Friday, April 29, 2011

The Worth of a Thing

Our next stop in Paris was St. Chapelle.

 Yeah, I didn't get a great picture of it. I'm hoping you'll forgive me.

Anyway, this little chapel was built near Notre Dame in 1246 by Louis IX (the pious Louis). Louis commissioned this chapel to hold some holy relics he'd purchased---namely the crown of thorns worn by Jesus on the cross, as well as a splinter of the cross.

Were they the real deal? Obviously Louis IX thought so, because he paid 135,000 livres for just the crown. Now, I can't tell you how much that is in today's money, but to give you a comparison, he paid a mere 40,000 livres to build the entire chapel.

Once you go inside, you'll find that the pillared walls are merely there to support the endless stained glass windows. When the sun hits just right, the effects are amazing!

My pictures really don't do it justice.

So my writing analogy for the day? Well, maybe this will apply to life-in-general, too.

It would be easy to assume that the worth of St. Chapelle is in the glamorous and showy stained glass windows. But Louix IX never saw it that way. Its value was as a shrine to two holy relics that might easily have been overlooked by most people. Items that were rustic and plain. Items that were simple. But not common. Definitely not common.

As writers, we sometimes want to base the value of our work on outward facts . . . how many requests we get for our manuscript; how many books we sell once we're published; how many fan-pages are dedicated to us; how many people tattoo our mc's name onto their bicep. Well, you get the idea.

But I don't think worth comes from any outside source. I think that worth comes from the sweat and tears we put in. From our hard work. Though the stories we produce may be the most horrid things ever written (hopefully not, of course!), they have value for what we gain from them. For what we become from having written them.

I grew up hearing that it's what's on the inside that counts. And though I groaned every time I heard it as a kid, I embrace it now. I am not the same person I was before I started writing. I see the world differently, and I appreciate things I wouldn't otherwise appreciate. I have gained skill and insight. I have gained respect for others' work . . . no matter what it may be.

Even if I never get published, my time spent writing is not wasted, and neither is yours.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Best Laid Plans . . .

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to go to France for two weeks as a tour guide. No, I am not French scholar. And Yes, it was a LOT of work to get ready.

But as a favor to my sister (for whom I would do a lot because she is just that awesome), I went and posed as a confident tour guide. I not only learned all kinds of French history, but all kinds of random tidbits about life. For example, cobblestone may look cool, but it's really not fun to walk or drive on. 

Still, I digress . . . now that I'm back, I get to subject you with all kinds of travel log writing analogies. Bwah ha ha ha! (Your ears should be ringing with my evil laugh.)

So, here we go . . . the first thing we visited after dropping off our luggage was the Eiffel Tower.

This iconic building fascinates me. It was built for the Paris Universal Exposition of 1889. It was meant to stand for 2 years before it would be dismantled. Then they upped its life to 20 years, and finally, with the coming of the radio and its usefulness assured, they decided to keep it.

It's hard to imagine, from our current frame of reference, that the French would ever have considered taking the Eiffel Tower apart. But back then it was something of an atrocity to many. Modern art at it's worst, so some people thought.

Now we can look back and breathe a sigh of relief that they revised their plans. Somehow, Paris just wouldn't be Paris without it.

Writing can be a bit like this. We lay out our plans. We set our goals. We write our books and think that's the end.

And then the first critiques come back.

We revise our work and sigh with relief that that's done.

And then the next batch of critiques come back. I'm sure you get the idea.

What's important to remember though, are the breathtaking results from your efforts.

Oh wait! How'd that get in there? I meant to post these . . .

So when you're working on that next draft. Just think of the Eiffel Tower and all the future audiences you will wow.

It will be worth it.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Getting Critiqued!

In an effort to serve my wife while she is drawing inspiration from foreign places like all writers do (ok, those 1940/50s writers of Classics!), I will try one more time to post for her.  Please realize that I don’t claim to be anything but a fan of the written word.  My most deep forays into writing involved multiple pens of red ink, salty drops of water on my cheeks, deep passionate discussions (Really, arguments) about content on 100 plus pages of research.  I don’t take literary critiques well.  And I am not alone in this.  It has made me wonder as I have increased a desire to write well is there a right way to take critiques? 
Obviously knowing your audience in giving critiques is important as is who is giving the critique.  Sometimes two people can say the same exact thing but one of them says it just the right way and it is well received.  Psychology has indicated that there are good ways to deliver these critiques and you can even take classes on it.  But is there a way to improve how you take a critique? Outside of getting lots of critiques what do you all think?

Monday, April 11, 2011

To Be A Classic or Not To Be A Classic

In an effort to help my wife with her blog and in an attempt to be literary; Have you ever wondered what makes a classic a classic? If you are like me, you sat through English class (or French, or Spanish, or German or well you get the picture) and some of the books you said," yes, okay! That is a classic." others you wondered what the literary powers were thinking. Some will argue that classics are in the eye of the beholder and that it is all subjective. Those that would disagree often use logical facts to try to prove their points. They may say something like the messages in that book are timeless and thus it’s a classic or it sold so many copies in successive generations, etc. But does that really make a book a classic?

Or is literature more based on how well it appeals to some one? Many books written are never published because they don’t “appeal’ to the agents or editors the book was sent to. Take Harry Potter by JK Rowling. She had tried several agents/editors before being accepted yet we can pretty much all agree that it has gained world-wide popularity. (Now you can disagree with it being a classic or well written but it is an international phenomenon.) Two things can be learned from this:

First, there are several very very very embarrassed agents/editors (actually my real point is that something being good is in the eye of the beholder these people are embarrassed because they DIDN’T see it as good). Second, that popularity may not necessarily make something a classic. So what do you think makes something a classic and do you know a book that should or shouldn’t be a classic and why?

For example, I had to read Brave new World, I hate a Brave New World and I understand its messages. But I don’t think it is a classic and think that the same messages could have been told in other ways. Yet I might argue that in CS Lewis’ books could be classics.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Where Are You Katie Kelly?

Katie, we haven't heard from you concerning THIS, and we'll have to choose another winner if we haven't heard from you by Monday April 11. We're sure you want it, but we have no way of contacting you!

So if anyone else knows Katie and wants to give her a nudge, I'm sure she'll love you forever. :)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Brawl 'n Haul Winners!

First, thank you to everyone who stopped in last week and participated. Vicki and I had a great time battling it out and reading all the votes and comments. You guys are a total riot!

So without further ado, here are the brawl results and winners:

Mock Me Monday:

Total votes: 49

Vicki's BAD story : 40 votes; 82%
Janet's eruption: 9 votes; 18%

And Vicki is the winner! Man, I knew I'd lost as soon as I read hers. She's just too good! So head on over to Vicki's blog for Monday's daily winner.

Testing Tuesday:

Total quizzes taken: 27

Vicki's Grade: 36/60; 60%
Janet's Grade: 56/75; 75%

And I'm the winner! Woo hoo! You guys are awesome for pulling this one out for me. :D

And the winner of the day is Lenny Lee! Congratulations, Lenny! Here is the fabulous daily prize he won. I know, you're all jealous. But every good writer needs some snacks to pull through those rough patches. ;)

The answers to Vicki's quiz are:

1. Which of the following celebrities have NOT been mentioned on Vicki's blog?
b. Mark Wahlburg

2. The artist who painted the picture Vicki uses as her icon is :
c. Alfred Gockel

3. Ever the fan of odd writing analogies, which of the following has Vicki NOT used?
c. Writing is like popping a zit

4. Which of the following was NOT a title of a post?
c. Tickling Turtles

5. What is the working title of Vicki's WIP?
b. Porcelain God

The answers to my quiz are:

1. Which This vs. That debate has NOT been featured on Janet's blog?
c. Spring vs. Summer

2. Janet professes to speak another language. Which one?
a. French

3. What obsession (besides writing) does Janet constantly blog about?
b. license plates

4. What celebrity does Janet pose with in her profile picture?
d. Oscar the Grouch

5. Janet did a 4-part series on what topic?
b. Clich├ęs

Wacky Wednesday:

Total votes: 35

Vicki's POLLTREE: 0 votes; 0%
Janet's BITE ME: 35 votes; 100%

Ouch! I think this was a combination punch. Poor Vicki, she never stood a chance. ;)

And the winner of the day is Yat-Yee! Congratulations, Yat-Yee! And here is a sneak preview of what you'll be receiving in the mail. Because every good writer needs a handy-dandy mini notebook to jot down all those fabulous ideas that hit at the oddest moments. And of course pens you can trust to actually write when you need them. (I didn't defend pen and paper for nothing!)

This vs. That Thursday:

Total votes: 46

Vicki's Laptop: 33 votes; 72%
Janet's Pen & Paper: 13 votes; 28%

Yikes, I really thought I stood a better chance, but alas. I guess even I can't stop the steamroller that is technology. But I can admit defeat, so head on over to Vicki's blog for Thursday's daily winner.

Before announcing the Grand Prize winners, I had to show you how I'm feeling after a week of duking it out with Vicki:

Photo courtesy of Reb's Photo World 

She's a hard hitter and a worthy opponent. I suppose technically we're at a stalemate, having each won 2/4, but for future reference, I'll think twice before messing with her!

Okay, now on to the part you've all been waiting for. The Grand Prize Winners!

Grand Prize #1: Ten-page Critique by Sarah LaPolla of Curtis Brown!

Katie Kelly! 

Grand Prize #2: Gift Basket including a $40 Gift Card to Amazon!

Congratulations to the winners! Please contact me as soon as possible with my "Contact Me" tab, and I will get you taken care of.

Also, I want to thank Vicki for playing along with me all week, and I want to thank Sarah for so generously offering a ten-page critique! I'm kindof sad this has come to an end. :(

And finally, my big news is that I'm heading off to France tomorrow (squee!) so I won't be around the blogosphere for the next little while. But, darling husband has agreed to peek in from time to time and fill in for me. I have no idea what he'll say. I might be a little worried. Wish me luck!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Brawl 'n Haul Contest: Interview with Sarah LaPolla of Curtis Brown

Today, Vicki and I divide and conquer. The fabulous Vicki is hosting a Blackjack game where you can win more entries into the Grand Prize drawing of your choice. Some lucky players will also win a prize! If you haven't done this with her, it's super fun! I was giggling all through her first ever Blackjack contest. 

Here, I am hosting an interview with Agent Awesome, Sarah LaPolla of Curtis Brown. Vicki and I were thrilled at this opportunity! If you write YA or Adult, you definitely need to read on to see if your work is right for her. She has been wonderful to work with and would make a great agent for anyone lucky enough to get her!

So, first her blurb from the Curtis Brown website, then on to the interview.

Sarah LaPolla began at Curtis Brown in 2008, working with Dave Barbor and Peter Ginsberg. Sarah is interested in literary fiction, narrative nonfiction, urban fantasy, paranormal romance, science fiction, literary horror, and young adult fiction. She loves complex characters, coming-of-age stories, and strong narrators. Sarah graduated from Ithaca College with a degree in Writing and English, and went on to receive her MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. She is always on the lookout for debut authors and welcomes email submissions at

Please note: Sarah prefers e-mail queries!

Me: How did you decide you wanted to be an agent?

I wish I could have one of those stories where I wanted to be an agent from the time I could read a book and moved to New York in a dramatic fashion to follow my dream. Truthfully, I didn’t know what an agent was until I was about 19 or 20 and even then it wasn’t explained to me very well. So when I moved to New York for my MFA program, I started interning at agencies (the “working in publishing” dream was real!).

Once I started learning what an agent actually did and how excited it could be to help build an unpublished writer’s career, I gave up on any previous romanticized notions I might have had about publishing. (The three martini lunch in the offices of Random House was very appealing until I learned it didn’t exist.) So, I kept applying to agencies and got used to being asked “so, what do you do again?” by my family. 

Me: Do your clients have any upcoming releases you want to share?

My fabulous client, K.M. Walton’s debut YA, CRACKED (Simon Pulse) is being released in Spring 2012.

Me: I love that you showcase new writers on your blog, Glass Cases. How did you come up
with that idea?

I started the blog before I became an agent. If anything, it was an effort to hold on to my writerly roots and support the unpublished who either have no interest in traditional publishing or are ready to query. Stories are posted once a week and the rest of the time I like giving writing or query advice or just waxing philosophic on various literary or pop culture-related things.

Once I became an agent, I very much wanted to keep the blog going with my original intent. There is a very strict “no crossover” rule, meaning anyone who sends me a query via the blog gets deleted immediately. Contributors to the blog are welcome to query me as an agent, as long as they do so through the appropriate channels. So far, it’s been a success and the writers have been very understanding about that, so I am grateful.

Vicki: What types of submissions do you wish you saw more of? Less of?

I really want to see more horror, dark mystery, and fairytales (fractured or otherwise) for YA. Dark mysteries for adult would be great too. Also, adult dystopian, as long as it’s original in execution.

On the “less of” side, I am still getting vampire queries, so that makes me cringe. Anything with “creatures of the night” I stay away from. I also steer clear of anything labeled “women’s fiction,” which for some reason I get a lot of. Anything written with the intention of excluding half your audience not only makes little sense, but usually ends up being rife with gender stereotypes.

Vicki: What's the craziest book idea you've come across in the slush pile?

I can’t share anything specific, but a general idea of what I consider “crazy” is when people combine genres for the sake of combining genres. I guess to cover all bases, but it always fails.

For instance:
Timmy is caught in a well…in 1942…and Nazis might kill his parents…and it’s up to a werewolf and an angel to stop them and rescue Timmy…who turns out to be a ghost. For the record, I completely made that example up, but you get the idea.

That said, I do like when people play with genre and incorporate different elements into one novel, but what you decide to use should go together in some way.

Vicki: What's the most outrageous thing you've seen/heard an author do trying to get noticed?

I will never understand why writers include pictures of themselves with their kids or pets with their queries. Or send a large FedEx envelope with one sheet of paper in it. Once I open it and see it’s a query, it will go into the pile with everyone else. It doesn’t matter how you ship it.

Me: What is the best way to catch your eye in a query (in a good way)?

Be succinct and get to the point. Before I even read a query, if I see it is only two or three paragraphs, I am already relieved. And if the first paragraph is a three to five sentence plot overview, even better. All I do is search for that anyway, so you might as well put it up front.

Me: What are some of the biggest mistakes you see in queries?

Like I mentioned above, the biggest mistake I see in queries is when a writer fails to mention what their project is about. There can be long lists of publication credits and how their own lives have prepared them to write their story - and all of those things might be impressive - but without knowing what that story is, why would I request it?

Vicki: For books you read for fun, what influences your choice the most (title, cover art, back description, excerpt, word of mouth, reviews)?

If I’m browsing in a bookstore, a good title will grab my attention. I pay attention to reviews, but not closely. Word of mouth by people I trust (Twitter pals, literary friends, and publishing folk) is usually what influences me most. Also, if I know an author I admire likes a particular author I haven’t read yet, I will check them out.

Vicki: What book title (real or imagined) best reflects your life?

Ooh, good question. Even though it makes me sound like a complete literary snob, I will say Goodbye to All That by Joan Didion (essays count, yes?). Content-wise, it’s not really relevant to my life, but the title suggests consciously starting a new chapter in life while remaining slightly nostalgic, which I think I do a lot.

Me: On my blog, I have a bit of an obsession with personalized license plates. What would yours be? You have 8 spaces.


Sarah, I love the license plate! Thank you for the wealth of information here.

As we've mentioned, in addition to the interview, Sarah has offered a ten-page critique for one of our lucky contest participants who write YA or Adult (sorry all those MG and PB writers!).

In your comment, be sure to mention that you want to win the critique (Prize #1), otherwise we'll put you in for the alternate Grand Prize (Prize #2 - which is nothing to sneeze at, either). And if you haven't already, let us know if you spread the word in any way shape or form (Twitter, Blog, Sidebar, Facebook, etc.) and we'll give you an additional +5 entries in the drawing.

And if you're just joining us, here are the rules for our Brawl 'n Haul contest. For a longer explanation and the posting schedule for the contest, click here.

  1. You must be a follower of both blogs
  2. When you comment, let us know if you prefer Grand Prize #1 - 10-page critique by Sarah LaPolla (Note: your ten pages must be for a YA or Adult work) or Grand Prize #2 - A Prize-filled Gift Basket. If you don't mention one or the other, we'll put you in for #2.
  3. You can earn 5 bonus entries for the grand prize by spreading the word in any way shape or form (twitter, blogs, facebook, sidebar, etc.). Just let us know!
  4. This is open internationally! Woo hoo!
  5. Contest Closes Saturday 2 April at midnight EST. All winners will be announced Monday, 4 April 2011.