Saturday, May 28, 2011


It's not always about the ideas.  You can have the most detailed ideas for your novel fresh in your mind, but without the ability to translate that onto the page, you don't actually have anything.  That's where inspiration enters the picture.  Everyone gets the will to do the work from different things.  I get it from reading other people's truly excellent writing.  To that end, I am filled with inspiration after reading the wonderful Divergent by Veronica Roth.  The characters were flawlessly constructed, the plot moved quickly, and most importantly, the story was fresh and exciting.  Reading this fantastic debut novel last night made me want to be a better writer and gave me the drive to start doing that immediately.  To see my review of Divergent and my other one sentence reviews, click on that page above.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Time to write

There are many days when I do not drive anywhere, yet when faced with the inability to do so, I suddenly feel like a prisoner and can think of a million places I need to be.  However, while my car is at the mechanic through tomorrow evening, I am going to use the opportunity to write, write, write (as opposed to staring out the window wishing I could go somewhere).  As promised, here is a photo of Boston with her copy of The Hunger Games.  She swears I did not over-recommend it.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Walk in the Woods

Today the dogs and I took a little hike in the woods near our house and the plot that I was unable to find while writing at home suddenly became clear.  All I needed was one thread of an idea- there's a traitor!- and the rest fell into place.  So, yay for Ben Q!  His story is starting to hit the page.  Here is a photo of Annie looking literary.  I'll try to find one of Boston for the next post.

Monday, May 23, 2011


I do not know which of these two events, both of which transpired in the past ten minutes, is worse: 1) Instead of drinking out of my Diet Coke can, which is resting next to me on the end table and is standing at the head of a line of empty Diet Coke cans from the past few hours, I drank from the Diet Coke can that my husband left right next to my computer even though I said to him, "You can't put your can on my tray table, this is my space."  Normally this would not be a big deal- we are married, we can certainly drink of out the same can.  However, not five minutes previously my husband had picked a part of our dog Annie's nail off (why? who knows) and PUT IT IN THAT DIET COKE CAN.  2) I made a really bad cake.  It is so dense it forces you to make that disgusting "ack ack" noise with your mouth (that noise makes me cringe).  I didn't really have all the ingredients to make any one dessert so I just mixed a lot of ingredients that go in some dessert together.  I am not a natural baker.  Anyway... those two awful things are just serving to distract me from an actual problem.  My plot is eluding me.  The plot I am referring to is the story arc for The Guardians of Ben Q. Flanders.  I have no idea what happens.  The characters are clear as day.  I know them.  They exist for me.  The plot on the other hand is living just beyond the grasp of my imagination.  The short story was easy because the plot was really the introductory event to the novel, which serves as exposition and character development.  Now, I need a REAL plot.  I have thought of and discarded about fourteen story arcs in the past two days.  Maybe Diet Coke number nine will hold the answer.  Or maybe I'll just watch t.v.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

One Sentence Reviews

I have added a new page featuring my reviews of Young Adult and Middle Grade Novels.  The twist is that I only have one sentence in which to laud or lambaste.  (Although since I tend to like pretty much everything I read, the lambasting will likely be infrequent.)  I am going to try to post a new review of a recently read book as close to every day as possible as well as fill in the archives with reviews of the books lining my bookshelves.  If you have a one sentence review you would like to contribute, post it in a comment and I'll add it as a guest review. 
**If you have been checking on this blog regularly please join as a follower below!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Access to Books for All

The New York Times website recently featured a piece on one of my favorite charities, First Book.  Those of you who know me will likely recognize the name as I have hyped this wonderful group before.  Getting books to children who do not have easy access to them is hugely important.  Books were an integral part of my childhood and I can still see the effects reading had on me - becoming a great reader made learning so much easier for me and helped me to not lose my mind in law school, it gave me the ability to use my (perhaps overactive) imagination, and most importantly it gave me a thirst for knowledge.  I wish the same for every child.  Please visit the First Book website and give if you have the ability.
I submitted a short story version of The Guardians of Ben Q. Flanders to the Writer's Digest Annual Competition today.  It is really more of an excerpt (maybe a first chapter) because I just could not get a complete story arc into 2,000 words, but I am happy with it.  It also helped to solidify that this work is supposed to be a full-length novel.  I am going to move forward with that project next and get moving on An Uncertain Destiny

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Beware the over-recommendation

The irony is that I am as guilty of this crime as anyone; I cannot even begin to count the number of people I badgered into reading The Hunger Games- but wasn't it worth it?  However, I suffer from the inability to experience things that are over-recommended (especially when it's my father doing the recommending- sorry dad!).  I am fine with over-played songs on the radio and can watch the same movie or read the same book time and time again but for some inexplicable reason I shy away from things that my loved ones tell me I will enjoy.  As a result I have never seen the film Slingblade or watched the t.v. shows Friday Night Lights or Mad Men.  A copy of The Help sits gathering dust on my dresser (one of two I have been gifted).  What is it that makes me this way?  I am not a contrarian, I have no problem liking things that everyone else likes too, and I have certainly shoved Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Clive Cussler's books, and Five Guys Burgers down enough throats.  It remains, as much of my quirks, a mystery, but one that I will attempt to overcome.  A sort of summer resolution. 
In writing news, I am revising my short story version of The Guardians of Ben Q. Flanders and am having a difficult time because I think it wants to be a novel.  I am trying to get it down really short (2,000 words) for a contest and maybe I'm forcing something that just isn't going to work.  Deadline is tomorrow so we'll see how tonight goes.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Why I love YA

After reading a recent post on the blog Love YA I really got started thinking about why I love to write and read Young Adult novels.  As should be obvious, I am no longer a young adult even by the most amazingly generous stretching of that definition.  But inside (and only in the best way) I am perpetually fourteen.  My husband is at peace with my love of Zac Efron and Harry Potter and Glee and the oeuvre of Step Up films.  But my heart is really in the literature.  I love the purity of emotion that only teenagers can experience, even if they are vampires or ghosts or live in a post-apocalyptic world. That emotion comes through the best in the written word. I probably read four times as much YA and Middle Grade as fiction written for adults.  With writing, you have the ability to be so much more free with your characters- often they don't think through their decisions or pause before they speak, they act rashly and blurt out whatever is on their minds.  It's more fun and more real.  Kids are funnier and more dramatic than we are.  It's the best.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Ready, Set, Wait!

My first five queries are out! Now comes the waiting.  The five agents I queried vary in their given response time and style.  Two will only respond if they are interested; the other three will send rejections.  The average response time goes from four weeks to twelve, so that is a long time of staring at my inbox and hitting refresh.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Technical Difficulties Update

My post from the 11th has been restored but not the comment to the post or the changes I had made to other page, which is a bummer.  That's the way it goes I guess. 
My second query went out on Friday to a really cool agent that was personally recommended by the talented Megan Kelley Hall (check out her terrific young adult books Sisters of Misery and The Lost Sister and her soon to be released anthology Dear Bully; you can also visit her blog).  Queries three, four, and five should go out tonight and then I am gearing up for a week of writing.  My husband is away on business all week and it is just me and the dogs and my imagination here at home.  I had missed a deadline for the Writer's Digest competition, but it was just extended to the end of this week so I hope to be able to submit The Guardians of Ben Q. Flanders if I can get it in good enough shape by then.  We'll see if I can tear myself away from the middle grade series The 39 Clues, which I have become obsessed with.  I went and checked out books four through ten from the public library on Friday and this morning I started reading them.  They are so much fun!  The librarians assume I have a child who is an incredibly fast reader as I am there stocking up on books every few days.  For some strange reason I have never corrected them.  I know the truth will come out soon and they will think I am insane.  C'est la vie!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Technical Difficulties

Blogger (which hosts this blog) experienced some difficulties over the past few days and so I was unable to post and now my most recent post on listening (and my nice comment from writer Anne Greenwood Brown) is missing.  I hope it will be restored sometime today.  It's a coincidence that this technology snafu should be happening now because I have been thinking about how much I rely on my computer while at the same time completely ignoring it in favor of a chaotic life of scrap paper.  I can't decide if I am a computer person or not. When I first started writing I did a lot of my first draft and some of the first revisions longhand.  I do not know why or when exactly I made the switch, but for the past few years I have written actual prose almost entirely on the computer but still done all my notes and research by hand.  As a result when I want to look at an early draft of An Unexpected Kingdom or Marian I can go right to my thumb drive and call it up, but if I want to remember why I changed something I have to sort through piles and piles of notecards, napkins, folded notebook pages, bits of paper, and about six different journals.  If there is a less efficient system, I cannot fathom it.  I am trying to organize all of those notes so that I can make sure to have them easily accessible as I start to write the An Uncertain Destiny, the second book in Ava's story.
In real time news, I am just about ready to send out the other four of my first five queries. Due to a busy weekend, my goal is to get them out by Sunday evening.  Exciting!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

I am totally listening

It's rude and inexcusable and I absolutely hate it when someone does it to me, but I can't help it.  I sometimes find my mind drifting off during conversation; I should be listening to a story about a friend's hilarious canoe trip to Montreal with her dad (not a real story) but instead I am thinking about how the girl ordering a coffee looks like she has been crying and the way she is worrying her scarf with her left hand makes me think that she has just called off an engagement - maybe because she found out some secret about her beloved (something magnificently horrible!) - and is throwing furtive glances over her shoulder like she is on the run from someone.  My brain goes into character mode and in seconds that girl has a backstory.  Luckily my memory seems to be able to function without my active participation and even though I am tuned out, I still catch enough of the story to not endanger my friendship.
In other news, I have sent out my first query for An Unexpected Kingdom!  I created a handy Excel spreadsheet that I have dubbed my Query Tracker in case this process gets unwieldy.  The agent I emailed tonight (let's call him Agent 1) is with an agency that I have followed for a while and he just moved there last year after a dozen years as an editor.  I also submitted my short short, Last Ride, to a contest at American Short Fiction magazine.  Fingers and toes crossed.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Writing Begets Writing

I used to think that if I wrote on a blog or a website that it would be taking time away from my "actual " writing, but actually the opposite is true.  The more often I do any type of creative writing, the more I write in general.  I've heard it's the same with exercise... [crickets]. Anyway I am really enjoying creating the personality of Ben Q. Flanders as I write his story (or rather, the story he happens to be in; as Ben will tell you nothing actually ever happens to him).  I need to do some research for the plot so thus far I have mostly been writing about Ben's life from his point of view.  The story is written in the first person, which is new for me- An Unexpected Kingdom is in the third person although the story is told from Ava's point of view.  A lot of what I am writing now will very likely be cut out of the short story, maybe some will be kept in if I end up writing a full-length story, but I like the exercise anyway. 
Happy Mother's Day to all the mommies out there!

Friday, May 6, 2011


When I say I am a writer, I am often asked where I get the ideas for what I write. As with most writers (I think) my ideas come from everywhere. Most of mine come when I'm not trying- when I'm in bed or walking the dogs.  I got my idea for An Unexpected Kingdom after spending a weekend with my then 14 year old cousin Annie.  Like Ava, she lives in a nice New Jersey suburb, and as I was driving back to Boston I starting thinking about how she would react if she found out she was really a princess and not a Dolan at all.  From that silly thought came the whole outline of Ava's story.  I started writing when I got home.  The idea for The Guardians of Ben Q. Flanders came while I was walking my dogs after re-reading the entire Percy Jackson & The Olympians series last week.  I thought what if some poor kid who loved these kinds of stories ends up in the middle of one, but without any of the cool stuff happening to him- he doesn't get any powers or find out he is a wizard or a demigod or part of a secret society.  For me it is about the characters.  The protagonist usually forms in my mind immediately and then the story sort of falls in around him or her.  That part I think is different for everyone. Stephenie Meyer has often recounted that Twilight came out of a dream she had (which was of the scene of Bella and Edward in the meadow) and J.K. Rowling saw a building that she thought looked like it could be a school for wizards, which worked out pretty well for her in the end. 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Waiting Game

The hardest part about querying agents (or submitting to publishers directly) is waiting for the response.  When I had first written An Unexpected Kingdom I sent off my first query to Stephenie Meyer's agent (as did everyone who wrote a young adult novel in the two years after Twilight was released, I'm sure).  I was so sure that she would drop everything when she read my dazzling query and call me directly that I would hyperventilate whenever an unknown number showed up on my caller i.d..  Of course, she passed on my novel as did the other six carefully selected agents I queried over the next year (March 2008- March 2009).  Two sent form rejections through the regular mail, the others sent emails (actually one I never heard back from as he only sends a reply if he is interested).  The letters were actually an unintended cruelty because it was so tangible to hold a letter from my dream agent in my hand and think that it could be a "yes".  Email is easier; the band-aid is ripped off more quickly.  Now that I know those early queries were terrible (cringe-worthy to read now) and that my writing was not ready it is easier to think about that whole process, but now I am about to enter it again.  I called Grub Street today as I had not heard from them about what is happening with my agent meeting (was supposed to see an agent on Sunday as part of the Manuscript Mart at their conference but he was not available to see me) but I did not get a return call.  I hope to hear from them tomorrow.  I am waiting to move forward on my query process until I get the first-hand feedback from this agent.  Hopefully soon!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Muse & The Marketplace

This past weekend I was at Grub Street's ( annual writers conference Muse & The Marketplace.  It was my first trip to this event and I found it more than worth the price of admission.  My favorite sessions included The Essentials of Structure with James Scott (he was so funny and engaging and made me see the importance of bringing all my stories back to Star Wars- believe me it makes sense in context), Writing Funny For Young Readers with Ben H. Winters (I randomly read his new book on Saturday night and then got to meet him on Sunday morning, this session was so relevant to my work and Ben's advice- Don't try too hard- was on point as I am often guilty of just that), and a book publicity overview from my friends at Kelley & Hall Book Publicity ( I also submitted my first ever piece for consideration to a literary magazine, and it was a verbal submission!  The Drum is an online audio journal and I read my short short (a really short story) "Last Ride" into a cool big microphone and it was recorded.  If I am selected to appear in The Drum it will be my first "publication"!  There were a few disappointments at Muse: 1) The biggest was that the agent I was slated to meet with on Sunday morning was a no-show, which was a huge bummer as I was so excited to get feedback on my query letter, synopsis, and first 20 pages of An Unexpected Kingdom. Hopefully Grub Street will contact me soon to let me know about a make-up session. 2) I really didn't like lunch either day- the second lunch had melon with mint as a dessert.  That is not a dessert.