“What’s a library, Mrs Collins?”

Yesterday I subbed in a Pre-K classroom. Yes, I’m still alive and breathing. (Actually, I prefer teaching the little ones way over a classroom of 7th graders which I did last week and will never do again.) But I was talking with some of the Pre-K kids and I mentioned I was going to go to the library after school.

Now, I know these kids have only had roughly four short years of life, but I was stunned when not one of the kids knew what I was talking about. “What’s the library, Mrs. Collins?” questioned sweet little *Danny. I think my mouth literally dropped open. I’ve taught Preschool before and books were always a huge portion of the curriculum. My classes always made a field trip of going to the library and reading/checking out books. But yesterday afternoon in the public school Pre-K program, it was clear that the kids I was there to teach and protect and encourage had never been exposed to something I consider essential to becoming educated little humans who will grow up to be productive good adults.

So, I told them about the library.

Granted, some of what I said went way over their heads. For example, did they need to know about the forming of the first lending library in Arkansas? No. But that little rabbit hole was a by-product of my other job as Historic Interpreter who happens to know the story of the first lending library in Arkansas. I asked them if they liked to read books or have books read aloud to them. Every single student raised a hand. So we talked about all the books in libraries and how each one can take you to a different place. I asked them to close their eyes and imagine being in the setting for the books I read to them. It’s my greatest hope that the next time an adult reads to them, they’ll do that again and be transported somewhere else.

There may be some parents scratching heads today, wondering why their child is asking about going to the library. But here’s the thing, libraries aren’t just for kids. There’s so much adults can experience beyond checking out books. I truly hope that some of the parents will go check it out in the future.

I’m not one to make public political statements, so I will stop short of doing that now. But I will say that libraries are as necessary and relevant and crucial as bookstores. They’re part of the fabric of our society and in this digital age, most have adapted and grown into more than just a place to get free books for a short time. (But hey, that’s a bonus for voracious readers like myself who can’t afford to support their book habits by purchasing hardbacks of every book they want to read!)

I hope I planted a seed that grows all those little four-year-old baby pre-readers minds And I hope the love of books and the library spreads to their parents and friends. And I hope that I run into some of them in my library very soon.

On a somewhat-related topic. Prior to this year, I had no earthly idea how many books I typically read in a year. All I knew is that there is never a time when I’m not reading a book. So I set about trying to count how many I read. I made a goal for myself of 52 books in one year. A book a week can’t be that hard, right? Really, I had guessed that’s about the rate I was reading.

Turns out I was wrong. I just passed the 52 mark with four months left in the year.

That’s a lot of books.

Most of them have been YA because I always want to read what I write. But some of have been MG books written by friends or NA and adult books written by my favorite YA author who occasionally crosses over into other age ranges. Some of them I will consider “my faves” and some have been excellent examples of what not to do as an author. The bottom line is that I’ve read continuously and with every book I’m being entertained or transported or taught something valuable to implement in my own writing.

A lot of those 52 books have come from the library.

Belle library

*Name has been changed to protect the innocent. 

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Wait For It

If you know me personally, you could very easily report that I am not a patient person. I like to do things at full-speed and I absolutely stink at waiting. Waiting is the worst. In fact,  I have a doctor’s appointment this afternoon and I have two books packed in my bag already just to override the fear of sitting there for half an hour (or more) in the waiting room with *gasp* nothing to do.

Because my brain is just wired to go, go, go all the time. If there’s a free moment in the middle of the day, you can bet that I’m thinking “What is it that I need to do that I haven’t done yet?” If I had a nickel for every time my husband has looked lovingly at me and said, “Just relax a second,” then…I’d have a lot of nickels.

And the thing is, I’m not an un-relaxed person. I’m quite happy and feel “calm” most of the time. Maybe that’s because my “calm” is a bit more chaotic than others. Because there’s nothing worse to me than sitting and doing nothing. I’m not the kind of person that can sit in a lawn chair and watch the flora and fauna for hours. I appreciate those things and enjoy looking at those things, but after about a minute, I’ve seen what I need to see and I want to move on to something else.

(You’d think I’d be skinny and my house would be immaculate, but neither of those things is true.)

While I usually do a good job of filling the hours in my day, I’ve come to a point in my writing career where I am waiting. And I can’t do a dang thing about it.

I’m not naive, I know that the publishing industry is slow and there is a lot of waiting to be done. I went into this endeavor eyes wide open. I understand that each part of the process is lengthy, from the writing stage to the revision to the seeking and procuring an agent, the editing, the submission to publishing houses, the editing again, and the length of time it takes to get a book designed, printed and published. All of those require…waiting.

I’m only on stage three of the process. I’ve queried agents (through various sources: conference, contest, and cold querying) and now I have manuscripts out in the world for review. So I wait.

I’m willing to do that because I understand that there are so many hours in the day and most agents have active clients they’re working for. They’re making deals, giving advice, submitting manuscripts, on top of numerous other things for their existing clients. Plus, it just takes a while to read queries and pages from requested materials. So, I’m exercising my patience.

Some days, I’d rather be exercising my body, to be quite honest. And that hardly ever happens either.

Since I’m not that good at waiting, I’ve started actively finding things to fill my time while I wait. We’re moving soon, so I’m organizing and packing and reorganizing and clearing out junk. Clearing out junk is totally healthy for your soul. I recommend it immensely.

What else am I doing? Since my last set of queries/requests went out, I’ve read 9 books. I’ve never really counted the number of books I’ve read. With no concrete idea of how many I normally read, I made a goal to read 52 this year. I’m already at 42 at half the year. (Learned something about goal setting with this, btw..)

And the good thing about all the reading is that it’s helping improve my writing and career. Every book I read gives me lessons on craft (be them good or bad). Every author I research on the internet or book pic I post on InstaGram gives me insight into the business and forges connections with the writing/reading community.

Another important thing I’m doing now is writing. I know that sounds weird for me to say. Hey look, the writer is WRITING. Big deal.  But it is a big deal. Once I had a final draft of my manuscript ready for querying, I put it away, because tinkering with it while agents are reading may cause problems. What if they like it the way it is? Or have other possible changes in mind after they read? If I mess with it now, I may give myself some big headaches in the future once I find the right agent for my work. So I leave it alone until I hear back.

So then what?

What is a writer to do? A writer writes. I started another project. Or rather, continued a half-started project. And I have to tell you, the fact that I’m laying down words on something, anything, is making me a hundred times more calm. It doesn’t feel like waiting when I’m producing something. There was about a month period in which I wrote zero words and it was terrible and I was miserable. Just diving back into the creative process has made all the difference. It doesn’t matter if this project will ever be seen by anyone else. It just matters that I’m creating.

Do I still obsessively check my emails, hoping for an agent response, even though I know it’s too early for a reply? Yes. When I’m driving or in the shower, does my mind still wander into possible scene changes, marketing ideas, lists of ideal potential publishers? Yes. Do I waffle back and forth from thinking my manuscript is the BEST THING EVERRR to thinking it’s total rubbish and nobody will want to read it? Yeah, that too. (Don’t think that will ever go away.) But, I’m managing the waiting parts and maintaining my sanity and I feel pretty good about that.

Until the next Tuesday blog..I’ll be here waiting…like Timbaland waiting to reveal the next boy eliminated on Boy Band. Seriously, this guy takes the reality show dramatic pause to a whole new level.

timbaland

 

 

Hangin’ Tough

It’s been an eventful couple of weeks in my writing life. I’ve learned this is completely normal. Sometimes things move like a slow emotional ballad. Other times, they move like the thumpin’ beat of a dance track.

(Note: I’m probably not going to give up on the boy band music analogies any time soon. You’ve been warned.)

Since I last posted, I made it into Round 3 of Query Kombat. I’m thrilled and humbled by this accomplishment. My Round 2 competitor (a book I know will be published and I want to read) ended the contest with a whopping 14 requests from agents—more than any of the others. So, while she didn’t win. She SO won. And I get to carry on in the contest, honing and strengthening my query/first page until the time when I’m out and can start querying. Win/Win.

While things were moving in QK, I also attended the Arkansas SCBWI conference, where I got to meet some amazing professionals and gained a lot of knowledge, plus hang out with my writer friends. No, scratch that, friends who are also writers.

The overwhelming take-home I get from these experiences is this phrase: Everything is subjective.

In QK, there is feedback posted by judges and by other “kombatants.” My round 2 had 18 comments. That’s 18 different opinions. And I mean 18 DIFFERENT opinions. I got comments that read “love the peanut butter line” and those that said, “I’m not getting the peanut butter line.” A lot of comments said my MC is a too cocky, yet I had almost as many that said they loved him and he had a great voice.

I even had one comment that read they suspect Derrick’s narcissism my actually be MY narcissism. I’m still not sure what to do with that one, but it’s certainly something for me to think about. I appreciate the person taking the time to comment on it.  (Would a narcissist say that? I’m not sure. Anyway…)

Then when I went to the conference and pitched my book to one of the editors there, he told me some things I didn’t want to hear. (Along with some other awesome things that were perfectly in-tune with my little writer heart.) At the end of our session, however, he said, “But that’s just MY opinion. Someone else may say something different.”

*Looks at QK entries* “This new query is better.” “I liked your first one a lot more.”

At the conference, the fabulous agent, Molly O’Neill, presented a workshop on dealing with rejection. I ate every word she said up with a spoon. The essence of her presentation was that it takes only one agent to “get it” and every rejection you receive before you find “the one” isn’t something to take as personal. There are dozens of factors that can contribute to a “no thanks” and just as many that can lead to “the call.” Outside of writing a killer book, most of those are out of my control. I hope I’ve done the killer book part. We’ll see, I suppose.

Listening to the professionals at the conference, different variations of the same theme kept coming up in presentations, in pitches, and in casual conversations at dinner.  Basically, if someone doesn’t like your work, it’s their opinion. Take it, consider whether or not there’s merit to it, implement it (or not), then move on.

It’s just one person’s opinion.

That sounds pretty straightforward, but it’s easy to get bogged down when someone gives you a critique that’s harsh or you get yet another rejection from an agent. I’m learning to navigate the waters by trying not to let the things I don’t like get under my skin. Or rather, make my skin tougher so those harsh crits and rejections don’t hurt me as deeply.

It’s not easy, but I’m getting better at it. I think the key is remembering that my worth (as a person and as a writer) isn’t tied directly to my manuscript. A harsh crit or rejection doesn’t make me a bad person or poor writer. A harsh crit or rejection means that one individual did not believe the work was where it needed to be for them. Maybe that means I need to revise or maybe it means I need to find another person. It really doesn’t mean I should give up or that I suck.

Because I won’t. And I don’t.

(Ah, maybe there’s something to that narcissism thing.)

My MS is getting better as my skin is getting tougher. It just might be where it needs to be for that one agent to “get it.” If not, I’ll be here Hangin’ Tough

(What? You KNOW Donnie Wahlberg is your Home Boy.)

 

All I Have to Give

A quick update:

Though the battle was fierce, the Query Kombat first round voting is over. I’m stoked beyond all reason to announce that I moved on to Round 2! My worthy opponent made a strong second-half surge and almost came out on top, but in the end, I scored the winning vote. 5-4.  I’m very pleased to see that one of the hosts of the contest picked my opponent as his “Host Save” so she and her epic MS will be moving on as well.  Cheers all around!

I would love to be able to say this is me right now:

BSB IWITW

Really, I’m more like this:

BSB scream

The agent round starts tomorrow. After that, we get on to battling it out in Round 2. It’s going to be an anxious time waiting to hear if I get any agent requests or move forward to Round 3. But, if neither of those things happen, I’ve already got a stronger query and first 250 words. And I can rest in the knowledge in that I gave it All I Have To Give.

 

At The End of the Day

I struggled a little writing this post. One one hand, through hard work and determination, I’ve accomplished something I’m proud of. On the other hand, in less than a week, I might be exactly where I am now with nothing to show for it. I tried to think about how I’d feel when this is all over and I decided to blog about this to help strengthen my ability to put myself out there. Because, at the end of the day, no matter what happens, it’s part of my journey and that’s the purpose of this blog.  So, here it goes.

I was picked as an entrant to an online writing contest. Specifically Query Kombat.

I have a love/dislike relationship with writing contests.  At the end of the day, I’m unagented, so most would say that contests have been failures for me. I’ve been picked for several contests and passed over for many more. (Several different manuscripts too!)  I don’t consider myself a failure at writing because I’ve not snagged an agent or sold a manuscript yet. I consider myself “still on the road” to those things. Participating in contests is just one step along that road.

Failing to be chosen for a contest can hurt almost as much as rejections do. This is the aforementioned dislike part. When you work hard preparing materials and get your hopes up and the contest hosts/judges don’t pick your entry, it can feel like a waste of time and it can certainly knock you a few pegs down the confidence ladder. But the longer I’ve been “in the business” of writing, the more I’ve come to understand, it is all subjective. ALL OF IT.

Hosts/judges/agents/editors/publishers/readers are influenced by factors that are simply out of my control. Sometimes it can be something as simple as a bad day or someone having an ex-boyfriend with the same name as my love interest. Perhaps an agent enjoys my writing, but has just picked up a similar title for their list. Or maybe publishers aren’t buying my MS because they believe nobody wants to read [insert genre here] right now.  (*Gazes longingly at the dystopian MS sitting in my drawer* One day…) All of those things can lead to heart ache, but at the end of the day, it does not mean I’m not a good writer or that my MS is bad. It simply means I haven’t found the right agent/publisher/readers yet.

Contests can go a long way to getting my manuscript in front of many agent/editor/publisher eyes at once. That’s a good thing and that’s one of the things I love about contests. If the world didn’t love a fast track, there’d be no microwaves or McDonald’s or Disney Fast Passes. I’m all for a group of people considering my MS at once because it FEELS like I’ve been writing for a lot longer than I have. The hunger to publish tends to make that happen. But at the end of the day, participating in, or even winning, a contest might not make the process go any faster for me. And that’s okay.

Because at the end of the day, I’m getting something else from contests. I’m getting valuable advice from professionals, making writer friends, and improving my craft. I believe this is the biggest advantage contests hold.

Having lined all that out, I’m thrilled, shocked, and elated to announce that my latest Manuscript was chosen for the Query Kombat contest hosted by Michelle Hauck, Michael Anthony, and Laura Heffernan. The contest will be tournament style, with brackets. Think College Basketball playoffs. Over 300 people chose nicknames for our MS and entered query letters and the first 250 words. Sixty-four of us were chosen to battle it out head-to-head.  Like this:

light saber fight

Though now that I’ve “Twitter-met” some of the competition, it will probably look more like this:

dance combat.gif

It’s going to be tough. Half of us will be eliminated in the first round. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a competitive person and I want to WIN, but even if I don’t make it past the first cut, I know I will have gained something.

So, wish me luck. The first battle begins 8:00 am Friday, June 2. My entry “Boy Band Ninja Assassins” is going up against “Girl Takes Back White House” (which I totally want to read!) Judges with nicknames will be posting their VICTORY votes on the blogs. So, unfortunately, you can’t help me win.  But if you want to read our entries (because I’m sure many of them will make their way to publication in the future), you can find them by clicking the following links.

Boy Band Ninja Assassins will be on Laura’s blog.

Some more great stuff on Michelle’s blog.

And here’s Michael’s outstanding lineup.

Best of luck to all the Kombatants. I’m really proud to be a part of this, no matter the outcome at the end of the day. 

BOY BAND SOUNDTRACK SONG FOR THIS ENTRY: At The End of the Day

GIF source: giphy.com

Crying Out Loud

I had lunch with a good friend today. (She’s the one who’s always encouraged me and continues to support me during the roller coaster ride of trying to become published and I love her for it. ) We started talking about the fact that we both seem to cry more over fiction (books, movies, tv, commercials) than we do over reality.  I joked that it probably says something horrendous about our psyches, but this afternoon I looked into it and found articles that suggest otherwise.

My friend and I aren’t monsters who fail to care about our loved ones. For one thing, we’re both moms and have had our fair share of being strong for our children and husbands and families. It’s hard to cope with a situation when you’re having to stop and wipe the tears. So, in reality, we suck in our emotions and deal with whatever emotional situation that’s arisen, be it the death of loved ones, or kids in trouble, or financial hardships or exhaustion. Whatever the case, we are present for the moment. Usually the tears will come later.

Tears over fiction are immediate. Earlier today I finished my favorite author Jennifer L. Armentrout’s THE PROBLEM WITH FOREVER. It was released last year, but I put it off because I knew, I knew it was going to make me cry based on the subject matter alone. But I wanted to read it for several reasons: I adore her writing, I need to read more contemporary work, and my recent manuscript touches some of the same subjects as this one does. (Though in a much different way.) Luckily I have learned to finish books in the privacy of my own home. Where the tissue boxes are plenty and the gaping uncomfortable stares are few.

I was right. I bawled like a baby off and on for the last fiftyish pages of the book. But it was a good cry. This book had an amazing ending. It was very well done. And that’s why I cried so much. I FELT it. I felt what the characters were feeling and it knocked in the gut. This is most certainly a nod to her talent as an author, as well as evidence of my ability to connect with people who aren’t real.

Research shows fiction, in both literary and cinematic forms, greatly improves people’s capacity for empathy. It has to do with the production of oxytocin in our brains. I read an article listing an experiment on oxytocin production. To sum it up, when the participants were exposed to a video depicting an emotional scenario (child speaking about his cancer) their oxytocin production increased 47% over those who were shown a scenario in which the same child visited a zoo. The experiment went on to reveal that those who’s oxytocin had increased were shown to be more generous to strangers and give money to charity.

I find that all very fascinating.

And a bit validating too. I mean, anyone who’s seen a movie with me can testify that I will likely be a blubbering mess. And as I read the last half of ALLEGIANT? Please. It took me almost an hour and half to read Four’s POV chapters after [SPOILER HAPPENED.] I had to stop and wipe away my tears too many times.

I think the tears we cry over fiction can be our emotional release so that when an emotional crisis arises in our reality, we can deal with it. That doesn’t mean we won’t cry when bad things happen in real life. I do. Frequently. But I think my ability to connect with fictional characters and feel their pain (especially when I’m reading an amazing author!) makes it easier for me to deal with real life emotional situations.

Now before someone starts throwing bananas at me (because that would be a far worse fate for me personally than throwing tomatoes), I’m not saying that crying over fiction makes us the superior of the species. I know many people who don’t feel emotionally connected to fiction who are loving and empathetic people. I married to one of those people. But as I said to my friend today, I kind of feel sorry for those who don’t feel emotion that stems from fiction. I am encouraging everyone who is worried about being ridiculed for crying over books or movies (Young adult books, even? GASP), don’t. It’s okay to let those tears flow. Increase the oxytocin. Let it out. I’ll be here with my ample supply of tissues.

BOOK REC: If you’re looking for something to increase your oxytocin, I will wholeheartedly suggest THE PROBLEM WITH FOREVER by Jennifer L. Armentrout. Even though I passed high school age many moons ago, I still FELT with these characters. It’s not typically the type of book I’d read, but I didn’t put it down once I began reading. The subject matter is dark and unfortunately all too real, but this hit all the right emotional notes with me. Jennifer is amazing and this book is worth the time.

For more info about Jennifer and THE PROBLEM WITH FOREVER, visit her site here.

My research source article can be found here.

Query Trenches

I’m in the query trenches again. This is what it feels like:

happyscared

Most days I’m feeling pretty good about my manuscript, then suddenly I’m hit with the thought that I sent it out and it’s wrong.  IT’S ALL WRONG!

Of course, the panic passes, but boy does it feel real in the moment.

I’m not sure why it’s called the query trenches. That phrase conjures up images of war, guns, and olive green clad soldiers either clinging on for life or lobbing ammunition. Querying doesn’t have to be as bad as all that.

I’m approaching querying a little differently than I have in the past. Not in the process itself, as that has stayed the same for me, but in the way I’m thinking about the process.Going with the soldier theme, there are a few things I’ve discovered that writers must have in their arsenal when querying.

  • Belief in your manuscript. It may seem strange to say that, but I’ve known writers who’ve queried with the idea it isn’t really good enough yet, but I’ll take a shot. I will even go so far as to say I did that myself several years ago just moments I typed THE END. That didn’t get me anywhere. Now, I spend as long polishing as I do writing the first draft. I make sure that what I have is the best it can be. That doesn’t mean that some future agent or editor won’t have ideas for change. It means that I’m no longer revising scenes, substituting words, or throwing new ideas in. I believe my manuscript is good, it’s fresh, and is high concept. I’m not bragging, mind you. I’m believing in the story I’ve told. I’ve enlisted in this army of writers and I think my campaign will be a winning strategy.
  • A thick skin. Rejections aren’t fun. But you will get them. It doesn’t mean your manuscript is bad or that you’re not talented. It means you haven’t found the right agent for your manuscript. It took me a while to get to this point. In the past, I would sink into a depression with every rejection I got. Now, I’m a little bit better about it. Continuing with the theme, I’ve tried to adjust my attitude and look at finding the right agent as a game of Battleship. You know, the one where it was Blue vs.Red and the little plastic ships? ( Totally showing my age there. I think they’re actually electronic now.) But when I’m querying, I’m firing missiles at the board. The rejections, are misses.  Requests are hits.  From there, it’s just a matter of picking a few strategic shots to sink the Battleship. (Partial request, hit. Full request, hit. Phone call, hit.) YOU SUNK MY BATTLESHIP or YOU ARE MY AGENT!
  • Patience. This is tough. I am not a patient person by nature, but I’ve learned that Publishing is a long process and while some things can happen very quickly, the majority of the business doesn’t. I’ve found the best way to handle this is to keep writing. I’ve already started another project and that’s taking up a lot of my brain time. It keeps me honing my craft while I wait to hear back from my queries.

And now, off to practice some of that patience… and read a good book.