I am so excited to announce that I am now represented by Marietta Zacker at Gallt & Zacker Literary Agency!
From the beginning, Marietta understood the importance of my middle grade novel-in-verse about losing my mom to the opioid crisis when I was 11, and I cannot wait for us to share it with the world.
This is the most personal story I could’ve written. It’s also one I promised myself I would write when I was 11 and couldn’t find a children’s book about the unique grief that follows the loss of a loved one (especially a parent) from drug abuse.
Unfortunately, since my mom’s death, the opioid crisis has only grown. (In fact, deaths have more than quadrupled.) And it’s expected to continue to rise. Now, maybe one day soon, kids like me will have that book that shows they’re not alone. My story has a champion.
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, you can reach out to SAMHSA: it’s a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service.
Also, I wanted to give a shoutout to my friends who helped me with this novel: Sandra Proudman, Angela Cervantes, Natasha Hanova, Vicki Dixon, and Lisa! Also, my Sanity group for keeping me sane: Tiffany White, Elizabeth Bane, Sarah Kaminski, and Jessica Conoley! And of course, thank yous go out to everyone on this website as well! Y’all have cheered me on since the beginning.
If you’re interested in a How I Got My Agent post, I will most likely be sharing one in the future! But I am expecting to give birth to a baby later this week, so I am still on maternity leave and will likely be on it for a while.
That said, I recently wrote some blog posts about querying you can check out in the meantime:
P.S. I’m hoping to be back from maternity leave in mid-December. In the meantime, definitely connect with me on Facebook,Instagram, and Twitter. I tend to pop up there sooner. Though, I’ll probably pop back here to share a baby picture or two in the near future!
Controversy erupted in publishing last week when child star Jennette McCurdy released her memoir I’m Glad My Mom Died. Ever since, I’ve seen various discussions being bounced around online. Some supportive; some not.
I get it. I do. There’s lots of folks out there who cannot imagine disliking their mother so much that death feels like a reprieve. But this is one of those times that folks need to step back from their own lived experiences and listen to the voices of others.
While my mother was a supportive, nurturing person, she definitely had her faults—faults that eventually led to her overdose and untimely death. There were many other women who entered my life after her death that also had major faults. When I set out to write a middle grade verse novel about my mom’s death, I made it a point to include more than one female character who was not supportive and, in fact, discouraging.
Media all too often shows moms and women as naturally nurturing people when many aren’t. Unfortunately, many, many children are abused by their mothers. But when we show abuse in media, we tend to lean on physically abusive men, alcoholic men, absentee men, etc. We rarely acknowledge moms can do the same thing. For that reason alone, Jennette McCurdy’s book is resonating with a lot of folks.
These types of stories have been going unseen for a long time. I myself had beta readers tell me I should add more positive female figures to my book (though there already are two. I didn’t exclude positivity altogether, but it certainly was not my focus).
My relationship with women from a young age was unhealthy. It took me a long time to understand my trauma and how it unfolded in my personality. It took me even longer to find female role models and friendships that I felt safe relying on. And though I know I’m not alone in that, publishers and directors alike tend to shy away from stories involving negative depictions of mothers and motherhood. (The most popular mom trope we get is the burnt out mom who wants to go out for a night on the town with her mom friends. Usually this appears in a comedy of some sort. Trying to pursue a drama? Good luck.)
Granted, I’m not saying stories with depictions of abusive moms don’t exist.They do, but sparsely, and they tend to be in the adult sphere of entertainment, including Jennette McCurdy’s recent release.
I’m making a call to publishers to have more books where moms aren’t perfect in kidlit fiction.
One of the main reasons I set out to write my novel-in-verse about my mother was because of what happened to me at the bookstore when I was a kid. Shortly after she died, I found myself lost amongst the kidlit bookshelves, unable to find anything that I could relate to anymore. There were no stories about addiction or grief stories about losing moms…and so, I ended up in the young adult section at 11, where I found One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies by Sonya Sones. I immediately felt seen.
I promised myself right then and there I’d write my story for 11-year-olds like me, and that it would go in the middle grade section. I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that it ended up being a novel-in-verse, too. But that’s a story for another day.
I’m in the middle of querying it right now, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed about my pending fulls, but regardless of where my story ends up, I hope publishing is taking note of people’s reactions to Jennette McCurdy’s book.
Moms aren’t perfect. They can, in fact, be our biggest adversary. By showing that through storytelling, we can help empower readers to recognize that in their own lives.Who knows? They may even find the strength and resolve to share their own stories with the world one day.
The second trimester is known as the best trimester, when most women get their energy back and glow.
Mine started out terrible.
I got COVID-like symptoms. Though I tested negative, it was still pretty scary being sick and pregnant. I promised myself I’d stop Googling things that week. Getting sick also made my morning sickness horrible. If that’s not bad enough, I learned that getting sick while pregnant means twice as long as a recovery time. What should’ve lasted a few days lasted a little over two weeks. Our cat Boo Boo’s health started to go downhill too… He unfortunately passed away shortly after. It is a lot dealing with loss and grief while simultaneously creating life.
Writing? Yeah right.
I was a mixture of puke and tears.
It was also uncomfortable not wanting to share with folks what was going on with me while not having a reason to tell them I wasn’t making writing progress. I spent most of my time querying and beta reading for friends instead. During that time, I did tell my boss at work and my dad and stepmom. I told my best writing friend shortly after, too. Then, I found out we were having a little girl. Having people to talk to helped a lot, but I definitely started having a lot more anxiety in this trimester. I didn’t get a magical baby bump or feel the baby move as early as others. Once that started happening, it felt a little easier.
To be honest, I spent as much time as possible relaxing. Life is about to get crazy, right? You’d think I’d want to get as much writing done as possible, but I just didn’t in the first half of my second trimester. I wanted to enjoy time with my husband and get our house where we want it to be.
That said, I set a goal of revising my historical fantasy and getting it ready for querying before baby girl arrives. And that’s it. If I get more done, great. But I think querying two novels this year is more than sufficient.
We also started putting together the baby’s room, which was my previous office. There’s a mixture of emotions of creating a space for your future daughter while simultaneously giving up a space you had for yourself. (I share this thought even though a few people have scoffed at me for doing so, but alas, I like to be honest.) The weather also started to get nice and my favorite type of exercise is my trampoline, so it was really depressing seeing my trampoline out back but not being able to use it. I got lawn furniture instead so I could still sit outside and enjoy the nice weather.
Honestly the first half of my second trimester was depressing and lonely, and it’s hard to admit that. The 20-week scan is what I kept crossing my fingers about. Once we got the all-clear, I felt a lot better about everything.
The second half of my second trimester was a lot more uplifting and fun.
I finally got that boost of energy everyone talks about. With it, I hit a stride in my historical fantasy and figured out what was wrong with the third act for the first time in four years. (It never takes me this long to finish a manuscript. I actually finished writing it four years ago, but I never pursued it, because other publishing opportunities kept pulling me away. I’ve finally gotten back to it and giving it the time it deserves.) If you remember my last post – Writing (And Working) While Pregnant: First Trimester – I obviously changed gears from my YA paranormal back to revising my adult historical.
That said, I took a babymoon the week of my birthday, and that helped my mood a lot. Though my doctor didn’t want me traveling, we visited a lot of local restaurants we’ve always wanted to try out and spent a day at the lake. It was really nice. And definitely boosted that boost of energy I already had. Returning from my vacation, I actually finished my historical fantasy revision! Honestly, it sometimes felt like that would never happen. I’ve worked on this novel on and off for so long. But this time, I’m finally going to query it and give it a shot. Now I’m in the polishing phase. One more read-through to make sure all my i’s are dotted and my t’s are crossed. The good news is that my query package is already put together, and I already have an agent waiting for the full!
When I’m not working on that revision or at my day job, I am prepping for the baby, and her room is starting to have the theme…It’s Under the Sea…with lambs and bunnies. (In case you want to know how terrible I am at thematic design.) My husband and I started flipping through baby names and looking at baby things. Buying baby items was fun and so was feeling the first flutters of baby squirming around. I finally told everyone, too.
I’m polishing my historical fantasy with the hopes that the book is in tip-top shape before little girl arrives. And maybe, just maybe, if I can muster any energy at all, I’ll send out my first batch of queries while on maternity leave. (Maybe sooner!)
Usually, I am outlining a new idea and drafting another while revising a third. Right now, I’m just revising, and that’s okay. I still have fulls pending with agents on my middle grade verse novel, and I have two other books completely written (not to mention more ideas outlined than I can handle.) I’m letting everything rest for now. Polishing my historical and beta reading for friends is the only thing on my writing life to-do.
Heading into my third trimester, I am signed up for the baby care/delivery classes and looking forward to a baby shower with friends and family. And, of course, baby girl is set to arrive in late September. Maybe I’ll get an offer of rep, too? (A writer can dream.)
In case you missed it, Team Stellify announced our 2021 mentee for Pitch Wars! (But more on that below.) Since announcement day has come and gone, I thought it would be fun to give everyone a behind-the-scenes peek at what went down with Team Stellify.
This year, Sandra Proudman and I decided to mentor a middle grade writer. You can reference our original wishlist by clicking here.
Here’s our stats: 182 submissions
Space Opera: 2
Near future: 2
Time Travel: 3
Science fantasy: 7
Magical Realism: 11
Trends We Saw:
– Parallel universes/multi-verses
– Portal fantasies
– HUGE word counts and TINY word counts. We had one that was under 10,000 words and another that was 100,000 words.
Team Stellify had a blast! We loved reading through everyone’s pages, and we felt so inspired by all the stories. It was so, so, so hard to choose our mentee.
So how did we break it down? Sandra and I followed the same steps we did last year. We split our submissions in half. She read 1-91, and I read 92-182 with the goal of each of us coming to the table with five each for our top ten. I ended up coming to the table with six. Sandra brought seven. (What can we say, we truly loved so many books!) In our top thirteen, we had 2 adventures, 1 science fiction, 1 horror, 2 portal fantasies, 2 other fantasy, 3 urban fantasies, 1 science fantasy, and 1 epic fantasy. We then met on ZOOM and dwindled them down until we decided to request seven full manuscripts with three questions for the writer. From there, we read the first 50 pages and reconvened. After discussing which ones we wanted to keep reading, we went back and forth on Twitter chat to talk about options.
It was a hard choice!
There was so much incredible talent, and we definitely would’ve taken on more mentees if we could have. If you submitted to us, thank you for trusting us with your words! We truly enjoyed reading our submissions.
Now for a fun Q&A:
What was the biggest difference between reading submissions last year and this year?
Sandra: I don’t necessarily know if there was a huge different reading subs this year than last year. I can say what wasn’t different was how amazing everyone’s stories sounded. There wasn’t a single sub that I read where I didn’t think the story concept was fabulous! So much talent!
Shannon: Last year, we were mentoring young adult fiction, so the age category is obviously going to be the biggest difference. It always surprises me to see what is trending in any given season. Last year, we had a rush of elemental powers. This year, it felt like some version of the multiverse theory (which I think is sooo exciting). In the end, I definitely felt the way Sandra did. There truly was so much incredible talent. I had to remind myself that we weren’t looking for a perfectly polished piece, but rather a piece that we knew how to revise and mentor.
Do you have specific writing tips for this cohort?
Shannon: Read a lot of middle grade before writing middle grade, especially if you are converting a young adult manuscript into a middle grade book. There were a lot of fantastic submissions that I felt were originally YA but didn’t have a lot of changes. Voice is different in YA and MG. So are word count expectations and themes. Take a step back and come back to your book with fresh eyes. That can help you see those places that need a little extra fixing.
Sandra: Oh gosh, let me think for a moment. Well, I guess a couple of specific writing tips that I can offer this cohort of writers is to always be extra careful that you’re writing in a middle school voice, with the syntax of a middle grader. Also, to remember your word counts, which is something I tend to talk about a lot! Especially right now, agents and editors don’t have huge bandwidth to delve into stories that might not be the right word count for your age group. There are a lot of epic stories right now with giant word counts in both middle grade and young adult; however, not all agents and editors are open to stories having inflated word counts when they hit their inboxes and prefer to control word count after signing a story!
How about publishing tips for this group?
Sandra: My biggest publishing tip right now is to diversify! If you’re planning to have a long-term career in publishing, you’ll notice how lots of full-time writers are writing across genres and age groups. If you’re working on a middle grade manuscript and you plan to query it for six months, perhaps the project that you work on while you query is young adult. That way if you sign with an agent, they’ll be able to not only take your middle grade out on submission, but once that’s off and away, they’ll also be able to send your young adult manuscript out once it’s ready! You might have two, three, etc., projects out on submission at once! Another tip is to stay positive! Publishing was a tough industry before COVID, but now it’s even more so. But keep writing, keep going, keep fighting for your dream!
Shannon: Pay attention to word counts. We had a HUGE range this year. A few were near 10k; others were near 100k. Broadly, middle grade tends to be between 20,000-55,000 words. Fantasy can go a little higher than that, but the higher you go, the harder it can be to sell as a debut. Beta readers always help me figure out where I can cut or add. If you haven’t had a critique partner go through your work, I highly recommend it. (Plus, you can make the bestest of friends that way.)
What are we most excited about?
Working with our mentee, D.S. Allen! She wrote such a fun, spooky horror story that we both immediately ate up. It has a magical flute, old revenge, family, friendship, and parallel universes. What more could you need? Give her a follow on Twitter and stay tuned! (Fun fact: D.S. Allen’s submission was #118!)
Hello, Pitch Wars hopefuls! For a downloadable, plain-text PDF version of this post, click here. This year I am partnering up with the fabulous Sandra Proudman to mentor a middle grade science fiction or fantasy writer for Pitch Wars. We are Team Stellify. Stellify means to change or be changed into a star. It’s associated with myths and magic, andwe are ready to channel all of our magic to stellify our mentee! We’re going to work hard and fight hard for you and your book, but we’re also here to have fun and be supportive.
If you want more information about Pitch Wars, check out pitchwars.org for more info. If you’ve somehow arrived at my blog first, please take a minute to go visit Sandra Proudman’s blog, where she talks about who we are, what we’re about, and lists the movies, TV shows, and books we absolutely love! Who knows? You might find a good comp title in there 😉
Below, you’ll find our mentoring style as well as our official wishlist!
WHAT WE BELIEVE WE CAN HELP OUR MENTEE WITH:
If you’ve won a critique from us in the past or know us from social media: Please feel free to still submit to us!We’ll be removing names from submission items to be as impartial as possible.
Our Communication Style:
We’ll be with you every step of the way during your Pitch Wars journey. From explaining why we might be offering a certain comment/suggested change to guiding you through the querying process if this is your first time entering the querying trenches. Our goal is that by the time the showcase comes around, you’ll feel confident querying your work, whether you get one request for pages or thirty.
We talk on Zoom a bunch, so we are always open to hopping on a Zoom call. If you’re not into video conferencing, we can always hop on the phone or chat online. We’ll work with you at your comfort level! We believe in equal access, and we’re willing to be flexible with deadlines.
What We Are Looking for in a Mentee:
We are looking to work with a passionate writer who is dedicated to making their story the best it can possibly be, even if this means a possible complete rewrite. Be positive and ready to put in hard work. There is, of course, a temptation to say ‘yes’ to be selected even if you don’t think your novel needs lots of work; if you truly know that you would not be open to major revisions, we may not be the best selection for you.
Fantasy (portal, magical realism, other)
Sci-Fi (space opera, near future, dystopian/post-apocalyptic, cyberpunk, soft, time travel, other)
Romance (sci-fi, fantasy)
Contemporary with a dash of speculative
Diverse characters written as the heroes of their own stories written by diverse writers. Sandra is Latinx, so Latinx (especially Afro-Latinx) stories hold a special place on our wish list.
Stories by LGBTQIA+ writers also hold a special place on our wishlist. Especially by writers of color.
Lush or strange fantasies with a diverse cast of characters set anywhere! Contemporary fantasies are our specialty!
Stories about found family and friendships, witty banter a plus!
Retellings, especially with a diverse twist and/or unique tales/myths/creatures.
Immersive settings and awesome world building!
Horror with twists and turns at every corner. We want witches/brujx, ghosts, haunted forests, bloodline curses, all of it! Give us your spooky tales, your ghosts, your monsters, your nightmares that come to life.
We love sci-fi, though tend to lean toward fantasy stories for Pitch Wars. If you do want to send us sci-fi, we specifically love space/androids/robots/AI and parallel universes, or any stories revolving STEM. We would love to see all the genre-bending sci-fi fantasy stories.
Fierce girls that don’t need a hero to save them and who rebel against the life others want for them.
Epic action scenes reminiscent of the Agni Kai scene between Zuko and Azula in Avatar the Last Airbender!
What we’re likely to pass on:
Most importantly, we are not a good fit for stories with themes of terminal illness or explicit scenes of sexual violence or assault. Please no stories that would require a heavy trigger warning.
We are not mentoring Adult or YA books. Don’t waste a slot sending us your book if it’s in these age groups! *Okay to send us a YA book that you want to age down.
We are not the best fit for sports books or hard science fiction with a lot of technical aspects. There will likely be a lot that we couldn’t comment on or help with.
Please eliminate as many typos as you can prior to sending as they can often distract from getting into the story!
We cannot wait to read your submissions and no matter what happens, you finished a manuscript, you are amazing!
The book signing in Barnes & Noble went so well! I met so many great readers, and I was able to share that experience with amazing authors. If you would like a signed copy of The Timely Death Trilogy, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Barnes & Noble has a few copies left, and they will ship the books to you! To those of you I had the joy of meeting, thank you for coming out!
What I’m Writing:
I’m 30,000 words into Take Me Yesterday, and yes, I’m still handwriting this entire novel, which has been quite fun. I handwrote enough this week that I was able to start typing more onto my computer, so I did that—which of course has me changing and shifting things and driving myself mad. This was a delight to me. I like driving myself mad. This was the first week in a LONG time that I was able to go to my favorite coffee house and really type it all out. Well worth the trip.
What I’m Publishing:
This week’s #1lineWed preview theme was “texture.”
Shadows dripped off the bumpy texture and pooled into the center of the living room.
Fun story about this #1lineWed preview. For all you fans of The Timely Death Trilogy there is actually a “shade” in Bad Bloods. Her original name was Kati, but it was changed to Violet or simply Vi in the editing process. This is a description of her coming down from the ceiling as a shadow. I like to connect all of my novels, so keep your eyes open! You might see something from previous works that new readers won’t.
I started to read Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon…and then I finished it in one sitting. I literally never put it down. I knew I had to buy this book when a Barnes & Noble employee passed me and said, “You’re really enjoying that, huh?” Apparently, I was blissing out. Everything, Everything is an intimate, insane, and intricate exploration of love and life and all of the fear and joy in between. It is a heartbreaking exploration of family, friendship, health, and identity. Oh, and humuhumunukunukuapuaa. It is…everything. Read my full 5-star review by clicking here. My favorite quote was, “Sometimes you do things for the right reasons and sometimes for the wrongs ones and sometimes it’s impossible to tell the difference.”
Railroad Track by Willy Moon is still my inspiration for my writing life right now, so that’s about all I’m listening to.
What I’m Watching:
The Lizzie Borden Chronicles! I know, I know. It’s totally speculative and fiction, but I loved this show. It’s twisted, dark, and filled with horror and delight. (Can I say horror and delight in the same sentence?) Well, it’s on Netflix right now, and I have Netflix again. (Eep.) I must resist watching too much, but I definitely recommend this show if you love horror and loving the villains.
I also watched The Way of the Gun…because going back to the year 2000 can be fun sometimes. And bloody. Really, really bloody.
What I’m Baking, Making, and Drinking:
I made dark chocolate chip cherry fill-in cookies for Valentine’s Day! NOM.
What I’m Wearing:
PINK. I wore a lot of pink for Valentine’s Day. I actually like the color pink, but I don’t like wearing the color pink. It feels too bold and bright for my vampire lifestyle, but I am trying to be more…shall I say, colorful?
What I’m Wanting:
I mean, who wouldn’t want a bunch of Sailor Moon collectibles? I’d be happy with Luna, Artemis, and Tuxedo Mask…and Saturn…and Jupiter…and oh wait. I want them all. Look at them here.
What I’m Dreaming Of:
I had this really strange—very realistic—dream that someone broke into my house…and started making espresso. They even brought it upstairs and gave it to my roommate in the dark, and I was VERY confused. I wanted to scream, but I also wanted some espresso, so when they started to hand me something, I was excited. But they handed me a bunny. An adorable, fuzzy, kicking bunny. That was it. (I swear, there is no way dreams ALWAYS mean something. I mean, sure, I think they can symbolically mean something some of the time, but my dreams are too consistent and crazy…unless that means I’m consistently crazy, which is a possibility.)
What Else Is Going On:
At the Barnes & Noble book signing, I’m pretty sure there was a glitch in the Matrix. We had SIX Sarahs (all spelt with H) come up in a row. I believe all the authors had a great giggle over that…so thank you, Sarahs!
Have you checked out this amazing gift basket Clean Teen Publishing is giving away this month? It has over $130 worth of goodies including a Kindle Fire, several print novels, sweets, swag, and more! Enter to win here.
If you would like a signed copy of any book in The Timely Death Trilogy, e-mail me at shannonathompson.com. Barnes & Noble in Wichita has a few copies left, and they will ship you one.