Tuesday, April 17, 2012

My Love Letter to Houston

Can I just say that I'm so grateful to live in Houston?

We have a fabulous community of writers here, especially writers for children, and a fantastic support system through local groups, readers, and bookstores.  I've known this ever since I started to dip my toe into the writing world.  But this month especially, I'm feeling the love more than ever.  There have been and will be so many literary events this month, and I wanted to take an opportunity to say thank you to some of the people who put in the hard work to make all this stuff possible.

Our local SCBWI Chapter is freaking fantastic.  Houston is really blessed to have such a great group.  The volunteers consistently put together the most amazing, inspiring events.  On March 31 and April 1, I attended our chapter's Annual Conference and a special intensive workshop on voice with editor Heather Alexander.  To say that I got something out of that weekend would be an understatement.  The feedback from critiques was invaluable.  The presentations during the main part of the conference were informative and interesting.  And the intensive on voice? Priceless. It's rare that I get to attend a monthly meeting, Monday nights are usually really rough for me, but I always feel welcome and supported when I'm able to attend events.  So many wonderful people put a lot of time and effort into this group, and I want to give them all big hugs!

This past weekend, April 14, was the Teen Book Con.  It's an annual event at a local high school where many authors come and do panel discussions and signings.  This was my first year, and I wasn't disappointed.  The authors were gracious and patient and seemed genuinely interested in meeting their fans.  I watched author after author interact with the kids, asking them about their favorite books, school, and what they liked about the event.  My little brother, who's in high school, came with me and was blown away by how "real" the authors were in talking with him.  He came away inspired to focus on his own writing and kept telling me "I'll be up there one day".  How awesome to have events like this where kids can interact this closely with adults they look up to! A very cool moment for me came during a panel where Siobhan Vivian mentioned that her editor was David Levithan and the kids literally swooned.  I'm not lying.  It was incredible.  The kids were so enthusiastic and excited to be there.  Kudos to the organizers of Teen Book Con and the authors who attended for giving back so much to the readers and encouraging them to be more involved in reading and writing.

The night before Teen Book Con, I had the privilege to attend a meetup hosted by several Houston book bloggers.  Not only did I meet and interact with some incredibly fabulous bloggers (local and out of town), but I was able to talk with several of the authors attending Teen Book Con, which was a nice surprise.  I sat next to Michelle Zink, Trinity Faegen, and Jessica Spotswood.  I'd been looking forward to meeting Michelle since a mutual friend had said such nice things about her, but I was thrilled to get to talk to Trinity and Jessica as well.  They were so lovely, as were all the other attendees I met.  As a writer, it was interesting to listen to the bloggers talk about reviews and review policies.  The bloggers I spoke with are genuinely concerned about posting reviews that will hurt the author and try to focus on the positive aspects of the book even if it wasn't for them. All of them clearly have a passion for books, and it made for an enjoyable evening of discussion.  Thanks to Cari and Kate for hosting!

This week is the Texas Library Association Conference.  I am SO excited since it will be my first library conference, and I don't have to go out of town for it (it travels every year)!  So many wonderful authors are heading to Houston to speak at the conference and sign books.  I won't be attending the workshops unfortunately, but I will be visiting the exhibits area on Wednesday and Thursday.  One of my friends is actually helping coordinate a lot of the stuff going on, and I know it's going to be great.  I'm looking forward to connecting with writer, blogger, and librarian friends at the conference.  Librarians are so full of awesome.  I have several friends who are currently librarians or have their MLS degrees.  Despite budget cuts, red tape, hiring freezes, and a million other difficulties, they manage to stay enthusiastic about promoting reading and encouraging kids who want to read and/or write.  Librarians have encouraged and helped me from elementary school through law school and beyond.  They are truly rock stars.

Saturday the 21st, we celebrate the Two Year Anniversary of the Houston YA/MG writing group.  When Mary Lindsey, Iona McAvoy, Rose Garcia Moriarty, and I founded the group, we wanted a casual group who would meet each month to complement what we'd learned in other groups and provide support to each other along our journey to write with the "teen brain" in mind.  Along the way, we've met so many fantastic people and had some wonderful speakers.  We've seen so many of our friends sign with agents and get book deals, but, more importantly, we've seen our friends grow as writers and become more focused in achieving their goals.  Thanks to my co-founders and all the wonderful writers who participate in the meetings and on the message board! Also thanks to Cari and Kate (links above) who will make our 2 Year Anniversary meeting so fantastic as they talk about promoting our books using bloggers and blog tours!

Lastly, without the support of our local bookstores, the Houston literary community wouldn't be nearly as fabulous.  While there are many fantastic locals, Blue Willow Bookshop deserves a shout-out for all the support it gives children's book authors.  Valerie and the gang host launch events for local authors, handle the book sales at the SCBWI Conference and Teen Book Con, and bring tons of children's author events to Houston.  Our community couldn't do it without you.

Are you feeling the love yet? ;-)

If you'll be in town, we'd love to have you at the Houston YA/MG meeting on Saturday the 21st.  Details are at the website. If you're headed to TLA, send me an email at jessicacapelle (at) gmail (dot) com and let's meet up! I'll be there Wednesday and Thursday.

Thanks for stopping by!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Memes, Zombies, and Adverbs... Oh My!

Happy Monday (on the West Coast at least).  I tend to keep blogging early Tuesday morning instead of Monday.  Maybe I should change my blogging day to Tuesday! :-)

A new meme has been going around on the Internet this week called Lucky Sevens.  I wanted to play along, really I did, but I just couldn't follow the rules.  It requires you to go to page 7 or 77, start with line 7, and post the next 7 sentences or paragraphs.  Sounds like a blast, but here's my problem: I can't post anything I'm working on.  Really.  Here's why:

1) My #norobotschallenge YA manuscript, MW: Both page 7 and 77 are pivotal parts of the book for the main character.  Within those sentences/paragraphs are things integral to the plot.  Really don't want to post stuff like that.  Plus, I'm about to query, and I don't want an agent to stumble across it before he/she receives my query.

2) My partial roughdraft, MG manuscript, TI: Both pages 7 and 77 are bare bones with compressed time scenes that need to be fleshed out and have notes woven throughout.  The sentences aren't even complete since I've been jotting notes all over them.  Not really good for playing along.

3) My zombie short story for the Zombie Survival Crew's upcoming anthology: Not going there without permission!

So, since I can't do the Lucky Sevens meme, I thought I'd do something related that's also fun.  I ran across a snippet from my first zombie short story.  I posted it on my Facebook page when I was working on the roughdraft. It's from August 31, 2009. After I wrote it, I couldn't find a home for it until I heard about the first Zombie Survival Crew anthology contest.

"Erik cold? Jaimy warm up.” She pulled my face down to kiss me. After
a long kiss, she paused and pulled back. She opened her mouth
unnaturally wide and worked a loose tooth out of her decaying gums. It
popped out like she was 8. She giggled and made a comment about the
Tooth Fairy. That’s the thing with dating a zombie; you have to watch
out for errant body parts.

Now compare it to the final version, published in May 2011 in the anthology UNDEAD IS NOT AN OPTION:

“Erik cold? Jaimy warm up.”

Her hands hold my face in a vise-like grip as she pulls me toward her
deformed lips. Zombies are surprisingly strong for dead people. After a
long, drool-soaked kiss, she pushes me back and feels around in her
mouth. She opens it unnaturally wide as she yanks a loose tooth out of
her decaying gums, and a smell similar to rancid meat fills my nose for
just a second. As the acid rises in my throat, she giggles and mumbles
something about the Tooth Fairy. It doesn’t take me long to compose
myself since I’m used to it by now. Dating a zombie, you learn quickly
that you have to watch out for errant body parts.

What is with all those adverbs?! Yikes! LOL It's interesting to see how the structure remained the same, and even a lot of the language, but I think I upped the "ick" factor. :-)

 Not only is this cartoon awesome, it's by the fabulous Debbie aka Inky Girl. You should check out her site. Like now.  She rocks.

It's amazing to look back at my writing from when I first started seriously working on it (late 2008) and compare it to now.  I've learned and grown so much, but I continue to learn every day.  Craft improves the more you work at it, but there's always room for improvement.  I'll be continuing to hone my craft and learn as much as possible while I'm still breathing.

This time, the adverbs are going down.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The #norobots Challenge

This weekend I attended the SCBWI Houston Conference. It was so fabulous! The volunteers that run the conference outdid themselves. I learned so much and got some great feedback from my critiques.

After I had my first critique, I handed my friend Iona McAvoy my feedback letter. It was full of praise for my writing and voice and gave only minimal notes for improving my first 10 pages. Yes, I was beaming! After she finished, she said something along the lines of "now will you freaking send it out?!" Of course that could be what I heard, not what she actually said! ;-)

Accordingly, Iona gave me an ultimatum: send out queries soon or she will add transforming robots to my manuscript. Yes, transforming ones. And she has a whole slew of them in mind already (she's been trying to get me to add them for a year or so). She texted me about a German Shepherd one this morning. I have a feeling this will happen daily until the queries go out and she has proof.

I convinced her that I should be allowed to have a few more passes through the manuscript to make it perfect. She also will allow my beta readers and critique partners to take one last pass. This gives me a drop-dead, queries-in-the-"sent mail"-deadline of May 31. At 8 am on June 1st, Iona will begin putting transforming robots in my manuscript (aka "MW"). MW is part sci-fi, but it's not THAT kind of sci-fi! Apparently my genre is actually "sci-fi grounded heavily in realism with elements of light urban fantasy". Whew! No room for robots though.

My plan is pretty simple- I mapped everything out last night. If I do a close read of 50 pages each week, I will finish in 5 weeks. I will send the first half to readers when it's done, then the second half will follow after at the end of the 5 weeks. I'll take the last four weeks to do "nit-picky" stuff, read it aloud again for any spots that don't flow well, and make sure I've addressed any nagging concerns the readers have. One evening during each of the nine weeks is devoted to tightening my query letter and synopsis and updating all the agent research I've done. I even have a color-coded agent spreadsheet that I've been using to track preferences for a while. What can I say, I really like the highlighting function in Word. :-)

Cat2 is just as exhausted by my revision schedule as I am!

I will need help to stay motivated, encouraged, and on track! Please tweet, Facebook message, email, or text with gentle nudges and reminders. If you are willing to read for me, let me know that too. I know at least one of my readers isn't available right now, and I'd like a fresh pair of eyes or two to read the full. It's young adult, so if you don't regularly read young adult, I won't be able to use you. If you have a teenager who would be willing to read it, that would be fantastic!

Those of you who follow me on Twitter may see me tweet with the hashtag #norobots from time to time over the next two months. When I do, you'll know I'm talking about this challenge.

Wish me luck and remember... #norobots allowed.