Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Writer's Wednesday: Word Count

As promised last Wednesday, here are agent Elana Roth's recommendations for word count.

The sweet spot for Young Adult fiction is 50,000-70,000 words.
Middle Grade fiction: 40,000-60,000 words.
Fantasy is longer because prose is styled a certain way.
Picture Books need to be under 1000 words.
If you submit an adult novel for 150,000, she will roll her eyes.
Adult fantasy: 120,000.
Mystery and Thriller: 80,000 and up.

As a wrap up to some of the good tidbits she offered, be sure that when you write your query you "know what your book is. Don't give all the crazy plot details."  Also, she said to be sure to "include those sample pages."

Happy writing!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

TV Tuesday: American Idol

Years have passed since I watched American Idol.  After this season's first show, I tuned in.

After all, Steven Tyler was a judge.


In the past, I never liked the early shows that exemplified what happens in America to kids who are told they can do and be anything. C'mon, people, the skills aren't always there.  Don't lie to your kids and encourage them to humiliate themselves on reality television.  If someone can't carry a tune in a bucket, don't tell him he can.

Fortunately, this is not the case with the top 11 contestants who will all be on tour this summer. They are talents. Each one of them is different. Each one brings something special to the stage.

During last week's elimination round, the judges showed just how different this season is.

Casey, Casey, Casey.

I agree with the judges that you should not have been out last week. (I don't even think the bottom three was accurate.) You were saved by judges for another performance, but I'm really concerned about your health. Please take care of yourself. Your style is unique and it's fun to watch a performer who feels the music from the top of his furry head to the tips of his toes.

In the spirit of this year's kinder, gentler American Idol, I'd like to address the remaining contestants. 
I'm certain they are far too busy to read my blog, but in case they wander across it or can somehow feel the vibe across the cosmos, these are my wishes for them.

Lauren Alaina: You are precious.  They've totally glammed you up the last couple of weeks. I hope you're enjoying it like every girl your age deserves to enjoy prom and other dress-up opportunities.  Have fun, but please stay true to yourself. Don't let anyone steal your inner sparkle.

Paul McDonald: Your voice is instantly recognizable. Your quirkiness is endearing. I know I'd download a few of your songs.  Please don't turn out to be creepy or anything.

Pia Toscano: You are Whitney Houston and Celine Dion. You are the stuff movie songs are made of.

James Durbin: I love your devotion to your "angel" wife and child.  I also love how you rock the stage. Not only would I download your songs, but I would go to your concerts.  Rock on, Durbin!

Jacob Lusk: Your talent, like Pia's, is legendary.

Haley Reinhart: That husky voice is unforgettable.  I wish you luck because I'd love to have a few of your songs on my playlist.

Thia Megia: You have the talent, and when you have the life experience you will be a superstar.  In the meantime, I expect "them" to make you a Disney princess. Please don't go the way of the other Disney musicians.  Stay that sweet girl who wears the cutesy sweaters--at least on the inside.

Stefano Langone: Mmm-mmm. I love your sexy voice.  In order to remain on the show, listen to the judges and open your d#$%ed eyes.  Got it?  Connect with the audience. Those girl want to pretend you're singing to them. Don't hide from them, baby.

Scotty McCreery: Many people love your deep voice--which is remarkable--but I also love that you showed what it's like to be a man, even though you're seventeen. When you apologized to that boy during Hollywood Week and said you should have stood up for him, I knew you were a country singer.  We like our country singers to be as pure of heart as the lyrics they sing.  Please don't lose that.

Naima Adedapo: From the first show, I loved your heart.  I was so proud of you last week when you didn't miss a note and gave a concert-style performance that showed who you really are and hinted at what amazing potential you have. You are a performer. I hope to see your show one day.

What do you think of the contestants this year?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Writer's Wednesday: Agent Elana Roth on Query Letters

To give us an idea of just how difficult an agent's job is, agent Elana Roth from Johnson Literary Agency gave attendees at DFW Writing Conference copies of 20 actual query letters (names and titles changed) to accept or reject. It's a tough job! I had one letter unread when time ran out. Some of the queries were obvious rejections due to word count, typographical errors, or sheer weirdness. Others were more difficult. Some letters were well written...but didn't explain concept clearly or didn't hit a specific market.

Proving my incompetence as an agent, I "rejected" one of her client's letters.  To my credit, even Elana Roth said, "This letter sucks." It has "big paragraphs" and "it rambles." BUT it had a great concept. Yeah, I was so caught up in form, I didn't think about that part.

Lesson learned: Well written letters get rejected.  Requests are made when concept is clear and author knows where it belongs in the market. So, be sure you nail those components when you submit.

She also talked about sending good prospects to other agents. Until then, I'd not understood why an agent would pass on something he or she thought would sell.  Then she explained, "If I don't want to read a book 18 times before sending to an editor, then the author deserves someone who does."

Lesson learned: Believe an agent who says it's good but not for him or her.  I've read books I knew were good, but I never wanted to see again.  Why not give agents that same freedom?

For more information about Elana and the biz,  check her out on Twitter @ElanaRoth.  I love when she tweets as she reads queries.

Next week: Elana Roth's take on word count.

Yesterday was her 30th birthday, so from half-way across the continent and the internet: happy belated birthday!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

TV Tuesday: Mad Love

Mad Love is a new sitcom on CBS with a recognizable story line and familiar faces.

But that's no reason to ignore it.

For example, just because I love traditional brownies doesn't mean I shun a tasty morsel of chocolate simply because someone swirled it with caramel. Duncan Hines is good, but Ghirardelli is fresh and oh-so-scrumptious.

Mad Love is about a group of New York singletons looking for love.  A couple find it and connect the group. They drink beverages in a public place and the guys even work together. 

Sound familiar?  Yes, it's a smidge like the traditional Friends (I miss you!), but it's a doppleganger for the other CBS show How I Met Your Mother.

Do I care?  Not really.

In fact, with the exception of Barney Stinson, I may prefer Mad Love. Time will tell.

Mad Love is sugary sweet with the couple consisting of American Pie's Jason Biggs and Sarah Chalke  (How I Met Your Mother, Scrubs).  Eh. It's fun to be in that just-fell-in-love stage, but honestly, who really likes to see other people enjoying that rush when you're not? It's human nature (or maybe just mine) to hope they fall on their faces and recognize the other person has bad hair days and zits like the rest of the planet's population. 

The foils to the lovesick duo are the reason to watch the show. The comedic pairing of Judy Greer (13 Going on 30, 27 Dresses and many more) and Tyler Labine  (Reaper) is hilarious.  While hating each other, they accompany their best friends in life.

What is so intriguing? I'm waiting for them to pause between insults and realize they're totally hot for each other.

Because, although I may not enjoy watching people gush all over each other while they're in that fresh love stage of a relationship, I do like the electricity of watching sparks fly in what might possibly turn out to be perfection or disaster. 

Mad Love is a weekly installment of a modern-day Taming of the Shrew.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Friday Favorite: Spring is almost here!

After accidentally driving to another state and adding three hours to an already five hour trip, I was ready for the weekend--on Wednesday.

We met some friends at the lake. My family has the Trabin (trailer+cabin), and our neighbors two doors down decided to open their Relaxi Taxi this weekend, so we pulled up chairs on their deck, grabbed cold beverages, breathed in the allergens, gazed at the view, and...relaxed.

The experience was delicious.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

TV Tuesday: The Bachelor

My friend Sonia Gensler and I decided to write about TV Tuesday.  We rarely watch the same shows, but we talk about them when we're together.  Our friend Lisa Marotta is obsessed with The Bachelor.  (I think she views it more as a comedy than a reality tv show.) Although Sonia and I don't watch it, Lisa caught us up on the details, so I was rather excited to learn about the finale.

See, there's a reason I don't watch The Bachelor.  Okay, there are many reasons, but one in particular is that I was marred by a show called Married by America. I watched every single episode and was distraught that no one married in the end. Seriously, with a name like that, you'd think you'd see a wedding, right?

Since I was teaching Romeo and Juliet at the time, I thought the show was a modern take combining American Idol type voting with the ancient tradition of matchmaking. I pretended to watch the show purely to discuss Americanized matchmaking versus the way Daddy Capulet paired Juliet with Paris instead of Romeo. The kids saw through me and knew I just liked the trainwreck.  They understood what I didn't: Romeo and Juliet as well as the contestants on Married by America were doomed.

And a lot hasn't changed in reality television.  I read an article that Brad proposed to Emily on The Bachelor but that after the show, things haven't worked out. Gasp! No! He considers them still engaged, but she's just not ready to move to Texas. Really? What did she think was going to happen if she was selected?

And what do we think is going to happen when we watch these shows? Are we hopeful romantics or bloodthirsty voyeurs?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Friday Favorite: art

I'm not an impulse buyer. 

I'm that person who  touches everything in a store and then leaves without buying anything--only to come back a week or year later to purchase it. 

It took me three years to finalize a flooring choice in our home so that the people could complete what they started--three years ago before we even moved in.  A portrait of Santa Clause still hangs in our entry way because I like it better than other options I've found since December. 

My husband told me recently I needed to decorate. He said he was embarrassed to have people visit. Eek.

But I want to be surrounded with things I love. Or that have a story.  I don't want my house to look like I walked into a shop and bought the room.

So, imagine my surprise--and the ladies at my office--when I bought this picture on a whim and finally hung it on the hook that had been bare for months. Aloof? Regal? Wondering? The lady gazes into the distance above my computer screen.

I've heard it said that one should only have things around that speak to you. I don't know what she said, but the lady in the picture must have been convincing.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Rusty Shelton Pulls Writers Out of Their Shells

As Rusty Shelton shared his knowledge regarding digital marketing, social branding, and web design at the DFW Writer's Conference, I realized I need to embrace technology more fully. His session changed the way I view the web and its ability to reach readers.

So often, writers are advised to "Get a blog! Get on Facebook! Tweet!" but we're not told how. Rusty Shelton cleared away the confusing cobwebs of the World Wide Web and helped me see clearly with real-world applications. It's no surprise he spoke at Harvard for the first time at age 23 and continues to do so. The man knows what he's doing. His advice was so fresh and real that speakers in other sessions quoted him throughout the weekend.

Yeah, that good.

Plus, he's a nice guy. After his session, I went to my room to review notes.  In doing so, I developed more questions. So, I dashed off in hopes of finding him. He patiently guided me in a private tutoring session and even signed me up for Twitter.  (I'm still in the voyeur/learning stage of the game, so I'm not making comments yet.  But follow me at brandi_barnett and you'll soon see all sorts of fascinating tidbits.)

A few of his quotes illuminated the power of social media:

"10 years ago, we were a classroom with Oprah, Dr. Phil...telling us what to read. Today, we are passing notes."

"Facebook is a family reunion, a class reunion. Twitter is a cocktail party."

"Social media helps bad books fail faster."

Check out Rusty's blog to learn how to make social media your ally.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

TV Tuesday: Oh, Dexter, my Dexter!

I don't watch scary movies. Why? They scare me silly. Anyone who knows me, knows this. 

Respect my fear. In high school, a boyfriend sealed his fate as a certified "ex" when he brought the video of Arachnophobia to my house. And that's supposedly not even that scary. To this day, I'm proud of the fact I was able to get through Disney's Escape to Witch Mountain without losing sleep. Still, the stupid commercial for The Grunge--you know, the one where the hand comes out of the shower or the back of the girl's head or something--gave me nightmares.

I don't like nightmares.

Even now, as I write this, I'm getting creeped out. I just looked over my shoulder because I heard something.  I think it was the dishwasher. Or a bug on the window.  I'm sure it wasn't someone outside with a machete. Certainly not.  

There it is again...

Oh, it was my shoe squeaking against the floor.

See? I'm a scaredy-cat!

In my second novel, Lucky Charm, it took me two weeks (maybe a month) to write a scene. Why? Each night I dreamed of different ways to conduct a ceremonial killing of an ancient secret society. Finally, I decided on one rite simply to stop the barrage of blood and screams when I'd rather be dreaming of sugarplums dancing. Yeah, I was definitely a glowing bundle of sunshine that fortnight.

Which is crazy that I L-O-V-E Dexter.  There's lots of blood. Sometimes gore.  It's pretty sick. Dexter is a serial killer.  He cuts people up, places their bodies in trash bags, and tosses them off the coast of Miami. But he only murders really bad people...except that once. He's kind of like a Robin Hood who kills the bad to give life to the good.

And the show is so well written. Each season has a full blown, beautifully crafted story arc. You have to start at the first show to fully appreciate the greatness that is Dex.

So, I'm mourning that we finished the most recent season of Dexter.  (Psst. Please be amazing again when you return.  I already miss you.)

What does it say about me that my two favorite shows on television right now are Glee and Dexter?

Friday, March 4, 2011

Friday Favorite: Jim McCarthy's 100 Shows a Year

It's no secret I love theater. One of my first memories was watching Dracula.  I was two.  I longed to be pulled onstage, but was fascinated to watch the story unfold. That show was a high school production, so you can imagine how my soul ached when I attended my first Broadway production.  It's like that serious, mind altering crush that alters one's life's path with a kiss.  Theater was my first love.

My second love was books. Some people like the smell of roses or musk, but give me the smell of a theater or library and I'm home. I'm not certain why I love them both so much. Perhaps the commonality is that they're both haunted by characters.

In the last two years I've had major withdrawals.  I've not been to New York.  IN TWO YEARS. Sure, the food is great and the city is electric, but...Broadway.   I grew accustomed to going several times a year. When we lived there, well, Broadway was my Siren. Does one ever get over her first love?

At the DFW Writing Conference last weekend, I discovered how to live vicariously through another until I can make it to New York City again. I was thrilled to discover the new blog 100 Shows a Year by the stellar agent Jim McCarthy. Perhaps I should have pitched my book to him, but then I'd have missed all of the updates on NYC theater.  I'll definitely send him pages, because he's a superstar agent. Perhaps I should kick myself for not pushing my novel. But how often do I get to talk to someone who may actually be more passionate about theater than I am?

Confession: I fantasize about discussing a book deal over a Starbucks chai frap on our way to see a Broadway show.

But, seriously, if you love theater and concerts, check out his new blog.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

DFW Writing Conference agent tidbits

Had a fabulous time at  the DFW Conference with my writing pals Sonia Gensler and Lisa Marotta.  We met so many amazing people, and I can't wait to put to use everything I learned. My body is tired, but my soul feels refreshed.

Here's a photo the paparazzi shot as we were leaving.

Over the next few weeks, I'll share some notes with you. However, I feel compelled to tell you a little about the agents I met at the conference: They were wonderful.
    • My pitch with Kate McKean went well. Not only did she like my dress, but she called my book "charming" and asked for pages.  Since, my 2nd novel is called Lucky Charm, I'd say that's a win. And I love her.
    • I met the entertaining Jim McCarthy and am totally impressed. Check back more about him Friday. Why? Because he's cool--with an interesting hobby.
    • A young adult panel of agents, who answered all questions thoughtfully, reminded us there are people in the industry who want to be responsible with children's literature and are not just looking for the next edgy, shocking YA novel. Thank you Elana Roth, Weronika Janczuk, Jessica Sinsheimer. 
    Sure, my critique buddies and I  fantasized about hotel rooms with chandeliers and 400 thread count sheets--or at least rooms less like dorms--but the conference speakers were great. And that's why we attended.