Thursday, November 26, 2009
I'm super thankful to my agent, Marietta Zacker. She is a wonderful person and truly cares about her clients. She never makes me feel like I'm alone and she puts up with my 'crazy needy writer syndrome'!
I'm thankful to Craig Virden and Nancy Gallt. Without Craig, I can honestly say, I don't know where I might be with Nightshade City. I'm so lucky he took a chance on me back in April...so very lucky. Nancy has been a pillar of strength and I'm blessed to be a part of her amazing agency.
I'm thankful to my editor at Holiday House, Julie Amper. She's been amazing to work with. Seriously, if any of you ever get to work with her, you'll know what I'm talking about. She puts you at ease right away and her edits are incredible. My rats thank her too!
Okay, I'm off to eat way to much food! I can't wait! I've posted a short teaser of my new MS, Miss Lily White's Academy for Wayward Dead Girls!
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!
xoxo -- Hilary
The sky was gray. Go figure, it was always gray. Farina walked swiftly. The cold air gave her skin a bristle, a feeling that resembled what she felt in life--a faint whisper of it anyway. Meandering through the thick network of trees, she made her way to the only entrance she knew of. Souls stayed away from it, worried they might get sucked in or something stupid like that. Farina wasn't afraid. Frankly, she didn't care much. She needed to see it.
"Farina!" called a voice from behind her. "Farina, where are you going?"
Farina cringed. She kept walking, pretending she didn't hear Nan Nelson, of all the dead girls, calling after her.
"Farina, you better stop," called Nan. "I know what you're up to and I'll be forced to tell Miss Lily."
Farina turned around. "Tell her what, Nan? I'm not doing anything."
"You know you're not allowed to go near The Caves," said Nan. "You're cruising for a bruising, if Miss Lily finds out." Nan died in 1955, so practically everything she said had some stupid 1950's expression in it. Had alcohol been available, Farina figured she'd have picked up the habit for sure by now, having Nan as a roommate.
"I wasn't going to The Caves, Nan. I was just going for a walk, which you rudely interrupted. How very un-1950's of you."
Nan folded her arms, peering at her roomie suspiciously. "You and your walks," said Nan. "You know, there is more to do down here than brood and act all dark and creepy."
"Oh, yeah," said Farina, faking a smile. "Maybe we could go to the drive-in with Biff and Chad after the big game, and then all hold hands and share a malt at the ice cream parlor!"
"Very funny," said Nan. Her lips twisted into a sulk. "I was only trying to help." She turned and began to walk away.
Farina rolled her eyes. Now she felt bad. After all, Nan was being helpful in her annoying way and Farina always pegged her for dumb, which made her feel even worse for snapping at her. "Nan--wait up."
Nan whirled around, her sulky face, now a beaming smile. "Oh Farina, I knew you weren't mad at me. You're such a kidder! Let's go back to the dorm and I'll let you see the new pages of my scrapbook. They'll knock your socks!"
Farina gulped hard, forcing down the insult which so wanted to escape her lips.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
So, I've been under the weather. Every November, without fail, I fall ill from something or other! Saturday night I had a fever, something around 102. Surprisingly, that night, I came up with an idea for my next novel. So I suppose being sick has it's advantages! I'm feeling much better today, so I wanted to post a teaser of my new endeavor. And yes, I wrote this while sick, so I've decided if you don't like it you have to blame the flu, not me!
The title of this manuscript is, MISS LILY WHITE'S ACADEMY FOR WAYWARD DEAD GIRLS. Need I say more?
xoxo -- Hilary
Chapter One -- A Very Dead Girl
"I'm dead as a freaking doornail!" shouted Farina. "I'd rather go to Hell for all eternity than be trapped in this idiotic school!" A few of the more prissy girls gasped at the declaration. Farina Rathbone bolted from her desk, nearly knocking it over. She hurled herself through the wall and out into the hallway.
"Stay put," said Miss Lily to the other girls, wiggling a spidery finger at them. She calmly drifted after Farina.
"Now Farina dear," said Miss Lily White, in her soft Italian accent. "Even dead, we all need to mind our manners. I do understand your discontent, but that does not negate the fact that you still have yet to discover what you've been sent here to learn." Miss Lily took Farina gently by the shoulders and steered her in front of the hall mirror. "Yes, your young life was taken from you. It's horrible and it's true, but that doesn't mean you are allowed to carry on in death, as you did in life. That's what got you into this predicament in the first place."
Farina stared at her raggedy reflection in the mirror. "I didn't mean to get myself killed. Why am I being punished?"
Tall and skeletal, Miss Lily leaned down and put her gaunt, white face next to Farina's. "Dearest, you are not being punished. I know it's hard to understand, especially only having been here a year. But when a person dies young they stay trapped in that age, unless they can learn to grow inside. That's why the powers that be opened the academy, to help you understand why you're here--to help you grow up--to move on."
"What does it matter if I stay trapped in my age? I'm plenty grown in my opinion. Not to mention, I'm dead. Why can't I just be left alone?"
"That, my darling, is not for me to answer. Everyone's calling is different." A smile branched across Miss Lily's withered face. "I died over three hundred years ago. I surmise my calling was to help girls like you. You know, not everyone is as fortunate as you. Not all young souls get a chance such as this."
Farina snorted. "What, are they too wayward to join your wayward academy?"
"Don't be smart," said Miss Lily, flashing a look in the mirror. "But in a way, you are right. They must be too wayward for they are sent to the place where the bad ones go."
"You mean The Caves?"
"Yes, my darling, The Caves. I gather there are even young ones with spoiled souls, already too far gone to be saved. They don't get a second chance like you did. That's why you need to make the most of your time here."
Farina changed the subject. "What did you die of, Miss Lily?"
"A broken heart," said Miss Lily. She sighed. "The baron I was madly in love with did not return my sentiment. Utterly hopeless, I let myself wither away to nothing and I died as a result. So you see, my dear, I was foolish once too. I believe that's why I care for you girls so much. Feelings run deep when we're young. As we grow older, it still hurts, but it's manageable." Miss Lily patted Farina's shoulder. "Now my dear, why don't you take what's left of today off? You can start fresh on Monday."
"Thank you, Miss Lily," said Farina.
Miss Lily smiled sweetly and vanished from the hallway, leaving Farina alone in front of the mirror. She looked at her tattered uniform, black and white plaid skirt, with an equally unattractive sweater vest. Apparently the dead had no more fashion sense than the living when it came to school attire. "So ugly," she muttered. Her once smooth hair was now a tangled bramble of platinum dread locks, held at bay by a massive ponytail sitting atop her head. Farina always liked her looks, even more so with her scar--her battle wound. She ran a finger over it, thinking she looked pretty good for having her entire face split open by a windshield. Most of the girls in the academy weren't exactly stunners, and their faces were still in one piece. She snickered. In any case, Farina supposed it served her right, stealing her mother's SUV that icy December night--angry she'd been grounded--for once truly innocent of her mother's accusations. Of all the irony! A year later, the thought of that night still goaded her. Maybe her parents had sound reason when at sixteen years old; they refused to let her get a driver's license. She was what the adults called, reckless.
Friday, November 20, 2009
Turned in my new edits for Nightshade yesterday, a day earlier than planned! So, now I can tell you what I learned at the SCBWI IL Conference, known as Prairie Writer's Day! I guess I'll go by topic and let you know what one and all had to say.
Picture Books: Yolanda LeRoy, Editorial Director at Charlesbridge, used Where the Wild Things Are, as an example of a great picture book. She read it to us in fact! She said as an editor, she maps out the picture books she's working on, making sure she knows the best place to turn the page! She noted how important that is and that PB writers should do the same, making sure something valuable happens on every page, and each page is turned with a sense of anticipation. She said she wants authors to choose a subject they are passionate about. That's what she wants to see! At the end of her talk, Yolanda sang to the audience! She is an actress and a singer, and has amazing voice. It was quite unexpected!
Children's Non-fiction: Stacy Cantor, Editor at Walker books for Young Readers, mentioned how important it is to have a strong voice in non-fiction. She said non-fiction can and should be beautifully written. She enjoys seeing non-fiction that teaches a lot, but is written so well, kids don't even know they're learning! Of note, she also mentioned it's important to write about topics that can't easily be found on the internet. If someone can look it up for free, why would they want to buy a book? If it is a common topic, you need to have a standout book to get noticed, something that makes it different. Stacy said finding an amazing story about World War II "would make her day!"
Middle Grade: Alisha Niehaus, Editor at Dial Books for Young Readers: Alisha said middle grade fiction needs to have a special voice. What sets this girl or boy apart? Why are they special? She said children like secrets and are good at keeping them. They like knowing things that no one else knows. She also mentioned how death or other life altering events can shape the voice of a middle grade character. Alisha would like to find a story with "wicked humor" and has "a soft spot for this wild land and loony Americana." After Yolanda showed off her mad singing skilz, Alisha finished her speech with a cartwheel and a good one at that!
YA: Nick Eliopulos, Assistant Editor at Random House, who should be a standup comedian if he ever leaves publishing, would like to see different types of MC's, other than the stereotypical one's out there. If you're going to write a multicultural novel, he'd like the story to be about more than just the multicultural aspects. He says it's important to have a clear sense of your audience and "know what they're buying." Nick is particularly interested in middle grade or YA genre works with commercial appeal. Oh, and he's a writer too!
The Agent/Editor Relationship: Michael Stearns, Agent and Founder of Upstart Crow Literary, gave a talk on what it's really like to work with editors. He knows firsthand, as he used to be one at Harper Collins and Harcourt! He said it's interesting how one editor will want a book completely different than another. He mentioned how Mary Cash, from Holiday House (my publisher!) will want something totally different than the editor at another house. He also said the lunches editors and agents have are not really as glamorous as we think them! As for his agency, Upstart Crow, love that name, they are still building their lists. Since they just opened don't expect a quick response. He said normally one month, but with all the craziness of a new agency, they are a bit overwhelmed. They are doing their best to keep up with the queries that apparently number in the thousands (good gad!), so please be patient. Michael says the agency is fairly hands-on when it comes to editing, as they all come from a writing and/or editing background and they work hard with authors to get things right before sending out to editors. Michael has a wry sense of humor (the very best kind) and just seems to be one of those guys who "gets it", so be patient if you query him. I'm sure it will be worth the wait! http://www.upstartcrowliterary.com/ Be sure to check out the Writer's Toolbox page for helpful advice on query letters, dialog for children, and a must have reading list!
Be Your Own PR Machine: Cynthea Liu, Author of Paris Pan Takes a Dare and The Great Call of China, gave a breakout session on public relations. She spoke about everything from using the power of social networking (Facebook, Twitter, JacketFlap) to identifying niche organizations and outlets who might be interested in your book, not just bookstores! She said go to libraries, booksellers, schools and tell them what you can do for them, not the other way around--offer them something! Make your own business cards, get a free website, start blogging, make unique items to giveaway at conferences and schools at speaking engagements or signings, and believe it or not, you can do all this on the cheap! Cynthea was a ball of energy and had lots of great ideas! Please check out her website for loads of tips on self-promotion. Get yourself out there! http://www.cynthealiu.com/
Cynthia Leitich Smith: Last, but certainly not least! Cynthia Leitich Smith, acclaimed author of Tantalize and Eternal, among many more great titles, gave an inspirational opening and closing to the IL Prairie Writer's Day. I talked to her briefly and she's just lovely! She has an award winning blog and website, full of useful information for children's writers of all genres. Please be sure to check it out if you haven't already! http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/
All right then, I'm done with Nightshade edits, Edwin Copperpot is finished too. What the heck do I do now? Hmmm...I have a few new book ideas to mull over! ;)
xoxo -- Hilary
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Just wanted to let you know I'm a little MIA this week trying to finish my NIGHTSHADE CITY edits for my editor. They are complete, but I'm doing a final read through, catching any of those niggling little typos and things like that! With any luck, I'll be handing them in Friday morning to Julie Amper, hopefully for the last time...copyedits here I come! ;)
I've a lot to tell you about the SCBWI last weekend, tons of helpful tips from editors on what they're looking for, from picture books to YA. It was a great day and I met so many people! Such a great way to connect with other writers. I promise to have a post for you on Friday, so stay tuned!
That's it for now! Back to Nightshade edits for me!
xoxo -- Hilary
Saturday, November 14, 2009
I'm off to the IL SCBWI Prairie Writers Day! I'm hoping to see some familiar faces and meet some new ones! I can't wait to hear the speakers! I'll be sure to share any juicy tips! The conference is in a far north suburb of Chicago, so I have to get going or I'll be late! Talk soon and get writing!
xoxo -- Hilary
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Julie Amper let me know she read my Nightshade City edits and thought I did my rats proud! A few minor changes here and there and she thinks will be all set! So no more long AQ's asking for clarification or big changes, just a few things in the margins and some line edits! Yay!!! I was so nervous, it being my first time out! Julie's direction for the manuscript was so valuable and helped me so much. As writers, I think we all get too close to our manuscripts and it's hard to see the forest through the trees, as to what needs work and what doesn't. Having her guidance was fantastic!
Marietta, my agent, called me too. She finished Edwin Copperpot and couldn't say enough about it, luckily all good! Yet another big "phew" and sigh of relief! I always get goose bumps when I talk to her and this was no exception! She is a very inspiring agent and really has encouraged me to work that much harder, not to mention, she cracks me up! So Edwin will be going to NYC as soon as next week!
This time last year was around the time when Craig Virden wrote me asking for the full manuscript of Nightshade City. Little did I know, just one year later I'd be finishing up its edits for Holiday House, with two more complete manuscripts under my belt and Nightshade's sequel well underway.
It's odd how life can change so much in such a short amount of time and how much you can owe one single person for taking a chance on you. For all you writers out there searching for an agent or submitting to editors, remember, you may get hundreds of no's, I certainly did, but it only takes one YES!
Long story short--KEEP WRITING!! Seriously, I'll set my rats on you if you don't! ;)
xoxo -- Hilary
Saturday, November 7, 2009
Okay, I'm going to relax for the rest of the weekend and try not to go crazy waiting on word from both my editor and agent. Frankly, I'm not sure which I'm more worried about. I'm confident with the job I did on both, but then again those second guesses creep up on me the minute I click the send button! Nothings worth doing if you don't have to work (or pull your hair out) for it, right?
All right, putting my frazzled brains on holiday for a few days. Having a few cookies now and watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with my son and husband! Willa Wonka can take a girl's mind off anything!
xoxo -- Hilary
P.S. The IL SCBWI conference is next Saturday! Who's going? I am, I am!!!! Can't wait!
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
I already have a new SEND goal for this week, which I will meet. I've promised my agent EDWIN COPPERPOT and now that my rats are off safe and sound, somewhere in New York, I can finish my ghoulish edits and get Edwin off to Marietta in New Jersey, no later than Friday! Edwin is a steadfast Londoner...hmmm...I never pictured him as a Jersey boy, but what the heck!
Do you have a SEND goal too? Best of luck to anyone hitting their own SEND button! If I can do it, you most certainly can!
Now, in honor of my rats, I've posted an excerpt from NIGHTSHADE CITY, one no one but a few people have read. Any of you who've read Nightshade's other excerpts, know Billycan is one wicked ol' rat...need I say more?
xoxo -- Hilary
Clover was preparing the fire pit for dinner when she heard a slow, methodical scratching against her door. She hadn't heard Billycan calling down the corridor. Immediately recognizing the sound of his billy club against the wood slats, she sprang up towards the door.
"Get out of sight," she whispered. A tall, cloaked figure rose from the table and concealed itself in the shadows. "Stay back and stay covered. He only wants Stipend. I'll be back promptly." She gathered herself, swallowed hard, and opened the door.
"My, my, running late today, aren't we Miss Clover?" said Billycan, his voice acidic.
Clover kept her eyes to the ground and put her items into a wheelbarrow. "I'm sorry High Collector. I'm making dinner. Lost in my recipe, I did not hear your call. It won't happen again," she said.
Billycan had little patience for her excuses. "Very well, very well, Billycan is sure it won't happen again." He glared at his lieutenant. "Mark her off the list, Lieutenant Carn," barked Billycan. Carn silently marked her off the list and stepped back in line with the other soldiers. Billycan turned back to Clover. "I have more pressing matters today, my dear." Billycan reached into a wheelbarrow and retrieved a stiff scroll. He unrolled the discolored paper, signed at the bottom with Killdeer's three pronged mark.
Clover eyed the parchment and backed into her quarters. She prayed to the Saints for the Collector to move on. Please, she thought, let the scroll be for another.
"Not so hasty, little one," said Billycan. He beckoned her back, curling a gnarled claw. "Billycan has something to share with you. Something I think you and your lovely family will be rather delighted with. Are they in?" He poked his mangled snout into her room.
"No sir, they are hunting Top Side," she replied. Clover tried to block Billycan, who easily lurched over her like an oversized ivory sickle, examining her small quarters.
"Where are your brothers and sisters then?"
"My brothers were sadly killed in the Great Flood. As for sisters, I have none."
He carelessly pushed her out of his way and stepped into her quarters with his scaly, hairless feet. "Pity, pity," said Billycan. He had spotted the rat, whose feet were simply too large to conceal. "Billycan wants to know who that is, in the back." He pointed a spiny digit at the shrouded rat. "Who is that hiding shamelessly in the corner? Billycan would like to know and he would like to know now." She could not answer. Unprepared for the inquiry, she stood speechless.
Billycan's blood began to pump as he thought of a potential conspiracy in his midst. Her clan could not be trusted. Abruptly swooping down to her level, he displayed his barbed, yellow teeth in a crooked scowl. "Now for the last time, girl, who and why is this brazen rat hiding in your quarters?" His eyes bulged and his torso heaved. "Out with it!" he hollered.
Her heart thumped in her elfin sized chest. Through her young life, Clover told many tales to the Ministry, just not with Billycan towering over her, his teeth dripping with icy drool. A thought finally came. "I give you my word High Collector, he is not hiding. This is my Grandfather, Timeron, he is stricken with plague, unsightly to behold and highly contagious. My parents won't let me venture within an arm's length for fear of infection. It's so hard not to hug my dear grandfather, as I fear he will soon be at rest with the Saints, but as my father always says, the living must do just that--live."
As much as Billycan wished otherwise, her explanation sounded reasonable. He composed himself. "Yes, they must indeed live, as must Billycan," he said. He took a step backward, wondering what ghastly deformities awaited under the mucky shroud. He resisted his urge to check.