BOXED SET -- A novel by Bernie Kohn & Gina M. Smith

An unemployed Chicago sports writer quickly finds himself broke and homeless, but he uses his gift with words and some inspiration from Beat Generation author Jack Kerouac to turn his life around, help his fellow homeless and to get the girl, a perky tech at the local plasma clinic who thinks a boob job will solve everything.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Shout-Out to Editor- Author Jen Malone!

When I first joined Twitter, one of the people I met was author Jen Malone. Her author website drew me in. Then I read her bio and found there was a long version and a short version-- an official bio and a not-so-official bio. 

Jen's entire bio is enchanting. Here's an example: "I met my husband on the highway. Literally. He passed my car and I made a face at him (I was with my BFF and we sometimes- fine, often- did silly stuff like make faces at total strangers). Then HE made a face back at me the next time we passed, which was both nerdy and cool. I happen to like nerdy and cool. So I wrote my BFF's cell phone number (because this was the Dark Ages and I didn't own a cell phone yet) on a piece of paper and held it up to the window. He called. We married. There was some dating in between."

This person was already Double-AA-OK in my book!

Then in the run-up to #PitchWars on Twitter, Jen graciously offered free critiques for query letters.  I sent her the query letter for the book I am now writing. While free is always good, as starving artists will agree, what struck me about Jen's offer was not the price but the spirit in which it was offered.

The comments she offered on that query letter were fact-based, on the skill of writing, rather than personal-opinion based. She kept her suggestions upbeat and encouraging while still noting what could and should be fixed. She was professional, delivering much-needed advice and support at the same time. 

I've paid much more for advice that was delivered in a snarky, personal-opinion-based manner and was much more critical than constructive. I say, bring on all the criticism you can to help me make the work better, as long as it is constructive.

Given Jen's style, it is no surprise I gravitated to her editing "un-blog," as she calls it. There, she posts excerpts from posts she has contributed to other writing blogs, and it is where she houses her editing services. I'm excited to say Jen will be taking her red pen to Boxed Set's first 50 pages and its query letter. I'm excited because I know her comments and constructive criticism can only serve to make the manuscript tighter and stronger and the query letter more compelling. 

I'm thrilled to be meeting Jen this Friday at the 2014 Baltimore Book Festival, in her hometown. Jen will be speaking 12-1 Friday Sept. 26 at the Enoch-Pratt Library's children's stage and signing her book, At Your Service afterwards. This may be her first book, which recently launched at the end of August 2014, but the amazing Jen has at least, count 'em, four more books on contract and coming out in the next couple of years. As if her previous life as a publicist for Miramax Films and 20th Century Fox was not exciting enough! 

Jen writes for 'tweens and teens--Middle Grade (MG) and Young Adult (YA) fiction. I just finished At Your Service, and although I exceed the target audience age range for MG by just a little bit, I was enthralled by this sweet story. The first three words of the book are: Oh. Holy. Yikes. I was a goner. The cover is just perfect also. No one is too old to enjoy this book. Judge for yourself. The blurb which follows is from Jen's site. The picture is of my copy, which I will be getting signed Friday for a special 'tween I know. I'm looking forward to getting to know Jen and working with her.

"Chloe Turner has pretty much the BEST life. She gets to live in the super fancy Hotel St. Michele, New York City is her home town and her dad Mitchell Turner, concierge extraordinaire, is teaching her all the secrets of the business so she can follow in his footsteps. After helping him out with a particularly difficult kid client, Chloe is appointed the official junior concierge tending to the hotel’s smallest, though sometimes most demanding, guests.

Her new position comes with tons of perks like cupcake parties, backstage passes to concerts, and even private fittings with the hippest clothing designers. But Chloe hasn’t faced her toughest challenge yet. When three young royals, (including a real-life PRINCE!) come to stay, Chloe’s determined to prove once and for all just how good she is at her job. But the trip is a disaster, especially when the youngest disappears. Now it’s up to Chloe to save the day. Can she find the missing princess before it becomes international news?"


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

On Faith

I had an opportunity to talk with author Shawn Vestal, a columnist for the Spokesman-Review in Spokane. Vestal's short story collection Godforsaken Idaho was shortlisted for The Story Prize in 2014. It was longlisted for the PEN/​Robert W. Bingham award, and the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing.

His prose is magnificent; a joy to read. Exciting. The first story in the collection, "The First Several Hundred Years Following My Death," opens the book with much more than a bang. I kept re-reading passages for their beauty and new-ness. I dog-eared pages I couldn't wait to share. 

As fellow Spokane author Jess Walter says on the back cover of Vestal's book, "Wickedly funny and surprisingly profound, these nine stories of prophets and parents, of doppelgangers and pocket dogs, form a thrilling introduction to one of the wryest, most inventive new voices in fiction."


Our conversation was not intended as an interview for this blog, nor to talk about his book, although it arrived in the mail the very afternoon we spoke. Instead, Vestal was kind enough to share his story of querying for an agent (and another agent) with me. Although his genre differs and his agent search was a short one (both times), the ultimate take-away I heard is this: keep the faith in your own project, and don't let too much outside noise erode that. 

We also discussed the importance of an MFA for a serious writer. Vestal believes it was a great fit for his writing growth and career.

Lastly, after a day and last few weeks when I've been consumed with writing critiques, challenges, contests such as #PitchWars, #PitMad, and Chum Bucket (from 'the' Query Shark, Janet Reid), and considering which in-person writers' groups to attend via MeetUp, it was quite nice to stop and just listen. My visit with Vestal was calming yet exciting, re-affirming and inspiring.

Reading his collection later in the day was perfect timing; exciting, re-affirming and inspiring. Calming, it was not. In a good way.