Sunday, August 29, 2010

On Query Letters

I’ve been thinking about query letters the last few days. Partly because I just read a couple lovely ones by two of my bloggy friends and partly because I’ve been thinking of one for my Jedda Hitler book. Call me a masochist, but I actually like queries. I write one for every book, whether I’m putting it out for submission or not.

I write queries to help keep a focus for a work in progress and to have a handle at all times to tell my friends what I’m working on. Lest you think I’m crazy, I’m not the only one who does this. I know my friend Shelley, The Storyqueen, does this too, among others. She has a wonderful, recent post about writing a query here.

To add to what she said, I have a few tips I hope help you as much as they help me.

1. Write ten queries for books you love before you start on your own. Try to keep each one to only one or two paragraphs. No more than about 250 words. You’ll find after the ten, your own attempt at the book you know best (your manuscript) will be a lot easier.

2. Be very careful what questions you raise in a query—there are good questions and bad questions. Causing a “I want to know more” is good, causing confusion is bad. Have someone read it and pay close attention if they have any questions. Likely, there’s an important, underlying reason for their confusion.

3. A good query hook should feel like there is simply no other way to put it. That that is the log line as it should be.

4. Having said number three, still try and write the query at least three different ways. After you do that, you’ll be able to glean the best from all three and make your hook and presentation a little stronger.

5. Rewrite your hook at multiple stages of the book. Write it during the idea stage, write after the first draft, write it while you’re letting it rest, and write it while you outline. Don’t peek and see what you’ve already written until you are done with edits. This can also help with gleaning the best and most concise version.

6. If you fail at all else in a query, make sure you’ve at least a) captured the tension and conflict in the story, and b) the essence of your characters.
 A few months ago I won Agent Mary Kole’s grand prize for Courtesy and Patience’s query letter. If you read the query here, you’ll see that it wasn’t very orthodox, but it captures me and the tone of my book well enough. I’m telling you this not to brag, but because this opportunity, along with one on Authoress’ blog (Miss Snark's First Victim is great!) opened up a lot of doors for me.

And I’d like to pay that forward….

If you could use help with your query, please leave me a comment with your email below. The first ten requests I get, I’ll contact you and set up arrangements for you to email your query to me. Hopefully this will be useful to some of you!

Oh—and if you don’t want a query critique, you can still leave me a comment. Just tell me what you have planned for this wonderful, shiny new week!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

And Katpee was born.

Photo credit here

My copy of Mockingjay didn’t get here fast enough. NOW I remember why I don’t preorder books! DOH!

Thanks to my merciful little sister, who granted me permission to use her account, I listened to it on audio. What a ride! For those of you who read it, did you like it?

And for those of you who haven’t…
 Did you know that Katniss was really pregnant after all? Baby KatPee was born fully formed, nearly killing her mother on entry into the world. Good thing Finnick O’Dair was standing right there to imprint on her. Their fates are now sealed forever.

Also, would you have guessed President Snow was really a wizard/vampire/zombie/muttation?! Hmm… no wonder he smelled of blood, oranges, rotten fish, and flowers. Kind of fruity-fishy to me. Oh well, it made it easier for little Prim to kill him dead with just one throw of that cat, who clawed his undead soul to smithereens. Fortunately Rue came back to life just in time to step in as president of all Panem.

Really, I’m relieved Katniss having to choose between Peeta and Gale became such a nonissue, since it turned out Johanna was a boy all along and the one Katniss really needed in her life. Whew! Here I was so worried I couldn’t go on with my own life if she chose Gale.
 So what have you all been up to this week? With my ear stuck in a book, I’ve cleaned cupboards, folded laundry, and tiled more mosaics. Guess what I didn’t do? Writing… critiquing… blogging… Oi! (Huge apologies to all of you, both for my slacking off and for the spoilers I include here.)

P. S. My husband, who hasn’t had a chance to read it, does not think my spoilers are funny. Odd, he usually has a good barometer for humor.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Go on. Laugh at me.

This week is getting busier by the minute. I’ve started about half a dozen different blog posts and not finished them. Also, a) Mockingjay comes in the mail tomorrow and b) my kids started school this week. There is much fun to be had… er… serious stuff to work on. Serious stuff.


I’m leaving you links to a couple oldie (but goodie) former posts. Please visit and enjoy! I’ll still see you over at your cyber places!

If you want a Wild Wednesday:

If you want a laugh at Jackee moment:

If you write and mother simultaneously:

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wild Wednesday: The Nature of the Poppy

Lydia asked: Can people use poppies that grow in their flower gardens as sedatives?

My answer is first of all a disclaimer: for anyone who reads this, please note that I am NOT telling you to go out and smoke your garden. Opium, which is really a combination of morphine, thebaine, codeine, papaverine and several others, is an addictive substance. Not to mention it’s illegal in the United States. Lydia is a physician (who by the way has a wonderful feature on her blog called Medical Mondays where you can ask medical questions for writing helps) is just curious, as am I.

So there’s my disclaimer. It’s illegal in many places to use opium.

However, yes it is possible to extract opium from common garden poppy seeds! IF you have the right species. The species, Papaver somniferum L. is an annual native to southeastern Europe and western Asia. It’s cultivated in Iran, Turkey, Holland, Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, India, Canada, and many Asian and Central and South American countries.

Opium comes from four varieties:

The pink“Giganteum”

The white“Hen and Chicken”

The purple “Persian”

And the “Danish flag” poppy.

The differences are their hardiness, color, harvest schedule, and the size of the seed pod produced. Other species of poppy are Papaver rhoeus L., known as corn or field poppy, is an annual herb native to Europe and Asia. Extracts of the plant are used in medicine and beverages. The alkaloids rhoeadine, morphine, and papaverine have been reported in this species. Papaver orientale L., formerly Papaver bracteatum Lindl., is a morphine-free alkaloid source used for medicinal purposes. Mexican or prickly poppy, Argemone mexicana L., has been reported to have toxicological properties but no substantial medicinal uses have been recorded. The California poppy (Eschscholzia spp.) is not in the same genus and does not have any sedative properties.

Historically, dry opium (extracted from the brown waxy substance in the seeds) was used as an astringent, antispasmodic, aphrodisiac, diaphoretic, expectorant, hypnotic, narcotic, and sedative. It has been used for toothaches, calming fussy children, hypnosis, coughs, diarrhea, seizures, and as an anti-inflammatory. I even knew a kid from Albania who swore his mother would buy it at the local drug store to give him and his siblings on long trips so they’d sleep!

So, for you writers, could you give your characters a poppy? Yes. As long as it’s the right species and you’ve dried the seeds. Be careful, though, if they grow too large of a plot, they might get addicted and you wouldn’t want that. (Or would you? I’m looking at you, evil writers who like to do mean things to characters.)

Have a Wild Wednesday! Don’t forget to check out Lydia’s Medical Mondays!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Saturday Six

1. Sorry I disappeared all week. WritOnCon ended up so awesome, I spent all my free time over there. A HUGE thank you to all those who helped put it on, but especially Elana Johnson, Lisa & Laura Roecker, Jamie Harrington, Shannon Messenger, and Casey McCormick. If you missed out, the transcripts, forums, and chat rooms are still up. Check them out, you’ll learn so much!

2. I’ve been trying to catch-up on reading. Both friend’s manuscripts and books in print. Stay tuned for some great recommendations!

3. Today is my 11th wedding anniversary. Can’t tell you how excited I am for a night out of uninterrupted conversation without having to wipe someone’s mouth, nose, or other orifice.

4. I’m ready to return to my Jedda Hitler manuscript with fresh eyes. Almost. I need to work on fact checks and character sketches a little more.

5. Lydia Kang raised an interesting question in the last Wild Wednesdays (or The Nature Oracle Speaks, as my husband mockingly calls it). I’m not sure she meant for an answer, but I’m going to next week anyway! It’s that intriguing.

6. For those of you who know about my Mom’s fight with cancer, she’s had her (we hope!) last chemo. Depending on what the CT next week says, she might get a well-needed vacation from treatments for awhile. Hooray for the strongest woman I know!

That’s all I got. Oh… maybe one thing more…


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Burning Questions Answered

Golly! Everyone had great questions for me. In fact, I couldn’t have thought up better ones myself. Thank you so much, ladies!

Shelley (Storyqueen) asked: So, what's going on with Courtesy and Patience? Every time I read that one sentence description, I think, "Man, that is a great book!" (And I love the title, too!)
My answer: You are so sweet to me, Shelley, thanks for asking! C & P has been with half a dozen agents since March. I’ve heard from most of them recently. They are enjoying reading it, but will not be finished until the end of this month. So I should know something soon!

Susan Fields and Jacqueline asked: What's your all-time favorite book? Movie?
My answer: Great question, but hard for me to answer! I rarely have a favorite anything because I have such eclectic tastes. So here are my favorites in clumps:
Books: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein, Airman by Eoin Colfer, and The Queen’s Thief trilogy by Megan Whalen Turner. These are ones I can read over and over again.
Movies: The Lord of the Rings (extended versions), Fiddler on the Roof, Traitor, Amazing Grace, Miss Potter, The Importance of Being Ernest, Princess Bride, and Harry Potter 1 & 2.

Old Kitty asked: What is your favourite day of the week and er.. why?
My answer: Another good question, Jenn! I love Fridays because the weekend is so open to possibility (and I get to have my husband home more). Also, I love Mondays because I’m antsy to get things accomplished in the fresh, new week.

Aubrie asked: What's the best part about living in Northern Arizona?
My answer: I adore this question, Aubrie! Flagstaff is awesome because we’re high (7k feet), up in the mountains and pine trees, but yet so close to a variety of places to explore. I have the redrocks of Southern Utah at my finger tips, the Grand Canyon, the high mountain deserts, and the aspen groves of the peaks. All within four hours or less from my front door. Plus Flagstaff is a pretty fun town in its own right (though it’s a bit expensive to live here).

Lenny asked: What’s your most favorite food and what about hobbies you like to do?
My answer: I love you, Lenny, and I love your question too! First, I have many foods I like and spend a lot of time cooking (so add that to my hobby list as well). I definitely have a sweet tooth, though, and eat far too many cookies and cakes. I’ve never been known to turn down anything with coconut, crab, or pesto in it either. Generally I plan my weekly dinner menus with every night a different cultural influence: Thai, Indian, Southern US, Southwestern, Italian, Spanish, and Greek are my favorites. One day I hope to try Egyptian and Moroccan foods because they look delicious! As far as hobbies, I love anything where I get to be outdoors or get to create some thing with my hands. I go through spells where I do one or two hobbies more than others and then move on to another interest for a time. Right now (besides writing and reading) I’ve been canoeing, fishing, hiking, gardening, practicing Tai chi, and tiling mosaic tables a lot. It’s a joke around here that I’m a Jackee of all trades and a master of none. I showed this table before, but now I’ve picked up where I've left off years ago and am finishing it while I watch the kids play outside.
Mari asked: I know you have favorite M&M's. What kind was it and who in this small town of ours sells them?
My answer: I went through a HUGE coconut M&M phase. Although, since June when I went no sugar for the whole month, I don’t crave candy of any kind. (Cookies and cake are another story.) If you’re looking for them in Flag, you can find a bulk box of them at Sam’s Club (of course, where else do I shop?!) along with one of pretzel M&Ms.

Terri asked: How long have you been blogging and do you love it or not?
My answer: I love blogging! Most of all I love the dear friends I have made here. I have to be careful though, because I am prone to let it take over time with my kids and my writing. When I don’t visit every friend’s blog post I feel bad… but not as bad as I feel when I neglect my family! Originally I started blogging on a private, family blog to document what was going on with my kids. That was January 5th, 2008. Then I started this blog in August 2008 but was too shy to really reach out to others until this year. Now I’m not sure how I survived the writing journey before without this blog!

And just for fun, here are my kids posing on this weekend’s camping trip. The Boy is sporting his chocolate chip pancake face. Would you believe that baby—my baby!—is turning ONE on Tuesday? I can hardly believe it!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Go On and Ask

Thanks to all who commented on and/or participated in my new feature, Wild Wednesdays. It was really fun to dig out old files and research topics I care about to help my writing buddies access information for their books. If any of you have other nature-related questions, please don’t hesitate to email them to me. I’d love to help.

As far as non-research-related questions, I thought I’d open up the comment floor to an “ask about me” session. Keep them G-rated, but please, ask anything you’ve wanted to know about me.

(And yeah, this post is a total cop out from writing a real one because my brain is mush from a very exhausting camping trip. Feel free to take advantage of my obvious lack of conversation skills!)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Wild Wednesdays (New Feature!)

Today I’m answering my first nature question. This one comes from Jen Daiker and is actually a few questions rolled into one:

Q: In my novel there are fairies that have the power of healing. I was wondering if there were any plants that helped with that. Also I'd love to know some of the brightest colored flowers around. And lastly, what plants make wonderful soothing ingredients in teas?

A: First, if you haven’t already, you should choose an Earth biome in particular to model your imaginary world after. That way, you will be focused on your world building, with plants, animals, landscape, and weather. Websites like Blue Planet Biomes and World Biomes will help you choose. They also have general plants and animals listed by specific area. The beauty of fantasy is once you’ve established certain characteristics of your world you can add bits of both your imaginary plant/animal creations as well as real plants and animals.

As to bright flowers, again it is specific to location and biome (then there’s the option of creating imaginary ones too). The Flower Expert has a great encyclopedia of wildflowers with pictures right there. Gardening Launch Pad has a list of site-specific wildflower encyclopedias. If your world is more a North American, wooded landscape, my favorites are lady’s slipper (pictured here), bleeding hearts, wild roses, columbines, penstemons, buttercups, marsh marigold, bistort, rock jasmine, potentillas, crocus, iris, bluebell, California poppy, and star of Bethlehem.

To answer your last question, I DO know of some plants that can be turned into calming (also called nervine) teas! In fact, the lady’s slipper (Cypridedium spp.) pictured is one, and a strong one at that. Here’s a great article on it. The majority of nervine herbs are good tranquilizers, with a neural vasodilator effect, but their strength depends on the dosage of course. Some of the stronger ones besides lady's slipper include St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum), lavender flowers (Lavandula angustifolia & L. officinalis), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), catnip (Nepeta cataria), valerian root (Valeriana officinalis), motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca), purple passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), chamomile (Matricaria recutita), Roman chamomile flowers (Chamaemelum nobile) and ox-eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare). Any number of these plants can be dried and used in teas.

Some nervines are less tranquilizing and give only a slight calming effect. These include rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), maidenhair tree leaves (Ginkgo biloba), white pine needles (Pinus strobus), northern prickly ash berries (Zanthoxylum americanum) and clove buds (Syzygium aromaticum).

Mild tranquilizers (more in the middle of the nervines) are spearmint (Mentha spicata), wild mint (Mentha arvensis), peppermint (Mentha piperita), hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis), wild oat (Avena sativa), kava roots or rhizomes (Piper methysticum), thyme (Thymus vulgaris) and wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa). Some mushrooms can have a calming effect too. The only two I know of are Reishi (Ganoderma spp.) and Maitake (Grifola frondosa), both from China, but there might be more out there.

An interesting thing about all of these herbs is that they can have an opposite effect on some people (or fairies, in your case). Kind of like how with some people Benadryl can make them hyper? The same is true for nervines—they can have a stimulating effect instead! Besides calming plants, you might want to look for ones that make you soporific, or sleepy, since they sometimes are used for both calming and sleep. Annie’s Remedies has a great list of these (though the list is very similar to the one I just gave). Again, you can always make up your own plants here as well! The sky’s the limit.

I hope that helps, Jen, and good luck with your wonderful story!

If you, my lovely readers, have any other nature-related questions you’d like me to answer, feel free to email them to jackee(dot)alston(at)gmail(dot)com. I’ll post them on Wednesdays as I get them.
Have a wild Wednesday!

Monday, August 2, 2010

In which Jackee answers Sharon's questions

As promised, here are my answers to Sharon’s Really Random Questions for the giveaway. But first I need to give you a couple links to check out:

#1) Abby Annis' blog. I won her two hundred follower contest. I admit I feel guilty winning another person’s 200 follower fest, but check out the prizes I won and you’ll know why I’m smiling. While you’re there get to know Abby. She’s amazing! And one of my oldest blogging friends. Thank you again, Abby!

#2) Candyland has interviewed Lenny. If you haven't seen comments from Lenny around the blogosphere, you will soon and they'll make you smile. Guarantee it. He is an adorable kid with a heart of gold! Please go and say hi to him and introduce yourself!

#3) Annnnnndddddd... my answers:

1. Do you take baths? As often as the kids will let me!
2. If you were a fruit, what kind would you be? Strawberry—red and luscious.
3. Are you a cat? Only if I can be pampered in the process!
4. Do you have teeth? If the answer is yes, what do you do with them? Yes, and I’m pretty hard on them, biting things open I shouldn't!
5. When you wake up in the morning what is the first thing you do? I write and check my email.
6. What phobia does Howie Mandel have? Do you have it? Howie is afraid they’ll find out he doesn’t have the credentials to be a judge on America’s Got Talent. And no, I've no desire to be on a show. :o)
7. If you were going to re carpet my basement, what tool might you need? A phone number. :o)
8. What should you do right before you go to bed? (G-Rated blog warning) Check to make sure my kids are okay and asleep in their beds, then I pray.
9. If you were at a posh restaurant and ordered your favorite tea, what flavor would you order? Peppermint!
10. If you were in the kitchen at 7p.m. what would you be doing? Getting the kids their dessert
11. What is your favorite snow cone or icy flavor? Watermelon
12. After you sneeze it's a good idea to ___________________. Use your elbow.
13. Funky socks or practical ones? Funky as long as they’re soft and snuggly.
14. You're at a wonderful diner, they make the BEST fruit pies. What flavor do you order? Strawberry Rhubarb
15. Are you an international spy or traveler? I wish I was more of the latter!
16. Name your favorite pick me up drink. Fuze
17. I say cookie, you say _________________________. Leche!
18. You are trapped on a deserted dessert island and all you have to drink is flavored water. What flavor do you drink first? Lime!
19. If you see a mouse in your house, what do you do? Get a trap and lock it in a room by itself.
20. Describe the inside of your desk drawer. Cluttered.
21. If I was to give you a pile of photographs what would you do with them? Put them in box and pretend I’m going to put them in an album someday.
22. When you go on vacation, do you take notes? Yes! Travel books, internet sites, and copious amounts of research notes. :o)
23. Tropical or local? Both!
24. It's 1 a.m. and you're at Waffle House, what do you order to drink? Hot chocolate.
25. If you could visit any kind of fruit farm, what would it be and why? I love apple orchards.
26. Do you wash your hands regularly? Yes, too often! My hands are always dry and cracked.
27. You are on a trip to Iceland to do research. What research tool do you take with you? Lap top and a generator
28. While in Iceland, your lips get very dry. What flavor chap stick do you use? Any berry flavor
29. If someone throws a ball and yells fetch what do you do? Send my kids after it.
30. You are having Tea with the Queen. You are offered a variety of crepes. What kind do you order? Strawberry and kiwi
31. You have a big day ahead of you. What do you do to make sure you get everything done? List the items and then enlist help!
32. Do you have a kitchen? Yes! I love my big kitchen.
33. What's your favorite donut filling? When was the last time you had it? Maple custard and it’s been awhile!
34. It's about 4 months until winter. What will you need to protect your hands in the winter? Gloves.
35. Journal or computer? Computer, but I wish I was better at journaling!
36. If you were to find a bone, what would you do? Break it in half and give it to my dogs (Siberian Huskies).
37. What's your favorite fruit roll up? Strawberry.
38. Carry on or cargo? Carry on! I’m cheap, what can I say?
39. Writer or reader? Writer first!
40. Tell me something surprising about yourself: I can make a really loud popping noise with my tongue on my lips or teeth. :o)

So what are everyone’s big hopes/plans for the week? It’s a rainy week here so I'm going to get a lot done indoors!