Wednesday, April 9, 2014

All About April

I’m on Caroline Starr Rose’s BLOG

 for April Poetry Month.

Come read what I’ve been up to on the poetry front.

And feel free to share a spring-inspired HAIKU. 

Please VISIT! 

Also check out Sharon Mayhew’s BLOG. 

On 04/07, she announced the winners of #midgrademadness.
On 04/10, she announces the rules for #yahugs.

Winners receive a 30-minute phone call with Agent Terrie Wolf! 

And I was lucky enough to meet
the funny and talented 
author Eoin Colfer this week.

Oh, and the winner of the ending to
my ludicrous dream is Old Kitty! 

April is one exciting month!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


April issue, coming soon!

Vine Leaves Literary Journal has had a few staff changes.

Dawn Ius, co-publishing editor with Jessica Bell, has recently stepped down. The blog post about it is HERE. 

Jessica has needed to do some new hiring. The Vine Leaves staff is posted HERE. 

Since Vine Leaves started in 2012, I’ve been an avid reader. The journal introduced me to vignettes and got me writing them too. My piece “Left Behind” was published in their April issue and in their Best of Vine Leaves, 2012. They also published my poem “Catty-Corner” in their July 2012 issue.

I’m happy to announce I’m now part of the Vine Leaves Literary Journal team, working as a Publishing Editor’s Assistant. My bio is HERE. 

In the last month, I’ve performed a few tasks:

The 1st task was to set up a Pinterest page. I’d be thrilled if you’d visit, especially if you followed it too. Here’s the LINK. 
Please click it and tell me what you think.

My 2nd job was to vote on the shortlist poem for the April 2014 issue, which is coming soon.

And now my 3rd assignment has been to read the 2014 quarter-finalist list for The Annual Vine Leaves Vignette Collection Award and help choose the semi-finalists and grand finalist. Details about the contest are HERE. 

It’s been a rewarding month for me, but I’m adding it to my list of items to juggle:

Family (is a priority always)
My job (gives me satisfaction… and a paycheck)
Special Education classes (are a lot of work but will be done soon-ish!)
Writing: (fulfilling-frustrating-need it like breathing)
Editing (it’s a learning experience and rewarding)

This gives me 5 items to juggle and I’m horribly uncoordinated. Have you seen me dance?

I need to make sure I make time for things that matter and I also need to make sure that I don’t get lulled into treating my responsibilities at Vine Leaves as a replacement for actually writing.

But I won’t let that happen, right?

So the only downside is that I can no longer submit my pieces to Vine Leaves. It’s totally worth it.

What are you juggling now? 
Are all your balls in the air or are you dropping any?

Monday, March 17, 2014

Worst Idea for a Novel Ever

So, I’m dreaming last night…

(Don’t leave. I swear—it’s not just a post where I’m sharing my dream. Mostly.)

And this teenage girl has a pizza. She wants to put it in storage on the Long Island Railroad while she rides home, but they want to charge her $30. So she decides to hold it.

(I agree, not a great opener. While I appreciate her not wanting to spend $30 on really what should be a free service, I don’t see where this dream is going.)

She reaches her stop and walks home with the pizza in hand. She meets a boy. He’s complaining about his lousy job. They walk home together and fall in love.

(While this dream still isn’t compelling, both appreciating a New York pizza is as good a reason to start a relationship as any.)

I already know, as I’m watching these people that he’s going to get too clingy and she’s going to break up with him. He’s going to take this badly and decide to kill her.

(Oh, great… I’m having a nightmare.)

He’s chasing after her. She decides to run home so her dad can help. He’s a cop. Normally, father and daughter don’t get along, but they’re really going to bond when he kills her stalker, psycho ex-boyfriend.

(A cop dad? That’s convenient, don’t you think?)

She runs home. Dad shoots ex-boyfriend in the chest just in time. The boyfriend turns into a female. She’s got a look of surprise (from being shot or changing gender, I'm not sure) and keels over.

I think the story can’t end like this because my main character hasn’t done much to drive the plot, so the woman isn’t going to die. She’s going to chase after her and they’ll have a showdown.

In my dream, I actually say, “And this is how you plot a novel, people!”

(*Cue scratched record sound* Now this dream is a novel? Did dreaming-author me not just notice that the ex-boyfriend turned into a girl? She got shot in the heart, so how’s she going to pursue my main character? It seems my “novel” has plot holes the size of continents.)

My main character (MC) is crying, apparently because now her father is dead. (Another plot hole. When did this happen??? Is this a Quentin Tarantino film where everything is out of order?) The boyfriend who is now a girl grabs the gun and points it at my MC. MC takes a little too long but finally runs away. Boy-turned-girl pursues MC.

MC winds up in a flea market. She’s dodging booths, crowds, ducking under tables. All the while, the ex-boyfriend turned girl is calmly walking with the gun pointing in plain sight and a tank top covered in blood along with a bullet hole.

The MC sees a guy who’s wearing stilettos, but otherwise looks pretty tough. Turns out she knows him. He’s a gun owner. She knows she can borrow a gun from him. But first he introduces her to his three kids.

(So that’s my climax twist? She happens to see someone who owns a gun, which means he’ll have the gun on him and give it to her?)

I wake up.

Now I don’t even know how the novel ends.

But I’m fired up. I’m going to write this novel down that has written itself!

I start reviewing my stellar plot in my mind and reality sinks in.

I turn over and go back to sleep.

You writers who have these dream epiphanies--I’m impressed because my subconscious is this bad.

How would you end my novel-dream?

Best comment wins a $25 Amazon gift card.

Sunday, March 2, 2014


Last summer,  Old Kitty  posted about Neil Gaiman’s writing prompt in The Guardian.  I saw the post too late, but the prompt stuck in my head:

It wasn't just the murder, he decided. Everything else seemed to have conspired to ruin his day as well. Even the cat.

My story definitely isn’t MG or YA. But it was fun to write. It's short and not very sweet. Enjoy!

Theresa Milstein

It wasn't just the murder, he decided. Everything else seemed to have conspired to ruin his day as well. Even the cat.

While the radio murmured about war, government corruption, and other normal injustices, he sipped coffee from the mug in his right hand while the other held binoculars peeping between the blinds. If his ritual went according to plan, the caffeine and the woman dressing for work in the apartment building across the alley would wake him up.

His cursed cat interfered. 

Just as she danced into the bedroom—he always imagined some sexy song from Madonna blasting—and removed her towel, the cat jumped unwelcomed onto his lap. He startled. If the feline’s claws on his genitals hadn’t been jarring enough, the coffee searing his lap soon ruined any further opportunity for arousal.

By the time he’d ripped off the soiled pajamas, rubbed soothing lotion on his sore skin, and changed into new clothes, the woman had left for work.

He’d gone even grumpier than usual to the repetitive job he despised. The doctors sent bills. He made a charade of investigating for fraud, but everyone got paid in the end. If he ran the company, corruption would stop. But nobody listened to people who slaved in cubicles.

When he walked through his doorway after work, he kicked the whining cat out of the way. Everyone wanted something from him.

There would be one last chance to unwind from his sorry day when she undressed for bed. There’d be no towel. No dance. Her moves would be slower and the removal would take longer. But he’d have his moment to imagine she was his.

He sipped his glass of cabernet with his right hand while his left cradled the binoculars peering through the blinds. He’d locked the cat in the closet to prevent a repeat of that morning’s sin. Nothing would interfere with his nightly ritual.

She shuffled into the bedroom, clearly as tired as he felt. He imagined her enduring a job in customer service. If only they could converse about the injustices that led to their lousy day. She would listen. She would understand.

He watched her gaze at her reflection in the mirror, but she couldn’t see him gazing at her. He inhaled, drawing the imagined scent of the perfume on her bureau inside him. As she removed her bracelet, he sat up straighter. She unclasped her necklace. He set down the glass.

That’s when an intruder stepped out of her closet, gun in hand. She noticed the intruder in the mirror’s reflection at the same time he did. Her mouth formed a perfect O as she whirled around.

No! Not his woman. He jumped up, spilling the wine while the intruder closed the curtains across the alley.

He stared at his bleeding pants as the gun fired.

Night was shot too. And what would he do to occupy his time during tomorrow morning’s coffee?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

When Your Writing Journey Becomes the Plot of a Novel, Part 2

Read the full post of Part 1 HERE: 

When Your Writing Journey Becomes the Plot of a Novel, Part 2
By Victoria J. Coe

Last week’s cliffhanger: For the second time, agent Marietta Zacker considered my manuscript and regretfully said it still wasn’t working. She and I had shared a vision for what the story could be. She inspired me to explore my characters and plot more deeply. I’d done my best and made good progress, but my revision fell short. I had two choices: 1) Give up, or 2) Get professional help.
I decided to reach out to Ben H. Winters, my Grub Street teacher from the previous year. To my amazement, he said he’d love to help. It wasn’t easy to spend the money, but with so much at stake I had to go for it.
It turned out Ben was worth every penny. Actually, he was worth a trillion pennies! I shared Marietta’s comments and suggestions with Ben and he kept those in mind as he read my manuscript. Three weeks later, he sent a detailed critique and we scheduled a call.
Coincidentally, at that point I was taking an 8-week on-line master class on plot with editor Cheryl Klein. When Ben and I talked, he helped me see a new way to implement the suggestions Marietta had made. I was able to apply what I’d learned in Cheryl’s class and we spent the entire call brainstorming. I hung up with a plan. It was my “Aha!” moment.
I was on fire. It only took me two months to revise the manuscript and send it back to Ben. (Unbelievably, he’d agreed to reread it even though he’d just won the Edgar Award and was on a national tour for his newest book.)
And more good news - Ben said that finally, the story felt like “what it was trying to be all along.” In other words, it was ready for Marietta.
I sent the manuscript back to the same agent for the third – yes, the third – time. She said she looked forward to reading it and she hoped to respond within three weeks. I braced myself for the wait and started thinking of the next step I’d take if/when the rejection came.
A day later, my husband and I went to New York for a big night on the town. The next afternoon we were getting ready to head back to Boston, when I checked messages.
I was shocked to see an email from Marietta asking if we could talk. She said she had some questions. I was so distracted, my husband had to pull me out of the way of a speeding taxi!
I couldn’t imagine what Marietta’s questions were. She couldn’t possibly have read the manuscript so soon, so why would she have questions? I wrote her back and we scheduled a call for the following morning.
I could hardly sleep that night. I had visions of the Monty Python bridgekeeper asking riddles before I could cross the Bridge of Death. Did I know the capital of Assyria? Or the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?
The next morning my stomach was in knots. When Marietta asked how I was doing, I actually replied, “I’m totally nervous!”
But thankfully, she calmed me down immediately. She said she read the manuscript in one night and she loved it!
She talked about my characters like she knew them personally. Like she cared about them. We talked about things like age range and where the story might fit in the market. The conversation was so organic, I’m not exactly sure at which point she offered representation. All I know is I was so overjoyed, I couldn’t contain myself.
It had been 11 months after I’d first queried Marietta. It was a long quest, with lots of ups and downs, a stellar supporting cast, and a heroine who never gave up. But my story has a happy ending and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

The good news from Vicki gets even better. See the Publishers Weekly Rights Report from February 3, 2014 HERE! 

Writers, what’s the best feedback 
you’ve ever received from an agent?

I’ll share mine in the comments below.

Monday, February 3, 2014

When Your Writing Journey Becomes the Plot of a Novel

Two years ago, Judy Mintz introduced me to Victoria J. Coe at the NESCBWI Conference. Months later, we wound up moving about four blocks away from one another in the same town as Judy. Vicki is a talented writer, treasured critique partner, and friend... and she's got one heck of a story. 

When Your Writing Journey Becomes the Plot of a Novel
By Victoria J. Coe

You’ve read it before – a determined heroine sets out on a quest, fails, tries again, fails harder, hits bottom, has an “Aha!” moment, overcomes her character flaw, tries a third time and ultimately succeeds… or becomes the victim of a tragedy. When I first wrote my middle grade novel, I thought – that is, I hoped – my happy ending would come at the end of Act 1. Ha! Who would want to read a story like that?
              I spent ten months writing and revising. My first readers, including my critique group, teacher and classmates at Grub Street Boston, and critiquers at New England SCBWI helped me work on a huge number of issues. Everyone agreed the character and voice were special. I began to believe.
            I researched agents, whipped up a query, and started sending out batches of ten. All in all, I queried 50 agents and got five full requests. The first four were kind enough to offer comments, but it was obvious my manuscript wasn’t a good fit.
            At the bottom of the alphabet, Marietta B. Zacker of the Nancy Gallt Literary Agency ended up in my fifth batch. After researching the authors and books she represents, reading her interviews, and learning how highly-regarded and overall impressive she is, I was ecstatic when she became my fifth full request. I held out hope.
            Less than a week later, Marietta sent me the longest, most exciting rejection ever. She gushed about the character and the voice. She used the word “love.” Clearly, there was a connection.
But, she also said the plot and story development needed work. She made suggestions. She said she’d be more than happy to read a revision. She offered to talk if I had questions.
            In further emails and a phone conversation, Marietta and I shared a vision of what the story could become. I was determined to rewrite the manuscript and blow her socks off.
We kept in touch as I rewrote. With the help of two SCBWI critique groups, I revised again. Five months later, we all agreed it was ready. I sent the new and improved manuscript back to Marietta with sky high hopes.
Waiting was torture. 
Then, almost two months later, the email came. And it was bad news.
She agreed I’d dug out a stronger plot. She praised the changes I’d made. But, she said the story still wasn’t working. She actually said it pained her to write the words that she had to pass.
Talk about feeling devastated. It was the best chance ever with the best agent ever and then it was over. Just like that. After all that work.
Numb, I had no idea how to react. But I knew I had to thank Marietta for her incredible generosity and encouragement. She kindly responded that she’d be open to future submissions. And she’d even read this same manuscript again should I decide to revise a third time.
Yeah, right. How could I revise if I didn’t know what wasn’t working? And if it wasn’t working for Marietta, the agent who loved my character and my voice, it wasn’t going to work for anyone. I had two choices: 1) Give up, or 2) Get professional help.

This part of the story is called the cliffhanger. 
Tune in next week to find out what happens!

Writers, what has made you shelve a novel? 
What has made you stick with a novel?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Reaching Out--Reaching Potential

Last week I sniffled from a stupid cold. And it was cold out—some sort of vortex, which I think means “end of the world.”
My calendar read “Rebecca Stead—Lesley—7pm.”
A half hour before I was due to leave, I felt like the best friend, Cameron, in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

“I’m gonna go.”
“I’m not gonna go.”
“I’m too sick to go.”
“I can suffer through it.”
“I need rest.”

One of my favorite books is When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. It’s a book I’ll often mention when people think they’re too high brow to read middle grade.

And she would be only 20 minutes down the road.

Just like Cameron, I eventually went. I just hoped I didn’t wind up wrecking a Ferrari in the end. Because I drive an Outback, I had a 50% chance of not destroying a Ferrari. (I think that’s how probability works.)

My car GPS sent me to the wrong building. No matter. I used my phone. The cold made my phone die in two seconds. No problem—I’d ask the one person walking down the street on this frigid night.

She didn’t know where it was either.

Undaunted, I continued on. I found it! And they were selling books, so I could buy more copies to have autographed.

I'm lumpy under 3 layers next to Rebecca.

Rebecca Stead was lovely. After she read from her book, she took questions. She was honest about what she sees as her writing weaknesses and she was happy to share her journey.

1)   She takes a long time to complete a rough draft. It’s a process she’s learned to come to terms with. Forcing herself to write everyday doesn’t work for her. Sometimes she takes time off in between chapters. She handwrites during the day and types at night, so she’s not tempted to keep revising what she’s already written.

2)   She’d worked in law. Then she had kids and changed the job she had at the firm. It wasn’t a good fit for her. So she quit, thinking she’d find something else in a few months. Since she liked to write in the past, she decided to pick it up again. Her favorite books had been her childhood ones. She reread them and then asked a bookstore employee for new book recommendations.
3)   While working full time, she’d taken a class at the 92nd Street Y. A woman whose day job was editor took the class too. Rebecca and the woman hit it off.

4)   When Rebecca finished her first draft a year after reading those books, she sent it to the editor. The woman advised her to find other writers to learn how to structure a book.

5)   Rebecca made this very challenging at first. She and a few writers traveled through states once in a while to critique each other’s manuscripts. The process took her two years.

6)   She sent the manuscript back to the editor.
Good news: she loved it.
Bad news: it needed another year of revision with the editor.
That was First Light.

7)   After that, she wrote When You Reach Me, which one a Newbury. Then she wrote Liar and Spy. Now she’s working on her fourth novel.

I had an epiphany when I heard Rebecca speak. She knows it was luck that started that relationship between her and this editor. But the rest of it—the two years revising—was her hard work.

I’m going to confess: I’ve never spent 2 years revising a manuscript. I write it. I revise it. I hand it to people. I revise it more. I give it to more people. When the comments seem to be few and far between, I polish and query. This usually takes 1 year or less.

When I’ve queried it some number of times (which includes making changes based on rejections), I put the manuscript away and move on.

Maybe that’s not enough.

Part of me knew this already. I’ve found a few writers who have started critiquing something newer. They’ve given me more thorough critiques than I’m used to. Now they have my middle grade. A few months ago, I queried it sort of by accident. I hadn’t planned on querying it yet, but I stuck in on a forum to get feedback and an agent requested it. Then I pitched it for a contest. That got more agent interest. I received some nice comments, but they passed.

This manuscript had great meaning for me. It’s more than just an interesting premise. I want to give it every opportunity to succeed. So I’m bracing myself for the hard feedback to find out what’s wrong with it.

So I can make it better.

If I revise based on my group’s suggestions and I still don’t land an agent, then I’ll plan another course of action. Maybe that means hiring an independent editor—something I’ve been reluctant to do.

If I don’t believe in my story enough to make it the best it can possibly be, who else is going to believe in it?

I’m glad I braved a vortex, address issues, a dead phone battery, and a stuffy nose to meet Rebecca Stead. I got to tell her how much I loved her book. I didn’t expect to walk away with an epiphany, but you can’t really plan for those, can you?

 What writing epiphany have you had? 
What did you do about it?