Monday, January 31, 2011

What makes you fall in love?

I'm not talking about with a person in real life (although that could be an interesting discussion), I'm talking about falling in love with characters, a world, a plotline--with a book.

What makes you fall in love with a book or a series? We all know what that's like. The insatiable need to keep reading, to find out what happens, to breathlessly await the kiss, or the epic battle, the triumphant ending... while still wishing you could go slower and savor the wonderful world you've escaped to. It's different for different people, a book that one person just adores might be one someone else didn't like at all.

So what is it for you? What are some of the books at the top of your list? Books you wish you could have the pleasure of rereading as though it were the first time all over again? I'd love to know!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Friday Five

Phwew, we made it through another week! Here's what's on my mind this week...

1. Trying to "entertain" a kid--aka trying to force him to rest--who has a positive strep test but doesn't feel sick at all (and is really upset he has to stay home from school, because he thinks he's fine) is not very fun. But we survived, and now he's not contagious and he's back at school. Hurray.

2. A good book is a great way to distract yourself from stress. I love getting sucked into a good book.

3. It's hard to write when you are exhausted both physically and mentally, and have a massive headache, and still feel nauseated (because apparently this nausea is never going away with this pregnancy). But those are the times you have to just force yourself to do it. Right?

4. SonB just turned 2 a couple of weeks ago. He's really taking that whole "terrible two's" thing to heart. He's still adorable, and insanely smart and cute, but boy can he be a handful. In related news, I am so in love with the power of Magic Erasers right now that if it weren't a sponge, SHH might be jealous. As it is, he's probably just as in love with it, because now he doesn't have to repaint the hallway walls. Who knew mascara could be so stubborn to get off?

5. Why is it that whenever I clean a part of my house, it never looks clean for longer than maybe an hour or two at the most? Unless it's the middle of the night and everyone is asleep--in which case, it lasts until morning at least. Do you ever feel like, "what's the point?" And the bigger question is, when am I going to be a millionaire so I can hire a maid and write instead of clean? Huh? HUH?! Okay, just kidding about that last part. ;)

What's on your mind this week?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What happens when it's not in your control?

Last night was... well, you'll find out. My youngest sister is a senior in high school, and on the drill team. For people outside of Utah, I don't think that means quite the same thing as it does here. I don't really know for sure. All I DO know is that in Utah the drill competitions, especially region and state, are as competitive and tense as how I imagine football is in Texas.

Last night was my sister's regional competition. There were dads there who had shaved their heads and painted them orange for their daughter's team colors (not from our team, thankfully -- I mean seriously, this is dance, NOT football). People were in line waiting for the doors to open hours and hours before they would. In the snow. (I was not one of them. My mom and sister were there an hour early and we were still squished on the upper left side of the center bleachers. Craziness.)

All seven teams had to perform three dances (for anyone in the "know," they did military, dance, and kick). Out of the seven teams, four were being sent to State, but only one could be Regional Champions.

The first set of dances was military. My sister's team by far and away did the best routine out there. Zero mistakes, flawless timing and lines, they nailed their headstands (in Utah, to be competitive in military dance, you have to have your whole team do simultaneous headstands, preferably with splits and all sorts of crazy stuff going on the air with your legs, all in the exact same timing.). We had parents around us from other teams saying our dance was the best one. Every other team had mistakes, girls fell out of headstands, and one team only had four girls do headstands at all. To keep this shorter, let's just say the next two sets of dances were a little bit more evenly competed, it was harder to say who should win (though there were some definite teams who made big mistakes and obviously shouldn't). There was also one team whose coach was fighting with the line judge for twenty minutes because they received a penalty for delay of competition. Emotions were running high.

After handing out personal awards (my sister got an All Regional Drill award), and doing the drill down, it was finally time to hand out the team awards. First in military. All of the teams sat together in circles on the floor of the gym, holding hands, heads bowed. All of us in the bleachers were filled with anxiety for our respective girls/teams. Fourth place for Military goes to... a team who had quite a few mistakes, we were all pretty surprised. But, okay. Good for them. Third place goes to... the team who dressed like a Russian Army (complete with boots, instead of dance shoes, which by the way, totally scuffed up their floor) and only four girls did headstands?! Ooookaay, this is making us a bit nervous. Second place goes to a very good team who deserved it, but did have one big mistake. So, that leaves us, the team with the penalties and a mistake, a team that had one big mistake, and a team that messed up quite a bit. Everyone holds their breath as the announcer pauses. First place in Military goes to... the team with the penalties and one or two mistakes. WHAT THE?!?!?! You can see our team physically deflate. My sister's shoulders crumble down, and her head drops to her hands. But then they stand up and clap for the winners. We are in absolute shock. The parents from other teams around us look at us, their eyes wide with disbelief. Not only did we not win when we were the only team without a single mistake and the hardest combination of headstands, and lines, etc... we didn't even place.

As the next two sets of results are read out, girls on the team start to cry, their shoulders shaking with hurt, disbelief, anger, defeat. Our team, who clearly deserved to at least finish second or third overall, didn't place in anything. Teams with huge mistakes, with penalties, with easier routines and strange flashy costumes, place ahead of them in everything. In fact, the team with the penalty takes first place overall--they become Regional Champions. Our team claps for the winners, even as tears streak their faces.

Walking down to my sobbing sister last night was awful. She should not have been crying. She should have been celebrating, they should have won--or at least placed. Before we left that night, we had parents from two different teams tell us as much. One was even from one of the teams who made it to state. We are happy for the teams who made it, they all worked hard and did their best, I'm sure. However, it is just unbelievably that we didn't even place. No matter how flawlessly our girls danced, no matter how perfect and amazing they were, it wasn't up to them. In the end, a set of judges got to make the call and no matter how unbelievable it was, that was the decision they made. We will probably never know what happened last night to cause the results to end up how they did.

So how do you deal with that? What happens when you do everything physically possible to be the best you can be, to dance perfectly--to submit an amazing book--and the people with the power to give you first place--or that book deal, or to offer to represent you--don't? There are many things we can control, to become the best we can, or to make our books the best they can be. But ultimately, it's not in our control. An agent has to decide to give us a chance. An editor has to decide to buy our book. And no matter how good that book might be, sometimes it just doesn't work. Sometimes for no understandable reason, they say no.

For my sister, she can't go back and try again. But she can know that she and her team did their absolute best. They were the true winners in the hearts of many, and in the end, they can know they were perfect whether the judges gave them credit for it or not.

But for us writers, we can keep trying again and again. Sometimes all we can do is to keep going. Keep writing, keep believing, keep trying. Someday, with some book, with the right timing and the right person, it WILL happen. I have to believe that, and so do you. It's the only way to make it when the control is out of your hands. I've been there when I was querying for an agent, and I'm there again now on submission.

But to my beautiful little sister, I want to say this: I love you, Laur. I know this hurts right now, and you're upset and angry, but I also know you will emerge from this stronger and even more wonderful than you already are. You did your best, your team did their best, you left it all out there on the floor, and you girls were amazing.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Monday quote time!

Hey everyone, I hope you had a great weekend. I had such a fun time with the blogfest last week. Reading everyone's posts, seeing the comments on my husband's--and seeing how excited he was by all of your kind responses. He kept checking the blog to see if there were any new comments all weekend. That was a lot of fun.

So, here's a great quote to start our week:

"It is better to fall short of a high mark than to reach a low one." - H. C. Payne

Isn't that great? So what high marks are you trying to reach this week... or month... or year?

But of course it would be EVEN BETTER to reach that high mark. That's my goal anyway. :-)

Happy Monday!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Blogfest: being married to a writer in the words of SHH

When I asked SHH to write this post, I was expecting a tell-all piece on the trials of being married to a writer. (The messy house! The piles of clean--but unfolded--laundry! The bleary-eyed wife begging for him to take the kids for just two hours so she can finish this revision!) But instead, well... read for yourself.

At dinner for our 7th anniversary in September of 2010

Being married to a writer is like having a full time job in the elevator industry. Need I say it’s full of up’s and down’s? We eat, drink and sleep inside the elevator. Among the hundreds of floors, there is only one special floor we are looking for. At times we climb so fast to the top that our ears pop. When we reach what we think is the very top floor, we hold our breath to see what greets us on the other side of the doors. Is it the welcoming hand of a publisher? Is it another pass? The suspense at times is overwhelming. Only Sara and Hannah (her agent) hold the combination that will get us to the right floor. I can’t choose the numbers for them. All I can do is encourage her to continue to try.

At times the elevator plummets, seemingly uncontrollable. We have to hold the handrail to stay steady and try not to throw up. Our stomachs twist inside out and force their way into our throats. The bell dings. The door opens. We find ourselves face to face with a two-headed evil beast named Despair and Failure. Now I’ll be honest here. We’ve had a couple of lengthy conversations with this beast. As ugly as Despair and Failure are on the inside, they can come across as an old friend looking for someone to join them. We have to remind ourselves that to step off the elevator at this level would only bring discouragement. Lucky for me, I know Sara has the strength and incredible support group to resist the temptation of this evil beast.

We must stay on until we’ve made it. To believe is to achieve. I know you can do this Sara! I believe in you. You are amazing! You inspire me to be better. Thank you for this wonderful ride!

Love, Trav

Halloween 2010 (we dressed up for a party the week before, but not the night of)

Thank you so much for believing in me, and for writing this post. I am so lucky.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Whoops... sorry so late

Well, this day is half over (more for some of you!) and I'm just posting. Sorry about that. We had internet traumas over here the last two days. So, since I'm so late, I'll keep it short and sweet.

If you want to query agents, you have to write a book.

If you want an agent, you have to query them.

If you want to be on submission, you have to have an agent.

If you want an editor, you have to get your book ready for your agent to submit.

If you want a book on a shelf, you have to get an editor to buy it.

Is any of this information new? Of course not. You all know it. But here's the thing: if your goal or dream is to be published, and you have yet to take any one of these steps (that are within your power)... well... the writing is on the wall. Or my blog, as the case may be.

So here's the advice part:

Go. Do it! Now!! (...and keep doing it until you make it to the next step.) If we all keep "doing" until we make it to that last step, someday all of our books WILL be on shelves. Hurray!

Monday, January 17, 2011

The last one!

Here are the rest of your questions from my querying/getting an agent Q&A:

Susan Fields said...
My question: I've heard that queries should be extremely short and to the point, yet often when I read a magazine article on queries that worked, they're pretty lengthy. What's a good word count for a query?
Different agents will tell you different things on word count. Some agents I queried had exact word count requirements of 200 words or something like that (yikes!). I think the best way to make sure your query isn't too long is to keep your "pitch" to two paragraphs, and if the whole letter can all fit on one printed page (formatted correctly -- no 8 point font and 1/4 inch borders), then you are good to go.

Can I ask another question? If not, just disregard. :) Say you get that call from an agent offering representation. Do you then email the other agents who are considering partials and fulls and tell them you have an offer and give them a deadline?

YES! You do exactly that. And usually you give them one week.

Kristine said... Great contest Sara--I'm getting in under the wire here. Here's my questions--I've done some work-for-hire and had a few things published. Is that impressing an agent? Or should I downplay it in my query?Thanks again for the opportunity.

Hmmm... I think it depends on what it was and how widely circulated your work was. I think it's good to show them you have some experience, but I wouldn't make it sound like a big deal (unless it was!). If it was a small local magazine or something, I'd mention it in your bio section, but just briefly. If it was a national magazine or publication, and particularly if it relates to the subject/genre you are querying, then you should make a bigger deal out of it. Does that make sense? I'm not the expert on this, so definitely do some more research on it before taking my word for it.

Rachel Searles said... Thanks for offering this contest! My question: how many people did you have critique your query before you sent it out?

The first time? Um... none? Yeah, I was a total greenie. I had no clue what I was doing other than having read Stephenie Meyer's website about how she bought Guide to Literary Agents, picked her top 15 or something like that, and sent off her queries. Bam! Instant millionaire. So I figured, I could do the same thing. As I've detailed in my "path to getting an agent" series last year, though I did get interest that first round, it didn't work out. Then I got smart and started getting help. I had about 5-6 people critique my queries after that every time. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Definitely don't make the mistakes I did!

I hope this series has been helpful and interesting! Thank you again for your questions. Happy Monday everyone!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Friday Five full of gushing about something I just can't keep secret (not writing related)

Hey all! Was that the longest title to a blog post ever? Yeah, I try to be unique and cool that way.

Guess what? It's Friday! (Betchya didn't already know that. Ha ha. Ha.)

Okay, usually I do a Friday Five, but here's all I can think about:

1. I have a beautiful new niece who I love.
2. I am going to be a mommy to a GIRL!!!!! I can hardly stand how excited I am!
3. I really need to get going on my most recent WIP. I've been letting it languish in the back of my mind, pulling it out to play with it every once in a while. Time to get down to the grind and get that thing DONE.
4. Did I mention I'm having a GIRL!?!?!?
5. Did I also mention that I have 2 sons and thought that would never happen? I hoped, but figured (since all evidence pointed that way) that Larson men could only create future generations of other Larson men. Thanks for proving my theory wrong SHH!!

I never know when or if I should announce things like that on my blog, but I am just too excited. And too many local authors/friends/followers already know I'm pregnant (apparently the more kids you have, the earlier you show. Who knew? *grumble, grumble* *but not too loud because it's a GIRL!*).

Also, if you'd like to read a "real" post, please head over to the Challenging the Gnome blog where I did a guest post today. I'd be really embarrassed if no one commented, so please read, comment, follow. They have a really fun, unique blog where they all try to tackle their "gnomes"--aka the hard things that are stumbling blocks to them in writing, life, and more. They are awesome, funny, wonderful women with some truly crazy stories from their lives. Enjoy!

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

We're almost there...

I have just one set of questions left (after today's). Thank you so much everyone who participated, and I hope you've found this series of Q&A helpful.

Danyelle said... Thanks for your generosity. :)Question: If you have more than one offer of representation, how do you handle telling the other agents that you didn't pick?

After you have carefully made an informed decision on which agent is best for you, the best way to let the other agents know is to send them a professional and kind email letting them know of your decision. Unless you feel like you had a closer relationship throughout the process that would necessitate a phone call. But usually, an email is sufficient.

Theresa Milstein said... Since we often send queries with pages, how do we know when it's the query or the pages or other?

I'm assuming you're asking when should you send pages and when should you just send the query? This is where your research becomes very important. Find the most up to date information on the agent you are querying (through, their websites, etc.). They will tell you what they want. However, if an agent says "query only," I'd usually send the first page with it (pasted in the email) so they could see a small sample of my writing and include a sentence that said, "I am also including a one-page excerpt from ____." (Or something like that.) I had a couple of author friends recommend I do that, and I found it was generally a good thing.

Brooke said... Great contest and thank you for your generosity!My question is what happens if you have more than one project ready to query?

In my opinion and from what I know, I say you pick the one that you think is the best, and you only query that one. (As long as they are the same genre or "age group"--aka, both YA, or both non-ficton, etc. so the same agent could represent both of them.) Once you have an agent interested, then you can tell them about your other project. However, I've had someone else tell me recently that she disagrees and thinks you should let them know in the query that you have another one ready. Everything I ever read or have heard is NOT to do that, but she is a knowledgeable person and says she's had success with it. So you may want to research that one a little bit more.

We're half way through the week, and so far mine has been awesome. I can only hope the trend continues! How about you? Is January 2011 treating you well?

Monday, January 10, 2011

More answers, and a darling new niece!

Time for more answers to your questions!

Kathryn said...
Wondering how your husband reacted when you signed with an agent! What was your family's reaction? :)
My husband was SO excited. He knew how badly I wanted this and how hard I had worked to get to that point. He'd seen me at the breaking point, when I was so beaten down with rejection that I didn't know if I could handle even one more. He also saw me when I was so excited about the most recent requests or feedback or revision. When it finally happened, I was almost in shock with disbelief that I'd finally achieved my goal. He on the other hand was jumping up and down, yelling in excitement, lifting me off of my feet and swinging me in circles. My family was also very excited, but not so much that they lifted me off of my feet. ;)

Emy Shin said...
These are great advice! A question, hmm... Did you have a process for querying? Did you query all agents at once, or send five queries, wait a week, then send five more, etc.?

Definitely don't query all the agents on your list at once. But I do believe in doing it in chunks. I'd say five - ten at a time. I usually sent out a chunk every monday morning, and see what kind of responses I got. One thing I did do though, was whenever I got a particularly heartbreaking rejection, I'd send out a new query right away (or maybe a couple) to give myself new hope. It was one way I coped with disappointment--focus on the possibility of the future instead of the failings of the past.

Nicole Zoltack said...
Queries always need to be tweaked so I would love to win!My question: How do you know when your query is ready?
Oh boy, this is a tricky one. Especially since I was often tweaking my query between every round of queries I sent out! But what I would usually do is have a few new people read it whenever I thought it was ready (on top of my CPs), and based on how they reacted I would decide. Another thing I did sometimes (when I was feeling really brave), was to call up a friend and read them my query as if it was the back of a book at a store to ask them if they thought it sounded good. I'm sorry I'm not much help on this one. Basically, get it to where you think it accomplishes your goal (concisely and intriguingly surmises your book), and then have the courage to send it out.
And now for your viewing pleasure, I'd like to introduce my beautiful new niece Zoey!!

Isn't she darling? I'm so in love.

And thank you for all of your wishes on SonB's birthday party. It went awesome! He loved all of it (including his cake), so hurray for success!

Did you all have a good weekend?

Friday, January 7, 2011

2 years...

A lot can happen in two years. It took me that long to get an agent... but I do have to confess, there was a slight, um, distraction in the middle of that process.
That is a pretty cute distraction, don't you think?? It's hard to believe that two years ago today, I was staring down into this heavenly little face, falling in love with my second little boy.

And now here he is -- such a big boy! (This is Christmas morning) I can't believe SonB is turning 2! He is so excited for his birthday party, and even more excited for his birthday cake. It's all he talks about. When I went in his room to get him out of bed this morning and said, "Guess what? It's your birthday today!" He said, "Birthday cake?!" I sure hope the cake lives up to all his hopes and dreams. ;)

Well, I'm off to go pick up the long dreamed of cake, and finish preparing for his "wellow uck" party (which translates to yellow truck in SonB-speak). What fun plans do you have today?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Return... of the answers to your questions!

Okay, well let's get back to it, shall we? Since I took a two week break, I didn't finish answering all of your great questions regarding querying and finding an agent. Here are a couple more:

Jennie Bailey asked:

How do you whittle your book down to one small paragraph without leaving anything important out? Do you give away your ending? Or keep it secret? I'll be querying by Spring, but I have so much trouble with narrowing it down and getting to the good stuff (yes, I've tried a few times just for practice)!

Technically, you can whittle it down to two paragraphs, maybe even three if they're on the short side. But I understand what you mean. It is really hard to take a huge, 70,000 word novel (give or take ten or twenty thousand words) into a query. That is one reason I say start your query before you write the book if possible. That is when you have your core idea but not all of the details swimming around in your head yet. You will most likely edit and change it once you write the book, but at least you will have a good starting place. If you've already written the book you have to ask yourself two questions: who is my main character (the query should only focus on their story, no supporting cast allowed if at all possible), and what is my hook? The hook is what is going to grab an agent's attention. This is not the place to try and show them how intricate your plot is, or the number of twists you've thrown in. You don't want to confuse them by naming too many characters in those two short paragraphs. It is also not the place to reveal your ending. Save that for a synopsis. Take some of your favorite books and read the jacket copy or back of the book blurb. Which ones sound the best to you? That's basically what you are trying to accomplish with your query. Keep it simple, intriguing--stick to your basic plot and hook, and you've got a query.

Alexia asked:

Question: When you get THE CALL, if your brain goes completely blank from mega freaking out excitement, what is the one question you should not forget to ask? Sorry, that's probably totally unfair. No pressure :)

Ha ha, well, I'm going to cheat on this answer so I don't feel any pressure at all. This is why you PRINT OFF YOUR LIST. Your brain will freak out, and you will go blank, and you will have that lovely sheet of paper right there, with all of your questions printed on it, and a pen or pencil in your other hand to write down their answers (or at least jot down notes). Problem solved. But if for some truly horrible, awful, (really, really bad) reason you can't find your paper, I'd say the most important question is to ask them what their thoughts and goals are for your book. That's kind of squishing the "tell me what edits you envision for my book, or is it ready to submit right now?" question together with the, "do you already have an idea of who you are going to submit my book to, and how soon do you hope we'll be ready to go on submission?" questions into one. Honestly, just make sure and be prepared and have your paper ready. They will set up an appointment with you, so it won't take you by surprise or anything.

Well, that's it for now. More to come soon!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Welcome 2011!

I'm baaaack! Did you miss me? I missed all of you. But I do have to admit, it was very nice to just unplug and enjoy Christmas and the New Year with my family. How was your break?

I'm always a little bit sad when the holidays are over, but then the New Year hits. SHH and I always sit down and write out all of our goals for the year, and it really helps me get excited for what's to come. We break it down into daily, weekly, monthly, and finally yearly (or "end of the year") goals. We often tape the list to our bathroom mirror so that we can see it multiple times a day to remind ourselves of what we need and hope to accomplish. Our goals encompass all aspects of our lives. It's always fun to look back at our previous list and see how far we've come or what we still need to work on.

So tell me, what are your goals for this year? Do you make an actual list, and if so, what do you do with it? I have a feeling 2011 is going to be an amazing year, and I can't wait to see what's in store!