Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Familiars Winner!

I have the world's best number generator. When we have a huge number of entries we use a random number generator, but this contest was pretty straight forward. Everyone gets one entry, so there was no complicated adding to do (yes, i said addition is complicated). I wrote down a number for each entry, cut them up into squares and put them in a hat, and my three-year-old picked. And the winner is!!!!!!

Jessica E!!!!!

I already have your mailing address, Jessica, so you don't need to do anything. BIG thanks to all who entered! And doubly big thanks to those who spread the word about the giveaway, even though we didn't ask you to. That's always appreciated, and won't be forgotten.

Always remember to follow directions. Unfortunately, if you didn't comment AND fill out the form, you weren't entered into the contest. Very sorry, but rules are rules!

Thanks again!
Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Critiquing Your Critiques

This past weekend I was fortunate to attend KidLit Con 2010. Where the Merry Sisters of Fate (Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff) gave a presentation on critique groups.

First let me say that KidLit Con was AWESOME! Really well put together, lovely venues, and great panels. Every time I attend a conference I'm reminded how awesome it is to be in a room full of writers. When the time came for Q&A with the Merry Sisters, every single question asked was about writing!

They talked about many fascinating and insightful things, but the one I want to focus on today is a comment they made about getting a critique.

Maggie was talking about editor's notes, but it really fits for critiques from crit partners and beta readers as well. She said (I'm paraphrasing), sometimes you might get a note back saying "I don't like that thing with the pickup truck at the convenience store, can you do something else?" And she said what you need to know is, the editor (crit partner, beta reader) isn't really talking the pickup truck. They're responding to something in the scene that isn't working. So if you like the pickup truck you don't necessarily need to take it out. You need to figure out what about the scene isn't accomplishing what you intended. You need to, in effect, (and this is me talking now) critique your critique.

Before you get all panicked and start slashing things, (or angry and defensive, whichever is your MO) really read over the entire critique and try to get a sense of what the critiquer is and isn't getting from your story. The things that tend to stand out to people are the things that are easily identified. So a reader might say "the pick up truck thing" but what they really mean is "I just didn't get why she suddenly went from sad to happy in that scene where he offers her a ride in his new pick up truck. It just didn't feel real to me, and it threw off what happened in the next scene."

These are the kind of comments the Merry Sisters work on together, and it's the kind of thing you can do on your own or with your cps. A lot of times a few in depth questions can help you figure out what's missing and what needs to be changed.

Before you start asking questions, be clear on what you want the scene to accomplish. Then work to figure out what it is and isn't accomplishing. The fix might be as simple as adding one line of dialogue or as huge as deleting the entire scene and starting from scratch. You might even find that what you were trying to get across isn't the best choice after all.

The thing I took away from the Merry Sisters' talk more than anything is when you get a critique that says something other than "that's brilliant!" Stop. Breathe. Read it, and then read it again. Take another deep breath, and then begin a dialogue either with your cp, or with yourself. Every crit is helpful no matter how basic it is. Try to find the useful bits and use them to make your ms shine.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

What's Your All-Time Favorite Creepy Book or Movie?

In honor of my favorite holiday (Halloween) which perfectly complements my favorite season (aka football season *go Chiefs*), I want to know what books and movies creep you out like no other. The first horror book I read (at the tender age of seven) was Bram Stoker's Dracula. After that I devoured everything Stephen King, then moved on to Dean Koontz. Now I prefer some gothic or literary bent to my horror and recent faves include The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, and The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.

Movie wise, I'm an old-school girl and think it's hard to beat the original Halloween (or Rosemary's Baby). There was also the one popular while I was in the midst of my teen babysitting years that had the line "Have you checked the children?" I forget the movie, but babysitting was never the same after that movie! Michael Myers is actually an amazing character--when else has someone who said so little conveyed so much.

 The only recent movie that really creeped me out was a Korean horror film called A Tale of Two Sisters. 

What about you? What book or movie gave you chills and made you double-check the lock on the door before bed? Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Contest Monday with Agents

There are several contests this week involving agents looking for Young Adult novels, so don't miss out!

Serendipity Literary is hosting the 2010 Young Adult Novel Discovery Contest. Details can be found here. The Grand Prize Winner gets to submit their entire ms to agent Regina Brooks and gets a free 10-week writing course courtesy of the Gotham Writers' Workshop. In honor of NaNoWriMo, it will run from Nov. 1st through Nov. 30th.

7th Lucky Agent Contest is being hosted over at the Guide to Literary Agents blog. They're accepting YA admissions until Nov. 3rd and the judge is agent Tamar Rydzinski from the Laura Dail Literary Agency.

Jessica over at Confessions of a Bookaholic is hosting a creepy contest by author Michelle Zink. Read about Michelle's real-life encounter with the paranormal and enter for your chance to win both Prophecy of the Sisters and Guardian of the Gate.Contest ends Nov. 7th.

Don't forget to enter our SIS Halloween giveaway of THE FAMILIARS by Adam Epstein and Andrew Jacobson. Fill out the form at the bottom of the post here. Enter by Oct. 28th.

Feel free to enter other cool contests in the comments. Happy Monday!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Friday Book Recommendation!

It's Friday!!!!! *party!*

I don't like to recommend a book I haven't finished, and I'm behind on my reading. I've been busy with revisions, critiques, and writing shorts at Tangled Fiction.

I am currently reading a new post-apocalyptic zombie novel, Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Mayberry. So far, it's pretty cool. Nothing amazing yet, but I do like it. This isn't an official recommendation though, because I'm not even halfway through it. How great is this cover image?

What about you? Read any amazing books lately that you're dying to share?
And don't forget, we're still taking entries for a free copy of The Familiars!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

On Doing Your Best

When it comes to critiquing work for a partner/friend, we all have our strengths. Kristi had an excellent post about why it's great to have more than one crit partner. In it, she mentions one person might be great at pointing out plot holes that everyone else misses. Another catches every spelling and grammatical error.

I've been thinking about critiquing lately, because I honestly don't think I'm that great at it. I'm that word girl, the one who spots the spelling errors. But I've noticed that I don't always have a lot of in-depth things to say. Then I realized, that's not entirely true. I have done a lot of critiquing, not just for my Sisters, but for personal friends, acquaintances etc. And I've given great (I hope) feedback. My problem is that I don't always apply myself. I don't do my best. And the biggest reason for that is self doubt.

I have been blessed with AH-MAY-ZING crit partners and on occasion I catch myself feeling like the weakest link and it shows in my feedback. Who am *I* to give her criticism on this incredible piece? I'm a reader. I'm a writer. And I honestly want her book to be the very best it can be. So even if you can't make sense of what doesn't work in your partner's piece, still tell her about it. Do your best. Try to pinpoint it but if you can't at least let her know "This part feels slow to me for some reason" or "That dialog stands out".

We all have self-doubt. Can we really write a novel? Can we get an agent? Will we ever be published? Honestly, not everyone will. Because not everyone will push through the self-doubt and keep on truckin'.

Self-doubt manifests its self in a lot of different ways. We all go through bouts of it--be it with our critique groups, or our own writing goals--but you can get through it. And it helps to talk about it with your partners. Sometimes you just need a little pick-me-up. An ego boost, if you will. So talk with your partners. Talk about writing, or talk about the strategy of your critiquing. What is working? What isn't? Are you doing your best? Why not? Lean on them. Use them. They can help.

But ultimately, it is up to you. You have to be willing to look at your writing or your critique style objectively and WANT to do better. Sure, you could sit back and say, "I suck anyway, so there's no point in really trying. This is as good as it gets."No, it's not. But it will be if you have that attitude. Writing and critiquing is work. But it's our passion! And what can be more rewarding than that?

Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"So" Unnecessary

I've come to form the opinion that there is almost no need for the word so. In narration anyway.

Why? Well I'll tell you!

SO makes for wordy complicated sentences. Also, it's explain-y.

He knew he was in trouble so he hid in the bathroom so the teacher wouldn't see him.

Um... yeah. See? Wordy. Long. Complicated. Telling. You could say all this much more actively and with less explanation.

Footsteps in the hall. This was it, if the teacher saw him he was busted. He jumped into the nearest doorway, the girl's bathroom, just as she rounded the corner.

SO frequently states the obvious. It strings together two sentences that are often better left apart.

It was raining out so I grabbed my umbrella on my way out the door.

Since we were just told that it's raining, we KNOW WHY she grabs the umbrella. So makes the sentence almost feel condescending. And it would be better said in two short sentences.

Rain pounded on the roof. I grabbed my umbrella on my way out the door.

When you juxtapose two things together, (it's raining, grabbed umbrella) readers make the connection on their own. It doesn't need to be spelled out.

SO is lazy. It's like "and then".

Chances are good that if you're using so somewhere other than dialogue (where it can make for lovely, awkward conversation), you're telling. Which is lazy. Also, whatever you're telling about is probably boring and unnecessary.

He was tired so he went upstairs and took a shower so he wouldn't smell like french fries when he woke up.

This is just a list of things he did with explanations about why. It's not particularly interesting and the purpose of it is really just to say that he went to bed so that we can move on to the next scene where something actually happens. Boring and unnecessary.

I was hungry, so I went downstairs to get a snack. Then I was attacked by a ninja!

Is it really necessary for us to know why he went downstairs? Isn't being attacked by a ninja the important part here? In this case the so sentence is being used as set up and that's exactly what it feels like. Like we're being lead to something rather than experiencing it as it happens.

I was staring into the fridge trying to find something that wasn't expired when out of nowhere, ninja attack!

So... the next time you find yourself using SO stop and ask yourself, is it really necessary here? Am I telling? Can I say this more succinctly? Can I say this more actively? I bet you'll find a better way to get your point across!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Are you grateful for your ability to write?

As I soaked up a boatload of sunshine while on vacation last week, I felt an enormous sense of gratitude. Gratitude for being able to unplug (I only checked my email during the trip), lounge on the beach, and hang out with my entire family for ten fabulous days. While I didn't do much writing during my trip, I reflected on how grateful I was that I could write. I don't mean having writing ability (the talent to write)--which is always debatable--I mean the actual ability to sit and create something.

What prompted part of my reflection was the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell which I read on the plane. I was captivated by the descriptions of immigrant garment workers in the early 1900's. They often worked a 12-18 hour day hoping to scrape together a few dollars in order to feed their families. Then they started all over again the next day. And the next. And so on.

The week prior to my trip, I actually complained to my husband that I only had an hour or two to write in the evenings (after our kids are asleep). I'm ashamed the complaint crossed my mind, let alone my lips. Even in 2010, there are people working two to three jobs just to make ends meet, put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads. The luxury of taking the time to sit and create something--be it art, music, or writing--doesn't exist for a whole lot of people in this world.

I came home from vacation to an empty refrigerator. I promptly went to the store and refilled it, without having to worry about how I would pay for it. I'm grateful and think it's too easy to take things like that for granted. My day is jam-packed today, but does not involve 18 hours of back-breaking work. I'm grateful for that. I have an hour or two of writing time tonight. I'm extremely grateful for that.

I know writing can be a thankless and painfully slow endeavor, but the ability to pursue it is priceless. Are you grateful for your ability to write?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Contest Monday

We're giving away a copy of the first book in the new Middle Grade Fantasy series THE FAMILIARS this week! Check out the guest post by Andrew Jacobson co-author of THE FAMILIARS to enter. Contest ends 10/28.

Agent Bree Ogden of Martin Literary Management is having a Halloween Month contest! Write the first three sentences of a zombie novel and win a few of Bree's favorite spooky books, including Jonathan Maberry’s Rot & Ruin and R.L. Stine’s Fear: 13 Stories of Suspense and Horror. You have until Oct. 22nd to submit.

And, not exactly a contest, but still something you can win. A charity auction!
From now until October 31st, you can bid on a first chapter critique by agent Mandy Hubbard! All proceeds go to the Family Violence Prevention Fund. Check out the auction here.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Giveaway and Guest Post: Andrew Jacobson of THE FAMILIARS

winners announced soon!

This month we welcome special guest Andrew Jacobson, co-author of the new Middle Grade fantasy series, THE FAMILIARS!

Running to save his life, Aldwyn, the street-wise orphan cat, ducks into a strange store. Moments later Jack, a young wizard-in-training, comes in to pick out his familiar – a magical animal companion. Aldwyn’s always been clever. But magical? Apparently Jack thinks so—and Aldwyn is happy to play along. Anything to get out of town!

Once home with Jack in Stone Runlet, Aldwyn thinks that he’s got it made—a life of ease with a boy who loves him. He just has to convince the other familiars—the know-it-all blue jay Skylar and the friendly tree frog Gilbert--that he’s the telekinetic cat he claims to be.

Then, after the sky lights up with an omen, the unthinkable happens. Jack and the other young wizards are captured by the evil queen of Vastia. Together Aldwyn, Skylar and Gilbert must save them—but how?

On their thrilling quest across the land, the familiars will face dangerous foes, unearth a shocking centuries old secret, and discover a mysterious destiny that will change them all forever.

Welcome, Andrew!

We are also having a special Familiars-themed Halloween Scavenger Hunt! At each stop along the blog tour, we will be asking a trivia question from our book. After you fill in your answer, the letter that falls in the place of the * can be placed in the corresponding number of the larger puzzle. So for example, since this is question number 5, the letter that lands in the space where the * is can be filled in where the 5 is in the larger puzzle. The larger puzzle will form yet another clue, and anyone who answers it correctly will be entered into a drawing for an autographed book as well as a few other Halloween treats!

Be sure to visit The Familiars blog at to find links to all other blog stops and find out where to send in your answers! All entries must be entered by November 15.

5. Marianne's and Dalton's familiars, Gilbert and Skylar, are curious to meet Aldwyn, the newest resident of

___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ _*_ ___ ___

Hint: Chapter Three, Page 40

11 5 18 8 15 1 9 7 19 14 23 2 25 16 10 12 20

__ __ __ __ __ __ ' __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

17 3 22 6 21 4 24 13

__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ (official website) (book trailer)

Happy Halloween everyone!

Andrew & Adam

Andrew, thank you for stopping by and including Sisters in Scribe in your tour! As a special thanks to our readers, and in honor of familiars everywhere, my Sisters and I are giving away one copy of the book to a random commenter! Please fill out the form and leave a comment to be entered! You must be a follower of this blog. Contest is international and ends October 28th.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Books I'll Always Remember

There's a meme going around about what books will you always remember and why. I love seeing what books matter to people and I thought I'd share some of mine. Here are ten books I'll never forget:

Ramona Quimby Age 8
This is the first book I checked out of the library by myself! I was in kindergarten. It was the first chapter book I ever read. I thought every chapter was a story because they had titles! At first I read them out of order, based on which one sounded most interesting, but then I figured it out. (Also cool, the grandmother's last name was Kemp!)

Bridge to Terabithia
And thus began my love for sad books where people die.

Inexplicably, this audio book was one that they played over the loudspeakers when we went to bed at school camp. Nothing like being 10, far from home in the middle of the woods, and listening to the story of a little girl who dies alone in the woods!

Tuck Everlasting
And thus began my love for sad books about immortal people who wish they could die.

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret
I think I read this book around 20 times between 4th and 6th grade.

A Wrinkle In Time
Thus began my love for all things time travel, sci-fi, and fantasy.

Pet Semetary
The first truly scary book I read. I was 12 and I made the mistake of reading it one night when I was home alone.

The Stand
It was over 1000 pages! And awesome.

Interview With A Vampire
The first truly dark and emotionally complex book I ever read. And of course the beginning of my love for vampires!

All The Pretty Horses
I loved John Grady Cole so much that I didn't want to read the next book because I couldn't bear to see him go through the changes I knew would come and turn him into a grizzled cowboy. Plus, it was the book that taught me there are no rules when it comes to writing a book. Want to write would of instead of would've? Hate commas? Go for it!

The Time Traveler's Wife
Did I mention that time travel is one of my favorite things in the world? Plus, sad books where true love faces inevitable doom? This book will break my heart forever.

What about you? What are some books that you'll remember forever?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Blast from the Past: The Two Minute Elevator Pitch

I'll admit it. As you read this, I'll likely be strolling along the beach or making lop-sided sandcastles with the kiddos. But I'm not leaving you empty-handed. Here's a post of mine from earlier this year that may be helpful for those of you who will soon be attending a conference or doing a pitch session to an agent/editor.

I was fortunate enough to attend an SCBWI talk hosted by talented author Hilari Bell and author/illustrator Anna-Maria Crum. The topic: how to give a brief pitch to agents/editors. Even if you're not doing a scheduled appointment, a pitch is something you should have ready at a conference in case an editor or agent happens to ask, "What's your book about?" That's assuming you'd rather have a more coherent response than "Um, well, there's this guy and he goes to this museum, and there's this um, secret society..."

Wouldn't you rather say (well, if you were Dan Brown):
"A murder in the silent after-hour halls of the Louvre museum reveals a sinister plot to uncover a secret that has been protected by a clandestine society since the days of Christ." (I found this summary of The DaVinci Code online -- doesn't it have more 'flow' than the first one.)

What is an elevator pitch?
It's one or two sentences (three max) giving an overall summary of your book -- sentences that are compelling enough to make the editor/agent ask more questions. I know, right? Anyway, Hilari and Anna Maria were masters at it. They listened to attendees read part of their query letter or give a description of their book, and within minutes, they'd distilled it into a few succinct sentences. It was amazing to watch. I listened and learned, and here are a few tidbits I picked up along the way. NOTE: All examples below are fabricated by moi, so blame me if they suck.

Be Specific/Don't Be Cliche
Bad Example:  When the space monkey arrived, her whole world turned upside down.
Better Example: When the six-foot space monkey landed in her bedroom, ten-year-old Sarah Connor knew she finally found the topic for her science fair project. 

Use Strong Verbs/Active Voice
Bad Example: When six-year-old Ben was given a black eye by the school bully, he looked for a way to get back at him.
Better Example: When the school bully pops six-year-old Ben in the eye, Ben exacts revenge the only way he knows how -- with peanut butter and a Nerf gun.

Other tip: the main character (MC) should be identified in the pitch as well as the obstacle they face. There are exceptions to this but wait until you're famous to break the rules.

So there you have it. Any questions? Now get out there and pitch.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Contest Monday

Awesome author Kimberly Derting (The Body Finder) is giving away an ARC of her soon to be released Desires of the Dead. Click here to enter. Contest ends: Oct. 15th.

Sara at The Babbling Flow is celebrating her blogiversary with a huge ARC giveaway! Click here to enter. Contest ends: Oct. 31st

This one is just a heads up, but coming October 27th QueryTracker is having Children's Lit Contest with agent judge Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary. This is a great opportunity because Ammi-Joan is closed to unsolicited submissions! So get your first 100 words and pitch ready!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Check It Out - First Chapters!

If you're looking for something to read today, Valerie is the guest post on agent Nathan Bransford's blog today!

Check out her post on the All Important First Chapter!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Guest Posting!

This Sunday, Valerie will be guest posting at author/agent Nathan Bransford's blog. Don't miss it!

October Happenings!

Next week, Thursday October 14th, we will have a special guest post from Andrew Jacobson, co-author of THE FAMILIARS. Andrew and Adam are floating around the blogosphere this month for their Haunted Blog Tour, and Sisters in Scribe is lucky enough to be one of their stops! They're including a Familiars themed scavenger hunt and clues will be left at each stop. Now's the time to grab a copy of the book and start reading to play along! We'll also be giving away a copy of the book to one follower of Sisters in Scribe!

About the book:

Running to save his life, Aldwyn, the street-wise orphan cat, ducks into a strange store. Moments later Jack, a young wizard-in-training, comes in to pick out his familiar – a magical animal companion. Aldwyn’s always been clever. But magical? Apparently Jack thinks so—and Aldwyn is happy to play along. Anything to get out of town!

Once home with Jack in Stone Runlet, Aldwyn thinks that he’s got it made—a life of ease with a boy who loves him. He just has to convince the other familiars—the know-it-all blue jay Skylar and the friendly tree frog Gilbert--that he’s the telekinetic cat he claims to be.

Then, after the sky lights up with an omen, the unthinkable happens. Jack and the other young wizards are captured by the evil queen of Vastia. Together Aldwyn, Skylar and Gilbert must save them—but how?

On their thrilling quest across the land, the familiars will face dangerous foes, unearth a shocking centuries old secret, and discover a mysterious destiny that will change them all forever.

About the authors:

ADAM JAY EPSTEIN spent his childhood in Great Neck, New York, while ANDREW JACOBSON grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but the two met in a parking garage out in Los Angeles. They have been writing for film and television together ever since. This is their first book.

One day, Adam asked Andrew, “Are you familiar with what a familiar is?” And from that simple question, Vastia was born, a fantastical world filled with the authors’ shared love of animals and magic. They wrote every word, sentence, and page together, sitting opposite each other.

Adam Jay Epstein lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Jane, their daughters, Penny and Olive, and a black-and-white alley cat who hangs out in their backyard. Andrew Jacobson lives with his wife, Ashley, and their dog, Elvis, four traffic lights away.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

SPEAK Contest Winner

I wanted to give a great big shout out to everyone who commented on my post about SPEAK. It's such an important topic and you're all made of awesome, so thank you. The Random Number Generator has spoken--a copy of SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson, as well as the cool censorship button goes to....LINDSAY (a.k.a. Isabella). Congrats Lindsay! Please email me your mailing address and Lacey and I will get your prizes out ASAP.

I'll be on vacation next week, without internet access (I know, right?), and I'll be leaving the blog in the hands of my amazing Sisters. Hope everyone has a great week of reading and writing. I'll leave you with some words of inspiration for aspiring novelists: If Snooki can do it, so can you! :)

Monday, October 4, 2010

Contest Monday

Awesome author Kimberly Derting (The Body Finder) is giving away an ARC of her soon to be released Desires of the Dead. Click here to enter. Contest ends: Oct. 15th.

It's the last day for your chance to win SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson here at Sisters in Scribe. Contest ends tonight at 9pm ET.

Happy Monday!
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