Thursday, April 26, 2012

No One Would Believe It

Status: I won not one, but two query critiques. And one of them, as I mentioned in an earlier post, was two rounds worth. These critiques were so incredibly awesome, and I'm all sorts of crazy happy with the result. I didn't realize just how very much was missing from my old query until I finally had the most recent versionAnd it's not just me this time! For example, the feedback from the second round of critiquing actually involved the words, "Wow Ashley!" Yay! So I've sent out a few queries now that I think I'm (finally!) all set.

Number of queries sent: 32
Number of form rejections: 16
Number of detailed rejections: 2
Number of requests for additional materials: 2

Okay, so today, I want to talk about a couple of common phrases. The first being, "Truth is stranger than fiction." Then there's the whole, "Write what you know," thing. I guess the ultimate point I'm going to make in this post is that the two sometimes just can't happen at the same time.

Let's take, for example, the romance element of many novels and movies. There's always a lot of conflict. At first, it seems like they're right for each other, but then everything somehow goes to hell. Then maybe one of them starts to date someone else. Maybe both of them do. Perhaps some sort of strange love triangle forms. Or perhaps, for a while, they don't see or speak to each other. Maybe for a while they think they hate each other. Hearts are broken. Tears are spilled. They begin to think they will never truly experience happiness. And then, at the last second, they realize that they are meant to be, and live happily ever after.

That basically sums up about 3/4 of all romantic comedies ever filmed, if not more. I don't read too many romantic comedy type books (is that considered chick lit?), but I'm going to guess that they're comparable. The conflict and the waiting and the angst are what make it so entertaining. They're also what make it even marginally believable. I mean, no one believes in love at first sight anymore, anyway, right?

How's this for a story? A girl is the Maid of Honor in a wedding. She shows up for the rehearsal, which is being held in this outdoor, stone amphitheater. She's walking down the stone steps, and sees the groom and his brother standing at the bottom. She's never met the brother, who is the Best Man. The brother hears the girl on the steps, turns around, and their eyes lock. And in that instant, the girl knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is the boy she's supposed to marry. They flirt through the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner. They dance the night away at the wedding itself. She catches the bouquet and he catches the garter. They start talking on the phone and online a few days later. A few days after that, the boy tells the girl that as soon as he saw her, he fell completely and totally in love. He tells her that he has every intention of marrying her. Despite the fact that they've only known each other for about a week, the girl couldn't be happier. A year and a half later, they are officially engaged. But they are young, so they wait several years to actually get married. They start living together in the meantime. They plan their lives together. The more they get to know each other, the more they are certain that they were right in that moment when their eyes met, and they knew they'd found the one. Nearly seven years after the day they met, they finally got married. And then they lived happily ever after.

No one would believe that. It would be sappy and ridiculous and over the top. There's no conflict. There were no fights. There were no breakups. There were no exes coming back into the picture. They just fell in love in the span of a heartbeat and that was that. What a bullshit premise for a romance, right? 

Except that is my story. That is exactly how my husband and I met. That's exactly how our relationship progressed. But could I use that in one of my books? Hell no! People would just laugh at how silly and naive I am for writing such a thing. So, in my case, truth is definitely stranger than fiction, and no way can I write what I know for a romance in one of my books. 

Or, at the very least, I can't use my story in its entirety (not that I'd want to, so bullet dodged there!). But I can use parts of it. I can use the way that I feel about my husband to express how my MC feels about her love interest. I can use funny or charming or adorable things that my husband or I have done for each other over the years. So even when truth is stranger than fiction, there are pieces of truth that can be infused into characters and plots and situations that can just make them feel all the more real and believable and powerful.

How about you? Is there anything that's ever happened in your life that, if you wrote it down, people would think you're a whacked writer with no sense of reality?

Friday, April 20, 2012


Status: It has been a very long week, and I'm ready to just relax this weekend. And I'm pretty sure I'll finish reading
Insurgent tonight, so I'm excited about that.

Number of queries sent: 29
Number of form rejections: 16
Number of detailed rejections: 1
Number of requests for additional materials: 2

"Don't let anyone, ever, make you feel like you don't deserve what you want. Go for it!" ~ Patrick Verona (played by Heath Ledger), 10 Things I Hate About You

I was thinking about this movie recently, and this quote popped into my head. Now, aside from the fact that the movie itself is just awesome, I really like this particular quote and, in general, the kind of attitude that Patrick has in the movie. Especially after he stops trying to be scary.

And yes, I know this quote is referring specifically to a girl, but I think the basic principle behind the statement can be applied across the board. For you other writers, I'm sure there have been naysayers in your past. People who told you that you were wasting your time, and to just move on. Wouldn't it be nice if everyone was just supportive?

This is something that someone (who, to this day, has never read a single word of anything I've ever written) told me when I was sixteen years old: "You're not really a writer. You have no idea what you're doing. Right now, your writing is 90% crap and 10% okay. And if you work hard at it your whole life, maybe--maybe--someday, you can be great like Stephen King. But I doubt it. So stop dicking around in a fucking notebook and do something useful with your time." This was more than a decade ago, so that's obviously not verbatim. Except the last sentence, which I remember like it was just said five minutes ago.

I'm not even going to get into the fact that telling a female to stop dicking around doesn't make a great deal of sense, or the fact that what I write is absolutely nothing like Stephen King's work, so comparing them doesn't make a whole lot of sense, either. (Admittedly, I don't even like Stephen King's books, but that's neither here nor there.)

No, what I want to talk about is the fact that this person thought he had a right to tell me what I can and can't do. Or, at the very least, what I should and shouldn't do. Honestly, the way he said it, and the condescending smile he wore while he was speaking, make me think that he thought he was doing me a favor. Saving me from the heartache of realizing that I'm just not good enough. That I'll never be good enough. That I am meant for mediocre things, and that I should just accept it and move on.

Um, bite me. (Isn't it a good thing I waited a decade to respond so that I would be older and wiser, and my response could be so very mature? :P) No one has the right to tell you, me, or anyone what their dream should be. Least of all someone who has no idea what he's talking about.

Then there are the people who do know what they're talking about. Say you are, in fact, trying to follow your dream. And, in the case of writers, you're putting your work out there. And agents, who do know what they're talking about because they've read your query or your partial or your full, are rejecting you. That's kind of the same thing. If you were good enough, they wouldn't be rejecting you, right?

Well, could be that your query letter just needs work, or you're not contacting the right agents. Or it could be that you're just not good enough yet. Meaning you just need to keep trying. I have no problem admitting that my first two books are downright terrible. That my third, while quite good, is seriously flawed. I've mentioned these things more than once on this blog. But you know what? I think my fourth book rocks. It's leaps and bounds better than anything I've written before. When I look back from where I am now to the earliest drafts of book number one (i.e., what I was writing when the quote above was said to me), I find it laughable. My first book is seriously that bad. But how did I get better? By writing more. The only way to become great at anything is to practice.

What if sixteen-year-old me had listened? What if I'd just given up and resigned myself to mediocrity? It breaks my heart to think that some people go through life not trying for that one thing they really want, because someone convinced them they just aren't good enough. Because even if you're not good enough yet, you'll never get there without trying.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Unexpected Life Lessons

Status: I won an ARC of
Insurgent by Veronica Roth!!!! Since I recently posted about how much I loved Divergent, this is clearly an awesome thing. It should be arriving either today or tomorrow! Can't wait! Also, I sent out a few tests of my new query. I wasn't going to do it so soon, but I just couldn't help myself. Let's see what happens!

Number of queries sent: 29
Number of form rejections: 16
Number of detailed rejections: 1
Number of requests for additional materials: 2

So, as I wrote in the Status section of this post, my beloved husband and I are trying to grow grass in the dirt plot known as our back yard (and this will ultimately loop back to the whole writing thing...I promise!). Okay, maybe dirt plot isn't a fair description. There were a shit ton of rocks, too. We spoke with a grass expert at Home Depot (if there really is such a thing as a grass expert, but he claimed to be one), rented a rototiller, and spent hours upon hours doing everything the so-called grass expert told us needed to be done. Up to and including watering the entire back yard twice a day (we have three sprinklers set up) and walking all four of the pups on leashes in the front yard so they can't sabotage the innocent little grass seeds.

As a side note, the whole walking the dogs in the front yard thing isn't a very good arrangement. For one thing, when we get home from work/being away for any part of the day, they all need to go out right away. Luckily, my husband gets home before me almost all of the time, because the one time I tried to walk them all at once, they overpowered me and pulled me down the deck stairs. Ouch. But he's stronger and can handle them. It was so much easier when we could just open the door and let them run out into the yard. And the running around in the yard is far and away the most exercise they get, and they very much enjoy it. I think they feel quite cooped up, and are going a little stir crazy. My poor babies.

Anyway, back to the main point of this post: grass started growing this morning! We almost gave up and were just beginning to wallow in self pity. After all, the bag of grass seed said it would take 5-10 days, and those 10 days passed with no sign of grass. But then, this lovely morning, tiny little blades of grass were visible all over the lawn. It filled me with such joy and renewed all of my hopes and dreams for a beautiful back yard. One beautiful enough that I'd be proud to host a barbecue. Especially since we replaced our shitty fence and have a wonderful new one. Ah, such lovely visions I have of the future in my beautiful home.

So you've probably figured out how I'm looping this back to writing, but I'm going to go ahead and write it anyway. Otherwise, there wouldn't be much point to this post, would there? Through most of yesterday afternoon and a large part of the evening, I was feeling inexplicably discouraged. And if you don't know why it's inexplicable, you didn't read my most recent post! An awesome agent has my partial, I just did a round of edits that I believe make my book even more awesome, I just wrote what I think is a significantly stronger query letter, and I keep winning stuff. I mean seriously, it's a pretty good time to be me.

Yet, despite all this, I was feeling very gloomy. I think all aspiring authors go through this from time to time. For some reason or another, you get it in your head that it's just never going to happen. You'll never actually get an agent. You'll never actually be published. Your lifelong dreams of being a full time writer (because, let's face it, you've never wanted to do anything else for as long as you can remember) will never be realized, so you'd better get used to your day job. You're just not good enough. And even if you are, for whatever reason, no one will ever realize it.

Damn it all to hell, the grass will never grow, and I just wasted all that time and money. Better invest in Huggies stock, because I'm going to use a hell of a lot of baby wipes cleaning dirt/mud off sixteen puppy paws for the rest of ever.

Well, screw you very much, insecure version of me. Stop being such a downer. Total party foul. Ooh! As soon as I wrote that last sentence, a song started playing in my head: "It's my party and I'll cry if I want to." Well, screw that, too. I don't want to cry. I want to be happier than I've ever been in my life. I absolutely adore my book. I'm so proud to know that I wrote it, and that I created the characters I love so much (and hopefully that doesn't make me pompous or narcissistic (in the literary sense, of course)). Plus, I'm actually getting requests from agents. Both of whom commented about how much they like the voice of my MC when they made those requests. How frickin amazing is that? And, as I said here, even though I want it more than anything, I don't need that validation to know that I'm a writer. A real one. A good one. No matter what, I'll know that I did everything I could this time around and, if it comes to that, there's always time to try again. One way or another, I will leave my mark on this world.

Besides, the grass started growing on day 11. In the grand scheme of things, we've only just begun.

Friday, April 13, 2012

A Whole Lot of Awesome Going On

Status: The title really says it all.

Number of queries sent: 27
Number of form rejections: 15
Number of detailed rejections: 1
Number of requests for additional materials: 2!!!

Okay, so, I'm not even sure where to start on all the awesomeness. Seriously, dude. There's just such an overload of awesome.

I guess the logical place is my newest request. This one was for the first 50 pages. I'm all sorts of excited. When I woke up, there the request was, just waiting in my inbox. I did my happy dance all over the house at 5:40 in the morning. I haven't woken up that quickly in...well, ever. I believe that it technically takes three to make a pattern, but I think the second request still goes to show that the first one wasn't a fluke.

And I'm very extra super excited about this request because there have been some changes in my MS. Some pretty major ones, actually. I recently received some very detailed feedback about my novel. This particular reader had some problems that, after a great deal of thought and consideration, I decided were valid. So I completely scrapped two whole chapters and wrote new ones to take their place. And these new chapters rock my frickin socks. So far, the husband is the only other one to read them, but he agrees that they're about a billion times better than the old ones. I can't begin to describe how crazy happy I am with the outcome. These new chapters are part of the partial I just sent, so hopefully the agent loves them as much as I do! I think they really make my novel a great deal stronger.

What's next? Ooh! I know! I won something! How awesome is that? It was from a contest on this blog. I won a gift certificate to use on, which I can use for two rounds of help on my query! Cassandra Martin is a freelance editor who has been an intern for a top NYC literary agent since October 2009. It'll be great to get the perspective of someone whose job is to go through the slush and read submissions.

Which leads directly to the final awesome thing I'd like to mention. As I said in this post, I decided to make some very substantial changes to my query following a detailed rejection. Well, inspiration struck the other day, and I cranked out the first draft of the new query. Then it really struck this afternoon, because I ended up changing almost all of what I'd just written. And the new stuff is so much better than the old stuff. So I'm now on version 21 of my query. I have changed the focus and the tone of the damn thing so many times, it's ridiculous. But the new one is something I'm really proud of. I can't wait to send it to the freelance editor and get her opinion. And then out to more agents! Yay!

It's great to feel like I'm really getting somewhere.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Twitter Sold Me Another Book

Status: This weekend, the husband and I rototilled our backyard, planted grass seed, and got my vegetable garden going, among other things. Translation: my whole body hurts. It hurts a lot. Having a house is
hard. It'll be worth it though. Assuming the grass actually grows. If not, all bets are off.

Number of queries sent: 27
Number of form rejections: 14
Number of detailed rejections: 1
Number of requests for additional materials: 1

As the title of this post suggests, enough people tweeted about a book that I felt the need to read it. Although, unlike Fifty Shades of Grey, I read this one because it sounded like the kind of book I'd normally read (rather than as a result of unquenchable curiosity following an insane amount of hype). Shockingly enough, I liked this one a lot more. (Not that I didn't like Fifty can see my reactions/review here.)

So, without further ado, the book that I read is Divergent by Veronica Roth. This is a YA dystopian set in a distant future Chicago. After all the wars, etc. that threatened to destroy the human race, the people of Chicago split themselves into five factions. Each faction believes that one specific thing caused this whole near destruction of humanity thing, and similarly, one specific thing is most important for preserving life. Each year, all the 16-year-olds in the city have to choose a faction, and that faction will basically be their family--and define who they are and what they do--for the rest of their lives. Here are the factions:

1. Abnegation. They believe that greed is the root of all evil, and so strive to be completely selfless in all ways.

2. Amity. This faction believes that everyone should just be nice and live in peace with one another, and the anger, etc. that nearly brought about our downfall will never happen again.

3. Candor. Screw greed; lies are the root of all evil, so this faction believes it's important to be completely honest about absolutely everything all of the time.

4. Dauntless. These people think that humans nearly destroyed themselves because of fear. So they aim to be completely fearless. Or at least learn how to face/overcome their fears.

5. Erudite. Basically, people are frickin stupid. And stupid people make bad decisions. Or so believe the Erudite. They devote their lives to study, study, and more study. As long as people know as much as possible, they won't be able to make bad decisions that can lead to more wars.

My Take on the Factions

1. Abnegation. It is absolutely impossible for people to be completely selfless. You can try, sure. And if you're trying to be selfless for someone that you truly care about, you may even succeed. But it would be a small, limited success. Who the hell can care 100% about perfect strangers, and 0% about him or herself? I just find the whole notion hard to believe. Of course, it could be that I'm wrong, and there are people out there who could succeed at this. But I'm clearly not one of them. So, were I in this dystopian world, I definitely wouldn't be in this faction.

2. Amity. However, I don't see any reason not to be nice to people. Being nice to strangers and wanting to help them out isn't the same thing as completely giving up who I am as a person and basically acting like I don't matter at all. The Amity people seem kind of like hippies to me. As I posted here, I'm kind of a hippie. I seem to recall that at least some of them are farmers, so don't let what I posted about yard work in the Status section of this post undermine the fact that I think I'd do very well in this faction. I like being happy, I like being nice, and I often wonder why we can't just all get along.

3. Candor. The notion of having to be completely honest with everybody about everything all of the time absolutely terrifies me. And I'm a pretty blunt person. Really I am. But, as I just discussed, I'm also nice. There is absolutely no reason in the world to hurt someone's feelings just for the sake of hurting them. And, nice person that I am, I don't particularly care for confrontation. I mean, I don't mind arguing my point if I think I'm right and you're wrong. And if someone says or does something really, really horrible, I'll rant and rave against that person/their actions until kingdom come. But sometimes, it just isn't worth it. Or sometimes it literally wouldn't do anything but cause unnecessary trouble. We all have that one relative that we can't stand, right? Well, what's the point of ruining Christmas (or whatever family gathering) by telling them they're an asshole? Best to just keep quiet and keep the peace.

4. Dauntless. I mostly get this one, too. I think they take it too far at times, but I see how fear can cause a world of problems, and being willing to face that fear (i.e. still make rational decisions in the face of such fear) could be helpful. But since I'm a total chicken, no way could I ever be in this faction.

5. Erudite. I can get on board with the idea that humans almost went the way of the dodo because they're frickin stupid. I really can. But being stupid isn't the same thing as being wrong, just as being smart isn't the same thing as being right. Ignorance can only be blamed for so much. But according to this faction, only ignorant people can make bad decisions, so if they're wicked smart, everything will be peachy keen from here on in. But there have been plenty of smart people, who have studied and know all the facts, but still make absolutely horrible decisions because they think they're right. To the best of my knowledge, Hitler was a learned man. Doesn't make what he did any less disgusting and horrifying and terrible and just plan frickin wrong.

Anyway, those are my opinions about the factions. Overall, I think the whole idea is a tad simplistic. But that doesn't change the fact that this was a damn good read. Can't recommend it enough. Also, if you need more to convince you to read it, I also got my husband to give it a try. He only reads right before bed to clear his mind. On average, he lasts about ten minutes before he's fast asleep. But this book drew him in so much that he had several late nights, and only forced himself to stop reading each night because he knew the alarm would be going off at 5 am.

So have you read Divergent? If so, what faction do you think you'd choose?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


Status: Back from my lovely vacation in Arizona, where I had a wonderful time visiting with my dearest cousin. The lobster sunburn on my back has mostly stopped hurting. I'm not even suffering from jet lag. I'll call this one a vacation win.

Number of queries sent: 27
Number of form rejections: 14
Number of detailed rejections: 1
Number of requests for additional materials: 1

Okay. So I'm not going to focus on the request for additional materials. Just to sum that up, I did my aforementioned happy dance, immediately mass texted half of my contact list, and then double checked that the file with my manuscript (it was a full request, by the way) was formatted properly. Off it went.

At the moment, I'm actually more interested in the detailed rejection. As you can see, I had to add a category to my little running tally, because someone took the time to actually tell me why she was rejecting me. First of all, that agent absolutely rocks my socks for doing that. She perhaps would've rocked my socks more if she'd requested a partial, but.....

Anyway. I read somewhere on the internet (probably an agent or author blog) that these kinds of rejections are, and I quote, "fucking gold." At the time, I'd never received such a thing, so I could only agree in theory. Now I can say, wholeheartedly, that this kind of detailed rejection is, in fact, fucking gold. After I got the email, I allowed myself to wallow in sadness for about 3 minutes. Then I reread the email a couple of times. And then I really, really thought about what she had to say. And you know what? I agree completely.

So back to the drawing board. I'm probably going to rewrite a large portion (if not nearly all) of my query. At the very least, the entire beginning needs to change. I need to include more/different information, and I need to change the tone. My beloved husband has agreed to help, which is also fucking gold. Arguing with him over something I've written (or something he's rewritten to help me) is more helpful to my writing than anything else I've ever done. That includes my BA in Creative Writing.

For all you writers out there, have you received these kinds of detailed rejections? Did you find them helpful, or not so much? What has been the most helpful thing for your writing? (You're allowed to answer that you didn't need any outside help or influence, and were born a perfect writer, but you'd better present one hell of a case, or I might not believe you!)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Life is Good

Status: Oh so happy.

Number of queries sent: 27
Number of form rejections: 14
Number of detailed rejections: 1
Number of requests for additional materials: 1

'Nuff said.