The Weirdest Book Acceptance Story Ever

This is not a dignified tale. I wish I could say I acted professional and composed after getting my acceptance letter, or that I even had a little celebration dance, or ran outside and bugged the neighbors with a few whoops and hollers, as I’d always imagined it would go down. I certainly didn’t anticipate the explosive reaction that a lifetime of waiting, hoping, praying, and repeated disappointment would elicit in me. And I don’t know if anyone ever shared the long-awaited news of their publishing acceptance with other travelers at a rest stop in the middle of nowhere.

We were driving home at the end of our vacation in the Rocky Mountains a couple weeks ago. I had crappy cell service most of the way through Wyoming, but I got a faint signal while we ate at a rest stop out in the prairies. Just enough for some emails and texts to come in while I sat in the car waiting for Lia and Emily to finish up in the restroom. The first email I saw was the one from the publisher I’d wanted for Cobalt since the beginning: Xchyler Publishing. I would have psyched myself up for the feeling of crushing disappointment I’d grown accustomed to when I was sending out The Moongate, except I saw the email header: Welcome to the X!
I sat uncomprehending for a second, then launched out of the car shrieking. Eva thought there was a bee or something in the car (we had wasp and bee problems at the resort, including one wasp that was NOT happy that I rolled over on it in bed), so Eva ran out right behind me and didn’t realize what was going on until she heard me screaming at my mom through her car window. My poor mom, she was so stressed over the problem of finding a motel for our last night on the road; she caught on but stared at me kind of shocked, until I turned and ran flapping and yelling up the trail toward the restrooms, Eva hot on my heels and screaming even louder.
People stared. I didn’t care.
Emily said she and Lia heard us coming and wondered if we were just on our way to tell them to hurry up because we needed to go, but they didn’t know why we were screaming. I burst into the restroom and found a confused Emily standing near the sinks. The exchange went kind of like this:
Me: *UNINTELLIGIBLE SCREAMING COBALT UNINTELLIGIBLE SCREAMING*
Emily: “Wait. Cobalt got accepted?!”
Me: *SCREAM GIGGLE SHRIEK BOUNCE*
Emily: “OH MY GOSH I COULD JUST KISS YOU!!”
Emily, Eva, and me: *SCREAM TACKLE HUG JUMP UP AND DOWN SCREAM*
Lia (from the stall at the end): “What is happening out there?”
And that’s the story of how I celebrated the acceptance email from my dream publisher with my kids and strangers inside a rest stop bathroom.

Our Vacation: Dying Cars and Frisky Wasps

The story is even more awesome to me considered what we went through at the beginning of the Most Stressful Vacation Ever. I won’t say Vacation From Hell, because it turned out really nice in the end, but boy did it have more than a few glitches.
We caravanned out from Boise with the intention to stay overnight in the mountains in Utah, then continue on to our family reunion at the Winding River Resort in Colorado. Just after making it into the beehive state, my step-dad’s car broke down. After attempting for hours to urge the disabled car out of the wilderness at least (big costly mistake), the girls and I went on ahead and got a room at a scary motel in downtown Ogden. My parents finally got their car towed to a mechanic and they got a room at another (and nicer) place, since ours was now fully booked.
The next day we were supposed to have arrived at the resort, but we spent the day at a public park, many of us in tears, as we tried unsuccessfully ALL DAY to find a rental car to continue the trip. My mom was resigned to staying behind with my step-dad in Ogden while the rest of us drove up to the resort, but we didn’t want to go without her. She’d planned this trip for over five months, and my brother’s girls were so looking forward to seeing their grandma. Meanwhile, my step-dad’s car needed a new engine, and as of this moment is still at the shop in Utah waiting to be repaired. Defeated, we got another hotel room that night and went to bed not knowing what we were going to do, but pretty much certain our vacation was ruined.

The next morning, my mom made a few last calls and found a rental. Once again on the road, we made it to the resort that night. We had a wonderful time with family we don’t get to see very often, and I got some pictures like these:

A wild Lia. Sneaking in for a closer picture might have been dangerous.

The adorable cabin I stayed in with three of the girls
Partyin’ around the campfire
My brother and Lia jamming

Emily and my mom 😉

A rustic writer’s setup (I didn’t get any writing done)

Musings on what a loser I am, but also kind of a winner

So I haven’t blogged since June?! Let’s just gloss over the fact that I’m a total blogging loser compared to some of my amazing writerly friends, because I have some exciting news! Before I get into that, a little on what’s been going on in the lives of the Baker clan, for those who are interested. If you’re not, scroll down to the really weird picture and read from there.

So now I’ve been working for BKA Content for over a year, and still loving it! It’s wonderful to work for a company that makes me feel so valued, even if my bosses are a little nuts. I also hold them responsible for several new gray hairs over the past year. 😉

The kids are thriving here in Idaho and getting good grades. They’re in counseling and continue to heal. We just enjoyed our second happy, peaceful Christmas here with my family.

She walked around the mall like this on the premiere night of The Hobbit.

Christmas is also fun for cats who like to lick the Christmas tree! He started opening one of the boys’ presents right after I took this picture. O_o


And now, an announcement

Normally it doesn’t take me so long to finish writing a book, but I had a few setbacks in the personal life department. I’m back on track and ready to kick butt! I promised my 15-year-old that I’d finish Cobalt by Christmas (because she was going to hurt me if I didn’t), and I did manage to finish it very late on Christmas day. She’s re-reading it now, and finding some minor typos for me. My goal is to have it polished and ready to submit to small publishers in March (I’ll hold off submitting to agents until I get some feedback from publishers).
You’d hurry up to finish your manuscript too if you had this freak following you around threatening bodily harm. Every author needs a motivator like Emily!
So, to celebrate, I’ll share a snip from the second-to-last chapter, along with one of Lia’s special embellishments at the end. I came out of the bathroom last week to see her skipping away from my laptop. “I like your story!” she said. I was confused for a moment, because she hasn’t read Cobalt yet. Then I realized what she must have done. Her best embellishments are the ones that catch me by surprise – although the ones I twist her arm to do for me are pretty good, too.

“Which key is it, which one?” Alexei was frantically jamming one key after another into the keyhole.

“I don’t know!” Kate cried. “Gerta never let me have the keys. Hurry!”

“I’m trying, I’m trying!” There was a loud click, and the door swung forward. Five exhausted, terrified people and one ruffled, hissing squirrel tumbled into the dark kitchen. Everyone scrambled forward and moved out of Anthia’s way so she could slam the door shut. The faint sounds of enraged howling, like a strong wind through the tops of the trees, came through the keyhole. Alexei quickly locked the door, and Kate grabbed a rag from the kitchen table to stuff into the keyhole. For good measure, she pushed a small rug up against the bottom of the door. 

Trembling and out of breath, everyone found chairs to collapse into. Kate yanked the kitchen curtains closed against the shafts of moonlight shining through the barred window, then felt along the wall until she found the switch that lit the kitchen globe.

“Well, everyone,” she said, leaning weak-kneed against the wall, “welcome to my home.”

They looked around. What they saw terrified them. Hanging on one wall was a portrait of a large woman, about the size of a whale, leaning naked against the hull of an airship. Captioned underneath were the words “Sexiest Lady Alive, Gerta.” Resting on a counter they found a jar of eyeballs and a basket full smaller eyeballs, sitting next to a beaker of even smaller eyeballs, which stood atop a tupperware container of the smallest eyeballs you could ever imagine. In the sink they found a half-eaten PB&J and that wasn’t even the worst of it. There was twice as much jelly in that sandwich as there should have been. It would totally overpower the peanut butter! Probably why it was only half-eaten. Whoever made that sandwich must’ve been a huge jerk.


And now, the funnies

 How could I leave my first blog post in over six months without something funny, and some musics?

…yep.

I’ve had this song stuck in my head the last couple of days. Not this awesome cover, but the original.

Lia Channels Her Literary Weird Al Again

Yippee, Lia punks Cobalt again, this time playing with some alliteration. I love it when she does this, even if it makes me look back and question my writing style. I wonder if she’s making fun of me. Well, of course she’s making fun of me! Hehe. She should write an entire Cobalt parody, it would be hysterical.
The first few paragraphs are mine, and then it’s pretty obvious when she picks it up.

Their pursuer chose that moment to appear at the line of trees behind them. With a noisy cracking of limbs, it lurched out into the clearing and paused. They could all see it in the twilight: the gray bulbous body supported by what looked like a dozen or more writhing tentacles. It hesitated at the Forest’s edge, looking just as confused by the abrupt end of the foliage as they’d been.

“Looks like the younger brother of the thing that brought the ship down!” Viktor said.

It was true. The creature was many times smaller than the monstrous beast that had attacked the Velia Rose, but it looked no less deadly. The body pulsed and swiveled, until a pair of malignant black eyes glared at the group only a couple dozen feet away.

The beast stared them down malignantly with its muddy eyes. It moved malevolently towards the meek mass of migrants with maliciousness in mind. Suddenly, it did the macarena. Needless to say, the travelers were mystified. Never before had they seen a mollusk macarena with such magnificence.

“My oh my,” shouted Milek. “Such majesty!”

“Marvelous,” mimed Marty the mechanic.

“Miraculous,” mumbled Anthia. The massive mollusk modeled for the multitude.

“Mayhaps I might join your merry mass? We may have many marvelous misadventures and I can match many in mighty melee!”

“Nope,” said Kate, and stabbed the squid right between the eyes with her little dagger thing. To this day, nobody knows how she did it because apparently she’s not very good at fighting or whatever.

Wait, I’m not done being funny! I want more, before I go back to the day job.

Oh! I had a major fangirl freakout over this one. One of my favorite steampunk bands (I’ll post some music below) favorited my 40th birthday tweet!! I didn’t even know they were following me. 😀

And this time last year:

I Suck Because… – Oh, last year I didn’t think we were moving to Boise. And I was switching to my maiden name. Heh. I also had a broken foot. What else is new?

Now…

All Work and No Play…

I’ve been a boring person lately. I write for a living, and it’s at home – so I rarely make myself pretty anymore. And often I find myself pulling all-nighters to make a deadline (when the kids or appointments have been keeping me busy during the day) or when it’s close to payday and I want to get in a few more assignments. The result is a crazy ugly lady in Spongebob pajamas who loves her job, but has pretty much forgotten about her fiction dreams. It looks a little like this:

I don’t have an ax, and I won’t get one. 😉

So I put Cobalt on my Nook for Emily to read last week. I thought it would make a good incentive for me to lighten up and do more of what I love – writing the fictions. You see, Emily inherited my tendency to become a raging fangirl of epic proportions when she develops a passion (or an obsession) for something. The following individuals, whether they’re fictional characters or not, should beware. Make sure Emily never finds out where you live.

Now what happened was Emily read Cobalt in two days, knowing that I’m still a few chapters out from being done. I asked her to keep me motivated to finish it. I knew she’d like the story…but I’d forgotten how she can get scary obsessed.
With my WIP cutting off at a cliffhanger chapter ending just before the book’s climax, she kind of freaked out at 4:00 in the morning and woke me up with a tantrum, then took my laptop and made a Facebook fan page for me! I wasn’t expecting that. But look what she did with my blog’s banner! I seriously love it.
Well, now that I have a 14-year-old coming up every time I’m at  the laptop, staring at me with her creepy eyes and asking if I’m writing, I have a really good reason to finish the book! Or else I might be facing this:
I am not even joking.
I know it’s a rare author who has all the time in the world to do only what he or she loves. Do you make writing your first priority, or do you get work done before rewarding yourself with writing?

This time last year:
Oh Never Mind, I Can’t Stay Away, Y’all! – So very much can change in a year! A blessing in disguise has given us the opportunity to reform our broken family stronger and happier than ever. Part of this drawn-out struggle will be over next week, when we go to court. We still have a long road ahead of us to break away completely, but 2013 looks full of hope.

Young Adult vs. Middle Grade

So until about three years ago, I’d never heard of the term “middle grade.” Young Adult fantasy had always been my favorite genre – or so I’d thought. Until I started researching agents and discovered a whole new freaking genre that I’d been reading all along and never knew it wasn’t YA.

To me, the lines dividing Young Adult and Middle Grade can be fuzzy, although most agents and publishers are pretty firm on distinguishing one from the other when you’re submitting a manuscript. Here’s a little of what I learned when looking to define the two categories. These are the points that matter the most to me in identifying whether a story is YA or MG – like I said, it’s not always clear to my strange little mind, but others might have entirely different opinions.

  • Age of the characters. MG characters are around pre-teen age or even early teens, while YA characters are usually 16 or 17.
  • Romantic elements. Although there can be romance in a MG story, it’s usually just lightly touched upon, while the main focus is on the action. YA books usually have some sort of romance, with the romantic element being a main theme for many YA stories.
  • Story and plot. This is where it sometimes gets fuzzy for me, and I’d think I was reading a YA book when in fact it was MG. Younger readers are smarter than a lot of people give them credit for, and you might be surprised at some of the themes that MG books touch on. A few can get pretty dark, and most are quite complicated. What I think should be the line that divides the two categories is the way the themes are presented. Some particularly dark, violent, or disturbing themes should really be saved until the reader is older and better able to handle them.

Other writing elements, like voice and length, can also define a YA or MG book, but to me the above three are what I look at the most. And I really do have a point to all this rambling: recently I’ve had to look carefully at The Moongate to decide if it’s really the YA book I’ve always thought it was – or if it fits more into the MG category. (I’ll also include Cobalt, because I meant for that one to be MG from the very beginning.)

  • Age. In The Moongate, the main character Nissa is 16, and most of the supporting characters are the same age or older. (In Cobalt, Kate’s almost 13. Her friends are a little older, 15 and 16. I purposefully wrote it that way so the story might appeal to older readers as well.)
  • Romance. An editor told me the lack of romantic tension in The Moongate (as well as Nissa’s voice) confused their readers as to my intended target audience. She told me that as a rule there should be at least some hint of romantic tension in a YA story. Originally, there was some romantic tension between Nissa and Theryn, which I simplified to just plain tension. I have to respectfully disagree with her on that point, with at least some books. I’ve read plenty of obvious YA series that don’t have any romance until at least the second book, sometimes even the third. What this editor couldn’t know is that in The Moongate‘s sequel, romantic tension suddenly ambushes Nissa like nobody’s business and she’s like what the crud(In Cobalt, there’s romance between the older characters and even kissing! *giggles*)
  • Story. Plenty of action and suspense in The Moongate that could work in either genre, I guess, although I don’t feel some of the violence in the sequel is appropriate for the MG category. (Cobalt gets pretty dark and spooky, but that’s on purpose. Scary stories are fun!)

Because of the editor’s feedback, I’ve planned out a complete rewrite of the first half of The Moongate – I’m not talking your general revisions and junk, but a literal do over. I’m changing the whole story so it fits more into the YA mold, because I’m just digging in my heels where that’s concerned – even if it does seem that MG fantasy is my favorite genre. 🙂 I’m excited about the change, and my toughest critic (besides myself), Lia, also approves.

Here are a few of my favorite stories that are either strictly MG or, in my opinion, sit on that fuzzy line between the two genres:

In 13 Treasures, the characters range in age from 12 to 14, and they all age about a year in the course of the trilogy. It’s a well-written, adventurous Middle Grade story about fairies who aren’t all sweet and pretty like they are in fairy tales. The climactic scene in the first book would have given me nightmares as a 12-year-old!

The main character is 11 or 12 at the beginning of this series, which I haven’t finished reading yet. Time passes as the books continue, and at the point I left off, there were hints of romance. As you can tell by this cover, the books are deliciously scary, with themes that many kids have to face, like the death of a parent, betrayal, and confronting your worst fears.
You can tell just by the prologue in Bones of Faerie that the story is going to be heartbreaking and mature. This is one of those stories that hovers between MG and YA; the main character, Liza, is 15 in the first book. By the end of the second book, the romantic “requirement” for YA catches up quite nicely. The dark horror elements in this story inspired the bloodthirsty Forest in Cobalt.

As most people know, Harry’s 11 when he gets his Hogwarts letter. The first few books fit right into the MG mold, with intelligent, dark, and scary plots. Romance is introduced as the characters age, and as the plots get darker, more mature, and more dangerous, I think the books themselves shift to YA. But of course, Harry Potter is loved by readers of all ages.

12-year-old genius protag Artemis Fowl fits the MG age, but because he’s so intelligent, the story’s voice follows suit. The result is a brilliant series that crosses the border to fit comfortably into both MG and YA worlds. Artemis ages throughout the series, but there’s little romance (although there are hints now and then). Instead, the amazing action, wit, and genius carry the plot for the entire series.

What are your thoughts on how Middle Grade compares to Young Adult?

Any favorite Middle Grade books, or examples of some that could go either way?

Do you have any opinions on the rule of Young Adult always including some sort of romantic tension?

This time last year:

Cobalt Gets the Lia Treatment – Again – My 8yo was reading out loud over my shoulder, almost doubling up with laughter. “Did you write this?” he gasped. Lia became his new favorite author when I told him who really wrote the scene.

Happy Steampunk Christmas!

The Disney Trap: Cute Critter Sidekicks

I’m almost done with the first draft of Cobalt! Early on with this book, I discovered the story was kind of writing itself as a middle grade, rather than young adult. (More on that in a future post.) On a whim, I wrote an animal character into the story: Ruby, a cute-at-first-glance, venomous flying squirrel. I really didn’t have any reason at first for writing her in, other than I thought it would be cool to have a smart animal sidekick to add to the fun – and I was fully prepared to hack her mercilessly out of the story if she ended up being too cartoonish (a term my dear friend and beta reader Ryan brought up, and which he also pointed out that I’ve managed to avoid with Ruby so far).

I liked Pascal, but was he really necessary? He’s cute and spunky,
but did he contribute anything to the story?

I think some authors, especially whimsical hopeless romantics like me, might find it too easy to fall into the Disney trap by trying to work in sweet but unnecessary animal sidekicks. How many popular middle grade and young adult books are there with precocious pets as main characters? A few, sure. Not a lot. And do they work? I’m betting very rarely. What’s the trick to making them fit into a story? I’m trying to be really careful with this, because I like Ruby and don’t want to have to delete her. I will if I must, but here are a few of my arguments for animal characters that could work in a story. (And I’m not talking about books with animals as the only characters, which is an entirely different sub-genre.)

They’re integral to the plot. Sure, I could write around some of the problems my characters face without Ruby, but she’s gotten them out of a couple jams already, and in entertaining ways. How? She’s a bad-a flying squirrel with fangs. And she won’t hesitate to bite her favorite people as well as the bad guys, if they tick her off enough.

They’re either believably smart, or perfectly normal animals. Critters who can talk or understand human language perfectly might get a little too cutesy for a story. Ruby’s more intelligent than the average squirrel, partly because she has Cobalt in her blood and it changes a creature, and partly because her owner has her well trained. In the end, she’s still an animal, and doesn’t understand the things her human friends are up to – however, like most pets, she does realize when her people in pain or in danger.

Just try this with Ruby! Really, in a book, an animal
sidekick has to be more than just a cute pet.

The action doesn’t revolve around them. If the animal sidekick is getting the main characters out of every single sticky situation, it’s a lazy way to write a story. What use is your protagonist if her pet is the hero all the time? (Unless that’s the whole point of the book. Ruby: Steampunk Action Squirrel! In that case, the book would not be middle grade or young adult.) However, if you need a distraction and just happen to have a flying squirrel with a mischievous streak, that might work…only once or twice, though.

Add fangs and fur, and this is more like Ruby.

I’m just going to stop my list here, because I’m on cough medicine with codeine and I can’t words very much anymore. And speaking of the words and all of their confusions, I’ll leave you with this just for fun, before I pass out completely:

Read it out loud. Hilarious!

Feel free to comment with anything you’d like to share on animal sidekicks! Can you think of any that worked for you? What about some that didn’t, but made it into a published book anyway?

Being Your Own Reviewer?

A random thought hit me in the brain today. I’m still rubbing the bruise. What if…as an author, you wrote a review of your own book on sites like Amazon and Goodreads? I’m sure that happens actually, an author could totally boost their ratings by making up fake screen names and writing reviews on their stuff, right? I wouldn’t (who has time for that anyway, gotta write!), but I thought it would be funny to make up false (as in, they would never actually get posted) reviews for my books.

For example:

The Moongate

The honest review: 4 stars. Would give it 3 1/2 stars if I had that option. Pretty good story overall, but you can tell it’s the author’s first book. She likes fairies and unicorns a little bit too much – she probably collects them. (true enough) Still, it had its fair share of action and conflict, so I’m looking forward to the sequel!

The fake review: 5 STARS OMG!!1! Best book I’ve ever read! I can’t wait for the next one to come out! The characters are soooo awesome and hawt and I’m like team Theryn all the way even though there’s no love triangle! When is there gonna be a movie?!

( I rarely do that; I’m usually a 4-star reviewer if I like the book. Unless it’s Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, then I’m one of those raving 5-star fans. Most of us could use a little bit of constructive criticism!)

The snarky Goodreads review: 1 star, and if I could give it 0 I would. Or negative 50 billion. Can we say Mary Sue? This author needs a serious trip to reality-ville. Or she’s on a serious trip. I read somewhere that she’s a Mormon stay-at-home mom with no English degree, so it’s obvious she’s just trying to cash in on the success of Twilight!

(First time I ever heard of the description Mary Sue was when I was writing The Moongate’s first draft. For weeks I obsessed over whether Nissa was a Mary Sue. I did all the tests to see if she was, I lost sleep over it, and I’ll admit I even cried over it. In the end, I accepted that if this book ever gets published, some people will probably think she’s a Mary Sue and others will think she’s all right. At least she’s likable.)

Cobalt

The honest review: 4 solid stars. (Told you I like giving out 4 stars!) Now we’re talking. The author has a few books under her belt now, her writing is more solid, and the action and imagination in the plot make up for her slight difficulties in character development. Plus – killer trees and airships! Pretty cool. Good introduction to lighthearted steampunk for the tween to young adult.

The fake review: 5++++!!! There are goggles and airship pirates and gears and corsets! This book is so steampunk it makes me want to barf cogs.

The snarky Goodreads review: A big fat zero in the shape of a clock gear. Obviously this author thinks she’s a steampunk just because she’s friends with some of the members of Abney Park. Poseur. I mean, sentient moving trees? Since when did steampunk shift from Victorian sci-fi to fantasy? Just because there are a few airships in the story? I bet she glues gears on her knickers and calls it steampunk. She probably wears Hot Topic goggles too.

That was actually more fun than I’d thought it would be. I especially had fun being snarky at myself! *giggles*

So anyway. My buddy ol’ pal Samantha (who is in college so she won’t have to deal with any comments about being a writer without a degree) tagged me in a fun meme!

The rules:

1. Go to page 77 of your current MS/WIP
2. Go to line 7
3. Copy down the next 7 lines, sentences, or paragraphs, and post them as they’re written.
4. Tag 7 authors

Okay, so I’m the world’s worst tagger. I’m going to tell you guys to look at my follower list, and if you’re in my top 7 newest followers, then you’re tagged and you should do this meme! Or if you’re not one of those lucky 7 and you like this meme, do it anyway.

So here’s my excerpt from Cobalt. It shows up as more than 7 lines here on Blogger, but it’s about 7 3/4 lines in my ms. I had to keep in the little bit of extra to avoid cutting a sentence short.

“All this time,” he squeaked, “all these years flying over the trees and making port in the most remote Forest villages possible, if only to catch a rumor or a glimpse. To think, I could have found one of you here on Murdock! I never knew that’s what old Stark dealt in. Everyone knew he was an expert on Cobalt, but I’d have never guessed how he gained his knowledge…”

Kate shrank back against Anthia, who wrapped one hand around her shoulder and rested the other on her knife hilt.

“Oh, don’t you worry,” Fletcher said with a chuckle. “That must be why I wasn’t in the loop. Never did want to trade my ship in for one of the bigger ones, see, those that could handle human cargo.”

So. If you wrote a review on your book or WIP, how would you write it? How many stars would you bestow upon your pride and joy, and would you be honest or would load up your review with sugar and a cherry on top? Come on, you can be honest here!