Reader creations (a.k.a. how you guys make me cry)

Let me get something out of the way: I HATE the word “fan.” I don’t think of anyone as my “fan.” I love readers, friends, bloggers, tweeters, people who enjoy my books … I think you get the idea. I know there’s nothing derogatory about the word “fan,” but it makes me feel kinda weird to think that I have fans, so instead I’d like to call you all friends.

Now that just sounds lame. Hello, friends. What, am I a sixty year old man about to give a reading? Am I Mister Rogers?

Anyway. You guys are amazing, no matter what you want to call yourselves. From the reviews, to the blog posts, to the tweets, to the emails and Facebook messages and whatever else you do … thank you. I read every message. When I write back (and I try to write back to everyone), it’s really me.

But then — BUT THEN — as if your awesomeness wasn’t already making me reel, you send me stuff.

Like this copy of Storm that made the rounds of several bloggers before coming to me. Almost EVERY PAGE has commentary and art and jokes and … it’s simply amazing. I cried when I opened the package. Seriously.

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Or this one, from a young reader? (This has been hanging on my refrigerator for months.)

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Or how about this incredible picture showing all of the characters? I’ve been saving it pressed inside a hardcover book because I want to frame it!

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And it’s not just art!! Check out this fan made YouTube trailer for the books? This blew me away!!

Am I missing anyone? If you’ve posted art/videos/fanfiction anywhere and you’d like me to link it, please let me know.

But from the bottom of my heart, to all of you who take the time to review, to tweet, to email, to Facebook, to text, to call, to send messages by carrier pigeon, whatever:

THANK YOU. You all make this whole journey worthwhile.

Sick. (And kinda cool.)

I’ve been down for the count for a few days, guys, so unfortunately if you’ve emailed me or commented on the blog and I haven’t responded, that’s why.

While you’re waiting for me to get my act together, check out this thing I found on YouTube called the SHINee Magic Dance, which they claim can be set to any song.

At first I thought it was just a talented routine to Olly Murs’ Troublemaker, but then I saw that people were putting music to the exact same dance video. Here are three videos, all different songs, but exact same dance routine. Kind of crazy, huh?


 

How long does it take to get published?

First, my disclaimer: there is no “standard” in how long it takes to get published. Each person’s experience will be different. But one of my most frequently asked questions is, “How long did it take you to get published?” And I totally get it. When I was still querying, I looked for any scrap of information I could find that would give me hope. We’re taught for so long that if you do X and Y, that Z is sure to follow, so it’s hard to throw so much heart and soul into something that isn’t even guaranteed.

So here goes.

1996: In my senior year of high school, I had a book about four brothers who were vampires, and they were living in the suburbs. I had joined a writing group on AOL (this was when the internet was relatively new, and mostly consisted of chat rooms and message boards), and one guy said he really liked my writing. He said his best friend was a literary agent, and would I mind if he shared my work with him.

At the time, I didn’t know what a huge deal this was. Remember, before the internet, agents were not anywhere near as accessible. Of course I said yes, and off my manuscript went. A few weeks later, I was represented by George Scithers of Owlswick Literary Agency.

That book, obviously, never sold. He asked if I had anything new, I said no, because I was off riding horses and working, and we eventually terminated our contract.

2006: In the ten years after high school, I messed around with writing, but never wrote a full length novel. I had lots of stories that I’d started and abandoned, but I never did anything with them. Well, after I got married in 2006, I decided to sit back down and rewrite that book about the four vampire brothers. I went out on the internet and found a great critique partner (hi, Bobbie!), and started trying to find out how to land a literary agent.

I learned that my writing really needed to get up to snuff. My book was 130,000 words long, and full of meandering scenes that I thought were pretty cool, but didn’t really add anything to the plot. I’ve never taken a creative writing class (aside from in high school), and I don’t have a college degree, so there was a lot of “learn as you go” going on. I worked very, very hard to learn my craft well.

2007: By late 2007, I’d sent hundreds of queries on that vampire novel, then titled Wicked Sensibility. I got several full requests, so I knew I was on the right track, but no one bit. I kept revising, and resubmitting, and revising, and sending more queries. Then, finally, an agent took the time to write me a personalized rejection letter. At the time, my first son wasn’t sleeping through the night yet, so when I was up at 2am, I checked my email.

I will never forget this. It said, “Hey, Brigid, there’s no plot here.”

Now, I know that sounds harsh, but it was THE BEST EMAIL EVER. Seriously. Because it went on to talk about the strengths, but told me I needed to focus. I’d been writing and revising the damn vampire brothers for so long, that I realized I could easily get sucked into that trap of working on something for ten years without it going anywhere. So I cut the cord.

I started something new.

2009: By the middle of 2009, A Wicked Little Rhythm was done, a story about the son of Apollo running a music store in downtown Baltimore, who meets a young woman who has some mysteries of her own. I started querying. I got a lot of partial requests. A LOT.

I also got a lot of rejections. A LOT.

On one of the partial requests, I screwed up. She wanted 50 pages hard copy. The previous agent had only wanted 30 pages. Now, I write single spaced, and when I send something out, I double space what I need, and print it.  When sending the partial, I forgot to double space the final 20 pages.

I was horrified, and actually sent her an email to explain that I wasn’t trying to put one over on her. But it must have worked to my benefit, because she was the only agent who requested a full manuscript. She requested a revise and resubmit, and by fall of 2009, she became my agent.

That book did not sell.

I put that sentence off by itself because it’s so common. You think, “Oh, I’ll get an agent and life will be sunshine and unicorns.” NOT SO. The hard work doesn’t stop. Being a writer is not for the faint of heart.

What did I do? I started something new.

2010: By the end of 2010, Storm was done. I hadn’t been able to get those four brothers out of my head, so I tried to think up an entirely new plot for them, and it worked. It went out on submission in November 2010.

2011: By the middle of February, I had a publication deal. (I blogged about going through a book auction before, and you can read about it here.)

2012: Storm debuted on April 24, 2012.

So there you go. If you throw out the high school experience (which is fine), it still took me 6 years and three full length novels before something sold. Even after that, I still have a day job, and while I’m not going to lie, the writing money is letting us do a few things that we couldn’t have done otherwise, it’s not enough to cover the mortgage.

I wouldn’t give up one minute of it, I can promise you that. Every second of hard work and waiting and worrying and stressing and revising and editing and nailbiting was worth it. EVERY SECOND.

Isn’t there a saying about how anything worth having isn’t worth having fast?

(Or is that one of those things we tell ourselves, like rain being lucky on your wedding day? :-P)

What do you think? Is this encouraging? Depressing?

~~~

Writing goals

So for the last year or so, I’ve been “under a deadline.” This is a distinctly different feeling from when I could just write for fun.

Back then, if I wanted to take two weeks off from writing, it wasn’t a big deal. Tired? Skip writing for the night. Husband wants to go see a movie? Skip writing for a night.

Now that there’s a contract with my signature on it, that’s not so much an option.

My deadline for Spirit is going to make me write a book faster than I ever have before. I’m not worried about that — I don’t think I’ll lose any quality, because I have the entire book mostly outlined, and I’ve learned a lot from writing the previous books. I get faster with each one.

But in working the day job (yes, I still have one) and raising the kids (yes, I still have them), I’ve decided I need to make some hard and fast goals about my writing to make sure I meet this deadline.

Some people have daily goals, and that’s too rigid for me. If I miss a day, I’m already behind! I need to be able to work around kids and husband and day job.

So I’ve decided to settle on a goal of 7,000 words per week. That will let me finish a first draft by early summer and give me plenty of time to refresh and revise and send it in to my editor.

Do you guys have writing goals? What are they? How to you hold yourself to them?

Cover Reveal! And other stuff!!

Hey, guys! Good morning!

Who wants to see some book covers???

I wanted to wait until I could release the covers for both the US and Australian versions, because they are both AWESOME.

Kensington (US)
Allen & Unwin (AUS)

Gabriel Merrick plays with fire. Literally.
Sometimes he can even control it. And sometimes he can’t.
Gabriel has always had his brothers to rely on, especially his twin, Nick. But when an arsonist starts wreaking havoc on their town, all the signs point to Gabriel. Only he’s not doing it.
And no one seems to believe him. Except a shy sophomore named Layne, a brainiac who dresses in turtlenecks and jeans and keeps him totally off balance. Layne understands about family problems, and she understands secrets. She has a few of her own.
Gabriel can’t let her guess about his brothers, about his abilities, about the danger that’s right at his heels. But there are some risks he can’t help taking.
The fuse is lit…

Add on Goodreads, Preorder on Amazon, Preorder on Barnes & Noble

And while we’re revealing book covers, how about book 3 in the series, Spirit?
Kensington (US)
Allen & Unwin (AUS)

I don’t have cover copy for Spirit yet, but when I do, it will be a new tab at the top. 
Allen & Unwin has a pretty cool marketing piece, too, which you can see here. (It opens a PDF.)
Finally, I got my first book blogger review last night, and I was so excited I almost fell off my chair. (My home has almost no carpeting, so that would have been extremely painful.) If you’d like to read someone else’s thoughts about Storm instead of my own, go check out the review here.

Working with an editor

I thought about titling this post, “Check your ego at the door.”

First, some disclosures. I have only ever worked with one agent, Tamar Rydzinski (fabulous editorial advice) and one editor, Alicia Condon (equally fabulous editorial advice), and I get along with both fabulously well.

So, you know when you send stuff out to beta readers, and it comes back with a bunch of comments, and you were totally expecting a landslide of praise, but instead you get a page full of of, “WTF?!?!?!?!”

If it’s a beta reader, you can ignore that commentary. You can do it arrogantly (“OMG. She was just JEALOUS of my writing GENIUS.”) or you can do it quietly (“Thank you so much for your input. I’m going to take some time to digest your comments.”).

If it’s an industry professional, you have to swallow your pride and really look at what they’re saying.

In my day job, my attitude tends to be, “No job too small.” We’re all working for the same team, we all want the same goal.

In writing, it’s the same. When I disagree with an editorial comment, I have to think about what my editor/agent is going for. This can be tough.

This can be really tough. I have the tissues to prove it. (Does anyone remember the post about Storm coming back from my agent fourteen pages shorter?)

But here’s where it’s important to check your ego at the door. It’s easy to get your back up and refuse to make changes. It’s easy to argue that you need that scene and that one and that other one, even though they all basically say the same thing. It’s easy to dig your heels in and be difficult.

But why? Same team, guys. Same team.

Your editor and your agent are trying to help make your book the best it can be. They’re also trying to help you make money. Half business, half art. Don’t get so tangled in the art side that you forget about the business side.

In Spark, one of my editorial comments asked if Gabriel could use a different phrase to avoid offending anyone. I could have refused to change it, saying it was true to the character and I needed those words in there. But really, it was one phrase, and it didn’t really matter.

The best part about being a writer is that there are always more words.

Sometimes you need to ask yourself if you really care about the change someone is asking you to make. Is it going to break your soul to change it? Then explain why.

In Storm, Becca is harassed by her ex-boyfriend. Throughout the first third of the book, I only talk about this in theory — the reader never actually sees it. Along the line, it was recommended that I should cut the actual scene where Drew gives Becca a hard time, but I dug my heels in to keep it — and explained why. It stayed, and it’s in the finished manuscript. There’s another scene at the end between Michael and Becca’s mother (you guys have no idea who these people are, but stay with me), and it was recommended that I cut the scene because it slowed down the pacing. That scene was so, so important to me, but I totally understood where my editor was coming from, so I cut half the scene and ramped up the tension.

Sometimes it’s about meeting each other halfway. It’s about communicating. If you disagree with changes, speak up. Explain yourself — but listen, too. Try to see your work from both sides. You know that saying about how life is 10% what happens to you, and 90% how you react to it? This is never more true than in an editorial relationship. 

(Oh. And in marriage. Parenting, too. Look, it’s a great quote, okay?)

If you’re working with beta readers now, try to get in the habit of working with the advice you’re getting. It’s easy to fall squarely on either side of the fence: either rejecting every piece of advice because you don’t want to admit you need to change things, or taking every piece of advice until you’re completely overwhelmed and you don’t recognize your manuscript.

I’ve seen people in both camps. It’s never pretty.

Learn to walk that fence board. Learn to communicate and discuss what’s not working. (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sent something back to a new writer with comments, including the line, “I’m happy to talk this out, if you want.” Almost no one takes me up on that.)

Learn to see where your readers are coming from.

It will pay off later.

You know, after you’ve signed that first book contract.

~~

In other news, keep an eye on that countdown widget, guys. When we hit 60 days, I’m going to release the first chapter of Storm!

~~

On bullying

When I was growing up, my parents moved a lot.

Lest you think I’m kidding:

I was born in Omaha, Nebraska.
By the time I started first grade, we’d lived in Omaha, San Francisco, and a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio.
By the time I started high school, we’d lived in Albuquerque, Washington, DC, and three different suburbs of Baltimore.

Between first grade and eighth grade, I only went to the same school for sixth and seventh grades.

Do you have any idea what it’s like being the new kid every single year?

Well, I don’t have any idea what it’s like to go to school with the same people throughout my childhood. I could talk about how I don’t have roots, how I’m not one of those women who has a close circle of friends “forever,” how if my husband said, right now, “The hell with the mortgage, let’s just pack up and move to San Antonio,” I’d be right there in a New York Minute.

I’ll do another post about my attitudes on permanence someday.

But we were going to talk about bullying.

When I was in fourth grade, I had to ride the school bus. There was a massive fifth grader named Antoinette who used to make my life hell. I hated her. She stuck candy in my hair. (Like, she’d pull a lollipop out of her mouth and stick it to the back of my head.) She ripped the glasses off my face and threatened to throw them out the bus window.

In short, she was a real bitch.

I have no idea what ever happened to her. The bus driver didn’t stop her. The school sure didn’t stop her. There were no interventions. I just had to put up with it.

The nice thing about changing schools every year was that I didn’t have to put up with her for long.

I remember this one girl named Minee (pronounced Min-AY) in fifth grade, who used to ask me where my mom bought my clothes, in this completely superior voice. Prior to that grade, I had never given my clothes one moment’s thought. I was eleven! I didn’t care about clothes. I cared about books and horses and my dog. But that precise instant was my first experience with that particular vein of disdain. Minee never did anything physical; she just constantly ridiculed me.

Again. Sixth grade, new school.

By sixth grade, I was starting to get it. I was a total nerd, and people knew it. Kids make snap judgments all the time. I remember going to a sixth grade mixer (read: dance), and after about three hours of standing alone in the dark, a boy named Ryan asked me to dance. While we were dancing, he said, “I felt sorry for you standing alone.”

I felt sorry for you! He said he felt sorry for me!

And the irony here is that I had called my mom to come get me, and after that, I called her back and said, “I think things are getting better! A boy just asked me to dance!”

Sometimes I want to go back and smack some sense into sixth grade Brigid.

But I was a straight A student, and I realized there was a way I could make people like me.

By letting them cheat.

I’m ashamed to admit letting cute boys copy off my paper. My mom probably doesn’t have any idea, and she’ll die reading this. But it was sixth grade, I was an outcast, and I needed some way to have friends.

Letting them cheat worked.

I stopped in eighth grade.

These stories aren’t all that horrible. Some of you guys had some truly terrible bullying experiences. I’m so amazed that you were courageous enough to share them with me.

I think it’s fascinating how some people say you should turn the other cheek, but I personally love when the underdog stands up for herself/himself. I love that scene in Stepmom where Julia Roberts tells the teen girl how to make the boy jealous.

What do you guys think? What’s the best way to combat bullying?

Countdown widgets

So I took the plunge and created one. It’s to the right, in my sidebar.

What do you think? Do you guys notice these? Did I just waste $3.99?

Personally, I can’t believe it’s only 105 days until my book’s release date. 105 days!! I might have to move it down the page so I don’t have a panic attack every time I visit my own blog.

If you like it and want to feature it on your site, feel free to click “Get widget” at the bottom. Let’s make a STORM all over the internet!

(Okay, that was insanely hokey. Look, I’m a writer. I’m still working on this self-promotion thing.)

Well, hello, my lovelies…

When we got home this afternoon, a package from Kensington Books was sitting on my front doorstep. My husband thought perhaps they were ARCs, but no. They were:

Cover proofs!

I’m very excited. They’re slick, and shiny, and I rather love the spine. The people at Kensington are AWESOME.

And yes, if you must know, that is my dining room table, complete with my Kindle, a baby bottle cap, a hair clip thingy, a hair barrette, a booklet of coupons for McDonalds, and a pile of papers from my son’s school that I haven’t bothered to go through yet. Oh, and my laptop pad, to keep my lap from melting when the laptop is actually in my lap.

Yes, folks, this is where the magic happens.

Pivotal moments

I’m working on SPARK (The Elemental Series, Book 2) right now, and I’ve been thinking a lot about pivotal moments. I know good plotting is always about choices (good or bad), especially when each choice leads to a new conflict.

About ten years ago, I was driving somewhere for work, and I knew I needed gas. I could have made it to my destination without stopping, so I considered waiting and going after. But I had a little bit of time to kill, and I kinda needed a stick of gum before meeting new people, so I decided to stop first.

If you’re familiar with Westminster, Maryland, you’ll know that Route 140 is basically a four lane highway, divided by a grass median, with lots of shops and gas stations and restaurants all the way from Reisterstown to Union Bridge — with lots of space between. I stopped at an Amoco Station, shoved the gas pump into the car, and walked into the little shop.

When I went in, the shop was completely silent. There was a guy behind the counter, and there was another man standing a few feet back, his hands in the pocket of his sweatshirt. Since it was Westminster, which is mostly farm land when you get past the shops, both guys were pretty casual, both needed a shave, and neither was older than thirty-five.

But they were just standing there. No one was saying anything.

So I grabbed a pack of gum from in front of the register, glanced at the guy with his hands in his pockets, and said, “I don’t want to jump in front of you.”

He hesitated and said, “No. No, you go ahead.”

And while I was paying, he walked out.

I stood there with cash in my hand, but the cashier watched the guy leave. Then he finally took my cash and rang me up.

While he was handing me my change, he said, “I’m glad you walked in. That guy was about to pull a gun on me.”

A gun! I’d walked in on an almost-holdup!

Now, I have no idea whether the guy really had a gun in the pocket of his sweatshirt. I was in my early twenties, and I lived a pretty sheltered life. The cashier could have been wrong.

But it was a pivotal moment in a lot of ways. That guy could have pulled a gun. He could have shot the cashier. He could have shot me. He could have held us hostage.

Moreover, I could have kept on driving, gotten gas after my meeting, and that guy could have held up the store without interruption.

I know this is a pretty boring story, now that you know how it ended.

But I think that’s why I keep thinking about it. Because it could have been so much more exciting (and not necessarily in a good way), just by virtue of one choice.

Can you think of any pivotal moments in your life? Any time that a choice may have seemed like nothing, but turned out to be huge?

~~