Sitting on my hands while two manuscripts are off limits

jAYnA6y…is hard for me. I’m kind of a writing addict. LOL. My agent is re-reading and preparing feedback on Hooligans. For Rafa and Rose, my collaborator and I are re-plotting the entire thing, based on suggestions from my fabulous agent. We picked a new inciting incident for both characters, which changed the external problem for each MC and the whole story line. We also cut a subplot which is leading to major chapter restructuring and cutting. So I’ve lost track of how many hours we’ve spent skyping and brainstorming to work through this. Probably at least twenty, but likely way more–time well spent though! We’re still not done, but we’re getting close. I can’t start re-working anything until we get through the whole novel, but I know it will be 100X better for it. Plus we’re working on setting up interviews with police officers and possibly lawyers to ensure we get the legal stuff created by the inciting incident right. So I can’t work on that.

What to do, what to do? I’m playing around with another WIP, so maybe I’ll go back to that. What can I say? I’m kind of a writing addict.

iron-man-waitingI’ll also continue reading Elements of Fiction: Beginnings, Middles, and Endings, by Nancy Kress. My agent recommended it and another plotting book. Follow me on twitter if you want to see my sporadic tweets of interesting quotes from it. I’ve got a lot of YA books waiting to be read on my Kindle. Though I could also enjoy the perks of American cable and Redbox.

Anyway, time to sit on my hands :P

How do you occupy yourself when you can’t work on your WIP? Any YA books to recommend?

My most recent “Proud to be American” moment

For the past year and a half, I’ve lived in Singapore, writing up a storm, exploring Southeast Asia, making friends from all over (but mostly England, as random as that is). I haven’t been around many Americans. I moved home to Wisconsin last week.

Living abroad has given me a new appreciation of what it means to be American. it’s helped me recognize our unique culture and subcultures. It’s given me the chance to see my country–the ugly, crazy, and beautiful parts–through the eyes of non-Americans, who are fascinated by us. While I was in Singapore, the United States went through the government shutdown (which was SO hard to explain), major gun rights and Affordable Care Act debates, Ferguson, President Obama’s executive order on immigration, ISIS, Ukraine/Russia conflict, and the spread of marijuana legalization and gay marriage recognition (to name a few things). I’m not here to pontificate, but that’s a lot of intense stuff. I also missed a gubernatorial election and I couldn’t absentee vote; that was upsetting. I have to say, prior to living abroad, I didn’t feel particularly proud to be American. NOT living in the U.S. changed that some.

Something really moved when I returned home in October (after eight months away) and again last week when I moved back. My plane landed in Minneapolis (Detroit in October). As I waited in the U.S. Citizen immigration line, looking around at my fellow Americans, it hit me both times. The people in line with me came from many different racial/ethnic backgrounds: African American, white, Latino, a variety of Asian ethnic groups. You can’t identify an American based on their skin color, facial features, or even the language they are speaking.We look different, but we are ALL American. We are the same People.

1-Cent-Shield-E-Pluribus-Unumfrom colnect.com/

“E Plurbus Unum”…one from many. There are very, very few countries that would have citizen immigration lines that are as diverse as ours.

It made me proud to be American.

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So…I’m moving from Singapore back to Wisconsin in less than twenty-four hours

…and this is me:

14-melissa-mccarthy-dancing-gifI feel like this should be a post about all the wonderful things I’ve learned about myself and the world, the new perspectives I have on what it means to be American or a Wisconsinite, or my plans for dealing with reverse culture shock and reintegration into Wisconsin life…or something deep like that.That’s all coming, I’m sure, but as I’m trying to cram my life into suitcases (yes, suitcases, because we’re not shipping anything back), I just don’t have the cognitive energy to reflect on all that yet. Especially with the whirlwind of goodbyes the last few days has been.

It’s been a good run, this year and a half in Singapore. I’ve written and edited a novel, and just gotten an agent for it. I’m well into the first draft for another. I’ve visited: Australia, Cambodia, Indonesia (Bali and Bintan), Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. Oh, and Singapore. I may have broken my face a lil bit in Cambodia–just one of many interesting travel stories I now have. I’ve frolicked with elephants. Seen kangaroos, koalas, and kookaburras in the wild. Done extensive field research into vocabulary and spelling differences between American and British English. Made lots of friends from around the world–even converted one English friend into a Packers fan. Got into the Singapore schools a little bit, to teach a creative writing course to local 4th graders and also teach a Saturday enrichment class to local five-year-olds. Spent a year and a half relying solely on public transportation which, thankfully, is pretty great in Singapore. Ended up stopping at at least 47 out of 113 MRT stations (Singapore’s subway). Yes, I was keeping track :P Lived being the minority, an Ang Moh, which I think everyone should experience. There’s another post I’ll write some day; it does help you appreciate different aspects of white privilege to be sure. And I could go on and on.

I’ve NOT been as food-venturous as I should have, I’ll admit that. I have this thing about fish. And mayonnaise. And sketchy-looking chicken. And meat on bones. So…that’s my bad. I’ll miss satay and prata and iced Milo (and flat whites, though those are Aussie). I wish I would have explored more of Singapore, as in the Heartlands and parts where expats don’t go. I did a little bit while working in the schools (Pasir Ris and Alljunied areas), but I wish I would have learned more about Singlish and local cultures. I’m sure as I’m plugging back into my old life, there will be many more things I regret as well.

I’m excited to get back to my family and the niece and goddaughter I barely know. I can’t wait to go back to working in the schools and trying to make a difference in the lives of children and families. I’m excited for cheese curds and good, cheap microbrews and snow! Yes, snow! I cannot wait for seasons and cold and being able to run in the middle of the day. And a car. I cannot wait to have a car again. Can I still have one and not pay thousands of dollars a year for it? Not having to make car payments or pay for insurance or gas or repairs has been amazing.

After the dust settles and I’ve wrapped my brain around plugging back into my old life, I’ll write those posts on what being American means to me and Midwest culture and how living abroad changed my entire worldview and self-view. But for now I think I’ll go make some cookies or something :P Or maybe I’ll stop by the coffee shop in Chip Bee Gardens that knows my order one last time. It’s a blue orange mocha by the way.

1623390_10100702177044105_1832868065462732496_nSome of my favorite pictures from Singapore:

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To this:

Downtown Sparta 1472931_10100396258013295_1544796563_n 945408_10100396323586885_1528026072_n 1551746_10100402888435875_978291620_n 1509810_10100406851698465_1346135851_n 1509211_10100407359475875_1718564115_n 1476445_10100399083236525_620240967_n 1506736_10100397524984275_644816372_n 1476281_10100397525807625_1962971806_n 1499504_10100402888336075_2082870151_n289056_808394788935_1998542658_o 532166_978935833315_519093868_n314213_10100127013087285_1663191494_n  557168_10100111065895585_2043205287_nphoto 3

Digging my WIP out of the plot hole (AKA lack of plot)

ha5di…I think… (see previous post about WIP existential crisis). I’m sure my plot will keep evolving as I undertake this re-write, but–fingers crossed–I BELIEVE I’ve at least got a solid idea for my inciting incident.

Backstory: I always like to make things hard for myself by choosing to do things like write first person, dual POVs that involve a character from a different cultural background from my own. So this means lots of research (that’s a whole different topic of conversation) and also that each character needs an inciting incident. I also write contemporary YA without an obvious antagonist, like a dragon to slay or something. My MCs have to do battle against themselves and their parents and poverty and school, all in the context of legal proceedings they have no control over but threatens almost everything in their lives.

oh my my mySo plotting this novel is no small task (for my brain, at least)….

I felt strongly that, in this WIP, the characters’ inciting incidents needed to be at least loosely connected without putting the characters and their families at odds. While majorly disrupting each characters’ lives and setting the mirroring plots in motion. The plot then should just follow: and then..and then…with each successive plot point making life harder than the last and the MCs making wrong choices in response to plot points that threaten to put their life dreams out of reach. All driven and fueled by each character’s fears, weaknesses, and core needs, while keeping in mind where I want my characters to end up as human beings. They are like real people in my brain.

Yep, I also spent many hours brainstorming around my characters’ internal workings and character arcs, which helped substantially with plotting. I have an idea of who my characters are when I start writing, but they evolve and grow more complex as I go; I don’t truly know who they are until long after the first draft, but all this got me tons closer.

**So I said “I” in those last paragraphs when I really meant “we.” I’m writing this novel collaboratively, so I’m blessed with another great brain who’s just as invested in our story as I am. So we spent hours and hours on Skype and messaging as well. Have I mentioned that I love her?**

attack hugI can just feel that we’re almost there. Our novel will be loads better because we took all this time to delve deep into our characters and their lives, and thought hard about what risks exist in their worlds and used all this to create an inciting incident that leads to the story problems that drive the plot. The feedback the incited our examination of the inciting incident, I can’t even….

hallelujahHey writers, have you a time when someone saved the day for your WIP?

Overcoming the Inevitable WIP Existential Crisis

58769011It happens to all of us, I’m sure. You’re cruising along on the WIP, feeling like you’re totally rocking it…until you either tell someone about it or let them read part of it. And they point out a major problem–like huge. And it causes you to call your entire life into question.

NoooOkay, not that extreme, but it completely challenges everything you’ve already written. The thoughts that race through your mind…it’s all crap…I’m going to have to completely re-write it…I have no plot…where’s my inciting incident…my characters are shallow and mundane. Take your pick.

I’ve had existential crises with every novel I’ve written, all the way back to that 200,000+word monstrosity that is my plotless first attempt at writing. Every time, I’ve worked through it and A) my novel has emerged 50 times better, and B) I’ve emerged as a better writer. After I get over that initial panic anyway :P

During this specific crisis, I realized, thanks to the feedback of others, that A) I have no real concrete inciting incident, and B) I don’t really have a concrete plot stemming from inciting incident that spans the entire novel. My strength as a writer lies in creating characters. One of my weaknesses is plotting; it takes a very strategic, conscientious effort for me.

So I went to my favorite coffee shop in Singapore, enjoyed a blue orange mocha, and spent the afternoon going back to basics.

1623390_10100702177044105_1832868065462732496_nI reviewed my notes and resources on plotting and then did some freewrite brainstorming around plot for the WIP. For me, the physical act of writing it down on paper changes the way my brain flows. Below you’ll find the handmade outcomes of my afternoon.

Fundamental questions I must consider about the story as a whole:

photo 1A fun little plotting template I conglomerated from a number of sources:

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So here’s what I need to do: nail down the inciting incident then continually ask myself and then? And then? This will lead to a cause/effect series of events compounding from one another, with characters making choices that lead them to the crisis, the point of no return, and then to the climax. Whew. Okay. I can do this! This particular existential crisis is on the path to resolution, but I know there’s more to come :P

Have you ever had a WIP existential crisis? Any plotting tricks that works for you?

Drumroll please…. I’ve signed with an agent!

The-OfficeIt’s happened. It’s finally happened! I have signed with Claire Anderson-Wheeler at Regal Literary. She’s the perfect fit for Hooligans in Shining Armour and I’m so excited and honored to be working with her.

It’s been an epic saga of a journey. I’ve spent months preparing query materials, writing and re-writing the beginning, fine-tuning my query and synopsis–all while sitting on my hands to stop myself from just putting it out there until everything was absolutely ready. Oh, and then there’s the two other novels I’ve written and queried with absolutely ZERO requests that taught me boatloads both about writing and querying :P. And the three other novels tucked away in a virtual secret vault that will never see the light of day.

So here’s the story leading up to THE CALL…

I started playing around with ideas for Hooligans after a trip to Northern Ireland in July 2011, researching and learning more about the Troubles. I wrote a few scenes here and there, but that was about it because I was feeling a bit disillusioned with writing after aforementioned failed query attempts with previous novels.

bunny-catapultThen my husband was offered a temporary job in Singapore. We made the big, bold decision to move to Singapore in August 2013. We left our house and my job behind and YOLO’d (yeah, I went there). Anyway, since I was the trailing spouse, I decided to dive back into writing. Within my first week of moving to Singapore, I went to my first meet-up for the fabulous, wonderful, inspiring Singapore Writers Group. So many amazing writers from all over the world! I left that meeting and started writing literally that night. Well, actually it was morning by the time I got home. This lead to months of research on dialect, history, culture, and current events in Belfast and countless hours on Google Maps streetview to capture setting. I read a bunch of books by Northern Irish authors. Four months later, I had a draft and my first beta readers…followed by major revisions. And tons more research. Then I worked up the courage to read a bit of it at the Singapore Writers Group meeting in December 2013. Which was terrifying, because there are so many skilled writers, many of whom are from the UK.

scared1I survived, but then decided my next mission needed to be finding readers from Belfast to ensure cultural and linguistic accuracy. And do even more research. I reached out to the Belfast Writers Group and found a reader, who then also got me two teen readers. I also got a Belfast development editor and copy editor from EPANI. All of this completely altered my manuscript. I would be nowhere without all these awesome people.

Tons more beta readers from the Singapore Writers Group. More re-writes. More research. More re-writes. Seriously, I have 26 saved versions of Hooligans in Shining Armour on my hard drive. There were so, so many times where I was like, you know what? Let’s just call this one a draw and shelve it. Or start it on fire.

bunny tiredBut I stuck with it because my beta readers believed in me and I loved my characters. Then I found out about Pitch Wars, a contest where you compete against other writers to get mentors to help you whip your manuscript into shape for an agent round. I did it, if nothing else to test out my query materials. I got my hopes up and sat glued to the twitter feed hoping for clues that I’d been picked. I wasn’t, even though several of the mentors I submitted to were like, you’ll probably get an agent someday. Sadness….

disappointed-oI then entered a few other contests: #PitMad (a few likes, no further requests),Nightmare on Query Street, #PitchSlam. Nothing. I met tons of new writer friends on Twitter (probably added 500 followers), found new critique partners, got into an amazing critique group through SCWBI Belgium, tested out and honed my query materials, but got no requests.

After all that I said, nope, no more contests for a long time. I’ll query traditionally after Christmas. But then one of my fabulous new writer friends (who I met on Twitter), Kate Foster, said–well, tweeted–“Sarah, you need to do #PitchMAS.” I was like, ughhhhh no, no more Twitter contests. But I already had tweets ready to go, so I didn’t really have an excuse. I set up my TweetDeck and let it happen. Nothing for the first several hours and, since I live on the opposite side of the world, I went to bed. When I woke up, I had two favorites. One happened to be Claire. When I looked her up and read her bio, I realized, wait a minute, I recognize this agent. I went to my ridiculous agent spreadsheet that I’d spent months adding to and, sure enough, she was in it. And high on my to-query list because she’s Irish and seeks to represent manuscripts with strong narrative voice and contemporary themes. So I sent her my three chapters along with a, “hey I really wanted to query you anyway!” And then a few days later, my first ever request for a full!

giphyAnd Christmas and New Years came… After that, I started hardcore querying the agents in my ridiculous spreadsheet. Finally. I also stalked Manuscript Wish List. Within a few days, I had some more partial requests. Then last week I got THE EMAIL at 9 pm my time, which basically said I really, really liked Hooligans, let’s talk. I frantically emailed all the agented authors I’d met (you guessed it, mostly through contests) and asked for advice on questions to ask and what to expect. Three hours later….

THE

CALL

Tom-and-JerryClaire was very excited to represent me, loved my characters, and totally got everything I was trying to do with Hooligans.

Since it was a Twitter pitching contest called #PitchMAS I feel like this gif is just a must…

ElfI had a week to decide, so I contacted the two agents who had partials and all the agents I’d queried and not heard from. This lead to three more full requests that were looked at by Monday. And lots of very nice responses from other agents. It was a painful weekend. I really felt in my heart of hearts that Claire was the perfect fit, but that I should keep an open mind. The other agents ended up politely passing, so then I shot Claire an extremely excited email that basically said I love you please represent. I wanted to go with Claire because of her enthusiasm and connection to Hooligans and her commitment to client-agent relationships for a career. I also felt that we clicked personally. And now it’s official!!!

I’ve been writing since I was twelve. I’ve been querying agents on various projects for the past six years. There have been so many times I wanted to just give up, especially with Hooligans (seriously, I wanted to print it and start it on fire at many points), but my husband and my writer friends believed in me.

group-hug-oI took breaks from things when I needed to, and I never let myself be defeated by self-doubt. I am constantly working to make myself a better writer.

And now some Sarah stats:

Number of novels I’ve queried: 3 (two with no requests at all)

Contests entered: 5

Queries sent: 27

Partial requests:10

Full requests: 4

Offers: 1

Lessons learned: thousands

And now for some more celebration gifs…

giphy boom

giphy angels

lambeau leap

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Christmas in Singapore

So Singapore’s an interesting place. A city-nation-island. One of the safest cities on Earth. Home to over 200 malls. You can find a Hindu temple right next to a Catholic church. A Buddhist temple right next to a mosque. This year, I decided to travel around a bit and document Christmas in Singapore.

Singapore’s about 18% Christian, but Christmas is still a very big deal. The malls and and Orchard Road, Singapore’s version of Times Square, get decked out. Honestly, Singapore may be more decorated than what I’ve seen in the United States, at least in the Midwest.You can also buy real Christmas trees. Though small, they actually go for a reasonable price. Malls somehow create fake snow and you can go and play in it at certain times of the day. Others have foam snow parties.

So here’s my photographic Christmas journey through Singapore.

Each mall and Changi Airport has it’s own Christmas theme, which can range from typical US mall to Alice in Wonderland and Smurf Christmas.

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Orchard Road goes all-out starting at the end of October. I’m pretty sure you can see it from space. Orchard Road has over 20 malls, most of which are connected by underground tunnels. It’s literally a maze of malls. The first time I went there, it took me 15 minutes just to figure out how to cross the street!

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Gardens by the Bay, home of Singapore’s famous Super Trees, also gets a festive make-over. It was a very teddy Christmas, complete with fake snow.

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There were attempts to “Keep the Christ in Christmas.”

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And a few other random shots of Christmas around Singapore.

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This is actually a mostly “Muslim” hawker centre. Most of the stalls feature halal food and Malay food.

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The airport in Langkawi, Malaysia, which is a predominantly Muslim country.

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Harnessing the power of music: Inspiration for Hooligans in Shining Armour

One of the first things I do when I begin a new novel is start a playlist. Music helps get my mind into the setting, characters, and emotional state of the scenes. Here are a few of my favorites from Hooligans in Shining Armour.

Setting in general (the first video captures it best):

Danny’s songs:

Patrick and Fiona’s favorite songs:

Danny and Fiona’s favorite song:

Danny and Fiona’s burgeoning romance:

What songs are on your soundtrack?