Wednesday, December 28, 2011

OMG I Want to See This!

Beautiful actors, chemistry, falling in love (and doing it again!), tension, uncertainty, high stakes, and pacing. This movie promises to have everything a great storyline should. Plus it's Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams, people! I love these two and deep down, I'm a sap for a good romance. I think anyone who enjoys the genre can agree that part of you is a hopeless romantic. Isn't that why we're attracted to these storylines? We find some hope or excitement in experiencing what feels like real life individuals stumbling upon an extraordinary love. So excited!

What movies or books are you already anticipating this New Year?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

I adore the movie Love Actually so I thought I'd steal a scene from there. Happy holidays and happy reading this year!

Friday, December 23, 2011

We Have Winners

Congratulations to Cat and Stephanie Haefner, the winners of the Christmas book giveaway!

Please email me at with your mailing address. For everyone else who entered, thanks so much and I hope you have a great holiday season. I look forward to sharing with you all of my favorite reads in 2012 and hearing yours as well!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Title Love and Cover Love

I just recently stumbled upon the books Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Distasters and The Fine Art of Truth or Dare , and had to share.

Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters: I am absolutely in LOVE with this title. So many YA novels seem to examine junior and senior year so I'm interested to see a book that's just crossed over from MG and features a slightly different YA protagonist. I'm curious to find out if the voice reads younger and, of course, to hear about all of the interesting hurdles that a new high school life can bring! Unfortunately it doesn't come out until March of 2012, though that's one more reason to be happy about entering a New Year--new book releases!

Another release in early 2012 is The Fine Art of Truth or Dare and, really, how can you not love this cover? It has a little of everything: art history, romance, mystery (because you know you're curious who is behind that canvas), and intrigue (because nothing good really comes from truth or dare).

What are you most looking forward to in 2012?

Monday, December 19, 2011

This was too awesome not to share

My husband and I are big fans of "How I Met Your Mother." Barney, of course, is such an amazing character and one of the reasons we love this show. In writing we so often talk about "voice." Well Barney has that voice thanks to great writing and amazing acting execution. So happy Monday folks. Take Barney's advice and embrace your awesome!

Who are some of your favorite characters with a unique voice?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas Giveaway

I'm in a festive mood because of the holidays and I wanted to celebrate by sharing some of my favorite--and most anticipated--books.

Below are some of my top picks from my reading list this year as well as a couple that are on the top of my drool-worthy TBR list to ensure it's a happy reading New Year indeed.

Here are the noteworthy books:
1. The Help

2. Before I Fall

3. Let the Great World Spin

4. Divergent

5. Sarah's Key

6. Original Sin


7. The Paris Wife

It's an eclectic mix but all great fun. Since I'm feeling particularly giving, I'm going to have two winners in this giveaway. Each winner will have their pick of one of the books above. Good luck!

Rules of the contest are as follows:

1. You must be a follower of this blog.
2. Extra entries if you blog, Facebook, or tweet about it (including @SCookRay in the tweet so I can find it)
3. Extra entry if you leave a comment about your favorite book read this year.
4. To enter, email me at, subject line "Christmas contest"

Contest closes at 11:59 pm EST on December 22nd. I'll announce the winner on December 23rd. Good luck!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Young Adult

Have you guys heard of the new movie from Diablo Cody (author of Juno) called Young Adult? It looks pretty awesome and is based on a young adult novelist and ex-mean girl (Charlize Theron) coming back to her hometown to rekindle a romance with her high school flame. The tag line? "Everyone gets older, not everyone grows up."

What do you think? Will you go see this? If not, what holiday movies are you looking forward to this month?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Book Trailer for Every YA Book

I'm a little late to the party in discovering this video but it's hilarious so I had to share. It summarizes the major plot themes in much of YA. It's a great parody book trailer. Enjoy!

Monday, December 5, 2011

On Revisions

I was convinced my story started at the right point. I was dropping my character off in the drama. I was writing everything that needed to happen to propel the story forward. This was it...

Only it wasn't.

I learned two valuable lessons recently. 1) Most writers don't start their stories at the right moment, and 2) sometimes we need to write scenes even if they never make "the cut."

I had an opening scene that helped explain to me the order of events. I thought this would make readers really feel for my character. I was wrong. As the author, I already know my character so, of course, when something tragic happens I'm emotionally invested. The reader, however, doesn't know my character at the start of the book. They're still giving him an audition. They can't possibly feel true emotions because they're not familiar with anyone in the storyline yet. The answer? I needed to start my story later. What I had wasn't quite working.

Finding where to start isn't an easy thing but, rather, a delicate balance. How do you start late enough that the readers don't feel they've missed anything yet not too early that it all sounds like prologue? It's tricky.

While that scene wasn't right for the beginning of my story, it was right for me as an author. I had to write my initial opening scene. It allowed me to understand everything my character had been through leading up to the beginning of the story. This was important background information. It ensured I had a thorough knowledge of my MC, and it helped me to find that right balance. My old opening didn't make the final version but it helped my outlook.

So don't feel discouraged if in your revising stage you're hitting the delete button. Sometimes those words aren't meant to be there but were important exercises all the same.

What writing tips have you learned lately?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Cover Love

You all know I'm a sucker for a good book cover. It grabs my attention and, at the very least, gets me to read the back jacket so bravo to the marketing departments because I discovered two more that I'm in love with.

1. Slow Motion by Dani Shapiro

Dani Shapiro, a young woman from a deeply religious home, became the girlfriend of a famous and flamboyant married attorney-her best friend's stepfather. The moment Lenny Klein entered her life, everything changed: she dropped out of college, began drinking, and neglected her friends and family. But then came a phone call-an accident on a snowy road had left her parents critically injured. Forced to reconsider her life, Shapiro learned to re-enter the world she had left. Telling of a life nearly ruined by the gift of beauty, and then saved through tragedy, Shapiro's memoir is a beautiful account of how a life gone terribly wrong can be rescued through tragedy.

I love this because it's simple and strikes that line between straightforward and abstract. Slow motion typically suggests proceeding with caution and yet this is juxtaposed by the blurred car lights (ie. car accident).

2. Fracture by Megan Miranda. Eleven minutes passed before Delaney Maxwell was pulled from the icy waters of a Maine lake by her best friend Decker Phillips. By then her heart had stopped beating. Her brain had stopped working. She was dead. And yet she somehow defied medical precedent to come back seemingly fine. Despite the scans that showed significant brain damage. Everyone wants Delaney to be all right, but she knows she's far from normal. Pulled by strange sensations she can't control or explain, Delaney finds herself drawn to the dying. Is her altered brain now predicting death, or causing it?

Then Delaney meets Troy Varga, who recently emerged from a coma with similar abilities. At first she's reassured to find someone who understands the strangeness of her new existence, but Delaney soon discovers that Troy's motives aren't quite what she thought. Is their gift a miracle, a freak of nature-or something much more frightening?

Fracture is downright beautiful. Growing up in Upstate New York I love a great wintery scene. What really drew my attention, however, is the girl. Right away this tells us she's the main protagonist. We see her reflection under the ice, the two versions of herself staring off at one another. The curvature of the reflection reminded me of a circular earth with each version of the girl stuck on the other side, almost like a ying and yang. After reading description you see how right on this cover really is with the book's main themes. Love it!

Both of these books are being added to my TBR list, but what about you? What book covers do you love?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


We all knew it was going to happen. I said as much. And so it comes as no surprise that I went to see the Breaking Dawn movie.

Overall I thought they did a pretty decent job of translating the book to the film. All of the major events and character drama is included. The cinematography was great, included those panorama shots the film is so keen on, and thankfully the wolves were a little more normal size.

There were, however, several instances where some conversation or point seemed like a random aside because the foreshadowing is to an event we haven't yet seen. Take the mention of Laurent's death at the wedding for example. If we had only seen this first installment of the film and not read the book then it seems irrelevant. As writers, however, we know nothing a writer creates is by accident. It's all building to a larger purpose but the difficulty with breaking a book into two movies is that not every seed that's planted in the beginning is resolved by the middle.

That said, I found the climax to be excellent. They created that moment of self doubt. Despite having read the book there's still a part of me that connects to Edward in his moment of shocked grief, to Jacob as he sobs in the front lawn, and begs for Bella to come back. And the moment she does, it's blood red eyes we see and then *credits.* It definitely concluded at a cliff hanger of a moment and left me wanting more because this, of course, changes everything--everything we know about the dynamic of the characters, about Bella, and about her relationship with Edward.

The chemistry between Edward and Bella was still palpable throughout the film but, at least on screen, I'm finding Jacob's involvement even more bothersome. I couldn't help but think, "The girl's married. Give up already!" and yet there he was, still pining away.

The movie also failed, in my opinion, to adequately explain imprinting. Sure Jacob has a flash forward moment when he sees baby Renesmee (thank God they admit this is a terrible name) but, really, what's to say Renesmee won't always think of him as creepy uncle Jacob who used to dig my mom and is 18 years older than me? He's the only one imprinting here. I do find it peculiar no one ever questions the other partner's willingness to join the relationship. Hopefully this will be explored or clarified in the next installment.

The action was good but, of course, there's so much action that we can never get to until the next installment when the storyline really comes to fruition and Bella's life as a vampire takes hold. Thankfully that next installment won't include Bella pregnant with a demon baby. Holy hell, breaking bones! I actually shrieked in the theater. Sure Bella was contorting and exceptionally gross and malnourished but I did NOT expect that.

What I did expect was for the film to be consistent with all of the others particularly in conveying Bella's unique mix of insecurity and strength. That's seen no where more than in this movie. I look forward to seeing how these dueling characteristics play out in the next film, because as one movie patron hollered as we left, "See you all next November," and I'm sure he's right. He will.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Don't Give Up!

I'm a big fan of Miss Snark's First Victim blog. If you don't know it then please come out from under that rock and check it out!

This past Monday she announced which entries from aspiring authors qualified for her Baker's Dozen Contest (think critiques and more exposure). One non-recipient said the rejection made them want to give up.

First of all, did they not see the WriteOnCon video from NYT bestselling author Beth Revis? Or my posting of it earlier this year? If not, here it is again just in case the third time's a charm!

YES! This NYT bestselling author wrote not 1, not 2, but 10 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10) manuscripts before she got to where she wanted to be. You know why? Because she had a dream, and a dream coupled with fierce determination means there's nothing you can't do.

We hear too often the instant success stories. The author that wrote their entire manuscript in a month or who had 6 offers of representation and barely a rejection letter to their name, or their first book sale was a three-book deal with movie rights optioned. WHAT?! That happens?

Yes, it does, but not often. These are sensational stories about rare individuals. Would I love to be one of these individuals. Hell yeah. Wouldn't you? Are most of us? Sadly, no. But we learn from all of this and we move on, move forward, or move further into edits.

For me, you may know that I recently finished my second manuscript. I wrote the first, queried RIGHT AWAY (big no, no), received my fair share of rejections and requests, got waaaayyyy too excited about my full manuscript submissions, and ultimately nothing came of it. Did I give up? Does it look like it?

I do think there's an important distinction, however, about giving up on writing and the pursuit of a dream versus giving up at least temporarily on a story. I had the option of doing the kind of edits I should have done the first time around and querying new agents or starting from scratch. Yes, it's scarier to start from scratch but for me, I was already cheating on my first manuscript with my second. I couldn't help it. Something told me I had a much bigger and better idea this second time around and now, I had the lessons learned from that first manuscript under my belt to ensure I did right this time.

While there's not guarantees, one good sign is that I haven't sent a single query letter out yet and after a writers conference I have 2 full manuscripts and a partial request and now I've been admitted to Miss Snark's Baker's Dozen Contest.

This reminds me of the worst interview question I was ever asked. The HR person said, "If you could describe yourself as smart or hardworking and you could only be one, which would it be?" That day I chose hardworking. There are a lot of smart people out there that never do anything with it. I'm a firm believer that success doesn't happen by accident. Hard work has to be part of the equation. So don't give up. Ever!

Maybe the manuscript you're working on isn't THE ONE, and maybe the next one isn't either but that doesn't mean it won't happen. My old writing teacher used to say, "If you don't want to read your work, what makes you think anyone else will?" Well my question to you is, "If you don't believe in yourself, what makes you think anyone else should?"

It's a SUBJECTIVE business. I never knew how true this was until I attended my first writer's conference earlier this month and heard a query letter get kissed and courted in one session and absolutely torn apart in another.

Believe in yourself. Study the books you love and pull apart what it is that makes them work. Write and rewrite and read aloud and rewrite some more. Pull in tons of eyes to take a look and encourage them to be as brutal as possible. Reach out to local writers groups, and most of all, believe that one day it will happen.

I do want to preface however that framing the dream is an important step too. Are you writing for you or for publication? I think this is a big distinction. Yes, we'd all love for our work to be published but at the end of the day if we find joy and solace, reprieve and excitement from the characters in our heads and the words spilling out in the pages then maybe that's enough as well. It doesn't mean to stop trying, it simply means that our own personal joy is what's most important of all. And maybe, just maybe, when we stop pressuring ourselves and writing for others, we have the most fun of all...and write that sparkling manuscript we always dreamed possible.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

These are hilarious!

So you want to write a novel:

Aspiring writer versus agent:

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Breaking Dawn

I think Christina Perri has a gorgeous voice. Then I saw the video which is simple and romantic and, in my opinion, utter beautiful in its eloquence. It also seems a nice complement to the upcoming Breaking Dawn movie and features additional clips of Bella and Edward's wedding and honeymoon so enjoy!

I decided to host a contest to coincide with my fan girl excitement for the movie opening this weekend. (I can't help it; I dare you to feel otherwise.)

As such, I'll be giving away one hard copy of Breaking Dawn.

1. Contest is open now until 11:59 pm EST November 22. Winner will be announced November 23.

2. Contest is international.

3. You must be a follower of the blog.

4. Email entry to, subject line "Breaking Dawn."

5. Extra entries if you Facebook about it or tweet, "@SCookRay is hosting a #breakingdawn #giveaway #contest" and include the link to this site.

Good luck!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

WTF Wednesday

1. This isn't new but I forgot to share. I left work late on Halloween night and saw several girls wearing fishnets and no pants (think leotards). They were all huddled together on the corner. My educated guess? Prostitutes. I mean I do work in DC so it's not the wildest idea ever especially when encountering pant-less women in the middle of the night. As I approached, however, I saw the faint little headbands with cat ears. Turns out they were just girls dressed in slutty Halloween costumes outside for a smoke. And my feminist heart died.

And then I remembered this:

2. Zac Efron channels 70s' style mustache in effort to be ugly. Why Zac, why?

3. The Duggar family announces they're pregnant with their 20th child. Um, what?! Am I the only one who thinks this is sounding like an addiction? How do you find time to spend with your kids when you can field 4 full basketballs teams? (Sorry, I think in sports analogies.)

Have you had any WTF moments lately?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Hunger Games!!!

Here's the newly-released extended Hunger Games movie trailer. LOVE it!

Are you as excited to see the film as I am?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Monday Morning Moment of Zen

My husband took this picture on a work trip to Alaska. Nature doesn't get much more beautiful that this.

What's your zen moment this Monday?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Questions to Ask on "The Call"

Various agents discussed what to talk about should you get "the call" as in a literary agent offers representation.

-How do you work/what's your strategy for working with me?

-How do you give me information (e.g. email, phone calls)?

-How do your contracts work?

-What do you envision for my work?

-What is the author-agent relationship?

-What is your plan from here?

-What is it about my book that you loved/connected with?

-What sort of revisions would you suggest for my work?

-What editors do you have in mind for the book?

-How editorial are you?

-What has your experience been with my kind of book? (Note, if an agent has experience in that genre then you want to hear about it; if they're trying to break into that market then you want to learn why.)

Remember when the agent calls, you're not only interviewing them but they're also interviewing you. See how well of a fit the two of you are.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Another key topic at the Backspace Writers Conference was marketing or, more specifically, branding. Who are you and what do you stand for? Think authors and consumer assumptions.

If you pick up Nicholas Sparks you know it's very book club-ish as in people fall in love, someone dies, and everyone feels reconciliation at the end. If it's Jodi Picoult, you know there will be serious issues tackled and likely alternating points of view. Melissa Banks or David Sedaris equal comedy and often shorter vignettes. John Grisham is legal thrillers. You get the point. The big question is what are you synonymous with?

If you're just starting out the answer may be, "not much" but that's why planning ahead is important. Successful brands don't just happen; they're strategic and opportunities are taken to reiterate that brand in the marketplace.

If you have a platform let it be known. That means if you're a lawyer and you write legal thrillers or you're a doctor and you write medical dramas then you should include that in your query. That helps give you legitimacy and is part of your brand.

Ways to improve your brand recognition is to be your biggest advocate--to get out there whether with your local writers club, critique partners, social media platforms, book review mediums etc. As one agent said, "Think of a Google search as a personal resume." Check what the Web says about you and work to reinforce, modify, or fill in the blanks.

So, who do you want to be and what do you want your writing to stand for?

Monday, November 7, 2011

What Literary Agents Want

This was the topic of one of the panels at the Backspace Writers Conference. If you haven't gone, I highly recommend it. I met some amazing people including fellow writers and got rejuvenated to return to my WIP and keep editing along. All this week I'll be sharing with you (as promised) some of the important information I gleaned from the event.

So, what do literary agents want? Great writing. What is it?

1. Originality. The novel has to really bring the reader into the world and there has to be some unique X factor about it. As one agent said, "Write the book you want to read and that's not currently out there." Don't write to trends. By the time you do, the trend is likely over. Case in point? Lots of agents recycling the words, "No vampires or werewolves!"

2. Query letter strength. The query letter is your audition. It has to be as strong as the writing in the novel itself. It may be all an agent sees of your writing. If you were a singer you'd want to showcase your voice right out front and get their jaws to drop on those first few notes. You wouldn't hide that awesome range for the end of the song because you might never make it there. The same is true for queries. Be sure it truly reflects your novel and your main character. Ideally we'd have a true sense of who your character is by the time those few paragraphs of a query letter are through. Best advice: tailor your query letter to the back of a book/book jacket. You want to introduce us to characters, have your hook, and leave us wanting more.

3. Voice. More and more books today are truly voice/character driven. There has to be a differentiation between your main character and others. Think of it this way, if you could remove the "says Emily" or "says Toby" additions to your dialogue, would it be clear who is talking? If the answer is no then go back and work on your voice some more.

4. Pace. Pacing is sooooo important. The second an editor or agent gets bored and feels they can put your book down, it's the kiss of death. This means focusing on tightening your storyline, getting rid of anything unnecessary, being careful with too much exposition or back story, and varying sentence length to improve the readability of your prose. As one agent said, "If a word is not serving your purpose, why is it there?"

5. Tension. It needs to be clear to the readers all along what the stakes are. This invests them in the storyline and your characters. It also assists with the pacing of the book.

6. Intangible quality. An agent said, "Sometimes good writing has an intangible quality. Even after pointing out style, word choice, and turns of phrase, there's still something about it you can't quite place but which pulls you in." As writers to it might be difficult to determine if we have that quality in our own work, but this is where beta readers are so important. We all know this quality too. It's how so many people can badmouth the writing of Twilight but they've read it and devoured it themselves. Whatever they think of the word choice or the style, they were pulled into the story and never let go. That's what good writing does and not all good writing has to be literary writing; it can be commercial too.

7. Professionalism. Agents want to know that your novel isn't a "one-off." They want to know that you will take the process seriously because this is their job. They may like you and become friends with you but you are colleagues first and foremost. They have to want to work with you and know that when they recommend you to an editor and say you're fabulous to collaborate with, that it's the truth because it's their reputation that's on the line. So no crazy antics; no badmouthing on the Web etc. I once heard the phrase "What happens in Vegas lives on Facebook forever." I think the same is true for writers, "What happens in cyberspace is Google-able forever." (Yes, I made that word up but you get the point.)

I think the greatest take away from all of this is not to rush the process, to really focus on honing your craft and making your work the best it possibly can and then ensuring when you contact agents, all that hard work and professionalism and clean writing comes through. What's some good writing advise you've received?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Backspace Writers Conference

Laura Stanford, a Backspace Writers Conference alum shares some conference tips here and literary agent Meredith Barnes explains why she recommends writing conferences and some conference 101 tips on her blog.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Where in the world is Sarah Cook-Raymond?

Ahhhhh yeah!!!! I'm off to the N.Y.C. y'all.

I dare you not to be dancing in your desk chair with that theme song playing!

More specifically I'm at the Backspace Writers Conference. Not quite a Jay-Z video but exciting nevertheless.

When I return I'll be dropping some knowledge on all of you but in the interim would love to hear what your favorite aspects of conferences are and any great writing tips you've learned along the way. So please feel free to add to the comment sections. For me, I always adore the networking with other likeminded writers and giving myself some devoted time to focus on the craft. Laundry and other tasks on my to-do list be damned. I'm in critique sessions!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

New Book Trailer!

Wow guys. Wow. I've heard fabulous things about The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer but this book trailer blew me away. Very intriguing. This may have to move up on my TBR list!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Marine Corps Marathon

Yesterday I spend the day cheering on the runners of the Marine Corps marathon, and more specifically a few close friends. I'd love to say I ran it but my bragging rights are limited to half marathons (and I've really only done a couple of those).

It was an amazing spectacle. There were over 35,000 runners weaving through the nation's capital. When fans, security, and volunteers are factored in, that number jumps to 100,000 people in attendance.

Many of the runners are soldiers or ex-military, some are even participating in wheel chairs or a prosthetic leg. They run through Arlington Cemetery and end the race up a heartbreak of a hill but with the Iwo Jima Memorial at the top.

It was an emotional event.

There were, of course, moments of hilarity like my friends sharing this marathon runner comedy spoof with me the night before:

What I took away from the event was that we're capable of completing whatever we want if we put our minds to it and never give up. Having a cheering section whether in running or in writing is essential. Sharing advice never goes out of fashion. And everybody wins when they all encourage each other's success.

These are very much the things I've been so impressed with in the writing community and after experiencing what's deemed "the people's marathon," I can see the same is true in running. They both take dedication and daily training but whether crossing the finish line or typing out "the end," there is a wonderful sense of accomplishment once it's complete. All those long days and nights become so totally worth it. So here's me cheering you on and encouraging you to share your advice and adventures with others! Feel free to start right here.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Book Trailers

I know I've done several cover love and title love posts but to a lesser extent, book trailers so I thought I'd share some fabulous ones I've come across lately.

1. Crossed by Ally Condie
Here's what the book is about: In search of a future that may not exist and faced with the decision of who to share it with, Cassia journeys to the Outer Provinces in pursuit of Ky - taken by the Society to his certain death - only to find that he has escaped, leaving a series of clues in his wake.

Cassia's quest leads her to question much of what she holds dear, even as she finds glimmers of a different life across the border. But as Cassia nears resolve and certainty about her future with Ky, an invitation for rebellion, an unexpected betrayal, and a surprise visit from Xander - who may hold the key to the uprising and, still, to Cassia's heart - change the game once again. Nothing is as expected on the edge of Society, where crosses and double crosses make the path more twisted than ever.

2. Delirium by Lauren Oliver
Here's what it's about: Lena Haloway is content in her safe, government-managed society. She feels (mostly) relaxed about the future in which her husband and career will be decided, and looks forward to turning 18, when she’ll be cured of deliria, a.k.a. love. She tries not to think about her mother’s suicide (her last words to Lena were a forbidden “I love you”) or the supposed “Invalid” community made up of the uncured just beyond her Portland, Maine, border. There’s no real point—she believes her government knows how to best protect its people, and should do so at any cost. But 95 days before her cure, Lena meets Alex, a confident and mysterious young man who makes her heart flutter and her skin turn red-hot. As their romance blossoms, Lena begins to doubt the intentions of those in power, and fears that her world will turn gray should she submit to the procedure.

3. Infinity by Sherrilyn Kenyon
Here's what it's about: Kenyon, whose paranormal adult novels include 50 New York Times best-sellers, brings characters from her Dark Hunter series to teens with a new YA series featuring Nick Gautier, who appears here as a 14-year-old. After arriving at school and discovering that the football team members have turned into classmate-eating zombies, Nick sets out to stop the attacks, and in one unforgettable night, he learns that he has a pivotal role to play in an unseen world.

Have you seen any good books or book trailers lately?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

While I Edit

I've signed up for the Backspace Writers Conference in NYC this coming November 3-4. I've never been. I'm super excited and anxious and scared and a million other things. I think mainly I'm just interested in what it will be like, all the writer types I'll meet, and what I'll learn.

You can be sure I'll be posting updates when I get back. The structure includes some general informational panels about publishing but also critique sessions on query letters and two-page writing samples.

I'm a veteran when it comes to receiving constructive criticism. Most criticism I've received in the past, however, has been restricted to assignments in college or graduate school and then writing assignments at work. This will be the first real time I'm receiving criticism on my WIP.

I have posted on Query Tracker Forum and had some alpha readers* take a look but this is a whole new level and I'm not really sure what to expect. I know it's subjective but there's a certain anxiousness that's part hope, part anticipation of the worst possible scenario. As such I've been busying myself with edits and using this conference date as a good motivator to work on some scenes I've been procrastinating.

You can be sure that where I'm typing, my trusty Lab Molly is always lying by my feet encouraging me along--or falling asleep when I read aloud to her :-)

And while my Molly is growing a very unfashionable gray goatee at the moment and is all grown up, I thought I'd share this blast from the past of baby Molly and today's Tuesday morning moment of zen:

Have you had any moments of zen lately?

*Alpha reader is my term for close friends or relatives who get to read your WIP before the beta readers come in.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Breaking Dawn

Is the Twilight Series the best written YA series around? I don't think so. Is it the best adaptation of novels to screen? Not in my opinion. Am I still terribly excited for the new film? You bet.

The forbidden love story that became a national--and international--phenomenon (read: bestsellers) has that special hook, or as the French say, "je-ne-sais-quoi." There is that special something about the characters and their connection that is pure literary crack. You can't put it down or, in the case of the movies, you can't help but drop $10 every time another new one comes out.

As a lead-in to the next installment, I thought I'd share some recent news I've stumbled upon.

1. Bruno Mars' song "It Will Rain" is announced as the first single on the forthcoming Breaking Dawn soundtrack.

2. New photo stills are starting to be released from the film.

3. The actors discuss the momentous occasion in the series: the wedding.

I can't embed the video and even the hyperlink function on blogger is hating on me right now but it's worth checking out. So here's the link to copy and paste if you're interested:

So tell me, will you be checking this movie out? Why or why not?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Writing for Young Adults

If you missed the National Book Festival earlier this fall, then you missed the opportunity to hear YA author extraordinaire Sarah Dessen discuss her journey and what it's like to write for young adults. I've uncovered this video from the event and wanted to share. Enjoy!

If you were in attendance, what was your favorite part?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Blown Away

Sometimes I'll come across an idea, project, or book that I am sooooo blown away by I desperately wish I was ingenious enough to think it up myself. So is the story of The Girl Project. O.M.G.

You have to read this article about it and come back here:

Here's what the jacket says about Please Read (If At All Possible): The Girl Project. Female adolescence through the eyes of teenage girls for a teenage-girl audience. This empowering volume introduces the reader to an insider’s view of teenage girlhood. Through their participation in The Girl Project-created in 2007 by Kate Engelbrecht to explore the personal realities of modern female adolescence-teenage girls contributed intimate, heartwarming, diarylike text entries and photographs that capture their personal and private moments. To date, over 5,000 girls between the ages of 13 and 18 have sent in photographs, along with anonymously completed questionnaires that communicate their view of themselves and the world around them. This collection of images and text details the private and personal lives of adolescents, which together reveal an amazing narrative communicated as only teenage girls know and understand. The girls touch upon universal issues, such as their struggles with self-confidence and body image, relationships with peers and family, and their dissatisfaction with how they are presented by the media and in popular culture.

Teen readers will be rewarded with a wonderful set of sincere, deep messages and the reassurance that they are not alone.

I often watch "teen" television shows like Gossip Girl and 90210 but these teens are not the teens I knew when I was in high school. They might be cast as teens but their attitudes, worldviews, and access are far different. This was, in fact, the impetus for the book. It came about as a simple question that author Engelbrecht posed to herself: Are girls really that much different than when I was a teen?

To answer that question she embarked on a phenomenal journey and sociology project known as The Girl Project, and the book is its summary--it's tale of the real teenage girl's life today.

In many ways the project and its findings didn't reveal anything necessarily shocking, at least if you were to poll my teenage self. Girls are self conscious about their bodies, about how to communicate in relationships, they strongly value friendship, and are afraid of being alone. It's not sex they're after but love. Sound familiar?

I think what's shocking and groundbreaking about this novel is that its text reflects real girls. It's not an escape like so much of YA but rather a comfort to say, "We get it. There are others just like you."

I think that's why I devoured Sabrina Ward Harrison's book Spilling Open: The Art of Becoming Yourself. I was just going into college when that book came out and something about it just...clicked. It was one of those divine moments in literature where you read something and you think, "Yes, exactly. How did you know?!" Where it feels like someone is right inside your head plucking your thoughts, writing down your feelings.

We need more books like this whether non-fiction like these works or fiction novels with realistic characters. Not everyone is being fought over by two gorgeous guys and navigating the terrain of their first (or more) sexual encounters. Lots of girls--and guys for that matter--are just trying to figure out braces and pimples and body image issues along with how to talk to their crush and how to fit in.

We need to let teens know there are others like them and I think this book is a really great start.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Swagger Song

Happy Monday! Here's a new swagger song to get you moving today and right on through the week. It's by Sara Bareilles whom I love and is the directorial debut of funnyman actor Jonah Hill. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Amazing Fan Art

I had to share this AMAZING, very graphic novel-esque fan art piece from Date A Girl Who Reads blog ( I've seen fan art before but this one rocks! It's also such a huge ode to the author and the work, in this case Harry Potter.

What good fan art have you seen lately?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

We have a winner!

Thanks for all the entries; there were a lot this time! Understandably so. These are such awesome books I'm excited to share. However, there can only be one winner to the fall book giveaway.

And that winner is *drum roll*


Congratulations Linda. Be sure to email me your mailing address and which book you pick. If you don't win I still encourage you to pick up these books, and I'll be doing reviews of them over the coming months.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Cover Love

All These Lives by Sarah Wylie looks beautiful. I've followed Sarah Wylie's blog for a while. (You should too; she's awesome, witty, and hilarious!) The book has been compared to Jodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper! Yeah, I know, amazing right?! On top of all that Sarah is represented by uber-agent Suzie Townsend at FinePrint Literary and her debut novel is already generating lots of buzz.

Here's the description: Sixteen-year-old Dani is convinced she has nine lives. As a child she twice walked away from situations where she should have died. But Dani’s twin, Jena, isn’t so lucky. She has cancer and might not even be able to keep her one life. Dani’s father is in denial. Her mother is trying to hold it together and prove everything’s normal. And Jena is wasting away. To cope, Dani sets out to rid herself of all her extra lives. Maybe they’ll be released into the universe and someone who wants to live more than she does will get one. Someone like Jena. But just when Dani finds herself at the breaking point, she’s faced with a startling realization. Maybe she doesn’t have nine lives after all. Maybe she really only ever had one.

Sounds awesome, right?

Friday, September 30, 2011

Ryan and Emma

I haven't been a big fan of change lately. I am not a morning person and this whole still being dark when I wake up deal is just not working for me. What is working, however, and I'm sooooo glad to see it's not over is the romance (onscreen that is) between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. No change up necessary! LOVE them individually and even more so together.

I adored their chemistry, witty banter, vulnerability, and relatability in Crazy, Stupid, Love. They put a new spin on the whole opposites attract storyline because their characters weren't forced together and unbelievably forgiving of someone so different, as we often see. Instead they were growing and evolving and finding one another during their individual evolutions. They met when they were both finally morphing into the person the other needed.

Now they're rekindling their romance for the forthcoming period piece The Gangster Squad and I can't wait to see it!

What onscreen couples do you love?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Fall Must Read Giveaway

There are some books that I am just dying to get my hands on and yet another reason why I love fall so much. So I'm doing a giveaway of what I consider to be THE BOOKS to read in YA this fall. Winner of the giveaway will have his or her choice of one of the following reads.

1. The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
The book is rocking nearly 4.5 out of 5 stars on goodreads, the majority of reviewers use the word "wow," in describing it, and talk about a hook here's what the jacket says: Mara Dyer doesn't think life can get any stranger than waking up in a hospital with no memory of how she got there.

It can.

She believes there must be more to the accident she can't remember that killed her friends and left her mysteriously unharmed.

There is.

She doesn't believe that after everything she's been through, she can fall in love.

She's wrong.

2. Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins
Lola and the Boy Next Door is brought to us from breakout contemporary YA author Perkins. (Her first novel which was wildly received was Anna and the French Kiss.)Every review of this book speaks to how well Perkins has developed her characters and that readers were actually "giddy" as they tore through the pages. Here's what the jacket says: Budding designer Lola Nolan doesn’t believe in fashion . . . she believes in costume. The more expressive the outfit -- more sparkly, more fun, more wild -- the better. But even though Lola’s style is outrageous, she’s a devoted daughter and friend with some big plans for the future. And everything is pretty perfect (right down to her hot rocker boyfriend) until the dreaded Bell twins, Calliope and Cricket, return to the neighborhood.

When Cricket -- a gifted inventor -- steps out from his twin sister’s shadow and back into Lola’s life, she must finally reconcile a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door

3. What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen
Dessen was just at the National Book Festival this past weekend rocking the YA tent so though this book came out in May, it's classic chick lit YA from the Godmother herself: Sarah Dessen. Here's what the jacket has to say: After a scandal involving her mother and a famous college basketball coach rocked her family and her old hometown, McClean decided to live with her dad. His job as a restaurant consultant requires they pick up often, and at each new place she carefully selects who she’ll be—Eliza, Beth, or someone else with a new name and different interests. It’s easier this way for McClean, who is reluctant to form any true attachments. Then at their latest stop, McClean does something she’s not done in a long while—reveal her real name. But who is this McClean and is she ready to forgive her mother, fall for the boy next door, and finally stick around?

1. You must be a follower (2 points if you've been a follower before this contest, 1 for newbies).

2. You must email me at to enter, subject line should read "fall book giveaway"

3. Extra entries if you follow me at Twitter (SCookRay) and also if you tweet, "Check out @SCookRay fall must-read #bookgiveaway #contest at"

4. Contest closes October 3 at 9 pm EST; winner will be announced on October 4.

Good luck!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

WTF Wednesday

I just couldn't ignore some of these WTF moments.

1) GLEE actor Mark Salling's comb-over mohawk. Now why would a handsome, edgy guy try to look so bad and seek out the lamest known middle age hairstyle?

2) Brad Pitt clarifies statement about Jennifer Aniston. No, this isn't an old article but somehow no one will turn that broken record off. Enough already!

3) I'm consistently stuck behind out of service DC buses with big ads about all the improvements they're making to the system. Ironic much?

4) Jessica Biel's pregnant belly for her role in New Year's Eve. Seriously, even her character should be able to afford a full size shirt. This is just plain wrong.

5) Albeit the word was only "canned" but my friend managed to hit every triple word score square there is and started our Words With Friends scrabble match with a 72-point play. Try coming back from that! 72 points; seriously?!

Have you had any WTF moments lately?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Friday Night Lights

Friday Night Light: Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Lose!

I'm a late comer as far as the show Friday Night Lights go. My husband and I recently discovered it on the instant stream option on Netflix and have soured through Seasons 1 and 2 in record time and are now making our way through Season 3. Here's the little background: Friday Night Lights is an American sports drama television series adapted by Peter Berg, Brian Grazer and David Nevins from a book and film of the same name. The series details events surrounding a high school football team based in fictional Dillon, Texas, with particular focus given to team coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) and his family. The show uses this small town backdrop to address many issues facing contemporary American culture, including school funding, racism, drugs, abortion, and lack of economic opportunities.

I LOVE this show. It's always been critically acclaimed though never quite mainstream and sadly, and ironically, it was cancelled this past spring only to come home on Sunday with two Emmys. "Best Writing in a Drama" and "Best Actor in a Drama."

Here's Kyle Chandler (aka Coach Taylor) celebrating his win:

The writing and characters have everything I love about a great show and a great contemporary YA fiction novel for that matter. First and foremost there are believable characters. They're flawed and insecure in their own ways. Riggins because of his broken family life and because he self sabotages himself over and over again. Lyla because she has such a strong idea of who she should be instead of sometimes just being who she is. Matt has his abandonment issues. Tyra doesn't know a healthy relationship if it walked right past her, and so on.

Under the microcosm of a small football obsessed town and, of course, all attending high school together (even Eric Taylor the football coach and Tami Taylor as the guidance counselor) are all there, allowing ample opportunity for drama to brew.

Like many of the television shows of the 1990s, Friday Night Lights allows larger issues to bubble to the surface or play in the background, both as an examination of American culture and more issue oriented topics such as abortion, rape, cheating, and so on. Nothing feels preached even the very prominent scenes and discussions about God. I believe this is because no one side is amenable to all parties. If one person is religious then another hates God. If one person wants to keep the baby, the other is weighing the alternate options. In short, it feels like life with all the messiness that goes along with it but unfolding in such seamless and effortless acting and prose.

The believable characters isn't just the acting, it's how they interact with each other. This is critical and apparently something the writers allowed the actors to help dictate: If a scene or dialogue felt out of character, the actors were encouraged to speak up and offer alternatives. LOVE IT! There's nothing worse than developing a strong sense of character only to have that entire foundation jeopardized based on one "out of character" action.

There's rising action in the series, each episode ending right in the midst of it and leaving you wanting more. There's sexual tension and big macro level decisions our characters must make like where do I go to college and micro level decisions like do I want to keep dating this person.

It's refreshing to watch a drama that has such refined roles for the parents. Coach Taylor and his wife have ups and downs but, ultimately, are the healthiest family relationship on the show and still have chemistry. They're involvement in the kids' lives as coach and counselor unveils far more about the underbelly of Dillon, Texas than we would have known otherwise and is a fabulous vehicle to do so. Nothing feels forced. It also reminds me of how important adults are in teen lives even if teens seemingly want nothing to do with them.

The involvement and prominence of football allows the players in the show to enjoy a kind of otherworldly or royal status. So often we've only seen characters propel into high school gods because of financial status so this is an interesting twist, one I found strange at first given the entire town's obsession too but which helps to draw out characters from every neck of the woods in Dillon, Texas to one shared passion. There is no question where the town of Dillon's loyalty lies: with the Dillon Panthers.

There's something in here for everyone: romance, sports, drama, character development, examination of issues, and writing that is second to none.

If you haven't checked it out, I suggest you do. If you have, what do you love most about it?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Get excited y'all

The latest Breaking Dawn trailer just came out and I'm not going to lie, I'm EXCITED. Total guilty pleasure.

Here's it is:

What do you think? Does it look good? Will you see it?

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Inaction by definition is the absence of action, idleness. When it's in a book it's killer. I'm just over half-way through book 2 in a series and I've put it down. I'll pick it up again and eventually finish it because I hate to give up entirely on a novel but the chances I'll read book 3 in this trilogy has greatly diminished.

I'm surprised, shocked even, that after I've developed such strong emotions to the characters and their story in book 1 that I now feel such indifference. The culprit is inaction. I'm 160 pages in and generally not much has happened. Sure we've been introduced to a new character but overall it feels like the narrative is running in circles, buying time. And by inaction it's not limited to the lack of any fighting in book 2 but even true growth of the characters thus far from page 1 to 160. The character dynamic has shifted since book 1 and with it taken away a lot of tension; the writer needed to find better and more creative ways to add this back in. Right now, all I can assume (given the nature of the novel) is that everything will come unraveling or come together at the end--that we're in a waiting game for something big, though of what I can't be sure.

This is a classic writing mistake in my opinion. Detail and background is important but they can't weigh down the prose or be ALL of the prose. If detail and background are threads then writers are knitters, weaving these together with tension and action and character development to move us towards the final product.

Action has to be present in some manner throughout, moving the pacing along and getting us hungry for more. I was having a conversation about this with a friend and used Twilight as an example. Why? Because virtually every girl (and woman) I know has read it and in some cases guys too. Yes, the chase at the end and eventual show-down between Edward and James along with Bella's near death is the climax of the story.

There is, however, still strong tension and action throughout. Bella's uncertainty of who and what Edward is; Edward saving her from the gang of men in the alley; the fearfulness that is a constant undercurrent, present at all times, that he could kill her. These all play into action, character development, and tension.

As writers we need to try to strike that delicate balance between providing detail and setting up our story. I think of putting on a play. Don't devote all of your time as stage crew setting up the props; spend it engaging the characters in meaningful ways.

What books have you read where the action has sustained throughout the novel?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Swagger Song

I had a really relaxing weekend and now a nice deep sleep and while I love my day job I'm definitely going to need a big dose of caffeinated assistance to get me going, that and a nice upbeat swagger song to start the week.

I've fallen in love with O.A.R.'s "Heaven" and wanted to share it here. Hopefully it helps add an extra something in your step and makes this morning a little easier to get moving :-)

Have you heard any great swagger songs lately?

Thursday, September 8, 2011


In my day job as a professional writer, people hire me to write for them. Sometimes this is marketing copy and other times lengthy articles or reports. Regardless of what I'm writing, however, the objective is always to deliver what the client wants or what I perceive the marketplace to most readily react to.

That's where I failed in my first manuscript. I had a great story idea but my execution was all wrong. Business writing and fiction writing are not the same. In my first manuscript I wrote what I thought the marketplace wanted, what agents wanted and I wrote it in the way I thought the novel and characters should sound. I inserted overly poetic prose to demonstrate that I could write and I censored my characters to try to give them more mass appeal. I tried to write a marketable story instead of simply writing the story in my head.

In short, I wrote for other people instead of really writing my characters and I think this is where a lot of writers fall short. We try too hard to control the story; we over-think.

This time around I've sworn to let my characters go completely uncensored. I remind myself (since I'm writing YA) that I'm not an adult critiquing their behaviors but, rather, a conduit or observer to share what they're going through, saying, thinking. I don't try to change my friends; they come to me fully formed though also growing and adapting and that's how characters are too. Sure there's character development that writers have to do but I believe it should be more like a reality show: develop the premise and story arc along with the conflict and then throw your characters into situations and see what they'll do and what they'll say. See how they react off one another.

I've done this thus far in my current WIP and I believe the voice of my MC rings so much more true because of that.

What have you learned about writing along the way?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

And the TBR List Grows

I'm sad that summer is over but like any nerd I've always loved the start of fall. Of course, I won't be starting off the school year but simply going back to the office like I have most days throughout the rest of the year, but still there's a little something different in the air as the humidity lessens and the jeans and sweaters start coming out. And though I'm not in school any more it doesn't mean my fall obsession to stock up on books has waned in the least. Sure there are other things I love about fall like the foliage, apple cider and apple picking, pumpkin carving, the new latte flavors at Starbucks, and everything else fall seems to bring. But let's be honest. It's books I love most!

For today's post I decided to highlight some of the hottest new books coming out right now and which will certainly be on my TBR list!

1. The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin Mara Dyer doesn't think life can get any stranger than waking up in a hospital with no memory of how she got there.

It can.

She believes there must be more to the accident she can't remember that killed her friends and left her mysteriously unharmed.

There is.

She doesn't believe that after everything she's been through, she can fall in love.

She's wrong.

OMG. I've heard nothing but fabulous things about this book from those who have been lucky enough to get their hands on an early copy. It comes out September 27 so mark your calendars!

2. Light From a Distant Star by Mary McGarry Morris Light from a Distant Star is a gripping coming-of-age story with a brutal murder at its heart and a heroine as unforgettable as Harper Lee’s "Scout."

It is early summer and Nellie Peck is on the cusp of adolescence – gangly, awkward, full of questions, but keenly observant and wiser than many of the adults in her life. The person she most admires is her father, Benjamin, a man of great integrity. His family’s century old hardware store is failing and Nellie’s mother has had to go back to work. Nellie’s older half-sister has launched a disturbing search for her birth father. Often saddled through the long, hot days with her timid younger brother, Henry, Nellie is determined to toughen him up. And herself as well.

Three strangers enter Nellie’s protected life. Brooding Max Devaney is an ex-con who works in her surly grandfather’s junkyard. Reckless Bucky Saltonstall has just arrived from New York City to live with his elderly grandparents. And pretty Dolly Bedelia is a young stripper who rents the family’s small, rear apartment and becomes the titillating focus of Nellie’s eavesdropping.

When violence erupts in the lovely Peck house, the prime suspect seems obvious. Nellie knows who the real murderer is, but is soon silenced by fear and the threat of scandal. The truth, as she sees it, is shocking and unthinkable, and with everyone’s eyes riveted on her in the courtroom, Nellie finds herself seized with doubt.

No one will listen. No one believes her, and a man’s life hangs in the balance. A stunning evocation of innocence lost, Light from a Distant Star stands as an incredibly moving and powerful novel from one of America's finest writers.

When everyone is comparing a book to Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, you better believe I'm going to pick it up! It releases on September 13.

3. Happy Accidents: My Gleeful Life by Jane Lynch In the summer of 1974, a fourteen-year-old girl in Dolton, Illinois, had a dream. A dream to become an actress, like her idols Ron Howard and Vicki Lawrence. But it was a long way from the South Side of Chicago to Hollywood, and it didn't help that she'd recently dropped out of the school play, The Ugly Duckling. Or that the Hollywood casting directors she wrote to replied that "professional training was a requirement."

But the funny thing is, it all came true. Through a series of Happy Accidents, Jane Lynch created an improbable and hilarious path to success.

You guys know how much I love Glee and actress Jane Lynch is a HUGE part of that show. She is hunch at the waist, cry your eyes out, slap your knee, choke for breath funny! I was reminded of this again this past weekend as I lounged around on Labor Day and caught up on Role Models playing on TBS. She's amazing and the snippets I've seen in this book thus far seem both funny and insightful, inspiring and real. This book also comes out on September 13.

But what about you; what books or activities are you looking forward to most for fall?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Social Media

I tend to think about social media in all the ways it helps connect people but then I tried to write a tweet yesterday that was FAR too long. do I say what I want to convey but in less words?

This got me thinking about all the other things that social media can help us do, namely become better writers. Though mediums like Twitter we're forced to use only those words that are absolutely necessary because space is limited. As many writers know, sometimes it's harder to write something in less words than it is to say it in many. But that's editing.

Editing requires that we choose only those words that are absolutely necessary to the message. I have to do this all the time at work when we're creating tag lines because by nature a tag line is one simple, short, to the point sentence or simply a phrase but which must convey an entire organization and what they do, what they stand for, in short, who they are. That's a lot to ask. But whether cognizant of it or not we are becoming, I believe, better editors because of the restrictions these (especially Twitter) mediums create.

When it comes to blogging, it's a fabulous exercise. For starters, since my blog often discusses writing/reading/bibliophile information it forces me to consider what is or isn't working about either my writing or someone else's. It also encourages me to become a more active reader and ask questions like, why am drawn to this kind of writing or I soared through that book, what mechanisms did they use to create that kind of fast pacing?

Writers are also told to write, that it's like any other exercise, you need to do it to be good at it and a blog creates an obligation to do that at least a few times a week when you might not otherwise. In this way, social media is making us better writers.

We also have to think and plan what we're going to post, perhaps it's strategic or even marketing a particular book that's coming out or maybe it's just figuring out how to synthesize an idea into words. Either way, social media is changing us and I believe in many ways it's for a more informed, collaborative, and writerly community.

What do you think? Is social media making us better and more informed? Do you feel more connected because of social media?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

WTF Wednesday

While away on vacation I hoarded my stash of US Weekly (or as my friend likes to call it "U.S. Weekly" to make it sound like legitimate news) and when I returned I have dedicated much of my free time to getting caught up on the backlog of shows recorded on Tivo. The result? I am officially up to date on pop culture happenings. And what that means is a whole lot of options to choose from for this installment of WTF Wednesday.

Here are some highlights but feel free to add more:

1) Pouting is the new smiling:

2) Bradley Cooper can shed his hotness and, well, look like all the rest of us. (Not sure if this makes me sad or relieved, but it does make me surprised.)

3) This was Lady Gaga at the MTV Video Music Awards show in drag or as a transgender man, I'm not really sure but it was weird.

4) Okay, I'm sure by now you've heard of the very popular "Lesbians Who Look Like Justin Bieber" Website/phenomena. Well it appears Justin is trying to reciprocate the affection because in not one but two pictures I've seen lately he looks like a 30-something year old woman:

5) And while not technically pop culture news, I had to share this pic of my fav burger place in Upstate NY after Irene got to it. *sobs*

What WTF moments have you had lately?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

To query or not to query, that is the question

I've wrapped up the first full draft of my WIP and am knee-deep in editing. Though I swore I wouldn't get anxious about querying, I already am. I want to test the waters as I'm excited about my manuscript but then I'm reminded of my first assignment as a professional writer.

I had been paid to do some freelance work while in college and graduate school but my first "real" assignment was when I was hired full-time, as in a writing associate who now had health insurance and paid vacation and the whole bit. To me, this meant I had arrived.

And then I handed in my first assignment. I had a deadline looming and though I was still frantically making edits, when that deadline pressed, I printed out what I had and brought it to the editor-in-chief. Not long afterwards I learned a very important lesson. Never hand in something until it is really and truly ready for review.

My editor handed it back to me in a blood bath of red ink and said, "It's a good start but it's not ready for my eyes. Don't give me something until it's as good as you can get it. If you you need an extension on the deadline, ask for it, but don't waste my time." *Ouch*

I learned my lesson, of course, and today I'm managing director of that very same firm and write far more detailed and comprehensive pieces than I was trying to tackle that day. What I learned, however, and what I need to remember in querying is not to give into the temptation to simply submit, to try to quickly jump to the next step in the publishing process whether that's off to the art director at my firm or to the literary agent weeding through the mass of query letters.

It can feel frustrating knowing that after you submit a query it can take two months before you hear anything back, couldn't you simply edit some more during those two months? My advice: Don't do it! Let that baby of a WIP grow up and mature and evolve into the truly best thing it can be. Then query. Don't waste literary agents' time with something that's not quite ready.

To get your WIP ready:

1) have some other readers review it;
2) read it aloud;
3) go through and do a "big picture" edit searching for any holes in your narrative arc;
4) then go through page by page, line by line and ask yourself how it can be better;
5) study your favorite texts in that genre and ask yourself what those writers do that you love so much, then turn that critique around and ask if you employ similar narrative style. Learn from the fantastic writing around you because it's there.

Delay your ETA to query or don't even give yourself a forced ETA, just keep plugging along with edits until you've taken the piece as far as it can go or, rather, as far as you can take it. When, and only when, it's truly in shape for professional eyes, should you send it out into the world with fingers crossed, breath held, and hopefully luck in your favor.

Any advice you want to add?