Sunday, December 1, 2013

How I Got My Agent

I Have a Literary Agent!

Let's just pause there for a moment and savor how sweet that sounds and feels.

I am elated to announce that the wonderful Stacey Donaghy of Donaghy Literary Group is now my agent.

My wife once said, "You need to find the agent who will love your work as much as we do." I have found that person. Her energy is infectious and her vision is clear. I look forward to our partnership.

How I found her was strategic and tactical. With the help of my network, the power of Facebook and Twitter, and some old fashioned luck, I am able to announce this news today.

Like all things, there is a story.

It started on September 20th with an announcement from Marisa Corvisiero of Corvisierio Literary, a friend of the Southern California Writers' Conference (SCWC).

Stacey Donaghy had been with the Corvisiero Literary Agency until recently. A new agency meant opportunity.

But I had missed that announcement. Thankfully, my mentor and freelance editor extraordinaire, Jean Jenkins (JJ), had seen the post and emailed me. Connections: JJ is one of the original founders and a workshop leader at the SCWC. Therefore Ms. Corvisiero was on her radar.

"New Agency to try," Jean wrote.

I hopped to the Donaghy Literary Group site. Scoured the submission guidelines, what she was looking for, etc. Everything seemed like a perfect match but then...

Oh NO! Per the submission guidelines, the agency said they like the romance to be "steamy." I don't do fifty shades type of stuff. So I wrote JJ. "I don't think I can do steamy."

Undeterred, JJ said, "Query anyway. Sometimes your idea of 'steamy' isn't the other guy's."

With her words of encouragement, I went back to the site, but...

Oh No! The site said not accepting queries until December 2nd.

The bad news was that on December 2nd there would be an avalanche of queries. I could get lost in the slush pile. I took the hiatus to learn as much as I could about Ms. Donaghy. Interviews, Publisher's Marketplace, Tweets. RESEARCH. I also bought a book from one of her clients.

At the same time, literary agent Jessica Sinsheimer and I had been chatting up a storm on Twitter--mostly about coffee and food. She then told me she was about to launch another round of the popular "Manuscript Wish List" on Twitter. This is the event where agents and editors tweet about what they wish they had #MSWL in their inbox.

And when #MSWL started, I followed the feeds. Then I saw this.

Stacey Donaghy is looking for Romance -- check!

Stacey Donaghy will look at queries in advance if I mention #MSWL in the query -- check!

I didn't waste time. I queried her -- following the guidelines EXACTLY! Please don't make your own guidelines. There's a reason agencies have guidelines.

I waited. A few weeks later she wrote me. She liked the opening chapter. She wanted the rest.

A few weeks later she sent me THE email. She LOVED the manuscript. She wanted us to talk.

We had a call (THE CALL) and it was perfect and powerful and empowering.

On November 30th, this happened

And you know what, the whole steamy thing...well, JJ was right (again). Ms. Donaghy loved the manuscript as is.

Lessons learned:
  • Be involved in the writing community. Go to conferences if you can. Make friends and listen to experts. Learn all the time.
  • Twitter and Facebook are your friend. Follow those in the business. Listen, learn, interact, be interesting and appropriate.
  • Be opportunistic. Be ready to take advantage of lucky situations.
  • Don't assume too much. When an agent says first ten pages, they don't mean first fifteen. But there are some things that are less clear. If you are unsure what an agent may mean (ex. steamy) go with your gut and take a chance. A good story will always get the eyeballs.
Thank you all for your support. 

If you want to keep up with my journey, please take ten seconds and follow this blog and/or subscribe.

Fight the good fight!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

So, You Wanna NaNo?

Are you NaNoWriMo-ing Tomorrow?

What's NaNoWriMo you ask? Check out my post from a year ago then come back here.

Now that we're on the same page, and since this is my second year at this (and therefore an expert, thank you very much), there are a few thoughts that I'd like to share with you.


Please, this is about using an excuse to focus on writing for one month. Friends want to go to the Justin Beiber concert? First, get new friends. Second, tell them, "I'm on a deadline. I made a commitment!"

Second: Get into your story world

I won't bother to tell you that you need to nail your concept, know your characters, plot it out or pants it in -- you are NaNoWriMo-ing, you understand this stuff.

But what you need to do in preparation of your daily writing session is get into the world/universe you've created for this story. Feel it, see it, hear them. Make it vivid and the stakes will become vivid.

I have a writing journal where I write out, what happened, what will happen next, and why do they matter.

Three headings, bullets underneath each. Remember that what happens next must have a reason for happening. As Jim Scott Bell says, happy people in happy land does not make for a compelling story.

Spend 15 minutes on this and your writing will get an octane boost.

Third: Don't stop until you're done

That means don't go back and reread what you wrote. Don't revise now. Stop that. All you're doing is stalling the creative process.

I know the pain, I've been there. You're well into the second act then you realize, "Holy Bat Juice, Batman, if I made Bobby a woman, then I can add this very cool plot twist." But it's more than changing the name, it's changing some of the interactions, the dialogue, it's, it's.... STOP I tell you.

Get a post it, on it write "Bobby = Barbie" then stick it on your table, your monitor, your forehead (scratch that). When you are DONE with the first draft, you will have to revise -- none of us are good enough to write perfect first drafts -- at least no one that reads this blog.

The desire to go back and revise is your inner child saying you're not good enough. The universe will conspire against you. Don't get hooked by it. You are a writer. Do what you do -- tell the story before your characters decide to leave you.

Fourth: Write

It's that simple. Just Write.

It doesn't matter if it's crap. You can't fix what hasn't been written. I am a better reviser than a first drafter. But I know that when I put the story on paper, the world becomes real and my characters become three dimensional -- they become vested in the outcome of their story. They can't do that if I am navel-gazing wondering if the first responder would be the Highway Patrol or the Sheriff. Who cares?

Write it now, fix it later.

You are a story teller. Your medium is writing. Now go and do it and let me know how you're doing.

Fight the good fight!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Plot & Structure Analysis - Sleepless in Seattle

Sleepless in Seattle 

If you haven't done it yet, you are missing out on a very powerful tool. The tool I'm referring to is story decomposition.

No, not like the decay of once living things, but breaking down something into manageable, understandable pieces, so that you can learn from them.

Decomposing your favorite story (screenplay or novel) into it's various beats is a powerful and instructive way of learning what works, what doesn't and why/how to incorporate the same concepts into your work.

One of my more popular posts was when I did the Plot & Structure Analysis for the movie Notting Hill. For that one I used James Scott Bell's methodology as outlined in his must-have book Plot & Structure.

For this one, I will use another powerful method: Blake Snyder's Save the Cat! framework.

Boiling it down to the basics, all good stories (commercial ones at least) will have specific beats (scenes) that must happen in order for the plot to move forward in a convincing and satisfying way. The more primal the scenes, the more the story will resonate with the audience.

Warning: Spoiler alert. If you haven't seen this romantic comedy starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, then I will give it all away. It's a fun movie. Go and get it.

Why Sleepless in Seattle? Why not could be a good response, but there is a tactical answer. The current story I'm writing required me to keep the hero and heroine away from each other for an extended period of time. The first third of the book in fact. General wisdom says you don't want to have too many scenes where the would-be-lovers are kept away from each other. Yet, this movie pulled it off for nearly the entire movie. How did they do it? What elements in the story and/or characters allowed the writer to get away with it? Let's dig in.

The Opening Image: Sets the tone, mood, type and scope (style and stakes). This is the starting point of hero -- the “Before” snapshot. Cemetery, father and son staring at casket. "Mommy got sick and died...if we ask why we'll all go crazy." The world is suddenly broken for these two. How will they cope? Notice that this is not the inciting incident. The story has not yet started. What we have is that they are alone. By the end we will have a matching beat where the closing scene should show us how the character/s have evolved throughout the story.

Theme stated: Hanks and son decide to leave home and start a new. Hanks's friends tell him that soon he'll meet someone. Hanks snaps back, "and I'll grow a new only happens once." This is the theme. Can true love happen again? This statement that Hanks makes is the theme and the movie is really about answering this question. The writer gets this out and in your face up front. The audience wants to see, will this man be able to find love again.

The Set-Up: The hero, the stakes and goals are stated with vigor. We meet all the key players in the story. We meet Meg and her allergic to everything fiancé. When Meg's mom tells her daughter how she knew she had fallen in love, Meg realizes that she doesn't have a similar experience. She felt no magic. Is he right guy? For Hanks, even though they moved, life is still empty. And the son is getting concerned for his father.

Catalyst: The main characters get knocked off the stasis world. Meg hears a kid on a pop-psychology radio talk show. He's Hank's son saying his father is sad because after his wife died he didn't find anyone. Hank's grudgingly gets on the call. "What was so special about your wife?" the radio host asks. He says, "I knew it the very first time I touched her. It's like coming home." He knew it was love. "It was like magic," he says, the same thing Meg's mom had said. Meg's world has been destabilized. Typically in movies this inciting incident happens later -- they have a captive audience. In books, you have less time to get the reader engaged.

Debate: The interview still ringing in his head, Hank's begins to debate if he should date again. Thousands of women are sending him letters. Meg is thinking about the interview also, wondering if she's with the right person.

Break into act two: Hero enters the “Upside Down World.” Meg hears the replay of the interview and begins to cry. Her life is missing the romance. Hanks makes the decision -- he calls a woman for the first time and in the background we hear the music, "I'm back in the saddle again." Meg decides to write Hanks a letter.

B Story revealed: Here the other story is revealed. Eventually the A and B stories will come together. For now, we see them as part of the life of the characters. In most stories, this is usually the love story which carries the theme
. We see both main characters trying to get on with life but they are both incomplete. This is a love story. He's trying to find that magic again, she suspects that Hanks may be the one, even though she has never met him.

Fun and Games: This is the core of the story. Various set pieces are loaded here with both characters. We see how the father and son are struggling with all of this. We see her struggle with the life she has versus a fairly tale story she wants. She even hires a private investigator to get information on him. She's obsessing over him.

Mid-point: The stakes are raised here. This is when he becomes serious with the woman his dating and his son doesn't like it. The son has read through all the letters from women who want to meet Hanks and the son wants his dad to call "Annie" the Meg Ryan character. The father will not hear any of it.

Bad Guys Close in: Internal and external forces, tighten the grip. Hank's friends fly in to visit. She also fly's into Seattle to try to meet him. Out of pure coincidence they see each other at the airport. He stares at her, not sure why, but something about her has him in a trance. Shortly after, she finds his home and decides she will introduce herself. But she sees that he's with someone else. She thinks that he's in love again. It turns out it's Hanks's friends from back home. Meg escapes, goes back home.

All is Lost: She escapes, returns home and declares, "It's good that I'm back." The fairy tale will not happen. In her letter, she had asked him to meet with her on Valentine's day, at the top of the Empire States building, just like her favorite movie. Now she realizes she was being a fool. She refocuses on her relationship with her fiancé. 

Dark night of the soul: Father and son have a big fight and the son says, "I hate you."

Break into Three: The son gets a plane ticket and goes to New York to meet "Annie." Hanks finds out two hours later and also gets on a plane, on track to find his son and maybe to meet his destiny.

Finale: The A and B stories collide. Meg and fiancé are in NY, about to have dinner. She sees the lit Empire States building and realizes, she has to see if Hanks will meet her there. What if? She admits everything to her fiancé. They break up and she makes a dash for the rendezvous point. Hanks is in New York, desperately trying to find son. When they find each other they reaffirm their love for each other. They agree that they are fine together as they are. They leave. At the same instance, she shows up, but they are gone. But all is not lost, the son forgot his backpack, they go to get it and find Annie there. "It's you," he says, realizing she was the one at the airport.

Final Image: He holds her hand, and just as he had described the first time he had held his wife's hand, something happens. They both feel the magic. Hanks and son with a new woman. Will she be mom? We see the three walk out together. A family that appear happy and complete. A far cry from the opening scene.

What I realized by decomposing this story is that unlike most romantic comedies where one of the two is a lot more evolved, in this case, both had a fairly steep character arc. They both were trying to find an answer, unlike say, Notting Hill, where he knows he loves her, but she has to struggle with her life until she realizes he is the one. That may be the secret sauce in this one. Practically two stories that converge.

Hope this was helpful.

Fight the good fight!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Dude Writes Like a Lady

"Oh, I thought you were a woman."

Not a lot of guys would grin if they were told that. I heard it five a span of 40 Literary Agents no less!

An explanation is in order.

In early June, I attended the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. This was my second year attending. In
Lunch on the beach during the conference
advance of the conference, I had sent in pages from the first chapter of Game of Love (my manuscript).

Although the story is a dual-perspective novel (switches between the female and male protagonists), the first chapter begins with her, Gemma. In fact, the story is Gemma's story. Andre is the agent of change. Also, although one could argue that this is a love story and therefore probably a romance novel, this story is can also pass for women's fiction.

So, to summarize: the pitch to the agents is that the manuscript is women's fiction or romance (depending on what they're looking for), the story begins in the head of my female protagonist, and to top it all off, my name is not the most manly name in the world.

Ara the Barbarian? Ara the Invader? You see what I mean?

Anyway, so as I waited for my first meeting, I began shadow boxing, humming the Rocky theme, and asking myself, "Are you going to bring it? Well are you?"

With that, I entered the lion's den. I found the first agent and marched up to her.

"Hi, I'm Ara. Nice to meet you." Firm handshake. Very manly.

"Oh." Pause. "Nice to meet you too." Pause. A shy grin. "I thought you were a woman."

The first time, my eyes went wide before I grinned. By the fourth one, I was laughing, full of pride.

Why, you ask?

Because I had succeeded in effectively capturing a woman's voice in the opening pages. I had done my job as a writer -- respect the characters. The agents all said the same thing. "You've nailed it," one said. Another said, "Readers may be surprised."

To be fair, this is not an out of the world skill. Successful authors do it all the time. A famous example: JK Rowling is not a teenage boy. You get the point. This is normal and has to be done. We all do it.

But for me, this feedback was monumental. When I set out to write Game of Love, I wanted to tell Gemma's story. Not the way a guy would perceive it, but the way she would perceive her life and the challenges she faced.

I've blogged about this before, and if you don't believe me that's fine. Just believe me when I say that I believe my characters are real. They exist in my head, my thoughts and imagination. My job is to listen to them and put their words on paper, the best way I can.

It appears I did a good job of that--or at a minimum the character is credible. Now all I have to do is convince an agent and then an acquiring editor that the story I've told is a sellable one.

Fight the good fight!

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Power of Brevity - "Hot In Here"

Less is more

The concept of brevity goes beyond not repeating things, or avoiding the sin of over explaining something, or going on and on, hoping your reader will finally understand what the heck you're talking about. Brevity asks you to focus on word choice and the imagery those choices create.

A simple example to set the stage -- in "A Wanted Man" by Lee Child, Jack Reacher is given a bottle of water. Child then explains:

"...He split the seal on the bottle..."

Child could have said, "...He opened the bottle..." (yawn!) but by choosing the verb "split" and the noun "seal," he produces an image that's impossible to miss. In fact, he accomplished a few things. He shows the action and puts the reader tight into the narrator's POV by allowing the reader to actually hear the action.

My freelance editor, JJ, put me to task. Over the last few months I've been knee-deep in revisions and have taken this simple lesson to heart. The right verbs go beyond showing, they let the reader hear and experience it by pulling them in closer to the story.

It was with this in mind that the opening lyrics of a Rascal Flatts song caught my attention.

"Hot In Here" by Rascal Flatts
She jumped in my truck in her bare feet
Slid on over to the middle seat
Baby crack a window,
Crank that AC high as it can go

Let's dig in...

She jumped in my truck in her bare feet

The opening sentence should make the reader/listener ask questions and extrapolate answers. Who is she? Why is she in her bare feet? She can't be a high society woman. Poor? Or is she a young woman? He drives a truck. Small town in rural America? Maybe Let's hear more.

Slid on over to the middle seat

Beautiful use of an audible verb. Slid creates the picture we need. She must be younger -- youthful attitude to be in bare feet and slide on over. As close as she can be to him.

Baby crack a window,

She calls him "baby." Not just acquaintances. Young love? Can you hear the crack of the window? Are you in the driver's seat yet? I remember my first car and how the day's temperature expanded the windows such that the first time I rolled her down, a cracking sound would echo in my poorly insulated car.

Crank that AC high as it can go

Crank. Old truck, no touch-screens on this puppy. It must be hot outside. And it seems that when these two are together, things get hot inside. Now the image of a barefooted young woman is taking on a new meaning.

What the songwriter(s) have done is set up the world and situation. The judicious use of powerful verbs create images, produce sounds, and deliver the audience an experiential story. We can see ourselves there, we've probably lived a version of this story in one form or another.

Brevity is power. As writers, we must question if our readers can experience the sentence we've written.

Are there passages or song lyrics that with the brief use of words have created a complete scene for you? Scenes where you didn't need to be there, but you could see it all unfold in front of you?

Fight the good fight!

Monday, January 28, 2013

BETWEEN by Kerry Schafer

Kerry Schafer's debut fantasy novel, Between has the potential to bridge the non-fantasy reader to this genre.

Fantasy readers know exactly what they're getting into: a vivid world, full of imagination, creativity and a whirlwind of action, romance and betrayals.

Non-fantasy readers are okay with all of that, but the common complaint goes something like this: "Fantasy novels are long and start slow. I need a map to follow the story. I need a decoder ring to follow the powers of each character and a family tree to track the kings, the goblins, etc etc etc."

There is some truth to that. Fantasy novels are longer because one of the main characters in the story is the story world. If done well, the world will be unique and by definition, the author will have to explain the rules of the new world.

Aspiring Fantasy novelists will do well to study Between. The story starts fast. The characters are rendered completely but throughout the novel. The back story is kept in the back, but the threads that we need to understand come at you in a clean concise way. The world is developed in a digestible manner. You are not given a straw and asked to drink from the fire-hydrant.

The story is creative, deep. The characters are powerful and beautifully flawed. The world is rich and vibrant and the enemy formidable.

Not all is great, I am saddened to say. The story is a trilogy, which means that I have to wait forever to read part II, much less Part III. The waiting is not good, but what awaits in the next installments is sure to be beautifully crafted.

Finally, a word on the book cover. Having a face on the cover is always tricky. The reader's imagination is seldom the same as the publisher's. Without the context of the story and the main character, an objective person would say that the book cover is pretty. But as you read the novel, the cover converts to perfection.

I highly recommend Between, by Kerry Schafer.

Visit the author's website

Order you copy today.

Official launch, Tuesday, Jan 29th, 2013.

Fight the good fight!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


Welcome to the NEXT BIG THING Blog Hop.

What is a blog hop? Basically, it’s a way for readers to discover authors new to them. I hope you'll find new-to-you authors whose works you enjoy. On this stop on the blog hop, you'll find a bit of information on me and one of my books and links to four other authors you can explore!

My gratitude to fellow author Kerry Schafer for inviting me to participate in this event. You can click the following links to learn more about Kerry and her book. 


Buy her debut book: "Between" releasing on January 29, and available for pre-order online

In this blog hop, I and my fellow authors, in their respective blogs, have answered ten questions about our book or work-in-progress (giving you a sneak peek). We've also included some behind-the-scenes information about how and why we write what we write--the characters, inspirations, plotting and other choices we make. I hope you enjoy it.

Please feel free to comment and share your thoughts and questions. Here is my Next Big Thing!

1: What is the working title of your book?

Game of Love

2: Where did the idea come from for the book?

In May of 2010, I went to Paris on a business trip. It so happens that it was during the French Open and many of the world's best tennis pros were staying at the same hotel. Weeks before that trip, a tennis coach had told me to keep an eye on my six-year-old who had recently attended a tennis clinic. "He's got talent," I was told. With that in mind, when I sat for breakfast at the hotel, I had the privilege of meeting WTA star Dominika Cibulkova. I got to think of the challenging life-style of athletes. And worse, those who were celebrities in their own right (think Maria Sharapova). I live in LA, so I've seen the impact of the paparazzi on celebrities. Every smile, frown and blink captured by the needy. Then another thought sneaked in... do I want this for my son? The seeds of an idea had been planted.

3: What genre does your book come under?
Commercial fiction, specifically women's fiction.

4: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

That's a tough one. The main character, Gemma, will have to be one badass character. I know what her eyes should look like...

5: What is the one (or two) sentence synopsis of your book?

[Side note: every time I see the word synopsis, I break into a violent shake.]

The critic’s favorite target is a British tennis virtuoso who has yet to live up to her potential—or hype. But to master the game of tennis on the grass, she’ll first have to trust the game of love.

6: Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency?

No, No and No... but stay tuned.

7: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Seven weeks. And ever since, I've been revising and editing. My editor is nearly ready to call if done (crossing fingers).

8: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Everyone who has read my story has compared it to a movie, not a book. One of my mentors said the story and writing style is similar to Nick Hornby's--I have a hard time with that one as I'm a huge Hornby fan. Also, those who enjoyed the movie Notting Hill, will connect with the story and characters.

9: Who or what inspired you to write this book?

As mentioned in question two, the seed was planted in Paris during breakfast at the hotel. Over the following days the idea kept churning. Finally, on the return flight from Paris to Los Angeles, I wrote the opening scene on my iPad (I had just received it weeks earlier as a gift from my wife). 

The problem was that I had never considered writing a love story. I was nervous and certain that I would not be able to pull it off. Within a couple of days I was ready to give up. My wife told me to keep at it--work through it. When I was done, and found the courage to hand the first draft to my wife, I knew I had done well when I heard her crying. Good tears, I assure you.

10: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

This is a love story, but also a story about the role our professional ambitions take. It asks the question of why we willingly jump into the rat race?And if it is a race, how do we know if we've won? What do we win in the end and what do we give up in the process?


Thank you for being here. Below you will find authors who will be joining me by blog next Wednesday. Do be sure to bookmark and add them to your calendars for updates on WIPs and New Releases!

Aline Ohanesian (Website Twitter)
Gayle Carline (Website Twitter)
Jennifer Carlevatti Aderhold (Website Twitter)
Mark Koopmans (Website Twitter)

Fight the good fight!
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