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Those of you who have been following my blog for some time know that I’ve been working for the past few years at getting my writing published. I have now signed with the fabulous and inimitable literary agent Jaida Temperly at New Leaf Literary and Media Inc!

This is a dream come true and a huge step in the right direction for me. I’m currently sharpening my historical fiction manuscript BEYOND THE CARVED WALLS (find a few tidbits about it below) to its best shape possible before Jaida can approach editors.

I connected with Jaida, even if a tad indirectly—more details coming up shortly in my next article on this blog—through the Pitch Wars competition founded and hosted by writer-extraordinaire, Brenda Drake.

I’m seriously awed by Brenda’s and all the Pitch Wars mentors’ generosity and

PitchWars-Logo

commitment to helping virtual strangers succeed. The competition not only helped me hone my craft but I also made lasting connections with several wonderful fellow-writers who are as serious about publishing as I am.

Pitch Wars for me, in short, is everything that is positive about the writing scene in the US.

Pitch Wars 2017 is right around the corner, so those of you who are serious about writing and are in it for the long run, do check out the Pitch Wars website and #Picthwars hashtag on Twitter for more information.

I’ll leave you with a short interview (which was first published in Brenda Drake’s website on October 27, 2016) I did along with my fantastic mentor Holly Faur.

Pitch Wars Interview with Hema Penmetsa and her mentor, Holly Faur

Hema: Why did you choose Holly?

Holly’s wish list, her elegant yet quirky website, and her mentoring style indicated that she was easygoing and that she had a wonderful sense of humor (two crucial qualities in someone with whom, with any luck, I’d be working closely for the next two months and hopefully developing a lasting friendship).

Although none of Holly’s favorite books were the same as mine (no problem. It only meant my TBR list just grew more mouth-watering), we had a lot in common when it came to favorite writers and TV shows.

And then her “List!” This was when I got really excited. Each of her requirements read like she was talking to me about my manuscript:

  • Historical – check
  • Strong women – check
  • Diverse characters – check
  • Complicated “unlikeable” people done right (my MC turns into a loathsome woman for part of the story because of circumstances, and if I hadn’t done her right, then I hoped Holly would see the potential and set me straight) – check
  • Cultures and countries around the globe – check
  • Polished and professional manuscripts written by serious and professional people – check

By this time, I was close to swooning with giddiness at the “match factors.” And this is how my submission shot through the ether and lodged into Holly’s Inbox.

I am beyond excited and humbled that among all the sparkling submissions Holly has received, she placed her faith in my writing and chose BEYOND THE CARVED WALLS!

Holly: Why did you choose Hema’s manuscript?

I chose Hema’s manuscript because it would not leave me alone! Besides being everything I wanted–rich in culture and diversity, strong female lead, “foreign lands”–I literally dreamed about it when I was on fence between a few MSs. Sounds silly, but I woke up knowing I HAD to mentor it. Then after talking with Hema on the phone after picks, it just felt like kismet.

Hema: Summarize your book in three words.

Survival, Self-discovery, Redemption.

Holly: Summarize Hema’s in three words.

Betrayal. Strength. Hope.

Hema: Tell us about yourself. What makes you and your MS unique?

Although I currently live in the US, I grew up in India to bed-time tales about its rich past and alternate histories. It gives me great pleasure to acquaint my newfound home with my original homeland through my stories.

I grew up in the regions of India where Hinduism and Islam jostled each other over centuries and settled into their own grooves. This provided me with a singular perspective into the disparate traditions and practices but also similarities in the day-to-day routines of the two religions. This vantage point, twined with my love for history, gave birth to BEYOND THE CARVED WALLS, an adult historical that traces the epic journey of a Hindu girl sold into the Mughal (Islamic) harem in the famine and war-ravaged 16th century India.

Holly: Tell us about yourself. Something we may not know.

I do not own a single book case. As you can imagine, this is a very serious problem. I collect coffee mugs and tea cups. I once won a “sexiest lips” contest. Molly Weasley is my patronus.

–0–

Thank you for stopping by! Hope you enjoyed this little glimpse into my writing world, and I look forward to hearing from you.

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The main character (MC) in my current WIP (Work-In-Progress) loves Mango Lassi. Her dad, who is the better cook in the family and who also happens to be putty in my MC’s hands, makes it for her whenever she craves it.

This version of the recipe has been customized for my MC’s tastes. Basically, it’s simpler to make, but tastes as good as the original. :=)

Owing to its colorful personality, this drink lends itself very well either for a lazy summer afternoon or a rollicking garden party.

 

Mango Lassi
(Mango Milkshake)

 

Ingredients:

¼ cup Mango pulp (available in tins at specialty Indian grocery stores)
½ cup milk (skim or 1% will do)
½ cup buttermilk
a pinch of salt
a few cubes of ice

 

Mix all of the ingredients thoroughly in a blender. The mango pulp usually comes sweetened in the tins. In case it is not, you can sweeten the milkshake using half-a-tablespoon of sugar.

It is as simple as that and makes about 3 servings.

To make this less heavy and more like a punch, dilute it by adding ½ a cup of Sprite or Club Soda to the milkshake.

 

In case you’re interested, here’s the recipe for Aloo Subzi (Potato Curry), also from my WIP, that I posted last summer.

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It takes all kinds to make this world. If everyone liked the same things and hated similar flavors, then where’s the fun? Right?

Until recently I thought that all writers felt the same way towards first drafts and revisions. That is, until I came across an article – titled Dueling with Words – by author Lisa Shearin in the June issue of ‘Writer’.

She says that she invariably prefers revisions to first drafts. So much so that she’s afflicted by a raging case of “First Draftitis” not long after she starts writing a new book.

            While most writers love the discovery aspect of the first draft, let’s just say that it’s not my favorite part of the process. I just want to get the story down as close to how I want it as possible, and then the fun part starts for me.

I was flabbergasted. Really?

In all my naiveté, I’d assumed that everyone loves penning down their thoughts uninterrupted and without being judged (even by self) and coming up with the first draft of their manuscript. And then came the more difficult task of revising.

I’m not saying that the process of revising is hateful in any way; it’s just that, in my experience so far, I’ve found it to be more taxing that shaping the first draft of my novel.  

At this juncture of my writing journey, this is what first draft means to me:

A brick wall I have to scale

 

Revision is something more like this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s your poison?

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I have never been more in awe of whoever it was that had coined the phrase “Ignorance Is Bliss”. Truer words have not been spoken. That person must have been knee-deep in documents related to the world of writing when s/he had an epiphany and yelled those words out.

No, seriously, the more I research the publishing industry and the business side of writing, the more I become aware that it is an infinite ocean.

The art of writing – though on some days, writing feels more like a science experiment gone wrong – is a slippery slope. The faster you try to scale the slope, the faster you lose your foothold and scramble downwards.

I believe writing is something that you discover, experience and learn over time and with patience and perseverance.

As I gather information about literary agents, editors, submission guidelines et al, I keep hearing two words – loud and clear – again and again. Critique Group. That seems to be the mantra today in the writing business, and rightly so!

As the publishing industry stands today, most of the houses are refusing to accept unsolicited manuscripts. In plain speak, they are not accepting manuscripts that come directly, if they are not exclusively requested by them, from the author. They will only look at manuscripts that reached their tables through a literary agent. This guarantees, for them, that the manuscript has gone through at least one round of checking for marketability and viability, along with some editing.

Literary agents, I hear, in turn want to make sure that the manuscript that they consider has at least been objectively reviewed. And this is where our two magic words come in.

A critique group consists of, as its name suggests, a group of people (writers in this case) who come together to critique each other’s work, objectively. Now, that last word is key.

So, who constitutes a good critique group for you? A group of writers who are serious about writing, and are willing to be interested in your work enough to be critical about it.

Choose a group that fits with your personality and your expectations of the level of critique. This is very important, or you’d be left being part of a group that does nothing for your learning process.

It also helps to have the various members of the group writing for different age groups and in various genres. This provides for a better scope of learning.

I have been part of a face-to-face critique group for almost a year — I’ve been lucky enough to find my peers (now my dear friends) on my first try.

I’m told this is not always so. In which case, try different groups until you can find one that suits your needs.

Online critique groups are in now. And why not? They have some advantages (along with disadvantages, of course) over the traditional group. They eliminate the need for meeting in person at a fixed time – you can work at your own pace and time. The same point may also sometimes work as a drawback. Due to lack of a restriction in meeting time, others things may bump critiquing down the list when your plate is full.

It is also advised that you belong to more than one group, in order to get as varied and in-depth an input on your work as possible.

This is what my critique group has been for me when it came to my writing:

–          My support group

–          My coaches

–          My cheering squad

–          My fellow-students

–          The harshest critics of my work

And I wouldn’t want them any other way. I have been fortunate enough to find a group where everyone is serious about writing and is committed to the mutual growth of every member as a writer.

In short, your critique group is a big part of your writing family.

Here are some basics that my group follows implicitly:

When you are offering a critique:

  • Begin the critique you’re offering with positive feedback.

 

  • Any comments (even the negatives you bring up) can and should be made constructively. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to wear kid gloves every time you offer a negative comment, but it doesn’t hurt to modulate it.

 

  • Offer your opinions as such and not as hard facts, because they are just that – your opinions.

 

  • Critique the work and not the writer. Refrain from using words like: “You said here…”. Instead, say, “This character sounds older than his age.” etc.

 

  • Remember that if a character expresses debatable opinions, that does not necessarily mean that the author subscribes to those opinions.

 

When you are receiving critique:

  • Be open-minded. You are asking for feedback, so be prepared to hear both positive and negative comments. In fact, be hopeful that you will receive more of the second kind, which will help you better your work.

 

  • Remember you are not your work – learn to effectively divorce yourself from your writing. This will allow you to receive comments/critiques much more openly.

 

  • Be respectful of others’ opinions. You have asked for them.

 

  • Finally, week after week, if all you hear is “Wonderful work”, “Nothing amiss” etc., then it is time to look for another group.

Did you notice something?

The principles above do not necessarily apply to only writing. They hold equally well to any other situation in life.

Consider the following scenarios, for instance:

–          You are required to review a technical document written by a peer.

–          You are discussing right and wrong with your child.

–          You are trying to pitch a new idea to your boss.

–          You are bargaining for a car at the dealership.

Aren’t the above rules relevant to these settings, too?

I think that’s the beauty of belonging to any group that thrives on the principle of give-and-take. It provides you with the discipline needed not only to have a better life in a particular field, but a better life. Period.

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As a writer, what causes you to come to the realization that another revision to your finished (or so you thought) manuscript is inevitable?

Is it during a cosmic, enlightening moment that you discover the need to venture on yet another cycle of revisions?

Probably not! Most usually it is as simple as:

You’re crossing the road, minding your business. Suddenly, the wind shifts slightly (that only you can perceive), and boom, you feel a revision coming on – a revision that will suck you inside a deep hole and deposit you in a world full of variables and new experiences. You will end up feeling somewhat akin to how Alice must have felt when she found herself, not entirely by her own volition, in Wonderland.

Okay, so I exaggerate … but you get my point?

 

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I have seen some writers post snippets from their work-in-progress (WIP) on their blogs last week and found that a cool idea. So, here’s one from my manuscript. (Is my manuscript close to being finished or is it a WIP? The answer to that depends upon the day you’re asking me the question; and that is a topic for a whole series of posts… so, moving on…)

Where was I? Oh, yes, my manuscript — it is a multicultural fantasy, targeted at middle grade children (ages 8 to 13). This also sort of acts as a precursor to the topics I’d like to discuss in the next few days…

Comments? Suggestions? Critiques? They are very welcome – please send them my way!

****

             wait for her mother to join us so they could all start grilling us.

kept fidgeting and looking at the doorway, as if she couldn’tMeenagchi

            “Mother!” she finally yelled, making me jump. “Come along,

Mother – everyone is waiting for you.”

            “You have to learn to be patient, Daughter,” her father chided her gently.

            “Yes, Father.” Meenagchi lowered her head, but her tone made

it obvious that it was something she was reminded of constantly.

            For a few minutes everyone was quiet. Then Meenagchi suddenly

turned to Nitu, her eyes intent. “Why would you wish to wander around

in the company of two boys?”

            At first, Nitu looked confused; then her face lit up with amusement

and she grinned in my direction. Ankit pressed his hands to his mouth, trying

hard to smother his giggles.

             The blood rushed up to my face and I glared at Ankit — not that it was

effective in shutting him up or anything. Then I looked down at myself. Here

I was, dressed in a drab pair of pants and a pale colored t-shirt, with my

long hair pulled into a tight ponytail. By contrast, Nitu was dressed in

a bright-colored skirt and a pretty blouse, and her long hair tumbled

loosely over her shoulders.

            I found it annoying, not to mention humiliating, to have to justify my

sense of style, or lack of it, to someone I met only minutes ago.

            I looked up and stammered an explanation. “Um… I’m a girl, too. Girls …

can dress this way, too, in my country.”

            “Really? You are a girl? It never would have occurred to me.” Meenagchi

burst into gales of laughter.

            Frowning, I looked away from her.

            “She doesn’t mean that, Jiya!” Nitu poked me playfully in the ribs,

trying to pacify me.

            Cheliyan, who had been observing the whole exchange with interest,

turned to his sister. “Will you ever learn to behave properly?” However, from

his reddened face I could tell that he had originally mistaken me for a boy,

too. Just great!

            Grinning, Meenagchi flicked away a lock of her hair in response to her

brother’s reproach.

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PART B

Critique:

Hema: Is it advisable to get your manuscript read to a classroom before it is published?

Mark: No, not at all! (Mark was emphatically unequivocal about this point.) This exercise will not produce an objective critique for your manuscript, which is what you should be seeking. And I say this for two reasons:

  • The kids will say they love it anyway, because the book will provide a break for them in the day’s routine.
  • The teacher will say she’s excited about it; I was a teacher myself, so I know. Most everyone when they ask for criticism, they’re only willing to listen to positive comments about their work. So, the teacher will only focus on the positive aspects of the manuscript and will not be able to provide the kind of objective critique you’re looking for.

So, I do not suggest this kind of exposure for your manuscript. You should be part of a critique group which has published authors, or authors who are working at getting published. They can provide objective comments for your work.

I would advise you strongly against including anything like “I had my manuscript read to a classroom and the kids loved it” in a query letter; no one will look at it favorably.

(I always thought that reading it to a classroom would be a good beta test for one’s manuscript. Mark’s answer was sure an eye-opener for me!)

Questions Related to McVeigh Agency:

 

Clients:

 

Hema: What are you looking for in a client?

Mark: I am looking for authors who: 

  • Have a unique voice.
  • Have something they need to say that will be of interest to a wider audience.
  • Take a professional approach to writing.
  • Are willing to take criticism.
  • Are aware of industry trends and market direction.
  • Can write multiple genres for multiple age groups: picture books, middle grade, young adult, the lot.
  • Are not reluctant to talk to the agent. Authors should be upfront about what’s working and what’s not in their relationship with me. When I provide them with editorial suggestions, they don’t always have to take them. They should be able to tell me if they don’t agree with my suggestions.

Hema:    What is the ratio of established authors vs. new authors in your client list?

Mark:    About 2/3 of my clients are established authors and the rest are new talent.

 

Query Process:

Hema: What do you look for in a query?

Mark: I look for a letter that is simple and professional. See the submission guidelines in my web site for more details.

Hema: Writing a good query letter is a whole different ballgame than writing a good story. It’s very hard for the author’s voice to come through within the expected 250 words or so. I see that your submission guidelines include a query letter and the first 20 pages of the manuscript. So, if a query letter does not grab your attention, do you leave it at that, or do you go ahead and read the pages included in the email?

Mark: When the query doesn’t grab my attention, I do go on to read ten or so of the pages included. It depends upon those initial pages whether I will go ahead and read all 20 of them.

Hema: Thank you very much, Mark, for taking time out of you busy schedule to answer my questions!

======

At this point, I had at least a dozen more questions that I would have loved for Mark to answer for me, but the 15 minutes allotted me were regrettably up.

Mark’s new blog is going to be officially launched soon, with interviews with publishing legends, give-aways, videos, and more. He also promises to up the gossip quotient to make it worth the time for those who follow his blog.

Need more reasons? Then how about this: he is going to give away more of these free chats in the first week of April! So, go on and start following his blog, if you aren’t already doing so.

It was a pleasure to talk to Mark, and he gave me a lot of food for thought. Thank you, Mark, for sharing all this excellent information with me and the readers of my blog!

Here’s Part A of the same interview.

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