Monday, May 2, 2016

Meet The Team!

T! E! A! M! Goooooo Team!

Now that all the contracts are signed, here's the team I'm hoping will make my middle grade adventure series a winner:

My Agent:

Natalie M. Lakosil is an agent at the Bradford Literary Agency. An honors graduate of the University of San Diego, California, Natalie holds a B.A. in Literature/Writing. After nearly four years at the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency and a brief dabble in writing author profiles and book reviews for the San Diego Union Tribune, Natalie joined the Bradford Agency in February of 2011.

Natalie is drawn to talented, hard-working new authors with a fresh, unique voice and hook. Her specialties are children’s literature (from picture book through teen and New Adult), romance (contemporary and historical), cozy mystery/crime, upmarket (literary and commercial blend) women’s/general fiction and select children’s nonfiction. Her interests within her specialties include historical, multi-cultural, magical realism, sci-fi/fantasy, gritty, thrilling and darker contemporary novels, middle grade with heart, and short, quirky, lovely or character-driven picture books. She is always drawn to an open and positive attitude in an author, professionalism, good grammar, and fantastical, beautifully written, engaging and sexy plots.

Natalie is a member of RWA and SCBWI.

Read more about her agency on their website or Facebook, and follow Natalie on Twitter @Natalie_Lakosil!

My Illustrator:

Cathleen Thole-Daniels has been a published illustrator since 1990. Her clients include Simon & Schuster,Barnes & Noble, PlayStation, Sega Genesis, Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Legend Entertainment, Fleer Trading Card Co, Topps Trading Card Co. Her professional awards include Best Logo Design NJ-SCBWI 2009, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Visual Artist Fellowship Award 2008, Fantasy/Sci-Fi Illustrators & Writers Of The Future Contest, Honorable Mention 1992. Cathleen was also a N.J. State certified Commercial Art educator from 2002-2014. Her educator awards include N.J. Governor's Award in Arts Education 2006, Outstanding Educator in the Arts Award, VSA Arts of New Jersey 2006. VSA is an affiliate of the JFK Center for Performing Arts. Cathleen now spends her time illustrating for kids, playing with her cats and bugging her husband, daughter and neighborhood squirrels to pose for photo reference! You can find her work at

My Publicist:

After years of working in children's publicity at Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, and other major publishers, in 2003, Rebecca Grose started her own freelance literary publicity firm - SoCal P.R. ( Using her experience and relationships with media, booksellers, and other key contacts, she works closely with her clients to strategize, design, and implement successful publicity campaigns. She has worked with several of my friends, including Yvonne Ventresca, for her Pandemic release.

So that's the team. We're all excited for this project and I think working together it will be a dream realized for me. This is the first children's book that I wrote (if you don't count all the verbose picture manuscripts I tried). And as I've mentioned, it has a special place in my heart.

Next week, this post will move over to my journey page and my blog posts will go back to writerly and world musings. When something big or exciting (hopefully not upsetting) occurs, I'll post it to the main blog then move it over.

Next, I hope to show a rough draft from Cathleen as our projected debut is September for the first book, December for the second. If all goes well, March for the third and June for the fourth.

Keep checking in,


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

On Loving Unloveable Characters...

I had an editor remark that "He's not a likeable character."

Yeah, and?

That's the point.

Fact of life: not everyone is likeable- not in your family (don't we know that all too well!), not amongst your peers, (yep, know that too), especially not at the workplace, on your block, in your church or book group, and maybe even among friends. The world is full of unlikeable people.

So why do editors insist that all main characters be likeable? Why all the nicey-nice, underdog, cheerleader, vanilla characters?

I don't do angst and I don't have nicey-nice characters because I don't believe in them. They exist, but I like to write in a darker flavor.

Norman Bates is creepy. His dark eyes and snide smile hint at the darkness lurking within. His mother, a clinging, over-protective and sexually voracious woman with a traumatic past, is an unfit parent. Norman's brother is the product of incestuous rape and yet he's the 'normal' one who only steals and kills to buy new lungs for a girl who's his brother's girlfriend.

All unlikeable, even reprehensible, characters. And yet, they are part of one of the most iconic movies and now TV series, Psycho and The Bates Motel. Sure, they have moments of humanity, compassion, and maybe even a smattering of redemption. But we still don't like them, wouldn't want to meet them even in a brightly lit room, and shiver from just a whisper of their name.

Why are we so fascinated with these characters?

Because they are dark, and foreboding, and evil; things we can only imagine while we lock our doors and run to our cars. They are exciting compared to the constant whining, drama-seeking characters who gorge on their own angst. It's why Ted Bundy, Hitler, Bernie Madoff, and other 'bad' people garner such global attention.

We need these characters in a landscape of sameness, especially in YA and NA. The narrow confines of high school should not define a character. Not dealing well with others in high school was only a small part of Norman's story, unlike the majority of books that center around that institution.

Did I change my character to fit the editor's view? Not really. It might have sold the book, but then I would have sold out my character. Did anyone really like Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre? He was arrogant, selfish, condescending, and manipulative. He embarrassed Jane. He made a fool of her, was willing to commit bigamy to get what he wanted. But because in the end he suffered tragedy and she still loved him (why??) he becomes a 'nice' guy? I don't think so. Yet this book is a classic. The same with Estelle from Great Expectations, Victor from Frankenstein, Gollum from Lord of the Rings, the Joker in the Batman comics/movies, the husband in The Good Wife, and one of my all time favorites, Hannibal Lector from The Silence of the Lambs.

I think we need to step back from overdosing on the Political Correctness that's being fed to us. The world is always going to be full of obnoxious people. I say give them their story and see the world from their point of view.

Now it's time for my character to do some dirty deeds... And they don't care if you like them.


Monday, March 28, 2016

I Chose the Road Not Taken...

When I say road not taken, I'm not talking about a meditative journey, or an adventurous vacation, I'm talking about stepping out of my comfort zone into something new.

Self publishing.

I have three novels, one short story, numerous magazine and newspaper articles via the traditional route; published by official publishing houses or agencies. That's cool and exciting-and slow. My middle grade adventure series has not found a home with the traditional publishers even though my agent was very excited about it.

This work has a special place in my heart. It wasn't the first novel that I wrote (those almost always end up in the trash can). I worked on this series of (so far) three books for years. A lot of years, don't ask specifically.)

I can't let it go.

So through and with my agent, Natalie Lakosil of the Bradford Literary Agency, we're taking this baby through self-publishing. I'm going through her for several reasons. First of all, she's my agent. We signed an agreement to work together. Doing something this big without her advice and guidance seems reckless and stupid. Second, she knows the business: knows which publishers are to be avoided, what a contract with an illustrator should have, what the price of services for typesetting and binding, etc. should be, and how to push me through the process without a major screw up on my end. Third, yes she gets a standard commission, but I get answers to questions without the hours of research, she'll post the books on her blog giving me exposure, and maybe if it does well, a traditional editor will reconsider pubbing it. It's money well spent.

I know a lot of people have self-pubbed. Some of it hasn't been pretty. Too many of these books have poor editing; Natalie and I have already polished my baby so it shines. I'm in the process of hiring a fantastic illustrator, and between the 3 of us, I know my cover will be stunning. When I see some of the covers out there (even in traditionally published books) I want to cringe. None of us want to be associated with a third rate book. As soon as I have a contract, I will introduce you to my illustrator. You may be surprised.

Finally, this is a labor of love on my part. I am spending time and money to do this right. As the process moves along, I'll journal it here. You can decide if this road, which is bound to be rocky and difficult, but provide many views I miss on the more traditional road, will have been worth it.

And while I work on this project, I still have other novels that Natalie will send down the traditional road. Hopefully, some good news will be forthcoming.

Wish me luck on my new adventure.

Postcards to come...


Illustration courtesy of Microsoft.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Consider Me Culturally Confused...

My grandmother and I shared a love of Asian art. Not 'inspired' but genuine Asian art. Here's my living room with several pieces:

Even though friends and guests of Asian ancestry have been to my house and admired (or at least haven't said anything negative) about it, does this make me a criminal? Or at the very least a racist?

In today's ever divisive world, probably yes.

Cultural appropriation is the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of a different culture. (Wikipedia)

I see more and more angry tweets, blogs, rants about one culture 'stealing' from another. Looking past the "America is a melting pot of peoples, cultures and religions," theme for now, let me state that I would never wear a Native American headdress because of its religious significance, the same as I would never wear the Pope's mitre. It's not right, the same way I wouldn't consider wearing a holocaust uniform as a Halloween costume because it's insensitive, possibly demeaning. 

Yet the Urban Dictionary says of cultural appropriation: 

"The ridiculous notion that being of a different culture or race (especially white) means that you are not allowed to adopt things from other cultures. This does nothing but support segregation and hinder progress in the world. All it serves to do is to promote segregation and racism."

That's kind of how I feel. I believe that sharing the best of our cultures with people who show an interest in them is the way to bridge gaps. I wouldn't wear a geisha's outfit, but my husband has a silk tie he bought in Japan. Is he a criminal? Or not because the Japanese didn't invent ties, so maybe they are the criminals? 

See what I mean?

It's confusing and exhausting, and no matter how you discuss this, a lot of people get incensed and we have yet another thing to argue about and take sides over. While I think it's ridiculous for young white men to dress like they're from a ghetto, I don't think they are committing a crime or 'cultural appropriation' because I don't concede that rapper-style is a cultural element- it's fashion, which evolves. 

We need to celebrate diversity- in books, people, thinking, religion, culture- but I believe we can't use it as a wall to keep one group separate from the others. A 'this is only mine and you can't touch it' attitude will turn people away, leaving you alone just as you requested and then you become alienated and to use a word I hate- 'disenfranchised.' 

Look at St. Patrick's Day coming up this Thursday. First of all, the man never made it to our shores let alone drove out any snakes so it's purely an Irish-from-Ireland cultural thing. But, have you noticed that on that day, almost everyone wears green, shouts Irish sayings, drinks green beer and hangs out in a party mood?

Everyone's Irish for the day. I never hear of anyone complaining that others are taking away their culture. I see no harm coming to them- they delight in seeing everyone sharing in. Kinda nice, if you ask me. 

So, now I'm even more confused. It's okay in this instance, but not that instance. 

Someone draw me up a list of rules because I can't understand it.

Hoping all eyes, Irish and everything else, smile on you-


(image courtesy of Bing/Microsoft)

Monday, March 7, 2016

Accept It, Use It, Work With It.

I'm not an angsty person. In high school, I didn't pine over a crush who didn't return my admiration, I didn't wail that I didn't get invited to the cool kids' parties, and I didn't sob when I didn't go to my prom. I don't do emotional slobber.

Maybe it's my industrious, stern German background. We didn't have all that much drama in our family; we tended to keep it to ourselves or behind closed doors. And it goes without saying that I don't like woeful, angsty books. Weepy females tick me off.

So when my agent says I need more emotion in a scene, I know she's right. I don't even argue, I revisit the scene and figure out where my cold-hearted writing needs to be humanized. Sometimes that's hard to do. This difficulty with emotion is a blessing when I'm asked to write a eulogy. I can write passionately about a passed loved one and smile through the recitation while everyone else cries deathinconsolably.

To make my scenes more heartfelt, I have to draw on personal experience, allow those repressed feelings to bubble up, and channel them into my writing. Recently, I lost my beloved Aunt Kay, my mother's sister who was in many ways, a second mother to me. With her sickness, hospitalization and then death, I was with the family, helping to support my cousins and uncle. For the most part, I stayed strong- because they needed me. But even now, almost a month later, I find it hard to 'let it go' and cry over my broken heart.

But thinking about her loss helped me feel a scene from my middle grade historical novel where a young boy loses a friend. It's during World War II, and the friend is a soldier in Hitler's army. Like with my aunt's illness, death and loss were hovering in the background, waiting for their opportunity.

I didn't add a lot of drama with the revision; my character, a 13-year-old boy named Tomas, of a sturdy Germanic family, isn't going to scream or pull his hair, or faint. He's going to be strong, like his parents and like the little soldier the Third Reich expects him to be.

But he can't. He throws himself into his mother's arms and cries, his whole body shaking.

That's it. That's the end of the chapter and that scene. For a boy trying to be stalwart during oppressive times, completely breaking down like that is expressing his grief.

Eventually, characters and people have to let loose, no matter how hard it is.

Clip art courtesy of Microsoft/Bing


Monday, February 29, 2016

Check In...

So how'd we do with our NoRevMo (Novel Revision Month)? The national revision month, for people part of NaNoWriMo community (National Novel Writing Month) is June- and I didn't want to wait that long. I know some of you didn't either.

Did you finish at least one round of revisions and edits for your novel? Great!
Did a good portion but didn't finish? Good!
Got thrown off the track by family/job/life? Don't sweat it- keep working, you'll get it done. Remember this was an arbitrary deadline.

How did I do?

My plan was to revise four novels; one each week. Before you go thinking I'm superwoman, remember, these novels have all been edited at least five times and I'm fine tuning for my agent to send out or the initial submission to my agent. (Editors will ask for more changes, you can bet on it.)

I finished 2 and a half. I finished my NA sci fi, Lethal Dose, which I hope goes back out on submission to editors. Then I revised and reworked my YA reincarnation story The Meaning of Time, which my agent hasn't seen yet (nor will she until I do another round; I feel something is missing...). I gave up on my MG sci fi (title in progress) because my agent and I can't seem to agree what's needed. Frustrated, and with a family emergency that pulled me out of state and the creative mood, I put it aside.

Am I disappointed I didn't get everything finished? A little. I like to get things done. But I'm also realistic; this was very ambitious to think of doing four books in one month. Plus, I have a workshop presentation to work on for the annual NJ Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrator conference in early June. I'm setting up book signing/appearance events. I'm self-pubbing an MG adventure/semi-sci fi.

I also want to repaint our master suite, work in my meditation and other gardens, paint the pool deck, visit family in Italy, have parties, and enjoy my pool.

Will I get all of it done? Probably not. But I'm not crazy enough to think I will.

So if you haven't finished your edits/revisions, keep working. If you have, put your novel aside and take a break. Have lunch with friends. Go on a vacation. Write another story. Clean your house. In a week or so, go back to the novel, only this time (and this tip has been suggested by a number of other people, I can't take credit for it and I'm going to try it): change the font on your manuscript. The difference will force your eyes to see each word, rather than skip over the too-familiar previous type.

No criticisms, just cheers. Remember, maybe only one in a million people get published. Even if you're not there yet, just think of all those people who say "Someday I'll write a book..." and then never do. You're ahead of the game. Now keep going and beat the odds.

Picture courtesy of Microsoft/Bing