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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

#Pitch Wars: The Window Closes PSA #1 All my dirty secrets revealed...

REMINDER: To repeat an old cliche that has been repeated to me more times than I can count:

Your writing career is a MARATHON and not a sprint.

ENDURANCE IS EVERYTHING.

But let's unpack that. What do I mean by endurance? 
Just pushing and pushing the same manuscript ad nauseum for years and years? Fixing and editing and revising the same old tired thing? How long should you keep revamping the same book? I think that it is sometimes advisable to shelve a manuscript and apply everything you've learned to something new.

Which doesn't mean you can't GO BACK and rewrite that shelved lovely with fresh eyes months or even years later.

Let me share my own sordid adventures in writing--all 13 years of them.

You may have deduced that I am a late starter. As in, I had an entire career as a graphic designer, professor, fine artist, and illustrator (not to mention mother of two) behind me. I had even already earned an MFA in painting. I'm not bragging--I'm just trying to explain the ridiculous and improbable nature of my quest...very much like Don Quixote's ambitions. I wasn't exactly looking for a new obsession. It just kind of found me. 

In 2003, I'd wanted to illustrate a children's book--because--well--I am an illustrator/designer. That is what I was trained to do. It's how I saw myself. I'd always "dabbled" in writing and brushed it off as something that came "easily." I'd never struggled with writing in school, but had also never taken it too seriously. It was just a way to get a good grade and sometimes amuse myself with half-baked stories I'd never intended to finish.

That was until 2003. What was supposed to be a short little picture book, somehow morphed into five notebooks worth of scribbling. At first I thought I had a middle-grade book, until I realized it was really YA. That was after I learned what YA was!

Translation: I had NO CLUE what I was writing. 

I did not understand genres, let alone the marketplace. All I knew was that this character (His name was Will, for the record, and I still have the drawings of his never to be published exploits) walked into my brain and stayed there. 

FOR THE NEXT THREE YEARS.

Yes--three years. Two of which (2003, 2004) I did not admit to ANYONE, except a trusted friend and a family member. You'd think I was a spy or had an addiction. (wait--I did have an addiction).
However, what I DID have was INTENSE passion--but not much else! 

I had no one to share my words with, no one to advise me on craft. Honestly, I had no idea there even was such a thing. (Shameful for a person with a graduate degree--but heck--I was an art major).
All I had a wild meandering plot, and a character I loved. Oh, what a glorious mess!
Finally, after two years of writing in secret, I managed to type the monstrosity into a word doc. At a friend's urging, I sent it to her acquaintance, a big shot at one of the BIG 5 (there were 6 then).
Do you want to know what said person had to say about my "masterpiece?" 
That I should strongly consider taking a class, or maybe even quitting. 

In a word--I SUCKED. I mean-- really, really sucked. And here I was thinking-- Damn! I labored two years over this thing--isn't that worth something?

It was worth something. 

Yes. I learned loads.

But it wasn't worth a cent to a busy editor whose business it was to publish good books that people will want to buy and read.

So, there you have it. 

2005--Year of reckoning, Pt. 1. 

Quit? Or figure out what to do next.

I knew I wasn't quitting. Instead, I found an online critique group. And after about a year of ripping, tearing, learning about "show vs. tell", tension, dialogue tags, voice (all things I had NO IDEA existed despite getting a grade of 100 on my HS English exit exams, and "5" on my AP English exam and getting waived from Freshman English). 

Well color me shocked. 
I had NO IDEA there was so much to know about writing fiction. About genre!

The good news is that after seven months of getting my writing chewed and spit back out at me, I made major strides in my craft. So, by the end of 2006, I was ready to query the monster I had been nursing for over three years. (Okay--I will tell you the name--because this thing is dead and it is going to STAY DEAD. It was called TRUE VOICE).

Yeah--so what happened? Did I get an agent? Did I get a multi-zillion dollar book contract?
No. 

Did I expect that I would?
Um--yes--actually--I thought I had created a work of rare genius and that the whole world should be as thrilled about it as I was.

What really happened was this. I queried my favorite agent (after tons of flailing over query letters, etc.) and actually GOT MY FIRST PARTIAL REQUEST. I was over the moon!!
Fast forward...no I did not get an agent. And after I revised this monster umpteen times, and got about 60 rejections, I decided to put it to bed. 

So in 2006, I wrote another ms. This time the voice was SPOT ON. It grabbed people. This was IT, everyone said. I finished this book within the year and was querying by the end of the year. And there we go again--LOADS of requests--including one from a HUGE agent. This agent said she LOVED my voice, but didn't think this premise would work--but please do send her my next ms.
Now, it's 2008. Book TWO (Freaks of Nature, may it rest in peace) is murdered and buried next to Book ONE. I finish my THIRD book (Afterside--may it also rest in peace) in maybe, eight months and send the ms to the BIG AGENT. BIG AGENT signs me in September 2008.
Sounds great, right? 
In only five years, I have a BIG AGENT and I am on my way.

NOPE. But one thing I did learn was genre and voice. I learned enough about how to hook a reader. But guess what? I still could not plot my way out of a paper bag (sometimes I think I still can't!)
Fast forward to 2009. BIG AGENT never subs the book. Drops me after the financial freak out and market crash of 2008. Everyone panics and I believe I am finished. Washed up.

Yes--2009, year of reckoning Pt. 2. 


The year I finally decided that I needed to write for my love of it--and nothing more. 
So I worked and wrote and by the end of 2009, had completed Book 4. (I also attended loads of conferences and did whatever I possibly could to improve my craft. In other words I switched gears from getting PUBLISHED to being a BETTER WRITER.

Now it's 2010. I place runner-up for a WRITER'S DIGEST contest. Which wins me a partial request from another BIG AGENT (no disclosure, but this agent--who did not become my agent, has become a friend.). That agen (who is a terrific agent should you be so lucky to have her), helped me with some big plot problems I had. I queried BOOK 4--got about a 30% request rate and FINALLY in the summer of 2010, landed my second agent--a new agent who has since gone on to greatness (and though I still respect her deeply is not longer my agent--but that's about the biz and not writing. I have a lovely agent now, Shannon Hassan--who is NEVER EVER going to see books 1,2,and 3.)
So guess what? Agent #2 did not sell my Book 4. Instead, I wrote BOOK NUMBER FIVE.

See if you can guess the title of BOOK NUMBER FIVE?

That book is BREAKING GLASS, the fifth book I wrote and my first book to get published. 
In 2013. That is a full ten years from the minute I started filling those notebooks.

I will stop here--though my journey is far from over. Getting published is just another step on the ladder. There is no arrival, only the voyage.
But here's a good one to leave you chuckling. Remember BOOK FOUR? The book that joined my other three in a shallow grave?
In 2013, a lightbulb went off, and suddenly I knew how to "fix" BOOK FOUR. Want to know the name of BOOK FOUR?

That book is UNTIL BETH--the fourth book I ever wrote and my third to be published.
Moral of the story? Never give up. But that doesn't mean keep on working and re-working the same manuscript. Put that one aside and write a new one. 
Learn from your mistakes. Listen to your feedback. Apply what you know until something finally sticks!!

Has this been helpful? I really don't want any of you with a story in your hearts to let those stories go dim. Just know that in the arts, it takes time and effort to perfect your craft.
Please let me know your own stories and thoughts in the comments below.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Hello, future mentees: Behold—My Pitchwars Wish list...

Greetings, aspiring writers of YA! I am Lisa Amowitz and this my very first year as a Pitch Wars mentor, so I’m kind of a newbie at all the protocol stuff.



However, I am far from a newbie in this publishing game. Though my first book BREAKING GLASS was published in 2012, behind that moment was a long, long road of skill building, rejection, and loads and loads of constructive feedback to wade through. Behind that moment are three different agents, heartbreak, meltdowns. Many times I was ready to give up, but crawled and scratched my way back to the writing chair.

Why? Because I had stories in me, pushing to get out. Stories I had to tell myself. And if I wanted to tell those stories, I reasoned, maybe someone else might want to read them if I worked hard enough.

To do that I realized, I needed to develop the hide of a dinosaur and the steady determination of the ocean tide. I had to continue while watching others succeed as I did not. 

I had to tell myself this:

comparison is the thiEf of joy...


There is always someone out there who strikes gold while you only get coal.

The process took me years—and it’s still ongoing.

Does that sound like you? Are you just itching to get your story out there, not for fame and money, but just because it deserves to be read?

Then I’m here to help.

Heck, I’m a professional helper. I’m a Professor of Graphic Design—I help people learn for a living.

I have no formal degree in writing, just an MFA in Fine Art. My writing cred comes from the internet and the countless people whom, over the years helped me polish my craft. I’ve seen many of these transform from hesitant beginners to accomplished authors because THEY DID NOT GIVE UP.

As best I can, I’ve tried to give back. How do I work?
I am tough. I’m less about line edits (though I am kind of a sentence structure geek), and more about pacing, plotting, deleting slack scenes and extra words. If you are delicate about your ms and sensitive to red ink—I AM NOT YOUR MENTOR. I may be tough—but I am kind. I will let you know what shines, and help you cut out what is dragging down your manuscript.


If you have the passion, drive, and stubborn determination to prevail, no matter the amount of setbacks (there are ALWAYS setbacks in publishing. It really never ends…just saying) then

I BELIEVE IN YOU!!

So what kind of submission am I looking for? I am YA only—it’s what I read, what I write, and what I am best suited to work with you on.

I lean toward urban fantasy, clever dystopic, mystery/thriller/ghost, magical reality, historical fantasy, historical fiction, sci-fi, and some contemporary.  Love QUIRKY.
I am a looking for books that are lyrical in their use of language and imagery, detailed in their world-building, genuine in the crafting of  true and unique characters. I enjoy some romance, but I do not think a book whose sole emphasis is on romance is for me. I like depth—and growth. I crave deeper themes to be explored—though I am also, very, very plot driven. I love action, suspense, mystery like plants love the sun.

I’m looking for textured, beautiful, magical YA with a distinctive voice.

Maybe, to give you a better idea of my tastes I will list my favorite authors/books:

1. Of course, it’s no surprise I love HARRY POTTER and the HUNGER GAMES. But that’s been done. If you could come up with some new twist on it, fine—I’m your mentor.

2. One of my favorite books of all time is THE BOOK THIEF, by Marcus Zusak. This book literally changed me as an author. It taught me the power of voice. Yes, it is somewhat magical reality, as it is narrated by Death! Yep—falls right into my zone.

3. Maggie Stiefvater’s RAVEN CYCLE. Maggie is my patron saint. Her finely detailed characters, her creepy bad guys, her incredible sense of place, coupled with the wonderfully original blend of myth and magic in her stories, makes her most definitely, my Goddess of All Words.

4. Alexandra Bracken’s PASSENGER. Here you have my love of history, fantasy, and voice all rolled into one single wild adventure of a book. I also loved her DARKEST MINDS series.

5. Patrick Ness: I kind of worship this guy. He is the king of voice and totally original narratives, combining depth, humor and total strangeness. THE CHAOS WALKING trilogy is right up there in my pantheon. Also, I am a huge fan of MORE THAN THIS. Confession: I have not yet read A MONSTER CALLS.

6. Ransom Rigg’s MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN. Twisted, dark strange: Love, love LOVE!

7. Leigh Bardugo: SIX OF CROWS. How do I love this book? Let me count the ways: Character—so intricate—all interwoven with their own secrets and pasts. Storyline? Tense, suspenseful—unpredictable. All of this pulled together with deft, vivid prose. SWOON!!!

8. Ruta Sepetys: SALT TO THE SEA Strictly historical, it’s really not that different in structure from SIX of CROWS in that it unfolds in four POVS and follows the character’s converging story lines. Very human, very dark—Gorgeous prose you can eat with a spoon. It hardly gets better than this.

9. ILLUMINAE, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. I’m not always a big reader of sci-fi, but I am a huge Star Wars and Star Trek fan, so any YA that has all of the above features and is set in space or the future works for me. This book was so original and amazing. I actually listened to the audio book which was performed like an old fashioned radio play. Incredible.

Other authors who have made an impact on me: 
Anne Rice: INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE; Stephen King: THE STAND, STAND BY ME; Robert Heinlein: Stranger in a Strange Land; Marie Lu: Young Elites; Victoria Schwab: Vicious, A Darker Shade of Magic; John Green: Looking for Alaska.

In summation: I am looking for unique and original YA with strong voice, lyrical prose, finely wrought characters with depth, mystery, intrigue. If your manuscript have those ingredients then I WANT YOU:

But most of all, the thing I most want to see from you, my potential mentee is

YOUR ORIGINAL VOICE!



Lisa Amowitz is an award winning author of three fantasy/thrillers for young adults, UNTIL BETH [Spencer Hill Press, 2015], VISION [Spencer Hill Press, 2014], and BREAKING GLASS [Spencer Hill Press, 2013].

She is also a cover designer and Professor of Graphic Design at Bronx Community College. www.bcc.cuny.edu

She is represented by Shannon Hassan of
Marsal-Lyon Literary Agency 

Twitter: @lisa_amowitz
Instagram: @lisa_amowitz
Facebook: 

Learn about her books:



BREAKING GLASS

VISION

UNTIL BETH



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Sunday, July 3, 2016

Breaking Glass is 3 years old!


I can't believe it's been three years since my first book, BREAKING GLASS released in 2013. Since then I've published two more, (VISION, 2014 and UNTIL BETH, 2015), as well as the e-novella FRACTURED which brings the main characters from Jeremy, from BREAKING GLASS and Bobby, from VISION together for a creepy, tense weekend in New York City.

Though my three novels are the first books in three different series, somehow, BREAKING GLASS and VISION have merged into one. I guess it's because Jeremy Glass is possibly my favorite mc and I just love Bobby Pendell as his hapless foil.

A lot of people who have enjoyed my books have asked me when the next books in the series are releasing, so, though there's no set dates, I'm going to admit that I have written a good part of the sequel to BREAKING GLASS, and it will pick up where the novella FRACTURED leaves off. I have every intention of completing the LIFE AND BETH trilogy as well. I'm just following where the muse leads!

To celebrate BREAKING GLASS's third birthday, Spencer Hill Press is offering all four of my books for 99 cents each on Amazon Kindle!

Buy Breaking Glass for 99c


Buy Vision for 99c


Buy Fractured for 99c


Buy Until Beth for 99c


As part of the celebration and in keeping with the "broken" theme, I am giving away one signed copy of SHINY BROKEN PIECES by Dhonielle Clayton and Sona Charaipotra!



Monday, April 4, 2016

Camp NanoWrimo Triage Center--a reblogged guest post by my favorite writing guru, Angela Ackerman

Hey folks! If you follow my Twitter feed, you'll know that I am obsessed with Angela Ackerman, the genius behind The Emotion Thesaurus and a new website called One Stop for Writers. (find links below in Angela's bio).

Angela has been gracious to allow me to repost one of her favorite NanoWrimo advice posts. She is my writing savior. *lays wreath of gratitude at her feet.*

Angela's advice is the special sauce that helped me through Nano last November --and...drumroll--that book has made it through two drafts and is ready to send to my agent for its next read through.

Oh, and one more thing--I am an official #WNDB Camp Nano camp counselor! I'll be doing a Tweet chat at #WNDBNano tomorrow at 4PM with the other counselors. You'll be getting my care packages during Week 4..and now...

Take from there, Angela!


There you are, happily pounding out words, the click and rattle of the keyboard creating a musical symphony in your writing space. Maybe you're humming along, caught up in the frenzy of creation that oozes out every pore. When the scene finishes, you stop, roll your shoulders, sip at coffee gone cold, but who cares son, because cold coffee means VICTORY in a writer's world.

A neck crack and a handful of nourishing Skittles later, you poise your fingers over the keyboard, ready to begin again.

Only...nothing comes.

You stare at the blinking cursor, then your fingers. Why aren't they moving, directing fictional lives, creating worlds?

The NaNoWriMo Boogeyman
Come on, you urge. Get to work. They remain still, splayed out in knobby hooks of rigor mortis.

A familiar feeling curls through your belly, sliding around in a slow dance before fanning through your chest and netting it tight. It is an emotion you dare not name. But deep down, you know.

It's happening, the thing you prayed would not come to pass this November: a visit from the NaNoWriMo boogeyman, The Big Blank.

  

DON'T PANIC. I REPEAT, DON'T PANIC. 

The big blank, the block, the curtain that draws across your story vision. It happens, and it can happen to you. Remain calm. Breathe. This is the triage center, a place for you to come when your writing stalls and you need some help to get moving again.

Choose your blank & amp; click the link. Get the help you need and then grab your keyboard and write.

  

CHARACTER BLANKS 

Introduce a Secret

Let's face it, sometimes our characters seem a bit blah on the page. It might be your hero, the sidekick or even the villain. And while I'd normally suggest you dig deeper into your character to develop them more, mid-novel during NaNoWriMo, a person can't always re-plan a character. So, try giving your character a secret. Not something lame-ass, but a secret with depth, birthing from a place of Guilt, Shame, Exploitation or Necessity.

Give Him or Her An Unusual Skill or Talent

To make your character stand out on the page, focus on how to make him unique. Is there a Talent or Skill that adds zing and factors into the plot? Here's a list of ideas to get you started.

ONE STOP Worthy Goals 


Make Him Worthy

Sometimes we need to work on the connection between a character and a reader, and the area to explore to create empathy is WORTHINESS.  Giving him an undeserved misfortune isn't enough. It is what a character does despite his hardship that pulls readers in.

 


STORY MIDDLE BLANKS 

Focus on Motivation

Ran out of steam, did you? It's okay, the middle of a story can be a tricky place. You don't want to wrap things up too quickly, but at the same time, not...much...seems to be...happening. When you get stuck and don't know where to go next, think MOTIVATION. Your hero should always be motivated to act, making decisions, choices, weighing options. Always know what is motivating your character, and you'll be able to put one foot in front of the other again.

Have Him Look In a Mirror
 If you're lost in the middle, make haste to the midpoint & mirror moment when your hero looks within, has an emotional epiphany, and that leads to change and purpose.

Seek Out an Expert
James Scott Bell knows all about writing the middle of a novel, so much that he's written a book about it. A book, I might add, you should own (and all his others).


PLOTTING BLANKS

Throw a Curve Ball
Tension makes the world go round. If your characters are stalling on what to do, it's time to amp things up and spread some pain. Follow this one-two-three punch of tension and complicate matters, forcing your hero to adapt to succeed. Remember though, when it comes to frustrating your characters, you need to make sure their reactions & ways of dealing with an upset fit the character.

Introduce a Pressure Point
If your plot is chugging like a car running on cheap gas, it might be time to utilize a pressure point. There's nothing like a temptation, a challenge, or an opportunity for redemption to push the story forward.

Poke His Wounds
Emotional wounds are a big part of the story, so if the plot trail dries up, return to Character Arc and remember your Character is on a path of CHANGE. Understanding why his wound is important to the story will help lay down some plot pieces for you to follow.


CONFLICT BLANKS

One Stop Raise The Stakes 

Raise the Stakes
If your conflict is flat-lining, it's time to raise the stakes. No, I'm not talking about throwing more monsters at your hero for him to kill, or a bigger, nastier bomb for him to diffuse. Instead, Friend-o,  let's personalize those stakes. Give your hero a compelling reason to ACT. How we do that is make sure the character sees that if he doesn't, something even worse will happen, like undeserved consequences falling in the lap of someone else.

Cross a Moral Line
If your tension is about as hardcore as limp celery, it's time to bring about a belief crisis. Force your hero to do the unthinkable and cross a moral line for the "greater good." When the lines between right and wrong grow fuzzy, everything gets complicated in a hurry, which is terrific for juicing up your story.

Friction & Fireworks
You love your cast of characters, I get it. Pass around the flowers, have everyone hold hands and let them get the job done TOGETHER. Very sweet. The problem is, when everyone is playing nicey-nice, the story gets boring fast. Add a healthy dose of tension by creating some clashing personalities who will create story friction.

Emotion Amplifiers High Res 

Amplify Emotional Reactions
Nothing adds tension and conflict like a big ol' stupid mistake. Screw ups are a story's bread and butter! So let's get your hero off his game by amplifying his emotions, piling on the stress or pain, or even distracting him with primal pull of attraction, hunger or thirst.

You pick the amplifier, apply it, and watch the emotional overreactions lead to bad judgement and rashness that creates delicious story fallout. (Oh yeah--this ebook is free, by the way.)



BRAINSTORMING BLANKS 

Sometimes the creative well empties and our brain turns to static. But it's NaNoWriMo season, and nobody's got time for that. Pull out the big guns and get going.

The Writers Helping Writers Descriptive Thesaurus Collections


Two words: Description Nirvana. When you're struggling with finding the right sensory detail for settings, check the Setting Thesaurus. Looking to add some symbolism and motif depth, describe your characters' physical features, their emotions, unique personality traits or a host of other things? We've got you covered, all accessible right here at WHW.   


One Stop For Writers: A Library Like No Other  

Like the WHW sample thesaurus collections, do you? Well then you will love One Stop, where all the grown up versions of our thesaurus collections live (including the bestselling book versions of The Emotion Thesaurus, Positive Trait Thesaurus, Negative Trait Thesaurus and the yet-to-be-released Setting Thesaurus books [Spring 2016].) Hundreds of new entries & expanded content, tutorials, tools to map out story structure, one-of-a-kind generators and innovative character and world building worksheets make this a powerhouse library for writers. It's all searchable with a click, making NaNoing that much easier. Registration is free, so you can test drive the site.


NOW KEEP WRITING

 

If all else fails and you can't seem to get over the Big Blank, go around him. Put in a sentence or two as a placeholder, and then move forward in the story to a point where you feel on solid ground again. Later, you can come back and fill in the blanks. Chances are if your brain has time to think about the problem without feeling pressured to perform, you'll sort it out on your own and be able to add in the missing scenes.

Happy writing, Fearless NaNo Warrior. See you at 50K!

 
Image 1: Currens @ Pixabay
Angela Ackerman is a writing coach, international speaker, and co-author of the bestselling resource, The Emotion Thesaurus: a Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, as well as the bestselling duo, The Positive Trait Thesaurus: a Writer’s Guide to Character Attributes and The Negative Trait Thesaurus: a Writer’s Guide to Character Flaws. A proud indie author, her books are available in five languages, sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors and psychologists around the world. She is also the co-founder of the popular site, Writers Helping Writers, as well as One Stop For Writers, an innovative online library built to help writers elevate their storytelling.