Friday, May 31, 2013

Project Mayhem - Reboots, Kids, and Giveaways

I'm over at Project Middle Grade Mayhem today, blogging about kids and reboots, so please drop by and read the post.

More importantly, we're holding a truly epic giveaway over there, with prizes including amazing critiques and agent feedback. We even have an illustrator involved! Make sure to spread the word, follow our blog, and fill out your entry.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Happy Birthday, Richard Wagner



Today is Richard (pronounced Rick-ard) Wagner's (pronounced Vaag-ner) 200th Birthday. Wagner, sort of the classic rogue-as-brilliant-artist, was an anti-semite, a misogynist, and an all around bad guy, but he was also a musical and artistic genius, and I think a perfect example of how sometimes it is a worthwhile endeavor to separate works of art from their creator.

Wagner is best known for his operas. Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung, which being also partly based on the Old Norse Poetic Edda, shares some similarities to Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings), Tristan und Isolde, Parsifal, Lohengrin, and others. He was an absolute master of what is known as Gesamtkunstwerk (one of those funky compound German words, which means "total work of art"), so said because he composed the music, the lyrics, the set, the blocking, the lighting, and essentially every creative or dramatic element that went into his productions.

My father was the stage manager of the Seattle Opera in the 80s. I had the immense pleasure to play both a Nibelung (an underground slave-dwarf type creature) and young Siegfried in a production of The Ring Cycle (it's four operas) when I was a boy. I could go on about the beauty of Wagner's stories for a while (themes included Buddhist concepts of reincarnation, in Parsifal, Arthurian legend, in Tristan und Isolde, and human ambition pitted against divine power, in The Ring).

Wagner is known for creating some of history's most memorable works of music. I'll leave you with two of them:

The Bridal Chorus, from Lohengrin, often butchered at weddings in modern times and sometimes referred to as Here Comes the Bride:



And The Ride of the Valkyries, probably the most famous movement in the history of opera:

Monday, May 20, 2013

Giveaway: Delerium, The Debt Collector Episode One, by Susan Kaye Quinn


I have something to give you guys! I recently won a copy of Delerium, episode 1 of Susan Kaye Quinn's new future-noir series: The Debt Collector. However, Susan is a dear friend and one of my most amazing critique partners, so I've already read most of the series. Even some of the unpublished ones. Yes, my life is that awesome.

But, it means all of you luck out! I'm going to give one of you my copy today. I'm very busy, so I don't want to do a Rafflecopter or anything, but just tell me in the comments why you want to read this book, and I will pick one lucky winner.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Jessica Hill's Current Query Critiqued

Welcome back, and happy Friday! Let's get right to work, shall we? Today we have Jessica's query again, this time with my feedback, in blue.

The query:

Dear Agent,

After seventeen-year-old Dessa Sanford dies, her spirit becomes stuck on earth and she must free herself before her soul is dragged to hell.

Okay. So this is a really cool premise, and as an opening hook, it's actually not half bad, but I think you do need a bit more in order for this query to really shine. For one thing, who is Dessa? I mean, other than being seventeen, and you know, dead, what kind of person is she? The first thing you want to convey in a query letter is Character. What I call the first C (Character, Conflict, Choice). Try to introduce us to her in a way that we can sympathize with who she is before you fill us in on what happens to her.

Dessa never expected to be dead at seventeen, Does anyone? much less surrounded by the dismissive living.  I like this. Very unique. She can’t interact with them, can’t tell them they’re wrong about her death—it wasn’t an accident and she most certainly didn’t kill herself. Searching for someone who cares, she keeps visiting the boy she can’t forget. This whole paragraph is actually pretty good, but I think you can reword this last sentence for a bit more clarity. The way it's worded, it sounds like she keeps visiting the boy because she's searching for someone who cares, not in spite of that fact. Does that make sense?

Garrett Cooper is the only one who believes there’s more to Dessa’s death. He saw something the day she died and didn’t act on it. Saw what? Always be as specific as possible in a query letter. I understand that maybe you're trying to avoid opening a big can of worms, but it's better to do that than to be vague. Now he’s haunted by the guilt—and Dessa. Nice.

With the help of a guide, Again. Specificity is your friend. Dessa must let go of her old life if she’s to free herself from the grip earth has on her spirit. But she’s too busy following Garrett, who vows to uncover the truth about her death. The longer Dessa stays among the living, the more likely it is the Reapers of the Night will find her and force her soul to hell where she’ll be tortured by the devil for all eternity.

Okay. This paragraph is actually pretty good too. You don't have a clearly stated sadistic choice (WARNING: link leads to TVTropes.org, follow at your own risk), but it is implied, and sometimes that's enough. 

Complete at 61,000 words, CRASHING DOWN is a young adult paranormal that I believe readers of HEREAFTER Hereafter, by Tara Hudson and NOTES FROM GHOST TOWN Notes from Ghost Town, by Kate Ellison (working titles of unpublished manuscripts go in ALL CAPS in queries. Titles of published works go in italics) will enjoy for similar elements and romance. I would be happy to forward the complete manuscript at your request. Don't state the obvious. You wouldn't be querying if you didn't have a complete manuscript ready to send.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Jessica Hill

Okay, in summary, I actually think this query is in pretty good shape. I don't read a lot of ghost stories, so I can't say how unique the premise is, but I can tell you that it is well presented here. 

Of the three Cs, your conflict is presented best. Second, you've got a Choice that can be figured out with a careful read, but I think you'd be better off if you reworded to make it more explicit.

Finally, the one thing you're really lacking is Character. If you can rewrite your opening hook so that it introduces us to Dessa as a character, and makes us sympathize with who she was before she died, then we will care much more about everything that comes after.

That's it.

What do you all think? Disagree with anything I said? Can anyone share an example of how to rewrite Jessica's opening hook paragraph?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Jessica Hill's Current Query

All right, readers: happy Thursday! Let's get to work. You probably don't know Jessica Hill. I didn't when Hannah introduced me to her, but I've been reading her blog for a week now, and she's pretty cool. Head on over to follow her, and come right back for her query.

The letter:

Dear Agent,

After seventeen-year-old Dessa Sanford dies, her spirit becomes stuck on earth and she must free herself before her soul is dragged to hell.

Dessa never expected to be dead at seventeen, much less surrounded by the dismissive living. She can’t interact with them, can’t tell them they’re wrong about her death—it wasn’t an accident and she most certainly didn’t kill herself. Searching for someone who cares, she keeps visiting the boy she can’t forget.

Garrett Cooper is the only one who believes there’s more to Dessa’s death. He saw something the day she died and didn’t act on it. Now he’s haunted by the guilt—and Dessa.

With the help of a guide, Dessa must let go of her old life if she’s to free herself from the grip earth has on her spirit. But she’s too busy following Garrett, who vows to uncover the truth about her death. The longer Dessa stays among the living, the more likely it is the Reapers of the Night will find her and force her soul to hell where she’ll be tortured by the devil for all eternity.

Complete at 61,000 words, CRASHING DOWN is a young adult paranormal that I believe readers of HEREAFTER and NOTES FROM GHOST TOWN will enjoy for similar elements and romance. I would be happy to forward the complete manuscript at your request.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Jessica Hill

That's it.

Please thank Jessica for sharing her query with us, but save your feedback for tomorrow. Thanks!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Hannah Kincade's Current Query Critiqued

Okay. Sorry I'm late this morning, I had to drop my daughter off for her AP Lit exam this morning. I'm a little nervous, but I'm sure she'll do fine.

Anyway, here we have Hannah's query again, this time with my feedback, in blue.

The letter:

Dear:

Being a fellow fan of anything horror, I think you’ll really enjoy my supernatural, YA horror.

I don't really critique the personalization part of query letters, because they're usually changed for each specific submission, but I do think you need one more word at the end here. Maybe "supernatural, YA horror manuscript?" Do you see why I say that? I hope it makes sense.

When seventeen-year-old Zachariah Malone faces an obstacle he can’t take out with his fists, he must find out if he’s battling an evil entity or if he belongs in a straight-jacket.

Hmm. At first glance, this isn't bad. We've got character, we've got what seems to be an inciting incident, and we've got maybe even a sadistic choice. But ... this is vague. An obstacle he can't take out with his fist is awesome for characterizing your protagonist, but it's not so great for describing your conflict. I completely understand that you're probably going to get to it in the next paragraph, but you have to be very careful, because lack of specificity is the bane of all good query letters.

After years of being bullied, Zach finally learns how to defend himself. How? Like he meets a mentor who teaches him to box? Or he studies Muay Thai? Be specific. When Zach is caught fighting on school grounds (again), he makes a deal with the school counselor: stop his confrontations and attend an advanced art class instead of risking suspension. Something about this wording feels off. Maybe it's the "risking." Seems to me he would definitely get suspended for fighting, so maybe it should be "attend an advanced art class instead of serving suspension." The problem is, he doesn’t do art. But he’ll try anything that puts him in close proximity to Jennifer Drake and, most importantly, distract him from the voice in his head. This is pretty good. It's more characterization, the potential for romance, and a rising of the stakes, since we're beginning to understand a little more about the main conflict. However, again I think you can be more specific. What does the voice in Zach's head say?

Because the voice in his head has a name: Alice. She feeds his isolating thoughts with others’ secrets, as if he needed one more thing to make him an outsider. Okay. See? This is good. This is really good. The only problem is that it kind of makes everything that comes before it wasted words. I would consider working this detail into your opening hook. I'll try to share an example below. And not even Zach’s growing relationship with Jen is enough to distract him from the idea that he’s saying goodbye to his sanity. So the voice is something new to him? I think you can clear a lot of this up with a new opening hook. When he learns there might be a connection between Alice and a series of disappearances, he starts to wonder if maybe Alice is more than just his mind steering him towards a padded cell.

When Zach wakes with blood on his hands, he races to discover the truth. What does this mean? He races where? If you don't mean literally, then consider being more specific about what Zach does to investigate the missing people. Soon the police begin to suspect him in the disappearances, and Zach must decide if he’ll fight to prove his innocence, or run from a crime Alice is beginning to convince him he committed. This last sentence is pretty effing boss though. Well done.

TO FACE BENEATH is a dark, psychological YA Horror complete at 60,000 words. It would appeal to fans of Christopher Pike and The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith. I don't like these simple, direct comparisons. I get why they're used, but I think people should try to be a little more subtle in their wording. Something like "I believe it would appeal to fans of the psychological questions posed in The Marbury Lens, by Andrew Smith, and (whatever is unique about) Monster, by Christopher Pike" (mention a specific book, if you can).

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Hannah Kincade
email.address@email.com
(***)***-****
www.thewritemood.blogspot.com
@HannahKincade

So, in summary: this query isn't bad. You've got all the elements there, you just need to re-arrange them, and bring as many specifics into the letter as you can.

Here is an example of how your opening hook could be re-written:

"Seventeen-year-old Zachariah Malone has an easy answer for most of his problems: his fists. But, when the evil entity who calls herself Alice starts feeding him other people's secrets by forcing her voice into his head, Zach must investigate a series of disappearances so that he can determine whether he’s truly battling a demonic spirit or if he simply belongs in a straight-jacket."

I know, it's way long, and I'm sure you can do better, but hopefully you see my point about how specificity can really pack more punch when it comes to your opening hook. 

Otherwise, I think the ending of this query, in particular, is quite good. You'd have to change some things in the middle, if you went with my hook, since the specifics of the voice would already be revealed, but really, that's fine. You don't want to keep secrets in a query, except for maybe withholding the very end of the book.

That's it.

What do you all think? Disagree with me on anything?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Hannah Kincade's Current Query

Hunkering right back down to business here at the QQQE, we'll have queries for the next couple weeks. Incidentally, if you're new here, because of A to Z, or otherwise, please be advised that I both Analyze Successful Queries, and Critique Queries that are close, but might need a little work. If you're interested in submitting a query for either of those series, please email me at mattmrush(at)gmail(dot)com.

Now, if you don't know Hannah Kincade, you're really missing out. You can find her horror writer blog at The Write Mood. Please make sure you drop by to follow her.

Back? Here's her query:

Dear :

Being a fellow fan of anything horror, I think you’ll really enjoy my supernatural, YA horror.

When seventeen-year-old Zachariah Malone faces an obstacle he can’t take out with his fists, he must find out if he’s battling an evil entity or if he belongs in a straight-jacket.

After years of being bullied, Zach finally learns how to defend himself. When Zach is caught fighting on school grounds (again), he makes a deal with the school counselor: stop his confrontations and attend an advanced art class instead of risking suspension. The problem is, he doesn’t do art. But he’ll try anything that puts him in close proximity to Jennifer Drake and, most importantly, distract him from the voice in his head.

Because the voice in his head has a name: Alice. She feeds his isolating thoughts with others’ secrets, as if he needed one more thing to make him an outsider. And not even Zach’s growing relationship with Jen is enough to distract him from the idea that he’s saying goodbye to his sanity. When he learns there might be a connection between Alice and a series of disappearances, he starts to wonder if maybe Alice is more than just his mind steering him towards a padded cell.

When Zach wakes with blood on his hands, he races to discover the truth. Soon the police begin to suspect him in the disappearances, and Zach must decide if he’ll fight to prove his innocence, or run from a crime Alice is beginning to convince him he committed.

TO FACE BENEATH is a dark, psychological YA Horror complete at 60,000 words. It would appeal to fans of Christopher Pike and The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Hannah Kincade
email.address@email.com
(***)***-****
www.thewritemood.blogspot.com
@HannahKincade

That's it!

Please thank Hannah for having the courage to share this with us in the comments, and save your feedback for tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

FML, by Shaun David Hutchinson, a review at YA Confidential

The post title says it all. Please just head over to YA Confidential, for the review, and a giveaway!

Friday, May 3, 2013

A to Z Challenge 2013 - Reflections


We made it. Can you believe it?

An entire month of posting every day but Sunday, once for each letter of the alphabet, and visiting as many blogs as you can. It's a lot of work. Especially being a co-host. But it's worth it, in the long run, I think.

The thing about blogging, and especially about blogging for A to Z, because it's just a heightened example, is that it's a two way street. You get out of it what you put into it. The more people you visit, follow, support, and comment on their posts, the more people will do the same for you. Of course, not everyone reciprocates, but not everyone understands.

A to Z is about challenging yourself to write blog posts, sure, but really it's about meeting other bloggers, and discovering new blogs you might enjoy reading that you probably would not have discovered otherwise.

Anyway, you all probably knew all that. So let's talk about how I did in this years challenge.

I survived! That's one thing, but it's only a small part. As a co-host, to be honest, I didn't accomplish as much as I'd hoped. I visited all the 150 blogs in my part of the list, and many others, but I did not make it to every single blog signed up like I did last year. It was just too much. In some ways I wish I had, but on the other hand, sometimes quality has to trump quantity. What really matters to me is that I met some new bloggers this year that I will now be following and reading on a regular basis. If you ask me, discovering even only one or two new blogs like that is worth more than visiting every blog on the list one time.

So, for a brief look at my stats:

My E post, Eurythmics, had the most page views of the entire month. Page views is a slightly different stat than hits, but it's the best way to judge your traffic, if you ask me.

My A post, Asinine, had the most comments, which makes sense, since everyone is really excited on the first day.

My J post, Jaded, and my K post, Kenosis, had the fewest amount of page views for the month, which is a bit surprising, because I don't think fatigue had set in too much yet.

My X post, Xanthous, had the least amount of comments, at only 14, which is not surprising at all, since it was the last Saturday, and X is the hardest letter.

What about you? Did you survive? What did you like most about the challenge? What did you like the least? Be sure to add your post to the reflections list, once you have it up. You need to use the link to your actual post, not the main URL for your blog. You can find more information about it, here.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Broken Forest, by Eliza Tilton CYOA Blog Hop


If you’ve landed here during your adventure, skip all this and go below.

If you’re wondering what’s going on, go here to start your own adventure!

And may The Creator bless you on your journey.

Your story:

If you’re going to risk your life for a flower, you might as well make some coin doing it.

You head south, being very careful where you step. The ground is damp and your feet slosh as you walk. If an animal attacks, you won’t be able to maneuver quickly.

The marsh land is full of slithering creatures and big bellied frogs. Grass grows tall here, almost up to your chest. Using your dagger, you swipe at the grass as you walk, wondering if this is a good idea.

Luckily, the tall grass ends, and in front of you lays a large stream. Directly on the other side are specks of green.

The jade mushroom!


Without thinking, you splash across the stream and are rewarded with bunches of jade mushroom. You’ll be able to sell these and get enough coin to buy that bow you’ve been eyeing.

You gather a few, but as soon as you put them in your pouch, a green mist surrounds you.

“What is that?”

You cough and your eyes water as the mist stings your eyes. As you stumble towards the stream, your legs buckle, and you fall to the ground. Tingles spread through your body, and you find it hard to move.

When your eyes finally close, you remember your father saying that the jade mushrooms are worth much coin because of their deadly poison.

END

Here is the giveaway for the entire hop:

a Rafflecopter giveaway


And here is a giveaway specific to today's entry:

a Rafflecopter giveaway



Broken Forest jacket copy, from Goodreads:

Hopeless he'll never be more than the boy who didn't save his brother, 17-year-old Avikar accepts his life as the family stable boy, trying to forget the past. But when his sister, Jeslyn, is kidnapped, the thought of losing another sibling catapults him on a desperate quest. With his best friend by his side, and using the tracking skills he learned from his father, he discovers Jeslyn has been taken, kidnapped by one Lucino, the young lord of Daath, a mystical place thought only to exist in fables.

And Lucino has plans for Jeslyn.





Author Bio:

Eliza graduated from Dowling College with a BS in Visual Communications. When she’s not arguing with excel at her day job, or playing Dragon Age 2, again, she’s writing. Her stories hold a bit of the fantastical and there’s always a romance. She resides on Long Island with her husband, two kids and one very snuggly pit bull.

Author links:

Facebook | Twitter | Tumblr | Website | Pinterest

Eliza's publisher is working out the kinks with stock and such, but for now, you can pre-order Broken Forest at Amazon, here.

UPDATE: And you can now buy it, here: B&N | Kobo | Amazon

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Adverbs & Cliches in a Nutshell, by Jessica Bell

Too many adverbs and clichés in your writing? I've got just the fix for you.

by Jessica Bell

Writers constantly have rules thrown at them left, right, and center. Show, don’t tell! Stop using so many dialogue tags! More sensory detail! More tension! Speed up the pace! Yada yada yada ... it can become overwhelming, yes? I used to feel overwhelmed by it all too. In fact, I still do sometimes. It’s hard enough to get the words on the page, let alone consider how to put them there.

In Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, she says that in order not to be overwhelmed, a writer needs to focus on short assignments. She refers to the one-inch picture frame on her desk and how that little picture frame reminds her to focus on bite-sized pieces of the whole story. Basically, if you focus on one small thing at a time, the story will eventually come together to create a whole. I believe the same applies to learning the craft of writing. If writers focus on one aspect of the craft at a time, the process will seem less daunting and piece by piece it will come together.

My name’s Jessica Bell, and my own struggles with feeling overwhelmed inspired me to write the Writing in a Nutshell Series of pocket-sized writing guides. So you can learn to hone your craft in bite-sized, manageable pieces. In the first book of the series, I focused on demonstrating how to transition “telling” into “showing.” In Adverbs & Clichés in a Nutshell: Demonstrated Subversions of Adverbs & Clichés into Gourmet Imagery, I deal with another of the most common criticisms aspiring writers face: to absolutely avoid adverbs and clichés like the plague. But see, right now, I just used one of each. I also used a couple in the first two paragraphs of this post because they come naturally, and we utilize them frequently in everyday speech. But in fiction, too many adverbs and clichés weaken your prose. It’s considered “lazy writing,” because it means we don’t have to show what’s happening.

If your manuscript has too many adverbs and clichés, it most likely means that the emotion you felt while writing it is not going to translate to the reader in the same way. So how exactly can we approach the subversion of adverbs and clichés? For starters, play around with simile and metaphor when you’re trying to convey emotion, and for action, use strong verbs to show it happening in real time.

The key? Think smaller details rather than the bigger picture.

Need some help and inspiration?

In Adverbs & Clichés in a Nutshell: Demonstrated Subversions of Adverbs & Clichés into Gourmet Imagery</ i>, you will find thirty-four examples of prose which clearly demonstrate how to turn those pesky adverbs and clichés into vivid and unique imagery. Dispersed throughout are blank pages to craft your own unique examples. Extra writing prompts are also provided at the back of the book.
“Jessica Bell's latest pocket guide, Adverbs & Clichés in a Nutshell, will inspire you to leave bland behind and pursue your creative best. With force and clarity, she demonstrates how adverbs and clichés hobble vibrant writing. She then marks a course toward unique expression and provides workouts that will help writers at every level develop a distinctive voice.” ~Laurel Garver, freelance editor, author of Never Gone </ i>and Muddy-Fingered Midnights
Purchase links:



Bio: The Australian- native contemporary fiction author and poet, Jessica Bell, also makes a living as an editor and writer for global ELT publishers (English Language Teaching), such as Pearson Education, HarperCollins, Macmillan Education, Education First and Cengage Learning.

She is the co-publishing editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and the director of the Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca.

For more information about Jessica please visit: