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 scookraymond@gmail.com, 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!