Thursday, January 19, 2017

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately revolve around movie soundtracks... like the score, not the compilation of songs that characters listen to while driving.

1) If my life were set to a movie soundtrack I would want it to be the one from Backdraft. Because my life is about fire and percussion.

2) Another alternative would be Last of the Mohicans, because I do occasionally kiss outdoorsy types.

3) Last one up for discussion is Beetlejuice. It's just kinda indicative of the interior of my head.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Wednesday WOLF

I've got a collection of random information in my brain that makes me an awesome Trivial Pursuit partner, but is completely useless when it comes to real world application. Like say, job applications. I thought I'd share some of this random crap with you in the form of another acronym-ific series. I give you - Word Origins from Left Field - that's right, the WOLF. Er... ignore the fact that the "from" doesn't fit.

It's flu season. Did you get your shot? I'm taking my chances and braving the wild this year. It's time to avoid people and hide behind your computer - in other words - writers, carry on.

In that vein your word origin of today is quarantine, which is a period of time during which a vehicle, person, or material suspected of carrying a contagious disease is detained at a port of entry under enforced isolation.

It comes from the French quarante, for forty and the suffix -aine which in French is the English equivalent of -ish. Ships thought to be carrying contagion were kept in port for forty(ish) days. Sailors were not allowed to debark, cargo was not unloaded until everyone had made it through the quarantine period free from whatever disease was suspected.

Or conversely, until every last one of them was dead.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Liz Coley On Cover Input As An Independent Author

I love talking to authors. Our experiences are so similar, yet so very different, that every one of us has a new story to share. Everyone says that the moment you get your cover it really hits you - you're an author. The cover is your story - and you - packaged for the world. So the process of the cover reveal can be slightly panic inducing. Does it fit your story? Is it what you hoped? Will it sell? With this in mind I put together the CRAP (Cover Reveal Anxiety Phase) Interview.

Today's guest for the CRAP is Liz Coley, whose best-selling psychological thriller Pretty Girl-13 has been published in 12 languages on 5 continents. Liz’s other publications include time travel romance Out of Xibalba, the Tor Maddox “pink thrillers” series, and her most recent sci-fi release The Captain’s Kid. Her short fiction has appeared in Cosmos Magazine and print anthologies. She has ventured into playwriting and developing a YouTube serial, Undercover Reading, for young teens. You can also follow Liz on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Wattpad, and visit her website at

Whenever his parents went out on missions for the Space Survey Corps, Brandon Webb was left behind on Luna, left to dream of journeying between the stars, meeting aliens, defeating villains, saving the world. Now it's his turn for adventure, permitted at last by the captain, his father, to join a year-long trip to a failing colonial planet on an emergency resupply run. Or so he's told.

Brandon's former dreams could turn to nightmares when the starship is sabotaged, the alien holds secrets about his past, the villain is on the right side, and the world isn’t ready to be saved.

Did you have any pre-conceived notions about what you wanted your cover to look like?

When I imagined the cover of The Captain’s Kid, it was important to me that the art depict the sci-fi genre very clearly and also show off the multiracial and mixed gender cast of buddies in this teen adventure. I wanted the focus to be on characters as much as our future in space. I figured the central image should be the main character and first person narrator Brandon Webb, of course, but I hoped the supporting characters could be as visible on the cover as they are in the story. The striking elements of Masuna’s eyes above and the villainous figure in silhouette were brought into play by my amazing cover artist—more about him below.

How far in advance from your pub date did you start talking covers with your artist?

Since this book was going to be independently published, timing was completely up to me. I looked for and signed a contract with my cover artist Joe Slucher four months before my target publication date (October 27, my oldest son’s birthday). Joe came recommended by another local artist I have known for several years, and I can’t be more grateful for the introduction. He was a joy to work with.

Did you have any input on your cover?

The greatest delight of independent publishing is the control and input the author has over the whole process. Joe and I had a very collaborative approach to concept. I said stuff and he read my mind and turned it into art. We first met at Joseph Beth Bookstore after he had read the entire novel—which tells you all you need to know about his work ethic! I don’t think that’s typical. He came prepared with general ideas based on the setting, characters, specific scenes, and technology. We looked together at character-centric covers in the “tween” section of the store so he could get a feel for my taste and my vision as well as what appeals to boys in this age group. Then this happened:

Joe prepared fifteen thumbnail sketches to narrow down the content and composition. My impossible job was to choose two for him to develop into more detailed black and white line drawings. After my focus-group-via-email weighed in, I picked the “walk on the moon” (#8) showing Audrey and Brandon, and the movie poster style ensemble collage (#15) showing Karthik, Audrey, and Brandon. At my request, we added the character of Con Liu, who was equally important to the subplots. And so we had:

The next phase was choosing only one of these line drawings to take to the next level—fonts, faces, and eventually, full color palate. That was so hard! I loved them both, so I asked to buy #8 as an interior black and white illustration as a little Easter Egg for the readers. Font selection and color phases looked like:

Was it hard to keep it to yourself before the official release?

I adored the final cover so much, it was very hard to keep it under my hat. I’d shared the development steps with my family and with one other YA sci-fi author along the way so they were all in on it. YA Books Central hosted the cover reveal and a giveaway on September 2, seven weeks pre-release. At that point, I also set up the cover on Goodreads and Amazon, with the Kindle edition available for pre-order.

What surprised you most about the process?

I’ve never worked with a professional artist on an iterative process where the final product is approached by small logical steps. Every file I received from Joe was like a birthday present, and his enthusiasm for the project was truly gratifying. The attention to so many little details made me really happy, as did the guinea pig on the cover. And Masuna’s eyes. And the evil weedbot! And…

Any advice to other debut authors about how to handle cover art anxiety?

Sorry - this won’t help anxiety at all, but it’s true that covers are really important. My theory holds that people READ books because of recommendations, but people BUY books because of their covers.

From my authorial perspective, this indy-pub cover experience was entirely different from my traditional publishing cover experience. I’m sure the publisher’s production team goes through all of these steps, but generally behind a curtain, hidden from the author. When HarperCollins published Pretty Girl-13, my editor handed me a damp printout of my cover, fully and final-form rendered, and said, “Don’t you love it?” I did, in fact, think it was really cool, but that was the extent of my input. With The Captain’s Kid, the opportunity to be so deeply involved in cover design, except for the part involving actual skill, saved me any anxiety. At all phases, I knew my cover was in expert hands.

So, for a debut author setting out on a traditional pub experience, I recommend that you grab all your bravery and have a discussion with your editor ahead of time about how your cover will be developed and at what point you might put an oar in that water. For a debut author setting out on a self-pub experience, I advise you to think hard about how much time, effort, and money you want to invest in your cover. There’s a huge and visible difference between clip-art and original art, and a really nice, eye-catching original cover makes great postcards and other swag. You can also hope it makes your book hop off the table at signings and school visits.

Monday, January 16, 2017

On Strong Female Characters

I'm not going to lie to you. Many of us who write strong female characters have begun to wince when we're asked to talk about them at panels or during an interview. It's not because being a strong female is a trend that has passed, but because it was never a trend in the first place.

Women were strong before Katniss picked up a bow or Tris jumped off a train. Read The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder - a true story - and you'll see a young girl braiding sheaves of straw together until her hands bleed so that her family has something to burn in their stove to ward off the bitter temperatures. Read that book as an adult and you'll understand that the family is dying, slowly starving to death while malnutrition and ennui sets in.

I dabble in genealogy as a hobby, and have traced my German line back to the 1500s. There I found a woman who gave birth to 15 children - and outlived all but two of them. I ran the dates, and in one week she lost two adolescent daughters (due to an illness in the home, I assume), gave birth a few days later, then lost the infant the next week.

She kept going.

There were seven other children still at home that needed care. She went on to raise them, and deliver more healthy children that grew into adulthood. She lived to be nearly 100 - certainly an accomplishment in the 1500's - and buried all but two of the children she gave birth to.

I bring up this ancestor from 500 years ago when I'm asked about writing strong female characters. This mother of fifteen didn't know about YA literature - in fact, she probably couldn't read - but I'm pretty sure she would have laughed at the idea of strong women being a trend.

Women were strong then.
Women are strong now.
Women will continue to be strong.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Saturday Slash

Meet my Hatchet of Death (or, some other colorful description RC Lewis and I come up with at any given moment). This is how I edit myself, it is how I edit others. If you think you want to play with me and my hatchet, shoot us an email.

We all know the first line of a query is your "hook." I call the last line the "sinker." You want it to punch them in the face, in a nice, friendly kind of way that makes them unable to forget you after having read the 300 other queries in their inbox.

If you're looking for query advice, but are slightly intimidated by my claws, blade, or just my rolling googly-eyes, check out the query critique boards over at AgentQueryConnect. This is where I got my start, with advice from people smarter than me. Don't be afraid to ask for help with the most critical first step of your writing journey - the query. My comments appear in green.

In a world where magic is banned, Haden has a unique ability that makes him one of the best spies in Syva. Hmm... okay but what is the connection of his ability to magic? Is it a magic ability? The reader can kind of assume that, I suppose, but technically the way the sentence is structured it doesn't say that. Too bad that isn't the life he chose for himself.

Haden Gensmith counts the days until he can finally pay off his debt, allowing him to be free to leave the service of The Rat—Syva's very own spymaster—to travel the world. When he receives his final mark, he's surprised to find his last assignment will be to gather information for the assassins about Princess Vena, cousin to the king of Syva. However, Vena is not the snobby and privileged girl he expected. Instead, she's kind and understanding and just as trapped in her life as he is. But she has a deadly secret, and when Haden learns it, his loyalty is tested as he refuses to pass the information on to the assassins. After all, he'd never expected to fall for the girl he was supposed to help kill. This is good - however I still don't know how magic comes into the plot?

When the spymaster learns of Haden's betrayal and tries to have him killed, Vena reveals an even darker secret and a new set of skills, saving his life. Together, they set out on a journey to defend both of their lives and discover the truth of why everyone wants them dead.

CLOAK & DAGGER is a YA fantasy with series potential, complete at 65,000 words. I am an avid reader, book blogger, and a member of AWP.

Okay cool, this is actually pretty good. You've done a good job of showing us what the setup is, but the plot itself is pretty generic -- character falls for person they are supposed to be the undoing of, right when they're about to realize their own personal goals and have to decide what's more important. 

The big question here is - what makes your story different from every other story that fits into the trope I mention above? You mention magic once, and also Vena's darker secret and special skills, but we don't know what they are. These are the elements that make your story unique from every other novel that fits into this plot - get them into your query.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: BAD BLOOD by Demitria Lunetta

My book talks are coming at you from a librarian, not a reviewer. You won't find me talking about style or craft, why I think this could've been better or what worked or didn't work. I only do book talks on books I liked and want other people to know about. So if it's here I probably think it won't injure your brain if you read it.

Heather can't shake the nightmares. A girl burning to death, and a Celtic knot that she keeps seeing and can't stop herself from carving into her own skin. Therapy helped... kind of, but she still feels anxiety rippling under her skin, not bad enough that she can't hide it though. She has to, if she wants to go to Scotland to visit her aunt for the summer.

Meeting a nice Scottish boy and spending time with good friend should help, but Scotland - with it's long history of witchcraft - actually seems to be making things worse. And Heather can't slip the feeling that the twin girls she keeps dreaming about are connecting to her somehow, and she has to find out before the next cut she makes plunges too deep.

Want to help me with all the mailing costs? I do giveaways at least once week, sometimes more. It can add up. If you feel so inclined as to donate a little to defray my mailing costs, it would be much appreciated!

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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately:

1) If you tell someone there's a grammatical error in something when there's actually not, they'll stare at it until they've come up with a new rule for the English language.

2) Cars are so stressful. Even thinking about things like mileage and gas power vs. electric, having to worry about oil changes and tire rotation, tread wear and not to mention What IS That Bad Smell and Where Could It Be Coming From? really makes me think that I'd rather just own a horse, feed it, and shovel its poop. 

3) Actually, I'm considering just doing all of my travel by waterway. It would be conceivable for me to kayak into town and back. But, I don't know if anyone would take it as an acceptable excuse for not making it somewhere if I tell them that my kayak won't start.