A Contest!

I have survived my first week at the library. And you know what? I love it! I’ve had some ridiculously awesome reference questions (“Can you help me find a book about the Holocaust and puppets?”), and seen some ridiculously adorable children talking about dinosaurs (we have a dino display). I’m so happy with the job, it’s almost frightening.

And because of that, I want to celebrate by giving stuff away! Like most libraries, we have a mini store that sells donated books. I’ve decided that periodically, whenever a book I love is dropped off, I’m going to purchase it and give it away on my blog. Because I love you all. And I love supporting libraries. And I love books. So here’s my first giveaway!

The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen

adore Dessen’s books. They’re so rich and beautiful and engaging. This is one of my favorites. So when I saw it on the shelf, I had to adopt it. Like I said, it’s a used book so it has some wear (bent pages), but otherwise it’s perfectly fine.

Want the Dessen book? Comment below! Tell me your favorite dinosaur, and you’ll be entered to win it. Deadline March 22nd. Good luck!

I Have An Agent, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Querying

As announced yesterday, I have a literary agent. A real live literary agent. I can’t even explain how excited I am about this. But I can explain how it happened!

After deciding my book was edited to perfection, I started querying. As it turns out, writing a query letter is much harder than I had imagined. I can write a cover letter in a few minutes, but a query? Yeessh. I made a few mock ones, but hated them. I read all the books, went to all the websites, but still, it wasn’t happening. It didn’t feel like my book. Thankfully, I have a friend who’s a published romance author. She showed me her queries, and gave me the one piece of advice that truly stuck – write it in your writing voice. Make it sound like the book. Okay.

So after a few more takes, I was finally happy with my query. I liked it quite a bit, and thought it not only summed up my manuscript nicely, but read like something you’d find on the back of a book. So from there, I started researching agents that I liked, and that represented books similar to mine. I made a very large Excel spreadsheet with all of their information (Name, agency, query specifics…), and did a ton of research, finding out what each agent liked, what they looked for, and the best way to format the query to fit their interest. And then I started querying.

At first, since I was still new, I only sent out five letters. I expected a) rejections and b) long dry spells. The former came true first. Within about four days I received my first rejection. I was actually more excited about it than upset. Agents are actually reading my emails! MY EMAILS! The next day I received my second rejection. Every time I received one, I sent a new query out to another agent so I always had five out.

At this time, I entered the two Cupid contests, which were exciting and fun. I met a lot of other writers, and learned more about what agents were looking for. Both times I made it to the second round (Yay!) so I figured my query was at least decent. (In the second contest, I got a partial request, too!) I upped my queries to having 10 out. Exciting!

The night of Grammys was the first Big. Moment. During the red carpet I received my first full request. I’m pretty sure I cried with joy, and then ran around the apartment screaming. Incidentally, by the end of the Grammys I received my second full request. More screaming. A few days later I received a third full request while I was at the reference desk. I tried not to get too teary eyed because apparently college students don’t like it when you do that.

Last Thursday was when my friend was in labor. I checked my phone every five minutes to see if there was any news. After work, I went to Publix with S and our friend Shannon. While there, I picked up my phone again and noticed I had an email.

It was The Email.

Short, friendly, it was from one of my top agents (!!!), saying that she loved my writing, and my book.

And then I cried in Publix because, really, what else is there to do.

We scheduled The Call for the following day. I kept telling myself that it might be nothing, that she might just be asking for it to be revised. That was possible. Anything was possible.

But that didn’t happen. Instead, I met the nicest agent in the world, who had the nicest compliments about my manuscript. She offered suggestions on what to improve, and referenced Jordan Catalano, which made me want to be best friends with her. (Let’s be honest – if she referenced Daniel Desario, I probably would have proposed marriage.) She was perfect for both me and my book; I was so happy to put TNWSY in her hands. And then she offered to represent me. And then I ran around my office, flailing my arms in the air like Kermit the frog.

I couldn’t say yes right away, though. I emailed all of the agents who asked for either a partial or full manuscript earlier (including one who requested it only that morning. Sorry!) They all got back to me within a handful of hours, either saying they’ll pass or they’ll read it quickly and get back to me soon. So I waited. And waited. And then finally yesterday I got my final response.

So I called Michelle – my agent – and let her know that I’d love to work with her.  There were exclamation marks in both of our voices. And then I cheered. And cried (because apparently I do that a lot). And then I ran around like a Muppet again.

Because what else are you going to do when something like this happens?!

The funny thing is, I started out writing TNWSY simply because I wanted to tell a story. Sure I wanted to have a book published one day, but it wasn’t for that. I just wanted to write a story that was constantly in my mind. I wanted to finish it, and have it out there. And then it turned into something so much more.

I’m so thankful for Michelle, and for all of my friends (including you blog readers!) who’ve been with me throughout the process. I’m so happy it’s all coming together. Who knows what’ll happen next, but I’m ready to see.

Oh, and since I’ve never really mentioned it, here’s the title of my book: THE NIGHT WE SAID YES.

I’m saying yes to whatever happens next. Because I know, no matter what, it’ll be new and exciting and different. And I think my characters would be proud.

The Beauty of Youth

There are many benefits of working in a library, but one of my favorites is (of course) being around books all day long. If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I love posting pictures of old/neat/interesting/funny books I find on our shelves. The other day I found this book:

Little Journeys to the Homes of Eminent Painters by Elbert Hubbard

It’s an art book from 1901. The cover is ridiculously soft, and sadly falling apart due to wear and tear. I flipped through it gently, and stumbled upon this quote on the first page:

“…I hope this book will not suffer the dire fate of falling into the hands of any one who has forgotten the days of his youth.”

Isn’t that sentiment lovely? How sad would it be to forget our youths. To forget the days that made us who we are today.

I think, ultimately, that’s why I write (besides the fact that I love to/need to). I love revisiting those days of my childhood when I was so much braver. When everything felt possible, and there was no fear of mortality. I think that’s what I hope to give to my ( hopefully one day) readers. A flashback to times we all share, times that make us smile.

Edits

First page of "Dharma Bums." Editor's comments in pencil. Kerouac's comments in red.

Here’s a fun fact for you: when Jack Kerouac wrote Dharma Bums, he wasn’t touring the country or in a small apartment in New York City, he was living here in Orlando. My library actually has the original DB manuscript, edits and all. It’s really remarkable to see.

What I found to be hilarious, though, was how Kerouac actually rejected most of the edits suggested. There’s actually a page where he wrote “Viking Press changes that I rejected.” How crazy is that!

I’ve discussed earlier how I actually love getting critiques. Sure it hurts somtimes, but that’s good. Because I know the people who are editing are helping the book, not hurting me. And that’s my ultimate goal, isn’t it?

I say all of this because…the editing phase is finally done on TNWSY. I sent out my first query yesterday. I’m nervous, of course, but also extremely excited. I know there will be rejections, I know there will be hard times, but I also know I worked hard on the book, and I’m excited that it actually turned into something. Something someone might see one day.

Wish me luck!

Listening to Characters

I’ve read so many articles where writers described how their characters talked to them. How the characters led the story and made decisions of their own. And I thought it was so cool. I wanted that to happen. I wanted my characters to come alive and be something more than 2D ideas. But every time I wrote, it never happened. I realized later it was because I never got to know them enough to allow them to come alive.

As I wrote TNWSY, I had a general idea of how the book would start and end. I had a beginning fleshed out and finish line all of the characters were running towards. But as for the middle, there was just a bare skeleton guiding me. Sure, I had ideas of what would happen to get them from point a to point b, but never real concrete plans. I was scared, of course, that I wouldn’t figure it all out.

But as I approached an undecided part, I found scenes coming to me. Not always easily, but they came quickly and excitingly. My characters decided they didn’t want to stay at a party, instead they wanted to go out. They told me where they should go, they led the story. And it was absolutely amazing. Even my ending, the one I previously plotted, was changed. They thought it was too cheesy, of course.

After I finished, I went back and re-read it. Starting with the first chapter, I noticed how out of character some quotes were, how unauthentic. That’s how I realized my characters had voices. As soon as I realized that, I knew I was on the right track.

That’s not to say my story is perfect or even complete – even right now I’m finding new things to change and add. I’m just saying that, despite it never happening before, it is possible for characters to come alive. It’s amazing and crazy and, well, magical. They create stories of their own, and, as a writer, it’s our job to just catch up.