Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Last Post of 2013: Year-End Survey

Here's a nice little year-end survey to sum up my 2013.

1. What did you do in 2013 that you'd never done before?

2. Did you keep your new years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I didn't actually make any last year. I do plan to make a couple for next year, though. (Reading more and writing more, if you're curious.)

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

My sister Patricia gave birth to my awesome nephew Ash Aoba! My friend Andrea gave birth to baby Saryn as well, but we only talk on Facebook so I don't know if that counts as close. :)

4. Did anyone close to you die?

No. My old high school friend Dustin died in June, but I wasn't in touch with him.

5. What countries did you visit?

I only visited other cities inside the US.

6. What would you like to have in 2014 that you lacked in 2013?

I'd like more reading time, more time with my mom, better management of all my interaction and projects, and A FICTION BOOK DEAL!

7. What date from 2013 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
  • January 25: I spoke at the Creating Change conference and kept company with amazing people.
  • May 1: I found out I was going to be an aunt.
  • May 22: I signed with my nonfiction agent, Andrea Somberg.
  • September 30: I found out my sister Lindsay was engaged.
  • November 20: My nonfiction book sold to Skyhorse Publishing.
  • December 20: My nephew Ash was born.
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

I guess by most standards it was selling my book, but that's starting to get boring as my answer to everything. ;)

9. What was your biggest failure?

I both read very little and created very little new fiction material. I did not finish any novels this year and only wrote one short story.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

I was pretty sick in March immediately after my friend Victor moved out--I got a horrible illness the weekend he left. Other than that I have been having this weird problem with my leg and my hip. It randomly hurts for no apparent reason sometimes. I'm a little worried about what it might be.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

Hard to choose! I bought a new laptop, which is great, but actually I think my new smart phone has changed my life more. And it's in a sparkly silver case.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
  • Meggie, who carries on amazingly working as a nurse and supporting her husband and two kids and just being an in general awesome person.
  • Cara, who has struggled with various issues and has held it together.
  • Jessie, who has experienced love and loss in ways she did not expect.
  • My agent Michelle, whose book sold to a publisher this year.
  • My dad, who had to help my grandfather choose an assisted living situation for my grandmother.
  • My sister, for having an awesome baby that I'm gonna go play with.
  • My mom, for everything she deals with and still shows me she loves me.
  • Ronni, for finding the courage to do what she loves again.
  • My critique partner Jay, for getting to the quarter-finals in the Amazon contest and continuing the agent search with gusto.
  • Mandy, for finally achieving her dream to have Community Cafe opened.
  • Victor, for going from nothing to getting a steady job and a place to live. He really made it.
  • Jeremy, for making the hardest decisions of his life because they will be right in the long run.
  • Fred, for all his awesome triathlon achievements!
  • C.B. Whitney, for working hard on his book and entering Pitch Wars so I could pick him as my mentee. :)
13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

I won't name specific people, but . . .
  • Cheating spouses.
  • People who limited the rights of LGBT people and caused violence against them.
  • All the jerks who sent me inappropriate sexually explicit e-mail.
  • All the people who reacted to my asexuality activism with threats of violence and condescending lectures about my obligation to try to change my orientation.
  • Sneaky landlords.
  • People who claim to support freedom of speech if a speaker echoes their beliefs, but support censorship if the speaker says something they disagree with.
  • Music, television, and other media celebrities who create work that advocates coercive behavior and minimizes the legitimacy of consent.
  • Bullies.
14. Where did most of your money go?

Besides bills and buying a new phone, I bought silly tee shirts, paid for some stuff at Disney world, spent lots of money on a Halloween party, and just this month bought tickets for airfare to California and the place we're renting while staying out there. Also, birthday presents and holiday presents.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Pitch Wars was great! Getting a book contract was awesome! Becoming an aunt was super amazing! And I also got really, really, really excited about going to Disney with Meggie's family, going to an anime convention, my Halloween party, listening to Welcome to Night Vale, reading Shannon Hale's books, getting an awesomely fuzzy blanket, and getting a full manuscript request from one of my dream publishers!

16. What song will always remind you of 2013?

"The Fox," of course.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:

i. happier or sadder?
A little happier.

ii. thinner or fatter?
I'm fatter. :D

iii. richer or poorer?

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?

Reading, definitely. Writing, definitely. (Though I did a fair amount nonfiction writing.) Reading blogs and keeping up with what everyone's doing.

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?

Arguing with assholes on the Internet.

20. How did you spend Christmas?

Mostly arguing with an asshole on the Internet. But my mom came over and we ate mini-quiches and homemade Parmesan biscuits, and we exchanged presents.

21. How will you be spending New Year's Eve?

Visiting my sister, her husband, and her new baby with my mom, in San Francisco. I don't know if we'll be at our rental place or at my sister's place. But there will probably be ice cream. 

22. Did you fall in love in 2013?

With people? Nnnno. Though there were some books I loved. :)

23. How many one-night stands?

Who asks that? Furthermore, who asks ME that?

24. What was your favorite TV program?

I enjoyed The Legend of Korra and Adventure Time, man.

25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?

Hate is a strong word. But I think a couple people I know have shown true colors that were disappointing.

26. What was the best book you read this year?

The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale, definitely.

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?

This wasn't really a good music year for me. I really enjoyed a new album I bought by The Bird and the Bee but I didn't discover the band during this year.

28. What did you want and get?

A nonfiction agent and a book deal? :D Also got a lot of media attention, though I wasn't exactly hoping for it.

29. What did you want and not get?

A fiction deal and a million dollars? I also was hoping to get a short story published this year and it didn't happen.

30. What was your favorite film of this year?

It didn't come out in 2013, but I loved Rise of the Guardians in 2013.

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 35 and I had a nice little dinner at my mom's with my friends Eric and Victor and Jeaux.

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Writing a book, probably. Life is always so enriched by writing books.

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2013?

The two pairs of jeans that fit me right now because I'm fatter than usual, and sweatpants upon sweatpants. God I love sweatpants. Also, funny tee shirts featuring Adventure Time characters and Welcome to Night Vale art, with long-sleeved thin shirts underneath when it's cold.

34. What kept you sane?

Oh, definitely my other writer friends. {{{{{{E-HUGS TO ALL OF YOU.}}}}}}} You all helped me keep my head where it should be and encouraged me and motivated me.

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

I don't really have a thing for celebrities. But I got a lot of happy feels from reading Shannon Hale's books and then watching her be goofy on Twitter and super amazing on her blog.

36. What political issue stirred you the most?

I think my answer to this is almost always the same and that is gay and trans* rights.

37. Who did you miss?

A few of my pals whom I really haven't seen this year because I was busy and so were they. If I had to name names I think I'd be here all night.

38. Who was the best new person you met?

Wow! I haven't actually met many new people this year. But I'm gonna be a weirdo and say my Pitch Wars mentee C.B. Whitney, 'cause a) he's fresh in my mind and b) can't say I've met a lot of people who have made me want to Skype for like five hours in a row, and I'm looking forward to more of that.

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2013.

Overscheduling will lead to stress and underscheduling will lead to procrastination. Find a balance, baby.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:

"I will be chasing the starlight until the end of my life."

Monday, December 30, 2013

30-Week Blog Challenge Week 17: Family Photo

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 17's prompt is . . .


Ah, how funny that this is the topic this week, because I am about to go see my family in California! (The members of it that I get to see least often, that is.) I will be flying with my mom out to see my sister and brother-in-law and new nephew! :)

My parents are divorced, so there aren't really any recent pictures of all of us together. The most recent must have been my sister Patricia's wedding in 2009:

Pictured are Matt, Heather, Daddy, me, sister Patricia, brother-in-law Yusuke, sister Lindsay, Mommy, and Yusuke's parents. Matt and Heather got to be in "family" pictures because my mom used to joke that she had 3.5 kids and that Heather was her "point-five" daughter. (Heather lived with my family for many years--she was a high school friend of mine that my mom took in.) Matt was her husband. He also lived with my mom for a while.

An older but better picture of just the immediate family, from 2004:

Patricia, Mommy, Lindsay, me, Daddy

Now some extended family pictures:

Sister Lindsay, me, paternal grandmother, paternal grandfather, Daddy, sister Patricia

Sister Lindsay with Mike, to whom she recently got engaged, so soon he will be family officially!
Me with my daddy's sister, Elisa!

Annnnnnd my mom's side. See, my mom's one of eight children. In the center there are my maternal grandparents, who are no longer with us. My aunts and uncles are their children, Kenny, Pattie, Keith, Denise, Jane, Greg, and Diane. Kenny is no longer with us but his partner Jake was considered family. Pattie's married to Jim, Keith's married to Laura, Denise is married to Maury, Jane is married to Dean, Greg is married to Pam, Diane is married to Michael.

Most of my mom's siblings had kids, too, so there are a bunch of cousins in that picture. I have family I haven't met, and I'm not even entirely sure I know all their names, but to the best of my knowledge I can rattle off who they belong to. I believe my Aunt Pattie's children are named Alexandra, Jimmy, Nicholas, and Alena; my Aunt Denise's children are Chris, Erin, and Cheryl (plus they adopted Andrea and John); my Aunt Jane's kids are Alyssa and Michael; and my Uncle Greg's kids are Lizzie, Sarah Jane, Tommy, and Kenny (named after my deceased eldest uncle).

And my honorary family:

BFFs since high school, Meghan and I have been considering ourselves sisters for a long time, and her kids Katelyn and Benjamin call me auntie.

I can't put pictures of my newest family member, Ash, until/unless my sister says it's cool to share photos of the cutie-patootie baaaaaaby, but yeah, let's not forget about him!

And that's it. Hooray family!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Quick life update!

Sorry for lack of blogginess lately! I have been quite tied up in trying to plan my trip to California to see my new nephew, and of course there was also Christmas and other stuff. So here's a quick sum-up of what's been going on:

Pitch Wars:

I've been reading through my mentee's book and making copious notes. He takes direction exceedingly well! I've dropped off the map a little with my two alternates and I intend to write them ASAP to start directing them on what to do next so everything will be ready to turn in for the contest. It doesn't help that my e-mail keeps breaking.

Late-night editing does make me a little loopy sometimes.

You don't want to know why I'm taking
selfies with eggs.

My sister's baby Ash is an amazing cutie-patootie. I've been enjoying the pictures of him and hearing him make cute newborn noises in the background when I talk to my sister on Skype or the phone. I can't WAIT to meet Ash! But I don't know if I'll be able to share pictures from my trip publicly because my sister is a heck of a lot more private than I am, as are most people. My mother and I are leaving for California on New Year's Eve, so we'll be able to ring in the new year with the newest member of our family. :)


My family doesn't celebrate Christmas but hey, I had a day off, so that was nice! My mom came over and brought mini-quiches. I made Parmesan biscuits to go with them. And we ate them. We also gave each other gifts: I gave her an Andy Griffith calendar and she gave me this AMAZING purple fuzzy blanket that basically would be elected queen of the blankets if blankets had royalty and appointed them by election.

ZOMG so cozy.
I have received lots of other great gifts too--books, clothes, a new mp3 player, and some other thoughtful gifts, but I want to do a separate post about my presents, so that'll keep. :) I received a lot of nice cards too, including one from my fiction agent Michelle. (I had sent her one too. Any other agented authors exchange cards with their agents?) And my apartment is decorated very nice for the Solstice season.

Yule tree!
Book news: Not much to speak of except that it looks like my nonfiction book will be released in September 2014 and we've started talking about the cover. (If you have any input on what you think should be on the cover of a book about asexuality--or just any cover design thoughts--feel free to let me know. It's so nice that my publisher wants to know what I like, but I'm just not a visual person at all!) I unfortunately have no fiction news. I'm hoping I have something wonderful to share with you soon. :)

Oh, and I drew a new writing-related webcomic:

If you're not already following my writing webcomic, you should be!
I'm going to be having an extremely eventful next few weeks--California trip, followed by birthday road trip, followed by IvyQ conference at Princeton (and I haven't prepared my speech yet, eek!), so in between all that and getting some time in with my mentees and my own publishing work, I am just going to be drowning. I do hope to still keep some decent attempts to blog going, but don't be too surprised if I disappear a bit. :)

Monday, December 23, 2013

30-Week Blog Challenge Week 16: A Favorite Food

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 16's prompt is . . .


I could name a ton, but there's probably a reason this calls for "a favorite food" rather than "all the awesome foods you like putting in your mouth." 'Cause maybe we'd be here all day.

So let me share with you my love of potatoes.

Mmm, vegetarian shepherd's pie!
Potatoes are super great. They can become the topping on a shepherd's pie for a main dish, and they can appear as a filling main course or side dish in various ways still in their skins. You can make stuffed dinner jacket potatoes with gravy and mushrooms, or mix them with seitan and make a "meat" and potatoes stew, or use them in a dough to make dumplings. You can make Irish potato bread with them, or you can use them in pancake mixes to create latkes or farls. You can even make mashed potato soup!

Potatoes can dress down, too. You can make hash browns or french fries. You can make au gratin potatoes. You can even buy the instant version and they're really not bad.

Potatoes are awesome!

For the curious, here's my full favorite foods list. :)

Sunday, December 22, 2013

New video: From Offer to Book Deal

I made a new video about what it was like for me to go from my first book offer to signing a publishing contract. The video just discusses a little bit about dealing with multiple offers, the negotiations phase, and what happened after I signed. Involves rambles.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Holiday Guest Post on Brenda Drake's blog

In celebration of the holidays, some of us Pitch Wars mentors got to make holiday guest posts on Brenda Drake's blog. I decided to volunteer to blog about the Winter Solstice!

In my contribution, I discuss the Pagan roots of winter holiday celebrations, share some traditions of how modern Pagans sometimes celebrate the Solstice and a little bit of the lore, and I share some symbols, some decoration and altar photos, some carols, and some recipes!

Check out my post on Brenda's blog!

Friday, December 20, 2013

I'm an aunt aahhhhhhh


My younger sister gave birth to my nephew this morning and I'm officially an aunt. It's awesome. :)

They're kinda way more private people than I am so I'll wait until I know the "rules" before I share any photos anywhere online, but yeah, he's super cute. :D

I can't wait to go to California and meet my sweet little baby nephew Ash. I will give him kisses and baby books like a good nerdy aunt should!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Monday, December 16, 2013

30-Week Blog Challenge Week 15: Your Celebrity Crush

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 15's prompt is . . .


Well . . . I guess it's no secret that I'm aromantic and asexual, and "crush" is kind of a weird concept to me. I'm not unaware of what it seems to mean for most other people, but I know I've never been into someone in such a way that I wanted to make them my romantic partner.

However, I do sometimes have connections with people and sometimes those connections happen very quickly before I know much about them, and the camaraderie, friendship, and love that develops is very important even though it's not romantic. I've definitely experienced that--a jingly-jangly desire to quickly consume that other person's head contents, and revel in their presence, and learn all about them.

Hopefully nobody reading this will think this sounds ridiculous, but in the aromantic community, some people refer to aromantic "crushes" as squishes. It's a real thing.

Even Urban Dictionary supports it!
So anyway. I've had that kind of thing with other people I know in real life, but I can't say I've felt something like that for a celebrity. I'd say there are celebrities I like a lot and respect a lot. But I think it would be inaccurate to suggest I crush (or even squish) on those guys. That said, in the interest of answering the question, I'll throw out a few celebrity crushes:

Actors: I could be said to have a "thing" for David Bedella, Orlando Bloom, Craig Charles, Matt Damon, Johnny Depp, Danny Elfman (yes, he has acted), Neil Patrick Harris, Hugh Laurie, Brad Pitt, and Patrick Stewart.

Actresses: Similarly, I adore the work of Geena Davis, Milla Jovovich, Bernadette Peters, and Lori Petty.

Musical crushes: Tori Amos, Björk, Jack Black, Kristin Chenoweth, and Weird Al Yankovic.

Author crushes: Octavia E. Butler, Eoin Colfer, Diane Duane, Neil Gaiman, Shannon Hale, Louis Sachar, Lemon Snicket, Jerry Spinelli, Jhonen Vasquez, and Joan D. Vinge.

There are probably other celebrities/personalities/accomplished people that I have an affinity for whom I've never met, and these are just the ones I could remember whose work wasn't the only thing I love about them, but hey, I'm okay with an incomplete list. :)

Friday, December 13, 2013

Pitch Wars commentary from a mentor

After a week or so of living and breathing Pitch Wars, I figured it might be helpful for all the applicants--chosen as mentees/alternates or not--to check out some observations I've collected! Here we go.

Your Query's Synopsis Blurb:

The most common problem I saw was lack of trajectory. I gave feedback on every entry I received, and the one comment I found myself typing over and over was a request for firming up the straightforward direction of the query. This means when evaluators look at queries, they're generally looking for you to tell them what happens and who it happens to/who makes it happen. We want to see your character(s) defined; we want to see the problem in your story; we want to see how your character(s) might approach solving said problem; and we want to know the stakes (what will happen if they don't succeed).

This won't do for every query, because obviously not every story is so straightforward, and some have more than one problem. But remember, this isn't an attempt to sum up your book in two paragraphs. This is an attempt to pull us into your story enough to start reading it. You don't have to tell us everything. You don't even have to tell us about every plot if your book has several. This is a document that is designed to do nothing more than get us to open your book and read page one.

A list of common issues I saw in the synopsis bits:
  • Too much detail (we need broad brush, not explanations of each plot point)
  • Attempts to insert storytelling into the query (we need story, but not "and her heart soared when he kissed her in the rain")
  • Presenting final stakes as a question ("Can she save her mother in time?"--yes, probably; now we don't have to read it)
  • Vague stakes ("or he will lose everything"--nah, tell us what he will lose specifically)
  • Cursing (snark is okay, but I recommend against actually using swear words in the query)
  • Giving too many character names (main characters and villain okay; every member of expedition team, not)
  • Telling the ending (yes, you tell the ending in a "synopsis" attachment; you do not tell the ending in a pitch blurb)
  • Message and themes (show us what your story illustrates, but don't tell us it's deep or unique or that it examines human nature)
  • Too much setup (you need to bounce right into the plot, not spend a paragraph on who the character was before the plot happened)
  • Lists of what happens in what order (pitches are not a stark outline of your book's plot points)
Your Query's Personal Section:

The most common problem I saw in the bios was irrelevant information. Most people did pretty well giving me just a little taste of their writing background and pub credits (where applicable), but I did get a fair amount that went into loads of detail about their other projects--especially when said projects were unpublished, reviewed by nobodies, or published by nobodies. Queries are for agents who want to get you a mainstream publishing deal. They care about your publication credits and writing affiliations, but they don't need to know about them if yours aren't impressive or indicative of a building career.

You should personalize your queries and by all means tell an agent a little something about why you think their website, blog, or Twitter presence suggests you have something reasonably professional in common. But you should not deviate into rambles about your personal life or shift focus onto other projects.

A list of common issues I saw in personal sections:
  • Authors telling me who they think they write like
  • Authors comparing their work to established work and giving me long-winded explanations of why it's similar
  • Authors telling me this is their first book (and I say don't do this because this is like going into an interview saying "Hello, I've never done this before, but hire me!")
  • Authors claiming their self-published books or small-press books got good reviews on Amazon (please focus on THIS project, and only quote professional reviews for other projects)
  • Authors telling me they've been rejected by others
  • Authors sharing details about why they wrote the book
  • Authors launching into in-depth explanations of special rules in their fantasy books and explaining their cool concepts, divorced from story
  • Authors discussing their writing or publishing process (do not say how long it took to write, how many agents you've queried, how long you've been looking for representation, how many revisions you've done, or who you hired to edit it--notifying me that it's been proofread as a guarantee of quality is a mistake, because we expect professional quality)
I hear that agents also often get promises from authors that the book is going to sell well and/or transform the genre and life as we know it, but I didn't actually see any like that. If you were considering making promises about the sales and success, don't.

Your Sample Pages

Ah, the biggie. Now everyone wants to know what I thought of their actual writing.

No secret here: The writing was usually better than the query. We're writers, right? Not salespeople. (Unless we happen to be both.) Pitching is something we have to learn to do, and we can grumble about it, but yeah, for most of us, the strength is storytelling. I did reject some submissions that had good writing and bad queries--just because I honestly didn't think I could handle rewriting their queries for them. But I did give a lot of preference to the pages in deciding whether I'd work with someone, and here's some reflection on what didn't work for me.

By far, the most common problem (and the most fatal problem) in people's sample pages for me was unnatural backstory. If you are already launching into history and context and setting up your world while your characters stand still and it's in the first five pages, I know you haven't quite figured out how to tell this story. You've figured out your stuff, you've realized it needs to be in the story, and then you've . . . dumped it on us at the beginning. I tune out. Because I'm not invested yet. I have to care first. If you begin a novel by expecting me to sit for a lecture first, you've mistaken your book for a class I have to take. I don't have to be here. I can put the book down anytime I want. Remember that and get us hooked immediately.

My chosen mentee, C.B. Whitney: Opened with a young woman covered in blood getting into a cab. Driven by a supernatural protagonist who pretty much considered this normal.

My alternate, Ryan Glover: Opened with a supernatural creature attacking a woman and child, killing the child, and responding to the woman's hysteria with a suggestion that the child is the lucky one.

My alternate, Jessica Harvey: Opened with our protagonist getting slapped by her ex-best friend in front of an audience.

Marry those background details to character perspectives, natural revelations through story, or dialogue. And you can probably leave out more than you think. We're pretty observant--we'll figure it out. A great example would be one of Ryan's well-conceived revelations: His protagonist picks up "the pills" from a windowsill and goes to his mom's room. Immediately we know his mom's sick and he's the caretaker. No narration or mental explanation points out to us that his mom is dying of cancer. This comes out in a conversation when he suggests things will be better in the future and she replies, "You don't get better from Stage Four cancer." Up until that point we only saw Mike taking care of his mom, doing little things for her, treating her like a loving son treats a sick mom. The narration didn't have to helpfully tell us "Oh btw cancer."

A list of other common issues I saw in sample pages:
  • Telling (narration tells me a protagonist is good, or has been a doctor for 10 years, or has three children, instead of letting me just see it come up)
  • Characters have an awkward conversation about things they both/all know so I can learn about it
  • Setting and situational backstory relayed through narration and divorced from character
  • Spelling and grammar errors (!!!)
  • Disconnected storytelling (I passively watched the character do things without understanding what they wanted or why they were doing it)
  • Opening with something exciting, then backing up halfway down the page to tell me how we got here and slowing the momentum considerably
  • A feeling that I would have to be patient to get to the good part (I shouldn't feel like I'm humoring an author by reading their stuff; they need to make me want to read it!)
I was excited that I really got very few clichés, though. I didn't see a lot of authors writing the opening that describes the sky or the weather. I didn't see the protagonists waking up on a normal day and trying to decide what to do next. I don't think I had anyone describe their protagonists by having them look in the mirror. Kudos!

What always got me, though, was compelling characters and authentic storytelling. Quite a few of my favorites were genres I don't even read much of--for instance, I had a non-SF women's fiction and a hard science fiction make my top ten. I liked them as much as I did because of the storytelling--the character connection, the ability to pull us into a situation without stopping the story to listen to explanations, the feeling that I was going to be entertained and intrigued by these characters and their futures. If I got to the end of the five-page sample and I found myself murmuring "Awww," I knew it was way up there.

There's more I would say on querying and character creation in general, of course, but this is just here to cover the issues I had with Pitch Wars submissions specifically while they're still fresh in my mind. Hopefully this is helpful to some people, whether you wanted to get some direction or you just wanted to be reassured that you're already doing what you should.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Big Reveal on character names and writing settings

The Big Reveal was apparently off for a couple weeks--I think there were bloggy problems?--but a new post popped up last week that I didn't repost, and I'm also on it again today, so here's both!

It's The Big Reveal with Literary Engineer--today's:

"How do you get your character names?"

Read answers from several writers here on the blog post!

And last week's:

"Where do you usually write? What's your ideal setting to write in?"

Read answers from several writers here on the blog post! 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Pitch Wars Picks, or, how I abused my mentee

We did it! Pitch Wars picks are a done deal!

And there is a story. As there always is.

I will now tell you my side of it . . . and how I came to mentor my chosen few, with a little taste of the backstage evil which enabled me to maintain a façade leaving my top pick adrift on a sea of impending disappointment until he clicked on the blog link and saw his name.

Here's that blog link, by the way. All the picks from all 46 mentors, and the ninja surprise.

My picks:

  1. Mentee: C.B. Whitney, QUEEN OF SHARDS
  2. Alternate 1: Ryan Glover, MCTAVISH
  3. Alternate 2: Jessica Harvey, GYRE

So this is how it went down, y'all.

PITCH WARS opened and I posted my wish list. Made it clear that I was looking for great character-centric work, primarily of the science fiction and fantasy variety, in the Adult and New Adult categories. Little by little, potential mentees were popping by to ask questions, post on my blog, and engage in chatter with me on Twitter. One of them--the one you see up there in that shiny #1 spot--got very excited that I like the Japanese anime Eyeshield 21, and we tweeted about it back and forth. He jokingly told me I should expect a query full of Eyeshield references.

Then submission day came and my contest mailbox was flooded with submissions. I received 74 queries. And I was afraid to open them, because I had just been contacted by my publisher and had a bunch of work to do on a questionnaire for them, as well as a media interview with a British journalist. I couldn't hit my submissions for a good three days.

Finally I began to dig through them and then there it was, second submission received:

There he is. There's that guy. Oh my gosh, he really did make an Eyeshield reference!

So about Eyeshield 21. Let me tell you a thing. So you understand the heap of pain this fellow has just called down upon himself.

Hiruma and Sena. This picture about covers it.

Hiruma is basically a demon. Well, no, not canonically; this isn't a science fiction or fantasy anime. It's about American football, oddly enough, being played in a Japanese high school. Hiruma is a quarterback, but he can't seem to get anyone to join his football team. Because they're all afraid of him. I can't imagine why! Such a nice guy who only wants to train hard and get his team to the Christmas Bowl, right?

Okay, not so much.

Let's just say Hiruma's got a passion for the game. He is not above using blackmail, threatening you with a gun, or siccing his vicious dog on you to see how fast you can run. He is literally an evil genius, and extremely scary, and very driven to win. He recruits poor Sena, who has an undiscovered and raw but amazing running talent, and forces him to play the star running back for his team, the Deimon Devil Bats. But he hides him behind a green eyeshield so people won't know who he is and won't distract him with demands to play on other sports teams.

Don't ask why he has ammunition. With Hiruma, it's always best to just . . . never, never ask.

So, people are afraid of Hiruma, but his reputation as a strategic genius and an all-around tricksy dude is also well known throughout the region, and he gets some pretty good respect. Sena frequently fears for his life around this guy, but he understands that the abuse Hiruma heaps upon him is for a good cause. It's for the sake of his excellence. His success. His ability to realize his potential.

So, back to my mentee.

This was an incredibly appropriate metaphor and an extremely wise choice. As an Eyeshield fan, I knew that if I were to take this mentee literally, he would be up for any amount of evil stuff I could throw at him in order to make him better. And it doesn't hurt that Hiruma is my favorite character. Not to mention I have my own relatively evil grin to use.

Why yes, I moonlight as an anime character. Why do you ask?
So when I saw that reference--at the end of a query I had to read twice to find anything I would change--I took a deep breath and scrolled down to the sample material.

The words that went through my head were something like Please don't suck. Please don't suck. I want to like you so badly.

It didn't suck, y'all.

I won't go into detail--that's for my mentee and me to discuss in private--but the voice of this thing was just peaches. None of the speed bumps I'm used to seeing in first chapters where authors try so hard to tell me everything I need to know about the characters. All the focus was spent on getting me invested. And I spent five pages falling in love with our protagonist. Who am I to say no to a beefy blond lesbian Valkyrie, anyway?

(I did ask for books featuring queer characters, y'all.)

For the record, I realized there was no turning back for me when Ingrid weighed the pros and cons of being sympathetic or being aggressive to get some answers, and decided to go the loud and angry route because doing otherwise would be "some faerie godmother bullshit."

And I was like

Meanwhile, on Twitter, it became clear to me that this fellow was monitoring his four potential mentors very carefully. He noticed everything. He kept track of everything we said that might hint for or against his being picked. And after I'd finished my first third of submissions and I still hadn't run into one I liked better, I checked out what the other mentors were doing and was startled to see someone else had beaten me to the punch in requesting his additional chapters. Lady Lioness liked his voice too.


Oh well, I thought. Hey, what were the chances that he would actually remain my favorite through this WHOLE THING? I still had like 50 more submissions to read! I could pick any card I wanted! Surely someone would kick him out of spot number one, right? I wouldn't end up mentoring the second damn submission I read, right?

And I wouldn't let my rapport with him interfere, right?

Because man, I was really afraid of that. So I started actively fighting it. I wanted to find a reason to pick someone else, so I wouldn't look like that jerk who picks someone because they're my friend. After all, I have integrity. I encouraged my critique partner Jay to enter the contest but not to submit to me (because after all, he's already had a query critique and manuscript massage from me; what would be the point?). I don't engage in favoritism. Do I?

But he'd be such fun to work with! Ahhh!

So I had to be extra careful not to let my personal feelings get tangled up with the quality.

One by one I started recognizing manuscripts from people who were also being awesome and sweet to me on Twitter. I'd open their manuscripts and hope for amazing, and then I'd find something that sealed the deal for me--nope, I can't take this. Sometimes it was a quality issue and sometimes it was a personal preference issue. I got a really terrible pit in my stomach every time someone I knew and considered a friend or friendly acquaintance submitted to me and I had to put them in the rejections pile. My heart sank every time I wrote an edit letter for a person I'd had a conversation with.

I blogged about my selection process and thereby showed one of my cards: Yes, I did plan to ask for more material from all of my top picks AFTER I was done reading everything. I noticed Mr. C.B. Whitney sleuthing it up on Twitter again, hiding behind his eyeshield-like pen name. He disclosed to me that the hints from the other mentors so far indicated that his might've been trashed since manuscripts unlike his were looking like their front-runners. I don't know what Lioness said to that effect, but I checked with her and yes, she had read the chapters and wanted to mentor someone else. She was more than willing to surrender him to me if I wanted him. Oh hell yes.

And then, fairly early on, I came upon Gyre by Jessica. I had not talked with her and knew nothing, but her story about a young woman who discovers she can teleport captured my imagination, and after the query pulled me in, the writing really got me going. Again, I'll give her more detail privately, but it was really the way her protagonist acted in crisis that worked for me. She acted like a person, not a character. Yes, yes.

I re-read the pages for Queen of Shards again to make sure this hadn't beaten it, but I still loved Ingrid on a slightly different level than I loved Chelsea--just a personal thing, I guess--so I stuck it in underneath at the top of the list. Going on down the line I found I was getting mostly fantasy and science fiction, a little women's fiction, a paranormal here and there. One women's fiction made my top ten. Contemporary and urban fantasy kept ranking high. Then I ran into McTavish by Ryan. Oh man, the length of the query almost sunk it (and I'll tell him more privately), but then I hit the pages and whoa. Easily one of the most polished and evocative beginnings I've read, with absolutely engaging and realistic characters. Sold. And truthfully, the only reason I decided against bumping him to my mentee was that I read those QoS pages again and determined that I wanted to be BFFs with Ingrid. As well-written as it was, I didn't quite connect to Mike personally. I wanted to see what happened to him but didn't have that weird desire to hang out with him.

And meanwhile, my secret favorite was entertaining me with tweets as I pounded out edit letter after edit letter. You see, I was determined to leave feedback for everyone, and ended up creating over 45,000 words of feedback over the course of four days. He sent me fight songs and stayed up late with me in solidarity to encourage me along. I guess this might have also been his attempt to keep the pilot light burning, but it was so much fun. I was really afraid by this point that someone else would oust him from the top, but at the same time I kind of wanted them to so I could be sure I wasn't picking him for his own awesome factor, not the awesome factor of his manuscript.

The rest of the pitches rolled by and I found several more top-tenners right at the end, but my top three remained. I realized I had to request more pages to be sure--since some books don't stand on their own after the first chapter and the flaws become more pronounced--and then it hit me.

A weird Hiruma-like desire to mess with my mentee's head.

Hiruma chews sugarless gum. 'Cause he's already way too sweet.

At that point old C.B. was in surveillance mode, gathering information, seeming to have given up hope on the other mentors, but still graciously never pressuring me. All the compliments he sent me did not have a butt-kissing vibe whatsoever. All the teasing and silliness were just . . . the way I always act with my pals. And I realized that I could give myself the blessing to pick this guy and that we'd have a blast. But first . . . I had to send out my page requests, knowing he would be waiting for one, knowing the jig would be up that he was in my top tier if he got an e-mail from me.

So I just read the pages he'd sent to Lioness without asking for them directly. Because I am what we call in the industry a Total Jerk™.

Well, or because he SAID he wanted Hiruma to mentor him.

I maintain that this is ALL his fault. He forced my hand!

I requested pages for my other top two, plus three more I was really interested in: a historical fantasy/fairy tale (my #5), a contemporary fantasy (my #6), and a hard science fiction (my #7). My #4 was a New Adult Fantasy and I stole the pages from another mentor also.

When asked, I admitted to C.B. that I was indeed receiving pages. Subtly admitting--or so he probably thought--that I hadn't been interested in his. He gave a gracious little speech on the PitchWars tag about how awesome this contest had been and went to take a nap or something. Soon he was back anyway. And we were bantering again. And despite the apparent snub, still playing off our rapport, knowing I hadn't owed him anything, knowing we could still play around even if we weren't in the contest together. After the mentors were encouraged to tweet teases about their favorites, I said I couldn't be too specific because of all the detectives, and I pointed at C.B. with an Avatar/Korra GIF.

HEY. I got my eye on you! WATER TRIIIIIIBE!

He responded with this:

Oh my God. It's enough to warm my cold black heart.

I read the pages, secretly declared my top picks, and waited.

So, after a day or so of believing he was out, and me vacillating between Hiruma-like cackles and feeling guilty for more or less deliberately tricking the guy into believing he didn't have a chance in Hell, Lioness hinted that one of her picks used a pen name and I guess maybe he was thinking that was him? But then Brenda pulled a fast one and posted the mentor picks early because we all happened to be done. (We still had some stragglers last night! What happened??)

The announcement came through our e-mail and we all prepared for battle, sidling onto the Twitter hashtag and stirring up the hornets' nests. I told the other mentors that my mentee was going to freak if he was around, because he was expecting he was out. Someone asked for specifics and I admitted to the horrible thing I had done. It was agreed that yes, my mentee was going to freak.

Yeah, he did.

I of course began speaking entirely in Hiruma GIFs after that.

I had drafted all kinds of feedback for my folks who didn't make my top three, though it made me really sad to write them for the folks I knew and the folks who'd come really close. My e-mail broke because it thinks I'm a spammer now for all the group e-mail I sent to the other mentors, but I have the feedback for my two alternates ready for when it unbreaks, and am working on some pretty heavy stuff for my mentee (I read those chapters and yep, we do definitely have some asses to kick!), but when it all came down to it, how could you resist a hefty heroine who says things like this? [language warning]

So now my team is picked, and my two alternates found me on Twitter (and I had to quick follow them, oh my God, embarrassing, I hadn't even followed them), and now we're going to be BFFs of course. While I perhaps chase them with vicious dogs and bark orders while remaining incredibly charming.

Go team!

We'll figure out Eyeshield characters for my other teammates eventually. . . .
Can't wait for the agent round. . . .

Gulp. . . .

Better get running, Sena!

Monday, December 9, 2013

30-Week Blog Challenge Week 14: Things You Love

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 14's prompt is . . .


Well how do I even?

Things I love to do? Things I love in others? Physical objects that I love?

I guess I'll just throw a random mish-mash here since I can't even hope to answer that question comprehensively. I love these things:

  • Communication
  • Being hungry, then not being hungry
  • My family
  • Babies
  • The smell of vanilla
  • Sparkly nail polish
  • Lists
  • Books about people like me
  • Being thanked for making a difference
  • Writing
  • Medical science
  • Cartoons
  • Having coffee in the morning
  • When the blinking light on my phone turns out to be the e-mail I was waiting for
  • The smell before it rains, the smell after it rains, and rain
  • Devious and brilliant fictional characters
  • Sweatpants
  • My best friends
  • The color pink
  • Rubber stamps
  • Staying up all night
  • Long hair
  • Singing in harmony
  • Nerds
  • Journaling
  • Christmas tree scent
  • That rising swell of hope, joy, and wonder when you fall in love with a book
  • Being warm
  • Snow cream
  • Dance Dance Revolution
  • Typing fast
  • Copic markers
  • Halloween
  • Those people you meet and have an immediate connection and want to drag them off into a corner to have them all to yourself and talk to them for hours
  • Ping-pong
  • Analyzing the hell out of a terrible book
  • Organizing everything
  • Wish lists
  • Nostalgia
  • Scented candles
  • Glitter
  • Fairies
  • The color black
  • Conversations with other writers
  • Baking giant cookies

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Pitch Wars: The Story So Far

So the ship has sailed and the submissions are in for Pitch Wars. The avalanche began December 2. The mail fairies sorted the applications for us and we gained access to our submissions on December 3. Today is December 4.

I haven't begun to read mine yet, and I am frightened.

I ended up being the ninth most popular mentor out of the forty-six of us (well, at least that was my "rank" when I counted at the beginning of yesterday). I received over seventy hopefuls. Three of our mentors (that I counted) got over 100 submissions. (Good luck, ladies.)

We've been having a few e-mail issues, and those have clogged up our process, but I think we've got it straightened out now. But I still wouldn't have started yet. For the record, it's mostly because I got a book deal at a kind of difficult time, and my publisher's requests for information have kept me a bit busy the last few days. I'll be able to start devouring submissions when I get through with my publisher's questionnaire.

But once I start, here's how I plan to handle my submissions!

  1. I will open each submission and read the query letter. I will make notes on what I like and don't like.

  2. If the query letter makes me want to read the material, I will read the included pages. That's right--I may actually not read them at all. Just like an agent. I'm thinking most of my potential mentees will at least write a query letter well enough to make me want to read the pages, but there are some who don't. I will make notes on the writing.

  3. I will prepare a letter that outlines each submitter's strengths and weaknesses. This may sound weird, but the MORE criticism an author gets from me, the BETTER they probably already are. If there's a lot to fix in the query and pages, I will not be interested, and I will consider the time investment too costly. So if I crap all over an author, they're probably almost there, because I think they're close enough to be worth the spanking.

  4. I will privately rank each submission. As I read through them, I will put them in a list, putting the ones I like best at the top and the ones I like least at the bottom. At the end, I'll have a quantitative list of every potential mentee from best to worst (in my opinion). The top three will be my mentee and alternates.

  5. Before I've decided for sure on my top three, I may request additional pages from a small portion of my applicants. I request pages very, very rarely. I will almost definitely request more material from fewer than ten participants, and it will probably be fewer than five. But I will definitely request those three chapters from anyone I'm considering as an alternate or mentee. I probably will NOT be requesting synopses or outlines. Your requests from me will be late. Probably not for a few days. Don't lose hope. You will not find out whether you are one of my picks until Brenda announces them on December 11, but if you get a pages request from me, you will know you're on a very short list.

  6. Authors who have applied to me are invited to stay in touch throughout and after the contest.  Even for those I do not choose, I may be available in the future to critique submission materials and even full books, but only if we develop a rapport and they don't respond to feedback by throwing hissy fits. (I'm afraid this has happened to me.) I acquired a very sweet critique partner in my last contest mentoring experience and I edited her entire book even though doing so wasn't part of the contest. One of my other picks from last year is agented (though it didn't happen through our contest), and another has gone on to self-publish (and seems very popular!). I really hope I don't lose a bunch of Twitter followers because of people being sad or mad that I didn't choose them--that has also happened--but if you stay in touch with  me, I'll be happy to give you all the help I can once the contest and my publishing preparations aren't taking up the lion's share of my time.
I LOVE new writer friends, and if an entrant has an active blog that's at least partially about writing, I may be interested in following them and adding them to my blogroll if we have some positive interaction! Let me know, y'all!

Monday, December 2, 2013

30-Week Blog Challenge Week 13: To Buy

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 13's prompt is . . .



Well unfortunately what I want to buy is kind of expensive and also not very interesting to many.

I need a laptop computer!

That's right, I don't own one. Well, I kinda do, because one of my friends left a computer here once that is 11 years old. But it's unable to upgrade past Firefox 3 for a browser and pretty much can't do anything. It also doesn't work unless it's plugged in and needs a special attachment to connect to wireless. o_O

So I need a laptop. That's because I'll probably be traveling a lot in the next few months.
  • December (?):  Hope to travel to California to see my sister and her new baby when he's born.
  • January: ROAD TRIIIIIIIIIP with bff Meghan to celebrate our birthdays and 20 years of friendship.
  • February (?): Possibly speaking at IvyQ conference.
  • May (?): Possibly going to a writing conference in New Orleans.
  • June (?): Possibly going to the ace conference at World Pride, but have tentatively declined for now.
I also would like to use my advance check to buy a new video camera. And I need a new mp3 player because mine no longer holds a charge and is starting to not work properly.

I will probably be buying the laptop fairly soon but I am still struggling with which kind. :P

Sorry, not a very interesting answer. :)