Writing Techniques: Querying

This isn’t technically a “techniques” post, because, admittedly, I have very limited experience with this. So, instead, I’m just going to babble a bit about how my process with querying has been going thus far, so it will be a bit more personal.

I never attempted to traditionally publish I’m With You, though, in hindsight, I wish I had given it a shot. My confidence was festering in the gutter after my college graduation, and hearing about the horrendous odds of landing an agent as a fledgling writer didn’t boost my spirits. So when I heard about an indie publishing contest, I submitted I’m With You on a whim. Never queried an agent or anything.

But it’s over and done, and I’m attempting to query agents for my latest MS – a YA/Fantasy currently called Otherworlder about a girl named Evie teaming up with a pair of quirky talking animals in order to save her little sister from peril in a world full of magic. It took me a long time to get to this phase… not only because I’ve been working with editors, getting feedback, revising the MS over, and over, and over, and spending a lot of time tweaking my query materials and researching potential agents. But because I am a wuss.

Well… that’s not totally accurate. But I do, like many others, suffer from anxiety, which has prevented me from taking steps in my writing career and beyond. I used to be crushed by any and all criticism, and paralyzed with fear over the idea of rejection. It took me a long time to seek help for these issues (until I started developing ritualistic behaviors, which is a bit of a red flag) but I recently did so, and I’ve gotten a lot better in regards to handing my writing and general life stuff. Getting a proper diagnosis and learning how to handle it has done wonders – I’m not saying that as a sympathy grab, it’s just the truth. I still have bad days, but I’m improving.

Thus, I’ve drawn all the deep breaths I can manage and have at last begun to send out my queries. Of the 20ish I’ve sent out so far, I have gotten a rejection. It’s no great shock, but a few months ago, that would have destroyed me. I probably would have thrown in the towel immediately, even though I know virtually every author has been rejected at least once, if not multiple times. I literally used to have confidence as thin as a delicate, porcelain elephant figurine sitting on the mantle of an eighty-year-old woman named Ethel. Fortunately, I am now in a better mental state to handle rejection rationally. It’s going to happen, and I know that – but I need to take it, absorb it, use it as inspiration to do better, and move ahead. Keep going, and keep writing. Be Winston Churchill, and never surrender!

Send me all the positive vibes you can, fellow writers! And please feel free to message me with your own querying stories and suggestions! I’m working on my next MS in the meantime, but I’ll take all the support I can get, as I really want to share all of Evie’s fantastical escapades in Otherworlder with you.

 

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Reading Out Loud

Reading is a different experience when it is done on one’s own as opposed to a book being read aloud. The very words “reading aloud” can evoke horrible memories of “popcorn” reading in class and being afraid of stumbling over or mispronouncing a word, but being read to is a different story altogether.

Some of my fondest memories from childhood are my mom reading me and my sister The Chronicles of Narnia. I fell in love with Mr. Tumnus, the Pevensie children, Aslan, Prince Caspian, Reepicheep, and so many other characters and places thanks to her introducing us to those wonderful adventures. A few years later, when I was old enough, I revisited Narnia on my own, and it was an equally enchanting experience.

Hearing stories aloud can have pitfalls, too. In third grade, my teacher read us Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Much like Viktor Krum, she wasn’t sure how to pronounce Hermione’s name, and went for “Hermy-own” instead. I thought that was how her name was pronounced until the following year, when the movie was released. My fourth grade class somehow finagled a field trip to see the film, and when they said “Hermione” onscreen for the first time, my brain went, “Ohhhhhhhhh. That’s how you say it.” I had already read the second book by then, so had gone through two books with the wrong pronunciation, and it still took me a bit to shake it when Azkaban came out.

My love for sci-fi also began with reading out loud, as my (either 3rd or 4th grade teacher… I can’t remember) read A Wrinkle in Time to my class. It’s not a book I would have ever picked for myself. Hearing the descriptions out loud instead of in my head made it so much easier to imagine the characters and the events, and it made me interested to seek out the remaining books in the series, though it was admittedly much later. I don’t even know if they’d read a book like this in classes these days, but I hope they still do.

Where_the_red_fern_grows_1996

I think the most memorable “read aloud” experiences for me is Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls, which we read during class in fifth grade. The simultaneously heart-warming and heart-breaking 1961 tale of a boy and his two hunting dogs was a unique experience because my class went through the joys and the sorrows as a collective, instead of on our own. At the most pivotal parts of the story, the class was totally rapt, listening in sheer silence as our teacher described the adventures and the close bond between Old Dan, Little Ann, and their human, Billy – and the devastation that comes with heavy, wrenching loss. I’ll never forget this story, and I know it hit me harder because it was read to me, and to my peers, instead of me reading it on my own. I probably would have skimmed some parts if I’d been reading it solo, but I’m very glad that was not the case. You can’t ignore the “sad” in books forever, and I’m thankful that I got to hear this book read aloud so I could process the emotions in a meaningful, and helpful way.

Do any fellow readers and writers have memorable “reading out loud” experiences? I’d love to know!

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon / Amazon UK. Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

Books I “Hate”

I mean… “hate” is a strong word, and it implies a whole slew of negative things, which is not my intention with this post. All of the books mentioned here are great books, most with legendary authors who have more talent in their pinkie fingers than I have in my entire body. I just didn’t enjoy reading these particular books. But “Books I Didn’t Really Like But Lots of Other People Did and for Good Reason Because They Have Significant and Enduring Literary Merit” doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, now, does it?

Also, for perspective, these are books I was assigned to read for various classes, which might have affected/skewed my overall opinion. Maybe I’ll give them another chance, someday. Probably not, but you never know.

1.) The Old Man and the SeaErnest Hemingway 
You know that scene in Silver Linings Playbook where Bradley Cooper is reading A Farewell to Arms and when he gets to the end he says “WHAT THE F*CK?” and chucks the book out the window? That’s how I feel about this book. This 1952 novel about an old Cuban fisherman battling with a massive marlin won a Pulitzer Prize, so it’s obviously an excellent book. But Santiago’s struggle and the whole Jesus parallel did not resonate with me at all when I read it in 9th grade English class. For the record, I enjoyed A Farewell to Arms, and admire all other Hemingway works that I have read.

2.) The Scarlet LetterNathaniel Hawthorne
Though I appreciate the messages this 1850 novel teaches about unfair judgment, sin/guilt, and the complexity of human morality and relationships, reading it felt like slogging through a dense swamp barefoot and without any supplies. It was just so tedious. The story of a woman branded with a scarlet letter “A” after committing adultery while the father of her illegitimate child grapples with his own sense of consuming guilt explores various themes and offers unique perspectives, but my god… I fell asleep reading it more than once because it was such a chore to get through. Each page felt like 1000. And I read it in 11th grade, when I wasn’t tired all the time, like I am now.

3.) Great Expectations Charles Dickens
Give me A Tale of Two Cities or A Christmas Carol any day, but keep this 1861 novel about the life of an orphan named Pip away from me. Granted, I read this book in eighth grade of my own accord for an assignment, which was a mistake. This book, like The Scarlet Letter, felt like it was 10,000 pages long. At times, it almost felt like a punishment. I appreciated the imagery and the themes, and it has a score of memorable characters – like the bitter Miss Havisham. But I was not a fan of the style – though, since I read it so long ago, this might be the one that I give another chance someday. Not any day soon, but someday. Maybe.

4.) Anthem Ayn Rand
I’ll be honest… I don’t remember a lot of this book, which I read in 10th grade. But I distinctly remember not liking it while I was reading it. I’m a big fan of dystopian books – Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451 are two of my favorites, for example – but this one failed to resonate with me. However, I did appreciate the messages about individuality and freedom of thought.

5.) The Catcher in the RyeJ.D. Salinger
I think, for me, this book suffered from overhype, much like The Perks of Being A Wallflower. I kept hearing, before this book was assigned to me in 11th grade, that I was going to LOVE this book, so by the time it actually came to it… I felt mostly “meh” about it. I mean, this book will forever be my #1 reference point for the unreliable narrator, and it’s impossible to deny the influence this book and Holden Caulfield had on literature and popular culture, and I hope a film version never, ever gets made. But I didn’t enjoy reading it all that much.

How I Learned to Love to Read

I’ve already told the horrible story of Lucille, but before that dastardly purple horse, I was brought into the wonderful world of reading with a series about a character known as Little Critter, created by Mercer Mayer.

If you are unfamiliar with Little Critter, this is what he looks like:

all_about_lc3

A bit frightening, but he sure as heck rocks those overalls. I loved these books as a child. The first one I read unassisted was called I Am Sharing. I plucked it off the shelf one day, sat down, and read through it all on my own. From that moment on, I was a reader.

Other than Little Critter, I also devoured the Berenstain Bears, by Jan and Stan Berenstain, the Eric Carle books, and a lot of Doctor Seuss… my favorites being And To Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street, Yertle the Turtle, and The Lorax. I was also a big fan of Owen by Kevin Henkes, Corduroy by Don Freeman, and Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey. I even had several books on tape (Yes, tape – I am old enough to remember using tapes), which I listened to over and over again to fall asleep at night. These types of stories are the ones I hope still appeal to young readers, a couple of decades later.

220px-The_Tower_Treasure_(Hardy_Boys_no._1,_revised_edition_-_front_cover)After, I worked my way into more difficult series – two of the big ones were The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mystery books, written by a variety of ghostwriters under the same pseudonyms while working for the Stratemeyer Syndicate. My dad is responsible for influencing my love of mysteries and suspense stories, as he also introduced me to old radio detectives like Sam Spade and Richard Diamond. To this day I can’t resist a good mind-bending mystery. I was also drawn to The Babysitter’s Club stories by Ann M. Martin and The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner. My shelves were full of these books, and I even read some of the adventures multiple times in order to recapture the magic.

Call of the Wild GIC.jpgAfter that, I had classics like fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, and abridged and illustrated versions of stories like Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, The Call of the Wild and White Fang by Jack London, and The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss. I used to try to recreate the drawings in these books, which also helped foster my love for drawing. I enjoyed these sort of “watered down” versions of the classics because I got to experience them at a young age, and when I grew older, I could read the “real” versions and feel nostalgic about the editions I read in the past, and appreciate that those stories are made accessible to younger readers. I don’t think I’d be as much of an avid reader if not for any of these books, way back to that first Little Critter book.

These books made me love reading. These titles and series are the cornerstones of my love for reading, and the foundation of my reading habits – and I’m curious to know what sparked your love for reading!

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

Perfect Day for a Book

Alarm rings at 7AM – maybe 8. I like to get an early start to the day, but not too early. The sky outside is gray, the air is crisp, the leaves have begun to turn. There is nothing on the agenda for the day – at least, nothing terribly pressing. Maybe some laundry, or answering a round of emails. It’s a guilt-free “stay in your pajamas all day” kind of day.

I get out of bed and head down to the kitchen to make breakfast. After a hearty bowl of cereal, and maybe a banana, I brew my morning coffee – the first cup of the day. The tantalizing smell of fresh caffeine fills the kitchen. Early morning rain starts to tap gently on the windows.

Once more or less awake, I bring a blanket down to the living room, curl up on the sofa, and fire up my nook. I start a new book – probably a YA of some sort – and just sit there and read, read, read, until it’s done. I may take small breaks for some little chores here and there, make some lunch, play a rousing game of “string” with the cat, but mostly, I spend the entire day with a book, or maybe two.

That’s the perfect day for me to lose myself in a book. A rainy day, on the cusp of fall, with a strong cup of coffee and nothing else to do.

What is your perfect reading day?

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

 

My Reading Routine

This one was suggested to me, and I thought it would be a cool thing to share!

So, I’ve mentioned in a previous post that during college I sort of fell off the reading wagon due to the extensive amount of academic-based reading that was required for my major. Reading became a chore for me, but since getting an e-reader, my reading for pleasure/leisure has been considerably enhanced. I aim to read at least 100 books a year, as you can see by my yearly reading lists on this site, though my goal this year is 110.

I used to read for at least an hour before bed every night, but that is no longer my standard reading ritual. These days, I do the majority of my reading at the gym – either on the elliptical or the treadmill. Occasionally, if those machines are full, I’ll take a crack at the bike. This is simple to accomplish, because I have a nook and can prop it up while I’m exercising. Sometimes, if I’m reading a particularly good book or only have about a hundred pages left and don’t want to put it down, I’ll even stay at the gym longer than originally planned in order to finish the book – thus, I end up getting an even better work out. It’s a win win! It motivates me to keep working out, and stimulates my brain all at once.

Some folks have mentioned to me that they find it difficult to focus on multiple things at once – reading while exercising included – so this might not be a realistic practice for others. I also listen to music at the same time, in order to drown out fellow exercisers who seem to enjoy having loud conversations across the room with no regard for others around them. Fortunately, it is the one “multitasking” endeavor that I actually succeed at. I quite enjoy my time at the gym because I get my daily reading in, and I tend to feel pretty good about myself afterward. As such, I go to the gym about 5/6 times a week, for anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes.

Though that is where I get the bulk of my reading in, I do read at home – if I’m cooking dinner and have to wait for something to boil or cook, I’ll knock out a chapter or two. If I’m eating alone, I’ll opt to read during my meal rather than watch television. If I’m waiting to be summoned for an appointment, or waiting in line at the DMV, or something similar, I try and sneak in a small reading session. All those tiny instances do add up after a time, especially when my schedule is crammed and I feel like I’m not making a dent on my reading challenge based on my gym-time alone. I love reading while traveling and used to do so all the time, but I have developed an unfortunate tendency for motion sickness during long car/train/plane rides that I have to combat with anti-nausea meds that often make me sleepy. But, if I can manage it, I do try, because a good book can make a long journey far more enjoyable.

That’s pretty much it for my reading routine. I’m curious to know, from fellow avid readers – what is yours?

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

The Next Couple of Months…

…are very busy for me. I am going to be querying my next novel, my older sister is getting married in Vegas, it’s a busy/stressful time at my day job, AND I have jury duty. So, lots of fun stuff going on, but it’s becoming difficult for me to come up with ideas for 2x posts per week – and I don’t want them to come across like it was a “chore” for me to write them.

In order to combat this, and give myself some more structure… *drum roll* I’M DOING THEMED POSTS FOR THE REST OF THE SUMMER! Yay! So much EXCITEMENT.  So much WONDER.

There might be a few random unrelated posts scattered throughout, like film reviews or one-shot posts, but, for the most part, I’m going to be following a “book/reading challenge” theme for my upcoming posts! Such posts might include ruminations on “favorite poet,” “books that inspired me to read,” “reading routine” or “favorite book to film adaptations”! I’m not following a set list or anything, but you get the idea.

If you have any suggestions for posts, please drop me a line!

 

Book News!

My YA novel, I’m With You, is officially available on the Nook, and it’s only $1.99!

Here is the LINK to the Barnes&Noble website. Give it a read, and leave a review to help an indie author out.

book coverSynopsis: When fifteen-year-old Ciarán Morrigan eavesdrops on a conversation between his father and two mysterious strangers, his life–and the life of his little sister, Remiel–is changed forever. After their father makes a startling decision, the Morrigan siblings are forced to flee the only life they’ve ever known and embark on a dangerous adventure across the nation of Empirya. With the help of a disinherited vagabond, a cynical violinist, a fire-juggler with a fierce temper, an aspiring mechanic, and a cheerful librarian, Ciarán and Remiel must fight to escape those who have been hired to hunt them. But will Remiel’s dark secret prevent the Morrigan children from finding a place they can truly call home?

It’s also still available in ebook format on Amazon, and is still available for paperback on both Amazon and Barnes&Noble for $9.99.

Film Review: A Wrinkle in Time (2018)

Dir: Ava DuVernay
Starring: Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Chris Pine, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Zack Galifanakis, Storm Reid, Deric McCabe, Levi Miller, etc.
Runtime: 1hr49min
Rating: PG
Spoiler level: Light

A Wrinkle in Time, one of the most-hyped releases of 2018, and based on the 1962 novel of the same name by Madeleine L’Engle, follows uncertain teenager Meg (Reid), who, along with her younger brother, friend Calvin, and three mysterious beings known as the Mrs., must embark on a journey across the universe to rescue her scientist father from a darkness known only as “IT.”

TAWrinkleInTimeTeaser.jpghough some folks adhere to the idea that films should be judged apart from their source material, I think it is more appropriate to judge a film both as an adaptation and then as a film. Therefore, as a fan of the original novel/series, I feel it is important to say that this film is not a good adaptation of L’Engle’s work.

Though it features characters with the same names, similar worlds, and strives to teach at least part of the same lessons, the film and the book are not on the same frequency, and for die-hard fans of the classic book, this adaptation will likely be disappointing. Much of the core message of the original book is lost to a sheen of glossy special effects, nonsensical (if beautiful) costumes, and a convoluted plot that allows some of the most beautiful sentiments from the book to slip through the cracks, lost to the universe.

A Wrinkle in Time (1962) is notable for it’s seamless blending and consideration of both science and religion, and how it handled sensitive social issues and other problems plaguing children like Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin, and continue to plague children and young adults in today’s society. The film touches on this particular aspect exceptionally well – exploring Meg’s insecurities and doubts about herself, especially – but because the focus is all over the place, the impact of that message is dampened. Religion is removed entirely from the film, as is a portion of the science, to the detriment of the narrative. So much is cut from L’Engle’s original story that the movie feels disjointed, the pacing suffers, and much of the plot comes across as confusing and the explanations insufficient for those not familiar with the source material.

It seems like those behind the film were trying to bend the book’s story to fit the message they wanted to tell, instead of adapting and doing justice to L’Engle’s work. I’m generally accepting of artistic liberties when it comes to adaptations, but when Aunt Beast gets trimmed down to a 2 second cameo so the kids can go on a CGI-laden sky ride above on a plant creature, and something that was so important to the author and a vital component of the story (religion) gets removed entirely, then I get a little steamed. And I’m an atheist, so that’s not any sort of bias speaking. There’s a difference between trimming superfluous scenes from the source material in order to accommodate run-time, and straight-up butchering the intended themes and vital components of the story itself.

I will say, however, that the “IT” stuff with Charles Wallace near the end (no spoilers) was impressive, and made me recall just how much I feared “IT” as a kid when I first experienced the book. However, though it is briefly touched upon, the whole “conformity” idea as it pertains to “IT” and Camazotz does not get explored in the film with as much depth as it does in the novel.

But… that’s just my views of A Wrinkle in Time as an adaptation.

As a film, the movie is a passable adventure aimed at children and young audiences that will charm and enchant them, and hopefully inspire them to believe in their own inner-strength and be “warriors” themselves. The message this film strives to impart upon its viewers – which, though it differs in the way L’Engle’s story is told, is no less important or powerful – about embracing your perceived “flaws” and using them as your strength will hopefully resonate with kids, and maybe even older viewers as well. Some threads of the plot – such as Meg’s insecurities about her appearance and intelligence and the father/daughter bond between Meg and Alex – are a success, but because there is so much going on in other aspects of the film, the focus is fractured, and those few shining moments often get drowned by the admittedly beautiful special effects, such as the sweeping, floral-kissed landscapes and storm-tossed forests.

The acting, for the most part, is commendable – the Mrs. (Kaling, Winfrey, and Witherspoon) do what they can, though, as a die-hard fan of the book, I was somewhat underwhelmed by the way they were depicted. The children, especially Reid as Meg and Deric McCabe as Charles Wallace, give believable and occasionally heart-wrenching performances, especially at the climax of the film, and though Levi Miller’s Calvin is underdeveloped, his acting isn’t at fault for that. Pine and Mbatha-Raw also turn in excellent performances, though the spotlight shines mainly on the younger cast members.

For a film that is meant to explore the vastness and wonder of both the light and dark of the universe, the end result feels disproportionately small. An ambitious effort on the part of the visionary director and talented cast, A Wrinkle in Time falls short of greatness and might not please fans of L’Engle’s work, but even though it’s a bit of a mess, it is a beautiful mess. For an afternoon out with the kids for some popcorn and stunning visuals, this film might be worth a watch to pass a couple of hours.

But for older viewers like myself, capable of getting into R-rated movies… if you’re looking for a female-empowering/led, diverse (which A Wrinkle in Time is, don’t get me wrong) sci-fi film with excellent visuals and an exploratory, unconventional, and compelling plot, please, please, please check out Annihilation (2018) if it is playing in your area. Fair warning, it’s got some gore and horror elements, but it completely blew me away – it’s not getting nearly enough praise, and deserves much more.

Overall rating: 6/10

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