Thursday, December 29, 2016

To MFA or Not To MFA Part Two

MFA in Creative Writing SignThe journey to an MFA continues. I've narrowed the low-residency programs to three:

1) Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, Vermont
2) Antioch University, Los Angeles, California
3) Warren Wilson College, Asheville North Carolina

Each program consists of two week intense residencies followed by a semester of independent study for a total of four semesters.

While I've narrowed down the field, I also want to delve deeper into each program to see if it's a true fit. Luckily each program provides opportunities for visits, information sessions, and online conversations (in case you can't make it to the college). 

Vermont College offers an incredible opportunity for interested students. Applicants can visit the school during the first week of residency in Montpelier.  Room and board is provided by the college for the time that the applicant is visiting (most applicants choose between 1 to 3 days). There is an opportunity to attend the residency workshops as well as tour with the administration. If you cannot visit the school in person, the college also has scheduled conference calls where applicants can converse directly with administration.

Antioch University offers information sessions two to three times a month (Mondays and Saturdays) on campus where interested students can visit, receive information from administration and learn more about the program. You can also schedule individual class visits and campus visits. At Antioch, if you attend an information session, you receive a waiver that waves the cost of your application ($50 USD). 

Warren Wilson is quick to reply via email when you are interested in learning more about the MFA program. I have requested additional documentation to be mailed to me and am waiting for the information to arrive (stay tuned!).

Next week, I'll be headed to Vermont College for the school visit. I look forward to keeping you posted in "The MFA or Not To MFA Part Three".  

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Twitter Pitch Contests: The Basics

If you follow people in the writing community on Twitter, you may have noticed some of them participating in Twitter pitch contests. These are organized a few times a year and are an opportunity to pitch your work to agents and editors (some of whom are closed to queries, so you might not be able to pitch them another way!).

Twitter pitching can seem intimidating at first. Once you get the hang of it, though, it can fun and beneficial—just ask the writers who've signed with agents or publishers thanks to a well-crafted tweet.

Here are six basic rules for Twitter contests.

1. Take the time to craft your pitches.
Don't make the mistake of thinking that because the pitches are short, they'll be quick and easy to dash off. In fact, it can be much harder to come up with 140-character pitches for your book than longer ones. You'll usually want to come up with a number of different pitches, too, since Twitter doesn't allow you to tweet the same thing twice (and you'll want to try out different angles to see which ones get more bites).

Here are some good resources to help you write your pitches:
Dan Koboldt's Brief Guide to Twitter Pitching
Literary agent Carly Watters' Guide to Twitter Pitch Contests
How to Win a Twitter Pitch Contest from Writer Unboxed

2. Follow the rules.
Each Twitter pitch contest is hosted by someone, and they'll have a post up with the rules for that particular contest. This is where you'll find out things like how many pitches you can do total, how often you can pitch, and what types of manuscripts are included in the contest.

Don't be the jerk who thinks they're above the rules. People who pitch too often get noticed by contest organizers and industry professionals—and not in a good way.

3. Use the hashtag(s).
Every Twitter pitch contest will have a unique hashtag that marks the pitches as part of the contest. These will generally be short to give you as much room for your actual pitch as possible. Some examples include #pitmad (Pitch Madness), #WVTP (Writer's Voice Twitter Pitch), and #DVPit (Diverse Pitch, designed to showcase work that's about and/or by marginalized voices).

You can also use additional hashtags, like #YA for young adult, #SF for sci-fi, #R for romance, etc. These can help agents and editors filter the contest feed. Don't get carried away, though—you need to leave room for the specifics of your pitch.

4. Support others.
One of the best things about these kind of contests is finding pitches that sound intriguing and connecting with other writers. If you see pitches you like, most contests allow retweeting or quoting those pitches to increase their visibility. An important note: don't favorite pitches you like, because this is normally the way agents and editors indicate their interest. It's a terrible letdown to see that favorite notification and then realize it's just a fellow contest participant.

5. Do your homework.
You're not under any obligation to submit your work to anyone who favorites your pitch. Take the time to research agents and editors who request. If you see red flags, trust your gut.

6. Don't take it too seriously.
Twitter contests can be a lot of fun, but they're just one more way to get eyes on your pitch. Even if you don't get requests, you can still query the agents who participated in the contest. It's often a lot easier to hook someone's interest with a full query than a one or two line pitch.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Write a book by writing letters.

I have posted this tip before - when writing pretend to write to someone you know - by the way, this was one of Stephen King's ideas.  The idea is that writing a letter can help you keep the audience in mind and really connect with them.  Pretty neat trick, eh?!

Well, over the past year, I've come across a few examples of this and thought the books were pretty cool. Perhaps the best example I've seen of this is so far was in the children's book, Unusual Chickens For The Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones.

This book was a fun read and was written entirely out of a series of a few letters. I really enjoyed the freshness of this book and others like it.   Hmm, maybe these writers on to something.  Can't wait to try it out now!!!

Happy writing . . . and of course reading!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Top Reads of 2016

Another year down, another mountain of books devoured.

I'm a nerd and get an unnecessary amount of satisfaction from tallying my book count for the year and comparing it to previous years. With three weeks left in in 2016, I'm pleased to say that I've read fifty six books--eleven more than the forty-five I read last year. And I think I'll finish at least another one to two before year end. Huzzah!

In addition to bragging rights, reading lots of books means I get to recommend lots of books. And it's that time of year. 

Without further ado, here are my top reads of 2016 by category, in no particular order. All of them were good if they made my list, but the ones noted with a ** are not to be missed (IMHO.)

Historical Fiction

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah** 
The story follows two sisters as they struggle to survive in Nazi-occupied France. This was easily my favorite read of the year.
Salt to Sea by Ruta Sepetys**
I loved Between Shades of Gray so my expectations were high, but Sepetys second historical fiction didn't disappoint. Inspired by the single greatest tragedy in maritime history, Sepetys introduces us to well imagined characters struggling to hold onto hope (and their lives), while weaving in the events of a shockingly little-known event in World War II.
Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse
Described as Code Name Verity meets Gone Girl. The description slightly over promises, but I enjoyed the fast pace, the Nazi-occupied Amsterdam setting, and the relateability of the MC.
Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez
Set in a small East Texas town in 1937 where race is just one of the many dividing lines. This book received loads of early critical acclaim, and for good reason. It is as beautifully written as it is heartbreaking. 


Scrappy Little Nobody, by Anna Kendrick  
Full of snark, laughs and showbiz growing pains. If you are an Anna Kendrick fan, you will be an even bigger one after reading this.
Girl Walks Into a Bar, by Rachel Dratch
I loved reading about Dratch's improv days and her time at Saturday Night Live. I'm a former improv geek and actually studied at the same Chicago theaters as Dratch (Second City and IO) so it was fun to hear her talk about her time there. But what really makes the book is Dratch's personal journey.
The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer*
If you are an Amy Schumer fan, be prepared to love her even more. Her memoir is funny at times and surprisingly honest and heartfelt at others. I especially loved hearing about her comedic perseverance. There's a lesson for everyone trying to break into a creative industry--you need thick skin and a never-give-up attitude if you want to be successful. 


Before the Fall by Noah Hawley
Scott Burroughs, a down-on-his-luck painter, hitches a ride on a private jet flying from Martha's Vineyard to New York. Sixteen minutes after takeoff, the plane and all but two of it's passengers - Scott and the son of two wealthy passengers - disappear into the ocean. Filled with twists and turns, this story will keep you guessing right up until the end.

I'm currently listening to Dear Amy, by Helen Callaghan, and if it continues at its current pace it will likely get a place in my 2016 Thriller section as well.

Middle Grade

Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan
The story interweaves several tales together - from WWII Germany to Depression-Era Philadelphia - all connected by a harmonica. The unique format and heart warming story rightfully won the 2016 Newberry Honor Award.
The School for Good and Evil (The School for Good and Evil, #1)
Every few years, two children are kidnapped from the village of Gavaldon and forced to attend the fabled School for Good and Evil, where kids are trained to become the things of fairytales. A fun read for any age.
11 Birthdays (Willow Falls, #1) by Wendy Mass
Described as Groundhog Day meets Flipped--Amanda must relive her eleventh birthday until she can get it right and break the curse.
A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd

This book is a perfect example of how to successfully develop a fun, charismatic MG voice. Twelve-year-old Felicity tries to bring the magic back to Midnight Gulch and mend her mother's broken heart so that they can finally call one place home.

Fantasy & SciFi

Replica by Lauren Oliver
Oliver is one of my favorite authors, and her latest release did not disappoint. After an attack on the Haven Institute - a military-run covert facility that clones hundreds of children - Lyra, a clone, escapes and bumps into Gemma - a girl with surprising ties to Haven's secret past.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Because it's a play, it lacks some of the colorful world building you expect from a J.K. Rowling novel. But once I got used to the format I really enjoyed it--it was great to see familiar characters and meet some new ones along the way. And I love that Harry Potter grows up to be a father struggling to raise and understand his children--just like any other father, magical or muggle.
An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes, #1) by Sabaa Tahir**
A Torch Against the Night (An Ember in the Ashes, #2) by Sabaa Tahir**
This series will likely end up ranking up there with Daughter of Smoke and Bone for me, which is high praise. An Ember in the Ashes was my February YA book pick. You can read the full review here. Book two is just as good as book one, and book three can't come out fast enough.
The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
After spying on her father, Faith discovers his secret--a tree growing in a dark cave. Tell the tree a lie, and a fruit will grow. Eat the fruit, and it will reveal something true. The greater the falsity and the further it spreads, the greater the secret the tree will reveal. But Faith soon discovers that learning the truth is not always worth the cost.
Alive (The Generations Trilogy, #1)by Scott Sigler
Alight (The Generations Trilogy, #2) by Scott Sigler
This Sci-Fi series gets better with each book. It starts with M, a teenage girl who wakes up in a coffin with no memory of how she got there. She soon discovers more kids like her, and the fight to learn how they came to arrive in the coffins becomes a fight for survival. I can't share details of Alight without giving away the plot to Alive, but I will say that the ending to Alight (book 2) is one of the best cliffhangers EVER.
The Raven King (The Raven Cycle, #4) by Maggie Stiefvater* 
If you've been following this blog for a while you know about my obsession with Maggie Stiefvater and her The Raven Boys Series. The final book in Steiefvater's epic series is all the things I wanted and needed. I had a book hangover for at least a month afterward.


Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero* 
Gabi chronicles her last year in high school: college applications, Cindy's pregnancy, Sebastian's coming out, boys, her father's meth habit.  If I were giving out an award for best voice, this would be the winner of the 2016 prize. Funny, poignant and heartbreaking all at once--I found it hard not to cheer (and sometimes cry) for Gabi.
Life by Committee, by Corey Ann Haydu
Tab discovers a note in the margin of a book that leads her to LBC (Life By Committee.) The rules are simple: share a secret, complete the challenge, find comradely with the other members of the site. Fail to complete the assignment, and your secrets get revealed. At first, Tab believes the assignments are helping her to become a braver, happier version of herself. Until they threaten to tear her family apart.
Me Before You (Me Before You, #1) by Jojo Moyes*
If you're thinking of skipping the book in favor of the movie, don't. The movie does not hold a candle to the book. But regardless, have the tissues ready. This book will break your heart in all the right places.

Monday, December 12, 2016


Note from Triona: Since my current WIP is upper MG rather than my usual YA, I've been immersing myself in the world of MG lately. So I'm cheating a little with this month's YA Book Pick and making it an almost-YA book pick instead!

Once a month, we choose an outstanding YA book to review. We want to spotlight books of interest to aspiring writers, as well as highlight some of our favorite books and authors!

This month's book pick is THE ADVENTURER'S GUIDE TO SUCCESSFUL ESCAPES by Wade Albert White.

Synopsis (from Goodreads): A thrilling debut novel where fantasy and science fiction meet, dragons aren't as innocent as they look, and nothing is quite what it seems.

Anne has spent most of her thirteen years dreaming of the day she and her best friend Penelope will finally leave Saint Lupin's Institute for Perpetually Wicked and Hideously Unattractive Children. When the big day arrives, a series of very curious happenings lead to Anne being charged with an epic quest. Anne, Penelope, and new questing partner Hiro have only days to travel to strange new locales, solve myriad riddles, and triumph over monstrous foes—or face the horrible consequences.

Packed with action, humor, and endless heart, this debut novel marks the first volume in an irresistible and original fantasy series.

First Line: "At Saint Lupin's Institute for Perpetually Wicked and Hideously Unattractive Children, every orphan is treated with the same amount of disdain and neglect."

This is a great first line because it clearly telegraphs what type of book you're about to read—funny and irreverent.

Highlights: The book featured several things I absolutely love: interesting fantasy elements, humor, action/adventure that kept me turning the pages quickly to find out what was going to happen, and a really cool twist at the end that turned it all on its head.

One of my other favorite things about the book was that it features a diverse protagonist—but the story isn't about her diversity. That doesn't seem like it should be such an unusual thing, but I haven't encountered it much in my reading.

Notes for Writers: The reader is rooting for the main character of this book, Anne (short for Anvil), from page one. If you're looking for an example of how to create a likable protagonist, this is a great one.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

To MFA or Not To MFA?

I've been really lucky. I have a fantastic critique group based out of San Diego Writers Ink. It's a group that meets once a week and is led by a seasoned facilitator. But while I've seen significant improvement in my writing, I can't help but think, should I take the next step? Should I apply to an MFA? If I do take this step, is it the right step? 

Vermont College of Fine Arts

1) Opportunity to engage with like minded individuals 
2) Structured time to learn craft 
3) Continuous feedback from seasoned writers

Not To MFA:

1) Significant cost
2) Significant time commitment
3) May require relocation

Each of these issues is critical to deciding whether an MFA is right for you. One of my initial concerns was the need to relocate full time but nowadays there are low residency MFAs that give you the opportunity to hone your craft through intense one week residencies followed by a semester of self-created study. 

I know what you're thinking. "But that isn't real immersion?" Yes and no. Sure, you aren't seeing your professors or other students on a daily basis, but writing is an exercise done mostly in solitude. The bonus of a low residency MFA is that you are in constant communication with your faculty advisor who only has a handful of students to focus on (not a classroom of 50). 

In my case, I was to focus on one project and see it through. This would be a great opportunity for me to be able to experiment in a safe environment (and for less cost than a full time residency MFA). 

Low residency MFAs are gaining wider traction and recognition these days. For a list of the top five low residency programs, click here

It's not easy. There is still the lengthy application process. Wish me luck!