In which Miriam tries a new thing. (Also, there's a wallaby.)

So after perusing the amazing responses I got for Saturday's "what makes you feel connected" post, I've decided to try something.

If you'll notice, the comment section has changed. This is a program called IntenseDebate, which basically takes over your comment section and allows such things as comment threads, signing in as your facebook or twitter profile, posting pictures, etc.

I have no idea if this is going to work. What I'm hoping is that this allows me to respond to comments in a more streamlined way and also make it easier for  you to talk to each other. 

EDIT: I put in an option to subscribe to your replies for those of you who like to get email responses! *grin*

(Also, if you put in your blog/website url, the post should link back to your latest post so I can see what you all are up to without having to click through your blogger profiles.)

*crosses fingers*

Unfortunately, I won't know how it's working, or if you all find it annoying unless there are actual comments. So I thought we'd play another game of "Caption this Picture".

Please caption this picture. 

For the full story click here. Via

What do you think? Like? Love? Despise?

How's it working for you?

Monday cute and a cautionary tale

Happy Monday everyone!

1.  If you haven't done so yet, feel free to comment on my poll about what makes you feel connected to a blog. And thanks to everyone who's taken time to give their opinion, it's very helpful.

2. On a slightly darker (if hilarious) note my corner of the Interwebs blew up today over one author's response to a review of her book. When the kerfuffle started a week ago, the author had three reviews on Amazon of four and five stars. Now she has ten reviews, mostly one star.

Thou shalt not tick off your readers.

(If you want to see, the blog post is here. The author doesn't comment after her second "f*** off".)

3.  And finally, your Monday dose of cute via

Is there any day a bunny picture can't improve? I submit that there is not.

See you Wednesday!

What makes you feel connected?

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about this blog and how best to connect to the people who are kind enough to stop by and read it. And I've been looking at other blogs as well. Turns out there are a lot of ways to connect with blog readers.

~ Some people try to respond to every comment, either on the comment thread or via email.

~ Some make a point of commenting on the blogs of people who leave them a comment; one comment from you = one comment from me, etc.

~ Some people use newsletters to keep people informed.

~ Some people auto-follow, following the blog of every person who follows them.

And so on.

I know a lot of people who do a mix of those things. And some people do none of them, but by creating opportunities for conversations on the blog, they still make readers feel connected.

Every community is different.

So now I'm asking you, regulars, visitors and lurkers alike. What makes you feel most connected to a blog/blogger? What brings you back? What makes you comment? And in your opinion, what is the best way for ME to make you feel welcomed and valued?

Comment away!

In praise of Scrivener...

So I'm rewriting my terrible, awful, no good, NaNoWriMo draft and once again I find myself desperately grateful for Scrivener. I don't use it for first drafts, but it's invaluable for rewrites.

And since a picture is worth a thousand words, allow me to demonstrate by showing you what I was working on today. (Hint: click on the pictures for a better look)





Isn't it pretty? Do you have a favorite writing tool?

Monday Question: How do you tackle the second draft?

Now that rewrites for Houses are done and sent to my agent, I've been kind of at loose ends. To take my mind off of the submission process I've started working on my 2010 Nanowrimo novel. 

found at the Bentley Historical Library website
Yeah. It's kind of like that.

Lately I find myself thinking about second drafts and awful first drafts and what it takes to pull a decent manuscript out of this kind of mess. (My first drafts are usually very messy, despite the fact that I'm an outline person at heart.)

So that's my question today. Are your first drafts messy or cohesive? And once the initial draft is done, how do you go about revising it?

Inquiring minds want to know!


I don't know about you, but it's been an intense few weeks over here.

So we're taking a break for cute photos and naps.

found at
See you Monday!

Blogging about Like Mandarin (and who I wanted most to be as a teenager)

Happy Wednesday all! In honor of Kirsten Hubbard's newly released debut, Like Mandarin, I'm joining in her blogging celebration. Kirsten is running a series of guest posts on her blog where authors answer the question "Who would you have given anything to be like?" AND she's running a contest for anyone who wants to follow the prompt on their own blog.

(As I've said before, I'm a sucker for debut authors and creative promotions.  So I was all over this.)

When I was younger, I spent a lot of time alone. While I had people I looked up to, I didn't really take enough notice of anyone (or no one took enough of an interest in me), to spark the kind of hero worship Kirsten Hubbard is talking about.

What I did have though, were stories. And what I wanted more than anything was to be the kind of person I found in my books. Brave, confident powerful people.

I wanted to be a secret agent or a professional dancer or an assassin. (Better yet, all three at once!) I wanted magical powers and great combat skills. I wanted to turn heads and inspire rabid devotion. I wanted to be graceful and beautiful and always in control.

And I would have given anything to be at least a little dangerous. 

I know why I wanted those things. I was scared and overwhelmed a lot of the time, and imagining myself as someone who could handle anything was comforting. At least for a while.

But dreaming such things can be a double-edged sword. I think David Sedaris said it best.
"My epic fantasies offer the illusion of generosity, but never the real thing... In imagining myself as modest, mysterious and fiercely intelligent, I'm forced to realize that, in real life, I have none of those qualities. Nobody dreams of the things he already has.
(From Me Talk Pretty One Day)

It's true. I am not a dangerous person, or a powerful one. I'm not even particularly brave.

My first instinct when confronted with a tense situation is to freeze. I've never been in a physical altercation in my life, not even with my sisters. I prefer to go around people instead of fighting with them. As much as I'd love to think of myself as bold and sassy, I've never administered a verbal smackdown. The word most often used to describe me by friends and family over the years is sensitive, which is always followed by the phrase "Not that that's a bad thing."

Right. Uh huh.

In many ways I'm still the same clumsy, socially awkward marshmallow I've always been. And to be honest, that still scares me. The world is an unpredictable and jagged place. It's full of people who are mean, broken, misguided or just plain selfish. And while I'm a pretty resilient person, I'm not that tough.

It is a frighting thing to be a marshmallow in a world of pointy sticks. Even though I like myself much better now than I did back then, and even though I know there are other ways to be strong than kicking ass, sometimes...

Well, sometimes I still wish I were a ninja.

What about you? Who would you have given anything to be like?

Talking about Voice, part 6: Helpful links

 As much as I love doing these writing posts, sometimes I get tired of hearing myself talk. So today I'm sending you to a couple of other places that have excellent advice on voice.

~ Screenwriter Matt Bird did an interesting series of posts a while back on creating compelling characters, and in one of them he addresses voice.
Start with a few rules. Do they talk a lot or a little? Use complete sentences or not? Are they self-aware or oblivious? Lay these rules down and stick to them. Eventually an oblivious character can reveal an unsuspected self-awareness, for instance, but never be in a hurry to surprise the audience. Let them act dependably for as long as possible, and only reverse our expectations when we least expect it.
You can read the rest of the post here. And check out the entire series, it's very helpful.

~ The lovely (and newly agented) Wendy Sparrow did an extremely cool post on voice last month. If you want a hands-on example of how you can make characters sound unique and realistic, check this out.

Losing My Voice to Find Theirs

Well, I think that does it. Thanks for the great comments and questions on this series everyone! If there was something I didn't address or if you have a great link to voice advice, leave a comment and let me know.

See you Wednesday!

You can find the rest of the voice series here: 
Talking about Voice, part 1: What is it?
Talking about Voice, part 2: Three authors, three books
Talking about Voice, part 3: One author, three books
Talking about Voice, part 4: Viewpoint voices
Talking about Voice, part 5: Differences in character dialogue

Talking about Voice, part 5: Differences in character dialogue

Way back at the beginning of this series, when I asked people to weigh in on voice or tell me what the wished they knew, one question came up repeatedly.

How do you make characters sound different?

I saved that topic for near the end because the truth is, I wasn't sure how to answer the question. I racked my brains all week about it. I looked at books on dialogue. I went back and analyzed my own writing journey and how I do characters. And I came to a startling (and possibly erroneous) conclusion.

Problems with character dialogue isn't a voice issue. It's a character development issue.

Here's how I see it, and feel free to disagree with me. If you're aware of the three aspects of character voice that we discussing the last post, if you're using appropriate vocabulary and trying to reflect your character's personality and concerns, and you STILL end up with characters who sound the same, you are most likely having one of three problems.

1.) Cardboard characters:  This is the most common problem I have with dialogue. If the character doesn't sound distinct, that usually means I haven't developed them enough. In fact, in my just-for-fun project the main character doesn't have a great voice. When I started writing it, this is what I knew about her:

Jemma Summerwind
~ sixteen
~ foster kid
~ part Native American
~ doesn't know her parents
~ used to be in trouble
~ has secret wind powers

I thought that would be enough to give her a distinctive voice. But I was wrong. She sounded generic. And the parts that didn't sound generic sounded a lot like me. *grin* A draft and a half later, this is what her bio looks like: 

Jemma Summerwind
~ sixteen
~ foster kid
~ part Native American (probably Lakota Sioux, but I have to do more research before deciding.)
~ doesn't know her parents
~ used to be in trouble
~ born on a leap year
~ likes to dance
~ a germaphobe
~ hates getting dirt or sticky stuff on her hands
~ gets asthma attacks
~ hates being tied down  or feeling 'owned'.
~ has secret wind powers

I don't feel like it's perfect yet, but her voice--and my sense of who she is--is definitely getting stronger. I don't like long involved character sheets, but I do think it's important to know what my character loves, what she hates, what stresses her out and what she's most afraid of.

And it does help with dialogue, because after all, strong emotions are most likely what your characters are talking about.

2.) Duplicate characters: If you've developed your characters and two or more still sound exactly alike, you should probably fire some of them. For example, right now I'm re-reading One Door Away From Heaven by Dean Koontz.

The main characters include:

~ A nine-year old girl with a leg brace, a twisted hand and an acerbic wit.
~ Her mother, an addict who uses every drug under the sun and believes that hallucinogenics during pregnancy give the baby psychic powers.
~ A twenty-something woman fresh out of jail, a borderline alcoholic trying to turn her life around.
~ A dotty older lady who was once shot in the head and now confuses movies with real life.
~ Two ex-showgirls--twins--who drive around in a motor home looking for UFOs
~ A private detective/ex-cop from a family of meth dealers whose comatose sister was just murdered.
~ A bio-ethicist and secret serial killer who believes that the disabled, the elderly and the less intelligent should all be eliminated.
~ A young orphaned boy who is secretly an alien shapeshifter and can quite seem to get the hang of human socialization.

This is a big book with three separate, converging plotlines and quite a few main characters. But none of them overlap. Every person on this list is different from everyone else. Each fills their own niche and no one infringes on anyone else's narrative space.

Think about the book you're reading right now, or better yet, find a book similar to the one you're writing. Now list the characters, writing it out if you're so inclined. Notice how each one is different. Those are the differences that come across in character dialogue.

3.) Padded dialogue: This one was a huge problem for me for a long time. When writing, don't try to imitate the way people actually talk. The plain truth is that regular conversation between regular people is boring. Dialogue in fiction is a pared-down version of conversation. It's like putting social interaction on the Atkin's Diet.

If your characters are well developed and each occupies their own space, then the differences should come across in their conversation. This is because in good fiction, characters talk about what's important to them. There are no bland conversations about weather, meaningless pleasantries or vague generalities. (Or if there are, it should be on purpose, with a clear subtext involved.)

Characters don't blather on like we do. They cut to the point, and their dialogue always advances the story.

So those are my thoughts. I'll probably revisit this topic on Monday, but until then, what do you think? Is there  a connection between character development and dialogue?

You can find the rest of the voice series here: 
Talking about Voice, part 1: What is it?
Talking about Voice, part 2: Three authors, three books
Talking about Voice, part 3: One author, three books
Talking about Voice, part 4: Viewpoint voices
Talking about Voice, part 6: Helpful links

Saturday post is going to be late....

Please enjoy this VERY TIRED PUPPY while you wait.

(Hey, that rhymed!)

found at

Yeah, that's pretty much me right now.

Be back later!

Talking about Voice, part 4: Viewpoint voices

Earlier in the series we made a distinction between the voice of the author and the voice of the character. Now we're going to draw another line. There are, in my opinion, two kinds of voices when it comes to characters. There's the character's dialogue voice, and the character's viewpoint voice.

We'll address the character's dialogue voice soon, but basically, it's how the people in your book talk to each other.

A viewpoint voice is a bit different, and you see it most clearly in first-person stories. It's how the character in your book not only talks, but thinks. A few examples: 

The best time to talk to ghosts is just before the sun comes up. That's when they can hear us true, Momma said. That's when ghosts can answer us.
The eastern sky was peach colored but a handful of lazy stars still blinked in the west. It was almost time.
"May I run ahead, sir?" I asked.
Pastor Weeks sat at the front of his squeaky wagon with Old Ben next to him, the mules' reins loose in his hands. The pine coffin that held Miss Mary Finch--wearing her best dress, with her hair washed clean and combed-bounced in the back when the wagon wheels hit a rut. My sister, Ruth, sat next to the coffin. Ruth was too big to carry, plus the pastor knew about her peculiar manner of being, so it was the wagon for her and the road for me.
Old Ben looked to the east and gave me a little nod. He knew a few things about ghosts too.
From Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

The main character in Chains is a young slave girl who lives at the beginning of the Revolutionary War. The main character in the next excerpt is a modern teenager with paranormal powers
"Wait--did you--You just yawned!" The vampire's arms raised over his head in the classic Dracula pose, dropped to his sides. He pulled his exaggerated white fangs back behind his lips. "What, imminent death isn't exciting enough for you?"
"Oh, stop pouting. But really, the widow's peak? The pale skin? The black cape? Where did you even get that thing, a costume store?"
He raised himself to his full height and glared down at me. "I'm going to suck the life from your pretty white neck."
I sighed. I hated the vamp jobs. They think they're so suave. It's not enough for them to slaughter and eat you like a zombie would. No, they want it to be all sexy, too. And, trust me: vampires? Not. Sexy. I mean, sure, their glamours can be pretty hot, but the dry-as-bone corpse bodies shimmering underneath? Nothing attractive there. Not that anyone else can see them though.
From Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

From the first sentence, the first paragraph, you know you're dealing with two completely different narrators.

 Both of these passages contain equal amounts of action and internal thought. You can hear the character's voice in the turns of phrase that they use, but you can also see it in the things they notice and how they describe their world. A person who describes a sky as "peach-colored" is a different sort of person than one who uses the phrase "dry-as-bone corpse bodies".

Some character voices have a lot of internal thoughts.
I guess in the old days, in other places, boys like me usually ended up twisting and kicking in the empty air beneath gallows.
It's no wonder I became a monster, too.
I mean, what would you expect, anyway?
And all the guys I know--all the guys I ever knew--can look at their lives and point to the one defining moment that made them who they were, no question about it. Usually those moments involved things like hitting baseballs, or their dads showing them how to gap spark plugs or bait a hook. Stuff like that.
My defining moment came last summer, when I was sixteen.
That's when I got kidnapped.
From The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith

Or your character's voice can come through without any internal conversation at all.
The match snapped, then sizzled, and I woke up fast. I heard my mother inhale as she took a long pull on a cigarette. Her lips stuck on the filter, so I knew she was still wearing lipstick. She'd been up all night.
She lay on the bed next to me. I felt her fingers on my hair and kept sleep-breathing. I risked a look under my eyelashes.
She was in her pink nightgown, ankles crossed, head flung back against the pillows. Arm in the air, elbow bent, cigarette glowing in her fingers. Tanned legs glistening in the darkness. Blond hair tumbling past her shoulders.
I breathed in smoke and My Sin perfume. It was her smell. It filled the air.
I didn't move, but I could tell she knew I was awake. I kept on pretending to be asleep. She pretended not to know.
I breathed in and out, perfume and smoke, perfume and smoke, and we lay like that for a long time, until i heard the seagulls crying, sadder than a funeral, and I knew it was almost morning.
From What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell

 There are a lot of things that make a character voice memorable, but I'm going to break it into three pieces.

1. Details. Like I said before, a huge part of a character's voice, especially in first person, are the details they notice. The main character in Chains says almost nothing about the landscape (at first), but she does think about the way the woman in the coffin is dressed and how her hair is combed.

Details are also important for a character's mood. When, the main character in What I Saw and How I Lied hears the seagulls crying, she describes it as a sad sound.

2. Language/Slang. The Marbury Lens and Paranormalcy both feature teenagers with modern voices. What I Saw and How I Lied and Chains are both historical novels, one set in the 1940s, the other in the 1700's.

You can tell a bit about the character's setting by the words they use and the rhythm of their sentences. The Marbury Lens and Paranormalcy use modern phrases and informal speech patterns that would sound out of place in either of the other two books.

3. Personality and Concerns. The main character in the Marbury Lens struggles with self-hate and blame. The main character in Paranormalcy is capable, confident and sarcastic. These things play a part in their character voices.

Characters are also defined by what they're concerned about in the moment. The girl in Chains is thinking about ghosts and how she has to walk beside the cart. The girl in What I Saw and How I Lied is thinking about her mother.

What concerns your character, how they think and how they speak all play a part in a character's viewpoint voice.

But how do you develop the ability to write great character voice? Like author voice, the answer is simple. You write and you read.

Reading is very important here. You won't be able to tell when your characters sound bland if you never read books that do characters really well. And it will be even harder for you to know when you've found a good character voice if you don't even know what that means.

I know this is a lot to digest in one post. Did I miss anything? Do you have any questions?

You can find the rest of the voice series here: 
Talking about Voice, part 1: What is it?
Talking about Voice, part 2: Three authors, three books
Talking about Voice, part 3: One author, three books
Talking about Voice, part 5: Differences in character dialogue
Talking about Voice, part 6: Helpful links

Talking about Voice, part 3: One author, three books

*hits the resume button on the voice series*

I wanted to do one more post on author voice before we dive into characters. As interesting as comparing different authors is, it does raise another question:

What parts of those different styles were because of the authors, and which parts were because of the book?

So in order to really get a handle on author voice, we're going to look at three different books by one author.  I chose Neil Gaiman, not just because Neil Gaiman is the Chuck Norris of books, but also because he has a consistent style that's easy to study.

First the excerpt from the last post:
There was a hand in the darkness and it held a knife.
The knife had a handle of polished black bone and a blade finer and sharper than any razor. If it sliced you, you would not even know you had been cut, not immediately.
The knife had done almost everything it was brought to do, and both the blade and the handle were wet.
The street door was still open, just a little, where the knife and the man had slipped in, and wisps of nighttime mist slithered and twined into the house through the open door.
The man Jack paused on the landing. With his left hand he pulled a large white handkerchief from the pocket of his black coat, and with it he wiped off the knife and his gloved right hand which had been holding it; then he put the handkerchief away. The hunt was almost over.
From The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

All well and good. But what if he wrote a story with an entirely different feel to it?
There was once a young man who wished to gain his Heart's Desire.
And while that is, as beginnings go, not entirely novel (for every tale about every young man there ever was or will be could start in a similar manner), there was much about this young man and what happened to him that was unusual, although even he never knew the whole of it.
The tale started, as many tales have started, in Wall
From Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Those first two books could both be considered YA (although Gaiman moves fluidly between adult and YA, so he's hard to classify). But what if we looked at one of his adult fantasies?
She had been running for four days now, a harum-scarum tumbling flight through passages and tunnels. She was hungry, and exhausted, and more tired than a body could stand, and each successive door was proving harder to open. After four days of flight, she had found a hiding place, a tiny stone burrow, under the world, where she would be safe, or so she prayed, and at last she slept.
*   *  *
Mr. Croup had hired Ross at the last Floating Market, which had been held in Westminster Abbey. "Think of him," he told Mr. Vandemar, "as a canary."
"Sings?" asked Mr. Vandemar.
"I doubt it; I sincerely and utterly doubt it." Mr. Croup ran a hand through his lank orange hair. "No, my fine friend, I was thinking metaphorically--more along the lines of the birds they take down mines."
Mr. Vandemar nodded, comprehension dawning slowly: yes a canary. Mr. Ross had no other resemblance to a canary. He was huge--almost as big as Mr. Vandemar--and extremely grubby, and quite hairless, and he said very little, although he had made a point of telling each of them that he liked to kill things, and he was good at it, and this amused Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar. But he was a canary and he never knew it. So Mr. Ross went first in his filthy T-shirt and his crusted blue-jeans, and Croup and Vandemar walked behind him in their elegant black suits.
From Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Across age ranges, across different kinds of stories, the voice stays consistent.

Here's what I know. When you have put in the work, when you have honed your craft, your voice will come. And it will be recognizable in everything you do.

Looking at them side by side, you can see how some of the things we talked about in the last post--like the longer sentences and the simple descriptions--are part of Neil Gaiman's author voice. Also notice that even though the third passage has dialogue and more than one character, it still carries a little of the same narrative distance of the other two paragraphs.

Every author has a certain way they like to write, and that is what we mean when we say "author voice".

Does this make sense? Do you guys have any questions?

You can find the rest of the voice series here: 
Talking about Voice, part 1: What is it?
Talking about Voice, part 2: Three authors, three books
Talking about Voice, part 4: Viewpoint voices
Talking about Voice, part 5: Differences in character dialogue
Talking about Voice, part 6: Helpful links

Thank you everyone!

I'm overwhelmed by all the congratulations and well-wishes. You are all awesome.


I'm planning to spend the weekend catching up on comments and then start the voice series up again on Monday. Until then, please accept this baby playpus (also known as a puggle) as a token of my gratitude.


See you Monday!

All the Gory Details: an agent story (part 2)

Sorry everyone!  I had to go sell legally addictive substances for a while, otherwise known as Miriam's Day Job.

Where was I? *checks*

(Part One is here.)

Oh yes. I had just sent a query and sample pages off to Jennifer Laughran in order to make myself feel better about a rejection. I was counting down the days until the six weeks for her no-response-means-no policy were up. I was rewriting my Alaskan dragon book and VERY excited about getting to do a fresh round of queries with a new project.

Then it happened. Two weeks before the deadline was up, I got an email from Jenn in my inbox requesting a full.

I kid you not, the first words out of my mouth were "Oh crap."

This was not the plan. I didn't WANT to wait the weeks and months a full request can take before I started querying my other project. Especially if it was just going to lead to another rejection.

Well, I may be a pessimist but I'm not stupid. A first-class agent asks for a full, you send her a full. Plus I'm a big believer in the idea that everything happens for a reason. Maybe my other project really needed more time. Maybe there was a bigger plan in play.

There was. But not the one I thought.

After some really irritating email trouble I sent the full. That was Saturday night. On Sunday morning I did a rare sleep-in day. I woke up around 11am (PST)  to an email from Jenn asking if any other agents had the book. I sent an email back saying no.

All well and good. Except then I opened up my Twitter feed to find this.

Of course I screen-captured it. Shut up.

And this.

I FREAKED. But it was a quiet freak. I didn't dare to believe she was talking about MY book. I checked the time she sent the email against the time she wrote the tweet. It fit. My husband freaked, and not quietly.

"She's totally talking about you!" he said. I told him to hush. Then I waited. If she was talking about me, surely she would email me back soon right? And as the afternoon and evening wore on, I convinced myself she was talking about someone else.

Then my gmail page made a weird noise. It took me a minute to find out why and when I did, I freaked again.  It was Jenn on google-chat. She hadn't gotten my email because it had gone to the wrong folder.

But she was talking about me.

She did love my book.

A week-and-a-half later, after some revisions, some seriously awkward flailing (on my part), and some MASSIVE insecurity attacks (also me), Jenn called to offer representation. After giving myself a day to think about it, I said yes.

And that's how I ended up with an awesome agent.

*looks at last sentence again* *does happy dance*

Now I know some of you are combing this story to find lessons you can use to help your own agent search. I know because I did the same thing. So I'm going to pretend that I know what I'm doing and offer you some advice.

*adjusts glasses* *tries to look wise* *fails*


Advice #1. Never give up, never surrender. 

I owe a lot of this story to luck (or Divine Providence, depending on what you believe). But if I hadn't sent the query in the first place, none of those would have come into play. Take another step forward, even if it's a little one.

Advice #2. The best thing you can do for your career is write another book.

I believe that this is always true, no matter where you are in the process. Aside from building up a body of work, the plain truth is writing another book will teach you things you will never learn in revisions. I could never have gone back and made Houses better if I hadn't written two other books first.

Advice #3. Bring the awesome every time.

Even though I wasn't expecting anything to come from my query, I still made sure my query letter was good. I followed Jenn's guidelines. I personalized the query. I did my best. You have to bring the awesome to everything you do, even if it's a blog with eight followers or a short story for an online magazine or a twitter feed.

Oh, and one more thing.

Don't diss luck. You just might have to eat your words someday.


All the Gory Details: an agent story (part 1)

I was very firmly and kindly told by my blog friends that I had to put up a post on how this whole agent thing happened, and that they would put live badgers in my computer bag if I failed to do so.

Okay then, here goes.

To start off with, I need to make one thing perfectly clear. I don't put much stock in the idea of luck when it comes to my own life. I know many agent/publishing stories with an element of luck, almost all of them in fact, but I never expected my story would become one of them.

(I never believed in the idea of soulmates either, and then I ended up married to mine. This is why I try to keep my words sweet, because I eat them so often.)

The story starts here...

In 2007, I started writing my second book, The House of a Thousand Dolls, about a girl in a caste-based society who has to try and solve a murder. The book took about a year and a half to write, which I felt was quite fast, given that my first book took me almost ten years to finish.

In early 2009, I started querying. I got some nibbles, but mostly it was form rejections. One of the agencies I queried that year was Andrea Brown.

While I was querying, I kept busy. I wrote another book and then another. I learned how to blog and facebook and twitter. I made awesome online friends. And I continued to query Houses off and on with no success.

Then in 2010 I got a phone call from an agent. He was really excited about Houses, but felt there were some fundamental problems with the worldbuilding. Ultimately, he decided not to offer representation, but asked to see my next book.

So I shelved Houses and worked on getting my next book Life as a Cat up to speed so I could send it.

It came back with a form rejection.

I had pretty much exhausted my options (I thought) for Houses, so I shelved it and went back to work on Cat. I polished it up and sent it out on another round, where it failed dismally.

I was crushed. I took a query hiatus, played around with a just-for-fun project and started planning another book. And the whole time, part of my brain was wondering about Houses. Was it fixable? What had I done wrong?

Then a light-bulb went off, one of those industrial fluorescents that take forever to light up. Slowly the pieces started coming together. The problem was that the book started in the wrong place. It started with the third murder and went from there.  But that didn't give us enough time to become invested in the world. So what if I started with the first murder instead?

It took a LOT of work. A lot of rearranging and rewriting and about ten thousand new words, but I fixed it. By then though, I had a new project that I was really excited about and an agent interested in Cat. Actually two agents, one of whom had read the synopses on my blog and wanted to see both books.

Both agents were very encouraging and said very nice things about my voice and writing style, but ultimately neither one felt invested enough. I got the last email December 2010.

And that's when things got interesting.

I knew if I got rejected after being so close it was going to hurt like hell. And I knew I had to do something to keep myself from giving up. So on the day I got the last email, I decided to send out a query. One query. To Jennifer Laughran at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

Now I knew Jenn (twitter handle @literaticat) fairly well, in fact she was on my agents-I'd-love-but-who-are-out-of-reach-list. I followed her on Twitter and had read three of her client's books in 2010. She also had recently started following me back, so I figured my chances of getting a semi-personal rejection were pretty good.

The reason I thought she was out of reach was because I had already queried her agency with my book. But after checking the agency website, I figured enough time had gone by that I wouldn't look like a total dork if I queried her. Plus the book was a lot different now. So I took the file of Houses that I had sent the last agent and pressed send.

It was a purely defensive maneuver. I had given up on Houses. But I knew that Andrea Brown had a no-response-means-no policy after six weeks. That would give me enough time to polish up this other project that I was really excited about, and if I didn't hear from her in six weeks, I could start querying all over again.

That was my plan, anyway....

Stay tuned for Part Two!

We interrupt this voice series to bring you the following announcement:

I have an agent.

Her name is Jennifer Laughran and she's with the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

I am an agented author.

That is all.

This announcement has been brought to you by a very stunned and happy author. The author is not responsible for anything she says in the next twenty-four hours. The author will eventually get over being stunned and most likely scream and jump around like a crazy person. Don't say we didn't warn you.

EDIT: There will be a post with all the "gory details"! I promise. 

Talking about Voice, part 2: Three authors, three books

Every person has a voiceprint. Every author does too.

Essentially an author's voice is the way that a specific writer writes. For example, this...
There is a certain kind of girl the goblins crave. You could walk across a high school campus and point them out: not her, not her, her. The pert, lovely ones with butterfly tattoos in secret places, sitting on their boyfriends laps? No, not them. The girls watching the lovely ones sitting on their boyfriends' laps? Yes.
The goblins want girls who dream so hard about being pretty their yearning leaves a palpable trail, a scent goblins can follow like sharks on a soft bloom of blood. The girls with hungry eyes who pray each night to wake up as someone else. Urgent, unkissed, wishful girls.
Like Kizzy.
From Lips Touch Three Times by Laini Taylor a very different sort of voice from this.
Dirbani ran toward the stepwell. Squinting against the glare, she splashed through the road's deep ruts, pink skirts slapping her calves, her long black braid thumping her shoulders. One hand steadied the empty clay jar on her head. Mud sucked at her bare feet, but the rest of her was dry for a change. Overnight, the goddess Bhagiya had driven her tiger chariot across the heavens, chasing away her sister Naghali's rain snakes. Diribani didn't mind the mud when the fresh-washed sun beamed down on her.
Each panting breath brought rich new smells: wet earth, growing plants, a hint of curried lentils from a farmer's hut. Diribani's empty stomach growled at that, but her stepsister, Tana, couldn't cook their midday meal until Diribani returned with the water. Although their courtyard well served for washing and cleaning, its water had a sour taste. And Diribani had forgotten to fill the drinking jar at the sacred well this morning. Again.
From Toads and Diamonds by Heather Tomlinson
Or this.
There was a hand in the darkness and it held a knife.
The knife had a handle of polished black bone and a blade finer and sharper than any razor. If it sliced you, you would not even know you had been cut, not immediately.
The knife had done almost everything it was brought to do, and both the blade and the handle were wet.
The street door was still open, just a little, where the knife and the man had slipped in, and wisps of nighttime mist slithered and twined into the house through the open door.
The man Jack paused on the landing. With his left hand he pulled a large white handkerchief from the pocket of his black coat, and with it he wiped off the knife and his gloved right hand which had been holding it; then he put the handkerchief away. The hunt was almost over.
From The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

All three of these books are classified as young adult, and they are all considered fantasy/magical realism.  They are all written in third person. All of these paragraphs are well-written, vivid and descriptive.  So what is it that makes them so different?

It's the author's voice.

Taylor's voice is lyrical, poetic even. Her vocabulary choices in this passage are mostly soft-sounding: yearning, wistful, the sharks on the bloom of blood. Also, note the distance between the narration and the main character, as if we are being told a myth or fairy tale.

Heather Tomlinson is different. Her point-of-view is much more focused and we see and hear only what the main character does. Her sentences tend to be longer and more conversational. Even though her book is based on a fairy tale, there's no hint of a storyteller. We are right inside her character's head.

 The Gaiman passage is a stark, powerful one. The focus is the knife and other details are sparse. He doesn't tell us anything about the setting, or even why the knife is wet (though we can imagine). His descriptive language is very straightforward: wet, sharp, black, white. His sentences are mostly longer ones, but his paragraphs are short.

Some of these choices were no doubt intentional, brought about by the needs of the story. But most of an author's voice is instinctual. It develops as the author reads widely and writes consistently. It is your most valuable asset because once you've found your voice, no one in the world will write quite like you do. You will be unique.

But there is a price, and the price is time. Developing an author voice is like growing taller--you cannot make it happen overnight. There is no magic pill.

And be patient.

Any questions? What do you see that's different about these passages?

You can find the rest of the voice series here: 
Talking about Voice, part 1: What is it?
Talking about Voice, part 3: One author, three books
Talking about Voice, part 4: Viewpoint voices
Talking about Voice, part 5: Differences in character dialogue
Talking about Voice, part 6: Helpful links
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Fabric art in the header by Carol Riggs.