the next big thing blog tour

Friend and agent-mate Wende Dikec recently tagged me in her addition to the Next Big Thing blog series, where she answered ten questions about her current work-in-progress. Now I've been charged with the same task, though task isn't quite the right word as I'm quite excited to talk a bit more about Unnatural, the book that changed everything for me, and landed me my uber-fantastic agent, Marlene. I've also tagged a few more writer friends below to invite them to join the current project fun. So please visit their blogs in the following weeks to see what they're up to as well! If anyone else would like to join, please feel free to link to your blog in the comments. It's a share-a-palooza!

(I'm re-wording some of the sentence structure in these questions because it's driving me crazy, but the questions are the same ones making the rounds.)

What is the working title of your book?

The original working title was Unnatural Disaster, but we nixed the "Disaster" and now it's just called Unnatural. Who knows if it will change again, but I think Unnatural really captures the essence of what's happening in the book.

Where did the idea for your book come from?

I'd been wanting to write a "monster in the house" style book for a while, ie: one wherein the bulk of the story takes place in an isolated setting where the characters are forced to face their circumstances without escape or intervention. For a lot of people that means murder mystery or literal monster story, but for me that means outdoorsy survival tale.

The magic element came one day when I was thinking about the Filch character in the Harry Potter series. A lot of focus in the series was placed on muggle borns, (especially since our girl, Hermione, was one) and the ensuing persecution they had to suffer, but we didn't get nearly as much on the squibs--those born without powers in a magical world. Filch was the only squib we really got to see up close, and aside from providing the role of the crotchety old man with a well-hidden heart of gold, we never really got too deep into Filch. The question that I found myself asking was, what was it like for him growing up without powers? What would that look like? What would it be like to be a teenager without powers in a world where everyone else has them? And what if society wouldn't stand for it? The idea for Unnatural started to form from there.

What genre does your book fall under?

Young Adult Paranormal/Fantasy with some dystopian themes. 

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

I never picture a movie actor playing my protagonist when I'm writing. Other characters, sure. But my protagonist is always just this amorphous person in my brain. Still, I'll give it a shot. Here are the main three (I may do a longer post one day where I dream-cast the others as well):

Let's start with Ren. Ren is attractive, but he's no pretty boy. It's hard to think of a young actor these days who isn't a pretty boy, but I think a lighter-haired Steven R. McQueen could pull it off, or Lachlan Buchanan, who I'm not that familiar with, but he definitely has the right look in his IMDB photo:
Ren probably wouldn't be wearing a suit...

For Caden, I always pictured a Taylor Kitsch type because he defines swoonworthy to me, but since Taylor is starting to look a little more mature (I say mature and not old because he's the same age as I am...), I would have to cast Tyler Blackburn, who I've thought of as mini-Kitsch or Kitsch-lite since his adorable Riggins-esque face first appeared on Pretty Little Liars--though it would have to be a rugged-looking Tyler, not the fresh-faced Tyler we often see in magazines:

Looking especially Kitsch-y

And finally, Ember, who I'm going to have to figure out right here on the spot because, as I said above, I never really picture her as anyone but this voice in my head. The easy answer is that I'd want an unknown actress to play her, and that would probably also be the truth, but since we're getting visual, I picture her as having a look similar to Melissa Benoist. The Glee-newcomer definitely has the deer-in-the-headlights meets girl-next-door look of Ember, but she also looks like she's capable of going somewhere darker, messier, which would also be required of the character. She's a women of many hats.
Not wearing any hats here

What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?

I don't do one sentence well :) But here goes: Unnatural is the story of a girl facing a harsh fate, having grown up powerless in a world where everyone must be able to do magic.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Unnatural is represented by The Stringer Literary Agency.

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

Much longer than it would have if I didn't have a baby in the middle of it. Writing time was about four months, but overall, drawn-out time was over a year. Being on mat leave has taught me that I can write much faster than that :)

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

In terms of the types of challenges the characters face, I'd compare it to something like Delirium or Divergent, where the protagonists find themselves singled out from the societal norm, only to discover that the societal norm has some severe flaws. But it's not a great comparison because Unnatural has magic (MAGIC!).
While querying, I had a few agents compare it to The Hunger Games, which is certainly flattering, though I don't think they're actually that similar. It's an easy comparison because the bulk of the action takes place in a outdoors setting and like all novels with dystopian themes, there's societal oppression to deal with. But here's how I replied to the comparison whenever I was asked about it:
-->Both novels can easily be categorized as “monster in the house” style narratives with the bulk of the action taking place in an isolated setting, but while The Hunger Games explores themes of extreme class systems, voyeuristic culture, reality television, the realities of war, etc, Unnatural Disaster deals with a group of teens who are working together to survive a trial by magic and certainly aren’t in opposition the way the tributes of The Hunger Games are. It’s about a girl who should have powers, coming into her own as she suffers the harsh standards her world is built upon.  Where Katniss is a champion, Ember is a fledgling, unwittingly forced to prove she deserves a place in the magical society she was born into.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

As I mentioned above, there was definitely a moment where I was inspired by the question, "What if Filch was a teenage girl?", but when I started in on Unnatural, I was querying my first book, Chameleon, and I was looking for something exciting and fresh to distract me from the process. It's strange to say, but as the mix of requests and rejections came in, I started to feel urgently accountable for my potential to succeed as a published author. Moreso than I ever had before. It sunk in that "if this doesn't work out, I NEED a next book" and that made me feel very inspired and excited to get going on Unnatural.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

One of my goals with Unnatural was to avoid a drawn-out intro. It hits the ground running and takes you on a roller coaster ride. Even when it's quiet, it's kicking and screaming inside. There's plenty of action and romance (this is not your typical torn love triangle) and enough twists to keep the roller coaster flying. It's a lot of fun, and yet, there are scenes that absolutely broke my heart to write. I'm immensely proud of it, and I hope I'll be in a position to share it with you all one day.

And now it's time for some tagging action! Check out these other awesome authors, who will soon be posting on what they've got on the go:
Sarah Schauerte
at SarahWillAlwaysWrite
Shari Maurer, author of Change of Heart

I'll be back tomorrow with a one-off Tuesday post about my NaNo results and where they leave me heading into December!

the news, she's big

So as I said in a previous post, I have some news to share... this post will primarily focus on the recent BIG news, but there will be a follow-up post to explain everything else that's happened during this crazy year called 2012.

I attempted to find an image that accurately expresses my excitement over this news, but then got very distracted when a google image search for "happy" produced this little guy:

Hey Buddies!

Apparently his


is Happy, so not exactly the happy


I'd been searching for, but hey, for all I know, this


this guy's happy face. He appears to be eating something, so odds are good that = happy. Anyway, I dig him, so he shall be my expression of happiness for this post!

But enough of that, onto the big news (and sorry if this ends up being REALLY long):

Like most blogs of aspiring authors, posts about big news usually mean one thing--THE CALL.

And I'm happy to say, I got THE CALL!!!!!! (<- six exclamation marks! <-plus a bonus) Well, the first THE CALL in a potential series of exciting THE CALLs. But the other THE CALLs can't happen without this initial, very important, very exciting THE CALL!

My little YA novel and I are now represented by the stupendous and lovely Marlene Stringer of the

Stringer Literary Agency

. I'm officially an agented author! Wait, let me say that again--I'M AN AGENTED AUTHOR!

That is the most surreal and wonderful sentence an aspiring author can utter. And I'm not just saying it for pretendsies in my head. It's real and true and something I get to say to real people without them wondering why I'm not also wearing a tinfoil hat because I'm clearly delusional.

Like this. Cause it's fancy.

I've read many a blog post about authors getting THE CALL in the past. I think all aspiring authors do. They're addictive--proof that it's not always all about rejection (though there's a lot of that too). Posts about THE CALL are inspirational. At least, that's how I've always tried to see them. I think it's easy to read stories of others' successes and feel jealous, but I'm a firm believer that jealously only makes you feel worse and does NOTHING to the person you're jealous of and seriously, the only person you should ever compete with is yourself. Competing with other people, especially in an industry with SOOO many authors/books, is just a big fat waste of time. Feeling inspired on the other hand, that will get you somewhere. That's an emotion you can work with. It can drive you to work harder and block out thoughts of giving up. So I hope if you're reading this, you feel inspired. Because you should be. Mere weeks ago, I was just like you, chasing a dream and doubting myself and thinking my chance would never come. Until it did.

I started writing my first real novel back in 2005. I'd just graduated from university and I was determined to write something longer than 5000 words. That one didn't make it very far. As in, I didn't even finish it. Then working, life, adulthood (which I'm still mostly in denial about) took over and though I dabbled with a few more ideas, nothing ever really flowed.

In 2008, I landed my current job in publishing. It involves a lot of reading. And you know what reading makes me want to do? Write. Nothing makes me want to write more than reading something amazing. Reading does for your creative mind what exercise does for your body. All that reading got me thinking about writing again and a few ideas started to bounce around in my head. One stuck and by the end of the year, I had finished my first young adult novel. I started querying it in 2009 and received a slew of full and partial requests from agents, but they all ended the same way--close but no cigar. While querying that book, I started to work on another book because I knew the best way to move forward was to keep writing.

Work only got busier. Life only got busier. I got married, bought a house, had a baby. But by July of this year, I'd finally finished, revised and polished young adult novel #2 aka

Unnatural Disaster

. I queried in waves, starting with the agents who'd requested fulls, then partials of my first book, especially the ones who'd specifically asked me to keep them in mind for future projects. I reminded them of who I was and then kept my fingers crossed that this new book would hit the mark. The requests started rolling in (all fulls to boot, which is probably more an indicator of e-reader use than anything) and I started to feel like this time around would be different. I knew this book was so much stronger than my first one and I was pretty happy with it (despite suffering those moments all writers suffer where we're convinced everything we've written is complete crap). But then the rejections started rolling in too. Rejections on full requests stung the most, especially from some of my top choices. It was a lot of praise followed by "not quite what I'm looking for right now". I started to curse myself for querying in the summer, knowing that it's conference season and everybody's busy and their minds are elsewhere, on beaches, on vacation. I was so proud of book #2 and here I thought I'd completely screwed it over by querying at a bad time of year.

Well, it is true that July is a bad time of year to query. Avoid it if you can, but somehow, I was lucky enough to still make an impression. On August 8th, I was putting my eight-month-old daughter down for a nap when I noticed a missed call from Florida. It struck me as strange because a) nobody calls me and b) up here in Canada, I don't get a lot of calls from the US. Then I remembered that one of the agents who had my manuscript had palm trees on her website. Was it possible she was located in Florida? Why hadn't I retained that piece of information in all the research I'd done on my top picks?? I was freaking out a little bit. Another minute later, my email dinged and sure enough, it was her, emailing to say she'd like to discuss working together. I think I read the email 18 times and shook my hands uncontrollably to make sure they were still attached to my body before replying to say that now was a good time to call back. And then she did. And we talked about

Unnatural Disaster

and it was wonderful. I could tell she really got it. She was pointing out things she'd noticed (and loved) in my book that I'd always hoped were apparent, but had never been sure. She got it. She loved it. And after a good talk, she offered representation.

When I got off the phone, I did my version of a quiet happy dance (Baby E was still sleeping) and Oliver, one of my two cats, came into the room and barfed on the carpet. I think he was just excited too. Or he hates me. But I think the first thing is more likely. You can't blame a cat for having an inappropriate reaction to something :)

And then I called my husband and searched the house for celebratory chocolate. Turned out I'd eaten the last bit after my last rejection. Actually, it turned out I really needed to go grocery shopping. All I could find for lunch that day were some hotdogs so I ate one of those, which in a weird way was kind of fitting because hotdogs are my go-to funny food. They deserved a spot in my celebratory day.

The week that followed was full of the necessary follow-ups, more requests, and a lot of inbox-watching (even more than when I was merely querying), all ending in my decision to accept Marlene's offer. More celebration and wine drinking ensued.

And to think my little novel could grow up to be a real book one day!

A few more things before I wrap this up--

I believe when something good happens to you, you shouldn't take it for granted. And when the world sends something wonderful your way, you should find a way to say thank you. My way of saying thank you is by giving to charity. So as a symbol of how grateful I feel, I'm making donations to the following charities. If you're feeling particularly thankful about something, big or small, I suggest you do the same, to a charity you feel strongly about.

Oxfam Canada

And a bit of advice to aspiring authors--if you're getting requests from agents, keep going, even if it means writing another book and another after that. It means you're close to something. I can't think of anything in life that gets worse with practice so keep writing books. Each will be better than the last. The only way you will definitely never be published is if you give up.

And finally, for those who like stats, here are some of mine:

  • I started querying on June 25th and received THE CALL on August 8th
  • In total, I sent out 76 queries, in increasing waves
  • I received 32 rejections and 10 requests for the full ms
  • 34 agents either replied with congratulations or did not respond at all