RTW: Best Book of December

Reading Song of the Day: “Tell Me Something Good” by Rufus/ Chaka Khan

Hey, strangers! YA Highway wants us to choose the best book we read this month. It’s always so hard to pick, but alas we know you all rely on us to give you the next shiny new book for your “To Be Read” pile, so here it goes!

Quita’s Pick:

This month has been goooood for my reading! I read 5 books and am almost done with another one! That’s what happens when you don’t have to go to work for two weeks I guess πŸ™‚ Anyway, it was a tough decision this month but I whittled it down to two: Stolen by Lucy Christopher or The New Rules of High School by Blake Nelson. I am a total fan girl over Blake Nelson, and Stolen has gotten plenty of love before, so I’m gonna go with:

The New Rules of High School by Blake Nelson

Here is a quick snippet of what Goodreads.com had to say:

Max Caldwell is tired. He’s tired of having a “perfect” girlfriend, he’s tired of worrying about college applications, and he’s tired of always doing what he’s supposed to do. So for the first time, dependable, reliable Max steps back from his Mr. Perfect, straight-A life to see what happens when he lets go for a while.

Intrigued? You should be! The New Rules is just about normal high school shenanigans. There is no actiony, plot-twisty, overarching plot lines. Nelson has a way of writing that makes you want to keep turning the page and laugh out loud at how real his teenage voice is. At one point Max says “I look at my shoe and I think. You’re my right shoe.” (paraphrased but still cool as hell!) Okay, I’ll stop raving now. On to Pam!

Pam’s Pick:

Like Quita, I was able to read A LOT this past month–and all of them were GREAT. In a month where I read Mockingjay, Catcher in the Rye, and City of Bones, how could one choose which was the best (BTW, I’m absolutely IN LOVE with Cassandra Clare now. Where have I been?)?
So, I’ve done the unthinkable this month–I chose a book that wasn’t YA (gasp!). I had to go with this gem:
That’s right, Emma Donoghue’s Room is a contemporary masterpiece. Here’s a small excerpt from Goodreads:

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it’s not enough…not for her or for him. She devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son’s bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realize is just how unprepared she is for the plan to actually work.

Room is definitely one of those books that makes you slap your forehead and ask: why didn’t I think of that? It’s told through the POV of 5 year-old Jack, and I’m telling you readers, you are going to fall in love with him. He’s so cute and innocent and smart all rolled up into one. This book made me feel anxious, claustrophobic, thankful, and sad at different points. It stayed with me long after I read it–in fact, I’m making Quita read it now.

So do you all have any great books you want to share?

Calling all Writers!

Writing Song of the Day: “On Call” by Kings of Leon (Check it out on the Rock With Us tab)


Remember a while back we introduced you all to Black Fox Literary Magazine? It’s a little project that we are taking on with our adopted lil‘ sis Racquel. And now we’re taking things up a notch!

We’re working on totally revamping our website and making things more accessible. Also, we are calling for poetry and flash fiction entries. Flash fiction is a new style of writing that has become extremely interesting to us and if you know your flash is the shiz…please do visit the site and submit.

Finally, we are looking for writers to interview for our issues. If you are interested in being a part of our venture, please either reply here or get in touch with us through e-mail: marquitahockaday@gmail.com or pamharris1981@gmail.com

Also follow us on Twitter: http://twitter.com/blackfoxlit

NOTE: We will not be posting any new blog posts next week– except to respond to YA Highway’s Road Trip Wednesday. Happy Holidays EVERYONE!!!! See you in all in the New Year πŸ™‚

The Spirit of Giving

Giving Song of the Day: “Give Love on Christmas Day” by Jackson 5

When we grow up, we wanna be as clever as the chicks at YA Highway. They are taking us on a road trip again this week and this time the question is: What gift would you give your favorite character?

This set us off on a lot of tangents. Who is our favorite character? Do we only have one fave character? Our fave character of all time?? This is how our brains work. After some thought, however, we were able to get our responses locked down. Check it out!

Quita’s Gifts:

I can’t choose one fave character…it’s like picking your favorite kid or something. I have a few that will make you all think of me a lot differently (one being Q._P._ from Joyce Carol Oates’ Zombie, another Chigurh from Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men) so I will go with a PC response here πŸ™‚ My fave characters right now would have to be Cole from Maggie Stiefvater’s Linger and Max from Blake Nelson’s The New Rules of High School.

I would give Cole a decked out keyboard and of course, a cure. If I knew exactly what could make a keyboard decked out, I would definitely describe it. I would give Max a one year subscription to Time magazine and The New Yorker because he edited his high school’s newspaper. Also a set of Sharpie fine tip pens because they’re my favorite and we’re both nerds πŸ™‚

Oooh, this is fun and I feel like I’m leaving someone out…oh well. On to Pam’s!!!

Pam’s Gifts:

Wow, this is definitely hard because I don’t want to leave anyone out! For some reason, the two characters that are popping in my head at the moment are Cassie from Amy Reed’s Beautiful and Archie from…well, the Archie comic books (random, I know).

For Cassie, I would probably give her a copy of Chicken Soup for the Teen Soul. She’s definitely a girl with some self-esteem issues, and I think it would do her some good to read stories of other teens trying to find themselves. I’d also make her a cheesy coupon book for hugs and talks because I’m a school counselor and I like doing cheesy things like that (of course, hugging is forbidden in schools. Thank you, Mary Kay Letourneau).

For Archie, I’d probably give him Betty. Does that make me sound like a pimp or what? But come on–Betty’s perfect for Archie, not Veronica! Veronica’s a conniving gold digger, and all poor Archie could offer her would be his jalopy. Betty doesn’t care about that stuff because she’s just awesome.

What about you all? What presents would you give your fave characters? Or are there any presents that we left out for the characters mentioned above?

OMG! Pam Has an Agent!!

Celebrating Song of the Day: “Celebration” by Kool & The Gang

As some of you may have read on Twitter, it’s true–I have an agent!! I’m still trying to wrap my head around the whole thing right now, and I’m still shaking even typing up this blog post. I know when I was in the querying trenches, one of the things that kept me going was reading other people’s stories of finally nabbing an agent.

Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with flashbacks of how the very first story I ever told was my own version of Green Eggs and Ham (I do not like them, Pam, I am…). I won’t tell you how I used to staple pages of stories together and hand them as gifts to my parents. I won’t share how my idea of a perfect present was a brand new Lisa Frank notebook. I won’t even bug you about how my cousins (yes, including Quita) and I used to fill said Lisa Frank notebooks with different stories about growing up in the “hood,” even though we were about as hard as marshmallows. Instead, I’ll give you a timeline:

Early 2009–Had a dream starring Rosario Dawson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt that I thought would actually make a decent novel idea. However, I thought the concept was too challenging, so I stuck with screenplays and short stories.

Summer 2009–Actually wrote the first chapter of “the dream.” Let Quita read it. We both thought it was pretty cool, but I put it on the back burner.
October 2009–Pitched “the dream” to an agent at a conference, who LOVED the concept. At the time, I saw it more as adult fiction, and so I wrote more of “the dream” (eventually titled Wants) geared for that audience. Queried an agent who I saw on the Guide to Literary Agents blog (which, PLEASE visit if you haven’t already). Instead of being dismissive, she told me that I should consider writing the whole story as YA (the beginning chapters showed my characters in high school) because I had an authentic teen voice. I scratched my head.

Fall 2009–Researched every and anything YA, and realized I was in love. I started wondering where had Ellen Hopkins, Elizabeth Scott, and John Green been all of my life. I found the wonderful YA Highway and other awesome blogs devoted to YA. I reread most of the stories I submitted to my undergrad creative writing workshops and realized that they were, in fact, YA tales. I had finally found my place and there was no turning back.

March 2010–Completed Wants as a contemporary YA novel. Queried agents, including the one who suggested the change. The agent told me I still wasn’t quite there, and gave me feedback on things that I could do for revisions. Based on all of the rejections, I knew that the agent was right.

March-Mid April 2010–Revised like crazy. I switched Wants from 3rd person to 1st person POV and made a TON of other changes. Then I started querying again.

Mid April 2010–Found out there was a new agent at Curtis Brown LTD named Sarah LaPolla. Looked her up, thought she was pretty cool, but considered holding off on querying her since I already sent out quite a bit. Then I saw this interview on YA Highway, and knew it was a sign. I queried her, and a few weeks later she requested the full.

Mid June 2010–Received feedback from Sarah. Said that she LOVED it, but the voices weren’t distinctive yet. Said that she would love to see a revision whenever one was ready.

Rest of June 2010–Moped. Ate junk food. Moped some more.

July 2010–Started a new WIP. Attended the LA SCBWI conference where I made sure to attend workshops on voice.

Fall 2010–Kicked revisions into high gear. Queried more agents. Got lots of requests for fulls. Resent my shiny, revised version of Wants to Sarah on October 15th.
October–December 2010–Waited. Ate junk food. Waited some more. The requests were piling up. Had a few close calls.

Friday, December 10th, 2010–Got an email from Sarah apologizing for the wait and saying that she finally got a chance to read Wants and that she loved the revisions so far. Said that I would hear back from her by Monday. Panic ensued.

Monday, December 13th, 2010–Checked email frequently at work. After lunch, I checked my phone on a whim and saw an email from Sarah. Tossed phone in desk drawer and ignored it for a few minutes out of sheer terror. Finally opened email and saw that Sarah only had concerns about my ending. If I was willing to revise it, she’d want to offer representation. Called mom and cried from joy. Emailed Quita and asked for her feedback, since she knew the story better than me at this point. She reminded me how we both had concerns about the ending, and that Sarah had given me great input before. Knew she was right.

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010–Spoke with Sarah on the phone and she was just as awesome as she is on Twitter and her blog. Plus, you could hear how much she adored Wants through the phone. Thought I would cry.

Friday, December 17th, 2010–Officially accepted representation from Sarah!!

There you have it. My journey isn’t as long as others, but it definitely wasn’t an overnight success! I just know I wouldn’t have gotten this far without my family and all of you wonderful writers in the blog-o-sphere.

I know that having an agent doesn’t mean the timeline ends. I’m nervous and excited and probably will eats loads more of junk food–but I know in my heart that Sarah’s going to steer me in the right direction. πŸ™‚

A Finger Lickin’ Chapter One

Writing Song of the Day: “Eat It” by Weird Al Yankovic

The latest issue of Writer’s Digest rocks, to put it simply. It’s all about writing your novel in 2011–whether it’s completing the first draft or revising it to something that’s actually readable.

But one of that articles that really stuck out to me was “8 Ways to Write a 5-Star Chapter One” by Elizabeth Sims. In it, she likens the first chapter to an appetizer. And since I love anything that deals with food (insert a Homer Simpson drool here), I decided to take my own spin on making your first chapter just right.

Not Enough
During the one and only time Quita and I went to Outback Steakhouse, we split an order of Grilled Shrimp on the Barbie before our entrees arrived. Boy, was it GOOD. The shrimp was tender and the seasoning was perfect. But once we finished it, we just sat there and blinked at each other. We both had the same question:

That’s it?

You see, while the shrimp was a good preview, it didn’t truly satisfy us. We were starving so by the time our meals came, we inhaled them and felt a little sick afterwards.

When writing your first chapter, try not to be too vague. Sure, it’s good to have an air of mystery to encourage your readers to keep, well, reading–but don’t be coy. If you give us a small sample of the conflict and the characters, we’re not going to care enough to keep moving forward. And if we actually to decide to give the rest of the book a try, we may be so overwhelmed with the details later on that we may get a little disgusted with the book. Where was all this beautiful writing before? Why didn’t you give us a better hint of the hook in the first few pages? Don’t spoon-feed us in chapter one, but throw us some kind of bone!

Too Much!
Pretty much everyone I know who’s ever gone to Red Lobster raves about their Cheddar Bay Biscuits–and can you blame them? They’re warm and buttery and garlic-y and cheesy and…okay, my inner Homer escaped once again.

The point is, they’re damn good. And you can’t eat just one. You want another then another then another. So by the time your actual entree arrives, you’re stuffed.

Please don’t bloat your first chapter. By bloating, I mean attacking your readers with back story. Yes, attacking may sound harsh, but let the readers care about your characters before you tell us where and when they were born and why they hate their parents and what kind of toothpaste they use.

Scratch that, we probably won’t ever care about their toothpaste–so don’t overload your first chapter with mundane tasks such as waking up or preparing to go to work or school. And be careful with those adverbs! If you dump a bunch of them in your first few chapters, we may question your talents as a writer. And yes, we may mock you. Quietly, of course.

Just Right
So T.G.I. Friday’s is a pretty cool restaurant–they offer everything from burgers to ribs to anything else that makes it difficult to button my jeans at times. Both Quita and I absolutely love to share an order of their Pan-Seared Pot Stickers. The dough is nice and soft and the pork on the inside is cooked to perfection. Not to mention we could probably drink a cup of the Szechwan dipping sauce.

Okay, that’s a little gross. But the sampling size is enough that we still have room in our bellies for our actual meals. In fact, with how great the pot stickers are, we actually always look forward to tasting the rest of the menu.

And that’s exactly how your first chapters should be. Just the right amount of “scrumptiousness” to make readers eager to see more. And what does just right actually mean?

  • Introduce a character with enough layers to make us care about them.
  • Start at the right spot, which is usually right when your protagonists world is about to be rocked.
  • Step away from the setting. Sure, world-building is an integral part of the writing process, but readers aren’t going to care about how green the trees are or what the weather is like until we know why we should read your story.
  • And one pulled right from Writer’s Digest: Give it a mini plot. When I’m writing, it helps me to think that each chapter is a short story. I try to give each one it’s own arc–something that would urge readers to turn to the next page and see how things will be resolved.

So that’s my homage to two of my favorite things: writing and eating. What say you all? What do you think makes a first chapter eatable–whoops, I mean readable?

All We Want for Christmas…

Wishing Song of the Day: “Santa Baby” by Madonna

YA Highway has made a mistake…they told us to go wild this week with their topic. No one should ever tell me and Pam to go wild unless they expect utter insanity in return. This week, they told us to pretend that we can ask Santa anything we want (and they penned a pretty kickass poem for the post). Topics like this are what dreams are made of… here is what we want to whisper to Santa.

Quita’s Santa Wish list:

Students that care

Twenty Pound Weight Loss—without exercise, while eating pizza, Chinese food, and chocolate chip cookies.



Jake Gyllenhaal, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Eminem, and Garrett Hedlund wearing nothing but Christmas bows and smiles.

A multi-million dollar book deal with a dream agent attached

A gig at a University

World Domination

Pam’s Santa Wish list:


A shiny new meniscus (knee cartilage) and knee ligaments

To never exercise again and not gain a pound

The New Toyota Corolla with GPS built in

Leonardo DiCaprio wearing nothing…not even a Christmas bow

A multi-million dollar three book deal with dream agent attached (sound familiar)

Again, a gig at a University


The World in the palm of my hand

Hey, we warned you all before that we share a brain. Now, what would you ask old St. Nick?

Authors we Stalk…uh, Love!

Brainstorming Song of the Day: “Hero” by Chad Kroeger featuring Josey Scott (Check it out on the Rock With Us tab)

So we kinda um…heart…Kate Hart (one of the fantabulous girls over at YA Highway) and we noticed that over at her blog she did something really, really cool. As part of one of her Monday Memes, she participated in this activity that me and Pam just HAD to try!
Here are the rules: Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen authors (poets included) who have always influenced you and will always stick with you. List the first 15 you can recall in no more than 15 minutes, and they don’t have to be listed in order of relevance to you.

Here are our 15 most influential authors (with reasons for some) in less than 15 minutes!

Quita’s 15:

Start time: 4:o6 PM

John Grisham
Laurie Halse Anderson
Joyce Carol Oates
Cormac McCarthy
Dean Koontz (he may not be the best writer ever…but his stories sure can suck you in. Read The Good Guy)
Justine Larblestier (granted, I’ve only read Liar but it was enough to make me want to read more of her books)

R.L. Stine (Fear Street RULES! And I actually wrote an entire novel based on one of his when I was twelve years old)
Blake Nelson
Charlaine Harris (Yes, I have read/and I do own EVERY SINGLE ONE of the Sookie Stackhouse books- I even have short story collections that she’s appeared in)
Suzanne Collins
Maggie Stiefvater
Judy Blume
Ann M. Martin (I LOVED the Babysitters Club, I had all the special books, and even had my own fill in the blank Babysitters guide!)
Arthur Miller
Albert Camus (read The Stranger…nuff said)

End time: 4:09 PM

Pam’s 15:

Start time: 4:06 PM

Ellen Hopkins
Stephen King (He’s not only the King of Horror, but he’s the master of writing page-turners)
Jodi Picoult (She does an excellent job of writing from both the teen AND adult POV)
Tawni O’Dell
William Golding
Elizabeth Scott (She took a risk with Living Dead Girl and encouraged me to take risks with my own writing)
Courtney Summers
Brett Easton Ellis
William Shakespeare
Terry McMillan (The fact that she’s African Amerian and so successful speaks volumes to me)
Stephanie Meyer (Okay, don’t attack me, but she inspired MILLIONS of people to pick up a book and read. That says a lot.)
Tennessee Williams
Dr. Seuss (The first book I ever remember reading is Green Eggs and Ham)
Judy Blume (When I was a kid, I thought I was Blubber. One of my faves to this day)
Beverly Cleary

End time: 4:08 PM

**Pam is a little peeved that she left off one of her all time idols…John Green 😦 **

Tell us, who are some of the authors that have most influenced you?