Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Day of Giving Thanks

I realize that Thanksgiving isn't until tomorrow, but at some point I started posting every Monday and Wednesday, and I might as well just go with it. Besides, I think it's important to stop and reflect on the good things in life more than just once a year. Give recognition and thanks whenever you can.

The past year has been absolutely amazing for me. I've written two complete novels, watched my sister get married to someone who is absolutely perfect for her, traveled to two foreign-ish countries (does Canada still count for me?), spent a week just enjoying life with my friends, signed with an amazing agent, adopted the most lovable, weirdest cats I've ever met, and bought a house (Almost. We're so close).

Sometimes, life gets away from me, so I want to stop and take a few minutes to remember some of the wonderful things in life that I'm so lucky to have.
  1. My darling husband. Always number 1. He is everything I ever wanted in a husband. He's my best friend, an amazing partner, and the most loving, generous person I know (also, totally hot and completely hilarious).
  2. I am surrounded by creative, giving people. Friends, family members, internet friends - everywhere I go, there are people I can talk to and be myself around, who accept me for who I am. That's huge.
  3. Those adorable, furry little beasts. They run around like elephants in the middle of the night, but they're sweet, lovable, and ridiculously entertaining.
  4. My critique partners. I know they're included in #2, but Carey O'Connor, Kristin Wright, and Mary Ann Nicholson deserve a special mention. I'd be lost without them. And a special thank you to Kara Reynolds for agreeing to beta read my newest MS and pointing out my ridiculous typos even at the very end of her pregnancy (and with a newborn!).
  5. I am thankful that I am reasonably fit and healthy. No, I probably won't be running any marathons or winning any fitness awards. Yes, I eat a lot of stuff I probably shouldn't. But I work out 4-5 days a week, I'm strong, and I'm fairly confident I can last long enough in a zombie apocalypse not to bring shame to my family once I'm gone. That's something.
  6. At this writing (about a week before posting) I am EXTREMELY THANKFUL that the closing on my house should be done before Thanksgiving. This is both a wish and an expression of gratitude, but there you go. I can't wait to move into my new home, and I'm excited to be able to do it at a time that lets me get settled before the insanity of Christmas.
  7. Bonus: It will be cold enough when we move that I won't have to worry about the frozen food or stuff in the refrigerator going bad. I could leave it in the trunk of my car all day if I wanted, and it'll be... probably colder than the inside of the freezer, actually. Frozen milk will melt. Yay for one less thing to worry about on moving day!
  8. The ability to earn a living. I may not have the most exciting or fulfilling day job, but I have a means of paying the bills, and that's worth a lot. Many people don't have that. I don't have to worry that the electric bill won't get paid or whether I can afford to eat, and I'm so grateful.
  9. Clean drinking water. There are many countries where this basic human right is not taken for granted, and I need to remember that and be grateful. Indoor plumbing is a luxury, and I'm so glad to have it.
  10. My amazing agent. She is worth her weight in chocolate, and I'm so glad I managed to connect with someone who loves my book as much as I do.
For these things and so many more, I am very grateful. Life is good. Now, go hug your loved ones.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Why the Ferguson Grand Jury Proceeding Was Wrong

First, I want to clarify a few things. This post is not about whether Michael Brown attacked Darren Wilson or whether Darren Wilson was justified in shooting him. Those are questions for a criminal jury at trial. This is a post about our legal system, and how it's supposed to function. Second, I am a licensed attorney who has worked in prosecution on both the state and federal level. Third, I do not blame the members of the grand jury for this egregious miscarriage of justice, because it is apparent to me that no one explained to them what they were supposed to be doing in the grand jury room.

The function of a grand jury is to determine whether there is probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed by the person they are investigating.

  • The grand jury does not determine guilt or innocence. 
  • Probable cause is a significantly lower standard than "proof beyond a reasonable doubt," which is the standard at a criminal trial. It's almost the opposite. The grand jury is being asked to determine if there is any reason at all to believe that a crime was committed.
  • The prosecutor provides evidence to the grand jury that tends to show that a crime occurred.
  • The person being investigated has no right to appear at a grand jury proceeding, no right to have an attorney present, and no right to produce evidence.
  • The grand jury does not determine whether the person being investigated might have had a valid defense to their action. That is because the grand jury does not determine guilt or innocence.
  • If the evidence presented establishes probable cause to believe that a crime may have been committed, the grand jury returns an indictment, which is a document that notifies the person of the charges against them. At that point, the person being investigated becomes a defendant and is entitled to all the rights and guarantees promised by our Constitution.
  • An indictment is not a finding that the person is guilty. The grand jury does not determine guilt or innocence. 
  • Because of the extremely low burden of proof required at the grand jury level, and because the grand jury is not supposed to be presented with exculpatory evidence or defenses, grand juries vote to indict in the vast majority of cases not involving a black person shot and killed by a white police officer.

    When a grand jury can hear evidence that a police officer shot an unarmed man repeatedly and find that there is not enough evidence to have a trial, the prosecutor has been derelict in his duties. The prosecutor's job is not to present a balanced view of facts to the grand jury, and it is not to educate the grand jury on defenses. The grand jury should never have been given a copy of the self-defense statute or photographs of Darren Wilson's injuries. They weren't there to decide whether Michael Brown did anything wrong. The prosecutor should be fired, because he did not do his job. 

    And that is why, no matter what you think of Michael Brown or what happened, the grand jury's decision yesterday was a horrible blow to our justice system. What's next? Should white frat boys be able to avoid indictment for raping women because the grand jury heard evidence that she was asking for it? 

    A person's right to access the justice system should not be dependent on whether he was fortunate enough to be born as a white male. Everyone in America lost yesterday.

    Monday, November 24, 2014

    Dealing with Rejection

    Here's something that's no secret: Rejection sucks. We've all been there. Unless you were born under a lucky star, chances are that at some point you've been passed over for a promotion you wanted, were turned down for a date, didn't get the job, lost a proposal... or had a literary agent or publisher tell you no. I was rejected about sixty times before I found my agent. And while she's good, I expect more rejection in the future. It happens.

    There's only so much that can be done to avoid rejection, especially in a subjective industry like publishing. There are as many reasons to reject a work as there are agents or editors working (probably more). You really can't control the fact that your work will likely be rejected at some point, unless your best friend/mom is the owner of a major publishing house. What you can control is how you react to it. So, let's talk about handling query rejection for a bit (much of the same advice can be applied to not getting into contest or getting rejected by an editor).

    If I go ahead and assume that your query was addressed to the right person, talked about a completed work within acceptable word count limits, and demonstrated a reasonable grasp of the language in which you'd like to publish it, the rejection probably is not a reflection of you personally (even if you made a mistake and addressed it to the wrong agent - which I've also done - it doesn't make you a bad human being).

     I've been very surprised at some of the things I've seen:
    1. Trashing the agent in online forums. (Especially with your name or identifying information!)
    2. Posting on Twitter about how rude a rejection letter is. (Honestly, unless it said "You suck," it probably wasn't actually rude. It just may not have been what we all want to get.)
    3. Responding to call the agent an idiot.
    4. Attacking the agent on the street (Yes, this happened, and it's horrible. Don't be that person.)
    These are all really bad ideas. I get it. Being rejected sucks. It feels insulting to get a rejection letter addressed to "Dear Author," since I took the time to write my query to the agent personally. (I actually think I'd have preferred a letter that started with "Thank you for your submission" to "Dear Author.") We all know that the rejections we get are form letters, so there's no need to add insult to injury by calling it a "form rejection letter" IN the letter. I can read. I see what it is.

    But vent about it privately, to friends or relatives. Don't post it online. You don't want to find an agent who loves your work - but passes because of something you posted out of anger or frustration. Better ways to deal with rejection:
    1. Cry.
    2. Take a bubble bath.
    3. Go for a run/walk/swim/Zumba... whatever works for you.
    4. Eat some ice cream.
    5. Binge watch Dawson's Creek.
    6. All of the above.
    And when you're done, see what you can take from the experience. Try to figure out why the work was rejected. Is it 12,000 words? Is it 250,000 words? Did you send it to an agent that doesn't represent your genre? Or do you need to revise your opening? As much as the rejections suck, you can use them to make your work better. I did, and it was after all that rejection, self-reflection, and revisions that I was able to submit a shiny, polished manuscript to my agent. She loved it, and you'll find someone who loves yours.

    Wednesday, November 19, 2014

    Listen to Your Inner Critique Partner (CP)

    If you're a writer, you probably spent a lot of time and energy trying to connect with a Critique Partner who understands you and your work, and who writes things you want to read and can critique. When you find that person - listen to him/her.

    I had a couple of CP misfires at first. One person invited me into a CP group that never really took off. Most of the people who expressed interest didn't write my genre, which is fine, but it made the group less useful for me. Another person sent back my chapter with a "This is boring." I'm a grown adult, I can handle that, but I got no suggestions on fixing it, and never heard from that person again. So, we'll call that "Strike 2."

    Then, with the third one, I hit the CP lottery. She's funny. She's quirky. She's one of the nicest people I've ever met. She's incredibly talented and writes books I love to read. She makes a lot of really good suggestions on things that have improved my work a thousandfold. Implementing her suggestions took me from "Oh, god, I have to revise this again!" to "I absolutely love this work." That's huge. She is a big part of the reason my work was ready for my agent when it landed in her lap, and I can never thank her again.

    Back in February, my CP was well into MS2 when I received a R&R request on MS1.  I dove into the revisions on my own before asking for advice. But, it was like I could hear my CP reading over my shoulder and making suggestions. (She argues with me far more in my head than in reality.)
    "This scene would really work better as dialogue..."
    Maybe, but it's OK the way it is, and that would be so much work.

    And for the most part, I tried to listen. The revision on that manuscript wound up much better than what it was. I was about ready to send it to the agent when my CP offered to look at it for me (because she's a freaking rock star). Before sending it to her, I read the whole thing again, with Imaginary Carey sitting on my shoulder.
    "That scene really needs to be dialogue."
    It's not really an important scene. It's okay to tell real quick what happened.
    "It shows a lot about the characters and their relationship. Or it would, if you wrote it out."
    But it would take forever! (Yes, I'm whining to myself, in my own head)
    "The scene will work better."
    I'll look at it again later. Happy?
    "I'll be happy when you rewrite it."

    So, then, in a huff, after an imaginary argument with my CP, I walked away from the MS for about seven hours. And I came back to it.
    "No, really, show what happened instead of summarizing."

    Finally, I did it. And the scene works much better. And Imaginary Carey was absolutely right, even though real Carey doesn't even know about the conversation (well, she didn't).

    Side note: Do not base revision choices on the amount of work involved. Base them on how to make the work better.

    Monday, November 17, 2014

    The Liebster Award: 10 Question Blog Hop

    So, just as I was sitting here, wracking my brain for something to write about, the amazing and talented Mary Ann Nicholson tagged me in the Liebster Award blog hop. Yes! Inspiration! (No, I don't know what the Liebster Award is, but that's OK). She asks some tough questions, though. I'm not even sure how to answer most of them. But I will prevail.

    1) When did you decide to become an actual for real, sweat-pants-wearing, coffee-drinking, dirty-kitchen-inhabiting writer?

    Just over a year ago, I was on my honeymoon when we went to a spa for his and her relaxation. No electronics, not allowed to speak, an entire day of thinking and relaxing. It was amazing. Sitting there, listening to my surroundings and just thinking helped me realize that if I kept saying "I'll write a book when I have more time," it would never happened. I needed to just do it. So I did.

    2) What genre(s) do you write and why are you drawn to that?

    Women's fiction. It's my favorite thing to read, although I read most genres. And I want to show that you can have light, fun books for women that aren't all about finding love and getting married. There's some of that in my books, but love isn't the only thing that matters, or even the most important thing.

    3) In fifty words or less, what is your current project about?

    I can't even. The last time I tried to explain it to someone, she started backing away and muttering about padded rooms and white coats. Ask me again when I get to the third draft. 

    4) On an average day, what’s your writing routine?

    I'm starting to think I'm much too fly-by-night to be a writer. I don't really have a set routine. Usually,  I try to make myself write 500 words per day when I'm working on something, because that almost always turns into more. I just need something to get started. But sometimes I write before lunch, sometimes in the evenings, and I'm a sucker for writing sprints on Twitter if I have time when I see someone starting them.

    5) Are you a plotter or a pantster?

    I am 99% a pantster, although I make notes about what I want to happen when something comes to me. I do have a couple of sequels plotted out for my finished manuscript, so we'll see how well plotting works for me once I get started on them.

    6) Who is your favorite character you’ve ever written and how would you describe them?

    Right now, it's probably Gabby Rodriguez, from my work in progress. She's a tiny bundle of awesome, and I just want to hang out with her all the time. But she's based on a friend, so that might be cheating. My writing didn't improve on the original. If you want a character I completely made up, it's Birdie from Reality Summer. She's funny, warm, smart, and totally addicted to Twitter.

    7) What’s the most egregious writing cliche you’re guilty of committing?

    What? I don't commit writing clich├ęs!! *averts eyes*

    8) What’s the greatest word in the English language?

    Antidisestablishmentarianism. I spent a lot of time learning how to spell it, so I'm going to use it, darn it! (Note: My books typically do not use the word "it" three times in one sentence. I'm pre-coffee.)

    9) What do you do on days when you just. can’t. write.

    It really bothers me when people say you have to write every day to be a writer. When I have something to say, I write it down. When I don't, I do all the normal stuff: work, do dishes, go to the gym, go shopping, spend time with my husband, nap, read, play board games, watch TV, hang out with friends. I refuse to beat myself up for taking a day off because some guy on the internet says I have to write every day. If that works for other people, great. It's not my thing.

    10) Which book do you wish you’d written and why?

    50 Shades of Grey, because I would be a freaking bajillionaire and I could just lie around and sleep for like a month if I wanted. And then I could travel. The rest of my time would be spent working for charities and counting my money.

    And now I get to tag some writers for their own, blog hop experience. To my fellow Query Kombatents, Max Wirestone and Wade Albert White, and to Bethany Hyde, because she needs to blog more.
    1. What prompted you to finally sit down and write a book?
    2. Be honest - how do you really feel about wearing pants?
    3. What is your favorite genre to read and write? 
    4. When writing, what is your #1 go-to junk food of choice?
    5. What is your preferred caffeine-injection method?
    6. What crutch words do you need to seek out and obliterate when you're done?
    7. How many query letters did you send before you found your agent?
    8. What's being on submission really like?
    9. What is the weirdest response you've gotten to telling someone you write books?
    10. What is your least favorite bit of writing advice that seems to be all over the internet?

    Wednesday, November 12, 2014

    Picking a Path

    Now, I talk about traditional publishing, because that's the path I'm following for my manuscript, but let's take a step back for a minute. How do you decide whether to go with traditional publishing, self-publishing, or some hybrid? (I happily lucked into an agency that does work with authors to do hybrid publishing, which is good for me if I want to go that route.)

    Once upon a time, there weren't a lot of options for those who wanted to publish. Now? Thanks to the internet, the possibilities are nearly endless. I could:
    1. Find an agent.
    2. Find a fake scam artist agent online and pay them lots of money to do nothing.
    3. Submit directly to traditional publishers (those that allow this).
    4. Submit directly to e-Publishers.
    5. Self-publish e-books.
    6. Self-publish hardcopies.

    Let's assume you decide to bypass #2 (Thanks to sites like Predators and Editors, the Absolute Write Water Cooler, and the Association of Author's Representatives). But, still: traditional vs. self-publishing?

    I did a significant amount of research on this, including talking to people that do self-publishing and reading about 1,000 blogs on both. Let's look at some of the pros and cons of each.

    Traditional Publishing:
    • I get a professional who can help guide me through the process.
    • I have someone on my side, working with me to make this happen.
    • I do not pay anything up-front.
    • Once published, more exposure.
    • With the right marketing, I'm likely to sell more copies than self-published book.
    • Paying someone else to promote me, despite still having to do significant amounts of work myself.
    • Less control: editors have final say over things like title and cover.
    • Royalties paid only twice yearly by many publishers.
    • It's impossible to find an agent/editor. (It's not, but I understand that it sometimes feels that way, especially before you start.)

    • I get complete control over the creative process.
    • It takes significantly less time. Book can be published within a couple of weeks of completion.
    • It's guaranteed. No rejection.
    • Payments received monthly from some e-publishers.
    • Fewer eyes on the book and less revisions could mean a less polished finished product.
    • I have zero marketing experience, no editorial contacts, and do not have the slightest idea what I'm doing.
    • I have to pay all upfront fees/costs. When I first started looking, that would have been about $5,000. Depending on what you're looking for an how long your book is, hiring an editor alone can cost nearly that much.
    There are some valid reasons here to choose either traditional or self-publishing (some are more valid than others). Ultimately, I decided that I wanted a professional's help. Yes, I could self-publish. I could also cut my own hair, but I have no idea what I'm doing, so I go to a salon. For me, this is the same idea. My goal is to surround myself with people who will help me succeed. I don't need to do everything myself. Other people may prefer to maintain that level of control over their work, and that's okay, to.

    Do what works for you, and don't let anyone tell you that one option is more "valid" or better than the other. It's your path, your career, and you have to be comfortable with it. And no matter what you choose: Good luck! 

    Monday, November 10, 2014

    (Don't) Choose Your Own Genre

    The past couple of months, I've helped with a couple of contests. All three of my critique partners were featured in PitchWars, so I also read a lot of contest entries as an observer/spectator. My guess is that I read probably about 400 entries between all the contests. Why do I mention this? Just to help people understand that I see the same issues over and over and some of them are real problems.

    One of the biggest issues I saw was actually a surprise to me, because it seems so intuitive.

    You have to pick a genre.

    Do not make up your own genre.

    Do not mix a bunch of genres together. You did not write an "erotica fantasy paranormal romance upmarket women's fiction with magical realism." You just didn't. Because that's not a thing.

    Harry Potter is fantasy. It's not a fantastical romantic suspenseful life and death thriller.
    Now, okay, genre blending is one thing. But I'm also seeing people flat-out making up genres. "Turtle fantasy" is not a genre. "Contemporary colored-themed upmarket romance" is not a genre. "Snowboarding mystery?" Nope. (Okay, I made those up, but I saw some things that gave me the same reaction.)

    Would your book collapse if you removed the love interest? If not, it's not a romance. Would the plot cease to make any sense if you removed the robots/fairies/dwarves/outer space? If so, it's probably either sci-fi or fantasy (hopefully you can take it from there). Boil it down to the main, crucial elements. That should give you a starting point.

    If that doesn't work, there is one thing you need to ask yourself: Where would you book sit on a shelf in the bookstore? That's ultimately the goal of entering contests, right? To sell the book in a bookstore someday? 

    Close your eyes. Think of a book similar to yours, or an author who writes books that are similar to the things you write. Picture that book in your bookstore. What shelf is it on? That's your genre. It's that simple.

    Friday, November 7, 2014

    First Page Blog Hop

    The amazing Michelle Hauck is doing something awesome - for querying and agented writers. It's a first page blog hop! So, go ahead and review Michelle's blog for instructions, post the first 250 words, and post a link on your blog. Then start critiquing!

    Here's mine:

    Genre: Women's Fiction

    First 250
    When I was eight years old and still believed in happily ever afters, I swore I’d grow up and marry Tommy Devereaux, the cutest boy in third grade. I painstakingly stared at the class photo, tracing the letters of his name and repeating them to myself until I could spell it without thinking. I wrote “Brittany Devereaux” over and over, covering the insides of my notebooks, journals, any scrap of paper I found.

    Fourteen years later, I met Colin Devereaux. No relation.

    “Is this seat taken?” A guy about my age stood across the table. Hello, green eyes. One hand rested on the top rung of the empty wooden chair in front of him. Between the din of the coffee shop and my music, I barely heard his question.

    I nodded. He let go of the chair. I pulled out an earbud and realized what he’d said. “Wait, sorry. No, it’s not taken. Yes, you can sit.”

    “Thanks. I’m Colin Devereaux.”

    A response tumbled from my mouth automatically, like when I was eight. “D-e-v-e-r-e-a-u-x.”

    Smooth, Britt.

    I wasn’t the most suave at talking to members of the opposite sex. That's probably why I could count the number of dates I’d had in the past four years on my right hand, not including hookups. 

    What? I said I wasn’t suave, not that I’m a nun.

    Colin laughed as if impromptu spelling were a perfectly normal reaction to introducing himself.

    Wednesday, November 5, 2014

    How to Tame a Manuscript

    Some writing projects come easily. My first manuscript poured out of me. There were a few plot points I had to mull over for a few hours, or sometimes overnight, but I always knew what to write next until I hit somewhere around 65k words. Plot issues never stumped me for more than a day or two. When I got an idea for a revision or notes from my CPs, I was excited to dive right back in. I loved the manuscript and had a lot of fun writing/tinkering with it. When my agent made a few suggestions during the Call, I eagerly implemented them.

    My second manuscript was not like that. Not at all. The idea came easily, and much of the basic plot, but I hit a point where I was fighting to put every word on the page. When I finished it, it was really easy to put it aside and not think about it before I started revising - because I wasn't really that excited about it. In my mind, the whole thing was a 59,000 word mess.

    This is pretty much how I looked.
    So, what to do? I read a couple of books in different genres. I read a manuscript for my CP to get me excited generally about writing and editing. At one point, I almost decided not to try to fix it - to delete the whole thing and write something else. But I talked to my CPs and they convinced me to edit it first. Finally, I broke the manuscript down into small pieces. When I said to myself, "You need to fix this beastly manuscript and make it awesome," that is a really daunting task. But when I said, "Just read the first chapter," it was much easier.

    The first chapter wasn't as bad as I expected either. I did it in one day. I read and edited the second chapter the next day, and the third the day after that. After I got into a rhythm, I managed to do more than one chapter at a time. I figured out what didn't work, cutting huge chunks and adding more. In one week, I deleted 8,000 words and added 15,000 more. The draft currently in front of me is just shy of 80,000 words. And I love it. That never would have happened if I hadn't forced myself to take the first step and dive in.

    No, I didn't finish as soon as I wanted. (I had this arbitrary idea that, since my CPs were hustling to finish their MSs by August to enter PitchWars, I needed be on the same deadline. That makes no sense.) But it's been read by three CPs (one especially brave CP read it twice), and I have a beta reader reviewing it for typos. In another week or two, it'll be ready to go to my agent. Fixing problems in a manuscript may seem daunting, but it's a marathon, not a sprint. Like any journey, you just have to take that first step and you're on your way.

    Monday, November 3, 2014

    Rock the Vote!

    No, this post isn't about writing. It's okay, you can read it anyway.

    As you may or may not be aware (but should be), there is an election coming up tomorrow. No, it's not a Presidential election. No, that doesn't mean it's not important. If you are over the age of 18, eligible to vote in the United States, and capable of voting, I urge you to familiarize yourself with the ballot, find your polling place, and go vote tomorrow.

    Yes, you'll have to stand in line for a long time. Go with a friend or bring a book. You'll live.

    It's also okay to encourage other people to vote. But what's not okay? To berate, confront, or antagonize people who don't vote. Here's why.
    1. When I was eighteen, with my bright, shiny new voter registration, I took it upon myself to become the voting police. I told EVERYONE to vote. And if they said they didn't want to, I immediately embarked on a lecture of the joy of voting and why everyone needs to do it. After far longer that I'd have given me, the poor man I was inundating with the rights and responsibilities of a U.S. citizen looked me in the eye and said quietly, "Convicted felons aren't allowed to vote."

    He probably didn't want me to know that.

    2. My husband was not born in America. Everyone knows this. Everyone remembers when he got his green card a few very short months ago. No one apparently can connect the dots. He gets a lot of flak for not voting in a country where he is not a citizen and is not allowed to vote. And it's annoying to remind 1,200 of your closet Facebook friends of something they already know. All day.

    So, in short: Vote, encourage others to vote, but don't be a douche about it. There are actually valid reasons for not voting.