Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Writing, Tunes, and Kick-Butt Storytelling

For me, good writing is like good music.

Good writing has a rhythm that's effortless--at least for the reader. :D Prose so smooth the words disappear, leaving the reader with images and feelings perfectly crafted by the writer. Voice plays a huge role in establishing this flow. Think Maggie Stiefvater--her prose is incredibly lyrical, and her voice leaps off from the page from word one. Same for Laini Taylor.

Music is the same. Bands like Snow Patrol, Coldplay, U2, The Beatles (I could on on FOREVER but I'll stop :D) are brilliant with musical composition. Snow Patrol is my all time favorite band for a million reasons, but Gary Lightbody's voice (very emotive) and the rhythm of SP's music combine to never let me go. (hehe) I'm a huge alt music junkie, and SP tops my list, but also love some good indie-folk-singer/songwriter stuff too. Sometimes I want to crank Silversun Pickups or Kasabian or Florence +The Machine, sometimes I want to listen to Jack Johnson or David Gray or Tristan Prettyman. But regardless, the music I love makes me feel. And that's why I listen. :)

Back to writing! Rhythm aside, don't underestimate the power of storytelling: books with characters and plots that grab you and won't let you go. A great storyteller can suck you in with a perfectly crafted visual that makes you pause and think "whoa." And after that whoa moment, you keep reading. Because YOU HAVE TO. Stephen King is a master storyteller. Ditto for J.K. Rowling.

It's the same with music. Sometimes I hear a lyric and think "whoa." So much packed into one line or one-chorus...well-done. 

Need examples? I've got 'em. :D

"On his face is a map of the world"
-30 Seconds to Mars "From Yesterday" (LOVE 30 Seconds to Mars)

"Blame the box with the view of the world
And the walls that fill the frame"
-Jack Johnson "Fall Line " (JJ is AMAZING in concert)

"You made a rebel of a careless man's careful daughter"
-Taylor Swift "Mine" (T. Swift is a BRILLIANT songwriter IMO)

So much packed into so few words, right?!

I think the best writing combines effortless rhythm with brilliant storytelling. 

Taste in music varies; it's as subjective as taste in books. But I think you can appreciate good music when you hear it (even if it's not your genre of choice), and likewise, I think you know good writing when you see it. :D

What do you think? What makes good writing? And what musical lyrics blow you away?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Query Critique #3

It's Time by Imagine Dragons is cranking on my iPod . . . and so right. Because it's time for the final query crit of the week! *waves to Patti*

Here we go.

I read queries like a book flap, looking for simplicity and punch. Do I want to keep reading? Am I confused? And most of all, do I want to read this book?! :)

We all know each query should start with a "hook," then flesh it out--detailing the conflict--and end with a bang. You want the agent to think "I want to read more" when s/he finishes the query.

So without further ado, here's the query (and thank you Patti! :D) My comments are in blue. 

Dear Wonder Agent,

World War II, the Holocaust, the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East; all orchestrated by the Cathari, an ancient sect waging a crusade against God. This opening sentence feels choppy. I had to read 3x. :( Seventeen-year-old Geoff Bezier and his family are the only ones who can stop them. Why?

Forced into hiding, not only by the Cathari, but also by others who have an unhealthy interest in their ability to reincarnate, aha! reincarnation! I'd work this point into the hook of your first paragraph :) Geoff must now endure life as a high school senior in rural Minnesota. Dealing with classmates and teachers is tricky, especially when you can never tell the truth. Why can't he tell the truth? About anything? Or just about his immortality? I'd clarify In order to survive the boredom and the hormonal warfare hormonal warfare--love it that surrounds him, he joins the track team, hoping to find solace the way he always has, by running. Never did he imagine he’d find something else – love. Oooo...good stuff.

Track team captain Polly Harring isn’t like any other girl he’s met. She’s observant, thoughtful and able to keep up with him on the track field. The more he gets to know her, the more he wants to open up to her, to show her who he really is. Don't need both of these phrases "the more he wants to open up to her" and "to show her who he really is." Redundant IMHO. I'd cut one--it'll give the idea greater impact.

Although secrecy and distrust are the rules to survival, Geoff is willing to break them if it means being with Polly. Because when he’s with her, the world becomes new and innocent and for the first time in his many lives, he begins to realize that there is more to life than this cycle of death. But first, not only must he convince his family these feelings he has for Polly are real, but he must convince Polly of it as well. What about the Cathari? Don't they play a role in the stakes and Geoff's choice? 

Told from Geoff and Polly’s alternating points of view, as well as interludes from Geoff’s former lives, CATHARI, a YA fantasy of 84,000 words, is a stand-alone book with series potential. A mashup of contemporary and historical fiction, it will appeal to fans of A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES and GRAVE MERCY. Very well-written paragraph giving the agent all the relevant info. Nice job.

Originally from Minnesota, I currently live in Germany and am an active member of SCBWI. Per your submission requirements, I have pasted below. Thank you for your consideration.

Okay, Patti, you've got some great stuff here. Your word count is squarely within genre norms, and I like how you give the agent a sense of the fan base using comparable titles. I'm also intrigued by the idea of reincarnation playing a role in an ancient battle that is still waging, and I like how you use concrete examples (i.e., the Middle East) to make your point. :) 

My main concerns are two-fold. 

First, you identify the Cathari as the force behind all kinds of terrible wars as they crusade against God, then you explain that the Cathari are the reason Geoff is in hiding. Then you never mention the Cathari again. When you describe the stakes Geoff faces in telling Polly, the Cathari seem strangely absent. Aren't the Cathari the main plot, and Polly/love interest a sub-plot?

Second, you set up (1) the Cathari as a sect waging an ongoing crusade against God and (2) Geoff and his family as the only ones who can stop the Cathari. Then you state the Cathari (among others) are the reason Geoff is in hiding. If Geoff and his family are the only ones who can fight the Cathari, why are they hiding (rather than fighting)? And who else is searching for Geoff & company/who else is Geoff hiding from? Bad guys? Allies? And while you mention that Geoff has the ability to reincarnate, I'd clarify the connection between Geoff and his family and God, since you open with the idea that (1) the Cathari are waging against God and (2) only Geoff and his family can stop the Cathari. Maybe when you answer WHY Geoff and his family are the only ones who can stop the Cathari, you'll explain that connection in the process . . . ?

Patti, I really think you've got something cool here. I'd tighten your links between the Cathari and Geoff, making the connections clear. Also, I'd re-examine the full extent of the stakes Geoff faces. Does he have to pick between his duty to fight the Cathari or his love for Polly? I think, as written, the stakes aren't quite high enough, and I think it's because the Cathari aren't in play. :)

I hope this helps! I think you're really close. :)

Good luck, and happy Tuesday!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Query Critique #2

Happy Monday y'all! To kick off the week, another query is up for fresh eyes.

I read queries like a book flap, looking for simplicity and punch. Do I want to keep reading? Am I confused? And most of all, do I want to read this book?! :)

We all know each query should start with a "hook," then flesh it out--detailing the conflict--and end with a bang. You want the agent to think "I want to read more" when s/he finishes the query.

So without further ado, here's the query (and thank you Chris! :D) My comments are in blue. 

Dear Mr./Ms. Agent: (always personalize, so good start :D)

We live in a society that is infatuated with and glorifies sex. It is plastered on magazines, dominates the book shelves (50 Shades), and writhes all over the television screen. We’ve turned something God gave us as a precious gift into something that that omit extra "that" is freely given away with no strings attached. While this phenomenon isn’t new, its acceptability is growing exponentially, and it is distorting relationships and wreaking havoc on the self worth of the under thirty generations. This intro paragraph presents a well-written stance on shifting societal mores, but tells me nothing about the book. No character is mentioned, no inciting incident. No hook. 

Sex was something the main character need a character name and age to orient reader in Life in the Happy House was desperately looking forward to in my my? late teens, but something he was withholding until the right person came along to marry. Then he met Amy, a girl who challenged everything he knew to be real, including his faith in God. He lived in a home with six gung-ho weirdo Christian boys who were dumpster diving, head-banging, homeless befriending, and counter-culture-ly weaving God into the lives of people all over Eugene, Oregon (a notoriously Godless city). They were also annoying the heck out of the straight laced, pastor’s kid, is the MC a pastor's kid? Still don't have a name for there MC...and wondering if this is fiction or an autobiography who just wanted to go to school, be involved in a normal church, and live a happy, carefree life.

Because of these factors, my character is constantly being pushed too typo and fro by forces he can’t control. A girl who pushes him to his logical and emotional limits, a home that frustrates him with eccentricities, and a morality code that doesn’t seem as important as it did when he was younger and more idealistic. As life greys, the character strays, and “it” finally happens. it? it what?

The spiral of life, a near fatal accident, innocence lost, and disillusionment with reality leave the character lost and hopeless. Very general. Need specific conflict and stakes. Yet God finds him in his brokenness and speaks to him. And despite the sin, the failed relationships, the destroyed ministry, the guilt and shame, none of it matters to a God who forgives and loves. And for the first time in his life, the character realizes his worth to the world, to himself, to his friends, to his future spouse, and to his God.

Life in the Happy House is this is where you put your word count and genre about redemption and maturing in our relationship with God. How young idealism can be destroyed by one mistake, and how to overcome our realized deficiencies. It also is an amazingly human and Christian portrayal of intimacy, and what we expect vs. what God has given. The story is not afraid to step outside what is considered “safe” in Christian crowds, by daring to challenge what we know about God, and how we look at “sinners.” Anyone who is a virgin or didn’t necessarily want or enjoy their first sexual experience will find/see themselves, and see how one person, overcame his lost innocence in a gut wrenching, but often hilarious way with help from God.

Here add a line: "Thank you for your time and consideration." or whatever feels right to you. :) 

Thanks again,

Chris Plumb


Your writing is lovely. Truly lovely. But a query is what gets the agent's attention, and as yours is written, I'm concerned you may have a form rejection on your hands (which has nothing to do with your novel; it's about how you're presenting it in the query.)

First, this query is long. Over 500 words. Generally queries run around 300 words, with the guts being about 250 (according to Janet Reid of QueryShark fame. :D)

Second, you need the name and age of the MC. A name personalizes the character and helps the agent get invested. You want to make the agent (and reader) care about what happens to (for the purpose of this crit, let's call your MC "Joe") Joe. Plus, the agent needs to know where this book would be shelved, and Joe's age will help them figure out where it fits. Likewise, you need genre and word-count. Is is inspirational fiction? YA? (Doesn't feel like YA to me FWIW). 

Third, after reading this query, I wasn't sure if Joe's story is fiction or auto-biographical. Fiction can be based on a true story, but it must read like fiction with an appropriate pace. If it's fiction, you need to clearly state the hook (the inciting incident), set up the conflict Joe faces, and give the reader stakes. What happens if Joe makes choice A? What will he lose/gain? Same for option B. Writing in present tense helps the sense of urgency. :) Also, if it is a memoir rather than fiction, the query can still be punchy. (See Jeanette Walls memoir, THE GLASS CASTLE. Amazing.) You have words to pare, so use that to your advantage. :)

Chris, I hope this helps. I really feel you have a story here; use the query to pull it out for the reader/agent. :) You can do this! Feel free to email me with any follow up questions. :) 

Readers, any other thoughts to help Chris?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Query Critique #1

Okay, y'all, here we go.

I read queries like a book flap, looking for simplicity and punch. Do I want to keep reading? Am I confused? And most of all, do I want to read this book?! :)

We all know each query should start with a "hook," then flesh it out and end with a bang. You want the agent to think "I want to read more" when s/he finishes the query.

So without further ado, here's the first query (and thank you Emma! :D) My comments are in blue. 

Dear Agent:

Marie is an orphan how old is Marie?, raised within the Southern California social services program, plagued by a history of abuse and mental illness. Nice set-up, but clarify: is Marie plagued by the history of abuse or the social services program? Unclear. Now that I've read further, don't think you need the phrase "raised within the SoCal social services program."Things have gotten better since she moved in with her new foster mother in the small oceanfront community of Revera: a supportive older “sister”, social acceptance within her posh high school, a stable and loving boyfriend, and a medication cocktail that seems to keep seems to? does it keep them away or not? her demons at bay. But lately she’s been having vivid dreams of fire and death, and she can’t seem to seem to? watch this phrase--it dilutes your verb :) It's stronger if you delete the "seem to" stop crying blood. Last line is a GREAT hook. I'm intrigued: an orphan, vivid dreams, bloody tears, diagnosed with a mental illness but perhaps misdiagnosed? :) I'm in. :) Maybe condense the second sentence to get to this line sooner.

In “Adore”, Marie tells you her story as it unfolds. The bleak past, the bright future as she prepares to graduate and go on to art school...and how it all goes wrong when I'd delete everything before this point. You've taken the reader out of the story. she begins shedding bloody tears we already know this and has a chance encounter with a hot-blooded stranger who gives her some unwelcome news: she’s an angel. Marie thinks it’s just another delusion until the wings literally delete literally rip through her skin, and suddenly the dreams begin to make sense. Whisked away in the night to the home of a secretive, brooding and handsome billionaire, Marie learns she is one of the Celestials, an ancient supernatural race charged with overseeing all aspects of the universe. Cool. Marie struggles to make sense of the memories and feelings from another life that begin to awaken and cope with the growing fear that a bloody destiny awaits her. I want more here. What choice does she face? What consequences? Give me stakes. :)

I am querying you because I’ve followed you on Twitter and your blog, and feel “Adore” fits well with the type of material you’re interested in. In addition I think our personalities would be a great match and a good foundation on which to build a strong partnership. I'd cut this last sentence.

“Adore” is my first novel where is your word count & genre? based on an unfinished short story about a disturbed woman who sees angels which I wrote over fifteen years ago. It is the first in an open-ended series, in which I plan to delve deeper into the world of the Celestials and elaborate on other characters introduced in Adore. My genre of choice is speculative fiction with an emphasis on Y/A and children’s themes. All the agents need to know here is title,  word count, and genre of the work you're querying, which here is ADORE. It's totally fine to say "it stands alone but has series potential," but no need to delve into the guts of the potential series on a query, or talk about what the novel is based on. :). I tweet as @EAyC and my blog is Take info from this sentence and put after your name at bottom of email. I am not yet published but am active on LitReactor, where my piece “Waiting” won their July flash fiction contest and my horror short story “Crystal” placed sixth out of over 150 entries in August. Awesome bio for a query! Woohoo! :) I have a BA in Japanese language and a background in small animal medicine and furniture buying. Last sentence not necessary, unless you tie it into your novel and it's important.

May I send you the first three chapters of “Adore” so you can decide for yourself? Thank you so much for your time and consideration. Love the politeness. Very professional.:)

Emma Clark


You've got some great stuff here. :)

I like the idea of an angel living among humans as an orphan, and am wondering why. Why was she hidden among non-Celestials? Why didn't she know she was an angel? Is that important? But the biggest question is that an orphan taken to a "handsome billionaire's" house and told she's special might be relieved at the change of circumstance--so what problem/dilemma does she face? What choice must she make? A fear of a "bloody destiny" is too vague.  Does she have to make a choice between her Celestial family and her human one? The query MUST give the stakes; it's the ending punch. 

You definitely have something here. Generally, queries should be around 250-300 words (with the guts being around 250, according to Janet Reid of QueryShark fame :D) and you've done a nice job of keeping it within those limits. But use each word to your advantage; show what sets your book apart from other paranormal/angel novels.:)

Good luck Emma! :) I hope this helps. Remember, trust your writer's compass. You know your story better than anyone, and the query is your chance to make your novel shine. Yay!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Got Queries?

Happy Writer Wednesday y'all!

Queries. Gah!

There are lots of stellar posts out there on query basics, like this one from agent-turned-author Nathan Bransford. (Nathan's blog is a HUGE source of guidance on all things publishing. Highly recommended for writers.)

Kristin Nelson of The Nelson Agency also has great tips on her blog. Plus she made this fantastic video: 2 Quick and Dirty Tips on Writing Query Letters:

And the number one query resource IMHO? Queryshark by the sharky Janet Reid. HER BLOG IS AWESOME. She dissects query letters like nobody else, and her comments are query gold.

I'm no query expect, but here's my take: follow the rules (one page only, personalize for each agent, follow the agent's query guidelines, be professional and polite) but don't obsess. Because in the end, it's the hook and sharp writing that works. :) In case you're curious, my query for NIL (at least the heart of it) is on the Books page of my blog.

How's your query coming along? Been re-worked a dozen *cough* hundred *cough* times? Yup, been there. :)

If you need a fresh set of eyes, leave a comment below. I'll critique queries from the first three commenters who post. It will be public, like the awesome Mindy McGinnis's Saturday Slashes.

Here's the plan: if you're one of the first three to comment AND you want a query crit, shoot me your query by email to I'll email you back to let you know which day it's going up on the blog. My plan is to post the three crits over the next three days. :)  If you don't want a crit, no worries, and I'll drop to the next person on the comment list. :)

Query on! You CAN do it. :)

**As of Thursday, Sept. 13 at 2:30 pm, the query crit contest is closed. :) The three queries will be up on the blog over the next few days. Thanks for the comments y'all! Happy writing...

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

I Remember

*opens with moment of silence for those lost in September 11 attacks years ago*

It's hard to believe that the horrific attacks of 9/11 occurred 11 years ago. I'm not a New Yorker, but I am an American, and that day is seared into memory like no other.  So many lives lost, so many tears shed. The footage was so raw, it hurt to watch. And yet we did. We watched, trying to understand a tragedy so senseless that it defied comprehension. It still does.

This morning I read a post from the perspective of a New Yorker who witnessed the attack first hand. It  made the morning feel--haunting. Maybe because the weather outside reminds me of the weather that 9/11 morning--clear blue skies, sun shining, birds chirping in a quiet neighborhood. And like eleven years ago, my kids are off to school, leaving me alone in a quiet house. Back then, I only had one son, and was pregnant with my second. I was busy "nesting' while my oldest was at a mother's morning out, and when I turned on the Today show, I was shocked. And for me, the beauty of that day outside stood in such stark contrast to the horror unfolding across the country that it heightened the sense of surreal.

So as I look outside right now on a bluebird Florida sky, I'm feeling blessed and melancholy and quietly reflective. And it doesn't feel quite right to have a query crit today.

But tomorrow, send 'em in. (Details in tomorrow's post.) I'll be waiting. :)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Love, Kindness, and the Importance of Saying Thanks

Hello Monday.:)

Today I hugged my boys extra tightly, and I made sure I told my husband I loved him before he rolled out to work. I wrote three over-due thank you notes (we Southerners aren't afraid to write thank-you's for just about anything!:D) and sent a thank you email to someone who did something that touched my heart.

And maybe, just maybe, I touched theirs.

The thing is, it's easy to be rushed. To go through your day on a tear, racing from one activity to another without enjoying the ride. But as the old saying goes, life isn't a destination, it's a way of traveling. And the journey is a lot nicer when you take the time to thank those who make the trip more fun.:)  Because in the end, it's all about the people.

As a writer, so many people reach out to you--family, friends, crit partners, Tweet-hearts, blog commenters, agents, editors, readers, etc. Being a writer is solitary enough; don't forget to thank those who step out (and step up) to help you. And when you have a chance to share the writer love and give back, do it. Then someone will be thanking you.:)

So writers, anyone need a fresh set of eyes on your query? Query crit contest opens tomorrow.:)  First three entries will get my feedback.

Thanks for stopping by! :)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


My debut novel NIL sold! *pinches self*

It's still a bit surreal.: )

I've known for a while, and I'm SO glad to finally be able to share this news. (Secrets are HARD. :D) But I love this book, and its characters. And I can't wait for y'all to meet them!:)

Here's the official announcement on Publisher's Marketplace:

"Lynne Matson's NIL, when teens end up on the Island of Nil, through a "wormhole" in space, they have 365 days to catch a gate back home or die; a newcomer falls in love with a boy who only has 86 days left...will Nil let them survive?, to Kate Farrell at Holt Children's, for publication in Winter 2014, by Jennifer Unter at The Unter Agency (world English)."

-Sept. 5, 2012

I'm so grateful to my agent, Jennifer, for making this happen. She is truly made of awesome. :)  I can't wait to work with Kate, and to be honest, Henry Holt publishes some of my very favorite authors (like Mary Pearson and Leigh Bardugo) so I'm just a *little* star-struck.

HUGE hugs to my family, friends, and awesome crit partners (who are also friends!:D). I couldn't have done it without y'all. Cupcakes for life are on me. :)

Happy Wednesday y'all!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

I'm Not an Avatar! :)

I finally got a real picture up on my blog. Yay!

I really don't know why it took me so long. (But if I had to guess, it's because sometimes my "me" stuff takes a back seat to family stuff and all the various things that MUST get done every day. stuff...etc...)

One of my husband's friends took the pictures, and I loved her. She's a busy working mom (with a 5 year old boy like me!) and a talented photographer. And the freakiest fact? Her name is Gretchen Whipple. I'd never met anyone with the last name of Whipple, and in the last year I've met two! Gretchen, who snapped these awesome pics, and Natalie, who is a ninja crit partner.  :)

Sometimes the world feels very small. :)

So what's new with you? How was the long weekend? *hopes it was great* :)