Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!
Posting: The first Wednesday of the month is officially Insecure Writer's Support Group Day.
The co-hosts this month are Co-Hosts: Misha Gericke, LK Hill, Juneta Key, and Joylene Buter.
Today's Question: How has being a writer changed your experience as a reader?
When I started writing, I took the advice to read in your genre to heart. For over 10 years, I only read MG and YA books, especially in fantasy, science fiction, and dystopian. In addition, when I started blogging here, I read all the books I featured here. After a point, it left me on too much of a reading schedule because I was reading about 100 books a year. It got to be too much, but I learned a lot from reading so much in my genre and grade level about the craft of writing and how to write for a specific age group.
In addition, my writing has made me be more critical as a reader. If a book really made writing errors or the plot dragged, I stopped forcing myself to plod through the book. There are just too many good books out there that I want to read.
When my husband died almost three years ago, I went through a reading crisis where I just couldn't read for quite awhile. I mention this in case any of you ever find yourself in this situation. Apparently, it's a fairly common problem. For awhile, I could only listen to audio books. Finally about a year ago, I broke through my reading print book crisis, but I've found that I really need to read adult books for now. I've gone through too many life changes, and I need to read about adults going through those kind of challenges too. Now I'm not as interested in audio books, but am really excited to read in general and expand the genres of books I read. Hopefully at some point, I can go back to reading some MG and YA books too.
What about you? How has writing changed your reading?
Now, onto my guest post with Celeste and Rosemary!
The first time I heard about Rose was through attending a writers workshop led by her client, Thanhha Lai, author of INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN, who invited us to query her lovely agent. Rose only accepts query letters during the initial stage, so on July 7th in 2013, I sent one out that read like this:
Dear Ms. Rosemary Stimola,
My story titled The Bride from Huanan is a historical MG fantasy of around 74,000 words that is set in the northern Taiyuan province in Ancient China during the Song Dynasty (around 1260 AD). Intertwined with Chinese folklore and common beliefs during that period, I would think of the story as something similar to Memoirs of a Geisha, but geared towards younger readers, with magical elements thrown in. The story centers around a girl who was sold by her lower class family at the age of ten to become the wife and nursemaid to an infant husband -- a practice called the tongyang xi that was still common in China before the CCP took over around the 1920's. Although the theme of arranged marriages is not uncommon in stories that are set in Asian countries, I believe that the practice of the tongyang xi remains a foreign idea to many in the Western world, and it is my wish to be able to share such knowledge with readers. I believe that I am well-equipped to tell this story, for my own great grandmother had been a tongyang xi who had escaped and migrated out of China to Malaysia where she had settled. I have heard these tales from my grandmother and used information from mostly primary sources.
In this story, the protagonist endures physical abuse and emotional alienation common for a tongyang xi and is eventually sold by her in-laws to a brothel. She is therefore propelled into running away before she loses her chastity, hoping to return to her old home. On that journey, she encounters the woods, snowstorms, and curious strangers of the ethereal kind. She also attempts to come to terms with her supposedly dishonorable desires to disobey her elders and take charge of her own life, and feelings of bitterness and anger that stemmed from the betrayal of her family who sold her into a miserable life of oppression and degradation. Her homecoming to something completely unexpected eventually helps her to discover the answers to her internal struggles, so that she will finally be able to find peace in that she has earned, and that which can never be.
I grew up in Malaysia and later lived in Melbourne for 4 years to finish my BA in English literature, and spent 6 years working in Malaysia. I am now an international student completing an MFA in creative writing at The New School in New York. I have studied under Ms. Thanhha Lai during the Summer Writer’s Week in Manhattanville College, which is how I heard about you and your agency. I have submitted to a few other agents simultaneously, but have not received any reply yet. I would like to thank you in advance for the time and attention you'll be giving my query and will be anxiously waiting for your reply.
There is great joy in finding and nurturing new talent. And for most, the path to that discovery begins
Celeste Lim’s query letter for The Bride from Huanan in 2013, which will be published in Winter 2017 as THE CRYSTAL RIBBON with Scholastic Press, hit all three marks with polish, personality and voice that struck a chord, captured my ear and piqued my interest. Timing was in her favor, as I was looking for a multicultural fantasy with historical underpinnings, and it was clear to me she had researched the time and place in which this story would unfold. I was also intrigued by her family history, which I felt would help to lend a sense of intimacy to the writing.
Her first paragraph goes right to the heart of the story being pitched, succinctly laying the groundwork of the historical period of this middle grade and introducing the cultural practice of selling young girls into marriage, which would play a central role in this narrative of approximately 74,000 words.
Her second paragraph introduces her main protagonist, a sympathetic character who struggles with and rails against cultural traditions and expectations, and who immediately exudes a sense of strength and determination that will accompany her on her difficult journey. (Those familiar with my list know a strong young female protagonist is always a go-to for me, so one that would be enveloped by folkloric magic from medieval China was not to be passed by!)
Celeste’s third paragraph speaks of a personal history that gives proximity to the culture framing her narrative, and an educational history that suggests she has worked to hone her craft in creative writing. The personal connection to my author, Thanhha Lai, carries particular weight, not only conveying familiarity with this author’s work, but also demonstrating she had done her homework on my agency and the kind of work we represent.
Overall, Celeste’s query letter spoke confidently about a book, personal and marketable, and her ability to tell this story without hyperbole or unrealistic expectation. She also did me the courtesy of letting me know she had submitted her query to other agents as well.
There was pleasure in this letter that hinted at the pleasure I might find in the pages of her book. I wanted to know more about ancient China; I wanted to know more about the folklore and common beliefs of the period. And I wanted to know more about this girl sold into marriage at ten years of age. Yes, I had to respond and request.
Thank you so much, Rose! I remember during my early querying days, I was always scouring the Internet for more information such as this, and I feel so happy I'm now able to share our experience to help other writers :)
So, now we're proceeding to the manuscript stage.
So I slaved away at the R&R, and after close to 3 months of hermit-like existence (my roommates probably suspected I had died in my room), I emailed Rose a novel that I knew at least I was happy with. Allison replied me on the same day telling me how excited she was to read the revision, but reminded me that I needed to keep the manuscript exclusive in the meantime. This condition put a damper on things, especially when another agent from an agency I was also eager to hear from had expressed an interest in the story a couple weeks later. So, during the waiting period, I was counting the days, hours, minutes, manically checking my inbox every chance I had. I was plagued with thoughts like, “They’d probably decide to pass in the end, and where would you be?” and “What if the other agent got tired of waiting?” and “What if they take forever to get back to you?”
Well, it turned out I only had to wait a month, and then Allison got back to me with a very encouraging email – they were utterly enchanted by the revision. And as I continued to read, I was almost expecting a mention of the offer… but it didn’t come. Not in this email. According to Allison, the story still needed a few minor tweaks. One of the main things I had to do in this revision was to cut the 91,000-word novel by about a third.
I went and cried in the shower. But after two hours in it, I came to realize it's really not a bad thing at all. A request for revision shows interest, doesn't it? So I went back to work. It was a heartbreaking process. I had to kill so many of my darlings – those scenes that I really loved but had to admit didn’t feel as essential to the story as other parts, many lyrical paragraphs that are beautiful but unnecessary. And a month after, I ended up with a condensed version of the story. Then it was back to the waiting, and somehow, going through this a second time felt far worse than the first. I was impatient, I was restless, I was anxiety-ridden and frustrated. I forced myself to write and barely produced anything worth a second look. But there was nothing else to do besides distracting myself as much as possible. My darling classmates and professors from my creative writing program were endlessly encouraging; my friends asked me out as much as possible; my family called me from Malaysia every other day; it was a dreary period, but that was also when I realized how much support I had around me.
And then, finally, a month later, Rose gave me a call. Or should I say, THE call. It wasn’t as magical as I had envisioned a thousand times before (I answered the phone in the middle of a nap, all groggy and stuff), but the news still took my breath away. I now have an agent! And I cannot be more thankful that this person is Rose :)
When I share a manuscript with editors, it is understood I do not think it is “done”, as every editor is going to go through another round of revision, maybe more. I need this first draft to convince them that this is a story not only worth their time and one that I think will be of personal appeal based on my knowledge of their interests, but also one that will position well in the current marketplace. Celeste’s first draft was a good one, solid in voice with characters of depth and complexity, presenting a solid foundation upon which to build. With all that I liked, I needed to see that Celeste was a willing and able reviser, able to bring many narrative elements to the surface in a “show” and not “tell” manner.
In this case, I shared the manuscript with my editorial assistant, Allison Remcheck. After reading, we discussed our concerns and decided we would ask for a non-contractual revision in exchange for detailed notes and an exclusive look at the new draft. Celeste agreed, and Allison became the studio point person, guiding Celeste through not just one but two drafts, fine-tuning and polishing for submission purposes.
Some aspects of the story were a bit too mature and/or abstract for a middle grade audience, so we needed some tempering. There were many historical and cultural elements in this medieval Chinese setting, and we wanted to be sure all were deftly woven into the narrative in ways that did not slow or halt plot flow with areas of explanation that added too much bulk to the text—she had to trim a great deal and keep things moving at a pace that would keep readers turning those pages. Add to that the presence of magic in a cultural setting, and we had to be sure all felt consistent in this world such that readers would not only understand, but also suspend disbelief.
Once I had that draft, we were able to move forward with representation confidently and with a trust that is essential to a good author/agent relationship.
You can find Celeste at:
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/
Celeste has generously offered an ARC of THE CRYSTAL RIBBON for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower anyway you want and leave a comment through February 18th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter the contest.
If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. You must be 13 or older to enter. The giveaway is for U.S.
Here's what's coming up:
Monday February 6th, debut author Dana Langer will be doing a guest post with a giveaway of her MG fantasy SIREN SISTERS
Monday February 13th debut author Elly Blake will be here doing a guest post with her agent Suzie Townsend with a giveaway of Elly's YA fantasy FROSTBLOOD and a a query critique giveaway by Suzie
Monday February 20th debut author Ali Standish will be doing a guest post with a giveaway of her MG contemporary THE ETHAN I WAS BEFORE
Wednesday, February 22nd, I have an agent spotlight with Linda Camacho with a query critique giveaway
Hope to see you on Monday!