YA Review & Pre-Order Giveaway: THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS by Anna-Marie McLemore

I’m thrilled to feature Anna-Marie McLemore’s THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS on the blog today and to give away a pre-order to one lucky winner! Anna-Marie and I were teammates in the first-ever The Writer’s Voice contest in 2012 (Team Krista), and we’ve stayed in touch ever since–which is why I was able to get in on an ARC tour for the book and read it early :). The book comes out Sept. 15, and I will definitely be adding it to my permanent collection! Here’s the gorgeous cover and description.

The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemoreFor twenty years, the Palomas and the Corbeaus have been rivals and enemies, locked in an escalating feud for over a generation. Both families make their living as traveling performers in competing shows—the Palomas swimming in mermaid exhibitions, the Corbeaus, former tightrope walkers, performing in the tallest trees they can find.

Lace Paloma may be new to her family’s show, but she knows as well as anyone that the Corbeaus are pure magia negra, black magic from the devil himself. Simply touching one could mean death, and she’s been taught from birth to keep away. But when disaster strikes the small town where both families are performing, it’s a Corbeau boy, Cluck, who saves Lace’s life. And his touch immerses her in the world of the Corbeaus, where falling for him could turn his own family against him, and one misstep can be just as dangerous on the ground as it is in the trees.

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The title – This may seem like a strange thing to love, but sometimes I read a whole novel and never figure out where the title originated. For this book, the title showed up on page two, and it completely grounded me in the story. Titles aren’t always powerful, but this one is.

2. The blend of magic and science – On the surface, this story is one of magic–not spells and transformations but an old, intrinsic magic that permeates these families. But at the same time, sciences plays an important role, and the two are woven together in a way I found quite fascinating as the story progressed. It’s unique and masterful.

3. The distinct voices – The story mostly alternates between Lace and Cluck, occasionally staying with one character for a couple of chapters. I loved how distinct the voices are. I wish I could share an example, but the scenes that I felt best exemplified this are quite long. It’s when each of them describe the other’s show. Lace goes into much more detail than Cluck, is more complimentary, and yet you still understand how much Cluck appreciates the mermaid show. Very well done.

4. The romance – I loved Lace and Cluck’s dialogue and wordplay, and if I hadn’t passed the ARC along to someone else, I would have found a passage to share for this :). But I also loved how the feelings built differently on each side, particularly as they each learn the other’s true identity at different points in the story. Imagine falling in love with someone and discovering later they’re your enemy versus knowing from the beginning they’re forbidden. I get shivers just remembering it!

5. The languages – I loved how seamlessly Anna-Marie wove in French and Spanish. Often the words were translated in an easy way, but sometimes they weren’t and it was entirely appropriate. There was a moment with Cluck’s mother where Lace said she must not have wanted her to know what she’d said since she didn’t translate. I never felt like the translations interrupted the flow of the narrative, and that’s quite an accomplishment.

I so love this book that I want to put it in someone else’s hands as soon as it’s available (remember, that’s Sept. 15!). As a result, I’m giving away a pre-order to one lucky winner. North America only, please. Click on the link below to enter.

Click here to enter the giveaway for THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS!

And come back next week, as I’m planning another giveaway. I know! Two in a row :)!

Posted in Giveaways, Reading, Review, Young Adult | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

That Magical Moment When Feedback Clicks

Don’t you hate it when you know something’s wrong with your manuscript–maybe it’s even been pointed out to you by multiple sources–but you can’t figure out how to fix it? Or, even worse, when you think you’ve fixed it and then you receive comments from agents after you start querying that reveal the issue was still lingering in the manuscript?

I’m not talking about a subjective issue but an actual flaw within the manuscript, a character or plot issue that just continues to plague you. Sometimes it’s because you tried to write it a certain way and you’re still unraveling the threads dangling from that original plot bunny (that happened to me with my last manuscript). Or maybe you can’t get a handle on a character’s motivations. (If it’s a secondary character, I sometimes write the scene from their POV to figure that out.)

Other times, you just keep revising and spinning your wheels and getting the same comments with each new draft. It’s a vicious cycle of wondering, “How the heck do I fix this??” That’s where I was with my current manuscript, so when I sent it to my last round of readers, I also included a few specific questions to determine if I’d finally solved the issues. The verdict: sort of.

But as I read through their comments, something magical happened–this moment where two of the comments suddenly jumped out at me like they’d been highlighted neon pink and the solutions became clear. I’m going to try to make these generic enough to make sense even though you haven’t read my manuscript on the off chance they might be helpful to one of you.

Magical comment No. 1:

“Even though Character A tells Character B [he/she] wants to do X, I’m not convinced Character A would have actually done it without Character B. Character B actually makes the decision/calls the shots.”

The question I asked was about Character B, but the comment about Character A put everything into perspective for me because the reader was right. I hadn’t moved Character A’s arc forward enough at that point in the story, but if I fixed that, it would help Character B’s arc as well. My earlier CPs and readers had certainly commented on both of these issues (the two characters’ motivations and arcs), but it wasn’t until the feedback was phrased just this way that it clicked with me. Of course, I needed those earlier comments combined with this one for it all to come together.

Magical comment No. 2:

“I wondered what happened to make Character C so cold and distant? Who hurt Character C early on to make Character C protect [himself/herself] like that?”

If you didn’t guess from the question, Character C is one of the antagonists in my WIP, and I’ve struggled with humanizing this particular character. I had attempted to provide Character C with a motivation in this latest draft, but it still wasn’t enough. This question–essentially “What’s Character C’s damage?”–was like a light bulb going off in my brain. Obviously I should have attempted that strategy of writing some scenes from Character C’s POV :). In any case, delving further into Character C’s history–which it turns out I mostly already had in a character sketch–provided an ideal solution that also filled in some minor plot holes as well.

Does that mean this manuscript is all perfect and shiny now? Well, obviously those weren’t their only comments :). Also, you know that thing where any time you revise you fix something but open yourself up to creating new issues? I know I did that after the last revision. It’s always possible I’ve done that now. That’s why you can never start querying until you get that final, “Yes, this is ready to go!” from someone whose opinion you trust and value. I expect there’s still work to do on this manuscript–maybe even on those pesky character issues I mentioned above–but at least it’s getting closer. What I know for sure is that it hasn’t been through its last round of readers yet (just who those readers are may depend on a certain contest :) ). And I always appreciate my CPs and readers for knowing just the right way to ask a question or point out an issue.

How about you? What kind of magical feedback moments have you had recently?

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Quick Tip: What’s Happening on Page 20? 50?

A wise critique partner of mine once got to page fifty of one of my manuscripts and said, “Think about what’s happening here. This is page 50!” And although it was still a fairly early draft, I realized she was making an important point. When you’re ready to query a project, agents have varying submission guidelines, and while you need to ensure that every page makes them want to keep reading, there are key points that are even more significant because they may mark the end of what you send to an agent. So as you’re writing/revising, make  a note of the following:

What’s happening at the end of page 5?

At the end of page 10?

At the end of the first chapter?

At the end of page 20?

At the end of page 25?

At the end of the second chapter?

At the end of page 30?

At the end of the third chapter?

At the end of page 50?

At the end of page 100?

Hmm … when you think of it that way, it puts it in perspective how important those opening pages and chapters really are, doesn’t it? The truth is, an agent is going to stop reading as soon as he/she loses interest. That might be on page eleven, so you can’t slack off just because it’s not one of the key points. My point here, though, is that you should be aware of these milestones in your manuscript and make sure they have an extra zing that ensures an agent or editor has to ask for more. I keep a Word document with a list of these key points in my manuscript and update it after each revision in case anything has changed and I need to make adjustments.

That’s all for today. Just a little tip. Anyone else have thoughts on this idea?

Posted in Querying, Revising, Writing | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

MMGM: YOU’RE INVITED by Jen Malone & Gail Nall

I love it when I win a book and then I absolutely adore it. Of course, I’d already read a book by Jen Malone, so I had high expectations for YOU’RE INVITED, the first in a new series she’s co-writing with Gail Nall. In any case, it didn’t disappoint. Here are the details about the book.

You're Invited by Jen Malone & Gail NallTwelve-year-old Sadie loves helping her mom with her wedding planning business, and with Sadie’s mad organizational skills, she’s a natural! That’s why it’s so devastating when her mother “fires” her after a Little Mermaid–themed wedding goes awry.

Enter Sadie’s best friends: sporty Vi, ace student Lauren, and boy-crazy Becca. The girls decide that in order to get Sadie’s mom to reconsider, they have to make her see how amazing Sadie is at party planning. Except no one’s gonna hire a twelve-year-old to plan a wedding. A birthday party, though? Definite possibility.

Before long, RSVP—your one-stop shop for the most creative parties in town—is born. Of course, Sadie can’t wait to prove herself to her mom, but the other girls also have their reasons for enlisting: Vi has her eye on the perfect gift for her hardworking dad, and Becca’s all aflush at the thought of connecting with Ryan, the new Irish cutie in town. And though Lauren thinks she’s too busy with summer studies to “officially” join, she’s willing to help out in any way she can.

But in this particular party-planning business, nothing goes according to plan! Sadie’s mom is a perpetual no-show, Vi’s archrival is dead set on ruining her summer, Becca can’t seem to get Ryan to glance in her direction, and Lauren keeps choosing studying over her friends. Is the girls’ friendship strong enough to survive a business? Or does RSVP spell the end of these BFFs?

Here are the five things I loved best:

1. The parties – From opening with a Little Mermaid-themed wedding complete with mermaid bridesmaids and a sheepdog ring bearer and some unwelcome seagulls to a boy band-themed birthday party for an eight-year-old, the parties are both fun and hilarious. I loved the creativity and how each girl brought unique ideas to the events.

2. The character arcs – It’s challenging to write a complete character arc for one main character, let alone four, yet these ladies successfully followed all four girls through the story. Each girl had something to learn, and with it being a series, the story had to be left open for them to learn even more in future stories. That’s quite the challenge, but I believe they met it.

3. The individual voices – I loved how you could begin reading a chapter and immediately know which girl was talking–also not easy with four twelve-year-old girls who hang out together and are likely to use the same language. But based on their interests and focus, it was always clear whose mind the reader was in.

4. The chapter intros – Each girl had a special intro for her chapters (which also helped with setting the stage for who was up). Becca had her horoscopes, Sadie with her checklists, Lauren defining a new word, and Vi jotting down a recipe. Loved it!

5. The humor – I laughed a lot with this book and read a few passages out to my kids. They’re a little young for this book yet, but they thought the initial scene with the Little Mermaid wedding that gets Sadie fired was hilarious. Just think–dog, seagulls, mermaid dresses. Well, you probably have to read it. Anyway, that’s just the beginning!

I’m looking forward to the next book in the series, especially as this one ended with a bit of a cliffhanger. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the girls next!

Has anyone else read YOU’RE INVITED yet? Let me know what you thought!

Posted in Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

6 Reasons You Should Critique for Others While Revising

Did you miss me? I know I threw that four years of querying post out there and then deserted the blog for a couple of weeks. My family went to the Lake of the Ozarks, and then I had a week of craziness catching up with some deadlines. But I’m back!

So, I’m in the midst of revisions yet again, and I’ve also been doing quite a bit of critiquing. I’ve always felt the best time to critique for others is when you’re revising your own work, and I really thought I’d posted on that before, but I couldn’t find it, so here are six reasons you should critique for others while revising yourself.

1. It helps you think more critically.

As one of my current characters would say: Duh! But here’s the thing: when I go a long stretch without reading anyone else’s work for the purpose of offering feedback (reading for fun doesn’t count), I get out of the habit of looking at it objectively. Yes, as I’m reading that published book, I’ll notice a typo and I might notice if I would have commented on a particular plot point or characterization if I’d been that author’s critique partner, but I’m not reading each page looking for ways to improve the book. When I read for someone else, I’m trying to help him/her make that manuscript shine, and that triggers something in my brain that spills over into my own revisions. No matter how much I put myself in a revision mindset–and I love revising!–I always have better ideas when I’ve been critiquing recently.

2. It convicts you when you have the same issue in your own manuscript.

For some reason, seeing your issue in someone else’s manuscript makes it so much clearer in your own, like a spotlight shining on that particular scene or character weakness. For example, I remember reading for someone and spotting a believability issue that suddenly made me realize I had the same problem in my own MS. It wasn’t even something any of my readers had pointed out yet, but I knew I had to fix because eventually someone would notice and I’d have a hole to repair. Something along the lines of: Why didn’t Character A just ask Character C about this? Ha! We all have one of those at some point, don’t we?

3. It reminds you if you’ve skipped a step in your revision process.

If I’m reading someone else’s manuscript and I notice one of my crutch words/phrases or see an issue with inconsistencies, it reminds me to go through my own manuscript to look for those. Or sometimes to read certain sections aloud again to ensure the voice matches the character. These are all steps I take in my own revision process, but often critiquing reminds me I should do them again for my own.

4. It inspires you to new heights.

I mentioned this in my post on What I’ve Learned in Four Years of Querying, but I have the privilege of working with some pretty amazing CPs and writers at this point in my journey. Several of them are agented, a few have book deals, and I’ve even read for other writers who are published. (Not the books that are published but their other projects that hopefully will be!) So when I read for them, I’m often inspired to take my revisions to a whole other level. I’ll see how Writer A used a particular metaphor that was so perfect for her character and think how I need to apply that to my character or read a particular description and realize I should beef up my own descriptions. So, thank you, friends, for inspiring me!

5. It opens you up to other worlds.

I don’t know about you, but I live in my own little world much of the time. Even with the books I read to keep up with the market, I still lean toward a certain kind of story, so critiquing often leads me to read something I might not have otherwise. That’s a good thing! I need to have my world shaken up every once in a while, to experience some other types of characters who might need to enter my characters’ worlds at some point (maybe not if they’re aliens or dragons, although you never know). It’s broadening to get inside another writer’s head for a while.

6. It keeps you from getting too tied up in your own story.

Perhaps others will disagree with me on this one, but then I did work for a PR agency for ten years, where I jumped between a dozen clients in the same day. I think it’s helpful to escape my characters for a bit each day and see what some others are doing. What are those other voices like? It helps me to ensure mine are still unique and staying true to their story.

So, if you’re in the midst of revising and you’re stuck or even if you aren’t, go ask someone else if you can read for them. It’s a great way to focus your own revisions. At least, it works for me!

Anyone else have thoughts on how critiquing helps you revise?

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What I’ve Learned in Four Years of Querying

It’s here! I have officially been querying for four years. (Actually it was July 11, but since that’s a Saturday this year, we’ll just consider it today.) And in a strange coincidence, four years ago I sent off my first round of queries and then we packed up and drove down to Springfield, Mo., to visit family. This afternoon, we are driving to Springfield for a family wedding (although I have not sent off a round of queries, so it’s not completely the same). Anyway, I’ve experienced many ups and downs during the process and learned a ton. You can read about each year in succession, as I try not to repeat the lessons of previous years in the current year’s post. Here are links to the others:

What hasn’t changed is that I remain optimistic. I know I will find the right fit for my writing. So without further ado, here are the new things I’ve learned in the past year.

You don’t have to spend as much time researching agents … because you already know them so well. I’ve gotten to the point where many of the agents are like old friends. I’ve been over their profiles, watched their Twitter feeds, read their interviews, etc., so many times, that I know their preferences like the back of my hand. So when it’s time to send out queries, I don’t have to spend a lot of time reviewing before I put together a query for them. Sure, I still check the agency website to make sure nothing’s changed, but I don’t have to spend the hours I used to scouring the internet for information about them to make sure I get the personalization just right.

The caliber of beta readers and critique partners you work with gets higher and higher. The longer you’re in the writing community, the better the chances are that the writers you know have gone on to get agents and even publishing deals. For my last manuscript, I had three pre-published authors and two agented authors read for me. (And after reading, another reader got a book deal, and another landed an agent.) Most of these were writers I knew back when we were all unagented. We started out in the same place, but we’ve grown together. I figure it’s only a matter of time before I see my name in the acknowledgements page of a published novel :). That’s the nature of this long journey.

Just because an agent requested from you before doesn’t mean that agent is still the best fit for you at that agency. I understand the knee-jerk reaction to go with the agent you’ve been in contact with before, the one who’s shown an interest in your previous work. BUT, it’s possible that agent isn’t the best fit for what you’re writing now or for your complete body of work. I did some serious thinking before I started querying my last project. My first instinct was to go with the known, but the more I studied the bios and interviews, the more my gut told me to go with Agent B at a couple of agencies, even though I’d had requests from Agent A. And you know what? I got a request from Agent B.

This can also be something to consider with all the moving around that agents do. If Agent A has requested from you before but Agent B moves to Agent A’s agency and you’ve always really wanted to work with Agent B, don’t automatically think you have to submit to Agent A because of that past correspondence. Make sure you’re submitting to the agent who is the best fit for you now.

You might think you know the agents out there who are the best fit for your work, but you really don’t. I realize this point may seem at complete odds with my first point, but hear me out. I participated in a few pitch contests this past year, and I was shocked by a few of the agents who expressed an interest. A couple of them were newer agents I just didn’t know much about yet. But some were agents I knew about and just hadn’t considered because I’d pushed them further down the list for previous manuscripts. But you know what? I shouldn’t have done that.

Querying is about what’s the best fit for my career now, not in the past. I’ve changed as a writer over the past four years. I started out focusing on middle grade, but it turns out I have more of a young adult voice. I realized I was ignoring agents who didn’t do middle grade; that was a mistake. Because my current MS was YA, my next MS was YA, and the one I was considering after that was YA, too. So … the MG issue probably isn’t coming up anytime soon. My point is that you shouldn’t discount agents or curtail your list too much. Now, I’m not saying send it to agents who don’t rep what you write. Absolutely don’t do that. But make sure your priorities fit your current career goals and not your past goals.

The more thoroughly you research agents up front, the fewer requests you’ll get further down your list. I’m not saying you won’t get requests from the agents you don’t include in your first few rounds because some agents just don’t put much information out there about what they’re looking for. However, if you order your spreadsheet the way I do, you start with the agents you think are most likely to be interested in your manuscript, so your request rate is likely to be higher in your earlier rounds of querying. Don’t let that discourage you! I’ve learned there are always a few agents who surprise me in later rounds of querying and move up to earlier rounds when I query the next manuscript. (I wrote a whole series of posts on How to Research Agents. If you click on the first one, it includes links to all of them.)

You can tell by the rejections when you’re getting close. I heard this truth back when I first started querying, but I didn’t understand what it meant. I get it now, because the tone of many of the rejections has changed. Often they arrive with a tenor of hope: “I know another agent will snap you up soon!” This might sound like a really nice form rejection, but I know it isn’t because the rejections on the earlier manuscripts carried the more generic “Another agent may feel differently.” (I actually mentioned this in the Year One post!). Now, just because several agents say this doesn’t mean it will come true, but it still gives me hope. Maybe sometimes I go back and read through those rejections for a pick-me-up :). I’ve never said that before!

You start to consider other options. Don’t get me wrong–signing with an agent is still my goal. However, my mind is more open to other possibilities and other paths to publication. I know I’m not alone in this. I have writer friends who have been querying for years without signing with an agent who decided to submit directly to publishers or even self-publish. I still believe that if I keep at it, eventually I’ll succeed with an agent. But I’ve also started to realize that the path may not be as straight as I expected it to be. For someone as linear as I am, that’s a bit difficult to wrap my mind around, but I’m getting there.

You have greater confidence in your gut. I’ve written about this separately, most recently in a post on subjectivity, but I’ve gotten better about knowing when to implement feedback–whether from agents or CPs–and when to file it away. In the early days of querying, I was likely to jump on the tiniest bit of feedback and revise, regardless of whether I was 100 percent on board with it. Today, I’ll set aside feedback that doesn’t resonate with me, even if it’s from someone I greatly respect. In many ways, it’s harder to ignore honestly given feedback you can’t buy into than to use it, but I’ve been on the end of revising a way that didn’t feel right to me before, and that resulted in an MS that didn’t read right for anyone. I’m not sure you can get to this point of trusting your gut without those years of experience, so my guidance here is more a reassurance that you will get there.

Ok, I think that’s about it. I’ve been collecting these thoughts all year, and I may start collecting them for next year as early as tomorrow :). For everyone else who’s on this journey with me, hang in there! It’s all about finding the right fit for your work at the right time. And to my friends who continue to support me, thank you! I appreciate every one of you.

Posted in Agents, Querying, Revising, Writing, Young Adult | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

YA Review: TRUST ME, I’M LYING by Mary Elizabeth Summer

I started reading TRUST ME, I’M LYING on the plane back from Alaska, continued in the summer school carpool pickup line, and then breezed through the last 40 percent in a single night. I probably would have read that first 60 percent much more quickly if I hadn’t been trying to catch up from vacation. In any case, I am now anxiously awaiting the next installment of this series, which is accurately compared to Ally Carter’s Heist Society series.

Trust Me, I'm Lying by Mary Elizabeth SummerJulep Dupree tells lies. A lot of them. She’s a con artist, a master of disguise, and a sophomore at Chicago’s swanky St. Agatha High, where her father, an old-school grifter with a weakness for the ponies, sends her so she can learn to mingle with the upper crust. For extra spending money Julep doesn’t rely on her dad—she runs petty scams for her classmates while dodging the dean of students and maintaining an A+ (okay, A-) average.

But when she comes home one day to a ransacked apartment and her father gone, Julep’s carefully laid plans for an expenses-paid golden ticket to Yale start to unravel. Even with help from St. Agatha’s resident Prince Charming, Tyler Richland, and her loyal hacker sidekick, Sam, Julep struggles to trace her dad’s trail of clues through a maze of creepy stalkers, hit attempts, family secrets, and worse, the threat of foster care. With everything she has at stake, Julep’s in way over her head . . . but that’s not going to stop her from using every trick in the book to find her dad before his mark finds her. Because that would be criminal.

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The voice – I was hooked from the very beginning, and the voice is so perfect for the character. This might seem like a strange sample to share, but for some reason this particular paragraph stuck out to me as I was reading. It’s from an action scene, when Julep has just been rescued from a burning building, but you just get such a great sense of her character.

“I shudder as I pass through the back door and into the crisp, ice-cold air of the alley. I cough and hack and wipe off black stuff, and all the while I’m breathing in the sweetest, most delicious scent of gradually decaying garbage and rat excrement. I’ve never been so happy to see an alley in all the days of my life.”

2. The romance – I love the way she’s all twisted up from the moment she meets Tyler. Isn’t that how teen romance is supposed to be? Plus, this gives me another opportunity to showcase the voice.

“Wait, what did I just say? Crap! I meant to say, ‘it’s nothing’ or ‘just a prank’ or anything else that would put him off. Not ‘it’s freaking dangerous and you should definitely be interested now.’ Is some errant part of my psycho-girl psyche trying to show off for him? Without permission? I mentally smack that part of me back in line. Unfortunately, it’s not in time to avoid piquing Tyler’s curiosity even more.”

3. The cons – I love a good caper. I don’t care if it’s believable or not, but for the most part, I bought the cons Julep and her friends pulled. Sure, some of them were outrageous, but that’s what makes it fun.

4. The mystery –  In addition to the cons, there was also a mystery woven throughout the story, a set of clues Julep’s father had left her to follow. Part of the fun was that the reader had no idea what they led to, so it was sort of a double mystery.

5. The twists – I actually chatted with Ms. Summer on Twitter, anticipating one of the twists, and she warned me there would be one everyone expects and several that would catch me by surprise. She was so right! For the last 10 percent of the book (I was reading on my Kindle), I was saying, “No! What? No! Seriously?” These were good twists, folks. Some planted and some not, but wow.

On that last point, I’m really holding my tongue (fingers??) here. If anyone wants to discuss, email me! But definitely check out this book.

Posted in Reading, Review, Young Adult | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment