W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with McKelle George

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Every writer has their own path to publication. Some paths are long and winding. Others are a straight shot. No matter the tale, the journey always involves ups and downs, caution signs, and for some, serious roundabouts, but what always remains is the writer’s commitment to their craft and their enduring dream to see their work on bookshelves one day.

In bringing you the W.O.W. series, I hope as a writer you will learn that no dream is unfounded. That with time, patience, perseverance, and commitment to your craft, it is possible to cross that finish line and share your story with the world.

Today, I’m pleased to share McKelle George’s writing journey…

Amy: When did you first begin seriously writing with the intent of wanting to be published?

McKelle: 2011. I remember, because I’d been living in Hungary for almost two years. Before then, I’d been studying illustration. I…

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#PitchWars 2016 Mentor Bio

So, I was never a Pitch Wars mentee, but I did enter my book (now about to debut with HarperCollins) in one of the Pitch Madness contests, and it was the rush of attention from agents during that time that ultimately got me my agent now. I think what Brenda Drake does is basically revolutionary. I love the community of it, the hustle of so many hopefuls working hard on their craft. I love the way it really does feel a little like putting on armor and chest-bumping each other before going into the fray. I am truly honored to be able to participate as a mentor this year, and so, without further ado—

The real reason you’re here (ie, not to hear me blather):

CATEGORY

YA

yay

(Ha ha, get it? Because yaay is like a YA sandwich?)

GENRES (basic)

  • contemporary
  • magical realism (think A.S. King and Andrew Smith more than Leslye Walton)
  • historical
  • speculative*

[*Speculative, IF high concept (examples: The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater, The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig, Every Day by David Levithan, The Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness) –> in other words, typical fantasy will be hard sell for me, but I do like books that seem to defy genre because they’re based on one “what if?”-type idea.]

GENRES (more specific)

  • LGBT
  • Alternate history/history with a modern spin (example: My Lady Jane)
  • Unconventional love stories
  • Diversity (I’m particularly interested in characters who struggle with dualities of nature and/or culture; characters who straddle two different worlds)
  • Villain origin stories
  • Faith/religion
  • Gothic in the vein of Penny Dreadful or Crimson Peak

 THINGS I LIKE

Semi-recent contemporary books I’ve loved:

  • Tell Me Three Things by Julie Bauxbaum
  • Conviction by Kelly Loy Gilbert
  • Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
  • Mosquitoland by David Arnold
  • I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Warning: I do love contemporary books, but I’ve been subbed a lot of them recently, and your voice will have to slay, because I am getting the tiniest bit burnt out on them.

(S is for Slay)

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Magical realism books I love:

  • Anything by A.S. King
  • The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle
  • Whimsical and family-centered books, like Sarah Addison Allen and Alice Hoffman
  • Magical realism/mental illness blends: like Andrew Smith, or Fell of Dark by Patrick Downes, or Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

Historical books I love:

  • Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier
  • Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
  • Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry
  • Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
  • Under a Painted Sky and Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee
  • The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  • Iron Cast by Destiny Soria (historical-ish)

Sidebar: I’m feeling the history right now, guys. My own debut is set in the 1920s. If you have a historical novel, I AM A REALLY GOOD BET. Bonus if it has: gangsters, LGBT characters, girls who misbehave and make history.

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EXCEPTIONS

Do you have a sci-fi/fantasy/horror book that you think I would just love, even though I didn’t list those as genres I represent? Can you submit them to me anyway?

Yes!

I’m giving you fair warning that it will be more of a roll of the dice with me, and your chances narrow considerably with those genres, but there are exceptions.

Here’s an idea of what might be a good fit with me.

Fantasy and sci-fi books/trilogies I’ve recently enjoyed (things they have in common: a bit darker, complex and mature in plot, not overly romance-heavy, unique brand of “magic”):

  • The Winner’s Curse trilogy by Marie Rutkoski
  • The Grisha Trilogy and Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
  • Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
  • The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin (Seriously, write me the YA version of this book, and I’m sold.)
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Fantasy and sci-fi books/trilogies that I can completely understand why people love, and are totally great books, I’m sure, but I tried and just really not to my taste because I’m not a big fantasy reader guys sorry:

  • The Red Queen,  by Victoria Aveyard
  • The Throne of Glass,  by Sarah J. Maas
  • Snow Like Ashes,  by Sara Raasch
  • City of Bones,  by Cassandra Clare
  • Cinder,  by Marissa Meyer

 

CURRENT NON-BOOK OBSESSIONS THAT SPEAK TO MY TASTE

Hamilton (the musical)

Peaky Blinders

Poldark

Saga (the comic series)

 

Whew. And now, if you still think you have a book that would mesh well with my taste and specialties, a little about me:

PROFESSIONALLY

I am an acquisitions editor with Jolly Fish Press, a small press publishing house, and some of my recent titles and projects include: JERKBAIT by Mia Siegert, SEEKING MANSFIELD by Kate Watson, WELCOME HOME, an anthology curated by Eric Smith, and THEY CALL THIS PLACE HERE by Donna Hill. I also have experience working as an assistant at A+B Literary Agency, and an editorial intern at the Friend, a children’s magazine.

I’m a young adult author, and my debut, SPEAK EASY, SPEAK LOVE, comes out from Greenwillow/HarperCollins in Fall 2017—it’s a retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, set in Prohibition-era New York. I’m represented by Katie Grimm, of Don Congdon Associates.

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PERSONALLY

I live in downtown Salt Lake City with a huge white German Shepherd. If I’m not editing or writing, I’m working at the Salt Lake City Public Library, which I humbly consider one of the best libraries in the world.

I love the theater (even though I have no talent for it myself), and traveling. I recently got back from a trip to the San Juan Islands to study orcas for my next YA book, and I will talk your ear off about it. I’m a believer in traveling as a mode of research, and will absolutely talk you into taking that trip you’ve been wanting to take. #sorrynotsorry

I have two other talents besides books, and those are: eating, and doodling. I got my associates in Illustration, and if I hadn’t become a writer, I would have been an illustrator, with a focus on character design and graphic novel work. I’m definitely out of practice, but I still love it. (Do mentees get a drawing of their mc? Why yes, even if they don’t want it.)

 

EDITING STYLE

I hope that we become grand friends, truly—but I’m busy, and you’re busy, and we’re going to W-O-R-K on that book, not exchange gifs for two months.

My wish is for you to take yourself seriously as a writer, if you don’t already. Sorry to be a cliché and quote Stephen King, but when I was a very young writer, it was exactly what I needed to hear when I needed to hear it, so I share it all the time:

“You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair—the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.”

I am thorough—you will get an edit letter, a phone call (if you want one), in-document comments, and then probably line edits—and occasionally I will suggest things that might fix the problem areas I see, but I like hearing your solutions even more. I like a good brainstorming session. If I choose your manuscript, I guarantee there was something about it I couldn’t pass up. I will celebrate and make sure you know the ways your book is beautiful and unique—however, if your book is pretty fresh off the friends-and-family feedback glow, I’d still love to see it, just, you know, brace yourself for slightly tougher treatment.

Also you might reconsider pitching to me if you love social media and want a similar presence from your mentor. I think this is a commendable quality to have, but my general attitude toward it lately is:

nobody

(I’m busy!)

 

Okay! I think that’s it?

*Alexander Hamilton voice*: Let’s go.

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Just Write the Book

Oh, blogging. Back when I didn’t have an agent or even a complete manuscript to my name, back when I was but a lowly intern in a just-started small press, I had no compunction writing up wordy posts about writer’s block, revision, and the emotional travails of the creative process. Now I’m like: Ha-ha! I don’t know crap. I’m not going to write about how much crap I don’t know.

So: #reallife, #whinypublicjournal, #whatisthiseven

I recently finished a 61K draft of my novel in about eighteen days. The speed is not that impressive, because this was like, I don’t know, the ninth, start-over version of this book. The characters, the research, the Shakespeare play upon which it is based, are practically part of my brain’s basic blueprints at this point.

But mentally, there were things like: this is probably the last shot, with this particular book, and this might be hours of essentially wasted work, and you only have a sort-of game plan about where this will go, and your agent is going to hate this and tear up your contract and kick you to the unpublished curb, and even if she does like it, probably every editor is going to hate it too, so who cares, and why didn’t you decide to write a more marketable book, and hahayeahright, it’s not the market, it’s you; you suck.

And so on . . .

But something sort of marvelous happened to me, when I was sitting at my computer, feeling despondent, and I thought, very clearly: Just write the damn book.

I think my subconscious was digging up a little piece of one of my favorite books, Code Name Verity. The phrase, “Fly the plane, Maddie,” runs through the book several times, and it’s basically an assurance: do what you have to do. Don’t let fear stop you. (Apparently the added expletive is my own subconscious’s contribution.) And so, several times as I was starting, breathing out and blocking everything else out, it helped to tell myself, “Just write the book, McKelle.”

Because that’s really your only job at that stage, right? Sure you might have to promote and panic and brave the trenches of editing and marketing, but those will still be there for you to worry about later. In fact, you won’t have to worry about them at all unless you write something first.

The most important part, and incidentally the most enjoyable, is just telling the story. Write the book. That’s all you have to do. And, you know, writing a book is hard – but is it any harder than flying a plane? Or anything else that people do?

Anyway, I bet you can guess what happened. I wrote the damn book. Frankly, it was sort of nice. I love writing, and actually I love this story too, and still will, even if all the aforementioned horrors come to pass.

Sometimes, Running Away Works

Rebecca Solnit, in her book The Faraway Nearby, said:

“The bigness of the world is redemption. Despair compresses you into a small space, and a depression is literally a hollow in the ground. To dig deeper into the self, to go underground, is sometimes necessary, but so is the other route of getting out of yourself, into the larger world, into the openness in which you need not clutch your story and your troubles so tightly to your chest.”

I’m currently a nomad, traveling around, and I give this introduction only because people tend to ask me, “But what are you doing out there? Why did you go?”

“Nothing. I wanted to.”

I’m terrible at taking pictures. But I’m very good at remembering things. So here goes—first up Boston!

Here are some lovely things about Boston:

1) Louisa May Alcott’s house (Little Women!), an assortment of pens on dead authors graves, and Walden Pond. Even better than the pond itself, was walking the entire perimeter chatting about book contracts with two people who totally knew what they were talking about. And even better than that was the ice cream we got after—which was so rich I didn’t even finish it, but it stayed in my soul.

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Walden's Pond

Walden’s Pond, also Awesome Boston Friend

2) Seeing The Lion King musical for the first time and getting the chance to see Finding Neverland before it premieres on Broadway in March. I WEPT. (And even better? The kind of friend who doesn’t bat an eye seeing two musicals in a row.)

3) The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. I just. I can’t even. Isabella Stewart Gardner traveled the world and amassed a remarkable collection of art. In 1903, she completed the construction of a personalized museum to house her collection. Everything is arranged in such a loving, deliberate way, and there’s a mix of paintings, furniture, textiles, and objects from different cultures and periods among well-known European paintings and sculpture. It’s beautiful, and Isabella is one of the coolest ladies in history.

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4) Walking all around Boston. I saw the balcony where they first read the Declaration of Independence, saw the “Make Way for Ducklings” duck statues in Arlington Park, read my book in the stunning Boston Public Library courtyard, watched sailboats on the river, and climbed aboard the U.S.S. Constitution. (Even better: going to the children’s section of the museum and pretending to be a sailor and playing all the games.)

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5) Having a wonderful friend who will not only act as a tour guide and let you use her discount at the bookstore, but who will talk about books and writing and publishing and musicals and all sorts of odd topics in between for four days straight and never feel like we’ve ran out of things to say. Not to mention, when your friend is a bookseller, you will leave with new books you’ve been dying to read in your bag, and you’ve also been introduced to lovely books you didn’t know existed. (Virginia Wolf, the picture book! Bloody Jack!)

6) Nothing is Ever Not Wonderful.

Just kidding. I caught a mega cold right when I got there and spent a literary party huddled in a blanket, hacking on the floor while I watched Netflix.

But otherwise, yes. Everything was perfect. (;

Next stop, Canada!

Give it 100

So, tentatively, without much confidence, I have mentioned in passing that I used to be an artist. Here is the short story of my artistic career.

In middle school, I watched the show Lizzie McGuire and saw that little cartoon that represents her thoughts and said, “Anyone could draw that.” So I drew an entire comic of Lizzie McGuire cartoons intended to look like me and my five friends going on awesome adventures. When I moved to a new high school as a freshman, I kept drawing, doodling in my notebooks during class and letting people see them.

Soon, that was who I was. I was the artist (the cartoonist, actually). I drew the cover of our yearbook. I won a painting contest for the town phone book cover. I was the Art Sterling Scholar. When I attended an art camp during my senior year, I was offered a scholarship to the college hosting the camp. In those shaky years of adolescence and insecurity, I clung to both an identity (The Artist) and the constant praise I received.

I went to college as an art student . . . and slowly had the artist strangled out of me. At the end of the day, I was a decent artist—but not particularly amazing.

(I still liked cartoons; I did stuff like this):

Hearts_by_missjak

Diamonds_by_missjak

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clubs_by_missjak

Spades_by_missjak

 

 

 

 

 

 

My tiny bit of talent was no match for my lack of ambition or innovation. Suddenly I was surrounded by hundreds of “The Artist”s and instead of feeling praised, I felt hugely inferior.

Break out the tiny violin, right?

Obviously hard work and criticism are part of life. But I felt miserable, grudgingly doing my drawing assignments, spending my free time not drawing, but . . . you guessed it: writing.

And, oh man, I had no talent for writing. No one had ever praised my writing skills. In fact, I deliberately hid any signs that I wanted to write because I was too massively embarrassed by it. But I adored it. Hard work? I am loving every miserable minute! Criticism? All I want is to publish something before I die and I’m young and healthy.

So, the rest is history. Now I’m a writer. Not an artist.

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But I miss it. Not so much being an ~*artist~*, because I’m still not sure I’m cut out for it, but I miss drawing cartoons. I miss giving visual faces to characters I love (in my head and not). And I still love art—enjoying it as a viewer.

Have you heard of “Give It 100?” It’s a nifty little site where you can pledge to do something, anything, for 100 days, ten minutes every day. You’re supposed to video those ten minutes and post it, buuutt . . . I’m not doing that. I’m just stealing the idea. I’ll be stretching the ol’ drawing muscles, doing a drawing a day, seeing if I can’t get my pencil and sketch book back into shape.

I’ll be posting the drawings on DeviantArt in batches of ten, and using this amazing site to help me practice. And this time, there’s no pressure; I’m not doing it for the attention or praise. I know I’m a writer and that’s where my heart and soul is. This is just fun.

Blog Updates

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The bloggie is getting an update.

First of all, this site will stay a personal, rambling blog that no one has to follow if they’d prefer not to endure said personal rambling. I will be slightly less concerned with a rigid writing theme and an even rigid-er (yet never quite attainable) schedule.

The domain ‘mckellegeorge.com’ will be used for an officially official site devoid of my ramblings, still in the works, but I predict might be up by the end of the week.

Lastly, my “Morpheus Series” will get its own separate site, so any fans have somewhere to look if they so desire, but since it’s sort of a separate endeavor from all my other work, I figure the website should be separate as well.

Stay tuned for imminent changes.

Welcome Pit-Madders!

Hey there!

I’m an editor with Jolly Fish Press, and if you’re here because I favorited one of your tweets, please use the following instructions:

Before you submit your manuscript, please make sure it is finished and completely proofread and edited. It should be the most perfect version, and publish-ready. Your submission should include:

  1. A one-page query.
  2. A synopsis not more than five pages.
  3. Your first three chapters.

We only accept email submissions. Include your submission in the body of the email.PLEASE DO NOT SEND YOUR SUBMISSION AS AN ATTACHMENT. WE WILL NOT OPEN IT.

You may send your submissions to: submit@jollyfishpress.com

Thanks so much–feel free to address the e-mail to me, and to include #PitMad either in your subject line or somewhere in your query letter. We’re looking forward to hearing from you.