Be Sure to Eat Your (Literary) Vegetables

(Previously published on Book End Babes, 5/3/2011)

Today I’d like to talk about vegetables. The literary variety. You know . . . those titles that everyone is supposed to read in high school or college or grad school, those titles that no respectable reader is supposed to reach adulthood without reading. You know the ones. They’re supposed to be good for you.

A few of those literary vegetables fell through the cracks with me, but because I’m a good girl, I’ve decided to correct the situation. First on the list: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë.

I’m reading this book first because, quite frankly, Wuthering Heights, the Opera is being performed in the Twin Cities and the man playing Heathcliff looks particularly dishy. Any way, if you don’t know the story, here is my synopsis:

A man by the name of Lockwood–a man of no importance to the plot whatsoever except that he acts as a device for presenting the story. Oh, Mr. Lockwood, you don’t know the story of Catherine and Heathcliff? By all means let me tell it to you. Why Emily didn’t cut to the chase and tell the story to us, rather than to Lockwood, I don’t know. Lockwood is akin to broccoli. He’s just a means for delivering cheese sauce.

Anyway, Lockwood is told that Heathcliff, who hangs out with some dreary and neurotic persons (we’re talking three bean casserole here), was adopted as a small boy by the wealthy Earnshaw family. Heathcliff fell in love with the Earnshaw daughter, Catherine. When Mr. Earnshaw dies, Catherine’s brother treats Heathcliff like a servant rather than a brother and Catherine, although she loves Heathcliff, marries someone else because she’s going for social advancement rather than love. Catherine’s your basic brussel sprout (too uptight to just be called a tiny head of lettuce).

Heathcliff seeks revenge on everyone who has ever wronged him and, when Catherine dies, begs Catherine’s ghost not to leave him. Weird. It’s a happy ending though because all these rotten tomatoes end up dead.

Next week: Moby Dick. Which, I anticipate, will be be akin to shoving an overgrown zucchini up my nose.


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I was interviewed on Veronica’s Nap the

I was interviewed on Veronica’s Nap the other day. My first interview as an Author!

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I Think I Must Be a Freakin’ Genius

Back in college I took an art history class and we studied a lot of Leonardo da Vinci’s work. The one thing that stuck with me was my professor saying how so much of Leonardo’s work remained in his head and never made it on to the canvas. He explained that the man was a super Genius, that he would imagine his work so perfectly, so completely, so flawlessly in his mind, that to put it down on paper was an act in redundancy.

So as I sit here, 60,000 words into my sequel, the whole book imagined so perfectly, so completely, so flawlessly in my head that it is laborious and redundant to put the final bits down on paper, I can’t help but think to myself, OH MY GOSH! I MUST BE A FREAKIN’ GENIUS!!!!!!

That’s the only rational explanation. Please don’t offer any other possibilities. I’ve got my fingers in my ears and I’m saying LALALALALALALALALALALALA as loudly as I can.

(Sigh. Ok. Maybe I’ll try again tomorrow.)

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My friend Jael McHenry’s debut novel co

My friend Jael McHenry’s debut novel comes out today! If you like ghost-whisperers with autism who speak to the dead through cooking up their recipes, check out THE KITCHEN DAUGHTER. It’s out TODAY!!!!!!! Yahoo!!!


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The Humiliation of Spring Cleaning

Have you seen that show “Hoarders?” I still can’t get over the episode where they lifted a stack of boxes and old magazines only to find the woman’s mummified cat. Now, my house keeping isn’t that bad. (Mom, if you’re reading this, it is NOT that bad!) But I invariably find things when I start to purge the drawers, boxes, and closets.

Today, I came across a folder full of agent charts, old query letters, and stacks of rejections that I received for my second novel (which lives under my bed). It was so demoralizing! I couldn’t believe I actually sent those emails out the door. I offered a public apology on Twitter to every agent who received an email from me back then. So sorry for adding to the clog in your slush pile.

If you are struggling with queries, here’s an in depth article from Agent Query on how to write the hook.

And after lots and lots of trial and error (which finally resulted in finding an agent), here’s my method for how to structure a first draft query (emphasis on first draft):

  • Step One: Pull Out Some Quirk

Most agents seem to like some degree of weird. So don’t let their first impression be déjà vu. For example, rather than introduce your main character as a middle-aged high school teacher, focus on a weird quirk or trait, such as: “Mary Olson is a middle-aged drama teacher with a paralyzing fear of heights.”

  • Step Two: Stir the Pot

Next, show agents where they’ll find your main character when the story starts and, most importantly, give them an indication there is some unrest that is about to be stirred up. You can do that simply by using the expression “at first.” For example, “At first, acrophobic Mary thinks her life is perfect—great hair, great job, ground-floor apartment on the Nebraska plains.”

  • Step Three: Raise the Stakes

Then show the conflict. No conflict, no story. At the query stage, agents don’t care about our craftily constructed themes, our inspired use of metaphor or, by the way, that our story might be a modern-day retelling of Pride & Prejudice. They want to know what’s at stake. An easy way to show conflict is a sentence that starts off “But when” or “Everything changes when.” For example, “But when the circus comes to Omaha, and Mary meets tight-rope walker George Maserati, she risks an anxiety attack for the chance of finding love.”

  • Step Four: Holy Cliff Hanger, Batman!

Then drop the bomb. Leave the reader wanting more with the classic Batman ending. Remember the 1960s t.v. show? The Joker would throw a punch at Batman, then the scene would freeze and the announcer would say in an angst-ridden voice: “Will the Joker drop Batman into the vat of boiling oil? Will Batman get the last laugh? Tune in next time for the conclusion of . . .”

In a query, the Batman ending could translate into something like: “Mary climbs to the heights of hot circus love, but who will catch her when she falls?”

As I mentioned, it took me a loooong time to figure out the querying process, and I didn’t do it alone. I got help along the way from a few authors who were generous enough to lend a hand. If you’d like help on a query, I’ll happily pay it forward by giving a critique to the first person who asks (maybe the second, too). I can’t guarantee results. I am NOT an agent. But sometimes just another set of eyes helps so much!


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Premium, Omnibus, and Everyman — Oh my!

If I ever doubted the need for a literary agent (and, actually, I never did), those doubts were put aside upon my first glance at my publishing contract. Gah! I mean, I work with contracts on a daily basis, and this thing was a monster!

First off, I thought I was fairly well educated about industry norms, but I was completely unprepared for the amount of detail that goes into these things. Do you know what “premium use” is? “Omnibus” versions? How about the “Everyman Library?”  The difference between “Electronic Book” and “Electronic Version?” You did? Well I didn’t.

Now, after an hour long phone call with my agent, I do, and I’m relieved to know she’s got my back. (Never really doubted that either.) I even get some input into the book cover (something called “meaningful consultaton”), which doesn’t mean veto power but means more than “mind your own business.” Truly, the cover is a huge deal to me. I can’t wait until I get to post it on this blog. But for now . . . big sigh of relief that this part is done and now it’s off to think about EDITS, which should be here any day!

In the meantime I am writing my Acknowledgments page like “Thank you to everyone who has ever been nice to me, who has laughed at my jokes, or told me I looked taller, thinner, or younger in person. Thank you to the really cute boy at Dunn Brothers who makes my lattes, even though you called me “Ma’am” and broke my heart. xoxo


P.S. Yeah, I know that video clip is obnoxious, but I couldn’t help myself.

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Book Trailers – The Latest Obsession

Sometimes I think I like to look for new things to stress me out. This week it’s book trailers. If you don’t know what a book trailer is, it’s exactly what it sounds like. You know those trailers for soon-to-be-out movies that play before your “feature presentation?” It’s just like that, but for a soon-to-be-out book.

Here’s an example of an amazing one.

But not all are as professionally done. I’ve seen some that are homemade animation. I’ve seen some that are simply one scene with words printed over the top. A lot of them are fan made.

Here’s one for Stephenie Meyer’s The Host.

I’m stressing because when I mentioned to my family that I wanted to find a gorgeous 18 year old boy to let me film him coming out of the water, my daughter convulsed and my husband said he found that “very disturbing.” So how does one go about doing this? Particularly when your characters live in the water? Click Here to see what I’d love my book trailer to look like (minus the product placement).

Brilliant Idea! Get a high school or college-aged video production student to make a trailer for me! They’ve got to have an “in” with good looking boys, and they won’t sound creepy saying, “hey, would you mind stripping down, jumping in that lake, and letting me film you?”

Well, at least they won’t sound as creepy as me.

Has anyone had good luck making their own book trailer? I’d love to hear some DOs and DON’TS.


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