Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Things to Be Excited About

With the weather getting everybody down (it's bleak and cold and snowing in England, it's even cold and grey here in India where I still am, and I expect most of the northern hemisphere is feeling the onset of winter), I thought this was as good a time as any to concentrate on all the things I am happy/excited about - and to ask you to share what you're excited about!

1. I will be back in the UK in eleven days! This might not seem like such an exciting thing, especially because I will be sad to leave Bangalore and my parents and family after having seen them for such a short time, but I am so excited to be back with Steve. 

2. I have a wedding to plan, so I'm expecting a lot of stress and chaos and amazingness in the next few weeks. We're hoping to get married at the end of January, if all goes according to plan, so  Oh. My. God. that's not far away now!

3. WOVEN is going to be published! Sara Sargent, an editor at Balzer + Bray (an imprint of Harper Collins Children's in the US), made an offer about three weeks ago and my agent and I had another offer but we ultimately went with Sara, who is awesome, by the way. I haven't signed the contract yet, which might be why it still feels surreal and impossible - apart from, of course, the fact that it is surreal. 

I've been telling myself to hold off posting about this until it's all signed and sealed, but I couldn't resist! And hey, I've held off for three weeks, that's pretty darn good willpower! I know I need to write up a proper post about it and explain things better, but for now, let that be a bit of exciting news. And let me also say: thank you, Melissa, for making this happen!

4. I bought a pair of gorgeous gold heels the other day. Now I know this is a very frivolous thing to be excited about - and that it's shameful I don't even have a photo to show off yet - but I love those shoes. I bought them for the wedding, but I'm totally going to get more wear out of them afterwards.

So there. Four things I am thrilled about this week. But I'd love to know about the rest of you (though I'm not sure I have to ask Talli what she's excited about)!

What's brightening your winter?

Thursday, 25 November 2010

The Query that Won

I've had a few emails recently from people asking me if I would consider posting on this blog the query that ultimately got me my agent. I had absolutely no problem doing that - I know, from experience, how hard writing a query letter is, and how useful seeing other people's successful or unsuccessful queries can be - but I hesitated for two reasons. First, that a query only gets you so far - and like your book and your actual writing, a query is so subjective. 

With WOVEN (which I queried as ECHOES, because that was before my agent told me there was a young adult novel coming out this year with that title), my query got me three partial requests (one of which turned into a full request) and three straight-off full requests (one of which turned into a phone call). 

My query also got eleven 'thank you, but this doesn't sound right for us' responses, which just goes to show that a query can be both successful and unsuccessful.

The other reason was that my situation was slightly different in that I wrote to my agent Melissa after being referred to her by another agent (for more on that, read this post). So the referral would almost certainly have sparked Melissa's interest; that said, if the query hadn't interested her as much, if not more, I doubt she'd have asked me to send her the full.

So it's important to bear those things in mind, especially the subjective part, and to just work like crazy to make your query sound like something you wouldn't dream of rejecting. And get a friend or objective outsider to tell you (honestly) whether they'd request pages. 

And now for the actual query. This wasn't the first query I ever wrote, nor was it the first that generated requests for a manuscript. So I found the general stuff - greeting, description of genre, etc - fairly easy to write. The pitch for the actual book, however, took me days to iron out. It was honestly the hardest thing I've ever written and I still don't know if it's all that good. 

I've cut out a few bits that aren't really relevant (like the part where I mention the referral), but the rest is all here.

Dear Ms. Sarver,

[A single line about the referral redacted]

Echoes are created for a single purpose: they are a safety net against the death of a loved one. Stitched by three Weavers in London, echoes are copies of 'others', real people in the world. From birth, they must learn every aspect of their other’s life and behave like them in every way. They must be ready to step into their shoes as soon as they are needed. They have no name or identity of their own, and must learn to survive in a world that despises them.

The novel explores this concept through the eyes of Echo, a teenage echo who pointedly names herself. There are certain laws that bind her kind, and Echo knows that breaking them can be fatal.

Echoes must not be themselves, which means they’re not supposed to love art when they know fully well that their other does not. They must not fall in love with their guardians, even if he is young, sarcastic and named Sean. When their other dies in a car crash and they travel to Bangalore to replace her, they must love her grieving family, friends, and - most especially - her bitter, handsome boyfriend. They must not expose themselves to persistent hunters, and certainly mustn’t invade the Weavers’ Loom and try to destroy it. And they must never, ever cut and run.

ECHOES is a YA urban fantasy, set in contemporary England and partly in India, and clocks in at 124,000 words. I hope it will be the first of a series of novels. If you'd like to see a partial or the manuscript, I'd be happy to send it along. This is a multiple submission and the manuscript is currently being considered elsewhere.

Thank you very much for your time.

Sangu Mandanna

Note: I still don't know how I got any requests with that word count, considering it's somewhat high for YA, especially YA from an unknown author. Melissa and I did some revisions before we sent the book out to editors, and the word count has since reduced by about 10,000 words.

I hope that proved at least slightly useful!

(For more on queries, I cannot recommend Query Shark highly enough. Janet Reid may be snarky and sharp - which I personally love - but she knows what agents are looking for and she certainly gets results!)

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

A Challenge to Blog Readers: Can you figure out what this means?

This would be a lot more effective if I had a photo, but alas, it was one of those moments where you don't realize what you've seen until you're way past it - and the road was much too narrow to turn around and drive back on.

In short, Steve and I spent our first week in India with my parents in Coorg, a district about five hours from Bangalore that's full of forest, wild animals and coffee/tea/pepper plantations. While we were driving from one town in Coorg to the tiny town near where my father's coffee estate is, we happened to pass a bus stop.

On the outer wall of the bus shelter was a large arrow pointing up a very narrow and dusty little road. Above the arrow were three words, ostensibly the name of the place the arrow was pointing to. These words were


Now for the life of us, we could not figure out or agree on what this place could possibly be. We spent about an hour of hilarity trying to work out how those three words could possibly even relate to one another - and failed, because, quite frankly, they don't really relate to one another at all, do they? 'Bliss' and 'dew' have never before been seen in the same sentence like that.

Yet there they were. Parvathi's Bliss Dew.

So once again, I must put it to you, blog readers, because I have run out of ideas. What is Parvathi's Bliss Dew? What mysterious place lay at the top of that road? What do those words even mean?

Cookies and scones and balloons for the funniest and/or most satisfying answer!

Sunday, 21 November 2010

In Defense of the Adverb

Yes, I know. I'm being scandalously controversial by even contemplating this post. But I really and truly believe that adverbs are not such a Great Evil Thing. I mean, they were invented for a reason, right? Shouldn't we, as writers, be allowed to use them?

The real Great Evil Thing? Overuse of adverbs. I don't think using them at all is a bad thing. In fact, sometimes it's downright useful.

For example, the following words of dialogue:

"I don't think I can trust you anymore," she said.

Now in many cases, context will provide the reader with the speaker's tone of voice. Knowing the character will help too. But in many other cases, words like these could be said in many different, equally suitable, tones of voice. Is she angry? Is she saying it quietly? Is she saying it sadly? Is she joking, to lighten the mood? Was she angry before but now she's tired and resigned? Without an adverb, it's hard to set the right mood here, it's hard to give the reader a clear picture of the character's thoughts or feelings.

Of course, I could have said

She let out her breath, suddenly tired and resigned. "I don't think I can trust you anymore," she said.

Which gives us the right information without using an adverb. But while this works here, what about this-

She clenched her fists and gritted her teeth and glared. "I don't think I can trust you anymore," she said.

The first sentence just feels clunky and long and unnecessary. Better to say "I don't think I can trust you anymore," she said bitterly, which is more concise and effective (I think). 

So yes, adverbs can often be replaced with something else - active description, or nothing at all if the dialogue is clear and suitable - but that doesn't necessarily mean they're the most evil thing to afflict us since writer's block. I think that, used sparingly and effectively, adverbs can make a sentence have a greater impact than it otherwise would.

Fellow writers? What are your two (or a dozen) cents on this?

Friday, 19 November 2010

The awesomeness of Deathly Hallows

So this morning my parents, brother and I went on a family outing to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I, which released in Bangalore today. Some of you may know I am a huge, huge Harry Potter fan and I've been so looking forward to this for ages! And I'm happy to say, it was worth waiting for.

I loved it. Now bear in mind this is me still somewhat in the afterglow of the film, so I might think of a few flaws tomorrow or next week. But as of now, I think it was totally and incredibly awesome and I can't wait to see it again. Honestly, if you like Harry Potter at all, go see this film because it is by the far the best adaptation of the book - largely because, having split the novel into two films, the filmmakers were able to actually explore things this time around. Unlike the previous movie, very little felt rushed or incoherent.

My favourite scenes? They were two sections of the movie I adored so intensely I could have cuddled them. The first is the entire sequence at the Ministry of Magic, where Harry, Hermione and Ron disguise themselves as Ministry employees to infiltrate the building and find one of Voldemort's Horcruxes (a locket). This was brilliantly done - the actors were amazing, it was hilarious and dramatic and thrilling all at once!

The second bit is a scene the screenwriter and director invented for the movie, i.e. it's not in the book. When (spoiler!) a certain character is absent for a part of the movie, Harry tries to comfort and cheer Hermione up by dancing with her. This was funny and touching and just absolutely incredibly done.

Oh, and I loved the end too. Moving and tragic and dramatic. I cried.

I did have a couple of quibbles: a few of the early bits felt like they went by too fast and could have been slowed down a little, and I had some nitpicky issues with the way Ron and Hermione's 'relationship' was suddenly catapulted into something far more touchy-feely than we've ever seen before (and much too abruptly), but these were small things and didn't really diminish my enjoyment of this as a movie.

So, yes. Go see it! It's so much fun.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

6 Unusual Things About Bangalore

I’d best point out that there are many unusual, strange, peculiar, wonderful and downright irritating things about Bangalore to behold if you're a visitor. If you've lived here most of your life and are back visiting your parents for a few weeks, you tend to find most of the aforementioned things fairly normal. But there are certain things that never get old - and never stop being strange!

1. Cows are an optical illusion. You will also find them standing in the middle of the street holding up traffic while they peacefully chew on the grass in the divider, but that's not a surprise to me anymore. What does astound me is their size. I have seen many a cow in my twenty-two and a half years, in India and in the UK and most likely in every other country I've been to as well. But not until yesterday did I fully realize that cows are an optical illusion.

See, from a few hundred feet away - even a few yards away - cows are ordinary, normal-sized creatures. A familiar sight to most of us, who probably see cows in fields or on farms (or streets!) every day. But it's only when they are right next to you - by which I mean they're headbutting your foot to get you to step off the particularly large and delicious leaf they want - that you realize how big they are.

Cows are huge. I'm serious. You don't realize the half of it when they're a fair distance away.

2. You are woken up at the crack of dawn by the sound of no less than three mosques sending out a call to prayer. This is what happens when your parents' house just happens to be in a part of town that happens to have a few mosques dotted around it. And boy, do they boom at five in the morning.

3. There are more restaurants/cafes/places to eat than there are people. Okay, so that's probably a wee bit of an exaggeration, but the sheer number of places offering you food is nevertheless startling. Really. Try to think of the most outlandish or exotic type of cuisine you can and there's an excellent chance Bangalore's got at least one place that serves it. (If you're visiting, I recommend Koshy's. Or Sunny's. Or the rooftop of UB City. Really. The list could go on.)

4. How much you pay an auto rickshaw driver is directly proportional to the amount of rainfall rocketing on the city at that precise moment. The harder it's raining, the more they'll charge you for a trip, knowing that when you're soaking wet and irritable, the last thing you want to do is hang around waiting for another auto to turn up. 

Unless you're me, in which case you occasionally tell an auto driver what to do with his exorbitant fare and march off to flag down the next one, uncaring of torrential thunderstorms cascading upon your head.

5. Graffiti is almost always of a romantic nature. Heaven forbid anybody scrawl or spraypaint religious, moral or philosophical views on bits of wall, fence and anything with a surface. No, the graffiti most often seen in Bangalore involves things like 'Rahul luvs Priya 4Ever' and 'Marry Me, Sunny'. 

On a related note, typos and mistakes on signs in Bangalore are invariably hilarious. Many a hairdressing salon will offer you 'a layered cut' and a 'boob cut', which seems terribly generous for the price they're charging.

On another related note, I discovered a shop a few days ago with a sign proudly proclaiming that the shop is called Traffic Jam. And what does it sell? Yep, that's right. Jam.

6. Where have all the monkeys gone? Bangalore used to be a hotbed of common brown monkeys. My brother's best story involves having a packet of chips stolen from him by a monkey. In fact, I so often tell Steve about the antics of Bangalore's monkeys that, when he visited last year (and this), he was most disappointed not to see a single monkey in the city. The only monkey he managed to see this time was five hours away from the city, a stone's throw from my dad's coffee estate. So that, to be, is a most unusual thing. 

So I put it to you, dear readers, in the hope that your explanations might enlighten and/or entertain me. Where have all the monkeys gone?

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Just a Quick Hello

I think the title says it all, really. Would you believe that this is the first time I've even scrounged together a few spare sane moments to write up a blog post? 

Since Steve and I arrived in Bangalore about nine days ago, it's been crazy! We've been whisked just about everywhere - the pitfalls of having a large extended family - and we've been eating, seeing people and looking for elephants almost constantly. Luckily, the elephant quest has now ended - Steve finally managed to touch one, so he's happy. Photos and details soon!

There have been loads of other exciting things happening, most of them writing-related, and I hope to be able to tell you all about it soon. Once things settle down. Once I don't feel so much like a whirlwind-with-a-headache. 

I miss reading everyone's blogs, and I hope you're all having a great weekend!