chasingthecrazies

Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

MONDAY MUSINGS: The Power of Never Giving Up June 19, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

When we are at our lowest as writers I think we often wonder if what we are doing has any meaning. If the words we put on the page will ever be read by anyone but us. If the worlds we create, the characters we craft, will matter to any one outside our own small sphere.

 

 

There have been many times in my writing career when I’ve wanted to give up. I’ve looked at a finished manuscript and wondered if those hours, days, months I’ve spent on it were worthless because no one but me would ever know they existed. When I start to feel this way, I go back and look at some of the interviews I’ve done with writers I admire. Remind myself of their struggles and refusal to give up.

 

 

One of the biggest stories of perseverance in the publishing world is that of J.K. Rowling. If you know anything about her, you know that she was a single mother living on welfare, writing in a small coffee shop trying to keep her and her child warm while she chased her dream of creating a story about a young boy who discovers he is a wizard. I often wonder how many times in that early period self-doubt slithered into her head. How many times she looked at that blinking cursor and wondered if she was chasing some crazy unrealistic dream.

 

 

Well, most of you know how her story turned out. Harry Potter is now one of the most influential series in all of literature. It’s spawned movies, licensed merchandise, a series of theme parks, and now even a studio tour in London.

 

 

And that brings me to my point. I recently was lucky enough to go on this tour. I, along with my family, on a soggy, cold June day jumped on a double-decker coach (significantly similar to the Knight Bus, along with a crazy driver) and headed outside of London to the small town of Leavesden. The tour information said the experience would last three and half hours. Three and a half hours? I’ve been on many studio tours in the past and they never lasted more than hour so I was very skeptical. I was wrong. SO WRONG.

 

 

Once inside the main building, I was immediately hit by the enormity of the world the directors and producers had built for this series. The walls were covered in life-size posters of all the major characters. Inside the area where the first line began was a complete replica of Harry’s room under the stairs. And on the wall was this sign…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tears burned the corners of my eyes because it hit me at that moment that NONE of this experience would be possible without the words of J.K. Rowling. Sitting in that cafe she was about to change publishing forever. Her words would introduce the amazing experience of reading to both children and adults. What an incredible legacy to give the world.

 

 

So the next time you want to give up, throw in the towel, stop chasing your own dream, think about that single mother sitting in small cafe and what would have happened if she’d stopped creating. I, for one, believe our world would be a much sadder place without the gift she gave us in Harry Potter.

 

 

You never know, the book you’re writing now could be the next story that changes publishing. Keep working. Keep dreaming. The possibility of creating a new story that influences children’s literature could only be a chapter away!

 

 

Here are a few more amazing pictures from the tour. And if you are ever in London, I HIGHLY encourage you to put a trip to Leavesden on your schedule!

 

 

 

 

(The Cupboard Underneath The Stairs)

 

 

 

(Dumbledore and Snape in the Great Hall)

 

 

 

(The Entrance to Dumbledore’s Office)

 

 

 

(The Invitations to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry)

 

 

 

(Entrance to The Chamber of Secrets)

 

 

 

 

(Full scale model of Hogwarts)

 

FIRST FIVE FRENZY with Hillary Jacobson of ICM Partners May 5, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

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 the right balance, but I hope by reading each agent’s comments you’ll learn how to make your manuscript a shining gem that’s requested over and over.

 

Today, I’m proud to share Hillary Jacobson’s perspective on what’s important in those critical first pages.

 

 

 

 

Amy: Many writers have the impression that a great first line is imperative to drawing in the reader. How important is a first line to you as an agent?

 

 

Hillary: A first line is important because I assume the author has paid the most attention to that line and been very purposeful with it. So when I see a first line that’s grammatically incorrect or not very strong, I’m initially a bit suspicious. However, a first line is never a deal breaker. If the writing gets stronger after that, I’ll still want to request the full.

 

 

 

Amy: A lot of books open with common things like dreams, eating breakfast, riding in a car, starting at a new school, etc. What are some openings you recommend writers stay away from?

 

 

Hillary: I think anything cliché can be made interesting in the right hands. However, if the first word is a character uttering or thinking a curse word…that feels very overdone and like a lazy way to get the reader into a situation.

 

 

 

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?

 

 

Hillary: First pages that can immerse me in a whole new world without confusing me always pique my interest. I struggle a lot, especially with fantasy queries, that want to plop you right into a super complicated new world without giving you the tools to make sense of it. The best openings make you comfortable with what you know and what you don’t know.

 

 

 

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

 

 

Hillary: Telling instead of showing, especially with something more high-concept. I’ve noticed that some writers want to explain everything right away when there isn’t a need to. Like in my last answer, I want to be able to understand what’s going on, but I don’t want the information thrown at me in a clunky way.

 

Also, this may seem unimportant, but so many writers neglect to perfect their formatting!! If the font and font size are all over the place and your query looks unprofessional, I’m already skeptical.

 

 

 

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

 

 

Hillary: Absolutely the voice and strength of the writing. I really try to keep an open mind in regards to concept, so I rely on the voice to clue me in if I should keep reading more. Ultimately, if I feel disappointed when the pages end, I know that I have to request the full!

 

 

 

 

 

Hillary Jacobson of ICM Partners is actively building a list consisting of commercial and literary fiction, YA, as well as narrative non-fiction and memoir. She is especially seeking high-concept YA, upmarket fiction, psychological thrillers and memoirs that read like fiction. A lifelong obsessive reader, she got into the literary game as soon as she could. Prior to working at ICM, she interned at Random House, Janklow & Nesbit and Alloy Entertainment. She is a graduate of Brown University.

 

Interested in subbing to Hillary? Send directly to hjacobson@icmpartners.com with the query and first ten pages in the body of the email.

 

 

 

QUITE THE QUERY – Cass Morris and AVEN May 3, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

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 them 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 where writers could learn what works, and what doesn’t, in a query.

 

With that in mind, I’m pleased to share today’s successful query from Cass Morris. This great query connected her with Connor Goldsmith of Fuse Literary.

 

 

 

An assassination attempt forces Latona, an elemental mage, to unleash her latent powers, demonstrating potential that far outstrips her training. When the dictator who threatened her family dies, she determines to take this opportunity to change the course of her life, but she quickly discovers that ambition has a high price.

 

The city-state of Aven is a place where elemental magic shapes the rule of the land as strongly as law and war. In the power vacuum left by the dictator’s death, the conservative old guard clashes with the populist liberal faction over the best way to shape the nation’s future.

 

Latona and her sister Aula, a widow whose frivolous nature conceals a scheming mind, use charisma and cunning to manipulate advances for the populists. Their paths intersect with that of Sempronius Tarren, a rising politician who dreams of a vast empire growing from his beloved city. He believes that the gods have equipped him with the necessary skills and thrown down this challenge – but in order to achieve his goals, he will have to break some of his civilization’s most sacred laws. Custom dictates that no mage may attain the highest political offices, but Sempronius, who has kept his abilities a life-long secret, intends to do just that. Aula sees in Sempronius a man with an extraordinary vision for their nation and the greatness to make it a reality, and she pushes her sister to cultivate an alliance with him.

 

As their friendship blossoms, Sempronius encourages Latona to learn to wield the extraordinary magical power that is her birthright – but Latona’s husband objects to the idea and the alliance, and Sempronius’s secret could ruin them both and destroy their faction’s chance to reform the city.

 

Aven is a completed 106,000 word historical fantasy with series potential, inspired by late Republic Rome.

 

 

Fun Tidbit:

 

I lost track of how many times I re-wrote or tweaked the query letter, but it was at least five times over six months. I found success with the 31st agent I queried. What’s funny to me now is that while the book, after three years of edits, barely resembles the draft that I originally sent to Connor, the query letter remains a fairly apt description of it!

 

 

 

 

Cass Morris is a Virginia writer who works in the Education Department at the American Shakespeare Center. Cass completed her Master of Letters at Mary Baldwin College and earned her undergraduate degree, a BA in English with a minor in history, from the College of William and Mary in 2007, where she was accepted into the Alpha Delta Gamma honor society for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. Cass served on the boards of student theatrical production companies at both Mary Baldwin and William and Mary. She currently lives in the Shenandoah Valley with two royal felines, Princess and Ptolemy, where she reads voraciously, wears corsets voluntarily, and will beat you at MarioKart. Represented by Connor Goldsmith of Fuse Literary. Debut novel FROM UNSEEN FIRE forthcoming January 2018 from DAW Books. For more on Cass, find her on these social media sites:

 

Patreon: patreon.com/CassRMorris

Twitter: @CassRMorris

Facebook: facebook.com/cassmorriswrites

Instagram: instagram.com/cassrmorris/

Goodreads: goodreads.com/CassRMorris

 

 

 

QUITE THE QUERY – Julie Artz and THE ELEPHANT TREE April 26, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 them 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 where writers could learn what works, and what doesn’t, in a query.

 

With that in mind, I’m pleased to share today’s successful query from Julie Artz. This great query connected her with Jennie Dunham of Dunham Literary.

 

 

 

 

 

THE ELEPHANT TREE is a contemporary middle grade novel with a sprinkle of Haitian Vodou. It is complete at 50,000 words and will appeal to fans of A Snicker of Magic and Flora & Ulysses.

 

 

Tilly Tucker checks every tulip for sleeping fairies. She believes the spirits of her ancestors watch over her, even though she lives so far from her native Haiti. And she thinks if she casts a spell just right, it will protect her and her adopted family. But all that ends on her eleventh birthday when she casts a spell to stop her parents from divorcing…and it doesn’t work.

 

 

Tilly and Mama leave Missoula behind and move in with Tilly’s estranged Grandma in Seattle. When a visit to Gran’s attic uncovers a journal and an old yellowed picture of a young Haitian girl, Tilly believes it’s a sign from her ancestors. Armed with a book of Vodou spells, a home-made shrine, and the necklace that was left with her at the orphanage in Haiti, Tilly must contact the spirit of her biological great-grandmother and cast a spell so powerful it will bring her broken family back together. If she can’t, she’ll lose both her families forever.

 

 

 

 

Fun Tidbit:

 

The Elephant Tree was the fourth manuscript I queried (the third middle-grade manuscript). Although I got requests on all four, I could tell this one was different because from the first round of queries sent July 2016, my response rate jumped from a respectable 15-20% to almost twice that, ending up at 42% over the two rounds I sent before I received an offer of representation.

 

 

 

JULIE ARTZ spent her childhood sneaking into wardrobes hoping to find Narnia. Now that she’s older, people think that’s creepy, so she writes middle grade instead. Her stories for children feature the natural world, folklore, mythology, history, and all that is magical about those things. In addition to helping run From The Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors (http://www.fromthemixedupfiles.com), she works as a developmental editor for Author Accelerator, contributes regularly to The Winged Pen (http://thewingedpen.com), and is the incoming co-RA of SCBWI Western Washington. She is represented by Jennie Dunham of Dunham Lit. Connect with her on Twitter (@JulieArtz), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/AuthorJulieArtz/) or Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/julieartz/).

 

 

 

FIRST FIVE FRENZY with Amy Elizabeth Bishop of Dystel, Goderich, & Bourret April 21, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 the right balance, but I hope by reading each agent’s comments you’ll learn how to make your manuscript a shining gem that’s requested over and over.

 

Today, I’m proud to share Amy Elizabeth Bishop’s perspective on what’s important in those critical first pages.

 

 

 

 

Amy T.: Many writers have the impression that a great first line is imperative to drawing in the reader. How important is a first line to you as an agent?

 

 

 

Amy B.: The first line isn’t that important to me. I’m looking for the first few pages to really suck me in. Do I feel grounded as a reader in what’s going on? Do I have a good feel for the characters? Am I already engrossed in the plot or am I lost in a lot of backstory? Of course, a great first line is always going to draw me in and make me curious about what happens next, but I think how you open with your first chapter can often be even more important.

 

 

 

 

Amy T.: A lot of books open with common things like dreams, eating breakfast, riding in a car, starting at a new school, etc. What are some openings you recommend writers stay away from?

 

 

 

Amy B.: This is a tough one, because a really good writer will take something I usually dislike and turn it on its head. Perhaps one thing I’d say to be careful of is to avoid opening with a huge chunk of reflection or commentary from the protagonist before getting into the action. We need some grounding in the beginning, but I want to see what’s going on, not be told.

 

 

 

 

Amy T.: 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?

 

 

 

Amy B.: They’ve set up the tension or the conflict of the novel well from the beginning pages and I feel comfortable as a reader. I feel like I know their character(s) pretty well, are invested in their futures, and I want to see what happens next.

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

Amy B.: Some common mistakes I see are overuse of exposition or dialogue (that balance can be tricky), waiting too long to get started with the conflict (i.e.: what’s driving the story), or too much explanation via backstory.

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

Amy B.: All of the above! I love a good voice-driven narrative. If it’s an unusual concept with good pacing, I’m sold. For me though, I’m always interested in the characters—if they have a voice that just leaps off the page, I’ll probably want to keep reading.

 

 

 

Amy Elizabeth Bishop joined Dystel, Goderich & Bourret after interning at DG&B in 2014. Before diving into the world of publishing, she graduated from SUNY Geneseo with a degree in Creative Writing. She grew up in upstate New York and has now made the traitorous switch to downstate living. Reading-wise, she is interested in both commercial and upmarket women’s fiction, fiction from diverse authors, historical fiction (focusing on untold stories or well-known stories from a different perspective; think, minority voices), and contemporary YA. In terms of nonfiction, she’s on the hunt for a killer feminist voice and loves historical narrative non-fiction, as well as memoirs. Amy is also a poet (in her spare time) and is a reader for The Rumpus.

 

 

If you’re interested in submitting to Amy, please check the Dystel, Goderich & Bourret website for their submission guidelines.

 

 

Monday Musings: Plan A, B, C, D, etc… April 17, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you write your first book your dream is that it will sell. For many writers that dream does not come true. Most move on to writing another book, and then perhaps another, and one more until they finally achieve their dream.

 

 

This path is most common for writers. It’s rare to query and sell a first book. Let me repeat that – IT IS RARE TO QUERY AND SELL A FIRST BOOK. I share this because after one book many writers give up. The reasons for this are too many to list, but I think many give up because they believe one book is all they have in them. And let’s admit it, querying can take a lot out of you. The ups and down of requests and rejections can be a lot to bear at times.

 

 

I’ve been there plenty and I find solace in two things: my friends in the community who remind me day in and day out that I am NOT alone, and the chance to create something fresh. To breathe life into new settings and characters.

 

 

Write something new? You may say that sounds strange. Doesn’t writing a new book mean even more chance for rejection? Of course it does, but it’s also another chance to open new doors. Another shot at connecting with that agent or elusive editor you’ve been dying to work with.  It’s a Plan B, C, or even D when Plan A isn’t panning out the way you hoped it would.

 

 

You commonly hear the advice in many writing and publishing circles that  you should be writing something new while you’re querying or are on sub. This is true for several reasons. First, if you do connect with an agent, they’re going to ask if you’ve written other books. That editor who’s got your sub, might ask what else you have as a possible option book. Second, distracting yourself with a new manuscript helps take your mind off the stress of querying and/or being on submission, plus it forces you to stop refreshing your inbox every ten seconds! And let’s be honest, we are all VERY guilty of this. For me, it might be every five seconds (LOL!)

 

 

After doing this for five years, I’ve come to realize I’m strong enough to endure this business. It’s tough, and the waiting and rejection is incredibly difficult at times, but I do find comfort in having a backup plan. It allows me to focus on the next step, not the roadblocks and dead ends I feel like I’m facing.

 

 

So my advice for writers at any and all stages of the process is think about your next book, and perhaps the book after that. It’s only by moving forward that you can avoid getting stuck in the rut of loathing and self-doubt. And if you’re currently in that rut, it’s okay. Know that while you may not believe it now, you DO have that next book in you. It may not be ready to be written now, but it’s there, bubbling underneath the surface. Give it time to grow and blossom and then get to writing. There are people out their waiting to read your words and you CAN deliver!

 

 

Have a great week and I hope the words come quickly for all of you!

 

 

 

QUITE THE QUERY: Adele Buck and ACTING UP March 29, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 them 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 where writers could learn what works, and what doesn’t, in a query.

 

With that in mind, I’m pleased to share today’s successful query from Adele Buck. This great query connected her with her agent, Amy Elizabeth Bishop at Dystel, Goderich, and Bourret.

 

 

 

 

Stage manager CATH DE COURCY has had plenty of time to rehearse hiding her attraction to her best friend, director PAUL MAINWARING, while she oversees all the details of his productions. But when he casts Cath’s college nemesis as the leading lady in their latest play, it might cue a curtain call for both their friendship and their collaboration.

 

In rehearsals, Cath struggles to keep everything (including Paul) on course as the leading lady’s behavior threatens to throw the entire production off kilter. Meanwhile, the diva’s pursuit of Paul and the leading man’s developing friendship with Cath sparks jealousy and ignites an unexpected, passionate kiss between the old friends. But Cath, worried that a more intimate relationship would destroy both their friendship and their professional collaboration, holds Paul off. When two members of the production’s staff get engaged, their positive example helps Paul convince Cath to give a closer relationship a try.

 

Days before the play goes into previews, Cath panics when heated arguments between the engaged couple threaten her belief that people can combine work and romance. The success of Cath and Paul’s love and the production are both riding on Paul’s ability to flip the script and take care of Cath.

 

ACTING UP is an adult contemporary category romance complete at 58,000 words. I used my past real-world experience as an actress and stage manager to bring verisimilitude to the story. Due to its theatrical setting and humor, I believe ACTING UP will appeal to readers who enjoyed books like Lucy Parker’s ACT LIKE IT. A related manuscript (METHOD ACTING [ed note: at the time of querying this book had a different title]) is complete and another (ACTING LESSONS) is in progress.

 

 

 

 

Fun Tidbit:

 

My hosting service had their spam filters jacked up to eleven so Amy’s response was quarantined and I didn’t know it! Luckily, the spam filter did notify her and she called me to ask for the manuscript. I’m not sure every agent would be so persistent though…

 

 

 

 

When not writing, Adele is a librarian at a prestigious law school. Prior to that, she had a short stint as an index editor and over a dozen years in corporate communications and executive relationship management. Even prior to that, she was an actress and stage manager. Returning to writing was like a return to acting for Adele, especially when writing comedic dialogue, which reminds her of successful improv exercises.

 

She holds a theatre degree from Syracuse University and graduate degrees from the University of Maine School of Law and the University of Maryland’s iSchool. A New Hampshire native, Adele Buck has lived in the Washington, D.C. area for almost 20 years with her fantastic husband and the requisite number of neurotic cats. ACTING UP is her first novel. For more on Adele, check out her website or follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

 

 

 
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