Saturday, February 18, 2017

A Normal Love

The month of love is nearly over. Whether it was great, or you just curled up in bed and waited out the baby with the bow and arrow, congratulations, you’ve survived another Valentine’s Day!
In writing YA it’s easy to believe that every date is a make or break moment for your life. This boy is the one! This date is the start of something amazing (or, depending on the genre you’re working in, how a serial killer chooses you as his next victim)!
Sometimes I worry that the literary community is setting the world’s youth up for disappointment. In all likelihood, that date is just going to be a date. Hopefully it won’t be terrible. If it is terrible, maybe you’ll at least get a good story out of it. Maybe you’ll have a second date, maybe you’ll stay together for a while, but in all likelihood, it’ll just be a date. Telling stories that promise breathtaking romance seems like a cruel lie when the beginning of Bridget Jones is more likely to be the truth.
In an age where social media gives us polished looks into people’s lives, it’s easy to think that being swept off your feet by the perfect partner happens once a week, lavish bouquets are standard practice for Tuesday breakfast, and if a relationship does end, it will be in utter tragedy. It’s all either perfection or disastrous. It’s what we see in storytelling and online.
How do we normalize…normal? It wouldn’t make a good book. A long string of average dates with a side of being ghosted rather than dumped. I don’t know how many people would want to read a whole book about having nothing to say when someone flirts with you.
So then what? If the author platform won’t work, then perhaps we should rely on the storytelling of those around us.
My Valentine’s Day consisted of brunch with my husband and a ten hour rehearsal. There were no rose petals or drama involved. But that’s okay. That’s how life should be. It might not be a great book, but it is a great day.

So how was your normal, non-literary Valentine’s Day?

Thursday, February 16, 2017

ABC's Revenge Taught Me How To Write An Ambiguous Romance

It might seem strange to realize this, but television and literature overlap despite being different mediums. One common element is romance. People will always love shipping (rooting for a couple) regardless of whether the couple is from a book or television show. Shipping isn’t silly because it’s the sports equivalent of fantasy football. One type of element related to romance is a love triangle. Common examples are Team Edward and Team Jacob in Twilight and Stelena versus Delena in The Vampire Diaries. However, there’s another complicated love situation people might not be aware of. It’s called a love square (or love rhombus). The former ABC television show Revenge made the concept of a love square famous because Emily (real Amanda Clarke) had three suitors (Daniel, Jack, and Aiden). But for today’s post, I’m going to talk about Emily and Daniel’s complicated relationship. Daniel and Emily’s romantic entanglement is a good writing teaching tool for illustrating how love is not always a binary.

Revenge starts season one with Emily pursuing Daniel Grayson so she can get revenge on his parents (Victoria and Conrad Grayson, and other elite Hamptons people) because they framed her father (David Clarke) for terrorism. Daniel therefore grants Emily access to Victoria and Conrad. However, the relationship isn’t black and white. Emily is the one who pushes her and Daniel to sleep together for the first time without hesitation. She also stands by Daniel during his murder trial-even though that postpones her revenge mission by making it take a back seat. She also accepts Daniel’s proposal despite how he’s the enemy’s son (a fake relationship is one thing, but an engagement complicates things).

The ambiguity festers in Season 2. Daniel and Emily are initially broken up. But she gives him advice on how to deal with his mother in addition to telling him how he can still be a good person and not be like his parents when they dance at Victoria and Conrad’s second wedding. Emily even tells Aiden that Daniel isn’t a joke after Aiden mocks Daniel (when Aiden and Emily have wine after Victoria and Conrad’s wedding). Emily admits Daniel is a casualty in her revenge. Doubt is clearly present because Emily has no reason to defend Daniel in that instance since Daniel isn’t there. Emily also fantasizes about Daniel when she’s really with Aiden while still trying to court Daniel for a second time. Emily even breaks up with Aiden just to court Daniel again, and flashes a nervous smile while saying, “please” when Daniel mentions he’s thankful for a second chance. Emily ultimately allows herself to become engaged to Daniel for a second time. Furthermore, she prioritizes talking to Daniel over Aiden when she is frustrated with Aiden at one point.

Season 3 doesn’t contain much ambiguity apart from Emily putting her relationship with Aiden even more on the back burner because she needs to see her engagement to Daniel through. Emily’s revenge is contingent on framing Victoria for her murder on her wedding night. The Emily and Daniel situation is more complex than her simply using him. Putting Aiden on the back burner is inconsiderate if her feelings for Aiden are 100 percent genuine. As a result, Emily will never be able to have an honest relationship with anyone while she pursues her revenge.

Season 4 is the payoff Revenge fans deserve. Daniel learns Emily is really Amanda Clarke. Daniel isn’t mad at how Emily treated him now that he knows she schemed because of being David Clarke’s daughter; not a shallow socialite. Daniel even looks at his laptop again at a photo of him and Emily like he does in Season 2 right before he likes her again. Emily admits there was a time when she and Daniel could have had a real relationship (in front of Daniel). Victoria also reveals she didn’t tell Daniel the truth after she learned Emily’s real identity because she was afraid he would side with Emily. Daniel even asks Emily about how she can’t say that she wasn’t in the moment with him when he proposed. Emily also pats Daniel on the shoulder in a subsequent episode when they talk. Additionally, Emily later says, “I’m not in the mood to do whatever it is we’ve been doing” to Daniel in Season 4 Episode 9. That’s yet another moment showing how there’s a spark between Daniel and Emily. But then Daniel dies in Season 4 Episode 10 when he takes a bullet for Emily. Emily holds Daniel in her arms while sighing before admitting it wasn’t all a lie with him.

Bingo. A direct admission on Emily’s part. Emily even admits she knew marrying him was wrong, yet she did it anyway in Episode 4x11 in addition to thinking back about a fun memory with Daniel and being furious when Victoria won’t let her go to the funeral. Emily wouldn’t have been furious if she felt nothing for Daniel. Emily also admits how too much blood has been shed (including Daniel’s) and is furious again when confronting Victoria about how she accidently set Daniel’s death in motion by meddling. Emily also subsequently reveals how she never wanted any of this (his death) to happen to Daniel.

Emily and Daniel should have been endgame because she always disrespected Aiden by not prioritizing him in addition to how she had ZERO chemistry with Jack.

Anyway, thank you for following my analysis. The point is, Emily and Daniel’s relationship is a powerful learning tool. Their dynamic informs my own writing by highlighting ambiguity. Ambiguity is necessary because life isn’t always black and white (side note: the Revenge Wiki page dedicated to Emily and Daniel’s relationship even concedes how it is unknown if she is in a relationship with Daniel out of genuine affection, just for her revenge, or if the truth is somewhere in the middle). Ambiguity makes Revenge richer because it would be so easy if Emily felt nothing towards Daniel or if they didn’t get closure in Season 4 with their interactions). But Revenge doesn’t take the easy way out. Writers can learn from Revenge even if they aren’t writing about love triangles/squares, or revenge schemes. Ambiguity is real because people often have contradictory emotions. For example, it’s possible to both hate and love someone at the same time. Ambiguity also creates clarity despite how the idea might seem nonsensical. For example, it is the ambiguity in Revenge that gives the show clarity because the confusion between Daniel and Emily exists in actual spoken words as opposed to subtext.

And to all my fellow writers out there, don’t be afraid to add ambiguity to your writing. I know I will. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Happy Valentine's Day!

Whether this day brings out the romantic in you, or makes you roll your eyes and internally groan, Valentine’s Day is a time to reflect on the people and things you love most in life.

Below are some things to love, even if you despise Valentine’s Day … 

#1—CHOCOLATE: Dark, milk, smooth, or filled with coconut, nuts, etc. No matter how you like your chocolate, having plenty on hand on Feb. 14th is very important. (And don’t forget tomorrow boxes will be 50% off! ☺) 

#2—READING: If you’re having a bad day, you can always curl up with a good book and … eat chocolate! Very therapeutic! 

#3—WRITING: Whether you’re currently writing a romance, fantasy, or horror, there is no better escapism than writing (except maybe reading). Pick up that half-finished manuscript where you left off, or start the new project you’ve had on the backburner for months.

I’ve often heard writing described as a labor of love. Some people write to relax, or as a hobby, and never intend for anyone else to read their work. Others dream of penning the next bestseller and walking the red carpet at the premiere of a blockbuster movie inspired by their work.

Recently, an agent I follow on Twitter posted a #pubtip saying (paraphrased): If you find the possibility of writing a book you’ll never make a cent on unappealing, you should think about changing careers. 

This was followed up with a tweet that very few authors are able to make a living off their writing, and advised to write because you love it, not for money.

Now despite this notion being somewhat pessimistic, to most writers, it isn’t exactly news. Even if deep down you hope to eventually make a living doing what you love, chances are if you've been writing a while, you've experienced your share of rejection.

If you’re new to the publishing world, however, it’s something to consider, as most writers don’t publish their first novel … (with the exception of Stephenie Meyer and J.K. Rowling, although, they too experienced rejection). Even if writing is a labor of love, there’s nothing better in the world than making a living off something that brings you joy each day. But if your love for writing is truly unconditional, you won’t be able to stop writing, despite hundreds, maybe (cringe) thousands of rejections. 

If writing turns out to be simply a crush for you, the publishing world might break your heart, and you may quickly become disenchanted with the notion of ever publishing anything. But don't despair. Whether you resolve to soldier on and face more rejection, or if you decide writing might not be the path you wish to follow, you can still curl up to read a good book. And don't forget the cure for all heartache ... plenty of chocolate!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Love is in the air...

It's only a few days away from Valentine's Day, so there's no better time to talk about the wonderful, scary, sweeping world of love.

Despite what people think about genre, you can actually write about love in many different ways, and it has its place in all genres. Alright, enough preamble, let's take a look at this, shall we:

1) You have your all-consuming romance. The epic love, the sweeping drama, the "one", the soul mate, the "I can't live without him". Oh the feelings, so rich and deep and evocative! Can anyone say Bella and Edward Cullen?

2) You have the slow burner. This gradually filters throughout the story. It could be like Katniss and Peeta, brought together through trials and tribulations. A thriller of such intensity that our love interests are pushed together. A survival story where they must beat the odds.

3) The love to hate you. This is seen a lot in romance novels, but can come up in all sorts of genres. You'll see it in "detective gone bad, but beautiful woman brings him back from the brink". They hate each other - she his drinking, dangerous, gluttonous self; he her airs and graces. But as the plot progresses, they begin to respect each other for who they are by unwinding the orange peel and seeing the true person within.

4) You have your "already there before the book started" romance. These characters might break up and make up. They might stay the course nice and steady throughout the book. They might break up and never make up. But these characters know each other. They understand each other.

5) I don't know who I love. There are plenty of books out there that look to characters who don't know who they feel for (take Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith for one, which is also a great book on sexual orientation. Who does he love? His friend Robby? Or Shann?). These kind of love dynamics are fascinating.

6) Familial love. No, I'm not talking that kind of love (though you can if you want. Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma is a great example). The complexity of familial love (or lack thereof) can be a huge pull in a story, no matter the genre. Maybe the horrible villain is the sibling of a good character (take Caul in Miss Peregrine's, Library of Souls. He's the good Mrs. Peregrines' brother, and look how he turned out to be!). Maybe the parents are overbearing in their love. Maybe everything is happy families. There are any number of variations you can use here.

7) Friendship. Yup, These can be present in every and any book. That bond, that deliberately chosen extension of self to someone else, that caring, loving feeling. It's just as potent as romantic love, and can see people through the toughest of times, because it's made of empathy, compassion, understanding, and, yes, love itself. There are endless examples: Ron, Hermione, and Harry. Lyra and Will. Blue, Ronan, Adam, Noah, and Gansey (this last one a fantastic extended group). I need not go on.

8) Hopes and dreams. Or the lack thereof. Hopes and dreams fill people with love for the world, with desire and passion, with the need to strive for connection. They love what they dream about, and this love can be as all-consuming and complex as any other. But if they don't achieve their dreams or don't have any, does that mean love doesn't exist for them? Not necessarily so. People can hate love. They can lust after love. They can feel what love is without having experienced it (an oxymoron, I know). But they can. We don't just feel what we've experienced. We feel what we wish we could experience, too. Therefore, even the darkest, friendless, loneliness can have love of a sort.

Phew. So there you go. Not a comprehensive list, but at least something to get you started! Now go forth and love! :-)

Monday, February 6, 2017

Agentopia: Mark Gottlieb 

Welcome to the first Agentopia interview of 2017! This month Mark Gottlieb from The Trident Media Group is in the spotlight. 

About Mark

Mark Gottlieb attended Emerson College and was President of its Publishing Club, establishing the Wilde Press. After graduating with a degree in writing, literature & publishing, he began his career with Penguin’s VP. Mark’s first position at Publishers Marketplace’s #1-ranked literary agency, Trident Media Group, was in foreign rights. Mark was EA to Trident’s Chairman and ran the Audio Department. Mark is currently working with his own client list, helping to manage and grow author careers with the unique resources available to Trident. He has ranked #1 among Literary Agents on in Overall Deals and other categories.

What is currently on your wish list?

An ideal project would carry an important social message or moral to the story, and while not only being beautifully written, it should be accessible or have some aspects of commercialism to the writing, even if it is literary fiction.

We represent all genres, generally excluding poetry, short stories, novellas, and textbooks.
We are always seeing a high demand for commercial fiction, genre fiction, thrillers, women’s fiction, romance, YA, literary/general fiction, high-end nonfiction and health books written by authors with major platforms in the areas of history/politics/current affairs, business books and celebrity nonfiction.
Generally speaking, I am not interested in struggling genres such as cozy mysteries, erotica, urban fantasy, horror, paranormal romance, and personal (non-celebrity) memoir.

 What's a personal turn-off in a query which is guaranteed to get the author rejected?

There are many mistakes that I’ve seen in query letters, but I will name just a few that would absolutely deter me from requesting the manuscript from an author:
-Submitting queries for novellas, short story collections, poetry or textbooks will usually turn a literary agent off, as most literary agents do not represent such things. Publishers tend not to buy from literary agents in those areas in the first place.
-Word count is also very important. Traditional book length is 80-120K, and commercial fiction tends to be in the 80-90K-word range. Going outside of normal book-length will not produce good results for an author querying a literary agent for a shot at going into major trade publishing.
-Writing within struggling genres such as cozy mysteries, erotica, or urban fantasy is also another way to turn a literary agent off in the querying process. We tend to be weary of that at Trident Media Group.

 Do you google authors and if yes, what are you looking for?

Yes and I’m finding that the importance of platform in an author’s career has also made its way into the world of fiction, to an extent. In looking for an ideal fiction client with a platform, I look for authors that have good writing credentials such as experience with writing workshops, conferences, or smaller publications in respected literary magazines.
Having awards, bestseller status, a strong online presence, or pre-publication blurbs in-hand for one’s manuscript is also very promising in the eyes of a literary agent.
Platform is even more important in considering nonfiction authors. It is not enough for an author of nonfiction to be a respected authority on their subject matter—it’s important to publishers to know that such authors have a big online presence or social media following.
That’s why selling celebrity fiction to publishers is almost a no-brainer. Publishers get this strange thought in their minds that if any given celebrity has 100,000 followers or more, if even just ten percent of those followers buy the book, then the publisher is already in good shape.


Submission guidelines

To contact Mark send a query letter using the form form found at

He can also be found at:

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Falling Back in Love with Your Manuscript

One of the most exciting parts of writing is that puppy love phase. 

You know what I’m talking about. It’s those early days as you’re fleshing out your characters and defining your plot points. You spend hours selecting the perfect character name. You take the time to carefully research the city or world you’re writing about and giggle over your character’s idiosyncrasies. You cry—real actual tears—as you describe their heartbreaking lives. Your story is real and you honestly think it’s the best thing you’ve ever written. Those first 10,000 words or so just flow and sure, maybe you hit a few bumps in the road, but you keep going until you type “The End.”

But we writers know that the first “The End” is actually only the beginning. First revision, CP note revisions, Beta reader revisions, agent revisions, then editor revisions, then copyeditor revisions…

How many times can you re-read your own words without your eyes crossing and you drop-kicking your laptop out a 3rd story window? You begin to question everything. The story is awful. The characters dull. The plot done a million times before. You've officially fallen out of love with your manuscript.

If you’re anything like me, the above is not dramatic; it's real life when writing a book. Once you do a few revision rounds on a manuscript, you never want to HEAR about your story again, let alone keep implementing fresh ideas.

But we have to. It’s our job as writers to continue to improve our stories and cut away the fluff and layer in the meaning. It’s what makes writing magic.

So how can you stay engaged in your revisions and fall back in love with your manuscript?

  • Put it aside. Sometimes the best thing you can do is not look at your manuscript for a week or two. Yes, maybe that will delay a deadline, but beating your head against a brick wall delays deadlines too.
  • Change up the order. Start at the end and revise forward. Maybe reading it a different way will help you get out of the rut and also help you see pacing issues you don’t always see reading chronologically. Or if it's dual POV, work on only one POV at a time. That way you can work on staying in one "voice" at a time.
  • Work on a different medium. Do you write in Scrivner? Do a revision round in Word. Tired of reading on a computer? Print it out and mark up sections in the margins. Read it on your Kindle and keep a notepad of notes where you want to make changes. The bottom line is mix it up a little. Sometimes just viewing it on a different medium can make all the difference in the world.

It doesn’t matter what you do, the bottom line is don’t give up. Don’t allow yourself to get stuck in that rut of this will never be done and “OH, I have this wonderful new shiny idea that would be SO much better than this dumpster fire of trash.” Keep pressing through because the world needs your words.

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