Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Query Checklist

Graphic from College Hills
Let's skip the "queries are hell" preamble, shall we?

Excellent. Another fact: Assessing queries is a hellish task. This past month I judged a query contest with about 50 entries. This would've been impossible without some sort of objective standard. I put together a checklist -- by no means exhaustive -- that helped me decide.

It might be useful to focus on certain aspects of a query, rather than trying to assess its overall effectiveness.

  Categories to consider:
1. Muscular prose (tightness on the sentence level)
2. Overall flow
3. Clear MC throughout
4. Clear stakes
5. Logic of plot points as revealed through query
6. Voice and voice consistency
7. Compelling plot
8. Professional bio/closing
9. Info-dump (cut extraneous facts)
10. Length (adhering to the 250 ideal / 300 max standard)
More on queries?
Try the Shark or Agent Query 


By the way, I'm entering FLEFF's Checkpoints Story Contest this month with a 500-word flash piece called "Checkpoints on an Evening in the City." Fingers are crossed!

Monday, July 25, 2011

~ GUTGAA Blogfest ~
First Two Hundred Word Contest

A huge congratulations to the winners of the 200 Word Blogfest Contest!!

AN Villasante's Bookend won a 10 page critique from YA author Monica BW. A very worthy win!

C. Lind a.k.a. LINDY's Bound won a query & 30 page critique from literary agent Kathleen Rushall! Congratulations!


Lisa Chickos's The Mermaid Gene had such a shining opening, Ms. Rushall requested her contact info to ask for pages. Woo-hoo!

Thanks, Deana, for a romp of a month.

I'm excited to participate in a First 200 Words Contest for writers of Kid Lit with complete WIPs. Agent Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency and agent-repped writer Monica BW will be judging this contest.

Deana's blogfest has been seriously mind-blowing for this writer recluse. I'm sending her (probably excessive) virtual hugs right now for welcoming me into a terrific writing community. You guys are amazingly supportive and I can't imagine that I wrote for such a long time without you!

~Fellow Blogfesters: Thanks, guys, for all your super-insightful comments throughout this month, and for your unending encouragement.

Last week, I didn't post my query for this book, as I felt it would be bad form, being the judge. This week, I'm thrilled to hear your thoughts on DARK METTLE.

Photo by OPTUS Electrical

YA Urban Fantasy
by Lora Rivera

First 200 Words:

Ava flattened her body against a wall, peering sideways into the vaulted living room beyond. It was gray and desolate, just like all the other rooms -- empty but for the shift of air and streak of chalky dust slowly resettling over the concrete floor.

A snake of ash-brown hair had come loose from her braid. It tickled the back of her neck and she fought the urge to scratch. Soon now. Melissa Carter was doing far better than Ava had expected or even hoped. True, she didn't think her foster sister would need ninja stealth skills as a rule. But just in case . . . Just in case Ava wasn’t there someday . . .

You can do this, Mel. She held her breath and heard nothing but a dull wind gust against loose shingles. Her muscles tightened. Then she slinked like a shadow through the stale gloom.

With roof and walls but no electricity, the abandoned house was dark even at late afternoon. She slowed near one of the far windows that was only partially boarded up by plywood. Here. Treacherously, her fingers leapt for the switchblade she usually kept in her back pocket.


Okay, y'all, have at! : ) And thank you thank you thank you for all your help.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Blogfest Week 3: Queries

For all of you fellow blogfesters bravely posting your queries on your blogs this week, here's a round of applause. Writing queries is hard work--boiling your 300-pg book down to its essence and then making that essence coherent and interesting. Yeesh. It's essential work, though, and were I at the querying stage with any of my current projects, I'd be tempted to join you. Though that would be a rather glaring faux pas.
Img from Query Shark

In any case, I read the Shark back to front yesterday, before and after watching the Women's World Cup Final (nail biting!), and I've put a few interesting tips together from that source. Tips that might not be immediately obvious. And some obvious ones I don't mind rehashing.

1. RESEARCH YOUR AGENT. Find out if the agent you're querying likes personal greetings: "I read on your blog that..." Some of them hate this and want to get straight to the pitch. Do they like extra bio info: "Having worked ten years as a veterinarian, I have experience ...." Or, "I'm a member of RWA and SFWA, and part of weekly critique group"? Some of them don't give a damn about this stuff and are mainly looking to see, in this graph, if you're published.

2. IF YOU'RE PUBLISHED, list the book's title, pub house, and year. If you're self-published, don't list that you're published. Period. Well, unless you're Amanda Hocking.

3. PLAY IT SAFE. Unless you are 100% sure your non-standard query is going to kick ass with your targeted agent, play it safe. Set up your standard greeting, hook paragraph, bio, and closing.

4. DUN-DUN-DUN. This sound is for the back of your book or your movie trailer or the shrewd class clown of your critique group who realized you like to end chapters with the word Unless. . . . Agents are more interested in knowing what your book's about than in feeling swept away by a query's dun-dun-dun. Honestly, there's not enough room for that.

5. THE HOOK is what's interesting and special about your book and what makes readers want to read more. Don't leave your hook until the closing line. If you're flooding your query with back story and set up, your hook will get lost.

6. CONTACT INFO goes below your name. Always.

7. SEND PAGES. Unless the agent says DO NOT very clearly.

8. TONE. Make sure the tone of your query and book match. A dystopia query isn't going to sound like a chick lit query. The voice will be different.

9. WHERE TO START. You don't have to start your query where the book starts.

10. VOICE. At a loss? Try writing your query from your protagonist's voice in 1st person. Switch back to standard 3rd present tense before finalizing, of course, but this exercise might give you some ideas.

Anybody else have some tips to offer? So much is left to agent preference, it's crucial to be as educated as we can!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Story Chain!

Deana Barnhart's Blogfest is alive and kicking!

For Week 2, a gang of fellow writers are conswirling our creative consciousnesses in a blog-o-sphere story chain. How fun!

My assignment: "This is the crisis point. So give it to us!" I have to use the words cliff, shout, and tooth pick somewhere in my piece of the chain.

Here's my contribution for Week 2:

 Story Chain

Find out what went before: by Rachel Dillon

"Trapped?" gaped Dio. "What do you mean? And seriously, how do you speak dead?"

Roddern looked at her sadly but only said, "The Front Guard fae should be arriving soon. Don't speak too--"

The blue ghost of her father stiffened. It was odd to see, like a cloud coalescing into a solid. Then the ghost disappeared.

In his place were two dark-clad elves, warriors with stern faces and yellow eyes. The torchlight flickered, illuminating their pupils: a shocking green, like the color of Dio's pendant.

"We seek the High Council for audience," said Roddern immediately as they gazed at him. The laughter had gone from his voice, and Dio felt her breath catch in her throat. If he could speak to the ghost of her father, was it because he, too, was...? She couldn't finish the thought.

The taller elf, whose hand smoothly played with the fletching of an arrow, gave a sly smile and glanced at Dio. "They heard she was arriving," he said in a voice soft as moonlight on the flat surface of a polished stone. "They know what she wants."

Roddern shook is head in warning, but too late. Dio pushed forward. What did she want? A new name, her purple book, vengeance against Tony and Sandy for tricking her--"My parents," she said, knowing that it was her true and single wish. She heard Roddern hiss angrily, even as the sly smile pulled into a full, mirthless grin on the elf's strong, handsome face. A row of gleaming teeth appeared in his mouth, sharp as tooth picks. "Where are they?" Dio demanded, hating that smile, clutching the pendant under her t-shirt. "You know where they are!"

Something was happening to the trees. They shimmered first, as if made of water or moonlight, then vanished altogether. The grounded rumbled, trembling, crackling, splintering beneath her feet.

Dio gave a shout and leapt back as a tree root shot upward like a dagger just where she'd been standing. She grabbed Roddern's arm, yanking him with her as she concentrated on lifting off the ground, flying once more.

And a good thing she did: her feet now hovered inches over the mouth of a deep chasm. Where the two Front Guard fae had been standing, there was now only a ragged cliff, bald and sad-looking in the broken darkness.

Find out what's happening next: by An Alleged Author

Sunday, July 10, 2011

When inspiration hits...

I'm out walking and the sky has a molting look about it, hanging between rain and sunset, giving off amber and scarlet feathers here, swirling with little cakes of bluish cloud there. I'm counting nesting birds (6) and chattering ground squirrels (3) and trying rather unsuccessfully to get my protagonist to tell me what exactly he's planning to do next.

ABC 1966 TV Shows
I'm just making the turnaround when WHAM! I'm struck in the back with what feels like a rock and a half second later, my whole right side is dripping in something wet and cold. I can't even manage to curse, and I merely make a kind of "Auargh" noise. My spine, where the thing hit me, is smarting like mad. Laughter roars past, and I see the truck blaring away, its bed full of people -- kids or adults, I can't tell -- among them the sniper who caught me off guard for shits and giggles.

First, I'm stunned, then angry, then (rationalizing and trying to act the bigger person) sorry for the stupid drunkards or gang members or whoever. To get your jollies beaming water bottles at walkers! Then, surprisingly, I want to cry. Just for a moment. Because it feels bad to be targeted like this, the bruise already swelling notwithstanding.

And suddenly I know that my protagonist, who's been singled out all his life because he's genetically different, must feel it a hundred times worse. When he's pegged with sanitizing spray bottles and sticky adhesives that ruin his clothes. When he runs across ALL GRUBS DIE carved into the wall... Oh, poor Jaffrey, I think, horrified. I begin the walk home, steeling myself in case the truck made a U-ey and is on its way back. My WIP? I know exactly what's happening next.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Woo-hoo! Blogfest Begins



Week 1: "I just had to ask..."
     My question is about process. I know we all have different processes, but I've heard most people go with "Write Every Day" (at the same time every day, for some). Anybody out there like me? I try to write as much as possible, which can be a little every day, a lot every two days, loads once a week.... But when I force myself to write every day, I usually end up doing massive deletes.
    So... a) what's your writing process, and b) does writing work for you when forced?

 Happy 4th to those of you nomzing hot dogs and hamburgers
and exploding sparkly things!

Img from Ask Maldives
In writer news, if you haven't heard about Deana Barnhart's Blogfest, you should definitely head over. Think a bunch of writer/bloggers joining hands to give each other the tools for success.

Week one is "I just had to ask!" We'll be collecting any 'ole crazy questions we have about writing and the business of writing, posting them on our blogs, and hopefully rocketing around to other signed-up blogs to answer questions.

So, anybody with a burning question? Join in the fun!
I signed up today. It's not too late for you! :)