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Interview with Caroline B. Cooney

by cathyziqinxie:hellokitty.com

 

Today we are lucky to have superstar author Ms. Caroline B. Cooney. She has written more than 75, let me repeat 75 novels for young adults, which have sold over 15, yes let me repeat again 15 million copies worldwide. Her series The Face on the Milk Carton is well known by many, and even made into a television movie. Her recent titles have won many honors, including a Christopher Award, Church and Synagogue Library Association Award, a nomination for Best Book for Young Adults, and National Science Teachers award. As if that wasn’t enough to keep her busy, Ms. Cooney is the mother of three grown children and three grandchildren. I had the great honor of interviewing her and without further ado… I present… THE INTERVIEW!!!

CZX: Why did you choose to write for young adults?

CBC: I wrote eight books – suspense novels, family sagas – which never sold. Then a short story sold to Seventeen Magazine, and shortly I had sold more to other teen magazines of the day. An editor at Scholastic asked me to use another short story I’d written for Seventeen as the outline for a teen romance novel. I loved writing that and I stayed with YA books.

CZX: What is the most challenging aspect of writing for you? What is the most rewarding?

CBC: I enjoy writing. I always have too much to say and too many plot lines and too many thoughts. The problem is forcing myself to discard the bulk of this – it’s just clutter – and settle on the one true story I’m trying to tell. It can take a lot of pages before I can discern what that is.

CZX: How do your initial ideas change and evolve during the writing and revising process?

CBC: The original plot scarcely ever stands. Almost every week, on my computer folder marked “outline” I do a total rewrite based on what I have accomplished and what I now see awaiting me.

CZX: How do you overcome writer’s block?

CBC: Writer’s block …. Think about it: dentists don’t have dental block and teachers don’t have teaching block and daycare helpers don’t have toddler block. They just go to work regardless of whether they’re in the mood. You too simply have to sit down and work.

CZX: What projects are you working on right now? What’s coming soon?

CBC: I’m writing a suspense novel but I find it difficult to talk about books that don’t exist yet. I don’t myself know precisely where this book is going or even who the important person in the book is. So instead I’ll tell you that my just finished book is called Three Black Swans. Missy and Claire are cousins with an eerie resemblance to one another. Missy hears an interview on a radio station and suddenly knows something she had never guessed and now she wants to know more. She coaxes Claire to get involved with a high school video and has half-thought-out plans for how to use that video to get more information. The video is immediately put on YouTube and yes, other people do have more information. But the truth about the cousins’ resemblance is shocking, and now that it’s revealed, Missy may have destroyed her family.

CZX: If you weren’t a writer, what would your occupation be?

CBC: Luckily for me, I am a writer, because I have few other skills. I type well That’s it.

CZX: Can you give us a walkthrough of a typical day in your life?

CBC: I believe keeping to routines is crucial to producing anything. After coffee and newspapers, I go to the computer and write during the morning. Afternoons I get in a good long walk during which I try to plan what I will write the next day. The rest of the time is family time.

CZX: Any advice for writers who are trying to break into publishing?

CBC: As to breaking into publishing, my advice would be dated – I arrived decades ago and the world has changed. I can only tell people to keep trying, keep polishing, the minute you finish one project, start something new, never give up – my first 8 books were never published, nor were many short stories, nor have I ever sold a single picture book idea (out of tons.) Be your own editor, be hard on yourself, give yourself strict deadlines – and then have fun! (which sounds contradictory, but isn’t; writing – or at least, rereading what you’ve written – should be joy.)

One Word Bonus: What was your weakest subject in school?

Art was my worst subject. Then a decade ago I took a Watercolor class and found that sloshing color around is delightful. I am a better writer for learning how to see the world through paint.

Thank you very much for the delightful interview Ms. Cooney! Do you hear her writers? There is no excuse for “writer’s block,” just sit down and do your work. ^_~ Please visit Caroline’s website, where you can read her detailed autobiography (with numerous amusing anecdotes), take a peek at the covers of her upcoming works, and send her an e-mail. Ms. Cooney is very friendly and does not bite or bark. ^_^

Interview with LM. Preston & ARC Give Away

by cathyziqinxie:hellokitty.com

Today we have the lovely Lanita M. Preston, author of young adult science fiction novels. Her first published novel, Explorer X - Alpha was the beginning of her obsessive desire to write and create stories of young people who overcome unbelievable odds. She is also the group coordinator of the synopsis workshop on YALitChat and offers excellent advice. ^_~ Lanita has generously agreed to an ARC giveaway of her new novel The Pack, as well as a poster and magnets from both her books. For those who don’t know, ARC is short for advanced reading copy, a copy of the book before it’s on sale! Contest rules are at the end of the interview.

CZX: What draws you to science fiction?

LMP: Honestly, I never considered writing science fiction before I started my first published book. I’d tried to write a sassy YA romance book. I realized though that I needed to get an adrenaline rush when I wrote something. My husband suggested I write SciFi, and I gawked because when I started to write it, I was home. Since I’m an engineer and somewhat an action junkie, young adult scifi was perfect for me. When I wrote The Pack, I was able to create the entire cool Batman like gadgets I’ve wanted to create in reality.

CZX: Where do you get your plot ideas from?

LMP: Many of my plots come to me in a dream or observing people. The idea from The Pack came from the many times I’d walked out of my job or the grocery store and saw the many missing kids on the boards. I wanted to create a world and an unexpected hero that would save them all.

CZX: Which one of your characters do you relate the most to and why?

LMP: I relate most to my main character from The Pack, Shamira. She’s strong and determined to help others, even though others haven’t been good to her. Although, she comes off as tough, she’s just like any other girl – wants the same as any other girl. She’s just afraid to hope for it. That’s how I was as a young person. She overcomes those fears to become greater than she ever could have been on her own.

CZX: What is the most challenging aspect of writing for you? What is the most rewarding?

LMP: The most challenging part of writing is just writing without going back to edit. I’m so tempted to stop writing and to go and edit my stuff before it’s finished. I have to force myself not to do that or I’ll never finish the first draft. I sometimes have to audibly tell myself not to change anything until I’m done.

CZX: How do you overcome writer’s block?

LMP: Lol! I’m glad you asked. I actually wrote an article on this. I write through it, even though I know what I’ve written will get changed in the edits. Sometimes you just have to get through the rough spot, finish your first draft and fix it later. I also outline. When you write an outline, you pretty much think through the hard parts without having to think about how you are going to write them. You just know what should happen. Lastly, I take a working break. During the working break I beta read for other authors, I join a critique group that will whip me in shape, and I ask for help.

CZX: What is your revision process like?

LMP: I usually write the thing first. Then I set it aside for about a month. After that, I print it out and redline it. I edited it again on my computer. I repeat that four times before I send it out to the first group of beta readers. After I get feedback from the first set of betas I go through it four more times before sending it out to another group of beta readers. Then I repeat my edits four times using autocrit.com to finish it up. Lastly, it goes to a proofreader friend of mine then to the publisher who sends it to the editor.

CZX: What were some of the challenges you faced in getting published?

LMP: Rejection, rejection and more rejection. Writing queries, getting rejection letters and rewrites were exhausting. I also joined several writer’s organizations and it was a joy to be around such a supportive group. Since then, it’s all been a joy.

I believe the problem with the process of getting published, is the fact that you feel helpless to improve the process. That you as a writer have no control. However, it’s something all writer’s should experience. It makes us stronger and more thankful for the nuggets of success that comes when someone reads your book.

CZX: What are you working on right now?

LMP: I am working on Bandits, a YA SciFi novel about a boy who’s father is killed and he is racing against time to find the treasure his father stole before it destroys his world. Only catch is, he has to change his life in order to do it.

CZX: Can you give us a walkthrough of a typical day in your life?

LMP: Uh-oh. I must warn you, my life is hectic. I start off at 5am writing for an hour before I leave for work. After I get home, I chase around my kids and put them to bed. From 8pm to 11pm I do an hour of marketing and write for one hour. The weekends are more of the same, just more writing. :-D

CZX: Any advice for writers who are trying to break into publishing?

LMP: Learn the publishing business. You have got to research, research, read and research again. You must decide WHAT YOU WANT to do with your work. Whether you want a Large Publishing House to manage your work? A small publishing house to manage your book? What type of Agent you want? What type of book you wrote? YA? Fiction? Chic Lit? Sci-Fi? Whether you want to publish the book yourself?

Decide what you want from writing. Some people feel that getting with a huge publisher is the final stamp of approval. However, there are lots of people who just want to write and share their story, and they don’t care if they make millions of dollars from it. So, I say that to make you think deeply about what you want to do with your work. There is one author that published chapters of her book via her blog, and another who published free chapters of his book as a free podcast. They were happy with their choices, because they just loved to write and wanted to share their story.

One Word Bonus: What’s your favorite season?

Summer :-D

Lucky for you Lanita, summer is here! (In Texas leastways) Visit her blog and website for writing advice and up to date information about her upcoming books. ^_^ Also, check out this awesome book trailer for The Pack. 

Too cool right? Makes you really want to know what’s going to happen. Well here’s your chance. Follow the rules below for an opportunity to win a copy of The Pack before it goes on sale! Thanks for the super interview Lanita!

Contest Guidelines:

1) Read this interview (hopefully this is obvious).

2) Leave a comment with your E-MAIL! (or else I won’t be able to contact you)

3) After 1 week, I will randomly select a winner and e-mail you.

4) RESPOND with your MAILING ADDRESS.

5) I will forward your address to Ms. Preston who will mail you the book.

6) It is common courtesy to send a thank you note either via e-mail or by regular post to Ms. Preston.

This contest officially ends Monday, April 5 at 11:59pm CST.

Interview with Kate McMullan

by cathyziqinxie:hellokitty.com

Joining us today is the brilliant Kate McMullan, author of numerous notable children’s books and chapter books. Along with her illustrator husband Jim McMullan, and her French bulldog who considers himself nobility, Kate has created the popular I Stink! picture books, as well as the loved Myth-O-Maniac and Dragon Slayer’s Acadamy chapter book series. Her Pearl and Wagner chapter books for young readers have recently won a Geisel Honor. In fact, for the first time, I have not been able to fit all of the books by the featured author on the top banner. ^_^

CZX: What inspired the idea for the Myth-O-Maniac Series?

KM: My editor at Hyperion, Susan Chang, and my agent, and I were looking for a way to retell the Greek myths with a twist. We came up with the idea of Hades. The Underworld is a great setting for lots of the story to take place, and Hades is Zeus’s older brother. Wouldn’t you hate it if your little brother was the Ruler of the Universe? So Hades has an ax to grind.

CZX: Why do you choose to write for younger readers?

KM: I came to writing from teaching. I taught sixth grade in Watts, California, and fourth grade on an Air Force base in Germany. I used to read to my students every day after lunch, and I began to wonder whether I could write books for kids. I stopped teaching – much too exhausting after a day in the classroom to write at night – and moved to NYC to find out.

CZX: How does writing chapter books differ from creating picture books?

KM: Writing picture book texts is something like writing poetry. The story is intended to be read aloud, and every word counts. My scripts usually start out at about 1,000 words and as I edit it down to about 3-400, it usually gets better. I’m always reading aloud as I work. Also, picture books need to appeal to toddlers as well as to parents or grandparents or teachers who are doing the reading.

Chapter books are to be read independently by relatively new readers. For these books, I also write long and then cut down the text, but the text is longer, and it’s easier (for me) to get a flow going on it and write a good number of pages in a day. For both, I do lots of rewriting.

CZX: What is the most challenging aspect of writing for you?

KM: I write mostly funny books, and while humor has its challenges, I’ve never been able to write a book that would make anyone cry. In my next life I hope to write tear-jerkers.

CZX: What is your process for revising, editing, and proofreading your manuscripts?

KM: Once I finish a first draft, I usually put the ms. away for a while. I’ve heard this called “falling out of love with your words,” and I think that’s exactly what it allows you to do. I do lots of revising, and when I send a script to my editor or agent, I’ve made it as good as I possibly can. Usually, editor and agent easily find spots where I can make it better, and for the most part, I welcome their suggestions. Sometimes I resist, and then I discover that if I make a certain change, other things fall into place and the story gets better. I usually print out to proofread because I don’t catch things reading on the screen.

CZX: What are you working on right now?

KM: I’m working on I’M FAST! about a freight train, which Jim, my husband, will illustrate. Also, BULLDOG’S BIG DAY. This one will be illustrated by Pascal Lemaitre, whom I’ve worked with before on SUPERCAT and BABY GOOSE.

CZX: Can you give us a walkthrough of a typical day in your life?

KM: Hard to say. I try to be at my desk by nine, but if it’s nice out, I might decide to walk the dogs first and then get to work. I don’t usually put in an eight-hour day, but often when I take a break from work to do something else, my brain is still working on my story, and I’ll get ideas. When I get up in the morning, I try to shape my day to be a productive one, whatever schedule that takes.

CZX: Any advice for writers who are trying to break into publishing?

KM: Try to write every day, even if only for half an hour. I think when you do this consistently, part of your mind engages with your story in a way that it doesn’t if you write sporadically. I’m still waiting for the brain scientists to corroborate my theory, but I’m sticking by it. Join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators – scbwi.org. It’s got great info, possibly you can find a crit group in your area, and if you go to their events, you can sign up for ms. critique from working editors and agents. And know up front that writing for kids is harder than it may seem!

One Word Bonus: Which kitchen appliance best represents you?

Zester.

Thank you for the interview Kate! ^_^ Please visit her website for more information on her books, and her life, and her pets. 8) Mrs. McMullan is also a fellow blogger and her entries are filled with information about the cool places she gets to go for school visits (like Birmingham, Alabama!), as well as the latest drama of her pets. She’s a super friendly, helpful lady and a joy to interact with, so don’t feel afraid to send her an e-mail praising her brilliance.

Not So Obvious Query Mistakes to Avoid

by cathyziqinxie:hellokitty.com

As promised, here is the list of 15 not so obvious query mistakes to avoid. These are a little harder to fix and will require extensive editing of the actual content of the query itself. Nevertheless, if you want the best query possible (and if you want to be published, you do!), then keep these points in mind.

Not So Obvious Query Mistakes to Avoid:

1) Query shouldn’t read like a synopsis.

This is characteristic of overly lengthy queries, the ones where the summary paragraph is more than a third of a page. Keep in mind that a synopsis is only supposed to be a full page, single spaced. Your query summary shouldn’t give away the ending and does not need to give in gory detail how your protagonist reaches that ending. Stick to the basic setup, the major conflict (not all the minor subplots), and how your protagonist is dealing with the major conflict.

2) Don’t mention characters that never appear again.

I see this one a lot, and it’s pretty easy to spot. Just look for characters mentioned in your query only once. Delete them. There should be as few names as possible in your query. In fact, the only name you need is your protagonist’s. Don’t mention minor characters, family names, pet names, villain names (except for the primary antagonist of course), or lover names. The exception to this rule is if another character plays a pivotal role in the plot alongside your protagonist, and without this character, your story would not exist. In that situation, make sure you integrate that character’s role with the protagonist.

3) Shy away from wordy-ness.

 When it comes to query writing, brevity is golden. As in every single business, time is money, and an agent does not have time to read hundreds of even 2 paged queries a week. Keep your query short by reducing wordiness. Things that can be taken out are “I am seeking representation for…” They know this already. Also, credentials that don’t have anything to do with writing like “I am a fan of skydiving and bake super brownies on the weekends.” Like with your manuscript, edit out weak verbs and passive voice.

4) Don’t add unnecessary details.

Yes, in your story your protagonist may fly from Canada to
Antarctica in search of her missing twin, but do we also need to know the man sitting next to her has a cold? Or that they Penguin King is really a polar bear in disguise? Or that her twin is really her grandfather? No. No we don’t. Go through your query and ask yourself at the end of each sentence/phrase, “Is the main plot still clear without this line?” If the answer is “Yes,” or even “Almost,” then take the detail out. This also helps shorten your query.

5) Don’t try to say too much.

This takes focus away from main plot. This ties in to 1-4. Although this may be hard to believe, the more you try to explain your story, it harder it is to understand. Don’t believe me? Go and ask someone what their paper (I’m in college, there are a lot of papers) is about. They’ll start off with “It’s about whether the Supreme Court should review cases using the strict scrutiny or rational basis test,” (which is a great summary) and then they’ll go ruin it by say something like “but race is often a major factor in making the decision,” and then they’ll add “of course, economic status can be argued as a form of discrimination, which ties in the quality of education in certain districts.” While all this may be true, the listener will be absolutely lost at this point, and you don’t want to lose the agent. Stick to only the main plot. “It’s about whether the Supreme Court should review cases using the strict scrutiny or rational basis test.”

6) Don’t mention new terminology unless absolutely necessary.

The currency of your world may be the faroj, and the most popular dish could be rasqumt, but do we really need to know this in order to understand the main plot? Yeah, I thought not. There are certain archetypes that every plot builds on, and none of those involve new terminology. It is not a good idea to make the agent go “Huh?” when reading your query, so leave the new language out.

7) When mentioning new terminology, explain properly.

Now on the other hand, if your main character is a halmor, a gifted individual who can communicate with animals, and the entire plot is about him/her discovering/using/losing/losing then regaining her power, yes do mention it. Just make sure you explain clearly what a halmor is. If you don’t, the agent will again go “Huh?” Don’t assume everyone has the same mind as you (it’s a good thing we don’t!) and will know what you are talking about.

8 ) Quotes are hard to integrate.

No, that does not mean this is an absolute no-no, but the fact of the matter is you have a limited amount of space to explain your story. Do you really want to waste one line on a quote that is not going to contribute to explaining your plot? In general, quotes are used for shock, other wise known as the “Oh Snap!” factor. And as fun as “Oh Snap!” may be, it will only hurt your query if it’s not moving your plot forward.

9) Refrain from repetition.

This is probably prevalent in your manuscript before you edit it and works in the same way for your query, so I’m going to copy my post from my “Things to Watch Out For When Editing” article. Personally, when I am first writing, often I will find myself struggling to explain a phrase/action/thought/situation/etc. with the end result of repeating what I want to say in multiple forms. For example, “Cathy isn’t sure she can explain herself. She spends much of her time clarifying what she wants to say.” Those two sentences held the same meaning, but by cutting one out, I’ve not only made my [query] more compact, I’ve also focused more attention on the action because the narration cuts straight to the point.

10) You don’t need adjectives.

It’s amazing how much space these descriptions can take up. “The brilliant, long haired beauty Cathy has always wanted to scale the freezing, blizzard covered Himalayas with her trusty pickax and her unfaithful, but sexy female lover from another mother.” Unless the “unfaithful” plays an important role in the story, this can be shortened to “Cathy has always wanted to scale the
Himalayas with her female lover.” Now it is not only shorted, the main action is clear and not buried under layers of unnecessary descriptions.

11) Don’t make general claims.

I seen a few queries that say things such as “a heart warming tale of love,” or “an action packed thriller,” or “a bone chilling horror filled with mystery and intrigue.” You need to show how the tale is heart warming/action packed/bone chilling with the summary paragraph. Show us the romantic element of the plot, the non stop action, or what terrifying act occurs, instead of telling us. This will make your query much stronger, and much more believable. After all, you may think heart warming, I might think puppy murdering.

12) Transitions need to be smooth.

Please don’t jump from one idea to a completely different idea. Think of your query as a gentle slope, not the New York sky line. Each idea should build upon the one before it, aka relate to it in some obvious way. It shouldn’t hop from one thought to another, and though they may be related in the long run, writing your query with discombobulated ideas only serves to make you look like a shabby writer. And shabby writers don’t get published.

13) Pretend you know nothing about the book and are only reading the query.

This is a critical step. An agent doesn’t know your plot’s back story, the history the characters have with each other, what the character’s dreams/hopes/goals for the future are. All they know and want to know is how your protagonist deals with the conflict in the story you are seeking representation for. And that’s the mindset you need to have when you are reading your query for clarity. Does every line of your query make absolute sense if you’ve never read your story before? If the answer is remotely different from an emphatic yes, go back and edit/delete it.

14) Read out loud for awkwardness/smoothness.

Human minds are really strange (trust me, I’m a neuroscience major… >_<) and there are a lot of things that sound cool in your head, but only a handful of those translate well into speech. Think about this, how many times have you ranted your heart and soul out at a driver who cut in front of you, but only in the confines of your mind? How many times have you frowned in disapproval at someone making a scene in public but ignored them otherwise? Thank you, point proven. We don’t say half of what goes through our minds (or most of us would be in jail for disrespect ^_^), and the same is true for your query. Read it OUTLOUD. If it sounds weird with actual speech, then go back and rework it.

15) Don’t leave out credentials.

Okay, there are a lot of new first time writers out there who want to be published. You don’t have any credentials, but for pity sakes, don’t leave this blank! If nothing else, pay the $85 fee and join SCBWI or some other writer’s group. Aside from the benefits of being a part of a writing community where you can receive substantial help from others in the business, you can put something here so it looks like you actually care enough about writing to socialize with others. Agents want to know their clients are not hermits in a closed off quarter of the world, and can interact with others at speaking engagements. Not to mention, people who cloister themselves away from others are potential psychopaths in the making.

As with all things, these are not absolute rules, but guidelines. If you can skillfully integrate quotes, go ahead. If you can deftly slip in every single character’s name, don’t let these rules hold you back. I hope this, along with the Obvious Query Mistakes to Avoid article, helps all of you who are struggling with writing your query.

It is really really really really really hard to sum up the story on which you have heaped all of your dreams and ambitions up in less than a page, but in order for those dreams and ambitions to come true, it must be done. Good luck! ^_^

Obvious Query Mistakes to Avoid

by cathyziqinxie:hellokitty.com

Recently, I joined YALitChat, a great online community where YA writers and readers get together to help each other with everything from query letters to synopsis repair. When I joined the group, I initially intended to shamelessly mooch off of everyone’s help *ahem not really ahem* but I soon found myself addicted to giving query critiques.

Altruistic Reason for Giving Query Critiques: I have received substantial advice and help with mine, and the right thing to do is return the favor by helping other writers with theirs. We’re all in the same boat (but I have an oar!).

Selfish Reason for Giving Query Critiques: Okay, believe what you will, but the more you read and nit pick at other’s critiques, the better you get at writing your own critique. No, I’m not lying. =___= Every time I see a no-no on another’s query, my brain is filing that away so that I don’t repeat the mistake on my own query.

With that being said, I have noticed a couple of reoccurring problems with queries. Some are pretty obvious and can be found on the blacklist on almost every agent’s blog. Some are not so obvious, and those are the ones that are harder to fix. I have compiled a list of these features in the hopes that it will help those who are attempting to sell their writing dreams in a single page. ^_^

Obvious Query Mistakes to Avoid:

1) Write in 3rd person, present tense.

Even if your story is in 8th person, future tense, write your query in 3rd person, present tense. Why? Because this is a BUSINESS LETTER.

2) Don’t mention previous rejections.

Please don’t mention whether another agent/editor/publisher/pet has passed on your book, even if they rejected you with positive comments. The logical mindset for any agent who reads that is “Well, others in the publishing business think your story is no good, why would I be interested in it?” and if you mention the positive comments, the next reasonable thing that goes through an agent’s mind is “If it was so good, why didn’t they offer representation?” Neither of these thoughts are things you want going through the agent’s mind.

3) Don’t mention your paper has been professionally edited.

To you, this sounds like it ought to strengthen your query. It doesn’t. It kicks your query from the slush pile to the trash. Agents need to know that YOU can edit. And trust me, if you can’t edit, you can’t consider yourself a writer.

4) Cite specialized personalizations instead of generalities.

Agent Query, Writer’s Market, Jeff Herman’s Book of Literary Agents ARE NOT personalizations. These resources contain just about every name in the industry and do not show the agent you picked them to query for a specific reason. Agent blogs, interviews, conference appearances ARE personalizations.

5) Don’t over compare.

This refers to comparing your book to anything that is a New York Times bestseller that has been made into a blockbuster movie. This also refers to comparing your book to more than 2 others. It is important you know what niche your book will fit in, and citing numerous comparisons makes it look like you don’t know what your book is about. Pick one or two books that did WELL and accurately reflect the vibe of your story.

6) Round word count.

At the very least, round to the nearest 5,000, not hundred, not ten. FIVE THOUSAND! You don’t need the exact word count (89,237) because chances are, you will have to do even more edits later and this number will fluctuate. Round it to 90,000. Don’t overcomplicate a simple thing.

7) Make title stand out.

Bold it, italicize it, don’t strike through it. I personally prefer to put my title in ALL CAPS because everyone uses a different e-mail program and what may be bold on your e-mail could end up as &*^%^ on another computer.

8 ) Be professional.

Once again, THIS IS A BUSINESS LETTER! Do not address the agent as Hey Man! Wassup? Dude! Yo Home Skillet Biscuit! What’s Crackalacking Dawg? Please use proper punctuation and spelling. Don’t type like u r txtng ur friends wit no grammatical structure. You wouldn’t turn in a paper to a professor like that, and you better not turn in a query like that to an agent.

9) Don’t lie.

This one should be pretty obvious… but then again, people are still messing up here. Don’t claim you’ve met the agent before when you haven’t. Don’t claim an agent’s client referred you when they didn’t. Don’t claim to be a published author when you’re not. Basically…DON’T LIE!

10) Spell the Agent’s Name Write. (punnage!)

It literally takes less than 30 seconds to double check that the name is spelled right. You’ve taken years to write your manuscript. Don’t let 30 seconds screw you over. Also, please double check gender. I know I would be pissed off if anyone ever called me Mr. and you do not want an agent to read your query pissed off.

11) Don’t mention other books you’re working on.

Pitch only one project at a time. Yes, you may have ten other ready novels sitting under your bed, but in this query letter, you are only selling one title. 1 letter = 1 book. It’s simple math. Don’t say anything about any other WIP you have at all! You don’t want to sound wishy washy.

12) Don’t say this has to be a series.

If you are planning a series, mention that your story can be evolved into a series. But until the first book actually sells well, you shouldn’t count on publishers investing money in you for a second book. By stating your book has to be a series, you are showing that your book cannot stand alone (which is bad!) and that you have delusions of grandeur (which is bad!).

13) Don’t sound desperate.

Have some dignity. Don’t beg, plead, whine, cry, bribe, extort, blackmail (pulls out thesaurus). It’s similar to having children. If you love your book, have faith in it and trust it to win the hearts of others.

14) Don’t profess your undying love of writing.

We know you love writing. Everyone who sat down long enough to finish a whole book loves writing. By doing this, you have only managed to add to your level of psychopathic creepiness which will only turn the agent away.

15) Don’t forget your contact information (bottom of equery, top of snail mail query).

Good Lord, the publishing business is hard enough to break into as it is. Why on earth would you shoot yourself down by forgetting this? It takes less than the 30 seconds needed to look up an agents name (because hopefully, you know where you live and what your phone number is off the top of your head).

Well, this ended up being longer than I predicted so I will post the Not So Obvious Query Mistakes in a separate post. Hope this helps everyone with their query efforts! ^_~

Interview with Janet Lee Carey & Book Give Away!

by cathyziqinxie:hellokitty.com

Mrs. Janet Lee Carey is the award winning author of numerous young adult fantasy novels. They include Dragon’s Keep, The Beasts of Noor, Stealing Death, and Wendy has Wings. Her books have won the ALA Best Books of Young Adults, School Library Journal and Booklist starred review, and even been adapted to film. It’s hard to believe that such a prolific writer has time to sit and answer interview questions, but I guess that’s my charm (and Mrs. Carey’s amicable nature). ^_^ Mrs. Carey has kindly agreed to a book give away to celebrate this interview. More information about how to win at the end of this post.

CZX: What is the most challenging aspect of writing for you? What is the most rewarding?

JLC: The first major revision is often the most challenging when it’s time to buckle down and address the issues raised in the editorial letter. This part of the work can also be the most rewarding. I love seeing the novel change and grow in unusual ways.

CZX: What’s your method of fleshing out realistic characters?

JLC: The character has a life before he or she steps into the book. I put a lot of thought into backstory looking at where the character came from and who influenced them the most growing up. I also look for what drives the character — what they long for, hunger for. One way to find this is to have the character finish this sentence, “More than anything, I want _______________.” Make what the character most wants seem completely out of reach and you’ve got the beginning of a plot. The character has to take the plot personally for the story to have momentum.

CZX: How do your initial ideas change and evolve during the writing and revising process?

JLC: The idea for a book usually starts with a core question. In Stealing Death for example the novel began with the question, what if you could stop death? That led to the question, what would happen if you did? I knew these questions were the stuff of a novel. I had that core question in mind for years before I found the right way to tell the story. The character would have to find the magic power to stop death.

That led to the question, why does he want to stop death? I knew the character had to begin by suffering a great loss – by coming up against death and swearing never to let anyone he loves ever die again. This is what happens to Kipp. Once he swears that, the story is propelled forward. Of course he has to fall in love and Death comes after the girl he loves.

As you can see the plot opens up as one compelling question leads to another.  The amazing world of Zolya along with the people and customs came to life around Kipp as he fought through his adventure. As with all stories the core question, what would happen if you stopped death, isn’t answered until the surprising end.

CZX: What did you draw on to create the world and the characters for Dragon’s Keep?

JLC: Dragon’s Keep started out as a fairytale about a princess with a dragon’s claw. I imagined it as a kind of beauty and beast combined. I wanted to flip the old fairytale idea of the “perfect princess” I’d grown up with and show a girl who’s challenged to accept herself, beastly flaws and all. I thought I’d write it as a short fairytale, but about 100 pages in I realized I was writing a novel. I was soon drawn into Rosalind’s world — the relationships between Rosalind, her overprotective, disapproving mother, and the vengeful dragon who comes to claim his own. I had no idea how the story would end until I wrote it.

CZX: Which character from your books do you relate to the most?

JLC: I personally relate to all my main characters. I have to relate to them if I’m going to get inside their heads. Writing is a lot like acting. I have to become the character, think his thoughts, walk about in his skin. Surprisingly it’s no more difficult for me to write a male POV than it is a female POV. I loved switching from Miles’s POV to Hanna’s in The Beast of Noor, watching the story change according to each character’s perspective. (I do the male/female switch-off again in the sequel Dragons of Noor.)

I also loved diving into Stealing Death, living through Kipp’s crazy challenges as he tries to free the ones he loves from death. Kipp’s ride through the sky on the Death Catcher’s ghost mare gave me the same thrill as Rosalind’s dragon rides in Dragon’s Keep.

CZX: What happens after a book is published?

JLC: Yes to starting on the next book as soon as a book is published. I’m always working on at least one if not two, but marketing is also a part of the author’s job. I try to have a marketing plan that touches on the book’s theme. Part of the marketing outreach for me is about linking up with the right charity that raises reader awareness, and helps me give back. (More details on charity outreach below in question # 8). After throwing a blast of a book launch party (see photos of mine at litartphotograpy), we authors build and maintain websites - Janet’s site, do speaking engagements, radio spots, blog interviews, author blogs - Janet’s blog, and network on facebook. If we’re lucky our publishing houses send us to speak and sign books at ALA, BEA, and NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English). This year I went to ALA and spoke at ALAN the teen component of NCTE. Like many authors I also teach workshops at writing conferences, and travel across the US to keynote librarian conferences, do school, bookstore, and library visits. (Next up for me is to set up virtual visits using Skype). The list goes on and on. No one can do it all, so we do our best focusing on what we do well, and by all means, we must keep writing.

CZX: What projects are you working on right now? What’s coming soon?

JLC: Thanks for asking, Cathy. Right now I’m working on the book following Dragon’s Keep. Working title Bound By Three (due out with Dial Books 2011). I’m revising from the editorial letter (see question # 1) and it’s really coming into shape. In this novel we’re back on Wilde Island in medieval times with a new main character, Tess. Tess and her friends are on the run from the witch hunter. They seek asylum with the fairy folk and the dragons. Then comes the plot twist — Tess finds sanctuary but soon discovers the fey and dragons of Dragonswood have other plans for her. I just sent another book to copyedit. Yeah! Dragons of Noor the sequel to The Beast of Noor. If you liked the dragons in Dragon’s Keep, you’ll be blown away by the Dragon Queen in this adventure where Miles, Hanna, and Taunier join the dragons to mend the torn worlds. Here’s a mini blurb on Dragons of Noor coming out fall 2010:

~A Dreamwalker who has lost her way 
~A Shape-shifter who fears his own dark power 
~A Fire Herd punished for his magic. Can these three teens keep the human world of Noor and the magical world of Oth from splitting apart?

CZX: Can you tell us about Readergirlz and PlayPumps?

JLC: Readergirlz was the brainchild of visionary author Justina Chen. I was lucky to be one of the four founding divas(Justina Chen, Lorie Ann Grover, Dia Calhoun) to launch the innovative online book community in March 2007.  Readergirlzconnects readers to authors, hosts live chats, discussion groups, and empowers teens to take action in their communities. In 2008 readergirlz joined YALSA and other organizations for Operation Teen Book Drop sending 20,000 new young adult books to hospitalized teens across the country. See more about this year’s TBD. Readergirlz has received the 2007 James Patterson PageTurner Award, the 2009 National Book Foundation’s Innovations in Reading Prize, and ALA’s Great Web Sites for Children Award.

Thanks for asking about PlayPumps! While researching drought-ridden sub-Saharan Africa to create a realistic landscape for Stealing Death, I learned more than one billion people in the world do not have access to clean water. Stealing Death Water for Life Challenge became a key part of our 2009 book-launch, raising funds for clean drinking water, and awareness of the global water crisis. It’s been a privilege to raise funds and awareness. Take a look at a gorgeous PlayPumps video here.

One Word Bonus: What’s your favorite item from your desk?
Right now I’m looking at a cool dragon tarot card of a golden flying dragon with a sword in his claws. It’s the Ace of Swords card from The Dragon Tarot Deck by Nigel Suckling. That’s just one of many favorite items including the St. Michael Archangel candle I burn while I’m writing.

Thank you once again for the wonderful interview Janet! Please visit Janet’s website for more information, and trust me, there is A LOT! I intentionally didn’t ask questions that were already answered in her FAQs because Mrs. Carey is very busy as you can see.

Contest Guidelines:

Mrs. Carey has generously agreed to give away a signed copy of either Dragon’s Keep or Stealing Death to one lucky reader. Please follow these guidelines for a chance to win.

1) Read this interview (hopefully this is obvious).

2) Leave a comment with your E-MAIL! (or else I won’t be able to contact you)

3) After 1 week, I will randomly select a winner and e-mail you.

4) RESPOND with the title of the book you would like (Dragon’s Keep or Stealing Death, touch choice, I know) and your MAILING ADDRESS.

5) I will forward your address to Janet who will mail you the book.

6) It is common courtesy to send a thank you note either via e-mail or by regular post to Mrs. Carey.

This contest officially ends Wednesday, March 24 at 11:59pm CST.

Interview with Dia Calhoun

by cathyziqinxie:hellokitty.com

I was fortunate enough to get the chance interview Ms. Dia Calhoun, author of young adult fantasy novels like Aria of the Sea, Avielle, and The Phoenix Dance. Her books have been honored with numerous ALA Best Book for Young Adult awards. Despite her busy schedule as a full time writer (she’s also an amazing letter artist!), Ms. Calhoun was kind enough to take time to answer a few questions about how she writes and offer advice for other writers.

CZX: Out of all the genres, what draws you to fantasy?

DC: I am intoxicated by the otherworldliness of fantasy. The escape into another world. I like historical fiction for the same reason, though it does not have quite the intrigue for me that magic has. Magic and so much in fantasy comes out of the deep parts of the mind. I feel like I can access that part of myself better in fantasy. I do not like urban fantasy, I think because it lacks the elemtn of escape for me. I don’t want to read or write about cars and computers and nightclubs. I read and write to get away from all that.

CZX: What is the most challenging aspect of writing for you?

DC: To stay totally present with each word, each sentence, each paragraph as I am writing them. Not to rush through to the next thing and the next thing, but to savor each moment in the writing as though it is all there is in all the world. My best writing comes out of that mind state. I forget, then, about, whether the work is good, whether it will get published, whether reviewers will like it, whether people will buy it. All that is unimportant. Only the process of writing matters.

CZX: How do you know when a dream is no longer right and what do you do then? 

DC: That is what I was writing about in Aria of the Sea. Sometimes, something–a dream or goal that you have worked for all your life–changes. Circumstances change, you change. It is hard to let go of a dream. It can be seen as an ending. But it it is usually an ending that results in a new beginning. I went through this process when my dream of being a ballet dancer changed. I started dancing when I was five. By the time I was seventeen, I had developed other interests. It was so hard to let go of the dancing, just as it is for Cerinthe in Aria of the Sea. What I have found since then is that to be a full human being, you have to constantly let go of the old dreams, old ways, to make room for the new. Life is flow.

CZX: Can you give us a walkthrough of a typical day in your life?

DC: First thing in the morning I get up and make a huge thermos of black tea with milk. I take it upstairs to my office and, fueled by tea, I write until noon–so three-to four hours. After lunch I work as a freelance lettering artist to pay the bills. At five o’clock I either go to the gym or go for a walk–I infinitely prefer the walk to the noise and confusion of the rush hour gym. Walks restore and refresh me. Evenings are spent reading, listening to music, talking with my husband, playing with my cats, and sometimes, my great vice–doing jigsaw puzzles while I listen to old movies.Then at the end of the day, 45 minutes of meditation. In the summer, I go to our farm in Eastern Washington every other week and work outdoors under an umbrella with only the wild hills for company. I love summer!

CZX: Any advice for writers who are trying to break into publishing?

DC: Be concerned with your writing first, publishing second. Be patient. It took me five years to write my first novel, Firegold, and five more years to sell it. Don’t get wrapped up in rejection, but learn to let it roll off of you like water off a mountain. Being a writer has nothing to do with getting published. It took me many years of being published to realize that. I still get rejected all the time.

One Word Bonus: What’s your drink of choice?
Assam Tea!

Thank you for your time Ms. Calhoun! We’ll try to contain our envy when we think of you in the summer. Please visit her website: http://www.diacalhoun.com/ for more information about her books and biography. While you’re there, take some time to browse through her gallery of fantastic letter art. Ms. Calhoun is also one of the founders of Readergirlz, an online community for girls to gather and discuss books featuring strong heroines with the authors themselves.

Things to Watch Out for While Editing

by cathyziqinxie:hellokitty.com

Ah, I just completed my third edit on Jade Wind, and managed to hack it even further to 115,000 words. ^_^ Before I started chopping out parts, I was really concerned that it would be impossible to kill my darlings, but as I got going, I was surprised at how much superflous STUFF (yes, stuff) was in my manuscript. Cutting it out really did make my story tighter and stronger. Nevertheless, I understand that it is hard for a writer to go through and kill their darlings, so I put together a list of the major problems I had with my manuscript. Hopefully, other writers will be able to take this and use it to help you with your own editing.

1) UNESSECARY SCENES: Yes, you know what I mean. Those scenes that were so fun to write, and so cute in your mind, but do absolutely nothing to move the plot forward. Those scenes may be witty, they may be quippy, but they also take up words, and distract from the main focal point of your story. You don’t want that. Ask yourself, if I take this scene out, will the story still make sense? If the answer is yes, or partly yes, don’t hesitate. Chop it out. 

2) -LY WORDS: I will be the first to confess, I love adverbs. They make me happy. They are also the tool of a novice writer. I’m sorry. It had to be said. When I was editing, I myself didn’t realize how frequently I used -ly words. What really helps with this is if you press “crtl” and “f”, then search and highlight “ly” words. Many times, proliferous amounts of adverbs are not needed to highlight the action. And think of it like this, if you cut 5 -ly words off each page of a 400 paged manuscript, you’ve just pushed your word count down by another 2,000 words.

3) REPEAT THOUGHTS: Okay, I’m not sure if other writers struggle with this one. Personally, when I am first writing, often I will find myself struggling to explain a phrase/action/thought/situation/etc. with the end result of repeating what I want to say in multiple forms. For example, “Cathy isn’t sure she can explain herself. She spends much of her time clarifying what she wants to say.” Those two sentences held the same meaning, but by cutting one out, I’ve not only made my story more compact, I’ve also focused more attention on the action because the narration cuts straight to the point.

4) PASSIVE VERBS: Hehehe… I really do struggle with this one. In my original 146,000 word manuscript, there were at least 5-10 of these on each page. Ridiculous isn’t it? Examples of passive verbs include: AM, IS, ARE, WAS, WERE, BE, BEING. No, you cannot eliminate them all, and you do need them in certain places, but just keep in mind that they take away from the overall impact of the story.

5) LENGTHY DESCRIPTIONS: As a writer, it is understandable that you want to decorate every scene, every action, every character with gory details. After all, you want your readers to see your story just as you do. What you don’t realize is you are taking half the fun out of reading. As a reader, I enjoy creating my mental movies of the books that I read, and lengthy descriptions kill my excitment. When you are describing, understand that no action is occuring. Without action, you don’t have a story. Frequently overdescribed things are: weather, hair color, which is second only to eye color, and lighting (yes, I plead guilty).

6) VAGUENESS: You know… those sections that you wrote at 3 am in the morning after studying all day for a neurophysiology final and don’t really make sense in any context whatsoever and run on for all eternity until you start questioning if you were inhaling mind altering powders as you were typing this which is unlikely but then again after neurophysiology anything is possible. Yeah. Those sections.

Well, that’s all I can think of currently. Please do remember that these are things I noticed most in my own writing, and everyone’s writing style is different. If you have other notes or advice, let me know and I will add them to the list.

Finished Editing My YA Fantasy Novel

by cathyziqinxie:hellokitty.com

Yesterday at 6:01pm, I finished editing my young adult epic fantasy novel, titled Jade Wind. Yes!!!!!! It feels like the closer I get to accomplishing my goal, the more anxious I get. I’ve recently suffered from insomnia. I can’t fall asleep at night because every few seconds, a new line for my query or pitch flies through my head. And when I wake up in the middle of the night, it is because my mind is replaying all of the different brain structures from my Neuroanatomy class (foramen magnum, dura mater, corpus callosum, anterior fontenella…… + 100 more terms)

Ah, the joys of a college student with dreams. It’s practically the new American Dream. In writing news, I submitted my query novel to Ms. Caitlin Blasdell from Liza Dawson Associates and Ms. Susan Hawk from The Bent Agency. *crosses fingers* I am still hyped about attending the Dallas Fort Worth Writer’s Convention, where I am hoping to pitch my novel to Agent Diana Fox and Lucienne Diver.

Hmmm, on the medical aspect of it, I am going to take a free Kaplan sponsored MCAT practice test this Saturday. It’s going to be really great practice because it will be a computer based test, which is what the real MCAT is. Ehhhhh… I should be okay, as long as physics and chemistry don’t some within a ten mile radius of me.

In later posts, I will talk more about my novel, but as this is my first entry, I wanted to test it first to see how it will turn out.

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