Monthly Archives: August 2015

this means WAR(horses)!

Today’s the day! With query and pages held high, it’s time to charge valiantly onto the Pitch Wars battlefield, trumpets blaring all the way. Am I nervous? NEVER. (What? No, this shaking is perfectly normal. Too much chai, you know…)

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I have loved the idea of Pitch Wars ever since I first heard about it in February. The greatest thing about it: just by pressing submit, we are already winners. As much as I would LOVE to be a finalist and work with one of these rockin’ mentors, no matter what, we’re coming out with a freshly-polished query and manuscript, and with an equally rockin’ community at our backs!

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A bit about me:

  • I’ve been an equestrian for 20 years; currently I live on a farm as a caretaker for 13 horses and run an English riding school. I still love it, although I could do with a few more hours in the day and I could do without that vexing phenomenon known as “winter.”
  • I own a beautiful chestnut dragon who gives kisses and high-fives. I am teaching her to paint, which is turning out to be a dangerous business.
  • I think the smell of bookstore is the most intoxicating thing on earth.
  • I’m a huge Tolkien geek, and Harry Potter will always have my heart. Some of my other favorite books/series are The Scorpio Races, The Raven Cycle, The Lunar Chronicles, A Song of Ice and Fire, The Night Circus, A Wizard of Earthsea… oh, the list goes on and on.
  • I’m a former unschooler, plenty socialized and a survivor of college math, thanks! 😉 Actually, I’m hugely grateful for my unconventional education.
  • I’m also a hardcore introvert, so sometimes after a long week of lessons I have to crawl under a rock for a day or two with my elderly cat. (You could say she’s a co-writer on all my projects, since most of them are typed with her draped over my arms!)
  • I was an ML for NaNoWriMo for four years, which was insane and hugely rewarding.
  • I don’t know if I could live without chai lattes.

The novel I’m submitting, affectionately referred to as Project Warhorse, is the YA fantasy that’s been my baby for a long, long time. I began brainstorming the trilogy thirteen years ago, completed a first draft in 2010, and have spent the years since endlessly revising and tinkering. It has sisters and secrets and ghosts of all kinds, magic, angst, and a bleak moorland setting that required heavy doses of Scottish and Irish music. It is possibly a love letter to storytelling. I will not admit how many times I have cried while writing it.

In a nutshell:

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It’s also a tricky little beast of a novel that could hugely benefit from a fresh pair of eyes. My writing group is about as fabulous as fabulous can get, but they’ve been with this one from the very beginning (and filled my plot holes, and brainstormed battle strategy, and assured me that reincarnated warhorses ARE the new vampire). So if this Pitch Wars thing doesn’t pan out the way I’m hoping, I will be searching for a new critique partner… who else loves epic tear-jerking fantasy? Secretly I love revision almost as much as I love discovering great new novels – let’s make things shiny together!

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And until Sept 2, let’s flail around in great company. A huge shoutout to Chris Keelty for the Mentee blog hop that is distracting me from my query obsessing, and an even huger shoutout to Brenda Drake for making all this magic happen.

 

here are a few of my favorite things

My Muse has a troubled relationship with deadlines. The closer I get to some kind of closure with a project, the more it says, “Hey. HEY. Listen to this idea, you’ll really like it.” Sometimes it actually does have good ideas, like now – so with Pitch Wars and other Big Plans on the near horizon, I’ve gone back to the revising board, putting in another round of edits on Project Warhorse. (They’re good edits, I think, because lately I can’t think about anything else!)

One thing I love to revisit in the midst of revision is an exercise found in Chris Baty’s No Plot, No Problem. He urges aspiring novelists to write a “Magna Carta,” a list of things that personally resonate with you as a reader. The idea is that we should all be writing books we would love to read – the stories we would love to find on a bookstore shelf – and the list serves as a reminder of what makes our literary hearts sing. I find this list hugely helpful when I start getting too wrapped up in thinking about how critique partners or agents will perceive the work, as opposed to writing what I really love and believe in.

Here is my list (sung, I always imagine, in a Julie Andrews voice):

A sense of the mythic. I love stories with a sense of sweeping mythology, an epic history that taints the very air the characters breathe. Obviously not every story is going to have the weight of a Lord of the Rings-sized history, but I want to believe that it lives behind the page.

A flawed but likeable main character. I want my characters to feel like real people – but if they are whiny, negative or self-absorbed, we’re not going to be friends.

Character-driven stories. I’m the kind of girl that zones out during action scenes when I go to the movies. Twisty, thrilling plots are all fine and well, but first and foremost, it needs to be all about the people, and make me feel ALL the feels.

Good worldbuilding. Even if it’s set in the real world, I want to know how the people talk, who you’ll find on a street corner, how the wind tastes. I like fantasy that makes me feel genuinely transported. I love fantasy that makes me feel like the setting is a character, too.

Foreshadowing and symmetry. I’m all about stories with lots of layers woven into each other, full of hints and surprising connections and moments that make me gasp when I eventually realize their significance. This is what separates a reread book from a one-time read for me – I want to discover another pearl every time I dive in.

Complex antagonists. Absolute evil isn’t a concept that much interests me, especially when a book spends lots of page time graphically proving the evilness. (Yeah, we get it, he’s got a thing for blood. Moving on!) I like my villains Game of Thrones style, where everyone is a hero in their own version of events, and even the baddest of bad guys feel just a few circumstances shy of a redemption.

Lyrical language. I don’t want to just hear a story. I wanted to be enchanted by it. My favorite books are usually full of language that feels like an art and not just a tool, quotes I want to write on sticky notes, and passages that make me stop and marvel at the sheer beauty of the words. (Often, the most elegant passages are also the simplest!)

Romantic tension. While I would rather have a romance-free story than one featuring inappropriate, unhealthy, or just plain eye-roll worthy relationships, it’s a definite plus if there’s real chemistry and a possibility of kissing.

Third person POV. Perhaps I’m in the minority here, or a little burnt out after reading a ton of YA, but I’ll take a well-written book in third person over a first person POV any day. I’m fascinated by perspective, and first person gets quickly tiresome if the narrator isn’t someone you love.

Satisfying endings. I don’t want to be depressed by a book, but I’m a sucker for books that leave lingering feelings. Open-ended is good, bittersweet is better, but mostly, I want to feel like everything ends in a way true to the story. (Cliffhangers? We have a love-hate relationship.)

A few other things that make my literary heart happy:

Coming-of-age stories. A touch of magic. Clever humor. Well-chosen or significant names that roll off the tongue. Stories about stories. Ghost stories. Tragic heroes. A sense of foreboding. Badass heroines that are not your stereotypical badass heroine. Swoon-worthy guys named Sean. (Hey, why aren’t there more books with this?) Brevity. (I’m all for epic books, but only if they earn their length. Every word should feel important!)

What ingredients make up your recipe for a good book?

 

filling the well

Summer: a word that conjures images of long, lazy evenings, sleeping in and staying up late, cooking out and floating down a river. Riding instructors know better. We know it really means crazy hours on 100 degree sand, summer camps, endless farm maintenance, riding at dawn or by twilight to beat the heat. It means painted ponies and weird tan lines and never knowing what day it is because the lesson schedule is different every week. It is the best of times and it is the worst of times – full of treasured moments that keep me coming back, like the smile on a child’s face when she jumps for the first time, but also a season that leaves me short on time, energy, and sleep!

IMG_3478When summer smiles at you like this, you forgive everything.

On the writing front, it’s a time to let manuscripts and big writing projects simmer on the back burner. It’s a time for reviewing and revising. And it’s time for filling the well: consuming as well as creating, immersing in art, in stories, in a change of scenery – whatever sparks inspiration – as a means of renewing creative energy.

Here are some things I’ve been filling my well with lately:

Books, books, and more books. Some things are worth sacrificing a bit of sleep for. I’ve been reading a lot of YA books this year, primarily fantasy with the occasional contemporary or historical on the side. I also really, really loved Naomi Novik’s UPROOTED, which felt at once fresh and unique and yet as familiar as a childhood memory.

Beautiful cinematography. It’s entirely possible I’ve developed an obsession with the Starz adaptation of Outlander. Badass heroine, men in kilts, gorgeous music, swoon-worthy chemistry, and SCOTLAND… what else does a girl need in a show?! I’m enjoying the BBC production of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, and I’m determined to catch up on Downton Abbey and Doctor Who before the end of the year.

Playtime with the ponies. When you manage your own farm, it’s easy to get caught in an “all work and no play” spiral with the horses, especially in the summer. I’ve been remedying that by taking some dressage lessons; teaching my beloved dragon-pony how to paint; designing a Highland quadrille complete with bagpipe choreography, tartan and blue face paint; and occasionally just riding off into the sunset.

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Getting bendy. Nothing like some nighttime yoga under the stars to de-stress and gain a new (upside-down) perspective.

And of course, ice cream. Lots and lots of ice cream.

Now that the final camp is in the books and the kids are headed back to school, I’m excited to to blow some dust off my manuscripts and move forward in the writing adventure. First stop: Pitch Wars!