Archive for August, 2010

Fifteen Rejections

August 31, 2010

There are plenty of legendary stories about how many times Dr. Suess’s MULBERRY STREET and Madeleine L’Engle’s WRINKLE IN TIME were rejected.  (Both were around forty!)  Such tales tend to give hope to struggling writers everywhere.  My friend Jeanie Ransom had a rather epic number of submissions for her divorce book, I DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT.  But she believed strongly in her story despite the rejections.  Magination Press eventually had the wisdom to pick it up.  This picture book has been selling well ever since and is found in may recommended lists like the one in DIVORCE FOR DUMMIES.   

So the fifteen or so rejections that I received on SUSPECT between 1999 and 2001 does seem quite small by comparison.  But I did hit every publisher in the Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market that listed mysteries as one of the genres that they were interested in looking at.  When I reached the end of this list, it was time to tuck the manuscript into the desk drawer for at least a little while.  I was busy writing on the manuscripts that would eventually turn into SAVING THE GRIFFIN and DEFENDING IRENE.  But I didn’t give up entirely on the project. 

In 2004, I saw an opportunity to submit to a specific editor at a “closed” house, one that usually only took agented manuscripts. I did a few light revisions and updates to reflect some changes in technology and then prepared a query letter.  Then I sent the package out. After reading the query letter and the first fifty pages, my targeted editor agreed to look at the project.  In the end, she declined with a few kind words about my project.   But the experience actually gave me confidence that I did have something interesting going with SUSPECT.  This woman had edited more than one Edgar-award winning project.  She must have seen something there or she wouldn’t have devoted several precious hours to reading and considering my book.

Novelists learn things with every book they write.  Between 1999 and  2005, I had finished four new manuscripts.  So I was ready to make more changes to my book when I saw another opportunity.

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Reverse Chronological Order/Explanation of Dedication Page

August 30, 2010

One thing about blogs is that people will generally read things from newest to oldest.  So I’m going to work my way backwards from my decision to submit SUSPECT to Peachtree to how I came up with the original idea for SUSPECT in the first place.  It was essentially a ten-year journey from my first scribbles on this YA mstery to its acceptance by Peachtree. 

Some brilliant people like Megan Whalen Turner and Clare Dunkle essentially sold their first novel to the first editor who looked at it.  I started out with a bit of talent and a mantra that I picked up from Jane Yolen: Bone-headed stubbornness pays.  I didn’t really know whether I was any good at writing, but I did know that  could be bone-headed.  Most people can’t get a B.S. in electrical engineering without that. 

So anyway, in the summer of 2005, I asked the publicity people at Peachtree if they’d like me to drive over from Southwest Michigan to the American Library Association national convention in Chicago to sign in their booth.  Some writers on the listserv that I belonged to indicated that sometimes publishers are willing to have you come sign books if you’re willing to do it on your own dime.  In fact, many writers will use this time to introduce themselves to editors during a quiet moment.  I wound up getting the chance to hang out with Peachtree authors Jeanie Franz Ransom and Dori Hillestad Butler.  Jeanie and I had been critique partners since at least 1995.  We knew Dori through a writers’ listserv and had met a few time.

Dori had written two books for Peachtree at that time, SLIDING INTO HOME and a new one called DO YOU KNOW THE MONKEY MAN.  Lisa Mathews, my editor at Peachtree had edited both of them. I knew that the second book was a mystery, but it was great to finally get my hands on a copy of it.  MONKEY MAN had humor, suspense and honest emotion.  That’s what I wanted my YA mystery to have. Moreover, I had learned that Lisa could be downright evil when it came to tormenting characters.   I’ll always remember my reaction to something she came up with for Matteo in Defending Irene:  “That’s evil!  It’s perfect!”

But I knew that the novel wasn’t ready for Lisa yet.  I’d learned a lot of things about writing since I finished the first draft of what became SUSPECT back in 1999.  After making the rounds and collecting a load of rejections, it had gone into seclusion on my hard drive.   I decided to finish work on a current project before sitting down to revise my mystery.   After all, I had a bit of momentum going. 

Jeanie read the new version of my mystery before and during one of our writer’s retreats in Missouri before I submitted the story to Peachtree.  When she finished, she looked up at me and said, “You know,  _____  _____  _____  _____  ___.”  And she was right.  But I can’t tell you what she said because that would give away just about everything.  

Writers who instinctively avoid conflict in their lives need people like Lisa and Jeanie.  And that’s why SUSPECT is dedicated to them:

For Lisa Mathews,
my evil-minded editor
and for Jeanie Ransom,
who knew how this story had  to end. 

Below that, I tucked in thanks to my three kids.   The book that I wrote in 1998 and 1999 probably wasn’t fully up-to-date on high school trends and behaviors.  This one was.  I haven’t been living through high school, but I have had front row seats.  That helped me so much with the details needed to give the appearance of reality.  How about the pink and blue stuff?  Check out the cleaning scene with Jen and Bri.  Gretchen became an expert in how, when and where to use them during the time she spent in housekeeping at the Boyne Mountain Resort.  My other two kids competed in a variety of sports: volleyball, basketball, track, and cross country.  I was able to update my knowledge of those sports that Jen participated in through hours of watching and cheering.

“O Light the Heart that Lingers in Merano”

August 30, 2010

I first heard the songs from the musical CHESS back in college.  One of the guys in my Douglas Houghton Hall dorm at Michigan Tech was demonstrating the astonishing clarity that his new CD player brought to the music.  (And yes, this was the latest thing back in the early 80’s.)  He started with the radio hit “One Night in Bangkok” but then went back to the first disc that opened with a full operatic chorus singing: 

“O light the heart
That lingers in Merano
Merano! The spa no
Connoisseur of spas would miss.”

My friend promised to make me a tape  of the CDs.  I wrote out all the names of the songs in my less than stellar handwriting.  Eventually, I switched over to CDs myself and didn’t play the tape too much.  It did move around with my husband and me to six states.  I could still sing many of the songs on the album, but I confess that the repeating words Merano in the song were  eventually replaced by “La, LA, la. La, LA, la.”  Yes, the tape did lack the clarity of the CD.

When my husband was offered a job in Merano, I read up on it and learned that it was a spa town.  I wrote to a friend and wondered if  “the Tyrolean spa with the chess boards in it” could be where I’d be living for the next three years.  My friend emailed back with the opening lyrics to Merano.  

That song started playing in my head this morning while working on a section of description for Calyn’s story.  I decided that it would be easier to describe the entrance to the walled town of Grissian if I modeled it on Merano. 

It was.      

I used my own description trick of working off of photographs of real places instead of trying to build and design all the sets myself.  While the words didn’t write themselves, I had a much easier time with developing the sense of place. 

I went back and forth between two websites.  At the end of a row of photos, you’ll find the Porta Passiria.  The neighborhood of Steinach was especially helpful in the photo album of Merano site.  Any readers of Defending Irene might find the shots of the Portici and Passagiata to be interesting.  That’s where Irene went shopping and had ice cream with her strict Italian grandmother.

Historical Fantasy

August 28, 2010

I ran across a new fantasy designation today.  Of course, it could have been knocking around for awhile, but here is how Elizabeth C. Bunce, author of CURSE DARK AS GOLD, put it:

 “Historical fantasy” means my work is inspired by real places and cultures of the past, but with fantastical, otherworldly, or magical elements.

Some of my favorite fantasies definitely fit into this category: the Attolia books by Megan Whalen Turner, the Westmark trilogy of Lloyd Alexander and CURSE.  And since I’ve always been one to write what I like to read, my current work in progress fits into this category as well.  

I’m looking forward to Bunce’s new book, STARCROSSED, which is coming out this fall.  It’s already an ALA Best Books for Young Adults nominee.

Chapter 20? Done. At Least for Now

August 24, 2010

I know that Chapter 20 is a bit on the short side, but I decided to declare it done for the time being.  It will undoubtedly need tweaking after this draft is finished anyway.  And I’m pushing forward into the final “temporary triumph” before the “darkest moment.”  Tense moments for my character are helping me stay focussed.

It’s Out There

August 21, 2010

SUSPECT has now appeared in a few libraries, so I guess it is officially out there even though my launch party won’t be until the first Thursday in October.   But I guess that makes the release of my book as a rolling party with lots of little celebrations along the way.

A Sparkly, Sparkly Review

August 19, 2010

SUSPECT’s first review came in from Kirkus, and it’s a good one!  In fact the title of this post was also the subject line from my editor when she sent me the review.  She noted that it can be hard to get a good review for mysteries, especially in the world of YA.  But here goes: 

Jen doesn’t want to spend her 17th summer working at her grandmother’s bed-and-breakfast inn, but her dad says she has to. She’s just broken up with her boyfriend, though, and she finds herself becoming far too attracted to her “uncousin” Mark, her grandmother’s step-grandson. Worse, Jen’s archenemy also works at the inn, and the girl appears to be making a play for the newly fascinating Mark. The plot thickens when Grandma Kay decides to have one of her popular “mystery weekends” at the inn, but with a difference. This time Grandma Kay wants to find out what happened to Jen’s mother, who disappeared years earlier. Grandma Kay suspects murder, although Jen has been receiving gifts and letters from her mother ever since she left. Jen winds up reluctantly playing the murder victim in a game that easily could turn real. Nitz intertwines and then untangles relationships among the teens and guests, weaving a credible mystery for a wide adolescent audience. With clues and red herrings neatly scattered throughout, the book scores as a darned good little mystery. Intriguing, suspenseful fun. (Mystery. 12 & up)

Twinkle, Twinkle. Buy Me Now!

August 17, 2010

I attended an SCBWI France retreat with Candlewick Editor Mary Lee Donovan about six years ago.  For part of her talk, she discussed the process of coming up with the right covers for books.  When they work, they have a sort of innate sparkle that says, “Twinkle, twinkle. Buy me now!”   I can’t remember whether she came up with this line or if she just  picked it up somewhere.  But some book covers do have that quality. 

The people who did the cover and book design of SUSPECT at Peachtree might have achieved this for SUSPECT.  Of course, I’m the biased, proud author….

But I do love the attention to detail complete with the black end paper. And then there are echoes of the cover scattered over the dust jacket.  The skull appears on the front flap.  The question mark wraps itself around my author photo.  The rose also reappears on the back of the book with a scrap of text from the book. 

Thump!

August 13, 2010

My author copies of SUSPECT arrived today.  The computer screen really doesn’t do justice to just how vivid the pink is.  I held the book up to the computer screen. It’s not quite a match.

Chapter 19…Done!

August 11, 2010

Earlier this summer, I marked the end of a newly completed chapter with an announcement.  I believe the reason why I got out of that habit was because I went through a stretch where I was mostly revising old material and adapting it to some new aspects of my plot.  But today I noticed that I was on page 172 out of 217 pages.  Suddenly, I realized that I’d made a lot of progress. I’m about seven chapters away from the end.  I’ll need to write two additional chapters and edit the five others quite heavily, but things are moving.

If past experience is any guide, these could go more quickly.  This might seem a bit odd, but I’m never 100% sure how a draft is going to end until I get there.  So the eager reader in me starts pressuring the writer once things start to go bad at the character’s darkest moment.