Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

Monday Musings: Hellos and Goodbyes December 21, 2015

Filed under: Blog,writing craft — chasingthecrazies @ 6:47 am
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Blinking Lights




This time of year I always take a social media break. I do this for several reasons. One, I want to be present in the moment with my family. It’s nice to forget the outside world for a little bit and concentrate on what’s going on right in front of my eyes. Second, it allows me to take a breather from the constant pressure I put on myself. To write. To create. To please everyone around me: CPs, my writing group, my agent, everyone who may even get the slightest peek at my writing. This self-imposed pressure is created entirely by me. It comes with the problem of being a total “Type A” personality and always wanting to please and succeed.



Knowing this break was coming, I started thinking about the past year. What I’ve learned and accomplished. Things I want to repeat, and other things I’m bound and determined to avoid. This got me thinking about what I want to say “hello” to in 2016, and items I want to kick to the curb from 2015.



For the goodbyes…



I want to say sayonara to self-doubt, comparing my writing path to others, and taking myself too seriously. The goal is to remember that this writing gig is a gift. Not a punishment. Not a chore. But a real blessing that allows me to create every single day.



For the hellos…



2016 is a time to welcome growth. To step outside my comfort zone and try new things. Write in a new category and genre. Put together a holiday novella. Embrace the thought that my publishing path may not follow a traditional route (and that’s okay).  All these things come with a sense of wonderment and joy. Things that have been missing too frequently in my life.



For you my readers, I wish a truck full of hellos and goodbyes. I hope each and every one of you can let go of what wasn’t working in 2015 and open your hearts to new ideas, opportunities, and challenges in 2016. I have a feeling it’s going to be a wonderful year for all of us.



Happy Holidays and a joyous New Year to everyone!











FIRST FIVE FRENZY with Jennifer Johnson-Blalock of Liza Dawson Associates December 18, 2015


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If you’re like me, you toil for hours editing and fine-tuning the first pages of your manuscript. You look at the first lines to make sure they are compelling and tight. You examine the next few paragraphs hoping your MC’s voice is already taking hold of the reader.


The First Five Frenzy is all about getting an agent’s perspective on what works, and what fails, in those first pages of a manuscript. It’s tricky to get just the right balance, but I hope by reading each agent’s comments you’ll learn how to make your manuscript a shining gem that will be requested time and time again.


Today I’m proud to share Jennifer Johnson-Blalock’s perspective on what’s important in those critical first pages.





Amy: There is a belief among many writers that having a great first line is imperative to drawing in the reader. How important is a first line to you as an agent?




Jennifer: A great first line will certainly make me excited, but I don’t think it’s imperative–that’s the kind of thing we can work on together. Within the first five to ten pages, though, I need to be hooked. Like every other agent, my TBR pile is enormous, and I’ll often take a look at the beginnings of things I’ve requested and then set them aside to read later if I’m not completely captivated. I think the goal is to keep me from setting your book aside.






Amy: Many times a writer is told to stay away from common openings like dreams, eating breakfast, riding in a car, etc. What are some common openings you recommend writers stay away from?




Jennifer: All of those things–probably also waking up, an ordinary conversation…it’s tough to set a firm rule; there are always exceptions. For instance, I was tempted to fall back on the showing, not telling rule, and then I remembered all the great classic novel openers (“It is a truth universally acknowledged…,” “All happy families are alike…,” “It was the best of times…”). The best advice I can offer is to think about what your primary goal is for this opener, taking into account the story, the genre, etc.. Do you want to introduce a character? Set up a main plot point? Convey a theme? Decide that, and then figure out the most vivid, compelling way to accomplish that goal.





Amy: When you’ve responded to a writer to request a partial or full manuscript, what was it about their first pages that piqued your interest?



Jennifer: Liza Dawson Associates may be somewhat unique in that we only ask for queries to start–no sample pages. I know this can be tough for writers who may have lovely manuscripts but struggle with the specific kind of promotional writing a query requires. Understanding that, I don’t expect your query to be a masterpiece. If it sounds like the sort of thing I’d like to read, and the writing isn’t noticeably poor, I’ll request the first 50 pages. What I’m looking for initially varies a bit depending on genre. With nonfiction, I want to see a captivating concept and a strong platform. With YA and women’s fiction, I’m very focused on voice and character. With thrillers and mysteries, I’m most concerned with plot.




Amy: What are some common mistakes writers make in their first five pages?



Jennifer: I think the biggest mistakes are an information dump or more general “throat clearing.” The first five pages shouldn’t feel like an introductory paragraph in a classroom essay, generally setting the stage and full of broad statements. They should be targeted and distinctive. Backstory should be revealed gradually, on a need-to-know basis, and the most memorable opening won’t work if it isn’t vital to the story.





Amy: What resonates with you most in those first pages? Voice? Pacing? Unique concept?



Jennifer: I should get hooked on the concept in the query, and pacing will bear out over the course of the work. I think voice is the most important thing in the early pages. When I read a book, the voice infiltrates my brain and influences the way I think, even when I put the book down for a minute. As I read the first few pages, I think one of my subconscious questions is whether I want this voice in my head for the next few hours, days, or weeks.





Jennifer Johnson-Blalock joined Liza Dawson Associates as an associate agent in 2015, having previously interned at LDA in 2013 before working as an agent’s assistant at Trident Media Group. Jennifer graduated with honors from The University of Texas at Austin with a B.A. in English and earned a J.D. from Harvard Law School. Before interning at LDA, she practiced entertainment law and taught high school English and debate. Jennifer represents all genres of nonfiction and upmarket and commercial fiction in the genres of thrillers/mysteries, women’s fiction, and contemporary YA. Follow her on Twitter @JJohnsonBlalock.



If you’re interested in submitting to Jennifer, please check the Liza Dawson Associates website for their guidelines.



2016 Sun vs. Snow Details!!! December 14, 2015

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It’s that time again for THE BIG BATTLE between the heat and the cold! Yes, it’s time for the third year of Sun vs. Snow hosted by me and the amazing, Michelle Hauck. This time we have a fun new question and some important details about the entry process. Please read the following THOROUGHLY and then let us know if you have questions.



The submission window for Sun versus Snow will open February 1st at 4 pm Eastern time. Act fast. We will only be taking the first 200 entries. Please do not enter early or your entry will be deleted. You can resend at the proper time if this happens accidentally. Confirmation emails will be sent. If you don’t receive one, don’t resend. We don’t want duplicate entries. Please check with us on Twitter first to confirm your entry did or did not arrive, then you may resend. There is only ONE, yes that’s right, ONE entry per person allowed. Any attempt to cheat will result in entries being thrown out. This contest is only for finished and polished stories.



Important note: The story can’t have been in the agent round of any other contest.



Also, Michelle and I have decided not to accept picture books for this contest. Though we love picture books, contests just don’t seem to be the best place to get them requests. We do accept all MG, YA, NA and Adult genres, excluding erotica. To enter you must be followers of our blogs. Click the “follow this blog” button on my blog. You can find Michelle’s blog here.




The Format:


Send submission to Sunversussnow (at) yahoo (dot) com. Only one submission per person is allowed. It doesn’t matter if you write under different names or are submitting different manuscripts. You are still one person and get one entry.


Here’s how it should be formatted (yes, include the bolded!) Please use Times New Roman (or equivalent), 12 pt font, and put spaces between paragraphs. No indents or tabs are needed. No worries if your gmail doesn’t have Times New Roman. No worries if the email messes up your format. Yes, we will still read it! 🙂  (Here’s a trick to keep your paragraph spacing: copy and paste your entry into your email and then put in the line spaces. They seem to get lost when you copy and paste. It may look right but sending scrambles the spacing.)


Subject Line: SVS: TITLE, Age Category + Genre

(example: SVS: GRUDGING, Adult Epic Fantasy)



In The Email:


Title: MY FANTASTIC BOOK (yes, caps!)

Genre: YA dystopian (Age category and genre. YA/MG is not a genre.)

Word Count: XX,XXX (round to the nearest thousand)


My Main Character would use sun or snow to battle their biggest obstacle: 


Which would your character find more helpful in fighting through their biggest obstacle–hot or cold. And why? Tell us which weather would be the most helpful to your character.


(Can be in your MC’s POV, but doesn’t have to be. 100 words or less.)





Query goes here! Include greeting and main paragraphs. Please leave out bio, closing, and word count + genre sentence. You may include comps if you’d like. There is no word count limit on the query but please aim for 250 – 300 words.



First 250 words:


Here are the first 250 words of my manuscript, and I will not end in the middle of a sentence. But I will not go over 257 words. Be reasonable and don’t make us count. Don’t forget to space between paragraphs!



That’s it for now. Get those entries ready for February 1st and leave any questions in the comments or ask on Twitter.



Mentors and agents will be posted in January. As of now we have fifteen fabulous agents, and I have some crazy cool mentors who are itching to work with the selected entries! Keep checking Michelle’s blog too because she may be posting BIG NEWS about a FREE PASS to be on Team Snow!



So get those entries ready! We can’t wait to get started!



QUITE THE QUERY: Laura Heffernan and I WAS A SUMMER REALITY STAR December 11, 2015




If you ask any writer about the process of connecting with their agent (or publisher), the majority will say the most difficult part was querying. Not only the actual process of sending out the letters/emails, but formulating the query itself. In fact, I’ve heard more than a few authors say writing their query took almost as long as drafting their book!


Some people have the talent of being able to summarize their book in a few sentences, but for those who don’t, I wanted to provide a resource so writers could learn what works, and what doesn’t, in a query.


Today, I’m pleased to share a successful Women’s Fiction query from Laura Heffernan…




Life after college isn’t as advertised: Jen’s low-paying job is uninspiring, her apartment is tiny, and her boyfriend works all the time. When she finds an ad seeking intelligent, adventurous 21-25 year-olds for a new competition-based reality show, Jen is ready for the challenge.


Things go quickly downhill when Jen’s apartment building converts to condominiums, her employer lays off her department, and she meets the wife she didn’t know her boyfriend had. With little to keep her home, Jen leaps into the competition, solving puzzles, exploring mazes, and having the time of her life. Things change when Jen finds herself embroiled in a love triangle, battling another woman for the attention of fellow contestant Justin. As the show progresses, she struggles to win viewer votes while trying to tell what’s real and what’s part of the show. It’s a tricky balancing act, and one that’s hard to manage without lying, cheating, or backstabbing. When Jen discovers that she’s on the verge of elimination, she must decide whether to sacrifice the money, her chance at love, or herself.


My book is called I WAS A SUMMER REALITY STAR. It is women’s fiction, in the vein of Emily Giffin meets Big Brother.



Fun Tidbit:


Before sending my first query, I had to drink a glass of wine. I sent sixty-seven queries before getting an offer.




Laura HLaura Heffernan is a California-born women’s fiction writer, represented by Michelle Richter at Fuse Literary. One Saturday morning when she was four or five, Laura sat down at the family’s Commodore 64 and typed out her first short story. She’s written both fiction and non-fiction ever since. Laura also works as a freelance editor and interns for a super cool literary agent who’s not much like Voldemort but shall not be named, anyway.


When she used to have spare time, Laura enjoyed travel, baking, playing board games, playing video games, and testing out new experiences. She lives in the northeast with her amazing husband and two furry little beasts. This time of year, you can probably find her sipping a salted caramel mocha and trying to pretend winter’s not on its way. For more on Laura, checkout her website or follow her on Twitter.



Monday Musings: Finding Hope in the Small Things December 7, 2015

Filed under: Blog,Inspiration,writing craft — chasingthecrazies @ 9:05 am
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Earlier this month I tweeted about wanting December to only be filled with good things. As a result, I made a commitment to only talk and share ideas and thoughts on social media that I felt were positive.



Why did I decide to do this? Because I increasingly feel like social media has turned into a VERY negative place. When I first started posting on Twitter two years ago it felt like such a positive space. Now half the time when I log on, my feed is filled with angry rants on a variety of topics. Rants about things that quite frankly a lot of the time are way out of our control.



With this commitment in December I wanted to talk today about what brings me hope…



Yes, as I mentioned, social media has become increasingly volatile but there are still gems to be found amongst the angry tweets.


First, there is the AMAZING Brenda Drake who spends tons of time offering incredible opportunities to the writing community through her contests. Go on Twitter and check the PITCHWARS hashtag and you’ll see many writers showing love and support for one another. Recently, Brenda and her team also hosted #PITMAD. And once again, writers came out in large numbers to support one another.



Need more examples of positivity on the web? Look at the incredible auction Jessa Russo and Tamara Mataya put together for writer, Summer Heacock. In merely days, these two women rallied the writing community and organized an event to benefit a struggling writer friend. Agents, editors, authors all pitched in to make the auction a success for a family in need. To see the writing community pull together so quickly was nothing short of amazing and made me proud to be a small cog in that wheel.



Finding hope this holiday season can also be a very personal thing. It’s no secret that I’ve had my struggles this year with writing. I’ve done a MAJOR rewrite on a story I love, as well as worked on two other books that have had their ups and downs. Frequently, I’ve found myself questioning my direction and my goals. I’ve been really hard on myself in 2015, but I’ve made up my mind to ease up by doing a few things.



– Go at my own pace. Writing a book is not a sprint for me. The words may come slow on certain days and I can’t beat myself up for that. I need to embrace the process no matter how long it takes.


– Be grateful for the ability to write. Sometimes it takes people years to find their passion, but I discovered mine early. I’m blessed because each and every day I get to sit at my computer and create new characters, settings, and stories. That’s a gift I need to remember on difficult days.


– Embrace the small victories. A finished page. A completed outline. A first draft. These aren’t simply things to be checked off a list but incredible accomplishments that need to be celebrated.



For me the holidays is not only a time to celebrate with family and friends but to reflect on the year that’s passed. In finding hope in the small accomplishments, I buoy myself for the new year and hope it carries me through on days when I question my work. It’s that hope that has me believing in the goodness of others and the power of the written word.



In this holiday season I hope you’ll find your own hope and joy. Whether it comes from a major accomplishment, or something small, my wish for you is that it fills your heart and inspires you for the year to come!




W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with Robin Reul December 2, 2015







“Comparison is the thief of joy.” I love this line from today’s W.O.W. interview with author, Robin Reul. As writers, it’s easy to get caught up in what’s happening in other authors’ lives. To get down when a friend’s book sells and yours does not. To be frustrated when they finish a new draft and you’re struggling to finish a chapter.  The key, as Robin points out, is to keep writing, focus on your own path, and tell the story you were meant to tell.


Many thanks to Robin for sharing her writing odyssey today…




Amy: What inspires you to write Young Adult Fiction?


Robin: I think that when one is a teenager, it’s really easy to feel like an island, that no one really gets you or what you’re going through, or your particular brand of crazy. I can tell you I certainly felt like that. My teenage years were tumultuous, filled with lots of mistakes, heartbreak, loss and self-doubt. Teenagers feel so deeply, that every setback or flaw can feel like the end of the world, and a great book can instill hope. I love writing for this age group because it is such an ‘on the verge’ time of life, where anything is possible, and the world hasn’t landed at your feet yet. You’re not who you were and you’re not even close to figuring out who you want to be. I think, in many ways, growing up is overrated, so a part of me enjoys a good excuse to continue to hang out in that world.




Amy: How many manuscripts had you completed prior to MY KIND OF CRAZY?


Robin: My Kind Of Crazy is actually my third completed manuscript. I guess the third time really is a charm.




Amy: Are you one of those people who has an easy time writing a query or does it take several tries before you land on the one you want to send?


Robin: I LOVE writing a query, said no one ever, especially me. I have a lot of difficulty boiling down a whole book into two concise paragraphs, so it definitely takes me several tries and much feedback before I feel like I can articulate things properly. It’s a lot of pressure, and often involves caffeine and cupcake abuse to get through it. It does seem to get easier the further along I go, because there is a formula to it, but I’m still not there with being able to just pop it out on the first try. #lifegoals




Amy: Did you receive instantaneous response or did you have to wait for requests/rejections?


Robin: My book went on submission in November of 2014 and sold in February of 2015. In the publishing world, that really isn’t a long time, but in a writer’s world, it feels like a good quarter of a century. The fact that the holidays were smack dab in the middle probably didn’t help speed up the process, but overall we had a lot of interest. The no’s always come first, but that’s not entirely a bad thing, because with them usually comes feedback and an opportunity to make changes before going out wider. But fortunately, all it takes is one yes.




Amy: What was your “call” like with your agent, Leigh Feldman?  How did you know she was a good fit for you?


Robin: I was super nervous. Leigh had been my dream agent for some time, and it was the second book of mine she had considered. My friend Jessi Kirby had referred me to her, and I was elated when she agreed to take a look at My Kind Of Crazy (back then titled Rebel Without A Clue.) She sent me an email asking if we could talk the next day and I knew she was probably going to offer. My hands were literally shaking when the phone rang. We immediately clicked – had very similar personalities – and I knew right away that she was, without question, the right person for me to partner with on this crazy publishing journey. She really understood the characters, the story, and she was funny, smart and knew exactly who would love to read this book. I completely trust her instincts. I feel really lucky to be working with her.




Amy: Was there ever a time you thought about giving up on your writing dream? If so, what motivated you to keep writing?


Robin: Um, yes, about five gazillion times. Like as in when the rejection letters became plentiful enough that I could wallpaper a small bathroom. But publishing rarely works on the same timetable as the script in our heads tells us it should. Everybody wants to be the overnight success with a pre-empt, six-figure sale and movie deal. It happens, just not to most of us. When I was younger my grandmother Lillian used to always tell me, “The delay is never the denial.” It’s my mantra now, because it’s so true. You have to remember that just because something doesn’t happen for you right this very minute, it doesn’t mean it never will. Just because you want it isn’t enough. You actually have to keep working at it and believe in yourself.




Amy: What advice did you get early on in your writing career that you still use today?


Robin: One of the best pieces of advice I ever received I got at a writing workshop led by my friend, fellow YA author Jessica Brody. She said end every chapter on a cliffhanger so that the reader can’t put the book down. I find this really does heighten the pacing and tension for a story, and it also forces me to know where I am going with the chapter that follows. Another is that you can’t get discouraged if your first book doesn’t sell, because you will find that even super successful authors have nine books in a drawer that will never see the light of day. You just have to keep writing. And above all, don’t write to trends. It can take up to two years from sale to shelf, so you can’t write to what is popular now. Write the story you want to tell and NEVER compare your journey to someone else’s. Comparison is the thief of joy.





My Kind

(Available April 1, 2016)



Despite the best of intentions, seventeen-year old, wisecracking Hank Kirby can’t quite seem to catch a break. It’s not that he means to screw things up all the time, it just happens. A lot. Case in point: his attempt to ask out the girl he likes literally goes up in flames when he spells “Prom” in sparklers on her lawn…and nearly burns down her house.


As if that wasn’t bad enough, Peyton Breedlove, a brooding loner and budding pyromaniac, witnesses the whole thing. Much to Hank’s dismay, Peyton takes an interest in him—and his “work.” The two are thrust into an unusual friendship, but their boundaries are tested when Hank learns that Peyton is hiding some dark secrets, secrets that may change everything he thought he knew about Peyton.




RobinReulRobin Reul has been writing stories since she was old enough to hold a pen. Though she grew up on movie sets and worked for years in the film and television industry, she ultimately decided to focus her attention on writing young adult novels. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, son and daughter. My Kind Of Crazy is her first novel. For more on Robin, check out her blog, or follow her on Twitter, Facebook or Goodreads.



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