The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

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Hello All! Today I’m participating in the Next Big Thing Blog Hop. It’s a phenomena sweeping the blogosphere in which several writers get together and conspire to shamelessly plug our work:) Each tagged writer answers ten questions about either their work in progress or an upcoming release. I will be talking about my work in progress.

First, though, I want to send a huge shout out to Laura Seeber over at Emerald Musings for tagging me. FYI, her novel, The Spring and Autumn Murders, a historical novel set in China, debuts this December. Be sure to stop by her blog and take a look around.

Okay (rolling up my sleeves) here we go!

What is the working title of your book?
The New Mrs. Collins

Where did the idea come from for the book?
An image of a woman by a lake popped into my head. She was squeezing water out of a towel and when she looked over her shoulder she smirked like there was a secret that only she knew. I was intrigued and wondered what kind of secrets she could possibly have, so I put her on paper to find out.

What genre does your book fall under?
Paranormal Fiction

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I think Jill Scott or Taraji Henson would kick some major behind as my main character, Leena. I imagine someone like Kerry Washington as her rival, Adira, and Necole Beharie as another pivotal character named Augustina.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
When Leena Williams suspects that there’s something otherworldly about her son’s new stepmother, she goes digging for answers and discovers— a little too late— that some secrets are better left buried.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Indie pubbed!

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
One year

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I’m not sure so I’ll just list some other paranormal fiction writers that I know of:
Octavia Butler, Tannarive Due, Brandon Massey, and L.A. Banks.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?
As I mentioned before, the image of the woman by the lake, but also, (and oddly enough) a beautician who stood me up! I was feeling really down on myself and thinking that my idea sucked, and when I told her I was a writer she asked me what I was working on. When I told her about the story she got so excited and said, “That is a great idea. No; you should definitely finish that book!” And I said, “Okay. I’ll finish it!” And then when I tried to schedule a follow up appointment (she said she would cut my hair for free if I didn’t like the style she did), she had gone running for the hills.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
It’s a gumbo; speculative fiction, women’s fiction, mystery, and suspense rolled all into one (I mean it’s set in Louisiana, so of course, right?)

I have a VERY clean draft of this novel and (fingers and toes crossed) I will have the absolutely finished I mean no more edits draft by November. I will keep everyone posted on the progress of this project and welcome your comments and suggestions!

Whew! That wasn’t too tough! Next up is my fellow speculative fiction writer, Toi Thomas, and short story writer Tosh Fomby. Please be sure to stop by their blogs next week to find out what they’re cooking up.

Until next time….

 


Starting From Scratch: the Ever Dreaded Page One Rewrite

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I was in South Carolina when the wheels of my novel stopped spinning. It was last Christmas and we were in Charleston visiting my fiancé’s family. Like the good writer I am, I took my laptop and handy dandy flash drive with me, intent on making a good amount of progress on my novel while I was there. I got up as early as I could in the mornings and wrote until Ron, my fiancé, would knock on the door and ask me if I was “Still working on that same paper.”

Yes I am, I said. And it’s not a paper. It’s a novel.

I should say that “novel” and “any kind of paper” are the same thing to my fiancé. When I’m editing a manuscript he’s amazed and comes into the room several times to ask me if I am going to read that same paper “Again?” When I tell him yes he shakes his head in amazement and walks out of the room.

But I digress.

So there I was, working diligently on my WIP when I started to get the feeling that something was off. I was working on a particular scene that wasn’t ringing true, but I continued nevertheless. And then a horrible thought popped into my head: something about this story is wrong. I ignored the thought and ploughed through anyway, but beneath the surface I knew that there was something not quite right. I just didn’t know what.

When we returned home I did not want to write. In fact, I did everything except write in the mornings. I watched P 90 X commercials (and Insanity and Brazilian Butt Lift infomercials). I sat on the couch and drank my coffee and refused to even look at my laptop. I couldn’t think about those people from my novel. They were making my head hurt.

And then in mid January something odd began to happen; I started imagining the characters from my story in a completely different way; my main character wasn’t a marketing executive, she was a baker! And the antagonist wasn’t an event planner; she owned her own boutique! And the main character’s love interest? He didn’t build houses! He was a super sexy private detective!

And the place was all wrong.These were not city slickers; these were folks living in a small town with nothing to do. So much so that the only thing they had to look forward to was an awful, annual parade. The narrative voice was all wrong and I needed to tell the story from more than one point of view. The people in that town needed to tell their side of the story, and the antagonist did as well.

I gulped when the realization hit me: I needed a page one rewrite.

I won’t go through the litany of curse words I uttered, but I will tell you that I fought it.

What was I going to do with the one hundred and sixty five pages that I had already written? You can make origami for all I care but you have got to start over.

But what about my fantastic first line? You can’t possibly be telling me that I’ve got to get rid of that too? Sorry, toots.

And that flash back scene in the middle? Of all the flashback scenes in the world you have especially got to get rid of that one.

But what about…? Stop your whining and write the thing over, will you?

I was not happy. A page one rewrite? That meant starting from page one! From scratch! And having to come up with another first line! I didn’t want to write no new, stupid f*c*ing first line! I wanted to finish my novel, get a three book deal with Harper Collins or Random House, make the New York Times best sellers list, buy my mom a bigger than she will ever need house, and then start working on my über cool sequel!

Start over? You have got to be kidding me!

But after my tantrum I realized that my story gut was right, so I dragged myself to the computer, rolled up my sleeves, and began hacking away at my outline. Every time I deleted a scene I felt a pang at my heart but I did it anyway. It took me about a week to reoutline the story, and after much trial and error I managed to write a new first line, and the new story was up on its feet and running.

Once I began writing these reimagined characters, something happened that I am almost embarrassed to admit; after all of that hooping and hollering over having to start over, I started swooning over the revised project. Not because I thought what I was writing was so good, but because it felt so right.

My story gut was right, and I, idiot writer extraordinaire, was wrong. So wrong in fact, that when I look at that first draft I’m like what was I thinking? Leena, a marketing exec? Get out of here! Adira, an event planner? Ha!

Why did I fight starting over with such tenacity?

Because of laziness. I didn’t want to do the hard work that was required to make the story better. Reimagining the story, starting over, reoutlining; all of those things take an extraordinary amount of effort, and the thought of having to do all of those things when I had already done so much seemed like too much damn work.

But I can tell you that my story is better for it. Was it a lot of work? Yes. Is my story in better shape? You betcha. The whole thing reiterated something for me that I knew but seemed to keep forgetting; writing a novel is not easy. But there is nothing like being able to type “The End” after you finish writing a story that feels true to who your characters really are.


And the Query Angels Will Sing

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I wrote my very first query letter knowing that it would land me an agent. It was easy. All I had to do was take every single element of my novel, throw them into several paragraphs which had plot points that didn’t seem to connect, include a line “about me” that mentioned my reality T.V. show obsession, spell check it, read it again, and voila; the query angels would sing.

I was so impressed with myself that I didn’t wait to send the query. I had to send it right then, because all the literary agents of the world needed to know about my brilliant novel right that second. So I hit the send button and that first draft went hurtling into the query stratosphere, a place where queries go but often never return. After that I sat back waiting for my inbox to be flooded with not just a request to see more, but also, an offer of representation.

I waited. And waited. And I kid you not, within the hour I got my first response. My heart rate sped up and I opened the email, eager to hear how impressed they were with my fabulous pitch, and then I actually read the message:

Nope. Not for us.

I think I actually rubbed my eyes to make sure they were working properly. I was flabbergasted— especially when other rejections flooded my inbox for the next few days and weeks. “Conspiracy! I shouted. “Always trying to keep a good woman down!” I just could not understand. How could they reject me when my mother says I’m so rad?

But looking back, I have to admit; that query was and still is cringe worthy. So much so that I would deny writing it, even If I were under oath, or facing a firing squad. Once I realized my query wasn’t working I was determined to make it better. I read articles, went to Nathan Bransford’s website and read his post on queries. I tried over and over to rewrite my query with little success when it hit me; I wasn’t the one with the problem. It was the agents! How could they expect me to take my novel, which was such a masterpiece that words could hardly begin to describe it, take only the “important” and “hooky” elements, and sprinkle those elements into paragraphs that would make them want to read the novel?

I shook my fist at the sky. I’m a novelist. Not a magician!

It took me a very long time to “get” what a query is supposed to do; generate enough interest in a project so that an agent requests to see more. There’s no need to include every plot point, or mention every character, or tell them how much your mother loved the story (even if she did). The person reading the query just needs to understand what the story is about, who the main players are, and where the story is going to go. And of course, it should be written in such a way that the person gets excited about the story.

At the risk of embarrassing myself, I will post that first draft query that I was referring to above (but if anyone asks you, tell them Snooki wrote it). It’s for a novel that was called The Beginning of Things that is sitting in the far corner of a drawer in a room that is locked.

Imagine: you’re inside a stranger’s apartment and find something that potentially links him to a murder. You go to the police immediately and stay as far away from the would be killer as possible, right?

Wrong.

Thirty three year old Octavia Button has just left a sprawling, five bedroom estate and has opted for life in a one bedroom shack that comes equipped with a leaky refrigerator and cranky landlord. But life there is better than life with a man who cheats–even if that man is filthy rich and makes it no secret that he wants her back. Facing eviction and financial ruin, Octavia is thrilled when she’s offered a position that comes with a free place to stay; Estate Manager for a luxury apartment complex.

Things seem to be looking up until she gets a visit from her erratic best friend, who asks for a favor that could put Octavia’s job in jeopardy: she has an ex-boyfriend who lives in the complex who will not give her back some of her things, and she needs Octavia to sneak her inside of his apartment to get the belongings back. Octavia agrees, and while nosing around his nightstand, she finds a bracelet that bares the initials of a woman she later discovers has been murdered.

If she goes to the police and finds out that her discovery is purely coincidental, she risks losing her job. If she doesn’t, and her tenant is really the killer, she risks losing her life.

Don’t laugh so loud. I can hear you.

Here is a much shorter version:

The Beginning of Things is a novel about a woman whose life takes a downward spiral after visiting a psychic to decode the meaning of a death dream. After learning from the psychic that death dreams signal “the beginning of things,” Octavia receives a job offer that brings three dangerous people into her life: her erratic best friend, a sexy new neighbor, and a handsome podiatrist. One has a mysterious night job, one is an arsonist, and one has strangled a beautiful woman to death. As Octavia unravels the truth about each one, it becomes startlingly clear to her that the beginning of things could very well mean her end.

This query got me a request for a partial and a full! (I will write another post on “when you think a request for a full or partial will lead to representation but it doesn’t so you kick your novel out of the house.”)

The truth is that you probably will write some bad queries before you write some good ones. The same is true of novels. But you can’t give up, because eventually, you will write that query that will lead to the request, and then that request will lead to an offer, which will lead to all of those book tours and New York Times bestselling lists that all of us writers dream of.

And the query angels will sing.


Agents Are People Too

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I never thought of literary agents as actual people until I went to Squaw Valley Writers Workshop this summer. Before then, I had imagined them as these dark forces who lived in these impenetrable towers, and in those towers they spent their days making paper airplanes out of query letters and dropping manuscripts off the tops of balconies. I will admit that I was actually afraid of them. That’s why I refused to look at the staff bios on the workshop website; I didn’t want to know who was an agent beforehand because I knew that if I encountered them I would begin to sweat, or apologize for sending them horrible query letters in the past, or worse, I would try and act über cool and pitch them my WIP which would have probably gone something like this: “So um, it’s about this lady, and she’s like getting married? And then um, this other woman comes to town? And then…well, a whole lot of other really cool shit happens but you’ve gotta read it to see how it all fits together. Here; I have a copy in my purse. And it’s so good I know you’ll finish it tonight so can you give it back to me tomorrow? It’s my only copy. Thanks! Muah.”

Fade In:

Int. Squaw Valley Conference Center — Day

A poor LITERARY AGENT goes running for her life. QUANIE, an aspiring writer, runs after her with a very heavy manuscript screaming come back here you shmuck.

Fade out:

So I didn’t want to know who was who because I knew that the conversation would go horribly wrong. Besides, what did I have in common with a literary agent? I planned to skulk around the conference keeping my ear out for those agent people, intent on not having an actual conversation with one. Well, imagine my surprise when, during dinner on the first night, I’m out on the deck with a group of very nice people and this guy starts yammering away. He was wearing a hat and looked innocent enough (I should have known; never trust a man who wears his hat at dinner), and someone says to him something along the lines of, “But you’re an agent.”

My heart rate sped up and I gave him a good look. He seemed surprisingly life like, and he was eating normal people food, did not appear battery powered, and tried his hand at a joke or two. He even asked me something. Well, he asked four of us that were sitting on one side of the table something about why we were there at Squaw. I swear every single word that I knew went running up the mountain. I sat there like an idiot while the other ladies gave very intelligent responses, and I, the queen of etiquette, tore into my garlic bread and managed to not make eye contact with Mr. Agent, who shall forever, unless he signs me, remain nameless.

There were other agents there at the conference, and some of them even led our workshop critique sessions! So imagine my horror when I realized that my piece was being facilitated by one of the literary agents! I called my mother (not near tears, but I did an enormous amount of whining), and said, “Mama! I went to her panel! And she represents literary fiction! I don’t write that! What if she tears my work apart?”

“Who is this?”

“Quanie!”

“Where are you?” I told her. “Well, I’ll be praying.”

I think her prayers worked, because I managed to get out of my critique session with all of my writer parts still intact, and I even had a conversation with the agent afterwards and guess what? She turned out to be a very normal, nice lady who got her purse from T.J. Maxx! She was a mother and an overall nice person who just so happened to be a literary agent.

I have to tell you that I saw agents in a different light after that. I think before I saw them as keepers of the gate (okay; vapid blood suckers who relished in making the lives of writers a living hell). I used to write query letters as if I were trying to get favor from the king: “Dear Sir, it would greatly appease me if you would bestow your eyes upon this manuscript. It is women’s fiction, 80,000 words, and should be very pleasing to thine eyes.”

But now I know: they’re just people! And they eat garlic bread, just like the rest of us! A lot of my query anxiety has subsided as a result of meeting some of them face to face, and although I know I’ll have some level of trepidation when sending out my first round of queries for this project, I’ll think of the man who wore his hat during dinner and how incredibly normal he was, and I’ll remember: agents are people too.

 

Me and myworkshop group at Squaw!