Monday, June 26, 2017

Query Critique Winner

Nicole was lucky #8 this time around!  Here is her query:

Teen bounty hunters Annora and Hellion are scratching a living in the forsaken streets of The Borderlands, still bruising from the bounty that got away.

Annora’s maimed hand is a constant reminder that outlaw, Gabian Zola, is still leaving a string of female victims in his wake because she failed to stop him.

When they learn that Gabian has come out of hiding to compete in an upcoming blood tournament, Annora and Hellion decide to risk their chances of survival and pursue him once again. Recruiting a runaway girl with her own cryptic bounty notice, they set out across the savage desert to claim the bounty that got away.

The girls join a dozen mercenaries and outlaws to joust, race, and duel, all the while plotting to capture their target. But when Gabian begins to pick the competitors off one by one, it’s clear the hunters are about to become the hunted.

Surrounded by enemies, with secrets unravelling, the friends must fight to survive a world driven wild with bloodlust.

CHASING BLOOD & SCOUNDRELS is complete at 70,000 words, and is a young adult fantasy novel told in multiple points of view. It is standalone with series potential.

REBEL OF THE SANDS meets Mackenzi Lee’s #BygoneBadassBroads, CHASING BLOOD & SCOUNDRELS features LGBT+ elements and may appeal to fans of Susan Dennard and Ryan Graudin.

This manuscript was selected as a 2016 Pitch Wars novel.

And here is my critique:

Teen bounty hunters Annora and Hellion are scratching a living in the forsaken streets of The Borderlands, still bruising from the bounty that got away. [This is a great opening, but expand a bit here and give us a few details about the bounty who got away.] 

Annora’s maimed hand is a constant reminder that outlaw, Gabian Zola, is still leaving a string of female victims in his wake because she failed to stop him. [Clarify here with a sentence or two.  Is Gabian murdering women??  That is the impression I get from this.]

When they learn that Gabian has come out of hiding to compete in an upcoming blood tournament [What is a blood tournament?  And why would he risk coming out of hiding to compete?  What is the reward?], Annora and Hellion decide to risk their chances of survival more body parts and pursue him once again. Recruiting a runaway girl with her own cryptic bounty notice, they set out across the savage desert to finally claim the bounty that got away their prize. [I got rid of "the bounty that got away" here because it sounded too repetitive.]

The girls join a dozen other mercenaries and outlaws to joust, race, and duel, all the while plotting to capture their target. But when Gabian begins to methodically pick the competitors off one by one, it’s clear the hunters are about to become the hunted. that Annora and Hellion are more the hunted than the hunters.

Surrounded by enemies, with secrets unravelling, the friends must fight to survive a world driven wild with bloodlust.

CHASING BLOOD & SCOUNDRELS is complete at 70,000 words, and is a young adult fantasy novel told in multiple points of view. It is standalone with series potential.

REBEL OF THE SANDS meets Mackenzi Lee’s #BygoneBadassBroads, CHASING BLOOD & SCOUNDRELS features LGBT+ elements and may appeal to fans of Susan Dennard and Ryan Graudin. [Love, love, love these comps--great job!]

This manuscript was selected as a 2016 Pitch Wars novel.

This query is in really great shape, so way to go Nicole!  She does a great job of concisely describing the story and drawing readers in, however, you'll see in my comments that I thought there were moments that were a bit too concise.  

Succinct, clear prose is something I love, but when writing a query, be careful that you don't overdo it.  You don't want to ramble on and on, but you do want enough description so that the reader can get a sense of what the manuscript's will feel like and also have enough details to fully understand what the story is about and what is at stake.

Nicole, I hope this critique is helpful!  Everyone else, feel free to chime in with comments below!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Happy Pub Day!

Tomorrow is the pub day for Dan Newman’s THE JOURNALIST!  This book was actually the first thing Dan and I worked on together, but it was his second manuscript, THE CLEARING, that I ended up selling first.  THE JOURNALIST is a very psychological read, with a main character you’re never quite sure if you want to root for or against.  It got a fantastic Booklist review already and I’m excited to have Dan talk about it today!




Tell us about THE JOURNALIST!
The Journalist follows the fortunes of Roland Keene – a journalism graduate struggling to break into the news business.  Without any real options, Roland creates his own, by conspiring to put the heiress to a publishing fortune at risk, and then swinging in at the last minute to save the day.  It works, but at a cost.  Roland is launched into a successful career in international journalism, but his history won’t let him go.  Can Roland survive the price of his ascent?  This is the question at the heart of The Journalist.

What was your inspiration for writing this book?  What about the main character?
The Journalist is probably one of those stories lets us explore the darker side of our own characters.  Most of us are bounded by a moral code, a limit to the things we’ll do in chasing what’s important to us.  But every day we see people who are willing to exceed those limits – to a greater or lesser degree – and it can be frustrating to see that they often succeed as a result of that choice.  Roland Keene is probably an expression of my own frustration at seeing people succeed when they choose to play outside of the rules that the rest of us abide by.  There’s a price those people ultimately pay (I hope), but unfortunately, we’re almost never there to see it happen in real life.

What is one of your favorite plot twists in the book?
If I told you that it’d ruin the twist!  That said, the main character is a thinker.  His actions are purpose driven, so steps taken today are often as a measure to ensure a result tomorrow.  I’ll leave it there. 

Do you see any similarities between Roland and Nate from THE CLEARING?
I'd say not.  These are two characters that exist at the polar opposites of the moral scale.  Nate (in The Clearing), was compelled into action through a sense off righting a wrong, and through the power of bonds he made as a kid.  Roland, however, is more morally flexible.  He’s not a bad guy, but he will provide room to let his darker side have its say.  When we meet Roland, he’s still being formed as a person – still trying to understand his own moral code.  Through circumstance, he learns that not everything good in this world flows from acts of goodness, and that sometimes success requires sacrifice – interestingly, on the part of other people as well as himself.

Do you have any quirks when it comes to your writing process (e.g. do you have to write at night or while wearing lucky socks)?
There are a couple of things I’ve noticed, and I can’t explain them - even to myself.  Whenever I sit down to write, I have to take off my watch, and set it to the left of my laptop.  Maybe it’s a trigger to get into the right mindset, of maybe I’m secretly OCD, but either way, it works for me.  The other trait I’ve observed in myself is that I can’t wait for the right word.  If I’m humming along, and I can’t find that ideal word, I just hammer out a series of random keystrokes and keep going.  I’ll go through a whole page before I look back, and when I do it’s generally carnage.  Misspelled words, place holders (like “sldklhfa” that remind me I need to go back and spend some time looking for “that” word), run-on sentences and the like.  Barfing the story onto the page is what’s most important.  The finessing happens afterward.

Now fun question!  If these books were turned in to a movie (or movies ::salivates::) who would you cast to play the main characters?
Yeah – I’ve played this fantasy out before…  usually it involves Steven Spielberg and I sitting on the balcony of my multi-million dollar beach house, sharing a few beers and going though the Hollywood elite like we’re trading baseball cards.  For Nate Mason in The Clearing, it’s Sean Penn.  He’s got that grizzled, beaten-up-by-life-but-still-in-the-fight look about him that works.  For Roland Keene, I think a young Benedict Cumberbatch.  He’s got that air of intelligence that swirls around him, as well as a look in his eye that might just indicate that somewhere in there, he may be a tad unhinged.  
Ah, the movie biz…  Carrie – have you checked your messages for a call from Spielberg’s people?  They’re probably eager to set up a lunch.  

Monday, June 12, 2017

Happy Pub Day!

Tomorrow is the pub day for the first two books in Erin Peabody’s Behind the Legend seriesBEHIND THE LEGEND: BIGFOOT and BEHIND THE LEGEND: LOCH NESS MONSTER.  The first book has already received astarred Booklist review, which is insanely exciting and I am very happy to introduce you to Erin and her books!




Tell us a little bit about this series and the first two books.

Sure! BEHIND THE LEGEND (Little Bee Books), an ultimately six-book series, explores the fascinating histories and foggy possibilities surrounding our most enduring legendary creatures, including Bigfoot, dragons, zombies and unicorns. Targeted to kids 8 and up, the books lay open these beastly mysteries in a quirky, lighthearted fashion while celebrating the capacity for science to play hero detective. As a consolation prize, kids are encouraged to marvel at "real-life" wonders in nature, like the giant squid, narwhal and okapi (captivating animals that all play a role in the books). Readers are also treated to the curious and sometimes comical cultural ideas about legendary animals (like, for instance, the scary kelpie ponies of Scottish lore, and the unicorn horn cups of Medieval Europe that allegedly protected users from deadly poisonings!)

The first two books, BIGFOOT and THE LOCH NESS MONSTER just recently published. The next two, WEREWOLVES and ZOMBIES are due out September 2017, with the final two installments, DRAGONS and UNICORNS, due sometime after that. 

These series a different from your debut, A WEIRD AND WILD BEAUTY.  Can you tell us what it was like researching for this series?  Was it more fun?  How was writing this book different than writing the first? 

Most fun has been the research. Thanks to wonderful accounts written thousands of years ago, I've been able to travel back to ancient faraway places without ever leaving the comforts of my home sofa! Whether reading about Confucius' connection to unicorns or the tragic truths behind zombies in the slave communities of 16th century Haiti, I've definitely become a better student of world history. While the research I did for A WEIRD AND WILD BEAUTY (including trips to Yellowstone National Park) was awesome, the current digging I've done for the BEHIND THE LEGEND series has ranged across all the continents and dates back to the first known written accounts. 

What part of the publication process has been the most interesting? 

For me, it's been discovering how powerful illustrations can be. While I haven't gotten to work directly with illustrator Victor Rivas on the books, I've been struck by how much brilliance, humor and life his images bring the stories. My editor and I aimed for a fun, almost irreverent, tone with these books, and Victor's illustrations (including his rendering of alleged Bigfoot "scat" atop a museum pedestal!) is both hilarious (for kids) and clever and insightful (for science-minded grownups).

Tell us about the next books in the series!

Both Werewolves and Zombies are a little darker and edgier than the first two books. Their histories are a little more complicated, especially Zombies, given the ghoulish creatures' real origins in the devastating slave trade of the 15th, 16th centuries. But the information is carefully presented and balanced with other fascinating, weird and funny anecdotes.  

Why do you like writing children’s nonfiction?  Any advice for other children’s nonfiction writers out there?

With a background in environmental education, I guess I have an innate passion for nature and science and sharing it with others, especially young people who are naturally curious and enthusiastic. I love sharing strange, quirky bits of information with kids, but not too much ..just enough to get them wondering, asking questions and probing mysteries on their own. I think that balance--of providing enough of a hook or teaser, without swamping kids with excess information--is a challenge for most children's nonfiction writers.

I also consider the role of science advocate or "cheerleader" for lack of a better word, a hugely important one. We need to cultivate curious minds who love marveling at the mysteries of the world but who can also find comfort and hope in the empirical power of science! 

Monday, June 5, 2017

June!


Happy June, all!  I can't believe it's here.  I had SUCH a blast at BEA last week.  Here are some pictures of my amazing book haul:



I'm not sure when I'm going to have time to read all these lovelies, though, because I am going to be BUSY this month!  These are the major events I have going on this so far:
  • Dad's 70th birthday (Yay!  Love you, Dad!)
  • Speaking at Yale Writer's Conference (I am sooo psyched for this one--I've always wanted to do this conference)
  • My favorite cousin's wedding ()
  • Father's Day
  • My parents' anniversary (46 years, guys!)
1.) This means I have to buy A LOT of gifts, and 2.) that I am going to get incredibly, incredibly behind on my reading.  I apologize in advance, everyone, but in June, my big focus is going to be partying 


I also have quite a few books publishing in June, and realized that I'm going to have two back-to-back pub day interviews on the blog after this, which means that the winner of the May query critique is going to be announced suuuper late.  I'm so, so sorry to everyone who already submitted a query to enter--I should have figured out my blog schedule sooner--but thank you for being patient, and I'll have the winner's critique for you at the end of the month!