Friday, October 31, 2014

Book Talk & Giveaway: DAMAGED by Amy Reed

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.

Camille was Kinsey's best friend. College was on the horizon - they would go together, of course. Plans were made, along with promises. Then Hunter arrived, and Camille changed. Time that used to go Kinsey was now Hunter's, and all of Kinsey's not-so-subtle hints about their future plans seemed to slide off of Camille's new exterior.

Then a car accident - with Kinsey at the wheel - means no future plans at all for Camille, a complete emotional detachment for Kinsey, and a downward spiral of alcohol and drugs for Hunter. Desperate to just finish the last few weeks of high school and move on, Kinsey tries to ignore all the warning signs her body is giving her. 

Camille haunts her dreams, Hunter haunts her steps in real life, and Kinsey's conscience won't let her leave behind the car accident. Sleep-deprived and emotionally numb, Kinsey agrees to a cross-country road trip with Hunter that she hopes can deliver her from the trap of her present. But Hunter won't let her forget the past, and with it comes dealing with the truth about her friendship with Camille and her feelings for Hunter.

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately...

1) If I wrote a Dr. Seuss-esque book about the research I do for my novels it would be titled "Oh, The Things You Now Know." It would be totally inappropriate for children.

2) For some of my upcoming titles it's going to be very hard to answer the oft-asked question, "Where did you get the idea for this book?" If I'm honest the answer will be things like, "Well, I was lying in bed and thinking that being awake for a lobotomy would really hurt," and "One day I was thinking about Woody Guthrie and brain parasites..."

3) Why are the buttons on men and women's shirts different?


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Successful Author Talk With Amy Reed & DAMAGED Giveaway

I'm lucky (or cunning) enough to have lured yet another successful writer over to my blog for an SAT- Successful Author Talk.

Today's guest is Amy Reed. Amy was born and raised in and around Seattle, where she attended a total of eight schools by the time she was eighteen. Constant moving taught her to be restless, and being an only child made her imagination do funny things. After a brief stint at Reed College (no relation), she moved to San Francisco and spent the next several years serving coffee and getting into trouble. She eventually graduated from film school, promptly decided she wanted nothing to do with filmmaking, returned to her original and impractical love of writing, and earned her MFA from New College of California. After thirteen years in the San Francisco Bay Area, she now resides in Asheville, North Carolina. Her short work has been published in journals such as Kitchen Sink, Contrary, Fiction, and Mission at Tenth. She is the author of four Young Adult novels: BEAUTIFUL (2009), CLEAN (2011), CRAZY (2012), and OVER YOU (2013). Her fifth book, DAMAGED, will be released October 14, 2014.

SAT authors have conquered the query, slain the synopsis and attained the pinnacle of published. How'd they do it? Let's ask 'em!

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

Definitely a planner. I write elaborate outlines with lists and sub-lists and sub-sub-lists. But I find that the real magic happens when I allow myself to go outside the box I build for myself, when I let the characters lead instead of me trying to push them around.

How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?

I’ve been on pretty much a one-book-a-year schedule since I published Beautiful five years ago, and it’s been grueling. I think a more comfortable pace for me is one book every two years, and I’m going to try to stick to that from now on.

Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi-tasker?

My last two books overlapped, and it was hell. I found that I couldn’t work on them concurrently. My brain just couldn’t hold both of the stories and characters at one time. The only way I could do it was to put one of the books aside while I worked on the other. I had to get a couple of months added to the second book’s deadline, but both books benefitted in the long run.

Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?

Every time I start a new book, I’m terrified. I feel like I’m supposed to like this part the best since it’s full of possibility, but I hate it because it’s full of the unknown. There’s no plan, no order, and that makes me feel crazy. I only start liking it once I have a solid outline and a good thirty or forty pages written. But then I freak out again as soon as I finish the second act. So the enjoyable sweet spot is only really in the middle third of the process. Kind of like pregnancy.

How many trunked books (if any) did you have before you were agented?

Luckily, none. My first novel, Beautiful, was the first book I ever attempted to write. I had a handful of unpublished short stories I wrote during my MFA program, but that’s it.

Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?

Yes. After writing CRAZY, my third book, I put together a proposal for a three-book post-apocalyptic series, which included an outline for all three books and the first forty pages of Book 1. My editor wasn’t excited. She wanted more of what I had been writing before—gritty, realistic, contemporary.  I was upset for about fifteen minutes, but then I realized I felt relieved. I was trying to do something that wasn’t really me. I came up with an outline for another book later that day, and I got signed for a two-book deal for OVER YOU.

Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?

Amy Tipton of Signature Lit. She was with Fine Print when I signed with her, just starting out as an agent. I had also received interest from a very well established YA agent, but I decided to go with Amy because she seemed the most enthusiastic about my work. She was with a well-respected agency, so she had great connections, but she also had the added passion and energy of a young agent. We also went to the same tiny, hippie MFA program, so I knew we had stuff in common. Plus, she looked cool in her picture.

How long did you query before landing your agent?

I think I queried twelve agents, but they were all adult literary agents. I hadn’t known I was writing YA. I didn’t even really know YA existed. I got some interest, some requests for fulls, but no takers. Eventually, an old-school and very well-respected agent sent me a letter—yes, an actual snail mail letter—asking if I was working on anything book length, because he loved my short story “Under the Wall” which had just been published in Fiction Magazine. The timing was perfect. I sent him the manuscript for Beautiful. He liked it, but he said he didn’t rep YA. He’s the one who finally informed me that what I wrote was YA, and I realized I was submitting to the wrong agents all along. So I submitted to two YA agents and they both requested fulls. Amy called two days later and offered to represent me, and the rest is history.

Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?

Just make sure you’re submitting to the right people. Don’t blindly send query letters. Really do your research and query agents whose taste matches your own.

How much input do you have on cover art?

They often show me a few choices and I get to give my input on which one I like best. But I know better than to try to get too involved. I worked in publishing before I got published, and one of our biggest pet peeves was authors trying to be cover designers.

How much of your own marketing do you?

I do the best that I can on social media like Facebook, Twitter and my own webpage, doing guest blogs and interviews like this, but it’s hard. I’m not a natural marketer. I’m so in awe of authors who are out there doing conferences and readings and panels all the time. It takes a lot of hustle to make those things happen.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

I honestly have no idea. It’s difficult to gauge how successful social media is. But most of the time, at least it’s fun and I’m making connections with awesome people who love YA. I enjoy building relationships with bloggers and being part of the YA community that way. I’m kind of a hermit by nature (so many of us are), so it’s a great way to feel connected.

Monday, October 27, 2014

School Visits: Bouncing May Occur

Mention doing school visits and some authors cringe and try to collapse into themselves. Trust me, I get it. Facing a room (or worse, auditorium) of teenagers - some of whom are being forced to be there - is totally intimidating. You've got a mic in your face, a picture of yourself behind you, and are going to be talking about yourself or your book for at least half an hour... maybe more. If a bucket of pig's blood doesn't drop down on you, you'll call it a success.

But it can can also be totally awesome.

I spend 40 hours a week talking to teens who (trust me) could not be less impressed by my publishing credits. I'm just their librarian. I've even dropped so far as to pick up the nearest book and start reading aloud with a fake Irish or British accent just to gain their attention. (This totally works, by the way, and I highly recommend everyone use this trick).

That being said, I love doing school visits. Sure, there are kids that don't want to be there, but once I start talking about how extreme dehydration makes your eyelids stick inside your skull and your tongue swell so much you can't close your mouth I usually have their attention too. Even if they despise reading, they're interested in me talking about horrible ways to die. And I totally excel at that.

But you also get kids that are thrilled to meet you, kids who want to have pictures taken with you (sure!), ask for signed bookmarks (no problem!) and bounce up and down while you talk to them (sometimes I bounce too just for fun). You also get emails later, from the kids who weren't quite up to the picture taking and bouncing, lovely emails where they want to share what the book meant to them and how much they enjoyed meeting you.

And you get stuff like this... kids who wrote an original song inspired by your book. I'm floored.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

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.

Eighteen-year-old Serena is the best tarot card reader in Manhattan – and she doesn’t know the first thing about tarot cards. Serena is a Prae Seer, one who sees the future through touch. I love where this is going, it's really interesting. She’s not alone. Manhattan is filled with Seers hiding their abilities in plain sight. But, secrets rarely stay buried for long. I almost think the hook is stronger if you put some white space here, let it do its job. I'd consider moving the last three sentences down into your next para.

Serena knows, and has known since her mother’s dying vision, that exposure is inevitable for herself and for all Seers. They will be exposed exposed / exposure echo, then feared and hated. Why would they be feared and hated? Serena understands that can only lead to one thing: annihilation. Why would they be killed for the powers? That seems really extreme. 

Then, the first trace of exposure arrives, on the lips of one of Serena’s high-powered clients, because she let herself feel bad for his spurned wife, because she whispered a warning.

She knows the future is unchangeable. She knows that blood will be on her hands. I'm still not understanding how exposure absolutely and for sure leads to death. Seems like a leap. You need to convince your readers that's the case. 

Her only hope is to join an underground organization that believes exposure can result in a better life for Seers. Why? It seems a big jump when she's completely convinced it means death. Under the tutelage of Marlow, the organization's volatile leader, Serena learns there is more to her ability than seeing the future. Serena is seduced by the idea that she can control a person’s future, that she is destined for more than hiding. As she is drawn further into organization’s inner circle and into an impossible relationship with a past Seer whose very touch could cripple her mind, why? Serena discovers that Marlow wants more than Seer equality; he wants Seer supremacy, even at the expense of non-Seer lives. Even at the expensive of Seer lives, if necessary.

With the moment of worldwide exposure ticking closer, Serena must decide how far she is willing to go to fight for her future.

EXPOSED is a young adult, urban fantasy complete at 85,000 words.  EXPOSED is a stand alone novel with series potential.

I am a member of SCBWI and a winner of the 2012 Writer's Digest Popular Fiction Awards.

I like the concept, it sounds fun. But the world building isn't evident with in the query. It can be totally awesome in the book, but the query isn't relaying that very well. Do all Seers have the same ability to see the future through touch? Does that mean touching their clients, not the cards? Why would the past Seer's touch cripple her mind? Why is she so utterly convinced (beyond Mother's vision) that exposure = death? You need to get more explanations about her power and why she feels so strongly that exposure is bad into the query.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Successful Author Talk With Elissa Sussman

I'm lucky (or cunning) enough to have lured yet another successful writer over to my blog for an SAT- Successful Author Talk. Today's guest is Elissa Sussman. She's a writer, a reader and a pumpkin pie eater. Her debut novel, STRAY (Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins), is a YA fantasy about fairy godmothers, magic and food. She received her BA from Sarah Lawrence College and in a previous life managed animators and organized spreadsheets at some of the best animation studios in the world, including Nickelodeon,  Disney,  Dreamworks and Sony Imageworks. You can see her name in the credits of THE CROODS, HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA, THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG and TANGLED. She currently lives in Los Angeles with her boyfriend and their rescue mutt.

SAT authors have conquered the query, slain the synopsis and attained the pinnacle of published. How'd they do it? Let's ask 'em!

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

Definitely a planner, though all my outlines and chapter breakdowns usually go out the window once I start writing. Any planning I do is under the illusion that I know what I’m doing, which is never actually the case.

How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?

I’m hoping this won’t be typical, but STRAY took about four years from rough draft to final galleys. Nine years if you count the five years I took to “plan” it. Oy.

Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?

So far just one at a time, though I’m planning on exercising my multi tasking muscle in the near future.

Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?

I always have about four days where I feel like everything I write is just awful. Powering through that isn’t always easy – especially for a champion procrastinator like myself – but if I can, I usually get into a pretty satisfying groove that can carry me through a draft or batch of rewrites.

How many trunked books (if any) did you have before you were agented?

None really. There was an alternate version of STRAY (with dragons!) that I consider a very rough draft since there is a scene or two that still made it into the final manuscript.

Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?  

My agent is the fabulous Samantha Shea of Georges Borchardt, Inc. and I grabbed her attention through a traditional query.

How many queries did you send? 

I sent about 60 queries over five months before getting my first offer.

Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?

It’s twofold: don’t give up, but be aware of the response you’re getting. If you’re not getting any bites – re-examine your query. If you’re not getting interest on requested pages – re-examine your pages. Polish your query, polish your pages and keep trying!

Monday, October 20, 2014

All The Fun Things That Happened When I Left My House

Seriously, what a week.

It's been amazing and awesome and other "a" words, and now I'm exhausted.

I was cold in the mountains, hot in the desert. I slept on floors, couches and airplanes. I got migraines, got rid of migraines, and then had a lingering suspicion that I was about to get a migraine. I flew over the Rockies and asked for silent forgiveness from Lynn & Lucy. I went to the Bellagio and asked for silent forgiveness from the people that run the greenhouse there.

I rode, flew, walked, ran, fell down (I stepped on one of those tubular pillows, long story), and had my first In-N-Out burger. I ate at the Claim Jumper because I thought it said Clam Jumper. I sold books, signed books, and bought books.

Vegas holds just about zero allure for me. It has nothing to do with sin and more about my need for simplicity. Also naked people is just not my venue. Slot machines make me think I'm about to have a seizure, so I held onto pretty much all my money until we went to the Vegas Valley Book Festival and  the organizers offered to ship authors' purchases home since we were traveling.

Now THIS is sin. THIS is temptation. THIS is how you part me from my money.

I flew back to lovely, cold, gray Ohio at midnight, got to bed at 3AM and was at work by 7.

Why? Because I'm a normal person with a normal job who does normal things most of the time.

Except, I was on NPR yesterday. You should listen.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

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.

Seventy-three years from now, people around the globe struggle to survive on a ravaged planet as resources dwindle and the Earth is thrust back into the dark ages. Amid the chaos, an ancient Goddess returns to power- will she rescue mankind from self-destruction, or accelerate the annihilation of the human race? I like the idea here, but I definitely need to know why the Goddess would suddenly return to power.

Loki, a lonely and disoriented Goddess, has spent seven decades on Earth adjusting to her returned powers. I need a feel for what / who Loki physically is. Is she a 70 year old woman? An ageless teen? Seeking atonement for the heinous deeds of her past, Loki attempts to salvage the devastated land as she clings to her fading humanity. Determined to transform herself into the hero she’s always yearned to be, she joins a crew of hardcore survivalists led by Lance; a courageous man who draws Loki in with his vision of a better world. But when the wife of Loki’s mortal descendant activates a sword belonging to the missing God of war, Loki becomes the obsessed woman’s target. Why? Now, in order to defeat the power-blind woman, Loki must tap into her primordial energies and risk losing her valued humanity, or else sacrifice the world she helped rebuild, along with the humans closest to her.

Greetings. I’m seeking representation for my adult action series Altered Earth. Complete at 113,000 words, Altered Earth: Return of the Fallen is a gritty speculative adventure geared toward mainstream urban fantasy bibliophiles, general suspense lovers, and literary thrill seekers. This first installment focuses on the hardships and mysteries of thriving in a chaotic realm of enigma, and the obstacles inherent in relationships between mortals and Gods.

My novel is reminiscent of Anne Rice's The Witching Hour with its deep family roots, intense romantic connections, and use of magic in practical situations. There are also elements of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones as the characters labor to build and maintain territories while grappling for power. At its heart, however, Altered Earth explores an ancient God’s struggle to connect with the humans closest to her while suppressing the urge to spread chaos and deception I definitely didn't get that she had an urge to spread chaos and deception, even as Earth’s fate hangs in the balance.

This is well-written, but if a big part of the plot is that Loki is at odds with herself and her need to spread chaos and destruction, that needs to be worked into the query as plot, not as a sentence with the comp titles. In the same vein, you make reference to Loki's dark deeds of the past, but someone not familiar with the goddess / mythology is not going to have a clue what that entails. You'll need to get those details into the query.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Skila Brown & Her Cover Designer Weigh In On CAMINAR & A Giveaway!

I love talking to debut 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 is Skila Brown. Skila holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She grew up in Kentucky and Tennessee, lived for a bit in Guatemala, and now resides with her family in Indiana. CAMINAR, her first novel, was published March 25th by Candlewick. 


Set in 1981 Guatemala, a lyrical debut novel tells the powerful tale of a boy who must decide what it means to be a man during a time of war.

Carlos knows that when the soldiers arrive with warnings about the Communist rebels, it is time to be a man and defend the village, keep everyone safe. But Mama tells him not yet—he’s still her quiet moonfaced boy. The soldiers laugh at the villagers, and before they move on, a neighbor is found dangling from a tree, a sign on his neck: Communist.

Mama tells Carlos to run and hide, then try to find her. . . . Numb and alone, he must join a band of guerillas as they trek to the top of the mountain where Carlos’s abuela lives. Will he be in time, and brave enough, to warn them about the soldiers? What will he do then? A novel in verse inspired by actual events during Guatemala’s civil war, Caminar is the moving story of a boy who loses nearly everything before discovering who he really is.

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

Nope. I tried really hard not to picture anything at all. Mostly this is because when I did try to picture something, I always thought What in the world could you put on a cover? And that kind of freaked me out. (Will they decide at the last minute they can’t publish the book after all because no one can think of what the cover should look like?) Clearly I am not a visual person.

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

10 months before my release date.

How was your cover revealed to you?

My editor sent a copy of two different cover drafts that they were considering, both very different. She asked for my input. She kept me abreast of the conversations that were going on in-house. First they were leaning towards one cover, then it looked like they were going to go with the other, then at the end it was back to the first cover.

Did you have any input on your cover?

Yes! I think anyone who is lucky enough to publish a book with Candlewick knows that means having a voice in all aspects of the process.

Was there an official "cover reveal" date for your art?

Not that I know of. My editor mentioned trying to keep it off grid until about three months before release, but I saw it out there in internet-land before then. Though, I don’t think there was a “big reveal.”

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

Well, I cheated and sent it to people who matter a lot to me but not a lot to the internet book community (i.e. my dad, my sister, and my brother.) Also I might have cheated even more and sent it to my critique group. But they can keep a secret so I’ve decided they don’t count either.

What surprised you most about the process?

The design itself was a huge surprise. Not only because I had no idea what it would look like, but also because it is so incredibly, deliciously, gorgeous that my eyes still can’t get enough of it. My friend (also a writer) said it best: “I want to wallpaper my house with that!” I had always hoped I would like my cover. I never expected to love it as much as I do. It has probably ruined all future book covers for me, because there’s no way my next book cover could ever be this stunning.

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

I think it’s important to remember that we are writers. Most of us aren’t visual artists, and we’re not in the business of attracting readers to a book. Which translates to: the people who do this know what they’re doing. I think it’s great to weigh in with an opinion, and absolutely we should speak up if something about the cover is inaccurate, but otherwise I think the best advice I can give is to try not to think about it. Try not to have something you’re picturing in your head. Wait for the surprise. If you hate it for good reason, speak up. But otherwise, go with it. (Easy for me to say, right? I loved my cover!)

In fact, Skila loved her cover so much, she sewed up some matching bookmarks. You can take a peek at those here.

As a special treat the cover designer, Matt Roeser, weighed in for the interview. What were the challenges of designing the cover for Caminar?

Since the book is in verse, I wanted to capture some of the beauty of Skila's poetry, but at the same time, hint at the horrific event that takes place. As I began thinking about designs, I kept coming back to a visual that stuck with me as I read the book; that of Carlos watching from the jungle as his village is burned. I tend not to like covers that have photographs of the protagonist on them, but instead try to create designs that are more graphic and abstract in nature. The pattern of the leaf shape seemed perfect for achieving this. Playing with bold pops of color such as orange and red mixed in with the greens of the jungle worked as symbolizing both flowers and embers of fire. Then, I slightly altered the leaf shape for his eyes so it still feels like part of the pattern. Probably the hardest part of designing the cover were those eyes, as I went through several iterations to get the right expression that hit between shock and sadness. Altogether, I think it achieves a good balance of being visually interesting and hinting at the darker elements of the story.

And Candlewick is offering up a giveaway copy of CAMINAR! (U.S. only.) Enter in the Rafflecopter below! And educators, be sure to check out Skila's site where there are educator guides!

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Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Busy Week Ahead!

I just finished up an amazing time at Books by the Banks in Cincinnati, OH, which was a great time. I got to hang out with old friends and make some new ones, plus I played Pictionary with teens and threw a lot of my words down on the ground when I found them unacceptable. I'm really thankful they didn't enforce the $500 per instance littering law.

And there's even more on the horizon! Next week I'll be in Salt Lake City and Vegas, helping to celebrate the debut of my critique partner, RC Lewis, with her book STITCHING SNOW. I'll be keeping company with some pretty cool people the entire week, so check out my schedule below and come see me if you can!

Tuesday, October 14 7PM

STITCHING SNOW Launch at Provo Library with Peggy Eddleman, Elana Johnson, Demitria Lunetta, Mindy McGinnis, Lissa Price, Ann Redisch Stampler, and Kate Karyus Quinn.

Wednesday, October 15 7PM

Signing at The King's English in Salt Lake City, with Peggy Eddleman, R.C. Lewis, Mindy McGinnis, Lissa Price, Ann Redisch Stampler, Demitria Lunetta, and Kate Karyus Quinn.

Saturday, October 18 - Vegas Valley Book Festival

The Future's So Bright, We Have to Be Saved with Elizabeth Fama, Demitria Lunetta, Lynne Matson, Mindy McGinnis, Jodi Meadows, Lissa Price, Karri Thompson, Amy Tintera at YA Tent 1@ 10:00AM. Signing will be at 11:00 in YA Signing Tent 1





Saturday, October 11, 2014

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.

Spanish-American war veteran Walter Churchstone, in the winter of 1925, trades a wagon wheel in his blacksmith shop to a Japanese man named Ito and his two teenage sons Michi and Shirou, for stolen U.S Naval maps of Hawaiian military forts and gun batteries. Definitely hit the brakes - there is a LOT going on in this first sentence. Historical placement, full names, names of supporting characters and it's generally just too long. You need a hook - an encapsulation of what your book is about in a catchy sentence. The next week Ito returns, he wants the maps back. Minutes later the only survivor of the four is the son Michi. This is definitely reading much more like a synopsis than a query. The amount of detail here is definitely overkill for a query. Walter's seventeen year old son Billy finds, “Michi Ito burn face” scribbled on the dirt floor next to his dead father. Billy finds the maps and keeps them to himself. With nothing left for him at home, Billy joins the army always looking for “Michi Ito”. Six years later Billy sees an oriental sergeant at Officers Training Candidate school with a burn on his face. The lying, cheating, stealing Michi Ito with poor English passes every test in OTC until Billy finds out how. Ito is thrown out of the army vowing to kill Billy just like he did his father. Yep - this is definitely reading like a synopsis, not a query. You've got step-by-step plotting going on, not a compulsively readable nugget that delivers the central drive of your book.

Colonel Bill Churchstone is stationed at Pearl Harbor in 1941 when the Japanese attack. His knowledge of the maps that he has held the last fifteen years help him hold the Japanese back despite three enemy attacks in five days. But Churchstone finds himself the surviving commanding officer on Pearl and he must quickly retreat the remaining five hundred men and women into the hills as Major Michi Ito, the commander of the Japanese invasion force, marches into Honolulu. Hearing Churchstone is on the island Ito wants nothing but deadly revenge. They cross paths again on Oahu for the third time. The next two years Churchstone's life is nothing but a ricochet inside a concrete bunker. Yes, again - all the same problems here. Too much detail. This is definitely not reading like a query.

The War in Churchstone, 78000 words, is a historic alternative novel that is a cross between P.T. Deutermann and Scott Turow. A story of self-determined survival and unrequited love no idea where the love would come in? proves the human heart is stronger than war, and the bonds of hatred and love can be one and the same. There's absolutely no indication of love in any thing prior to this. 

You definitely need to do look into the difference between a query and a synopsis, and revise. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Book Talk: SIX MONTHS LATER by Natalie Richards

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.

Average-achiever Chloe falls asleep in study hall on a beautiful spring day, and wakes up to the snow falling outside her classroom window, standardized test scores that have Ivy Leagues fighting over her, and the crush of her life as a boyfriend. But six months have been erased, and she has no idea how her life became perfect.

Her best friend won't talk to her, making it very clear that Chloe has done something unforgivable. The brooding school bad-boy's number has somehow ended up in her phone, and she has the compulsion to call him constantly, even though they've never exchanged more than a few words. A perfect, pretty classmate has suddenly left town, leaving a wake of unanswered questions. Notes Chloe left to herself in pages of books claim there's a connection, but Chloe can't piece it together.

Memories she can't place start to surface- conversations that never happened and situations that definitely didn't exist. As her life begins to spiral out of control, Chloe has to wonder what price she has to pay to be perfect... and if perfect is what she wants in the first place.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately...

1) One of my kittens has two opposable thumbs. Another kitten only has an opposable them on one paw. I hope for her sake it's her dominant paw.

2) Sometimes my upper lip is warmer than my bottom lip. This is probably not normal.

3) I had a friend once who ate just pumpkin b/c it was the only thing that settled her stomach. Her skin started to turn orange (no shit) because of it. It is conceivable that if you followed this rigorously you could become the best My Little Pony cosplayer ever.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Introducing WHAT? with RC Lewis & STITCHING SNOW Giveaway!

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 included in the WHAT? is one random question to really dig down into the interviewee’s mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well.

Helping me introduce the WHAT? is fellow YA author and critique partner RC Lewis. She teaches math to teenagers—sometimes in sign language, sometimes not—so whether she’s a science geek or a bookworm depends on when you look. That may explain why her characters don’t like to be pigeonholed. Coincidentally, R.C. enjoys reading about quantum physics and the identity issues of photons. Her debut, STITCHING SNOW releases from Hyperion Oct. 14 - be sure to enter the Rafflecopter below!

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

For just about any other manuscript I’ve written, the answer would be no. But for STITCHING SNOW, the moment of inspiration was very distinct. I heard a line in the song “Blinding” by Florence + The Machine about Snow White stitching up a circuit board. That sparked an image of a techy Snow White immediately.

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

The initial image in my head was of Snow White on a cold planet, so a first step was to figure out what that place was going to be. And because it’s a retelling, the main thing I had to do early on was identify the major players and elements from the fairy tale, and how (or if!) I was going to incorporate them. That gave the story a skeleton to build on.

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

All the time, sort of...? I tend to word-vomit brainstormy notes before I start writing, so once I start the actual draft, the Big Plot rarely changes. The details and subplots, however, are much more malleable. Usually. (Just because I said that, my next novel attempt will go completely off the rails.)

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

Hard to come by, definitely. I usually have just one “I want to write this” idea sitting in my head at a time, and not constantly. They usually come when I’m working on one project, near the end, so I guess that’s when my subconscious unclenches enough to brave the question of “What’s next?”

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

I WISH I HAD THIS PROBLEM!! (See above.)

If the universe really is expanding at an exponential rate, does it have an edge?

Well, technically something can be increasing by a tiny fraction of one percent per huge-amount-of-time, and that would still be growing exponentially, so ... yes? (But if I really wanted to be picky, I’d say I’m not sure the hypothesis and the conclusion in your question have any correlation at all.)


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Monday, October 6, 2014

Feeling The Librarian Love

People always ask me how my life has changed since becoming published. And the honest answer is- not a whole lot. I still work the 40/wk, my dog still poops on the floor next to my bed occasionally, and I get flat tires just like everyone else. I've never really felt like things were different... until this past weekend.

I had the opportunity to visit Henderson Library in Jefferson, Ohio on Saturday. I've done a ton of presentations across the state, and I always enjoy meeting fellow librarians as well as talking face to face with fans. Reaching new readers is a plus too, and I'm not lying when I say I don't mind driving three hours to "go do a thing," as the boyfriend calls it.

But what happened in Jefferson this weekend was different. I told the ladies involved in planning the event that I think they put more effort into it than I did into writing the book.

For starters - they made Lynn's basement. Yes, they did. I honestly think Lynn could've walked into
that presentation room and said, "Yeah, I could live here." Why?

1) Her bed was in a strategic position so that she could see both entrances to the room.
2) There was water, canned food, and a lantern within reaching distance.
3) They said they wanted to include a rifle, but decided against it given... you know... the law.

But they didn't stop there-- Stebbs was well represented too. Just to make sure the old guy felt welcome they put red bandanas all over, and even included his ladder (in one piece) so that he could climb up or down to his secret water source whenever he needed.

Granted, Mother might have been a bit nervous when she saw that there were coyotes leaping all over the walls, but there was a border of roof tiles across the top so that she had a semblance of safety. Mother also would have found comfort in the fact that there were raindrops hanging from the ceiling (complete with book covers) and next door there was - get this - a water bar. Yep. Name your poison. Just make sure it's water.


I was so flattered. Just walking into the room was an amazing experience, and then they knocked me flat by sharing a Mindy McGinnis Mix CD. These girls did their research (they are librarians, after all). They found my playlists for both NOT A DROP TO DRINK & IN A HANDFUL OF DUST and played the songs while the audience filtered in.

And that's when things got surreal for this farm girl. Most of the people who came to see me were already fans. I'm not stupid. I know I have fans, but when they are getting so many tickets in advance that we ended up scheduling two presentation times to accommodate them, it kind of blows my mind. And they had questions - real questions that showed they'd read my books, contemplated them, and got them.

My blog even got some love. A college student told me that one of her assignments had been to find a blog and do a paper on it. She found Writer, Writer, Pants On Fire while cruising for an appropriate subject and chose it. This really floored me. Like, Mindy Is On The Ground Now. Most of you are probably aware that blogging takes a lot of time, a lot of dedication, and is completely non-monetary. I don't make a dime off this blog, and there's been more than once that I thought maybe I should hang it up and concentrate on novels. It never fails that when this happens I get an email from an aspiring writer, telling me that they use it as a constant reference from the query trenches, or a fellow writer going through submission hell who says that the SHIT interview is what kept them sucking air while waiting for a reply.

All that being said, I'm still me. I own more Carharrts than purses, and I just spotted a little bit of breakfast on my cheek before I sat down to write this. So, has my life changed since becoming published? No, not really. But after this weekend, I think maybe me being published has affected other people's lives.

And that's way cooler.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

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.

Syra made a mistake. She saved the life of a human. This is a decent hook. I'm curious as to why saving a life is a mistake, and what Syra is, if not human. It could be stronger though.

For thousands of years, humans have hunted Natura, Syra’s kind. Now, two hundred years after the Earth woke and destroyed modern civilization, the humans blame Natura for the destruction. Lots of confusion here. For one thing, there's an echo of "years" and referencing a timeline that isn't necessarily highly important to the plot line, while at the same time leading to the reader having to untangle the sentence. Also how did the Earth wake? What does that mean? Why would humans blame Natura? Is this when Natura showed up for the first time? What's the connection?

Ever since humans and Natura have only interacted in one way—kill or be killed.

Syra never even met a human until two years ago another timeline reference that isn't necessarily important to the plot line, when her guardian, Orland, moved her tribe into one of their survival camps. Whose survival camp? Natura or human? To stay alive, Syra must pretend she is what she hates—human.

After accepting an apprenticeship with the camp’s medic, Syra finds herself saving more than just the one human life—instead she saves three. So your hook indicates that one life in particular is relative to the plot, but we don't know who or why.

And each time Syra saves a human, she finds herself questioning what she’s been raised to believe.

When Orland puts his plan to destroy the camp in motion, Syra doesn’t know what to do. If she stands aside, the humans hunting her will die. Her family will be safe, but her friend, held captive by the humans, won’t make it. What friend? What humans are holding this friend? And neither will the innocent humans of the camp, simply trying to survive. So the humans in the camp are innocent, but there are other humans that aren't so nice who are holding her friend?

Lots of questions raised here. You need to get the details into this query in order to make it stand out in a crowded SF/F genre. Ask yourself what makes this book different from the thousands already out there, and the hundreds of queries in the inbox that morning.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Book Talk: SURVIVAL COLONY 9 by Joshua David Bellin

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.

Querry lives in an arid world of dust, and endless wandering. The remnants of Survival Colony 9, led by his father, constantly move across the stretching desert in search of water, food, and safety. But even bunkers can't protect them from the Skaldi - invisible creatures that inhabit human bodies, feeding on their strength and masquerading as the person until the body is only an empty skin, left behind to rot in the sun when another host is provided.

Querry is the only person to survive a Skaldi attack, six months previous. His body emerged unscathed, but his memory is gone. He can't remember his father, or the people of Survival Colony 9. Some of them are trustworthy, some aren't, and with no recollection of who is really his friend and who isn't, Querry doesn't know where to turn.

His survival of the attack means that he could be the key to the human race standing against the Skaldi - if only he could remember how he did it.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Class of 2k13 Gigantic Fall Giveaway!

The Class of 2k13 Gigantic Fall Giveaway!

We’re back to school, which means back to the books… so why not make it OUR books?

The Class of 2k13 is excited to be giving away a huge pack of books and swag to one lucky winner.


One lucky winner will receive:

Kate Karyus Quinn - Signed hardcover copy of (DON’T YOU) FORGET ABOUT ME & swag
Stephanie Kuehn - signed copy of COMPLICIT & bookmarks
Kelly Barson - paperback of 45 POUNDS
Liz Fichera- autographed copy of PLAYED & some autographed bookmarks
Caela Carter - signed paperback of ME, HIM, THEM AND IT
Mindy McGinnis - signed paperback of NOT A DROP TO DRINK & IN A HANDFUL OF DUST
Debra Driza - signed paperback of MILA 2.0 & bookmarks
Jennifer McGowan - signed paperback of MAID OF SECRETS & swag
Demitria Lunetta - signed IN THE AFTER paperback
Nicole McInnes - paperback of BRIANNA ON THE BRINK
Polly Holyoke - signed paperback of THE NEPTUNE PROJECT & swag
Justina Ireland - hardcover of VENGEANCE BOUND & PROMISE OF SHADOWS
Tara Sullivan - Signed paperback of GOLDEN BOY
Tamera Wissinger - signed copy of GONE FISHING.
Lydia Kang - signed hardcover of CONTROL
Liesl Shurtliff- Signed paperback of RUMP & ARC of JACK

Contest is US only. Enter to win in the Rafflecopter below!

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