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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Identity Crisis

I’m in a real conundrum about my name. Officially, it is Anne Greenwood Brown. Before I was married it was Anne Greenwood Smith. Greenwood is my grandmother’s maiden name, and I’ve always felt it gave a little “color” to an otherwise generic sounding name. Obviously, when I got married I didn’t want to be Anne Smith Brown. Boooorrrrring.

In the last week, since the whole book deal announcement, I’ve noticed my name popping up in many different ways. Goodreads has me as “Anne Greenwood Brown,” my agent’s website has me as “Anne Brown,” and Publisher’s Weekly referred to me as “Anne G. Brown.” Clearly, there has to be some consistency–and soon!

My editor votes for Anne Brown because my whole name would have to be very small to fit on a book cover, but she’s leaving it up to me and Jacquie. There are other Anne Browns out there on Amazon (not writing my kind of book, but there it is).

Any opinions on which way to go? I’m having a real identity crisis here.


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Publishers Weekly?

The  writer’s version of being pinched awake out of a dream: having your deal posted on Publishers Weekly’s “Deals of the Week!”

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Insomnia: The Sequel

Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way complaining. My gosh, my feet still haven’t touched the ground in almost two weeks! But the thing about a two-book deal is . . . (wait for it) . . . I have to write a second book. And writing on demand is very new territory for me. Very new. Very scary.

I have until October to turn in the manuscript to my editor so that’s about two more months than I needed for LIES BENEATH, but on top of that there will be revisions to that book, so time management is going to be key. And, at least for me, planning to write takes quite a bit of time.

First stop: Office Max to buy a white board and new dry erase markers. I’ve mapped out my themes and the conflicts. I’ve also listed out my world building details from LIES BENEATH so I can maintain consistency in Book Two (WATER LILY). I’ve also mapped out the characters’ external and internal conflicts.

Next Stop: Kitchen Table with a stack of index cards and a ball point pen. (I dabble in Scrivenor but I find I’m hard pressed to give up my low tech tools.) Here, I hit all the big plot points and arrange them in order, filling in with different story lines, arranging them into something that makes some basic sense.

Third Stop: The computer to outline the whole book, as well various characters’ back stories. The outline is important because I don’t like to write chronologically straight through, but rather jump around as the inspiration strikes.

The first weekend (Thursday night-Sunday night), I wrote 10,000 words. That set the standard. Now I figure, without major interruption, I could have a complete first draft in 6 more weekends. That is if I can stop writing about the process of writing and get down to business. See ya.

Oh–and feel free to check in and hold me accountable. If I fall off track I want a serious tongue lashing . . . or a Martini. Whichever.

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I just got the go ahead to share my good news: My debut YA novel, LIES BENEATH, has been sold to Random House (Delacorte Press) in a two-book deal and is slated for publication in the summer of 2012.  I’ll be working with Executive Editor Francoise Bui!!!  So excited!!!


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Deadlines vs. Goal Lines: Bridging the Emotional Divide

I’m on Writer Unboxed today, discussing the emotional divide between Deadlines and Goal Lines. Please check it out!

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Turning GO to WENT, and Other Useful Pursuits

Awhile ago, I was lamenting on Twitter that I was five thousand words into a new novel when I decided present tense wasn’t working and I needed to switch to past. My gripe was immediately picked up by others who put me in my place, one commenting she had to switch tenses after being 50k into her novel, another commenting she needed to rewrite an entire novel from third person to first person point of view. It got me wondering, what does that really mean: Need? Where does it come from? Are writers just that indecisive so as to be masochistic in their need to revise?

Obviously I can’t speak for all, but for me, it wasn’t a case of indecision but rather an experiment gone terribly wrong. I’d always admired novels written in present tense, yet I’d never written one myself. There is a certain “urgency” about present tense. The reader is truly in the midst of the action because it’s happening in real time. Sounds so cool, right? And (dare I say it) literary! So I gave it a try, and I think it was working up to a point. But at about the 5000 word mark I hit a wall. Present tense was not something I could sustain for the long haul, and I could tell by one big tip off. I was losing my protagonist’s voice. Each sentence just plodded along, and I mean that in two ways: First each sentence was less inspired than the one before it. Second they were physically and mentally laborious to write. Writing the story started to feel like building a brick wall: slap on the mortar, throw down the brick, slap on the mortar, throw down the brick, . . . ugh. My narrator sounded like he was highly sedated. I knew I couldn’t go on.

So I went back in and changed every “run” to “ran,” every “say” to “said.” By the end of the night, I was happy with the result but cross-eyed and (as I said) griping about it on Twitter.

Someone else asked why I bothered. Does a character’s voice really come from verb tenses? Isn’t it much more than that? The answer is, yes of course it is much more than that. But verb tense, among other things, sets a feel just as much as anything else in the novel (weather, setting, theme). Because the feel wasn’t right, I couldn’t capture the voice. I couldn’t hear my protagonist talking to me as I lay in bed at night. Instead, I was wondering about craft and other stylistic changes that can affect a character’s voice, for example:

  • First Person POV vs. Third Person
  • Time/Setting
  • Gender of Narrator
  • Age of Narrator vs. Age of Narrator at the Time Story Occurs (flashback)

Obviously this is not an all inclusive list. Is there anything you’d add? Have you had any experiments go terribly wrong?


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