Friday, June 26, 2015

Team Maries Wins "The Writer's Voice"

#TheWVoice wrapped up earlier this week, and I'm pleased to announce that #TeamMaries won with 21 official votes! Here's how those votes broke down:

#1: AN ADAGIO DARK AND LOVELY Lauren MacLeod, Erin Harris, Caryn Wiseman, Carrie Pestritto, Andrea Somberg, Kathleen Rushall, Courtney Stevenson
#2: WHISPERMAGE Carrie Pestritto, Andrea Somberg
#3: THE DREADFUL GOOD Caitie Flum, Erin Harris, Carrie Pestritto, Andrea Somberg, Courtney Stevenson
#5: TRUE NORTH Courtney Stevenson
#7: THE SHAPE OF THE MANGO Mollie Glick, Carrie Pestritto, Andrea Somberg
#8: THE LAST PAPER DAHL Erin Harris, Kathleen Rushall 

And THE LAST PAPER DAHL also picked up a request from NinjaHulk. Congratulations, Kristin!

To those of you who didn't get a vote--or didn't get selected by a coach--I just want to say that subjectivity is a huge part of this business and that everyone's tastes are unique. I know you know that, but it bears repeating. Writing is such a solitary pursuit, and at first, it feels like the only person who believes in you is you. But if you keep at it, if you keep taking those punches and dragging yourself back to your feet, you'll slowly find like-minded people who believe in you and your writing. I just found eight new people to believe in, and whether they got no votes or seven, I look forward to seeing their names on books someday.

Last but certainly not least, thanks to Anna-Marie McLemore, my wonderful guest coach, for helping me put together a great team and offering thoughtful feedback on their entries. Thanks to my indefatigable fellow coaches, Brenda Drake, Mónica Bustamante Wagner, and Elizabeth Briggs, for their hard work and dedication over so many weeks (and years). And thanks to everyone who participated, especially my awesome teammates, for taking a risk and putting yourselves out there. It takes a lot of courage to face rejection and keep coming back for more, and I admire your fortitude. Truly, I do.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Agent Round Starts NOW

#TheWVoice is a multi-blog, multi-agent contest hosted by Brenda Drake, Mónica Bustamante Wagner, Elizabeth Briggs, and me. We based the contest on NBC’s singing reality show The Voice, so the four of us selected projects for our teams based on their queries and first pages and coached the talented writers who wrote them as they polished their entries.

And TODAY we get to post our team members’ finished entries on our blogs!

Twelve amazing agents are going to read these queries and first pages, then vote for their favorites on Tuesday, June 23. Each vote will count as a partial or full request depending on how many votes the entry receives. If an entry receives 1 or 2 votes, those votes will count as partial requests. If an entry receives 3 or more votes, those votes will count as full requests.

Voting will stay open until noon EDT on June 24, at which point we’ll determine which coach’s team received the most votes (and let at least one ninja agent take a crack at the entries). That coach will win bragging rights for time immemorial, and everyone who received requests will be able to submit their materials to all the agents who voted for them. These votes represent serious interest in your project, so PLEASE DON’T ACCEPT AN OFFER OF REPRESENTATION BEFORE GIVING “THE WRITER’S VOICE” AGENTS AN OPPORTUNITY TO MAKE A COMPETING OFFER.

Our twelve amazing agents:

Caitie Flum of Liza Dawson Associates
Mollie Glick of Foundry Literary + Media
Erin Harris of Folio Literary Management
Lauren MacLeod of The Strothman Agency
Sara Megibow and Renee Nyen of kt literary
Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary Agency
Carrie Pestritto of Prospect Agency
Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency
Andrea Somberg of Harvey Klinger, Inc.
Courtney Stevenson of Pippin Properties
Caryn Wiseman of Andrea Brown Literary Agency

And my eight amazing teammates' entries:

#TeamMaries #1: AN ADAGIO DARK AND LOVELY (YA historical)
#TeamMaries #2: WHISPERMAGE (YA fantasy)
#TeamMaries #3: THE DREADFUL GOOD (YA mystery)
#TeamMaries #4: JETSTAR FIGHTER PILOT (YA science fiction)
#TeamMaries #5: TRUE NORTH (MG contemporary)
#TeamMaries #6: MONTANA GOLD (YA adventure)
#TeamMaries #7: THE SHAPE OF THE MANGO (Literary fiction)
#TeamMaries #8: THE LAST PAPER DAHL (MG fantasy)

To read the other teams' entries, please use the following links:

Lastly, cheerleading is allowed, but only until Monday! We want to leave the comments free for the agents to vote on Tuesday. (Also, we will only allow, well, cheerleading and/or positive feedback. Please don’t critique the entries before the agents vote. On the flip side, please don’t try to convince the agents that they want to vote for one of your favorites or, you know, threaten to douse the agents in silly string if they don’t vote for your critique partner. This is a silly-string-free site.)

Happy reading!


Genre: MG fantasy
Word count: 63,000


Not long ago, eleven-year-old Cecelia Dahl had a little brother who was alive, a mother and father who didn't blame her for his death, and a pleasant house in Hungrig, Norway. She had a soul that lived inside her body, not a miserable blue one that ran out through a door in her chest. Before Tuesdays turned evil, Cecelia was made of skin and bones and happiness, not the crackling paper and sorrow now ripping her life to shreds.

Cecelia’s mother has left for The Land of Yesterday to find her ghost brother. Her house, a dark and crooked thing called Widdendream, absorbs her father into its walls as punishment for making her mother leave. Just before it eats her as well, two mischievous gnomes whisk her away in their hot-air balloon. The gnomes, soul-catchers by trade, claim they know the way to Yesterday, and also how to capture her runaway soul. Its absence is why she’s turning into a paper girl, but finding it won’t be easy. Now Cecelia must survive the harrowing voyage in order to find Yesterday and bring her mother and ghost-brother home. If she doesn’t, Widdendream will never give her father back, and Cecelia’s transformation to a full paper Dahl will be irreversibly complete.

First page:

On Monday of last week, Cecelia Dahl understood the world. She resided in Hungrig, Norway, in a crooked house called Widdendream. Daisies that bloomed in both grass and snow circled the shimmering lake outside her window. Sharp mountains loomed over her town. Dogs barked. Cats meowed. Cecelia’s midnight blue hair grew long and fast and cantankerous. Her skin was dark and bronze and oddly freckled, just like her mother’s. Widdendream loved its residents, as all good houses should, and Cecelia’s family loved her unconditionally. Indeed, on Monday of last week, these were all hardboiled facts.

Then on Tuesday of last week, Cecelia did the bad thing, and the world narrowed down to this: Tuesday hated Cecelia and Cecelia hated it back. 

Now that Tuesday had arrived once more, Cecelia couldn’t help but look over both shoulders as she sank into her desk. It felt like something terrible had its eyes focused on her.

“Cecilia?” Miss Podsnappery pushed up her horn-rimmed glasses. “Whatever do you call that instrument in your hand?” 

Every eye in class turned on Cecelia. Expressionless gazes traced her charcoal sweater and the black-and-gray-striped dress beneath it, judging her frayed tights and scuffed boots too, no doubt. Her teacher, bewildered as always, cast looming shadows. Cecelia forced a smile. She must keep her answer as succinct as possible, forgoing any miscommunications. Teachers were simple creatures, after all, and easily confused.


Genre: Literary fiction
Word count: 100,000


Samira Ali’s love life was mapped at birth: Finish graduate school, let her parents find her the perfect Pakistani man, and learn to love him while rearing a houseful of beautiful Muslim babies.

American-born Samira never expected to find true love that way, but neither did she expect to careen so far into forbidden territory. Less than halfway through her doctorate program, she’s not merely embroiled in a clandestine love affair with wildlife photographer Gary Rosenthal; she’s internalized the cadence of his voice when he lights his Hanukkah candles. But before she can admit that she’s fallen irrevocably in love, Samira learns that her father is dying. Rather than destroy his hope that she’ll find the perfect Muslim man, Samira leaves Gary--only to discover that she’s pregnant.

Unable to think straight in the days following her father’s funeral, Samira flies to Pakistan on the pretense of helping her grandfather. She tells herself that she’ll have a plan by the time she returns to her small Florida hometown, but being in Lahore complicates everything. As Samira struggles to conceal her pregnancy from a gaggle of nosy aunties, she learns that she’s not the only Ali woman who has had to choose between love and the culture and faith that define her. Samira’s mother is hiding a past that could make the blended family Samira dreams of possible (if Gary will take her back) or force Samira to choose between the one parent she has left and the love of her life.

First page:

Samira swung her leg over her bicycle seat and leaned into the pedals. In seconds, the rusty green dumpsters and dull gray gravel of the alley were behind her, and she was jumping the curb at Carolina Street. She crouched low over her handlebars as she rode deliberately through the shadows that draped her hometown, softening everything she passed: the park where she had broken her arm when she was six, her high school home economics teacher’s house, the azalea-ringed yards of two aunties, the police chief’s stucco rambler.

She pedaled fast, her legs moving like pistons as she headed west, away from the beach, away from her childhood home, away from her still-sleeping mother, mentally mapping the shortest route to the next town. At her fastest pace, it would still take more than a half hour each way.

She needed a car.

“Don’t be stupid, Sam,” she said, her voice lost beneath the whir of her bike.

No one drove through Carlysle, Florida, at four thirty in the morning.

If she were driving, the chief would have gotten in his cruiser and followed her to make sure she was all right. With Samira’s luck, he’d have had a half dozen of the aunties trailing him, or--at the very least--reaching for the telephone.

Samira could almost hear the aunties’ voices as one, husky with concern, sleep, and unflinching Pakistani accents:

“Nasreen-behen, so sorry to call at this hour, but everything is okay, nehi? Samira just drove by...”

Team Maries #6: MONTANA GOLD

Genre: YA adventure
Word count: 85,000


For perpetual slacker Simon, graduating from high school just means his parents are going to force him to stop playing video games and actually make decisions about his future. When he finds a map his miner great-great-great-great-uncle left to a hidden cache of gold, he decides getting out of town--and putting off any major decisions--sounds like a good idea. He cashes in his graduation checks and hops a plane to the wilds of Montana, but it doesn’t take him long to realize he’s in over his head.

Savvy local Maggie takes pity on the city boy, but not because she finds Simon's snobby Eastern accent charming. Finding the gold is her last chance to pay off her father’s crushing debts and stay in the town she loves, and she doesn’t care who gets hurt in the process.

As Simon and Maggie follow the clues, what started out as a fun adventure turns serious when they’re stranded in the woods and word of the gold gets around to the wrong people. But Maggie’s warming up to him, and Simon starts to wonder if his future might just include her--not to mention the rugged beauty of Montana. They’ll have to outsmart a crazed mountain man, drug smugglers, and the wilderness itself if he wants to live to find out.

First page:

The day Simon found the letter with the first clue to his great-great-great-great-uncle's gold started out just as dismal as most days. In the morning, he graduated from high school. A class of three thousand, seven hundred, and forty-one pretty much guaranteed a comatose audience by the time they got to Wexler, Simon.

Afterward, instead of giving Simon a break, maybe a little time to shower off the rented gown stink, his parents informed him that he was having a surprise graduation party. Simon's former classmates must have been more impressed by his Dartmouth-professor parents than he was, because there were over a hundred people at their house by four thirty. He escaped to the backyard and was sitting on the edge of the pool with his shoes off and dress pants rolled up when his best friend found him.

"This party blows chunks," Matt said, flopping down beside Simon.

"I had nothing to do with it," Simon said. "I take no responsibility for its vomit-inducing properties.”

"MageWars later?”

"Definitely." A few hours of the best online game in the universe would go a long way toward erasing the suck of the day.

The porch door whacked open behind them. Simon kept his eyes forward. If he had any luck at all, it would just be someone coming out for a smoke.

Team Maries #5: TRUE NORTH

Genre: MG contemporary
Word count: 50,000


Makenna Reid has never had a best friend, finished two grades in the same school, or lived in a house without wheels. In her eleven years as a Coast Guard brat, Mack has learned not to get too close to anything or anyone--until her family is transferred to Seward, Alaska, and she moves in across the street from Travis O’Connell.

Travis and his sisters are living Mack’s worst nightmare, a parent lost at sea. When Mack overhears a fisherman who survived a terrible accident raving about “the seal people,” she suspects the icy waters of Resurrection Bay are hiding a secret--one that may be connected to the disappearance of Travis’s father. As the two friends search for answers together, Travis and the other residents of Bear Lake RV Park help Mack tear down the walls around her heart and carve out a place in the world for herself.

When tragedy threatens their new lives, Mack and Travis realize too late that the father he needs and the home she has always longed for were both right in front of them all along. They will need a little magic--and a lot of faith in each other--to attempt the daring rescue that can set things right.

First page:

I have the weirdest feeling that we have driven through a portal into a black-and-white movie. All the color has somehow leached out of the world, leaving everything varying shades of gray. Gray streets lined with gray buildings slope down toward the icy waters of Resurrection Bay. On every side, slate-colored mountains rise against the cloudy sky, and all over the ground the remains of the winter snow slump into heaps of grimy slush. Welcome to Seward, Alaska, population 1,863. It definitely does not look like the brochure.

I pull off my headphones and let them dangle around my neck. "No way," I say. "I am not living here."

Daddy turns around in the driver’s seat. “Why the attitude, Makenna? Five moves in eleven years, and you’ve never complained before.”

“We’ve never had a whole country between us and civilization before. I mean, look at this place.” I sweep my hand at the car window. “It’s like the armpit of the universe. I thought Alaska was supposed to be beautiful.” 

All those things may be true, but none of them are the real reason I’m being such a brat. Seward is the kind of place where Coast Guard dads get killed.

"Don't panic yet," Mama says. "Maybe the campground will be nicer."

Doubtful. I can tell from her strained smile that she doesn't really believe that, either.

The gravel road the GPS wants us to take does not look promising. It looks like something a bunch of teenagers would go down in a scary movie.


Genre: YA science fiction
Word count: 80,000


Reeka Pendleton and her brother Dek have three rules: stick together, trust no one, and always go back for each other. When Dek is recruited for the fighter pilot program at the JetStar Academy--the toughest all-male school in their galaxy--Reeka grudgingly lets him go. But when he disappears, she vows to jump a transport from her home space station and find him.

However, several failed attempts have left her with a few broken ribs and more than a handful of enemies. Worse, her options are running out. Regulations on all space stations have increased due to the threat of the Iorge, a rogue organization determined to create super soldiers by erasing emotions from the main population. Their constant attacks have driven the stations to the brink of war.

But Reeka won’t let even a war get in her way, seizing an opportunity to be one of the JetStar Academy’s four female recruits. As Reeka battles chauvinistic classmates and dives into the secrets of Dek’s actions at the Academy, she discovers that her commanding officer knows more about Dek's disappearance than he's willing to reveal--and that Dek may have a more significant role in the impending war than Reeka ever expected.

First page:

I collapsed in an alley as the fiery whip of pain in my ribs threatened to burst out of me. I barely had enough strength left to tap a message to Ari on my ion5:

: Are you up?

Several excruciating moments passed, the hot jolts in my ribs acting as much more than a distraction. Finally, instead of a message, Ari sent me a vid-chat:

“Reeka, where are you?” she asked, her voice cloudy with sleep.

“Downtown?” My head throbbed as I tried not to slip further down into the void.

“Wait, what time is it?” Ari’s eyes flashed over to the digi-time. “Reek, it’s three AM! Why the hell are you out?”

Her cursing made me laugh, but doing so made my ribs hurt. “Goozer,” I said, wincing. “I tried going after Dek. Didn’t make it.”

“You are so stupid, Reek. Why would you leave without telling me?” Ari sat up and turned on her bedroom low light. Her eyes were big behind the specs that she shoved up the bridge of her nose.

I braced myself against the wall so that I wouldn’t pass out. “I don’t know. I had to go after him, Ari.” I closed my eyes. “But you’re right, it was stupid.”

Dek and I had made three rules for survival when we were kids: stick together, trust no one, and always go back for each other. I’d been having a rough time with that third one since he’d been officially classified as MIA. But I couldn’t leave my brother out in the purple. He wouldn’t leave me if I was the one missing.


Genre: YA mystery
Word count: 70,000


Seventeen-year-old Kat is an undercover agent for the Institute, a secretive UK organisation dedicated to preventing violent crime through surveillance. When its system flags a teenager for posting dangerous material online, it sends Kat to befriend them and ascertain their risk to society.

Her latest assignment is Audrey Foreman, a girl who hallucinates monsters. A girl the Institute deems on the verge of a breakdown. Kat must gather enough proof to justify an arrest before Audrey commits a crime, but there’s a problem: all evidence says Audrey isn’t actually dangerous, and the Institute doesn’t care. When Kat finds traces of a mission that imploded two years ago in the same town, she suspects she's actually there to tie up loose ends.

Working to uncover Audrey's connection to the old case, Kat begins to doubt the Institute's infallibility--especially when she examines the private jobs it sometimes accepts. But this is a dangerous time to have a moral crisis. The agent involved in the original case is still undercover at the local high school, eager to report back on Kat's changing priorities. And he won’t leave until Audrey has been silenced. If Kat doesn't help him, she could lose her job, her friends, and if she keeps seeing Audrey's monsters, maybe even her mind.

First page:

It starts like any other case. I get a file, AUDREY FOREMAN, and by the time I finish reading, it's midday. There's a sticky note on the last page: See Cas. So I phone the office.

“Cas?” I say. “Why not Robin?”

“He's busy. Cas has this one.”

“But, Robin’s my handler.”

The line goes dead. I just stand there, trying not to grin. I know what this means. When they give you a job with Cas, they’re announcing your promotion. 

Bee comes into the room with a box of pens and her sketchpad. “Hey,” she says, emptying her arms onto the table. “What's up?” 

“I have to see Cas,” I say.

Cas?” She stares at me but doesn’t ask the question--not yet. 

I take my jacket off the back of the chair and plait my hair in the elevator. Cas is in her study with her door open, so I walk on in. 

“Kat,” she says without looking up. “Darling. Take a seat.”

You’d expect us to be cutting edge here at the Institute, but the offices are very nineties. A tiny cactus sits on the desk and there’s a motivational poster on the wall--INTEGRITY, it reads, in block caps. There’s a rip in my chair, and I pluck at it while I wait. Some mix of fear and euphoria bubbles up my throat.

Team Maries #2: WHISPERMAGE

Genre: YA fantasy
Word count: 95,000


The city of Durn is haunted by the Mists, a fog that rises from the cobblestones and robs people of their sanity--or so Kaede was raised to believe.

Capable of silencing any noise by temporarily trapping it in a bell, Kaede earns herself the name Whispermage as a thief in the slums. With her unnatural silence present at every major crime in the city, she becomes Durn’s most wanted criminal. But everything changes the night she helps a fellow crook sneak into the jungle beyond Durn’s protective wall. Before he escapes, the man reveals a secret that unravels the fabric of Kaede’s world: the Mists are a lie, no more likely to drive a man insane than the jungle's daily rain. 

Durn’s ruler hoards the city’s wealth, sent Kaede’s father to die at the claws of the murderous beasts in the jungle, and stole Kaede’s mother away with the lure of riches, but this final injustice is too much. She refuses to stay trapped in the slums while the highborn live free of fear higher up Durn’s slopes. To spread the truth about the Mists and end the ruler's reign, Kaede teams up with Durn’s most powerful criminals. After all, if the Mists aren’t real, maybe nothing is--maybe not even the reason her mother left her.

First page:

The Mists eddy about my boots, curling fingers around the laces and twining up my legs. Pale moonlight paints the cobblestones in tones of gray. I tug the hood of my cloak more firmly over my head and quicken my pace.

Two watchmen, clad in their signature indigo cloaks, patrol Monger’s Way, clutching magefire torches. The purple fire burns away the Mists. I duck into an alley to avoid the men.

The passage is little more than a gap between two sagging buildings. My boots squelch in muck I dare not identify, and I retch at the stench. A beggar hunched atop a heap of refuse, just above the Mists, grabs at my cloak, but I dart past him onto Broad Street.

I pause in the shadows, scanning for watchful eyes. Across the street, the Wall rises so high I must crane my neck to see the top. Purple torches flicker along the Wall’s base, keeping the Mists at bay, but on the walkway above, the torches burn with true fire, the orange lights mere pinpricks from the street.

Tucked into the Wall’s shadow is a one-story gatehouse enclosing stairs to the Wall’s walkway. The staircase sprouts from its roof. Within lies an iron portcullis. Our target.

I suck in a breath and back into an alley. It’s wider than the last. Cleaner, too. I glance at the moon, but clouds obscure the sky.

How early am I?

The others should be here.


Genre: YA historical
Word count: 73,000


All seventeen-year-old Angelique Saint-Clair wants is the freedom to choose her own fate. But to guarantee protection for herself as a free woman of color, she has been taught that she must sign a contract with a wealthy Creole gentleman--not as his wife, but as his mistress. Her mother has trained her well for her first quadroon ball, where Angelique meets the kind and wealthy Monsieur LeBlanc. Unfortunately, at the same ball, Angelique discovers the depth of her feelings for another man, who happens to be both LeBlanc’s half-brother and her impoverished piano instructor.

Determined to secure her daughter’s future, Marguerite Saint-Clair encourages negotiations with LeBlanc, forcing Angelique to choose between protection and love. Just when Angelique decides to follow her heart, yellow fever strikes, threatening her mother’s life. Angelique’s dream of pursuing her music with the man she loves burns up with the fever ravaging the city. To provide for her mother’s care, Angelique takes the contract to LeBlanc, only to discover he has already left New Orleans. Now Angelique’s survival depends on the one person she’s never fully believed in: herself.

First page:

New Orleans, 1825

Masks cover only so much. I twirl the silk-wrapped stick and watch the attached mask circle above my hand like a bird. Flawless dove feathers rise from the right corner, but when I brush my fingertips along the edge, the feathers just itch instead of tickle. I raise the mask over my face, peering out through eyeholes that once seemed so much wider. It has been years since I believed I could be anything if only I imagined it.

I try to pretend I am at the piano instead of surviving another fitting, but the seamstress pushes a pin through the satin covering me and traps me in reality. My fingers clench, and the stick cracks in two.

“Angelique,” Maman says as she accepts the broken pieces. Her pinched lips relax as she turns back to the seamstress and waves her other hand toward the dress. “It looks exquisite.”

Maman requires no mask. She has perfected the art of pretending we are better off than we are.

Thick raindrops plunk on the wooden banquette that lines the street. I hear more than see them beyond the front window of our cottage on Dumaine. The walkways have soaked up so much water lately that they have warped in the perpetual humidity. At least the afternoon showers relieve some of the stench that covers the city at this time of year. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

In Which I Introduce Team Maries and Share Some General Thoughts

The teams are set, and #TeamMaries is looking pretty great:

Clarissa Hadge and JETSTAR FIGHTER PILOT (#109)
Fataima Ahmad and THE SHAPE OF THE MANGO (#169)
Katelyn Larson and WHISPERMAGE (#29)
Kristin Reynolds and THE LAST PAPER DAHL (#69)
Maria Hebert-Leiter and REVELATION (#81)
Sarah Adair and THE DREADFUL GOOD (#67)
Triona Murphy and MONTANA GOLD (#140)
Wendy Daughdrill and TRUE NORTH (#159)

And last but not least, the other half of #TeamMaries, Anna-Marie McLemore, my brilliant guest coach!

That gives us two MGs (a fantasy and a contemporary), five YAs (a sci-fi, a fantasy, a historical, a mystery, and a romantic adventure), and one adult project (which is literary fiction). I always try to spread my teammates' entries out on the age/genre spectrum, but I was especially pleased with how this group turned out.

Before I go any further, a disclaimer: I'm not an agent, so I'm in no way an expert on queries, the market, or publishing in general. In other words, please take all these thoughts for what they are--my thoughts. These are just a few of the things I noticed as I whittled down my list:

1. A good comp title can signal that you know the market, but an overused one may do just the opposite. Quite a few of the YA fantasies in this batch compared themselves to GRACELING or THRONE OF GLASS, so it wasn't long before my eyes glazed over every time I spotted one of those titles. The best comps aren't so obscure as to be unheard of, but they probably also aren't the best-selling books in your genre.

2. It's really easy to sum up your characters or underscore your themes at the end of your query, but resist the temptation! If your summary's done its job, you won't have to tell agents what your story's really about. You might also want to avoid laundry lists of plot points. If we can't tell how the pieces will fit together, we probably won't care about them as much as you think we should.

3. I thought there was a ton of intriguing sci-fi in this bunch. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's good to be aware of what other people are writing so you predict how the market might shift.

4. I'm still leery of anything that smacks of dystopian. If your futuristic thriller mentioned a revolution, it probably didn't make it onto my lists. Which isn't to say futuristic thrillers can't sell-- they've just got to bring a new hook to the table. It seems like a rebellion should immediately raise the stakes, but because we've seen so many, they typically serve to LOWER a story's stakes. There are a thousand and one other ways to inject conflict into a plot, so at least for the time being, pick one of those. Seemingly small, deeply personal stakes can often end up being the biggest stakes of all.

5. There were quite a few entries I was really excited about--until I discovered that they'd been in three other contests. Overexposure is real--agents get ornery if they have to keep reading the same entries over and over--so picking and choosing your contests might be a good idea.

What stood out to you as you went through the entries?

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Madcap Retreats' Winners

Without any ado, the e-winners of Natalie C. Parker's BEWARE THE WILD:

Paola B

Congratulations, winners! Please e-mail me at kvandolzer(at)gmail(dot)com so I can pass your information along to Ms. Parker. And keep an eye on Madcap Retreats' Tumblr, since you're now entered to win the grand prize, a three-hundred-dollar discount on an upcoming workshop and a short stack of ARCs!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

We Interrupt This Contest to Bring You a Word from Madcap Retreats

People like to ask me to plug their products on my blog: "We really think your readers will want to hear about our latest gadget, the three-in-one nose hair trimmer."

I really think it's safe to say you don't.

But when Natalie C. Parker e-mailed me about her latest venture, I immediately saw the benefit. I've never been on a writing retreat myself, but I've been on plenty of trips, and the hardest part is always finding time to do the research and coordinating all the plans. That's where Madcap Retreats come in, so without further ado, I'll turn the blog over to Natalie (who's sponsoring several giveaways in conjunction with the launch of her new business, so don't miss those details at the bottom!).

Nothing has changed my career so much as writing retreats. 

In the winter of 2011, I was invited to attend a large retreat in Branson, Missouri, at which there would be twenty-five established YA authors. I was unagented at the time and though I found the idea of joining such a gathering an intimidating one, I also found it was impossible to pass up. 

The experience was a game-changer. Not only did I meet a group of authors who were as encouraging as they were successful, but I sat in a room in which those same authors opened laptops and worked quietly together. There were headphones and tea and snack breaks and chat breaks and there were word documents that looked much like my own, growing one word at a time.

I left the Branson retreat with a new network of contacts who would guide my career in different ways, determined to repeat the experience as quickly as possible. Only this time I wanted to be the one issuing invites. One year later, that’s exactly what I did: I made my first retreat of eleven authors on the side of a mountain, in a house that also had a turret. 

Since that time, I’ve hosted one or two retreats every year, always with the goal of bringing authors together to create the kind of community we just can’t get in 140-character bites. I’ve hosted authors in turreted mansions in the Blue Ridge Mountains, in French Quarter apartments, in the Texas Hill Country, in historic Savannah townhomes, and in the sleepy Smoky Mountains. And here are the top three lessons I’ve learned from organizing retreats for writers:
  1. Internet. There must be Internet. It does not matter if you write to your group ahead of time and say the words “there is no Internet in this mountain chateau IS THAT OKAY?” It does not matter if they uniform answer is, “Yes, Natalie, we are not so addicted to the Modern Age that going without Wi-Fi for three days will kill us.” I promise you, none of that matters because when you get to the house someone will build an antenna out of aluminum foil and desperate tears and stand on the roof searching for a signal.
  2. Bathrooms. Never underestimate the importance of every bedroom having its own bathroom. End of explanation. 
  3. Scenery. You may begin the adventure with plans of leaving the house, but trust me, this will not happen. To appease any group of authors, I advise picture windows and something that suggests power and mystery. Mountains are an obvious choice, but lakes work very well as do abandoned sugar plantations, rolling hills, and oceans. This way, even if you get snowed in after throwing out all the perishable food so that all that remains are Oreos and a handle of gin, no one will ever complain about the view!
I love retreats. They’re fun and exciting and sometimes lead to creating things like Sh*t Writers Say. But I started this by saying that retreats have altered the course of my career in significant ways and that is absolutely true. 

After Branson in 2011, I had half a dozen authors willing to weigh in on my query and help me cull my agent list. 

After the Wi-Fi-less chateau in 2012, there were authors ready to blurb my first book.

After the Hill Country in 2013, I received crucial advice on how to develop a retreat business.

But more than that, I’ve seen anthologies born over the course of a retreat, I’ve seen mentor and critique relationships gain footing, and I’ve seen the direction of manuscripts shift dramatically and to great effect. And I know there’s even more I haven’t seen. 

Like so many writers, my writing time is bound and hedged in on all sides. My writing time is also my “down” time, my “free” time, my “in between this and that” time.” It’s a challenge to find hours that flow from one into another with nothing binding them except the promise of words. Madcap is one way I can offer time and opportunity to myself and to others, and I’m truly excited to be able to do that.

Madcap is for writers at any stage in their career--aspiring, agented, and published. My goal is to continue what was done for me at that first Branson retreat and create the kinds of opportunities it’s nearly impossible to create for yourself. Welcome to Madcap Retreats, join us for an adventure.

MADCAP RETREATS: Web | Twitter | Tumblr 

And now we come to the giveaway portion of this post!

I’ve asked a few amazing bloggers to help me spread the word of Madcap far and wide via a Blog Hop. Each participating blog will be giving away two e-copies of my debut novel Beware the Wild. And each of those winners will be entered to win one of two grand prizes! They are:
  • A $300 discount on the upcoming workshop--The Anatomy of Publishing: Story & Marketing, August 27 to 30. The workshop will be lead by Courtney C. Stevens and will feature a few fancy guest authors who will workshop pages and queries one-on-one! (More info can be found here). 
  • A short stack of ARCs including: JUBILEE MANOR by Bethany Hagen, DUMPLIN’ by Julie Murphy, and THE ANATOMY OF CURIOSITY by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, & Brenna Yovanoff.
The contest is open to US/Canada ONLY. You may enter via each blogger if that pleases you. Contest closes at midnight on Sunday, June 7. Winners will be announced by noon on Monday, June 8.

Additionally! If you’d like to stay up to date on all retreat and workshop offerings by Madcap, you can subscribe to the mailing list by visiting this page. The first fifty subscribers will be offered a free download of either:
Thanks, Natalie! To enter her giveaway, all you have to do is leave a comment below. That's it. I like to keep things simple. And definitely check out the giveaways on the other participating blogs:

Monday, June 1, 2015

Battles in "The Writer's Voice"

The coaches started leaving invitations on the entries this morning and may continue to do so through Tuesday, June 2. If you've already received an invitation, congratulations! If you haven't, there's still time.

If you receive more than one invitation by tomorrow evening, you'll need to decide which coach you want to work with by Wednesday morning and MAKE THAT ANNOUNCEMENT NO LATER THAN 10:00 A.M. EDT ON THE TWITTER HASHTAG (#THEWVOICE) OR IN THE COMMENTS OF YOUR POST.

Once the coaches know how many slots they need to fill, they'll use the rest of Wednesday to extend more invitations. Here again, if you receive more than one invitation by Wednesday evening, you'll need to decide which coach you want to work with by Thursday morning and make that announcement no later than 10:00 a.m. EDT on the Twitter hashtag (#TheWVoice) or in the comments of your post.

If the coaches still have slots to fill on Thursday morning, they'll use the rest of Thursday to extend more invitations. Since we'll need to wrap up the selection process as quickly as possible, any invitations extended on Thursday, June 4, will be final. (In other words, if one coach extends an invitation on Thursday, June 4, the other coaches may not extend an invitation to the same writer.)

Let the battles begin!