Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Shirtless Guys and Young Adult Fiction

The trinado is on the right (9yo, 5yo, and 7yo) in this photo of a completely unrelated shirtless-on-the-trampoline moment.

So it's the day before Thanksgiving and the kids are out of school. I dropped the girl off at a sleepover last night so it's just the boys and me. Oh, and for those of you who don't know about finding an address in the dark in the south, let me help you out here. It's pitch black except for my high beams and the occasional high beams of some idiot in the other lane who doesn't know to turn his/hers off when there's oncoming traffic. My daughter's giving me instructions from the passenger seat with the map on my iPhone and I can't see the street signs to verify she's got us on the right track. It's something like this;

"Go right on the next road. Not the little road extension thingie but the actual road road."
"What's it called?"
"Hang on."
"I can't hang on. Wait-- what was that? Did we just pass it?"
"It says 0.2 miles."
"That's impossible. We've been on the 70 for like a mile already."
"Okay, go back."
(There's no shoulder on the road, no gas stations, no houses, just farmland. Thank God we're in the Bible Belt and I found one of the zillion Baptist churches to use for a turnaround.)
"IT'S THIS ONE RIGHT HERE!"
(Screeching brakes)
"Now what?"
"Now you're going to keep driving for a while."
"What's a while?"
"Until you get to Fancher's Mill Road."
"How far is that?"
"Up a little."
"How little?"
"Like two inches."
"That doesn't help."
"Wait."
"STOP SAYING WAIT! Is this it? IS THIS IT?"
"Does the sign say Fancher's Mill Ro-"
"There is no sign!"
"Is it just a little road extension thingie or is it an actual road road?"
"I don't know. It's too dark. I'm turning anyway."
"Wait."
"I told you to stop saying-- what the hell is that?"
"What?"
"It's a little owl! There's a little owl in the road!"
"I didn't see it! Turn around!"
"I can't turn around."
(Pouting)
"Okay, now the road ends and her house is up about half an inch."
(This is when I either started crying or banging my head against the steering wheel. I can't remember which one I did at this point and which one I did when I got stuck at the gated dead end when the map said I was supposed to be back on the highway.)
"The road can't just end. Look at the map again."
"She must have a really long driveway."
"Like half an inch?"
"What?"
"Nothing."

By some Thanksgiving miracle, I made it to the highway. I was almost home and close to tears when I smelled something familiar. I realized it was a skunk about the same time I drove over a hairy black lump on the asphalt. The smell was everywhere; in my nose, in my mouth, in my eyes. I whipped off the freeway and opened the windows but I still felt like yakking. The smell followed me into the house and the kids freaked out. "Smells like something's burning." "No, it smells like something died." "It's mom! Mom, you stink!"

Let's get back to today, shall we? The the teenager with the mustache was up crazy late talking with two girls on Skype and slept until noon. The three younger boys-- the three-headed tornado, or "trinado" --were tearing around the house like rabid hyenas. Since it's sunny and almost seventy degrees outside (way to get in the holiday spirit, Mother Nature), I banished them to the backyard. There was much fighting. Fighting over the Green Machines. Fighting on the trampoline. Fighting about who did what and whether or not it was an accident. They drew faces on playground balls with Sharpies and carried them around in grocery bags, calling them Puffles and giving them imaginary personalities.

And then something hit the window.

Repeatedly.

The boys had gone around to the garage, entered the code to open the door, and helped themselves to Sprite and Cream Soda from the extra fridge. After pouring it all over the trampoline and soaking themselves, they stripped off their clothes and threw them onto a lower section of the roof. The sound I heard was the tapping of their cans hitting the window as the boys tried to launch them onto the roof and get them stuck in the rain gutter. Two of the three had already succeeded when I came outside breathing fire and thirsty for blood.

I dragged them inside and threw them in the bathtub. It was their brilliant idea to put on swimsuits and take one big bath in my jetted tub. I knew I should've said no but what I heard was "We want to condense three baths into one and cut down on the hot water usage" so I allowed it.

What happened next was mostly my fault. The oldest kid had stumbled out of bed and was catching up on this season of The Walking Dead. I took advantage of the quiet and sat down to watch it with him. The boys were whooping it up in the bathtub but I let it go. They got louder and I still let it go. Water greeted me at the bathroom door when I finally went to check on them. Half an economy-size bottle of Mr. Bubble in a jetted tub can produce enough foam to completely swallow up three little boys and half the bathroom floor. In case you were wondering.

This is why I write young adult fiction. I want to escape to a time of first kisses and best friends. When we beg for freedom but don't realize we already have it. No bills, no kids, no housework. I wouldn't change a thing about my life but it's a demanding one and it helps to escape just for a few moments of quiet time before I jump back into the fray.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I have a bathroom to clean and a Thanksgiving dinner to start. I'm sure the boys will have a new adventure waiting for me when I'm finished.

Monday, October 29, 2012

How I Got My Agent-- now with 100% more Nutella!

(Graphic interpretation of me passing through the query gates to Agentland)

Ladies and gentlemen, I am now represented by the fantabulous Ms. Bree Ogden of D4EO Literary Agency.

First, some numbers. I sent out a grand total of 37 queries, never heard back on 14 of them, was rejected 12 times, and had 15 submission requests. I know the numbers don't add up. Some of my submission requests were from contests so there wasn't an official query involved.

Bree was one of my non-query submissions.

I started querying at the end of July and the very first one I sent was answered with a request for my full manuscript. Over the next few weeks, I sent out two and three queries at a time and entered contests to distract myself from obsessing over my submissions.

The first contest I entered was Dorothy Dreyer's 3-2-1 Pitch Contest; three sentences, two days to enter, one agent judging the entries. The agent judging the August 3-2-1 Pitch Contest was Bree Ogden, who is ridiculously awesome on so many levels. I was pretty darn sure I wouldn't win but I loved the idea of whittling my pitch down to three little sentences so I went for it. I labeled it New Adult because the option was there. It's a tricky issue for me because my MC is a little older but the MS feels very YA. I've had mixed messages from agents on this one so I thought it was safer calling it NA than risking the old "Maggie's too old for YA" response. I spent maybe fifteen minutes condensing my query down to this;

"Maggie inherited a lot from her grandma-- her brown eyes, her sense of humor, and her cause of death. Unaware she's starting the countdown to a reenactment of her grandma's death by fire, Maggie spends the summer with her hot-as-hell boyfriend and accidentally sets off an unstable stalker.

It's only a matter of time before Maggie Parrish is going to burn."

And then I waited. Six days later, I wasn't the winner. I assumed Bree wasn't interested. (WRONG)

A bizarre email showed up in my inbox early the week after. Someone claiming to be Bree's executive assistant requested my first fifty pages and synopsis, saying Bree had instructed her to do so following the 3-2-1 Pitch Contest. Instead of her email address ending in @D4EO.com, it was (redacted).D4EO@gmail.com. Her first name was EXACTLY THE SAME as mine. Think hard-- how many Caitlins do you know? Not Katelyns or Caitlynns, but Caitlins. No one knew how to pronounce my name when I was little. Every substitute teacher called me Cat Lynn. I hated it. But I digress.

Because I'm such a confident, secure person, I assumed the almighty Bree-Freaking-Ogden was way out of my league and the email was a scam. This psycho "Caitlin" chick swiped my email address off the contest entry and wanted to steal my baby. Bree, with her red lipstick fetish and love of things dark and wonderful, would never be interested in some loser stay-at-home mom with a minivan and a Diet Cherry Coke addiction.

I did what any sane person would do. I called Bree's executive assistant a manuscript-napping fraud and said she needed to get smacked around. Then I got this email;

"Ha ha! Yes, she is my assistant. And yes, I told her to request fifty pages. Thanks for checking!"

So I apologized to Caitlin for calling her a scam artist and accusing her of trying to hijack my story. I made such a splendid first impression, I figured I'd slaughtered any chance I had of landing Bree.

A bunch of other stuff happened. (I just saved you half an hour. You're welcome.)

All of a sudden, I had offers. It was an overnight thing and I'm still in shock. I wrote a bunch of "thank you for considering my MS, blah blah blah" emails and sent them to the agents who hadn't answered my query yet. To the agents who'd made submission requests, I gave them a heads up about my offers and got emails back, asking for a week to finish reviewing my MS. Bree was one of them.

Bree's offer was preceded by a middle of the night email, confessing she was (and I quote) "falling madly in love" with my manuscript. She sent an email the next day, asking if we could chat on the phone because she had an offer for me. I locked myself in my room and The Gunny hung out with the kids so I could have a semblance of privacy. We talked on the phone and she was every bit as jaw-droppingly cool as she seemed online. (Her hair changes color! Pink! Blue! Green!)

I have to add here how awesome my other offers were. This wasn't an easy decision. I didn't query every agent known to man-- just agents I really wanted to work with. Getting an agent is more than signing a contract. It's agreeing to a sort of partnership. It's finding someone who genuinely loves you and your work and will rave about you to publishers and fight for your manuscript's life. It's not something I took lightly when I sent queries. I think having this attitude made rejections easier for me. When I got a rejection that praised my writing but said they just didn't love it the way they needed to in order to represent me, I was cool with that. I was looking for love and I found it.

But it's not over yet. Not by a long shot. I have more edits and revisions and submissions (rinse and repeat ad nauseum) before I'll be signing my books at Barnes & Noble. Getting an agent feels very much like this;


Yay, I'm finally done with submissions! Wait...

Now that that's over, let's move on to something easy, shall we? This is really easy. Like really, really easy. No queries or synopses or long waiting periods! Are you ready? Here we go!

Nutella Cookies

1 cup Nutella
1 cup flour
1 egg

Mix. Scoop. Bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes.

BOOM.




Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Submissions Survival Guide

See this guy? He's Ben Stiller's agent in TROPIC THUNDER. This guy goes to Vietnam to win back the client he never really lost by finally coming through with TiVo, which was promised in their contract. This is my dream agent. Rick "Pecker" Peck. I want a Pecker.

After several VERY LONG months of waiting, I got my first offer of representation. It happened just like every other "How I Got My Agent" story. First there was one offer, then there were two, then there were emails and requests and offers and phone calls and total chaos. Everything just exploded.

Somehow, I have to pick which one of these amazing agents is the best fit for both me and my manuscript-- and not just this manuscript but my next one and all the others that follow. It's bizarre switching places like this. Instead of the beggar, I'm the chooser. They're waiting for ME to get back to them with a decision. I'M the one who does the rejecting. I didn't expect it to suck this much. Me no likey. I queried agents I really wanted, never dreaming I'd have to pick between them. But I guess I knew this was a possibility. I watched a couple of Twitter friends gush about multiple offers and (because I'm such a great person) greed chewed on me like I was rawhide. Yeah, I was happy for them, but I was deeply envious. On the flip side, I read tweets from agents who were waiting on potential clients to make a decision and hoping like heck they'd be the one. No matter how bad I wanted to be that writer-- the one with all the suitors --I guess I thought it'd never happen to me.

This isn't my "How I Got My Agent" post. As long as the stress doesn't kill me and I'm able to (somehow) figure out which awesome agent is awesomer than the others, I'll write that post next week. This is my "How I Survived Submissions" post. Enjoy.

25 things I did while waiting on submissions;

1. Critiqued a friend's manuscript and doubted my own abilities. Oops.

2. Started another writing project. This is probably the smartest thing I did while in submission limbo. You should do this one too. I mean it.

3. Kept a detailed record of my querying activity. Names, dates, responses, follow-up contact, etc.

4. Stalked my favorite agents. NOTE: I did this entirely online and in a relatively non-invasive fashion. I didn't pull police records or hire private investigators because that's psychotic and I'm not (entirely) psychotic yet. I read blogs and followed tweets. I read the blogs of their clients to see what kinds of authors they worked with and whether those authors mentioned them. I looked for agent interviews and profiles. I checked out book deals and forum posts. I did more homework in the last few weeks than I did in four years of high school.

5. Bought a purple shamrock.

6. Killed the purple shamrock.

7. Played FLATLINERS and brought the purple shamrock back from the dead.

8. Divided the purple shamrock and made a purple shamrock clone.

9. Accidentally knocked over the purple shamrock and nursed it back to health.

10. Named the purple shamrock Betty.

11. Saved Betty from my cats.

12. Started to knit a scarf.

13. Started to knit another scarf.

14. Played over 1,000 games of spider solitaire.

15. Sent more queries and got more submission requests. I know it's stupid but I couldn't handle sitting around and waiting for something to happen.

16. Entered pitch contests.

17. Stressed about pitch contests instead of submissions.

18. Kept detailed records of which contest judges voted for which entries and who went on to the final rounds.

19. Drank a buttload of espresso.

20. Created my own political party-- Demopublicans. Instead of red or blue, we're purple and there are no aisles to cross. One world, people!

21. Fought a mighty battle with my Twitter friends over Thor and his *ahem* mighty hammer. I still say he's mine. MINE MINE MINE!

22. Lost the battle despite the use of my napalm thong. Trisha had a nuke bra and Jen had a velociraptor. I was screwed.

23. Had a dream I saw my very first book cover and it said HarperTeen on the spine.

24. Discovered I like honeybees.

25. Survived.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Hey girl, I just met you and this is fifty shades of gangnam style, but here's ALL MY THINGS so Skype me maybe? (Why I don't write to trends)


Like zombies? There's a genre for that. Like snogging? There's a genre for that too. Whatever your pleasure, there are books for you out there. I bet you can come up with five vampire books, five dystopian books, and five faerie books off the top of your head. Angels, witches, demons, elves, shape-shifters, WHATEVER-- they're everywhere in YA. 

Here's the thing; I don't like going with the hive mind when I write. I don't want my book to be the next Harry Potter or the next Twilight. I don't want it to be compared to The Hunger Games or Beautiful Creatures. I want to write something completely different-- something that bucks the trend and stands out from everything else. 

It's not just about being fresh and unique. I don't want the interest in my book to wax and wane with the trend. I've heard so many agents say dystopian is done. What you see on the shelves is a year or two behind what's being written now. If you write a story about vampires to piggyback on the finale of the hugely successful Twilight saga, it won't be out until after Breaking Dawn 2's audience has moved on to something else. 

My advice is write what you want and write it now. That's what I'm doing. I don't know what the next big thing will be and I don't care. I mean, sure, I'll read it and probably love it but it's not like the stock market-- I'm not trying to get on board with an idea so I can be riding that wave when it crests. Write your own thing. Make your own wave. Write for yourself and no one else.

What's my book about, you ask? It's a different take on parallel lives. A teenage girl shares an extraordinary genetic bond with her grandma, who died forty years ago in a barn fire. Maggie looks, talks, and thinks just like her grandma, right down to the tiny details like her favorite foods and taste in clothes. One summer, a chain of events begins-- a chain frighteningly similar to the one that ended in her grandma's death. Maggie knows what's coming and she's scared to death.

Another WIP is the story of a girl's quest for boobs; The Saline Solution. E has five months to earn enough money for a new set of twins in time for prom but going public with her fundraiser puts her at odds with everyone she loves. E's stuck between her friends and a C-cup. 

And then there's REM. I've been playing with this one since I was fifteen-- no lie. Justin and his friends fool around with an OTC sleep aid, REM, that all the kids are using for fun at parties. That night, in his dreams, he meets Angie and suddenly they're running for their lives. While Justin wakes up from the dream, Angie doesn't remember the last time she woke up. The sleep aid's ripped from the market and The Agency starts showing up at Justin's school. Everyone thinks Justin's losing it. The only way Justin can be with Angie is by taking REM but the more he takes, the harder it is to stay awake. He's determined to find Angie and prove she really exists before he stops waking up altogether but, the closer he gets, the more he believes she's just a dream.

I hope no one can name five other books like mine. If they can, I'm going to be sorely disappointed. 

Now I'm going to totally ignore my own advice and follow a trend-- pumpkin mania. These cookies are soft and tender and remind me of pumpkin muffin tops. Mini chocolate chips are perfect for studding the cookies with tiny nuggets of cacao but you can leave them out or add chopped walnuts or something lame like that. I'll stick with chocolate, thank you.

Trendy Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup pumpkin puree
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup oil
1 egg
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp milk
1 T vanilla
2 cups mini chocolate chips.

In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine pumpkin, sugar, oil, and egg until blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir dry ingredients into pumpkin mixture until just moistened. Dissolve baking soda in milk in a small container and add to cookie dough with vanilla and chocolate chips. Stir until just combined. 

Scoop cookie dough onto parchment lined cookie sheets (I use a 1/4c ice cream scoop) and bake at 350 degrees for about ten minutes or until just set. The cookies won't spread much at all so you don't have to space them far apart. Overcooking these makes them tough and dry-- keep an eye on them.

Enjoy!


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Pumpkin Spice Granola and The New Adult Conundrum


(DISCLAIMER: This is a raw and unpolished rant. If you read it again after I've cleaned it up, it might be very different.)

For those of you who don't know the details of my MS, BURN, the MC is a nineteen year old girl, in love with a twenty-four year old guy, with a twenty-one year old antagonist. Welcome to my personal hell.

I don't know if you believe in the myth that is the new adult genre and I'm not going to try to persuade you either way. I do, however, want you to take a little trip with me. Let's go back to high school, shall we? Actually, let's go back to the sixth grade. 

You got lucky and have homeroom with your best friends, Nicole and Sarah, and the boy you've been crushing on since way back in fifth grade. It's been like a whole year since you started writing his name with hearts dotting the i's but he still doesn't "like you" like you. It's totally stupid Haley's fault. She stuck a note in his locker that said you wanted to go out with him, now he eats lunch on the other side of the cafeteria. Nicole's on student council with you and her mom picks you both up after school on Thursdays-- yay, no stupid school bus! Nicole got Just Dance 4 so you bring your Wii remote in your backpack and kick her butt at "Moves With Jagger" after school on student council days. She's awesome! You read MG fiction and love anything with faeries or angels. 

Now fast forward a little to your junior year of high school. Nicole's going out with Nick-- yeah, your Nick --so you hang out with Sarah instead. Sarah's cool though so no worries. Oh, and you've moved on from Nick anyway. Jeremy's a senior with a black Jeep and he's on the varsity wrestling team. He could totally kick Nick's butt if he wanted to. You watch for him between first and second period every day, hoping he'll bump into you on the way to his locker so you can say hi. Your parents let you drive the Camry on the days you have to work after school. It's a piece of junk but it runs. The manager at Dairy Queen is super nice and only schedules you for two Saturdays a month. The Saturdays you don't work are your fave. You and Sarah Skype Jeremy and post derp face pictures on Facebook. You're way excited about Breaking Dawn 2. Sarah's coming with you to the marathon thing where they show all the movies right up 'til the new one starts at midnight. You've read the books a million times. 

Baby number three is on the way and your daughters are all hoping for another girl. Jake wants a boy and you hope he gets his wish. The ultrasound is scheduled for next week and Jake's planning on breaking away from the office for a bit so he can be there with you when you find out if it's a boy or a girl. Your sister-in-law, Laura, wants to throw you a baby shower but it's your third kiddo so you don't want her to go through all that trouble. The carpet in the living room needs to be cleaned after that nasty stomach bug hit the kids and Olivia puked on the floor. There's enough room in the budget for a professional cleaning, but you'd rent a Rug Doctor and do it yourself. If you're going to take the kids to the beach this summer, you have to save money wherever you can. It's an election year and you're concerned about healthcare. Jake's company plan doesn't make much of a dent in Emily's medical bills. She'll probably need surgery to correct her atrial septal defect and it's not going to be cheap. If necessary, the van can be refinanced and you might be able to get a home equity loan. You've overpaid on the mortgage every month so there's definitely equity there. You read whenever you can, even if it means staying up late for kid-free quiet time. You read in waiting rooms, in the pick-up line after school, and during Emily's afternoon naps. 

That's how all of us grew up, right? We were 'tweens with BFFs and crushes, teenagers with super-important social lives, and suddenly had responsibilities and a family. Going from MG to YA to adult cuts out a huge section of life-- the early adult time. Remember this? You're finally out from under the tyranny of your parents. You choose what to eat, what to watch, where to go. If you want to put off doing the dishes, no one's going to ride you about it. You can live on ramen and Frosted Flakes and spend your grocery money on drinks with friends or a butterfly tattoo (because NO ONE can tell you not to get one, dammit!). For the first time of your life, you're free. Want to have a guy over? Do it. Want to let your apartment get cluttered? Suck it, neatness! And the boobs, the boobs are fabulous. You wear push-up bras and skinny heels and get your belly button pierced. Your body's a new car; it's pretty and runs smooth as silk. You might not appreciate it yet, but your tummy's flat and your thighs are narrow. Bikinis (because NO ONE can tell you not to pick the skimpiest one, dammit!), and thongs or sweats and flip-flops. Everything looks great on you. It's a time between being a kid and being a "real" adult. A time when you make crucial decisions about school, work, and marriage. It's a walk along the edge of a cliff-- exciting and terrifying at the same time. It's short but it's wonderful.

Whether you subscribe to the new adult theology, new adults do exist. The projected market for new adult shouldn't be limited to people in that age range. Teenagers dream about turning eighteen and finally being an adult (suckers), and adults reminisce about the good old days. New adult is the place between child and adult and it's absolutely magical for YA and adult readers. A recent article in The Huffington Post gave statistics showing the majority of readers are in the new adult age range. Bonus points if you remember the article and post a link in the comments section. Does it need to be its own genre with its own shelf? Most adults looking for younger fiction go to the YA shelves. Teenagers looking for mature YA also go to the YA shelves. If nineteen-year old, recent graduate protags are shelved with adult books, they'll be lucky if they reach their target market.

So, I lied. I am going to try to persuade you. I don't think new adult should be a genre. I think books that would be considered new adult should be sold as YA-- even if the characters are 18-22. Yes, there are books with characters in that age group that are clearly adult fiction, but I'd be willing to wager most of them are YA.

If you've stayed with me this long, reward yourself with this week's recipe; Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Granola. Spicy, fragrant, and timely, this granola is divine with Greek yogurt or ice cream, made into granola bars, served with coconut or almond milk, or just eaten by the handful. Play around with the dry ingredients to find your own favorite combination and double it if you're really, REALLY hungry.

PUMPKIN CHOCOLATE CHIP GRANOLA

1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1/2 cup pecans
1/8 cup golden flaxseed
1/8 cup wheat germ
1/3 cup shredded coconut
2 cups old fashioned oats
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/3 cup coconut oil (or vegetable oil)
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1 t vanilla
1 T cinnamon
1 t nutmeg
1/8 t allspice
1/8 t ginger
pinch of salt
1/3 cup Craisins
1/3 cup mini chocolate chips

In a large bowl, toss almonds, pumpkin seeds, pecans, flaxseed, wheat germ, coconut, and oats until evenly mixed.

Combine in another bowl; pumpkin puree, oil, maple syrup, vanilla, and spices. Pour mixture over dry ingredients and toss until evenly coated.

Spread mixture on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for about an hour at 325 degrees, stirring every fifteen minutes, until granola just starts to become crunchy. It will continue to get crunchier as it cools. Add Craisins during the last fifteen minutes of baking and add chocolate chips when granola is completely cool.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Boobs and brownies

Last night, I shoved a bag of coffee beans into my chocolate cabinet and it didn't go in all the way. It's a tall, narrow cabinet with deep shelves and I couldn't see what was blocking my beans. I pulled a chair over and rooted around in the cabinet to find two bars of bittersweet Scharffen Berger chocolate hidden behind a stack of Lindt. After much celebrating, I made brownies. Not just any brownies, mind you, but the darkest, chewiest, deadliest brownies ever. EVER. To put them totally over the top, I whisked up egg whites, sugar, vanilla, and coconut for a crisp/chewy macaroon crust which can be omitted if you're not a coconut lover or feel like being a purist and going all chocolate instead.

Unexpected chocolate is awesome. Unexpected writing is awesome too. I had both over the weekend. An idea I've played with for the last two years came dancing out of my head with jazz hands and I filled page after page with pretty new words. It's on like Donkey Kong now and I couldn't stop it if I tried. No, you can't read my WIP. But you can read the first (rough) draft of my query for THE SALINE SOLUTION, YA contemporary.

Ethel's family calls her E as in Ethylene Glycol--her favorite part of Forensic Night at the Klyczek home. Her boyfriend calls her E as in ever since they were nine years old. And her friends call her E as in "wishes she was a 34E instead of a 34A".

Standing behind Boobs McGee and her busty court at the Fairest of the Fair pageant, E hits the breaking point. That night, E devises The Saline Solution. Five months working the drive-thru window at the CDC (Clark's Delicious Chicken), saving gas money by taking the school bus (shudder), and a little help from her college fund should be enough for a new set of twins by senior prom. The Saline Solution goes public. Car washes and sponsorships put E in the spotlight at White County High and suddenly, she's on a whole new rung of the popularity ladder.  

The price of her new figure keeps climbing as The Saline Solution springs a leak. Her boyfriend's had enough of the attention E's boobs (or lack of) are getting and her best friend's fed up with the social circus around her. Even her parents and teachers are overreacting about the whole thing. A lockdown on the college fund, a ban on fundraising at the school, and hostile friends are pushing E over the edge. 

Prom is just three weeks after her 18th birthday and all eyes will be on E's Cs--if she doesn't give up on The Saline Solution.

Wishing you bars of unexpected chocolate and pages of unexpected writing. If you need inspiration, here's the recipe for my Scharffen Berger brownies.

DARKEST BROWNIES

6oz bittersweet chocolate (66-72% cacao, preferably Scharffen Berger or Valrhona)
7T unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1t vanilla extract
pinch of salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup flour

Finely chop chocolate and melt in a double boiler (or cheat and use the microwave like I often do) with butter and sugar. Add vanilla and salt and stir in eggs, one at a time. Stir in flour and beat until the batter is smooth and glossy and comes away from the sides of the bowl, 1 to 2 minutes. Scrape batter into parchment lined 8x8 pan and spread evenly.

For macaroon crust;
2 egg whites
2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1t vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients in a heatproof bowl and heat in double boiler (or microwave), stirring frequently, until very hot to the touch and egg whites have thickened slightly, 3 to 4 minutes. Use fingers or a fork to drop over the brownie batter in the pan.

Bake brownies (with or without coconut) at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until puffed at the edges and coconut is golden brown. Center should still be soft but not gooey. Let cool completely in the pan on a rack or in the refrigerator.

Served at room temperature, these brownies are meltingly smooth and intensely chocolate. Served cold (the way I like them) they're dense and fudgy and perfectly chewy. You win either way.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The French toast is a lie

I'm querying.  It's the suckiest suck that ever sucked but I have to suck it.  I know a lot of you out there are on that roller coaster with me and totally get the suckiness of it all.  You read, re-read, re-re-read your query before you send it out and almost flatline when you hit send.  For days you're obsessing over your inbox, damning Shutterfly and Redbox for popping up as new mail and making you think you've got a response.  The rejections are gut punches, the requests feel like bungee jumping, and the waiting is pure and perfect hell.  The waiting is the hardest part.

You read "How I Got My Agent" posts and it sounds all butterflies and sprinkles, rainbows and unicorns, pink icing and David Archuletta.  You ache for that high so bad you can taste it.  Someone on Twitter gushes about their book birthday and you cheer for them, even happydance, but inwardly you die a little.  You practice your famous author spiel, gushing about the lovelies who supported you on your journey and describing the moment the characters started compelling you to write their story.  Okay, so I might be the only one who talks to myself, but we do what we have to in order to stay sane.  Or some semblance of sane.  Whatever--you know what I mean.

If we're on the same roller coaster (bar in your lap, heart in your throat), maybe you can relate to some of my concerns.

I'm dying to get in the head of an agent with my manuscript.  Every day that passes, my blood pressure rises.  Did she find something in the slushpile she's in love with and throw mine aside indefinitely while she focuses on the new one?  Is she in love with mine and finishing up some other requests before she makes her final decision?  Am I on a "to be rejected" list and she's waiting for some free time to send the sorry-but email?

And this one keeps me up at night; two agents have announced new clients since requesting my full manuscript.  Does that mean a rejection is inevitable?  Even if she likes mine, it has to hurt my chances of getting picked up if she just signed someone else.  Do agents take on several new clients at once?  It'd really blow to lose a race by a fraction of a second.  No matter how close you are to the winner, you still lose.  If the agent is only signing one new client and loves this other manuscript a wee bit more than mine, I'm screwed.  She'd have to lurve (not just merely love) mine so desperately that she'd be willing to make an exception.  Ugh.  More gut punching.  I'm going to stay optimistic and wait for a response.  It's not like I have much of a choice.

Waiting bites the big one.  When I'm not working on my other projects, I come right back to the what-if game with my submitted manuscript.  So I enter pitch contests, writing contests, whatever I can find.  Yes, I have a crazy amount of requested submissions out there, but I want MOAR confirmation.  MOAR requests, MOAR positive feedback, MOAR author buzz.  I'll be on on Xanax and horse tranquilizers before this is over, I guarantee it.

Since I know you're only here for the food, let's get to it.  I found this recipe on Pinterest and made it for Sunday's breakfast.  The whole time I was putting it together I was thinking how familiar it seemed.  I must have been ridiculously tired Saturday night because I should've recognized it right away.  The kids weren't impressed.  No big surprise there--they were never impressed with its true identity either.  As soon as I put a piece on my plate, I knew what it was.  Maybe it was the lack of rum and currants that threw me off.  With the right ingredients, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and a generous drizzle of brown sugar and bourbon sauce, it would've been perfect.  It's not French toast, my friends.  It's bread pudding.  Now you can certainly lie to yourself and call it breakfast (I won't rat you out) but you really should make this.

Overnight French Toast
(aka Bread Pudding)

1 large loaf of day-old bread (challah, farm bread, brioche, etc.)
8 eggs
2 cups milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
2T vanilla
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1t cinnamon
1/2 cup cold butter, cut in small pieces.

Tear or cut bread into 1" pieces and place in a 9x13 pan (lined with parchment or well buttered).  In a medium bowl, whisk eggs, milk, cream, sugar, and vanilla until well blended.  Pour egg mixture evenly over bread in pan.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Mix flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a medium bowl and cut in butter with a pastry blender, a fork, or two knives until crumbly.  Sprinkle over French toast.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes (soft and moist) to an hour (firm and drier).  Serve hot with butter and maple syrup, if desired.

For bread pudding, reduce vanilla to 1T, add 1/4 cup dark rum and 1t cinnamon to egg mixture, and sprinkle French toast with a generous handful of dried currants or raisins before chilling.  Omit cinnamon crumb mixture.  Serve with ice cream and bourbon sauce:

8T unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup bourbon or other whiskey
2T water
1/4 t nutmeg
pinch of salt
1 egg

Melt butter in saucepan.  Stir in sugar, liquor, water, nutmeg, and salt.  Cook, stirring until sugar is dissolved and mixture is blended.  Remove from heat and whisk in egg until frothy.  Set the sauce back on the stove and stir gently over medium heat until thickened, about one minute.  Can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to three days.  Warm over low heat, adding warm water to thin, if necessary.



Sunday, September 9, 2012

How having an agent can clear you of kidnapping charges

Querying is the American Idol audition of the publishing world.  You've got one page (one, ONE, o-n-e, 1) to convince Monsieur or Madame Agent of several things; A-You have a great idea, B-Your idea is marketable, C-You're worth the investment.  There's probably more but I'm still relatively new at this.  A bad audition can get a good manuscript rejected and a fabulous audition can get something as lame as the phone book a submission request.  Pick a good song, sing it well, and hope Randy Jackson's got rum in that Coke.

It's a small step toward publication and feels like one of the scariest.  At this early stage, unless you're lucky enough to be blood-related to the senior editor of a major publishing house, you're probably not going to get any attention from publishers.  Agents are the gatekeepers--in a non-Ghostbusters kind of way.  Having writer friends has advantages (yay, cheer squad!) and its disadvantages (boo, humility reminders!) but it's not the same as having an agent who loves you/your work enough to tattoo your name/title in fancy script on his/her forehead.  It's no guarantee you'll see your book in print someday, but (slush pile or Newberry) your agent's right there with you.

Let's say I was arrested outside Adam Lambert's house--hypothetically, of course.  (Please note; this blog post is pure fiction and is in no way a confession or admission of guilt; therefore, it's inadmissible in a court of law.)  I could go up against the legal system all by myself and try to convince them I'm no danger to Mr. Lambert or society in general, but they are knowledgeable in these matters and won't buy my story without an advocate.  I need someone to represent me and use their experience and connections to win them over.  Did I have zebra print duct tape, take-out sushi, and candles?  Yes, but my attorney will have a much better shot than I would at making the court believe I was having a picnic, concerned about a possible power outage, and uh, making duct tape wallets for charity.  You want the judge to buy your story?  Hire a good lawyer.  You want a publisher to buy your story?  Land a good agent.  You want a dinner date with Adam Lambert?  Don't use duct tape; the jury sees right through the wallet-making defense (hypothetically, of course).

While we're on the subject of having someone to go to bat for you, let's chat about publishers.  I have no absolutely no qualification or experience in this area but I have writer friends who have been kind enough to let me live vicariously through them.  Getting in bed with a major publisher without an agent--not likely.  Getting in bed with a zillion readers without a major publisher--also not likely.  There's a whole lot of self publishing going on out there.  No rejection letters, no waiting.  It's not necessarily the easy route, mind you.  If all you do is upload your MS to Amazon and wait for readers to find you, I wish you luck.  Hiring an editor and a formatter and promoting the heck out of your book will get you much better results.  Now, while I'm going to promote myself and my books like a crazy person, I would very much like to have a publisher with me on that journey.  I want my cover blown up and plastered on my publisher's booth at book conferences.  I want my books on the shelves at Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million.  I want to see them in Scholastic book orders and on book fair tables.  I want readers to be able to pick them up as an impulse buy while they're shopping at Wal-Mart.  I'm not going to get that kind of accessibility by self publishing.  Book tours, signings, appearances, and the like are all necessary, but accessibility is HUGE.  I'm not there yet, so don't quote me on any of this.  It's just personal observation.

As I write this, my manuscript is being considered by a surprising number of agents (including my first choice Super Agent).  Even more surprising, there are some big name agents on that list.  I was contacted by one of those agents following a pitch contest and I'm one of five finalists in a kissing scene contest.  One agent already finished looking over my manuscript said she loved it and wants me to make a few changes and send it back.  I never imagined I'd get this kind of response when I started sending queries and I'm in a mild state of shock.  It's getting closer!  Hopefully I'll be posting my How I Got My Agent story soon.


What's your story?  Tell me about your agent, your publisher, your kidnapping charges, whatever.  I'd love to hear it!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Scary Stories and Dark Cherry Frangipane Cake



Last month I accomplished something phenomenal: I became a published author. No, it isn't my own novel (yet) but nearly 5000 words from my own head received an acceptance letter and a publishing contract and edits from a real editor and a brief author bio all about me in a published book with an ISBN number and a Facebook page and a table of contents that has my name in it! This is where I have to remind myself to breathe. Okay, better now.

Stacey Graham ("The Zombie Tarot", "The Girls' Ghost Hunting Guide") was looking for ghost stories centered around a haunted object to publish in her anthology, "No Rest For The Wicked". I hadn't written a short story in who knows how long and I'm too chicken to write horror but I thought I'd give it a shot.

My haunted object just came out of nowhere. It's atypical for a ghost story, seemingly innocuous, and found all around us. I loved it. From there, everything just fell into place. A little Googling led me to the perfect antagonist, which came with the perfect back story and the perfect plot. It was the smoothest, easiest writing I'd done in a very long time. I wrote in the dark and scared the daylights out of myself to make sure my readers would feel real fear in the narration. It was downright magical.

The day before the deadline for submissions, I was still finishing up some last minute editing and polishing when a storm rolled in. The sky went black and violet in a matter of minutes, just before the tornado warnings began. I gathered up the kids and my laptop and we ran for shelter. In the safety of a stairwell, I kept plugging away at my manuscript while the storm raged outside. The power flickered and died and the house trembled in the wind. It was exactly as you've heard it described a million times before; it sounded like a freight train.

Eventually, the clouds passed over and the late afternoon sun gave us a good look at the damage. The kids' trampoline was vertical, wrapped around a tree in the neighbor's yard, and shingles from the roof were scattered across my lawn. Many other homes in the area had roof damage and trees ripped out of the ground, roots and all. Some of those giant trees took down power lines and blocked the entrance to the subdivision.

Night fell and we still had no power. I edited by candlelight until the battery in my laptop died. The house lit up in waves as construction crews with spotlights moved through to clear the roads. My kids gathered their laser tag equipment and the living room flashed red, blue, and green like fireworks in the cathedral ceiling.

It was late when the power was restored, but I managed to finish up my story and submit it somewhere in those early hours before dawn.

I checked my email a thousand times that day, waiting to hear back from the editor. I checked it twice as often the next day, and the day after that. When the email showed up in my inbox, I was completely calm and rational. I barely even cracked a smile. There was no change in my heart rate and I didn't feel the need to call anyone or climb up on the table and beat my chest like Tarzan while crowing at the top of my lungs. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a dirty stinking liar.

My story, "The Fruits of Labor", will be available next month in "No Rest For The Wicked" from Rainstorm Press and edited by Stacey Graham. I'll try to be calm and rational when it happens but I'm not promising anything.

There are so many spoilers I want to write here, but I don't want to ruin it for you. I'll just leave you with this;
And also this;
And, of course, the recipe;

Death Becomes Her (a.k.a Dark Cherry Frangipane Cake)

1/2 cup unsalted butter (room temperature)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup almond flour or almond meal (or 1/2 cup all-purpose flour)
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 t vanilla
1 cup sour cream
1 cup pitted dark sweet cherries (well drained if canned or frozen)
1 cup frangipane (recipe follows) or crumbled almond paste
2 cups streusel (recipe follows)
glaze (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9" tube pan and set aside. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla on medium speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the sour cream and beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Beat until just combined, scraping bowl as needed.

Spoon about half the batter into the prepared pan. Arrange the cherries in a single layer on top of the batter, taking care not to let the cherries touch the sides of the pan to prevent sticking and burning. Spread frangipane (or crumbled almond paste) over the cherries, keeping it away from the sides of the pan. Top with the remaining batter, making sure it is evenly distributed. Sprinkle the streusel evenly over the top of the batter.

Bake 40-45 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown and springs back when touched. Let cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes. Invert the cake onto a cooling rack then reinvert (so streusel side is up), and let cool completely. Drizzle glaze over cake, letting it drip down the sides. Cake can be kept at room temperature, wrapped in plastic, for up to four days (if it lasts that long, which it won't).

Frangipane:

2/3 cup sliced blanched almonds or almond flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 t salt
3 T cold butter, cut in small pieces
1 large egg

If using blanched almonds, toast at 375 degrees until fragrant and golden. Set aside to cool completely.

In a food processor, pulse nuts, sugar, and salt until finely ground (pulse to combine, if using almond flour). With the machine running, add butter and egg; processing until mixture is smooth.

Streusel:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup almond flour (or all-purpose flour)
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 t ground cinnamon
1/4 t salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

Combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, and salt; cut in the butter using a pastry blender or fork until large, moist clumps form. Extra streusel can be stored in the freezer for future use.

Glaze:

1 cup powdered sugar
2 T heavy cream or milk
1/8 t vanilla

Whisk powdered sugar, heavy cream, and vanilla until completely smooth. Immediately drizzle glaze over cake.