Sunday, February 26, 2017

On Writing a Blurb - Metamorphosis

What a difference a year makes. Oh wait. Eighteen months. When I reread my first stab at blurb-writing from a post I published in August 2015, I wanted to gag. Or hold my nose. 'Cause compared to the current one, it stinks. Or is that just me?

I thought it would be fun to go back and grab several iterations, so you can see the progression. If you're interested in how the blurb for BLESSED ARE THE PEACE MAKERS: COMING HOME morphed over time, start at the beginning and read all the way through. If not, read the first and skip down to the last.

Here's the first one, circa August 4, 2015

AMERICA 2042CE: A down-and-out disaster specialist finds she’s the last of a long line of magical Druid priestesses carrying the bloodline of William the Conqueror. To make matters worse, she is expected to fill the shoes of her new father, the erstwhile Grand Druid whose coma is likely the result of foul play. Taught to run from adversity by a mother who carried the secret of her powers and heritage to an alcoholic grave, and faced with a foe known only as “The Darkness”, she must race the clock, cramming twenty-six years’ of training into the short time left.

On the opposite coast her nemesis, a sorceress-turned-holy-woman, is targeted and tagged by the invisible foe: a race of Reptilian aliens residing in Earth’s interior. Placed there millennia ago and kept secret and apart from the Humans by a forgetfulness curse enforced by dragon guards, the Reptilians are determined to take control of the planet. Led by a nasty Draco general, they will use the evangelist and others like her to pit the humans against one another, leaving Earth ripe for the picking.

Okay. I didn’t gag that time. But here’s the blurb I used for French Press Bookworks’s query workshop on October 2016.

I love when fantasy collides with real life. In Blessed Are the Peace Makers, Awen, last of the Druid Priestesses, diverts Earth’s destruction in 1042AD by saving a young William the Conqueror from death. Now, it is 2042 and their descendent, a down-and-out disaster specialist, on the run from an obsessed sorceress-slash-holy-woman, is Earth’s only hope. A race of Reptilian aliens, secretly living in Earth’s mantle, plots to use the holy woman and others like her to brainwash the Humans into destroying one another, leaving AboveEarth ripe for the picking. Aided by magical animal Elders, including dragons responsible for keeping the races secret and apart, the heroine faces insurmountable odds to avert the coming Darkness.

Shorter, sweeter, but still no cigar. As both Dionne Abouelela and James Stryker asked, what are the main character's names? After workshopping with them, together briefly, and James, extensively, I ended up with this.

In the near future, fantasy collides with real life when Emily Hester, an untrained druid, must rise from the ashes of a troubled past to head the powerful Awen order, headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. A looming threat known only as “the Darkness” – reptilian aliens living secretly in Earth’s mantle – plot to take AboveEarth by manipulating humans into destroying one another. Pursued by a smitten sorceress, Shalane Carpenter, and aided by magical animal elders, a sexy druid priest and his teen nephew, Emily must reluctantly learn the magic necessary for the druids to have a chance at saving Earth.

MUCH better. But still vague about motivation and voice. Here’s another iteration, rewritten based on an article by Laura Zats. I sent this in a query letter to agent Sara Megibow of KT Literary, then ten days later, to Laura Zats of Red Sofa Literary, and Rebecca Strauss of DeFiore and Company.

One thing her deceased mother taught Emily Mayhall was the fine art of running away. Reeling from the loss of her fiancé, her nerve, and her job as a disaster specialist, Emily is stalked by Shalane Carpenter, a shaman-sorceress whose wiles turn men, and most women, to mush, and bought her national acclaim as an evangelist. Immune to Shalane’s advances, Emily assumes a new identity, one she finds in a ledger in her mother’s strange box of druid artifacts. When a registered letter arrives addressed to Emily Mayhall Hester, she throws it on the counter, unopened. That night, the frantic dreams begin – she is Awen, druid priestess, and she must save the young Duke of Normandy’s life, or else. When the letter turns out to be from an attorney in Atlanta, GA, who represents a birth-father Emily didn’t know existed, she reluctantly accepts a free ticket to Atlanta, not knowing that the troubles she’s leaving behind, are nothing compared to what she’ll face when she gets there.

Set in the near future, fantasy collides with real life for a slew of supporting characters including a sexy druid priest and his teen nephew, “invisible” dragons, and magical animals, while a foe known only as the Darkness – reptilian aliens living in Earth’s mantle, plot to destroy humankind.

Longer. More words. But each packs a punch. I get a better sense of who the main characters are, and the predicament in which they find themselves. I want to know more. I want to read more.

Which, after all, is the whole point of a blurb.

To date, the last (along with the first three pages of the manuscript) prompted a request for additional pages from Sara (be still my heart!). Her partial-request reading time is two to four weeks - it’s been a little over one. The query-reading times for the others are longer, so we'll see.

Which is your favorite? Do you prefer a different blurb?

Here’s to a happy and hallowed day for all.

That Rebel, Olivia J. Herrell, writing as O.J. Barré

O.J. Barré is author of the upcoming Blessed Are the Peace Makers trilogy. Book One, Coming Home, is in final edits. The first draft of Book Two, Coming To, is nearing completion and Book Three, Coming Full Circle, is swirling in the mists of creation.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Oh Yes I DID! Query Emailed.

I did it. I did it.
I emailed the first agent query
For Blessed Are the Peace Makers: Coming Home
And who knows,
With luck,
Maybe the last.
No. I swear.
I’m not kidding.
I really, really
Before hitting send,
I hovered over the keyboard,
Heart pounding,
Breath shallow,
A little faint.
But not in a sick
Sort of way.
In a jumping out of
An airplane kind of way.
Not that I ever have.
Or probably ever will
Unless the plane’s
Going down.
Now it’s time
To celebrate.
Kombucha and
Netflix anyone? LOL.

What are you celebrating this fabulous night, as the luminous moon shines her reflected light on our highest intentions?

That Rebel, Olivia J. Herrell, writing as O.J. Barré

O.J. Barré is author of the upcoming Blessed Are the Peace Makers trilogy. Book One, Coming Home, is in final edits. The first draft of Book Two, Coming To, is nearing completion and Book Three, Coming Full Circle, is swirling in the mists of creation.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Groundhog Day 2017

It’s Groundhog Day, and tonight (as an annual ritual), I treat myself to the movie of the same name, another of my favorites. I will watch Bill Murray, an arrogant a-hole, relive the same day over and over. I will laugh and wince as I share his surprise, amazement, disbelief, the precognition, growing frustration, and his tenacious ability to hold fast to his off-kilter, self-centered view of the world.

Only this time, just maybe, I will get the punchline, and admit to my Self that I am stuck in an unending loop – my own, personal Groundhog Day. Best-laid plans and Acme be damned, I am Wile E. Coyote, locked in pursuit of the effortless, ever-elusive, Road Runner. Meep meep.

A tetherball, I swing blithely through time, in ecstatic motion, until the post approaches and - too late – BAM, we collide. Recoiling, I unravel to hang limp and lifeless, until the next round. A brave steed on a carousel, I am dressed for battle, riding the greasy pole until drunk and dizzy, but never manage to escape the paddock.

If we humans are lucky, we learn early in life to let go of expectations – of who we think we are "supposed" to be, and what we're told we "should be" doing.

If we are lucky, we’ll let go of the whys and wherefores, and learn to love the dance, the pursuit, the ups, the downs, the song. We will give ourselves to the ecstasy of trying, of flying, the resounding thud when we hit the inevitable wall, and the never-ending supply of childless wonder.

And if we are very lucky, the monotonous will become glorious; the predictability, reassuring; the constancy, cathartic.

Is it any wonder, as magnetic beings, on a magnetic planet spiraling through space, we spin along with it, ever seeking the light?

Cue the movie!

That Rebel, Olivia J. Herrell, writing as O.J. Barré

O.J. Barré is author of the Blessed Are the Peace Makers trilogy. Book One, Coming Home, is in final edits. The first draft of Book Two, Coming To, is nearing completion and Book Three, Coming Full Circle, is swirling in the mists of creation.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Pick One and Jump In

Since I can't seem to get my act together to write a blog post (and yes, I missed last week's too), I went through old ones mining for gold. Lo and behold, I found a draft that was basically complete and needed little editing. AND it has never been published.*

Actually, I found several, but this one is timely, as it sets up a coming post. So I'm polishing (a little) and publishing. Some back-story, since it's out of time sequence - this was written on March 17, 2016 after I attended Writer's Digest's Atlanta Writing Workshop. I hope you enjoy!

Life has taken another twist, propelling me forward and on. That’s what happens when you have a dream (or goal) and work toward it. Even if only a little at a time.

Thinking my manuscript was “ready”, I attended the Atlanta Writing Workshop on February 20 to pitch my novel to three literary agents. Nothing came of that, but during the day’s sessions, my vague suspicion that my story could be better was confirmed.

After the eye-opening “First Page” panel, I went home and cut the first five pages of BLESSED ARE THE PEACE MAKERS: COMING HOME, giving it a crisper, less background-intensive beginning and leaving more for the reader to discover. But like any remodel, the initial action creates a ton of related work.

C’est la vie.

In the last session of the day, Chuck Sambuchino shared a list of things writers can do to feel in control (though we mostly are not), and said to pick one thing and jump in with both feet. When that one is mastered, pick another. One is to build a platform, a way to let people know about our books.

Like Social Media.

Chuck asked how many were NOT on Twitter and about half the room raised our hands (including me). Not good. TWITTER is where literary agents and editors hang out. Meaning a Mecca for unrepresented writers like me. It’s also a way to get the word out about my books, once published.

So, bored with Facebook, and itching to put Chuck’s advice to work, I decided to try Twitter again. And am shocked and amazed. I like it.

The pace is fast, but brings a stream of fascinating people and topics, mostly of the artistic/literary ilk, any and all of whom are available for interaction. All I need are the cajones. Two weeks in, I have 93 followers with light participation. The more dedicated I am, the more people I meet, the more books, contests, music, etc, I discover.

I like it. I love it. I want some more of it.

So much so, that I find myself transferring Chuck’s advice to other areas. Like my livelihood, using it to launch a couple of (ad)ventures I’d been noodling, one for months.

Are you dancing around something in your life, wishing and hoping for it, dreaming of having or doing it, but not getting any closer?

Pick one. Jump in with both feet, like Chuck said. And don't forget to tell us about your adventures in the comments below.

That Rebel, Olivia J. Herrell, writing as O.J. Barré

P.S. Find me on Twitter. My current follower-count just passed 2400, and is rising steadily (if ploddingly).

* Oops. The article previously appeared on Relentless Writers in March of last year. Click here to read the original and other great posts by a variety of gifted writers, agents and editors.

O.J. Barré is the author of the Blessed Are the Peace Makers trilogy. Book One, Coming Home, is in final edits. The first draft of Book Two, Coming To, is nearing completion and Book Three, Coming Full Circle, is swirling in the mists of creation.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Ice Age Cometh

!SPOILER ALERT! If you haven't, and plan to, read To Build a Fire, by Jack London, please know that this post is about my visceral and psychic reaction and contains definite spoilers. If you don't mind, read on. If so, click here to read his short story (takes only 10-15 minutes, maybe 20), then come back to process your own reaction by reading about mine and leaving us a comment. 

Thank you for stopping by. Please enjoy...

Staring out the window, I watch fat snowflakes land on the mound in front of my apartment. As each conglomeration tumbles before sticking, my mind turns to a favorite movie. A work of fiction, Day After Tomorrow is woven around fact and depicts the coming of a new Ice Age. Before the Big Freeze, there is day-upon-day of relentless snowfall in the northern (and not-so) regions.

This is happening now, and I can't help but compare. Places with normally-mild winters, like Boise, Idaho, where I currently reside, are getting pounded. And have been for thirty-plus days. On the other side of the globe, normally-sunny Greece is blanketed in snow.

My mind jumps to a piece by Jack London I recently read for a creative writing class. Other than research, I rarely watch or read what I believe will be a downer. If there's no redemption, no deliverance, no life-affirming message, then what, pray tell, is the point?

To Build a Fire is London's short story, about a man in the Klondike who ignores common sense, and an old-timer's warning, to take a shortcut to his gold-mining camp. He's on foot and alone except for a husky that (like me) doesn’t particularly like the man. It's nearing winter in the Arctic, so the sun is scarce, and the temp plummets to seventy-below.

The story is an account of arrogance gone awry and as I read, my apprehension grows. Something bad is going to happen and the man will likely die. The more I read, the sicker my gut, until I taste the metal of dread.

I plod on, as assigned, though I hate each beautiful, well-placed word the man “speaks” in his head. When he takes a step, breaking through snow and ice, and his whole foot sinks into a running stream, I know (because of masterful foreshadowing) the time has come. (And even knowing, I wish for the best.)

London describes in acute detail the progression of hypothermia, as observed by the man, one frozen body-part at a time. I felt it all – his numbness, fear, panic, the futile attempts to light a match and tinder, only to have his one chance at survival snuffed out. Then the quick descent into apathy, eyeing the dog considering slitting it open for his own survival, the dog backing away because he doesn’t trust the arrogant man.

Then surrender, acquiescing to the coming of death, and its gentle kiss as he falls asleep.

I hated that short story, hated and loved it at the same time, because of Jack London’s literary genius.

In sharing this with Debbie, my teacher (and now friend), she pondered that if written during the Alaskan gold rush, it was likely meant as a warning to foolhardy souls heading to the Klondike, a preview of what to expect upon arrival. That I can wrap my head around. That I get.

But back to the snow falling outside my window and the mound halfway-up the Handicapped sign. As one who looks for the "why" in things, I wondered at the time why I continued to read a story that left me icky and cold.

It occurs to me now. Maybe I read London’s dark narrative, in spite of my own rules, because a new Ice Age cometh, and I needed to know. I will recognize the signs of fatal hypothermia and find comfort when I succumb to frozen limbs and halted heart.

Or maybe it will be millennia before the next Ice Age, and it was merely an excellent assignment designed to further-open this writer's mind to the power of narrative prose.

Either way, the snow sure is pretty.

What are YOUR thoughts on London's short story?

That Rebel, Olivia J. Herrell (writing as O.J. Barré)

O.J. Barré is the author of the Blessed Are the Peace Makers trilogy. Book One, Coming Home, is in final edits. The first draft of Book Two, Coming To, is nearing completion and Book Three, Coming Full Circle, is swirling in the mists of creation.


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