Why I love my rejection letter

Yes I said it. I love my rejection letter. Not just because it is my first rejection letter for my first MG novel, but because I actually RECEIVED a letter. Some authors agonize over never hearing from the object of their desire. Others hear only words that spurn their affections. But I. I not only received a letter, I also received a few kind words. That, my friends, makes it all worthwhile.

Let me say that I am not a sadist. I don’t want to be turned away like some uninvited guest. I want to join the party just like everyone else. The thing is, this letter gave me hope that one day I might get in. Maybe with some extra effort and a little more ingenuity. With tenacity and thick skin. With determination and hope. Yes I can —  join the ranks of the traditionally published.

Aside from the kind words, my rejection letter showed me that it’s not easy — and even though everyone says that, we all think we are that ‘one in a million’ author; of course, whether our work merits that distinction is in the eye of the receiver. My rejection letter showed me that someone is out there watching and possibly waiting. That somewhere, I will find my heart’s desire (maybe she’s pounding away at the keyboard from her high-rise in Manhattan, or he’s working feverishly out of a modest rental in LA) but wherever he or she is, our paths will meet and we will join forces to open up new horizons for the middle-schoolers of the world!

Maybe, the next time.

Querytopia: Are you there yet?

Now that I’ve finished my first MG book and sent out my first query, I await the forthcoming rejection. However, I am not afraid and look forward to placing it as the first in my inevitable stack that will prove that I’ve arrived.

Honestly, that’s a lie. No one wants to be rejected, but we have to accept the reality. So in order to reach what I call Querytopia, I have been making a detailed list of things that I want in an agent. It’s an exercise that is making me feel as if I am the one doing the inspecting (and it strokes the old ego too.).

First I got a copy of the 2014 Guide to Literary Agents. Next I read all the stuff in there I needed to know as prerequisites, then I began sifting through the list. I narrowed mine down to those that are:

1) Open to new / unpublished authors

2) Represent novels at least 50% (even better if they rep kids exclusively)

3) Are seeking ethnic or multicultural fiction

4) Rep authors I love (or know personally, because I do know a few)

5) Placed lots of books (or at least list what they’ve placed and with whom)

If this criteria is met, I visit the website to see if I like it. (Since I build websites the look of the site is important to me). I read the submission guidelines and make note of things I need to remember. I also note things that are missing, such as specifics for querying, not just telling me to send the query to an email address with no other information.

If the agency has an agent I follow on Twitter, that is a plus because I can troll the posts to see what they are discussing and if I like their personality. I also note if they do #tenqueries to see how they might ‘handle’ my submission (or manhandle it) 😦

If Twitter and FB icons are on the site I like that too. It makes it easy for me to find their agents.

I don’t care about what conferences they attend because the ones I attend tell me who is coming. I do care about things like additional fees for making copies for me ( uh… I think I can make my own copies if you send me a .pdf or zip file).

Once I have narrowed my list, I document everything in a spreadsheet and determine who will be the next lucky agent to get my manuscript! LOL. Flipping the script in this whole querying thing makes me feel so empowered, no wonder people become agents!

Postscript: Forgot the mention that I also check my choices against sites like Predators & Editors, QueryTracker, and AbsoluteWrite to get the inside scoop before I put an agent on the ‘legit’ list. Happy querying?

How Far We’ve Come

Do you remember the day you discovered the Internet? I do. I was working for a graphic designer and he had a computer. A computer I had access to use. In those days, you had to load 10-20 square disks to install a program, such as Ami Pro, WordPerfect, or Quickbooks. Now it all happens with the click of a link. I remember only a few (counting on one hand) websites back then: AOL, CompuServe and NetNoir. These were places I frequented to ‘meet’ people online. That excitement led me to change careers from TV news reporting to web producing.

But I don’t want to talk about technology as much as I want to wax rhapsodic about the world technology has literally expanded for us, both good and bad. True there is a lot of junk online. No I take that back — a lot of disgusting, filth and trash. But for those of us who avoid that kind of thing, the Internet has been a time-saver, an educator and an accelerator.

As a time-saver, the Internet allows me to find things I need to buy or investigate. I don’t have to go to the actual store and browse. Granted I still like to window shop and the Internet cannot really help me touch the clothes or smell the fruit. And even though it can save me time in my search  for books at the library (I can search Dekalb County locations and reserve my books) I still go to the actual LIBRARY to borrow them.

As an educator, the Internet has exposed me to resources I need in order to understand my field better — be it project management or writing. I can find lots of blogs and other sites hosted by folks like myself who share vital information.

And finally as an accelerator, the Internet brings me in touch with the organizations I want to join in order to meet the people I want to know and a very short period of time. I find it amazing that if I did not have this resource, I would never have met my book illustrator in Duluth, Minnesota or my critique partner in New Brunswick, Canada, or my book cover designer in India. In addition, I wouldn’t have become aware of organizations like the Society for Children s Book Writers and Illustrators or the Georgia Writers Association, and everybody they know. So I guess I’m saying that the Internet has been a wealth of useful information in my life these past 20 years and I am grateful to have the help, and to see how far we’ve come.

Driving Test Answers

For those of you who actually care, here are the answers to our mini-drivers test, according to the Georgia Department of Driver Services:

1) If a school bus is stopped in front of you on a 2-lane highway, with a solid yellow line is it legal to pass?

Answer: Passing is prohibited on two-lane roads in areas marked by a solid yellow line on the right of the center line, or a “Do Not Pass” sign, or double yellow lines.

2) what if it’s a city bus?

Answer: Passing is prohibited on two-lane roads in areas marked by a solid yellow line on the right of the center line, or a “Do Not Pass” sign, or double yellow lines.

3) If the light up ahead is flashing yellow should you stop?

Answer: A flashing yellow light means you must slow down and exercise caution before proceeding through the intersection (translation: don’t stop! Only those with a flashing red light must stop and treat it like a stop sign).

4) Can you turn right on red if the light is showing a red arrow?

Answer: No

5) What if there’s just a sign that says No Turn On Red?

Answer: Unless a sign posted at that intersection prohibits doing so, it is permissible to make a “right turn on red” at an intersection controlled by a traffic control light.

6) If you come to a 4-way stop sign at the exact same time as another driver, who can legally go first?

Answer: If two vehicles reach the intersection at approximately the same time, yield to any vehicles on your right.

 

Regarding school buses, this is also important to keep in mind: Once the flashing lights have turned red and the stop signs have extended from the side of the bus, it is unlawful for any vehicle to pass the stopped school bus while it is loading or unloading passengers. On a highway divided by a median, cars traveling on the opposite side from the stopped school bus are not required to stop.

I hope this little exercise will help all of you who are transportationally-challenged. See you on the road!

Could You Pass A Driving Test?

Is it just me or are drivers less and less aware of the rules of the road? I commute 60 miles a day and I can’t believe some of the idiotic behaviors I witness on the road. So I’m going to give you a little test to see how much YOU know about driving.

1) If a school bus is stopped in front of you on a 2-lane highway, with a solid yellow line is it legal to pass?

2) what if it’s a city bus?

3) If the light up ahead is flashing yellow should you stop?

4) Can you turn right on red if the light is showing a red arrow?

5) What if there’s just a sign that says No Turn On Red?

6) If you come to a 4-way stop sign at the exact same time as another driver, who can legally go first?

These questions were evidently not a requirement for drivers within a 50 mile radius of Atlanta because daily they make the wrong choice, wreaking havoc on our roads, not to mention my nerves.
So let’s see how ya do. I will post the answers in my next post and I truly hope you pass (for the sake of good drivers everywhere).

Just Because…

I’ve decided that it’s time for me to add a new category to my blog postings and I am calling it Just Because. That way I can talk about anything that I want to…just because I want to talk about it. So, today’s Just Because post is about old movies.

Yes, I am a BIG fan of old movies. I mean OLD, like 1930s and 1940s old. I love them and I am not ashamed. My addiction started when I was about five years old. That was in the early 60s when my mom stayed at home, made biscuits and watched me until I was old enough to go to school. We’d make those biscuits watching actresses like Bette Davis, Myrna Loy, and Rosalind Russell (ever heard of any of them?) Well, anyway, we had just gotten our first TV. It was black and white of course, with very few channels.

The first show I ever saw on television was a comedy: the Three Stooges. Sadly, the first tragedy I ever saw was the funeral of President John Kennedy. I remember seeing John Jr. saluting as the soldiers walked by, which is an image that was shown over and over for decades.

We also watched cowboys, gangsters and even a few silent movies, but the reason I love the old ones is two-fold: 1) they were black and white and to me, the shadows and light were used much more dramatically to set the scenes, and 2) the actors ACTUALLY acted; they had talent and could transform themselves into whatever or whoever the role demanded. Very few can do that today. Tom Hanks is Tom Hanks no matter what he’s in (I will give him some credit for Forrest Gump but that’s about it). I’d say only Meryl Streep has the ability to really change on the screen. The rest of them have a lot to learn from old movie actors.

The movies back then were a lot more wholesome too. Except the Cagney and Edward G. Robinson ones.  I mean, in general  the only questionable things they in most movies was smoke a lot, but rarely did they curse or promote lewdness (Okay, during the early 30s before the codes they were pretty wild, but between the late 30s and mid-40s the movies were relatively tame, and I liked that.)

I rarely go to the movies these days, too much violence and weirdness for me. Guess I’m old school, but that’s who I am. Why? Just because.

Are You A Passive Writer?

I’m not referring to your demeanor, I’m referring to your word choices. I was reading a blog about improving your scenes the other day and one thing it said was ‘did you notice the author didn’t use any passive verbs?’ Then I thought: “Hmm. Did I use any in my book?” So I hit my trusty Ctrl-F and searched for a few. One I used way too much is ‘looked’ or ‘looked like.’ So I cut them all out and found better ways to describe what something looked like or someone’s reaction. 

It made the passages a whole lot better! If you are getting passive (and now I do mean your demeanor) about using passive verbs. Go forth and annihilate them!

Characters v. Stories

Everyone who reads has certain pleasure points when it comes to a good book. Some like to curl up with a romance novel while in their stocking feet holding a big box of tissues. Others like to sit out on the screened-in porch with a tall glass of ice tea and a good mystery novel. But what is it about that book that the person loves? Is it the story or the characters? Maybe it’s both. But for me, it matters not the genre I choose but whether i can visualize the characters. I don’t mean see them as in what they look like or what they wear. I don’t need those details because I am going to fill them in with my own image. What I want is for them to be a near to real as possible so I can like them, laugh at them, and even scold them! I LOVE characters.

So that is a big goal of mine as I write for kids and teens. I want to build characters that people just want to follow and get to know, regardless of the storyline. Of course that has to be good, but when I think of shows, movies and books that I’ve liked, it always comes down to the character. When I was a child and watched Bette Davis on our black and white TV, it didn’t matter what the story was about. I was there for HER. Same today. I love the Madagascar movies (which are not for kids in my opinion) not for the plot but for the characters — especially how they interact with each other. I’d watch those animated animals no matter what they did or where they did it. They have great personalities and that is what makes me watch. As many know, Bette Davis was larger than life on the screen — the way she walked and talked. Her attitude about things. I have to admit as an adult I’ve purchased all her DVDs on TCM and anywhere else I could find them.

Another character that I would read no matter what is Lamar in Crystal Allen’s MG book. “How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won a Bubba Sized Trophy.” From the very first page that kid is hilarious. And he thinks he’s so cool. I could not put the book down. He had a unique voice that carried the story and would have whether he was a bowler (and he was believe it or not) or a brigadier general.

I truly believe that with well-developed characters, books can be so much better. I am still learning how to make mine sing so that when anyone reads about them, they want to know them too.

Manuscripts: Focus, focus, focus

One thing I have learned, and continue to learn, about putting together a manuscript is that it is not like writing a letter about something that happened to you or someone else. It is structured — whether you intend to do so or not. It has a beginning, middle and end of course, but there is so much more to it.

I’ve read lots of writing books (i.e., Writer’s Digest Great Fiction series, which I highly recommend, and Story Engineering by Larry Brooks) and from what I have ascertained, once the structure is in place, I can relax and just enjoy the writing part.

I was listening to an interview on Twitter with author Jill Santopolo and was happy to hear her co-sign the same approach I have added to my arsenal after reading the aforementioned references: to create the shell, and then fill it in. What does that mean? Well she didn’t say it that way exactly, but in a nutshell, you create an outline of each chapter so you know where you are going. It does not have to explain every little detail, just a basic sentence or two about what needs to happen. Then you can craft the direction you need to take so that you do not forget. Granted, I am a project manager so I am especially fond of clarity, direction and getting there properly — so sue me.

Anyway, here is an example: in James Scott Bell’s book Plot & Structure, he explains the ‘doors of no return.’ These doors are major events that thrust the protagonist forward in the story. Events that cause them to act — whether they want to or not. It’s fascinating reading and it really works! So putting this into practice I can ensure the story has direction, as well as conflict and excitement in all the right places. It’s not easy and I am still a novice at it, but the more I do it, the better my writing becomes.

You must admit, keeping kids’ attention these days is tough, so if you are going to write a kidlit book, it is crucial to use a methodology (uh oh, my PM hat again) that will keep them focusing on your book, not the XBox. 🙂

Multicultural Fiction: What is it?

Ok I’m asking this question to myself as well as you. Why? Because for all intents and purposes I am multicultural but I don’t feel any different than when I was just black, African-American or just a light-skinned sister.

The combo of being multicultural and a writer seems to be all the rage these days in the publishing world. For me that’s a good thing. The confusion is what does that really mean? Sure I have a multicultural background but my experiences are not unlike most other people. I grew up with both black and white kids from elementary through high school. I even met others like me with varying ethnic combinations in their ancestry. But when it comes to my writing there is little I can say that sets me apart, aside from my heritage.

So when I write I do not necessarily bring a ‘multicultural’ perspective to the page. If I do, it’s based on my experiences not necessarily a unique take on life. I know some who have lived with dual cultures in the home and are able to share that dichotomy, but for me my life seemed pretty normal. We leaned more toward the black side than the white one, so in that sense I have a black perspective but growing up in the 70s, it was pretty much the same perspective as any other person. We all hung out together, listened to the same music, etc.

Which begs the question: how do I bring my multiculturalism into my writing —  or should I?

My MG novel-in-progress touches on the issue of color as a deeper discussion on illegal immigration, but it is not the focus of the story. And most stories that do address color have already been told.

Therefore, I think multicultural is just a state of being and one that can help to enhance understanding of diverse cultures, but in my case, I’m not sure it makes a whole lot of difference when I write for kids. My characters are multi-ethnic because that is my truth, but beyond that their experiences are more ‘normal kid’ than ‘mc kid.’

Maybe after I attend the multicultural lit conference this year, I can get clarity —  and closure.