Since I missed yesterday, and as #PitMad is next Thursday, I thought I would post an entry where people can share their pitches and get feedback. I'm actually pitching two books next week. My pitches are below. I'm also happy to add people to my retweet list. Just leave a comment here or on Twitter!
My first book is a Christmas contemporary romance. Here are my pitches:
Take 1 retired marine and add 1 introverted flight attendant
Pour in 1 teen daughter, a dash of ex-husband drama, and a pinch of amateur matchmakers
Stir in a spoonful of holiday stress
Bake in a small town’s embrace
A sweet treat or a recipe for disaster?
#PitMad #A #CR
Most wonderful time of year?
Yeah, right. After my ex left last Christmas, it's hardly my favorite holiday. Love was the last thing on my mind but when I invited a newly retired marine to stay I risked upsetting the fragile stability I’d built for my daughter.
#PitMad #A #CR
Dreaming of a home for Christmas?
Brad is, but he’ll settle for faux domesticity. It’s a good segue into his new civilian life. He’s got a job lined up, a place to stay, and maybe even a budding #R?
But then an old flame returns and threatens his holiday cheer
#PitMad #A #CR
My second book is a contemporary romance as well, but has elements of Magical Realism.
Ever felt like a bird is stalking you?
This isn’t a Hitchcock movie, but I’m seeing cardinals everywhere
Legend says they’re visitors from heaven but that’s crazy right?
OMG is my mom meddling in my love life from her afterlife?
Figures. So much for RIP
#PitMad #A #CR
You never forget your 1st love, but when a grief-stricken Lanie walks back into Donnie’s life, his guilty conscience over her mother’s deathbed confession leaves him in a dilemma: break Lanie’s heart with the truth or his by letting her go.
#PitMad #A #CR
Garden Spells x Hallmark
Legend says if you see a cardinal it’s a visit from heaven
Lanie is skeptical but losing her mom makes her want to believe
The visits seem to point to her 1st love Donnie which makes no sense
But he’s got a secret that she needs to hear
#PitMad #A #CR
I had a bit of a whirlwind weekend, but it's too soon to go into much detail about it, so instead I'd like to talk about inspiration. What inspires you in your writing? Do you base stories on real events, whether in your personal life or in the world? Are you ever inspired by a picture or a song? What helps those creative juices to flow?
There are many things that inspire me. I do use certain situations from my personal life to help write scenes or to bring characters to life. My second manuscript is inspired, at least in part, by my first love and the loss of my mother. I've always been fascinated by the legend of the cardinal and I thought it would be an interesting premise for a story. There's a mixture of real and imaginary in the novel, which I think makes it more believable. An idea for a third book came about last year when I received an unexpected email from an old friend. Sometimes, inspiration is as simple as revisiting a situation in my life and asking "what if?" Perhaps my writing would be described in some ways as wish fulfillment. I think of it more of the musical "If/Then." I was never fortunate enough to see it, but I understand the premise due to the soundtrack and reading a summary. The main character's life goes in two different directions based on choices she's made. For my third novel, the idea was inspired by the idea of what would have happened if I had chosen a differently. The premise usually starts that way, and then the characters and plot fill in from there. So, while the inspiration may be based on wish fulfillment or a real situation, the story is entirely fiction.
Of course, this is mostly for fiction, either short stories or novels. When it comes to poetry, I'm usually inspired by nature. I've written many poems, and some creative essays, about the ocean. Unfortunately, with the last year+ of the pandemic, I haven't gotten out much. But I'm going to the beach this weekend, so maybe I'll be inspired to write some poetry while I'm there.
Sometimes, I need a little help with providing inspiration, like when I was trying to write a Christmas story last summer. It's difficult to be in the holiday spirit when it's 90 degrees outside. But my MFA tutorial professor at the time suggested decorating my room for Christmas to help set the mood. I bought a light up tree and it did help a little, but then I wrote most of that story during #NaNoWriMo, which happens in November and thus made it easier to write about Christmas. For my current #WIP, I bought two posters of cardinals in snow, and those have aided my writing significantly.
So, what inspires your story ideas? Do you have photos, a soundtrack, or an object that helps you get into the frame of mind for writing? Share your thoughts below!
Fiction Fragment Fridays
I wanted to try something different with the blog (not just because I've run out of blog topics for the moment). I may alter this name a bit, but in the spirit of alliteration, let's go with Fiction Fragment Fridays! What I'd like to do is to encourage people to share a fragment/segment of their #WIP that they are particularly proud of. It can be a line or a couple of paragraphs. It's a chance to share something you're working on, potentially receive some feedback (constructive only, please!), and maybe make a connection with a beta reader or critique partner. The goal here is to connect and build a community. You can either post the fragment into a comment or link to a larger body of work, whatever you prefer! And don't feel like you're limited to fiction/stories. Feel free to share poems, essays, etc. This is a judgment free zone!
Below I've included a snippet from my second manuscript which is a second chance romance inspired by the legend that cardinals are visits from lost loved ones.
A familiar figure hopped across the deck, flitting through the snow as it came closer to the door. It flew up onto the glass table, and cocked its head at her. It seemed to be waiting for her to do something, though what, she couldn’t imagine. The cardinal looked so beautiful against the wintery backdrop, a warm red hue against the cold white, that Lanie felt compelled to take a photo. As she raised her phone to snap the picture, the bird looked directly at her. Just as she captured the moment, a text message appeared on her screen.
Noon at Bea’s. See you then.
Her eyes raised back to the cardinal, which had hopped off the table, its black eye fixed on her. The bird bowed its head in what Lanie could only describe as a nod before it flew off the deck and out of sight. She shook her head in bewilderment.
Birds don’t nod, Lanie, she admonished herself. Yet, even with that attempt at reassurance, she couldn’t help feeling unsettled. There was something about that cardinal, she couldn’t put her finger on it, but it felt familiar. A sudden image of her earlier dream flashed before her eyes, and Lanie had a sinking feeling the two were somehow connected, no matter how absurd that seemed.
I've seen some buzz on Twitter recently about writing schedules. There's some who believe the best writers write everyday. Others view this as a lofty goal that is impossible for marginalized voices or anyone with a full time job and/or kids to meet. I've seen criticism for events like #NaNoWriMo because it is difficult to write 50k words in a month that includes a major U.S. holiday (Thanksgiving).
Personally, I do not write everyday, though that's not to say I'm not working on my writing. I prefer to write in sprints and have participated in #NaNoWriMo and their two camps. I write best when I'm under a deadline. This is heavily influenced by my day job where I am often tasked with meeting strict deadlines. I currently work in government policy, but previously was a paralegal, so I'm very familiar with tight deadlines and working under pressure. I completed 15k words during #CampNaNoWriMo in April and approximately 16k words in July. The other months, I'm editing. I just finished a major rewrite on my first manuscript last week. I'm also pursuing an MFA and in addition to submitting pages of my own manuscript, I am required to read a book in my genre and write a critique paper.
When I'm in a writing sprint, I do my best work in the morning before my day job. I'm a morning person, so it's when I'm fresh and full of creative ideas. This may change if my office ever returns to in-person work as we're still in remote status. It's amazing how much a commute, even one that's typically only a half hour when traffic is good, can cut into the day. However, I live between the DC and Baltimore metro regions, so "good traffic" days are rare.
What does your writing schedule look like? Do you try to write and/or edit everyday? How does your job impact your writing. Sound off in the comments!
Contests and Literary Magazines
While I haven't done much querying yet, as I'm still polishing my manuscript, the one thing I have struggled the most with in my query letter is the brief bio. I've spent the majority of my adult life working for the government in some capacity. As a result, I haven't done much professional creative writing and, aside from pursuing my MFA, I don't really have anything of interest to put in my bio.
When my mother died, I found writing difficult. She was my biggest fan. I think I've mentioned this before, but she was a huge romance reader (of the bodice ripper variety), and she asked me to write a romance novel, dedicating it to her. I wasn't able to fulfill that promise before she died when I was 19, and I think my love for writing initially died with her. I still took classes and did some poetry and short stories in school, but my heart wasn't in it anymore. I found a new passion in the law, and I really excelled at being a paralegal. Now, I work in policy, and it's something I enjoy as well, but last year, right before the pandemic hit, I found myself missing writing.
I'm a bit of a wordy person in general, so rather than easing my way back into writing, I decided to jump right into a novel. I got about three chapters down before I realized I was in over my head. So, I took a fiction writing class at my local community college. The exercises helped me to reconnect with my creative side. Quite a few short stories came out of that, and for the most part, they've just been catching dust in the cloud.
This weekend, I started researching literary magazines and contests. While there are some well known magazines I could send my work to, I thought I might start small. There's a couple local magazines that have open submissions either going on now or opening soon. I'll have to take a look at my work and see what I might send, but I think this might be a good way to build my writing resume while I continue to work on polishing my novel.
I had planned to go back to my second novel after I finished the major rewrite of my first, but now I'm wondering if I'll finish that during #NanoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and spend the next couple of months trying my hand at short stories. I know many literary magazines will accept simultaneous submissions, but I'd like to increase my writing portfolio as well.
Have you ever submitted work to a literary magazine or a writing contest? How did it go? What tips and tricks would you be willing to share about your experience?
I just finished the third round of major edits on my first manuscript and I can't even describe how happy I am now. I was dreading these edits because I knew I had to do a major overhaul on my book. In previous posts, I've mentioned how I went astray from my original plot because of some feedback I had received. Recently, I decided to incorporate that feedback in another way and return to my original plan. Now that I've done that, not only have I shaved over 1k words off my manuscript (which I needed to do), but doing so has also made me fall in love with this story again. I was so tempted to trash it because it had morphed into something I no longer recognized, but now? It's exactly what I wanted to be. It was worth the frustration and time it took to get it back to what I wanted.
The main thing I wanted to change was a character who was always meant to be an antagonizing presence in the story. He does eventually make his way onto the page, but in my original plot, he remained the antagonist. Due to the feedback I received about not having enough "redeemable" male characters, I gave him a redemption story that just did not fit within my plot at all. I tried to change things to make it fit, but since he was always meant to be the antagonist, it never worked. Going back to my original plan of making him the antagonist throughout without any sort of redemption fits so much better. I've also brought in a side character earlier in the story and a love interest for my teen character that I believe helps address the feedback I received.
Of course, the book is far from perfect and I'm sure I'll go through more polishing edits over the coming months, but at least the major rewrite is over. I'm planning to take a break from this manuscript in September and work on writing my second one. I like to take that time away, so that when I come back to it later, it's with fresh eyes. However, through the rest of this month, I'm using Autocrit to try to tighten the writing before I send out the story to beta readers and start querying again.
I wouldn't use this program as my main writing software because it doesn't play well with Word. What I've been doing is editing both within Autocrit and within my Google Doc. This way, I can see the progress I'm making in Autocrit while at the same time saving my work in a program I'm most familiar. One day, I might move my stuff over to Scrivener, but for now, Google and OneDrive are working pretty well for my purposes.
What's your favorite writing software? What made you choose it? Please share your thoughts and experiences!
It feels like I'm on a really high number of draft based on how often I edit my WIP, but I'm counting it as the "official" third version.
I was really dreading this round of edits because I knew it was going to require a lot of work to get my story back to my original vision. I had been side tracked by some criticism I received and had completely changed the trajectory by giving my antagonist a redemption story. This didn't work at all for the character or the plot, and I realized I could easily have resolved the criticism by bringing a different character into the story sooner.
I've finished roughly nine chapters of edits and still have six to go, but now that I'm in the groove of editing, I'm actually enjoying it. I've learned a lot over the last year, particularly from my MFA program, but also from the various Facebook groups I've joined. I sent the first 2500 words of the novel to a few beta readers recently, in preparation for submitting my #CarinaPitch package, and it was really helpful to get their feedback.
One reader pointed out I use the word "that" unnecessarily. Many of the sentences where it's used would make sense without it. Yesterday, I went through and deleted all instances of the word where it made sense to do so and I cut about 200 words from my MS. With six more chapters to go, I imagine that number will at least double. I think after this latest round of edits, I'll be searching for beta readers to read the whole thing. I only have one more chapter to submit through my MFA, but as I've said before, my professors aren't well versed in the romance genre, and some of their criticisms feel out of place to me. It would be nice to hear from romance readers, since they are my target audience. For instance, my last professor didn't like that my male romantic lead spent so much time processing prior scenes. She said that both of my lead characters' thinking felt "obsessive." However, in every romance book I've ever read that has dual POVs, the leads spend a lot of time processing/thinking about the progression of the relationship and the other character. Her point was that most men wouldn't spend that much time thinking about a relationship, but I think that's part of the fantasy for women who read romance? Romance readers, feel free to weigh in!
I'm hoping to finish this latest round of edits by this weekend as I signed on to beta read for someone else. It's amazing how much beta reading is teaching me about writing. While I think it's great to read published novels in the genre, there's something about the less polished drafts that really helps me to understand where my writing compares to my peers.
What draft are you on, fellow writers? Do you keep separate "official" drafts or do you make edits within the same document?
If you're a querying writer, odds are, you've checked out your dream agents' (and maybe even dream publishers') Manuscript Wishlist (commonly noted on Twitter as #MSWL). The executive editor at my dream publisher posted a thread the other day with her wish list and, while unfortunately none of my current WIPs match what she's looking for, I realized that my first manuscript could be edited to fit one of her items. It would take a pretty massive rewrite, and I'm currently already doing a massive rewrite on it due to not following my gut on some suggested edits I received. Still, it's tempting, especially since I'm on vacation the last week of August and could spend a significant portion of my time writing.
It can be so difficult to determine if a manuscript meets a wish list's criteria, and even if it does, it might not have the right voice or the right tone. I've seen writers on Twitter discuss how they thought they had the perfect book to fit a #MSWL request only for the agent/editor to turn it down because it wasn't exactly what they had in mind. Since I already went against my original story idea, which did some serious damage to the plot, I'm a little hesitant to make such massive changes. I would definitely keep my original story idea separate and write the wish list version in a new document.
The other thing that makes me hesitate is that only unagented authors who have published previously (whether self-published or traditional) in the genre will be considered. I've considered self-publishing, but as I only have one complete manuscript and one almost halfway there, it wouldn't really help me to do so right now. The editor is looking for pitches starting in September, and I fear that, by the time I could get an agent, she might have a whole new #MSWL.
The editor did say that the list was not all inclusive of things the publisher would accept, so I wonder if it wouldn't be a better use of my time to simply polish the story idea I have. There are a few more romance story ideas floating around in my head, so maybe by the time I write my third or fourth book, I'll have something that this publisher will want.
Have you ever had any luck pitching something on an agent/editor's #MSWL? Have you tweaked a story to fit a wish list? Sound off in the comments!
I joined a beta reading community recently and have signed up to read multiple different romance stories in my short time there. Some of this was to get more experience with giving feedback, but I will admit that it has also helped me to avoid the major rewrite I need to do on my first manuscript.
For the most part, the manuscripts I've been reading have been good. The first one had some characterization issues, but the plot was clear and hit all the romance beats. After reading the first one, I signed up to read the first ten pages of three different stories in a different group and was able to move through those pretty quickly. I offered to read the full manuscript for two writers and one has taken me up on it, so I'm making my way through it as each chapter is submitted. The second full manuscript I read also hit on the romance beats, had really well developed characters, but there were a few things that just didn't feel true to me.
The one I'm working on now has been difficult. When the writer posted about it in the group, a lot of members jumped on the description of the male lead character, and I felt bad since this writer was new. There were a few red flags in the blurb about the book (mainly that it hadn't been edited at all yet and that is was well over industry standard for word count), but I decided to give it a chance. My problem is that the story doesn't seem to start in the right place. There's about 90+ pages of backstory before the leads characters meet, and then after that, I'm not feeling like it's hitting the romance beats. Normally, when I beta read, I send both a brief commentary in an email with more detailed comments scattered throughout the pages, including both editorial remarks as well as whether something worked/didn't work for me. In this case, I think the book needs a major rewrite, and in light of that, I'm not sure my comments on the actual pages are going to be overly helpful.
This is the first time in a beta read that I almost DNF the book. When the main characters hadn't met by the end of Chapter 3, I scrolled ahead in the manuscript to find out when they would meet and to decide whether it was worth my time. I've read a few tips on beta reading from various blogs, and many of them have suggested marking a page by saying something like "if I was a casual reader, I would have stopped here" and then list why. I did see a few beta readers who said that it was okay to stop reading and let the author know why you stopped at a certain page. However, now that I've finally gotten beyond the point where the characters meet (and really, where the story should have begun), I'm pretty sure I can finish the book. On the plus side, I think the writer can use all of the backstory they included in the beginning of the book to help their characterization throughout the actual story. It just needs to more organically occur within the context of the manuscript and not as an information dump in the beginning.
As for my own first manuscript, I did have three beta readers look at my first ten pages, and I received helpful feedback. I'm hoping to finish reading the manuscript I've struggled with in the next day or so and then finally get back to my own rewrite. I got a "heart" during #CarinaPitch and I need to polish my submission by next Wednesday.
Have you ever DNF a book you were beta reading? If so, what caused you to stop? How did you handle telling the writer? Sound off in the comments!
Book reviews, random thoughts, and writing samples from an aspiring author.