Sunday, January 31, 2010

SCBWI NYC: Our first vlog! In which we show off goodies.

If a picture's worth a thousand words, this vlog ... is worth at least a year in therapy. We recorded this at the end of a very long and awesome Saturday of SCBWI conference-going in NYC, and we're so excited that you guys can finally see what we look and sound like all together!


And for further viewing amusement... silliness with the ever-fantastic Libba Bray. (In case you live under a rock, she wrote the GEMMA DOYLE trilogy and GOING BOVINE.)
(And yes, we now realize that we were all wearing scarves and boots. No, it wasn't planned.)

SEMI-RANDOM ASIDE: Our post on Libba's brilliant keynote speech is coming up tomorrow!

AND here's Donna and Sara with the lovely debut author Suzanne Young, who was totally awesome and signed our brand new copies of this week's release, THE NAUGHTY LIST.

Yay! Another honorary FNC member!

And the SCBWI madness has just begun!!!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

SCBWI NYC: Networking on Night One!

We arrived in NYC for the SCBWI 2010 Winter Conference at around 8pm Friday night and headed to KidLit Night at the Wheeltapper Pub to chat with agents, editors, and writers. And oh how we did!

First we chatted with ...
Miriam Kriss, Agent at Irene Goodman Literary Agency
She represents Rachel Vincent (WERECATS and SOUL SCREAMERS series) and Lili St. Crow (STRANGE ANGELS series)! Miriam was so nice, and we loved meeting her!

Then I saw ...
Pamela Gruber, Editorial Assistant at Little, Brown
I had met her at the Rutgers One-on-One Conference, and she remembered me! Pam works with picture books, but she has begun acquiring YA. Pam's pretty much the coolest ever, but she grew up in the Philadelphia area, so that shouldn't come as a surprise!

Then Pam brought over ...
Kate Sullivan, Editor at Little, Brown
She's the editor of Malinda Lo (ASH), Zoey Dean (THE A-LIST), and plenty of other awesome authors! Oh, and besides her excellent sense of humor, she has great taste in clothes. (She wore a fantastic red dress.)

Then Kate flagged down ...
Alvina Ling, Senior Editor at Little, Brown
She's the editor of Grace Lin (Newbery Honor winner, WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON) and many, many other fabulous authors. Alvina's totally down-to-earth and super friendly.

Anyway, we had a fabulous time, and thanks to everyone for hanging out with us!

Stay tuned for more amazing SCBWI NYC posts --- including our very first VLOG and a great contest!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Vampire Diaries Episode 12: Unpleasantville

At Salvatore Mansion:

Elena and Stefan are hanging out in his room which kind of breaks all the rules for opening credits. Someone has to have the crap scared out of them and if it’s Stefan then another vampire will be in the scene. But if it’s Elena, we’re going to need a dream sequence to start. And so far…I sense neither…

Elena: Who was that masked man? He tried to kill me. I mean, I totally ran him over with my car and splattered him. But really! He got back up and everything. All I know was he was wearing a black hoodie.

Stefan: Black hoodies are always a bad sign. Here. Opens up a treasure chest.

Elena: Oooh. What’s this?

Stefan: It’s my latest collection, should be in catalogs this spring. I’ve got Anti-Damon necklaces, Anti-Damon earrings, Anti-Damon rings, and here’s some Anti-Damon underwear.

Elena: Sexy! For me?

Stefan: Oh, woops, forget the underwear. Anti-Damon key chain. Wear everything you can and what doesn’t fit on your fingers and wrists…I guess you can give to Aunt Jenna and your friends.

At Elena’s:

Jeremy opens the door for pizza delivery and totally doesn’t have the money to pay for it.

Jeremy: Damn…when I was dealing I always had cash…ELENA! Pay the pizza guy.

Elena: Is not there

So Jeremy totally invites the guy in OMG! Doesn’t he know not to invite strangers into his house?!!!???! Elena how could you let him open the door! It’s totally the black hoodie guy!

Is this where we get the scare?

Elena: Yay! Pizza. Here keep the change.

Then the pizza guy black hoodie vampire leaves. The door closes and….he pulls up his hoodie! OMG!

At Salvatore Mansion:

Damon’s throwing books on the floor.

Stefan: Last time I checked, you have to read the books to learn what’s inside them.

Damon: Yeah, yeah what do you want? I’m busy.

Stefan: You’re just bitter because I get to look longingly into the eyes of the woman I love.

Damon: We totally bonded in Georgia you know.

Stefan: We totally had sex two episodes ago.

Damon: Touche. Now go to school!

At Mystic Falls High:

Alaric is handing back papers and OMG Jeremy got an A!

Jeremy: Whoa…what is that? There’s like this line and then this other line and then another one in between.

Alaric: It’s called doing your homework instead of getting stoned all day, you got an A. Also, you don’t actually believe all that stuff you wrote about vampires do you?

Jeremy: Nah, although in my great great great great great Gilbert’s diary it said they were totally real.

Alaric: Really? Could I…um…could I see his journal.

Jeremy: It’s really old and weird and stuff

Alaric: It’s history teacher porn!

Jeremy: Whoa! Okay…here ya go.

Elena and Caroline walking around outside…

Caroline: Elena, I know you totally missed me in the last episode. I mean, I missed me too and it feels like we’ve been away for a really long time even though no time seems to have actually passed, but really, even though I am your bestest friend in the whole world, no need to give me a lesbian necklace.

Elena: Your welcome?

Caroline: So anyway I guess you totally heard all about me and Matt. I mean finally I have a half decent storyline, except that like things are totally weird between us because we peaked as friends because he’s totally not over you.

Elena: Who’s Matt?

At the Only Restaurant in Mystic Falls:

Matt is totally applying for a job as a bus boy and talking to some guy who works there…named Ben? Is he…he the hoodie guy? And Elena and Bonnie are hanging out on the couch.

Bonnie: I can’t believe I never saw you were adopted

Elena: Yeah, you’re kind of failing at that whole teen witch thing lately. Anyway, I’m going shopping. Bye.

Damon: Bonnie, You know…I think we need to start over. We sort of hit a rough spot when I tried to kill you.

Bonnie: Get away from me!

Damon: Oh come on now. I totally didn’t kill you. That counts for something.

Bonnie: Just watch it. Because I make fires in my head when people piss me off and I think that fire might kill you.

Ben: Hi Bonnie. You’re so pretty and I totally always remembered you even though I’m totally older and out of high school and that’s not weird at all, right?

Meanwhile Elena has gone outside of the only restaurant in Mystic Falls. Alone. In the Dark! Elena what is wrong with you!

Elena’s Cell Phone: Rings

Elena: Hello?

Black Hoodie: Do you like scary movies?

Elena: Oh crap!

Salvatore Mansion:

Elena: I don’t understand? Why me? Why is it always about me?

Stefan: You’re like the main character of this show.

Elena: But why call me? Why not just kill me?

Stefan: Because the show would be over. Anyway take this.

Elena: OMG! Jeremy’s pocket watch from episode 4! How did you get it?

Stefan: Damon, who got it from Caroline, who got it from Bonnie, who got it from Matt, who handed it to Alaric who passed it to Jenna who left it on the table and then it was picked up by…

Elena: Ok. I get the point.

Stefan: Also, it’s not a watch. It’s a compass. It points to vampires.

The Compass: Points to Stefan.

Stefan: Take it. It matches your Anti-Damon Spring Collection.

At Mystic Falls High School:

Matt and Caroline are totally flirting with each other while they paint a sign for the sock hop. Although there seems to be more paint on them than the sign.

Caroline: Isn’t it great when we have screen time together?

Matt: Yeah, although I get more screen time when I’m pining for Elena.

Caroline: Yeah but if we color coordinate at the dance, the camera will totally notice.

Matt: Whoa. We’re not even a “we.” Plus I have to work.

Caroline: Since when are you a bus boy?


Caroline: Oh no. I didn’t mean it like that. I mean I did. But…oh crap. Our scene’s over.

At the Only Restaurant in Mystic Falls:

Anna: How did your paper go? Did he believe the vampires?

Jeremy: Nah and I don’t believe it. But I got an A.

Anna: So do you want to get married now? Or like next year? Or the year after that? Or the year after that?

Jeremy: Prays he never sounded this pathetic when he was pining over Vickie.

At the Gilbert’s:

So Elena is sort of on speaking terms with Aunt Jenna now but only if Aunt Jenna agrees to tell her the truth about being adopted and OMG she never thought she’d have to tell her because her parents said they would but they died before they could do that and she didn’t mean to lie and ok so your mom was some 16 year old girl off the streets that stumbled into your dad’s office and totally had you all over his floor and then he cleaned it up and she disappeared and one birth certificate alteration later, there you go!!

Elena: But what was her name?

Jenna: Isabel!

Salvatore Mansion

Stefan: Here’s dad’s journal. I know you were looking for it. Although it won’t help you at all with your Diabolical Plans: The Sequel. Bahahahaha!

Damon: What are you up to?

Stefan: I want to help you.

Damon: Why should I trust you?

Stefan: Because I’m not a liar. You are.

Damon: Me, I'm dishonest, and you can always trust a dishonest man to be dishonest. Honestly, it's the honest ones you want to watch out for, 'cause you can never predict if they're going to do something incredibly stupid.

Stefan: Please stop quoting Johhny Depp.

Meanwhile at the Gilberts:

Elena totally left her vampire compass on the bed so she could finish bump it-ing her hair.

Elena: Hmmm. Am I fifties fabulous? Or too Jersey Shore Snookie?

The Compass: Is Twitching!!!!

Elena: OMG!!!!! VAMPIRE!!! Calls Stefan.

Damon: Stefan’s phone. How may I help you?

Elena: Where’s Stefan, Damon! OMG! My compass is moving.

Damon: Relax, he’s practically at your house. Left his cell phone at home.

Elena: Oh ok. Man, Stefan is really going to make reading this compass difficult.

And the Black Hoodie vampire attacks from the ceiling!


Black Hoodie: Is gone

Stefan: How did he get in here?

Elena: He delivered a pizza.

Damon: What did he want?

Elena: Him trying to kill me kind of put a damper on our conversation.

Stefan: Great. So some random psycho vampire in a black hoodie wants to kill my lady love and can get into her house. What do we do?

Damon: Threesome at the sock hop?

At the Sock Hop:

Damon, Stefan and Elena show up together, looking totally weird and Alaric is totally giving Damon the stink eye thinking “you killed my love!”

Caroline: So what is this, a threesome?

Elena: No! Damon wanted to come and he’s Stefan’s brother. I have to learn to put up with him if Stefan and I are going to last. It’s like my Uncle Albert. You know the weird guy who always gets drunk at reunions and asks if I want to see his fluffy muffin.

Bonnie: You don’t have an Uncle Albert.

Elena: …


Elena: That would explain a lot.

Damon: Hi Bonnie! Want to dance?

Bonnie: No, you vampire!

Damon: Aw, come on.

Caroline: Jeez Damon! The camera’s finally on me and even I don’t want to be in this scene.

Stefan: What did you say to them?

Damon: Nothing! I was the epitome of charming, debonair and dashing. Elena, let’s daaaaaaaaaaaannnnce.

Elena: Only if your name is Stefan!

OMG Black Hoodie Vamp is totally at the dance!

Black Hoodie Vampire: Muahahaha. There’s no way my black hoodie will stand out in this sea of fifties letter jackets and popped collars.

Elena: I don’t get it. If there’s another vampire nearby, shouldn’t you able to sense them or something?

Stefan: What like Buffy cramps? I’m a guy!

Elena: No. I mean Twilight vampires can always recognize other Twilight vampires.

Stefan: Anyone with a pulse can recognize a Twilight vampire.

Elena: Not the people who live in Forks!

By the Punch Table:

Anna: OMG hi, Jeremy! I know you totally didn’t invite me to the dance and you also haven’t returned my last 5 phone calls or said a thing about the dancing leprechaun singing telegram I sent to your door, but I’m here!!

Jeremy: You’re doing that thing again, pretending we’re dating when we’re not.

Anna: You think I’m stalking you? I just wanted to go to a dance. The only dances home school kids go to are with their Uncle Albert and…

Jeremy: Don't finish that sentence

At the Only Restaurant in Mystic Falls:

Caroline and Bonnie have shown up to both drool over their respective bus-boy/jock crushes. Until Caroline refers to Ben as a washed up loser-face jock and then Matt hears and he is NOT happy.

Caroline: Stop eye-sexing Ben and just go talk to him.

Bonnie: Fine! I’m a witch. I can talk to boys.

Bonnie walks over to the bar.

Bonnie: Hi…um I…

Ben: Love you?

Bonnie: Yeah!

Meanwhile Matt tells Caroline that it’ll never work between them because he already imagined taking things to the next level with her in his mind and it didn’t work out because he still loves Elena and he doesn’t want to mess up what they have even though they kind of don’t have anything at all she called him a washed up jock bus boy even though she didn’t and Caroline is just like WTF Matt!

Back at the Dance…

Alaric sneaks over to say hi to Damon-his wife’s killer-and Damon explains all about his being Stefan’s big brother and guardian and sorry he’s missed your class so many times, we’re having family issues and btw did you hear that the last history teacher was killed. Yeah dude, I wouldn’t want your job. And Alaric, Damon is totally suspicious of you!

Anna: I need to see your great Gilbert’s journal!

Jeremy: You can’t. I gave it to my history teacher

Anna; WHAT! Why did you give it to him! Are you crazy! You can’t just…aaaah my eye! And OMG! Anna is a vampire!

Stefan: I cannot believe I just had to dance to all of these lame songs with you all night and there is no sign at all of the Black Hoodie.

Elena: You loved it! Now picture me in poodle skirt and teach me the hand jive!

Stefan: Throws Elena all over the room and catches her proving he did stay awake in the fifties and then he’s done. No more dancing! Dude, I don't care what Lexi, says. You never partied with Bon Jovi!

In the hallways…

Anna is on the move, looking for the journal and sees… Black Hoodie!

Anna: Black hoodie! What are you doing here? Can you leave that girl alone? Stick the plan.

Black Hoodie: She looks like Katherine.

Anna: You just said that in like a totally creepy way, even for a vampire.

Black Hoodie: She looks like Katherine.

Anna: You’re hopeless.

In Which We Hear The Song “My Boyfriend’s Back”…

Elena sees the Black Hoodie!

Elena: Stefan! Hoodie! Get!

Stefan: Stay here! I’m totally leaving you alone. By yourself. With a psycho killer on the loose. But it will be ok!

Stefan then chases Black Hoodie down the hallway and slams him against the wall…and he’s just some guy who for some reason thought it was a good idea to accept and wear black hoodies from strangers. Doh!

Then the Real Black Hoodie calls Elena and now he’s hoodie-less and standing right by Jeremy and calls Elena and tells her to go into the hall or her brother dies!

She runs down the hall! Where is Stefan? She runs some more! Where is Damon? Why was their big plan so made of fail? And now Elena is locked up in a room with No Black Hoodie and he throws her over a table and then Bam!

Elena totally stabs him with a pencil and then she does it again through his hand and then in a momentary mind swap between Kevin Williamson and Joss Whedon…

Elena: I am Buffy Elena! The Vampire Slayer!!!!

Random Mop: Ow! Don’t snap me in half! Ow! I’m splintered!

No Black Hoodie: Tries to vampirize Elena and fails because Stefan and Damon to the rescue!

Damon: What do you want with Elena!

No Black Hoodie: She looks like Katherine

Stefan: You knew Katherine?

No Black Hoodie: What you thought you were the only ones?

Damon: Who else is working with you?

No Black Hoodie: No one!

Damon: How do I get into the tomb!

No Black Hoodie: Emily’s Grimoire!

And then they kill him! With the mop!

Elena: Why did you do that? How will we find out who he’s working with?

Stefan: You invited him into your house. Hello! He had to die.

Elena: Oh…yeah…

Anna sees from the hallway and then runs off and Alaric walks by

Damon: Who are you and Why are you here and Do you know who I am?

Alaric: I’m Alaric, AlarIc, AlAric. I’m here to be a teacher. Your Stefan’s older brother.

Damon: Good!

Alaric: Was not compelled! He has Anti-Damon plants in his hand.

Ok I need to interject here! Anna! If you’re a vampire, can’t you use compulsion? Why are you totally failing at convincing Jeremy to love you? I never saw him wear the Anti-Damon and also, you didn’t even try! You are acting lame for a vamp. Just saying…

Damon and Stefan in the hallway

Damon: Are you sure you don’t want to try out for The Amazing Race? We’re pretty good together.

Stefan: Never mention that again and I’ll help you get Katherine out of the tomb and then you leave with her and all the other vampires are dead! Got it?

Damon: Deal!

At Elena’s:

Aunt Jenna: Sorry I talked about your wife all night.

Alaric: Yeah…it’s kind of hard to date when my dead murdered vampirized wife is the main topic of conversation.

Aunt Jenna: Was this a date?

Alaric: No. But when I pick you up on Friday it will be!

Aunt Jenna: Oh Good we can talk about your wife some more.

Alaric: Um…do you even know how to date.

Aunt Jenna: What was her name? Was she prettier than me?

Alaric: Her name was Isabel!

Aunt Jenna: OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Alaric: What?

Aunt Jenna: Quick! You're a history teacher. Tell me the baby naming stats for the year she was born! How many girls were named Isabel?

Alaric: Ah, that year. Strange year that one. There was only one. One. Only one Isabel that year.

AAAAAhhh!!! Alaric’s dead wife is Elena’s Mother! And...Damon killed Elena's birth mother! Oooh this is going to be good!

On the Streets of Mystic Falls:

Matt follows Caroline home andjumps out of his truck and kisses Caroline on the street even though things will totally not work between them and the fifties were so not her decade please change her hair. Although this scene is really cute and kind of looks like it stepped right out of The Notebook.

Outside the Only Restaurant In Mystic Falls:

Ben is leaving! Alone! Ben!!!! Don’t you know anything. You’re going to get vampirized! It’s the last minute of the show and you’re practically an extra.

And there’s Anna…

Oh Ben! She’s going to vampirize you and then you can’t go on a date with Bonnie and…


Ben: In full vamp face Wheres Black Hoodie?

Anna: He’s now the Vampire Formerly Known As Black Hoodie. The Salvatores killed him, tortured him with a mop. But don’t worry! We’ll get that journal.

And then they kiss and stalk off with their evil plans into the night…


Thursday, January 28, 2010

The FNC Takes Manhattan

Hey Everyone! Just a quick reminder that tomorrow all four FNC members are heading out to New York for the SCBWI Winter Conference! Yay!

We promise to keep you posted (during the weekend as much as possible but definitely when we're back). We'll be taking super thorough notes as usual, lots of pictures and come back with as much fun and interesting info as we can manage.

And for anyone who is planning to be at the conference or just in New can also find us Friday Night at the Kid Lit Drinks Night...make sure you come say hi to us. We're excited to meet everyone.

And just so we're easily recognizable, we'll all be carrying around these totebags (in 1 of 4 colors).

We're super excited! And if you are going to the conference and are wondering what to wear or how to put your look together, jump over to my other blog Frankie Writes for some fashion advice!

Have a great weekend everyone!!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

We Got Sharked!

Well, we met the Query Shark, Literary Agent Janet Reid! Saturday morning, Donna (post laser eye surgery trauma) and I made the trip to Lehigh to have our query letters, to bits.

The morning started with a talk by Janet where we got to hear firsthand just how funny and abrasive she is. She's definitely the sort of person who knows what she wants, and goes after it and doesn't make apologies. Definitely qualities you'd want in an agent.

Some of the more interesting tips and tidbits we learned from her at the talk were:

1) Have a separate email address for querying agents. We'd never considered this before, but it makes sense, you want to have an account that you use just for that. It's good for helping you stay organized, and it's handy for avoiding accidentally emailing a potential agent something embarassing. Plus, you know you will see every email. The last thing you want is to accidentally skip an agent's response because your eyes glaze over it. Or worse. Have the email end up in your Spam folder. Yikes!

2) Don't offer exclusives. I think this topic of simultaneous querying versus one agent at a time is always up for debate but 10 times out of 10, what we hear is this is not a good idea. It can take awhile to hear back from agents and you can be waiting for a long time. Now this is different from when an agent asks for an exclusive. Then you need to discuss that with them and try and have a time limit. But in general, as much as you want to make your dream agent feel special, don't do it with exclusives. Make your query rock and meet their standards instead. Everyone expects your submissions to be simultaneous.

3) Put ALL of your contact info at the bottom. Janet told a story about a writer who she tried to contact for representation but couldn't find because he had a server problem with his website which crashed and thus his email, connected to the website went down as well. She had to work to track him down. This was unusual: NOT THE NORM. Most agents aren't going to work to track you down and find you. They can't contact you? They move on. So don't be afaid to list your email, your second email, your website, your blog, your twitter, your facebook, your myspace, your cell phone....and so on and so on. It might feel silly, and maybe not every agent will ask for that, but trust me, you want them to find you.

4) Don't overestimate yourself and don't underestimate yourself. If you make any sort of sweeping announcements or claims like....
"I'm the next JK Rowling"
"I'm the next Stephanie Myer"
"I'm the best writer in the world"
"My book will change your life"
"People NEED my book"'re going to sound amateurish and look like a fool! Don't do it. It will get you rejected. Let your writing speak for itself.

And on the flip side. Don't bring yourself down. It also makes you look bad. Dont say...
"I've been rejected 50 times. You're my only hope!"
"Agent X loved it, but didn't have time." Honey, it doesn't matter how nice your rejection was, no means no. Don't tell agents about your rejections.
"I know you're really busy..."
"I'm just a lowly writer and you're a great amazing superstar agent."

So then...drama and shenanigans ran rampant. Janet handed back everyone's query letter that she critiqued for the afternoon workshop.

My query: did not exist.

Donna's query: Janet didn't approve of Donna's 3 POVs.


We were both freaking out.

I mean...what do you when your workshop piece dissapeared or your workshop piece is unworkable? steps Suzie Townsend, YA agent extraordinaire. Who reassured Donna, that while 3 POVs are not so kosher in adult fiction, it's perfectly all right in YA (I mean, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants...anyone? anyone? Yeah that was 4 POVs but same idea). Joanna Volpe, another YA agent (with the Nancy Coffey agency), also popped on over to help out.

And Suzie was sweet enough to let me email a copy of my query to her which she personally critiqued for the workshop.

WHEW! Drama and trauma averted.

We headed to lunch at Wegman's (which I LOVE). Seriously! Who doesn't love Wegmans?

And then it was time for the workshop.

Janet basically drilled these ideas into us.

Your query MUST tell the agent:
1) Who your main character is
2) What happens to them
3) What choices she/he/it has to make
4) What consequences might come if they make the wrong choice/fail/run out of time...

She went around the room asking everyone, whose your main character, and what happens to them. It was shocking how many people got this answer wrong or didn't seem to know what happened to their characters. I mean, it's your book, your character, you'd think you know. But here's the problem...

A query is NOT a synopsis.

You can't possibly fit every detail and plot point into your query. You need to get right to the heart of the story.

Think of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (yeah I'm going original title). How would you query it?

Harry Potter knows there's something different about him.

Wrong! (As Janet would a really scary way)

Ok try again...

Harry Potter gets an invitation to wizard school.

Now Janet would say...."And?"

So you try again.

He finds out that the dark wizard who killed his parents is trying to come back to power.

Ok, now you're onto something. How is he trying to come back to power?

By stealing the philosopher's stone.

So what does Harry have to do?

He has to keep the dark wizard from the stone.


Or...he'll be back and he's evil and he kills people and it would be bad...very very bad...OMG (small dramatization of how stressful it is to answer these questions so rapidly while in public).

But basically, you're getting down to the main idea, the main plot.

Sure Harry was always different, didn't know he was a wizard, goes to wizard school, joins the Quidditch team, becomes friends with Ron and Hermione. But you can't put all of that in a query.

So what you might say (and mind you, I'm no expert on queries yet either, but I'm trying)...

Harry Potter, must stop the dark wizard who killed his parents from obtaining a stone that will allow him to return to full power.

Maybe not the greatest query opener in the world. But this does the trick. The IMPORTANT pieces are there. We know the main character, we know what he has to do, and we have a sense of of the consequences--really evil wizard in full power.

Feel free to revise what I did in the comments with your own Harry Potter query. I'm sure you guys can rock it better than me.

Anyway, aside from meeting Janet, being terrified and getting fabulous query advice, the highlight of the day was probably meeting YA agents Joanna Volpe, and Suzie Townsend (Thank you sooooooooo much, Suzie!), and Janet's intern Anna Roberto who just moved onto interning for Little Brown and is super sweet and has great taste in books (she's already shaping my TBR pile).

Everyone was really sweet and helpful! All in all, it was a pretty good day!

Top Row (L-R) Joanna, Donna, Frankie
Bottom Rown (L-R) Anna, Suzie

Monday, January 25, 2010

In Which My Retinas Rebel and I Require Emergency Surgery... Twice.

You've all had the conversation with your friends -- if you had to choose, would you rather be deaf or blind? I chose deaf, hands down. Sure, I'd miss music, and it might slow down conversations til I got used to lip reading and signing, but I could still read and write without braille.

Did you know that one millimeter of your retina is basically responsible for vision? I do now.

On Thursday, I went to an opthamologist to get my left eye checked out. I'd been seeing a weird flash of light a couple times a day since Christmas, and I thought it might be a sign of a retinal tear.

My doctor decided to check out both eyes, just to be safe.

After numbing drops, dilation drops, one large suction cup-like contact that allowed a microscopic view of my retina, and a whole lot of blinding light, I had my diagnosis.

My right eye, which had no symptoms, had two horseshoe tears. Which are super prone to detachment.

Retinal detachment = blindness.

The bad news: The right eye was my good eye.

My left eye had a 25% detachment.

That's very very not good.

So right then and there, I had to have laser surgery in both eyes to prevent a full detachment and the two tears from joining forces to make a detachment of their own.

Laser surgery = me wide awake, holding both eyes open and remaining completely still as a green laser tattoos around the damaged areas. (Moderately painful.) The laser causes scarring, which acts as glue, keeping the tear/detachment contained. Not the most comfortable surgery, but the recovery time is incredible.

And I'm still allowed to read, watch TV, and type on the computer. (Yay!) Hence, this post.

I went back on Friday so he could check everything out again. More numbing and dilation drops, gigantic contact microscope, and bright lights. One of the tears in my right eye was still iffy. More lasering! (Owww. I'd woken up that morning with my eyes swollen like I'd come out of the wrong end of a fight. This didn't help.)

After a long, miserable night of recovery, I actually (miraculously) was able to attend Janet Reid's query workshop with Frankie on Saturday. (We'll be posting about that soon!)

I have another followup appointment today, and I'm hoping my scarring (which will develop for a month) is progressing nicely. Cross your fingers and pray to your god of choice for me!

Moment of honesty: This whole process has been kinda terrifying. The idea that my retinas could've fully detached at any moment -- which would've required an intense surgery and a monthlong recovery -- scared me silly. That surgery may still be in my future.

I wrote this post as a reminder for you guys not to ignore weird things your body tells you. I put off making an opthamologist appointment for two weeks, and thank God I didn't wait longer. Life is hectic, but you can't take risks with your health.

And just so I don't avoid the question that you're all wondering: What causes retinal tears/detachment? For me, it was probably my nearsightedness. And a family history of retinal problems. Many times it's from head injuries in sports or accidents -- which totally wasn't the reason in my case, since I'm the opposite of athletic. But overall, 7% of people have a retinal tear in their lifetime.

Anyway, I consider myself very lucky. I hope you'll never have to deal with any retinal problems in your lifetime, but please check out the signs of a retinal detachment just in case. My awareness of these symptoms saved my vision!

Any questions I didn't answer? Anyone else out there with rebellious retinas? Let me know!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Vampire Diaries, Episode 11: Bloodlines

Last time on the Vampire Diaries...

At Salvatore Mansion:
Stefan's calling Elena, begging, pleading, crying, desperately trying to get her to listen. There is a reason why you look like Katherine so much you could play her if they ever made her life into a movie and there's a reason why I never told you even though she's my ex-lover, and the reason I'm a vampire and oh yeah...we just had sex...

Elena: Crazy Teary Drive Down the Highway!

And then BAM! Elena CARSMASH!

Elena: AAAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!! My car turned upside down! And OMFG that thing is getting up! What is it? WHAT IS IT? AAAAAAHHHHH!!!!

Damon: Boo!

Elena: Aaaaah!

Damon: Need AAA?

Then Damon uses his super vampire powers to turn the car over and pick her up as she totally swoons. Because having your car turned upside means you no longer have the use of your leg muscles.

Elena: I look like her, Damon. Why do I look like her? Faints.

Damon: Smiles Kidnapping time!

At Alaric, ALaric, AlAric, AlarIC's House:

Alaric: Staring in the mirror I am Alaric the vampire slayer. I am AlAric the vampire slayer. I am AlarIC the vampire slayer. Sigh. I miss my wife.

Flash back time to...

The Year Alaric's Wife Wasn't Dead:

Alaric's Wife: Peekabo! Can you find me under the covers?

Alaric: Um...yeah...can you come out from under there? I'm trying to forge an image of your face for me to remember forever in case you get vampirized.

In Damon's Car:

Damon: Good morning!

Elena: OMG! I just woke up!

Damon: Observant first thing in the morning, aren't ya.

Elena: No. You don't understand. I always wake up after the credits roll-- in my bed, to happy girl music. I used to write in my diary too. Now I mostly wake up in slinky tank tops. Where are we?

Damon: Kevin Williamson decided to switch things up this week.

Elena: frowns I miss my bed! Where are we?

Damon: Georgia

Elena: What! No.No we’re not! We’re not in Georgia! That's like really far away!

Damon: Look out the windows. Do you see the only restaurant in Mystic Falls?

Elena: No....

Damon: Exactly! Welcome to Georgia.

Elena: But I need to go back home. No one knows where I am. I haven’t checked twitter in 5 hours! We have to go back

Damon: Nope.

Elena: You Kidnapped me!

Damon: Wiggles eyebrows You are such a drama queen!

And then Elena's cell phone rings, from Damon's pocket! And it's Stefan! And Elena won't take the call, because she is NOT speaking to him!

Stefan: Damon, if you touch her, I swear!

Damon: All operators are busy. Have a nice day.

Stefan: Angry vampire phone-throw. Epic clutching of Elena's Anti-Damon Necklace--Which she is conveniently not wearing BTW!

Elena: Fine, Damon. I'm hanging out with you in Georgia. Am I safe with you?


Elena: Well? Am I safe with you?

Damon: My. Name. Is. Damon.

Elena: FML

At Mystic Falls High School:
Stefan finds Bonnie outside.

Stefan: Hey, Bonnie. What's up?

Bonnie: Do you even go to this school?

Stefan: Nope. Just needed to order a witch-spell. Got any in stock?

Bonnie: No can do. I haven’t accepted my witchyness yet.

Stefan: Look, Elena's missing. She was in a car accident and is off somewhere with my psycho-killer brother. I just need you to touch her Anti-Damon necklace to see if she's ok.

Bonnie: Holds the Anti-Damon Necklace I don't feel anything!

Stefan: Are you sure?

Bonnie: All right let me try something. Tell me if anyone's watching.

Bonnie then proceeds to try and levitate things. In broad daylight. In the middle of the campus. In front of the whole school!

Also, she doesn't seem to be the least bit concerned about Elena missing.

Stefan: Um...people can see you.

Bonnie: Shhhh! I'm concentrating!

Stefan: The principle's watching, and so are those girls, that guy...oh and that guy too.

Bonnie: Don't rush the witch!

Stefan: Yeah...and now that teacher's watching and WTF Bonnie! Everyone can see you.

Bonnie: I said shhhhh!

Meanwhile in Georgia:
Elena: So that thing that I ran over with my car....was it vampire?

Damon: I guess.

Elena: Well don't you know him?

Damon: No. It's not like there's a vampire club house or something where we all hang out and get to know each other. Because if there was, I'd totally be president.

At a Bar in Georgia:
Some bar tender leaps over the counter and kisses her honey pie-Damon-Snickerpoo and announces free drinks for EVERYONE in honor of the man who ripped her heart out and dragged it through the dirt.


The Rest of the Bar:....

Bartender: (to Elena) Oh honey! What's he done to you? Roped you? Whipped you?

Elena: Kidnapped me.

Bartender: Damon! You never kidnapped me!

Damon: Didn't need to. You always came willingly.

Bartender: Well you were really good in the sack. Ain't he, Sugar Plum?

Elena: Awkward...

Also, the Bartender is a witch...and should I be concerned that so far every witch on this show has been African American? Or are they all related? Just saying...

Mystics Falls High School:
Jeremy: Ohhhh so this is a library! Wow! It has books in it and stuff. Library-Book-Attack! Ow! And they throw themselves at you!

Girl: OMG I'm sorry, I pulled this book and it pushed back and bumped another and then they twisted and tangled and fell and went Kerplow and Kaboom and Kathunk and...

Jeremy: You stopped making sense like...from before you started speaking, FYI.

Jeremy then helps her pick the mean books up and they bump heads and it's almost too cute. Also her name is Anna and she's homeschooled, but the really smart type who reads lot of books, not the freak kind that they show in the beginning of Mean Girls. Also she totally believes in vampires.

Back in Georgia:
Elena: Finally calls Aunt Jenna to tell her she's alive. So last night, I was totally not sleeping with my undead vampire boyfriend, and then I totally did not crash my car and wake up in Georgia. Nope. Actually I slept at Bonnie's. And I'm at school!

Aunt Jenna: What? Where are you!

Elena:  Um, Aunt Jenna...since when do you act like a parent?

Damon: So Bartender,  you need to get me into Katherine's tomb.

Bartender: Oh honey pie, sweetie bunch, sugar plums, I helped you get into the tomb 20 years ago. I told you the recipe. Dash of comet, sprinkle of crystal and a teaspoon of Emily's spell.

Damon: Yeah well I don't have the crystal. Can't you get me a new spell?

Bartender: Want a shot instead?

Meanwhile Back at Emily's Tomb:
Bonnie has gone to explore in the hopes of reawakening her magic powers.

Bonnie: Come on leaf! Float! Levitate. Magic away! Ugh! I need to unblock whatever it is that's holding me back or Ill never be a witch again and my life is over!

Big Hole in the Ground: Growls

Bonnie: Falls in

Back in Georgia:
Stefan tries to call Elena again, but she's not having it and hangs up the phone and then Damon's behind her wiggling his eyebrows and she's all like " Get away from me, you kidnapped me and don't pretend you care!" And Damon's like but I do care! And inside the Bartender turns on the blender and calls someone to announce Damon's visit and so now we know she's bad!  Or good...because Damon's bad...eitherway...only bad can come of this phone call.

Back in the Hole in the Ground By Katherine's Tomb:

Bonnie: OW! Did I say OW! Because Ow! Walks around Hello!!! Can anybody help me? Crap! If Damon hadn't eaten all of those townies in episode 6...nah....they would have been too stoned to help me anyway.

Back in Georgia:
Elena: BUT why do I look like her? Am I related to her? I am half vampire? That's kind of cool. Do I get super powers?

Damon: Didn't Stefan explain anything to you in episode 7? Vampires can't procreate. Eyebrows wiggle But we love to try! Also what do you have against pickles?

Elena: I need a beer!

Back at the Mystic Falls High School Library:
Anna: Look this is the vampire section of the library.

Jeremy: I didn't even know libraries had those.

Anna: Well you've never been in one before. Anyway look, these are all the books that prove vampires are real.

Jeremy: Vampires aren't real. They're a historical metaphor for the demons of the day--demons attack at night. Its all an allegorical, metaphorical, hidden meaningful, message-full-of-all made up fairy tale.

Anna: Metaphorical? Sounds literal to me. Demons attacking at night are vampires! Hello!

Jeremy: A country at war doesn’t want realism, they want fantasy…they want vampire fiction.

Frankie: Did Jeremy just say something...intelligent?

Country: What?

Every Publisher of Twilight: Oooooooh, that’s why it sells!

Meanwhile back in the tomb:
Bonnie: Cell phones don’t work down here! What do I do? Pentagram on the wall? Must be Emily's doing.

Someone grabs Bonnie and she screams! But it's ok it's just your friendly neighborhood vampire come to jump you out of this hole to safety.

In Georgia:
Elena: Round of shots for everyone! WOOT! Ew, Damon, you need a bib!

Damon: You should see me drink blood.

Random Bar Customer: How come you're not on the floor passed out?

Elena: Because my tolerance is through the roof!  Then she jumps up and down to show just how high that roof is. not very high.

Meanwhile a foreboding looking man walks into the bar, makes eyes at the Bartender, who nods at Damon and Elena and then he looks at them too in the least obvious set up ever, thank you very much, Kevin Williamson.

Meanwhile at the Only Restaurant in Mystic Falls:
Anna: Vampires are real! Why don't you believe me?

Jeremy: They're not…Ive seen the Lost Boys, and Interview with the Vampire and Twilight and this tv show that comes on…like…on Thursdays around 8….can’t remember what it’s called…something about know?

Anna: Homeschooled kids don't watch tv.

Jeremy: Whatever. Anyway you know what all of those things have in common? They're movies. And movies are about things that aren't real.

Anna: Want to come over and cuddle?

Jeremy: I uh...don't think so?

Anna: Oknevermindbye!

Back in Georgia:
Elena stumbles outside ALONE...DRUNK...and FALLS! Elena don't you know anything! Read the Survival Guide! You're totally going to get attacked by a...


Inside the bar...
The Bartender, because she's a moron, tips Damon off that Elena is missing. SO he goes outside to find her.

Damon: Oh no! Elena's cell phone. Ugh. Do I have to play the good guy now? FML.

Elena: Damon. NO! It’s a trap!

And then the other vampire jumps out and starts beating the crap out of Damon with a stick and pours oil all over him because his girlfriend went to visit Stefan and Damon killed her! WHY! WHY! OMG his girlfriend was Lexi! Aww that's too bad. And then Elena convinces the vampire to be a better person than Damon and please don't kill him because he's my ride home from Georgia, Ok?

Lexi's Vampire Boyfriend: Fine! Damon-Vampire-Throw

The Wall: Why do vampires always throw things at me?

Mystic Falls:
Stefan brings Bonnie home and apparently knew her grandwitch when she was a teenager in the 60s! Her name is Shiela! And Stefan took a big risk coming there, but its ok bc I sense 40 years worth of sexual tension brewing and the grandwitch's family always kept the vampires' secrets.

Back in Georgia:
The Bartender: I'm totally full of vervain Honey-pie Snookums. I add it to everything I drink!

Damon: YOU. ARE. DEAD.

Bartender: You jerk! Lexi was my friend!

Damon: Growls

Bartender: No...please don't hurt me. I know how you can get into the tomb...Emily's Grimoire...I...

Damon: Remember how you said I ripped your heart out and threw it on the floor.

Bartender: It was a figure of speech! I was being dramatic:

Damon: Rip!

Bartender's Heart: Is on the floor

Bartender: Is dead.

In the Car on the Way Home From Georgia:
Elena: I can't believe we went to Georgia and all I got was this stupid t-shirt that says, I drank at the only bar in Georgia

Damon: You loved it! Also I kind of like you.

Elena: Like me? Or like like me?

Damon: What are you 5?

At Salvatore Mansion:
Elena: Is in Stefan's Doorway!

Stefan: My love! My life! My heart!

Elena: Why do I look like her, Stefan? Are you trying to replace her with me? Am I your Katherine stand-in?

Stefan: No. You're nothing like Katherine, you're the opposite of Katherine. She was a real B. I. T. C. H. and you're not.

Elena: When did you figure that out? Before or after we did the sex?

Stefan: I knew before I met you.


Stefan: See...I was there the day your parents died. I rushed to the car...sinking into the water and your dad was conscious and I tried to help him but he wouldn't let me until I helped you. So I saved your life and then I went back for your parents but they were totally dead and drowned by that point, which you know...I guess I should have realized would happen because people can't usually breathe under water.

Elena: OMG

Stefan: Anyway, afterwards I stayed around and totally watched you and watched you sleep and realized that you weren't like Katherine at all.

Elena: Because that's not creepy at all. But WHY DO I LOOK LIKE HER!!!

Audience: Yeah! Tell her Stefan because we're tired of hearing her ask!

Stefan: Will you butt out of this, I'm trying to have a moment with the woman I love.

Kevin Williamson: Actually's in the script...

Stefan: Oh! reason you look like Katherine is because....Katherine is your great great great great great great great Aunt! You were adopted!

Elena: O.M.G.

At Elena's:
Aunt Jenna: Where were you? I thought we were close! I thought we were BFFs! Why would you lie to me?

Elena: Oh yeah BFF? Tell me this! Was I adopted?

Aunt Jenna: parents made me promise not to tell you!

Elena: We are NOT BFFs anymore!

Meanwhile at the Only Restaurant in Mystic Falls:
Alaric drinks at the bar...a few stools away from Damon and....flashback to the year Alaric's Wife Was was DAMON!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Frankie and Sara Co-Review the SCBWI NJ Mentoring Conference

Oh this is the first time we ever decided to co-review a conference....and...we were pretty loopy when we wrote this and at times...slightly inappropriate. There were shenanigans. So...hope you enjoy! :-)

Frankie: So this is my first time co-reviewing a conference. I usually review books, so this should be interesting.

Sara: This is my first time co-reviewing anything, so here goes nothing! Maybe we should start by explaining why this conference was different than your average go-and-hear-people speak conference.

F: Ooooh good idea, Sara. Ok! So here’s the rundown for the mentoring conference. It’s teeny tiny, only 30 people come. And before the conference you send in 30 pages of your WIP (or if you’re a picture book writer, you send in the whole thing). Then you get matched with 6 other attendees to form a critique group. You critique everyone’s work in advance and meet the day of the conference. Throughout the day you meet with your critique group and in between you have lunch (highly important).

S: Oh yeah don’t forget lunch!

F: And you have a 20 minute critique with an editor (oooh la la) and a first page session, followed by a Q & A with the editors.

S: Excellent summary. This was my first time attending this type of conference—I’ve been to several other annual conferences from SCBWI, but this one was pretty cool. Plus there was a lot of talking going on all day so Frankie and I didn’t have to pass notes! My critique group at the conference was very helpful. I was paired with two YA authors, two middle grade authors and one early reader. They were mostly on top of the critiquing-ball and I got some solid feedback.

F: Yes, that’s the cool part about this conference, you get so much feedback about your work. However, no critique is perfect. One thing that can be tricky about these conferences is you’re not always paired up with other writers of similar workshop/critiquing experience. I have to say, that everyone in my critique group was really sweet (oh and they liked my pages—SQUEE) but, there were a few things I heard happening throughout the day that I thought I should mention...

S: Frankie may or may not have had a traumatic run-in with critiqer and clichés. Also, one thing I learned to watch out for at this type of conference is over-critiquers—people who want every book to be middle grade because they write middle grade, or just don’t believe in picture books. But let’s get down to the dirt. How did your one-on-one go?

F: Hahaha…yeah I did get a list of clichés from one critiquer, who also seemed to think it was appropriate to tell the one woman in our group who wrote in rhymes that she should not and that another picture book writer should only write middle grade instead. I just want to say, that when you critique a person's work, you're attempting to help that person achieve their vision--it is not your job to try and change that vision--that's actually really inappropriate. But….moving on. You asked about my one-one-one? Ah yes. Well….that was fantastic! :-)

S: Your one-on-ones always go well! Frankie’s being modest, she got ANOTHER request to see her full manuscript! That’s number three and counting!

F: Um…yeah well that answers that question….Here’s the best piece of advice I can give from my one-on-one. I write young adult fantasy and that’s currently a HEAVY market. So it’s hard to make your book stand out. My editor told me that when she read my synopsis, though it was well written (which of course it was! Donna checked it for me;) ) it was nothing special to her. She said she sort of glazed over what I wrote thinking “oh another fantasy” until she read my first page. When she started reading and realized I had a “fresh and unique voice” <--her words, not mine, she got excited and so her piece of advice which I’m passing onto you is to make sure you infuse your summaries, synopses, and queries with your voice, or whatever it is that makes your novel special, because though they’re a small part of the querying process—they count in a HUGE way!

S: Geez Frankie, way to hijack the blog post!

F: Sorry and…ooops. I did it again. Didn't mean to grab the computer from you. Here you go...

S: Maybe we should start co-review blog wars. I should dare you to do something based on the length of that paragraph.

F: Oh no! Like what? BTW you look really pretty today :-)

S: Aw, thank you! It must be the post-first-grade drama glow I have about me. ANYWAY, I also had a one-on-one critique with a v. talented editor (who was younger than me, eek!) She was super nice and compared my WIP to Graceling, which I thought was pretty cool. She also gave me…something…(Frankie, stop distracting me! I feel like I should take this moment to mention that Frankie’s computer has no “g” button.)

F: It’s true! My “g” key popped off over the summer. So yes, folks, I wrote my entire almost 500 page (in the original draft) novel without the letter “g.”

S: Plus, all romancers of Frankie’s computer will never be able to find its elusive “g” spot. Get it? “G” spot?

F: OMG I am dying! You know my computer is only like 1.5 years old!!!! It’s too young for that!

S: How frustrating! (Haha, get it? Frustrating!) Back to what I was saying…

F: Yeah, really! Can we get off the topic of my computer’s “g” key, it’s a sensitive subject!

S: Hahaha. So, anyway, I had my critique (I write YA Fantasy, btw) and she told me for world-building, one valuable exercise to do is to open a blank word document and write down everything you know about your world. This list should include things that your characters don’t know yet—or maybe will never know—but you know because it’s your world and you’re in control of it. Then you can look at your list and see where you have gaps in your knowledge. For example, I hadn’t figured out what a wedding looked like in my world, even though there’s a wedding in my opening scene. This was helpful in deciding the details.

F: Oooh, that’s good. I should do that too! That’s a really good rule of thumb though for anyone, not just fantasy writers. There are going to be certain rules unique to your world, even if it’s just what the cafeteria serves on Tuesdays, or what time the local bus shows up in town. Everyone has to world build, even Sarah Dessen.

S: Alright, let’s sum up what we learned in one sentence. You go first.

F: “They like me, they really like me!”

S: I guess you’re not being modest anymore. (<--Frankie wrote that.)

F: Yeah well, “They like me, they really like me?” <--Sara wrote that! Ok, it’s Frankie now, for real, typing as Frankie! So… onto the first page session. What I love about these mentoring workshops is EVERYONE gets a first page session and everyone gets to hear the critique. Here’s the rundown. You turn in 3 copies of your first page at the start of the day. Then a volunteer reader reads your page out loud to the whole conference, and the two editors read along and then comment and critique to the whole room. It’s really scary!

S: Listening to my first page was painful. I really like it how it sounds in my head, but…yeah. It was different out loud. I think what I realized most from listening to all the different pages being read is just how much really fits on a first page. It was nuts! They just kept reading and reading…hearing it out loud, it was a lot easier to hear what WIPs had proper pacing and which needed some work.

F: Yeah totally. It’s so scary to hear someone else read your work—especially when the reader is stumbling over words in your WIP—or not using the sassy tone your character has, because they’re just not that animated. But it does prove that reading your work out loud, or even better, having someone else read it back to you gives you very valuable insight into your WIP. But then comes the really scary part when they’re done reading… the editors critique. EEK!

S: There were four editors, so they split the first pages and went half and half in teams of two. The first two editors were really good about using the sandwich method—starting out with a positive, then giving a legit critique, then ending on a hopeful note. They were also really good about pointing out some practicalities of publishing—like making sure you’re writing a picture book that kids will read over and over, since the average picture books goes for almost twenty bucks now. The second two editors came after lunch, and also did a great job, though we worried they might be in a food coma.

F: Yeah…because we were in one! It’s a long day—an awesome one—but a long one, you need a lot of stamina and sleep the night before. Lots of sleep... Anyway, let’s move onto the editors' Q&A. Here’s my best advice to you. Think of questions to ask editors the night before! Because when you get to this point in the day, you too will be in a food coma and tired and ragged, and critiqued-out and not have any questions for them and you really need questions, because they will answer them for you and then you know more! Knowing things is good.

S: Honestly, by that point all I was interested in knowing was the inside of a Starbucks.

F: Yeah and the one we found off the Princeton University campus was soooo cute!

S: With big comfy chairs that weren’t being used, yay! So, shall we sum up?

F: I guess so. Also…they just turned off the overhead lights in Target (yeah…we’re totally writing this co-review inside the Starbucks section of a Target).

S: And I still need to go buy a self-cleaning cat litter box.

F: Yeah have fun with that one!

S: Cat poop is serious business in my house!

F: Sara…readers do not need to know that!

S: I can suffer in silence no longer.

F: Ok, fine! Cat poop sufferers unite and all that good stuff. All in all though, it was a good day. What would you say to someone who is thinking, “hmmmm I think I might go to a mentoring conference, but I’m not sure it’s worth it— if I’m ready—if I have the money—If it sounds too scary?”

S: I think a mentoring conference is definitely worth it if you’re past the point of wanting general craft & market advice, and you’re ready to get down and dirty with your manuscript.

And your “g” key.

F: Zing! LOL. The conferences are totally worth it. And then…you never know…the conference might lead to a book deal and book deals lead to money and you know what money leads to?

S: Cat litter boxes?

F: NO! Computers that also have a “g” key!

S: Nice one, Frankie. Very smooth. On an unrelated note, money also leads to tote bags! The FNC now has super-cool tote bags! Look for pictures soon!

F: Wow, that was suave! Ok, we need to wrap up! Look out for us in NYC in two weekends, we’ll all be at the NYC Winter SCBWI Conference, with our tote bags, and quite possibly without my “g” key. But expect lots more conference coverage, reviews, pictures, and maybe even…a vlog. I hope you enjoyed our first ever conference co-review. Final words, Sara?

S: Fin!

The Missing “G” key: Finally! I thought they’d never leave…

Monday, January 18, 2010

How to Take A Critique and Keep on Ticking

Over the weekend, Frankie and I went to the NJ SCBWI mentoring conference. It was really fun--unlike many other conferences, this one was really more of a workshop. I received a one-on-one critique with either an editor (more about that in our conference recap!) and was a part of a small group critique with some other writers. Part of preparing for the conference involved looking at the other five manuscripts in my small group and critiquing them. It's been awhile--Fall 2008--since I critiqued work besides the FNC's, and even longer--Fall 2007--since I critiqued children's writing. It reminded me of two things.

A of all) Critiquing is hard! I've been spoiled by the FNC. Being able to critique a story you know almost as well as your own means your spidey-sense tingles when something is off--you don't have to dig it out of the manuscript with a shovel.

B of all) There are so many things you can say in a critique that are cringe-worthy. BUT, their nails-on-a-chalkboard reasons are quite different. Let's take a closer look.

The Thanks-But-No-Thanks Cringe
"I wonder if your story might work better in... 1st person/3rd person/past tense/present tense/epistolary form?"

This is the critique of a good-natured but amateur critiquer. They've taken a look at your story and gone "I really prefer novels that are like this" and if your manuscript doesn't fit the bill, they want you to change it so it does. On occasion, this critiquer made have struck upon a genius idea, and your whole story opens up to you in a new way. But mostly, it means they haven't bled, sweated and cried over their on WIP enough to understand what it means to change a 120,000 word novel into a different point of view. Take or leave their critique as you wish.

The Why-Are-You-Still-Talking Cringe
"I'm going to piggy back on what the last person said and say..."

Especially when you're in a group critique, it's so easy to jump on the bandwagon of one person's legitimate critique. The thing is, hearing it once is useful--hearing it five more times is just annoying. Plus, it's a waste of your time. By the sixth time around, you already know that Roderigo doesn't have enough agency in the story, and you really don't need someone else telling you. This can be a sign of many things--the piggy-backer didn't read your story closely enough and needs something to say, they didn't read your story at all, or they think their voice is the most important in the room. Either way, this can be a good point in your critique to zone out a little bit and write some useful notes to yourself.

The Nitpicking-I-Read-This-Too-Closely Cringe
"This just doesn't make sense."
"You had some tense issues on this page..."

This is the cringe that is actually useful, yet still annoying to hear. There's often the person you has line-edited your manuscript for you, pointing out every time you said "would have" instead of "had" or "their" instead of "there." Or when you thought you've deleted a sentence but you actually still have half of it hanging out there in the middle of your paragraph. This is the kind of cringe that you hate to hear, but ultimately need. Sure, at the time you might think, "Yeah yeah, I'll fix all the tense issues later, but what about my plot? Can you SEE Malencia? Can you SEE her? Do you understand the Curse of the Begrudged Obelisk?" but making sure your tenses are consistent (among many other line-by-line issues) are often equally important, even in an early draft. The more you write, you should not only learn to improve your sense of place, character and plot, but also your understanding of grammar and proper punctuation. So, give this critiquer a pass and a strained smile for their hard work at pointing out all your sloppy moments.

The I'm Cringing-To-Keep-From-Crying Cringe
"I understood your character, but I just didn't feel for her."
"Where's the agency in this story?"
"What does this add to your story?"

This is the worst cringe of all, and the one most often felt in the middle of a critique. It's when someone has picked up on something that you either hoped you had already fixed, or were secretly hoping wasn't an issue. This is bigger than tense fixing--this is the kind of critique that means changing entire scenes, rewriting whole subplots, re-imagining full characters. You cringe because they've found the cracks in a WIP that you hoped was a solid wall, and it's hard to hear someone tell you that it's not.

My undergraduate concentration (I went to a crazy school that didn't have majors) was in creative writing, and I took 7 different workshops during college. In the beginning, it was really hard to listen to people tell me everything that was wrong with my stories. I would get angry and frustrated and rant to my friends later. "They just didn't get it!" I would exclaim. "I can't help it if they don't understand my writing." As I got older, though, and took more workshops, I realized that they weren't trying to tear apart my soul when they critiqued me. They were just being honest as readers. Which, hard as it was to hear, it became a good kind of a hard. A challenge instead of a failure.

What about all of you? Have you had any other cringe-worthy moments in a critique session? Or a really awesome experience?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Die, Writerly Comfort Zone, Die! -- In Vein, Part 3

Why are comfort zones so appealing in writing? Sure, they're what we enjoy, but they box us in. I know that I love my comfort zone because it's where I feel most successful. Who doesn't like the little ego boost that success gives?

In order to truly kill your comfort zone, you must sacrifice confidence, self-esteem, and ego. Embrace the possibility of failure. Embrace it, I say!

You might fail, FYI. But you'll learn so much from your failure.

And who knows, you just might be utterly successful.

That Comfort Zone didn't stand a chance.

(Yes, my Comfort Zone is a blob and the weapon is a feather pen.)

So far, I've found killing my comfort zone to be quite pleasant. Fun, even. And even if you sneak back towards the middle of your comfort zone (it's your favorite place, after all), your writing will have a fresh new flair.

Here's the final part of my little exercise in saying Sayonara to my comfort zone. I definitely haven't mastered writing a short story, a male character, a present tense narration, or a non-traditional romance... but I'm getting there!

Previously on In Vein: Part 1, Part 2
Devin's giving blood to impress his favorite daydream subject, Natalie. Then oddball Sarah hops on into his day and challenges him to a blood-draining race. Looks like more than needles are getting Devin's heart pounding...

In Vein, Part 3
I begin rolling the ball more rapidly in my palm. I try not to stare at Sarah, or her ever-filling bag of blood. The absurdity of the situation, having a blood-draining race with a stranger, hits me completely, and I can’t help but smile.

“Good,” she says when she sees it. “You looked too nervous before.” She pauses. “I’m sorry. My grandmom always says I’m too forward. It’s just you seemed nice, and I hate sitting still so I tend to ramble. Like that.” She blushes a little.

“No, it’s cool. Don’t worry about it.”

I realize that I’m telling the truth, and it surprises me a little. Everyone I know is reserved, or puts up a front, or only interacts with people they know. Sarah startles me. It’s nice to be startled. The silence builds for a couple minutes, and I suddenly wish we hadn’t started talking. She breaks the quiet like she read my mind.

“So… do you come here often?” The line is pure cheese, and Sarah completes it with a wink.

I know just how to reply, and I deepen my voice slightly. “Can you help me look for something? I think I just dropped my jaw.”

“Oh no no, because I’m the love pirate, and I’m here for your booty.”

Both of us crack up, and Marta comes back over to my table.

“Okay Romeo, you’re almost finished,” she says. I almost gloat, but then I see Sarah’s lab coat lady begin to disconnect her from a full packet of blood. A minute later, Marta starts doing the same thing to me. I cringe when she pulls the needle out of my arm, and Sarah gets up and crosses the space between us. I’m holding my arm in the air, pressing down on the puncture mark with a piece of gauze.

“Beat you,” she says.

Sarah seems different up close, more feminine or something. She’d taken her ponytail out when she laid down, and now brown hair frames her face. It looks soft. She has blue eyes, only a couple shades lighter than her Nittany Lions t-shirt.

Marta tapes the gauze to my elbow and tells me that I can get up when I feel ready. I’m not quite sure what “ready” feels like, so I swing my legs around the side of the table and sit up.

Sarah and I are eye-height, and I suddenly wish I’m lying down again because conversation seemed easier when we were on the tables. I must have a strange expression, because she asks, “Whatcha thinking about?”

“Being horizontal." I immediately see the error in translation from thought to words.

Sarah raises her eyebrows but says nothing.

“I didn’t mean it like that, I just – ” I just what? Like lying down with you? Wish we were still lying down? Prefer horizontal conversation? Crap. A grin spreads across Sarah’s face, and I exhale with relief.

“So, you ready to get some snacks?” she asks.

I slide off the table in response. After two steps, my head feels fuzzy and my legs buckle slightly. Instinctively, I grab Sarah’s arm to steady myself.

“Whoa.” I feel my cheeks redden. “I um, didn’t have lunch yet. Little lightheaded I guess.”

“Really? And here I just thought I made you weak in the knees.”

Wow. I give her a look, and we walk to the snack table. Natalie sits there, finishing up a mini bag of pretzels.

“Hey,” I say, taking the chair two seats away from her.

Sarah sits across from me. “Hi, I’m Sarah.” She extends her hand to Natalie.

“I’m Natalie,” she says, shaking it. She turns to me. “David, right?”

“Devin.” David. If only she knew how many fantasies of mine she starred in freshman year.

“Oh yeah. You had Bartley’s English class with me. I don’t think you said one thing the whole semester.”

“I’m not really the literary type.”

“I’m an English major,” she replies. We munch in silence for a minute. “Alright, well I have to go. Nice meeting you Sarah.”

Natalie grabs her bag and walks out. She doesn’t look back.

By the time I sense Sarah watching me watch her go, I know it’s too late.

“So that’s a pretty big crush you got there,” Sarah says.

My head snaps back to her. “What? No.” My face gets hot.

“Yeah you do.”

“No I don’t, what’re you talking about? We just had a class together.” I take a long drink of my apple juice. In my head it’s a martini, and I’m James Bond.

“It’s fine. I’m not worried.”

What? “What do I even say to that?”

Sarah shrugs. “Maybe ‘Hey, why don’t we go to lunch?’”

I smile and start breathing normally again. “That works for me.” I stand to leave, but Sarah remains sitting.

“You didn’t ask.”

Shamed, I sit back down and look into her eyes. “Sarah, would you like to get some lunch with me?”

“Of course,” she says. “On one condition. Take that stupid sticker off."


Leave it in the comments: What did you think of my exercise in discomfort? How did you want the story to end? What are your short stories about? Any good blood donor stories?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The FNC in the News and Out and About

Where can you find the members of the First Novels Club this month?

Quite a few places online and in person!

First up, we were recently featured in two articles from our alma mater, Arcadia University. You can hear more about what we're working on and how we all got together and work as a group and individually.

Article 1: Frankie Mallis: Writing the Dream

Article 2: First Novels Club Makes Buzz in the Literary World

And Donna was just a guest at the amazing Guide to Literary Agents Blog. Check out her post!

Donna's Post: 7 Things I've Learned So Far

This Sunday, Sara and Frankie will be at The Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Mentoring Workshop in New Jersey. We'll be getting 30 pages of our WIPs critiqued by editors and agents and meeting other writers. Our friend fellow YA writer and blogger Kelly Lyman will be there too.

Then next Saturday in Lehigh, PA, Frankie and Donna will be attending a Query Writing Workshop with none other than query butt-kicking agent, Janet Reid!

And in two weeks all four members of the FNC will be taking NYC for the SCBWI Winter Conference!!! We know some of you will be there too, so please come find us and say hi!!! We're excited to meet you and see some old faces again. We'll be easily recognizable carrying totebags that say First Novels Club on them!! So definitely let us know when you see us!

Stay tuned because we have lots and lots of exciting posts coming up and lots to report!
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