My Writing Process Blog Hop

This is a delightful blog hop that’s making the rounds right now, and I was tagged a few times by some lovely people.

Jenny Perinovic, part of my TGNA family, first tagged me in this blog hop and I accepted her challenge,

then my fellow SCBWI Oklahoma friend, Sonia Gensler tagged me and finally,

Jadyn Knight one of my #writemotivation peeps added me to her chosen few.

Thank you all for including me in this fun challenge.

Pic From Unsplash by Sonja Langford
Pic From Unsplash by Sonja Langford

So here we go:

1. What am I working on? I am revising two completed manuscripts at the moment. One is INSTITUTIONALIZED, a YA contemporary novel about a teen who gets admitted to Whispering Sands under false pretenses and must navigate the unfamiliar world of deviants and sociopaths by pretending to be crazy so she can get out in time to save her sister from the real psycho in the family. The other is NIGHT OF THE MUSEUM CRASHERS, a Middle Grade Mystery about a boy who stumbles upon a crime in process – thieves swapping out paintings with fakes. But when the police arrive, there’s no trace of foul play; no one believes him. He decides to solve the crime himself and prove he was right.    

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre? With the contemporary YA story, the twist is that the main character isn’t mentally ill, or at least she doesn’t think she has any reason to be locked up. In my Middle Grade story, my character is afraid of everything in the beginning – not exactly the dashing adventurous type that relishes the idea of solving mysteries. He’s thought of as mentally unbalanced – fragile, even, by the adults. That’s kind of an anti-hero for mystery stories. I do seem to be fascinated with the inner workings of my characters’ lives and I do like them damaged; they all seem to need therapy. Read into that what you will.

3. Why do I write what I do? Books meant everything to me as a kid. While some let my imagination soar, some helped me navigate the awkward world of puberty without always having to ask my single dad embarrassing questions. (I know I’m not the only one who owes a heap of gratitude to the amazing Judy Blume.) Writing stories that shed light on difficult issues and let someone else not feel so weird about themselves, like they could be the hero of their own story or even help someone else understand what a different way of life may be like – I don’t know, I just like exploring ideas that spark conversation. 

4. How does my writing process work? I’ve discovered this fabulous new word recently – “planster”. I’m not quite and pantser or a planner, but a planster. And a binge planster at that. I don’t write every day, but even on the days I’m not writing, I do spend a good chunk of time mulling over my stories or thinking about my characters. I spend a lot of time in my own head. Once I do sit down to write, everything else falls away. Distractions like food, people, time all get filtered out. Before I know it, I’ve been writing for hours on end, the sun has disappeared, and my family has written me off as lost for the day. I find myself surrounded by discarded drinks and food items scattered about as offerings to the enthralled author-who-could-not-be-disturbed. This is one of the many ways they love me and my crazy writerly self.

As far as the actual writing of the story process, for me, the situation and the character always come first. An idea pops into my head while having a discussion with a friend or while reading an article or listening to an interview on the radio. I may jot it down so I don’t forget it, or I may just mull it over in my head for a few days. If it sticks in my brain and I can’t stop thinking about it, I begin to play around with it, with the character, and see if this could be something worth pursuing. I start writing some pages. And more pages. Once I get into the story and realize it has teeth, I may sketch out a bell curve outline of major plot points or scenes I want to include. That’s probably as much outlining as I’ll do, with the exception of the mystery story. I did have to outline more to keep track of clues and red herrings, there. For that story, I did a chapter by chapter outline after I knew the story would work and where the story was going.

I try not to revise while writing the first draft, but I do start a page or two back from where I started the day before and I may tinker a bit with things before moving forward. I’m trying to allow myself to write those messy first drafts and wait for revising until I get to the end of the first draft. I do love revising. I know my work only gets better the more I do it. Sometimes it’s hard to know when to stop revising. Probably when the next exciting idea calls to me.

I haven’t tagged anybody for this blog hop as most of the people I would tag have already been tagged, so if you’d like to share your writing process feel free to join in the fun. I have enjoyed reading about everyone’s process. One thing I have gleaned from all of the different stories is that there is no right or wrong way to write, only that you do it.

So here’s to all of you, trudging through your revisions and first drafts, battling your demons of self-doubt. Remember that perseverance is key.

Keep writing!

 

Why You Should Support Laurie Halse Anderson and her #Speak4RAINN Campaign

April is a popular month for causes. Maybe it’s because spring time brings a sense of hope with it, a renewed sense of purpose for those of us who spend the dark days of winter hibernating in our pajamas, feeling empty of all inspiration and will to live, like a used tube of toothpaste squeezed dry. The warmer, sunny days of spring fuel our ambitious natures once again and we remember that life is good.

Or maybe it’s just me and I’m part bear.

bc-speakHere we are with another cause that is close to my heart. So close to me in fact that I wrote a book about the subject – my current YA manuscript that’s out with agents now, Institutionalized; I’m not Crazy – but I digress.

This month is National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. Laurie Halse Anderson wrote a fantastic book about it, too. Since hers has already been published and since she has put her voice and extraordinary talents behind a campaign to help survivors of abuse, we should talk about her. I first read her book, Speak, about five years ago. What an emotionally gut-wrenching little tome that was.

Here’s an introduction to the plot:

Melinda Sordino busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops. Now her old friends won’t talk to her, and people she doesn’t even know hate her from a distance. The safest place to be is alone, inside her own head. But even that’s not safe. Because there’s something she’s trying not to think about, something about the night of the party that, if she let it in, would blow her carefully constructed disguise to smithereens. And then she would have to speak the truth. This extraordinary first novel has captured the imaginations of teenagers and adults across the country. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

What the summary doesn’t tell you is that Melinda is unable to tell her friends why she called the cops. She cannot verbalize what happened to her. She then decides it’s safer to stop talking altogether to keep her world from completely falling apart. She instead begins to express herself through her art projects and diary entries. We as the readers can only watch her suffering from afar and wish that someone else knew her pain and was able to help her.

It’s a poignant and beautifully told story that every young woman (and dare I say it, even every young man) should read. And every parent should encourage a dialogue with their child about this subject so that they know that they don’t have to accept any unwanted violation of their own bodies and that they can report it and their parents will support them.

To learn more about RAINN (the Rape Abuse Incest National Network), visit their website here.

Laurie Halse Anderson is running a fund-raising campaign for this organization right now through April 29th, and her publisher Macmillan will match any donation up to a total of $10,000. You can’t beat that. I made a donation and you can, too. Even $10 will help someone through the National Sexual Assault Hotline, 800-656-HOPE. To support Laurie’s #Speak 4RAINN campaign, follow this link here. You can follow the discussion about the campaign on Twitter at the hashtag, #Speak4RAINN.

I hope you’ll join us and speak up for those who can’t find their voice.

Learn more about Laurie Halse Anderson here.

Follow Laurie on Twitter here.

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop Stops By

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Welcome to the NEXT BIG THING Blog Hop.

What is a blog hop? Basically, it’s a way for readers to discover authors new to them. I hope you’ll find new-to-you authors whose works you enjoy. On this stop on the blog hop, you’ll find a bit of information on me and one of my books and links to other authors you can explore!

My gratitude to fellow author, Michelle Pierce, for inviting me to participate in this event. You can click the following links to learn more about her at The Barenaked Critic.

In this blog hop, my fellow authors and I, in our respective blogs, have answered ten questions about our current book or work-in-progress (giving you a sneak peek). We’ve also included some behind-the-scenes information about how and why we write what we write–the characters, inspirations, plotting and other choices we make. I hope you enjoy it!

Please feel free to comment and share your thoughts and questions. Here is my Next Big Thing!

1: What is the working title of your book?

Institutionalized: I’m not Crazy

2: Where did the idea come from for the book?

While in college, I worked as a mental health tech with adolescents at a psychiatric treatment center. Once there was this young girl who came in, very calm and poised, from a local small town where her father was an important business man. She claimed from day one that she didn’t need to be there – that there was nothing wrong with her. Well, she seemed so sincere and she wasn’t violent or defiant with her peers or any of the staff; nothing on the surface pointed to her needing to be there. It really made some of us wonder if maybe she was telling the truth…at least for the first few days. Then the honeymoon was over. It still got me thinking about what it would be like for someone to be locked up inside who didn’t need to be there. Apparently that thought stuck with me.

3: What genre does your book come under?

Contemporary Young Adult

4: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Ugh! This is always such a difficult thing for me to even wrap my head around. I ‘d have to lean toward Jennifer Lawrence playing the main Winters Bonecharacter, Sara, but not so much for her role in the Hunger Game – although she looks more the part in that one, physically. I thought she was great in that, don’t get me wrong, but she was just stunning and raw in Winter’s Bone.

I don’t even want to talk about what a mortifying thing it was trying to do a search for images of a male lead to play Matt, the love interest – yes, there can be love in the psych ward. Every option I even considered, when I’d look closer at them, I’d say, “Geez, he’s so much older than I thought” – don’t know what that says about me or our culture, not in the mood to tackle it. I decided to settle on a more busted version of Zac Effron, one who’s lived a little more, had life beat him up a bit. He’s just too damn…I don’t know, Disney?

5: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Sara Peterson, a 16 year-old girl admitted to Whispering Sands under false pretenses, has to navigate the unfamiliar and often violent world of true deviants and sociopaths by pretending to be one so she can get back home in time to save her sister from the real psycho in the family.

6: Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency?

I hope to have my book represented by an agency. It is currently with an agent who requested the full manuscript at the SCBWI LA Summer Conference last August.

*fingers crossed*

7: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

It took about a year and a half to get a complete draft, although the book was mostly finished long before that. I just couldn’t stop editing as I went along. From the very beginning idea – to writing those first ten pages to this last revision – it’s been about three years.

8: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

There are some great books set within an institutional setting that I would recommend, although mine obviously has that different slant with the sane person trapped inside. (I won’t mention the ones that got things so wrong they were laughable.) 

Funny StoryI enjoyed It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini. His book is about Craig, a high-school junior in the gifted program whose infatuated with his best friend’s girl. When he realizes he’s suicidal, he checks himself into the psychiatric ward of a hospital, thinking they’ll do an observation, help him, and send him home in time for school the next day. Once in, however, he must stay for a week; the juvenile ward is being renovated, so he’s in with adults as well as a few youths. (Plot summary from IMDb.) Vizzini gives Craig a much calmer, less violent experience when he lets him stay on the adult unit, but his inner struggles and pain experienced in the book are no less complicated.impulseCvr

Another great book is Impulse by Ellen Hopkins. Impulse is about is the story of three young people whose lives intersect in a psych hospital, after separate attempted suicides. It is about the things that brought them there, but more about the bond that forms between them. (summary from author’s website.) Hopkins always has such a great connection with characters and emotion. I love her. I also think that you must read her books in hardcopy. The way her poems are laid out add to her work and it just doesn’t translate well in electronic form.

9: Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I have some very personal reasons for writing this story. It really had to be told. Seriously. The main character actually started shouting in my head – interrupting a perfectly good story I was already working on – demanding that I start telling her story instead.

So I did.

There were so many girls who came through the doors of the treatment center that broke my heart and toughened my skin to what this world sometimes holds for us, even for the young. I’ve thought about many of them over the years and hoped they made it through okay, although the odds were not in their favor.

And though this story is NOT about any of them directly, it was definitely inspired by many of them and by others closer to me.

10: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Maybe a sample of the first few pages? These are new and no one except my family – not even my critique group – has seen them. 

CAUTION: There is some strong language – this is a young adult excerpt, after all.

Before

“I am so going to that dance! Could Dad be any more controlling?” I stormed into my sister’s room. She had better lighting and a bigger closet to raid. I headed into its depths to hunt down the most rebellious dress I could find.

“C’mon, Sara, do you have to do this?” Sam’s voice came muffled and weak from behind. “You know he’s going to be pissed.”

I popped my head out and smiled. “Only if he finds out and you’re going to cover for me.”

“Uhhh…”

“It’ll be easy.” I flipped through the hangers; all of the colors smashed together, everything smelling like Sam’s vanilla body spray. “You just tell him I’ve gone to bed early, pouting and not talking to him because he’s such an asshole –.”

“Sara!”

“Okay, you don’t have to tell him those exact words. You always know what to say to him. He listens to you. Me, not so much.” I held up a red, low cut dress. Sam shook her head.

“That would fall right off you and it’s the wrong color,” she said.

“Ouch.” I tossed the dress at her and dove back into the closet. “Wrong color”. I muttered under my breath wiped sweat off my upper lip. Like Sam ever had to worry about anything being the wrong color or falling off her perfect form. Sometimes it was hard being the lanky, athletic one. I dug deeper, passing the long-sleeved conservative numbers. Sam had to have something that would fit me and make me look just a bit dangerous. This was my one night of breaking the rules; I wanted to go all the way.

“Maybe…maybe you shouldn’t go,” Sam said. She was standing right behind me in the closet, rubbing her arms like it was cold. “Do you even know this Dylan kid?”

 “Ha! You sound just like Dad. Wait …you didn’t say anything –.”

“I-I didn’t. It’s just…”

“Jesus, Sam. You’re always telling me to be strong, independent, to stand up for myself – to everyone but Dad.”

“You know how he is – very stubborn, like someone else I know.” Sam handed me a delicate lavender dress with fluffy toile, not dangerous, but pretty. “Try this one.”

“Umm, thanks.”

 “Hey, I’ve been wanting to talk to you about something.” Sam was sitting on the edge of her bed.

“Yeah?” I stood in front of her full-length mirror, holding up the dress. I hated to say it, but it looked really nice. I twisted and piled my wavy black hair on my head with my free hand, imagining it an up-do sculpture of fabulousness and not it’s usual tangled mess. “Hand me some bobby pins.” I reached my hand out.

She tossed me some bobby pins and then sat back down. “I, uh…shit.” Her hands twisted in her lap.

“Jesus, it’s not about using condoms again, is it? I told you if you kept bringing that crap up – slipping them in my purse, demoing proper use on the bananas, can’t eat them for breakfast without laughing, thanks! – I was going to become a lesbian.”

 “Shut up!” Sam threw several pillows at me, laughing.

I tossed the dress aside and retaliated. Then dismissed the fluffy pillows in favor of my favorite Sam torture and grabbed her just above the knee – the most ticklish spot.

“Damn it, Sara, quit!” Man, could she buck and fight when she wanted to. Elbow to the jaw, pow! I shook my head.

“Who’s the strongest?” I grabbed for her knee again.

“Oh, my God, you are Miss Psychopath, now get off!” Sam went limp.

Victory.

“Ugh, it’s freakin hot.” I turned on her ceiling fan and flopped down on the bed next to Sam. Sweat ran down through my hairline and into my eyebrows. I’d have to take another shower before the dance. “Here, let me share.” I ran my hand across my forehead and then wiped the sweat on Sam’s leg.

“Gah! You’re so nasty.” She threw her arm over me and squished me into a Sam hug. I missed this closeness. No one ever hugged me when she was gone, forget snuggling. Sam nudged my shoulder.

“Just…take care of yourself when I’m at school, okay?”

So there you have it! Half of the first chapter of Institutionalized: I’m not Crazy.

Let me know what you think! And be sure to visit my fellow blog hoppers next week.

And now to pass on the gauntlet.

Below you will find authors who will be joining me virtually, via blog, next Wednesday. Please be sure to bookmark their sites, and add them to your calendars for updates on their upcoming books!

Happy Writing and Reading!

Stephanie Theban is one of my fantastic critique partners and she has a lovely blog at stories. read em. write em.

William Sells is a brand new writer friend who has a blog on his Goodreads author page.

And a late addition to the blog hop, but no less important, the ever fantastic Ms Cricket Muse! Please make sure you check out her site as well.

I can’t wait to see what these fantastic folks have to share with us next week.

#writemotivation month check in…and Things Beginning Writers Don’t Know

Header image and thumbnail photograph by Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. http://www.flickr.com/photos/sahlgoode/

Hooray! I’m so excited it’s another #writemotivation month! Not just because I’ve got some serious goals to get through and I’m going to need a LOT of cheering and cookies to get through them, but because last month was wrought with pitfalls and illnesses and too much time away from these wonderful people who help me stay focused and laugh while keeping my outlook positive.

On to the goals!

1. Finish revision suggestions for interested agent and send off my FULL manuscript as soon as humanly possible. This is for my YA manuscript that I’ve been working on and submitting for the past few months. I had an amazing face to face critique in LA – just such a wonderful conversation with this agent –  I want to get it right and send her my absolute best.
2 .Finish up novel revisions on my Middle Grade manuscript for November workshop and mail off copies to my group. DONE.
3. Read through manuscripts received from my group for the novel revision workshop. Received the last one this week. Will take my time with these.
4. Continue first draft of new YA WIP. I want to keep working on something else once I’ve sent off my full manuscript so this will most likely be a goal I start near the end of the month.
5. Exercise at least four times a week – yeah, it’s time to step it up another day.

How are you all doing with your goals?

I’m also supposed to work on marketing ideas for my YA novel. The agent gave me some pitch idea homework I need to figure out. I’m constantly thinking about that, mulling ideas over in my head.  And a new title for my book. Apparently Institutionalized may not grab the attention of the average teen browsing the shelves. One should never get too attached to one’s working title. I’ve got some ideas I’m kicking around, but none that really wow me, yet.

This reminds me of some other things that I learned at the SCBWI LA Summer Conference that I wanted to share. A little segment I want to call…

Things Beginning Writers Don’t Know:

The first thing that beginning writers don’t know about how the acquisitions process works.

We all may know that it is hard to get published, but what beginning writers may not know is that even when an editor loves a manuscript and wants to buy it, they don’t always get to say “yes” right away. There’s this process called acquisitions that most manuscripts have to go through. Although each house is different, most publishing houses hold acquisitions meetings about twice a month. The editor must send out a proposal for the manuscript they want to buy, along with the manuscript, in advance of the meeting, as well as something called a profit and loss statement. This is “advanced algebra in a horrible excel spreadsheet” as Ari Lewin, editor at GP Putnam, described it and it spits a figure, projecting how much the house can expect to make on the book.

At the acquisitions meeting, everyone involved in saying “yes” gathers to review all the potential manuscripts. At some houses, this could be as many as twenty people including heads of imprints, editors, associate editors, the art director, the publisher, someone from marketing, sales, and publicity, etc. It takes a short time to say “no”. The books right on the edge are the hardest to decide on and may require more discussion and more meetings.

To learn more about acquisitions, I’d suggest reading Harold Underdown’s excellent article entitled “The Acquisitions Process” originally published in The Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market back in 2010. He even shows what a sample acquisitions proposal looks like.

The second thing beginning writers don’t know is that they should be prepared to deliver EVERY YEAR after their first book is published.

Josh Adams, agent at Adams Literary, said this in the Agent Panel and went on to explain that there is a higher demand on writers; an increase on demand in social media, with school visits. You will also be expected to be active in marketing.

Jill Corcoran, agent at the Herman Agency, echoed this sentiment and added, “Books are coming out faster.”

Linda Pratt, agent with Wernick & Pratt Agency, expanded the discussion to talk about how second book choices for new writers are even more important than their first. Second book choices need to be weighed carefully. “You can’t always write the more obscure book or whatever you want – what you’re passionate about. You have to be a little more pragmatic. You have to consider your sales track.” Publishing houses are less likely to take a risk on an author whose first book sold poorly unless their second book shows more sales potential.

So think about how long it has taken you to perfect this current work that you are submitting to agents. Two years? Five? Do you have other projects you are working on while you are submitting? Are you thinking ahead about your next writing project? You should be.

The third thing beginning writers don’t know is how small the publishing world is, and that being unprofessional can close doors.

Josh Adams said during the Agent Panel that, “We see a lot of unprofessionalism out there and people burn bridges. The worst thing a client can do is close doors.”

Jill Corcoran seconded this: “You cannot bad mouth editors (or others in the industry) online. Be careful.” She suggested that you untag yourself from unprofessional pictures on Facebook or other social media and delete any negative content.

It DOES hurt to be rejected, but it happens to all of us. Remember that this is a business and conduct yourself accordingly. The publishing world IS very small; negative and unprofessional behavior does get noticed and word is easily spread.

The fourth and final tidbit of wisdom I am imparting to new writers is…you won’t earn a lot of money.

Shocker. But you’re not in this for the money, right? You write because you have to, because it’s your passion. If not…there’s your cue to exit.

As Josh Adams said, “You shouldn’t expect that you can quit your day job.” He also said that you should look at your career long term. School visits and multiple rights that a good agent should help you maximize can add to your income.

Jill Corcoran also said something really important: “The advance is not the end-all. You want to get to the royalties.”

So what does she mean? Don’t we all dream of that big, fat advance?

The advance is just a promise.

A bet.

A bet against how many copies you will sell.

You don’t start really making money until you sell more than that original promise. And what about your next book? You have to think about your career long-term, remember? If you DON’T sell enough copies of your first book to meet that promise, that advance, you’re going to have a much harder time getting the second book sold. The goal is to sell enough copies to get to the royalties. That’s where things really start to pay off. That shows the publishing world that you are worth betting on; you are worth the risk.

To recap; publishing is slow, painful, it asks you to work your ass off without always loving you back, (It really IS like raising a child) and it doesn’t always bring you riches. You have to do it because you love it, because you’re passionate about it, and because you’re in it for the long haul.

Queriouser and Queriouser…Xmas in July Results

I woke extremely early this morning, knowing the results of the Christmas in July contest would be posted today. I still had about an hour to kill before the anticipated hour arrived and then, BOOM! It was up! My eyes scurried down the winners on both blog sites…

I didn’t make it.

Again.

I waited for the stabbing pain of sadness to hit me square in the chest, but it never did. Instead, a more subtle shift in mood passed over me, more like mild disappointment. Maybe I was starting to develop that thicker hide of skin required of writers in order to survive the querying and critiquing process. That’s about the time I noticed that I had received an honorable mention. One of the hosts, Ruth Lauren Stevens, explained how difficult making the final cuts had been and said of the honorable mentions,”I don’t know if it helps but I want all the people on the list to know that I wavered A LOT over this first set of mentions.” I was in this first set of ten she was talking about.

That was nice and it took some of the sting out of losing. I made sure to thank the hosts for the honorable mention and went about my day. I then got a response from both of them that made me start to feel even better and really look at my honorable mention and how well I’d done in a different light.

Here they are:

Did you get that?

Great query. Great! Query!

Someone had finally said I had a great query!

My. Query. Had. Improved. FINALLY!

Holy crap! Then I started to think about the number of entries. There had been 356. Only 30 entries were chosen. An additional 41 received an honorable mention. Even if I hadn’t made the cut, I’d done better than 300+ entrants. That is quite an accomplishment. Then I started getting congratulations tweets from other writers on my honorable mention and saw several posts congratulating the winners AND the honorable mentions. I thought, hey! That’s me!

A fellow honorable mentioner(?) pointed out that it was fate. She said that if we were involved in this contest as winners, we wouldn’t be actively submitting to agents and might miss an even better opportunity. Getting this close and not winning would only light a fire under our butts and encourage us to get out there and start submitting even harder while the others were hung up in the contest.

Perhaps.

It is a more positive way of looking at the situation, I admit. It also explains how I feel at the end of this day; completely charged up and ready to hit the querying trail. I no longer fear/despise/loathe the query. Bring on the submissions! Butt fire lit!

As a bonus for following me, and because I’ve had some requests to do so, I’m posting my query that doesn’t suck here. It’s quite a difference from the last time I posted one. Enjoy!

CHRISTMAS IN JULY CONTEST ENTRY:

Dear Agents:

The life Sara Peterson knows ends when she climbs the ladder to her sister’s bedroom and witnesses an unimaginable scene. She finds herself exiled from home, surrounded by deviants and sociopaths, while trying to convince those in charge that she’s not crazy.

Sara is admitted to Whispering Sands treatment center as an alcoholic runaway to protect a secret that’s not her own. She’s a straight talker but no believes her when she says she doesn’t need to be there. It’s like a convicted felon claiming they’re innocent. Abandoned in the middle of a strange, violent world with too many bizarre rules to learn and assigned a suicidal roomie who wants to rip everybody’s face off, Sara must find a way out. Never a rule breaker on the outside, she can’t stop breaking rules on the inside, especially when she meets Matt, the only one she trusts with the real reason she’s there. Stolen moments with Matt in secret places are Sara’s only refuge from the craziness and may save her dwindling sanity. Even if Sara does manage to escape her hopeless situation, her future is uncertain. One thing she does know, she can never go back home.

INSTITUTIONALIZED; I’M NOT CRAZY is a young adult novel complete at 86,000 words. I have worked in the mental health field directly with adolescents in psychiatric facilities similar to the one described in my book. This manuscript won first place in the YA category in the 2012 Oklahoma Writers’ Federation, Inc. annual contest. I am also an active member of the Oklahoma SCBWI. Thank you for taking the time to consider my book. I look forward to hearing from you.

First 500 Words:

That last rum and Coke was a big mistake. I gripped the aluminum ladder. The world swirled around me. I burped and the sickly sweet smell made me gag. Mom would be so proud. I giggled at the thought, letting loose with one hand and swaying a little.

“Damn it, Sara, hold on with both hands up there,” Dylan called from below.

“Shhh,” I held a finger up to my lips and looked down at my date. “I got this.” I adjusted the plastic crown that slid to the side of my head. I smoothed down the fly-away toile of the dress I borrowed from my sister Sam, straightened my shoulders, and started climbing. Man, is this thing wobbly. I started giggling again. I tried to choke it off, but ended up snorting instead. That only made me laugh harder.

“C’mon! You’re gonna wake up your parents.”

I sighed. Dylan was getting tiresome. He’d been awesome at the Spring Fling dance. He’d told me that I was beautiful and the kissing – oh, my God. I could’ve done that all night. My heel slipped on the metal rung.

“Ahhh!” I hugged the cold metal. It felt soothing on my cheek. Everything was spinning.

“Shit!” Dylan said. “Are you all right?”

“Mmm, hmm.” I clung to the flimsy ladder, still swaying. “Gimme a minute.” Looking up, I could see my sister’s light was on. She’d called me freaking out. I didn’t know why. So, I was out after curfew. No one else had noticed.

“C’mon, Sara,” Dylan said. “Do I need to come get you down?”

“I’m alllllll riiiight.” The spinning had slowed. Still there was no way I was gonna make it up any further with my heels on.

“Look out below!” I kicked off my obnoxious shoes.

“Nice.” Dylan mumbled.

I laughed and then started climbing again. He was so serious. I hadn’t noticed earlier. I’d been focused on other things. Like how strong his hands were when he’d held me and how I felt all tingly when he kissed me right on the dance floor – in front of everyone. And me just a sophomore. So surreal.

I made it to the top. I hitched up my dress, swung my leg over the railing, and climbed onto the deck. When I stood up, I knocked into the ladder. I caught it just before it banged against the house. Dylan swore below. I muffled a laugh.

The rough wood prickled my bare feet. I maneuvered between deck chairs to avoid the squeaky boards. I crept up to Sam’s window. It would be fun to scare her. She was always jumping out at me from behind closet doors or around corners. Now it was her turn. I stifled more giggles. She’d left her window cracked. For someone so perfect, she was pretty good at this sneaking around stuff. I could just see through a part in her curtain.

I peeked in and froze. My dad was there. Shit!

Have an excellent weekend. Good Luck to those who made the cut! And to those who didn’t, keep on revising, we’ll get there!

Valerie

Fresh as a Daisy Critique My Query Challenge

So no sooner do I open my big mouth and say how shiny my query is than I turn around and get a chance to prove it (or not). Daisy Carter is giving writers a chance to have their queries critiqued, all in preparation for a pitch contest with her very own agent, Tricia Lawrence of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. The window is closing fast, so stop by her blog by midnight tonight if you are interested.

Here is my query open for all to critique:

Dear Fabulous Agent of My Dreams:

(I enjoyed meeting you/I chose submit to you paragraph goes here…)

 

Second born. Second place. Sara has been competing with her sister for attention all her life. Being perfect and never breaking the rules hasn’t made a difference. Frustrated, Sara sneaks out to attend the school dance. When she stumbles home drunk and tries to climb in through her sister’s window, she can’t believe what she’s seeing until it’s too late. Reality is forever altered. She runs away.

Lured back by her mother whom Sara hopes she can trust, she finds herself drugged and admitted to Whispering Sands Treatment Center as an out-of-control alcoholic runaway. Sara knows better; her parents are hiding her away to keep a secret that is not her own. She can hardly admit it to herself, so why tell someone else? She does tell the staff that she’s not crazy, but that’s like a convicted felon claiming she’s innocent.

Surrounded by the psychologically unbalanced and assigned a suicidal roomie who wants to rip everybody’s face off, Sara must find a way out. Hope comes from the baddest bitch on the unit. She tells Sara how to work the system, how to break the rules and pretend to be a sociopath on the road to recovery – she just wants a few favors in return. Her only refuge is with Matt, a boy who’s just as lost as she is. The stolen moments she finds with him after hours, in hidden spaces, might save the dwindling grip she has on her sanity.

INSTITUTIONALIZED; I’M NOT CRAZY is a young adult novel complete at 86,000 words. I have worked in the mental health field directly with adolescents in psychiatric facilities similar to the one described in my book. This manuscript won first place in the YA category in the 2012 Oklahoma Writers’ Federation, Inc. annual contest. I am also an active member of the Oklahoma SCBWI. Thank you for taking the time to consider my book. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Valerie Lawson

When am I Going To Find Some Freaking Patience Already?!!

Patience is its Own Reward

Being the mom of a son with autism, I often hear things like, “You are so patient with him” or “You have the patience of Job”.  Sure, I can stand my ground in a public place while my son is yelling at me, throwing a code red tantrum, and not only keep calm with him, but even if someone comes over to offer help or to ask me to keep it down, I can turn to them – while remaining placid as a lake in Canada and controlling my desire to throttle them – and say, “My son has autism and I’ve got this under control. Thank you.” Yeah, the whole patience thing was totally developed by necessity and definitely not by my choice, I can tell you.

I am not naturally a patient person.

One only has to hop in the car with me and go for a drive, then you’ll see me at my worst. (Only in really heavy traffic and then I only swear like a sailor and make creative hand gestures while having loud, one-sided conversations with the other drivers. I’m not dangerous or anything, honest.) I learned the hard way that if you beg, plead, scream and yell, or stomp your feet at a kid with autism to cajole him into doing what you want, if he’s not ready or willing to do it, odds are he’s not going to do it EVER – the mountain will not be moved – and all of your efforts to force him will only makes things worse.

This reminds me a lot of my writing journey thus far. I’ve had to learn to be patient many times over – it’s like someone out there is trying to tell me something as I bang my head up against wall after wall. (Patience is important or a virtue or something, I don’t know.) I’ve wanted to be a published children’s writer more than anything. Before I joined a critique group or let anyone even read my first story, I wrote out a picture book manuscript, I’m the Princess!,  somewhere over three thousand words long. I had to cut it down to two thousand words – and I thought that was quite an accomplishment – to submit it to a writing contest. I was sure that winning this contest would be my key to getting published quickly. I was so confident that my story was the best, that I waited for the inevitable notification of my win. When it didn’t come, I was completely shocked. I didn’t even place! What was wrong with those people? Didn’t they recognize talent when they saw it?

After my denial wore off, I decided that maybe I needed to try something else. Thankfully, it wasn’t long afterwards that I came to my senses and joined SCBWI. I was so embarrassed when I learned that the average length of a picture book manuscript shouldn’t really be any longer than fifteen hundred words. (Now, I think they like them even shorter.)  I realized after studying many well written picture books and learning more about the whole writing process that I’m not really a picture book writer. Picture books are extremely hard to write well and are a completely different animal. I think the best ones are more like poetry. Maybe some day I’ll master that format, but I know I am far from it right now. Until then, I’m the Princess! will stay buried deep in the vault, as a painful reminder of where I started. Although it did make a brief appearance at one of our local SCBWI schmoozes where some of us brought examples of our writing comparing our early works to our recent works, to show how we’d grown as writers. Yes, the laughter was the loudest during the reading of my “before” example. Okay, I can’t keep you in suspense, here’s just the first paragraph:

Princess Isabelle fluttered her dark eyelashes as she opened her dazzling deep blue eyes. A sunbeam fell across her long wavy light brown hair, making an ocean of golden thread on her pillow. She sat up slowly and stretched her delicate arms into the air, her perfectly pink mouth opened into a tiny, perfect yawn. A most enchanting smile crossed her face as she remembered her plan for mischief this morning. She jumped out of bed, slammed open her huge golden doors and yelled down the corridor.

That’s all the sample I can bear. I’m afraid it didn’t get any better in the following paragraphs. I left nothing to the illustrator’s imagination – mistake number one. (No need to go through them all, seriously, this manuscript was thoroughly dissected at the schmooze.) How could I have crammed so many flowery descriptors into one mouthful? OMG! That is just painful to look at.

Still, I didn’t learn all the lessons in patience that I needed to. I did realize that I wanted to tell too much of the story for the picture book format and moved on to the daunting middle grade format. I was scared at first. How could I possibly write an entire novel? Three thousand words was easy, but thirty thousand words? Fifty thousand? Impossible! But I started writing anyway. Slowly. One chapter at a time. I studied my craft and learned as much as I could this time about the rules of the middle grade format. I attended conferences and joined a critique group. I started reading middle grade novels like crazy. Finally, a few years later, I had my first completed middle grade novel and my critique group loved it. It still needed to be revised and had some plot issues to work out, but it was a great start. I was a real writer. But sometimes it was hard to hear about other writers in our group sending off their work to editors and agents; I wanted to be doing that, too. I went ahead and sent out work that wasn’t anywhere near ready. I received form rejection letters in return for my trouble. Oh, patience! When would you be mine?

After so many form rejections I lost count, no personals, and no requests for fulls, something told me it was time to go back to the drawing board. Then, while in the middle of revisions on my first middle grade and halfway through the first draft of my second middle grade, I had this idea for a YA novel that would not go away. It was so different from what I’d been writing I was a little worried about switching gears so completely. I remembered something I’d heard an author at a conference I’d attended (I think it was Rachel Cohn, but I can’t be sure) about following the voice that pulls you the strongest and I knew I had to at least try it.

I was beyond nervous the first time I brought a chapter of Institutionalized to my critique group. They were surprised by the change of direction, some of the language, and content, but they also loved the main character and THE VOICE. I’d finally gotten it right. And once passed the initial shock, they all were on board and so supportive. I wrote this one so much faster and so differently than all the others. I knew this was one THE ONE. This time, though I didn’t want to rush it. I received some critiques from editors and agents at conferences, all with positive results and some very helpful constructive criticisms. I did the necessary revisions and had it critiqued again and did more revising. Finally it was time to start sending it out. YIKES!

The results so far have been much more promising than the first time, with personal rejections and helpful comments and requests for additional pages, but the road is far from over and I still find myself looking too far into the future, wistfully wanting to skip the necessary steps and be crossing that damned elusive publishing finish line already. One day at a time and one step at a time. I know, I know!

Do you ever find yourself feeling impatient with where you are as a writer? Do you ever wonder ‘why don’t they see how talented I am and pick me already?’ What are some of your embarrassing stories along your road to publication? I’d love to hear them.

Lucky 7

The ever fantastic and ever floral Laura Stanfill tagged me for the Lucky 7 meme about a week ago. As it is a holiday weekend and I’d like to keep things fun I thought I’d give it a go.

The rules ask me to open my novel-in-progress and:

  1. Go to page 77.
  2. Go to line 7.
  3. Copy down the next 7 lines, sentences, or paragraphs as they are written.
  4. Tag 7 new authors.

What  a lovely, self-indulgent excuse for me to post a random tidbit of my latest novel and force you to read it totally against your will! I love it! I shall choose seven paragraphs from my YA novel Institutionalized, which is currently on display – or at least the query and first 250 words – at the Surprise Agent Invasion on the Cupid Literary Connection Blog and finally getting some responses and even its first agent request – woohoo! I’m choosing the longest form because the particular section in question wouldn’t make much sense otherwise and because it’s my game, my rules, and…because I said so. (I’m also not going to tag seven new authors because I think everyone I would tag has already been tagged by this particular meme.)

Excerpt from Institutionalized:

“Why?” I turned to her, crossed my arms, and huffed. “Cause knowing he likes green is so top secret? C’mon.” I seriously was about to lose my patience with this Nazi control crap. And I didn’t want Matt to get into any trouble. Not because of me.

Courtney shook her head.  “Sara, you’re a smart girl. You know it’s more than that. Think about it.”

“I don’t see anything wrong with just talking.” I flopped back down in my chair. What was she getting so uptight about? “Everybody’s always trying to get me to talk – all the damn time. It’s all I ever hear from you people! Then I start talking to someone – oooh, a boy – and you freak out. Whatever!”

“Why do you think you’re here? To find a new boyfriend?” Courtney reached over and gently took a hold of my wrists. “You are here for a reason.” She looked over my bandages and then up into my eyes. I had definitely acted crazy and she was letting me know it. As far as she was concerned, I belonged here.

I pulled away and turned my head to look out the window. There was a pond in a little circle of trees with a fountain floating in the middle. I wished I could explode like that right now; shoot jets of emotion up into the air and let them fall all over everyone. I could feel the storm edging up to the surface, but I knew I had to keep it together or I’d never escape this place. I pushed the feelings back down. After a moment of silence, Courtney spoke again.

“If you spend all of your energy focusing on a male peer, you won’t make any progress in your treatment. Don’t you want to get better?”

I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to say there was nothing wrong with me and I didn’t need to get better, but I realized that I’d been acting like a real nutcase since they’d locked me up. Besides, I’d already tried the ‘I’m not crazy” defense and it hadn’t worked. So I stared down at my feet and tried to keep the tears from bubbling out of my eyes. She didn’t understand. It wasn’t my fault that I was here. No one was ever going to understand. My parents had made sure of that.

“Can I go now?” I asked. “I have a map to finish coloring.”

I hope you enjoyed it. Happy Easter/Passover to all!