Delayed January in Review

Hi guys. Sorry I’ve been MIA for the past couple of weeks. January turned out to be a roller coaster, what with losing Sam and my workload at the newspaper changing quite a bit. I haven’t slept much and wasn’t feeling particularly creative or motivated, hence the blog hiatus. Now things are starting to feel more normal again.

I did write a query letter for “There With You,” but I did not send it to anyone. That will happen in February for sure. I zombied my way through a book club hostessing job (I am told I did not appear to be a zombie, which means my acting skills aren’t half bad), did some hard core pre-spring cleaning (washing curtains = hard core) and started organizing things for my parents’ garage sale in March. So, everything considered, I was somewhat productive. If I was going to a shrink, though — and maybe I should? — I’m pretty sure I’d be told that all of this “productivity” is me trying to distract myself from being sad.

That’s too heavy for this post. Here’s what I managed in January:

Books

Because I am a full-tilt nerd, I was super excited about Jan Reid’s “Let the People In: The Life and Times of Ann Richards.” At times this biography rattled in my hands thanks to all the name-dropping Reid does, having worked with the governor and circulated in the same groups of people. But when that stuff wasn’t redundant, it served a purpose. Ann Richards was a badass. Flawed, yes, but a badass nonetheless. It was hard not to imagine how different the world might be had she won a second term instead of losing to George W. Bush. She is absolutely someone I’d invite to my fantasy dinner party.

reid

“The Testament of Mary” by Colm Toibin is an 80-page novella that I first read about in Entertainment Weekly. In it, Mary, mother of Jesus, recalls the events leading up to her son’s crucifixion and the way her life changes after. This is, of course, a fictional bit of writing. I’m sure that it’s caused a stir, though, since Mary acknowledges that Jesus was conceived with her husband, how she didn’t much care for his friends/future disciples (and how they don’t much care for her, since she’s not telling them the story they want to hear as they write their accounts of what happened) and how she feared her son had gone mad with the idea of power. It’s fascinating. And very sad.

toibin

My BFF Dianna gave me a copy of “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield for Christmas. It’s like a concentrated dose of “The Artist’s Way,” with short, quick, to-the-point advice for breaking through creative blocks. I know I sing the praises of “The Artist’s Way” on this blog a lot, and I stand by it as the motivator for unblocking me so that I could write my book and get this blog going, but it’s definitely a commitment. Pressfield gives all the same advice in 150 pages. If you keep stalling out on “The Artist’s Way,” I highly recommend “The War of Art.”

pressfield

Movies

I had big plans to see as many of the Academy Award nominees as possible, but that sort of fizzled out. I got to “Les Miserables” at the beginning of the month, and it was just wonderful. I saw the stage version last year, and remember tearing up. I left this movie a weepy mess. The ending… gah! I just wanted to go hug the screen.

les mis

Months ago, Dianna and some of my coworkers were raving about “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” I borrowed it from the library to see what all the fuss was about. Man, what a good movie. I was totally riveted, so much so that my dinner got cold because I was so engrossed that I forgot to keep eating. Any tale of finding value in/preserving a culture in the face of adversity is important, but this cast — especially Quvenzhane Wallis — makes “Beasts” all the more powerful.

220px-Beats-of-the-southern-wild-movie-poster

Internet Highlights

The British Library has recorded audio of how they believe the pronunciation of Shakespeare’s works sounded at the time they were written. It’s pretty awkward.

I knew P.L. Travers hated what Disney did to “Mary Poppins,” but here are 10 more authors who hated the movie versions of their books.

If classic authors were on Twitter, a hilarious image that originally appeared alongside a New York Times article.

Coming up in February

Sending those queries. Sleeping. A visit from Dianna (yay!), who hasn’t been back to San Antonio since she left 20 years ago. Sleeping.

Wonderful + Terrifying = Wonderfying

A query letter is a one-page letter to a lit agent that is asking them to please, please, PLEASE, request to read your manuscript. Except you can’t ask like that. You have to ask like this:

Dear Agent,

Here is a catchy paragraph about my character and my plot’s hook that needs to pique your interest.

Then there’s this paragraph that sums up my entire book. In a paragraph.

Here are the details like title, word count and why I think people will like to read it based on my own comparisons to similar works in the same genre.

Finally, here’s a little bit about me. And if I am able to mention specifically why I chose you to query, I’ll do it here, too.

Thank you for considering a look at my manuscript.

Sincerely,

Me

Guess what, y’all? I wrote one of those. I would share it here, but I think that might be a bad idea. Why would an agent bother requesting my manuscript if they thought other agents might have seen the same query letter on here and requested it already? That might be a bit presumptuous on my part, but instead I’m thinking it’s a better-safe-than-sorry decision.

I will tell you this, though: writing that letter was HARD. Summing up a whole book in a paragraph? Making it interesting without giving anything away? Sounding like I know what the hell I’m talking about? Not easy. And it took hours. HOURS!

But, it’s done, and that’s a victory. It also means that the time has come. The first queries are going out next week. This is equal parts wonderful and terrifying. It’s wonderfying.

Technical difficulties, or, a writer’s plea for help

As I enter final edits into “There With You,” I catch myself thinking ahead to the query process in which I reach out to agents and beg them (without actually sounding too desperate or pathetic) to read what I’ve written. I have one page of space — ONE — to explain what my book and I are both about. Before I can do that, I need to first figure out just what my book is.

Young Adult (YA), yes. But that’s not enough. I give you…

Categories of YA Novels

  1. YA Mystery
  2. YA Romance
  3. YA Sci-Fi
  4. YA Fantasy
  5. YA Suspense
  6. YA Paranormal
  7. YA Historical
  8. YA Contemporary

You get the idea: basically the categories of adult novels, except written with teenage characters. (I probably missed a bunch, too.)

As I said in an earlier post, it seems like publishing folks want work that’s multi-genre. My characters time travel and have some romantic tension between them, plus there’s the danger factor of their families, who are bitter enemies, finding out about their relationship.

Another book with similar characteristics was found on Goodreads under YA Romance, YA Fantasy and YA Paranormal.

One concern is that the categories have different definitions for different people. If I am not able to clearly say what my book is, an agent is going to fold my query up into a paper airplane and send it sailing out their office window. (No, probably not. That’s littering. In my heart of hearts, all agents are avid recyclers.) But, still, I’ve seen agents I follow on Twitter mention a bad query and prep a rejection notice without even reading a word of the story.

That is SO MUCH pressure!

So, to start, what the hell is my book?

A young adult paranormal-ish, maybe romantic, sorta/kinda fantasy about 18-year-old classmates from rival families who inherit a centuries-old time traveling… thing.

Yeah, it needs work.

Maybe I’ll just use a line from the book itself:

“You guys are like a modern-day Romeo and Juliet!”

Yeah, except with less suicide and more time travel.

If anybody out there has advice on how these categories tend to be defined, you’ll earn a virtual fist bump and my sincerest gratitude by sharing in the comments.