Thursday, December 15, 2011

Editing Advent 2011 with C.A. Marshall and why I need more query critiques!

My day job is writing grant requests for a small non-profit. Basically, I get 1-2 pages to summarize ten years of history and sell potential funders on our organize. Funders receive hundreds of requests each year, so I have to come up with a way present our mission that is clear, concise and unignorable (that's not a word? I would have sworn that's a word!)

Sound familiar? Yep. It's a lot like querying. Summing up a book I've spent 3 years writing and editing in 250 words in such a way that it stands out from the hundreds of others vying for attention from the slush pile.

There is a part of me that enjoys the challenge. I love getting notes from crit partners and hearing the questions people have after reading my query. But it's exhausting. I feel like I've rewritten the thing a thousand times. And I am always looking to improve.

Enter the wonderful, talented C.A. Marshall, freelance editor, YA writer and lit agent intern. As if Cassandra doesn't have enough on her plate, she is giving away editing prizes to commenters on her blog every day until Christmas Eve! Today, the prize is a two pass query critique. Any feedback on my query is great, but feedback from a lit agent intern, with the opportunity to revise, is HUGE! I've had two agents critique my query, but ever had the opportunity to try again. That inside view of the query process is so valuable. I try to hop around and crit other people's queries, but I don't know everything that's out there. So when an agent tells me my query "seems familiar," I don't always know why. (One example, I just found out there's a book titled "Altered" coming out in 2012. So it looks like I'm going to have to change the title. Again.) That's wonderful folks like Cassandra come in, willing to help us figure out how to put forth the best query we can.

So if you're a writer, check out Editor Cassandra for all your editing needs and follow her blog to get updates on the Editing Advent each day until Christmas Eve!

Monday, December 12, 2011


We've officially entered the time of year know in my little family as "anniversabirthachristmakah." Amid the already crowded holiday season, we have six birthdays and our anniversary in the last two months of the year.

I remember sitting with one of my college mentors, a lovely woman in her 50s with a hot pink pixie cut, months before our planned April wedding. My fiance was already living in California while I stayed in Ohio to finish schools (still the right choice). For two people who hate talking on the phone, it was torture.   At the risk of sounding like a love-sick idiot (guilty), those fifteen months of living on separate sides of the country were the hardest I've ever gone through.

But I wanted a spring wedding. I wanted to get married in this beautiful courtyard behind an old stone chapel in Oberlin (a wonderful little college town in Ohio and part of my inspiration for West River).

And then one day, my pink-haired mentor sat me down and asked me a very important question: Did I want a wedding or a marriage?

Each year, when our anniversary gets squeezed in between my husband's birthday and Christmas, I'm glad I said marriage.

After my birthday on November 1, we have my brother's on November 4, my brother-in-law's on November 9, Thanksgiving, my sister-in-law's birthday on December 4, my mom's on December 11, my husband's on December 17, our anniversary on December 20, Christmas and then New Years. It's crazy. Absolutely, positively, freakin' crazy. (And expensive). But I wouldn't trade those first four months we had as newlyweds or our beautiful, snow-covered wedding or the dozens of Christmas-y wedding gifts we received for an April anniversary.

It's easy to forget the important things. We get caught up in the steps of a journey and forget the outcome. As a writer, I get so concerned with perfecting my query that I forget the aim is to be a writer. The journey is important, but so is the goal.

As I decend into anniversabirthachristmakah chaos each November, I'm reminded that the wedding wasn't the important thing - our marriage is - and that helps me pull the rest of my life into focus.

I'll probably take a bit of a break from writing and critiquing and blogging over the next few weeks, but I'll be back, full of stories and sick of cold weather again.

Merry Anniversabirthachristmakah to each of you!

 Our wedding day
Only thing cooler than a bagpiper?
A bagpiper pipping in the snow! 
Need long sleeves for a winter wedding in Ohio! 
Prettier than a courtyard in the spring, right?
And I got to wear a fur-trimmed cape!
Beautiful, beautiful snow.
Now let's move to Los Angeles.

Monday, December 5, 2011


Average Girl by Thanksamillion on deviantART

***I have much more exciting news posted here, but I already had this post all plotted out in my head so I'm writing it anyway***

I didn't think it was possible, but I may have found a quality in writing that is more elusive that voice - grounding. Those little details that make a story or a scene or a character real. My favorite example of this comes from C.S. Lewis' The Voyage of the Dawntreader:

There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.

Immediately, I know this character. I've known people who for whatever reason deserve an identifying trait: a name, a birthmark, hair color. So when I read that this boy deserves a truly awful name, I feel like I know him. Another example pops up in a CP's manuscript:

She sighed and reached back to tie it up with the ancient hair elastic that was always around her wrist.

I ALWAYS have a hair tie on my wrist. It's visible in every one of my wedding photos. Reading that passage, I immediately connected to the main character because it's a real world detail that makes an otherwise distant story real.

I write fantasy. Even when I try to write straight forward contemporary, fantastical elements pop up. I like that sense of otherworldliness when I read, so that's what I write. But even in the most fantastic, unknown worlds, with characters so strange and unreal that they bear no resemblance to mankind, readers need some common point of understanding to connect to the story.

There is a flip side to this, however, when the real world details start sounding like an advertisement. I read an otherwise lovely manuscript once that rattled off 5 or 6 different brand names in the space of the first chapter - and it drove me crazy. While it can help to establish a character or setting, brand popularity can change so quickly that the meaning can disappear overnight. A certain brand of shoes or car or electronic gadget can work very well, but be certain that the meaning won't be lost when trends fade.

Like voice, grounding isn't something I can explain fully or type out a complex how-to. It's harder than that - I know it when I come across it, but even then it's hard to know why. But I can say this: when I read it, I know it. And it's worth working for. Keep at it. You'll know it when you find it.

What are something you've found that ground a story or character? How important do you think grounding is? Share a favorite passage if one comes to mind!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Value of Dissatisfaction

dissatisfaction by alexandramaria on deviantART

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. Since we live so far away from family, we host our own "Lost Boys" Thanksgiving dinner and watch Hook each year. I love taking time to step back and reflect on the bounty in my life.

This year, however, a new perspective struck me. Someone told me he dislikes Thanksgiving because it makes him feel guilty. After nine years on a career track he doesn't love, he's working at a job that is a step back from his last job title. He wants more from his career and more from his life and he feels guilty because he isn't satisfied with where he is at.

I think he has that all wrong (and I told him so). Dissatisfaction is not the antithesis of thankfulness. Recognizing what you have is not the same resigning yourself to the status quo. This is a very valuable lesson for those of us pursuing creative careers while working day jobs, managing homes and chasing children/pets/significant others. Dissatisfaction is what allows us to wake up at (or stay up til) 4 a.m. to chase down a plot point or sacrifice our weekends to a project with no thought of what we will get from it. Dissatisfaction keeps actors going to auditions, programers staring at computer screens and writers buried in notebooks. If we all accepted our given lot, we would not have that drive to create, to be more, to do more. To do better.

Be thankful this season, and all year, but also let yourself become dissatisfied. Let your frustration become inspiration. Turn your disappointment into drive. Don't let it consume you, but let it urge you on to become everything you were meant to be.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Five Things to Write With...

Emy Shin over at Paper Hangover asked "What are the FIVE things you need to write with, other than pen, paper, and a computer?" What a fun blog prompt! Now, I can and have written just about anywhere and under any circumstances, but here's five things I don't like to write without!

1. Privacy. I HATE writing when I feel like someone is watching. Ideally, I like to write completely alone.

2. Music. Not always as inspiration. Sometimes just as background. Now that most of my writing happens while Little Man is sleeping, I often write in silence, but I really prefer music.

3. A comfortable place to sit. I don't like writing at a desk. I like to curl up or at least have my feet elevated. I love writing in bed.

4. Snacks. Chewing helps me think and gum bothers my stomach, so I love to have crunchy snacks nearby while writing.

5. A hair tie. I cannot stand to have my hair near my face while writing. I've seriously considered shaving my head just to keep my hair out of my eyes.

So there it is. My five things I need to write. How about yours? Or if you're not a writer, what five things do you need for your creative pursuits?

Monday, November 14, 2011

In Praise of the Kindle

Bedside reading

I love books. Perhaps irrationally so. I've left boxes of books behind with each new phase my life, leaving a trail through three, possibly four, state. They pile up on my bedside table and in closets. Nothing will ever compare to the feel of a book, a nice fat paperback full of musky pages, waiting to spill all the secrets hidden between it's cover. Or opening a book to read some stranger's name written in a looping, irregular hand on the inside. Did that person love this book? Did it move her? Or frighten her? Did it change the way she saw herself or the world? I will forever collect hardcovers, lining up their spines on shelves to create life and warmth and color in my home.

My husband bought me a Kindle for Mothers Day and while it will never replace my books, I love it. I've read more in the last six months than I did the previous year. I've discovered stories and authors I'd never have found in libraries or book stores. I can balance my Kindle in one hand while rocking a sick child or curled up in bed. It's much easier to travel with single, slim e-reader than the pile of paperback I'm accustomed to lugging with me on trips. Now that I can borrow library books on my Kindle too, I'm never without unread books.

One of my favorite uses for my Kindle has been as an editing tool. I am admittedly terrible at proof reading. I seldom read whole words - my brain fills in enough that I don't need to slow down and absorb each letter. I fill in entire missing words because that's what makes sense. I read fast, but it's sloppy even when I try to pay attention. With my Kindle, I use the text-to-speech feature and listen to my manuscripts. It's amazing how much I hear that I've missed a dozen times on paper. It's not perfect -the name Nina reads like Nine-A, which drives me crazy - but it's a tool.

Nothing will ever replace books for me. Nothing will ever change the visceral reaction I have to holding a new, unknown book or the familiar warmth of an old favorite. But I love stories even more than I love books and I'm always happy to find a new source of stories.

What about you? Have you embraced the e-reader revolution? What do you love or hate about trading books for digital copies? And because I love books, what is your favorite part of real books?

Friday, November 11, 2011


Finish/Start by I like, on Flickr

WARNING: I will be comparing writing to childbirth in this post. If you're squeamish about that sort of thing, don't worry. I'm going to get too graphic on you. Just thought you should be forewarned!

There is a marked difference between burnout and exhaustion. Burnout is always a negative experience. It speaks of things unfinished and dreams reduced to ashes. Exhaustion on the other hand often speaks of completion, of a job finished with the last ounce of energy left in one's body.

I wrote my first draft of Guardian (now called Rivers Underneath) in four months. I had a burst of energy and I launched right into it. Since then, I've gone through 10 major edit passes. I've taken in feedback from crit partners and beta readers. I've polished and rewritten.

This week, I passed this 10th draft into the hands of a few readers and now I'm exhausted. I've drained myself of everything I have to put into this manuscript. I've give blood, sweat and tears to it. Literally. I get paper cuts every time I print the darn thing. I'm empty. And that's a good thing.

I'm not athletic. I can't run, I have no stamina or coordination. I had a gym teacher accuse me of deliberately failing a volleyball because no one could actually be that bad. At any rate, I'm terrible at all things physical, so I can't really compare writing to running a marathon or an intense workout or anything like that. But I have been through childbirth and I think giving life to a book is much the same.

Two days past my due date, I woke with contractions about 8 minutes apart. They quickly moved to 4 minutes apart and stayed at that interval for 60 HOURS. 60. Not 6. Almost three days. When things started, I thought "This is it! Just a few hours and I'll have my son in my arms!" I thought I'd miss picking my mom and sister up at the airport and frantically made backup plans to have friends get them.

But hours passed and nothing changed. My body moved through labor, slow but steady. We didn't go to the hospital until hour 54. My water didn't break until hour 57. I never screamed or swore at my husband or begged for drug. But in those hours, my body worked harder than it had ever worked before. I remember my doctor telling me that it would only take one more push and he'd be out. And I couldn't. I knew I needed to rest until the next contraction hit. Four minutes later, it did, and there he was. Beautiful and perfect and worth every draining minute of that labor.

I've never been more exhausted in my life. Or exhilarated. I depleted myself of everything, gave every bit of energy I had to bringing this child into the world.

Here's the crazy part of the story. The part I didn't fully understand until weeks later. My son's umbilical was about 1/3 of the length it should have been and it broke during delivery. That's something that should have been picked up during one of the many ultrasounds I had during my pregnancy, but no one ever saw anything wrong. Had my labor been any more intense, it would have been shorter, but the strain likely would have snapped the cord before he was born, depriving him of oxygen and possibly killing him. The miracle of my long, exhausting labor is that my son is healthy and whole and alive.

How does any of this relate to writing? I look at the last three years of editing much like I do those three days of labor. Working and waiting and hoping, thinking with each draft, "This is it!" And then knowing at the end of each that it wasn't. I could have started querying after the first draft or the third draft or the seventh. But it wasn't time. Maybe it's not time now. Maybe this is that moment, when I know I have nothing left and need to rest for the final push. But I know the labor is worth it because the exhaustion tells me I've done something with my whole being. I've poured my life into this and because of that, I am empty but it has a chance to live. If I'd rushed, it might have broken. Instead, I've slowly breathed life into my words and now I wait to see if it takes it's own first breath.

Creating a story, a world, characters, is exhausting. It is all consuming and gives little in return. But at the end, it is a thing of beauty that leaves the writer exhausted and exhilarated, drained and yet full.

I've let my computer rest these last few days and immersed myself in everything other than writing. I read both Shift and Recast by Elle Beauregard (I highly recommend both) and I read the complete Hunger Games Trilogy (I know, I'm late to that party). I've cuddled with my son and finally went to see a chiropractor to get my neck fixed. I'm beginning to catch up on housework. I feel much like I did in the months after my son was born. I know one day I'll have to get back to writing - words burn inside me, compelling me to write - but for now, I'm going to rest and let my head fill with stories again. I'm going to soak up life so that I'll have more it pour onto paper (or a keyboard) one day. Probably next week.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Looking for betas & CPs!

I am forced to admit that I am on version 10.4 of Rivers Underneath. And despite 2 1/2 years of rewrites, I've still only shared it with a small handful of readers. I'm now at that point that I need help. I've had some amazing feedback (thanks again Leigh Ann!) and a whole lot of general "I loved it!" but now I need more. I feel like there must be something I'm not seeing, some horrifying hole that is keeping it from greatness and I firmly believe the only way to find it is to share it. This means opening myself up to criticism, exposing my poor proof reading skills and finding time to reciprocate. Eek.

What I'm looking for:

I need general beta readers to give specific feedback - what you liked, what you didn't like, what made sense, what was confusing. Thoughts on characters or the overall story arc. Tell me what you would write in a review. Just something more than "I liked it." Even if you hated it. I need some reason for your response!

I'm also looking for one or two folks willing to give a more in depth critique. Help me find those pesky passives, point out places my characters are being dense, help me puzzle out ways to make it stronger. This is a lot of work and I've been hesitant to ask for this kind of help because it's so time consuming. Sure, I spend hours a day lost in this thing, but I haven't want to ask anyone else to do the same. But here it is, I'm asking.

As a whole, I'm looking for people who love paranormal and can point out places I'm being derivative and those who hate paranormal and can point me toward ways to make it appeal to a broader audience.

Bonus points to anyone who can point me towards some comps. I'm really bad at that.

I'm looking for people willing to cheer me on, but also tell me the hard stuff. I'm a big girl, I can take it. I've already imagine you all saying far worse in my head. I'm looking for a quick once through or someone willing to stick around for the long run. I'm looking for you. Yes, you.

What I can offer:

I am a really good beta. I read fast and I read like a reader. I don't notice passives or adverbs or any of those things when I'm reading as a reader. If I can latch on to one character and throw myself into the plot, I'm all in.

As a critiquer, I am painfully slow, especially if I'm getting my own feedback at the same time. I have a very active, very bright 18-month-old with absolutely no ability to entertain himself and even less ability to let Mommy use her computer without pushing boopas. Which leaves nap time as my only time to write. My free time comes in chunks, depending on how well he's sleeping and whether or not my husband (a freelance editor) has work. I think it took a solid two months to get through the last manuscript I critiqued.

On the flip side, I read very carefully. I like to find plot holes and I'm pretty good at seeing things coming (so much so people refuse to watch movies with me), so if you can surprise me, you've done well. My background is in journalism so some of my language usage & punctation habits are different from fiction, meaning I'm not the best if you're looking for a proof reader. But I've spent a lot of time and energy studying story structure, character archetypes and that sort of thing.

So there it is. My query is posted here and my first chapter is posted here. Give it a read and if you're interested, shoot me an email at and we'll work something out.

I look forward to sharing my work and reading yours!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

I Write Like...

I write like
I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

After getting this from an awesome agent:

This is actually a really tough one. I like your concept, your query is really well written. Two years ago, I would have been all over requesting this. But right now paranormal and urban fantasy has been really overdone, which means it's a tough sell. And there have been some pretty big books that have sold in the past year or so that have to do with "touch" and strange effects it can have. I'd love to see the next project you work on if this one doesn't snag you an agent.
...I needed a pick me up. Having a silly web analyzer tell me I write like Neil Gaiman worked ;) Who do you write like? Try the link and post your results here!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Birthday Reflections

Me (center) and my friend April on my 14th birthday

When I grow up, I'll carry a stick 
and be very dignified, 
I'll have a watch that will really tick, 
My house will be tall and made of brick,
And no one will guess that it's just a trick, 
And I'm really myself inside.
- Marchette Chute

My birthday is on Tuesday. I'm going to be 29 and I'm a little freaked out. Not because I getting older, but because of how little life is left. I still feel like I did when I was 14. I have no idea where the last 15 years disappeared. I look back at my 14th birthday party - my first real, grown up, weekend evening party - and I can't believe we're all grown up now. Most of us are married - including two of my best friends who married each other. A lot of us have kids. April, with me in the picture above, passed away just 15 days shy of her 25th birthday. But in my head, we're all still teenagers. We still go to concerts every weekend and giggle about kissing boys. We're worried about our clothes and our hair and how we're going to convince our parents to let us see The Blair Witch Project in the theater.

More from my 14th birthday party...
Gifts included a newspaper article on Bigfoot and cans of whipped cream
This is the first birthday that has ever bothered me. Maybe it's watching my little guy grow up. Maybe it's my 30s looming on the horizon. All I know is that I am not a grown up yet! I thought by this age I'd feel different. I'd know what I was doing or at least what I wanted to be when I grew up. I thought I'd feel prepared. But I don't. Shockingly, I'm still just me.

My life has taken all kinds of twists and turns and ups and down. There are good years and bad years, just like there are good days and bad days. I wouldn't trade a single one. I only ask for more. There is so much life to be lived and it terrifies me and thrills me and challenges me every day. I don't know where life will take me. I don't know what kind of sorrows are up ahead. I don't know what kind of joy awaits. But each year that I am blessed to blow out another candle, I thank God for the years behind me too. 

My mom made brunch for all the girls the next morning.
Cause she's awesome like that.
Notice my oh-so-cool stripped hat.
And my friend Christa's awesome Star Wars shirt.

The last 29 years have gone so fast and I'm certain that the next 50 will go even faster. I think that's about my life expectancy these day. Just 79 years. Or about 675,000 hours. 

Maybe that's why I write. To leave something behind when I'm gone. Or to let myself be a teenager for just a little longer. I don't know. But if I only have 427,200 hours left, I want to make the most of each one. And maybe, just maybe, I can trick the world into believing I'm a grown up for a little while.

Monday, October 24, 2011

New Work in Progress!

For the first time in a VERY long time, I am writing something totally new! It's an idea I toyed around with for a follow up to Rivers Underneath, but I could never get it moving. When it occurred to me to try it as a totally separate story, it immediately fell into place. With a day, I had a main character, three supporting characters, a love interest and a rough plot outline. I know her conflict, I know her stakes, I know where her story begins and where it end. I even have a title (or at least part of a title...)

I, like a lot of creative kids in high school, was a drama geek. Not on the stage, but behind the scenes. I even wrote a one act that was produced at the local community college. I still love theatre culture, especially theatre myths. Like the one about the scottish play. Even during a production of MacBeth, it is bad luck to say that word until opening night. Punishment for uttering the name of the scottish play range from running laps around the house to elaborately worded pleas for mercy from the theatre gods.

My favorite myth is the ghostlight. Theatres should never be left dark. It invites ghosts. So a single light is left on the stage, known within the theatre as the ghostlight. So what happens when the stage goes dark? When theatres are abandoned? Oh, the creepy, beautiful possibilities!

I'm thrilled to have a new idea after almost three years of editing - and I have a feeling that this new enthusiasm will infuse my editing with new blood too. Now if only my little guy will start napping again, I have a story to write...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Favorite Photos

Photograph is still one of my passions. My heart skips a heat when I hear the shutter. But it has taken a backseat over the last couple years while I worked on my writing. Today I sent out some print orders and found some pictures I'd forgotten I had! I mostly shoot portraits professionally, but I love landscapes. I could happily shoot sunsets for the rest of my life (cliche, right? And I write paranormal too.)

I thought I'd share some of my favorites from the past couple years! Hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed taking them :)

Sunset Beach, Oregon - Somewhere along Route 1. We camped a mile or two down the road.

My beloved MINI, Jack, driving through a tree in Northern California.

Lamp inside a lighthouse, somewhere along the Oregon Coast.

One of our camping sites in Oregon. It was even freakier at night!

See?!? Freaky woods!

Flowers at Pike's Place in Seattle. Loved the market, loved the city. Sigh.

An awesome sculpture at the Ballard Docks in Seattle. What other city puts something this beautiful on the edge of a lock system?

Confession: I am a HUGE fan of Deadliest Catch. Crab pots! Squeal!

Closer to home: Manhattan Beach, just a few miles south of where I live. I am blessed.

It does snow in Los Angeles. At least occasionally ;) Technically, Gorman is an hour north of LA, but still, it's amazing to see so much snow so close!

My favorite picture, perhaps ever. An isolated stretch of beach in northern Oregon. This spot was my focal point during labor. Such a peace, vibrant place. We camped two feet from the sand and fell asleep listening to the waves. First thing in the morning, the fog crept in and we walked along the beach for hours.

...I need to get my camera fixed and go take more pictures!

Monday, October 17, 2011


I had to run errands after work on Friday - always a delightful proposition with an active 17-month-old. After battling traffic along the 405 for nearly an hour, we finished up our errands and headed home. But just before I turned toward the freeway, I caught a glimpse of drifting fog. It's been HOT and SUNNY all week, with temps pushing 100 in some areas. So instead of heading inland to sit in traffic, we took the scenic route. My little guy and I drove along the Pacific Coast Highway with the windows down and the heat on our feet, watching the marine layer ghosting through the palms. It was by far the most soothing thing I've done in weeks.

We all need detours. Those times when we turn left instead of right or follow our hearts instead of our heads. There is so much to discover, if we are willing to wander. So take detours, let yourself get lost, chase something beautiful instead of something practical (there's plenty of time for practicality). It will be good for your soul. I promise.

So what is your favorite detour? What have you learned by getting lost?

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Importance of Breathing

Breathe in, breathe out. Simple, right?

At the height of my teenage angst (oh, what a height), my dad had this obnoxious habit of reminding me to breathe when I got too worked up. Whatever problems were ragging in my head, I'd get so upset that I would literally forget to breathe. And my dad just look at me, coaching me through each inhale and exhale. Worst of all? It worked.

You'd think almost 15 years later I would have learned this lesson. But I haven't. I still forget to breathe. Maybe not literally any more (I'd like to think I have a little more control over my emotions than I did at 14...), but I still get so wrapped up in things that I forget to step back and measure the true magnitude of my problems.

Editing has taught me a lot about breathing. Every time I hear a new writing no-no, I freak out. I scrub through my manuscript for adverbs and passives and over use of words like "as" or "that." I take out the use of names with abandon, blindly replacing them with "he" or "she." I remove any dialogue tag that isn't "said." I rewrite entire scenes because dreams are cliche or every female protagonist has dark circles under her eyes.

Then I read a hugely popular, wildly successful published book. And it's full of adverbs and messy dialogue tags and that pesky "was." How did this author get published while ignoring THE RULES?

Probably by remembering to breathe. It's so easy to get caught up in fixing things that I forget that rules are meant to be broke, if done correctly. Without breathing, without taking a step back to look at the big picture, it's impossible to do anything with subtlety or grace. When I step back and breathe, I can confidently use "hesitantly" and state that "the room was empty." Because when I breathe, I can see that even though it's breaking the rules, it's the right way to tell my story. Sometimes "the deserted room swallowed her in loneliness" is over-writing and sometimes people do snarl at each other.

So in the midst of querying (write, rewrite, post on at least two sites for critiquing, rewrite again, research, rewrite, send), editing (delete, delete, delete, rewrite, delete, delete) and writing (start, stop, start, stop), I have to learn to pause and breathe.

Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Aeonium Canariense by Jenny Kaczorowski

Today is a lovely, grey, rainy day and all I want to do is sit on my patio and write. This Ohio girl misses lake effect weather and thunder storms and fog. I love SoCal. But 75 and sunny gets old fast when trying to write dark, moody fiction ;)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Keeping the Faith

HOPE by loop_oh, on Flickr

This has been one of those weeks. Not because of any one thing. Not even because of that many small things. It's just been a tough week. There are times when I read through something I've written and it's beautiful and engaging and I love every word. And there are days when I want to take my laptop, throw it into a fire and watch all my dreams burn to ashes (an image that works better when I actually write on paper ;) Some weeks, it's just hard to keep those dreams going. It's hard to continue to have faith in myself and in doing what I love. Wretched artistic temperament.

But I am an optimist by nature. I can't stay down forever. To pull myself back up, I read Souless by Gail Carriger, a delightful read! I obsessively cleaned the area surrounding my fridge (I think I could eat off the floor beneath it). I went to the Los Angeles County Fair with my family. Yes, LA has a fair. And yes, it is that strange. And I signed up for an intensive 1st five pages workshop with Adventures in Children's Publishing. (You can win an ARC of Amy Kathleen Ryan's GLOW if you comment on all five workshop entries.) Still feeling a little down, but it's a start. It's not enough to let those feelings define me. I have to keep going, keep moving. I have to keep the faith.

Any other ideas on keeping the faith? How do you cheer yourself up when you feel like your goals are unattainable? How do you motivate yourself to keep moving when you feel like giving up on your dreams? Let's encourage each other. 'Cause I don't know about you, but I can use all the encouragement I can get!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Odd Jobs

Help Wanted...
Help Wanted... by Thewmatt, on Flickr

There are some people who happen upon their dream job on their first try and stick with it for 25 or 30 years. I am not one of those people. While I've never actually held down a full-time, 40-hour-a-week job in my life, I've worked since I was 14. I've had jobs ranging from absurd (hawking deep-fried fish at the county fair) to amazing (costume designer for a short film about human trafficking). I've had good bosses (Bob Evans) and bad bosses (Mitchell's). Some jobs have utilized my skill set (grant writing), others have made me painfully aware of my short comings (waiting tables). I've always dreamed of making a living as a writer, but here's a rundown of the fabulous jobs I've held in the meantime.

  • Babysitter
  • Harvesting grapes at a vineyard
  • Bus-girl at Bob Evans, a popular family restaurant east of the Mississippi
  • Cashier at Marc's, a Cleveland-area store that's a cross between Big Lots and a supermarket
  • Food vender at the Lorain County Fair
  • Camp Counselor at Youth With A Mission Los Angeles, prepping teens to build houses in Tijuana, Mexico
  • Page at the local public library
  • Selling merchandise for bands at underground concerts
  • Featured columnist for the Avon Lake Press, my hometown newspaper
  • Serving ice cream at Mitchell's, a Cleveland-area gourmet ice cream shop
  • Waiting tables at The Mustard Seed, a natural foods market/cafe
  • Usher/box office/concessions at a movie theatre
  • Wedding/portrait/concert photographer
  • Photography intern at the Palisadian Post, a Los Angeles area weekly newspaper
  • Temp assistant for a literary agent while her full time assistant was on jury duty
  • Assistant for a garden antiques dealer
  • Submissions agent for a celebrity photography agency
  • Costume designer/set dresser/screen writer for Traffik, a short film about human trafficking
  • Office manager/grant writer for Sound Art, a non-profit that provides music programs in inner-city neighborhoods

So what random jobs have you held? What are you doing until you make it?

Friday, September 16, 2011

"No Response Means No"

books by no_typographic_man, on Flickr

One of the things I love most about social networking is connecting to people I'd never have a chance to meet in real life. I follow several agents on Twitter and it has given me a lot of insight into the publishing world and given me specific info on approaching (or not approaching) specific agents. I get to watch in real time as agents share query mistakes, wish lists and more.

On the flip side, I've also watched a lot of drama unfold, particularly in regards to the "no response means no" policy adopted by some agents. I've heard very good arguments from both sides of the issue and it's been very informative for me as a writer in the midst of querying.

An agent that I follow posted a blog explaining why she adopted a "no response means no" policy and frankly, it made a lot of sense to me. I think most agents know fairly quickly if they are interested in a manuscript or not. Taking the time to reply to each query can be very time consuming. I worked (briefly) for a literary agent in college and she spent more time on negative responses than anything else. Granted, she gave feedback with most responses, but she also received a lot less queries than most agents today and she wasn't on email yet.

Anyway, that issue aside, the agent who posted the blog also talked about the emotional/karmic impact of saying no all the time. I think we forget that agents want to say yes just as much as we want them to say yes. They want and NEED good projects to rep. I can only imagine what it's like to start each day hoping for your next great project and sifting through hundreds of emails, only to find nothing you feel passionately about.

And as writers, we want agents who are passionate about our projects - as passionate or more than we are. I've heard enough horror stories about writers who signed with agents only to part ways later because the agent wasn't really passionate about the project or just wasn't able to find a place for it in the market. How much worse would that be than to never sign at all?

My experience with querying is very limited. I've sent a grand total of seven queries in my entire life, six of which I sent less than a month ago. Of those, I've received one form response, one personalized pass and silence. The one that bothered me the most? The form rejection. The personalized no felt like a pass - like the agent was telling me the problem wasn't my project, just that it wasn't for her. I can handle that. The form rejection made me feel like my project wasn't worth even reading. The silence is hard, but it is easier than hearing "no" over and over, especially in a non-personalized email.

However, if an agent has a "no answer means no" policy, I really appreciate some kind of auto response so I know they got my email and it didn't just end up in the spam folder. The other things that I appreciate is a time frame. I know agents are busy, but even if it's a huge range, like six months, some kind of closure helps so much!

Personal opinions aside, the thing that really bothered me about this whole debacle was the way some people have responded. The agent who originally posted the blog has now closed to queries. She received so many negative responses that she's considered closing her blog as well. The anonymous nature of the internet has made us brave and apparently no longer requires even the most basic social graces. I don't know this agent at all. I sent her a query and never heard back, but I bear no ill will toward her. She clearly stated her policy and I knew that when I hit send. I know nothing other than what I've garnered from her Tweets and her blog, but I know that she's done nothing to deserve the kind of response she's gotten. It's rude and unprofessional and completely uncalled for. The lack of professionalism and common courtesy really bothers me.

Is it so much to ask that we treat each other with kindness and respect? Writers and agents need each other and in the end, we all want the same things. We want exciting projects and partners who share our excitement. We want people who will work hard and continue to work to make a project better. So be nice and remember, we're all in this together.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Civic Duty

First woman jury, Los Angeles (LOC) by The Library of Congress, on Flickr

I start jury duty in the morning. Here's to hoping for interesting people watching and avoiding getting placed on a jury! Unless it's a really interesting case and can resolve quickly so I can home to my little man and my big man can get back to work! Freelance gigs are hard enough to come by without needing days off! Maybe I'll even get some writing done while sitting around the courthouse.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Seven Random Facts

Seven by melanie_hughes, on Flickr

In continuation of my post on Blog Awards, here are seven random facts about me.

1. My given name is actually Jenny. Not Jennifer or Genevieve. Just Jenny.
2. I live in Southern California and yet I don't wear shorts. I own one pair. I've worn them once in the last two years.
3. I am terrified of fish. Completely terrified. Like I have nightmares and wake up in a panic because I think there are fish in my sheets. I can't take my eyes off a fish tank if it's in the same room as me.
4. I've visited Mexico, Egypt, Germany, Spain, France and England, but I've never been to Canada.
5. I didn't learn to drive until I was 19.
6. I now prefer a stick shift to an automatic, even in LA traffic.
7. I do all my best writing late at night, but I come up with my best ideas in the shower or while driving.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Fight

The vast majority of romanic movies and books end after our protagonists fall in love. New love is raw and dramatic and exciting. We cheer for that first kiss, that first declaration of love. We share in the would-be lovers' heartache and frustrations as they step forward and back on the path to true love. And we fade out, before reality can hit and draw us back to the daily struggles of real relationships.
There is another love story, one that is seldom told, but one that holds as much drama and excitement and heartache. It is the story of fighting for love. Fighting to stay in love. Fighting to hold on through the stress and strain of daily life. Fighting to prove over and over that after all the years, you would still choose your partner.
So why isn't this story told more often? Why do we stick to falling in love? I think it's harder to write the other kind of love story. I think it's harder to fight with our characters than it is to watch them fall in love. We've all fallen in love, probably dozens of times, and fallen out of love just as often. But love worth fighting for is much rarer. In short, it's easy to fall in love. It's HARD to stay in love.
I want to write about the fight. I've loved writing about new love, about first kisses and yet-unrealized dreams. But there is so much more to love than the beginning. I want to tell those stories.

Blog Awards

Who knew there was so much more to being a writer that writing?! Building a platform is just as important these days as polishing a manuscript. There are so many great resources out there for aspiring writers to build an online presence and I feel like I'm barely keeping up! Rachael Harrie runs a great platform building campaign twice a year to help writers connect to one another and build a web presence. It's a great opportunity, but I knew that I wouldn't have the time to dedicate to the campaign this time around.

That being said, I've still felt the love from the writing community. Two of my blog followers - Megan at Paws, Fangs and Smiles and Lyla at Lyla Writes gave me my first blog awards!

So thank you, Megan for the Liebster Award!

The Liebster Award is "to showcase bloggers with less than 200 followers." After receiving the award, bloggers are asked to pass it along to five other bloggers with less than 200 followers. I'm going to take this opportunity to give a shout out to some of my fellow Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award writers:

Thanks for all the ABNA encouragement and I look forward to seeing us all in bookstores some day!

I also want to thank Lyla for Versatile Blogger and Irresistibly Sweet Blog Awards.

The rules for these two awards are:

1) Thank and link to the person who nominates you.
2) Share seven random facts about yourself.
3) Pass the award to five more blogger friends.
4) Contact and congratulate the blogs nominated.

I'm going to pass these along to:

Leigh Ann Kopans (my awesome crit partner!) - Because of the wide range of posts she manages to write every week! Always something new and exciting!
Rachel McClellan - Because she has done so much to help out other writers -
Ladonna Watkins - Because she's a fellow SoCal writer! -
Chanelle Gray - Because she has great book reviews -
The Query Goblin - Because she's awesome and helped me with my query SO MUCH -
Casey McCormick - Because she has gathered the most helpful collection of links on agents -

I will post my seven random facts later this week!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Five Stages of Receiving Feedback

Stage 1: Excitement

An email pops up in my inbox and my heart starts beating faster. Be it from an crit partner, a beta reader or an agent, the very presence of an email in that inbox is enough to make me dance with impatience as I wait for it to load.

Stage 2: Dread

Wait. This is an email relating to my writing. What if it's bad news? What if the sender HATED my work? Maybe I shouldn't read it. At least not until I'm in a better mood. What if my fragile, artistic ego can't take the rejection?

Stage 3: Despair

It was worse than I thought. Compliment, compliment, compliment, criticism, compliment, compliment. My writing must be terrible! What was I thinking, sending this out into the world? I'm a hack! I should never write again!

Stage 4: Exuberance

I'm going to change EVERYTHING! Every word of every critique must be right! How could I have been so blind? Let's rename characters and change major plot points and cut entire scenes! No need to rework anything. Let's just start over!

Stage 5: Acceptance

Okay, I see what they were REALLY saying and I see why. Sure, this part is a little slow, but I can fix it. And while this particular writer didn't like this line, I do and I'm the writer. This is my baby and I can take in all this feedback, use the parts that resonate with me and confidently stick to my guns on the rest. I love my story. I love feedback. Let's do this again! Who else can I send it to?

Monday, August 29, 2011


all this to say,
our future is a blank page
that we chose to pour ourselves into
when God pressed play.

and we'll drag our pens
into these parallel lines
to record and to articulate
everything we find.

as decades unlace,
we'll pause and carefully trace;
our shadows are puddles of ink
that our memory saves.

layer by layer, the framework was formed
on an epic of paper:
we breathe to explore.
fast-forward motion
will gracefully show
the flickering story
that all of our sketches unfold.

before we were born
God gently told us the truth,
but understanding is something that stops
as our bodies bruise.

so we'll concentrate,
constantly rewinding tapes.
was the ghost just a glare on the lens
that our minds create?
our minds create...
when God pressed play.

layer by layer, the framework was formed
on an epic of paper:
we breathe to explore.
and fast-forward motion
will gracefully show
the flickering story
that all of our sketches unfold

- All This to Say by Sleeping At Last

Friday, August 26, 2011

New Look!

Okay, only slightly different, but it goes better with the new cover design ;)

And a BIG thank you to all my new followers!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

In Search of a Title

An agent recently suggested that I find a more memorable title for GUARDIAN. When I started writing, single word titles were all the rage (Twilight, Shiver, etc.) and I've always liked simplicity. I found a cover image for inspiration and I was good to go.

In all honesty, I'm not all that attached to GUARDIAN. It is a very powerful title, for me at least, and, shockingly, it has not been used as a stand alone title (The Guardian has, as well as a few other variations, but alone, there's nothing on Amazon). I can see the agent's point. If I want my title to stand out, I think a single word, with a lot of connotations attached to it (maybe not all ones I like), isn't the best way to go.

RIVERS UNDERNEATH comes from a favorite song. For this book, it references the river flowing through the center of the town and the role it plays in the characters' live, but it also references the undercurrent of the paranormal running through the story. I like titles with a lot of meaning ;)

So what do you think? Is GUARDIAN a better title? Do you like my cover mockup? Would you pick it up based on the cover alone? All thoughts are welcome!

Monday, August 22, 2011

A Brief Intermission

Sing it with me: "Let's all go to the lobby, let's all go to the lobby, let's all go to the lobby and get ourselves a snack!"

Okay, seriously, my apologies for the silence. When I started this blog, I had no followers, I wrote sporadically and didn't have much to say. But I stuck with it and I've come to really enjoy it. It has become a good way to clear my head and focus on actually writing.

The only problem is when life gets in the way! I was trying really hard to post at least once a week. Then there was WriteOnCon, a partial request, a trip to the pediatrician with the little guy, a weekend in the mountains and a visit from one of my oldest & dearest friends. Plus, my husband got called in for a couple weeks of work (Yay!! Freelance work sucks, btw), leaving me on 24/7 baby duty.

With all that craziness, there's been little time to write or blog or breathe. But! I promise, I will have more next weekend. My husband is driving across the country, leaving me alone for 6 days (3x the longest we've been apart since our wedding). Loneliness is a great motivator for me and I should get tons done. Or I'll just watch a lot of SyFy.