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!