Wednesday, February 25, 2015

New Site

If you've enjoyed reading this blog, I'd like to welcome you over to my main siteFrom time-to-time, I'll still be conducting interviews, contests, and posts about my writing adventures, and hope you'll pop in to say hello over at my new home.



"It's time to say goodbye, but I think goodbyes are sad and I'd much rather say hello. Hello to a new adventure." -Ernie Harwell   




Wednesday, July 9, 2014

We Have a Winner!

Quoting the words of the wonderful Tracey and Josh Adams of Adams Literary...

"Drumroll..."


It began with the fireflies, as magic often does. Jenny was in the field behind her grandparents’ house with her younger brother, chasing fireflies. She spied a good one, low-flying and lackadaisical, and followed it past the shed and into the darkening woods.

Yay, congratulations, Katharine! And thank you to everyone who entered, this was, as always, so much fun and inspiring.

Katherine has not only won a query critique from Tracey Adams, but two books on writing that I absolutely adore. 

First is Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir, tenth anniversary addition no less. 

   

And one of my absolute favorites, WONDERBOOK by James Vandermeer. 


Thank you again to everyone who entered! I hope to see you next year for the 3rd Annual Paragraph Contest!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Top Ten


“Who wants to become a writer? And why? Because it’s the answer to everything. … It’s the streaming reason for living. To note, to pin down, to build up, to create, to be astonished at nothing, to cherish the oddities, to let nothing go down the drain, to make something, to make a great flower out of life, even if it’s a cactus.”

—Enid Bagnold



First, I want to thank each and every one of you from the bottom of my heart for entering, I know it isn't easy to share a work of love for the world to see. It can be much like bearing your soul, but I must say that each person who entered did a fantastic job of bearing such a thing, and I am VERY impressed. You're all definitely honing in on your craft, and I absolutely enjoyed each word. 

First paragraphs aren't easy. They must convey so much, in so little time, so you can hook your reader, lure them in. I've always been fascinated with first paragraphs because they are a fork in the road, in some small way, for your reader, they want to know where they're headed, what adventure they're going on. So without further ado, I present to you the adventures that captured my heart, as well as a couple of great links on the art of crafting a first paragraph... 



The Top Ten! 

And from here, I'll pass these off to the judges--the wonderful Josh and Tracey Adams of Adams Literary

Good luck everyone!



Maxwell ignored the NO TRESPASSING signs on the edge of the property, though it would be harder to ignore the high-voltage fence enclosing it. He scrambled forward and dropped to his knees about a foot shy of the perimeter. Moisture soaked his cargo pants with the scent of wet grass and dirt. The chilled night bit at his exposed skin as he shrugged off his leather jacket. He eyed the area in front of him, searching for the faint shimmer of the otherwise invisible barrier, listening for the telltale hum of power.


I’d still be standing on the other side of the fence if Jake hadn’t raced out of his doghouse, begging me to open the gate. Well, that and the fact that I was out of clean underwear. After retrieving our key hidden under the rock, my trembling hand froze in front of the keyhole. Jake barked with anticipation, prancing back and forth behind me. I pushed the key into the hole and twisted it, shivering when I heard the familiar click of the deadbolt retracting. I put my hand on the doorknob but couldn’t bring myself to open the door.

Three: Taffy Lovell

I hide the scissors and the red shoebox on the top shelf in my closet. The obituaries can wait. Outside my dirty bedroom window, the Kansas sun is barely coming up. I wonder at the promises the sky holds for me today. Ages ago—in quiet cemeteries, one grave for every town I’ve ever lived, like a trail of stepping stones leading me back to the first death: Mom.


It began with the fireflies, as magic often does. Jenny was in the field behind her grandparents’ house with her younger brother, chasing fireflies. She spied a good one, low-flying and lackadaisical, and followed it past the shed and into the darkening woods.


You must never tell anyone what you’re about to read (or smell), but most importantly, what you may find. That’s right "may." More about that later, Kid. If you should make it at least halfway through this tale, and if you even dare to finish it, than you must open yourself to the impossible and maybe even to the extraordinary. To everything that you thought would never happen—that maybe, all of those everythings out there could happen. However—and listen up, Kid--once you acknowledge these possibilities, you are forever sworn to secrecy. In short, you’ve made a pact with us—a promise with The Mostly Mutts Club. An agreement that only exists between dogs (and, at times, a few cats and maybe an occasional field mouse and that one mangy, snaggle-toothed possum), but only with a few select and privileged children. For now, anyway...


You’d think here in the hospital I wouldn’t stand out. Everyone has something going on, even if it’s a good thing like a new baby. But nope, no way. Here I am in a wheelchair, being wheeled to Dad’s car even though there is no reason I can’t walk except for stupid hospital rules, and my freakdom still stands out. So what if I’ve got glasses being held on by a thick elastic band? So what if the glasses have hearing aids on the stems? So what if I just have holes where my ears are supposed to be? It’s not like my skin is green slimy scales, or I’ve got three heads. Even though the 900 year old man pushing my wheelchair could win a contest for world’s oldest human, and on top of that he is wearing bright plaid pants, it’s me that gets noticed.

Seven: Emmy Paxman

The last time I asked about joining one of Judd Grawl’s rift expeditions, Mum banned me from mentioning it until I turned thirty. So the fact that, a month later, I was getting my way without asking seemed... what shall we call it? Suspect.

Eight: Sean Lamb

Peter Harper never got picked for anything. Mr. Hayes, his gym teacher, had to force teams to take Peter in the dreadful dodgeball draft every Friday. Miss Taylor, his math teacher, ignored Peter, even when he raised his hand and made primate sounds to get her attention. Neil, his foster dad, didn’t take Peter to “Take Your Son to Work Day” because he said Peter wasn’t technically his son, and his boss wouldn’t allow it. So, when Peter’s sister, Sally, decided to wander into traffic in pursuit of her precious baseball, Peter picked himself to save her and become a famous hero.


Silence fell in a slow crash as I pulled away from the keys, the final chords of my newest song slipping away. Morning sunlight bathed the piano and made its edges soft. I slid a hand across the lip of the key bed, loving how the worn wood didn’t shine with the threat of reflection. The threat of monsters.

The only thing reeking worse than my mojo-bag was the team on the field, and that was sayin’ something considering our rusted scrap-heap of a ‘football stadium’ sat in the middle of a salt marsh. Some called it ‘character,’ but Mama always said about Caledonia: she hadn’t seen so many half-collapsed and boarded up buildings since she’d fled Tehran in ‘79.



Monday, June 30, 2014

2nd Annual First Paragraph Contest!

Today marks the day of the 2ND ANNUAL FIRST PARAGRAPH CONTEST!

Last year we had some amazing entries and everyone that entered made it SO HARD to pick just two. So this year is going to be even harder because we will have just ONE winner. Like one person will get the gold! 


Like this guy:




Or like this girl:




Contest opens today (June 30th, 2014 at 11am (PDT), but please read the rules carefully before posting your entry. 

1) Please post your first PARAGRAPH (that you have made all the shiny and will only POST ONCE) of any work-in-progress in the comments under this post. The deadline will be Monday (July 7, 2014 at 5pm (PDT). 

2) I will then read through all the entries and pick TEN winners and post their entries. At this point, I'd love to see all your comments on who you would like to vote for, even though we have judges. 

3) The awesome Josh and Tracey Adams of Adams Literary will then pick only ONE from the ten (which I will announce as soon as they choose). 

4) Don’t forget to leave your name and email if you decide to post anonymously. 

5) Remember! This is for fun and we encourage nothing but hugs, kisses, and fluffy kittens, as always.

Like this guy:



6) Spreading the word about the contest is strongly encouraged because all the writers participating deserve the chance to show off their gorgeous first paragraphs.  


The Gold: A.K.A the Prize

The winner will receive a query edit by none other than the fabulous Tracey Adams! And some wonderful books on writing that will come to a mail box near you, from me!

Our First Paragraph Judges

Josh Adams


Josh Adams, together with his wife Tracey, runs Adams Literary. A graduate of Dartmouth College and Columbia Business School—where he studied finance and accounting, and was awarded the Abe Shuchman Memorial Award in Marketing—Josh spent more than a decade in publishing and media before bringing his editorial and business backgrounds together as a literary agent.

A media management specialist, he led teams of creative and business professionals in developing the editorial strategy and positioning of several national publications, and directed the marketing and brand strategy of many well-known international companies as a consultant.

In his free time, Josh enjoys practicing Taekwondo with Tracey and their daughters, and is working toward his third-degree black belt.

Tracey Adams


Tracey Adams co-founded Adams Literary in 2004, after nearly a decade with literary agencies Writers House and McIntosh & Otis, where she was the head of the children's department. Prior to becoming an agent, she worked in the marketing and editorial departments of Greenwillow Books and Margaret K. McElderry Books.

A graduate of Mount Holyoke College, Tracey speaks frequently about her profession and the children's book industry at conferences across the country. She is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), the Association of Author Representatives (AAR), and a founding member of the Women's National Book Association (WNBA) chapter in Charlotte, NC.

In her spare time, Tracey enjoys Taekwondo, kickboxing, and test-marketing children's books with her two daughters.








Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Winners!!

Before I could count the votes, I had to pull out my handy dandy notebook like this guy...



 And then I was like...


I can't believe how close all the finalists were! You guys are serious rock stars, seriously! And this is how I'm picturing you right now, but maybe with less hair...


And the two winners are...



It shouldn’t have taken a jolt in an electric chair to make me realize I’m not a Bob. You’d think I’d have figured it out before. I’m not stupid. Really. Some people say I’m gifted. I hate that word. They might as well draw a bulls-eye on my forehead with pink glitter paint. Anyway, I’d gotten into the habit of ignoring my name, Fred. It was like background noise. Or, like the jets that flew over our last house ten times a day. They were there, but I didn’t notice them anymore. 

(Shelly will have fifty pages and a synopsis considered by my amazing agent, Pam van Hylckama Vlieg of Foreward Literary!)


India is not the spiritual home of wishy-washy mantras and life affirming experiences. It is the home of more than one billion people, who work their sun-burnt broken backs raw to keep their families fed and alive. Dreams lie dormant in tired eyes that only dare to sparkle and shine in the confines of a cinema, where Bollywood heroes preach the religion of love dishonestly. The nation survives between shots of morning chai and moist parathas, alive on meagre earnings and hopes that are as momentary as electrical impulses between every cell and synapse. But the colours, the red of the tikka, the rainbow of the rangoli patterns, the faded jades of sweaty sarees, the hues of dust on bright orange temples or mint green mosques; yes, the colours were a defiance to the fate that had doomed them to their brown skins and the poverty induced prejudice that came with it. Sakeena Ghulam, wry, young, poor, a basket of heavy washed clothes on one hip and a hand-decorated earthen pot on the other, belonged to those colours. 

(Azra will have a query and ten pages critiqued by none other than super agent, Gordon Warnock of Foreward Literary!)

CONGRATULATIONS! 


Thank you, everyone! You are all AMAZING! I had a blast doing this contest with you! 

Also, if you guys are interested in more contests, the totally awesome Blue Rose Girls are holding a fifty word story contest and the prize is CHOCOLATE, so yeah, you should go enter. And THEE Nathan Bransford is spreading good cheer with the #ThankAWriter Project.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Twelve Finalists!


First, I must MUST say that you all made this INCREDIBLY difficult for me. I’m blown away with the amount of talent that entered this contest. I am so lucky to have read something from each and every one of you!

I know how hard it can be to bare your soul for the world to see, but I assure you, I’m very grateful that you did! I enjoyed all of these. Each paragraph was so different and original. I enjoyed seeing how each of you crafted your words and prose. Thank you for entering!


Now without further ado, I very excitedly introduce to you our twelve finalists and cute kittens!! 


Please read through and PICK TWO paragraphs and place your votes in the comments below.

Happy reading everyone!



It shouldn’t have taken a jolt in an electric chair to make me realize I’m not a Bob. You’d think I’d have figured it out before. I’m not stupid. Really. Some people say I’m gifted. I hate that word. They might as well draw a bulls-eye on my forehead with pink glitter paint. Anyway, I’d gotten into the habit of ignoring my name, Fred. It was like background noise. Or, like the jets that flew over our last house ten times a day. They were there, but I didn’t notice them anymore. 

(Okay, seriously this had me at I'm not a Bob. This is an amazing opening and it stuck with me all week. Awesome work, Shelly! I want to bundle up with a cozy blanket, a cup of tea, and Fred!)



When they gave me away to Uncle Dell he said this forest, this here part of the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, is where I’ll meet my future and my past. I told him that made no kind of sense. Told him I didn’t want to be here. Told him I didn’t want to be no traditional Cherokee like him. He crossed his arms.

(This is awesome! I want to pick this book up already and read it with my son. The voice, the opening, everything about this grabbed onto me.)


“What is that smell?” I mumbled, stepping out of my car in front of an old country inn. The beauty of the weathered, three-story house did not match the horrendous odor surrounding it. While I admired the long wrap-around porch, the smell of the cow manure assaulted my senses, making me gag. I couldn’t help but pinch my nose against the stench. Being a city girl, I wasn’t used to it. If being in the middle of the sticks meant that I could finally become a professor at one of the most prestigious universities in the nation, then this was what I had to do. Sticksville was my next big stepping stone - well, more like a hurdle. And a sanctuary from him.

(Right away, I fell in love with this main character. This girl is far away from what she’s used to—all to get away from a man. I want to know more. Fantastic opening!) 


The first thing I thought when I saw Jackson Holmes was, “I hate you and I want to kill your father.”

Thankfully those words didn’t pass my lips.

The second thing I thought was, “My, but you are devilishly handsome.”

Unfortunately those words did pass my lips.

Even more unfortunate, I was disguised as a man which packed an extra layer of humiliation to the whole thing.

(Ha! Who doesn't love a good western with a sassy main character?! And devilishly handsome men? This is a very well crafted opening and it's funny. Great work, Mary!)


Tan’eth lay full length on the sun-warmed hillside, using her gleaning sack as a pillow, and reckoned the distance between her left foot and her right. Surely the chains will be no shorter than this, she thought. She slowly inched her feet apart along the grass. Perhaps this long. Or even this. Tan’eth tried to picture the length of her mother’s chains, the links that bound ankle to ankle, and the rhythm of her gait as the chains went slack and taut, slack and taut, with each step. No, not quite this long. She nudged her heels closer together.

(This felt so new and fresh to me. I want to know why she’s trying to mimic her mother’s chains. This also read like a classic to me, a savory delicious one I’d enjoy reading again and again.)


India is not the spiritual home of wishy-washy mantras and life affirming experiences. It is the home of more than one billion people, who work their sun-burnt broken backs raw to keep their families fed and alive. Dreams lie dormant in tired eyes that only dare to sparkle and shine in the confines of a cinema, where Bollywood heroes preach the religion of love dishonestly. The nation survives between shots of morning chai and moist parathas, alive on meagre earnings and hopes that are as momentary as electrical impulses between every cell and synapse. But the colours, the red of the tikka, the rainbow of the rangoli patterns, the faded jades of sweaty sarees, the hues of dust on bright orange temples or mint green mosques; yes, the colours were a defiance to the fate that had doomed them to their brown skins and the poverty induced prejudice that came with it. Sakeena Ghulam, wry, young, poor, a basket of heavy washed clothes on one hip and a hand-decorated earthen pot on the other, belonged to those colours.

(Wow, this is beautifully written and I love the imagery Azra paints. I’m DYING to know more about Sakeena. In a way, I’m hoping this is a memoir because I would gobble it up.)


Noon was long gone when the first gust of northern wind pressed against the bakery rooftop and squeezed its way down the cramped flue. The embers, brushed to the corner of the great masonry oven, jumped to life as the wind swept past, spitting out several halfhearted flames. Rhona watched from her seat at the bakery counter. The flames twisted and writhed angrily as if to chide the breeze for waking them, and she beheld them enchanted. A moment passed, the flames settled, and the spell broke.

(This was wonderful because Carrie grabbed me into a moment with her main character. It was slow and steady, yet kept me wanting to know more about Rhona and her spells. Well done!)


Want to know why I hate Tuesday, December eighteenth? It’s the day my mother died. You’d think an only child without a father would get a premonition about something as horrendous as her own mother dying. But I didn’t. No goose bumps. No sinking sensation of doom, or being orphaned, not even chills. No idea whatsoever until four-thirty that afternoon. That’s when Mom came home and told me.

(I particularly liked this one because it made me think. I’ve seen lots of stories where the parents are dead or dying, but the last line to this hooked me in. I was like, wait mom’s dead, right?! And now she’s coming home to tell her daughter something. Who doesn’t love a good creepy story?!)


Harrison entered a room where time either stalled or fell into reverse. Dust drifted around him with hardly a ray of sunlight seeping through window slits in the walls. He had been there only once before when he was seven years old. Broken doors hardly stood straight on rusted hinges. Wooden splinters littered the carpeted floor. The shattered remains of chairs crumbled under the weight of his feet. He dragged his heels along the ground disturbing fallen pieces of his past.

(There is so much imagery and story unfolding in this one paragraph. It is crafted beautifully and the very last line made me fall in love with this. I want to read it again, and again.)

(10) Sabrina Marchal

We don’t choose who saves us. Sometimes it’s that one teacher, who never says much, but who catches you smoking in the bathroom and simply opens a window. Sometimes it’s that librarian, who lets you linger after closing while she clears up. Very rarely, it’s someone who intends to kill you.

(The voice here really held onto me and the last line left me more than curious. Great work!) 

(11) Heather

If my Uncle Levi’s car creeps down the driveway, it will mean they’ve found Mom and Dad. Nobody knows where I’m hiding to watch for his car. Even though Nana still calls it the chicken shed, there haven’t been chickens here as long as I can remember. There’s only a dirt floor and Papa’s old car, a big, white Buick with fuzzy dark red seats that spark if you slide across them. Wooden planks on all sides. Darkness and the smell of seeds or hay or corn. Something the chickens used to eat. If I bend down just a little bit, I can see outside through a hole in the wood: the driveway, the apple tree, and the curve of the road with fields on both sides. Green and slippery in the rain. Soon Nana will start calling for me. She will have my blue jacket over her arm. Luke, Luke she will say, stretching out my name. The same way she calls Calico if he hasn’t shown up for his dinner, when the saucer of cream is waiting for him with skin forming over the top. Protection against what’s coming.

(This immediately took me back to some of my favorite authors as a kid, specifically E.B White and Jean Craighead George. The first line builds mystery right away and I want to know why Luke is feeling as though he needs protection from what’s coming. A really great build up here.)


“One shot to the head is all it’ll take.”
Tobin lifted himself slowly to his hands and knees as pain racked through his tired and beaten body. He glared through his one good eye at his attacker, its silhouette inhuman and ominous. Tobin wasn’t afraid of death, and was already all too familiar with its work. “Just do it already.” Ice cold air plumed his words into a thin vapor before him.

(This is full of raw emotions and I felt bruised and beaten alongside Tobin, loved the imagery, especially the inhuman silhouette.)