Saturday, July 30, 2011

I Won a Partial Request + Liebster Blog Award!

Oh my goodness, July has been CRAZY. Thanks to Deana Barnhart's fantastic "Gearing Up to Get an Agent" Blogfest, I have met tons of new blogging friends, I have tweaked my query letter, I have received fantastic feedback on my first five pages from author Lora Rivera, I have tweaked my first 200 words, and I just learned that literary agent Kathleen Rushall is interested in reading my partial manuscript based on my submission into Deana's final Blogfest contest! (Whew, longest sentence ever!)

Check out Deana's final "Gearing Up to Get an Agent" Blogfest post: Novel Contest Winners and a THANK YOU!!!.  Is anyone else feeling GUTGAA withdrawals already??

In other news, this Blogfest has also introduced me to A.N. Villasante.  Her young adult fantasy, The Farm, sounds fantastic (check out her first 200 words here: GUTGAA Week 4 First 200 Words), and she was generous enough to bestow me with the Liebster Blog Award.  (That means "friend" in German; Google just told me that. ;))


The goal of this award is to spotlight up and coming bloggers who currently have less than 200 followers. The rules of the award are:

1. Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who gave it to you.
2. Reveal your top 5 picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.
3. Copy and paste the award on your blog.
4. Have faith that your followers will spread the love to other bloggers.
5. And most of all - have bloggity-blog fun!

Because I have just met soooo many amazing bloggers, this award is EASY, and I can't wait to spread the love.  Here are my five Liebster pics; check out their blogs if you'd like to meet some noteworthy up-and-comers!

1. Kate Larkindale is a writer, cinema manager, film reviewer and mother to two boys.  She also just wrote a kick-ass YA contemporary, Chasing the Taillights, that I really, really can't wait to read someday.
2. Robin Weeks just wrote such a clever opening to her YA urban fantasy, GEAS, that I'm already hooked.  Half-human pixies snagged by paparazzi while wearing gym shorts?  Who would have thought it??
3. Angela Cothran gives great advice, and her novel, The Alabaster Refugee, has such a compelling opening that I can almost smell the grass and overgrown brush.
4. Christa has written this amazing book, Manhole, that bravely tackles the horrific and tragic subject of rape through the point of view of the rape victim's boyfriend.  Gives me shivers just thinking about it, and it I think it's a book that really needed to be written.
5. Rachel Dillon's novel, The Lion Within, explores some interesting internal changes that take place when her main character Renna is bitten by a ravenous, blood-thirsty lion.  Such a unique idea, and did I mention Rachel is also an amazing artist??

There you have it!  Thanks again to everyone who made the GUTGAA Blogfest such an incredible success...  I'm SO happy I participated!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

My First 200 Words Have Made it to the Finals + Belugas, Belugas, Belugas!

The final week of Deana Barnhart's amazing "Gearing Up to Get an Agent" Blogfest is drawing to a close, and the first 200 words of my young adult novel, The Mermaid Gene, have made it to the finals!

Wow, after last week's whirlwind, I am so honored to be included in the Top Ten again. The other finalists are amazing, and I can hardly wait for their books to take flight! Check out their entries here: Kathleen Rushall Interview Part 2 and Novel Contest Finalists, and also check out the great interview with one of this week's judges, literary agent Kathleen Rushall. Thanks again to Deana for organizing and being the maestro of this event; this has been so much fun!

Because my first 200 words are already listed on the post below, I will resist reprinting them in favor of waxing poetic about beluga whales for a few minutes.  My novel's main character, Kai Murphy, is sent to Alaska to study them, and they just happen to be some of my favorite animals on Earth.  (Convenient coincidence, don't you think??)

Courtesy of  Wikimedia Commons
Although Kai's research team is fictional, Cook Inlet's beluga whales are very real.  They were listed as endangered in October of 2008, and I became obsessed with their struggles when I moved to Alaska in June of 2007.  I volunteered on a beluga whale outreach team until I got my job at the Alaska Zoo, and I even submitted public comments during a scary NOAA public forum about the designation of critical habitat during the summer of 2009!

(I won't get political or preachy on you here, though.  The beluga whales' struggles are complicated and multi-dimensional, and beluga whale management is a sensitive and sometimes polarizing issue.  If you'd like to learn more about the belugas and form your own opinion, here's a great link to their struggles and backstory, courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: Conservation Plan for the Cook Inlet Beluga Whale.)

I will, however, give you a little background on why I love beluga whales so much. :)

Courtesy of  Wikimedia Commons
Recognized by their distinctive white skin, Cook Inlet’s beluga whales are a well-known Alaskan icon. Growing to lengths of 10-15 feet and weights of 3,300lbs, they are characterized by robust, stocky bodies. A thick layer of blubber insulates them against the cold, and the absence of a dorsal fin allows them to move just below ice sheets without obstruction.

Cook Inlet’s belugas have been separated from the belugas of the Alaska’s North Slope for thousands of years, and they have developed many key biological differences—like enlarged foreheads and highly advanced echolocation systems, which they use to navigate through the inlet’s murky waters.

Courtesy of  Wikimedia Commons
Did you know?? 
  1. The English name "beluga" comes from the Russian word belukha, which translates into "white." Belugas are also known as white whales. At birth, beluga calves are generally dark gray. They gradually lighten with age, and upon reaching maturity, attain the white coloration characteristic of adult belugas. This white coloration protects belugas from predators by camouflaging them among the icebergs and ice floes of northern seas.
  2. A highly social species, beluga whales are extremely vocal. Long ago, scientists and sailors gave
    beluga whales the nickname "sea canaries," due to the birdlike sounds these whales make.
  3. Belugas are among the few whales that have un-fused neck vertebrae. This feature makes their necks quite flexible and gives their heads a wide range of motion.
  4. Belugas can swim both forward and, unlike most other whales, backward.
Wanna know more?  These four fun facts are courtesy of Sea World's ANIMAL BYTES, and you can learn more about beluga whales here: Sea World Beluga Whale Infobook.  Happy Reading!!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

My Query is the Winner! + Week Four of the GUTGAA Blogfest

I am beyond excited that Lora Rivera picked my query letter as the grand prize winner during Week Three of Deana Barnhart's "Gearing Up to Get an Agent" Blogfest last week. I received so much helpful query advice from everyone, and Lora just finished my free five-page critique, so I feel jazzed, refreshed and ready to take on some agencies! (Check out Deana's blog announcement here: GUTGAA Query Winner! + Final Week Around the Corner.)

Lora's feedback was invaluable, and I am so appreciative for the time and effort she and Deana have put into making this Blogfest a success. I am also indebted to the talented writers who have stopped by to give me so much great advice. What a great opportunity to hone our skills, meet other bloggers, build our platforms and learn about all the other awesome stories in the works!

Week Four of the Blogfest has now begun, and this week, we are all posting the first 200 words of our manuscripts in order to receive feedback. Two winners will be announced at the end of this week, and each will receive either a query and 30 page critique from agent Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, or a 10 page critique from Monica Bustamante Wagner, YA writer represented by Michelle Wolfson of Wolfson Literary.

Here are the first 200 words of my YA urban fantasy, THE MERMAID GENE, and thanks in advance for your help!

Photo Courtesy of marfis75

The dolphin twists sideways in my arms. Eyeing me through one widened, gleaming black eye, she opens her blowhole and gurgles. Her voice sounds breathless and weak, and the tips of her flukes feel hot against my fingertips.

“What are you waiting for, Kai? Tighten up on her, or she’s gonna bolt.” My father’s warning booms from a nearby research vessel as I struggle for footing in the tea-stained waters of Tampa Bay. “Do it quick; she’s baiting you.”

The concern in his voice sends a fresh wave of anxiety grinding through me, and I wrinkle my nose in protest as I realize the truth of his words. Growing up watching him perform countless catch-and-release medical exams just like this one, I know researchers only have four, maybe five seconds to restrain a bottlenose dolphin before it fights back and escapes capture.

Wrapped around this animal’s tail, I should follow protocol by pulling her flukes into my chest and bracing myself for her inevitable thrashing. Instead, I find myself lost in her plaintive, lucid eye contact. Her pupils, shrunk into tiny circles in the sunlight, roll back and forth as she cranes her head, and a shallow scar splits the silvery bulge of her forehead.

Hesitating, I loosen my grip on her dorsal ridge and exhale. Poor thing’s exhausted. Isn’t even fighting anymore.

That's my first mistake.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

My Shiny New Query Letter is a Blogfest Finalist!

Thanks again to everyone who helped me tweak my query letter during Week Three of Deana Barnhart's "Gearing Up to Get an Agent" Blogfest. I just learned my letter is a Top Ten Finalist (!!), and I will find out tomorrow if I win a free query/first five page critique from Lora Rivera, writer of literary adult and children's fiction, freelance book editor and Life Book writer for Aviva Children's Services. (Read the other finalists' amazing query letters here: GUTGAA Query Winners Picked Today.)


Here's my shiny new query letter:

Dear Agent:

An arctic mermaid is the last thing seventeen year-old Kai Murphy expects to glimpse when she joins a beluga whale research team in Alaska.

An aspiring scientist, Kai dismisses Anchorage's mermaid myths until the late-night sighting of a silvery, speckled tail threatens her convictions. Teamed up with flirtatious twin deckhands Noah and Aidan Fischer, she decides to investigate.

Turns out a mermaid sighting isn't her research team's only mystery. There are also secret closets filled with hunting rifles, blood-filled plastic bins and shadowy poachers haunting the inlet's icy waters.

As Kai searches for answers and begins falling for Noah, she realizes even he isn't above suspicion. The fate of the research team, her beloved belugas and the mysterious creature in the inlet just may rest in her hands.

THE MERMAID GENE is a YA urban fantasy novel, complete at 98,000 words. I have worked as a zookeeper and educator at many facilities, including the Alaska Zoo of Anchorage, and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks & Aquariums published my article "The Dangers of Human Interactions with Marine Mammals" in its 2007 Ocean Literacy and Marine Mammals: An Easy Reference Guide. This experience sets THE MERMAID GENE apart and allows me to take readers behind-the-scenes into the thrilling and often-misunderstood world of beluga whale research.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Me

The most amazing news is that this query letter has already received some great positive reinforcement.  I fired off a query to an agent in NYC at 11:30pm MT Tuesday night and received a full manuscript request by 5:45am MT Wednesday morning. Not a bad thing to see in your inbox first thing in the morning!

Thanks again to everyone for your help. Even if I don't win that free critique, I already feel like a winner!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

So I'm Running off this Mountain Yesterday, in the Middle of a Lightning Storm...

... when all of a sudden, the space between flashes and cracks becomes non-existent. I'm screaming and cowering like a maniac when my husband finds an abandoned permafrost research trailer. Crawling underneath and huddling with our dogs, we push away all scraps of metal and rock upward on the balls of our rubber-soled Chacos, just in case.

A steady sheet of hail begins pounding into the ground around us, and we cower like children, shivering from chill and fear. Colorado is known for its unpredictable and fast-moving weather patterns, so we hang tight for about 40 minutes, listening to the lightning's rumble and crack as it spreads past the Rocky Mountains and begins advancing toward the Front Range.

Timing our exit to coincide with the storm's retreat, we hurry a few steps through the stillness before the distant blast of lightning at our backs informs us that a new storm has decided to follow in our storm's wake. Cursing my lack of fitness at 10,000ft above sea level, I wobble down the trail after my husband, slipping on some loose rocks and wiping out in a flurry of mud and flesh. My shins and knees, scoured and muddy, bleed in crimson rivers all the way back to our car--where we collapse, dizzy and aching, from exhaustion.

There is a certain madness borne of close-calls, so it's only a few moments before I find myself slipping into hysterics. Laughing at my bloody knees, laughing at our stench, laughing at our dogs and laughing at my husband's drowned rat hair. Laughing in relief, and laughing at my sudden craving for macaroni and cheese.

Which, upon our return to civilization, is exactly what we eat.

"Gearing Up to Get an Agent" Blogfest: The Dreaded Query Letter

Alright, so I kinda missed the boat during Week Two of Deana Barnhart's fantastic "Gearing Up to Get an Agent" Blogfest last week, but I'm back and ready for action just in time for Week Three! This week's theme is query letters, so we are all posting our queries in order to receive valuable feedback from YOU.


I would really appreciate it if you wouldn't mind letting me know what you think about my query letter for my young adult urban fantasy, THE MERMAID GENE. (I realize the manuscript is a little long at this point, but I'm in the process of cutting it down as we speak.) Thanks in advance for your help, and I can't wait to read your queries if you are participating in the Blogfest as well!

Dear Agent:

An arctic mermaid is the last thing seventeen year-old Kai Murphy expects to find when she joins a beluga whale research team in Alaska.

She’s an aspiring scientist, after all—the daughter of a famous dolphin researcher and the type of girl who studies tide charts for fun and cruises Cook Inlet’s icy waters in a Zodiac, counting whales for a database. When the late-night sighting of a silvery, speckled tail threatens her perceptions, she teams up with flirtatious twin deckhands Noah and Aidan Fischer to investigate.

Turns out mermaids aren’t Alaska’s only mysteries. There’s also that warehouse closet crammed with hunting rifles, the blood-filled plastic bins and those shadowy poachers haunting the Port of Anchorage. Never mind the silvery creature in the inlet, which now seems intent on stalking her.

As Kai searches for answers and begins falling for Noah, she realizes even he isn’t above suspicion. The fate of her team—and the inlet’s struggling beluga whales—just may rest in her hands.

THE MERMAID GENE is a stand-alone, young adult novel with series potential, complete at 99,000 words. The Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks & Aquariums published my article “The Dangers of Human Interactions with Marine Mammals” in its 2007 Ocean Literacy and Marine Mammals: An Easy Reference Guide, and I have worked as a zookeeper and educator at many marine mammal facilities, including the Alaska Zoo of Anchorage. This experience sets THE MERMAID GENE apart and allows me to take readers behind-the-scenes into the thrilling and often-misunderstood world of beluga training and research.

Thank you for your time. With your interest in ___(space for personalization)___, I hope THE MERMAID GENE will be a perfect fit for you.

Sincerely,

Me

Thursday, July 7, 2011

"Gearing Up to Get an Agent" Blogfest has Begun!

Deana Barnhart is kinda like Chuck Norris. When she's not raising kids, writing novels, spotlighting new authors or providing resources for aspiring writers, she's dreaming up brilliant ways for all of us to build our platforms, get connected and reach out to each other to make this blogging world a friendlier place.

Her latest brainchild is her "Gearing Up to Get an Agent" July Blogfest, which spotlights agent-grabbing elements (platform building, learning the craft, the novel and queries) in a unique and interactive way. Here is our topic for Week One, and check out her blog, DeanaBarnhart , for more information or to join in on the fun.


WEEK ONE: "I Just had to ask..."


What burning questions (ab
out writing of course) do you have? It doesn't matter how ridiculous you think it may be, just ask. Post the question on your blog and we will hop around the blogs trying to help each other out. Discussions about topics on writing can really pump you up for your novel, plus you can make connections, follow one another, brainstorm platform building ideas...whatever. This will be our time to ease into the blogfest and get to know one another.


Here are my questions, and I would looooove to hear your feedback, whether or not you are participating in the blogfest:


1.  How long is too long for a young adult novel?  
Mine is a young adult mystery / urban fantasy, and I'm pushing 100,000 words, which I feel may be a little long. According to QueryTracker, it seems like most young adult novels are approximately 70,000-80,000 words, but I once heard urban fantasies tend to run a little long, so I'm not sure if I should cut back my word count or not. What do you think?

2. Which avenues have been most effective to network and spread the word about your blog?  I'm an active member of QueryTracker and GoodReads; I also occasionally post on SheWrites and AbsoluteWrite. I find a lot of new blogging buddies through existing blogging buddies' recommendations, and I usually troll around and read others' posts for good ideas. I'm not crazy about Twitter yet, and I've mostly kept my Facebook page to my non-writing life, but I'm definitely open to suggestions. How did YOU find the majority of your followers?

That's all for now, I think. Thanks in advance for your help!