Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Why the Dandelion?

So, you may or may not have noticed my new blog and website header.

I purchased this beauty from stock photo and graphics site, Dreamstime. I've thought quite a bit about how I want to "brand" my website and blog. Horses worked for a bit because my last manuscript had quite a bit to do with them (plus I love them). But horses aren't in all of my writing.

So what image would encapsulate what I do? Then it hit me, the dandelion. And here are the reasons why:

  • It's an underdog, a weed, considered less than by the world of fancy lawn growers. In that, it's similar to the types of characters I like to write about. And in all honesty, isn't every teenager a bit of an underdog?
  • It's beautiful. Both in its cheery yellow flower form and in its frothy gone to seed form. It makes people happy (well, maybe not those golf course manicurists). Who hasn't puckered up to send those dandelion parachuters off on an adventure? I hope my stories bring both beauty and adventure to my readers. And I hope, like those little parachuters, my stories will travel far and wide.
  • It's tenacious. Dandelions send down a long tap root, finding permanence in the least likely places. My writing is often about finding true family, whether blood relatives or not. And tenacity is a characteristic every author on the way to publication must have.
So what do you think? Do you like the new header? (Say yes :0))

Friday, August 24, 2012

Looking for an Agent ? A Blog contest not to miss - GUTGAA


So, my blogging friend, Deana Barnhart, extended an invitation to me to help host for the Gearing Up To Get an Agent Blogfest this September. As someone who has benefited from blog contests, I jumped at the chance. And Deana is amazing - Go check out this incredible schedule!

Blog contests are a great opportunity to get your work out there in a way that's perhaps a little more exciting than the slog of a query inbox. It's also scary, because people will be giving you feedback which may, or may not, jive with how you think of your own work. Is it worth it? That's up to you. If you're terribly tender, then probably not. If you're someone who thrives on constructive criticism, praise, and the chance to improve your writing and pitching skills, then GO FOR IT!

And when you see someone hosting a blog contest - be sure and send them your thanks - find a way to contribute - pay it back - pay it forward - just know they are doing it for free, to build community, and out of the goodness of their hearts. Kay? Kay.

See you in September for #GUTGAA

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

When Lightning Strikes Twice (or how I got an agent, redux)

I can only describe this feeling as "Kick my Mama" happy!

Never give up.
These three little words are a mantra for would-be authors. 

Here’s how I know. A little more than a year ago, I received an offer from an agent.
I liked the agent. Felt it would all work out. 

In early May 2012 after a number of mixed review submission responses, I received word from my agent that we would no longer be working together. I was crushed, of course, and a little lost about what to do with that poor, now-a-has-been, novel. I couldn’t focus on revising it at all.

So I poured myself into revising the new contemporary I’d written and it found a title, SING TO THE WIND. My CP’s were enthusiastic, loving the voice, helping me with the subtleties of all the relationships. I saw a Tweet from an agent normally closed to queries, opening specifically for YA romances. I changed my query to highlight the romance. I got an immediate request for a full. I thought, “Hmm, maybe I have something here.” So, I rejoined Querytracker and entered a couple of web contests which both garnered further requests.

In the meantime, that first full request got interesting. The agent’s intern loved my story and read it in one sitting. The agent then e-mailed and told me she was getting ready to read, she’d be back in touch soon. When she did, it was a pass, she felt the beginning was too slow. Of course, I was disappointed, but it gave me valuable feedback to stew on. I received three other R&R’s after the pass. I incorporated these agents’ invaluable suggestions and the manuscript strengthened. I sent out the revised manuscript to the agents who had requested pages and changes.

In the end I had to choose. Truly the hardest choice I’ve ever made and if those other agents are reading - know you are awesome - I made a pure and simple business decision that I felt was right for where I am in my life. 

Who did I choose? Alexandra Machinist at Janklow & Nesbit. I asked Alexandra tough questions and she answered candidly. She actually got the subconscious connection between my novel and this silly little movie I love and brought it up without me saying a word. And, for now, I’ll be her only YA contemporary author. I kind of like that. Not to mention she has an amazing sales record and her agency boasts some incredible clients. And we clicked and she was easy to talk to (though it was nice and easy talking to each of the agents who offered).

So for those of you who like numbers. (edited to add: these are the numbers for THIS manuscript. I queried two manuscripts prior to this with very different numbers - I actually think these numbers are very positive and the time line even more so.)

I started querying at the end of June. 
I sent out 31 queries (including the 4 contest requests)
I had 14 rejections.
7 no response
3 partial requests - 1 turned to a full, 1 came after accepting representation
7 full requests
1 pass on a full with suggestions
3 R&R’s
3 full offers
2 congratulations, but I’m going to step aside, after notification of offer of representation 
1 no response on a full after notification of offer of representation

So I’ll say it again. Never. Give. Up. Keep writing, keep honing your craft, keep learning how to tighten your words and your story and find the heart of things. And lean on your writer friends when things get bleak. (I used to read stories about people breaking in on their fourth, fifth, or sixth manuscript and thinking, “I’ll never have that kind of fortitude!”)


I couldn’t have done this without the help of my peeps in Joy Neave’s summer workshop class (Leigh Ann, Megan B., Mary H., Jean B., Charlie S. and of course, Joy!) who helped me whip the first chapter into perfect shape. And my moral support team of LisaAnn Chickos, Jeanne Ryan and the gang at the #wipmadness hashtag for weepy e-mails and woe-is-me sob stories. For all the encouragement in the trenches at Verla Kay’s, and -whoa nelly - the awesome sauce beta readers - Pat “The Boss” Esden, Pam “The Cheerleader” Vickers, Kip “The Realist” Wilson, Samantha “Sexpert” Verant, Miriam “The Thoughtful” Franklin, and Jen “The Enthusiast” McConnell. Y’all are awesome. And of course, Ruth L. Stevens for picking me out of many, and Liz Briggs for the DM. 

Don’t give up. If you keep writing, keep learning, keep trying, eventually you’ll get a yes. And maybe if you need a second chance, you’ll get that, too.

I love you guys!!! Y’all are awesome!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Feeling The Love

Lately I've been thinking a lot about the writer's community. You would think with our predilection for being introverts and the need to be so deeply in our own heads, that this type of creativity wouldn't be collaborative.

But. I am here to SHOUT, you would be wrong!
You see, we writers need each other. To bounce ideas of off. To read for each other. To learn from good critiques and bad critiques. To learn to critique by having other writers let us read their work. To recommend books and share tidbits about the publishing world. Only writers understand the deep connection we feel to the story worlds we create. Only other writers understand the woes of the muddling middle and the strangled heap that is a first draft. Only other writers understand the compulsion to change a verb for the fifth or sixth time.

I bet you pick up the used thesaurus you see at the thrift shop. That beautiful illustrated dictionary on your nightstand - a gift greater than gold, right?

But the great thing is, it doesn't end when you move to the professional end of the spectrum. It just gets More collaborative! Because you'll have an agent with input, an editor with input. And eventually you'll have readers who will take your story and make it their own.

So next time you think about the lonely life of a writer - jump online, shout at a friend, read someone else's words, visit a writing forum. Because together, we can create greatness.

Have a super swell weekend.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Yoda Hat

I have a hilarious group of kids in my Art 2 class this semester - smart, fresh, funny, mouthy - it's the renegades and derelicts that I love so much. Anyway - one student, I'll call him Billy, is a bit flamboyant, proudly gay in a not so appreciative environment, and a huge lover of fashion. He also knows he can talk to me about his boyfriends and I won't go all Pentecostal on him.

So he was asking for advice, and I was scratching my head and another student said, "Ms. J.Ro, you only thought you were an art teacher, really you're a therapist."

I said, "Hold on, let me put my Yoda hat on." (theoretically, of course)

Billy squealed and slammed his hands down on the table. His nostrils flared and his eyes practically did cartwheels with shopping excitement. "Shut the Front Door! OMG! There's a YODA HAT?????"

I about snorted my coffee I was laughing so hard. Anyway, today, I decided I needed to make a yoda hat to send to him.

TADA!!!!!! The Yoda Hat.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Being a Good Listener - Characters Included

Being a teacher is great, but sometimes it's like pouring salt on people's wounds. You see, I have this need to inform, to enlighten, to share great snippets of information. I think in terms of "Gee, well I would have wanted to know that." Unfortunately, it can sometimes come across as bossy or belittling.

It's a common fight in my household. Sweetie gets excited about something and I fall into teacher mode, "Well, have you thought about this, this, this, or this?" Sweetie slumps -- I've done it again crushed a dream, an excitement, by trying to be helpful.

In this latest round of You Crush My Dreams, we were lucky enough to distill it down to its essence. I'm a bad listener. Not always mind you. In social situations I tend to be quiet and observant, the typical introvert writer. But in one-on-one or familiar situations, I often answer questions related on my own STUFF - either what I know, what I'd want to know, or the infinite baggage of my lofty Southern belle upbringing. (The You Should Dilemma)

What does this have to do with writing? (You knew I'd get there, didn't you?) -- well, in my case it has to do with finally being at a place where I am writing from my characters. Of course, self interjects itself through life experience and my unique voice and take on the world, but I have finally started listening to my characters.

Here's an example. A recent critique partner pointed out that my MC was comparing a Philly accent to a NY accent and they are nothing the same. Me, myself, wanted to fix it - I jumped into that "Oh, I'm a perfectionist, this must be perfect!" mode. But then I stopped and thought, now Amber (my MC) - have you ever been to either of those places? "Are you stupid?" she replied. Then I thought, Would you know the difference between those two accents?. "Come on, what do you think? The farthest away I've ever been is Charlotte on a school field trip. Yankee's yankee as far as I'm concerned." So I left it. I listened to my character, not my own internal voice of how it should be.

What I've found, by really listening to my characters, is that I wiggle my way closer to the heart of the story. To what they want to tell me. And only when I find that beating heart, do I know I'm close to finding what I want to say.

Thoughts? Your experiences? Are you a good listener?

Friday, August 3, 2012

A Review of NERVE by Jeanne Ryan

A high-stakes online game of dares turns deadly 
When Vee is picked to be a player in NERVE, an anonymous game of dares broadcast live online, she discovers that the game "knows" her. They tempt her with prizes taken from her ThisIsMe page and team her up with the perfect boy, sizzling-hot Ian. At first it's exhilarating--Vee and Ian's fans cheer them on to riskier dares with higher stakes. But the game takes a twisted turn when they're directed to a secret location with five other players for the Grand Prize round. Suddenly they're playing all or nothing, with their lives on the line. Just how far will Vee go before she loses NERVE? 

I have the great good-fortune to be in an online crit group with author, Jeanne Ryan, though Nerve was well on its way to production before I "met" her. When she offered to send out a traveling ARC to our group, I jumped at the chance to read it. Of course, there's always that moment of hesitation, the "Gee, I sure hope I like what this nice person wrote."

Well, I needn't have worried. Nerve is a fast-paced action packed, bite your fingernails tension ride. Vee, the protagonist, is a behinds-the-scenes girl living in the shadow of her stage diva best friend. So when she's egged on to play one round of Nerve, a smart phone video game of truth or dare, without the truth, she agrees. The first dare is easy, embarrassing, but easy. From there the tension ratchets up and the action never stops.

As a writer, I was impressed by how fully Jeanne Ryan layered the complexity of the games. From psychological temptation and shame, to consumer greed, to a non-didactic look at the danger of putting your all out there on the Internet, NERVE  is a deftly woven smart thriller that teen readers will get and love. This adult reader finished it in one afternoon.

Add this to your TBR list - it releases September 13th, 2012 - Dial Books.