Monday, June 14, 2010

Caramel Tollhouse Pie and The Dharma Initiative


For someone who gets a fraction of the sleep she needs, I sure have a lot of dreams. I've spent the last week glued to my laptop; not writing, but watching LOST for the first time. The dream sequences remind me of another show I ended up hopelessly entangled in-- Twin Peaks. If you missed out on Twin Peaks, do yourself a favor and watch it. Right now. I'll wait. Come back when you're done.

Welcome back! Dreams are amazing; sometimes terrifying, sometimes beautiful. Mine are usually a mixture of both, probably due to my unabashed love of Stephen King. I'm a sucker for dreams. Martin Luther King had a dream. Stephenie Meyer had a dream which turned out to be Twilight. A seventeen year old me had a dream and I've held on to it for fifteen years. Don't do the math. I'll have to kill you.

So, anyway, my dream was about a group of kids who take a road trip to the mall in a neighboring county to sample the government's latest attack in the war on drugs. When marijuana is on the verge of legalization, some government lab rats invent a safe, mild hallucinogen they inject into curious teenagers at kiosks in malls. Ever been to See's? Little old ladies in white coats, right? Mine aren't passing out chocolates. These kids find a way to finagle a second dose of the drug, Redemption, and get separated in the maze of shops while lost in a haze of crazy hallucinations.

I tried to write the dream a hundred times, but it never came together. It took fifteen years, a new house, old notebooks, a tweet from an agent looking for YA from a male perspective to put it straight for me. I've got it now. I may be taking a brief hiatus to find out what the freaking crap is going on with The Dharma Initiative on Lost, but then it's right back to plugging away at REM.

My inspiration for this project is a dream, but most of my plot ideas are totally random "what if" musings.  The majority of my dreams would bore you to tears.  You won't be reading about me clutching the dashboard while my eleven year old in the driver's seat drives us down the sidewalk at 60 miles an hour. And you definitely won't read about my passionate love affair with President Obama.

Where does your inspiration come from?

If you're looking for inspiration, try Coconut Tollhouse Pie with Salted Caramel. Food for your muse.

Muse Food (a.k.a. Coconut Tollhouse Pie with Salted Caramel)

9" frozen deep dish pie crust (or use your favorite pie crust recipe)

Filling:
2 eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter (softened)
1 t vanilla
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup shredded coconut (a 6oz bag of frozen coconut is wonderful in this)

Salted Caramel Sauce:
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup unsalted butter (cut into small pieces)
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon sea salt (Fleur de Sel de Guerande, if you can get it)

Vanilla ice cream (optional, but oh so necessary)

For the pie; beat eggs until foamy; add flour and both sugars and beat until combined. Beat in butter and vanilla. Stir in chocolate chips, walnuts and coconut. Spread filling in crust and bake in a preheated 325 degree oven for an hour, or until deep golden brown and set in the center.

For the sauce; place sugar in a saucepan with a heavy bottom and pour water evenly over the surface. Stirring constantly, bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Let the syrup boil, covered and undisturbed for three minutes. Remove lid and stir until dark golden amber in color. Beat in butter and stir in heavy cream. Remove from heat; add vanilla and salt. Let cool.

Serve pie with a big scoop of ice cream and a generous drizzle of caramel.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Spicy chocolate tart and rejection




No, I'm not rejecting you. I love you. I really do! I'm even sharing my chocolate with you, see?


For those of you who are following along; I was just rejected by an incredible agent. Not just an incredible agent, but The Incredible Agent. The crazy thing is I'm totally cool with it. No seriously.


My first project is deep and quiet-- not an easy sell for YA. I realized all of this after it was finished and I'd queried every agent under the sun (and the ones who sit inside reading all day and never see the sun). There's been lots of interest in the project, lots of requests for partials and fulls, but no takers. I'm cool with that. Seriously.


I adore Will and Maggie and will let them stay on my hard drive forever if that's what's in the cards for me. There are bigger, better, and more exciting things in the works right now. My current project is huge. It's really, really huge. I'm even playing around with the notion it might be high concept. With the things I've learned during my querying adventure with WILL & MAGGIE, I'm actually looking forward to starting over with REM. I'm more than cool with it; I'm downright excited and looking forward to it. Seriously!


There are still agents considering my first project but I'm not waiting around for answers anymore. When The Incredible Agent passed, I made up my mind to focus my attention on REM. Hers was the third rejection letter from the three agents who topped my wish list; all (amazingly) requested my full MS and all said pretty much the same thing when they passed. All three letters were warm and personal and laced with compliments. All three letters left the door open for future projects. Future projects like REM. I'm cool with all three letters. Seriously.


Instead of feeling rejected, I feel inspired. I'm pretty sure most agents don't throw praise around lightly so I must be on the right track. I didn't read NO in those letters; I read YOU'RE ALMOST THERE.


I know a lot of you are already represented by fabulous agents (several of you are lucky enough to have landed The Incredible Agent) so this is for those of you who aren't: Be cool with rejections. Build your staircase with them and let them lift you higher. Seriously.


If you can't take the heat, get your arse out of the kitchen. I'm not the first person to say it but I'm probably the first person to bake it. Properly chilled, this spicy chocolate tart is indulgent and silky. The coolness melts away to a slow burn that lingers on your tongue and makes you rush for another bite to extinguish the fire. Enjoy!


Hellfire and Damnation (a.k.a. Spicy Chocolate Tart)


Crust:


8 T unsalted butter, melted

1/4 cup granulated sugar

pinch of salt

3/4 t vanilla

1 cup all purpose flour


Filling:

3 T unsalted butter

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup cocoa powder

1 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

1/8 cup kirsch (so very decadent but optional if you don't have any on hand)

1/2 t vanilla

1 t cayenne pepper

1 egg, lightly beaten


Mix crust ingredients in a medium bowl and press thinly and evenly into the bottom and up the sides of a 9 1/2 inch tart pan. If you don't have a tart pan, press the crust into the bottom and 1/2 inch up the sides of a pie tin instead. Bake for 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees or until golden.


Meanwhile: Melt butter, sugar, cocoa powder, and cream in a medium saucepan, stirring until smooth and simmering around the edges. Remove from the heat and stir in chocolate, kirsch, vanilla, and cayenne.


Just before the crust is ready, whisk the egg thoroughly into the hot chocolate mixture. Pour the filling into the hot crust and turn off the oven. Leave the tart in the oven until it is almost set in the center, about 10-12 minutes. It will still quiver when nudged. Refrigerate until firm and serve very cold.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie and Optimism


For years I've deluded myself into believing I was the dreamer in my marriage. I'm the one who looked for the good in people and tried to find the silver lining on all the nasty little clouds life dealt us. The Gunny and his temper always focused on the worst aspects of every situation. It made sense that I was the dreamer. Not so.




The Gunny buys lottery tickets and plans what he's going to do with his money while he waits for the numbers to be drawn. In almost fourteen years of knowing him, the most I've ever seen him win was $6. But he still dreams of making a trip around the country in a brand new RV to surprise our long-distance family members with expensive gifts.




Last year we bought our first house. I took it as it was; a five bedroom house with storage space, a 1 1/2 car garage, and a Big Freaking Barn. The Gunny (who didn't breathe a word of this when we were signing papers) saw a potential sixth bedroom, a garage that could easily be converted to a rec room, and a Big Freaking Barn that sat on the perfect spot for an in-ground swimming pool. When is he going to start on these renovations? Probably never. But he dreamed of something more in this already beautiful house and (more importantly) believes he will some day see it happen.




The 10yo Gunny brought stray dogs home, tried out for sports teams, dreamed of becoming a veterinarian, built forts, opened a watermelon stand on the edge of the farm, and read Black Beauty again and again. I finally got to meet 10yo Gunny when he drove to Arkansas to pick up a bullmastiff puppy he fell in love with online. He pulled up in the driveway and stepped out of the car holding twenty pounds of fuzzy energy and unleashed it onto our terrified children. I was the one who forced him to buy an outdoor dog kennel and a puppy crate for her to sleep in at night. I was the one who woke up and tended to her when she cried. I was the one who washed the blankets in her crate and scooped poop out of the yard. He just reaped the tail-wagging puppy kisses and wrestled with her in the grass with a smile as wide as the Big Freaking Barn.




When I announced I was writing something big- an actual book instead of rambling blog posts- The Gunny's inner dreamer hyperventilated. It wasn't obvious at first, he just made sure I had time alone on the computer so I could work. When he realized I needed a computer of my own, he ran right out and bought one for me. When my writing time stretched late into the night and I crawled into bed at 2am, he kept the kids quiet in the mornings so I could catch up on sleep. I didn't see it then, but he was dreaming of my book becoming a sensation. Where I hoped to one day see my book in print, he saw dollar signs.




Every query I sent off was another anticipated rejection for me. For The Gunny, every query was a potential catapult onto the NYT Bestseller List and a SOON TO BE MADE INTO A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE sticker for the cover of my book.




After fourteen years together I finally understand he's the dreamer and I'm the realist. I may have the imagination in our relationship, but he has the unfailing optimism that scares me to death. While I'm just a dreamer, he's an honest-to-god Dreamer who believes his dreams are all attainable.




Maybe that's why I love him so much.




I'm posting a picture of my fabulous peanut butter pie with this blog post for all you dreamers out there. For all of you Dreamers out there, I'm also posting the recipe. Forget everything you know about chocolate and peanut butter; this is a dessert for grown-ups. The filling is light and mousselike without being overly sweet, and the chocolate ganache is glossy and elegant.




Eternal Optimism (a.k.a. Peanut Butter Pie)


Crust:

1 1/4 cups graham cracker or chocolate wafer crumbs

3 T granulated sugar

5 T melted butter


Filling:

8 oz mascarpone cheese (or softened cream cheese)

1 cup high quality creamy peanut butter

1/2 granulated sugar

2 t vanilla

1 cup heavy cream


Glaze:

1/3 cup heavy cream

2 T unsalted butter

4 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped


Whipped cream (optional)


Combine crust ingredients and press into the bottom and 1/2" up the sides of a 10" springform pan (or all the way up the sides of a 10" pie pan).


Beat cheese, peanut butter, sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl just until smooth. In a separate bowl, beat 1 cup heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Fold half the whipped cream into the peanut butter mixture to lighten it, then fold in the remaining whipped cream. Spread the filling into the pie crust. Refrigerate until firm, about 4 hours.


Bring 1/3 cup heavy cream and butter to a simmer in a saucepan. Remove from heat and immediately stir in chopped chocolate until melted. Let cool to lukewarm and pour over the top of the pie. Refrigerate until the glaze is set, about an hour.


Serve the pie with lightly sweetened whipped cream, if desired.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Berry cake and late nights


It's summer vacation. Again. While that makes my days chaos clusters, it frees up my nights for writing without curfews. It was last summer that I ripped through Will & Maggie by staying up all hours of the night and sleeping in every morning. 170,000 words in a couple of weeks. It was glorious. The productivity, not the finished first draft.
My arsenal of writing tools is well-stocked; Diet Cherry Coke, espresso beans, energy drinks, chocolate, and booze. Unless one of the three agents currently perusing my manuscript offers to represent me and sends a long list of revisions, I will be plugging away at REM this summer.
In celebration of my freedom from early mornings, I present you all with this morning's breakfast: A pile of fresh berries suspended in rich butter and cream cheese cake. Since all the seeds in the berries help promote bowel regularity, consider it health food. You're welcome!
The Seeds of Love (a.k.a. berry cake)
This recipe yields one 9" round and can easily be doubled for a 9x13" pan.
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
1 t vanilla
2 cups fresh (or frozen, if you're a loser) berries.
Cinnamon sugar, optional
Powdered sugar, optional
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter a 9" round cake pan. If you're doubling the recipe, use a 9x13" pan. The berries will stick mercilessly, so I highly recommend lining the pan with parchment paper for easy removal.
Beat butter, cream cheese, and sugar until combined. Beat in egg. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt; stir into butter and sugar mixture until just combined. Fold in vanilla and berries. Spread batter in prepared pan and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, if using.
Bake the cake for 45-50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Invert onto serving plate and dust with powdered sugar, if using.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Lemon bars and an open apology


I admit it was kinda fun teasing my Twitter friends about the lemon bars I baked this morning, but now I'm in a world of tangy-sweet butter bliss and feeling pretty guilty about it. Guess I owe you all a great big apology and my recipe for lemon bars.

I'm sorry. I'm truly, deeply sorry you aren't here to taste the powdered sugar on the tip of your tongue and sink your teeth into the fragile crust. I regret spilling details about the ingredients, like fresh lemons and real butter. I am a bad person for being so thoughtless.

Now here's the recipe:

Pure Sunshine (a.k.a. Lemon Bars)

2/3 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
6 eggs
2 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 T fresh lemon zest
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3/4 t baking powder
Powdered sugar

In a mixing bowl, beat butter and 1/2 cup sugar 2 min. or until fluffy. Beat in 2 cups flour until mixture is crumbly. Press into the bottom of an ungreased 10x15 baking pan. Bake for 15-18 minutes in a 350 degree oven until golden.

Meanwhile, for filling, combine eggs, 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar, 1/3 cup flour, lemon zest, lemon juice, and baking powder. Beat 2 min. or until combined.

Pour filling over baked crust. Bake 20 minutes more or until filling is set and just starting to color around the edges. Cool on a wire rack. Dust tops with powdered sugar and cut into bars.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Finding strength in the p-trap

My 2yo is an angel. Most of the time. Actually only part of the time. Okay, very rarely. ANYWAY, he's helping me learn important lessons about life; like finding strength in the p-trap while he learns life lessons of his own; like potty training.

Today my 2yo wandered back to the bathroom to go potty with a Capri Sun in one hand and half of a pink pencil case in the other. He toddled back out a few minutes later with just the Capri Sun and made the "come here" motion with his hand. (For those of you who don't know, 2yo is a little man of few words.) I followed him back to the bathroom where he stood beside the toilet and asked "gone?" Indeed, the pink pencil case was gone.

I gave it a test flush and everything seemed fine. A few hours later, it was not fine. No amount of plunging would move *things* through the pipes and clear out the toilet bowl. The Gunny, who built bathrooms for a short time before joining the Marine Corps, said he'd have to take the toilet out and free the pink pencil case when he made it home from work. I decided that was too long to be subject to the terror that is the kids' bathroom.

On a related note, I am not mechanically inclined. At all. I have a tendency to break everything I touch. I'm the one who takes something with a minor problem and turns it into a major disaster. That's me. I coerced my kids into reaching their skinny hands up into the toilet before I did anything myself.

So, when that didn't work, I headed into the bathroom with a wire coat hanger, some rags, and what little strength I could scrape together. Amazingly, I knew to turn off the water and disconnect the hose from the wall before attempting to remove the toilet. I also knew that I'd need to stop up the hole in the floor (in the center of the gooey wax ring) so the room wouldn't fill with sewer gas. I know, I know; I was impressed with myself too.

A few nuts later, the toilet was upside down and I was jabbing the twisted coat hanger into the p-trap to dislodge the pink pencil case. The stupid thing finally slid free in a rush of opaque, brown um... water.

I was so proud of myself that I didn't notice how slow the toilet flushed after I had it put back in place. By the time I was ready to go to bed, however, the toilet wasn't flushing at all. Again. I stressed about it for a bit, plunging like a madwoman to keep from looking incompetent in front of The Gunny. Still no luck.

Then I remembered the wire coat hanger, which had mysteriously disappeared.

Let me back up for a minute here. After the disappearing/reappearing pink pencil case ordeal, I'd washed two loads of soggy towels, bleached the crap out of my bathroom (literally), and scheduled therapy for my emotional scarring. I sure as sugar didn't want to go through all of that again. But I also didn't want to have to tell The Gunny that I left a mangled wire hanger in the p-trap.

My pride won and I dismantled the toilet. Again. I did two loads of laundry. Again. I bleached the bathroom. Again.

The moral of this story? 2yo is the spawn of Satan. No wait- I'm stronger than I first believed. I did what I had to do to make things work, even when it meant going back into the fray. Again.

Getting published isn't a whole lot different from dislodging a pink pencil case and a wire coat hanger from the p-trap of a toilet. You might go into it feeling like it's going to be a piece of cake, or you might have to force yourself to send off that first query-- but you do it anyway. And then you suffer. You find yourself up to your elbows in crap, standing in a *muddy* puddle, and dry-heaving over an unusable toilet. Or not. Whatever. But you get through the rejections, and you get your pretty pink requests for partials and fulls.

This is where I am in the publishing game right now; having procured my pink pencil case and discovering there's still more to be done. I'm stronger than I first believed though, and I'm diving back in to finish the job. I'm familiar with the plumbing this time, and I know I can get this done and get it done right.

How far into your p-trap are you?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Excuses Are Like Butts

My husband, a Marine Corps veteran with more than 20 years of active duty service, loves to tell me "Excuses are like a$$holes; everybody has one and they all stink." I've cleaned his little adage up a bit for my title, but it still works.

There's been an awful lot of blog and Twitter silence on my end lately. My end? I apologize in advance for this post. Apparently I have my mind in the gutter. Anyway, I'd like to blame the dead air on my husband but I know that would just be me making an excuse for not Doing It Anyway.

While the Gunny enjoyed a break from work, he spent the bulk of his time on the computer catching up on his Facebook applications. Since the kids fried our desktop and the community laptop is perpetually occupied by one of our five children, he spent all those hours on MY precious laptop. We can argue the whole "I make the money so it's really MY computer" issue all day long, but I prefer to stick to my non-confrontational tendencies and let him believe whatever lies he chooses to tell himself to feel like a man. When he wasn't glued to the computer, he was in overdrive; taking care of all the little odds and ends he's been meaning to address but hasn't had time to deal with.

So here's my predicament: When he's in overdrive, I usually become the Al Borland to his Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor. When he's on his rear (there I go again) at my computer, nagging him to get off will only bring on the Tool Time role-playing game faster. What did I do?

I let him become my bumhole.

A lot of work was done around this house, including a thorough steam cleaning of my carpets. There's a lot of freaking carpet in a 3000 square foot home, let me tell you. The new puppy has already fertilized the dining room, but that's another blog post entirely (even if it is adhering to the colorectal theme I've got going here). But what didn't get done is any significant progress on my current writing project. When I did try to write, there was always something mundane he was dying to tell me that would completely destroy my train of thought. True, I took some pretty valuable notes here and there, but I was basically on hiatus while The Gunny was home.

Hindsight is 20/20. Heh, HINDsight. Still going. Anyway, I should've told him where to stick it and gone ahead with Doing It Anyway. I've been reborn into the religion of Write Every Day, and I am here to preach its gospel. The Gunny would've lived if I'd booted him off my laptop for a few hours every day and let one of the kids help him with his handyman projects.

Although Twitter frequently becomes a butt for me, it's a source of encouragement and inspiration more often than not. I adore my writer friends who are quite talented at Doing It Anyway; even if they do distract the heck out of me sometimes. I did get out an occasional tweet on my phone here and there but Tweetdeck was MIA from my desktop most of the time The Gunny was home. Having him relay tweets to me in his heavy Cornhole drawl was so very wrong. There's something unsettling about hearing Michelle Wolfson (a petite Jewish mother) debate the unschooling fiasco in The Gunny's rumbling drill sergeant voice.

Thanks to everyone who noticed I was unusually quiet. Life isn't the same without y'all.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Pen Pals

I met this fabulous girl on Twitter. The progression of our relationship has all been very smooth and natural; she tweeted a roll call of who was writing one night and I joined her Write Through The Pain hashtag (if you don't know about hashtags, go to Twitter now and tweet #imaloser), and before you know it, she's reading my sacred WIP and I'm writing her a crazy short story about her freakshow boss. It's love, I'm telling you.

Backing up, this girl is under the oppression of BOSS COWBOY; a man with a reputation so big his name must be spelled entirely in capital letters. Their hilariously dysfunctional relationship is coming to an end soon so that Bria can go become a famous author back in Boston. In celebration (or loathing?) of the friction (flirting?) between them, Bria offered a prize for the best 500 word BOSS COWBOY story. The prize? A mug bearing a startling likeness of BC himself. I had to have it. You can read my entry here or you can just look at this picture of me freaking out over my prize for winning the contest. Or both. Whatever.


Where did this fantabulous mug come from, you ask? Well, part of becoming a famous author is research and development of the writer herself. Bria is hocking all kinds of nifty writerly items in a Romance Yardsale to fund a trip to Nashville for the RWA National Conference (or convention, I have no idea). Why do I care if she furthers herself as a writer and creates stronger competition- I mean more a more talented peer- in the YA industry? Because I live 90 miles from Nashville and will get to hang with her IN PERSON after hours when she's at the conference.

The mug is made of so much win that I simply must have more Romance Yardsale booty; much, much more. Thankfully Bria is dangling more freebies over our heads at the risk of spending more money than she'll earn. If you're dying to put your lips on your very own BOSS COWBOY mug, check out the Romance Yardsale and enter the drawing for one free item of your choice. To help you get started, here's my pick:
Go enter, buy something, and get this girl one step closer to meeting up with me- I mean RWA Nationals- in Nashville!


Thursday, April 8, 2010

Pet Projects

WILL & MAGGIE (Completed and being considered by several agents)

The summer before her senior year, Maggie Young moves in with her aunt in rural Tennessee to start over with a clean slate. Her mom’s efforts to hide the family’s dirty secret from her may have been hopeless from the beginning, as Maggie uncovers dark truths about herself through traces of history left behind on the farm. There’s danger deeply rooted in her DNA. At first, falling in love and inadvertently creating a precarious love triangle just seems to complicate things. But obsession is a powerful force and may have far more to do with the threat against her life than she realizes.

REM (In progress)

Teenagers across the country are playing with a new over-the-counter sleep aid, a totally legal high that can create lucid dreams. When Justin Thomas and his friends give it a test drive, Justin meets the girl of his dreams, literally. The more he takes of the drug, the stronger his dreams about Angie become. The FDA yanks the medication from the market when accidents involving sleepwalking users begin to pile up—just as Justin gets a major hint that Angie is more than just a figment of his imagination. His desperation to get to her attracts the attention of his parents, the police and someone far more dangerous. Someone has found a way to follow him into his subconscious mind and is using Angie as bait.

BOOBS

Kasey Marks is a popular teenager with good grades, a hot boyfriend, and a flat chest. Come hell or high water, she’s determined to make her life more… fulfilling. But raising $5,000 is no easy task for a seventeen year old, as she quickly discovers while riding the bus every day and working the drive-thru window at the Dairy Queen. Her Saline Solution becomes a school-wide phenomenon and the donations are rolling in. Not all the buzz is good, however, as Kasey quickly learns when her parents are notified by concerned staff members at Big Sky High School. Her boyfriend has had enough and even her best friend is starting to see things differently. Sometimes changes need to be made below the surface instead of just under the muscle tissue.

UNTITLED

She doesn’t know her name, her age, or the color of her eyes when she wakes up in The Facility but she’s not alone. A mass awakening is happening around her as dozens of gifted children are discovering independent thinking after years of careful control. They are the few that were selected for their talents and allowed to live in the darkness that has washed over the world. Unaware of what they’ve created, the administrators have built a student body that can outnumber and outsmart them. It’s time for the uprising.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Knock knock. Who's there? Me!

Almost six months into my Twitter adventure and I'm increasingly obsessed. I quickly discovered Twitter gives me more than just insight into the world of agenting. There are scads of warm, wonderful writers out there who are genuine and supportive and willing to share their experiences with others. It's a fabulous business to be in and I'm loving every tweet.

Getting to know so many different types of authors has helped narrow down my own personal style; something I never paid much attention to until recently. Without further ado, please enjoy my interview with debut author, ME.

Me: Welcome to my blog! It's great to finally meet you!
Me: Thanks! I'm thrilled you finally asked!

Me: So, tell me about what inspired you to write.
Me: My parents were hugely into literature when I was growing up. Dad was finishing his PhD at the University of Michigan, and mom stopped pursuing an English degree to stay home with us kids. There were always books around the house and library trips in the red wagon. My folks were grammar Nazis (unfortunately, I married a southerner and his influence cancelled out half those lessons) and dad tutored us with Latin flashcards. Mom would Xerox the NYT daily crossword puzzle and we'd race to see who finished first; I actually won a few in high school.

The best parts were my dad's bedtime stories (kid detectives outsmarting an evil professor) and mom's half-asleep readings of Tolkien (by the end of the chapter she was reading words that didn't exist). We didn't watch much TV but I do remember eating popcorn in a dark living room when Star Wars was on HBO.

Me: Fascinating, now shut up for a minute. Your first book, WILL & MAGGIE, is a love story with paranormal elements and your second book, REM, is an adventure with a male protagonist and a science fiction edge. Both are brilliant, of course, but what's with you? Are you bipolar or something?
Me: While the plots are vastly different, they are both YA suspense with very similar attributes. I've always loved YA that respects teenagers and doesn't talk down to them, so I write about things that might actually be possible-- reality with a touch of surreality. The world is an incredible place on its own, without fairies, vampires, or magical powers. My readers will find real characters in real problems but always with a touch of "what if?"

Maggie's caught in precarious love triangle and learning about the dirty family secrets her mom tried to hide from her; but are the two linked by something that didn't die with her grandmother?

A group of friends take an over-the-counter drug that's become all the rage with teenagers for its hypnotic properties and Justin meets the girl of his dreams (in his dreams); but taking more and more of the drug to see her is triggering relapses and someone has found a way to follow him into his subconscious mind.

See?

Me: Wow. Just... wow. If I were an agent, I'd totally sign you right now. Did you say Maggie and Justin? How do you come up with names for your characters?
Me: One of my pet peeves is the trend of imaginary names for YA characters. I was horrified when Stephenie Meyer introduced Renesmee. Whenever I pick up a book with ridiculously made-up names I want to throw it across the room. Not that it makes a book bad, mind you. I love the Twilight series and I love The Hunger Games (Katniss? Really?), I just get distracted by weird names. Mine are simple; Maggie, Will, Justin, Angie, Carol, Kurt... Easy to spell, easy to pronounce. It works for me.

Me: Would that have anything to do with your name being mispronounced by every teacher, substitute teacher and receptionist you encountered in your youth?
Me: I thought we agreed you weren't going to ask personal questions about my emotional scars.

Me: I'm just saying. It's an interesting factoid about you; your neurosis.
Me: Look, if you don't keep it professional here, so help me God-

Me: Did I touch a nerve?
Me: You little *&#$@! I'm so done with this @#%)(#ing interview! Why don't you #&*^@ yourself? Or myself. Whatever!

Me: I'm sorry. Can I ask just one more question?
Me: Aw, you know I can't stay mad at you. Go ahead.

Me: When I read WILL & MAGGIE, (which was sheer genius, by the way) I was actually rooting for Kurt-- the bad guy. Why are your bad guys not all that bad?
Me: I've always had a thing for bad guys. I root for the sexy devil that tortures the damsel in distress. It's one of my many inner demons. Anyway, I find the concept of pure evil unrealistic. Comic books handle it well; many comic baddies are inadvertently created by the hero. I want my readers to not only sympathize with the enemy, but struggle with the desire to cheer for him/her. If you find yourself drooling over Kurt, I've done my job well.

Me: It was a pleasure to have you here and, if you don't mind me saying so, I just love your hair. You look smashing as a brunette.
Me: Really? Thanks! You should totally try it sometime. I'll give you my stylist's number.

So there you have it. I am a YA suspense novelist with a split-personality and a sarcasm disorder who writes reality-based fiction with characters who have simple names and likable enemies. It only took me thirty-something years to figure it out.




Tuesday, March 23, 2010

In Defense of Conformity

I'm a natural-born rule breaker. Always have been, always will be. I lack the ability to follow a recipe or a pattern without changing something. Is it genetic? Maybe. Whatever it is, it's mighty strong.

Okay, so I had a dream when I was just seventeen and I wrote it down. It stuck with me for the longest time, driving me up the wall. I decided I had to give it more details and let it play the rest of the way out or I was going to go crazy, so I started writing a novel. The thing never amounted to more than 5,000 pages of cursing and drug use before I tossed it aside. My senior year was wild and didn't leave me the kind of time I needed to write. Of course, I needed another decade to grow up before I could really REALLY write the way I wanted to.

My husband and I bought a new house last year and I came across a box of my creative writing notebooks from back in high school. Tucked into the stacks of yellowing notebooks (it physically hurt to write that detail) was the carefully typed first chapter of my dream. The amazing thing is how incredibly fresh it was in my head after fifteen years of life and love and kids. I started writing it again. And again. And yet again. Then I got really ticked and scrapped the whole project.

But I couldn't stop thinking about it.

Another little factoid about me; I don't sleep well. I just don't. Once my kids are asleep, my second wind kicks in and I'm good to go. The fun little insomnia bit just gets worse when I'm writing a first draft. I'll force myself into bed but I'm still composing scenes in my mind. Fortunately, I have this handy little friend called Ambien to help out on those nights. FYI: Ambien is generally a lousy muse, although it's been known to help me earn some killer high scores on Bejeweled. I wrote a love scene after taking Ambien one night and came back to it the next day to find I'd written about Jiffy-Pop microwave popcorn (which I don't think exists) and something much like speech therapy.

So, this one night, I pop an Ambien and head off to bed. But then it hits me; I have two crucial details of the dream wrong. I scribble furiously in a spiral notebook for a good twenty minutes before I'm too dizzy to see what I'm writing anymore. Amazingly, the notes still make sense the next day. The trouble is, I can only write random fractions of scenes before I hit a wall and have to stop. It's not a super complicated plot but it's a super complicated idea. You'll see what I mean when you read it. Enough present tense. I hate present tense, except for The Hunger Games.

I bought a bunch of books on writing from Barnes & Noble and did some serious speed reading before I hatched a plan; I would write an outline. It went against everything I stand for, but I was desperate. Lo and behold, it worked. Page after page has been flowing like Diet Coke for the last few weeks. I've never been this productive, this excited or this madly in love with a WIP before. I know where I'm going. I know what happens in each chapter. I could query this puppy and send the first three chapters and a synopsis already (and believe you me, it's tempting). It's all in the bag.

Outlines rock. I'll be using them from now on to make sure every chapter is carrying the plot where it needs to go and my characters are on the right track. I'm an outline convert. This is what change looks like, people.

So tell me; do you write by the seat of your pants, or does your trip have an itinerary?

Monday, March 8, 2010

The agony and the ecstasy

As of this moment, several fabulous agents and an amazinglysuperfantastical author are reading my manuscript. Huzzah!

As of this weekend, the main characters in my manuscript have regressed to 17 year-olds and the end has been rearranged accordingly. Boo!

The major change was the result of an email conversation with fabulous agent number four, who is currently the only holder of the updated manuscript. The other agents still have too-old-for-YA protags with a too-old-for-YA ending.

So here's my question: What's the protocol for alerting agents of a manuscript revision when they've requested and received my full already? Is it a complete and total violation of the laws of submissions?

The boldface type says an author shouldn't be querying if his/her work isn't 100% done... and then done ten times more. It's supposed to be polished to perfection, ready to go, and spotless before it ever reaches the agent's inbox. I thought it was. I really did. I was wrong.

How unprofessional will I look saying "Um, hi again. It's me. 'Member that MS I sent you a little while back? Yeah, well, I need to send you the new version. 'Kay? I had to change some stuff. Alrightee, thanks. Bye."

Most distressing for me is a splendiferously bejeweled purveyor of snark who may or may not be knee deep in my old version. She's one of my mystical Top 3; an agent I'd get out of bed at 5am and go jogging for. Hate mornings, hate jogging. That's about as serious as you can get about an agent if you're me. After being outguilted by her in a Twitter #FF mishap (#mustbemorecarefulwithFFs), I'm mildly terrified to pester her about the change but even more afraid to have her pass on my MS because of the age/end issue I've just remedied.

You know what? It's a darn good thing writers aren't dramatic, creative, emotional types. This could all be very stressful for someone like that.

On a lighter note, congrats to Stephanie Perkins and Kiersten White on their sparkly new covers! Seen one, excited to see the other.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Diet Coke & Cadbury Mini Eggs

"Breaking Rules, Point of View, and Zombies" didn't seem like a cool enough title for this entry so I went with something more appetizing. Also (to keep my brain from exploding) I'm on a structure strike at the moment, so pardon me for being random.

I'm cranky today because I spent the last 24 hours with Ethan Wate and Lena Duchannes and didn't get much sleep. BEAUTIFUL CREATURES, by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl is hypnotic and lovely. As a reader, I devoured the lush backdrop and the (literally) electric romance. As a writer, the rule violations blew me away.

Rule Violation #1: YA Word Count

For the last year, I've heard agents firmly declare anything over 100,000 words to be too long for YA. Yes, Rowling and Meyer have insanely long YA on shelves, but most debut authors are shot down when querying longer manuscripts. BEAUTIFUL CREATURES is nearly 600 pages.

Rule Violation #2: First Chapter Red Lights

Don't describe the weather, don't have protag wake up from a dream. Ethan wakes up from a dream and it's raining in the first two pages. KG and MS made it anything but boring, however. Good luck putting it down once you've cracked it open.

Rule Violation #3: NO Prologue

I can't tell you how passionate some agents get about this one. Many of them feel prologues are completely unnecessary and all that information should be included in the body of the novel instead of summarized in the beginning. It's telling instead of showing. What's printed on pages 1, 2 and 3 of BEAUTIFUL CREATURES? Go ahead, take a guess.

Rule Violation #4: Putting the Cart Before the Horse

This is a big one. Make your first book stand on its own instead of pitching a series. Unless we're discussing freaking Stephen King, a publisher is taking a risk by agreeing to put out more than one book by a debut author. If the first one fizzles, the others are probably going to be duds too. I heard BEAUTIFUL CREATURES is the first of five (that's F.I.V.E. as in four more than one) books in its series.

Perfect Example of Exception to EVERY Rule: Write a Great Story

BEAUTIFUL CREATURES is glorious. Maybe those rules mostly apply to people throwing together cliche vampire/werewolf/fallen angel/mythology/hidden portal/save the world cliches in an attempt to ride the coattails of popular YA authors. Maybe those rules are meant for authors who want their formulaic work to be inhaled (in quantity rather than quality) by teens who are feeding their YA trend addiction. Maybe, those rules can be broken by writers who have something so magical that it doesn't need guidelines to be great.

The story of generations of Casters in Gatlin; surviving the Civil War, a curse, and the narrow mindedness of an ignorant community, is mesmerizing. Bringing it all to a head with the descendants of doomed lovers falling in love, this time in the present day, is pure genius.

Anyway, I haven't had enough caffeine to be totally coherent; even if it is afternoon now. Shannon Hale is a great mentor. I love what she says about being true to your story and not writing to a trend or an audience. I know she's all big and famous now, but I remember her as the big sister to my best friend, goofing off with the Bryner girls in Salt Lake City, and giving me fabulous advice while we showed off our babies at The Old Spaghetti Factory. Writers are such cool people, and I'm honored to know so many who are at the top of their game. Their influence, inspiration and friendship keep me going.

I'm out of time so I'll summarize the part about point of view and zombies. Justin's book can't be written in third person. Not gonna happen this time. I'm reworking the point of view. And zombies? They scare the socks off of me, but (apparently) I can write some really freaky living-dead scenes.

REM is coming along nicely now. I'll have to share sometime.

Monday, February 1, 2010

And now, for my next trick...

Will & Maggie is finished. Sheared down to 55,000 words, it's as finished as it's going to get on my end. The plot is tight, the action and romance are intense, and I'm satisfied.

A new story has been burning in the back of my mind for a while now, and I finally get to tell it. There is research to be done first, and songs to update on my iPod. I have to figure out this new voice; where it comes from, where it's going. I like Justin, I just don't know him really well yet.

I'm surprisingly anxious about the change. Whether it's the switch from first person to third, or the change in gender, I can't seem to find my footing. Maggie was so simple to narrate, making it frustrating to feel blocked this way. I'm not used to being dead at the keyboard.

Here's my question: What can I do to get the words flowing? I know it's not a fair question to ask, since the muse is different for everyone. I have some ideas, and only a few of them involve alcohol.

1. Have a sit down with Justin. Just like Will and Maggie, I need a good backstory for this kid. It won't be in the book; it's purely for my own benefit as the author. There are so many things I need to know about him if I'm going to use his voice.

2. Get to know the 'third person'. Read it, practice it, learn to love it.

3. Throw organization out the window. I suck at structure. I rebel against it. If I try to start at point A and move chronologically to point B, there will be a violent uprising. It'll get ugly. Maybe I'll start at point Q, back up to point 4, and then jump around the timeline for a while.

4. Stop procrastinating and get busy. Seriously. Like now.

What works for you?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Agents who tweet

I wrote a novel.

It was glorious, it was exciting, it was an adventure. When it was all over, I set out to find an agent so I could be rich and famous and have my book brought to life on the big screen.

Know what I was peddling? 170,000 words of purplish fiction with no genre and a plot so complicated it took more than a page to describe. Because I'm an idiot, I immediately threw together a hyped-up, cliche-filled query and sent it to every agent on the planet. I seriously went from 'the end' to 'hope to hear from you soon' in about four hours. Although I did get a request for a partial, the other responses were rejections. Surprise, surprise.

Working backwards, I started researching the publishing process after sending my queries. I bought a stack of books, scoured the Internet for helpful websites and read every blog I could find on the subject. I learned a lot, answered a few more requests for partials, but was still missing something.

The responses I was getting were personal no-thank-you notes. Sometimes, those hurt more than form rejections. It was like spraining an ankle right in front of the finish line. My writing was great, my dialogue was great, my premise was wonderful (lots of praise on that one), but none of the agents were in love with it enough to represent it.

An amazing resource for writers, http://www.guidetoliteraryagents.com/ from Chuck Sambuchino, directed me to Katelynn Lacopo of BookEnds LLC, whose bio directed me to Twitter. There I found a gazillion tweeting agents sharing hilarious bits of wisdom about the industry. It was a goldmine.

Tweets about what not to say in a query, how to turn off an agent, what agenting life is like and all sorts of aspects I never thought to investigate were chirping across my screen. These women, these smart, sarcastic, sharp as tacks women made everything so simple. I'm still astounded at how much more I learned from a few weeks on Twitter than from thousands of published pages.

My book has been rewritten, now wrapping up at below 100,000 words. I've chopped countless adverbs and adjectives that were taking up space and weighing the story down. Descriptions that went on forever, characters with no purpose, extraneous plot lines and unnecessary scenes were dumped in my recycle bin. What it really came down to was a strong, simple plot and a small cast of characters I love dearly.

While I may never master the art of the query (I get twitchy just thinking about it), I think I understand it better now. What's your story about? Forget descriptions, forget adjectives. Tell the agent the basics of your story. Pique their interest, share your excitement with them in clear, concise terms and polish it up 'til it shines. At least, that's what I'm trying to do.

The agents I follow are amazing people. They're mothers, wives, roommates, Brooklynites, vegetarians, cat people and closet comedians. I feel like the smelly kid on the playground, admiring the popular girls and wishing I could wrap hair with them. Wow. That dates me, doesn't it? Life was easier when we were kids and could say "Can I play with you?" without being slapped with a restraining order.

Enough rambling. Follow agents on Twitter. Follow their advice. You'll be a better writer for it.

My favorites (some are actually editors or other publishing people): WolfsonLiterary, ColleenLindsay, Sjaejones, Elanaroth, DaphneUn, Bradfordlit, Literaticat, Janet_Reid, Moonrat, Hroot, Sztownsend81, and (of course) KatelynnLacopo.

Oh, and SueCollini. You'll see what I mean.

An afterthought: If anyone mentioned in this post would like me to remove their name, please let me know. I'm a nice person, I swear.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Marketing My Nuts

I finally watched 'Julie & Julia' last night. I perched my laptop on the breakfast bar in my kitchen and played the DVD while I made cookies and watched the snow fall. Meryl Streep presents a thoroughly believable Julia Child, and Amy Adams is intensely likable as Julie Powell. That said, the move left me incensed.

While Julie Powell's struggle for publication was longer than Stephenie Meyer's highly publicised six month from-dream-to-contract Cinderella story, her actual moment of glory was like the flick of a light switch. A phone call and a dinner date resulted in an answering machine message marathon of offers from agents and publishers.

It may have been glossed over for Hollywood, but all the sheep out there watched her fool around with her husband to the music on her answering machine and thought "Hey, I can do that!" I guaran-damn-tee you there are hundreds (if not thousands) of queries floating in cyberspace that only exist because of 'Julie & Julia'.

I won't lie and say I wouldn't love for my book to be the next Twilight, but I'm trying to be realistic. I'm pretty sure I have a better chance of winning the lottery than getting a seven-figure deal for my debut novel. Trust me, it's more depressing than it sounds.

Let me get all metaphorical on you for a minute. In 1895, John Harvey Kellog grinds up peanuts to make a high quality, vegetarian protein source for nutjobs in a sanatorium. Peanut butter is born.

In rural Arkansas, Mama Legume makes peanut butter because she loves the process. Her folks taught her to pull up plants and find peanuts, to roast them with sea salt and grind them into a fabulously fragrant concoction. She bottles it up, slaps on a label featuring her charming little logo and gives it to lucky loved ones at Christmas time. Enraptured with her own product, and given glowing reviews from everyone who tries it, she decides to try and market Mama Legume's All-Natural Peanut Paste.

At the same time she perfects her recipe, along comes Peter Pan, pasting his face all over jars of peanut butter and mass marketing it to the American housefrau. Joe Rosefield adds vegetable oil and makes his PB less likely to seperate, giving birth to Skippy. It's rationed to soldiers, striped with grape jelly in jars of Goober, and some dude in Kentucky sells his recipe to Proctor & Gamble and they rename it Jif. Everyone loves peanut butter.

Every Tom, Dick and Harry is grinding up his own version, hoping to capitalize on the wildly popular fad.

Mama Legume's dreams are pureed. Her product is no longer unique. With so many jars of bread spread to choose from, Madame Housefrau has her work cut out for her at the grocery store. Instead of comparing a jar of Mama Legume in one hand to a bottle of J. H. Kellog's Looney Food in the other, she's now scanning over a wall of nut butter labels for one that pops out at her. The most visually appealing packaging is the one that will garner a taste test. Maybe she'll pick more than one just to be safe. Thanks to the influx of contestants, Mama Legume's All-Natural Peanut Paste will get no more than a passing glance unless she can come up with a stunning label and completely convincing tagline.

Oh, and let's ignore the anonymity factor. Housefrau zips through the copy on the labels and sees recognizable company names like Smucker's and Heinz, and Mama Legume's backyard nut farm starts to look questionable.

There you have it. With all these highly successful authors making millions off their first publications, the volume of queries in agents' inboxes has exploded. My nuts are on a shelf filled with other writers' nuts, and getting a fraction of the attention they would have received a few years ago. Even when an agent is interested enough to taste a spoonful of chapters, I'm still just one of dozens of jars on her taste-test list. Poor Madame Agent is tasting so much literary butter these days, she has less and less time for palate cleansing between bites.

My product is in the queues of several agents in varying serving sizes. I'm anxiously- I mean, patiently waiting to hear back from them. At this point, I've taken it back to the drawing board, and am working on improving my offering and building a reputable brand name before I exhaust the tastebuds of too many agents.

Basically, I want to make sure my nuts are spectacular, so I won't have to rely on a fancy wrapper to get noticed much longer.