Monday, April 16, 2018

The task of querying agents is not only onerous, but it's almost soul-destroying; where else does a person set themselves up for multiple rejections- or just being ignored? Every artist, whether writer, illustrator, songwriter, singer, etc. faces this. It's hard keeping that stiff upper lip.

Just this past week though, I had the nicest rejection- (yes, you read that - rejection). Not only did the head of this literary agency write back to tell me no thank you and good luck (getting that much of response is rare. Nowadays it's "If you don't hear back from us, that's a no." Yeah, like we couldn't guess that), but she offered her thoughts. First she told me what she liked: the concept and the series potential. Then she told me what she didn't like: it moves too fast into the main premise, not giving her enough time to identify with my character, and that affected the voice. While it always hurts when either agents or editors say they don't like the 'voice' of the character, at least it gives me something to look at, to consider where I might make changes. The problem of moving too fast into the concept was the result of another professional telling me to 'get right into it.' Clearly these two have vastly different opinions. I'm going to go with the second opinion, and ease into the storyline. The concept of having that opening BANG! and the story starts, I believe, is wearing out. Readers, and industry professionals, seem to want more information about the character before we see their struggle. They kind of want to be friends first. While I have the issue of the voice to think over, I don't see a radical change. The character is a 14-year-old boy and their voice is generally different from girls (I have 3 boys so I know their mindset. Generally they are not drama queens or angsty, and not being either one myself, I can't write that voice. People like that usually annoy me anyway.).

So instead of licking my wounds over yet another rejection, I'm going to look at it that this senior agent saw the potential and that with some work (which I've already started), there's a future for this series.

In that spirit, I sent a personal thank you to the agent. It makes me wonder how often authors respond to her (or others) with a thank you for the sharing of their time and expertise. If an agent (or an editor) takes the time to do that for you, SEND a THANK YOU!

Now I'm off to read my character the riot act and get him in line-

Photo courtesy of Pexels/Pixaby


Keep writing and believing!

Char

Monday, April 9, 2018

Fly Me to the Moon- No, Make That the Sun!

My dad worked in the space program during the Apollo missions. His love of science and exploration was passed down to me; I love thinking about new worlds and exploring the cosmos. One of my favorite images to focus on during meditation is floating through space, gazing at stars and galaxies and planets. And if I couldn't be an astronaut (that whole math thing), then I could pretend to be one. It's one reason I write sci fi and wrote articles on space.

And it's why I'm traveling to the sun with the Parker Solar Probe.



If you read the above 'ticket,' my name will be on a memory card on the Parker Solar Probe as it journeys to our sun, collects data and gets closer to a star than mankind has ever been. Yes, the probe will burn up once it gets too close- along with my name, but in spirit I've traveled the universe farther than I dreamed.

Here's the link if you want to check it out: http://parkersolarprobe.jhuapl.edu

Besides it being so cool to have my name on there, it reminds me of my dad (he collected a number of memorabilia like Lunar Module tech manuals, pictures, design papers, etc. while he worked at Grumman during the Lunar Module construction which I have donated to the Smithsonian. The chances of me learning how to pilot a Lunar Module are less than zero, so those important papers belong in safekeeping.)

And, by connecting with and following NASA, I find out all kinds of interesting things, like how much satellite/rocket garbage is orbiting our Earth, what are the new pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope, where the next possible killer asteroid is, and if there are worlds close enough for humanity to someday seek refuge when our planet is dying. Good stuff for sci fi novels!

Here are some cool links if you're of a sci fi bent:

https://www.nasa.gov (missions, news, pictures and contests from NASA)

https://www.seti.org (search for extra-terrestrial intelligence)

http://hubblesite.org (pics and info from/about the Hubble Space Telescope)

http://chandra.harvard.edu (Info from the Chandra Observatory)

https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html (info about the space station)

https://spotthestation.nasa.gov/signup.cfm  (tells you when the space station is flying overhead in your area!)

Spotting the space station going overhead is my next project (NJ always seems to be cloudy or the station is going over at some ungodly hour, but I will track it down!).

Space is limitless....


Char

Monday, April 2, 2018

Well Looky Here.....

So the new issue of Publishers Weekly came in:



And inside was:



And look who's there... Jack!



Now that you see the first line, don't you want to know what happens?


Char

Monday, March 26, 2018

Step Up!

It's THAT time- to step up your writing and/or illustrating. Time to register for the NJ Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators annual conference this June in New Brunswick! Here's the info:

Who's going to be there

What workshops are going on

Who's giving critiques

Where can I register

Ok, I've done the work for you- gathered all the info in nice, tidy links. Click and read, then click and sign up!

Unfortunately, I won't be there this year, my baby is graduating (!!!!) close to that date and then we have a number of family obligations. Sometimes, you just can do it all. So 5 quick tips:

1- Have fun! Don't make it all about work. There is a cocktail hour, there are chances to chat and mingle. Relax!

2- Network. What good is going to the conference with all these fab EDITORS AND AGENTS and you don't chat them up? (don't be pushy or obnoxious or you'll never get published). They are there all weekend and unless they're busy giving a critique or presentation (or in the bathroom), say hello ask them about their fave books, what they're looking for, or share a joke. (It helps to know a bit about them before you chat. Do your homework for the ones you really want to impress!)

3- Be considerate. Don't give out copies of your manuscript. That's what e-queries are for. You'll get that info from Cathy, your Reg. Adv. AFTER the conference.

4- Don't waste the opportunity! Query and submit to all agents and editors that are a GOOD FIT for your writing. If an editor hates sci fi, don't be the jerk that sends them a space story.

5- Make friends. These are the same authors that may be next to you at book signings when you get pubbed, they may have the same agent and/or editor, they may love you and buy your books... So be nice, professional, funny, sweet, irreverent, and chill.

I wish you all good luck!

Char

Friday, March 16, 2018

Embrace the Devastation...

If you know me well (or follow my blog and/or Facebook posts), you've heard about and seen my meditation garden. It looked like this:


I go there to work out plot problems on my novels, talk to God when something's on my mind, get some distance when I'm seriously angry, and just revel in getting my hands in the dirt as I plant flowers. My meditation garden makes me happy.

Two weeks ago (and I can't believe another storm is coming this way...), this happened:


The fence will have to be replaced (it's got a good buckle), and one tree will have to be cut down (it's split in half and will die). I saw the devastation and it broke my heart. But I will have to wait until spring before I can repair it.

In the meantime, I am working on my middle grade manuscript. It started out like this:










Pristine. Loved. Ready to go out- to the critique group. I knew there would be changes, some of them tough to accept. Working in my garden, sometimes I have to dig up a dying or dead plant that I loved.  I have to chop branches so trees are strong and healthy. I have to clear out leaves that clutter up and take the eyes away from the gentle green foliage. I have to make decisions which flowers will work well in the garden based on available sunlight, water, space, and hardiness.





Then the critiques from group members came in. Cut that sentence. This situation doesn't work. No one likes this character. The tension dies here. Chapter after chapter had been torn apart. No page had emerged unscathed. Beloved words would not survive. I pushed up my sleeves (really, I hate sleeves rubbing my elbows) and went to work. I sweated and (sometimes) swore, and used my tools (thesaurus, dictionary, research books, Google- and lots of chai lattes) to repair my manuscript. This is what my manuscript looks like after I finished.


But after pruning redundant words, digging out dead plot threads, combing through inconsistencies, I'm confident it will become ready to submit to editors and agents (it needs another read through, maybe ten). So while there's still snow on the ground, I'll work on the manuscript until it's finished. By then, spring will be in control and I can work on my garden (and meditate on a few choice words for Father Winter).

With the loss of one tree, more sunlight will fall on that space and I can add different flowers which couldn't tolerate the shade there previously. In my manuscript, the loss of words, phrases, pages, chapters- will allow me to add new things and improve it.

From devastation, something new.

Char

Monday, March 5, 2018

I Don't Like You... But That's Okay

Hannibal Lector, for all his suavity, refined artistic sensibilities, and excellent academic credentials, was a sadistic, sociopathic cannibal. Even though we don't like him, we're drawn to him. Throughout the movie Silence of the Lambs, almost everything we learn about him creeps us out. Scares us to death. Yet, we move in closer... We're fascinated.

Photo courtesy of Rene Asmussen at Pexels
Sid, the brutish kid from Toy Story who tortures toys, is unlikable. We cheer when he gets his comeuppance by Woody near the end. For all we can see, Sid has no redeeming qualities. (At least with Hannibal you could enjoy a good port and classical music before he sauteed you.)

Yet, in children's literature, for some reason, editors, agents, critique groups, and readers tell authors "I don't find your character likable."

Um, yeah. Gotta read the whole story. It kind of ruins the effect if it's 'insta-love' because that's not reality. Aren't there people it takes you time to warm up to? Maybe days, weeks, even years and some, never. Insta-like is for picture books and young readers who see the world as generally a happy place. If I say, "Well, halfway through the story, he saves someone and takes out the trash for his mom," people whine because they want to like the character faster. Even if the character becomes likable later in the story (as plot and details develop), it seems so many have to like a character immediately. Some you may never like- they remain evil or mean or nonredeemable (think Freddie Krueger, Mean Girls, the Predator, Samuel L. Jackson's character in Pulp Fiction.

The diversity of character personalities is what makes our world interesting. It's not a unicorn-stardust-candy world. There are dark spaces, and dark people. Surely if children's literature can discuss topics like bullying, racism, murder, sexual assault, and suicide, it can handle some characters we don't like. It feels hypocritical to tell an author, "make this girl nicer so I can like her" and the story is about a girl killing someone because she insulted her shoes. I will never like Hannibal, although I would be fascinated to read his life story. I read Helter Skelter in college. NOTHING could make me like Charles Manson. I understand he had a hard life, prostitute mother, etc. Still, NOTHING could make me like Charles Manson. My favorite character that I could never 'like' but yet who draws me in is Dexter. He's a serial killer. Yes, he hunts other serial killers, but he has no empathy (total sociopath), he butchers people into small pieces and dumps them in the ocean. He fakes actually liking people. And (spoiler alert!) he recognizes the same traits in his adopted children and begins grooming them. Who the heck would love a character like that?

Don't we owe it to our readers to show all the darkness? There will always be people we will never like and churning out books where everyone has a redeeming quality, or, even if they're not evil, is likable, is doing a disservice to those readers. Toddlers have pulled away from certain people who want to hug them; maybe they see a dark side to Uncle Tommy that we blind ourselves to. We have to stop putting filters on characters because the world is not a big kumbaya. If children are to see themselves in books, they need to see others in their real state- totally evil, partially evil, dark, twisted, mean, etc. Maybe by the end of the book if they still don't like the character, they will at least understand them.

You don't have to like me, but now you understand me a bit more.

Char




Monday, February 19, 2018

Hearts and Flowers...

Our world is broken. With the tragic and senseless events in Florida at the Stoneman Douglas High School, we are all broken by our grief, our rage, our despair. I have no magic words or happy platitudes to offer. All I can say is this:



There is love to be found- in unexpected places. Open your hearts so you will feel love from where ever it comes. A simple heart-shaped potato chip reminds me of the love that surrounds me, from family, friends, my faith community, my pets, and a kind gesture from a stranger.




There is hope: I see it in something as mundane as the yearly bursting forth of daffodil sprouts heralding another spring, to the hope for change arising out of students, parents, teachers and others no longer willing to accept what happened in Florida and acting on that hope. I noticed these daffodil sprouts just today. They had been hiding under a blanket of leaves and snow. Hope is like that; it needs to be searched out. Once found, it lifts the heart and the spirit.

Sending love and hope to everyone, whether they are directly affected by the Florida shootings, or feeling the pain for those who are.

Char