Friday, March 28, 2014

When Your Book Changes Direction--Why Juliann Rich's new book, Caught in the Crossfire, Took Dedication, Hard Work, and Learning New Writing Skills

In 2011, when Juliann Rich first decided to write a book, she intended to write an adult mystery. At the time this was her favorite genre to read so she began sketching out her detective and thinking of the murder plot. Then one day at work she had an image flash through her mind: two boys, holding hands in the middle of a bible camp.
Yikes. Now that's a book, she thought.
She put away her notes on murders and who-dun-its and who-figured-it-outs and began writing their story that night.
As the supportive mom of a gay son and as the daughter of evangelical Christian parents, it is definitely true that Juliann has compassion and insider perspective into the central conflicts within her new young-adult novel, Caught in the Crossfire, which will be released in June from Bold Strokes Books.
From the onset Juliann says she committed to writing a story that would put her readers into the world of a sixteen-year-old boy struggling to integrate his sexual orientation with his faith. It was also important to this author to depict the conservative Christians in her book as she knows them to be:  people of devout faith who act according to their beliefs and do not see the harm they are inflicting on their GLBTQ loved ones.
She says knew the test of whether or not she succeeded with that goal would come when her mom read her book.
Juliann's mother called as soon as she finished it.  She said it was a beautiful story and that she wanted to talk with Juliann's son now that she understood his journey better.
"Sharing Caught in the Crossfire with my family was incredibly healing," Juliann says.  "I have a mission for my book it would be twofold: to let gay teenagers know that God's love for them is unconditional and to spark healing conversations within families that are polarized by their differing beliefs."
How She Began--With Writing Classes!
I first met Juliann in the fall of 2011 when she took my online class, "Your Book Starts Here." 
"I giggle now," she says, "but at the time I thought I needed to have a completed draft to take your class, Mary. I wrote like a maniac and completed the first draft two weeks into that first class. At the time I thought I was finished. Remember that? Ah, the bliss of ignorance. Thank goodness for the excellent feedback I got from you and the other writers in that class. I shudder to think of the outcome had I charged ahead into the querying process."
She went on to take the next level of "Your Book Starts Here," as well as "Revising Your Young Adult Novel" with Megan Atwood, and she was chosen for a mentorship with Ben Barnhart, former acquiring editor at Milkweed Editions.
In the end she took Caught in the Crossfire through multiple passes of revision.
Along the way many aspects of the novel changed.  She switched from third person to first person point of view, rewrote it from past tense to present tense and then back to past tense.  "This was amazingly helpful and breathed an immediacy and life into my manuscript," she says.  "I read my novel aloud so many times I can quote sections of it verbatim. This allowed me to hear the rhythm of the words, as well as spot redundant or awkward word choices. Eventually I realized that all this work had one goal: to get my forty-five-year-old self out of the way and let Jonathan's (my main character) voice come through."
By April 2012, Ben Barnhart, her mentor, gave the thumbs up. Caught in the Crossfire was ready for submission to literary agents.
Her Biggest Learning Curve
"Acquiring restraint in my writing," she says, when asked what was her biggest learning curve.  "My natural inclination, in writing and in life, is to spoil the people I love. I want to give everything I possibly can. But the best books hold enough back that the reader has to figure some things out. I knew this as a reader--love this as a reader--but it didn't come naturally to me as a writer."
She also says that writing setting is tough for her.  "I might have awesomely developed characters with authentic dialogue, but for all the reader knows, they could be floating in the stratosphere having a heart-to-heart. Seriously. This is an aspect of my work that I continue to strive to improve."
Her favorite character is and always will be the main character, Jonathan Cooper. He has become like another son to her.  "As an idealist, Jonathan always hopes for the peaceful resolution," Juliann says, "and I love that about him. I just finished writing the sequel to Caught in the Crossfire, and I had to put Jonathan through hell in that book. It darned near killed me to make him hurt so much, but he revealed a resilience and strength of character that surprised even me. That's the cool thing about writing a trilogy. I get to know my characters on the deepest of levels."
Most difficult? That one's easy too. Jonathan falls in love with Ian McGuire, also sixteen, also gay, definitely not into the whole "kum ba ya" thing, as he puts it. Ian is a deeply wounded boy who expresses his hurt through rage. "Anger is a challenging emotion for me," Juliann says, "so writing Ian pushed me to take huge leaps of growth as I explored emotional truth. For that I will always be grateful to him." 
How Did You Find an Agent and Sell Your Book to a Publisher?
"I did two things simultaneously after finishing revision on Caught in the Crossfire. First, I established my social media presence: my website (, a WordPress blog, and my Twitter and Facebook pages. I focused all my sites on communicating one message: why I was the right person to write Caught in the Crossfire. I wanted interested literary agents who might Google me to see an established platform and to know that I am willing to partner with them in the promotion and marketing of my book and brand," Juliann says.
She recommends a great resource to learn how to build a platform:  Get Known before the Book Deal by Christina Katz. "Is this mandatory?" she adds.  "No. Great writing will land that deal with or without a social media presence. But it's an edge, and I wanted every possible edge going into querying."
The second step she took after establishing her platform was to prepare the proposal package: a tightly written query letter, synopsis, blurb and tag line. She used the following books to research literary agents and to help her learn how to write a proposal package according to industry standards:
How to Write A Book Proposal, Michael Larsen
How to Get a Literary Agent, Michael Larsen
Guide to Getting Published, Writer's Market
2012 Guide to Literary Agents
2012 Writer's Market, Deluxe Edition

A one-year subscription to Writer's Market ( came with the purchase of the book, 2012 Writer's Market, Deluxe Edition, where Juliann could search by genre and subgenre. This was amazingly helpful, she says.  She chose Young Adult (genre) and GLBT (subgenre), hit search, and a beautiful list of literary agents who were looking for books like Caught in the Crossfire appeared. It even provided links to their websites where she could read their submission guidelines. Following the agents' submission guidelines is rule # 1, she says.

To stay organized, Juliann also kept an Excel spreadsheet to track the agents names, dates of her submissions, and their responses. "In the end I submitted to thirty-two literary agents. I received five requests for partials (sample chapters) and three requests for the full manuscript."

In September 2012, one year after she wrote the first draft of Caught in the Crossfire, she accepted an offer of representation from Saritza Hernandez of the Corvisiero Literary Agency. Her passion for GLBT YA lit impressed Juliann.  "She struck me as capable of navigating the ever-changing scene of the publishing industry," the author says.  "It was a great decision, as she sold Caught in the Crossfire to Bold Strokes Books just months later."

Pansters or Plotters

"A lot of people put writers into two groups: pantsers and plotters," Juliann says. "Pantsers are people who write with no real outline or plan. They follow the whim of inspiration. Sometimes they discover magic, and sometimes they write themselves into corners. Plotters outline or storyboard or spreadsheet their story. Whatever planning format they choose, they know their plot before the first word is written."
Juliann wrote the first draft of Caught in the Crossfire as a pantser, mainly because "I didn't know any better," she says.  "It flowed and it was ugly and messy and wonderful. Once I started taking your classes, Mary, I learned about your W storyboard technique and applied it in revision, where I spotted missing plot points, a sagging climax, and unsupported turning points."
She approached the sequel, Searching for Grace, thinking she would save herself all those levels of revision by plotting the book from the onset.  She had her arc, her turning points, her "W" storyboard all filled out, but it didn't work. The story was too dark, too rigid. It lacked the spontaneity and element of surprise that Juliann loved about Crossfire.
"So I threw out my outline and went back in blind. I let my characters lead me, and it made all the difference in the world to the sequel."
She has concluded that writing processes exist on a spectrum with plotters on one end and pantsers at the other.  "Me? I'm best when I'm fluid," she says.  "I have learned to hold the novel loosely in my mind in the drafting stage. Allowing my characters to breathe and influence the direction we go in, yields the most authentic and unique first draft for me. I love that moment when my characters show up on the page with something they're dying to say. That's the best stuff, if you ask me, and I need to protect their freedom to do that.
"However, once that first draft is pulled together, in all its gore and mess, I am a plotter in the truest sense of the word. I flip on my editorial brain and examine my manuscript from the outside in, looking for ways to cut away the excess and let the most potent truth shine through."
Caught in the Crossfire will be released on June 16th, 2014 from Bold Strokes Books. It is currently available for preorder through, Amazon, Barnes & Noble in Trade Paperback as well as eBook format. After its release it will also be available in most public library systems and in many bookstores.

Juliann will be celebrating its release at Addendum Books on Saturday, June 21 at 7:00 p.m. If you're in the Twin Cities area, please join her at the Caught in the Crossfire Launch Party. She promises it will be a fun and memorable event.  
 And her second novel, Searching for Grace, will be coming out with Bold Strokes Books Fall, 2014.  More details can be found on her website at