Pitchwars Bio

Hello, Pitchwars!

Welcome to my corner of the #pimpmybio Blog Hop! For those unfamiliar, Pitchwars is a Twitter contest for writers. Writers with a completed, polished manuscript can submit a query and sample pages to a select few potential mentors out of an impressive list of candidates – professionals in the writing world – and if chosen by one, will receive the benefit of their guidance through a process of revision. The goal is a polished-to-a-shine manuscript to put in front of the agents in the next round. It’s an amazing opportunity to make connections and friends in the writing community, and receive the benefit of top-notch counseling on your work! You can have a look at the other hopeful mentees on the blog hop here.

Last year was my first attempt, and I was not chosen as a mentee. I was disappointed, but I received some extremely beneficial feedback and advice, simply because I entered. It reignited my determination, and I wrote a new novel, and learned a lot about writing along the way. I’d be crazy to pass up the opportunity to unite with this amazing community, learn something new, and let it light a fire under me to keep going, keep writing, keep polishing.

Now, let’s get down to business. Allow me to introduce my YA Fantasy, Truth Cursed.

The Pitch:

When Cressida is given a potion by her aunts that compels her to always speak the truth, she is determined to overcome the curse at any cost. But she is forced to live with it in secret, even while being trained at boarding school to spy on her kingdom’s royal family. Her sword-fighting and combat skills make her a valuable member of the team of girls selected to embark on their first mission at the mountain castle, but as the court intrigue thickens and the danger closes in, she finds that her curse is an obstacle that cannot be ignored.

A little extra background, and a few things I love about Truth Cursed:

Cressida is orphaned at the age of eight, and sent to live with her two strict aunts. As a punishment, and crude form of rehabilitation after Cressida tells one lie too many, her aunts dose her with a truth powder. The effects of this powder compel her to tell the truth whenever she is asked a direct question. They do not fade or lessen with time, and she experiences life-threatening symptoms whenever she tries to resist.

As a teenager, Cressida fumbles with the often embarrassing and hurtful effects of the truth curse at boarding school. She does everything in her power to minimize it when she is given the opportunity to become a spy, and potentially avenge her family. In spite of her attempts to keep her acquaintances at arm’s length, she must learn to trust when they are sent to the palace of the royals on a mission.

Of course, hijinks ensue at the palace, and Cressida must work closely with a handsome and mysterious contact, who is a little too observant. Their romance is of the heart-squeezing, slow-burn variety, but not one that undermines the deep female friendships that run through the heart of the story.

The spies’ investigation is a dangerous game that leads Cressida to deeper questions and darker secrets, and an ever-increasing urgency to find the truth.

Throughout this story, I explore how Cressida’s resentful relationship with forced honesty has shaped her, and how she fights to become the truest version of herself in spite of it. She finds that the curse brings with it consequences far beyond physical pain. Despite the fact that she must guard herself against all possible vulnerability, Cressida’s resilience remains a force of light and optimism.

What sort of help am I seeking?

In general, I’m excited about the fresh perspective that a mentor could offer, but I have a few specific trouble spots as well.

World-building and Length: I’ve combined these points, because while I feel the need for richer world-building (not always my strong suit – Character and Plot steal my focus), I’m also struggling with a somewhat high word-count (103,000). Adding details would enrich my world, but it’s also a good way to make my word-count skyrocket even more. I’m hoping for a mentor who will help me see what scenes are trimmable darlings, and where I could add some world-immersing details.

Clarity: My mystery becomes a tad bit complicated as it unravels. This excites me as much as it unnerves me. I want the denouement to be as clear as possible to make way for the reader to enjoy the revelations as they unfold.

Characterization: I love my characters, and welcome every suggestion for a detail or moment that will add depth and growth to their journeys.

A little bit about me:

I’m a friendly, awkward nerd who graduated with a bachelor’s in English Literature. I met my wonderful husband/bestie in college (and he happens to be an expert on medieval history, warfare, and weaponry – a significant advantage for a writer!). I’m a stay-at-home mom to three small children, and, obviously, I write whenever possible. I recently had a short story published in a delightful online fairy tale magazine called Enchanted Conversation. I love fairy tales, and they often influence my work, whether directly or indirectly.

In the other free time that I manage to snatch, I love to read, watch tv shows (historicals like Turn, Downton Abbey, Poldark, and any old period drama the BBC comes up with, comedies such as The Office, Parks and Rec, New Girl will never get old, and random yet lovable stuff like Doctor Who, The Vampire Diaries, The Flash, Firefly, Merlin, and Once Upon a Time, to name a handful). I love Jane Austen, and my favorite film adaptations are the BBC (Colin Firth!!) Pride and Prejudice, and the Emma Thompson Sense and Sensibility. ❤

In no particular order, books that I love are the Harry Potter series and the Cormoran Strike Series by J.K. Rowling, most books by Neil Gaiman (but especially Stardust), The Chronicles of Narnia and other books of C.S. Lewis, The Princess Bride by William Goldman, stories of J.R.R. Tolkien, Ella Enchanted and other fairy tale renderings by Gail Carson Levine, His Fair Assassins trilogy by Robin LaFevers, The Goose Girl and Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow, and Princess of the Midnight Ball (and sequels) by Jessica Day George, The Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy by Rae Carson, Beauty by Robin McKinley,  The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss – to name a handful.

If you’ve read this far, I’m grateful and amazed!!

Thank you for dropping by and getting to know me and my writing a little bit. ❤ Angie

Knight of the Sun, Moon, and Stars

Here it is! My short story has been published. For those interested in reading, it, I’d like to offer some context. I discovered this online publication, Enchanted Conversation, and became engrossed in the stories and poetry it offered. As writing is something that I do quite a lot of (and I love fairy tales!) I decided I wanted to try to submit a story.

Each issue of the magazine features a different fairy tale theme, usually a rather obscure tale, and writers are invited to submit a work inspired by that tale. This month’s issue was challenging. The tale “Donkeyskin,” and its sister-stories are of a specific and strange genre of fairy tale (the one I chose is called “Cat-Skin,” which you can read here if you’re interested in my primary source material). This family of tales reminded me of one that I read when I was a child, which (in its cleaned-up-for-children form), both fascinated and confused me. I remember wanting more out of the story, so when I came across this theme, I decided not to pass up the opportunity to create that myself.

The challenge lay not only in the odd elements of the story that I needed to somehow work into my version, but also in the cringe-y inciting incident (a king is intent on marrying his own daughter). The length of each short story submission is limited to 3,000 words, which I found difficult to stay below, but ultimately, I think it works for the genre.

Fairy tales are unabashedly absurd, feeling no need to explain themselves, and unapologetically magical. They have a perplexing way of feeling at once, distant – very long ago and far away – and yet also fully immersing. I hope I achieved all of that in “Knight of the Sun, Moon, and Stars,” based on “Cat-Skin,” by the Brothers Grimm. (You can go to the home page to view all the other stories and poems in this issue!)

Published!

My short story, “Knight of the Sun, Moon, and Stars” is my first work to be published, and will be featured in Enchanted Conversation at the end of June. Seeing my name listed among the authors to be published was an incredible feeling, enhanced by the excited grin on my toddler’s face as she smiled into my eyes and asked over and over, “You happy, Mama? You happy?”

Each issue of this magazine has a different fairy tale theme, and writers are invited to submit work that is inspired by a specific tale. I loved having a theme to challenge me and ignite the story, and I hope to write many more using such prompts.

Fairy tales, as I’ve written about before because I love reading and writing them, are so freeing within their parameters. There’s a challenge to stay true to the story, no matter how strange, but freedom to decide how you would prefer to see it unfold.

When I write a novel, I know I have to do it in measured doses. It may feel like a frantic flurry of intense work at times, but the goal has been broken down into stages. When I write a short story, it is in a condensed storm of urgent writing. I have to get the entire idea down in one sitting before I forget what I want to capture. It makes the experience exhausting (especially as I don’t have long periods of quiet time at my disposal right now and need to work quickly), but ultimately satisfying. Because of the block of time required, and the intensity of the first draft writing period, I attempt this sort of writing less often. I would love to do more of it, though.

I wrote “Knight of the Sun, Moon, and Stars” in a whirl of excited, forceful concentration, and I’m so thankful for the chance to share it through a delightful publication oozing with love for fairy tales. I cannot wait for you to read it!

One Word at a Time

I love to examine all the ways my writing has grown over the years. So, I’m going to share just a little bit about my writing journey, the methods that I’ve been developing over time, and how I’d like to improve upon them.

Book 1: Huntress

When I began my first manuscript in earnest, I was a new mom. As my son happily rolled and gurgled about on my living room floor, I sat next to him in front of my old laptop with a broken keyboard, and a MacGyver set-up of an even older desktop-keyboard and mouse set in front of it, and I wrote. It was painfully slow going (and the baby liked to bang on the keyboard, probably because it made his mom shriek), but I was doing it. Being the technological genius that I am, I lost about half of that manuscript, and spent a few painful months wallowing and wondering if I could ever pick up the pieces of my story again.

Long story short, I did, (and I tattooed “BACK UP YOUR WORK” on the inside of my eyelids) but by the time I was ready to commit to it again, I’d had another baby and was a busy mom to two young children. I needed to be more disciplined, and I found that the unearthly ruckus that a toddler and a baby can make are entirely unconducive to creative thinking. So, I carved out quiet time to write during naps and after the babies were asleep for the night. Finally, I finished the book.

It took a painfully long time, and afterwards, I figured out why.

I’d felt that so much was at stake in writing my first novel (primarily this question – could I even do it?), that I desperately wanted to get that first draft right. I needed everything to fall into place as I wrote it – a ridiculous expectation of a first draft. Of course, it didn’t work that way, but I was compelled to learn a lot about editing a manuscript.

Book 2: Truth Cursed

One more baby, several in-depth revisions, and a couple of short stories later, and I was ready to write another novel. It was different this time because I knew I could do it. This time, I knew that I was willing to make the inevitable mistakes, and plan for those subsequent drafts. I put that first draft in its proper place – as the draft that doesn’t need to be perfect, it needs to be written – and I had a lot more fun.

I had three children by this point, so nap-time and nighttime was when I wrote. My word-count goal for each week-day was an extremely attainable 1,000 words, and it was enough to get me through the draft in four months.

One of my goals is to become a better plotter. However, the method of light plotting at the beginning (a general outline containing the conflict, character goals, and desired resolution), followed by jumping into the writing and working out the rest as I went along, worked exceptionally well for this novel. The plot came together as I wrote, and even though my first draft was chock-full of contradictions and plot holes, I never turned back during that draft to correct them, but kept moving forward as if I already had. I kept a document full of notes of what needed to be corrected, changed, and figured out in the second draft.

I was delighted with the way the plot unfurled before me during that draft. The choice to keep it organized in my notes and in my head, but continue to charge ahead, was very freeing. Although challenging in the way that writing undoubtedly is, it was nothing like my first novel. I’d sweated over and struggled through Huntress, always doubling back to fix something, unaware of the knots I was creating for future pages.

I have a very helpful beta-reader (an excellent and exciting writer, herself) who read the first draft of this manuscript as a serial. She was always confident that I was working out the kinks, and was able to look ahead with me. Her suggestions were invaluable and joined my extensive document of notes for Draft #2.

My second draft was all about going back through and creating continuity, and making sense of the plot that had taken shape in the first draft. I handed it over to a second faithful reader, who helped me see it through fresh eyes. Mine were getting a bit blurry.

I made multiple revisions, and each time I read through Truth Cursed, it was with a different, very full checklist. Plot, character, continuity, line edits, world-building, trimming, etc., etc.

The organization that I’m able to control in my writing helps me balance the frustration that can grow when I can’t keep a lid on every disaster my three riotous children might conjure.

I left as much world-building as possible for later drafts. Another of my goals, for when I’m writing fantasy, is to be better at world-building at the beginning of the first draft, because this occasionally could be a set-back that affected the plot when I tried to fit it in later. However, I struggle to envision an environment until I know what my plot and characters will require from it. (In this way, writing historical-fiction gives me a lot to work with in the plotting stages in terms of researching the environment, which is something I appreciated about Huntress.)

So, those are just a few thoughts on my novel-writing journey and how my methods have evolved. I hope as I keep writing, I’ll keep growing and learning. I’ve been working on a short story this week, which in some ways is a very different ballpark, but similar in other unexpected ways. More on that another time.

I’d love to hear about the different journeys and methods that others have developed along the way. Thank you for reading!

The Useful Myth

Fairy tales shaped my early love of story, and as my interest in literature and history deepened in my teen years, I began to develop a love of ancient mythology as well. It took off, and was fed, in a college course dedicated to studying the works of C.S. Lewis. I loved seeing the connections to mythology in The Chronicles of Narnia, which had shaped so much of my early growth as a reader. The idea of using aspects of myths as a starting point in my writing has been around since the early days of my appreciation of mythology, but I became quickly overwhelmed by the vast, deep well, and felt that I could only ever skim the surface.

Till We Have Faces, by C.S. Lewis, an allegorical novelization of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, and American Gods by Neil Gaiman, with its web of ancient and modern mythology, were two (very different) books that both inspired and scared me off. They were so richly imagined and researched, and I was thoroughly daunted, but hungry to read more.

It wasn’t until a few years after a college trip to Ireland, that I couldn’t help but give it a try. I was experiencing a hot-blooded, desperate sort of nostalgia that pushed me to research Ireland and its history, which often seems inextricably entwined with its layers of legend. I wanted so badly to inhabit not only that beautiful, physical place, but the magic and robust life contained in its stories.

I also wanted to write a story about a young girl (for young girls), fighting for her place and purpose in a changing land that is being overtaken by ruthless men, who would use a girl like her for their own gain. I wanted to write a story of adventure and sisterhood, and a magic that is as much part of the very fabric of a beautiful land as its deeply-felt history. I couldn’t stop thinking about Ireland and this girl, so I wrote Huntress.

It was an intensely emotional endeavor, fraught with mistakes, but I believe that story taught me how to write. Writing a novel, your first novel, is a little bit like going on an epic journey, then returning home again and realizing that it’s changed you. Your life won’t be the same again, you must keep ever onward, ever seeking. It’s a feeling that I wouldn’t change for anything. My writing might never find its place among the works that inspire me and the rest of the world, but I won’t let that stop me from trying any longer. Right now, it’s enough that some of my stories exist outside of my own head.

And for the record, I did only skim the surface. I used a teaspoon of myth and a bit more of history as my jumping off point, but it was enough to set me on my way. 🙂

Spinning Fairy Tales

“Your first-born child.” This time its voice was like a rainstorm, heavy and deceptively soothing.
With great effort and a fire in my throat, I mustered another weak chuckle, to show it that I was not afraid, even now, and what an unprofitable bargain it was proposing. The weak laugh earned me a blinding, choking pressure against my windpipe, and the manacles at my wrist began to steam and sizzle. I smelled my own flesh burning as white hot streaks of pain shot through my arms, my fingertips.
Without enough air for speech and my throat almost completely blocked, I forced out the words that would taunt me and howl in my ears eternally. “She’s all yours.”

– Excerpt from my short story, “Spun of Gold and Pain.”

In theory, fairy tales are my favorite place to start. This is theoretical because both of my full manuscripts have no fairy tale origins. But whenever I’m ready to start somewhere new, these old stories are the first place I look for inspiration. Sometimes they take form as a short story, sometimes as a valiant start that wasn’t valiant enough to find its stride. But they always succeed in firing up my imagination, because the possibilities feel infinite.

I’ll never forget the day I decided that maybe it wouldn’t be ridiculous to try writing fiction again, as an adult. Sitting in my little apartment, entranced by Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl, I decided I wanted to try something like it. I wrote a now-lost beginning and a flagging, but intrigue-packed, plot outline to a re-telling of “Rapunzel.” I had an awful lot to figure out about writing fiction, much more than I realized at the time, but I got a taste of just how exciting it could become for me.

We all had different pictures in our head when we first read or heard the various fairy tales we grew up with, but for me, those images aren’t immutable. They are growing, changing opportunities for richer, fresher versions of beloved stories. I love to tell my kids stories like “Jack and the Beanstalk” or “Little Red Riding Hood” over and over, but add a new, different detail each time I tell it. One of my very favorite fairy-tale re-tellings is Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. It takes the ageless story and asks “what if?” to enormously successful effect.

In my short story “Spun of Gold and Pain,” I asked the same question while contemplating one of my favorites,”Rumplestiltskin,” and the result was a strange little story that I became quite fond of. I won’t be posting the whole story here, at least not yet, but here’s another bit of it:

I named her in a haste that irked the king. I called out her name in a strong voice in the moment of her birth, and then it was done. The power of a naming was solemnly regarded and could not be undone, not even if the child’s father is a king. My daughter would not be like me, a nameless, unwanted wretch of a child. She would not be vulnerable to the malicious whims of a fey. She would be safe.

Greetings

I suppose I must start with an introduction, although like many writers, I prefer to jump to the good stuff. How do you do? My name is Angie, and I’m starting a blog.

Good, we got past the awkward bit.

You know when your head is full of words, but you’re not a big talker? Of course you do, some of you. I’ve spent years of my life buried in books, and that love of words very quickly evolved to writing them down myself. In the past decade since graduating college with a uselessly exciting degree in English Literature, I’ve been indulging in what I used to think I could never do — writing stories. I’ve been researching and practicing the art of writing like a reader, and for a reader. In other words — for myself.

I write a lot, and I think about writing a lot. I’ve written two (as-yet, unpublished) novels, as well as some short stories and a fat folder full of many unfinished bits of starts and ideas. While querying my work, I go a little nuts, hence a blog is born. Here I will talk about books and writing (and frankly, whatever else catches my fancy and runs off with it), and hopefully, in time, generate some discussions!

I’m awfully pleased to meet you.