Wednesday, February 29, 2012

February Mystery Agent REVEALED + Winners!!!

I am uber thrilled to finally reveal our supermegaawesome February Mystery Agent!!

Brianne Johnson of Writers House!!

Not only did Brianne pick a winner, she picked A LOT of runners up! And folks, when I say a lot, I mean it. Here. Let me show you.

The winner of a FULL REQUEST is...

Francesca Zappia's ALEXYTHIMIA!

Pitch: Alexandra Ridgemont is a paranoid schizophrenic whose biggest concern is worrying about than what’s real and what’s not—until the rumored-to-be-possessed scoreboard in her high school gymnasium starts talking, and not just to her.

And here's what Brianne had to say: LOVE the idea of such an unreliable protagonist!  I also find it relatively rare to feature a formally diagnosed mentally-ill character.

Here are Brianne's 5 runners-up, who each won a FIRST 50 PAGES REQUEST!! And read on to see what Brianne had to say about each one!

Genre: Middle Grade
Pitch: Twelve-year-old Stacey Graham is not happy when she finds out that the only person willing to take her and her younger siblings in after the deaths of their mother and beloved “Granny” is their uncle Percy, who lives in the back of his funeral home.

Brianne: I think this could be a really interesting opportunity to see kids confronted with death so frankly.  Everyone has a moment in their childhoods where they really comprehend what death is and I think this should be written a bit more about for kids.

Genre: YA historical fiction
Pitch: When a 15-year-old Chinese girl kills a Missouri landowner in self-defense, she and a runaway slave disguise themselves as young men and seek their freedom in the frontier with a band of cowboys.

Brianne: This sounds like a good old-fashioned adventure story.  Love the idea of a Chinese protagonist in the Wild West—I feel like that was a really challenging time for new immigrants.  An intriguing set-up.

Title: Here Comes the Sun
Genre: YA Contemporary
Pitch: Amid the great castles and cathedrals of England, a high school senior loses her best friend to sluts, falls for a Beatles fanatic who's heart belongs to a tattooed-covered felon back in Chicago, and gets felt up by a Dungeons and Dragons freak.

Brianne: Sounds very voice-y, and I’m a sucker for a strong, weird, alterna-girl character.

4. andimjulie  *NOTE: Brianne's already considering this one
Genre: YA Contemporary
Pitch: When sixteen-year-old former ballerina, Alice, learned she was terminally ill she made a list of things to do and people to ruin–– all her scores were settled, until she went into remission.

Brianne: This just sounds really different and refreshing to me.  Usually (and rightfully so) terminally-ill characters are set up as undisputed victims.  I like the sound of one with a bitchy streak and some scores to settle. 

Title: The Savage Days and Nights of Orion Marx
Genre: MG Adventure
Pitch: 12-year-old Orion Marx has five days to journey from Brooklyn to San Francisco to save his uncle and reverse his growth accelerator invention, but he’ll need a lot more than the bug spray to fend off mosquitoes larger than pigeons if he has any chance of surviving in this deadly new world.

Brianne: I love a road-trip story…and kid inventors!

And now for Brianne's honorable mentions!!! Each one can send a QUERY LETTER and the FIRST FIVE PAGES!!

Genre: YA fantasy
Pitch: Chief Mamo is tempted to abandon his island’s caste system to be with the carefree girl he loves, but when a power hungry foreigner threatens the livelihood of his people, Mamo must decide between duty and love.

Brianne: Great set-up for a story, but not a great pitch.  “Must decide between duty and love” sounds a bit clich├ęd.

Title: sWitch
Genre: MG contemporary fantasy
Pitch: When Mina's magic doesn't come in on her thirteenth birthday, she finds she's not a witch but was switched at birth, a discovery that leads her on a life-changing adventure to find the real witch.

Brianne: Seems like an original take on a popular theme.  Like that the kid finds out that she’s NOT magical.  Pitch could be more developed, but idea is interesting.

Genre: YA Science Fiction
Pitch: A humanlike girl with a strange affinity to plants arrives on earth to save our garden from invasion, but her airborne immunization plan to protect us from alien infestation requires pollinating with a teenage human male within five days before she grows eighteen-days-old and her spore sack explodes.

Brianne: Love the title, and points for originality!  Kind of Douglas-Adamsy.  I almost don’t believe that this is a real story that’s been written—it seems like a parody to me.

Genre: YA Horror
Pitch: Thirteen year old Gabe, twelve year old Alexis, nine year old Kylar, and their two year old sister, Nahlani need to make their way from their house to their grandparents house forty miles away, but to survive they need to trek through the zombie ridden roads that await them.

Brianne: Great set-up for a story, but not a great pitch.

Lauri JB Corkum
Title: The Titanic Caper
Genre: MG Mystery
Pitch: When twelve-year-old Savannah James visits a traveling Titanic exhibit, she finds herself thrust into a web of intrigue after witnessing the theft of an antique pocket watch inscribed with a mysterious engraving.

Brianne: Need at least one telling detail about Savannah to know that she could carry the plot.  She would need to be a very strong and original protagonist.

Title: The Charge
Genre: YA Alternate History
Pitch: Warren never lets bullies mess with his little brother, no matter how big or bad, so when the King of the Texas Empire kidnaps his brother, he embarks into a still-wild West to save him.

Brianne: Love the idea of an alternative reality, but wish there were a few more interesting details here to pull the reader in.

Title: Valley of Green and Gold
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Pitch: Gold may sparkle and shine but it also has the power to destroy, as Nora learns when it’s discovered near her California home in 1848.

Brianne: Great setting idea, but vague. Need more about Nora and her conflict.

MAJOR CONGRATS to everyone!!! Please send your materials to!! 

Now, in case you haven't noticed how supermegaawesome Brianne is, here's our interview with her!

1) You mention in your Publisher's Marketplace profile that you'd live in Hogwarts if you could (so would I!). Which house would you like to be sorted into that isn't Gryffindor? 
 I’m definitely going to have to go with Ravenclaw, which honors creativity, individuality, and wisdom—what better qualities exist for stories?

2) You also mention that you're seeking "exciting, high-concept, gobble-down-in-one-sitting YA novels that keep me up way past my bedtime". Which published YA novels have you read recently that fit this description?
Well, my absolute favorite YA book of all time is Francesca Lia Block’s WEETZIE BAT collection, DANGEROUS ANGELS.  I loved that all of Block’s characters deal with the same universal issues as we all do, but in their own luminous, tinged-with-magical-realism way.  When I read DA I feel like it makes me view the world in a different and more beautiful light.  And, of course, the writing is so gorgeous you want to bask in it like a sunbeam.

The last book that made me cry was Sharon Creech’s WALK TWO MOONS, which is definitely a one-sitting kind of story.  It’s a very wise and lovely book and you should all read it immediately.

I wish I could say that I’ve been keeping up more with brand-new YA, but the truth is that I’ve been reading for work every chance I get.  I do think it’s important to keep up with the market, but also feel like it’s a bit dangerous to follow trends too closely.  It separates you a bit from the stories you truly want to tell, and I worry that people talk themselves out of their own weird and wonderful ideas because they think it “won’t be marketable enough.”  Whenever I see a book pitched to me as “Twilight meets Harry Potter”, or something along those lines, I get pretty suspicious.  I just doubt that something THAT “marketable” can truly come from a person’s heart.

3) Your slush pile wish list includes middle grade fiction and picture books. What makes these stories awesome to you? 
 I always say “get ‘em while they’re young!” J in a world filled with instant access to video games and YouTube clips, it’s more important than ever to get kids reading at a young age.  Reading helps children develop not only imagination, but their attention spans.  I want to find stories that will fully engage kids where they are in their lives and show them that reading is a wonderful way to spend their time.  I really love whimsicality in young books.  Kids are so imaginative, and I’m trying to find stories that speak to that.

4) Any tips for writers struggling with their one-line pitches?
 Read them out loud and make sure it flows!  I think people get caught up in wanting to relay too much about the story—the one-line pitch should indeed give you a taste of what the book is about, but more than anything else, it should intrigue the reader and activate their curiosity.  It should also give you a taste of the writing itself.  Make sure it’s not too cluttered.

5) Do you have any exciting client/agency news to share?
 Just that I’m incredibly proud of Writers House this year—our clients won the Newbery, and the Printz, the Caldecott Honor, and many other amazing awards this year.  I feel incredibly lucky to be surrounded by people who are helping to midwife such incredible books into the world.  It makes me more determined (and encouraged!) than ever to find a Newbery-worthy story some day.

Thanks so much to Brianne for being our February Mystery Agent!! And don't forget: tomorrow we have a brand new one!!

See you then :)

One More Day until Mystery Agent Day!

March is tomorrow. 

And a new month means one thing...The Mystery Agent Contest! *throws streamers* I can promise you that a fantastic agent is waiting to read your pitches. 

Amparo posted the details on Monday, but I wanted to leave them up today to remind everyone (and those who may not have seen it yet) of the genres Mystery Agent is (as isn't) looking for.

What the mystery Agent is looking for: 

YA contemporary/realistic fiction
YA sci-fi or light fantasy (nothing "epic")
Adult literary fiction
Magical realism (YA or adult)
Dark mystery (psychological or ghostly--nothing with an "amateur sleuth" or cozy mystery)
Literary horror (YA or adult)

And here are projects the Mystery Agent isn't looking for:

Paranormal romance
Picture books/children's books
Genre romance

Anything else you don't see in the Not Looking For list is fine, though. So get those one-sentence pitches ready. 

Remember: the prize is a full manuscript request. Please, please, please make sure the manuscript you are pitching is completed. 

Hope to see you tomorrow. 

Note: to those of you who entered our February Mystery Agent Contest, don't worry! The results are on their way. They will be posted them as soon as we get them. :)

Monday, February 27, 2012

March Mystery Agent Contest DETAILS :)

Note: to those of you who entered our February Mystery Agent Contest, don't fret! The results are on their way. I'll post them as soon as I get them :)

Now. March is right around the corner. Which means a brand new Mystery Agent!! *dances* Since the contest will go live this Thursday, I figured I'd let y'all know what our Mystery Agent is clamoring for in ze slush pile. 

Here are the genres our Mystery Agent is looking for:

YA contemporary/realistic fiction
YA sci-fi or light fantasy (nothing "epic")
Adult literary fiction
Magical realism (YA or adult)
Dark mystery (psychological or ghostly--nothing with an "amateur sleuth" or cozy mystery)
Literary horror (YA or adult)

And these are projects the Mystery Agent isn't looking for:

Paranormal romance
Picture books/children's books
Genre romance

Anything not specified in the Not Looking For is fine, though. And remember: the prize is a full manuscript request, so yeah, I'd enter this baby if I were you. Make sure you come back on Thursday, March 1st for the contest!

If you have any questions, feel free to either leave them in the comments, or email us at!

Happy Monday!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Do You Read Nonfiction for Writers?

If you look at my bookshelf, it is crowded with books about writing, from our own Michelle's McLean's witty and charming Essays and Term Papers...

The best book on essay writing. You'll actually ENJOY reading it! how-to books more geared toward novelists specifically, like Hooked...

Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go

Writing the Breakout Novel

Revision: A Creative Approach to Writing and Rewriting Fiction

The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing
...and MANY, many more.

Full disclosure: I have not read each of these in their entirety. Perhaps if I had, I'd be the next Beth Revis or Suzanne Collins. But alas, I can only get a few chapters into one of these inspiring books before the temptation to just start writing becomes too strong to suppress. 

Without fail, a dip into one of these books gets me impatient to try something. Beyond the great tips, these books offer something else -- fellowship. The authors are writers, and they're funny, witty, and creative in the way they present their nonfiction about fiction. 

Do you read nonfiction for writers? Can you get through a whole how-to book without getting distracted by your muse? 

What are your favorites?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

You Tell Me....

What are some of your favorite organizational tools for writing? 

I always get a little giddy when I get new office supplies. Notebooks, gel pens, push pins, file boxes, paper clips *happy sigh* And they've got the CUTEST stuff nowadays! I'm also a fan of spread sheets, lists, and outlines and am hoping the Easter Bunny brings me Scrivener this year :D

What sorts of things do you have in your arsenal?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Starting a New Writing Project is Like...

  • Stepping off a step that's an inch higher than you expected.
  • Buying a new shiny something that somehow makes your life feel complete.
  • Finding out your husband/wife didn't finish off the last of the ice cream and there are maraschino cherries to boot!

  • The night before summer camp when your bags are packed and now you just have to anticipate.
  • Walking into a really cool natural rock cavity (aka cave), and realizing it might actually be somebody's home...
  • Starting a new recipe that got amazing reviews. 
You can guess what is on my mind. Food, shopping, and a shiny new idea. So basically the usual. :) 

For me, the start of a new project is both scary and exciting. I'm giddy about the prospects, but worried I'll mess it up or get lost in the woods somewhere. 

You're all writers! What brilliant metaphor can you add to my silly list above? 

Starting a new writing project is like...

Take the wheel, blog buddies!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Never Give Up. Never Surrender.

"You don't start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it's good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That's why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence."
Octavia Butler

Writing is hard. If anyone says anything different then I want what they're having. *grins* But, despite the (occasional) hard moments, you write. You make the time to sit at the computer to type those words day after day. You edit, rewrite, query and go through the rainbow of emotions that accompany it. 

You smile at requests. You file away the rejections. You shelve manuscripts you love. You write scenes and dialogue on scraps of paper/cereal boxes/text messages. You balance your real life with your fictional ones. You write. You persist. And that is the important thing. 

Never give up. Never surrender. 

You are a writer.  

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Stuck in the Muck--Editing Tip

If you have't noticed, the Tuesday spot on the OA blog has been void of posts as of late. Recently, I've been given a great opportunity for my fantasy novel, which now sticks me in the muck of editing. Once I'm able, I'll share with you all more about the opportunity and let you know the outcome.

This opportunity also includes me revising my novel, including changing the POV from 1st to 3rd. (Sigh). As I've been going though the manuscript, doing other edits as well as changing the POV, I've notice key words bogging down the writing. So after I complete each chapter, I do a find/search function and go though each of these words.


I was very generous with the use of directional words. Instead of saying "he sat" I would often put "he sat down."  The word down is unnecessary and slows down the prose. Same way if I said "he looked up to the sky."  The sky IS up, so why would I need to add the directional tag? I don't. "He looked to the sky" is just as effective (and lowers the unnecessary wordage).

Another thing that I did was having everyone looking. He looked. They looked. She looked. She looked at him. He looked at her. You get the idea.

Now, this doesn't mean that you CAN'T use these words. I'm a firm believe that all words have rights. Even  was and had deserve to be used, too. It's the OVERUSE of words that give problems. So I do use the occasional "look" or "up" but took out a bunch when I could.

So what words do you find yourself using a lot? If you made a list, what would it be?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Interview with Jill Hathaway, YA Author of SLIDE!!

Vee Bell is certain of one irrefutable truth—her sister’s friend Sophie didn’t kill herself. She was murdered.

Vee knows this because she was there. Everyone believes Vee is narcoleptic, but she doesn’t actually fall asleep during these episodes: When she passes out, she slides into somebody else’s mind and experiences the world through that person’s eyes. She’s slid into her sister as she cheated on a math test, into a teacher sneaking a drink before class. She learned the worst about a supposed “friend” when she slid into her during a school dance. But nothing could have prepared Vee for what happens one October night when she slides into the mind of someone holding a bloody knife, standing over Sophie’s slashed body.

Vee desperately wishes she could share her secret, but who would believe her? It sounds so crazy that she can’t bring herself to tell her best friend, Rollins, let alone the police. Even if she could confide in Rollins, he has been acting off lately, more distant, especially now that she’s been spending more time with Zane.

Enmeshed in a terrifying web of secrets, lies, and danger and with no one to turn to, Vee must find a way to unmask the killer before he or she strikes again. 

Since Slide is one of my most anticipated reads of 2012, I figured I'd beg ask Jill Hathaway to share her awesomeness on le blog! Luckily, she agreed, and today I'm happy to give you Jill's interview. 

Le interview:

On the book

1) Vee's ability both fascinates and terrifies me! Was there ever a moment while working on SLIDE where you freaked yourself out? 
I got goosebumps when I wrote the scene where Vee slides into the killer standing over Sophie's bloody corpse. 

2) I read on your blog that your ideas usually come to you while driving. How much of SLIDE did you brainstorm in your car? 
Hmmm... Maybe about 50%? I commute to work, so I think about stories A LOT while I'm driving. But about half the story just comes to me while I'm writing. I'm definitely a combo plotter/pantser!

3) You've mentioned watching the super awesome TV show Veronica Mars prior to writing SLIDE. Was the book's mystery element a result of this, or was the show part of your research? 
It definitely wasn't research. I think writers subconsciously draw on a lot of their experiences or things they've read or seen, and I think a lot of the tone came from things like VERONICA MARS and HEATHERS and other shows/movies/books I've enjoyed.

4) YA is no stranger to paranormal stories, but paranormal mystery is making a name for itself. What appeals to you most about the genre? 
I guess I didn't think of the genre while I was writing the story. My first kernel of an idea was a girl somehow finding herself in the head of a killer standing over a dead body, and that naturally led to a mystery. And I needed the paranormal aspect to explain how she got into the killer's head--that's where sliding came in.

On Writing 

1) Pantser or plotter? 
Definitely a combo. I usually have an endpoint or certain scenes in my mind, but I let myself run wild when I'm drafting. It makes for a lot of revising...

2) Revisions. Love them or hate them?
I guess I'm ambivalent. They can be frustrating, but I know they're necessary to craft the best possible book.

3) How much of SLIDE's first draft made it into the final version? 
*laughs* SLIDE was rewritten many times. In fact, the killer changed from the rough draft to the final version. And manymanymany other parts of the story changed, as well. It's enough to make me want to outline, but I find it difficult to do at the beginning of the process. 

4) You have an awesome series on your blog called Query Makeover! Since you were so generous in helping other writers with their queries, and since you're repped by the wonderful Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary Agency, I was wondering if you could tell us about your process of nabbing Sarah's attention. Did you query her? If so, was there anything that helped you craft The Best Query Possible? 
Sarah fished me out of the slush. The main thing I tried to do in my query is hook the reader, just as you would with the blurb on the back of a book. You have to make the agent want to read more. Same thing with the first five pages, which a lot of agents request now.

5) What's your #1 piece of advice for querying authors? 
Make sure your manuscript is in the best shape possible. 

On randomness

1) Favorite TV show/movie: Veronica Mars

2) Favorite candy: Anything Reeses

3) You're stranded on an island by yourself. Which book would you read over and over again? THE SECRET HISTORY by Donna Tartt

4) If you weren't a writer, you would be... a teacher! Which I am. So... Yeah. :)

A HUGE thanks to the wonderful Jill for stopping by OA today!!! Make sure you pick up your copy of Slide on March 27th, and go follow Jill's blog, her Twitter and Facebook!!