Saturday, June 30, 2012

June Mystery Agent Revealed

I'm excited to reveal that our awesome June Mystery Agent is Kristy King from Writers House. 

Due to some changing circumstances (which Kristy tells us more about in our interview below), I have to announce that the prize has changed slightly (but I promise it's still very awesome!) The June winner will receive a full manuscript critique from Kristy AND a referral to one of her fabulous colleagues at Writers House! 

And here is Kristy's winner of a full manuscript critique and referral:

THE RECRUITED (YA Thriller) by Ellen Rozek 

Pitch: Recruited by the government to help fight Renegade terrorists, Naomi must keep her growing friendship with a gang member secret from her employers-and the Renegades themselves-if both of them are to survive.  

Congrats, Ellen. Please send your winning entry to Kristy with your query pasted in the body of the email, and your full manuscript attached as a word. doc to kking (at) WritersHouse (dot) com. Please be sure to put "Operation Awesome Contest Winner" in the subject bar.  

And we couldn't let Kristy go without asking a few questions. Here are her answers: 

1) What are some of your pet peeves for queries?

Hmm…this is a great question because there are so many ways a query can go off-kilter quickly. I tend not to judge the letters themselves too harshly, because I understand how difficult they are to write well. Sometimes it’s the little things, such as not addressing it to me properly (“Dear Mr. King” or “Dear Mrs. Other Agent Who I Queried Right Before I Queried You”), making the letter longer than one page, or not taking the time to personalize the letter in some way, that can make me less disposed to want to read a writer’s pages. And every agent receives an inordinate number of queries each week, so the goal with your query letter should really just be not to give the reader an excuse to move on quickly.

2) What are you seeing too much of in your query inbox lately? What would you like to see more of?

Truthfully, I see a lot of really interesting queries that perhaps have potential but the writer just needs to hone their craft and develop as a writer more fully before they’re ready for publication. I do see a lot of YA paranormal romance which the market is saturated with right now, and those queries always receive a higher level of scrutiny because of that. I think all agents really want to see queries for that book you, as the author, simply have to write – a personal, unique, well-developed story that could only come from this one writer. We also like to be surprised in finding that stand-out project that we didn’t know we wanted – where the voice is so strong or the writing so compelling that we immediately fall in love, even if it’s outside our usual genre interests.

3) You mention on your Publisher’s Marketplace profile that you'd "love to find sharp, realistic and even gritty contemporary fiction, thrillers, or any novel with a unique and compelling voice.” Which published YA novels have you read recently that fit this description?

There are so many, and the voice is always the most important. I love authors like John Green (The Fault in Our Stars) , Laurie Halse Andersen (Wintergirls – which is not that recent but has stayed with me), and Daniel Handler (Why We Broke Up). Books that speak to authentic YA experiences and take their readers to a place of real, emotional depth.

4) Any tips for writers struggling with their one-line pitches?

Pitches are always a struggle – sometimes agents have trouble condensing a novel into that one-sentence pitch, too, so this is something I understand well. My advice is to not take the “one-line” requirement too literally – use two sentences if you need to. Beyond that, I’d suggest playing with a few formats  - “When [something dramatic happens to the main character], then [they must go on whatever journey/quest/path of self-discovery/etc] to [learn something important]” or the “If… then…” structure to help shape your pitches.

5) If you could pick one book that every writer should read, which one would it be and why?

One??? There are simply too many and the truth is that the “one book” is probably different for everyone. Instead, I would say to become an expert in your genre – read many, many books and explore storytelling in different formats, as well. I think the best books pull something unexpected from a different genre or world and throw them in with something familiar to create something completely new. It’s a heady challenge, but the truth is there’s just not that “one thing” that a writer must do to create interesting works and to succeed in the publishing industry. Do many things, be curious and dedicated, and create good work that is particular to yourself. I think that will get you further than anything else ever could.

6) Do you have any exciting client/agency news to share?

In fact, I do. At the end of the summer, I will be leaving Writers House and the agency side of the business. This was a very difficult decision, as you can see how passionate I am about publishing and the work I have done. That said, I’m very excited about my new venture: I am putting together an e-book publishing company that has a pretty unique take on form and content, I think. There are so many opportunities for both authors and publishers right now to become innovative in the digital market, in ways that will really open up the creative process, and it’s that aspect of the market that drew me in. There may very well be an opportunity for your readers to submit to the new company, and I hope I can check back in with you in the fall to share details about that! 

In the meantime, I am thrilled to be able to offer a critique and referral to the winner of the contest, and I’m very happy to do all I can to point your other readers in the right direction.

A huge thank you to Kristy for being our June Mystery Agent!!! And don't forget that we have a brand new Mystery Agent contest tomorrow!  

Friday, June 29, 2012

Cover Reveal! Christine Fonseca's TRANSCEND

WOO HOO!!!! The day is here! The day celebrating the reveal of Christine Fonseca's Transcend, a YA psychological thriller hitting shelves on September 18, 2012. Here's a little blurb about the story:
All seventeen-year-old composer Ien Montgomery desires is an escape from his family's rigid expectations for his life; someone to inspire his music. When he meets a beautiful violin-prodigy, Kiera McDougal, his life music takes on new life. With her, he imagines a future outside of his parents’ control. That is, until a horrible accident tears them apart. Sent to die in a sanatorium, Ien’s obsession for Kiera grows unbearable. Tortured by thoughts he can’t escape and the truth of his monstrous disfigurement, he flees, desperate to exact revenge on the people that ruined his life – his parents. But, vengeance is empty. Betrayed by those closest to him, Ien discovers that the price for his happiness may be his sanity.
And now...what we've all been waiting for. The cover for Transcend:

How gorgeous is that!!? I LOVE this cover :D

As part of the celebration, Christine is asking everyone to tweet, participate in the blogfest and share your own secrets, or otherwise spread the word. Here are a couple of tweets linking to her post that you can use to help spread the word:
  • Celebrate @chrstinef 's cover reveal for TRANSCEND with a special giveaway #YALitChat #Books #YAbookchat #Teen
  • Love, Vengeance, Madness - what will you reveal? @chrstinef 's cover reveal and giveaway for TRANSCEND. #YALit #Books
Oh! And be sure to enter the giveaway below while you can. Christine is giving away some epic things, including an annotated unbound galley of Transcend, filled with her notes! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Check out the other Masquerade Blogfest peeps and see what secrets they are revealing!

Now it's your turn...what secrets will you share?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

It's coming! July Mystery Agent

Sunday, July 1, is our June Mystery Agent Contest, and this one is a bit different -- a first line contest!

Our Mystery Agent for July is looking for middle grade and YA novels, especially contemporary, historical, fantasy, and reinvented fairy tale.


  • Entries should be for completed manuscripts only.
  • You can enter one entry for one novel -- if you make a mistake, just delete your entry and repost.
  • Yes, you are eligible to enter even if you've won MA contests in the past.
  • The first 50 qualifying entries will be accepted -- don't pay attention to the comment numbers. We will close the contest when we've reached our limit.
  • If the rules are not followed, your pitch will be disqualified. Please carefully read the guidelines and follow them
  • Entries should include:
First Sentence

Anyone can enter as long as your novel falls under the genres our MA is looking for. If this particular MA doesn't rep your genre, no worries -- we hold these contests often and try to find agents with diverse tastes so there will be a contest in the future for your particular genre.

The contest will go live Sunday, July 1 at 10 am ET / 9 CT / 8 MT / 7 PT

Come back July 1 to enter! And good luck!

(And for those who wait, the winners of the June Mystery Agent contest will be posted soon.)

Update: The July Mystery Agent contest is closed. Please don't enter the July Mystery Agent contest via this post. Our M.A contests can be entered via a post that goes live the day of the contest (1st of each month). Thank you.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Spinning a Story

Spider web floor

A spider begins its web with a frame. It takes time to create the structure. Sometimes it seems like no progress is being made. That it will never be strong enough to be useable. But the spider is clever. The spider knows that what makes the web stronger is the detail.

It travels round and round. Spinning the silk into the shape it needs, but knowing the truth can't be seen until the end. But it still works. Detail after detail. Hour after hour. A spider may falter, but it never gives up. It rests and returns to work.

We spin our story in the knowledge that it could fall apart at any moment, but we work. We push on with the fine thread of our plot, layering it with the detail we need. Until the day we step back and (hopefully) reveal something beautiful. The structure holds it together, but it's all in the details. The details catch the reader in our story web.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Never Say Never: When You Won't Do Something Until You Do It And It's The Best Thing Ever

So. A few years ago, I learned of a new TV show premiering on AMC. 

After hearing about the show's focus (advertising heavyweights in the 60s), I said a polite "no" to Mad Men. I like to consider myself an open-minded gal, but boy, I didn't see the enjoyment of watching a show like this one. You see, I have a tendency to gag in the presence of douchebags. Now picture those douchebags in fancy suits, cheating on their housewives, belittling their secretaries, and earning a lot of money by selling things you don't need. 

Yep. That's what I thought Mad Men was all about.

"I have nothing to gain from that show!" I told everyone who recommended it to me. "It is sexist and bigoted and lame! I don't care how many awards it's been nominated for! LAME!"

Then I caved in.

I watched the first episode last Monday. As of today, I'm one episode away from finishing the first season. 

My initial instincts about the show weren't 100% wrong. The show does contain the sexist/bigoted/lame elements I scoffed at. But, holy wow, it is so much more than that, folks. SO. MUCH. MORE. It's basically a tutorial on character depth, conflict, dialogue, and pacing. The show wrote the book on unlikeable protagonists (even more than The Sopranos). Mind you, I'm still on Season 1, so I have no clue if it jumps the shark later on or not. *crosses fingers*

Here's the thing Mad Men taught me: the minute you think something has nothing to offer you as a writer, you're wrong. There's always something you can learn. Whether it's from that thing's awesomeness or suckiness. Sure, I also learn things about myself on a personal level, but as a writer, Mad Men forces me to see the craft in unlikely ways. 

Never say never, folks. You'll be robbing yourself of greatness. 

Now tell me: have you ever said LAME! at something, then ended up swallowing your words??? 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

In Praise of Small Presses

Last night I stayed up until midnight (late for me!) to finish Bryn Greenwood's riveting debut, LAST WILL, the riveting story of Bernie Raleigh, who inherits his grandfather's immense wealth, along with the psychic and physical wounds from having been kidnapped for ransom as a child, and Meda Amos, beauty queen turned housekeeper/single mother, who has scars of her own.

It struck me that this amazingly accomplished, fully realized, accessible work of fiction was published by a small press, Stairway Press. One of my recent favorite MG/YA books, THE FREEDOM MAZE, written by Delia Sherman and published by tiny Big Mouth Press, just won the Norton Award, the highest MG/YA honor for science fiction/fantasy given by SFWA.

In all the talk of traditional publishing and self-publishing, the amazing work of small presses  deserves more attention. There is a wide range in the category -- new and old, tiny and mid-size, traditional, e-only, and POD. Some offer advances, and some don't. Some are genre specialists, and others are literary fiction vanguards. Some are open to unagented submissions, and some are closed. Some have great bookstore distribution, and others sell chiefly online. Inevitably, some will grow into the big presses of the future (look at the growth of Entangled!), and others will disappear. And yes, there is a range of quality in acquisitions, editing, marketing, and covers, from the highest standards to strictly amateur.

But for now, they are taking up a lot of slack during a time when the midlists of large traditional publishers are shrinking.

For evidence, take a look at the Books by Us on Operation Awesome. Four of us have books coming out from small presses later in 2012 or 2013:
  • Kell Andrews, DEADWOOD, Pugalicious Press, MG contemporary fantasy (Add to Goodreads)
  • Michelle McLean, TREASURED LIES, Entangled Scandalous, historical romantic suspense
  • Kristal Shaff, THE EMISSARY, Month9Books, YA fantasy
  • Angela Townsend, AMAROK, Spencer Hill Publishing, YA paranormal (Preorder, Add to Goodreads)
If you are a writer interested in small presses, do your research and ask a lot of questions, but especially read books published by the press that interests you. And as a reader, seek some small press books out. There are gems out there in every genre. Try the books recommended above, or support other FOOs (that is, Friends of Oliver, our owl mascot) with small-press books out now:

  • Lisa Burstein, PRETTY AMY, Entangled Teen, YA contemporary
  • R.M. Clark, DIZZY MISS LIZZIE, Stanley Publishing, MG supernatural/historical mystery
  • Christine Fonseca, LACRIMOSA, Compass Press, YA paranormal,
  • Cole Gibsen, BREATHLESS, Crescent Moon Publishing, YA paranormal

What are some small-press books that have blown you away? What small presses are you most impressed by?

Friday, June 22, 2012

In Terms of Joy

About a year ago I wrote In Terms of Pain while in bed recovering from a head-on collision. It's on my mind because something crazy miraculous happened on the anniversary of my accident...


This is Ben.

On June 16, 2011, a car accident jolted my world, shifted my paradigm, brought me face to face with mine and my family's mortality, and refocused my priorities.

Six days ago, June 16, 2012, Ben came into my arms, all waxy and newbornish, and brought me face to face with... pure gratitude.

I'm a writer because life is beautiful and painful and unexpected and I can't let the beautiful, painful, unexpected moments pass without celebrating, or honoring, them. In my fiction, I try to make up lovely symmetries that move people, like the incredible bursts of light that happen after we suffer through darkness, or the heroic sacrifice of one life that makes possible the birth of another.

But the truth is that these bits of balance and symmetry only move people because they are rooted in the human experience. We've all experienced these symmetries, or you might say coincidences, that are just too perfect not to notice. They make us stop what we're doing and see, really see, the world around us -- sometimes for the first time, sometimes after a long time.

So what do I see when I look at these two life-altering events dated coincidentally a year apart?

One whole year of LIFE. 

365 reasons to be thankful. (Don't worry, I'm not going to list them all. :)

I only want to share this one moment with you:

My mind settles slowly back into my body. With the final fury of instinct past, I'm completely blank, like an angel has pressed my restart button. Donna tells me, "Look at your baby, Katrina. He's looking at you."

And I remember where I am - what I've just done.

I look down at the baby in my arms. Here's Ben. He's absolutely perfect, I'm convinced of it. I can't look away. His tiny dark eyes watch me in the dim morning light. I take his long fingers and wrap them around my finger. Then he lets out a cry. Just one, like he's testing it out. We go back to inspecting each other. I've given birth twice already, but I've never had this moment before. It's monumental, this sudden and unexpected calm. I could stay in the water forever, just touching his silk cheeks, watching him breathe. "What do you think?" my husband asks. "Does he look like a Benjamin?"

"Oh, yeah," I say, coming back to the world around me. "Yeah, he does."

Ben starts to cry again, and all I want to do is hold him close, kiss his face, and teach him to smile.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


Sooo apparently today is Thursday *facepalm* My days get a little mixed up during the summer :) So for now, I'll promise something better next week and leave you with these....

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Breaking Dawn Part 2: Full Trailer

I know people either love it or hate it, but the final Twilight movie is out this November. There was a (ten second) sneak peak of more footage yesterday, but here is the full trailer for The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2.


But as one movie franchise closes, I know a lot of us are looking forward to The Hunger Games: Catching Fire next year (which I can't wait to see *fidgets*). There are also film adaptations of Beautiful Creatures and The Mortal Instruments to look forward to watching.

Back to Breaking Dawn. What do you think about the trailer? Are there any other books you'd love to see turned into movies?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

YA Crushes

Have you ever read a book and fell in love with one of the characters? And I don't men, "I really like that character" but in love with a character to the point you can envision their yummy goodness in their mind? We've all done it, I think. Especially when you have one of those panoramic imaginations. That is why when I heard about YA Sisterhood's Crush Tourney, I thought it was a brilliant idea.

Today is the last day to nomiate your crushes. So go visit their blog and give them your crushy love. Who is your favorite? (Four-Divergent). Who will you nominate? (Four) I know you all have your favorites, so I won't try to influence your decisions. (Four) But make sure you get over there and vote! (Four)

So I am leaving you with two further questions. When you found out about this tourney, did you start imaging and wishing that YOUR character could be someone's crush, and part of that list as well?

The second question I have, about voting for YA characters for crushes... Since I am...more mature, let's just say. Does having a YA crush make me a literary cougar?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Fake Dads: Who's The Worst?

So. Yesterday was Father's Day. Which got me thinking about... you know... fathers. Which then got me thinking about male characters in fiction/movies/TV. 

It didn't take long for me to come up with a list of male characters I'd love to have as dads. But I had way more fun brainstorming male characters--with children in their fictional lives or not--that I'd NEVER want as my dads. 

This week's question is the following:

Which fake male character would you NEVER EVER EVER want as your dad?

My top pick? This piece of work right here:

Me: "Oh, hi, Dad!! How's that whole war against the Muggles/Mudbloods/Good Wizards going?"


Me: O_O

I won't be sending him any postcards in the near future, folks. Oh, no, I won't. 


Sunday, June 17, 2012


Phineas and Ferb know how to do summer right.
I'm on vacation this week! Woohoo! But I'm still here, posting for Operation Awesome. I think that shows the unusual place writing has in the lives of a lot of us -- is it work? Is it hobby? Is it what we need a vacation FROM, or what we want a vacation FOR?

Last summer I really wanted to enjoy the season -- I didn't want to spend Saturdays torn between whether I was writing or playing with my children on the beach. This summer, I think the best way to seize the day would be to get back into my WIP -- as long as I still have Saturdays free for building a rocket, fighting a mummy, or climbing the Eiffel Tower -- maybe going to the park if I'm feeling less ambitious.

I know a lot of writers with day jobs as teachers and school librarians look forward to summer as a time to work on their writing. And other writers with children find summer their least productive time, when kids are home from school. For a lot of writers, it's business as usual at the day job, with writing during nights and weekends.

But summer is also the season for writers' conferences, retreats, and workshops, small and large.

ALA Anaheim - The summer conference of the American Library Association is where librarians convene and rub elbows with writers like John Irving, Jodi Picault, Sherman Alexie, and Lin Oliver, and George R.R. Martin. (June 21-26)

The 40th Anniversary SCBWI Summer Conference - The Los Angeles meeting of SCBWI is about craft and networking with fellow children's writers and illustrators. It's already sold out, but check your regional SCBWI for more events.  (August 5-8)

Teachers Write! - Writer Kate Messner (a former children's librarian) is hosting a summer-long online writing workshop and community for teachers and librarians.

What are your summer plans? More writing? Less? What are your goals? Do you have any events on the calendar, or know of any others? Any books you're especially interested in reading?

Oh, and happy Father's Day to all of the writer and reader dads out there!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

When I Grow Up I Want To Be...

I wanted to be a lot of things when I grew up. An astronaut (being bad at math, afraid of heights, and claustrophobic sort of made this one unfeasible); a teacher; a librarian (sensing a theme here). But mostly, a writer. I can remember wanting to be other things, but I think being a writer was always in there.

My mom called recently and said she found a book I'd written in 1st grade. I don't remember that one. But I did remember another one. So I dug through my files last night and found this:

I wrote this in 5th grade when I was 10 years old for the Young Author's Book Fair :D I read it to my son as a bedtime story and he thought it was pretty cool - which made me feel kinda proud :D I wrote a sequel to it the next year, which flopped and burned (and after reading the both of them, I could see why lol I think I'd written it quickly because the deadline was almost up and turned in a first draft. The first book was MUCH better).

Here are the opening paragraphs:

My heart started pounding as the waves crashed against the side of the boat. The hair on the back of my neck stood up as I felt cold sea water rush over my sneakers. I picked up a bucket and started bailing water out of the canoe. I looked back and saw the soldier's canoe coming up behind me. I wondered why soldiers would be chasing me, a 15 year old boy. I hadn't committed a crime, I had just run away from the island orphanage.

Suddenly a huge ice beast rose up in front of me. The soldiers were still in back of me. I tried to stop the boat but the oars broke. I crashed into the beast!


Hehe ahhh that brings back memories :D Interesting to see that I was writing a MG/YA (there was a bit of romance) with a male main character :D I still do the YA and romance - haven't done a male MC in a while though.

Did you always want to be a writer? When did you know?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


View Image

The journey of a writer has a lot to do with hope. 

Each new WiP begins with hope. 

We write the first draft hoping the words flow. We send it off to our CP's and hope they'll enjoy it. We edit with the hope that this draft will be the query-ready one. 

Then comes when day when the book is written. The editing is complete and the query and synopsis revised until they shine. We send our book baby into the world. And we wait. 

And, as we wait, we hope.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Shiny New Idea = Alexander Skarsgard

So. Shiny New Ideas. They creep up when you least expect them, don't they?

Personally, I'm not going through SNI-related issues at the moment. In fact, I'm quite focused on le WIP. Having said that, I can't deny that I identify with working hard on one project, then getting punched in the face by another project. Not only is that New Idea rather Shiny, it's also Pretty. Let's face it--Pretty Things are really, really dangerous. 

And here's where I wave my Amparo flag high, folks.

Because I'm going to talk about Alexander Skarsgard. Again.

You see, whenever I think about SNIs, I acknowledge their prettiness. It blinds me, I tell you. BLINDS. Motor skills go out the window. Sometimes for hours. Sometimes for days. I'm confident I look something like this:

That's not the worst part, though. Sure, I look slightly unhinged and on the verge of collapsing, BUT all of that is bearable. What's not bearable is the resistance. I am totally and embarrassingly powerless when it comes to resisting the SNI. I may love my WIP with all my heart, but the SNI just won't quit with the Pretty. To me, the blasted SNI looks something like this:

Alexander Skarsgard with a baby lamb? A BABY LAMB???? ARE YOU KIDDING ME????????

*dies from the adorable*

But I know the truth. That SNI is playing with my feelings, of course. It doesn't want what's best for me. It just wants attention. Attention that my WIP needs and won't get because of the wretched SNI. 

SNI: "I see what you did there, Amparo. You're trying to ignore me. But guess what? YOU WILL FAIL. *cackles*

Word of advice, folks? Ignore The Skarsgard. Only until after you finish your WIP. I promise you won't regret it. Even if you think you will. The Skarsgard will forgive you. 

I hope. 

Now tell me: what do you do to ignore the SNIs? Do you envision your SNIs like Alexander Skarsgard? If not, how do you envision them??

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Acknowledging Acknowledgments

I've been getting ready to write my acknowledgements for Deadwood, and it's harder than I thought. It's not as if I haven't been drafting them in my head for the past five years that I've been seriously working towards publication, but the text is always changing.

As I writer, I do pay attention to acknowledgements, but I pulled out a few books to see how they're usually done.  The basics: Some acknowledgements are on the copyright page, some in the back. Some are brief, thanking editors or spouses. Some read like bibliographies of sources. Some resemble a Who's Who on recent best seller lists, and some are more like Who's Who among the writer's relatives and babysitters.

Wrong Assumptions
A lot of my assumptions about acknowledgements didn't hold up. I figured that historical fiction would have the longest acknowledgements and that contemporary novels, with fewer expert sources, might have brief ones.  I thought first novels might have the longest acknowledgements, theorizing that debut writers might want to clear their artistic debts in case they didn't get another chance. I thought more confident, multipublished writers would be more matter-of-fact about their success, and probably less effusive.

None of these were consistently true. For example, Libba Bray's acknowledgements for her debut historical fantasy, A Great and Terrible Beauty, are a succinct one page, while for her recent contemporary satire, Beauty Queens, they stretch to 3 1/2 pages -- with footnotes!

It may be that publishers indulge popular (and witty) authors with more space. But maybe that's not the only reason acknowledgements grow.

Add It Up
Gratitude is cumulative. If my first novel had been contracted on its first round of subs, I would have had only my husband and my agent to thank -- my only two readers until that point. But it wasn't published.

So I still have those debts to all those who supported me and helped me getting better throughout the sub process for my first unpublished book, added to all those writers and readers who have helped me with this one, plus all the other projects I've written since. All those critiques, encouragements, and even rejections have gotten me here.

That's a lot of people to thank. My hope is that for my next book, the list is even longer.

Do you write acknowledgements in your head? Who do you credit for helping you continue and improve? What style of acknowledgements do you prefer? Do you pay attention to the acknowledgements in the books you read?

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Awesome Guest Blogger: Charlotte Bennardo & Natalie Zaman, Authors of the SIRENZ series!

Today I'm stoked to share with y'all a guest post by two lovely ladies: Charlotte Bennardo and Natalie Zaman!! Charlotte and Natalie wrote this book:

and this book:

Here's a little bit of info about both of them:

In Sirenz, boarding school roomies Meg and Shar learned the hazards of making a deal with Hades, Lord of the Underworld. The wearing of a Tiffany's diamond ring in Sirenz Back In Fashion reactivates their contract. They find themselves back in his employ as sirens. And things are a little different this time; Shar is whisked off to the Underworld to play hostess as the dark god attempts to win her affections, while Meg is stuck topside, obligated to send spoiled rich girl Paulina Swanson to the Underworld. Hot gods, mere mortals and the Underworld have their secrets. Will Meg and Shar ever ditch Hades, and keep their wardrobes and souls intact?

Not only do Charlotte and Natalie write awesomesauce books, they also write awesomesauce guest posts. Without further ado, I give you ze Authors of Awesome! :)

Who's Waiting For YOU On The Other Side?

The most fascinating people are on the other side--of the river. The Styx, to be exact.

In Sirenz Back In Fashion, you’ll find that the Underworld—the Elysian Fields and the not so nice parts—are full of famous (and infamous!) people who have passed from this world into the next. Can you imagine being able to meet and greet someone from the past? Who would you want to meet? As for us, we’d like to meet…

Nat: Jesus. I have questions.

Char: Oh, so many to choose from… religious, historical and cultural icons. I believe I’m meeting some on the other side of life anyway, so I’ll say Rameses the Second, because I’d like to know all about Egypt in his time, if he really knew Moses, and all that parting of the seas went on. I could ask about the pyramids, and the Sphinx.

What about you? If Hades gave you a round-trip ticket to Tartarus, who would you want to meet? Leave us a comment and enter to win a divine Sirenz Back In Fashion Prize Pack!

You heard them!! Make sure you leave a comment on this post for your chance to win BIG! Trust me. You do not want to miss out!

And, of course, I have to give a HUMONGOUS thank you to Charlotte and Natalie for stopping by!!! Go pick up your copy of Sirenz Back In Fashion, which is available in stores now!

When not playing with pointed objects, Natalie Zaman is usually writing. She lives in Central New Jersey with her family and several fine looking chickens. Find her over at her website and her blog!

Lover of sparkly things, Char doesn't have as many shoes as she'd like, but wouldn't have time to wear them anyway with her three boys, husband, cat with issues, demented squirrels and insistent characters all demanding her time. She is represented by Natalie Lakosil of the Bradford Literary Agency and is hoping to get all her characters into print just so they'll be quiet. Find her over at her website and her blog!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Kill Your Darlings

"When you write a story, you're telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story." 
                                                                                                                                                                  Stephen King (On Writing)

There comes a time when we all have to commit novel carnage. It could be a minor character who does nothing for the plot. It could be our favourite scene/line/chapter that goes nowhere. But, sooner or later, we have to kill our darlings.

I'll admit that I'm a writer that has no trouble torturing my characters. As much as I enjoy creating the story on a blank page, I love the revision process. I edit ruthlessly. I'll cut adverbs and redundant dialogue tags all day, but even I'll admit that killing my darlings is hard sometimes.

We've spent hours in the worlds we create. We've poured our heart and soul into those words. We want to hug those scenes that make us giggle because we remember writing them. We send the draft off to our CP's and wait. They'll love it as much as we do, right?

Possibly. But the best thing, other than seeing a smiley face in the margin, is that they'll also notice all those little bits you are unsure of. They hone in on scenes that don't advance the plot. They suggest the line we love more than cookies could be cut to tighten the pace. They point out that character who is only in one scene and doesn't do anything. 

We can cry and stamp our feet. We can put our fingers in our ears and go "la la la la la," but it won't change what we know deep down -- sometimes we have to kill our darlings. And we ponder over it. Delete it and paste it back. Delete it and read it again. And it's better without it. So we send them into the deleted scenes file then cross our fingers we'll use them one day.

Sometimes those words have to take a sacrifice for the team. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Feeling Small

I just flew in from visiting my father last night, so I've still got a bit of jetlag. During my flights (I had to change planes), I sat next to the window. And as we took off and landed, I got to look out the window to the ground below. We passed over towns, and I saw houses the size of models. I saw cars and semi-trucks like little specs on the road. And I thought about how each of those cars carried someone driving them, and probably some passengers, too. And each of those houses held people. And every spec of light, when we were flying at night, belonged to a light source, maybe a house or a window.

In made me feel incredibly small.

For those times when we feel the world owes us, when we feel that we deserve respect. Just realize we are only one of millions of people. We are only another spec on the road to publication. And I don't say this to try and discourage anyone...because looking at it that way IS discouraging. I say it to ground those who believe they are the only special ones out there, that the industry OWES them. It owes you nothing.

Every person on that road below me was an individual, with their individual problems and individual ideas. Each spec on that road and each light, was someone with dreams.

So are your dreams more important than all of those people? Nope. Not really. The only person it is more important you.

So how can we make OUR dreams rise above the millions? How can we make our dream into a reality? Well, some of those specs only THINK of their dreams; they never DO anything about it. So the fact you are reading this, brings you one step closer to your dream. And still, even some of those only do something for so long before they give up. In each step, we have obstacles. As each obstacle is set before us, we have the choice to become a spec once again or keep going. So consider each obstacle, each rejection, each failure.  How will you treat them? Will you be offended? Will you think the vast world owes you? Because, if you do, then all that happens is that you float back to the level of a spec, blending in with the masses of dream wishers. Instead, take it as a journey. Though millions of people want a dream, only a few persevere.

To rise above the millions of dream wishers, you have to climb.

Monday, June 4, 2012

We Need To Talk About Kevin... And Kindness

A few days ago, I finally got the chance to watch We Need To Talk About Kevin, the film adaptation of  Lionel Shriver's novel. Confession: I haven't read the novel. When I first saw the trailer, I was unsettled without really knowing why. All I knew was that I had to see the movie.  

If you haven't read or seen We Need To Talk About Kevin, no worries. I won't spoil a single thing. 

Other than the fact that it devastated me.

Yesterday, Kelly blogged about the Victorians and their take on difficult topics in their work. We Need To Talk About Kevin deals with messy, messy things, too. But here's the thing: I wasn't super affected by the ugly parts. I rarely am, actually. Books, movies, TV, real life. I've grown accustomed to expect the ugly. 

What really affects me, what catches me off guard and devastates me in the strongest way, is kindness.

Heart is what gets me every time. People doing good things. That makes me cry.

We Need To Talk About Kevin shows glimpses of kindness, and they got to me. They push me to be a better person. The film's characterization and plotting push me to be a better writer. My advice to you? Find what wrecks you, and harness it into whatever your passion might be. I have a lot of passions, but one is certainly writing. I only hope I can pull off something as wreck-y to whoever reads my work. 

Now tell me: how do you incorporate what wrecks you into your work?? Have you read/seen We Need To Talk About Kevin? If so, what did you think? 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Darkness in Kidlit, Victorian Style

The other day my daughter flipped through my copy of Sing-Song, A Nursery Rhyme Book by Christina Rossetti. She was attracted by the little girl on the cover cavorting with a lamb, one of the gorgeous original illustrations by Arthur Hughes, the Pre-Raphaelite whose illustrations for George MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin I've loved since I bought my copy in the third-grade Scholastic Book Fair.

Many of the poems in Sing-Song cover familiar childhood experiences, including many sweet, touching, and funny subjects. But the poems often take a dark turn, familiar to Victorians for whom the living and dead existed side by side.

For example, a poem about a bird:

Babies and flowers:

A sweet poem about sisters that takes a dark turn:

A bedtime poem from which there is no waking:

Darkness in children's literature is a hot topic lately, but it's nothing new. Dystopians reflect teens' fears and perceptions about society, but also their hope -- they are the ones who redeem the corrupt societies portrays. Cursing in YA reflects the way some teens speak, but certainly doesn't expose them to words they would otherwise never hear. And absent parents in middle grade and YA reflect, for many, reality, and for others, a chance to learn about how other kids solve their own problems and make their own decisions.

Children's literature has always dealt with death -- fairy tales are notoriously grisly in their original versions, and the origins of many nursery rhymes is similarly macabre. And Victorian childhood, despite its sentimentalization in popular images, was a risky world, where infant and maternal mortality was an ever present risk. Literature for children reflected that then, just as it reflects the darker side of our world now.

More Reading:

Friday, June 1, 2012

June Mystery Agent Contest

It's time for our June Mystery Agent contest. 

Here's a quick reminder of what our fabulous Mystery Agent is looking for: 

Any sub genre of YA, MG, and picture books. More specifically:
- Magical or inspiring MG in the vein of Savvy, The Tales of Despereaux, or Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
- Smart MG action/adventure novels, either high-concept fiction or re-imaginings of existing mythology (think Rick Riordan)
- MG or YA that hints at secret societies, espionage, film noir or high-stakes international intrigue (contemporary or historical)
- MG mysteries or YA thrillers
- Contemporary YA with humor and emotional resonance similar to John Green or Matthew Quick
- Intense, challenging or even gritty YA

The rules:

1) Entries must be left in the comments section of today's post (please don't email us your entries!) - don't pay attention to the comment numbers. We'll close the contest when we've reached our limit. 

2) You must have a completed manuscript that's ready to send upon request.

3) You can only pitch once today (only one project). If you participated in previous MA contests, you can enter this one as well.

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

5) Your pitch must be one sentence long. The exact word count is up to you, but please remember: stick to the point!

6) The contest will close when we receive 50 entries. 

7) The winner will receive a FULL manuscript request! Our Mystery Agent may or may not choose runners up as well, but it's totally up to them.

8) If the rules aren't followed, your pitch will be disqualified. Please read the guidelines and follow them. 

Good luck to all who enter!