Shannon Dittemore
  • Writerly Things
  • August23rd

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    My six-year-old insisted on wearing a Spiderman shirt to school today. It’s not his best shirt, but I didn’t put up much of a fight.

    Cause I know. I understand.

    That shirt makes him feel Spidey strong. Gives him super powers. Convinces him that though most of his friends are in the other classroom, he’s invincible. He can conquer second grade.

    See, I have my own secret weapons. Things that possess magical powers and make my life as a writer that much easier. They make me invincible. Tell me I can conquer this work-in-progress. And, though I’m trapped in my head with imaginary characters, with the help of my secret weapons I can pry us all free and release a brand new story into the world.

    Secret weapons are that important. Here are a few of mine:

    My bulletin boards. I have Jenny Lundquist to thank for this one. When I saw her magical bulletin boards, I knew I had to have my own. I must also thank my husband who transformed them into something special for me. They’re just cork boards covered in fancy shmancy material, but with the help of a sharpie, multi-colored index cards, and thumbtacks, they are transformed into story plotting machines. Different colored cards for different POV’s. Different colored thumbtacks cause it’s prettier that way, and bam! Superhero.

    Candles. Now, don’t get all spooky on me, but I have a thing for candles. I like atmosphere. Different fragrances conjure up different moods and memories. The yummy smells are my shield against the nostril-offending dirty diapers and garlicky dinner leftovers that can, at any time, creep toward me from outside my office. Helpful. Very, very helpful.

    Fingerless gloves. Unlike Edward Cullen and other such superheroes, I’m not immune to the chill of winter. But, since writing in mittens is impossible, I have these amazing fingerless gloves I bought in Nevada City. They’re a little clunky and I often hit the space bar unintentionally, but they keep the blood moving and you know, I look cool in ’em. NaNoWriMo’s Chris Baty wears a Viking helmet to get him through the rough passages. I’ve got fuzzy gloves.

    Blueberries. Fantastic writing fuel. Easy to pop while you’re pounding away at sentences and excellent for bribing three-year-olds. “Don’t you want some more blueberries, baby? Just one more bowl so I can finish this chapter?” They’re like crack to her. She loves ’em. A guilt-free snack for the both of us.

    Quiet Time. Now that my 6yo is back in school, it’s just me and my little lady for much of the day. But, I still have to write. So, everyday, at approximately the same time, she goes down for a nap and I write. Sometimes–I’ll admit it–sometimes, I even close my eyes for a few minutes while she’s down. I use this time to ask myself “what if” questions about my story. And sometimes, SOMETIMES, brilliance strikes. It’s amazing what a little quiet can do.

    So that’s it. You know all my secrets now. But, be warned, not all superheroes are created equally. Imagine Spidey thinking he could take a bullet like the Man of Steel. Preposterous! My weapons may not work for you. And yours may not work for me, but I’d love you to share them anyway.

    Tell me: What silly, superfluous thing has become a necessary weapon in your superhero arsenal?

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  • July8th

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    I read a blog post once and I’d love to give the author credit, but for the life of me I can’t remember where I saw it. The takeaway from the post, however, was genius, and went something like this:

    Debut authors have no idea how to get published. They simply know how they got published.

    At the time, the dream of my story on a bookshelf seemed a near-impossibility. I assumed every published author could tell me exactly what to do.

    But, the more I talk to debut authors–the more I read about their journeys–the more I understand just how small we authors are in the gigantic machine that is the publishing industry.

    Oh, we play a part. Each of us. A vital, important part. But, we’re very specific cogs in a very particular machine, and our journeys to that spot are near impossible to duplicate.

    That blog post was right: I can’t tell you how to get published. Because I don’t know.

    I can only tell you that my first book will be coming out next summer and the things I did, as misinformed as they sometimes were, didn’t prevent it from happening. Here are a few things I can pass on to those of you walking a few steps behind me on the road to publication.

    Waiting sucks. For everyone. I hate waiting. My agent hates waiting. My writer-friends hate waiting. We all hate it. But, it’s part of the process. It doesn’t mean bad things. It doesn’t mean good things. It just means you’re waiting. You can let it drive you crazy or you can write your way through the wait. The choice, as always, is yours. I say write. Life is short and there are words out there that need to be put on paper. And by submitting your novel to editors and agents, you’re saying, “Hey, I can do this! I can put words on paper.” So, do it. Do it while you wait.

    Timing is everything. I have a whole blog post worked up on this point, but the short version is this: Are you ready? Not ready for good things to happen to you–though that part is awesome–but are you ready to work? Because the word “contract” is synonymous with “a ton of work.” So, don’t begrudge the wait. Timing is everything.

    There will be hiccups. Oh yes! And they’ll hit when it’s most inconvenient for you. In my case, my first agent quit the business of agenting while my dream publisher was actively considering my manuscript. Um. Yeah. Inconvenient to say the least and havoc on my nerves. But, while I was panicking, every writer-friend I know told me the same thing, “If someone wants what you’re selling, hiccups won’t stop them from buying it.” And you know what? They were right.

    Playing by the rules worked for me. There are folks out there who recommend sending pink, perfumed pages of your romance manuscript to every editor you can think of. There are brave souls who claim they’ve attracted the attention of a super agent by standing on their heads and serenading them from four stories down, but I am far too squeamish to attempt feats of grandeur. Instead, I paid attention to submission guidelines on agency web pages. I stalked agents and publishing gurus on Twitter to get a feel for their likes and dislikes, and then I queried only those who seemed to fit my manuscript. It took a bit, but it worked.

    You need a writer friend. Or two. Or twelve. Because this road can be lonely if you let it. The good news is there are lots of ways to interact with writers: crit groups, workshops, conferences, bookstores. If you can find another writer in your hometown to connect with, all the better. Nothing beats a cup of coffee with someone who understands the daily grind of writing sentences.

    Acknowledge the luck factor. That’s right. I said it. Of course, I generally attribute these luck-type things to God and His providence, but it’s important to understand that being in the right place at the right time really does have its advantages. Often, that’s something you can’t control. It’s like acting: Sometimes you’re exactly what a publisher (or agent, or editor) is looking for. Sometimes you’re not. Accept that rejection–like in issues of love–can be about what they want, not who you are. Decide to be okay with it.

    And, finally, keep the faith! The funny thing about hope is this: We all have something to hope for. You may be hoping to land an agent or attract a publisher. Me: I’m hoping my book sells. There are no guarantees in this industry, but the rest of us can spot a bitter soul a mile away. Keep hoping, keep dreaming. Keep believing. And write because you love it.

    I have no idea how you’ll get published, but my guess is you’ll find a few things along the way that are worth passing on. Share ’em. Share them here or with a friend. Share them on your blog or at your crit group. Share them with the guy you see standing in the writing aisle at B&N.

    Our journeys are all so different, but the business of writing sentences ties us together.

    So, spread the love!

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  • June23rd

    25 Comments

    When I visit an author’s website, I always search for a post on how they got published. I’m wired that way. I want to know the how and the why.

    It’s probably the sole reason I stink at mathematics. No one can tell me just why something times something else, divided by that thingy-ma-whaty, equals the area of a cone. The idea that “it just does” makes no sense to me.

    But, I digress.

    Given my own curiosity, I thought I’d throw my story on the stack.

    My journey to publication began on a dark and stormy night (well, maybe). It was November of 2008, and my baby girl was just shy of three months old. She was a beautiful little thing, but she wasn’t nearly as good a sleeper as her big brother. At the time, I had a killer part-time job working from home for a legal consulting company, but it still wasn’t what I really, really wanted to do. I wanted to write. I wanted THAT to be my job.

    So, as I wandered the house with my tiny insomniac, singing and rocking, I considered the possibility that I could write a novel. I’d started and stopped several times before, but something was different this time. Somewhere along the way, I had picked up an immeasurably valuable nugget: I was learning to be patient with myself.

    Maybe it was the gauntlet of parenting, or the sheer lack of sleep, but whatever it was, I knew I had the ability to be patient through the brainstorming process.

    That night, I walked and I walked, and I sang a bit, but mostly I thought and thought and thought. Before the night was over, I had a handful of characters and a fairly good idea of just what I wanted to say and where I wanted my characters to go. I had a mental outline and that was enough.

    So, I sat down to write–and yes, that’s how I do it. I’m not a big plotter and sometimes that works against me, but I’m learning. Still, by February of 2009, I had a first draft. It was awful, of course, but I was proud of it.

    2009 was full of tons and tons of parenting and editing whenever I could. I enlisted the services of Vinnie Kinsella and Declaration Editing, hiring him to give me his honest opinion on what he read. He was nothing but fabulous and encouraged me on my road to publication.

    I found a group of writerly souls to bond with, Inspire Christian Writers, and I committed to attending Mt. Hermon Writer’s Conference the following year. I even queried a few agents. I got a big round of chirping crickets though, and decided to hold off until after Mt. Hermon.

    I continued editing, continued reading about the craft, keeping the conference ahead of me like a crunchy carrot. The time rolled around, and I was devastated when I had to pull out. My gorgeous cherub still wasn’t sleeping and things had actually gotten worse. Leaving her just wasn’t realistic.

    So, now it’s spring, 2010. I’m several drafts into my novel and no real goal in sight, except landing an agent. But, the idea of sending out query letters and getting only silence in return was gut-wrenching.

    And then Twitter! Yup, I said it. Twitter happened to me.

    Agents were tweeting. Oh, yes they were. They were tweeting their likes and dislikes, their rants and raves. They were giving the world–and more specifically, writers–an idea of what they were looking for.

    I started to pay attention and I got more specific about who I queried. And, I branched out a bit. I started looking for agencies that didn’t specialize in Christian Fiction. The reason for this is simple: The agents I was attracted to most on Twitter weren’t with Christian agencies. Maybe those guys aren’t tweeting? I don’t know, but after just two mainstream queries, I got a bite.

    In August of 2010, Jason Pinter of The Waxman Agency in NYC (gasp!) requested my full manuscript. Of course, we had just moved and our internet wasn’t even fully operational, and I really wanted to rewrite my Afterword, but it didn’t matter. I had gotten a request! So, I scrambled and got it to him the next day. The day after that, he offered representation.

    Voila! I had an agent.

    We made a few tweaks to my manuscript, retitled it, and started the submission process that fall. We queried a handful of mainstream houses and one CBA house. We had some great feedback, and some interest, but it wasn’t until we submitted to Thomas Nelson that we had a hit.

    And then, THEN!

    I heart you Jason Pinter, but then, my agent left The Waxman Agency. So, here I am, on submission with my dream publisher and I’m left in a lurch. My agency was great and kept me on, but I was in limbo as to which agent I’d be assigned and whether or not they’d even like my manuscript. It was agonizing for a bit, but long story short, things worked out.

    I was paired with the amazing Holly Root, and shortly thereafter Thomas Nelson made an offer. FOR THREE BOOKS! That’s right. My night wandering the house, babe in arms, was the start of a journey leading to the largest Christian publisher in the world acquiring a YA trilogy from ME. A mom. A wife. A youth pastor. Someone who doesn’t even know how to find the area of a cone!

    One thing I think you’ll notice from my story is that there were no magic wands, no magic beans, and not a single sprinkle of fairy dust. And while those things are all very well and dandy, it’s God’s fingerprints that are all over my journey. I’m constantly overwhelmed at how faithful He is, even when–especially when–I’ve been tempted to give up hope.

    So, now I continue on. I am working on my first round of revisions–on an actual deadline–and enjoying every single minute of it. I’m sure I’ll hit bumps along the way and I’m positive about those mountains (thanks, Miley!) but I’m grateful to be doing what I love, and to have the support of Thomas Nelson is truly a dream come true.

    God bless, kids.

    Keep dreaming. Keep hoping.

    Keep putting one foot down after the other and share your story with me.

    Dreamers are always welcome here.

    For more info on my debut novel, visit my ANGEL EYES page. Check back for more updates on my journey.

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  • January7th

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    With the publishing industry riding the dual-tracked rollercoaster of a bum economy and the rise of electronic books, it’s hard to avoid the concern spewed at us from industry blogs, Twitter feeds, and press releases.

    As an aspiring writer, I do my best to assimilate the information without allowing it to overwhelm me. That said, it would be naive to ignore the writing on the wall:

    Publishing is changing.

    And while it would be easy to dwell on the downside of things, it’s also important to acknowledge the ease with which books can now be attained and read. So, for the reader in all of us there’s reason to celebrate. And as the industry figures out how to navigate these waters, my guess is that there will soon be reason for the writer in us to celebrate as well.

    There are days, though, when the bad news seems to breed and invade (thinking of you Borders!) and it’s easy for this California girl to wonder where I’ll be when the ship rights itself. On those days, I read. And I read. And I’m reminded that come hell or high water, there will always be writers and there will always be the need for stories and imagination.

    And, folks, this has been a fabulous year of reading for me.

    I stumbled onto the work of the supremely talented Suzanne Collins and her mind-altering HUNGER GAMES Trilogy and I’m not exaggerating when I say that Markus Zusak’s THE BOOK THIEF changed my life. And his work in the lesser known I AM THE MESSENGER charmed my socks off.

    I drooled over Kristin Cashore’s GRACELING and devoured Kelly Creagh’s NEVERMORE.

    Tasha Alexander came out with her newest Lady Emily, DANGEROUS TO KNOW, and I was giddy to receive an advance reader copy. Giddy.

    I read my first zombie books and was surprised at the humanity displayed on every page of both Carrie Ryan’s THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH and Jonathan Maberry’s ROT AND RUIN.

    I couldn’t flip the pages of Jason Pinter’s Henry Parker Mysteries quickly enough and it wasn’t long before I had all five of them dispatched.

    The plight and the characters presented in THE CHAOS WALKING Trilogy by Patrick Ness is something that will stay with me forever and I am a better person for having read it. I could say the same for James Dashner’s MAZE RUNNER books.

    Stephen R. Lawhead drew me into his fantastical Robin Hood retelling in the KING RAVEN Trilogy and I found two self-published authors to keep an eye on when I read Susan Bischoff’s HUSH MONEY and Ellen C. Maze’s RABBIT: CHASING BETH RIDER.

    Of course, I’ve reread stuff by Rick Riordan and JK Rowling. Jane Austen and Arthur Golden. And among many, many others, I’ve read countless Magic Treehouse books with my son. God bless Mary Pope Osborne.

    And guess what, I’ve written a bit too.

    So I suppose what I’m saying is this: Chin up, writers. When you have your doubts about the state of publishing, when the cold hose of bad news is turned on you and you don’t know where to turn or what to think, focus on the things you can control.

    You can read and you can write.

    And regardless of what the top of that teetering mountain is doing, publishing was built on those two things.

    So, enjoy the journey and let’s write some fabulous stuff this year.

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  • September16th

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    Hello friends! It’s been a while. Thought I’d jump back into the fray with a little rant. Join me, won’t you?

    With my very first novel out there like a bloodhound, sniffing the carpeted hallways of publishing houses, I have lots and lots of conflicting emotions ravaging my gut. It’s not a bad thing, I’m sure, but often I wonder if the butterflies flapping away in there have developed fangs and venom. Still, the overriding…. sensation–if you will–is that the fate of my manuscript is entirely out of my hands. ENTIRELY. There’s nothing else I can do at this point, but wait.

    And waiting is what incites the manic butterflies.

    It also kicks my brain into overdrive.

    Lately, I’ve been thinking about our responsibility as writers. “What responsibility?” you might ask. Well, we have them. Writers do. Just like any other trade, we have a responsibility to learn the craft. To do our very best to understand the rules and to decipher just when those rules should be bent and broken. We have an obligation to read. For entertainment. For the sheer love of it. And we have a duty to take the books we’ve read, even the bad ones, and learn from them. As the genius that is Stephen King once said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time – or the tools – to write. Simple as that.”

    So as writers, as those who pen thoughts and stories, as those who write to further our own agenda or simply to entertain, as those who sit in front of a computer screen and bleed ink, we have responsibilities.

    But, what defines me is not my drive, desire, or ability to write. As a Christian, what defines me is my adoption into God’s family. As a Christian, what defines me is who my heavenly Father is. As a Christian, what defines me is the cross. So, perhaps the premise is flawed. No THING defines me. It is Christ–His life, His death, and His resurrection–that define me. If I am a Christian, those things must come first. Before my responsibility, before my duty as a writer.

    In a practical, time-is-of-the-essence kind of way, this is easily remedied. Christ stuff takes first priority. Other things, including my hours at the keyboard, take a backseat. It doesn’t mean they’re not priorities. It doesn’t meant they’re not important. But, in the grand scheme of things our God commitments come first.

    Most Christian writers I know don’t struggle with this to excess. It’s in the actual business of writing that we get off-kilter.

    Let’s talk for a second about the concept of “artistic liberty.”

    First let me clarify. I’m a fan–a huge fan–of artistic liberty. Of taking something and switching it up to entertain or shock. I’m a fan. On stage, between the covers of a book, down the ivory bones of the piano, or on pointe shoes. I am a fan. I think artistic liberty makes us unique. As a writer, it is a fantastic tool to carve niches. With it we break molds, we jump into waters unknown, we dare to break glass ceilings. Artistic liberty, when taken and handled with a level of precision, can produce art in the highest forms.

    That being said, I struggle with stories that claim to be representing the God of the Bible and then take artistic liberty with His ESSENTIAL ATTRIBUTES. I am not talking about ethereal, fantasy representations of a god-like being. Not at all. In fact, if I can get past the excessive descriptions of trees and wood elves, I enjoy a great fantasy or sci-fi read. I am also not talking about fairy tales or allegories. I am talking specifically about books claiming to represent the God of Scripture and feel that to adequately tell their story they must change Him.

    This post, I am sure, will rile some of you. While I speak and write emphatically, I am certainly open to discussion, and I can find beauty in many, many things. But, that doesn’t mean my gut doesn’t clench when I read something that represents the God of the Bible as something other than what He is. Even in fiction. Even when it’s a throw-away line in a movie. Especially if it’s what makes the movie popular.

    And please hear me–I believe that characters can and should misrepresent God when the story calls for it. That is very real. That happens all the time, and quite often it happens by Christians. The question is this: What conclusions do your readers draw about God when they read your work?

    No, I don’t think every book has to be about God. No, I don’t read strictly Christian fiction. Yes, I’m a fan of Harry Potter and Twilight. And not a single one of those books claim to represent the God of Scripture in any way.

    But, does your book? Are you striving to represent God and having to mold and carve away at Him so He’ll simply fit into your story? If you are, I am concerned. If you are, I wonder if your primary responsibility as a Christian is taking a backseat to your duties as a writer. And, don’t get me wrong. We all have to evaluate from time to time. We all need to examine ourselves. Examine our lives and our craft. And we must, MUST be honest about who are audience is and who we are leading them to.

    If we’re representing God incorrectly, we’re adding to the confusion already swirling about who He really is. As a Christian, that has to be my first concern. Ahead of story lines, turns of shock and awe, and surprise endings. Ahead of finding our place and making a splash. If we choose to represent God, we must heave the burden of representing Him accurately.

    If we don’t, our stories, successful though they may be, have already failed.

    Thoughts?

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