Sunday, October 5, 2014

Happy World Teachers' Day

In honor of World Teachers' Day, I've been thinking about some of my most life-changing moments as it relates to teachers. While there were many, most were associated with the books a few of my favorite teachers encouraged me to read, books that were memorable (much like the wonderful teachers recommending them).

The most unexpected and out of the box for me was The Catcher in the Rye. I'll be the first to say that the book does not follow any sort of typical flow. The narrator is first person. He's all over the map. You've got to work just a little to keep up with him and his flight of ideas. Still, everything about it works. You instantly get into Holden's head and feel sorry for him even though you know he's not yet of age, a heavy smoker, been kicked out of his prep school, and is cynical. Somehow, the entire package is endearing.

The next book that changed the way I read is P. S. I Love You (Sweet Dreams, #1). It's been thirty years since I read that book, and I still remember P. S. (Paul Strobe), I love you.

After that, there is Charlotte's Web. I remember my kindergarten teacher reading this book to my class while we rested our heads after recess. I loved it so much, I begged my mother to by it for me so I could read every word myself. 

The fact that The Catcher in the Rye and Charlotte's Web were still relevant thirty - forty years after they were published (when I read them)... that they are still relevant today speaks to how wonderful these authors are and how powerful their stories were (are). The fact that P. S. I Love You (Sweet Dreams, #1) is a book I still remember speaks to the tenderness of the story.

At the end of the day, I read and fell in love with these stories because a teacher took time from her busy day to share her passion. In my case, I had no choice but to buy and read these books... embrace the characters... and embed them into my heart, mind, and soul because the teachers recommending them had already done the same.

While I'm not sure words are enough, I'll at least try to offer my humble THANKS to the men and women who've pledged to educate our nation's children. Much like nursing, the work is hard and there's not nearly enough reward. I can only hope that teachers know and understand that even if they are not instantly acknowledged for their efforts, their students are taking it all in and allowing words, efforts, and recommendations to shape who they become.  

The Catcher in the Rye
Author: J.D. Salinger
Year: 1951

Since his debut in 1951 as The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield has been synonymous with "cynical adolescent." Holden narrates the story of a couple of days in his sixteen-year-old life, just after he's been expelled from prep school, in a slang that sounds edgy even today and keeps this novel on banned book lists.

It begins, " If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them. They're quite touchy about anything like that, especially my father. They're nice and all--I'm not saying that--but they're also touchy as hell. Besides, I'm not going to tell you my whole goddam autobiography or anything. I'll just tell you about this madman stuff that happened to me around last Christmas just before I got pretty run-down and had to come out here and take it easy. I mean that's all I told D.B. about, and he's my brother and all. He's in Hollywood. That isn't too far from this crumby place, and he comes over and visits me practically every week end. He's going to drive me home when I go home next month maybe. He just got a Jaguar. One of those little English jobs that can do around two hundred miles an hour. It cost him damn near four thousand bucks. He's got a lot of dough, now. He didn't use to. He used to be just a regular writer, when he was home. He wrote this terrific book of short stories, The Secret Goldfish, in case you never heard of him. The best one in it was "The Secret Goldfish." It was about this little kid that wouldn't let anybody look at his goldfish because he'd bought it with his own money. It killed me. Now he's out in Hollywood, D.B., being a prostitute. If there's one thing I hate, it's the movies. Don't even mention them to me."

His constant wry observations about what he encounters, from teachers to phonies (the two of course are not mutually exclusive) capture the essence of the eternal teenage experience of alienation.

P. S. I Love You (Sweet Dreams, #1)
Author: Barbara Conklin
Date: 1980

When her father left after the divorce, Mariah lost her sense of family. Now she's lost her special summer, too. Instead of fulfilling her dream to become a writer, Mariah has to help her mother with a house-sitting job in very rich, very snobby Palm Springs. People with a lot of money make Mariah uncomfortable. Until she meets Paul Strobe, the rich boy next door. Paul's not a snob and he doesn't act superior. In fact, his sandy sandy hair and piercing blue eyes break down all Mariah's defenses. With Paul, Palm Springs becomes the most romantic place on Earth.

But Paul has to go into the hospital for some tests and then an operation. He's seriously ill and all his family's money can't help him.

Will Maraih lose Paul, too, just when she's found her first love?

Author: E.B. White
Date: 1952

"I don't want to die!
Save me, somebody!
Save me!"

The tale of how a little girl named Fern, with the help of a friendly spider, saved her pig Wilbur from the usual fate of nice fat little pigs.

(From Puffin Books)

An affectionate pig named Wilbur befriends a spider named Charlotte, who lives in the rafters above his pen. In this story of friendship, hardship, and the passing on into time, White reminds readers to open their eyes to the wonder and miracle found in the simplest of things.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Toni's Big Six Journey #5

Being in the writing scene isn't always easy.  In fact it can be quite opposite rather.
I, uhm, I am writing this at 12:31 am 8.12.2014 on my laptop on iCloud notes and I have no idea how I am, but I like it (edited on laptop).

I can see all my old notes and let me tell you I have some weird ones and I have some great ones.  The great thing about being a writer is: NOT EVERYTHING WE WRITE HAS TO BE GOLD, IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE GOOD! In fact my advice is to write something horrible. Misspell words, be grammatically incorrect, let it be AWFUL!, but for the love of all things writerly let it be good.  Let it be you, your mind, your craziness, your hopes and dreams and desires, your fears and worries, let it be free. Don't confine it, don't ever confine anything to being perfect, because that takes the beauty and the art away from the craft and turns it into something scientific.  Let writing be!  Let it be something that cannot be explained, that cannot be contained, that cannot be won or lost, just let it be.

When did we start writing for anyone other than ourselves?  "Published is the goal!" Is something I often reply often when asked what I want to do with my life, as if that is the greatest thing I can do. I mean, yeah, it IS THE GOAL, obviously for all of us.  But shouldn't finishing a book be the goal?  The story is ours, we decided to share it. As writers we are generous people, we are letting someone, lots of someones into our minds.  Now that's intimate.

I often write for my characters and I think that that may be the problem.  I mean I need to keep them in mind and yeah, the books are theirs, but I need to write it for me, so they can live outside of me.  I need them to exist on a plane that is tangible.  You can touch a book, you cannot touch a thought.  And they are wonderful.  I love them more than anyone, more than anything.  And, god, do I wish they were ACTUALLY tangible.  If Devon or Jake or Lennox or oh my god Julien or Adonis were real!  That is the goal, to make them REAL! They are real to me in a way they can never be real to the reader, and for the opposite, they will be real to the reader in a way they cannot be real to me.  That right there…that is the goal.  Yes! Because finishing means letting them live.  They are alive to us, and they need to be alive to the world.

Yeah, that's it.  Share your story, but for the love of all things holy, write for yourself and let your one and only goal be finishing, then you can conquer the publishing world.  Because even if you don't go to print, it doesn't matter, they, our loves, live on paper and that my friends is true beauty.  True beauty.

And in closing, it doesn’t matter what people, the readers, the editors, the reviewers, the betas, the anyones say.  It is yours.  Be proud of it and do NOT let a bad review or bad query experience determine your life.  All that matters is that it is important to you and you alone. And the second thing that matters is: that they, our gorgeous, flawed, broken, sometimes dead characters get to live! They get to live, through us, through paper. And back to the true beauty quote above.

Please send me ideas for what YOU want to see written about!

Peace, Love, & Inspiration
Keep writing & remember

Listening to: Good Enough from The Open Door-Evanescence

Quote: “NEVER LET A WORD DEFINE WHO YOU ARE.” - - Kyle Parsons 

Monday, July 14, 2014

International Author's Day - Secrets & Reveals

I was recently invited by a Facebook Friend, Debdatta Sahay with Bookish Indulgences with Book R3vi3ws, to participate in an previously nonexistent and much needed International Author's Day. Because I thought it was a brilliant idea... one that was a long time coming... I agreed to participate.


In honor of the 'newly anointed' celebration, I'm going to share some secrets & some reveals along with the reason I've been laying low (making fewer Blogger/Facebook posts and pulling back on the number of books I release). I'm sharing because I hope that fans and friends will understand my grand scheme. Of course, with my revelation, they'll realize that there is no big plan only a small one, one that will give them lots of releases at one time rather than one periodically and with a few delays as possible. 

Basically, what I've decided to do is write nonstop, finish books, have them edited, and hold on to them until I have three or four (or maybe more). Then, I plan to take a little time away from writing to do the release day activities, interviews, and review responses (since I try to go out of my way to thank readers/reviewers for their time and their kindness). I'm hoping this new way of doing things will be a satisfier for those readers anxiously awaiting my next releases because each release takes lots of time away from my writing, meaning the next book up gets delayed by four, six, and sometimes eight weeks.

As it stands, I have one book, Since Inception (Vanishing, #1), completed and ready for release. Cheating Time (Longevity, #1) is 86% complete (with writing), Dark Angels of the Cross (Warriors, #4) is 48% complete (with writing),  There (Still Standing, #2) is teed up and ready to be written, and finally, Deep Web (Agent Jen Lanes #1) is 7% complete (with writing). If all goes well, I'll release all of these books around the same time and within weeks of each other.

Until they are released, I'm sharing the books, their summary, and their covers (noting that several have never been released before). Enjoy and thanks so very, very much for your support, patience, and time.

* * * *

Carles "Carlie" Enoch's world was one that could barely be imagined. In it, babies had micropharmeceutical devices inserted in their hearts within hours of birth. The MicroPharm implant held code that secretly counted down until the date of that baby's death (as determined by its genetic analysis) and contained drugs that were released in such a way that chemicals and hormones were in perfect balance at all times, making illness almost unheard of.

Theoretically, the known but unexposed date of the babies' deaths and the maintenance drugs geared toward giving the baby a long life had benign consequences. It was the unknown and unbelievable and unexpected way President John Barone gathered data about every child and the way he released contraceptives from the device in order to control the population and terminate pregnancies when embryos were identified as weak or mutated that made the device and its technology as dangerous as any malignancy.

For President Barone, seventeen-year-old Carlie was not just a MicroPharm first generation, she was the great granddaughter of the man who discovered the ability to determine life expectancy down to the day and the daughter of the woman who invented the MicroPharm chip. Carlie and her family were important to President Barone's political career and the plans he had of creating a nation of strong, healthy, and superior people, ones who gave more to their country than they took.

Jayden St. Romaine, one of the Facet's most loyal Surrogate Soldier, was ordered by President Barone himself to find the Enoche family and kidnap Carlie. Through blackmail, he planned to leverage control over the Enoche's scientific research and the ability to develop even more tools that could be used to genetically engineer a superior race.

When President Barone sent Jayden on his mission, he never expected his perfect soldier to develop a conscience... betray his trust... fall in love with Carlie, but he'd dispatched a back-up Surrogate Soldier just in case. With the ticking of the clock and the second Surrogate chasing them, Jayden's chances at redemption and Carlie's chances of living a life where she was free to make choices about her life and her body were in jeopardy of coming too late.

* * * *

FOLLOW-UP TO LEFT (summary for Left and not There):
A naive Baylee loves Colt, her boyfriend of four years, more than she ever thought possible. After a little snooping, she's convinced she's well on her way toward hearing an once-in-a-lifetime proposal and starring in the wedding-of-the-year event. Instead, she's blindsided by a very public breakup and the crushing news that Colt is marrying someone else… someone more befitting him and the role his father expects him to take in his law firm.

Baylee may have spent years resenting Ariana, her mother, and her suicide, an intolerable show of weakness in Baylee's opinion, but after Colt leaves her just short of the altar, Baylee sees the world through her mother's eyes. She sympathizes with Ariana's actions and realizes that some things—soul-deep aches—can irreparably damage you and make moving on nearly impossible.

At least that's how she feels until she meets Ryker. With his help, Baylee discovers there is life after Colt, and she prepares to move on by pulling herself up by the bootstraps, holding her head high, and standing on her own two feet. Unfortunately, a new jealous and hateful Colt has his own plans for her, and they are plans no one—especially Baylee—ever saw coming.

* * * *
After discovering she has a problem worse than anything she could have ever imagined, Rainey Billows longs for the past—a time when she thought she was just a sadistic sleepwalker. Worse yet, this problem has been with her since inception.

Rainey, a woman who's suffered an entire lifetime of pain and humiliation because of her sleepwalking, is financially desperate when she takes in Carter Dodson as a boarder. With his presence in her house and her attraction to him, her internal conflicts, ones she's usually able to ignore, swim to the surface and take control. Before she knows it, her sleepwalking moves to a completely new level, and she's doing things she'd never thought possible.

In fear for Carter's life and without options, Rainey sentences herself to a nighttime ritual that would appear barbaric to others. In her mind, it's essential because, unlike anyone else, she knows firsthand the types of atrocities she's capable of in her sleep.

Carter, a man branded as unconditionally loyal by his friends, knows very little about Rainey but decides early on that she's a woman who has no one… a woman who needs someone. He commits himself to being that person for her. As soon as she makes her first request of him—to ignore her and her nighttime rituals no matter what she says or does—he reconsiders his pledge before quickly reminding himself he can't abandon her. She's had enough of that.

Months later, study, research, and theories are not enough, and standing by is no longer an option. Carter suspects what's wrong with her. What she is. With his suspicions in tow, he searches out and enlists the help of Luke, a childhood friend who's fast-tracking his way to priesthood. After a series of unforeseen and life-threatening events, the two men learn that even the Almighty himself may not be able to help Rainey.

* * * *

Allison La Crosse's journey continues at full speed. With barely enough time to process her heartbreak, she learns danger has followed her from the Underwater Realm, and with it, she sees firsthand how potent the fury of a scorned woman can be. When Sheza orders Crux, the latest Dark Fallen Angel, to hunt and kill Allison, the fight for her life begins anew.

Making the adventure all the more interesting and dangerous, Allison learns that promises, pledges, blood bonds, and commitments made in the heat of the moment cannot be ignored or matter how much she would like to do just that.

Allison's most-recent Disciple, Hestia, is Crux's soul mate. For her sake, Allison, Brody, Clark, Daryl, and Neptune join forces and journey into Demesne's Inferno, a land comparable to Hell. It's the only place where Crux's soul can be rescued from the darkest angel of all.

* * * *

In FBI Special Agent Jen Lanes's world, everything is black or white—good or bad. At least it is until she's put in charge of the team assigned with bringing Troy Rhodes, her first and only true love, to justice. The instant Jen comes face to face with Troy, she realizes her feelings for him are as deep, tangled, and confusing as the secret web he uses to broker deals for anything and everything. Legal and illegal.

Jen is the best in her field because she understands the criminal element in ways none of her peers ever will. Making her superiors nervous is the fact that her familiarity with felons' thoughts and actions has nothing to do with her on-the-job experience. Instead, it has everything to do with Ben, her grifter father, and his gang of criminals, who went underground at her house so often Jen considered them family.

In her house hiding out with Peter, his computer-hacking father, is where Jen met Troy fifteen years ago. At nine, he was as tall and lanky as he was afraid for his father. By the time Jen and Troy were teenagers, the two of them had spent more time living together than apart, and they had grown unbelievably close. Even today, Jen's best and worst memories live embedded within each other, so connected that the worst could never be teased away from the best without losing Troy forever.

It was New Year's Eve and they were both fourteen. Their fathers were drunkenly celebrating the success of a job that had paid more than enough to get them and their kids out of the business once and for all. While the men toasted the New Year and planned a life where the four of them could start over, Troy took Jen by the hand, led her to their special hideaway, and kissed her for the first time.

That day, one of tree houses… new beginnings... first loves... pubescent exploration, was the day the world shattered. Oblivious to the rest of the word, they swayed happily among the treetops while agents stormed Jen's house and killed Ben and Peter. Before Jen could process the bloody, violent scene before them, she was ripped from Troy's arms—despite his demands they be allowed to stay together—and thrown into the back of an unmarked car.

A week later, Jen was living with an aunt she never knew existed, and based on the FBI's criminal profile, Troy followed in his father's footsteps, getting lost within the deep web.

* * * *

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Release: Warrior (Order of the Spirit Realm Book 3) by Kasi Blake


Official Release Date: 7/13/14
This is the third book in the Order of the Spirit Realm Series.  If you haven't read them, start with BAIT.  It is free at most online ebook vendors such as Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Smashwords, etc.

This book begins two years after HUNTER ended.  Bay-Lee is fighting a Devil Tree while her mentor and boyfriend, Nick Gallos, watches from the sidelines.  Things are tense between them.  She wants to amp up their relationship, but Nick has put on the brakes.  He's got one foot out the door, and she doesn't know what to do about it.

WARRIOR brings about closure and change, some good and some bad.  Together, Nick and Bay-Lee will take on the werewolf pack that killed her mother, face their twisted pasts, and face a friend turned enemy.

Quotes from WARRIOR:

Bay-Lee: You never told me I wasn't supposed to kill it.  You told me I couldn't kill it.
Nick: I should have known you'd take that as a challenge.

Keisha: Oh, don't play Miss Innocent with me, girl.  It was your idea for me to trade places with Nick's banshee, but you've been wearing a pouty face ever since.
Bay-Lee: I don't have a pouty face.
Keisha:  Sure you don't.

Bay-Lee (after knocking Keisha down):  You hit on my boyfriend, so I thought I should hit on you.

Little girl:  There's a monster in my closet.

He added, "Reapers aren't supposed to care.They don't have compassion or love inside of them."

"But you're still human."

"Because of you!"  It sounded like an accusation instead of gratitude.  "I haven't lost my humanity because I still have you.  His facial muscles tightened.  "I can't keep living like this."

Nick threw the talisman down and stormed off, heading for the castle.

She scooped the talisman off the ground.  It was precious, even if it was malfunctioning. 

Without it Nick wouldn't be able to stay with her.  She ran until she caught up with him. 

Slipping it into his hand, she begged him to keep using it.  "At least until we find something else.  Please."

The purple half-circles beneath his eyes attested to his lack of sleep and made her want to cry.  She cringed when he slipped the thing around his neck.  Asking him to live like this was horrible, but she couldn't let him go, not yet.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Playing With Fire & Insisting Authors Ignore Agents' Advice

During some rare downtime at the hair salon last week, I saw an article, The Worst Ways to Begin Your Novel: Advice from Literary Agents, while scrolling through Facebook feed. Because it resonated with me, I made a mental note to read it thoroughly in preparation for this post. When I went back and tried to locate it, I found that the excerpts included within it had been shared ad nauseam.

Despite the fact that everyone has seen these pieces of 'advice', I can't shy away from this post because - unlike others - I have no intention of putting them out there as if they are cold hard facts, ones that authors must live and die by. Instead, I plan to play with fire and suggest that authors could and should IGNORE these literary agents' 'words of wisdom' in most situations. Based on the evidence I put forth, I believe everyone will see that an author can still write a bestselling novel complete with an epic story and unforgettable characters even if he or she chooses to ignore the 'don't' list summarized in the Guide to Literary Agents, from Writer’s Digest Books.
I may not have a bestseller (yet), but I am now and have always been an avid reader. As a reader, I know what I like in a book, and as an author, I know what it takes to build a story. I also am not a literary agent, but I can assure you that some of the best authors in the world have been turned down by some of the best literary agents in the world because that author's writing style/story plot was not in line with that of the agent's. It does not mean those stories were not powerful or worth telling (see JK Rowling's attempts at getting The Cuckoo’s Calling published as Robert Galbraith). It simply means the agent 'could not find a unique selling-point with which to market it'.
This post is not being written in order to challenge an agent's right to accept or decline an author's query for representation. I'm a firm believer that an author needs an advocate who can support him/her at all times. If the agent does not immediately 'get' what the author is saying/doing/envisioning, a partnership will never be successful. Everyone knows you can't shove a round peg into a square hole, and that's exactly what it would be like if the agent and author were not on the same page. It's in everyone's best interest for the agent to admit right away that he/she will never be able to make the concessions necessary to shepherd the author to success, leaving the author free to continue his or her search for the person who might be able to help him/her.
As an author, I understand the agent-finding dilemma better than most and maybe not good as others. After querying a few agents, I've come to the conclusion that querying is similar to dating. By this, I'm suggesting that you have to date a lot of frogs - query a lot of agents - before you find your prince charming - sign with an representative. If you want to be in a relationship - have your book traditionally published - you have to put yourself - your manuscript - out there. Then, it's with bated breath and more anxiety than anyone could ever imagine that you wait to see if you - your manuscript - will be worthy of a call back - a first chapter request. When the request for a second date - a full manuscript - never comes, you move on. Keep dating - keep querying.
After reading this Facebook feed article (and realizing that even JK Rowling herself had problems getting an agent), I completely understand why it is so difficult for unknown authors to find an agent to represent them. Some part of the challenge has to do with the agent's throwing around their preferences and opinion as if they and they alone have the power to decide if a book is worthy of publishing... is worthy of making it to a bestseller list.
Let me be perfectly clear: THERE IS NO EXACT RECIPE FOR WRITING A BESTSELLER. These agents (including the ones who turned down JK Rowling) can't tell an author what to do or when to do it in a way that will guarantee success. These agents can decide if they are going to represent an author and that author can decided if they can abide by their 'preferences' and avoid their 'peeves' but doing so will not carry with it guarantees.
Because there is no exact recipe and until someone can prove otherwise, the author who envisions the story should have the right to decide how the novel is written, arranged, and/or told. She/he are the crafters of the yarn, meaning they alone understand what needs to be told and when... how much of the back-story must be provided at the beginning so that the middle and end are seamless (and less confusing) to the reader... how much description is required (not required). Authors have a responsibility to the readers, and that responsibility is to spin a great tale that will turn these characters into friends/family/enemies... that will have the readers' heart racing, bellies full of butterflies, and hands shaking with anxiety. Periodically, those same readers will laugh. Other times, they will cry.
Authors have an obligation to use everything at their disposal in order to accomplish this goal because those special connections and unforgettable moments can't happen in a world where creativity is stifled just because an agent/publisher/reviewer assumes their way is the only way or that their preferences are the only ones worthy of representation/publishing/great reviews.
Creativity starts with a blank page and an author who is free to do what she/he needs to do in order to make the story as good as it can be. It can't be crippled in the beginning with silly rules like the ones suggested below by some of the country's best known agents.
False beginnings
“I don’t like it when the main character dies at the end of Chapter One. Why did I just spend all this time with this character? I feel cheated.”
Now, I have no idea who Cricket is, and I've never even heard of The August Agency (forgive me if that offends anyone). I'm confident that they (and the other agencies listed below) are wonderful at what they do and have many amazing authors who work with them and for them. I'm just as sure there are amazing books whereby the reader learns of the characters death long before the characters are important to them. As such, I cannot blindly follow this subjective advice.
A perfect example would be Lolita. The book's fictional "Foreword" states that Humbert dies of coronary thrombosis upon finishing his manuscript. It also states that Mrs. Richard Schiller [Lolita] died giving birth to a stillborn girl on Christmas Day, 1952, at the age of 17. No one knows anything about these characters at that point in the book, but after reading their story, the readers understand the significance of the characters' deaths. I'm not sure cheated is how the book's many readers have felt, and I'm thankful Vladimir Nabokov didn't write the story concerning himself with Cricket's perception that she might one day feel cheated.
“I dislike opening scenes that you think are real, then the protagonist wakes up. It makes me feel cheated.”
Along the same lines, I'd like to suggest that Mrs. McLean might actually be stifling creativity with her subjective suggestion. I offer up one of my favorite movies of all time as evidence, The Matrix. In the dystopian future, reality is nothing more than perception simulated by "the Matrix". I'm absolutely sure Ms. McLean would insist that she was not suggesting that the genius behind this story (one where the main character is actually asleep/unconscious while the world is lived around him) be muted, but I have to wonder if a young or new author who is diligently following her suggestions will ever write a story this unique. The possibility that these agents' advice will be read and deemed the golden standard concerns me because I see a literary world stripped of unexpected gems, ones like The Matrix. Even more frustrating is the possibility that authors/agents/publishers might eventually automatically count out these types of stories because they've been told via this advice that they'll never be bestsellers. Let's face it. At the end of the day, that's what they're looking for. A bestseller.
In science fiction
“A sci-fi novel that spends the first two pages describing the strange landscape.”
I'm not big into science fiction, but I can assure you that one of the best books I've read this year, Red Risingspends the first two pages describing what can only be called strange landscapes. In fact, Pierce Brown actually embedded maps into the first few pages of the book so that the reader could fully comprehend the 'landscape' and its importance to the story. Fortunately, there was both a forward thinking agent/publisher who didn't agree with this advice and gave Red Rising's fans an amazing story.
“I’m not a fan of prologues, preferring to find myself in the midst of a moving plot on page one rather than being kept outside of it, or eased into it.”
“Most agents hate prologues. Just make the first chapter relevant and well written.”
“Prologues are usually a lazy way to give back-story chunks to the reader and can be handled with more finesse throughout the story. Damn the prologue, full speed ahead!”
This piece of advice (coming from three different agencies, to boot) actually made me chuckle. I love a prologue. Both in my writing and my reading. It is also the easiest 'don't' to disprove. Star Wars. Need I say more. There are others. Many, many others (Romeo and Juliet), but I won't even begin to pretend this 'don't' is worth discussing. There are times when it is important to a story because it can establish the setting and give background details or some earlier story that ties into the main one. I'm all for letting the author make the call and not an agent whose flippancy might actually weaken the story in the long run.
Exposition and description
“Perhaps my biggest pet peeve with an opening chapter is when an author features too much exposition – when they go beyond what is necessary for simply ‘setting the scene.’ I want to feel as if I’m in the hands of a master storyteller, and starting a story with long, flowery, overly-descriptive sentences (kind of like this one) makes the writer seem amateurish and the story contrived. Of course, an equally jarring beginning can be nearly as off-putting, and I hesitate to read on if I’m feeling disoriented by the fifth page. I enjoy when writers can find a good balance between exposition and mystery. Too much accounting always ruins the mystery of a novel, and the unknown is what propels us to read further.”
“The [adjective] [adjective] sun rose in the [adjective] [adjective] sky, shedding its [adjective] light across the [adjective] [adjective] [adjective] land.”
 “I dislike endless ‘laundry list’ character descriptions. For example: ‘She had eyes the color of a summer sky and long blonde hair that fell in ringlets past her shoulders. Her petite nose was the perfect size for her heart-shaped face. Her azure dress — with the empire waist and long, tight sleeves — sported tiny pearl buttons down the bodice. Ivory lace peeked out of the hem in front, blah, blah.’ Who cares! Work it into the story.”
I'll be the first to admit that I like a story with descriptions. I love an author who can make me feel like I'm part of the characters' world. That means that I expect to know and understand the sights, sounds, smells, etc. surrounding the characters and their story. It is the only way that I can experience the story the way it was meant to be experienced. I'll also agree there is an art to storytelling, meaning only the most gifted of authors can pull this off.
At the same time, I'd like for agents and publishers to stop thinking of all readers as tempestuous children who need a lollipop to quiet them. I'm not in search of a quick easy in and out story. I'm in search of the next great thing. One of my favorite stories of all time, The Night Circus, is one such book. The descriptions are so phenomenal that you can't help but believe you've just attended a circus. No, scratch that. After you've read the book, you want to go to a circus. You crave it because you are desperate to see the sights and hear the sounds and smell the scents as described by Erin Morgenstern.
In response to the 'laundry list of character descriptions' and as a reader, I'd like to point out that I love a complete description of the characters. I want to see them the way the author sees them... not the way I envision them in my mind, and when the author doesn't give that to me, I find that the characters are fuzzy balls of dust when I imagine them after I've read the book and I try to remember the character's traits and features. Again - and obviously just my opinion - I love to know what the characters look like, and I like that information early on so that I'm not left guessing or assuming the whole book.
Starting too slowly
“Characters that are moving around doing little things, but essentially nothing. Washing dishes & thinking, staring out the window & thinking, tying shoes, thinking.”
“I don’t really like ‘first day of school’ beginnings, ‘from the beginning of time,’ or ‘once upon a time.’ Specifically, I dislike a Chapter One in which nothing happens.”
Is there any slower beginning to a story than Matched by Allyson Braithwaite Condie? Maybe not, but it does not change the fact that it's an amazing book/series. Again, I have a problem with agents painting all writing styles with such a broad stroke, and I worry that the authors creating these stories are going to change the way they write in order to conform. When they do, readers everywhere are going to miss out on the next epic story.
In crime fiction
“Someone squinting into the sunlight with a hangover in a crime novel. Good grief — been done a million times.”
The recurring theme here is that some of these agents have quite a few 'opinions' on what should be done and what shouldn't be done. As for me, something as simple as 'someone squinting into the sunlight with a hangover in a crime novel' is not a 'flaw' to get worked up over. If the story is good, the plot is solid, and the premise is one that is intriguing to readers of this genre, I'd say 'get over it'.
In fantasy
“Cliché openings in fantasy can include an opening scene set in a battle (and my peeve is that I don’t know any of the characters yet so why should I care about this battle) or with a pastoral scene where the protagonist is gathering herbs (I didn’t realize how common this is).”
Sometimes cliché is where it's at. I just finished reading the Half-Blood: Covenant, Book 1 by Jennifer L. Armentrout. It absolutely begins in the heat of the battle. That does nothing to keep the book/series from being good enough to keep me up at night reading or to prevent me from dreaming about the characters of the story when I finally do go to sleep. For me and like I've said several times now, it's not about these tiny peeves. It's about the story, the writing, the characters, etc.
“I know this may sound obvious, but too much ‘telling’ vs. ‘showing’ in the first chapter is a definite warning sign for me. The first chapter should present a compelling scene, not a road map for the rest of the book. The goal is to make the reader curious about your characters, fill their heads with questions that must be answered, not fill them in on exactly where, when, who and how.”
Now, this is one piece of advice I can get behind (though I'd never issue it as a blanketed recommendation). I do believe there are certain things that need to be told and others that need to be shown through the telling of the story, the character's dialogue/actions, and evolution of events.
“I hate reading purple prose – describing something so beautifully that has nothing to do with the actual story.”
- Cherry Weiner, Cherry Weiner Literary (the only link I could not find)
I think it's important to minimize extravagant descriptions (when it's not relevant), but it's equally important to mention that there are those who believe Twilight is the perfect example of purple prose. I don't agree with this opinion at all which is exactly the reason I believe purple prose writing might be 'all in the eyes of the beholder' and an impossible piece of advice to follow.
“A cheesy hook drives me nuts. They say ‘Open with a hook!’ to grab the reader. That’s true, but there’s a fine line between an intriguing hook and one that’s just silly. An example of a silly hook would be opening with a line of overtly sexual dialogue.”
Obviously, the difference between cheesy and not cheesy (purple prose and not purple prose) can be as simple as who is presenting it and to whom it's being presented. I'm inclined to believe that the opening of the book provides a very good idea of how the rest of the book is going to go. As a reader, I'd rather know right away the book is going to be filled with 'overtly sexual dialogue' so that I can make a conscious decision to keep going or close the book and move on.
 “I don’t like an opening line that’s ‘My name is…,’ introducing the narrator to the reader so blatantly. There are far better ways in Chapter One to establish an instant connection between narrator and reader.”
I'm going to assume Ms. Andelman is not a fan of My Name is Memory, a book written by Ann Brashares. Ms. Brashares has written numerous books including Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. I've not read this particular book, but I'm suggesting that you can even name the book 'My Name is...' as long as there is some meat and potatoes behind it.
“Sometimes a reasonably good writer will create an interesting character and describe him in a compelling way, but then he’ll turn out to be some unimportant bit player.”
Yes... this is true. For me, every character is important in the telling of a story, but every character can't be a main character. Honestly, from this excerpt, I'm not sure I can gleam much information. Does it mean that authors should make supporting characters boring and that - for goodness sakes - they shouldn't make them compelling. I certainly don't know the context from which this piece of advice originated, but as an author, I can say that periodically, I have characters that are introduced in one book and come back in other books. It might be that the character is being introduced with a plan for future greatness.
In romance
“In romance, I can’t stand this scenario: A woman is awakened to find a strange man in her bedroom — and then automatically finds him attractive. I’m sorry, but if I awoke to a strange man in my bedroom, I’d be reaching for a weapon — not admiring the view.”
Again... I'm going to have to agree with Ms. Nelson (though I'd never use such strong language as 'can't stand'). Even as a writer who is willing to embrace all kinds of scenarios, I'm not sure I can do anything more with the story line where a strange man is in a woman's bedroom uninvited but make the woman frightened beyond belief.
In a Christian novel
“A rape scene in a Christian novel in the first chapter.”
It's very hard for me to take much from this 'don't' because there is no context. I'm not convinced that a Christian novel can't include a rape scene... if the author is recreating a modern day version of one of the many Bible stories suggesting that woman were enslaved and/or raped. (I'm not suggesting it's right either.) I'm simply suggesting that we don't know where the author was going because we didn't read the excerpt(s) Mr. MacGregor read.
Characters and backstory
“I don’t like descriptions of the characters where writers make them too perfect. Heroines (and heroes) who are described physically as being virtually unflawed come across as unrelatable and boring. No ‘flowing, wind-swept golden locks’; no ‘eyes as blue as the sky’; no ‘willowy, perfect figures.’ ”
This 'don't' is nothing more than personal preference, and I'll be honest that almost every book I've read in the last five years has perfect and unflawed characters, meaning I'm not sure Ms. Bradford's advice is solid enough to follow. In my experience, there are readers - lots of them - looking for perfection in their characters and their authors.
“Many writers express the character’s backstory before they get to the plot. Good writers will go back and cut that stuff out and get right to the plot. The character’s backstory stays with them — it’s in their DNA.”
I actually like everything about Mr. Chromy's advice, and I have every intention of building character DNA based on his simple - yet powerful - suggestion.
“I’m turned off when a writer feels the need to fill in all the backstory before starting the story; a story that opens on the protagonist’s mental reflection of their situation is a red flag.”
Red flag seems like a strong label for a technique that is done all the time and in many books. In fact, it has proven quite successful and appears to be a reader satisfier. As both a reader and an author, I'm not sure I could call this technique a red flag that should be avoided at all costs. Instead, I'd say he should be used judiciously.
“One of the biggest problems is the ‘information dump’ in the first few pages, where the author is trying to tell us everything we supposedly need to know to understand the story. Getting to know characters in a story is like getting to know people in real life. You find out their personality and details of their life over time.”
I know where Ms. Gardner is going with this, but again, I have to insist that there are bestselling authors/novels that that use this technique. Maybe the important point here is that the characters must continue to evolve and/or only the need-to-know information should be front-loaded and the rest should be rolled out slowly so that the reader can enjoy meeting and getting to know the characters.
Truly, my goal here was not to go rogue and dispute every piece of advice provided (noting that I did find some hidden gems) by these professionals. It was simply to point out that blindly following these suggestions might actually weaken an author's story and prevent him or her from elevating themselves, their characters, and their story to their fullest potential. I worry that people everywhere will assume authors who use these techniques are weak when in fact they are strong for telling the story the best way possible by using tried and true techniques. I want authors to do what they need to do to tell their story. After it's completed, give it to the readers themselves if they can't capture the attention of an agent/publisher, step back, and see what the real experts - the only ones who matter - think.
Trust me, being an unrepresented indie author is not a bad thing at all. Just ask these bestselling authors: M. Leighton, Abbi Glines, John Grisham, Amanda Hocking, E.L. James, Bella Andre, Courtney Cole, Samantha Young, Jennifer L. Armentrout, Teresa Mummert, and the list goes on.... 
I'd venture a guess that the very people providing advice in this article are ones who turned down at least one unsolicited query from an author who can now proudly boast that he/she is a bestselling author. Sometimes staying true to the story and a healthy dose of perseverance are all that's needed to make dreams come true and to achieve 'unachievable' goals (despite the use of your lazy-assed prologue, the way you insist on a back-story, and/or your damn purple prose❤).