GIVEAWAY: Signed copy of THE SECRET INGREDIENT OF WISHES & Anthropologie apron!

untitled-designTwo years ago I mentored an author for PitchWars — an online writing contest where authors looking for agents (and publishing deals) get to work with mentors to shine and polish their manuscripts. I’ve always loved books with magical realism, particularly ones that also include food (think Sarah Addison Allen), and was tickled when I came across Susan Bishop Crispell’s manuscript. It’s a story where secrets are baked into pies, wishes that float on tiny pieces of paper come true, and it’s full of all the things I love in a great magical realism story.

 

I worked with Susan on that manuscript (well, she worked — HARD), and while it wasn’t a direct line from PitchWars to book sale, I’m thrilled that Susan’s debut, THE SECRET INGREDIENT OF WISHES, just hit shelves this past Tuesday.

 

So to celebrate I’m giving away a signed hardcover copy of Susan’s book, along with this lovely (and book cover matching!) apron from Anthropologie that I wish I could keep for myself. For readers who also love to cook or bake, or who like to look stylish while pretending to chef it up in the kitchen, this is the giveaway for you!

 

I’ll choose a lucky winner next Saturday, September 17th, via random draw (open to U.S. and Canada). Please visit Susan’s website and give her a little love on Facebook and Twitter if you’re so inclined. And good luck, everyone!

 

If you want to know more about the book, here’s the synopsis:

51t-vfynk1l26-year-old Rachel Monroe has spent her whole life trying to keep a very unusual secret: she can make wishes come true. And sometimes the consequences are disastrous. So when Rachel accidentally grants an outlandish wish for the first time in years, she decides it’s time to leave her hometown―and her past―behind for good.

Rachel isn’t on the road long before she runs out of gas in a town that’s not on her map: Nowhere, North Carolina―also known as the town of “Lost and Found.” In Nowhere, Rachel is taken in by a spit-fire old woman, Catch, who possesses a strange gift of her own: she can bind secrets by baking them into pies. Rachel also meets Catch’s neighbor, Ashe, a Southern gentleman with a complicated past, who makes her want to believe in happily-ever-after for the first time in her life.

As she settles into the small town, Rachel hopes her own secrets will stay hidden, but wishes start piling up everywhere Rachel goes. When the consequences threaten to ruin everything she’s begun to build in Nowhere, Rachel must come to terms with who she is and what she can do, or risk losing the people she’s starting to love―and her chance at happiness―all over again.

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PitchWars 2014 is here. Have you Got what it takes?

I’m going to keep this as short as I can (which probably means not short at all), mostly because I’m currently running “Mommy Camp” (summer break = no break for mom) and my six-year-old daughter tends to prefer playing outside versus watching me tap at these keys (shocking, right?).  So if you have a Women’s Fiction, Literary, or Marriage Thriller book, and it’s fresh and shiny (to be clear, to me “shiny”=POLISHED, not first draft material) and you’re simply BURSTING to get a solid critique, PRETTY PLEASE SEND IT TO ME. No, really. Go to the submission form (on August 18th), put my name on it, and hit SEND. For everything you need to know about how to submit, including the amazing agents playing along, head on over to Brenda Drake’s blog.

But Karma, I can hear you saying — why would I choose you over any one of the other amazing/talented/accomplished/(and likely funnier and more clever with their bio) mentors? I’m so glad you asked.

1. I may be the most thorough critique out there. Well, perhaps I’m overstating this BUT my critique partners talk about my “cocoon” of notes. Meaning I line edit, focusing not only on the bigger things like themes, pacing, tension, and characterization, but also on the little details. I promise you a manuscript riddled with track changes. I am a, um, tough critique (consider yourself warned), but isn’t that exactly what you want out of an experience like this? (If you answered, “not really” to this last question might I suggest a different mentor?) Together we will make your manuscript the best it can be — if you’re in, I’m in. (Also, check out my mentee’s success story from the last PitchWars!)

2. I’ll be there for you after the contest ends. Seriously, ask any of my #TeamGoodKarma mentees from last year, and they’ll tell you we still exchange emails, and I’m happy to offer advice, give feedback, and tweet the heck out of their good news. Writing can be a lonely, isolating endeavour, so the more we can stay connected to one another and support each other the better.

3. I’m an avid reader, and a focused writer. While I write upmarket women’s fiction, my reading tastes vary from young adult, to (light) urban fantasy, to everything in between. I also read A LOT, even when I’m on deadline, and I think I might shrivel up and die if I couldn’t read. Is that melodramatic? Maybe, but it’s true. Which means I also love reading the books my critique partners write, and why I can’t wait to read your manuscript! As for my own writing, I get up nearly every morning at 5 am (if you’re an early morning writer and on Twitter check out #5amwritersclub — that crew has kept me going many an early morning) and write for a couple of hours before I have to put on my mom hat.

Want to know a bit more about me? I live near Toronto, Canada (if you would like to know the appropriate way to insert ‘eh’ into a conversation, I’m glad to help), am happily married, am mom to a beautiful daughter and an equally handsome labradoodle named Fred, and love to run, read, bake, and drink coffee (another one of the great pleasures of life). I also wish I could go to Hogwarts, am addicted to chocolate-covered jujubes, and haven’t slept in past 6am in, oh, six years. My day job is freelance writer, and I write mostly lifestyle/parenting articles for magazines. I’m also an 11-year cancer survivor, and pretty damned pleased to still be here to say that. I’m represented by Carolyn Forde, who is the most supportive and determined agent an author could ever ask for. I’ve blogged the twists and turns of my road to publication, in case you’re interested. My debut novel Come Away with Me will be out next July (Mira/Harlequin), and my second book will come out about a year later.

Me and the mini. This is pretty much how you’ll find me on any given day, unless I’m writing!

Now how about a wishlist? If I were to generalize, the books I’m most drawn to have complicated issues, big hearts, and pretty words.

What I’d love to see:

  • Women’s Fiction — think book club/upmarket (commercial with a literary feel, including those with magical realism, and in a perfect world, magic AND food): WHAT ALICE FORGOT (or anything by Liane Moriarty), AFTER I DO (Taylor Jenkins Reid), THE PILOT’S WIFE (Anita Shreve), ME BEFORE YOU (Jojo Moyes), WHERE’D YOU GO BERNADETTE (Maria Semple), GARDEN SPELLS (Sarah Addison Allen), LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE (Laura Esquirel), PRACTICAL MAGIC (Alice Hoffman)
  • More literary (still with a commercial feel) — LITTLE BEE (Chris Cleave), THE DINNER (Herman Koch), THE NIGHT CIRCUS (Erin Morgenstern)
  • Marriage/Psychological Thrillers — GONE GIRL (Gillian Flynn), THE SILENT WIFE (A.S.A Harrison), and though it’s still on my TBR pile, if your book is anything like Natalie Young’s SEASON TO TASTE (look it up, trust me when I say this is a strange and compelling idea for a book), I would love to see it. I also just finished THE GOOD GIRL (Mary Kubica) and have determined I’m a psychological thriller fan. In truth, it’s pretty hard to scare me away with a concept!

What’s probably not for me (though you never know, I am open to having my mind changed…):

  • Fantasy & Sci-fi
  • Romance
  • Crime
  • Anything boring or not polished (wait, did I say that out loud?)

Also, if you own a tattered copy of ON WRITING by Stephen King, and have at one time or another mentioned something about “killing your darlings,” we are sure to get along.

I’m trying to curb my GIF addiction, but will leave you with one of my favourites (<= note the Canadian spelling) — this will be me, opening the submissions and finding THE book (your book?) I can’t wait to read and critique.

 

Don’t forget to check out the other mentors’ blogs — click below and start doing your homework …

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Write. Rewrite. Repeat.

“Books aren’t written — they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.” – Michael Crichton

(Nailed it, Michael.)

When I started writing my first novel (three books ago) my goal was to just get the first draft finished. Would I try to publish it? people asked. I used to shrug and say I didn’t want to get ahead of myself. Writing the first draft of that first book was hard. It took a long time. I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t understand tension, pacing, character development, not to start my first chapter with my protagonist waking up (yes, I made that faux pas), how to show versus tell … I had a lot to learn. Fast forward a bunch of years and a bunch of drafts, and I get it. The first draft? Simple. You just keep laying down the words. Get the story out. Give yourself a deadline and stick to it. The words add up — and before you know it, you have a completed draft. Of course, simple doesn’t mean easy, but had I known just how many revisions a book takes to make it sparkle, well…it’s probably good I was so naive.

I’m doing revisions now for my editor — which thrills me to no end. You won’t hear me complain about going through my ENTIRE book for the 15th (20th?) time. It’s a process, and I’m giddy with excitement to have this opportunity.

This book, THE MEMORY OF US, will be published July 2015. Though I’ve revised the manuscript before (for my critique partners / for my agent / for submission), I’m now doing it on deadline … and I’ve been paid … and I have another book as part of my contract to write after this one is done. The game has changed, and so has my revision process. I have no idea if this is how I’ll approach revisions on my next book, but for now, this works:

  • TAKE A DEEP BREATH (or a few)

Despite my excitement to dive in, editorial letter and marked up manuscript at the ready, the above does a great job at showcasing how I was feeling about this round of revisions (MUST.NOT.EFF.THEM.UP.). So the first thing I did was read my editor’s letter again, go through her notes in the manuscript, and go for a run. That cleared my head and got me ready to jump in.

  • GATHER YOUR SHIT & GET EXCITED

This is the time to pull out the red pen, your post it notes / index cards / spreadsheets / notebooks, a hard copy of your book (I edit on both hard copy and digital files), and any sustenance you need (COFFEE), and get to work. Give yourself a pep talk (YOU CAN DO THIS, or die trying…), and get psyched. It’s likely going to be weeks (or months) before you hand your revisions in to your editor, so you need to find ways to keep your energy AND excitement levels up.


(Me, after my morning coffee…coffees.)

  • RUSH SERVICE IS FOR POSTAL DELIVERIES (step also known as, Calm the F**K down)

It’s oh-so tempting to race through the book. Not just on your first revision, but on all subsequent ones. Whether it’s because you’re dying to get it into your crit partners’ hands, or out for a contest, or to your agent, or to waiting editors, rushing is never a good strategy.

There’s a reason you set deadlines, or your editor sets them for you: everyone wants the best version of what you’ve got, and that takes time. When I revise, especially if I’m working on a new scene, I write it all down without stopping first. I do not edit as I go, or wordsmith, or get all up in my online thesaurus. I just write. Then I go back, a day later, and read it as critically as I can — again, without revising. I take notes with my trusty red pen on my post its or in my notebook, and only then do I go back and make changes. It’s amazing how differently I see a scene with a little distance between us.

  • STICK TO A SCHEDULE

For me, this falls into the ‘do what you say you’re going to do’ category. As a freelance writer, one of the most important ways to ensure I’ll be hired again is to NEVER MISS A DEADLINE. And I see my book deadlines the same — at a minimum, I will get the manuscript in two days early. Ideally, it will be even earlier than that. I treat revisions (and first draft writing, for the record) like a job, and even if I’m not feeling the creative vibe I force myself to sit down and write … because the discipline is as important as anything else, in my opinion. I set my alarm for 5 or 5:30 am, depending on the day and what I need to get done, pour my coffee, and dive in. Yes, there are mornings where I’d like to do this to my alarm:

But generally speaking, as long as I have coffee and my Twitter #5amwritersclub crew, I’ve trained myself to be able to write well in the morning. It’s a habit, like any other.

I should add that there have been plenty of moments through this process — which is not yet over, of course, so I expect I’ll have a few more — where I’m certain I can’t write, I’ve screwed up a scene or character, I’ll never figure out how to add in the plot twist I need to, or I’ve revised myself into a tight little corner I’m not sure how to get out of. But then I take a deep breath, go for a run, get out my notes, have another cup of coffee, and SLOW IT ALL DOWN, and generally, I’m back on my game.

What’s your revision process, or trick? I’d love to hear about it!

NaNoWriMo 2013

This will be my 3rd time attempting to “win” NaNoWriMo, which is short for “National Novel Writing Month” … a web-based contest of sorts that is all about writing a novel in a month: 50,000 words in November.

The first year (2011), I failed miserably — and quickly. I got about 5,000 words done on a book that went to the place where bad book ideas goes to die (my ‘Novel ideas that SUCK’ folder on my laptop — truly, I have this folder because, well, you never know when you’ll get a flash of brilliance that could change a suck-filled novel into a good one).

My first attempt at NaNo looked a lot like this (That’s me walking around my muse, trying desperately to get its attention…):

 

Last year I wrote The Doctor’s Daughter during NaNo — I cheated a bit, because I already had 20k done when I started the month (technically you’re only allowed an outline), but I won NaNo and finished the month with a completed first draft. That book went through A MILLION AND ONE revisions, but did land me my uber agent, Carolyn Forde. So I won NaNo in more ways than one last year.

This year I’m “cheating” again — I’m at almost 40k in my work in progress book, and am determined to have another completed first draft by midnight on November 30th. This is the synopsis for Book 2, my NaNo project:

After a devastating loss, a 26-year-old woman and her husband embark on a journey to fulfill three things from their life experiences wish list, hoping to find an escape from the grief and a way to forgive. Think EAT, PRAY, LOVE meets P.S., I LOVE YOU, with a twist you won’t see coming.

To hit the 50k goal for the month I need to write about 1700 words a day, every day. I’m averaging about 1200 right now, done mostly thanks to copious amounts of coffee and the #5amwritersclub crew I spend a lot of pre-dawn time with on Twitter. So I know I can do it — as long as I follow a very key NaNo rule: NO EDITING.

It’s freaking hard not to edit as you go. But what I’ve learned over this past year is that one, I need to write every day or I get rusty, and two, if I’m editing, I’m not getting new words down. Huh. Who knew? (Oh, just everyone who can do math … words slashed do not a first draft make) I think many writers get bogged down in the editing piece, which is critical no question, but not until you have your words on the page … I mean, we could all spend hours editing our first page alone (and probably should, once the book is finished). Of course, I appreciate everyone writes and creates differently. But that has been a good formula for me. Draft One = writing only. Even when I get crit partner feedback I simply file it into a folder to go back to when it’s time for Draft Two.

My husband actually sighed when I told him I was doing NaNo again this year. Because this is basically what he saw throughout November 2012 (with a few sobs thrown in here and there, when I got stuck):

 

So to anyone attempting to win NaNo this year, whether it’s your first time or your tenth, GOOD LUCK and may the words be with you!

(See you December 1st)

 

For the love of CPs

I heard a crazy rumour the other day that some authors, once they sign with an agent, drop their Critique Partners (who will from this point forward in this post be referred to as CPs).

This was pretty much my reaction:

 
(or, are they NUTS?)

 Let me back up for a moment.

Getting an agent to like your book enough to want to sign you is, well, awesome. Knowing you’re out of the query ditch and one step closer to publication? Amazing. I felt a little like this for at least a few weeks (I actually still feel a little like this, to be honest):

 

However, I can’t say for sure it would have happened without my CPs. They read every page I sent them. Then read each one again, after I made changes. They offered critical feedback, telling me what wasn’t working (and why, if they could articulate it specifically). They pushed me, and questioned decisions I made for the characters. They came up with some excellent ideas for how to improve the plot, or up the stakes, or to add depth to a character. They gave me virtual high fives and plenty of “squeeeeees” when I got requests. They commiserated when the rejections came in. They told me not to give up. And now that I’m agented, they continue to give me great advice, read my words, and help me make this next story shine.

Basically, they helped shape me into a better writer, and I’m beyond grateful for every minute they spent with my words. Because that was time they could have spent working on their own manuscripts. Sure, we swap pages and I offer them the same support. But good CPs, writers themselves, spend HOURS of their own precious time on your words because they want to help you succeed. Simple as that.

Why would I ever give that up?

A few important things to note — of course, I can only speak for myself, but I imagine there are plenty of authors/agents who would agree with the points below:

  1. Yes, I have an agent. No, I can’t expect her to become my one and only CP. She’s busy. She has (gasp) other clients. Lots of them. Her job is to sell the book I’ve already written. So while I can certainly bounce ideas off her and let her know I’m working hard on the next story, it’s critical to find an outlet for all those unpolished words I’m putting down each day.
  2. It’s tempting when you’re writing a new story to want feedback from your agent early on. You’re a team, right? Of course she wants to read the super-awesome 250 words I just wrote this morning (even though this is a first draft and those awesome words are likely to get cut in revision 35), and the next 100 I crank out before picking the kid up from her school bus. Um, nope. Don’t do it. Resist sending your agent the 25 emails you want to each day, and send them to your CPs instead. It makes for much healthier and productive relationships, all around.
  3. Reading others’ work, especially unpolished/unpublished manuscripts, gives you insight into different writing styles and techniques … and can help you with your own writing. If you read a CP’s early draft and realize she just hasn’t taken enough chances with a character, it’s an opportunity to look at your own story and check it for the same. It can be tricky to see our own flaws — we’re so close to the story, we may not realize the giant plot hole we’ve created until it’s too late (okay, okay, it’s never *too* late but going back to fix a plot hole after you’ve written “The End”? Not the most fun way to spend your time and creative energy). I trust my CPs to see what I can’t.

If you have good CPs in your corner, consider yourself lucky. If you don’t, but want to find one or more, there are a few places to go looking. Twitter pitch contests are a good place. That’s how I found a few of mine. There’s also CPSeek, an online community of writers ready and willing to work on getting the words polished.

If you’re a writer and author, and are serious about getting your work out there, you should WANT critical feedback. Because trust me, having a CP point out an embarrassing grammatical error or the fact you made your protagonist short, brown-haired, and an animal lover in chapter one, and then a tall, cat-hating redhead by chapter eleven is MUCH better than having an agent find the mistakes.

So thanks to my CPs, who were with me before THE CALL, and who have committed to me for the long haul.

Tackle hug for all of you!

 

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