Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Intern

For those of you who follow my ho-hum-this-is-my-life blog, you already know about this, but I thought I'd announce it on blogger as well. For the next four months, I'm going to be moving to Washington, DC to intern with the Elaine P. English Literary Agency (their blog can be found in the sidebar, for anyone interested). Elaine and Naomi were both incredibly nice and encouraging during our phone interview last week, and I can't wait to actually start working! I've been told I'll be blogging for them as well, so when I do post there, I'll be sure to leave a link. I'll also be doing administrative stuff, as well as reading queries, and all that goes along with it. It's all very exciting, and even though I have a place to stay (Thanks again, Simmy!), and my plane tickets, it's kind of surreal. 45 internship applications landed me with the perfect one. Like one of my earlier posts said, perseverance pays off!

Besides that, some new things going on in my life:
1. Tonight the Madison Review (the literary journal I work for) is hosting a reading for this year's thesis students, and because I qualify under both titles, I'll be reading from ch.1 of TANGO. Nervous, but exciting!
2. I've begun writing the sequel to TANGO, entitled The Age of Consequence (TAC). Also exciting! (More than, but I'm at a loss for words as to how happy this makes me.)

Oh, and a public service announcement! If you live in Madison, WI, come to the Union on Thursday for the release party of Souvenirs! This is a local magazine I work for, which focuses on study abroad stories and art. We're going to have copies of the issues for you, as well as some ethnic dancing and music, and a DJ (who's actually my friend's boyfriend). Oh, and there will be food as well. So you should come!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Nate's Thoughts

I was going through Nate's comments on part three of TANGO this evening, and they just made me laugh. I thought I'd share.

In no particular order, and with no context for you whatsoever...

"Blech!" x2

"God, it's like they're already married!"

"So sad :-("


"BOO. Aema, stick with your man!"

"Great scene - naked ambush. Wow."


"Yikes!" x2

"It's always twigs snapping." (Marie and Mika will appreciate this.)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

On Finding an Agent

I did it. I finally made the big leap into the turbulent publishing waters - I sent out the first of my query letters. And in honor of that, I thought I would talk about how it was I came to decide which agents to query.

Step 1. This may seem obvious, but finish your manuscript. And don't just finish it, revise it. Polish it up as best you can. Have people look over it. Step away from it for a while, then come back. You'll be surprised at the things you've missed. No agent wants to see a manuscript riddled with typos and plot holes. Because I had a deadline, I didn't have the luxury of stepping away from TANGO. I just plowed ahead, relying on Mika and Marie (two friends who graciously offered to edit my novel) to catch any mistakes I made. As it turns out, I have a pension for repetition. Names, words, phrases, I am guilty of them all. Luckily, my manuscript is now much more diverse, and I believe there is only one instance of 'snapping twigs.' (Inside joke, forgive me.) But that is why you need to edit, edit, edit. I still find mistakes in published books every now and again, but that doesn't mean you're allowed to turn in a sloppy manuscript full of them. If you were an agent, would you want to read something that was just a messy first draft? I doubt it.

Step 2. Read. This can be done before or alongside step one, but I still think it's a necessity. Pay attention to the way other writers handle dialogue or setting. Take note of what works and what doesn't. If you have a problem writing really emotional scenes, look at how others exicute them. It's like homework, only much more fun.

Step 3. This goes hand-in-hand with step two: Hang out at your local bookstore. Pay attention to what is selling. Are those tables at the front of the store full of vampires and werewolves? Great, if you wrote a YA covering just that topic! Not so great if you wrote a self-help book on how to make floral arrangements. Check out other books in your genre, and check how similar yours might be. Agents don't want to see the same thing over and over again, so if your novel is basically a copy of William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, complete with a chapter whose sole sentence is "My mother is a fish," then you might have some problems finding someone who would want to represent your book.

It's always good to know your competition, and know it well.

Step 4. Do your research. Once you select a genre for your novel, head to somewhere like agentquery.com. It can help you find agents who will represent your genre of writing. Don't rely on that site, though. Once you've found a few agents, check out their websites. AgentQuery is not always up to date on submission requirements, and you don't want your query to be rejected because you forgot to send the first five pages, or because you attached something when you shouldn't have. Or worse yet, that your #1 choice for an agent is no longer accepting unsolicited submissions. Simple googling will also get you some results. Try and be specific, though, if you're going the Google route. "Literary agent + science fiction," for example. See what happens.

Also, it's a good idea to read the agent bios, besides just the submission guidelines. Many of them have worked at other agencies, and you can then check those out as well for potential agents. Those bios are also your bible. A lot of times, they'll tell you exactly what that person is looking for. If what you wrote doesn't qualify, move on. Maybe that other agency they worked at will represent your kind of story. Or maybe even someone else within the agency.

Another good trick is to look up the agents of authors you enjoy. If you enjoy reading science fiction, and that's what your book is about, chances are some of those agents might be interested. If you read YA, but your story is meant for adults, maybe don't try this method, but I've found a few potential agents based on books I enjoy reading.

Step 5. Read agent/agency blogs. These are bibles for budding young authors. Nathan Bransford's blog has been my savior many a time over the past few months. He tells you exactly how to write your query letter, how to format it, along with your manuscript and synopsis. He also gives a lot of really great insight into the publishing industry, which is always helpful for those of us trying to get our start. If an agent you're interested in has a blog, make sure you look it over. Blogs tell a lot about a person, and agents often will tell you what they are and are not looking for. Also, it's good to personalize your query letters, so the more you know about a person, the better.

Those are what I would consider the basic steps of hunting down the perfect agent. Once you've got a decent list (Mine is currently hovering between 50 and 60), you can start sending out those query letters.

Which is what I'll talk about next time!


Blogs I've found really helpful when it comes to finding an agent:
Nathan Bransford
Dystel & Goderich
BookEnds LLC
Miss Snark
Pub Rants
Janet Reid

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Importance of Not Being a Hermit

For me, writing is more than just a hobby. It's not just something I do for fun, or to kill time when I'm bored. To me, writing is my life. It's what I went to school for, and it's probably the only thing I'm really good at (besides baking). I can't do math to save my life, and science goes way over my head. I'm not crafty, or a good businesswoman (I could never advise people on money, since I spend all of mine). I'm a huge klutz, and I hate sports. I can't stand the sight of blood, and as much as I wish I could paint, I can't even draw a convincing stick person.

No. For me, it's always been writing.

However, I've come to realize a small downside in being a writer, and that is the tendency to become a hermit.

I am guilty of this, I will admit it. I wish it weren't so, but the fact of the matter is, when I'm writing, I tune out the world. I get so wrapped up in this other world I've created, that I forget about the one I'm living in. As I mentioned last time, I forget to eat. I forget to go to the bathroom, or comb my hair, or put on makeup. Half the time, I forget to change into something other than pajamas. I don't sleep a lot, and forget about (or choose to skip) class. The characters in my story feel so real that I sometimes forget that I have real friends, who matter a great deal more.

After being locked away for the last two weeks, I emerged from my writer's cave today feeling oddly out of touch. I have seven other roommates, and hadn't some of them since before spring break. I had no idea we were having a party this weekend, or what had been going on in their lives, and I felt terrible.

As writers, we tend to get sucked into the vortex of our imaginations. Characters in our story feel like real people, and maybe you feel like you even know them better (this is probably true, considering you created them). But it's important to remember that they're just that - fiction. They will never be a real person you can interact with.

The nice thing is, my friends and family understand how important it was for me to finish this book. It wasn't just my thesis, it's what I'm hoping to base my writing career on. It's not just an A on my transcript. I'm so grateful to have people that understand why I sometimes disappear for weeks at a time. Even still, I am hereby promising to never pull a two week disappearance act again, unless absolutely necessary (which, I'm hoping, it won't be). I missed my friends, and the way we can make just about anything funny. I missed hanging out in the living room and making fun of people on TV. I missed planning themed parties, or cooking. Or just talking to people. Granted, I had a strict deadline to meet that got moved up unexpectedly, so I couldn't help my disappearance this time. Next time, though, I will make sure to remind myself to take a break more often, and to make sure I spent time with the people who matter most.

As much as I love Lottery, Aema and Darius, friend and family are infinitely better.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Deadlines: The Best Diet Ever

One thing I've learned since beginning my thesis in January (aka finishing TANGO, then editing it) is that deadlines are the Best Diet Ever.


Since January, I've lost close to ten pounds.

Some authors like to have food around when they're writing. A drawer devoted to chocolate. A stash of jellybeans nearby. A bag of chips. Me, I like to have bottled water or Gatorade. I can't eat while I write, because I hate it when crumbs fall on my keyboard and get lost beneath my keys. (This happens entirely too often, despite my protests.)

I've never been much for deadlines. I like to write at my own pace, and deadlines always scared me. Nate, however, made sure to set deadlines over the course of the semester. Every two weeks I'd have to turn in a chunk of pages, and I'd usually be scrambling a few days before hand, trying to edit everything so it didn't suck when I turned it in.

That's how it started, anyway. Because I was sending chapters in order, and I'd already written the first two sections of the book, I didn't have a whole lot of editing to do. I'd check for typos, maybe change a few words, but that was about it. Still, I'd fuss over those pages to the point that I'd forget to eat. I'd spend hours in front of my computer, debating whether or not to change a comma to a semicolon, or vice versa.

As the semester progressed, I realized I had a lot more work ahead of me than I'd thought. So, when I met with Nate at the end of February, I really started heeding his deadlines. I'd work on TANGO every day. I'd spend an hour or two looking over a chapter, or writing bits of new material. Again, I'd get so caught up in this that I would forget to eat.

As February turned into March, and I was told of the Eudora Welty Fiction Thesis Prize, I was given a new deadline. THE deadline. April 21st, 2010. That was the day I needed to turn in my story, and it had to be done. I was terrified, considering the fact I had at least five chapters to write (I believe it turned out to be seven or eight, actually). That night, after my meeting, I sat down in front of my computer, sans dinner, and began typing.

By 3am, I'd knocked off one of those remaining chapters. And so the pattern continued. I'd write late into the night, forget to eat dinner. Eventually, I think I gave up on even trying to remember. I had a deadline, and I was going to meet it, goddamnit.

Spring break rolled around, and I left my house maybe twice. For 12-18 hours a day, I sat and worked on revising my story. I'd finished it the week before, and had three weeks until everything was due. It wasn't a lot of time, but I was determined to have my thesis in Nate's hands on April 21st if it killed me. So I'd wake up and write/revise for a few hours, eat lunch, and write/revise until 2 or 3am. It was fun some of the time, to be honest. I got even closer to my characters, and I spent a good deal of time deleting huge chunks of text, then filling them with better things. I probably cut nearly half the story, and rewrote it. And as much as I deleted, I still ended up with a second draft that was 3000 words longer than the original.

And I'm still not done. I have one more week of revisions before I send TANGO to Kinkos to be printed and bound. But I have a schedule to follow, which has made everything so much easier. I should add a line for 'eat dinner' on it because, even now, I still forget to eat. Right now, as I type this, I'm reminding myself that I need to eat dinner (a glass or orange juice doesn't cut it, I'm afraid). When you love your story, you get sucked into it. The real world doesn't exist. All that exists are your characters, and they probably aren't eating (I've realized I have very few scenes in my story where the characters are actually interacting with food, which would have been a good reminder to me...). I hear that doctors performing surgery have a similar experience. They forget how tired they are, or that they're hungry, or have to pee. To me, that's what writing a good story is like.

I hope that means TANGO is a good story.

Some advice: When you're writing (and revising, especially), make sure to keep food nearby. Unless you want to lose weight. In which case, make sure you lock yourself in your room and don't see the sun for two weeks.

I should coin this diet. I really should.

The Long and Short of It

As we all know, one cannot be published without first having a story. Here's the short version of where TANGO came from:

My head.

Now for the long version.

It was a rainy Friday in Galway, Ireland. Not wholly unexpected. My apartment was five minutes from campus, so I'd woken up at 8:45 for my 9am class. I trekked to campus without an umbrella because, as some of you may know, they tend to be rather useless. The wind turns them inside out, and no matter what, you still end up getting wet. (What I'd really like to know is how Irish girls keep their hair straight, even when walking to class in the rain.)

Generally, I didn't go to my 9am Nazi Germany lecture, simply because it was early, and in one of the furthest buildings on the main campus. (Do not get me started about my adventure trying to find the business building). However, this particular Friday interested me. The syllabus said we'd be talking about life inside Auschwitz and other death camps, and my interest in Nazi Germany is through the roof. The politics, not so much, but the lives people led? Those are stories I'd like to hear.

I made it to class on time, unsurprised by the lack of attendance. Friday morning lectures were generally pretty empty. Dr. Healy (for anyone planning to attend the National University of Ireland-Galway, take Roisin Healy's class. She's brilliant) spent the 90 minute class showing us pictures of death camps, and the emaciated figures who lived (and died) there. She also mentioned the infamous Dr. Mengele, and his medical experiments. Briefly, she talked about him (or some other doctor) trying to cure death, and I remember thinking, "What if they had?"

Immediately, I pulled out my notebook and began jotting down ideas. By the end of class, I had the title, along with character names, and a very basic plot. I practically skipped home. I hadn't written anything in months, and I'd had a difficult time in Ireland. Writing has always been a huge comfort to me, and the thought of having a new story to work on was exciting. I spent the next week or so planning the story, and developing the characters in my mind. By the time NaNoWriMo rolled around, I was ready.

Over the course of 30 days, I wrote over 50,000 words for my story.

Then, I stopped. I didn't touch it until late December, when I got the idea for chapter 24, a chapter that I am still ridiculously proud of. And once I'd written that, I stopped again. Spring semester was fast approaching, and I needed to decide what to use for my senior thesis (creative writing majors are asked to write either a collection of poetry, a collection of short stories, or a novel). I had another story, an old one, I was considering dragging out of the closet, but when Nate told me I could use the next four months to finish TANGO, I couldn't pass up the opportunity.

And that, my friends, is how TANGO was born.

Friday, April 2, 2010

An Introduction of Sorts

As I pass the halfway mark in my revisions of The Age of Never Growing Old (henceforth referred to as TANGO), I thought it might be a good idea to document this entire process. That being, from writing my manuscript, to querying, and hopefully seeing it on a shelf someday.

But first, a little about myself!

I like candlelit dinners, white roses, and long walks on the beach.

No, really. I do.

But that's not even marginally important.


I grew up in the Midwest, and am currently a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where I'm majoring in creative writing. I've been there since 2008, after transferring colleges twice. I also studied abroad in Galway, Ireland last year, so I think I'm pretty skilled in terms of moving. And packing. (For the record, packing up your life six times in four months? Not advisable.) I started off as a journalism major, then switched to creative writing when I realized I had no desire to write for other people - I wanted to write for myself. I was also an art history major for two years, but dropped that when I found out it was going to keep me in school far longer than necessary.

TANGO, my thesis, was actually something I started during NaNoWriMo in 2009. I was in Ireland, sitting in my Nazi Germany class, when I got the idea. Regardless of the fact that my study abroad experience wasn't always positive, I will forever love Ireland, if only because it inspired this story.

Here's the first paragraph from the first (and awful) draft of my query letter, just to give you an idea of what TANGO is about:

When you decide who lives and dies in a society where natural death is impossible, you can protect yourself from just about anyone and anything. That’s what Lottery thought — until he discovers Aema, the love of his life, is seeing someone else. Consumed by jealousy, he marks his rival Darius for execution in the upcoming Selection. Unfortunately for him, Temicus, the Centre's all-powerful leader, has noticed his preoccupation with Aema, and decides to have her killed as well. Now Lottery must enlist Darius's help to keep the woman they love alive. Together, they formulate a plan to escape the Centre and to destroy everything it stands for.

While my thesis advisor, Nate, has informed me that dystopian literature is a sub-category of science fiction, I'm having a hard time categorizing TANGO, simply because it crosses a few boundaries. It's sci-fi, yes, but it's also a romance. There's some suspense and mystery thrown in for fun, and it is very much character-driven. Obviously there's a plot - how could there not be? - but it's fueled by character interactions, which I think isn't entirely common. At least Nate said it wasn't, and I'm tempted to listen to him, since he's (relatively) older and (definitely) wiser.

So now that you know a little about me, and a little about my novel, I will bid you adieu. And leave you with this article from The Rejectionist, one of my favorite blogs.