Thursday, November 21, 2013

Cover Reveal: India Edition

Hi everyone!

Excited to share a new cover reveal today--still for CHAINED, but for the Indian edition. I announced a few months ago that Penguin India would be publishing the book in January 2014, and now there's a final cover.

I'd talked a little with the editors about the new cover design, and we wanted the new cover to feature both characters, Hastin and his elephant Nandita, like the original cover does. They mentioned too that they planned to do something with brighter colors for their market. I love the work that illustrator Joy Gosney and the design department at Penguin India did. Here's how the cover turned out:

Isn't it lovely?

And take a look inside--how adorable is that elephant footprint on the page numbers?

Looking forward to seeing the real live book!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Writing Lessons from Breaking Bad

Sigh. It's over. I'm sad to see Breaking Bad go, but I couldn't be happier with the ending. As always, everything makes perfect sense, although I didn't see any of it coming. Just one of the accomplishments of the show's writers: we know the characters so well, but the story surprises us at every turn, without getting ridiculous or forcing anyone do to something out of character.

A couple weeks ago I put out a call to Breaking Bad fans to share their favorite writing lessons from the show. Doing the post on my own was overwhelming since the list could go on and on, but a compilation of highlights from writers and other book people was far more feasible and fun.

So, on with the list. (Most of this is spoiler-free, but I'll let you know where to stop reading if you haven't watched the series).

From Diane Holmes: Here are some things I think Breaking Bad did very well: have your characters absolutely commit to their goals; make the next line of dialogue, the next action totally unexpected and within character; every win comes with an enormous downside; allow your characters to have huge memories about their own pasts that inform every moment of now; allow your characters to fail; and on and on!
Beth Fehlbaum: The characters use silence as an effective statement.
Helen Jameson: Breaking Bad is one of the best written TV shows. I have a few meth addicts in my family and was hesitant to watch anything that glorifies the life, but Breaking Bad does not do that. It's the gritty, bloody, sad, and addicted truth.
Jean Giardina:
- It's interesting when one character lies to another. But it's more interesting when a character lies to themselves.
- Terrible decisions make great story.
- A well-told truth can be as effective as a lie.
- Gus on Motivation: "I don't believe fear to be an effective motivator. I want investment."
- A character's greatest fear is often not death. Living is harder than dying.
- Sometimes, the worst thing you can do to your character is give them exactly what they want.
- The solution to today's problem becomes tomorrow's problem.
- Make it worse than your reader expects.
Lenore Appelhans: Watching Breaking Bad is a master class in subtext. You can see excellent examples of it in almost every conversation between Walt and Hank.
Author Gina Rosati hasn't watched the show (And why not? Get on that, Gina!), but asked her son what made it so compelling. He articulated how the writers cause our inner conflict about who to cheer for: "Walt is pretty much an anti-hero because he spends a lot of the show trying to build up a meth empire, and actually ruins other peoples' lives. Jesse is more the protagonist, even though it doesn't seem like he is. Even though he's a drug addict, he has a crap ton of morals and doesn't agree with what Walt is doing."
Claire Legrand admires the efficiency of the writing: No storyline, character, or set design element is wasted. Everything you see on the screen has a purpose, even if you don't understand what that purpose is at first. No time is spent exploring unnecessary side characters, plot threads, or details that exist "just because." Fantastic storytelling economy.
Nancy Paulsen mentioned the tight storytelling too: Everything on screen's got a purpose.
Tracy Abell: I watched the pilot episode before the finale and was (again) struck by how Walter White was set up as a sympathetic character. When that asshat kid in the chem class drags his chair across the floor, disrupting Walt's lesson, I'm 100% in Walt's corner. And that 100% backing of Walt continued for a while (even to the point of my cheering on meth sales! I mean, REALLY?!) I've never "supported" a character who did so much bad, for so long. That's a testament to creating sympathy. A powerful lesson for a writer. As for the female characters, I'm not so sure they were so fully drawn...
SPOILERS AHEAD, so come back to this part later if you haven't seen all the episodes!

Jessica Capelle:
- You can still have a satisfying ending even if it's not "happy" as long as you wrap up the loose ends and keep it true to the characters and the storyline.
- When a character is wronged, it's extremely satisfying to see him/her given the opportunity to choose whether to right the wrong or not, i.e. Jesse getting to go after Todd and having the option to take out Walt.
- A central image or motif can really connect aspects of a story, especially if you're writing a series. The recurring connection to chemistry with references to elements of it ran through the story and reminded us that elements are volatile when combined incorrectly and put under pressure. The recurring theme of surveillance and being watched added to the tension and excitement, and its role became more and more sinister as the story went on.
- Ask yourself "what if" but take it to the next level. BB constantly took things to places we didn't expect because the writers would continue to ask "what if" and pick something that still made sense in the story but was surprising to us.
There's more on Jessica's own post, so be sure to check that out too.
Jeff Coursey summed up the brilliance of the writing: One of my favorite things about the show is the way in which the characters are fused to the spine of the plot. Nearly every twist and turn comes from character choices. TOUGH character choices.

The writers are never afraid to put their characters into insanely difficult situations and then let them find their way out. Even the subtler moments have huge implications for the story.

I keep thinking of a scene in season four, when the Whites are at Hank and Marie's for dinner, and Walt has a little too much to drink. The camera zooms in slowly, focused on Walt's reaction, as Hank describes Gale as the supposed mastermind behind the blue meth. A genius, says Hank, not a meth cook. Gale was a five-star chef.

As we see, this is too much for Walt to take. Deep down, he wants recognition even more than he wants his freedom. In his stupor, he tells Hank that this was no genius, that from what he read in the lab notes, Gale's work amounted to no more than rote copying by a student. Maybe, Walt says, your Heisenberg is still out there.

As a result, Hank's interest in the case is revitalized. The trail leads him to Los Pollos Hermanos and Gus, putting Hank closer than he's ever been to exposing Walt as Heisenberg, and threatening Walt's family, the very thing Walt claims is his number one priority.

Walt's pride and need for recognition (his deeper desire) win out in the battle to provide for his family (his surface level desire). Throughout the show, his choices arc back and forth between the two motivations, creating rich storylines that are totally unexpected, but still totally satisfying.

At its core, this is what really drives the entire plot. A subtle conversation at dinner is enough to change the trajectory of the season, and along the way, the entire show.

I could go on and on about the intersection of character and plot, but I have to give a shout out to the props:
The GPS tracking device, the hat, the windshield with the blue tape (again and again), the eyeball from the burnt doll, the ricin, Walt's watch, even Jesse's wooden box in the final episode. The writers collapse storylines and infuse them into these objects as an ongoing image system. When they appear, we know where they came from and what they mean, both literally and figuratively. It's a simple and economical way to bring more emotion to the scene and more life to the characters.
Yes to everything. One thing I noticed from the start was the complexity of the characters. Like with my favorite character, Hank--at first he just seemed like an obnoxious jerk of a brother-in-law, but he was so much more than that. When he was alone, we saw that he was nervous and scared and trying hard to save face and act tough in front of everyone. For all the characters, there were times I loved them and times I hated them (or probably more accurately, loved them but hated what they were doing). Some stories are character-driven, others are plot-driven, and I think Breaking Bad is both. The characters' goals and faults drove their actions, which determined every twist and turn of the plot. I'd love to be able to write in a way that would put readers through such an emotional wringer as the Breaking Bad writers did to us.

If you'd like to read more about the show's writing, here are a couple of other articles I came across: one about why Breaking Bad is the new novel, and this Reddit post that Dotti Enderle pointed out to me.

Thanks so much to everyone who contributed. If you have more tips we didn't mention here, please share them in the comments! Also let us know how you're coping with the loss and what you'll be watching next. (Dexter for me, and I also have to catch up on Scandal).

Monday, September 16, 2013

Calling All Breaking Bad Fans!

If you're a writer and you watch Breaking Bad, you've certainly noticed that every episode, and the whole series itself, is a study in great writing. (And if you haven't been watching, get on it, people! You'll want to start with Season 1, Episode 1 and binge-watch the entire five seasons from there. Go ahead, I'll wait).

I've been wanting do a post on "Writing Lessons from Breaking Bad," but the task seemed daunting. Where to start? And where to end? The list could go on for days. There's no other show that's made me literally jump up and yell at the TV, then flop onto the couch in despair (usually right after they've made me think everything's going to be okay).

Then I thought about how many writers and other book people I know who are fans of the show, and every week we're talking about how amazing the writing is. So how about we compile a list of our favorites?

If you're a writer, author, or other book person, share with me a writing lesson from Breaking Bad, either here in the comments or by emailing me at lynne01[at]gmail[dot]com. Be as brief or as lengthy as you want. Throw in an example from a favorite scene, if you'd like. Include your website or blog address and I'll link to it in the final post.

The Monday after the last episode, I'll post the full list. And we shall support each other through the withdrawals.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Author Video, Or Me Trying Not to Be Awkward For Almost a Minute

Hey, I made an author video! If you'd like to skip right to it, you can view the video here.

Or, read on if you want to find out more about how and why I made it.

You might know I've had a book trailer for a long time, but my editor for the Indian version of Chained wanted something in addition to that to show her co-workers--something that gave more of a hint about the adventure in the story. Making a new trailer in a short time wouldn't be feasible, but an author video can be pretty quickly, and at no cost. Plus, I'd just had a great suggestion from a school librarian about having a "book talk" on my website that teachers and librarians can use to introduce the novel to readers. (Those librarians, they always know what's up). As I was making the video I realized that what I was saying seemed book-blurbish, so I've added the video to my website as a video book talk.

I'd already had a writing retreat planned at The Writing Barn, so I decided to record the video while I was there because the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves offered an awesomer background than anything in my house. (One book you'll see in the background is the upcoming Grandfather Gandhi, a gorgeous picture book biography by friend and Writing Barn owner Bethany Hegedus).

Like with the book trailer, I put the video together using iMovie, which is similar to Windows MovieMaker. Nothing fancy, just the software that comes with the computer. (If you'd like to read more about how I made the trailer, I go into more depth here).

I started off (after hair, makeup, and putting on actual clothes) by recording myself on the webcam reading the script I'd come up with. And since it didn't want the whole thing to be just me on camera, I incorporated some images from the book trailer. During those parts of the video, I recorded a voice-over to continue the narration of the script. The most challenging part of the whole process was getting the audio to transition smoothly from one clip to another, like when it switches from me to a picture. I set the fade in/fade out to zero for each clip, but it's still doing a smidge of fading here and there. (If you know some trick to fix that, I'd love to hear about it!)

Here's the version I sent to my agent first:

Joanna had advised me to keep it at under a minute, but I couldn't think of anything to cut. As always, she had some great editing advice, and after some rearranging, cutting, and adding a bit at the end, here's the final product:

I'll probably do more author videos in the future, like some less formal ones about how I write or some fun behind-the scenes stuff about my books. Blog posts take me a long time to write, but I could do an author video or vlog pretty quickly (after hair, makeup, actual clothes, etc.). Most won't have the fabulous background though. I really should've taken pictures of those bookshelves to make into posters so I could pretend they're in my own house.

Have you made your own author videos, or do you know someone who does them well? Share 'em in the comments!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Writing at The Lodge O' Death

Last month I attended a fabulous writing retreat in La Grange, Texas, with a group of Austin friends. Lots of fun yet productive, in a beautiful setting. The cabin, though, is affectionately known as "The Lodge of Death." P.J. Hoover had been before and has posted some great write-ups of the retreat.

Allow me to share some samples of the decor that give the cabin its nickname:

Yes, it's a fawn in it's natural habitat, a flower-filled rowboat.'s even better close up. Pretty sure it's smiling.

Every bathroom should have a baby doll in a teepee

...unless it's a bathroom decorated with camouflage paint and antlers.

We even had fancy robes.

Light fixture too plain? Add more antlers.

And that's what's been missing from my flower arrangements too.

I know that expression doesn't look natural, but this is how they look when they're giving a bleat-out to the ladies.

Kind of wanted to pull the glue off the raccoon's leg, but also kind of worried that was the only thing holding him together.

This makes the bedroom more cozy.
Who wouldn't want this staring at you while you try to sleep?

Oh I see, it's a book rack. A really inefficient book rack.

Wait, that's better.

This guy has not seen the inside of the cabin.

And yes, there was even a framed print of a dog smoking a pipe.
But this was my view where I wrote from the screened-in porch.
My own contribution, the taxidermied wasp.
Okay, it's dead wasp on an index card, but I'm pretty proud.

As you see, lots of character in the place. Sure, most of the characters were stuffed and mounted, but I can't wait to go back!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Spicy Announcement

It's a new foreign rights sale for CHAINED!

And thanks to this post by Darcy Pattison, I found a fun way to announce it. If you're not familiar with, it's a site where you can find all kinds of random things people will do for $5. It's kind of addictive to scroll through. When I heard about my next foreign rights sale, I had a video made by this user, who spells out messages using Indian spices. Then I had to hang on to it for a couple of weeks until I could officially announce the news. Which is now!

I've been thrilled about each of the foreign rights sales before, but I'm especially honored about a publisher in India acquiring the novel, since that's where CHAINED is set.

The Indian edition will be published by Penguin/Puffin India in 2014.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Field Trip: The Museum of Bad Art

For spring break this year, my daughter asked if we could take a mother-daughter trip to Boston. Last year we did a road trip around New England, so we were in many places for a short time. Since I loved what little of the city I got to see, and there are far worse things a 21-year-old can be doing for spring break, I said okay.

Despite being dressed like Houstonians in the surprise snowstorm, we had a fabulous time and visited a different part of the city each day. One of our favorite things was something we didn't even know about until we stumbled upon it--The Museum of Bad Art. We decided to see a movie at the theater in Somerville, and since we had some time to kill, we headed to the basement to see what the MOBA was all about. We were not disappointed.

It's exactly what it sounds like. Ever been to a garage sale and seen a hideous and/or unintentionally funny painting? Or perhaps made something like that yourself? There's a home for such artwork. The museum is "dedicated to the collection, preservation, exhibition and celebration of bad art in all its forms and in all its glory."

Here are a few highlights from our visit:

There were history lessons. Like this rendition of the Tiananmen Square protest:
I'd totally forgotten about the mariachi

And a tribute to our country's African-American presidents:

Presidents Obama, Beck, and Palmer

There were a couple of paintings inspired by famous works of art. The Mana Lisa, for example:

...and, uh, this:

I don't remember the name of this one, but let's call it "Girl With a Sunburn Crashing Van Gogh."

It's hard to pick a favorite, but I'm pretty sure mine is the ferret prostitute in a brothel:

I was a kit, I needed the money
So what's your favorite? There are many more paintings for your viewing pleasure at MOBA's website. It's a good reminder that art is pain.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Real-Life Writing Prompt: Carpool to Roswell

I mentioned in my last two posts that I attended the Kindling Words West retreat in Taos, New Mexico last week. I flew into Albuquerque with my buddy Crystal Allen, and we carpooled from there with Pam Bachorz since that would be more fun than the shuttle and it would allow us to stop at Trader Joe's for chocolate almonds and beverages.

While Crystal and I were waiting for Pam in the lobby of the car rental place, a woman approached us and asked if we were on our way to Roswell. If we were, she'd pay for half the car rental fee in exchange for a ride. She was visibly upset, like a chest-clutching, fighting back tears upset. Although that isn't where we were headed, of course we were intrigued. How does one just show up at a car rental lobby, suitcase in hand, looking to hitch a ride to Roswell? Apparently there's some giant new car rental tax the woman didn't know about, and her car for the week would cost more than her plane ticket had, and she was on her way to visit her mom. (No one else was flipping out about this tax, and ours wasn't that bad, so maybe it's something assessed if you don't reserve the car ahead of time. I'm not sure what the deal was with that).

Anyway, we started thinking about how this could be a fun story beginning. I know if we told thirty writers, "Strangers meet at a car rental desk and carpool to Roswell--go!" we'd get thirty completely different novels. Mine would a contemporary young adult novel with five different characters, each with a different reason they just had to get to Roswell, and their subplots would all become entwined somehow. Crystal was thinking of something more paranormal, in which the nice elderly couple offering a teenager a ride actually turns out to be aliens going to a reunion.

So, who would be in your carpool to Roswell, and why are they all going there? Why'd they show up at the same place without much of a plan?

Who knows, we might start a trend here. And in a few years we'll hear editors saying, "The market is saturated with novels in the Roswell sub-genre...".

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Found Poems

I mentioned in yesterday's Catching Up post that I'd write a little more about our poetry lessons from
Nikki Grimes at Kindling Words West, so here's some of what we learned in just one of our five workshops last week.

I had a hard time thinking poetically, so it's obviously something I need to work on more. "Found poems" were a little easier for me because I felt like I had something to work with--in the confines of an article instead of the whole English language.

To do a found poem, take an article, a book page, even a recipe or a product label, and select words and/or short phrases from it to make a poem. You won't add any other words, so all the words in your poem come from the original text. And use the words in the order they appear rather than going back and forth in an article.

Here's an example, to give you a better idea of what it looks like. The first text I worked with was an article about a girl who developed an app that prevents texting while driving, since she was worried about her own mom's habits. Doesn't sound very poetic, right?

First, some excerpts from the article, "Puppy Love:"

The way 11-year-old Victoria Walker describes how she worries about her mom, you'd think their roles were reversed. "She's really bad with texting and driving," Victoria says. "I tell her to stop when I'm with her...I just needed some peace of mind."
The sixth-grader...came up with an idea for an app that would literally hound distracted drivers to putting down their phones. ...
Victoria's app, called Rode Dog, basically allows friends and family to form a pack to protect one another. A GPS tracks pack members, alerting the group when one of them is using their phone while driving--and then unleashes a barrage of barks on the phone of the offending driver. Walker says she was inspired by her own dogs...that "bark their heads off whenever they sense danger."...

And here's my found poem, made from words in that article:

Worried reversed
Tell her to stop
Peace distracted
Putting down friends and family.
A pack,
Alerting the group,
Inspired by danger.

Here's another article, one that many of the workshop participants used, and it was interesting to hear such variety in our poems when the words all came from the same source. This is from a January 22, 2012 New York Times article, "Ready For the Worst, New York Gets First Major Snowfall:"

A powdery section of snow slid across the mid-Atlantic region and out toward sea on Saturday, making the season's first significant storm a less ferocious affair...
Yet memories of the crippling snowstorm in New York a year ago--followed by a blistering round of blame and recrimination--were fresh in the psyche of...residents of the region who readied themselves for the worst of winter's wrath. ...
Some New Yorkers saw the snow as a blessing, saying it had brightened winter's otherwise dry landscape.
"Finally, we're feeling winter,"...

I think so many people selected this article because it was so rich with strong words to mine for a poem. Here's the poem I made from the article:

Snow slid
Out toward sea
A ferocious affair
Memories, crippling, blistering
Fresh winter's wrath.

Or, a blessing
Brightened winter's
Dry landscape,

Some people call these "blackout poems," because one way to do these is to cross out most of the words of the original text with a black marker, leaving only the words that make up your poem.

I think it would be a fun activity for students to do, like with an article they've used for research or a photocopied page of a book they've been reading.

Or try found poems yourself if you've been wanting to write some poetry but have trouble getting started. Let me know how it works out for you!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Catching Up

It's been a long time since I've done a post, so let's catch up! Where in the world have I been and what have I been up to?

One reason I've been online less is that at the beginning of April I woke up with pain from my upper back to my hand that was so bad, the only comfortable position I could find was flat on my back with my arm raised. Not super-conducive to productivity. I'd had similar pain in the fall, but it came on more gradually then. Each time, it's happened after extended periods of writing, like if I'm really trying to get a project done. Which backfires, of course, if I'm then sidelined for weeks at a time with the nerd's version of a sports injury.

Thankfully it's gotten better, a little at a time, with rest, muscle relaxers, massage therapy, stretching, and seeing the chiropractor more often than my family. I have to remember now when I'm writing to take breaks more often, and it helps a lot to keep the computer at eye level. I think the worst thing I did was sit on the couch while looking down at the laptop for hours on end. So now I elevate it with a lap desk, and for times I'm working at my actual desk, I got this fancypants chair that has adjustable everything and costs a lot less than other ergonomic chairs. Also I'm using the dictation feature on the iPhone and the laptop when I can, especially for composing emails and texting. I'd love to be able to use it for drafting a story, but it's hard for me to dictate a story instead of typing or writing it by hand. I hope to get used to it with some practice so I can use it more often and give the arm a rest.

But the good news is I've finally finished drafting the next midgrade novel! It needs revising before it's editor-ready, but it feels great to have a good draft from beginning to end.

On to more happy news...

This little girl now lives at my house.

Not sure about these new people yet, but they seem nice

Her name is Holly and she's from Houston Cocker Spaniel Rescue. We took her in to foster her at first, but last time we said we'd "foster" a dog we kept her for the rest of her life, so I was pretty sure she was here to stay.

I mean, just look how she sleeps.

I even finalized the adoption after she chewed my MacBook cord in two. I'd say that's love.

She's very sweet, but quite the escape artist, so we do have to keep an eye on her. She got from our fenced-in back yard to the neighbors', squeezes through the cat door to get to the garage, and got from the enclosed play yard at doggie day care into the staff office. What could possibly be of interest in the office? I would love to know.

And in CHAINED news, I have some shiny new awards! The book received a South Asia Book Award honor, and the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award for the Texas/Oklahoma region. I'm so honored about the recognition and to be in such amazing company with the other recipients.

Also, I have a new curriculum guide! Something I'd always thought I would get around to doing myself, but never did, so I decided to get the fabulous Debbie Gonzales to make one for me, and I'm so happy with the results.

Finally, I did some traveling recently, to the Kindling Words West retreat in Taos, New Mexico. It's a magical place where authors get a week to just focus on their work and talk to other authors about books and such. (And maybe a little shopping). We did have short workshops in the mornings, led by the awesome Nikki Grimes, but had the rest of the days to ourselves. Nikki's workshops were about poetry, which I've never really ventured into, but I know that what we learned from her will help my novel writing. I'd like to write a separate post about some of what I learned, so I'll save more of that for later this week.

Holly was really happy to see me when I got back, but she might have been happier about this bone o' bacon I gave her.

The bacon smile. I think a lot of us can relate.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Celebrating POISON by Bridget Zinn

Probably the most exciting time for authors is the day their debut novel launches. You might have heard of Bridget Zinn, whose debut novel POISON was released this month, but if you haven't, you can read more about her on her website.

2009 was an eventful year for Bridget--she was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer, found a fabulous literary agent after years of writing, and got married. Sadly, she lost her cancer battle in 2011 and isn't here to celebrate her book's publication.

But she has tons of friends and fans who are spreading the word about POISON. Publishers Weekly has a great article about Bridget and how people are helping to launch the book, and The Chicago Tribune just ran an article about her yesterday.

Since POISON was originally planned to be a 2012 release and Bridget was a member of The Apocalypsies, we had a recent post on the blog for her release date, "One Last Apocalypsies Debut," written by her friend E.M. Kokie.

Here's a description of the novel from Goodreads:

Sixteen-year-old Kyra, a highly-skilled potions master, is the only one who knows her kingdom is on the verge of destruction—which means she’s the only one who can save it. Faced with no other choice, Kyra decides to do what she does best: poison the kingdom’s future ruler, who also happens to be her former best friend.

But, for the first time ever, her poisoned dart . . . misses.

Now a fugitive instead of a hero, Kyra is caught in a game of hide-and-seek with the king’s army and her potioner ex-boyfriend, Hal. At least she’s not alone. She’s armed with her vital potions, a too-cute pig, and Fred, the charming adventurer she can’t stop thinking about. Kyra is determined to get herself a second chance (at murder), but will she be able to find and defeat the princess before Hal and the army find her?

Kyra is not your typical murderer, and she’s certainly no damsel-in-distress—she’s the lovable and quick-witted hero of this romantic novel that has all the right ingredients to make teen girls swoon.

I got my copy of POISON as soon as it was released and wasn't sure I'd have time to read the whole thing before doing this post, but I couldn't put it down. I like to sleep in whenever I can, but one morning I woke up at 5:30 and after a few minutes of trying to get back to sleep I thought, "Ooh, I can read more!" and read in bed until I got to the end of the book. And then I might have hugged it. It must be really difficult to write a book that's funny and suspenseful at the same time, but Bridget pulled it off. I adored the characters and had to keep reading to find out what was going to happen to them. (I kept doing that "just one more chapter...ok, I'll read one more chapter" thing).

Young adult novels are often considered either "upper YA" or "lower YA," since what's age-appropriate for a 17-year-old might not be age-appropriate for a 13-year-old, and the book that a 13-year-old loves might not be of interest to an older teen. But POISON is a book I'd give to a young adult fan of any age. Kyra's a strong and clever heroine, and the storyline is exciting enough to keep readers turning the pages. There's some pining but no wallowing for the love interest, Fred (and some admiring of his abs).

One sign of a great story is that you still think about the characters after you've closed the book. Days after reading, I'm wondering how Kyra, Fred, and even Rosie the pig are doing, and I'm sure I'll be thinking about them for a long time. I wish we could look forward to more books from Bridget, but I'm thankful that this one made it out into the world.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Guest Post: How You Can Help Elephants

Today we have a special treat--a guest post from the folks at World Elephant Day, who last year brought us the documentary Return to the Forest.

Now they're at work on a new documentary, Elephants Never Forget, which explores the lives of working elephants (like Nandita in CHAINED), along with other issues like poaching and habitat loss that threaten the elephant population.

So now I'll turn things over to the World Elephant Day organization, with some ways to help elephants and more information about their current project:

Elephants are becoming extinct. Each region has its own elephant issues, ranging from the escalation of poaching and illegal trade, to habitat loss, to human-elephant conflict and captivity issues. In order to conserve these magnificent animals we need to come together and raise awareness of these issues with a powerful global voice. If you are eager to help but don’t know how, here are several ideas:

Become Elephant Educated
Learn about the deeper issues behind the threats facing elephants. In order to find a solution, we need to create alternative, sustainable livelihoods for people who have traditionally relied on elephants.

Support Elephant Organizations
Support organizations who are working to protect habitat for wild elephants, finding solutions for human-elephant conflict, and preventing poaching.

Only Visit Eco-Tourism Operations
If you wish to experience elephants in their natural environment choose eco-tourism operators who support local elephant conservation projects and who treat elephants with respect and dignity.

Support Awareness Projects
Donate and share about projects that are working to raise awareness of the elephant’s critical plight. An advocacy film is currently doing just that and raising money through Indiegogo to complete their project.

The issues facing elephants are complex and involve many different stakeholders. In order to ensure their survival we need the masses to unite and each do their part.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Sushi For Everyone!

...I mean, not that I'm buying or anything, just uh, feel free to have sushi for lunch today if you'd like.

Because CHAINED is headed to Japan! Japanese rights for the novel sold to Suzuki Publishing this week.

You might remember from the sale to France a few months ago that I celebrated with a traditional French toast dinner. I'm actually not a sushi fan, but this would be a good time to cook those shirataki noodles I've been meaning to try.

I don't know much about how foreign sales happen, so it's a nice surprise when I hear that CHAINED will be available in a new market, in another language. And it'll be fun to see how it turns out.

Meanwhile, I think I need to get this shirt...

Thursday, January 24, 2013

10 Ways The Taste Is Like the Publication World

This week I watched the new cooking competition show The Taste, which is a lot like The Voice, but with a bite of food instead of a song.

A quick description if you're not familiar with it: contestants, who are either professional chefs or really good home cooks, have one chance--literally one bite--to impress the panel of superstar food people. If one or more of the judges falls in love with that one bite, they'll offer the chef a spot on their team. (From there I guess they'll compete against one another and have elimination rounds until there's one chef left standing who'll be crowned The Bite or something like that).

On the surface it probably seems to have nothing to do with writing, but it so much of what was happening reminded me of the struggle to become a published author.

Here are some things I noticed, and a few quotes, that especially hit home: (no quotes from Ludo, since I can't understand the guy. Seriously, I'd be in trouble if I were on the show and ended up on his team).

- Almost everyone made seafood. I found this surprising, since seafood is easy to screw up. Maybe if you're a good cook it makes for an impressive dish. But if everyone's serving up seafood, yours had better really stand out if you want to get attention.
And if you're trying to get published, write that vampire novel if you must, but it has to be especially awesome and offer something your reader hasn't seen before in all the other vampire novels out there.
Only one contestant made a dessert--a home chef, and she did get selected. The panelists were impressed, and Nigella is confident that she has the talent to make all kinds of dishes, not just desserts. Part of what made her stand out might have been that she gave them something different.

- "I liked it, but it's not for me." If you've been submitting to editors or agents for any amount of time, you've likely heard something like this. And it's not a bad thing at all. It means you're a good writer, but your manuscript hasn't landed on the right desk yet. You're giving scallops to someone who doesn't care for scallops.
Several of the contestants impressed the judges with their cooking skills, but the dish just wasn't the kind of food they love, or maybe it was too fancy-chefy when they're more of a comfort food fan.

- On the other hand, "I hate butterscotch. I have no idea where you pulled these ingredients from, but it strangely worked for me." This was Anthony Bourdain's response to the Chilean sea bass with butterscotch and cilantro dressing. Not usually his thing, but it was so good he had to take it on.
This reminded me of agent Faye Bender taking on Kristen Cashore's Graceling, even though she doesn't usually represent fantasy. Or the "rules" like "No rhyming picture books." You still see rhyming picture books getting published, right? So publishers do accept them, but they have to be stellar. It's hard to do well and not many people have the talent to do it, but when it does come together, it's beautiful.
Of course, do your research and submit to agents who you think will like your work, but if your book is amazing, they'll want to see more, even if it's something they don't generally gravitate to.

- "Were you stoned at 3:00 in the morning when you did this?" Another Anthony quote, one you don't want to hear about yourself. Agents get a lot of crazypants submissions. Don't be one of those people.

- Feel the fear and do it anyway. The contestants stood in a kind of elevator-thing, where they could hear the panelists' comments about their dishes. Sometimes the comments were great, sometimes they were terrible. It's a necessary step in moving on, but I can't imagine how intimidating that must have been. At least when we writers get rejected it's not in front of a national audience.
It's scary to send your work out there, but you won't get anywhere if you don't.

- But don't quit your day job. A few of the people mentioned they'd quit their jobs in order to try out for the show. A risky move, but a necessary one if they wanted to seize this opportunity and didn't have bosses willing to hold their jobs for them. Hopefully the ones who didn't make it will find new jobs soon.
I'm thrilled for authors who earn enough from their books to become full-time writers. But they're the exceptions to the rule; most of us won't be able to live the pantless life of a stay-at-home writer. It takes years to get published, and even after you sell a book, it might be a few months before you see the money. And most of the time, the money is a nice supplement to your income, but you'll need to continue doing something that brings in a regular paycheck.

- "There's too much going on here." This was a sentiment expressed several times, in one way or another, like with "This was a mishmash of flavor" or "My taste buds are still trying to figure out what happened."
Yes, you want to be original, but in a good way. Does your novel really need vampires, unicorns, wizards, ninjas, zombies, and mermaids? That's the literary version of pineapple maitake ground turkey sun-dried tomato mac-and-cheese stir-fry. (I did not make that up).

- Your kids love your cooking, but maybe no one else will. Like I mentioned in this post about query letters, of course your children like it when you write a story and read it to them, but mentioning that isn't going to impress an editor or agent. Every contestant on the show has family members, friends, even restaurant patrons who love their food. But like editors and agents, the panel of food experts had to be super-picky. They had room on their teams not just the great chefs, but the exceptional ones.

- Don't be a jerk. A good rule for life, really, not just for writing. Some of the chefs who weren't selected made comments like, "The people I've seen make it through are hacks" and "Nigella picked a woman who made mashed potatoes. I think my dish was a bit more complex than that." Well, you know what? Everyone likes mashed potatoes. "Complex" doesn't automatically mean "fabulous."
And are we sorry these people didn't succeed? Maybe it's shallow, but no. We cheer for nice people. People have long memories, and the Internet is forever. If you enjoy insulting reviewers and putting down other writers, expect to travel the road to publication alone.

- Not everyone chosen was a pro. Many of the contestants who made it through weren't professional chefs; they're just people who love to cook, and if we have a passion for something, we often do it well.
If you're unpublished so far, don't make any apologies for it when you submit your manuscript. You're a writer, and debut novels get published every month. If you love the work, keep doing it till someone takes a bite.

And am I the only one who wants to see more of Jeanette Friedman? Somebody give this woman her own show!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Query Letter Post: Hints For Writing Them, and the One That Got Me Represented

This week at the Houston SCBWI
It feels exactly this awkward to ask.
But if they like it, they'll put a ring on it
meeting I did a brief presentation about writing query letters, and was asked afterward if I'd send my own query letter from CHAINED to the group's listserv so members could have it as an example.

It occurred to me on the way home that it'd be better to include it in a blog post so I could share it with whoever would like to see it, and SuperAgent Joanna kindly agreed to add her own comments about what she thought when she first read the letter!

First, a quick definition of a query letter and a few do's and don'ts of writing them:

A query letter is a one-page letter that a writer sends to an editor or agent, asking to submit a completed manuscript. The goal is to concisely describe the manuscript in a way that will entice them to request it.

What to include in your query:

- A hook: one-sentence tagline to spark the reader's interest
- Genre and age group of the book: middle-grade fantasy or young adult contemporary fiction, for example. (But don't say "fiction novel" or you will get a punch in the throat)
- A mini-synopsis: a paragraph or two about the book, including the main characters and their problem
- A little about yourself: This is hard to write if you're unpublished, but mention if your line of work somehow has to do with your subject matter, or with writing or literature in general. Or just let them know you're in a writers' organization like SCBWI, for example.

What not to do:

x Mass emails. Of course you should be querying more than one person at a time; agents and editors often take a long time to respond, and you're not expected to wait two months or more to for a response before you send your query to someone else. Just don't fill the "To:" field of your email with every agent you've ever heard of. Select a few appropriate agents for your work, and if they accept email submissions, send them one at a time, personalizing the email to avoid a generic "Dear Agent" letter. (And check before clicking "send" to make sure the name in the "To:" field matches the name in the greeting).
x Mention that your kids loved your story. Of course they did. They depend on you for food. Telling the editor or agent that your children, grandchildren, the neighborhood kids, or your horde of cats love your book will not impress anyone and will mark you as an amateur.
x Fancy fonts or paper. You're probably emailing your query, but if you're submitting to someone who accepts snail mail, use plain white paper that you have not sprayed with perfume. However you send your letter, use a readable font like Times New Roman. I know, your letter written in Curlz font on purple glitter paper is adorable, but there'll be plenty of time for annoying your agent once you're represented.
x Compare yourself to J.K. Rowling. Another thing that will scream "I have no idea what I'm doing and I've done zero research." Let your work stand on its own and let the agent/editor judge the writing. You're not J.K. Rowling or Stephenie Meyer; you're you. Also, don't insult other writers and everyone in the industry by trashing existing books.

I think I can sum up what you should do by saying "Do a little research and follow submission guidelines." Submit to editors and agents who are a good fit for the kind of work you're doing, and always check the agency's or publisher's websites to see if they're accepting submissions and how they want you to send your query. Most accept queries by email now, but some do not. Some want the query letter only, while others ask that you include some manuscript pages.

Here are a few resources to check out for more information, though a Google search for "query letters" will give you approximately a kajillion thousand eleventy-pants more results, so there's plenty of information out there:

- Query Shark
- Querytracker
- Writer's Digest (examples of query letters with agent comments)
- Harold Underdown's The Purple Crayon

And now, the query letter for CHAINED! I sent this to about thirty agents in all, and had several requests and eventually two offers of representation. Agent Joanna Volpe's comments are in blue:

Dear Ms. Stampfel-Volpe,

I have written a mid-grade novel of about 50,000 words that I'd like to submit to you if it sounds like something you'd be interested in reading. CHAINED is the story of two captives-- one a boy, one an elephant.
[This line already had captured my attention. I've been a long time animal lover (I had a subscription to Ranger Rick's well into my teen years. Don't make fun!) I don't typically see stories starring elephants, and I really liked the title.]

To work off a family debt, 10-year-old Hastin leaves his desert home in Northern India [Something else that piqued my interest. India! A fascinating and different setting than I'm used to seeing. My heart also went out to this kid immediately at having to work off a family debt.] to work as an elephant keeper. His new boss, Timir, plans to revive his old circus, starting with the elephant act. Hastin's new workplace is as strange to him as the green and humidity of the nearby rain forest. Why was this circus, which used to be the best around, forced to close down years before, only to be abandoned until now? How does the cook know everything there is to know about elephants? How does a person free an elephant from a trap, and how in the name of Ganesh does he take care of her when he does?
[I don't typically love when questions are posed in queries. More often than not, it feels like a forced way to catch an agent's interest. But in this case, there was something so innocent and naïve about the way the questions were asked. I just had this quick thought of "Hello, Hastin." I knew it was him.]

Surviving failed escape attempts, stolen money, an elephant hook, heat stroke, and a shared stable, the friendship between Hastin and Nandita the elephant grows stronger with each passing year, until they discover that the bond that links them together is stronger than any shackle, lock, or chain.
[This whole paragraph is great because it gives me a taste of what's to come, but that final line…I think we've used that in one way or another straight through to publication. I know I added it to my pitch! It's SO good. This might be the line that really captured me 100% because it really cuts to the heart of what this story is about.]

Author Uma Krishnaswami critiqued the manuscript and has been kind enough to offer to answer more questions about Indian culture if needed, and to read the story again to vet it before publication.
[This was just the icing on the cake to show me that she did her research—it certainly would have been one of my first questions when we talked.]  

A few editors have requested the manuscript, and I have listed them here, along with where I met them. :

·  [Awesome Editor A]  - First pages workshop
·  [Fabulous Editor B] - Highlights conference at Chautauqua
·  [Rock Star Editor C] - Houston SCBWI conference
[Since I had no writing credits or anything, this was sort of my "bio" and a way to show that I was actively participating in SCBWI events, for example, and getting my writing critiqued by editors, and to let them know there was some interest in the manuscript. ~Lynne]

Thank you so much for your time.


Lynne Kelly

Hope these tips and the example help those of you who are working on your queries. Have any other helpful hints? Please share in the comments. Thanks so much to Joanna for taking the time to look over the letter again and adding her feedback!