Good Christian Belles?

This week’s blog is a little different. In the past year or so (back when the controversy was so hot), I stumbled upon (well, sought it out really) the book Good Christian Bitches, Kim Gaitlin’s debut novel about her experiences in her Texas hometown after a particularly nasty divorce and subsequent relocation.

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“For Heaven’s sake… Never let God get in the way of a good story.” – Amanda Vaughn, Good Christian Bitches

 

I didn’t so much stumble upon this book as I did search it out. One day a couple of years ago, I was watching a news report about a new television show coming out called “GCB” – so named for profanity issues. Intrigued, I continued to watch, and discovered this new, controversial TV show was based off of Kim Gatlin’s debut novel. The criticism of the book’s title further intrigued me. People were making a mountain out of a molehill, because the title refers to Christian women as “bitches,” but if they would take the time to pick the book up, they would find that the title is immediately understandable. It is not referring to all Christian women as “bitches,” just the ones in the book (which technically are considered fictional). So, I put it at the top of my list of books to read, and when I finally got my hands on it, I wasn’t disappointed.

 

“Don’t take life too seriously, it’s not like you’ll make it out alive.” – Gigi Stopper, Good Christian Bitches

 

After moving away from her Texas home, marriage, two kids, and a terrible divorce – something that is completely unheard of in Amanda Vaughn’s upscale Texan neighborhood – Vaughn returns to her hometown in good old Texas in order to get back on her feet. As soon as Vaughn’s feet cross the border, rumors start flying about the mother of two. It’s immediately apparent that her old school chums are out to prove that Amanda Vaughn is yesterday’s news – worthy of being thrown in the trash.

 

“They say a woman’s loyalty only lasts as long as it taker her to hang up and dial again.” – Amanda Vaughn, Good Christian Bitches

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Somewhat like its television counterpart GCB (which the network claimed stands for “Good Christian Belles,” then why not call it that?), written like a never-ending stream of gossip, the voice of the narrator and protagonist – Amanda Vaughn – is rather intoxicating. The way in which Kim Gaitlin wrote her main characters – from sweet, divorcee Amanda Vaughn, to her kooky, gun-loving, shopaholic mother, to the backstabbing women in her church congregation – Gaitlin manages to make you feel like you are a part of the story. From the very first page, you are brought deep into the Texan world represented, and, like a trashy gossip magazine you purchase at the checkout counter, devour the books, sucking the gossip and scheming from the pages like you would suck a chicken bone dry. From beginning to end, Kim Gaitlin creates a world you can see and almost feel – from the uncomfortable feeling of the congregation’s eyes boring into the back of Amanda Vaughn’s head, to the sticky, hot Dallas summertime sun. Good Christian Bitches is a page turner from beginning to end as you become lost in the gossip, schemes, and smooth writing style of Kim Gaitlin.

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Attending a Literary Event

Okay, this is something that has been a long time in the making, because, frankly, I didn’t like the way is sounded when I first wrote it. But anyway…

About a month ago, the English department at my University put on several literary events, including a Grad School Panel and one on one (well, one on twenty really) sessions where local authors would come in to talk to students.

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One of the best events put on this semester was the In Print Festival (this event takes place annually at Ball State University). It’s a two night event – night one a reading, night two a Q&A session – where local emerging authors visit the campus. This year there were some pretty colorful character there, including:

1) Eugene Cross with his book Fires of Our Choosing, (Interview)

2) Marcus Wicker with his book of poetry Maybe the Saddest Thing, (Interview) and

3) Elena Passarello with her book Let Me Clear My Throat. (Interview)

Each author was extremely talented and interesting to talk/listen to. However, there are certain things you want to do before attending a literary event.

1) Do research – Just like when you’re getting ready to query or pitch a story, you want to do a little research about the guest authors attending the event. You don’t have to go nuts, but read up a little about them, and if you can’t find the information, don’t worry about it then.

2) Bring a copy of the authors’ work(s) with you – When the reading is finished, if allowed, go up to the author and ask them to sign your book. It’s a great time to talk to the author real quick about their work. I talked with all three guest authors at In-Print, and it was extremely rewarding.

3) Read a little of the work – You don’t necessarily have to read the entire book/collection, but it’s a good idea to read a little to get a feel of the author’s style. You may discover a new favorite author/book, plus you will have more to say to the author than: “I liked your book.”

4) Pen and Paper – Now, I’m not saying you should sit there and actively take notes like you’re in a seminar, but it’s a good idea to have a pen and paper tucked away somewhere so you can jot down any advice you find helpful.

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These are the more important things to keep in mind when going to a literary event, especially if you’re going for more than just the reading. In all my time at college, I’ve never experienced a group of authors quite like the ones at In-Print this year. It was extremely entertaining and something I wouldn’t have missed, and neither should you.

Look for literary events going on in or around your town. There aren’t any? Get some people together and put one on yourself!

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The Pitch – The Next Step

While doing some research for a homework assignment, I noticed that many people were saying that the pitch can either be written in a letter or verbally delivered. In my opinion, this definition muddles it up a bit, so erase it! Here’s what you need to know about the pitch.

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1. Generally speaking, the pitch is verbal. When you have the chance to meet with an editor or agent, you deliver your pitch to them. A written pitch is more akin to a Query Letter.

2. Do your research. When preparing to pitch your manuscript, do a little research on the person you’re pitching your work to. See what kind of books they’ve worked on in the past. You want to make sure you’re pitching to the right person. You don’t want to pitch your supernatural thriller fiction to someone who works on romance fiction.

3. Hook them early. You only have a limited time (10 minutes, if you’re lucky, they’re busy, busy, busy) that you’re meeting with an editor/agent, so make sure you get their interest early. Which leads me to…

4. Keep it brief. Try to boil your book down to 3-5 good sentences that thoroughly explain your manuscript. Like I said, you have limited time. So, you want to pitch your story and allow time for possible conversation (Q&A) about your manuscript.

5. Practice, practice, practice! It’s good to write your pitch out first, then practice it until you can deliver it smoothly. You don’t want to take notes with you. You want to be perfectly prepared.

6. There are different techniques for fiction and nonfiction. For fiction – divide your pitch into three main points: setup, hook, resolution. For nonfiction – your title should clearly convey what the book is about, explain your book and your qualifications to write on the topic, who your audience is and how you intend on promoting it.

7. In a short meeting like this, you want to sell the agent/editor on you – the writer – and your talent. If interested, they will follow up with you. But don’t try to force your manuscript into their hands right then and there. Sell it, yes. However, most first time authors meet potential agents at writing conferences. In situations like this, they’re not willing/able to carry your partial or full manuscript around with them. If they are interested, they will follow up and ask for you to send your manuscript to them.

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In the end, it’s a short meeting – a short pitch. Be confident. Prove that your manuscript is worth their time, and that you’re devoted to it. In short, sell it.

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The Art of Querying

Until last week, I had kind of forgotten what it felt like to type up a fresh query letter. Despite the fact that I had written, and saved them, before, when my hard drive crashed everything went ka-put. So I got to experience writing a query letter all over again, as if it were new, fresh.

Here are some things you should know:

1) Know who you’re talking to. Do research on the literary agent. Find out what kind of books she represents. Are they similar to yours? If so, how? What is the one thing that makes your book DIFFERENT from what your prospective agent has represented in the past?

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2) Include a word count. It’s best if you’ve finished your manuscript (meaning: written from beginning to end, not necessarily completely edited, shined, and ready for publication). Here’s a sample letter and some other useful tips.

3) If you haven’t had any previous publications, it’s not necessary to include a “Writing Bio” in your query. Don’t worry too much about it, just skip over that part for now.

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4) Pitch your story. Ultimately, that’s what the query letter is – a pitch on paper. That’s how you should approach it. You’re trying to pitch your manuscript to the agent via this one single piece of paper. Briefly talking about your story, the main character(s), and a few plot points. Give the agent just enough to hook them, without giving everything away.

5) Keep it brief. You want your query letter to be no longer than one page (single spaced, white space between paragraphs). You want to hook the agent, not drown them in superfluous information. When ti comes right down to it, if you think it might be too long, take a quick break from it, go back and see if there’s anything you want to cut on that second run through.

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6) Be pleasant. Always be courteous in your letters. Remember: they don’t have to read your manuscript. Being pleasant might help tip the scales in your favor. Ultimately, it won’t hurt. Which leads me to my final point…

7) Don’t seem crazy. This is probably the most important point. Always, always, always go back and reread what you wrote in your query letter. Don’t just type it up and send it off without a second thought. Don’t seem crazy. If someone else has already passed on your manuscript, don’t bring it up in your query letter with hatred and bitterness dripping off your words. The agents will pick up on this. Don’t seem crazy. Don’t act all palsy with the agent if you’ve never met. Ultimately, you point is – besides getting your manuscript picked up…

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DON’T SEEM CRAZY.

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Follow the Yellow Brick Road

I recently become somewhat distracted playing this new Wizard of Oz game online and it got me to thinking: What if we all had a yellow brick road and a band of singing munchkins directing us on our way through life?

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If only it were that easy… Unfortunately, there is no yellow brick road, no dancing/singing munchkins with helpful little tidbits to help you along your way, no Glinda to show you the way and protect you as you set out towards your destination. Kind of unfortunate, isn’t it? But then, it might be to easy.

The ultimate question is: Which way now?

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What is this ‘it’ I refer to? The frightening world of life after college. Especially in today’s job market. Many days I feel like I’m being kicked out on my keister without a second thought about it. I, along with my fellow graduates, have been in school for almost 2 decades – Kindergarten through college – and even more if you count pre-school or if you stay in college longer than four years, which seems to be a new trend in college.

I mean, I guess we all have a certain path we follow, but are they invisible? Are we just stumbling along, the road right beneath our feet, but we’re not able to (or don’t want to) see it? I wonder how many other people feel/felt this way once it was time for them to enter “the real world”? And what is it with that term “the real world”? What is it, we’re not in the real world until we’ve graduated from school? Like everything before that moment was pretend-fantasyland?

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I have no answers, just hopes and, ultimately, many worries. But does anybody really have all the answers? If so, point me in their direction, I have a few questions. Until then, I, like everybody else, must remember: Follow the yellow brick road.

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Publishing, the Great and Powerful

Throughout my near four years at Ball State University, I have always heard my professors telling us stories about the publishing world, but I guess I never really listened until this semester.

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1. Author Platforms – they are extremely important, even more so today with all the social media outlets. Author platforms are basically an author’s following. It’s important for an author to have a platform when publishing a book, otherwise who else would read the book if not the fans?

2. Editors – they don’t really know what they want, that is literary editors. Some are genre specific, plot specific, etc, and don’t really ever seem quite happy with what they have, always wanting to change it, transform it into something different. Sometimes this is a good thing, though.

3. The Process – it really is a lot more complicated than it seems. With all of the different, less than noteworthy book that have been released recently, it may appear that the publishing process it quite easy. And books like Twilight and the 50 Shades trilogy aren’t helping very much. Personally, I keep thinking that if books like these are being published, how hard can it really be??? Right??? Not quite…there’s a lot more to it than one might think, and a lot more people involved in the process. Which leads me to…

4. The People – there’s more than you think, working like little bees in a hive to produce one thing. It’s not just you, your agent, and your editor. It’s so much more than all of that. Besides those three, there are marketers, all the publishers involved in your project at the publishing house, the bookstores, the manufacturers, the buyers, etc. It’s a whole spiderweb effect with you and your project at the center.

5. $$$ – the money. Will it cascade from the sky in beautiful green fountains? Probably not. Guaranteed. Unless you somehow swap minds/talent with Stephen King, Kathy Reichs, JK Rowling, or someone else with just as much talent, you won’t make oodles and oodles of cash. I know, harsh reality. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that, because we see all the books and authors pulling in so many sales, and think that that could be us one day. However, one thing you might not think about is: how many books lost out in that competition in comparison? Probably a lot more than anyone could really know.

6. Publishing – the process is harder than you think…and longer too! Over the years, as social media and independent presses have grown in number, getting your book published has become harder. Or at the very least, getting your book recognized has become much, much harder in recent years, because there are many, many more books to compete against. (Check out this organization that promotes independent presses and books)

7. Time – publishing takes longer than you really think. It’s not a simple, cut and dry process. You hand out a finished manuscript, the publishers print it up and get it out on the shelves asap. NOT! A lot more time and effort goes into publishing than that. A LOT more time than that, and like I said before, there’s so much more that goes into the publishing process. Editing, re-editing, re-editing what you’ve already re-edited, marketing, blurbs, reviews, so on and so forth until it’s finally finished and they pick a season to release the book. Fall = the best. Winter = supposedly no one buys books after Christmas… But serious reviews are more likely. Good luck. Spring = is okay, but not as good as Fall. If you can’t have your book released in the fall because stores are too busy with the latest Stephen King or JK Rowling novel, spring is a decent second. Summer = amusing beach reads are popular.

All in all, there’s a lot about the publishing world that I didn’t know, and a lot more that I still don’t know. Some of it takes experience, and some of it will just take time. One thing that I need to remember though is that it’s not as easy as it looks, and I can’t be blinded by all the success stories.

And just one last little things to look at/think about… Truth be told, I just found it online.

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10 Things…

…I Hate About You. Just kidding!. Love the movie though. No, but really: 10 Things I Learned About Being a Writer… This week.

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This week my university hosted quite a few literary events. 1) the Grad panel about MFA programs for creative writers. 2) In-Print Festival Round 1: Readings. 3) In-Print Festival Round 2: Q&A Panel. Not to mention various classroom visits by all four of the talented In-Print authors – Marcus Wicker, Eugene Cross, Elena Pasarello, and Sarah Wells. But anyway…

What have I learned?

1) Build a writing community OUTSIDE of school. Writing is a very solitary activity, and once you’re out of school, you don’t really have that community anymore.

2) Give your manuscript draft to people you trust. While you’re still in the editing process, ask someone you trust to take a red pen to it. It makes the process a little less daunting when you know that person won’t take your work for granted.

3) You can’t call yourself a writer if you don’t write. Enough said. – Marcus Wicker

4) Don’t be afraid of rejection. I know, easier said than done. Trust me, I know. I cringe away at the thought of possible rejection, but without rejection there can be no progress. And if that one publishing company or literary magazine rejects you, they’re probably not right for you. Go back, edit, revise, reread, resubmit.

5) Don’t let life get in the way of writing. It’s all too easy to let everyday things like bills, work, family, and everyday stress get in the way of your writing. Set time aside each day or week to just sit down and write. Find yourself stuck – read, and read a lot, until something jostles lose in your brain and then return to that blank page.

6) Don’t be afraid of the blank page. Write. It doesn’t have to be perfect the first time around. It doesn’t even have to be good, it just has to be written. So write!

7) Don’t be afraid of “The Abyss.” That long dark emptiness between projects. Every author faces it. Just push through it, even when it seems difficult or impossible. -Cathy Day

8) Be open to the idea of change. During editing, always be open to the idea of change, maybe there’s an idea you never considered. In the end, it’s usually up to you, but at least hear others out.

9) Grad School, it’s not for everybody. If you decide you want to go, you don’t have to become a professor when you’re finished either.

10) Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. It’s the only way you’ll get things done. But don’t try to set impossible deadlines, like completing a book by the end of the year. Because you will get discouraged and not want to return to the project all that soon.

I wish that flowed as smoothly as Kat’s “10 Things” poem in the movie “10 Thing I Hate About You,” but alas. I do not write poetry, couldn’t if I tried. It will always allude me – the 11th thing I learned this week.

El fin.

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