Saturday, December 22, 2012

Merry Christmas

I'm a part of the weary world, just like you. But Christmas does have a special place in my life.

O' Night Divine, indeed....

May your holiday season be full of love, and may your soul feel it's worth.

Thank you (seriously) for coming along on my ride this year.

See you in 2013!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Best of 2012 (aka I Bees in Yer Hed Now)

And finally, coming in at number one post for the year with a whopping THREE TIMES more hits than the closest follower, I am proud to give you LOL CATS GO LITERARY...

I wuz crusin the internets for laffs and found sum funny lol cats who share our jurney. Enjoy.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Best of 2012 (aka Get Thee to the Bestselling Authors Table)

Continuing our Best of 2012 trip down memory lane, here's the second highest rated post, BESTSELLING AUTHORS ON CREATIVITY AND WRITING...

Elizabeth Gilbert (Author of Eat Pray Love) on creativity

Christopher Hitchens (British Author & Journalist) on being a writer (and the perils of alcohol)

Stephen King and Audrey Niffenegger on leaving things to the imagination (best part at 4:24)

Your Turn: Do you have any favorite author interviews or clips? Share the link in the comments.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Best of 2012 (aka "Oh, How You Loved the Inessential Penis")

Since it's the last week before Christmas and everyone is running scared (*cough cough* I mean, super busy) we'll continue the character development series in January. Instead, for a bit of fun and nostalgia, I thought it was time to revisit the best of the year here at Seeking the Write Life. So this week we're turning back the clocks on our favorite posts as voted by you (courtesy of the total views).

And so, without further ado, I give you the third ranking post of the year, YA FICTION AND THE INESSENTIAL PENIS (May, 2012):

If you haven't had the distinct pleasure of reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, I won't ruin it for you with spoilers, but if you're any kind of fantasy lover (urban or not), I'd highly recommend it.

And now I'll tell you something I learned about writing sex for young adults by reading this wonderful book.

First, a quote.

The Wishmonger's voice was so deep it seemed almost the shadow of sound: a dark sonance that lurked in the lowest register of hearing. "I don't know many rules to live by," he'd said. "But here's one. It's simple. Don't put anything unnecessary into yourself. No poisons or chemicals, no fumes or smoke or alcohol, no sharp objects, no inessential needles -- drug or tattoo -- and... no inessential penises, either."

"Inessential penises?" Karou had repeated... "Is there any such thing as an essential one?"

"When an essential one comes along, you'll know," he'd replied...

Trust me, it's both funny and thought-provoking in context.

I'm not here to start a morality debate. But having recently finished this book and entered the Rumination Phase of enjoying the story, I found it interesting to see the author taking this advice not only into the story proper, but into the story's construction.

You see, I read a lot of YA fiction. Some good, some not, some meh. One pattern I've discovered is that YA authors have a habit of choosing sides when it comes to sex. Either we're really quite open  -- at times almost graphic -- about it all, or we artfully allow the scene to fade to black before things go there.

We also like to swing for the fences in the emotional realms of sexual encounters -- either allowing the characters casual, inconsequential interactions, or creating a great deal of angst and negative pay-off.

Neither approach is wrong in my opinion. But Ms. Taylor has managed the sexual encounters in her story in a way which I really enjoyed: a character who understands sex and sexual desire (as much as a teenager realistically can), but whose thoughts and actions on the subject sit somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. And whose story is depicted similarly.

You see, the protagonist is not a virgin and the reader is given a clear idea of her experience (and inexperience). However, she narrates the backstory with just enough detail to make the encounter realistic without coloring it in shades of judgement to one side or the other.

The protagonist has both enjoyed sex and been hurt by it. But she doesn't shy away from her sexuality. Sex isn't something she's taken off the table. It's just something she's considering using with caution. (The hero has also been sexually active).

In my opinion, Ms. Taylor has achieved something rare to see in this day and age: simultaneous honesty about sex and sexual desire, without swinging to pure description (which can at times encroach on fantasy or gratification, as opposed to realistic characterization).

There were several examples, but I think this is the best:

...Sometimes he'd felt her pulse spike with jagged dreams; other times she'd murmured and reached for him, waking as she drew him against her and then, silkily, into her.

That's the extent of the mental image, but it's quite... er... comprehensive. No?

So today I just want to applaud this author's ability to be real and true to an aspect of life many teenagers have a lot of questions about, while not shying away from the potentially damaging consequences of these relationships at the same time.

She's also managed to depict sexual encounters in a way that is very comprehensive, without being graphic.

In my opinion, Laini Taylor has struck a true balance. Something I hope to emulate in my books.

Your Turn: Have you read a YA book which you felt approached sexual relationships particularly skillfully, or uniquely? What worked well? What didn't?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Getting the Call from Kate Testerman

I know it's fun to hear other writer's stories of gaining representation, so I decided we'll check in with a few authors to see how their experiences compare. Look for more "Getting the Call" posts in the next few weeks! Today we're starting with Liz Briggs, Intern to super-agent Jill Corcoran, and repped by... Well, I'll let her tell you:


Name: Elizabeth Briggs
Genre you write: YA sci-fi
Agent Name: Kate Testerman of KT Literary
Length of time you've been represented: Since March 2012

How did your Agent first get your material? (i.e. query, conference, referral personal network, etc): Slush pile query

Timeframe between them receiving your full manuscript and offering representation: 
Query Sent - September 2011
Partial request - October 2011 - Right after I sent it I got an R&R from another agent.
Revised partial sent - December 2011
Full request - January 2012
Offer - March 2012

How did your agent approach you for that first talk? Was it anything
like you imagined?

She emailed me and asked if the book was still available and if we could chat about the book and my writing career. I was very excited!

During The Call, were there any questions you were asked that scared
you? Or questions you wished you'd asked at the time?

No, nothing she asked me scared me. I didn't ask too many questions, but I did a lot of research before the call about her sales, her clients, etc.

What were your initial impressions of your agent? And were they correct?

I got the impression that she loved my book and that we had a lot of similar interests and would get along well. And we do! She also came across as very professional, but also friendly and approachable. This has definitely proven to be true.

Do you have any advice for writers who might receive The Call in the future?

Try not to worry so much! Don't be upset if you don't get to ask every question on one of those "preparing for the call" lists. (And do your research on the agent first so you don't have to ask a million questions). Just relax and have a conversation and try to get a sense if you'll like working with this person. You can always ask more questions later.

Thanks for stopping by again, Liz! Can't wait to hear your publication story!

Your Turn: Any questions about getting the call? 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Character Development Series: Question #2 and an Exercise

For the next few Mondays I'm offering a series of questions to help you get to know your characters better, and offering exercises for understanding how they'll relate to your story. These can be helpful for primary and secondary characters. Use them to make your characters breathe - and maybe to spark inspiration if you're struggling...

QUESTION #2: What is the primary impression your character gives to others the first time they meet?

Yes, yes, I can hear you thinking "But isn't that just the flipside of question one?"

Yes, it is. But this question is even more importanto because this is the impression that absolutely must drive the first appearance of your character on the page.

That's important enough for me to repeat it. With screaming caps:



Because as the story develops, so will your character. But in order to show your character arc, you must first demonstrate the primary impression they give as a foundation.

EXAMPLE (AKA: Why this is important):

In the first manuscript I ever wrote, the hero and heroine were struck by "insta-love". Now, the insta-love had a magical spark, but it was insta-love nonetheless. And the insta-love was going to have a marked effect on the hero's attitude to life.

In other words, it was about to change him dramatically.

In the first iterations of the story, Carl (an extremely tall, athletic, powerful, arrogant and cool-to-the-point-of-cold, kind of guy) didn't appear on the page until he met Dani (a much less polished "every-girl" type).

Unfortunately, because meeting Dani sparked an instant change in Carl's thoughts and feelings about himself and the world in general, his felicitous manners, softer humor and self-doubt-covered-in-fake-confidence gave the reader the impression that a very gentlemanly, socially cool guy had met a girl he liked.

When in truth, a near-ruthless and old-for-his-years guy had just been struck dumb by meeting the love of his life.

Because I never laid the foundation of Carl's strength and emotional detachment, the shock of his meeting with Dani didn't come home to the reader.

Now, in the eleven-thousandth draft of that manuscript, Carl first appears to the reader in a scene wherein he manipulates his best friend (who is a girl), handles his powerful father, and generally demonstrates a very attractive, but very self-assured and emotionall devoid attitude to life. The primary impression he offers to everyone on first meeting prior to the moment when he meets Dani and his entire life changes.

Now, when he meets Dani in the second chapter, it's clear to the reader what an earth-shattering moment this is. Zeus has been knocked out of the clouds and become very, very mortal.

But the skeleton of steel remains underneath...

Now it's your turn:


For whatever character you're working on, write a short scene that occurs the day / week before the beginning of your book. Write it from the point-of-view of someone who isn't the character you're developing. Make that person meet your character for the first time.

The purpose of the exercise is to show your character's foundational state of mind, physical appearance, and attitude towards life (in particular, to strangers).

This isn't the time to focus on plot or backstory. Write this for yourself. Show yourself what impression your character gives to someone who hasn't met them before. Then compare that to the impression your character is giving the first time they appear in your book.

Do the impressions match?

Your Turn: Any questions? If not, tell us how your protagonist appears to strangers on first meeting.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Putting Your Blog / Website in the Spotlight

Part Two of my interview with Katherine Amabel over at Beyond the Hourglass Bridge is up. We're talking about how to blog successfully, and how not to be annoying...


Monday, December 3, 2012

Character Development Series - Question #1

For the next few weeks I'll be offering a series of questions that will help you get to know your characters better, and also offer exercises for understanding how they'll relate to your story. These are designed to help you understand why your character says and does anything on the page--and to help you write layered, realistic people. 

These questions can be helpful for anyone from your protagonist, to your villain, to the lady at the corner store who only shows up three times.

Use them to make your characters breathe - and maybe to spark inspiration if you're struggling.

QUESTION #1A: What kind of impression does your character think they give to others the first time they meet?

QUESTION #1B: What kind of impression do they they think they give to strangers when they walk into a room? (i.e. whether or not they speak to them).

Keep in mind: Real people aim to make an impression--but what they do and say to achieve that, may not have the effect that they want. So this question focuses on what the character thinks of themselves. You can then extrapolate that into how they act as a consequence. And determine if they're successful.


In the book my agent is currently editing, the protagonist (Stacy) is extremely insecure. She's been bullied significantly since the age of twelve.

Stacy believes that when she meets peers for the first time they'll already have heard of her reputation and think she's uncool and annoying. It makes her nervous and self-deprecating in her humor. However, when she meets adults, she believes she's good at communicating and appearing "mature", so she demonstrates a lot more confidence.

If she walked into a roomful of strangers she'd be scared. She'd think her clothes weren't right and might spur people to make fun of her. She thinks that people might meet her and decide they don't want her there. So she'd draw a lot of attention to herself, hoping to impress others so they would like her. She wants to be seen as the life of the party, so pushes herself out there and tries to be funny in the hopes of making others feel comfortable around her so they'll like her.

Your Turn: Any questions? If not, tell us about one of these answers for your protagonist.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Character Development: Getting Real

When I get stuck on a draft, sometimes the best way to find a second wind is to work on making my characters come alive. That's because "real" characters will drive a story forward without need for vehicles or plotting tricks.

But how do you make your characters come to life? How do you make them breathe?

You ask the hard questions of them. You get to the core of who they are, what drives them every day, and how the answers to those questions will affect their reactions to whatever is going on in your book...

Go here to view the rest of the post.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Things You Don't Want to Miss...

1. I was interviewed yesterday about blogging and branding and being a writer over at Katherine Amabel's blog. You can read me espousing all kinds of... er... wisdom *cough cough* here.

2. Cally Jackson's book has been on the market for a month now and she's pulling back the self-publishing veil here.

3. My dearly beloved tweep, Kathryn Rose, GOT AN AGENT! (And a mighty find agent too, I might add, in a totally unbiased manner....). You can read her story here.

4. And if all that wasn't enough, PITCH WARS is ON! Choose your mentor, get good, and find yourself an agent without having to go through the rigmarole of querying. If you're an unagented author, do it. Now. (And if your book is right for them, pick my agent sister, Molly, here or my awesome CP, Sharon, here).

Your Turn: What else is going on out there that I want to read about? Link it in the comments!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Aiming for Pole Position

Today I want to know: What, in your opinion, really makes a winner in this industry?


We always hear "just keep writing" and "don't give up!", but there's got to be more to it than that.

If you have an agent or (hallelujah!) a publisher what's the key advice you took that got you there?

If you self-published and gained a solid readership, what do you think pulled your book out of the cyber-sea and into the sun?

However you define success, what is the key advice you're taking to get you from here to that elusive contract / publication date?

And just so you know, I'm actually listening - not just giving you the nod and smile. Today's a day for sharing your nugget. So, please do! (In the comments)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

How Good Writers Make You "Feel"

For years there's been something bothering me: Why is it when I read a book that's been professionally written / edited (well), am I transported more than by a book that... isn't?

This week I think I figured it out. I touched on this note briefly last week, but I want to expand here because it heralds an "A-ha!" moment for me that might help you too:

Writers whose work compells me to keep reading don't describe "the feeling" of the focal character, they describe the stimulus that creates the feeling.

What does that mean?

It means, in the moment the hero and heroine meet and insta-love ensues, the writer doesn't focus on how the heroine feels. Instead, prose and page time are given to what the heroine sees, smells, touches... how the stimulus of being close to the hero affects her body:

It means no more "Before me stood the most delicious example of masculine strength under God's blue sky. I could barely breathe, unable to take my eyes off him..." and lots more "When his head turned, the sharp blue of his eyes raked me from head to toe. I shivered, following the lines of his broad shoulders to the corded muscles of his back..."

It means, when the shocking reveal of critical information occurs, the writer gives most of their focus to the implications that cause the feelings, rather than the feelings themselves:

Rather than "John wasn't in New York when Samantha was killed? He could be the murderer? My entire body trembled. I sucked in a breath, unable to believe it could be true. John had lied to me! John could be the killer?! No!..." you'll find more of "John wasn't in New York when Samantha was killed? I knew I should speak. Deny it. But all I could see was her bruised and twisted body, lying naked in the sand, cold and alone. The way her hair twisted around her ear and stuck to the raw skin on her neck. The numb vacancy her death had left in my gut. Was it possible he'd done that? Was John that monster?"

It means that, as the hero and heroine clasp hands and walk into the sunset, the writer focuses on their senses, the circumstances that give them safety and resolution. Not their feelings:

Instead of "Rafe took my hand and finally, finally I let myself smile. Drowning in the deep pools of his eyes - the eyes I'd wake up to every day for the rest of my life. My heart raced as I drank in his handsomeness and strength..." you'll find, "Rafe took my hand, his fingers curling between mine. It was the moment to let myself smile, and I did, dropping my head to rest on the warm firmness of his shoulder and breathing in the scent of him - pine, musk and something uniquely Rafe. As the car roared to life my smile broadened. We would drive away and never return to this place. This house was not a part of our future. Only our past..."

I guess the biggest lesson I'm taking away is that a focus on the feelings of characters will still get your story across. You can write a book that "shows" and describes feelings, and sometimes readers will love it.

But the book that places the reader in the skin of the protagonist, allowing the reader to see, feel and think as the character, trusting the reader to draw the right conclusions... that's the book that I forget I'm reading and just experience.

That's the story that becomes my own.

Your Turn: Have you observed any patterns or techniques in the books that draw you in and capture your imagination?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Why You Have to be a Reader First

There's no doubt, reading a book and writing one are two very different experiences. And there's no doubt that being a good reviewer / critiquer doesn't necessarily make you a good writer.


Whenever I talk to a writer who says they don't have time to read, or who disdains every book in their chosen genre, alarm bells ring.

If you don't read other writers in your genre, how do you know what works and what doesn't?

If you can't take the time to read and appreciate material from those who have achieved something like what you're aiming for, what are you measuring against to know you can do it better?

If you can't find something good in a popular book that so many readers enjoy, how can you be confident that your book will attract readers too?

Seems to me, we need to learn from those who've gone ahead before we can surpass them. Even a poorly written popular book must have something within it to attract so many readers. Would it hurt to take a look and try to figure out what that is?

It can be useful to analyze other writer's books, both to learn and to identify flaws we want to avoid. And, perhaps most importantly, sometimes we can learn how to be better story-tellers by reading other authors' work. Sometimes someone else actually does know better - and you can benefit by being influenced by them.

I'm not suggesting we should be writing books that are derivative of what has gone before. But I am a firm believer of standing on the shoulders of others, especially when we're relatively inexperienced.

Maybe the key to your current plotting problem is evident in the latest dystopia. What if the inspiration for your next protagonist is hidden behind the cover of one of the classics? Or the voice that will show you how to unleash yours is rolling off the pages of a self-published work?

If you don't read, how will you ever know?

Your Turn: Does your writing benefit from reading? Why or why not?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

On Writing YA, Blogging and WHY This Book Got Me an Agent

I have been interviewed by YA fantasy author, E.M. Castellan! She asked me about everything from critiquing for writers, blogging, the book that landed me an agent, and more.

You can find her blog and my interview here.

Go there! Now!

Monday, November 12, 2012

INTERVIEW: Elizabeth Briggs - Intern for Superagent Jill Corcoran

Elizabeth Briggs calls herself "...a nerd who writes YA sci-fi, goes to Comic Con every year, and volunteers with dog rescues." (I just call her a lovely online-friend and source of insightful publishing advice). She's represented by Kate Schafer Testerman of KT Literary, and interns for Jill Corcoran of the Herman Agency.

Liz, thanks for taking the time to drop by today. Let's start with your position as Intern at the Herman agency. How did you procure that position, and what's involved?

Thanks for interviewing me! I got the position by sending Jill an email after she posted that she was looking for interns. I told her I didn't have any experience in publishing, but that I was an active member of SCBWI and an avid reader of YA and MG. I wrote that I was hoping to transition to a job in publishing, and tried to describe how my work experience gave me skills that would help me as an intern. I honestly didn't think I would get the position because I assumed most people would be better qualified than me, but I wanted to try anyway.

Jill ended up hiring someone else as her assistant, and I figured that was that. But few months later Jill needed another intern to help with the growing query pile and contacted me. She interviewed me over the phone, and I started working for her in June. Now I help her go through queries, both to reject the ones that are obviously wrong for her and to make sure she pays attention to the amazing ones. I also sometimes read full manuscripts and give my opinion on them.

That sounds really interesting! Had you had much experience reading other writer's manuscripts before you started? What are the most common flaws you see?

Nope! The only experience I had was reading published books and doing critiques for beta readers. But I think one reason Jill "hired" me was that I've read over 90 books a year for the past few years, and most of them were YA and MG.

The most common flaws I see in manuscripts are: too much backstory early on, passive main characters, and a plot that moves too slowly.

That's interesting that you mention passive main characters as a common flaw. The word "passive" gets bandied around a lot in writing circles, but I think sometimes as writers it's hard to see your main character in that way when you know everything that's happening inside their head. Can you offer some examples of the kinds of things that make a protagonist passive, in your opinion?

A passive character is one that isn't driving the plot forward. Often this is because the protagonist doesn't have a clear goal they are working toward, or sometimes other characters are making the decisions and taking action instead of the protagonist. To fix this, I'd suggest making sure your main character has an overall goal they are working toward, plus a smaller goal or desire in every scene (although they should often fail at reaching these goals - it's the trying to achieve them that matters). You can also look at your side characters and see if one of them is making all the decisions, rescuing the protagonist a lot, and so forth (in YA, I often see this with the love interest).

Since you're reading a lot of different books now, from different authors, do you find yourself drawn to any genres in particular? Or seeing any trends coming through that you're excited about?

I'm not really drawn to any genres in particular, I just look for a unique concept plus excellent writing. And I wish I knew what the upcoming trends were! Right now I'm seeing a lot of interest in YA mystery/thrillers, funny contemporary, and magical realism. Also, anything MG is in demand right now, but it's hard to find writers who can do a great MG voice.

Great insight! Excuse me while I scurry off to finish my YA thriller! *Cough* Now that you're settling in with Jill, have you found that reading all those queries and books has helped you as a writer?

It's definitely made me a better writer, probably because it's easier to see what works and what doesn't in other people's writing than in your own. It's also helped me be more aware of overused cliches in writing (starting with waking up, for example).

Is there any advice you'd offer to writer's heading into the query / submission fray?

My advice to writers is to do your research before you query, not just about submission guidelines and things like that, but also about the agent him/herself. Look at their sales, and not just how many there are, but also where they've sold to, and what types of books they've sold. For example, if an agent only sells adult mysteries, or only sells to small presses, does that work for your book and your goals? If the agent is newer, where did they previously intern or work, and do they work for a reputable agency now? If they have Twitter or a blog, do you like what they have to say? Do you like their clients' books? I think writers sometimes become desperate to get an agent and don't stop to think, "Is this person a good agent for me?" You want to make sure that the agent you sign with both has the right experience for your writing goals, and is someone you want to work with for many years.

That's all great stuff, Liz. Thanks so much! Now, as our final farewell, tell us about your book! Where are you in the process of finding a publisher? And where can readers find you if they want to message or tweet, or hear about your upcoming success?

I'm represented by Kate Testerman of KT Literary, and my novel ALTERNATE is about a teen hacker who is thrust into a war between parallel universes when she meets an alternate version of herself from another dimension. You can find me at and on Twitter at @lizwrites.

Thanks for the interview, Aimee!

Your Turn: Do you have any questions for Liz?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Behind the Scenes: Timeframes and The Editing Process

Guest Post: Welcome back, Lamar! Lamar (L. R. Giles) has visited Seeking the Write Life a few times, and we always enjoy hearing from him. He secured a big six publishing contract last year...but I'll let him tell you the story:

A little over a year ago, Aimee allowed me to give a lengthy account of how I came to sell my debut YA Thriller FAKE ID (formerly WHISPERTOWN) to HarperCollins. She and I chat often on Twitter, and I asked if there was anything her readers might be interested in hearing about post-sale? She barely hesitated when she said, "The editorial process".

What Aimee wants she gets…

Before I start, a couple of quick notes:

*For the purposes of this post, I’m going with a broad interpretation of “editorial”, meaning everything that me, my editor, and my agent deal with jointly, not just the specifics of manuscript revisions. All of it is intertwined. Also, since the timeline aspect of my last post seemed to go over well, I’ll stick with the familiar.

*Because I’m giving you my in-the-moment experiences and reactions, some things may seems less than positive because that’s how it felt at the time. Let me be clear, I work with AMAZING people in this industry. I’ve gone on at length in other forums about my incredible agent, and I need to extol the virtues of my editor, too. My book is a better book because of their guidance. By telling you of various delays that occur when you’re a debut writer, I’m not indicting anyone. I simply want you to understand that every part of this process is a SLOW GRIND that you have very little control over. When it’s your turn, be prepared to hurry up and wait.

September 2011

I get the first half of my advance. My wife takes a picture of me holding the check in a Heisman pose. (I’m not going to show you the picture.) With this money comes a set of dates that I’m contractually obligated to meet. My next draft of WHISPERTOWN is due on 1/23/2012. My editor expects to give me revision notes sometime in November. That means a two-month turnaround. Intimidating, but I’m a pro and I’m ready.

November 2011

My birthday comes. I’m 32, and I realize that by the time my novel debuts in summer 2013 I’ll be 33 and a half (or so I think). Wow. Seems far and close at the same time. I enjoy a good dinner and some cake with my family while mentally preparing to meet my writing obligations. My Edit Letter will be coming any day now.

December 2011

No Edit Letter yet. My agent assures me this is normal. “But, what about that date in my contract, the one that says I have to turn in a new draft in January or legal armaggedon will come to pass?” My agent says, “Lamar, I’m pregnant, and the baby is, like, tap dancing on my kidney right now. We’re fine, and I’m going to make sure I don’t have any internal damage. More soon.” Really, that’s not what my agent said, though she was pregnant at the time. She let me know that the dates in contracts are flexible because things change on a dime in publishing. Fair enough. Less stress during the holidays.

January 2012

Still no Edit Letter. My agent is on maternity leave and I’ve heard little to nothing from my editor since signing my contract in August because she is SWAMPED. Surprise, surprise, I’m not the only book on the HarperCollins list in 2013. It takes a long time to edit a book, longer to edit it well. My editor is a seasoned pro responsible for a lot of things; some of those things take precedence over me.*

My contracted revision deadline comes and goes. I’m not overly concerned because my agent told me this was normal, and many of my writer friends are experiencing similar shifts in their revision dates. I’m lying if I say I’m not a little annoyed about the delays, but what can be done?

*No one likes waiting, but good notes from a good editor are worth the time. Maybe twice in my career, I’ve heard a writer say their editor got back to them quickly and had no notes because their manuscript was perfect. It’s great if that works for those scribes, but I’d probably have a panic attack if my editor gave me no notes. I’d think they either don’t care, or the manuscript is SOOO bad it’s not even worth the effort of small improvements. It’s better to wait than rush here.

February/March 2012

Nothing to see here. Move along.

April 2012

Let’s talk about going from 0 to 60 in 3 seconds. On 4/16/2012 I get an email from my agent. It’s an annotated PDF of WHISPERTOWN—essentially a scanned copy of my novel featuring all of my editor’s handwritten margin notes. It comes with a promise that a long-form Edit Letter is on the way. The date doesn’t stand out to me because of the sudden publishing activity. It’s the date I get laid off from my day job of 10 years. I want to take a moment to reflect on that…

If you’ve experienced a layoff (I hope you haven’t, but if you have…) you may understand how devastating/humiliating/depressing the process can be. In his memoir ON WRITING, and to a greater extent, in his novel DUMA KEY, Stephen King posits that there is healing power in art, writing and painting respectively. Now I have a reason to agree with him. As hard as it is to lose my job, there’s comfort in knowing I still have work to do. Also, I learn a humbling lesson.

My annoyance at the shifting dates was unjust. If I’d gotten my revisions any sooner, I wouldn’t have had the divinely timed comfort of getting my first set of editorial notes on the same day my company gives me a pink slip. If I’d gotten them any later, I would have undoubtedly suffered from the anxiety of being unemployed AND in publishing limbo. Everything happens when it’s supposed to. This is a lesson I have to remind myself of in May when I get more news I’m not really enthusiastic about.

May 2012

Have a 2-hour call with my editor to discuss my long-form Edit Letter (9 pages, single-spaced…YIKES!) and how I will tackle WHISPERTOWN revisions. It’s a great talk overall, but there are moments of panic and sadness.

Panic – My editor feels I need a major rewrite due to a pacing issue. Two primary characters only know each other for a week in the original draft. They need more time together to justify later events. The expansion of this relationship sends ripples through the ENTIRE novel. There’s no way to cut and paste around this (not that you should ever do that anyway—maybe more on that in another post). This is just ONE change. Remember, my letter is 9-pages long.

Sadness – Due to my shifting revision dates, it’s almost guaranteed that WHISPERTOWN will not be done in time to make a Summer 2013 release. And Fall 2013 is a tough time to break out debut authors. Winter (Early) 2014 is looking like my window. This is the part where I have to remember the prior month’s lesson. Everything happens when it’s supposed to.

My new revision deadline is 07/31/2012. I get my attitude in check and get to work.

June 2012

I get a new day job. It’s a blessing. Not even unemployed a full 2 months. A bigger blessing, because the first few weeks at a new job can be slow with orientation stuff, I’m off by 5 every day with plenty of time and energy to rewrite WHISPERTOWN in the evenings.

July 2012

New day job is picking up, but I still beat my WHISPERTOWN deadline by 2 days. It’s a good month.

August 2012

I’m told to brainstorm title ideas. WHISPERTOWN is going away. I’m not surprised. Based on previous conversations over the last 14 months, I know HarperCollins wants to call the book something else. I’m cool with that, though I can’t seem to come up with anything that POPS. I find I have a knack for truly terrible titles, though, to the point that my wife and I make a game of inventing bad ones. No, I’m not sharing.

September 2012

My editor comes up with a title that is both obvious and perfect…I’m ashamed I didn’t think of it myself. WHISPERTOWN becomes FAKE ID. And, she’s pleased with my revision. Great news. Of course there’s still some tweaking to do, which is customary, but no more complete overhauls, which is splendid.

October 2012

I’m told there may be an opportunity to write a prequel short story for FAKE ID, start thinking of some ideas. The day job is hectic all-consuming this month, but there’s always time to plot during coffee breaks!

November 2012

The month just started, and I’m sharing my story with you great folks. Life’s good and I’m thankful for you and Aimee. The journey continues…for all us.

Any questions? Let me know at either of my social media stops:

Thanks for stopping by, Lamar - and I can't wait to see FAKE ID on  my bookshelf! (Please make sure Seeking the Write Life is part of your launch tour... please?!)

Your Turn: Does Lamar's story include any surprises for you? If you have any questions for Lamar, you can ask them in the comments below, or on his twitter / facebook profiles.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Author Cally Jackson: The Best Writing-Related Decision I Ever Made

Writing (and subsequently publishing) The Big Smoke has been an incredibly long journey – eleven years to be precise. It’s been a fantastic learning experience, and I feel that my writing has improved so much over that time. But the main reason for that rests with one important decision I made many years ago.

Rewind to 2007. I had a complete, polished draft that I was immensely proud of. It had taken me seven years already to reach this point (with a number of stops and starts long the way), and I was ready to send my masterpiece out into the world. Despite what everybody said about how hard it was to get a publishing deal, I secretly believed that it wouldn’t take long for an agent or publisher to recognise my writing brilliance.

Then I came across an advertisement for a manuscript appraisal service. The service promised to answer the question, how good is your manuscript, really? Their website said that if your manuscript was ready for publication, they wouldn’t hesitate to tell you, but if your manuscript still required work, their appraisal would outline in detail what areas needed improvement.

I thought about it for a while and decided that it sounded like a worthwhile investment. I’ll be honest and say that I expected an appraisal report that gushed over my writing ability and confirmed that my manuscript was ready to be published.

The report I received was ten pages long and detailed several areas of my manuscript that could be improved. Reading that report was like being slapped repeatedly across the face. I quietly closed the document and didn’t say anything about it for quite a few hours (which is a record for an over-sharer like me).

It took me a few weeks to build up the courage to read the report again. The second time, it didn’t hurt quite as much, but still a fair bit. Did this mystery assessor really know what she was talking about? Perhaps I should just delete the report and pretend like I’d never read it?

But, over time, I let go of my defensiveness and began to see that a lot of what she said had merit (dammit). The two paragraphs below (taken directly from the report) particularly struck a chord:

Because the story moves so fast, and there’s so much going on, there’s no space for you to pause and delve into your characters’ emotions and responses, etc. At present you skim the surface of who these characters are (and who they come to be), so we don’t get to know anyone in any great depth.

The tone of this MS was one of the main things I had concerns about, and I kept wondering as I read what the best tone for this would be… I don’t think you need to have too dark a tone, and a light tone is fine. However, it needs a bit more sophistication – it’s a little too like a soap opera at the moment, and a little too twee. A more sophisticated tone is particularly important if you stick with the university setting.


Unfortunately, despite all of the work I’d put in to date, it seemed that I still had a lot further to go if I really wanted to make my manuscript all it could be.

As a result of the appraisal, I decided to completely rewrite the manuscript, streamlining the plot and changing the narration from third person to first person from two perspectives (my two main characters). I felt that these changes would address the crux of the issues that the assessor identified – limited character development and a narrative style that didn’t suit the content.

That decision was the best I’ve ever made for both my manuscript and my writing in general. It propelled me to study other books (fiction and writing craft) and learn how to develop rich characters and establish an authentic voice. The re-write took four years, and I considered giving up on many occasions. But, finally, I reached ‘The End’ for the second time.

But had I succeeded? Had I actually improved my novel’s characterisation and voice? Considering my inability to judge the merits of my own work previously, I decided to let my beta readers be the judge. Here are some of the comments they made:

·         The way the book reads, it is as though Ceara and Seb are telling me (the reader) their stories over coffee and that's a great achievement for you, Cally the writer, as I am hearing their voices not the writer/narrator intruding. Well done.
·         The characters feel very real for me and I'm invested in what happens to them.
·         Because you are telling the story from both Seb and Ceara's points of view, the reader gets into both their heads and it gives an almost voyeuristic POV. The reader is in on it all and privy to both main character's innermost thoughts. It feels real and immediate and took me back to those days of feeling insecure and uncertain what was expected of me (and that was a rather long time ago so well done Cally).
·         I think you have really nailed both voices. They are realistic and most engaging.
·         My first reading I stayed up late as I could not go to bed without finishing it; that was how absorbed I was in both their stories.
·         They definitely have distinct voices in both personality and gender. Their inner narratives drive the story.

After reading these comments, I was satisfied that I’d achieved my goal. Hooray! It only took me four years! ;) But if it weren’t for that initial appraisal, I never would have known these issues existed in the first place, and I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to challenge myself and grow as a writer.

So what’s the moral of this (slightly long-winded) story? Get feedback. Professional feedback. You don’t necessarily have to pay for an appraisal like I did, but don’t take the word of your friends and family who would love anything you’ve written regardless of its actual quality.

I’m so glad I got that appraisal and decided to act on it. Hearing the truth about my writing may have hurt, but it was worth it in the long run.
Thanks for stopping by, Cally! You can purchase a copy of The Big Smoke:
  • in paperback format from Cally's buy page (Australia and New Zealand) or Amazon (rest of the world)
Your Turn: Have you had any major wake-up calls with your writing? What have you done to make sure your work really is ready for the world?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Swearing in YA Fiction - Authentic? Or Gratuitous?

I've avoided writing this blog for a while because it's another one of those subjects people tend to feel quite strongly about. But the issue has risen (again) in my current WIP, so I'm ready for some dialogue (no pun intended).

Here's the down and dirty: Teenagers often swear. Lots of teenagers swear a lot. It seems to me, if we're depicting teenagers in a contemporary society, swearing isn't just likely, it's actually hard to avoid.


Hmmm.... I'm not so sure.

Don't get me wrong, I know swearing is a part of daily life for teenagers, even if they choose not to do it themselves. But the question I keep asking myself is, do I need to add to the cacophony?

The reality is, there's so much out there that kids have to deal with, so much they have to filter and figure out, do they really need one more book adding to that picture? Does swearing add authenticity? Or does it just lean on uneducated tropes?

For me as an author, the battle is how to effectively communicate anger, frustration and (to a certain degree) surprise in teenagers without dropping f-bombs or jumping on the beeyotch train.

And there's another layer to this debate that I haven't seen addressed at all: One person's swear-word is another person's fluff.

I've grown up travelling between (and learning how to communicate in) two very different english speaking cultures. There are words I can say in New Zealand without blinking that would have my American family reaching for the smelling salts. And there are words I could say in America that would be laughed at, where most New Zealander's would take offence.

This is because culturally the impacts of the words are different.

So, if I'm being careful with my language, where do I draw the line? Which country's vernacular is acceptable? What level of swearing denotes authenticity, and what level is simply gratuitous?

Of course, there are always the phrases Carl swore under his breath. A happy medium, if you will. And effective. But not always applicable - especially in a passage of actual dialogue.

I usually find myself typing swear words in my first drafts, then removing them later, either with something I deem more clever, or just deleting it altogether. At this point my goal is not to add to the cacophony. But that's because I don't swear in day-to-day life. Ergo, I choose not to write them, either.

Is avoiding the issue akin to pretending it doesn't exist?

At what point am I giving the finger to the good manners my mother taught me? And at what point am I disappointing readers by failing to accurately depict their world?

The mind boggles.

I don't want to spark off a moral debate, but let's be honest, our opinions on this type of issue tend to fall fairly closely in line with our personal choices.

As an author, is it my job to "sink" to the level of the sixteen year old who'll read my book? Or is it my job to show them (without preaching) that there's another way to do this?

Or is it both?

Okay, cyberspace, I'm ready to hear what you have to say. But this blog is still PG rated, so please refrain from using actual examples, if possible.

Your Turn: Should contemporary YA books include swearing? Why? Or why not?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Is There Ever a Time to Give Up On that Book?

A few weeks ago a tweep asked me this question and it got me thinking. I've shelved a project I love. It's a book I still plan on getting published one way or the other, but for now, it's mouldering away in my virtual drawer. Why? There are a number of reasons actually - and any one of them could be enough on it's own.

Now, it's important to note that the book market has changed so much since I started trying to get published in 2009, this question has a different flavor than it used to.

For one, with self-publishing successes on the rise and e-readers gaining steadily on paperback, you can always publish a book. There's nothing to stop anyone from putting their story out there. So this question probably applies more to someone who's still pursuing the traditional route.

That said, if you want to make real money in publishing, some of these questions might apply even to a self-published project. Especially if it's your debut.

How do I know what I'm talking about? Well, maybe I don't. But here's a few questions I asked myself when it came time for me to make the decision. If you're considering putting a project aside, maybe they'll help you too:

1. Have you taken the story as far as you're capable of going for now?

As writers we're constantly growing and improving. But sometimes you reach a point with a book where your revisions are little more than reading through and changing a few sentences around, or nit-picking over word choices again. If you've reached the point where your story hasn't changed in six months and you're at a loss as to how to make it better, it might be time to put it aside for a while and work on something else.

2. Is the market saturated?

The book that I've shelved is the first book of an urban fantasy trilogy. Sound familiar? I finished the first draft in 2009 - and had a lot of agent interest over several months. Unfortunately, my writing wasn't as developed as my premise. And by the time my skill caught up with my ideas, the agents were starting to say things like "...I'm just weary of this genre..."

Now, I'm a pragmatist at heart. I know that urban fantasy is here to stay, and sometime in the future it might even be back in vogue. So putting my book aside doesn't mean it will never find an audience. It just means the timing isn't right right now.

3. Are there real problems with the story, characters or premise?

Can we put our pride aside for a moment and just admit that sometimes we get it wrong? Sometimes the story in our heads doesn't match what readers receive on the page. Or maybe a character that captures our hearts doesn't have the same draw for others? Maybe we got so caught up in what we loved that we can't see the flaws? Or maybe the book has been critiqued several time and the same feedback keeps coming - but it's changes we don't want to make.

Whatever the problem, sometimes we have to admit that a problem exists. Again, that doesn't mean the book will never see the light of day. But maybe it's time for it to sit in the shadows for a while so we can focus on something new. Because, as writers, we have to hone our skills. And sometimes in order to get better we have to move the goal-posts.

4. Are you hanging on to the story out of fear?

This might be the biggest question of the lot. It certainly kept me paralyzed for a while. If you've been pursuing publication for a book that you love for a long time, if you've invested months or years into characters you know better than you know yourself, or if the idea of starting something completely new when you weren't even successful this one makes you quake, you might be holding onto that project out of fear.

Consider this: Most published authors I know didn't get published with their first book. Sure, it happens. But not for the majority of authors. Like every other career, there are often steps on the ladder. For authors there are books under their belts (and in their drawers).

Not finding international success your first time out of the gate isn't failure. It's par for the course. Don't let that hold you back. What if your next book is the one? What if this project will be a success in three years, as your second release, or third?

What if by postponing starting on that new idea, you're actually postponing your own success?

Don't be afraid of the work to come. You've learned a lot by sticking with this book. Now, take those new skills and apply them to something else. You've had a lot of practice. The next one might not be easier to write - but it will be comparably better at the end of the first draft because you're a better writer.

Don't let fear hold you back.

5. Finally, do you need a break, rather than a farewell?

Sometimes none of the above problems exist. Sometimes it's just a matter of a story needing more time to percolate, or a writer growing weary of their own world.

If you find yourself dragging at the idea of heading back to the keyboard, or skimming your own work when you're revising, maybe the time has come not to give up, but to take a break.

Maybe what you need is a story vacation? Maybe it's time to explore a new world, safe in the knowledge that this one is ready and waiting for you to come back to it when the passion returns?

Regardless of what issues you face, the most important thing to remember at this point in your journey is that changing projects doesn't equal failure. Do you know that NYT Bestselling author, Beth Revis wrote ten books before she churned out Across the Universe?

Did you know that Lauren DeStefano wrote a book that garnered her a top agent, but the agent couldn't sell that first book? It wasn't until she started on a short-story that turned into a little dystopian novel called Wither that she became one of 2011's biggest success stories?

Conversely, do you know that it took John Grisham over five years to write and get an agent for A Time to Kill?

If you're a writer, you're a writer. Whether this book is your breakout novel or not, it's a step towards what you define as success. Don't be afraid to try something new. But also don't recoil from the hard work involved if it isn't time to put this one aside.

Because your next step might just be the next step.

Your Turn: Are you grappling with the idea of putting a project aside? What could help you make the decision one way or the other?