Friday, September 28, 2012

The Healthy Writers Club

Photo Courtesy of Shallee McArthur
Shallee McArthur is an uber-talented science fiction and fantasy writer who just signed with Hannah Bowman of Liza Dawson Associates. I'm so excited to have her as an "agency sister," and I'm also excited to join her Healthy Writers Club. Here's what she has to say about it:

"As writers, we hear a lot about the "butt in chair" tactic, which is great for our manuscripts, but not so great for the actual butt in the chair. Hence the Healthy Writers Club. If you're game to join the fun, you can run, walk, bike, make a healthy dinner, play tag with your kids, etc. Then, post about it on Friday (or whenever you want). Sign up here!"

I jumped on this opportunity, because my butt has been doing a lot of chair-sitting lately. As a matter of fact, my butt has been chair-sitting nearly non-stop lately, and I hate it because I feel like I've lost sight of the active, healthy side of myself. 

Stress has been a HUGE part of my life for the last several months. I have a tendency to burrow inward and disappear inside myself during times of trouble; I also have a tendency to bury myself in comfort food. I have a very weak immune system to start with, so this is quite the recipe for disaster.

I am in the midst of making some life changes, and my goal is to begin exercising (and eating nourishing, real food) by Friday, October 12th. This gives me two more weeks to wrap up some important things, and then I will begin with a vengeance. 

(I have so many plans, but I won't bore you with my details. Instead, I will put my money where my mouth is, and I will PROVE how serious I am about this soon enough!)

How about you? How do you balance your writing life and your fitness? Please click on Shallee's link above if you'd like to join in on our fun!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Lessons from GUTGAA + My Secret Identity!


Thanks so much to everyone who participated in the first-round of Deana Barnhart's "Gearing Up to Get an Agent" blogfest this week! I was honored to serve as one of the GUTGAA first-round judges, and I was blown away by the level of talent in this contest.

I feel like I learned so much from this process. In particular, I learned this:

LITERARY AGENTS HAVE INCREDIBLY HARD JOBS.

Seriously. I was given the task of whittling queries down from 40 to 10, and I nearly had a nervous breakdown from the stress. There were SO many good entries that I can't even fathom how agents sometimes sift through hundreds of queries a day. Not to mention all their other ridiculous duties, like revisions, pitch lists, contracts, negotiations... The list goes on and on.

I also learned this:

THIS BUSINESS IS BEYOND SUBJECTIVE.

As one of the judges reading your queries, I can definitively say that you should NOT take it personally if your GUTGAA entry didn't get a vote. I loved SO many entries I wasn't able to vote for, and I think MANY of them will fare wonderfully during querying.

In addition to solid query-writing and a great concept, my top ten votes honestly came down to personal preferences, life experiences and other factors that are so subjective they aren't even measurable.

I think the other judges would agree. Thespians tend to gravitate toward drama stories, musicians tend to gravitate toward music stories... One query struck a chord with my six year-old self so perfectly that I had to vote for it, while others that were great just didn't "connect" with me quite so viscerally.

If anything, this process just confirms to me that we shouldn't take agent rejections so personally. I know everyone says that--and writing is so personal it's easy to blow it off--but I'm now a firm believer in it.

As aspiring authors, I think we tend to judge agents as "good vs. bad" computers. If they request pages, it's because our writing is good. If they reject us, it's because our writing is bad. But if we take a step back and view agents as unique, flawed and complex PEOPLE, we start to understand that they bring all their personal interests, experiences and baggage to the table as well.

Also, I really think it's true that agents have to LOVE our books in order to sign us. It's not enough for them to simply think they are well-written. (My agent has already read my novel ESSENCE four times, and we just signed our contract in June. I can't imagine having to be that dedicated to a book I liked, but didn't love.)

Being on the "other side of the curtain" was certainly an experience, and I can't thank Deana enough for allowing me to be part of this. I also can't thank the other first-round judges for their hard volunteer work and dedication. And lastly, I want to thank all the participants for being brave enough to put yourselves out there like you did. You guys are so creative and passionate and encouraging; I can't even tell you how inspired I am by you.

P.S.- For those of you who are wondering, I will go ahead and spill the beans. I was one of the judges assigned to Deana's Picture Book / Chapter Book / Middle Grade / New Adult blog, and my secret code name was... Sugar Magnolia! 

I hope you guys thought my comments were helpful, and I'm so excited that 9 of my 10 votes made it to the agent round. I can't WAIT to buy these books some day!

Monday, September 3, 2012

GUTGAA Meet and Greet!

Photo Courtesy of Deana Barnhart
Hi everyone! My name is Lisa Ann O'Kane, and I am one of the first-round judges in Deana Barnhart's GUTGAA blogfest. Here are my meet-and-greet answers, and I can't wait to hop around and meet you as well!

Q: Where do you write?

A: I would kill for a proper writing space--or even a proper writing desk--but right now, my office is my laptop in my lap. I usually write in a comfy recliner, but I sometimes camp out on my kitchen table as well. As long as I have Nag Champa incense or Yankee candles, I am good to go!

Q: Go to your writing space, sit down and look to your left. What is the first thing you see?

A: There is a window to the left of my kitchen table, and it looks out to cottonwood trees, rose bushes and a very dilapidated turquoise shed.

Q: Favorite time to write?

A: Late at night. I love the calm and stillness, and there is something creative about the realization you're the only one awake in the house.

Q: Drink of choice while writing?

A: Tea! Earl Grey, Jasmine Green, Pumpkin Chai... The list goes on and on.

Q: When writing, do you listen to music or do you need complete silence?

A: I have a very specific playlist I listen to when I write. Carla Bruni, Bebel Gilberto, the Shins, Bob Dylan, Ugly Cassanova... The music has to strike a perfect chord with me, or else I find it distracting. (I also love to assign songs to my characters. Although I don't usually write and listen to these songs at the same time, I play them other times when I want to find inspiration.)

Q: What was your inspiration for your latest manuscript and where did you find it?

A: The inspiration for my latest manuscript ESSENCE came to me randomly. (See my full pitch here.)

I was in Vail with my husband to watch a friend of ours get inducted into the Snowboard Hall of Fame last winter. There were tons of early '90's snowboarding legends there, and I was struck by how poorly many of them had aged. Some had mobility issues (thanks to the beatings they put on their bodies), some had substance abuse withdrawal issues, and many others just seemed "different."

I turned to my husband at one point and said, "It's weird. It's almost like these guys were given a certain allotment of life, and they've already used theirs up."

BAM. The rest of my story came to me like lightning.

Q: What's your most valuable writing tip?

A: Don't listen to too many people's advice. Writing is personal, and you need to have faith in yourself and in the process. Valuable insight can certainly be gleaned from other people, but limit your inner circle to only a handful of people whose opinions you really trust. Nothing squelches creativity like too much conflicting advice from well-meaning friends and acquaintances.

So, there you have it! I can't wait to meet the rest of you!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Metamorphosis and the Fear of Flying

Photo Courtesy of entophile
I can't get off this butterfly kick. I visited the Butterfly Pavilion here in Denver the other day, and I got to go behind-the-scenes and learn even more about the process of metamorphosis. I even got to see the "hatching room," where butterflies make their transition from chrysalis into adulthood.

Did you know butterflies can't fly right when they hatch? Many people think this is because their wings are wet, but it's actually because their wings need to fill with a hardening fluid first. This fluid originates in the butterfly's belly, and it takes time for it to flow to the wings.

This "wing hardening" process may take several hours to complete. This is why newly hatched adult butterflies must pause and rest before they actually take flight.

Again, I find myself wondering about these butterflies. Do they have any idea what is happening to them? Are they nervous? Impatient? Excited?

It must feel liberating to finally be freed from that chrysalis, so it's easy to imagine butterflies stamping their feet in anticipation. But maybe right there, in that meditative moment between chrysalis and adulthood, the butterflies are actually reflecting on what has just happened to them.

Catching their breath. Gaining their courage. Preparing themselves to take a giant leap of faith.

Because a newly hatched butterfly has never flown before. It may think it has an equal chance of falling than of flying. But after some time, I imagine the "not-doing" becomes even scarier than the "doing."

As Anais Nin's quote says, “The day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”