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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tuesday's Top Ten - Writing Mistakes

"And bad mistakes/ I've made a few." - "We Are the Champions" by Queen

First of all, I am not posting pictures of Hurricane Irene because we didn't actually get a hurricane! I have to say, I'm a little disappointed in Irene. I was expecting this big storm, equal or greater to Hurricane Isabel from 2003, but alas, it didn't happen (sigh). Okay, enough dramatics. We did get a tropical storm, but no damage and no significant power outages, so all is good.

Now, onto the latest Top Ten list. Today, I will be listing my top ten biggest mistakes I have made in my writing career (or what I hope will one day be a career) - so far. Hey, I'm honest enough to admit that I will always be making mistakes, but I also always learn from them. On that note, here's the list. I would love to hear what all of you have to say about this. What errors have you made along the way? Are mine totally stupid or embarrassingly familiar? Inquiring minds want to know...

1. Thinking this was going to be easy - My biggest flaw has been my own self confidence. Not that I'm full of myself or anything, but when I finished my first Willow Ryan novel, I was sure that I would land my dream agent right away (she requested a partial and ended up passing on it, but I got good feedback), get a publishing contract quickly, and become the next Melody Carlson/Meg Cabot/Robin Jones Gunn. I was so naive...

2. Having a typo on a query letter - This one killed me! I saw after I had emailed a carefully crafted letter to an agent that I had spent hours working on (very early on in the querying process), and I had accidentally typed "on" instead of "in". I will never forget that, and it bothered me to no end. I am positive that is why I never heard back from that agent.

3. Misspelling the agent's name - A huge, colossal, boneheaded mistake, and I made it! It was an unfamiliar name and for the first time in my life, I didn't triple check the salutation, and it came back to bite me. I was so mad at myself because of a stupid mistake that I should have caught, but didn't. I guess OCD was on vacation that day.

4. Taking rejections personally - I know you're not supposed to do this because it's strictly business, but to the writer who has invested so much in his/her work, it's very, very personal. I am trying to let it go, but those rejections still sting a little. Okay, sometimes a lot.

5. Opening with the weather - My first version of Secrets opened with Willow laying in the middle of a field as a thunderstorm approached. I spent so long making sure this scene was perfect, only to find out that this is a huge no-no. In fact, opening with the weather is on the top of tons of agents' pet peeve lists. Upon finding this out, I promptly began editing.

6. Thinking I was done with Secrets two years ago - Since then I have rewritten that novel at least eight times, the first chapter in particular. It is SO much better now than it was back then, and I have learned to never say that I am completely finished. Not until I see my book(s) in Barnes & Noble, that is.

7. Wanting to give up - There have been times over the past two years when I have felt that this will never happen, a publishing career is out of the question for me, and I should just forget about it. That is not a winning attitude, and I absolutely hate to lose, so I got over it. I still have my negative moments (days, weeks), but I will never quit.

8. Similarly named characters - I don't know how I missed this, but it wasn't until my third rewrite of Secrets that I noticed I had a character named Michael (Willow's dad) and another character named Mike (her friend). These characters never intertwined, so maybe that's why I didn't notice, but come on. How stupid is that? I changed Mr. Ryan's name to Patrick. At least that was an easy fix.

9. Song lyrics - This one took me a long time to discover. My first three novels were written with tons of song lyrics included, because Willow always has a song stuck in her head and tends to start singing without warning (autobiographical...). There are a lot of pop culture references in my books (they take place in the 1980s), and I had to do a ton of editing when I discovered that I could not use song lyrics, no matter how much I loved them, without permission. Very expensive permission. So, I worked around it, mentioning artists and song titles, but never exact lyrics, and I didn't lose any of the pop culture charm I originally had. Lesson learned and I'm a better writer for having made the mistake.

10. Checking my mailbox and email constantly - I nearly drove myself crazy looking for responses with my first couple rounds of submissions. Let me tell you, responses, when they do come, usually take forever! Often weeks, if not months, and I am not a patient person. I even got a response over a year after querying an agent. Once they are sent, I have learned to try to forget about them, and if I get a response, I am always surprised.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Ridin' the Storm Out

"Ridin' the storm out/ Ridin' the storm out." REO Speedwagon

Hurricane Irene is slowly making her presense known in VA. It's been a stormy day, full of wind, torrential rain, and tornado warnings, and the worst is yet to come. Right now it's the calm before the storm (think CCR's "Have You Ever Seen the Rain"), with gusty winds but no rain at the moment. The next five or six hours should be interesting if the weather people know what they're talking about. What? They don't? Normally I would agree, but so far they've been pretty right on with their forecast for Irene. I'm hoping to get some cool photos this evening, and if I still have power later on (fingers crossed!) I will post them for all to see.

So, it's been exciting so far, but nothing huge...yet!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Storm Front Coming In

"There's a dirty wind blowing in/ There's a storm front coming in/ There's an S.O.S. on the seas tonight." - "I Could'a Been a Contender" by The Gaslight Anthem

Are there any lyrics more perfect than these when a hurricane is barrelling down on your town? I don't think so. As the forecast stands, Hurricane Irene is expected to hit the Outer Banks of North Carolina and then come up the coast, hammering southeastern Virginia with torrential rain, flooding, monsterous winds, and possible tornadoes. Sounds fun, right? Actually, in a way, this storm does hold a little bit of excitement for me. I don't know why, but crazy weather has always been a little thrilling for me, and a small part of me is looking forward to a visit from Irene. Of course I don't want any destruction, damage, or lives lost though. Can't I have it both ways - a hurricane with no long-lasting negative effects? I can't? Bummer.

So, as the storm heads my way, I will be silently (and sometimes out loud if inspiration strikes) be singing every storm song I can think of, praying that no damage is done, and looking forward to a wild day tomorrow. Hopefully I will have power for a little while and will be able to post an update as Hurricane Irene comes knocking at my door on Saturday...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tuesday's Top Ten - Songs

"These are a few of my favorite things." - from "The Sound of Music"

Alright boys and girls, it's time for another Tuesday's Top Ten! Since I have listed my favorite musical artists and albums for the last two weeks, I thought I would round out the category with my favorite songs. Next week I'll move on to a whole new topic - I promise!

1. "Like a Rolling Stone" by Bob Dylan - I've said it before and I'll say it again, this is hands down the best song ever written. Dylan and classic rock at their best. If you haven't heard it, download the song, buy the CD, listen to an old album - whatever - and be amazed.

2. "The Times They Are A-Changin'" by Bob Dylan - Can you tell I'm a fan? This song was written over 40 years ago but it might as well have been written yesterday. It's a timeless tale of a changing world and how we either have to change with it or else. A coming-of-age story in uncertain times set to music. I could listen to this one all day.

3. "Mary Jane's Last Dance" by Tom Petty - I love this song! It's fun to sing along to, has a great beat, and best of all, tells a story. This tune is open to interpretation (my thought is the suicide of young Mary Jane which is backed up by the music video) which I think is great. Any rock song that leads to conversation and speculation is a winner in my book. Plus, I've heard this live and it was amazing!

4. "Jack and Diane" by John Mellencamp - Ahh, 80's Heartland Rock at its best. I love this song so much that I mentioned it in my Willow novels several times. It's so 80's, so classic, and in the words of Ferris Bueller, it's so choice!

5. "Kodachrome" by Paul Simon - I adopted this song as one of my anthems because of the first verse: "When I think back/ On all the crap I learned in high school/ It's a wonder/ I can think at all/ And though my lack of education/ Hasn't hurt me none/ I can read the writing on the wall." I went to a high school where athletics were everything and education was an afterthought, where the top 2% of the student body were ignored but expected to carry the school through testing regardless, so this song speaks to me. Besides that, it's a fun summer song that is so catchy it will stay in my head all day, and I don't mind one bit.

6. "Born in the U.S.A." by Bruce Springsteen - Check out what I said about this song last week. I just love how so many people think it's this patriotic anthem when in fact it's the opposite, protesting our country's involvement in the Vietnam War. Plus, it's Bruuuuce!

7. "Heartache Tonight" by The Eagles - Okay, I pretty much love anything The Eagles sing, but this is my favorite. It's a great song, plain and simple. My favorite part is: "We can beat around the bushes/ We can get down to the bone/ We can leave it in the parking lot/ But either way there's gonna be a heartache tonight/ A heartache tonight I know." I listened to this one in the car so much that I ruined the CD. Oh well, it was worth it!

8. "Bring it On" by The Gaslight Anthem - Hey, a current song! Yep, this is the only one on the list written in this millenium, and it's amazing. If you haven't heard TGA's music, do yourself a favor and check it out, because these guys are incredible. This song speaks to me on a very personal level for a couple of reasons, and it's one of my anthems. Sometimes I don't know whether to blast the music and sing along, or turn it down a little and shed a tear to the lyrics. It's powerful, soulful, and good old-fashioned rock-n-roll recorded just last year. A winning combination!

9. "Reelin' in the Years" by Steely Dan - Check out last August's post entitled "One of My Songs" for the many reasons why I love this Steely Dan hit. True, it may have been written years before I was born, but in some parts it could have been written about me. I always smile when I hear the opening music to this song on the radio.

10. "Oh! Darling" by The Beatles - What's a top ten music list without The Beatles? "Oh! Darling" may be one of their lesser played songs, but it has so much raw emotion and power behind the simple lyrics that I absolutely love it. It jumped into my top ten after the movie "Across the Universe" came out and the song was put into motion for me on the screen. Wow...

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Revised Query Letter

"Here I am, on the road again/ There I am, up on the stage." - "Turn the Page" by Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band

The road is the submissions process and the stage is my query letter. I am once again getting back into the game, hopefully with better results this time thanks to my newly revised query letter. I have been at this for a while, but I am still growing, still learning, and still working to make the dream come true, so I am posting my query in the hopes of getting some feedback from all of you out there, whether you are writers, working in the literary/publishing field, an avid reader, or just someone who has an opinion to share. I'd love to hear any comments you want to leave me. Thanks for reading, and I hope this letter is a winner. Fingers crossed!

Dear Ms. _______,

I read in Guide to Literary Agents that you specialize in representing new authors, and after looking at your website I feel my 99,000 word novel, Secrets, would be a good match for you. It is women’s fiction geared toward the twenty to thirty-something crowd.

Seventeen, pregnant, and on her own. This is the position that recent high school graduate Willow Ryan finds herself in during the summer of 1986. Not wanting to disappoint her family or ruin the father’s life, Willow leaves Indiana for charming Santa Elena, California, determined to raise her child on her own without telling a soul back home. She lands a job working for Peggy Maguire, a former Southern Belle with a knack for finding trouble - and humor - in the most unlikely places. Willow’s new neighbor, a friendly surfer dude named Denny, quickly becomes someone she can count on for anything, but could there be more to their relationship than Willow sees? Get ready to laugh out loud and a shed a tear or two as Secrets takes you on a journey that begins with an independent young woman trying her best to hide the truth, and ends with a pivotal event that turns her world upside down, forcing all of Willow’s secrets to come to light.

Although I definitely have my own unique style and voice, Secrets could be described as a combination of Kristin Hannah’s sincere emotion, Meg Cabot’s humor, and the welcoming tone of a Robin Jones Gunn novel, where the characters seem like old friends stopping by with an invitation to a beach party or to offer a much needed hug. I chose to write this book because Willow’s character has a story to tell, and many women will relate to her as she gives all she has to create the best possible life for her child.

This is a simultaneous submission, and my completed manuscript is ready to be sent at your request. While Secrets can definitely stand on its own, it is also the first novel in a series. I have completed the next three books and have plans for a fifth Willow Ryan novel as well. I have enclosed the first ten pages of Secrets for you to read as stated on your website. Thank you so much for your time and consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you.


Shannon Higgins

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tuesday's Top Ten - Albums

"Did you grow up lonesome and one of a kind?/ Were your records all you had to pass the time?" - "The Queen of Lower Chelsea" by The Gaslight Anthem

It's time for another Top Ten list! Building off of what I started last week, here are, in my opinion, the ten greatest albums of all time, and my favorite song on each album. Random fact - every album but one on the list was written before I was born.

I would love to hear what everyone thinks about my list and what your favorite albums are, so leave me a comment and share some cool music while your at it. Happy Tuesday!

1. Highway 61 Revisited by Bob Dylan - Listen to "Like a Rolling Stone",
my favorite song of all time. It has the mystery, poetry, emotion,
and the meaning that make this song a true classic.

2. Abbey Road by The Beatles - I love The Fab Four, especially their
later music, and "Oh! Darling" is amazing. It's raw, powerful,
emotional, and Paul McCartney sounds fantastic on this one.

3. Hotel California by The Eagles - Every song on this album is great,
but the title track is the best one. It's haunting and mellow,
beautiful and sad, and Don Henley's way of describing life in the CA
music scene in the 70s. Too bad I came along after it was over!

4. Damn the Torpedoes by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - This album is
so fantastic! I love everything Tom Petty has done, but my favorite
Torpedoes song has to be "Even the Losers". A simple story of a young
man's lost love, and how everybody gets lucky sometimes. Also check
out "Century City". It's hilarious, considering that the lyrics talk
about living in the modern world and it was written in 1979.

5. Born in the U.S.A. by Bruce Springsteen - This album was awesome in
1985 and it still is today. I love every track, but the fist pumping
protest song masquerading as a patriotic anthem that is "Born in the
U.S.A." can't be beat. This is the type of song that comes on the car
radio and makes you want to roll the windows down, blast the stereo,
and sing along, loud and proud. That's why he's the Boss.

6. Blonde on Blonde by Bob Dylan - Another Dylan classic! It astounds me
that this album is 45 years old because like all of Dylan's songs,
they are timeless and remain relevant almost half a century later.
The can't miss song on this album is "Just Like a Woman". It's real,
simple, poetic, and beautiful with a touch of pain. Completely

7. Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys - Now what kind of California girl would
I be if I didn't love The Beach Boys? Famous for their fun surfing
music and cool racing songs, Brian Wilson ventured off the beaten path
with this one and created a masterpiece. "God Only Knows" is the
can't miss song from Pet Sounds. It's so stunning with it's simple
words and melody, but the meaning behind it is so strong and so
powerful that it takes my breath away.

8. Tapestry by Carole King - The ultimate 70s singer-songerwriter album.
Every song is a classic that tells a story, and my favorite is "So
Far Away", Carole's lamentations about life on the road away from
those she loves. Very soulful.

9. Led Zeppelin IV - Zeppelin's best album, this one is full of rock
anthems as well as a couple of slower songs that make you think
instead of just wanting to bang your head and sing along at the top
of your lungs. "Stairway to Heaven" is the giveaway pick here, but
I'm going in a different direction by choosing "Going to California".
I love this song and I used it in my first novel because it means
something to me. It's longing and pain with a dash of hope that maybe
things can turn around for the better.

10. American Beauty by The Grateful Dead - Jerry and the boys have a
following so big it became its own counterculture for a reason. They
may not have had a million top 10 hits, but this album is the epitome
of hippie music and I love it. "Box of Rain" is my favorite,
especially the line "believe it if you need it/ if you don't just pass
it on". This song has a great message, it's fun, and it gets stuck
in my head in the best possible way every time I hear it. Thanks,

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Tuesday's Top Ten

"When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose/ You're invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal." - "Like a Rolling Stone" by Bob Dylan (my favorite song and artist!)

I have been thinking of starting a weekly feature on my blog for a while now, and the idea of a top ten list came to me while I was at the pool with the girls I take care of this morning. The six-year-old was asking the other kids what their favorite books/flowers/foods/etc. were, basically driving everyone to the brink of insanity, and it came to me. I have always been an obsessive list maker, so why not share one of my little quirks with you? A lot of my lists will be geared toward pop culture, but I also have other ideas, so make sure you check back each week for my new list. Without further ado, here is the first Tuesday's Top Ten list, my top ten favorite bands/artists.

1. Bob Dylan - the poet of every generation, his music is just as
relevent today as it was during the Vietnam War.
2. Tom Petty - with or without the Heartbreakers, I will always
love Tom
3. The Eagles - 70s country-rock with a California edge - love it!
4. Bruce Springsteen - music that speaks to the soul
5. The Beach Boys - part of my California childhood
6. The Beatles - iconic music and musicians that are still cool
almost half a century later
7. The Gaslight Anthem - the only 21st Century band on the list,
these guys are hard rock with soul to spare, poets with guitars, and I
can't get enough of their music
8. John Mellencamp - heartland rock that you can't help but sing
along to
9. James Taylor - the best of the 70s singer-songwriters. I am a
sucker for a song that tells a great story
10. Carole King - right up there with James. An amazing songwriter.

So there you have it. Any comments out there? I would love to hear some of your favorites!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Some Will Lose

"Some will win, some will lose/ Some were born to sing the blues." - "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey

Sigh... I was not one of the lucky winners of the pitch contest I blogged about a week or so ago. I never really expect to win anything, but for some reason the outcome of this contest was more depressing than most rejections. Just the thought that winning would mean an agent would read and comment on my entire manuscript was so amazing that I let myself get excited about it, but maybe the next contest that comes along will have better results for me.

Or the next query letter. Rejection seems to be the topic of the day, with the contest and another "thanks but no thanks" from an agent. Things have to improve, right? I certainly hope so! What's a writer to do? Keep writing of course! And submitting, and revising, and praying! With next week off of work, I am making plans to revise my query letter (again), come up with a new list of agents to write to (again), and most importantly, work on my writing. I still have some editing to do for book four in the Willow Ryan series and am looking forward to starting a brand new mainstream novel next month. The important thing is that I'm not giving up, but instead I'm going to work even harder to make my dreams of becoming a published novelist a reality. I won't stop believing!