Reading you under the table since 2012

Thank You for Being a (Writing) Friend

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by

Janice Hardy

Janice Hardy RGB 72Writing is a solitary endeavor, but that doesn’t mean we do it all alone. We have writers’ groups, beta readers, crit partners, and online friends to help motivate and support us. And since it’s the time of year to be thankful for things, now’s a good day to let those folks know how much you value them.

Give hugs to all your writer pals, especially the ones who have stood by you through rejection after rejection, bad reviews, or terrifying bouts of writer’s block. Celebrate their successes and remind each other of the victories you’ve had along the way.

Tell your critique partners why you find their feedback so helpful and how much it aids you in making your stories the best they can be. Be specific about their strengths and what unique view they bring that no one else can. Make sure they know their value, both to you, and as a critiquer.

Let your beta readers know their insights and observations are always just what you need to fix the problems in your manuscript. If they’re not writers, they might feel they have little to offer, and knowing that a reader’s opinion can be even more valuable than another writer’s can make them feel appreciated and confident.

Thank your online bloggers for their advice and generosity, as most of them blog because they love it and enjoy helping their fellow writers. Let them know they’re appreciated and how their words have helped you (and how many of their posts you might have saved or bookmarked).

Show a little love to your commenters. Let them know that they brighten your day with their questions and comments, and that you look forward to those daily (or weekly) discussions.

And last, but not least, give thanks for those in your life who don’t understand this whole writing thing but stick by you anyway, give you time to write when you need it, don’t mind when you drop everything to scribble down a plot idea or a great piece of dialog, who don’t even roll their eyes anymore when you rip apart a bad plot on TV.

It’s easy to get caught up in our work and our lives, so sit back, take a look around and see all the wonderful people you have by your side.

Thank you all.

Who are you thankful for?

Janice Hardy is the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now. She lives in Georgia with her husband, one yard zombie, three cats, and a very nervous freshwater eel. Find out more about writing at her site, Fiction University, or find her on Twitter @Janice_Hardy.

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Posted in Pay it Forward, Writing Life | 6 Comments

The Editorial “Call”

Industry Life

by

Jordan Hamessley London

Jordan Hamessley LondonMany authors and agents have written about their experiences with “the call.” That moment when the working relationship truly begins and the author and agent have their first chance to truly get to know each other and figure out if they would make a good team. These stories are always fun to read because there is excitement on both ends. The author starts to feel one step closer to publishing their work and the agent gets a chance to share their love and ideas for the project.

As an editor who receives the 99% of my submissions through agents, I rarely have the opportunity to make a call and say “I want to publish your book!” Nowadays, that call goes to the agent, who then calls the author to say “Jordan wants to publish you book!”

That said, there are times when an editor will speak with an author prior to making an offer or before a deal is closed. I break them down into two kinds of calls.

  1. The Editorial Audition Call: If a book has interest from multiple editors, many times an agent will set up calls between the author and all of the interested editors for the author to have an opportunity to get to know the editor and hear any editorial comments they have on the submission. As a former actor, this is the one moment in my editorial career when I still feel like I’m in the audition room. I’m putting myself out there and basically saying “Pick me! I love your book and here’s why!” I give the author a sense of my editorial process and let them know what I love about the book and how I think we can work together to make it even stronger. If they’ve been published before we’ll talk about how they work (Do they like outlining or are they a pantser? Do they like to get an edit letter, have a talk, and then disappear into edits or do they like to check-in while revising?). I also take the opportunity to get to know them and their contacts. If the author is a librarian with tons of contacts or a previously published author who has had great success with certain indies/conferences that information is always handy to me as I go to my team to discuss the offer. In the end, this phone call gives the author a chance to hear from everyone interested so that they know as much as they can before choosing which editor’s offer they’d like to accept.
  2. The Revise & Resubmit Call: This call is pretty self-explanatory. There are times when I read a submission and think it is great, but after discussing with my editorial team we feel it needs a good deal of work before we can commit. When that happens, I typically call the agent and give them a quick run down of my editorial thoughts and say “If author X is interested in revising, please let me know and I can get on the phone and detail my thoughts.” Depending on where the book is at in the submission process with other editors, sometimes the agent says “Sure, let’s set up a time to talk ASAP” or they wait until they’ve heard back from more editors. When I do actually get a chance to talk to the author, the content of the call is actually very similar to the Editorial Audition Call. I’m still very passionate about the project and believe in it or I would have just passed in the first place. Many times the R&R calls are with debut authors and this step gives me a chance to see how they respond to critique and how they revise. It also lets me get a sense of how we would work together on the book. After the call, I’m always excited to see how the author does with the revision.

These editorial calls don’t happen with every book I offer on, but they are a helpful part of the acquisitions process on both sides of the table.

Jordan Hamessley London is an Editor at Egmont USA, where she edits middle grade and YA. Her current titles include Isla J. Bick’s new series, The Dark Passages (#1 White Space), Bree DeSpain’s new series Into the Dark (#1 The Shadow Prince), and more. Prior to Egmont, Jordan worked at Grosset and Dunlap, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers where she edited Adam-Troy Castro’s middle grade horror series Gustav Gloom, Ben H. Winters and Adam F. Watkin’s book of horror poetry Literally Disturbed, Michelle Schusterman’s I Heart Band series, Adam F. Watkins’s alphabet picture book R is for Robot and more. When not editing, Jordan can be found on twitter talking about books, scary movies, and musical theater.

Posted in Industry Life | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Interview with Catherine Scully: Map Design

Industry Life

Kat Zhang with Catherine Scully

Hey guys! I’m here today with the awesome Catherine Scully, who designed the gorgeous map for Claire Legrand’s  WINTERSPELL. Let’s see what she has to say about map-making :)

Scully_headshot

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has always loved not only drawing maps, but staring at the maps in fantasy books, following the heroes along on their journey. How did you first get into map-making? Is Claire’s map the first one you created, or have you been creating maps for your own stories?
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The first time I really wanted to do a map was when I read the Hobbit as a kid. I wanted to follow Bilbo along his journey and visit the elves, face the dragon, and return home to the Shire. I used to come up with these stories when I would build these Lego cities, draw a map of what I built and where it went, and then write the entire storyline I made up that day. I should have realized then I wanted to be an author/illustrator! I remember even drawing a map of my favorite stretch of woods with land markers. I was always into fantasy and very much still am, even though I’m more known in the community for horror. The first book I ever wrote was this epic fantasy with world maps and comic panels. I plan on returning to it when I finish working on my current MG horror.
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Claire’s map was the first I created for publication then, which was an interesting challenge since I needed to have something to show in my portfolio in the way of world maps in order to get the job at all. I ended up drawing it and finishing it on the hope it would go over well. Needless to say, this story had a very happy ending! Yes, that was nerve-wracking. But after five years working my way up from a graphic designer to a brand manager, I had a pretty tough skin. I knew I could take any criticism thrown at me really well because I’m much more interested in the process of collaborating on a project than an artistic ego.
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Can you summarize what was the process like? 
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Claire actually first approached me to do collectible cards for four of her WINTERSPELL characters after she saw the work I did for Stefan Bachmann’s bookmarks for his THE WHAT NOT book tour. She ended up loving them so much, she asked if I would be interested in doing a world map as well. After all four characters were finalized, we got started on the map next. Claire had a really clear idea of what she wanted for the map and border, so she sent me a preliminary sketch just to give me an idea of where to place elements. This was immensely helpful! Not to say you can’t start from scratch, but since we were on a tight deadline, a lot of the map back and forth was wonderful and easy because she really knew what she wanted and my job was to make that come alive.
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In my first sketch, the map was tightly drawn, with the border elements close to the island. I went ahead and sketched portions on a piece of bristol board and sent them to Claire before I inked. As we went along, we researched a lot of maps. We looked at the Westeros map, the Grisha map, and a dozen others. I sent sketches and would ink them once they were approved. I work by hand first and ink with Micron pens before my illustrations ever see photoshop. When the ink was ready and Claire was happy, I painted it in Photoshop and we sent it off to her publisher. We went through some back and forth before print, mostly trying to extend the border to not crowd the island and balance it out well. I ended up loving the final draft even more and couldn’t be happier with what went to print! It was seriously a dream to get to collaborate with their publishing department.
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Maps often seem stylized base on the genre of the book, or the type of world described in the story. Did you draw on any particular style to create Claire’s map? 
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Final
For Claire’s map, I mentioned looking at Westeros and especially the Grisha map, but I had another source of inspiration that I brought to the table for WINTERSPELL. My sister is a ballerina and has performed in the Nutcracker since she was four. As my sister is now nineteen, that means I’ve seen almost two decades worth of performances every year. I’m a huge fan. I’m also the sort of person that likes to read the book, or at least the synopsis and a few chapters, before I start on any piece I illustrate for an author. This is so I can really hear the voice of the characters, the world, and place “Easter eggs” or clues to the story. So, before I even started on the character cards much less the map, I got to read an advanced copy and really see the world and characters before I drew them. I also personally really drew inspiration from the Hobbit and surprisingly the end credits to the Secret of Nimh movie, which really influenced how I ended up spacing out the elements towards the final version.
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Now that you’ve had a map published (congrats!), what do you see yourself doing next?  What would be your dream project?
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Right now, I’m commissioned to do another world map for a friend and a publisher is working with me on starting to illustrate some covers for their middle grade books. Honestly, I’d love to work with more authors on more amazing things! Bookmarks, character cards, world maps, book covers, illustrated web sites, you name it, I’d probably want to work with you on it. One dream project I have is to work on chapter headings for a YA or MG book (regardless of genre) or even a short story collection. Please drop me a line if you’ve got a project in mind! I’d love to hear from you and make something beautiful for your book or author platform together.
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Thanks for chatting with us today, Catherine!
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Do you guys have any more questions about illustrating, or map design?

Catherine Scully is a writer, illustrator, and graphic designer with her work featured in magazines, anthologies, and in Simon and Schuster’s Young Adult book Winterspell by Claire Legrand. Catherine is represented for Young Adult and Middle Grade fiction by Carrie Howland of Donadio and Olson and is currently working on a horror series for Middle Grade. 

As the Young Adult Editor for the Horror Writer Association, she runs a blog at yahorror.com called “Scary Out There: What is Horror in Young Adult Fiction?” with multiple Bram Stoker Award-winning author Jonathan Maberry, which was featured on CNN.com in an interview with R.L. Stine. She’s also a member of the YA Scream Queens, a group of nine women who write horror for kids and teens. 

When she’s not writing and illustrating, Catherine can usually be found practicing on her drums.

You can follow her on twitter @CatMScully or check out her art at cscullyillustrate.tumblr.com

Kat Zhang loves traveling to places both real and fictional–the former allows for better souvenirs, but the latter allows for dragons, so it’s a tough pick. Her novel WHAT’S LEFT OF ME is about a girl struggling to survive in an alternate universe where people are born with two souls, and one is doomed to disappear. It is the first book in a trilogy and was published by HarperCollins in September of 2012.  Book 2, ONCE WE WERE, released September 2013, and Book 3, ECHOES OF US, came out September 16, 2014. You can learn all about Kat at her site, or listen to her ramblings on twitter.

Posted in Industry Life | Tagged | Leave a comment

Generating New Ideas

by Julie Eshbaugh

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Julie

Where do your ideas come from? This can be a difficult question to answer, since usually, an idea seems to come out of nowhere. One day you’re driving in your car or washing dishes and an idea starts to glow in your mind like the sun coming up, or maybe it glares down on you all at once, as if dark clouds were suddenly blown away and there it is – hot and bright and obvious.

Since ideas seem to come unbidden, it might seem that we writers have no control over our ideas. They come on their own, after all, not when we call to them (no matter how nicely we call…) but when we least expect them. But I would argue that these seemingly random ideas are actually the product of a subconscious mind that has been “trained” to be searching for them at all times.

Maybe this sounds very mystical or pseudo-psychological (because, well, maybe it is…) but if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to share four suggestions to prime your mind to subconsciously formulate story ideas:

Always ask “what if?” You may have heard never to open a query letter with a hypothetical question, but that shouldn’t mean that hypotheticals are useless to writers. Most of us think this way already. If it rains for three days straight, we say, “Imagine if this were snow!” If it starts to storm, we say, “Imagine if you were catching a flight on a day like today!”

Since most of us already think this way, I’m simply suggesting you take your questions a bit further. You may ask yourself, “What if it never stopped raining ever again?” or “What if all this rain were acid and it destroyed everything it touched?” You may think of the flight taking off in a storm and ask, “What if two long separated lovers were seated next to each other in a jet taking off in dangerous weather?” or “What if lightning hit an engine just as a hijacker was storming the cockpit?” Just pushing your “what ifs” a bit further will jump start your imagination.

Never accept that there is only one solution to a problem. If you have to pick up Mary from cheerleading and Rebecca from field hockey, and they are ten minutes apart and you have only five minutes to make the trip, you can probably figure out at least one solution. Maybe Mary catches a ride with another family. There’s a solution, so the problem is solved. But as writers, shouldn’t we train ourselves to come up with a few extra solutions? Rebecca could walk to the local library and wait there. Mary could ride her bike to practice so that you only need to worry about Rebecca. Writing is all about obstacles and overcoming them, so train your mind to look for more solutions than you’ll ever need.

Ask questions like a child. I remember when my son was small he would ask questions all the time. “How does an antenna work?” “Why do fluorescent lights make my skin look blue?” “How does the TV find the right show when you change the channel?” I’m embarrassed to admit how many times I had to answer, “Go ask Dad.” Shouldn’t a grown woman know how an antenna works? And if she doesn’t, shouldn’t she be anxious to find out the answer? Unfortunately, as we get older, we let the day-to-day questions – “How am I ever going to pay the cell phone bill?” – crowd out the questions that lead to much more creative thinking.

Read widely. While it’s important to read in the genre you write, I personally believe writers should read all kinds of fiction, as well as magazine articles, current events, travel stories, and even science journals. A few years ago, when the Chilean miners were trapped, I developed a voracious interest in Chile, and tried to read as much as I could about a country I’d rarely thought about before. Not long after that, a photo on a magazine cover spawned a frenzy of research into Machu Picchu. To date, I’ve never used anything I learned about Chile or Machu Picchu in any of my fiction, but it has helped train my mind to imagine different environments, and the lives of the people who live there.

Do you have unique methods for generating ideas? Do you already practice any of these habits? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

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Julie Eshbaugh writes fiction for young adults. She is the author of the upcoming Ivory & Bone (HarperCollins, 2016.) You can add Julie on Goodreads and follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.

Posted in Beginner Resources, Writing Life | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Bridging the Gap between Science and Fiction

Writing Life

 

by Amy K. Nichols

Now That You're HereAmie says: Some months back, I was lucky enough to get my hands on a copy of Now That You’re Here, Amy K. Nichols’s debut novel. I loved it. I mean, I LOVED it. So much, that this is the blurb I gave it:

“The perfect blend of sci-fi and swoons, Now That You’re Here is like no other book I’ve read. Riveting, romantic and utterly original, it kept me up late!”

And in a starred review, here’s what Publisher’s Weekly said:

“These geeks own their intelligence like a badge of honor, using science to help a friend and explore strange new worlds.”

If you want a fantastic holiday gift for yourself (you deserve it!) or the science-fiction lover in your life, pre-order yourself a copy — it’s out on December 9th!

I loved the science in Now That You’re Here so much that I asked Amy to tell us how she approached the task of incorporating it into her story. Here’s what she had to say!

Amy NicholsGrowing up, I wasn’t a very enthusiastic science student. Perhaps it was a lack of awareness of science’s relevance to my self-absorbed teenage existence, but the last science class I remember actually enjoying was in seventh grade when we dissected frogs, learned about the hazards of smoking, and my teacher told us how hot dogs were made. (I haven’t eaten one since.) So I find it somewhat ironic that I’m now a science fiction author.

Somewhere in my college years, I discovered how cool science is, going so far as to consider a career in medicine and reading science books for fun. (I can just imagine my seventh-grade self raising an eyebrow at me.)

Then came the Large Hadron Collider.

Around 2007 I started hearing about this ginormous apparatus deep beneath the Swiss Alps that would answer all the questions of the universe…or create a black hole and swallow up the earth.

Black hole? Well that caught my attention. Even though I hadn’t shown much interest in science classes, I grew up loving science fiction stories, especially those involving portals to other worlds. One of my favorites was H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. So I started reading books about black holes, string theory, multiverses. A couple that stood out were Lisa Randall’s Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions, and Michiu Kaku’s Physics of the Impossible. I can’t say I understood all of it, but it definitely made an impression on me.

By the time CERN flipped the on switch for the LHC (which, thankfully, didn’t destroy the world), I’d already decided to give this writing thing a go, and was actively working to improve my craft. I’d even written a novel (that is really bad it should be burned with fire). I’d also started writing a story about a boy who suddenly finds himself in a body that’s his own but isn’t, in a world that’s his own but isn’t. Somehow, he’d jumped to a parallel universe.

Somehow. That’s the fiction side of science fiction.

In the early drafts of Now That You’re Here, Danny’s jump just happened, more like magic than science. I included just enough science to make it clear he’d jumped without getting into the specifics of how. I mean, this was science fiction, right?

Then my agent sold the book to Knopf, and I started working with my editor, the brilliant Katherine Harrison. From the start, she honed in on the science. How exactly did Danny jump? What is the science holding up the fiction?

So I began researching, trying to form a theory for this scientifically impossible connection between Danny’s parallel worlds.

Now, this is where it gets a bit tricky. If I go into a lot of detail about the actual theory, it’ll spoil the book. So I’m going to try to do this without giving away any spoilers.

Somewhere in my research, I read How to Build a Time Machine by Paul Davies, and attended a talk he gave at Phoenix Comicon. It was fascinating, reading and hearing about the mechanics of time travel. But I wasn’t writing time travel. I was writing parallel universe travel, which is an entirely different animal.

Or is it? I continued researching and tinkering, writing ideas into my revisions. My editor liked the direction I was going, but asked for more grounding. At one point she said, “I showed your book to my friend who is a physicist,” and I thought, Nooooooo. It’s fiction, not actual science! She encouraged me to write a book where readers couldn’t easily poke holes through the science, which is such a great goal. But how do you make the implausible plausible?

Research.

I kept googling and searching, reading scientific studies to support my fictional account of a boy landing in a body and world that isn’t his. I wish I could show you the list of websites in my browser’s bookmarks. It’s long. Really long.

As I worked through my revisions, I created a construct for the impossible elements of the book, all of which are based on actual scientific principle and tested theory. When I stepped back and looked at it, my geeky little heart went pitter-pat.

Then came book two.

See, we’d sold Now That You’re Here as a two-part series, where the books mirror each other. Same characters, but two different stories in two parallel worlds. Pretty cool, right? But…science.

Suddenly the science of the second book had to work with the science of the first book. Since I was telling a different story in a different world, it couldn’t be the same science, either. It had to be something similar, but different.

So I went back to work. More research. More reading. More theorizing. More imagining.

More fun.

By this time I was geeking out. I not only fell in love with science, I fell in love again with science fiction. All those stories I’d loved as a kid felt so…possible. A time machine? Sure. Flux capacitor? Okay. Wardrobe leading to a winter-cursed land? Why not?

And then it happened. I found the Holy Grail I’d been searching for. I was reading an article about Nikola Tesla and scalar wave function, and everything clicked. All the bits of info I’d been collecting suddenly fit together to create one cohesive system involving both worlds, and there in between stood my character, Danny. I revised Now That You’re Here again, and this time, I got the science right. (Or at least my editor said so.)

Is it still science fiction? Yes. Is there still a gap between the scientific and fictional elements of the story? Of course. Fiction always requires some degree of suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader. But hopefully, thanks to research and my mindful and diligent editor, it’s more a step over a crack than a leap over a chasm. And maybe, just maybe, somewhere my seventh grade self is smiling.

Amy has been crafting stories for as long as she can remember. She earned a Master’s in literature and worked for years as a web designer, though, before realizing what she really wanted to be was an author. Her first novel, YA sci-fi thriller Now That You’re Here, will be published by Knopf Books for Young Readers on December 9, 2014. The follow-up, While You Were Gone, will be published in 2015. She is mentored by award-winning crime novelist James Sallis. You can find Amy on FacebookTwitterPinterest and Tumblr.

Posted in Writing Life | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments
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