The Off Beats
So who are these Off Beats and what is an Off Beat anyway?
We’re a like-minded group of writers who have bonded in a very real way over twitter and email. We’re critique partners and buddies, helping each other along the publishing road, one step at a time. We help restructure each others MSs, tear apart queries, and cry together over the fact that there seems to be no writer in the universe who can actually write a synopsis.
Without further ado, let me introduce the Off Beats:
Reading and writing are the beautiful secrets written in Lizzy’s soul. In any room of her home, you will find a copy of Pride and Prejudice (yes, she has a bathtub copy) and, if a Harry Potter novel isn’t on her mantel, she’s re-reading it for the one hundredth time. Her favorite genre to write is young adult contemporary novels with romantic elements. Although her writing is grounded in reality, she’s the first to stand up for the Loch Ness Monster, Sasquatch, and is still waiting for her letter from Hogwarts. Lizzy is also the mother to two spunky toddlers, wife to a musician, and she works as a neonatal intensive care nurse caring for sick newborns and premature babies. With her healthcare background, Lizzy is a Community Fellow for the popular Minnesota public policy blog MN2020.org where she writes about childhood development, education, and wellness. She’s also an amateur photographer and singer (when her husband drags her on stage). She hates word games, loves science documentaries and math problems, and she considers dark chocolate her daily vitamin.
Find out more about her here:
Twitter – @LizzyCharles_
A fan of monsters that kill you versus ones that you date, Catherine Scully is a writer and illustrator of all things dark and whimsical. She served as Editor with literary magazines The Nomad and Vision and Voice, worked as an illustrator for the U.S. Army, and designed branding for clients like AT&T, Comedy Central, and Cartoon Network. Currently, she is the Young Adult Section Editor for the Horror Writers Association while she works on her young adult supernatural horror series JENNIFER STRANGE. She can usually be found watching Sam Raimi movies with her husband, son, and pet rabbits.
Find out more about her here:
Twitter – @CatMScully
Email – CatherineScully.Writer@gmail.com
Katrina Sincek graduated from West Virginia Wesleyan College in 2007 as an English major with a creative-writing concentration. She freelanced for the college’s newspaper, acted as student editor for the campus’s literary magazine, and participated in a student led critique group. Currently, she is living in Pittsburgh and pursuing her writing career while working as a bookkeeper for a local municipality.
Twitter – @Katrina_Sincek
Abby Cavenaugh is a small-town newspaper editor by day, and an aspiring-to-be-published author by night. She enjoys reading all genres, and recently has taken on writing a new genre- YA paranormal. Her other works have all been contemporary romance or women’s fiction, but she’s enjoying taking a stab at something new. She lives in North Carolina with her twin sister, also a writer, her 5-year-old niece and their crazy cat, Gus. Originally from southeastern North Carolina, Abby dreams of retiring from her day job to live at Wrightsville Beach and write novels until the end of time.
Find out more about her here:
Twitter – @abswrites
Fiona McLaren is represented by Jamie Bodnar Drowley and Marissa Corvisiero of the Corvisiero Literary Agency. She writes YA Contemporary fiction and is currently working on a YA Gothic novel and a new YA supernatural WIP. She is crazy-mad about horses and dogs, and has had extensive collections of both. She will fight you for the last can of Coca Cola in a room.
Find out more about her here:
Twitter – @BookOmnivore
This is a ‘bio’, but I’ve already told the basics of my life on my website, so if you want to know the deets on me, you can check there. Instead of saying the same thing again here, I thought I’d share a little something different about myself. The reason I like to read about other authors is because I want to know how they think; what’s it like in their head?
So what’s in my head? Well often it’s the usual… ‘What do I cook for dinner? Why do I bother cooking dinner? Can’t they just eat sandwiches so I can keep on writing?’ Sometimes though, what’s in my head is crazy outta control. Scenes swirl around in there like tornados, picking up the debris from my life, littering the landscape of my mind. Little pieces of memories, left over feelings about experiences, thoughts about the people I’ve met and places I’ve been, all of these influence everything I write.
There’s a butt load of advice out there about what and how to write. Some say, “Write what you know.” Others say, “Write what you don’t know.” Who knows who’s right? I say, “Write what you want.”
I also say, “If you’re going to write it, write it well.” When I pick up, make sure it sucks me in so fast and so hard I’m going to totally blow off all the things I should be doing that day. Laundry will go unfolded, dishes undone, and the dog, that poor dirty pooch, will go unbathed all because your book is unputdownable! I measure the quality of a book based on what didn’t get done because of it.
I hope no one who reads my books gets jack-diddly-squat done.
Find out more here:
Twitter – @KHarveyWrites
COMING SOON, the bio for AMY CAVENAUGH, the newest and final member of TheOffBeats!
If you would like to ask any of The Off Beats a question, are an agent interested in representing their work, or a huge movie producer looking for the next big thing, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!
In the mean time, please feel free to read the interview of The Off Beats below:
1. So, you’re a writer…how did that come about? Where did it all start?
I wrote in high school, nothing long, just short stories and poems. Having always been a voracious reader, I’ve often said ‘one day I’m gonna write a book’. Now I have. How the book started (Cliff Notes Version): My talented daughter, Alex, is an artist. She did a drawing of an angel all decked out in battle gear. When I looked at the picture, I had this thought, ‘what if she was just a regular girl who woke up one morning with wings.’ An image popped into my mind of a pretty girl sitting up in bed with feather down stuck to her lip, she thought it was from her feather pillow leaking… it wasn’t. (Oh, and DEVASTATION, it’s NOT about angels.)
I knew I wanted to become an author in first grade. Each “book” I wrote started and ended with the same sentence– I thought that was so cool. My elementary “story” assignments were epic, and when I had time to myself, I was writing super secret projects, my favorite being a story about a fly who was afraid to poop (not kidding). In high school and college, my love for writing hung out under the rug but I read books like they were water. But it wasn’t until after the birth of my first daughter, when I realized how much I wanted to raise a girl that believed in herself and worked hard for her dreams, that I knew it was time to write my novel. I wasn’t starting motherhood as a hypocrite. The novel poured out of me over the course of eighteen months (and another daughter showed up too!).
Honestly, I was an artist first. I drew for years and years, but when it came time to pick a major, my parents were pretty against the whole starving artist degree. So, if I was going to accept their paying for college, they wanted me to pick something else. I happened to get into a freshman creative writing course and thought it was going to be like every other writing class I ever had in high school (I went to a Math/Science school… you get the picture) and was in shock to find I could write about anything I wanted. I even remember asking the teacher, “Really? I can write twenty five pages about any fiction story I want?” I was hooked. I’ve been hooked ever since all the way to getting my Bachelors in writing and now my MFA.
A LONG time ago. My mom still has a drawing I did when I was too young to read or write. I drew the picture and dictated a little story. It involved bears, a rose, and some sort of cliff. Spoilers: The bear eventually picked his rose and was not placed in an imminent danger near the cliff. Haven’t stopped writing since.
I have wanted to be a writer ever since I can remember. But I got “serious” about it when I first read Dean Koontz at about age 12 and thought, “I could do that.” Ah, the arrogance of youth. I do not write nearly as amazingly as Dean Koontz but I try.
I’ve written for as long as I can remember. My first published work was a poem when I was 12 years old. My first 90K word book was when I was sixteen (a very badly written crime novel). I earned my stripes with terrible, angsty poetry and then progressed into sending badly written novels out to anyone who would read then. I’d like to think I’ve moved up a step now…but who knows?
2. And you’ve joined the Off Beats writing group – what do you hope to gain from the experience?
I mostly joined the group because I’m one of those people who likes to belong (someday I’ll work through this with a therapist, I promise). You, Fiona, and Lizzy Froehle were already my critique partners, and, with the exception of one, the rest of TheOffBeats I knew through Twitter. So when the group gelled I was thrilled at the prospect of getting more eyes on my MS (and future MSs), because I truly believe it’s the best way to get it polished enough to shine brighter than anything else in the slush pile.
On the flip side, I love to read… Now really, how cool is it to be one of the very first people to ever read a book? Well, I get to do that when I CP for others… then, when it gets published I’ll know I was a part of that. How exciting!
I think it goes without saying that I hope to have my writing challenged and nurtured from my fellow Off Beaters. But really, I’m in it for the friendship and bonds we will form as we all journey towards being agented and seeing our novels on the bookshelves in the store. I’m astonished at how quickly bonds of friendship can form through my first few critiquing experience and I’m hoping for more.
Definitely supporting each other, first and foremost. I mean, critiques are always excellent to have and necessary when fixing your own work, but I think the greatest benefit to being a part of the Off Beats is sharing our ups and downs with each other. It makes the endless sea of submissions a little less lonely when you have other partners who are trying to get published or represented just like you.
Everything! Wisdom, experience, technical skill, etc etc. I’ve never conspired…er worked…with a group of writers before, but, so far, I’ve loved every minute of it!
Critique help, support from fellow writers. You all have already helped me out a ton!!
Friendship and moral support. Don’t get me wrong, the critiquing side is great, but it’s not my main priority here. What I want is to develop good friendships with the next generation of writers to hit the bookstores. This is a tough industry, so the more friends you have the better. I also like to give back and love critiquing other people’s work.
3. Of course, we’d all love to know about your book. What’s your elevator pitch?
Oh, gracious… you would ask for an elevator pitch! UGH! I have the hardest time with this, although I know it’s important to have one. Okay, I’ll make a stab at it.
Sixteen-year-old Lexa, an alien hybrid with giant-ass wings and a puke producing aversion to heights, falls for her lifelong BFF Gabe, who might not feel the same. When she’s abducted by enemy aliens, Gabe comes to her rescue. However, if Lexa can’t overcome her fears to escape the aliens’ deadly ship before takeoff, they’re screwed and humanity is left targeted for extermination.
(*covers each critique partner’s mouth* Stop laughing guys!)
“Hi, Awesome Agent, I hear you are passionate about contemporary YA novels?”
“I am,” says the awesome agent. “Do you by chance write them?”
“I do. My novel’s called Primer, 75,000 words.”
“Tell me about it.” The agent taps the button for the 6th floor.
“From “living hell” to “It Girl”, Lucy Zwindler’s life takes a total one eighty in just one year.”
“Hmm.” Agent says while reaching for phone.
“But when caught sneaking out, she’s sentenced to a summer job, where she meets senior Justin, who points out every aspect of her faked “popular” persona and knows all about her bullied freshman year.”
Agent stops reaching for phone, and looks me back in the eye. Total intrigue.
“Lucy falls for Justin, hard, but, if her feelings aren’t reciprocated, she may lose more than the love of her life–she may lose her only true friend.”
DING. Elevator stops on 6th floor. Agent hands me a card. “Please send me your full.”
Elevator door closes.
For generations, the Blackwelll family of Mediums and Ghost Hunters has helped lost ghosts cross over and fought the deadly, soul-eating wraiths. Fifteen-year-old Marcus is next in line to lead his family, but only if he can find a powerful Medium to act as ghost bait. While on assignment to help a mother find her dead son, Marcus stumbles on Jennifer Strange and her unique ability to touch ghosts. He thinks tricking Jennifer into joining his clan will be easy, but never imagined that he would fall for her.
Despite seing a ghost child rip apart her class in a chemical fire, Jennifer still doesn’t believe in the supernatural. When she meets handsome but snarky Marcus and learns that she is a Medium, Jennifer understands the circumstances surrounding her father’s disappearance are not only linked to her new power, they’re tied into the Blackwell family. Now, Jennifer and Marcus must work together to help develop her budding abilities and destroy a wraith before it devours the soul of the young ghost.
1. (Paranormal Romance) Belligerent prima-donnas aren’t the only danger lurking in the theater—if the demons stalking Madeline don’t kill her before opening night, Heaven just might.
2. (Paranormal Romance) Blind dates are usually awkward, but Ally expected her night to end with an exchange of phone numbers, not gunfire.
3. (Romantic Fantasy) Cursed to bear the pain and mortality of her region’s conquering warlord, Rosalina is hunted by seditious priests who believe her death will enable them to kill the warlord.
Well, since I have shelved my contemporary romance novel, GOING HOME AGAIN, for the time being, I will tell you about my WIP. It’s a YA paranormal, which I’ve never tried to write before, but basically, Sydney has seen ghosts all her life, but then one particularly pesky spirit shows up and won’t leave her alone until she helps him. Through this experience, she learns she has to embrace her “gift,” when she’d rather focus on being a regular teenager and an inappropriate crush on her hottie English teacher.
You can find the elevator pitches for my work here: http://yabookcase.blogspot.co.uk/p/my-books.html
4. Do you have plans for another WIP? Any top secret clues about what it might involve?
Aside from the sequel for DEVASTATION, I’ve started a new stand alone MS, which I’m very excited about (working title- TENDERWOOD). It’s a dark retelling of Beauty and the Beast meets Taming of the Shrew (oh, and the shrew -she’s a genie).
Yes, I am very excited about my upcoming work. Top secret clues involve: Cowboys, Cowballs (gross, I know), and Paris. How’s that?
I have several other WIP. One is a MG Time Travel adventure with Celtic witches, one is a Dark Fantasy series I’ve been working on for about ten years, and, of course, the rest of the Jennifer Strange series!
Yes. Andddddd no. I don’t want to jinx it. But it is the most awesome idea I’ve ever had. : P
My other WIP is women’s fiction, about a 37-year-old woman who’s never married and never wants to, but then she meets not one, but two great guys who mess up her happily single existence. It’s tentatively titled OLD MAID.
I’m working on a supernatural type book for YA. It has three very fiesty brothers in it, so looks to be a sizzling project to work on!
5. What’s your biggest advice to new writers?
As a new writer myself, I’m not sure I’m qualified to give advice, but I will anyway, because this is so much fun! Biggest advice? Let’s see… I could give a list of websites and blog posts which have helped me to ‘hone my craft’, but none of that will do anyone any good if they’re reading the advice and not putting it to use, so the biggest advice would be to just write! Thinking about writing, learning about writing, all those things we do in preparation- they don’t get it done. You have to plop your ass down and get words on paper -or screen.
The craft of writing doesn’t come from putting words on a page. It comes from meticulous editing. Prepare yourself. It’s grueling work that if done correctly should drag you through tears, headaches, a near file deletion, doubt and pain. But when you’re done, man, does that manuscript shine!
I hate to mimic every other person with writing advice ever by saying “Write and Read,” so I’ll add to it – find a critique group! You need it more than you know. Trust me. Don’t send your work without sending it by many careful pairs of eyes. That being said, make sure your critique group knows how to edit, knows about the submissions process, and can provide helpful feedback. I’ve been a part of or seen others be a part of writer groups where they are more hurtful than beneficial mostly because the other members don’t write your genre, aren’t experienced editors, or just don’t know how to properly critique work. Also, read writer blogs and participate in contests. If you don’t know other writers, I guarantee that is the FASTEST way to get to know others in your genre. Best part is, they’re all pretty much in the same boat as you and will on the most part know about the submission/editing process.
There are a million ideas in your head. Don’t get bummed out if there are no takers on the first book you write. Finish it, polish it, keep it on hand, and write another. Then another. And another.
Don’t give up. Develop a thick skin. Be open to suggestions for improving your work. Don’t think you know it all, because you don’t. Research, write, edit, rewrite, repeat.
Be professional and ask questions. It’s very important to network – with other writers, agents, editors, blog hosts, readers, like-minded people. Writing is a social industry, so make sure you get to know everyone you can. But most importantly, remain professional, polite and enthusiastic to whoever you meet. As a writer, YOU are your brand. Make sure it’s a good one. Oh – and don’t be afraid to ask questions. The more you know, the further you’ll go!
6. Are you a panster or an outliner?
Both. I sort of do a skeletal outline, then pants my way through the rest!
Panster, with developing organizational skills. How about that? When writing my first novel, I started midway through, wrote to the end, and then filled in the beginning. With my new WIP, I’m starting it at the beginning and I’ll admit I wrote about two paragraphs to help guide the flow. I’ll let you know when I finish as to what route suits me best.
I’m both. I pants until I outline then pants again. Basically, I write until I get stuck and then outline a character or subplot I want to happen and think about the beats I want to hit. I’m actually primarily trained in screenwriting, so I think of everything in terms of beats and dialogue. Most of the time I write the whole of the dialogue and vague outlines of the scenery like I would a script, then go back and add more meat in.
Outlines are awesome!
It helps me to keep everything organized
I think it makes me write faster
I need to know exactly what is going to happen before I start writing
Totally a panster! I’ve never done an outline for anything in my life, unless it was required in school or college. I hate them with a passion.
I’ll echo a few of my fellow Off Beats – I do both. I usually pants completely at the start, hit the middle, quake in terror, and outline my way out of it! Then I pants to the end again!
7. Tell us something we don’t know about your characters…
Hmmm… They wrote their own story and became who they are all by themselves. I just put them on paper. Really, it’s true. When I started this book it looked totally different in my head. Lexa is much more spunky and self confident than I’d planned her and Gabe ended up a bit more of a jerk (don’t worry, he’s as lovable as he is HOT!). As I wrote, they came to life in my mind and morphed into who they are now – which, as it turns out, is much better than the original idea.
The love interest in my story, Justin, used to have a lisp like Lucy’s little brother Eric. Lucy used to nap near the living room so she could hear her mother breathe.
Well, this is a big reveal in Jennifer Strange, so I’ll just hint at the fact that when Jennifer befriends Marcus, she has no idea just how far back their families know each other…
All my characters all start as the same archetypes—the innocent perky girl, the brooding man, the fun-loving man, the powerful solemn woman, etc. Then they end up developing their own quarks. Usually, I filter them out in my head from the strongest to the weakest and the sanest to the most insane. For some reason, most of my characters seem to have serious mental instabilities…
Well, no one knows much of anything about them because I’m not published! Haha… but one thing they all have in common is a smart-ass attitude, dark hair and they all live in my favorite city, Wilmington, N.C.
In Starting With Amber (which is currently on submission! Squee!), Seth hides meanings behind a lot of his words. He’s an unreliable narrator, but he actually never lies. That’s not to say he doesn’t obscure the truth.
8. If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
A housewife and mother… oh, wait; I was that BEFORE I was a writer. Hell, I don’t know. There are a million things I’d like to do. I could be one of those one-man-band type people who have their fingers in multiple pies… that would be me.
An Egyptologist or cheesy documentary actress. But, on a more realistic level, I would continue to be a neonatal intensive care nurse. It’s an honor to care for those babies and serve their families. Also, being a Mom really rocks.
I’d say more, when I’m not writing, I’m a designer. I’m both and can’t be one without the other. I’ve had the debate for a long time, thinking like a major I had to pick one, but now I can be both writer and illustrator and really couldn’t imagine being anything else. I’ve wanted to be that since I was a kid. The only other option for me was Paleontologist. I suppose I could fall back on playing in the dirt (with science!) for a living.
Very, very bored. I’m not sure. I may have focused more on math and science in school and attempted to be an astrophysicist—my goal as a second grader.
I’m a newspaper editor and writer now. There’s really nothing else I could do. My only other job has been in marketing for a hospital, but even then, I wrote and edited the hospital’s newsletter and marketing materials, so I was still writing. If I couldn’t write, I would probably just shrivel up and die.
I’m lucky enough to work as a full time, freelance writer. However, if I couldn’t do that, I’d return to my other dream job – a horse riding instructor. I co-owned a horse riding school on the island of Cyprus for a while. Teaching people to ride and communicate with horses is a great passion of mine.
9. What qualities are you looking for in a good critique partner?
HONESTY! Hands down. It’s nice if it’s delivered with finesse, but I can live without finesse, the honesty I cannot. If it stinks, put the clothes pin on your nose, take a picture, and text it to me. If my CPs aren’t honest, then what’s the point? I’m not in this CP game to be told how great I write (not that I don’t LOVE it when one of them goes all ‘fan-girl’ on me *winks at Fiona*), but don’t blow smoke up my ass… ‘smoke up ass’ will not help me get published, honesty will. Ultimately ‘published’ is my goal, not just hearing how great I write. (Am I allowed to use the word ass on your blog? If not, replace with @$$
Honesty, a good sense of humor, and maybe they could dabble in therapy too. We’re all a bit nuts, aren’t we?
This might be unexpected, but honestly a good head on their shoulders and a sense of humor. That sounds like a date, I know, but it’s the truth. I tend to be a really up-beat person and needs someone that knows what they’re doing and very dedicated constantly to their craft and also has a lot of fun doing it.
Honesty…and maybe baking skills so they can make me some cookies if it is an especially rough critique…
Honesty. Although it’s nice to hear “It’s great, don’t change a thing!”, that’s not always helpful. I think I’m pretty good at voice and dialogue so the areas I need help are the stories, the descriptions, not overusing words. I also need someone who can be a cheerleader for my work, whilst ripping it apart (kindly) at the same time. Critique partners should compliment your work, but be honest at the same time.
A critiquer who can back up what they say and why. Yes, everyone has an opinion, but I’m most interested in the ones that can give me a solid grounding as to why they have formed their opinion. I don’t see it as my CP’s job to fix my MS. That’s my job. But I do expect their comments to have a solid reasoning behind them.
10. Do you think new writers will find it easier to break into the publishing world if they are part of a good critique group?
ABSOLUTELY! My CPs, current and past, are the reason DEVASTATION has shaped up as nicely as it has. If I didn’t have someone there to tell me when it made no sense or the prose dragged down the pace, it would suck.
As am I am new writer, I certainly hope so. Explaining how much my critique partners have bettered my writing is near impossible. I know I wouldn’t be where I’m at, with a solid manuscript without great readers and feedback. As I’m not agented, I haven’t yet to break down the doors of the publishing world. But at least, with the help of my critique group, I’m armed and in chainmaille, waiting for the moment an agent says “I’d like to represent you.”
Can I answer yes to this a million times? Yes. Yes. Yes. I’ve had to complete some edits that would have been impossible without the Off Beats. No, really. They’re massive edits with a quick turnaround needed (mostly so I can edit it and send it back to them again) were essential to fixing my work. You can’t fix your own work without a good critique group that knows what they’re doing. You just can’t.
I think so. It’s good to get out of your own head and have someone else take a peek at your work. Someone may spot a plot hole you missed or a line of dialogue that doesn’t make sense or a joke that falls flat. You can read your book a thousand times and and still miss something tiny…
I think so, but seeing as how I’m still trying to break in myself, I can’t say for sure. Ha ha! But a good critique group will likely develop connections with agents and editors, and that can only be a good thing!
Yes, I do. But not necessarily through just the critiques you receive. I think it’s more to do with shared knowledge. What I have learned from other writers is phenomenal. Getting insider knowledge from their experiences with editors, agents, review sites, etc has really helped me to understand the industry more. This helps me plan my career goals accordingly.