DRAWN Haunt – Catching a Spirit

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A Night Owl Reviews Top Pick: This is a thoroughly enchanting novel. The characters are beautifully written, and the story is witty, charming, and an utter delight to read. I could not put it down. This is a fantastic romantic and tender story that will continue to enchant readers for years to come.”

October means dark chilly nights and ghostly goings on. So I say lets have some spooky fun here! I’m declaring this DRAWN Haunt Month in celebration of my award winning novel DRAWN‘s 5-year anniversary. It now has a brand new cover, and every day it’s being found by more and more new readers, including OUTLANDER fans looking for the next smart time-travel romance. I’m so happy that my book is still making readers swoon!

Throughout October I’ll be featuring special DRAWN-related posts about magic, fantasy, spirits, romance, writing, and time-travel (plus some special deals). So cozy up and enjoy the DRAWN haunting! And if you want your own copy of DRAWN to read as you sip hot cider by a crackling fireplace, order your copy by clicking here.

Now let’s kick off the fun with…

CATCHING A SPIRIT

There’s something about touching a letter that was handwritten hundreds of years ago. Or walking through an old graveyard at dusk. Or exploring the abandoned corridors of a musty medieval castle. At these moments, the barrier between the present and the past feels as thin as a sheer veil. The people of those long ago times seem almost palpable. Have you ever felt this?

In a castle I notice the worn steps, the ancient graffiti cut into a wall, and to me the air is suddenly thick with long lost memories, heartaches, whispers.  With people not so different from us. If only I could turn a corner fast enough, maybe I’d catch them unaware. That breathless maiden racing up the staircase to meet her lover. That young knight trying to swallow down the fear of his first battle. With his dagger he etches his initials in the coarse stone wall.  He wishes to be remembered…

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As an artist myself, I made sketches of my hero Christopher as I was working on DRAWN. Here’s one I imagined Michelle might have made in her sketchbook. (Drawing by Marie Lamba – note: copyrighted material)

I guess you could say Drawn is my way of finally catching a spirit by his sleeve, and really getting to know him. In my novel, Michelle De Freccio first draws a mysterious young man in her sketch pad. And later, when she runs into him, she does far more than catch his sleeve – she captures his heart.  At first she definitely doesn’t realize just who and what this guy is. But by the end of the novel she’ll learn just how close the past really can be.

Here’s a glimpse of their first meeting for you. Enjoy!

Excerpt from Drawn:

The smell of cinnamon fills the air. Past the tapestry, a very narrow flight of stone stairs leads toward a dim light. I immediately decide I won’t go up. It’s too confining.

But the cinnamon smells even stronger here. It makes me think of warm cookies and my home from a long, long time ago. I change my mind and climb the steps. A small alcove is at the top and someone sits at a wooden table with his back to me. He studies a paper by candlelight. His auburn hair reaches his shoulders and he looks familiar.

With a jolt I remember the drawing of that guy in my sketchbook. To get his attention, I clear my throat.

In an instant, he stands, grabs my arm and shoves me against the wall. His face is close. His eyes filled with fury.

Sharp stones bite into my back. Tears spring into my eyes. “Let go!” I shout. I try to pull from his grip.

His glare softens, his grip loosens. “Forgive me. I thought…”

“You thought what?” I pull my arm from him.

He takes a step back. “I beg your pardon. I was taken by surprise. There have been dangers…”

I’m rubbing my arm. Blinking away tears.

“I have hurt you.” His voice is surprisingly gentle. He’s around my age and wears a brown woolen cape over an emerald-green tunic that fits him better than most of the rental costumes I’d seen tonight. His square jaw and strong chin add ruggedness to his face, and his eyes…

His eyes are studying me. I feel my cheeks burn. “It’s okay,” I say. “I’m fine.”

“Let us begin anew. I am Christopher.” He bows his head.

“I’m Michelle.”

“Please, join me.” He pulls out the only other chair.

“Oh.” The space around us feels tight. “I don’t think—”

“Please,” he says.

So I sit. He shakes back his hair and sits beside me. I notice the fine gold embroidery around the wrists of his tunic, the bear-shaped golden clasp that holds the cape around his shoulders. “You really look authentic.”

“Do I?” He seems confused. His eyes are a strange pale green. Like the color of a glow stick just before it fades. Then again, maybe this is just from the reflection of the candlelight.

“Yeah, this is great.” I wave my hand toward his outfit. The candle flickers. “Much more authentic even than the prince or the king.”

His jaw tightens. “Be careful of what you speak, Milady.”

“Careful? Why?”

He rests his chin on his fist. “You are obviously a newcomer, and a delightful one at that.”

“Really?” I rest my chin on my fist too.

“And your words have a most unusual quality.” He leans closer.

“It’s just a plain old Jersey accent.”

“Jersey? I think it is lovely.”

“You do? Huh.”

“I do,” he says, very, very softly.

He leans in even closer.

It’s crazy but I find myself leaning toward him, as if I’m drawn. My heart pounds. The smell of cinnamon saturates the air. I wonder if his lips will be soft like his voice, warm like fresh cookies. Sweet. He closes his eyes. My heart races. Our lips nearly touch when an icy blast blows through the room, ruffles the papers, snuffs out the candle and leaves us both in the dark. The smallness of the room seems to close in around me. I give a nervous laugh. “At least I’m not alone, right?” When he doesn’t answer, I reach out my hand.

He’s gone.

*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: 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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Agent Monday: Novel Editing…and News!

MP900446418Agent Monday time…sending out a collective hug to everyone!

Here are some updates…I’m putting my final touches on my Writer’s Digest Webinar How to Revise Your Novel for Submission: Self-Editing Techniques that Work, which will be held live, this Thursday (11/17/16) at 2 p.m. (though you don’t have to attend it live to get the Webinar). In this class, I’ll draw on my experiences as both a novelist and a literary agent, and share with participants a solid system for making their manuscripts the best they can be. Here’s what the Webinar includes: 90 minute online class with me; all questions sent to me by participants during the Webinar answered; afterwards, send the first 5 pages of your novel, and I’ll read your pages and give you written comments about them. The price is just $89.99 (significantly less than most writer’s conferences) and registration is still open. So do you have a novel you’re working on, or one that needs revision? Definitely check this out by clicking here.

green-green-front-coverIn other news… I’m happy to report that my first picture book, GREEN GREEN (Farrar Straus Giroux), is now up for pre-orders online everywhere (its publication date is May 9th). It’s co-authored with my husband, Landscape Architect Baldev Lamba, and we are both in love with the gorgeous illustrations by accomplished artist Sonia Sanchez. This picture book is a fun celebration of community gardening. If you’d like more info, or want to pre-order, just click here.

AND I’m happy to report one more bit of joyous news… the deal for my newest picture book, A DAY SO GRAY, was announced. It will be published by Clarion Books (date yet to be set), and it’s all about finding color, and joy, within a gray winter landscape.

Have a great week, everyone. I hope you each find joy in even the bleakest of winter days. And perhaps I’ll get to chat with you on Thursday during the Webinar!

*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: 3 Things I’m Searching for in Fiction

Businesswoman standing on a ladder looking through binocularsHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  With last week’s blizzard a distant icy memory, it’s time to dig into my submission inbox – hoping for some hot fiction I can represent. Often, though, submissions look so promising on one front, but don’t deliver on another. So I thought I’d share what I’m looking for in that “total package,” in case it’ll help you amp up your own fiction into that coveted must read for agents and readers alike. So here are the 3 things I’m searching for in submissions…

1. An Intriguing Idea

I know, duh, right? But this is essential. When I read what the book is about, I want to think: Oooo, that’s interesting! Not: Oh, THAT again? Or: And? I care because? If your idea is ho-hum, this presents a huge challenge for you the writer. Also, your idea should be handled in a fresh way that only you will show me.

2. Skill

Double duh. BUT, so very often I find that intriguing idea and think, “Yes!  This is something I’d love to read. So excited!” Then I start to read the manuscript and find the writer’s craft is lacking. They have a great idea, but can’t carry it off.

3. Follow Through

Writer’s that have an intriguing idea, and demonstrate skillful craft, must still be able to take that idea, and, with skill, develop it into a satisfying read to the very end. Too often, manuscripts start off well, and then plateau and disappoint. A great manuscript must promise something great to the reader, show skill, and then, and here’s the real key, deliver even more than what the reader had anticipated.

So a great manuscript grows that intriguing idea. The writer’s style and personality works perfectly with that idea to truly create a world and show us something even more insightful, moving, and or unique than we’d ever anticipated. That writer has truly taken us on a journey. We end the read more than satisfied. We are amazed.

What I’m often seeing are manuscripts that give me #1, but not #2. Or #2 but not #1. And when #1 and #2 are in place, #3 is missing. As an agent and a reader, I need all three elements in place. And when I find them, it’s reading magic.

Need some examples of projects that snagged my attention on all three fronts? Here are just a few from our client list:

Adult fiction:
DAUGHTER OF AUSTRALIA by Harmony Verna (releasing through Kensington this March)

Young adult fiction:
MENDING HORSES by M.P. Barker (Holiday House)

Middle grade fiction:
ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG FAT QUITTER by Carmella Van Vleet (Holiday House)
THE JUMBIES by Tracey Baptiste (Algonquin Books for Young Readers)
THE FRIENDSHIP EXPERIMENT by Erin Teagan (releasing through Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Fall 2016)

Picture book:
TO THE STARS! by Carmella Van Vleet and Dr. Kathy Sullivan (Charlesbridge)

As a writer myself, I strive for those 3 elements in my own fiction, and work hard to hold myself to those standards whenever I dive into my own fictional worlds. If you want to check out my YA novels, here are the links:

DRAWN by Marie Lamba
OVER MY HEAD by Marie Lamba
WHAT I MEANT… by Marie Lamba (Random House)

And coming in 2017, is my picture book:

GREEN GREEN (Farrar Straus Giroux) by Marie Lamba and Baldev Lamba, illustrated by Sonia Sanchez

 

*Marie is an Associate 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 by clicking on the Follow link located on her page on the upper left margin.

 

 

 

 

 

Agent Monday: First Impressions

MP900438811Hey gang!  Happy Agent Monday, once again.  This upcoming weekend I’ll be taking pitches at The Liberty States Fiction Writers Conference. Taking pitches allows the writer to set up the purpose of their book, and for me to ask questions to fill in holes that remain in just what the book is about and why it stands out. This past weekend, however, I was doing something entirely different: critiquing first pages.  It was at a special Writer’s Tea hosted by the Bucks County Romance Writers group at my fab local indie bookstore Doylestown Bookshop. In many ways it was the exact opposite of a pitch: I didn’t know the writer, or the genre, or the overall arc of the story. There were just words on the page. And they pointed out one thing loud and clear: the importance of first impressions!

By looking at the first page alone, the words really had to do the job. Is your first page working for your manuscript? Reading a book is an investment in time, so that first page needed to answer this question: Why do I want to take this long journey with you?

Often, when the writer came to hear the critique (which was delivered one on one), they said to me, “It really gets going on page two,” or “the book takes off in chapter three.” Hm. Now I don’t need to have the full action or plot poured out into the very first page, but what I do want to see is something that makes me think: “Turn the page. I have to see where this is going!” Now that can be a wide range of things from an interesting point of view, or an intriguing voice, or a question I care about that I’d like to see answered.  All sorts of things can draw me in, so don’t feel you need to squeeze in that life changing moment into the first two paragraphs!

Sometimes writers use their first few pages, or even chapters, as a sort of throat-clearing warming up getting into things exercise. I say that’s fine for your draft, but then ask yourself: When do things really begin? And start the final polished draft there!

Here’s why a great start matters: If an agent is not drawn in by your opening pages, they will probably stop reading. If the agent sends a manuscript like this to an editor, the editor may stop reading. Why does this all happen? It’s up to the writer at the get-go to nail the structure and pacing of their novel. Agents and editors see a ton of books by writers who DO get this right, so they must ask themselves: Do I really want to spend time fixing all of this for the writer, or do I move on? Remember, in books that are tightly paced and structurally sound, there is often still plenty of editing that will be needed. It’s WORK and TIME and we folks must ask ourselves where to invest our limited time and resources. It is a business, right?  In the end, we all think about the consumer, the reader of the published novel. Think about it. How do YOU buy books? Don’t you often read the first page or few pages to see if it’s worth purchasing?

But wait wait wait, Marie! (some of you may be thinking right about now)… Don’t agents and editors KNOW that writers sometimes take a while to get started and skip ahead to see if the story picks up? As a writer, I remember hearing that bit of wisdom once upon a time. And maybe it was true once upon a time when an agent or editor actually had a paper manuscript land on their desk. Today? We get things via email. Electronic files we load onto our computers or ereaders. We read from page one on. If I find myself skimming ahead because I’m bored, that’s a serious red flag to me, and zooming ahead 25 or 50 pages? Honestly, I just don’t.  I won’t stick with your book unless YOU make me want to stick around. That’s all about the power of your words.

So back to those first page crits I just did… Some of the things that I saw that didn’t make me anxious to see page two included:

1. A ton of dialogue or first person thoughts that didn’t have a voice to them or point of view. Is this a woman? A kid? Who is talking or thinking and why do I care? Some hint would certainly help!

2. A ton of info. Blocks of prose that gave all sorts of info about the backstory. Do I need backstory when I still don’t know what the story is? Again, what draws me in?

3. Repetition. Saying the same thing in several different ways right on page one hints to me that this is a work that needs tightening, plus it doesn’t move the story along.

What worked in those first pages?

1. Voice! When I had an immediate grasp of the writer’s/character’s voice, and I liked it for some reason, I was willing to continue on the journey (and even forgive some rough spots).

2. Originality! Okay, so maybe that first page wasn’t perfect, but what an interesting situation! Yeah, I’ll turn that page.

3. Elegance! Show me some sign that you are a skilled writer, whether beauty in the prose or sharp wit or something that makes me nod and think, yup, I get that, or wow, the writer’s right about that and I never saw it that way… And I’ll turn that page.

4. Well-targeted writing! If it’s a middle grade novel, I should be able to tell without it being labeled as such. Ditto for women’s fiction, or thriller, or literary. If I’m embarking on a reading journey, I want to feel I’m in capable hands and going on a charted course in the direction the book wants to take me. (I hope that makes sense.)

So you can see that you, as the writer, can actually do a lot with your first page. You can reel me in and pull me deeper into your world. Do that, and I’ll want to read page 2, and page 3 and so on.

Take a hard look at your opening pages. First impressions definitely matter.

*Marie is an Associate Agent at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City.  To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s site here” link located on her page on the upper left margin.

Agent Monday: Passing Thoughts

MP900341375Happy Agent Monday, peeps.  Since there seems to be an intense interest in why agents pass over certain queries, I thought I’d cave and give you some recent examples on why some recent queries got a no from me. So let’s get to it.

1. Generic! The query began with “Dear Agent” or some such, and then went on to say something like “I specifically picked you because you represent such great books and do such great things…”  Obviously a form letter, and a bit insulting to the intelligence, frankly. I’m so special, but you don’t know my name?  LAZY.

PASS.

2. Not for me! My guidelines specifically state that I’m not into “books that feature graphic violence.” So you know that pulling out a chain saw and lopping off someone’s body parts in chapter one is the perfect book for me, right? AAAAAH! AAAAAAAH!!!!

PASS.

3. First effort! This publishing thing is a business, and a tough one to break into at that, right? So when a querier sends me a manuscript that is their very first effort, and it’s clear that they’ve never ever read in their genre to figure out what’s what… it’s definitely too soon to be thinking about marketing anything.

PASS.

4. Again? I get it. Women are swept away with the idea of a paranormal lover…someone dangerous and saucy and seductive. He’s HOT. He notices her. Did I mention that he’s hot and he notices her? Because that seems to be what’s goin’ on here, ladies. But I’m sorry folks, the wolf thing, the vampire thing, it’s been done done done done. And I’m not seeing anything new here.

PASS.

5. It’s a what? For who? Here’s a query that really doesn’t know what it is, meaning the writer doesn’t know the genre he or she is writing for. There’s an 11 year old protagonist, but they are calling it a YA and giving it more mature themes, AND they are also infusing it with childlike happenings AND dialogue using words that even I had to look up.

PASS.

6. Too clever for its own good. This query was clearly written by a very smart person using very smart words and all sorts of intellectual word play. It felt like I was reading something that I’d been assigned in school and that I’d have to grab the Cliff Notes on to even begin to follow. I rub my forehead with exhaustion, and…

PASS.

7. Lovely in some ways, but… This one shows some true skill in dialogue and wordplay and even a gentle sort of a hook thrown in which may work for more literary women’s fiction… but in 20 pages I still feel the plotting is a bit too sleepy and I just don’t care enough based on what I see and on the synopsis to read on. I send a more personalized rejection, but it’s still a…

PASS.

8. Really? This query is one of those take something weird and add in something weirder and then write and write and write sort of things. It doesn’t even make sense.

PASS.

9. Hmmm. Interesting! Here’s a query that is smart and funny. I like this writer right away. They show they know me (which is helpful) and that they are savvy about the market (which is even more helpful).  The first 20 pages are fresh and well written and build on the promise set up in the query: strong voice, different take on things, interesting. So I google the author (I google them? Check out this post to see more on that!) and see that no, this book wasn’t already published and isn’t available everywhere for free or whatever. And that, yes, the author does have an online presence that reflects her image in a decent way.

REQUESTED FULL!

So that’s it. A peek into my inbox.

Remember, I’m ACTIVELY LOOKING for new clients, and I want to find them. I’m not sitting here twiddling my fingers thinking, “Hm, how can I ruin a writer’s hopes and dreams today?”  It’s more like, “Hm, where is the writer who is ready for me to make their hopes and dreams take off?”

BRING IT.

But do your homework, make your work perfect first, and check out my guidelines here.

Marie

*Marie is an Associate Agent at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City.  To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s site here” link located on her page on the upper left margin.

Slice of Life Friday: We Made it to March!

Girl Sitting in ChairAm I the ONLY one in the world giddy to flip that calendar and see February is over?  I think not. I bow to the wise one who made February the shortest month of the year. Dark, cold, and what does it have? Valentine’s Day? Psh. Not a happy day for those lonely hearts in the world (though the chocolate’s not bad). President’s Day? Blah. Just an excuse for ad execs to put Lincoln and Washington costumes on actors and make them hawk car sales and furniture deals.

NO! Go the F away February!

It’s March!!!  And, yeah, I know it can snow in March, bladdy bladdy blah. But when I woke up this morning, it was lighter out and I could hear birdies tweeting. It won’t be long before I can shed that dreaded winter coat like a snake skin and ditch the boots for my black and white checkered sneakers (not kidding).

So here is Marie’s list of what is FAB about the up-coming spring:

1. Birdies tweeting in the morning
2. Longer, sunnier, WARMER days
3. Being able to take my coffee outside in the morning onto my patio
4. Working outside on my laptop
5. Taking walks with my pooch in the evening
6. Shedding the heavy winter clothes I’m really sick of
7. Wearing light cheerful stuff instead!!! (And those checkered sneaks)
8. Working in the yard…
9. Seeing those flowers pop up from the ground and the buds on the trees, and, sigh…

So what’s on your list?  Please share what you are looking forward to by leaving me a comment…and join in the springy celebration! 🙂

Happy WARM March wishes to you all,

Marie