Monday, August 30, 2010

Stevie!

I was going to write an intense post on how to save the world or dolphins or my neighbors down the street from self-destruction due to their immense love of all things Tea Party, but I knew you'd never forgive me if I didn't share pics from the Stevie Nicks concert instead. So...

Enjoy!

(And, don't worry. Next time I'll write about saving the world, dolphins, neighbors, etc.)

Here was the set list:





Thursday, August 26, 2010

Who and What Inspires You?

First of all, I want to thank the awesome and talented, and beautiful Gretchen Stelter for gracing my blog this week. If you missed her wisdom regarding all things editing, you can read it here. I'm privileged to be working with her on final edits for my novel. Gretchen's suggestions are spot on, and her enthusiasm for the project and for helping writers reach their potential is inspiring.

This got me thinking. Who has inspired me along my creative path?

Early on, we artists copy or imitate those we admire most, or at least we try to. With practice, we branch out and develop our own style and way of expressing ourselves.

As a kid, I imitated Carole King. Her album Tapestry was the first album I bought with my saved up allowance of fifty cents per week. Let me backtrack: At the age of six, I started writing songs on a 100 year old, upright Chickering piano in our basement on Long Island. I'd sit and play for hours, always by ear, not knowing how to read a note. My mom offered me lessons, but I wasn't interested. Like Frank Sinatra, I did it "my way," enjoying the process of creating for creation's sake.

Back to Ms. King. After weeks of studying the lyrics on Tapestry and doing my best to copy every inflection in her soulful voice, I was inspired to write a song called, "What You Need Is Some Love In Your Heart." I was ten years old, and thought it was SO intense. Here's a sample of the lyrics:

"You make me happy every time that you smile and say, "Hi" to me... You make me happy every time that you smile and say, "Hi" to me... Then the day fades, and I see that what you need is some love in your heart, what you need is some love in your heart..."

I know, pure genius.

My next musical inspiration was, and still is, Stevie Nicks. I'll be seeing her (again!) Friday night, and am looking forward to my third row seats. Carole King taught me SINGING 101, but my master classes came from Stevie. Everyone who knows me knows Stevie is a huge part of my musical story.

Speaking of stories, as a writer, my earliest inspirations were Roald Dahl, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory; Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth; and Herman Raucher, Summer of '42. I read those books until the words faded and the pages became soft and worn from being turned so many times.

As an adult, I love writers who make me laugh. Susan Isaacs, Ellen Degeneres, and Chelsea Handler are a few of my favorites. In fact, I love comedy in all its forms; books, film, TV, and stand-up. To me, there are few things in life greater than laughter.

In addition to music, writing, and comedy, my family, friends, fellow writers, editor, and awesome agent inspire me in ways I could never properly express. (Thank you times infinity...)

What inspires you? Who inspires you? What have you learned from that inspiration? How do you hope to inspire others? Inquiring minds want to know.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Q&A with Editor Gretchen Stelter

I'm thrilled to introduce the brilliant and talented editor Gretchen Stelter to my blog today. She has agreed to answer some of my burning editorial questions, and I greatly appreciate her honesty and insights.

So, without further ado, heeeere's Gretchen!

1) So, Gretchen, you work as an editor. Please tell us exactly what that means, and a bit about your background, particularly in regards to the literary world.

Well, I work with authors and their agents and publishers, which could mean anything from developmentally editing early drafts with individual authors to copyediting their manuscripts before the type is set all the way to proofreading book pages just months before publication. It depends on where your book is, where you are in the process, and what you need from me.

I began editing in grad school, while attending the University of Queensland, in Brisbane, Australia, where I also trained in writing and editing UK, AUS, and US English. I finished my degree after I transferred to the publishing program at Portland State University and worked for Ooligan Press, which taught me more specifically about book editing and writing. Before I’d finished grad school, I met Bernadette Baker-Baughman, and began working with her as an agent. We worked together as co-owners of Baker’s Mark Literary Agency, LLC, for five years before I started editing and writing fulltime. Over the years, I’ve worked on books in nearly every genre, as well as countless book proposals and queries.

2) What made you decide to go from Literary Agent to Editor?

To be an agent, you have to be a bulldog. Bulldogs are formidable if you are ever involved with one in a tussle. They grab hold and don’t let go, and the literary types are no different; this is why you hire them to pitch your book. I am not a bulldog. I am a bookworm. I knew for a while that selling wasn’t my strength, which is why I was the Editorial Director at the agency for a year before leaving. I can see the holes in the plot and put my finger right on what’s wrong with the dialogue, and that’s what I needed to be doing all the time; that is clearly where my strengths are. So in the end, it was really less of a decision and more of a natural evolution. It was supposed to happen.

3) What services does your business provide?

Henry Covey, my editing partner at Cogitate, and I basically run the gamut of anything that has to do with words. We ghostwrite, developmentally edit, copyedit, proofread, and write reader’s reports. Over the years, we’ve edited book proposals, published books, academic papers, legal contracts, business plans, and reports for the Department of Justice. We’ve also ghostwritten published books, press releases, bios for band websites, and a lot more. Seriously, if it has to do with words and you are wondering who could help you with it, that’s probably us.

4) Do you only work with agented or published writers?

That is a resounding no. I’ve worked with authors at every stage of publication, from before the query or agent stage all the way to international bestsellers whose works I proofread and copyedit for reprint. I do work with agented writers and have been hired either by a publisher or author after a publishing contract is in place, but I also work with authors trying to get agents, and I help write pitches, synopses, etc., in pursuit of that. Working with unagented authors is also in line with what I did at Baker’s Mark for five years: getting the unpublished author published. And there’s nothing lovelier that starting out with a writer at that level, helping her or him find an agent, and then being first in line when the book hits shelves.

5) At what point should a writer consider working with an editor?

I help take a manuscript to the next level. If you’re getting a lot of partial requests and no one is requesting the full, it’s time to ask for an editor’s eye, because your concept is good, your query is good, but something isn’t sparking when people start to read it. Manuscripts are authors’ babies, and sometimes it’s easy to get a bit too dear with them, which means it’s easy to get comfortable and not truly push yourself as hard as you can or take the chances that your manuscript needs. Athletes have trainers to push them; authors have editors. (This is also why every agent I know will roll their eyes when someone says, “But my family/wife/co-worker/best friend read it and loved it.” Well, these people—although vital to the writing process in other respects—probably aren’t going to be the ones behind you at the gym screaming, “Do one more!” They like you. They don’t want to be negative or an ass. And, let’s not forget: It’s most likely not their day job.) So if a manuscript is stagnating in any way, it’s time to hire an editor.

In my opinion, however, a writer should start working with an editor as soon as possible and this isn’t me trying to promote what editors do. I say this because it’s not going to be your choice whether you work with an editor or not if you are traditionally published (no self-publishing, POD, etc.). If you are published, you will have an editor, end of story. The more you get used to working with someone on that level, the better off you are. You may be in for a rude awakening even if you get to an agent and are thinking, “Whew, I have an agent offer to represent me. Now I’m done with this manuscript.” The agent may ask for changes, and if not, your publisher is going to. No ifs about it. Let me repeat: Your publisher will ask for changes to your manuscript.

Now, if you start arguing with me that Stephanie Meyer’s publisher didn’t with her last book (which may just be a rumor) or look at Ayn Rand, then I’ll concede the point, because let’s be honest, people with track records (READ: sales records) are not going to be edited as heavily, but most authors are going to have some input from their publishers their first few times around, if not every time around. I say, dive in and figure out what it’s like.

On a draft-level, I would say that, at the very least, you want to consider working with an editor before you take it to query, because you may be a brilliant writer who has no concept of what a comma splice is or how to use commas at all, and you’ll want to hire someone to at least do the mechanical stuff to perfect your manuscript. Yes, people will get representation without this sometimes, but more often than not, if it looks like you don’t know the mechanics of writing, most agents won’t mess with it. And really, you wouldn’t send a résumé out with tons of typos, so putting your best foot forward just makes sense.

6) What can a writer expect from working w/you?

Of course, the specifics depend on every project, but in general, you can be sure that I will have a knowledge of the genre you write and it will inform my feedback. When given the choice, I often opt for sitting in my apartment with a book after hours of editing instead of venturing out among the other 3-dimensionals, and I read pretty fast—which to be honest, is an understatement; I can read very fast—so I have read a lot in the genres I work in and I can normally work relatively quickly on your project.

A writer can normally expect me to start with a reader’s report, which takes me two to three weeks and will give the writer the broad strokes of what needs to be revised, or I’ll start with a sample edit, if we’re jumping into developmental or copyediting. I like to be sure not only that my expertise is going to work with the project but also that the writer and I have similar sensibilities and will be able to work well together. You can also be sure that I will have worked in that genre, otherwise I’ll discuss moving the project to Henry’s schedule and referring you to him.

I’d like to think you might enjoy it too. I really love my job, and I become friends with a lot of the writers I work with, so hopefully you can expect to actually have fun while we’re at it.

7) Are there any books you've worked on that we may have heard of?

Editorially, I’ve worked on some amazing published work. A smattering of titles that I worked on at different stages and that fall under many different genres but have all been (or will be) published are:

The Truth About Beauty by Kat James (Beyond Words/Atria 2007)

Cosmos Incorporated by Maurice Dantec (Del Rey 2008)

Choose Them Wisely by Mike Dooley (Beyond Words/Atria 2009)

Never After by Dan Elconin (this was while I was at Baker’s Mark, as he is represented by BMLA, but while I represented I did also do editorial work with Dan and his editor at Simon & Schuster—Simon Pulse 2009)

Loving Mr. Darcy
Romancing Mr. Darcy both by Sharon Lathan (Sourcebooks Landmark 2009, 2010)

Beautiful People
Farm Fatale
Bad Heir Day all by Wendy Holden (Sourcebooks Landmark 2010)

An Offer You Can’t Refuse (2009)
Miranda’s Big Mistake (2009)
Millie’s Fling (2009)
Perfect Timing (2009)
Rumor Has It (2010)
Take A Chance on Me (2010) all by Jill Mansell (Sourcebooks Landmark)

Amelia O’Donohue Is SO Not a Virgin by Helen FitzGerald, (Sourcebooks Fire, Nov. 2010)

Real Mermaids Don’t Wear Toe Rings by Helene Boudreau, Dec., 2010 (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky)

I also recently started work on the US versions of children’s books inspired by Bindi Irwin, Steve Irwin’s daughter, and her life at Australia Zoo—previously published in Australia and coming out here next year.

8) What advice can you give to writers working on their first novel?

1) Read your genre. You don’t want to read so much that you can’t get trends and other popular writers’ voices out of your head, but you need to know what’s going on in your own genre.

2) In my best Burgess Meredith voice, the Micky Goldmill in me says, “Kill your darlings. All of them.” (Or maybe it’s the Faulkner in me, since it’s his quote, but I couldn’t resist channeling Rocky’s trainer here.)

3) You don’t have to give your reader as much back story as you think. Cut to the chase and get to the action; don’t describe things you don’t need to. For instance, if you know that your character’s favorite color is blue, that’s great. You should know that about your character, but unless this little tidbit somehow matters to the plot, you seriously don’t need to tell your reader this.

4) Constantly consider beginning your work, or even just your chapters, in medias res.

9) What about writers who have written at least one novel and are actively looking for agent representation?

If you’re reading your genre, you know what books are popular and which books you can accurately compare yours to. From there, do the research; figure out who represented and sold those books and see what their guidelines are and if they are open for queries. Then concentrate on crafting a query that gives the most important details: the pitch for one book (you can pitch a series, but try not to list three different books that aren’t connected in any way in one query), your background, why you think you’d work well with this agent. Don’t go in uninformed. As an agent, I constantly received queries that praised a book I sold and how that was why the writer was pitching me. Unfortunately, more often than not the book was not something I sold or wasn’t even out yet. You wouldn’t apply for a job that you had absolutely no skills for, so don’t pitch an agent that has absolutely no connection to your type of work.

10) Is there anything else you'd like to add?

I just want to say thank you, to Debbie and to all the readers interested in knowing my responses.

And I'd like say, thank you, Gretchen, for shedding light on the process of editing and the role of an editor. MUCH APPRECIATED!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

All Alone is All We Are...

Yesterday, Ethan pulled out of the driveway and into a new life. His car was jam-packed with electric and acoustic guitars, clothing, cleaning supplies, new bedding, lamps, toiletries, and two TV sets (a big one for the living room and a small one for his bedroom). A brownie pan with the remains of a cake I baked for him perched precariously on the passenger seat. His destination? College at Penn State in Altoona, PA, about a 3.5 hour drive away.

Kurt Cobain's lyrics from, "All Apologies" is on a continuous tape-loop in my mind: All alone is all we are. I've never lived alone before. Ever. I'm on Page One of an entirely new chapter in my life.

While saying goodbye, cruel tears stung my eyes. I felt short of breath and felt a strange emptiness in the pit of my stomach.

He's my baby, the youngest of two boys, and the first to "go way to college." He's also my rock; the person I've relied on most over these last four, painful months.

I feel like a part of me is gone; cut off, never to be found again. I know he'll thrive and become enriched by the educational and social experiences that await, and this fills me with joy and a special pride only a mom can feel. But, there's also an indescribable sadness - similar to when he first went to kindergarten - but deeper; so much deeper.

I love you, Ethan, with all my heart. I wish you great success as you move forward in pursuit of your dreams. Have fun, learn, build new friendships, and take advantage of the many opportunities you'll encounter. (And of course, always be careful!) Thank you for all you've given me. There is no way I can ever repay you.

And, to Chuck: thanks for being my partner in raising our two amazing kids. In a million ways, I could never have don
e it without you.

IN OTHER NEWS...
Ever wonder when and why you should utilize the services of an editor? The brilliant and beautiful Gretchen Stelter of Cogitate Studios will be sharing her expertise on this very subject on Monday's post. Be sure to check it out. Not only will you not be disappointed (love those double negatives!), but I promise you'll be positively blown away!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go have a good cry...

Monday, August 16, 2010

Two More Sleeps

"Sleeps," that's what my mom calls it. When I'm a week away from coming to visit she'll say, "I'll see you in seven more sleeps!"

My baby is leaving for college in two more sleeps, and I'm starting to freak out. Like seriously. A kaleidoscope of butterflies (yes, that's what they're called) has taken up permanent residence in my stomach, my heart is beating harder, and my mouth is dry. Why am I so anxious?

1) My baby is going to college! How is that possible? Since when did they start letting 10 year olds into universities? What? He's 18??? When did that happen? How is it possible, especially given I'm only 32???

2) He's my rock. He is dependable, caring, kind, smart, ambitious, funny, and he's got an old soul. I often feel like I'm the kid and he's the parent. How will I get by? Who will help me take care of the kitties? Who will hug me when I'm feeling sad?

3) I'll be alone in my house for the first time in my life. I lived with my family, then a boyfriend, then my husband, and then my husband and kids. I DON'T KNOW HOW TO LIVE ALONE!!!

I had been looking forward to the "empty nest syndrome" up until a few months ago. Now, I'm slightly petrified. And a little excited. And a little sad. And a lot nervous. Will I be okay? Will I figure out how to change a fuse or how to get all the apps onto my cell phone or how to use the DVD player? These are guy things, right? No? Crap!

But, my baby is going to college - HE'S GOING TO COLLEGE!!! He was accepted pre-med to Penn State Altoona, and I know I shouldn't be sad or nervous or afraid. I should be happy, overjoyed, proud, verklempt. And I am those things, all of them. I know this is a true change of life for both of us, and I know we'll both be fine. No, we won't be fine. We'll be freaking awesome! We'll thrive and grow and learn and become more of who we are, who we're meant to be. I'm going to miss him like crazy, and I'm going to have to learn how to do a lot of things I've never done before, but, such is life, right? Things, people, and situations change, and people have an uncanny ability to adapt.

But, still, I'm going to miss my baby...

So, here's to you, Ethan - may this be the first step towards the beginning of an unimaginable life filled with exciting challenges, new frontiers, and dreams come true. And, thank you, my precious son, for filling my life with a kind of joy I will never be able to fully express. I love you to the depths of my heart and my soul.

What about you? Have you sent a child off to college or experienced "empty nest syndrome" or undergone a major life change recently? How did it go? How did you get through it? Any and all advice will be greatly welcomed and appreciated!

Oh, and sharing a birthday with Madonna today is my dear friend, Carolyn. Happy Birthday! You truly make 50 look like the new 30!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Clarity - The Crystal Ball of Life

Clarity. What is it, really? Is it like a crystal ball garnering the ability to see things clearly? An "aha!" moment? Being sober? And how does it show up in life and in your writing?

In life, we have treasured moments where the clouds part and things seem to magically make more sense. Maybe it's a question we've been mulling over or perhaps seeing someone we love in a new light, without our preconceptions and "truths" mixed in. Whatever it is, it is a freeing feeling - like you've taken a pair of sunglasses off and can see the true, bright colors in everything and everyone around you; like you're diving into a cool, refreshing pool on a hot, summer day.

When you're writing, do you seek clarity? Do your characters understand what's going on around them and why? Or is there a murkiness which dulls the senses and leaves the characters and readers wondering what's really up, or worse, not caring? Whether you're writing a true mystery or not, there should always be questions, doubts, a sense of anticipation for the reader. Leaving the reader on edge is a positive thing. But, as a writer, do you have the clarity to see the "big picture" and create the world you imagine? Are you able to bring the reader into the mystery so they wonder what will happen next or what a certain character's motivations are? Do you have the clarity to keep your readers turning the pages?

When you write a story, you are the master of that particular world. The more you know about your characters and plot, the more brilliantly you can bring that world to life. And, in life? The more clarity you have regarding your own motivations, the more adeptly you will be in navigating a happy, healthy life. Are you seeing those you love with your shades on, or do you allow their bold, beautiful colors to fully shine through?

For me personally, I realize I've been seeing things through rose-colored glasses; wanting life to be a way other than it is; wanting people in my life to act differently than they do. But life is not one of my stories. Those in my life are not characters in my books. They are masters of their own worlds. I can not force them to act in ways I wish they would, and that is actually the good news. It's how the world operates. It's the way things are. I am the master of how I think and act, not of how others do.

The glasses are slowly coming off, and I'm starting to see the world around me in a clearer, more honest light. Instead of the fear and anxiety I thought I'd find, I feel freer and lighter and more sure of myself. Clarity breeds honesty which breeds a truer, deeper sense of self and reality. On many levels, I'm learning this for the first time and it is a beautiful lesson, indeed.

What are your thoughts on clarity? Have you ever had an "aha!" moment that changed your life? What about in your writing? How does clearly seeing the big picture effect your stories?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Book Blossoming or On Working With an Editor

I've worked long and hard on my current novel, and now I'm looking forward to it blossoming in ways I never imagined. Why? Because I'm taking on a new adventure: working with an editor.

I made a promise to myself and AA when I first pitched her the idea for my YA novel - that I'd make this manuscript the very best it can be. When the time is right, I'm committed she be able to shop my book around with enthusiastic confidence.

As many of you know, I've recently completed the fifth draft of my novel. I feel it's close to where it needs to be for submission, but as we all know, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. In submitting a novel for submission, especially by a debut author, close isn't even in the ballpark. (I vow to use every cliche I know at least once on my blog, since I love them like my first HS boyfriend, and they're taboo in novels!)

AA suggested I consider hiring an editor and I've decided to take her advice. I feel I've come as far as I can with fleshing out characters and massaging plot points. I've also had six people read (i.e., "beta" readers) the book and their comments have been overwhelmingly positive, which is great, but hasn't given me any new direction. I know the book is not quite there. A completely unbiased, professional set of eyes reading and editing my work and pointing out places where the story has not reached its full potential is an exciting proposition.

So, I'm looking forward to working with brilliant editor, Gretchen Stelter, and can't wait to see where my ms ends up. If you have any specific questions regarding the editing process, leave them in the "comment" section and I'll address them in an upcoming post.

Maybe I'll even bring in AA and BE (brilliant editor) for a question/answer at some point. Let me know if that's something you'd be interested in.

What about you? Have you ever worked with an editor? If so, how did it go? And, where are you on your path to publication?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Great Day for CIVIL Rights

Unless you were hiding in a closet yesterday (pun intended), you've most likely heard the news that a federal court judge in California ruled Proposition 8 (also know as the California Marriage Protection Act which reads, "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California,") to be in violation of the federal constitutional rights of gays and lesbians to marry the partners of their choice. In his decision, Judge Walker stated, "the evidence shows that Proposition 8 harms the state's interest in equality, because it mandates that men and women be treated differently based only on antiquated and discredited notions of gender." I'm not a religious person, but I say, "Amen!"

Our founding fathers were undeniably brilliant. They had wisdom, common sense, and vision. They knew that by creating the United States of America, they were creating a new experiment on this planet. They were - for the first time in history - creating a country based on freedoms as stated in our Constitution, including the freedom of religion, and rights, as stated in our Declaration of Independence such as the right to pursue happiness. These freedoms and rights were not perfect, and our founding fathers knew this. That's why they included the ability for future generations to amend them. Such amendments have given women the right to vote and blacks and whites the right to marry.

Soon, I hope, we will give all Americans the right to marry.

This issue may very well end up in the lap of the Supreme Court. Hopefully, they will have the wisdom to interpret the law as Judge Walker has and deem prejudice as unconstitutional in these United States of America.

Most who disagree with this decision consider themselves religious, and claim to know the will of God as stated, usually, in the New Testament. DISCLAIMER: I never knew Jesus personally. (I know, shocking, right?) However, my guess is he was a pretty cool dude, loving and accepting of all people with an understanding that there is not a single, limited definition of marriage.

More importantly, this discussion isn't about religion. It's about CIVIL RIGHTS. Can you imagine what an uproar would occur if straight people could form civil unions, but not marry? Chaos would surely ensue. What makes us straight people - with a 50% divorce rate - think we've got some sort of handle on the institution of marriage? (Don't get me started here!!!) The abundantly clear truth is, we don't.

All of us, straight, bisexual, or gay, want the same thing. We want a loving relationship with a partner of our choosing.

So, I say, "GO CALIFORNIA!" and may the whole country follow your lead.

Also, here's a link to literary agent Janet Reid's blog from yesterday. I love her thoughts, particularly as a practicing Catholic, on the subject.

If you're so inclined, I'd love to hear your comments.

The following is from a song written by me and Chuck in July of '95:


True Believers

As you walk upon the water
You lay your hands, you scream, you order
"I believe, I believe, I believe"
You speak in tongues on every border
But, who is listening, where's the christening?
What's the reason, why the screaming?
(You think you have all of the answers...)
Your lack of choice is laced with hatred
You preach from greed as if it's sacred
I believe, I believe, I believe, oh - Someday the truth shall lay you naked
But, who is listening, where's the christening? What's the reason for the screaming?
You say you walk the path with Jesus
You say He died so He could free us
You believe, you believe, you believe, oh - Heaven waits for "true believers"
But, who is listening, where's the christening? What's the reason for the season?
What's your life for? Don't you want more? What's the meaning? Stop your screaming!
This life is filled with things worth keeping, like watching little children sleeping; A beating heart's no human being; I'll pray in school when I stop breathing; But, what if God is truly loving, and not some tight judgmental bastard? You think He cares with whom I'm sleeping? How come it's you who gets caught peeking? And, what in heaven is God thinking? Cups of tears She must be drinking; You think you have all of the answers? You swear you have all of the answers; So, you think you have an answer?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Home Sweet Home

MAJOR LIFE CHOICE:
My big decision is (drum roll, please!) I've decided to pass on the beach and stay close to home. Being near the most important people in my world (my two sons) is what matters most. I'm still devastated by the recent turn of events in my life, and I don't know how long it'll take to move past it. However, for now, one big decision has been made: I'm staying somewhere in southeastern PA.

Thanks so much for all the kind words and inquiries about my well-being. It means a lot to know so many people care.

WRITING UPDATE:
As far as my YA novel is concerned, AA is currently reviewing it. I hope to be moving forward with that in the near future as well.

What major choices have you made in your lives lately?

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