Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Reason To Get A Dog In 2010

You get out of speeding tickets. No, really. I know this to be true having experienced it first-hand. Wait. Why do we say “first-hand”? Or even “second-hand”? Don’t I have two hands? What if I designate one as numero uno and the other nombre deux?

Obviously, whoever came up with that lovely saying hung out with a bunch of handless people.

ANYWAY, back to the evasion of tickets. Here’s what happened:

Roll down window. Well, hit the button to lower the window.

Officer: “Hello. I pulled you over for your speed today. Do you know how fast you were going?”

My dog licks the officer’s hand repeatedly.

Me: “I’m really sorry, Officer. Stoli, stop it!”

Officer: “Oh, no. It’s okay. I love dogs. License and registration please.”

I hand him my license, registration, and proof of insurance. Yes, I went over and above.

Me: “Well, he certainly seems to like you.”

Officer pets Stoli and smiles at him.

Officer: “My LIDAR clocked you at 82. The speed limit is 55, Miss.”

Stoli begins to lick his face.

Me: “I’m so sorry. Stoli, he doesn’t want to make out with you!”

Officer: Laughs. “Okay. I’ll be right back.”

Officer walks to car. He comes back seven minutes later and gives me back my information. Stoli returns to loving on him.

Officer: “Here you go. I’m gonna let you off with a warning this time. Slow down, okay?”

Me: “Oh, yes, Officer. Will do.”

I drove away and got pulled over AGAIN for speed by another CHP. The same thing happened. Yeah, it’s awesome. You should get a dog, a cute one, if you need to clean up your driving record.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Holiday Epiphany

So, my Christmas tree is up, but no ornaments adorn it. The reason, you ask?

Doing anything other than working on my latest project makes me cringe.

Obsession is fickle. Usually, by this time of year, the Carpenters Christmas album has been played a million times, the house is covered with evergreen and twinkle lights, and all of the presents are wrapped. Not this year. No ho! This year, rather, this holiday season, all I think / dream / talk about is Summer’s End.

I’m pretty sure friends and family want to slip me a roofie and lock me in a closet until I come back from fantasyland. And yes, loved ones, I’ll be watching my eggnog very closely come Friday. Just kidding.

Or am I?

Anyway, the thought occurred to me that maybe my blog is like my tree. It’s set up with a few (SHINING) posts, but I’ve kind of been ignoring it. This might be a good time to slip in the cliché about the lights being on… NO! No clichés. Bad writer.

So, in the honored tradition of New Year’s resolutions, I would like to try and decorate my blog with more (SPARKLING) posts in 2010.

What are your resolutions?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Quick Update: Autumn Made the First Round

Over the weekend, I pitched my first novel, Autumn Leaves, to Agent Shop on Musetracks. 24 finalists, including me, will have the opportunity to have their pitches read by the awesome Kevan Lyon of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. Cross your fingers for me.

If you haven't frequented the Musetracks sight, you should start. The four writers who run it often collaborate with agents to hold pitch sessions. They also have a great archive of author interviews.
That's all. Now back to writing Summer's End and driving my neighbors crazy with constant Christmas music.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bon Voyage

I'm off to Europe for two weeks, but wanted to wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving! Eat lots of turkey for me and tons of mashed potatoes. I love me some spuds.

Au revoir.

Monday, November 16, 2009

See. Think. Do.

Not too long ago, a friend and I discussed how to write fictional scenes. I came up with a succinct way to explain how I do it and she encouraged me to share, so here goes:

Characters see things, think things, and do things. Sounds easy, right?

Let me break it down:

See – This is where the movie plays within my mind. The imagination wanders and I begin to construct the setting. At this point, the only sense I’m using is sight. I can see the room, the way light filters through dusty eaves, and the way a person’s face shadows. Light is huge for me. Maybe because I’m obsessed with interior design, but I always have to know how things are lit.

Think – This is what I call, “The Flourish”. Here's where you get to dive into characters’ brains. In my latest project, I’m writing from the 1st person past perspective. I can really delve into why my MC wants something and how she feels about external stimuli. Now the other senses become paramount. For example, how the air smells of rain or how the wind whistles through the trees and how it reminds her of her childhood, first date, etc. She can touch things and taste things. All the while, I’m keeping in mind motivation. The same is true for the other characters, but I can only write down things from her vantage point. There’s a different balance with 3rd person POV, but living inside the head of every character crosses all POVs.

Do – Characters say things and they move around to do what they’re compelled to do. It’s pretty straightforward. A woman can pick up a sword and swing it at her cheating husband. A man can smile and fire a gun. Someone might say a snappy line while they fry in the electric chair. Sorry for the violence, but it’s more fun than listing what people eat or fiddle with. Using what you know from their thoughts, you can create their actions.

I’m sure you have your own theories. Of course, this isn’t the only method for scene construction nor does it have anything to do with developing plot. Plot is its own animal and I would strongly recommend James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure.

Also, for the record, I do not in any way feel I’m an expert. I just love going to writer blogs and learning something new or at least seeing something in a cool new light.

There are so many parts to the puzzle. I hope this post can give you one small piece. Maybe just an unimportant one from the edge.

Be sure to tell me what you think. I’d love to read your methods and learn from you.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Kumbaya, Writers. Kumbaya.

I'm sure you've all heard this: "I can't believe <insert NYT bestselling author here> ever got published. Their writing sucks!"

Whenever I read / hear something remotely akin to that sentiment, I cringe. Look, we've all been scrutinized and will continue to be no matter what level of success we achieve. Shouldn't we then, as writers, try to support each other?

So what if someone relies too heavily on adverbs?

So what if an author ends sentences with prepositions?

Tom Swifties? Big deal.

People still buy their books. Their stories entertain the masses. Isn't that what it's all about - telling a story that allows a reader to escape?

Most readers won't realize if a writer "breaks the rules". I didn't notice until I tried to write.

And what if by bucking the institutionalized system, more creative freedom trickles down to all of us?

Then there's the personal aspect. Big name authors started out like you and me. They loved their characters and pined over plot, just like we do. I can't tell you how many Facebook and Twitter posts I've seen lately of writers declaring their love for the latest manuscript.

We all make mistakes. There's a flaw in everyone's writing. But just as no one's face is proportionally perfect, beauty still shines on those with a good balance. Yes, even with a crooked nose or a small chin.

All you can do is appreciate other voices and attempt to better your own. Support each other because one day, you'll be the author other writers bitch about.

Okay, rant over. ;)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Imaginary Friends

Hey guys -

I’m back to query letter and synopsis fun. Yuck. Summarizing shouldn't be this difficult. The upside is I’ve already done the bulk of the work for the old version.

Another positive note, I wrote part of Summer’s End yesterday. Pretty exciting stuff. There’s something comforting about reuniting with characters. I know their motivations, speech patterns, mannerisms, etc. It’s like getting together with old buddies – which brings me to my question:

EL Doctorow says, “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia,” but is it really?

My characters live in real life. Before you get all “she’s nuts” on me, here me out. When I’m involved with a project, sponge-mode takes over. I begin to analyze everything for possible use.

For example,

What would Autumn do if confronted with this mean tech at CVS Pharmacy who seriously cannot give me a straight answer on copays?

Or what would Nathan do if stuck behind this friggin’ idiot who keeps stopping for no reason?

Or would Jonah want Jack in a Crack or Tacos Smell?

It’s a litmus test for how well I know my imaginary friends. Do you do that?

Writers have different methods, so it would be interesting to hear yours. Do your characters take a backseat to everyday living? Are you able to hit mute on the “voices in your head”?


PS - I also sent the new (and oh-so improved) version of my book to an agent. Cross your fingers for me.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Another Post on Editing

Hey Awesome People Who Read My Blog!

I’ve missed you guys. What’ve you been up to?

*Hilary grabs a piece of cheese and stuffs it in her mouth while she pretends to care*

Just kidding, I care. No, really I do. I care so much, I’m going to post more editing advice.

*cheers erupt*

Let’s get down to business. Over the past couple of weeks, I slaughtered 15,000 words from my manuscript.

*audience gasps*

Yes, I know it’s a lot, but they were all unnecessary. What deems a word unnecessary, you ask?

Here is a list I found helpful from agent Rachelle Gardner’s site:
→ Adverbs, especially those with “ly” endings.
→ Adjectives. Often people use two or three when one or none is better.
→ Gerunds. Words that end in “ing.”
→ Passive voice: Over-use of words like “was,” "were" and "that" indicate your writing may be too passive. Reconstruct in active voice.
→ Passages that are overly descriptive.
→ Passages that describe characters' thoughts and feelings in too much detail (i.e. long sections of narrative or interior monologue).
→ Passages that tell the reader what they already know.
→ Unnecessary backstory.

Words to watch for. Carefully consider their necessity and effectiveness:
about, actually, almost, like, appears, approximately, basically, close to, even, eventually, exactly, finally, just, just then, kind of, nearly, practically, really, seems, simply, somehow, somewhat, sort of, suddenly, truly, utterly, were.

Also, I participated in a recent #askagent Twitter-fest and received the best advice ever from super-cool agent Colleen Lindsay. And here it is:

ColleenLindsay: @hilaryheskett It's all about 1.) Voice, 2.) Brevity and 3.) Authenticity

I hope this reiteration of stuff you already knew helps your book tightening efforts. Go team writers!

*awkward microphone screech*

At least it’s in one place if you ever need it?

*crickets chirping*


All right. Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Just In Case...

I'm sure most of you already know this, but on the off chance you missed it, Nathan Bransford is running a contest for the best 1st paragraph.

Read the rules and submit your work here.

The contest expires tomorrow at 4pm Pacific, so get a move on.

Good luck!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

In Autumn's Honor

Things are pretty boring on the writing front right now, so I thought I’d mix things up.

How, you ask?

With a recipe, of course. A lowfat awesome one actually; one perfect for autumn.

So, without further adieu, here is how to make…
Spiced Pumpkin Apple Bread! (yay?)

• 3 cups all-purpose flour
• 2 tsp cinnamon
• ½ tsp cloves
• 1 tsp nutmeg
• 2 tsp baking soda
• 1 ½ tsp salt
• 3 cups granulated sugar
• 4 eggs
• 1 15oz can of pure pumpkin puree
• 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
• ½ cup apple juice
• 1 large baking apple or 1.75 small apples peeled, cored, and diced

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Grease and lightly flour two 9X5-inch loaf pans. (Too much flour leaves a white film in the corners. Yes, I learned the hard way.)
3. In a large bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, baking soda, and salt.
4. In another large bowl, mix sugar, pumpkin, eggs, applesauce, and apple juice. Beat until blended.
5. Add pumpkin (wet) concoction to flour (dry) mixture. Stir until moistened.
6. Fold in apples. (If using two small apples, eat the remainder of the second apple with peanut butter. The sooner the better :))
7. Spoon batter into loaf pans.
8. Bake for about 65 – 70 mins or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
9. Turn off oven. (A simple, but often overlooked step. Well, at least at my house.)
10. Cool in pans for 10 min.
11. Remove to wire racks or aluminum foil to finish cooling.

And there you have it. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Book Review: The Lost Symbol

I've been reading at a frantic pace recently. I'm not sure if it's some kind of procrastination tactic to keep me from writing and editing, but the upside is that I've read some great books. Mental and creative recharge, right?

Last night I finished The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown. Masons and killers and myths, oh my!

In this stunning follow-up to the global phenomenon The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown demonstrates once again why he is the world’s most popular thriller writer. The Lost Symbol is a masterstroke of storytelling--a deadly race through a real-world labyrinth of codes, secrets, and unseen truths . . . all under the watchful eye of Brown’s most terrifying villain to date. Set within the hidden chambers, tunnels, and temples of Washington, D.C., The Lost Symbol accelerates through a startling landscape toward an unthinkable finale.

As the story opens, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned unexpectedly to deliver an evening lecture in the U.S. Capitol Building. Within minutes of his arrival, however, the night takes a bizarre turn. A disturbing object--artfully encoded with five symbols--is discovered in the Capitol Building. Langdon recognizes the object as an ancient invitation . . . one meant to usher its recipient into a long-lost world of esoteric wisdom.

When Langdon’s beloved mentor, Peter Solomon--a prominent Mason and philanthropist--is brutally kidnapped, Langdon realizes his only hope of saving Peter is to accept this mystical invitation and follow wherever it leads him. Langdon is instantly plunged into a clandestine world of Masonic secrets, hidden history, and never-before-seen locations--all of which seem to be dragging him toward a single, inconceivable truth.

My Review:
Short chapters and a major plot twist? Awesome. Suspense was present from the beginning and compounded throughout the entire novel. Brown's characters seemed believable and each had very distinct mannerisms. However, the dialogue wasn't always as distinctive and I had to go back a few times to figure out who was talking.

As with The Da Vinci Code, Brown filled narrative sections with enticing bits of legend and history. Personally, I loved it, but if you're not into conspiracy theories or Freemason folklore, this may cause you to skip ahead.

Overall, the plot sucked me in and I couldn't put the book down. Twists and turns abounded in this story set in our nation's capital.

Grade: A-

Monday, August 10, 2009

Help Needed: Do you want to keep reading?

Hiya, Folks.

I need your input. Please read the first page of Autumn Leaves and let me know if you would want to keep reading. Be honest. Be unapologetic. Be... well, just give me your feedback. I appreciate it. :)

“I’m sure this trip is going to kill me.” I held the phone to my ear with one hand, clenched the handrail with the other, and launched myself onto the moving step. The smell of coffee laced with grease weakened as I descended to the airport’s lower level.

“Stop being so dramatic. You sound like your sister.” Eve laughed.

The escalator lurched, almost sending me tumbling, but I regained my balance as it chugged downward. “Listen, I’ll call you later, okay?”

“Sure. Stay safe. And don’t die,” she teased with a giggle.

“I’ll try.” I hung up and jammed the phone in my pocket preparing to zigzag my way to the baggage claim.

The San Francisco airport bustled with people, all seeming to struggle against the confines of time. A family of four draped in diaper bags darted in front of me, almost running me over with their stroller. The disheveled mother didn’t seem to notice and yelled at her son, “Stop it! Stop pulling on me!”

The little boy began to cry and I wondered if they were here out of obligation just like me. His mother yanked him away and they disappeared, swallowed by the masses of frenzied passengers.

A crowd filled the space around me, forming a circle surrounding the carousel, like a mob before a hanging. It lunged and surged forward as luggage moved to meet impatient owners. My purple suitcase rounded the corner and I pushed my way to the front, bumping and nudging through the pulsing wall of people.

A hand sprang out in front of me and ripped my bag off the conveyor. “Let me get this for you, Autumn,” a stranger said.

With a sharp inhale, I spun around to confront the would-be thief.

His eyes, a staggering shade of blue, considered me as I tried to think of something else, anything else, other than how beautiful he was.

“H-how did you know my name?”

His lips parted in a slight smile, but before he could answer, the conveyor belt died causing a noisy sputter. A loud bang followed as one of the fluorescent lights exploded above, raining sparks down on the unsuspecting travelers. Screams ensued and I remained still, used to strange things happening around me.

So, what'd you think? Would you keep reading?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Rejection Science

Rejection sucks. Well, it does, doesn’t it?

From a manuscript dismissal to a query letter denial, it all stinks. Let’s discuss Rejection – the one with a big “R.” (You are free to now say ARRRR!)

So, how do we balance the negative with the positive, even when there doesn’t seem to be any in sight?

Why not be scientific about conquering “Rejection Depression?”

Newton’s Laws of Physics seem like a perfectly rational place to start. Very logical.

First Law - A body persists in its state of rest or of uniform motion unless acted upon by an external unbalanced force.
If we don’t receive a bunch of brush offs, we won’t send out many queries. Meaning, our masterpieces wouldn’t touch the lives of the agents / editors to which we submit. Oh. That sounds like they’re our overlords… perhaps they are. By the way, don’t you just love the term “unbalanced?”

Second Law - Force equals mass times acceleration (F = ma): the net force on an object is equal to the mass of the object multiplied by its acceleration.
I’d like to change this to: First publication equals the magnitude times the activity (F=ma): the first novel published is equal to magnitude of the project (which is AWESOME) multiplied by the author’s activity. The more people you talk to, the more agents you query, and the more publishers you find that take un-agented talent, the better your odds. It’s a numbers game in the end.

Third Law - To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
I’m resisting the urge to scream, “Karma!” (mostly since I’m sitting in a stuffy cubicle-ridden space)
Newton’s third law is my favorite. With every negative force, create a new opportunity for greatness. Send out more letters. Re-edit your manuscript. Start a new project.

Conquer the Rejection by pushing ahead.

(I’d rather be Spock than Debbie Downer anyway.)

How ‘bout you? Any tips or tricks?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

New Addition

As some of you already know, Dave and I added a new member to the Shapiro family. Bienvenidos, Stoli!

So, when not working or squeezing in writing time, I teach my fuzzy kid important things like:

Where to go potty. (Yes, the technical term is "potty")

And how to make new friends.

He reciprocates by teaching me to never forget your wingman when escaping from prison -- a valuable lesson to be sure.
So, what have you learned from your pets?

Have a great week!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Not Like the Others

People think I'm weird. I know they do and no, it's not the underlying paranoia speaking. The sideways glances and tiny quirk of the eyebrows give it away every time.

Honestly, they are probably right. I am different and isn't that what being weird is -- not fitting between the parameters which makes a person normal?

Top 5 reasons for my weirdness:
1 - I'm a writer. No explanation necessary.

2 - I hate chocolate. Even through the computer, the collective gasp of disbelief astounds me. Why do people dig that stuff anyway? Sour Patch Kids are so much tastier.

3 - I drive a stick shift. Apparently, this is not normal for a married, thirty year-old woman.

4 - I turn hermit from time to time. Yeah, it's inconvenient, but it is what it is. (cringe)

5 - I despise cliches and over-used phrases (like the end of number 4).

So, what makes you weird?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Rant #1 – Customer Complaints

Why is it when people complain about something they always say:

“Well, I never complain. Really. I never do, it’s just… (insert annoying comment here).”
Um, then why’d you start now? Yeah. I don’t believe you.


“I have decades of service experience. I’ve even run my own company, so I KNOW what good service is.”
Good for you. Now get on with it.


“In this economy, you’d think (insert annoying company name here) would want to keep LOYAL customers like me.”
Uh huh. This is usually the person who spent the least.

Please, people. Saying these things won’t make your case any stronger. All they do is aggravate the person on the other end of the line who is essentially trying to help you. Stop complaining already and no, you’re not getting a free (insert annoying company product here).

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Matter of Trust

I finished reading a book a few days ago by bestselling author Rebecca Wells (don’t worry, the review is coming) and it dawned on me that I didn't scrutinize the words at all. My normal skepticism faded and I just enjoyed her work. I didn’t debate the use of passive verbs. There was no analysis of the repetitive concepts. Nothing.

Then it hit me – I trusted her.

I trusted Ms. Wells to create the right setting. I trusted her to choose the right words. Most of all, I trusted her to carry me through the entire story, letting me believe her characters were living, breathing people with real wants and needs. (How’s that for repetition?)

So, what makes us trust an author?

Is it status or education? What about sales figures – do they factor into our decision?

I would love to believe that if you’ve proven yourself to be a competent writer, readers will give themselves to the story without question. But, alas, that is not the way it is. I’ve read several books by people considered “great” and I still find myself nit-picking the technique. For example, why would they elect to use a “to be” verb when an active one would have been so much cleaner? Or what’s with all the stinkin’ adverbs?

It’s a conundrum really. Any thoughts out there in cyberspace?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

King of Pop

They laid him to rest today. Or was it yesterday?

It doesn't matter. I didn't know the man. I only knew his music.

Michael Jackson, whether you liked him or not, inspired people around the world. For me, his songs play like a soundtrack for the memories flickering in and out of focus.

Sitting on a porch step, watching the orange and pink of sunset bleed across blue. Schoolmates run around me while I take refuge in my thoughts. "Human Nature" rings in my ears, emanating from plastic headphones attached to my Sony Walkman -- the yellow one. Only the cool kids have the yellow one.

Hiding at my friend's house on Halloween, anxious to jump out and startle her little brother. He wants to be Batman. We want to be Catwoman. "Thriller" starts, coming from a TV in the back bedroom. We're distracted by the beat. Super-heroes fade and only dancing zombies exist.

My best-friend-in-the-whole-world, Heidi, and I sing "Gone Too Soon" at our Junior High graduation. My throat closes while saying, "Dying with the rising of the moon." Tears burn and I am now aware of time's determination to only race forward. No going back.

Rest in peace, Michael Jackson.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Happy 4th of July!

On a road trip to Mammoth, but wanted to wish everyone a happy and safe Independence Day weekend!

Where liberty dwells, there is my country.
~Benjamin Franklin

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Unforgettable Story of Forgetting

Whew! I completed the second week of my consulting gig and believe me, I am tired. I'd forgotten what a set schedule can do to a person. I mean, who gets up before 11am?

Oh, right. I do now.

Anyway, I finished reading a fantastic novel this week titled, The Story of Forgetting.

Told from two perspectives that are at once nearly polar and intimately linked, this astounding debut captures an air of the fantastical while presenting one family's heartfelt battle with Alzheimer's. Seth Waller is a 15-year-old Austin, Tex., science nerd determined to discover the reason behind his mother's recent mental breakdown. Abel Haggard, living on his family farm just past the Dallas suburbs, is an aging recluse roiled by memories of his one true love: Mae, his brother Paul's wife. The two had a torrid affair while Paul served in Korea, forcing Mae to conceal the paternity of her baby when she became pregnant. Both Seth and Abel speak of a fantasy land named Isidora, which exists outside of our physical world, but which becomes a common thread in piecing this delicately woven story together. Each character is a product of a different time and place, but as Seth delves deeper into his scientific investigation and Abel's troubled life is further revealed, the two stories meet in an emotional and memorable climax. Block displays an innate gift for developing believable characters each with his own distinct voice. The result is a story that's compulsive and transporting.

Though sometimes highly scientific, the story, with its tense subject matter and character interactions, moved at a terrific pace. I remained riveted from the first page onward. The interjections of Isidora, a fairytale passed down through generations, flowed along the main plot like a bubbling stream winding through a meadow.

From a writing perspective, the technique was clean and effective. I felt like I knew the characters and empathized with them at every step.

A word of caution – this book is not for a young audience. There are mature themes as well as lengthy descriptions of a disease that kills mental function at an early age.

Side Note:
This is author Stephan Merrill Block's debut novel. Amazing.

Grade: A-

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Music and Writing

Hello, fellow wordsmiths!

I've been thinking about the process of writing. Everyone's approach is different. For me, I like to lock myself away and listen to music while creating or editing. Time and responsibilities fall away, leaving only me and the words to drift along in harmony.

How do you write? Does music help you?

Last week, my friend and I debated the influence of lyrics on prose. As much as I can tell, lyrics don't tend to bleed into my passages as much as they inspire a certain feeling or mood, but I can see how distracting words sung in succession might be. We both decided that listening to movie soundtracks was a good compromise. With that in mind, I've recently discovered a few inspirational soundtracks that have helped me with the Elementalist Series. They are:


Revolutionary Road

The International

Pride & Prejudice (2005)

Bram Stoker's Dracula

I'm always looking for more music suggestions. Please send some recommendations my way. :)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Deliverance Dane

Now that I have a day job, my rate of finishing books has stalled a bit (as has my blog post cadence). The days of reading at my leisure between episodes of "I Love Lucy" and "Oprah" have been replaced by moments of hastily plowing through passages during lunch breaks and before bed. Welcome to the real world, me.

Enough with the pity party. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane intrigued me and I looked forward to our daily rendezvous.

Plot: Harvard graduate student Connie Goodwin needs to spend her summer doing research for her doctoral dissertation. But when her mother asks her to handle the sale of Connie’s grandmother’s abandoned home near Salem, she can’t refuse. As she is drawn deeper into the mysteries of the family house, Connie discovers an ancient key within a seventeenth-century Bible. The key contains a yellowing fragment of parchment with a name written upon it: Deliverance Dane. This discovery launches Connie on a quest—to find out who this woman was and to unearth a rare artifact of singular power: a physick book, its pages a secret repository for lost knowledge. As the pieces of Deliverance’s harrowing story begin to fall into place, Connie is haunted by visions of the long-ago witch trials, and she begins to fear that she is more tied to Salem’s dark past then she could have ever imagined.

Written with astonishing conviction and grace, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane travels seamlessly between the witch trials in the 1690s and a modern woman’s story of mystery, intrigue and revelation.

Review: I was hooked from the very beginning. The Salem witch trials have always fascinated me so I started the book wanting to completely lose myself in the story.

The pace slowed toward the middle and since I'm not one who obsesses upon academia, some of the tension between Connie and Professor Chilton seemed dry. Also, Connie’s love interest, Sam, didn't come alive for me. The chemistry between them was like flat Diet Coke.

However, the story exploded toward the end when all of the clues came together and Connie discovered her history. As the pace picked up with the 1690's timeline, the 1990's story also quickened. The Deliverance Dane plotline (1690's) amazed me and made me not able to put the book down.

Side Note: Katherine Howe, the author, is related to Elizabeth Proctor, who survived the Salem witch trials, and also Elizabeth Howe, who did not.

Grade: B-

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

“Pulp Faction” Book

As you may have guessed, I’m an avid reader. I started Family Plots: Love, Death & Tax Evasion at the dentist office last Friday morning and finished it a few hours later. It was that good.

*WARNING* This book will make you cry.
Set in the San Francisco Bay Area (sigh), Mary weaves a tale full of intrigue and suspense in a fabric laced with joy and sorrow. Part fact and part fiction, she calls her creation the first of a new genre: Pulp Faction.

Plot: Family Plots is a fresh and funny autobiographical novel about a young mother trying against all odds to create a normal family life with her new husband, a criminal attorney, who-it turns out-is committing a few crimes of his own. The novel offers readers a wry, unsentimental account of a marriage barreling toward calamity. In an attempt to find romance, family, and financial stability, its struggling heroine stumbles into a world of pseudonyms, fake weddings, and hidden bank accounts. Events that land many of the players into the family cemetery plot also reveal unexpected secrets and stashes that manage, in small ways, to transform a tale of seeming tragedy into one of surprising healing and redemption.

Side Note: Mary Patrick Kavanaugh was kind enough to attend my critique group a few weeks ago with the purpose of showing us the ins-and-outs of marketing and self-publishing our works. A dynamic speaker, she has now impressed me with her written voice.

Grade: A

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Not-so-good Summer Read

On my way home from San Francisco, I picked up the latest issue of Real Simple magazine and read an article recommending new books for summer. Naturally, I logged into Amazon and loaded my cart with lots of fun titles, including The Scenic Route. Yes, I am an easy sale.

Plot: Divorced, alone, and unexpectedly unemployed, Sylvia Landsman flees to Italy, where she meets Henry, a wistful, married, middle-aged expatriate. Taking off on a grand tour of Europe bankrolled with his wife's money, Henry and Sylvia follow a circuitous route around the continent—as Sylvia entertains Henry with stories of her peculiar family and her damaged friends, of dead ducks and Alma Mahler. Her narrative is a tapestry of remembrances and regrets...and her secret shame: a small, cowardly sin of omission. Yet when the opportunity arises for Sylvia and Henry to do something small but brave, the refrain "if only" returns to haunt her, leaving Sylvia with one more story of love lived and lost.

Review: My journey on The Scenic Route stalled midway. After only getting through the first 150 pages, I put it down and walked away. I really did try to read it. Honest. It went with me to the doctor’s office. I brought it with me to the gym. I even attempted to read it every night before bed. Like a bad motor, I couldn’t get the darn pages to turn over.

My reasons for stopping:
1 – It read like a patched-up memoir complete with ugly words and jumping timelines.
2 – The protagonist wasn’t relatable.
3 – There were tons of word repetitions. It was like rolling a vacuum forward, backing up, and going over the same spot again. I’m not sure if that’s just her style, but seeing the same words, even the same sentences, repeated in succession bothered me. I love when authors find new ways to explain things, adding depth by increasing emphasis, but this was plain annoying.
4 – The story didn’t move even though the characters traveled all over Europe. I was bored.

Grade: D

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

I Won!

Thanks to Marybeth Poppins' spectacular gnome-naming contest, I am now the proud owner of Gnorris the Wee Little Garden Gnome. *cheers and applause*
Things are looking up. :)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Ever Get A Song Stuck In Your Head?

And yes, I do dance just like Thom Yorke in case you were wondering. Enjoy!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Good Summer Reading

In between sending out query letters, following up with agents, going on interviews, and taking care of the Shapiro clan (Dave and the cat), I finished reading two amazing books.

The first, Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, blew my mind. If you're looking for a quick summer read with loads of impact, this is the book for you. The story is based on a simple question - what would it be like to live forever?

With beautiful descriptions, quick pacing, and a hauntingly ambiguous ending, it's a great escape that will leave you questioning not only the character's choices, but also your own.

Plot: Imagine coming upon a fountain of youth in a forest. To live forever--isn't that everyone's ideal? For the Tuck family, eternal life is a reality, but their reaction to their fate is surprising. Award winner Natalie Babbitt outdoes herself in this sensitive, moving adventure in which 10-year-old Winnie Foster is kidnapped, finds herself helping a murderer out of jail, and is eventually offered the ultimate gift--but doesn't know whether to accept it. Babbitt asks profound questions about the meaning of life and death, and leaves the reader with a greater appreciation for the perfect cycle of nature. Intense and powerful, exciting and poignant, Tuck Everlasting will last forever--in the reader's imagination. An ALA Notable Book. --Emilie Coulter, Amazon

Side Note: I found many interesting tie-ins to the Twilight Saga. The similarities between Edward Cullen and Jesse Tuck battered me over the head a few times, with the exception of vampirism. Stephenie Meyer must also be a fan.

Grade: A

The second book, The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton, started off with a lot of passive voice, but quickly became un-put-downable (not sure if that’s a word, but just go with it). With the main plot told from several points of view along the timeline of a century in both Britain and Australia, the author created a compelling conflict that continuously left me wanting more. The pace seemed rather slow at times, but a twist appearing in the last act more than made up for the lag.

If you're searching for a historical fiction woven with wonderful characters and descriptions, this is a good journey on which to embark. Bon voyage!

Plot: A tiny girl is abandoned on a ship headed for Australia in 1913. She arrives completely alone with nothing but a small suitcase containing a few clothes and a single book -- a beautiful volume of fairy tales. She is taken in by the dockmaster and his wife and raised as their own. On her twenty-first birthday they tell her the truth, and with her sense of self shattered and with very little to go on, "Nell" sets out on a journey to England to try to trace her story, to find her real identity. Her quest leads her to Blackhurst Manor on the Cornish coast and the secrets of the doomed Mountrachet family. But it is not until her granddaughter, Cassandra, takes up the search after Nell's death that all the pieces of the puzzle are assembled. At Cliff Cottage, on the grounds of Blackhurst Manor, Cassandra discovers the forgotten garden of the book's title and is able to unlock the secrets of the beautiful book of fairy tales.

Side Note: Morton also wrote The House at Riverton. I devoured it on a long flight home from London and absolutely loved it.

Grade: A-

What do you guys think – should I do book reviews from time to time? Your input is mucho valuable. :)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

No “Write” Reason

I’ve been spending a lot of time reassessing my motivation to write. With Autumn Leaves completed and the sophomoric book looming, the term “writer’s block” has become real to me – something I never thought would happen. What used to be 10,000+ word weeks are now zero and the joy of creativity seems more akin to burden.

Disappointment hangs over me, doubt weighs me down, and guilt pulls at my feet like an undertow.
The dark waters of failure that used to appear so distant on the horizon engulf me. Faint were the sounds of crashing waves now deafening...
Perhaps a little too dramatic.

After evaluating my process, I’ve come to realize that writing is my motivator; the language, the art, the expression. Maybe the salability aspect of publishing has harmed my desire to create. Just a thought.

I hereby vow to write what I want the way I did before with Autumn Leaves. The words poured out of me. I could barely contain them. Before query letters and synopses, agent blogs and writer forums, I wrote for me. Only me.

Whatever your motivation for writing, be it the love of the craft, the potential for glory, or even the ever-elusive payment, it’s the right reason for you.

Thanks for reading and wish me luck.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Truth and Encouragement

Literary agent Rachelle Gardner posted a blog today on the topic of encouragement. The idea stemmed from her belief that realism makes for the best type of courage-inspiring support. She said, “I think hearing the difficult truth CAN be encouraging, because it forces you to make an internal decision: Am I up for this, or not? How much am I willing to give this? How badly do I want it?”

I do agree with her, but have found that praise on top of truth strengthens the intent to help. When going over another writer’s work, tempering a harsh critique with a positive comment goes further than just the negative alone. Just my opinion. Maybe Rachelle’s point is you shouldn’t seek it from your agent or editor.

But what about at your critique group?

As a member of two amazing and completely different critique groups, I’ve witnessed feedback as either bitter reality or sugar-coated half-truth. Do they have to be mutually exclusive? Each can be beneficial for various reasons, but isn’t the purpose of attending to get better at writing? Hearing what you’ve done well can be a wonderful motivator, however, delusion doesn’t help anyone. So, where’s the balance?

I would rather err on the side of being too honest than not. Of course, I always slip in an upbeat observation, but the heart of my critique is raw truth. My hope lives in the expectation that the other members of the group don’t hold back. Thick skin is a requirement in the quest for publication. Perhaps sensitivity bleeds through surface cuts, but positive reinforcement from colleagues can act as a bandage along with increased learning. Armed with feedback and determination, a writer fights to get noticed.

What do you think? Do you find criticism alone encouraging?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Fear of Success

After chatting with a friend of mine, I discovered another phobia to contemplate. (I’m always on the lookout for a new one – FOMO isn’t as much fun as it used to be.) She mentioned the “Fear of Success” as an excuse to not work on her next project. The idea seemed backward at first, but as my mind began to wrap around the concept, it started to make sense: success opens the door to the exposure of flaws and threatens to let in new challenges that one may not be prepared to handle.

With my curiosity peaked, I decided to research symptoms on the only place I know to find superior medical information AKA Google. Selfishly, I wanted to find out if I had it. What I found surprised me.

The Fear of Success can manifest itself in many ways. The four most common are:

1 – Self-sabotage
(e.g. - Drinking too much the night before a presentation or reading a book well into the night when you have an early start the next day)

2 – Procrastination
(e.g. - Finding a million other things to do when it’s time to start working)

3 – Talking, but not doing
(e.g. - Spending too much time on platform-building activities and selling your project while you should be writing/editing)

4 – Negative Outlook
(e.g. - “That agent isn’t getting back to me – it must be a rejection” or “No one’s going to like my book”)

As a change-seeker and “hit-send-on-the-email-before-thinking-too-hard-and-psyching-myself-out” kind of person, I rarely indulge in numbers 1-3. However, pessimism can be my companion at times, but is that enough to say I have full-blown FOS?

Entertaining a negative outlook is normal, I think. Be sure to comment if you don’t agree.

Another factor that plays into the Fear of Success equation is guilt. Feeling like you haven’t earned the accolade or feeling like you haven’t been doing something long enough contributes to the phobia. I do know this one well – maybe there is a little FOS kicking around inside me after all. With writing, the learning curve never ends. There are always areas to improve. Always. The idea of never truly being the best rattles me.

In sum, maybe we all suffer from varying degrees of FOS. It is all right to be scared of the unknown, but when you feel the prickle of hesitation, jump in anyway. Begin typing. Throw yourself into editing. Do what it is that you talk about doing and don’t let your fear stop you from succeeding.

What do you think? Do you suffer from the Fear of Success?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Update: Warm Saturday Night in LA

Update to my May 2nd post: I now know the cause of the loud gunshot noise last Saturday night. All of you were losing sleep over it, I'm sure.

It turns out there was a drive-by but with a twist: some kids "acid-bombed" a home one street over from mine. They turned off their headlights, rolled slowly up to the intended target, and pitched a home-made explosive onto the front porch of their "friend's" house.

What's an acid bomb?

Apparently, the young people of today are chemists.

The neighborhood watch reported the malevolent high-schoolers combined tin foil with a type of acid found in cleaning products in a liter bottle and (voila!) created an acid-spewing tool of terrorism. Perfect. One more thing to add to my growing list of phobias.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Book People on Twitter

As many of you know, I am a huge advocate for Twitter. Not only for keeping up with friends, but also for learning more about this crazy career path I’ve chosen.

On the Firebrand Literary Blog, agent Chris Richman discusses his positive impression of the networking tool. He mentions making connections with people he hadn’t met before as well as finding news he would’ve otherwise missed. I wholeheartedly agree. (Yes, my enthusiasm deserves the use of an adverb.) You can discover contests, changes to submission guidelines, and books to be released. Plus, following prospective agents to get a feel for who they are and what they love talking about can't hurt, right?

So, for all of you who are on the fence, here is a great link listing a bunch of people you may want to add while setting up your account. From publishers to editors, this directory of book trade people is a great place to start. But of course, you should follow me first. :)

Monday, May 4, 2009

New World of Publishing

Thanks to my agent-stalking-on-Twitter hobby, I found a great blog on Book Cost Analysis.

The overall purpose of the article is to compare the publishing model of today to the new one being ushered in by Amazon's Kindle. There's a lengthy list chock-full of details I haven't even begun to think about like book returns, printing, and marketing. Of course, my curiosity peaks when hitting the author-related sections. The percentages and figures are mind-boggling -- who knew only 1 of 3 paperbacks sells?

If you've ever wanted to know the costs associated with producing and selling a physical book, this is the link for you.

The author summarizes their findings at the end:
"My main closing thought is that Kindle Edition books and Kindle DTP are going to destroy the current model of publishing. In the ruins of the old model there will be a huge number of opportunities (such as selling customizable book covers and cover design services). Amazon and the Kindle will basically replace the publisher-distributor-retailer trifecta."

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Warm Saturday Night in LA

You know you live in LA when after being sidelined with an ear infection and reduced to full couch potato status, you decide to take a leisurely stroll through your Wisteria-Lane-type neighborhood only to have it cut short by the sound of a drive-by.

Well, I'm not 100% sure it was a shooting, but after my husband pushed me into the house and yelled for me to, "Get away from the windows!" I'm kind of convinced that it might have been.

So what did Dave and I do after hearing such a shocking sound? Call the police? Phone the neighbors?

Nah. It's best not to get involved. What if the bad guys come back to get the snitch?

"Because when they come, they come at what you love," says Michael Corleone. By the way, the fact that "The Godfather" trilogy is on TV right now has nothing to do with it. I swear. Not even a little influence over the last 6 hours. Hmm. Okay… maybe it wasn't a drive-by, but it certainly sounded like a gun. Or at least a powerful firecracker. At the very least, a hoopty backfire – and that means trouble, right?

Here's what I do know: beyond the manicured lawns, accent-lit palm trees, and artistically-arranged driveway pavers, suburbs of Los Angeles, even affluent ones, share the threat of impending violence. The LA news wouldn’t be so good without it – seriously, it’s almost like watching a movie sometimes. Perhaps the traces of pharmaceutical waste (mostly anti-anxiety meds) found in tap water create a heightened state of paranoia or maybe there's just too many people here… are they all watching us right now?

Enough. Rant over. Back to some much needed sofa time and more Advil. All this worrying is giving me a headache.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Passion and Sacrifice

After watching "Frost/Nixon" last night, one major theme struck me: Dream big and go after it, no matter what obstacles stand in the way.

David Frost defied the odds and wrangled an interview with the much vilified ex-President, Richard Nixon. Lambasted by the press, ridiculed by networks refusing to pick up the show, and ostracized by fellow journalists, despite it all, Frost persisted. He had to dig into his own pockets to cover the production costs, even having to shell out $600,000 to pay Nixon for his time.

Throughout the entire movie, Frost dealt with the constant battery of pessimistic prediction. He even had to combat his own sabotaging behavior. It wasn’t enough that he believed in the project and defended it. He learned that in order to win, giving up everything was necessary, including his pride.

What followed was an interview that went into the archives of ground-breaking TV history. David Frost won. He conquered the negative opinions of others and his own issues to discover that he could do what he dreamed, but only if he was willing to sacrifice.

An excellent lesson for all of us. Thanks for reading.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Time vs. Quality

On the Firebrand Literary Blog, agent Chris Richman discusses the importance of time when implementing corrections to one's manuscript. He concludes that turning around a new version too quickly is not in an author's best interest nor does it promote a sense of depth in the changes made. He says, "If I request revisions, I’m not going to forget a project in two, three, or even six months. If it takes a writer that long to get to the changes, that just makes me assume they’re taking the revisions seriously."

I can see his point, but it does give me pause. While I do agree that making minor changes to major problems is attributable to both lazy writers and overly-enthusiastic ones, setting time thresholds on revisions seems to go against motivation.

My top 4 areas of concern:

1 - People work at different speeds. Some writers take years to pen a novel, while others only months.

2 - Learning curves vary amongst individuals. With some folks, lessons don't sink in right away, and with others, hearing it one time is all they need.

3 - Desire to please and urgency aren't bad things. There are go-getters and there's wait-for-it-to-come-to-mes.

4 - Everyone's process is different. I like to read hard-copy drafts once in a while. Some people prefer soft. One is not better than the other, but both have different time allotments.

When I get critiques, I generally make changes right away to the sample material and save as a new file. With instructions like "use more active sentences" or "watch your economy of words," I take the time to re-read my manuscript and weave in those lessons. Sometimes it takes a month. Sometimes a week.

Should I be penalized because I push all other things aside to get the job done?

On the other hand, pondering feedback and "allowing it to sit" can lead to greater understanding. Perhaps critiques are like marinades. If the meat is thick, the ingredients need more time to permeate in order to add flavor. Stubborn writers may need to soak up the criticism before cooking up a new submission.

In the end, I agree with Chris' assessment, just not 100%.

I would love to hear what you think about the concept of establishing time limits for quality of work. This applies not only to writing, but also to other professions. Do you relate excellence with completion time?

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Agent for a Day Recap #3

The Agent for a Day contest results are in. Drum roll, please.

I chose 1 of the 3 published titles. Bummer.

Interestingly enough, none of the 3 were the most requested out of the 300+ contestant responses and only 2 people were able to get 2 right. What does this tell me?

I have a 33% chance of being a good agent with no training? Eh. Not so much.

Taste is subjective? Getting better.

Query letters are mucho importante? Almost there.

Snaring an agent / editor with a catchy pitch is mandatory? Winner!

In reading books like Save the Cat!, the importance of a logline bubbles up as one of the most essential ways to save your pitch from going adrift the murky waters of rejected material. I mention it often, but as writers in this new era of publishing, we have to be our own marketing, sales, and public relations departments. Platform is key as well as creating wide networking circles.

Nathan Bransford's contest proves there is a ton of competition out there. Some of the query letters were really good. So good in fact, the unpublished ones received the highest request rates.

As a former salesperson used to having the "core message" handed to her, I feel compelled to stress the obvious -- we need to give prospective agents a no-brainer pitch. Having written our books, aren't we, the authors, the most appropriate people to introduce them to the world?

Bransford says, "When people are writing good queries it helps us spot the good projects. But remember: the most important thing is not writing a good query, but rather writing a good book. A strong concept is so important."

That brings me to my last rant. Just yesterday, I witnessed one writer consoling another with the words, "Don't worry. Those fixes are what editors are paid to do."

I about lost it. That's terrible advice. A good story idea does not supersede bad execution.

In sum, write the best manuscript possible and put the time into creating a hook. Selling has a direct relationship to effort: what you put in, you get out. Go get 'em!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Agent for a Day Recap #2

In continuation of my previous post, I finished reading all 50 queries for Nathan Bransford's "Agent for a Day" contest. Maybe I was jaded, or just in a bad mood from some recent girl drama, but the letters didn't hold my attention the way they did the first day. Picking 5 didn't seem as challenging as it once did which leads me to ponder these questions:

How do agents separate their personal life from their professional one?
Is it even possible to do so?

For me, writing (my profession) is influenced a great deal by my mood. One moment I'm happily creating a love scene and the next, angrily tossing obstacles at my protagonist. The latter can be useful as therapy when confronted with the selfish motives of "friends." I'm not bitter at all, I promise. ;)

Thus, the importance of an outline shines bright in the night of personal chaos. Its light guides me down the winding path of life versus art.

But what about agents? There's no outline or playbook for choosing with whom they'll work. So much of their job is based upon opinion. For example, will a project sell? Is it worth spending the time to tighten up the story?

Opinions vary; not just with different people, but also with emotions. My point is, I hope any agent reading my query letter is in their "happy place."

Marybeth of "Desperately Searching for my Inner Mary Poppins" asked which letters I requested after my last post. I'm a little wary of airing my choices, mostly because there's a large chance I'm way off base, but since she asked so nicely, I picked: 9, 17, 27, 33, and 35. They all fit into my 10 rules and tempted me with a good plot/idea.

I'd love to hear other opinions of which letters were best. Please comment at will.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Agent for a Day Recap #1

Along with throngs of countless other writers, I participated in Nathan Bransford's "Agent for a Day" contest. The rules were straightforward: read 50 queries and post either a rejection or full manuscript request in the comments section below each letter. Only five could be chosen. Simple enough?

Not at all. Not even close.

After going through 28 letters, I requested 1, rejected 23, and put 4 aside to read again later.

Only 22 more to go.

What I've learned so far:

1 - Rejecting isn't as hard as I thought it would be. Sorry, it just wasn't.
2 - An engaging first paragraph is key.
3 - Too much detail is annoying. Keep it to one page and remember "economy of words."
4 - Only when vacillating, did I really care about credentials.
5 - My personal taste in genre played a major role in my decision, even when I tried to not let it.
6 - Flattery gets you somewhere. Well, at least a more personalized rejection.
7 - Minor grammatical mistakes in the presence of a tremendous story were overlooked.
8 - Rhetorical questions should be avoided. Let me say it again. They should be deleted and never brought back. Ever.
9 - Overly dramatic content is bad. Really bad.
10 - Coming across like an idiot who sells himself above the project leads to a fast rejection with no regrets.

With a little over half read, the most important lesson I've gleaned is this:

It's nothing personal, it's just your query letter.

I'll be sure to post my final thoughts when completed with the assignment. My 4 "on the fence" queries were surprisingly awesome. Being restricted to 5 presented an incredible challenge... and there's still more to go.

Maybe the lesson Nathan was REALLY trying to teach all of us is to make your story stand out and grab your reader's attention from the first line. In this new economy, good enough is nowhere near publishable and if you can't intrigue an agent off the bat, there will be many more after that will.

Thanks for reading. Comment freely.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Getting Older

Well, my friends, 30 is within sight. It looms on the horizon like a dark silhouette against the light of day. Dramatic, right? ;)

So, with time stalking me, I have to ask myself, how can I become younger instead of older?

Here are some of my ideas: 1 - Getting injectibles and/or plastic surgery. While this may erase the effects of time from my visage, will it really make me younger? Also, who has the money for that these days?

2 - Resorting to cougar-dom. Will dating a 23 year-old make me feel sprite? I guess it depends, but it's certainly not worth losing my husband.

3 - Dressing like a high schooler. Forever 21 is pretty cheap, but I'm not sure exposing my muffin top is good for anyone, especially me.

4 - Committing to fake-and-bake. It seems the women who subscribe to the above three suggestions, love to spice things up by tanning incessantly. Tan skin is better than blinding-white skin, at least that's what people tell me. Maybe I should consider it. I mean, how bad CAN melanoma be?

Honestly, all of this sounds like too much work. I think I'll take my chances with the approaching darkness. See you guys on the other side.

By the way, Happy Easter and Passover!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Show vs. Tell - A Good Life Lesson

The cardinal rule of storytelling is show don't tell. On my website (www.hilaryheskett.com), the quote for this month is, "Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." by Anton Chekhov

Today on Rachelle Gardner's blog, she discusses how a query letter represents the writer. She closes by saying, "Let your words SHOW the editor or agent the greatness of your project, don't try to TELL them how great it is."

Isn't that an excellent lesson for life in general?

Don't just tell someone you're a good person, show them by holding open a door, allowing them to step ahead of you in line, or even engaging in polite conversation when you'd rather look at your shoes or play with your mobile phone.

I won't drop the very appropriate cliche about actions and words (even though I'm dying to), but go and do something kind tomorrow. Be generous. Live outside yourself. You never know, you may wind up with wonderful scene for your next book.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

How A Book Gets Made

I had no idea swarthy lumberjacks were involved. Fascinating.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Becoming "A Writer"

A lot of people have asked me how it was that I became "A Writer" seemingly overnight. To which I reply, "Magic."

The real answer:
Just because I never shared it with you, doesn't mean I wasn't doing it. ;)

The truth is, most writers, even the newbies, have been closet writers or even clueless writers for years. I have always written. When I was little, I'd write silly stories. In high school, I kept a journal. In college, I wrote a ton of papers, took writing classes, and cranked out lots of drama-filled emails. In corporate America, I was paid to write web copy, sales letters, collateral, white papers, executive communications, blah, blah, blah... My point is, I may not have been writing romantic, fantastical, super-de-duper stuff, but the fact remains, I was still writing.

So, the more accurate question to ask is: When did you decide to write fiction full time?

Oh, ho, ho - now that's the proper inquiry!

After being laid off from "a large computer company" (CYA, folks) due to an acquisition, I took stock of my situation and figured, if there was ever a time to focus on what I've always wanted to do, it was then. So, with severance in hand, I clicked open MS Word and started typing. Two months later, I had finished the first draft, joined an amazing critique group, and begun the editing process.

Fast forward to today: 5 projects in the hopper, 3 agents looking at Autumn Leaves, and 1 husband who encourages me to pursue this as a career. (He's a keeper.)

To sum everything up, my choice to become "A Writer" wasn't as spontaneous as some would think. It's been part of me; in the blood flowing through the hands flying over the keyboard. I have always been a writer and even if I don't become a literary superstar, I will always be one.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Apollo 79 - Mission to Patience

Patience is a virtue, or so they say. At present, three agents are reading my manuscript. Will I be virtuous?

Do I have a choice?

Beyond the bouncing off walls following calls from New York, I'm now trapped in a state of stasis. Surrounding me is a vacuum of dark despondency highlighted with small points of light, like stars, of optimistic prediction. Navigating in this space-like environment can be treacherous. Am I to be swallowed by the negative blackness of self-doubt or burned alive by the manic flames of delusion?

There has to be a happy medium, perhaps on a friendly planet, not too close to a sun and not too deep into the void. Patience lies here; within the rich soil of restraint, flowing in the waters of acceptance, and blowing in the winds of tolerance.

To me, patience is a mission; a goal to be achieved, a place to be uncovered. We are all faced with situations requiring it, but not all of us are able to find it. I'm sure there are some that disagree - comment freely.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Moving Fun

Quick Update (in case you've missed me):

I'm currently engulfed in the process of moving. It's amazing how that small two-syllable word, "moving," can conjure all kinds of fun things like backaches, migraines, and dust-bunnies (my nemesis).

Hmm... it's kind of like saying the word, "dentist." Immediately after hearing it, rampant images of needles, suction tubes, and annoying water-squirter-thingies being shoved into my mouth traipse across my consciousness, sending shivers down my spine.

OK. Enough of that. The truck's pulling up to the house now as I speak, um, type. I must conclude my mind meanderings for the time being and turn the focus back to my recent house guests. Odious boxes, the time has come for you to disappear.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sympathetically Insane

Today on Nathan Bransford's blog, he mentioned Sympathetic vs. Unsympathetic Characters.

Very apropos. I'm toying with an idea for a new book centered on an obsessed, sometimes violent, but otherwise amiable woman who makes deleterious decisions costing her all she holds dear, including her sanity. This is where the question of how to make your protagonists/antagonists resonate with others comes into play.

Is craziness so far off for any of us?

Is obsession the same as passion?

For myself, writing goes far beyond the simple, "I like to do it." IS that the same as saying I'm obsessed?

Let's look at the symptoms:
1 - I do it for hours every day. Even weekends and holidays.

2 - I talk about it as much as possible keeping in mind that not everyone can relate... or cares for that matter.

3 - My characters are real to me. “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” EL Doctorow

4 - It's hard not to do it. When away from my computer, I keep a note pad with me so I can jot down mannerisms or funny observations.

Okay, it would appear that I am, in fact, obsessed. Therefore, I can relate to my character. But will others?

Comments and suggestions are certainly welcome. Also, does anyone have any good reading recommendations for stories told from the villain's perspective?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Success at a Meyer Level


If you read Stephenie Meyer's bio, you'll find that in 6 months her first book was dreamt, written, represented, and sold. Mind-blowing.

How does one achieve this level of success in the literary world?
Let's call it the Meyer level.

1 - Her books are fantastic. They are sweeping and fluid in spite of other authors' criticism of her technique.

2 - She has a bit of controversy surrounding her. Come on, she's a nice Mormon girl writing about eternally-damned-blood-sucking vampires. Okay, okay... I'll give in... Edward has a soul. (yes, that is me in the pic ;))

3 - She's approachable. Well, maybe not in the literal sense, but her story's voice is very easy to get along with.

4 - She's super lucky. She even says so on her website.

As much as I would love even an ounce of her acclaim, here's hoping that this NorCal girl will create a new level of success: the Heskett level.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Look at me - I'm blogging.

So, here's the conundrum: do I blog regularly or use the time to keep tweaking my manuscript?

Granted, the first draft only took two months to complete, but I've spent almost the same amount of time revising it. Any thoughts?

Another question that has been plaguing me for some time now is: when do you walk away? My mother keeps referring to my novel as a painting. Too many strokes on the canvas and it's ruined. (She's an Art History graduate - so the metaphor works for her.)

I guess the mark of a great artist is knowing the exact time to sit back and say, "Finito!" ... or something like that. How does that happen? Do the words start to glow and rise up off of the page? Does the choir of angels begin to sing? Does your computer crash and the only draft left is buried in a random file on your external hard drive?

Hmm... (imagine me pondering like Rodin's "The Thinker")