Archive for November, 2015

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My daughter and I are in the final stages (knock on wood!) of querying our middle grade contemporary fantasy novel, The Last Princess.  In case you’re new to this blog, the story is basically this:

Twelve-year-old Cat’s dreams come true when faerie folk crown her their princess. But she must embrace the heartbreak of her Trollish heritage to rescue her kidnapped BFF, because nobody wants a troll for a princess.

Cat goes on to become Princess of the Fae-born and discovers some amazing truths about herself and her family, and makes a whole royal court full of new friends.

Now, however, we are starting on our second book, the sequel to the first, and we’re faced with a question: How much backstory do we need to provide at the beginning of the second book?

A lot happens in the first book.  It would not be easy (or particularly interesting) to recount all of it for new readers. But if I don’t the sequel cannot be a stand-alone book.  How important is that, for middle grade readers?

There are other layers to consider. At the very minimum, we need to remind the reader of how our universe works — who are the fae-born and where did they come from, and what kind of magic do they have.  Also, it might be good to remind them of the important insights Cat gained as a result of her adventures.

What we want to avoid (if we can) is explaining who everybody is in a large cast of characters. Who they are, how Cat knows them, their shared history, etc. We’ll never get this book off the ground if we have to explain all of this.

Do you think we are on the right track, or do we need to step back and rethink the opening — or ad a descriptive prologue — to bring everybody up-to-speed?  As it is now, we pick up where we left off, with some fun action. But it won’t really make much sense to anyone unfamiliar with the characters.

Please discuss.

Grudging (1)


michelle_h (2)Title: GRUDGING

Author: Michelle Hauck

Pub. Date: November 17, 2015

Publisher: Harper Voyager Impulse

Format: eBook

Find it: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Goodreads


A world of chivalry and witchcraft…and the invaders who would destroy everything.

The North has invaded, bringing a cruel religion and no mercy. The ciudades-estados who have stood in their way have been razed to nothing, and now the horde is before the gates of Colina Hermosa…demanding blood.

On a mission of desperation, a small group escapes the besieged city in search of the one thing that might stem the tide of Northerners: the witches of the southern swamps.

The Women of the Song.

But when tragedy strikes their negotiations, all that is left is a single untried knight and a witch who has never given voice to her power.  And time is running out.

A lyrical tale of honor and magic, Grudging is the opening salvo in the Book of Saints trilogy.

Excerpt:

Shortly after the combat, Ramiro made his excuses to the men at the wall and left, returning to the citadel and taking the stairs to the roof. Some alcalde’s wife from the past had turned this spot into an outdoor garden and dining room, making it a favorite retreat for many. A peaceful place when he felt anything but.

Other people’s blood spotted his white shirt. Had things gone differently, it could easily have been his own. He needed a bath and a rest, but his mind hummed from the conflict, leaving him unable to stop pacing. Cold chills claimed his limbs. His stomach was sourer than when alcohol had filled it. With no clear single-combat victory, he hadn’t earned his beard. The night reeked of disappointment.

How long? How long could they keep the Northerners out?

Stars spotted the night sky here, where the citadel met the top of the world. Or so it had always seemed to him as a child. Life was no longer so certain now that he was older.

He drew in the cool scent of creeping jasmine, carefully tended and watered by hand in pots across the rooftop. Colina Hermosa spread before him, a humbling sight. The city stretched away from the citadel on all sides, a jewel shining with lights. It spread down the hill, becoming wider and grander as it sprawled, with imposing avenues and white-clad stucco buildings whose thick walls and small windows kept out the noonday heat. There was squalor and dirt as well, fits of temper, rudeness, and often impatience. But the darkness hid all that, washing the city of its faults and giving it a fresh life until it tumbled like the sea against the immovable stone walls that now held out the Northerners.

His heart swelled with love. Something worth defending. Home.

Outside the high, white walls, well beyond arrow shot, was a sight not so welcoming. There, jammed between the city and a deep, old quarry used to build the city walls, campfires burned. A red swarm of rage and death, brimstone and smoke, offering a grim contrast with the peaceful firmament. Not by the hundreds did they burn, but by the thousands, mirroring the stars in the sky. How many peasants’ houses did they demolish to feed so much hungry fire? They must be down to burning cacti. How they kept it up night after night, he couldn’t begin to comprehend. Salvador had talked on about supply trains and quartermasters, but Ramiro had let his imagination dwell on his first ride instead. An indulgence he regretted now.

If only each fire meant a single enemy, but that was wishful thinking. Each fire contained tens of men. Tens and thousands. And behind them, the siege machines waited their turn. A lethal combination for Colina Hermosa.

He touched the spot above his spleen, and whispered, “Santiago, don’t let me give in to despair.”


About Michelle: 

Michelle Hauck lives in the bustling metropolis of northern Indiana with her hubby and two teenagers. Two papillons help balance out the teenage drama. Besides working with special needs children by day, she writes all sorts of fantasy, giving her imagination free range. A book worm, she passes up the darker vices in favor of chocolate and looks for any excuse to reward herself. Bio finished? Time for a sweet snack.

She is a co-host of the yearly contests Query Kombat and Nightmare on Query Street, and Sun versus Snow.

Her epic fantasy, Kindar’s Cure, is published by Divertir Publishing. Her short story, Frost and Fog, is published by The Elephant’s Bookshelf Press in their anthology, Summer’s Double Edge. She’s repped by Sarah Negovetich of Corvisiero Literary.

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Hitting Send

Posted: November 11, 2015 in Writing
Tags: , , ,

dont-make-me-hit-send

I did it.  I hit Send.  God help us all.

On September 11 my daughter and I received an e-mail response from our dream agent, who had requested our full manuscript a week earlier (we wrote a middle grade contemporary fantasy novel, The Last Princess). The agent asked for a Revise and Resubmit. On my birthday, November 5, we sent back the revised manuscript.

The significance of those two dates did not escape us. One, a tremendously bad omen, and the other hopefully a good omen.  Do opposite omens cancel each other out?

In any event, it is done.  There are a few other agents and an editor with one of the Big Five publishers who have expressed interest in the same manuscript we originally submitted to our dream agent, and they are aware of the R&R. They each invited us to submit the new manuscript to them.  However, despite there being nothing in our agent’s letter indicating she wanted exclusive rights to the manuscript revised to her specifications, we feel we should hold off sending it out to other interested parties until she’s had an opportunity to see it, first.

I see three possibly outcomes.

  1. She hates the revised manuscript and decides to pass on the whole thing.  This seems the least likely, since agents only ask for R&R’s on manuscripts they like a lot already. R&R’s are common, and I’m given to understand they usually result in an offer.
  2. She likes the revised manuscript, but it still isn’t quite there, yet. and asks for another revision. I imagine this happens, but probably not too often.  I just don’t know.  But if it does, she must really want this manuscript to succeed, or why would she put so much effort into it with an untested pair of writers?
  3. She loves the shiny new manuscript and almost breaks a nail in her haste to type up the contract.

Naturally, we’re hoping for door number three.  But even if we end up with the first outcome, we have a number of other people already interested in the book who will happily look at a revised version.  So we have that going for us.

Now we wait.

In the mean time, I thought it would be as good a time as any to look back at how we got here.

It took us about a year and a half to finish the first draft — from March of 2013 to November of 2014.  Then we went through a round of beta readers and started entering contests.  I don’t actually know how many contests we ended up entering, but quite a few.  Over a dozen.  Some were quite big and well-publicized (so huge competition), and some were more intimate.  The only contest we ever “won” was where we put our name on a list to receive a free query critique, and we got one.  Our first, I think.  In other contests, we made it past the first round of rejections and into the slush pile for the final round, but never made it past that.  In one contest, we were rejected by the editor who would have given us a free complete manuscript evaluation and worked with us on revising it for the agent round, but sent us such an amazing and encouraging rejection letter that we were completely floored.  She ended up offering our manuscript to several people who each asked her for the full.  We have also entered a handful of Twitter pitch contests, which resulted in a few requests for partials and fulls.

We sent our very first query out in February of 2015.  As of this time, we sent out 22 queries.  These resulted in a grand total of four requests for the full manuscript. Two of those have passed.  One is our dream agent, and another is one who hadn’t gotten back to us yet, but would like to see the revised manuscript.  Plus two other fulls out with an agent and editor via the agent who “rejected” us.

Most of these fulls, etc. have come in the just the last few months.  Because if nothing else, all of these contests have given us unparalleled feedback and advice, and the work of others to compare ours to.  Why did this manuscript get chosen and ours did not, when they are so similar?  But the most important part of these contests is the contacts we made.  There is a huge writing and querying community on Twitter, and being a part of it is very empowering.  Through our contacts we got invited to join a fairly exclusive online community of speculative writers, for a summer workshop specifically for those with full, polished manuscripts.  Probably the thing that pushed out manuscript over the line from Rejection Junction to Sudden Interest was the revisions we made to our opening chapters during this workshop.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: nobody writes alone.

We’re just waiting, now.  Until we get more notes or an outright rejection.  But for the first time, we feel like we’re close to  being able to put that final period on this manuscript.  We’ve gone back to our notes for the sequel, and are ready to dive in.

Stay tuned.

James ScottJames A. Scott

I, for one, am disappointed when someone makes a blanket statement such as “I just don’t see how non-white characters fit into my book.”  But I recognize that every book is different and reflects the deep thoughts of the writer.  It also reflects the limitations imposed on the writer in terms of that person’s personal background and perhaps in the worst case upbringing.

On the other hand simply putting diverse characters in a story willy-nilly can, as you pointed out, can cause even more problems.  I prefer to leverage a character’s outward appearance to further my stories in terms of hidden themes or perhaps illustrating an in your face fact.  This is not an easy subject but it must be explored.  As you can imagine, I want to show characters of color, especially those of African descent, in areas outside of the usual sports, entertainment, inner city stuff, etc.  Aside from encouraging “black” kids to take up the sciences, I consider this to be a huge untapped market.

One may think that diversity should be used only if it is part of the story.  But what if the character is the vice-chairman of a large  international bank and we are not talking about him being arrested for driving a fancy car in an upscale neighborhood?  So why should the author “color” him black?  Well, one reason is to access that untapped market. A more noble reason is to educate your readers (both black and white combined) that such a person actually exists.  It’s an unpleasant fact that we humans tend to pay more attention to characters who look more like us, than not.

But the question is how does one do this without being patronizing or inaccurate or stirring up a hornets nest.  Fortunately, for me in the science fiction world, I have a lot of tools at my disposal.

For example, I address the topic of race in HEAVEN’S ANT FARM with a rather different tact.  In this story, I tell of a Holy Nuclear War in Heaven, a result of religious intolerance.  Only 5500 survived the war by living underground.  When the descendants of the 5500 finally emerged from their subterranean hideout 1000 years later they were all the same color — light golden tan.

Turning diversity upside down by making  everyone the same color with a radioactive melting pot is perhaps a strange way to address the challenge.  By the way, it’s a challenge that doesn’t go away in the story.  Point is, diversity in our stories is an underutilized tool to guide our readers to explore the world around them and remind each and every one of them that they can do anything they set their mind to achieving. Something I consider important in kidlit.