Writing Update

Since my last post, I received the news that my short story, Bombs Away, won first place at the San Mateo County Fair Literary Arts contest, Mystery/Thriller Short Story/Adult category. The story is the same one that will be published this summer in Low Down Dirty Vote, a charity anthology to support the ACLU. I’m excited for readers to meet Olivia, community organizer and Black Lives Matter advocate, who takes on a bomb threat at a poll on Election Day.

I’ve also been working on meeting a May 31 deadline for several other projects.

One is a short story submission to the Mystery Writers of America Young Adult Anthology. That story is titled The Prank. It’s been critiqued by two of my beta readers and I’m now making sure it meets the submission requirements.

Contests and anthologies have specific formatting guidelines, and I’d hate for my entry to be disqualified because I didn’t follow them. (Much better to be rejected because my story’s not good enough. Or…wait…)

It’s things like font size, margins, cover page, and even deleting your personal information from the file itself so the entry can truly be evaluated blind.

My other May 31 deadline is a Fantasy Agent submission through Guppies, an online chapter of Sisters In Crime for unpublished authors. The Fantasy Agent is an opportunity to submit the first thirty pages of a novel and a synopsis for evaluation and feedback by a published author. A synopsis is a concise summary of the entire novel. I don’t know how to write a synopsis, but fortunately, Susan Dennard does and explains how here. I’m going to submit one of my previous NaNoWriMo novels.

May 31 is turning out to be good timing since the kids are off school in a couple of weeks and we have some trips planned early in the summer. I’m looking forward to pressing Send on these submissions. Then…to hurry up and wait!

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Tips For Writing a First Page that Rocks

In my last post, I described the Sisters in Crime meeting I went to where a panel of authors read and critiqued members’ first pages. Here’s some of their advice about how to make sure your first page hooks a reader or agent.

1. Less description, more emotion

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This tidbit came up more than once as the first page submissions were read out. That detailed description of the wallpaper in the heroine’s guest bedroom? No one cares. Readers are looking to connect with a character and a story. Descriptions should be sprinkled in at appropriate times.

2. Start in the middle of the action.

A recurring comment from the panel was some variation of, “If you cut out the first three paragraphs, you’ve got a great page.” Which the writer may hear as, “Just cut off your right ear, you don’t really need that.” Painful but true. Readers don’t need a lot of build-up to become engaged. In fact, with too much exposition, they get bored. Start in the action and save the explanations for later.

3. Readers should know early on what’s at stake.

If the main character finds herself on a speeding bus with a bomb on it, would she use the time to reminisce about moving to LA to pursue an acting career? This confuses readers because they don’t know what the story is about. Is it the bus or her quest to be an actress? On the first page, and the first chapter, stay focused on the conflict that drives the story.

4. Write for your audience.

People who don’t like epic fantasies may not choose to read your epic fantasy, even if your first page puts Tolkien to shame. That’s okay. Don’t try to write a book that will please everyone. Know your audience and write the best book you can for them.

1419618-unicorn2 Fantasy

romance-jan2 Romance

live-free-or-die-hard Live Free or Die Hard

Some other fun tidbits about the market:

  • Vampires have been done (no, really) so if you’re writing a vamp novel, you need a twist that makes your story unique.
  • Thrillers set in the Middle East are still selling.
  • The Holy Grail is the YA novel with a male protagonist. Everyone wants to find it but it’s notoriously hard to hook teen boys into reading, so the standards are quite high.
  • YA novels rarely involve the protagonist’s family. They’re mostly about the character forging her own identity.

Other tips for hooking a reader/agent? Please share!

Pacific Northwest Writers Association Conference: Survivor’s Report

I spent last weekend in Seattle at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference. A place where writers, agents, and editors come together in a gladiator-style fight to the death, and only the strongest writer, agent and editor survive. This trifecta then goes on to produce the greatest and best-selling story ever known to man and woman-kind.

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Given that this was my first experience with pitching my project to agents and editors, I expected something like the above. To my great relief and slight disappointment, it turns out that people who work in publishing are not half-clothed gladiators or hot ninjas. They’re people who love books and reading, and have devoted their lives to working with authors to create more books. Who knew?

I pitched to three agents and one editor, and all four requested that I send them pages. Which must mean I presented my idea in a clear and interesting way, and that I didn’t have coffee breath or the bottom of my skirt tucked into my underwear. So I’m super excited about that. I promise to keep you, my devoted fans, apprised of the situation as the rejection letters offers of representation come rolling in.

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Meeting other writers was also super fun. Winning an Amazon Kindle Paperwhite in a random drawing of Twitter users was amazing! Especially since I’m somewhat of a Twitter novice. Well, no more. I’ve learned that tweeting pays, and it pays in Kindles. So just try and keep me out of the Twitterverse from now on.

Were you at the PNWA conference? Did you also win a Kindle for tweeting? (Nope, that was just me! Thanks, PNWA!) What was it like for you?