Spirit Launch Party!!

Spirit Brigid KemmererHoly cow, I can’t believe it’s May!

First, have you entered the contests for either Kelley York’s or J. H. Trumble’s books? These are GREAT reads, guys. You don’t want to miss out.

I wanted to let you all know that there WILL be a launch party for Spirit! I’m excited to announce that it will be held Saturday, June 1, at 1pm, at the Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Ellicott City, Maryland. (Link opens in a new window with location details. If you attended the previous launch parties, it’s the same location.)

Let’s add a new twist this time. I’ve talked on Twitter and Facebook about having a reader/writer get together and there’s been a lot of interest, so why don’t we do it after the launch party? Would you guys be interested? I’ll do the standard talk/questions/signing at 1pm, and then at 2pm we can take over the cafe and talk books and writing and hot boys or whatever we feel like. Anyone want to hang out in a bookstore?

My bottom line writing advice.

The books aren’t going to write themselves. If you want to be a writer, you’ve got to put your butt in the chair and your hands on the keyboard. You either want it or you don’t.

No one can do it for you.

 

(In response to my most frequently asked question, “How do you keep writing a story?”)

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?

~~~

If everyone is getting along, you’re doing it wrong. (aka How to keep your reader engaged.)

Oh, look. A post on writing.

I’ve been meaning to do a post on writing for weeks, folks, but then I feel like I’m obligated to tell you ALL THE THINGS about my book release (like about the party —>) and I don’t want to make your blog feeder explode.

Anyway. Let’s talk about keeping your reader engaged.

I don’t have the attention span for books that require slogging through pages and pages of narrative until it really gets good. This is why I won’t pick up The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, despite the fact that so many people have said the book is amazing once you get past the first hundred-and-fifty pages or so.

I’m sure it’s stellar. Millions of people can’t be wrong. But hearing about a slow start is such a turnoff for me. I’m not one of these people who has to read an entire book. If it’s not working, I put it down. Or I scroll to the next book on the list on my Kindle. I think this is why I’m drawn to YA. It feeds my need for constant stimulation.

1) I try to end every chapter with a question of where the story is going. It might be a cliffhanger ending to the chapter, it might be a decision a character has to face, it might be unresolved conflict. Whatever, every chapter has to end with the reader wondering what’s next.

Here’s the end of a chapter from Spark:

“I’m sorry I didn’t make it to the library.” Layne gestured to the mess around them. “I was busy.”
“It’s cool,” he said, feeling a flash of guilt that he’d assumed she was standing him up. “Let me know if those dicks mess with you again.”
“Why?” she said, her voice flat again. “You gonna rumble under the bleachers?”
“What does that mean?”
“Nothing. Forget it.” She shoved the last of her papers into her backpack. She tapped her brother on the arm, and then signed. “Come on, Simon.”
Gabriel studied her, nonplussed. “You’re mad at me?”
“Maybe if you thought with something other than your fists, you’d be passing math on your own.”
Gabriel stared, having no idea what to say.
And in that moment of silence, she picked up her backpack and rounded the corner, without once looking back.

It’s not a cliffhanger, but the conflict is unresolved. Open ended. If you feel satisfied at the end of the chapter, that is not a good thing. (Unless it’s the last chapter of the book.)

2)  I pay keen attention to how I feel about writing the scene. I cannot overstress the importance of this. You ever find yourself writing something, and you’re saying to yourself, “I can’t wait to get through this scene so I can get on to the good part!”

Trust me. Your reader is thinking something very similar. Or they’re just putting the book down.

If you’re bored with what you’re writing, your reader is definitely going to be bored. If I find myself drifting, or leaving a scene to go set up my Peapod order, or skimming Twitter, then I know I’m not engaged.

Sometimes you can just delete those scenes. Do you really need a connector scene between the boardroom and the bedroom? Do you need to show the train ride home, or can you just go from that scene in the office to the woman holding a champagne glass in front of a fireplace? Readers will make leaps of logic.

If you need the scene, but you’re still bored, it’s time to throw a wrench in the works. I joke about lighting someone on fire, but it’s true: if everyone is getting along, there’s no conflict, and conflict is what drives your novel. 

People think they want to read about people getting together. They don’t. People want to read about conflict with the potential for people to get together. Remember the first few seasons of The Office, when Jim and Pam were seeing other people? Sparks were practically shooting out of my television. Remember that episode of The Vampire Diaries when Elena calls Stefan and tells him that she knows he’s only being a cruel bastard because he can’t help it, and she’ll always be there for him, but then she goes and kisses Damon?

Really, it’s a miracle my living room didn’t catch on fire.

If everyone is getting along, you’re doing it wrong. 

3) I use the delete key like a weed-whacker.

If you’re in the middle of a fast-paced scene, get rid of extra words. GET RID OF THEM. Go on. Delete them. Nothing is worse than reading a scene like this:

The man had a sword in his hand and he was coming down the hill rapidly, as if the devil himself were chasing him. His feet coursed through the grass with a whisper that was completely at odds with the murderous expression on his face. Jane shrank back in terror, fearing that her desire for a few moments of solitude had been her undoing here, and she would regret this moment as long as she lived–if she could live past this moment. 

I mean, honestly. It was painful for me to write that. (I made it up on the spur of the moment.)

The man came flying down the hill with a sword in his hand. Jane ducked, thinking, Holy crap.

The delete key is not your friend. It’s your bitch. USE IT.

What are your writing tricks? How do you keep the reader engaged?

~~~
 

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?

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!

~~

A short video on cover design…

I saw this floating around Twitter yesterday, and since it featured Kensington Books (my badass awesome publisher), I was very interested. It’s a cool piece about how romance novel photo shoots are handled, and it’s worth a watch, if only for the hot guys. 🙂

I’m sorry I can’t link directly to the video, but here’s a link to the Publishers Weekly article, which has the video embedded.

Peer pressure

First off, thank you for all the congratulatory emails, and tweets, and Facebook posts, and blog comments. You guys are great. And Baby Sam (a boy!) is doing really well. Here’s the obligatory cute baby picture.

I feel terrible about leaving you without content for the last few weeks. I’ve always been an industry blog addict, and it seems that everyone shuts down their blog during August. Lately, a lot of blogs are shutting down, period. I miss Editorial Ass. Editorial Anonymous. Even Pimp My Novel is shutting down for a while.

I’m crying. Do you hear me crying? I am.

But none of that has anything to do with peer pressure, which is what I wanted to comment on today.

I write YA. You know I write YA. But it means that I spend a lot of my time trying to remember what it was like to be a teenager. Sometimes, that’s really difficult.

Other times, it’s really easy. Like when I think about the guy I dated in high school. We dated for two years. I loved him. He was wonderful, and well-raised, and fun, and funny, and we had a good time together. He dumped me because I wouldn’t have sex with him (I wasn’t ready), and all his friends were pressuring him to “do it.” He went to an all boys’ school, I went to an all girls’ school. Every year, my school had a variety show called The Coffee House, and because I played the piano, I was called on for any songs people wanted to sing. My ex-boyfriend came to the show shortly after we’d broken up, for whatever reason.

Wait, I know the reason. To tell me, during intermission, that he’d started dating another girl. One who “did it” with him on their second date. In the back seat of his Nissan Sentra.

(Sexy, right?)

I was crushed. I almost couldn’t go back for the second half of the show. I remember sobbing in the darkened school library. I mean, it’s one thing to dump someone because you’re not getting what you want. It’s entirely another to come back and slap them in the face with the fact that you found someone who will.

And all because of peer pressure.

My four-year-old goes to pre-K at a local private school. In the morning, they have eighth graders who direct the flow of student traffic, and hold the doors for parents, things like that. This year, the boy who holds the door is very polite. When he opens the door for me, he makes eye contact and says, “Good morning.” When I leave, he says, “Have a good day.” From what I can tell, he does this for everyone.

Because I was raised to be polite, I always respond in kind.

A few days ago, his friends were hassling him. Mocking him. “Ooooh, good morning!” and making kiss-up noises, things like that.

He ignores them, and keeps doing it.

But it made me wonder. By the time he reaches his senior year of high school, are his friends going to break him down? Is he going to start being a jerk, just because it finally got to be too much effort to be polite? Is he going to break some girl’s heart, just because his friends kept mocking him?

The sad thing is, he’ll probably get more girls (or guys, no judgment) if he keeps acting with politeness and confidence. But I know it’s hard to see that when you’re thirteen. Or eighteen.

Or hell, when you’re in your twenties and thirties and beyond.

How have you guys been affected by peer pressure? Does it play a role in your writing? In your life? Do you ever regret following your friends, instead of following your heart?

~

Look, it’s been a week since I’ve blogged

Here’s what’s going on:

I received my editorial notes from my editor. They are awesome, but I wanted to get the revisions done quickly, so I’ve been relying on my husband’s good nature to get them done in time.

I needed to request blurbs from people I don’t know. It felt like asking complete strangers to watch my kids for an afternoon. Luckily, everyone I asked was incredibly awesome. Honestly, I always think writers couldn’t possibly be nicer, and then you all ARE.

I’ve been working on the sequel to ELEMENTAL. My goal is to be done by the end of August.

I’ve interviewed two policemen for the aforementioned sequel. Policemen, I’ve found, are just as nice as firemen, and they love to talk about their work. My favorite part of last night’s conversation was when I was asking detailed arson questions, and the officer interrupted me to say something like, “Now, this is for a book scenario, right? Not real life?”

HA. God help me if anything in my general vicinity catches on fire.

Oh yeah, and I’m growing a human being inside my body. I keep forgetting about that. Nine weeks to go! Or is it eight? Totally having second baby syndrome here.

What have you all been up to? Does any of the above sound interesting? Want to hear about editorial notes, or blurb requests, or interviewing professionals for your work? Want to hear some cool fireman/policeman stories? Want to tell gross pregnancy stories?

Here’s a non-gross pregnancy story for you. On Sunday, I went to Target. While I was there, I saw a changing table (in a box) on a clearance shelf. Because it was half off, I picked up the box and put it on the cart. Please DO NOT TELL MY HUSBAND THAT I DID THIS. (Watch, this will be the one blog he reads.) The box weighed about eighty pounds.

So anyway, at the register, the girl asked if I wanted help getting it into my car, and I said yes. I was worried I’d pulled something lifting the box in the first place. Then the girl at the next register asked how far along I was, and I said, “Thirty-one weeks.”

Her eyes bugged out of her head and she said, “Wow! You’re huge for thirty-one weeks!”

Huh. Thanks.

I almost said, “You’re huge for not being pregnant.”

But I’m a writer, not a stand-up comedian, and honestly, Glen Burnie, Maryland is the last place you want to start a catfight. Or any fight, really. (A few years ago, I went to Wal-Mart at 4am on the day after Thanksgiving, and stood in a mile long line to get a coupon for a cheap television. The girl in front of me had two huge burly guys with her, and I was alone. She looked me up and down and said, “Girl, you crazy. You ain’t got no man with you?”)

I’m rambling.

Any good news to share? Bueller…? Bueller…?

Agent and editor blogs

After the last post, a few people have asked what industry blogs I read regularly.

Here’s what I’ve got. (And this is by no means complete, so feel free to make recommendations in the comments, and I’ll update the list. Keep in mind I’m writing this from memory, and it’s 6:30am on a Sunday.)

These do not include author blogs (unless, like Hannah Moskowitz’s blog below, they routinely include publishing/writing information). Most of the author blogs I follow are in the sidebar to the right. And even those aren’t a complete list!

Agents:

http://literaticat.blogspot.com/

http://kortizzle.blogspot.com/

http://www.kidlit.com

http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/

http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/

http://www.rachellegardner.com/

http://pubrants.blogspot.com/

http://confessionsofawanderingheart.blogspot.com/

http://mandyhubbard.livejournal.com/

Editors:

http://editorialanonymous.blogspot.com/

http://editorialass.blogspot.com/

http://betsylerner.wordpress.com/

http://www.alanrinzler.com/blog/

Book Folks who don’t neatly fit into the above categories:

http://blog.nathanbransford.com/

http://www.therejectionist.com/

http://internspills.blogspot.com/

http://rejecter.blogspot.com/

http://hannahmosk.blogspot.com/

http://merbarnes.blogspot.com/