We Will Not Be Silent

After a polarizing election that’s left this country divided and now fills many of our citizens with sadness and fear, one line from Secretary Clinton’s concession speech still manages to bring tears to my eyes: “This loss hurts, but please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.”

The election loss did hurt. It hurt me and millions of others who voted for Clinton, believing that she is the best person to lead our country forward, especially when compared with the alternative. But Clinton fan or no, I hope fighting for what’s right is something all Americans can agree on. Even if you didn’t vote for Clinton, you can still fight for what’s right. And there’s plenty of fighting to be done.

In the few days since the election, hate crimes are already on the rise. Several friends have posted photos of swastikas and other hateful messages in their towns or even in front of their houses.

While this appalls and saddens me, I have to recognize my own position of privilege. I’m not a member of a marginalized group, so I can’t personally speak on how it must feel to be the victim of such attacks. However, I’m not about to sit by and let it become commonplace. This is not commonplace! This is reprehensible!

We must condemn this kind of behavior. Silence leads to indifference, and we cannot allow ourselves to become indifferent. As a non-marginalized person, I want to use my privilege for good. We must report such crimes. Speak out against these acts. Stand by the innocent victims, who deserve our full protection. In the words of the White Rose:

We will not be silent. We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!

sophie-hans-scholl-with-christoph-probst-1942

Favorite Craft Books

CraftBooksIn this pre-PitchWars season, I thought it might be helpful to share some of my favorite craft books in case anyone is struggling with preparations. Critique partners and beta readers are excellent (essential!) in pointing out any issues in a manuscript, but because in the end, the fixing of any issues come down to you, the writer, the right guide can sometimes help you see solutions that you’re unable to pinpoint on your own. A quick summary of some of my favorites:

  • READING LIKE A WRITER by Francine Prose. I picked this one up because I love Prose’s fiction, but this book is a great guide at any stage in the process. The premise is that creative writing can be taught through close readings of masterpieces, outlining how to do so looking at everything from words to characters to dialogue. It also serves to remind that there’s no substitute to reading recently published books in your genre.
  • SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder. Originally a guide for screenwriters, this book walks writers through a “beat sheet” with details on how to nail down a manuscript’s structure. Though most helpful in the initial outlining stage, this is also a great tool in working through any plot issues in revisions.
  • SECOND SIGHT by Cheryl Klein. This is my go-to craft book for revisions. I’ve taken her amazing revision class as well (ask me about my bookmap), and can’t recommend it enough. Her advice and exercises can really get you to the heart of your story.
  • LETTERS TO A YOUNG POET by Rainer Maria Rilke. This collection of letters, sent to a young cadet in military school, contains inspirational advice that is applicable to most of us. I like to read it and pretend the letters were written to me.
  • BIG MAGIC by Elizabeth Gilbert. This is a truly magical guide to stepping away from fear and writing books of your heart.
  • THE FIRST FIVE PAGES by Noah Lukeman. While only beginnings are stressed in this book, a clean, hooky beginning is essential in querying, contests, or even once published. This guide covers some typical issues and offers solutions.
  • SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS by Renni Browne and Dave King. For the most part, this guide gets into the nitty gritty of typical issues found in manuscripts with some great exercises and checklists.
  • A POETRY HANDBOOK by Mary Oliver. I love poetry, and this is a great guide for poets, but I’m including it in my list because the musicality of language is important for writers of prose, too.

This is by no means a complete list of craft books! But hopefully at least one of these will be just what someone needs, and in the meantime, if you have any others to share, please do!

Winning NaNoWriMo

NaNo-2015-Winner-BannerYay! I did it! As you can see from this handy-dandy banner, I won my very first NaNoWriMo by writing at least 50,000 words during the month of November, official National Novel Writing Month. My skeleton of a draft clocked in at just over 56,000 words and is not much more than a quivering mass of word vomit at the moment. I expect that my finished draft of this same project will probably end up about 25% longer and a whole lot different. Still, the act of writing this draft and winning NaNoWriMo was absolutely gratifying and something I’m so glad I tried. For those of you still working on your goal (or thinking about doing it next year), here are some things that worked for me.*

  • I chose a project I love. Doing this helped me more than anything else. I woke up each day excited to dig in to my story. At night, I tossed and turned, thinking about my characters. This is a story I really want to read, and though of course it didn’t come out as the perfect, lyrical dream of how I hope it to read someday, the act of living in this world for several hours a day to write it was a giant step in the right direction.
  • I shot for a higher-than-average word count goal a day. 50,000 words is 1,667 words a day, but I shot for 2,000 a day, and wound up averaging close to 2,400 words a day.
  • Nano_chartI outlined the heck out of this project (in advance). There is nothing more intimidating to me than the idea of something immense. A huge plate of food in front of me? Thanks, but not so much. A little at a time works much better for me. I started this project by mapping out the key plot points, developed that into a chapter-by-chapter outline, and then wrote out a description of what should happen in each scene and piled that all into Scrivener, where I easily broke it down into digestible word count goals. The idea of 50,000 words is somewhat terrifying, but 500-word chunks are much more manageable to me.
  • I did a ton of research (in advance). That included reading all of these books well before November 1, as well as some really helpful online research that turned up some great articles I hadn’t been able to find before. rilke-shelf
  • I kept several of these books at my side the whole time. A day didn’t go by when I didn’t look something up, and having the information readily accessible was essential.
  • I tried to get an early head start each day and squeezed in chunks of words whenever I could. I get up by 5am every day, but I also brought my laptop along to my children’s music and chorus classes and sat spewing out words in the hall while they sang and played.
  • I work part-time from home, and I found it more helpful to work in those duties throughout the day, trading off writing for work anytime I got stuck, rather than dedicating 100% of my time to writing or working blocks.
  • I still exercised every day and ate pretty well. I swim a few days a week, practice flamenco with my children, and was also doing physical therapy this month, so I was glad for all the excuses to get moving. Our refrigerator unfortunately died about halfway through my draft, which made for a tricky few days, but for the most part, we were fully stocked on fruits, veggies, and proteins to keep me going.
  • I also ate a lot of candy. I blame Halloween for that one.
  • I did almost nothing social. I’m an introvert anyway, but was even more of one this month. The only exception was an outing I made was to a rare Weimar-era film, Mädchen in Uniform. That wound up a lower word count day, but was totally worth it.

As a final note, congratulations to all the other NaNoWriMo winners, and to everyone still trying to get there. I’d love to hear what works for you, either for NaNo or for fast-drafting in general. Best of luck to you all!

*Disclaimer: probably obvious, but what worked for me might not necessarily work for you!

Dear 2015 PitchWars Mentees

Congratulations, lucky mentees of the 2015 PitchWars class!!! You are about to embark on a beautiful, terrifying roller coaster of a journey with your mentor, your fellow mentees, and your manuscript. While not being accepted does not mean there’s anything wrong with your project (subjectivity!), being accepted certainly means that there’s something right about it. It’s something to cling to in the Dark Night of the Soul. Your mentor picked you. No matter what happens in the agent round, a hearty handshake to you for making it this far.

SAMSUNG

If nothing else, this whole process will make you a better writer. Last year, my amazing mentor, Sarah Guillory, made me question decisions I’d made while writing and revising, and was able to point out ways to fix problem areas in my manuscript that I can now carry along with me on other projects. Throughout the process, she also kept reminding me that she believed in me and that she believed in my project–something I very badly needed to hear. While most writers have critique partners and writing friends pulling for us, it’s another thing entirely to have a stranger who’s read our work and who wants to champion it. And what’s more, wants to help you make it better! What a wonderful, wonderful gift!

So above all, my advice to you is:

  1. Listen. Your mentor has the experience and the know-how to be able to point out problems. It doesn’t mean you have to take every single suggestion or go along and make changes blindly, but take all that feedback and consider every piece of it. One comment might lead you to fix something related that neither of you thought of. But listen to everything, take some days to let it sink in, and then make a plan of attack to see how you can use that feedback to bring your story to the next level.
  2. Play nicely. Never forget how lucky you are to have been chosen. Plenty of other writers would gladly take your spot, and being nice about it goes a long, long way. Brenda Drake and all of the other mentors are putting in their time for free when they have a lot of other things they could be doing, so being grateful and positive is absolutely essential.
  3. Join in. Our PitchWars 2014 mentee group became a family through a private Facebook group where we can ask any question, cheer each other on, and pick each other up. I love my PitchWars peeps and the community we formed.
  4. Believe. Mentors pick the stories they can personally help, stories that they love, and stories that they believe can make it. Revising a full novel in two months is hard work, so you need to believe in yourself and your story to be able to do the best you can, so a big cheer for you: You can do it!!! And while you’re at it, be sure to check out these letters to you from other 2014 mentees here:

Making the Most out of PitchWars

It’s almost that time of year again, and as a proud member of the 2014 PitchWars mentee family, I thought sharing my experience from last year might help 2015 PitchWars hopefuls decide whether or not to enter and how to make the most out of it.

Pitch-Wars-2014

First off, this contest is truly different from other contests. Most online contests help you get your work in front of agents, and yes, this contest does that too, but that’s only the final–and honestly least important–part of the process. While a crazy-high percentage of the 2014 PW family is now agented (with several book deals already announced!), most of us got our agents through traditional slush. (See my own agent story here.)

If you decide to enter, you’ll see that PitchWars, like many other aspects of publishing, depends a lot on timing. The point of the contest is to devote two months to revising the novel, so having a complete, polished (but not too polished) manuscript is key. Basically, if the project needs so much work that two months won’t be enough time to finish revisions, or if it’s so close to ready that it doesn’t need an overhaul, PitchWars probably isn’t for your manuscript. Likewise, while it’s great if it’s a completely unqueried, virgin-to-the-trenches manuscript, having sent out a few queries isn’t going to get in the way of a successful PitchWars stand.

The chance to be paired with an experienced writer (mine was the amazing Sarah Guillory) who hasn’t read your project is a gift, and the time and effort of the mentors to help you get your work ready is without a doubt the best part of the contest. When I entered, I had two goals in mind: to make my particular manuscript better, and to learn more about improving my writing in general. There’s nothing like one-to-one attention to achieve goals like those!

Another huge benefit of the contest is the writing friendships formed. You might have noticed I called the other members of the 2014 group my “PitchWars family” in the first paragraph, and it couldn’t be more true. Many of us connected from the contest in an online, secret group, where we have a safe place to pick each other up, ask questions, and cheer successes. It hasn’t been an easy road for anyone, and we’re there for each other like crazy.

So while the agent round is fun and exciting, and PitchWars is absolutely one of the best contests out there, do it for the right reasons, and the 2015 group will be just as awesome as the 2014 one. GOOD LUCK!

 

Writing News, or “A Bucket of Barf, Oodles of Gratitude, and a Side of Hope”

This post is for you, dear writer, as you struggle through the querying trenches year after year (after year, after year), revised-to-the-guts manuscript in one hand and trusty barf bucket in the other. Querying is not for the weak. You, who soldier on in spite of rejection, striving to improve your craft and find the right word, the right genre, the right story, are brave. You, who willingly embark on such torture with each new manuscript, clinging to each new shred of hope, are the young poet to whom Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “Ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write?”

youngpoet

Yes. Of course you must.

People told me that this story would be an inspiration to other writers someday. A lesson in persistence. Because mine is not one of those amazing enter-one-contest-and-get-five-offers stories. Nor did this happen after completing two, three, four, or even five manuscripts. No, my first taste of success has only come after twelve long years working on six manuscripts and four long years of querying.

If I can do this, you can do this.

Over my years in the trenches, I queried (or got contest/conference requests from) agents 176 times, netting 71 total requests. This might sound like a lot, but unfortunately a request doesn’t always lead to an offer of representation. I first queried my agent (*pause* my agent!) in 2013 when she tweeted an #MSWL that matched my fifth manuscript. I was thrilled that my first pages piqued her interest back then, but it was hardly a done deal. While she made her way through her reading pile, I was hard at work writing and revising my sixth manuscript. She ultimately suggested revisions on my fifth manuscript and signed me after reading the sixth, almost two years after my original query. So to echo what countless others have said before me, keep learning, keep submitting, and above all, keep writing!

I certainly couldn’t have done this alone, and honestly, I’m filled with so much gratitude to have reached this stage that I simply can’t take full credit. I’m so thankful to my wonderfully supportive family, of course, as well as the children’s writing community as a whole, and my own little circle in it. My amazing critique group, my plethora of fantastic critique partners and beta readers, and my lovely writing friends. The publishing professionals giving time at conferences, workshops, and retreats, the agents and editors reading all those queries and all those manuscripts–for nothing in return! Kind-hearted souls setting up and running contests to get writers’ work in front of agents, and my personal mentors who have helped me bring my work to the next level. You all know who you are, and I can’t even begin to express how grateful I am for your help, your time, and your faith in my work.

While giving up writing along the way wasn’t an option, I did consider giving up querying on more than one occasion. One particularly dark moment came only a few months ago, after having gotten really close yet again only to be turned away. I happened to receive this beautiful notebook from my cousin, Amanda, that very same day:

choosehope

I choose hope! I burst into maniacal laughter-tears upon receiving it, of course. As one does. And yet, according to my wise critique partner, Monica, choosing hope was the only option, and so—albeit grudgingly at the time—I did.

And now for the sentence I never thought I’d be able to write: I finally have an agent! Me. I’m thrilled to be represented by the incredible Roseanne Wells with the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. I couldn’t have found a more perfect match for my work, and I’m so very eager to take my next steps down this strange and terrifying path with her in my corner. Thank you, Roseanne, for believing in me!

Celebrate National Poetry Month

April might be well underway, but it’s certainly not to late to celebrate National Poetry Month! Last year, I wrote a short essay to defend my personal favorite poet, Rainer Maria Rilke. This year, in keeping with the theme of 5 we’re celebrating over at YARN: the YA Review Network to celebrate our fifth year of publication, I’m sharing 5 ways to celebrate the spirit of the month.
 
1. Read poems! Read something by your favorite poet, discover a new poet, or read poems to children in your life. Some of the oft-read books in my household include these.

librosdepoemas

2. Attend a local poetry event. Poets.org has a handy search feature to track down events in your area.
 
3. Write your own poem. Even if you’re not Shakespeare or Rilke, you might surprise yourself by what you come up with. My own contribution for the month:
 
Sevilla
 
I open the window
and breathe
the clean air of spring
all sunlight and blue sky
and the slightest hint of azahar.
 
The morning is
café con leche,
pan con tomate,
and the sweet-salty bocado
of chocolate con churros.
 
Red, yellow, yellow, red
the flag salutes
from the highest point
of the Real Maestranza
flapping above its red walls and yellow sand.
 
Hands clap and heels tap
as bailaoras swirl and swish and thump
to ferocious rhythms
that bleed through the floor,
ole.
 
My hands are a bowl
and I catch
five orange blossoms and
cradle them, tiny doves,
in my palms.
 
4. Enter a contest! The #yarn5 poetry contest at YARN calls for any and all riffs on the number 5, and includes some pretty fantastic prizes, so be sure to enter by the 4/20 deadline.
 
5. Follow the #npm15 hashtag on twitter to learn more about poetry, poets, and how to celebrate the month in style.
 

PitchWars Blog Hop: Why I Wrote This Manuscript

First off, huge thanks to C. M. Franklin, fellow PitchWars mentee, for organizing this blog hop, the amazing Brenda Drake, for organizing and hosting the PitchWars contest, and of course Sarah Guillory, author of the YA novel, RECLAIMED, and the best dementor a girl could ask for.
 
Writers are often asked to sum up their stories in a sentence or two, so it’s best to be prepared with an answer to the question, “What’s your book about?”
 
In my case, THE MOST DAZZLING GIRL IN BERLIN is the story of an unlikely friendship between two desperate girls at a queer cabaret in Berlin in 1930.

Gisela and Christl banner

artwork by Gwen Katz

The inspiration behind a story is something that often doesn’t get asked right away, but “Why did you write this story?” is such a great question. This is when it gets personal. It’s your chance to show the reader why you were the perfect person to write it.
 
I have a myriad of reasons for mine: a fascination with this time and place, a burning desire to write about diverse characters organically, and a head start on the necessary research back from my days studying and reading for my Ph.D. in German Literature.
 
Still, there was one particular moment when it all came together for me.  It was after seeing the fantastic 1930 film, PEOPLE ON SUNDAY. This slice-of-life silent film chronicles a group of twenty-somethings as they break away from their everyday lives in Berlin for a day off at the Wannsee beach just outside of the city. You can see the entire film (it’s in the public domain) here.
 
A couple of months after seeing the film, I was brainstorming new manuscript ideas, and I put stars next to two scribbled lines in my notebook:
 
*People on Sunday retelling with teens struggling through the uncertainty of the Weimar Republic Era in Berlin.
 
*A girl working in a queer cabaret?
 
Apparently I ran with the idea from there. Just under these lines is my character list, scribbled notes on queer cabarets at the time in Berlin, followed by notes and more notes from some of the non-fiction books I read. And so it began!

Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1998-012-36A, Potsdamer Platz

As part of the blog hop, make sure to check out the amazing posts by the other PitchWWars mentees on what inspired each of them to write their stories:
 
Carleen Karanovic: HOPE ON A FEATHER
Heather Truett: RENASCENCE
Tracie Martin: WILD IS THE WIND
Susan Bickford: FRAMED
Rachel Sarah: RULES FOR RUNNING AWAY
Amanda Rawson Hill: GRIMM AND BEAR IT
Charlotte Gruber: CODE OF SILENCE
Mary Ann Nicholson: CALAMITY
Nikki Roberti: THE TRUTH ABOUT TWO-SHOES
Anna Patel: EXODUS
K. A. Reynolds: LE CIRQUE DU LITERATI
Susan Crispell: WISHES TO NOWHERE
Ron Walters: THE GOLEM INITIATIVE
Rosalyn Eves: THE BLOOD ROSE REBELLION
Ashley Poston: HEART OF IRON
Mara Rutherford: WINTERSOUL
Janet Walden-West: Damned If She Do
Kazul Wolf: SUMMER THUNDER
D. Grimm: WITCHER
Kelli Newby: THORNVAAL
Tara Sim: TIMEKEEPER
Elliah Terry: POCKET FULL OF POPPIES
Alessa Hinlo: THE HONEST THIEF
Rachel Horwitz: THE BOOTLEGGER’S BIBLE
Whitney Taylor: DEFINITIONS OF INDEFINABLE THINGS
Lyra Selene: REVERIE
Natalie Williamson: SET IN STONE
Robin Lemke: THE DANCE OF THE PALMS
Stephanie Herman: CLIFF WITH NO EDGE
Shannon Cooley: A FROG, A WHISTLE, AND A VIAL OF SAND
Ruth Anne Snow: THE GIRLS OF MARCH
Elizabeth Dimit: PHOEBE FRANZ’S GUIDE TO PASSPORTS, PAGEANTS, & PARENTAL DISASTERS
Elliah Terry: POCKET FULL OF POPPIES
Gwen C. Katz: AMONG THE RED STARS
Jennifer Hawkins: FALSE START
Kelly DeVos: THE WHITE LEHUA
Gina Denny: SANDS OF IMMORTALITY
Natasha M. Heck: FOLLOW THE MOON
Esher Hogan – WALKING AFTER MIDNIGHT
D.A. Mages: THE MEMORY OF OBJECTS
Kirsten Squires: INCEPTO

Sucker Literary Volume 3 Cover Reveal

 

Sucker 3 purpleBookCoverPreview

 

Sucker Literary Volume 3

Available April 15, 2014

Add it on Goodreads!

Book Trailer

 
Bullied and alone, Ainsley seeks refuge in the arms of a strange boy. Time is slipping away for overachieving Sadie Lin, but reigniting an old flame might help. Scarred by a pressuring ex, Alexandra finally faces the rain. “Pasty and chubby” Charlotte makes a public play for the “Tan and Smooth” king. The beautiful girl in the black, lacy push-up bra says that it’s time for Brenn to stop lying . . . at least to herself. A halfway house is no home for Dawn—or is it? How will Dana survive knowing everyone at school thinks she’s a monster, when they just may be right? JJ and her crush finally get a moment alone—at his girlfriend’s hottest party of the year. Sixteen-year old Sarah prepares for her first day of school by chaining up her Mamí in her bedroom. Alyssa’s life is a well-rehearsed ballet until a tragedy sends her hurtling towards a fall. Loving a boy is as simple as chemistry . . . unless that boy is an unstable element.

 

Eleven stories that delve into the depths of our experience—driven by fierce and untouched love that makes us seek, lose, fear, desire, long, reflect, survive, steal, protect, fall, and confess.

 

Founding Editor:

Hannah R. Goodman

 

Contributors:

The H8TE Lilliam Rivera

Valentine’s Day Claudia Classon 

Halfway From Shelli Cornelison

Her Tree Boy Blaze Lina Branter

How To Fall Kacey Vanderkarr 

If it Rains Kristina Wojtaszek

Black Lacy  Kimberly Kreines

Superpower Mary Malhotra 

The Chemistry of You and Me Evelyn Ehrlich

Just a Matter of Time Charity Tahmaseb

A Different Kind of Cute Hannah R. Goodman

 

www.suckerliterary.com
 

Twitter: @suckerlitmag

 

 

 

Why Querying Is Like October Baseball

As a Red Sox fan, I’ve seen my fair share of October baseball. Making it past the regular season is a big deal, and it got me thinking about how similar it is to the querying process. Here are my top ten reasons why they’re alike:
 
10. Dude, you made it this far. You completed and polished an entire novel. Or, yanno, beat out all the other teams vying for a World Series appearance. Well done!
 
9. Everyone’s cheering for you. Your critique partners, family, friends, published authors, agents, and editors all want you to succeed.
 
8. Your characters are lovable. We feel their pain when they strike out, drop a ball, or experience The Dark Night of the Soul.
 
7. You sometimes take up strange rituals, like not trimming your beard or rubbing on your special-good-vibes-lucky-ladybug-necklace when clicking send.
 
6. Sometimes you snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. This is a concept so familiar to Sox fans that I won’t go into detail here, but in the querying world, it’s like: partial request–boom! Full request–boom! Endearing pass on the material–oh, crap.
 
5. Sometimes you actually snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. That agent who seemed too good for you? You never know. Query and you just might get a request!
 
4. Never give up. You may have the bases loaded with no outs, but if you’re the pitcher, you’ve got to stay cool and throw a strike. Bam!
 
3. There’s no crying in baseball. No, seriously. You can cry in Little League, but if you want to play big time ball, you have to get used to failure and rejection. No team can win every single game.
 
2. There are lots of chances. Best four out of seven games! You could lose the first three games and still walk away with a win. Your odds are even better in querying. In baseball, you have to win four, and in querying all you need is one.
 
1. There’s always next year. Because you’re already hard at work on the next novel, right?
 
boston_fenway_kandb