Saturday, February 25, 2012


Home again. Unfortunately, I brought some sinus issues back with me and temporarily left my voice in Georgia. (Pretty sure it's under Rhonda's couch.) I'll continue the road to publication posts in just a few days.

In the meantime, congrats and best of luck to everyone who made it through to the second round in the 2012 ABNA Contest!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Eight-Legged Company

I've been visiting friends in Georgia for several weeks, and tomorrow I'm heading home to Florida. While I've been here, I've been working on a new manuscript, known for now as the Underbed project. I'm currently revising the (very) rough draft. I've been describing it as Alice in Wonderland meets How to Train Your Dragon, but it's evolved a bit beyond that concept. More on Underbed soon.

One of my Underbed characters, Sling, is a girl with an...affinity for spiders. It seems fitting that my friend's tarantulas, Tiny and Slippers, have been my writing buddies while I've been here. That's Tiny in the pic.

Tiny and Slippers also kept me company (always from the safe confines of their cages) while I was revising Spookygirl here last summer. Should Spookygirl become a series, I have plans for a Tiny cameo in a future installment.

And now I need to pack. And pout. I like it here. Not at all ready to go.

The Road to Publication: Part Five

[This is part 5 of a summary of Spookygirl’s journey toward publication. Use the Progress tag to access all related entries.] 

If there's one thing a writer dreads hearing from a publisher, it's probably this: "We should consider changing the title." 

OH NOES. Really? But it's my baby's name! It's perfect! 

Nah, I was expecting it. I've read enough about other writers' experiences to know how common title changes are. You may think your title is a glowing example of literary perfection, but you're probably not as experienced with book marketing as your publisher. What you really want is a title that sells your book.

Julie was concerned about Spookygirl because it's a name used by other characters to tease Violet. I countered that Violet kind of likes the name. Instead of letting it insult her, she steps up and owns it. Julie also wanted the title to focus more on Violet's paranormal communication and investigation abilities. If we stuck with Spookygirl, we'd need to add something to it. 

One thing we considered was using some version of the first chapter's title: Death, High School, and Other Necessary Evils. I liked that as a chapter title, but as a book title it seemed a little long and clunky. Other variations we tossed around included: 

Spookygirl: Paranormal Investigator 
Spookygirl: Ghost Hunter 
Spookygirl: R.I.P.
Spookygirl: Death and High School 
Death and High School (and Other Necessary Evils) 
I'll Talk to You When You're Dead 
I'll Talk to You When You're Dead (Maybe) 

We finally settled on Spookygirl: Paranormal Investigator. It felt like a nice compromise all around – the focus on paranormal investigation was there, but I got to keep Spookygirl. The final cover design (which I expect I'll see sometime soon, yay!) will reflect the updated title. 

Wouldn't mind using I'll Talk to You When You're Dead (Maybe) for another book in the future, though . . .

Up next: The devil's in the details.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Anxiety Priorities

Spent yesterday evening at a downtown Augusta bar with some friends. It was karaoke night.

I sang.

It was terrifying. I was more nervous last night than I was at the awards breakfast last June.

There's probably something wrong with that. Anxiety priorities, anyone? My issues with stage fright go all the way back to a botched solo during a fourth grade play, so getting up on stage and making it all the way through a song . . .

Yeah, I'm pretty pleased with myself today.

I don't know how well I did, but at least I'm pretty sure my performance topped Bridget Jones's. However, I wouldn't mind a pair of sparkly tinsel antennae like hers to wear during my next number.  Because yeah, I might just do it again sometime. Someone hide the Journey tracks before I can get to 'em!

(No, I didn't bust out with "Don't Stop Believing" last night. I sang Train's "Hey, Soul Sister.")

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Road to Publication: Part Four

[This is part 4 of a summary of Spookygirl’s journey toward publication. Use the Progress tag to access all related entries.]

Here’s an odd thing: I have a book coming out in a few months, yet I’m still not entirely sure how traditional publishing typically works. The ABNA timeline forces things to progress at a faster pace. Had I gotten my contract the normal way, I'd probably be looking at a 2013 release date instead of August 2012.

Not that I’m complaining. I’d much rather see Spookygirl on shelves this year than next.

A few days after I got home from Seattle, I had my first official phone conversation with the VP and Publisher of Dutton Children’s Books, Julie Strauss-Gabel. My publisher. MY PUBLISHER. Yeah, still not tired of saying that. Julie would also be acting as my editor. MY EDITOR. Not tired of that one, either.

Julie and I talked about the upcoming editing process (including the slightly unorthodox timeline caused by the ABNA rules), and she gave me an overview of what she liked best about Spookygirl, and what she felt needed work.

I’d been waiting for that feedback with a mix of excitement and dread. No one loves criticism, no matter how constructive it might be. Negative feedback can sting, especially when it’s about a project you’ve coaxed and cradled and worked on for years. It’s like someone telling you your baby is ugly.

. . . Only you know what? It’s not like that at all. Constructive criticism is indispensable, and learning to handle it is essential for anyone who wants to publish. It’s about your work, not you. There’s no need to take it personally.

Character sketch: Violet's pet poltergeist likes squeaky dog toys.

Besides, what I heard from Julie was overwhelmingly positive. Sure, some elements needed major tinkering – the resolution of the locker room storyline would shift four or five times over the next few months. Both the first and last scenes changed. We focused a little more on the paranormal investigation angle, and a little less on the more typical fish-out-of-water high school elements. I gained a Henry and lost a Sandy. Timmy became Tim (a change he’d no doubt appreciate).

Most importantly, Violet grew as a character. She became stronger and gained a new focus. I love that. I feel like every single revision strengthened her story, and that makes me incredibly happy.

Up next: What’s in a title?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Between Insanity and Eccentricity

Unless you're troubled by a little language (like my family that time I yelled at the neighbors after a hurricane because they'd set up their generator too near my window and I was tired of the fumes), this post over at Terrible Minds may amuse you: 25 Reasons that Writers are Bug-F*ck Nuts.

Authors have a lot of leeway when it comes to wacky behavior. Sometimes the only divider between insanity and eccentricity is a publishing contract, and I think I'm going to enjoy finally being over here on the eccentric side. Talking out loud to my characters is now a legitimate creative exercise instead of just another reason to consider medication. Sweet.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Take a Moment, Thank a Muse

I should really be blogging less and revising the new project more, but I can't let today go by without getting a little mushy about muses. It is, after all, Muse Appreciation Day, an international event founded by yours truly and celebrated by at least three other people in the world. Major stuff.

The original Muses, of course, were the goddesses in Greek mythology who inspired artistic creativity. However, I use the term in a broader sense.

Wherever your creative inspiration comes from, take a moment to acknowledge it today. Do your characters babble incessantly in your head, keeping you up at night until you put down their stories on paper?

Or maybe you define the idea of a muse on a more abstract level. If approached in certain ways, writing and other forms of creative expression can take on a spiritual aspect. When a story simply must be written, you'll feel it all the way through to your soul. Where do those ideas, those sparks come from?

However you define the idea of a muse, if you have one, thank it today. Give it a big metaphorical hug. Or an actual hug, if you prefer. Let it know how much you love it.

(And to my own muse: Happy 10th Muse-iversary, you big Irish brute. You're the best muse a writer-girl could ask for. Thank you for your patience; someday I'll show your story to the world.)

The Road to Publication: Part Three

[This is part 3 of a summary of Spookygirl’s journey toward publication. Use the Progress tag to access all related entries.

The Seattle trip was fantastic – Thom Kephart of Amazon could not have done a better job keeping everything organized. My fellow finalists and I (along with our guests, and representatives from Amazon, CreateSpace, and Penguin) were treated to a fantastic dinner at the Purple Café and Wine Bar. And my mother and I – both total newbies to the city – had plenty of time for sightseeing and doing the whole tourist thing.

(Yes, we saw the Space Needle. No, we did not go up to the top.)

But you didn’t come to this blog for touristy stuff, right?

To be honest, my memory of the awards breakfast is somewhat of a blur. We were shuttled over to Amazon’s headquarters, where we mingled over breakfast for a little while. Well, we were supposed to mingle over breakfast. I was way too nervous even for coffee. I’m pretty sure all six of us were dying to hear the news no matter what it was.

Photo courtesy of Thom Kephart
The awards ceremony started with opening remarks from Thom. Then, one by one, each finalist was invited up to give a short speech and read an excerpt.

(Memo to future finalists: Feel free to be creative with the excerpt you read. Choose whatever bit of your manuscript you feel like sharing. I thought sticking with the beginning of my story would be safest, but once I realized most of the other finalists hadn’t done that, I wished I’d chosen differently. I would've loved to read a little of Violet's faux séance, or her interaction with the jocks and Dead Dirk.)

Then it was time for the winners to be announced. I seriously barely remember any of it; I heard my name, and I was given my award, and I shook hands with people, and I couldn’t stop smiling, and I tried my best not to pass out. Photos were taken. My contract was explained to me. I texted people and announced the news on Facebook.

I didn’t stop shaking for hours. I’m shaking again now, just from remembering.

I keep a mental list of my five best days ever. June 13, 2011 is at the top of the list now – better than sneaking onto the seaQuest set back in 1994, better than scaring Hugh Jackman with a My Little Pony. Best. Day. Ever.

Up next: So what happens after the contest?

Local Legends: The Haunted Pillar

I'm visiting one of my bestest friends, Rhonda, in Augusta, Georgia. Rhonda and I are fans of all things spooky, so we sought out the Haunted Pillar, a piece of Augusta mythology.

The pillar's legend depends on who's telling it. The link above has a few interpretations; the version I hear usually combines those into the tale of a progressive preacher who cursed the pillar of a slave market to punish those involved in the selling of slaves. Anyone who touches the pillar is supposed to be struck dead.

We didn't just touch it. We hugged it. We're awesome like that. That was over a week ago, and we're both still alive, so I'm thinking we might have escaped the curse. Since this isn't even really the original pillar, that makes sense. Then again, none of the legends include a time limit, so I guess it eventually comes true for everyone . . .

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Road to Publication: Part Two

[This is part 2 of a summary of Spookygirl’s journey toward publication. Use the Progress tag to access all related entries.]

Where’d we leave off? Big news, squeals, and a scared kitty. In an instant I went from wondering if I’d ever publish a book to having a one-in-three chance at a contract with a Penguin imprint.

And I had a trip to plan.

My parents have always been among my biggest supporters. Dad has some health issues that make travel difficult, so I decided to ask my mom to go to Seattle with me. Once I stopped squealing, I called her at work and delivered the news, and she started squealing – which was ever so slightly awkward, since I wasn’t allowed to go public with the news until the official announcement was made the following week. Shhh!

If the earlier ABNA rounds were a mix of fun and fretting, the final round took that to an entirely new level. The winners, after all, are chosen by a public vote. ABNA is sometimes called “American Idol for writers,” and the last round makes that comparison especially apt. So yeah, I campaigned. I encouraged friends, family, and customers to download Spookygirl’s excerpt and cast a vote in my direction – and to spread the word as well.

The positive response to Spookygirl during this round was overwhelming and staggering – not only from people who knew me, but from total strangers as well. Having so many people connect with Violet’s story was nothing short of amazing.

The voting period closed, and then I was able to breathe – well, sort of. I knew I wouldn’t really relax until after the winners were announced.

Up next: Seattle and the big announcement

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Road to Publication: Part One

[This is part 1 of a summary of Spookygirl’s journey toward publication. Use the Progress tag to access all related entries.]

So! As I’ve said before, I’m a pretty awful blogger. I’m a quiet person; I don’t like searching for things to say just for the sake of saying something. However, with the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest underway, now’s as good as time as any to talk about my experience with the 2011 contest and what's happened since.

Best of luck to those participating this year! And thank you to Cara Bertrand for nudging me to get going with this. ;)

So anyway, that contest-thingie last year . . . I admit it – I entered on a whim. I had a little experience with the contest; in 2009 I entered another manuscript and made it through the pitch round. I don’t even remember how I found out the 2011 contest was accepting entries; I just know I had a surgery scheduled a few days before the end of the entry period, so I tossed together my entry quickly and didn’t think too much of it. Spookygirl itself was ready to go; I wrote it in 2007, revised it in 2008, and shopped it around (unsuccessfully, obviously) to literary agents after that. My pitch was a revised version of my query letter; my excerpt was my first chapter. I tossed up my entry, fussed with it a little, and didn’t think too much of it for a while.

When I made it past the pitch round, I didn’t even bother telling anyone. I'd gotten that far before, after all. I decided to wait and see what happened.

Making it through to the quarter-finals was a little more exciting. I was playing hooky from work the day the announcement was made; I had lunch with a friend, and then she and I browsed the closing sale at our local Borders. (I picked up the first four Dexter novels.) Before I left the parking lot, I checked my email on my phone and started squealing when I found out I’d made the cut. My reaction when I made it through to the semi-finals was more of the same – crazypants squealing. Reading the positive reviews along the way from Amazon Vine reviewers and Publishers Weekly prompted even more squeals.

(Yeah, I squeal a lot. And squeak. And squee.)

Then came the day the finalists would be announced. I didn’t think for a second I’d actually make it that far . . . but I kept my phone by my side all morning, just in case.

It rang.

I don’t like phones. I rarely talk on them. I never answer them. But that day I answered. I was a finalist, and I’d be traveling to Amazon’s Seattle headquarters for the announcement of the winners.

There was more squealing. It was loud enough to send my cat racing to the closet, where she hid for the rest of the day.

Up next: The final round