Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Rolling the Sleep Dice

One night two years ago or so, when our older son was a baby, my husband was so sleep deprived he tried to stop the baby crying in the middle of the night by turning off his alarm clock.

It didn't work.

Trying to get a good night's sleep with a baby is like rolling two dice and hoping for double sixes. There's always something, and usually multiple somethings, that make a long stretch of sleep highly unlikely. Things such as:


Stomach Pain/Gas



Sleep Regression

Or you get lucky and:


Here's a sampling of how a new parent's nights might go during the first few months.

The first couple weeks:

Parents: Ok... we can do this. And once we don't have to wake the baby up to eat I'm sure we'll get a little more sleep. Just have to hold on for a few weeks.

Nature: *snickers*

Parents: ... Did you hear something?

The next couple weeks:


Nature: Isn't it obvious? There's gas coming out of your crying child every five minutes.

Parents: But why????? *frantic internet search* Oooooh. Ok, no more eggs for Mommy while this child is breastfeeding.

Parents: Still with the gas???

Nature: This is fun. Brb, making popcorn.

Parent: Alright fine, Mommy will cut out broccoli too.

Parents: Ok, ok! No more chocolate or caffeine either. Are you happy now?

Nature: Eh... getting there.

Parents: Finally, no more gas. But why is the baby eating nonstop? I thought the growth spurt was supposed to be over by now. And what's with all the spitting up and hiccups?

Nature: That would be called reflux.

Parents: Yeah, this reflux thing is not cool. *more internet searching* It says here to elevate the crib mattress on one side. Guess we'll try that?

Nature: Good luck...

Parents: How on earth did the baby get turned around 180 degrees? We're trying to elevate the head here, not the feet! Maybe it's time to give baby some medicine.

Parents: Ha! See? No reflux. Medicine for the win!

Nature: Yes, but the whole family looks like death. Do you even know whose snot that is on your sleeve?

Parents: Doesn't matter. This cold will pass, and then, finally, all will be well.

Parents: Oh, come on! What now?

Nature: Did I forget to mention? That reflux medicine comes with a killer stomach ache. Enjoy being up several times an hour.

Parents: Ok, no medicine! We surrender! Anything is better than this.

Nature: Wanna bet?

Parents: *silent weeping*

Nature: Congratulations! You get GERD. From now on, your dice are set to roll only 3s.

A few months in:

Parents: *eliminate dairy from Mommy's diet*

Parents: *give in and bring the baby into the bed all night*

Parents: *buy every reflux product in sight*

Parents: *Mommy is now subsisting on rice and lentils*

And then one night...

Parents: ...

Parents: Well, it isn't reflux for a change.

Parents: ...

Parents: But what is it?

Parents: ...

Parents: And why won't it stop?

Nature: Isn't sleep regression fun? And you got the video monitor, so you can watch every time the baby rolls into an uncomfortable position, sealing your sleepless doom.

Parents: ...

Parents: Alright, we've been awake for four hours straight. Who's up for chocolate coffee ice cream?

This time around I haven't yet gotten to the chocolate coffee ice cream stage. I'm hovering somewhere between "spending all our money" and "living off nonperishable food." I'm convinced that reflux is Nature's way of enforcing a strong mother-baby bond. I didn't really think I needed that kind of help, but hey, when you're looking for a bright side, that's a pretty good bright side to embrace.

All that to say that posting may be a bit erratic for a few months while we ride out the storm of sleeplessness. Have a great Autumn!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Pitch Practice: Character, Goal and Hook

Today I'm going to get a bit technical and talk about query pitches. This post is mainly targeting writers, but hopefully it'll offer a little insight into the process for others too.

So while I was in the hospital having a baby, I was featured on Amy Trueblood's Quite the Query. Head over there to see my pitch for The Never Silent, then hurry right back. I'll wait.


Back? Ok.

I'm really satisfied with this pitch. I signed with my agent, Marlene Stringer, for this book, so I absolutely consider it a success.

But what is it about this query that works?

I've been thinking about the answer to that question ever since a conversation I had with my critique partner about querying. The thing is, I'm one of those horrible people who actually enjoys writing a query pitch. I know, you hate me for that. But I think it's a fun exercise.

So I've spent some time analyzing my pitch-crafting method, and I've come up with something of a formula* that I frequently use. It has three parts: Character, Goal and Hook

Today I'm going to go through those three parts with a pitch for a story I'm making up out of the blue.**


Let's start with a girl. A teen, since I write YA. Let's call her Ellie. Right now we don't know anything about her, and we need to if we're going to get anyone interested in her. We need a reason for Ellie to be the main character, a reason why she is the only person who makes sense as the main character of our story. We don't just want a placeholder that any teen girl could stand in. So let's show how Ellie distinguishes herself from other girls.

Ellie sees memories when she walks into an empty room. They are silent, like 3D soap operas on mute. The more dramatic memories are brighter, the rest dim or faded to nothing.

Okay. That's a start. Ellie has a unique and interesting trait. I would want to know more about her. Now let's give Ellie a goal.


Every character needs a goal. (Even secondary characters in your story should want something.) In fact, your main character should have a goal in every scene. As the ineffable Rosemary Clement-Moore once told my group at a writing workshop, even a simple goal like wanting to fetch a drink of water can add to a scene. Having a goal means that there are stakes. The future becomes uncertain. Will the character be thwarted, or will they succeed? What challenges will there be along the way? So let's find out Ellie's goal.

When Jen, the Queen Bee of Ellie's school, goes missing, Ellie is the only one who knows where to start looking. There's a new memory of Jen in the girls' locker room, and it's the brightest one Ellie has ever seen. Finding Jen becomes an obsession.

Alright, great! We have a goal. It pairs well with the character, and everyone loves a good mystery. Now for the Hook.


So how is the hook different from the goal? Isn't the search for Jen enough of a hook? Why do we need more?

Well, yes, the goal should be enticing, but it's not necessarily a hook on its own. A good hook will add a new layer to the pitch that takes us from ho-hum plot summary to burning need to know what happens. It should work within the context of the Character and Goal but add a new dimension.

In my pitch for The Never Silent, the hook isn't that Henry is looking for a killer. Looking for the killer is his goal. The hook is that Henry, a con artist, now has to embark on the greatest con of his life in order to accomplish his goal. See how the hook plays in with both the Character and Goal there?

The hook should interact with the other elements. It's a twist on what we've already established. So let's add a twist to Ellie's pitch.

The more secrets Ellie uncovers about Jen, the more important the locker room memory becomes. But this memory is different from all the others.

This memory keeps changing.

And there we have it! A compelling twist that brings up a lot of good questions.

Now maybe there's more to add to the pitch. Perhaps there's somebody in the memory with Jen. Maybe it's somebody Ellie doesn't recognize. Or maybe Ellie does. Maybe it's her best friend.

That would be an interesting twist. But as it is, we have a great start here with our Character, Goal and Hook.

Exercise to try at home: Make up a Character-Goal-Hook pitch for a story you've never written, and post your pitch in the comments!

*There are a lot of ways to write a pitch. I am NOT trying to sell this one as the only definitive method. If you have a pitch that works for you and for your story, go with it.

**At present I have no intention of writing this story, but I reserve the right to do so in the future. If I ever come up with a plot...

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

One Eventful Night

So I've been gone awhile, but in case you haven't heard, it was for a very good reason: my family has grown by one member! He was born almost a month ago, but it's taken me until now to write about it. Today is actually my first day home alone with the boys, and so far it's going very well, though it does help that the big boy is out playing for a few hours.

Here's some of the story of the baby's birth:

For one thing, he took a lot more time about it than his brother did. Number one was out within five hours. Number two took somewhere around sixteen. It was a tougher birth all around--it was slower, I was far more tired by the end, and I had a bit of back labor wearing me out. On the bright side, even though I was induced, I never had to be given Pitocin, which I had been hoping to avoid.

If I learned anything from the experience it was this: that birth can happen so differently from one baby to the next, and making judgments about a woman's choices during labor is really quite thick-headed. I admit I used to have a bit of pride about the fact that I got through my first delivery unmedicated. Now, after the second, I have a whole new appreciation for epidurals.

In the end it was a really good thing that I got one this time. Almost as soon as it kicked in, I started feeling like delivery was eminent. Unfortunately the doctor was not at the hospital at the time. Now normally it would have taken her between ten and twenty minutes to get to me, but it just so happened that my baby decided he wanted to come at precisely the same time that there was a major accident on the highway in the middle of the night. So instead of twenty minutes I kept hearing "It'll be about another ten minutes..." In the end I waited nearly an hour before the doctor arrived (and then only because of a police escort), and that entire time I was resisting what nature was telling me very strongly to do. If I hadn't been so sleep deprived, I might have said, "Forget it, I'm pushing." As it was, all I could think to do was follow directions. And let me tell you, if it weren't for the epidural I would not have made it through that experience.

That night was eventful for another reason too: there was a meteor shower happening right as my baby was born. A lot of people were outside looking up at the sky, but I like to pretend they were all awake to celebrate a new little boy coming into the world. Although, now that I think about it, maybe that accident on the highway was caused by someone looking up at the sky instead of paying attention to the road. Hm...

Well, regardless, it was quite the night. My little boy has so many things ahead of him to learn, but one thing is certain--he already knows how to make an entrance.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Books with Hooks: The "How Will It Happen?" Hook

What pulls you into a book and keeps you riveted?

That thing, whatever it is, is a hook. It grabs you in the gut and won't let you go until you've finished reading.

One of the most common hooks is the "What will happen?" hook. It's the hook that mystery novels most frequently rely on. The "Who done it?" In other cases it's the plot that completely blows your mind because you didn't see it coming or the premise that twists reality and takes you on a speculative journey. You're glued to the pages because you're desperate to find out where the story is going.

The "What will happen?" hook can be very effective, but books don't have to have a mystery in order to have a good hook. Sometimes the reader can know from the start where the story is going but still be completely drawn in by the process of the plot. In this case the hook isn't "What will happen?" but "How will it happen?"

A superhero's origin story follows this pattern. We know she'll eventually become the superhuman fighter who saves the day. We know who the arch-villain will be. But we want to see how it happens.

Romance is also very commonly a "How will it happen?" story. We know the two leads will get together in the end. The draw of the book is not to see whether it happens but how they get there.

It was a romance that got me thinking about this second kind of hook. My agency mate Caitlyn McFarland published her first book, Soul of Smoke, this past Monday. I spent Tuesday and Wednesday reading it. (If it weren't for a great deal of self control I'd have finished it very late Tuesday night.)

The story is about a college age girl who comes across an injured dragon in human form while hiking in the Rockies. She gets swept away into the dragon's world of war and politics and magic, and in the process one of the dragons becomes magically bound to her. In order to save the world, she must choose to become bound to him in return.

There really is no question whether the human and the dragon will get together in the end. The story is a romance, and that's how a romance works. Besides, the consequences if they fail to do so are too disastrous to contemplate.

So how did this book keep me so captivated if I already knew what the outcome would be? It's because Caitlyn McFarland does a really masterful job with the "How will it happen?" hook. She puts a lot of things in the way of these two characters: personal demons, insecurities, suspicions, etc. And then she makes them work through all these stumbling blocks in interesting, compelling ways.

This is how the "How will it happen?" hook should work. And for Soul of Smoke it does work very well. I'm still enjoying the memory of my journey through the book, and I'm looking forward to the sequels.

What are some of your favorite "How will it happen?" books?

Coming to the End

I used to tell myself that the last thing I wanted was to spend the final weeks of pregnancy in the middle of summer. I basically loathe summer to begin with, and carrying around a space heater at the same time isn't really my idea of comfort. So how did I do?

Well, I've got one kid with a July birthday, and number two is set to come sometime in the next few weeks.

In other words: fail.

Somehow I also picked one of the worst summers to be pregnant too. I'm about ready to pack up and move to Siberia at this point.

Which basically means that I'm eager to have this baby as soon as he can come out. Today would be great, in fact. I mean, for one thing, he'd share a birthday with Harry Potter. And for another, I'd get to add a second pretty red birthstone to my family ring, which looks a bit like a flower. A second bud would look lovely, though I suppose a third leaf will look good too.

But babies come in their own time. My older son had to be evicted just shy of 41 weeks. I could see the same thing happening again.

And in a way that would be good. I had a really quick labor and delivery last time. I'm kind of nervous about getting to the hospital on time if I go naturally.

But on the other hand, oh, the waiting!

They tell you to be ready at any time. It could happen any day now.

Only it probably won't actually happen today, so get on with your life.

But be prepared. Have your bag packed. Make sure you've made arrangements for your kid. Know all the numbers you'll need to call. Have instructions printed out for the grandparents. Have the clothes all washed and ready and the car seat installed.

But don't get too anxious. It'll happen when it happens. So go ahead and pull the kindle back out of your packed bag if you like. Just hope you remember to repack it.

Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!

Wait... Wait... Wait...

It's all driving me a bit mad. This is how it goes though. Just one of many things we put up with for love of our children.

Anyway, if I don't post again for a while it's either because I'm hurrying to finish up all my work before the little one comes (which is also why I haven't posted in weeks) or because he is finally here. If I do post again, send me sympathy because clearly I am still in pregnancy limbo.

Wish me luck!