Monday, December 29, 2008

Fabio Magic

Hah! It worked!

Not even a month after Fabio went to live with Pam, she sold her book. It's a Gargoyle book (the one the world truly wants to read, not that *other* one. Though I wish its author well.)

Believe in the power, sisters! (and, I suppose, brothers. :)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Why I Love My Chapter

I belong to the San Francisco chapter of Romance Writers of America. I've been a member for over ten years.

Here's just one reason I love it:

That's Fabio. Not the real one, a cardboard cutout version with an eerily intent gaze that tracks you around the room. His origins are unknown. My daughter thinks his belly button is too high. I think he needs new trousers. No one in our chapter finds him appealing *that* way. If there are still people out there laboring under the delusion that romance writers dream of this man, please allow me to set that myth to rest. However...

Fabio lives with whichever member of our chapter is on the verge, through dedication and hard work and mastery of her craft, of publication. When that member receives an offer of publication, she passes him along to the next writer on the brink. Yesterday, Fabio left his old home with Jennifer Skully and went to live with Pam Fryer. Fabio's dubious fabulousness aside, this is just one small example of the positive energy in the group. Go Pam!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Friends Like Mine - Where Do You Get 'Em?

A nice person asked how I found my critique group and how we operate. Well! Lisa and Lynn (in photo in the last post) and I are hoping to speak on this topic at the Romance Writers of America conference this July - we find out in January if our proposal was accepted - but I'll summarize here.

Our group has existed in some form or other since the Dawn of Time. I joined it ten - ten! - years ago. It started out as a romance writing group. People came and went. Sometimes they moved away (Libby, Diane, Nichole, Rachelle), and occasionally they quit entirely (Irene, which still makes me sad). Lisa and Lynn sometimes talk about the Beginning Times...I curl up at their feet and listen while they spin tales of olde...but the three of us, the current core of the group, have been together for many years.

We get new people sometimes. Occasionally, one of us brought a friend. Once it didn't work out so well and it became obvious to everyone that it wasn't a match. Once it worked out great: that's our dear Cyndy, a true-blue and valued addition. Four or five times that I remember, we met new members at the San Francisco chapter of RWA and decided to invite them to join us. (That's how we got Trish.)

In recent times, when people express interest in joining, we've had to say no. There are five of us now, and five feels right. And we have all learned to be very, very protective of what works.

That said, there is no magic formula. From talking to other writers we've come to understand that what works for us wouldn't work for other groups. (We've also discovered we're very lucky...we have had no backstabbing, infighting, pettiness, undermining, jealousy issues....none of that. We're all big girls and we act like it.)

What We Do
1. Meet every week
2. Set weekly goals, check in on progress with daily emails
3. Pass along ideas, industry news, promotion ideas, and blog posts of interest
4. Consider new members as a group
5. Eject non-contributing members
6. Swap, recommend and analyze books
7. Go on retreats (plotting, brainstorming)
8. Take workshops, continuing education, share techniques
9. Explore new concepts and ideas (examples include business plans, collaging, outlining, and field trips)
10. Invite guests
11. Meet one-on-one for specific coaching (The Diet Coke Effect)
12. Provide “life intervention” support (babysitting, ride share, compassionate ear, etc.)
13. Celebrate! Birthdays, biannual critique group dinners, family get-togethers, “good-news” sharing

There's so much more to say on the topic, but I really must do a little bit of work tonight, so I'll close for now by debunking a few critique group myths:

1. Pick people in your own genre.

The truth is that while you probably want to make sure everyone is writing genre (as opposed to literary, and I mean no offense to those who do, but it's a different endeavor, in my mind), you need only make sure you have NO GENRE SNOBS (someone inscribe that on my gravestone, please) and you'll do fine. Nearly every element of genre fiction succeeds and fails based on the same factors; only the details change.

2. Get the most successful authors you can.

Brilliant writers do not always make brilliant critiquers. Sometimes they have a very narrow vision - and that may work well for their own books. Also, "fresh readers" - those writers who are still unaware of all the rules - are extremely valuable. Make them tell you what they really think of your book and be sure to thank them, because they are a direct conduit into the heart of your readership.

3. Cut the chatter - you're here to work.

Oh, how we struggled with this one. We tried all kinds of ways to force ourselves to stay on topic. You know what finally worked? Getting serious. When we all got serious about our work, we found that we gossip just as much as ever, but now a good portion of it is industry-related. I learn more from my friends than I would poring over blogs - and we share every bit of useful knowledge with each other. As for the rest of the off-topic stuff...well, I wouldn't trade it. I just stay up a little later at night making up the time.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Time for my annual mushy appreciation of my critique group, which always comes on the heels of our holiday dinner.

We celebrate together twice a year. Well - formally, anyway; we celebrate little things every single week in between.

These gals keep me going. Thanks, sparkly sugars.

Oh, and just a few other people who've made this year amazing: Thank you ral, bp, cmm, mw, and the rest of you who i don't deserve.

Lisa, Trish, Lynn, me, Cyndy

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

BANISHED to be published!

I'm pretty much overjoyed to report that my Young Adult series has found a home. Delacorte Books will publish BANISHED and its sequel in fall '10 and '11. Thank you, thank you to Barbara for once again navigating the deal brilliantly, and to editor Claudia Gabel for seeing some promise in my work.

I have to say it was a particular thrill to browse through the books published by Delacorte Books For Young Readers - and see so many of my kids' favorites there.

Here's the announcement from Publishers Marketplace:
Children's: Young Adult
Sophie Littlefield's BANISHED, in which an ostracized girl from a small town discovers she's heir to an ancient legacy and the powers that come with it, to Claudia Gabel at Delacorte, in a two-book deal, by Barbara Poelle at Irene Goodman Agency.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Eight-Legged Sage

Once upon a time, when the world was newish, there was nowhere for aspiring authors to go to learn about the publishing business. Oh, you could buy a lunkish brick of a tome that was out-dated before its ink was dry that purported to list agents and suggest ways to make a favorable impression when querying them, but at least half of the mysterious cabal declined to participate, and the advice was banal and lacking in gritty details and, well, spark.

Gotta have spark. That's my motto.

Nevertheless, my early querying was utterly spark-free; I plodded along through the swamps and thickets of rejection, unsure of whether i was just going in self-defeating circles. For tips I relied on eavesdropping on whispered snatches of conversations among "real" authors. I was starting to feel a little tawdry, to be honest.

Then one day I stumbled on a blog - a very special blog, whose very authorship was a matter of giddy speculation. I read it. Everyone read it. The revelations contained within were astonishing. Secrets as precious as rubies dripped from every post. The prose was unadorned and unequivocal. There was no coddling. I didn't care. The truth was plenty enough.

Eventually it reached the end of its lovely run. Still unagented, but infinitely wiser, I was sorry to see its end. But then another blog popped up, and another - both authored by a not-quite-as-mysterious, but still-plenty-elusive agent who took it upon herself to clarify whole great elements of the querying and publishing process. She pointed out where lay the minefields, ways to boost one's chances, describe one's work in the most flattering light, improve one's chapters.

Again, I read them. Everyone read them. You, friend, should read them. And learn.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

No Asky No Gety

I just stole this little graphic from a website about books about the civil war, of all things. I was there because I had looked up the guy who designed the cover for A BAD DAY FOR SORRY. It's the best cover on the planet, I'm convinced, and I was looking for more information about the designer, whose name is David Rotstein, and he did one of the civil war books...

But when I saw that darn funny graphic it struck me: I'm not a big "asky" type. I tend to kind of let chips fall where they may. Got to change that some, got to learn to advocate for my book. I've got a great editor and the world's best agent so I'm covered there. We wanted a little bitty change to the cover, long story, but we asked for it and - lo and behold, when I saw the revised version, we got it! Funny how that works.

(It doesn't much work on kids though. You can "asky" all day long for them to move their damn backpacks somewhere that you won't trip over them coming and going, and you'll never "gety" it.)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Kind of Fan Every Writer Needs

I went to Crimebake last weekend - a great conference put on by the New England chapters of MWA and SinC. It was just the right size - not so big as to be intimidating for a crowd-phobe like myself, but with plenty of new people to meet.

One of the best things about it, though, was that I got to attend with my brother Mike. He's an amazing writer, but that's not what made it so much fun. No, it was the knowledge that one of my most supportive fans was *right there* with me the whole time.

I write good stuff sometimes. I also write mediocre stuff. And really bad stuff. And some of my ideas are strange or unworkable or just plain don't make sense. Since Mike and I talk just about every week, and get around to discussing most of our story ideas and works-in-progress, he's heard the chaff as well as the good ones. And yet he's never discouraging, never critical. When I get off the phone from one of our conversations, I'm always ready to dive back in.

Confidence is a funny, delicate beast. It takes huge amounts of nurturing, and yet the smallest setback can crush it. I wish for everyone at least one friend like Mike, someone who's there for you both for the good times and the crummy ones, who never gives up on you even if it appears that the rest of the world has.

And P.S., Mike is cooking up a thriller that will blow your socks right freaking *off*....get back to the keyboard, MW, if you are reading this!!!!!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

What a Difference Two Years (and 400,000 words) Makes...

I was just reading a journal entry from October, 2006. I'm a very haphazard journaler and I almost never read over old entries, but this notebook fell open by accident as I was reorganizing some shelves.

It took me a minute to remember that was the year I became a truly serious writer. I'd dabbled forever, and one day - inexplicably - I'd decided it was now or never. I joined Beth Patillo's Club One Hundred (you can learn more about this great motivator here) and then re-upped.

By October, I was close enough to the end of the book to be thinking about submitting it - and writing the sequel. Here's what I wrote:

"I need to make a final push to get this thing done. I don't think I can really start on book two until I do. And I need to act fearless with the agent search - definitely a case of Fake It Until You Make It - I have no idea how bad the self-doubts and rejections are going to be - safe to guess they'll be fairly bad though.

I know I'll be tempted to cause my own obstacles, procrastinate, head in the sand etc. - but I really need to work against that by making the whole process as methodical as possible.

Now it's just a matter of remembering and sticking to that."

Well, well. As it turns out, the self-doubts were near-debilitating, the rejections were daunting, but I stuck to it and methodically sent out about fifty queries. And fifty on the sequel. Eighty on the book that followed that. And then finally I wrote A BAD DAY FOR SORRY....and I'm really glad I didn't give up.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Title and Pub Date...

So my debut novel finally has an official title and a release date! The first title didn't work out, so we tried a few on for size before settling on a new one.

A BAD DAY FOR SORRY will be released by Thomas Dunne Books in August of 2009.

Seems like a long, long, time from now, but my experienced author friends assure me that the time flies...

Oh, I got an ISBN too. Oddly thrilling :)

Saturday, June 28, 2008

DRINK IT BITTER Will Be Published!

I couldn't be more elated to share that I just signed a two-book contract with Thomas Dunne for my mystery series featuring widow/housewife/killer Stella Hardesty. 

I'm extremely fond of Stella. In the universe populated by the characters - probably in the hundreds by now - who have been spawned by my over-active imagination, she's a favorite, and I'm really thrilled that the series will see publication.

The first in the series, DRINK IT BITTER, will be out in 2009.

Among many wonderful things about my new publisher, I submit that they have possibly the most charming logo around. (His name is Sparky.)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

New Story at MuzzleFlash!

Just got an email from DZ Allen saying he posted my flash piece, "Sign of the Devil," over at Muzzle Flash.

This is especially exciting for me because it's the first of my horror short stories to be published. I mean, now that I think about it, I guess it's still basically a crime story, but it's definitely at the darker end of what I write.

Thanks much DZ!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

YellowMama Accepted a Story

Just found out that Cindy Rosmus, editor of YellowMama, has accepted my story "Summer Girl" for publication in Issue #10, October 2008. I've admired YellowMama for a while now - it's unique and high-energy, and I'm delighted that I'll be published there!

Monday, March 31, 2008

Crimespace Contest Results - Yay!

I'm thrilled and delighted to report that I placed second in the inaugural Short Story Competition over at CrimeSpace, the social networking site for readers and writers of crime and mystery fiction.

The theme was Australia, and I had a great time researching historical opal mining. The resulting story, The Molloy Brothers Give Their All, is the first bit of historical fiction I've attempted.

Full contest results here.

I'm grateful to Daniel Hatadi, founder and self-described Down-Under-Lord, for this opportunity. Also to the judging panel which included Katherine Howell, Jon Jordan, Stuart MacBride, and Sandra Ruttan.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

My Big News - I Signed With Barbara!

Yes yes - I now have an agent! I've been itching to post this since Barbara Poelle offered to represent me but wanted to wait until it was "official."

Barbara is with the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, a fantastic bunch of smart people. I can't wait for my first opportunity to start a sentence with "I was just talking to my agent in New York and...." It hasn't happened yet - my son's lacrosse carpool isn't suitably impressed, for instance :)

Looking forward to seeing what happens next!

This is about how I felt when I got the news :)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

New Story At Pulp Pusher

Today is an amazing day!

Tony Black has published my story, No Exceptions, at Pulp Pusher.

Thanks so much to Tony, whose first book will be out soon.

By the way, this story is dedicated to my mentor, Craig McDonald, who has been patiently explaining this crazy writing business to me for a while now, and who is an amazing brilliant writer.

One other fun thing happened today...details to follow :)

Saturday, March 1, 2008

I'm in ThugLit - Yay!

My story,
Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon,
is in the current issue of ThugLit.

I'm pretty much out-of-my-mind thrilled to be there :)

Thank you so much, Big Daddy Thug and Lady Detroit!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine's Day Story

As part of a Valentine's Day event hosted by Aldo Calcagno, Patti Abbott, and Gerald So, I have a little story up on PowderBurn Flash.

Read "Rival Passions," my first-ever Flash Fiction attempt.

Happy Valentines Day to all!
May love come your way, in all its mysterious guises

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Thanks Dawg

Aldo Calcagno (aka Mystery Dawg) has been kind enough to publish my story "A Taste For It" on his crime fiction site, Darkness Before.

This is my first crime short story to see publication and I'm happy and grateful to Aldo.