Thursday, September 29, 2011

CLOCKWISE Book Review & Author Interview

I "met" author Elle Strauss about a year ago... I don't even remember how, but I started following her blog (link) because she always posted amazing video interviews or speeches by authors I liked.

I've used them as the basis for my own posts in the past--remember "Restless Anchovies" (link)?

Anyway, I could tell Elle was smart and a good writer doing what she could to learn from other famous writers--mutual interests, right? Right.

Well, I was shocked when she told me she decided to self-publish her debut novel CLOCKWISE. She had an agent, and it was one I'd conversed with on two of my own MSs. I didn't know what to say.

Except that I'd help her get the word out. She sent me an ARC (advance review copy) to do a review. I also interviewed Elle, asking her about CLOCKWISE and self-publishing. Her answers follow my review. (Enter to win free books at the very end.)

Here's my review:

CLOCKWISE is billed as "time-travel-YA-chicklit," which piqued my interest right away. I really dig chicklit, and mixing it with time-travel sounded too unexpected.

But I wouldn't necessarily classify Elle's book as "chicklit." Don't get me wrong, it's very funny at times, and the main character Casey has a real problem: she time-travels uncontrollably, and it gets worse when she's stressed out.

She also carries people back in time with her if they're touching her skin when it happens--just ask her best friend Lucinda, who is also hilarious and determined that she and Casey are going to get dates to "THE Prom" by going to every HS dance that year.

Casey is opposed to this plan for one major reason: the last thing she needs is to get stressed out while dancing with a boy, much less the cutest boy in school, Nate, on whom she has an enormous crush...

Yep, that's exactly what happens. Nate asks her to dance and zhoop! they go back in time. (Read the teaser-excerpt of that scene on Elle's blog here, link. It's short and fun and will give you a feel for Elle's style.)

So she takes the cutest boy back in time... and here's the part where it stops being chicklit. (I know--unexpected again!) Casey time-travels back to the same place every trip, and it's a scary, volatile part of American history.

She goes back to Boston, at the start of the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln's just been elected President, boys are getting drafted into the Union Army, runaway slaves are being kidnapped and sent back south because of the Fugitive Slave Act.

Women have practically no rights, and a wealthy Bostonian sets his sites on the mysterious Miss Casey Donovon, who keeps disappearing and reappearing...

Once Nate gets over his initial shock at what's happened (he thinks it's a prank at first), he wants to get involved, to help their new friend, a fugitive slave named Samuel.

Casey's more worried because she never knows when she'll travel back to modern times again, and if she isn't touching Nate when it happens, he could get left there. Waiting for her to come back again, whenever...

I'm going to stop because I don't want to spoil the story, but I'll tell you what I told Elle: I'll bet money this is the best self-published debut novel on the market.

I'm not kidding. And at $2.99 for Kindle (link) or £2.17 on, you've got to get it. The ending is moving and sweet... Kudos to my friend, and I wish her the best with this new venture.

Now for our interview!

LTM: I loved the theme of time travel, and the way you linked it to possibly being hereditary. Have you always been interested in time travel? Was there a book, movie, TV show, or real-life event that sparked your idea for CLOCKWISE?

Elle Strauss: I’m not sure what sparked the interest in time travel—maybe it felt like a puzzle, and I like puzzles. My first time-travel effort had some merit, but not anywhere close to publishable. I did learn a lot from that first effort, though.

(Almost) All of the historical events take place in the same time in Boston during the very beginning of the Civil War. What made you choose that time? Is it your favorite time period in American history?

ES: I’d recently moved back to western Canada after spending a year in Boston. I was fascinated with the history there, the Freedom Trail, the 300-year-old pub, the cradle of America. When I decided to write another time travel book, I knew it was going to have to be set there. Having my protagonist, Casey, loop back to the dawn of the Civil War just made sense then.

To me, time travel is a very intimidating device. How did you prepare for it? Did you already have your where and when plotted out or did you pants it?

ES: Oh, I totally pants-ed it, which I’ll never do again. This novel was actually really hard to write, as I actually had two stories that needed to have a complete arc, and that overlapped into one complete story. I went grey trying to figure this one out. I’m part-way finished with a companion, and I’m definitely planning the structure ahead of time.

Is CLOCKWISE the novel that landed you your agent? How long did your query journey take? Care to share your experience?

ES: It feels so long ago now, I have to think. I queried more than one book, but this is the one that got me representation. I think I had it out for half a year or more. She was a new agent “hungry for clients,” which always helps I think, plus at the time, she only took snail mail. I was willing to do the extra work to get it to her, but I knew many people wouldn’t be. So that helped to get me to the top of the pile. I’m really grateful she fell in love with Casey’s story.

Your agent shopped CLOCKWISE, and then you decided to self-publish. Was she supportive of this decision? At what point did you decide to go it alone and why?

ES: Here’s where I tell you I’ve had two agents. My first agent shopped CLOCKWISE, but the general feeling at the time was that time-travel YA wouldn’t sell (it wasn’t trending). When she left the agency, I was picked up by her colleague. By then, time travel was trending, but the general feel was that editors wanted edgier time travel. At that point I decided it might be worth giving it a go on my own, and my agent agreed.

What did you do to prepare for self-publishing? Any tips for others considering this step?

ES: Oh, gosh. I’d been reading up on it for a while, there are a lot of great bloggers who focus almost 100 percent on this, including The Passive Voice (link) and also a lot of books. I’d spent time following other authors who had self-published to see how they approached it. I suppose it would take a full blog post (or more) to answer this question fully.

What's next for Elle Strauss? Any other books in the pipeline? Traditional or self-publishing? And if traditional, what are your thoughts on doing both?

ES: Yes, there are more books! My next book is going to be completely opposite in feel, a darker drama about a boy who grows up in Hitler Youth, tentatively called PLAYING WITH MATCHES. After that, look for another light and fun romance set in the Merfolk world called SEAWEED. I will indie-publish both of these, with a CLOCKWISE companion to follow.  As for both, that can work for some authors.

Thanks for having me, Leigh!

(Note: I've actually read/edited PLAYING WITH MATCHES for Elle, and I can tell you, I wept. It is fantastic.)

Elle's also hosting a great Contest! to help launch CLOCKWISE. You can win five books, so jump over to her site and read about it (link).

Now go buy Elle's book, reader- and writer-friends (link), and spend the week-end tripping through time.

Til Monday~ <3

Monday, September 26, 2011

Patience & What I Did This Summer

If you participated, you know I forgot about our dear Michael DiGesu's blogfest where we all told how we spent our summers. (Argh!)

But as writers, we've learned the importance of patience (through much tears, wailing, and self-medicating--*wink*). Lucky for me.

As for my summer, well, I spent it moving 850 miles due north! 

In 2004, my Louisiana-native self left Indianapolis, Ind., with my little family and relocated to Spanish Fort, Ala. 

Hubs got a great job, it was closer to family, and we were less than an hour from this:

I just knew it was God's way of rewarding me for being such a great person... (...right?)

Seriously, though, I'd spent my life saying I would live at the beach. When we relocated, I figured it had happened, and I would never move again.

Just when you think that, right?

So hubs got a better job working with great friends, and since he makes the big bucks in our little family unit (and supports my writing habit), we headed back to the Midwest.

Before I left, though--literally, like the week before--I helped chaperone a few HS seniors on a seven-day Caribbean cruise.

I know. 

You have to understand when I was asked to do it, exactly one year ago today, I had no clue I'd be moving 850 miles due north nine months later (a.k.a., within a week of the cruise dates).

Clearly, I went anyway (it was too late to back out), and it was so great. I was able to visit with a friend I've known since before she was born, and it was a fun, fun week in an otherwise stressful summer.

And here we are, and things are moving forward again, albeit not as quickly as I would like. Which brings us to the patience part

First, there are two things I don't talk about here on the blog, and one of them is religion. I was brought up to be polite, so you can guess the other.

But I do pray. A lot. And patience is one of those virtues that gets me down. If I have to wait for any good thing to happen, I immediately fall down the negative spiral. 

You don't have to tell me, "Don't do that!" I know I shouldn't do that, but it's just my personality. No matter how many years go by, how many situations work out well, I still go straight for the worst reasons why whenever I'm forced to wait. 

I'm very When Harry Met Sally, in the whole, "If it's in my power to make something good happen, I want to make it happen as soon as possible." (Or something like that.)

So I've been feeling all negative-spiraley lately about how recent events have impacted my writing momentum, but we've started visiting this little church around the corner. On Sunday, the interim pastor read the following verse: 

"You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don't try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way." (Jas. 1: 3-4, MSG)

I can't say that verse made me feel better, but it resonated with me. I hope it encourages someone out there reading this as well. Hang in there--that which does not kill us, makes us stronger.

Til Thursday, reader- and writer-friends~ <3

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Blog What You Want

I started to title this one "gratitude," but by the end I had to change it. 

That's how I imagine the plotter and the panster in me collide when I write. The plotter is the calm, planning one who says what the family will do, a nice trip to the ocean. The panster is the one who smiles and pretends to agree... and ends up taking the kids to Thailand.

Anyway, so this started off about gratitude. I have to say how awesome you all were about my last post.

I already have my first editing project as a result, I've got bleeps offering to plug me on their blogs, I've got Tweeters tweeting about it, some of you directed me to other places to advertise...

It's been a while since I gushed about how great our little writers community is. I think the last time was when I got my agent. That was five months ago! Too long.

I know people say blogging is dead. I don't know. It seems like there are many thriving blogs out there--Jen, Matt, and Katie are the first that spring to mind. But there are so many others.

Some say you should never blog about writing. Can I just jump in real quick and beg some of you to ignore this. Please? 

I've learned so much from reading your discoveries. K.M. Weiland has given me more lightbulbs than I can count--also Dr. Quinn... And speaking of doctors, Lydia Kang is always giving me story ideas with her medical Mondays. And that's only three of you!

Others say you shouldn't blog to sell books. Well... I've bought all my bloggie friends' books. I haven't read them all yet, but the ones I have are fantastic. And it's cool to think I know the authors and we're friends.

I bet to them it's like that starfish story (link)--it made a difference to that one.

I'm sure I'll read somewhere about how you shouldn't blog to find editing jobs. And I'll do like I always do when experts announce how I should fill this space of mine. Shrug and smile.

As my friend Shannon said, "Write whatever the *%!# you want. It's your blog." (Shannon also me two serious work leads after Monday's post--one resulted in a writing job. Whoot!)

So there. This post really is about gratitude. And blog what you want. I'll never know how much I've gotten back from it.

Have a great week-end, reader- and writer-friends! Til Monday~ <3

Monday, September 19, 2011

Somebody Need an Editor?

So this is it! I'm doing it: starting my own (affordable) editing service for writers ready to query or wanting to self-publish.

Here's the deal. Most of you know I worked as a full-time editor before settling down in my 30s to have babies (i.e., 10+ years). I continued doing freelance work for other folks once the girls were old enough to be independent, and at the start of this year, I was doing a pretty healthy amount of business.

I had a local network of folks for whom I wrote, edited, did pretty much all sorts of contract communication services, from web updates to press releases to whatever. And then we moved.

It's great to be back in the Midwest--this is not complaining! We have a great group of friends here, and I don't mind the better hair weather. But starting from scratch with the freelance gigs is slow going. And then I got this idea...

It started with my blog post about critters and betas (link). I've worked with several of our bloggy friends on polishing their manuscripts, getting them ready to query, giving feedback on areas that needed revision or development... I've helped brainstorm difficult spots and given my opinion of first chapters.

That's when I realized, I have a Paypal account, why not cut out the middle man and just offer my service from this blog?

And there you go. I'm hanging out a shingle. Editor for hire.

I've put a little widget in the right-hand column there, and since it's impossible for me to read without a pen in my hand, I'll do macro-copy editing (meaning, I'll point out the big stuff), and I'll read with an eye toward content development and (the highly objective) marketability.

Edit: (6/4) I'm going to set my flat rate at $.007 per word, add $.0035 for heavy copy editing.

I decided that makes more sense than a per-chapter fee, since chapters can be all different number of pages. And I'm still offering a break for new and unpublished authors. In other words, I'm willing to negotiate.

If times are tough, we'll see what we can both live with. Maybe I'll just help you get started, maybe we'll work out a total amount you can afford. I'm trying to supplement an income here, not get rich.

And to my personal critters and betas, you're off the hook. That's called payback.

Anyway, we'll see how it goes. If we've worked together before, leave a comment or please do recommend me to anyone you know seeking an editor.

Of course, I'm still available for smaller writing and editing jobs at my regular, hourly rate.

If you're interested, send me an email (link). We'll see if blogging wins again!

Have a great week, guys! Til Thursday~ <3

Thursday, September 15, 2011

If I Could Be Anybody Else...

In honor of the release of our good bloggy friend Talli's brand new book, Watching Willow Watts (link), we've all been asked to write about who we'd like to be and why. Other than ourselves, of course.

I confess. This was hard for me! I'm too analytical. I know everybody's got their own set of problems, even if it looks like they've got it made in the shade.

We all have our unique challenges and insecurities to round out the good things in our lives, so it's best to be thankful for who we are, enjoy our blessings, and learn from our hard times.

But that's boringAnd I like games, so I sat down and thought about it.

Who would I want to be... Who looked like they'd done the most interesting stuff, who had the coolest setup, who I'd like to emulate... hmm...

It was a tie.

My first choice: Frank Lloyd Wright. Remember my post about starting my very first novel? Back in 2009, when I decided I was also possessed by the spirit of FLW in the creepy Indian artifact museum during the freak hailstorm in Sedona, Az.? (link)

Me as FLW
In follow-ups, I told someone I thought it was so cool that FLW was able to live his life doing what he loved, that he got recognition in his lifetime, and that he was able to do it until he died at 91 (at his drafting table, sketching). And his creations still live on, admired and preserved...

Yep, that's what I want.

My second choice: Rosalind Russell. (The actress for you youngsters.)

I was about nine when my grandmother introduced me to the fabulous world of classic movies. She rented The Big Sleep for me, and we watched together. I was instantly hooked, and I spent the next 31 years watching, rewatching, and loving old movies.

Me as RR (that's JRM as Carey Grant)
Of all the actresses, Rosalind Russell is my favorite. At least onscreen. She was tough and sassy. She was hilarious and full of heart. Think about it. From her early films The Women to His Girl Friday, to musicals Auntie Mame and Gypsy, all the way to The Trouble With Angels. She was just fantastic.

She created unforgettable characters, worked with amazing people, and she always looked like she was having a blast doing it.

That's the other thing I want.

So there you have it. And now you all need to get Talli's new book! Take it from me, I read (and reviewed!) Talli's first book, The Hating Game (link), so I can only imagine this one's even more fun. It sure looks that way.

Here's the link to the ebook version of W3 on Amazon (link). The paperback's coming in November, but you Kindle kids, at $2.99, there's no excuse not to grab it and spend the weekend happily reading.

Have a great week-end, reader- and writer-friends! Til Monday~ <3

Monday, September 12, 2011

I Happen to Like New York

I had a friend with an apartment on Prince Street in Soho.

My last visit to NYC in the spring of 2001 was to visit him and another friend who'd moved there with her husband. She and I'd worked together at LSU.

I was also supposed to meet up with my (sorority) little sister, Tove Sundqvist. She lived in Amsterdam, but she had to be in Boston. We were going to try and get together, but ultimately it didn't work out.

Anyway, my friend John was very excited about the prospect of me moving to NYC and getting an editorial job, and he was helping me meet folks at Newsweek and Hachette.

It was very cold, and I have a picture of me freezing on top of the WTC six months before it hit the ground. It was my third trip in less than two years, but I wasn't going to move. I didn't want it badly enough, and I was married with a husband on his way to med school at the time.

I remember John took me to some way off-Broadway play where all the actors ended up completely naked at various points. I have no idea what the name of it was, but we met up with some of the cast at a little diner after. They kept going on about how much I looked like Drew Barrymore, and John was indignant. "She is not fat," he snapped.

John was from Port Allen. Same city as that little Tracy Porter kid who made the winning play for the Saints at the Superbowl. John's apartment was huge by NYC standards and his rent was only $1,400 a month because of rent control. He'd been there since the '80s. I still can't believe he gave that place up to move to Atlanta.

That night at the diner, I just remember thinking how one of my sorority sisters used to say I looked like Drew Barrymore, and I'd never taken it as an insult.

Six months later everything changed. It was Sept. 11, and I was working at the paper in Shreveport, La. I remember standing out in the newsroom with the rest of the staff watching Matt Lauer covering the nightmare. Then I went back to my office where my phone was ringing off the hook with friends demanding to know what was going on.

I just work here, I thought.

One month after that Tove was killed in Amsterdam after being hit by a tram while she was riding her bike. I remember getting the email from her (bio) sister Jenny telling me what had happened, and I went straight to the phone and called her.

I had no idea what time it was in Sweden, but I couldn't believe it. Somebody had hacked into her email account and was playing the most un-funny joke of all time.

But it wasn't the most un-funny joke. It was the most un-funny truth. We sat there kind of stunned, and I eventually hung up the phone. I don't really remember our conversation.

An hour later, as the email was being discovered by our other sisters, my phone started ringing off the hook again. What had happened? Had I talked to Jenny? But Tove just got married! She was going to have a baby! And she was always so healthy! It was surreal.

I had just gotten the thank-you card she'd sent me for her wedding present. I'd given her some of those giant bath-sheet towels we all loved so much. I remembered how one time she'd fallen in the shower at her dorm and hit her head and we all had to rush her to the ER for stitches. Jenny had been so scared, and we'd all joked about what a klutz she was. Another time she got a speeding ticket, and Jenny just knew she was going to get deported. Tove was larger than life.

I sat down and scribbled out some letter to Jenny that I couldn't even read through my blurry eyes. I wrote how I couldn't believe it. I just couldn't. I wrote about how badly I'd wanted to be at her wedding that summer, but with the move to Shreveport and all it had been impossible. And I hadn't saved enough money to fly to Amsterdam.

I mailed it without even proofreading. It probably made no sense.

Another month later, my first marriage ended...

Tough year.

It got better, of course, and by the end of 2002, I was surrounded by an amazing group of friends in Indy who took me in on sight and made me feel as welcome as if I'd always been here.

They still do. Those guys are amazing. Love them~

* * *

This is a repost from when I first started blogging in 2010. It seemed appropriate today, in remembrance of Sept. 11 and in light of our relocation back to Indy. Still love those guys! It feels like a quiet day, but I'll be sending my revision back as scheduled. And I plan to be around.

Til Thursday, reader- and writer-friends~ <3

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Creative Teams

So I've been watching Project Runway for the first time.

One of the contestants, Anthony Ryan, is a Baton Rouge resident and LSU alumni. Geaux, Tigers! and root, root, root for the home team! He won last week's challenge. Whoot, Anthony Ryan!

I don't know if it's a regular thing for this show, but they've been forcing these designers to work together on teams quite a bit. Each time it's been a disaster for the majority of the teams.

This week, they're doing another team project, and from the previews, it looks like more emotional explosions and fallout are to come.

I'm sure it's great for ratings, but I'm disappointed by this aspect of the show. After each team challenge, the judges ask "who was the weakest link," and basically force the other designers to throw someone under the bus.

First, that's extremely lazy of Heidi & Co. (a.k.a., the judges). But second, it's been my experience that creative people do not create well on teams.

When I was an editor (at LSU), I worked with designers, photographers, etc., very creative people. Most of them were exceptionally good at their jobs. And we all did our parts alone.

We would get together along the way and make sure we were all on the same page, but then we would go and do our own creative part--taking pictures, designing the concept, writing the copy--alone.

The one creative exception I can think of is a musical group. But even with bands who write their own music, these guys/gals have worked together for years, and they usually come from similar life situations or parts of the country. Think Lennon-McCartney, The Rolling Stones, U2, No Doubt, (insert your favorite band)...

In the Project Runway situation, these designers are from all over the country and very disparate backgrounds. Most importantly, they're competing for one shot at winning $100,000 and all that other stuff they get if they win.

I propose it's the same with writers. How many team-written books are there? I've only read one, and it was so terrible, I won't name it.

OK, now I'm remembering the Roeckers. I confess, I haven't had a chance to read their book yet (link), and I've heard it's great! So maybe they're the exception.

But they're so close, I'm not sure they count. I've heard they also speak to each other in Esperanza or whatever language twins teach each other (*wink*). Just kidding, L-L... Everyone go buy The Liars' Society (link) and read it!

Do any of you co-write books? Can this work? How do you do it? Is there a method to this madness? And what's (another) example of a good co-written book?

I'm skeptical. And if Anthony Ryan goes home tonight because of all this foolishness, Heidi & Co. can just forget me watching anymore. (LOL!)

Have a great weekend, reader- and writer-friends! Til Monday~ <3

Monday, September 5, 2011

Pay the Beta Forward

Happy Labor Day, fellow Americans! Hope everyone's enjoying the holiday. Today I'm thinking about my bloggie friends.

Back when I finished my last MS, the one that got me my first offer of representation, I discovered the greatest thing as a result of this blog right here: Beta Readers.

There's a difference between beta readers (betas) and critique partners (critters), but I can't remember what it is. I think it has something to do with the amount of material you send them.

So I probably use the terms wrong, but I credit my betas (or critters) with being a big part of where I am today.

They gave me encouragement when I needed it, pointed out character problems and plot holes (still sounds dirty), suggested direction for characters who were stalled, gave me ideas when agents requested revisions that I didn't know what to do with, read my MS again (above and beyond)...

And now it's payback time.

Please understand, I can't wait to return the favor. It's unexpected that all the payback has hit at once, but anywhoo! Not the point.

I was thinking about giving (and getting) critiques and feedback. I learned the hard way in my work that electronic communication can quickly break down.

As a result, I tend to be very careful in my phrasing and always couch criticisms in a healthy padding of praise. I would encourage my readers to do the same. If you're a beta (or critter) remember there's another person on the other end who has invested emotional time and energy into whatever it is you're reading.

I like to give at least three compliments for every one criticism. If I can. Please, my betas/critters, don't start counting. My point is, while I am thorough, I realize the importance of sugar with the medicine.

Why am I telling you this? Well, a bloggy friend of ours shared that she cried after getting a query critique, and that made me angry. We're here to help and support each other. We'll get kicked in the stomachs enough from reviewers, agents, editors. We don't need it from each other.

So I've got five, shiny MSs on my Kindle, and I can't wait to get reading! And I take this opportunity to thank my awesome betas. They're encouraging and supportive. And I wouldn't be here without you.

I know Clarissa and Summer offer beta/critter hook-ups on their blogs. If you know a great place to find betas and/or critters, please share in the comments! And do remember the Golden Rule when helping each other.

Have a super holiday, reader- and writer-friends! Til Thursday~ <3

Thursday, September 1, 2011

More of an Idea Rat

I posted a while back about keeping it simple. In my experience, the most effective story that was the easiest to write and that went over best with those that mattered was the one where I focused on a simple concept, easy to explain, easy to relate.

Then we talked about Rebecca Black and Phil Collins and I referenced the little logline exercise provided by agents Rachel, Nathan, and Natalie. Remember that? KISS? Here's the link in case you're curious (link).

But what if you have a really complex idea? One that can't be summed up in one sentence? At least not satisfactorily. And what if you think it's pretty good.

I suppose you could argue that no books can be satisfactorily summed up in one sentence. There are always subplots and characters who if left out, change the tone or whatever.

On my back burner is a little MS JRM keeps bugging me to finish. It's at 15K words with many, many notes. I had to make a separate file of notes because it's a complex idea. I'm not even confident I can pull it off successfully.

So what to do? Ditch it? Maybe I could start and then see how much frosting I have if it flops...

Just kidding, I don't believe in icing together something that's not working. But I also don't believe in spending tons of time on an MS that isn't going anywhere. I'm not that old yet, and I've got two little ladies I'm taking time away from to do this.

What do you guys do with complicated ideas? Wait until they feel simple? Keep writing til they get simple?

Maybe I'm overthinking it.

I'm out of the revision cave (again), so I hope to be around more now. Have a super holiday weekend, reader- and writer-friends! Til Monday~ <3