Friday, October 30, 2015

My Pitch Wars Inspiration Story

When the Pitch Wars mentor picks went live, I was sitting on my couch frantically refreshing my browser along with the rest of the mentee hopefuls who had (naturally) broken Brenda's site the moment she hinted at posting the list. My husband very calmly asked me what the website was and proceeded to look it up on his iPad.

Me: "C'MON! LOAD!"
Husband: "Honey, I've got the list."
Me: "I've almost got it! It's loading!"

As soon as I looked up and saw his face, I knew what he was going to say next. (Although it took me a whole heck of a lot longer to really believe it.)

"Your name is on it!"

And thus began two of the coolest, craziest months ever. They've gone something like this...

I've learned so much from my mentor, Kara Seal. (Seriously, you guys, she's the BEST EVER.) And I've gained the most incredible community of writers, ready and willing to lend encouragement and support every step of the way. This experience is something I will never forget, and I know I will continue to reap the benefits of what I've learned and the people I've connected with for years to come. 

On Tuesday (which, by the way, also happens to be my 30th birthday) all our super-shiny, newly polished novels will get their first peek at the world when our pitches and excerpts go live on Brenda's blog. To distract ourselves from the looming agent-round jitters, some of us mentees are doing a blog-hop to share our experiences and the inspirations behind our novels. In my middle grade novel, FOLLOW ME, twelve-year-old Alivia Hart searches the woods for her missing mother and finds a family tree full of secrets that lead to a place called Wonderland. And here's how it started...

The idea for FOLLOW ME began with a setting. I had just finished watching the movie EPIC with my kids and as the credits rolled, I couldn't stop thinking about the magical world inside the forest, where good battled evil and a darkness threatened to destroy everything from the inside out. I knew I wanted to write a book with a setting like that--dark and mysterious, with just a bit of creepiness around the edges. When I'm planning a novel, flashes of scenes play in my mind, like clips from a movie trailer. I kept picturing a girl, standing in front of an open window, shivering in the cold while she waited for something...

A wind from the woods. 

Carrying a voice. 

A mother's voice. Whispering, "Follow me..."

When I first started plotting the book, I had no intention of connecting my story to Lewis Carroll's Wonderland. But then I had an idea for a scene that required my main character, Alivia, to have the same first initial as her mother. The first A name that popped into my head was Alice. And then I thought...

"What if her mother is THE Alice?"

I love Alice's adventures--they were the start of my classic children's books phase as a preteen--so it was easy to get excited about the direction that idea took me. And the rest of the pieces fell into place from there! (Okay, so there was a lot of hard work and crying and pleading and it felt more like forcefully jamming the pieces into place at times, but it's all good now and if I've gone a little mad in the process it's okay, because all the best people are, right?) 

So that's the story behind my story! You can find links to some of the other mentees' posts here

To all my fellow mentees: You guys are an amazing group of crazy talented people and I can't wait to have a whole bookcase full of your stories! I'll be cheering on each and every one of you in the agent round!

More Pitch Wars:

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Don't Give Up (Or, Why I Heart Pitch Wars)

I've noticed a common theme among the mentor's Pitch Wars tweets this year: DON'T GIVE UP. Now, I know it's sometimes hard to hear that from another writer when they've already got the finished book, the agent, AND the book deal. If we're being honest, we've all thought it at some point...

Easy for you to say.

Well, as a hopeful, yet-to-be-published Pitch Wars submitter, I'd like to echo the "keep at it" sentiments. (Also, you shouldn't compare your journey to someone else's, but I already wrote a post about that here.)

Last year I submitted to Pitch Wars right after receiving a pretty heartbreaking rejection. It went something like this:

Start querying first MG novel.
Get a bunch of rejections.
Get a full request! Huzzah!
Have phone call with agent. Double huzzah!
Be told book is awesome, but too quiet to sell as debut. Huzzah?
"Do you have any other books?"
Scramble to finish WIP and send to agent, hoping it's enough to tip the scales.
Email notification dings. Heart leaps. Open email...
Heart sinks.

Let me just say, this agent was over-the-moon wonderful and encouraging and supportive, and I could not have had a more lovely interaction with her. But the very nice, very complimentary no was still a no, and of course I was disappointed. So I had some Ben and Jerry's...

...decided it wasn't meant to be, determined I wouldn't let it get me down, and that very night I submitted my manuscript to Pitch Wars.

I didn't get any requests for additional pages.
I didn't get picked as a mentee.

I did get feedback. (Thank you Michelle Hauck and Joy McCullough!) And wouldn't you know it, they both said the same thing: lovely voice, hard to market the story. But they also had some really great advice on what they felt could be improved. Because of them, and tweets from some of the other mentors, I at least knew what I had done wrong in my query and I'd grown as a writer. I knew it was time to move on to the next book.

So I didn't give up, and I kept going, and it was all rainbows and unicorns from there, right?

Um, yeah, no.

About six months (and a slew of rejections) later, I'm in the midst of waffling between two WIPs, and feeling like this...

It had been FOREVER since I'd made any real progress, and I was desperate to just FINISH SOMETHING, DAMMIT. I had three-quarters of a novel--why was the last bit SO FRIGGIN' HARD? I felt like a complete failure. Like maybe I should just give up on this whole writing thing.

I felt like all I would ever be was an almost.

Almost good enough.
Almost represented.
Almost published.

It was really, really hard to write. I ignored my manuscript(s) for weeks. But eventually I admitted it felt worse to NOT write. So I limped along. Some nights I think I managed to add one decent paragraph to my almost finished novel. Then, after borrowing Write Your Novel From the Middle by James Scott Bell from a dear friend/CP, I had a plot breakthrough. I thought maybe, just maybe, I could do this. 

I gave myself a deadline: Pitch Wars 2015. I started to feel the excitement of possibility again. Several sleep-deprived weeks later...

The Pitch Wars Mentor Blog Hop went live and I sat down to make a list of the mentors I wanted to submit my FINISHED manuscript to. 

Would I love to sit at the feet of a mentor for the next two months? Of course. But whether we get picked or not, or whether our manuscripts are all shiny and ready for the world or a hot mess that needs way more work, we'll have to remind ourselves to keep going. There's always more to be learned, more stories to write, more ways to improve. There will always be super awesome 2,000-word days and really, really crappy one-sentence days. If there's one thing I've learned thus far, it's that this writing thing takes a lot of working and waiting...and then working and waiting some more. I happen to think it's worth it.

So for those of you in the Pitch Wars trenches (or the querying trenches, or the WIP trenches), let me be that annoying person who says it for the one hundredth time: DON'T GIVE UP.

And THANK YOU Brenda Drake, and Pitch Wars mentors. Whether I get picked or not, I have a novel. I've gained invaluable advice from the mentor's tweets and blog posts, not to mention connections with other writers. I've remembered what it feels like to be passionate about telling stories. To be hopeful and positive and excited about my writing journey. This year's contest has seriously been so encouraging and helped me so, so much. It's been exactly what I needed. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU.

Now, back to your regularly scheduled Pitch Wars twitter stalking...

Friday, August 14, 2015

My Pitch Wars Mentee Bio!

(If you're reading this and wondering what on earth Pitch Wars is, go here to find out.)

Hi, I'm Ashley and I'm a night owl with a caffeine intolerance.

Seriously, there should be a support group for this.

I'm also a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom of two--one girl and one boy, ages (almost) 10 and 7, respectively. Now that I think about it, a support group for that would be handy, too.

I write middle grade--a.k.a. the best age category--and my Pitch Wars submission is a fantasy novel titled FOLLOW ME. (Fun fact: The first draft of FOLLOW ME was written during NaNoWriMo 2013.)

When all the other kids still wanted to be zookeepers and astronauts, I wanted to be a writer. Sure, the elephants and giraffes tempted me on occasion, but books always had my heart.

When I'd get in trouble as a kid, my mom didn't take away my allowance, she gave it to me--and then banned me from the bookstore for a week.

I was a very obedient child.

Some of my favorite books (I'll keep it to 10, though it pains me to list so few):
THE MEANING OF MAGGIE by Megan Jean Sovern
The Flavia de Luce novels by Alan Bradley
THE HOBBIT by J.R.R. Tolkien
THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins
THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak
And just to prove that I do occasionally read adult fiction:
THE NIGHT CIRCUS by Erin Morgenstern

It's always been my dream to be a published author and over the last few years I've stopped just dreaming and started hustling. It's been a challenging road paved with my fair share of rejection letters, but I have no plans of quitting. So...

Why should you pick me?

1. I'm a hard worker, ready and eager to scrub, wax, spit-shine, and otherwise polish my manuscript.

2. I can take feedback, edits, and constructive criticism with gratitude and grace. Confession: When I was taking courses with the Institute of Children's Literature, my very first assignment came back covered in red ink because I'd managed to type "it's" instead of "its" through my entire short story. If that doesn't humble you as a writer (and make you an obsessive compulsive editor), I don't know what will. Also, I swear I passed the second grade.

3. I'm an INFJ, which means you can brag to your fellow mentors that your mentee is the scarcest form of introvert, rarely seen in the wild.

Which means I have even more time to work on my manuscript.

Thanks for stalking stopping by! And thank you, thank you, thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my words with you. Best of luck to all my fellow Pitch Wars hopefuls! (Feel free to visit some of their mentee bios via the handy list here.)

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Through the Eyes of a Lion by Levi Lusko

What do you do when, just days before Christmas, you're forced to walk out of the emergency room and leave your five-year-old daughter behind? Only she isn't really there anymore, only her body is.

How do you survive such impossible pain?

In his book, Pastor Levi Lusko shows with heartbreaking honesty how to face impossible pain and find incredible power. But Through the Eyes of a Lion is more than just a manual for dealing with grief. In Levi's words, it's "a manifesto for high-octane living." Those words couldn't be more true. I've never experienced the level of pain that Levi and his wife Jennie did the day their daughter Lenya left this earth. But I have struggled with fear, anxiety, and defeat, and I walked away from this book encouraged and empowered to change the way I view the challenges in my life.

Posing questions like "How do you live out an extraordinary calling while doing ordinary things and living in a world that is all screwed up?" Levi uses his real life experiences to teach you how to hurt with hope, look past what you can see, and let go of fear to become the you you were meant to be. And he does so with a mix of authenticity, brevity, gravity and humor that makes this not only a powerful read, but one you can easily engage with. From "cue the eagle" to "pain is a microphone" and "run toward the roar" the pages are full of tidbits of wisdom and key phrases that will stick with you long after you finish reading. Whether you're struggling under the weight of seemingly unbearable pain, or facing the everyday difficulties of life, this book offers renewed hope--for both your present and your future. 

"When you have hope, gale-force winds can blow and tsunami waves can smash into the hull of your life, but you are buoyed by the belief that the best is yet to come, that brighter days are ahead. Hope quietly tells your heart that all is not lost, even as storms rage."

Available today at a bookstore or online bookseller near you! Grab a copy for yourself and one (or two or three or four) for anyone in your life who needs to hear more about the power of hope.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

If You Give a Pig a Pilot's License (Or the Day I Bought a Kindle)

Yes, you read that title right.

After years of staunchly defending the paperback, I, Ashley Martin, have purchased an e-reader.

And I love it.

I feel like I should mumble that last statement into a cough and then smoothly change the subject to something that will distract everyone from such a shocking admission.

How 'bout them Seahawks?


YES, OKAY, I LOVE IT. Are you happy? Some of you are gloating right now. The rest of you no doubt are doing something like this:

Who are you?

I've actually been secretly considering an e-reader for a while now. I did a ton of research and determined that the Kindle Paperwhite was definitely the one I wanted...if I ever decided to buy an e-reader...which I wouldn't....because REAL BOOKS.

Oh, how a substantial amount of Christmas cash can change a person.

I can blame thank my husband, really. He was the one to suggest the idea. And since my "they're just so expensive" excuse was no longer an issue, resistance proved futile. I ordered the Paperwhite on the final day of the post-Christmas sale (in addition, I went for the one that comes with special offers for $20 cheaper) and was cautiously excited. Honestly, I still wasn't totally sure if I would like it, but once I had it in my hands, I couldn't deny its awesomeness.

I also couldn't deny my feelings of guilt. It was like cheating on all my beautiful hardcovers. And what would this do to my street cred?

Just a couple days after my Kindle arrived, I was faced with the harrowing choice I'd feared for so long: Did I purchase the ebook version of the new Flavia de Luce novel, or buy the hardcover? To pass the time while making this difficult decision, I linked my Kindle to my Goodreads account, downloaded and devoured the newly discovered Flavia de Luce short story (available only in ebook format), purchased a children's book for bedtime reading at the insistent pleading of my seven-year-old, and checked out a book from the library without having to wait until I had time to go to the library.

At which point I decided guilt be damned. I SHALL READ ALL THE BOOKS.

And to answer your question, of course I ordered the hardcover. Psh. What kind of crazy person do you think I am?

Pigs may be flying, but you-know-where hasn't frozen over yet.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates: Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson

Hilary Westfield dreams of being a pirate. But there are a few minor problems standing in her way, such as The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates' refusal to allow girls to join their piratical ranks. Instead of heading out to sea, Hilary, along with her dearest friend, the gargoyle, finds herself being shipped off to Miss Pimm's Finishing School for Delicate Ladies. In an effort to escape a life of waltzing and crochet hooks, Hilary answers an ad for a pirate crew and is soon swept up in a seafaring adventure involving a rather secretive map, a magical treasure that may or may not exist, a rogue governess, and the most treacherous--and unexpected--villain on the High Seas.

Pirates, magic, a talking gargoyle...what's not to love? If you're looking for a story that is everything a children's book should be (fun story, fast pace, perfect voice, vibrant characters, AND it's hilarious!), The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates: Magic Marks the Spot is very definitely it. It's the type of book that insists you read a snippet out loud every five minutes to whoever happens to be in the room--the brilliance MUST BE SHARED. Best of all, in a book that could have been filled with cliches, I found a refreshing array of unexpected characters and plot turns. The perfect end to my 2014 list of books read, this one shoots right to the top of my favorites for the year. And if the grin on the face of my nine year old is any indication, she's enjoying it just as much as I did.

Verdict: If you're looking for a great start to your 2015 literary treasure hunt (for you or your kiddos), consider this the X that marks the spot.