Guest Host Day!

Hi everyone!  I’m A. Grey.  ‘A’ is for Artemis, but it seemed a bit
high drama so I shortened it.  The lovely Christi asked if I would
guest host on her blog for a day so here I am! *wiggles with
excitement at being asked to quest host*  I met Christi when she guest
hosted over at Pimp My Novel last year
and we’ve been lurking on each
others’ blogs ever since.

Alright, nitty-gritty details… I write YA, everything from fantasy
to contemporary, although I’ve got a serious soft spot for dystopian.
I’ve only had two short stories published and I haven’t snagged an
agent yet, but oh what fun I’ve had so far on this strange and winding
road to becoming what I call a ‘commercially published’ author!  Maybe
I can make you smile with some of the things I’ve experienced, but
mostly I hope you’ll go away from here and look for a pen or computer
and start pounding out a book that one day someone will squee over in
a bookstore 🙂

So to begin…

I think that I started out backwards.  Most writers set out right
from the start with the goal of getting published.  For the first five
years that I obsessively wrote, I insisted to everyone who mentioned
publication that I never wanted to be published.  Looking back, I
think this was because I understood – without really understanding
what it was that I understood – that in order to get published, you
have to give your stories away, on some level.      

I was a big oral storyteller when I was a kid.  We used to spend
hours sitting around the campfire telling ghost stories.  Many of them
were made up on the spot and involved horses that had passed away or
long-dead soldiers who had purportedly stayed in the house (once a
Revolution era tavern) where our riding instructor lived.  But the
stories I wrote down were always my own, secret havens to which I
could return to for escape.  It took me a long time to grow into
wanting to share those stories, to decide that I was willing to cast
them out into the wilderness that is ‘public domain’ where anyone can
read them.

So I wrote, uh, a herd of high fantasy books… I wrote one, then a
second, third, fourth, and I started a fifth.  I knew where the story
was going, I knew the characters (all, like, nine of them, each with
their own POV) and I knew the world.  Anything else?  Well, who needs
to know anything else?  Yeah, face/palm.  And hell yes I queried that
first book!  Like three dozen times.  And, big surprise, the suckage
was rejected by all.  But ‘suckage’ doesn’t mean ‘trash’.  I still
have all those books.  I’ve heavily revised the first two, turning the
series YA (which it already was, it just didn’t know it yet)
consolidating the POV to mostly one character (it was her story
anyhow) and basically just utilizing everything I’ve learned since I
started them, to try and better them.

Meanwhile, I began and worked on numerous other projects, got two
short stories written and published, entered a few contests, and
didn’t win.  But I did get some feedback from judges, and I eagerly
gobbled up what they had to say.

When I look back now at those first books, I belly laugh at my own
blissful ignorance.  But I do it in the way that an adult wolf might
watch a pup yanking on the leg of a moose carcass.  The pup doesn’t
know that the moose – in life – could crush it with one kick, but the
pup also doesn’t know that one day, with the help of it’s pack mates,
it will be able to bring down such a creature.  The pup only knows
that the moose leg tastes good!  That’s the way I look at writers who
write for love of writing.  They just know that it’s what they want.
Everything else, they figure out as they go.  We grow and develop and
eventually find a place in our own pack of agents, editors, publishers
and fans, and then together we take down the moose that is the
publishing industry!  Um, yeah, I’m an outdoorsy type, so my analogies
are too…

 So, onward!  I wrote a book.  Yeah, another one.  I guess, really, it
wrote me.  I was just doing my high fantasy thing and *WHACK!*
Cheez-it!  Well, in my case, Book!  This girl showed up in my head and
she was from my world, but life as I knew it no longer existed.  She
was ill-tempered, golden-hearted, fiercely independent, and she
preferred life without underwear. Seriously there are innuendos of the
first line in there.  I had to tell her story.  Thusly, my dystopian
YA, EVERNOW, was born.  I wrote Evernow in about a month, then spent a month revising it and struggled with writing queries for a week or two.

Finally, I started sending them out.  I think I sent the first two
out in November of 2009.  One was rejected immediately.  The other
resulted in a request for the full ms.  *KILL ME NOW THEY REQUESTED
THE FULL!* Not only that, it was a ‘big’ agent.  Oh, I thought I’d
die.  We exchanged several emails, and while in the end he declined to
rep me, he praised my writing, and my voice (that elusive ‘voice’) and
his choice to decline was actually pretty cool.  See, he had a client
working on something similar, and he felt torn, even drawn to me over
them, so he chose them.  Which somehow made me love him despite the
rejection.

I queried again.  And again.  And some more.  Some responses were
straight form rejections, others requests, then rejections.  The more
I queried, the more I tweaked Evernow, and revised it.  The rejections
started to have more compliments in them.  And I started to hate the
word ‘but’.

It’s a funny thing.  When we start out, we respond to form rejections
with hair-rending wails of “WHY?  I swear I’ll fix it if you just tell
me what to fix!”

Then you move on to the less irritating ‘Just not for me’ rejections
and you get hopeful.  “Ok, so whatever.  Someone out there WILL think
it’s just for them!”

And finally you get to the ‘Your writing is
strong/commercial/moving/engaging/polished/insertbutterytermhere, BUT’

It doesn’t really matter what comes after the ‘but’.  At least not for
the first few hours after you read the rejection.  I even rejected
myself once, before realizing that I was being asked for a full,
because the agent had used the word ‘but’ and I zoned out as soon as I
got to that word.  My brother still teases me over that.

While all this drama was going on, I kept writing.  I wrote a
contemporary YA, from a guy’s point of view, and plotted other books.
I entered a few contests, and didn’t win anything.  I went to the
Sirens Conference, twice, and met a squeeable number of other writers
and authors and had a ridiculous amount of fun with them.  I wrote,
and I lived, I lived and I wrote.  And I kept learning.

I also kept getting rejected, but it started to not matter quite as
much.  It was as if I’d rediscovered that me who had insisted they
would never be published.  I reaffirmed that I didn’t need to be
published, I wanted to be published, which is a very important
distinction.  The primary reason I want to get published, is because I
want my stories to positively affect young people the way I was
positively affected by the books I read – hence my choice to write YA.

After that, I’d love to make just enough money to let me write at
least most of the time, if not all the time.  But if I live to be a
hundred and never hit the ‘big time’, I’ll die happy, so long as I
write until my fingers can’t hold a pen any longer.  And should it
come to that, I don’t want people to remember me as ‘that poor woman
who wrote her whole life and never got published’ I want them to
remember me as ‘that woman who spent her whole life writing and loved
every minute of it’.

Right now I’m in the middle of a companion novel to Evernow, set many
years after the original story, but with cameos by a few of Evernow’s
characters.  I’ve got a few queries out (I still dance around with
‘send regret’ each time one goes out, fearing that I’ll find a mistake
after the fact) and I’m working to revise the contemporary YA so I can
query it.  I’ve rewritten the entire ending of Evernow (gotta love
those characters who show up late and then change everything) and the
story is stronger than it’s ever been.  It might not be ‘the one’ that
lands me an agent, but it’ll always be a huge one as far as my
development goes.

That’s the thing with writers.  We never quite ever grow up, never
quite ever get to where we’re going, and we don’t really want to,
because that’s what writing is all about.  A journey, an infinite
roadway that winds and dips, clings to cliff edges and breaches
mountaintops so high you can scrape your knuckles on the stars, and we
just keep building the road as we go, dragging our readers along with
us for the ride.

Now, no matter where you are in your writing journey, go find a pen,
some paper, someone’s arm, or a computer (if you must go techno on me) and write some more people!  Write write write! 

And never ever give up!

And then hit me up at my blog Grey Places http://greyplaces.blogspot.com

or on Facebook username Artemis Grey
and tell me how you’re doing!

Answers to the Q and A…Finally!

Thank you to all who participated in this post asking questions you had about me.

Here are my answers.

Elle Strauss asked a few (I’ll separate to make for easier reading)

I wouldn’t mind hearing more about writing for TV–what is the story structure for that like?

Writing television commercials demands you write incredibly tight and pay special attention to word choice. You have only thirty seconds (sometimes sixty) to convey information about the product/service the client is selling, why it’s better than comparable products out there, why customers should choose your client’s business to purchase said product/service over comparable ones out there, and the business location. Usually a call to action is thrown in for good measure (“Stop in today!”) 

As a result, unnecessary words mean wasted time. Don’t use three when one will do. An exception to this is the commercials that are repetitive on purpose—the ones designed to drill a location, phone number, or name of a product in your head.

Also, extra words and information means the voice talent will have to rush, which rarely sounds good and usually irritates the editor.

There are two main types of commercials, ones that give out information, and ones that give a testimony.

Informational gives tons of information about the product or service. (Extended versions are called infomercials). These are easier to do and usually involve video and description of the product/service.

Testimonial is where past customers talk about how good the product or service has been for them. This type is a favorite of car dealerships and funeral homes.

To create a testimonial you or the client finds customers willing to talk about their experience and put them in front of the camera. If they are articulate just ask them leading questions designed to get the information you want to portray. If they aren’t, you’ll have to write out what you want them to say. If they can memorize this “script” then just roll camera, if they can’t you have to hold up their “script” off camera and have them read it.

*Note, lots of people you see doing testimonials are actually paid actors who’ve never used the product/service.

Both types of commercials are usually ended with an endboard. This is a blank screen (or sometimes a shot of the actual business location…like the outside of a building) to which you add the client’s logo, contact information, and sometimes any specials going on (big sales, new location, etc)

As far as script structure, you have to lay out both the audio and the video on the same page. This is done by taking a paper, dividing it in half vertically, and then putting video shots alongside the accompanying audio.  For reasons I’ve never really understood, the audio is written in allcaps.

I’ll include a script I wrote a few years ago to show this (hiding the name of the restaurant of course). Also, I can’t get the audio to line up properly on this post, but just know that on a “real” script there is a line running down between the audio and video.

VIDEO                                             AUDIO

Exterior shot                               START A NEW FAMILY TRADITION THIS 

Interior shot                                THANKSGIVING WITH ?  RESTAURANT.

 Shots of plates                           CHOOSE FROM THE FINEST              

                                                          SELECTION  OF  TURKEY, HAM,

                                                           STUFFING, AND POTATOES.

 Shot of bar, salads                     BROWSE THE COMPLETE SALAD BAR…

  wait staff/cooks                           FROM TOSSED, CAESAR, AND PASTA 

 will present food                          SALAD… TO FRESH FRUIT…AND

                                                             EVERYTHING IN-BETWEEN…YOU’RE

shot of waitress putting           SURE TO FIND SOMETHING FOR

plates at table, reaction shot   EVERYONE IN YOUR FAMILY.  

 of kid smiling                               

  shots of bakery area               PLUS, CHOOSE FROM THE WIDE

                                                          VARIETY OF FRESH BAKED BREADS AND

                                                          ROLLS…

 shots of pie case/plates         AND DON’T FORGET DESSERT!

 Endboard w/contact info     OPEN 11 TO 5… RESERVATIONS ARE

                                                          RECOMMENDED, CALL ? TODAY.

See the call to action at the end?

I wonder if it could be used for short story writing?

I’m not a short story writer, so I’m not familiar with that storyline structure. I’m sure parts could be applied such as tight writing and making your word choice really deliberate.

What TV show did you write for?

It was a weekly, local realty show that ran on a CBS affiliate in Minnesota. I was the head writer/producer from its inception in 2002 and held that position until I left to have my twins in 2005.

Getting a new show off the ground was one of the hardest times in my television career, but also one of the most rewarding.

Our department (Creative Services) was given a half hour time slot, a list of realtors, and a general idea of what was expected by the client. Oh, and we had about two weeks until it hit air. 

Yep, nothing says stress like creating a show out of thin air. And one that has to satisfy over 40 realtors, the owner of the realty company, and also utilize a simple enough format to be completely pulled apart and put back together week after week, month after month, and hopefully if they like it enough, year after year. Plus, it had to be fluid enough to allow last-minute changes.

But, as is common in times of extreme stress, our department all pulled together to get this puppy going.

Once the host segments were written, myself and the cameraman spent the entire day shooting said host segments. I should note here that these segments should have taken only around 2 hours, but the host thought himself a bit of a comedian and would blow takes on purpose just to get a joke in. Then, I finally figured out he hadn’t memorized the script so I had to write out what he was supposed to say in big-ass letters and hold it to the side of the camera.

Thankfully most shots were inside the house, but a few had to be outside. In the middle of a Minnesota winter. My cameraman’s hands got so cold they actually turned blue. (He had to operate various buttons on the camera so he needed his fingers free) Yet, the host/fake comedian kept screwing around.

Yep, after that day I believe I had some drinks after work. Same for when we had to reshoot for second season. Repeat for third.

Then once the host segments were done, I worked with over 40 agents, figuring out what each one wanted to accomplish with their time slot (they could feature a house or themselves). I wrote scripts for each and then sat in an edit bay for days on end, double checking every single last detail.

Because there was plenty of possibilities for error.

And if there was an error it was my ass on the line.

So, I listened as voice talent voiced my scripts, fed graphics info and picture order to the editor, communicated our progress with the sales department, and watched the entire show get dubbed to tape—stopping everything when I needed to make corrections. Then I would watch from home on pins and needles every single week, panicked that somehow, somewhere, something would go wrong.

Every single thing had to be perfect because there is no “do overs” once a show hits the air.

In summary, producing a show is fun sometimes. Sometimes it’s not.

But it’s always interesting. And you definitely don’t sit at a desk, bored off your you know what, watching the clock :).

Ramblings from the Left asked…

What was the inspiration for your first book? 

Great question!  I was on a very long road trip (driving from Green Bay, Wisconsin to Seattle, Washington) with dear hubby. Around the middle of Montana I started whining about how long the trip was taking, why couldn’t it go faster, blah blah blah, when suddenly it hit me…it used to take travelers two days to go as far as we were going in one hour.  Then I started thinking about how everything they owned went with them, either by horseback or wagon.

So, I whipped out my notebook (of course I had a notebook!) and wrote this…

“Fantastic idea just occurred to me in light of this journey we are taking. Write a book about a young woman who experiences growing up under a prairie lifestyle. Start with her standing at the doorway of the home they are about to leave—with the wind blowing in her skirts. She travels with another family (which includes an older, single man). She wants to head West, for the better opportunities out there for farming.”

I then turned the page and did complete character descriptions of both the female and male lead. The next pages I laid out my tentative storyline. The next page I started writing Chapter One.

And that is how my first novel was born.

The novels that followed were much more organized during the planning phase, but I have to say this one has remained my favorite for how the idea just came to me.

A. Grey asked the following…

Have you ever seen a waterlogged donkey?

No, but it sounds amazing and if you have I’d love to see pictures :).

Now that you’ve written a historically based book, are you settled in that genre? Would you/are you writing anything else is any other genre?

I’ve always loved history, and really enjoy going back in time and inserting my characters into real life.

I’ve written two novels based in that time frame (1840’s Oregon), and I have an outline for a novel taking place in Oregon in the late 1800’s, after the trail closes and people are fighting for land.

I also have a detailed outline for a novel based in both Virginia and England in the 1820’s-30’s.

Plus, I’ve got a storyline roaming around my head that takes place during the time of the Underground Railroad.

Do you think that an as-of-yet-unpublished author should restrict themselves to only one genre? Or is it okay to explore whatever feels right? 

I would say go for it! After all, trying new things is how you learn and grow as a writer, and as a person.

Thank you all for asking such great questions!

Author and Prizes Revealed!

The award-winning author hosting my blog on November 3rd is…Maureen Smith!

Congratulations (and an awesome prize–a signed copy of one of Maureen’s books) go to A. Grey for being the first one to correctly guess her identity!

Maureen will share her journey to publication, including how she landed her agent, Jessica Faust of BookEnds. She’s also looking forward to answering your questions.

And, I have prizes! 

Everyone who asks a question will have their name thrown into a basket. Then, my twins will each pick a name. First name gets a signed copy of one of Maureen’s books, and the second name gets a *critique*  from Maureen!

Now that you know who she is, start thinking of questions.  And yes, more than one question gets you more than one entry for the prizes.

Email me your questions by Monday at 9pm (Pacific Standard Time) to be included in the drawing.

Here are a few links to get you thinking…

Her biography

Her books 

Her news and features

Maureen has a new release coming up in November so you could ask questions about that process too.

I’m not going to set up a point system for spreading the word about this contest, but I’d really appreciate if you could tell your writer friends!

(*We are still working to determine the scale and depth of the critique. I’ll update with exact details later.)