Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2012, Second Round: Finding Mulligan

Finding Mulligan advanced to the second round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition.  I am one of the 2,000 left of the original 10,000 entrants.

Now my first chapter goes on to be read by two Amazon judges.  I’ll get rated and reviewed.  If I pass, I will be one of 500 left to be named quarter-finalists.

I was more nervous this year for some reason.  Last year I’d forgotten about the contest until I got notified by e-mail that I’d passed.

Completed New Short Story: “On the Inside”

Finished a new short story called “On the Inside.”  It is, again, actually not very short (shocker!).  It weighed in at about 15,000 words.  Speculative fiction, coming of age.

It’s about Lihill, a transgender girl assigned male at birth, born to a polytheistic culture that strongly segregates its males and its females.

Lihill feels that she’s a girl from the moment she’s old enough to express it, but it’s undeniable that she has what’s interpreted as a boy’s body. In her sex-segregated culture, she’s treated as a boy and made to get a boy’s education, most notably focused around embracing gods instead of the community’s goddess and adopting an elemental alignment consistent with male identity.

She’d love to attend the girls’ troop and form a bond with the element Water, but as a boy she has to settle for studying Air. Though her best friend and her sister seem sympathetic and treat Lihill kindly—even including her in traditionally feminine activities sometimes—they don’t truly understand her situation, and her parents won’t accept that she isn’t a boy in her head.

After repeatedly failing to do what’s expected of her as a boy, the family finally consults a wise woman who’s the first to recognize that Lihill must be a girl on the inside. But she’s still faced with many misconceptions about her gender in a world that’s never heard of someone like her, and is consistently bothered by the fact that saying who she is has never been enough.

I actually plan to try rewriting this in third person (maybe with a different angle, too) because a couple spots of feedback I got suggested that my attempt to have a less cerebral character has resulted in Lihill seeming a bit “emblematic.”  I’m not sure if I can sell the story to anyone since it’s a bit long, but we’ll see if I ever do anything with it.

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2012, Entering: Finding Mulligan

I decided to enter Finding Mulligan in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition (again).  I’ve done some significant editing since last year’s contest; everything’s tighter, better dialogue, slightly shorter.  Anyway, this contest gives me a chance to win a publishing contract with Penguin.  The international Amazon contest stops taking entrants once it hits 10,000 people.  Each of us has to send in a pitch statement, a bio, a first chapter, and a full manuscript.

The second round will involve the 10,000 entrants being cut down to 2,000 Second Round competitors based entirely on our pitch.

This is my pitch statement:

What if you fell in love with someone who might not exist?

Cassandra Howard leads a double life. A smart, sarcastic student by day, Cassie is a different person in her dreams—literally. In dreamland, her alternate reality, Cassie becomes a happy-go-lucky, charismatic girl named Dia, and she prefers to keep her two lives separate. That changes when she falls in love.

Mulligan is the perfect dream guy, and in her nighttime paradise Dia has him all to herself, but in Cassie’s world Mulligan only exists as a mysterious painting.  Feeling left out, Cassie begins to obsess over finding the waking-world version of Mulligan.  Soon enough, Cassie tracks down two people with connections to the painting, leaving her confused as to which one of them is the man she’s looking for.  What if her two selves are in love with two different guys?

Unwilling to live in the shadow of her other life forever, Cassie tries to remake her waking-world self in the image of Dia to attract the “real” Mulligan, but her actions blur the lines between dreamland and the waking world until neither girl is sure who she is.  For Cassie, finding Mulligan—and figuring out whether he exists—might require finding herself first.

Finding Mulligan combines magical realism, identity issues, and a complicated love triangle (or is it a pentagon?), plus a dash of psychological weirdness.  While the concept is unique enough to seem fresh, the struggle for self-definition will be comfortingly familiar to teens.  It will resonate with young adults who appreciate self-aware, realistic characters, and will be enjoyed by those who like their romance without a side of fluff.  Because of its gifted but fractured protagonist, early readers have compared Finding Mulligan to stories like Life of Pi, A Beautiful Mind, and Fight Club.


Results of Querying: Bad Fairy 2011

I only just started querying for Bad Fairy in November of 2011, so this isn’t going to be a big update, but this is how I’m doing on queries so far:

Agents queried: 9.

  • Query rejections: 6
  • Non-responses (so far): 3

One of the guys I queried had actually represented a fairy tale retelling I particularly enjoyed, so I mentioned it in my query.  He said this to me:

I appreciate your thinking of me, but I actually don’t normally care for fairy tales, or for works with the basis feel of a fairy tell, or retellings.  Mercedes Lackey is an exception because I just have an affinity for her work and I’d be happy to read her grocery lists, but otherwise, this book is probably not a good match for my tastes.

Heh, “happy to read her grocery lists.”  Maybe someday someone will say that about me?

Planning to continue the querying streak in 2012!

On Purple Prose

Purple Prose: a term of literary criticism used to describe passages, or sometimes entire literary works, written in prose so extravagant, ornate, or flowery as to break the flow and draw attention to itself. Purple prose is sensually evocative beyond the requirements of its context. [x]

I have a big problem with purple prose.  As in, I don’t like it, not that I struggle with it myself.  (I sure hope not.)  As its most common perpetrators happen to be in MY genre, I especially don’t like it when they make fantasy writers look bad.  These folks are the reason everyone else thinks high fantasy is melodramatic and silly!

But some people mistake purple prose for High Art, and defend it viciously.  I have been told over and over that this sort of writing enriches the novel’s landscape, while I feel it reads more like a vocabulary exercise meets a bad attempt at poetry.

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Ready to Query: Bad Fairy Trilogy, Book 1

Editing Bad Fairy has been a complete nightmare, but I got it down to 146,000 words, and I had a lot of help.  Especially from Jessie.  Thank you to the following people who helped me in the test audience:

These people read the whole thing and gave comments: Jessie, Victor, Mike Lee, Amanda K., Alicorn, Laura, Michael, Joy, Patricia, and Laurel.  These people read part of it and gave comments: Brianne, Fred, Jeremy, Jeaux, Reeny, Elle, Jaron, Mikaela, Andi, Jessica, darkchime, Jack O., Clare, Shelby, Mandy, Michelle, Amanda W., Susan, and Jordan.

My basic query letter (with personalized agent stuff at the beginning, and modified if needed):

What happened before Sleeping Beauty slept?

Delia Morningstar is a precocious and inquisitive half-fairy girl whose great talent and drive mark her for a promising future. But she has some peculiar interests: What is she learning when she dabbles in forbidden “dark magick,” and why does she have such an interest in the afterlife? Shunned by popular society, she struggles to make a living, but when one of her attempts to help her kingdom is misunderstood, she is ultimately held responsible for a curse on baby Aurora, her kingdom’s beloved princess.

Now forced into hiding, Delia must live in disguise as a typical fairy and continue to work toward a surprising goal: Saving the princess from death. While tweaking destiny from behind her mask, Delia discovers unexpected aspects of both herself and her enemies. Though she eventually succeeds in her original goal, she finds that dealing with who she’s become is a battle she’s only beginning.

In addition to writing fiction, I work as a copyeditor/proofreader, run several websites, and have five published nonfiction articles.  My other long fiction projects include adult science fiction and YA magical realism.


On NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month is coming.

If you’re not familiar, it’s held every November, and it involves writers signing up on a website with a promise to write a novel between November 1 and November 30.  They have thirty days to try to write 50,000 words, and a community has grown up around it—a whole international society of writers who record and post their word counts, compete, and cheer each other on.

I’ve never participated in NaNoWriMo.  But let me tell you about my perspectives on it: why it’s wonderful, and why I nevertheless don’t participate.

Why NaNoWriMo is GREAT:

  • Many writers struggle with motivation to write.  Being forced to make the time or else admit “losing” NaNoWriMo helps some.
  • Many writers do MUCH better if they have an audience of people expecting and hoping that they will succeed.  Since writing is by nature a solitary occupation but not everyone is a solitary person, having a community poised to watch your word count grow is rewarding.
  • No one expects a novel composed in thirty days to be Shakespeare.  Therefore, the pressure is off for those writers who constantly self-edit during the writing process.
  • The community provides access to so many other writers; novelists can find critique partners, like-minded folks, and friends.

Why I’ve never done it (and will never do it):

  • November is an unusually busy month for me most years.
  • I already write fast.  Writing a novel in 30 days isn’t a challenge for me because of my bat-out-of-Hell writing style.
  • I don’t play well with others when it comes to creativity.
  • I don’t tend to need encouragement.  I’ve got that pretty well licked; I never stop writing.
  • The last thing I need is another hastily written manuscript lying around for me to edit.
  • I tend to get easily roped into editing for less experienced writers if I think they need me.  Failing to put myself in a situation where I would definitely encounter them is an act of self-preservation.

If you’ve always wanted to write a novel but you couldn’t get off the ground, or you’ve started project after project but fizzled out, or you need a reason to dive in . . . do NaNoWriMo.  I have a ton of friends who find it really rewarding.

On Querying

If you want to sign with a literary agent to represent your novel, here are some thoughts and tips.

On Preparing to Query:

  • It should go without saying that your book should be complete, polished, and if possible, vetted by your critique partner(s) and/or editor(s).  Before you contact someone wanting to know if they want to help sell your work, your work has to be ready to sell.  (Yes, edits are inevitable once the professional part of your journey begins, but that’s no excuse for querying with a first draft.)
  • Draft a synopsis first.  You need one to two paragraphs describing your book; you might consider writing several, then sharing them with people you know and asking them which one they like best.  When asked to give feedback on a synopsis, most average readers will be vague and say they “like it,” but when given three to choose from, they tend to be better able to articulate what works for them and why.  Which is what you need to know.

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