Agent Monday: The “Your book’s too quiet” Rejection

Childhood GirlsHappy hot and steamy Agent Monday, everyone! Ever received the following rejection and wonder what it might mean?: “I have to pass because I found your book too quiet.” Too quiet? What’s that mean? And how do you get it to make some noise? Let’s take a look… (Thanks again to client Caroline Noonan and her writer’s group for this great post idea!)

To me, too quiet means that while the book may be written in a lovely manner and the manuscript clean and the plot interesting, overall the book lacks characteristics that would make it stand out in the commercial marketplace.

Remember, an agent’s job is to sell your book to commercial publishers, and an editor’s job is to purchase books that will become stand outs on the shelf and sell.

So what can you do if your book is consistently rejected as “too quiet?” Well, first of all look hard at the type of book you are writing – what distinguishes that sort of book? Have you elevated those elements in your manuscript?

For example, if you are writing a literary novel, is your language and imagery more than adequate? Does it stand out? Are the observations and revelations unique and transforming?

If you are writing for the YA market, is your book different from what’s already out there? Can you come up with a one-liner about the book that’ll get everyone’s attention because your story has a unique approach? Is there a hook that’ll make it stand out – and if so, have you put that unique part of your story front and center in your plotting?

If you are writing for the thriller audience, is your story truly gripping, your plotting original and does your character command the page?

And if you are writing romance, does your hero truly break your heart and does the passion sizzle?

In the historical realm, are the characters riveting and are we fully caught up not only in the lovely and accurate details of the time but also the true drama and personalities and stakes you present?

What are your strengths as a writer? Characterization? Scenery? Plotting? Imagery?  Have you heightened these so they are truly stand out?

Another thing to look at is how you are labeling and targeting your manuscript submissions. If you are calling your book a thriller but it’s really a cerebral mystery, you’ll be missing the mark. If you are directing your submissions to a commercial press, when your book is really a lovely lyrical literary novel, then your piece won’t be judged within the context that you want it to.

So next time you get a “too quiet” comment in a rejection, give your manuscript a hard look. Make sure you’ve really made its most important elements unique and stand out fab, and that you are labeling it correctly.  Then send it back out there and go make some noise!

*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: Writing a First Draft

Jumbies cover small

Happy Agent Monday! Now that everyone is back to school, this is a great time for writers to get serious about tackling their muse and getting thoughts onto paper. But ugh that blank page. Are you staring at one today? Then this guest post by my client, the fabulous Tracey Baptiste, may be just what you need.

WRITING A FIRST DRAFT
guest post by Tracey Baptiste

Here’s the thing you need to know about writing a first draft: You just have to get through it. There are no other rules or tricks. A first draft is basically quarrying rocks. You go, you grab the ones that seem about right, you put them in a nice pile, and then you figure out what that pile is supposed to be later on. But being the creative types that we are, we stumble over every word, beat ourselves up over whether a plot arc or twist is working the way we want it to, and wonder—seriously wonder—why certain strings of words look as awful as they do. I’m better than THAT we think. True. We are. But not today. Today is a draft day, and you can whip that horrible string of words into shape in a little thing I like to call rewrites.

If you think I’m imparting this wisdom to help you out with your writing, or to keep you from stalling out, you would be wrong. Well, mostly wrong. Mostly, I impart this wisdom to help myself, because right now I am stalled in a first draft, wondering why everything looks so horribly bad, and seriously reconsidering my sanity for ever having considered I could write as much as a thank you note.

So this is to remind me (you too, but mostly me) to relax already and not worry so much about which words exactly get put on the page, so long as words that mostly approximate the thing that you think you’re trying to say get on the page. I mean, it’s not like you’re going to write an entire draft of the word “and” or anything. It has to make some sense.

OK, deep breaths. We can do this. We just need to remember that there is only one thing a draft needs to be: Done.

 

Tracey Baptiste - headshotTracey Baptiste is the author of the young adult novel Angel’s Grace (Simon & Schuster), and the forthcoming middle grade novel The Jumbies (Algonquin YR). You can find out more about Tracey at her website, www.traceybaptiste.com, by following her on Twitter @TraceyBaptiste, or by connecting on Facebook at TraceyBaptisteWrites.

Celebrity Poodle Insulted

Ella the poodle's unhappy reaction to her portrayal in new novel: "Call my lawyer at once!"

Invasion of privacy. Unauthorized biography. Poodle protocol violation.

Shocking accusation: Poopsie the Poodle, the sometimes star of the novel OVER MY HEAD, may be modeled after real-life apricot poodle Ella Lamba.

“We are not amused,” barks Ella’s lawyer, who points to allegedly insulting comments such as the following from Marie Lamba’s new young adult novel:

I pick her up and rub her pom-pom ears. “No more surprises, okay?” She licks me in the nostril. We’re the best of friends. “Okay, I’ll see you later.” I set her down.

Poopsie does her head tilt thing again like she’s trying to understand. It must be tough having a brain the size of a walnut. I wave bye and she tilts her head the other way, suddenly seeming sad and lonely. I leave and lock the door, feeling sad myself. Poor Poopsie.

“This is an outrage,” says the attorney for real poodle Ella.  “Brain like the size of a walnut? It’ll be poor author once this is dragged through the courts.”

Lamba the author went on record saying, “It’s fiction. And it’s supposed to be funny.”

“Funny?” the attorney said. “In this novel Poopsie, who is obviously modeled after my client, is insulted, dressed in American Girl clothes, even misplaced.”

“But no dogs were harmed in the writing of this novel,” Lamba said in a weak voice. “I love my dog. Sang, the character in the novel, loves Poopsie and does her best to take care of her. It’s not Sang’s fault the dog is a little loopy. I mean, wait. Not loopy. Can you strike that? What I’m saying is off the record, right? Right?”

Later, after this blatantly anti-poodle comment, TMZ caught up to Ella the poodle at her favorite posh doggie spa, and asked for her reaction to this latest insult.

But Ella, ever the classy one, just rolled her eyes and would only reply, “Grrr.”

Psst! Secrets…Pass it on!

It's a secret...so tell everyone!

Hey gang, just wanted to let you in on a few secrets…

First of all, I’ll soon be revealing the cover for my new young adult novel OVER MY HEAD.   Look for this, and for the book to be coming out in June!  Very excited.

This novel picks up two years after WHAT I MEANT… finishes, and you’ll get to hang out with Sang, Megan, Dalton, Gary, Doodles and some new characters the summer before senior year as Sang falls big time for the one guy everybody thinks is wrong for her.

And for the many of you who have read WHAT I MEANT… and have asked me, “What happened to Gina? Why did she act like that?”…well, I’m putting the finishing touches right now on a short story that will soon appear in an anthology including stories written by the wonderful authors of The Liars Club.  I can tell you the anthology will be called LIAR, LIAR!  I can tell you that Gina is running from something, and hasn’t been entirely honest with Sang. And I can tell you the story will be called, “What I Did…”  And I can tell you that I can’t tell you much more just yet.  But I will. Soon. Honest.

Look for details, including when and how to purchase LIAR, LIAR! as well as OVER MY HEAD on this site. Soon. Cross my heart.

In the meantime, like all good secrets…Shhh! (And be sure to pass it on.)

The Plot Sickens

Plot. Ugh! We writers need it to make our great ideas flow. Readers crave it…it’s what makes them turn pages, what creates tension, what makes them CARE about a book. But here’s a dirty little secret: many writers have a love-hate relationship with plotting. Mostly hate, really.

The Rebel Writers are (left to right) Damian McNicholl, Russ Allen, C.G. Bauer, Jeanne Denault, John Wirebach, David Jarret and Marie Lamba

I belong to an amazing novel critique group called The Rebel Writers.  (If you want to learn more about this group and our unique methods of critiquing long manuscripts, you can check out my article Plotting a Novel Group in Writer’s Digest Magazine by clicking here.) This month, our meeting was devoted to discussing plot. Our personal struggles with it, how it tends to bite us in the ass mid-way through our novels, how uncomfortable we are with artificially manufacturing it, and what the hell we can do to make sure our novels are tightly written starting right at the first draft. We came up with some interesting thoughts that I’d like to share…

All 6 of us were on hand for this meeting, offering a variety of perspectives. I’m a young adult author; Damian McNicholl is author of the critically acclaimed literary novel A Son Called Gabriel; C.G. (Chris) Bauer is author of the stunning debut horror novel Scars on the Face of God; Jeanne Denault is author of an amazing memoir about raising a son with Aspergers titled Sucking up Yellow Jackets – soon to be published by the UK publisher O Books; David Jarret writes historical novels and hysterical short stories, John Wirebach writes gritty crime and mystery novels, and Russ Allen writes literary novels.

C.G. Bauer's debut horror novel is "hotter than the flames of hell," says horror master Scott Nicholson

One thing we all acknowledged: we are uncomfortable with following plotting formulas and using step-by-step advice to plot novels. Here’s the thing: writing is an art. At least we writers hope so.  Art should flow, should be organic and original. Should be something new and exciting and enlightening.  We authors want to get to that spot of artistic originality in our completed works with every single bit of fiction that we create.

So imagine how a bunch of artists (put your nose in the air when you say that word) feel when they consider planning out their work of art on 3×5 cards or with post-its. When they think about following formulas in designing their novels… It feels so, so…artificial.

And herein lies the problem. Novels ARE artificial. And, as cheesy as it sounds, writers are manipulators. We use technique to create suspense, tricks to make cliff-hangers, melodrama to induce tears…if we are doing it well, then no one will even notice we are pulling the strings. And we need to be aware of these plotting techniques and embrace them on some level, don’t we?

So we Rebel Writers decided to take our noses out of the air and look around.  Pulp fiction writers use formulas. Soap opera writers use formulas. Many romance authors use formulas. So do television script writers. So do film writers. So, in fact, do many novelists. Maybe its time we face the facts: we can learn something from these folks!

Damian McNicholl's celebrated novel was a Book Sense Pick of the Year

Okay, so once we packed away our collective artistic snobbery, the info sharing really began to flow.  It was like a confessional of sorts, with each of us sharing our own secret plotting cheats.

Russ introduced us to a text called Story Structure Architect by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, Ph.D., which outlines just over 50 plots, and argues that every story ever told was one of these plots.  We Rebels quickly found our own novels’ plots in the listings.  Humbling. Forget originality, right? All we have to do is pick one of these plots, and write a story…

We discussed our discomfort with this, but soon admitted that, yeah, it would be convenient to know the sort of story we were writing before we embarked on months to years worth of actually writing it and uncovering our direction. And we all reassured ourselves that whatever we wrote would be distinct if we were true to our own voice and our own view of the world.  That’s the clincher, isn’t it?

Many of us swore by Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, which has exercises that ensure your novel has a sound structure, a strong subplot, tension on every page, etc. etc. etc.  John pointed out how focused movie script writers are in plotting, and how most scripts have a climactic moment on a certain page according to an understood formula. He recommended we look at books about treatments, including a book I have on my own shelf: Writing Treatments that Sell by Kenneth Atchity and Chi-Li Wong. Another favorite of the group is The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. It follows myth and archetypes culled by folklorist Joseph Campbell in his incredible The Power of Myth, and applies the hero’s journey to plotting and structure. It’s phenomenal, and I used parts of this while plotting my newest young adult novel, Drawn. Jeanne shared how she used index cards to decipher the plot of one of her murder mysteries and to reorganize the plotting to fix a problem in its pacing.

I know, right about now you’re thinking: So if everyone has been secretly using all of these plot theories, what’s the big deal? What did the Rebel Writers actually learn here?  Well, every one of us have used these tools AFTER we wrote our novels. First we spent forever writing our monster works, then we sat down with our drafts and thought, hm, the middle is really slow, or huh, the ending just doesn’t do it, and we spent forever dissecting our works and fixing them by applying all of these plotting theories.

Jeanne Denault's stunning memoir about Aspergers

But wouldn’t it be nice to start out with a better sense of the structure and plot at the start? Wouldn’t that cut down on the length of time it would take to write a novel? Imagine how wonderful it would be to be able to create two novels a year vs. one every two years. And wouldn’t we enjoy our writing more if we didn’t have to agonize over our edits, going over the plotting and structure again and again and again? Wouldn’t our final work benefit?

We are all nodding now.  But still scepticism rears its ugly head. Can you really sit down and plan out a novel, plotting its structure, its twists, its climax and conclusion, and still come out with a work of art?  I’m about to find out. See, I’m also a member of the Bucks County Romance Writers, and will soon attend my very first plot party with them. They ask that each member bring a brand new novel idea not worked on yet, a pen, and a stack of stickees. At the end of the 6 (!) hour event, each person is supposed to leave with a completely plotted out novel, and all we’ll have to do is simply write it. Easy, right?

Can this possibly work? Can I come up with something fresh and original, yet plotted, with only stickee notes, my imagination and some strong plotting traditions? Can I then save time writing my novel, with my first draft being close to a final draft? Will I end up writing more novels and being more productive because of this? God, I hope so. Stay tuned…

Book Review: “Hush, Hush” by Becca Fitzpatrick

***UPDATE: My paranormal YA novel DRAWN is now out in paperback and ebook…If you like TWILIGHT and HUSH HUSH and books by Beth Fantaskey, then you’ll love DRAWN, the paranormal novel filled with forbidden love…and rich with believable characters. For more info about DRAWN click here!***

REVIEW: Okay, who among us hasn’t been simultaneously attracted to/repulsed by a bad boy? Something about danger, wildness, and stepping away from the known is at once exciting, yet scary…which makes it even more exciting.  Hush, Hush by  Becca Fitzpatrick (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers) is indeed about the proverbial bad boy.  So what do you do when that gorgeous, edgy guy you are falling for, turns out to be a fallen angel? Hm. Not exactly meet the parents material.  But excellent material for a YA novel, and this one kept me up most of the night as I eagerly flipped the pages to find out what would happen next to Nora and that dark-eyed mysterious guy, Patch.

What originally attracted me to this novel was the stunning cover, designed by Lucy Ruth Cummins, and featuring a photo by James Porto.  It conveys the dark mood, and an appealing vulnerability. Bravo!  The other thing that pulled me in was the theme of the supernatural lover. I’m trying to keep up with these novels because my own recently completed young adult novel, titled Drawn, is about a teen artist who starts channeling one very attractive and mysterious ghost through her drawings.  Is he the love of her life, or is she losing her mind? Drawn is under consideration at publishers right now.

Some folks might at first glance think Hush, Hush as just another twist on the Twilight theme. But I assure you that Hush, Hush stands on its own, and is a fresh and original read. Now that’s not to say there aren’t some similarities. Even though there are no vampires or werewolves, there are plenty of supernatural creatures infiltrated into a normal high school. The location is a gloomy isolated town (in Maine, the opposite side of the map from Washington state, but similar in some ways). Nora lives in a one parent home, and that parent is mostly clueless or away, which is also similar to Twilight.

But you know what? These qualities weren’t invented by Stephanie Meyer’s either.  Go back to the Gothic novel, and you will find all the tales set in isolated locations and/or gloomy settings. Storms, clouds, dense woods. Par for the course, reflecting the story’s mood.  And what about the lone, clueless parent?  This is a story motif that goes way back to oral tradition. How about the father in Cinderella? And all those evil stepmothers? Weren’t they a dysfunctional bunch? They enabled, and often forced the heroes and heroines in folk tales and fairy tales to strike out on their own and face hardships and adventures. To quest.  This symbolized youth leaving their families, turning their backs on childhood, and facing adulthood.

Well, what about this whole fad surrounding supernatural loves? Not exactly a fad.  Of course there was Dracula, but long before that there were countless folktales told for centuries that involved a supernatural lover or husband.  The lover was often dangerous, mysterious, at times he took the form of an animal or a monster. Sometimes he was cursed, as in Beauty and the Beast or The Frog Prince, and sometimes the lover was a descended demigod. Take the story of Cupid and Psyche from mythology. In one version of this tale, Psyche had a beautiful young man come to her bed every night. He would be hers forever, as long as she never lit the light and looked at him.  Of course she is curious and finally must know more about him. When she lights the candle, she sees Cupid’s wings, and he is forced to leave her.  Varieties of this tale have been told for centuries throughout Europe, in the Near East and India. Even the Zuni of New Mexico told a variety of this story.

Cupid (like Patch and like Edward Cullen) is secretive, mysterious, his sexuality is dangerous, and the heroine is literally “kept in the dark” until she simply must know the truth.  So the new crop of supernatural lover stories are not really a “trend” but a revived archetype – something rooted deep in our lore that speaks to young women as they leave the comfort of their homes and their childhood and dare to explore the dangers of love and independence.

Archetypes aside, there are some further similarities to Twilight. Patch’s unusual dark eyes. His secretive life. Nora and Patch meet as Biology class partners.  I personally would have picked another class for them to meet in, but Biology, specifically the human sexuality unit they are doing, definitely works.  There is a huge showdown in the gym that echoes Meyer’s climactic scene in the ballet studio, and the heroine is lured there because a loved one (this time a friend) is in danger.

But similarities aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. There was plenty of tension and chemistry (as well as biology) between Nora and Patch. Lots of mind games and mysterious happenings heightened the drama and danger. And Nora is a much more appealing heroine than Bella, which makes the reader worry about her more and root harder for her to survive and thrive.  Can a girl with a mysterious birthmark and a pesky iron deficiency fight the evil of the ages? Can a fallen angel, shrouded in darkness and sin rise from his long and horrible past, and truly love? Can you resist staying up all night to find out how it all turns out?

Grab this book and start reading. It’s endlessly entertaining…and you can always catch up on your sleep later.

Book Review: The Dust of 100 Dogs, by A.S. King

Pirates — scurvy foul creatures with a greed for gold and a thirst for blood.  An innocent girl born into war-torn Ireland, who views the world with caution, who finally finds love, and who then has everything violently ripped away.  A teen in Pennsylvania, biding her time, and hiding her secret.  And a curse.  Oh, and some dog care tips.  If this all sounds like an unusual combination, you are dead on, and this is what makes the young adult novel The Dust of 100 Dogs (Flux) by A.S. King a fresh and original hit.

King’s main character Saffron, is a brilliant teen born into a needy family that see’s Saffron’s brilliance as the ticket to a bright future.  But what they don’t know is that Saffron is actually the soul of Emer, an Irish girl who had turned to pirating many centuries ago, and who was cursed to embody the souls of 100 dogs before she finally found herself human again.  Along with teen angst, Saffron must tamp down the savage instincts of her pirating past, and wait just a bit longer until she is 18 and has the money and the freedom to pursue the treasure buried on a Caribbean isle long ago.

The author does an amazing job of grabbing the reader by the throat, and pulling you through this epic adventure.  As we travel with Emer’s soul through her past lives, there is heartbreak and triumph, blood and gore, history and humor.  Because of some disturbing scenes, I would restrict this read to older teens and adults.  It’s a fantastic novel, but there is a rape and one seriously disturbed villain, so be advised.

That said, I now say grab this book and read it.  Share it with others. Channel your inner pirate. Yo-ho!

Why Conferences? (Or, How I Got My Editor and My Agent)

It’s conference season. Tons of workshops with authors, editors, agents. Panel discussions. Pitch sessions. As you receive glossy brochure after glossy brochure, you’re probably wondering, is it worth it? Why go to a conference at all? Well, here’s an article I wrote a few years back, and I’m including it here in the hopes that it might motivate you to step out of your house, and meet some editors and agents face to face.  Some seriously great things can come from it.

Why Conferences? (Or How I Got My Editor and My Agent)
by Marie Lamba

Take the time to network with others in the writing biz.

Take the time to network with others in the writing biz.

Okay, none of the following can help you if your manuscript isn’t ready. I mean completely free of errors, completely interesting, completely wonderful. But what if it truly is? How can you get on the speedy (and speedy is a relative term here) road to publication? In a word: conferences. Seriously. Here’s how it worked out for me.

First I applied and was accepted to the amazing One on One Conference held annually at Rutgers University (children’s writers only). If you are writing for children, this is the ultimate place to be. The editors and agents there know you have some semblance of talent to be able to get in, and they are extremely available to talk with you throughout the day. You are paired up with an author, an editor or an agent who works in your genre and you get to talk with them one on one for 45 unbelievable minutes. Then you get a 5 on 5 round table discussion with your match plus four other pairs. Plus there’s chatting with anyone you dare to over lunch. Plus there’s a keynote and a panel discussion. Absolute heaven.

I was paired up with the very kind Alvina Ling, editor at Little Brown. Not only did she enjoy my first few pages and ask to see the whole ms (yeah!), but she also asked if I was interested in finding an agent. She recommended a small handful of agents she especially respected that dealt in my genre, and said I was welcome to say that she had referred me. I’d say that was the best $75 dollars I’d ever spent, wouldn’t you?

You know how they say never email an agent a query, especially one who says on her website “no emailed queries?” Well, ha! I decided to be bold, and I found out that when your message line says “Recommended by (insert the name of the editor or top author here…only if they’ve actually recommended you, of course),” that they would in fact read your query immediately. And if all goes well, that agent will email you back in a matter of hours asking to see your whole manuscript. It went well. So I jumped the queue, saving myself about 3 months of waiting just to hear a response to my query. So far so good.

I’d like to say that the response to the manuscript was as fast. You know. The agent waits with baited breath, reads your manuscript overnight, gets back to you immediately. Well, that didn’t happen. So I figured if I didn’t hear back in the next week, or at least the next month, then I was toast. One month went by. Two months. Three. I sent a cheerful little note to check on its status. Three and half months went by.

Blah. So, time for another conference. This time I decide to attend the BEA Writer’s Digest Conference in New York. The agent I’d hoped to get would be there. Perhaps we could meet? I email her. She’s too busy. Still, I’m hopeful about the conference. I tell her I’ll try to get on her line for the one-minute pitch session to say hi. There seems to be a large number of children’s editors on the roster, and I hope to talk to lots of them. Surely not every attendee will be a children’s author, right?

To my relief I am right about this. The lines for the adult fiction editors and agents snake out the doors and through the corridors. People in those lines are lucky if they can see one of their choices. In the room featuring the children’s editors and agents, the lines only have about 20-25 people on them. I’ll get to talk to as many of these folks as I wish. I’m the first in line at the desk of Jim Thomas, Editorial Director at Random House Children’s Books. The format is rigid. The organizers ring a bell, and you race to a seat and give your pitch. After one minute, the bell rings again, and it’s time for the editor or agent to talk with you and ask questions. One minute later, the bell rings again and you have to evacuate the seat for the next person. The hope is that by the third bell you’ll have that person’s business card in hand with an invitation to mail your manuscript to them.

I had practiced my pitch ahead of time, driving my whole family nuts in the process. I felt ready. I even had my manuscript with me in my bag (something they tell you never to do…but still). So the bell rings, and I start my pitch and Jim reacts with shock and interest at the topic, and then, to my total surprise, asks if I could read the manuscript to him. (See? It’s a good thing I had it, right?) I fumble through some papers and yank the book out and start reading in a fast and steady pace. DING! Times up. Jim is smiling. “You see that person on the end? That’s Lisa Findlay. She works with me at Random House. Get on her line. I think she’ll like this.”

Wow! Another referral. So I jump onto Lisa’s line. Tell her Jim sent me. Pitch her the book and she hands me her business card asking me to mail sample chapters. Things are really going great here.

I get on the long line leading to Jennifer DeChiara, my sought after agent, and finally get my chance to chat with her. She seems tired but attentive, and I tell her she’s already got my book, but I just wanted to say hi. I discover that even though her website says she responds in 3 months to manuscripts, 6 months or even a year are more realistic dates. Good to know.

Flash forward several months. I haven’t heard from Jennifer DeChiara or Lisa Findlay. Sigh. That’s okay, right? I start working on a new book. I try not to think about it. BUT NOTHING SEEMS TO BE HAPPENING. Then something happens. It’s September and it’s like the publishing world has returned to work from a long long summer break. Lisa Findlay asks to see my entire novel, so I send it. Great!

Then I get an email from Jennifer DeChiara. Something to the effect of: I am reading your manuscript tonight. Okay. Is this one of those form emails or something? I try not to read too much into this.

Then, THE phone call comes. It’s Jennifer, in person, saying all these incredible things we writers only dare to tell ourselves in our deepest slumbers. Would I sign with her? Would I?

So now I’m absolutely floating. I dare to dream and all that stuff. But it gets better.

Within a week, Lisa Findlay gets in touch. She loves the book, has some suggested changes, but would love to sign me at Random House. Me? Me! Okay, after I get up off the floor, and call my husband who seems to only be able to say, “You’re kidding. You’re kidding,” I immediately contact Jennifer to deliver the amazing news.

So both of my pursuits for an amazing editor and an amazing agent were successful, and within a week of each other. Pinch me!

And sign up for conferences. Lots of conferences.

Excerpt from DRAWN, my newly completed YA novel

DRAWN, Marie's latest novel, is full of castles, ghosts and passion

DRAWN, Marie's latest novel, is full of castles, ghosts and passion

DRAWN is my latest novel, just completed a month ago, and now in the hands of my wonderful agent. Thought it would be fun to share an excerpt from it with you all here…

It’s about NJ teen artist Michelle DeFreccio, who moves with her dad to England in search of a fresh start and a normal life…a life far from her past. In New Jersey she was pretty much shunned, and everyone called her family the De Freako’s. But in England everything is different. Better.  Then someone starts showing up. He appears in her artwork and invades dreams. And when Michelle finds herself intensely drawn to him, her freaky past catches up to her in a big way. Is he a stalker, a ghost or a delusion? Is she falling in love, or losing her mind? Only one thing’s for sure: nothing will ever be normal again.

an excerpt from
Drawn
a young adult novel
by Marie Lamba


Back in the courtyard, a group of tourists, probably Americans judging by their baggy jeans and baseball caps, waits by the sign announcing the next guided tour.

Roger takes off his feathered hat and runs his fingers through his hair. “That’s my cue.” He suddenly looks very tired.

“Mrs. Reilly is right,” I say. “You need some rest. And some food.”

And you need to mind your business,” he snaps.

I should be mad, but instead I find myself worried. “You okay?”

“Just go find this guy, but don’t let him bother you, got that? If you see him, come find me. I’ll be here in the courtyard or in the first set of castle apartments nearest to the dungeon.”

I nod.

“Good.” He sets his hat on his head, takes a deep breath, then strides over to the tourists and says in a cheery voice, “Hi-ho! Welcome one and all to Blanchley Castle where history comes alive.”

I go into the castle building, wandering through some winding passageways, pushing past clusters of tourists crowding the halls until I finally recognize the steps heading up to the main hall where the Academy hosted the dinner. If I retrace my steps from that night, maybe I’ll locate that upper room where I first saw Christopher.

I find the main hall is empty and quiet. There is no lit fire in the fireplace now, and a simple, brightly painted shield has replaced the bear head over the mantle. Daylight spills into the room through the row of stained glass windows along the opposite wall, covering the rough floor in bits of colored light. There is one raised table at the back wall with a few tall chairs, and in the middle of the room is a single long wooden table, with benches along its sides.

I turn and bump into someone.

It’s Christopher. His glow-stick eyes are wide.

There’s a moment of tense silence.

“Leave me alone!” we both say.

“Me?” I say. “That’s a laugh. You’re the one following me.”

“You deny bewitching me? Infecting my thoughts, my dreams? Be gone, witch.”

“You have serious problems, you know that? ‘Be gone, witch?’ Who talks like that? And look at you? I don’t even think you work at this castle. I think you just dress like this to get your jollies or something.”

He briefly looks down at his green tunic, which is worn belted over a white linen shirt, and at his knee-high leather boots. “It is you who dress for jolly sake,” he says. He strides around me, studying my jeans, sneakers and jacket. “Bedecked in such harlotry. Showing yourself not a fine lady in the least, but as the witch you really are.” He grabs my arm and pulls me close. “You are the one who is not of this castle. No one knows of a Michelle from Jersey. Not one soul swapping the latest news in the castle courtyard has heard of you.” He shakes my arm. “Either you are merely sent to undo me, or you plot about things far worse, far more traitorous. Fool that I am, I had thought you were the one who would …”

We are very close now. His eyes are intense, yet sad. I am all too aware of his fingers wrapped around my arm. Of his face bent toward me. Of his auburn hair falling over his forehead. Of his soft full lips. I again feel myself drawn powerfully to him. Feel my breath catch as his grip loosens and his hand slides up my arm. This is crazy.

I force myself to step back. “Y-you’re crazy. Stay away from me, or I’ll tell the police or the Bobbies or whatever the hell you people call them.”

He seems stunned.

I run from the hall and down the steps leading back toward the courtyard.

“Michelle, I found him.” It’s Roger, striding up the steps, his hat in his hands. “That crazy bloke. You won’t believe it.” He takes my hand and pulls me downstairs. “Come on. I’ll show you before my next tour.”

“But I found him. He’s upstairs, right now.”

Roger draws his brows together, races past me up the steps and into the hall. I scramble to follow.

I find Roger, hands on hips, surveying the hall. A room that is suddenly filled with ordinary tourists. No sign of Christopher. I notice that the bear’s head is somehow again over the mantle. I look around wildly. In front of the windows are now suits of armor standing at attention – armor that definitely wasn’t there a few moments ago.

“So? Where is he?” Roger says.

“I-I don’t understand. He was standing right…” How could all the tourists possibly get in here so fast?  “I must have been mistaken,” I say, my voice shaky.

“Well, I’m not. Follow me.”  He leads me out of the hall, down the stairs, through the courtyard where a fresh cluster of tourists is waiting by the sign for the next castle tour, and into another doorway.  “I told you he looked familiar. I was leading the last tour when I spotted him,” he says, as we go down a dark corridor lit with electric lights that are made to look like torches hanging from the walls. He turns left into a large arched entry, which opens into a long, richly furnished sitting room. I remember seeing this room on the night of the dinner. There are paintings on the walls, lush Persian carpets on the floors, and worn, overstuffed sofas arranged around ornately carved low tables.  Roger says, “I was taking the group through this wing, describing all the Victorian era additions, and I was just launching into an apology about the Earl’s missing Mating Chair, when I saw this.”

Roger points to an empty spot in the corner of the room now occupied by a little sign that reads “Exhibit Temporarily Removed.”  I notice the wall behind it, and I gasp.

There, in a large gilt frame is an oil painting. It’s Christopher, complete with his long brown hair, his light eyes seemingly on fire. His bear pin gleams on his cape. The artist’s technique is crude, the paint thickly applied and cracking, but Christopher’s intense look is accurately captured.

I step closer. Read the plaque beneath the painting. “Christopher Newman of Watley Manor, circa 1460.”  My knees tremble. My hands start to shake.

“What’s the matter?” Roger says. “You look like you’ve seen a – ”

“Don’t,” I say in barely a whisper. Now my lips are trembling, tears are streaming down my cheeks. I back away from the painting.

“Michelle? What is it?”

I can’t speak. Can only shake my head over and over again. And run.

I run through the bright castle courtyard, tears blurring the daylight into a rainbow of colors. I slam into a man taking a picture of his wife and kids beside the Instruments of Torture sign, and murmur an apology as I make my way past them and through the arched gateway.  My shaky legs somehow take me down the path to the visitor’s lot, where I fumble with the lock on Mary’s bike.

Then I ride, my legs pumping hard, as if I can outride what I now know is happening to me. Wasn’t my brother, Wayne, around my age when he started mumbling in class? When he got that crazed look and said, “They are talking to me. I’m just answering”? But he could never explain whom he’d answered. My mom had an explanation: he had the psychic gift. The doctor had another explanation: schizophrenia.

I’m soaring along the road that passes St. Paul’s Church. The wind whips at my face.

“Shelly honey,” my mom had said to me, “you got the gift.”

By the church’s roofed gateway, I squeeze the hand brakes and throw the bike down. I drag myself through the graveyard, stumbling on bits of broken gravestones. I find myself at that tomb, wiping my cheeks and nose with the back of my hand. There is his figure. Christopher Newman of Watley Manor. I wonder if Wayne’s delusions seem as real to him as this one does. I pant as if I can’t breathe. As if I’m being buried alive. I sink to my knees, rest my forehead against the cold stone monument, and whisper, “No.”

Just Finished Writing a New Novel

Last week I did it. I finished revising my third novel (well, fourth if you count the one I’d written before my first novel WHAT I MEANT… was published by Random House last year).

Finishing a novel is a feeling like none other. First I’m all wrapped up in the drama of the ending, feeling bittersweet and teary, yet hopeful, just like the heroine. Then, it’s a flash of pure joy. I did it, and it’s saved multiple times in multiple locations, and therefore it will continue to exist even after I move on. I’ve created SOMETHING, and that something is a huge part of me, even though it is its own entity too (kind of like a child).

The novel (which is a young adult, like my others) is called DRAWN, about Michelle De Freccio, a teen artist from Jersey who is running from her family’s freaky past. Her dad is transferred to teach at an academy in England, and this is a new beginning for Michelle. A clean slate. How many second chances do we get in life to become what we really want to be? In Michelle’s case, she wants to be normal. But when Michelle starts channelling a ghost through her drawings, a young man who she then meets and feels inexplicably drawn to, normal soon flies from her grasp as she’s pulled into a world of conflict, mortal danger, and boundless love.

Writing DRAWN was an all-consuming experience. I fell in love, I fought for my life, I ran from madness…I became my character, all while trying to pursue my own version of a normal life with its routine of driving the kids around, and cooking dinner, and sometimes even vacuming. The moment I finished writing, I ran out to celebrate by picking up some sushi and dumplings for lunch and popping in a Bridget Jones DVD. I was free, and carefree, and blissful…for about two hours.

Then I missed my book, and my characters. It’s kind of how you feel when you read a book you absolutely love, and you so want to get to the end to find out what’s happened, but then you feel really depressed that it’s done.

Now it’s on to the next phase: critiques. This is where my amazing writer’s group gets its hands on it, and I have to wait an excruciating month to hear what they think. And this is when my two teen daughters devour it, after waiting for too many months for a read, and they report back on their thoughts. Then I’ll process their opinions, and send the shiny revised version off to my wonderful agent, hoping she’ll be as in love with it as I am.

Okay, quite frankly, this phase is a tough one. In many ways, much tougher than writing the book. What if people don’t like it? What if I’ve somehow failed to convey the thrills and drama and heart-stopping love? This is where we lonely writers have to find some way to believe in ourselves and in our vision, even when others might not. I hate doubting, but I love input. And I want my book to sizzle. I want my readers to flip the pages eagerly, and to feel as touched when they read the last word as I did writing it. I want them to set the novel down when they are finished, VERY sorry that it is done. So, as Dr. Suess would say, I’m in The Waiting Place.

I’m more of a doer, frankly. I’ve even got a twinkling of an idea for another novel ahead of me.  But in the meantime, in The Waiting Place, I’m getting to all the things I told myself I’d look forward to doing once the book was complete and sent to my first readers. I’m washing my car, and sorting through papers, and shifting away the summer clothes, and washing windows, and wishing wishing wishing I was still writing DRAWN. I’m in writing withdrawal.

I wonder if all writers feel like this. It’s been a few days. I want to create some more. And I really want to linger in that world I’d just created. Maybe I’ll read DRAWN through one more time, just for old times sake.