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Behind the Scenes: Release Week!

BehindtheScenesBlogTour3

If you’re a writer at any stage in the path to publication– drafting, editing, querying, or just trying to find a great read– chances are, you have probably stumbled across Dahlia Adler’s blog, The Daily Dahlia. (And if you haven’t– go visit, because it’s awesome.) You should also follow Dahlia on Twitter if you don’t already, because she’s full of amazingly helpful information (and is also quite hilarious)!

The lovely Dahlia Adler!

The lovely Dahlia Adler!

 

Dahlia is such an all-around positive person in the writing community, from making all of our TBR lists a lot longer with her book recs to posting inspiring author stories to blogging about all different facets of the publishing industry, all while doing her own writing. So I’m happy to be part of her blog hop to celebrate the release week of her debut, BEHIND THE SCENES, which officially releases today! I just bought mine for my Kobo and I’m dying to start reading. BtS is the story of Ally, a high school senior whose best friend is TV star Vanessa Park. Ally nabs a job as Van’s on-set assistant to earn some much-needed money, but things get more complicated when Van’s sexy co-star Liam gets involved… and Van and Liam are forced to date for the tabloids just after he and Ally share their first kiss. Read more about it here and just try not to get hooked.

In honor of BtS, I’m doing a behind the scenes look at something I make time to do when I’m not writing. Something that relaxes me and lets me zone out of whatever characters and dilemmas are taking up residence in my brain.
I love to paint.
I taught myself how to paint. I never had any formal training, and I never really considered it. Mostly because it was never a serious pursuit for me– more something that I didn’t want to get too serious about, because I was afraid that would take away from the fun. I used to sell my paintings at festivals and art fairs, but generally these days I just make them for family and friends. I usually work with acrylics, but once in awhile I’ll do something in oils. I have an easel set up in my office overlooking the backyard and I try to spend time there as often as I can.
I paint just about anything– landscapes, people, animals– but some of my favorite subjects are birds and flowers. There’s just something peaceful about them that I gravitate toward.

 On the other end of the spectrum, I really have a thing for tigers. They’re fascinating. One day I’d love to see one in real life (and not just the zoo).

And once in awhile, I just feel like painting something totally weird. Because weird is always the most fun.

Painting7

I hope you all enjoyed the look into my hobby.

If you need me at all today, you’ll find me glued to my Kobo…

Happy release week, Dahlia, and thanks for letting me be a part of it!

behind-the-scenes-adler-cover

 

 

 

Office, before and after

Desk, before.

Desk, before.

After!

Desk, after!

 

One of my favorite things about moving into a new house was getting my own office. I was so excited to have my own space to write and the freedom to do whatever I wanted with it. Since the room is small and it wasn’t in our budget to buy new furniture, I decided to see what I could do with a bit of white paint and the desk I have had since I was a kid. The furniture I had for my office didn’t match, so I thought whitewashing it would make the room look a lot more streamlined.

The project was pretty straightforward, and quite easy. I picked up a primer and white paint at a hardware store and cranked up some music while I worked. After two coats of primer and two coats of paint, all I had to do was wait.

I wanted my office to be simple and uncluttered, but still have enough personal details for it to feel like me. I upholstered an old stool to provide a seat in front of the window, which looks out onto our backyard. I made space in a corner to set my easel for when I want to paint.

The project didn’t take very much time (or money), but the impact went a long way. It just goes to show how a couple of small changes can make a huge difference! And now that I’m content with my work space, I’m happily seated at my new (old) desk, ready to write lots of words. Even though I can (and do) write everywhere when the occasion calls for it, it feels great to have a space to call my own now.

 

 

I have an agent!

LaurieContract

 

So, the superexciting news I have been dying to share with everybody is that I have signed with the amazing Kathleen Rushall of the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency! I’m so thrilled and honored to be represented by Kathleen and I can’t wait to start working with her!

That’s the short version. The long version? I wrote a book. I queried it. I learned from it. Then I wrote a second book, and learned from that one too. Then I wrote a third book, my first attempt at YA contemporary (ironically, titled FIRSTS)  and decided to enter it in a contest called PitchWars, run by the fabulous Brenda Drake. My PitchWars mentors, Lori Goldstein and Evelyn Ehrlich, helped whip my manuscript into the best possible shape. FIRSTS garnered several requests during PitchWars, but after the contest was over, I started sending out queries as well, and this is where Kathleen found me– in the slush pile. Regular, old-fashioned querying DOES work!

When I received an email from Kathleen asking to set up a call for later that day, my stomach started doing flips. Was this the call? I tried not to get my hopes up and did my best to get through the rest of my workday without thinking about it at least once every ten seconds. (It didn’t work.) But when Kathleen called, she made me feel at ease right away. She told me how much she enjoyed FIRSTS and my writing. Then she told me she wanted to offer representation. (At least, this is what I think happened. I was too excited to remember it exactly!)

I sort of lost my ability to string sentences together, but Kathleen was smart and kind and answered all of my questions. She let me know her ideas for FIRSTS, great ideas that all resonated with me. And she was interested in my future writing, too. I had the feeling Kathleen was somebody I could have a great and long-lasting relationship with– somebody who would fully support me throughout my career and advocate for me and my work. She appreciates that I like to push boundaries in my writing and is willing to take risks with me, which I think is so important.

The next couple weeks were pretty hectic. My husband and I moved into a new house and I received three more offers of representation. I feel so honored to have been considered by every agent who offered. They were all so thoughtful and insightful, and made me realize even more just how amazing the writing community really is. I’m grateful for all of the agents who took the time to read FIRSTS and offer feedback and kind congratulations. Really, I just feel so lucky to get to be a part of such a great community.

If you are reading this and in the query trenches right now or feeling down about writing, don’t give up. There were several times with my first book where I wanted to throw in the towel, that I thought life would be easier without the cycle of stress and hope and rejection that came from sending my work into the world. And yeah, it would be easier. But I could never give up, because I had to write. A huge, irreplaceable part of my happiness is tied to it. So I started reading more YA and figuring out why I loved the books I loved, and what made them so memorable. I wrote without self-editing, something I had always struggled with in the past. I spent more and more time logging in word counts every day. I used to struggle to hit the 1K mark, then found myself reaching 5K or more without even realizing it. I was having more fun with writing because it didn’t feel like work. I wasn’t so critical or hard on myself. I let myself write things that definitely sucked and probably didn’t make sense, knowing I could go back and fix them later.

Another piece of advice I have is to enter contests. Inevitably, there will be some you are chosen for and some you’re not. I have had my share of both experiences. But I can honestly say that entering PitchWars was the best decision I made for my writing career. Lori and Evelyn are HUGELY influential to me, and I have learned so much from them. It didn’t stop when the contest ended, either. Lori and Evelyn have been there for me every step of the way. They have answered all of my silly questions and offered so much wisdom and encouragement and support.  So to both of you wonderful ladies– a wholehearted THANK YOU! I only hope I can help somebody out in the future the way you two have done for me. The best thing about contests isn’t the exposure or the requests from agents– it’s the amazing people you meet. Like my lovely CP, Emily Martin, who offered several invaluable insights on FIRSTS. (Thank you, Emily!)

And lastly, here are the stats, for those of you who are interested. I have included the stats for the first book I wrote along with my stats for FIRSTS, just to show how much of a difference reading widely and writing every day makes.

WAITRESS

Queries sent: 57

Full requests: 12

Partial requests: 5

Rejections: 22

CNRs: 18

FIRSTS

Queries sent: 33

Full requests: 16

Partial requests: 1

Rejections: 12

CNRs: 4

And last of all… remember that it only takes one yes, so if being traditionally published is your goal, never stop until you find it!

Happy writing (and querying)!

On Inspiration

Gatsbyquote

As writers we find inspiration in all sorts of places. From our dreams. From situations we face or faced in real life. From eavesdropping on conversations (come on, you do it too). From newspaper articles. Sometimes when you least expect it. Often when you’re not looking. Occasionally when you’re scrambling to find a pen to write it down before it disappears.

I used to think I was no good at conjuring up new ideas. I once complained to my mom that I wasn’t an “idea person.” I felt stunted and not the least bit creative. Now I know differently. I was just waiting, expecting a brilliant notion to smack me in the head, and it wasn’t going to happen that way. Now I know that ideas will only come if you’re open to finding inspiration anywhere and everywhere. And once you open the door to inspiration, it makes itself at home. You’re not going to get anywhere just waiting for something to happen. Inspiration won’t just come and knock– you have to let it in. It’s the same with writing and everything else in life.

This quote is one of my all-time favorites, from one of my all-time favorite books, The Great Gatsby.

They were a satisfactory hint of the unreality of reality, a promise that the rock of the world was founded securely on a fairy’s wing.

I guess it could mean a lot of different things. To me it means that the world is full of layers. What you see on the surface gives way to so many other dimensions, if you know where to look and trust yourself to look there. On the bottom, holding everything up like a shelf, is imagination. Whimsy. Creativity. And inspiration. Everything that we seek as writers, everything we need to bring stories to life. Sometimes it’s buried underneath day jobs, bills to pay, morning traffic, monotony. Sometimes the minutiae of everyday life. It’s easy for inspiration to be covered in all that other stuff. But as writers, our job is to peel away the layers and go there.

And once we do, we always know how to find our way back.

Throwback Thursday: My Checkerboard

Magazine shoot in Greece.

Magazine shoot in Greece.

I once had a university advisor describe my academic trajectory as a “checkerboard.” All over the place. Interrupted. Hard to follow. The opposite of linear.

This got me thinking about writing, and how all writers have a different path too. Some people get an agent with their first book. Others write several books until one is the perfect fit. Some decide to self-publish. It’s easy to compare ourselves to other writers and wish we had what they had. It’s easy to get disheartened about rejections. But everybody is different. Everybody has their own way, whether it be a straight line or a squiggly line or a checkerboard. And no way is perfect, even though it might look like that from the outside.

I started university a year early, mostly because I couldn’t wait to get out of high school.  I thought I would get an Honors degree, followed by some kind of Masters. Then modeling happened, and I had a decision to make: stay on my academic path or jump way off it.

I jumped. I stopped university two credits shy of a degree for the chance to model in Tokyo. School would always be there, but that opportunity wouldn’t. After Tokyo I didn’t go back to school. I went to Athens, and after Athens, Paris. My friends back home were cramming for exams, going to parties, figuring out what they wanted to do with their lives. I was running around to castings and photo shoots and trying to navigate the Metro lines in Tokyo (update: never did). But when I came home from Paris and decided I missed school and wanted to go back, it was difficult finding traction. I didn’t know what to major in. I questioned the worth of classes previously taken. I was confused. I didn’t know where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do. There were moments I wondered what my life would be like if I hadn’t deviated from my path. Everything would be so much easier linear.

Magazine shoot.

Magazine shoot.

But I’m grateful for my checkerboard, especially now. Modeling has been a huge part of my life and has taught me things I could never learn in a classroom. I learned how to handle rejection and criticism. Models have to have thick skin– you go to so many castings each day, and most of them are for jobs you’re not going to get. You learn how to celebrate the ones you do get and don’t sweat the ones you don’t. You make friends and celebrate their successes, and they celebrate yours. I have done my best to apply this attitude to the business of trying to get published. My road might not look the same as someone else’s, and that’s okay.

Because in the end, I really do believe things work out how they are supposed to. Nobody’s path is completely straight. We all have decisions to make and bumps in the road. We all have deviations and setbacks. The challenge is seeing them for the good, and appreciating the change they evoke within us. The challenge is learning to love our checkerboards for what they are– the roadmaps to our lives.

Pantser Problems: Stuck In The Middle

I knew this time would come, sooner or later, with my latest WIP. That annoying question that presents itself as a roadblock, stopping you from moving on. A question in the form of three little words.

What happens next?

This WIP sprang from my head quickly and I hit the 25K mark in less than a week. Things were going great and the words were flowing. I was loving the honeymoon phase, where I felt like everything was coming together exactly how I wanted it to. But a couple days ago, the words dried up. Hitting 30K felt a bit like climbing a steep hill and getting tired and not being able to see the top. I slowed down. I didn’t know where to take the plot. It was like the characters were just standing there, waiting for me to give them direction, and meanwhile I was waiting for them to just do something, but they weren’t having it.

I think I know where I want the story to go– I’m just not sure how to get there.

Maybe it’s the tone of the WIP weighing on me. It’s more subdued and less humorous than the way I normally write. The whole tone of the MS is darker. It’s all about the weight of a secret, and each character has his or her share. My MC isn’t snarky or sarcastic. She’s unhappy and lonely but still hopeful. It’s a challenge to write, but I knew I wanted to write this MS– and had to– because the idea just wouldn’t get out of my head. And I think you have to really love an idea to spend a whole book on it.

The challenge I’m facing now is writing through the unknown, even though I can’t see the top of that hill. I need to have faith that everything will unfold as long as I keep writing. I always feel like the moments where you aren’t sure what to say but your fingers start typing it out anyway are the most fulfilling moments as a writer. I live for those moments where I can think, aha! This makes perfect sense. What was I so worried about?

So I’m going to keep writing and keep grasping for those stubborn words until they flow again. I’m adopting Dory’s famous refrain from Finding Nemo as my mantra. “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.” Eventually the surface will be there and things will make sense again.

To everyone else working on a WIP, happy writing, and I hope the words flow freely! If they’re not now, they will again. And for those of you revising– you have already created something amazing and are just refining it, making it shine. No matter what stage you’re at– starting a new MS, rewriting an old one, or stuck somewhere in the awkward middle with me– we’re creating something, and that we can all be proud of.

My PitchWars Experience

Here we are, on the eve of PitchWars! For those of us who participated, it’s kind of like Christmas Eve, with even more excitement and definitely more nerves.

I can’t believe how fast this month has gone by… and I’m pretty sure I have never said that about January before, because here in Canada, the abundance of show usually makes January intolerable. But because most of my free time has been devoted to everything PitchWars– doing revisions, crafting pitches, corresponding with mentors– the time just flew.

I went into PitchWars really hoping for somebody to come in and pick apart my manuscript and suggest changes to make the MS stronger as a whole. I definitely got that and a whole lot more! When I first heard about the contest and checked out all of the mentors, I was overwhelmed with the number of amazing people I could submit my work to. The hardest part was narrowing it down to four! But two mentors really stood out from the start– Lori Goldstein and Evelyn Ehrlich. Their wish lists aligned the best with what I had written, and I got a sense of their personalities and thought we would be a good match.

Unlike many other hopeful mentees, I didn’t have the chance to scroll obsessively through the pre-PitchWars Twitter feed because I had laser eye surgery done that week. I had to stay away from my computer and phone for a full twenty-four hours, and I was instructed to avoid staring at devices for the first few days afterwards (torture, right?). Lori and Evelyn both emailed me to ask for more chapters and a synopsis, so I used my spurts on the computer wisely. Looking back, I’m kind of glad I couldn’t stalk the Twitter feed, because I think staying away helped me keep my sanity.

Imagine all of our surprise when the mentors’ picks were announced early on Brenda Drake’s blog. THAT day I couldn’t stay off the Twitter feed. I was happy– and shocked!– to see my name twice under the mentors’ choices. I was chosen as Lori’s mentee and Evelyn’s first alternate. I felt like I had won the mentor lottery (a feeling that was validated many times afterward)!

Lori and Evelyn both helped me so much with my manuscript, which went into the contest with the title FAST GIRL and is now called FIRSTS (one of the many things my mentors guided me on). Lori read the full MS and her level of feedback absolutely blew me away. She was so detailed and thorough, and best of all, she really understood where I wanted to go with the MS. All of the changes she proposed were things I knew would strengthen the MS, and did. She taught me to consider every word choice and to always make sure I was always saying something in the most effective way. She let me know where I needed more emotion to make my main character more relatable. She pointed out my filter words (“look” was seriously overused!). Lori and Evelyn both helped me craft a more effective query letter, and they worked with me to create a pitch to use in the agent round. They worked incredibly hard for me!

I honestly can’t thank my mentors enough. I have learned so much from them, and I wouldn’t trade this opportunity for the world. I’m so glad I got to know Lori and Evelyn over the past couple of months. They’re wonderful people and amazingly talented writers. I can’t wait to buy all their books. I’m also grateful that I got to know the other mentees. I will keep my fingers crossed that everybody gets lots of requests, and I can’t wait to hear about the good things that will happen for all of you!

PitchWars isn’t for writers who don’t like critiques. PitchWars is for writers who are open to making changes, to ripping their MS apart to put it back together as something better. If you’re willing to work hard, you’ll reap the rewards. I got everything I hoped for out of PitchWars, plus a lot more. Thanks to my mentors, I’m more conscientious of my own writing and will apply the skills I learned to future WIPs as well. So if you’re a writer on the fence about applying, DO IT! You won’t regret it.

And of course, PitchWars wouldn’t be possible without Brenda Drake, the contest mastermind and all-around positive person in the writing community. Thank you, Brenda, for bringing so many writers together and forging a sense of community. We are all very appreciative!

Good luck to everyone tomorrow… I’ll be cheering for all of you!

(My lovely mentor Lori’s great post about what she looked for in a mentee!)

On Character Names

What comes first: the character or the name?

I think it’s different for everyone, just like some writers are plotters and some are pantsers. I’m working hard on revisions for FIRSTS at the moment, but I have several WIP ideas circulating in my head. That’s all they are– ideas, no plot– but one thing they have in common is that I have named the main characters.

I have heard writers say they aren’t attached at all to their characters’ names, that they could switch one and put a new one in without thinking twice. But for some of us, the thought of changing a name would be a huge deal. For me, the name is usually a starting point, and a font of inspiration. Once I name a main character, I feel like I’m on the way to giving the story legs. The name is the one thing I know I have figured out.

This might account for some of my struggles writing WAITRESS. I didn’t have a name for my main character for most of the book. I toyed with a couple different ones, but none felt quite right, until I settled on Bethany. I kept throwing different names at the story, and they just didn’t work. I would think, “I don’t know who she is, but she’s definitely not a ______.” In the end, Bethany was the only one that felt like the character for me. I even switched up secondary character names because I wasn’t happy with them. Most of the supporting cast started the book with one name and ended with a different one.

For DAMSELS, I knew the main characters’ names before I knew anything else about the book. I knew Briar and Savannah would be the best friends at the story’s core, and I knew Carson was the only name that would fit the guy they both fall in love with. I never once questioned any of the names I came up with. And this time, the characters felt more like real people– people I could fully visualize in my head, like they were people I knew instead of characters on paper. (Which is good, considering I spent more time with those people in my head than people in real life.) When I finished writing the book, I missed them like real people too.

In FIRSTS, the main character’s name is Mercedes. I loved the name because it worked perfectly with the story. I didn’t have the other characters in my head when the story started, but as soon as one of them would pop up on the page, I would find myself typing a name that fit. And this might be my favorite thing about writing: if you have faith in yourself as a writer, everything will fall into place.

I’m excited to start on my next project. With the main character’s name in my head, I feel like I’m already getting to know her, forming a picture of her, waiting to give her a story. Writing is a solitary profession, but I feel like I always have company.

Happy writing, everyone!

— Laurie

On 2013: The Learning Year

The tail end of 2012 and all of 2013 was a whirlwind.

I went to Africa. I got engaged. I moved. I made lots of paintings. I got married. I  finished and queried one book (WAITRESS) and wrote another (DAMSELS)– both New Adult contemporaries. I got several requests for partials and fulls– and also my share of rejections. I got great feedback that I will never forget. I accepted that it’s okay if your first book isn’t “the one,” or even your second or third or tenth, as long as you keep writing. Then, on a whim, I wrote a third book (FIRSTS), a Young Adult contemporary. An idea popped into my head and the book pretty much wrote itself. (Wouldn’t it be nice if that could happen all of the time?) I completed it in approximately three weeks.

2013 was a year of learning for me. I learned how I write best, how to write faster, how to use my time more efficiently. I learned to be less critical of my writing, and I learned that putting ideas on paper is the only way to ensure they become something other than an idea. I used to be almost afraid to write because I thought I was bound to disappoint myself– nothing could live up to the expectations I set in my head. But now I realize that NOT writing would be the only way to do that. Because to get anything remotely resembling a novel, you have to start with words.

I found out last year that I’m a full-fledged pantser. When I wrote WAITRESS, I tried plotting and felt completely stifled. I made outlines and didn’t follow them, and found my characters getting up to things I didn’t plan. I got frustrated that I wasn’t following my own formula. So when an idea came to me for DAMSELS, I decided to just fly with it and not outline at all. I let the characters dictate what happened next. And it was a hell of a lot more fun for me. I didn’t always feel in control– and I liked it. I thought DAMSELS would be a possible trilogy or series, but I haven’t written the sequel yet– mostly because of FIRSTS and the urgency with which it infiltrated my mind.

I also read a lot last year. I read New Adult, Young Adult, thrillers, classics, non-fiction. I have always been a voracious reader, but last year I read with a purpose. I read critically, and I sought out those “it” factors that made me interested in a book. I thought a lot about what makes a book readable, and what it came down to for me wasn’t necessarily genre or style or voice (although voice is an undeniably huge factor). But what makes a book a great book, for me, is that I just can’t wait to find out what happens next. It’s the suspense, the tension, the stakes, the hook.

This year, I have several ideas that are practically beating against the inside of my brain. I used to worry about not being able to generate ideas for books, and I wondered how authors could keep coming up with fresh material time and time again. But I’m learning that it’s about going with your instinct and writing the story that only you can write.

So going into 2014, I set some goals for myself to build on what I learned in 2013. I’m going to research and query with the hopes of finding an agent, but I won’t make the mistake of waiting for something to happen without working on another project. I always want to feel excited by a project and my ability to grow, and I think part of that is always working on something besides what you’re querying. Mostly, I want to always remind myself exactly how much I love writing. I’m going to keep creating characters and their stories, because there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.

This blog is another goal for 2014. One of the best things I did last year was join the online writing community. I met some awesome writers on Agent Query Connect, which is a terrific resource for aspiring writers. I also created a Twitter account and met more great people there. Twitter exposed me to the world of contests, which was both overwhelming and rewarding. I learned the art of creating pitches for my books in 140 characters or less– and if there’s one thing harder than writing a book, it’s writing a pitch. I submitted FIRSTS (previously titled FAST GIRL) to Brenda Drake‘s Pitch Wars last month and was lucky enough to be chosen as Lori Goldstein‘s  mentee and Evelyn Ehrlich‘s first alternate. Working with these talented ladies has been a truly wonderful experience, and FIRSTS– and my writing in general– has improved as a result.

I put off starting a blog because I questioned whether I had anything interesting or original to say, but 2014 is also going to be the year I put myself out there a bit more. I want to connect with even more amazing people in the writing community, and I want to support other writers. I want to make this a space where I share my thoughts and things that inspire me.

Happy 2014, and happy writing! If you have stumbled upon my site, I hope you come again.

— Laurie

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