Blog, Writing

Gaby Triana’s New Book!

I’m so excited for Gaby Triana‘s new book SUMMER OF YESTERDAY, coming out this June 17. And I’m not only saying that because she’s my critique partner and agency sister. She’s a fabulous writer! If you haven’t checked out her other books, well you totally should. And you don’t want to miss her new one, which will make an excellent summer read!

Book Description from Amazon:

Back to the Future meets Fast Times at Ridgemont High when Haley’s summer vacation takes a turn for the retro in this totally rad romantic fantasy.

Summer officially sucks. Thanks to a stupid seizure she had a few months earlier, Haley’s stuck going on vacation with her dad and his new family to Disney’s Fort Wilderness instead of enjoying the last session of summer camp back home with her friends. Fort Wilderness holds lots of childhood memories for her father, but surely nothing for Haley. But then a new seizure triggers something she’s never before experienced—time travel—and she ends up in River Country, the campground’s long-abandoned water park, during its heyday.

The year? 1982.

And there—with its amusing fashion, “oldies” music, and primitive technology—she runs into familiar faces: teenage Dad and Mom before they’d even met. Somehow, Haley must find her way back to the twenty-first century before her present-day parents anguish over her disappearance, a difficult feat now that she’s met Jason, one of the park’s summer residents and employees, who takes the strangely dressed stowaway under his wing.

Seizures aside, Haley’s used to controlling her life, and she has no idea how to deal with this dilemma. How can she be falling for a boy whose future she can’t share?

And here’s the book trailer:

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Blog, Writing

Motivational Monday

Because I’m in the middle of a draft, and because I keep teetering between revising the beginning and continuing to write, today’s theme seems to be: keep writing until you reach the end. In that first draft, don’t worry about the audience and don’t be afraid of writing crap, just immerse yourself in the story and “tell the hell out of it” (Chris Crutcher @ SCBWI Miami 2014). You can worry about all else in revision.

First Drafts

Just finish

Quantity leads to quality

Write the good and ugly

Happy writing!

 

Blog, Writing

In the belly of the contest trenches

I’ve been seeing the announcements in Twitter for upcoming pitch contests. These can be rewarding opportunities for writers, and if you have a finished, polished manuscript, I’d say, give them a try!

Late 2013,  I decided to give pitch contests a try. The previous year I’d attempted one with my first manuscript, without any luck. And there’s a reason that happened. It had major flaws and though I love the story and will return to it, I wasn’t ready for it (and it wasn’t ready for prime time). My new manuscript, however, was stronger, the concept more unique. So I  dove head-first into the experience, deciding to see where these contests took me. Let me tell you, it gave me some of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had in this crazy journey.

I started with PitchMadness, coordinated by Brenda Drake, and was thrilled with beginner’s luck. I made it through to the agent’s round, where a bidding war took place and I had two full and one partial request. I might’ve squeed a little (okay, a lot).

Then came Halloween and with it, two really awesome pitch contests. Still reeling from the adrenaline rush of PitchMadness, I submitted to Trick or Treat with Agents (coordinated by Brenda Drake, Kimberly P. Chase, and Dannie Morin) and Nightmare on Query Street (coordinated by Michelle Hauck, Mike Anthony, and SC.) Unfortunately, this time, I didn’t get in, but I watched from the side lines, cheering those who were in and who received agent interest.

I considered taking a break from contests. NaNo was approaching and I wanted to devote time to this shiny new idea that was brewing. But then I saw that the 2013 Baker’s Dozen Pitch Contest (hosted by Authoress Anon) was approaching and with it a cool opportunity for feedback on the pitch and first 250 words along with the agent round. So I entered and made it to the final round again. Let me say that I received valuable feedback here, not just by readers/other contest entrants, but by editors working with the contest.

Then came PitchWars, which really felt like a long shot. For one, it was like querying. We had to apply to mentors using the tried and true query and sample pages method, and I was worried about my query letter. Two, each mentor (agented and/or published author) could only pick one mentee and two alternates, and there were TONS of writers who entered. The chances were slim. I researched my picks, asked questions, bonded with other hopefuls, and when the submission period came, I sent mine in and prayed. And waited. And I was thrilled when the results were in and I found out that Dannie Morin had chosen me as her first alternate.  This contest was different because it wasn’t simply getting your work out there for agents to see. It’s part of it. But the best part–the most important one–is that you get to work with a mentor for 3-4 weeks. They read your manuscript, give you valuable feedback and encouragement. They help you whip up your query into tip top shape. They answer all questions related to the business. And they cheer you on. Dannie was especially awesome, and I will always say that she’s a serious kick-butt editor. Her feedback and comments helped me revise my ms further. It turns out, I had to pull out my entry from the agent round for a fantastic reason: I received an offer of representation. But I’m positive that my work wouldn’t have been as polished as it was had Dannie not chosen me as her alternate.

So here’s a quick list of why I think pitch contests are great opportunities:

  1. They’re a lesson in patience, as is much of the querying process. Not only do you have to wait until the submissions windows open, but then you have to wait to find out if you got in, and then you have to wait for the agent rounds to see if your entry had any bites. The whole experience is nerve-wracking and nail-biting, but it’s fun if you let yourself have fun with it. It also helps you work on your patience during the querying process.
  2. They’re a great avenue for networking. Think about it: during the entire process, from announcement until agent round, everyone in the contest is Tweeting about it. You get to meet agented and published authors, as well as other writers who are navigating the same trenches as you. I’ve made some wonderful friends this way, and I don’t know if I would’ve met them otherwise.
  3. You might just find awesome beta readers and critique partners through them.
  4. They allow you to hone your pitches and/or first pages. Many have critique opportunities that allow you to get feedback on your pitches and trust me, this is fabulous. Being able to concisely articulate the premise of your story in 1-2 sentences is an art. All the contests (and subsequent Twitter pitch parties) helped me craft a pitch that I was able to use at conferences or whenever someone asked me: What’s your book about?
  5. They get your work, and your name, out there. At a recent conference, I approached an editor after a workshop, and she knew who I was because of Baker’s Dozen pitch contest. It doesn’t always happen, but it can.
  6. They give you practice: in revision, in pitching, in networking, in craft, in the business. You learn not just from the feedback you get, but by reading other pitches/first pages and by seeing what agents are responding to.
  7. They introduce you to agents you might not have initially known and who you could add to your “to query” list.
  8. And sometimes, you might get a chance to catch the eye of an agent who is closed to queries, but who through the contest is making requests!

Yes, you might not always make it into the contests. Yes, the competition is fierce (as it is in the real world). Yes, you might not get any requests (this happened to me, too). But those aren’t the only benefits. Try them out. A new Pitch Madness is coming up this month (very soon, too).

Happy writing!

Blog, Writing

Motivational Monday

I’m in the midst of mid-semester craziness, swallowed by seemingly endless papers to grade and getting my footing back on my WIP. It’s not easy, but I know the only way I’ll reach “the end” of that story is by writing. It might be slow, with only a few minutes here and there, but it’s somewhat steady and eventually, I’ll get there. So for all of us struggling through first (or second…or eighteenth) drafts, here are some bits of inspiration.

Write

Writers Write

DontQuit

DontStop

Blog, Writing

2014 SCBWI Florida Conference

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I love writing conferences. I’ve been attending them for about five years and SCBWI ones for the last three, when I decided to focus on writing for kids. Writing conferences offer a unique opportunity that’s equal parts inspiration, craft, and networking. And there’s something special about those that specialize in kid-lit. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s a collective embracing of everyone who’s new, an inclusion into this fabulous clique. Kid-lit writers are some of warmest, nicest people I’ve ever met.

(NOTE: I’ve met wonderful writers in all the conferences I’ve attended. And I know some pretty amazing writers who don’t write for kids, writers who’ve been instrumental in guiding my writing career. It’s just that when strictly speaking about conferences, I seem to find more camaraderie at SCBWI conferences. Maybe it’s because I’m more “seasoned” now and more comfortable in my own writing skin. Maybe it’s because I know more people. There are many variables, of course.)

This past January 17-19, I went to the 2014 SCBWI Florida Conference in Miami. Third year in a row. Fifth SCBWI Florida conference. And it didn’t disappoint. In fact, if you read my I Have An Agent post, it rocked! But that’s not why I loved it (well, okay, it was part of it, but the truth is, I’ve loved every single SCBWI FL conference I’ve been to, even those where my work didn’t elicit such positive feedback–and yes, I’ve had many of those moments.) I loved this conference because of the people I met and because the workshops offered some great talks on craft and the business.

I attended the Friday Novel Intensive with agent Jen Rofe of Andrea Brown Literary, editor Stacy Abrams of Entangled Publishing, and author Chris Crutcher. It was intense (pun intended), and the topics ranged from the market, to germinating ideas, to execution and beginnings. Then the trio tackled first page critiques, and for the first time since I’ve been attending, everyone who submitted an anonymous first page received feedback. Mine offered an “aha!” lightbulb moment, which I executed right away–and it was that missing link I couldn’t figure out. During the course of the day, we learned that right now, editors are looking for:

  • Commercial and fun picture books
  • Character-based chapter books
  • Fun middle grade, especially for boys
  • Well-written, high concept YA
  • NO paranormal or dystopian
  • Nonfiction, especially narrative nonfiction (autobiographies/biographies)

There were some awesome gems during this intensive, too.

  • “Write that thing that scares you.”–Jen Rofe
  • “When you’re sitting down, writing your story, tell it in the most raw, intimate way you can tell it.”–Chris Crutcher
  • “Now is an awesome time to be a writer because there are so many ways to market.”–Stacy Abrams

I didn’t get to attend the Picture Book Intensive, but all the talk I heard said the same: Deborah Warren, Laura Whitaker, Andrea Pinkney, and Toni Buzzeo were fantabulous. If I could’ve cloned myself, I would’ve!

Friday evening was kicked off with the first-book’s panel, which is always wonderful. And this year it was even better because my writing friend Vivi Barnes was up there with her debut novel, OLIVIA TWISTED. So it was great to know one of the cool kids on the panel! All four of the authors were fabulous: Nancy Cavanaugh, Steven dos Santos, Cristin Bishara, and Vivi. Check out their books!

Then, attendees gathered at Books & Books for snacks, mingling, and a mystery panel of experts: a group of kids ranging from 6 to 16 who answered questions from the moderator, Gaby Triana, about all things books. This panel elicited many awww’s, and it was wonderful to see how eloquent the experts were at verbalizing what they read, their preferences, and what they wished there was more of out there in the book world.

Saturday was full of inspiration. We had fabulous speakers: Chris Crutcher, Augusta Scattergood and Andrea Pinkney, Sarah Pennypacker,Peter Brown, and Lois Duncan. We cried. We laughed. Our heart strings were tugged and twisted. And like with Friday’s intensive, there were beautiful, inspiring gems:

  • “Go find those fundamental things (like grief) that are so human, they’re universal. We have to be willing to go there, be embarrassed, tell it all.”–Chris Crutcher
  • “Grief– you do it ’till you’re done.”–Chris Crutcher
  • “When you’re telling a story, just sit down and tell the hell out of it.”– Chris Crutcher
  • “There are readers you will never meet but whose lives you will impact. That is what matters.”–Andrea Pinkney
  • “A book connects the reader to the rest of his tribe through time and space.”–Sara Pennypacker
  • “Everyone needs their stories reflected back at them. Not just those in extraordinary circumstances.”–Sara Pennypacker
  • “Stories allow for empathy.”–Sara Pennypacker
  • “Never give up. Learn from your mistakes and keep going…Never burn your bridges…Don’t be afraid to take chances.”–Lois Duncan
  • “Every life is a story.”–Lois Duncan
  • “The only thing stronger than law enforcement is the power of the pen.”–Lois Duncan
  • “Don’t let yourself be crushed with rejections of a book today. If you really think it’s a good book, keep it.”–Lois Duncan

The agent panel featured agent extraordinaires Deborah Warren, Jen Rofe, and Ammi-Joan Paquette, while the editor panel included stellar editors Stacy Abrams, Kat Brzozowski, Laura Whitaker, Andrea Pinkney, and Aubrey Poole. Both panels were enlightening and so fun to listen to. It’s always eye-opening to hear what agents and editors are looking for in manuscripts, what entices them to keep reading. What did I learn? The time for problem novels is over. Instead, agents and editors are looking for work that contain “issues” without being about the issues,  for diverse characters whose stories aren’t (only) about being diverse. Paranormal and dystopian are out… for now. The market and editors’ lists are completely full for now. Tuck those PNR and dystopian manuscripts for a later time. Agents and editors also looking for writers to have an online presence, but as Ammi-Joan Paquette pointed out, “an awkward [online] presence is probably worse than no presence” at all. And it certainly shouldn’t come at the expense of your writing! Others wish list items mentioned: country song in a book, boy books, dirty dancing YA, book about singing, multicultural books, picture books, exotic/overseas settings, books about food/eating/bakeries, experimentation in format, LGBTQ, diversity, piercings/tattoos.

Saturday night ended with a Steampunk smash. The Clockwork Ball was a huge success and showed just how well South Floridians like to party. The costume contest was fabulous, the food was good, and the company was even better–which means there were many sleepy, groggy conference-goers the next morning!

Sunday’s workshops were varied and timely. They included topics from voice in YA, to picture books, to romance, character development, and nonfiction–and everything in between. I wanted to split myself up so I could attend them all! I sat in Kat Brzozowski’s workshop on voice in YA and Laura Whitaker’s editor/writer relationships, and both were enlightening. Kat brought in some very cool acting exercises to illustrate how important it is to know our characters’ voices, and she had us dissecting published pages to do the same. Laura’s talk on what editors want in their writers, along with the current state of publishing, was enlightening and hilarious.

We said our final good-byes after the workshops. It was bittersweet. This was perhaps one of the best–if not the best–writing conferences I’ve attended. I’m looking forward to see what our Mid-Year Workshops (June 6-7 in Orlando) will bring. SCBWI Florida Regional Advisors Linda Rodriguez-Bernfeld and Gaby Triana, along with the rest of the SCBWI Florida crew put together some pretty awesome conferences! And check out this lovely slide show, put together by our Assistant Regional Advisor Curtis Sponsler.

Happy writing, everyone!