Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Guest Blogger: Kelly Stanley

I have been so blessed to meet amazing writers from around the country, many of whom are bloggers as well. The other day I was thinking how incredibly unfair it is to keep these awesome people and their writing to myself! Then it hit me: I should ask them to guest blog. Much to my surprise and relief, they have accepted! 

So without further ado, let me introduce Kelly Stanley, an incredibly talented Christian writer and one of the most amazing women I've ever met. (I was just beaten out as Vice-President of her fan club, much to my dismay!) I should also mention she's a fellow ginger, so you know she's fierce! Enjoy!

As I read something the other day, I was reminded just how powerful words can be. Even when they’re pedantic or common or not particularly eloquent. Sometimes there is power in the way words are strung together, sometimes there’s poetry in a well-turned phrase, and sometimes it’s the stark simplicity of a sentiment that reaches down into your core to tug on your emotions in a way deeper, more primal than language. But in this case, the words were average. Sentences were grammatically correct, for the most part, but nothing remarkable in and of themselves. The language wasn’t flowery or colorful. If anything, it could be described as raw. Unpolished. Unpretentious. And you know what? Those words changed my life. That may sound a bit dramatic — especially when I tell you that I wrote them. Here’s the thing, though: I’m not professing to be an amazing writer. The impact of those words on my soul had little or nothing to do with my ability as a writer, and everything to do with the simple fact that the words were mine.

For the past few years, I’ve struggled with my faith, starting around the time my mom was diagnosed with extensive stage small-cell lung cancer. I’ve seen God heal people. He didn’t heal her, although even at my most cynical I will say that she wouldn’t have survived those three years without some kind of divine intervention. But still, she died. And, no matter how irrational, I’ve found that it’s hard for me to let go and trust Him the way I once did. In order to try to protect my heart from pain and disillusionment, I’ve kept God at a distance.

But then, in preparation for a conversation with a potential agent, I re-read the book proposal I wrote this summer. And I found myself blown away. Again, not by my talent, but by the truth contained within the stories. Real-life experiences of faith. Healing, emotional and physical. Prayer answered in surprising, unexpected ways. Compassion. Intimacy. All the things I needed to know — to remember — about Him. And instead of rolling my eyes, as I find myself doing when I hear exuberant testimonies that seem too good to be true, I found myself wiping away tears because, finally, I had found some words I could not dispute. These were my own stories, told in my own words, written in my own hand. I discovered I wasn’t able to argue with that. As the memories of my personal experiences resurfaced, God’s truth imprinted itself on my soul.

There are lots of reasons for writers to write. Some of us are born storytellers. Some are world-builders, debaters, scholars or expository journalists. I can’t imagine a world in which I couldn’t write my own words or read those of others. But I’m here to encourage you not to neglect a very important audience. Keep some pages to yourself. Spend time recording, examining, searching, and exploring, and do it all without having a specific audience/agent/publisher/editor in mind.

A very wise friend told me, as I was beginning what would become my big spiritual awakening, to record my experiences and watch for coincidences. Those journals have become one of my greatest treasures. When I read the emotions and insights and experiences I had, I remember it all over again. No one will ever be able to convince me it’s not true, that it wasn’t real, because even if my mind gets fuzzy and the details are eclipsed by my everyday mental clutter, I have my own private record of the truth. Since I wasn’t writing for anyone else, my observations were honest. They were also often clumsy and convoluted and wondrous and confused and emotional and awe-inspiring. Sometimes stilted and awkward, sometimes flowery and exuberant. In other words, they accurately represent that time of my life.

As writers, we draw from life, whether we write fiction or non, essays or poetry. There’s truth to be found everywhere. Just like you wouldn’t (I hope) share every intimate detail of your marriage with the whole world, you should keep some of your own writing for yourself. We all long, secretly or openly, I think, to be known. To be read, to be seen, to be published. But the private pages we hold back? These are so much more than the tiny white leather diary you kept in fourth grade. These words record. Inspire. Observe. Amuse. Question. And reveal. In your exploration for the uncensored truth, you will be reminded of all that you know. The book I’m writing, called Praying Upside Down, talks about opening your eyes to see God in a new way. Trust me, you’ll be amazed at all you will see, if you’re willing to look. Just be sure to look away every once in a while and write it all down

Kelly Stanley spent her life on the periphery of the art world, first as the daughter of a professional watercolorist, then as an architecture major and then graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in graphic design. For over two decades, she's built her career in marketing and advertising, working as a graphic designer, art director, creative director, copywriter, and consultant. If it has to do with creativity and communication, she's probably done it.

When she's not writing, Kelly can be found delivering her 16-year-old daughter to swim practice and her 12-year-old son to basketball practice, or listening to her 19-year-old daughter debate the pros and cons of various majors and colleges. She's loved having lunch with friends, coffee with her iPad, and spends any otherwise-unscheduled evenings on the couch with her husband of 22 years. She's always frazzled, always reading, always watching, always waiting to see what she can discover of our mighty God in this magnificent, confusing, contradictory world.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

2013 Debut Author Interview: Megan Shepherd

Today marks a first for me. I am introducing a reappearing blog segment highlighting some of the hottest debut YA authors of 2013. This month, I’m interviewing Megan Shepherd, the author of the upcoming Gothic thriller, THE MADMAN’S DAUGHTER.

Here's what GoodReads has to say about it:
Sixteen-year-old Juliet Moreau has built a life for herself in London—working as a maid, attending church on Sundays, and trying not to think about the scandal that ruined her life. After all, no one ever proved the rumors about her father's gruesome experiments. But when she learns he is alive and continuing his work on a remote tropical island, she is determined to find out if the accusations are true.
Accompanied by her father's handsome young assistant, Montgomery, and an enigmatic castaway, Edward—both of whom she is deeply drawn to—Juliet travels to the island, only to discover the depths of her father's madness: He has experimented on animals so that they resemble, speak, and behave as humans. And worse, one of the creatures has turned violent and is killing the island's inhabitants. Torn between horror and scientific curiosity, Juliet knows she must end her father's dangerous experiments and escape her jungle prison before it's too late. Yet as the island falls into chaos, she discovers the extent of her father's genius—and madness—in her own blood.
Inspired by H. G. Wells's classic THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MONREAU, THE MADMAN’S DAUGHTER is a dark and breathless Gothic thriller about the secrets we'll do anything to know and the truths we'll go to any lengths to protect.

Sounds amazing, right? I KNOW!

SJS: So, Megan, where did you get the inspiration for THE MADMAN’S DAUGHTER?

MS: THE MADMAN’S DAUGHTER is a reimagining of HG Wells’ classic novel THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU, but it actually started as inspiration from the TV show LOST. I was a huge fan of the mysterious island setting on that show, and when it ended I was thinking a lot about islands, and I happened to be re-reading Bram Stoker’s DRACULA for fun, and the idea just hit me to do a retelling of a classic!

SJS: What, if any, characteristics do you and the protagonist, Juliet, have in common? How are you different?

MS: Juliet is a very tough girl. She came from wealth, but she’s had to survive on her own in a world where women, especially young poor women, have a very hard time. I would say we’re more different than we are alike. She’s inherited a little of her father’s madness, and that comes with tendencies toward violence and a skill with science…neither of which I share in the least! However, when I was Juliet’s age (16), I also traveled to an exotic, tropical locale for my own adventure. I was an exchange student to Costa Rica, and a lot of the jungle setting came from my memories of that location.

SJS: How long did it take to complete the project starting with the idea and ending when you signed your book deal?

MS: It took nine months from idea to book deal. I had a fulltime job at the time, so I was writing evenings and weekends and hardly saw my friends and family.

SJS: That’s incredible! Tell me about how you found your agent?

MS: I made a careful list of agents I wanted to query (maybe about 80) and decided to send the queries off in batches of 10. That way, if I got all form rejections, I would know my query letter just wasn’t working and I could fix it before burning my bridges with all those agents. Luckily, though, I got great response from that first batch. Quinlan Lee at Adams Literary requested my full manuscript the day after I sent the query, and the next day, Josh Adams had offered representation.

SJS: Great advice! What surprised you most about the publishing process?

MS: I guess as an aspiring writer I was so focused on getting The Book Deal that I didn’t think much about what would happen after. It’s just as stressful to try to get a second deal, and struggle with professional jealousies and disappointments and rejections, and to try to turn one deal into a career. But just as there are some “lows” I hadn’t thought much about, the “highs” of publishing are pretty darn great too.

SJS: What other advice would you give to all the "not yet published" writers out there?

MS: The most common trait I see in other published writers is that they work incredibly hard. They work hours and hours and hours a day, until the work is as good as they can possibly make it. I don’t know any published writers who sit around hoping for another book deal but not actually slaving away at their keyboards. In aspiring writers, I sometimes see a desire to be published, but a reluctance to actually do the work it takes.

SJS: What's next for you? Any new projects coming up? And can you give us any hints at what to expect in Book 2 of the Madman's Daughter trilogy?

MS: Well, THE MADMAN’S DAUGHTER is inspired by Wells’ THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU, and I can say that the second book in the series follows the same characters and plotline, but some of the themes and ideas were inspired by THE STRANGE CASE OF DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE. In addition to The Madman’s Daughter series, I’m also working on a YA scifi series called THE CAGE, about six teenagers put in an elaborate “human zoo” by a super intelligent alien race.

SJS: That sounds awesome! What are you doing talking to me? Get back to work. I have a space reserved for all of those on my TBR shelf! Seriously, Megan, thank you so much for letting me pick you brain! It's been inspiring to hear about THE MADMAN’S DAUGHTER and your path to publication! I know those of us still trudging through the slush pile will take your advice to heart! Best of luck with your launch and I look forward to reading THE MADMAN’S DAUGHTER when it comes out on January 29, 2013. 

MS: Thanks for having me on the blog, Sarah!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

My Favorite Blogs: Mad Libs Style

Jane Friedman and Sara Zarr were walking down the beach discussing their future trip to YAtopia.

“Are you sure we don’t have to worry about the Apocolypsies?” Jane asked, ready to begin another Pub Rants.

“Don’t worry,” Sara comforted her. “Last I heard, they were at The Writing Room. Hey, did you know Brenda Drake Writes under the Influence of Coffee?”

Jane shrugged. “Who doesn’t these days.”

“True,” Sara agreed. "Hey, are you going to Midwest Writer's Workshop this summer?"

Suddenly, the Query Shark, the most feared beast in the Kingdom of Wordplay, came crashing out of the ocean, teeth bared and shreds of submissions hanging from its bottom lip.

Without thinking, they dropped to their knees but the impact of the waves had them Praying Upside Down.

What else is possible?” Jane cried out.

Luckily, a flip-flop wearing knight on a surf board came to their rescue.

“Look,” Sara shouted. “It’s Nathan Bransford.”

Nathan distracted the shark with a Myriad of books. But Sara and Jane were still struggling to make it to shore against the waves. Thank goodness a sea creature came by and whisked them to the beach.

“Who are you?” Sara asked, gasping on the sand.

I am Otter,” the creature said, his voice sweet and kind.

Jane bent down toward the otter, her hand extended.

Don’t pet me, I’m writing,” Otter cried. “How else do you expect me to Make a Living Writing?”

As Otter scampered away, Jane turned to Sara and said, “That’s it. I’m moving to Kidletville.”

“I think you're On the Write Track,” Sara said with a nod. “I hear they have a good Writer Therapy outpatient program.”

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2013: The Year of Pushing Harder

Last year, I promised myself I was going to have an agent by the end of 2012. Needless to say, that did not happen. And the truth is, I have no one but myself to blame. I kinda chickened out. I let the rhetoric of negativity cloud out the power of determination. In short, I forgot to BE PASSIONATE.

But that was then and today is a new start.

I stopped making resolutions a few years ago. It seemed silly. I mean, a week later I was already ignoring my resolve, so why bother. This year, there is a plan instead. A plan to push myself harder. Not just in writing, but in the sphere in which I live. The first step of the plan is to make priorities. Where does writing fall in the long list of things I am obligated to do? How much time can I dedicate to it and not neglect my family? How well will I use the time I do have so that I make this year the one where my writing world moves forward?

It’s all possible. Sure, it’s probably going to mean setting a timer up at my desk so that I only spend so much time on social media. And I may have to pre-program some tweets. It will also mean stock piling blog posts when I’m traveling or when I’m sitting at my desk and the story is blocked.

The second step is to make sure my mind AND body are fit. It means realizing that even though I hate working out, it’s a great way to shed the pounds that give my inner critic more ammunition, move my muscles after hunching over a computer all day, and make contact with those pesky ideas when I’m experience writer’s block.

Which brings me to step three. I need to push harder when it comes to cleaning and organization. Seriously. I suck at this. I mean really suck at it. As in I could totally take on Roseanne Barr in a domestic goddess cage match and crush her. As in every time there’s a knock at the door I’m sure it’s a new spin off of Horders: Before the Cockroaches and Dead Mice Invade. (I said I was messy, not dirty.) I think you get what I’m saying. In the next year, it’s time to declutter and find a place for whatever is left.

This step is also going to require a renewed commitment to pre-planning. Pre-planning menus so I don’t forget to feed the kidlets and recognizing that sometimes, I’m going to get into a major writing zone and not want to spend hours on a meal… okay, 30 minutes, who am I trying to kid? Regardless, I need to have healthy meals stashed in the freezer for days when oven to the table is all I have time for.

And then there’s the writing. I’ve realized that there is a chance my “new adult” material may not garner the love of an agent. (See previous post if you’re thinking to yourself, “What?”) And as much as I have said I would never consider self-publishing, if I am going to stay true to my literary vision, it might be the direction I have to go. Which is why this blog and my “mommy blog” have moved up in importance. (If you’re curious, you can check out Kidletville and find out about the softer/snarkier side of me.) If I enter into the self-publishing melee, I need a platform from which to launch. So in addition to revisions on The Partizans and Replay and writing book #2 of The Partizans, I am also pushing myself to posting on each blog twice a week. I know… it’s insane. But it’s all about priorities, remember. It takes deep commitment to make it in the literary world. Doesn’t matter if you’re an editor at Random House or a To-Be-Published writer. To make it in this business, you have to have talent and skill of the craft, but you also have to possess perseverance and patience. Oh, and in case you forgot, you also have to BE PASSIONATE about every word you write and every moment you experience.

Crap. It looks like my resolve to not resolve has fallen short. Oh well. Happy New Year friends. May 2013 find you moving forward on your dreams as well.