Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Humanizing Power of Writing Inclusively

I've been talking a lot about my #WriteInclusively campaign recently but I realized I never really showed why it's so necessary, on a factual basis at least.

SO, SCIENCE!! *confetti*

Here's an article that discusses various studies about the link between reading and being 'more human'. Honestly, not a fan of the article. Kinda long. Kinda boring.

Honestly, to all of us who read and write, building empathy is kind of a given. Being a good writer means understanding our character, and usually the character we are writing has different identities than we do. That means we strive to understand, empathize, and realize very different experiences than we have.

If that sounds exhausting, it's because it is. We writers constantly think and over-think every action of characters take. And in that process, we understand the humanity of these people.

That is why #WriteInclusively is so important. When we write inclusively, when we include characters of different colors, different sexual and gender identities, different abilities, when we write about these characters who are too often ignored, we are putting ourselves through the task of empathizing and humanizing these people.

It's vitally important that we keep writing about underrepresented identities. I'm deeply against the idea that writers cannot responsibly write from the perspective of characters who identify differently than the writer. After all, authors of color have been writing about white characters for such a long time.

And it's hard. Very hard. I have a deep fear that, even though I edit voraciously, research a ton, and get a lot of beta readers, I am misrepresenting the characters I write about. It's a constant battle to decolonize our thinking and break free of social constructions. It's a battle to elevate and trust the truth spoken from those we are writing about, and to block out what others tell us. We will fail, a lot. And we will have to correct ourselves. But we have to do it.

It is not a political statement to have a LGBTQ, person of color, or person of different ability as our main character. Since when did humanity become political? Honestly, I'm fed up with politics being brought into everything. We're humans, not political parties - we can do things without them being political!

Our readers will read our books and empathize with the characters we create. If we do our jobs right, we will humanize our characters. It is something that we crucially need in the world we live in. The more I think about it, the more every social injustice stems from not realizing the humanity of the victims.

If we recognized everyone's humanity, this world would be a much, much better place. We as authors have the ability to make this world better - our books have the scientific ability to make people empathize with identities they'll never experience (isn't that incredible?!).

We have the power to make the world better, one child, one reader, and one writer at a time (because we can't forget about self-improvement!). We can make this a great world for all people. 

That's why #WriteInclusively is so important. And, if you wish, I urge you to write inclusively!

How do you think writing can help the world? What do you feel is the power of writing and reading?

Friday, April 24, 2015

ANNOUNCING Query Kombat 2015!

Bloggers Michael, Michelle and I are back again to bring you the third annual Query Kombat tournament.


The Basics

Query Kombat will host 64 kombatants in a single-elimination, tournament style query-off. Entries will go head to head (one on one) with one another until only ONE entry remains. There will be a total of six rounds in Query Kombat. 64 entries in round one, 32 in round two, 16 in round three, 8 in round four, 4 in round five, and 2 in round six.

As we said, some things have changed. We’re doing away with tournament brackets this year. Instead, entries will be matched up based on target audience and genre. We'll continue grouping that way until it's no longer possible.

If you secure a spot in the tournament, your query and the first 250 words of your manuscript (to the end of a complete sentence) will be pitted against another query and first 250 words. Judges will read each match-up and vote 'Victory' on the best entry. Remember, this is subjective. Considering last year, votes may come down to personal tastes.

The entry with the most ‘victories’ at the end of the round will advance to the next round until only one champion remains. 

This year the agent round will be held after the first round. That mean 32 entries will make it into the agent round. 32!

Of course, there's a twist!

The agent round will be conducted in secret. And by secret, we mean TOP SECRET. Entrants won't know who requested what—or how much—until that entrant has been eliminated from the contest.
On the plus side, winners of the first round will be able to resubmit their entry prior to the agent round. So, any feedback the judges give can be implemented before the agents see your work.

Who’s invited to submit:

The Query Kombat tournament is open only to unagented writers seeking representation. Your manuscript must be complete, polished, and ready to submit. If your manuscript has already been in the agent round of another contest, you are not eligible to participate in Query Kombat. You can only submit one entry per person. Please don’t try to sneak in or use other emails. The QK team includes about fifty people and a few hundreds of spectators. Someone will notice and inform us. Submissions for Picture Books, MG, YA, NA, and Adult works will be accepted.

The submission window will open on May 22nd at 5:30 EST and close at 6:30 EST. You have one hour and one hour only to send in your submission! We will have email confirmation. If you don't receive it within an hour of submitting your entry, contact us via twitter and let us know.  Kontestants will be revealed on May 30th, and the tournament will kick off on June 1st.

IMPORTANT: The Query Kombat team reserves the right to disqualify any entrant at any time for any reason. If an entrant is disqualified before the agent round, an alternate will take its place. If an entrant is disqualified after the agent round, the opposing entry will automatically advance to the next round. The only time we will ever disqualify an applicant is if you say or do something to blemish the spirit of query contests. Query Kombat is supposed to be fun… 

So none of this!

In order to enter the contest you MUST follow formatting guidelines, and submit during the contest window. All entries that follow said guidelines will be considered. 

In the event that we receive more than the available 64 spots (this is highly expected), Michelle, Mike, and I will savagely attack the slush pile in attempts to build the best team. We will pick (and announce) three alternates in case a submission is disqualified.

Entries should be sent to:  QueryKombat (at) gmail (dot) com. The email address has changed from last year. Be mindful of that.

Formatting guidelines:

Font: Times New Roman (or an equivalent), 12pt font, single-spaced with spaces between each paragraph. No (I repeat: NO!) indentations.
Subject line of the Email: A short, unique nickname for your entry [colon] your genre (audience included). Do not skip this step or your entry will be deleted. (ex. I Fell in Love with a Ken Doll: Adult Erotica)

For the nickname, make it as unique as possible so that there are no duplicates. These will be the names used in the tournament (or an abbreviated version if it's too long) so keep it PG-13 and try to have it relate to your story in some way.

In the body of the email (with examples):

Entry Nickname: I Fell in Love with a Ken Doll
Name: Michael Anthony
Email address: myboyfriendwasbittenbyashark (at) gmail (dot) com.
Title: Eunuchs and Politics
Word count: 68K
Genre: Adult Erotica


I FELL IN LOVE WITH A KEN DOLL tells the harrowing story of Barbra B. Doll, a US senator who goes against country, family, and the Illumaniti to be with an amateur surfer with no genitalia. 

First 250 words:

Don't include the chapter title and please, don't stop in the middle of a sentence.

All queries submitted are FINAL. We will not edit them in any way, shape, or form. Please read, reread, and rereread your submission before you hit send. You have several weeks to polish your work. Take advantage of it. Competition will be fierce.

Because the immense amount of work ahead of us, the tournament will be hosted on three separate blogs. In order to enter the contest, you MUST following Michael's and Michelle's blogs, and have signed up for my monthly newsletter concerning the 'Write Inclusively' campaign.'All three blogs will host the first round and agent round. The second round will be hosted by Michael and SC. The third round will be hosted by Michelle. The fourth round will be hosted by SC. The fifth round will be hosted by Michael. The final round will be hosted by Michelle. Have no fear, each blog will have links to all rounds so you will not get lost.

Agents and judges will be revealed soon. (As of now we have 15ish agents and 30 judges!)
Questions can be left in the comments and I'll answer them as quickly as possible. As always, Query Kombat announcement calls for celebration. SO JOIN US ON TWITTER! We will have Twitter parties (stay tuned - last time, we got #QueryKombat to trend on Twitter!).

THIS IS EXCITING. And will be a LOT of fun as always. Good luck, and HAVE FUN!!

Saturday, April 18, 2015


Are you watching closely?

Yes, that’s right – Round 3 for Nestpitch2015 is here!

Over the coming days and weeks all Teams will be working with their authors to help them polish their submissions, but I can’t tell you too much; oh to hell with it, I don’t think Nikola Vukoja is watching, here are my Submission Picks!


Drum roll...


Wounds Heal, Scars Remain
Straw Salt Gold
Fairy God-Mother Boy
New Girl

CONGRATS CONGRATS CONGRATS! You all know all about keeping on even if you're not picked. Contests are subjective. We passed over so many entries, even entries we loved. Don't worry if you're not picked.

On May 11th I will be posting each author’s entire Pitch but for now, it’s all hush-hush

You can find the first clues to the other pitches here (remove your blog from the list):

And you can also go to the Nestpitch Blog where you find a link to all the blogs as well as a complete Title, Category/Genre & Author list.

So; here we go, cone of silence may need to be enforced here! Oh wait! Before I go, come back before May 11th because that clever Nik is running Unmask the Agent again this year & I promise to update you on the details *there’s a $20Amazon Voucher up for grabs and you don’t need have submitted to Nestpitch, all you need is a bit of a detective spirit and to know your (our) agents!

COME ON OVER TO #TEAMONEBASKET!!! We're Twitter fun. Really. And thank you EVERYONE for submitting to Nest Pitch. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Walter Scott, Eric Garner, Michael Brown - We are Looking at Volcanoes

Yesterday, on Tuesday, April 7th, officer Michael T. Slager was charged with the murder of Walter Scott, a middle-aged black man.

After being stopped by Officer Slager for a broken taillight, Mr. Scott ran away. Officer Slager chased him and shot him with a Taser which did not render Mr. Scott immobile. According to Officer Slager, Officer Slager shot and killed Mr. Scott after Mr. Scott took the Taser. A civilian video, however, shows the two in a struggle, after which Officer Slager shoots eight rounds at Mr. Scott who was running away. Officer Slager picks up an object that was tossed aside in the struggle and places it next to Mr. Scott's body. The full story can be read here.

Officer Slager was charged with murder. Case closed! Problem solved.

Except it's not. Of course it's not.

The problem with these individual narratives is they get individual solutions. All we're doing is looking at volcanoes. Every time one erupts, we get furious. We run around with stoppers and plug up the volcanoes, wipe our hands, and then become surprised and furious again when another volcano erupts somewhere else. We grab another stopper and repeat the process endlessly without confronting the truth: the lava is deep, ingrained, and universal, but hiding under our feet.

Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, the Oklahoma SAE fraternity, comments on Zendaya's hair. These actions were not the cause of rouge racist individuals. We're all prejudiced to some degree, but racism is power to enforce these prejudices.

Racism is the country-wide tendency to infantalize and dismiss Black concerns as 'annoying', the overarching tendency to grow tired of hearing about 'Black issues' and refuse to see them as American issues. The tendency to tell Black people to 'deal with it by yourself' and scrutinize them at the same time, the tendency to demonize  Blackness, Black self-love, and Black culture while lavishing awards upon white artists who appropriate Black culture.

The media is a large cause of this. The media loves headlines. This Canadian-based article about the 'inhumane exploitation in the United States,' a possible new form of American slavery, won't be making headlines. Race, even beyond income, is the single most powerful predictor for the location of toxic waste sites; yet this isn't headline material. The fact that the Oklahoma SAE frat members would have become CEOs, politicians, or in other positions of power had they not been caught will not be discussed.

Institutional racism does not make headlines. Events make headlines, because they are easy to sensationalize.

When we look at Martese Johnson and Renisha McBride as events, we are ignoring the lava that runs under the land we stand on. We are ignoring that some groups of people are more listened to by politicians, when blacks (even before Obama) actually vote more than whites when controlled for income and education.

We are looking at volcanoes, and we need to stop. Next time something like this happens (because there will be a next time), view it in the larger context it exists in. Do not focus on it as an 'event'. Direct our anger towards the overall oppression instead of towards an individual, even though individuals are so much more fun to get angry at. A conviction is not what we need! There can be no 'justice' after a life is lost. There are no reparations for a lost life. We need to engage in better discussions, or else all we'll have are surface-level bandages.

Don't get me wrong. Charging Officer Slager for murder is great, but there was a better solution: not killing Walter Scott.

(This discussion was just for anti-Blackness in America. Wait till you hear about other the loads of other underprivileged groups!)

This post is part of the #WriteInclusively campaign created to promote the normalization of diversity in creative fiction. Please please subscribe to the monthly newsletter! I don't spam. 

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Monday, April 6, 2015

Interview with Amanda Jasper - 'Become an Agent' WINNER!

Woot woot woot! 'Become an Agent' just ended and it was very, very fun. I'm constantly impressed and astounded by the writing community, and this Querypalooza made me even more grateful to have such a community. 

There was one special entry that got the most 'Yes' votes on its first round: Entry 6 by Amanda Jasper!!!! Make sure you read it, because it really sounds like an amazing book.

NOW, INTERVIEW TIME! Here's........Amanda!

1. Fun facts about you: name three!

1. Like Rumilla I’m a huge crafter. I knit and crochet, but I don’t actually spin yarn. Or (sadly) turn it into gold.
2. I really love wizards and have gotten into heated discussions with people about my love of wizards. Once I designed a fake book cover called ‘You guys, Wizards are totally real’.
3. I have a huge collection of dresses, and unless I’m running, I never wear pants. My friends say I’m pretty whimsical.
2. Tell us about your writing/publication experience. How did the drafting go? How do you cope in the querying process?
The first draft of this book just poured out of me. I wrote 75k words in 5 weeks in October of 2013. Then I tackled a big revision on an earlier book, so I put SSG aside. Then I got married, so for a few months (March-May) I wasn’t doing much writing or critiquing at all. I finally tackled revisions from June 2014 - January 2015.

This is my third completed book, but the second I am querying. The first one took almost two years to write a first draft and clocked in at 150k words. So I put it aside because it felt like too huge an undertaking to revise. After that experience I worked really hard on maintaining manageable word counts on my projects.
I find querying challenging, but I think we all do on some level. But it’s the only way to move forward, so onward I go.
3. What/Who keeps you going on this quest for publication, especially if you feel like giving up some times?
Honestly, I feel really lucky because I have so many people in my life who are supportive of me. First, my husband who encouraged me to write again after a 10 year battle with writers block. My sister who reads all my books, and pretends to love them. And I have two amazing critique partners who mean the world to me. My friends and coworkers are all behind me too, which is a relief because some days are harder than others so it helps to have a support network. Also I live in Seattle and they sell craft beer at gas stations… (can I say that? is that ok for a YA writer to say? Don’t drink underage kids! but when you do grow up only drink decent beer.)
4. What is your favorite book? Genre? Author? Also, what writer would you most love to be compared to?
This is like picking between hundreds of my own children. I’m a huge reader and I just love books so much. But my favorites are probably (this is really hard!) House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski, A Door into Ocean by Joan Slonczewski, the ‘Wheel of Time’ series by Robert Jordan, and Ruins of Ambrai by Melanie Rawn. Those are the books I go back to the most.
My two favorite writers are Ursula K. LeGuin and Joan Slonczewki, they’ve both had such a huge influence on me, they’re my heroes!
In terms of genre, I love Sci-fi and fantasy in any age category. I’m a huge YA reader, and I think YA is amazing as well, especially some of the sci-fi/fantasy stuff that is out now. Honestly, if anyone reading this wants book recommendations, or to talk about books message me, or friend me on Goodreads. :)

5. What are your long-term and short-term goals, writing-wise?
When I first started, my goal was to get published, but in the years since, I've change my focus. Now my goals, long and short term are focused on craft. I have a BFA in Design which really taught me about process and focus, and I’m always trying to apply that to my writing. I’d like to craft deeper characters and learn how to build big and immersive worlds, places that feel real.
My other long term goal is to not stop. I had writers block for ten years and even though I loved my life during those years, I really felt like something was missing. So every day when I sit down to write I feel like I’ve won.

6. How was your experience in Become an Agent? What part of the contest did you find the best, and what part did you find the hardest? Anything to tell the other entrants?
I entered Become an Agent because I honestly thought my husband would divorce me if I made him read draft 300 of my query. I was in need of fresh eyes on my query, and to figure out the weak spots. I’m obsessed with feedback, and I love hearing what absolutely isn’t working. I had four years of incredibly tough critiques when I was in art school, which taught me how to separate myself from criticism of my work. The best part of this contest was all the feedback, especially from people not in the contest, I’m so grateful that they came here and gave their time to critique. The hardest part was saying no to the other amazing entries. There were so many good queries and first pages in this contest, I wanted to read basically everything.

7. What would be a dream review for any of your books? Meaning, what would you LOVE for someone to say about your writing/stories?
The only thing I really want is for someone to say that my book is their favorite book. If I could reach one person with my writing that would be enough for me. Books have had such a huge huge huge impact on my life and I want my stories to live on in the same way. So if even one person (who isn’t my friend Gwyn) reads my book and loves it, I’ll be happy.

 Amanda Jasper has been telling stories since she was old enough to speak. She holds a BFA in Graphic Design from the Fashion Institute of Technology. Amanda currently works as a designer for university, creating ads, web pages and billboards. She lives in Seattle WA, with her husband, one normal sized cat and one extra huge cat. In her spare time Amanda enjoys obsessing over TV shows, playing video games, and forcing everyone around her to read her favorite YA novels.

Please please please, congratulate her on Twitter  and take a look at her Tumblr! CONGRATS AMANDA!!! Can't wait to see what you do.

AND A MESSAGE TO EVERYONE: If you get a success story because of 'Become an Agent', no matter what that success is or how late it comes, I want to hear about it! *glares at everyone* I'm expecting emails.

Congrats again Amanda!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Mary Ann Marlowe - Query Kombat 2014 SUCCESS STORY!

HAPPY HAPPY TIMES! I forgot how great good weather feels, and how happy it makes me feel after such a horrible winter. I haven't felt more warm/content/happy in a while. Weather does bad things to me, people. Bad things.

BUT THERE IS MORE HAPPINESS NOW! Because I get to share the success story of a friend and Writerbee :) 


In 2013, my karate instructor asked me: "What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?" The answer came easy: write a novel. He said, “Do it.”

So the next month, I entered Nanowrimo and churned out a total piece of crap. Writing that first novel taught me things about craft, about my own voice and style, and mainly about my own capacity for barfing out a ton of words at a single go. I badly wanted that book to be good enough, so I revised and revised and revised until it wasn’t completely terrible.

Not knowing any better, I entered novel #1 in contests. I entered it into Pitch Madness and didn’t get in. I revised and entered it in Nest Pitch and didn’t get in. I revised and entered it in Pitch Slam and didn’t get in. Undaunted, I revised and revised, learning more and more about what works and what doesn’t.

When I entered Query Kombat in the Spring of 2014, I was seriously on the verge of giving up on this pipe dream. I mean, obviously I couldn’t compete with all those “real” writers. I fully expected another rejection. But the wonderful SC picked me to be on his team (Writerbees!), boosting my morale by letting me know I was getting closer. It didn’t even matter that I got knocked out in the first round. Query Kombat was a career-changing experience for me. (Thanks SC!) [ :D -SC]

As a bonus, the query I wrote for this contest resulted in my first full request (and it came on the day the Query Kombat entries went live). So as I watched my QK entry get KOed, I was doing a happy jig.

As a super-double atomic-powered bonus, I found friends and CPs for life by connecting with a QK teammate and, true story, with the same girl who knocked me out in the first round.

By the time I realized novel #1 was doomed, I’d managed to learn how to write a decent query, get requests, and get accepted into contests. But deep in my heart, I knew novel #1 was my practice novel. My trunk novel. My "one day I'll know how to fix you novel." I needed to move on.

So I buckled down and pounded out novel #2. Thanks to my new incredible CPs, I finished it just in time to enter it into Pitch Wars. I was surprised and delighted to be picked by my amazing mentor, Jaime Loren, who helped me revamp that sucker into a novel I’m truly proud of. And while my entry did great during the agent round, Pitch Wars didn’t lead to an offer. And in fact, cold querying that novel landed me one single solitary request.

In December, I put novel #2 into a metaphorical Viking boat, cast it off to sea, and shot it with a flaming arrow. I love that book, but it wasn't the one.

Fortunately, I’d already started novel #3 before Pitch Wars selections were announced in September. I finished drafting in November (yeah Nano!), revised three times in December, and began querying at the end of January.

This time things went faster. I'd barely dipped my toes into the query waters when I got a number of requests. I entered Agent Query and threw out some twitter pitches which resulted in a few more requests. Coming full circle, I entered Pitch Madness.

However, I ended up dropping out before picks were made because…

After a month of obsessively refreshing my email and trying to read the Query Tracker tea leaves, I heard the panic-inducing “You have mail” ringtone associated with my author email account.

Now, I have a tendency to band-aid rip whenever I get a reply from an agent. I immediately scan for keywords like “unfortunately” and “subjective” on the one hand or “happy” and “please attach” on the other, so I can brace myself for a rejection or psych myself up for a request (or maybe, at long last, an offer). So when this email began with "Please forgive me," I blew a raspberry. And then read: “...for taking a while to get back to you.” I made myself read the words in the letter in sequential order and discovered that it looked suspiciously like an offer. The agent I had cold queried explained that one of the other agents at the agency loved my novel and wanted to work with me.

I spent the next four hours trying to piece together a coherent sentence to let them know I was thrilled. I wondered if it was possible to screw that up so badly the whole thing would go poof.

The contract came at the same time as the invitation to talk, so I went into The Call with an offer in hand, which meant the ball was in my court to make sure she was right for me. That put me at ease and stressed me out all at the same time.

I'd love to share all the details of the actual call, but it's shrouded in the fog of war. I had my list of questions to ask, and ask I did. And she had all the right answers. I hung up the phone ready to sign the contract and send it back, but I had outstanding materials with other agents.

I took the requisite week to get my ducks in a row, got more requests, some rejections, an offer to revise and resubmit, and another offer of representation from a second very lovely agent. If she'd been the only one offering, I would have taken her offer with no hesitation.

But I had a decision to make. I knew I couldn't really go wrong either way. Both agencies were highly reputable. The clients of both agents had nothing but glowing praise to offer. Both agents said lovely things about my novel. And both had ideas for revisions.

In the end, I went with my gut. I felt that the first offering agent's vision for my book and my career more closely lined up with my own. (Also, I have a major crush on this agency.) And so, I happily, accepted representation from Rachel Stout at Dystel and Goderich.

I’m a computer programmer, nerd, and writer of contemporary romance, based in central Virginia. When I’m not writing, I do karate with my kids and read my friends’ unpublished novels in Word doc form. Theoretically, I love to travel but until I find a patron to fund my trip around the world, I placate my wanderlust by letting my characters hop on a plane and hang out in Paris. I’m a contest veteran of Query Kombat and Pitch Wars in 2014. My website is www.maryannmarlowe.com. [Follow her and congratulate her on Twitter!! - SC]

CONGRATS MARY ANN!!! Can't wait to see what comes in the future :)) Everyone, make sure to follow/congratulate her!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Announcement: I'm Retiring from Blogging

Rabbit rabbit rabbit!

I've been thinking about this for a long time.

It's odd, you know? I've been blogging so much, hosting contests, etc. for years now. And I took a few breaks, sure. But everyone's saying blogging is dead and I don't know. It's been a lot of work, work that I could have spent time writing (or more like procrastinating, heheehe).

So right now I'm thinking about moving on. Doing something new.

I don't know what that is yet. I don't even have a clue. But blogging has been too hard. Once Query Kombat 2015 is finished, I'm going to retire this blog and delete it. It feels odd but very relieving at the same time.

I know this is weird but I have to do it, for myself. I hope you guys will still be with me on Twitter and I'm so sorry if I'm letting you all down.

In other news, I'm actually really happy today!

Today's the day of my absolutely most absolute FAVORITE holiday!