Oh Hi 2015 + Six Things I Did/Learned in 2014

On my last blog post, I apologized for not posting in a month. That was in December of 2013. It’s been more than a year since then, so I think it’s officially safe to say that I’m the worst blogger ever. I will say that this whole blogging thing does not come naturally to me. Like most authors, I’m a bit of an introvert, and struggle with the balance between sharing too much and not enough information. But that’s no excuse! And so, dear readers, I promise to try (try!) to be a better blogger from now on.

So, to kick off my return to blogging, I want to share with you six things I did and/or learned in 2014! And oh boy, some of them are BIG.

1. I learned the importance of Twitter. The fact that so many people in the publishing industry, from writers to agents to editors, all congregate on one form of social media, and talk about issues relevant to the industry, still blows my mind. The wealth of information, people, and resources is magnificent. There are authors on Twitter who regularly schedule events, called “Pitch Events/Parties” that help us un-agented, un-published writers, to connect with agents and editors. Agents and editors use the hashtag #MSWL to post exactly what they’re looking for. And the supportive community among all authors, agented or not, is incredible.

Of course it has its downside as well. Twitter is on the internet (I know, shocking!), which means it’s open to everyone. Which means it’s permanent. If you publicly step out of line, or make a fool of yourself, people are going to notice – and remember. Luckily my personal experience has been nothing but positive, but I’ve seen others crash and burn, and it’s difficult to watch.

2. I got a new Critique Partner. I’m still working with my amazing CP, Daniel Wheatley, who recently secured representation for his fantastic, diverse, YA fantasy THE ZANNA FUNCTION, but I also started working with the lovely Joanna Meyer, who writes stunning YA literary fantasy. We met on Twitter about a year ago (happy anniversary dear!!) and quickly became fast friends. Now I don’t know what I would do without her (forgive me, I’m still in the honeymoon phase even a year later).

3. I revised and started querying the MS I was finishing up last December. I’m not going to talk about how it’s going, because part 3b is that I learned it isn’t polite to discuss the querying process. But I will say that I adore this manuscript and I’m very hopeful that it will find a nice home.

4. I did NaNoWriMo for the first time, and won! The MS I wrote was a YA High Fantasy retelling of Swan Lake. Right now I’m polishing, before I send it off to my CPs for the start of revisions!

5. My husband and I bought a house. This was a big one, as you can imagine. We moved out of the tiny little house we were renting in Baltimore, and moved to a bigger house in a tiny little town outside of York, PA. We did this because….

6. I discovered I was expecting and subsequently gave birth to my first child! So obviously that was a big deal. My daughter Lyra was born at 8:40 AM on September 4th. She’s now four months old, and the light of my life. As you might imagine, crossfit kind of went out the window, and while I miss my flat stomach and superior strength, I wouldn’t trade my little girl for anything!

So clearly I had a busy 2014! And I’m looking forward to an even more busy 2015! What about you guys?

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10 Things I Learned at the Baltimore Writers Conference 2013

This weekend I had the very great fortune to attend the Baltimore Writer’s Conference. It was my first time attending such an event and let me just say, I am incredibly thankful that I did. For anyone who has never considered getting involved in the conference circuit, I strongly suggest you reconsider. Not necessarily because you’re going to learn any incredible tips or tricks which are magically going to get you published (you won’t), but if for no other reason than to meet other people in the same situation as yourself. It came up several times during the conference that we, as writers, tend to exist in a vacuum. The nature of writing is that you do it by yourself. So it is a good thing when we are given the opportunity to interact with others who understand, and to learn about their triumphs and their failures.

Now I could write out a blow-by-blow of everything I did and heard at the Baltimore Writers Conference, but that would be boring. So instead, here is a list of the top ten things I took away from the event. If anyone has any questions or wants to hear more – please let me know!

In no particular order:

1. Every story has a backstory – try to find it. This will give you a deeper understanding of your characters, your world, and your overall story, even if the backstory is never put on the page.

2. Memorable stories on timeless themes will always attract readers – whether or not it fits into a trend.

3. Marketing is not a dirty word.

4. When writing YA, you must keep your audience in mind because your readers are at a formative stage in their life. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t address difficult subjects, only that you need to be aware of the difference between how young readers will receive the subject as opposed to how an adult would.

5.  Authors get virtually no say in what their cover looks like.

6. Kids like to read up – so if your target audience is twelve to fourteen, your protagonist should be fifteen or sixteen, etc.

7. The most important thing in writing is to find the voice of your character.

8. As a new, young writer you need to finish your first book, and then move on. A lot of people spend far too many years on their first book, and never get past it.

9. Sometimes you need to switch genres in order to get published.

10. There are three things you should consider when writing a new scene: First, what does each character want. Second, what will happen if they don’t do it. And finally, why now?

All in all, it was a very successful conference for myself. I met some wonderful people, had some great conversations, and found myself feeling a renewal of my enthusiasm for the entire querying/publication process.

Novel Progress – 10/21/2013

This past week was a great one for me. Writing-wise it may not look like much on paper, but I finished Chapter Eight more than twenty-four hours ahead of schedule. Because of that I was able to get a jump start on Chapter Nine, which was great! I’m at this really wonderful point in the story where I love what’s happening and everything is coming to me so clearly and easily. That’s the best when writing a rough draft. It’s obviously still going to require major revisions, but to at least get that rough done is such a joy.

Anyway, here’s the breakdown:

10/14/2013 -397
10/15/2013 – 1803
10/16/2013 – 654
10/17/2013 – 2167
10/18/2013 – 1253

Characters created – 3 minor
Characters killed – 0

In other exciting news, the weekend was exceedingly busy and fun. Friday night I saw Nine Inch Nails at the Verizon Center with my sister and two of my guy friends. Saturday was the Barbells for Boobs CrossFit event, to raise money to provide free mammograms to women who can’t afford them. Our gym raised $2,800, which was almost twice our goal. The workout we did was “Grace”, which is 30 Clean and Jerks. I did 65 lbs and finished in 4:51, which was hard, but I’m glad that I did it. It was my first benchmark workout, and it definitely shows that I am getting stronger which is, after all, the point of this whole thing.

Baltimore Book Festival 2013

I have the great fortune to presently live near the city of Baltimore. While we are not inside Charm City itself, it is easy to get there and so my husband and I are able to do lots of fun things such as attending concerts, conventions and festivals. This weekend alone we went to two such events, the second of which was the Baltimore Book Festival! Due to our previous commitment to the concert on Friday, and a friends’ wedding on Saturday (it was a very busy weekend!), we were only able to go for part of the day on Sunday. But what we did experience was certainly interesting.

We managed to see both of the panels on my list – How to Present Yourself as a Professional, and Worldbuilding, both in the SFFWA tent. The panel on professionalism was especially interesting given the cast of presenters. I come from a business-attire-required background (my internship was with the DoS), so when I want to come off as professional I step over to the Banana Republic section of my closet. But though there was one gentleman in a jacket, a second presenter wore street clothes, and a third wore Steampunk-inspired street clothes. One of the first points they made was that writers are typically not judged on their choice of attire the way the rest of the world is. Given my personal history, I find that hard to believe, but as I am not yet a member of the industry I suppose I will have to wait and see.

The balance of the presentation could have been called “Don’t Act Like a Crazy Fan-girl/boy”. I’m not certain what I was expecting, but with the exception of the aforementioned lack of importance given to clothing choice, there wasn’t anything said which went beyond the scope of what I consider common sense. From the way it was presented, however, it was as if the established authors were overwhelmed by the number of unwashed, socially awkward would-be-writers which they encounter on a regular basis. It made me realize how fortunate I am to have been raised in such a strict, mind-your-manners fashion.  While I struggle with my shyness and talking to strangers, at least I know I won’t embarrass myself by being unprofessional.

There was  a good deal of discussion on making connections in the industry and the use of social media. The panelists were very encouraging about making friends with established writers when you encounter them online or at events. They stressed the importance of approaching these potential connections as human beings, rather than as potential connections. Which is understandable, everyone wants to be treated as a person and not as a means to an end, but it does make me wonder how difficult it must then become for writers to distinguish between when someone is being friendly because of the potential connection, or because they are genuinely interested in friendship.  To me, it seems deceptive to approach someone as a friend when you’re only interested in how they can serve you. Regardless of how it works out – you may become best friends, you may never speak to the person twice – the intent was still self-serving. Is that really better or worse than being upfront about the fact that you are looking for a connection? Unfortunately it’s not a question I feel I can adequately answer.

The Worldbuilding panel I attended because it is likely the weakest area of my writing. It had been labeled on the schedule as a workshop, but it really was a panel, where the various authors discussed how they go about worldbuilding. It was heavily geared toward Science Fiction rather than Fantasy, especially because the panelists all had scientific backgrounds, but I still managed to pick up a few relevant notes. The most interesting thing I took away was the idea that I could ask experts to read through a short passage, and that they would more often than not be willing to let me know if anything stood out as incorrect.  Another was the idea that I could potentially get tours of locations typically closed to the public if I mentioned that I was writing a book about said location. I’m sure that probably becomes more true the more work you have published, but it’s something I might try my hand at in the future.

After the panels we wandered around the festival and then went out for ice cream. All in all, it was a lovely day, and going to the festival has definitely motivated me to start looking into writers conferences, associations, competitions and the like.  I highly recommend that any other aspiring authors do the same. While it’s not going to guarantee anyone a book deal, it will give you networking opportunities, and if nothing else will let you know whether or not you’re on the right track with your approach to all aspects of writing and publishing.