Saturday, December 26, 2009

Winners of the December book giveaway!

And now, it's time to announce the winners of this month's huge book giveaway!

For both of Barrie's fabulous books, the winner is...

Solvang Sherrie !!!

Personally, I think this is wonderfully fitting. I mean, I'm giving the books to Sherrie, and the main character is named Sherry. :)

For Pile #1

Liana Brooks !!!

For Pile #2

Donna Gambale !!!

And, for Pile #3

xxsquigglesxx !!!

Congratulations to the winners!!! Please email your snail addresses to tabitha at tabithaolson dot com and I will get those out to you as soon as I can. You have thirty days to collect your prizes.

For those who didn't win, check back next saturday when I announce the next bunch of books I'm giving away! Sure, it's not as many as this month, but there are still plenty to be had. And more ARCs, too!

Happy Holidays everyone!!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas, and hoping Santa brings everything you've ever wanted. Have a safe and happy holiday!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Holiday Hiatus

Last friday was my kids' last day of school. They are home for the next two weeks, so with that, and the fact that I am working on revisions for my agent, I am going to take a little blog vacation.
I will still announce the winners of the big book giveaway on the 26th, but other than that I will be busy trying to write and keep my kids occupied. :)

Have a great holiday, everyone! And see you in the new year!!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Staying Fat For Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher

Summary: Sarah Byrnes and Eric have been friends for years. When they were children, his fat and her terrible scars made them both outcasts. Later, although swimming slimmed Eric, she stayed his closest friend. Now Sarah Byrnes -- the smartest, toughest person Eric has ever known -- sits silent in a hospital. Eric must uncover the terrible secret she's hiding, before its dark currents pull them both under.

This book was released in 1993, and I wasn’t reading YA at the time. A good friend of mine told me about it, so I picked up a copy from the library.

I loved this book. When I first started reading it, I had no idea when it was published. By the voice alone, I thought it would have been in the past few years, so I was really surprised when I looked up the original copyright date. It’s so fresh, and it captures the mind of a teenager so well, that it feels timeless. For all you writers looking to write this way, this book is an excellent example!

As for the story, the characters are interesting, real, and compelling, and I wish I had known about this book when it first came out. This book does an amazing job of exploring friendship, rivalry, self-image, and abuse.

My favorite part was Eric’s class, Contemporary American Thought. I never would have survived this class in high school, but I sure want to take it now! It is a place to express and defend opinions, offer different points of view, and figure out how to make all these opinions play nice. I loved it. Though, it was a place for the author to come out a bit – some of the messages were a bit obvious, mature, and heavy, and the class was the conduit. But that didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the book.

If you haven’t read this book, you should. It’s fantastic.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Interview with Barrie Summy!

Today, we have an interview with Barrie Summy, author of the I SO DON'T DO MYSTERIES series. The second book in the series, I SO DON'T DO SPOOKY, came out just last week, and Barrie has an interesting story that goes with it. I'm sure this hasn't happened to many people!

Tell us about I SO DON'T DO SPOOKY‏.
Sherry (short for Sherlock) Holmes Baldwin is baaack!! Sherry and her ghost mother team up in a new mystery. Can they keep The Ruler (Sherry's stepmother) safe? There's robotics, ghost hunting and some serious toilet papering. It's scary. It's spooky. It's fun. Oooooo. (p.s. Of course, Josh is back too!)

Or here's the blurb from
Someone’s out to get Sherry’s stepmom. . . .Can she save her before it’s too late?

Did you know that the main campus of the Academy of Spirits is at a Dairy Queen in Phoenix? Me either. Until now. Some weird stuff has been happening to my stepmother, Paula, and the Academy has asked me, Sherry Holmes Baldwin, to get to the bottom of it. They think someone’s trying to hurt her.

I really don’t want to get involved—my life is way too busy. Josh and I are celebrating two blissful months of togetherness. And my best friend, Junie, is finally showing a teeny bit of interest in clothes and makeup after years of brainiac behavior. But being that my mom is a ghost and all, me, my brother, and my dad rely on Paula a lot. So it’s not like I can just ignore what’s going on. Especially since my mom is competing at the Ghostlympics. If she comes in first place, she earns five minutes of Real Time.

And that means I’ve got to get involved in a creepy, freaky mystery.

But . . . I so don’t do spooky.

It sounds great! What was the inspiration behind your idea?
Let's see....I was interested in the idea of Sherry helping someone she didn't necessarily like. So, that's where a mystery involving The Ruler was born. I did some online judging of websites for high school robotics teams. So, that's where the robotics stuff came from.

Congratulations on the next book in the series coming out in May! Did you always envision this as a series?
Thank you! Well, I always envisioned it as a series. But I'm not sure everyone else did! ;)

How often do you write, and how much do you write in one sitting?
It depends if a deadline is looming large! In general, I try to write five days a week. I try to write for a couple of hours each morning when my kids are at school. After that, a lot of my writing time is in spits and spurts. For instance, I write Thursday afternoons, when my daughter is at her piano lesson. I write in my car when waiting for kids to finish swim practice. I am forever indebted to the inventor of the laptop!

I love it when I can check into a hotel room for the weekend and do nothing but write. That doesn't happen too often, though.

Is there anything you have to have in order to write?
my laptop. Plus, I find I'm most productive if a machine is running. Like, for example, the dishwasher or the washing machine. Then, I feel as though my chores are getting done while I write!

What do you do when you get stuck?
I try a variety of things. First, I repeat over and over, "Do not panic. Do not panic." Then I go for a stint on the treadmill or I walk the dog, change writing locations, skip the problem area. And, if all else fails, I eat licorice. Lots of it.

What are you working on now?
The fourth book in the series: I So Don't Do Famous
In this book, Sherry busts up a teen burglary ring in Hollywood.

What does your writing space look like?
I write at the kitchen table or in this huge lazy boy in our living room.

How much do you read, and what are you reading now?
I actually read less than I used to. ;( I used to read a book a week, now I'm down to a book every other week. I'm currently reading What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman. Loving it!
Thank you so much for joining us today!!
To see more of what Barrie is up to, check out her blog. For a chance to win a copy of both her books, go here.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Unofficial Official Agent Appreciation Day

Today is Unofficial Official Agent Appreciation Day!

What does that mean? Well, basically, it's a day devoted to all the amazing things agents do, invented by Kody Keplinger.

I am devoting my post to my agent, Andrea Cascardi. Pardon me while I gush a bit. :)

Andrea and I have only been working together for a few months, but her talents have shown through. Her keen insight has strenghtened my story in ways I couldn't imagine on my own. Her enthusiasm is palpable, and her no-nonsense attitude is a perfect match for my own. In case you couldn't tell, I love working with her. :)

So, Andrea, I dedicate this day to you. Thank you for everything!! I'd bake you your own cake, but I'm afraid it will get squished in the mail. So here's a virtual cake for you.

Lots of other authors are appreciating their agents today, and you can see the full list on Lisa and Laura's blog.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Fire by Kristin Cashore

Summary: It is not a peaceful time in the Dells. In King City, the young King Nash is clinging to the throne, while rebel lords in the north and south build armies to unseat him. War is coming. And the mountains and forest are filled with spies and thieves. This is where Fire lives, a girl whose beauty is impossibly irresistible and who can control the minds of everyone around her.

Earlier this year, I wrote up a review of GRACELING. I had a few issues with the ending and the main character’s growth, but I still liked the story.

Fire is better. I still have some of the same issues, but, overall, the author handled things in a more sympathetic and understandable manner.

As with all my book discussions, there are SPOILERS below.

The biggest issue I had with GRACELING was her lack of growth due to an incredibly large aversion to marriage. In FIRE, the aversion to marriage is still there, but the motivation behind it is more understandable. Fire is a human monster, meaning she’s unnaturally beautiful and has powers of mind control. But she’s not a monster in the sense that she takes advantage of these gifts and bends everyone to her whims.

Her father, however, was a monster both genetically and mentally. He took joy in making others suffer, and, in the process, made the whole kingdom miserable. Fire managed to grow up with compassion (something her father lacked entirely), so she won’t do what he did. But she’s afraid of turning into him, so she has written off both marriage and children.

I completely understand her reasoning here. She has valid reasons for not wanting to risk her own children turning into someone like her father. I wouldn’t be able to handle that, either. In GRACELING, there wasn’t a clear reason for Katsa to be so resistant to marriage. Not by the end, anyway. But FIRE handles this much better.

That said, the whole aspect of marriage still has an awkward feel to it.

Two of the royal family have illegitimate children (one of which is a woman, and she never marries). The king ends up courting a commoner, who also has an illegitimate child. These are all wonderfully open-minded ideals, and perfectly acceptable in today’s world. But with royalty? The whole basis of royalty is that royals are on a level higher than everyone else, therefore everything they say or do has to have a veneer of perfection fixed over the top. This definition of royalty was even acknowledged in the story, so I found it a bit odd. If royalty had been defined differently, then that would have made this much less awkward.

Another issue I had with GRACELING was Katsa’s lack of struggle – she never had to fight in order to gain something. Unfortunately, the same thing happens in FIRE. Fire’s story is largely internal, and she is on a personal journey to accept herself and acknowledge that she can do good with her powers. I think that’s wonderful, because there are many people on similar journeys. The big difference is that we struggle along the way, make mistakes, and have to work really hard in order to get what we want. Neither Fire nor Katsa do this. They’re both clearly on a journey, but we don’t experience any struggling with them. We’re told that they’re working on something, and then a few pages later they have it. For me, that’s cutting the reader out of the most important part of the journey. After all, it’s the hardest part, and watching Fire struggle would have sparked more sympathy, as well as created a closer connection to her.

The last big issue I had with the story was Leck. I don’t understand why he was there, except to tie this story to GRACELING. He made some things more difficult and he did something that was really awful, but he wasn’t central to the story. If he’d been written out, those complications he caused could have easily been picked up by the real bad guys. I think his presence was supposed to intrigue me, but instead he annoyed me. Especially with what happened to him at the end.

Still, I liked the story, and I will definitely read the next book after FIRE. But I do wish the author would insert less of her own beliefs and stay true to what the story demands. Even if that isn’t what she herself would do.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

100 Books!

I did it! I read one hundred books this year! I read my hundredth book over the weekend while laid up with the flu. Not fun, but I can't think of a better way to pass the time when you're achy and miserable. :)

I managed to consistently read two books a week. Even with two kids, major house problems, agent revisions, and Nano. I am quite proud of myself. :)

I haven't stopped reading, but with the holidays approaching I may only get through a couple more. But who know? I might manage to keep reading two books a week. :)

How about the rest of you? Have you been able to keep up with your reading goals?

Monday, December 07, 2009

When To Start Submitting

"When should I start sending queries to agents or editors? Is a synopsis and a few chapters sufficient? Or do I need to have a completed novel?"

This question comes across the internet pretty regularly, in blogs, discussion boards, listservs, you name it. Though I've been seeing it more often lately. Not sure why.
The short answer to this question is this: you MUST finish your novel first. Why? For many reasons.
1. Not everyone is capable of finishing what they start. Since agents and editors don't know you personally, they don't know if you possess that particular skill. So if you approach an agent with only three chapters and an outline, they won't know if you will finish the first draft, plus get through all the necessary rounds of revision (once an editor buys your work, you will have to go through at least one round of revision - it's just the way it is).
2. It takes many drafts to make a good novel. Whether you revise as you go or write multiple drafts, you still need to re-read what you've written. If you don't, then you really have no idea what kind of quality you're submitting. It also means you're sending out a project that does not reflect your full potential. Therefore, you're not showing the agent or editor what you can really do. It makes it easier to set your work down.
3. As you write, you will likely make discoveries about your characters, setting, plot, etc, which could change the way your story unfolds - even if you've planned everything out. In other words, the agent/editor might end up with a different product than she expected. That could raise some issues, such as cancelled contracts.
4. These days, the query count has skyrocketed. That means your work really needs to stand out from the massive pile on the agent/editor'S desk. An incomplete project isn't going to do this, because it is not the best that it can be. 'Potentially good' isn't going to cut it, because there is still no guarantee that you will finish what you started. So, it's really in your own best interest to send out a novel that you have gone through more than once, and make it as good as you possibly can.
There are exceptions, of course. If you have already published a novel (not self-published) and proven that you can make it through the process, then your subsequent books will likely sell on proposal. Also, non-fiction generally sells on proposal - three chapters plus outline. But fiction doesn't work this way for debut authors. We get to work on spec until we establish ourselves.
Many writers start querying too soon. Either they don't want to put in a bunch of work for a project that might not sell, or they are too excited about the story to wait until it's done. But we get one shot with agents and editors, so we need to make sure to hit them with the absolute best work possible do they will have no reason to say no. An unfinished project will never do that.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

December Book Giveaway!

I can't believe it's already December. It's been one heck of a year for me, and I'm in the mood to celebrate. Really celebrate. And who better to celebrate with than you all? :)

So, I've got lots and lots of great stuff to give away this month.

First and foremost, I'm giving away two books by fabulous author, Barrie Summy.




Look for an interview with her later in the month!!!

And, I have more books to give away. Three huge piles of books, actually. And here they are:

Pile #1:
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins - ARC
The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan
The Midnight Charter by David Whitley - ARC
Brisingr by Christopher Paolini
The Alchemist by Michael Scott
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

Pile #2:
Liar by Justine Larbalestier - ARC
The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams - ARC
Sold by Patricia McCormick
Ash by Malinda Lo - ARC
Flash Burnout by L.K. Madigan - ARC
How To Steal A Car by Pete Hautman - ARC
Escape Under the Forever Sky by Eve Yohalem

Pile #3:
Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl - ARC
Fallen by Lauren Kate - ARC
My Big Nose And Other Natural Disasters by Sydney Salter - ARC
Demon Princess: Reign or Shine by Michelle Rowan - ARC
Three Witches by Paula Jolin - ARC
How To Be Popular by Meg Cabot
Breaking Dawn by Stephanie Meyer

Be sure to read the entry guidelines carefully, so you get all the entries you're entitled to.

To enter: - Leave a comment on this post.
- For an additional entry, become a follower of this blog and leave another comment telling me so. If you already are a follower, leave a comment telling me this.
- For an additional entry, post a link to this contest, then leave a separate comment with the URL. If you post to muliple locations, then leave a separate comment for each URL.

I will announce the winners on December 26th, and you will have thirty days to collect your prize.

Good luck!!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Post NANO Update

I don't know about the rest of you NaNo-ers, but I'm still tired. :) My final word count was 58,509 words, which I wrote in three weeks - I had two kids home from school the whole week of Thanksgiving, and I got zero computer time after that. So writing all those words in such a short amount of time took a lot of brain power, but I'm slowly recovering. :)

In the last couple weeks of NaNo, there were many threads/blog posts/conversations about its effectiveness. Many people were cursing the whole idea of NaNo. Lots knew that they were writing dreck and had nightmares about re-reading any of it. Some were finding NaNo helpful, though didn't know how much they'd written would be usable in the actual novel. And a very few got a lot out of it - like, they got a real novel out of it. I'm one of those very few.

Why did some get so much out of NaNo while others were tearing their hair out and screaming at whoever thought this whole thing up? Well, writing process has much to do with it - some write faster than others. The ability to deal with stress and a heavy workload also contributes. But I think there is one thing that really stands out: goals.

When you sat down to write for NaNo, what was your goal? To write 50,000 words? To write a novel? To kickstart your novel? I took a look at what writers were saying while under the NaNo influence, and sort of mapped out goals to outcome.

In most cases, if the goal was to write 50,000 words, the end result was dreck with lots and lots of unnecessary words/subplots/characters/etc. If the goal was to kickstart the novel, most writers ended up with pages and pages of unusable text, but had a really solid feel for the novel and were excited about sitting down to really write it. If the goal was to write a novel, most writers did that, even if they didn't get to 50,000 words.

My goal was this: by the end of November, I wanted to have a novel written, regardless of how many words I ended up with. It so happened that my novel was longer than that, and it's still not finished. But word count was not my first priority. The story was. I set a daily word count goal, and did my best to reach it - but, if I couldn't reach it, I did not sacrifice the story.

If you let the word count take priority, then that's what you're going to end up with. But if you let the story take priority, then you may or may not end up with 50,000 words, but you'll have a good story. The key is to take a look at how you work, and then tailor NaNo to your needs. That way you can get the most out of this truly grueling process.

I doubt I'll do NaNo again, but if I do, there are some things I know I need to have. I must have an outline, and character journals. Also, I need to have a solid first chapter - because, for me, everything flows downhill. Without those things, I would get nothing from NaNo. But with those things, I could get a novel, which would be my goal.

What was your goal? And what did you end up with?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Accepting an Agent's Offer?

So, you've written a great book. You've revised and polished it to perfection. You researched agents and submitted a great query letter to them, and at least one has made you an offer.

Congratulations!! This is a great place to be. The next question you should be asking yourself is 'should I accept?'

Many times, writers get so excited about this offer that they accept without giving it much thought. After all, any agent is better than no agent, right?


Agents have different working styles, and her style may not match with yours. Her vision for your book may not even be the same, so it's important to find out as much as possible so you can decide whether or not to sign on that dotted line.

First, let me take a moment to share an opinion. I have heard countless writers say that an agent works for the writer. Why? I have no idea because I completely disagree. Agents and writers are equal partners, each having a specific role. One is not more important than the other. One does not have more authority than the other. That kind of balance is what you should be looking for.

In other words, an agent is more than someone who negotiates deals. She will be your partner, your advocate, and you need to find out if the two of you will work well together. That's a hard thing to do, but there are some ways to prepare.

Having a list of questions for THE CALL will help. A lot. But there's more you can think about. What are your working styles? Do they mesh? Are your communication styles similar? Do you need an editorial agent? How early in your WIP do you want feedback? What other books do you plan to write? What do *you* Want from the partnership? What does the agent want? Do they match?

Agent-hunting is a bit like speed dating: you only have a short time to decide if you're willing to take things to the next level, so it's important to keep these things in mind before signing that contract. Otherwise you could be in for an ugly break up.

If it turns out you're not compatible, well, that will feel like a harsh blow. But keep this in mind: you got one agent's interest, so you can do it again. It's just a matter of finding the right match.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Winners of the November book giveaway!

It's time once again to announce the winners of the latest contest!!

The winner of THE ESSPRESSOLOGIST is ...

C.K. !!!

And the winner of ONCE WAS LOST is ...

runningforfiction !!!


Please email me your snail address to tabitha at tabithaolson dot com, and I will get them out to you asap. You have thirty days to collect your prize.

If you didn't win, no biggie. Know why? Because next month there will be more books. And I'm talking lots of them. A HUGE PILE of them. So stop by next saturday to see what they are!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

To all of you living in the US...

Happy Thanksgiving!!!
We're not having turkey this year. Instead, we're just making our favorite foods. So it's kind of a mish-mosh. But a yummy one. :)

Now go eat yourself silly!! :)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Interview with Kristina Springer!

Today, we have an interview with debut author Kristina Springer! She's a fellow Chicagoan (which is reason enough to cheer), and also co-author of the blog Author2Author. So let's give her a warm welcome!!

THE ESPRESSOLOGIST is a sweet, fun book about a teenage barista named Jane. Jane works at a coffee shop in Chicago and she started noticing that the same type of people always get the same type of drinks-- she keeps notes on this and calls it her espressology. One day she decides to hook up one of her regulars with the girl whose favorite coffee drink is the perfect match for his and the fun begins.

What was the inspiration behind your idea?
COFFEE!! :-) Really, I'm a hard core coffee fan and it came to me while sitting in a Starbucks with my hubby one night.

I loved the post you wrote about how your story went from concept to shelves. How has writing and publishing this book impacted you as a writer?
Regarding writing, it helped to not stress and plot and plan too much-- this book sort of FLEW right out of me. I never thought too much about what I was going to write until I sat down each time to work. I guess I just let me be myself. Friends and family (since reading the book) have said oh, I can see you in it! And regarding publishing, WOW I've learned SO much! I'm almost through with getting my second book ready for publication and everything was much easier the second time around. I guess it's like when you have a second baby. The first time you don't know what's going to happen and you're scared. After that it gets easier.

How often do you write, and how much do you write in one sitting?
I write a few times a week-- at least one or two night during the week and then some time on either Saturday or Sunday. I've got 4 kids ages 1 to 7 so I only write when my husband gets home and takes over kid duty.

What are you working on now?
Well, right this very minute I'm going through my first pass pages on MY FAKE BOYFRIEND IS BETTER THAN YOURS (it will be out fall of 2010). And I'm also revising a new YA, PUMPKIN PRINCESS, so that it can go out on submission next week.

Is there anything you have to have with you in order to write?
My laptop! Yummy coffee drinks are also essential. I do all of my writing in coffee shops.

I love it! Goes well with your books. I suppose that's what your writing space looks like?
Like your average Starbucks. :-) Wooden table and chair in the corner, facing the door so I can watch people come in at the same time. Sometimes they end up in my books.

How much do you read, and what are you reading now?
I read at nap time everyday (kids nap-- not mine. I drink too much coffee to nap. :-) ) and I listen to audiobooks in the car. At home I'm reading HATE LIST by Jennifer Brown and in the car I'm listening to PAPER TOWNS by John Green.

Thanks so much for doing this interview!!!
Thanks for having me Tabitha!!!

To see more of what Tina is up to, check out her website, Or, go visit her at Author2Author. For a chance to win a copy of this book, go here.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Final NANO Update!!

I did it!!!

Yesterday, I crossed the 50k mark and kept going. I ended the day at 55,032, and I only have two more chapters to go in my story. YAY!!!!

Oh, I'm tired. This has been one incredibly exhausting experience. It was good in many ways, though. I learned more about myself as a writer, and I now have the skeleton of an incredibly daunting story that's been haunting me for seven years. I'm so incredibly happy!

At the same time, though, I've also learned that NaNo just isn't for me. I'm glad I did it this year, but I doubt I'll do it again. NaNo doesn't allow for the methodical and organized parts of my brain to get a say in how the manuscript is cranked out, and they're very unhappy with me right now. So I now I have to go back through the story and appease them. But I think I'm going to wait until January...

Right now, I'm going to go collapse in a puddle.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Third NaNo Update

As of right now, I have written 44,064 words! Yay!

Next week, my kids are home from school all week. So, basically, I have today and tomorrow to reach 50k word.

So, I'm off to go write... :)

How are the rest of you NaNo-ers doing? Still hanging in there? Feel like you're drowning in words? Have blown my word count out of the water? :)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Preparing for THE CALL

So, you’ve written an amazing book, you’ve revised your query letter to perfection, and the responses you’re getting are more consistent – they have more to do with finding the right match rather than revising to make your story stronger. You’re close, and that means you should start preparing for that thing we all look forward to...


There are two different kinds of phone calls you can get. One is when the agent just wants to chat about your story, perhaps give you a revision request verbally instead of via email or paper. This can be particularly vexing for the writer because phone calls don’t happen often, so it’s easy to get your hopes up a bit too high.

The other kind of phone call is THE CALL, with an offer of representation. Sometimes agents will send an email ahead of time, asking to schedule a phone call, and others will just call out of the blue. I experienced both, and my planning-oriented brain much preferred the scheduled phone call. Because you just can’t get your brain oriented properly for a spontaneous phone call. :)

That said, you can do lots of planning ahead of time. In fact, you MUST plan ahead of time, because, when you get that call, you need to be able to ask your own questions in a coherent manner. If you don’t ask questions, then you have no idea what you’ll be getting in to. And you need to be able to get a good idea of how this agent works.

I spent months researching questions to ask, and compiled a huge list. I went through them during both of my phone calls, and asked each question at some point in the conversation.

Here’s my list:
* Are you a member of AAR? If not, do you follow the same guidelines as the AAR?

* Are you an editorial agent? If so, what are your ideas for revisions? Or is my project ready for submission?

* What do you like best about my work? What made you decide to represent my work? Do you have any other clients with projects similar to mine?

* Are you interested in representing my future novels?

* How involved are you in working with your clients on developing new ideas?

* What are your ideas for submission? Which houses do you think will be a good fit for my work? And how many editors will you pitch to in the first wave? Will you inform me of any and all offers? As well as rejections?

* Have you placed projects similar to mine before? If so, where? How many projects have you placed so far?

* What can I do to increase my book’s chances of selling?

* How quickly do you respond to client questions? How often do you check-in with clients on submission status? And what is your preferred method of communication?

* How many clients do you have? Do you have an assistant or any other kind of support?

* Will you represent me personally, or will my book be assigned to an associate within the agency?

* Do you use a written or verbal agent-client agreement? What does this agreement include/exclude? What is the duration of the contract?

* Does your agency handle the sale of subsidiary rights, like foreign, film, audio, and translation (or do you have a relationship with a sub-agent who handles the sale of these rights on your behalf)?

* What are your commission rates? [Standard is 15% domestic, 20% foreign/film.]

* When you receive money for me, how quickly do you pay out my share? Will you issue a 1099 tax form at the end of the year? How do I get my money if something happens to you?

* If an emergency should happen such that you are no longer able to represent my work, do you have a plan for me or will I need to seek other representation again?

* What are your policies if we should part company for any other reasons?

* How long have you been an agent? How do you like it?

* If you can’t sell this manuscript, what happens? Will you look at my other work? Will you help me develop a new project?

* What happens if two of your clients present you with similar projects – will you take them both on or only one?

* What if I decide to write something in a genre you don’t normally represent? Would you represent that book as well? If not, how would you feel about referring me to another agent?

* If my work goes out of print, but is then picked up by another house, how does this work for you?

* In your mind, what is an ideal client? What are your questions or expectations for me if I decide to take you on as my agent?

I printed out this list, with enough space between the questions for me to write down the answers, and had them handy in case I should get a call. When I did, it took forty-five minutes to get through all these questions, both times. Though it was more a conversation, not an interview, and I recorded the answers as they came up.

I have heard many stories where writers have had to part ways with their agents because of differences in working styles and communication. I really didn’t want to be one of those people, so I tried to put together questions that would at least tell me if we differed on a fundamental level. It gave me peace of mind.

Plus, if I hadn’t had these questions ready, I never would have been able to make an educated choice about which agent I should be working with. And I’m very happy with the choice I made. :)

That said, what if you get one offer? Should you just take it? Maybe, maybe not...but that's the topic for my next post.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Second NANO update

As of this morning, I'm at 25,364 words. Halfway there!

This same time last year, I'd only managed to write half of what I've currently finished. So I'm pretty proud of that. But my life last year was much crazier than it is now, so it's been easier to keeping to my writing schedule this time around. I still have things get in the way (like yesterday, today, next thursday, and the whole week of Thanksgiving), but I'm able to manage them better than I did last year. Which is a very good thing.

I'm also pretty happy with what I've written so far. There is an interesting thread on Verla Kay's Blueboards about what NaNoWriMo has taught you about yourself. It's really interesting to read about what others have learned.

What have I learned about myself? Well, I learned that I can be a pretty fast drafter. And, if I target specific areas of the novel, then the whole thing won't be suffering from lack of quality (just the untargeted areas :) ). So, I'm targeting the basic plot right now, and I feel I have a good structure from which to build the rest of the story.

I have also discovered just how much I love revision. I've always liked it, but I can't believe how much I'm looking forward to revising this novel once it's done. And NaNo is allowing me a quick venue to get the bare bones onto the page, and I am itching to put the flesh and bones on it once it's done. :)

So, how are the rest of you doing? And what has NaNo taught you about yourself?

Monday, November 09, 2009

Interview with Sarah Zarr!

Today we have an interview with the amazing Sara Zarr, author of National Book Award finalist STORY OF A GIRL, SWEETHEARTS, and her most recent ONCE WAS LOST. And can I just say I love the cover? So simple, but very effective.

Tell us about ONCE WAS LOST.
ONCE WAS LOST is about fifteen-year-old Samara, a pastor's daughter in a rural town where a young girl from the community goes missing. That crime precipitates a crisis of faith for Samara, who was already on the brink of one. So there is that aspect of it going on---a character study---but it's a mystery, too, as everyone tries to figure out what happened to the missing girl.

What was the inspiration behind your idea?
The first seeds of the story go back to the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping, which happened here in the community where I live. That case got my "what if" wheels turning. What if I were a teen who sort of knew Elizabeth, but couldn't really call her a friend? What if we were in the same tight-knit religious community? What if I were already in the midst of a personal crisis when a crime like that happened? How would it change my view of the world at such a formative age? The book is not about that particular case, in the end, but I was able to use some of those memories and details, as well as the feelings I was having during that time, in the story.

How long did it take to get from the initial idea to a completed novel?
It's hard to measure, because I started and stopped so many times. I first started with the story back in 2002, and dabbled in it now and then for years. In late 2007 I started seriously shaping it into a the novel that it would become, and first turned it in to my editor in fall 2008. Then we did a serious of major (but fast!) revisions that we wrapped up in spring 2009, and I can't believe it became a published book so quickly after that!

What was your favorite part of writing this book? Least favorite?
I loved being able to really dig into some of the doubts Sam had about her religious faith. As someone who grew up in church, I was often afraid of doubt. It would have meant a lot to me to read about a character with the same questions I had but was afraid to ask. I also loved writing the scenes between Sam and Nick, the older brother of the missing girl. He was a somewhat unexpected character. My least favorite was the first major revision I did for my editor. I rewrote the book from third person into first. That's like writing a whole new novel, but in a very short time. I didn't think I would make it.

How often do you write, and how much do you write in one sitting?
I try to write Monday through Friday, especially when I've got a deadline (which is always, lately). It doesn't always work out when I'm doing promotional stuff for the current book, but I get unhappy fast if I'm not working. Generally I go one to three hours. I usually have some goal, like a chapter or a thousand words or some tangible chunk that will help me feel like I'm progressing. Some days it's a lot of hair-pulling and staring into space, other days it flows and flies.

How is your career different now from when your first book was published?
The biggest difference is that I have an audience. When you start out, no one cares. There are lots of new books to read---why yours? You hope to win them over. Then when you do, you know you can't slack off. Knowing I have an audience keeps me working hard, and also I interact with them through my blog and social networking sites. At the same time, I still write primarily to please myself and write the kind of book I would like to read. That hasn't changed, nor has the fact that writing is difficult! Finding publishing success doesn't solve the basic problem: how do I translate an imaginative vision into language?

How did you get in to writing for young adults?
It wasn't so much a conscious choice. The stories I come up with just seem to always involve characters who are 15, 16, 17. That's my natural writing voice. And, as an adult I've always been a fan of YA literature as much as of books written specifically for grownups.

What are you working on now?
I'm working on my fourth book for Little, Brown. I can't say much about it because it's too early in the process, but it should be out some time in 2011.

What does your writing space look like?
I have two primary spaces: one at home, which is a nook off the dining room and has a simple IKEA desk, with a Levenger Editor's Desk on top of that. I've got some plank shelving for supplies so I can keep clutter off my desk, and adjacent to IKEA desk is my grandmother's little writing desk that is sort of a staging area. My other space is an office I rent away from home. Desk, big monitor, love seat, and stacks of books. Here are some pictures of both spaces at their cleanest!

How much do you read, and what are you reading now?
Not enough! I'm working on rediscovering the joy of reading and figuring out how to let go of everything I know about the publishing industry and let myself get lost in a book. I just started FEELS LIKE HOME, a young adult novel by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, and I'm also reading Marilynne Robinson's HOUSEKEEPING. But slowly, because I do not want it to end.

Thanks for sharing so much with us! I have truly enjoyed reading your books, and I look forward to more of them.

To see more of what Sara is up to, check out her website,, or her blog, For a chance to win a copy of ONCE WAS LOST, go here.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

November Book Giveaway!

This month, I will be giving away two books from two great authors!!

ONCE WAS LOST by Sara Zarr


THE ESSPRESSOLOGIST by Kristina Springer

Be sure to read the entry guidelines carefully, so you get all the entries you're entitled to.

To enter: - Leave a comment on this post.
- For an additional entry, become a follower of this blog and leave another comment telling me so. If you already are a follower, leave a comment telling me this.
- For an additional entry, post a link to this contest, then leave a separate comment with the URL. If you post to muliple locations, then leave a separate comment for each URL.

I will announce the winners on November 28th, and you will have thirty days to collect your prize. Also, look for interviews with both authors later in the month!

Good luck!!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

First NANO update

So? How are all of you doing?

I had a very slow start. I had just finished revisions for my agent only a couple days before NaNo started, so my head was stuck in another story, AND it was stuck in edit mode. My inner editor was up front and center, ready to scream at the crap that a first draft always generates. And, the voice coming out of me wasn't from the MC of my new project. It was from my old one. So it took A LOT to shift away from both edit mode and my old story, and really get into my new one. But I think I'm there now, which is good.

I started NaNo on monday, since I'm a weekday word warrior, and have tried to hit 2500 words per day.

As of last night, I am at 8368 words, which is slightly more than my goal. It's good, but it hasn't been easy. It turns out that the few hours when my kids are at school are not enough to crank out 2500 words. I can only manage about a thousand. But my kids have been great so far, and they've been playing well for an hour or so after lunch, and that's usually enough for me to reach my daily goal. I had some time last night after they went to bed, and I got almost another thousand words written. So I'm pretty happy with where I am right now.

How are the rest of you doing? Cranking words out? Banging your head against the wall? Already panting with exhaustion? :)

Edited to add today's word count: I'm now up to 11,097!!! YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, November 02, 2009

What NOT To Do With Rejection

Last week, I posted about how you can turn rejections from editors and agents to your advantage. This week, I want to take a look at how rejection can affect you personally.

When we write a story, often times the story comes from places deep within us. It’s often been said that writers are basically running around naked, because so much of their stories can come from themselves. So, right off the bat, we have a deeply personal stake in our work.

Then, we work and work and work, sometimes for years, trying to get everything just right. Most people have a job on top of this, perhaps even a family. You could be working on your next promotion, spending time with your significant other or kids, hanging out with your friends, sleeping, reading, exercising, or any number of other activities. But you choose to write because it’s important to you. Several more personal stakes right there.

After all this, you get to the point where you think your work is ready, and you send it out. What happens? You get rejected. Not just once, but many times. Even if you turn those rejections to your advantage and revise, you still may never find someone to take on your project. And that is the ultimate rejection.

But there is still a light at the end of this depressing tunnel: agents and editors don’t intend rejections to be personal. They are in a business, and are looking for things they can sell. If they don’t know how to sell it, then it’s not in anyone’s best interest for them to take it on. So, the simplest, and probably hardest, thing you can do is this: Don’t take their rejections personally.

I know that’s easier said than done, so here are some tips that might help you keep an optimistic attitude throughout this difficult process.

-When you begin querying, decide up front whether you want an agent or an editor. If you decide to go the editor route, keep in mind that if you can’t find one, you won’t be able to go back and look for an agent. At least, not with that project. If you’ve already shopped your project around to all the publishing houses and been turned down, then where is the agent going to go with it? However, if you go the agent route first and don’t find any takers, you can still search for editors on your own. Thinking about this before you begin querying may save you some headaches down the road.

-Even though you may be tempted to, don’t advertise how many times you've been rejected, or by whom. I’ve heard many an agent say that if they can see all the other people who didn’t want your project, then why would they? It makes them predisposed to wonder ‘what’s wrong’ instead of just focusing on your work, or even on what can be improved.

-There will probably be a time when you get a rejection that stings. Really stings. Maybe the rejecting agent was harsh and snarky in her letter. However, that doesn’t mean you should be. Don’t write back with nasty comments, and never publicly rant about how misunderstood your work is or how stupid the agent/editor was. Instead, you have to rise above this and remain professional.

That is, you have to remain professional publicly...which leads me to my last tip, probably the most helpful of all.

-Find a support system for you to vent, scream, cry, rant, rage, or anything else you can think of. Just make sure it’s not a public venue, like message boards, blogs, Twitter, email listserves, etc. There is nothing wrong with having a personal reaction to a rejection. You just need to keep it personal and private. Otherwise any agents or editors who overhear you might think you can’t handle the publishing world, and will pass you by even if your work shows merit. That’s the last thing you want. After you’ve had your rant, then you can go back to the rejection to see if there was any useful information in it. If so, you can use it. If not, you can toss that rejection and keep going.

Probably the easiest way to think of all this is to imagine how you would behave in a normal job. If you regularly snip and snarl at your coworkers, then no one is going to want to work with you. If you rant to your coworkers about how so-and-so doesn’t know how to do his job, that’s going to get back to the person in question and put a strain on your working relationship. If you tell your boss that he’s an idiot, you might lose your job. Or, at the very least, you aren’t going to get that raise or promotion you’ve been working so hard for.

But, generally, people don’t do this. Instead, we go home and rant to our loved ones. The ones who will listen and support us, and give us tea or chocolate cake to ease the pain and frustration. Writing is no different. So, find that support system, vent and rant to your heart’s content, and then get back to your work and make it so good that no one will be able to say “No.”

Sunday, November 01, 2009

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo...2009

It's that time again!! Time to crank out 50,000 words in thirty days.

I tried doing this last year, but my time was majorly hijacked and I didn't get very far. But we had far too much going on in our lives at the time, so I'm not surprised.

Things have calmed down, so I'm going to give it another whirl. Though I won't be able to work weekends, or Thanksgiving, which means I have to crank out 2500 words per day instead of 1667. And there are a couple extra days in there where the kids won't have school, so there's no guarantee I'll get anything done on those days. I'll have to double up somehow on the days they are in school, which could get sticky.

But, we'll see what happens. At the very least, I'll have written a big chunk of my project, which is better than zero. :)

Because I'm doing NaNo, I won't be writing up book reviews. Instead, I'll be posting my word count progress. Mondays will remain the usual posts on craft, plus author interviews (which are all scheduled and ready to go). After NaNo is over, I'll get back to my regular book review schedule.

So, who else is doing NaNo?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!!

To those of you who love to celebrate the ghouls, goblins, vampires, zombies, witches, skeletons, and other such scary creatures, HAPPY HALLOWEEN! And in case you want to read all about how we get to celebrate Halloween twice this year, check out my personal blog.

I'm celebrating my Halloween with gusto because I just finished some pretty hefty revisions for my agent, and I'm really excited with how the story turned out! It wasn't easy, and I had to go through the entire manuscript several times to make sure all the affected characters and subplots were changed appropriately. But the story is so much better, and I'm so excited that I want to scream from the rooftops how much I love my agent!!!!

I hope everyone has a safe and fun Halloween! Be sure to eat enough junk to rot your teeth out.
*throws candy*


Winners of the October book giveaway!

It's that time again! Time to announce who won October's books. So let's just get to it, shall we?

The winner of THE NAVEL OF THE WORLD is...

The winner of DEMON PRINCESS is...

Congratulations to the winners!! Send me an email at tabitha at tabithaolson dot com with your postal address, and I will get those books right out to you.

Don't forget to stop by next saturday to see what I'm giving away for November!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Ash by Malinda Lo

Plot Summary: In the wake of her father's death, Ash is left at the mercy of her cruel stepmother. Consumed with grief, her only joy comes by the light of the dying hearth fire, rereading the fairy tales her mother once told her. In her dreams, someday the fairies will steal her away, as they are said to do. When she meets the dark and dangerous fairy Sidhean, she believes that her wish may be granted. The day that Ash meets Kaisa, the King's Huntress, her heart begins to change. Instead of chasing fairies, Ash learns to hunt with Kaisa. Though their friendship is as delicate as a new bloom, it reawakens Ash's capacity for love-and her desire to live. But Sidhean has already claimed Ash for his own, and she must make a choice between fairy tale dreams and true love.

Ash’s story follows much of the traditional Cinderella story, except with a fairy godfather instead of godmother, and a pretty hefty twist at the end. The story was intriguing and compelling, and I really cared about what happened to Ash.

That said, I am not sure why the author chose Cinderella to tell Ash's story. The Cinderella story has a good-girl main character who always does what she's told. She's not strong, she's not overly intelligent, and she doesn't act to make her life better. Instead, other people do it for her.

Ash isn't like that. She's an independent thinker, strong-willed, and smart. She doesn't wait for someone else to come along and change things, she seeks them out. First, it's the faeries, then it's the huntress. Not very Cinderella-like.

So, after I finished the book, I was left wondering why the author had worked so hard to create so many Cinderella elements in a story that is as unlike Cinderella as it can get. Especially with the ending.

As with all my book discussions, there are SPOILERS below.

The traditional Cinderella story is about a girl who cares nothing for herself, and in the end a man sweeps in to take care of her. Without the man, the story doesn't feel like a Cinderella story.
There is a large absence of men in ASH.

The only consistent male figure throughout the story is the faerie, Sidhean, and his appearances are few and far between. There is Ash's father, of course, but once he dies that's it. She doesn't even think about him until late in the story, when she happens to pass by the graveyard where he's buried. That didn’t ring true to me, because I just can’t see a daughter completely forgetting about her father after his death. Especially since her mother had already died, and he was all she had left. Not only that, he left her in a terrible situation, and she should have been furious with him for leaving her. Instead, she focuses her anger, hurt, and love on her mother. Didn't make sense to me.

If this had not been written as a Cinderella retelling, but had been an original story with maybe a few parallels to Cinderella, I would have loved it. But the author worked so hard to tie her story to Cinderella's that it ended up lessening my enjoyment and left me scratching my head. It could have been so much more powerful, and it's a shame it didn't turn out that way.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Rejecting Rejection and Embracing Revision

Rejection is part of the publication-seeking process. But that doesn't mean it won't hurt each and every time we're rejected. So, how do we find ways to keep going?

Easy. All you have to do is realize one simple truth: rejection is a good thing.

“Right,” you say. “Why would we want to be rejected?”
Well, true, no one wants to be rejected. Even the word, re-JEC-ted, sounds so harsh. But that doesn’t mean we can’t turn it into a good thing.

First, let’s take a look at the kinds of rejections that agents send out.

The Form.
This is the standard rejection letter that agents send to everyone. It takes them two seconds to either copy and paste into an email, or stuff into an envelope. It means that either your query or your story didn’t spark enough to warrant more.

The Personal.
This is a rejection with specific comments about the content of your story. The agent may say your writing is good, or that certain aspects of your story work well, and she might even make suggestions for improving it. But, ultimately, it’s not right for her. So, even if you take her suggestions and revise your story, don’t send it back when you’re done. However, you can send her future projects. Side note: this kind of rejection often comes after a request to see the manuscript.

Revision Request.
This is the best kind of rejection because it isn’t really a rejection. The agent has made a connection with your story, but finds it lacking in specific areas. So, she asks you to improve those areas and then send the story back to her. Agents don’t say these things lightly, so, unless the suggested changes don’t resonate with you, don’t ignore this request. On that same note, don’t assume that you’ll get an automatic acceptance once you’ve revised. She might still say no.

No Response.
This is probably the most difficult and confusing rejection of all, because it leaves us wondering if our query was even received. It’s also becoming more common. The number of queries has risen so dramatically that agents just can’t keep up. Many have decided not to respond unless interested in seeing more.

When you start sending out your query letters, keep this in mind: your query isn’t perfect. Because of this, you absolutely should not send out fifty queries at a time. Not even twenty. Really, you shouldn’t have more than ten queries out at a time. Less is better, especially when you’re first starting out.

The reason is this. If you send your imperfect query to fifty agents, you’re hurting your chances at landing a contract. You get ONE shot with an agent, so you can’t afford to blow it. Instead, send your queries out in small batches, and then you can analyze what needs improvement by the kinds of rejections you receive.

If you’re getting all form rejections, that means your query needs work. Maybe the story summary isn’t compelling enough, maybe you sound desperate or flat instead of passionate about your work, or maybe there’s a glaring error that you missed. Either way, it’s time to revisit your query and make some improvements.

If you’re getting mostly personal rejections, that means there is something lacking in your story. Or, at least, in the beginning of your story. If you can’t hook an agent in the first twenty pages, they aren’t going to keep reading. So, it’s time to revisit your story, armed with any suggestions for improvements.

If you’re getting revision requests, but still getting rejected afterwards, then take a look at the way you revise. Did you really address the issues raised? Did you take the time to absorb the suggestions before you began revising? Did you keep the heart of your story in mind as you made changes? It’s easy to get so excited about an interested agent that you can lose sight of everything else. Above all, you need to stay true to your story so it remains consistent, and at the same time you need to address the issues being raised. Sometimes the agent’s solution will work fine. Other times, you’ll need to come up with your own.

So, as I said in the beginning, rejection is a good thing. Why? Because it tells us how to improve. We just need to figure out how to listen, and then improve our work until there's no way an agent can say no. That's when we'll get THE CALL...which is the topic for next week. :)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Front and Center by Catherine Murdock

Plot Summary: After five months of sheer absolute craziness, D.J. Schwenk was going back to being in the background. But it turns out other folks have big plans for her. Like her coach. College scouts. All the town hoops fans. A certain Red Bend High School junior who's keen for romance and karaoke. Not to mention Brian Nelson, who she should not be thinking about! Who she is done with, thank you very much. But who keeps showing up anyway...

I loved both DAIRY QUEEN and THE OFF SEASON because of one person: DJ Schwenk. She’s such a great character, and I relate to her on so many levels. So, when I heard about the release of FRONT AND CENTER, I snapped up an ARC.

I wasn’t disappointed. I read it in one sitting, and laughed so hard my sides ached! DJ is her same old self – gifted in some things and absolutely horrible in others. Which is partly why I like her so much.

This time, her story revolves around basketball, and the Schwenk trait of not talking. DJ has never had any trouble acknowledging her weaknesses, but she does have trouble overcoming them. But, in order to get what she wants, she will have to face and overcome her biggest weakness yet. And that makes for a very interesting story, with lots of character growth.

This was such a fun story, just like the other two DJ books, and one I definitely recommend.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A New Blog!

I recently started a new personal blog, for things I do with my family. Check it out if you like!

Recent posts:
Three cakes I decorated for my sons' school's bake sale at Fall Fest.

Also, our trip to Paris is on there - and we wouldn't have gone on this trip if it hadn't been for my oldest son. :)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Interview with PJ Hoover!

Today, PJ Hoover, author of THE EMERALD TABLET, is joining us! EMERALD TABLET debuted a year ago, and she is here to tell us about the second book in her Forgotten Worlds trilogy, THE NAVEL OF THE WORLD. So, let's get to it!

THE NAVEL OF THE WORLD is book 2 in The Forgotten Worlds Trilogy. It has the same base set of characters as THE EMERALD TABLET (Benjamin, Andy, Heidi, Gary, and Iva) with the addition of a new gal friend who seems to have a ton in common with Gary, a guy who quotes Iva love poetry, and a special appearance by a Nogical named Lulu. As if one Nogical weren't enough :) Greek gods come onscreen when least expected, and, best of all, it's got time travel. I love time travel!

It’s such a unique title; how did you come up with it?
Thanks! The Navel of the World is actually a reference made to many various places around the earth. These include Easter Island, Delphi, Arizona, Peru, and Jerusalem, just to name a few. You can read more about the navel of the world here:

As to which I'm referring to, you'll have to read the book to find out!

You bet I will!!
Did your writing process change from the first book to the second? Was the number of drafts more or less?
The main way my writing process changed from THE EMERALD TABLET to THE NAVEL OF THE WORLD was in my understanding the value of taking time between revisions. Like lots of time. As soon as I had a complete draft of THE EMERALD TABLET, I wrote a draft of THE NAVEL OF THE WORLD. But after that, I began heavy revisions on THE EMERALD TABLET, and set aside NAVEL for longs periods at a time. And I'm talking six months to a year at a time. Then I took the time to write a draft of book 3, THE NECROPOLIS. What would happen is that each time I came back to NAVEL and re-read it, what I needed to cut and add and revise became so much more clear. I willingly cut things I wouldn't have even considered six months before, and I cut them without remorse.

Overall, I'd say the number of drafts was less, but only because on each draft I made so many more vast changes.

How long did it take to write this book? Was it more or less time than the first?
My first draft stage was maybe a little bit shorter (around three months), though overall time of first word to time of publication was about the same: four years. I started writing NAVEL September of 2005 and it's being published in October of 2009.

How often do you write, and how much do you write in one sitting?
I used to work full time as an electrical engineer which pushed my writing to evenings only. I would write two hours a night—every night. Now that I have more time during the day to write, it varies. Some days I spend doing administrative and marketing things, and other days I'll write for four hours during the day and then maybe another one or two at night. I find when the words are flowing, I try to write as much as I can to get them down. This is a golden time.

What are you working on now?
I have a few different projects in the works and tend to be really tight-lipped about them. But I'll try :)

I have a MG fantasy book heavy in Egyptian mythology that I love. I also have a YA urban fantasy with roots in Greek mythology. And because mythology seems to be the key to everything for me, I also have a YA horror/fantasy with elements of (you guessed it) mythology scattered about.

What does your writing space look like?
I'd have to say in transit. Up until a couple months ago, I had a very organized space with everything within hand's reach. The problem with this writing space was that I had EVERYTHING within hand's reach. I looked up one day and realized I needed to free my writing space. To make it less cluttered and more Feng Shui. So I've taken down tons of shelves, moved office supplies into closets, and am shopping for new bookshelves and a new desk. I want as much as I can out of my office so it's only me and serenity and the word. Sounds nice, doesn't it :)
How much do you read, and what are you reading now?
I read a ton! And I'm trying to read more and more. I think I forgot how much I love to read and felt so stressed for time that I let reading take a backseat. Only in the last year or so have I rediscovered the joy of reading a book. And also the value of it for my own writing. I think it beyond all else has helped my writing in the last year.

To date I've read 56 books so far this year. My goal was 50, but now I'm shooting for 75!

Currently I'm reading THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY by Trenton Lee Stewart and am listening on audio to I'D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU BUT THEN I'D HAVE TO KILL YOU by Ally Carter. I read mostly in genre but have to admit I'll be reading Dan Brown's latest next. I do love a good action-packed novel!

Woohoo!! I'm sure you'll reach your goal. I have had BENEDICT SOCIETY next to my table forever. I really need to move it up. And I loved Ally Carter's books.

Thank you for joining us! Again! :)
Thank you so much for the interview!

To see more of what PJ is up to, check out her website,, and her blog, Roots in Myth. To read reviews of her book, go here, here, and here. For a chance to win a copy of her book, go here.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Liar by Justine Larbalestier

Plot Summary: Micah will freely admit that she’s a compulsive liar, but that may be the one honest thing she’ll ever tell you. Over the years she’s duped her classmates, her teachers, and even her parents, and she’s always managed to stay one step ahead of her lies. That is, until her boyfriend dies under brutal circumstances and her dishonesty begins to catch up with her. But is it possible to tell the truth when lying comes as naturally as breathing?

I'm not usually a fan of unreliable narrators, but the first half of Liar was so intriguing that I was hooked. I mean, Micah admits up front that she’s a compulsive liar, so I was expecting a great battle between her desire to tell the truth and her compulsion to lie. I wasn’t disappointed.

That said, the second half of the book completely lost my interest. For me, the author took things a bit too far...

As with all my book discussions, there are SPOILERS below. Big ones.

There is a huge twist in the middle of the book, which is that Micah is a werewolf. I was focusing so much on the compulsive liar aspect of the story that I missed the clues leading up to the werewolf reveal, so it was a bit jarring for me. Though, once I sat and thought about it, I remembered the clues leading up to it and was able to read on.

But soon after that, I lost interest. Micah gets more and more unreliable, contradicting herself so much that the clues she leaves really lead nowhere. What the reader chooses to believe will be completely based on what he wants to be true because Micah has left things completely open, with not even a nod in the general direction toward the truth. Which means that anything could be true.

That really put me off. It makes me think that the author either didn't know what she wanted to be true, so she went in circles. Or, she was trying too hard too write something revolutionary. For me, it didn't work. But I still would have liked the story if not for one particular scene.

At one point, Micah tells us she lied about having a brother because she wanted to see if we, the readers, would believe her. That bothered me for a couple reasons. First, it made me wonder if this 'wanting to see if we'd believe her' thing was on a larger scale. Like, a book-wide scale. It also bothered me because it's easy to lie to a stranger, and readers are strangers. If a complete stranger told you something that sounded reasonable, you'd believe him because you have no basis for comparison. Same is true for Micah.

If she was trying to prove her prowess about lying, then she should be testing those skills on someone who knows her well. Lying to the reader, and then pseudo laughing at us for believing her, is what killed the book for me. From that point on, I didn't believe a word she said, which kind of makes it impossible to care about how her story is going to turn out.

I really have no idea what her motivation was for the circular lying at the end. If it was to show that she is really a compulsive liar and can't do anything about it, well, she succeeded. If there was another point, then I didn't understand it.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Writing Extraordinary Queries

The journey to signing with an agent is almost always a long and hard one. There are the few exceptions, where the writer got it right in the first book, and the first query letter, and nailed the agent research in the first try. But that doesn’t usually happen. Most of the time, it takes years of hard work. Not including the time it took to write however many books in order to get your writing to a certain level of quality.

But, once you’ve finally written that book, had it critiqued, and revised it, and revised again, then it’s time to move on to the next beast: the query letter.

I wrote a post a year ago about query letters, and how the key to a good query is to put a bit of yourself in it. But today I wanted to break down the query letter itself to examine the different components, and figure out how each part can be the most effective.

First, let’s talk a bit about query letters in general.

The standard length of a query letter is one page, single-spaced. The font should be 10 to 12 points, usually in Times New Roman (this font seems to be the favorite in the industry). If you’re sending an e-query, it should still be one page, and it goes in the body of the email. If you send it as an attachment, it will likely be deleted, unread.

While we’re on the subject of e-queries, never never NEVER send a query to multiple recipients. Copy and paste each query into a new email, addressed to one specific person, with the word QUERY in the subject line.

Now that we have the overall basics down, let’s look at the components of a query.

“Dear Mr./Ms. ,”
Be sure you get the name right. When I get letters in the mail from a company advertising a new service or product, nothing turns me off faster than being addressed by the wrong name. Or even “Resident.” Makes me feel like the company couldn’t be bothered to look me up, and therefore doesn’t really care about me as a consumer. I would imagine that agents feel the same way when getting an incorrectly addressed query. Worse, actually, because a good agent/client relationship has a connection on a personal level. So, never address a query to “Dear Agent.” It makes you look bad.

Opening paragraph.
If you have a specific reason why you are sending your query to this agent or editor, this is a good place to state it: she worked on a book similar to yours, you read her blog and like her style, you met at a conference, etc. No matter what you say, keep in mind that this is your query’s hook, and it needs to be good. Stating that you found this person on Agent Query or Query Tracker shows that you’re doing your research, but it’s also pretty generic (this information can be said later on). Same with things like “I am seeking representation.” That’s obvious, or you wouldn’t be sending the query. Instead, open with a specific reason why you think this agent will love your work. If you don’t have a specific enough reason, then skip this paragraph and go straight to your story’s summary.

Story Summary.
This is a compelling summary of your work, similar to what you’d read on the jacket flap (or the back of a paperback). In fact, before writing this piece, read a bunch of summaries on published works to see how those were done. Then, sit down with your story and capture its essence and flavor in a few short sentences. If it’s funny, then inject it with humor. If it’s dramatic, show some drama. If it’s horror, well, you get the idea. :) If all else fails, write this paragraph as if your main character is writing it, and his/her voice will shine through.

This is about you, the writer. If you have any publishing credits, this is where you list them. If you don’t have any, don’t panic because they aren’t necessary. The focus of your query is the story you’re currently selling, not stories you’ve sold (or haven’t sold) in the past. If you like, you could mention why you write – just don’t say it’s because all the other books out there are terrible. If you are working on another story, then a one-sentence summary could be included here. You can list memberships to writing organizations, like SCBWI, as well. But try to keep this paragraph short and sweet.

Closing Paragraph.
If you haven’t yet mentioned word count, genre, age group, or potential marketing (as in, fans of Author or Book Title will like your work), do so here. If the submission guidelines state to send material, like a synopsis or the first few pages, you can state what you’re including, as well as where you found those guidelines. Also, always thank an agent for her time. That’s something they don’t have a lot of, especially nowadays.

Writing compelling queries is an art in and of itself. And it’s not easy, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t get it right the first time. In fact, you’ll probably revise several times as you get responses...but that’s the subject of my next post. :)

An additional resource on queries is Elana’s Johnson’s ebook, From the Query to the Call. It's excellent, mostly because she has good examples of query letters. Definitely worth getting a copy.

Happy Querying!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

Plot Summary: For years, Grace has watched the wolves in the woods behind her house. One yellow-eyed wolf--her wolf--is a chilling presence she can't seem to live without. Meanwhile, Sam has lived two lives: In winter, the frozen woods, the protection of the pack, and the silent company of a fearless girl. In summer, a few precious months of being human . . . until the cold makes him shift back again. Now, Grace meets a yellow-eyed boy whose familiarity takes her breath away. It's her wolf. It has to be. But as winter nears, Sam must fight to stay human--or risk losing himself, and Grace, forever.

This is a somber and subdued story, yet it's powerful, with plenty of depth. The writing is excellent, the characters are well drawn, and the story draws you in. I truly cared about Grace and Sam, so, even though it wasn’t a fast-paced adventure story, I was still glued to the pages. I think I even finished it in one sitting.

I think this story is the best example of love at first sight, EVER. Grace and Sam are so drawn to each other, even under such strange circumstances, that there is nothing more natural than for them to be together. Some have compared this story to TWILIGHT, but, in my humble opinion, SHIVER blows TWILIGHT out of the water. Mostly because SHIVER makes the reader feel love at first sight in such a tangible way. TWILIGHT didn’t quite do that.
Also, can I just say that I LOVED the cover?

As with all my book discussions, there are SPOILERS below.

The werewolf folklore is quite unique and intriguing, as well as the destined end for all of them. I loved the suspense around Sam’s fight to stay human, and what it would mean when he finally turned back into a wolf. It added an incredible layer to his relationship with Grace.

My one complaint was Grace’s best friends. Rachel was fantastic in the beginning, but then she kind of disappears, and her role becomes more superficial. Which was a shame. As for Olivia, I didn’t understand her motivation behind the fight with Grace. Or the lack of communication thereafter. I thought that could have been explored more.

But still, the story is quite amazing. I recommend curling up with it under a nice warm blanket. :)

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

A Rant About SCBWI in The Washington Times

Today, I read an article Julia Duin wrote in the Washington Times about SCBWI conferences and content in children's literature.

This is what she has to say about the conferences given by the Western Pennsylvania SCBWI chapter.
These conferences lure you with the hope that you can be the next J.K. Rowling.
The reality is far nastier...

I've been to several SCBWI conferences. Not once have I been promised to walk away from one with a contract in hand. What I have been promised is this: to learn more about children's publishing, hear a professional's take on what's currently selling, and learn more about the craft of writing. I am not sure where Ms. Duin got the idea that these conferences promise you fame and fortune. In all the conferences I've attended, I've never been promised that. If I had, I'd be wary of money-sucking scams.

She goes on to talk about the current state of literature for children.
Such is the 21st century, where much juvenile literature is a mile wide and an
inch deep. The discerning parent and teenager will have to seek meatier stuff
from previous centuries, when heroism and ideals still carried the day.

This quote probably disturbs me the most. There are a lot of great books available to kids, many of them published in the last decade. The fact that Ms. Duin disagrees means two things.
1) She isn't reading current children's literature.
2) If she is reading, then she's either not reading enough or is looking in the wrong place.

If she wants to publish a children's book, she must know what's already out there. To do this, you have to read everything you can get your hands on - this familiarizes you with who is publishing what, and you see how different authors handle various aspects of the craft of writing.

The other thing that's terribly wrong with this quote is that she's basically trashing all the current books out there. I could talk about how unprofessional and dangerous that is, but Nathan Bransford has done it for me. So I'll defer to his professional opinion. :)

Basically, Ms. Duin's article comes across as a rant about her personal experience at one conference. And if one conference was this way, then the rest of them are, too, right? Wrong. Sure, conferences aren't perfect, and not everyone gets what she wanted out of it, but that's not how it is for everyone.

To be clear, I'm not saying that Ms. Duin has absolutely nothing to complain about and should keep her mouth shut. There are definitely ways to improve conferences, and to minimize disappointment in paying attendees. Also, if she was concerned about an undeveloped area in books for kids, then she should voice those concerns.

But that isn't how her article comes across. Her ignorance regarding children's publishing is painfully obvious, and the saddest part is that a little research would have alleviated many of her complaints. Instead, she came across as someone unwilling to learn the basic necessities needed to succeed in children's publishing. Which is kind of sad.

What do you think?

Monday, October 05, 2009

Interview with Michelle Rowen!

Today we have Michelle Rowan, author of DEMON PRINCESS REIGN OR SHINE, joining us for an interview. This is her first young adult novel, but she has several adult paranormal books under her belt.

Sure! It’s the story of a sixteen-year-old girl named Nikki who finds out that the father she’s never met before is the demon king of a place called the Shadowlands -- kind of a buffer-zone that protects the human world from Hell. Now that she’s sixteen she’s going to start manifesting certain hard-to-manage “powers,” as well as busting out some horns and wings when she gets upset (fyi, very inconvenient), and must keep all this a secret from everyone she knows. Her father sends a cute guy named Michael to be her guide and protector and it doesn’t take long before Nikki realizes that he has a whole bunch of secrets of his own -- one of which is that it’s forbidden to like him as more than a friend. Not that she does, of course. She already has a sort-of boyfriend. But Michael is pretty hot.

What was the inspiration behind the series? Was it always a series or did it start as a single book?
The original inspiration was wondering what would happen if your average, everyday teenager found out that her father was a demon. If you don’t know who one of your parents is, you can imagine all sorts of different people. I figured, what would be the worst thing ever that would affect you in crazy, unexpected ways? (and give you cool powers, of course). Then I added on the fact that she would be a princess (although as far away from Disney as you can get, LOL).

I always get ideas that are series-length -- or, at least, more than one book. When I wrote Demon Princess: Reign or Shine I approached it as if it would be the first book in a potential series so there are lots of things that aren’t totally resolved. It was not certain it would be a series for a while, but luckily my publisher really loved the idea and agreed that Nikki and her friends should have more than one book. Hooray!

How do you get to know your characters?
Sometimes they arrive in my imagination fully formed and I know exactly what they want and even what their names are. Other times, I don’t find out until I start writing. I don’t try to force it, instead letting their personalities come out gradually. Mostly I just put hands to keyboard and hope for the best!

What was your favorite part of writing this book? Least favorite?
Honestly, my favorite part of writing this book was Michael, the boy Nikki’s father sends to protect her and bring her to his castle. He was just so mysterious and cryptic and angsty -- I got to know him as Nikki got to and he surprised me a couple of times. He’s still surprising me in book two. My least favorite part was doing a bunch of rewrites on this book. I first wrote it in 2006 for Nanowrimo without an outline. While it was fun discovering my characters “by the seat of my pants” I had to do a lot of work to make it into a real book.

How did you go from writing adult books to young adult? Was it difficult to find a new editor, or did your adult books help you out there?
I started off wanting to write young adult books, but I got distracted when an adult book I wrote -- Bitten & Smitten -- got published. But in the back of my mind I still wanted to write for teens since I love YA books. Whether my previously published track record had any influence on getting published in YA, I really don’t know. The two genres -- romance and YA -- are very different so I think editors look at new stuff completely on its own. Now I definitely want to keep writing for both markets.

How is writing for young adults different from writing for adults?
It’s really not that different at all. At least, I don’t think it is. I approach the writing exactly the same way, the only difference, for me, is the age of the main character. Sure, in my adult books I can be a bit more salty with the language and adult situations, ahem, but at its core, the writing process is exactly the same for me.

What are you working on now?
Right now I’m writing the first book in a new urban fantasy duology about vampires that’s going to be a bit grittier and edgier than my other Michelle Rowen books (which, for the most part, are light and funny). I’ll be writing these under a pen name. So far it’s a lot of fun.

What does your writing space look like?
I have a desk that I never use. For some reason I’ve gotten into the habit of writing on my couch with my legs up on the coffee table. It’s not good for my back but I can’t seem to think creatively when I’m in a chair at a desk. I really need to break myself of that bad habit. I took a picture of both of my writing areas so you can see that I’m a bit, uh...messy is a good word. The files on my MacBook, however, are very neat and organized!

Thanks again for doing this interview!!
Thank you very much for inviting me! :)

To see more of what Michelle is up to, check out her website,, or her blog, For a chance to win a copy of DEMON PRINCESS, go here.