Monday, September 28, 2015

Eggfree, Single-Serving Cookie Dough

I know what you're thinking - what does this post have to do with writing? And I have exactly two things to say to that:
  1. You don't know me AT ALL.
  2. It's my blog, and I want to write about cookie dough today. :-P
Now that we've cleared that up, I want to share something very dear to my heart that I've spent the last couple of weeks on. There's this really awesome one-minute microwave cookie in a mug recipe, which is great if for some reason you like to ruin your cookie dough by heating it up (a bit too much flour for me, but that's easily fixed). Ever since I found it, I've been trying to figure out an egg-free version that would allow me to enjoy my heart's true desire without getting salmonella. One person suggested using mayonnaise instead of the egg yolk, which is perfect from a texture standpoint - but the finished project tasted like mayo. I actually like mayo and put it on things a lot of people find disgusting, but - mayo cookies?

Tasted slightly better once cooked, but no thanks.
I had the same issue with applesauce. That's a great substitute for oil in a lot of baked goods, but as someone who's not a fan of apples, I need a pretty high chocolate content to make it not taste like applies at the end of the day. So, that wasn't an option for me. But here's what I did come up with: two ways to make single-serving chocolate chip cookie dough, sans eggs.
  1. Buy Pasteurized Eggs. This is the easiest way. Then you just double the recipe, use one whole egg instead of two egg yolks, and go about your day. I'll even pretend I think you're going to split that doubled recipe into two containers and enjoy delicious cookie dough for two days instead of one.
  2. Make a Few Basic Tweaks to the above-linked recipe.
    • Substitute 3/4 tablespoon of confectioners or powdered sugar for the granulated sugar. This is important, because the egg is what keeps your dough from being grainy, and we no longer have an egg. (I didn't do a straight substitution, because it's sweeter than regular sugar).
    • Substitute 1.5 tablespoons vegetable oil and .5 tablespoons water for the egg yolk.
    • Reduce the flour to 2.5 tablespoons (I do this even when I'm cooking with the egg, because the original recipe just tastes like flour to me).
    • Skip the step where you put it in the microwave, because that's just not necessary.
    • Grab  spoon and enjoy.
Voilá! Delicious cookie dough goodness! Go forth and be happy! 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Finding the Right CP

One of the most important things for writers is to find the right critique partner to swap work with and get feedback. I’m extremely lucky that I have some amazing CPs who are talented writers with great editorial eyes. Sometimes, when I’m talking to my CPs, I feel like I won the lottery.

But it’s not just luck. Like anything, finding the right CP can take a fair bit of work. Early on, I joined one critique group where nothing ever happened. Someone suggested sending me pages after like a month, and I’m still waiting to receive them. I swapped first chapters with someone who stopped reading halfway through. “This is boring,” is the last comment I found. (My genuine thanks for the feedback went ignored.) I’ve swapped work with people who vanished entirely, never to be heard from again. 

One of the most important things when looking for a CP is to be honest. Talk about what you’re looking for, your personal feedback style, and what kind of feedback you prefer to receive. Don’t ask for brutal feedback if what you really need is the compliment sandwich. Personally, I like to point out things I do and do not like and post reaction comments. Some people don’t do that. If that’s what you need, say so! Find someone who feels the same way. 

If someone asks you to swap and you don’t have time to read, tell them. Give a reasonable time frame for when you think you’ll be able to work on it, and stick to it. Yes, life happens, and yes, sometimes work or family obligations get in the way. But a CP needs to be dependable. We all have deadlines: some people want CP feedback so they can start querying, or because they have a deadline from an editor, or maybe their agent is expecting it. So discuss timelines and expectations in advance. Make sure you’re on the same wavelength. You shouldn't be your CP's last priority. A friend told me last week she didn't have time to read my MS, and that's good. I found someone else to read it, and maybe if I need another reader when that person's done, she'll have time to read the improved version. 

Do your research. Be picky.  Swap first chapters before sending the full manuscript so you can get an idea of how well you'll work together (are you OK with someone who takes two weeks to read 5 pages?) It can take a bit longer to find the right person, but you’ll save yourself so much frustration in the long run. It’s worth it when you find someone to swap with, laugh with, cry with, and talk to every day. My CPs are some of my best friends, and I'd be utterly lost without them. I love them so much. When we're all on the same long, frustrating journey, there's no need to go through it alone. Find the right people to share it with.


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

COVER REVEAL: INCONCEIVABLE!

I'm so excited to be able to help participate in the cover reveal for Tegan Wren's INCONCEIVABLE! I first read the query and first page for this story last October when I was working on PitchSlam, and it was one of my favorite entries. I was absolutely ecstatic to learn Tegan had been offered a contract. And the best part? It's available for pre-order NOW! (See below)

A popular, young royal couple can't produce an heir? INCONCEIVABLE!


When Ozarks native Hatty goes “whole hog” during karaoke, she catches the eye of Prince John. He isn’t what she expects the heir to a small European nation to be: he's affable, witty, and isn’t put off by her tell-it-like-it-is demeanor. Their flirtation should be short lived, but a force stronger than fate—Hatty’s newspaper editor—assigns her to cover the royals. After spending time together, she and John soon begin dating, and Hatty finds herself making headlines instead of writing them.

But challenges loom that are even more complicated than figuring out how to mesh Hatty's journalism career with life at Belvoir Palace. Hatty and John soon find themselves embroiled in an unusual sex scandal: they can't produce an heir. Tabloids dub Hatty a “Barren-ess,” and the royals become irate. Hatty politely tells them to shove it. But beneath her confident exterior, she struggles to cope with a heartbreak that invades her most intimate moments with John. Pressured to choose between invasive medical procedures and abandoning John’s claim to the throne, the couple feels trapped until a trip to Ethiopia shows them happy endings sometimes arrive long after saying “I do.”



Advance praise for INCONCEIVABLE!

  • "As someone who has experienced infertility, I empathize with Hatty's struggles. Wren beautifully illuminates the joy, grief, and adventure of creating a family against all odds in this heart warming and impactful story."  America Olivo Campbell, actress: DeGrassi: The Next Generation, Chicago PD, Mission Impossible 5. Spokesperson for Baby Quest Foundation
  • "I found the insights into infertility invaluable and sensitive." -Marnie Neve, Board Member, Baby Quest Foundation
  • "Not only was this a very well written and entertaining story (I flew through it), but I feel it's also a very important story." -Meredith Tate, author of Missing Pieces
  • "Tegan Wren’s debut novel is by turn funny, heartbreaking and ultimately inspiring." JDC, author and journalist
  • "I loved reading a romantic story about royals that didn't end at the wedding, showing us that there's more to love than falling in it. There's also staying in it, even when troubles come. For better and for worse." -Samantha Bryant, author of Going Through the Change
Preorder INCONCEIVABLE! now on Amazon US or Amazon UK. Add INCONCEIVABLE! on Goodreads

The best compliment Tegan Wren ever received came from her sixth grade teacher: “You always have a book in your hand!”
Guided by her love of the creative process, Tegan grew up acting in theatre productions and writing poetry, short stories, and plays. She turned her eye to writing about real life when she worked as a journalist, producing reports for various radio and television stations in medium and large markets in the Midwest and also filing some stories for a major national news network.  Wren has both a Bachelor’s of Journalism and a Master of Arts in Communications. After completing her graduate degree, Tegan had the opportunity to teach journalism courses at a major state university. She absolutely loved training the next generation of journalists.

Tegan’s thankful that she’s had the opportunity to travel overseas, and uses those adventures to inform her writing. She also draws inspiration from her own struggles, joys, and life experiences. Tegan and her husband, Patrick, experienced infertility for five years before becoming parents through adoption.

Follow Tegan on her blog, Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Some (Non-Writing) Reasons I passed on PitchWars entries

I know that, as writers, we tend to assume the worst. We're an emotional, sometimes needy bunch. So when you get a form rejection from anyone, the immediate response is "I'm a terrible writer." You need to stop doing that. Many of the mentors, including myself, said that a pass does not necessarily have to do with the writing.

Even when you do all the research you can, sometimes there are unintentional biases or preferences that you just can't account for. This is frequently what "just not for me" means. I got a lot of entries for things I never thought to say I didn't want (or didn't know I didn't want).

  1. I got a substantial number of entries in a genre I haven't really read in 10+ years. It's a genre I enjoy, but I don't know the market, I don't know the current tropes, and I don't know what plots have or have not been overdone. As much as I enjoy reading these types of stories, I am not a good person to tell you how to make yours better. And that's my fault, not yours, because I didn't think to list it as a genre I most likely wouldn't accept.
  2. A lot of you write so well, I could tell that your books were going to make me cry. Sometimes, that's OK. But I'm extremely stressed out right now, and I realized about halfway through reviewing submission that I personally needed a lighter book. Reading a tearjerker repeatedly for the next few months just wasn't going to work for me on top of everything else.
  3. The same is true of a LOT of books with a heavier subject matter. There are books I would read. I enjoyed The Book Thief. But I'm not in a place where I could read it over and over right now.
  4. The topic is one I've written, am writing now, or plan to write about in the near future. If there's a chance I'm going to read your work and unconsciously incorporate it into my own, I can't even read it. It's a conflict.
  5. Your weaknesses as a writer (and we all have them) are too similar to mine. We need to be able to complement each other with your strengths and weaknesses. If all the things I can't help you with are the things you need help with the most, I'm setting us up for a very frustrating relationship. I don't want to do that to you, especially if I already know and like you.
  6. The entry didn't match up with agent wish lists. Every agent in this contest is looking for certain things. I've done contests where I was picked and got no requests. It hurts. If I like your manuscript but don't think our agents are likely to request, I'd rather not put you through that. And you'll likely have better luck by directly targeting agents who have a book similar to yours on their MSWL.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

PitchWars Common Mistakes to Avoid

I was floored to receive so many #Pitchwars entries from writers asking for my help. And while I unfortunately just don't have the ability to send personalized feedback to everybody, I did see a lot of common issues in many of the entries. Now, first, let me stress: Deciding to pick someone else is not necessarily based on the writing. There were plenty of well-written entries that I didn't choose simply because the work it needed didn't fit within my skill sets. So never assume it's the writing. At the end of the day, I picked the voices I connected most strongly with combined with premises I think will appeal to our agents. I didn't pick entries with perfect writing (I didn't see any entries with perfect writing).

But if you are worried that your writing can use some work, and you're not sure where to start, here are a few things to look for next time you go through your own work.
  1. Beats or dialogue tags, not both. I realize that I'm not a huge fan of said. But when you replace every single instance of said with another tag, or when every single bit of dialogue has a beat, that gets distracting. Look at the following:
  2. "How was your day?" he said, opening the fridge.
    "Fine," I said, turning on the stove.
    "Just fine?" he asked and pulled milk out of the fridge and opened it. "Or did something go wrong?" Rather than get a glass, he drank from the carton.
    I winced and said, "Don't let Mom see you doing that."
    That shouldn't read like stellar dialogue to anyone. Check out this blog on beats vs. dialogue tags (and how to punctuate both!) for more information.

  3. White space, white space, white space. When I see a wall of text, my eyes glaze over. I want to skim to the end. Do me (and yourself) a favor and add a paragraph break when someone new speaks or when the topic of a paragraph changes. If you truly have page-long paragraphs that are all about one thing and you don't think a break is appropriate, start cutting. A critique partner can be extremely useful for that. 

  4. Too many "I" statements. This is an easy trap to fall into when writing in the first person. I did this, then I did that. It's how you'd tell a story to your friends sitting around a campfire while making s'mores. But in writing, it's distracting. Try to vary the start of your sentences.

  5. Overuse of "was" and "had." These are both evidence of passive voice and telling. They're also both weak verbs. Which sounds better?
    1. The man was tall, and he had a present for me.
    2. The tall man clutched a gift, holding it toward me like a peace offering.

  6. Too much backstory/exposition in the first chapter. Pretend you're the CIA. Give the reader information on a need to know basis only. All the rest of the history is classified. If you tell us, you'll have to kill us. It's great that you as the author know all the exposition and backstory. But the reader wants the current story, not what happened in the past.

  7. Too many filler words. That, just, really, only, very. Those are some of the most common.  These words are not your friend. Services like www.autocrit.com or www.wordle.net can help you see words that you over use. AutoCrit lets you check 1,000 words at a time for free, and Wordle will give you a visual of how often words are used. 

  8. Over-use of filtering. I saw, I heard, I thought, I felt, I knew. None of these are necessary. Here's a great blog on filter words and why to avoid them.

  9. "As you know, Bob." This is an extension of the two above. It's where the author uses dialogue to convey exposition and backstory. People rarely say things like, "As you know, Bob, when I adopted my puppy last year, I chose him because of his shiny red coat...." Nope. 

  10. Word count. Maybe this sounds harsh, but I said repeatedly to be familiar with marketable word counts and to seek to get things within that range before submitting. A couple thousand off isn't a deal-breaker, but sending me three books disguised as one (or a novella) was an almost automatic pass for me.

  11. Things I Specifically Said I Didn't Want. Most of you were pretty good about this, and I appreciate it. But I wrote a really long bio that said what I did and didn't want, so when I found things that were explicit no's, I moved on to the next entry. Do your research. An agent who says they don't want Yeti romance isn't going to change their mind because of your Yeti romance. Assume you're the rule, not the exception. Follow the rules.
To those who made it, AWESOME! CONGRATULATIONS! Still look out for these things in your writing and do your best to eliminate them. For those who didn't make it, taking another editing pass with these things in mind will really improve your manuscript.