Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Holiday Query Blog Hop -- SPOOKY JANE

Another blog hop critiquing opportunity!! Once again, Michelle Hauck is sponsoring this terrific opportunity to give and get invaluable feedback.

Want to know how it works? Look here:

Here's my REVISED query -- looking forward to making it bright and shiny when I see all your feedback. 

Dear Brilliant Agent,

Twelve-year-old Ivy Jane is thrilled when her family stops moving around and settles in the Minnesota town where her close-knit clan of cousins lives. It’s nice to finally be around people who are like her – they’re a family with the unusual gift of being able to keep anything alive. But even more important is the chance to be in on the inside jokes instead of always the lonely outsider.

But immediately, things get spooky. People standing too close to Ivy suddenly feel sick and have bone-chilling hallucinations. She has walking blackouts where she takes on a different personality – but remembers nothing afterward. She hears voices in her head and because she acts so strange, they’re the only ones talking to her.    

Then the voices actually introduce themselves, which is when she learns she’s not crazy, just the unlucky gateway for some troubled family ghosts. They are the ones in control during Ivy’s blackouts, and through her, they’re growing stronger. But they’re also killing her. The only way to save herself will be to untangle her family’s power over life from its apparent connection to the spirit of death.  But to do that, she’ll need the help of her cousins, who are leery of being around her. Besides, they don’t believe in ghosts.

SPOOKY JANE is an in-progress Upper MG Paranormal. It echoes elements of television’s SLEEPY HOLLOW – written for a younger crowd – and the themes of haunting and family in Mary Downing Hahn’s ALL THE LOVELY BAD ONES. 

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

First Page Critique Blog Hop -- SPOOKY JANE

Michelle Hauck is hosting a fun blog hop -- a chance for some feedback on your ever-critical first page. Here's more about it.

Here's mine -- looking forward to your thoughts!!


Upper MG Paranormal 

The day after her grandmother died, twelve-year old Ivy Jane sat alone in the back yard breathing in the unexpected lilacs. They never bloomed in late August.

She shifted slightly on the thick carpet of grass, the muscles in her legs humming slightly from the faint pulse of energy beneath her. Leftover tears thrummed against her throat.

“Dude, you trying to get a suntan or something?”

Ivy opened her eyes and then rolled them theatrically at her once-favorite cousin, now casting his Q-tip shaped shadow over them both.

“Ha ha. Yeah. Cause I need one so bad. And since when did you start calling people ‘dude’?”

“Since I hardly ever see you, I guess there’s lots you don’t know about me anymore.”

“What do you mean, ‘hardly ever see you.’ Wasn’t I with you yesterday?”

“You know what I mean.”

She knew. And Hunter was right. He – and all the rest of her cousins – had changed a lot in the years since she’d last visited, thought Ivy sadly. “I didn’t hear you arrive. Did you walk?”

“Yeah. Sort of. Mom dropped me off at the end of the driveway. She had an errand to run for the open house tomorrow. She said she’d be back to pick up Aunt Eliza so they can go to the funeral home to arrange the service.”

Ivy blanched and kept her eyes on the grass, her right hand absently fingering imaginary piano keys on her thigh.

First Conference - No Longer a Newbie

So, conferences!!

I finally attended my first SCBWI.

I awoke at an hour I thought I'd escaped when my youngest started sleeping through the night .... and drove to Scottsdale.

It was everything I'd hoped for. Nice people, smart and funny faculty, and I learned things -- lots of great things.

For example, here's something interesting: when you're querying, even if you've never been published, you should be clear that you're querying your 2nd (or 3rd or 4th or whatever) novel. According to John Cusick of Greenhouse Literary, this way an agent can see that you're working on your craft  -- especially if you're querying the same agents. And querying the same agents, he says -- even if they've declined your projects in the past -- is a good thing to do, because it shows you're actually interested in working with those agents.

Yay! Because I was under the impression that since I've never been published, I had to query each novel as my "first" -- even though I'm actually about to start querying my 3rd.

And I was delighted to hear that querying the same agents is ok too. I researched carefully but did not query my entire list with my first novel. I'm a fan of querying in small batches so I can see whether what I'm throwing against the wall will stick. Obviously my first novel needed work, which is why it garnered NO interest and why it is now in the TO BE REVISED pile.

 I was sad when I thought I'd no longer be able to try again with the agents I'd already queried, even though I think my second novel is better, and am hoping my third will be even closer to good.

Another glad tiding: it's ok to get dark with #MG. I've torn apart my current ms because I was afraid I had written too scary. In spite of the likes of Garth Nix and Neil Gaiman, I wondered whether a new author could really get away with don't-turn-out-the-lights stuff.

According to both Jaida Temperly of New Leaf Literary and Alison Weiss of Egmont USA, it's ok. Those of us writing scary and dark -- for Upper MG at least -- are ok. As long as it's good writing, of course.

Again, yay!!

Anyone else out there writing scary right now?

Thursday, October 30, 2014


I love seeing/listening to the play lists that inspire authors. Sometimes I end up poaching a song for my own play list; at the very least, I get a trip down memory lane or an education.

And of course, I love making my own play lists. My music tastes run the gamut: rock, r & b, folk, roots rock, classical, jazz, pop. I am just old enough to have loved Bob Dylan before he was a "Golden Oldie"... 

... and just young to know that dancing it out to Pink cures most ills.

But you know what else my muse digs?


I've always loved poetry. Reading/speaking/hearing my favorite poems makes me warm inside, makes me dreamy or fired up or achingly melancholy. Perhaps I'm in the minority, but I still thrill to the Eliot lines "Dare I eat a peach? Dare I disturb the universe?"

Or how about Cummings's Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls ... This: "if sometimes in its box of sky lavender and cornerless, the moon rattles like a fragment of angry candy."

I am forever in awe of that line. Forever. It makes me swoon.

And so, for me the act of writing is necessarily accompanied not just by music, but also by poetry. I have created poetry lists for each ms -- poems that inspire the plot, the characters, the dialogue, and most certainly the mood of my writing.

My latest includes these:

1) The Four Quartets, by T.S. Eliot
2) Melancholia, by Paul Laurence Dunbar
3) When Lilacs Last at the Dooryard Bloomed, by Walt Whitman
4) The Unquiet Grave, Child Ballad 78

And my play list?

1) Awake My Soul, by Mumford and Sons
2) The Unquiet Grave, by Joan Baez
3) The Unquiet Grave, by Ralph Vaughan Williams
4) Where Was Eva Sleeping, Unknown
5) Mr. Rabbit (From Music Together - children's arranged music)
6) Somewhere Down the Lazy River by Robbie Robertson

Does poetry inspire you? Who are your favorites?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Query First, Please

It's true.
Writing your query first really is the best way to write a book.

For those who call themselves "pantsers", meaning "fly by the seat of your pants", the query may be the LAST thing you write -- because, well, pants.

Looks so lovely and carefree and spontaneous, no? And I love to be all those things, because, well, creativity.


What if, in your splendid creative writing surges, you NEVER narrowed your vision of the actual plot because you were so excited by all the action scenes you were coming up with?
Or if you CAN'T ACTUALLY ARTICULATE your character's motivation?

My first book, which I love and am determined to publish one fine day, had those problems and more.

It wasn't exactly a pants book per say -- I'm a plotter. But, because first book and all, I didn't really know what I was doing. I was consumed by the story, by the relationships I was building, by the excitement of writing the thing.

But when query time came, I was lost. Drowning.

Partly because I didn't know how to write the dang thing, had never even heard of one when I began writing the book. But also partly because I didn't really understand the point of my book.

Now -- as a public speaking coach I have always told my students that they need to be able to summarize their speech in one or two lines -- if they can't, they really don't know what they're trying to accomplish and neither will their audience. Which means their presentations are doomed to aimless meandering in the desert. Yes, I've said that in my more dramatic moments.

I have sent students back to the drawing board a million times to distill and understand the essence of their words so they can be pithy and brilliant.

But alas, I listened not to my own advice. I couldn't give an "elevator speech" about my own book.

Lesson learned. Write the dang query first. Figure out what your character is trying to overcome, what the second plot point is, what the catalyst is, and why we care.

And lest we forget and begin to meander in query desert, it really only comes down to this:
Character, Conflict, Stakes.

Here are some terrific resources for helping you nail it:


1)  www.michelle4laughs.blogspot.com
 Michelle Hauck (@michelle4laughs) has a semi-regular feature called Query Questions, which features different agents talking about what does and doesn't work in a query. Nice resource because you can also research agents while you iron out the query kinks!

2) chasingthecrazies.wordpress.com:
Amy Trueblood's blog features a weekly post called Quite the Query. Go read successful queries that landed agents - very helpful to see how others do it! (@atrueblood5)

3) literaticat.tumblr.com
Andrea Brown agent Jennifer Laughran (@literaticat) has an Ask Me Anything section on her Tumblr. She answers questions quickly and forthrightly.

Another Laughran resource is her blog, which frequently addresses query questions/issues:

4) Plus there's the master of them all, Query Shark, written by uber agent Janet Reid:
All you have to do is read the blog to figure out what you're doing wrong, but if you're brave, you can submit yours to see if she's willing to critique yours. She's tough, but that's what you need, right?

5) Finally -- an excellent workshopping option and the way I finally got really valuable feedback on that first disastrous query:
The Become an Agent contest.
@SC_Author features it semi-regularly -- next one is probably in January. Agents don't participate -- it's just a terrific chance for writers to pitch in and help each other figure out what does and doesn't work.

Check out his blog:

What do you think? Do you write your query first?

Thursday, October 16, 2014


First, my mea culpa.
My blogging habits have been terribly lax, and I am sorry.

 I allowed the summer, then a new WIP and then binge-watching the X-Files for the first time (yes, I'm pretty late to the game) to derail my blog.

Quite frequently, I've had a thought that made me say, "hey! That'd be a great blog post!" And then I do nothing about it. And suddenly another month has gone by.

So here I am, months before the official time to make new resolutions, resolving to be a better blogger.

Onward.... about change.

I've learned this lesson so many times, you'd think I wouldn't be so surprised by it. But this is the first time I've actually begun to acknowledge this truth as it applies to my creativity, not just my life.

When I was in college, I thrived in my major -- poli sci. Out of that rather broad inquiry, I created my own focus: feminist political (largely deconstructionist) theory. I planned to be a forward-thinking, ground-breaking lawyer.

My life was very meticulously planned out: go to Kenya to teach English for one year, come back and attend Boalt School of Law.

Hah. Because yanno, plans that specific always work out, right???????

So this is what ACTUALLY happened:

1) I fell in love with Kenya, for all its beauty and tragedy, and decided to extend my contract.

2) While there, I realized I was better suited to advocate for women by telling their stories. The way I saw it, both could be public service -- but I preferred the pen and its wider public forum to the courtroom.

So, 2 years in Kenya, followed by a Masters in Journalism, and my life looked nothing -- I mean, NOTHING -- like what I'd planned. And it was awesome.

Fast forward to today. Nearly 20 years in journalism, several stints as a teacher/professor/instructor of all things English and writing (and some politics and media thrown in for spice). I became a war bride and then a mother of two.

And I could no longer ignore the muse. She called gently, then firmly, then finally hit me over the head. I hadn't planned on this career step until the kids were older, until I could get some more sleep.


I'm working on my third book. My new WIP is a ghost story and I LOVE it. I am having so much fun writing it, it feels like I was BORN to write this book. I've planned and plotted it meticulously because it has a lot of moving parts and I want to be sure I don't get lost along the way.

Over the weekend, my characters hijacked the plan.
I mean, they TOOK OFF and went somewhere I had not plotted or planned.

Wait, what?

And it's not the first time this has happened to me. In fact, it has happened every single time, with each of my books.

Because things change.  Usually without warning.

I don't try to resist the change. I actually never did, in spite of how uneasy it made me -- so now I just have to learn to trust that, in my books, as in my life, my characters will take the lead and they'll do fabulous things. Unless they don't, but that's what revisions are for. (Which is so much nicer than real life, where you don't get that lovely, infinitely forgiving do-over).

Does change wig you out?
What do you do when your characters take over??

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Inspiration is Everywhere You Let it Be

Taking your kids to a theme park is part of the parental hazing process -- a necessary rite of passage. Which is why this week, my family drove to Carlsbad, California  to see Legoland.

For kids, this is mecca. That is all.

The kiddoes were over-the-moon happy. They cruised around the park, dipping into the millions of Lego stations to build or play, riding rides, and singing "Everything is Awesome" a lot. A WHOLE lot. And it was fun - in its own special way.  I really truly do love to do things that make my children happy. And spend time together.

The thing is, I'm not a huge fan of theme parks -- they're noisy, smelly, overwhelming. Yuck.

It's the classic irony that as you eddy about from one ride or game to another, carried along by the sea of sweating humanity, much of what you hear and see is crying children. And parents hissing terse admonitions: "We came here to have fun!"

Moment of honesty: I said it once too. *Winces in shame*.

So of course this is the last place I would have expected to wheel right up into a moment of inspiration. Because I had thoroughly forgotten that inspiration is everywhere you let it be.

But behold: Rodin's Thinker - made entirely of Legoes:

Tens of thousands of Legoes superglued (Kra-gl-ed, for anyone who's seen the movie). A work of art lovingly rendered and placed in a central location. Where you couldn't miss it, even if you didn't know what it was.

What's inspiring about a Lego Thinker? The example he sets. You can create beauty out of anything -- even thousands of small pieces of knobby plastic. Which is what my brain feels like most days.

Another moment of revelation -- the beach.

I had forgotten how much I love the ocean. We've been in arid Arizona for 18 months now, and the memory of the breeze, the crash, and the smell have been stunned into submission by the mountains and cacti.

But when we finished with Legoland, we went to the beach ...


While my daughter happily played in the sand and my son and husband romped in the waves. I zoned.

I mean, ZONED. I only got about 5 minutes of that, but it was enough.

Inspiration is everywhere you let it be. The sunshine smell of hot sand, the salt-sweet wind. It doesn't have to come accompanied by a middle-of-the-night dream (although sometimes that's fun) and it often doesn't come on call.

But it can come when you look -- I mean really look, and NOTICE THINGS -- all around you. And when  you don't preordain. As in, "Today I will come up with a brand new, amazing plot idea." (Imagine me saying that in a game-show voice).

More like, "Oh, look. It's Rodin's Thinker. Made out of Legoes." (Imagine me saying that in a Reese Witherspoon You've-got-a-baby-in-a-bar voice).

And then, "Oh, wow. It's the Thinker. Made of Legoes. That's totally cool." That one I said in my own voice.