Posts Tagged ‘MG’

Man as baby. Child in diaper with pink teddy bear.

I don’t want to grow up.  And you can’t make me.

I write middle grade novels with fantasy elements.  In the past I’ve written high fantasy and dabbled in science fiction.  I’ve considered and rejected writing for young adults, because I’m not comfortable being responsible for teen-aged girls engaging in romantic relationships.  And frankly, adults are boring.  However, when it was time to seriously nail down what I wanted to write my next novel about, I hit upon a new idea (for me): The cozy mystery.

I work in a bookstore on the weekends, and I had the opportunity one day to spend several hours working with the cozy mystery shelves.  I’d never taken a hard look at those books before, and the first thing that struck me was the titles.  For the most part they are funny and whimsical, which immediately made me think about how fun it would be to write one.  If you are not familiar with the genre, they all tend to feature a main character with a certain hobby or vocation — baking or farming, running an antique shop or a dress shop. Many of them feature dogs or cats, and quite a few involve food of one kind or another.  These main characters are never professional crime fighters, such as police detectives or criminal lawyers (like you would find in traditional mysteries).  These women (about 90% of the protagonists are women) are all accidental sleuths.  Think Murder She Wrote.

As I scanned the shelves I encountered titles like, Tart of Darkness, Seams Like Murder, The Quiche and the Dead, Italian Iced, No Farm, No Foul, and Murder, She Barked.  I founds books that featured pretty much any kind of occupation a middle-aged woman might find interesting.  There were books about a glass shop, a seafood restaurant set in a lighthouse in Maine, a bed and breakfast, a tea garden, a bridal shop, a chocolatier, a cheese shop, a caterer, a florist, a bakery, a sewing circle, and a beauty parlor.  There were books where the protagonist loved crossword puzzles, beading, crochetting, candlemaking, quilting, scrapbooking, journalism, gardening, or one of any number of crafty diversions.  And they almost always take place in a small colorful town, full of quirky recurring characters.

But here’s what really made me sit up and take notice, as I researched the cozy mystery genre. They are formulaic, of course.  But unlike children’s books (or almost any other kind of novel), nobody expects you to be original.  There aren’t just several books about baking, there are a lot of books about baking, and every one of them is part of a series about baking.  Sure, some are about cakes and others are about muffins and still others are about bread, but nobody is going to tell you there are too many cozy mysteries about baking.  A pretzel stand by the beach would fit right in.  The heroes are all very similar, too: 20-40, female, usually single, a tiny bit ditsy, maybe struggling to run a business with money inherited from a deceased aunt, and caught up trying to solve a murder they had nothing to do with.  The deaths are almost always off-stage and “clean” — no gore, little blood, not much violence.  Their best friend’s or neighbor’s brother is the chief of police or a clerk at the local courthouse, so there are plenty of ways for our hero to get official information.  People are constantly coming and going to their little shop so there are a million opportunities to pick up clues, but as the owner they can drop everything and close up shop any time they need to chase down a juicy lead.  Romance is light, and expected to take several books to kindle.  Yes, these are written specifically to be series.  In fact, it’s pretty much a prerequisite.

All of these things attracted me: a simple formulaic plot, a fun hobby to research and write about, some humor, a small-town setting, and an expectation that the publisher will want more.  I started thinking about a divorcee running an antique bookstore in a snowy northwestern town tucked in the mountains.  I started filling the town with characters….

But ultimately, I have decided to write another children’s book.  A historic fantasy set in 16th century Ireland.  Think Freaky Friday meets Brave.  This book will be more difficult to write — more research, convincingly portraying an utterly alien world with it’s long-forgotten speech and modes of dress and local superstition, creating complex characters that will appeal to a young audience, and being original all at the same time.  With no guarantee of any interest in a possible sequel.

Why?  One reason: it excites me more than the alternative.  And without that spark, that drive, that eager motivation, I would probably not get very far.

unhappy teenager with thumbs down

Yes, this is a real thing.  And yes, believe it or not, a rejection can be good news.

Well, more accurately, a rejection can contain good news. If you’ve queried your manuscript for any length of time, you have no doubt received rejections that are positive and friendly and even encouraging.  Most form rejections try to soften the blow, but I have received several personalized rejections, and they almost always reference some aspect of the query or sample the agent liked.  Occasionally they will contain suggestions or even an offer to look at the manuscript again (or some other future project).

The rejection I got the other day wasn’t that.  It was a flat rejection.  It turns out this agent simply does not represent midde grade (this was not evident in the research I did).  But nevertheless, this short rejection was perhaps the most encouraging response I’ve gotten from any query (not counting the R&R and requests for the full ms).

Note that I had recently finished a major rewrite after hiring a professional editor.  Once I had done that I , naturally, needed to revise my query and synopsis.  One thing I noticed was a series of comments on Twitter and in various agents’ wish lists that they were tiring of the whole “chosen one” trope.  So I added something new to the beginning of my query: “If there’s such a thing as the opposite of the chosen one, it’s Catherine.”  Then I sent it out to exactly one agent.  Here is her response:

This is a great pitch, and even though I knew it wasn’t the right project for me, I couldn’t help peeking at it after reading that terrific first line.

The truth is that at least for now, I’m not seeking MG books. Every great author deserves an agent who not only believes in their book but also knows what the heck to do with it, and if the rest of the book is as much fun as your pitch and opener, you’ll have little trouble finding someone who fits the bill on both counts. I wish you all the best in that endeavor.

I am now extremely confident and eager to move forward with this query and this manuscript.

Unstrung Harp

From The Unstrung Harp, or Mr. Earbrass Writes a Novel by Edward Gorey (©1999):

On November 18th of alternate years Mr Earbrass begins writing ‘his new novel.’ Weeks ago he chose its title at random from a list of them he keeps in a little green note-book. It being tea-time of the 17th, he is alarmed not to have thought of a plot to which The Unstrung Harp might apply, but his mind will keep reverting to the last biscuit on the plate.

I’m only one guy, and I’ve never even published a book, but I’m gonna suggest that the best way to begin writing a novel is not this way.  I don’t know.  You do you.

Personally I use a completely different arbitrary and stupid method: I try to come up with the perfect first sentence.  For weeks I have been devoting drive time, shower time, time between hitting the snooze button, and break time to composing the line that will make kids everywhere beg their parents to buy my book.  The problem is I haven’t really developed the plot structure, yet, or even fully established the world where it takes place and all of the rules, so….

The last book I wrote I began by the seat of my pants, and it wasn’t until I was 4-5 chapters in that I was forced to stop and create an outline for the plot structure.  Then when I had finished the book, most of those first chapters got deleted, rewritten, or both.  Very little of that seat-of-the-pants stuff remains.  But it was good exercise and gave me lots of background material that helped flesh out the characters in later drafts.

For the sequel (currently in progress), I already knew most of the characters — certainly the main one — and I started with a complex plot outline before I even thought about writing the first chapter.

With the new book, though … I’m eager to get started and reluctant to build the foundation.  That’s bad, right?

Imma gonna have to get on that outline and background before I go any further, for sure.  But it’s fantastic to feel the enthusiasm and passion again.

FicFest

There’s a new novel pitch contest, this year.  It was created by Tiffany M. Hoffman (@THofauthor) and Kara Leigh Miller (@KaraLeighMille1), with one unique twist:

It’s fair.

Not to suggest the other contests are unfair, but FicFest is particularly fair.  There are the same number of finalist slots for each category.  So young adult titles won’t have a huge advantage over picture books, for example, because there happen to be more YA entries.  I’ll let Tiffany and Kara explain it in their own words:

.

Contest Overview:

FicFest is a brand new contest launching in 2016 that will help put manuscripts in front of agents. FicFest is unique in that this contest covers the five major categories of writing: Picture Books, Middle Grade, Young Adult, New Adult, and Adult. The chances for each category to get agent requests is equal. Unlike most writing contests, an equal number of finalists will be chosen for each category so that one does not over power the other. FicFest creators also ensure that there will be a plethora of agents wanting each of these categories. Our goal is to help writers of all books get out there, get great feedback, and have the opportunity to get partial/full requests from agents.

.

Contest General Details:

FicFest is open to all finished manuscripts and all genres for Picture Books, Middle Grade, Young Adult, New Adult, and Adult. In this contest, each category will have three teams. Teams will be made up of a Team Lead and two team members, who will pick three finalists and one alternate per team. This ensures that forty-five manuscripts will move on to the agent round, with fifteen manuscripts being held as alternates in case one of the finalists drops out of the contest.

Once the finalists are chosen, they will work with their teams on revisions for 8 weeks before the agent round. During the agent round, participating agents will be able to request partial/fulls from the manuscripts they want to see. There is no bidding, and no competition for agents. They can request whatever intrigues them, giving everyone a huge opportunity to get requests and hopefully an agent for their manuscript. More rules, regulations, and details will be posted via the host and team lead blogs as the contest begins!

**REMINDER: The yearly theme for this contest is just for fun. It gives the mentors something to use to decorate their blogs, and gives the participants cool team bragging rights. HOWEVER, the yearly DOES NOT affect what genres can be submitted or the agent round. Again, themes are just for fun!

.

FicFest 2016

March 20, 2016 @ 12:00 PM EST
Guidelines & Theme Reveal
(Host Blog)

March 27, 2016 @ 7:00 PM EST
Meet the Team Leads & Their Members!
(Team Lead Blogs & Host Blog)

April 3, 2016 @ 6:00 PM EST
Agent List Announced
(Host Blog)

April 17, 2016 @ 7:00 PM EST – 10:00 PM EST
Q & A with Team Leads & Host
(Twitter – Using #FicFest)

April 24, 2016 @ 12:00 AM EST – April 25, 2016 @ 11:59 PM EST
SUBMISSION

April 26, 2016 – May 3, 2016
Teams will chose their finalists/alternate

May 4, 2016 @ 10:00 AM EST
Finalists/Alternate Reveal
(Team Leads Blogs)

May 5, 2016 – June 30, 2016
Revisions

July 8, 2016 @ 12:00 AM EST – July 14, 2014 @ 11:59 PM EST
Agent Round

Find all the details here and by following the hashtag #FicFest.