Swallowing Frogs, Biggest to Smallest

This quote from Mark Twain is one that I have kept coming back to over the past year (whether I follow the advice is another story).

A frog. Not a toad, though bumpy, because apparently if it's moist, it's a frog. Yum.


If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.—Mark Twain

Look on the bright side, you might have to eat some frogs today, but at least you’re not eating toads?

“Toad’s skin lets out a bitter taste and smell that burns the eyes and nostrils of its predators, much like a skunk does.” —KidZone

What are the biggest frogs you need to swallow this morning?

Which Gothic Romantic Writer Are You?

Just over two hundred years ago, it was a stormy June on Lake Geneva in Switzerland. Lord Byron and his personal physician, John Polidori, were renting out a mansion in the summer, the Villa Diodati. Rained in with them at the time were poet Percy Shelley and Mary Godwin, who would later marry Percy and be known as Mary Shelley.

They read Shakespeare and Mary’s mother (Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin) and a host of German ghost stories to beat the boredom. Then Byron issued a challenge: each of them should write a ghost story of their own, and then share it with the group.

Each of the four tackled the challenge in their own way. Mary Shelley wrote about their creative endeavor in her introduction to Frankenstein.


Polidori, Byron, Mary Shelley, and Percy Shelley

Lord Byron

Byron wrote a story based on a fragment of a tale from the end of his poem “Mazeppa,” which itself was a narrative poem based on a legend of a historical Ukranian high commander. If that isn’t literary inception, I’m not sure what would be, especially if you consider the fate of this abandoned vampiric tale, which later inspired:

John Polidori

Polidori “had some terrible idea” of a skull-headed lady who saw something she shouldn’t—Mary couldn’t remember what. Polidori didn’t know how she should be punished for such a crime, so he put her in the tomb where Romeo and Juliet died.

After Byron abandoned his ghost story when the weather improved, John rewrote it into The Vampyre, a novella which basically became the grandfather of all paranormal romance.

Percy Shelley

Mary’s future husband, Percy, was a poet “more apt to embody ideas and sentiments in the radiance of brilliant imagery and in the most melodious verse that adorns our language than to invent the machinery of a story.” In other words, he was a literary pantser who cared little of plot.

Percy took something that scared him as a child and added some alternative facts to fashion his ghost story.

Mary Godwin (Shelley)

With her high literary pedigree, it’s no surprise that Mary Shelley would become a writer herself. But as a child, rather than the romances or adventure stories that were popular at that time, she preferred living in a world of her own making, inspired more by her dreams and imagination than reality. “I could people the hours with creations far more interesting to me at that age than my own sensations,” she writes.

Mary struggled with the challenge. The men, she felt, failed at writing a true story, concerning themselves more with word choice or concepts than creating an experience.

“I busied myself to think of a story, —a story to rival those which had excited us to this task. One which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature, and awaken thrilling horror—one to make the reader dread to look round, to curdle the blood, and quicken the beatings of the heart. If I did not accomplish these things, my ghost story would be unworthy of its name. I thought and pondered—vainly. I felt that blank incapability of invention which is the greatest misery of authorship, when dull Nothing replies to our anxious invocations. Have you thought of a story? I was asked each morning, and each morning I was forced to reply with a mortifying negative.”

The poets quickly abandoned the challenge, neither finishing because they were “annoyed by the platitude of prose.” Byron and Shelley instead spoke about a number of topics, including the principle of life, and if it could be discovered or created. They spoke of  Dr. Erasmus Darwin’s “Spontaneous Vitality” and of galvanism, a professor of medicine’s applications of electricity to dead frogs, making their legs move.

That night, Mary couldn’t sleep. “My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me,” she says. She saw vividly the scene of a “pale student of unhallowed arts” using a machine that brought a “hideous phantasm of a man” to life.

“The idea so possessed my mind, that a thrill of fear ran through me, and I wished to exchange the ghastly image of my fancy for the realities around. I see them still; the very room, the dark parquet, the closed shutters, with the moonlight struggling through, and the sense I had that the glassy lake and white high Alps were beyond. I could not so easily get rid of my hideous phantom; still it haunted me. I must try to think of something else. I recurred to my ghost story, my tiresome unlucky ghost story! O! if I could only contrive one which would frighten my reader as I myself had been frightened that night!

“Swift as light and as cheering was the idea that broke in upon me. “I have found it! What terrified me will terrify others; and I need only describe the spectre which had haunted my midnight pillow.” On the morrow I announced that I had thought of a story. I began that day with the words, It was on a dreary night of November , making only a transcript of the grim terrors of my waking dream.”

It was Percy Shelley who, seeing its potential, urged Mary to flesh it out (pardon the pun) and turn it into what became the grandmother of science fiction novels.

Which Geneva Gothic Romantic Writer Are You?

It depends on how you get your inspiration.

The Reteller

john-polidoriPolidori was inspired by the works of others, of Shakespeare and Lord Byron, creating his own stories from their initial ideas. Consider stories that inspire you. Write fan fiction, a retelling, or a twist on another tale, making it your own.

Example: Marissa Meyer wrote Sailor Moon fanfiction before she started writing her debut novel Cinder (a futuristic retelling of Cinderella), followed by retellings of Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Snow White, and the Queen of Hearts from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.


The Historian

lord-byronByron was inspired by literary history, both his own and historical legends. Consider something you’ve written in the past or a legend or classic you find fascinating. Then write it in a different medium or genre. Turn a play into a poem, a myth into a novel, or a short story into a script.

Example: Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis is based on the myth of Cupid and Psyche. Rick Riordan writes novel series based on mythology.



The Memoirist

percy-shelleyPercy wrote creative nonfiction, taking creative liberties with memories of true and personal events and feelings. What events in your past had the most significant emotional reactions, psychological consequences, or philosophical epiphanies? How can you fictionalize or elaborate on those moments?

Example: Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane is his most autobiographical , most chilling, and most beautifully written novel.




The Inventor

mary-shelleyMary was inspired by science, dreams, and philosophy. To come up with fantastic ideas like hers, read widely and think wildly. Read about scientific discoveries, consume philosopher theories and poet anthologies. Absorb visual and performance art. Visit a museum and take notes. I just stumbled upon a special on PBS about how engineers and scientists are using the concepts of origami to build structures, automate robotics, and energize space stations. How could you incorporate origami into a fictional universe?

Example: Publisher’s Weekly calls Haruki Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World a literary pyrotechno-thriller.

A New Challenge

Ideas may be illusive, but they aren’t endangered. I’m probably more of a Byron or Polidori than a Shelley, but inspiration can come from anywhere.

Now I challenge you to write a story. It doesn’t have to be a ghost story, but it does have to come out of a deep emotion. Will it be dread? Anxiety? Betrayal? Regret? Obsession?

Write your story, and if you feel so lead, tell us about it in the comments. If you post the story on your blog or a website, link to it below. Maybe you’ll find a critique partner!

Why Writers Procrastinate

I think about Tim Urban’s Instant Gratification Monkey pretty regularly.



If you’ve never read “Why Procrastinators Procrastinate,” you should. At the end, there’s a Part Two, but I’m not going to link to it here because you need to read Part One first.

Tim also has a TED talk, but if you’ve got 15 minutes, I recommend reading his two posts instead—they go into it a little deeper, in my opinion.

But if you can only listen and not read, here it is:


pg70pit writing contest logo

pg70pit 2015 Reunion

In 2015, we had 42 total winners, with 21 featured here and 21 more spread out among the co-host’s blogs. I checked in with the winners to see if they had any news to share!

The entry window for #70pit16 opens in one month! July 1 for MG, July 2 for YA, July 3 for Adult.


Were you a winner in 2015? Let me know how you are doing by emailing querylara (at gmail).

pg70pit writing contest logo

Book Deals

As the Sun Burns the GroundAmanda McCrina‘s Blood Road will be out for publication in Fall 2017. Amanda got her deal the traditional way, through the slush! Read about her experience with online pitching here. Find out more about her book deal with agent Lane Heymont here. Amanda will be a slush reader for this year’s pg70pit!

Cool Blue Reason Empties on the PageAften Brook Szymanski‘s YA psychological thriller is coming out in July with BookFish Books.

Killer Potential by pg70pit alum Aften Brook Szymanski

You’re a Sky Full of StarsKristin Smith has a book deal with Clean Teen Publishing for another, YA novel, Catalyst, which will be released November 2016. Click the cover to add to Goodreads!

Catalyst by pg70pit alum Kristin Smith


I’m the Best Mistake You’ll Ever MakeKaty Pool is now represented by Alexandra Machinist at ICM Partners. Her entry got four requests during 2015’s pg70pit.

I Know a Cat Named EasterRachel Richardson: “I’ve signed with Jennifer Udden of Barry Goldblatt Lit. We’re revising my novel for submission & my old page 70 is now on like page 100! :)” Her entry got five requests during 2015’s pg70pit.

The Flowers Sleeping in her HandsRachel Moser-Hardy is now represented by Jaida Temperly at New Leaf Literary.

Today Never Happened BeforeHeather Brewer is now represented by Rebecca Angus of Golden Wheat Literary.

Like Real People DoSheena Boekweg is now represented by Jessica Sinsheimer from Sarah Jane Freymann Literary.

More than Just a Dream —Wendy Parris was a 2015 PitchWars finalist and is now represented by Mary Gaule at Mary Evans, Inc. Wendy’s entry got two requests during 2015’s pg70pit.

Have a success story? Email me and I’ll include it on the Alumni Page!

More Winner Updates

“I did in fact receive a full request thanks to Pg70pit! She has my full MS now and is considering it. Thanks so much for hosting an incredible contest—it was a wonderful experience! I enjoyed pg70pit so much. I cannot wait to see what pages make the final cut this year.” Kyrie McCauley‘s Love is a Battlefield got three requests during 2015’s pg70pit and was later chosen for Pitch to Publication! “Many fulls out for consideration, but no big news … yet!”

G. Kaup‘s Dream Weaver I Believe manuscript was later chosen for the 2015 PitchWars contest! “I loved pg70pit because I got exposure to more than just my first lines, which can be so hard to get just right. Even though no agents requested it during the contest, it was nice to have feedback from you all that the voice is great. I knew I was at least doing something right. :)”

Hema Penmatsa‘s Parsley Sage Rosemary and Thyme partial request was upgraded to a full. She also received several other full requests and is now working through a Revise and Resubmit for the manuscript. We hope she’ll have great news to share soon!

Kristin Walter‘s You’re the Lace in My Shoe got five requests during 2015’s pg70pit. “I got several requests from the contest but then decided my book needed a new ending, so I’m working on it again and hoping those agents are still a teensy bit interested!”

Hilary Harwell‘s Living Life By The Drop got two requests during 2015’s pg70pit. Hilary was a 2015 PitchWars finalist and a 2016 MG/YA Pikes Peak Zebulon Contest Winner.

But Darling, Stay with Me has been reworked by Heather DiAngelis from a new adult novel to YA. “I’m still in the early stages of querying, but I’ve had some full requests already, and I’m feeling optimistic!”

Mary Dunbar‘s Little Supernovas in My Head received one full request during 2015’s pg70pit. “I had several requests for fulls during the querying process, but none of them worked out. However, I’m almost finished with a new manuscript, and I hope to begin querying it this fall.”

“I think mentioning the competition in my query has definitely helped, so a massive thank you for running the whole thing and choosing my entry as a winner.” David Hall’s I Was Not Magnificent received one request during 2015’s pg70pit. David has fulls out with several agents.

Ray Morris’s Puff the Magic Dragon received two requests during pg70pit. The responses to his pages were kind and helpful, with one turning into a request to see future work. He has a few fulls and some partials out with other agents.

In one week, I’m leading a webinar: Self-Publishing vs Traditional. Get free access by signing up for The Writer Reveille, a weekly digest to wake up your writer warrior within.