Friday, October 29, 2010

Sanity, Fear, and Avoiding Snooki

In the words of Sue Sylvester, Halloween is better known as "the day when parents encourage little boys to dress like little girls and little girls to dress like whores and go door-to-door browbeating hardworking Americans into giving them free food."

So true, Sue.

I get to avoid the browbeating and the inevitable parade of Snookis this year because I'll be in DC this weekend! 

In honor of the Rally for Sanity and/or Fear, I thought I'd ask these questions three:

Which book still scares the bejesus out of you?
Which book do you turn to when you need some sanity back in your life?
If you are dressing up for Halloween, what is your costume?

Have a good/scary/chocolate-filled weekend, everyone! 

 
(awesome)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Too Late

Today I'm very excited to bring you a Romeo and Juliet inspired piece of YA flash fiction about a high school girl who swallows poison while mourning the boy she loves. When her ex-boyfriend sends her a message after a year of silence, she fears his lingering love for her won't save her in time.

The author, Elisa Jeglin, is a legal secretary and belly dancer (!), who is working on her first YA novel about Azrael, the Angel of Death. After you read her piece, go check out her blog at www.wheresmypencil.wordpress.com. Enjoy!

Too Late
By Elisa Jeglin

Janelle drank the strange green liquid. It burned her throat as it passed down her esophagus and settled in her stomach.

The glow of the computer cast eerie shadows on the walls, while the window rattled from the chilling beat of the song. Janelle scrolled up to the red flag with the picture of a letter and clicked.

A new message flashed across the screen, hey how are you, and she rolled her eyes.

“Jesus Jimmy.” She said. “What do you want?”

She just finished typing the words when a new message popped up.

I know I haven’t talked to you for over a year…it’s just that I haven’t been able to since…you know.

The memory of him standing on her front porch in the middle of night with a bleeding hand and broken beer bottle still haunted her. Her mother comforted her for weeks after she had torn him a part with those two words, “it’s over,” and she’d avoided forming a new relationship again, terrified of damaging another person so completely he would break down at the mention of her name.

In the months that followed he showed up to school with long scabs running down the length of his arms. Frightened by their appearance, along with the rumors circulating around their friends, Janelle went to the school councilor, who called Jimmy into his office.

Nobody asked her if she was okay. Nobody worried about the way this affected her.

The pressure grew until Jimmy graduated. When he moved away she was happy; although it hurt a little he didn’t say good-bye.

Are you still there?

Janelle shook her head, trying to center her woozy mind.

She erased the words she had written before and typed back yes.

Yeah, well I just wanted to tell you I’m sorry I didn’t talk to you sooner…it took a lot of girls to get over you.

The words blurred together and Janelle blinked.

It’s okay. She wrote back. I don’t blame you. I never wanted to hurt you, but I didn’t care for you in the same way. It wouldn’t have been fair to you if I continued to see you.

Janelle’s stomach churned and she crossed her arms, fighting back the tears.

Hey, don’t worry about it. It was only puppy love. I know that now. I just wanted to thank you for the time we did have. I think of it whenever times get hard. I learned a lot from you.

Several small burps erupted from her intestine and a putrid aroma escaped from between her lips. Everything in her body burned and the tears she’d been holding back began to fall.

I’m glad. She typed.

Guilt found a way to weave its way through her pain and the image of a sandy-haired boy with sad-blue eyes appeared in her mind. She had left Jimmy for him. He sat next to her in science and he always found a way to touch her. Sometimes it would be as innocuous as accidently brushing her hand with his, but other times it was as brazen as him laying his palm on the inner part of her thigh. It didn’t matter how he did it, just as long as he did. She needed his touch, like a heroine attack needed drugs, but she never told him. He never knew. Jimmy never knew.

You know, you were the first girl I ever loved. You were the only person who was there when I needed someone the most and for that I’ll always be grateful. You saved me.


Janelle leaned to the side of her chair and threw up between sobs.

“Why,” she cried pulling at her hair, trying to erase the boy from her memory. “Why couldn’t it have been you?”

She reread Jimmy’s message, her tears staining the keyboard as she typed.

I wish it wasn’t you I’d saved, but now it’s too late.

Her head landed on her desk with a thud and she breathed a small sigh of relief. Her pinky resting over the enter key and her eyes staring absently at the tall red can in front of her, green liquid dripping down its side.

Ping. A new message appeared on the screen.

Janelle laid there. Her hand completely still.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Genre Pressure

Since we're all friends here, I feel comfortable admitting the following to you all...

I'm just not crazy about Battlestar Galactica. There, I said it.

Oh, and you know what author I just cannot, for the life of me, get into? Gary Shteyngart.

I know. Those two things have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Not on the surface anyway.

Now, don't get me wrong. I recognize Gary and Battlestar for their objective superiority in their given genres and even would go so far as to say I like them. I'm afraid that's just not enough for me though. You see, I'm supposed to love them.

This is what I call Genre Pressure. As a fan of well-written science fiction, and as a fan of literary fiction, I should be ALL ABOUT these things. I even love all Brooklyn Jonathans. In fact, I continually pick up stories about self-obsessed writerly types in NYC even though it's so incredibly lazy and cliche... I eat 'em up though! So why don't I love Gary?

Genre Pressure works in mysterious ways. It's the literary equivalent of "he's just not that into you." Only, it's much harder to admit to yourself. No one wants to betray their favorite genre, especially when everyone you completely respect tell you all the time that "OMG You would totally love this!" So usually, I lie.

But nope, not today. I'm coming clean. Well, at least about these two specific examples.

What about you? Who else among us have secretly betrayed their genre of choice for the sake of fitting in?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Strength, Weakness, & Why Everyone Gets Feminism Wrong

There was some discussion this week about what makes a so-called "strong female character," and since I'm often touting that I want that very thing in a novel, I thought I'd offer my two cents. It all started with Natalie Whipple, YA author and my former fake-battle-of-the-band nemesis. She blogged on Wednesday that she hates the term "strong female character" because it usually implies that there is only one way to be strong. In response, and further elaboration, Sarah Jae-Jones examined what it means to be feminine and the variations of "strength" it indicates.

I call myself a feminist and I don't understand how anyone, male or female, can say they are not one. Feminism is the belief that women are equal to men, and that women have the freedom to make their own choices. That's all it is. We are not militant radical hairy-legged man-haters intent on ridding the world of all things male. The thing about applying labels to yourself is that, suddenly, you become every negative connotation that label has ever represented.

Another example, though on a far less ideological scale, is the casual science fiction fan. Say you like sci-fi or fantasy to the average person and you become pegged as a Babylon 5-loving, Dungeons and Dragons-playing, convention-attending fanatic. (How many times have I experienced the "judgmental nose crinkle" after one hears my favorite show has the word "vampire" in it? Yeah, a lot.)

The point is, it's easier to generalize; the extreme of a situation is always more fun to consider than the reality. To me, real strength is rising above those labels and bringing their original meaning back to the forefront. (And yes, I am attending the Rally to Restore Sanity.) Strength is not the ability to be sassy, independent, or fall out of gender roles. (Sorry, but I buy impractical shoes and paint my nails and am afraid of spiders - and I like to think I'm pretty damn strong.) Strength is the ability to be yourself and be comfortable with that person. There are characters who are less self-assured and still considered strong, but we'll get to that later.

So what do I mean when I say I'm looking for strong female characters? Well, it's the same as what I mean when I say I want strong male characters. "Strong" women are not necessarily the single-and-proud modern femmes made popular by Sex and the City. Of course, those characters were strong, for the most part. That is, until the movies showed up and demanded Carrie needed a marriage license in order to be happy, even though the person she married was horribly emotionally abusive to her for over ten years.

But I digress.

Actually, it's not digression. By making Carrie get married, her character was weakened. She represented the "It's OK to be single!" crowd (started a movement, even!) and making her marry Big instead of just living monogamously ever after or (gasp!) remain "happily single" the way she did in the book, basically lobotomized her. Yet, making a character like Charlotte remain single would've just been upsetting. Her whole purpose was to find love and marriage and have babies. Not giving her that happy ending would have weakened her too. It would have said everything she worked for was all for nothing, and that her dreams were meaningless.

The ladies of SATC were by no means the originators of ambiguously happy endings in the form of marriage. Elizabeth Bennett wasn't suddenly in less control of her life because she married Darcy at the end of Pride and Prejudice. What made Lizzie strong was her intellect, wit, and refusal to adhere to the restrictions of her time. We'd root for her no matter what she's done because of who she is. If she ended up single at the end, she wouldn't be tragic or a martyr. She'd still be Lizzie, who got there on her own terms.

There is also what I'll call plot-based strength. Think of Ryan Bingham from Up in the Air (made famous by George Clooney in the movie). In Ryan's case, independence and freedom are not always positive strong points. He is solitary and convinces himself he wants it that way. Then we see how lonely that life is, and just when we think he can finally connect with someone... he doesn't. The ending is incredibly sad, but the novel sets it up to be that way. Sad endings aren't always deep and happy endings aren't always an easy way out. But, in Ryan's case, his sad ending existed to make the reader reflect. Like Lizzie, it almost didn't matter if the character found happiness through another human being or whether he decided being alone is what he really wanted. It was his time, place, and circumstances that made him who he is. If we knew him in real life, would we consider him a strong, confident man? Maybe not. But he does make for one strong character.

Back to my original question, now: what do I mean when I say I want strong characters? I want people who transcend the labels, who are multi-dimensional, and who's endings are in keeping with what they want or deserve. Words like "strong" or "weak" only apply to how you write your characters and what types of lives you want them to have.

To me, the weakest character in all of literature is Bella Swan. She is passive, unremarkable, and has no purpose other than to be the object of crazy-stalker-boyfriend's affection. She is the poster child for low self-esteem and teaches girls all over the country that it's OK to be controlled, bitten, and obsessed over, as long as the boy is cute enough. (Oh, and it's perfectly fine to carry his claw-happy offspring, as long as you wait until marriage and give up your humanity.)

The reason all of this makes Bella weak, other than the obvious, is because through it all, we're still supposed to think of her as our heroine, and not as the tragic figure she really is.

Writing good characters, like feminism, is about choices. Whether your character is male or female, ask yourself if they were responsible for their story's conclusion, and, if they weren't, can it be considered redeeming or poignant.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Night Crimes

Happy Wednesday, everyone. I have a bit of flash fiction for you today! It comes from Mindy Hardwick, and it is from a collection based on her experience working in a juvenile detention in Washington. Mindy's stories have been published in literary journals, and her articles have appeared in The Writer Magazine, Children’s Writer, SCBWI Bulletin, Instructor Magazine, and ALA Book Links. You can go see more about her and her work at www.mindyhardwick.com.

Night Crimes
By Mindy Hardwick

I slowly roll through the empty streets. My black BMW hums beneath me and the leather seats give me a fine ride. The night air drifts in from the open moon roof. I hum under my breath and pull into the empty parking lot of the Center. The car’s stereo is silent tonight. Tonight, I must go totally unnoticed.

I slide into a parking space and take a quick look around. I need to make sure that I am the only one on the premises. A small camera light flashes over the doorway. I know well enough to stay far away from that lens.

The Center is an easy job. I know the layout better than my own home. When I was seven, I spent hours at the Center. It’d been the place I escaped to when Mom was sleeping off her latest night of partying, and I didn’t want to hang out and watch TV while wa Mom's date of the night emerge from the bathroom.

My favorite recreation activities were the games likes checkers, backgammon and chess. The games were picked up for pennies at the Goodwill or Thrift Store. Sometimes they were donated from attics and basements. Those games always had a musty smell, and we usually pushed them into the corners of the shelves. There always seemed to be something wrong with playing games that most likely had come from people who’d passed on.

The game boxes from the thrift stores were torn and tattered. Pieces missing. But we didn’t care. All of us knew how to make do with what we had. We improvised pieces out of small bits of paper trash, and made up our own game rules. The hours flew past and I’d find myself forgetting about what was going on at home.

Now, I slip the car's gear into park. Pull the keys out of the ignition, and drop them into my leather jacket pocket.

I take a quick look at my gold watch band. 2:30 AM the digital numbers glow. I feel like I’ve got the whole world to myself. It’s always like this when I’m doing a job. One of the things I like best about night jobs is the peace and stillness. It’s when the most action takes place, but no one knows it.

The small, one-story, brick homes which surround the Center are dark except for an occasional porch light. Most of the folks don’t turn on the porch lights at night. Porch lights waste too much money, and in this neighborhood, every bit counts. I breathe in and breathe out. There are no cars zipping up and down the street. It’s just me and my lil’ old job.

Stealthy, I make my way to the left hand side of the building. I steal a peak at the windows. Good and dark.

I crouch down. Take some more breaths and try to still my heart rate. Even after all this time, I can still get worked up doing a job.

From behind me, a screen door slams. For a minute, I move into “still mode.” The cops think I’ve learned “still mode” in my jobs. But I learned “still mode” as a six-year-old when Mom’s boyfriend used to beat her up. I learned to be extra quiet not to get myself slammed around too.

I crouch beside the center and strain my ears for voices or movement. In one of my early jobs, I got so carried away with getting inside that I missed hearing a man walking his dog. I spent a month in juvie for that mistake.

Tonight, I hear only the quietness of the night. Whoever has been out is, either, back inside or is taking a moment to sit on a porch in the cool night. None of the porches can see this side of the center.

Carefully, I reach around the side of the building and lift the black box out of it’s hiding place. One of the lil’ homies hid the box, and I make a mental note to give him a reward. I reach inside and pull out a small hand shovel. Working quickly, I dig small holes in the dirt. Once I’m satisfied, I stop to listen. This is the important part. Now is the time when I don’t want to be caught.

Standing, I head back to the car and pull out a large white sack. I drag the sack back to where I was before. It's time to get the job done. My heart pounds. This is the part I always get the most excited about. Again, I take another listen, and then I work quickly. I lift out the merchandise and fill each hole. Then, I cover each piece with dirt from the white sack. I’ve learned that most of the soil isn’t good for protecting.

I make sure everything is good and covered with thick soil. Then, I unfold the green hose from the Center’s side wall. I turn on the water spigot and give everything a good soaking. When the water starts rolling off the dirt and onto the pavement, I’m done. I roll the hose back up, make sure the water is completely turned off, and stand back to admire my work.

Yellow marigolds dance in the moonlight night.

I lean back on my heels, and just for a minute, I feel a little bit more like the boy Grandma always said I could be.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Relaxin' All Cool

Is it just me, or has this week flown by? The day off on Monday shortened the work week, but good lord how the hours flew! Because of this rift in the space/time continuum, I've been feeling a little overwhelmed and stressed this week. OK, and last week. OK, for all of fall so far. Anyway!

This got me thinking about how we publishers and writers relieve ourselves of work-related stress. What do you do to remove yourselves from the literary life? (Besides "read a good book.")

If you're me, you listen to '90s music, look at photos of corgis, catch up on The Daily Show, or buy shoes. 

Speaking of relaxing and feeling happy, Nick Hornby (yes, the author) and Ben Folds (yes, my boyfriend) have joined forces for pure musical and literary(ish) awesomeness. Witness the magic.

Have a good, relaxing weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Androids, Ninjas, Floss: A Memoir 2

Friend-of-blog, Gregg Podolski, responded to my call for repeat offenders and sent in another excerpt from his "memoir," Androids, Ninjas, Floss. His first appearance on Glass Cases, as you may remember, introduced us to fictitious 12-year-old, Gregg. In today's excerpt, according to the author, Gregg has come to the end of a fierce battle with one of his teachers from Our Lady of Brain Dead Uniformity. Her name is Miss Davis, and she's an android bent on warping children's minds with overzealous Christian ideology, and Gregg has fallen hopelessly in love with her.

Gregg wanted to add nothing to his bio, except for his recent win in the Mr. Universe pageant. Congratulate him, won't you? That is, after you read his story.

Androids, Ninjas, Floss: A Memoir
By Gregg Podolski

“Why won’t you just die?” she screamed. On the word “die,” she leapt off the plateau. I didn’t have the strength to go another round, so I quickly scrambled inside the cave, looking over my shoulder the entire time. That proved to be kind of a stupid way to run, as it caused me to completely fall off the ledge waiting just inside the cave mouth. I landed on a hunk of stone about ten feet across, which wouldn’t have been so bad had the hunk of stone not been floating on a river of molten lava at the time.

“Ah, shit,” I said, expertly assessing my situation. Just then Miss Davis landed beside me, rocking the stone so hard I almost fell off. Her eyes burned red in their dark sockets, and the exposed metal of her skull glowed orange from the heat of the lava. We had reached the final act of our battle. Both of us could feel it. There was only one possible way this could end.

I reached into the waistband of my robe (we were both dressed like monks now, for some reason), pulled out my lightsaber, and pressed the button on the hilt. The blue blade burst forth with that oh-so-familiar sound, the one that makes geeks everywhere orgasm when they hear it. Miss Davis did the same, her blade glowing red.

We stood facing each either, neither willing to make the first move, neither sure what to say. How did you encapsulate a moment such as this? How did you put into words the climax of a struggle as magnificent, as epic as ours had been? You couldn’t. So I was forced to settle for the next best thing.

“Hey George,” I called, turning towards the shore of the molten river on which we floated. There, seated in a canvas director’s chair, George Lucas was absent-mindedly carving bits of dialogue from a pile of logs.

“Toss me a line, would ya!” I shouted. Barely looking up, he reached into the box next to him and threw a finished line my way. I caught it, and read it to Miss Davis aloud:

“Miss Davis, prepare to meet thy destiny!” I raised my lightsaber then stopped. “Wait, really? ‘Prepare to meet thy destiny?’” I looked over at Lucas, who was paying me no attention whatsoever. “That’s the best you could come up with? What happened, ‘Prepare to meet thy doom’ already taken? Do you even give a shit about what your characters say?”

Without bothering to look up from his whittling, Lucas called out, “Listen, just do the scene and try not to fuck it up, okay? I’d like to get it in one take so I can tinker with some of the green-screen effects.”

“You know people go for more than just the special effects, right? Story kind of counts for something, too.”

“Oh, and don’t forget to strike at least three memorable poses. We need one for the action figure, one for the DVD cover, and one for the novelization jacket.”

“You’re a tool, dude.”

“And, action!”

Our lightsabers clashed, the blades forming an X in the space between us. In the background, over the hiss of the lava, a choir sang “Duel of the Fates,” the echoes of our lightsabers coinciding perfectly with the peaks in the music. (This entire scene actually reads better if you have that music going, so if you don’t know it by heart, I’d suggest searching for it on youtube and cranking it while you finish the chapter. Trust me, it makes a difference).

I parried and thrust, but Miss Davis was too quick. She countered every one of my moves. Before long, she’d forced me to the edge of our little stone raft. I held her back by sheer force of will, her lightsaber blade pushing against mine, inching ever closer to my face.

“How could you, Miss Davis?” I said. “You were the chosen one! It was said that you would destroy the Sith, not join them! Bring balance to the Force, not leave it in darkness!”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Miss Davis asked.

“I know, it’s bad, right? It’s more stuff George gave me to say.”

“That’s impossible. Nobody’s that tone deaf to the way people really talk. They don’t even talk like that in comic books anymore.”

“Don’t tell me. Look, it’s what he gave me, I swear.” I held up another line of dialogue, this one carved out of a flimsy piece of plywood, and she glanced at it just long enough for me to knock her off balance with a solid shove. She reeled backwards but never came close to falling. As she charged for another attack, this one no doubt fatal, I sprung backwards off the raft, flipped in mid air, and landed on a small hill on the shore. Miss Davis glared at me angrily, her red eyes burning even brighter, gauging the distance between her and I.

“It’s over Miss Davis,” I said, lowering my lightsaber. “I have the high ground.”

“You underestimate my--oh, fuck this,” she said, tossing her line into the lava. Then she leapt at me, lightsaber extended. I swatted her away easily with my blade. The arm holding her lightsaber fell harmlessly to the ground, no longer encumbered by its connection to her body.

“No!” she screamed. As she bent to pick up the weapon with her other hand, I swung my blade downward and lopped her head off at the shoulders. Sparks flew from the tangle of severed wires and her skull rolled down the slope until it came to rest at the bank of the boiling river. Her body flopped to the ground, flailing aimlessly for its CPU. Finally, it ran out of auxiliary power and lay still. I retracted my weapon and walked up to the fallen head of my enemy.

“You can’t win, Gregg,” it was saying, its voice broken and full of static. “If you strike me down I shall become more powerful than you can possibly--“

I kicked it into the lava before it could finish. For a moment, I simply stood where I was, catching my breath, allowing my mind to comprehend all that had just happened. When I finally gathered the strength to make my way out of the cave, I first stopped by Lucas’s chair and slipped a piece of paper into his shirt pocket.

“What’s this?” he asked.

“Quentin Tarantino’s number. Trust me, you need it.” Then I exited the cave.

Monday, October 11, 2010

I Claim This Book

Happy Columbus Day, everyone! Hope you're all enjoying the day off.

Columbus Day is about, if nothing else, claiming things and passing them off as your own. It's also about America. And freedom. And three-day weekends. Or something.

Anyway, Christopher got me thinking - which book would you like to have claimed as your own? If I had to choose just one, it would probably have to be The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. I wish I could have stolen even one of those amazing plots or subplots that were going on in that book. But alas...

So what would you conquer in the name of You? There are tons of options, but limit yourself to one title just to make it more interesting :)

Friday, October 08, 2010

An Ode to the Hard Way

I read some entertainment news this week that made me stop and pause. That is, after my anger subsided. You see, on publishing's beloved blog, GalleyCat, it was announced that procrastinating's beloved time-suck, Awkward Family Photos, is becoming a TV show. The article is here, and it also brings up another success story that we know and, well, have mixed feelings about.

We all remember that Shit My Dad Says was a hilarious Twitter feed that became a less funny book and is about to become what I assume will be a god awful TV show. Likewise, I assume Family Photos will have a similar "so quirky it's forced" premise and may or may not star a has-been celeb like Willie Aames or George Hamilton.

Blog/Twitter feed to book to TV deals, as a whole, are not bad things. Blogs becoming books seem like a logical next step in the right instances, and adding TV to that mix can work, again, with the right subjects. What bothers me so much about Awkward Family Photos is the same thing that bothers me about the recent trend of fake Broadway musicals like Rock of Ages. They completely disregard the talent and importance of original writing just to make a quick buck.

What they are is glorified fan fiction. This is cheating, writers. These blog-to-TV shows are every other typical family sitcom disguised as a recognizable brand. It doesn't take a genius to figure out why this is good in theory. Rehashing something we already know is fun, for about a minute. (Remember the Geico Cavemen show? Exactly.) We can sing along, we see familiar faces, and we're in on the joke. It makes us feel special. But attention-grabbing gimmicks do not a lasting career make. Once people realize they've been duped into watching just another According to Jim, these blog-to-TV shows will get canceled.

Now, if your life dream is to produce one massively successful project that will make you tons of money in one fell swoop, even if it means being a nobody a year later, then go for it. I will not stand in your way; I will even support your endeavor. (Everyone likes money, right?)

But if you want to be authors - as in, real, this-is-my-career authors - then do not get discouraged by this flashes in the pan. Things like integrity, patience, and talent not only matter, but they will be what make you last in this business.

I realize I'm sounding a bit Pollyanna and I apologize. My faith in writers, publishing, and humanity in general can't be snarked out the way the rest of my emotions can. (Usually.)

Lastly, relevant to nothing, I leave you for the weekend with this awesome rendering of various Harry Potter characters' social media pages (courtesy of @NathanBransford)! My inner geek wishes I could comment on these pages so I can "Like" Ron and Harry's marital relationship status and tweet to Cho Chang that she's totally a popularity whore. (R.I.P. Cedric...)

Have a wonderful weekend, everybody! And if you find yourself getting restless, you can always go take some awkward photos and hope for the best.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Half-Blood

I am very excited to bring you some dark fantasy and YA today!

But first, an unfortunate reminder. Friends, I cannot stress enough how much I want submissions to this blog and queries to me as an agent kept separate. Thankfully, I haven't been getting much - if any - overlap, but I have been getting multiple pre-queries sent to my Glass Cases address. Writers, this will not give you preferential treatment, and, as a general rule, I do not answer pre-queries even when they're sent to my Curtis Brown address. Just send your query. But if you want me to actually answer it, please send it to sl@cbltd.com and do your research first to make sure I represent what you write. The links on the side of the blog, under my bio, are constant fixtures that discuss this in more depth. I still want your stories and I still want your queries - but they are not the same thing. Please don't make me kill my blog. I like it. Thanks.

Moving on - and speaking of why I like this blog so much - STORY TIME! This week's story, as I mentioned above, is an excerpt from a YA urban fantasy novel called Half-Blood. The author, Jennifer Armentrout is a writer with a background in psychology, sociology, and criminal justice. She currently lives in West Virginia with her police officer husband and his "K9 partner," Diesel, a hyper Jack Russell named Loki, and a pet turtle called Michelangelo (to which I'll add, to all of her pets' names, "!!!") As always, enjoy!

Half-Blood
By Jennifer Armentrout

My eyes snapped open, my freakish sixth sense kicking my fight or flight response into hyper drive. The Georgia humidity made it hard to breathe, as did the dust that covered the rotten carpet I was using as a makeshift bed. I had been staying in the abandoned factory since I fled Miami. It wasn’t the Hilton, but at least I thought it would be safe. I was wrong.

The daimons were here.

They were on the lower level, searching each room systematically. The sound of the doors slamming made me re-live throwing open the door to my mother’s bedroom in our tiny house just a few short days ago. The image of her crumpled body flashed in my mind and twisted my gut with a raw ache.

Halting in the narrow hallway, I strained to hear how many daimons were here. Three? More? The slim handle of the garden spade cut into the flesh of my hand, reminding me of what needed to be done. Daimons loathed iron. Besides decapitation, which was way too messy, iron was the only thing that would kill them.

Somewhere in the building, a floorboard groaned and gave way. A deep howl broke the silence, starting as a low whine before hitting such an intense shrill pitch that I winced. The scream sounded inhuman, sick and horrifying. Nothing in this world sounded like a daimon—a hungry daimon.

I darted down the hallway, my tattered sneakers pounding against the worn out boards. Speed was in my blood, and strands of long, dirty hair streamed behind me. I rounded the corner, knowing I had only seconds—

A whoosh of stale air whirled around me. The daimon grabbed a handful of my shirt and tossed me aside. I slammed into the wall, momentarily stunned. Black starbursts dotted my vision as I scrambled to my feet. The once beautiful pure-blood rushed me, now resembling a ghoul strung out on crack. Those soulless, pitch black eyes stared at me like I was his next meal ticket.

Reaching for me again, the daimon grabbed my shoulder and I let instinct take over. I twisted around; catching the surprise that flickered across his pale face seconds before I kicked. My foot connected with the side of his head. The impact sent him staggering into the opposite wall. I spun around, slamming my hand into his chest. Surprise turned to horror as the daimon looked down at his chest.

He made a guttural sound before collapsing into himself. By the time his body hit the floorboards, nothing but a thin layer of shimmery blue dust remained.

With the garden spade still in my hand, I whirled around and took the steps two at a time.

I ignored the ache in my hips and sprinted between the discarded work benches and stools. I had to make it. I was going to be super pissed in the afterlife if I died a virgin in this craphole.

“Little half-blood, where are you running to?” called a voice not far from me.

I stumbled and fell into a large steel press. Nothing stood between me and the daimon. Like the one upstairs, he initially looked like a freak, but when he moved closer, the dark magic—the glamour took over, revealing what he used to look like. Adonis came to mind—a blond, stunning man.

“What are you doing all alone, little half-blood?”

I took a step back, my eyes searching the room for an exit. Wannabe Adonis blocked my way out.

He laughed, the sound lacking humor and life. “Maybe if you beg and I mean, really beg, I’ll let your death be a fast one. Frankly, half-bloods don’t really do it for me. Pure-bloods on the other hand,” he paused, letting out a sound of pleasure. “They are like fine dining. Half bloods? Well . . . you are more like fast food.”

“Come on step closer, and you’ll end up like you buddy upstairs,” I growled. “Try me.”

Wannabe Adonis’ brows rose. “Now you’re starting to piss me off. That’s two of us you’ve killed.”

“You keeping a tally or something?” I asked. Backing up, my heart stopped when a floorboard behind me creaked. I whirled around, spotting a female daimon. She was inching closer, forcing me toward the other daimon.

I was smart enough to realize they were caging me in, giving me no opportunity to escape, and another one shrieked somewhere in this pile of crap. Panic and fear choked me. My stomach rolled violently, and my fingers trembled around the garden spade. God, I wanted to puke.

The ringleader advanced on me. “Do you know what I’m going to do to you?”

I swallowed and fixed a smirk on my face. “Blah. Blah. You’re gonna kill me. Blah. I know.”

The female’s ravenous shriek cut off Wannabe Adonis’ response. Obviously, she was very hungry. She circled me like a damn vulture, ready to rip into me. My eyes narrowed on her. The hungry ones were always the stupidest—the weakest of the bunch. There was a good chance I could get past her. The other one . . . well, that was a different story.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Lessons from Peggy Olson

Last night on Mad Men, my role model, Peggy Olson, after once again refusing the advances of that guy who saw her naked, asks him why he always "makes her reject him." I can relate, Peggy. Only my lament is usually to writers. Rather than make my question hypothetical like Peggy, I thought I'd share the most common types of writers that elicit this response, using other fabulous Peggy quotes, of course. Hopefully you won't recognize yourself, but maybe you'll be able to save others.

1. "Stop barging in here and infecting me with your anxiety!" It usually goes something like this: I receive a query that doesn't interest me, so I reply with my form rejection. The writer immediately replies, thanks me for my rejection, and sends another query pasted below. I'm still not interested and send a slightly more personal rejection. Writer responds with, "OK how bout this?" This only reminds me of that kid in junior high who keeps asking out the girl who just wants to be friends. It makes me feel bad, but it doesn't make me respect you as a writer. It comes off as desperate and unprofessional. Wait a few weeks to query again, and be sure to remind agents what your previous project was so we know who you are.

2. "Clients don't always know what's best." OK, I'm stretching with this quote because instead of "clients," I will say "potential clients," and the reason the rejected ones don't always know what's best is because they don't look. An agent shares submission guidelines, what they are looking for, and what they are definitely not looking for are on company websites, agent-directory sites, personal blogs, and on Twitter. If writers are ignoring these outlets, then they just made an extremely competitive business that much harder to break through. If my name is one of many on the "sent" list, or if you attach a query instead of pasting it, or you send me a pitch for something I do not represent, then your email is going to get deleted without being read. Likewise, if you send something via snail mail, it not only takes longer to get a response, but you risk having your query lost in the mail. Or, in the case of larger agencies like Curtis Brown, you could get trapped in the General Slush Pile, queries not addressed to specific agents. Few live to tell the tale.

3. "You have everything and so much of it." It's easy to understand why writers would want to stand out to agents, to try to get noticed in a sea of queries. What most of these writers don't understand is that the best way to get noticed is to have an appealing project. The "look at me" queries are usually 90% biography and 10% project. If you are pitching a nonfiction project that only you can write, then yes, you should include background information. (I should point out that I am not looking for nonfiction, unless it's of the narrative kind.) When parents talk about their kids as a way of saying "I'm qualified to write YA because I've spoken to a child before" it just sounds ridiculous. Same is true for the people who are doctors or lawyers or former CIA agents - working in a field you write about gives your book authenticity, but it doesn't automatically make you a talented writer. The project you are pitching should always be the focus of your query. Everything else is useless if you don't have a good idea or ability to write.

4. "I wanted other things." This comes after I read a manuscript, decide to pass on it, but am willing to read a revision. When the revision comes, I'm always excited to read it because I know it's a project with potential that hasn't yet been reached. Sometimes, disaster strikes and the writer does one of two things: 1) he or she does a substantial revision, but does not address any of the issues I wanted addressed, or 2) he or she does exactly what I suggested and nothing else, making the overall product appear poorly constructed and not well thought out. Sadly, another rejection has to be given.

5. "Frankly I'm disappointed by your presentation." It doesn't get any clearer, writers. Sometimes the only reason agents "must" reject you is because we are just not impressed by your project. That never means "we are all disappointed;" it just means "I" am, whoever that "I" may be. Don't take things personally, ever, in this business because rejections come with the territory.

The moral of most of my stories here on the blog is to just be professional and considerate when dealing with agents. Respect their wishes, both in terms of how they want work submitted and when they want you to stop sending them work.

Ultimately, there will be someone out there who will respond positively to your work, and what's important to remember is that the agents who rejected you won't feel bad or ashamed when your book gets published. We'll just think, "See? That project that wasn't for me really did find a better home. Good for you, writer who now has a good name within the industry!"

But, if you're anything like those immature men who won't leave Peggy alone, we won't have to be gracious at all because, chances are, you are still out there... making people keep rejecting you.