Friday, December 30, 2011

My favorite things of 2011 (on writing blogs)

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. Contests on blogs and queries I've written. Connecting with writers and the critiques they bring. These are a few of my favorite things.

In honor of 2011, I'd like to share the best contests, opportunities, and resources for writers I've found this year. Many of the contests aren't going on right now, but follow the blogs to be ready for when they come back in 2012!

Literary Rambles Agent Spotlights - If you write for young adults and children, this is where you should go first to look for agents. With so much more than what you can find in the profiles on Agent Query or Writer's Market, Casey and Natalie compile information from agent interviews across the web for the most comprehensive agent profiles I've found. Use the search function with keywords that describe your book to find the best agents for you.

The Agent Inbox Contest - In my opinion, this is one of the most helpful blog contest on the web. You really can't lose. Krista from Mother. Write. (Repeat.) collects the query and 1st 250 words from 20 entrants and posts them on her blog. Then a real live agent stops at each one and makes comments on whether they'd be interested and why or why not. Even if you don't win a request (and your chances are good with only 20 entrants) you get free advice on your query from an agent and your fellow writers.

Write On Con - This is a FREE online writing conference for children's (as in MC under 18) writers.  It almost sounds too good to be true but it's not.  In addition to learning tons and gaining access to lots of critique opportunities, you can participate in the Ninja Agents forum, where you post your query and multiple agents (this year it was 13) comment on your query and make requests.

Miss Snark's Bakers Dozen Agent Auction - This contest is epic.  If you're one of the winning entries, you get to be part of an auction where agents bid on YOU.  The most recent auction had 16 agents bidding on manuscripts and the contest resulted in multiple contracts signed.

Articles by Susan Dennard -   There is just something about the way author Susan Dennard explains things that I just get.  And she knows her stuff.  After exhaustive research and honing her query, she queried 12 agents and got 9 requests.  How's that for amazing?  My two favorite articles she's written are The Parts of a Good Query and How to Write a 1-Page Synopsis.

Rach Writes...Beta Match & Writers' Platform-Building Campaigns - Rachael Harrie gets two cheers, one for Beta Match and one for the Writers' Platform-Building Campaign.  Every once in a while, Rachel has a Beta Match post on her blog where the comments serve as what you might call personal ads for people looking for Beta readers and critique partners.  By looking through the posts it's easy to find the people best match with you and when I took a look back in September they were all serious writers.  I found three lovely Betas this way.  

I didn't participate in the Writers' Platform-Building Campaign this year, but I probably should have, and definitely will when she hosts her next one starting in February of 2012.  Her campaigns are a great way to gain followers and make connections.

Deana Barnhart's Gearin' Up To Get An Agent Blogfest - In this four week blogfest, I got amazing feedback on my first 250 words and my query, including personal feedback from a former agent, and got to participate in a grand finale agent-judged contest.  If that wasn't enough, I met some great people and got some new followers since each week included a blog hop. - Query tracker is the best way to obsess about your queries.  :)  The basic membership is free and you can track your queries and look for agents.  Aside from being a cool tracking tool, Query Tracker compiles information from it's users so with Premium membership (only $25 a year) you can have access to premium reports.  You can see what percentage of queries get a request for each agent and can sort by acceptance percentage to see who wants queries and what genre they really want.  It's also a great way to find out  how quickly to expect a response and if you should expect a response at all.  The only down-side is that you may end up obsessively checking reports for hours on end!

All Other Agent Judged Blog Contests - Agent judged blog contests are an amazing opportunity to connect with agents without going to a $400 conference or braving the query minefield. Thank you to all the blogs who host contests. Here are some blogs who have hosted agent or editor judged contests this year.  If you're not already following, do so immediately! 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

For the Genre Confused: Magical realism...more than just an oxymoron

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Here is a riddle, what is both magical and realistic at the same time?  Magical realism, of course, which is the topic of my latest genre-bending post.

In it's simplest definition, magical realism is basically exactly what it sounds like. It is somewhat of a oxymoron both in name and definition. A story with characteristics of magical realism blends the opposing themes of the realistic and the fantastical. It approaches magical elements within the confines of reality.

Or from good old Wikipedia, "A kind of modern fiction in which fabulous and fantastical events are included in a narrative that otherwise maintains the 'reliable' tone of objective realistic report." OR "[Magical realism] relies upon the presentation of real, imagined or magical elements as if they were real."

Did I just unload a bunch of waffle on you? Yes, I think I did. Magical realism is one of those vague, intellectual terms that describes more of a feeling a novel gives off than a specific type of plot, and it's not best described with a simple one line definition (sorry Twitter).  Even Margin, "the world's only continuous survey of magical realism" does not claim to be able to define the term, rather they attempt to define what it is not. They consider it to be a "style" without limiting rules for inclusion.

Here is my lowly attempt at explaining it:

It does help to think about how it's different from other types of fantasy.  Contemporary and urban fantasy are huge these days, and they also put magic into a real world setting. The difference is the way the magical elements are approached. In contemporary and urban fantasy the magic is right there in you face. The supernatural element is usually the main focus of the story. Although you often find pseudo-scientific explanations for supernatural elements in contemporary fantasy, it doesn't really try to make it real. Contemporary fantasy is a way to enjoy fantasy elements in a familar setting.  It is also usually considered to be escapist.

In magical realism, the realism plays a bigger role. The primary plot will be about real things in the real world, but there is an undercurrent of magic. It's so real in fact, that the author may imply that the characters themselves may not be reliable narrators, so as to not be too decisive about the existence of magic. In magical realism, the magic often sneaks up on you and you wonder whether or not you're supposed to believe it's really happening. To me, magical realism often feels "dream-like" or "surreal" in places.

Magical realism is literary fiction and would not belong on the shelf with genre fantasy. You could say that it takes itself seriously. Magical realism often depicts the stories of those who are oppressed or marginalized, and has meaningful themes. 

Magical realism is more of a style than a genre and it's often misused or used too loosely.  If you're thinking of describing your story as 'magical realism' in your query, be careful.  Make sure it really is first.  Otherwise, even if your query is great, you'll look like you haven't done your research.  And remember there is nothing wrong with querying it as a good old fashioned fantasy or paranormal book if you're not 100% sure.  Or if it tends to the more realism side, query as contemporary (YA) or literary (adult) with elements of magical realism.

Sometimes the best way to understand a vague definition of a literary style is to familiarize yourself with novels classified that way.  Here are some examples:

One Hundred Years of Solitude 

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao 

Everything Is Illuminated 

The Green Mile

Little, Big

Here are some more helpful articles:

Magical Realism by Lindsay Moore
What is Magical Realism Really by Bruce Holland Rogers

Friday, December 16, 2011

December 2011 Contests - Part II

In honor of my latest project about suburban Houston witches, I wish you a Happy Solstice.  However, feel free to also have a Merry Christmas.  :)

So I use the term "December" loosely here, but the publishing world is starting its Christmas hibernation, so start marking your calendar for January opportunities...of course there is one great contest coming up on Monday!

I wish all of my followers a beautiful holiday season and a publishing contract in 2012. :) Thank you for reading!

Agent Inbox Contest - Yay. I love these, and I think I'll be entering this one with my latest project, The Charge. On 12/19 at 10am est (7am pst), submit your query and first 250 words. Entries will be posted on Krista's blog and the mystery agent will comment on them publicly. Adult & YA, most subgenres.

January Query Tracker Contest - Agent NatalieFischer Lakosil will be judging Query Tracker's next contest and will ask to see the first 100 words and a one sentence log line. Commercial fiction and YA, several subgenres. Opens 1/30/12 at 9 am.

Book Wish Essay Contest -Write a 500 word essay about how selected short stories relate to the Darfuri refugees in eastern Chad and you can win a manuscript critique by an agent or critically acclaimed author. Due 2/1/12.

Editing Advent 2011 - Editor Cassandra Marshall is giving away an editing related prize to a commenter every day this month!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Can We Guess Your Character's Age? Blogfest Contest Entry

The winners have been announced and I am happy to report that I received an Honorable Mention for my entry.  Yay!  It always feels great to be mentioned honorably.  I can tell you now that Warren is 19 years old. Congratulations to all of you who guessed so close!  Read the winning entries here.

Welcome all!  Here is my entry for the Can We Guess Your Character's Age? Blogfest Contest hosted by the wonderful Brenda Drake.  Thank you for the opportunity!  I welcome age guessing and would also appreciate  any other feedback that comes to mind.


         Warren’s mother had taped towels and sheets over all the windows of the apartment where she had raised him.  Ah…coming home.  His mother suffered from what his brother called, “severe eccentricity,” and blacking out the living room window with Warren’s ratty old Star Wars comforter was not out of character.  He loved her more than anything, but if she had called him because she had forgotten how to use the washing machine again, he was heading right back to campus to enjoy the day after finals the way it was intended to be enjoyed - drunk and poolside.
She stood in the kitchen holding a box of uncooked spaghetti and didn’t respond to his presence right away.  It looked like she had been holding and squeezing the box for a while and most of the pasta inside was broken.  Age had taken her overnight.  The wrinkle between her eyes was deeper and a few more strands of gray had found their way into her waist length black hair.  Warren took the box of spaghetti out of her hands.
“I was going to make you lunch,” she said.
            “I’m not hungry,” Warren said.
            The two Red Bulls in Warren’s hung over and now scared stomach were not sitting well. 
            “What’s wrong?” he asked.
Please don’t say cancer.  At six foot five, Warren wasn’t exactly a kid anymore and he hadn’t been sung to sleep in a long time, but losing his mama still felt like the worst thing that could possibly happen. 

December 2011 Contests - Part I

I turned 30 this week and at midnight on my birthday I immediately lost touch with my YA audience and can no longer relate to the youth of America.  At least that's what I told my husband was happening over a few too many drinks.  We'll hope that's not true.  :)

As for contests this month, I am hopeful that this is only Part I of at least II because I only found a couple contests.  Please let me know if I'm missing some!  I am mostly thinking about probably planning to enter these (yes...I am using adjectives to stall the verdict on my WIP), so I hope to see you there!

Can We Guess Your Character's Age Blogfest Contest
On December 8th, post the first 250 words of your manuscript on your blog and have readers stop by and guess their age.  So cool!  Editor Gabriela Lessa will choose winners to receive free and discounted editing services.

She Writes Young Adult Novel Contest
Deadline December 15th.  Cost $15.  Submit a cover letter and the first 2,000 words of your YA manuscript.  The prize is "coverage" of your novel with major agents and editors.  All proceeds benefit Girls Write Now.