Friday, April 29

Symbolism: Planned or Chance?

Wuthering Heights: Catherine's symbolic choice between Heathcliff and Edgar - Heathcliff representing youth, freedom, and the call of the wild; while Edgar represented wealth, status, and convention.

Great Expectations: Miss Havisham's dead garden and decaying mansion, which represent wealth and the decay of upper society of the time.

The list could go on and on, but my question is: How did we come to these decisions about what things represent? Was it popular opinion? Was there a vote? Did some big-britches, know-it-all step up and say, "This is how it is."? I mean let's face it, most of us know about the symbolism we do thanks to our teachers in school telling us what things meant, which is information they got from their teachers, and so on and so forth. Now, yes, there are some books where the symbolism is intended and obvious. For instance titles like 'Lord of the Flies' and 'Catcher in the Rye'. These books are modern classics, but make basically no sense at all when taken literally.

Does it seem like I am going nowhere with this? Allow me to explain...

My first book was read by a book club/crit group during the revision proses. This is not the book that is currently being represented, but a retelling of 'Tarzan of the Apes' for women. 'Tarzan of the Apes' is a fabulous book, but no one knows that, because when someone says 'Tarzan' everyone automatically thinks o the horrendous movies from the 1930s, not realizing that the actual story is far different and much better. My book is very accurate to the original story(as much as possible anyway) and told via Jane. In my story, Jane travels to the jungle with her father because she has a love of flowers and the science of botany. The whole 'flower' thing was really nothing more than a believable vessel for me to use to get someone like Jane to the middle of the jungle. When I got the critiques back, I was shocked when so many people (like 4 out of the 11 who read it) made comments about they loved that I used the flower theme to represent Jane's repressed sexuality, and shed light on the oppression of women in the Victorian era.

Umm... what? If all flowers represent repressed sexuality, then there are a few people I need to apologize to... "Hey, about that delivery you got on your birthday..."  :)

Needless to say, the whole repressed sex thing never once crossed my mind, and I started to wonder how often that happens. Now I do realize that when you read something, you bring your own life lessons and person knowledge with you, which will cause you to have a unique experience. No two people will read a book the same way, just as no two people will ever see a work of art with the same eyes. That being said, you have to admit that there are accepted 'symbols' for almost any book. The classics in particular, and in most of those cases the author could never have possibly been consulted about their meaning, so how to we know? Moreover, if we all experience books differently, does it matter? Looks like I'm in a philosophical mood today... go figure...

Do you deliberately put symbolism in your writing? Has it ever happened totally by chance?

And on a completely unrelated note...

How gorgeous was Kate this morning?! Congratulations to the couple!

Monday, April 25

And the winner is...

It's A Tie!

Bethany C and Tom T

Bethany C - I just assumed I’d visit people in their dreams like my mother did.

Tom T - Anyone who eats the brown M&Ms is an idiot.

If you would both send me an email at, and tell me what bookstore you would like your gift card to and an address where I can mail it, I'll get them out right away!

Thanks to everyone who entered! This was really fun, and don't worry, we'll have another one soon!

Thursday, April 21

First Line Contest - Vote!

Alright, here they are, the entries for the 'First Line' Contest! I have arranged the entries in no particular order, and numbered them. To the right in the first Gadget column there is a poll. Use the poll to vote for your favorites by number. You can choose more than one, and anyone is welcome to vote! The winner will be receiving a $5.00 gift card to the book store of their choice, so choose wisely! :)

1. I just assumed I’d visit people in their dreams like my mother did.

2. Rachel never knew how see would die, but she knew exactly when it would happen.

3. How can something bad make you feel like light itself?

4. Murderers should be forced to take Sabbatical during the winter months—this is seriously stupid.

5. The first 'last time' was when I was ten.

6. Killing my instructor would be easy.

7. Anyone who eats the brown M&Ms is an idiot.

Saturday, April 16

Ah, the first line...

The opening line of a novel is arguably the most important, and for me, is one of the hardest things to write.
(There, see? That was the opening line to a simple blog post, and you're bored already aren't you? Yeah, I don't blame you... Okay, how about his...)

Lightning cracked across the murky green-gray sky as the waves pounded relentlessly against the...
(Too much, right? Okay, well there's always...)

It was a dark and stormy night... (or in my current case) It was a gray and snowy afternoon...


I don't know why it is, but sometimes I can come up with a stellar opening line with no trouble at all, and other times I think about it for days, weeks even, and still come up with nothing. The worst part is my great lines never match up with my finished books. I have great openings for the books I have yet to write, yet the openings for novels I have finished are just okay. Don't get me wrong, I love the opening to my books in general. I am perfectly happy with the first chapter, and even the first page is great, but the first line is... meh.

For instance, the first line of my ms, Once Upon a Second Chance, is a follows:

'No, no, this can’t be happening. This has to be a dream.'

Yeah, I know... It sort of gets the job done in that you may be interested to know what the problem is, but it's definitely not the wiz-bang it needs to be. I have been working on it and am finally getting somewhere, but the process in general gave me an idea. Why not have a 'First Line' Contest!


Let's see who has the best first line, shall we? I have set up a page-located in the above page bar-that has the rules and it is also where you will post your entries. Your entries can be actual first lines from your manuscripts or just a first line that you came up with that you think would be great. They can be for any genre, funny, serious, scary, romantic, anything as long as they grab our attention and leave us begging for more!

The only rule is that the entry must be entirely of your own creation. (I will research the winning entry to make sure it is original.) You may enter as many times as you like, but all entries must be in by Wednesday the 20th at 5:00central time. Starting Thursday we will all vote on or favorites and the winner will be announced on Monday the 25th! Our winner will receive a five dollar gift card to their choice of either Barnes and Noble or Borders!

So get posting, and show us what you've got!

PS. - While I monitor my blog closely, I can in no way prevent someone from seeing an entry and using it as their own. Just know that this is a risk you take in entering. All I can say is that I hope at as fellow writers, we have enough respect for each other and the craft not to plagiarize form one another. That, plus, if someone actually has to steal a first line, their book is more than likely never going to see a bookstore shelf, so it's probably not something we need to worry too much about.
But all the same, I have to say, post at your own risk.

Thursday, April 14

A question for all my readers who are YA writers…

I have a question for all my readers who are writers of Young Adult fiction. That may seem like a strange question to some of you, so allow me to preface…

I went to the library yesterday afternoon to see what was happening, (*cough* and to escape my kids *cough cough*) and I happened across the Events board. They often have writing classes and critique groups and what have you, and I like to see what’s going on. I rarely go to these functions as the people who run them… well… don’t always know what they are talking about. Sounds like I am being snotty, but it’s the truth. For instance a few months ago they had a ‘How to get your book published’ seminar given by a man who had never published anything. Sure he could give general information–the same stuff that you could learn online–but he was hardly an expert in the field. You get what I mean.

So I was scanning the flyers when one caught my eye. So much so, that I went out to my car, got my camera, and took a picture of it which I have posted below.

I have covered her last name as a courtesy to her.
 (Side bar: In what universe is Harry Potter YA?)

So, needless to say it annoyed me, and I’m not even YA writer.

Later, I was lazily scrolling through some posts on a writing forum I frequent, when I come across a post by a woman who basically said the same thing that the flyer implied: that she writes YA only because she thinks it’s what agents and editors want, and is hoping that she can get a YA novel published, then being an established author, will write and publish whatever she wants. Namely fantasy, as that is her passion.

Maybe it’s the fact that I saw two things on this in one day, and it could totally be a coincidence, but is this really what’s happening? Are there a lot of people writing YA simply because they think it will be easier to get published due to the genre’s popularity? There about a million and one things wrong with that theory, but I am not going to judge, I just want to know.

Also, do people really thing that YA is the place to be, because I for one, don’t think it is. Rather, it is, so it’s not. As anyone on QueryTracker, or any other query based web page or forum can tell you, the YA market is flooded! Statistics provided by Publisher’s Marketplace tell us that an average of 7 out of every 10 query letters sent out to both agents and editors are YA. 70%! That’s crazy! Most agents have more YA coming at them than they know what to do with, which also means that most editors have more YA being pitched to them than they could ever publish. I am extremely happy that my book is not of the YA genre in that, at the very least, besides the confidence I have in my wonderful agent, I have added peace of mind in knowing that when she goes to pitch my book to editors, she won’t have to wade through an endless sea of Chick Lit to do it. Sure there is plenty of other Chick Lit/contemporary women’s fiction out there looking for a home, but I’m pretty sure that it’s nowhere near the amount of YA.

I am up to 32 followers on my blog. (Yay, thanks everyone!) 11 traditional followers, 21 of you who follow via e-mail, and there are some of you who simply stop by now and again without actually following, which is also great. Many of you are my friends from QT and are also YA writers, so I ask again: Why do you write YA? Is it something you have always done and love to do, or is it a bandwagon thing that you hope will lead to more? On the other side of the coin, are there any writers out there who don't write YA, but have thought about it simply due to it's popularity? By no means am I judging anyone, I just had no idea that this was going on and am curious. My comments have always been set up so that anyone can comment without signing in, so if you would rather comment anonymously that’s fine, or just put in a fake name, no one will know.

PS. – Should I go to this YA seminar thing? I am really thinking about it. It is actually being held at the Center, not the library which means there is a chance that there could be a lot of people there. I am curious to see who goes and what this lady has to say…

Monday, April 11

Working on my web page...

I've been hard at work the past few days trying to get something together for my web page. I have finished a preliminary design and wanted to show you!

Let me know what you think!

This is the main page.

This is about the author.

This is the books page.

This is the events page.

This is the stuff for fans page.

This will be the blog.

And contact us.

Friday, April 8

How much does a bestselling author make?...

It seems to be one of the most asked questions on all the writing forums these days, and it never gets an answer. Why? Because there isn't one. Not really. It all depends on the publisher, and the advance, and the sale price, and the marketing, and the genre, and the demand, and the list goes on. Too Many variables make what seems like a simple question, almost unanswerable.

I say almost, because now there is at least something to go on.

Lynn Viehl, a bestselling author, published the numbers on her book Twilight Fall online for all to see. I came across it today, and while interesting, the numbers themselves were not all that promising...

When Twilight Fall was published in July 2008, it hit the NYT bestsellers list in its first week, afterward selling nearly 81,500 copies in the first four months after its release. Ms Viehl earned royalties of nearly $40,000 in that period alone. Her publisher held back $13,500 as reserve against returns, leaving a royalty figure of $27,700—but as Ms Viehl was paid an advance of $50,000, she has a further $22,300 to make in royalties before this book earns out, after which time all royalties—minus her agent’s fees and tax liabilities—will be hers.


Just some food for thought.

(Thanks to Jane Smith of 'How Publishing Really Works' for the info and quote)

Wednesday, April 6

Ode to the Card Catalog

Yale University's Sterling Memorial Library

Remember those huge cabinets full of tiny drawers that held thousands of cards each representing a book? Remember Dewey and his decimal system? Remember every year in school your whole class would go to the library and the librarian would teach everyone how to look up books whether you needed a refresher course or not? Remember about that same time, you would also go to computer class once a week and the teacher would tell you that one day everyone would have a computer in their homes and that we would use them to do everything from sending mail, to getting the news, to shopping, and we all said, "Yeah right, not me!"?

Ah, the good old days...

I received an email from my library thins morning, and in it they talked about the book sale that will be going on next week. There was a line at the bottom of the section that said in addition to books and  multi-media, they would also be having a silent auction for the old card catalogs, and it made me sad. (Well, happy in that I have always wanted one, but sad in representation.) We are in an electronic age, which is by no means a bad thing, but it makes me wonder what is next. How long until the books are gone from the libraries too? I'm sure that eventually, most if not all books will be in electronic form only. We may be a good while of from that, but it makes you think.

There may not be many of them left out there, but I am determined to get my hinds on a card catalog one of these days come hell or high water! I will go to the sale at the library, but silent auctions are never good news for someone like me. There is always someone there who can pay more than me, and more often than not, it is someone who is going to turn around and sell it on line(...anyone else see the subtle irony there?) for even more money and not even really appreciate it! Bah!

Now this guy is awesome, and can out-bid me any day! His name is George Brooks-Hutton and he is a woodworker who has done wonders with the catalogs he got from the University of California at Berkeley.

If anyone knows where I can find one - not the huge monsters that take up a wall, but one of the smaller variety - please let me know!

Saturday, April 2

What I know now that I wish I'd known then...

Getting very close to the end of editing and revising my ms and I am beyond happy about that! I finished up my latest round of edits a few days ago and with any luck, I may only get it back from my agent once or twice more with a few very minor things before I never have to see it again! Well, that is until it's sold and my editor wants a ton of edits and revisions, but by then I'll have a book deal and will be more than willing to bend over backwards to for them if they so wish it. :)

I have learned a lot during this whole revising ordeal, and realized how much quicker my next book will go now that I have all this new information. I thought that I'd share it with all of you so that maybe you can learn from - or at least chuckle at - my mistakes.

  • Never write your novel in Works. I had gotten an new laptop just before beginning my book, and my husband couldn't find his cd that had Word on it, so I figured - since Works is now just like Word used to be - that I could just write it in Works and then move everything over when I got Word. I can't even try to tell you the number of edits I had to make simply because when I moved everything to Word it didn't transfer properly. Word offers three types of hyphens and two types of dashes, all which mean different things, when Works only offers two, which meant that all my hyphens were changed when I moved it to word and were now incorrect, my italics which I used a lot to designate flashbacks were no longer where they should have been, as well as countless other things. It was a nightmare.
  • If at all possible, don't change tense mid-project. I started off in the past tense, then about 10 or so chapters in, decided that present tense would suit the book much better. I am STILL, up to and including this last edit, finding 'was's that should be 'is' or 'are', 'sat's that should be 'sit's, etc.
  • Let other people read it. Not a ton, and only people you trust to be honest with you. You can't crit your own work. Well, you can but only to a point. You know what it's supposed to say, so in some cases, you read right over mistakes and weak spots because your mind's eye corrects them for you. Only others see what it really on the page and their input is invaluable.
  • Trust yourself, and know when to stop. I over edited. I cut out thing from my book, that I am now putting back in. Carly(my agent) has had several idea for new scenes or additions to scenes that were things that I had actually already had, or a form of them anyway, and I cut them before I had even submitted it to her. Much of that was due to word count - which I'll get to next - but the rest of it was me over thinking ideas and not having the confidence to say 'yes the book needs this, it should stay'
  • Find a word count that works for you. I had some issues with word count. My ms was always on the shorted side, but that is generally aright with chick-lit. However at one point, I had three agents interested and one ha said my count should be between 60-75k, the second said 70-90k, and the third said 80-100k. Needless to say, I was confused. I was worried that I would not be signed if my word count didn't match exactly what each agent wanted, but I also was not about to have three versions of the book. I finally decided I had to find something of a happy medium. I put some scenes back in that I had originally cut, told the best version of the story I wanted to tell, and told the agents that I am more than happy to lengthen or shorted the ms for an agent if he or she signs me, but until then, I have to work with what is a happy medium for everyone. Carly was the one who thought it should be 80-100k, and she still signed me. Yay! (After revisions, it is now up to just over 74k.)

Hope that helps at least a few of you, and I'll be sure to keep you posted. For now, I am having a wonderful time reading a lot, watching a lot of TV, and writing nothing but notes.


Friday, April 1

Does anyone really want the 'truth'...

I got a tongue lashing this morning from a woman I don't really know, and I'm a bit confused. She asked me to read her query letter and give her any help I could. Now, I've done this several times when asked, and am happy to help anyone where I can. Now, I an by no mans a query expert, but mine did serve me well and I am happy to try and assist the folks who are in the same positions I was in not long ago.

Before I go on, let me tell you that this person - who's real name I do not know - does not read my blog. I met with her on a writing forum on which I don't post my blog info, so I think I am pretty safe. I would never post info like this about any of my friends/followers, so if you have asked me or would like to ask me to crit. your query, you don't have to worry - everything between us is totally confidential.

tdsephens_writes, is a frequent poster on the forum, and seems to be well respected and liked amongst the people who frequent the threads there. She sent me an e-mail saying she had read my success story, and asked if I would take a look at her query and let her know what I thought. I said I would be happy to do so. The next morning I found an e-mail in my inbox that contained her query, and all I can say is this...

It was BAD folks. Really bad.

Obviously, I am not going to post it as I do believe that - even if she's not here to know about it - that would be rude of me. I can tell you that by literally the second line in I was totally confused. At the end of the letter, I honestly could not tell you who the main character was (there were several characters named, but I have no idea which one was the lead), where the story takes place, or what the general plot is. I was baffled. So baffled in fact, that is was difficult to reply to her as I just didn't know what to say.

Here is what I wrote back to her word for word. I know it will not make much sense as you haven't read the query, but I just want to give you an idea of my wordage and tone...


Hello again! I have read over your query and I do have a few suggestions for you if you would like them.

One - I would think about working on your opening sentence. That is very important as it is the first thing that the agent sees and the first thing they have to make an assessment of you. If you choose not to go with a 'hook' and instead wish to go straight into description, your genre, main character, and general plot should be clear by the end of the first paragraph. You may also want to include the word count up there as well.

Two - I might change several of your pronouns for the name or place they represent. You use 'he' 'she' and 'they' a lot, and with so many characters, it gets very confusing. I know it's hard to tell, as you know the story and know who all the characters are, but for the agents, they will need a bit more direction.

Three - For the bio section, I would stick to only the information about yourself that is relevant to your writing. They are just looking for a little background and any writing credentials you may have.

This is what I would have done:

(I then took all the info I could gather from what I had read and put into the formula of my own query just to give her an idea of what I was saying. I do this for all queries I crit.)

These are just my opinions, you may use what you like, toss what you don't - after all, it's all subjective.

Good luck to you!

Not two hours after hitting 'send', I got a reply which I have copied and pasted verbatim below:

Thanks for wasting my time! What so you some expert becasue you hve written so many queries? You OBVIOUSLY just don't get what I was doing and OBVIOULY my book is way over your head. I guess when you waste your time writing commercial romance crap you loose sight of what REAL literature is. I can come up with my own stories and not hve to steal from Jane Austin which everyone is doing now a days anyway. Guess no one has respect for originality anymore. Thanks for nothing.

Yeah... If she'd have know what color hair I have, that probably would have been bad too...

In all honesty though, was I out of line? I tried to be nice and supportive, but like I said, this query was a train wreck! I could have said A LOT more, but again, I was trying not to hurt her feelings. What was I supposed to do, tell her it was great? That might bolster her ego for a while, but does it really help her? Was I really that insensitive? I don't think so, but then maybe it's just hard for me to see...