Saturday, December 6, 2014

Legally Blonde, Musical Theatre, and Random Inspiration

As some of you already know, due to pretty much constant exhaustion and morning sickness (I'm 14 weeks pregnant) writing has been a bit difficult for me lately. I have completed all of the revisions for THE HEARTLESS CITY with my editor and the book has made it past the final proofreading round, so now - while I am waiting for the next step, which I assume is the setting of a specific release date and the completion of the cover (wheee!!!) - I have had the time to get back to work on THE HEARTLESS CITY's sequel, THE HYPNOTIC CITY. Unfortunately, the aforementioned nausea and fatigue have made that very difficult, and I have been feeling disappointed and even depressed about it.

But then, the other day, I had a random moment of hope and inspiration from what might seem like an unlikely source. One of the classes I teach is a music theatre class, and since the school musical is now over, I have been showing them DVDs of different Broadway stage productions. Last class, they were watching Legally Blonde The Musical (a live production MTV aired and then sold years ago), and I was trying to grade while they watched it, but I kept looking up and watching. If you've never seen Legally Blonde The Musical or heard the music, you should, because it is AMAZING (and far superior to the movie). Anyway, the first act ends when Elle, who has never been taken seriously by anyone at Harvard, discovers that she has made the list for Callahan's coveted internship, and she sings a powerhouse, celebration song called "So Much Better," and that was when the crazy moment of inspiration hit me. In the face of hard work like she'd never known, constant disrespect from her peers, and doubt from almost all her mentors, Elle succeeds in achieving a huge step toward her goal, and in celebration, she sings:

I'll even dress in black and white
See, I have not begun to fight
And you'll go, oh, much better and oh, much better
And soon all y'all gonna know much better

'Cuz I am so much better
I am so much better
I am so much better than before!

And that was it. While watching a song I've heard and seen probably nearly a hundred times, I got chills and thought to myself, "Me too! I have not begun to fight, and if she can do it, so can I!"

I pushed myself after work that day and finished another chapter, and now I am at 60,000 words and ready for the climax. :) It may seem like a dumb thing to be inspired by, and the struggle of writing-while-pregnant might not seem like a very big deal, but it is to me, and I needed that moment.

So, thank you for pushing me, Elle. :)

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Confession

In my last post, I pretty much bragged about how I kept writing in the face of rejection after rejection. After all, that's what a writer does - write. And yet, many writers struggle with disciplining themselves to do just that. One of the things I love about Twitter is seeing other writers push themselves and cheer each other on - announcing that they wrote 5,000 words today and getting virtual high-fives, reminding other writers to devote themselves to their work. Lately however, reading such tweets had became a shame-fest for me, because I'd done something I'd never done before.

I'd stopped writing.

Ever since I began my first novel in 2011, I haven't gone more than a few days without writing - EVER - which is how I managed to write three novels in three years while working full time and being a wife and mother. However, until this morning, I hadn't written a word on my WIP (work in progress) for ALMOST TWO MONTHS.

Last spring, I began working on my WIP - the sequel to THE HEARTLESS CITY - making it to 50,000 words in early August. But then - happily - I had to stop in order to revise and resubmit THE HEARTLESS CITY to Curiosity Quills. School started soon after (as most of you know, I'm a teacher), then rehearsals for the school musical (which I co-direct), and I began to use the excuses people use when they fall out of important habits they've worked very hard to develop: I have too much going on with school, I have to work on building an online presence, my co-director for the musical is gone because he just had his first child and I'm doing more work on my own. All of these things were true, but they were definitely excuses. What had happened to me is like what happens when you go swimming and then get out of the water and stay out for so long that you don't want to jump back in - you're warm and dry and the water suddenly looks cold and uncomfortable.

But the thing is, if you aren't writing, you aren't a writer. You're just someone who dreams about being a writer.

And just because I finally had an honest-to-god book deal didn't mean I could suddenly put on my lazy pants and waste time. The longer I went without writing, the more anxious, stressed, and even outright depressed I became, because I wasn't doing the thing that I know I was born to do, the thing that has always fulfilled me in ways that nothing else really can. So today I finally took a deep breath and jumped back into that water, and it was hard at first, but OMG...

It felt wonderful.

Besides, I'd left my heroine in a terrible situation!!! I had to help get her out!

Thankfully, I'm working on that now. :)

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Rejection, Success, and Why I Keep Writing No Matter Which One Comes My Way

Many of you already know the news I still can hardly believe is real each time I type it: My novel, THE HEARTLESS CITY will be published by Curiosity Quills Press in 2015. :)

In this post, I thought I would share exactly how everything came together, as well as what I have learned, which is mostly (surprise) that rejection will happen A LOT, but you have to keep going.

I used to think, like many people, that once you signed with an agent you would be published right away. Not only was I wrong about it happening instantaneously, I soon discovered it often doesn't even happen at all. My first novel DREAM THINGS TRUE, is what got me my agent, Jen, but after a year the book hadn't sold, so we put it on the shelf. By then I had written my second novel, THE SOUND OF BEATING WINGS, but that book never sold either, and is also currently shelved. Those experiences were, of course, extremely disappointing, but the thing that helped me the most, the thing that kept me from throwing my hands up and saying, "It's never going to happen!" was actually very simple.

It was writing.

In one of Stephen Sondheim's lesser known musicals, Passion, the main character, Fosca, sings a song called "Loving You," to a man who does not return her love. It's a gorgeous song (I sang it at my senior recital in college) and a few of the lines have always struck me as true to my own life - not concerning the love of another person, but of writing. It goes, "Loving you is not a choice; it's who I am. Loving you is not a choice, and not much reason to rejoice, but it gives me purpose, gives me voice, to say to the world: 'this is why I live.'"

For me, writing is not a choice; it's who I am. So when the years went by and my books didn't sell, I did what I had to do regardless - I had to write. 

Last fall, I completed my third novel, THE HEARTLESS CITY, and Jen began to send it out to editors in June. It was sort of a departure from my first two books, which were both contemporary YA fantasies with female protagonists in Kansas. This time I had a male protagonist and the book was set a historical but reimagined, post-apocalyptic, Edwardian London. Then, one morning in late July, while I was working on the sequel (which will be called THE HYPNOTIC CITY) I checked my email and saw one from Jen, and the subject line read: EDITOR INTEREST IN THE HEARTLESS CITY!!!

I'll go into detail about how I reacted in a later post (it involved some joyful but ugly crying that frightened my four-year-old) but in the end I managed to read the email and respond. The acquiring editor liked the book but had issues with my prologue - she thought it was slow, confusing, and that parts of the timeline didn't make sense. She agreed to speak with me on the phone and talk about her issues and possible ways I could resolve them, and after the phone call (which was great - Vicki Keire is lovely!) I began to revise the prologue. It took me about a week, and every day, as I was writing, I kept thinking, "Vicki was right! This is SO MUCH BETTER!" Thankfully, Vicki agreed, and after I resubmitted the prologue she confirmed that Curiosity Quills would publish the book. :)

The next step is the first round of editing (there will be two, possibly three) and I am beyond excited, not only because these steps will lead to my DREAM COMING TRUE, but because I have learned from experience that nothing helps my writing more than outside suggestions and input.

Because now I know that's what it all comes down to in the end: Rejection or acceptance, success or failure, if you are a writer (and it's not a choice), you simply have to keep writing and keep getting better, because it's who you are and what you love - the end. :)

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Round Three!

So.....my third book, THE HEARTLESS CITY is in front of editors!!!

Currently, I'm writing my fourth book - which is a spin-off/sequal to THE HEARTLESS CITY tentatively titled THE HYPNOTIC CITY, but I always think of it as The Philomena book, as that is my protagonist's name (I do that with all of my books actually. Do other people do that?)


So let's hope the third time is the charm. :)


Henry Jekyll was a brilliant man, a passionate idealist who aimed to free mankind of selfishness and vice. But in THE HEARTLESS CITY, he's remembered as the doctor who carelessly created a race of monsters. 

Once shared secretly among the good doctor's inner circle, the Hyde drug was smuggled into mass-production - but in pill form, it corrupted its users at the genetic level, leaving them liable to transform without warning. A quarter of the population are now clandestine killers – ticking bombs that could detonate at any given moment. 

It's 1903, and London has been quarantined for twelve years.

Son of the city's most prominent physician and cure-seeker, Elliot Morrissey has had his own devastating brush with science, downing a potion meant to remove his human weaknesses and strengthen him against the Hydes - and finding instead he's become an empath, leveled by the emotions of a dying city.

He finds an unlikely ally in Iris Faye, a waitress at one of the city's rowdier music halls, whose emotions nearly blind him; her fearlessness is a beacon in a city rife with terror. Iris, however, is more than what she seems, and reveals a mission to bring down the establishment that has crippled the people of London.

Together, they aim to discover who's really pulling the strings in Jekyll's wake, and why citizens are waking up in the street infected, with no memory of ever having taken the Hyde drug... Heart-eating monsters, it turns out, are not the greatest evil they must face.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Where I am now :)

I signed with Jen (my fabulous agent) in May of 2012. She offered me rep. after reading my first novel ever – DREAM THINGS TRUE. It was (and is) a novel that will always be close to my heart, and – as Jen and I both still believe – very, very good, but after about nine months and two rounds of editors, there were still no takers, so we put it on the shelf.

When I signed with Jen, I’d already begun working on my second novel, and in December of 2012 (around the time we decided to put DREAM THINGS TRUE aside), I finished it. I sent it to Jen and she sent it back with edits and revision suggestions, and once the revisions were done, we brainstormed and decided to call it THE SOUND OF BEATING WINGS. (The novel centers around a girl named Raven who – due to horrible rumors that have made her a pariah at school – becomes obsessed with escaping into the worlds of silent movies from the early 1920s. She has also become obsessed with one of the most renowned movie stars of that era – Eldon Ambrose. It seems too good to be true when his great-great-grandson Vincent, his spitting image, comes to town as a visiting professor and agrees to an interview. It's even more unreal when he takes an interest in her: a modern-day realization of her fantasies. But the strangest moment comes later, when she's watching one of Eldon's rarer films and the lead actress looks out through the screen and clearly mouths her name.)

Jen sent the story out to the first round of editors last summer, in 2013. So far there have been a few rejections (one so glowing and complimentary that I was both flattered and aggravated) and of course, many who have yet to read and respond. Jen is still entirely hopeful that someone will see what we see in THE SOUND OF BEATING WINGS, but if no one does and we end up shelving it like DREAM THINGS TRUE, I will still feel okay, because I have ANOTHER book.

In November of 2013, I finished my third novel, which Jen and I have decided to call THE HEARTLESS CITY. I’ll wait until Jen’s made a pitch and the book is in front of editors to describe the plot in detail, but she and I both agree that it is my best so far. J

So that’s where I am now: still waiting on editors and working on my next project. I just finished Jen’s revisions for THE HEARTLESS CITY and am almost ready to start my fourth book (and first-ever sequel), which I’ve decided to call THE HYPNOTIC CITY for now.


That’s what writers do, I suppose: keep waiting and keep writing. J

How I got my agent :)

Here is the story of how I got a literary agent. :)

I finished my novel (DREAM THINGS TRUE, a young adult contemporary fantasy involving a girl goes to sleep and wakes up as Juliet in Shakespeare's famous tragedy) in late October of 2011 and started querying in early November. At first, like most people, I really didn’t know what I was doing – my query was one big, long paragraph with no voice whatsoever. Amazingly, I got a couple requests with that letter, but I knew I really needed to improve my query. So I did research on Querytracker, read the archives at QueryShark, and starting getting help and critiques from other writers. My query improved and I got some more full requests, but all of them (obviously) ultimately declined. By the start of May, I had had 11 fulls requested and rejected (1 with helpful comments, 3 or 4 with “it’s good but not for me,” and the rest all generic forms) but still had quite a few queries, 2 partials, and 3 fulls out there.

Then I had an enormous streak of luck that didn’t necessarily lead to my getting an offer of rep. but helped my momentum and esteem enormously. I won two blog contests by random chance – a full ms critique from Amy L. Sonnichsen from her blog, The Green Bathtub, and a partial critique from Ann Marie Walker’s agent, Erin C. Niumata, from Ann Marie’s blog. Amy’s critique helped clean up my ms SO much, and she was also amazingly kind and supportive. Erin’s critique was not only also helpful and supportive, but led to a full request from one of the YA agents at Folio that she then passed the partial on to (that agent also ultimately declined, but was very helpful and supportive as well).

So in the midst of all this contest fervor, I decided to enter The Writer’s Voice and was lucky enough to get in. Over the next few days I watched my email and the Twitter feed like a crazy person, wanting so badly to get picked by one of the four judges. I got passed over by three of them, and when the fourth one began listing her choices on the morning of May 9th, I started to accept the fact that I wasn’t going to get picked. I left Twitter and went back to my gmail, but when I did, I saw an email from an agent who’d only had my full for a little over a week. My gmail account works so that I can see the first sentence of an email that lands in my inbox, and the first sentence started like this:

“Dear Andrea, I wanted to write to you first thing this morning…”

That stopped me in my tracks. I was ready for another rejection, but the opening didn’t fit. I mean, what sadistic agent would write: “I wanted to write to you first thing this morning…because I like to send out my rejections before breakfast”? I opened the email and literally felt like my heart stopped beating inside my chest. It said:

“I wanted to write to you first thing this morning (ok, after coffee) -- WOW.  I finished Dream Things True last night, and love, love, love it.  It's haunting.  Not only do you have a fantastic premise, but you've delved into a topic that's VERY hard to do well, especially in YA, and you've done so skillfully and powerfully.  I'd be thrilled to represent you on your journey to publication!”

I am a high school English teacher, and I read this email just as the bell rang and my students started walking into the room. I was staring at my computer screen with my mouth hanging open, barely conscious of their presence, until one cautiously approached my desk and said, “Mrs. Berthot? Are you okay? You look kind of sick.”

I’m pretty sure I said something like, “No. I’m fine. I’m actually amazing,” and I probably looked and sounded insane, but I didn’t care then and I don’t care now. Next to my marriage and the birth of my son, reading that email was one of the best, most memorable moments of my life.

So I taught my next class in a total daze, feeling seriously and amazingly high. As soon as it was over, I wrote the agent back (Jen Linnan, of Linnan Literary Management)– thanking her and letting her know when I would be available to speak the next day. Then I nervously and frantically sent out notifications of my offer to the agents who had my partials, fulls, and queries. (I also quickly posted in The Writer’s Voice Twitter feed that if the last judge had planned to pick me, I was now ineligible!) Many of the agents said congrats and bowed out, but 6 more requested the full. So, at the end of the day, I had 9 fulls out, and all of them said they would respond within a week.

I can’t even put into words how nervous I was for the phone call with Jen the next day. When my phone started ringing and I saw the NY number, I actually closed my eyes and took a couple deep breaths before I answered. I didn't need to be nervous, however. Jen put me at ease right away and we clicked from the very start. She felt exactly the same way about my book that I did, and she really, really wanted to sign me. She understood though, that I needed to hear back from the other agents first. I think that I knew from the moment I got off the phone with her, however, that she would be the one I went with, no matter who else offered.

I did end up getting one other offer, but like I said, I pretty much always knew that I would end up going with Jen. When I finally heard back from all of the other agents on Thursday, May 17, 2012, I wrote Jen and accepted the offer.

Here are my final stats at the end of my querying process:

154 Queries sent
132 Queries rejected (82 specifically rejected, 50 no response)
2 Partial Requests (1 specifically rejected, 1 no response)
20 Full Requests (18 rejected, 2 offers of rep.)

It was a roller coaster ride, and obviously FILLED with rejection, and there would still be much more rejection to come (which I'll admit, I was naively unprepared for). But I didn't give up then and I won't give up now, and neither will the agent I now have fighting by my side. :)

In my next post, I'll talk about where I am in my journey now. :)

My Life in a Post :)

I guess I’ll start out with the basics. I was born and raised in Salina, Kansas. You may not have ever heard of it, but it actually gets a shout out in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, the musical and film versions of Thoroughly Modern Millie, and one episode of Angel (which means a lot to this Joss Whedon fan).

I grew up loving four things: acting, singing, reading, and writing. Acting and singing was part of being in my family; my dad’s an attorney and my mom works at a non-profit, child-abuse-prevention center, but they have always loved the arts, and all five of us (including my younger brother and sister) were often in productions at The Salina Community Theatre together.

As for the other two loves, the love of reading came from my father (which came from his father) and the love of writing came along with it. Before I could read or write I dictated stories to my mother who (bless her heart) would write them down for me. I actually wrote a “novel” in middle school that was about 100 pages long and basically a rip off of every book and TV show I liked at the time. It was called Open Windows and I truly pray that it no longer exists anywhere in the world.

In high school, however, writing took a backseat to singing and acting. I went to Friends University in Wichita majoring in vocal performance but after one semester of Music Theory I realized that it wasn’t for me. I switched my major to English and the professor of my American Literature class basically changed my life. She showed me that literature really was my greatest love, and when I took her Creative Writing class and she said, “You are a writer,” I truly believed it for the first time. After graduation I started sending out my short stories for in hopes of publication.

In the meantime, I married my husband (whom I met in our college choir) and we moved to Winfield – about 45 minutes south of Wichita – where he had gotten a job as the high school choir teacher. I got a job teaching English (and later, Creative Writing) at the high school in Arkansas City, about 10 miles away. Over the next five years I succeeded in getting seven of my short stories published in various print and online journals, and in 2009 I gave birth to my beautiful son, Maximus Wayne.

In the summer of 2011, when Max was about 20 months old, I decided (at the prompting of my former college professor, who continued then and continues still to read and edit my work and give me the strength to journey on) to finally write a novel. All I knew when I started was that it would be a young adult book, because that is where my heart still lies as far as literature is concerned. Somehow, while being a full-time working mother (with a very busy husband), I finished the book in almost four months and began to query in November.


In my next post I will describe the roller-coaster ride of querying and the glorious story of how I got my wonderful agent.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Hi! I'm Andrea Berthot - a writer attempting to start a blog. In the meantime, you can read six of my seven published short stories on the "Short Stories" tab (the seventh one was published in a paper-only journal). I hope you enjoy! :)