Tag Archives: writing

Returning to Battle: Second Time’s a Charm?

6 Sep

I’m doing it again! Pitch Wars, that is.  And can I tell you how excited I am?

It really happened!

I feel more fortunate than ever.  Because with Pitch Wars, the odds are most definitely not in your favor. This year, Brenda Drake’s epic contest garnered the highest number of entries yet–somewhere around 2600.  That makes the odds of getting in about the same as getting into the Ivy League. (!!)  But if you do get in, the odds of getting an amazing, super-cool, loves-you-like-their-own mentor is extremely high. These mentors are in it for the love, man. They love writing, they love writers and they love helping you make your manuscript the best it can be.

I’m thrilled to have Cass Catalano and Shauna Holyoak as my mentors this year (yeah–I got two! Bonus!) Together with me and my fellow mentee, Gaye Sanders, we are Team oMG. For the uninitiated, MG means middle grade, which means readers typically between 8 and 12 years old. I love writing MG because those years are such a pivotal time in life. It’s exciting and scary, and books can be a great companion, helping you figure it all out.  Actually, that sounds like me, now, with my mentors!

oMG squad hug

Seriously, although I entered hoping to get the opportunity to put my work in front of some top-notch agents, no matter whether I connect with one or not, I know I will get something hugely beneficial out of Pitch Wars this year: a community.

I first entered Pitch Wars three years ago and I gained a lot, including becoming a stronger writer, but most beneficial was the community I became a part of. Our group of over 80 mentees is still in touch, supporting each others’ writing and celebrating each new book published by one of us. And so far, there are a lot!! That deserves a separate post, which I promise I’ll do soon. I also connected with a super-supportive mentor, Lisa Lewis Tyre, whose writing I love. You can check out her debut novel, Last in a Long Line of Rebelshere and she’s got another book, Hope in the Holler, coming out in early 2018.

This year’s Pitch Wars class is turning out to be incredibly supportive and fun. I’m loving being a part of this group and am learning everything I can from them as well as Shauna and Cass. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about–taking my writing to the next level so that (hopefully someday) my words will be out in the world, touching the hearts of children.

The next step is revising, revising, revising and honing my pitch for the agents. I’m ready to take on the challenge!

Prepare for battle

The Myth of the Solitary Artist

14 Mar

Though the image of many famous artists is that of the painter or writer slaving away by themselves in their lonely studio or hunched over their antique typewriter high up in a tower somewhere, I have learned the exact opposite about the art of creating art.

Smithsonian castle sepia

Smithsonian ‘castle’

Art is never created in a vacuum. At the very least, artists are inspired and informed by the world around them. For some it is cities, for others: mountains. Or flowers or waterfalls or people. They observe color, light, movement, sound and they translate it onto their canvas, whatever canvas that is. For me, it’s a page and my paint is made of words.

My fellow writers are a treasure trove of stories not only because of their vast imaginations but because they feed their imaginations. Many love to travel, some to the opposite side of the globe, learning about different cultures and traditions; others to the closest subway station, eavesdropping on the conversations around them. The world is their collaborator though it doesn’t always know it.

In my experience writing is a team sport. Beyond gleaning from their interaction with the world, writers actively partner with many, many people most of whom give of their time freely in order to help that writer’s vision come to life. Here’s a short list:

  • Critique partners who give honest and necessary feedback in the earliest stages (love ya OWLS!)
  • Fellow writers in the community and at conferences who give encouragement and support
  • Bloggers who provide information, resources, and sometimes exposure and connections
  • More experienced writers who serve as mentors (thank you Lisa Lewis Tyre!)
  • Beta readers who give even more feedback once the story is complete
  • Industry professionals who attend conferences and contests giving information and sometimes feedback
  • Agents who generously provide feedback even when they’ve decided your work is not a fit for them
  • Agents who say “YES” and agree to represent you who help you get your manuscript into shape to sell and then work their tails off to sell your book on only promise of payment IF they sell it
  • Editors who read your work and provide feedback even if they will not be acquiring it
  • The editor who does agree to acquire it (squee!!) who works with you to polish it into the final product

Okay, so the list isn’t that short. And it doesn’t even include the whole team at the publishing house who helps ensure your book actually hits shelves (physical or electronic) with cover art and a minimum of typos. Which proves my point. Writing is a team sport. Don’t go it alone.

Without my writing “team”, I would not have completed two novel-length manuscripts and I wouldn’t have been able to see my stories with fresh eyes and take them to new levels. Of course, I haven’t yet added an agent or editor to my team. But I hope to soon. I’ve got some fabulous agents reading my work. Keep your fingers crossed that one of them is the right match for me.


Dear 2015 Pitch Wars Mentees

26 Aug

*Update: Welcome to my stop on the blog hop! To find links to the other bloggers’ posts, see the bottom of this one.*

Congratulations on making it in to PitchWars 2015! Welcome to the club and what an awesome club it is. I am in awe of my brilliant 2014 PW peeps. But what does being in the club really mean?

You might be hoping it means instant fame and one miiiiillion dollars.

Okay, not that exactly, but that success (insert fireworks and champagne here) is on the horizon. It might be, but it’s impossible to know how long that journey will take. To be sure, it’s good to look at the horizon every now and then, to keep that distant vision in your heart and stay on course. The trouble with the horizon is it never seems to get any closer. And that can be really daunting, even paralyzing, at times.

So my advice is to spend most of your time looking at the road right in front of you or in your rear view mirror.

When you focus on the next mile or even just the next ten feet, you know you can do it.  Deepening that secondary character? You can do it. Pulling out a minor plotline? You can do it. Just keep putting one step in front of the other.

Then, after a while, take a look back. Looking back allows you to see and celebrate what you’ve accomplished so far. And it can give you the fuel you need to take that next step when you are worn out. Because no one tells you that even the best manuscripts have to be revised 8,452 times.

Lastly, don’t compare your journey with anyone else’s. You do you.

If I had known the odds last year, I probably wouldn’t have entered. Looking back, I’m glad I did. I’ll bet you’re glad, too. Now get going on that journey and make the most of every step.


To read more words of wisdom/terror/ hope from the writers of the PitchWars 2014 class, check out these links:

Amanda Rawson Hill: On Doubt and Hope

Jennifer Hawkins: Last year at this time, I was you…

K. Kazul Wolf: Congrats on getting further into the insanity…

A.B. Sevan: Swimming with the Big Fishies

Tracie Martin: What No One Tells the PitchWarrior

RuthAnne Snow: 2014 Pitch Wars Mentee here, looking to offer…

Rosalyn Collings Eves: Most of you are probably sick with dread

Janet Walden-West: The Long Game

Destiny Cole: Yup, I’m talking to you…

Kelly DeVos: Confessions of a PitchWars Alternate

Mary Ann Marlowe: First things first…

Mara Rae: I’m going to keep it short and sweet…

Jen Vincent: Last year, on a complete whim…

Nikki Roberti: 3 Things You Need to Know

Anna Patel: Don’t Panic

Erin Foster Hartley: I’ve been putting off…

The Power of Empathy in Writing (and in Life)

1 Jul

The school bully, the class clown, the unfaithful friend. The kid who doesn’t even try.

These are the characters I love.

Why? Because they represent the fascinating, complex, bittersweet reality of life.

I know when I see people like this, who are considered problems often creating hardship for everyone around them, there is more beneath that shell which is all they allow the world to see. Much more. People are never, ever one dimensional and a difficult exterior is almost always a sign of an interesting interior. And often a painful past. It’s that painful past that makes me love them. Because I know they are struggling with it, trying desperately not to need the love they so desperately do.

Everyone is shaped by their environment, molded and stretched and scarred by their experience. That bully? He may have lived in a home with violence and anger all his life and not know anything different. Or, he may have always been indulged, never told ‘no’, never had someone help him learn the give and take of healthy relationships. Now he’s baffled when people don’t really like him. The unfaithful friend may have experienced instability and disrespect in her life that has taught her not to trust people and that it’s better to hurt first than to be hurt. The class clown may be ashamed of not being like his ‘perfect’ older brother. That kid who seems completely bored and sneers at others who try hard has probably been knocked down so many times, he’s learned the only way not to lose is not to try.

There is a great story there if you just look beneath the surface. I like to try to do that in real life and in my writing. Caring quote

When you write, your power to look below the surface is what will allow you to create great characters. Characters that people can cry for, hope for, and cheer for even while they are doing things that make you cringe, that you don’t agree with, or that make you angry. Think about where they might have come from and how it might be affecting them now so that you can love them in some way. All characters need that. In writing, and in life.



Slow and Steady Wins the Race

1 Jun

tortoiseWow, It’s hard to believe that last post was in September. Now that many moons have passed, it’s a good time to take a look back, see what I’ve accomplished creatively and look at where I go from here. Let’s see…there was:

September, in which I gained a mentor and lost a stepfather

One of the many benefits of #PitchWars is that I got a mentor (Yay!)  Even better, she’s a super-awesome writer of middle grade fiction who lives in the South. (Like me!)  Her name is Lisa Lewis Tyre and her book, Last in a Long Line of Rebels, comes out this Fall. I can’t wait to read it! If you like to read tween/teen stories or you know middle school or upper elementary readers who do, you can pre-order it here now. Anyway, Lisa loved my story and was so encouraging, while still giving me lots of feedback and suggestions for adding flavor to it. I was thrilled to work with Lisa.

But often when one hand giveth, the other taketh away.  At the same time this exciting thing was happening with my writing, my stepfather was fighting for his life against a brain tumor. It came out of nowhere in August. By the end of September, he was gone. I spent more time with my extended family in that month than probably in the last five years combined. And every minute was worth it. There are some things that are more important than writing, and it’s a good thing to remember that, especially when you are living in rejection-ville, as happens when you are querying.

October, in which I learned how bad I suck at queries

You’d think that putting together one short paragraph that hooks the reader and gives them the basic concept of your book would be easy, especially when you’d already written a whole book. You’d be wrong.

I wrote, got feedback and rewrote those three paragraphs approximately 8,332 times and finally settled on something. But you never really know for sure until you throw it out there.

November, in which I got two full requests(!) 

So maybe I wasn’t so bad at queries. I wasn’t great but I ended up with a couple partial requests from PitchWars anyway (Yay!) And, I got another outside that, too (Yippee!) Then, I got a rejection (Boo.) But then…I got two follow up requests for full manuscripts. (Yahooo!)

December, in which I read a lot and tried to pretend I wasn’t waiting for anything

The header says it all. The waiting stinks. And, as you hear of others landing agents even during the holidays, it’s hard to convince yourself that you just haven’t heard anything from agents yet because they just haven’t opened your email.  But it was good to read a lot just for pleasure. I haven’t indulged in that nearly as much as I’d like in the past year.

January, in which I stopped waiting and jumped back into the race

I started querying in earnest but slowly. And I started getting requests, especially when I included sample pages, which means hey, my writing doesn’t suck. But the process of finding an agent who is just the right fit is often a long one. 

Since then…

I’ve gotten more rejections and I’ve gotten more requests. I’m sticking with it, listening to the encouraging feedback I’m getting from agents and fellow writers, and improving my work.

I have to give myself credit for all I accomplished. I…

1) finally finished the book

2) did well in a couple contests and got some notice

3) got a fabulous mentor

4) learned how to revise and produce a polished end product

5) got some agent interest

And what got me these accomplishments was: to just keep doing the work, step by step, and find the joy in that. To make my writing the best it can be and keep putting it out there. Slow and steady wins the race (I hope!)

Read Or Write Anywhere

26 May

I am luxuriating in the plush covers of my bed, looking out over the moonlit pool deck while soft music plays in the background. I type the perfect sentence to complete my novel. THE END. Ahhhh.

Ah, who am I kidding? It’s midnight, I’m keeping my eyes open with toothpicks. I’ve written and erased the same sentence over and over. I’m only on Chapter Two. But it’s all good, yo.

When I decided to get back in touch with my love of writing, I didn’t have kids. I could spend unbroken hours reading Poets & Writers, crafting story ideas and dreaming of where it all might lead. The thing is, I didn’t do all that and I didn’t get much completed.

Fast forward a few (sixteen!) years. Now I’ve got two kids with very full schedules, run a business, accept speaking engagements, volunteer with my kids schools (plural), belong to a critique group and yet…I’ve written more in the past two years than ever before. In this time, I completed a middle grade novel, made it into PitchWars 2014, revised and revised and revised that book and am now querying it.  I’m now 13,000 into my next novel.

How? I stopped waiting to “have the time”. I stopped waiting for huge chunks of uninterrupted hours to sit down and write. In short, I took the advice of Barbara DeMarco Barrett, the author of Pen on Fire: A Busy Woman’s Guide to Igniting the Fire Within. If I found fifteen minutes or ten or five, I wrote. IMG_6856

I wrote in the car line at school, I wrote at the kitchen island while dinner simmered on the stove, I wrote on road trips, I wrote in between soccer games. The key is: I wrote.  No amount of time was too little.

To all those writers out there whose lives are also over-full and chaotic, if you feel overwhelmed, just know that you are not alone. And, do whatever you can to squeeze in writing. Whenever, wherever. Which brings me to this awesome campaign I’m a part of, hosted by the YA Chicks, called #ReadOrWriteAnywhere. It’s a fun way to show how you are keeping reading and writing on your priority list as this summer kicks off. And, you can win some prizes – books, Author Skype visits, critiques and more!  Check it out at http://yachicks.blogspot.com/ and enter to win now through May 31st. And keep writing and reading!


When are wars good? When they’re #PitchWars

4 Sep

I’m in! I’m in! I’m in a war. A Pitch War.

Earlier this summer, I wrote about taking small steps in my writing journey in this post. I’d finished a manuscript, gotten some recognition in a contest based on a query and first page and gotten some initial interest from agents. All good stuff. Really good stuff.  I celebrated, ready to take my next step. Then I realized in a panic that my manuscript was NOT READY.

Fortunately, my lovely and trusted beta readers started sending feedback. They laughed. They cried. And nothing–nothing, I tell you–makes me happier than making people cry. In a good way. They also gave me suggestions on how to make my story stronger. I listened. I revised. But I knew it still was not ready. I continued seeking feedback. And then along came Pitch Wars, the awesome contest by the even more awesome Brenda Drake.

I decided to go for it. I did my research and read the interests and backgrounds on every single mentor, narrowing it down to the maximum four allowed who fit my story, a middle grade contemporary with a twist of magic/sci-fi. I submitted my entry and crossed my fingers. I was asked to send more pages, then the full manuscript. Eep! More waiting, until finally, at midnight of the appointed day, I refreshed the Pitch Wars page obsessively until…*cue angels singing and harps playing*…there it was: the list. And I was on it!

I so needed this right now. In the midst of other challenging things happening in my world, this is a bright spot. And, though it doesn’t guarantee I’ll land an agent or get a book published, I know that no matter what, I’ll grow as a writer. And that is a prize worth fighting for. funny gifs

Small Steps on My Writing Journey

2 May

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” ~Lao-Tzu

One step at a time

One step at a time

For 2014, I decided my theme for the year would be to focus more on polishing what I’m already working on instead of starting a bunch of new things. One of the things I wanted to focus on was a middle grade manuscript I began early in 2013. I’d already weeded out other projects that were taking my time and distracting me from my goal. I just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other (i.e., words on the page) and git ‘er done.

Finally, I did! I had a complete first draft. Time to celebrate, right?  Well, sure, but…a first draft is not a final-ready-to-send-agents draft. So, my next step was to revise.  I began. But at the same time I entered a contest on an awesome website called Adventures in YA Publishing (if you write YA or MG, check it out here.)

In this contest, you submit a pitch and first line, and if you are in the first 100 submissions, you get feedback. I thought, awesome – I am going to get some feedback which will help me make it stronger. I didn’t actually think I’d get to the second round and get asked to submit my first page for critique as well. But I did. Eep!

From there, the top ten were selected to go on and get their entries judged by prominent agents. When I checked the list of finalists, I closed my laptop with a sigh. Oh well, I got some good feedback and that’s why I entered in the first place. But wait! What was that? My title? I flipped my laptop back open, and sure enough, mine was listed. Now I started to actually get excited. Big-time agents would read my work. Maybe even like it!  Of course, getting your hopes up is a recipe for a shattered heart, so I tamped down my excitement and just focused on getting the feedback.

So, how excited was I to receive a request to see my full manuscript from not one but two awesome agents?  Yeah, this excited:

Not me, but this is what I looked like on the inside

Not me, but this is what I looked like on the inside


A day later, I was notified I’d been named a runner up in the contest!  Out of 100 people, I was one of the top few. Double eep!  As a runner up, I received a first chapter critique from the fabulous Roseanne Wells.  Her critique gave me great insight and new perspective on my story and I am so grateful to her.

As I’m getting more feedback from beta readers and critique partners, I’m taking one step at a time to make my manuscript stronger. And soon, very soon, I’ll be ready to submit my final, polished story to these agents.  I cannot know where that step will lead me, but no matter what, I know it will be something good.

It’s great to look back now and see how many steps I’ve taken just this year. And it’s exciting to think of what steps are ahead. I just have to do my job and keep on walking.

2014 Muse Challenge: What Now?

30 Jan

 Join the 4 Chicks this year to stay focused on the next SMALL thing!

Now that it’s one month into the new year, are you moving closer to your creative goals? Perhaps, like the recording artist Rihanna, you may be asking yourself “What Now?”

If you “just can’t figure it out,” you’re not alone. For 2014 I’m challenging my 4 Chicksand youto ask yourself this same question as often as possible: What now?

But instead of screaming it in reaction to events happening around you, stay calm and query yourself for an answer. Something very specific and very small. What’s the next immediate, tangible action you can take?

Here’s one: Join my 2014 What Now? Challenge. To celebrate and share your beautiful little victories, feel free to check in with the Chicks one of the following ways:

Making 2014 SPARKLE!

7 Jan

Okay, yes I know that SPARKLE! was our December power word.  And, yes I know it is now January.  And, no, I didn’t write a post in December. That’s because, frankly, I didn’t feel very sparkly in December. I felt chaotic, thankful, busy, relieved, and a lot of other mixed emotions but not really sparkly.  In the last week of the year, when most of the hosting and feasting was over, I was simply happy to feel and be lazy.  Because I’ll admit – I was exhausted from 2013.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but I do choose an overall “theme” for each year.  For the past few years it’s been: to be uncomfortable as much as possible. In other words, to constantly say “yes” to new things, to push myself, to make possibilities realities. Because the more uncomfortable you are, the more you grow.DSCN0049

And, it’s worked quite well. To name just a few results, I’ve gotten my own business running on all cylinders, developed some wonderful clients, taught at my former college, become a public speaker of sorts, started a new networking group, learned to paddleboard, learned to surf (barely), learned to play the piano (sort of), kayaked for the first time, made a music video with my Chicks, and written a LOT.  However, I still feel like a beginner at many of these things.

Mario Sarto CCA-SA 3.0

Mario Sarto CCA-SA 3.0

So this year, I’m changing things up a bit.  Always doing new things is great, but now I want to focus on doing things better. I’m going to focus on polishing my craft, whether professionally or personally.

In particular, in my writing, I am in the final stages of completing an approx 35,000 word Middle Grade manuscript.  I’ve started an awful lot of stories before, and finished very few.  This is the one I’m most proud of so far. And, to give myself the chance to make it bloom into something bigger, I have to stick with it, polish it and give it a chance to SPARKLE!  So, our power word for December has become my Word to Live By in 2014.  I’m gonna make it SPARKLE!

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