Thursday, June 28, 2012

Under New Management!!!

A very exciting and all-around wonderful announcement: I am now represented by the fabulous Hannah Bowman of Liza Dawson Associates!

Photo Courtesy of Liza Dawson Associates
I absolutely couldn't be happier. As many of you know, I  parted ways with my former literary agency earlier this year. (If you don't know this story, click here for more details.) Getting my first agent was hard enough, so the realization that I needed to dive back in AGAIN was nearly panic attack-inducing. (Not to mention the fact that I was right in the middle of writing a new manuscript, so I didn't even have anything to dive back in with.)

Imagine my elation, then, when Hannah and I began conversing this spring. We had a fairly solid foundation already--she was my original manuscript's very first full request--but I figured she was way out of my league. She was HANNAH BOWMAN, after all: the powerhouse newcomer who snagged a six-figure trilogy preempt deal for her very first sale. A deal she followed with another six-figure preempt for her second deal. (Wanna hear more? Check out her Liza Dawson Associates bio here, or read her Tumblr page here.)

Here's the other thing about Hannah. She's really just a fantastic person. She's approachable, friendly, creative, passionate, determined, punctual and pragmatic. She emails when she says she'll email; she calls the minute she says she'll call. She is editorial and detail-oriented, and her creative judgment is absolutely spot-on.

Signing my brand-new contract! (6/25/12)
(Check out the ghetto air conditioner and dog toys
in the background... This is how I roll.)
When I first told her about the project I was working on, she seemed very interested. (Wanna hear more about my pitch and concept? Click here!) You can't sign a contract for an unfinished manuscript, of course, so we both agreed I would finish the novel and send it to her as soon as it was polished. I told her it was hers if she wanted it; I wouldn't even query it to other agents.

So... A few months passed. I sent her the manuscript on June 13, and she told me she would try to get back to me by the beginning of July. I didn't expect to hear from her for awhile, so imagine my surprise when she emailed a mere seven days later and told me she "loved" the manuscript. She quickly followed this email with another that said, "Since it's really not a secret that I want to sign you--shall I go ahead and send an agency agreement on so we can discuss it on Thursday?"

Um, YESSS!! My surprise quickly turned into a happy dance that rivaled even my "dinner's ready" softshoe. (You should have seen it. Hubby was quite impressed.)

Dotted lines... (6/25/12)
So that's that. The contract has been signed, Hannah and I just had our first revision meeting, and I am officially Liza Dawson Associate's newest client. We hope to get the manuscript out fairly soon, but really, I'm just looking forward to languishing over my revisions. I know my novel is in very, very good hands, and I absolutely couldn't be more pleased. This experience confirms to me that everything does indeed happen for a reason.

Ta-da! (Please excuse my sweaty camp t-shirt 
and gross hair... It was 104 degrees! 6/25/12)
Thanks again to EVERYONE who supported me during the ups and downs of this crazy process. It was amazing for me to realize how many people were truly here for me this spring--not just when times were good or when it looked like success was on my horizon.

Special shout-outs to my hubby Mike Chickos, my parents Kevin and Tammy O'Kane, my sister Shana Laflin, Allen Walker, Beth Christopher, Christina McCarthy, Tara Dairman, Eugene Scott, Sean McAfee, Joe Kovacs, Rene Zimbelman, Lynne Stockheim, Molly Horner, Dr. Theresa, Jamie Watson, Brianne Mulligan, Anita Howard, Jaye Robin Brown, Leigh Moore, Charlie Holmberg, Ash Krafton, Keith Wood, Mark Stevens, Kalen O'Donnell, the #WIPMADNESS crew, my QT forum peeps, and everyone else who took the time to leave nice comments or send encouraging emails. I will be forever in your debt. (Wow! It really DOES take a village, doesn't it?)

I would also like to thank Hannah for believing in me even when I wasn't sure I believed in myself. I am looking forward to our partnership, and I can't wait to get started!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Pinterest = Crack Cocaine

Photo Courtesy of docentjoyce

Many of you have been raving about Pinterest for months, and I'll admit it. I didn't listen to you.

I didn't join at first. Not because I don't dig photo sharing and CERTAINLY not because I don't dig organization. Anyone who knows me well knows my love of organization tends to trend toward Obsessive Compulsive Disorder from time to time.

This is actually the very reason I held out for so long. I knew I would love Pinterest TOO MUCH--the way that I love guacamole or rice pudding or cookie dough so intensely that I absolutely cannot buy any of these things. I will literally sit down and eat an entire tub/tube/package without coming up for air once. It's kinda scary, actually.

I pictured myself zoning out in front of my computer--the way I already zone out on Twitter (@LisaAnnChickos), QueryTracker or this blog. I pictured the unwashed hair, the pajama pants, the line of drool dribbling from the corner of my lips, and I said, "NO! Back, you enchantress! Take your glorious photographs and online inspiration boards, and go impress somebody else! I don't NEED you, you hussy!"

Photo Courtesy of Steve D.
But then... A terrible thing happened. I decided I would just go on real quick and see what I was missing. Just one glimpse and I would be done for life. I saw that glorious "Request an Invite" button, and I figured, "Why not? I have 15 minutes to kill... Why not cruise around and see if anything reminds me of my manuscript, ESSENCE?"

But then... NO INVITE CAME! I checked my email, and there was that auto-response saying, "Thanks, we'll be back to you shortly." So I refreshed my browser, and I STILL DIDN'T HAVE AN INVITE! By now, the lure of Pinterest was beginning to turn into that elusive party I still needed an invitation to attend. Forget my plans, forget my normal Friday night. Now, I was on a mission.

That mission was to become GOOD ENOUGH FOR PINTEREST. So I spent the next few hours looking at other people's boards to find out why you need a fancy pants invitation to join this site in the first place.

Photo Courtesy of Ralphman
You guessed it. By the time I finally received my invitation (a few days later, actually), I was positively FOAMING AT THE MOUTH to create a Board of my own. And the rest, as they say, is history.

The good news is, I am self-limiting my account. I have forbidden myself from creating random boards like "Places I Would Go if Money Didn't Exist" or "Beautiful Things I Would Never Have the Patience to Actually Create in My House." (This would occupy me for the rest of my life!)

Instead, I am only allowed one vanity board, which I have dubbed, "Random Stuff I Dig." All my other boards must be Inspiration Boards for my novels. Every time I write a novel, I get to create a board. No more, no less.


Photo Courtesy of Trodel
I have written exactly two novels, so this rule is easy enough for me to follow. After pinning approximately 80-100 photographs on each board, I think I have captured the "feelings" of my stories well enough to stop obsessing.

So, all these beautiful photographs you've been seeing are inspired by my newest novel, ESSENCE. And I would really, really love it if I had more writer boards to follow. You can find me at LisaAnn on Pinterest!

Anyone else have any Pinterest stories to share? Feel like taking the leap if you haven't already?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

My "Someday Stars" Interview + My So-Called Teenage Life Blog Hop

Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
Charlie Holmberg of "Myself as Written" was generous enough to recently approach me about doing an interview for her ongoing "Someday Stars" blog series. She interviews aspiring writers every other week, and I just hope I'm able to someday live up to the interview's illustrious title!

My interview was just posted today, and I'd love it if you stopped by and checked it out. Here's the link: Someday Stars: Meet Lisa Ann Chickos


Today is also the "My So-Called Teenage Life" Blog Hop! After reading Christa Desir's fantastic entry, I couldn't resist joining myself. This Blog Hop is apparently designed to give all of us a chance to revisit the inner workings of our teenage minds by reflecting on or sharing things we wrote during our teenage years.

After doing some digging, I came up with two things I would love to share--although you will have to forgive my teenage technical shortcomings AND the fact that I was always a crap poet.

Here's the first, a poem I wrote about my first love. We started dating the winter of my sophomore year, and we broke up the winter of my senior year when he moved away to college. (In a way, I wish I still wrote this recklessly. Isn't it amazing how raw and passionate and intense we were as teenagers?)

DEFENSELESS

I love you
The way the flame loves the air
Burning
Intense light and dance that consumes reservation.

Sometimes it scares me
Staring through a cracked mirror
Through filmy layers of dust

Seeing myself.


Flushed, glowing, different than before
Crimson heart beating before me
Lying exposed, naked, defenseless.

Why did I allow it to crawl there
To grow legs and walk out of my chest?

Waiting

Hoping for you to see it there
To gather it up and place it in a mahogany box
Tie it with purple ribbons
Store it safely away in the warmth of your soul.

Why?

You could just as easily crush it
Silence its beating with one sharp strike
Leave it bleeding

Bloody
On the floor.

Why did I do this?
Please don't hurt me.

Here's the second, a poem I wrote the spring of my senior year. It's about the first boy who ever got tired of me before I got tired of him, and I'm kinda amazed at how *hot* it actually is. Totally embarrassing to put it out there like this, but I try to remember this intensity whenever I write about teenage heroines and young relationships.

IT'S YOUR FAULT

I want you
I know I'm not supposed to say that
But I want you

It's your fault
You kissed me in the prop room
Ignored my Salem witch hunt
Told me I was hardcore

You charmed me with stories of snow and fire
Traced your tongue along my jawline
Watched me watch you
Entwined your legs around mine
Laughed with me

I studied your iron bed posts
Tried to stay quiet
As you melted me into a thousand tiny dewdrops
Impossible

You touched me
Softly
(I almost didn't stop you!)
As bubbled churned around us
Disguising us in an aqua green veil

How did I end up wrapped around you
Moving with you and against you
Why did I never want to stop?


Yikes! Right? See, I'm actually kinda blushing right now. (Mom, if you're reading this, I'm sorry! But we didn't actually DO anything, see? I STOPPED him! ;))

Hahaha, isn't amazing how one teenage poem immediately transports us back to a time when everything was SUCH a big deal? Isn't this why most of us write YA, anyway?

Check out this other awesome bloggers participating in the Blog Hop. There's still time to join us!


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

My Three Adjectives

Photo Courtesy of peretzpups
In my last post, I discussed my mother's belief that everyone should have a personal mission statement to help guide them through life. I subscribe to this theory--both in my personal and writing life--and I think of my literary mission statement every time I juggle around a new story idea. 

In my personal life, I am also guided by three adjectives. A number of years ago, I got it in my head that I needed to come up with a list of the three words I would like people to use when they describe me at my funeral. (Not sure if I came up with this idea myself or if I was inspired by some outside influence.)

I figured the best way to get from the person I was to the person I wanted to be was to focus on these words and then craft myself around them. (If I wanted people to say I was unselfish, I should start acting that way; if I wanted people to say I was well-read, I should start reading, etc.) After much brainstorming, I came up with these three words:

PASSIONATE
CREATIVE
REAL

This was probably back in 2003, and I haven't looked back since. Although it is a continuous struggle to live up to these adjectives, I am a lot closer to them now than I was nine years ago. And nine years from now, I hope to be even closer.

I'm telling you this for a couple of reasons:

#1. If you have never sat down and thought about your three adjectives, I highly encourage you to try it. There are no right answers, and it's amazing which aspects of your personality will surface. (My hubby's three words are Genuine, Loyal and Passionate. Definitely married a good one... ;))

#2. Which three words would the main characters in your stories choose? Their adjectives will tell you a wealth of information about them; the words will also help you shape their character arcs as they move from the people they are to the people they want to be.

I have to confess, I didn't think about this until after I'd completed my latest project, a YA adventure called ESSENCE. But when I went back and plugged in my adjectives, I realized I'd subconsciously known my two main characters' adjectives all along. I'm sure you will feel the same way, but you may still be surprised which words make it to the top of your charactes' lists.

Allow me to demonstrate. Here is ESSENCE's pitch:

Neutrality is the key to longevity.

This is the only truth seventeen year-old Autumn Marsh has ever known. She lives under the control of San Francisco’s cult-like Centrist Movement—a new spirituality that claims emotional experiences lead to Essence drain and early death.

Autumn has learned to suppress her feelings, but her younger brother’s death brings her faith into question. While illegally sprinting through a condemned park, she encounters Ryder Strong—a free-spirited Outsider who claims Essence drain is nothing more than a Centrist scare tactic. From his headquarters in the abandoned remains of Yosemite National Park, he says he can prove it.

Joining Ryder’s community means abandoning her family, giving up her identity and forsaking everything she has ever believed in, but Autumn is determined to find the truth—even if she risks losing herself in the process.


Okay, so my two main characters are Autumn Marsh and Ryder Strong. Here's what their words tell us about them:

AUTUMN MARSH: 
Honest, Brave Capable

RYDER STRONG: 
Loyal, Competent, Just

Both of these characters have a LONG way to go to reach their adjectives, and their growth is the crux of my story. So now that I know what they want, I can make sure to emphasize this while they grow.

Along those lines, sometimes it's fun to give our characters personal mission statements, too. In ESSENCE, Autumn's mission statement is "to stay true to myself while realigning my values, uncovering the truth about Essences and becoming part of Ryder's community."

Ryder's mission statement is "to follow in my father's footsteps and become a competent leader of the Community while pushing myself to disprove the Essence theory."

As you can see, both characters will spend a good deal of time "pushing themselves" during the novel. Although they may lose sight of their mission statements from time to time, their drive lies in the fulfillment of these goals. Whether they succeed or fail is the climax of the novel.

Anyone else wanna plug in your characters? (Or yourselves??)

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Personal Mission Statements... In Life & Writing

My mom in 1971 (Photo Courtesy of K.O'Kane)
My mother is an amazing woman, and she has always told me you should create a personal mission statement to help guide you through your life. (That's her pictured above. Insightful and wicked beautiful.)

She has certainly taken her own advice. Her personal mission statement is to help children in need, and to leave the world a better place than she found it. As a student interventionist, she works with at-risk youth at an alternative middle school in Florida. She fulfills her mission statement every time she takes a step inside the school grounds.

I think about my mother's advice often as I begin my (hopeful) journey from writer to author. In order to succeed in the literary business (and in our general lives), I think it is important for us to stand for something. To set ourselves apart from other aspiring writers, and to build a unique brand that encompasses the intrinsic quality of "us" that makes us who us are.

I once read that in order to write about interesting things, you need to experience interesting things. You can't write about someone succeeding despite all obstacles if you've never put yourself out there. If you've never been burned, if you've never ached, if you've never wanted something more than what you currently have.

That is not to say that you have to become a bull rider if you want to write about a rodeo, or that you have to become a heart surgeon if one of your characters is a doctor. But if you want your brand to be "All-American Romance," you better know how to live and love passionately. If you want your brand to be "Quirky, Intelligent Artist," you better appreciate the subtleties of life in the artistic world.

I am a bit of a vagabond myself. As I have moved from place to place and worked in a variety of random careers, the one thing I have kept consistent in my life is my flat-out awe and appreciation for the natural world. Its animals, its destinations, its power and its fragility. This is my Essence. This is what makes me who I am.

Digging the Smoky Mountains with my sister and cousins in 1987...
That's me, second from the right, and that weird, brown thing in my hand looks like dirty snow.
I keep this in mind as I begin working on my brand. I would love to write about anything and everything that strikes my fancy, but I think it's important to have a fairly limited writing scope so my readers know what I stand for. This doesn't mean I need to limit my creativity; I just need to make sure my novels carry a certain type of consistency--just like my life has carried a certain type of consistency.

Therefore, here is my literary mission statement: "I strive to inspire readers to care about nature by crafting stories that highlight the interconnectedness of humans and the world around us."

Does this mean I have to preach about the Endangered Species Act every time I pick up my laptop? Does this mean I have to discuss water pollution, or the dangers of run-off, or my personal feelings on the viability of preservation vs. conservation?

No, of course not. I don't want to get preachy. And even if I did, my readers wouldn't want to hear it. Readers expect a good story, not an ethics lesson.

Therefore, my job is simply to set a stage where my characters experience situations (positive or negative) where the power and beauty of the natural world is presented to them. They can be happy or sad or neutral about this, but the point is that I have made the conscious choice to include that element in my storyline. And an echo of that element will resonate in every single book I write.

This doesn't mean I can't write about cities, and this doesn't mean I can't write about people who deplore nature. I just have to make sure the natural world is a "character" in my novels, and my other characters can choose to react to it however they like.

How about you? Do you have a personal mission statement in your life? In your writing? Are these mission statements the same, or are they different? How does this affect the decisions you make in your stories?