Thursday, July 30, 2015

Three Opportunities to Win DON'T VOTE FOR ME

Clearly, Honey Bear should have been an architect.

There are a handful of DON'T VOTE FOR ME giveaways floating around the Internet right now, so instead of tweeting about them one by one, I thought I'd put all the links in one blog post:


Rebecca J. Allen

Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile

You can enter the blog contests anytime in the next month, but the Goodreads giveaway ends next week, so don't delay!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Book Review: GO SET A WATCHMAN by Harper Lee

It's no secret that I love TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. (Case in point: the street names in THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING are my idea of a tribute.) It's been one of my favorite classics since I read it in the ninth grade, and when I reread it several years ago, my affection only grew. The scene in which Scout stands on Boo's porch and sees their summer through his eyes is one of the finest moments in American literature, and upon rereading it, I was literally moved to tears. So when they announced the publication of GO SET A WATCHMAN, MOCKINGBIRD's long-lost sister story, I felt an odd mixture of excitement, curiosity, and fear. My actual reading of the book stirred up even more impressions, the most pressing of which I've summarized below.

Atticus Finch's Transformation

When the first reviews materialized, I was shocked to learn that the Atticus Finch these reviewers had become acquainted with was a pale shadow of the character that had blazed so brightly in MOCKINGBIRD. But the Atticus Finch I found in the pages themselves was not nearly as terrible as those reviews had led me to believe. Yes, he joined the KKK in his younger years (and may have even been a member when he defended Tom Robinson). Yes, he's on a city council whose members spew hate and vitriol. But his reasons, which I won't spoil here, are much less inflammatory than these reviews suggested, and he lets those members spew their vitriol for one simple reason: because the Constitution says they can.

In my mind, Atticus's comments on African-Americans, which multiple reviews reported, are the most troublesome, for they reveal his personal beliefs. Do I agree with them? Absolutely not. But do they contradict the Atticus we came to know and love in MOCKINGBIRD? Unfortunately, I have to say no again. We get a fuller picture of his character in this follow-up, and it seems like he enjoys playing the part of benevolent protector. It's not bad to be benevolent or even to protect underrepresented people, but when you think these qualities make you better than the poor, dear souls you've taken it upon yourself to shelter, you run into trouble.

Of course, I can't complain too loudly, since I suspect that revulsion is just what Ms. Lee wanted us to feel. To make the point she ultimately wanted to make, Atticus had to fall.

From Contemporary to Historical

The book never mentions the year or even the Supreme Court case that has everyone up in arms, but based on context clues, I suspect the case in question was Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, which was handed down in the spring of 1954. Since MOCKINGBIRD was published in the summer of 1960, it's safe to assume that WATCHMAN is set sometime in this six-year interval. In other words, if WATCHMAN had been published shortly after it was written, it would have been a contemporary, but like MOCKINGBIRD, it makes a lot more of an impact as a historical.

History, as we know, is fond of repeating itself, and it's easier to swallow medicine in the past than in the present. Integration has strong parallels to the charged political issues of today, including and especially the issue of same-sex marriage. One conversation in particular between Atticus and Jean Louise had just as much to say on same-sex marriage as it did on integration, and I thought Jean Louise made important points on both sides of the debate. It goes to show that issues are issues precisely because there are thoughtful arguments on both sides, and yet we get so caught up in fending off the other side's attacks that we often forget to listen to what they have to say. (Even Jean Louise admits that her initial response to the decision was one of disagreement and defensiveness.)

Sequel or First Draft?

This has been perhaps the most contentious issue surrounding the publication of the book. Is WATCHMAN a sequel to or a first draft of our beloved MOCKINGBIRD?

In my opinion, it's neither.

To be fair, my judgment may be a little clouded, since I happen to think MOCKINGBIRD is one of the finest standalones ever penned, but hear me out. Sequels are continuations of a character's ongoing story, but it's clear that Ms. Lee never came back to WATCHMAN after she finished MOCKINGBIRD. As other reviews have pointed out, there are inconsistencies between MOCKINGBIRD and WATCHMAN, including one glaring difference in the description of the trial (which would have had a major impact on the final sequences of MOCKINGBIRD). To be a true sequel, WATCHMAN would have had to have been revised or at least proofread to match the narrative fleshed out in MOCKINGBIRD.

That raises the question of whether WATCHMAN is a draft of the novel that became MOCKINGBIRD, and though I believe it was a necessary stepping stone, I don't see it as a strict first draft. The story arcs bear no resemblance to each other (though WATCHMAN does include quite a few flashbacks to Jean Louise's days as Scout), and they're also separated by nearly twenty years. (Some might argue, as this article  does, that Tay Hohoff, Ms. Lee's editor, helped her craft the story she meant to tell all along, but since I don't know what goes on in Ms. Lee's head (and since Ms. Hohoff died more than forty years ago), I think it's impossible to say what Ms. Lee did or didn't intend.) Furthermore, I don't know about you, but I don't attach the first drafts of my manuscripts to the final proofs and stick both in a safety deposit box, which, according to multiple sources, is where WATCHMAN was discovered. First drafts are for obliterating, not for putting under lock and key.

(I should add the WATCHMAN is a lot less polished than MOCKINGBIRD, which adds credence to the theory I rejected above. WATCHMAN was quite tell-y, and while it's clear that Ms. Lee can write, it's also clear that her grip on craft wasn't as strong when she wrote WATCHMAN. If Ms. Hohoff encouraged Ms. Lee to show all the things she told in WATCHMAN, MOCKINGBIRD easily could have been the result. WATCHMAN also owes its emotional punch to MOCKINGBIRD, as the former's climax would have fallen flat without the latter's character development.)

If you feel squicky about reading a book Ms. Lee might or might not have sanctioned, I can respect that decision. But if you're basing your judgment on other reviews (including this one), I highly recommend you let the book speak for itself. I liked it much more than I thought I would, and it clearly got me thinking. And isn't that exactly what a book is supposed to do?

Thursday, July 2, 2015

What I've Learned from My First Few Author Events

Jennifer got the last copy at my first book signing ever.
I've been a published author for a little less than two months now, so I've had a chance to do my first few author events. I've done book signings at my local Deseret Book and Barnes & Noble, had a launch party at a popular independent closer to my hometown, and participated in a panel discussion at a nearby high school. Several people have asked me how those went, so I thought I'd put together a short list of things I've learned.

1. Foot traffic is your friend. The launch party was a more structured event, with a formal reading and question-and-answer period, so I didn't have as much of an opportunity to reach out to individual patrons. Also, the store was kind of out of the way, so they didn't get as many people who were just passing through. Structured events have their strengths--I could see a more established author doing really well in that environment--but I've found that I prefer the less structured stuff. I like being able to greet people as they come in and talk books with random strangers.

2. Stand, don't sit. These are few things less approachable than a forlorn author sitting behind a stack of books. There's something awkward about it that people naturally shy away from, so don't be that forlorn author sitting behind a stack of books! Stand up, stand out, say hi. The least they'll do is smile back and continue on their way, but they just might stop to chat.

3. Bookmarks break the ice. I know, I know, I get it--hand-selling your own book is one of the most uncomfortable experiences on the planet (though slightly less uncomfortable than sitting behind a hulking stack of them). A great way to break the ice is to have something small and inexpensive to hand out to the store's patrons. Bookmarks are the perfect something, since most of the people who frequent bookstores are, you know, book lovers. Now, some people will decline, but most people will take one, and some of those people will stop to ask what your book is about.

4. Be a guide, not a drill sergeant. So let's recap: When someone walks by in a bookstore, you smile, say hi, and offer them a bookmark. If they don't take it, you're done. But if they do take it, your pause and keep smiling your friendliest smile. If they walk away, you're done. But if they don't walk away, you tell them about your book. If they wish you luck and walk away, you're done. But if they don't walk away, they're probably about to buy your book.

In other words, it's like one of those old choose-your-own-adventure stories, but you're just the page-turner (or, more precisely, the instructions at the bottom of the page). You don't have to be pushy or obnoxious; you just have to give people a chance to keep reading the story with you. And some of them will. Then you'll finally get to take a seat so you can sign their book:)

Friday, June 26, 2015

Team Maries Wins "The Writer's Voice"

#TheWVoice wrapped up earlier this week, and I'm pleased to announce that #TeamMaries won with 21 official votes! Here's how those votes broke down:

#1: AN ADAGIO DARK AND LOVELY Lauren MacLeod, Erin Harris, Caryn Wiseman, Carrie Pestritto, Andrea Somberg, Kathleen Rushall, Courtney Stevenson
#2: WHISPERMAGE Carrie Pestritto, Andrea Somberg
#3: THE DREADFUL GOOD Caitie Flum, Erin Harris, Carrie Pestritto, Andrea Somberg, Courtney Stevenson
#5: TRUE NORTH Courtney Stevenson
#7: THE SHAPE OF THE MANGO Mollie Glick, Carrie Pestritto, Andrea Somberg
#8: THE LAST PAPER DAHL Erin Harris, Kathleen Rushall 

And THE LAST PAPER DAHL also picked up a request from NinjaHulk. Congratulations, Kristin!

To those of you who didn't get a vote--or didn't get selected by a coach--I just want to say that subjectivity is a huge part of this business and that everyone's tastes are unique. I know you know that, but it bears repeating. Writing is such a solitary pursuit, and at first, it feels like the only person who believes in you is you. But if you keep at it, if you keep taking those punches and dragging yourself back to your feet, you'll slowly find like-minded people who believe in you and your writing. I just found eight new people to believe in, and whether they got no votes or seven, I look forward to seeing their names on books someday.

Last but certainly not least, thanks to Anna-Marie McLemore, my wonderful guest coach, for helping me put together a great team and offering thoughtful feedback on their entries. Thanks to my indefatigable fellow coaches, Brenda Drake, Mónica Bustamante Wagner, and Elizabeth Briggs, for their hard work and dedication over so many weeks (and years). And thanks to everyone who participated, especially my awesome teammates, for taking a risk and putting yourselves out there. It takes a lot of courage to face rejection and keep coming back for more, and I admire your fortitude. Truly, I do.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Agent Round Starts NOW

#TheWVoice is a multi-blog, multi-agent contest hosted by Brenda Drake, Mónica Bustamante Wagner, Elizabeth Briggs, and me. We based the contest on NBC’s singing reality show The Voice, so the four of us selected projects for our teams based on their queries and first pages and coached the talented writers who wrote them as they polished their entries.

And TODAY we get to post our team members’ finished entries on our blogs!

Twelve amazing agents are going to read these queries and first pages, then vote for their favorites on Tuesday, June 23. Each vote will count as a partial or full request depending on how many votes the entry receives. If an entry receives 1 or 2 votes, those votes will count as partial requests. If an entry receives 3 or more votes, those votes will count as full requests.

Voting will stay open until noon EDT on June 24, at which point we’ll determine which coach’s team received the most votes (and let at least one ninja agent take a crack at the entries). That coach will win bragging rights for time immemorial, and everyone who received requests will be able to submit their materials to all the agents who voted for them. These votes represent serious interest in your project, so PLEASE DON’T ACCEPT AN OFFER OF REPRESENTATION BEFORE GIVING “THE WRITER’S VOICE” AGENTS AN OPPORTUNITY TO MAKE A COMPETING OFFER.

Our twelve amazing agents:

Caitie Flum of Liza Dawson Associates
Mollie Glick of Foundry Literary + Media
Erin Harris of Folio Literary Management
Lauren MacLeod of The Strothman Agency
Sara Megibow and Renee Nyen of kt literary
Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary Agency
Carrie Pestritto of Prospect Agency
Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency
Andrea Somberg of Harvey Klinger, Inc.
Courtney Stevenson of Pippin Properties
Caryn Wiseman of Andrea Brown Literary Agency

And my eight amazing teammates' entries:

#TeamMaries #1: AN ADAGIO DARK AND LOVELY (YA historical)
#TeamMaries #2: WHISPERMAGE (YA fantasy)
#TeamMaries #3: THE DREADFUL GOOD (YA mystery)
#TeamMaries #4: JETSTAR FIGHTER PILOT (YA science fiction)
#TeamMaries #5: TRUE NORTH (MG contemporary)
#TeamMaries #6: MONTANA GOLD (YA adventure)
#TeamMaries #7: THE SHAPE OF THE MANGO (Literary fiction)
#TeamMaries #8: THE LAST PAPER DAHL (MG fantasy)

To read the other teams' entries, please use the following links:

Lastly, cheerleading is allowed, but only until Monday! We want to leave the comments free for the agents to vote on Tuesday. (Also, we will only allow, well, cheerleading and/or positive feedback. Please don’t critique the entries before the agents vote. On the flip side, please don’t try to convince the agents that they want to vote for one of your favorites or, you know, threaten to douse the agents in silly string if they don’t vote for your critique partner. This is a silly-string-free site.)

Happy reading!


Genre: MG fantasy
Word count: 63,000


Not long ago, eleven-year-old Cecelia Dahl had a little brother who was alive, a mother and father who didn't blame her for his death, and a pleasant house in Hungrig, Norway. She had a soul that lived inside her body, not a miserable blue one that ran out through a door in her chest. Before Tuesdays turned evil, Cecelia was made of skin and bones and happiness, not the crackling paper and sorrow now ripping her life to shreds.

Cecelia’s mother has left for The Land of Yesterday to find her ghost brother. Her house, a dark and crooked thing called Widdendream, absorbs her father into its walls as punishment for making her mother leave. Just before it eats her as well, two mischievous gnomes whisk her away in their hot-air balloon. The gnomes, soul-catchers by trade, claim they know the way to Yesterday, and also how to capture her runaway soul. Its absence is why she’s turning into a paper girl, but finding it won’t be easy. Now Cecelia must survive the harrowing voyage in order to find Yesterday and bring her mother and ghost-brother home. If she doesn’t, Widdendream will never give her father back, and Cecelia’s transformation to a full paper Dahl will be irreversibly complete.

First page:

On Monday of last week, Cecelia Dahl understood the world. She resided in Hungrig, Norway, in a crooked house called Widdendream. Daisies that bloomed in both grass and snow circled the shimmering lake outside her window. Sharp mountains loomed over her town. Dogs barked. Cats meowed. Cecelia’s midnight blue hair grew long and fast and cantankerous. Her skin was dark and bronze and oddly freckled, just like her mother’s. Widdendream loved its residents, as all good houses should, and Cecelia’s family loved her unconditionally. Indeed, on Monday of last week, these were all hardboiled facts.

Then on Tuesday of last week, Cecelia did the bad thing, and the world narrowed down to this: Tuesday hated Cecelia and Cecelia hated it back. 

Now that Tuesday had arrived once more, Cecelia couldn’t help but look over both shoulders as she sank into her desk. It felt like something terrible had its eyes focused on her.

“Cecilia?” Miss Podsnappery pushed up her horn-rimmed glasses. “Whatever do you call that instrument in your hand?” 

Every eye in class turned on Cecelia. Expressionless gazes traced her charcoal sweater and the black-and-gray-striped dress beneath it, judging her frayed tights and scuffed boots too, no doubt. Her teacher, bewildered as always, cast looming shadows. Cecelia forced a smile. She must keep her answer as succinct as possible, forgoing any miscommunications. Teachers were simple creatures, after all, and easily confused.


Genre: Literary fiction
Word count: 100,000


Samira Ali’s love life was mapped at birth: Finish graduate school, let her parents find her the perfect Pakistani man, and learn to love him while rearing a houseful of beautiful Muslim babies.

American-born Samira never expected to find true love that way, but neither did she expect to careen so far into forbidden territory. Less than halfway through her doctorate program, she’s not merely embroiled in a clandestine love affair with wildlife photographer Gary Rosenthal; she’s internalized the cadence of his voice when he lights his Hanukkah candles. But before she can admit that she’s fallen irrevocably in love, Samira learns that her father is dying. Rather than destroy his hope that she’ll find the perfect Muslim man, Samira leaves Gary--only to discover that she’s pregnant.

Unable to think straight in the days following her father’s funeral, Samira flies to Pakistan on the pretense of helping her grandfather. She tells herself that she’ll have a plan by the time she returns to her small Florida hometown, but being in Lahore complicates everything. As Samira struggles to conceal her pregnancy from a gaggle of nosy aunties, she learns that she’s not the only Ali woman who has had to choose between love and the culture and faith that define her. Samira’s mother is hiding a past that could make the blended family Samira dreams of possible (if Gary will take her back) or force Samira to choose between the one parent she has left and the love of her life.

First page:

Samira swung her leg over her bicycle seat and leaned into the pedals. In seconds, the rusty green dumpsters and dull gray gravel of the alley were behind her, and she was jumping the curb at Carolina Street. She crouched low over her handlebars as she rode deliberately through the shadows that draped her hometown, softening everything she passed: the park where she had broken her arm when she was six, her high school home economics teacher’s house, the azalea-ringed yards of two aunties, the police chief’s stucco rambler.

She pedaled fast, her legs moving like pistons as she headed west, away from the beach, away from her childhood home, away from her still-sleeping mother, mentally mapping the shortest route to the next town. At her fastest pace, it would still take more than a half hour each way.

She needed a car.

“Don’t be stupid, Sam,” she said, her voice lost beneath the whir of her bike.

No one drove through Carlysle, Florida, at four thirty in the morning.

If she were driving, the chief would have gotten in his cruiser and followed her to make sure she was all right. With Samira’s luck, he’d have had a half dozen of the aunties trailing him, or--at the very least--reaching for the telephone.

Samira could almost hear the aunties’ voices as one, husky with concern, sleep, and unflinching Pakistani accents:

“Nasreen-behen, so sorry to call at this hour, but everything is okay, nehi? Samira just drove by...”

Team Maries #6: MONTANA GOLD

Genre: YA adventure
Word count: 85,000


For perpetual slacker Simon, graduating from high school just means his parents are going to force him to stop playing video games and actually make decisions about his future. When he finds a map his miner great-great-great-great-uncle left to a hidden cache of gold, he decides getting out of town--and putting off any major decisions--sounds like a good idea. He cashes in his graduation checks and hops a plane to the wilds of Montana, but it doesn’t take him long to realize he’s in over his head.

Savvy local Maggie takes pity on the city boy, but not because she finds Simon's snobby Eastern accent charming. Finding the gold is her last chance to pay off her father’s crushing debts and stay in the town she loves, and she doesn’t care who gets hurt in the process.

As Simon and Maggie follow the clues, what started out as a fun adventure turns serious when they’re stranded in the woods and word of the gold gets around to the wrong people. But Maggie’s warming up to him, and Simon starts to wonder if his future might just include her--not to mention the rugged beauty of Montana. They’ll have to outsmart a crazed mountain man, drug smugglers, and the wilderness itself if he wants to live to find out.

First page:

The day Simon found the letter with the first clue to his great-great-great-great-uncle's gold started out just as dismal as most days. In the morning, he graduated from high school. A class of three thousand, seven hundred, and forty-one pretty much guaranteed a comatose audience by the time they got to Wexler, Simon.

Afterward, instead of giving Simon a break, maybe a little time to shower off the rented gown stink, his parents informed him that he was having a surprise graduation party. Simon's former classmates must have been more impressed by his Dartmouth-professor parents than he was, because there were over a hundred people at their house by four thirty. He escaped to the backyard and was sitting on the edge of the pool with his shoes off and dress pants rolled up when his best friend found him.

"This party blows chunks," Matt said, flopping down beside Simon.

"I had nothing to do with it," Simon said. "I take no responsibility for its vomit-inducing properties.”

"MageWars later?”

"Definitely." A few hours of the best online game in the universe would go a long way toward erasing the suck of the day.

The porch door whacked open behind them. Simon kept his eyes forward. If he had any luck at all, it would just be someone coming out for a smoke.

Team Maries #5: TRUE NORTH

Genre: MG contemporary
Word count: 50,000


Makenna Reid has never had a best friend, finished two grades in the same school, or lived in a house without wheels. In her eleven years as a Coast Guard brat, Mack has learned not to get too close to anything or anyone--until her family is transferred to Seward, Alaska, and she moves in across the street from Travis O’Connell.

Travis and his sisters are living Mack’s worst nightmare, a parent lost at sea. When Mack overhears a fisherman who survived a terrible accident raving about “the seal people,” she suspects the icy waters of Resurrection Bay are hiding a secret--one that may be connected to the disappearance of Travis’s father. As the two friends search for answers together, Travis and the other residents of Bear Lake RV Park help Mack tear down the walls around her heart and carve out a place in the world for herself.

When tragedy threatens their new lives, Mack and Travis realize too late that the father he needs and the home she has always longed for were both right in front of them all along. They will need a little magic--and a lot of faith in each other--to attempt the daring rescue that can set things right.

First page:

I have the weirdest feeling that we have driven through a portal into a black-and-white movie. All the color has somehow leached out of the world, leaving everything varying shades of gray. Gray streets lined with gray buildings slope down toward the icy waters of Resurrection Bay. On every side, slate-colored mountains rise against the cloudy sky, and all over the ground the remains of the winter snow slump into heaps of grimy slush. Welcome to Seward, Alaska, population 1,863. It definitely does not look like the brochure.

I pull off my headphones and let them dangle around my neck. "No way," I say. "I am not living here."

Daddy turns around in the driver’s seat. “Why the attitude, Makenna? Five moves in eleven years, and you’ve never complained before.”

“We’ve never had a whole country between us and civilization before. I mean, look at this place.” I sweep my hand at the car window. “It’s like the armpit of the universe. I thought Alaska was supposed to be beautiful.” 

All those things may be true, but none of them are the real reason I’m being such a brat. Seward is the kind of place where Coast Guard dads get killed.

"Don't panic yet," Mama says. "Maybe the campground will be nicer."

Doubtful. I can tell from her strained smile that she doesn't really believe that, either.

The gravel road the GPS wants us to take does not look promising. It looks like something a bunch of teenagers would go down in a scary movie.


Genre: YA science fiction
Word count: 80,000


Reeka Pendleton and her brother Dek have three rules: stick together, trust no one, and always go back for each other. When Dek is recruited for the fighter pilot program at the JetStar Academy--the toughest all-male school in their galaxy--Reeka grudgingly lets him go. But when he disappears, she vows to jump a transport from her home space station and find him.

However, several failed attempts have left her with a few broken ribs and more than a handful of enemies. Worse, her options are running out. Regulations on all space stations have increased due to the threat of the Iorge, a rogue organization determined to create super soldiers by erasing emotions from the main population. Their constant attacks have driven the stations to the brink of war.

But Reeka won’t let even a war get in her way, seizing an opportunity to be one of the JetStar Academy’s four female recruits. As Reeka battles chauvinistic classmates and dives into the secrets of Dek’s actions at the Academy, she discovers that her commanding officer knows more about Dek's disappearance than he's willing to reveal--and that Dek may have a more significant role in the impending war than Reeka ever expected.

First page:

I collapsed in an alley as the fiery whip of pain in my ribs threatened to burst out of me. I barely had enough strength left to tap a message to Ari on my ion5:

: Are you up?

Several excruciating moments passed, the hot jolts in my ribs acting as much more than a distraction. Finally, instead of a message, Ari sent me a vid-chat:

“Reeka, where are you?” she asked, her voice cloudy with sleep.

“Downtown?” My head throbbed as I tried not to slip further down into the void.

“Wait, what time is it?” Ari’s eyes flashed over to the digi-time. “Reek, it’s three AM! Why the hell are you out?”

Her cursing made me laugh, but doing so made my ribs hurt. “Goozer,” I said, wincing. “I tried going after Dek. Didn’t make it.”

“You are so stupid, Reek. Why would you leave without telling me?” Ari sat up and turned on her bedroom low light. Her eyes were big behind the specs that she shoved up the bridge of her nose.

I braced myself against the wall so that I wouldn’t pass out. “I don’t know. I had to go after him, Ari.” I closed my eyes. “But you’re right, it was stupid.”

Dek and I had made three rules for survival when we were kids: stick together, trust no one, and always go back for each other. I’d been having a rough time with that third one since he’d been officially classified as MIA. But I couldn’t leave my brother out in the purple. He wouldn’t leave me if I was the one missing.