Monday, September 28, 2009

My Original Query Letter Revealed...SCARY!!

Recently, I've had a few writers email me asking about query letter advice and any tips I can share. I don't feel qualified to give advice on writing the perfect query, so all I can honestly say is come up with something, anything that will set your letter apart, follow each agent's explicit query guidelines, and above all write truthfully. Don't try and give an impression of yourself that is not true. There is no need to lie or to stretch the truth. While there are agents who care about previous publishing credits, they won't give a pig's eye about them if they don't like your query and/or sample chapters. In other words, don't be afraid to be honest. As far as publishing credits, I had not a one!

So, in order to fully embarrass myself this beautiful fall Monday, I've posted my original query letter. Because of it, I received about 15-17 requests for partials and 10 for fulls, eventually getting me signed with Nancy Gallt Literary Agency and one other offer of representation.

Trust me, I know it's hard to cram everything you want to say into a one page letter, but doable, to be sure. I started with a two page letter, and edited down to one. I read my query now and know it could be far better, still too wordy! After all, it was my first query letter! I remember when I began querying; I searched for query letters online. The infamous query was so mysterious to me! I found a few other authors who posted theirs, which helped take the unknown out of the forever daunting query! One query I found came from YA Author, Heather Brewer. I thought hers was great, so you may want to google her and see if she still has it posted somewhere, excellent query! So, here is mine in all its bare, ratty glory! Enjoy and absolutely no snickering about my query! ;)

xoxo -- Hilary

Dear Elusive Über Agent,

As a girl, still at the age when toys were the appropriate gift, I hated getting dolls. I did not want to pretend to be their mommy or make up pleasant conversation surrounded by tea and biscuits. I found them more than a little annoying, with their perfect noses and pristine curls.
Instead, I loved animals, particularly of the rodent variety. I would sit in my room for hours, stuck in between my toy rats, mice and moles, spinning their next exotic escapade in the odd and mysterious world in which they dwell. Animals have emotion and depth, offering much more than companionship, especially when given a voice on paper. NIGHTSHADE CITY combines this voice, with the realm of YA animal fantasy, character driven fiction, and our continuing, albeit creepy fascination with the cryptic, four legged creatures that overrun our great cities and homes. Outwardly just vermin, but are they?

The rats of Trillium City are underground and have been so for years. Little do the weary humans of the steely city realize, an ancient throng of strangely intelligent rats exist right under their very feet, thriving in the intricate Catacombs excavated lifetimes ago.

Barely escaping alive, rat brothers, Vincent and Victor Nightshade, flee their underground home, the Catacombs, dodging mandatory recruitment by the Ministry run Kill Army. They make it to the surface, disappearing into the dark, human metropolis of Trillium City, where they stumble upon a hidden rat made tunnel, and trek down to a concealed world, buried farther in the earth than even the Catacombs. Founded by a group of rebel rats, the covert city’s residents are set on derailing the corrupt Ministry of the Catacombs, and freeing its many citizens from death and torment at the hands of the narcissistic Killdeer, the charming and decadent leader of the Ministry, and Billycan, a peculiar and slightly demented ex-lab rat, who commands the Kill Army with a bloodthirsty fondness for butchery. When the Nightshade brothers join up with Juniper, the ardent leader of the newborn city and despised adversary of Billycan, they soon unearth the demons that have haunted Juniper since his youth and learn how their father, Julius Nightshade, really died. Working with Juniper and his rebels, a fearless Ministry seamstress, and a relic tribe of earthworms, Vincent and Victor Nightshade battle for retribution and redemption against Killdeer and his army, realizing their future and releasing ghosts from their past.

Writing stories since childhood, I've completed my Bachelors in Fine Arts from the University of Kansas. I'm a professional visual artist from Chicago, hoping to take my creativity to the next level. I've completed NIGHTSHADE CITY, an 80,000 word novel, focusing on fighting for what you believe in, the true meaning of family and refusing to let a few decide the fate of many.

Thank you and take care,

Hilary L. Wagner

P.S. I did not really address the agent as Elusive Über Agent! Ha!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

SIGNED, SEALED, DELIVERED! Holiday House contract signed!

Everything has been worked out and I have a signed contract with Holiday House! And, yes, I did take this dorky picture of myself! It was unavoidable--had to be done! ;)

My awesome agent, Marietta, did NOT tell me it was on its way, the little sneak, so there it was in my mailbox when I got home last night! So, I'd like to give a super big thanks to her! She has just been extraordinary on so many levels and I'm a very lucky writer to have her and Nancy Gallt in my corner.

It was amazing back in April when Craig Virden decided to take me on and even more amazing to get an offer on my book from such a prestigious children's publisher only two months later! As I look up to the sky, all I can say is thank you, Craig! There will be a little surprise in NIGHTSHADE CITY, only for you! Many, many thanks to Holiday House, I can't wait to get started on the edits and make my rats the very best they can be!

Last, but certainly not least, thank you needs to go to my husband. He is my very free, freelance editor/husband/friend/critic. Without him, Lord only knows where I'd be.

What a great way to start the fall season! Happy fall everyone and to everyone who's given me support and encouragement thank you as well. It means so much! Not just as writers or readers, but as people, we are all in this together. Kind words mean a lot! Yes, yes, I know that last part might ring a bit corny, but I don't care, it's true! Thank you.

xoxo -- Hilary

Monday, September 21, 2009

"Hey you, I'm a Writer!" Business Cards

So, I ordered my "I'm a writer" business cards today. What fun! I have to say, the back side is my favorite, love that line about some book coming out. What was it called? Oh yeah, NIGHTSHADE CITY! Ha, ha! I really adore these cards. I think they really show who I am and hopefully the kind of writing you're in for with me, creepy, but fun! I may be going to the IL SCBWI conference in November, so I figured I needed something to give out other than scraps of paper with my name scribbled on them in purple and orange crayon. Please note: My phone number is not 555-5555. I felt a little weird posting it for all to see...but what an easy number that would be to remember!!

Alright then, plenty of work to do on Edwin!

xoxo -- Hilary

Friday, September 18, 2009

I was on the news (sort of)! CBS 2 Chicago liked my tweet! ;)

So, yesterday, it's about 6am, I'm sitting in my PJ's, checking email and lo and behold there I am on the big screen TV! I nearly spit my coffee out! To be clear, it wasn't actually me, it was a picture of me along with my Tweet. Needless to say I was pretty surprised to see CBS 2 Chicago's weather man Ed Curran pointing at my big ol' smiling face and talking about my tweet on Twitter! I knew I'd be on TV someday, but I was hoping it would be about my book and I'd actually be there! Oh well, I'll take it for now! Click the picture if you'd like to see the clip, too funny!

xoxo -- Hilary

Monday, September 14, 2009

EDWIN COPPERPOT -- Put a fork in him, he's done!

I'm happy to report the story of EDWIN COPPERPOT is complete! I wrote the ending just last night and I love it! It turned out exactly how I pictured it in my head, perhaps even a bit better! So, the story of Edwin is finished, but technically I still have to edit. I'm one of those bizarre people who actually loves editing, so I'm excited to dig into this. There are not too many changes I need to make. I tried to go back and change things as I went along this time, making my life easier when all is said and done.

All my books are close to my heart and Edwin is no exception. This story is about fate, asking if it's possible to change our own. When I finished the story last night I now understand why I so needed to write it. Mulling things over, I realized I changed my own fate when I wrote my first novel, Nightshade City, having no idea when I finished it, that it would someday be a published novel being read by others. I just kept working and hoping, even praying, that it would someday see the light of day. It made me understand not only the importance of following our dreams, but the significance of doggedly working to achieve them, even when you start to think the only word you'll ever hear in regards to your efforts is "no". I'm a stronger person for it and for that I will forever be thankful.

Alright, no more dramatic introspection! Time for fun! Halloween is soon approaching, making now a perfect time to take a bite out of ol' Edwin (in the editing sense of course) and all his creepy, rotting cohorts. I'm so excited to wrap this one up completely, handing it over to my agent in a cobweb covered trick-or-treat bag, sprinkled with icky spiders! Too much, you say? Okay, maybe I'll just email it instead...

xoxo -- Hilary

Walking along a steep embankment, Edwin looked up at the sky. "No stars," he said. "That's one thing I dearly miss of our living days--stars."

Stopping along the water's edge, he leaned against the railing and peered down at the choppy waves below, wondering what dead creatures from long ago swam in its murky depths. He watched intently as a decaying hagfish leapt from the water. It had a wolf eel clenched in its teeth. Edwin supposed even dead fish felt the urge to eat. He swore the thing eyeballed him before plummeting back into the purple sea.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

EDWIN COPPERPOT nearly done! New excerpt, Teaser Tuesday!!

I realized recently that I started writing EDWIN COPPERPOT on June 7th. Somehow, in the middle of that night, the idea for the story hit me. No longer able to sleep, I got up and started this novel. I must have been dreaming about something dark, funny, romantic (it seems that dead rotting folks can have romance too) and oh yes, a bit gruesome, because what's the point of being deceased if you can't have some creepy, ghoulish excitement now and then? I love black comedy and Edwin has no shortage of that.

So, completing a book in three do I feel about that? Well, great! Clearly, when I finish the last chapter (hopefully this week) the editing begins, but I'm really proud of old Edwin--really proud. This book is me in every way from start to finish and the story seemed to write itself at times. A lot of research went into it, more than you'd think, so I suppose this is a historical fiction too.

EDWIN COPPERPOT questions everything. Where life actually ends and what happens when we die. Do we have a chance to better ourselves, maybe even change our fate? Is death really death or just another layer of life? Can we go back to the world of the living? Heaven and Hell...yes, that's in there too I'm afraid. What's a book about dead people without a little fire and brimstone?

I've posted a new excerpt below, hope you enjoy it!

xoxo - Hilary

The fog had dispersed. Edwin sucked in a deep breath, holding it in for a moment. He stared up at the high moon which punched the dark like a glowing beacon of optimism. He came upon the café, hoping against hope that Maura would be there, sitting at their usual table, musty book in hand, but with all that had transpired, he could only guess where she might be. He peered through a window, trying to spot her.

With any luck, if Maura wasn't there, Bunny Black and Percy Poole would be. Maybe they would know her whereabouts. The two were always chattering about some silliness or another, babbling on about topics that made little sense to anyone but them.

The last time Edwin made the unfortunate mistake of sitting with them sans Maura, they jabbered on endlessly about the many varieties of decaying spiders the café had to offer. Bunny brought up the question as to which part of the spider its web expelled from. Bunny suggested its mouth, while Percy insisted it was the other end. Needless to say, this heated tête-à-tête went on for what felt like an eternity, until Maura at last arrived. Seeing the pained expression on Edwin's face, she quickly explained spiders' silk is released from their spinnerets, having nothing to do with their mouths or their backsides. Edwin chuckled as he skimmed the room for her. Thank God for Maura Lancaster.

It was a funny little café. One of those peculiar places where if you sat in a certain spot, you could distinctly hear the conversation coming from another. From time to time, when their usual table was occupied, Maura and Edwin would slink to a corner by the door, and snicker wildly as they sat behind a dead fig tree, listening to the colorful conversations of the kitchen in crystal clarity.

On one such occasion, an irate Scottish cook admonished Didier, the stubby little French waiter, with the personality of mud, for mixing up all the orders. Instead of defending himself, Didier merely grunted back at everything the cook said, grunting louder with every insult. Consequently, the cook's ire rose to a whole new level of Scottish fury, producing arcane vocabulary, presumably curse words, Edwin and Maura deduced could only be from the days of William Wallace.

There was yet another spot, three tables down from where he and Maura usually sat, slightly hidden from view. If you sat just near the front of the cafe, just under the washed out painting of Henry VIII, you could hear every syllable uttered at this veiled table as distinctly as if the speakers were sitting next to you. A group of surly Frenchmen frequented the spot, but as Maura and Edwin knew very little French, the conversations were not nearly as intriguing as the kitchen banter, barring the times when the Frenchman snorted raunchily, laughing about some lewd anecdote. Even with a French tutor from Paris, Edwin never learned to speak a lick of French, but somehow managed to recall the translations of all the dirty words.

Craning his neck, Edwin eyed the table. The Frenchmen were not seated their today. However, Maura Lancaster and Charlie Redgrave were.

Edwin held himself back from interrupting them, not certain what he might do. To be sure, clocking Redgrave in his oily puss would be gratifying, but it would only incense Maura and after the party, the conversation they'd had, he knew such a move would not be wise, however pleasurable. If there was one thing he learned from his father, it was how to throw a devastating punch. He opted to eavesdrop instead, not exactly noble, but far less messy.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Realm Lovejoy's illustration of Billycan!

Realm is a fantastic writer and illustrator, represented by Joanna Stampfel-Volpe. She did an incredible illustration of my wicked, white rat Billycan and I want to give her a big hug for doing such an amazing job and then go hide under my covers because I'm scared of my own character!!

Realm, thanks so much! He is perfect, creepy, and downright terrifying! Yikes!

Here is the link to her interview with me and evil Billycan!!! Bwa-ha-ha-ha!!

xoxo -- GG

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Teaser Tuesday -- EDWIN COPPERPOT

Here is another excerpt from my book of the dead, Edwin Copperpot, which is nearly complete. This is an unusual scene. Our hero, Edwin Copperpot, is nowhere to be found, at least not yet, and everyone is very much alive, for now that is!

xoxo -- Hilary

Pulling down the peaked cap over his ears and thrusting hands in pockets, the man walked briskly down the alleyway. He was eager, excited, his heart racing like a rabbit's. Food, he thought, you must eat first. Last time you went out on an empty stomach, you nearly got pinched.

He took a sharp left out of the alley, onto a street lined with ramshackle houses. Men and women lurked in clusters, their numbers growing as he neared the city square, cackling, drinking, laughing, cursing, all swathed in soiled, tattered attire, ripped shawls and patched trousers, none of them seeming to mind the cold drizzle, all comfortably numb on gin and beer.

One of the women called to the man as he trudged past the front steps of her boarding house. "Looking for a bit a company? You're a sailor, aren’t you? I like your kind, I do." She paraded her figure, spinning in a circle on the stoop, but he kept walking. Her girlfriends pushed her playfully, laughing giddily. "Me and my sister share a room, but it can be ours for the night if you be changing your mind later on. Long Liz, ask for me," she called as he disappeared from view. No, he thought, too risky with a sister creeping about. He liked her though, Long Liz. Her size, close to what he preferred.

Two streets later, he arrived at the market district. Music skirled from the public houses, loud voices bouncing off the pubs and cracked cobbles, the air flushed with flickering gaslights. Working girls, beggars and street vendors lingered about, quack doctors selling cure-all oils and elixirs, costermongers selling scarcely edible fruits and greens. Even children, a shrill and boisterous group, scrounged for farthings, a scrap of bread, pick pocketing drunkards, too far gone to look after their change.

The man cringed, forced to knock arms and shoulders with the grimy populace as he made his way to a public house. Ah, finally, he thought, The Five Angels. He stared at a woman, blocking the doors. She smiled back at him with a chocolate toothed grin. By his stoic mug, it was plain he wasn't interested. She slowly sauntered out of his way, flashing her cockeyed teeth at another prospective customer.

He headed inside, again rubbing against the masses as he pushed his way to the back. He made his way to a small table by the back door. A wobbly old gentleman approached the table at the same moment as he. They swapped glances. The swaying man stared an extra moment, took his glass of whatever spirits he'd had far too much of and left.

Settling into a chair, the man pulled down his scarf from around his mouth and pulled down his cap a little more, shadowing his eyes entirely.

A portly man in an oil stained apron came to the table. "Ah, back again, eh? You must really love my stew. You're the only one!" He laughed jovially. "Same as last time then?"

Unbuttoning the top buttons of his pea jacket, the man nodded at the pub owner, who jaunted off to the kitchen. Stew tastes like entrails, thought the man, probably serving up the customers, snatching them up as they keel over on their pickled feet.

He scanned the room. Not a soul seemed sober, everyone half in the jar or nearly there. He spotted a woman, men swarming around her, different from the other trash that marred the place, looked to be about twenty or so, maybe less. She teetered on her stool, laughing excessively at the jokes of her adoring horde. He studied her, watching as she inspected her perspective suitors. She seemed to have her eye on a particularly inebriated fellow with a nice pocket watch, as she surely wasn't infatuated by his oversized belly or rotting teeth. Greedy tart, thought the man.

The proprietor came back, plunking down a bowl of reeking stew and a glass of gin. The man grabbed his arm, pulling him close. "Who's that?"

Looking over his shoulder, the pub owner snickered. "That there is Bonnie. A sweet one, isn't she? Goes by Bee, but I call her Busy Bee if you know what I mean!" The pub owner laughed again, the man did not. "Me and Bee, we help each other out, both with a business to run, so to speak. You got more than a pocket full of halfpence she can be yours. That's for sure." He tipped his head towards her, raising an eyebrow. "With a little persuasion, I might be inclined to put in a good word for you. Treats her customers real nice, that one."

The man reached into his pocket, slapping down two paper bills on the table. The pub owner looked around suspiciously, quickly snatching them up. His eyes widened. "Stay here then, eat your stew. She'll be yours tonight."

The man smiled.