Friday, July 27, 2012

All Good Things End

The daylily above is the last of this summer. The plant blooms once for several weeks and then it slowly begins to fade, leaves withering and dying.

My family knows I’m a flower nut. Each Mother’s Day weekend, we make the pilgrimage to buy all the annuals our SUV will hold. Then I spend the day filling pots with dirt, arranging what goes where, and loading our deck and yard with color. This year it took two days. Woe to any family member or storm cloud that seeks to keep this girl from her appointed weekend of beautifying. No teenager whining and pouting can match a Mom deprived of her time in May. My husband even built me three large brick flowerboxes to line our driveway, right against the house.
The blooms on a daylily last a single day. The next morning they are curled up, done. It’s easy to tell exactly how many days of bloom are left. Easy to count them by how many buds. The end came yesterday. Summer is moving on.
But this morning, I noticed something new. My butterfly bush had opened its first cluster of tiny white flowers to the world.   

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Getting the Call: Hope Gillette

Here's the story of a new friend of mine who has been very generous with her time. Hope's first book will be releasing in August. She also writes YA fantasy and has been practicing and perfecting her craft since childhood. I wish her all the best on her upcoming book and invite her back for a release party.  

I was ten when I first summoned the nerve to showcase my writing to the public. At that time, “the public” consisted of the three younger girls sitting near me at the back of the school bus. With more than an hour ride to and from school, I had taken to writing in a notebook, and one day my constant scribbling was met with curiosity by my peers.

While I was initially reluctant to read them my stories of mystical places, otherworldly beings and strong heroines, I found myself reading almost daily on the bus and running up the hill to my house to finish the next chapter for the following day.
That love of writing and the thrill of enthralling an audience kept me typing through my entire school career and into my professional life. It is a steady flow of creativity that never stops—even now that I have signed a contract for my debut novel, Journey Through Travelers’ Tower.
I wrote J3T, as I call it, to prove I could write something outside of the cookie-cutter fantasy genre. While I will always harbor a deep love of elves, dwarves, dragons, wizards, and princesses, I knew if I wanted to break into the young adult market I was going to need something unique.
During an evening thunderstorm, a story about the childhood fear of monsters evolved into a multi-dimensional world unknowingly entering a struggle between good and evil. Into this world were born Quin and Klass, two orphaned sisters with a latent ability to Read. This talent sees them through separation, battles, torture, enslavement, love, and the final triumph and union of their world.
Satisfied with the story line and the characters, I completed the manuscript in a record number of months, sent it to an editor, and polished the final copy to be sent for review.
I don’t remember getting the call from my publishing company as much as I remember receiving an email stating they enjoyed my novel and wanted to offer me a contract. I had queried publishers directly, having received advice from fellow authors to avoid the hassle of agents if at all possible. (This is something I recommend new authors research. I make no recommendation either way.)
Leery of skipping the middle man process, I queried a small sampling of publishers and was pleasantly surprised to receive interest back from the majority of them. Due to certain exclusive review policies, I selected the presses which seemed most reputable and those without a listing on Preditors and Editors!
Among those was Divertir Publishing, a small press out of New Hampshire. While the company was still growing and relatively new in the commercial world, a wonderful mention of them in Writers Digest clenched my decision to submit sample chapters.
After a refreshingly short review time, I received an email offering to publish my novel. For someone who had been writing for decades, I was speechless from the knowledge my story would one day be available to the masses. I read the contract thoroughly and then had it reviewed professionally. Content none of the provisions seemed a cause for concern, I signed on the bottom line and opened the door to professional writing.
You might think that’s where the story ends, and for many people the journey does conclude with a publisher taking over the reins on a project. For me, however, because I was an unknown author starting with a small press, I knew I had my work cut out for me.
I immediately started posting my short stories in online forums to generate a following. I submitted my writing to contests and online magazines. After placing in the top 100 in a national Writers Digest competition, I found that little slice of credibility opened up many more doors. I was able to get my work published in international circles, and as I became more confident in my writing, I was able to eventually quit my veterinary job and become a freelancer writer.
Now, as a writer for national and international companies, my name is no longer that of an obscure author, but of a woman who has a complete professional and creative writing resume.
As for my YA novel, its debut is still a dream come true for me, but I have learned to express my love of writing in so many other ways along this journey. Getting the Call changed my life unquestionably; it has touched every aspect of my personal and professional life, and I look forward to the challenges and accomplishments that are sure to come.
 Find Hope at her website.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Cool Hand Luke or the Three Stooges: Which are you under panic?

Mrs. Eggbert

A brand of panic hit our household the other morning. Among the shifting kaleidoscope of pets that comes with having children, my daughter stuck with birds. Gerbils and fish came and went along with tadpoles and butterflies. The dogs are mine. My husband prefers the dogs but stands on the sidelines on this one. Anna and her brother have their birds, cockatiels to be exact. We recently lost two friends of eight years due to age and diet problems. The dramatic teenage angst escalated until they bought a replacement. This replacement has a fancy name relating to a Japanese onamonapia, but I call him Eggbert. We have Eggbert and Mrs. Eggbert.
Eggbert is a sorry sight. He underwent extreme wing clipping at his pet store and the result is scraggly. Feathers are growing back or falling out. He has one particular feather atop his head which sticks straight into the air. A single long feather on top his head—I kid you not—he is a unicorn bird. When he tries to fly, he plummets. The other morning, something startled our new Eggbert. He bit the turf in a most undignified manner. We picked him up and set him back on the desk. My daughter likes the Eggbert couple to keep her company when she’s on the computer.
I was writing when I heard screams. “Mom! Mom! Come here NOW!”
Mr. Eggbert flapped his wings and blood went everywhere. Later, I found it on the carpet, two different set of walls, the computer screen, all over the desk, my daughter’s hair. God knows, I’m afraid to check the ceiling. Brand new Eggbert had broken a blood feather. In bird language this is a severe hemorrhage. Birds don’t clot, period, end of story. Unless you stop the bleeding, they die. A few grams of weight, there isn’t all that much to them.
Eggbert before feather horn
I ran for the flour, a known clotting ingredient (look it up). My daughter went into full panic mode a la three stooges. “Oh! Ah! What do we do! There’s blood on me!”
There’s one thing I’ve learned from nine years spent in a classroom. Don’t show panic. Don’t even think about it.
We dipped that Eggbert in flour until white clouds circled out heads. He had broken a wing feather. It was deep, tucked under other feathers and close to his body. Hard to locate. Birds do not like being dunked upside down to get at the inside of their wings. More flour flew. More bleeding. We switched to corn starch. Half a day later—what—it was only thirty minutes? Okay. Thirty minutes later, Eggbert was on the road to recovery. Daughter happy. Mother cleaning. All well.
Just remember, you never know what form or shape a crisis can take, nor how serious it could be. We can be tested at any time. In writing terms, consider how your main character would react. Books are full of crisis, large and small. Is your character ready for them? Will they be Cool Hand Luke or the Three Stooges?    

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Getting the Call: Robert Lewis

This story gave me chills, though I can't believe he did it without beta readers. There's talent! I'm glad to welcome Robert Lewis--our first male guest Yay!-- as he shares his story. I also met Robert through Agent Query Connect. (The place to be if you write, people. Go there.) You know him there as ThrownBones. His novel, Untold Damage, releases April of 2013. I  hope he'll come back for a release party.

The Call.
            It’s actually really funny, because after over a decade of working towards getting an agent, I never really got “The Call”. I got “The Email”. My wife got “The Call”, as it came to our home in the middle of the day while I was at work. She happened to be home because she was recouping from rotator cuff surgery.
            Let me give you a little bit of history before I continue…
            Previous to the thriller that landed me my fabulous agent, Barbara Poelle, I had written an urban fantasy novel. I’d shopped it EVERYWHERE I possibly could. I literally queried like two hundred and fifty agents. Yes, you read that correctly. Only received a few requests for partials, maybe one full. All for nothing.
            About halfway through those agents, I realized I would need another book.
One day I was sitting at my desk wondering what that book would be. On the corkboard I have above my desk were two pieces of writing. One was a short story I’d placed in an online literary journal. This story was about a junkie shooting up in a confessional and it was called Needle Priest. It was my personal favorite. The other was a bit of flash fiction from the POV of a child killer as he fed his latest victim before killing her. That one was called Little Visitor. It was up there because it was THE ONLY piece of writing that I’d ever done that my wife felt had that magic “something”. I was literally sitting there looking from one to the other… junkie… child killer… junkie… child killer… junkie GOES AFTER A CHILD KILLER!
But how can I make that happen, right?
            Because he was an ex-cop.
And so Mark Mallen was born. Out of sheer desperation. After that, the book came pretty quickly. I never showed the book to anyone, really. No one ever read the drafts. I workshopped the opening chapter one time. Other than that, the only people to ever read the novel were the agents who had requested partials or fulls. And no, I do NOT recommend you do it that way. I felt I could do it because by that time I’d been writing long enough (over ten years) to feel confident enough in my inner critic. And also? Honestly? I felt in my gut that THIS one was going to be “The One”, the book that got me an agent.
            Anyway, once I was done, I went over to one of the greatest websites around for writers, Agent Query. The agent database on that site was invaluable to me. I worked like a dog on the query, and even took the plunge and used an outside editor to look it over and help me with it. I ended up using The Editorial Department. They were fantastic. It wasn’t cheap, but I really wanted to get this one right.
I started sending out queries in January 2009. I sent Barbara an email query on February 28th, along with a partial of the first thirty pages. Barbara was on my “A” list because when I was researching her, I found a LOT that I loved. She didn’t mind turning a “maybe” into a “yes” and this worked for me as I felt that if I didn’t have a “yes” of a book on my hands, I sure as shit had a “maybe”. I also read that she had told one prospective client that she would get into a monkey knife fight to represent that client’s book. How could you NOT love her, right?
By this point, mid-March or so, I had a handful of fulls out. I nudged Barbara via email on April 30th, using the original email so if she needed to, she could reference back to our conversation easily. And by nudge, I mean politely nudge. These are very busy people, with a stable of clients, a barn-full of manuscripts, and a warehouse of queries to read. I gave her eight weeks or so, then nudged. She emailed back that very day, thanking me for nudging her and at that time requested the full. I sent it off, feeling like this was going to maybe be good.
            May 15th , the day it happened, was graduation day in the college department where I work. It’s literally the busiest day of the year, hands down. I was running around like a mad dog. Got a chance to check email once. I think it was sometime in the early afternoon. There was an email from Barbara, saying she’d just called her husband to cancel their dinner plans as she was loving the hell outta the book and that she would call me when she was done. Well, you can imagine how THAT made me feel, right? I gave her a very enthusiastic, though professional, response telling her that I was happy to hear she was enjoying the book, and that I was looking forward to chatting. About an hour later, as I was exiting the building to where I work to set up the champagne and food for the graduating students and their parents, my cell rings. It’s home calling. I answer, thinking that my wife needs me to pick up something on the way home to help alleviate the agony she was enduring after her operation.
            “Hey,” I said.
            “You have an agent,” she replied.
            And you know what? I almost cried, right then and there. Seriously. I mean… I’d been looking for an agent for well over thirteen years if you add in the years I’d spent writing screenplays. I’d been writing six days a week, on average forty-nine weeks a year in all that time.
Yes, I had to fight back the tears.
My wife then told me that Barbara had chatted her up a bit, and that I should check my email, which I immediately did. And there was “The Email”. I now have that email pinned to the corkboard over my desk, and have ever since that day.
That was May, 2009. It took us another 2.5 years until I got my two-book deal. And the book that landed me my agent wasn’t even the book that sold! I had to write two MORE books before we got to one that did it. One thing to always remember: a really good agent believes in you and your talent, not just the book. They want to help build your career.
One last thing: you have to play the long game here. Just assume it’s going to take a long time. That way if it doesn’t, then cool beans and you’re happily surprised. And if it does take a long time? Well, then you’ve already been prepared for that eventuality.
            My story is, if anything, a really a good example of never giving up, never giving in. And if it can happen for me, a guy who was dyslexic as a child and dropped out of high school mid-way through his second year, it can happen for anyone.
            Happy writing!

Robert Lewis is represented by Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Agency. The first novel of his Mark Mallen series, titled Untold Damage, arrives 04.08.13 via Midnight Ink

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Memory of Light: The Wheel of Time Turns

cover art by Michael Whelan

My favorite epic fantasy series has its final offering coming out January 8, 2013. I’ve been reading it since the first book written by Robert Jordan was published in 1990. That trade paperback edition is falling apart I’ve read it so many times. Now thirteen books later and over twenty years, the final offering makes it way to press in a few months. It’s a sad and exciting thought.
Anybody who had read any of the Wheel of Time series knows that Robert Jordan died with the series unfinished. That his wife and editor, Harriet, handpicked the writer to finish the series. Brandon Sanderson took Jordan’s work and added two more books to the collection. He adapted his style to Jordan’s and made the series his own while staying true to Jordan. I’ve read that Jordan left very detailed notes on the direction and the grand ending. Soon that ending will be mine to own.
Jordan’s writing contains unbelievably deep characters, told from so many points of view. It’s J.K. Rowling on steroids. Yet each point of view holds its own whether villain or hero. Others may complain of the tangents he spun from the main plot, but I took it all in because he made me care about the characters.
Jordan also loved dropping tantalizing hints. Prophecies, visions, dreams, all gave clues to what might happen three volumes down the line. If only you paid close enough attention you could decipher his intent before it happened. In some ways reading became a treasure hunt. A challenge to accept and beat. Jordan made you work.
At thirteen large volumes, this isn’t a series that lets word count dictate to it. It tells the story that needs to be told, going truly epic in scope. So big you need a who’s who to keep track of all the names. Like magicians, they keep so many plates spinning in the air the readers are dazzled and endlessly entertained.
More than twenty years. Beloved characters will die and other will live. I have my suspicions. No matter what, it will be bittersweet.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Getting the Call: Jean Oram

     I'm so pleased to mix things up a little after the holiday week and bring you an agented non-fiction writer. The method of getting an agent is a little different for non-fiction where the proposal and your platform are so important, but The Call emotions are the same.
    Jean, it sounds like your book and blog would appeal to so many people. Especially in the summer, it is so hard to come up with ideas that get kids involved and away from the electronics. Thanks for sharing your story!

Edit: Check out Jean's post on Questions to Ask a Literary Agent.
Getting The Call for my nonfiction children's 1,001 play ideas book is a bit of a long, rambling story.

How the Book Idea Came to Be:

When my daughter was about a year old I saw an idea for a bean plant teepee in a magazine. (You grow beans up a bamboo teepee frame to make a mini fort.) My daughter wasn't old enough at the time to enjoy it so I snagged it out of the mag and slapped it in a notebook.

And thus The List began. Within two days I had HUNDREDS of kids play ideas written down. They literally poured into my brain after glueing that one magazine picture in the notebook. My mom laughed and said I was writing a book. At that point I was a school librarian on maternity leave, but not a writer. A book wasn't a bad idea though.

The First Queries:

About 700 play ideas later, I typed them up in my computer and queried them straight to a publisher. Yeah. This long list with a few instructions. I got rejected. I shrugged and carried on with life. I had tried. (And I think a part of me knew the book wasn't what it should/could be yet.)

A few years later I got into writing novels. That's when I learned about query letters (what makes 'em good), how to write a bit better (okay a WHOLE lot better), what a literary agent was, etc.

After querying a few novels, I decided… I should give away my list of kids play ideas. So I whipped up a website, put some of the ideas on it and pretty much forgot about it. I didn't even publicize the poor site. I just let it languish. Oh, and I blogged about some of the ideas for awhile. Like, one a day for over a year and burned out. 

It all lacked something.

Plus, I was way too chicken to really tell people about my site and get enthusiastic about it all. Way too scared. And I needed to build a platform and put myself out there if I wanted to do this. As well, I still didn't quite know what my niche was. Play ideas, yes. But? There was something missing. And, of course, a part of me (read that: a large, secret part of me) hoped people would magically discover my site and make it that whatever it wasn't.

A Push From Friends:

Around that time a friend in the publishing world, Molli Nickell, encouraged me to query literary agents. She started sending me information on how to write a nonfiction proposal and offered to critique my proposal for me. So, I wrote one. She provided feedback and off it went to agents. I can't recall exactly how many, but it was like 10 or so. It didn't feel right to pursue it at that point.

WEbook came along and I entered some stories and then tried their querying system. I queried some fiction projects and also a few nonfiction queries for kicks. No replies. Again, shrugged and moved on with fiction work and improving my craft. The timing didn't feel right.

By now many years had passed since The List began and I was pregnant with #2. My critique partner and friend, Calista Taylor, was approached by literary agent Neil Salkind of the Salkind Agency after finding her online. He was looking for someone to write a steampunk craft book. (Coming out this fall!) She signed with him and got a book deal in a matter of days and then asked him if he'd be interested in my project. (Got to love friends who believe in you!)

He told her to ask me to send a query. So I sent off a query as well as my (updated) proposal in case he was interested. (Meanwhile I was worried how this was all going to pan out since I knew I could end up on months of bed rest and possible a lengthy hospital stay with this pregnancy--what was I going to do if this whole book thing worked out?)

He was. Within five days we had a signed contract for representation.

Getting The Call:

Neil replied to my query within a day or two (with apologies for taking so long if you can believe it) and asked if he could call me. That morning he had to delay the call by a few minutes. Why? He was selling a book. (Good omen? I dunno, but I like it!)

It was strange. I wasn't really nervous. I was calm and felt almost like it wasn't real. My mom was over working on the stained glass piece she had made me for my birthday when Neil called to discuss my project. I wouldn't let myself believe that he might offer to represent me.

We chatted for about 10 minutes and in that time he totally pinned my project in the bigger market and what he saw happening in the world of parenting. It was incredible. It was inspiring. It was like someone cranked the shutters on my mind all the way open. (I couldn't believe I hadn't seen this and that he still saw the potential in my lame and misguided query.)

During the call I couldn't think of any questions to ask. And those that I did I ask, I think I asked twice. Everything he said just made sense. Plus he was way ahead of me. He was already brainstorming foreword authors and had a new title in mind. Did I have any thoughts on what we could add to the title?

Um… Uh? Hello brain? Any thoughts?

It was like I had been ambling along down the sidewalk and he'd zoomed by in a speeding a car and grabbed my hand. Problem was my (pregnant) brain was still back there ambling on the sidewalk, struggling to waddle fast enough to leap back into a position where it could do some thinking.

There wasn't much for me to say or to ask, but I felt I had to say something. The call doesn't last 5 minutes! (He offered to represent me in the first five.) And how do you accept? What do you say? What words do you use? I accept you because you complete my project? You are the missing piece?

The poor guy probably thought I was mental. My mind was galloping with all these new thoughts and my mouth felt like it needed to move!

But I didn't gush. I was professional--if a little slow sounding.

After The Call:

The big thing about The Call was this: Neil understood the vision I had for my book. He shared it, but also saw it in relation to what was going on in the world around us. He got it more than I did! And suddenly I could see what my project really was and how it could make a difference in the world.

I was inspired.

This. Could. Happen.

I went upstairs after the call (still a bit stunned around the edges) and said to my mom, "I think I have a literary agent. I have an agreement to sign." And then I sat down, watched her work on the stained glass on the dining room table. (And later went and made notes, printed out the agreement, signed it, and sent it back.)


It's been a year and a half since The Call. In that time we've come very, very close to a publishing contract in a very crowded and specific market. In that time I have learned A TON! Currently, I am updating my proposal. (Neil provided all sorts of great insight and tips on how to improve that 54 page document for our first go 'round and now I am adding things in that I have done in the past year and a half.) We plan to hit the editors again this fall, if not sooner. Wish me luck!

Thank you Michelle for allowing me to share my story on your blog. And thank you to Neil for all his hard work. Here's to more editor queries this fall!

BIO: Jean Oram is a mother to two healthy kids--and didn't end up on more than a day of bed rest after all. Wahoo! She loves to write and is currently working on breaking into the magazine market to help expand her audience and nonfiction platform. She loves to ski, play, climb trees, read, moderate for her writing friends over on, pin play ideas on Pinterest (, talk play with parents on Facebook (, tweet funnies and play articles on Twitter ( as well as blogging about silly play and other great fun things for kids on her website and blog ( She also has a blog about writing (

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Confession of a Slacker

This week I wrote nothing despite being within two chapters of finishing my work in progress. Oh, I edited some chapters, and I critiqued other people’s writing for the fantasy and science fiction marathon. My work in progress has arrived at the big climax scene. It should have been a priority. Instead I made excuses.
It’s a holiday week. It’s too hot. (Three days of record high temperatures.) No exercise outside makes my head too foggy for good writing. The kids need my attention. All true, of course. Truth didn’t exactly make me feel any less guilty. So I decided I’ll start tomorrow. Unfortunately, that was Thursday and two more tomorrows have gone by. The guilt load increases.
I really want to get the manuscript finished. To be finished means editing and being able to send off to beta readers. It means getting closer to querying agents and getting those rejection letters. No matter how good you are the rejections will still outnumber the requests.
Perhaps I secretly don’t want to finish. Horrors!  Stalling out of fear?
Perhaps I don’t think the finished product will measure up to my vision. Crap. More fear stuff.
Perhaps I just gave myself permission to take a break, to slack a little. Maybe you can’t rush inspiration. Hmmm.  Let’s go with that.
 I’ll start tomorrow. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Founding Father Soap Opera Trivia

Many of the founding fathers had quite dramatic lives. Their biographies are fascinating. Here are some trivia facts I picked up over the years to brighten everyone’s Fourth of July and get you in the spirit.

George Washington

George Washington never had any children but he adopted his wife, Martha’s two from her first marriage. He is the only president to be elected with unanimous consent of the electors. He refused the title His Excellency the President of the United States for the more modest title Mr. President. George Washington missed the turn of the century, dying in December 1799 of complications from a sore throat. He is the only founding father to free his slaves which he did in his will. His adopted granddaughter married a man named Robert E. Lee, (yep, the same one) their estate was confiscated when he went over to the rebel side and it became Arlington Cemetery during the Civil War.

Benjamin Franklin ran away from his apprenticeship in Boston, breaking his contract. A renegade. He  escaped to the young city of Philadelphia and became a wealthy printer. Though he never said, historians speculate he turned outright rebel to the crown after being publically humiliated by the English government while assigned as the ambassador to mend our relationship before the beginning of the War for Independence. Benjamin Franklin had an illegitimate son, William, which he raised with his wife. When the war broke out, William stayed a Royalist becoming Governor of New Jersey. Benjamin disowned him and held that grudge for the rest of his life.

The first president to live in the White House was John Adams. George Washington spent his terms first in New York City and then Philadelphia as part of the compromise that saw our capital city built in the middle of Virginia wilderness and close to Washington’s home of Mount Vernon.

The man who wrote the preamble for the Constitution (you know, We the people, in order to form a more perfect union) had the unusual name of Governeur Morris. He lost a leg in a carriage accident. A lady’s man, in later life he married a woman much younger than himself.

The man who financed the War of Independence, Robert Morris, backed up the new country’s notes with his own fortune earned in the shipping business. Robert Morris later ended up in debtor’s prison when that fortune failed. His is not a name you hear anymore, but the war would not have been possible without him. He found ways to supply our troops.

Aaron Burr

The former vice president of Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr, fatally shot our national’s first Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton, in a duel over politics. (You can see Hamilton on the ten dollar bill. Hamilton was illegitimate and self educated.) Burr never won another election and very oddly, tried to collude with both Spain and Great Britain to start a war over territory in the Louisiana Purchase area. Burr was charged with treason but acquitted.

During the War of 1812 with Britain, British soldiers captured Washington DC. They burned the Capitol building and the White House, putting the flame to the White House after drinking toasts and eating the dinner left for President Madison. You’ve probably heard how Dolly Madison refused to leave even as troop approached until she save the painting of President Washington. Heroic woman, the title of First Lady was well deserved.
John Adams
Perhaps the oddest and my favorite strange fact, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on the same day—July 4th, fifty years after the Declaration of Independence. Friends for years since they met in Paris as ambassadors, a dirty mud-raking election where Jefferson defeated Adams drove them apart. The name calling was much worse than today's brand. Only after the deaths of Jefferson’s daughter and Adam’s wife did they again correspond.  While living, Thomas Jefferson had to sell his library to pay his debts. His estate was sold after he died, along with his slaves, to pay his bills. John Adam's last words were "Jefferson still survives". He was mistaken.