Nashville Madcap Retreat: Writing Cross-Culturally Workshop

I’m going mad.

New job, new apartment, new manuscript. I’ve hardly had a minute to catch up and reflect. Over the years, my blog has been my mini-museum of life-changing writing retreats and milestones. I finally have enough of a breather to reflect on an incredible writing retreat I attended in March 2018. Holy cow, has it really been three months?

At the Madcap Writing Cross-Culturally Retreat in Nashville, Tennessee, I had the unbelievable opportunity to delve deep into writing with authors Laurie Halse Anderson, Marie Lu, Dhonielle Clayton, Zoraida Córdova, Tessa Gratton, S. Jae-Jones, Sarah Nicole Lemon, and Natalie C. Parker.   Stop.   Go back, read that lineup again. I couldn’t ask for a more talented, fierce, and diverse set of YA authors to learn from. And the fact was, they were all very open about how they’re still learning how to write respectfully and authentically across cultures. It made for the kind of retreat that broke down walls and opened up windows into new perspectives.

Not only were the faculty stellar, but the cohort of writers came from all over the US from all different backgrounds. It was inspiring to see such a range of perspectives in the mini-mansion tucked away in the Tennessee woods. And we slept in bunk beds. And I ate more grilled cheese than I have in way too long. I don’t want to make this sound like a fairy tale (okay, it was seriously a fairy tale); however, at the same time, we all dug deep into our own uncomfortable truths surrounding race, privilege, sexism, respect, and authenticity. These are generally topics people try to avoid around the dinner table. It was heartening to come together to talk about these issues in our own writing (and in the overall publishing industry) without heated arguments or defensiveness. It was an open conversation. And I learn so so much. I’m still in processing-mode, so I know there will be follow-up posts. But for now:

 

madcap retreat group photo

 

 

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#madcaprt #yalit #amwriting

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

Interview with YA Author Susan Dennard

It was a pleasure to interview YA author Susan Dennard about her experience with NaNoWriMo and plotting trilogies! Check out the interview below reblogged from the Office of Letters and Light Blog.

I Published My NaNo-Novel! Susan Dennard on Plotting Trilogies, Word Wars, and Publishing

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Camp NaNoWriMo is gearing up for July, and many of you are already hard at work storming up ideas. Are you ambitiously planning on writing a trilogy, perhaps? Well, Susan Dennard published her debut young adult novel Something Strange and Deadly, the first in an intriguing trilogy blending historical fiction, horror, romance, and mystery, and on July 23, the sequel, A Darkness Strange and Lovely, will hit shelves. Read on to learn how Susan used three years of NaNoWriMo to master her trilogy:

How did NaNoWriMo help you draft your novels?

It’s so easy to put writing off—even for books on deadline—but there’s something about knowing that I’ll start on x-date, work like a madwoman until x-date, and then finish with 50K that really helps me hunker down. I also think the sheer insanity and support that other writers bring to the whole NaNo-experience really helps keep me motivated, even after that first week when my productivity always wants to flag.

How has your NaNo experience been different each year you wrote a book in your trilogy?

I’ve definitely become a better writer as each year passes—meaning less of the words I hammer out get trashed. The first year I did NaNo in 2009 with Something Strange and Deadly, I wrote a truly dreadful novel. But it was also one of my very first complete novels. Throughout the year I spent revising the book, I learned a lot about writing.

The next year, I again wrote a dreadful first draft, but in year three, I wrote a halfway-decent first draft. In fact, much of what readers will find in A Darkness Strange and Lovely is simply a polished-up NaNo novel. Each book I write is stronger because I’ve grown so much as an author!

Did you make many writer or industry connections through NaNoWriMo?

Oh yes—especially in 2012! Author Beth Revis invited me and several other YA authors to participate in a NaNo forum thread that allowed Wrimos to ask published authors any and all questions. It was a great way to meet other writers!

Then, fellow author Sarah J. Maas and I started hosting something we called #NaNoWriMoBattle. These were 30-minute writing sprints that we held every day on Twitter. Many authors, published and aspiring alike, started following along with us. It was so much fun and so productive that we continued doing it after NaNo. We call it the #BAMFWordBattle now, and we try to host them pretty regularly.

Tell us more about your post-NaNo revisions.

I always revise enormously after every first draft. That’s just part of writing. Fortunately, I really love revising (I have an entire guide to it on my blog!), so it’s always exciting for me to finish a draft and then hunker down to turn a draft into a “real book.” Usually I’ll finish NaNo with my 50,000, but since that’s not a full novel, I’ll write around 40,000 more. Then, I inevitably start revising early in the next year.

But all that said, I think it’s easy for new writers to think revising is scary or not any fun. This is so not true! And, no matter what you might feel about revising, it’s absolutely not a step you can skip. No published author would ever hand in an unrevised manuscript to their editor, and no unpublished author can expect to get published without a truly polished book.

The key is to make revisions manageable and fun, and you do that by breaking it down into “bite-size” chunks and working toward a clear end goal. For example, if you know your characters aren’t as dark as you want them to be (darker characters = your goal), then as you work through each scene (bite-size chunks), you layer in more darkness.

What was it like plotting an entire series?

Hard! So many threads would appear with each new book, and then I was left writing the last book and wrapping up all those threads. I’m not much of an outliner—I prefer to write by the seat of my pants—and while that worked well for the first two books in my series, when I hit book three, I realized I would need to be more structured. Otherwise, I’d forget to tie up some important plot points.

Any tips on publishing your novel?

Publishing is a rapidly changing industry, and there are so many new and exciting ways for writers to get their work out there. That said, the rules for traditional publishing tend to stay the same. So many people just “set out to get published” with no idea what that really entails. Do your research! There are so many amazing online resources to help the aspiring author navigate the various steps, from dealing with revisions to writing a query letter to getting an agent.

There is no easy way to get a book deal, but if you dream big, work really hard, and never give up, then you can definitely reach your goals! Trust me: if naive ol’ me from NaNo 2009 could get published, then I have no doubt all of you can too!

Susan Dennard is a 28-year-old reader, writer, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She used to be a marine biologist, but now writes novels about kick-butt heroines and swoon-worthy rogues. She lives in the Midwestern US with her French husband and Irish setter.

Keep up with Susan:

— Andrea