Monday, November 30, 2009

Home Sweet Home

I'm finally back home after being out of town for a week and a half. As much as I love traveling and visiting family and friends, I really, really love being home.

They say "Home is where the heart is," and I believe this is true. It's also true that "Home is where my kitties are," and I'm slightly out of sorts (more so than usual) when I'm not with them.

Here are a few pics of my visit to Denver. Some of the highlights included a party my family threw for me in honor of my receiving agent representation, getting to see my writer BFF, Julie, and, of course, spending time with my 11-week old niece, Devyn Rae.

What is it you love about your home? What is it that makes you love it more than any other place on earth? What, if anything, would you change if you could?

IN OTHER NEWS
Here's a link to my first "official" interview after signing with an agent. And here's a link to Writer's Digest where I'm also featured.

Also, as promised, my next post will be about how it felt to sign the agent/author contract (which I've reviewed via email and will receive in the mail this week) and what it was like to receive my first "Editorial Notes" from my agent.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

You're My Angels Here on Earth...

Today is a day to give thanks for all the blessings in our lives. I'm grateful for so many people and things, I hardly know where to begin. Suffice it to say, I'm happy, healthy, and surrounded by love, support, and inspiration. These are greater blessings than I ever could have imagined.

And, I'm thankful for each of you. The readers of my blog are truly amazing. You bring smiles, wisdom, and laughter to my life, and for that, I will always be grateful. Thanks to you for making this past year one of the best of my life.

This is my small gift to you, my dear friends, for all that you have given me:

Angels On Earth
You are my brilliant angels, floating on your way
Dancing on your moonbeams, treasuring your days
I know you from a distance, I read your visions grand
You give me so much more than I could ever understand
Your presence is my blessing, your words I hold so dear
Your souls are perfect angels, beauty bringing me to tears
How can I express the many ways you've moved my soul?
The magic that I dance upon, the wisdom you bestow?
How can I ever thank you for your gifts so deep and bright?
To honor you, I'll carry on my journey towards The Light...

D.L.Schubert 11.26.09

Also, if you get the chance, hop on over to my MySpace and listen to the song, "Rooftops." That's my other gift to you.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. Please know, I am deeply, deeply grateful.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Can You Say "Thankful?" or Not Exactly Jerry Seinfeld

This post told me it feels like the comedian who has to go on stage following Jerry Seinfeld - not a good position to be in.

In all seriousness, the comments and well wishes from my agent-announcing post blew my mind. I am so lucky to be a part of such an amazing writing community. I must have done something right in a past life to have the privilege of "hanging out" with you in this one. I am blessed in so many ways, and am deeply thankful for your support.

WHAT ARE YOU THANKFUL FOR?
Here's a shortlist of things I'm most thankful for:
* Family
* Friends (in person and virtual)
* Health
* Talents
* My awesome new agent (*squee*!!!)
* Living in America (i.e., freedom)
* Beautiful home & food on the table
* My kids are not serial killers (at least, not that I know of, and where teenagers are concerned, I adhere to the motto "ignorance is bliss")

Again, this is a very short list. I mean, I didn't even mention my new rocking knee-high black boots or my monthly manis and pedis. (Please don't ask where they'd fall on the list! I'm not a very good liar.)

What are you thankful for this season?

DENVER AGAIN!
I arrived in Denver with my honey last night. I got to see my breathtakingly beautiful 10-week-old niece, Devyn, and many family members as well. Sadly, I didn't get to hold her in my arms and shower her with kisses since I've got an annoying cold, but I did a whole lot of staring. Here are a couple of pics of my honey holding her. Jealous? Who me?

I'll be kicking back and enjoying this week of Thanksgiving by hanging out with family and friends, eating lots of great food, and watching football. I'm excited to see my BFF Julie, since she'll also be out visiting family.

Next week, I'll get back into my regular blogging mode. Stay tuned for things like what it's like to receive your first Editorial Notes and Contract in the mail from your shiny new agent, how scary/awesome it is to have real deadlines, and how amazing it feels to (finally!) hold your precious niece in your arms.

Thanks, folks. I'll be appearing here every Thursday night right after Jerry. And remember, the more you drink, the funnier I sound! (ba-dop-bum!)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Did I Mention I've Got An....

Did I mention I've got an agent? No? Huh. Silly me. Must have slipped my mind...

OMG, OMG, OMG, OMG, OMG, OMG!!!!!! I'VE GOT AN AGENT!!!!!!!

Yes, it's happened - that life-changing phone call that well, changes your life.

First of all, let me introduce you to the most amazing agent on the planet: the lovely and talented Ms. Bernadette Baker-Baughman of Baker's Mark Literary Agency.*** Why is she so amazing?

1) Because she just is;

2) Because she "gets" my work, sees the potential, and has big plans for it, me, and us.

This story - "our" story - is somewhat unusual so, I thought I'd share it with you.

Once upon a time, there was a novel called, "SPARKS FLY SOMETIMES: CONFESSIONS OF A ROCK PRINCESS." (Yup, that's me "back in the day.") I've given the tag line before, but here it is again:

Life as a rock princess in the Denver music scene does nothing to prepare Jenny for life as a domestic goddess in the suburbs of Philly.

I love this book with all my heart, and I queried it widely. By "widely" I mean in the neighborhood of 150 queries. I received some requests for partials and even a few for fulls. BTW, one of the form rejections I got was from an agency called Baker's Mark Literary Agency.

Though I got interest, I didn't get any requests for representation. So, what did I do? I kept writing.

Next up: MURDER ON TWILIGHT CIRCLE. I always wanted to write a fun mystery and had a ball writing this. I queried widely again, in the neighborhood of 150 queries. This time, I got a lot more interest. 17 partial requests and 8 full requests. Ah. Now we were getting somewhere! Oh, and btw? One of the form rejections I received was from an agency called Baker's Mark Literary Agency.

Stats on MTC:
158 queries sent; 82 no response; 51 passes; 25 requests

Then a miracle happened. Through the magic that is Twitter, I received an e-mail. It was from a certain Bernadette Baker-Baughman from Baker's Mark Literary Agency. Here's a portion of the e-mail:

Hi Debra,

Bernadette here of Baker’s Mark Literary Agency. I just saw your funny reply to our twitter correspondence about author queries and I thought to myself “Shoot, did Debra query us and we responded with a no? How could we?” At any rate, I hope that is not the case, as I am quite enjoying our correspondence via twitter, and I like what you have to say on your blog (very beautiful, btw). If that is the case, well, I’d like to invite you to query again... We get anywhere between 150-300 queries a week and sometimes it is just downright difficult to pull out what we are looking for.

Yup, you read that right. She liked what I had to say on Twitter, visited my blog, and invited me to requery her for MURDER ON TWILIGHT CIRCLE. I immediately sent her the query and she asked for the first 100 pages, cover letter, and bio.

Then we emailed and talked on the phone. She said she loved my writing, but didn't feel a mystery was the best genre to go out with as a debut author. I told her about SPARKS FLY and she liked the idea. She asked me for the full manuscript. Then, I told her about an idea I had for a YA novel. That's when she got really excited. She asked me to keep her posted on my progress with the book. I began writing on September 20th and finished the first draft on November 3rd (six weeks; 62,000 words). This was the fourth novel I've finished, and the third novel I've finished this past year. (The first one took me 13 years, give or take, and the last three were done in a year.)

When I finished the first draft of my YA novel, she made a request. "I'd like a 7-day exclusive on your 1st draft."

"Come again? Um, okay, but let me read through it once before I send it."

What? An agent wanting to look at a first draft? I'd never heard of that before. I read through the ms and did a soft-edit, making sure sentences made sense, and correcting all the little odds and ends that go horribly awry when you're writing a first draft. Then I sent it off and was a basket case.

We scheduled a phone call for this past Friday, as in "Friday the 13th." Hmm... I wasn't feeling the warm fuzzies about the date or the call. I was sure she was going to say something like, "It's not bad, I mean maybe it's even good in places, but it's totally not there. Why don't you finish your edits and I'll take a look again, say maybe sometime next year?" I was ready for that. I took deep cleansing breaths and did stretching exercises in the minutes leading up to "the call." I could handle "no." I'd gotten quite good at it over the past year.

"The Call" lasted nearly an hour, and somewhere within that time frame, Bernadette offered to represent me. When I got off the call, I had a little trouble breathing. Okay, I felt like the air had been sucked out of my lungs and I needed CPR - but in a good way. As wonderful as the conversation was, it wasn't a done deal. Bernadette told me to sleep on it, really think it over, and call her back when I'd made my decision.

Decision? What decision? To go with an amazing agent who loves my work and who, by her own admission, is a "high-powered bitch" (which is a great trait for an agent!), and who has huge vision and plans for my book vs. remaining agent-less? What kind of decision was that?

If only it were that simple... Keeping with the "proper protocol" of being offered representation, I sent e-mails to all agents who were still reading my work. There were five - each truly awesome. Two asked for the full 1st draft of my new book, another asked for the first 20 pages, another declined but wanted to continue reading my murder mystery, and one did not reply. Uh-oh. What do I do now?

In the end, I decided Bernadette was the one for me. Part of me knew it since that first e-mail she'd sent back on September 2nd. At the risk of sounding cliche, she had me at "hello" (or, "Hi Debra").

My advice to all of you wonderful and talented writers who are looking for representation is as follows:

1) QUERY WIDELY!

2) Keep writing. You never know which ms will be "the one."

3) Do lots of research. Find out which agents represent your genres, what other writers and clients have to say about them, what they've sold, etc. If possible, go to conferences and meet them in person.

4) Be organized. I had separate email folders for "Queries," "Passes," and "Requests," as well as an excel spreadsheet. I also kept track of my queries on QueryTracker.net. Other great resources include: AgentQuery.com and Publishers Marketplace.

5) Get to "know" agents on Twitter. It is the single most amazing resource writers have to converse with agents and find a good "fit."

6) Be your own best marketer. Have a blog &/or a website, keep it updated, and have it be a true representation of yourself. Get used to marketing yourself - you should always be your number one promoter!

7) DON'T GIVE UP!!!! If you're talented, committed, and dedicated, your day will come. I have no doubt about it. Neither should you.

Last, I'd like to thank each and every one of you for your incredible support. I can't tell you how much your comments mean to me. I hope the story of my journey (so far!) has been worthwhile for you.

Namaste, my friends. With all my heart, I bow to you.

***Bernadette is now with Victoria Sanders & Assoc. in NYC.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Interview with Aidan Donnelley Rowley - LIFE AFTER YES

I am pleased and honored to welcome Aidan Donnelley Rowley to my blog today.

Aidan is a busy young mom living in New York City who has her first novel, LIFE AFTER YES coming out on May 18, 2010. Please check out her enormously fun and insightful blog Ivy League Insecurities - you will immediately be hooked!

I had the privilege of meeting Aidan through the blogosphere, and I'm thrilled to present my interview with her today:

Aidan, you were a lawyer. What made you leave law behind and pursue writing? Did family and friends think you were crazy?

Technically, I am still a lawyer. My attorney friends remind me of this and I remind people about this fact when I am feeling particularly insecure about my identity and writing. (A lot.) I did a short stint at a big Manhattan law firm before jumping ship to write full time. Why did I leave? I’m not sure I have a satisfying answer for this, but I will give it a shot. The day I decided to leave was a Friday. I was newly married and had returned from my honeymoon less than a week before. I sat there at my desk, holed up in my air-conditioned office, staring out the window at the city I loved and realized I would never be genuinely happy spending the majority of my time in the corporate grind. In that moment, I chose life over law. I did not get the itch to write creatively until I was at the firm, a decidedly uncreative place. I realized – and fast – that I was far more interested in stories, the stories of people who surrounded me – clients and colleagues – than I was in reviewing documents and scouring law books. I started writing here and there and decided I would leave and write a novel. This decision made perfect sense to me because I (thankfully) had no idea what it took to write a novel, but, yes, family and friends thought I was a bit idealistic to think I could walk away and write a book.

What genre(s) do you write in? Do you have the desire to branch out to other genres?

My forthcoming novel LIFE AFTER YES has been called contemporary women’s fiction, but when I set out to write it, I knew nothing about genres. I love writing character-driven fiction and hope to continue doing this. I would also love to write a memoir one day and maybe children’s books.

How did you find your agent and how long did the process take?

I started querying at the end of April and got an offer from my agent at the end of July. I found my agent probably in much the same way that other writers do. I pored through those fat books listing agencies. I sent blind queries. I brainstormed any connection (however tenuous) I might have with anyone in the literary world. I talked about the fact that I was looking for an agent and I was pleasantly surprised at how many leads this unearthed. I got the name of my agent from my father’s college buddy’s law partner’s wife (yes, hard to follow) who happens to be a very successful author. Every connection is worth pursuing. You never know.

What advice would you give writers looking for representation?

Warning: my advice is clichéd. (I happen to like clichés, but that is for another time.) Grow a thick skin. And fast. I know: easier said than done. And silly advice coming from the occupant of absurdly thin (and pale) skin. Rejection is part of the game. The fit between author and agent must be just right. There are countless reasons that an agent will not offer representation – publishing trends, economic realities, etc - and rejection is often not a reflection of who you are or the viability of your work. Keep plugging away. Keep sending queries. Again, keep talking about how you are looking for representation. Also, if you are writing a novel, make sure you have written the novel and have polished it to within an inch of its life before querying. Agents will not take a chance on an unknown entity without having something tangible and compelling to look at.

How long did it take between the time you found an agent and your book sale? What can you tell us about the submission process?

I’m not sure my experience was typical. I do not remember the exact dates, but I signed with my agent in August, she started submitting to editors in November (after I completed some edits) and we sold the book before right before Christmas. My agent submitted to several editors that she thought would be a good fit and then waited. I trusted my agent (who has over forty years experience in the publishing world) and let her do her own thing in terms of submissions. I asked her to keep me apprised of noteworthy developments of course (a flurry of rejection letters came my way - cheers), but I did not insist upon knowing the minutiae of her submissions strategies.

Can you tell us a little about your book and its AWESOME title?

LIFE AFTER YES is not a fairy tale. Rather, it is a nod to the more complicated reality of modern love and loss, to the existential grays of commitment. The story follows Quinn O’Malley, a young attorney in Manhattan in the immediate wake of 9/11. After losing her father in the attacks, Quinn’s Southern banker beau proposes marriage. LIFE AFTER YES tracks the time beginning after her yes, to her supposed wedding. I am beyond thrilled with the title LIFE AFTER YES. Getting to this title was not easy though. When I found my agent the book had one name. When I found my editor, it had another name. And, now, it is LIFE AFTER YES (a third name!) Apparently this title shifting is quite normal, par for the publishing course.

When is it scheduled for release?

My book will hit stores on May 18, 2010 (HarperCollins/Avon), so mark your calendars! And feel free to tell anyone you know who can read about its release. That would be fine with me.

I love your blog and its title. How do you feel "insecurity" affects you as a writer?

Thank you! I think insecurity is universal and when embraced, and explored, is incredibly fertile material for writers, for parents, for people. Society tells us to smile, to put up a good front, but the truth is we are inherently insecure creatures. We worry. Constantly. And about everything. I started the blog as a means to inject some honesty into this fake-it-or-make-it world of ours, to highlight the truth that insecurity is human and should be revered rather than disdained.

How does your blog writing compare or differ from your novel writing?

My blog style is very conversational. This is purposeful as my intention is to start a new conversation each and every day – about something silly or serious or in-between. I think there is some overlap between the style of my blog writing and the style of my novel writing, but ultimately the writing process – and product – is very different. My blog writing is very spontaneous. Most days when I sit down to blog, I do not know what I will write about. My novel writing is slightly more disciplined. For LAY, I did not write a formal outline, but I had the trajectory of the story in my head. I am currently at work on my next novel and this time I have every twist and turn planned out. I have no doubt that I will veer from this course (flexibility is key), but it is nice to have something to look to when I get stuck.

What can you tell us about your personal life and how you weave your writing into it?

These days, my biggest and most important job is being mom to two young girls. I am thrilled to be a writer as this affords me the flexibility to be with my girls whenever they need me (which is a lot!) I write at different times everyday whenever I can carve out the time. Parenthood is the lens through which I now see the world. It is my language. As such, my blog is largely about questions of parenthood. I wrote LIFE AFTER YES before becoming a mother when I was intellectually curious about different questions – about commitment and career. My next novel deals more with my current reality, namely the reality of young motherhood. In it, I hope to excavate the inescapable fears and doubts and regrets concomitant with welcoming, and nurturing, new life. I love and revel in the fact that my life informs my writing (and vice versa).

Anything else you’d like to say?

Thank you so much for letting me grace your wonderful blog and tap into the incomparable community of writers you host here. And thank you for giving me the opportunity to answer these thoughtful questions! I hope that your readers take a few moments to visit me at Ivy League Insecurities. I would also be more than happy to answer individual questions via email and can be reached at ivyleagueinsecurities@gmail.com.

It's truly been my pleasure!

Speaking of Life After Yes, stay tuned for my post on Wednesday. It'll be a juicy one. ;-)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

When You're NOT in the Driver's Seat or as Tom Petty Says, "The Waiting is the Hardest Part"

First of all, thanks to everyone for chiming in on the "Does Reading Make You a Better Writer?" post. What a way to rile up the masses! I'd also like to thank Alan Orloff for featuring the post on his illustrious blog in a post entitled, "Smackdown: Reading vs Writing."

The result? As with most things in life, do what's best for you and follow your instincts. Read when it's right for you to read, and write when it's right to write!

Now, for today's topic: Waiting. Don't you hate it? For a bus, a letter, a phone call, a decision... When you're waiting for something in life, you're not in the driver's seat. Whatever the "thing" is you're waiting for takes the wheel.

In the case of writing, you may be waiting to hear back on a query, partial, full, word from an agent or editor, or you may have your work out on submission and be waiting to hear if it has sold. In all of these cases, you are in the submissive state of handing your power over to someone else.

What got me thinking about waiting and being (or not being) behind the driver's wheel is twofold. First of all, I took the picture at the top of this post yesterday when my son and I had lunch at the new Olive Garden in town. Yes, we have a new Olive Garden and that, in itself, was well worth waiting for. The puppy was in a car in front of the restaurant. He seemed to be waiting, too. (Most likely for the shrimp scampi and all-you-can-eat bread sticks and salad, and who could blame him, really?) Secondly, I'm waiting back to hear from a specific agent on a specific submission. I have other submissions out as well, but this one has a time-frame wrapped around it, which makes it far more nerve-wracking.

My question to you is this: What do you do when you're waiting for news? If you're a control freak like me, how do you get past the doubts, the fears, the clock ticking ever-so-slowly yet loud as thunder in your ear?

I've never been good at waiting. I blame it on my Brooklyn DNA. Really, it's not my fault. I can't help that I was born there. In the meantime, I write, tweet, play spider solitaire, write a new blog post, and check my email "in box" like a hundred million times an hour. (Native NY'ers have a reputation for exaggerating. No idea where that comes from.)

What do you do?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Does Reading Make You a Better Writer?

I've only read three books this year, far less than I normally do. Why? Because I've been busy writing. I've written more than three full novels (am 1/3 of the way through a fourth) since last fall. Writing takes time. Lots of time.

Everyone says reading makes you a better writer, but is this true? Let me clarify: We all fall in love with reading BEFORE we become writers. Reading great books is what sparks the desire to write. However, after you've read many, many books and analyzed them, gotten a grasp of pacing, plot, character development, etc., I don't think the need is there as much.

Don't get me wrong. I love to read as much as the next gal. Falling under the spell of a unique setting with intriguing characters is one of the greatest treats I give myself. But, I'm not fully convinced that reading at this stage of the game makes me a better writer. I think writing makes me a better writer. Writing a lot. And, when you're writing a lot, you don't have much time to read.

I know this will put a lot of you in an uproar - panties in a wad, lampshade on your head, screaming like a wild banshee in the streets, etc., etc. Just please, people - for the sake of the neighbors and all that is good and sacred in the world - keep your clothes on!

Blasphemy! You'll say. She's lost your mind! She's gone completely mad! Maybe. Maybe not.

Chime in, my friends. How does reading help you become a better writer? I've got my boxing gloves on. I can take it.

IN OTHER NEWS:
Feel free to check out my new Examiner.com article on the young, talented, beautiful, and funny (if you saw SNL this weekend, you'll know what I'm talking about) Taylor Swift.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Revealed! The Secret to a Happy Life

In keeping with the theme of my new YA novel THE SECRET KEEPER, I'm going to reveal a secret: the secret to a happy life.

The Yankees beat the Phillies in the World Series this year. The Phillies beat Tampa Bay last year. Que sera sera, obladi obladi, life really does goes on, my friends.

It's fun to root for the home team or your favorite team or the National or American League team. While the game's being played, it should be played full-out with passion, skill, determination - like a child bursting with enthusiasm - and always with the undying belief you can win. You should absolutely stretch yourself farther than you thought possible.

But, at the end of the day, it's just a game.

This holds true for most pursuits in life, at least pursuits of the career or hobby kind. You can throw your hat (heart) over the fence and promise to do anything and everything in your power to follow that hat and one day wear it again with pride, perhaps in a more transformed version (a beret, perhaps?). But, if you never again place that cap upon your head, it's okay. Why? Because you gave it your all and it's just a game. A game very much worth playing, but a game all the same.

And while you're playing full out, don't forget to give yourself an invisible high five.

What games are you playing in life? Do they bring you joy or heartbreak? If you "lost" (i.e. didn't achieve the goal or success you want) would you feel like a failure? How do the ups and downs effect your quality of life? The key is not to let the game wholly define you while giving it everything you've got!

If playing the game is impacting your life in a negative way, you may want to re-think your game plan. Life is short and we should treat ourselves and others with tenderness and kindness. That may mean soul-searching to determine if the game you're playing is the best one for you. If you choose to play, however, play full out! But always remember, it's a game, not a matter of life and death. (Unless your "game" is skydiving or climbing Mt. Everest!)

I'm going through an exciting time in my life. I'm playing the game of writing full out. The danger of playing full out is that, along with extreme highs/successes, there can be extreme lows/failures. But knowing you're playing that kind of game at that level is exhilarating, life-confirming, and soul-manifesting. Right now, there's no other game I'd rather play.

When I look back one day, I'll be able to say I went for it. The "success" or "failure" will be a secondary part of the story and will pale in comparison to the fact that I threw my hat over the proverbial fence and did everything I could to retrieve it.

Play the game you're playing AS IF your life depended on it. Then pat yourself on the back and treat yourself to a long, hot bubble bath, a small shopping spree, or a big-ass slice of chocolate cake.

Challenge yourself to step out on the clouds without knowing where you will land or what the end result will be.

Be in the glorious mystery that is "possibility." This is the secret to a happy life.

Monday, November 2, 2009

NaNoWriMo... NOT! or I So Totally Don't Rock

Bawk, Bawk! So, I chickened out. I'd been recruited by a friend to join her in the month long writing fest which is National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo for short. The idea is to start from scratch with a new book idea and write 50,000 words between November 1st and 30th. It's all about quality, not quantity, though any self-respecting writer is going to be thinking quality with every word he or she writes.

According to the website, "If you write 50,000 words of fiction by midnight, local time, November 30th, you can upload your novel for official verification, and be added to our hallowed Winner’s Page and receive a handsome winner’s certificate and web badge. We'll post step-by-step instructions on how to scramble and upload your novel starting in mid-November." They also say, "Win or lose, you rock for even trying." I so totally don't rock.

To all my nanowrimo friends out there, you guys rock!

The reason I opted out is because I'm currently at 55,000 words on my YA wip THE SECRET KEEPER - somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 words away from completion. I can taste the ending, and it reminds me of chocolate fudge ice cream cake - yeah, baby, I'm thinking it might be that good. (I love this picture so much! I'd love to see something similar on the cover of the book.)

Of course, it's a first draft, which looks like a skeleton compared to the final draft, which looks more like Ashton Kutcher with his shirt partially unbuttoned giving me "that look." (Is it getting warm in here?)

I don't know if I mentioned this, but an agent has asked to see TSK in FIRST draft format. This is beyond frightening, since it takes a whole lot of vision to "see" the ms for what it "can" and hopefully "will" be. I have faith in this agent, though, and am hoping their vision will be similar to mine, if not a thousand times better.

IN OTHER NEWS...
Phillies: WTF???? My cat Zoro is not a happy camper.

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