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Public Critique: MOONY HILL

Good morning!  Today I have an excerpt from a 695-word story called MOONY HILL by Dana Gaar up for critique.  The excerpt gives a taste of the beginning and end, and she envisioned it as a picture book but says that may change.  If you have the time, please give it a read and offer any advice or constructive criticism you may have.  If you're interested in having a query, synopsis, or excerpt posted on Lit Rambles for critique, check out my contribute page.

ETA:  At Dana's request, I've posted the full story.

 

MOONY HILL
By Dana Gaar

 

Walking to a party over Moony Hill 

Where trees are blushing and autumn’s revealed

 

In the hollow below, in the late night air

Tables covered with drinks and plenty of fare

 

A bonfire is roaring 

to lessen the chill 

But we’ve all 

heard the legend of Moony Hill

 

Spun by our fathers

in the full moon light

Tales of old man Moony

and his mean old wife

 

The rumor is wild and the tale it is tall

A time after summer, before the snow fall


They lived back in the woods

at the top of a rise

And fought night and day

for most of their lives.


Legend’s not clear

what happened to him

But she was found headless

where daylight is dim


The hill remained quiet

for a day and a year

When the harvest moon rose,

we thought we could hear. . .


Some say it’s a panther

at times we hear wail

Though seen many nights

by those who dare tell


Alone before dusk,

you may do what you will

Her head in her hands,

she haunts twilight till

 

But the stories are old 

and it’s been a long time

Things parents made up 

to get children to mind

 

Though it’s quite dark, it won’t be that bad

Let’s not be afraid, there’s fun to be had

 

A moonlit ride in a wagon of hay

A quiver and shiver at the coyote’s bay

 

Legs that dangled when the night owl screeched

Were quickly pulled up and tucked underneath

 

The wind would howl 

and the bushes would wiggle

Bringing squeals and shrieks 

that turned into giggles

 

The graveyard crept by

in a ‘lay in wait’ manner

While the hair on our necks 

belied our brave banter 

 

Roasting wienies on sticks

round the great open blaze

Dark phantoms behind 

danced in long fiery waves

 

Burnt to a crisp 

were a dozen marshmallows  

Glancing over our shoulders 

at strange moving shadows

 

Wearing sly little grins

we poked and we picked

Deliciously soaked

in the hour of the witch

 

At the end of the night when the haunting was done

We banded together as though we were one

 

Walking home from the party back over the hill

We laughed at the things that gave us a chill

 

But black is the color of autumn at night

Different shades of the same creep around in moonlight

 

Sounds are so different when light’s not around

They’re louder and closer and fearfully bound

 

Hearts jumped in our chests 

when we heard the low moan,

Was it animal, wind, or the trees that had groaned?

 

Impossible to tell if imagined or real

We all drew in close, hushing our squeal

 

Some looked to the left others looked to the right

Wishing for home with all of our might

 

The air was quite fluffy, like clouds on the ground

We could not see up, we could not see down

 

When you look hard enough 

the darkness takes form

Like clouds in the sky 

on a cool autumn morn

 

Is that moss hanging down in the trees just ahead 

Or giant black bats about to be fed?

 

We teased each other with a joke and a dare

Cringing with dread, but in love with the scare

 

Just about then 

as we rounded the curve

We heard a far wail 

and there went our nerve

 

Is that?  Oh my! You think it could it be? 

Go see! No way! Please go before me!

 

The legend of old no longer a lark

Lady Moony’s arrived so we must depart!

 

With the swoop of a bat, 

we missed not a beat

The only thing left 

was the dust from our feet!

 

Running and screaming does not require balance

Tripping, not falling, now that takes some talent!

 

Did you see? Yes, I saw! Though he shook his head no.

Was it her? Yes, I’m sure! I felt her so close!

 

We gasped and we panted and started to slow

With hands on our knees, a thought started to grow

 

Of all the night’s spooks and whimsical ghosts

We find, after all, we’d scared ourselves most!


Dana Gaar

Tip Tuesday #56

I love this tip from Deren at the The Laws of Making.  When you're done reading, tell us: How do you handle and deal with criticism?

It's difficult, of course, to be told that your child isn't the most perfect in the world. It's equally difficult to hear that your manuscript could be improved.

As with most difficult things, one tends to go through the five stages of grief with criticism:

Denial - That's not a problem.
Anger - They missed the point.
Bargaining - If I made this small change, would that fix it?
Depression - I can never give them what they want.
Acceptance - Maybe I can if I work at it.

Others have observed the same pattern. What I want to point out is that understanding is usually a part of acceptance. I had a hard time reaching the stage of acceptance with some of the criticism I recently received because I didn't understand. Oh, I understood the words and the concepts behind them, but I didn't understand how to make the suggested changes.

And then, on the third morning, I woke up, reread the letter, and I understood. It felt like a miracle.

Writing is the process of encoding thought with marks on a page. Reading is the process of decoding marks on a page into thoughts. There's plenty of room for error in both processes. Because of that, understanding the thoughts of another and how they apply to your own thoughts is hard work. Fortunately, it's the perfect sort of work for your subconsciousness.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
So, here's the punch line: the best way to understand criticism is to study it and then sleep on it, perhaps for several nights. I suggest three nights because, according to School House Rock, three is a magic number.

Deren Hansen

Deren blogs at The Laws of Making.

Winners + WriteOnCon Live Panel

Just drew the winners for my giveaway using Random.org.  Thank you, everyone, for entering, spreading the word, and donating to WriteOnCon (if you did).  You guys are the best!

The winner of WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON by John Green and David Levithan is...

Joseph Miller!

The winner of EXTRAORDINARY by Nancy Werlin is...

Courtney Barr, The Southern Princess!

Congrats you two! I'm going to try to locate your e-mail addresses and will be in touch for your addresses.  If you don't hear from me, however, e-mail me at caseymccormickya (at) gmail (dot) com.

Then, one final reminder that we have a LIVE panel happening tonight at 9 PM EDT at the WriteOnCon site with literary agent Jessica Sinsheimer of Sarah Jane Freymann Literary, literary agent Roseanne Wells of Marianne Strong Literary Agency, associate editor Jocelyn Davies of Razorbill Penguin, and associate editor Kari Sutherland of Harper Collins Children’s Books.  We'll be doing a transcript, but I hope you can all make it live!  For details, stop by the WriteOnCon site

See you then!

Guest Blogger Sarah: Write at Home

I love to read how writers become writers, why they write, their influences and journeys, and I just love this post by Sarah from The Crazy Baby Mama.  So, naturally, I've pulled her over to share it on Lit Rambles!  Please check out her blog (particularly if you're a mom!) and enjoy.

Write at Home

Before I was born, my mom spent two years in the Peace Corps. She volunteered in Robert Kennedy's campaign. She worked for the Western Center of Law and Poverty, and served as Chief of Staff for a California Congressman. She was an activist, and an intellectual, and in July of 1981, she became a mother. So, she decided to make a monumental job-change and exchange her high heels for sneakers.

My mom's work-shift started at daybreak -- long before I woke up to the moan of the foghorns, and the smell of coffee brewing in our teeny-tiny house in Venice, California. While my dad showered and shaved, I'd stumble to our dining room table, where she'd bring me a cup of mint tea, and a bowl of Quaker Oats Maple Brown Sugar oatmeal. While I ate, she'd sit next to the open window, sipping her coffee and smoking her third cigarette. The laundry was done, and folded neatly. Lunch -- usually a salami sandwich with extra mustard, a Capri Sun, a baggie of sliced carrots and cucumbers, a hard-boiled egg, and sometimes a brownie -- was already tucked away in my neon pink backpack. While we waited for whoever was driving carpool to BEEP BEEP BEEP the horn, my mom would quiz me on my multiplication tables and ask me who I was the most excited about seeing at school.

When I'd come home from school, the house was redolent with the fragrance of dinner. Sometimes, she'd make her famous spaghetti and meat sauce, other times, chicken kabobs, or salmon croquettes. When I had soccer practice, or art class, or Hebrew School, my mom drove, and we'd listen to classical music in the car while she'd fill me in on the latest murder mystery she was reading each night before bed. On evenings when my dad had late-meetings, she would prepare finger sandwiches, and we'd dine daintily like royalty. And sometimes, in the still of the night, when even our cat, Nebbie, was snoring gently, she'd wake me up, and we'd sit by candlelight on the front deck, drink chamomile tea, and eat squares of dark chocolate. We would whisper ghost stories while surrounded by the powerful stillness of midnight.

Still, when asked what she did for a living, my mom would never describe herself as a Stay At Home Mom. Instead, she would tell people that she "worked from home." You see, during the day while I was gone, she would take her coffee and her cigarettes out to the little shed behind our house, and write childrens’ books at a well-worn library table from the 1920‘s. Along with managing the house, cooking, cleaning, and just being home in case I got sick or hurt at school and needed her, this was how she financially contributed to the family. And more importantly, this was how she nourished her creativity and kept her sense of self happy and alive.

When I started to think about having a family -- even before I met Ethan --- I knew that I wanted to follow my mom's example and (if, financially feasible) "work from home." And so, Ethan and I have tried to make it happen: He waltzes off to work every day, and I stay home with Maysie. But still, you can only sing “The Wheels on the Bus go Round and Round” so many times before going absolutely bat-shit crazy. Between power-struggles over bath time, scrubbing splattered sweet potato from the floor and walls and -- how did this happen?-- the ceiling, and spending more time with my iRabbit vibrator than I do with my husband, I wonder how my mom made it all look so effortless. As much as I love my family, some days I feel like I stumbled into somebody else’s life. A life of sneakers and sandwiches, of early mornings and sleepless nights. And it was in one of these moments after while listening to Maysie beat her toy xylophone to death for 15 minutes (and wishing – Oh God if only -- I had a screwdriver to jam in my ears), that I began to fully appreciate how important it must have been for my mom to have her creative identity. Certainly, I don’t know how I would survive without it, which is why I’m writing through to the other side of midnight. Again.

Agent Spotlight: Jonathan Clements

07/21/2011 – Profile Removed.

Given my past concerns about the agency and the recent closing of Tribe Lit, I’ve decided to remove Mr. Clements profile.

See the agency thread on Absolute Write for further details.

~Casey

Public Critique: POSSESSED Query

Hey all! Here's the query I mentioned last week.  If you have the time, please give it a read and offer any advice or constructive criticism you may have.  If you're interested in having a query, synopsis, or excerpt posted on Lit Rambles for critique, check out my contribute page.

POSSESSED
(query)
Supernatural Thriller
By Sara Kjeldsen

Dear Agent So-and-So,

Fourteen-year-old Gabriel has killed more men than he can count. After fighting in the Napoleonic War for two years, he is now stuck at home with his parents. Gabriel's father has forbidden him to return to sea after losing his left hand in battle. To make matters worse, Gabriel is forced to go on a long trip to visit his aging aunt in the country. His boredom evaporates when he hears voices in a dark room filled with locked cabinets.

Gabriel's curiosity is cut short when a series of tragic events drive him into the woods with a madman in hot pursuit. The voices from the room follow him there. Just when he thinks that he is going mad, the truth unravels. Everything that he thought was real is a lie, including his identity. He is not a soldier. He is a cold blooded murderer.

The angry voices of those that he shot five years ago will not go away. Is there any way out of everlasting punishment for killing the innocent? Gabriel is certain that there isn`t one.

Possessed is a supernatural thriller that contains a final word count of 56,139 words. I have pasted the first ten pages at the bottom of this email.

Thank you for taking the time to review my work. If you would like to see more of my manuscript, please let me know.

Sincerely,
Sara Kjeldsen

Tip Tuesday #55

Tuesday already?  I'm still trying to figure out where last week went!  Anyway, I have a tip from a new contributor today, Morgan Kyser.  Thanks for sending a tip in, Morgan!  Everyone, please give her site a visit.  I've been enjoying her blog. 

One of the tricks of writing, at least for me, is finding out what you're good at and zeroing in on it. The most significant way of doing this is by figuring out what drives your stories: plot, setting or characters. Once you've picked one or two, focus on them. Of course, a book can have outstanding characters, plot, and setting, but that's quite uncommon. Usually a writer excels at one or two things and may struggle with the rest. Think of Harry Potter. The main characters are fairly simplistic, acting as mere vessels for the setting and plot, and that's fine! People still enjoy the story and love getting lost in that world, because Rowling focused on what she was best at.

So if you're great at setting and plot like Rowling, don't be afraid to world-build to your heart's content. And if you can't ever get your characters out of your head, by all means, let them take the lead. A good writer can make something work, even if one aspect is lacking. Do what you're good at. The rest will come, and if it doesn't, it can always be worked on with beta-readers or during your first re-reading. When writing out the first draft of a story, focusing on what you're good at can make it easier to keep going and finally get the full story out.

Great tip, Morgan!  I like the idea of focusing on what drives the story.  That seems to be a good indicator of where a given writer's strengths lie, the part that comes most naturally. 

Speak Loudly

Please read this post.  Please speak up.  PLEASE.  Even just to spread the word.  I cannot tell you how much I wish I would have had this book for my friends and I during junior high and high school.  I could try, but I don't want to go that dark and personal on a public blog.  I'm not as brave as the amazing C.J. Redwine (read her post) or others relating personal experiences.  Just don't let anyone, especially this guy, take the voice and power of SPEAK away from teens of today, tomorrow, or 50 years from now. 

From Laurie Halse Anderson:

I need your help.

Please share your experiences with SPEAK; your own response to the book, or the way you’ve seen it work in a school setting. Tahleen has already posted her thoughts on her blog. You can do the same. Please share links to your blog in Comments.

But then, please speak up to the people who can make a real difference in Republic, MO.
You can submit a letter to the editor of the News-Leader.

You can write to the superintendent of the Republic School District, Dr. Vern Minor, or to the high school principal, Daren Harris.

You can comment directly to Scroggins’ opinion piece.


Then go to Lisa and Laura's blog to comment.  They're giving away a copy of SPEAK to a school or library for every 25 comments they receive there.

Thank you.

Public Critique: THE EDGE OF OBLIVION

Hey all!  I have another query eager for your feedback.  Perhaps this will become a regular feature?  I have one scheduled for next week as well.  If you have the time, please give it a read and offer any advice or constructive criticism you may have.  If you're interested in having a query, synopsis, or excerpt posted on Lit Rambles for critique, check out my contribute page.

THE EDGE OF OBLIVION
(query)
YA Fantasy
By Tim Fletcher

My 60,000 word Young Adult Fantasy, THE EDGE OF OBLIVION, is the first in a series of adventures that follow Paul, a reformed juvenile delinquent, on a mission to save a secret magical town.

On the run from his probation officer, Paul and his disabled friend Billy accept a strange invitation to escape to a magical paradise. For years, outcast children have been invited to Splendor by a clairvoyant raven named Livingston. Here in this secret town, unwanted kids discover the magic that has always lain dormant inside them. For any kid who has ever wanted a second chance, Splendor is a perfect refuge, a place where the very thing that made them outsiders, now makes them strangely powerful.

But Paul’s presence ignites a raging battle. Once a simple garden slug, the Duke has tapped into the magic of Splendor to conjure a horrific new form. As he consumes his enemies, he acquires their magic. Each day his power grows. Now, as commander of the mutant army of Oblivion, he tears apart the city in a search for the singular source of all magic, the essence that keeps Splendor and her citizens alive.

Paul’s allies? There’s a brainy kid who can calculate anything, such as the split second that lightning bolt will strike, or the precise path of a falling leaf. There’s a little girl whose laugher is not only contagious, but for those without the anecdote, fatal. And there’s a bully whose words can kill – literally. Paul’s mentor is Livingston, a one-winged, half-blind raven who sees the future, yet dies a little when he tries to warn others. Everyone in Splendor has a unique magical talent – everyone but Paul. Livingston assures Paul that he was recruited to Splendor for a reason, and that he alone can lead the others to save the city. But how? Paul has no magic – or does he?

Paul must discover the awesome power - and the terrible curse - of his own hidden magic, before leading a band of misfit kids into battle against an army of wonderfully weird and grotesque monsters.

My background is in the entertainment industry. I have edited horror films and produced cartoons for Hanna-Barbara, the studio famous for Scooby-Doo and the Flintstones. Today I write advertising copy and design marketing campaigns for Microsoft. Each of the three of the novels I have planned in the series explores themes of self-discovery and hope for those who don't feel they belong. I think you'll find that the flawed characters and universal themes in the story reflect my background in persuading people to believe in something greater than themselves, which very often is the true version of who they are.

I’m happy to send you any number of pages,

Tim Fletcher

Agent Spotlight: Cari Foulk

07/21/2011 – Profile Removed.

Tribe Literary Agency has closed its doors.  Read the agency thread on AbsoluteWrite for details

~Casey

Public Critique: Lori's Revised Query

Hello everyone!  Lori has revised her query based on your awesome comments but isn't too sure about the revision.  Please give it a look and offer any further advice or constructive criticism you may have.  If you're interested in having a query, synopsis, or excerpt posted on Lit Rambles for critique, check out my contribute page.

BREATHE
(query)
By Lori Johnson

When an elderly friend gives seventeen-year-old Taylor a beautiful charm bracelet, little does she know the gift is a curse. Taylor wears the keys to the gates of Hell.

Breandán, the new guy at school, is a magnet to everyone who meets him, and even Taylor falls for him instantly. She tosses aside her boyfriend, friends, and popularity for a chance to be with the ethereal stranger. Breandán tells Taylor he has dreamed of her for years. But when Breandán sees Taylor wearing the charm bracelet, he knows she is more than fate – she could be deadly. Breandán admits he’s a warrior angel who was sent, along with his family, to guard the Heir who wears the keys.

Breandán is not supposed to love Taylor, who is now the reluctant Heir. Because of his actions, he is banished back to his home land. Demons from the Realm of Darkness take advantage of Breandán’s absence to possess Taylor’s ex-boyfriend in order to lure Taylor into opening Hell’s doors. Somehow Taylor must find a way to save him without sacrificing the angel she loves, even if it means her own death.

I am querying you because you (personal touch here). My YA fantasy romance, Breathe, is complete at 90,000 words. Per your submission guidelines I have (followed directions here). Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Tip Tuesday #54

I meant to post this earlier in the day, but it got away from me (the day that is).  My tip is to enter my giveaway and all the awesome giveaways at WriteOnCon, but I also have a fun, quick tip from Katharina (Cat) Gerlach.  Here it is!

I follow quite a lot of blogs and I love commenting. For a while I was very annoyed that word verification was necessary every time but then I figured out that the sometimes hilarious nonsense-words make great names for stuff in my Fantasy and SciFi novels. I named plants, animals and even characters with them, sometimes changing the word a bit to make it easier to pronounce. I have a volyp (an oceanic being with five tentacles), a pinti (1/2 a pint or 1/4 l), a porsork (a meat animal the size of a dog with green hair, four legs that makes noises like a pig), a character named Shetri and many other fun elements. 

Love this, Cat!  I've definitely seen and typed some great ones while out commenting on posts.  I should start writing them down.  I particularly love porsork from your list of names!

So Many Giveaways!

I trust you've been stalking the WriteOnCon blog this morning?  Why wouldn't you be?  There are some amazing giveaways happening courtesy of the awesome that is The Elevensies.  It's spectacular.  ARCS, pre-orders, critiques, swag!  Stuff that isn't coming out for months.  You can be among the first to get your hands on this stuff.  And a post goes up Every. Hour. during today and tomorrow.  Details HERE

But before you run off to see what the latest giveaway is, feel free to enter MY giveaway, which is for an ARC of EXTRAORDINARY by Nancy Werlin and a hardcover of WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON by John Green and David Levithan.  There will be two winners, one book to each.


 

EXTRAORDINARY:


Phoebe finds herself drawn to Mallory, the strange and secretive new kid in school, and the two girls become as close as sisters . . . until Mallory's magnetic older brother, Ryland, shows up during their junior year. Ryland has an immediate, exciting hold on Phoebe but a dangerous hold, for she begins to question her feelings about her best friend and, worse, about herself.
Soon she'll discover the shocking truth about Ryland and Mallory: that these two are visitors from the faerie realm who have come to collect on an age-old debt. Generations ago, the faerie queen promised Pheobe's ancestor five extraordinary sons in exchange for the sacrifice of one ordinary female heir. But in hundreds of years there hasn't been a single ordinary girl in the family, and now the faeries are dying. Could Phoebe be the first ordinary one? Could she save the faeries, or is she special enough to save herself?

WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON:

One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two teens--both named Will Grayson--are about to cross paths. As their worlds collide and intertwine, the Will Graysons find their lives going in new and unexpected directions, building toward romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history's most fabulous high school musical.
Hilarious, poignant, and deeply insightful, John Green and David Levithan's collaborative novel is brimming with a double helping of the heart and humor that have won both them legions of faithful fans.

And it's not just me.  All the WriteOnCon Founders are holding extra contests on their blogs to spread the word and just give more.  Yes, more chances to win!  Make sure you check out the others:


To enter, please leave a comment on this post by Sunday, September 26 at midnight with a way for me to get in touch (if your contact info isn't easy to find).  Please include info/links if you take advantage of the extra-entry opportunities.  My particular contest is open to the U.S. and Canada only, but if you're international and want to enter on behalf of my local library, please do!
Extra entries for the following: 

  +2 for tweeting about this contest
+2 for posting or linking this contest on your blog/website/facebook
+10 for donating to the WriteOnCon website (over on the right side of the WriteOnCon site, down under the follow widget)

Okay, that last one.  I know!  WriteOnCon is something we designed to be totally and completely free for everyone, so we hate asking for money.  Like, at all.  But, unfortunately, the only way we can avoid another Error 403 disaster is to have way better web hosting, and sadly, that doesn’t come for free.

So, yes, we have to pay to keep WriteOnCon 2011 EPIC. But we want to make a few things clear:

-You DO NOT have to donate to enter (or win) any of these contests
-You DO NOT have to donate to participate in the live events
-You DO NOT have to donate to attend our next conference
-IF you decide to donate, we’re only recommending something small, like $5.00


So it’s completely up to you if you want to donate. If you can—THANK YOU, and we wanted to reward you with extra contest entries. If you can’t—no worries. Absolutely none!
 
Let me know if you have any questions and really, truly make sure you stop by the WriteOnCon site to see what's up to win.

WriteOnCon Live Events and an Epic Epic Giveaway



Yes, it's true!  WriteOnCon will officially be doing monthly live events.  The first one is Monday, September 27th at 9:00* pm EDT with Jessica Sinsheimer of The Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency, Roseanne Wells of The Marianne Strong Literary Agency, and others to be announced. 

But that's not all!  We're also doing a giant giveaway starting TOMORROW.  Check out the WriteOnCon blog for details. That's where the Epic Giveaway of Epic Epicness will happen and it's going to be AWESOME!  But make sure to stop by here tomorrow as well.  I'll be giving away a copy of WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON by John Green and David Levithan and an ARC of EXTRAORDINARY by Nancy Werlin to two lucky winners.  My cohorts, Elana Johnson, Lisa and Laura Roecker, Jamie Harrington, Shannon Messenger, and Jen Stayroot will also be giving away books or critiques on their blogs.  Go follow and win!

*We all managed to post the time wrong.  The event will be at 9:00 p.m. EDT. 

Word Counts for Children's Books

WordsI received a request awhile ago to do a post on word counts for different age categories in children's lit.  Since opinions vary greatly, I did some research to verify the numbers in my head.  This is what I came away with.  Though, please note that most of the sources I found had slightly different numbers (and I think I'm missing a couple sub-categories).  Check out the links I've provided below and read the comments of this post.  I'm sure my readers will chime in with their knowledge and opinion!

***

Board Books: 0 - 100 words.

Early Picture Books: 0 - 500 words.

Picture Books: 50 - 1,000 words.  1k is pushing it.

Nonfiction Picture Books: 500 - 2,000 words.

Early Readers:  200 - 3,500 words, depending on age level. 

Chapter Books: 4,000 - 10,000 words.

Hi-Lo Books: 500 - 50,000 words, varies greatly depending on age level. A large number fall between 500 - 20k words.  Some 60-90k YA books get classified as Hi-Lo, but I don't think they were specifically written for the category.

Middle Grade: 25,000 - 45,000 words, usually around 35-40k.  Longer word counts allowed for fantasy, sci-fi, historical.  Up to 60-70k is probably safe (though there are even longer exceptions).

Young Adult: 45,000 - 70,000 words.  Longer word counts allowed for fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal, historical. 80-90k is safe (there are some as high as 120k, but I recommend staying below 100k, if possible).

Nonfiction MG/YA: 5,000 - 70,000 words, varies greatly (with some exceeding 100k) depending on the type of book and age level (I recommend researching similar titles to what you're writing/proposing to find appropriate range).  Memoirs seem to fall within the same range as novels for their age group. 

***

We all know there are exceptions, but I wouldn't count on being one.  I recommend staying within (or close to) the recommended word count for your age category/genre unless you've received a lot of feedback verifying it needs every word (or doesn't need more if you're low).  There are a lot of agents that will reject on atypical word count alone.

From my own experience as an intern, I tend to be more critical of YA manuscripts exceeding 80-90k and have to be blown away to want to read a full that length or longer.  While some need the length (and those tend to stand out) most simply need more revision and tightening.

Sources/Further Info:

Manuscript Length at Kidlit.com

How Long Does a Book Have to Be at Writing for Children and Teens.

Word Count For Novels and Children's Books at the Guide to Literary Agents Blog.

From Picture Books to YA - Information to Get You Started at QueryTracket.net.

Counting Chickens - A Few Words About Word Counts at Hope Vestergaard's site.

On Word Counts and Novel Length at The Swivet.

Word Counts at Stacy Whitman's Grimoire.

Hi/Lo Books: Writing for Reluctant Readers at Writing World (stated count of 400-1200 words).

Hi-Lo Books for Upper Elementary Grades at ALA (example titles ranging from 10-90k words).

Writing for Children - Age Categories Determine the Guidelines for Your Children’s Book at Suite 101.

For non-fiction MG/YA I looked at 2009 nonfiction mg/ya nominations for YALSA and the Cybils.

Tip!  Use Renaissance Learning to research word counts on existing titles.  I recommend looking at a large variety to avoid exceptions.

Agent Spotlight: Taylor Martindale

This week's Agent Spotlight features Taylor Martindale of Full Circle Literary.

Status: Accepting submissions, actively building her list.

About: "Taylor Martindale is a new member of Full Circle Literary, actively acquiring primarily young adult projects. She began agenting with the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency, and prior to that, was the submissions coordinator at Bliss Literary Agency. She is a graduate of The College of William and Mary, where she studied English and Hispanic Studies.

"Taylor is looking for children’s/young adult fiction and non-fiction, women’s fiction, and select non-fiction projects. She is interested in finding unique and unforgettable voices and characters that stay with you long after a story has finished. For contemporary YA, she would like to find both the uplifting/romantic and the gritty stories. She loves working with multicultural projects that teach teens about other people’s lives – both at home and abroad. In paranormal/fantasy/urban fantasy, she is looking for new and intriguing concepts with characters who make their worlds alive and engaging. She is also interested in women’s fiction – multicultural, historical, and contemporary. More than anything, Taylor is looking for character-driven stories that bring the world vividly to life (whether it’s fantasy or not), and voices that refuse to be ignored. When looking for non-fiction projects, Taylor uses much the same approach, and hopes to find authors with fresh ideas and perspectives, with writing that is accessible, entertaining, and compelling. She is looking for teen non-fiction, memoir, and how-to projects.

"When not working, Taylor can be found traveling, cooking, spending time with loved ones, or (surprise!) lost in a good book.” (via e-mail, soon to be here)

About the Agency:

"We are a boutique literary agency, offering a unique full circle approach to literary representation. Our diverse experience in book publishing includes editorial, marketing, publicity, legal and rights, which we use to help build authors one step at a time. We work with both published and unpublished writers and our staff has a knack for finding and developing new talent. We've cultivated Pura Belpre Award and Honor winners, Americas Book Award and Honor winners, and Charlotte Zolotow Award winners. Our authors have been featured on National Public Radio, Good Morning America, Martha Stewart Living, Design*Sponge, Ohdeedoh, Working Mother magazine, Parents magazine, The New York Times and other national media.

“Full Circle Literary works with a variety of creative prescriptive and narrative nonfiction books, literary fiction for adults and teens, as well as middle grade and children's picture books. Our underlying policy is that we only sign work we are as enthusiastic about as you are. We'll support you through the publication process... full circle.” (Link)

Web Presence:

Full Circle Lit website.

Full Circle Lit PM page.

Full Circle Lit blog.

Twitter.

Goodreads.

LinkedIn.

QueryTracker.

What She's Looking For:

From Her Bio (as above):

“Taylor is looking for children’s/young adult fiction and non-fiction, women’s fiction, and select non-fiction projects. She is interested in finding unique and unforgettable voices and characters that stay with you long after a story has finished. For contemporary YA, she would like to find both the uplifting/romantic and the gritty stories. She loves working with multicultural projects that teach teens about other people’s lives – both at home and abroad. In paranormal/fantasy/urban fantasy, she is looking for new and intriguing concepts with characters who make their worlds alive and engaging. She is also interested in women’s fiction – multicultural, historical, and contemporary. More than anything, Taylor is looking for character-driven stories that bring the world vividly to life (whether it’s fantasy or not), and voices that refuse to be ignored. When looking for non-fiction projects, Taylor uses much the same approach, and hopes to find authors with fresh ideas and perspectives, with writing that is accessible, entertaining, and compelling. She is looking for teen non-fiction, memoir, and how-to projects.” (Link)

Via Twitter (11/2011):

“I'd really like to see more contemporary YA in my inbox. Unique concepts, memorable characters... Send them my way!” (Link)

From an Interview (10/2011):

“I'd like to see some dynamic YA that I can fall in love with -- contemporary, character-driven stories; unique concepts in fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal, and some sci-fi; and dynamic multicultural stories. I'd love to see a ghost story that really gets under my skin. I love stories about real teens dealing with real life, and I want to hear new voices in this area. I am a very voice- and character-focused reader and agent, so if you can get my attention with compelling personalities, you've got my hooked. Overall, I'm just looking to go crazy over something, no matter what it's about.” (Link)

From an Interview (06/2011):

“I am definitely interested in middle grade! I do represent some middle grade authors, and am always looking for those special projects that are a good fit for me. I will say that I am focused more on the older end of the genre, but what’s most important to me is that I’m able to feel passionate about a manuscript—whether it’s what I thought I was looking for or not.”

“I have a particular interest in Hispanic/Latino stories and border stories, but I’d really like to see a broad range of multicultural stories. I love learning about new cultures, and I think YA books are such a great venue through which to teach kids about other peoples and places of the world, other worldviews.” (Link)

From an Interview (04/2010):

"I have to say that what I am particularly looking for are characters. Engaging, deep characters whose voices light up the page and stick in your head even when you’re not reading. Those characters who make the plot captivating because of who they are, not what is going on around them. The relationships that make you laugh and cry and long to touch some part of the world around you… ” (Link)

What She Isn't Looking For:

Picture books, poetry, short stories, screenplays, educational books, workbooks, foreign language books, science fiction, business, science, nature, religion / spirituality. (Link / Link)

Editorial Agent?

Yes. "I am very hands-on with revisions when necessary, because I feel part of my job is to help an author put together the best book they can. If I believe in something, I’m not afraid to take on a project that needs work. I also see my job as working to develop an author’s career, not just his or her current book." (Link)

Quotables:

"What I expect from an agent-author relationship is positive and productive collaboration. I love working with authors who are dedicated to learning about the publishing process and who are really interested in working with me to grow a career. My other expectation, and what I work to foster with my clients, is clear and honest communication." (Link)

Pet-Peeves:

"One query pet peeve that does drive me crazy, though: Starting off with a rhetorical question. Those are never answered the way you planned--occasionally coming off as very strange--and that creates a spot of weakness in your letter." (Link)

Clients:

There is list of select client titles on the agency website.

Ms. Martindale’s clients include: Annie Cardi, Debra Driza, Ninja Girl, Emery Lord, Richard Moore, Aisha Saeed, among others.

Sales:

As of this posting, Ms. Martindale is listed on Publisher’s Marketplace as having made 2 deals in the last 12 months and 2 overall. Recent deals include 2 YA.

NOTE: PM is usually not a complete representation of sales.

Query Methods:

E-mail: Yes (only).

Snail-Mail: No.

Online-Form: No.

Submission Guidelines (always verify):

“Send a 1-page query letter (in the body of the email, no attachments please) including a description of your book, writing credentials and author highlights. Following your query, please include the first TEN PAGES of manuscript text within the body of the email. For nonfiction, include a proposal with one sample chapter.

“You may include the name of the agent in the email subject line, if you're directing to a specific agent.”

See the Full Circle Literary website for complete, up-to-date submission guidelines.

Query tips:

There are a number of great tips from Ms. Martindale in this interview at GotYA.

Response Times:

The agency only responds if interested. If interested, expect a response within 6-8 weeks. Response times available on the web suggest Ms. Martindale generally responds to queries within that time frame, often sooner. Her response time on requested material is sometimes longer.

What's the Buzz?

Taylor Martindale has been an agent for over two years now and the buzz continues to be positive. She has made two contemporary YA deals in the last year and as far as I know these are her first two. Her clients seem very happy with her representation. Of note, she is no longer accepting picture book submissions.

Make sure you follow Ms. Martindale on twitter @TayMartindale for updates, news, and a great glimpse at her personality.

Worth Your Time:

Interviews:

Contest interview with Taylor Martindale at Operation Awesome (10/2011).

Agent Advice Interview with Taylor Martindale at Guide to Literary Agents (06/2011).

Interview with an Agent: Taylor Martindale at Mother. Write. (Repeat.) (07/2010).

Interview with YA agent Taylor Martindale at GotYA (04/2010).

Blog Stuff:

Ms. Martindale will be posting on the Full Circle blog occasionally.

Recent post: “Taylor’s Tips for the New Year” (01/12).

Around the Web:

Full Circle Literary thread on AbsoluteWrite.

Full Circle Literary on P&E.

Follow the Full Circle Lit blog for client updates and news.

See which conferences Ms. Martindale has scheduled for 2012 so far in this post.

Client Debra Driza's How I Got My Agent post on her blog, Houndrat (03/2010).

Contact:

Please see the Full Circle Literary website for contact and query information.

Profile Details:

Last updated: 2/14/12.

Agent Contacted For Review? Yes.

Last Reviewed By Agent? 2/14/12.

***

Have any experience with this agent? See something that needs updating? Please leave a comment or e-mail me at agentspotlight(at)gmail(dot)com

Note: These agent profiles presently focus on agents who accept children's fiction. They are not interviews. Please take the time to verify anything you might use here before querying an agent. The information found herein is subject to change.

Public Critique: Erin's Query

Hello!  I have another query for public critique.  If you have the time, please give it a read and offer any advice or constructive criticism you may have.  If you're interested in having a query, synopsis, or excerpt posted on Lit Rambles for critique, check out my contribute page.

OFF THE EDGE
(query)
YA Romantic Adventure
by Erin Apelu

Dear (Agent):

Nineteen-year-old Eden Anderson is beautiful, popular, and well endowed. Her adventurous personality and perfect figure makes her the envy of many girls from her small town in Idaho. But Eden is unexpectedly single, and always leery of attention from the opposite sex after enduring a life-time of unwanted eyeball body scans and inappropriate comments. After finding the “man of her dreams,” she is dumped and discarded like yesterday’s paper when she won’t take their relationship to the next step—physically.

When Eden’s parents send her to live with her cousin, Claire, for the summer on the North Shore of Hawaii, the last thing she wants is to think about the male species. But Claire puts “Operation Eden” into play from day one, and tries setting her up with beach-volleyball-surfers hoping her cousin will find someone like her own Adonis-like boyfriend. Eden has no intention of indulging her cousin’s desires and only wants to relax on the beach while preparing her brain to start college in the fall.

Everything changes when Eden meets Noa, the mysterious playboy back from college and the one boy who can never be hers. She’s determined to have him, but only in her fantasy—the safest place for her beaten-down heart. When the charming Noa takes a sudden interest in Eden, she’s right to doubt his intentions—his reputation for being a "player" is as deep and never-ending as his pocket change, and she’s not willing to take that train again. Not to mention his “supposed” lunatic ex-girlfriend is stalking her. She tries her best to keep their relationship in the ‘just friends’ category, but Noa's good looks, charming attitude, and constant attention proves this a difficult task. When Eden agrees to accompany him on a sailing trip to Maui, she finds herself jumping off cliffs (something she swore she would never do again), swimming with sharks, and braving a storm that threatens to sink their tiny sailboat. Eden falls hard for the charming playboy, but it might not matter when an unexpected accident will most surely take everything away, including her life.

Eden’s summer adventure in Hawaii starts as a journey of escape, but follows deeper paths of real love and self-discovery. Come join Eden as she spends an adventurous summer in Paradise discovering if taking the leap of love is worth the risk. Told in Eden’s distinctive voice, at turns sarcastic and sensitive, “Off the Edge” is a complete 96,000 word young adult novel.

I spent five years as a tour-guide in Hawaii gaining knowledge of the island, culture, and expectations of typical tourists. Based on my real-life adventures while attending Brigham Young University Hawaii on the North Shore of Oahu, “Off the Edge” brings to life the everyday insecurities that young adults face with heartbreak, love, and lose.

Thank you for taking the time to get to know Eden (I dare you to not lover her!). I have included the first five pages below. The completed manuscript is available for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you, and I’m excited to jump in and promote “Off the Edge”.

Sincerely,
Erin Apelu

[contact info redacted]

Tip Tuesday #53

I have another great tip from Deren Hansen today.  He blogs at The Laws of Making.  Please give him a visit when you're done here.  He's linked to one of his many great posts below. 

Here's a tip that sound's strange because writing is generally a solitary endeavor, but it helps me when I write:

Smile.

No, this isn't about having a sunny disposition. It's about productivity. Not only does smiling make me feel better as I weave my words, it also seems as though the words come more easily. Perhaps it's because we associate smiles with confidence or contentment (both of which writers seem to have in short supply) and so our brains tend to follow suit when we change our faces.

Smiling is also about attracting readers: It's the writing equivalent of the fact that the phone company (way back when there was one phone company) trained its operators to smile when they spoke with customers because you really can hear the difference. We talk (often obsess) about Voice. Just like a spoken voice, I think a smile comes through as part of your written voice, particularly in terms of the enthusiasm with which you tell the story.

I won't promise that you'll write faster, but I think smiling will make both the process and the product better.

I have a longer discussion of this notion on my blog as part of a series of posts on how Dale Carnegie's principles apply to modern writers.

What an unusual but awesome tip, Deren.  I'm so glad you shared it!  I know I often emote my writing, especially if the scene is particularly funny or sad, but I'm not sure if that's normal.  I hope so!

Nightshade City by Hilary Wagner

Nightshade City Title: Nightshade City

Author: Hilary Wagner

Reading Level:  Middle Grade

Publisher:  Holiday House

First Sentence:  The two black rats kept running. 

Summary: "Deep beneath a modern metropolis lies the Catacombs, the kingdom of mutant rats of superior intellect. Following a bloody coup, the once peaceful democracy has become a dictatorship, ruled by decadent High Minister Kildeer and vicious Billycan, a demented former lab rat and now head of the Kill Army. Three young orphan rats–brothers Vincent and Victor and a clever female named Clover–rebel against the Ministry, joining forces with Juniper, Billycan’s archenemy. Juniper and his maverick bank of followers, helped by a tribe of earthworms, plot to overthrow their oppressors and liberate the citizens to create a new city: Nightshade City. This impossible-to-put-down animal fantasy, set in a brilliantly imagined subterranean world, explores timeless themes of freedom, forgiveness, the bonds of family, and the power of love." (via Amazon)

Review:

Wow! I haven't read an adventure quite like this since junior high and trust me, that's not a bad thing!  Slightly reminiscent of Newbery winner Mrs. Frisby and the Secret of Nihm and the well-loved Red Wall series, NIGHTSHADE CITY delivers a rat-tastic tale of oppression, freedom, and love.  Following a well-crafted cast of subterranean characters, the reader becomes part of something larger than life, a revolution!  But with the malicious Commander Billycan and High Minister Killdeer in control, the path is not easy for the rats who would defy them.

If you find yourself hesitant to meet Nightshade's crawling characters, worry no more.  Rats and worms have never been so relatable and all their trials and triumphs, joys and sorrows will resonate with you and linger for days.  The writing is superb, imaginative, and affecting.  Wagner is brilliant at description and setting, giving just the right amount of detail when the reader needs it, and the world is well-built and believable.  So much so, I find myself wondering what's scampering beneath my feet as I type this.

In fact, Rick Riordan had THIS to say, and I couldn't agree more:

"Fans of Redwall and the Warriors series will love this heroic tale of good versus evil in a subterranean society of rats. The world of the Catacombs is so compelling readers will wonder if it really might exist under our city streets. Expect great adventures in Nightshade-City."

Congrats on a fabulous debut, Hilary!

Official web site: http://www.nightshadecity.com

Blog: http://hilarywagner.blogspot.com

Twitter: http://twitter.com/hilarywagner1

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/hilarywagner1

Trailer!

Agent Spotlight: Caitlin Blasdell

This week's Agent Spotlight features Caitlin Blasdell of Liza Dawson Associates Literary Agency.

Caitlin Blasdell About: "Caitlin Blasdell has been a literary agent with Liza Dawson Associates since 2002. As a former senior editor at Harper and Avon, Caitlin acquired and published New York Times best-selling authors such as Kyle Mills, Anne McCaffrey, Kevin J. Anderson, and William Shatner. While at HarperEntertainment, Caitlin established the X-Files Publishing Program, as well as several other branded series. Caitlin is a Williams College graduate. She lives in Westchester with her husband and four sons, ages 9, 6, 3, and 1, which leads her to suspect she will be agenting more books on sports in the future." (Link)

Status: Accepting submissions.

What She's Looking For:

Interests: "Specializing in: quality commercial fiction including science fiction & fantasy (adult, young adult, and middle grade), urban fantasy, historical, mysteries, thrillers, and women's fiction." (Link)

What She Isn't Looking For:

Picture books, illustrators, screen plays, poetry collections. 

Quotables:

About the Agency:

"At Liza Dawson Associates, we know book publishing. We've launched first-time novelists onto The New York Times bestseller list. We've lifted established, successful writers to new, higher levels of success. And we've helped journalists and academics discover the nonfiction book they're truly excited to write – and that mainstream publishers are eager to acquire. We're a full-service literary agency based in New York City." (Link)

Editorial Agent?

Yes, she is a former editor and several of her clients have mentioned doing revisions with her before submission.

Web Presence:

Liza Dawson Associates website.

LinkedIn.

AgentQuery, QueryTracker, AuthorAdvance.

Clients:

There are lists of client titles on the website.  Ms. Blasdell's clients include: Leah Bobet, John Brown, Harry Connolly, Greg van Eekhout, Jack Hart, Merrie Haskell, John Jarrold, Jon Levitt, Rachel Neumeier, Sarah Prineas, Charles Stross, Rebecca Zanetti, among others.  

Sales:

As of this posting, Ms. Blasdell is listed on Publisher's Marketplace as having made 5 deals in the last 12 months, 6 six-figure+ deals, and 30 overall.  Recent deals include 3 sci-fi/fantasy, 1 middle grade, and 1 reference.

NOTE:  PM is usually not a complete representation of sales. 

Other Sales Info:

"Charles Stross was Caitlin's first science fiction sale. Stross has since earned four Hugo nominations, ten hardcover deals, and sales into twelve languages.

"Caitlin’s recent sales include: Greg van Eekhout's middle grade fantasy KID VS. SQUID (Bloomsbury Children's Books), Harry Connelly's urban fantasy/thriller CHILD OF FIRE trilogy pre-empted in a six figure deal (Del Rey), Jack Hart's STORYCRAFT: THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO NARRATIVE NONFICTION (University of Chicago Press.), Rachel Neumeier's LORD OF THE CHANGING WINDS and three sequels in the Griffin Mage series (Orbit Books/Little Brown), Sarah Prineas's MAGIC THIEF trilogy (HarperCollins), foreign language rights now sold in 15 countries." (Link)

Query Methods:

E-mail: Yes.  

Snail-Mail: Yes.

Online-Form: No.

Submission Guidelines (always verify):

Send a query ONLY.  Include a SASE for snail-mail.

See the Liza Dawson Associates website for complete, up-to-date submission guidelines.  

Response Times:

Fast!  Ms. Blasdell usually responds within a week on e-queries and within 2 or 3 on snail-mail.  Response times on requested material range from a week to a couple months.  There are occasional instances of longer or no response. 

What's the Buzz?

Ms. Blasdell seems to be a fabulous agent.  She works for a well-respected agency, has invaluable editorial experience, and is recommended by P&E standards.  Her clients come across as very loyal and happy with her representation.  While her list includes mainly adult titles, she has made several sales in the children's market and has a particular interest in sci-fi/fantasy.

Worth Your Time:

Interviews:

None that I could find.

Around the Web:

Check out the agency's FAQ page.

Liza Dawson Associates on P&E (AAR). Caitlin Blasdell on P&E (recommended).

Liza Dawson Associates thread at AbsoluteWrite.

How I Got My Agent: Kevin Sheridan, agented by Ms. Blasdell (07/2010).

Agency Profile: Liza Dawson Associates at the Guide to Literary Agents Blog (10/2007).

Contact:

Please see the Liza Dawson Associates Literary Agency website for contact and query information.

***

Have any experience with this agent? See something that needs updating? Please leave a comment or e-mail me at agentspotlight(at)gmail(dot)com

Note: These agent profiles presently focus on agents who accept children's fiction. They are not interviews. Please take the time to verify anything you might use here before querying an agent. The information found herein is subject to change.

How I Found My Agent by Sarah Page

Occasionally I get e-mails from writers who have found their agent through Agent Spotlight.  I received one of those e-mails a few weeks ago from Sarah Page and asked her if she wanted to share her story.  I'm so happy she did because I love what she's written.  You can find and follow Sarah at her new blog, Forty Gallons of Sap.

While the hunt for my agent didn’t involve slaying rabid jabberwockies or esurient krakens, it did require me to master an equally ferocious R&R routine. By “R&R” I don’t mean rest and relaxation—I’m talking about soul-crushing research and revision. Below, I’ve outlined a few of the rules that helped me find my splendiferous agent, Natalie M. Fischer of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.

I. RESEARCH. Plunder the cyberspace treasuries.

Only a lackwit would condemn their manuscript to slush pile oblivion by sending off a query without carefully reading an agent/agency’s specific submission guidelines. I think it’s equally irresponsible not to ransack online resources for any additional scraps of information before querying. I felt like I hit the jackpot every time I discovered another agent blog, interview, conference transcript, or guest post. These highlight both personality and preference, and sometimes the particular peeves in an agent’s pet collection! Casey McCormick’s meticulously researched Agent Spotlight on Natalie M. Fischer included several links to interviews that ultimately led me to query her about my middle grade fantasy.

II. REVISE. Pick up the gauntlet.

In my opinion, rejections are not unlike a medieval challenge to a duel, a slap to the writer’s ego that demands an immediate response: revise or slink off. Sometimes the pursuit of revision leads to joining critique groups and attending writer’s conferences and workshops. Sometimes it leads to an entirely new book, and the first project must be set aside, or in my case, the first several. Good. Don’t be afraid of massive change because writing is never static, it’s an act of constant creative eclosion pushing us to improve our craft.

III. REVIVIFY. Never surrender the quill!

I’ve come to believe that writers are a peculiar breed of zombie, and we need to trust in our reanimation powers and just keep writing even if it means the words bleed from our finger tips. I didn’t seriously concentrate on my writing until I finished my bachelor’s degree, and it took me almost four years of revisions and rejections to reach this point in my career. But I never would’ve found my fabulous agent if I’d let the rejections slaughter me indefinitely and quit scribbling, researching, and allowing my stories and identity as a writer to evolve.

While each new rejection hits the writer’s “epic fail’ button and obliterates any leftover shards of ego, we can’t allow it to kill the story. The venerable poetess Emily Dickinson once said, “We play at paste / till qualified for pearl” (1-2). Never let failure, or the fear of it, keep you from seeking that same pearlescence in your own writing.

Work Cited:

Dickinson, Emily. “Poem 320.” The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. Ed. Thomas H. Johnson. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1961: 151.