Monday, January 31, 2011

It’s Monday. How Fast Are You Dying?

According to Google, based on my race and gender’s life expectancy, I’m already more than halfway to the end of this road – and more than that if I smoked and didn’t look both ways before crossing the street. I don’t know about you, but that’s not the sort of thing I like to hear on a Monday morning.

Mondays are bad enough as it is. The most I can handle before my first cup of coffee is the weather report and sometimes not even that. More rain? I’m going back to bed. Unfortunately, pretending that I never Googled it doesn’t make it less true. That counter on the side of this page isn’t just counting the days to my book’s release date. I’ve been dying since the day I was born – and so have you.

So what exactly do you do on a day that takes you one day closer to the end? Do you slam your laptop shut, run out of your cubicle and start going through your bucket list? Do you pick your kids up early from school and have ice cream and pancakes for dinner?

Unless the world unanimously decided that mortgages were passé, electricity was free, and kids didn’t need an education, I’m betting that these are some things we probably wouldn’t do. Monday may take us closer to our final deadline, but it doesn’t change the fact that bills need to be paid tomorrow. It’s Tuesday, people, not the end of the world. We might be dying, but we still have to make dinner.

Still, even if my grocery list seems a tiny bit more urgent than my bucket list today (I’m out of cheese), the fact that this Monday is one day less from the one thousand eight hundred twenty five Mondays ahead of me, demands some amount of action. I’m starting with elevator buttons and caterpillars.

I will admit that I belong to the club of people who believe that pressing the elevator button just one more time will make it go faster. Today, I will allow the elevator and time to run its course. Today, I will not hurry my daughter on our walk to school. I will not tug her hand or herd her past her striped caterpillars. I will stop, crouch next to her and share her stories about caterpillar kings and odd shaped rocks.

It’s Monday and today I will die slowly and well.

p.s. In the spirit of taking things slow (and hopefully trying to make you less sick of me and finishing my second novel) I will be posting two times a week on this blog. Mondays will be for random musings on life, writing, and non-poisonous insects. Fridays will be for Field Trips. If, however, I get earthshaking news between Monday and Friday, I will TWEET the juicy tidbits until I’m hoarse.

Photo credit: my

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sunday Secrets

I’m writing this at 5:30 a.m. - before another part of me gets up - the part that will say that it’s a bad idea. Hopefully, the part of me that knows how to type in the dark is awake enough to prevent this post from looking like gibberish.

There’s something magical about Sunday mornings when the world is still asleep and only the universe is around to hear you. You can whisper your most secret hopes and dreams into your pillow and not worry about sounding greedy or audacious. On Sunday mornings, it’s okay to want too much.

A more experienced blogger friend of mine told me that no one reads blogs on weekends. Thank God. I don’t think I would have the courage to post this if I thought anyone was going to read it. It’s Sunday morning and I’m here to whisper my secret.

There’s a part in BEFORE EVER AFTER where I wrote:

“Instant coffee, followed closely by fat-free mayo, was the biggest lie ever told to humankind, Shelley thought. Her life with Max had just leap- frogged over it. All three looked exactly like what they were pretending to be on the outside, but the truth inside was a different matter. She could not digest any of them.”

I neglected to include another lie. People have asked me how I feel about my book being published. I always answer that I couldn’t be happier – that I couldn’t ask for anything more. This is a lie. The pillow beneath my head knows the truth. It hears the dreams I whisper when I think no one else – including myself – can hear. I want more…

I want people – lots and lots and lots of people to read BEFORE EVER AFTER. I want them to know Max and Shelley’s story. I want Max and Shelley to walk around inside their heads and keep them company on rainy afternoons. I want people to love them as much as I do. I want four little words to be printed above the title of the book: NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER.

Audacious? Yes. Greedy? Of course. But it’s a secret and it’s Sunday morning. It’s okay to want too much.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Secret to A Good Query Letter: Get Lost (Season 1, that is)

There are many blogs out there that offer great lists of tips on how to write a good query letter and how to survive the agent hunt with the least possible amount of bodily harm and psychological trauma. I don’t want to waste your time by repeating their advice. (But in case you want to check out Nathan Bransford’s one-stop shop for topnotch query advice, swing by HERE.)

I will offer you this one little suggestion though: WATCH THIS.

J.J. Abrams, the creator of LOST, Alias, and Cloverfield, talked about the importance of the MYSTERY BOX in television and film. I’m going to stay away from debating about how LOST ended (sigh), but I will take my hat off to Mr. Abrams for the incredible job he did at reeling viewers into the mystery of the show’s first season. Who wasn’t dying to know what “the numbers” meant or who “the Others” were? He threw in a “smoke monster” and we were hopelessly hooked.

I believe the power of the mystery box applies to query letters as well. An effective query letter is like a good blind date – you give enough away to pique a person’s interest, but leave him/her wanting more. Give too much, and kiss a second date good bye. Give too little, and the crickets will break into a chorus. So my humble advice is, dress well, comb your hair, and keep a smoke monster in your pocket at all times.

* Switches to Sir David Attenborough’s voice * If you hide quietly behind the bushes and wait patiently, you may just see that rare and elusive creature known as the literatus agentus climb into your carefully laid mystery box.

p.s. I know that the characters from BEFORE EVER AFTER were supposed to stop by this week, but I’m still getting clearance for the excerpts I’ll be sharing with you. Stay tuned! But as promised, I did bring chicken wings. The beer’s in the fridge. Make yourself at home :-)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Friday Field Trip: Ex-Nuns and Ghosts

Hey, Campers! I have two awesome places to take you today where you’ll get to meet two wonderful writer friends of mine. Their debut novels are hitting the shelves as we speak, so there's no time to waste.

Hurry! Hop on board and follow the red umbrella!


February, 2011 (Berkley)

"In life, Frank could've had any woman he wanted.

In death, he'll try to win back the one that mattered...

Frank Wildermuth always regretted a mistake he made as a teenager: choosing Clara Murphy over her sister Gert. And like a true Murphy woman, Gert got on with her life, never admitting to heartbreak. Not even now, decades later, with Frank dead-dead, that is, but not quite gone. Now, Frank's niece, Andie Murphy, is back in town to settle his estate, and she sees that things have changed in Hartman, Connecticut. Aunt Gert still drives her crazy, but Cort, the wide-eyed farmboy she used to babysit, is all grown up-with a whole new definition for the word "sleepover." Even freakier are the whispers. Either Andie's losing her mind, or something she can't see is calling out to her-something that insists on putting right the past."

Meet Liz Michalski, author of EVENFALL.


In stores now! (Midnight Ink)

"Ex-nun Giulia Falcone’s first case as Driscoll Investigations’ partner-in-training involves a gorgeous client, his fiancée, his five ex-girlfriends, and the Bible. When the ex who’s stalking the client targets Giulia, she’s sure her home is safe. But this time, home may be the last place she should run to."

Meet Alice Loweecy, author of FORCE OF HABIT.

Campers, enjoy the tour! Don't forget to stop and take pictures. Shall we meet back at the van, say, in an hour or so?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

How I Met My Agent :)

A lot of people have been asking how I found my agent. The long version of the story involves a chicken (seriously), but I’ll save that for my interview with Oprah. The Secret says to put it out there, right? ;) Instead of just telling the story, however, I thought it would be more fun if I showed it to you:

Aug 22

Dear Ms. Rostan ,

I understand that you are drawn to fresh and engaging commercial fiction. I am submitting BEFORE EVER AFTER, an offbeat romantic novel complete at 85,000 words for your consideration.

Mosaic artist Shelley Gallus’ happy ending ended when her husband died three years ago. Today she learns that her tour guide husband Max is alive and well. This is pinch-me-twice wonderful news, or at least it would be, if Shelley could just overlook two tiny details: Max was blown to pieces on the Madrid subway three years ago; and the bearer of this news is her thirty two year old husband’s thirty two year old grandson, Paolo. Unfortunately, Shelley is a stickler for detail.

BEFORE EVER AFTER takes place along the back roads of European history as Shelley pursues the only clue she has to the mystery of her husband’s vastly improved health - her memories of “The Slight Detour,” the European budget tour package where she met and fell in love with her scruffily handsome guide. As a heartbreaking secret emerges from Max’s accounts of bloody Parisian barricades, smelly medieval Austrian kitchens, and buried Roman boathouses, Shelley discovers that not all stories end where they are supposed to.

BEFORE EVER AFTER is my first work of fiction and was inspired by my experience living, studying, and traveling through Europe. I have included sample pages below. I am committed to a long-term career in writing and would be happy to send you the complete manuscript. Thank you for your time.


Samantha Sotto-Yambao


Aug 24

Hi Samantha -- I read your pages and I think this is off to a fresh, fabulous start. I'd like to read the rest. Would you send me the complete manuscript as an email attachment and I'll get back to you as soon as possible?




Aug 24

Dear Stephanie,

Thank you for your interest and kind words. I have attached my novel as a PDF file for your review. I hope you enjoy reading the rest of the manuscript. Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Kind regards,



Aug 26

Hi Samantha -- Well, this hasn't happened to me for quite some time, but I have a habit of reading the first few pages of new material when it comes in to decide how to prioritize my reading, and every once in a great while, I can't stop. I had already read the first few pages of your book in your email, so I read a few more when the manuscript arrived and, as I said, couldn't stop. I stayed up late and finished the whole manuscript last night. I loved it -- and I'd love to represent you. Would you like to speak by phone? Which part of the world are you in now?




Which part of the world was I then? Nowhere. I was over the moon! :)

Coffee and Q&A with my Agent!

Hi, guys! As promised, my awesome agent, STEPHANIE KIP ROSTAN is answering the first batch of questions we’ve drawn from the hat today. I’ll take your coffee orders now : )

Q: I'd love to hear your agent's thoughts on electronic media, and whether writers should start thinking about adding 'extra value' through additional content such as deleted scenes, essays, etc.. Thanks for providing this opportunity -- great idea. And how wonderful that your agent would do this!

SKR: There’s no question that e-books are increasing as a percentage of sales and it’s important to think about how this changes the business. For a new or still-getting-established fiction author, I think it is most valuable to spend your time building an online presence via social media, blogging, a website, etc, instead of focusing on creating special content for an e-book. If you do create compelling additional content, my opinion is that you would do best to give it away for free as part of the previously mentioned efforts – on your website, and via other online platforms, to generate interest in your writing. So far we are seeing that people are willing to pay for an electronic format of just the book – and unless you are talking about increased functionality (how-to videos, etc) they are not really willing to pay any more and not more likely to buy if there are additional text features on an e-book. This might be different when you are a celebrity and can offer exclusive e-book only add-ons! For nonfiction authors, there is a lot more to say about the convergence of apps, “enhanced e-books” (e-books including text and video or interactive functionality), and verbatim text e-books – that’s going to have to be an answer for another day!

Q: I did have a question for Ms. Rostan. I noticed on Querytracker that she is closed to unsolicited queries, so I just used the basic query email address at the agency to query my historical suspense/mystery. Does Ms. Rostan see these?

SKR: I am not closed to unsolicited queries. I read every query that is sent to my email address, and I do request additional material from a small number of these, although unfortunately I do have to decline most as I don’t have a lot of time for reading new material. I have a pretty full client list already and need to prioritize spending time on them (right, Sam?).

Q: Aside from a first line hook, compelling synopsis or story idea, what makes you keep on reading, what makes it, for you, a book you can’t put down?

SKR: As a follow up to the last question – it’s the voice! Sometimes you start reading something and feel like it’s like nothing you’ve ever read before. I mean, it may be similar in certain ways but the writing feels very distinct and unique, like you’ve met a person at a party that you find totally fascinating. This is the best way I can think of to explain what attracts me to some voices. Of course, this is one of the most subjective elements of writing but even when I work on nonfiction it is the unique perspective/voice informing the material that really excites me.

Q: There isn't much up on the agency's website on what she likes to read, so what are her favorite books and what is she looking to represent?
 What books is she excited to see coming out in the coming year? Tell us something that people don't know about her.

SKR: I like to read the same kinds of things I represent -- really, I think that is why I represent them! My fiction clients range from funny and wry -- Lisa Lutz’s THE SPELLMAN FILES (and the next four books in the series, including the paperback of THE SPELLMANS STRIKE AGAIN out in March) and her collaborative mystery HEADS YOU LOSE written with David Hayward (out in April) -- to very dark and literary fiction like Gillian Flynn’s SHARP OBJECTS and DARK PLACES (she will have a new book in Spring 2012). I also love charming, heartfelt, thoughtful women’s fiction (like Sam’s and) like Laura Fitzgerald’s DREAMING IN ENGLISH (February), Wendy Wax’s TEN BEACH ROAD (June), and Carol Snow’s WHAT CAME FIRST (Fall). I am interested in paranormal elements. I love a love story. I like historical novels and real events used as the basis of fiction. I am often won over by things that are unusual.

I also represent some nonfiction; I would describe what I’m looking for as practical nonfiction that has a perspective, fills a need and hopefully makes people think. This includes psychology, craft/cooking/home, travel, parenting/kids activities, women’s issues, business and some memoir.

In my spare time (ha, ha!), I do read books that I had absolutely nothing professional to do with. Last year, I loved THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE, Tana French’s books, PREP, IN COLD BLOOD, ATONEMENT, UNDER THE DOME by Stephen King, Chitra Divakaruni’s SISTER OF MY HEART, the memoirs LOOK ME IN THE EYE and THE GLASS CASTLE and Emily Gray’s COMMUTERS. Many of these were not new last year – I just finally caught up to them!

Something people don’t know about me: I have watched so many episodes of CRIMINAL MINDS that I truly believe I could profile a serial killer myself if the need arose. But let’s hope it doesn’t.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to the Inbox…

One of the first rules my first boss ever taught me was to have no surprises. I took it to heart and made a career out of making plans and contingencies for contingencies. When my path veered towards writing, I quickly realized that it was the first rule I needed to break.

Whether we’re sitting through Inception, watching an episode of Fringe or reading a novel, we want one thing: To be presented with something so unexpected that it makes us throw our heads back, gasp, and wonder what’s going to happen next.

As a writer, I want – need – the experience of writing a book to be the same way. This is not something that comes naturally to me. I prefer my life to be curve ball free. I’m uncomfortable with every shade of out of the blue. I realize though, that if I knew exactly what my characters were going to do or where each turn of the story would go, I wouldn’t have the will to finish the novel – and neither would the reader.

Writing has taught me to be more tolerant, if not more appreciative of the unexpected in real life. Like plot twists, I suppose the universe throws them at us to keep things interesting and to keep us from skimming through our life’s pages. Surprises, good or bad, send a tremble though the normal, making us pay attention to the moment we’re standing in. They unsettle us, forcing us to regain our balance by taking a step forward.

What surprised you today?

p.s. My own surprise: My book cover! (But that, my friends, will have to wait for another post…)

Monday, January 24, 2011 you want to come in?

There are few things that are more intimate than reading a book - like sharing a toothbrush or double dipping chicken wings. (Why? What were you thinking?)

From the moment we read the first word, we turn the key to the door of someone else’s mind and step through. For the first few paragraphs, we tread slowly, careful not to bump into furniture. After a while, we begin to relax and explore more freely, running our fingers across tabletops and picking up interesting objects from the mantle for closer inspection. Before we know it, we’re entering bedrooms and rifling through drawers. Then, something extraordinary happens: the space becomes ours.




Each word in the book passes through the prism of our experience to be colored by memory and bias. “The happiest thought she had ever had,” becomes a unique composite of lavender and vanilla perfume, a plate of warm fudge brownies, and the Glee episode where the football team shimmied to Beyoncé.

And as this transition from intention to imagination takes place, characters take their first real breath outside the author’s head and wander into ours. They walk through the world we’ve created for them, compliment what we’ve done with the place, and make themselves comfortable. Some stay for the length of time we’re curled in bed with their stories and a cup of tea. Others, whether we like it or not, never leave. They become a part of us, as real as anyone we’ve ever met.

I’ve invited a few of the characters from BEFORE EVER AFTER to come by The Slight Detour this week. I hope you can stop by and meet them. You don’t have to dress up. It won’t be anything fancy – just maybe some drinks and chicken wings.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Windows: A post that's not about Microsoft

I was organizing the files on my computer and found this old photo my husband took on one of our vacations. I think it pretty much sums up my roller coaster writing journey so far.

Without shadow, it's harder to appreciate the light.

Disclaimer: I'm posting this without an ounce of caffeine in my system - I'll probably have to come back later and see if it still makes sense after I've had my coffee. Happy weekend, campers!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Friday Field Trip: A Secret Garden

Hey, campers! We’re going on our first Slight Detour Field Trip! Today we’re headed to a special place I like to lose myself in from time to time. It’s a place I go to when I need to be reminded that you can find the most amazing surprises just about anywhere if you look closely enough. Here’s a sneak peek at our slight detour. (Photos and captions courtesy of SCROLLWORK)

A glimpse of what's possible

When the puppy next door isn't pushing her nose through the hole, begging for a petting, I can pretend that the pixies who flit through my flower garden perch mid-flight and get silhouetted against the light. – SCROLLWORK

Buns of stone


Phoenix post-departure

Art happens. Life moves along whether or not you note the details. A chicken powdered in tandoori leaves an imprint on the pan. Not quite the Shroud of Turin, but somewhat esoteric. Life moves along. Except for the chicken. - SCROLLWORK

What are you waiting for? Follow the red umbrella and we’re off!

Secret Garden

Special thanks to SCROLLWORK for sharing her lovely world with us!

You'll Never Make It.

Why bother?

It can’t be done.

Bad idea.

We’ve all heard it at one time or another – that not-so-little voice in our heads that gently whispers, “YOU SUCK.” For the purposes of this post, it shall be called “George.” (My apologies to all the Georges who are reading this. Nothing personal. It’s just a whole lot easier to type than “that not-so-little-voice-in-our-heads.”)

Poor George. Every self-help book out there tells us to ignore him. As far as I’m concerned, he’s just doing his job. In fact, I’m seriously thinking about including him in the Acknowledgements section of BEFORE EVER AFTER. Without George’s help, there’d probably be no novel – or for that matter, anything else in this world that people have bothered to dream up and create.

The airplane, Frappuccinos, Spanx…I’m pretty sure that none of them came into being without at least a shade of doubt crossing the minds of their creators.

Umm…Oliver, don’t we want to test this baby out on a cat first?

Frozen coffee…seriously?

But the girdle’s already been invented.

I’m guessing though that we are sipping our tall decaf caramel frappuccinos with no whip cream today, not in spite of doubt, but because of it.

Doubt is often pictured as a wall we're staring at. But what if that wall wasn't in front of us? What if it was behind us - a brick border defining everything we’ve seen, heard, and done so far? And what if it was put there so that we would have something to push against to drive ourselves further into that moment where our insides twists, our hearts race, and we wonder what the hell we were thinking and why we didn’t we think of doing it sooner? Would we think better of George then?

So George, this is for you my old friend. Whisper loudly and often.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Broiled Eyeballs, Anyone?

Anyone? Anyone? What? No takers? Would it help if I told you that they were fresh out of my eye sockets and still hot from reviewing my typeset pages?

Yup, I’m officially done with this stage of the process and will be recuperating in a dark corner with cold cucumber slices over my eyes for a week or so. I have to say that this part scared me more than querying agents.

I think my trauma springs from an experience in my previous corporate life where I launched a product that had the word “UTLRA Protection” printed in front of the pack. (To this day, I cannot look at a pack of sanitary pads without wincing.)

I’ve made a substantial offering to the proofreading gods so I am hoping that you won’t find any nasty errors lurking in the final book. But in case you do, I may just send you a cupcake for every tpyo.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Watching Closely from Afar

Did you update your Facebook status? Did you comb your hair this morning? Did you check your teeth after you ate that salad?

Everyday, we put ourselves out there. Whether it’s a tweet, a YouTube link, a walk down the street, a blog post, or a water cooler conversation, we share a piece of ourselves with the world for its consideration: LOL. Seriously? Nice hair. Interesting. Idiot. We smile when someone “likes” the story we posted about the funny thing our cat did today and grin a bit wider when they reply with a “BWAHAHAHA!”

We may never admit (even to ourselves) that we care about what other people think of us, but it doesn’t change the fact that we would cringe if we got home, looked in the mirror and realized that we had been walking around the office with a sliver of Arugula stuck between our teeth. Lettuce trumps pride.

Judging and being judged is a daily reality. It’s also quick and often involuntary. That’s how we’re built. Observation and opinion are the little gifts nature has given us to organize the world and stay alive. Hot or cold. Good or bad. Sweet or hurry-and-spit-it-out-before-it-kills-you.

But accepting the inevitability of perception and judgment doesn’t mean I have to like it. Knowing that everything we share – a new haircut, a presentation, a debut novel – is subject to scrutiny (cursory or otherwise) can be a bit unnerving. I can’t begin to tell you the anxiety I have every time I click “publish” and send another blog post into the world to fend for itself.

My husband tries to make me feel better by saying that I only feel this way because it’s new. But just between you and me, I think that there are some things that simply never get old. Years of watching my children at the playground have proven this. My heart still lodges in my throat when they clamber up jungle gyms or swing from monkey bars. No matter how old they get, my kids always seem shiny, fragile, and new to me. I don’t want them to climb too high, to run too fast, or to slip down the slide backwards. But I have to. I have to bite my tongue and stay glued to the bench.

When my son tripped today, I did just that. I smiled at him, waved, and waited for him to pick himself up. His jeans got dirty, but he was okay. It got me thinking that perhaps, the way I watch my children play is how I should be with my blog and BEFORE EVER AFTER. Maybe that’s the only way I can survive this experience without a nervous breakdown. I should learn to sit on my hands and watch my words closely from afar - to set them free to be liked or unliked for what they are, to let them fall down and scrape their knees, to tell funny stories about cats with lunch between their teeth.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ask The Agent!

…but not just any agent - my super-duper-all-shades-of-awesome agent, to be precise. Stephanie Kip Rostan of the Levine Greenberg Literary Agency will be stopping by soon to answer burning queries you may have about the ins and outs of publishing, industry trends, her wish list or anything else you'd like to know under the writing sun. Drop your questions in the hat by sending me an email. Stay tuned for the exact date of her first blog visit!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Reporting Live From the Corner of Glee and Dread...

Anyone who can’t wait for the next season of The Walking Dead raise your hand.

Anyone who likes riding a rollercoaster raise your hand.

Anyone who enjoys trying strange looking sushi raise your hand.

Why do we do these things to ourselves? No other creature on the planet would willingly jump out of an airplane for fun or eat popcorn while watching Hannibal Lecter have dinner. But we do. Why? I suppose my five year old said it best when I asked her why she likes sitting at the very top of the jungle gym:

“Because it’s scary and it feels like I’m flying.”

What’s a better reminder that we’re alive than to feel our heart pounding in our chest? That’s how I feel when I see my countdown timer. Every passing second is a not-so-gentle reminder that IT’S REALLY HAPPENING: People who aren’t my agent, my editor, or share my last name will be reading Before Ever After soon. Can I faint now?

* * * * 10 minutes later * * * *

Okay, I’m back. Thanks for waiting. Now where was I? Ah, yes. Being terrified – and I wouldn’t have it any other way. How about you? What did you do to scare yourself today?