Raritan Valley Community College author panel–and the anthology arrives!

Last night I spent a fun evening at Raritan Valley Community College library. A panel of 4 authors–Keith Fritz, Anthony Giordano, Mercedes Rochelle, and me–met with a group at the college library. We had at least 30 people in the audience to watch the author panel, maybe more!

The author panel had a good mix of genre and form–adult horror/dark fantasy, middle grade and YA sci-fi/fantasy, adult historical fiction, and a playwright. Discussion was lively, covering everything from our process, to our greatest challenges. The audience asked about self-publishing, writer’s block, and memoir writing. The group was engaged and attentive, and it was a pleasure to talk with them. Many came up afterward and chatted with us one-on-one.

Thank you so much to Carina Gonzalez, the Raritan outreach librarian who set up this author panel, and to all the people who came to see it. It’s always gratifying to share what I’ve learned with others just starting out. I remember how overwhelming it all seemed when I first began my journey, and I am happy if I could help give someone the advice they needed to better understand something they’re struggling with.

In other news, my copies of the Silver Pen Magazines 2017 Anthology arrived today! They landed on my doorstep after I had left for my author panel, so I couldn’t take them with me, but I am so happy they are here!

Veritas Synopsis

I have finished sending out my 50 queries for The Curse of the Pharaoh’s Stone. Now, I am starting on the list for Veritas. First, however, I need to assemble the materials usually required for submission. I have a query letter and a polished manuscript, but I need the final piece–the synopsis.

The synopsis can be a chore. Squeezing 80,000 words down to one page is never easy. Doing it without losing the voice, emotion, and energy of the novel often seems impossible. For many authors, writing the synopsis is a hair-pulling endeavor.

The book I am writing a synopsis forI liked the synopsis I did for Pharaoh’s Stone, so I decided to use the same process to create the Veritas synopsis. Since this novel has three POV characters, there is pretty much no chance of fitting the entire story on one page unless I pick a single character’s story to tell. Luckily, even though all the characters arc, Jinx’s story is the central line. So hers is the story the synopsis will tell.

First, I write a sentence or two about each chapter. Then I work on making each of those as emotional and active as possible. Doing this helps avoid the “and then”, “and then”, “and then” feel of many synopses. After that, I weave those summaries together into a seamless description of the story.

If I am lucky, this polished version will be about 3 double-spaced pages, the length of a typical “long” synopsis. If not, I tweak it until it fits. Next, I single-space what I have, because a 1-page synopsis needs to be single-spaced. This version will be about 1.5 pages long, but pulling out only half a page is not terribly daunting.

A final read-through, plus another set of eyes to find mistakes, and the synopsis will be ready. Then the querying can begin!

What is your synopsis-writing process like?

Silver Pen Magazines 2017 Anthology

Earlier this week, money magically appeared in my PayPal account. When I got the email notification, I thought perhaps that Nigerian prince had finally come through.

Turns out, it was something even better.

Silver Pen Magazines 2017 AnthologyLast year, the publisher of Youth Imagination Magazine contacted me. The magazine had published a short story of mine, Dying Breath, in 2014, and they wanted it for their first ever anthology! Of course I said yes.

After the usual lengthy process of compiling an anthology, the Silver Pen Magazines 2017 Anthology hit the bookstore this week!

Silver Pen has 3 magazines, and all are represented in this anthology. There are 22 stories, including mine. I am so excited to share space with the other quality stories and authors in this book!

Dying Breath is a favorite of mine, and I am so happy it is getting a second life in the Silver Pen anthology.

How Many Rejections Is Enough to Give Up on a Story?

While many writers are choosing to go the self-publishing route in order to reap the many benefits of that path, I’m still pursuing the traditional route of trying to get an agent. Thus the newest round of queries I blogged about last week. While I am having decent response, I am also seeing rejections, and I got to wondering: is there a certain number of rejections where you should get the hint and stop querying?

Because I can’t help thinking much farther ahead than I need to (thank you, anxiety disorder), I do wonder what to do if this round of queries doesn’t land me an agent. If no agent bites, that will be over 100 rejections. In the past, that many rejections would probably signal an end to that manuscript’s life, but these days it opens up a new dilemma: Do I put the manuscript in a drawer, or move onto self-publishing?

Concept cover of The Curse of the Pharaoh's StoneI hate to put The Curse of the Pharaoh’s Stone in the drawer. It has had a long and unique gestation, so the manuscript is special to me. In addition, I truly believe in this story. Beta readers, both teachers and middle grade students,  loved it, and I feel in my bones that Pharaoh’s Stone has the potential to go far.

But do I really want to carry the weight of doing everything myself? That’s the trade off. Although the marketing largely falls to the author no matter which route you take, the initial editing, book design, cover design, and all the formatting is taken care of with traditional publishing. That’s a huge investment in time and money, as well as a steep learning curve.

The good news is that I have 2 coauthors on Pharaoh’s Stone, so this is not a decision I need to make alone. The other good news is that we have a long way to go before we need to have this discussion. We still have 48 agents to hear back from.

If you go the traditional route, at what point do you “give up” on a manuscript finding a home? Is there a magic rejection number?

Query-Go-Round 2018

January seems to be query month for me.

Last January, I queried my middle grade book The Curse of the Pharaoh’s Stone. It had some interest, but no bites. After my initial list of 50 agents passed, other issues became more pressing, and I did not continue sending it out.

Over Christmas break this past December, I compiled another list of 50 more agents for Pharaoh’s Stone, and am once more on the query-go-round.

Last time around, I wrote and compiled all 50 queries before I sent anything out. Because each agency wants you to send different material, every query is a little different. Some agencies want just a query letter, others want a certain amount of pages, others want a synopsis, and a few have online submission forms. Preparing them all is a time-consuming process.

This year, I am compiling the queries as I go along. I prepare and send about 5 a day, sometimes more, but never more than 5 at a time. I find that if I do any more than 5, I lose focus and make mistakes.

I’m not sure which approach I prefer. Compiling all the queries ahead of time allowed me to send them all out within 5 days. Doing them as I go along will take me longer to get them all out the door. I suspect the total amount of time invested is the same, it’s just a psychological difference—personal preference.

I keep a list of all the agents I contacted in Excel. Name, contact info, submission requirements,  date I sent the query, and the result. Because so many agents now have a “no interest, no answer” policy, I also have a column that tracks how many days without a response. Some agents give you a time limit beyond which means they aren’t interested, so this column allows me to see at a glance if we’ve passed the deadline. As I send the queries out, I color code my agent database. Green for those out, red for the passes, and yellow for requests for full or partials. So far I have one yellow. 🙂

Do you find that you tend to query at certain times of year? What’s your query process?

One Fish, Two Fish–We Got a New Fish

We bought our first fish January 7th, 2017. Much drama ensued. (Who knew fish had drama?) A year later, the fish saga continues. We are on fish #6.

For quite some time, we had 3 fish. They periodically battled fin rot, but overall seemed happy. Then December came.

First we lost Seashell 2 on December 6th:

RIP Seashell 2. Overnight, the guppy Seashell 2 passed away. Seashell 2 replaced Seashell 1, who died his first night with us when he jumped out of the tank while we slept.

Seashell 2 was a fighter. He was the aggressive one of our 3 fish, always asserting himself against Flower, with Gem acting as peacemaker. He and the others survived the ammonia scare of January 2017, and led a happy fish life until August of 2017.

In August, we went away for 4 days, and when we came back all the fish were showing signs of fin rot. Seashell had it worst, with a huge red streak down the middle of his tail. Emergency actions stopped the fin rot, leaving the others with ragged-edged but whole tails–however, Seashell was not so lucky. The red stripe developed a tumor of some kind, and slowly the tail behind it fell away. Eventually, he only had a thin strip of tail at the top. He was unable to swim to the top of the tank to feed, and I was certain he would die within a few days.

However, he was a fighter. For weeks I watched him scamper around the bottom of the tank, eating algae off the plants and ornaments, and snagging fish food as it sank to the bottom. I was beginning to think he might make it after all, when he was found laying on his side on the bottom this morning. Grade-Girl said a tearful goodbye as we sent him on his way to the ocean.”

Then we lost Flower on December 8th:

RIP Flower. Flower was the most beautiful fish of the surviving trio. A luxurious orange tail that is probably why my daughter named him Flower. He was gorgeous to watch swim around.

Flower took the brunt of Seashell 2’s aggression, but he was not a pushover. He would fight back until Seashell left him alone. He liked to hang out with his buddy Gem and graze on algae.

He survived the Ammonia Scare of Jan 2017, and was the least affected by the Tail Rot Scourge of Aug 2017. Soon thereafter, he began exhibiting neurotic behavior–hiding a lot, hanging in the water head up-tail down, curving his body into an apostrophe, and sometimes dashing madly around the tank and actually hitting the walls. He eventually started coming back out of hiding, but it became obvious something was wrong–his belly was slowly growing. The tumor finally got him today, sometime this afternoon. When found, his belly had begun to tear, and his tail was blood-red, possibly from an artery bursting. Although sad, he had obviously been in pain from the growing tumor for the last couple of days, and probably far longer, so its better he finally went.

Flower has joined Seashell 2 in Fish Heaven, and his body, with a few words by Grade-Girl, has been sent on its way to the ocean.”

So, Gem reigned supreme. Our smallest, most peaceful fish was the lone survivor. But we felt bad for him, because guppies are social fish.

So after we got back from our Christmas vacation, we decided to get Gem a new friend.

Meet Seashell 3:
New fish, Seashell 3







Gem didn’t like this invasion of his kingdom. Our formerly peacemaking fish (who would literally move between two sparring fish) became a tyrant, harassing Seashell. Now I feel a bit bad about getting them together. Things seem to have calmed down a bit, so maybe it will work out.

A year in, the fish saga continues.

Good-bye to Braylon

This week, an 7-year-old boy lost his battle with cancer, and I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind.

Braylon went to preschool with my daughter. He was a bright, shining child. The kind who had it all: academically advanced, a great athlete, but with such a warm, generous personality that everyone loved him.

The type of gifted person that the mythical gods of old caused to die young out of jealousy.

He was diagnosed only about 4 months ago. His type of brain cancer is considered a terminal diagnosis. Less than 10% of kids survive for 2 years after diagnosis.

Braylon faced it all with strength and good humor. A community rallied around him. You could almost dare to hope that he would be one of the very few to beat this thing, because that’s the sort of kid he was.

But miracles are, by definition, rare, and he did not get one. His passing was quick and unexpected, his fight ending just as it was moving to a new level.

I cannot imagine the pain of his parents, his little sister. Braylon’s light lives on in them, and in all those he touched. Although he is not physically here, his light  has not gone out. Like any candle, Braylon lit many others with his flame, creating a lasting legacy for such a short life.

If there is any lesson to be learned from this tragedy it is this: hold those you love close every day. Tomorrow is never promised.

Not even when you’re 7 years old.

**If you’d like to help the family, who still have the heavy medical bills to pay, please go to Braylon’s Warriors and donate whatever you can.**

Goals for 2018

If you missed last week’s Top Posts of 2017, check it out!

January is traditionally a time to re-examine your life and set goals for the new year.

Last year in early January, I had looked back at my 2016 productivity and been pleased. My intention was to keep up the good work through 2017 and churn out more work.

So how did I do?

I was only about 13,000 words below my word count for last year (405,116 to 417,914). I also had 20,000 more words in the time-consuming category of Rewrite/Revision (defined as a major reworking of already existing words), which may have accounted for the overall deficit. So I am pretty pleased with myself, considering how frazzled and unproductive I felt, particularly at the end of the year.

What plans do I have for 2018? I would like to keep my productivity on par with the past two years, and also pursue 3 other goals.

1.  I am going to query my middle grade novel to 50 more agents. I put a list together over the Christmas break, so I am ready to go with that.

2.  I am going to finish my YA SciFi and then query. Another month should see the edits finished. I compiled a list of 50 agents for this book, too, and am working on the query letter.

3.  This one is a little harder to quantify. Last year, especially the last 4 months, I felt like I was running nonstop yet not getting anything of substance done. I was exhausted and stressed and it was no fun. I am not quite sure what to do to fix this one. Probably less social media and more self-discipline.

So those are the broad strokes of my year. All those goals are attainable, and in my control,  so hopefully I will reach them.

What plans do you have for the New Year? Good luck for achieving them,  and best wishes for a healthy and prosperous 2018!


The Goose’s Quill Top Posts of 2017

At the end of every year, I look back and see what posts resonated most with my readers. This year’s top posts were a nice mix of writing posts and mom/life posts.

  1. Rejection: A Mother’s Perspective
  1. Public Speaking: 4 Circles of Fear
  1. Marketing Desert
  1. In the Query Trenches
  1. Someday
  1. A Safe Place to Recharge
  1. Time Travel: Philly to Phoenix and back in 52 hours
  1. 5 Ways Writing is like Physical Therapy
  1. When You Realize What You Were Missing

And the #1 post on 2017:

  1. Thoughts Inspired by Writers Resist Philadelphia

I hope you enjoyed some of these posts, and I hope to keep serving up posts my readers love in 2018! Have a happy and safe New Year, everyone!

Rejection: A Mother’s Perspective

Writers experience a lot of rejection–from agents, publishers, even readers. And it’s never fun. For some writers, the pain of rejection makes them question if they want to continue writing at all. That’s understandable, as a rejection of your work can feel very personal.

Rejection of your baby hurts

Story Baby

And why wouldn’t it feel personal? A writer spends months, sometimes years, perfecting their story. Many of their own emotions and experiences bleed into the story, making the opinions of others feel like a judgment on themselves. Indeed, many writers refer to their works as their “babies”—and what’s more upsetting than someone telling you your baby is ugly?

But here’s the thing—our stories are not really babies, even if we do “carry” them much longer than many pregnancies. But that fact is an awesome thing, because that means the rejections and the bad reviews don’t have to hurt as much, because none of that rejection is permanent.

With a real baby, you only get once chance to do it right. All of life is a first draft, with no possibility of revision, no Undo button. With a real baby:

You can’t put her in a drawer and give up when the going gets tough in the messy middle.

You can’t go back and rewrite the story arcs that didn’t go the way you intended.

You can’t reword the harsh dialogue you spoke to her yesterday.

You can’t make a scene unfold exactly the way you wish to make her happy.

You can’t make sure the boy that made her cry on the playground gets his comeuppance.

You can’t manipulate time to focus on pleasant moments and speed past the painful ones.

Most of all, you cannot hold her in your arms and protect her from the world.

We all want to share our stories with the world. And it’s terrifying to put something you love out in the public eye. Rejections sting. A horrid review can wound deeply. But neither of those things spell the end of your career. In this day of self-publishing, you can always put out a revised version of a book that didn’t quite measure up. When one book doesn’t work out, you can write another one. Unlike with a real baby, you can start over when things go awry. You don’t get only one chance to do it right.

So when you start to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, try to remember: it’s not personal, and it’s not The End.

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