Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Wednesday Writes: Query Tips

A few months ago I signed on to be a team member for a new writing contest called #FicFest. I've been on the entering side of contests before- sometimes chosen, sometimes not- but this is my first time on this side of the line. I really wanted to give back, after all the contests I've taken part in. So far I've gotten to know some great new writers, and it's been fun interacting with them and reading their submissions.

I'm a team member for the adult team and we received 120 submissions! That's a lot of slush reading I've done in the past two days. I've managed to narrow it down to fourteen, but I can't imagine cutting that all the way down to one.

I've noticed some common querying mistakes. I'm no expert on queries- far from it in fact. I suck at them so bad and always need my CPs to take a look at them for me. (Ugh, queries.) But there are a few "rookie mistakes" I've seen among a lot of these queries.

The biggest one is SHOW, DON'T TELL. As writers, we've all heard this rule, and it's easier said than done. But quite a few of the queries TOLD me the themes of the book. They told me it was an adventure, a wild ride, a story of loss, or heartbreak, or humor, etc etc etc, without actually telling me what the book is about! A query should be, WHO IS YOUR MAIN CHARACTER, WHAT DOES HE/SHE WANT, and WHAT /WHO IS STOPPING THEM FROM GETTING IT? Most importantly, the STAKES: what happens when he/she doesn't get what she wants? Don't be vague, and don't use cliches.

Another mistake I saw, on the other side of this spectrum, was a sentence by sentence run-down of what I assumed was an early scene of the book. Ex: "Melanie gets a phone call warning her to stay home. Then the postman comes to the door and gives her the mail. She opens a letter with another warning inside. Melanie is scared and knows she has to stay home." While details are important in a query, this is too much, and also reads very dry.

Another thing I saw was a paragraph about the writer where he/she is saying stuff like, "I've worked on this book for a year and it's finally done," or, "I've always wondered why mermaids are beautiful so I started writing and it's evolved into a story of loss and secrets and friendship..." These are made up examples of course, but NOT NECESSARY. Get straight to your story. Don't talk about yourself at all unless you have writing credits to your name or can give a LEGIT reason why you wrote the story (not, I'm fascinated by mermaids so I decided to write about mermaids- more along the lines of I have a major in underwater basket weaving so I'm qualified to talk about it).

A few small things I noticed: LOTS of rhetorical questions. I think I did this in one of my very first queries, until I learned that agents DO NOT like them. So don't do it. Trust me, just don't. They'll roll their eyes and then delete your query. Also, high word counts, passive voice, repetitive phrases, sentences in the query that made no sense to everything else in the query... some of these are easy fixes, which is why it's IMPERATIVE to have another writer critique your query for you.

As I said before, I am no expert on queries. I find them supremely difficult. That's why we writers need to do our research. Read Query Shark, or the "Successful Queries" series on the Writer's Digest Blog. Workshop your query, get someone to critique it, revise it, then workshop it some more. Put yourself out there and be prepared to learn. It will only help you in the end.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Friday Loves: UTAH

No really. Utah.

I went to Brigham Young University  in Provo, Utah for one year (plus an extra summer semester) and it was definitely the funnest (I don't care if funnest isn't a word) year of my life. I had great roommates, excellent classes (except  8 am biology... what was I thinking???), and I loved the whole atmosphere. Most of all though, Provo felt like home.

I've lived a lot of places in my life so I'm of the attitude now that home is wherever you make it. It doesn't really matter to me where I live- I could move anywhere (except somewhere cold- Alberta is cold enough thankyouverymuch). But there's something about Utah... every time I go it just feels like home.

Me in front of the new Provo temple

I took a short trip with my four kids and my parents to Utah last week. Mainly, I went to help my parents, who are getting on in years (don't tell them I said that), drive. I attended a cousin's wedding, and got to see two of my brothers and one sister. It was really great to be there and I wish I could've stayed longer. The entire time I was there I was devising ways to convince my husband we should move there. I didn't bother trying when I got home though, he'd never go for it. Besides, the grass is always greener, right? Just because I loved it when I was 18, doesn't mean it would be the same now. But it's still a place I'd love to live, and definitely a place I like to visit.

So my Friday Love goes to Utah, that beautifully Mormon state.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Monday Reads: Two YA, Two Persuasion Retellings

It was another full couple of weeks of reading. First came THIEF OF LIES by Brenda Drake.

I've "known" Brenda online for a few years now- she's an amazing help for writers with her contests and Twitter pitch parties- so I was excited to pick up her book THIEF OF LIES. The premise of library jumping is so cool and of course I love me some romance. So... the book was good, but it had a little too much packed in it for my taste. It was fast-paced, that's for sure, but there was so much going on that I found myself not connecting with the characters like I wanted to. I wish she would have focused more on the library jumping and left out all of the other prophecy, demons, creatures, fairies, dopplegangers, love triangles, etc etc etc. I really really wanted to love this book a lot more than I did. :(

LOVE these covers!

Next, THEIR FRACTURED LIGHT by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner. This is the last book of a trilogy and I have LOVED every single one. I'm not even a sci-fi fan but these books... *gush gush gush* I just love everything about them.

Next came THE PERSUASION OF MISS JANE AUSTEN by Shannon Winslow. This book is by a fellow member of Austen Variations, and I adored it (and I'm not just saying that because we're in the same group). It was like a mash-up of BECOMING JANE and PERSUASION. Instead of Tom Lefroy, Jane's love interest is a naval Captain. The story parallels a lot of Persuasion but with a much different ending- the kind of ending I wish were true for my favorite classical author.

And finally I read FIND WONDER IN ALL THINGS by Karen M. Cox. I'm not enamored of the cover, but the book was really good. Almost five stars for me, the only thing that brought it down was a few little nitpicky things. I loved how she made the story of Persuasion her own- especially how she changed the family dynamic, and the format where we got to see the Anne and Wentworth character's whole relationship from start to finish instead of starting off at 8 years later. I was worried a little that this book would feel really similar to SWAY because James (AKA Wentworth) is a musician, but it wasn't like mine at all... except, yanno, for the whole Persuasion thing. ;) Great book!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016


Last year I read THE GUARDIAN, A SWORD, & STILETTOS by Kristin D. Van Risseghem. This year I'm excited to take part in the release day for the sequel THE PASSAGE, A DANCE, & A LITTLE WHITE DRESS. Here's what it's all about. 

It's been a week since 17-year old Zoe Jabril found out her best friend is a Guardian Angel, her boyfriend is a Nephilim, and a fellow classmate is a Fairy. What makes Zoe so special? She’s destined to unify Enlightens to battle evil—that is, if Demons don’t kill her first.

With ‘Project: Enlightens Unite’ underway, Zoe learns the history of the area wolf pack and realizes she's in a race against time to get her newly discovered talents under control. Despite struggling to fight a mysterious attraction to her new neighbor, rescue her boyfriend from Demons, and travel into Fairyland to convince the Summer King to join the fight, Zoe must still attend high school classes so her nosy parents don’t suspect anything is out of the ordinary before Demons can mount another attack.

Zoe will need all the help she can get, from the most unlikely of sources, if she’s to save her boyfriend's life and prevent the Devil from escaping Hell on her eighteenth birthday.

Chapter 1 Excerpt:

Last night, a friend of mine rose from the dead—and I was the one who brought her back. So I guess . . . I’m an angel. Or, at least most of my friends think I am.
     Even wrapped tightly in the arms of my favorite oversized PINK hoodie, I shivered. It was chilly for mid-April while sitting on my front porch with the sun just coming over the horizon, but that wasn’t where the tremor had come from.
     I glanced up, startled by the high-pitched squealing of truck brakes that rang above the music playing from my iPod. The truck turned into the cul-de-sac and careened straight into the next door neighbors’ driveway. What made it really strange was the house had been empty since last October. I could still see the top of the “For Sale” sign on the manicured front lawn. I pulled out my cell phone to text my boyfriend, Shay.

     Me: Good morning!

     As I waited for a response, a gray uniformed driver open his door and climbed down. He walked to the back of the truck; then multiple doors slammed.
     “This furniture goes into the living room on the main level,” a man said.
     I didn’t particularly want to be a nosy neighbor, but I couldn’t help myself. I eased higher on the top step, hoping to get a look at the man who seemed to be in charge. His back was to me, so all I could tell was he had short blond hair. He glanced down at something then looked back up, turned, and pointed toward a number of other, smaller trucks in the cul-de-sac parking. More uniformed men jumped out of the smaller trucks and gathered around their boss, waiting for instructions. I had no interest in watching a bunch of people move boxes, so I just stayed on the step and waited for my best friend, Kieran, and Shay.


Author Bio:
Kristin D. Van Risseghem grew up in a small town along the Mississippi River with her parents and older sister. And after receiving a double Bachelor of Science degree from Winona State University in Paralegal and Corrections, she worked as a Paralegal for various law firms around the Twin Cities for 14 years. Then she left the legal field and is now a Senior Buyer for a technology company.

Currently, Kristin lives in Minnesota with her husband and two Calico cats. She also loves attending book clubs, going shopping, and hanging out with friends. She has come to realize that she absolutely has an addiction to purses and shoes. They are her weakness and probably has way too many of both.

In the summer months, Kristin can usually be found lounging on her boat, drinking an ice cold something. Being an avid reader of YA and Women’s Literature stories, she still finds time to read a ton of books in-between writing. And in the winter months, her main goal is to stay warm from the Minnesota cold!

Kristin’s books are published by Kasian Publishing. You can find her at her website, on Twitter, and on Facebook. You can find the Enlighten Series on Amazon, Nook, and on Smashwords.

Kristin is holding a huge giveaway. Enter to win a Kindle Fire, a $50 Amazon gift card, & 10 books! Enter here.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Friday Loves: AGENT CARTER

I'm so happy AGENT CARTER came back for a second season and I really hope it's back for a third. I LOVE this show. Love the time period, love the twists, love the characters, but mostly I love Peggy Carter. She's such an amazing character. I love how not only is she strong and smart, but she still retains characteristics that make women women. As much as I love a kick-butt girl, it saddens me when they're always snarky/mean, or when they never show emotion or have tender moments or can't like a guy because OH NO NOW SHE'S SACRIFICING HER STRENGTH FOR A GUY. No. She likes a guy. She's still strong. The end. For me, all this doesn't take away from a female character, it only adds. It makes them real and believable and layered.

I also love how Peggy isn't the only powerhouse female on this show. Dottie is back in the second season, and the antagonist is a super genius woman who tells the dudes where to go and how to get there. (Although, sort of going against what I said above, I don't get why she married the politician... not sure about the motivation behind that.)

It's not just the women that make this show great though. Jarvis is charmingly dorky as usual (loved the line about not wanting to be a disembodied voice forever *snort*), and I completely heart Agent Sousa. I've got two episodes left but I really hope those two get together already.
Preeeeetty sure I just spoilered myself since I don't think I've seen this kiss yet!

Anyway, AGENT CARTER is an awesome show. Give it a try if you haven't yet.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Monday Reads: WOLF BY WOLF and some PERSUASION retellings

I read eleven books in March, which is A LOT. Seriously. I don't usually read this much. This past couple of weeks I read another four books. The first one was WOLF BY WOLF by Ryan Graudin. The concept to this book is so cool, and it totally delivered. It's an alternate history where Hitler wins (ICK) and it's a world where the axis powers are the rulers and the US is neutral (nothing said about Canada though...what's up with that?). This story is about a Jewish girl who was experimented on in a concentration camp as a kid and ends up with the ability to change her appearance. She eventually escapes and works for the resistance, then joining a motorcycle race in the hopes of winning so she can meet Hitler and assassinate him. The book was really well done, the race was exciting (kind of Iron Will but on motorcycles instead of sleds), the prose was exquisite. Best of all was this fully realized and totally scary world. Even with the "magical" element put in, I believed it. It was easy to see what the world might have been like if the Allies hadn't won the war. I'm definitely picking up the sequel.

After WOLF BY WOLF, I read three PERSUASION retellings in a row (all in the name of article research...and it's fun, too). The first one was PERSUADE ME by Juliet Archer. First of all, it's hard for me now to read other modern-day retellings when I've written my own because obviously I'm going to compare. And not in a "mine is better than yours" kind of way, but... okay, an example. In PERSUADE ME, the author stuck like glue to the original story. I don't think one character or tiny plot point was left out. I sorta did that too in my early drafts of SWAY, until I had beta readers and CPs tell me to step away from the original a bit. I'm so glad I did, but it makes it a bit strange, or makes me a bit biased, against stories that are the exact same as the original. There were things I really liked about PERSUADE ME though. Rick Wentworth is a biologist who wrote a book called Sex in the Sea (lol!), and Anna is a professor of Russian lit- love both of these jobs! I also loved the way the author portrayed Mrs. Clay and William Elliot. It was all around a fun read and definitely one for PERSUASION lovers.

Next came CAPTAIN WENTWORTH'S PERSUASION by Regina Jeffers. This is a Regency retelling told from Wentworth's POV. It was awesome to see the story through Wentworth's eyes and I really loved seeing the after... scenes were interspersed throughout the book from after Anne and Wentworth get married. I did feel the book carried on a bit long though once the marriage happened and then ended abruptly though. Personally I would have preferred a straight up retelling from his POV, and then a completely separate book of their life after marriage, but a four-star read all the same.

The last retelling I read was another modern called PERSUASION, CAPTAIN WENTWORTH, AND CRACKLIN' CORNBREAD by Mary Jane Hathaway. First up, LOVE that this takes place in the south. Also love that Wentworth and Anne are a mixed-race couple. And REALLY love how Anne (called Lucy Crawford in the book) is a curator at a civil war museum. The author made the story her own in a lot of ways that I really enjoyed. There were some characters thrown in that I thought could've been either cut or developed more, and again this was another book that ended very abruptly (after all the dancing around each other they do I wanted a bit more of them together), but otherwise, a fun read.

Stay tuned if you like PERSUASION, I've got more retellings coming up on my reading list...