Advice for Writing a Memoir

28 Apr

Recently, I have been getting a lot of questions from folks who want to write memoirs. Where do I start? What if I don’t remember anything? Writing a memoir is not an easy task, but it can be incredibly fulfilling and worthwhile.

I’ve worked with and learned from many brilliant memoirists, and love helping people tell their life stories. So, this week on Sounding Sea’s blog, I shared some of the advice I have been giving beginning memoirists about how to start. Check it out, and send it along to any aspiring memoirists you know!

Query and First Page Critique: YA Thriller

13 Jan

Earlier this month, I posted about giving a few critiques away in exchange for donations to charity. All three slots for this round have been taken, but you can follow me or Sounding Sea on Twitter to be the first to find out when I do another round! You can also sign up to get email alerts via Sounding Sea here (don’t worry, they’re infrequent!).

This week, I have feedback for writer Suja Sukumar, who generously donated to the White Helmets, a neutral organization rescuing Syrian civilians.

My line notes are in bold and brackets, and I have overall thoughts below.

 

Dear ___,

After being orphaned a decade ago, seventeen-year-old Indian-American Tanvi Nair is determined to put her past behind her [Is her past being orphaned or something else? You may want to substitute something more specific here or skip the “past behind her” part.] and take care of her aunt who suffers from depression. [You might need an adjective here to clarify depression. Plenty of people are depressed and don’t need a caretaker—what is different about her aunt’s depression?] Every [Oops, just “ever!”] since her [Tanvi’s cousin? You may want to use the name instead of the pronoun, otherwise it could be the aunt’s cousin.] cousin, Mimi, ran away five years ago, her aunt has resorted to praying [This could be simply: “her aunt has prayed.”] to every deity in the Hindu pantheon, hoping her daughter would return. Tanvi hopes so, too, though she has no memory of what happened the day Mimi ran away. [Meaning she blacked out or she was too young? You may want to clarify.]

 

Then one day [This transition makes the plot seem episodic (this happened, then that happened, rather than the character did this, therefore that happened). Is this just an accident, or does the plot pick up here? If the latter, you may want to start your query with Tanvi finding this girl.] Tanvi spots a girl with a scarred face across the street. The girl’s mannerisms and voice is [are] exactly like her missing cousin’s. [So she does remember her cousin, just not the day she disappeared?] She also seems aware of [How so?] Tanvi’s past, like her dad’s murder and her mom’s involvement with dark magic rituals from India. [Ah ha! Tanvi is not just your typical orphan…I think you can still get rid of “dark past” earlier in the query and have it hit here.]

 

But her attempt to approach the girl is met with hostility. [So then how does she know all of that stuff about the girl? Maybe “approach” is not the right word here?] After getting her to admit she is Mimi, [How? I’m curious about how Tanvi worked her way into the girl’s good graces.] Tanvi tries to take her home, but the girl attacks her with a knife and flees after Tanvi disarms her. Then a local bully at school is found stabbed with that same knife with Tanvi’s fingerprints on it.

Now Tanvi has to convince the police of her innocence. And she has to track Mimi down since no one else believes her cousin is back. But tracking Mimi down will require piecing together the events of the day Mimi vanished, the day that is missing from Tanvi’s memory. Failing to do so could cost Tanvi her sanity, if not her freedom.

HIDE ME AWAY might appeal to readers of Megan Miranda and Gail Giles’s thrillers. I am an Indian immigrant [Is Tanvi also an immigrant or second/third/etc-generation? You may want to clarify. Simply “like Tanvi, I am” would work. I would also consider putting the word count, genre, comps, and a logline at the beginning of the query, and keeping your bio separate, at the end.] settled in Michigan where my 62,000 word psychological thriller is set. I am also a member of SCBWI.

Continue reading 

Query and First Page Critique: YA Fantasy Dual POV

21 Dec White necked raven gliding in a strong wind on top of a mountain

Earlier this month, I posted about giving a few critiques away in exchange for donations to charity. All three slots for this round have been taken, but you can follow me or Sounding Sea on Twitter to be the first to find out when I do another round! You can also sign up to get email alerts via Sounding Sea here (don’t worry, they’re infrequent!). Last week, I gave feedback on Carly Heath’s query and first page.

This week, I have feedback for writer Ally Ovary, who generously donated to the White Helmets, a neutral organization rescuing Syrian civilians.

My line notes are in bold and brackets, and I have overall thoughts below.

Dear Agent:

A princess controlled by an evil shadow and the thief she sentenced to death become unlikely allies when they try to uncover the truth about one murder and prevent another.

I am seeking representation for my young adult fantasy novel, CURSED STARS, complete at 101,000 words. [I love this query format, which lets us know what to expect in the rest! 101,000 words is at the upper limit for YA fantasy, but not a red flag. The title seems a tad familiar (star-crossed lovers?). A more specific title could be better, but it also sounds intriguing, so I’m ambivalent about it without knowing more about the book.]

Continue reading 

Query and First Page Critique: Historical Fiction

14 Dec

closeup of the pages of an open old book while they are turning, on a rustic wooden table

Earlier this week, I posted about giving a few critiques away in exchange for donations to charity. All three slots for this round have been taken, but you can follow me or Sounding Sea on Twitter to be the first to find out when I do another round! You can also sign up to get email alerts here (don’t worry, they’re infrequent!).

Below, I have feedback for Carly Heath‘s query and first page. My thoughts are in bold and brackets, and I have overall thoughts below.

Dear (insert agent’s name here),

[My personal preference is to see a short logline and the genre/word count information in the beginning, but different people have different opinions on whether you should just jump in to the query. I think providing some quick set up could really help your query in particular. I was confused when I read so much about Erlend when Gunnar was mentioned first. It would be good to know who the POV characters are up front.]

It’s 1904 and seventeen-year-old Asta and her recently disabled [How is he disabled? That’s pretty vague.] best friend Gunnar are misfits in their rural Scandinavian village.  [I would consider skipping the clause about “misfits” and skip to this sentence, where there’s more specificity about what’s at stake. Something like: “Scandinavian teen Asta dreads her arranged marriage. DESCRIPTIVE WORDS Erlend just wants to be with his secret boyfriend, Gunnar, who is Asta’s best friend (or even better, let us know if there’s a more direct connection between Asta and Erlend).] She dreads a future where her only option is marriage and motherhood, and he just wants to be with his secret boyfriend, Erlend. [I had a hard time keeping track of she and he here—you’re fighting an uphill battle with unfamiliar names.]

Continue reading 

Post-Election Charity Critique Giveaway

13 Dec

KeyboardIf you want to support inclusivity and progress, especially after the election, AND you want a detailed critique of your query and first page, you’ve come to the right place!

I will critique the query and first page of the first three people who send me a receipt for a donation to one of the charities on this list. I’ll also accept receipts for donations to We Need Diverse Books and the White Helmets, an organization helping civilians in Syria. If a lot of people send at once, I’ll critique more, within reason.

I don’t have any donation amount limits, but as a guideline, I normally charge $100 for a query critique. That includes two rounds and lots of conversation. For this giveaway, I’ll just be doing one round.

Note: I will be posting the critiques on this blog and my company blog over at Sounding Sea so that others can read and learn. Don’t participate if you don’t want a public critique! I’ll have comments open on the blog post, so others may add their critiques (which could be a good or bad thing, haha).

To participate:

Email me an image or PDF of your receipt and your query/first page at tracygold@soundingsea.com.

I’ll be updating how many critiques are claimed on Twitter @tracycgold. If you don’t get an email back from me, feel free to ping me on Twitter as you may have gone into my spam.

Now that I’m (99%) done my grading (woohoo!), I may be doing a few more of these critiques. Follow me on Twitter to stay tuned, or sign up for email updates over at Sounding Sea!

Why would you want a critique from me? 

For one, my freelance editing clients think I’m pretty awesome. For another, I intern for literary agent Carrie Pestritto, which means I read A LOT of queries and pages and know what stands out from the pile. And, of course, I’ve participated in Pitch Wars for the last two years, and I’ve paid attention to the pitches and queries that get a lot of agent love.

Pitch Wars Interview with Lana Pattinson and Her Mentor, Marty Mayberry

3 Nov

We have an abundance of wonderful Pitch Wars mentees this year, and I volunteered to host interviews for a few mentees who didn’t get on Brenda Drake’s site before the glorious agent round began. Enjoy learning about these awesome teams!

This post includes…

Mentee Lana Pattinson

Lana Pattinson

 

 

 

 

 

Twitter & Website 

Mentor Marty Mayberry

Marty Mayberry

 

 

 

 

 

TwitterWebsite

Lana, why did you choose your mentor? 

There were such great mentors to choose from this year! But I knew I had to submit to Marty right away. She’d mentored the year before, so she already knew the time involvement needed. She seemed like she’d be a firm but low-key mentor, which is what I needed. And finally, when she professed her love for kilts, I was IN.

And Marty has been super easy to work with. She’s a machine, such a fast worker it makes my head spin. She has amped the romance to a capital R in my manuscript, and for that I’m thankful. And mostly, I’m thankful that she believed in this manuscript and encouraged me to get my revisions done.

Marty, why did you choose Lana as your mentee? Continue reading 

Pitch Wars Interview with Mentee Ashley Leath and Her Mentor, Kim Graff

3 Nov

We have an abundance of wonderful Pitch Wars mentees this year, and I volunteered to host interviews for a few mentees who didn’t get on Brenda Drake’s site before the glorious agent round began. Enjoy learning about these awesome teams!

This post includes…

Mentee Ashley Leath

Ashley Leath

 

 

 

 

 

Twitter & Website

Mentor Kim Graff

Kim Graff

 

 

 

 

 

Twitter & Website

 

Ashley, why did you choose Kim?

As soon as I read the words “[Kim] has an undying love for all things murderous, mayhem-y, and mysterious” on Kim’s PW Wish List, I knew I wanted to work with her. Cat’s bio mentioned her experience with plot and pitches, and these are two areas where I felt like I could improve. Add to this the fact that they were seeking LGBTQ characters, and I was really excited. When I examined their game plan for editing and working with their mentee(s), I was sold.

Continue reading 

#PitchWars and Taking Care of Yourself

16 Aug

ChocolateYes, it’s important to take care of yourself when you’re involved in a contest as emotional as Pitch Wars. On the hashtag, I see a lot of people doing this with food and alcohol. Chocolate and wine are delicious ways to deal with those good and bad emotions. But here’s the thing. I’ve been there. As much as I hate to say it, I’m here to tell you that too much chocolate, wine, or [insert your favorite treat] can 100% be a bad thing, especially when it comes at the expense of healthy food.

Many readers know me as a 2016 Pitch Wars hopeful, but I was also a mentee last year, with a different manuscript, and the marvelous mentor Rachel Lynn Solomon. A few things have come up on the hashtag and in our 2015 mentee Facebook group that made me think I needed to write this post. Continue reading 

2016 Pitch Wars Potential Mentee Bio

24 Jul

Hey, Pitch Warriors! Some of you know me from last year, when I was mentored by the amazing Rachel Lynn Solomon. I’m still unagented, and I have a new manuscript, so I’m back, with a vengeance. Not really about that last part, except my book’s title is VERA WITH A VENGEANCE, and I love making punny (or not-so-punny) jokes.

For real, I loved partipating in Pitch Wars last year. I had a great experience working with Rachel and found a lovely community in a group of my fellow mentees in Facebook (I’m still on there every day!). It’s a little weird to be back this year, and I wasn’t sure that I was going to do it, at first. Then the mentor wish lists came out and I swooned about all of the amazing mentors. Still unsure, I did what I always do, when I have a writing quandary: I posted about it in the 2015 Pitch Wars Mentee Facebook Group, and asked Rachel. They encouraged me to enter again, so here I am!

 

THE BOOK

Vera with a Vengeance

Here’s the deal about this year’s book, a 78,000 word young adult contemporary novel: 

VERONICA MARS meets Courtney Summers when a seventeen-year-old girl starts a business to sell revenge. 

Vera Davis grew up overshadowed by her basketball-superstar brother. When a car accident paralyzes him and kills her parents, she’s suddenly in charge of his medical bills, the mortgage, and her own anger and helplessness. Vera’s always been good at getting back at people who hurt her, from ex-boyfriends to jerk bosses to cheating classmates. But she can’t exactly get revenge on the curve in the road where her father lost control of the car.

Meager insurance payouts leave Vera desperate for money, so she starts a business to help other people get revenge. Word spreads, and she’s soon busy wreaking havoc on cheats, liars, and thieves of all stripes. The only snag is that Vera’s mega crush thinks her style of vengeance is morally wrong. He’s her brother’s best friend and totally off-limits, so she doesn’t let him stop her. Even if he might be right that fighting nude picture with nude picture makes the whole world naked on the internet. 

 In the course of investigating a case for a client, Vera finds new evidence about her family’s accident. Turns out there is someone for Vera to blame, but the perpetrator had her own reason to seek revenge. Now that Vera can finally get vengeance, she must decide whether she still wants it. 

[Mad thanks to Alana Saltz. I met her when we both entered Pitch Wars last year. I think we emailed about that pitch eleven-and-a-half million times? Also, the picture of the basketball players in my collage? That’s Jon Scheyer and Gerald Henderson, who inspired the male characters in VERA. I had huge crushes on them when I was an undergrad at Duke!]

THE PROCESS

Of all things, I came up with the idea for VERA after I asked a guy to stop smoking (hate it!) at the dog park. He wasn’t so happy about my request, and blew smoke in my face. In real life, I left the dog park. In my imagination, I fantasized about how I could get back at him. Then, I realized that he was probably having a crappy day, and really needed that cigarette. If I got revenge on him, I would be a jerk, too. Vera’s business, and its potential for moral complications, came into my mind as I walked my dog home.

I had to wait a long time to start writing VERA—extensive revisions for Pitch Wars last year came during my final year of grad school. I taught college classes for the first time, and wrote, designed, and self-published a collection of short stories for my MFA thesis. As soon as that book was at the printer and out of my hands, I started writing VERA. I wish I had started earlier—it’s true what everyone says, that writing a new book is the best therapy for the stress and emotional roller coaster that comes with querying. Writing VERA was better than chocolate therapy, retail therapy, and therapy therapy. Okay, maybe I lied about the chocolate.

I only finished VERA this month, so it is still an early draft. Right now, I’d call it draft 1.5, since I already cut two characters, and fixed some obvious editing and consistency problems. My critique partners have read several chunks of it, and I just got some AMAZING feedback on the full from a sensitivity beta reader. By the time the submission window rolls around, I’ll be on a solid draft 2. While I’m nervous about submitting such an early draft, I’m excited to have energy and relatively fresh eyes to revise during Pitch Wars, if I am chosen.

VERA is my third novel. The second was my Pitch Wars book from last year, which is still searching for a home with an agent and/or publisher. The first will forever be in a drawer (or maybe, one day, completely rewritten). I’ve learned a lot about writing from my experiences drafting those novels, in my M.F.A. program, and working with Rachel and other critique partners. I hope that learning shows through in VERA and I’m looking for help making it my strongest book yet.

WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR IN A MENTOR/MENTEE RELATIONSHIP

I hit the jackpot last year with Rachel, who has become a trusted critique partner and friend. I would love to be so lucky again. VERA is more twisty and turny than anything I have written before, so I would love to work with a mentor who is awesome at figuring out when to reveal which information for maximum suspense. VERA also deals with a lot of very sensitive issues: disability, the morality of revenge, sexual assault, race, religion. The number of ways I can offend readers is scary. I have sought/am still seeking sensitivity readers, but I would love a mentor to help me check my privilege and write about those issues with the sensitivity and complexity they deserve.

I haven’t spent as much time as I like polishing VERA yet, because I don’t want to spend hours agonizing over a sentence when I might delete the whole scene. I’d love a mentor who understands that and points out patterns of weaknesses that I can work on when it’s time for me to obsess about every word. Don’t worry—I LOVE obsessing about every word. But sometimes I waste time by doing that too early!

ABOUT ME

I wrote a lot about my revision style (and my life) in my mentee bio last year, and that’s all still true! Except lots of wonderful things have happened since then. I’m engaged to my then-boyfriend (for some reason he stuck around despite being completely neglected during Pitch Wars), and I have my Masters of Fine Arts degree (though still no full-time teaching job). I’m loving teaching writing at the University of Baltimore, freelance editing, and dreaming up writing classes for my business, Sounding Sea Writers’ Workshop. I also get to read amazing books and help authors with marketing in my internship with literary agent Carrie Pestritto, of Prospect Agency.

I’d love to chat books, feminism, wedding planning (so! much! work!), self-publishing (also so! much! work!). Hit me up on Twitter, @tracycgold, and to my fellow potential mentees, good luck!

News: Interning for Literary Agent Carrie Pestritto

6 Jun

For a while, I’ve been hoping to intern with a literary agent to learn what the publishing industry looks like from an agent’s perspective. I linked up with Carrie Pestritto at Prospect Agency through meeting her wonderful colleague, Linda Camacho, at my regional SCBWI conference. Carrie needed help, I had just graduated from my Master of Fine Arts program at UB, and it was a great match!

So far, I’ve been reading manuscripts, helping authors with marketing, and helping with submissions. I’m excited to learn more about what makes a great book, as well as how books go from drafts, to publishers, to readers.

Here’s Carrie’s post about the internship.