A Request for More or Brutal Honesty - It's a Win-Win!

It's Saturday, and I've just entered the Tired of Form Rejections contest on Kathleen Ortiz's excellent blog. I tweeted about this yesterday and again today. You had one hour (noon to 1pm) to send a query to Joanna Stampfel-Volpe, of Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation. Sure, you can query her any time you like, but the beauty of this contest is that if she's not interested, she'll tell you why. From Ms. Stampfel-Volpe herself:

Many writers want to know what an agent is really thinking when they pass on a query, right? You want the truth...but can you handle the truth? Well this weekend I will respond to the queries I receive in complete honesty. You may see something as simple as "Not bad, but just not for me." or "I don't represent academic non-fiction." OR you may see something like "I stopped reading when you mentioned that the mailman was a vampire space zombie who has come to deliver a message of PAIN. Because come on...seriously?"

And if she is interested? Well all the better.

The best part about this contest is that you can't lose if you followed the rules. In my mind, there will be zero or more first prizes, a request for more of the manuscript. Everyone else gets a second prize, some brutal honesty. Trust me when I say I can use either prize, and will be glad to have it.


Birth of a Novel, Part 12 - Back story

This is the eighteenth entry in my Birth of a Novel series of posts, where I talk about the development of my new YA urban fantasy. Yes, eighteenth, even though the post is entitled Part 12.

See this stuff to the left? I'm getting pretty tired of it, I tells ya. Last time I posted a Birth of a Novel entry, we had a blizzard. Well, we've got another one dumping a couple of feet on Northwestern NJ. Bah! Bring on Spring!

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

This is Zydeco's chapter of self discovery. Here I had my chance to weave in necessary back story. Let me stop right there. Back story. In general, I like to sprinkle "history" here and there, but not all at once. Not here, though. There's lots in this one chapter. The strategy was to lay all this out, make it interesting, and have a lot of reaction. What did Zydeco think about all this? What is he going to do about it? I scribed this chapter with absolutely no fear based on this premise. It was a couple of days later that I began to worry. Did I spend too much time revealing this that had happened after Zydeco transitioned to humanity?

Imagine you are sixteen or seventeen, and you find one of those folders of "stuff" from when you were a baby -- your birth certificate, pediatrician reports, your kindergarten progress reports and so on. Have your parents ever handed you that kind of stuff later in life, and maybe photographs you'd never seen before? Well this chapter is a bit like that, only the information doesn't embarrass Zydeco or get him all warm and fuzzy. He gets emotional. He gets testy. And I present him with a mini quest that will bring the book to its conclusion maybe five or six chapters from now.

I don't know how readers will feel about it. I'm satisfied with what I wrote. There are answers to old questions, some new questions, and a bit of intrigue. Plus one cranky griffin. My critique group over at the YA form have been giving me great feedback, so I'm interested in their take on this one.

And now for a taste.

Flipping the page over, I came to a couple of pictures stapled to a thin piece of cardboard. My breath caught in my throat at the first snapshot. A creature with the body of a lion and head of an eagle crouched underneath a cherry bark oak tree along a muddy river bank. I ran my finger over the face, the one I’d seen reflected back at me in countless watering holes.

Blowing out a breath, I scanned the next picture. A younger me wrapped in a green blanket leaned against a thick tree trunk, my silver hair flew off my skull, like the world’s worst bed-head. Wild eyes stared off to the left, from which a delicate hand touched my shoulder. Was the hand Magenta’s?

I'm nearly done with the next chapter and Zydeco is on the move. It's all good.

To read about the last chapter, toboggan or ski back to the previous entry.

You can check out the next chapter right over here.


An Analysis of Adverbs

The road to hell is paved with adverbs.
-- Stephen King

What is it with adverbs anyway? Why all the fuss? Adverbs are a sign of weak writing, they say. And believe me, "they" say a lot of things on the topic of writing.

Adverbs modify a verb, adjective or other adverb. So the lesson goes, if you need to further describe a verb, adjective or - *gasps* - another adverb, then you're not using a good enough verb or adjective in the first place. They are writers' ketchup, the all purpose means of masking a substandard meal. Good steak doesn't need ketchup, and even a phenomenal burger tastes great even without the red stuff.

The notion that adverbs show a lack of effort is fully ingrained in my head now, whether I agree with it or not. For many of us, trying to avoid adverbs while writing a first draft is a challenge, and often brings out our Evil Inner Editor. Sometimes an adverb is the first thing that pops into your head, and if you're still in your first draft (and you do revise), what's wrong with decorating a verb so you can get on to the next sentence? You can fix it up later, right?

Consider a certain SM Blooding, a.k.a. my buddy Frankie. She is one my favorite writer friends, and is an incredibly prolific writer. We critique each other's work, although she does way more for me than me for her. One of the first occasions a critiqued one of her chapters, I didn't really know her that well. And I pointed out all the adverbs, because that's one of the many things we do. Her response took me aback. In her opinion, adverbs were part of the English language and were therefore at her disposal. This was such a rock star reaction, and perfect for her. I should add that Frankie's books are not exactly rife with adverbs.

Speaking of "rife with adverbs"... Harry Potter - all seven books - seriously rife. Stephen King reviewed a couple of the Harry Potter books, at least one of which appeared in the New York Times. He adores the Harry Potter books, but he has complained about the adverb count. I've noticed more English writers using adverbs liberally, and had one such writer tell me that English writers as a whole use adverbs like condiments.

While the anti-adverb movement was trying to brainwash me, I had begun reading Philip Pullman, specifically His Darker Materials. The adverbs jumped off the page at me, slapping themselves in the chest and shouting, "Look at me, I say!" It was so distracting. I eventually started over, this time trying with all my might to ignore the devilish "-ly" words.

When I write, I'm cognizant of the adverbs I put in. In first draft, only the ones I cannot immediately think of an alternative for, or I am unable to drop outright, make it onto the page. On the whole, I don't think there's anything wrong with the occasional adverb. Anything in moderation, right? I have one exception, though.

"I hate you!" she shouted angrily.

Adverbs decorating dialog tags. The example above is so obvious in its badness that I won't even comment. I avoid these suckers like a blast-ended skrewt fed on a diet of chili.I think the rewrite below is an example of avoiding the accursed adverb-decorating-dialog-tag, but also illustrates "showing" something without using an adverb to do so.

She glared at him, her fists balled at her side. "I hate you!"

I allow myself one exception to the adverb/dialog tag thing. We're told to avoid fluffy dialog tags. Stick with said, replied, and asked. Otherwise, you run the risk of making the reader blink. Worse, you might use a tag that's not an actual act of speaking, which is what dialog is all about. I'll sometimes employ an adverb for a subtle description of the speaker's tone of voice.

"I hate him," she said softly.

She's not whispering. Oh, there's still ways to accomplish the above even without the adverb, but you get my drift?

So, what are your adverb rules? Where do you think it's okay/not okay to use them?


Query Critique Contest - time is running out!

You should head on over to Elana Johnson's blog because she's hosting a Pay it Forward Query Critique Contest. If you win, you will receive a query critique from one of these top five literary agents!

1. Kate Testerman-Shafer of KT Literary (critique will be posted on her blog, Ask Daphne)
2. Michelle Andelman of Lynn C. Franklin Associates (Elana's agent!)
3. Mary Kole of Andrea Brown Literary Agency
4. Michelle Wolfson of Wolfson Literary Agency
5. Joanna Volpe of Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation

Are you kidding me? This is one-o-them "no-brainers". You need to enter quick because the contest is over tonight. I know I am.


I've been waiting since Sunday night for today

It's Friday night. I've been waiting five days for this moment. I'm tired. But this was a good writing week. I finished off another chapter of Mythos. I blogged here and on Frankie's site about living in a book. I've got a cup of QuickCheck coffee, so after I run over to my daughter's school to pick her up from dress rehearsal, I may get some writing done. Coffee is of course, the prerequisite for any good writing. At least for me.

On the bummer side of the house, Writer's Digest won't be at the 2010 BEA conference in NYC this year. I was planning on having Mythos written and through a second and third draft before the conference in May, at which time I'd be a participant in the pitch slam. Well, that's all up in smoke. I need a new deadline motivation technique. Conferences work for me. Maybe I'll check out the NJ SCBWI 2010 conference. It's probably time I join the SCBWI as well.


The Wonder of Audio Books

I'm always reading two books. Well, okay, technically, I'm reading one  book, and listening to somebody read another book to me while I'm in the car. There is so much out there to read, so this is a relatively efficient way of keeping up.

I'm a big proponent of audio books as a means of augmenting my reading list. I do have a book by my nightstand, and I read a little of it every night. That book right now, by the way, is Spellbinder by Helen Stringer. Between writing, blogging, tweeting, working, parenting, husbanding (that sounds weird), sleeping, and some TV watching, I don't always breeze through the books I read. Plus I'm a slow reader.

My commute to work is around 30 minutes each way, and I do it five days a week. That's a minimum of five hours a week of unadulterated "reading". It's a slow pace, but consistent.

The funny thing about audio books is that they can really highlight how well written the book really is. You might run into a terrible audio production from time to time, but it's so rare nowadays. You get to listen to talented voice (or movie or theater or tv) actors or actresses and even the author themselves at times. Listening to Stephen King read one of his own books is pretty sweet. If the book sounds funny to you, there's probably a reason, and it's not likely the person coming through your speakers. Here are some examples.

Bad dialog - Unrealistic or just plain lousy dialog sticks out like a dead hamster on a wedding cake. 

Conflict for conflict's sake - It's like cutting to a car chase in the middle of the movie Titanic. Okay, yes, I'm tense, but how does this related? It hadn't occurred to me before, but PJ Hoover makes a case for it in her recent post on the Spectacle.

Whiny characters - I'm listening to the second book in a fantasy series about Nicholas Flamel, by Michael Scott. One of the main characters, Josh, is a total whiny bitch and he pisses me off half the time. It's because I hear his voice instead of see it on the page.

Pandering to the reader - This is when one character asks the other character what she means simply so she can explain it all for the reader. It's incredibly obvious on an audio book, and is even worse when you as the reader kind of know the answer already.

None of the above characteristics are unique to an audio book. The problems clearly exist on the page. They're simply more obvious when you listen.

A word about the voice actors.
Continuity among actors through an audio book series is important to me. Change is a distraction. It didn't work when they replaces the Duke boys in the Dukes of Hazzard. Sure, it can work all right. I was able to withstand when Michael Gambon took over the role of Albus Dumbledore in the third movie (after Richard Harris died). Yet, it would be an entirely different matter if Harry, Ron and Hermione were suddenly portrayed by different people. In an audio book as in a movie or television show, you get used to the style and voice with which the actor portrays the character(s). When a new person comes along and does it their way, it takes some getting used to. When it's a main character or a whole mess of characters, it's an even bigger deal.

For the record, and with the exception of the Half Blood Prince, I think Richard Harris portrayed Albus Dumbledore closer to the spirit of the character in the book. That's not to say I had a problem with how Michael Gambon carried Dumbledore. I don't.


The Pug Underfoot


For those who recall this blog's original title -- "Is that a dog butt on my foot?" -- here is said pug. She was a dragon on Halloween. 'Nuff said.


Birth of a Novel, Part 11

This is the seventeenth entry in my Birth of a Novel series of posts, where I talk about the development of my new YA urban fantasy. Yes, seventeenth, even though the post is entitled Part 11.

It's snowing. A lot. Blizzard type snow - the kind measured in multiples of feet. Actually, it was supposed to snow like heck up here last Saturday. It didn't, but only because I sunk a small fortune into a new snow blower Friday night. I've put the sucker to good use today, though and will do so again tonight.I was emitting all sorts of manly grunts as I pulled the beast from its crate this afternoon.

But enough about that.  On to Mythos!

Life now double sucks for our bestest buddy and big toe, Zydeco Cashcan. I alluded to "The Aftermath Part I" in my last post and said there was more to come. Well complete awfulness has arrived. I've pretty much taken away everything and everyone he cares about. Serves him right, after all. I mean things were going so well with Tameina.

I think I did well with the "making life miserable" thing but of course, there is no point unless Zydeco shows his mettle and makes us root for him. That'll come, but for now, let's look at this scene as he scrambles back to his apartment.

By the time I reached the fourth floor, my heart pounded in my ears and my breath came in short gasps. The crappy lighting in the corridor flickered like a broken disco ball. I ran my tongue over my lips and stared at our door. It hung open no more than an inch, allowing a narrow beam of light to enter the hall from inside the apartment. Another dose of reality crept all over my skin like a dozen spiders. I was too late.

And a few moments later.

After some time, the tears wouldn’t come anymore and my insides were empty, just devoid of anything. I didn’t want to think, or breathe, or even be. So I sat there, for how long, I don’t know. But at some point I realized my heart kept pumping, and didn’t appear inclined to give it up. I lifted my head from my hands and inspected my surroundings.

The place looked like a massive bar fight had taken place. Broken plates crunched underfoot as I wandered over to the wall beside the still open door. One of our hickory handle butcher’s knives was impaled to its hilt in the plaster three feet above the microwave lying on the floor. The utensil turned weapon held a torn patch of blue, pinstripe fabric to the wall.

Zydeco began to go through the seven steps of grief in the previous chapter, and he continues on here. I thought it was important to have him react normally, even though he is/was a mythological creature. The cool part is that the evil Phineas Malice arrives in his apartment looking for any evidence that might lead to the capture of Octavio - who he's got a real problem with. He and Zydeco exchange some serious barbs here. And Malice introduces a "timelock limit", by which stuff must be resolved. This is good for the story and good for me, because it'll force me to get to the end.

When I finished this chapter, however, I was a little concerned about how even though Malice and his cronies are nabbing other Mythos in the city, they still never take Zydeco. Originally, I did this because, well, Zydeco is my protagonist, and the story won't go where I want it to go if he's thrown in jail or worse. So after getting a critique on this chapter, I went back and put some thought into why he's still free. Fortunately, there was another loose string I'd left in the book that I was able to knot up with this loose string, thus tying up both loose ends. Wow, what an awful metaphor.

Zydeco also discovers a mysterious package containing... MWAHAHAHAHAHA - Well I know what's in it - it's in my green sasquatch composition notebook - and this information will find its way into Chapter 15. This information will set Zydeco in motion, which will ultimately bring back a familiar character and bring the story to closure. I can't wait until I get there.

If you'd like to see what happens next, grab some snow shoes and clomp over to the next post.

To read about the last chapter, toboggan or ski back to the previous entry.


Why am I so behind the times?

Every now and then I search the internet for amusing videos. I'm just weird that way. When I stumble upon something that tickled my funny bone, I want to share. Sadly, the thing I'm sharing below is two years old! Oh, well. For you Harry Potter fans.


Promoting Tips for Writers

Dawné Dominique has posted an absolutely fantastic list of promotion tips for writers. This is almost as comprehensive as you can get and I can't stop gushing over how helpful the thing is. Now Dawné's blog is for the eighteen and older crowd as she's got a bit of mischief going on there. *wink* and *nod*  I'm posting her link, because she deserves full credit for this incredible work. If you are under eighteen, or have an aversion to vampires and half naked cowboys, I've also got a link to Frankie's blog, where she reposted Dawne's set of tips (with Dawne's permission of course).

For the eighteen and older crowd (you know who you are).

Everyone else can check it out here.

Thank you, Dawné!


An update to the agent and publisher list

Many of you may know I maintain a substantial list of Young Adult and Middle Grade publishers and literary agents. It's been over two years since I started updating it. The list started out as something I did for myself - a place to capture all the potential agents or editors I might query. Over time, I opened up the list to the cool folks of the Young Adult Novel Workshop over at writing.com, and then to the rest of the writing.com community. Maybe a year ago, I opened it up to everyone, and much to my surprise, the thing's become reasonably popular.

Fire up google and type "middle grade publishers". Today it comes up second in the search results. "YA agents"? third, or maybe second, if you consider the first two sites are presented in a hierarchy. What's pretty cool is that I really haven't tried to make it easily found, so it's been organic in nature.

I try to keep the content fresh, often checking that the links still work and that the agents and publishers are still in business. I'm not paid for putting anyone on the list. In fact, here's the "caveat emptor" I stick at the top of the list:

Publishers and agents appear on this list because I found them in any number of relevant places: WritersMarket, Publisher's Marketplace, conferences, word-of-mouth, etc. I have only done some basic checking on each of these folks in sources such as Predators & Editors and AbsoluteWrite. Things change rapidly, so before you consider or contact anyone on this list, please do your own research.

If you see anyone on this list that you feel is disreputable, please contact me through my blog
(That's this place)

Going forward, I'll post some information whenever I make any updates to the list, which I did today.

Publishers added
Lands Atlantic Publishing
Action Publishing
Silver Moon Press

Literary Agents added
Levine Greenberg Literary Agency
DeFiore and Company
Betsy Amster Literary Enterprises

Sadly, Jenny Rappaport has given up on the agenting biz, so I've dropped her from the list. I also dropped a couple other links and fixed some others.

I hope this helps all you authors in search of a YA or Middle Grade agent or publisher.


Those darn questions are Kurt's fault

My mate, Kurt has passed these questions on for me to answer, each with a single word. I think I did something like this last year, but good gravy, I didn't answer with a single word per question. This is INSANIA!

Rules: Answer the following questions with Single Word answers then pass this along to 5 other bloggers. Make sure you let them know about it. Don't Tweet or D.M. J.K. Rowling and then hide behind the couch. It doesn't count, and karma is important.

Your Cell Phone? Blackberry
Your Hair? Limited
Your Mother? Artist
Your Father? Moon
Your Favorite Food? Pasta
Your Dream Last Night? Nightmare
Your Favorite Drink? Butterbeer?
Your Dream/Goal? Happiness
What Room Are You In? Office
Your Hobby? Writing
Your Fear?  Loneliness
Where Do You See Yourself In Six Years? Older
Where Were You Last Night? Here
Something That You Aren't? Miserable
Muffins? Indeed
Wish List Item? iPad
Where Did You Grow Up? Suburbs
Last Thing You Did? eMail
What Are You Wearing? Jeans
Your TV? Color
Your Pets? Puglet
Friends? Happy
Your Life? Quick
Your Mood? Mellow
Missing Someone? Dad
Vehicle? Toyota
Something You Aren't Wearing? Helmet
Your Favorite Store? Borders
Your Favorite Color? Green
When Was The Last Time You Laughed? Yesterday
Last Time You Cried?  Dunno
Your Best Friend? Rona
One Place You Go To Over And Over Again? Disney
Facebook? thing
Favorite Place To Eat? Table

I pass these delightful questions along to:

Jo Treggiari - because she's way cool and she likes The Princess Bride as well.
Medeia Sharif - because she's a child of the 80's, just like me. :-)
Tania Walsh - because she's a cool Aussie writer.
Hailey - because she's awesome, and has twice lived in Montana, which to me is reason enough.
P.J. Hoover - because she loves writing for kids and she's a Texas Sweetheart.