Friday, December 17, 2010

Happy Holidays!

Well, it's that time of the year again!

Taking stock of the year, what has happened in it and what you've accomplished!

So many people I know with new agents, new connections and writer friends, even new blogs! (like this one!)

I am so grateful for all of it, for all of you, that I can hardly imagine that 2011 could get any better! But of course if will, as my book comes out in march! (insane!) I'd love to know what cool thing happened to you. Won't you leave a comment and let us know?

So from all of us here at Project Mayhem, happy holidays! And may you get your hearts desire in the coming year too!!

We will see you in the new year!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Blown Away—An Interview with Middle-Grade Author Stephen Messer

I’ll confess—I haven’t had a whole lot of time to think about writing lately, let alone actually get much in the way of it done. Noodle managed to fall and fracture his leg, and had to have surgery to pin the bone back in place. The little guy has needed a lot of attention as of late—even more than he usually does :)

Noodle - little puppy, big splint.
So I’m extra, extra happy that Stephen Messer is joining us for today’s post. I’m going to let him do most of the talking.

Stephen’s debut middle-grade novel, Windblowne, was released this year from Random House Books for Young Readers. And yes, it’s every bit as exciting as that gorgeous cover art makes it out to be! Stephen also has two forthcoming titles, The Death of Yorik Mortwell (2011) and Colossus (2013). And, nice guy that he is, he was kind enough to share with Project Mayhem some of his experiences in the realm of middle grade. So, without further ado—Stephen Messer!

PM: Tell us about Windblowne.

SM: Windblowne is my debut fantasy adventure. I set out to write the sort of book I would have wanted to read as a kid (or as an adult, I suppose), and ended up with a story about this mountaintop world of wind and a dimension-hopping lad named Oliver who befriends a self-aware kite.

PM: What inspired you to write Windblowne? Did you like kites as a kid? And/or giant old oak trees?

SM: I grew up on various hilltops in Maine and Arizona and there are pictures of me flying all sorts of kites on them. These landscapes inform various chapters of the book. Now I live in Durham, North Carolina, which is full of beautiful oak trees, and it was easy to imagine living in giant versions of them, as people do in the town of Windblowne.

PM: Why middle grade?

SM: In my life, this was the age when I was most influenced by books, so to me it’s the most important time for a reader, and that is who I like to write for.

PM: What was your road to publication like?

SM: Some people think you need connections in order to get published, and that’s true—but you need to forge those connections yourself, by networking and meeting writers, agents, and editors. Conferences are great places to do that, and also classrooms and social networks. Get involved, and you’ll make the connections for yourself.

PM: What advice do you have for those interested in writing for middle-grade readers?

SM: Read incessantly in the genre, not only the classics but also new releases, until you understand the literature backward and forward. Try to become an authority on middle-grade books at the same time you are trying to write them.

Thank you, Stephen! I hope everyone will check out Windblowne. It’s a fantastic middle-grade adventure! And be sure to visit Stephen’s website, where you can actually see one of those aforementioned pictures of him flying a kite:

-Dawn Lairamore

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Stranger than Fiction--HOPE!

Like most writers, when I was searching for an agent, I devoured every agency's website, I googled until my fingers yelled at me and endlessly scoured the writing boards and forums for info on agents until my head throbbed and my eyes wanted to go on strike. Why? Because that's what we have to do in order to land an agent.

I still have subscriptions from the forums, which alert me via email when someone posts on certain agency's threads---the ones that I was waiting for feedback from. Recently, I received an alert from one of those threads, because a new post had come through. The poster, a writer of course, was down because she'd received a call from this agency a couple months back. The agent she spoke with was very excited about her writing and told her she'd hear back from her right after Bologna, which sadly she never did, even after sending a few gentle email nudges she's gotten no response. Even though this post has nothing to do with me, my heart sank when I read it, because I've certainly been in her shoes (175 times to be exact). When you want something so badly, the waiting turns from nagging to all consuming. Even with family, friends, jobs, it's hard to think about little else.

Well...I have hope.

Some of you know, Craig Virden, Nancy Gallt's husband was my original agent. He was a wonderful man and a powerhouse in the publishing industry and it was a great loss to everyone when he passed away last year. Well, Craig was the agent I desperately wanted. You know what I mean...THE agent--the one. He'd had my requested full for what seemed like forever and a day (or about 6 months), I'd sent a couple email nudges hoping for an update, but with no response. Then finally a letter from the Nancy Gallt Agency arrived at my home. I nervously opened it, my heart beating like a rabbit's. What did a find? A rejection from Craig. Mind you, the nicest, most personal, genuine rejection anyone could ever get, but a rejection all the same. So there it was. What did I do? I immediately starting writing. He told me to send him whatever I had "moldering" in my desk that he might like. So I picked up the pace on a manuscript I'd been working on, finishing it about a month after his rejection--right after the 2009 Bologna, where he happened to be.

That's when I got the call. It was Tuesday. Just after returning from Bologna, Craig called me out of the blue. He'd changed his mind. He couldn't stop thinking about NIGHTSHADE CITY and wanted to represent me. He said he didn't care about the market and that my book needed to be published. The rest you know.

So, please, to this writer and to everyone else who's struggling to find an agent, keep having hope, even if you're down to your last agent or have subbed your third manuscript with no bites--keep having hope. Strange and wonderful things happen every day. Trust in whatever it is that forces you to be a writer. There is a reason why you're here.

xoxo -- Hilary

Originally posted on

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Not World Building, HOUSE Building!

As I was revising a manuscript for the umpteenth time the other day, I realized that I had been watching HGTV WAY too much lately, because I had unexpectedly drawn a lesson for my writing from shows like Designed to Sell and Income Property.

Um ... had I gone completely crazy?
Maybe! But more important, I had stumbled upon a fresh way of looking at a familiar task.

For those who haven't witnessed the spellbinding appeal of Home and Garden Television, let me explain. Designed to Sell shows how to turn a tired house into a showpiece by giving sellers a minimal budget and a team of experts (like the amazing architect/interior designer John Gidding and designer Lisa Laporta) to transform their house into the hottest property on the block. On Income Property, wizardly carpenter Scott McGillivray helps first-time homebuyers turn part of their house into rentals to help with the mortgage. He transforms hideous basement dumps into beautiful living units, and we see the renovations and the incredible reveals.

These successful designers are continually harping on the importance of creating a "harmonious whole" and "unifying the space," "maximizing potential" and creating "curb appeal." They routinely find inventive, inexpensive solutions to a variety of homey shortcomings.

In my editing process, I too want to maximize potential with easy, affordable fixes, and I regularly come across problems that get in the way of a harmonious whole. Characters clash with settings, situations clash with dialog, and the all-important believability of the fictional world suffers, which brings down the property value of the material.

Likening editing to renovating a house has completely inspired me. I realize now that when I take the time to upgrade the kitchen linoleum, I'd better look into upgrading the cabinets and appliances too, and the backsplash and the lighting fixtures. If I spot a bit of mildew on a portion of drywall, I can be sure the frame needs replacing, or if the floor is the problem, the very foundation needs looking at.

I want curb appeal. As the reader approaches the story, I want to create lively interest straight away. Then, when the newly sanded and stained front door is opened and he or she enters the house, er tale, I want to show a space that flows. I want to highlight the view from the beautifully installed windows, which means rearranging the clunky furniture so it's no longer in the way. I want to create a welcoming home that grows warmer and more inviting from room to room. In short, I want a story readers will be happy to live in.

And what gets in the way of that? Too many knickknacks. Too much "personality." Mismatched furniture. Outmoded fixtures. The wrong shade of paint. Among so many other things!

Some changes are cosmetic. Some require drastic demolition and reconstruction. But in the end, there's a house to be proud of, and a story that sells itself!

—by Timothy Power