Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

Monday Musings: Taking A Break June 8, 2015

Filed under: Blog,creative writing,Publishing — chasingthecrazies @ 1:00 pm
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Ferris Wheel





Most of my childhood memories from summer involve rollercoasters, log rides, or turns on the Ferris Wheel. The reason why is pretty simple. I grew up a fifteen minute drive from Disneyland. At night you could actually climb onto my roof and watch the fireworks in the distance. Living so close to Disneyland fed an obsession I had for rollercoasters and anything that would turn me upside down, spin me around, or basically twist in the air. I loved the feeling of free-falling when the log ride dropped me down that final chute, or the inability to walk a straight line after a speedy turn on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.




Funny how nowadays I feel like my life has turned into one long spin on the teacups. For the last year I’ve been in sort of a whirlwind. Trying to get a handle on being in the publishing world (querying, signing with an agent, working on two new books) has in a lot of ways made me feel like I’m on 100 mph ride that does not want to stop.




Don’t get me wrong, I feel absolutely blessed to be in the great position I’m in. Writing every day. Working on new ideas is a blessing I don’t take for granted for a second. But I must admit that in a lot of ways it has taken over my life in a way that’s not really healthy. Important things have fallen by the wayside. Events I should be paying more attention to have sort of slipped away. Honestly, my life feels really out of balance and it’s taken my focus away from important things that matter a great deal to me.




With this in mind, I’ve decided to take the next month and a half to restore my life back to normality. Part of this means focusing on the here and now. Being present in the moment. But that’s hard to do when you’re constantly worried about being active on social media or what you’re going to post on your blog for the next several weeks. So I’ve made the decision to go quiet for a while. Fall in love with a few good books. Take the time to reconnect with family and friends. But most important: take a breath and remind myself why I love to write.




I hope you’ll stop back in August when I return. There are lots of cool things in the works including many more successful queries to share, as well as an important BEHIND THE CURTAIN post you won’t want to miss.




My wish for you is a summer filled with precious memories. I hope you’ll drink some lemonade. Watch the sunset. Maybe get your feet wet in the sand. But most of all, I hope you’ll hug the ones closest to you. They are really what this life is all about.









BEHIND THE CURTAIN – Listening To Your Gut – A guest post from Christina Lee June 3, 2015

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Even though we are in an age where information is readily at hand, it still seems many things in the publishing world are kept in the dark. Things that we’re taught not to talk about or share. One of these things is rejection and how long it takes to sell a book.



The authors who seem to get the most exposure are the ones who have whirlwind experiences. They write and sell their first book in a year and suddenly they’re on the New York Times Bestseller list. As most writers know, this is NOT the norm. But for those outside of publishing, that’s all they see. This exposure puts pressure on a lot of writers to sell the first book they’ve got out on sub. If they don’t, they walk away feeling like they’ve not only let themselves down but others who believed in them (agent, family, critique partners).



This leads me to a conversation I had with Christina Lee when I attended my first RT convention. One evening the organizers arranged a scavenger hunt through Bourbon Street. While I was in one location, a good writer friend, A.J. Pine introduced me to an author I really admired, Christina.  I actually had a hard time speaking after we met. I’d  just finished her book, ALL OF YOU and loved it.



As we talked, Christina opened up to me about the ups and downs she went through in publishing before she sold her first book. That conversation was over a year ago and to this day I still think about it vividly.



Her story makes for the perfect “Behind The Curtain” post because many times writers don’t talk about what happened prior to selling their first book. Rejections, unsold books, and failed agent relationships are forced back into the shadows like pieces of dirty laundry everyone is too afraid to talk about. To be honest, by keeping quiet I think we’re doing the writing community a disservice.



If you want to write, then I think you should go into the publishing world with your eyes wide open. You need to be aware that there’s not some magical formula you can create to sell a book. It takes years of hard work, sacrifice, and perseverance for many writers before it happens.



So today I’m proud to share this guest post from Christina Lee. I hope it will touch you and open your eyes to the realities of publishing. We each have our own path and it takes bravery and guts to follow wherever it may lead!






Guest Post From Christina Lee




Thanks for inviting me to write something for your Behind The Curtain series. To tell you a little bit about my journey, I wrote my first book in 2008. It was like a hybrid NA/YA romance that will thankfully never see the light of day. HA!




But finishing that first book was so liberating because I gave it my all and figured out my passion for writing fiction in the process. Plus, I began learning my craft. You can only do that with lots of practice, rewrites, revisions and critiques from other writers.




In hindsight, that wreck of a book still wasn’t ready and no surprise that it was never picked up by an agent. So I began writing another young adult novel immediately. That one got some attention from a few agents but ultimately I had to shelf that book as well.




I landed my first agent with my third YA book. We went on submission, but then something strange happened. She left the business suddenly with no forewarning to her clients. There were other disappointments that went along with that situation (that I won’t mention publicly) but honestly, I should’ve known better. Because in the end, I never listened to my gut when I signed with her. I was so excited about being repped—she seemed cool, legit, loved my book, and had the right contacts—but other things were way off that were red flags.




So I queried again with the same book while writing my fourth. I found an awesome and reputable agent who loved that book, was really passionate about it. We went on a couple rounds of submission, got rejections and R & Rs (revise & resubmits) with no result. So we tried my next book and got even fewer bites.




It was around that time that I got an idea for a new adult romance, but I knew my agent only repped YA. I wrote the book anyway and did it with wild abandon. It opened up this new world for me. A world I didn’t realize I was passionate about from the writer’s side, only from the reader’s side. The world of new adult and adult romance.




I had a candid discussion with my agent about my desire to write in a new category/genre and we ended up parting ways. Our goals had become vastly different. And that’s okay. The important thing was to recognize it.




I considered querying a few agents who were accepting NA submissions at that time, but I was also asking myself some tougher questions about my future goals. Did I want to continue with my dream of traditionally publishing my first book or should I go with a smaller press or maybe self-publish? Just keeping it real here. I wanted to be an author and get my book in reader’s hands. But I also wanted to be smart and put out a great product.




So I queried a handful of agents I thought sounded like the right fit, while I studied the market and talked to other writers about their experiences. I got an immediate response from my current agent, Sara Megibow, who asked for the full, and then contacted me with an offer a couple of days later. And this time around felt especially right. We were on the same page, had the same general philosophy and goals. Especially when it came to communication.




It was all such a whirlwind after that. My book went to auction with six publishing houses. I accepted a two-book deal with Penguin. This spring, my fifth and sixth books will publish with the same house. One is a gay romance and the other is an adult contemporary, so I’m still evolving and challenging myself, and I have an agent in my corner who supports all of that.




So my advice to any new or even seasoned writer would be: Ask yourself some difficult questions and then really listen to your gut. It sounds cliché but that little voice inside of you will never lead you astray. If something feels off—with an agent relationship, or your book, or your offer—if you’re not writing in the genres or age categories you’re most wild about, LISTEN!




Ask yourself what you can or should do differently to meet your goal. And then do it—even if it feels uncomfortable and disappointing at first. Because later on the discomfort may be greater.



Keep trying new things in the general direction of your ultimate dream. Don’t stay static. Always move forward, even in baby steps, to learn and grow and change. Eventually something good will happen!




Christina WOWMother, wife, reader, dreamer. Christina lives in the Midwest with her husband and son–her two favorite guys. She’s addicted to lip gloss and salted caramel everything. She believes in true love and kissing, so writing romance novels has become a dream job.  Author of the Between Breaths series including ALL OF YOU, BEFORE YOU BREAK, WHISPER TO ME, PROMISE ME THIS, and THERE YOU STAND are all available now from Penguin. Her latest release, TWO OF HEARTS, an adult contemporary romance, is now available via Amazon and Barnes & Noble.


She is represented by Sara Megibow of The Nelson Literary Agency. Also the creator of Tags-n-Stones (dot com) jewelry. For more on Christina, check out her website, or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.




Monday Musings: All Those Contests June 1, 2015


If you look around the internet these days it seems more frequently than ever new writing contests are popping up. They used to be sporadic throughout the year and now it feels like there’s a contest at least once every month.



If you’re a writer, these contests offer a unique opportunity to hone your query, pitch, and even sometimes your first 250 words or an entire page. In addition, it can get your work in front of some amazing agents who you would otherwise have to query normally via their agency websites (aka “the slush”).



Personally, I have benefited from some of these contests. When I was still querying it gave me the unique opportunity to polish my work and make great contacts/friends in the writing community. In fact, I’ve been so blessed by these contests that I even host one now with Michelle Hauck every January/February. And this brings me to my point…



When Michelle and I did our contest this year we had everything buttoned-up. Almost every agent we asked to participate said “yes.” We were both blown away and grateful. Then when it came time, we opened our submission window and “BOOM” within six minutes all 200 spaces were filled. To say we were both shocked is putting it mildly.



Once all the entries were in, our contest got underway. Our mentors did their jobs (beautifully!) and the posts went up. And then a very sad thing happened. We discovered another person on the internet had started a contest at the same time (a contest that we had never seen advertised – although Michelle and I blew out the doors publicizing ours just to make sure there wasn’t ANY crossover).



Several of our selections also appeared in the other contest. Agents were not happy about the double entries. We smoothed things over and everything worked out.



So Amy, where are you going with all this you may be asking? Here’s the deal: there are a lot of contests out there. Each offering a unique opportunity to share your work. What I caution is you choose wisely. Agents are beginning to see many of the same entries over and over and are tiring of it. This causes them to stop participating in contests.



I get it. Contests cause a frenzy. When you’re proud of your work it makes sense you would want to get it out there. But what I recommend is you take your time and look at what contests can do for you in the broadest scope possible:



1) Help you improve your submission materials


2) Connect you with agents/editors


3) Introduce you to possible critique partners



All these are critical to your process, but they are not the end all be all. If you don’t get selected, don’t let it stop you. Move forward. Improve your craft. Polish up your work as best you can and then send your unsolicited queries. Many times “the slush” gets a bad rap. But I can tell you from personal experience the slush can pay off.



Yes contests are important, but you can’t get caught up in them. Focus on your goals and your writing. Once you’re ready, polish up that query. Get those submission materials required by the agency ready (because you’ve done your research and YOU ARE following the guidelines) and then send them.



At that point, the future is out of your hands. Work on something new. Be confident in your writing and know that if this manuscript isn’t the one, the next one might be. Remember to keep improving. Your “yes” could be right around the corner. It could come from a contest or from the slush. The most important thing to remember is that if you want it bad enough you can NEVER GIVE UP.



Have you entered a writing contest? Did you find it helpful? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.


Monday Musings: Writing Strong Female Characters May 25, 2015

Filed under: Blog,Publishing,writing craft — chasingthecrazies @ 6:45 am
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At the RT Convention last week I attended a session titled, “Writing Strong Female Heroines.” Renowned authors like Richelle Mead (Vampire Academy series), Lauren Oliver (The Delirium series), and Kresley Cole (Immortals After Dark series ) were among the panelists.



In the course of the session each author spoke about how they created their female characters and what the end goal was for each. No matter what each writer said, they all agreed on one point: whether their characters were warriors, or struggling in a dystopian society, they had to have layers and make both good and bad choices in order to be believable.



While I wholeheartedly agree with these points, I have to state that writing strong female heroines (no matter how many layers they have) is still a HUGE struggle.



In the last two books I’ve written, my female leads have had a very clear vision of their goals. They’re driven and highly focused on what they want/need and are not ashamed of their place in the world. But no matter how hard I try to make them three-dimensional, I still get push back on the level of their strength.


I’ll often get comments like, “Would she really make that decision?” or “Wow! That comment seems harsh.”  While frustrating, because I know I’d never get these comments if I was writing a male character, this kind of feedback pushes me to fully embrace every spectrum of what it means to be a woman.



When writing females I try to remember the following:


1) You can let them make bad decisions.


2) It’s okay to let them be surly – even when people insist the character should be more vulnerable.


3) They can fight for what they want and not be ashamed of their ambition.


4) They embrace standing on their own two feet.


5) When confronted with conflict, they handle their own battles knowing “Prince Charming” is not going to ride in and save the day, and are perfectly okay with that reality.


6) A quiet heroine can still be a powerful heroine.










For me this is not some huge statement on women and their place in the current world, but more of a real view of women in my own day-to-day landscape.



I have female friends who are pilots and doctors. Family members who are high-powered attorneys and successful business owners. Not once have any of these women apologized for going after their dreams. For putting off marriage and children to fulfill their career goals. Each of them goes about their business, quietly kicking ass, and not being ashamed for wanting to be successful.



This is the true female character I want to share in my books. And even though I might still get pushback on their level of strength, or unabashed quest to achieve their dreams, I won’t stop writing them. These are the real women who are out in the world. I believe they deserve to be portrayed in the pages of books, and I’ll keep writing them without shadowing any part of their life (whether good or bad) because this is the true and diverse reality of women today.



Do you write strong female heroines? How do you balance their character? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.


First Five Frenzy with Shannon Hassan of Marsal Lyon Literary May 22, 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 Literary Agent, Shannon Hassan’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?


Shannon: What matters to me is the overall impression I get from the opening pages: Am I drawn into the story? Do I care about the characters?




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?


Shannon: The alarm clock. The time or the date (“It was 4:30 on Tuesday”—yawn). The position of the sun in the sky.


A scene that opens with the character alone, doing nothing (or something mundane), and lost in his/her own thoughts, can also be tough to pull off.  Get them interacting with others and/or with their external environment—this will still tell us a lot about their character, and will be more engaging.




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?


Shannon: Many of the queries I receive don’t include opening pages, although I am totally fine receiving them. So I often make the decision whether to request the manuscript based on the query. If you can get your voice across in the query, that really helps.




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


Shannon: Some authors try to setup everything in the first few pages, and it can come across as too expository. I think this happens because authors are fleshing out the characters and storyline in their own minds as they start writing a novel. It is important, after you finish your draft, to revisit that first chapter and look at it critically. Are there parts of backstory that can wait until later? Is there a way to take much of what you are “telling” us up front and blend it more organically into the narrative later on?


Think of your opening pages as a first date… do you really tell your date everything about yourself or do you leave them wanting to learn more :)




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


Shannon: All of that is important. But voice is especially important because it either works for me or it doesn’t, whereas structural issues, like pacing, can often be fixed with editorial work.



Shannon Hassan, an agent at Marsal Lyon Literary, brings a depth of business and editorial experience to her role, having worked in publishing and law for more than a decade.  She represents authors of literary and commercial fiction, young adult and middle grade fiction, and select nonfiction.  She is drawn to fresh voices, compelling characters, and crisp prose, and enjoys both contemporary and historical settings.  She received her JD from Harvard and her BA from George Washington University. For more information, please visit:, or follow her @ShannonHassan.


If you’re interested in submitting to Shannon, please check the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency website for details.



W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with Ashley Herring Blake May 20, 2015






Sometimes a passion for writing comes from the excitement of creating stories for a particular audience. As Ashley Herring Blake shares in today’s W.O.W., her drive to create comes from wanting to write extraordinary stories for teenagers. In her own words below, she explains how “teens are some of the bravest people she knows” and that inspires her to create important stories that speak to their struggles and the rapid changes they’re going through.


Many thanks to Ashley for sharing her writing journey today…




Amy: What inspires you to write Young Adult Fiction?


Ashley: Simply put, I love writing YA because I really like teenagers. Adolescence is such a fraught period of our lives. Our bodies and minds are going through so many changes while we’re trying to figure out who we are, what we like, what we want to do. Add in sex and friendships and parents, and it’s a wonder any of us survive it. But we do. I think teenagers are some of the bravest people out there and I write for them because I admire them. I write for them because all of that painful growth, paired with the reality of who they are and the possibility of who they’ll become, inspires me even in my thirties.




Amy: How many manuscripts had you completed prior to SUFFER LOVE?


Ashley: SUFFER LOVE was my fifth complete book. Sixth if you count the draft I got three-fourths through and stopped because SUFFER LOVE sort of took over my brain. The first two were middle grade—one a contemporary that I don’t like to even think about, and the other a fantasy. My third was a YA fantasy that I like to snicker about and it was around the time that I started my fourth—a paranormal that I turned into a contemporary—that I finally figured out that contemporary was where I needed to settle. So, lots of practice before I landed on “the one.”




Amy: How long did it take you to write the query for SUFFER LOVE? Did it go through many drafts?


Ashley: I’m not sure how long it took me exactly, but I do remember that it was an agonizing process. I went through many drafts. At the time, I didn’t have the writing community that I do now, so it was really just me and my fabulous critique partner travailing over this thing. I know I drove her nuts! I finally enlisted the help of a veteran author whom I reached out to via email. She really helped whip my query into shape. Honestly, I feel like the query was harder than the book. It’s really difficult for authors to pare down their 70K novel into 300 words, and I really recommend getting help on it. Sometimes, it’s easier for someone who’s not as close to your story and characters as you are to see what needs to be said about them.




Amy: How many agents did you query for SUFFER LOVE? Did you receive instantaneous response or did you have to wait for requests/rejections?


Ashley: When all was said and done, I had queried close to thirty agents. I got a mix of rejections and either full or partial requests within a week or two and that went on for a while. An agent I was very interested in gave me a wonderful R&R. Her notes really improved the book. She ended up passing, which, honestly, was devastating, but it was the next day that I sucked it up, sent to another round of queries, and Rebecca contacted me within a week offering rep. I had two other offers, but she was the clear choice and I regret nothing that happened along my querying journey.




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


Ashley: My call with Rebecca was magical. There’s just no other way to describe it. She was my first offer (the other two came after a nudge), and I felt so comfortable with her. I knew she was a good fit for a few reasons. First, she LOVED my book. I think that’s key. It’s wholly possible for an agent to offer rep, because they believe they can sell your book and they like it and know it’s good, but not LOVE it. My other offers clearly liked my book, but not like Rebecca did. Second, I felt at ease with her. I knew I could call her up with crazy questions and not feel intimidated. This was important to me because I knew I WOULD be calling her up with crazy questions throughout this process! Lastly, she was new to the game, but had enough experience that I felt confident I would get the attention my needy little self required AND she would be able to represent me the way I wanted. She’d be able to sell and sell well. I’ve been with her almost a year and I have zero complaints about the amazing Rebecca Podos.




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


Ashley: Oh yes. When I first started really trying to write seriously, I had just finished a masters program in education. I decided to take the next year or so and really give it my all. I’m pretty sure I got a little loopy! I wrote every day, sometimes all day, and it was really overwhelming at first. It was stressful, thinking about how much I loved writing and the possibility that I might not be able to do it. Yes, writers will always write. But writers write for readers and it can be scary thinking that no one will ever care about what you’ve shed blood and tears for. After many rejections, I remember thinking, “I can’t do this again. I can’t write another book and query it again.” Honestly, I think I would’ve done it again. This is a slow craft and perseverance is a big part of success.




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


Ashley: Write. I know that sounds sort of obvious, but I know we can get so bogged down in planning or insecurities or fear of failure that we don’t write. If you want to write, write. Every time I start a new draft (ok, there have only been two new starts since SUFFER LOVE, but still), I get so nervous. It takes me weeks to really dive in. Yes, some of that is important prewriting, but there comes a point where you just have to suck it up and do it. If it sucks, it sucks. That’s what critique partners and agents and editors are for. Also, READ. Read everything. All the genres. I think MFAs in creative writing are wonderful and I’d love to participate in one someday if that’s ever possible for me, but I learned to write by reading. Sure, read some books on craft, but I guarantee you they won’t be as helpful as reading well-written (and, yeah, sometimes the not so well-written ones are helpful too) books. Another piece of advice has to do with community. I can’t tell you the difference having friends who write has made for me. Writing is such a strange job and it really helps to have people around you who understand the crazy. Surround yourself with these people, soak up their knowledge and experience and offer yours, even if it’s only online. My last piece of advice? Write.




AshleyHBlakeB&WAshley Herring Blake used to write songs and now she writes books. She reads them a lot too. She likes coffee, her boys, gloomy music, anything with pumpkin in it, Tiffany Blue-colored anything, scarves, and walks. She doesn’t like olives, soggy asparagus, or humidity and has not a lick of visual artistic talent. Ashley lives in Nashville, TN with her witty husband and two boisterous little boys. Previous jobs include songwriter and performer (though she made about enough money to cover the gas to the gigs), substitute teacher, barista, Applied Behavioral Analysis Therapist, teacher in a school for kids with autism, and, the hardest job in the world, mommyhood. That last one is still happening, along with lots of word making. SUFFER LOVE, a YA contemporary novel that follows two teens as they wade through an intense relationship complicated by their parents’ infidelities, is her first novel and will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt BFYR in 2016. For more on Ashley, check out her website or follow her on Twitter (@ashleyblake).





Monday Musings: Listening and Learning (An RT convention recap) May 18, 2015

Filed under: Blog,Publishing,writing craft — chasingthecrazies @ 9:17 am
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I just returned from an amazing five days in Dallas where I attended the Romantic Times Convention, aka RT. This year I went into the convention much more relaxed than New Orleans last year. I didn’t have to pitch and was excited about going to panels, hanging out with amazing writers, and being stress-free!



Before I went to the conference, I went through the daily agendas and plotted out which sessions looked interesting: diversity, being a hybrid author, writing strong female characters. These were just a few I was excited to attend.



Once the conference started, I found the right room for each panel and immersed myself in the sessions. While I learned a lot (and took copious notes) what I found was I gleaned much more information from sitting in casual settings (either in the bar or restaurant) and listening to my writing friends talk about their own experiences. How they interacted with editors, their own agents, or even about the struggles they went through to get an agent and secure their first book deal.



I’ll admit I was pretty intimidated by sitting in these groups. Most of these women are highly accomplished, having published numerous books, but when we all sat together they were just like you and me. Working on the next project. Waiting for feedback on their latest work. Concerned over their brand, or where they wanted their career to head next.



For me it was an eye-opening experience. I truly believed that once you got your agent, and secured a book deal, things after that were somewhat smooth sailing. Sure, you had the challenge of writing the next book, but you’d crossed that “magical threshold” of actually having a full-length novel published. Of course this is a huge accomplishment, but the worry and stress don’t end once you sign that contract.



Now I don’t want to sound all doom and gloom because these conversations were anything but that. Most of the time they turned into exciting exchanges about the evolving market, or even brainstorm sessions for future projects. During these moments I sat back and took it all in. Listening and learning to everything each of these amazing authors were willing to share.



While attending conferences are important, I would highly suggest you take time to interact and network with other writers. At lunch, dinner, or even during a moment between sessions, focus in on what they have to say. The sessions are important, but you may get even more of an education from listening to other writers and learning from their important experiences.





Kiera Cass(Meeting the very sweet Kiera Cass, author of The Selection series)



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