Writing Goodness

I Have Exciting News!

That I’ve put off posting for a month. Why is this so hard to put into words? I’m a writer, right? Words are supposed to be my thing. But maybe it’s that sometimes some things are too big for words. This would be one of those things.

My middle-grade novel, THE INHABITANT OF ALEXIS O’RILEY sold to Egmont USA!

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All the feelings. All the words. All the screams.
But most of all, I’m so excited that the world will get the chance to know Nessa and Alexis, these characters who I’ve fallen in love with this past year.

Almost exactly five years ago I picked up a pen (or maybe it was a mechanical pencil?) and told my husband that I was going to write a book. He was ready to commit me, and I’m not just saying that to make this blog post all dramatic and interesting. He really thought I was crazy.

I had to learn a LOT that first year with that first book. When it was finished and I’d had lots of people read through it and give input I spent the next year sending it out to 100 agents. Ten of them read it, but eventually they all passed. I’m all about even numbers and 100 seemed like a good stopping point for me. It had been a year. I was ready to move on.

The next year I wrote another book and when it was done and polished I sent it out to some agents. There was a lot more interest, and it got me my wonderful agent, but it had the ‘dystopian curse’ attached to it.  As much as editors seemed to like it, it was a hard sell. I had major surgery and had to put my writing on hold for a year. At that point I was wondering if I’d ever be able to write again. Not that I didn’t try, I did. I hobbled out to the dining room a few times, propped my cast up on some pillows and wrote the first chapter of what would eventually become THE INHABITANT OF ALEXIS O’RILEY. But I hated what I wrote. The concept was good, I just had no interest in writing it. I wasn’t excited about it. So I left it alone.

Thankfully, about a year later I opened up the laptop again and got to work on INHABITANT. I wrote it in a month. Over the summer I went back and forth with my agent and his wonderful assistant, Sam. We worked out kinks, filled plot holes, and got it into shape.

Meanwhile, there is a children’s writing conference my friend, Renee and I go to every year – the Northern Ohio SCBWI Conference. I signed up for a critique of my first ten pages with an editor at Egmont USA named Alison Weiss. I would get to meet her face-to-face and let her rip apart what I’d written. (Sounds like fun, right?)

I try not to be nervous for these things, I’ve done them before and everyone is usually very polite when they point out all of the things you’ve done wrong. I had seen Alison in the big conference room during the general session and knew who she was because my friend had just been in one of her classes. When the session let out about a half-hour early, I was thrilled. It would give me time to run up to my room and brush my teeth before I met with her.

Renee and I quickly made our way to the elevators and stepped onto the same elevator as Alison. She mentioned to us that she was going up to start another round of critique meetings and I think I squeaked a “with me” or something silly like that. We were silent until the door opened and Alison must have seen my name on my name tag. She turned around and said, “Holly! I’m so excited to talk to you about your book!”

In my shocked stupor I think I said something like, “Uh, oh.” She backed out of the elevator, laughing, and said “Oh, no. It’s a good thing!”

And then I had to go up to my room, shaking, and wait a half-hour. I may or may not have brushed my teeth ten times. I may or may not have called my husband to freak out. I did tease a guy for belching loudly in the hallway.

With a little more hope that INHABITANT wouldn’t be ripped to pieces, I went back downstairs to meet with Alison. She was a complete sweetheart, and we had a good laugh about how she scared me in the elevator. And she LOVED my book. All of the words, all of the gushing, did my heart so good. She got it like I was hoping an editor would get it and I got to hear how much she loved it face-to-face. She couldn’t wait to read the rest and asked for me to have my agent send it to her as soon as possible. It was fifteen minutes that I won’t forget anytime soon. Maybe never. I think I floated out of the room.

But I was worried, too. She only read ten pages. What if she hates the other 178? I went back to my room and emailed Josh with her request, who in his infinite awesomeness replied to my email during his anniversary dinner with his wife. I’m so glad she’s just as infinitely awesome as her husband. 😉 I hope I didn’t get him in trouble.

Then the waiting began. It’s a killer. In that time I did a LOT of internet searches to see how long these things take and got everything from hours to days to months. So I’ll tell you that with mine it took a few days over a month from submission to offer.

I’m SO excited to work with Alison Weiss, who is just as lovely in person as she seems online. And I’m also so thrilled to now be an Egmont author. Everyone is so friendly and they publish such AMAZING books! And most of all, I’m excited for you (or your middle-grader) to read the book.

If you want to add it to your to-read Goodreads list, just click on the button below!

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Timelines

I recently attended a great class presented by Jodi Casella at the Northern Ohio SCBWI Conference about organizing your book after you’ve written it. She shared so many amazing ways that authors use to keep their books straight so I thought I’d share mine with you.

When I started writing my first book four years ago I was a pantser. And I was so proud of it!
“Me? I don’t need no stinkin’ outline!”

That book didn’t get me far. Great concept, great hook, big hot mess. So for the next book I bent on my pantser ways just a little and was more organized when I wrote it. But still not enough. And it took me forever.

Over a year ago I mentioned an idea for a new middle-grade novel to my agent and when he emailed back to tell me he loved the idea, he mentioned that he’d love to take a look at my outline. Oh, good lord. My what? For a brief moment I thought of telling him, “I don’t do those kinds of things”. But I didn’t. Instead I sat down and actually wrote a chapter outline for the whole book.

Then I had my foot surgery and life became one big hot mess so the outline and the book idea faded into the depths of my hard drive. Until I dug it back out this March. And I followed that outline as I drafted. Not exactly, but there was enough there that it helped me draft the book in a little over a month. It was liberating! I will never write without one again.

timelineForBlogBut when the book was finished I worried that my rough outline didn’t keep the scenes, days and details straight enough. Lucky for me I happened to see a post on Twitter by the talented Kat Zhang with a link to the Timeline feature on ReadWriteThink.org and it blew. my. mind.

Seriously. You organize your points however you want and when you’re done, you save it to your computer. Then when you want to open it up again, just pull that file back up through the website and move things around. It even lets you upload photos. This –> is the first half of my book. I organized my timeline by day (so I knew if I had my MC going to school on a Sunday) and ended up doing it in two halves with two different files because the book spanned a period of three weeks.

My book was suddenly organized!
Having this tool made my revisions a breeze. When I needed to figure out where to move scenes and what couldn’t go before something else happened…
This was perfect.
And for it being free software, you really can’t beat it.

Processing…

I’m writing this post from a hotel in Cleveland. I woke up at 5:15 and haven’t been able to go back to sleep.

Sure, one of the reasons is probably that the bed is too soft (seriously – since when would that be a problem?) but the other bigger problem is the huge info dump my brain is trying to process after this weekend.

I’m here because I attended the Northern Ohio SCBWI Conference and there was so much good/useful/fantastic information thrown at me that I think my brain is refusing to shut down until it goes over (and over!) every single detail. Doesn’t help with the whole sleep issue.

These conferences are so valuable. It’s an opportunity to improve your craft. It’s an opportunity to network. It’s an opportunity to get renewed, refreshed, and re-energized to do what you do best.

Write.

If you ever get a chance to go to one – take that chance. You won’t regret it.

Beta Notes

This is my Saturday.
Hanging out with notes from my beta readers.
I love getting thoughts and comments from readers. Back when I wrote my first book and got my first beta reader for it I was scared to death to get her emails. So sure she was going to hate what she read and tell me I was a moron for writing it. (That didn’t happen)
Over the past few years I’ve LOVED to get thoughts from readers. I have a few readers who let me know EXACTLY what they’re feeling when they read different parts of the book and I feel like I’m in their head, reading it from a whole new perspective. I have a few readers who email their thoughts, a few that call and a few that write things down next to the text. My friend Abby draws me little hearts when she likes something she reads (my favorite!)
I’m a dreamer when I write. Things don’t always make sense, and they’re not always possible. My readers are really good at grounding me and bringing me back down to earth. In fact I got a call at work from my husband this past week where he started the conversation with “Are you crazy? Do you think submarines are made out of fruit roll-ups?” ha ha ha – well, they’d be pretty yummy if they were, wouldn’t they?
I’m diving back into sorting through my reader notes. Each one makes this story so much better and that makes Holly a happy girl.

Life After Funk

Wow. That was a long road.
I knew recovery would take a while but I never imagined it would take 4 months.
I also assumed my recovery would be purely physical.
Wrong again.
Sometimes I think the mental recovery was worse.

But the good news is, I finally feel like I’m back.
I haven’t had to take a pill for a week (not even an Advil!) and while I have a few little tweaks of pain here and there, it’s nothing that I can’t handle. And since there is no more pain when I walk, I walk better. I’m still a little slow because I’m still figuring out how to walk the right way, but that’s OK. I’ll get faster. Until then, feel free to enjoy a leisurely stroll with me while we chat.

The best part is that I’ve started writing again.
I wrote some when I was laid up on the couch this summer, but I can’t write on a couch. I’m a sit-at-a-desk-while-I-write kind of girl which was hard to do with a huge cast covering my leg.

I got into a not-writing funk. I floundered on what to work on, flip-flopping to a different project every week, frustrated that the words weren’t flowing like they used to. Writing makes me happy, so without that I felt lost. I needed something to get me back on track.

First, I read Stephen King’s On Writing.
Hands down the best thing I could have read. I’m a huge SK fan so I’m kind of shocked I hadn’t read it before this, but he’s just the right person to give you a swift kick in the pants to make you put your fingers to the keys. (And make you laugh while you’re doing it) I’m sure the other parents in the school pickup line were wondering what I was on as I laughed uncontrollably behind the wheel.

This sentence from the book was exactly what I needed.
At the start of the road back I just tried to believe the people who said that things would get better if I gave time to do so.

I had stopped believing.

Another huge part in getting out of my funk was going to the Northern Ohio SCBWI (Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators) conference in Cleveland last weekend (will try to post a re-cap sometime this week). If you ever need to be inspired, sign up for an SCBWI Conference. I’m lucky to have one so closely available to me and it did the trick.

And now I’m signing off to write.
It feels so good to be back.

Writing a Query Letter

I’m sure you know what TMI means, right?
Too Much Information.

When I sent my first round of queries out for The Chaos Shelter, that’s what my query had. TMI.
Thankfully, I realized it after I started to get rejection after rejection from those first 15 queries. My book was great and I was sure people would love it, but the agents I sent it to just couldn’t get past the bad query.

So after I sulked about the rejections for a month, I picked my feet up and met my critique partner/friend at Barnes and Noble (there she is in the background!). There we grabbed four middle grade books in my genre and I studied them. Hard. Then I looked at a bunch more of the middle grade books I had at home, also in the same genre. I learned so much just from doing that.

If you can see the photo clear enough on the right, read what it says about The Sorcerer’s Stone. Does it say anything about Ron? Nope. Does it say anything about Hermoine? Nope again. All it says is “friends”. My MC had friends, too, but I had named them by name and talked about them a little too much. That was the first thing I changed.

I managed to strip my query down to two short paragraphs that only told the basics, and check out the last line in the Harry Potter synopsis above. That last sentence alone would make me want to read the book. High stakes there, right? So that’s what I did (only different!). What are the stakes? What will your MC lose or what can they gain?

Make it big!
Make it exciting!
Make everyone who reads it want to read your book!
And if you need to learn how to do it from other books, then learn from the ones that worked.

Editing Your Punctuation!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal & Tom Lichtenheld

While talking about what needed done to THE CHAOS SHELTER for it to go on submission, my agent mentioned that there may be too many exclamation points.

WHAT?!?!?!

Before I sent out my first query I did a search for all of those silly, do nothing, unnecessary filler words I use in abundance when I’m writing and edited them out. Like walk (69 times), stand (47 times), sit (81 times), just (163 times – YIKES!), or run (76 times). I got them all down to under 30 instances. I was sure that’s all I needed. Well, until the word “exclamation point” escaped my agent’s mouth.

At first I thought, “It’s a middle grade action book. Aren’t exclamation points kind of a given?” But I did a search tonight because I’m in the business of making my agent happy. 🙂

199.
(spits water out on keyboard)
Microsoft Word wouldn’t even list them because there were too many.
Tonight I combed through each and every one of those pesky little exclamation points to weed the unnecessary ones out. What did I find?
I found one word (can’t remember which one…) with one of these after it — word!!!!!!!!! Got rid of 8 of those little bad boys with just one word. And in another instance I found one of these funny little suckers — What?!
So not only was it a question, it was a very strong question?

Don’t make my mistake — edit your punctuation as well as your filler words. Your (future) agent or editor will thank you for it.

hollyBoots

For the Love of Boots

From the moment I could walk, I’ve loved boots. I think my first pair were white go-go boots in the 70’s. The 80’s had me doing my best Wonder Woman imitation (—> see photo on right).

But that’s when I could walk without my braces. Believe me when I tell you I’ve tried my hardest to find a pair that I can wrangle those braces into, but it’s pretty much impossible. To put on a pair of boots you have to flex your foot and my braces were not built to flex. Major bummer.

This week I suddenly needed a good, somewhat professional looking photo of myself to put on the Adams Literary website. My good friend, photographer and critique partner, Renee, was going to take me out Sunday to take some pictures for me. While seeing Oz with the fam on Saturday the thought occurred to me – I need to wear boots! Then I wouldn’t have to try to hide my leg braces, my silly tennis shoes, and I would look like a half-way normal person!

Even before the credits rolled I leaned over and whispered to Chad, “Can we stop at the shoe store on the way home?”At least in the dark theater I couldn’t see the weird look he probably gave me. But that’s why I love him so much. He knows I’m crazy and just goes with it.

Now, here’s the reality. I can’t walk without my braces anymore. My balance and my ankles are shot. But I was sure I needed a pair of boots anyway, even if I had to carry them with me to the shoot and put them on while I was sitting there. They would look cute, and isn’t that all that matters? No one would need to know I can’t really walk in them.

So Chad took the girls in the pet store next door to give me time and sanity to try some on. I tried so many on and I think I fell in love with each pair. But then I sat there, among the half-opened boxes of boots and realized something. I don’t need cute boots to be happy with who I am. I thought I’d moved past trying to pretend I’m someone that I’m not. But I guess everyone has their moments of weakness, including me. I wrapped them all back up and had them all back on the shelves before Chad and the girls came in. I walked out, not with new super-cute boots, and without a missing chunk of change from my bank account.

I am who I am, and no amount of fake boot wearing will ever be able to change that.
For now I’ll just dream of the day when someone will design some cute boots that fit over clunky leg braces. I haven’t see the pictures yet, but I know I’ll like them a lot more knowing that it’s the true me in them.