Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thankful for

Hi. So I'm going to talk about thankfulness.
Thanksgiving is kind of a sad time for me, for the most part. My grandfather died around Thanksgiving years ago, and my mom kinda parted ways with her siblings after her mother died years later. My parents are divorced. One of my sisters lives across the country and the other usually spends the holiday with her fiancé's family. Mom doesn't really have anyone to make dinner for, and two of her daughters don't even eat meat so we don't want her turkey and stuffing, and she's not a big fan of modifying her traditional dishes for our tastes.

My mom is used to being from a giant family (she is one of eight children) and now you just hear the echoes.

I have no special attachment to Thanksgiving as a holiday myself, but I care a lot about how it affects my mom, and I always want to make it special for her. Just being there isn't enough--I think there's not much I can do short of inventing a time machine and returning her to twenty years ago--but it's something. I invited her to come with me to my friend Jeaux's family Thanksgiving, but she didn't want to, so I'm going in the daytime and will come back in the afternoon with some food, and hopefully spend the night. She has roommates but hopefully their sports-watching weirdness won't be too distracting.

But there was one Thanksgiving that will always stand out to me and that was the one when I really knew what it was to be grateful.

It was fall 2005. And my little sister was missing.

I won't go into detail out of privacy for my family, but my youngest sister had gone missing shortly before Thanksgiving. Not just nobody had seen her. As in, her apartment was vacant (with most of her stuff still there), she hadn't gone to work in a long time, no one knew where she was, boom, disappeared. My sis is one of those people who really doesn't stay in touch, so it was normal for even her mother to not talk to her for a month, but my mom's alarm bells turned out to be right. She was missing.

My mom turned into a superhero. She was tireless about searching and following leads and being a detective interviewing people she knew and doing everything, with pretty much no help, and it all led somewhere. She FOUND HER. My mom rescued my sister. And took her in and took care of her.

My mom and sisters and I had Thanksgiving together that year. We hadn't for a long time because my middle sister lived in Japan and I lived in a different part of Florida from my mom and youngest sister. But we did that year. It was such an intense time, and Thanksgiving was like a release . . . it was all okay, we'd found her, she was going to be all right, we were together. We had so much to be thankful for. So much gratitude.

My mom's amazing, even if she does wear SpongeBob sweatpants to Thanksgiving.
My sister and I don't have a lot in common, really. And we don't talk much or spend much time together, even though we now live in the same city. And even given that, I don't know what I would do without her. I don't like thinking about what would have happened if my mom hadn't found her, or if she hadn't been determined in the way she was, or if the situation had been different. I mean, my baby sister. Who's getting married next year.

I hope we never have to go through something like that again. But it certainly was a wake-up call about what not to take for granted.

I'll never forget it. When you see what could have been, you realize what you have.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Pitch Wars hints. . . .

All right folks, if you are entering Pitch Wars, you already know what I want as far as category and genre preferences (don't you?), but I thought I'd offer a few additional points while some of you might be cleaning up your materials for entry on December 2.

In Your Pitch, I'll Look for . . .

  • More hook, less summary. Don't tell me what happens in what order; PITCH it to me. Even if you have to generalize, minimize, or gloss over an important plot point; I don't want you to explain everything to me or give me back story or give me an outline of the action. I don't want to know what happens. I want to know why I care!
  • Character and hints at voice. I'm going to latch onto the who of your story, not the what, so I'd like a taste of who I'm going to meet and what their attitude is like.
  • Smooth language. If it's clear you struggled to write this, or it looks choppy, or it feels like too many cooks in the kitchen, or you write really awkwardly in your pitch, I will expect the book to look the same and I will be turned off.
  • Clarity and transparency. I saw way too many vague queries in the last contest I judged. People were "finding themselves" and "losing everything" and "becoming a hero" and "facing their true fears." It was like they thought this would make me curious enough to want to read more rather than just sounding sort of cheap and gimmicky. I need enough of a snapshot to understand why this is going to be exciting to watch, and hiding it behind vagueness expecting us to manufacture our own enthusiasm is unlikely to work.
  • Humble bio and realistic comparisons. I have actually had people opine in their queries that they are the next J.K. Rowling. I have actually had people call their own book a tour de force. The reality is that awesome writers don't have to praise themselves because reviewers do it for them. And if you compare your work to existing work, please say it will appeal to fans of X and Y, not that you write like the authors of X and Y (where X and Y are of course fabulously successful authors).

In Your Writing Sample, I'll Look for . . .

  • In-progress openings. I very much don't want to open your book and feel like I'm watching you set up your props. Your characters should feel like they've been alive for as many years as they have, with relationships that go back as far as they do. I would like them to behave as if they do not know the reader is watching, and I would really rather you save the back story, flashbacks, and expository conversations for later in the story when I'm already invested.
  • Personality. I'm not going to toss you out if your character's physical description figures in early, but a pet peeve of mine is when authors stampede to tell me what their characters look like (in really heavy detail) before I know what they act like. I don't mind if a protagonist is meeting a love interest for the first time and the in-depth recitation of the potential partner's physical attributes is necessary if they're going to drool properly, but if characters appear and then stand still for their description, I'm irritated.
  • New approaches. Lots of agents complain of seeing the same openings over and over--characters waking up, characters dreaming, characters doing something contrived just so they can look in the mirror and think about what they themselves look like. If I open your book and think "Ugh, they're trying to be cute" or "Ugh, this again," I probably won't want to keep reading. This article on "Inspired Openings," with over a dozen literary agents chiming in, will give you some idea of what kinds of openings are too common. I give you some more specific ideas for what to do and what not to do in an older blog entry: "Chapter One, Page One."
  • Smooth, skillful prose. Hopefully this won't sound too jerky, but you have to be a hell of a first drafting expert to hook me with an unedited NaNo novel. I've noticed there are lots of authors scrambling to finish drafting their books for this contest, and I firmly believe a book you just finished should not be queried. I'm always a little surprised when authors believe they don't need beta readers and don't need polishing. I do believe some people are better first drafters than others, but they're still first drafts. I don't want to read first drafts and neither do agents. Don't be this author:

But please do keep in mind that sometimes you'll get conflicting advice. I'm just one mentor and my word is not law, and just like all the agents say . . . this is very subjective. Here are a few more things I've blogged about that might give you some insight:

Good luck! And ask if you have questions!

Monday, November 25, 2013

30-Week Blog Challenge Week 12: Bought Recently

I'm back with the Monday blog challenge! The lady in charge is Marie at Mom Gets Real. The questions are right here:


And Week 12's prompt is . . .


Ah, well besides the usual boring things like groceries and birthday gifts for others, I would say the most interesting thing I've bought recently was this:

. . . It's a Cecil/Carlos design shirt. For Welcome to Night Vale.

It's the third Night Vale shirt I've bought. Yes, I'm a fan. :) :) :)

This shirt is awesome for a bunch of reasons. If you don't listen to Night Vale, you should know that it's a pretty awesome podcast that's sort of science fiction/borderline horror, but also sort of funny, and it's narrated by a guy named Cecil. He reports on the weird news of his town, including angels popping by to change an old woman's light bulbs, strange sights in the sky, government conspiracies, and appreciative comments about pizza at Big Rico's. The normal abnormal, you know.

A scientist named Carlos arrives in town to investigate the bizarre things that happen in Night Vale and Cecil falls in love with him from afar. Over the continuing story of the show, that relationship progresses here and there. Night Vale got really popular some months back and one of the cool fan-related events they did to give back was a fan t-shirt contest. A fan designed this shirt! One of the assignments was to make a Cecil and Carlos shirt. But the thing is, no one knows what these characters look like because IT'S RADIO. So I was worried that if a fan drew Cecil and Carlos with recognizable details and that shirt won, it would suggest the creators agreed with that character design and it would become canon. But I like my Cecil without knowing what he looks like! Carlos is sometimes described lovingly by Cecil, so we pretty much know how he looks, but Cecil is totally a mystery.

So I really appreciated that this shirt kept them in silhouette. That way the mystery remains.

Art by Melissa Shaw.
Around the lovely couple I see Cecil's radio mic, a Glow Cloud, a feral dog with an extra head, the Arby's sign, some Hooded Figures, a pterodactyl, some messed up clocks or watches, and Carlos's beaker. I'm not sure what the triangles are. I feel like I should know. :/

And the text says "And I fell in love instantly," which is a quote from the first episode. :)

This blog post was supposed to be about something I bought recently, but it turned into rambling about Night Vale. Man. Well, you should be listening to it. :) If I helped introduce you to a new awesome thing, you're welcome.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Whose book sold? MY book sold!

Happy Friday, everyone. I have lovely news for y'all: I have a book deal.

That's right! My book on asexuality is going to be published!

If you want more details about SO YOU THINK YOU'RE ASEXUAL, check out its page on my main site. It gives you the main rundown of what the book contains and its particulars.

We're looking at Fall 2014 for the release. Carrel is a new imprint of Skyhorse Publishing, launching in fall, and I'm supposed to be one of the titles on its maiden voyage. You can read an announcement about it in this Publishers Weekly article. They're primarily a library focused imprint--a new idea in a publishing market that's experiencing some turmoil as the bookstores lose power. Hopefully, by concentrating on library sales for books that people might be more likely to borrow than buy, they can find success. Ideally, my book will generate enough interest that it will later come out on the main label and end up in bookstores. (I don't know that it will happen, but there's a possibility!)

However, individuals will be able to buy the hardcover or the e-book when the time comes. I'll definitely keep people up to date on what they can do to make sure their local library has a copy! But for now, I'm just enjoying the buzz of getting a deal. :)

Obligatory photo of me signing the contract
It's been quite a journey! I began writing the first draft in April of 2012, and in May of 2012 I was finished. (I've said all this stuff so many times that it didn't take long to bust it out.) I wrote a proposal and began querying agents, and got a couple positive responses. I decided to cool off while the considering agents read the proposal and sample chapters.

In August of 2012 I got signed to Michelle Johnson for my fiction, and found myself very distracted--to the point that I failed to follow up with the agents and didn't really notice they weren't responding to me. It wasn't until I went to the Creating Change conference in January 2013--a gathering of LGBT organizers and activists, where I was participating on an asexuality panel--that I decided I needed to jump back into querying.

I sent nudges and queried more agents. One of them was Andrea Somberg of Harvey Klinger, who ended up offering me representation on May 23, 2013. I refined my proposal with her help and on June 6, 2013, we put the book on submission to publishers.

I received three different offers of publication for this book, and they came in slowly during the period from August to October. We had five publishers initially interested, and in some cases the proposal was circulated at meetings or among staff, but oddly enough it was during Asexual Awareness Week that we had everyone's final verdict and could figure out what to do with the multiple offers.

Andrea and I had a little phone conference and discussed what was a must-have and what was a deal-breaker for me. In her discussion with the publishers, we ended up finding the closest match in Skyhorse (though of course I would have ideally liked to get into bookstores at the outset--who doesn't?). Andrea proceeded from there to negotiate with the publishers, and when we finally had a contract everyone was satisfied with, I signed it and submitted it to Skyhorse on November 20, 2013.

If you're interested in what goes into writing proposals and how my submissions process went, one of my YouTube videos discusses it!

I've been steadily working on the book itself throughout this process. An early request for full manuscript readers went out in February 2013 and received 75 volunteers. A request for focus groups to read excerpts went out in October 2013 and received 120 volunteers. As a result of all the fantastic feedback, the book has outgrown its initial estimation of 45,000 to 50,000 words, ending up at nearly 65,000 words and covering a lot more ground. It also includes quote boxes from 20 talented asexual bloggers.

I'm so excited to finally be able to bring a mainstream book on asexuality into the world! If you're somewhat unfamiliar with asexuality and want to read my other writings on the subject, my list of my published articles is here, my interviews in the media are all here, and I have some very informal essays on asexuality on my Tumblr, which is my main asexuality blog. You might also enjoy Asexuality: An Overview--my YouTube video that probably does the best job explaining it.

So what did I do to celebrate, you ask? Not much. I got myself some takeout veggie sushi.

And I may have covered myself in cake but that's another story.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Pick me for Pitch Wars!

Are you ready for this? WELL OF COURSE you're ready for this!

Psst--do you read my blog and don't know what Pitch Wars is? Well, it's a contest hosted by the illustrious Brenda Drake, designed to connect un-agented writers with mentors. Authors apply, cross their fingers to get selected, and end up getting their pitches and full manuscripts shined up for perusal by agents. Yay! I'm here as a mentor this year to guide one special author through all the hoops, as well as providing cheerleading and moral support. Sound great? That's because it is!

If you want to apply to a mentor or four, head to Brenda's Blog and read the full rules, signup directions, and important dates!

About Me: Accepting Adult and New Adult Applications!

Hey there. I'm Julie. I write everything except screenplays and stage plays: that includes novels, short stories, essays, rants, and bad poetry. I dabble in a whole fudgy mess of genres, but I usually end up writing stories in the speculative fiction field--fantasy, science fiction, and anything sort of weird. I do like writing YA fiction, but I primarily write for grown-ups, and have completed nine novels and one nonfiction book. Here's what I've been reading!

Personal Trivia: I'm a music nerd and a soprano. I love musicals. I sometimes pretend to be an artist (I have a comic about being an author!). I like baking bread and cake. I edit freelance. I always wear two different colored socks. I have no desire to get married or have kids. I've been a vegetarian for over 15 years. I have appeared in most of the types of media known to man, including movies. I live by myself like a cool hermit. I am a fun-size tiny adult. I live in Florida. I love nostalgia. I have Rapunzel hair. I enjoy playing Dance Dance Revolution. I love babies. I hate onions and will react violently if you try to make me eat them. I'm always too busy to take on any more projects, but I'm always taking on more projects. (Apparently I love pain.)

My fiction agent is Michelle Johnson of Inklings Literary, and she has my fairy tale retelling trilogy on submission to major publishers. My nonfiction agent is Andrea Somberg of Harvey Klinger, and she represents my book about asexuality (and--update--she sold it). Huzzah! I'll be accepting applications for the Adult and New Adult categories this year. I can't wait to hear from you.


Genre preferences and concepts include the following:

  • Fantasy in modern settings.
  • Softer science fiction.
  • Characters struggling with identity.
  • Cerebral characters who still have heart.
  • Romance that doesn't become a character's sole reason for living.
  • Queer characters.
  • Characters who are recovering from a huge change or blow, coming of age, or transitioning to something new.
  • Characters with history--they didn't start living on page one (unless they were born on page one).
  • Alternate realities with natural worldbuilding that doesn't take over the story.
  • Lots of dialogue. Artfully rendered so you can always tell who's talking even if you don't use cheap tricks.
  • Invented religious beliefs or spiritual beliefs that are solid and have weight.
  • Mythology, folklore, or fairy-tale-derived inspiration.
  • Longish books that aren't self-conscious about taking their time. I'll wait. You're great.
  • Characters with agency, full personalities, and compelling motivations.

It's fine to have stories that depend on suspension of disbelief because of magic, pseudoscience, and supernatural happenings. But as soon as you ask me to believe in a character who behaves in an internally inconsistent, nonsensical way to forward the plot, I'm outta here.

I am not the best mentor for you if any of these describe your book:

  • Major plot and action is geared toward a romantic relationship, without much else to it.
  • Men use women as accessories to the point that the ladies don't seem like characters.
  • Traditional "quest" stories that feature an adventuring party.
  • Historical fiction that depends heavily on knowledge of the period to figure out what's going on.
  • Alternative historical fiction that changes the outcome of an event only to lead to a majority group (such as white people, men, or straight people) becoming The Oppressed under a new world order.
  • Dystopias with weak what-ifs at their heart.
  • Steampunk. I'm afraid I just don't get it. (I won't rule it out entirely if you promise your characters are awesome, though.)
  • Fantasy plots involving a person from our world traveling to another world and Saving Everyone because they're special.
  • Fantasy or alternate-world plots that primarily focus on warring clans and battle strategy, with a war hero at the forefront. 
  • Magic with cutesy or poorly conceived systems, or incredibly complex magical "rules" that are dumped on the reader through tiresome recitation.
  • Plots depending heavily on a Chosen One or a prophecy.
  • Plots depending on the "star-crossed lovers" trope to manufacture all or nearly all of their angst.
  • Plots revolving around something really gruesome, gory, or horrifying. (Sorry, not a huge horror fan. Though I kinda like if you can horrify me with something psychological.)
  • Plots revolving around saving a trapped or kidnapped person (usually a woman or child). 
  • Stories that are only compelling if the reader is intrigued by erotic situations or the "hotness" of a protagonist/love interest.
  • The world, plot, and concept are clearly more important to the author than the characters.
  • The story and characters are only there to frame a spiritual or religious message, a political agenda, or a supposedly revolutionary philosophy.
  • Characters do things--solving mysteries, winning fights, finding love, assuming responsibility--without experiencing any personal growth or change.

About You: My Ideal Pitch Wars Mentee
  • Your book is done. Honestly, actually done. It's not a first draft. It's not a second draft. You would never describe it as "rough around the edges." It's been read by your test readers and it's polished. It's ready to be agented. It's ready for professional feedback.
  • You have written an Adult or New Adult book in any genre (though you know I'm personally partial to science fiction and fantasy). Its characters run the show and I won't be able to see any puppet strings.
  • You have fantastic language skills. You don't struggle with awkward prose or stilted dialogue or frequent typos or punctuation glitches. (Or if you do, I won't be able to tell.)
  • You're serious and you want it badly. You didn't enter this contest thinking lol okay whatever. You have a passion for writing and a matching drive to get it out there.
  • You want my feedback. (Sounds obvious, but sometimes when I work with authors, they argue with my comments and defend their work instead of trying to improve.) You welcome criticism and you'll be dedicated to applying it.
  • You're already almost there.
I value good execution over good concept,  but I hope you have both. I am an editor but I'm not a literary janitor, and what I want to see is someone who's done their homework. I am very thorough in responding to a manuscript--and that means I tell you what you're already doing well as well as what you might need some work on. I am very friendly and fair, but I am also borderline merciless. I murder all typos! You want me for your mentor if your baby could use some tough love along with the sweet talking.

I judged the "Come and Get It" contest last year with Cupid, and if you'd like to see examples of my critique in the feedback I gave to entries, they are still available to read here and here.

I also love new writer friends. Even if you're not applying to me--or even if I don't pick you--feel free to be my pal on Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

And who are the participating agents, you ask? THESE FABULOUS FOLKS!
  1. Louise Fury - Bent Agency
  2. Suzie Townsend - New Leaf Literary
  3. Nicole Resciniti - The Seymour Agency
  4. John M. Cusick - The Greenhouse Agency
  5. Sarah LaPolla - Bradford Literary Agency
  6. Victoria Marini - Gelfman Schneider Literary Agency
  7. Jessica Sinsheimer - Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency
  8. Pam van Hylckama Vlieg - Foreword Literary
  9. Quinlan Lee - Adams Literary
  10. Jen Udden - Donald Maass Literary Agency
  11. Emily Keyes - Foreword Literary
  12. Brianne Johnson - Writers House
  13. Carly Watters - P.S. Literary
  14. Lana Popovic and Natasha Alexis - Zachary Shuster Harmsworth
  15. Molly Jaffa - Folio Literary Management
  16. Evan Gregory - Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency
  17. Stefanie Lieberman - Janklow & Nesbit Associates
  18. Rena Rossner - The Deborah Harris Agency

If you want a chance to get these folks' attention and make it to the agent round . . . PICK ME FOR YOUR MENTOR! ADULT AND NEW ADULT CATEGORIES ONLY!

And here's the rest of the party--click to meet the others before deciding who to apply to! YOU CAN ONLY PICK FOUR!
1. Cora Carmack
17. Fiona McLaren
33. S.P. McConnell
2. Stacey H. Lee
18. Tina Moss
34. Veronica Park
3. Heather Webb
19. Joy McCullough-Carranza 
35. Trisha Leaver
4. Elizabeth Briggs
20. Mónica Bustamante Wagner
36. Lori Goldstein
5. Agent Assistant Lioness
21. Sarah Henning
37. Rin Chupeco
6. Susan Spann
22. Mina Vaughn
38. Evelyn Ehrlich
7. Marieke Nijkamp
23. Skylar Dorset
39. Lindsay Currie
8. Shelley Watters
24. Meredith McCardle
40. Naomi Hughes
9. Erica M. Chapman
25. Jen Swann Downey
41. Laura Tims
10. Jennifer Malone
26. Jaye Robin Brown
42. Julie Sondra Decker
11. Veronica Bartles
27. Gail Nall
43. Diana Gallagher
12. Brent Taylor
28. Dannie Morin
44. Sarah Nicolas
13. Molly Elizabeth Lee
29. Elizabeth Penney
45. Nazarea Andrews
14. Lindsey Sprague
30. Natalie Knaub
46. Shannon Duffy
15. Megan Whitmer
31. Jessie Humphries
47. Pitch Wars Host
16. Michelle Painchaud
32. Stephanie Garber

Psst: Secret letter is Y!