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SURVIVAL COLONY 9 through October 4th

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Thursday Spotlight Update

Hello from Arizona! Hope you're all having a lovely Thursday. I'm enjoying a perfect 70 degree morning before the temp hits 95 today. It's weird to think some of you are still in the grip of winter!

I only updated one profile this week and that agent is...


Sara Megibow / Nelson Literary Agency
(General update)



You have the rest of the day to enter for a chance to win a signed hardback of Michael Ferrari's middle-grade adventure novel BORN TO FLY. Make sure you stop by tomorrow to find out who won!

Tip Tuesday #82

Tip Tuesday is a recurring feature where blog readers send in tips for fellow writers. If you'd like to send one in, now's a good time. E-mail me at agentspotlight(at)gmail(dot)com.

Hi guys!! Hope you're all having a lovely Tuesday. I sent off my culminating study for school this morning, and I'm heading out tomorrow on vacation, so I'm feeling pretty great. I have another fabulous tip from Lisa Nowak to share with you today. Please visit her at her blog, The Tao of Webfoot.

Making a Character Collage

Skeptical? I was too. Forget all that artsy-fartsy stuff, let’s get to the story! But after writing four books with the same characters, I was faced with starting from scratch on my latest manuscript. That left me feeling a little lost. How the heck did I do it all those years ago?

Fortunately, I remembered something I’d seen on Stina Lindenblatt’s blog about creating a character collage. She initially wasn’t so hot on the idea, either, but she said it really helped her get in touch with her characters.

http://www.stinalindenblatt.com/2010/10/getting-to-know-your-character.html

While Stina used magazines, I quickly rejected that idea. All I could find were a couple of those muscle rags they slip in your bag at GNC when you aren’t looking and some Road and Tracks my husband was throwing away. Surely the Internet had something better to offer!

I started out by going to stock photo sites looking for a secondary character. I’d been trying to describe him and realized I didn’t have a good picture in my head. After pouring through tons of photos (i.e. wasting three hours), I found one I liked. I used the “print screen” feature to make a copy. Looking at it compelled me to know more about him, to want to write his story. That got me hooked, and I started looking for others. I realized I wasn’t limited to the stock photos, which you often have to pay for unless you want a watermark smack in the middle of the photo. I also used Google Images and typed in traits like “long black hair”.

Once I identified my characters and touched them up in Photoshop to deal with things like the wrong eye color or those pesky watermarks, I started finding images that represented the characters past, hobbies, and traits. I got a piece of foam core and arranged everything on it. (If you want to be really deep, you can mess around with symbolism here. For example, a cell phone represents a special connection between two of my characters, so I made the image of the phone overlap the photos of those characters.) I gave each character his or her own corner of the foam core, with the protagonist in the middle.

Be sure you lay everything out before you start gluing it down. I realized after I was done that, had I positioned two characters beside each other, one of the items that has meaning for both of them could have been used to join them. You’d think I would have learned from that cell phone….


Love this! Thank you so much, Lisa.

TERRY JOHNSON INTERVIEW AND BOOK GIVEAWAY MARVELOUS MIDDLE GRADE MONDAY

Today I’m so excited to be interviewing Terry Johnson. Her debut middle grade novel DOGSLED DREAMS came out in January, 2011.

Hi Terry. Thanks so much for joining us.

1. Can you tell us a little about yourself and your book?

I’m a past musher and writer, outdoor enthusiast, and dog lover. I wrote DOGSLED DREAMS to address some of the questions from spectators at dogsled races, as well as to share the amazing sport of dogsledding. The novel follows 12-year-old Rebecca, a determined but self-doubting musher, who wants to become a famous sled dog racer. She and her dogs have adventures along the way to reaching that goal.

2. You describe dogsledding and taking care of the dogs so realistically in your book. How much of the dogsledding and Rebecca's struggles with it came from your own experiences? Did you own the dogsledding dogs and take care of them like her?

All of the dogs in the story were my actual dogs. And most of the things that happened did happen to us. (yes, including a certain incident involving dog pee and being frozen to the ground)

I owned eighteen Alaskan Huskies that were the center of my world. Taking care of sled dogs is full time. Every day. Summer and winter. Through black fly season, spring mud, sparkly fall mornings, hectic racing season, and glorious MARCH when you and your dogs can run anywhere on the hard trails and racing is over, and you just enjoy each other's company. I ran dogs for over ten years. Crazy stuff happens while you are far from anywhere, hanging off a sled, zipping along a narrow, twisting trail at fifteen miles an hour. I have many, many more stories to tell!

3. How much of Rebecca and her hopes and insecurities are based on your own life?


Quite a bit. For example, when I was young, I used to sometimes have this running announcer in my head that just came out in the story. I worried that no one would really get it. My husband certainly didn't get it. But, thankfully, I've been receiving emails from kids as well as adults who connect with Rebecca and some even say they do the same things. So, wow. That is very cool that my character can reach out to people I've never met and find some completely weird thing in common.

I've also talked to adult mushers who read the book and told me they had the same fears before their big race as 12-year-old Rebecca. I think anyone who runs dogs feels these things.

4. When did you decide you needed an agent? How did you find your agent?

After I wrote my second novel, I was so excited about it, I thought I should try to get an agent. I researched to find a compatible match (using this blog specifically!) before I submitted to eight different agencies. That same evening I had five requests for a full. A few weeks later, I was so amazed and thrilled to get an offer from my dream agent, Caryn Wiseman of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. I respect her style and find we work well together.

5. How did you market your book? Did you find there were any challenges unique to being a middle grade author? Were there any specific blogs or other marketing tools you found especially helpful?

I’m so glad I hired Kirsten Cappy of Curious City to help with the marketing. She has come up with wonderfully unique ideas.

1. a junior musher video contest on the website
2. promotional booklets distributed at dogsled events which include the first chapter and reviews
3. librarian listserve giveaways

I’m also doing book signings at dogsled races and library events.
Specifically for MG, I don’t think book blogs are as important as in YA, but I have done a small blog tour which I’m grateful for the supportive hosts. I also had a teachers guide made, which I think has encouraged interest within the schools. Definitely a good thing for a middle grade novel!

6. Kirsten Cappy’s ideas really tied into the dogsled aspect of your story. That’s awesome. What are you working on now?

I’m working on my third, a YA canoe adventure. I am hoping that my agent will have success with my second that is on sub – a wilderness survival story with sled dogs.

Good luck with your new submissions!

You can visit Terry at her blog and her website. I really enjoyed this book. I loved watching Rachel grow and learning about dogsledding, something I know nothing about. I’m giving away one copy of DOGSLED DREAMS. All you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment by midnight on April 2nd. I’ll announce the winner on April 4th. International entries are welcome.

Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays was started by Shannon Messenger to spotlight middle grade authors. Check it out here.

And check out these other Marvelous Monday Middle Grade Reviewers:

Joanne Fritz
Shannon O’Donnell
Sherrie Petersen
Brooke Favero
Myrna Foster

On April 4th, I’ll be interviewing Kim Harrington about her book CLARITY. And on April 11th, I’ll be interviewing a new agent looking for submissions. So I hope you’ll stop by.

Interview with Michael Ferrari & Book Giveaway

I'm thrilled to bring you this interview with Michael Ferrari, author of the middle-grade adventure novel BORN TO FLY, a book I adore. Michael is giving away a signed hardcover copy to one lucky commenter, but if you don't want to bother with luck of the draw consider ordering a copy for yourself or the middle grade reader in your life. The paperback version just came out this month!

Hi Michael! I’m so excited to have you on the blog today. Can you start things off by telling us a little about yourself?

I grew up near Cleveland, Ohio where I fell in love with stories and the movies. After college I moved to Los Angeles where I worked in film in TV for a number of years. I got married and decided we wanted our kids to grow up near their cousins and grandparents so we moved back to Ohio where I live now. For the last few years I’ve been a writer, stay-at-home-dad and a screenwriting professor.

BORN TO FLY won the Delecorte Yearling Contest for a First Middle Grade Novel in 2007. Can you tell us about the novel and what it was like to win the competition?

Born to Fly is the story of two outcast kids-- a tomboy who wants to be a fighter pilot, and a Japanese-American boy-- who stumble upon a deadly spy plot that could change the course of World War II. Winning the contest was a total surprise. I was working in a cubicle proofreading thousands of pages of medical litigation records when I got a call from a strange area code. I went outside to take the call and it was Stephanie Elliot from Delacorte telling me that Born to Fly had won the Yearling Prize. It was one of the best days of my life as a writer.

I can only imagine! I’m rather picky about middle grade and absolutely adored your book. I know you got the idea for BORN TO FLY at a WWII airshow after overhearing a boy tell his little sister girls can’t be fighter pilots, but how did it develop from there? What was the book’s evolution?

I wanted to write an adventure story with a girl action hero. The story was born of two incidents: The first was the part you mention about the heartbroken little girl at the airshow. A few years after that I was teaching junior high English and a 6th grade girl asked me to recommend an adventure story where the girl gets to save the day. I couldn’t think of one. There were plenty of books with boy action heroes and there were plenty of stories where girls were the main character, but if there was ever action required or physical heroics, the girls mostly seemed to be witnessing the action rather than steering it and driving it. So from those two flashpoints, I imagined a character with an impossible dream, a little girl who wanted to be a fighter pilot and I set out to write a story and a situation in which I could make her dream come true.

All I knew about the novel going in is what’s on the back cover copy, which is fantastic, but I didn’t realize it was going to be so FUN and suspenseful. It truly is an action-adventure story, and I was so surprised and thrilled with the ending. It's intense! Did you find yourself holding back when you first wrote the story or was Bird and Kenji’s adventure set from draft one?

When I first started, it was definitely a little smaller in scope. I think the climax was a lot shorter and not nearly as tense and deadly. I don’t know if I was holding back as much as I didn’t realize how much Bird was capable of. She surprised me.

Bird is a feisty, surprising character. I felt you really nailed her voice. How did you form her character? Did you draw inspiration from other historical MG novels or research?

I always liked Ramona Quimby and Scout Finch. I was probably thinking a little about them when I first started to create Bird’s character.

You know, that comes through a bit. When I was reading, I couldn’t help thinking how timeless the story is. It has a lot to offer young readers, for many years to come. What do you hope your young fans take away from the tale?

One of the things I like about Bird is that she’s not perfect. She makes mistakes. She’s not this incredibly enlightened, pure, unprejudiced mind in a world where all the other kids and grownups are close-minded, sexist or bigoted. When Kenji comes to town Bird treats him as badly as everyone else does. BUT she is strong enough and smart enough to question herself and her attitudes and opinions about Kenji, about her Mom, about the town bully, etc.

Getting back to business side of things, what did your journey from aspiring author to published author entail? What were the key milestones along the way?

I started out in film, focusing on screenwriting. From screenwriting I developed a strong sense of plot and how to structure a story dramatically. In many ways I think it’s easier coming to novel writing after screenwriting. Initially I was working on Born to Fly as a screenplay but a writer friend convinced me it should be a novel(and she was right!) . She got me to join SCBWI. I wrote the first draft and was lucky enough to win a Work in Progress grant from SCBWI which gave me some confidence. I queried some agents and editors but no one loved it enough to take a chance on it. I kept working on the book and in a workshop, one teacher made a suggestion about changing the verb tense. Though it’s set in 1941, I had originally written the novel in the present tense to make the first person narration seem like it’s happening now and to create suspense for the ending. But my teacher felt past tense would make it cleaner and easier for Bird to have some observations beyond her years. I don’t know if that was the difference or not, but I entered that draft in the Delacorte contest and that’s the draft that won.

Everyone’s putting a lot of importance on self-promotion these days. What is your stance? How has the marketing and promotion side of publication been for you so far?

That’s the part I’m probably least comfortable with. I’ve always been rather shy and for many years public speaking was my greatest fear. But, in addition to being a writer, I’d always wanted to be a teacher so at some point I had to get over it. I was a nervous wreck my first year teaching. I lost 20 pounds the first 6 weeks. But I made it through and love it now.

A writer friend who is a fabulous and funny writer and great self-promoter absolutely demanded that I create a website and a blog because she said when your first book comes out you do not want to look back and think, “I didn’t do all I could to make it succeed”. So I created a website and the blog, but I’m not much of a blogger. I just don’t feel comfortable blabbing about myself that much or maybe I don’t have that much to say. I do enjoy reading a lot of writers blogs, but I must say, so many of the blogs seem to me they are written to be enjoyed by other writers and adult readers, not necessarily for children or teenage fans and young readers.

I don’t think you can manufacture good word of mouth, you will always need to write a book that readers remember and want to recommend. But I think there are people for whom the internet really makes a difference in helping them get discovered and develop fans.


I agree, and your website turned out fantastic. Sometimes I think that's mostly all you need for a middle grade audience. At least as far as the Internet goes. Do you have a literary agent? If so, how did you come to work with him/her?

I haven’t had a book agent yet (though I’ve had one for screenwriting for a number of years). When I won the Yearling Prize, the publishing contract was already set and at the time I hadn’t written a new book so there wasn’t much for an agent to do. I recently finished a new book and have begun to query agents, some of which I learned about from your website.

What is your writing process like? How do you stay on task and motivated?
What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

I am a horrible procrastinator and staying on task is a constant struggle. Other than setting aside a certain time to write every day (advice which I should follow more) I don’t have good advice so I’ll share some from Donna Jo Napoli about trying to juggle parenting and writing. When asked “How did you do all the things you needed to do?” Her answer: "Badly. If the woman across the street makes a beautiful Halloween costume for her kid, good for her. Your kid can wear the sheet again. You don't have to do everything well." I love that answer.

The best advice I have for aspiring authors is to write with confidence. Write with authority. Write like you know what you are talking about. It’s not so important that you ARE an expert at all the things your characters should know (I’ve never been an 11-year-old girl in 1941). You only need to make the reader BELIEVE that you are an expert. Do your research, learn your world, but don’t get lost in it. The most important thing you bring to the table, in fact the only unique thing you bring to the table is that no one else in the world could write the story the way you would write it. So don’t try to write it like someone else.

Write it like you are sitting around a campfire with a circle of kids (imagine them the age your book is targeted towards). Have you ever had to entertain a group of kids or teens? It’s damned hard. Well that’s your audience. How would you start? How would you hook them? What kind of words and phrases would excite them, make them smile and laugh, make them scared and demand that you keep telling the story? Then write it down that way.

From the first sentence the reader can smell fear. They can smell doubt. They can tell if you know what you’re doing. You pick up that book in the library and start the first paragraph and as the reader you want to know, “Can I trust this writer? Will they bore me? Will they preach to me? Will they write down to me? Will they write over my head? Is this the kind of writing that’s supposed to be good for me? Will they leave plot lines dangling and waste time on things that don’t interest me or help the story in any way?” The reader wants to know they are in good hands, that you are a storyteller who knows what you are doing and you are going to take them on a journey that will move them and involve them and surprise them and in the end, satisfy them. When you read a writer you love, when you read the first page of Dickens or Ray Bradbury or Judy Blume, it sounds so natural and effortless that you relax and don’t worry about whether this is going to suck or end up being a let down or a waste of your time.


Never write with hope. Don’t hope they are going to like it. Write with confidence.


That's some of the best advice I've heard in a long time! Thank you. Can you divulge anything about your current work-in-progress?

I recently finished a new novel which my editor has. It’s about the 14-year-old son of a circus daredevil. When his father dies in a fire while saving a little girl, the boy vows to never do anything heroic. Then, through a bit of magic, a black-and-white movie cowboy comes to life off the screen and he shows the boy how to stand up for himself, win the girl and find his inner hero. In the process the two of them unravel the decades-old murder of the actor who played the cowboy onscreen. I call it MALCOLM DEVLIN and the SHADOW OF A HERO. And I just started a kind of madcap YA romance/adventure about a runaway princess and a teenage paparazzo.

Wow. Both sound fantastic. I would definitely read Malcom's story and would love to see you publish a YA one day. Where can readers stay up-to-date on the latest and greatest on you and your books?

Michaeljferrari.com

Finally, what’s one interview question you haven’t been asked and wish you would be? And please, answer it!

Question: Since you share a last name, would you be willing to accept the use of a Ferrari sportscar (perhaps the 360 Spider) to drive around for promotional purposes?

Yes. Yes, I would.

Ha! Good use of question. Thank you again, Michael, for the honor of interviewing you.

Readers, don't forget to leave a comment (with your e-mail address if it's hard to find) for a chance to win BORN TO FLY. The giveaway is open until March 31th. Open internationally. I'll announce the winner next Friday, April 1st. Good luck!

Thursday Spotlight Update

Hey everyone! I know I said I'd start posting new Spotlights again this month, but I've decided to postpone until early April, either the 7th or the 14th. March has slipped away and I'm going on vacation next week, so I'd like to wait until I get back. Hope you don't mind too much!

Updated this week....

Brenda Bowen
Sanford J. Greenburger Associates
(General update)


Joe Monti
Barry Goldblatt Literary
(General Update)


Kristine C. Asselin: Don't Throw in the Towel!

Happy Wednesday, everyone!! I have a guest post with a great message to share with you today. It's by Kristine Carlson Asselin from Writing. For Real. who recently signed with an agent for her YA novel, THE SWEET SPOT. You can read Kris's agent story on her blog, QueryTracker, or at the Backspace blog (links also available below). Here's Kris!

Thank you to Casey for having me on the blog today. As some of you might know, I recently signed with Vickie Motter of Andrea Hurst Literary Management. And while it’s very exciting (incredibly, wonderfully exciting), it hasn’t exactly been an overnight success. I’ve had plenty of opportunities to throw in the towel.

What does that mean, really, to throw in the towel? Well, from phrases.org—it’s a boxing term. Literally boxers threw a towel into the ring to indicate when they were giving up the fight. Stopping. Quitting. Throwing in the towel.

How many hits to the head do you have to take to throw in the towel? Depends on the day. Depends on the fight. Depends on your strength. I’m willing to bet, though, most fighters who throw in the towel one day, turn around and fight again the next.

I didn’t start out this post to write about fighting. Really. Not sure how I went there. Circle back to the querying process, Kris.

How many queries do you have to send before you’re willing to throw in the towel? Ten? Fifteen? 150? Elana Johnson (you know, author of the we’re-all-dying-to-read POSSESSION) sent over 150. Read her query story here. It’s incredibly inspiring.

I sent 67. Over the course of eight months. Really.

The query changed a bit during those months. Heck, so did the manuscript. But the point I’m trying to make is I DIDN’T THROW IN THE TOWEL. I know some people hit it right out of the gate—we’ve all heard the stories of people who sign their dream agent in five queries or less. But more typical, I think, is the dedicated, determined, and confident writer who BELIEVES in her own story and queries until she can’t query any more.

I don’t mean query people who don’t rep your genre. You have to do some research. But not every agent is tweeting or blogging—even though it seems like they are. I promise there are more than twenty agents who rep your genre, but you might have to dig. And you DO have to write a good book—make sure you’ve read, reread, proofread, and beta-read every word. There’s nothing more embarrassing than sending out a query too early (we’ve all made that mistake—that’s not just me, right?)

My agent, Vickie Motter, is relatively new. Honestly, she wasn’t even an agent when I started querying. If I’d quit at 50, I might not have found her. So it’s part confidence and determination, part good-timing, part luck of the draw. There’s no part throw in the towel. Quitting is NOT an option.

http://krisasselin.blogspot.com/2011/03/my-agent-story.html or
http://querytracker.net/kristine_carlson_asselin.php or
http://backspacewriters.blogspot.com/2011/03/one-writers-path-to-signing-with.html.

-Kristine Asselin

Tip Tuesday #81

Tip Tuesday is a recurring feature where blog readers send in tips for fellow writers. If you'd like to send in a tip e-mail me at agentspotlight(at)gmail(dot)com. Today's tip comes from the fabulous Lisa Nowak, a Tuesday regular. Please visit her blog, The Tao of Webfoot.

Word Talk

Here's a link to some free software that will allow your computer to read Word documents out loud to you. Very cool, very useful in editing. It works with PCs, and while there is a Mac version available, a friend has told me that the free version is limited.

http://www.wordtalk.co.uk/Home/

After it downloads, click to install (rather than saving it). Let the setup wizard do its thing.

Once it's installed you might have to take extra steps to get it to show up on your toolbar in Word. Here is what their FAQ says to do:

I've installed WordTalk but can't see the toolbar in Word 2003

* (In Word) Go to Tools>templates and Add-ins;
* Click on the add button;
* browse to the WordTalk.dot file in c:\Documents and Settings\username\Application Data\microsoft\word\startup.

You might also have to turn on the toolbar. Go to "View" then "toolbars" and select "WordTalk". You can find a key to what the each tool means here:

http://www.wordtalk.co.uk/Toolbar-Quick-Guide/

You can also adjust the voice from male to female. From the Start menu go to "settings" then "control panel.” Double click the "speech" icon. In the box that opens, choose the "text to speech" tab. There will be a choice of at least two voices, one male and one female. Chose the one you like and adjust the speed.

That's it. Now you can play around with your new toy.

- Lisa
Thank you, Lisa! I love tools like this.

It doesn't appear to work on Windows 7 (64 bit) or Word 2010 though, so if some of you can't use it, consider something like NaturalReader as an alternative.

WELCOME TO MY MONDAY POSTS

First, I’m happy to announce the winners of Cheryl Klein’s Second Sight: An Editor's Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children or Young Adults. Cheryl generously donated a copy of her book for the giveaway so there are two winners. The winners are:

PAULA and KANGAROOBEE

Congrats! E-mail me your address so that I can have your book mailed to you.

Today I’m starting my Monday posts. I’m so excited to be here. I thought I’d start by telling you a little bit about myself.

1. At my day job, I’m an attorney for a prepaid legal services plan for UAW workers. I practice in consumer litigation, including collection defense, bankruptcy, and mortgage foreclosure prevention. So with the economy lately, I keep plenty busy.

2. I have an awesome family—a 13 year old daughter we adopted from China who will be in high school next year (Yikes!) and a husband who has chronic, pretty serious lung problems. Thankfully his health is maintaining.

3. I squeeze my writing in when I can. My middle grade fantasy is about an adopted 13-year-old girl who must discover how her adopted mother’s love unlocks her magical powers or lose her best friend forever. I’ve been working on it since the summer before my daughter started first grade. So yeah, it’s taken me a long time. But I never wanted to be a writer as a kid. I’ve had to learn from lots of mistakes. But it’s almost done. Promise. And I’m even outlining a new YA fantasy.

Here’s what I’ll be blogging about. Once a month, I’ll talk about something related to writing. There will also be lots of author interviews. I can’t promise they’ll all include a book giveaway, but the ones I have lined up so far do. And I’m going to allow international participants for now. I’m interviewing many, but not all, debut and middle grade authors. I’ve noticed that middle grade authors don’t get as much attention as YA authors so I want to spotlight some of them. And I’ll start an Ask the Expert series where I interview kids between 5th and 12th grade about what they’re reading.

If you’re an author with a book coming out and would like to be interviewed, contact me. And if you’re on Facebook, friend me. I’m not on Twitter.

So what about you? Tell us what you write and blog about. And next week come back for an interview with Terry Johnson where we discuss her debut middle grade book, DOGSLED DREAMS.

Posted by Natalie

Pot-O-Gold Award

I'm usually quite terrible about passing on blog awards but I wanted to make sure I did this one since it's new! Christie Wright Wild created the award and here's the idea behind it:

"The Pot-O-Gold Blogger Award is awarded monthly, by me, to one blogger who I feel has a flair for interesting and helpful content, as well as visually appealing and easy-to-navigate design. In other words, it's like discovering a pot of gold! It's a site you will visit frequently and enjoy swimming around in for a while."

Thank you, Christie!!

Here are the rules:

If you receive the Pot-O-Gold Blogger Award:
  1. Say thank you to the person who gave it to you.
  2. Write a post and include the image of the award, a link to the person's blog who gave it to you, and a link to my blog, WRITE WILD. (Copy and paste the rules in your post.)
  3. Award four bloggers this award and tell why each is a Pot-O-Gold! (If you receive this award more than once, you only have to forward it the first time.)
  4. Share four simple things about yourself: 1-a time you had to exercise FAITH, 2-something you HOPE for, 3-something (or someone) you LOVE, and 4-a time when you felt LUCK.
FAITH: I continue to have faith in choosing the road less traveled by.
HOPE: I hope for more but appreciate less.
LOVE: I love my life, family and friends.
LUCK: I feel lucky because I live by chance decisions.

I had a really hard time choosing winners (which is sort of why I don't relish these posts!) but chose:

Kate Hart: For her blog design that I adore, the charts she makes, and her general off-the-chart (ha!) levels of awesome.

Ingrid's Notes: For her super-duper in-depth conference notes and fantastic posts on writing and technique.

Middle Grade Ninja:
For his fun 7-question agent and author interviews and his very in-depth MG reviews.

Carol's Prints: For her very sincere, fantastic YA reviews (that make me salivate for new books) and her recurring mega-awesome book giveaways.

Have a great weekend, everyone!!

A.W. Parsons: You Could Learn a Lot From a Clown

Remember when I posted about A.W. Parsons' agent success story? How fun it was? Well, Ash is hopping blogs today to bring us some fantastic, clownish writing advice. I hope you enjoy her post as much as I do. And when you're done here, Ash has even more of this series on her blog, Words of a Feather, so head on over!

YOU COULD LEARN A LOT FROM A CLOWN - aka: What Clown College ™ Taught Me About Writing

Yep. I went to Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Clown College. Here’s me in my Ringling “agent suit.”

Be ye not afraid, dear reader. I am not going to attack you or make you watch me juggle or fall over. Although….the first one….clowns on the attack….clowns love the taste of human blood…..no – no. Musn’t. (That’s a joke, y’all. So many people claim to be ‘scared of clowns’ –you get kinda punchy with it. We don’t really love the taste of human blood. Now puppy blood, on the other hand…. ;)

No. No! I am here today to give you a quick lesson –lessons in writing that I learned while studying clowning.

Someone somewhere said “the more you study any art, the more it informs your art.” Or words to that effect. The point being: that if you, a writer, love painting and take a painting class, some of it will spill over (*comedy drum*) onto your writing. Meaning you will use what you’ve learned/observed/etc.

So here’s my TOP FIVE WRITING LESSONS LEARNED AT CLOWN COLLEGE:

5.) GO BIG - Clown college instructors were always urging us to ‘make it bigger’ – our pauses, reactions, laughs, gestures – everything. Think about it: you’re on stage or more likely if you’re a Ringling clown – in an arena. You’ve got to sell your move/skit/comedy all the way to the last row. So go big.

APPLICATION TO WRITING: your plots, your characters’ emotions, the high-stakes (internal or external) that your story hinges on. GO BIG. You can always bring it down a level – it isn’t always as easy to take it up. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have subtle, quiet moments, just that you take them as far, make them as important, make them as BIG as they can go. This happened to me recently: I was doing a revision. I thought “GO BIG” – afterwards I thought. “Hmm. Maybe I took it too far.” Guess what? It went over fine.

4.) DON’T BE AFRAID OF PIE IN THE FACE: At CC, we had “pie day.” We got to make, throw, and get pied. (Clown Pies are actually whipped soap. The More You Know.). It was so much more fun throwing pies than getting pied, though.

APPLICATION TO WRITING: You can’t be afraid of making a mistake. Or getting messy. Or getting rejected if “pie in the face” is a metaphor for that. For me, this hit home in my recent agent hunt. To even start the submission process, you have to face down “pie in the face.” (yes, I said “face down pie in the face.” Yes, that is a mixed metaphor).

3.) K.I.S.S.- KEEP IT SIMPLE,STUPID! Ok, so there you are, developing a comedy bit for your arena tour: You are a lion tamer and you’ve lost your lion. Your lion is having tummy troubles, and your lion is trying to find a bathroom. You, the lion tamer, are recently divorced and trying to hold onto the lion as your one anchor in a changing world. Also, you are allergic to flowers. Oh, and the lion loves flowers, especially the water squirting kind. And then chipmunks jump out of your trousers. The chipmunks like to play cards and smoke stogies and…..

APPLICATION TO WRITING: It’s obvious. While the silly scenario above probably got more interesting for you to read as it went on, imagine trying to communicate all that in an arena, using no words, in about a minute, and get a laugh from it. In writing, the “everything and the kitchen sink” method *probably* will have the same result. To me: this is a case of knowing where your story is/what it is about. Similarly, you need to have a simple focus when you pitch or query agents. If you can’t summarize your story in about three sentences, you *may* have a problem.

2.) ANY EMOTION CAN BE SHOWN PHYSICALLY: Clowns (and the great silent comedians) are masters of showing emotion through their movements/postures. This goes way beyond facial expressions (but don’t forget those!).

APPLICATION: We’re always told “show, don’t tell.” What better way to show a character’s emotions than through physicality? Obvious examples are instead of saying “Sally was angry.” Say “Sally stomped her foot.” Or something. You can do better than that. You take it father –bigger--- connect emotions and physical sensations. (Just don’t do “Mark had a sinking feeling.” – cliché. Find another.) Then next time you feel any strong emotion, ask yourself “what is my body doing right now?” Note the posture and internal sensations – then write it down.

Aaaaaand…….drum roll please……Number One:

1.) ATTA GIRL! (or BOY!) GET IN THERE! At CC there was this one, super-encouraging, super-funny clown. Any time we were working on something – be it a pratfall, or pies in the face, or gymnastics, this guy would yell to whoever was on deck: “ATTA GIRL!” or “ATTA BOY!” then he’d yell even louder: “GET IN THERE!” If you were feeling psyched out about the slide table or eight-foot pole stilts, that “ATTA GIRL, GET IN THERE!” Would galvanize you past your fears and into the thing itself.

APPLICATION: Writing is lonely. All writers need a cheering section. The next time you are psyched out, feeling discouraged, rejected, talentless, or whatever --- call up that voice: ATTA GIRL! (ATTA BOY!) GET IN THERE!

Hey, this has been almost as much fun as throwing pies! Feel free to cruise over to my blog- where I cover five MORE writing lessons learned from CLOWNS. (Yeah. I have more. That’s one of the lessons…..you’ll see if you come over….)

-A.W. Parsons

Tip Tuesday #80

Tip Tuesday is a recurring feature where blog readers send in tips for fellow writers. If you'd like to send in a tip e-mail me at agentspotlight(at)gmail(dot)com.

Today's tip was sent in by children's book writer Carrie A. Pearson. After you check out her tip, please visit her lovely website. Thanks for the tip, Carrie!

This website is helpful for longer works because it counts how many times a certain word shows up in the text you cut and paste. I am always on the lookout for "the" and inactive "to be" verbs. Also, everyone has those words or phrases that are overused. This will ferret them out like a feisty little rat terrier.

http://www.writewords.org.uk/word_count.asp

-Carrie

LIKE MANDARIN Non-Blogfest

Lisa and Laura Roecker and Elana Johnson are doing an awesome LIKE MANDARIN non-blogfest on Wednesday, March 16th for Kirsten Hubbard's debut novel. Hop on over to Elana's blog for details if you'd like to join in. The idea is to post about the person you would have given anything to be like as a teen.

Natalie and I wanted to participate but we have Tip Tuesday tomorrow and a fantastic guest post on Wednesday, so we're bending the rules and putting ours up early. In an interesting twist of fate, our Mandarin stories are sort of similar. Feel free, however, to shield your eyes and come back Wednesday when all the fun is going down.

You can read the first chapter of LIKE MANDARIN here, which OMG, the writing! You know how I get about gorgeous writing. Definitely read that chapter. And in the meantime, here's the Goodreads description:

It's hard finding beauty in the badlands of Washokey, Wyoming, but 14-year-old Grace Carpenter knows it's not her mother's pageant obsessions, or the cowboy dances adored by her small-town classmates. True beauty is wild-girl Mandarin Ramey: 17, shameless and utterly carefree. Grace would give anything to be like Mandarin. When they're united for a project, they form an unlikely, explosive friendship, packed with nights spent skinny-dipping in the canal, liberating the town's animal-head trophies, and searching for someplace magic. Grace plays along when Mandarin suggests they run away together. Blame it on the crazy-making wildwinds plaguing their Badlands town. Because all too soon, Grace discovers Mandarin's unique beauty hides a girl who's troubled, broken, and even dangerous. And no matter how hard Grace fights to keep the magic, no friendship can withstand betrayal.

And here's our post!

Natalie:

I’m so excited to be a small part of the writer community supporting Kirsten Hubbard’s debut LIKE MANDARIN. My Mandarin? It wasn’t a person. It was a group. You know, THE GIRLS. The Popular Clique. They were everything I wasn’t—beautiful and thin. And they had lots of friends and all the cute guys were their boyfriends.

I remember watching them in the hallways during middle school and high school wishing I could be part of their group. But I wasn’t. I was overweight and terribly shy. I didn’t have many friends back then. I could count them on one hand. I have to say my high school years were some of the most miserable times of my life. In part, but not all, because of the group I couldn’t be a part of.

Thankfully though, I survived. And as soon as I moved away to college, I made friends and lost weight. I learned to be happy with myself as me and stopped wishing I was someone else. And you know one of the things that got me through my Mandarin times? Books. Just like they get me through some of the hard times now.

Casey:

I was really awkward in junior high. Like, extremely. I wore my curly hair plastered to my head, hung out with kids who collected Pokémon cards, and handled my burgeoning attraction toward the opposite sex by collecting (stolen) pictures and discarded homework of the one I “loved” (and yeah, OK, I may have been called “stalker” by the popular kids).

By the time I started high school, I had learned to be subtle. About everything. If I was going to survive in a school with even more kids than junior high, invisibility was my best bet. But I didn’t plan on meeting Kimberly*, a girl who had a large birth mark on her neck resembling a burn scar and yet who stormed the halls with confidence, beauty, hilarity, and boys. My Mandarin. I would have given anything to be like her.

And here's the twist. I got my wish. Like Mandarin.

Kimberly took me under her wing and taught me how to fit in, to be confident, to wear my hair down and date boys. She also taught me how to ditch my best friends, get busted for truancy, and hate my parents. And what I learned on my own? She was a carefully presented version of that old, awkward me—insecure, jealous, desperate to be accepted—and I was better off being me. The one that surfaced during that friendship, better for it despite its toxicity, and would become the beautiful person I am today.

*name changed for privacy

Don't Panic

You're in the right place! I'm changing the blog design this morning so things might disappear and reappear for the next hour. The design isn't as fancy as the one I've been using the last couple years but it will be easier to read and allow Natalie and I access to some features the old template didn't allow.

Thank you!

-Posted by Casey

Cheryl Klein Interview & Book Giveaway

Today I’m so excited to interview Cheryl Klein, the senior editor at the Arthur A. Levine imprint of Scholastic. I was lucky enough to meet Cheryl at a SCBWI conference where she gave a fabulous talk on plot. If you ever have the opportunity to attend a conference where she’ll be speaking, you should definitely go.

Her book Second Sight: An Editor's Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children or Young Adults is being released today. It’s a wonderful collection of talks, workshops, and blog posts about the craft of writing and revising manuscripts. What makes this book special is Cheryl’s amazing grasp of plot, voice, and character development in revising a manuscript and the fact that the book focuses on children’s literature.

1. Can you tell us a little about yourself and your book?

I've loved books and reading since I was a very little girl -- in part thanks to my grandfather, Philip Sadler, who taught children's literature at the university level for many years, and who founded one of the nation's first children's literature festivals. I knew I wanted to be a book editor while I was still in high school, and after majoring in English degree at college, I went to the Denver Publishing Institute, where Susan Hirschman (founder of Greenwillow Books) inspired me to pursue children's publishing specifically. She also introduced me to Arthur Levine of Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, who hired me as his editorial assistant. I'm now the senior editor in the AALB imprint, where I work on a wide range of books for children and young adults.

My book, Second Sight, is a collection of talks and essays directed at writers for children and young adults -- material I've been writing and compiling since 2003. It has a special connection to my grandfather, too: Before he died in December 2009, he offered to pay for my design costs, which was immensely useful in freeing me to concentrate on the writing and editorial side of the book. The book is dedicated to him and to my grandmother, Carol Sadler.

2. What made you decide to write Second Sight?

After I had a pretty good number of talks online, writers started asking me, "So when are you going to put out a book?" That planted the idea in my head, and when I heard about Kickstarter.com (which helped me raise the funding for my first printing), it seemed feasible for the first time to put it together and publish it myself.

3. Yes, I was one of those people asking you to write a book. I’m so glad you did. How long did it take you write? When did you find time with your demanding job as an editor?

I had already written nearly all of the material when I announced the project in July 2009, so at first I was really optimistic about how fast the process would go. But I write my talks in outline form, with bullet points for each phrase to remind me when to breathe or change the register of my voice, and converting that form to readable prose took a lot longer than I anticipated. I also revised a number of the talks in the process, especially my voice talk, which had never 100% satisfied me.

All of this had to be done around the edges of my day job -- that is, on nights and weekends; but then I also do a lot of my actual editing on nights and weekends, so I found it difficult to work on my own writing without feeling guilty about neglecting my authors, who were waiting for my response to their manuscripts! And I wrote a couple more speeches in the meantime for various occasions . . . and that's why it's taken me until now to get the book out.

4. You’re self publishing this book. What made you decide to go this route rather than finding a traditional publisher to publish it for you?

To self-publish successfully, you need to have two things: the ability to create a quality book, in both appearance and content, and the ability to reach your intended audience effectively. I felt my experience in publishing gave me the first, and my blog, website, and conference appearances gave me the second. And finally, it was just fun to be able to put together my own book, just the way I wanted it.

5. If a publisher contacts you in the future to publish this book, would you be open to it?

Certainly -- I'm not ruling anything out!

6. Did you have anyone critique your manuscript as you revised it? How did it feel being the author instead of the editor?

When I write my talks, I go through all the same creative headaches and heartaches that real writers do -- losing faith that the speech will ever come together; cycling through "I'm a failure! I'm a genius! I'm a failure! I'm a genius!" pretty much every ten minutes; envisioning all the public acclaim or derision that would go with either genius or failure. Whenever I feel stuck, that's usually a good sign that it's time for me to get a second reader, and friends, my boyfriend, and even a couple of my authors have critiqued talks in draft form for me, which I always appreciate.

7. How do you plan to market your book?

It will be available through my website and blog, which get a pretty decent number of hits each week, and at all of my conference appearances this year -- I've got five scheduled thus far. It's also gone out for review to a number of children's writers' blogs, and I'm doing some blog interviews like this one (thank you!).

8. Do you have any plans to write other books?

Not at present! Though I'd love to write a novel someday.

9. Tell us how we can buy your book.

Click on the following link!

https://secure.mybookorders.com/order/MultiProduct.aspx?SiteID=382

Thanks for joining us Cheryl and good luck with your book. Cheryl will be stopping by so be sure to comment. You can find Cheryl at her website http://cherylklein.com/ and her blog http://chavelaque.blogspot.com/. I follow it and recommend you do too.

I’m giving away one copy of Cheryl’s book. All you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment by midnight on March 19th. I’ll announce the winner on March 21st. International entries are welcome.

ETA: Cheryl has generously given a copy of SECOND SIGHT for the giveaway so there will be TWO winners. I'm so excited.

-Posted by Natalie

Thursday Spotlight Update

Updated this week....

Rebecca Sherman / Writers House
(General Update)



Marcia Wernick / Wernick & Pratt

(New Agency / General Update)


Also, don't forget to come by tomorrow for Natalie's awesome interview with Cheryl Klein, senior editor at Arthur A. Levine Books, about her new book, SECOND SIGHT.

Ellen Oh: A Success Story

I received the sweetest comment from Ellen Oh after she sold her book, PROPHECY: THE DRAGON KING CHRONICLES (and two more!), thanking me for my blog and the Agent Spotlight series. I e-mailed her back and mentioned I would love to feature her on my blog and thus began a lovely exchange of e-mails. Now, here she is with a guest post! I hope you'll find her story as inspiring as I do.


I started writing back in 2000 and worked on 2 manuscripts in 7 years. It took me that long because I was working full time. I queried my second manuscript and got back good feedback from agents but it was clear I needed to do major work on it. But before I could go back to revise it, the idea of for Prophecy sprung into my head while I was stuck in traffic on the beltway. I remember trying to write frantically on bits of paper as my car was crawling along. That book took me 5 months to write and then I got my first agent fairly quickly. We went on our first round of submissions and got back a lot of requests for revisions. I took a year revising but at the end of the year, my ms was so different from what my first agent had signed on for and we decided to part ways. I didn't know it at the time, but it was the best thing that happened to me.

For my second agent search, I did things differently. First of all, I found your blog which was a godsend. I read every single agent spotlight interview and started compiling a new agent excel spreadsheet based entirely on what I like to think of as compatability factors. What books had the agents repped, what were their likes and dislikes, how did they come across in their interviews, etc. The Agent Spotlight series helped me create the perfect list of agents to query. Instead of doing a mass querying, my second time around, I was extremely cautious of who I queried. I made sure I knew everything I could about an agent before querying them. And I queried in very small batches. I was fortunate to get a lot of full requests and by having staggered my queries, I was able to get some feedback from agents that rejected my ms. Of the agents that rejected me early in the process, every single one of them gave me back useful comments that I used to revise my MS. In fact, two wonderful agents gave me detailed comment letters that I will always be grateful for. Because it was after I made the last of these revisions and sent out new queries, that I got four offers of representation. But the key to this was taking my time, not rushing the query process. And in many ways I was very lucky because most of the agents asked for and read my full quickly. The offers I got were all from amazing agents, but I ended up signing with Joe Monti for two reasons - first, we talked on the phone for 2 hours that felt like 20 minutes, and second, he already knew how he wanted me to revise, and even though they were big revisions, I knew he was right.

So then came six more months of heavy revision before I finally heard the news that we were ready to go on submission. And then after what felt like years of writing, revising and waiting to get to this one moment, a week later I had an offer of a lifetime.

When I got my publishing deal, I had a sort of a flashback of all the long years I'd been writing. It was like a montage of memories filled with the naysayers and the well wishers and my moments of both incredible highs and depressing lows. I don't think there's a writer alive who didn't think of quitting at some point in their careers. It's a difficult business. But at that moment, as I gratefully accepted my offer, I was thankful for every single one of those moments. The naysayers made me determined to prove them wrong and the well wishers supported me through good and bad times.

So thanks Casey for all your hard work on the Agent Spotlight series! I wouldn't have found my amazing agent without it!

Thank YOU, Ellen, for sharing your story with us. I seriously cannot wait to read the trilogy!

If you'd like to read more about Ellen's path to publication and her deal announcement, click HERE. If you'd like to read a little interview with me, head on over to her blog. Ellen can be found at the following places:

Website
Blog
Twitter
Goodreads
Facebook

Tip Tuesday #79

Hello all! Casey here. Thank you for welcoming Natalie to Literary Rambles yesterday. If you didn't catch the news about my fabulous new blog partner, check out this post. Today, I have a wonderful and fun tip from Christine Tyler with poetry by her critique partner, Jeigh Meredith. Please visit their blogs on the way out. They both blog fairly regularly about writing. If you'd like to read another tip by Christine, she was #73 a few weeks ago.

Here's Christine:

Revisions can be nasty. In my head, this sounds a lot like "moose bites can be nasty" from Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail. I've therefore determined, Revisions are just as nasty as Moose bites. Sometimes it is in our best interest to do the painstaking work of copy-editing our work piece-by-piece. Other times, and most times, we're going to work on large-scale revisions, such as a second draft in which our focus is still on the expression of entire events. Essentially, we're rewriting scenes.

So here are my suggestions for a virtually pain-free revision process:

Print your rough draft. Read it over several times. Highlight what you love about it, or talk about it with your critique partner. Print, and then read over the revisions your CPs have sent you. Pay special attention to what they mention works. You can't skip this step. You'll just have two versions of the same problems. Critique first.

Make sure you like the first sentence, open up a blank document, and type this sentence. Then, put your rough draft and revisions face down on your desk. Close your eyes, and think of those phrases and descriptions that worked. You might be surprised how much you remember. You may even realize there are specific sentences you can recall word-for-word. Type up the scene building up to those golden bits. Everything else is fluid and flows around them.

This is not just a plain "rewrite" this is a "re-vision." Literally.

This is a fantastic technique for cutting out deadwood and shortening a scene. You'll end up with all your favorite parts, while still maintaining your stream-of-consciousness. In my experience, going back and nitpicking piece-by-piece on my rough draft, looking back and forth from my paper to screen, leads to a lot of choppy ideas. The closer I look at it, the more I lose the big picture. It took me a little while to realize: I have the big picture in my head. Now that I've written it once, I have my key-phrases in my head. I know how to write this, and given the chance, I could write it better. So I do.

Just kind of a funny detail, this is the "poem" my CP (Jeigh Meredith) sent me. I thought she explained why this is useful rather well :)

Whilst doing my mound
of neverending dishes tonight
and bemoaning the fact
that my book is sucking
a dozen eggs,
I remembered wise words
from a wise friend,
namely Christine Tyler,
who said
(among other things)
"Blah blah blah,
rewriting the chapter
without looking and
the good parts
come back to me
and the rest
falls away."

So here I sit,
rewriting without looking,
and my fingers fly,
because it's easier to make
all new words than to mix
new words with
old dumbface words.

Bless you.
And your face.
And your brain.

I Have A Blog Partner!

Hi everyone! I have an exciting announcement today. Natalie Aquirre, who you're sure to have seen in the comments of this blog and others, is joining Literary Rambles as my new blog partner! Natalie has been a long-time supporter and I'm thrilled she'll finally have a place in the blogosphere for people to visit and hear what she has to say. Natalie has some AWESOME stuff lined up for you guys, and I think this is a complete #win for everyone.

Natalie wrote up a quick intro just for the occasion. Here she is!

Hi everyone. I’m so happy to be joining Casey! Almost as excited as if I’d just gotten an agent. Seriously, I’ve had a big grin on my face the whole month of February just thinking about it.

I’m a middle grade and YA fantasy writer. I’ll be blogging on Mondays starting March 21st and will tell you more about myself and what I plan to blog about then. Hint: there will book giveaways.

I have a special interview coming up this Friday, March 11th. I’m interviewing Cheryl Klein, a senior editor at the Arthur A. Levine imprint of Scholastic. We’ll be discussing her new book, Second Sight: An Editor's Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children or Young Adults. And I’ll be giving away a copy of her book. Hope to see you then. And thanks Casey for letting me join as your blog partner.


Yay, Natalie! Everyone, please join me in welcoming Natalie to Lit Rambles and make sure you come back Friday for her interview with Cheryl Klein. I've had a sneak peak and it's fabulous!