Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Parenting to Publishing

Anita Grace Howard writes YA and adult literary fantasies with a romantic slant and is represented by Jenny Bent of The Bent Agency. When she’s not riding on the coattails of her fictional characters, Anita spends time with her husband, two teenage children, and Labrador retrievers. She also enjoys rollerblading, gardening, sewing, and blogging with her writer/reader pals. 
Let’s see how she’s doing it:


CW: When did you start writing?
AGH: As a kid, I wrote a few silly little stories. My dad actually threw them away accidentally a while back when cleaning out the attic, so they’re probably sitting in a landfill somewhere now, entertaining a rat or two. ;) I started writing seriously back in 2004. My grandfather died of cancer, and on the night of his death, I sat down and wrote a poem for him—my way of letting go. It was pretty long, and basically a tribute to how he was with all of his grandkids. Grandpa was an amazing man with a sharp wit and a tender heart. After reading it, my cousins were all so touched that they had the preacher use it as part of the eulogy. After that, poems just started pouring out of me. It’s like it opened a floodgate to a passion I didn’t even know existed. I went from poems to short stories, and then finally novels. So I’ve crammed a lot of writing in that small span of years.

CW: When do you start writing? 
AGH: I usually play around on twitter for about an hour in the morning (I only tweet once a day and take the weekends off so it won’t take over my life) before I start writing. After that, I write in spurts throughout the day—anywhere from an hour to four-hour stretches. In the summer, my hours are even more sporadic due to carting kids around to various activities. 
CW: What genre do you write? What is your book about? 
AGH: I write both YA and adult literary fantasy. The book that’s being shopped right now by my agent is a YA fantasy called Splintered, a funky and gothed-up YA Alice in Wonderland spin-off that’s one part adaptation and one part continuation. 
BLURB: Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers—precisely the problem that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before.  Surely, she tells herself, it has nothing to do with the fact that she is directly descended from Alice Liddell, the real life inspiration for Alice's Adventures In Wonderland.  But when her mother takes a turn for the worse and the whispers grow too strong to bear, Alyssa seeks the origins of the family curse.  An eerie website and a mysterious moth lead her down the rabbit hole into the real Wonderland, a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on.  There she must decide whom to trust: Jeb, her gorgeous best friend and secret crush who followed her down the rabbit hole, or the sexy-but-enigmatic Morpheus, their guide through Wonderland who may have wicked motives all of his own.
CW: Tell us a little bit about your journey to getting your agent? What were your query stats? What is the most memorable feedback (good or bad) you have received about your book?
AGH: Jenny is actually my second agent. After leaving my first agent on the grounds I wasn't willing to change the fantasy part of my book, I started querying again. I received four requests for fulls almost right off the bat, but they all resulted in rejections for the same reason my original agent didn’t like it. At that point, I was at the lowest I'd ever been. But I didn't quit because my family is super supportive of my writing career, as are my wonderful writing friends (including the awesome support group on QT). Not long after that, the very elements in my story that caused me to part ways with my first agent, and caused the other four agents to turn me down, are the ones that caught the eyes of the three agents who offered representation.
STATS: I sent out 26 e-queries which resulted in:
 7 full requests (4 rejections/3 offers)
 5 partial requests (2 rejections / 1 closed no response / 2 bowed out after offers received)
 12 rejections on query alone
 3 closed/unanswered
Memorable feedback on the book being shopped now? Well, it actually came from one of the agents I didn’t choose. When we were talking on the phone she told me about a scene in the book where Alyssa first meets her nemesis/guide, Morpheus. It’s a little eerie and she was reading on her kindle while riding the subway in New York. She got so engrossed in the scene, she didn’t hear the ticket guy walk up beside her. When he cleared his throat to get her attention, it startled her so much she dropped the kindle. She told me that she honestly had forgotten where she was for that moment—because in her mind she was in that world I’d created. That’s the best compliment any writer can ever receive.
CW: Have any websites or articles helped with the query/synopsis process?
AGH: As I mentioned above, QueryTracker played a huge role in my success. Also, Nathan Bransford is probably one of the most educational and uplifting blogs out there, mainly because he’s been on both sides of the biz, agenting and now writing. I think this gives him keener insight into what we need to know as writers to get into the good graces of an agent and then a publisher. 
CW: How do you feel about conferences? Have you been to any? Do you have any suggestions of which conferences are good? 
AGH: I’ve only been to the local conference here in the Texas Panhandle called Frontiers in Writing. I even won a few contests there years ago—though it never led to anything other than bragging rights on my query letters. One of the best conferences—hands down—is RWA, and I hope to make it to one in the future. People always assume it’s all about romance there, but they’ve expanded into all areas of writing over the years, YA included. It’s a great place to network with writing peers and bigwigs in the biz, and also to learn the ropes of writing and querying. 
CW: Can you describe your writing routine? Any certain music, food, smells or atmosphere gets you in the mood to write?
AGH: Food wise, mainly coffee in the morning and bottled water throughout the day. I also like music to write by. I always make a playlist for each book before I even begin writing (while I’m still in the brainstorming phase). I may start out with ten songs in the beginning, but I keep adding to that when the real writing starts, and sometimes end up w/thirty or more titles before the book’s done. Also, I work so much better at home on my computer in my office. For some reason, I don’t get the words out as fast on the go with my laptop or writing in a spiral. 
CW: What are you currently working on?
AGH: I’ve started a new YA based on the Phantom of the Opera, one of my favorite Broadway musicals.
CW: What are you reading now? What is your favorite book? What is your favorite movie?
AGH: Well, I’m actually reading Phantom by Susan Kay, because I tend to saturate myself in my subject when I’m writing, and this fits in nicely with the Phantom theme. My favorite book of all time is Jane Eyre, and my favorite movie is the same. Best love story EVER.
CW: What is your favorite writer’s resource?
AGH: The Online Thesaurus
CW: Tell us about your blog, any blog advice you can give?
AGH: I just started up my blogspot / blogger blog the first of March, almost a month after signing with my new agent. It’s interesting because the Livejournal blog I’d had for a couple of years before had died a quiet death because I wasn’t organized with my posts. But on this new blog, I’ve been posting consistently and in the process have hooked up with tons of writers and readers. The best advice I can give is to pick one or two days out of the week when you post so your readers know when to drop by. And don’t let them down. Have a new post up each week on those days. Also, make sure you answer your visitor’s comments to the best of your ability.  Treat them like guests in your home, because they deserve that respect. After all, they took the time to visit your blog. And most importantly, return the favor. Visit other people’s blogs and leave comments as often as you can. It’s all about supporting one another. Much like any aspect of life, you can’t not give back, and still expect to receive. 
CW: What blog do you keep up with the most? Why?
AGH: On my blog’s side bar, I have a list of blogs entitled: Fun and Savvy Bloggers. The order they’re in varies according to who has posted most recently. These are the blogs I keep up with on a weekly basis due to their informative and /or entertaining posts. Plus, they’re very consistent about posting. Further down my side bar is a list of blogs entitled: Industry and Book Reviewing Blogs. I visit those less often, but if I see a caption that catches my eye or I’m looking for post ideas myself, I hop over to have a read or do some research. 
CW: Tell me a little about your kids, husband and home life. 
AGH: I have a daughter who just graduated high school and a son going into high school next year. My husband is a computer tech and is SO much smarter than I could ever dream of being. He’s also my webmaster (he LOVES when I use that phrase … surely it has nothing to do with the word “master”?) so he’s working on my website when he has time. We also have two Labrador Retrievers and lots of flowers. Gardening is my newest passion. It’s kind of a challenge in the Texas Panhandle because it’s so dry and windy here; but I’m giving it my best shot!
CW: What kind of support do you have from friends and family when it comes to writing?
AGH: I mentioned in an earlier answer that my family kept me from giving up querying Splintered. Well, that’s true for this entire journey so far. Once I voiced my love of writing and started getting serious about it, they were behind me 100%, never once treating me like this was a waste of time or just a hobby. I’m more grateful for that than I can ever say. Also, I cherish my writing friends—both online through blogging and tweeting—along with my critters and beta readers. Without their input and encouragement, writing would be very lonely and not nearly as much fun. Everyone needs an extra set of eyeballs on their work. When those eyeballs belong to other writers who you respect, it helps you grow in your craft and validates that you’re going the right direction with your stories. And we all need validation in this biz.
CW: How do you balance writing and family life?
AGH: Just whenever I can fit it in around chauffeuring kids and doing laundry, meals, and SOMETIMES housework. Dusting is really low on my priority list. *wink*  So basically, any chance I get. I don’t have to be inspired to write, I simply need to have time to sit down at my computer and get my fingers to tapping.
CW: What has been your biggest challenge in writing so far? Any solutions?
AGH: After my new agent sent out Splintered, I had a hard time getting back into writing mode; knowing that my book is out on sub makes it REALLY difficult to concentrate on the actual work of writing. I tend to want to check my email every three seconds. Plus, I started getting bogged down by blogging and tweeting too much. So I had to pull back finally and find a way to discipline myself. On days other than my blogging days, I shut down the internet other than my thesaurus link and keep my email turned off. This has helped me tremendously. Also, if I ever get “stuck” on a scene, I’ve found that either gardening or roller blading helps wipe out the cobwebs in my brain. It’s like clicking the refresh button on the internet.
CW: What is your guilty pleasure? Tell me something people wouldn’t guess about you.
AGH: Hershey’s special dark chocolate. I eat one square every day. Hee. And something no one would guess about me? I first learned to write through poetry. I even seriously considered writing for greeting cards for a while. I’ve written over two hundred poems. Though they helped shape the lyrical quality to my voice, they are all very personal and will likely never see the light of day. ;)

CW: Any advice you can give to writers? Also, any helpful tips, tricks or websites? 
AGH: My best tip for writers is to branch out and socialize. We’ve always heard that writing is very lonely. That’s because it’s so easy for us to isolate ourselves; yet if we don’t experience life and relationships on every level, how are we going to write about them?

No tricks from me. Just discover what energizes your muse and go with it. You have to find your own way if you’re going to have your own voice. 
As for websites, read lots of agent and industry blogs, and lots of author and book review blogs. Pay the $20 a month for PublishersMarketplace. It’s a great investment for keeping up with deals so you’ll know what’s selling and what’s not. 
And the most important piece of advice I can offer (this applies to critiquer, agent, and editor feedback) is to know the difference between pride and vision. In other words, if people are telling you to change something in your book that you love, stand back and ask yourself why you love it. Is it personal to you? Something that other people, including your readers one day, are likely not to connect with? Or is it something integral to the characters in your story. Something that’s a part of them? That’s the difference between pride and vision. Pride applies to the glory it brings you. Vision applies to the glory it brings your characters. Never make changes that will compromise your character’s voice which ultimately IS your book’s vision. But be humble enough to let go of pride if it will make your character’s voice stronger and your book a more solid read. 
Thanks so much for having me, Jessica!
Thank you Anita for your wonderful interview. Anita said it perfectly, that writers tend to feel very lonely. I have found out that if you surround yourself with writers like Anita, you gain friends that help you feel part of a community. We hope Anita will come back and talk with us when her book does get published and let us know how it all happened. Good Luck, Anita! 

Her website:  A.G. Hoaward is in the construction phases.  To glimpse a personal side of Anita and follow along on her writer’s journey, visit her blog at:  AuthorAGHoward, or follow her on twitter: @aghowardwrites.  

7 comments:

  1. Thank you, Jessica, for your sweet words! And you did a wonderful job with the interview. :)

    Of course I'll come back to SQUEEE when I finally sell. No doubt I'll be bouncing all over the place; hard to contain excitement like that. :)

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  2. Great questions, Jessica!

    You are so awesome, Anita. You are the most dedicated and disciplined writer I have ever "met"! I'm not usually a big fan of fantasy, but I am soooo looking forward to reading your book! Can't wait to "cyber-celebrate" some good news with you ;o)

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  3. Aww, thanks Angela! I really appreciate that. And I can't wait to cyber celebrate. ;) You know you'll be one of the first to know, girl.

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  4. Wonderful interview! Anita your author photo actually looks like a dark Alice in Wonderland! And I really loved what you said about Pride vs. Vision. We often hear advice about when you should listen to criticism and when you need to stay true to your own story, but I've never heard that advice put so perfectly.

    I can't wait to read your book. It sounds like something I will LOVE!

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  5. Liesl, thanks so much for your wonderful kind words! :) And I'm so glad the advice hit home for you. It took me many, many years to realize that myself. Oh, and heck yeah! I can't wait for you to get to read it! LOL

    Hi Bethany, luvie! Thanks for your awesome support as always, my wonderful friend. :)

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