Looking Forward to the Close

I'm getting quite near the finish line on the first draft of Mythos. It's an exciting time in every writer's life, especially mine. Everything I've spent the last months of my life working on -- the story that was itching to jump out of my imagination and onto the page -- is about to be fully realized.

Some of what I've written is brilliant, sure, especially if I do say so myself. Being a first draft, the content is dubious, however, and I fully recognize that there's a whole lot of stuff that will serve as nothing more than the fertilizer (read: crap) to be revised.

So as I close in on the end, I'm looking forward to setting the manuscript aside for a few weeks, maybe four. During that time, I'm going to focus on querying The Children of Midian, my MG fantasy adventure. The query is just about where it needs to be now, having received feedback from folks in the publishing/agenting biz. I'm putting it up on the YALitChat Query Kick-around group next week for one more look see. The synopsis needs some work, too, as does my target list of agents. I really need to do some more research and make sure I've got just the right folks picked out. There's already a short list floating around on my computer. It just needs some more fleshing out and expanding.

I am excited!!! To the point of three exclamation points. That's serious excitement, my friends. This'll be my last post until next week, as I'm heading down to Washington D.C. for a little tourist-y R&R.

Before I go, here's an interesting contest at Oz-Stravaganza for those folks who can't get enough of The Wizard of Oz. And a contest near and dear to my heart - the Dear Lucky Agent contest over at Guide to Literary Agents featuring Regina Brooks. The top 3 winners all get: 1) A critique of 10 pages of your work, by your agent judge. 2) A free one-year subscription to WritersMarket.com.


Birth of a Novel Part 14 - Dialog, Answers & Tension

This is the nineteenth entry in my Birth of a Novel series of posts, where I talk about the development of my new YA urban fantasy. Yes, nineteenth, even though the post is entitled Part 14.

Have you ever begun a chapter and stalled? I did. I just sort of wrote some, then got stuck, then wrote a little more, then got stuck again. It was like driving my late 1978 Ford Fiesta, which by the way, was my first car. 800 bucks and a total piece of crap, but it moved.

I digress.

But then all of a sudden, last Sunday, I just had a massive spurt of productivity, and the chapter launched itself from my imagination onto the page. It was, as Peter Griffin often says, friggin' sweet. The chapter is a whole lot of dialog between Zydeco and Octavio, with our young griffin feeling a bit hostile to the old cockatrice.

It all sounds great when you write it, you know? But this involves a lot of dialog, and very little action. As I alluded to in my previous post, I'm most comfy and cozy writing dialog, especially if I know where it's going. The trick is to make sure it moves at the same time. Given that Octavio answers many of Zydeco's (and the readers') questions, it might help keep people's interest. Also, there's emotion and some level of tension.

Here's a snippet of Octavio monologue.

He strode in front of me and leaned in. “It’s important, Zydeco, because you are now human.” He waved a hand as I was about to protest. “You are human now. A mythos, yes, but human. You will continue to keep some of the griffin skills, if you continue to use them. I’ve seen your strength. You should be able to hear quite well, and your sense of smell … well, living in the city, you may want to avoid that particular … never mind. My point is, to survive and indeed thrive as a human, you must forget your past life. Those that have acclimated best are the ones who’ve given up dreams of the past. You want to be stronger than everyone else? You want to eavesdrop or use your super smelling power, or whatever it is you griffins have? Go right ahead. Although, some might consider those things a bit rude.”

Speaking of tension, a few chapters ago, I introduced a "timer", meaning that things have to be resolved by a certain time, one way or another. The classic, "Bring me the ransom by noon, or the hostage dies!" I decided that the timer I'd introduced had too much time on it. Malice set it for 3pm the following day. For a variety of reasons, plot-related and otherwise, I've pulled the timer back in to midnight. This should also raise the tension a few notches. I've received some feedback lately that the tension level in the story has gone down some, and while I'm going to fix that up in my revisions, I wanted to address it going forward as well.

I'm a big fan of Donald Maass' approach to building tension. I love his comments from The Fire in Fiction about micro-tension. He states that what keeps your readers noses rammed right into the book margin (my words, not his), is the constant worry about what will happen in the next few seconds of the book, not what will happen through the rest of the story. And that's micro-tension.

I want my readers on the edge of their seat during this chapter. While they read this dialog, I want it so engaging that they can't wait to hear what the next person will say. 

How do you build tension?

To read about the last chapter, journey back to the previous entry.
The next post can be found by taking a zip line across the tree line to this spot.


Five by Seven - Likes and Truths

Big ol' thanks to Annie for the awesome Circle of Friends award, and another heap of gratitude to Harley for the From Me to You award.

With the Circle of Friends award, I have to announce what five things I love to do. Annie, you made it look easy. Let's figure out something not so embarrassing, shall we?

1. I love to go to the movies and watch every single trailer!
2. I love to watch my New York J - E - T - S (Jets, Jets, Jets).
3. I love to talk about the world of Harry Potter.
4. I love to have good friends over for a barbeque (or really, it's more of a grill up here in the North).
5. I love to fiddle around with electronic gadgets - the "he's got a new toy" syndrome.

With the From Me To You award, I have to admit to seven truths. Wait a minute, Harley. I can't makes stuff up? Sheesh. All right, here goes.

1. I was a disc jockey on my college radio station, working the overnight shift at first. Those folks working the overnight shift at the Frito Lay plant were the only callers, but boy, could I play anything I wanted!

2. I've had dogs named Reggie (childhood pooch - English Springer Spaniel), Delilah (later childhood pooch - mutt), Whimper (Border Collie, but he was really my brother's dog who stayed with us for 6 months), Daisy (fawn pug), Libby Lu (beagle), and the infamous little black pug named Tinkerbell who is presently snoring on the couch.

3. I loved horror movies growing up, and had a subscription to Fangoria magazine. The dude loved the gore. I saw An American Werewolf in London three times in the movies.

4. My first computer was an Atari 800 in 1981 (?) It came with Atari Basic and a cassette drive from which I loaded some of my favorite games like Temple of Apshai and Crush, Crumble and Chomp! I wrote my first piece of software, Grok, a game where you moved a caveman around a grid with a joystick, picking up bits of food as it made crunching noises.

5. I attended Hofstra University for one year before transferring to the State University of New York at Binghamton. I majored in Management/MIS (computers) instead of Computer Science because I hated/stunk at science. I took several courses in theater, and would have minored in it had SUNY Binghamton offered the option.

6. I had just flown into Boston's Logan Airport from Newark Airport the morning of September 11, 2001, when the first flight headed for the World Trade Center took off. They evacuated all of Boston's financial district that day, and we had to rent a car from a Ford Dealer 45 minutes west of Boston so that we could drive home to New Jersey that night.

7. I am a child of the 1980's, and watched when MTV went on the air, playing the Buggles', Video Killed the Radio Star. Enjoy!

Now to pass along these awards.

From me to you goes to
The curious Jo Treggiari
The very English Kurt Chambers
The awesome Mireyah Wolfe who probably has every award known to human kind. (and mythical kind as well)
The funtastic Kristan Hoffman

Circle of Friends goes to
The Montanian Shannon O'Donnell
The fabulous and brilliant Rachel
The one and only Ashelynn Sanford


Shiny New Layout

Shiny new blog layouts and sunny skies make for shiny happy people. Check out the Pubs and Agents tab up at the top. I've moved my YA & Middle Grade publishers and agents listing from writing.com over to the blogosphere.

And a quick note on an awesome contest over at Beth Revis' blog in honor of her book deal. It's for writers or readers and let me tell you, the prizes are pretty sweet! And I don't just mean the chocolate. There's  a query letter and 1st three chapter critique, Elana Johnson's eBook, From the Query to the Call, among other things. Naturally, I'm in.

Have a great weekend everybody!


Word Count Wanderings

Word count sucks. There, I've said it. Word count is a necessary evil. Word count makes the world go around. A couple weeks ago, I posted an entry on Frankie's blog about how word count matters. I've done research on and off over the last year or so on word count, and have come to this conclusion.

There is no one answer. I will use middle grade and young adult for my examples.

Chuck Sambuchino, editor for Writer's Digest Books wrote the definitive post on word count for novels and children's books.
MG - 20k - 45k
YA - 55k - 70k (add 5k for fantasy/sci-fi)

Colleen Lindsay from Fineprint Literary Agency, posted this entry on word counts and novel length.
MG - 25k - 40k
YA - 50k - 80k (longer for paranormal or fantasy)

Nathan Bransford from Curtis Brown, Ltd, posted this entry on novel word count. He's not a stickler for word count. In his words, "If it works, it works." His larger point was that agents will reject you outright if your word count is outrageously high.

Kristin Nelson of Nelson Literary Agency posted this entry on the word count question. She points out that it's the completely wrong question to ask. The right question is to ask how important pacing is in your novel.  Length won't matter if the pacing of the novel makes it such that the reader doesn't care. Case in point: Harry Potter & Twilight. (among many others I can think of). She would know. She sold Helen Stringer’s Spellbinder, which my daughter, wife and I recently enjoyed.

On the flip side, Michael Bourret of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management posted this query critique on a relatively short middle grade novel. (28k words). He wasn't worried about the word count, thinking that they could expand the book in the editorial process if need be.

To complicate matters, in my research I found an agent or two that categorized some well known middle grade novels as young adult. These are definitely MG books - they're shelved with MG, the characters are middle schoolers, and the themes are very much MG. Yet, those novels had 80k word count. If you were to query such an agent with a middle grade novel of 40k words, would they think twice when reading the query letter?

In the end, I think you tell the story that's in your head. Then revise the heck out of the thing - lop off what doesn't move the plot along. Ensure the pacing is appropriate for your target audience. Get people to read it and make sure it's just right. When you're done and you think it's right, if it falls well outside the typical range for your genre and target audience, you have a decision to make. You can query anyway, but keep in mind that you're lowering your chances overall. As you can see above, some folks are less concerned than others. Remember that publishing is a business. And if the story is just right, decisions made based on word count are often driven by the business side of things, especially for debut authors.


Community For YA Authors

I recently joined the YALITCHAT online community. This is an excellent community of young adult book writers, editors, agents, publicists, marketers, packagers, librarians, sellers and readers. As of this morning there are over 1000 members. I've joined four groups inside this community so far.

Does your query need work? Are you looking for several more opinions on it? Then check out the Query Kick-Around group.

You can get the latest news, scoop and insider info on agents who represent YA in the Agent Insider group.

At the Agent Inbox, you can submit to agents who have chosen to accept #yalitchat member queries along with your first 250 words. The moderator vets the submissions based on personal agent preferences and active relationships with each agent. You may receive feedback from agents.

I also joined the Queries that Work group to read about successful queries, including the actual results - the agent or deal, the release date, partial/full requests, etc.

There are so many other groups and activities you can participate in, such as blogging, discussion forums, events, contests, chat and more. I'm darn near ecstatic at finding it. Now I just need to more regularly participate in the weekly #YALITCHAT discussion on twitter.


Birth of a Novel Part 13 - Image Driven Setting

This is the nineteenth entry in my Birth of a Novel series of posts, where I talk about the development of my new YA urban fantasy. Yes, nineteenth, even though the post is entitled Part 13.

I saw the image on the right posted in a forum on wirednewyork.com some time back. It depicts the old dockyards at the Java Wharf in London quite some time ago. It painted a dark picture of an abandoned way of life, and became quite useful for me as I had Zydeco venture into a deserted part of his city, in search of Octavio.

With this picture up on my computer, I very slowly drew the next chapter of Mythos. And draw I did. This is one of those chapters where the protagonist goes somewhere. In fact, I'd say about 40% of the chapter involves Zydeco traveling through a dark and generally unpopulated part of the city. There's a lot of setting for my favorite griffin to see and touch. I tried to make some of the background breathe, tried to make a character out of the setting. My wonderful readers at writing.com will certainly let me know if it worked or not. Sometimes, I get in the habit of paying too much attention to these details that the plot gets bogged down. I hope it's not like that.

Speaking of too much attention to detail, I've noticed I write at an entirely different pace depending on what I'm writing.

Action & movement, but with little to no dialog. 

or, for the parents around here:
The time it takes your child to finally fall asleep, and leave you the heck alone because holy smokes you are exhausted and just want to go to sleep too!

Dialog and action.
Fast as a pug running in a circle. I write in fits and spurts.

Or as Gimli, son of Gloin says,
"I'm wasted on cross-country! We dwarves are natural sprinters! Very dangerous over short distances!"

Mostly dialog.
Ferrari fast.
Faster than the scavenging of catered leftovers in an office environment.
Yeah. That quick.

Dialog loves me and I love it. It flows and frankly, I write it way better than I speak it.

The first inkling I liked to write occurred in some college theater courses. I took playwriting and a few other related courses, and wound up writing a couple of full length plays. I'm pretty sure they were horrible, but it was such a treat to see my classmates act out my manuscript. I pulled A's for them too, so they couldn't have been awful for a college student. I think this is where my love of dialog comes from. There's a lot of talking when there's no singing and dancing up on stage.

Like I said, nearly the first half of this chapter is dialog free, except for the occasional self-muttering Zydeco does. Here's a snippet of my boy dealing with setting.

Crossing under a fire escape on the next building, I gave a small jump and tapped the ladder above me. This turned out to be a bad move because the bottom three rungs crumpled and fell inches from my head, ringing out like a pile of tin cans hitting the deck. But that was only the slightly noisy appetizer because the whole thing collapsed as I threw my back against the brick fa├žade. It sounded like a bowling alley and at that moment I was sure Hunter would somehow show up, rumpled from the trunk and pissed.

Once I got done with all this setting nonsense, the fun began. A sphinx. A yeti. A riddle. And a reunion. Another place reminiscent of Elfreth's Alley in Philadelphia. Elfreth's Alley intrigued me no end the times I've been there. It's considered by some to be the oldest residential street in the U.S. So, I'm pretty excited to have the opportunity to paint it in just a smidge.

To read about the last chapter, journey back to the previous entry.

The next post has arrived and you can discover it right here.


Some more cool contests

Contest Alert!
Suzette Saxton and Bethany Wiggins over at Shooting Stars are offering a Fantabulous Followers Giveaway with Prize from an Agent! They've got five phantasmagorical prizes.

Grand prize winner gets a 40 page partial submission plus critique from Suzie Townsend, literary agent extraordinaire with FinePrintLit. Okay. Dude. Really? Awesome-ness.

A Body Finder black totebag donated by author Kimberly Derting.

Stephanie Meyer's, The Host.

How to Write the Great American Romance, by Katherine Lanigan. Well, okay. I don't write romance but I never turn my nose up at stuff.

A 4 oz box of Enstrom's Toffee.

Elana Johnson also has a nifty contest running at her blog, where you can win one of seven signed and personalized books!


Honest Scrap Award Redux

This evening, I wanted to say thanks to Medeia Sharif for the Honest Scrap award. The image is wicked cool, and for some reason reminds me of the hammer and sickle from Pink Floyd's The Wall, only kindler and gentler.

I'm supposed to reveal several truths about myself.  I shall also reveal the one true statement out of the seven I listed in my last blog entry.
  1. I've got no clue what the word scrap is doing in this award.
  2. I grew up with an English Spring Spaniel named Reggie.
  3. I love Family Guy, and I don't care that nobody but Brian (the dog) can understand Stewie, yet everyone understands the dog.
  4. My favorite book growing up was Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars, by Daniel Pinkwater.
  5. I loved horror movies as a teenager. I saw An American Werewolf in London three times in theaters when it came out.
  6. I love Walt Disney World, but can't wait to go to Universal Studios Orlando this summer to check out the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I suppose I'll bring the kids. *rolls eyes*
  7. I love those creme filled Hostess orange cupcakes.
And now for the regifting. I am quite confident many of you have already received the award before, but you wouldn't turn down an academy award two years running, would you?

The WriterRunner, a.k.a. iapetus999, a.k.a. Andrew Rosenberg
Jo Treggiari, who is most curious.
My bud, Rachel, who prefers to be startled.
Kurt, who is the man of a million stories and a genius bordering on insanity.


Creative Writer Blogger Award

I received three blog awards that I've managed not to acknowledge here, although I've been meaning to. Really. I'm not going to do all three at once, because two of them actually conflict with one another Medeia & Annie - you guys' awards are up next.  I swear!

Going in reverse order, one of my oldest friends from writing.com, Rachel, awarded me this way cool "Creative Writer" Blogger Award. I suppose I should clarify that in WDC time, I've known Rachel the longest, but I know plenty of folks older than she is from WDC. Right, Kurt?

The rules for this contest are pretty simple.
1. Thank the person who tagged me. Rachel. Emerin. Dude. You are the best. Thank you!
2. Copy and Paste the award on my blog. See it up there, all yellow and purple and stuff?
3. Link to the person who nominated me. Hence the link.
4. Tell up to 6 lies and 1 truth about myself. Is there anything true about me?
5. Tag at least 7 people for this award.
6. Post links to their blogs.
7. Comment on each of their blogs to inform them of the nomination.

Here are seven statements about me, one of which is true.
1. I never had a dog until I was an adult.
2. I love those Hostess orange cupcakes.
3. I am a pack rat.
4. I've never missed an episode of Lost.
5. Ice Hockey is my favorite sport to watch.
6. I am mechanically inclined and can repair just about anything.
7. There is no Jay, only Zuul.

Now, onto the nominees. May I have the envelope please?
Medeia Sharif
Sean Ferrell
Harley Palmer
Shannon O'Donnell
Kristan Hoffman
Mary Campbell
Adam Heine

And the winner is.... Oh, right. You're all winners! *applause*


The Dead and the Gone

I just finished listening to the audio book of The Dead and the Gone.You can read my mini-review on goodreads, but I've posted it here as well. Honestly, this book had me thinking of what I would do should calamity strike. I considered what canned food I'd load up on, among other things. For some reason - that's where I focused - canned food. It is an overwhelming part of this novel.

The Dead and the Gone (Moon, #2) The Dead and the Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The moon gets knocked off its axis by a giant asteroid, and the results on earth are calamitous. It's told through from the point of view of Puerto-Rican New Yorker Alex Morales. His parents gone, and older brother deployed somewhere in the marines, he's left to take care of his younger sisters as New York City dies.

I'm not big on spirituality, but this book is full of it, and it resonates. There are moments of terror at what might happen, despair at what is and what has happened, interspersed with tiny specks of light. The characters are all deeply felt and New York in its "winter" breathes and dies.

I'm not ashamed to say my eyes welled up a few times. Excellent. Now I need to go read something funny.

View all my reviews


A Request for Brutal Honesty

As I stated in my last post, I entered a contest to receive either a request for more or some brutal honesty based on my query letter alone. Joanna Stampfel-Volpe evaluated as many queries as people could submit over an hour this past Saturday and responded by 5pm today.

I received my response shortly before 2pm today. No, Ms. Volpe did not request more material, but the feedback she provided was excellent. I'm here to tell you it wasn't brutal at all, but really helpful. In three brief sentences, she gave me some clear advice on target audience and on how to differentiate my book in a query.

This was the best rejection I ever received! I'm so glad I entered the contest. This was more helpful feedback than what I received from a paid agent critique at SCBWI a couple of years ago. If ever you have an opportunity to enter a similar contest, I highly recommend it!