Wednesday, January 14, 2015

My Blog has Moved!

All future posts will be uploaded to my official author site at

Please join me over there, subscribe if you like, and we shall make merry in the comments! Or something like that. ;)



Thursday, January 8, 2015

How I Got My Literary Agent

As most of you reading this already know from the way I've appended "rep'd by Marlene Stringer" to all my social media bios, I have an agent now!!!

I know some have indicated an interest in knowing how this all came to be, so allow me to regale you with the story!

But first, backstory!

I've been writing my entire life. Literally, from the moment I understood I could put words together and make my own stories. My earliest memory of writing was using a program called Paint, Write, and Play. I'm pretty sure my mom still has some of the little stories I made through that, and if I ever manage to excavate it from the boxes of my childhood things, you bet your bottom I will post it. Pretty sure one story involved a whale. (Yep. Even from a young age, I recognized whales were cool.)

My second earliest memory is of writing Jonny Quest fan fiction.
Because heck yeah, Jonny Quest!
A lot of my adolescent writing fell under the category of fanfiction. I wasand still ama huge Legend of Zelda and Star Wars fan, so it only made sense to write in those universes. I'm a big supporter of fanfiction; I feel it's the perfect gateway for beginning writers, and a wonderful creative outlet for experienced ones, too! Writing fanfic and getting immediate feedback from readers helped me grow as a young writer, and also introduced me to communities of like-minded folk who nurtured my creative aspirations further. You know who you are. ;)

Eventually, I moved on to writing novels, primarily motivated by the month-long writing competition, NaNoWriMo. I participated successfully in NaNo for three years before actually finishing my first complete book in 2010, a YA zombie novel called DROP DEAD. I thought it was great! So great that after a brief edit all by my lonesome, I decided to query the sucker. It went about how you'd expect. Sent about ten queries out. Form rejections across the board.*

It stung, but I wouldn't be discouraged for long.

I went back to writing, determined to prove I could write novels outside of the high-octane fuel ride that was NaNoWriMo. Over the course of five and a half months (during my second year of college), I wrote the first draft of an adult sci-fi called MACHINATIONS about a clone with a faulty memory who resumes her donor's role as an icon of human resistance v. machines. I also prematurely queried this one, briefly, to about three or four agents, all of whom form rejected me, and rightly so. M could be better, much better, and I knew it.

Cue time passing, a ton more edits, lots of self-doubt, and actually letting some people read and offer feedback! (This is important, aspiring authors, take note. GET A CRITIQUE PARTNER OR TWO. They will help you make your book soooo much better.)

One of the real turning points, however, was when I entered the contest PitchWars (hosted by the lovely Brenda Drake) at the behest of my friend, Charlie N Holmberg. I say "behest" but it was a proper kick-in-the-pants, which is exactly what I needed. Regardless of whatever else I worked on, I kept coming back to MACHINATIONS. I couldn't stop thinking about it. I knew in my heart it was a story I wanted to share. My mom was also a strong proponent of me entering the competition, much as she's been a strong supporter of me being a writer my whole life. So thank you, Mom!

Although I did not get into PW initially, the feedback I received from my prospective mentors was all very positive and encouraging. I returned to revising and managed to cut M back by about 15k words. No small task, let me tell you! Then fate intervened, and I became an alternate in PW, getting to work with Eden Plantz, the executive editor of Anaiah Press. Eden was absolutely wonderful! She helped me polish my new opening chapter, and gave me great line edit advice. Not to mention her first-hand knowledge of the publishing industry, which came in very handy! Her confidence in me and my story lifted me up at just the right time. So thank you, Eden!

Also through PW, I met and became friends with lots of amazing writers, including the ever marvelous Missy Shelton Belote. Missy is a line edit wizard, and one of the best CPs I've ever had. She helped me polish M even more, trimming more of the fat off my prose. Just further proof how crucial it is to find a good CP!

When I finally felt ready to query, the very first agent on my list was Marlene Stringer. Being that she reps one of my close friends, I knew she was a great agent. Imagine then my excitement when the same day I sent her a query, she responded with a request for a full and a synopsis!

I looked a little something like this.
I quickly sent her the requested materials. Then came the waiting. Oh, the waiting.

And the paranoia.

"She said to send it with the title 'requested material' and I typed in 'requested materials'! What if the spam filter ate it?! What if she thinks I'm slacking and failed to send it? WHAT IF WHAT IF"

And the doubt. And all those nasty thoughts us writers have in between the brief flashes of hope.

Thankfully, I found ways to keep myself busy. Very busy. I started working on another novel. I was also finishing my final semester of college, researching 19th century sailing wives, and writing a 20pg paper on that in addition to other coursework. Yep. Busy busy busy. It actually prevented me from querying more widely than I'd planned, but fortunately, it didn't matter. Because while I was stressed out and fretting, my little novel that could had found its agent soulmate.

Receiving the call almost two months later was... indescribable. Surreal. Marlene not only loved MACHINATIONS, but in talking with her, I could tell she also "got" the book. Got what I was trying to achieve with it and believed in its potential. She made an offer of representation (!!!), and two days later, after careful consideration, I accepted.

Now I'm working with one of my dream agents! Marlene is everything I could ask for in an agent: prompt, intelligent, knows the biz like the back of her hand, and tolerates my poor attempts at humor. ;) I'm honestly thrilled and humbled by this opportunity, and can't wait to see what the future has in store.

* One of those queries was sent to my now-agent, Marlene.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Top Ten Fiction Books I Read in 2014

I'm excited about a lot of things for 2015, one among them being starting a new Goodreads challenge because BOOKS, amirite?

This last year, I had the pleasure of reading some really fabulous ones. I'd like to mention them here. Because when you read a great book, it's good to tell others about it! Then other people read it and soon everyone's reading great books and the world is a happier place. *rubs face on books*

Note: The following books were not strictly books written in 2014, or anything like that, just ones that I read in 2014. You can find my reviews of each on Goodreads. I'm also limiting this list to fiction books; I'll post an honorable mentions for nonfiction below, as I read a great deal of that, too.

So here we go!

TOP TEN FICTION BOOKS I READ IN 2014 (in as close to an order as I can get them, but really they're all enjoyable and numbered lists are stupid and just read them okay?)

#10. Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt
#9. Dragon Age: Last Flight by Liane Merciel
#8. If I Stay by Gayle Forman
#7. Kenobi by John Jackson Miller
#6. The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki, translated by Jesse L. Byock
#5. The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty
#4. Wife Number Seven by Melissa Brown
#3. World War Z by Max Brooks
#2. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
#1. Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

HONORABLE NONFICTION MENTIONS (in no particular order because HAHA no)

The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman by Margot Mifflin
Dangerous to Know: Women, Crime, and Notoriety in the Early Republic by Susan Branson
The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England's Most Notorious Queen by Susan Bordo
Tough Towns: True Tales from the Gritty Streets of the Old West by Robert Barr Smith
Love and Death in Renaissance Italy by Thomas V. Cohen
Women in Old Norse Society by Jenny Jochens
Hen Frigates: Passion and Peril, Nineteenth Century Women at Sea by Joan Druett

How about you? Read any good books this year? If you have, post their titles in the comments section below! Seriously. Inquiring readers want to know.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Writers, Do the Things That Scare You

Over the weekend, I went with my family to Disneyland and California Adventure.

(Yes, I'll give you a moment to be jealous . . . Okay, moment's over. Back to reading.)

Most of you are familiar with the rides at Disneyland; they're all fun, kid-friendly attractions. Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, etc. Being a Disney park, California Adventure is also family-friendly, but it has a few rides that are geared more toward adults. Or at least children that are way less chicken than I was at their age (or height).

Not pictured here: me as a little girl, looking as though I'm about to be murdered coming down Splash Mountain.
One of California Adventure's thrill rides is called The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. For those of you who aren't familiar with the ride, it's a drop tower. It brings you waaaay up, drops you, brings you back up, drops you again. It does this a couple times, and it's a blast. Seriously, I love this ride. It's possibly my favorite between the two parks.

I am also terrified of going on it basically every time. There's a lot of suspense to the ride, as you wind your way through the hotel lobby, enter a room that plays a Twilight Zone-esque video, then wind your way through the hotel boiler room, and then even once you're seated in the service elevator itself, there's more theatre. Even the cast members are dressed like hotel concierges and speak in a spooky way. Disney doesn't do things half-way. Everything looks and feels authentic to the setting.

It's great! But the suspense just kills me. Every time, I think, "eh, maybe I'll just skip it." Because it's easier than dealing with the nerves while standing in line.

This last time I went on the ride, it occurred to me that my response to the Tower of Terror is similar to the response of many writers on their path to publication.

You know you want to be published; you know it's going to be Awesome with a capital A.

You know what's involved on the journey to get there: query, agent, editors, etc. You're not Lewis and Clark going West. Many have gone before you, and can offer advice and tell you how it works.

But it's still terrifying, right?

So much could go wrong! Your query could suck; an agent might not be able to sell your book; no editor will take you; the ride might malfunction, causing the service elevator to shoot through the roof, thus crushing you to paste while other park guests watch, their faces framed with horror! OH THE HUMANITY.

Er, ignore that last one.

You might think to yourself, How much easier would it be to just keep my stories here, in the safety of my computer? After all, Google Docs won't judge that vampire sci-fi you've been working on. Better not to try than to fail horribly, right?

I'm going to tell you something now, and I want you to hear me. (This goes out to future!Me, too. Don't think I don't see you shuffling your feet and making excuses, future!Me. I know us too well.)

As writers, we have to do the things that scare us.

Maybe that means taking a chance on a plot or a character, even when you're not sure you can do it justice. DO IT ANYWAY. Maybe you have a completed, polished manuscript that's just languishing away in the digital recesses of your computer because you're too afraid to put it out there where an agent can see it. DO IT ANYWAY. Maybe you're already a published author, worried about what some family members will think about X in your next story. WRITE IT ANYWAY.

To be an artist is to be at war with fear. Fear of failure, fear of judgement, fear even of self, of what you might uncover as you rifle through your subconscious, hunting for honest emotion. But you can't let fear stop you from doing what you love. You can't use fear as an excuse.

To paraphrase the immortal Captain Jack Sparrow, "If you were waiting for a sign, this is it, mate."

Consider this your call to action.

And if we ever go to California Adventure together, I expect to see you in line with me for the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.

But not for those Silly Symphony swings. Let's not get crazy.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Sit with me, friends, and I will tell you the tale of a woman who believed she could write a 50,000 word novel at the same time she was finishing her college degree. Yes, right there is comfortable. No, don't touch the fine china. I don't have any fine china? Oh, then I guess you can touch it. I don't know whose that is.

You see, this woman believed in this novel, as many who begin such a journey do. The characters compelled her to write, and who was she to deny them a chance to tell their story? However, a 20-25 page final research paper loomed over November like a vulture over weakening prey. It knew its time would come. And as the writer neared the final third of the month, mentally fatigued, staggering through scenes in a daze, it could wait for its meal no longer!

Basically, I'm saying I lost NaNoWriMo.

But I didn't lose. And neither did you! If you embarked on this same crazy month of literary abandon, if you threw caution to the wind, if you let yourself dream a little bigger, a little harder (no, not like that, you naughty thing), then congratulate yourself! You've done something many are afraid to do. You tried. You looked fear of failure right in its ugly face and stuck your tongue out.

No, my friend. We did not lose. We only gained. Maybe you gained insight into a genre you've been meaning to try for a long time. Maybe you met a new character who made you smile or laugh or cry. Maybe you only wrote 5,000 words, but those words are the genesis of a story that will one day take the world by storm! Maybe you wrote 49,000 words, and there are some sentences or plot points in there waiting to be excavated from the mess and put to good use in a different novel.

You don't know. Not unless you keep going. NaNoWriMo might be over, but you still have a novel to write. You still have a story to tell, characters to breathe to life. Writing 50k in a month is an arbitrary goal. A fine, impressive, motivating goalbut arbitrary. It is okay if you cannot do that. Let me say that again. IT IS OKAY IF YOU CANNOT WRITE THAT MANY WORDS THAT QUICKLY. Not many writers can. It does not reflect your ability to tell a damn good story. It does not mean you are not or cannot be a damn fine writer.

What does determine that is whether you finish what you started.

Look at your story.

Now back at me.

Now back at your story.

Your story is now tickets to that thing you really love! Or it will be! One day! With edits and hard work and determination, it could be your ticket into the publishing industry. More importantly, your ticket into the hearts and minds of readers. Your story could be just what someone out there needs to read.

I know what you're thinking. This is an old joke. Does anyone even remember the Old Spice Guy commercials? But, Hayley, it's such a bad story. The plot is falling apart. The characters aren't showing active agency. The voice is ALL wrong. You don't even KNOW.

You're right. I don't know. I also don't care. Finish it.

Remember why you started, and finish it. Every great book today started out as a bad book. Don't give up. I believe in you. It's hard, but as my Grandma told my Mom who always tells me, "Just because something is hard doesn't mean it isn't worth doing."

Let's get 'er done!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Liebster Award: 10 Questions Blog Hop

Two of my friends, Sandie and Vanessa, nominated me for the Liebster Award. I'm going to be honest, at first I wasn't sure what this award constituted. But then I thought to myself, Self, it has "award" in the title so that can only mean good things, right? In reality, the Liebster is a friendly, pay-it-forward type of award that bloggers pass around to other bloggers as a way of helping readers discover new blogs to follow. Pretty neat, huh?

Part of what's involved this time is answering 10 questions, largely related to my current WIP (or work-in-progress, in layman's terms). Right now, that also happens to be my NaNoWriMo novel. Which is the other cool thing about being tagged for this. It just so happens I love talking about the novel I'm working on. ;)

So, without further ado...

1. Where does your story take place?

A BEAR GORGED ON SORROW (or ABGOS as I fondly refer to it), takes place in tenth-century Denmark, near the end of the Viking Age, and just as Christianity is gaining entry into the country. I chose this setting for the neat interactions between the old and new religionsNorse pagans often converted without abandoning their old superstitionswhich I felt heightened the drama in the story, and has so far allowed me to explore some interesting themes related to faith.

2. What genre is your story?

Historical Fantasy. I'm trying to keep it as historically accurate as possible, but with the added fun of having runes and curses actually work, and Christians performing real miracles. Since the story is based in part off of the tales relating to Bera and Bjorn in The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki, it makes sense to keep a lot of that fun pagan magic. Plus, one of my characters gets turned into a bear, sooo... there's your fantasy aspect right there.

3. What POV is your story told? First person, or third?

Third-person, past tense, alternating between two POV characters: Bera, a female runemaster, and Hvit, a lonely, embittered queen.

4. What 5 songs would best describe your WIP?

I LOVE this question. Like many writers, I keep a running playlist with songs that "fit" the book. Sometimes it's because of the lyrics; other times, I just like the way the song feels. Here are 5 that I most associate with my book (in no particular order):

A. "Glass Heart Hymn" by Paper Route
There's a ghost in the mirror / I'm afraid more than ever / My feet have led me straight into my grave / Oh Lord have you walked away? / Oh Lord have you walked away from me?
B. "Wings" by Birdy
Sunlight comes creeping in / Illuminates our skin / We watch the day go by / Stories of all we did / It made me think of you / It made me think of you
C. "Oats in the Water" by Ben Howard
And you'll find loss / And you'll fear what you found / When weather comes / Tear him down
D. "If I Had a Heart" by Fever Ray
This will never end / 'Cause I want more / More, give me more / Give me more
If I had a heart I could love you / If I had a voice I would sing / After the night when I wake up / I'll see what tomorrow brings
E.  "This Place is a Shelter" by Ólafur Arnalds
5. Are you a plotter or panster? Why?

I am a pantser, through and through. I've fought my nature, attempting to outline novels before, but oddly enough, I never end up finishing those books. I prefer following the pulse of the story, letting the characters have the freedom to do what they want. I like not knowing what's going to happen and figuring it out along the way. I'm also fortunate enough to have a natural instinct for story structure, too, which helps me avoid the usual pitfalls of pantsing.

That isn't to say I don't sometimes make eyes at outlines. Those outlines, man. They can be pretty sexy.

6. What's your favorite scene in your WIP?

Oooh, hmm. This is a tough one. It's a toss-up between Hvit making a sacrifice in the woods, or Bera and Bjorn in the cave after she first frees him from his bear-form. I'd like to post a few lines, but I'm highly protective of my WIPs in this early stage.

7. Do you find a newly discovered technique helps you with your WIP?

Yes, actually! I'm doing something in this novel that I've never done before with any other writing project: I'm jumping back and forth between scenes, following where the inspiration takes me. Typically, I am a strict chronological writer, but I kept getting hung up on scenes I didn't feel like writing. This not only solved that problem, but also revived my interest and motivated me to keep going, reminding me what aspects of the story I still loved. It was an eleventh-hour Hail-Mary (how's that for mixed metaphor?), but it worked. Whether I will repeat this habit in future WIPs, I'm not sure. Part of my OCD, perfectionist self is still annoyed that I'm writing out of order.

8. Who is your favorite writer?

No! Bad question! I love too many writers! But if I had to pick... hrm... Shannon Hale or Margaret Atwood, probably. Atwood when I want poetry or prose that will cut me, and Hale when I want to just enjoy a story and feel generally hopeful about life and love. Liane Moriarty also gets an honorable mention, as do George R.R. Martin and J.R.R. Tolkien.

9. Which actors would you pick if your book was optioned for film?

Another easy question! I actually headcast my characters before even beginning the book. (Yes, I'm one of THOSE writers. I have a secret pinterest board and everything.) I find choosing a PB (or play-by) helps me visualize the character, and sometimes watching the actor/actress speak/behave in a role also helps me get a sense of voice, movement, and behavior.

Here's my cast:

Birgitte Hjort Sørensen as Bera
Norman Reedus as Bjorn
Jessica Grabowsky as Hvit
10. What advice to you have for writers?

Can I just post a link to Chuck Wendig's blog? No? Fine, fine...

Shoot from the hip. I don't mean that in a macho, cowboy-struttin' way (though I do love me a cowboy who can shoot from the hip). I'm talking about lightning quick instinct. 

Trust yourself; trust what aspects of the story you're being drawn towards and go there. Even if it scares you. Especially if it scares you. Yes, "shooting from the hip" will sometimes result in your aim being off, and the story or characters going in the wrong direction for a time. That's okay. Sometimes you will hit upon something you didn't mean to. That's okay, too. In fact, that's great! That might be exactly what your story needs. 

Maybe you're like me, and at the end of the day, you realize you're telling a different story than you thought you were. The only way to find out for sure is to press ahead. Even if you miss your target ninety percent of the time, that ten percent will always be worth the effort you spent trying. 

So endeth the metaphor.

And now, here are the wonderful folks I would like to nominate for the award! (If you've already been tagged for this, I apologize. You don't have to do it again, unless you'd like to.)

Laura Heffernan
K. Kazul Wolf
Lisa Houghton
Rosalyn Eves
Sara Jo Cluff

Here are your questions:
1. What most inspired your current WIP?
2. How do you best get "in the zone" for writing?
3. Do you have a certain time of day/place where you find you're most productive?
4. If you could sit down and pick the brain of one author, living or dead, who would it be? What would you ask them?
5. Your WIP has just become sentient. On a scale of 1-10, how much trouble are you in?
6. If money was no issue, where would your ideal writing vacation take place?
7. How did you come up with the title for your current WIP?
8. Who would you want to direct the movie adaptation of your WIP?
9. What advice would you give to another writer?
10. Hypothetical: You have a time machine and a nefarious mind. You can travel back in time with one book and take credit for writing it. Which book would it be?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Seven Sins Blog Hop

My dear friend, Sandie Docker (whose blog is here, click click!), tagged me in this Seven Sins blog hop because she knows I love talking about books almost as much as I love reading them. So, without further ado...

Greed – What is your most inexpensive book?

Well, since acquiring a Kindle, I tend to get quite a few books for free every month. (I am a glutton for free books, y'all). But if we're talking about physical copy, it would have to be the most recent book I got for about $2 from a book sale in the basement of CSUS's library. The book in question: That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor by Anne Sebba. I picked it up because I love strong women in unique circumstances, especially where issues of royalty come into play, and because the cover is super pretty.

Wrath – Who’s the author with whom you have a love/hate relationship with?

Hmmm. Generally, I either like an author or I don't, but if I have to choose... Off the top of my head, I'd have to say Lauren Oliver. I loathed her YA dystopian, Delirium, and wanted to throw it at the wall when I finished it. Yet, her YA contemporary, Before I Fall, has to be one of the best, most emotionally authentic books I've ever read. Seriously. I loved it, and feel it's extremely relevant to high school culture. So much so that I wish it was required reading in high school.

Gluttony – What book have you devoured over and over again with no shame?

There's really only one book that I reread over and over again. Those who know me and my love of Lord of the Rings/Boromir will already be able to guess, but it's definitely The Fellowship of the Ring. I mean, to give you some context of how often I return to this book, if you were to drop it, it automatically opens to the Council of Elrond--specifically, the page in which Boromir is introduced. Because, let's be honest, that's where the story starts getting good anyway, right? GONDOR 4 LYFE

Sloth – Which book have you neglected reading due to laziness?

So, so many. To be fair, I'm finishing up my Bachelor's degree in History right now, so I'm swamped with reading as is, but there are a couple books I've been putting off because of their length. The biggest one is Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin. This thing is a monster. Like, if it were a hardcover, I'm pretty sure it could be used as a weapon of opportunity. One day, I will read it! But probably not today. Tomorrow's not looking good either...

Pride – What books do you talk about most in order to sound like an intellectual reader?

You know, I feel like I probably do this a lot, but I can't really think of anything off the top of my head. Probably Shakespeare. To people who don't read a lot, or read only modern stuff, Shakespeare's plays seems to be the epitome of intellect and high-brow education. Which... it isn't, obviously. Oh, but that reminds me of a hilarious story I can share with you about that time in high school when I read Othello and thought a Moor was someone who lived near water and not, you know, Muslim. Missed the whole racism issue by miles.

Lust – What attributes do you find attractive in a male or female character?

Oh! This is an easy one. Ambition. Male or female, if they have some sort of ambition, and are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve it, I'm on board. Good, evil, doesn't matter. Admittedly, this quality often goes hand-in-hand with villainy, so I tend to be attracted to the antagonists, or "villainous" characters. (Do you like my air quotes there? It's because these poor characters are just misunderstood. Isn't that right, Loki? Don't let the big, bad world label youuuu.)

I mean, look at that face.
Envy – What book would you like to receive most as a gift?

ALL OF THEM. ALL OF THE BOOKS. Kidding aside, probably Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel or The Tiger Queens by Stephanie Thorton, at the moment. Or The Winds of Winter by the one, the only George R.R. Martin. Boy, would I love to have that book ahead of everyone else. ;)

And now I tag Kacy Kish, Missy Shelton Belote, and Susan Bickford. Confess your bookish sins!