Category Archives: Cold in California

Proposal with a Bite!

Anyone else out there writing a non-fiction book proposal?

Holy moly! How complicated can it get? Not that I believed for one moment that writing a GOOD non-fiction book proposal – in this case a cookbook proposal – would be easy, but really? Come on! You’ve got to be kidding!

It’s tough enough to come up with a unique idea, back it with credentials and make it shiny with bells and whistles, but when it comes to writing a non-fiction book proposal, I’m convinced a writer needs a suit of armor and many, many weapons to succeed.

Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not angry or frustrated or even seriously irritated by the process. It’s actually a necessary one, and I’ve been known to vehemently encourage my Author Success Coach clients to do just that. I explain that writing a good Book Business Plan for fiction (as well as non-fiction) is just as important for gaining success as being born under a lucky star. I’m even teaching an online workshop next week for SavvyAuthors.com on Creating an Effective Book Business Plan, I believe in it THAT much. AND … it’s not like I don’t practice what I preach. I have built several wonderful book business plans that have proven successful in gaining literary agent representation for me. Now I’m pushing through the real jungle to create a powerful non-fiction book proposal for that agent to pitch. It’s a long story and I’ll try to abbreviate it.

Let’s start with the reason. Many writers have a book inside them – different from the one they’re currently pitching or have already become known for. Some fiction writers have a non-fiction lurking deep in their heart, a memoir or historical recounting, something personal and powerful they’d love to get out there. Some publishing professionals say it’s easier to get a fiction published first, then rock a pitch for your non-fiction piece. I say yes, that may be very true, it might be easier, but sometimes wowing someone with something so well conceived and so sharply presented can do the trick too. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt if you have a great hook.

My hook? Simple. See, I wrote a fun tongue-in-cheek supernatural romance about a twice dead vampire who gets one last chance to earn heaven. The only problem is, he has to live out his purgatory in a West Hollywood warehouse with several other dead supernaturals, all trying to earn redemption against their natures. Fun huh? My agent fell in love with Cold in California and offered representation within hours of finishing the manuscript. How cool is that? Then suddenly I didn’t know what to do with myself. The baby bird was now under other feathered tutelage and I was left to sigh and wait in the nest.

Having been a chef (among many other crazy things in this long life so far), I have always wanted to write a cookbook using my recipes. Now that I have the time to put together the book proposal, all I needed was the best hook possible. Something that would not only get the recipes out there but somehow build onto a platform for the Cold in California book series my agent is currently toting to publishers. The solution came like a wooden stake to the heart …

A Vampire Cookbook that playfully explored the various vampires in our lives (psychic, emotional and biological). Viola! A concept was born. The plan is to interlock the cookbook series with the supernatural romance Cold in California series and rock them both, letting them feed off each other (pun intended) as well as build on each other. This is a hybrid promotion I’ve never actually seen before in the market. Neat concept; now to mold it into a non-fiction book proposal that will knock the socks off my agent and the publishers he talks to.

Can I do it? Who knows. How hard will I try? Let’s just say I’m looking forward to adding more to the hundreds of rejections I’ve already gotten because baby, it only takes one “yes” to change the trajectory of a writer’s life. The more “nos” I get, the closer I come to a resounding “YES”!

Now for the warnings. This isn’t for the faint of heart at all.Writing a good book proposal is hard. It takes time and diligence, creative problem solving skills and lots of tools. The weapons are simple – creativity, courage, guts and hard work. Your armor must be lined with rejection letters and polished with conviction. The challenges – oh good lord, so many challenges, but if all the required information can be found, you will find it and compile it, by George!

Whew! Thank goodness I’ve already got the recipe part done and in the can.

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MIA Writer Wakes!!!

Oh how I’ve missed you! My pleasant, letter-fading keyboard is smiling at me because it knows I’m about to actually blog! Yes, it’s been a very long time, months in fact and I can’t honestly say why. This seems like something I should seriously explore, and in five brief points, I can probably break it down.

  1. I got an agent. Yes, I know this sounds like a great thing and one of those events that truly ratchets up your life so it sings loud and strong and on key but … nope. Instead, what this bigger-than-big event did to me was something very different. After years of writing and editing and disassembling and re-plotting and rewriting and querying and literally hundreds of rejections before the big YES, I was tossed into a strange abyss. What now? I mean … a huge percentage of my creative time went into writing and redesigning the verbiage for query letters, researching agencies and specific agents and pushing the send button then holding my breath. It seemed that after someone wonderful said, “Yes, I want to offer you representation!” I just forgot to start breathing again. Everything came to a stand-still and if you know me at all … standing still is not my forte.
  2. I took a deep breath, finally. Yes, finally, after realizing it wasn’t a dream and someone wasn’t coming to my door to snap away the contract, I started to breathe again. What to do next was a major dilemma. I always have so many things on the burner, it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t know where to jump … so I stood quietly for a while, thought it all through then started to talk to my wonderful literary agent and new best friend about what I should do now. He had many, many suggestions. We share a common drive and sense of humor, my agent and me, so it was a rather fun conversation I wish I’d have initiated weeks earlier. I guess I was just in shock.
  3. I made my project list. I had a list … well hell, I always have a list. It’s bubbling to capacity with everything from writing/author groups activities, non-fic proposal projects at various stages of completion, the plotting for the next book in my Cold in California series, an all new woman’s fiction I started entitled 36 Full Moons, my online activities – twitter, my own author website, my neglected blog, and weekly updates for my writing website, Whispers of the Muse – and of course, preparing for a Book Business Plan Workshop I’ll be teaching online for SavvyAuthors. I’m currently taste testing recipes for a cookbook series I’m developing and as the resident personal chef for my roommate, I cook everyday. What else? Let’s see … yes, the list was getting scary and I realized it might be best to just ask my agent what he wants me to work on. He answered.
  4. The plan is outlined! An agent is a good guide and mine is the absolute best. He patiently sat and listened then began to make his recommendations, trimming my project list and giving everything a priority we can both live with. He had a good plan that respected the fact that, a) I work best when I’m busy with several projects, and b) that I’m the kinda maniac who needs deadlines for those projects. Thus came the success strategy for the next few months and I finally feel functioning again. I am to finalize the cookbook proposal. I’m to finish plotting the second book in the series he’s representing, as he’d love to have the first 3-5 chapters in his back pocket to wet the publisher’s whistle. He’s very interested in the women’s fiction novel (which makes me very happy since that one seems to be tugging hard at me), and he’s adamant that I keep active with my social marketing.
  5. The implementation. Harder than it sounds but I’m loving every minute of it. Back to blogging, back to twitter. Time to do some redesign and redirection for both blogging and my author website. I’ll be getting FaceBook started soon and focusing clean blocks of time for my fiction and non-fiction projects. Oh … and I’ll probably gain a few pounds while I finalize some of the recipes for the cookbook but hey … I’ll be sending those recipes to my agent who should be gaining a few pounds too, lol.

I don’t honestly know how to explain all this. I’ve always been a bustling, busy kinda gal, as productive as possible in as many venues as I could find but I definitely got lost for a little while there. I’m back … and I’ve never felt more alive and excited!

Time to take flight!


10 Things to do … now that I no longer need to query

Yesterday morning I signed a contract with my (yippee!) wonderful new best friend and literary agent. At last, I have a champion! A knight in shining armor to do amazing things to help me reach the Holy Grail – PUBLICATION.

It seems like a dream come true, me and my book, Cold in California , are represented!

Cool huh? But … it sure didn’t happen over night. It took many more than 50 queries (that means more than 49 rejections and they’re still coming, lol), a complete deconstruction and rewrite of the entire novel, sleepless nights, genre exploration (is it an urban fantasy with a little romance or a paranormal romance with a little adventure?), massive agency and agent research, weeks of thinking and planning, writing and rewriting the query letter and seeking the courage to open returned mail from the agents I already queried.

This wasn’t my first time at the rodeo, either. Before Cold in California, I wrote, rewrote and queried a different novel. That process took two years but nothing about the experience was discouraging. Suggestions and rejections taught me to be tough and learn how to tighten my craft.

Now, it’s a strange and bizarre feeling, like suddenly the house has dropped in Oz. “Oh!” and stillness … not even the chirp of a bird or rumble of distant Los Angeles traffic. It’s a euphoric feeling that seems fragile. All day today I sat at the computer and had to push away feelings that I should research one more possible agent, tighten one more passage in the manuscript, find one more hour in the day to focus on getting representation. It’s done. It happened. But what am I to do now that I no longer need to query?

Well …

  1. I can banish the whole wheat penicillin growing in my refrigerator.
  2. I can plan meals and actually take time to cook them.
  3. I can collect the sock balls and dust bunnies and send them off to their own heaven or hell.
  4. I can focus on friends, socializing and enjoying myself, even spend more time talking on the phone with family back east.
  5. I can seriously look into the promotional ideas in my notebook (because as we all know we should have an ever handy notebook for promotional ideas as we write our book, right? See, I practice what I preach.)
  6. I can take Belly Dancing classes, since spending so much time at the computer has not only made me wider, but stiffer
  7. I can watch television. Really, there was a time I never watched TV, then I found I loved certain shows and over the past year, I discovered that even while watching those favorite programs, I was thinking of the book and querying. Now I can just relax and enjoy.
  8. I can sit in a chair other than my creaky old desk chair which has been trying to kill me … honest … I swear.
  9. I can take a weekend off! See, I almost never take a weekend. Ever. Saturdays and Sundays are just another work day for me. This weekend? Celebration in San Diego. Even though the weather prediction is rain, I’m excited to be getting out of traffic choked Los Angeles and visiting my less stressed friends down there.
  10. And finally … I can feel better. Less fearful. More confident as a writer.

The culture shock is mind boggling! I’ll enjoy this few days of  R&R then back to the grindstone. I can attack my the other writing projects, the next book in the Cold in California series and proposals for my non-fiction books. And of course, I’ll be back to totally enjoy working with my publicity clients who are all authors.

Just … not quite yet. For now I smile a lot, even laugh.

And when I look in the mirror I actually wonder if I look different, like a writer with an agent, a writer that much closer to just maybe becoming an author.


Pixie Pandemonium

The best part of writing fantasy is the making up stuff part. Of course everything is based on some sort of fable or mythology, something someone somewhere said or wrote or in Disney’s case, animated, so we all just accept it as fantasy fact. Like most writers, I absolutely LOVE breaking the accepted rules and building worlds based on my own concepts. Post-divorce superpowers I suppose, but controlling what happens inside my fantastical environments is more fun than hitting the lottery. (Not like I’d know.) 

Take my paranormal romance, Cold in California. The vampire/hero/protagonist and all around handsome dude is Gabriel Strickland. For a vampire, he seems not too unusual, right? But my vampire is dead. Really and truly dead. Staked-and-gonzo-for-the-final-time dead. So how can I be telling his story if he’s dead? Because I LOVE to break the rules. My double-dead vampire has been chosen for one last chance to earn heaven. 

Aside from his lovely heroine, I needed a cast of characters. I wanted a particular character who could sustain behind the scenes and come forward to play a big role in the slam bang ending. I wanted a character the reader would be looking around the corners of the story to get a glimpse of and anxious to see again. An extremely fun and interesting character among the other dead supernaturals living in a West Hollywood warehouse and working to earn a ticket through the pearly gates. I chose a pixie. 

According to Encyclopedia Mythica: 

The term Pixie is derived from Picts, a well-known old race from Northern England and Scotland. Other name origins are obscure. As usual, the Little People were hostile to their conquerors. They stole cattle and destroyed crops, resented the fact that they were driven away from the best lands. But some friendships occurred too, sometimes even leading to marriages between the invaders and the larger of the Little People. 

Well nice, but not my pixie. Her name is Shirley and she’s a wild card. She’s beautiful with a streak of playful wickedness that both irritates and intrigues the other residents. She’s five feet tall and has long golden hair, smells of sweet caramel and serves as a sexual dynamo without much of a conscience. Exploring Shirley and her journey to the final end turned out to be a blast. Next week I’ll be posting Shirley’s background in the Cold in California character pages at my author’s site. Where she came from and where she’s going is part and parcel of creating the world I wanted to portray. This gal isn’t throwing pixie dust around, she’s finding self-pleasure and hoping final judgment doesn’t catch up with her. She’s a supporting character and I had fun writing her. I let her play and cause mischief, but I let her shine too. 

I’ve found that this technique of creating a different view of a character works well even in genres outside paranormal or urban fantasy. It’s a big question writers love to ask. The big WHAT IF

One cool exercise I enjoy when developing character is to simply jot down the obvious about that character as I originally see them. Is s/he average? A nerd? Stunning but evil? Does s/he have scruples or run on instinct? Does the character’s logic reflect his/her background or are they off the map? Once that list is made, I make a counter list, a WHAT IF list. 

What if my nerdy hero discovers he has serious bedroom eyes he never knew he had? Or better yet, what if he discovers the hidden strength of his nerdiness to win the hot girl or save the world he loves (even if that just means the corner coffee shop he frequents)? 

What if the mean boss is more than just a handsome dude with power to wield fire and brimstone over his staff? What if he’s deeply troubled? Likes to wear sequined shoes alone at night or only eats white food? What journey can he take toward discovering how to manage such things? What if he does an amazing out-of-character action that sets a whole new tone for the story? 

The big WHAT IF is all about telling a story in a way the reader doesn’t expect. Finding new paths to telling the same old tale is vital right now as every agent and publisher out there is looking for the illusive X-Factor – whatever that is. (I think it’s a secret code among the powers that be and it’s our job to unravel it with remarkable narrative and creative points of view.) 

I’ve always believed that creativity is plagiarism with a flair; a spark no one ever thought of before. If your hero, a mild-mannered bag boy at the local Piggly Wiggly, is also a master of Feng Shui and slightly psychic to boot, you might be getting somewhere. And if my pixie is a two million year old over-sexed trickster who never learned her lesson and suddenly finds her sense of right and wrong, something unique and magical happens to affect the whole story. 

Even with an amazingly original plot concept, if our characters aren’t just as original … it can all crash and burn. At least that’s this writer’s feelings on the subject. Never mind that I’m lost in the middle of pixie pandemonium. Viva la big WHAT IF!


An Interview with My Personal Vampire

One thing I always try to do is keep up the excitement … for my reading buddies as well as myself. Okay, especially for myself. There’s that lull. You know the one I’m talking about. You’ve done everything you can think of. You’ve written and rewritten, edited and put your work out there. Your novel has been scrutinized by everyone from your mom to your critique group to your published-author friends. You’ve written a sterling query letter that has garnered a surprising amount of interest. You’ve send out your sample chapters, first 100 pages, or full manuscript as requested and … 

Now what? 

Now you wait. Patiently. 

For me, that’s a little too much downtime to be comfortable with. Even though the second novel in the series is already outlined and begun, I still find myself wanting to keep on top of things. With Cold in California, I chose to create a special universe on the feature pages at my Author’s website, http://deborahriley-magnus.com/CIC/ColdinCAMain.html. I wanted an opportunity to continue to explore my characters, give them a chance to show more of themselves to me and the viewers, and in turn, give me more reason to in fact write all five books in the series I envision. It’s been fun. Every week I write a little ditty as dictated by the vampires, trolls, leprechauns, werewolves and shape-shifters living inside my urban fantasy. 

This week I focused on my main character, Gabriel Strickland, a twice-baked, double-dead vampire living out a period of limbo in a West Hollywood warehouse purgatory of sorts. He wants to earn heaven and it’s his last chance. In his section of the site he’s told me a lot more about his background than I knew when I began writing Cold in California, and he’s whispered a few things in my ear to help steer his adventures in the second novel, Monkey Jump. He asked for a photo album and guided me to the pictures that capture his heart and soul … and I managed to bring in an entirely new character just for the Cold in California pages. 

Introducing former Elf and field reporter for The Purgatory Press, Glissanna Stinger. She recently visited the West Hollywood holding tank to report on the demised supernaturals residing there. She takes her chances and interviews new arrival, Gabriel Strickland. 

Amazing how much he told a reporter that he didn’t even tell me! 

Ms. Stinger will be interviewing several of the residents at the holding tank, including Crudo Cushman, the Troll in charge and his former werewolf buddy, Pete Maloney. 

Ah well. It’s fun. And who says you can’t have fun with your characters? 

By the way, just a small note to those suffering through the development of a character. Have you ever thought about interviewing them before you start your story? I mean, really. Already they’re alive and bopping around inside your mind; perhaps the whole process of putting them on paper would be easier if you just ask them a few questions. Things you don’t imagine will be part of your story but may well influence it in a polished and well-rounded sort of way. Ask about their family history; their first crush; the worst thing they ever did as a kid. You just might be surprised how much these characters want you to know. Give your characters a say before you start. You’ll never be sorry!


What’s Really in that Warehouse?

Okay, don’t mean to be creeping you out or anything, but my house is haunted. Yes. Really. So was the house before it and the one before that. I see things and often hear voices. Items mysteriously move from place to place and I swear at times the ghosts are playing with me. And THAT’S not the creepy part. 

See, this kind of thing doesn’t bother me. All my life these spirits/angels/ghosts/apparitions, what ever you want to call them, have been hanging around. You might say I’m never really lonely, huh? This doesn’t bother me at all and as a writer, I’d be negligent if I didn’t give my ‘friends’ some credit for the ideas that grow and form from spook-induced experiences. Strange, magnificent plot and character development solutions have come to me through dreams or visions or just plain mysterious words whispered into my ear. Honest, I’m not that weird. Not crazy. Not certifiable. It’s just how life is. The life of a writer. It’s a unique place, being a writer. The world always looks a little different to us than it does to anyone else. I’m betting that whether you’re willing to admit it or not, you travel with a few high energy creative spirits too. 

Take the creation of Cold in California (http://deborahriley-magnus.com/CIC/ColdinCAMain.html). This idea came to me like a bolt of lightening and the entire bizarre universe formed before my very eyes. Dead supernaturals; werewolves, trolls, pixies, fairies and shape-shifters joined together with twice-baked vampires to live out purgatory in a West Hollywood warehouse. Cool huh? And oh so much fun to write. The goal of every character is to find salvation of some kind; in the hero, dead vampire Gabriel’s case … to earn heaven. 

Now comes the creepy part. Of course, I drove around Los Angeles, checking out neighborhoods and warehouses to cast one of the most interesting characters in the book, the Holding Tank itself. The warehouse I chose as my inspiration was perfect. Empty. Spooky. Filled with possibilities. I could just hear Crudo (the troll in charge), his booming voice directing the dead inmates to build private rooms, separate off his office, put in a kitchen and keep it clean. I could almost see the supernatural creatures who seldom leave, (Mumbu the South African voodoo-loving dead fairy; Stick Man, the native American twelve-foot tall legend; and the pack of grinning gnomes that remind Gabriel of the Seven Dwarves minus Grumpy) roaming around the cavernous space, watching Soaps and discussing old times. 

It was fun and served well, but since the West Hollywood warehouse met its demise at the end of Cold in California, I was off again to search a replacement Holding Tank for the second book, Monkey Jump.  This is where the practical process went way past imaginative entertainment and crossed into something a little bit … extraordinary. I started to see strange and wondrous things and now I can’t shake a curiosity. 

Rather than tell you, I’m going to challenge you. Do me a favor, all you writers out there. Take a drive around your town, slow down when you see that warehouse at the end of the street, the one you pass everyday on your way to work, or the deserted one up on the hill. Close your eyes and feel it. 

Am I really nuts, or do you suspect there’s a dead supernatural Holding Tank in your neighborhood too? Doesn’t that guy you see on the train look a little like a troll? Could that tall woman be an elf? Maybe those kids aren’t really kids playing in the park, maybe they’re gnomes getting a little fresh air and exercise. And … wasn’t that big white dog a man last time you looked? 

Do you suspect there’s a Holding Tank in your neighborhood? Let me know because I swear there’s one in Rancho Dominguez, just off the 405 northbound exit.


The Origin of the Blog

Okay, it’s happened to all of us. Writers are especially susceptible to this particular curse. It seems the inmates have taken over the asylum! The following is a bit of information express-dreamed to me from one of my Cold in California characters after a late night glass (or four) of wine. Note to self: avoid discount supermarket wines from now on. 

According to Crudo Cushman, head demised troll in charge of the West Hollywood Supernatural Holding Tank, the word ‘blog’ comes from ancient troll culture. 

He informs me that a blog was a roughly hewn shirt upon which a troll would make markings, symbols that indicated his or her (of course there are female trolls, just look around you) position within troll society. During his troll life, Crudo had never risen beyond mucking mud, which was symbolized by a pig’s snout made with red mire found in a certain bog several miles outside his village. He’d dip the side of his clenched fist into the mud and press it firmly against his shirt. It didn’t look like a pig’s snout, but it was recognizable by all. The bog-marked blog stank to high heaven even after the mark dried. If it rained, he would need to remark himself. Where Crudo lived, it rained a lot. 

He says he envied the higher ranks, those whose blogs were etched with fine smears of brilliant green grass stains or careful figures drawn with bits of soft, colored stone, but Crudo came from a proud, long line of mud muckers and until his father passed, he wore the red snout, albeit with hidden embarrassment and hate. 

When Crudo met his demise six hundred years later, he came to the West Hollywood tank and has since done very well. He traded his rough, mud-stained blog for pressed white linen and bling and made it a point to never, ever get dirty again. The symbols on his shirt these days say: 

I’m in charge … I’m the boss … I’m watching you … and of course, Ralph Loren, blessedly stitched on the silk tag inside his collar. 

Be sure to watch the site http://deborahriley-magnus.com/CIC/ColdinCAMain.html for updates on character backgrounds, snippets that didn’t make the book, and tiny bits of info about the story!