DRAWN Haunt – Just Because You Can

Edinburgh - Writer's museumThe DRAWN Haunt party continues today with a post about how to tame all those big ideas into one tightly written book.

The DRAWN Haunt is a month-long celebration for my award-winning novel DRAWN‘s 5th anniversary. All October you’ll find here book-related posts about writing, romance, ghosts, time travel and more. To catch all the spooky DRAWN Haunt posts, explore the blog, and check back often or subscribe to this site (see bottom of this post for how).  And for more about my novel DRAWN, click here. 

DRAWN was a complicated novel for me to write, but it definitely taught me a lot. So here’s the most important thing I learned…

JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN

Fiction writers can create a story out of anything, and every character they put down on paper can have their own conflict, their own story line. This is both a blessing and a curse.

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In DRAWN, Marie Lamba deftly entwines romance and mystery, past and present, into a page-turning adventure. Buy it today and I promise you’ll be finished reading far too quickly! — Joy Nash, USA Today bestselling author

When writing my ghostly time-travel novel DRAWN, I knew I was creating what, for me, was a “big book.” Up to that point I’d been writing novels that took place within a tight one month time frame. My plots revolved around my town and were populated by people very familiar to me. “Write what you know,” they say, and I knew the worlds of my first two young adult novels WHAT I MEANT… and OVER MY HEAD very well. But DRAWN was a different sort of story.

Time is slippery in this time-travel book, involving a month-long time frame in the present, but also an eight-month long time frame in the past. The setting is present day AND 1460 England. I’m a bit familiar with modern England, having lived there for a semester and visited numerous times, but the past? Not so much. Intensive research was required. My characters in this new novel range from Italian-Americans, to British citizens, medieval lords and courtiers and servants. Add into this mix a plot line where the past and the future continues to be altered as our heroine travels back and forth in time and, well, you have a big book indeed.

And I struggled a bit to make sure it didn’t turn into one big mess. Which gets us to the heart of this post: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. I can’t tell you how many characters I spun out into entire story lines with their own scenes and character arcs…and some of these characters don’t even appear in the book anymore. You might think the solution is an outline, but even when using an outline it can be hard to tell just how far to go with a character’s story or to know which scenes might be important.

Sometimes the only solution is to write it through and then cut cut cut! Sure, you are doing a ton of character research by writing those extra scenes. But when the character ends up being barely a minor one, it becomes a case of TMI. You don’t need all, or sometimes any of that stuff. And by heading off here and there on wild plot chases, you are wasting time, wasting your energy, and muddying your own clear view of things.

In DRAWN, I’d created this character Guncha, who quickly became one of Michelle’s friends after Michelle moved to England. Guncha was gossipy and romantic-minded, so she was the perfect person to give Michelle the scoop on things, and to nudge her in matters of romance when Michelle finds herself stalked by an unknown guy who also, by the way, mysteriously appears in Michelle’s sketches. But when it came to Guncha, I didn’t stop there. Before I knew it, Michelle was visiting Guncha’s house, sleeping over, meeting her family, learning of Guncha’s conflicts with her traditional family. And Guncha was planning an escape with a secret and unsuitable boyfriend, etc. etc. etc. Nearly one hundred pages later, I realized that my story had naturally strayed far from its central focus: Michelle and her encounters with Christopher Newman, the hot medieval ghost with a sketchy past.

So, refocus and cut cut cut! In the final book we only see Guncha at school and at a carnival. There is no secret boyfriend. No family to speak of. And Michelle wishes she felt closer to her, but realizes that she just can’t share her own secrets with Guncha. How would Guncha ever understand that Michelle’s budding new relationship just might be with a ghost? As Guncha implores Michelle to tell, but secrets continue to build, the reader is in on the gossip instead of Guncha, which is fun. So in this case, I would have saved a ton of time if I could have decided up front not only that Guncha was going to be a minor character, but also what her true function in the plot would be. This is a biggie, because if I knew this I could have smacked my own hand every time I deviated from this mission.

Sounds good, right? But what if your extra character’s story parallels and weaves into the main plot, adding intrigue and mystery? Why wouldn’t you stray into that storyline?  DRAWN involves an ancient murder, and a chilling curse that still lingers in the town’s castle. In the book, the Wallingford Papers (based on the real Paston Letters…look ‘em up if you’re curious) are a series of preserved family letters dating back to the 1400s. They detail the history of the murder, and the heroism of the Wallingford ancestors. But are all the letters actually in the public record? And are they to be believed? This plot is essential to the book, involving the fate of the ghost and pretty much everyone in the story.

Okay, so doesn’t it seem obvious that a scholar could be at the heart of rooting out this mystery? Since the Wallingford family reputation (and much of their success) hinges on their heroic background, wouldn’t you expect that family to do anything to keep their family name clean? So, is it that crazy that I created a scholar who in the ‘50s uncovered their secrets and was about to go public with it, before an untimely death? Flash forward to the present, and I also created Mr. Llywelyn, a history teacher at Wallingford Academy (Michelle’s new school) who was related to this very scholar and who is also fighting to uncover the truth of the murder, the papers and the death of the scholar, and…

Cut cut CUT!!! Jeesh. Do you see how the fiction writer’s mind can spin and weave and deviate from the main story path, even while she is following that very same path? Yikes, it’s like entrapment I tell you. In the end I had to give a long hard look at the story elements that were most essential. Yes, I wanted a scholar who was silenced, but I decided that this scholar would have absolutely nothing to do with the history teacher. The scholar now has merely a mention, just enough to add to the danger and the gravity of the treacherous ancient secrets being kept. As for Mr. Llywelyn? Well, he’s Michelle’s history teacher, instructing the class about the very era Christopher the ghost inhabits. The teacher’s role is now limited to occasionally adding in a fact about the Wallingford Papers, about the dangers of living at that time, etc., thereby ramping up the tension for Michelle when she realizes what these facts mean to a ghost she’s starting to have spooky good feelings for. I had to focus on Michelle as the hero, as the person who solves the mystery and makes things happen. No way should this be relegated to another character.

So again, a supposed major-player was reduced to a few lines. Lines that were necessary and served the plot. And beyond that? Well, this just wasn’t his story.

Sometimes writing a book is a process, sometimes it’s an ordeal, but it’s only successful if we give our draft a hard look and decide if scenes are moving us forward, and if our deviations are truly creating the book we’d set out to write.

As I get further along in my writing career, I’m training myself to create a clearer story line and to force myself to stick to that path. If the story is complex enough, like DRAWN is, there is no need to deviate and take elaborate side trips into other character paths. It’s enough, while plotting, to stick to the main issues and simply ask myself: And then what? And then? And then?

The answers, surprisingly, can equal a rich and complex novel.

 

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

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DRAWN Haunt: Anytime but the Present

Signpost of TimeHappy Friday, DRAWN Haunt party style! The celebration of my award-winning novel DRAWN‘s 5-year-anniversary continues today with a post that’s all about time travel. If you could go anywhere…er, rather, anywhen, when would you choose? But first, a sale alert! ***Today is the last day to get the Kindle version of my romantic time travel novel DRAWN for just $1.99 by clicking here!   This special $1.99 celebration sale ends today, Friday 10/13 at 9 p.m.***

To catch all the spooky DRAWN Haunt posts this month, check back often or subscribe to this blog (see bottom of this post for how).  And for more about DRAWN, click here. 

So, if you could travel into the past (hello OUTLANDER fans!), would you go to…

ANYTIME BUT THE PRESENT

I’ve always been a sucker for a good time travel tale. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, The Time Traveler’s Wife, and A Knight in Shining Armor are all favorite books of mine.  And then there are the flicks: 13 Going on 30, 17 Again, Kate and Leopold, and the ultimate time travel movie Back to the Future.

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What I enjoyed the most was: the ease of the time traveling jumps and the imagery. Marie Lamba has taken the daunting task of creating two different worlds with different rules and done a breathtaking job…Drawn has a great concept and an even bigger message of hope and everlasting love.
— Moonlight Book Reviews

I think what I love most about time travel is the way it allows me to toy with what it’d be like to visit another time. Not to be someone who lived in that time long ago or far away, but to be myself encroaching on another world.  Whenever I visit an old building, a castle, or a ruin, I can’t help but wonder what the people were like back then. Were they very different? Would I connect with them somehow?

If you could go anywhere, or rather, anywhen, when would you go?

I’d end up smack-dab in the Middle Ages.  I’d love to see a fully functioning castle, and women whisking about in those elaborate gowns and pointy headpieces, and knights clanking in their armor, and foppish troubadours strumming lutes.

Honestly, that’s one of the fun things about being a writer — being able to bring your own imaginings to life.  In my novel Drawn, Michelle De Freccio is a practical person. She’s an artist, but still is someone firmly grounded in reality and the normal.  When she moves to England, she keeps drawing pictures of some guy. Then she starts bumping into him at the town’s castle. That’s when things start to get really strange.   Michelle refuses to believe he’s actually from another time, or that she’s no longer in the present. She’s convinced he’s just some nut, until this moment in the novel:

“Try taking your meds,” I tell him, stuffing these things back into my bag. “Try not wearing that cape and boots all the time. While you’re at it, why don’t you take up a hobby, like going to Star Wars conventions as a Jedi knight?” I hang the bag over my shoulder and grab my drawing pad. “I’m leaving and if you follow me, I swear to God I’ll scream and you’ll be in prison faster than you can say Society of Creative Anachronism. Got that?”

He flashes a half smile. He’s so attractive. He’s so cocky. I grit my teeth and back away. I’m near the steps. I turn, about to run down, when I see over the wall something far below. My heart seizes up.

No tourists. No tents. No cars. No parking lot. Just grass, a water-filled moat and a deep forest in the distance.

MP910218789From this point on, Michelle is forced to believe in things she never thought possible. Like the ability to connect with another time. Or how two people from such different times can feel so close. Of course Michelle and Christopher have serious differences in their beliefs and outlooks on life. Like in this scene:

He drinks a few handfuls of water, then sits back. “First you must tell me, do you support the House of York and the true and rightful king? Or are you with the so-called King Henry, that addlepated idiot who is not sane enough to know his own name?”

“You shouldn’t call him an idiot. He’s sick. Like your father was sick.”

“He is nothing like my father,” he says, indignant.

“I mean King Henry is mentally ill. It’s a sickness. It’s pretty sad.”

Christopher snorts, which seriously annoys me.

“Lots of people are mentally ill, Christopher. Lots of good people.” The tremble in my voice makes him look up. “If there was a cure, maybe he would get better and have this really great life.”

“Michelle, I happen to know for a fact that physicians have bled the king and attempted to drive out the demons that possess him, and to no avail.”

“That’s not science. It doesn’t fix anything. You know, some day in the future they’ll come up with all sorts of medicines and treatments that will—”

“You think too much.” He stacks his armor in a neat pile.

“And you don’t think enough. You are so, so…”

I’m about to say “medieval” when Christopher says, “So concerned about getting through every day alive.” He holds up the dented piece of armor to punctuate his point, then throws it clattering to the ground.

One of the most fun things about writing a time travel is tossing in modern stuff and contemporary comments into the mix.  Like when Michelle, after watching Back to the Future in her own time, goes to Christopher’s time with a book outlining all the battle outcomes of the 1400s. She tells him:

“This book holds all this information about what will happen. In the wrong hands, it could be disastrous. At least according to Hollywood.”

And Christopher responds, “I do not know of this Hollywood person…”

And what does happen with this book? If Christopher uses it, people will live who shouldn’t have, and others will die who shouldn’t have.  Quite a mess. Then there’s a scene when Christopher is unconscious from a battle wound, and Michelle tries to save his life with one of those impossibly tiny first aid kits people keep in their purses:

“Okay, modern science to the rescue.” I open the kit and inside are three Band-Aids, a Midol pill, a small foil tube of antibacterial cream and one alcohol wipe. That’s it. I sink onto the chair.

Throughout the novel, the couple faces a ton of challenges as they fall in love. How can they have any sort of life together when every time Michelle sees him, she’s changing destiny in dangerous way?  Plus Christopher is “no prince.” His life is intertwined with treachery and murder. And adding to their couple issues is this biggie: every time they kiss, she’s thrown back into her own time.

Can love overcome all of these problems? Should it? Drawn is my way of exploring these questions…and of getting completely lost in past.

 

***Remember, the $1.99 sale of DRAWN ends today, 10/13 at 9 p.m. To take advance of this special DRAWN Haunt celebration price, Click here!

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

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DRAWN Haunt – Definitely Not Normal

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…a wonderfully spooky tale of romance and discovery. It’s a magical exploration of the unconquerable power of love. Highly recommended!
— Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestseller

DRAWN Haunt month continues today with a post about some truly ghostly occurrences, but first – here’s a special limited-time deal! ***Get the Kindle version of my award-winning time-travel novel DRAWN for just 99 cents by clicking here!  Note: Sale is ONLY today 10/9 through this Wednesday 10/11 at 8 p.m. The regular price is $3.99, so grab this 99-cent-deal fast before it disappears into the dark and spooky night.***

The DRAWN Haunt is the month-long celebration I’m having here in honor of DRAWN‘s 5th anniversary. To catch all the spooky posts check back often or subscribe to this blog (see bottom of this post for how).  And for more about DRAWN, click here.

Now for today’s DRAWN Haunt post…

DEFINITELY NOT NORMAL

…my eyes again stray to the drawing of that guy. In the sketch I can now see the very edge of his cheek. It’s as if he’s just turned ever so slightly toward me.

But that’s crazy.

In my novel Drawn, young teen artist Michelle De Freccio moves with her dad to England hoping for a more normal life. In England, no one will know that back in New Jersey everyone calls her family the De Freakos. They won’t know about her supposedly psychic mother (A.K.A. Madame Florabunda) or her mentally ill brother.  But when Michelle starts drawing a medieval ghost, and then she meets him and falls for him, well clearly nothing is going to be normal again.

The thing is, while Michelle is looking so hard for normal, I find I’m actually doing the opposite.  I can’t say I’m a believer in ghosts or the paranormal, but I’d really REALLY like to be. Show me, I think. Prove it.

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Christopher from DRAWN. Illustration by Marie Lamba (copyrighted material)

Like Michelle in my novel, I’m an artist too. Maybe that’s why a particular guest speaker I heard way back in high school made such an impression on me.  It was a woman who created colorful oil paintings of the Hermitage, a Colonial-era mansion in Hohokus, NJ.  She pointed to the shadows in one painting, the stairway in another, the roof tiles in still another.  “See?” she’d said.  “See the figures?”

I drew in my breath. I did see. In one painting dappled shadows revealed a Colonial soldier in military regalia. In another, a bride seemed to materialize on the stairway, her image woven into the wall texture.  In an exterior painting, a few roof tiles were shaped into a face, the expression leering, malevolent.  The artist claimed she never intended to paint any of this, that she didn’t see these figures until the painting was completed. That she was clearly channeling spirits through her art.

My first thought was: Cool!  I want to do that.  I want to go there and pull out my charcoal and find these spirits materializing in the shadows of my own sketches. But of course my next instinct was to narrow my eyes and scrutinize the painter. She seemed sweet, grandmotherly, but was she nutty?  Well of course she was, I thought.

Hey, even Elijah Rosencrantz, a resident of the Hermitage in the early 1800s, thought ghosts were a lot of phooey. According to the website thehermitage.org, he wrote a statement titled “If the Hangings Flutter,” saying supernatural beliefs were “absurdities,” something to only be believed by “persons of the lower classes and from poor early education.”  Hm, then again, what if Elijah became a ghost himself?  I bet he’d be beyond pissed.  Maybe that explains that angry spirit leering from the roof tile…

I guess the question I want to ask everyone is: Is it normal to hope, yet disbelieve?

tombphotoIs it normal to travel the world exploring graveyards? Because I’ve done that. I’ve sketched tombs throughout England and visited crypts in Italy and wandered through ancient cenotaphs in India, fascinated by the culture of death, the promise of the supernatural. The cold breeze on my neck could have been a ghostly breath, right? The orbs in photos might have been dust, but what if they weren’t?  A few years ago my daughter visited Greece and sent me this picture.  Take a good close look. You see the orbs, right?  And the FACES IN THE ORBS?  I pointed this out to my daughter who wrote back freaked out saying, “THIS IS A TOMB!”

But is this proof? I’m still not completely convinced myself.

Wouldn’t you give anything to have some undeniable proof? Do you dream of going on a ghost tour in a castle? Do you watch ghost-hunting shows hoping that it won’t be silly? Do you get lost in novels laced with the supernatural?  The Woman in White, Dracula, The Picture of Dorian Gray, even The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman?

Well, I do. But of course artists are a little out there, anyway.  Writers too.  Especially writers. We spend all day hearing voices that aren’t there. Writing things that haven’t happened as if they did.

So, yeah, maybe that’s partly why I wrote Drawn.  Why I have my main character meet a ghost and step into his world. Why the final scenes are in a castle dungeon during a ghost tour.  Because I’m a little out there.  And because, unlike my main character Michelle, I’m not looking for normal. I’m hoping for the weird, the strange, the haunting.

Aren’t you?

***Remember, the 99 cent sale of DRAWN only runs today through this Wednesday, 10/11 at 8 p.m. Click here!

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

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DRAWN Haunt – Writing Magic

October is DRAWN MP900414028Haunt Month here, in celebration of the 5th anniversary of my award-winning ghostly time-travel novel DRAWN. To catch every haunted bit, check back often, or follow my blog (see bottom of this post). And for more about DRAWN and how to order your own copy, click here.

Now, the haunting continues! Today I talk about…

WRITING MAGIC

We writers have the best job in the world.  We get to perform magic, to make things mysteriously appear out of nowhere.  All writers do this when they write fiction, but when we are writing actual fantasy scenes, well, that’s more magical than ever.

The trick, as with all magic, is making the audience believe. In my novel Drawn, the main character Michelle De Freccio is an artist that draws and then meets Christopher, a hot medieval ghost with a sketchy past.  Okay, so you have to suspend some disbelief when

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The characters are all wonderful, filling in two worlds with real people and making you feel like you’re there. The main romance is heartrendingly sweet and will curl your toes.
Clean Romance Reviews

you read books like this, but my job is to make everything as credible as possible.  I didn’t want to create something goofy, but a novel that is gripping and that feels very real. A story that truly draws you in. To do this, I grounded as much as I could in a gritty reality, and only put in a few spare touches of magic.

On the reality front, it helps to have a character like Michelle who is a born skeptic, and a cynical Jersey-girl to boot. She’s hoping to start over in England and have a more normal life (back in New Jersey everyone called the De Freccio’s the De Freakos…her family has an odd background and she was labeled a freak).

Even Christopher, who is technically a ghost to Michelle, is a realist living in his own world in the 1400s. Convincing both of them that they are linked in a time traveling relationship isn’t easy. People who are skeptics need some undeniable proof…and a touch of magic, like in this scene from the book, narrated by Michelle, when she realizes she’s truly in another time and invisible, among other things:

But Thomas Haston’s vision remains barely focused on Christopher. “Yes, master.” He bows his head. “I shall grab the reins.”

He hurries toward us. Straight toward me. He must be completely blind, because he’s going to walk right into me.

“Watch it,” I say.

He doesn’t walk into me. He walks through me. Like I’m a stream to be waded through. My skin feels itchy and a nasty saltiness fills my mouth. Christopher releases me and looks at me with horror. I look at my hands, expecting them to be see-through, but they’re solid. “What the hell?” I say.

“What in hell,” he says, his voice barely a whisper.

So who is the ghost here, and what, exactly is going on?  Here’s the end to that scene:

Christopher takes both my hands, gingerly, as if he’s afraid they’ll burst into flames. “What are you? A sprite? A spirit? A phantom?”

“I’m a freak,” I say. And burst into tears.

MP900444287While much of Drawn is based in realistic scenes, whether in the present or in the distant past, there are a few times when I really get to flex my magic muscles. One of my favorite moments happens when Michelle brings a book with her into the past, a book that reveals all the battle outcomes in the 1400s.  While Christopher would be able to use this information to his advantage, this will clearly mess with destiny.  Some things are just not meant to happen, so:

I run my finger over the text to where I left off. “The Duke, misreading his opponent, brought his forces for the Christmastime to the castle of…” Suddenly the page looks different. More white space. Less words.

“The castle of?” Christopher prompts.

I try to focus on the words. “…for the Christmastime to the castle of Sandall, but…” Something seems to move across the paper. My skin crawls, as I slide my eyes downward. I watch with horror as the letters at the bottom of the page disappear one by one.

I flip the page. Letters disappear from the bottom here, too. The white of the paper grows, eating away at the words. Frantic, I flip back to the page I was just reading. Completely blank. “Oh God.”

“What is wrong?” Christopher tries to sit up.

I flip ahead a few pages. Two paragraphs are left. I quickly read, “Henry’s forces had been gathering throughout the area for some time and the land was heavily for—” The rest of that word is gone, as is the rest of the writing on that page.

“Why did you stop?” Christopher says and peers at the book. He draws in his breath as the words I’d just read vanish like a fabric unwound by a pulled thread.

 

Every novel with a fantasy element must have its own set of rules.  In Drawn, messing with destiny can be killer, literally. The history book with its unraveling writing sends up a warning to Michelle, but she disturbs destiny anyway, and winds up putting Christopher’s fate in horrific danger…  Okay, I can’t say anything more about that without spilling too much about the story.

But I can say one other thing about writing magic: If you put a very real moment right up against a magical one, the contrasts can create a seriously strong scene. In this scene from Drawn, Michelle is in her own time being attacked by a bunch of thugs from “the wrong side of Castle Road”:

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Original cover for DRAWN (cover illustration by Marie Lamba)

As rough hands drag me off the sidewalk, I shriek “Christopher!”

They laugh. “Calling your posh boyfriend?” Bobby says. “Guess he can have you when we’re through.”

I close my eyes and hear a scream. It’s not me.

My eyes fly open. Bobby cradles his arm. Blood seeps through his fingers. “Who did that?” He looks around wildly.

I back away and another guy tries to grab at me. He shrieks as his thumb is sliced off, seemingly by nothing. It lands bloody beside me. I catch a glimpse of a rusty truck in the street before I close my eyes and curl up in a ball. Tears streak my face.

There’s more terrified screaming, then I hear them run away.

“Michelle. Michelle?” someone says and touches me. I whimper. “It is okay. I came. They will not hurt you now.” I feel the hand rub my arm and he says, “Shh now. Shh.”

I dare to open my eyes and there is Christopher kneeling beside me, a blood-smeared sword in his right hand. He drops the sword and gathers me into his arms.

 

For some reason, this scene always gives me the shivers.  I guess I’ve always been a sucker for a brave hero in tall boots.  Now that’s magic!

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

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Agent Monday: Fix those Pitch and Query Mistakes!

yes - notepad & penHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  Conference season is heating up, and New York publishing is back in full force after a sleepy end of summer.  That means it’s time for writers to put their manuscripts in front of agents! Whether through a query or through an in-person pitch, you only get a short time to impress an agent. Are you spoiling your chances by bungling this or are you pitching and querying like a pro? If this is your first time out there, or if you aren’t getting the responses you’d like from agents, it may be time to fix those pitch and query mistakes!

Pitch times with agents are brief – anywhere from 15 minutes to 1 minute.  Yet a frequent mistake I see is a writer who eats up that time telling me WHY they wrote this story, or HOW it is told in first person or through alternate viewpoints, or…  Mistake!  Have you ever picked up a novel and bought it for those reasons? It’s all about the story – at least at first. So guess what you should focus on in that brief pitch? Yup – the story.

As a literary agent, I’ve seen, oh, thousands of queries. What’s a frequent mistake writers make? Their description of their book goes on and on for paragraphs. I don’t have the time to read so many long queries, but the real turn off for agents is that these long descriptions are often full of unneeded info, and tend to lack zing. This is writing that needs tightening, and that makes a plot feel unclear and unexciting. So if your book description in your query goes on for several paragraphs, it’s time to give your query letter a serious edit.

These are just a few important changes to your pitching and querying skills that might make a big difference when you try to interest an agent in representing you. If you would like to learn more, Associate Literary Agent Cari Lamba and I are offering a live Webinar through Writer’s Digest called HOW TO PITCH AND QUERY LIKE A PRO: TIPS AND TECHNIQUES THAT MAKE AGENTS TAKE NOTICE. Register for this, and you’ll attend our webinar online where we will show the ins and outs of what does and doesn’t work when it comes to pitching and querying agents. The webinar also includes a live Q&A with us where every question asked by participants is answered. And it includes a personal critique from us of your own query letter and the first 5 pages of your novel.  The cost for all of this is $89.99, and it’ll sharpen your skills before you spend far more on conferences or waste any more valuable time with an ineffective query letter. Be sure to register before the October 19th date! Note that although the Webinar begins live at 1 p.m. on the 19th, you don’t have to attend it live to view it and have the critique – so no worries there. Webinars, of course, are great because you don’t have to travel to attend, can attend in your jammies if you’d like, and you’ll have the recorded session after the live event to refer to again and again. If you’d like to find out more about the HOW TO PITCH AND QUERY LIKE A PRO Webinar, or would like to register for this, click here.

Hope to “see” you then!

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her Agent Monday posts, subscribe to her site.

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Agent Monday: Meet New Agent Cari Lamba!

Cari LambaHappy Agent Monday, everyone! Today I’m so excited to have an interview with Cari Lamba, the new Associate Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. She’s actively building her client list, so if you are looking for an agent, you’ll find this especially useful. Cari is awesome, and I should know —  since she’s my daughter.

Welcome, Cari! And thanks so much for stopping by and answering questions for us. Can you give us an example of one of your favorite books in each category that you represent, and why it’s your favorite?

For middle-grade fiction I love any Roald Dahl books, A Series of Unfortunate Events, and the Artemis Fowl series, all for the same reason – they’re clever books. I really appreciate novels that have childlike wonder, while also having well thought out plots and witty characters that will make you think and feel for them. In fiction, and specifically mystery, I’m hooked on the classic mystery novels of Agatha Christie. The plotting and twists keep me guessing, and I want to find something that will draw me into the characters like Christie does. I’m also a fan of the bloodless murder mysteries that focus more on plot than on the crime. I also love the humor that Janet Evanovich brings to her Stephanie Plum novels, which kept me with the characters for so many books.

To help folks understand your point of view, what are some of your favorite TV shows and Movies?

One of my favorite TV shows is Parks and Rec; I’ve watched it through so many times. Leslie Knope is one of my all-time favorite characters and I would love to see a book that reflects her strong and caring spirit. I also absolutely love Sherlock. As for movies, I’m all about the chick flicks. Easy A and Crazy Stupid Love are two of my favorites. I also really enjoy a movie that will make me think, like The Imitation Game.

What’s in your reading pile?

Right now I’m reading the Eyre Affair, which combines two things I love: a good mystery and Victorian novels.

You have a long history with books – as a reader, as a book promoter and event organizer, as an intern, and as a journal editor, and you’ve had an unusual view of the writing and agenting world. Can you share some details about this, and how it’s shaped who you are now as an agent and as someone working with authors?

So I’ve been fortunate enough to have always been around books and to have worked with many authors. I studied literature at Franklin and Marshall College and at the abroad program, Advanced Studies in England. I also have a lot of practical knowledge doing things like setting up and running events for authors, doing social media promotion, and reviewing the marketability of books. I think that it helps me to see both sides of the publishing world: the business and the craft part. Both sides are needed in order to make a book successful.

How did you get into agenting?

I became a reader for Jennifer De Chiara when I was in high school, and at the time it was more about just reading than about having an interest in the business. As time went on I found that I really loved being involved in the process of making a book successful. I knew that this was what I wanted to do.

What types of projects are you representing? Anything you are especially hoping to find in your inbox?

I’m looking to represent middle grade fiction, and adult commercial fiction. I’m really hoping for something that ties the culinary world into a mystery. I’m obsessed with Food Network and I’d be very excited about finding something that involves elements of that world . I would also love to see middle-grade and adult fiction that have really sharp and witty female main characters. For more specifics about what I do and don’t want, folks can visit my submission guidelines here.

You’ve interned with the agency for 8 years. Over that time, you’ve seen a wide range of query letters and requested manuscripts, so…

What makes a successful query to you?

Simply following the submission guidelines. I also like to see that the author has done their homework and shows that they are querying me because they really do think we’d be a good fit together. Also, using the first person. It’s a query, not a biography.

What are some common query mistakes that will result in an immediate rejection?

Well, I’ve already had a few queries come in for genres that I just don’t represent yet. It’s so easy to check if an agent represents your genre. Following that, if the author clearly hasn’t read the guidelines and does something like attaches the whole manuscript, or doesn’t even paste sample pages in the email (as my guidelines allow), it’s going to be a no from me. Also if there are any typos anywhere in the email or in the following pages, it shows me the author isn’t ready, and I can safely assume the manuscript isn’t going to be in good shape.

When you were an intern, what made you recommend a manuscript for representation?

If I thought that the manuscript was able to combine a well-written story with an intriguing plot and characters that I really cared about, then that manuscript was recommended. It didn’t always have to have an element of humor or wit, but it did have to make me care about what was going to happen, and be original in plot.

How did requested manuscripts make it past the query stage, and first 20 pages read, but then wind up rejected when you saw the full?

There are actually a lot of ways that a manuscript can end up being rejected after being requested for the full manuscript. There is only so much you can tell from the first 20 pages. So if the plot then falls apart, or becomes too predictable, or I end up not liking the characters enough, that manuscript is a no go. The manuscript needs to live up to what it promised in the first 20 pages.

Do you think you’ll be a very editorial agent? What does that mean to you?

If I think a manuscript is worth the time and effort, I will help the author get it to where we both think it needs to be to sell. But it has to be a novel that really draws me in before I get to that point. Being an editorial agent means that you want to help the author, which is what I will be doing, but not with line edits or grammar mistakes that should have already been cleaned up.

What is your idea of an ideal client?

I think my ideal client is an author who is passionate about their work, while also understanding that it is a business. We would be able to talk through both the craft and business side of things with ease.

Where can folks go to follow you online?

I have a twitter account that is open for anyone to follow that I’ll be keeping up to date on all things literary with a side of sass every now and then: @CariLamba

Your link for submission guidelines?

https://www.jdlit.com/cari-lamba

Anything else you’d like people to know about you?

Just that I’m very excited to see the projects that come my way!

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Cari!

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her Agent Monday posts, subscribe to her site.

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Agent Monday: 6 “To Do’s” if You Write

Mixed Race girl on floor with a computerHappy Agent Monday, everyone! I know, I know — it’s been a while since I’ve posted here. But I have been SO busy in a really good way with doing agenty stuff. Okay, so I’m STILL really busy, but I do think it’s time to get our Agent Monday show back on the road, don’t you? So here is my “6 To Do’s if You Write” post. Are you doing these 6 things? And if not, shouldn’t you?

Last week, I was honored to be the featured speaker at Franklin & Marshall College’s Philadelphia Alumni Writers House. As I prepped for my talk, I began to think about what would have helped me when I was in college. Back then, becoming a published author still felt like a distant dream. As an aspiring author, what I really needed were guideposts that would help me truly get where I wanted to be.

Now looking back, I realize there were 6 things I did that definitely helped me achieve my dream of being a published author, plus these ensured that writing would be my life-long career. I hope this list will help you, whether you are just starting out, or are in the thick of things, yet feeling stuck.:

  • IDENTIFY YOURSELF AS A WRITER – Even if it doesn’t seem to make sense, believe that you ARE a writer. Tell yourself that, and tell that to everyone you know.
  • DON’T BE DETERRED – Plenty of things will get in your way…lack of support…writing that isn’t quite ready for prime time…tons of rejections. Just remember that the only thing that can really stop you from writing is you.
  • BE STUBBORN — BUT NOT TOO STUBBORN – Yes, believe in your voice and vision, and persist in getting your work out there. BUT also be open to revision and constructive criticism. And move on to write the next book, and the next.
  • EXPECT MAJOR SETBACKS – AND TAKE A LONG VIEW OF THINGS – Bad things will happen in your writing life and in your personal life. REALLY bad things. But see what you can take from them and look ahead. You can get beyond it (see Don’t Be Deterred above).
  • MAKE IT WORK IN THE REAL WORLD – Realize that there is nothing romantic about a starving writer. Fit writing in, live within reasonable means, AND find a way to make money. Most published authors do this.
  • KNOW THAT WRITING IS AN ART, BUT PUBLISHING IS A BUSINESS – While your writing is very personal to you, for publishers it’s a way to make money. If they pass on acquiring your work, it’s not personal, it’s business. Learn how to act professionally (lots of posts on this blog will help you with that), and it’ll help you share your art with the world. And don’t forget to be appreciative to those on your team. Publishing is made up of humans – a lovely thank you goes a long way!

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her Agent Monday posts, subscribe to her site.

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