Monday, February 13, 2017

Son of a Pitch!

Hi. Thank you for checking out my pitch. May the force be with you all!

In the spirit of Star Wars, here's a picture of a dresser I painted for my seven-year old son a couple of Christmas's ago. I let him pick any characters he wanted, and he chose Rey, Finn, and that evil guy who's name I can't remember.


Title: AFTER
Genre: YA speculative fiction
Word count: 57,000

Query

Dear Fabulous Agent,

Dead at seventeen, Prea Río knows she doesn’t quite fit into the afterlife. She always assumed death would end her problems, but now she’s got an ugly secret about how she died. Still, life is way better here than back on lonely Earth. Prea has her boyfriend back, the one who died when he was fifteen, and she’s searching for her mom, who was killed when she was a baby.

So when Prea discovers she may not actually be dead, and might even have taken another person’s slot in the afterlife, her nearly perfect world is threatened. She knows the so-called “heavenly” thing to do is to leave, but all Prea really wants is to steal someone else’s paradise for her own shot at reconnecting with her mom. Besides, the pearly gates don’t exactly come with an elevator back down to Earth. Then Prea discovers a way to leave, but while she tries to choose between doing the right thing or staying to be with her mom, her boyfriend is about to discover her terrible secret. If the truth comes out, she could lose all the relationships she’s recovered in her afterlife, and even ruin the life she might have to live out back on Earth.

Readers of WE WERE LIARS and IF I STAY will enjoy AFTER. I have self-published three books, (THE TRUTH ABOUT DATING, MURDER BEYOND WORDS, and MURDER WITH ART), each of which sold 20,000 copies in their first year of publication.

Sincerely,

And now, the first 250 words of AFTER.


Chapter One

So, I guess this is Heaven.
I was on a cloud in the middle of outer space, and I could breathe fine, sans space suit. The cloud was about the size of my school’s football field, but instead of a goalpost at the end line, there were these enormous white gates rising up out of the mist. Hundreds of people were swarming them, but I was off to the side, watching. The sky was black and everything was eerily silent, like we had all lost our voice boxes on the trip up from Earth.
I wondered if it was just Earthlings in the crowd or if the life forms were from all over the universe. Heaven was supposed to be where all your burning questions were answered, but no old guy in a robe was showing up to explain anything. I squinted at the crowd, hoping to see aliens but expecting old men with their hospital gowns hanging open in the back, maybe a couple of people carrying their limbs. I couldn’t make out any details at all. Everyone was just blurry lights, like human glow sticks. Maybe alien glow sticks. I looked down at my legs and I was kind of lit up, too.
I should be glad to be here because, a) my family never went to church, and b) back on Earth I didn’t even believe in God or Heaven. My bad.
I made my way over to the gates, but I couldn’t see beyond the shimmering, pearly bars. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

NaNoWriMo is back and I've already learned so much!

It’s November, and that means it’s NaNoWriMo.  National Novel Writing Month has been around since 1999 but I firmly paid it no mind when it came onto my radar a few years ago.  I mean, seriously, what a dumb idea.  No one can write a novel in a month.  Except a hack. 

But last year, on November 6th, On Point, my favorite NPR show of all time, did a show, “Do you NaNoWriMo?” 

Stupid show.  I almost didn’t listen.  Except I always listen to On Point. 

Coincidentally, I already had a young adult murder mystery planned out in my head.  I wasn’t ready to start writing it yet, because I was busy working on a screenplay for another book of mine, The Truth About Dating, but my young adult heroine was always knocking things over in the back of my brain to get attention.  She was who I thought about when I woke up at 3:34AM and couldn’t fall back asleep.  But I couldn’t start a book until the screenplay was done.  And then about three quarters of the way through the radio show I suddenly decided that I WAS going to NaNoWriMo!  I was going to write that novel in the month of November!  It was such an abrupt turn-around.  One minute, no, one second I was scoffing and scorning and then next second I was 100% on board. 

I started Murder in Suburbia that day, November sixth.  I wrote 1499 words.  The next day I wrote 3650 words.  By day three I had over ten thousand words!  I hit a wall at day 13.  I was up to 40,553 words and I didn’t know how in the word to get ten thousand more.  For three days I let the story gel.  But at the time, I didn’t know I was letting things gel.  I thought, “I’m not going to finish!”  That is the big problem with NaNoWriMo.  You feel panic-stricken most of the time because you only have a month!!!!!  That’s also the reason NaNoWriMo is so fantastic.  I have to keep writing or I won’t win.  Right???  So after three days I noticed a little hole in the wall, and when I scratched it, some bricks fell out and I wrote 3972 more words.  Now I was at 44,525 words.  At this point in my novel, my teenage sleuth had everything she needed to solve the crime but I needed some kind of spectacular, nail-biting, brilliant finale.  I wanted my young adult readers to see our heroine cleverly escape from mortal danger.  She wasn’t magic.  She didn’t have a mutant skill set.  She couldn’t fight like a vampire slayer and she couldn’t kill like a vampire.  She had to do it like a regular teen.  My readers had to be able to save themselves in just the same way (in the unlikely event that a killer lived on their block).  I was only 5,000 words from my “win” so I took a day to think it through.  I like to plan things out in my head before opening up my laptop to write.  So I thought about the plot while I raked the leaves and went to work and made pumpkin pie.

On my nineteenth day (November 25), I put in a marathon session and wrote 7,975 words to complete my story at 52,500 words. 

I had just written a young adult murder mystery in 19 days.  Mind blown. 

Then I sent it to my mom and she LOVED it!

Over the next five months I revised, mainly by bulking up the story.  It’s about 66,000 words now.  But very little of what I’d written during NaNoWriMo got thrown out. 

This year, I’m doing it again.  From the start of my first book I planned to write a sequel from the best friend’s point of view.  I plotted in my head.  I wrote down a few scenes I didn’t want to forget.  But I knew I’d start the real writing this month.  In November.  And things are really different the second time around.   I’m not worried I won’t finish so I’m taking the time to write in all the details now.  I’m not sure, but I suspect I’ll have a lot less revisions at the end.

Isabel Allende always starts her new books on January 8.  I don’t plan to only write my books in November.  But the timing worked out this year.  And I learned something important.  For the first four days I was so unbelievably bored from my writing that I didn’t think I had this book in me after all.  I would have stopped, but I couldn’t.  It was NaNoWriMo.  So I kept writing.  And eventually, everything clicked.  Suddenly, I had all these great ideas for my character.  I couldn’t wait to sit down to write her story.  I couldn’t stop thinking about her when I was getting the kids off the bus, making dinner, and helping with homework.  Looking back on the past five months, I realize I was saving this book for November.  I tried to write it several times in the spring but I hadn’t immersed myself enough in the character to make her three-dimensional.  So she bored me.  So I stopped. 

But you can’t NaNoWriMo without being immersed.  It’s too time intensive.  Before this month, I was sticking a (kind of lazy) toe in the water.  NaNoWriMo makes you dive.  And the water is freezing.  So you have to swim.

Try it.  It's exhilarating.  


Thursday, October 8, 2015

Parenting is like writing...

Parenting is most fun when you get to teach a life lesson with something that you are already doing yourself.  It’s kind of like the first rule in writing: don’t tell, show.  Last week one of my kids had a disagreement with a playmate at school.  Now that playmate is causing my kid a little grief.  It’s elementary school stuff, so as an adult my first thought was to take it with a grain of salt.  On the other hand, kids feel the same pain as adults, even if the crime is that so-and-so broke the orange crayon.  And at this age, kids will do dumb, sometimes mean things, but it doesn’t mean they are mean.  They are just kids. 

When adults aren’t nice, you could decide the same rules don’t apply.  Or you could wish them well and move on.  That’s what I do with wearisome adults and it works beautifully.  I don’t waste any energy on these people and this week I got to teach my kid the same thing.  In the end, it makes everyone’s lives easier.  You teach your kids to forget about difficult people instead of being reactive.  No matter what gripe they have with someone, people are still people and worthy of kindness.   You don't have to be a punching bag, just remember that bullies are mean because something isn't going well in their lives, and take anything they say or do with a grain of salt.  Then forget them.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Ruby Neptune is BACK

The third book in the Ruby Neptune mystery series is finished!

When the headmistress of a prestigious private school in Brooklyn suddenly dies in front of the student body, the police assume the death is an unfortunate accident.  But the school’s Writer in Residence, Ruby Neptune, thinks she’s witnessed a murder.  Suspects include the parents of children who weren’t accepted, teachers vying to be the next director, a harassed secretary, and even the mother of a child thrown out of the school for a peanut allergy.  As Ruby Neptune investigates, she makes other surprising discoveries, one which impacts her personal life.  Meanwhile, the killer might get away with murder, unless Ruby can uncover the truth before she, too, has an unfortunate accident.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Hilary Clinton and Violence Against Women

When I was a little girl, there were no cool female role models. Well, there was Wonder Woman, but she looked uncomfortable, like her breasts were about to pop out of her swimsuit. My brother had his pick of cool heroes but I did not. There were some spunky heroines, but in most television shows, the women, even the smart ones, eventually had to be saved by men.

People need heroes in their own images. I remind my husband about this all the time, because I love and appreciate all the women on television today who don't need saving. They can fight like men. (Buffy the Vampire Slayer.) Even without supernatural powers, they can win with smarts and a stun gun. (Veronica Mars.) And by the way, both of these fictional women were created by men.

But lately I'm registering a disturbing trend with these characters: They all get raped. I don’t know why I didn’t notice before.

Why do men who create strong female characters always make them get raped?

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo so graphically details horrible abuses to women that I began to wonder if the writer (and some readers) got a high from thinking about the torture of women. The movie is worse. I had to leave the room during those scenes. It's true, the female lead is smart and strong, and she gets vengeance. But I don’t know how anyone could leave that film thinking women were empowered.

I suppose the Ohio man who locked-up and raped three girls for ten years might have enjoyed the scenes in that book/movie. And since one in six women are sexually assaulted*, rapists are not so much an aberration as part of the norm. There were the high school students who undressed, raped, ejaculated on, and photographed an unconscious teenage girl while carting her from party to party. There's that rap song where the singer (Rick Ross) brags about giving a woman a drug and raping her while she's unconscious. On college campuses, as many as one in four women are sexually assaulted**. In my state of Nebraska, some third grade boys sexually assaulted an eight-year old classmate on the school playground. The list goes on and on.  I could write for an hour and not record all the sexual assault stories that have happened in this year alone.

I could probably write all day and not have time to document the sexual assaults occurring in the military. The Air Force official in charge of its sexual-assault prevention program is arrested for attacking a woman in a parking lot and the military's response is to "retrain" the men. Weird, because I wouldn't think men need special training in not attacking women. Shouldn't they just know? Like the way they know not to rob liquor stores or step in front of a moving car?

Obviously, something in our culture is teaching boys and men to rape. Is it simply the belief that women are less valuable than men? Is there a male rage that can only be relieved by hate crimes against women? Rape is an act of violence. Who is teaching our boys and men to be violent to women? Why do so many male writers view rape as a rite of passage for strong women?

So where does Hilary Clinton come into all this? Well, we know she is considering a run for president. I would like her to think carefully about her legacy. Barack Obama has shown us how ineffective a president can be. The GOP will devote themselves to blocking her like they do him. But they can't block the light from her international stardom. She could affect much more change taking on a single cause than trying to run our country. I'd like to see her take on that fight. I'm not alone. My blog on her speech about violence against women gets more hits than any other blog I've got. (And it's nothing but a transcript of her speech).

There are men running our country who believe that women can shut down rape sperm. Their brains are operating in medieval mode but that's who you have to deal with in government politics, apparently. Sadly, the president has little more influence than those politicians who seem proud of their ignorance.

Mrs. Clinton, I ask you from the bottom of my heart to forget about being president and make it your mission to wipe out violence against women, in our country and in the world.  I want a better world, not only for my son and daughter, but for all the children of the world. 

* According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (14.8% completed rape; 2.8% attempted rape).
**According to the U.S. Justice Department's report The Sexual Victimization of College Women.