Thursday, December 27, 2012

My New Year's Resolution: Be less of a jerk

I recently started reading the classic book How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

I'd actually originally bought it for my  husband.  He's a painfully shy person, so I thought it could help him learn strategies to use in networking, which he hates doing.  Anyway, before he even got his hands on the book, I started reading it, and I honestly think there's more in it that's applicable to me than to him.  It's basically a brief handbook explaining how not to be a jerk.

The thing is, I've never thought of myself as a jerk.  I'm very loyal and I try to  be helpful to everyone, but I definitely have an argumentative streak.  If someone says something in conversation that I know not to be accurate, I have a near compulsion to let them know they're wrong.

I try to do it tactfully, of course, but still.

Recently I've been examining this part of my personality, and I've been asking myself: why do I think it's my responsibility to correct all the errors in the world?  If my conversation partner doesn't know that the Amish ride in gray buggies, not black ones, what does it freaking matter?

So I've decided that my New Year's Resolution will be to follow all the tips in this book.  It's going to be *really* hard (especially on facebook), but I'm nothing if not determined.

If you're interested, the principles in the book are listed below.  However, if you haven't read this book, it's been a classic since the 1930s for a reason.  Go out and buy it!  Not only does it help you look at dealing with people in a fresh light, it's actually a fun read.

Fundamental Techniques in Handling People
      1. Don't criticize, condemn, or complain.
      2. Give honest and sincere appreciation.
      3. Arouse in the other person an eager want.

Six Ways to Make People Like You
      1. Become genuinely interested in other people.
      2. Smile
      3. Remember that a person's name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language. 
      4. Be a good listener.  Encourage others to talk about themselves.
      5. Talk in terms of the other person's interest.
      6. Make the other person feel important -- and do it sincerely.

Twelve Ways to Win People to Your Way of Thinking
      1. The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.
      2. Show respect for the other person's opinions.  Never say "You're Wrong."
      3. If you're wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.
      4. Begin in a friendly way.
      5. Start with questions to which the other person will answer yes.
      6. Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.
      7. Let the other person feel the idea is his or hers.
      8. Try honestly to see things from the other person's point of view.
      9. Be sympathetic with the other person's ideas and desires.
      10. Appeal to the nobler motives.
      11. Dramatize your ideas.
      12. Throw down a challenge. 


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Quit Making Excuses! (is what I should say to myself more often...)

For obvious reasons I've been thinking about New Year's resolutions lately.  There are a lot of things I'd like to do, e.g. exercise more (more than none isn't *so* much), quit drinking soda (for real this time), be more considerate (actually send the thank-you notes for once), and so on.  But , if I'm being perfectly honest, the biggest thing I need to change about myself this year is my terrible habit of procrastinating.  Simply put, I have a serious lack of internal motivation, and I'm really good at making excuses for why I should put something off instead of just getting it done.

For some people, the discomfort of knowing there's work to do is enough to spur them into action (this is totally true of Katherine), but that doesn't really work for me.  I can't tell you how many times I put off writing 30-50 page research papers in grad school until a few days before they were due.  If it were a paper less than 20 pages, I wouldn't even think about starting it until the night before.  Or, I'd think about it, I'd do a little research here and there, I'd stress out about the fact that it had to be written, and then I'd promptly start the new Tess Gerritsen novel, or find an old tv series on Hulu that I hadn't seen in years (I'm lucky I didn't fail out of my program that time I discovered all four seasons of Doogie Howser M.D. was available).

So, generally the semester would start out like this:

But end up more like this by the time finals rolled around:

I think it's actually sort of a blessing and a curse that I still managed to do really well in school.  If I'd gotten a bad paper grade or failed a midterm, I may have been motivated to try a little harder. 

That's the other side of the coin.  It would be a lot easier if I just didn't care, but I actually do feel a lot of pressure to succeed at whatever I try.  I can't say that I always do, and that's okay, but failing is a lot harder if you know you could have done more to succeed.  I also hate to disappoint people, and that may be the biggest reason that being part of a writing team works for me.  If I'm accountable to a co-author, I can make all the excuses I want to myself, but I definitely can't do that when Kate is waiting for me to finish a chapter so she can start the next one.  If I mess up, it throws us both off, and that's exactly the kind of external motivation I rely on to get things done.

So, to make a long story short (and because I have a doe-eyed four-year-old staring at me as she waits "patiently" for me to turn Brave on for her), I'll end on this--if you want to be a writer, if you're really serious about making it your career, then you have to stop making excuses and just get it done.  Write something.  Write every day, whether it's a novel, a blog post (check), or a journal entry that only you'll ever read.  Find whatever motivates you, whether that means rewarding yourself ("500 more words and I get a cookie!"), or asking someone else to make you accountable (I once had a deal with another graduate assistant that we'd owe the other $20 if neither of us made a start on our research proposals by the following Monday).  Whatever works for you, do it, and then do *something*.

Dorothy Parker once said, "I hate writing, but I love having written," and it's so true.  I promise, even if it feels like pulling teeth to sit down and get started, you'll feel really good once you've finished.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

A very embarrassing admission

I just read this NPR article on the Five Young Adult Novels That You'll Never Outgrow, and it reminded me of what is quickly becoming my deepest, darkest secret.

It's hard to admit it, but here I go.  I didn't really dig Code Name Verity.  (I know.  It's even worse than you thought.)  For those of you who don't know, Code Name Verity is the Young Adult book that everyone is talking about this year.  

It's set in World War II, and it's about a female fighter pilot who is captured and tortured by the Nazis (great premise, right?).  The writing was gorgeous, the characters were unique, and the plot was meticulously crafted, but, still, I couldn't get into it.  Every few hundred words I'd have to drag my eyes back to the page, and I probably wouldn't have even finished it if it weren't for the fact that I'm compulsive about finishing books that I start.  There are a few specifics that I could point to that I didn't love about the novel, but honestly, more than anything, it just came down to the fact that it never fully drew me in.

I'm sort of a picky (and idiosyncratic) reader so my not loving any particular book isn't that much of a surprise, but everyone loves this book.  Dozens of my writer friends have raved (I mean *raved*) over how incredible the book is.  When I posted to goodreads that I'd finished it, within seconds I had people asking, "Did you cry at the end?"  I felt like too much of a jerk to admit, "No, I was pretty much just glad it was over," but that's the truth of the matter.

I know the readers and writers I respect can't all be wrong, so it must be that there's something wrong with me.  Should this make me start questioning my own taste?  Are people going to lose respect for me because I wasn't that into the YA standout of the year?  Am I completely insane?  Probably yes to all three, but what can you do?  I like what I like.

Has anyone else ever had a similar experience?  In situations like this, is it best to keep your opinions to yourself?  That's what I usually do about books I don't like, but it's difficult when everyone is asking you what you thought of a particular book.  I hate the idea of being fake, but I'd also hate the idea of an angry mob outside my door.

Now for an announcement that shouldn't make anyone hate me: All the entries are in, and Danielle Smiley is the lucky winner of last week's steampunk giveaway. Congratulations Danielle!   


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Our *First Ever* Interview

I know Kate regaled you all with our agent story last week (with GIFs!), but today we thought we'd share the interview we did for after we signed with Pooja.  It's a little more about our writing process, as well as how we queried VEILED.  Double-plus-bonus, you get to read our query letter!  The interview is posted here: An Interview with Katherine Ernst and Chelle Bruhn, but I thought I'd post it to the blog as well (because sometimes clicking the clicky things just takes too much effort).

QueryTracker: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you’ve found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Katherine Ernst and Chelle Bruhn: VEILED is a YA Sci-Fi with steampunk elements that add flavor but are not the story in themselves. It's a world based on the Ottoman Empire at the turn of the century and incorporates a lot of themes that are still relevant to Middle Eastern culture and politics today. Katherine originally had the idea for the world and what happens in the story and a trip to Istanbul really solidified some of the themes and imagery we used to create the world. Chelle's background as a graduate student of Global Studies (and specifically women's and minority social movements in the Middle East) add the final pieces to the puzzle.

QT: How long have you been writing?
K&C: We've been writing together since we were 14-years-old when we wrote a two-act play about a vampire that falls in love with a human girl (we were ahead of our time, apparently). We've been more seriously collaborating, however, over the last two years when we started writing YA novels together.

QT: How long have you been working on this book?
K&C: We started writing this book about 6 months ago. We wrote the book in flurry of activity over a three month period, and we were lucky to quickly find representation.

QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
K&C: There are definitely days when neither of us feel like writing, but it's incredibly helpful to have the encouragement of a co-author to keep you motivated. After our first novel didn't get much attention from agents, Chelle stepped away from writing for a bit to focus on finishing her Masters degree, but the itch for storytelling never really went away. Sometimes stories just keep nagging at you until you write them down, and VEILED was definitely one of those stories, so staying on track was much easier.

QT: Is this your first book?
K&C: We started our writing career a couple of years ago when Katherine's mother found the play that the two of us had written in high school and that reignited our passion for writing. We realized that our teenage effort at storytelling was terrible, frankly, but it made us want to see what we could do as adults and we co-wrote a YA fantasy novel about Irish Travelers. We subsequently shelved that idea, but a year later we started brainstorming VEILED and we've never looked back.

QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
K&C: Not much. Chelle took a few short story writing classes in undergrad, and Katherine has formal writing training as a lawyer, but we've really relied on our experience as avid readers in writing this novel. We came to this project wanting to tell a story we really wanted to read, and we think that's what made the book so good (if you'll allow us to toot our own horn for a moment ^_^).

QT: Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
K&C: As cowriters we have to plan out our writing fairly well. We generally sit down and write out an outline for a book together. We brainstorm and then one of us literally writes down the ideas. After that process is complete, we then trade off chapters and then edit each other so the book sounds like it’s written by one person. People that have read our books report not being able to tell where one of our writing begins and the other ends which we see as a victory.

QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
K&C: We wrote the first draft doing the back-and-forth editing with each chapter, and then did a full-draft edit before sending it out to beta readers. After incorporating some really valuable suggestions from their feedback, we started the querying process. When we got a positive response from our agent, Pooja Menon, she included some of her own suggestions for how to improve the story—they required some pretty in-depth rewrites (essentially it turned out to be an entirely new manuscript) but in the end it made for a stronger book overall.

QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
K&C: Of course we had a few family members and friends read the first draft, but we also had a handful of members from our writing group go through it with a fine tooth comb. Chelle also asked one of her former professors, an expert in the field of Middle Eastern studies, to look it over for accuracy and give any suggestions on how to improve on our world building.

QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
K&C: Again, since we’re writing together, it’s really important to have a clear picture of where the book is going, so we created a chapter-by-chapter outline before we ever stated writing. Of course things come up along the way that we hadn’t thought of while writing the original outline, but those things are always discussed at length and incorporated into the outline before moving on. Even if we weren’t co-authors, though, we both agree that outlining is the best way to approach a book. It’s so much easier to add and change along the way than to brainstorm while you’re also trying to make something readable.

QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
K&C: We didn’t query very long for VEILED, maybe a few weeks, but for our first manuscript we spent at least four months querying before we decided to shelve that project and work on something else.

QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
K&C: About 25 or so.

QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
K&C: First, and probably most obviously, we looked for agents who represented YA. When we started querying we hadn’t decided whether our book was Sci-Fi or Fantasy (it’s really a crossover), so we queried agents interested in both. One of the most important thing we looked for were agents who were interested in representing books with multicultural aspects because we wanted an agent who was as excited as we were about the world we were building.

QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
K&C: For agents that we had information about, we definitely did. Actually, one of the reasons that we were particularly interested in Pooja Menon was that she had a twitter presence, and Chelle had actually tweeted with her on a number of occasions. The relationship that we built with her through the querying process definitely made us confident that she was the right choice for us.

QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
K&C: Keep writing and keep querying. Moreover, twitter is a valuable resource for finding out what agents are looking for. They might not constantly update their websites, but many agents tweet quite prolificly. Also, seeking out supportive fellow writers is extremely helpful. We found out about innumerous agent contests and we honed our craft by keeping in contact with fellow writers.

QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
K&C: Sure.
In Eskifalia men control everything, including the minds of the women they touch. Aveza and Warin ran away from the palace knowing an entire army would be in pursuit.
Warin ran from his role in the cruel experiments performed on women in the palace lab. Genetic alterations designed to ensure men will always maintain control.
Aveza ran to avoid having her mind enslaved by the despicable Bey Reginald, the same fate that drove her sister to burn herself alive.
When Aveza and Warin meet up with a pair of outlaw twins and a subversive underground society, it seems they’ve finally found a safe haven. But can Aveza ever really be safe from the danger of exposing her gloved skin or the face she hides behind her veil?
VEILED is an Ottoman-inspired Young Adult Sci-Fi where Steampunk adds flavor but is not the story. Complete at 96,000 words, it is the first book in a proposed series.

So, there you have it!  Our very first interview--hopefully the first of many, if you'll allow me to get ahead of myself a little. :)  Sorry for the distinct lack of GIFs in this post, but as I've spent the day knee-deep in a mountain of laundry getting ready for holiday traveling, I didn't have time to scour the internet for one.

Make sure to come back tomorrow for Katherine's post in which she will announce the lucky winner of the blog launch contest!

Ok...maybe just one GIF (since I'm feeling festive, but also tired).


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Agent Story

A few months ago, Chelle & I were lucky enough to land the most amazing agent, Pooja Menon of Kimberley Cameron & Associates.  The following is a brief explanation of how we snagged her.  (A more full account will be forthcoming in an interview with QueryTracker.)

After finishing writing our Young Adult steampunk novel, VEILED, we knew we needed to start looking for an agent for the project, but since we'd both been through this before, the idea of restarting the query process felt something like this:

We sucked it up, however, and made up a dream list of agents.  Chelle had read about Pooja, the newest agent at Kimberley Cameron, and started following her on twitter.  She really loved her, so we shot her a query.  Needless to say, we were nervous about how she'd respond.

A few weeks later, however, Pooja requested the first 50 pages which made us feel like a week of good hair days.

An agent reading your manuscript isn't a sure thing, though, so in the meantime we entered a number of query contests and were excited to win quite a few of them.

Thankfully, Pooja finished reading the manuscript quickly (maybe because she noticed our contest successes?) and made us an offer of representation!

BUT, she wanted us to make sizable changes to the manuscript, including seriously altering the ending which we'd both been attached to.  In the hour after reading Pooja's email about the changes, Chelle & I went from feeling like this:

To this:

To this:

Because in the end we realized that the alterations she'd suggested would make the book stronger in so many ways.  Last week we finished up those edits, and the revised manuscript is now in Pooja's hands.  Assuming we're not too far off from what she wanted, it looks like we'll be out on submission to publishers early next month.

(At which point we'll certainly feel like this):

We'll keep you updated.

Also, don't forget the great steampunk books we're giving away this week to celebrate our blog launch!  We greatly appreciate everyone's support.

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**Also, huge shout out to our writer friend Tristina Wright who recently had her own agent success story and who inspired the visual aspects of this post.**


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Welcome to our blog

For our first post, we thought we'd introduce ourselves.

Inevitably, the first question Katherine and I get when we tell people that we write books together is, “how does that work?”  Well, we plan to explore the process of co-writing in blog posts to come, but for now I’ll say that the most important thing to being a successful writing team is definitely planning.  We plan, brainstorm, discuss, schedule, discuss again, and then plan some more before we ever put a word on the page because, for this to work, we have to be on the same page.  All of that is my way of saying that, according to our “blogging schedule” I get the honor of writing our inaugural post.  I have to say, that’s a lot of pressure.  As writers who are about to go out on submission with our first manuscript (assuming our lovely agent, Pooja Menon, doesn’t completely hate our revisions!), having a successful blog is really important.  We have big, and hopefully interesting, ideas for future posts, but today I thought I’d begin at the beginning and tell you a little about us as a writing team.  Annnd, if you stick around until the end, you might even win some stuff!  

Katherine and I have been friends since our freshman year of high school.  Although we were in the same homeroom, it was actually a gym class that brought us together.  Or, more specifically, our gym teacher’s insistence that we all line up in alphabetical order, which put Katherine and I on either side of my friend Yvette.  The three of us spent the better part of the year complaining about P.E. (isn’t that how everyone bonds in high school?) and, while we eventually lost touch with Yvette, Katherine and I managed to stay best friends even over the twelve or so years that we lived in different parts of the country.  And people say there’s no such thing as soul mates.    

Believe it or not, our first foray into writing as a team actually came during that first year of our friendship when my obsession with the television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer (ok, if I’m being honest my obsession was with David Boreanaz, but can you blame me?) led to a short story about a girl who falls in love with a vampire with a heart of gold.  I know, I know, but I was fourteen!  At the urging of a beloved English teacher, Kate and I decided to turn that short story into a one-act play for a writing competition, and thus the collaborative duo was born.  Sadly, our masterpiece did not win any prizes (and reading through it over a decade later made the reasons why painfully obvious), but it did show us that we worked well together. 

So, when, about two years ago, Katherine suggested that we really give novel writing a shot it was a no-brainer to jump right in.  We spent about a week outlining a story, and then the next nine months or so researching and writing it.  By the end of the year we had a complete manuscript, and the certainty that only a first-time writer could have—our book was golden, and was sure to garner a book deal with in a few weeks once we got it into the hands of the right agent.  Cue hysterical laughter from all the writers who’ve been through the querying process.  I guess it goes without saying (but I’m saying it anyway) that our search for the “right agent” ended with the realization that what we really needed was the “right manuscript”.  So, into the drawer went our first attempt at novel writing, and over the next year or so we did our own thing—Katherine finished two more novels (stories based on personal experiences that were just begging to be written into life), and I earned a Masters degree in International Relations with an emphasis on Middle Eastern women’s movements.  I realize that sounds a bit out of left field given that this post is about our work as a writing team, but just stay with me for a second, because that fact eventually led to our current project.  See, Katherine—because she’s the most supportive friend ever—came all the way out to Springfield, Missouri for my graduation.  During the week or so she was there, between comical graduation parties  (think “Entertainment 720” from Parks & Rec except with gentlemen less smooth and charming than Tom Haverford and John Ralphio), packing for my move back to the East Coast, and a Quantum Leap marathon we started discussing Katherine’s latest idea for a YA novel.  Her concept was amazing, and given what I’d study the past two years, had some pretty fascinating parallels to the struggles of women in the Middle East that she’d never really considered (I knew that degree would come in handy for something).  It seemed fate had big plans to reunite us as a writing team, particularly since—after living so far apart for so long—we’d be living just a few blocks from each other now that I was moving back to Pennsylvania.  We got to work right away (the moving boxes weren’t even unpacked!) on a steampunk sci-fi set in a world very similar to the Ottoman Empire of the 1800s, and the rest, as they say, is history—or at least it will be once we snag that book deal.  What can I say, I’ll probably never totally lose that dreamy-eyed optimism no matter how many rejection emails pile up in the old inbox. ;)

Now, for the moment you’ve all been waiting for…Free Stuff!!  We figured for our inaugural blog post we'd give away three Steampunk books that inspired us while we were writing.  Feel free to do one or all of the things for more entries--your support is greatly appreciated (plus, when we're rich and famous you can tell all of your friends that you followed our blog before "it was cool")!  

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