New Author Website! And a sneak peek…

Hello everyone!

It’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog and there are a few things to report.

  1. This space is now a part of erinpetti.com – my author website! I’m so excited and thrilled with the work that the FABULOUS web developer Mike Robinson has done to get erinpetti.com up and running!
  2. THE PECULIAR HAUNTING OF THELMA BEE has a cover. It’s here!
  3. The generosity of my fellow authors, friends, and even one of my TV icons (!!) has been staggering. We’ve collected some really tremendous testimonials. Fun fact: I cry every time I read a new one.
  4. I visited my mom’s class of 6th graders to talk about writing and had the most fun ever. I’m really looking forward to school visits as we move forward. I have some super fun workshop ideas!!
  5. I’m THISCLOSE to finishing my first draft of book 2. In fact, I’m hoping to be done today. It may contain the following: meatball subs, red witches, and a student run radio station. I’m having fun.

BONUS TRACK! Here’s a little sneak peak of some of one of my characters as illustrated by Kris Aro McLeodizzy button

Update: Short and sweet or TALL AND BITTER?

Hey everyone! Just a little update.

Right now I’m:

  • Working away on THELMA BEE edits. This is happy work!
  • Planning a new author website! I’m working with the awesomely creative Mike Robinson of Portable Heroes* fame. We should be launching sometime in September.
  • Getting super excited about a project that Mighty Media Press has in the works for THELMA. I’m going to keep it secret for now, but stay tuned 🙂

Also, I’ll be a guest on Parenting Your Human at the Riot theater on August 7th – wouldn’t it be fun to hang out!? Come join us!

I guess there’s nothing tall or bitter about this update, sorry for the false advertising.6_20Cinnamoroll_20Cab_original

cute pastries via ubertiny.storenvy.com

*Portable Heroes is my husband’s high school rock and roll band. This is a true thing.

Super fun book news!

HAPPY HAPPY NEWS TIME!

My novel THELMA BEE has found a home!

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 8.44.18 AM

(Much like my idols, Peg + Cat – I’m totally freaking out!)

I’m excited to announce that the lovely people at Mighty Media Press will publish THELMA BEE in September 2016. I’m in super-love with the vision that Lauren Kukla and the rest of the Mighty Media crew have for the book and series to follow. I just feel lucky and happy and OMG IT IS HAPPENING!!!

Approximately one bajillion thanks go to wonder-agent Laura Zats of Red Sofa Literary. Also, my husband Ryan who has put up with my checking email every five minutes for months. He’s incredible.

I’m so excited for this new chapter. Thank you, everyone!

Getting Personal: Laurel Snyder’s Keynote

For my friends and readers who aren’t in the kidlit world, NESCBWI is the New England chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. It’s an incredible organization and they put on a fantastic conference this past weekend. Workshops, speakers, raviolis, and catching up with my writer-friends in person? Pretty amazing.

final-HThis year’s theme was “Create Bravely” 

My favorite part of the weekend was the keynote address by author Laurel Snyder. If you’re like, “That’s a familiar name…but I can’t pinpoint it…” it’s probably because she also contributes to NPR on occasion. Her name may occupy the same cerebral storage pod that keeps words like:  “Lakshmi Singh,” “Kai Ryssdal, ” and “Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson.

The big idea: A writer has to look bravely inside themselves and write from the fear, triumph, friendship, and the love that only they have felt.

But to unpack that, the part that really set bells ringing in my mind was when she put up a slide with three photos. The first was Laurel as a teenager, a little angry looking, with a mushroom haircut and black clothing. The next was Laurel as a grown woman on stage wearing a flowing dress and joyfully playing a ukeleli, the third was Laurel at home being tackled by a beautiful baby boy.

Light bulb.

The specificity of images like those, that is personal. No one in the world has lived her life, had that particular mushroom haircut and that particular angst. Even if she was  just a kid whose parents split – one of many- she’s the only one who lived her own situation, in her city, with her music collection, and with her mom and dad. Same for the moments of joy. That’s where she writes from, and in some ways writes about, and that’s why her voice and her stories are so authentic and important.

Every single author in that room – every author everywhere, has their “list of things”. The true, personal things that make you you. That’s the jackpot. That’s where the writing should live.

This took me back to middle school. I was trying to grow my bangs out and wearing a baggy hoodie every day – just looking forward to the 25 minutes we got for SSR. Reading Brian Jacques and the REDWALL series and having that be a sanctuary in a relentless storm of awkwardness.

Laurel asked us to identify who our reader is. For her, she writes for her younger self – and I think I do that too. I didn’t realize it, necessarily, but it’s a powerful thought. The only good stuff is going to come from a place that is unique to you, and each one of is made of a million authentic moments.

I returned home so ready to create and so inspired by everyone I met. Creating stories for kids – this is important stuff, you guys. I feel really honored to do it.

 

 

 

Writing Toddler-Brave

“A thing is about to happen here that has not happened since the Elder Days. The Ents are going to wake up and find that they are strong” – Gandalf

This quote comes to mind when I see my 11 month old daughter moving around lately. Yeah, I’m comparing my beautiful girl to an anthropomorphized tree. Stay with me for a minute.

She’s always been a go-go kind of girl, but you can tell now that she’s feeling the power. She’s taken a few teeny steps and her confidence is sky high. My father watches her most afternoons and yesterday he created a Les Miserables-like barracade to keep her in the safety of her play area. I watched her grab a heavy wooden stool and pull it out from underneath an exersaucer like the damn hulk. To give you context, that would be like a regular sized person managing a picnic table.

She’s taken one or two little spills but it’s not really slowing her down. She wants to explore, to throw her weight around, to see what her strong little gams can do. She knows no fear.

So, I’m terrified.

If you watch Sherlock, you know how he can look at someone and a lot of white text appears on the screen – all the things he’s able to tell about a character just by looking at her “cat lover, size 10, long term boyfriend, etc.” – That’s kind of what I’m like with worst case scenarios. I can look at a laptop cable and see at least 35 ways that this child could hurt herself with it. All the scenarios swarm like flies and 35 is a low ball figure, obviously.

But I wanted to take a minute and think about what she’s feeling right now and how cool that actually is. Do you remember a time when you felt strong and invincible? It’s hard for me to conjure up that kind of memory. But this kid is moving through the world with the expectation that everything is awesome and she’s discovering new ways to manipulate objects, transport herself, and express herself every day. It’s amazing!

When I’m drafting, I want to try to be a toddler-writer. Just go for it! There’s no REAL staircase for you to fall down, so see what’s happening in that dark room Mom doesn’t want you to go into! Is that a cliff? How far can you hang over it? YOU ARE INVINCIBLE! Eat that dust-bunny, fool!

Revising might be a different story all together. That’s the time for adult thoughts, foam padding, and baby gates. But I’m really trying to un-childproof my brain for getting a first draft on paper again. Little baby bean is quite a source of inspiration.

And constant anxiety about her physical safety. That too. But mostly inspiration.

My Agent Love Story: True Grit

In the beginning of 2012 I finished writing my first manuscript, a middle grade story called THELMA BEE. I sent it to some writerly friends and they gave great support and a few suggestions. I put it away for a while and later revised. “Now, I’m ready!” I thought. Wrongly. It was a wrongly thought thought.

I got a few requests. Supportive rejections trickled in. But then a contest called The Writer’s Voice happened.

Brenda Drake is the Khaleesi of writing contests. Once I started following her on Twitter, everything got a lot more exciting (and clear). During The Writers Voice I was chosen for Krista Van Dolzer’s team. Krista was an incredible mentor and helped me whip my query into shape. The contest did two things:

1. Plugged me into an informative, supportive, amazing group of writers/agents/editors on Twitter

2. Got my manuscript some VERY exciting requests.

Now we’ve got some momentum. Go go go go go gooooooPREGNANCY.

So I threw up for months and months and months. And I didn’t write. I didn’t query. I just looked out the window and then I threw up more.

Cut to my baby being old enough for me to think relatively clearly again — this past summer. I connected with some of my old Team Krisa pals and one of them, Michelle, gave THELMA BEE a read. She provided me with some excellent, detailed edits that helped me look at the book in a new light.

Then, one day on Twitter I saw #MSWL. That stands for Manuscript Wishlist. Agent Laura Zats asked for a quest that wasn’t a treasure hunt and if I remember correctly, a creepy swamp. Well, friends, this I can deliver. I queried her. She asked for a partial. Then the full. Then, right before Thanksgiving – she asked for a call.

I screamed. Whatever, it was exciting.

We scheduled the call for A WEEK AND A HALF in the future because of the holiday week. So, I hosted Thanksgiving for 12 people and that was a good distraction.

During the call, I put a slide show of calming forest scenes on my laptop. We chatted and she was awesome and very in tune with the characters and the story. At one point I made mention of Thelma’s town being a little bit Star’s Hollow and she immediately got that and excitedly compared one of my book’s locations to Luke’s Diner. In my mind I thought “YEP, NAILED IT. LET’S DO THIS THING”.

The week that followed “the call” brought two other phone conversations with great agents, each with different situations, each of whom would offer different paths for the manuscript in the next few months. I hounded my Team Krista friends (including Krista herself) with constant emails, and bugged fancy pants Twitter friend Summer Heacock for her expertise. At the end of it, I had to go with my gut and my gut was telling me to go with Laura.

I signed the contract on Christmas Eve. That was very cool.

As writers I think we sometimes try to force life events into a narrative arc to make it neat. This wasn’t a hero’s quest – it was messier. I loved my story, and thought it was good when I finished my first draft. But I learned the true meaning of revision over the months (and months) I worked on THELMA BEE. It was about letting go of my ego and really getting my hands dirty. It was also about not giving up even though it got hard and I saw other people sail past me, getting agents book deals while I was diving back in for the 35th revision.

If you love your story, don’t give up. Make it better and then make it best. I have come to a point in my life when I realize that for a writer (or a mom, for that matter) grit is one of the most important things. This process involved not a lot of luck, but a lot of persistence and willingness to reconsider and rework. It had much more to do with examining my use of gerunds than fairy dust. It actually had a lot to do with gerunds.

true_grit_clips

I’ve got a ton more work to do, but I’m very excited to be embarking on this next stage of my career with Laura.

FIN

Flow: Improv, Laundry, Writing and Ditching the R.O.U.S

According to the uncompromising accuracy of Wikipedia, the psychological definition of “Flow” is:

The mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.

Doesn’t that sound like the best? Ugh, I want to eat that for lunch.

I mean, I’ve felt it before, I think most people have. The times that come to mind have to do with writing, improv, washing the bathroom, folding clothes, and drawing Ariel from The Little Mermaid over and over again in my room growing up.

Writers spend lifetimes trying to create the perfect atmospheric soil for flow to grow and thrive. We have routines, special pens, a white noise machine, maybe some coffee…whatever it takes to coax her out of her shell.

In improv, flow is everything. It’s hard to talk about this without sounding a wee bit new agey, but it’s important. If an improviser is lucky he or she has moments on stage when brain, body, voice, and team come together to create something magical without effort – that’s got to be flow.

For me it feels like a buzzing, taut energy that is off the charts wild, but still laser focused. There are three key factors that are always there when I’ve experienced this incredible feeling: Trust, Risk, and Action.

First though, the obvious: To feel dumb is easy. For me, it’s pretty much a total cake walk. But anyone who’s ever read an inspirational quote-a-day calendar knows that self doubt achieves nothing. It is a staid, boring, lethargic force.

JANUARY 4th

Self doubt is dreaming of making a delicious meal, but first you just have to bury all your pots and pans in the backyard real quick.

I’m drawn to improv because there’s no TIME for that bull. You are on stage with people you enjoy and by doing so you have entered into a sacred agreement with your team to be kind, supportive, and to lift each other up. What results, when done right, is great art. What results when the sacred agreement is undermined? The worst crap you’ve ever seen.  Just really bad, gotta wash it off in a hot shower yuckiness. I’ve been lucky to have great teams.

Writing is harder because you’re on your own. No team. No applause. One woman show. But, I’m positing that it can be done and these are NOTES TO MYSELF.

 

TRUST: Yourself. Don’t delete that thing just keep writing. Get there.

 

RISK: You aren’t working in an ER. No one dies if your idea isn’t perfect. Great things may lie beyond your imperfect idea, but you have to go through them like the Fire Swamps to get to the other side. Don’t deny your maybe-brilliant idea just because you are afraid you’re going to get eaten by an R.O.U.S.

 

ACTION: Literally, write words. A bunch of them. All strung together.

rous

 

Another technique: clean my damn bathroom.

Probably just going to sketch Ariel again.

American Horror Story: The art of using all the things you can think of, all at once.

A while ago I wrote a little bit about my brainstorming process. Basically, I filled a page with ideas, big and small, that inspired me. Some of these things were totally disconnected, but tethered together by the fact that I have a strong interest in exploring both topics (e.g, American folklore and one-eyed dogs).

This process comes to mind as I watch the second season of American Horror Story on FX. Over all, I enjoy the show and really can’t get enough of the weirdness. But my hypothesis is that creator Ryan Murphy must have sat in a room with his writing partner and simply asked the question: “What’s scary?” The one rule? Leave Nothing Out.

I say this because of the insane soup of horror elements that are thrown into each episode. It’s shamelessly packed with disparate conventions, each of which is deserving of its own series. But they all sit on the same bus, “alien abduction” wedged next to “demonic posession”, while “murderer on the loose” looks glumly out the window and then back to his iphone.

No, no there’s no iphone. We’re in 1965. So, from the more typical monsters, Murphy and company move to a subtler, sometimes scarier set of creepers: The homophobe, the racist, the religious hypocrite (chills). They’re all on this bus, and the bus is headed straight to hell. Or is it Danvers, MA? I think the show is supposed to be set in Danvers.

Yes, the show has troubles. The Chloe Sevigny character, for example, had a awkwardly earnest monologue about sexual repression in the most recent episode. I could feel the grumbling head shaking of every creative writing teacher in the nation as she talked, and talked, and talked, without interruption, about sexual justice in a “tense dramatic moment”.

We get it, Ryan Murphy. No one disagrees with you. Things were bad for the more free-wheeling ladies of the 1960’s. Here’s something though, the virgin/harlot dichotomy is way out of control this season on the show. I mean, literally, the nun is wearing red knickers. The prostitute is forced to dress up like a nun. It’s…just…we get it.

But that’s all beside the point. What’s the point? Good quesiton. I think the point is that sometimes it’s fun to just throw everything in the pot and see if you can draw plot lines from A to B to 231 to Guatemala. American Horror Story is a grab bag of weird, and I know I’ll be watching until the trapped lesbian reporter has an illicit affair with a zombified Hitler or some other inevitable breaking point.

Lady on the verge of a very bad few weeks.

The 50% Querier

So, I wrote a little book, polished it up, and sent it out into the world. First tentatively, and then with mounting confidence. I received rejections, but also full requests from wonderful agents. When some of them eventually declined they said things that made my chest puff up with pride. My writing was maybe not terrible. Maybe -kind of- good.

I entered a contest called The Writer’s Voice and was able to workshop my query letter with extraordinary writers. My manuscript ended up with some more requests. Exciting ones! And then after the contest, some more requests – just from submissions into the slush pile! My little book is now out with a bunch of agents. Really cool ones.

Why then have I felt, for the last few months, this sensation of full stop? The gears grinding to a halt. The wind-up monkey toy running out of juice just as his cymbals are about to crash together one final time. I, friends, have felt very much like the college kid on the side of the road who thought he could totally make it home with the gas gauge hovering below E. College kid, you need to get more than 5 dollars worth of gas at a time. I’m sorry, it’s just true.

As many of you know, I’ve been experiencing a biological phenomenon that is at once truly magical and utterly exhausting. Turns out it isn’t easy making people from scratch! The first four months, anyway, have been…interesting. We’re so psyched. I’m so psyched, just also pretty sick and sleepy. But I’m rounding a corner now. Feeling a little bit more juice than I have been feeling in the past few months, and getting a little revved up once again.

The other day we went out to Thai food with my sister and her boyfriend, and there was this girl waiting for take out – she was writing in a journal. I got JEALOUS with a capital all those letters. That emotion made me so excited.

Note: Thai food excursion was doubly successful because as an added bonus I actually ate a full dinner. The baby loves Pineapple Fried Rice. I think we’re really going to get along.

The query process for my for THELMA is only about halfway done. I’ve been reading about how many agents a writer usually submits to before calling it a day and I’m not anywhere near that number. It just felt like so much work to do all the research on individual agents and craft their submissions just right. I mean, I could do a big cut and paste job, but no one appreciates that. Basically, I’d been feeling DONE but now I’m not so sure.

I feel like maybe I should put on a helmet or something, because I’m diving back down into the querier’s trenches. This time with baby-power.

Getting Over In-Between

I’m going to mention something today and then shut up about it until I have a quasi-finished product to talk about – my new work in progress. Today is important because I really actually started working on it.

During this in-between time while I’ve been querying and submitting THELMA BEE has been a little bit excruciating. There’s great news! Bad news! Waiting! Great! Bad! Waiting! Waiting! Waiting! It’s kind of tough to take.

I’ve written a few short stories and had some non-starter ideas (to which I might return later), and that’s all the writing I’ve really been able to get done in the past few months. It’s been a bummer.

But then – I got it. THE idea. The “oh hell yeah, I’m going to write the sh*t out of that story” idea. I spent a few days outlining and today I started writing. Writing real words in a real word document that was blank when I started. I know this shouldn’t sound like something to be excited about, but it’s been so liberating. I’m so psyched up about what I’m about to do that the querying doesn’t seem so life-and-death. I’ve got more in me, so if the first book doesn’t work out, it’s ok. I’m moving, working, creating…

Reading some really awesome books in the meantime has no doubt helped me get to this point. A quick shout out to local author and friend-of-a-friend, Gina Damico for her brand new novel, CROAK, which you should all go out and buy if you enjoy fun. Inventive, funny, twisted writing is great inspiration.

So, I’m going to go ahead and keep putting words on that document. Wish me luck!