Tuesday, December 25, 2012

What Writers Give for Christmas

(Note from Laura: This group post of the books we're giving for Christmas was supposed to go up last week. Does it  make me sound less belated if I say that not posting until today at least preserved some Christmas surprises for our friends and family who read this blog? In any case, that's my story and I'm sticking to it!)

GINGER:  It's Christmas, David  by David Shannon. My youngest son in particular loves the David books. Cute, funny, to the point--the David books are like children you can stick on a shelf and take down when you have the energy to enjoy them.

Artemis Fowl: The Graphic Novel by Eoin Colfer. My daughter never quite forgave me for not buying this at Colfer's signing event at our library. I bugged him so badly during his signing of the books we did buy that I'm sure one more second with me would have brought upon us some evil curse. Sorry, Mr. Colfer--I promise to just smile politely and be quiet in future! And for all you who may have a chance to see Mr. Colfer in person, do everything in your power to go. I would pay just to see his presentation again. If he wasn't an author, he could very well be a stand-up comic. Just don't, you know, say stupid things to him while he signs your books.

And unconventional: The Murder of Napoleon by Weider and Hapgood. For the person in your life fascinated with power and crime. Or my teen daughter who recently discovered that history depends on the book you're reading.

PAT:  The first two books I’m giving as Christmas gifts are going to my mother as a pair. A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter and Gene Stratton Porter: Novelist and Naturalist by Judith Reick Long.  When my mother was a girl, Gene Stratton-Porter was her favorite author and I know she’ll be delighted to revisit it. She’s also a fan of biographies, so the second book was a natural choice. As a writer, I think Limberlost is a great example of how a story can speak to the heart of the teen experience for generations. And who doesn’t love a book with swamps and moth selling?

The other book I’ve order is for me. My husband and I don’t exchange gifts. Instead we buy our own treats around the holiday time. I’ve preordered The Madman's Daughter. It’s a young adult gothic thriller inspired by H. G. Well’s classic The Island of Dr. Moreau.  The enthusiastic rumbling and fantastic reviews I’ve seen about this book put it at the top of my must read pile. Luckily, it comes out in January.
BECCA:  Olivia and the Fairy Princess by Ian Falconer. One of my favorite picture books of 2012. For those who know me, I live in a household of boys. I am always looking for excuses to buy books for the girls in my life, but be pleasantly warned--this isn't your typical "pink" book.

Divergent and Insurgent by Veronica Roth. I'm impatiently awaiting book three, due out next year. In the meantime, this trilogy will satisfy friends and family who are fans of The Hunger Games and Twilight, for it has a perfect blend of dystopian grit and action, and broiling romance. 

SUZANNE:   First is Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George.  I read the first in the series some time ago, then re-read it again while my daughter devoured it.  She's since bought herself the second and third in the series, foiling my plan to a) Check them out from the library so she couldn't and then b) give her both copies for Christmas.  Instead I've had to settle for sewing a pair of dragon decals on a new pair of slippers.  I hope she likes them!

A second book I'll put on the list cause I always seem to be giving it to someone is The Ordinary Princess by M. M. Kaye.  It's just such a fun read, and I challenge anyone to walk away from it without feeling better about the world and their place in it.

Thirdly (do I get a thirdly?) I have to include The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden.  It's such a timeless classic, and while I know kids often read it in school I think it's easy to overlook on the bookshelf.  I love it, and feel it's one of those books that resonate all the way down to my soul and thrum deep in my pinkie toes.

LAURA:  Some of the books given this year are esoteric and (cough, cough) ones I haven't read. Like Death by Black Hole and Other Cosmic Quandaries by Neil deGrasse Tyson. That's going to my physics major college son and I although I love him enough to die for him, I see no need to read the philosophy of physics for him.

Redshirts by John Scalzi. I discovered Scalzi through this year's release about a starship on which an unusual number of fatalities occur to low-ranking crew members (the title references the unnamed, redshirt-wearing ensigns that so often died in the first five minutes of Star Trek episodes.) Laugh out loud funny and cleverly constructed. You need not be a Trekkie to enjoy.

Possession by A.S. Byatt went to two friends this year. I give this book sparingly, because it's one of my all-time favorites and it's rather like sending my children into the world for approval. It's an intricate, beautiful story of two literary researchers who fall in love as they trace the history of two Victorian poets through fairytales and epic poetry and personal secrets.

Tell us, readers: What books did you give this year? Even better, what books did you get? 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Interview with Kat Ellis: Aliens, Wales, Short stories and Writing Contests

Kat Ellis writes YA sci fi and fantasy and is represented by Molly Ker Hawn of The Bent Agency. I got to know Kat when she hosted the Hook, Line and Sinker agent contest and was thrilled when she agreed to answer a few questions. She’s one of the most energetic and imaginative writers I know. Be sure to check out her blog http://katelliswrites.blogspot.com/   But enough from me--let’s get to the questions.

1. Can you tell a little about yourself?  I’m especially curious to
know if the rumor involving your parents, your birth and aliens is
true. If it is, then has it influenced your writing at all?

Haha! The story about my parents spotting a UFO (http://www.book-brats.com/interview-author-kat-ellis/) is absolutely true, although I have no idea when it actually happened. Probably best left a mystery, unless I suddenly sprout tentacles! 

I grew up in North Wales surrounded by strange stories and local legends, and some of these have definitely inspired my writing. Being immersed in stories about gryphons, witches, dragons, and a whole host of other creatures drew me into reading at a young age, even in the pre-Potter era. 

On a non-writing note, I married my teen sweetheart (we met when I was 16), I'm a fluent Welsh-speaker, and I have an evil cat named Pilot (after Rochester's dog in JANE EYRE.) I play guitar (badly), and poke my tongue out of the corner of my mouth when I'm concentrating.

2. I noticed your short story UNDERGROUND is coming out in the Primed
Anthology in 2013 and that your short story, GLIMMER, received a high
commendation in the 2012 Bristol Short Story Prize. All of us in the
Cabinet have had our battles with writing short stories. What advice
do you have for writing short stories as opposed to novel length?

I will start with a disclaimer: I'm really not an expert, or even halfway to being clever when it comes to short stories. The 3 I've written are all pretty dark, and in terms of process, they start in much the same way as my novel ideas do: just one scene. But whereas with novel ideas they ripple outward to become bigger, overlappy-circly things as the plot develops, my short story ideas stick more to that one scene or image that I had in my head at the start. I explore it from all angles, see if it can stand by itself as a Thing. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. 

In terms of advice, I will share this one thing: I wrote my 3 short stories for the sole purpose of entering contests and trying to get them published, so then I would have something to add to my query letter to agents in the 'writing experience/credentials' section. Of course there are better reasons to write short stories, but if you're a querying writer with not much to put in that section of your letter, why not try your hand at a few short stories? I found it helpful, and the little bit of success I had with them was a great confidence boost when I was stuck in the query trenches.

3. What advice would you give to someone who has completed a manuscript
and is now looking for representation? Do you feel there is an
advantage to becoming involved in online contests as well as sending
out queries and doing in person pitch sessions. Man, I’m hitting you
with a lot of multifaceted questions, aren’t I?

The one thing I will suggest strongly (I'm raising an eyebrow for emphasis here) is: make sure your work is ready before you send it out. I'm talking polished to a high shine, punchy as hell, and thoroughly proofread. If it isn't, you will have wasted an opportunity to catch an agent's eye, whether it's in a straight query or a contest. Take your time and make it the best you can.

Query contests are an exhilarating, nerve-wracking animal, which I wrote about in a guest post not so long ago (it's here if you'd like to read it: http://www.rachelhorwitz.com/blog/2012/07/20/query-contests-are-you-armed-and-ready/  ) If you've honed your sample pages and query letter to the point where you feel they are ready to go out into the querying world, contests can be hugely successful in matching writers and agents. They can also be a little soul-destroying if your work isn't as polished as you thought when you hit 'send', especially if the contest is open to public critique. 

But that's something that each individual writer will need to decide. Contests may not be your natural groove, and there's nothing wrong with skipping the contest frenzy. I would personally be terrified to pitch in person to an agent or editor, but I know lots of folks would say that's the most effective method. Horses for courses, and all that.

If you want to try your hand at pitching at a conference but aren't sure how to prepare, Susan Hawk of The Bent Agency wrote a really helpful post about that here: http://jennybent.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/the-seven-habits-of-highly-effective.html

4. As someone who helped organize and host the incredibly successful
Hook, Line and Sinker contest, do you have any advice for people who
might be thinking about hosting a contest?

It was a LOT of work, and incredibly fun and rewarding! If you're thinking of hosting a contest, consider partnering up with someone who can help you with the organizing, especially if they have previous experience. And, in hindsight, it's probably a good idea to plan it so that it doesn't coincide with any major publishing events (as agents will likely be busy), holidays, and other contests. Contest Fatigue Syndrome is a real thing!

The huge plus-side to running a contest is getting to read some absolutely stellar writing and making connections with other writers (like yourself, Pat!) The online writing community in general is an amazing resource and source of support, and I would encourage writers at any stage in their career to get involved in it. 

5. If I were to gaze into my crystal ball, what would I see in your future?

I hope that I will always be writing. If I could get to the point where I could write full-time, I would consider my life made

I'm halfway through a new manuscript called TRANSPARENCIES, which is about a girl who drowns on her sixteenth birthday...then turns up at school three months later as though nothing happened. 

After that, I have a few possibilities simmering - there are 2 old manuscripts I need to rewrite, a possible sequel, and a brand new idea which I'd describe as PITCH BLACK meets THE TIME MACHINE. 

It is possible that I will host or otherwise take part in more query contests at some point, but it won't be for at least a few months while I finish my current WIP. 

Thank you, Pat, for interviewing me! I'm more than happy to answer follow-up questions if there are any. 

Thank you so much, Kat! And I totally agree--one of the best parts of entering and hosting contests is making new writing friends. The online writing community is a wonderful thing when we choose to become actively involved.

Anyone have questions? Kate would love to answer them and as you can see she’s game for pretty much anything. And don’t forget to follow her on Twitter @el_kat .