Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Interview with...Mick Silva

      Today I’m thrilled to welcome editor Mick Silva to the blog. Mick has worked in the publishing industry for over 10 years, including time with Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group. Mick’s currently a freelance editor and consultant to authors. He’s building a fabulous online community at YourWritersGroup.com. Please welcome Mick!

1.      Thanks for joining me on the blog today, Mick. Could you tell the audience how you came to be involved in the publishing industry? 

Mick: I don't know how else Peter Pan stays in Neverland once he gets a wife and kids. Madeline L'Engle, E.T., and The Hobbit. That order. They made me want to read and that made me want to write. After film school, I went to Focus on the Family, started acquiring marriage books, went to WaterBrook Press and then began helping Windblown Media after The Shack took off. And now I run a website for discovering and telling stories for "writers of a higher purpose," code for "misfits and reformed hoodlums." 

2.      What are the pros and cons of being an independent editor vs. part of a publishing house?

Mick: Pro for indy: no one spits in your coffee. Con: you have to make it yourself. Pro: It's better coffee. Con: You buy it yourself. Pro: You appreciate that more. Con: less time to appreciate it. Pro: You can schedule more time for that. Con: You have to figure out how to explain it to your wife so she doesn't question. Pro: You do, in fact, figure that out  eventually.

3.      What keeps you engaged with a story? What does “story” mean to you in the big picture?

Mick: There are no fairytales left. What I always want is a believable fantasy so I can believe my life really could be like Peter Pan's. Many books tickle ears and think they're doing that but there's no substance. Some books slap your face, some punch your gut. I don't have time for those. Very few show you they really know you have ice around your heart that needs melting. I'm looking for what I think everyone wants deep down which is escape from myself so I can be unfrozen.

4.      What are two of your all-time favorite books, fiction or non-fiction? Why?

Mick: Great question. I always love the book I'm currently reading the most, but if I could fuse A Wrinkle In Time and The Alchemist into one book, I'd probably give up trying to write. They broke the rules. They didn't write what they should have. They didn't fit. And they didn't hoard their vision but they included everyone in it and made the world better by showing us we're all like them in some undeniable ways. And in those books and others like them (To Kill a Mockingbird and The Book of the Dun Cow come to mind now as well) we learn that we all need each other. (parenthetical examples don't count in the tally, right?)

5.      In your career, what are the primary reasons manuscripts fail to grab an editor’s interest?

Mick: Sadly, I think it comes down to one thing: the author hasn't read enough. I was going to say their acknowledgments page isn't long enough yet, but I think that grows as readers discover more of who they owe for their very minds. And minds come from books. Books are the antidote to stupid, which I'll humbly suggest here as my memorable soundbite. They cure ignorance. Books are a way to experience knowledge which is the definition of we grow and mature and realize all we don't know. It's the rare folks who've read their heritage and defined a fresh interpretation that can catch an editor's eye.

6.      E-books, POD and e-readers have altered the publishing landscape. How do you envision the publishing realm continuing to change over the next 5-10 years?

Mick: Grossman wrote a great article in Time a year or so ago about how the old neat orchard has become an overgrown jungle. And some people freak out about that but if you look at diversity through the eyes of millions of young readers who don't know any different and haven't yet found their favorite books yet, you begin to think maybe what's coming isn't so bad. Sure it's a mess right now. The floor is covered in digital static. But we're also freer to move around because the room is expanding. And freedom is always dangerous but despite the predictions, over 2000 years ago we were told the making of books would be endless. I appreciate that we've got work to do in this new Guttenberg era to craft and lead our collective dream of a better life. But God knows what he's doing and I'm just excited to share my hope in the wonderful surprising journey.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Writing from the Heart

Some of you will laugh at the title of this blog post. "Isn't that what you're SUPPOSED to do?"
It's easier said than done. As writers, we begin with the kernel of an idea which (if it's a good one) will sprout into a plot, even if it's just a skeletal one. We'll create some characters to populate this story and maybe even map it out a bit --- unless your a pantster. 

From here, different writers take different tacts. Some let their characters do all the work. The writer allows them to set the story tempo and tell the story, since it's theirs to tell. This works greeat, especially in fiction. You have the plot-first crowd who maps out every detail they can possibly dream up and then write from that base. Again, perfectly solid and respectable.

This is all well and good for fiction, but what about nonfiction? What about a story where you may be the main character? This is where I find myself today.

Writing from the heart has come to assume a totally different meaning for me since I started Sarah's story. This isn't just me writing about people I may or may not know. This is a story about my family. About my baby girl. About me. 

Writers and agents often speak about "bleeding on the page." Well, I can vouch for the fact that writing a personal narrative can feel just like that. Literally. Each word stirs a memory. Those memories aren't always easy to depict in narrative and yet, when writing from the heart, from the life you've actually lived, can be exhilirating. And painful. And freeing.

Today, are you writing from your heart in your fiction or nonfiction? What is the most difficult aspect of letting it "all hang out" so to speak? 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

WIP Thursday: Where to Begin (or End)?

I hope you enjoyed this week's interview with Lucienne Diver. Next week, editing guru Mick Silva is on tap. So don't miss out Tuesday! (By the way, Mick didn't ask for the "guru" moniker but I think he deserves it anyway.)

Have you ever found yourself flip-flopping between projects? Have you ever been torn between finishing one project while another is pestering you "write me, write me?" Well, that's where I find myself this week. On the one hand, "Big Joe" should be my focus. I'm feverishly attempting it to get it prepared to query but the opening still has me scratching my head, based on feedback I've received.

So we come to project #2, which I've been talking about off and on here: Sarah's story. It's the story that will not leave me alone. I can't walk, read, sleep or eat without thinking of it the past few days. Maybe it's my mind being clouded over for a week with the onset of bronchitis. Or maybe, this really is THE story I should be focusing on in the present.

The difficult part for me is Sarah's story is such a personal one that it takes a lot of energy just recounting some of the events. I have no doubt non-fiction has the potential to toughen me up as a writer. Good Lord, just writing a book proposal will do that! At some point I think I need to make up my mind. Or do I? I've heard some writers who work on drastically different projects at one time, and certainly as a writer we're equipped to juggle our workload as deadlines and circumstances dictate.

I've always been a person who focused on one thing, finished it, and moved on to the next. With my writing, I've found that much more challenging. Anyone out there have trouble juggling different projects? How do reach a sense of accomplishment with both projects?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Interview with...Lucienne Diver

Today's guest is a type-A workaholic by her own admission. Lucienne Diver is a wife, mother, writer AND an agent with the Knight Agency. She's one busy, focused lady! Lucienne was gracious enough to accept my invitation to the blog so please welcome her with me.

You can find Lucienne online at:
http://luciennediver.wordpress.com/ - her blog
http://www.luciennediver.com - author website
http://knightagency.net - agency website

1.      As both an author and agent, what do you find most challenging about separating your careers?

Lucienne: I don’t actually have any trouble separating them.  I write first thing in the morning, before my inner agent has downed the requisite two cups of coffee (super-sized) and come on-line.  My inner critic is likewise still abed at that hour, which means I can get out of my own way and just listen to the voices in my head rather than insert myself into the process.  Once business hours roll around and I know that authors and editors will be calling, my agent-brain kicks in, and it would be impossible for me to focus on anything else.  At that point, it’s my “To Do” list rather than my novel scrolling through my head, and the only way to keep it manageable is to keep it moving.

2.       Writers glean from all facets of life, including their own. How much of your own personality and life experience appears in the characters of your novels?

Lucienne: It’s interesting how well you come to know yourself as a writer.  I’ve realized that much of my early work features characters that are a lot like me.  They want to cut to the chase and not dwell on all that messy emotional stuff.  However, as I’ve gone on, I’ve realized that I’m going to have to open up other parts of myself to keep from stagnating, and that will sometimes mean drawing on issues and events that aren’t comfortable.  As I’ve been working on my new (currently hush, hush) project, I’ve begun internalizing the immortal words of Ernest Hemingway: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

3.       What is the best thing about being a 1) writer and 2) agent?

Lucienne: Best thing about being a writer: when you learn that you’ve really affected someone with your work.  I love feedback from readers, particularly reluctant readers, who’ve become absorbed in my work and cared enough to let me know it. 
Best thing about being an agent: working with authors.  Truly, my clients are some of the  most amazing, talented, brilliant, empathetic, intriguing people in the world, and I’m privileged to have a place among them.

4.       What advice can you give aspiring writers who think they’re ready to submit their work?

Lucienne: Do NOT rush it out the door.  After you’ve written your novel, workshop and revise it until you can’t look at it any more, then put it away for a time.  I’d suggest a month, minimum, but if you can’t give it that, a few weeks at least so that you can go back to it with fresh eyes.  I guarantee you’ll find a whole host of new things to tweak that you’ll wonder how you ever missed.  You don’t often get a second chance to impress the pros with the same manuscript, so you want to make every opportunity count.

5.       I know from reading your bio and blog that you’re one busy woman. How in the world do you maintain such high standards (and quality in your work) when it seems you barely have time to sleep?

Lucienne: You know that schedule running through my head that I mentioned back in the answer to question #1?  Well, I’m a serious Type A personality, which means that I don’t know how to relax and any gap in my schedule just stresses me out with the idea that I should be doing something to fill it.  I’m pretty much incapable of relaxing, though my husband’s working on introducing me to the concept.

6.       Are you currently accepting new clients? What would you say is the most important writing attribute for you when considering a new client?

Lucienne: I’ll always be on the look-out for something that really blows me away.  I’ve sold three wonderful debut novels within the past twelve months.  That said, I already work with forty authors of fantasy, science fiction, romance, mystery and young adult fiction, so I’m not as actively looking as I might have been earlier on in my career.  In a manuscript I seek out voice, marketability, pacing and originality.  In a client, I look for someone who’s creative, motivated, responsive and a strong communicator.

7.      Could you name one or two of your literary or publishing heroes or role models?

Lucienne: A few literary heroes: Sharyn McCrumb for pretty much everything she’s ever written. Ditto for Mary Stewart. In YA and middle grade fiction, I’m a big fan of Suzanne Collins, Rick Riordan and J.K. Rowling. I know, I’m hardly unique in this, but I love them all the same.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Writing: In It for the Long Haul

I’m finally shaking the cloudy brain caused by my bout with bronchitis this past week. Happy to be on the other side of that, let me tell you. I hate being sick at all and it always seems like when I do it, I do it big. 

As many of my writing friends are apt to say: Writing is a marathon, not a sprint. If you come into the writing life thinking you'll have agents falling all over your writing (a first draft, even!) or that you know everything about the industry, you'll be in for a rude awakening.

Nothing in life is easy or free and writing is no different. In fact, I would place it near the top of most difficult non-dangerous professions. Most writers don't experience overnight success but they do receive many rejections. The key is to move past those, not take them personally and continue to improve your work. 

I'm struggling right now and I'll readily admit it. The opening to both my novels has received mixed feedback and it's frustrating. However, I've been in the business long enough (even as a pre-published author) to realize it would be easy to just hang it up now. Enough is enough already, right? 

But to do that would be to turn my back on a dream I've had since I was in 3rd grade. To give up would be to surrender a talent I believe God has given me. We all struggle with emotional ups and downs in our writing, but each time we fall, we have to be willing to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and fight another day.

That's what I'm doing and will continue to do. I'm certain fiction will have a place in my writing life and I'll do what is necessary to improve it, land an agent, and hopefully (eventually!) a book deal of some kind. What if no book deal ever transpires?

The writing will continue because I have a lot of stories to tell and not all of them are fictional. Just imagine the stories encompassing biliary atresia and other liver diseases. My own family's walk through this and transplant, which I'm currently documenting. And so many more ideas. 

You see, writers don't just get one or two ideas, sell a book and then retire to live lavishly on the riches those books have accumulated. You've got to be realistic and you've got to be tough. As for me, I'm in it for the long haul. Are you?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy Father's Day

To all the fathers who spent time investing in their children, leading the way by example and who were always available, emotionally and otherwise. I salute you!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Out Sick

I'm battling a bout of bronchitis this week. I hope to have the blog up and running again as normal by Monday. And myself, as well.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Interview with...Stasia Kehoe

This week I welcome Stasia Kehoe to the blog. I met Stasia several years ago at the regional SCBWI's Great Critique and consider myself privileged to have actually read a portion of her novel aloud before it was published. Stasia is one of the great people I've met in the publishing industry - always willing to stop and catch up or pass along some bit of encouragement. Please help me welcome her to the blog and be sure to find her at one of the many places she resides online: 

1. Welcome to the blog, Stasia. Thanks for taking time to visit with us. I know you’ve been involved in the publishing industry for some time in the publicity arena. Did this make it easier to transition into the writing realm? 

Most of my non-writer publishing experience has been in the area of school and library marketing so I found that there was still quite a bit I didn't know about being on the author side.  That said, working in publishing has given me the opportunity to read many wonderful books which is  an essential part of a writer's education.  I also realize how much work the people in-house have to do.  So, I think my work experience has made me very appreciative of the support I've gotten from my publisher.

2.   Why did you decide to write your novel in verse? 

I don't think writing AUDITION in verse was as much a decision as an instinct.  It is certainly the case that hearing Ellen Hopkins speak was a very important moment in the journey of this novel from prose to verse.  More broadly, though, I sometimes find it frustrating when people say, "If a novel is in verse, the author has to make a very strong argument for why it wasn't written in prose."  It makes me wonder if if anyone ever asked Merce Cunningham to explain why he choreographed modern dances instead of ballets, or asked Eminem why he wraps instead of singing opera.  Writing, like choreographing, making music, playing shortstop, is something you do in the voice that is yours with the talents you have.  Plain and simple. 

3.  You’ve obviously been out promoting your book heavily since it’s release. Could you share what that experience has been like? How does it differ as the writer instead of marketing for the publisher? 

Book promotion is the roughest part of the publishing journey.  Years on the marketing side has shown me that unless you are a celebrity or have some other type of platform (or hit the NYT best-seller or a major literary award list), there is very little an individual author can do to impact awareness (much less sales) of his or her books.  I also know that solo book events for debut novelists are a big challenge.  It's tough in-house, too.  Every publicist is working from similar media and educational contact lists, every book is in competition for the notice on the same key internet and paper publications.  Of course, in-house, you have a budget and a collaborative team to help you make decisions and, you know, seal envelopes.  But promotion is a huge challenge.  For these reasons, I think it is very important for individual writers to promote their work in ways that feel natural, organic and (dare I say it) fun because the rewards are unlikely to be significant in terms of dollar amount. 

I enjoy blogging about reading and writing, so I continue to blog as I did before I got my agent and published a novel.  And I love the company of artsy people, so I formed an author tour collective called Stages on Pages, comprised of writers whose novels and/or lives involve the performing arts.  We are about to embark on our fourth tour adventure, this one to Northern California.  We sell some books, sure, but more importantly, we talk about writing and the book biz with amazing writers, bloggers, booksellers, teachers and librarians.  I know other authors who focus their efforts on school visits, who are very active on Goodreads or Facebook, and some whose focus outside of writing books is much more on other aspects of their lives, such as performing or another day job.

4. What’s one thing you’d like to share with first-time novelists? 

Write what's closest to your heart, go down to the bone, make your characters as honest as you can.  Then, when you think you can't even breathe because it's so hard, go farther.  Don't save anything for the "next book" or even the next page.   Agents and editors can tell when you're not giving it your all.  This is true with the second book, too.  Try to fall in love with writing more than the idea of being published.  The writing will always take much more of your time. 

5. What types of books grab your attention? Are there a couple new releases (besides your own) that you’d recommend to my audience? 

I love a well-written book in any genre.  Novelists I admire include Neil Gaiman, Holly Black, Markus Zusak, Lauren Oliver and Gayle Forman.   I suppose I'd recommend to people that they read widely because sometimes you can learn more about craft reading something very different from what you write.  

6.  If you could meet any writer from the past, who would it be and why? 

Noel Streatfield, Agatha Christie and W. Somerset Maugham.  Obviously, I am a bit of an Anglophile.  I also love theater people and all three of these novelists were also playwrights and, generally, theatrical types :)  Plus, I love to drink tea.

Thanks so much for the great questions!

Thank you, Stasia, for spending some with us today.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

WIP Wednesday: Progress Report

Slowly but surely I'm making my way through first round revisions of Big Joe. I think of progress in terms of the quality of the revision, not the quantity. I'm not going to kick myself if one day I only get through a couple of pages because the next day I might complete five.

I've read and re-read my picture books and they're just not where I want them so I may set them aside, finish a couple I have half-written and see what happens. It's tough enough revising a novel but picture books? It's just crazy because each word truly means so much. I'm so fond of narrative ("I like to write long-winded scenes") that it's difficult for me to cut as many words as I'll need to in the picture books.

Back to Big Joe: It's pretty imperative I finish the first round of edits within two weeks. My desire is to have the manuscript query-ready by the end of June and that can only happen if I make significant process. What that means is amping up the production. Yes, I know I said above I wouldn't kick myself but realistically, I need to be revising 10 pages per day, minimum. I'll let you know how it's progressed next week.

In the meantime, what shortcuts have you found when revising? What tools have you found helpful?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Interview with...Authoress

Many of you are familiar with Authoress, a fabulous writer and advocate for writers who holds online critiques and monthly Secret Agent contests. She's one of my favorite online people and oozes encouragement and insight at her blog here. If for some reason you have NOT visited her blog, do it right away. You will not be disappointed and I guarantee aspiring or beginning writers will learn something. The writing community Authoress has created there is really amazing and it truly IS a community. You can also follow her on Twitter - @AuthoressAnon. Help me welcome Authoress to the blog this week!

1. You’re a great encouragement to aspiring writers everywhere. Your blog, your contests, your positive input has created a band of writing friends. What’s one thing in your own writing career that’s kept you going?

It's funny timing, this question.  I've just gone through a season of discouragement that was particularly hard to climb out of.  (Writing is a series of ups and downs, as we all know.)  I know that if I tried to "just keep swimming" in my own strength, I'd never make it.  But I've got a supportive husband who keeps reminding me that he believes in me, and I've got a wonderful group of writing friends/critique partners who never let me down.  The MSFV blog community itself has been a HUGE source of encouragement in my life.  And I've got a superb agent who oozes enthusiasm and support, which makes all the difference in the world.

The one thing that truly keeps me going, though, is my faith in Jesus Christ.  It's His unconditional love for me that undergirds everything I do, and it's His presence that fills me when I'm empty.  Everything I am, I am in Him.

2. Would you continue writing even if you never landed an agent or contract - ever?

These are deep questions!  I can't imagine my life without writing in it, for sure.  And regardless of where this path leads me, I believe I will always write something.  But writing novels is something I can't see myself continuing to do without being published.  It's a lot of hard work.  Grueling, even.  And I'm in this game to be published; that's the bottom line.  I would never be able to settle, at this point, for writing a novel without going through all the steps that are necessary to make it GOOD.  And I can't see myself continuing to go through all those steps without a contract on the horizon.

I've got a ridiculously useless talent for writing verse easily.  It's not something I'll make money doing, but it's fun, if nothing else.  So when I'm 90, I'll probably still be writing sonnets for my husband.

3. Practicing and perfecting craft is key to becoming a great writer. What tips or practices have you incorporated into your daily writing to improve it?

Well, some writers like to warm up or practice with writing prompts or short stories or myriad other tricks.  For me, though, jumping into my current project makes me happiest. When I'm drafting, I have a 1000-word-a-day rule that I NEVER BREAK.  In this way, I've trained myself to write to deadline, and am able to finish a first draft in three months.

The biggest change in my writing approach over the past year or so is that I am no longer an unabashed pantser.  I use the "beat sheet" method to plan my stories, and it's made a world of difference in my drafting.  My plans are solid enough to keep the plot arc flowing, but open enough to allow scenes to develop on their own.  It's been wonderfully freeing!

4. If you could be any character in any story ever written, who would you be and why?

Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice.  Any girl who turns down two marriage proposals during a time period that would consider her actions social suicide definitely wins points for "feisty" and "independent"!  And, in the end, she wins the ever-constant Mr. Darcy after all, and becomes mistress of Pemberly.  It's a wonderful love story, and I'm all over that.  The gorgeous dresses are an added bonus.

Monday, June 4, 2012

How Many Revisions is Enough?

You’ve finished your manuscript. All the blood, sweat and tears you’ve poured into every word have been worth it and you’ve written THE END. Congratulations! Completing that first draft is a major accomplishment. Go ahead and celebrate, you deserve it. So many people never even reach that point.

But now---now comes the hard part. The word that can make writers' knees go weak. That word which can send a shudder down your spine. You know the one. Revision. 

You’re beautiful piece of art must now be hacked to bits. Words---the very ones you sweat and bled over---must be cut or moved. Entire chapters might need to be jettisoned. So buckle down and get busy. Revision is not for the faint-hearted as I’m discovering myself.  Try to look for the silver lining. Specifically, believe that revision will improve your manuscript. Truly, it will.

But how many revisions are enough? As with so many aspects of writing, this will vary from writer to writer and story to story. I’ve penciled in a minimum of three revisions and that’s before an agent or editor even views the manuscript.

What tips have you found when revising? How painful has the process been for you? How many revisions do you find yourself completing for each novel?

Friday, June 1, 2012

Why I Write

Authoress blogged about writing for the market vs. your heart yesterday. It got me thinking about why I write. I’ve actually been thinking about this for a couple of weeks, since the NCWA conference. 

I’ve always written the stories that lived in my heart. I’ve never been interested in writing to market trends because when you do that, you end up missing the trend. Or worse, you’re viewed as someone trying to catch a ride on what’s hot and unless your manuscript is SO awesome that it gets past the slush pile, it may end up hurting you. By all means, write a gripping novel but don’t say (or think) it will be the next Hunger Games. There’s only one of those.

This gets me to the deeper question of why I write. That’s not an easy answer and I’m still exploring it as I move forward with the revision of my WIP and start contemplating the start of my third novel. I guess the bottom line for me is this: I want to write an entertaining story that people will revisit again & again. If the story happens to make them think a little bit about a topic, that’s a bonus.

All stories have messages, whether or not the writer intends or even believes so. Good stories with tangible, relateable messages live beyond the current trend, the bestseller list, the flash in the pan – those books live on forever because they transcend just the written word. They carry heart and that’s the story I want to write.

What about you? What stories reside in your heart that are screaming to be told? Why do you write?