The Mugsters in Seattle

Twice a year, my writing group (aka the Mugsters) throws our own writing retreat. This year, we chose Seattle because Mike started his MFA program in Washington, and most of my writing group lives in Southern California where we’ve forgotten the feel of rain clouds, and we’re all a little leery about that mysterious liquid falling from the sky.

The four of us rented a quirky house on Airbnb in the Columbia City neighborhood of Seattle. We chugged Tin Umbrella coffee (aptly titled “Chase Your Dreams” blend), we meandered through a bookstore/brewery/restaurant called Third Place Books (brilliant idea!), we met up with other writing friends in Seattle, and we were ambushed by Tilly cat, the apparent feline homeowner of our little house. We maybe wrote a little. The thing is, our “writing retreat” has always been a way for us to connect beyond our manuscripts and our blinking computer screens. We come together to laugh and commiserate and inspire and fling ideas around like the lucky little tribe we’ve become.

We’re still puzzled by the mysterious liquid falling from the sky, but unfortunately it did not follow us home.

Mugsters group photo

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How I Found my Agent on Twitter!

I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve signed with Tricia Lawrence at the Erin Murphy Literary Agency!
Tricia Lawrence Agent Erin Murphy Literary
Now, let me toss off my writer hat and bust out the math:
AGENT QUERY STATS

Total submitted: 33 agents
Sources:
Writing in the Margins Query Contest Winner (6 agent requests) — this contest really helped me polish my query letter… thanks to YA author Justina Ireland!
#DVpit Twitter Pitch Contest (19 agent requests)
various other SCBWI resources
Timeline: I submitted to agents in March and April 2016, and then signed with an offer in May 2016!
Full requests : 16   *happy dance followed by sheer panic at waiting for responses*
Offers: 3   (Yes, THREE! This was a hard choice, and in the end I went with the agent that I connected with the most and knew would be an advocate for my work and bring diverse voices to mainstream fiction because #WNDB. Plus, Erin Murphy Literary Agency is a fabulous agency for the Children’s and YA book market!)
Signed: Tricia Lawrence at the Erin Murphy Literary Agency

When you only look at the stats, it makes it seem so slip’n’slide easy. Nope. What these little numbers don’t capture are the times when I’d frantically refresh my inbox only to be crushed by another rejection, or the months of polishing my query and manuscript until even birds would fly through that glass. And all that hope burning in my chest that maybe, just maybe I’ll see my book on a shelf one day. Even with an agent, it’s still not a guarantee that my novel ROMAN & LYNX will find a publisher. But there’s always hope. (Spoiler alert: If you ever end up reading my novel, you’ll see just how much Banksy’s art inspired my ending.)

Banksy!

Wait, you said you found your agent on Twitter?

Oh, right, that part! Yes, indeed.twitter-love #dvpit#DVpit is an amazing pitch contest on Twitter organized by agent Beth Phelan to help promote more diverse voices in fiction (THANKS, @beth_phelan )! Turns out tons of agents, editors and writers all converged on Twitter on April 19th and spread the love. If they favorited your 140-character pitch, then it meant that you could send them your query and a specific number of pages. Yes, you can already do this… but this pitching contest really brought out the agents that are craving YOUR stories and it time-warped my manuscript through the endless slush pile straight to the top.  Here was my pitch:

Andrea Ellickson Twitter pitch Roman & Lynx
And here was my query:

Dear Agent,

Thank you for favoriting my pitch at #DVpit: “Shadowshaper meets How to Train your Dragon–a boy busting out his inner Banksy & Filipino myths in San Francisco graffiti streets.” I’m seeking representation for my diverse YA fantasy ROMAN & LYNX, complete at 51,000 words.

Roman figures the quickest way to a new reputation are spray cans and a tattered “Becoming a Renegade” checklist tucked into his sneakers. Forget his Filipino-American family’s obsession with blending in with the wallpaper. But when Roman unleashes his inner Banksy, his painting unlocks an exiled dragon-beast named Lynx into San Francisco’s graffiti streets. Paint smokes the wall, and she crashes into his world—obsidian scales, smoke wings, claws splitting through the billboard.

Now, Roman—with the help of a starry-eyed graffiti girl named Skull—must hunt down a snarky dragon with her stomach set on devouring every hipster in San Francisco. Forced to face the Filipino legends of his ancestors, Roman needs to convince his gray-groovy Granny that graffiti might not be so different from the island cave paintings trapped in her lost memories. If he doesn’t gain Lynx’s trust and learn his own legends, the monsters of Filipino folklore will lock them both inside the graffiti walls forever.

Fans of Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper and the movie How to Train Your Dragon will enjoy this fantasy adventure in San Francisco’s mesmerizing graffiti streets.

ROMAN & LYNX draws on my own experiences growing up in San Francisco with a mixed Filipino-American heritage. My fiction has appeared in 100 Word Story, Dactyl Magazine, DASH, and was second place in the Writer Unboxed Flash Fiction Contest (2012). I’m a member of SCBWI, and I interned at National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) where I wrote inspirational blog posts broadcasted to 400,000 aspiring writers around the world. In addition, I won for best YA manuscript at SCBWI’s LA Writer’s Day 2016 for my current work-in-progress titled “Blanca and the Ruins.”

Thank you for supporting diverse voices in literature, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Oh you know you’re just dying to read ROMAN & LYNX one day! And if there are pink wooden ponies and beat-breaking sharks living in the desert, then anything is possible:

Andrea Ellickson Burning Man

😉

YA Winner of the SCBWI Los Angeles Writer’s Day 2016 Contest!

SCBWI LA Writers Day 2016 YA Winner

When I showed up at the SCBWI LA Writer’s Day 2016 conference, my biggest worry was beating Los Angeles traffic in time to catch a seat and a sip of coffee before the editors, authors, and agents began their talk. I had no idea I’d win an award for my YA work-in-progress titled Blanca and the Ruins! Fortunately, I was decked out in my orange stripy dress (now forever my lucky dress) and cowboy boots when they called me on stage. Of course, they didn’t announce my name first. Instead they led with my story, and all I could think while I was sitting in the audience was–oh my god–I hope that’s mine! Very surreal moment. Thank you SCBWI for this amazing opportunity!


Here’s what the judges said:

“Sparkling with humor and a strong sense of place, Blanca and the Ruins is the first-place winner about a fiery and passionate young woman living in San Francisco. Blanca is determined not to inherit the family curse of becoming a nurse. She wants to pursue her artistic passion, but when she sneaks out to draw one night in Dolores Park, she crosses paths with a bleeding boy who needs her help. Once he gets hold of her hand neither of them is able to let go, and Blanca’s life takes the turn she has been resisting. Writer Andrea Ellickson leaves us wondering what will end in ruins – Blanca’s future or her dreams?”


Also, I won a copy of The Rattling Wall, an LA based literary journal with gorgeous gruesome cover art by Kristina Collantes. (Did I mention lucky orange dress?) Can’t wait to crack open the pages!

The Rattling Wall SCBWI

#scbwi
#lawd16
#mswl

Save my Synopsis

Recently, I was writing a synopsis for my novel. I’d been dreading it for weeks. Go ahead, sum up all the complexities of your entire manuscript into an enticing one-pager without digging a grave under that lightning-struck apple tree. But luckily, the blog post “HOW TO WRITE A 1-PAGE SYNOPSIS” by author Susan Dennard saved me. Mental note, read this before you break out the shovel. It’ll keep your hands clean and your mind from imploding. Also, if you’re a fan of Star Wars (and who isn’t a fan of Star Wars), you’ll have a fun sample synopsis to pick apart.

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She brings up a good point too–“Sometimes, I even use it before writing a novel to help me get an idea of the general plot I want to follow.” Brilliant! (As you can tell, I’m more of a panster when it comes to plotting, but even I can change my ways.)

Any luck writing your synopsis before writing your novel?

The Secret to Writing

“The secret to writing is just to write. Write every day. Never stop writing. Write on every surface you see; write on people on the street. When the cops come to arrest you, write on the cops. Write on the police car. Write on the judge. I’m in jail forever now, and the prison cell walls are completely covered with my writing, and I keep writing on the writing I wrote. That’s my method.”

— Neil Gaiman

Inspiration: Hitting the Streets

My current writing project digs into the graffiti underworld of San Francisco. What better way to get inspiration than walking the color-soaked streets. There’s an awesome organization called Precita Eyes Muralists that even goes into the history of graffiti and murals in the 24th and Mission. So much pain and hope on these walls.  Here’s a few pics from my adventures:

Painted by Martin Travers in 2002

Painted by Josue Rojas and Maria Garcia in 2014

Painted by Carlita in 2011

DSC03832

Painted by Patricia Rose in 2000 – Artist is also standing in the photo

Enchantia (Čarokraj): A Return to the Enchanted

Photo Credit to the Prague National Theater and Irena Vodáková

Enchantia Opera – Photo Credit to the Prague National Theater and Irena Vodáková

What if you could rewrite your world every half century? Redesign the creatures, reassign the rulers, rewrite the book. And what if this magical book was an opera singer with a carousel dress of mythical creatures?

On Sunday morning, I slipped on a black dress and rode a tram to the Národní divadlo (Prague’s National Theater) to catch the magical world of Enchantia (Čarokraj), a Czech opera by Marko Ivanović and Petr and Matěj Forman accompanied by the Czech National Opera Orchestra.

DSC02036On the way there, I passed a line of children and parents dressed in their Sunday best while a green toad led them toward the carved doors lined in gold. Spiral after spiral of red velvet stairs led me to my red velvet seat in a balcony towering over the entire theater. Peering over the edge, I started to grumble about my lack of binoculars, until the orchestra thumped to life and a white feathered parrot-man boasted a long deep chord of sound. A chorus of hooded glowing women surrounded him along with goat-men on stilts, slithering creatures, and a woman with a massive carousel dress. Instead of whimsical unicorns and winged pegasus creatures, her dress was a carousel of pages twirling with the images of mythical creatures. She was the singing book of life in Enchantia—a book with the power to change the world every fifty years.

A small screen projected lyrics translated into Czech and English. For the most part, it was incredibly difficult to drag my eyes from the amazing stage sets, costumes, and dance performances. Sound became my guiding stick as the National Orchestra powered through every emotion and gesture. The giant marching drums, the slew of violins, cellos, flutes, and chimes, the surprise appearance of modern instruments. It was a classic quest story, and I didn’t need the words.

National Prague Opera Orchestra

The National Prague Opera Orchestra down below the stage.

Like the children in the row in front of me, I propped my elbows along the railing and lurched toward the spectacle bellow. Evil bird-like creatures called Cockatrices stormed the stage with spears intent on rewriting themselves as the rules of Enchantia. Suddenly, a human woman in a white dress was plucked like a daisy from the orchestra as if the fourth wall never existed. Her name was Penelope. Immediately, the opera threw me into an Alice in Wonderland style adventure—a much needed fall into another world.

During four weeks of intense studying and teaching in Prague, I almost completely locked away reading and writing fiction simply because there wasn’t enough time or brainpower leftover. For a whole month, I’ve been re-learning English in a way natives never usually do, all while adjusting and adventuring in a foreign city. Too long has my mind been filled with the laws of grammar, the intricacies of phonology, the preciseness of vocabulary, and the mysteries of Czech language and culture. For me, literature and English language are incomplete without creativity. I needed to return to the Enchanted.

Photo Credit to the Prague National Theater and Irena Vodáková

Photo Credit to the Prague National Theater and Irena Vodáková

I followed Penelope, Parrot, and Toad on their quest to save the world and defeat the evil Cockatrices. They sang through perilous seas, swam with mermaids, fought werewolves, escaped dang dungeons, and jumped through mythological realms. The costumes and stage sets were clouds of imagination brought to life—flapping, glowing, slithering, spinning, splashing. Humans became creatures, and the audience became Penelope plucked from the orchestra stage. And then, when the red velvet curtains slid shut, I was still Penelope, eager to return to my Enchanted world of writing, eager to rewrite my own book.

Andrea Ellickson National Theater Národní divadlo

“Writing on the Edge” with Jillian Lauren

For five days at the AROHO Retreat, a successful author, poet, or playwright mentored small groups of students. My mentor was Jillian Lauren, author of the memoir Some Girls: My Life in a Harem and the novel Pretty. She’s also a talented spoken word storyteller for The Moth, and an overall rockin’ lady.

somegirls-cover-228x342pretty-cover-228x342

Our small group sessions focused on “Writing on the Edge.” How do you make all the atrocities you see in the news everyday still seem fresh and engaging? How do you write about sex, drugs, and rock & roll without sounding like a cliché?

Jillian shared some insightful tips. Forget about shocking topics. It’s all about the ride the narrator takes you on. And how the narrator takes you on that ride.

Your narrator should:

  • Have an authentic and powerful voice. Easy, right?
  • Inspire empathy in the reader.
  • Share experiences that are relatable. Or somehow make them relatable.
  • Convey an organizing insight. What revelation will the reader walk away with when the pages are done?
  • Have a specific way of observing/interpreting life and show that in every scene and detail.

We read excerpts from Permanent Midnight, The Kiss, and You Got to Burn to Shine, and examined how the author accomplished this. She gave us a fantastic arsenal of writing book recommendations like Writing from the Body, The Tools, and Writing Down the Bones.

Jillian also led us through yoga, meditation, and writing freewrites so that we could dive into our own bodies and the hidden parts of our minds. A couple of her prompts kept me up writing late into the night with only moths for company.

"Writing on the Edge" Group with Jillian Lauren at Abiquiu Lake (Photo Credit: Rachel Schwerin)

“Writing on the Edge” Group with Jillian Lauren at Abiquiu Lake (Photo Credit: Rachel Schwerin)

In one particularly difficult session, we explored our “Shadow” selves—a Carl Jung archetype that is the worst part of ourselves. It’s everything that we don’t want the world to see. As you can imagine, it was agonizing to conjure up this image and translate it to the page. But, in order to write on the edge, we have to connect to this part of ourselves.

During our farewell sessions, we burned notes to our Shadows, massaged them into red clay shapes, and spent a day at Abiquiu Lake jumping in, Shadows and all. In the cool waves and on the scorching rock slabs, the wind pestered us for secrets waiting for release. We told them true.