Monday, February 20, 2017

A Walk In The Woods

I've got a lot going on, and that's fine - I like it that way.

But it's 70 degrees in Ohio (in February, mind you) and my laundry is hanging on the line so yesterday it was hard to stay inside and work. Everything I do is tied to the computer. Writing, editing, blogging - and the new podcast I'm starting to go along with this blog - require me to sit inside and stare at a screen.

Sometimes it's not fun. Yesterday was one of those times.

I thought I'd go into the woods. It's not a stress thing, or a cathartic thing, or a break for freedom. It was simply hanging out the laundry and saw the woods and thought I might like to be in it. So I went.

If you look you can see spot awesome things in the woods. And if you don't you're likely to miss a lot. I was taking my time yesterday, standing still even, when I spotted a drop (an antler that a deer has shed). Drops are hard to see, as they blend in so perfectly with the forest floor. I grabbed it to have an entire skull follow, shedding a few years worth of the leaf covering that had been hiding.

So I have a new friend. A dead friend, but a friend. He's in my office now, providing a wonderful focal point for me to zone out on when that's what work calls for.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The 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.

A mysterious killer is haunting Chicago, and Blair is sure it’s something supernatural. She should know. She’s has She has) been training to be a Guardian her entire life. While people sleep soundly in their beds, Blair stalks the streets, making sure the monsters are having nightmares about her. Not bad. Fix that little grammar flub and I think the last sentence would be better without -ing verbs. For one thing, if the monsters are awake while others are asleep, they can't be *having* nightmares at the same time as they people they stalk. It's a tense thing, and very picky on my part. Change to... to make sure monsters have nightmares about her. See how that brings more immediacy as well? 

When Blair’s new neighbor, Lexi, is attacked by a vampire, Blair rushes in to save her, only to find she’s is Either she is or she's But more importantly who is immune? Lexi, or the vampire? Needs clarified. Also, why would it matter if Lexi is immune? immune to magic. To protect Lexi from the prying eyes of the Guardian Assembly, Blair is caught in her own lies, pride, and selfishness, causing a mission to go horribly wrong. Leaving her ex-boyfriend dead.  Why does Lexi need protected from the Guardians if she's immune to magic? What does that mean in their world? And what are these lies, pride, and selfish acts from Blair? We had no indication that this was her character until now.

The Assembly steps in and puts Blair on probation. She now has to face her worst nightmare:  being normal. No supernatural creatures. No fighting. No magic.

But the killer is still out there. Is the killer connected to what happened with the mission that went wrong or to the attack on Lexi? Because the killer was your hook, then we lose him / her until here at the end of the query. The Assembly doesn’t know what it is and Blair is unable to help. Then it goes after her friends. It no longer matters what the Assembly does or says. Nothing gets to Blair’s people without going through her first.

GUARDIANS OF THE CITY is an urban fantasy novel complete at 95,000 words. It stands alone but has potential to be the first in a series. GUARDIANS OF THE CITY will appeal to fans of Chloe Neill, Illona Andrews, and Kim Harrison.

Not bad, but we definitely need more cohesiveness in this query, otherwise it makes the book sound like a conglomeration of one-off events that aren't related, and therefore raises questions about plot arc and pacing. 1) Lexi 2) boyfriend 3) killer -- how are these things related? And why does Lexi being immune to magic matter at all? Why would magic be used on her at all, if she's the victim? And if Blair is a prideful, selfish liar, why would she protect Lexi in the first place, or anybody else for that matter?

Friday, February 17, 2017

Book Talk & GIveaway: BLOOD ROSE REBELLION by Rosalyn Eves

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.

In a re-imagined historical world where magic matters as much as money, Anna Arden only has one. She is Barren, a member of high society that cannot call magic. Not only that, but whenever Anna is near magic, spells seem to backfire. When she accidentally ruins her older sister's spell at her debutante ball, Anna's family sends her away to her grandmother in Hungary.

There she meets her cousins, as well as Romani Gabor, who believes that Anna does indeed have an ability - that negating magic is in fact, her skill. Unrest is spreading across the country, anger against the Luminate - the reigning magical circle, who keep magic sequestered away from the general population.

Romani knows that not only the wealthy can wield magic - anyone can. But the Luminate has long fought to keep magic out of the hands of anyone they deem unworthy. Anna could be the key to changing that, if she can learn how to use her skill to break the spell that keeps magic from all but the wealthy. But to do so means betraying the world she was born into.



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Thursday, February 16, 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.

My lovely crit partner RC Lewis asked me a great question the other day - where do we get the word snark? I don't think I need to inform the YA community what that word means, but I will anyway. Snark is the new way to say someone is sarcastic, usually with a bit of an edge of humor... or at least those of us who are attempting to be snarky hope so. I think of snark as being good-natured sarcasm.

So where do we get it from?

It actually means irritable or short-tempered, which we borrowed from the German verb snarken - meaning "to snort." 

But did you know there's another meaning for it? 

I grew up in the country, and anyone who didn't and happened to be visiting might be invited by the locals to go snark hunting... which would be the equivalent of sending a complete yokel into the streets of NYC to hail a cab for the first time in their lives. Short version - there is no such thing as a snark. But what I didn't know is that that slightly mean-spirited little joke has it's basis in literature.

The Hunting of the Snark is a poem by Lewis Carroll. And if you feel like a little insight into both the history of sarcasm and country pranks, have a read.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Rachele Alpine On the Whispering What-Ifs

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask any writer where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers, and in that vein I created the WHAT (What the Hell Are you Thinking?) interview. Always including in the WHAT is one random question to really dig down into the interviewees mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well.

Today's guest for the WHAT is Rachele Alpine, author of both MG and YA novels. Her newest MG release YOU THROW LIKE A GIRL, about a girl who pretends to be a boy in order to play the sport she loves, releases today!

Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your book?

Yes!  When I was in elementary school, I was obsessed with hockey.  I watched it, I read books about it, I played street hockey on rollerblades, and begged my mom to let me learn to play on ice.  The problem was, my local ice rinks didn’t have a program for girls.  I always thought about how unfair that was (and for the record, they do let girls play now), and the idea for You Throw Like a Girl came out of there

Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?

I would have dressed up like a boy and played hockey in a heartbeat if I could have gotten away from it, so that’s what my main character does.  I loved writing about her experience trying to fool the boys’ team!  I tried to figure out problems that she’d get into and obstacles along the way.  I didn’t want the path to be easy for her, so it was a lot of fun trying to come up with funny situations to put my character into and figuring out ways she could get out of them.  I sometimes feel bad that I torture my characters, but it’s always out of love, and they always prevail!  

Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?

I used to write with a plot in mind and then sit down and see how where it goes.  When I wrote like that, my story was always changing and surprising me.  However, now that I juggle teaching and being a mother, I’ve gotten a lot more rigid in my writing.  I don’t sit down to write a book into a have a very firm story in place.  I’ve sold my last few books on proposal, and instead of turning in a summary to my editor, I give her a chapter by chapter outline that is usually nine to eleven pages.  I find it’s so much easier to write this way because life is so busy, and I try to squeeze my writing time into any little space I can.  

However, you can’t really develop voice in an outline, so I find that as I begin to draft my story, my main character’s personality comes out and she starts to take over the story.  There are definitely twists and turns that take me off the path of the outline, but I always find that those are the most fun, because they surprise me and usually make the story better.

Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?

I always say that my mind is a crazy crazy place because it’s never quiet.  It’s full of story ideas, characters, and “what ifs” spinning around.  I have a notebook where I jot down all my book ideas as they come and always have a few that seem to be whispering for me to write them.  

How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?

It’s usually the one that I can’t stop thinking about.  My books come to me in scenes, so I’m constantly visualizing chapters in my mind.  I usually write the one that is the most vivid and keeps coming back.

I write middle grade and YA.  I started writing YA first, but my YA is pretty dark and focuses on heavy topics.  I always say that I started writing middle grade, because I need something funny after writing a book that was pretty depressing.  I  like to jump back and forth, because it’s not always easy to dwell too long in the worlds of my YA novels.  My middle grades give me a much needed escape and laugh!

2016 was not an easy year. Do you draw any inspiration from the world around you, or do you use writing as pure escapism?

I definitely draw information from the world around me.  I teach high school American Literature, so I’m surrounded by teenagers every day. What we read often sparks discussions and debates about what is important to them, and it’s those ideas, fears, and worries that inspire what I write. Not everything I write is a based off of my opinions or views on a topic, but the way I see the world definitely influences what I write and the themes in my books all spring from issues that I feel connected to in some way. My writing is often a way to understand things that are going on in my world, even if I’m exposing the ugly side of things. I’m working to create some kind of meaning to what is oftentimes hard to understand or accept.   

Monday, February 13, 2017

Valentine's Day For The Non-Romantic

You may have guessed this, but I'm not a romantic.

I grew up on a farm, and while others have always said it's the thought that counts, I'm much more impressed by physical labor and an eye for practicality. It's February in Ohio, and if a guy gave me a wood cord for Valentine's Day, I'd be impressed.

It's true that there might be a tinge of bitterness involved in my Valentine's Day thoughts. I wasn't an attractive pre-teen and don't remember getting anything for Valentine's Day until my junior year - by a guy who dumped me shortly thereafter, my first heartbreak.

As I often answer people who ask me why there's a distinct aversion to the happily-ever-after in my novels, it's because I'm divorced. I'll add that my ex's birthday is very close to Valentine's Day.

And - time for the zinger - my annual pap smear (to which we've recently added a mammogram) always lands around February 14, bringing an added layer of meaning to V-Day.

So yeah, not a fan.

But - I'm not against it either. I get love. I'm in love, for heaven's sake. I just happen to have fallen for a guy just like me, a guy who might bump his Corona against mine at dinner and say, "Oh yeah by the way, happy Valentine's Day." But he'll probably do it on Wednesday or Thursday because he often doesn't know what day of the week it is.

All that being said, I know there are romantics in the world and I don't deny them this day to celebrate. As a former Hallmark employee (long story) I actually get my back up a bit when Valentine's Day is referred to as a Hallmark Holiday. Valentine's Day has ancient historical roots, ones I won't bother linking off to here because I'm sure you'll find them everywhere tomorrow.

However, if you want to mark your calendars for my favorite made-up holiday, flip forward to October and make a note. October 14th is National Feral Cat Day.

On that day, I encourage you to find one, and hug it.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The 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.

Sixteen year old Selena Bennet’s life is ruined, again, hopefully there's a reason for this "again." Right now it reads as a slightly humorous bent when she is kidnapped and whisked away from her new her life was already new and she's being whisked away again? life. Her kidnappers think her memory has been erased, and therefore their test has failed; if she doesn’t remember, it means they found the wrong girl. And that is exactly what Selena wants them to believe.

Wow. Okay, I'm confused. But I can see that this is probably the kind of plot that is by nature confusing, so I will give the query the benefit of the doubt and keep reading.

What nobody can know is that Selena remembers everything. She knows she’s back in Coronam, the magical universe she left behind when her palace was attacked eight years ago. She knows why she’s being hunted down. The only things she doesn’t know are what she spent the last eight years of her life pining to forget, including how to use her powerful magic.

Okay - this is the first indication that this is a fantasy. The opening query speaking of kidnapping and memory erasing made me think we were in a contemporary, or even a futuristic setting. But we're not, we're in a fantasy... or did we start in the contemporary world and then she's taken back to her fantasy origin world? And, while Selena might know why she's being hunted down and why her palace was attacked, the reader doesn't. At this point we just know that we're in a fantasy with a reluctant magic wielding MC who is in danger of some type - which could be any fantasy.

Desperate to keep her secret safe what's her secret, that she is the right girl? Do they still think she's the wrong girl? If so why would she be in danger?, Selena is thrown back into her dangerous world with hopes to still leave it. She doesn't want to be there? But when she realizes that a lot has changed since she was still the princess, leaving may no longer be an option. The war has started, and this time, she will fight. Why? If she doesn't want to be there and doesn't want to use her magic?

Coronam's Lost a YA fantasy completed at about 95,000 words. It’s perfect for readers who love strong female characters and political intrigue, and will appeal to fans of Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, The Young Elites by Marie Lu and Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi. I've spent two summers at the BIMA Arts program for creative writing at Brandies University.

To be honest, mostly I'm just confused right now. If the supposed memory loss (that is faked?) is a big enough plot point to be your hook, I don't understand how it plays out through the rest of the plot. If she's the magical princess (but doesn't want to be either of those things) but is pretending to be the wrong girl, how does she end up back at her palace reassuming her role? 

Why did she want to leave in the first place? What is the role of the memory loss? What is her magical ability? Why was she kidnapped? Did she leave willingly or by force? Was she returned willingly or by force? What is her secret and why is she in danger? Who are the bad guys? What is this war about? Why has she changed her mind about fighting this time?

It sounds like your plot is pretty convoluted - and that's fine, but it makes it difficult for the author to condense into a query because you intrinsically know all the answers to the questions above, and might see the answers in what you've written, even though you're subconsciously answering them yourself. They're not in the text.

The best way to clarify a query like this is to have multiple people who haven't read your book (like me) take a look at the query. Anyone who has read it may also autofill the answers. Fresh eyes on this is will help point you in the right direction.