Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Dear Pitch Wars 2015 Mentees

Okay guys, I'm late to the party on this post so I'm going to keep it short and sweet. Basically, this is a letter to the mentees who will soon be announced for Pitch Wars 2015, the contest I entered last year that helped me sign with an agent. My fellow mentors have said pretty much everything worth saying (seriously, they're a ridiculously smart, kind, generous, and savvy group of writers), but I have a little story I want to share.

I used to be a silently competitive writer. I didn't believe in supportive writing groups; I thought all that happy lovey-dovey critique partner stuff on Twitter was fake. Any time a blogger I knew got an agent, I felt like it was one less chance for me to sign with an agent. I truly believed there was only so much luck to go around, and that other people's successes were my loss. This, as you can imagine, was not a very happy way to be.

When I got into Pitch Wars I was ecstatic. Maybe my luck was finally changing. I worked hard on my revisions for my mentor, but just a few days before the contest, she asked me to change my first chapter. Only it was too late. I'd already turned in my entry. And I PANICKED. Like, I literally had a panic attack. I was sure I wasn't going to get any requests during the agent round. When other people started getting requests, I was so full of envy that I wasn't even happy when I got a couple of requests of my own. A certain person had a fantasy novel with a similar title to mine, and she was getting requests right and left. Why would anyone want my book when she had an amazing first page and a similar theme? I was sure I wouldn't get more than a couple requests.

But then I started to get more and more. I ended up with 12. This certain person, who ended up being the winner of last year's Pitch Wars, had 13. Within a few days of the contest she had an offer from one of my dream agents. Again, I was sure that her success meant I was destined to fail.

A couple of days later, I had my first agent offer. I was shocked and elated in equal measure. And then I got two more offers. And suddenly I found myself on utterly foreign ground. I had no idea what I was doing. But two other writers in the Pitch Wars Facebook group were going through the same thing, including that writer who had won Pitch Wars. So, on a whim, I reached out to them.

It's been nearly a year since then, and those two writers - the hilarious and stupidly talented Nikki Roberti, who started our Facebook group and is now Brenda's assistant, and Elly Blake, who won Pitch Wars because she is a freaking rockstar but also turned out to be one of the sweetest, most generous people I've ever met - are two of my best friends. And the other eighty-something people in our Facebook group have become those happy lovey-dovey writing friends I didn't believe existed. Through them, I've learned that there is not only plenty of luck to go around, but plenty of friendship, plenty of shared joy and sorrow, plenty of humor and humility and love.

For several years I dreamed that Pitch Wars would help me land an agent. I had no idea it would introduce me to some of the best people I've had the privilege of knowing. So that, dear Pitch Wars 2015 mentee, is what I hope you take away from this contest. Your fellow mentees' successes are your successes, just as their losses will be yours. Learn from each other. Lean on each other. Make the most of this amazing opportunity.

And whatever you do, DON'T PANIC. You've got this.

And don't forget to visit Tracie Martin's blog for the rest of the mentor's links!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Pitch Wars 2015!

Hi all! I just wanted to say it here - I'm co-mentoring in Pitch Wars 2015 (the contest that helped me land an agent last year) with my mentor, Jessie Humphries. I'm so excited to be a part of this contest from the other side, and to pay this opportunity forward to another deserving writer. You can read more about Jessie and me and what we're looking for over at Jessie's blog.

In a nutshell - I want all the YA Speculative Fiction, particularly Fantasy! We will of course consider YA of all stripes, but YA Fantasy is what I write and love. If you can create worlds like Laini Taylor, Maggie Stiefvater, Leigh Bardugo, and Victoria Schwab, send me your stuff. I also like a little darkness thrown in, a la Neil Gaiman and even Stephen King.

Jessie helped point out some major plot holes in my novel, WINTERSOUL, and as an editor I can really whip your manuscript into shape. We are both easy to communicate with and, while we take the contest seriously, we aren't serious people. Meaning there are no stupid questions - we want to help YOU learn and grow through Pitch Wars. The most amazing part of the contest is all the wonderful people you will meet through the process. A shiny, submission-ready manuscript and maybe even some requests aren't bad either. ;)

Can't wait to see what you've got!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Mommy Mondays: Bonding Over Books

When I found out my first baby was going to be a boy, I was scared. What was I going to do with a BOY? I had boxes of porcelain dolls and Breyer horses packed away since high school for my future daughter. My poor American Girl Doll, Molly, had been waiting patiently for her chance to don her yellow rain slicker once more (it has since melted). I didn't know the first thing about Thomas the Train, and I was rather blissful in my ignorance.

Then, for my baby shower, my sister made me a little card:
"Remember: Shakespeare, Kipling, Tolkien, Twain; all boys."

I still have that card. It was the perfect reminder that my true love - books, both reading and writing them - could just as easily be shared with a son as a daughter. Since then, reading to Jack has become one of my favorite parts of being a parent. We read something almost every night without fail. I am counting down the days until he's old enough for Harry Potter.

Of course, at the time I had no idea that Jack would take to writing the way he has. After he penned his first masterpiece, "Marshmallow Joins," last year, he has gone on to write and illustrate seven more books. He's even got his own folder on my desktop. A few of weeks ago I took Jack with me to Starbucks to work, and after we discussed narrative arcs and inciting incidents, he came up with a story called "Meteors" about a little boy who saves the world from a meteor that falls into an underwater volcano. It's actually pretty good, if I do say so myself.

Our hero, Zyrus, with his mommy and pet labradoodle.

Late last year I started buying Jack "chapter books." We've read several from the Roald Dahl collection I picked up at Costco (James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Matilda) as well as The Wizard of Oz and Stuart Little. His observations are surprisingly astute ("This book has no plot," he declared midway through Stuart Little, and he's spot on with that one). To give E.B. White a chance to redeem himself, we picked up Charlotte's Web.

When I started writing, it was always in the back of my head that I wanted an accomplishment of my own, something my children could be proud of someday. I wanted Jack to be able to point to a book shelf and say, "My mom did that." But I never imagined my love of books would be the thing I shared with my sons.

There are many days when I worry I've spent too much time buried in my laptop instead of paying attention to my kids, when I'm preoccupied with an idea instead of focusing on a game of catch, when I let the baby stay in his crib a few extra minutes (or, you know, thirty) so I can finish a scene. Most days I feel guilty that I'd rather be writing than entertaining Will, that I'm simply not as passionate about mothering as I am about creating new worlds. I love my boys more than anything, but being a mom doesn't fulfill me in every possible way, and it shouldn't have to. I'm happy to have something outside of them, and I hope one day they'll appreciate it too.

Yesterday, we came to the point in Charlotte's Web where Fern describes the fair as the best thing she's ever done in her whole life. So I asked Jack, what was his favorite thing he's ever done? His answer caught me completely off guard.

"Going to Starbucks and writing down books with you," he said.
"Really?" I asked through my tears. "Not going to Disney World or something?"
"No. Because writing books is my favorite thing in the whole world."

There are many days where I feel like I've failed as a mother, but yesterday was not one of them.


(Note: I wrote this post on Saturday. Yesterday I TOTALLY failed as a mother. But that's another story for another time...)




Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Writing Wednesdays: An Update

It's been a while since I've blogged about writing, so I thought I'd give a brief update as to what I've been up to. You may have noticed I'm not blogging nearly as much as I used to. This is a combination of having been home all day almost every day with both kids since we moved, an effort to spend any free time I do have either writing or revising, and the fact that I may be suffering from Blogging Burnout.

Believe it or not, this is my 495th post on Scribble Babble. I'm seriously considering retiring it at 500, although I may continue to update it should any hilarious Jack stories arise (and I'm hoping Will's going to start providing material soon, too). Back when I started writing young adult fiction in 2010 or so, we were all told we needed blogs. And we all dutifully started them. But I've noticed fewer and fewer of my writing friends maintaining regular blogging schedules lately, in part because many of them have gone on to sign with agents and even publish books. It's hard to justify blogging when you've got deadlines for an actual paid gig. I think blogging became so ubiquitous that it no longer made you stand out from the crowd. You simply *were* the crowd.

In terms of writing, I just received the list of editors my agent is going to submit WINTERSOUL to and I couldn't be more excited. I would be extremely fortunate to call any of them my editor. I hope you guys will send out some good vibes for me. I'm so ready to start the next phase of this journey!

In the meantime, I'm working on a new manuscript I started back when I lived in Russia. I've got the green light from my agent to keep working on it based on the first few chapters, and that's what I'm devoting my time to now that Jack is in camp a few hours a day. When school starts in early August I'll really be able to get to work, and I can't wait to be back in full-on drafting mode. Drafting is my favorite part of writing, when I get to create a new world and populate it with people entirely from my imagination.

So that's my update. I've also got a "real" website now. There's not much to it but feel free to check it out: www.mararutherford.com

I hope I'll have something more exciting to share in the coming months, and for those of you still reading my blog after all these years, thank you!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Foreign Service Fridays: The Food Post (Part I)

A quick post about some of the delicious food here in Lima is up over on Most Eligible Family. We're heading out of town tomorrow for our first Peruvian vacation! Happy Friday all!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Everyday

I think one of the hardest things about moving to a new place is adjusting to a new everyday routine. Right now, without a car, we're "trapped," as John put it. That may sound a little dramatic, but some days it really feels like it's true. Jack isn't in school, Will is more mobile every hour it seems (and we remain baby gate-less, even though two different carpenters have come to measure our stairs), and we are going on one month of the same few toys and books. The things that are easy at "home" - running errands, getting groceries, going to a cafe - are so much harder in a new place.

For example: two weeks ago, I spent hours of my life chasing the fastest, most tenacious ants I've ever seen around our kitchen, until a kindly gentleman from the embassy showed up with Raid. Because the truth is, I didn't have the energy to put both kids (one with a car seat, one sadly without, since I can't take both) and a stroller into a cab (where I inevitably have to dig around for several minutes to find all the seat belts), attempt to navigate in Spanish, search high and low in a store I don't know, call another cab, reload, and come home, just to deal with some damn ants.

Fortunately, a week and a half ago, we hired our empleada, Celia. She is amazing with the kids, is a fabulous cook, cleans the house from top to bottom, runs to the store if I need her to, and translates for me when I'm desperate. And now that I have someone I can leave the kids with for a couple hours here and there, I was able to go out twice last week by myself! (After several weeks of not having a moment to myself, this is a big deal.) Cabbing here is never fun, but it's a hell of a lot easier alone than doing it with two kids in tow.

One of the things I struggle with most is that this area of Lima isn't walkable. But today Celia (who I'm pretty sure was as bored as I am) suggested we go for a walk, so we braved the sidewalk-less streets and made our way to a little park near our house. It's just a series of winding dirt paths, but it's a quiet place where people go to walk their dogs and sit in the shade.


Parque Jerusalem (or "the Jewish park" as Jackie calls it).

Behind the park is a street full of little markets and shops. We stopped for cookies at a bakery and Celia bought three massive plantains and a bag full of green beans for less than 3 soles (about a dollar).

"Stop taking pictures already!"

Jack is not impressed by the purple corn.

It was nice to feel like we're in a neighborhood, rather than just a series of walls and gates, with only the rooftops of our neighbors' houses visible.

Walls and dirt mountains don't make for the best view.
But bright flowers and happy kids help.

And cookies! Don't forget the cookies!
I know that once we have our car, Jack is in school, and I get into a writing routine, things will be a lot more comfortable. I miss my friends, but I'm grateful for Facebook and Skype (even if John thinks I spend way too much time on my phone), and we have our first trip planned for next weekend! I'm excited to get out and see something beyond Lima.

Starting over is never easy, but I know how fortunate we are to be here. I really want to make the most of our time in Peru, because even though it doesn't always feel like it, two years of everydays will go by in the blink of an eye.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Foreign Service Fridays: Lima: First Impressions

I FINALLY got around to blogging! I talk a little about our first impressions of our new home, Lima, Peru, over at Most Eligible Family.

I'm hoping to get back to a regular blogging schedule in the next couple of weeks. I hope everyone has a fabulous weekend!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Writing Wednesdays: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

A couple of months ago, when I was in the throes of revision misery, some Pitch Wars friends mentioned they were commissioning artists to illustrate scenes from their novels. I'm a very visual person and loved the idea of seeing my work brought to life, plus I thought it would be a good distraction while I waited to hear back from my agent.

My main character is half-Japanese-American and loves manga, so I knew I wanted a manga feel to my picture. I scoured DeviantArt until I found an artist whose work I loved who also took commissions. Then I described one of the opening scenes of my novel and let her go to work. I finally got the piece the other day, and I think it looks pretty fabulous!


If anyone is looking for a new way to get inspired by their work, I totally recommend doing something like this! It really was a great distraction, and I plan to feature the piece on my author blog some day.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Three Weeks Until Moving Day

(Reposting this from Most Eligible Family, because it's Foreign Service and normal-life related, I think. Also, I've had so little time to blog lately! I have some decisions to make about blogging in the future, but I can say for certain I won't be doing much in the next three weeks while I finish up this round of revisions and prepare for our move!)

I can't believe how quickly the time has gone. Only three more weeks until we leave DC (we'll be in Miami for a couple of days for consultations and then it's off to Lima). I am not ready. Not physically or mentally. There is always so much to do before a move, and it seems like it all has to happen at the last minute. I have to go through everything we own and start culling, because we are short on weight limits somehow. And even though I've gotten good at letting go of material possessions (I'm ruthless these days, because in this lifestyle you have to be), I have a particularly hard time parting with the kids' stuff. I wanted to take Will's crib and dresser with me, but it doesn't look like we'll have the weight, so I have to sell them. Jack's loft bed also has to go. I think part of it is that this house has really been perfect for us this past year, and I don't want to leave it.

On the bright side, we got our housing assignment and it looks great. A big, modern house with a lot of space (and four bedrooms, so I will be expecting lots of visitors!). It also looks like a death-trap for small children, so I'm interested to see how GSO is going to "baby proof" it. We're talking a fountain out front, an outdoor staircase in the back, a deck with open rails on the second floor, all hardwood or tile floors, etc. But I will say that it looks modern and spacious, and I feel very fortunate to have gotten it.

Moving is probably my least favorite thing in the world, so it's fabulous that I married a man who drags me all around it. It's actually the logistics of moving that bother me - I enjoy the change (although maybe "enjoy" isn't the right word; it's more that I like what happens to me when I'm forced to change). Anyone who has done a military or government move knows that just because someone else is doing the packing and moving for you, there's nothing easy about it. This isn't some across-town move where all your possessions get packed up and relocated. First there's the aforementioned culling due to weight limits. Then there's the separating of household effects (HHE), unaccompanied air baggage (UAB), and items for storage. On moving day (or days) you've got to watch the movers like a hawk to make sure everything goes to the right place. And I have heard some horror stories about moving: trash being wrapped up and sent halfway around the world; teeny tiny items being wrapped in ridiculous amounts of paper to drive the weight up; the usual broken items and things being shipped to the wrong place, etc.

But fortunately, John and I already had what I'm pretty sure will be the worst move of our lives (unless of course the ship with our crap on it sinks, which also happens). You see, way back when, a month before our wedding, the Marine Corps moved us from Texas to San Diego. And somewhere on the way, the truck was caught in high winds and jackknifed, spreading all of our belongings across the desert. When what was salvaged from the accident arrived at our house, we were horrified. Our brand new washer and dryer, John's road bike, a television, a computer, and a bunch of other expensive stuff was destroyed. Other things, like a headboard, a desk, and a box spring, were never found. And then there was my plastic bin full of bras and underwear. When I opened up the drawers I was met not with silk and lace but dirt and rocks. To this day I wonder what became of my underthings; I have a vision of a Texas longhorn with a bra dangling from its horns. When all was said and done, we got $7,000 dollars of the $20,000 or so in damages and loss. I'm not sure that we learned anything from it, but it sure makes all our other moves look pretty darn tolerable.

Over the next three weeks, I hope I can stay somewhat organized and sane. But one way or another, we'll be on our way to Lima very, very soon!


Monday, April 13, 2015

Five Things I Learned at the Iceland Writers Retreat

Those of you who are friends with me on Facebook may recall a post back in August, when John surprised me with the best tenth anniversary gift a girl could dream of: a four day writers retreat in Iceland with Barbara Kingsolver headlining. After months of anticipation and logistical preparation, I finally went last week, and it was even better than I'd imagined.

I could probably write an entire series of posts about how amazing Barbara Kingsolver was, how every time she opened her mouth something funny, kind, or brilliant tumbled out, and how none of it was rehearsed - it's just who she is. One of the things that appealed to me about this retreat was that it wasn't a typical conference setting, where people are more focused on networking and attracting an agent's attention than learning. And I loved the idea of spending time outside the workshops with the authors, who were invited to all the same meals and excursions as the participants. But I never imagined I'd get to spend nearly two hours talking to Barbara between workshops, or eat breakfast at the same table as her almost every day, or stand next to her at the top of a waterfall. I was so surprised by her accessibility and generosity, and her complete lack of of pretense. Is there anything better than finding out that one of your very favorite authors is also one of the nicest people you've ever met?

At any rate, I could gush about Barbara Kingsolver forever, but I won't. Here, in no particular order, are some of the pieces of wisdom I gleaned from the authors during the Iceland Writers Retreat. Erica and Eliza, the founders of the retreat, have really created something special. If you have the opportunity to go, I can't recommend it enough.

1) "Bad memoirs come out of youth; Good novels come out of middle age."
Adam Gopnik is hilarious. I didn't take his workshops but I got to speak to him a little and heard him read on our first night. His essay on learning to drive had me laughing out loud. One of the things Adam said he loved about the retreat was that it wasn't filled with a bunch of young people who want to write memoirs and have zero life experience. The retreat was geared more toward people in their thirties, forties, fifties, and beyond, many who have never completed a book. It's such a good reminder that the majority of writers don't "make it" in their twenties.

2) "Find the internal contradiction."
One of my favorite workshops was "Character Development" by Allison Pick. Allison told us that internal contradiction is what makes characters interesting. Considering my agent had just mentioned that my main character's arc was feeling a little flat, this was the perfect advice. No one wants to read about a character who doesn't have anything to learn, or who doesn't grow or change throughout the course of the novel. Point taken.

3) "Revision is where art happens."
I think this may be one of the writing lessons it's taken me longest to learn. When I first started writing, I had no idea how much revision it took to get a book from first draft to published novel. I got my second edit letter the first night of the retreat, and I can assure you that I'm becoming very familiar with revision. If I'd known when I started out that even bestselling authors like Barbara Kingsolver spend months revising their work, I don't think I would have given up on some of my earlier projects so easily.

4) "Make a promise to the reader in the first chapter."
When I told Barbara that my agent wants me to rewrite my first chapter, the first thing she did was ask me why. I told her he thought it gave too much away, which she agreed was a problem. Then she gave me this little gem of advice. She mentioned in her workshop that the best books are the ones where you say, "I knew that was going to happen!" even though you didn't really know for sure. I plan on looking back at some of her first chapters and trying to determine the promise.

5) "Always do the scariest thing."
The last morning of the retreat, the authors participated in a round-table discussion and answered questions from the audience. Several of the authors explained that they know they're on to something when an idea terrifies them. Ruth Reichl was referring to writing when she told us to "always do the scariest thing," but over the past few years I've come to find it applies to all aspects of life. It certainly served me well last week. These types of "camp" situations terrify me, and it would be very easy to hide behind my social anxiety, but I would have missed out on so much if I had, including a long conversation with my writing hero.

I learned a lot more during the retreat, but these were some of the things that stuck with me. And now it's time for me to take some of that brilliant advice and go back into my revision cave. Wish me luck!