Sunday, August 26, 2012

Gearing Up to Get an Agent

I will be helping behind-the-scenes as a first-round judge for the Gearing Up to Get an Agent's (GUTGAA) pitch contest. GUTGAA is a huge blogfest, complete with an agent-judged contest (11 agents are participating in the final round--UPDATE: There are now 12 agents slotted to participate, thanks to my wonderful agent, Weronika Janczuk), a small press pitch contest, critique opportunities, prizes for random participants, critique group matchmaking, and more! The fun begins August 31st and runs through mid-October. My friend, Deana Barnhart (one of the sweetest people alive), is the wizard behind the curtain.

Here's an abbreviated version of the schedule. For more info (and what you need to do to sign up), visit 

Friday, August 31st:
Prep for the Meet and Greet by completing a questionnaire.

WEEK 1 (Monday, Sept 3rd - Friday, Sept 7th)

GUTGAA Meet and Greet - We're starting off with a little get to know you action. 

BETA/Critique Group Connect - Deana will act as a matchmaker and help those interested in making some serious writer connections.

Call for Pitch Polish Entries - Window opens Friday and closes Saturday at midnight. Deana will take the first 100 entries for next week's public pitch critique.

Giveaway Winner Announced - Every Friday Deana will randomly draw a participant's name and give them a prize just for being cool:)

WEEK 2 (Monday, Sept 10th - Friday, Sept 14th)

Pitches Posted for Pitch Polish - 100 pitches posted anonymously. Participants invited to give constructive criticism.

Entry Window Opens for Agent Pitch Contest - First 200 entries accepted. Participants submit their query and the first 150 words of their manuscript.

Giveaway Winner Announced - Random participant given a prize.

WEEK 3 (Monday, Sept 17th - Friday, Sept 21st)

Get Your Foot in the Door - The 200 entries for the Agent Pitch Contest will be divided into groups of 40 and posted on five different host sites and separated by genre. Each group will be visited by four anonymous judges who will each pick their top ten. The entries with the most votes will go on to Round 2 - The Agent Round. There will be 50 finalists!

Monday - Thursday:
Judge Trolling - The anonymous judges will comment on the entries and vote for you to move on.

Finalists Announced
Giveaway Winner Announced 

WEEK 4 (Monday, Sept 24th - Friday, Sept 28th)

The Agent Round - Deana will post the 50 finalist pitches on her blog for the 11 agents to read through.

Monday - Friday:
Agent Trolling - As agents read through the pitches, they can comment on any that they want. If they really like your entry, they can request a partial or full through the comments, as well.

Entry Window Opens for Small Press Pitch Contest - First 100 entries accepted. Participants submit their query and the first 150 words of their manuscript.

Giveaway Winner Announced

WEEK 5 (Monday, Oct 1st - Friday, Oct 5th)  

Get Your Foot in the Door - The 100 entries will be divided into groups of twenty and posted on five different host sites and separated by genre. Each group will be visited by three anonymous judges, who will each pick their top five. The entries with the most votes will go on to Round 2 - The Editor Round. There will be 25 finalists!

Monday - Thursday:
Judge Trolling - The anonymous judges will comment on the entries and vote for you to move on.

Finalists Announced
Giveaway Winner Announced

WEEK 6 (Monday, Oct 8th - Friday, Oct 12th)

The Editor Round - The 25 finalists' pitches will be posted on Deana's blog for the seven small presses to read through.

Monday - Friday:
Editor Trolling - As editors read through the pitches, they can comment on any that they want. If they really like your entry, they can request a partial or full through the comments, as well.

Winners Announced For Agent and Small Press Pitch Contest
Final Giveaway Winner Announce

Again, there's still time to sign up to participate. Head over to for more information.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

My Favorite Films

I am a huge movie buff. With my acting background, I love to watch films and analyze the characters. And now that I'm entrenched in writing, I have fun breaking down the film story structures and the screenplays. Here are some of my favorite movies, why I adored them, and why they haunted me long after I watched them.

To Kill a Mockingbird

I fell in love with this film first by its film score. My dad played the record when I was a little girl, and I ran around the family room acting out the story as he told it to me, in his own words. I pretended I was Scout and Jem sneaking around, finding treasures from Boo Radley, and being caught in tight corners by Bob Ewell. When I saw the film, it lived up to my imagination, and later the book did, as well. My favorite part of the movie is when Scout discovers Boo behind the bedroom door at the end. Robert Duvall plays Boo brilliantly, and I cry in that moment every time. To Kill a Mockingbird is an amazing story to me because it deals with racial prejudice, rape, incest, suicide, and a mob mentality all in an non-graphic yet unflinchingly honest manner, as it is told through the magical and innocent eyes of a child (and a stellar creator, Harper Lee).

Roman Holiday

This has got to be one of the most charming films ever made. Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck have perfect chemistry together. She is pure enchantment to watch, and he is one of the best actors ever. This movie begins rather lightheartedly and as a kind of wish-fulfillment, fairy tale type story--which makes the serious turn and bittersweet ending all the more poignant. Gregory Peck's facial expression as he's walking away at the end...WOW. Roman Holiday is my curl-up-in-a-blanket-on-a-rainy-day movie.

Edward Scissorhands

This film had a huge impact on me in my teen years. I haven't experienced anything quite like that feeling of sitting in the darkened theater afterward, just stunned and heartbroken and inspired all at once, and not understanding why. Now, looking back, I can see how strongly I identified with Edward at that time in my life. I was in the middle of my horrible junior high school days, when I didn't think I had a true friend in the world, and where I felt everyone acted insincerely and lived to play the popularity game. I retreated into myself, skipped a lot of school, and spent each lunch period by myself in the library. So this lonely, scarred, scissor-handed boy was me in so many ways. Watching this movie changed me, helped me recognize some things about myself and the world, and gave me the courage to step out of my shell and give myself and people a second chance.

The Fellowship of the Rings

I watched this film in the theater seven times. Seven! I hadn't read The Lord of the Rings, but I did right afterwards. This film struck me to the core and made me discover, with firm conviction, that fantasy is my element--it's the way I love to filter themes and relationships the most. For some reason, being removed from the real world at that level helps me explore close-to-my-heart life struggles in a safer and somehow clearer environment. I absolutely adore Frodo. His relationship with Gandalf is simple and impactful; and with Sam, it is beautiful and pure. This is a definite good versus evil story, and I love to see how someone so small and seemingly insignificant, with his little band of friends, triumphs in the end. The Fellowship of the Rings is my favorite film of the trilogy. It has more of the amazing world of the elves with Rivendell and Lothlorien, and the way the Black Riders are depicted is more frightening than any other scare-factor in the next two installments.

Bright Star

When asked what my favorite film is right now, I tell people, Bright Star. This is a true story about the poet, John Keats, and the love of his life, Fanny Brawne. It's a Romeo and Juliet story, an I-will-do-anything-to-be-with-you story. These lovers are desperate for each other, they suffer when they're apart, they punish themselves when they feel thwarted. They cry and throw fits and can't eat or sleep without each other. And somehow all this works for the story. Somehow these are strong characters, and not weak ones. I study this film, again and again, trying to figure out how this is so. I think it's because, in the beginning of the story, both characters are established as capable, unique, independent, and fearless. This makes their transition into becoming "slaves to love" heartwrenching and meaningful. Bright Star is a quiet and breathtaking film (and a fantastic tearjerker). I highly recommend it!

What are some of your favorite films, and why do they resonate with you?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Lucky Seven Challenge

I've had two crazy weeks of insanity. My husband's still looking for a job, my teenaged-daughter finished the run of her play, our renter is moving out of the home we own in Florida, and we still haven't been able to sell it. Lots of financial stress, and, to top it all off, I got to experience (for the first time) a spell of nasty vertigo. During the madness, I got a measly 1000 words written. BUT I was able to think through and find solutions for a few plot snags in my WIP. I also made note cards of all the major beats and scenes, and then put them in order. This will help a ton when I finally have significant time to write again (school starts for my three kids in nine days!). Sometimes life can be overwhelming, but during these times beautiful moments arrive, too--like when I got to spend an afternoon with my 13-year-old daughter yesterday to teach her to play the guitar. This reminded me that a full life--with all its ups and downs--is only going to make me be a better writer and make the stories pouring out of me more meaningful.

On another note, thanks to my friend, Michelle Davidson Argyle (whom I incidentally interviewed on my blog last week) for tagging me in The Lucky Seven Challenge. My critique partner, Robin Hall, also tagged me for this a few months ago, but I wasn't brave enough to do it then. I'm feeling equally cowardly this time around, but more reckless. So here we go!

The rules are to go to page seven, line seven of my work-in-progress novel, and post the following seven lines of prose. So here's your challenge: read my excerpt, view my cryptic photos for novel inspiration, and consider my working title--The Lovely Invisible--and see if you can figure out what my story is about. (Don't give it away in the comments if you're one of the few who already know!)


I stood with my sisters behind a curtain the priestesses strung up outside the main city gate. The air was thick with dust from the mass of people trampling to and fro in last-minute preparations. Over the top of the curtain, I caught glimpses of acrobats somersaulting through the air as they warmed up for the long march to the temple, and my stomach grumbled as the smell of barley and honey cakes wafted over the great city wall.

I hadn’t had time to eat this morning, not with all the primping Nuri subjected me to. The look on her face when I agreed to be made up for the procession was worthy of purchasing her freedom, though, knowing Nuri, she would have remained in my service anyway. She knew she had more power in that position than the finest noblewoman in the city.

As the sun beat down on me, I fought the urge to itch the white powder on my face, neck and arms, and ruin Nuri’s “masterpiece.”

Now, according to the rules of The Lucky Seven Challenge, I am supposed to tag seven friends to participate and post their own excerpts. You are not obliged, of course, but I'd love to read your stuff!

My critique partners:
Robin Hall (Yes, you've already done this, but I want to read an excerpt of your MG!)
Ilima Todd (You've done this, too, but I'd love you to post something from your WIP so everyone can see how awesome it is.)
Emily Prusso (I want to read an excerpt of your awesometacular revision.)
Taryn Albright (Let's let the world see a sneak-peek of your amazing sports mystery, Spot Me.)
And my awesome blog followers who I'd love to get to know better:
Rebecca Barrow
Brandon Ax

Monday, August 6, 2012

Meet Michelle Davidson Argyle

Gorgeous Michelle
Michelle Davidson Argyle is the author of several novels, novellas and short stories. Her most recent novel, The Breakaway (YA suspense) was released earlier this year, and Bonded, her omnibus of three fairy-tale retellings, will be released on November 1, 2012. I met Michelle back in January at Marissa Meyer’s author signing for Cinder, and we’ve been fast friends ever since.

Michelle, you write in a wide variety of genres. What drives you to write a particular story, and are you concerned with building a brand for yourself as an author?

I am concerned with building a brand for myself, yes, but it's probably not the type of brand one might expect. I don't necessarily want a brand centered around a specific genre. Instead, I'm interested in building a brand more tightly knit with my name. Fans who love one of my books will most likely find that they enjoy most of the books I write, no matter in which genre they land. I tend to stick with similar themes, a similar voice, and a similar drive for a specific type of character-driven tension. I've always said that I write stories, not genres. In the future, I might stick more closely to one type of genre than another, but I have a feeling I will move in cycles. Publishing, these days, has given freedom for more authors to explore and publish in different genres. I think it's a very exciting time to be writing.

You are married to an actor and have a very cute and active five-year-old daughter. How do you juggle your writing career with being a wife and young mother?

It is very tough, but sometimes I'll look at other stay-at-home mothers who write, and they have many more children than I do. I don't know how they do it. I think everyone functions differently. What has saved me lately is to make sure I meet specific goals every day, and to make those my priority past other basic things like taking care of my family. I have to treat my writing career as just that: a career. That often means telling friends and family I can't do things because I have to work.

Tell me a bit about your process for outlining/structuring a novel, and how often you veer from that as you draft.

I have written seven novels to date and am working on my eighth. I have written every single book differently, including the planning process. Recently, however, I have been sticking with a more streamlined outlining process that seems to suit my style really well. It includes a very loose sort of outlining that is simple to change and does not make me feel like I have put the story in a box. About halfway through the first draft, I almost always end up re-outlining the last half of the book. I don't freak out when this happens. To me, it feels like a natural, more organic process that also gives me direction and structure. Most of my outlines follow a basic three-act structure, but I have veered away from this several times.

You love revising more than drafting (a girl after my own heart). Can you explain your revision process and the things you especially keep an eye out for as you rework your novel?

My revision process includes beta readers (readers who give me feedback on the first drafts). Without them, I'd be a bit lost. I rely heavily on time away from the book, as well, so that I can come back to it with fresh eyes. Revisions always feel a bit stressful, but like a sculptor with clay, I finally have something to work with. That first draft, no matter how much of a mess, is like that piece of clay. It is is something to work with, and that is why I like revising more than drafting. When I rework a novel, I look especially for inconsistencies, plot holes, believability issues, and strengthening my characters as much as possible. I also focus on refining my prose. Getting rid of redundant or confusing phrases, extra descriptions that add nothing to the forward movement of the plot, etc.

What character of your own creation do you most identify with and why?

That is a tough question! I'd have to say I identify with the characters most readers seem to find frustrating. I'm not sure what that says about me, but probably that I put most of my insecurities and issues into my favorite characters because I want to learn something about myself as I write them. One of my favorite characters is Naomi from The Breakaway. She comes off as a very weak character in many ways, but when I step back and view her, I see someone with a more quiet sort of strength than most ... a type of strength that can easily be misunderstood.

You have a large circle of published author friends. How do you strive to not compare yourself to others?

Honestly, it's something I constantly struggle with. It is, however, getting better. As I've watched friends around me succeed, I've realized that success is not getting published. It's not getting an agent, signing a huge deal on a book, or making the NYT bestseller list. Success is me sitting my butt in a chair and writing more books. It's building a fan base impatiently waiting for me to finish my next book. It's selling more and more copies of my work. It's testing myself against myself and writing one better book after another. Anytime I find myself spiraling down too far, I step back and remind myself of what I have, of how far I have come, and that my path is mine and mine alone. Keeping my eyes on my own paper and following my own path is the only way to succeed. And while I'm doing that, I rejoice in others around me doing the same thing.

I love that answer! All right, moving on. If you could travel back in time two years, what advice would you give yourself as a writer?
To never get comfortable with where I am. Good writing always tests the writer, and good writing can only happen with consistent work.

Some of your novels have taken a considerable time to write, while others, such as your latest manuscript, A Curse So Deep, were written in a relatively short period of time. Why have some stories taken longer, and what are you doing to speed up the process?

I think with the more books I write, the more I'm building a sense -- intuition, if you will -- of what will work and won't work. Instead of spending time on a scene that I intuitively know will not work, I simply abandon it and move on. Before, I would have stubbornly written the scene, worked it into the book, ruined several other scenes because of it, and spent at least two weeks in revisions trying to fix it. Another huge factor of writing faster is that I have learned a system of outlining that works best for me. For right now, anyway. The key, I have found, is flexibility. I can't force a book to be written a certain way. I have to listen and allow myself to follow the path it needs, even if that is writing it differently than I have written other books. Listening instead of pushing against my instincts is one of the best things I have learned as a writer.

One more factor in writing more quickly is that I set the goal to write at least 1,000 words a day on the novel, no matter what, until I had a finished first draft. Doing this, I finished the first draft -- including outlining and researching -- in about 14 weeks. It is what worked for that book, but it is far from finished. It still needs some extensive revisions, which are currently on hold for a few reasons.

You self-published a novella, Cinders (which will now be included in a traditionally-published and soon-to-be-released omnibus, Bonded). What drove you to self-publish this story, what did you learn from the experience, and would you do it again?

My publishing story for Cinders is pretty long and involved, but essentially, I wrote the book to self-publish it. It is a novella, and at the time, I did not plan on writing any other novellas to go along with it. It was an experiment of sorts, a way to find out what all this self-publishing hype was about. It was also the first book I had written well enough to put out into the world. At the time, I knew I didn't want to self-publish for my career, but I thought experimenting on a novella was a fun and relatively harmless way to put my foot in the water and see what I could learn. I am a designer, so I designed my own cover. I knew layout from college, and I hired an editor friend of mine to edit it. The entire book cost $1,200 to produce, and I made a total of $1,600 in a 14-month period. So, in all truth, I only made $400. The book sold about 700 copies. It wasn't a huge success compared to many, but it was successful for me at the time. The most successful part is that I found my publisher, Rhemalda Publishing, because of Cinders. You ask if I would do it all over again, and the answer is yes, I would. Through my experience, I learned enough about publishing to say that my knowledge gained through the experience has been absolutely priceless.

What advice would you give to authors seeking publication?

My advice is PATIENCE. So many authors see publication as some coveted brass ring, a sort of prize to be won. In reality, when you reach publication status, you have essentially begun your own business. If you're serious about that business, your journey is only starting, and it's a heck of a lot of work. And yes, it's still starting your own business no matter how you publish (self, small publisher, or large or mid-size publisher). Patience is key because publishing is not the glittering, unicorn-filled, cupcake-eating land so many authors seem to think it is. I think it's important to be properly prepared for the workload publishing can bring on, and not rush into it. The most important thing I have learned -- and not only from my own experience, but friends of mine as well -- is that publishing will not make you happy, even it if makes you rich. Making enough of a living to keep writing is what will make you happy. Notice the phrase "keep writing" in that last part.

Thank you, Michelle! I hope you readers have enjoyed learning more about one of the coolest people I know. To learn even more about Michelle, go to or follow her on Twitter via @ladyglamis. Her books may be ordered through any major bookseller or through her publisher's website: