Thursday, June 30, 2011

Secrets Drive the Story

Recently, on my own blog, I did a short post on using secrets to keep your reader turning the pages. I think it's this element that draws me to books more than any other--the writing (although I do love a beautifully crafted book), the concept, the characters. I need SUSPENSE to keep me interested. So today I'm going to share three of my favorite books with you and examine how they use secrets to drive the story:

The first book is THE SECRET HISTORY by Donna Tartt. What I love about this book is that you know from the start that the protagonist was involved in a murder. So, in a way, you're given the secret right up front--you're LET IN ON the secret. But the information that keeps you going is the HOW and the WHY. Plus, the book is just gorgeous. 

The next book is HOUSE OF LEAVES by Mark Danielewski. I first read this book in college, and I vividly remember my reaction to the first page, which said: "This book is not for you." Of course this made me want to read it. We all crave what is forbidden. The book, to GREATLY simplify things, is about a family that's moved into a haunted house. The exploration of the house is the secret that fascinates me. What kind of a house measures bigger from the inside than it does the outside? That's what kept me reading. Soooo creepy.

The last book I want to talk about is THE GIRL IN A SWING by Richard Adams. I haven't read this book since high school, but it continues to haunt me. It's about a man who falls in love and marries a woman after knowing her only briefly. The creep factor comes in when he realizes he really knows nothing about her. Strange things keep happening, and only at the end do we come to find out her terrible secret.

I suppose these books say a lot about me as a reader and a writer. My favorite books burrow their way into my skull, not with their gory bits, but with their promise and deliverance of truly juicy secrets.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What is Wednesday--A is for Aether

It's What is Wednesday and we're blogging our way through the Steampunk Alphabet.

A is for Aether.

How Jane Austen and Phyllis A. Whitney Taught Me to Write

I like to write about things that mess with our minds, that crawl inside our heads and twist reality. I like to write about how we think we know something and we don't; or how we suddenly discover something that was there all the time, we just couldn't see it. Whether it be social prejudices or Bigfoot in the backyard, the topics that make us stop and totally revamp our outlook on something or someone is what intrigues me both as a writer and a reader. As I look back on the books I read as a teen - even though the genres run the gamut between mystery and contemporary, horror and romance, sci-fi and historical, classics and thrillers - they all had that same theme. Although there were many, many authors that influenced my writing, two stand out: Jame Austen and Phyllis A. Whitney.

I read everything Austen growing up. The struggles Austen created between her characters' desires (love, independence, adventure) and what society expected always grabbed me. I think because even though I didn't live in that era, the stories echoed my own struggles to be someone other than what everyone expected - and okay, yes, I was also hoping there was a Knightley or Darcy out there, waiting for me.  My all-time favorite is Emma. I absolutely love how Emma gets herself into such trouble because she misses key social clues - especially in her own life (her relationship with Knightley is one of my favorites, seconded only by that of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice). What I love most though is that what Emma thinks she knows and what is truth tangles her in a web of misunderstandings. That tangled web is what I strive for when I am plotting a book. I like to make my characters do things or say things that get them further and further into trouble. Cruel? Maybe, but the fun is watching them get themselves out of it and they are better people for it.

Growing up I also read everything Phyllis A. Whitney. In my opinion, she is the Queen of  Mystery, and her books taught me how to keep the reader on the edge of their seat, turning the pages, and guessing until the very end. While her books were grounded in reality, there was always just enough of the unknown, a tiny taste of the paranormal or supernatural, to keep you huddled in the corner, nerves on edge while you devoured every word. Her books took me all over the world in intriguing set-ups with mysteries to solve or ghosts to find. She threw me in head first and kept me reading, heart-pounding, every time. I love that aspect - and strive to do the same when I write.

My novel BLIND SPOT a contemporary thriller, has a little bit of both Austen and Whitney in it and explores what it is like to be blind, both physically and emotionally, to the things around you. I hope you'll check it out when it debuts in Fall of 2012.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Bring on the Pain

I think it's pain.

I've been sitting here, staring at the screen trying to decide what I want to write for my first Nightstand post (hello, Nightstandland!) and I've been thinking about influences, and I've been thinking about this amazing THIS IS TEEN event that Gina Rosati and I went to (she wrote about it here).

I was super early because I'm practically pathological about being early (if Gina and I could only combine our powers like Captain Planet...), and to entertain us early birds, they had a presentation looping with these candid interviews of Maggie, Meg and Libba (yeah we're totally on a first-name basis now) essentially interviewing each other. Now, I've followed Meg pretty avidly for the past several years; I've read about some pretty dark problems in her past on her blog, and I've loved that she responds to all this with wanting to write happy, "fluffy" novels that inspire joy rather than explore pain. I dig that! But I also understand that a lot of her writing is, whether directly or conversely, inspired by that pain.

And Libba! During the loop, she talked about being in a horrific car accident and the choices, surgeries and physical pain she underwent afterwards. At 18. Talk about formative experiences; talk about starting your adult life with a huge swell of harsh emotions and harsher realities.

Sometimes I think that writing itself comes from pain, not from joy. I just finished watching an episode of the (significantly crappy) show PLATINUM HIT on Bravo. It's total fluff; whatever. One of the contestants wrote a song about being in love with another contestant, and it was awful. Additionally, I just finished reading Jay Asher's 13 REASONS WHY (incredible book!!) and in it the (arguable) main character describes going to a poetry group that claims to write poetry to find joy, but really only talks about deep emotional scars.

Are the two mutually exclusive? Does writing not expand when you look at it from different emotions, different perspectives? Can you not write from pain AND joy?

Have you ever watched a commercial for wrinkle filler cream? The animated "simulation" comes up and the cream is applied and forms a semi-translucent bubble, swelling over every nook and cranny to form a smooth, artificial surface. Joy is like that. Joy adapts and fills in and presents this smooth barrier to the world. Which is incredible--it glazes over every problem and it swells your heart and it fills spaces within you that you previously weren't even cognizant of. But writing from joy creates that artificial smoothness, I think. The nooks and crannies--in writing, skin, and life--are what make things interesting, and more than that, inspiring, and joy leaves you blind to them.

So my influence? I guess it's pain, in a lot of ways (and heyo, no I don't write really dark gothy stuff or anything). I write crazy high fantasy and dramatic historicals when I want to escape pain and just live in a glittery world. I write edgier contemporaries when I have pain that I want to deal with and confront. I even have a few stories that I acknowledge are total crap and thoroughly two dimensional that I sometimes write for solace, knowing they aren't ever intended to see the light of day, just to let me spend some time with a really simple character.

Writing IS the joy. My influence, my driving force is pain, but when I write, when I forget the pain, embrace the pain, or just deny it altogether, it's bliss. I find it really difficult--if not fully impossible--to write from a place of joy; first comes the pain, then comes the writing, and then, oh then, comes the joy.

Here's to loving your pain, and finding your bliss.


Monday, June 27, 2011

The Little Agent That Could

Or, how my best friend and I finally got me published.

Also, said Agent and I have been celebrating our victory and my birthday weekend in South Beach, Florida right now, so this story already has a happy ending.

You are fresh from the first of three colleges you’ll drop out of. You answer a literary agency’s craigslist post. You run to your interview in a black office dress and black heels. You are overdressed.

Yep, that’s me.

For my first visit to PMA Literary and Film Management, I looked like a secretary. The lady interviewing me for the position of minion, AKA slush pile goon, AKA mail dropper, AKA future coffee addict, was Adrienne Rosado. Adrienne, cool and always in a funny t-shirt, quickly became my close friend as she occasionally contributed to my underage drinking. I learned how to write a query letter. I learned the neat and many categories books get divvied into. I learned that 95 % of submissions are unreadable and 3% of them are from prison inmates and wanna-be pimps. I learned many things.
After all I was an eager wannabe writer in sponge form, soaking up all the publishing knowledge.
I also here and now (from Miami beach) take FULL RESPONSIBILITY (and credit) for introducing my young friend Adrienne to Young Adult fiction. She was all, what the hell is that book? And I was all, uhm, A Great and Terrible Beauty by some new writer Libba Bray, duh. There’s magic and a teen girl and stuff.

Eventually, we would make weekly trips to the B&N across the street from PMA's Chelsea/Flatiron office. (That B&N is no longer there and now replaced by a Trade Joe’s. Our hearts died slowly because we now take longer trips to the Union Square B&N a whole 9 blocks away!) We studied the genre. We learned that my writing was YA. We told me to finish a fucking book already. Said "fucking book already" was started in New York and finished in Montana. A coming of age of an untraditional Ecuadorian girl with pink hair who rebels against her family and Quinceañera (Sweet 15. The brown MTV has a whole show about it now).

We learned that it was funny and everyone love it but no one would offer. We learned that there were “too many books of this sort around.” We learned that “there really isn’t a market for Brown Girl books.” We learned that publishing is fickle and pretty much sucks.

I returned from Montana, after dropping out of college #2. I stopped writing. She kept agenting.
It’s funny, how people say that you need to take a step away from your art and yourself before you can revisit it. It’s funny because it’s true. Maybe not funny in the ha-ha king of way. But certainly in the kind of way that is painful, soul killing, and exhausting.

By that I mean that I went back to school for writing (AGAIN). I learned that writing in college would never be as fulfilling as the workshops I had at the National Book Foundation writing camps (a different story for another time). I learned that I wasn’t writing what I wanted. I learned to work in the New York City nightlife. I learned that I was so consumed with selling a book and finding a market that I wasn’t writing what I loved.

I learned that the selling and market part was Adrienne’s job.

I learned that after much therapy and a partial lobotomy, I would never, ever, get over my love of mermaids. I unleashed my mermaid flag and finished the world that lived in my head since age three, when I was in Ecuador reenacting the Part of Your World scene on my couch.

I dropped out of college #3, despite my mother’s shrill Ecuadorian screams.

I wrote The Vicious Deep. Adrienne sold The Vicious Deep.

Yeah, we make a pretty good team.

Write on like,

Adrienne Rosado of PMA Literary and Film Management represents authors like the wonderful RITA award winner Caridad Ferrer and adult fiction star James Boice.

Zoraida Cordova is celebrating her birthday in South Beach, Florida. She'll get back to writing Book #2 as soon as she's done with this margarita.

P.S. This is the scene I was talking about.

Friday, June 24, 2011

What's on Your Nightstand?

Welcome to our new Friday feature, where we'll be sharing what we're reading.
Anne Greenwood Brown: I'm re-reading HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS so when the last movie comes out I'm sufficiently prepared to complain about what crucial details were left out! Just kidding--It's just that I'm that obsessed (and that depressed that Pottermore isn't going to be a new book).
Zoraida Cordova: I'm reading REAL MERMAIDS DON'T WEAR TOE RINGS by Helene Boudreau. My debut is about merdudes and mergirls, so I'm stocking up on all the new releases.
Suzanne Lazear: I'm reading THE IRON THORN by Caitlin Kittredge.
Elisa Ludwig: I just finished THE HANGED MAN by Francesca Lia Block. Though I've been curious about her work for a while, this was the first of Block's books that I've read. Alternately lyrical and hard-edged, this story of a troubled girl lost in a surreal LA shocked and enchanted me.
Nicole Maggi: I'm reading two books right now - one the old-fashioned way and one on my Nook. On my Nook I've got Meg Cabot's AIRHEAD. I love Meg Cabot! She's got such a great voice in all of her books and there's not a story of hers that I haven't enjoyed. On my nightstand I'm reading THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett. Wow. I hope I write like that when I grow up.
Danny Marks: An ARC of Mike Mullins' grim and terrifying disaster epic ASHFALL and Lauren DeStefano's WITHER because SISTER WIVES is on hiatus.
Eve Marie Mont: I just finished Lauren DeStefano's WITHER, which was so gorgeously written, restrained, and haunting. Somehow DeStefano managed to write an action-packed dystopian with the subtlety of a poet. The ending, while satisfying, leaves me longing for the sequel.
Kathleen Peacock: Triggered by my post, I'm halfway through re-reading THE VAMPIRE LESTAT for the first time in well over a decade. I keep stumbling upon individual lines (like when Gabrielle says "Disaster, my son.") and feeling as though I've just bumped into an old friend on a crowded street.
Gina Rosati: It promises to be an amazing readbug summer. Lined up on the top of my list are THE ETERNAL SEA by Angie Frazier, PASSION by Lauren Kate, ABANDON by Meg Cabot and THE LOST CROWN by Sarah Miller.
Jessica Spotswood: I just finished TRIAL BY FIRE by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, the sequel to RAISED BY WOLVES. It’s my favorite werewolf series so far: fascinating pack dynamics, a strong and likable heroine, and a plot that keeps me turning the pages.
What about you guys? Have you already read any of the books on our nightstands? What are YOU reading?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Rockstar Vampire Who Changed My World

“You know it was the damnedest luck!” I whispered suddenly. “I am an unwilling devil. I cry like some vagrant child. I want to go home.”

I am the Vampire Lestat. I’m immortal. More or less. The light of the sun, the sustained heat of an intense fire—these things might destroy me. But then again, they might not.

- The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice

My teen years were irrevocably shaped by two authors: Douglas Adams and Anne Rice. Theirs were the books I turned to most often, the ones that got me through the day. The short stories I wrote in high school—most about humorously inept fallen gods and seductive creatures of the night—were by-products of my love for The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul and The Vampire Chronicles (the first four books).

Now, years later, if I had to sum up the lasting impact those two authors have had on me, I’d say this:

Douglas Adams irrevocably sharpened my sense of humour and is partially responsible for my habit of looking at the world as though it’s the punch line to a joke waiting to be told.

Anne Rice is the reason I write about people—werewolves and humans alike—struggling with the dark.

She’s not the only reason (all that Stephen King I read as a pre-teen, for example, probably had an effect), but when I think back to how I felt the first time I read The Vampire Lestat*, I remember the feeling of a key turning, of something clicking. An ah-ha moment, if you will.

The books opened up a whole line of thinking that hadn’t occurred to me when reading Salem’s Lot or watching Monster Squad. How do you reconcile the fact that you have to take life to live? What parts of being mortal do you cling to and which do you let go? How do you cope with immortality? Not the strength or the eternal youth but the slow grind of centuries and a world that evolves while you remain frozen. Heck, what do you do with the sheer boredom of it all? I mean, there are only so many games of Battleship a vampire can play...

Maybe rereading The Vampire Lestat and The Tale of the Body Thief until their covers were in tatters (not to mention obsessively carrying around a copy of The Anne Rice Trivia Book ** at sixteen) somehow sealed my fate. Maybe it was always inevitable that when I decided to write a werewolf book, it would be less about turning furry and running through the woods and more about struggling to hold onto the things that made a person, well, human.
*Yes, the picture above is the edition of the book that I had.
** This was in a small town in the days before Twilight and Buffy. It did not make me cool.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

What is Wednesday--What is Steampunk?

Welcome to "What is...Wednesday."

Have you heard the term Steampunk but still don't know what it is?

Today I'm going to explain it for you.

Actually, I'm going to vlog about it. I'm the worlds most awkward vlogger.

But I am wearing a great hat--because I write Steampunk for the hats.

FAN GIRL 101: Maintaining Your Dignity at an Author Event (or not)

Last Thursday, I had the privilege and pleasure of attending THIS IS TEEN, an event sponsored by Scholastic and hosted by the incomparable indie book store, Wellesley Booksmith featuring bestselling YA authors Libba Bray, Meg Cabot and Maggie Stiefvater.

If you are looking for great summer reads, flip-flop on down to your local library or indie bookstore and pick up their latest books – BEAUTY QUEENS by Libba Bray, ABANDON by Meg Cabot, and on July 12, FOREVER by Maggie Stiefvater.

Okay, so I don’t do well with famous people. When I was ten, I was invited to be part of the studio audience for Earth Lab, a local television show starring Rex Trailer and I got to hand Mr. Trailer his guitar ON THE AIR. They ended up cutting that part out, probably because I was shaking so much because Rex Trailer is freakin’ famous!

Fast forward to June 16, 2011. I arrive late to THIS IS TEEN because *disclaimer* I’m always late for everything. The nice lady at the door gives me a ticket, which I shove into my pocket. I watch Libba/Meg/Maggie’s awesome presentation, which you can watch on this very cool blog here and then they announce ****drumroll**** books will be signed.

Cool! I want my books signed!

Remember that ticket I shoved in my pocket? Yeah, well, there was a number on it. Since I got there last, I’m the very last person in line. It takes me all of thirty seconds to see the bright side of this . . . with no one else waiting behind us, our chances of getting a photo with all three Amazing Authors is greatly enhanced.

Fellow Apocalypsie AC Gaughen, Meg Cabot, Maggie Stiefvater, Libba Bray, Gina Rosati

Meg Cabot is adorable. I tell Meg she has her very own shelf in the middle school library where I volunteer (she’s written that many books), and her books are consistently the most checked out by our students. Meg seems happy to hear this and she signs my books, even the Allie Finkle book I brought from home for my daughter.

Maggie Stiefvater is adorable, too. I ask Maggie if there’s anything she can't do, since she’s a bestselling author, she’s a fabulous artist, she can play the bagpipes and she’s SO brave, she let a real, live wolf kiss her on the mouth, which would make me wonder if it loved me or if it was just tasting me to see if I’m worth eating.

So far, so good! I’ve still got my dignity, plus three signed books!

Libba Bray is . . . well, once I’m standing in front of Libba Bray, I blurt out “Ohmigod, I love you!” And my brain must have been skipping just then, because I remember repeating that a few times.

Then I come out with this little gem: “Ohmigod, I didn’t cry when my own mother died, but I cried when *characterIwon’treveal* died!”

Yes, really.

So by now, Libba is looking concerned about my mental health. Someone must have snuck in AFTER me, because I am no longer the last person in line so I don’t have time to explain to Libba Bray why this crying/not crying situation was a good thing.

There are between 70-80,000 words in an average YA book, and every one of those words is a choice. I think the words that carry the most weight are those little crumbs from our own experience that spice up the story. In my upcoming YA paranormal romance, AURACLE, my main character, Anna, and I share a characteristic . . . crying does not come easy to us because we learned at a young age that crying children pissed our fathers off in a big, bad way.

I started writing AURACLE the summer my mom went through the end stage of Alzheimer’s. My mom had taken care of her own mother and her aunt when they were each sick with Alzheimer’s, and when things were really crazy (like when my aunt ate an entire bag of cookies then threw up all over her bed … yes, I know, yuck) my mom would laugh and tell me if she ever got like that, just take her out back and shoot her. That sounds terrible, doesn't it, but that was her gallows humor - it was her way of telling me she’d rather be dead than go through the humiliation that is Alzheimer’s. Eventually, we had to hide the bag of cookies from my mom, too, until the time came when she couldn’t even remember how to swallow. Instead of crying when she died, I celebrated her life by eating something decadently chocolate.

But sometimes, a good cry is good. I read Libba Bray’s THE SWEET FAR THING, the finale to the Gemma Doyle trilogy, four months after my mom died. People die in books all the time and I don’t even blink, but the way Libba Bray wrote one particular scene, I had to put the book down and go fetch the Puffs Plus. I cried for that dead character and the ones left behind, I cried for my mom and for everyone else who has ever pulled the short straw in life. I went through a lot of Puffs that day. It was a relief to know I was still capable of that kind of emotion. After, I felt this immense gratitude to Libba Bray because I don’t believe you can write like that unless you’ve loved and lost yourself.

To sum up that feeling of gratitude in the ninety seconds I stand before a (famous!) author is impossible for me to do in an eloquent manner. So as fair warning to the other authors who can really wring emotion out of me, like A.S. King and David Levithan, if a woman appears in your signing line babbling “Ohmigod, I love you!”, don’t worry. It’s only me.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My Major Influences (Or, How I Learned to Slay Vampires and Cast Spells)

I could spend several days and dozens of notebooks listing all of my influences as a writer.  And if you're anything like me, you're influenced by EVERYTHING - books, movies, television (I'd be lost without LOST), Wikipedia (where I found the inspiration for SHIFT), the woman I met in a Roman train station who is the basis for a major character in my trilogy - the list goes on and on.

But when it comes down to it, I can sum up the biggest influences on my writing in two words:

Buffy and Harry.

That might sound like a D-list Hollywood couple, but they're two characters near and dear to my heart - Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Harry Potter.

Buffy came first for me.  My husband had to coerce me into watching it (I was in my early twenties when it came out and remembered the awful movie that preceded it).  One episode in, I was hooked.  Joss Whedon had his finger on the pulse of what makes teenagers' hearts beat, but the show was executed in a way that everyone could relate to.  He captured the angst, the Sturm and Drang that we all experienced, not just as teenagers but throughout our lives.  And the characters grew and changed and failed and succeeded - they were living, breathing people that we cared deeply about.  Those relationships were the heart of the show; the demons were secondary.  I think that's the biggest thing I took away from the show as a writer of paranormal; you can have the coolest demon in the world, but if you don't care about the character who's battling it, it doesn't matter.

The Buffy-verse informs so much of the YA world.  I use it as a reference point constantly.  In the original version of SHIFT my mentor character was older, in his late thirties.  Then one of the notes I got from my editor was that she wanted me to make him young and hot.  Here's how that conversation went:
Me:  "See, I always imagined him as a Wesley type."
Editor:  "Yeah...we want him to be Angel."

Every Tuesday night for seven years Buffy gave me inspiration.  She lives on in my work, and will always be deeply ingrained in me as a major influence.

Two years after Buffy appeared, I discovered Harry.

I bought the first three books just before the fourth one came out.  I read them over and over until the midnight release party for GOBLET OF FIRE and then read all four books over and over until the fifth one...and then read those over and over...well, you get the idea.  I return to these books again and again and every time they are just as wonderful as the first time.

Why?  What is it about Harry?

J.K. Rowling touched something deep within every human being's psyche - the idea that, deep down, we are all extraordinary.  We may be lost in our daily lives; we may be poor orphan boys who are tormented by their spoiled cousin.  But one day, we will wake up and that extraordinary thing inside of us will be recognized.  One day, a half-giant will come and tell us that we are a wizard.

In my writing, I rely heavily on The Hero's Journey.  And Rowling is a master at it.  Not only does Harry complete the Journey in each individual book, he also has a larger Journey that spans all seven books.  Every book starts in his Ordinary World and ends with Harry Returning With the Elixir.  And then you look at the entire series and can track each step clearly throughout all the books as well.

And through it all, there is never a moment that we don't believe.  (I'm talking about the books here.  In the movies they have changed some things that I don't agree with.)  There is never a moment where we feel disconnected from Harry.  We suffer through the consequences of his mistakes (oh, Sirius!) and rejoice with his victories.  I've read PRISONER OF AZKABAN at least a dozen times and every single time I cry when Harry realizes that it was he himself who cast the Patronus charm on the banks of the lake. 

One of the other things I love about the series is that we can see Rowling growing as a writer with each book.  It's like she's maturing alongside Harry.  It's a good reminder that as artists we are constantly learning, expanding, evolving.

There will never be another Harry, just as there will never be another Buffy.  They both came to me at a time when I needed them.  Threads of their inspiration weave their way through my work, and will forever.

What about you?  What are some of your major influences?  And I challenge you to name another love story as beautiful and tormented as Buffy and Angel!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Agent Story: How I Allied Myself with Agent Awesome

My path to publication might seem deceptively quick. BORN WICKED was only on sub for a week; it sold just a a year after I started writing it in earnest. But it wasn't my first book--or the one that got me an agent.

I started writing INHERITING GAROLASS in September 2007. I finished a rough draft, had it critiqued by friends, and began rewriting. La la la, I wrote a book! It was awesome! I thought I'd be ready to query the next fall. Except. I realized halfway through my rewrite what was actually wrong with it: it was written in third-past, and it needed to be written in first-present. It would require a lot of work--months and months--but once I knew that was the key to fixing my story, I couldn't very well shrug it off. Could I?

It's so easy to want to query it already, send it out on sub, get it back to your editor, hurry-hurry-hurry. God knows I am guilty of this myself. Patience sucks. But I think it's important to resist the siren lure of maybe it's good enough now? I think, beneath the doubt monsters and the writerly neuroticism, you'll know when it's good enough. When you can't make it any better without help. You want to give it the best possible chance, right? So you have to do the work, no matter how long it takes.

I learned how to revise with this book. I cut characters, melded others, cut the scene that had originally inspired the whole thing. The draft I queried with was the fifth major one. In September 2009, I was finally ready. And, being a pathologically organized creature (or possibly a fear-filled procrastinator), I did my homework. I researched agents on, I read the acknowledgments sections of books I loved, I made a spreadsheet. I sent out five queries in my first round. Three weeks later, I had four form rejections and one offer of representation from Jim McCarthy at Dystel and Goderich.

Here's the query that intrigued him:

Dear Mr. McCarthy:

You represent authors like Richelle Mead and Carrie Ryan whose work made me fall in love all over again with YA fiction. I’d like you to consider my YA fantasy, Inheriting Garolass, about a seventeen year old portraitist who discovers her link to a world where artists are considered dangerous enemies of the state.

Molly Randall expects to spend her summer working on her art school applications and squirming under her stepmom’s critical gaze, but those expectations are shattered when she stumbles into a parallel world. Gemma West takes Molly under her wing, but why is the Guardian’s daughter so interested in a quiet otherworlder? Soon Molly is caught between Gemma’s glamorous friends and a group of talented outcasts called Giovanti; between the sexy-but-taken boy of her dreams and a charming musician; between her hunger for the truth about her parents’ divorce and a fierce loyalty to her absent mother. When Molly becomes the pawn in a deadly political fight, she’s forced to take sides. Her choice reveals the shocking truth about her mother’s long-held secrets and her own unique inheritance.

I am a member of SCBWI. Inheriting Garolass is my first novel, complete at 84,000 words, and I am currently at work on the sequel. Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

I had an agent! I was so excited. And he's been amazing. Funny, patient with my writerly neuroticism, lightning-fast to respond to questions, brilliantly editorial in his revision suggestions.

Except this book? The book for which I wrote this agent-nabbing query? It still wasn't good enough.

It didn't sell.

In retrospect, I'm glad. It turns out I could do better.

But, yeah, publishing takes a lot of patience. And submissions should be considered one of Dante's circles of hell. More on that next time!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Blog Launch! And Giveaways!

Welcome to the launch of The NIGHTSTAND: For Books Both Sinister and Strange, the blog of YA paranormal and thriller authors debuting in 2012! Come back for weekly features such as Agent Stories where we relate the sometimes arduous journeys that brought us from being lonely writers pounding away in dark corners to finally getting The Call, cover reveals, things we've learned on the path, and other topics of miscellany and mayhem.

To celebrate our launch, we're giving shout-outs to the writers who are going before us, two awesome recent releaseses, both signed copies: the gorgeous fantasy HUNTRESS by Malinda Lo and the deliciously creepy SLICE OF CHERRY by Dia Reeves!!!

To enter, please COMMENT IN THE SPACE BELOW with your name, email address, and add up your points:
+1 for Following
+1 for Tweeting about the Giveaway
+1 for Blogging about the Giveaway

Open to US residents only. Contest ends June 30th!