Melissa & Joey-watching yielded some disbelieving scoffs from me. It's not the latest episode. The hubz and I are catching up on hulu. But basically what happens on the show is that Mel's teenage niece gets in an argument with her English teacher about her writing. He's very critical about her 200-word novel sample, maybe more than any teacher in high school should be. So in order to prove to him that her 200-word sample would extrapolate into a fabulous, life-changing novel, she decides to write it.

Before the end of the quarter (when the grading period ends).

That deadline is in a week and a half.

Not that a fifteen-year-old couldn't write a novel in that length of time! It's possible! It just reminded me of Nano and how difficult it is to keep a solid structure (at least for me) while I'm writing at that pace. Sure enough, our heroine ended up lying on her bed with a cough drop in her hair dreaming about the mess of note-cards and pages taped to her wall in random order while her teacher popped into the nightmare to remind her that she would fail, that she would never be a great writer and she should just give up.

In the show, her little brother, who has a stake in her happiness, helps her organize her thoughts so she can get all those wall-taped pages and note-cards into a massive pile resembling a manuscript.

I thought, How sweet! And then I thought, This is what I need.

I need a little brother to tell me I have a cough drop in my hair and ask me which came first, plot point A or plot point B. Everyone does.

I have a great critique group (see About Us tab above). But we all live in different places. Sometimes I wish I had somebody in my house who could look at my manuscript and point to the things that need to be fixed. Basically, I want someone else to do the really hard work of organizing my brilliant flashes of brilliance.

Sometimes my husband meets this need. I hope in the future, my sons will get in on the fun of telling me what works and doesn't in my middle grade or young adult projects. For now, organization is something I struggle with, especially when I've written something in a month or less.

Who's your little brother? Or how to do you keep the organizational demands of a novel from driving you to cough drops?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Guest Post: Before, During, and After the Agent

We all love writing. We all hope our work will help us secure an agent (and a book deal). But what do you do if you get a book deal before an agent? Today, Charlotte Bennardo & Natalie Zaman (long with their fabulous agent, Natalie Lakosil of the Laura Bradford Literary Agency) are here to talk about just that. 

Before, During, and After the Agent

In a sane world, you write the book, get an agent who sells the book, and then you’re off to publishing heaven.

Not us. We wrote Sirenz. We shopped our series at Society of Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators conferences. We talked to agents who encouraged us to send the manuscript to them. Or not. Months, conferences and rejections later, still without representation, we started trolling Writer’s Digest for articles like “50 Agents Who Want Your Manuscript.” We sent out queries by letter and email. We waited. We piled up more rejections, filed away unanswered queries.

Not ones to sit patiently and wait, we forged ahead with submissions to editors at conferences alongside the agents. Again we filed rejections, crossed off no responses, and started another round of submissions, dragging out the “Editors Who Want Your Manuscript” articles, and trolling the websites of all publishing houses looking for those who accepted unagented queries. There weren’t many, but we submitted to them, hoping for the best.

About two years into our quest, we received an email from Brian Farrey-Latz at Flux, expressing interest and asking for a conference call. We conferenced, we revised—and were offered a contract! But with talk of our book having series potential and having a pile of individual projects, we knew we needed an agent, so we continued to query—and continued to collect rejections.

That’s where I came in. Nat and Char submitted to me through the infamous slush pile, and, once I got my hands on the full manuscript, I couldn’t put it down. I spent and entire conference longing for just one more break minute to get back to the book!

But it was a book they already had a contract for. I’m inherently wary of on-the-table offers; the last thing I want to do as an agent is sign a client, negotiate a deal, and…never like anything else they write.

So I asked them to send me more. Luckily, these two knocked my socks off with their individual projects as well – so I offered representation, and the rest is history.

Natalie negotiated a sequel to Sirenz and is shopping our individual projects around. We might still collect rejections, but it’s great to have someone in our corner. Although we had the contract, Natalie was able to follow up on foreign rights, and ebook, audio and other media rights—things it would be difficult (if not impossible) for us to do on our own. She’s fielded questions about ARCs and publicity copies, and reviewed Sirens: Back In Fashion before we sent it to Brian. Natalie’s also made suggestions for publicity and themes for future books.

But most of all, having an agent means that with all future projects, she gives them one (or more! ☺) professional reviews to smooth out any rough spots—and we don’t have to spend time researching who the best potential editors are for a manuscript and submitting to them, then following up. (I also field questions or concerns to maintain a good editor/author relationship – they get to let me be the bad guy.)

Lesson learned: even if you’ve sold the first contract, keep shopping for that agent; there’s so much they do that you’re going to need and want (and, to jump in again…so much you can miss or miss out on including in a contract by not having an industry professional – not just any lawyer- look at it! There’s always a chance to revise and better the next contract you do – and an agent can make that happen!).


More about Sirenz:

Bickering frenemies Meg and Shar are doing some serious damage at a midnight sample sale when the fashionistas find themselves arguing over a pair of shoes-with fatal consequences. One innocent bystander later, the girls are suddenly at the mercy of Hades, Lord of the Underworld himself. To make them atone for what they've done, Hades forces the teens to become special-assignment Sirens, luring to the Underworld an individual whose unholy contract is up.

Finding that delicate balance between their fashion addiction and their new part-time job in the eternal hellfire biz turns out to be harder than Meg and Shar expected, especially when an entire pantheon of Greek deities decides to get involved. Then there's the matter of the fine print in their own contracts...

Sirenz is avaliable here.

Monday, November 21, 2011


Publisher's Weekly
Angela Townsend's AMAROK, set in a remote Alaskan town, when a runaway is kidnapped by an evil man and his black wolf, whom she later discovers is a boy enslaved by an ancient shaman; she must find the strength to save herself and the wolf, and in turn discover what love truly means, to Kate Kaynak at Spencer Hill Press, by Jill Corcoran at The Herman Agency (NA).

I'm thrilled to announce that my YA novel, Amarok is being published!!!!! Amarok's story came to me while I was researching one of my favorite time periods, the Ice age. I love Woolly mammoths, Saber-toothed tigers, giant bears, sloths and the megalodons that ruled the sea. I'm also fascinated with early mankind and lost societies and ancient civilizations.

Once I started writing I just couldn't stop! I really fell in love with the characters and the ice age lore. After a few weeks my house was a total mess, and kids thought a homeless person had taken over their mother's office and I nearly drove my critique partners crazy with grammatical questions.

I took breaks from editing and writing to do art for chapter heads. I spent hours studying cave drawings and paint mediums used by early man. I mixed my Celtic knotwork art with cave drawings in vivid colors and reversed them on my computer screen. I loved the result. After endless editing and resizing my artwork I sent it to my agent, Jill Corcoran. She loved the art and was very encouraging about the story. Though all the ups and downs, Jill never gave up on me--not once--even though I tried to give up on myself several times. Thank you Jill!

I've been so blessed to have so much love and support on my writing journey. I would like to thank my family, my critique partners, friends and the awesome women of Operation Awesome! Thank you everyone!

~ Angie

Amarok's release date is tentatively set for November of 2012.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Virtues of Procrastination: a late-in-the-day post

"Eh. I'll do it tomorrow."

Like all good procrastinators I started reading last night a book I knew I was scheduled to review today. Luckily for me, it was an awesome book and I zoomed through it, intermittently in tears and smiles. Fabulous literary novel!

That book is STRING BRIDGE by Jessica Bell and you can read my review here. <--book giveaway in the comments section.

But since it's Nano month, I want to talk a little bit about procrastination and its role in a writer's life. :) Fitting, right?

Maybe you don't think it's fitting at all. Maybe you're one of those writers who ALWAYS meets her target word count every single day of November. Not me. I write like this:

Day 1: 5k words
Day 2: 500 words
and so on...

I embrace procrastination in my art because, given deadlines, it works for me. Some people invite their muse by writing a little every day even when the words coming out sound like crap. I do this sometimes, too, but the crap-writing phase without fail makes me feel like I'm wasting my time. I do much better under a deadline.

I invite my muse by doing OTHER things. Things that make me want to write. Here's a little list:

  • doing the dishes
  • taking a shower
  • watching a movie with the hubz
  • watching a favorite TV show
  • listening to new music
  • listening to an old mix CD
  • going for a walk or run
  • playing with my kids (the middle grade ideas flow from their lips like manna from heaven)
  • playing Sims 3
  • reading, reading, reading
In short, procrastination is just living in rebellion of your own ambition. It's putting something else as priority besides your goals. Keeping writing from becoming routine and normal can lead to huge bursts of creativity.

Maybe not the healthiest way to write, but I've always done my best work this way. The world calls it crazy. My mom calls it artistic temperament. To me it's just life.

This isn't an anti-goals post. I still set goals all the time and take a long-view on reaching them. I set deadlines for myself when I think I can possibly meet them, and give myself a break from deadlines when family, church, or my physical health suck me into reality.

But I'm a proud procrastinator. Sure, this post is a little late in the day (it's 10:30am here in Cali). But it's here!

Note: The problem with procrastination comes when you set a series of goals, like, say, Nanowrimo, and then consistently procrastinate writing until November 30th and you've still got 30k words to write.

In the words of the bard...

It's Day 18 of Nanowrimo. How are you all doing?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Midweek Fun

And now some OA promotion:

Want to know what happens when you get a book deal from a publisher but you don't have an agent? Next Wednesday all will be revealed with a wonderful guest post from Charlotte Bennardo, Natalie Zaman (authors of The Sirenz Series), and their awesome agent, Natalie Lakosil of Bradford Literary. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

THE HUNGER GAMES Full-Length Trailer!

The trailer. Is. Finally. Here.

What do you think? Is it what you hoped it would be or not? Let's discuss in the comments!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

November Mystery Agent and Winners Revealed!

She asked for twitter pitches and the first 500 words of your manuscripts and you guys delivered!

Please welcome twitter-savvy literary agent...

Natalie Lakosil of Bradford Literary!!
Natalie Fischer Lakosil
Bradford Literary Agency
Natalie is an Assistant Agent at the Bradford Literary Agency. An honors graduate of the University of San Diego, California, Natalie holds a B.A. in Literature/Writing. After nearly four years at the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency and a brief dabble in writing author profiles and book reviews for the San Diego Union Tribune, Natalie joined the Bradford Agency in February of 2011. (pic and bio from her agency website)

And the winner of a full request is:

Kate Larkindale 

Name: Kate Larkindale
Title: Chasing the Taillights
Genre: YA Contemporary
Manuscript word count: 87 000

Twitter pitch: Lucy has to explain the accident that killed her parents or she'll lose her mind–if she does, she'll lose the only person who loves her.

First 500 words: The darkness is absolute. I’m not sure if my eyes are open or closed. I strain to push the lids up, but they’re already wide.

Something covers my mouth and nose, making breathing difficult. My lungs burn for air, but I can only suck in tiny mouthfuls through whatever smothers my face.

I turn my head, crying out as a savage bolt of pain shoots through it. Wavy grey lines waft across the blank space before my eyes. I can’t think, can’t make sense of the darkness threatening to drown me. 

Certain now I won’t pass out, I gasp for breath. There’s nothing covering my face. It was the ground my nose and mouth were pressed into. The ground? Wet. Greasy. Reeking of something that reminds me of… gas?

Reaching out my left hand, I try to find something to hold onto. My fingers scrabble over small objects, pebbles perhaps, that skitter away beneath my touch. I reach further, wrapping my fist around them. Pain prickles my fingertips. Not pebbles. Glass. Small, sharp shards of glass.

Using my torn hand, I drag myself forward, an inch, maybe two. I can’t move my legs, can’t even feel them. Raising my head, I see light. Not a lot of light, but light. Red light, bright at one end, dull at the other. I know what this is. I do. My heart thumps at the side of my head and I can almost hear the gears of my brain creaking to make sense of this weird red glow.

A taillight.

I let my throbbing head drop as a reward, a surge of relief passing through me at this small achievement. It’s a taillight. But why is it there? What is there? And if that’s there, where am I? The questions whirl dizzying circles around my skull.

My eyes fix on the taillight, broken I realize, staring into it as if hypnotized. That’s why it’s brighter at one end.

More light. White this time, sweeping in an arc across me. I blink, dazzled by the flood of brightness. All around me I see fragments glinting in the beam, tiny jewels strewn across the road. The yellow line is inches from my nose. Why am I lying in the middle of the road?

Ghostly music drifts in my direction. A song I know, an oldie, The Beach Boys. It makes no sense here, must be in my head. I try to drag my other arm forward, wanting to raise myself onto my elbows for a better perspective. It won’t move. Pain rocks through my shoulder, my chest and courses up my neck to my still-aching head. The heavy, metallic scent of blood hangs over me. When I glance back down, I see the yellow line is smeared red.

The slamming of a car door breaks through the dull thumping in my skull, chases the music away for a moment. Footsteps scuff across the gravel, heading away from where I lie.

I would also like to request to see 30 pages from these two:

Lisa Aldin 

Genre: YA dark paranormal

Twitter Pitch: A depressed teenager agrees to switch places with her dream-self, and becomes trapped in her own mind.

First 500 Words:

Chapter One

"What do you want to talk about today, Kate?"

Every session, Dr. Gray starts with this question, but we both know it doesn't matter what I want to talk about. She's driving this therapy train and I'm just a passenger along for the ride.

I shift in the chair that’s the color of pink vomit and glance at the notes scrawled on my arm. Hungover, I can’t pretend to pay attention.

"We can talk about this being my last year of high school," I say, assuming this a relatively harmless topic.

Dr. Gray nods. "How are you feeling about that?"

"I guess how every other senior feels."

"And how's that?"

I answer with a lie, stifling a yawn. “Um. Nervous?’

I haven’t slept in seventy-six days, or maybe it’s been eighty. The number on my wrist written in faded black marker says seventy-six, but as I look at the black digits again, I think I lost track somewhere. According to Dr. Gray, after a certain amount of time, insomnia will start to erode my organs. Without a cure, vital parts of me will switch off, one-by-one, like carnival lights at the end of a season. I don’t know how much time I have.

Hot milk. Counting sheep. Heat pads. Sleeping pills. All failed cures.

“What are you nervous about?” Dr. Gray’s voice sounds muted, like she’s talking to me from behind a thick door. My eye lids grow heavy and I shift my weight again, trying to focus. A cluster of dust dances in the stream of light pouring through the window.

I imagine the rest of the house is as spare as the office, which holds only the pink chair, a rotting desk, and some cardboard boxes full of bubble wrap. Stuff that normal people might leave on the side of the road for trash pickers.


“What? Oh, sorry.” I rub my eyes. “I don’t know. I’m nervous about everything, I guess.”

After the accident, I slept fine, enough to function anyway. The nightmares began when Dad moved to Florida at the beginning of August, when the sky burned and the grass wilted into crusty, brown blades. Sprinklers around the neighborhood attempted to pump life back into the dying lawns, with little luck. The grass would live when it wanted to live, for a few brief weeks in September before October rolled in to color everything brown again. That was at least three months ago. Ninety days. Worse than I thought.

I pull a black marker from my back pocket and write 90 Days onto my palm.

Dr. Gray leans back, folding her delicate hands. She never writes anything down. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. She says, “Let’s talk about Buck’s room.”

I roll my eyes. “Why did I ever tell you about that?”

“Don’t.” She shakes her head. “Don’t retreat. Have you tried entering his room again?”

Elizabeth Briggs 

Genre: YA Sci-fi

Pitch: A teen hacker is drawn into a war between parallel universes when she meets an alternate version of herself from another dimension.

First 500:

The fire alarm blared to life right when I got past the proxy server. Just my luck. It took me all lunch to hack into the school’s record system, and now this.

My fingers flew across the keyboard while the alarm pierced my ears without any hint of giving up. Just another drill. Maybe I could finish this before I had to leave. If not, I'd have to start all over again tomorrow. Cracking the system wasn't hard, but it took a long time to make sure no one could trace it back to me.

Mr. Wilson, my calculus teacher, stuck his head inside the door to the computer lab. “Everyone out. Fire drill.”

The other students grabbed their things and rushed out, but I couldn't leave yet. My brother wasn't adjusting well to our latest move, this time to Los Angeles, and now his grades were too low to get on the school’s soccer team. With tryouts next week, there was no way he’d have time to improve them. Normally I wouldn't condone something like changing grades, but it wasn't my brother's fault he couldn't keep up with school.

Plus, breaking in was fun.

A screen popped up asking for the student's name. I was so close now. I just needed a few more minutes.

“Sara, come on,” Mr. Wilson said, waiting for me at the door.

“I'll be just a minute, sir,” I said, giving him my sweetest smile. “I have to save my English essay and print it out. It's due next period.”

Mr. Wilson’s forehead creased, but he nodded. I knew what he saw -- a straight A student who always followed the rules, with an innocent face everyone called “cute.” Teachers loved me.

“Okay, but come out right after. We're all gathering on the football field and you need to be there for the head count.”

“Of course. I'll be right out.”

The door closed behind him, and I leaned over the keyboard and entered my brother's name. Another page loaded and I scanned it, shaking my head. The user interface for the records database was unforgivable. They really needed to hire a better programmer.

I found my brother's transcripts and changed a few of his grades, just enough to get him the C average he needed to get on the team. He still had to study, after all.

The alarm continued its incessant shrieking. The door opened again, probably another teacher about to tell me to get down to the field. “Coming,” I called over my shoulder, as I scrambled to close programs and hide all the evidence of my break-in. I wasn’t really worried about getting caught—I doubted the school’s IT monkeys would even know I was in their system—but I was still careful, just in case.

“Sara Morgan?”

Behind me stood a girl in a long black jacket with straps across the chest. She wore large reflective sunglasses that hid most of her face, and her dark hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail.

Thanks so much for the great contest!!

Thank YOU, Natalie! 

Q&A With the Awesome Mystery Agent:

Katrina: Now that you're happily married (congrats again!) are you still pining for romantic stories in the query inbox or is something else at the top of your want list?

Natalie: I’m still a sucker for romance, but for me, it can’t be the driving nature of the plot (unless it’s adult romance – then it better be!)

Katrina: Speaking of queries, what makes you cringe in a query letter? Conversely, what catches your eye in a positive way? What was your favorite feature of your favorite query letter, something you still haven't forgotten?

Natalie: I STILL cringe at inappropriate word counts (anything over 100,000) and vampires and werewolves. What catches my attention is a well-written query – to the point, and with a clear, unique hook.

: An interview with Let the Words Flow tells your favorite TV shows:

Favorite TV shows: Supernatural, Ghost Whisperer, House, Bones, CSI: Las Vegas, Law and Order: SVU, Cake Boss, Family Guy, Simpsons, NCIS, Eureka (I love connecting with people on the random shows I like or used to watch.)
Loved this! Since I believe it gives tremendous insight into your soul, I found this very helpful! :) Any additions to the list? 

Natalie: Modern Family :)

Katrina: Be totally honest. Did you like Twilight? Harry Potter? The Hunger Games (Team Peeta!)?

Natalie: All of them! And YES team Peeta. ;)

All three series are honestly completely different breeds from each other – Twilight, though yes, everyone knocks…totally had me turning pages because I was COMPLETELY invested in the characters. Harry Potter was unique and fascinating – and again, totally invested in the characters. And Hunger Games was gritty and fresh…and I was 100% invested in the characters.

Hmm, I wonder if I like stories where I’m completely invested in the characters…

Katrina: Please share your exciting agency/client news with us! We love to get excited about upcoming bestsellers.

Natalie: Probably the lamest thing to be stoked about…but I am honestly SO excited we just re-vamped our agency website ( Otherwise, I have some very exciting projects coming up – including the sequel to SIRENZ by Charlotte Bennardo and Natalie Zaman, and Jessica Souders’ debut, RENEGADE. On the adult side, I just sold a debut mystery for Monique Domovitch…but what is MOST incredibly amazing about her are her self-published novels – which Costco Canada has just agreed to sell!!

I have such an amazingly fabulous list of clients, it’s a tough bar to match…but I am ALWAYS looking for someone new to meet and exceed that bar!

Add it on goodreads
Add it on goodreads

Wonderful! Thank you so much, Natalie!

And thanks to everyone who entered and re-entered the contest last week! You guys rocked those twitter pitches.

And if you'd like to query
Natalie Fischer Lakosil, be sure to check out her...

Agency Website - Bradford Literary PLUS Submission Guidelines
Let the Words Flow Interview
A View From the Top Interview
Teens Writing for Teens Interview
Beyond Words Interview
Mother. Write. (Repeat.) Interview
Casey McCormick's Literary Rambles Spotlight: Natalie Fischer Lakosil
Publisher's Marketplace

As always, check the dates on interviews and contests. Take the most recent info as gospel when submitting work. Happy Nano!