31 October 2012

Doing it All!

So, we've already established that I'm insane, right? And that I can't back down from a writing challenge? And that I don't know how to relax?

Okay, so it should surprise none of you that I've committed myself to a very, very busy November!

A few years ago, I discovered (and conquered) NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), where I wrote my very first, 50,000-word novel in less than a month's time! (Except, I kind of cheated a little bit, because I was moving in November, so I wrote for 30 days in October instead. I think it still counts!)

Last year, I discovered PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) - the challenge to come up with a new picture book idea every single day for thirty days.... And I did it! (I'm currently querying one of the picture books that came about as a result of this challenge.)

This year, I'm in the middle of querying my YA contemporary novel and my favorite picture book. I'm also working on revising not one, but two separate Middle Grade novels and another picture book. And I'm writing my knitting book as well. I certainly don't have time to take on any more challenges!!
So, for November 2012, naturally, I've decided that I'm going to DO IT ALL!!! Is anyone surprised? Yeah, I didn't think so. Polish up my gold star, folks, I'm getting ready to defend my Rock Star status!! My plan this month is to:
1. Write a 50,000+ word YA novel (my NaNoWriMo name is v.bartles, if you want to look me up)
 UPDATE: 11/5 word count so far - 7,134 (a little bit behind, but catching up)
UPDATE: 11/14 word count: 21,415 (almost caught up!!)
2. Come up with 30+ original Picture Book ideas
UPDATE: 11/5 idea count so far - 7
UPDATE: 11/14 idea count - 13 (I just need one for today, so I don't fall behind...)
3. Finish revising at least one of my 2 Middle Grade novels
UPDATE: 11/14 - trying to decide which MG novel to focus on for Pitch Wars contest...
4. Keep moving forward with querying my finished projects
UPDATE: 11/14 I've decided to enter the Agent for the Holidays pitch contest!! (Writing my entries today)
5. Check in weekly on my blog to let you know how I'm progressing (I probably won't be doing 2 or more blog posts each week, as I've been doing lately. Look for my updates on Sunday evenings or Monday mornings, most likely. - Or you can follow me on twitter - @vbartles - for daily updates on the writing goals.) UPDATE: 11/5 wrote a different kind of blog post yesterday, so I'm updating here instead of on a separate post.
6. Maintain at least a small shred of sanity (UPDATE: Jury is still out on whether or not I was even remotely sane before this crazy month began! - And I think I've now confirmed that I'm not even remotely sane!!)
Oh, yeah... And I'm also going to participate in the  Spectral read-a-thon, and I'm thinking about jumping on the "read 30 novels in 30 days" bandwagon too... because you know, the challenge is there... 
UPDATE: 11/5 - Due to a recent Twitter conversation with Summer Heacock, I've determined that I have to add one more thing to my month: Weekly blog posts - "Crockpot Gourmet for the Frantic Chef" - This may become a regular feature...
Can it be done? Well, if anyone can do it, I'm just the stubborn girl to make it work! If nothing else, I won't have time to wallow in fears and self-doubt this month. I'll be too busy writing new and amazing stories. I'll see you all on the other side! I hope! :)

28 October 2012

R-E-S-P-E-C-T - Find out What it Means to Me!

As a writer deep in the querying trenches, I've heard one tidbit of excellent advice over and over again.

Don't complain about the agents/editors/publishers who reject you in public forums!!

This is a total, "Well, duh, obviously!" bit of advice, because anyone who really stopped to think about it would realize that establishing yourself as someone who whines and complains when you don't get your way is not the best way to get your foot in the door to a successful publishing career. If I sent a query letter to Agent A and then posted scathing criticism about him when he rejected my manuscript, how good are my chances that Agent B (who might be good friends with Agent A for all I know) would want to work with me, even if she absolutely loved the manuscript? Yeah, not so much.

And what if Agent X is totally in love with your manuscript, but when he does a quick google search for your name, he finds your blog, where you've complained about Agents A-W? Not only does X know he wasn't your first, or even your second choice for representation (Would you start a query letter with "Dear Agent X, I'm querying you because everyone else already said no, and you're better than nothing"???), but now he has to wonder about how you'll handle rejection when it comes time to send your manuscript to publishers.

The advice about not complaining in public is so obvious that you would think it kind of goes without saying.

And yet, when you're stuck in the middle of this frustrating process, feeling alone and picked on and completely down-in-the-dumps, sometimes, you just want someone to reach out and tell you "You're amazing and Agent Q doesn't know what she's missing!" So, even though you know it's wrong, you're tempted to vent your frustrations on your blog ("only my close friends read it anyway, so I'm safe") or your twitter feed ("I only have 45 followers, so it's no big deal") or something. I get that. I've been tempted to complain from time to time myself. It's not okay. If you need someone to vent to, find a close friend and feel free to cry your eyes out over a cup of hot chocolate at the local diner, but a public forum is not the place for your personal pity party. Ever! No matter what!!

Enough said.

Except... the street runs both ways.

I follow a lot of agents and editors on twitter and their blogs, and I've realized something that might shock the socks right off of many of my aspiring author friends out there: Agents are people too!! Seriously, kids, I'm not making this up! Many (maybe even most) of them don't like sending out rejections any more than we like receiving them, but they simply can't accept every writer that sends a query letter. And would you really want them to? An agent with 2,000 clients wouldn't have time to effectively do his or her job. They have to be selective, and that's a good thing. But because they're people too, sometimes these agents get frustrated with the process too. After a busy week full of sending out clients' manuscripts to editors (and maybe getting more rejections than offers on the novels they thought would be snapped up in less than a heartbeat), sifting through hundreds of query letters, and getting angry responses from many (though certainly not most!!) of the authors they send rejections to... it's natural for an agent to get a little fed up.

It's natural to want someone to say "You were absolutely right, Agent V, a 400-page memoir about a man who discovered that his belly-button lint has super-secret plans to take over the world probably won't sell well in the picture book market. I don't blame you for turning that down." And so I totally get it when an agent takes to his twitter account to complain about the crazies that send him queries every day... or she writes a scathing blog post about the wannabe authors that expect to get published even though they don't know how to write a complete sentence. It's totally natural to want to vent. But I beg you: Don't do it!!

The thing is, everyone knows that in order to be truly successful in the writing biz, aspiring authors must send our queries to the right agents - the agents that enjoy the kind of books we write. And so we do our research. We check out the twitter feed, we read the blog posts, we check out every interview we can get our hands on. And professionalism means a lot when looking for the right agent.

It doesn't matter if 15 of Agent C's 22 clients are all on the New York Times' bestseller list, and she says she's looking for a book that exactly fits the manuscript I want to send her... If she regularly posts snarky comments about the idiots who query her, I won't send a query. Yeah, she might be the perfect agent to sell my book and make millions of dollars for me, but why would I want to take the chance that I might be the wannabe writer she ridicules next?

So my point is: We need to all remember that publishing is a business, and it pays to be professional. Furthermore, it's a business where REAL people with REAL feelings sit on both sides of the desk, and rude behavior is never okay.

Note: No real authors or agents were referred to in the writing of this blog post. I don't want to hurt any body's feelings or make you feel like I'm singling you out as an example for what not to do, so I tried to be as random as possible when concocting examples for this blog post. If you are, in fact, an aspiring author who has written a 400-page memoir about your struggles with megalomaniac belly button lint, I'm not saying that you'll never find an agent willing to champion your book. Just probably not one that specializes in picture books. And I realize that it's unlikely that any agents are actually reading my silly, little blog, but if you are (or know of) an agent who happens to have exactly 22 clients, 15 of which regularly spend time on the New York Times' bestseller list, please don't think I'm trying to imply in any way that you are anything but kind and helpful in your online interactions.

22 October 2012

A Child's Perspective on the 3rd Presidential Debate

The kids stayed up with me to watch the final Presidential debate again tonight (we tried to watch the 2nd debate, but it devolved so quickly into petty bickering that we couldn't force ourselves to sit through it), and as I'm sure there are many (like me) who are still undecided about this election, I thought you might be interested to hear the kids' thoughts...
8-year-old: Decided three-quarters of the way through the debate that they were giving her a headache, and this wasn't worth staying up past bedtime for. She went to bed.
10-year-old: "I don’t get politics. That’s what I learned. They’re annoying, and I didn’t understand anything they said. I also learned that when you pause the TV, Mitt Romney always has a weird expression on his face."
12-year-old: "Mitt Romney contradicts himself on accident, because he tries to say something, but he confuses himself, I think. Barak Obama expects our country to be perfect, and he wants it to be the best. He expects us to have the best education, even though a lot of the people in our country aren’t really trying. He said in his closing statement that 'it would be good to have the strongest military,' but it’s kind of hard to be the best. I also learned that they made two-year-olds look mature!"
14-year-old: They both really like talking about the economy. 'What about foreign policy?' 'Well, let’s talk about the economy. Let’s talk about jobs.' It was annoying. Mitt Romney probably doesn’t have a plan. He’s just making it up as he goes along. Because he keeps saying 'I know how to do this. I’m keeping it a secret, but I know what I’m doing, just leave it to me.'"
When I asked the kids who they would vote for, only the ten-year-old had an answer. (She would vote for Obama, because he didn't say he would cancel PBS in the first debate.) This debate was no more successful than the first Presidential debate in convincing the children to support one candidate over the other.

Sparrows, Traps and the Power of Prayer

This morning, in church, one of the speakers talked about the power of prayer in our lives. She spoke of the miracles that prayer can bring into our lives, and the strength we can achieve through it. I found my attention starting to wander a bit ("I've heard all this before. I could teach this lesson, if I wanted to.") until she mentioned a story from a talk given by President Boyd K. Packer (President of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) in a general conference talk in October 2009.

President Packer said that the Lord expects us to not only pray for His help and guidance in our troubles, but He expects us to do all that we can for ourselves as well. He said:

That principle is illustrated by the story of a little girl. She was upset with her brother, who built a trap to catch sparrows.
Unable to get help, she said to herself, “Well, I’ll pray about it.”
After her prayer, the little girl told her mother, “I know he is not going to catch any sparrows in his trap because I prayed about it. I’m positive he won’t catch any sparrows!”
Her mother said, “How can you be so sure?”
She said, “After I prayed about it, I went out and kicked that old trap all to pieces!”
 This little girl didn't doubt that the Lord would hear her prayers and help her with the problem she faced. After all, didn't Jesus Christ say that Heavenly Father notices when even a tiny sparrow falls to the ground? (Matthew 10:29) Of course he would help her save the sparrows. But the girl's faith didn't end with the plea to God on her knees. With the courage she found in prayer, she got up and did something about that dreadful trap!

As I listened to this story, I thought about my own struggles in the past few years, as I've worked to become "a real writer" - plugging away, day after day, on my manuscripts... revising and polishing until they shine... dreaming of the day when I would see my name on the cover of a real book in a real bookstore. Like the little girl in the story, I've believed that with the Lord's help, nothing is impossible, and I've prayed with faith, trusting that the Lord would guide my path properly. Unfortunately, I haven't fully followed this wise little girl's example.

Oh, I know that nothing of true value comes without effort. And believe me, I've put in lots of effort. Countless hours reading, writing, revising, taking classes, exchanging manuscripts with published authors and editors for critique, more revisions, more classes, more writing and more critiques... I've done just about everything possible to ensure my success as "a real writer."

Except one thing.

I've let fear of rejection hold me back from submitting my work to agents and editors. In many of the blog posts, webinars, conferences and classes I've studied, I've heard that usually, the first novel you write won't be good enough for publication. I've heard more than one industry professional advise that you should write that first book, revise it, learn from it, and then put it away and write something new and better. And so I put my first novel away. Because "everyone" said it probably wouldn't ever be good enough.

I wrote another manuscript. And I put it away. Then I wrote another. And I put it away. Then, I rewrote the first story from a different perspective, and it was a completely different book but I told myself I had to put it away again, because it was technically my "first manuscript" and therefore it couldn't be good enough to get published. And so I wrote another story instead. And another...

Somewhere along the way, I guess I forgot that I was supposed to have "kicked that old trap [fear] to pieces!" And it doesn't matter that I've built grand birdhouses to shelter the sparrows [in this analogy, the sparrows are my unpublished manuscripts] or prayed for the Lord to help them fly... As long as I allow that trap to remain, the little birds will never be free.

So this week, I'm working on "kicking that old trap to pieces." I'm determined to swallow my fears, to send out query letters and to keep moving forward, even when I face let-downs and set-backs. Because I know that the Lord is always there to help me and to give me the strength I need, but He won't do it all for me. He expects me to do all I can too.

What about you? What "traps" are you facing in your life? What steps do you need to take to overcome them? Do you have the courage to "kick that old trap all to pieces?"

17 October 2012

Book Review & Giveaway! THE STARS FELL SIDEWAYS by Cassandra Marshall

I am so excited to be participating in the blog tour for Cassandra Marshall's YA Steampunkish Fantasy, THE STARS FELL SIDEWAYS!!

From the official website:Alison Arroway takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’. She has to, or she won’t get paid. Alison is a stunt double for pampered teen actress Pomegranate and when the director takes the shoot to Portugal, Alison is anything but thrilled to be rooming with Pom. But getting to hang around teen hearthrob Erik? Now that’s a plus.

Erik invites both girls on a sunset boat trip and Alison manages to have a decent time. Until the storm hits and the boat is shipwrecked on a small island, leaving Erik missing and the boat captain dead.

In the morning light, Alison and Pom find themselves on the lost island of Atlantis. Only one problem: now that the girls know the secret of the island, the Atlanteans don’t want them to leave. They're stuck with corsets, full-skirted dresses, and the strange steam-driven contraptions that are just a way of life for the islanders.

When a plot by the ruthless army Captain to take over the island and declare himself General over all emerges, an underground group promises to return the girls to the mainland if they can help stop him. They'll go through a mountain, literally, to find the Book of Blue, a book that will explain how to make ‘the stars fall sideways' in order to save the day and earn their freedom.

I absolutely fell in love as soon as I read the description of this novel (Atlantis as the setting was enough to make me want to read this, but a strong girl main character who manages to save the day, even when confined to full skirts and corsets?? I couldn't pass that up!), so when I saw that Cassandra was looking for volunteers to participate in her blog tour, I immediately sent an email, begging for a chance to be included... and SHE SAID YES!!!

I'd like to say that I put everything aside so I could read THE STARS FELL SIDEWAYS the second Cassandra sent me a review copy, but I have to admit that I hesitated. When it came time to read the book, I started to worry... What if I didn't like it??? You know I'd never post a dishonest review of a book, even if the author is one of my favorite people in real life... But could I participate in a blog tour if I didn't LOVE the book? I wasn't so sure.

LUCKILY, all of that worrying and fear was absolutely and completely for nothing! I do love it! When I finally opened the book and started to read, I couldn't put it down. Action, adventure, a touch of romance (and a slightly steamy make out session with a really cute Atlantean) kept me turning pages, even when my household chores threatened to tear me away. (I had to assign dinner-making duties to the kids, so I could read uninterrupted for that much longer.) I've seen the "lost in the city of Atlantis" theme in stories before, but this one gives a fresh twist to the idea.

Alison has to call upon the skills she learned as a stunt double to save the island and to find a way to get herself and Pom back home again. Let me just say she kind of rocks. I wish I could be as courageous and daring as Alison Arroway.

But I have to admit that Pom was my favorite character in the book. In the beginning, she's definitely your stereotypical spoiled, Hollywood brat, with almost no redeeming qualities, but her time on the island helps her to discover that there is more to life than a pretty face and posing for the paparazzi.

Want more? You can read the first two chapters here.

Once you start reading, you won't want to stop. So you can find links to buy THE STARS FELL SIDEWAYS here (it's available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords and more). And one lucky winner has a chance to win a SIGNED copy right here on my blog!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!! Update: I changed the settings on the Rafflecopter form to make the blog comment optional, instead of mandatory, as some people still have trouble posting comments on my blog (don't know what else to do to fix that!) & I want you all to have a chance to enter! I'd still love to see your comments, though!!

If you've missed the other stops on the STARS FELL SIDEWAYS blog tour, you can find the list of links here. And don't forget to visit Cassandra Marshall's blog! She's giving away a free, substantial edit of a novel (up to 100,000 words)! The free edit is good for 4 months and can be used by the winner or gifted to their favorite writer, and you have ONE MORE DAY to enter!!

15 October 2012

Pitch Live! Entry: KISSING FROGS

Here is my entry for the Pitch Live contest I mentioned. I hope you enjoy it! (I tried like crazy to change the thumbnail for the video to the really cute frog dear hubby drew for me... but I don't know how to work YouTube, so instead you get a picture of frozen me!)


Genre: YA Contemporary

Word Count: 61,000


Facing my Fears - This Time I Had Help!

So, we all know that we can't grow unless we stretch ourselves and step outside our comfort zones from time to time. That's why I decided to enter the Pitch Live contest, hosted by Brenda Drake, Erica Chapman and Leigh Ann Kopans! I knew this was going to be extremely scary for me, so when I decided to participate, I immediately announced to all of my friends on twitter that I'd be posting a video, because I knew they'd hold me to it and I wouldn't be able to let fear keep me from trying. Still, I almost didn't do it.

When it came time to actually film the video, all I could think was "I don't look good on camera! I don't want people to see me! What if I mess up? What if???" Encouraged by my friends (and some people I don't even know yet) on twitter, I pulled out the video camera... Then breathed a huge sigh of relief when I realized that the battery was dead. Can't film a video without a camera, after all!

Dear hubby searched for (and quickly found) the charger for the camera while the whole family gathered to help me dream up fun ideas for the video. If we'd had more time to build sets and make costumes, this 2-minute video might have been a seriously elaborate production! In the end, we went with something pretty simple... and with my whole family gathered around off camera, I made my video with very few butterflies fluttering in my tummy.

Lesson learned today: We are on this earth to learn and grow, and we'll never do that unless we face our fears and do things that are HARD to do... But we don't have to do any of it alone! There is always someone to help us through, no matter how difficult the road we travel!!

Thank you, all, for the love and support you give me! I couldn't do it without you!

08 October 2012

I Am So Grateful

This weekend, I had the privilege to watch the semi-annual general conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormon church).

This is one of my favorite times of year - the opportunity to listen to the leaders of the church as they give us guidance and counsel as we strive to more perfectly follow the teachings of the Lord, Jesus Christ. I've found that no matter what trials and troubles I'm facing in my personal life, I will find the answers that I need in the addresses given during this conference. This weekend was no exception.

Lately, I've been overwhelmed and run-down as I've tried to settle into my new home. I've been sorely missing the friends I left behind in Maryland, and I've been so busy with the getting-settled runaround that I haven't yet established a circle of close friends here. So I've been feeling lost, lonely and somewhat down-in-the-dumps for the past month or two. It was with this depressed spirit that I tuned in to hear the words of the Prophet this weekend.

One of the biggest themes that ran throughout many of the talks and addresses given this weekend was this: Heavenly Father knows and loves you. He sees what you are going through, and He does not hide. He is directing your path; He will answer your prayers; He has a plan for you - even if it doesn't feel like He's really there.

President Thomas S. Monson suggested in his address Sunday morning that we take time to focus on the daily blessings we see in our lives. Make a list of all that you have been given, even the small, almost insignificant blessings, he advised. When we focus on the positive, instead of dwelling on the negative, our trials and troubles become much easier to endure. I realized, as I listened to him speak, that I've gotten away from that practice here on my blog, which I started as a way to keep track of those small blessings I so easily overlook. - So here I go, back to basics, with my list of the trials (and the "small" blessings that have come from them) that I'm grateful for today:

1. I'm glad I wasn't able to pass the inspections to allow me to rent out my home back in Maryland before I left. The tighter finances have made me once again look for creative, inexpensive solutions to my needs... and I've discovered once more that I can do a lot more than I thought I was capable of! - Also, my empty house has become a blessing for a friend who needed a place to stay for a few months while she finishes her college degree.

2. I'm grateful that the public schools here aren't quite as advanced as those we left behind. The necessary shuffling of my daughter between the high school and the middle school each day has given me a schedule that makes it impossible to search for a part-time job (at least until the end of the school year). Of course, my initial feeling about this situation was one of absolute terror, as I wondered how on earth we could possibly afford to pay for two households (remember? the house in MD isn't bringing in rent right now) if I couldn't go out and get a "real" job... But because my daily schedule is full-to-the-brim with shuffling kids around to fill their school needs, I suddenly have built-in one-on-one time with each of my four children! - And as an added bonus, I have about two hours each day all to myself when there isn't enough time to go run errands or tackle some of the bigger projects on my to-do list before the first of my children arrive home from school... and this has become my scheduled writing time each day. I've accomplished more with my writing in the past two months than I thought possible!

I have so many things to be grateful for... so many troubles-turned-blessings that I couldn't possibly list them all today. But I resolve to be better at looking for the good things in life as I face the difficult opportunities for blessings that crop up from day to day!

What about you? What troubles are you grateful for?

03 October 2012

A Child's View of the 1st Presidential Debate

I let my kids stay up to watch the Presidential debate with me tonight, because the 12-year-old had to take notes for her social studies homework, and it didn't seem fair to make the others go to bed in the middle of it if I was letting her stay up past bedtime.

Let's just say that a Presidential debate is a much different event when viewed through the eyes of a child. Forget about those boring Medicare and Social Security questions. Here is what I learned about our choices in this election (with the help of my children, ages 8, 10, 12 & 14):

Mitt Romney:
    * Likes Big Bird, but he wants to get rid of PBS anyway. ("What if he tries to cancel the Disney Channel next???")
    * Wants to help the "poor kids" get an education
    * Didn't do his homework, because he kept talking about changing things to be just the way they already are.

President Obama:
   * Really wants Obamacare
   * Thinks Romney is wrong
   * Likes to point out that Romney is wrong by twisting Romney's words around
   * Was really hard to understand

Both candidates:
   * Don't know how to follow the rules of a debate
   * Are hypocrites - they kept getting upset at each other for interrupting, even though they were both interrupting each other all the time.

The official Bartles kids' poll coming out of this debate:
  * 8-year-old would vote for Obama, "because I'm used to him."
  * 10-year-old would vote for Obama "because I like PBS"
  * 12-year-old would kick them both out because they don't know how to follow rules
   * 14-year-old is still undecided

01 October 2012

Happy Book Birthday: THE STARS FELL SIDEWAYS by Cassandra Marshall

On October 17th, I'll be posting my review (including a giveaway!!) as part in the blog tour for THE STARS FELL SIDEWAYS by Cassandra Marshall, but I've had the lovely countdown indicator on my sidebar for the past few weeks, and it's now at zero...

Which means the book is available for purchase NOW! If you can't wait until the 17th, you can buy it from Barnes and Noble (here) or Amazon (here) or Smashwords (here).

Happy Book Birthday, Cassandra!!