Friday, August 31, 2012

How Do I Feel After the First Week of School?

Hopefully, this picture says it all, because I'm afraid I don't have anything else for you today. (I'm the coyote.)

I'm sorry if I haven't been around to your blogs regularly this week. It will get better once I'm used to our family's new fall routine.  I'll be back next week with First Impressions on Wednesday, September 5!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

PAYA 2012

This past Saturday, I attended the third annual book festival organized by Pennsylvanian teenager Skyanne Fisher – Bring YA to PA, otherwise known as PAYA 2012. (This year with less hurricanes!)

I was delighted to be able to display the cover of THE CAGED GRAVES. (If you didn’t see the cover reveal yesterday, look here!)  The cover drew attention and stirred up a lot of interest in the book, as did my husband’s photographs of the real graves.  I proudly told everyone that my husband is getting photo credit for the bottom image on the book cover.

I didn’t go alone this year. My 15 year-old daughter Gabbey signed up for the morning’s writing workshop. I’ve got her here today doing a guest blog on the event.

A TEEN WRITER AT PAYA by Gabrielle Salerni

I attended this summer's PAYA festival with the mother unit last weekend, where I signed up for a writing workshop with several other published authors. I had already been to the first year of PAYA and wanted to go to the workshop this year in hopes of receiving some new insight on my current WIP. I was beginning to get a little discouraged over it and was in need of some outside help. I knew I was among my own kind when some writers at the door, Victoria Schwab (The Near Witch) and Tiffany Schmidt (Send Me a Sign), immediately began exclaiming over my Doctor Who t-shirt. 

I was directed into the room where the workshop would be taking place and then watched more and more people trickle in. They were all adults, and despite myself I started to get a little intimidated, being fifteen and having no real writing experience whatsoever. For a few minutes I stood awkwardly in the corner before sidling over to a chair in front of the table. Luckily for me, everyone seemed nice and as the workshop progressed I became more comfortable.

Each of the authors gave a 5-8 minute presentation on a different topic, all of which were entertaining. I tried to take notes on the ones that pertained to my genre, but didn't end up with much on the paper (yeah...that's how it happens in school, too). In the end we all split into groups; my group had three authors and three aspiring writers. Due to time constraints, we decided to pair off and Ellen Jensen Abbot read the first three pages of my story. She was encouraging and gave me a lot of ideas and suggestions to help me cut down words and make my story better; not to mention ways to develop my fantastical universe a little more (I have A LOT of that to do). She was very nice, and overall I got a lot out of the experience. I'm also looking forward to reading Ellen Jensen Abbot's book, Watersmeet soon! Thanks to everyone who was there and who helped us aspiring writers learn so much! 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Cover Reveal for THE CAGED GRAVES!

No, not here!

If you want to see my beautiful-enough-to-make-me-cry cover for THE CAGED GRAVES, head on over to Icey Books.

There's a giveaway, too!

Of course, you don't have to go.  Perhaps you were satisfied with that itty-bitty, poor-resolution version Amazon leaked last week.  But trust me, it's worth the extra click!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Cover Reveal for SPIRIT WORLD and More!

It was only a couple months ago that I announced the sale of my critique partner Krystalyn Drown's YA paranormal romance, SPIRIT WORLD to Entranced Publishing.  And she already has her cover!

But before I show it to you ... ta da ... an interview with Krystalyn!

What was the inspiration for writing Spirit World? Where did the story begin?
I have always said that if I got a tattoo, it would be of the Chinese symbol for serenity, and it would be on my right shoulder. I started to think about a character that would have that tattoo, and why she would need it. The story itself started with the idea of having little guides (like an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other) but then it quickly became what it is now, a story about a girl who can hear voices from another world. The first title was Angel on my Shoulder.

Entranced Publishing is a fairly new company. How did you hear of them? What has it been like working with them so far?
I was looking for smaller publishers to submit another project to. I ran across Entranced in a list on a blog. My other MC wasn't quite old enough for what Entranced was looking for, but Spirit World fit perfectly with what they wanted.

How does it feel to be waiting on your editorial notes? You’ve received crits from various beta readers on this story, (I happen to know!) but these are from an editor. Are you nervous? Excited? Worried?
I think a little of both. It's always nerve wracking when you're awaiting feedback from someone you haven't worked with before. But I am very excited to see how the editor thinks I can improve my work.

Tell us about your other current writing projects!
I am working on an MG novel called Tracy Tam: Santa Command, which I describe as Artemis Fowl meets The Santa Clause. I've also dug out an old short story that I'd like to revamp into a novel.

Before I ever read a draft of Spirit World, you told me that out of all your works, Riesa was the character nearest and dearest to your heart. (I have one like that, too.) Tell us what makes Riesa special to you.
I think she has a lot of me in her. While I certainly have never had ghostly voices in my head, I do love my sci-fi, which is a big part of her. Plus, I gave her the tattoo I wanted.

And now, the cover:

Gorgeous, huh?  SPIRIT WORLD will be available April 15, 2013.
That's a month before my book.
And there's a cover reveal for THE CAGED GRAVES coming tomorrow from IceyBooks ...

Friday, August 24, 2012

The F13 Button

Has this ever happened to you?

You’re at work or at a party. Someone asks you about your writing and then quickly follows up with: “Can you give me a quick tip on how to get published?  … get an agent? … get a blog started? … write a book?”

And you’re thinking: “A quick tip? A quick tip?”

If you’re like me, you’ll start to explain the whole process – the long journey, the hard work, the research, making the connections and reading the blogs.  And if you’re like me, you’ll see that disappointed face looking back at you.

It’s as if they want you to say: “Oh! To publish a book, just press F13 on your computer. It will upload directly to Amazon, and a Bat Signal will be sent out to agents, who then will flock to your doorway!”  But instead, you have refused to tell them the location of the F13 Button, just out of professional jealousy.

In the years since I first published a book, I’ve only had a couple people take my advice, buckle down for the hard work and professional research that must be done to make any progress in the writing world.  Everyone else seemed irritated by the lack of a F13 Button.

What do you do, when somebody asks you for “a quick tip?”  How do you break the truth to them and … um, not sound like a jerk?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Nine Months to Go

A listing for The Caged Graves went up on Amazon at the beginning of this month.  The release date is set for May 14, 2013.  That’s nine months from now.

It seems like a long wait.  I could have a baby in that amount of time.  In fact, that might be a good way to pass the time!

(Ha, ha, just kidding. I want to give my husband a jolt when he reads this!)

There’s no cover image yet (amended: Yes there is!) but the listing contains a really awesome book description and an excerpt from the prologue. Yup. My book has a prologue, so don’t let anyone tell you they’re completely off the table.

The galley pages are in my hands for proof-reading, and last month I received the cover copy for approval – the text on the back cover and the jacket sleeves. I was ridiculously excited.  

Anyway, I’ve got my proof-reading to do and nine months to wait. What to do … what to do … what to do …

Monday, August 20, 2012

Summer Goals Assessment 2012

No. 9 Mine in Lansford, PA

Today is the last day of my summer vacation. Tomorrow will be my first day of teacher in-service, and next Monday, students arrive for their first day.  It has been an unusually long summer, because we had no snow days to make up in June.  I’m satisfied with my rejuvenating break and ready to return to work.

So, how did I make out on my summer goals?

      1. Finish the first draft of my WIP, GRUNSDAY. Not only did I finish the first draft, I finished the second draft and sent the manuscript off to beta-readers. I’m pretty excited about my progress on this story!
       2. Take a mine tour up in the Pocono Mountains. I did do this, in early July. The trip was related to a shelved manuscript.  I found the tour fascinating, but this little jaunt was eclipsed by the tour of Teotihuacan and the climbing of The Sun Pyramid as part of my research for GRUNSDAY, which became the highlight of my summer.
3.      Determine the fate of PORTAL.  This manuscript will stay shelved for now. The mine tour failed to re-awaken my interest in the topic or suggest solutions to the problems of plot, pacing, and character.
The Pyramid of the Sun, Mexico
4.      Get some exercise. I did this.  I swam, I walked the dog, and I even took up bike riding with my husband and daughters. (Before this summer the last time I rode a bike was when I was twelve.)  And of course, climbing to the top of that pyramid was a bit of a feat, too!
5.      Refuse to ride the emotional roller coaster.  Sigh. This one is hard. Let's face it. Our writing is so near and dear to us, it's hard not to fret, berate ourselves, jump every time we see Inbox (1), and occasionally dissolve into a puddle of insecurity.  But I'm working on it ... and maybe getting a little better.

So, what did you do this summer?

Friday, August 17, 2012

A Tourist in Mexico

This is the last post about Mexico – I promise!  But I’ve told you what the trip did for me as a writer, I marveled at the history, and now I just want to share a few tourist-y things.
The lobby of the Villas Arqueologicas Teotihuacan
The Mexican people were warm and friendly and welcoming. I speak no Spanish, and the workers at the hotel in Teotihuacan spoke almost no English.  It didn’t matter. They were kind and patient, and we found a way to communicate. Nobody rolled their eyes at me; nobody was impatient. (And I’m sorry to say, I’ve seen Americans do that to people who don’t speak English – lots of times.)
Our guide Alvaro
We loved the hotel, Villas Arqueologicas Teotihuacan, and Journeys Beyond the Surface, the tour company that helped us plan our trip and provided us with guides.  The charming Sergio picked us up at the airport and drove us to Teotihuacan, and we enjoyed his company so much, we booked him for the trip back to Mexico City and then to the airport a few days later.  On the site of Teotihuacan, we were escorted by Alvaro, a sculptor and university professor – and also charming company.  Upon our return to Mexico City, we also had the opportunity to meet the owner of the tour company, Mojdeh, and ended up inviting her out to dinner with us.
The Pyramid of the Moon was open only to the first landing.
In Mexico City, we visited the National Museum of Anthropology and discovered admission that day was free, thanks to a group of historians and archaeologists who were protesting the treatment of ancient historical sites.  They paid for everyone’s admission to raise awareness of the damage done to priceless artifacts in the name of tourism – including guide-rails drilled into The Pyramid of the Sun and a sound-and-light stage constructed for an Elton John concert near Chichen Itza.  When we visited Teotihuacan, The Pyramid of the Moon was closed to tourists above the first level, and Alvaro predicted that someday The Pyramid of the Sun might be closed, too.  I’m of two minds about this, because of course I want to see these places preserved, but climbing that pyramid was the whole reason for my trip.  I can only say that I’m glad I had the opportunity to do it while it’s still possible.
I received nasty texts from Verizon Wireless while climbing The Pyramid of the Sun!
And finally, a big FAIL for Verizon Wireless. Before we left home, we bought a global data package so I could use my Droid 4 on the trip. But we weren’t in Mexico 30 minutes before I started receiving dire texts from Verizon, warning me about data charges that spiraled higher and higher at a ridiculous rate.  A call to Verizon confirmed our global plan package, but the representative said it was impossible to turn off the automatic texts.   So, I had to put up with annoying (and worrying) messages throughout the trip. Whether Verizon will actually try to stick us with the final outrageous bill ($2000) remains to be seen. The guy on the phone said “no” – but we’ll see.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Historical Look at Teotihuacan

The Aztecs named this Avenue of the Dead, mistaking the temples for tombs. 

A lot of people mistake Teotihuacan as an Aztec site. In fact, this city was already ancient and abandoned when the Aztecs came to power. The Aztecs didn’t know who built it. They named it Teotihuacan (City of the Gods) and treated it as a sacred place.  When the Spanish conquistadors arrived, Teotihuacan was one of the few native sites they didn’t plunder and destroy because it was already in ruins. However, when Catholic priests discovered natives leaving offerings at the ancient temples, they ordered all the statues of gods destroyed.  Many ancient artifacts were demolished at this time, and a giant statue at the top of the Sun Pyramid was pushed over the side and broken into pieces.

A Painting of The Pyramid of the Sun, 1832
Teotihuacan was rediscovered in the nineteenth century, and restoration began in the early 1900’s. It was at this time that the four levels of the Sun Pyramid were accidentally divided into five by archaeologists who misjudged the dimensions of the pyramid. Fascinating historical photographs of the restoration work can be found at this site – which gives a pretty good look at the condition of the city when they began work on it.

City ruins on the grounds of our hotel.
The grounds that have been restored are only the heart of Teotihuacan – the religious center of the city. The residential properties extend well beyond the site you see today, and some of them – buried beneath the neighboring towns – will probably never be excavated. Historians believe that the pyramids and surrounding temples were similar to today’s Vatican City.  The pyramids were dedicated to major gods, with countless other shrines honoring smaller deities. Priests and shamans worked out of temples and stalls, selling religious icons and blessings. Visitors came to worship and make offerings for special intentions. Priests and ancient astronomers came here to study.

There was also a great deal of trade and commerce. Archaeologists have found evidence of trade between these people and other cultures, like the Mayans. It is estimated that Teotihuacan was home to some 200,000 people at a time when London was only a Roman fort.
Our guide, Alvaro, explains that this was once a reflecting pool.

After about 800 years of use, Teotihuacan was abandoned. It’s hard to imagine why people would move out of a city this large, and the lack of any written record means that no one is sure of the exact reason. I have read different theories, and our tour guide shared more. The end of Teotihuacan may have been caused by internal strife and a change of government that spawned a revolution, climate change caused by deforestation and the resulting loss of top soil, or an invading force. (Of course I give a different explanation in my WIP!)

Sign describing the tunnel.
Mysteries still abound in Teotihuacan. Some of their carvings are astonishingly advanced – almost looking like stamps or molds -- but evidence suggests they had no metal tools and worked only with obsidian. Archaeologists have recently discovered that a tunnel beneath the Sun Pyramid actually extends all the way to the Temple of Quetzlcoatl and that parts of the tunnel are lined with sheets of mica. Mica, which is not native to the area and must have been transported a great distance, is currently used as insulation against the heat produced by the rockets of spaceships. Add that to the fact that the three pyramids of Teotihuacan are aligned in an exact imitation of the stars in Orion’s Belt (just like the Pyramids of Giza and the Pyramids of Xi’an), and you have the makings of an episode of Ancient Aliens!

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Writer Looks at Teotihuacan

Yes, that's me standing on some rocks next to a plastic construction fence. Of course, the rocks and fence are located here:

That’s the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, Mexico. Last week’s adventure to Mexico was so incredible, I wasn’t sure where to start this post. So, I decided to cover it by topic over a few days.  Today’s topic: Teotihuacan From the Writer’s POV.

Two months ago this trip wasn’t even in our plans. I was working on my contemporary/urban fantasy GRUNSDAY.  The climax calls for the villain to transport my two captive MCs to a place of ancient significance for a cataclysmic magic ritual (think human sacrifice), while one of the other major characters follows them to attempt a rescue. My first choice was Stonehenge, because it’s an ancient calendar and GRUNSDAY is a fantasy about time. Plus, I’ve been there. But putting my characters on an airplane flight across the ocean presented logistical problems, especially for the rescuer. So, I decided to keep them on this continent.

My next choice was Teotihuacan, featured numerous times on the television show Ancient Aliens. If you can’t have Stonehenge for a magic ritual/human sacrifice, a pyramid’s gotta be your second choice, right? I researched the ruins via books and the internet. I spent a lot of time on YouTube watching people who’d videotaped themselves climbing the pyramid. But it’s not the same as being there.

So in June my husband said, “Why don’t we just go?” XOXOXO, Bob!

As a writer, I went with a specific agenda.  I needed to climb the pyramid, of course, and I’ll talk more about that on another day. But I also had questions relevant to my climactic scene, such as: If there was no one to stop you, could you drive a vehicle right up to the pyramids? The answer is yes. There were maintenance pick-up trucks driving all over the site. From the top of the pyramid, can you see a vehicle driving up to the base?  The answer, yes – or close enough. The pyramid is structured so cleverly, you have a good view straight down to the Avenue of the Dead below.

The fifth level of the pyramid is topped by a rounded incline to the platform at the very top. The platform (which was undergoing restoration and roped off by the orange plastic fence) is fairly small – large enough for the ritual I planned, but too small for the villain to have many guards with him. He would have to send his minions down one level, which is what I wanted anyway. The rounded hill is not symmetrical.  On one side, the slope is gentle and easily climbed. On the other, it is more steep.  I even found the spot where two of my characters take shelter from bullets being fired down at them from the top!

And, completely separate from the physical logistics of my climactic scene, there were many aspects of the setting that I could only appreciate by visiting Teotihuacan personally:
Lush greenery surrounds the complex.
Native cactus grows side by side with introduced species of trees.
The enormity of the site is something you have to see (and walk) to appreciate.
 The writer in me got everything I wanted out of this visit.  My climax works, and my second draft will be revised to include details about the site and the surrounding area.  On Wednesday, I’ll share a little about the history of Teotihuacan, as well some awesome photos!

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Danger of Re-Writing History

Today I have a guest post from my brother-in-law, Larry O'Donnell about re-writing history.  Larry tells me he started this post during last year's controversial revisions to Huck Finn and finished it in response to the NCAA sanctions against Penn State.

Re-Writing History by Larry O'Donnell

Recent developments in the Penn State scandal remind me of how callous some folks are of history.  Removing Paterno’s statue and “unwinning” hundreds of football games along with other similar punishments, strikes me as trying to expunge facts from the record.  Several of these sanctions were more vindictive than punitive.  The Sandusky crimes were horrific and any persons who prevented their timely discovery were likewise wrong.  These persons, once proven guilty should be held accountable.  Creating an alternative history is not justice.  Claiming that Navy beat Penn State for the last fourteen years provides no compensation for the victims.

I disapprove of re-writing history to make it palatable.  History is how we maintain knowledge, learn, and measure the progress of humanity.  It should be kept as factual as possible.  A while back, New South Books, citing political correctness, expunged the odious n-word from Samuel Clemens' classic novel, Huckleberry Finn.  The revisionists claimed they wanted to protect young persons from the ugly word.  Falling sales and controversies over the presence of the book in school probably had an economic influence on the decision.  To me, "disappearing" the word postulates that persons of African descent were always referred to with dignity.  The revised book calls the protagonist Slave Jim.  Jim's escape from slavery and fierce determination to be free is the message of the book.  Calling him a slave was probably far more demeaning to Jim than any other term.  Making this book less offensive diminishes it as a social commentary of the era.  It erases the negative history of the nation.  

Circa 1959,the Stratemeyer Syndicate overhauled its serial children's books, published by Grosset and Dunlap, to reflect modern times. This effort was not driven by political correctness, but the flagging sales of the books.  The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew stories, as originally written, were not relevant to contemporary youth.  Besides getting rid of racial stereotypes and slurs, terms as "roadster", "luncheon", "frock", and stilted dialog were replaced with modern expressions.  This overhaul differed significantly from that of Huck Finn.  First, Stratemeyer owned all rights of authorship of the books. If Mark Twain was still living and decided to write a modern edition because sales of his book were down, that would be his right.  Secondly, Stratemeyer didn’t change history, they just moved their characters into modern times.  Huck Finn wouldn’t have any relevancy in a modern setting.  Jim wouldn’t worry about being returned to slavery.  Clemens would lose his nom de plume, since fathometers eliminated the exchange between the sounder and captain.

I think Paterno’s wins should stand.  That’s what happened.  If he and other Penn State administrators played a part in shielding Sandusky, write it into the history of Penn State and the biography of Joe Paterno.

Dianne's two cents: I agree the wins should stand.  We should be able to look at those wins and note: For THIS, Paterno and Penn State officials sacrificed the well-being of innocent boys. IT WASN'T WORTH IT. Maybe we'd finally gain some perspective on the importance of football vs. life. However, I'm glad they took that man's statue down. Erasing unpalatable history and pretending it didn't happen is not the same as removing an honor from someone who was not honorable.

I blogged about my own thoughts on the Huck Finn issue HERE.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Linda Grimes In a Fix!

Today I've got the delightfully humorous Linda Grimes here to talk about her debut novel, releasing next month -- IN A FIX. I am really looking forward to this one, because as you'll see from the interview below, it's a bit unusual for its genre.  And being a long-time follower of Linda's blog, Visiting Reality, I know how darn funny Linda can be, so I can't wait to meet Ciel!

Snagging a marriage proposal for her client while on an all-expenses-paid vacation should be a simple job for Ciel Halligan, aura adaptor extraordinaire. A kind of human chameleon, she's able to take on her clients' appearances and slip seamlessly into their lives, solving any sticky problems they don't want to deal with themselves. No fuss, no muss. Big paycheck. This particular assignment is pretty enjoyable...that is, until Ciel's island resort bungalow is blown to smithereens and her client's about-to-be-fiance is snatched by modern-day Vikings. For some reason, Ciel begins to suspect that getting the ring is going to be a tad more difficult than originally anticipated. Going from romance to rescue requires some serious gear-shifting, as well as a little backup. Her best friend, Billy, and Mark, the CIA agent she's been crushing on for years - both skilled adaptors - step in to help, but their priority is, annoyingly, keeping her safe. Before long, Ciel is dedicating more energy to escaping their watchful eyes than she is to saving her client's intended. Suddenly, facing down a horde of Vikings feels like the least of her problems.

1.      Linda, I'm pretty sure I read that you got the idea for IN A FIX when you saw the name Ciel on a license plate. Have I got that right and can you elaborate?

First, I'd like to thank you for inviting me here today. I can usually be found down in the comments, but it's great to have a crack at the main stage of a blog I enjoy so much.

You're remembering correctly—I did see the name "Ciel" on a vanity license plate. TG and I were toodling along in Homer (my Odyssey minivan—get it? For Homer's Odyssey? Um, yeah, I name my cars), hauling our son back to college, when I glanced over at a car in the next lane. I saw "Ciel" on the license plate, and thought to myself, I know her.

A picture popped into my head of a petite, strawberry blonde, early twenties, with freckles. I knew at once she had a special talent—she could look like anyone she chose. She was a kind of human chameleon.

From there, the story just kind of bloomed, more like someone was blowing the fog away from it than like I was making it up. I know! Sounds pretty woo-woo-wackadoo, doesn't it? But honest to Pete, that's how it felt. (BTW, who is this Pete, and why does he apparently deserve honesty more than anyone else?)

2.      Was IN A FIX the first book you queried? Can you tell us how you landed with Tor Books?

Yup, it was the first book I got up the guts to query. (Not, I hasten to add, the first book I wrote. That one is hidden from view in my desk drawer, taken out and dusted off from time to time, patiently waiting its turn for some much-needed revisions.)

I landed with Tor when my agent (the lovely and hard-working Michelle Wolfson) had the good sense to approach my supremely gifted editor (Melissa Frain) with it. We'd been having a hard time finding editors who could envision a funny urban fantasy as a saleable product. They seemed to like reading In a Fix themselves, but didn't think they'd be able to get it past their editorial boards.

See, most urban fantasy tends to be a little darker than I'm able to write. One editor, who shall remain nameless, absolutely loved the concept of In a Fix, and asked if I'd be willing to make revisions. Being a naturally cooperative sort, I said sure. But then she basically wanted to change the whole personality of the book—to make it darker and more dangerous, in keeping with the UF genre as she saw it. I thought about it, actually considered doing it (by that time I wanted publication so bad I could taste it), but ultimately the whole idea of gutting the heart of the book—because humor is its heart—gutted me. Couldn't do it. And Michelle was in complete agreement, thank goodness.

Mel came along just as I was about to despair of ever finding my funny little heroine a home. She adored Ciel and her cohorts as much as Michelle and I do, and really went to bat for us at Tor. Luckily, she convinced the powers that be to take a chance on me. They bought In a Fix, and Quick Fix (the next book in the series). I still have my fingers (and toes and eyes) crossed that all those UF readers out there will appreciate a laugh, and that maybe I can even entice a few rom-com readers over. I like the idea of genre bending.

3.      I believe you’re firmly on Team Pantster.  What’s your first draft process like – and how many follow up drafts do you usually do?

I'm absolutely a pantster. Go, team!

I've described my drafting process as "Controlled CHAOS" – CHAOS being "Creativity happening again—oh, shi—er, snap!" And it is rather chaotic. No real planning. Just a seed of an idea, planted in my brain.

Basically, I sit down, type "Chapter One," and start writing as if I were reading. In fact, I like to think of it as interactive reading. I just type whatever I, if I were the reader, would want to read next. And I keep on until I'm done. (Yes, I'm a linear thinker.)

It's hard to say how many drafts I do, because I edit all the time, as I go along. If I could figure out a way to edit before I write, I'd probably do that, too. I'm a compulsive tweaker, and usually start each writing session by reviewing—and changing—what I wrote the session before. It's the way I warm up.

After I'm done with my "first" draft (she said, trying not to laugh), I send it off to my critique partners. With their input, I'll tweak some more, until I feel like it's done enough to go out into the real world.

I revise again after my agent offers suggestions, and yet again after my editor does. Oh, and then the copy editor has a go at it. (Honestly? I would be happy to go on tweaking and tweaking forever. I really love the tweaking part of writing. It's fun! But eventually, the publisher says "Enough already!" and sends it off to production.)

4.      Out of the characters in your novel, which one was the most fun to write about? Were there any that surprised you?

Ciel, of course, is loads of fun to write. She's such a smartass. (Huh. Wonder where she gets that from…) But I pretty much knew her from the beginning, so I can't say she surprised me. Billy (Ciel's best friend and "honorary" cousin), on the other hand, popped onto the scene and totally surprised me. He's charming and witty, a born con man, who, I came to realize as the book went on, wants to push Ciel's longstanding crush out of the way so he can take over the spot.

5.      Did you know Diana Gabaldon was going to blurb your book, or was it a surprise? (Did Tor make you ask her, or did they?)

Diana was my idea, but Tor leapt on it when I mentioned the possibility. *grin*

I met Diana online years ago at Compuserve's Books and Writers Forum (where she still maintains a high-profile presence). Back then, it was still a private forum, and most of the writers who participated got to know each other pretty well. Diana was (and is) gracious beyond belief to newbie writers, and interacted with all of us just like one of the guys. She was absolutely lovely about offering her congratulations when I announced my book deal there.

When it came time to consider possible blurbers for In a Fix, I thought what the heck. The worst that could come of asking would be that she'd say no, and I suspected even if she turned me down she'd at least be nice about it.

Sooo, I worked up my courage (a couple of Manhattans helped) and emailed her, assuring her that I knew how busy her schedule was and that I'd totally understand if In a Fix didn't sound like her cup of tea, or if she just plain didn't have time to read it. To my absolute astonishment, she agreed to read, and I couldn't be more thrilled.

6.      What else would you like us to know about IN A FIX?

Only that it makes me very happy to hear when it's given a reader a good, hearty laugh. Making people laugh has to be my favorite thing in the world, and Lord knows the world could use a few more chuckles these days.

Linda, thanks so much for the interview! IN A FIX releases September 4 and is already available for pre-order here.  I'm looking forward to meeting Ciel, and now I'm already rooting for Billy without even having met him, 'cause heaven knows I love an underdog!

Monday, August 6, 2012

First Impressions: PLENG'S SONG

Today, our first page comes from Patrick Maher, whose book PLENG’S SONG has already been published to some acclaim and is popular with students at the international school in Thailand where he works.  In fact, Patrick wrote the book while he was trapped in his home for 5 weeks during the 2011 Thailand Flood, and he then shared the manuscript chapter by chapter with his class as he worked on it.

Chapter 1
Busted by the Principal! 

Unbelievable! I just had the worst day of school ever because I got busted by the principal for having my iPhone in class. My teacher, Mr. James, was making us organize our notebooks, folders, pencils, markers, and all our other boring school supplies when the principal stopped by to say hello.
      “I’m just walking around to see how all
 the classes are doing,” Ms. Sinclair said in a friendly voice. “We are so lucky to have such wonderful students at Union of Hearts International School.”
      As she spoke, I was scrolling through
 my iPhone looking for a message about my father who is a businessman in Thailand. He was supposed to be meeting the prime minister at the Government House and I was checking to see whether my dad had sent me a message telling me they had met. I mean, how many people get to meet the prime minister?
     “Excuse me young girl,” Ms. Sinclair said
 with an angry voice as the skin above her upper lip wrinkled up tightly. “You need to come to my office, right now.”
     The whole class froze, even my teacher.
 I stood up feeling sick and followed the principal out of the classroom, down the hall, and into the principal’s office. My heart was racing. I passed the secretary, Ms. Nok, and her jaw dropped. In the morning, I had told her my dad might be meeting the prime minister. I wanted to ask her for help but Ms. Sinclair angrily interjected.
     “Get this girl’s parents on the phone
    I could feel the rice soup I had eaten
 for breakfast slowly start churning in my stomach. It was as if the pieces of rice had become ants and were crawling up my throat. Trying not to throw up, I sat down in the chair facing the principal’s desk.
     “What do you think you’re doing with
 an iPhone in the classroom?” Ms. Sinclair asked with her long red hair looking like it had flames rising from its tips. I knew I had a lot of explaining to do.
    “Well…” I said, gasping for breath
 and speaking quickly. “My father is a businessman and...”
    Ms. Sinclair quickly interrupted me.
 “I don’t care what your father does for a living. At this school, we don’t allow iPhones in class under any circumstances.”
   The pieces of rice in my throat started
 moving and felt like dirty cockroaches trying to escape an angry housekeeper. The principal continued talking but I wasn’t listening. I tried my best to focus. Everything was blurry and I felt dizzy. Then my gaze fell on the garbage can next to Ms. Sinclair’s desk. I dove for it as the most disgusting rice soup shot out of my mouth, landing right on the principal’s carpet. I 
missed the garbage can completely.
Even though Patrick has already published his book, I’m going to go ahead and treat this excerpt like any other submission for a First Impressions critique and make suggestions for revisions.

First of all, it’s a great opening situation. Because of the way Pleng reacts to getting sent to the principal’s office, I assume she's normally a good student who rarely gets into trouble.  I immediately feel sympathetic toward her. She’s excited about her father’s meeting, and she’s hoping to hear all about it. Then the principal treats her like a troublemaker, and the poor child throws up in the principal’s office.  The reader cringes on her behalf.

The narration keeps us at arm’s length, though. From the very first sentence, we feel like we are reading a summary of Pleng’s day instead of living it with her.  I’d like to see this written more in the moment.  Some people would suggest present tense, but that is not a favorite of mine (as a writer) and I think the same thing can be done in past tense, too.  The trick is to allow the narrator to reflect on the events, but not lapse into summary.

I’d love to see this start with Pleng scrolling through her phone, looking for a message from her father – hoping he’ll send one, because she’s so excited about him meeting the Prime Minister.  She knows she’s supposed to be organizing her desk and folders, but they’re already neat.  She doesn’t even notice the principal has come in – until the principal spots the iPhone and pounces on her.  I think it’s a matter of ordering the presentation of events from Pleng’s perspective, blow by blow, rather than letting her stand off to one side and tell us from a distance.

Any thoughts from readers on this?  Thanks, Patrick, for sharing your first page with us. You can read an interview with Patrick about his experience in Thailand during the flood here. Pleng's Song is available for Amazon Kindle, and don’t forget to check out Marcy’s critique on Mainewords.

Friday, August 3, 2012

First Impressions: THE DESIREE

Our second First Impressions post comes from PK Hrezo, and it is a revised first page for her manuscript THE DESIREE.  A couple months ago, PK shared a first page of that story, but she has decided that page is part of a possible prologue and not the first chapter after all.

She has also revised the genre label for the story, terming it YA Romance.  Let’s take a look at the new beginning.

            Everything she had worked for led up to this day.
            Her snowboard strapped to one foot, Stevie Ryan rode the ski lift in the morning sun. She tucked her earbuds in beneath her snowcap, inhaling the evergreen air until her nostrils tingled. On the mountain peaks, freshly fallen snow shimmered against the jeweled blue sky. Conditions were in check for an optimal performance. Add in the perfect song popping on from her playlist, and Stevie’s pulse quickened with a bit of snow-athlete-Zen. God, I love it here.
As the half-pipe came into view, the taut muscles in her legs flexed instinctively. Soon, it would all be worth it—all the sweets she’d given up, and late nights with friends; all those weekends she’d risen at daybreak, while other teens were sleeping in. Today belonged to her, and she couldn’t wait to feel the wind behind her as she slid over the smooth frozen surface. If the mountains and snow were her church, then snowboarding to her tunes was her religion, and she had last year’s freestyle title to prove it. But this winter’s competition wasn’t about defending an old title. Today was about stealing a new one—for first place in the ladies’ half-pipe. With it, she’d seal the deal for making the Winter Olympic snowboarding team.  
The lift stopped and Stevie made her way to the waiting area atop the half-pipe. Other athletes were already gathering, waiting their turn to reap some oohs and ahhs, and hopefully snag a title for themselves. As a kid growing up on the slopes of Colorado, nothing could earn respect faster than a championship snowboarding or ski title—something Stevie had tasted for herself last winter, and had become her invisible badge of honor.
One by one, the girls took their turns, the crowd of watchers cheering and whistling. Stevie’s lips twitched from side to side as she focused on the boarders’ performances, evaluating their technique and scores. The arena pulsed with music to pump up the crowd between contestants. Anxious, Stevie cranked the volume on her MP3, drowning out anything that could break her focus.

My first thought was: Anything that starts on a ski lift gets a thumbs-up from me!  The ski lift is one of my favorite places in the world. My second thought was: This is completely different from the page I read before – in setting and tone. It presents a very different first impression, which I suppose is why PK is making the change.  When I read the prologue, I thought the story was going to be a mystery involving an old theater (and maybe it still is), but this chapter starts off far from the theater world.  Very interesting, and I wonder what PK is up to!

I think the first line is probably unnecessary.  It doesn’t tell us much, and the next three sentences paint a better picture.  I think PK should start there. I’m not sure about the phrases conditions were in check and the perfect song popping on from her playlist. They feel like the author hasn’t quite found the right words for “in check” and “popping on.”

The next paragraph could be tightened.  There are some wonderful images here (ex: If the mountains and snow were her church, then snowboarding to her tunes was her religion) but I see unnecessary adjectives and adverbs and maybe a whole sentence or clause that could go.   In this paragraph we learn Stevie has worked hard for this competition, and we learn what she hopes to achieve. But I think the writing needs to be as taut as her mindset.

In the sentence As a kid growing up on the slopes of Colorado, nothing could earn respect faster … the word nothing is the subject of the sentence, which means that nothing was a kid growing up on the slopes of Colorado.  It should say Stevie knew nothing could earn respect faster …

For the first page overall, I suggest cutting and trimming and simplifying sentences to hone Stevie’s voice. She’s an athlete; she has a strong drive and a clear vision of what she wants.  Let’s allow that drive and vision to come through in a more streamlined narrative.  Readers, what do you think?

PK, thanks for sharing your new first page!  I think we’re all interested to know how Stevie the snowboarder connects to a 1930’s theater.  You can find PK at her blog, and don’t forget to check out Marcy’s critique at Mainewords.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

First Impressions: THE JADE COTERIE

Our First Impressions post today comes from Summer Ross. This is the first page of her adult fantasy, THE JADE COTERIE.

Ebony Graves slipped out of her bedroom window. “Constellations guide me,” she whispered and landed with both feet on the soft ground. She left everything behind; the only life she had ever known.
Ebony lived in a small, two-bedroom house. Her room barely fit a bed and a dresser. Her door locked from the outside. Her father had the master bedroom. Ebony pictured him sprawled out on the old queen size bed he used to share with her mother. She hoped the sound of the window hadn’t woken him. The last thing she wanted was for him to catch her.

It took months to find enough courage to escape her cage. Her decision had been made when she read the article stating that the Jade Coterie, the elite courtesan group in Talis City, had been looking for new members in the previous morning’s newsprint. She had paced back and forth in her room deciding when to leave and which route to take. She sifted through her clothes, but all she owned were dresses. Her shoes fared no better, for her father often reminded her a proper girl wore heels. She picked the darkest blue dress from her closet to wear for the day, knowing when night hit, she’d leave. She couldn’t risk asking permission from a man who used a fist for talking. He’d kill her before he’d ever let her leave alive.

Ebony slipped out when the moon shone bright with a trickle of light invading the threshold of the horizon, as if it would spill over into the neighborhood at anytime. With her heart protesting in her chest, she opened the gate and looked back at her home for, what she hoped, was the last time. All the windows were dark and no movement stirred the drapes. She sighed, turned down the alley, and headed downtown.

My first thought is that I like Ebony’s escape from her house as the opening of the story.  There’s a lot of promise in that for the reader: Why is she leaving? Where is she going?

I was uncertain about her first line of dialogue: Constellations guide me. Is there supposed to be a comma there? Constellations, guide me.  That would make it a prayer or wish, and that’s fine.  Otherwise, it sounds like she’s answering a question that nobody asked her.

Secondly, it seemed strange to describe the interior of her house after she’d already gone out the window.  I’m sure that could be rephrased as part of the narrative, describing how she felt escaping a home that was more like a prison and focusing on her emotions rather than the layout of the house.

The third paragraph is backstory.  I would suggest cutting that paragraph altogether.  Instead, continue to describe Ebony’s escape.  Leave us wondering a little longer where she’s going and what she’s running from.  As I mentioned before, a beginning where Ebony climbs out her window raises a lot of questions for the reader. You don’t want to answer them in the next paragraph!  Make the readers turn the page to find out more.

Finally, the moon shone bright with a trickle of light contradicts itself.  Why not put the moon behind a cloud, so that its bright light is about to spill over the town, and Ebony wants to get away from the house before it does?

Summer, thanks for sharing your first page with us! Readers, please share your thoughts, and if you don’t know Summer, you can find her at her blog, My Inner Fairy, and don’t forget to check out Marcy’s critique at Mainewords.