Monday, January 14, 2013

New Name, New Blog

I'm not quite finished transferring all my gadgets to the new blog, but all my posts are there. Once I have everything transferred, I'll try to figure out how to auto-redirect everyone from here to there. Until then, please pop by my fancy new blog at:


See you there!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Soundtrack of My Name Change

Sorry for the blog silence. Real life around here has been... intense. Rather than explain, why don't you just enjoy the songs that have been running through my head?

This was my theme song for the week after New Year's. I learned it in college voice lessons to teach me how to belt. I've always thought it was beautiful, but never before was it at all applicable:


I fought this next one for a long time, but, well. Truth is truth, even when it's hard:


This is my favorite fight song--many of the lyrics are wishful thinking (at least at present), but quite a few of the story details are... accurate.


Of course, there are days (getting fewer and fewer) when this song applies best (well, with a gender reversal):


These next two are songs I've shared with my three sons. I can't express how grateful I am for how wonderful my children are. They are such a support to me right now.




And, of course, this all leads to the sad conclusion: I'm going through the Big D (and don't mean Dallas.) (That song only applies in title, but it's kind of catchy.)

I'm not quite sure what I'm doing with this blog yet--it has the wrong name on it. I'm reverting to my maiden name: Robin Ambrose--which I've been assured is an awesome writer name. Also, yes, I'm very VERY grateful that I haven't published yet. Thanks for asking. :)

Please stay posted. Real life is still taking all my spare time, but I'm taking steps to set up a new blog with the right name and will do whatever I need to do to make sure you all find your way over to the new one.

Please also know that I'm going to be fine. I've been overflowing with love over the last few weeks--I have so many friends both in real life and online who have gone out of their way to prop me up, let me rant, and give me concrete advice on how to come out on the other side of this in one piece. You guys all rock!

Monday, December 24, 2012

My Favorite Christmas Song

In honor of the holiday, I wanted to share this song by Faith Hill. The first time I heard it, I didn't even realize it was a Christmas song until the end. Which made me love it even more.


Get More:

I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas. Thanks so much for all your support, friendship, love over the last year.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Desperate for Balance

As I crossed the NaNo finish line, my husband clued me on on something: he was feeling neglected. Not just a little neglected, but crisis-neglected. I was . . . a bit shocked.

If you've followed my blog at all or if you care to check out the My Hubby tag, you know two things: 1) my husband is about the most supportive man in the world, and 2) we have next to no interests in common. He will never enjoy spending time with me while I'm writing or reading: he doesn't write, he doesn't read, and he doesn't understand why I like it. I will rarely enjoy spending time with him doing the things he loves: I don't ski, fish, hunt, or understand why he likes it.

For over 12.5 years of marriage, we've made it work anyway.

But it--whatever it was--isn't working anymore.

Last month, I thought everything was right with my marriage. Now I know there need to be changes or things will get very, very wrong.

So I need advice, wise readers. I know a lot of you are married and are very happy. Do you have advice for a writer who wants it all? Is it possible to have a day job, happy husband, content children, relaxing reading and STILL have time to write? How do you do it?

If your spouse isn't a writer, what do you do to make sure you spend time with them? How do you involve them in your writing life (if at all)? If you have two hours of free time after the kids are in bed, you haven't written anything all day, and the spouse is watching a show you don't like . . . what do you do?

I've had exactly one idea to fix this: we're going to learn how to play the guitar together. Hubby has expressed interest and I've always thought it would be fun. Might not have been a priority in my life, but if we both enjoy it . . . well, it has a leg up on every other non-bedroom activity in the world. This, naturally, will take even more time away from writing, but it should provide some forced togetherness with the love of my life, and that ain't bad.



I've pondered whether I can give up writing entirely. Hubby assures me he'll never ask it of me--he just wants some balance. I'm not entirely sure I can give it up without being miserable. I can go long stretches without it, but I need a creative outlet, and I love words. (Lovely, lovely words.) I'm relatively certain I can kill that part of me, but . . . then part of me will be dead. And the years I've spent on my writing will have been wasted. And I don't want that. I still want to be a published writer. Preferably one who can afford to buy her husband a ranch.

So help? Ideas? Advice? Wisdom from on high? Thoughts on where to buy a couple of cheap beginner guitars?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Late to the "And You Are...?" blog hop



I didn't even see Emily King's and Tammy Theriault's blog hop until today, but I wanted to play anyway, so here I am. :)


1. How many speeding tickets have you gotten?
Um... none? I was pulled over for speeding once and given a warning because I was new to the area. Now ask me how many accidents I've caused. Uh, actually, never mind. Don't ask.

2. Can you pitch a tent?
Yes. But why, when I have a husband to do it for me? :)

3. What was your worst vacation ever?
First family reunion with the new in-laws. We left the pretty lake and drove 3 hours one way to take a 15-minute tour of a house carved into a rock. The tour guide wasn't even all that good.

4. What was the last thing you bought over $100?
Smart phone. Oh, how I love it! *Wonders if it was really over $100* *Decides that yes, yes it was*

5. We're handing you the keys to what?
Sadly, I don't care much. I want it fuel-efficient, with comfy seats, power windows-and-stuff, sunroof, and approved by hubby.

6. What was the last meal you cooked that made even you sick?
Well, I made brownies when I was about 12 that had waaay too much salt in them. Other than that, I eat just about anything, so it's hard to make something that makes me sick. :) I did get food poisoning at a restaurant, once, though....

7. Fill in the blank: Oh my gosh! Becky, look at her butt! It is so big. She looks like ____?
I used to before I decided to start using my gym membership!

8. What was your first car?
The one my husband had when we got married. :)

9. Your best friend falls and gets hurt. Do you ask if he/she's okay or laugh first?
Smile first, then concern face (quick, before she can see), then laugh later. Together.

10. What's the worst song ever?
All I Wanna Do is Make Love to You by Heart. I mean, seriously? You're in love with someone else and you think there's anything right about sleeping with a random stranger? Poor poor tortured soul. (Well, obviously not tortured enough.) Worse? I went back to look up the artist and read through the lyrics again. And now I know she slept with him because the man she loved couldn't give her a baby. So now she's completely betrayed two men. *shudders*

So did you play? Wanna join late so I'm not the last one on the list?

Friday, November 30, 2012

I Won NaNo!


I'd love to tell you all about NaNo this month, but I have no brain cells left to create more words today. So see this picture instead:


See me chase the line all month? TIRED!

This is how the calendar looked--green are days I wrote at least 1667. Yellow are for when I fell short of that. Orange is for the day I wrote 35 words. :) I think there was a different color of green for really, really awesome word-count days, but I never got one of those, so I don't know.


Then when I thought I was done, it turned out I was 200 words short and I had to sit down and pound some out before I could certify. TIRED!

And now I need to go figure out which three of the awesome Pitch Wars mentors might most like the novel I'm querying. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Pitch Wars!!!

I'm still struggling through NaNo, as you can see in my sidebar. I'm a little behind, but I'm catching up. I can do this!

Of course, it's made harder when awesome contests pop up toward the end of the month. The good news is that November 26 is just the start of the information-gathering stage. December 5 is when the real fun starts.

It's....
Go here for full deets

This is another awesome contest by the inestimable Brenda Drake. It's gonna be awesome. Well, I hope. There's also a chance I'll be outta-luck when none of the mentors pick me. I'm just not gonna think about that. Of COURSE the mentors will love me! They'll be fighting over me! (It could happen.)

So what are you doing for Thanksgiving?

Monday, November 12, 2012

It's Captcha Craptcha Day!

Photobucket

I had to join this blogfest, too, mainly because it's really easy to just say:

Turn the captcha off on your blog! Blogger has wonderful spam filters that snag all the stupid spammers and ad-bombers in comments and that don't require me to stand on my head while chewing gum and auditioning for Rain Dance. It's annoying for me to compose a brilliant blog comment, click submit, and then have to spend 2 minutes puzzling through 5 rounds of captcha codes just to justify the 30 seconds I spent composing said comment. (Okay, that's an exaggeration. Sometimes my comments only take 5 seconds to compose.)

Go here for instructions to turn the dang captcha code off.

That is all.

Back to NaNo. (Which really needs its own hate day.)

UPDATE: Shelly's post today included a TED talk from one of the guys responsible for the Captcha codes--and some of them are helping to digitalize books. He doesn't mention the stupid blurry pics of numbers, but he's really doing some amazing things with the hours we're all spending puzzling those codes out. Also, check out Duolingo. And watch the video (I've never met a TED talk I didn't like):

Thanksgiving Blog Hop

I'm a sucker for just about anything Brenda Drake does these days. She has tons of awesome contests and is an all-around awesome person. I am in awe of her awesomeness. Truly.

So when she starts a Thanksgiving Blog Hop during the month when all my creativity (and some I'm siphoning from my kids as they sleep) is going to NaNoWriMo, I figure this is a no-brainer.


And the first thing I'm thankful for are online friends, like Brenda, who critique my stories and queries, talk me off of ledges, kick my butt for NaNo, and are just all-around awesome. I'd list them all, but I'd forget someone and that would ruin it. Basically, if you're reading this: thanks. :)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

NaNo 2012!



Yeah, I'm doing it again. This time I have an outline, even. Too bad I've let my writing endurance get all flabby and lazy. *sigh*

Anyway, this next month should be interesting from a time management perspective, so I'm giving myself permission to only blog once a week. Probably on Tuesdays. I might do more, but I'm going to be having big enough troubles forcing myself to concentrate on all that blank screen, waiting to be filled with my story.

So who's with me? Please come friend me so we can play together! I'm Robin_Weeks, and I'll need a LOT of butt-kicking throughout November.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Yeah, this one was for me

Sorry about the blog silence lately. I've been feeling poorly and using the excuse to binge-read. Which can be very, very fun, as I'm sure you all know.

But it's not productive.

So I was happy to see David Farland's Kick in the Pants yesterday, which included the following formula from Robert A. Heinlein:



Well, maybe happy isn't the right term for what I feel when I read those sage words. I mean, like I don't have enough guilt, right? But still, this makes good sense and I really need to follow it.

Any.

Day.

Now.

*blinks eyes slowly* *wonders if brain will EVER turn back on* *doubts there's enough sleep in the world to stop feeling sleepy before 6:00 pm* *calls doctor*

Read Dave's whole Kick for yourself, here, and subscribe for the email version while you're at it.

We all need a kick now and then.

Monday, October 15, 2012

My very own PitchLive video pitch

If you've ever been curious to see what I look like while I'm talking, despair no more! After much agonizing, kicking myself, and twitter peptalks, I have finally produced my very first vlog!

This is for Pitch Live, the incredibly gutsy and frightening new contest dreamed up by Brenda Drake, Erica Chapman, and Leigh Ann Kopan. I've mentioned before how this sort of thing unreasonably terrifies me, but here it is anyway, all ready for the first round of judging. Of the almost 50 brave entries, 30 will move on to the agent round, so I figure my odds are pretty good. :)

Title: DUSTED
Genre: YA Urban Fantasy
Word Count: 95,000



So what did you think? Did my voice sound like you thought it would? Did I look okay? Any tips to do it better next time? *runs and hides at the thought of next time*

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Spooktacular Pitch Contest!

Details here
Good news: Despite the name, all completed Adult, NA, YA, and MG manuscripts are invited to enter. Even if you have no spooks in yours.

Bad news: Only 50 entries will go on to the agent round.

Good news: Of you're not in the agent round, you don't even have to submit your pitch! :)

Bad news: I'm not sure how much time you'll have to email your pitch after the finalists are announced, so you'd better just polish your 3-sentence pitch and first 250, just in case.

Enter with a rafflecopter widget between today and 12:01 am October 17th.

So who's entering with me?


Also, everyone have their vlog pitches done for Pitchlive on Monday? Who else still has to record AND edit theirs and is having a bad hair day? Please tell me I'm not the only one!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

HNTWAQ: Practice 7

Before we do another round of How NOT to Write a Query: Practice, I want to remind everyone about the Vlog-Pitch contest coming up October 15th. Which means you have less than a week to outline (not write-and-memorize) a great, casual pitch, practice it, film it, edit it, watch it, scrap it, do it over (times infinity), post it on YouTube, and slap it on your blog.

There will be 30 finalists and, if the writer's blog-o-sphere stays as chicken as they have been since they posted the linky list on September 21, almost all of the entries will be in the finals.

So come make a fool of yourself with me, huh?

And here's the next installment of:


This query comes courtesy of Kristen Strassel (@KristenStrassel) who shares my pain in that every time she revises her query, it seems someone else gets confused by it. (That's my interpretation of what she said, which was that people seemed to be misunderstanding her plot and getting confused.) I think she has a great concept (vampires + rock and roll = coooool), but there's room for improvement in how she describes it.

First off, Kristen classified her story as a "New Adult Paranormal Urban Fantasy" for GUTGAA, which I think is a mistake, since it's possibly both redundant and misleading. "Paranormal" means fantasy elements will be present, and I think that common wisdom is that "Paranormal" is synonymous with "Paranormal Romance" which suggests the love story will be at the fore, while "Urban Fantasy" suggests any love story will be secondary. **Is NOT an expert on genre** So I suggest going with PNR or UF, without trying to blend the two. Which one will depend on how important the love story is to the plot.

So let's start with her current query. Since she first asked to be part of this blog series, Kristin has read my archives and revised her query twice. Each one is better and better, but I still think certain elements could be clearer. Keep in mind, though, that Kristin told me that this very version of her query has already earned her a full request--so what I think is "wrong" isn't necessarily a fatal flaw. The only job of a query is to get the agent to want to read more, so this query is already working for her:
Immortal Dilemma is the hottest band in the Las Vegas vampire rock scene. These vampires draw insatiable fans from around the globe thanks to a supernatural attraction called Bloodlust. Tristan Trevosier craved such an opportunity to fill his empty mortal life, and now he has eternity to earn his place along the legends of rock n roll debauchery. 
Blade Bennett came to Las Vegas looking for excitement and he found it with Immortal Dilemma. After having a taste of what the vampire scene had to offer, he turned down it down and chose a normal, mortal life. But Blade can’t get away from the scene or Immortal Dilemma.
Callie Chabot-Wilkes could never forget her first love, Tristan. He walked away from her four years ago. She defies her overprotective family and enrolls in Las Vegas State to reconnect with him. She is determined to make the best of this unexpected situation and braces herself to weave her way through a world she had no idea existed. Callie always knew that Tristan’s excesses would get him into trouble, but she never thought they’d lead him to immortality. Tristan still struggles with his mortal addictions, and once he sees Callie again, she becomes one of them. 
Blade is everything that Callie wishes Tristan could still be. Callie tries to conceal her attraction and her desire to protect Tristan from Blade, but the paparazzi and ever-present Immortal Dilemma fans make their relationship impossible to hide. 
After an attempted murder investigation sends shockwaves back to Callie’s family, she realizes she is no longer the sheltered girl who left Martha’s Vineyard. She must now find her place in Las Vegas before she has no home at all. She hopes it can be with Blade but Tristan refuses to be forgotten.
Callie’s attachment to Tristan finally pushes Blade over the edge. Her pain sends her to Tristan’s waiting arms where she learns the true meaning of Bloodlust.

As always, the 5 questions:

1: Who is the protagonist? Honestly, if Kristen hadn't told me in an email that Callie was the protag, I wouldn't be able to tell. We don't even hear about Callie until after we've heard about Tristan and Blade. So judging strictly on the information in the query, it looks like Tristan, Blade, and Callie will share the spotlight equally.

Tristan is a recently-turned immortal-vampire rock-star who attracts his fans through a supernatural something-or-other called Bloodlust while struggling with his "mortal addictions" which, apparently, can still be added to (since Callie "becomes one of them"). It's unclear what Bloodlust is--is it the attraction of a human (prey) to the vampire (predator)? Are humans drawn to all vamps or just rock-star vamps? Is it something that can be turned off? Is it voluntary? Does it effect the vamps at all? The first paragraph seems to suggest that Bloodlust works remotely--since fans come "from around the globe" thanks to Bloodlust. Are all vampires also rock-stars or are these vamps just capitalizing on the lucky coincidence of Bloodlust to drive their real passion for music (and debauchery)? The last paragraph suggests that there's a "true meaning" of Bloodlust that hasn't been explained. Since Bloodlust is so central to Tristan's character, I think it should be explained.

Blade is a human who considered becoming a vamp rock-star, but decided not to. He's not from Vegas, but I don't know what his background is or even how old he is. He thinks he's chosen a "normal" life but is still caught up in the vamp rock-star scene in some undefined way--is he a groupie? A sound tech? A magician with an ax (meaning guitar--oh, yeah, see me pretend to know the lingo)? What does he do in his free time? Does he have a real job? Is he tied in some mystical way to the vampires or is he just too caught up in the glitz to make a clean break? It's suggested that he's a better person than Tristan, but I can't tell in what way he's better. Is he nicer? Able to abstain from harmful substances? Less full-of-himself? You don't have to list every way he's better, but giving a concrete example will go a long way to defining both boys... er, guys.

Callie is a sheltered girl from Martha's Vineyard who fell in love with Tristan 4 years ago when he was still mortal. It's not clear how old they both were then or are now, by the way, though if she's just now enrolling in college I can guess she's a freshman, meaning 18 or 19 years old, meaning she was 14 or 15 when she fell in love with Tristan, who was already engaging in "excesses" when he walked away from her. That he was able to walk away suggests he was at least 18 then, so 5 or 6 years older than Callie. Be that as it may, Callie heads off to Vegas to reconnect with Tristan--which seems like a euphemistic way of saying she chased after him like a groupie stalker. I think this impression could be tempered a bit if she can show a bit of reluctance? Some ongoing connection between the two? WHY is this young privileged girl chasing a world-famous rock star she hasn't seen in 4 years? All we really know about him is that he's a rebel who has taken his excesses to the point of becoming a vampire-rock-star-wild-child. What did she love about him? What was it about their connection that would make her stoop to this level, abandon every vestige of class she's been bred to, and throw herself at a loose-living celebrity who probably won't recognize her from her adolescent years? I'm really not seeing much to like about Callie, frankly--I can't even get a sense of her personality other than the stereotype of spoiled-rebel-rich-girl. I know there's more to her: what makes her do such crazy things? Does she like rock-and-roll or is it just Tristan? If she's willing to change everything about herself for a guy . . . I'm not ever going to respect her.

2: What does the protagonist want? Tristan, as far as I can tell, wants to live a life of fame and debauchery and would enjoy pulling Callie down with him. I'm pretty sure this isn't a good life goal, and it makes him seem very flat as a character. Does he have anything else he'll be working toward? Is he willing to change for Callie? Does he at all recognize how unhealthy this life is or does he just not care?

Blade also wants excitement and to live in the vampire rock scene without becoming part of the vampire rock scene (that distinction could be more clear, methinks). He also wants Callie. That's about all I can tell. What does he want to be when he grows up? Is he working for something in the book that is separate from the vamp-rock scene? Is he at least working to solidify his permanent-though-mortal position in the vamp-rock scene? Is he just in the book to be the other point in the love triangle?

Callie wants Tristan. No, Blade. No, Tristan. She seems to have some sense of what she wants in a man, since she is able to see that Blade has what Tristan doesn't, but she proves twice in the space of one query--once when she moves to Vegas and once when she flees to Tristan's arms--that she is willing to ditch all her principles to be with Tristan. So WHAT DOES SHE WANT? What sort of life does she want to live? Does she dream of taming Tristan, slapping him into a 3-piece suit, and hauling him back to Martha's Vineyard to live next door to mom and dad while they raise their 2.3 kids? Does she switch her attentions to Blade because he fits that ideal better? (Well, the name Blade will NEVER fit on Martha's Vineyard, but still.) Does she have musical aspirations of her own or does she dream of being a groupie for the rest of her life, perhaps while raising a passel of babies in the back of a tour bus? What is she majoring in? Does she HAVE a major, or is college just a ruse to get her to Vegas? What kinds of grades is she pulling down while she chases vampires all night?

Because the protagonist--let's assume it's really Callie--should drive the plot with the thing s/he wants, that thing must be clear. Ditto the next question:

3: What stands in his/her way? Here, I'm at sea. Tristan seems to get everything he wants through Bloodlust or Callie's inexplicable attraction to him, so nothing seems to stand in his way. Blade, likewise, doesn't seem to be languishing, gets to make his own decisions, and is the one to call off the relationship with Callie. Callie... well, since I can't figure out what she wants, I can't really see what stands in her way. Who or what is the antagonist? Is it the Bloodlust? Is it just Callie vs. Callie, trying to decide which boy she likes best? Is Callie at all bothered by the debauchery or does she want to be a full participant? What, exactly, does it mean to learn "the true meaning of Bloodlust?" Will it turn her into a mindless slave to Tristan's will? How will that stand in the way of what she wants if what she wants is Tristan, even at the sacrifice of everything else in her life?

This element is the conflict, which is the basis of the story. Without a conflict, we don't have a plot. So make the antagonist stand out more.

4: What will happen if s/he fails? If Tristan doesn't get Callie, I assume he'll suffer a bit, then drown his sorrows in booze, drugs, and flesh before moving blithely on with his life. If Blade doesn't win her heart, maybe he'll wake up and finally leave the scene for good, which is sort of what he wants anyway, right? Callie seems to have a choice between the two guys, but if she gets neither of them, she'll probably have a better life.

I'm going to go out on a limb here, and assume that the Bloodlust is important to the plot. That it's an actual antagonist. If that were so, Callie might be fighting to save her sanity or sense of self or free will. Maybe she realizes that the vamp rock stars are dangerous to the world at large and are hypnotizing their "fans" to ensure a ready supply of donors. Maybe she comes to realize that she needs to expose this Bloodlust thing and help save the world from it. Or maybe that's not the conflict and it's really just choosing between the rock star and the groupie to spend the rest of her life with. Either way, her choice and the consequences must be clear.

5: What will s/he have to DO to succeed? All Callie really does in the query is steel herself for the shock of entering the rock-vamp world, flee back to Tristan, and realize she has changed and needs a new permanent home. The boys don't seem to be doing anything specific toward meeting any specific agenda.

This element helps agents understand what sort of story you are presenting them. Will it be an introspective novel with a lot of hand-holding during deep, soul-searching conversations? Will there be danger? Fighting? What's with this murder? Will Callie have to be on her guard to stay alive and sane? Will Tristan and/or Blade have to save her from something? From each other?

Be careful NOT to try to relate the whole plot, but give the first step of the road. What are they (or, probably, what is Callie) willing to do to win? What will be required? What kind of a ride are you going to take readers on?

One more thing before we go back to the query: this sucker is LOOONG. 321 words in just the blurb. If I'm not mistaken, Query Shark says that 250 is good--for the whole thing, with comp paragraphs, intro, the works. So I'm going to advise cutting everything that isn't related to Callie and the choices she has to make. If Tristan or Blade is mentioned, talk about them from Callie's perspective. What she thinks of them. What she wants from them. It's not enough to talk about the protagonist MORE than you talk about secondary characters--almost every word of the query has to be about the protagonist, with other elements coming in only to explain what the protagonist is up against.

So let's see if I can help cut the fat:
Immortal Dilemma is the hottest band in the Las Vegas vampire rock scene. These vampires draw insatiable fans from around the globe thanks to a supernatural attraction called Bloodlust. Tristan Trevosier craved such an opportunity to fill his empty mortal life, and now he has eternity to earn his place along the legends of rock n roll debauchery. 

This isn't an awful way to start the query, but, again, it must relate immediately to Callie. So try something like this: "Immortal Dilemma is the hottest band in the Las Vegas vampire rock scene--and there are so many reasons why college freshman Callie shouldn't become a groupie. But the lead singer, Tristan Trevosier, broke her heart four years before and she can't stop herself from trying once more to win him back." The rest of this paragraph is sort of implied by the phrase "vampire rock scene." You can weave Bloodlust in later, as Callie realizes what it is.
Blade Bennett came to Las Vegas looking for excitement and he found it with Immortal Dilemma. After having a taste of what the vampire scene had to offer, he turned down it down and chose a normal, mortal life. But Blade can’t get away from the scene or Immortal Dilemma.
Don't waste time trying to explain Blade. As far as Callie seems to be concerned, he's the soft place to fall when she can't/shouldn't have Tristan. Your book should explore his personality, but you don't have to detail it in the query. Go ahead and mention him as the tempting-tech-guy (or whatever he is) but keep the details specific to what tempts Callie away from Tristan.
Callie Chabot-Wilkes could never forget her first love, Tristan. He walked away from her four years ago. She defies her overprotective family and enrolls in Las Vegas State to reconnect with him. She is determined to make the best of this unexpected situation and braces herself to weave her way through a world she had no idea existed. Callie always knew that Tristan’s excesses would get him into trouble, but she never thought they’d lead him to immortality. Tristan still struggles with his mortal addictions, and once he sees Callie again, she becomes one of them. 
Most of this can be shortened, like how I slipped the heart-breaking into the first paragraph. This is a great place to introduce the conflict. Stick with Callie's POV--what she sees, wants, knows, observes. How does she feel when she realizes that Tristan has gone vamp? Don't talk about the fam back on Martha's Vineyard unless it's part of the conflict--does she struggle with lowering herself to Tristan's level? Does her family constantly badger her to make different choices? She's an adult now, so she gets to make her own decisions. It's time to rise above her roots.

Also, she defies her family, enrolls in Las Vegas State, and plans to reconnect with Tristan in the vamp rock scene--so what part of that creates an "unexpected situation?" Surely she knows he's a rock star. Is it the vamp thing she was unaware of? Just how many people know about vampires in this world? Are the fans caught up in Bloodlust not knowing that the rock stars are vamps? Why doesn't that bother Callie? If it does bother her, what is she going to do about it?
Blade is everything that Callie wishes Tristan could still be. Callie tries to conceal her attraction and her desire to protect Tristan from Blade, but the paparazzi and ever-present Immortal Dilemma fans make their relationship impossible to hide. 
How is the paparazzi part of the conflict? Is she cheating on Blade with Tristan? What made her date Blade in the first place if she came here specifically for Tristan? Give some specifics about what Blade has that Tristan doesn't.
After an attempted murder investigation sends shockwaves back to Callie’s family, she realizes she is no longer the sheltered girl who left Martha’s Vineyard. She must now find her place in Las Vegas before she has no home at all. She hopes it can be with Blade but Tristan refuses to be forgotten.
This paragraph threw me, possibly because I don't know how the attempted murder investigation fits into the main story. Possibly because I'm not sure what the main story IS. Who was almost killed? Was it Callie, Tristan or Blade? Someone Callie knows? How did it ripple back home and why does that affect her present circumstances? Honestly, this attempted murder is the closest thing to conflict mentioned in the query, but you use it as a footnote--is the murder related to something Callie wants? To the main plot? If not, leave it out. Is it the inciting incident? When does this happen in the book? If it's after page 30 (or so), leave it out.

The second sentence suggests that the real conflict is that she doesn't have a home and must find one quickly. If she's in college, why is this a major problem? College students, practically by definition, are transitory. They mostly live in temporary student housing, away from the families they grew up with, and will leave as soon as they graduate. Real life starts after college, and is normally quite different from either pre-college or college days. Why is Callie so concerned about establishing a permanent place in Las Vegas right now? The world is her oyster at that age--why is she limiting herself?
Callie’s attachment to Tristan finally pushes Blade over the edge. Her pain sends her to Tristan’s waiting arms where she learns the true meaning of Bloodlust.
This tells me that Callie chose Tristan, Blade didn't like that and dumped her, and she got hurt... because she couldn't have them both? Focus instead on answering the last two questions: What happens if she fails and what will she have to do to succeed? If Bloodlust factors into that, give a clear explanation on what Callie knows about it and whether she's okay with it. Frankly, if she's okay with Bloodlust, it's probably not the conflict and might not need to be in the query at all.

Finally, it looks like you've gone waaay beyond the inciting incident, here. Queries aren't a chance to lay out your plot--just the start of your story. You only need to hook the agent and make them wonder what will happen. Don't go too far into the plot--just until she meets the main obstacle and maybe a step or two beyond that. Lay out what's at stake. Depending on the query, what's at stake might be revealed later in the story--use your judgment on how much to reveal, but you MUST have clear this-awful-thing-could-happen-if-she-fails stakes.

To sum up: 
1. Focus on Callie, NOT Tristan or Blade.

2. Lay out what Callie wants (if she could lay out her life exactly the way she dreams, what would that look like?), what stands in her way, what will happen if she fails, and what she's willing to do to succeed.

3. If Bloodlust will be an obstacle to Callie's goals, lay out what it is and what she plans to do about it--or at least hint at what havoc her foolish naivete will wreck on her life.

4. Cut everything that doesn't relate to the main plot. No subplots, here, except perhaps in passing.

Kristen--In closing, please remember that queries are a grueling work-in-progress for almost everyone. Heaven knows I'm still struggling myself. I don't know how to write it right, but hopefully this will help you figure out the best way to present the awesomeness of your book so it can get the recognition it deserves.

Good luck and let me know if you want me to take another look--or if you get an agent!

Okay, everyone else: what do you think? Remembering that the query I crossed almost completely out has already earned a full request, what do you think this query did RIGHT? (Again, I'm not so good at pointing out what someone did right--I'm certainly not qualified for that.) Do you disagree with any of my advice?

10/24 UPDATE: This query--the one I tore limb-from-limb, above--garnered Kristen an agent. Before she rewrote it based on my, um, advice. She announced it today on Twitter. So see? All you need is a query that helps the right agent for you to see the genius of your book. As always, please feel free to disregard any of my advice. #NotAnAgent :D

Friday, October 5, 2012

How TO Write a Query: A Practice #2 Success Story

On June 28, 2012, I critiqued Robin Hall's awesome query for LOVESENSE. From the first draft I could already tell the story would rock, but after the rewrite I helped with and who-knows-how-many rewrites she did on her own, her query became Finalist #11 in the Cupid's Literary Connection Come And Get It (CAGI) contest.

Today, she announced that, as a result of that contest, she has signed with Julia A. Weber of Literaturagentur GmbH (@jawlitagent). Today is the 99th day after I critiqued her query the first time.  (*Individual results will vary*) Even though all the work in creating the actual successful query was hers, I still feel proud. :)

Well, of course I asked for her permission to share the awesomeness of a query that actually works, and she was gracious enough to allow it. :) So I now present my very first:


Read it and weep:
Title: LOVESENSE
Genre: YA Magical Realism
Word Count: 59,000
Query: 
Seventeen-year-old Rae has spent her whole life with the ability to smell when a relationship will sour just by looking a photograph of the couple (rotting fish, anyone?). She calls it her “lovesense” and uses it to anonymously run a love guru business at school. But after seventeen years of smelling way more stinky socks than roses, Rae is ready to give up on love altogether.
Until, that is, she finds a fifteen-year-old picture in her attic that smells of apricots and honey. Even better? She's in the photo. Rae seeks the identity of her mysterious playmate with a dedication she usually reserves for her 100-meter hurdles, but as the semester progresses, all she’s finding is trouble. She’s falling for her goofy teammate, Sam—even though he’s already been crossed off her list of possibilities, and, with just weeks until the city-county track championships, her love-guru business is exposed. She is forced to convince all her friends (and the administration) that she isn't a psycho gypsy freak—or, worse, that she hasn't been taking advantage of them for years.
Suspended from school, banned from the track championships, and alienated from her classmates, Rae has one last opportunity to set things right before her chance at finding the boy in the photo rots like stink on cheese.
Congrats, Robin! 
(Yes, that's fun to say.)

So can you help me point out what Robin did right? I'm really not good at that sort of thing. :D

Thursday, October 4, 2012

HNTWAQ: Practice 6

On Monday, I asked for volunteers on Twitter for Tuesday’s How NOT to Write a Query post. I got lots. LOTS. And since I can quite literally feel everyone’s query pain, it’s dang hard to say no. So I’ll be doing a lot of HNTWAQ posts over the next few weeks—but since I still have to write and work and spend time with my family, I’m probably not going to do more than two per week. These suckers take me 2-3 hours each.

If you’re still thinking about submitting your own query, please read my archives first, then edit. I’m happy to help, but I’d rather not do for you what you can do for yourself—you’ll do it sooo much better than I ever could.

That said, let’s do another one, k?

Read more here

This query is one I hosted on my blog for the Gearing Up to Get an Agent blogfest. It’s written by Catherine Scully (@CatMScully), who approached me for advice on POV: her book has alternating POV’s, and she’s having trouble figuring out which one to use for her query. Jennifer is the title character, so she seems to be the most obvious, but the first chapter features Marcus, which confuses people after they read the query. She’s tried putting them both in the query but got lots of feedback indicating that the result was awkward and she should just pick one.

I have some suggestions, but first this is her most recent query, using Jennifer’s POV: 
Fifteen-year-old Jennifer Strange believes in measurable facts, not in the occult. When a lost ghost tears apart her Chemistry class and a Ghost Hunter named Marcus Blackwell claims she is a Medium, Jennifer must admit that ghosts exist. 
After agreeing to team up with Marcus to help find the ghost, Jennifer inadvertently meets Marcus’s sinister Grandmother and their family of Ghost Hunters. While Jennifer doesn't believe the Grandmother’s claim that Jennifer is the most powerful Medium alive, her unusual gift is clear: Jennifer can touch ghosts. No other Medium ever knew such power, but Jennifer has no desire to become a Medium for the Blackwell family Ghost Hunters. Despite her feelings, Jennifer must still help the ghost remember who he is before a wraith possessing his soul is unleashed and devours them all.
 In a “Ghostbusters” meets Kendare Blake’s “Anna Dressed in Blood,” JENNIFER STRANGE shares dark occult themes, black comedy laughs, vibrant horrors, and forbidden love told in alternating chapters from Marcus’s and Jennifer’s perspectives.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s talk about what we know:

1. Who is the protagonist? Both Jennifer and Marcus share this distinction. Marcus is a ghost hunter and part of a family of ghost hunters. Not exactly clear on what a ghost hunter does. Does he find and kill them? Send them peacefully to the other side ala Ghost Whisperer? Does he have a special knife ala Anna Dressed in Blood? Gimme a picture. Marcus serves as a bit of a mentor to Jennifer and gets her to team up with him to hunt ghosts. It’s unclear how he feels about being a ghost hunter and whether he is attracted to Jennifer. Has he ever wanted to do anything else? Is Jennifer simply a means to a ghost hunter end or does he have other designs on her?

Jennifer is a skeptic – slash – medium who is forced to believe in ghosts when one manifests in chemistry class. She is possibly the most powerful medium EVER. She has no desire to be a medium… but does it anyway to help a ghost… which is what mediums DO. So she’s sort of in denial. We don’t know if she’s attracted to Marcus or why she thinks his family is sinister or how this medium gig interrupts her real life—or even what she did in her real life before this medium gig. All we really know about her is that she’s a reluctant superhero—that’s an awesome label, but it’s so common, you really need to distinguish her personality more.

2. What does he/she want? Marcus wants Jennifer to help this ghost remember who he is before a wraith devours them all. Not sure why remembering will help, or what effect success will have on Marcus’ life. Is this just another job for him? What is Marcus’s personal motivation, beyond the not-wanting-to-be-devoured thing? If it was just another, more normal ghost, would he let it be or still hunt it? What would happen then? Don’t spell that all out—hints are good. Just flesh it out a touch. 

Jennifer wants the same thing: No devouring. We actually know more about what Jennifer doesn't want than what she does want: she doesn't want to be a medium, she doesn't want to hunt ghosts, she doesn't want to be devoured. We can intuit the why behind that last one, but I have no clue on the first two. What in her normal life is so exciting and important that she turns her nose up at this kind of power and adventure? What is it that convinces her to give it a try?

3. What stands in his/her way? Um…? If the goal is to help the ghost remember who he is, how bad is this memory loss? Is the ghost communicative? Elusive? Does he rip people in half whenever they try to talk to him? Is he allergic to mementos? Does he want to remember? Is the wraith the problem? What affect does the wraith have on the ghost? Has anyone seen this before or is this a try-stuff-until-something-works kind of problem? Clearly answering this question (or providing clear hints) will help us understand just how hard the MC’s will have to work to succeed.

4. What will happen if they fail? DEVOURING! Not sure if the whole world will be devoured by the wraith or if it will just be the team, though. Also not sure what kind of time frame we’re looking at—can they tell when the wraith will unleash? Just how imminent is this devouring? If it does unleash, can’t they just run away? Kill the wraith separately? Is it possible to fail at helping the ghost remember who he is and still kill the wraith?

5. What will they have to do to succeed? This I’m also unclear on, which is probably the worst problem because this is where your story lies. So far, we have premise: reluctant superhero medium meets novice mentor ghost hunter and they must save/kill a ghost/wraith before the wraith devours someone. So will they be meditating inside a circle of magic rocks? Looking through old photographs trying to find the face of the ghost? Searching old newspapers for a record of his death? Will their lives be in danger before the Great Unleashing? Give a brief picture of the action of the book. How will our heroes go about solving the problem? How will Marcus’s ghost hunter skills be used? Why is Jennifer’s ability to touch a ghost so significant? How exciting is this story going to be, anyway?



Okay, now for the query POV question. I’m going with an idea that focuses on the market, as I understand it: write the query from Marcus’s POV. While my favorite idea is to use them both for the query (romance novels get away with that all the time), if that’s going to throw off agents, don’t do it. Using Marcus’s POV has several advantages: 1) people won’t get confused when he’s the POV of the first chapter; 2) boys are more likely to purchase Jennifer Strange if it looks like it might be a boy-book; 3) Marcus knows more about this ghost hunting thing than Jennifer does, so you don’t have to waste words being reluctant—you can just tell what Marcus knows.

With that in mind, let’s look at quirking the query:
Fifteen-year-old Jennifer Strange believes in measurable facts, not in the occult. When a lost ghost tears apart her Chemistry class and a Ghost Hunter named Marcus Blackwell claims she is a Medium, Jennifer must admit that ghosts exist.
This paragraph should detail Marcus’s history in his ghost hunter family and his need for a medium. Emphasize what he wants out of life and what he’s prepared to do to get it. If he meets Jennifer in this paragraph, what is his initial reaction to her? Is he understanding about her mind being blown or is he impatient at her slow learning curve? Is he attracted to her?
After agreeing to team up with Marcus to help find the ghost, Jennifer inadvertently meets Marcus’s sinister Grandmother and their family of Ghost Hunters. While Jennifer doesn't believe the Grandmother’s claim that Jennifer is the most powerful Medium alive, her unusual gift is clear: Jennifer can touch ghosts. No other Medium ever knew such power, but Jennifer has no desire to become a Medium for the Blackwell family Ghost Hunters. Despite her feelings, Jennifer must still help the ghost remember who he is before a wraith possessing his soul is unleashed and devours them all.
Don’t spend much time on grandmother and what grandmother thinks about Jennifer--and don't use words like inadvertently if you're not going to explain them. Let Marcus tell us that no one has ever seen a medium who can touch ghosts, let him react, and move on to the problem: the wraith. We really, really, need to understand the wraith more. What does it do? How and why is it attached to the ghost? What kind of ghost is it? How can they stop the wraith (in theory)? What is the danger level? What is the first step they’ll have to take? Maybe mention Marcus having to drag Jennifer along, but again, the reluctant superhero is so common, mentioning it once is plenty enough. We get it—move on to something we haven’t seen before.
In a “Ghostbusters” meets Kendare Blake’s “Anna Dressed in Blood,” JENNIFER STRANGE shares dark occult themes, black comedy laughs, vibrant horrors, and forbidden love told in alternating chapters from Marcus’s and Jennifer’s perspectives.
These are great comparison titles, but you take it a hair too far. I've read several agent blogs that say you shouldn't cross the line into praising your own book. Also, you shouldn't use the comparison paragraph to say things that aren't obvious in the query—just make them obvious IN THE QUERY. Show, don't tell. Does your book have black comedy laughs? Then make the agent laugh darkly as she reads the blurb. Vibrant horror? Splash some bright red blood around (with words, lest someone misunderstand—never use gimmicks). Forbidden love? The blurb had better talk about why Marcus and Jennifer can’t get together—there’s not even word one about them liking each other! Also, I don’t think it’s necessary to say you have alternating POV's: no need to turn off agents who don’t prefer that sort of thing right up front. If they've made it all the way to chapter 2, you've probably hooked them enough that they’ll be happy to see Jennifer chime in.

Okay, to sum up:

1. Marcus, not Jennifer—and more details on Marcus: what he likes, what he knows, what he thinks about Jennifer.

2. More about the wraith! If the wraith is the antagonist, it deserves more than a half a sentence.

3. Describe (or hint at) how they plan to defeat the wraith and how their awesome powers will help.

Catherine, I hope this helps. I think you have the makings of a great story here, and I’m assuming that the answers to all my questions are already in the book—we just need them in the query, too. Let me know if you want me to look at a rewrite--I really want to see the improved version, though it will have to wait until I go through the new ones, so take your time. Good luck!

For everyone else, please chime in--do you agree with using Marcus's POV? Do you, also, want more info on the wraith, or should she focus on Marcus and Jennifer more? Did you like Catherine's query the way it was and now think I'm being mean? Seriously, guys, I'm a lawyer--how am I supposed to argue if no one will disagree with me?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

HNTWAQ: Practice 5

It's the first Tuesday of October and I'm back with another....

Read the rest here
This time my tribute (her word, not mine, but it was so fun I had to steal it) is Mara Valderran (@MaraValderran). Mara was kind enough to provide me with two versions of her query. One was her very first query draft and was adorably clueless (she admits that). I'm going to be helpful and critique her current query, but I might have to post her first draft some other time, just in case someone hasn't yet learned what Mara has.

If this is your first time here, remember that what doesn't work for me might work just fine for an agent. I'm mostly trying to pinpoint what I got out of the query and what I think it might be lacking. Feel free to ignore any and all advice you don't like.

First, her intact current query:
Prophecies are no different from horoscopes in the back of Cosmo, as Zelene would say. She likes to remind people that Y2K came and went without the world ending, and, yes, the world will continue to spin after the Mayan calendar ends. She does not realize she is part of an ancient prophesy of five girls born into a powerful bloodline that would bring about the end of a generations-long power struggle among worlds. She is not even aware of worlds beyond this one.
Zelene learns of the destiny the prophecy demands of her and the family she was separated from as an infant when she is ripped from the world she has known her whole life and dragged back to the one of her birth. She is reunited one by one with the other three girls but finds that her twin sister is notably absent. Ariana has been captured by enemies intent on sacrificing her in order to gain her powers and Zelene can’t help but shudder at how easily she could have ended up in Ariana’s shoes. When she questions the lack of rescue efforts, the elders tell her to focus on learning the ways of their world and how to tap into her own magic. But Zelene has never been the best at doing what she is told.
Zelene is quick to realize what is at stake. Without Ariana as the fifth, the foretold peace and healing of the war-torn worlds cannot come to pass, and the war will spill over into the world she has known as home. She knows she has to find a way to ignite the power locked within herself to save Ariana, or she risks leaving the fates of millions to a vague prophecy and the arcane politics that brought about the war in the first place.

My first impression is that the idea of a group of prophesied youngsters scattered through the universe is very fun. It reminds me of Escape to Witch Mountain, a book I loved growing up. (Love the movies, too.) I think there's a love of great information here, but not all of it is, perhaps, as directed as it could be. Let's start with my 5 favorite questions (yeah, there used to be 4 until this post):

1: Who is the protagonist? Zelene, who was born on another planet and raised on Earth. She is 1/5 of a group of girls prophesied to bring an end to a long-standing inter-world conflict. What isn't quite clear  is her relationship to the other 4 girls. One is her twin sister--did she know she had a twin sister? If not, did she sense her absence her whole life? The prophecy is making demands on her family, so it seems that the other girls are related to her somehow. Cousins? Other siblings? Also, who raised her on earth? Where were the other girls raised? Was she happy here? Did she have any clues about her heritage or was she planning to become a dentist when she grew up? What goals did she have to abandon when prophecy came knocking? The query doesn't really hint at any moments of "Wait! I don't wanna go!" Bring some of that emotion out and we'll connect to your character a bit better. Was she excited to embark on her prophesied adventure or sad to leave the only life she'd known?

Also, the query mentions powers, but not what they are. When did Zelene find out she had powers? What are they? Are they the same as the other girls' or different?

2: What does she want? The really important plot goal is that she wants her sister back so that they can fulfill their destiny. This is a great goal with wonderful layers. Keep in mind, though, that a war is never black and white (something you hinted at in the first draft). Unless the five together can control the minds of all the people on all the warring planets, peace will only come through bloody force or by negotiated consent. Or both. So who does she want to win? What makes the other side bad? What is the plan for restoring peace? Will the Fab 5 become a weapon akin to a super-nova? The kind of thing that will intimidate their enemies into submission? Why do they trust the prophecy?

It might also be good to hint at what she plans to do once peace is restored. Does she want to go back to ordinary Earth or bask in the Fab 5 lime-light out in the cosmos?

3: What stands in her way? Enemies. Yeah, this is a bit vague. I like that we know what they did--they kidnapped Ariana--and what they're going to do--sacrifice her for her powers--but I'm not happy with the facelessness. Is there an easy way to name them? Are they the main bad guys? What is their goal? If they win the war, what will they do with their victory? How will Ariana's powers help them?

It also seems like the elders are standing in her way a bit, since they aren't lifting a finger to rescue Ariana. Which, frankly, doesn't make a lot of sense. They've poured a lot of time and effort into this Fab 5 enterprise, and if their super weapon won't work without all five, they have to be frantic. Now, I'm going to assume that they have plans of their own going that they're not telling Zelene, but how does Zelene explain their inaction to herself? Do they put her off with "We have our best people working on it" or do they just tell her to mind her own training? Why don't they try to placate her?

4: What will happen if she fails? Her sister (who Zelene has never met) will be sacrificed and all hope for lasting peace will be lost. Which begs the question(s): How long does it take to sacrifice someone? What is the countdown? How much time does Zelene have to rescue her? Also, why isn't everyone else panicked? More details on the enemies will help this, since surely they're more concerned about losing the war than continuing the war. What will the enemies do if they win? What will life be like?

5: What will she have to do to succeed? She has to find a way to "ignite the power locked within herself." I guess. I have no clear picture of what that will look like or how easy the task will be to accomplish once the power is unlocked. If her power is god-like, she should spend all her time in meditation (sort of boring) because then she'll be able to do whatever she wants with a thought. If, however, her powers are more limited (which I'm assuming is the case, since you're planning a multi-book series), will she also have to travel through treacherous space to get to the planet where they're holding her sister? Is there someone who will be helping her with that? Can one of the other girls teleport? You don't have to lay out the entire plan, but give us a hint. What is Zelene's power? How will it help her get her sister back? So far, all we really have is a problem that needs solving. Give me a picture of what the actual story/plot/action of the book will be.


Reeling yet? Let's see if I can help carve out some room in the query for everything I want you to add:
Prophecies are no different from horoscopes in the back of Cosmo, as Zelene would say. She likes to remind people that Y2K came and went without the world ending, and, yes, the world will continue to spin after the Mayan calendar ends. She does not realize she is part of an ancient prophesy of five girls born into a powerful bloodline that would bring about the end of a generations-long power struggle among worlds. She is not even aware of worlds beyond this one.
I like that this first paragraph grounds us in modern times, but you use too much space to do it, IMO. See if there is a half-sentence way to do the same thing. Mentioning Cosmo is fine, but this is really a huge paragraph that only really says that Zelene is part of a prophecy she knows nothing about. Try something like this: Sixteen-year-old Zelene mocks the horoscopes in the back of Cosmo and would laugh hysterically if someone suggested that a prophecy made about her--on another plant, no less--would change her whole life.

There's really no need to say what she is NOT aware of. It doesn't tell us much about her. Stick to her reactions to what she knows or will learn.
Zelene learns of the destiny the prophecy demands of her and the family she was separated from as an infant when she is ripped from the world she has known her whole life and dragged back to the one of her birth.
HOW does she learn of her destiny? Passive language is a killer in queries, too. Perhaps especially. We need pictures and lots of them. Also, try to keep things in time-line order. This first sentence keeps looping: she learns of her destiny, a few words later she's being separated from her family as an infant, then she's all grown up and ripped from the world she's known and THEN she learns her destiny? Try something like: On the eve of her school prom, Zelene's bedroom on Earth vanishes and she finds herself standing in the middle of a crowded assembly hall on Otherplanet, 5 billion light years away. There, she learns that her birth family is cursed with magical powers and prophesied to end an interstellar war that has been raging for centuries.
She is reunited one by one with the other three girls but finds that her twin sister is notably absent. Ariana has been captured by enemies intent on sacrificing her in order to gain her powers and Zelene can’t help but shudder at how easily she could have ended up in Ariana’s shoes. When she questions the lack of rescue efforts, the elders tell her to focus on learning the ways of their world and how to tap into her own magic. But Zelene has never been the best at doing what she is told.
"THE other three girls" suggests that there are only four, which you contradicted in the first paragraph. The "notably" adverb is superflous--if there are supposed to be 5 and there are only 4, it is easy to see that one is missing. I'd suggest using this part to explain the prophecy and the relationship between the girls (cousins??), and then just mention that there's a problem: Ariana, the twin sister Zelene has never known, has been captured (implies missing). Then tell us the name of the enemy and what they will do if they are able to extract Ariana's powers. Also, here is a good spot to mention the ticking clock--how long until Ariana dies?

It's really hard to provide concrete evidence of the "lack" of something, and saying that the elders aren't trying to save Ariana--without explaining why--is a mite confusing for a query. Perhaps you can simply say that Zelene is desperate to help rescue her unknown sister, but the elders force her to spend long hours training with Guru, who is teaching her to use her fire/ice/telekinetic/whatever magic. Might mention also that the elders are silent on what they may or may not be doing to rescue her. Don't say they're NOT doing it--but you can hint that Zelene doesn't think they are, if you must (but only if she also has a theory for WHY).
Zelene is quick to realize what is at stake. Without Ariana as the fifth, the foretold peace and healing of the war-torn worlds cannot come to pass, and the war will spill over into the world she has known as home. She knows she has to find a way to ignite the power locked within herself to save Ariana, or she risks leaving the fates of millions to a vague prophecy and the arcane politics that brought about the war in the first place.
Don't say that characters realize something--I'm going to assume she's smart or she wouldn't be the MC. Just say what the stakes are. Also, if you can use one word to replace seven, do it. You've established Earth as the planet she grew up on--maybe mention "her family on Earth" if you want to make more of an emotional connection. Mostly, there are a lot of planets mentioned without names--that can get confusing.

On the rest, I sort of get lost. Tell us how her specific power will help get Ariana back, what the Fab 5 can do to restore peace, and hint at what the action of the plot will look like. It's soooo tempting to turn vague at the end of the query, because you don't want to give away all your secrets, but, really: what's the story? What is the first step she will have to take on the journey to restore her sister? 

The last little bit is probably best left off or completely rewritten--there's a vague prophecy that she's simultaneously trying to fulfill AND that millions will be left at the mercy of should she fail? Aren't prophecies sort of omnipresent? Millions of fates will be subject to the prophecy either way, right? Then that mention of arcane politics right at the end is also confusing--you haven't mentioned it through the rest of the query (though maybe you should have) so it feels sort of tacked on. What are "arcane politics" anyway? Will the Fab 5 be doing something magically political? How, exactly, do they plan to end this war? Can we have a hint?

Okay, I'll stop there. To sum up:
1. More insight on Zelene's character and what drives her.
2. More specifics on what the magic does and how it will make a difference--especially how the Fab5 will be able to stop a long-term war (or how everyone thinks they can)
3. More details on what Zelene will DO to rescue Ariana.
4. Streamline everything, cutting out needless or confusing information.

Thanks, Mara, for letting me muck around in your query. *round of applause for Mara for volunteering* I'm happy to look at the next version for either another blog post or a more private critique (though I do love showing everyone how much your query can improve).

What about everyone else? What did you like about her query? What worked for you? What parts confused you? Do you disagree with any of my advice? (Please feel free!)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Live Pitch Contest... with VLOGS! O_O

Go here for details
So, you may already know that I majored in Theatre Arts. Where I took scads of acting classes. This after I was the Speech and Drama Stirling Scholar for my Utah high school. I'm currently employed as a trial lawyer. I talk for a living. I talk in front of people for a living. I love talking to large crowds of people. Or small crowds of people. Or just to people. I have never once in my life been accused of shyness. (Anyone who knows me is laughing right now at the very idea.)

So why am I so terrified of recording myself giving my pitch and then posting that pitch online?

Talking? No problem.

Being on camera? Nope--I was in a student film in college and had tons of fun.

Pitching? Mildly terrifying, but I've done it before and survived nicely.

Proving to the world at large that I'm rather a fool? Eh. I'm a blue personality, so I crave intimacy in any form. The more you know about me, the happier I am. You'll probably think my foolishness is endearing. Or something.

Is it creating the vlog? Maybe--I've never done that before. I might suck at it. I might also be able to use this as the perfect excuse to finally purchase a webcam. (I know, I know. Living in the Dark Ages, blah, blah, blah.) And technology toys have never frightened me. Nor computer programs. And I'm a wiz at googling "How to create a vlog." And following instructions.

But, you guys . . . normally public speaking includes someone to talk to. Someone I can adjust my voice and facial expressions for. Vlogs are filled with semi-planned semi-spontaneity recorded in a vacuum. I suck at semi-planned semi-spontaneity--especially in a vacuum. Ditto at planned quirkiness. How does one script for personality? But if I don't script for personality, won't it figure showing up is optional? Surely a personality-free pitch is worse than no pitch at all!

Also, where should I film the video? If you were looking out my monitor at this moment, you'd see the bathroom door behind me. And the hall where my kids sometimes hang up their backpacks. Might be distracting. But is the view of the dining room's dirty blinds any better? The TV? The front window, currently covered by sheet-curtains?

This is why two of the organizers of the upcoming Pitch Live! contest teamed up to talk me off the ledge on Twitter on Monday. The first one is me replying to Brenda's tweet announcing Leigh's sample-vlog.


They're so nice, right? I mean, who can say no to these girls?

So I should do it, right?
*runs screaming into the night*
*feels ashamed of self*
*gathers courage*
*seeks a sticking-place*
*realizes she has run out of screws*

Anyway, any advice would be appreciated. I'd like to learn how to edit out the boring parts, where to look, what to say... etc. Please feel free to answer the questions I don't know enough to ask. Are there any free video editing software programs that can help me spruce it up? Help!

Also, you all should totally join in the torture fun. Misery Party loves company, after all.

You gonna play?

Monday, September 24, 2012

GUTGAA Agent Week!

Deana Barnhart

The Gearing Up to Get An Agent--Agent Pitch Contest is in its final round! If you're not following on Twitter already, the #GUTGAA hashtag is still going strong, so go! Talk!

Since I love all things GUTGAA, and really loved hosting, I thought I'd make it easy for you all to find the finalists who started here on my blog:

October 1 Update: Below is the final tally. Congrats to everyone!

#1 A CITY IN THE AIR is now Agent Pitch Finalist #39
#5 EXISTENCE  is now Agent Pitch Finalist #38--and has a request!
#9 THE LONG-TIMERS is now Agent Pitch Finalist #37--and has 3 requests!
#10 AGAINST THE FALLING MOONS is now Agent Pitch Finalist #36
#16: THE DESIREE is now Agent Pitch Finalist #35--and has a request!
#23 THE BEAUTY OF DESTRUCTION is now Agent Pitch Finalist #34--and has a request!
#27 AFTERLIFE  is now Agent Pitch Finalist #33
#32 BETWEEN THE CURRENTS is now Agent Pitch Finalist #32
#34 DIVINE  is now Agent Pitch Finalist #31--and has 3 requests!
#36 WATER LILY is now Agent Pitch Finalist #30

Also, one of the great things about the no-comments-except-for-agents rule is that you can go through the entries on the main page and easily see who is getting requests! Our entries start on the third page back, here. I'll try to get the requests above updated each night so everyone can see the awesome.

Good luck to everyone in the finals!!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Les Mis!!!

My junior year of high school, I went on choir tour from Sandy, Utah to Seattle, Washington. We rode in a tour bus. It took about (checks Google Maps...) 14 hours. At the beginning of the trip, a friend lent me her cassette tape (if you young un's reading this don't know that that is, Google it) of Les Misérables. I plugged it into my walkman (yes, I'm OLD) and turned it on. I spent almost the entire trip with my hands clamped over my headphones to block out the party going on around me, absorbing the beauty of this musical. Later, another friend who had seen the musical live and purchased the extended soundtrack spent three glorious hours describing each scene to me as we listened to it together.

One of my greatest sadnesses is that I've always lacked the funds to see a lot of live theatre. So I've never seen Les Mis live. (Yeah, I majored in Theatre Arts. My priorities are WAY out of wack.)

Which is why I was so ecstatic/thrilled/weepy when I saw this:



YOU GUYS! Can anything be more wonderful?

Edit: OH! A trailer! This is pretty dang wonderful, too!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

GUTGAA Round One Results

Whew! What a tense few days! Gearing Up to Get An Agent Round 1 was a resounding success, and I had a blast watching my four judges agonize over their votes--and tweeting them the second they were made!

To help me keep track, I made the following spreadsheet, which is just too pretty to keep to myself:

See how pretty?

Since you might not be able to read the thing, here are the ten finalists from my blog, with links to their awesome entries and the number of votes they got. All 2-votes in the finals also received a tie-breaker vote:

#1 A CITY IN THE AIR (2 votes)
#5 EXISTENCE (3 votes)
#9 THE LONG-TIMERS  (2 votes)
#10 AGAINST THE FALLING MOONS  (2 votes)
#16: THE DESIREE (4 votes)
#23 THE BEAUTY OF DESTRUCTION  (2 votes) 
#27 AFTERLIFE (3 votes)
#32 BETWEEN THE CURRENTS (3 votes)
#34 DIVINE (2 votes) 
#36 WATER LILY  (2 votes) 

Congratulations to all the finalists! We're all going to be rooting for you in the agent round!

I was going to do a post with everyone's real name, etc, but I think it will be best if you all just reveal yourselves in the comments on your own entries. That way I don't out someone who would rather have remained anonymous.

I think I'll also get permission to tell you the real identities of our judges, soon, so stay tuned.

And now a word to those who didn't get any votes. There were 17 of you right here on my blog and more scattered throughout the contest. I was one of them: I didn't get any votes, either, though a couple agents said they would have voted for mine if only they had more votes. (They didn't really say how many votes they would have needed to vote for mine....) :) There are a few reasons your perfectly awesome book might not have been honored with a vote: 
  1. The query and first page don't yet reflect the awesomeness of your book.
  2. The judges were in the mood for a different kind of awesome.
  3. Your competitors's entries were three-tenths of a hair more awesome than yours.
Whatever the reason, don't you dare give up. There were one or two trolls on the #GUTGAA twitter feed who thought it would be fun to gripe and complain about the judges, the set-up, the fact that Deana wasn't able to pull in actual agents to read the first 200... yeah. Nothing worth listening to.

Don't be like that. Take your comments, improve your query, and come back for the next contest. There's always another one, just around the bend.

Meanwhile, check out my compilation of everything I don't know about writing a query in the How NOT to Write a Query tab at the top of the page. Also, it looks like I'm going to be hosting a #GUTGAAlosers bloghop to help us all improve our queries--unless you're planning to enter the GUTGAA Small Publisher contest--in that case, the unofficial pitch polish blog hop is here.

So how was your experience? Learn anything? If I do a losers bloghop, are you going to play?