Friday, December 26, 2014

Ohio Signings With Lauren Oliver In 2015!

I'm excited to announce that I have been invited to take part in Lauren Oliver's VANISHING GIRLS tour in March of 2015!

There are two Ohio signing dates with Lauren, myself, and Jasmine Warga (MY HEART & OTHER BLACK HOLES) - one in Cincinnati at Joseph-Beth Booksellers (which will also feature an Epic Reads meet up with the fantastic Margot Wood) and a second signing at Fundamentals in Delaware, OH!

Visit Lauren's Tumblr for more details!


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Melissa Landers, ALIENATED Author With A Free E-Short!

UNTIL MIDNIGHT is here…and it’s FREE!



Happy Holidays, everyone! I’m Melissa Landers, author of the Alienated series, and I have a present for you—a brand new e-short from Disney Hyperion!

UNTIL MIDNIGHT takes place onboard an intergalactic transport, soon after ALIENATED ends and before the sequel INVADED begins. The story details Aelyx and Cara’s last day together before he returns to Earth to mend the alliance and she continues to his home planet. It’s sweet and romantic, and as a bonus, it includes a four-chapter preview of the sequel, which releases February 3rd.

Oh, and did I mention the best part? IT’S FREE!

You can download UNTIL MIDNIGHT from the following e-tailers:

Kindle: http://amzn.to/1walSLX
Nook: http://bit.ly/1zshdpx
iBooks: http://bit.ly/1sT4CnM
Kobo: http://bit.ly/1AIb45a
Google Play: http://bit.ly/1v06kVd

*If you live outside the USA, no worries. I’ve uploaded the story to Scribd for you. (The only downside is it doesn’t include the bonus preview chapters, due to technical reasons from the publisher.) Link: http://www.scribd.com/AuthorMelissaLanders

To celebrate this new release, I’m offering TWO lucky winners an autographed swag pack complete with a personalized bookplate, mini-poster, bookmarks, and stickers—open internationally! Just fill out the rafflecopter form below.

Best of luck, and happy reading!

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Saturday, December 20, 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.

All it takes is one run-away beagle and a mysterious cave to ignite twelve-year-old Molly’s thirst for adventure and turn her world upside down. That is when everything she never believed in changes her world. This is a good hook, but I think the last line is almost repetitive and unnecessary.

From a fantastical waterfall to the sinister Minions of the Dark Forever and a boy named Ethan, Molly experiences one adventure after another and falls into more trouble than any country girl could imagine. This is vague, but it does a good job of painting the genre. Plot details need to come in effect soon so that the reader gets an idea of what is actually happening in the book instead of these big brush strokes. To make matters even more difficult, her help is desperately needed to bring two cave worlds into balance. What does this mean? What are these cave worlds? Why do they need to be brought into balance? What does that even mean? And why her? With the assistance of her dog, Rip, and a singing sword, Molly overcomes her fears and becomes “Warrior” Molly within the cave walls. But battling the forces of evil can wear a girl out, not to mention get her grounded. Will Molly and Rip be able to conquer evil, and keep her parents from finding out the truth? This has great voice, and I can definitely see it getting requests, but I think in order for it to be a true homeroom you need to get more plot specific. Addressing the questions I outlined above would help. You've left yourself plenty of room in terms of word count to whip this into shape without going over. Also, you mention Ethan only once, but the dog gets three mentions. Is Ethan important enough to mention at all or more important than the query implies?

I am currently working on Book Two,“Molly McBean and the Battle for Chaos.” If that's the case you need to state whether or not this is a series, or a standalone with series potential. I am a member of both Ohio Valley Writers Group and Pennwriters. My short story, Adagio, was published by Scarlett River Press in the anthology “Scarlet Whispers” in May 2012. This is my debut novel. You can scratch the "debut" - it's assumed if you don't have a stated pubbed novel to your credit. Overall this looks good, though!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Book Talk & Giveaway: SOLITAIRE by Alice Oseman

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.

Tori really likes to sleep and blog, and that's about it. With high school nearly over, A-levels on the horizon and university applications hovering, Tori knows she needs to wake up. Snap out of it. Get moving. Maybe try caring a little. Talking to people is hard now, people who used to be her friends are distant, and she's more than aware that it's partially her own fault.

Then Michael Holden comes back to school, and Solitaire happens. Post-It's directing Tori pop up in the hallways, leading her to computers with cryptic messages she doesn't understand. And it spreads - messages are coming over the announcments that the staff can't override, patrols in the halls can't catch Solitaire at work, and posters can't come down fast enough before a new one goes up.

Something has finally penetrated Tori's depression. Something has perked her interest and made her care. But maybe it's the wrong thing.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

YA Author Amy Nichols On Plotting, Agent Hunting, & Writing A Book Over The Weekend

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Amy K. Nichols. Amy lives on the edge of the Phoenix desert with her husband and children. In the evenings, she enjoys sitting outside, counting bats and naming stars. Sometimes she names the bats. Her first novel, YA sci-fi thrillerNow That You’re Here, will be published by Knopf Books for Young Readers on December 9, 2014.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

I started out a total pantser, but after starting a few manuscripts and fizzling out around page fifty, I knew I needed to try a different approach. I read a blog post by YA author Elana Johnson about plotting, and she recommended Save the Cat, Blake Snyder’s book on screenwriting. I decided to give plotting a try, and lo and behold, it worked! Since then, I’ve developed my own planning/pantsing hybrid, creating a loose outline while remaining sensitive and flexible with what the story wants and needs. I should say, I still pants short stories, but anything longer, I need a road map.

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

I can really crank out the words when needed. One of my first forays into writing was the 3-Day Novel Contest, a crazy writing marathon that takes place over Labor Day weekend, in which participants try to write a novel in a weekend, beginning on Friday at midnight and ending Monday at midnight. It’s insane, but so much fun. (The first year I participated was 2004, and I won third place, which I took as a sign that this writing gig was, in fact, for me.) Anyway, it taught me on how to get words down fast and worry about revising later. When I’m in a groove, first drafts typically take me a month or two. Revising, however, takes me much longer, at least when I’m not on deadline. I revised Now That You’re Here for a couple of years before querying agents. The sequel, While You Were Gone, took less than a year, though, since I was working with my editor and on deadline. I would love to get proficient enough to write and revise a novel every six months.

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

When I’m working on deadline, the contracted book takes priority and everything else has to wait. (I’m obsessive about hitting deadlines.) If I’m between deadlines, though, my writing is a bit like a horse race. I work on a number of projects, writing a little here and a little there depending on which story has me most intrigued. Typically one “horse” will gather momentum and pull away from the pack. Once that happens, I put all my money on that one and cross my fingers it makes it across the finish line.

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

I have to overcome fears every time I sit down to write. Looking back, I put off writing for years because I was afraid. A while ago I found some notes I’d scribbled down in college about what I would need to do to switch to the creative writing program. I never made the switch, though, because that would mean facing critique and rejection. Years later, it took a brush with death and a bout of depression to convince me to finally give writing a try. Sounds dramatic, but it’s true. Now when I sit down to write, those same fears of critique and rejection are still there, but I’ve learned that the magic happens in revision, and I can survive rejection. I don’t think I can survive not writing.

How many trunked books did you have before you were agented?

I wrote two complete manuscripts before selling Now That You’re Here (and started a number of others). One of the completed manuscripts will remain in the trunk (though two of the characters ended up in NTYH). The other I’m hoping to spiffy up to show my agent. Fingers crossed.

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

Yes, too many times to count. I can think of at least five manuscripts that completely fizzled out as I was writing them. It wasn’t a matter of me quitting them, but them quitting me. They probably got annoyed with me and went to find a better writer. Seriously, though, if I’m working on something and it begins to falter or I start to lose interest, I try to go back to the last place where the story was interesting and start over from there, making different choices. Sometimes that feeling that a story is failing comes when I’ve made a wrong turn and led the story in a direction it didn’t want to go. Then it’s usually a matter of backing up and trying something else.

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

I’m with Adams Literary, and Josh Adams is my agent. They do things a little differently than other agencies: rather than send a query letter, you submit your manuscript via a form on their website. So I sent my manuscript off to them and received a confirmation that said if I hadn’t heard from them in six weeks, it was a pass. This was around May of 2012. When I left for the SCBWI conference in August, I hadn’t heard from them, so I’d crossed them off the list. The night before the conference started, however, I got an email from them asking me to meet with Josh during the conference. It was such a surprise. We had a chat in that awesome lobby (if you’ve been there, you know what I’m talking about), and he told me they were interested in my work. Hearing him say that was surreal, to say the least. A week later, I signed with them, and I couldn’t be happier.

How long did you query before landing your agent?  

I don’t remember how many queries I sent, but I do know the process went relatively quickly. I started querying in late April/early May and signed with Adams in August.

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

I once heard someone compare querying to dating. Having been through it, I can say it’s a fair comparison. You’re looking for a partner in this process, someone who will walk along side you, hopefully for your whole career. Yes, you want to get signed so bad you can’t see straight, but you don’t want to end up in a relationship that doesn’t work. You want to find the right partner, and that can take patience. It’s worth it, though, to take your time and make sure it’s a good fit. And for the record, this dating metaphor applies to taking a manuscript out on submission. You want to make sure you’re a good fit with your editor, too, that you share the same vision for the book.

How much input do you have on cover art?

Not a lot, but so far that hasn’t been a problem. I love the covers of both Now That You’re Here and While You Were Gone so much. The designers did an incredible job.

What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?

One surprising thing I learned was how much fun revising can be. I’d always heard “magic happens in revisions”, but I hadn’t experienced it to such an extent before. There’s nothing like seeing the pieces click together. When I wrote Now That You’re Here, there was a journal that showed up a couple of times. I wasn’t sure why it was there, so I just kind of left it alone. Then, during a round of revisions, I suddenly realized why it was there, and it ended up being a pretty significant part of the book. I love those moments. Revising may be difficult, but it really is magical.

How much of your own marketing do you? 

I try to do as much marketing as I can, though being new to this I’m not sure what’s effective and what isn’t. My original publicist quit a few months before my publication date, which left me a little panicked, and I ended up setting up a lot of guest blog appearances (such as this one!) on my own. My publisher did assign me a new publicist, who has been great, so I don’t feel as much pressure to make thing happen on my own. Still, I do what I can to partner with my publisher and make it a team effort. I’m on Twitter, and I blog at my own blog as well as my writers’ group blog, The Parking Lot Confessional. We also do a writing podcast called Curb Chat, which is so much fun! You should check out.

When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?

I began blogging and tweeting before I had an agent, mostly as a means of connecting with other authors. I think getting (somewhat) established online before I got my agent was beneficial, not only because it showed them I was willing to network and promote, but also because it gave them a sense of who I was before they reached out to me.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

It’s still a little early to say yet, but I really hope so! Regardless, I like being on Twitter and blogging, so I’ll continue doing it even if it doesn’t increase my readership. I also like being on Tumblr, though I confess I’m mostly reblogging photos of Benedict Cumberbatch over there. Maybe that will help grow my readership!



Monday, December 15, 2014

Blogging For Writers

We all know by now that the days of an author writing novels in an ivory tower are long gone. Sure, we can still do that - my ivory tower is a bed with a broken footboard (long story) - but we're also creating content that we disseminate through the ever-growing cloud. Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, Twitter, G+ *, and any other number of social media sites that have yet to really explode are patiently waiting for writers to figure out how to maximize their potential. 

Hey - remember blogging?

Yeah, it was that thing where we wrote words that people read. 

Some time ago I questioned whether or not blogging was still a valid outlet for authors in a world with an ever-shortening attention span. People want 140 character snippets. People want pictures. People want an easily digestible glimpse of you.

But here's the thing - I'm a writer. And I'd like to think that most of my audience is comprised of readers. So I blog. I do all the others things too (boy, do I ever), but blogging remains my focus. I've questioned that. I've asked myself if I'm wasting my time creating blocks of text when people really want one sentence and a picture of my cat. 

And then I was contacted by Robin Houghton, who was writing a book for Writer's Digest called Blogging For Writers: How Authors & Writers Build Successful Blogs. She wanted to talk to me about my blog and social media outreach. It was kind of amazing to get that kind of recognition, and I was even more flattered when she sent me a copy, which I devoured.

Yes, the fulfillment was totally awesome and then... I got sucked in by the book. It reaffirmed to me that blogging is still a useful and valuable tool for writers to reach our audience. In some ways, I'd argue that it's the best tool for us to use. Any personality can use the other social media outlets, and use them effectively. 

But can they write?

I've been blogging for years, and this book still taught me a thing or two. Even better, it walks the uninitiated through starting a blog from scratch on either Blogger or Wordpress, and explains the pros and cons of each. Worried about content? This books walks you through how to create engaging posts, and make them visually attractive as well. It even has a breakdown of how to use various social media outlets to get your blog noticed, and drive traffic. (Ahem, look for some screen caps of me in there).

So... I thought maybe you might want to check it out. Yes, the giveaway I've got marked below has a TON of entries, but there's a reason for that. It should give you a little tour of what's out there in social media, and how to use it. I'm pretty much everywhere, so you can go take a glance at me and see what I'm doing in all those places, then decide if it's the kind of thing that you might want to do to  up your exposure as well.

And if you're not sure, I bet this book will help you figure it out :)

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*Did you follow the asterisk to the footnote? Good. So G+... I kind of thought of it as the graveyard of social media until I read this article about how it's actually the most useful social media tool in an author's tool belt for establishing online authority. Check it out.

Saturday, December 13, 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.

Sixteen year-old high-society girl Gwendolyn Darling is only trying to keep the delightfully dull Humphrey Redford—and marriage—at bay. Interesting. Not a bad hook although 16 seems very young for marriage. It makes me wonder the time setting of the novel, and I'm not seeing that indicated elsewhere in the query either. A hint wouldn't hurt. And to her pleasant surprise, it seems to be working fairly well. So what if she has to miss out on parties, balls, and social events of the year by pretending she’s sick? It is well worth the cause. It is also how Gwen ends up alive instead of dead like her parents on the disastrous night of the Jolly Roger ship malfunction. Raises the question of what kind of illness she's faking since it sounds long term? Also, does "malfunction" work in this sentence? I feel like a ship "wrecks." "Malfunction" makes me think of an amusement park ride... but maybe that's what this is? A little bit more of a hint (or different word choice) could clarify easily.

With only her brother to comfort her, Gwen mourns the death of her parents when she starts hearing whispers, rumors… I'd cut the ellipses use and work with full sentences here because it could raise style questions about the ms itself - unless that is in keeping with the style of the ms. There is gossip going around that the Jolly Roger accident wasn’t an accident… Which means, maybe, just maybe, her parents aren’t dead after all. Wait... why? If it wasn't an accident then I would assume instead that it was maliciously intended... not that the supposed victims were actually alive. Hopeful and intrigued, Gwen begins an investigation of her own.

And it turns out she’s not the only one curious about that night.

With the help of her new acquaintances, adventurous Miss Penelope Panberly and her friends (plus one mechanical crocodile), Gwen embarks on a mission to find out what actually happened on the night of her parents’ “death”. Period goes inside quotations. Also what's the story with Humphrey? He's fallen off the map. You're doing a good job of getting the voice and snark in here with the names and voice, though.

Because too many strange things have been happening, and stranger things are happening still. There are reports of dangerous shadows coming to life, attacking people; girls are disappearing—not to mention Gwen’s constant run-ins with a too-dashing-for-his-own-good thief, which may be the strangest thing yet…. This just took a turn. We went from slightly snarky upper-class mystery to paranormal, disappearing girls, and a thief?

Is it Bernard Clifton? The only survivor of the Jolly Roger accident? Is it the thief, whose criminal behaviors raise eyebrows? Gwen must find out who is responsible before she herself is kidnapped. Because, it’s for certain: whoever it is, they are not stopping and they will do anything to stop her.

I'm definitely confused about what your genre would be on this. The voice of the query starts out light and offbeat humor with mystery, then there's a paranormal element tossed in, that honestly, I think is going to be a turn off. Then we veer back into mystery elements with the closing "Whodunit" para. I'm also confused about motivations. Why is Gwen even running into this thief? What is he stealing? Where is he stealing these things and why are they crossing paths? How does he fit into the story? How does the element of missing girls have anything to do with the accident? Why does the MC feel that she's being targeted? Your voice and writing in this query is decent, but you'll need to draw lines between all these different plot points to illustrate how they're a cohesive whole.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Book Talk: SUMMER ON THE SHORT BUS by Bethany Crandell & Giveaway

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.

Cricket's version of roughing it would be wearing last season's Prada. So when her father decides an attitude adjustment is in order and ships her off to be a counselor at a summer camp for disabled kids, she's way outside her comfort zone. Also cell reception zone. With no private river or personal pilot to come rescue her, Cricket's stuck.

Stuck doesn't seem quite so bad when she finds out one of the male counselors could be a stand-in for Zac Efron, but he's going to have to look past her shiny exterior - not to mention some majorly insulting things she's said by accident. Pretty soon just pretending to like her campers to get on his good side morphs into actually liking them, and Cricket discovers that living in a world where what you look like on the outside isn't the final judgement call is actually... kind of awesome.

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately...

1) You can walk up to a girl and say, "Hey girlfriend," but if you walk up to a boy and say, "Hey boyfriend," it kind of freaks him out.

2) I have reached the age where other women who don't know me but need to say something to me get my attention say, dear or ma'am. No more chica or sweetie for me.

3) I've also reached the age where apparently you're not supposed to laugh when other people fall down. I'm not sure when that transition happens, but I guess I passed that and no one told me.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

When Your Muse Is A Talker: Monica Garry Shares On Sorting Out Ideas

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 interviewee's mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well.

Today's guest is Monica Garry. Her newest title is a middle grade titled THE SCARIEST HALLOWEEN EVER.

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, I did. I was babysitting my nieces and nephews when I overheard my nephew Dontae, tell his sister Patricia that if she ate another cupcake she was going to turn into one. I laughed thinking she couldn’t possibly believe him. But then he began to tell her that he heard of this happening to a little boy in his class. My nephew created this elaborate tale and my niece believed him. Of course I had to tell him to stop telling his sister lies, but from that lie, a story was born. ☺

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

I knew I wanted to make the story fun and give it a moral. The moral of the story is to always be nice to your little sister and never take her for granted. But the story ended up being so much more than that. Dontae learns the importance of family and friendship. He also learns how to be brave even during the darkest times. I gave my main character an adventure to go on and the rest just fell into place.

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

My plots always change. I sit down with a story in my head, but my characters take me on an entirely different journey. It’s fun and exciting when your characters takeover.

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

I seem to come up with a new idea every week. Since I can’t write thirty books at one time, I give each idea its own journal. By the time I’m done writing one book, I already have another story plotted and ready to be written.

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

That’s the hard part. My muse is constantly feeding me ideas and if I’m not careful I’ll have two or three books going at one time. I have to calm myself down, because I get so excited when I get a new idea. I usually focus on the story that I am most excited about.

Can a vegetarian tip cows with a clean conscience?

Of course, as long as they don’t eat it they’re good. ☺ 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Mining The #BadFirstNovel & Acknowledging My Failure

So I'm resurrecting the concept of the first novel I ever wrote, which would have been around 1999. The reason why I started writing was because I read a book for a college class that I thought was just awful (no, I won't say what) and I threw it across the room upon finishing it, self-declared myself a better writer than that person and immediately sat down in front of my computer to prove it.

Guess what? I totally was not a better writer than that person.

And I can see that now.

In the past week I opened up that document and started looking at it for concept because I can see it working as a YA with a ton of restructuring - and by restructuring I mean I'm taking a 3rd person omni adult literary (or so I flattered myself) and making it a 1st person present multiple POV YA. This also means that I'm not using any of the original content. Not a single line. And it's not only the restructuring that makes this a necessity.

It's the fact that my first novel really, really sucks.

And the version that I'm looking at has gone through multiple revisions, been re-written from scratch at least once, and then seen more revisions. It's had a lot of work, and it's still painful to look at. And I mean that. This isn't me throwing out false modesty.

I found a paragraph that consisted entirely of character movement, had a head hop, plus someone able to see something in a pitch black room. And that was within four lines.

I'm sharing this because I think it's important for aspiring writers to know that it's perfectly okay to suck. Published writers don't spring forth from the womb holding polished manuscripts.

I started tweeting about my first ms under the hashtag #BadFirstNovel, so if you're interested in seeing my thoughts on my own first work as I barge forward, feel free to see what I'm up to on Twitter.

Saturday, December 6, 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.

Elliott Waverly is thrown into a world that shouldn't exist; a world with supernatural weapons, angel feathers, and what seems like everybody out to get her. This is awkward phrasing her in the last part of the sentence. Also any kind of paranormal is hard to pitch without a really, really fresh angle. Right now your hook doesn't have anything fresh about it - just people and supernaturals co-existing. Everyone she thought she knew, even her parents, have lied to her. About what? The only person that seems to be real is Joel, an angel warrior sworn to protect her, but nothing can ever happen between them; it is strictly forbidden. Why? Elliott was soon to discover she was not the ordinary girl she thought she was. Why is this last sentence in past tense? 

Seventeen-year-old Elliott Waverly just wants to forget the past and the three bullets who ruined her life. This phrase sounds like another opener. This is a first paragraph sentence. That being said, it's a stronger hook with the bullets, however it has no paranormal elements. She wants to forget her parents were taken away from her, killed by a man in a mask. Every time she comes home she's reminded that the man she was left to, a distant cousin who's always drunk, will never replace her parents. So she hides away in books leaving real life to others. When she comes home one night, she finds her cousin drunk just like he always is, and his hurtful words really push her over the edge. This is becoming a step-by-step walk through that feels more like a synopsis than a query. Elliott finds herself in the middle of nowhere broken down, alone, on the side of the road with no hope in sight. That's when a mysterious boy named Joel enters her life and changes everything. Yes, this definitely feels like two opening paragraphs that have such a different feel about them that they could be for two completely different books. 

Her cousin is unexpectedly murdered, just like her parents, by mysterious entities. Just as her demise is emanate imminent , Joel steps out of the darkness to save her. It has always been Joel's mission to deliver Elliott safely to the Elders. Nothing in Elliott's world will ever be the same.

Complete with 60,000 words, ANGEL WITH A SHOTGUN is a young adult science fiction novel that will draw readers in and make them beg for more as they turn the last page.

A lot of things -- first of all -- it's not science fiction, it's urban fantasy or straight up paranormal. 

You really need to clarify your plot. Right now all I see is that there's a girl with parents who lied to her about something (no idea what) and have been mysteriously murdered (no idea why) by a bad guy (no idea who). And then a cute angel boy who she can't be with shows up to protect her from... something. 

This could be the plot of hundreds of paranormals -- why is it different from them? What makes your book better than or distinct from the hundreds of books exactly like this that already exist and the hundreds that are trying to get published? Figure out what makes it pop and get that in the query.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Book Talk: GIRLS LIKE US by Gail Giles

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.

Quincy and Biddie know how other people look at them. As Special-Ed kids (Speddies) they are something less than human. As graduates of their high school program, they are expected to help each other transition into the real world. Sharing an apartment with overweight, constantly frightened Biddie is the last thing Quincy wants hanging around her neck as she tries to move onto this new phase.

Always ready for a fight, Quincy pitches her fit, but nobody listens. She's stuck with a roomie who's more Speddie than she is, one who can't hardly walk out the front door unless someone is with her. But when Quincy mouths off to the wrong person at her new job, she finds out that there are good reasons why Biddie is scared of the real world. And having a friend beside her to face people that don't understand them might be a better survival tactic than always having her fists up.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately...

1) I get migraines from looking at backlit screens. I'm considering writing with sunglasses on, and this will be my new thing. I am too cool for my laptop.

2) I was at the gym for two hours the other day and now I cannot lift my arms above my head. That's okay though, because I don't actually use that motion in real life.

3) On the other hand, I pulled a muscle in my ass and you don't realize how much you use your ass everyday.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

YA Author Patty Blount On Pinning Down Those Ideas Through Plotting

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.

Today's guest for the WHAT? is Patty Blount author of SEND, TMI and SOME BOYS, all available from Sourcebooks Fire. Fueled by a serious chocolate obsession, a love of bad science-fiction movies, and a weird attraction to exclamation points, Patty looks for ways to mix business with pleasure, mining her day job for ideas to use in her fiction.

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?

For me, it’s much like a Perfect Storm, where several factors converge into The Idea. Sometimes, it’s a conversation or a song lyric that worms into my brain, or a news article, or watching a movie. My brain starts trying to organize all these vastly different inputs and the result is usually a character whose story I have to tell. “Some Boys” was conceived after I saw way too many news reports expressing sympathy or the perpetrators rather than the victim in the Stuebenville rape case. A lyric from the Eminem/Rhianna song “Love the Way You Lie” combined with that and with this question I kept asking myself, “What if I refuse to back down?” I loved the idea of exploring a kick-ass character like this. 

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

I’m a dedicated plotter, mostly because I have a poor memory. I work full time in addition to my writing career and I have lost track of how many great ideas came to me during a conference only to be distant echoes by the time I get back to my manuscript. I use a variety of techniques to plot like corkboards and index cards, Post-it notes, Excel spreadsheets and so on. Technique really doesn’t matter; it’s the meat attached to those hooks. I like to come up with two or three crucial scenes, including the end point, and build out – or build back – from there. 

For Grace in Some Boys, I knew this girl had been raped. I knew no one believed her. I wanted her to emerge at the end of the story still standing, no matter what was thrown her way. While I was mulling over Grace’s journey, I stepped onto the elevator at work with a woman wearing a hijab, the traditional Muslim veil. That led to one of my favorite scenes in Some Boys, where Grace wears a burqa to school to protest everyone blaming her assault on what she usually wears. 

I don’t plot every little thing. I like to get the big set pieces fixed in my mind and build from there.  

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

Yes, the plots always shift and I’ve learned to shift with them. My first novel, SEND, was about a guy named Dan who did a terrible thing that resulted in a classmate’s suicide. His grief and guilt were so profound, they were practically a new life form. That single thought ended up evoking a whole new character I called Kenny, who was actually Dan’s younger self (much like Fight Club). When I first conceived Kenny, he was an irritant, a construct that showed how much Dan hates himself for what he did. But as I wrote, it became clear I had that completely wrong. The story wasn’t about Dan’s guilt; it was about his forgiveness – specifically how he learned to forgive Kenny, i.e., himself. 

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

Fresh material is hard to come by for me. I don’t have binders full of ideas waiting for time or anything like that. In fact, I often fear my last idea will be my last idea. I spend a good deal of time dreaming up ideas I can take from seed to fully-realized book. As I said earlier, it’s usually a convergence of things that becomes a book. It’s not enough for me to say “Oh, I’ll write a book about rape culture today.” I have to work at it, really exercise the story muscles. “What about it? Why is this important? What do I want readers to walk away from this book feeling?”  

Last summer, a writer friend of mine said “We should write Christmas romances.” I just blinked and shrugged. I had absolutely no ideas for a good holiday romance I hadn’t already read. A little while later, my son and I were discussing the September 11th Memorial and planning a trip to Manhattan to see it. I began browsing the website, absorbing details, reliving the horror that was that day. And then, my friend called me again and said, “What about a Christmas in New York romance?” and BAM! I had an idea for a story about two people who’d actually met back in 2001 when they were still kids grieving for the person they each lost. The convergence of ideas – Christmas, New York, and September 11th -- became Goodness and Light, my first grown-up romance that just came out on November 11th. 

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

That depends on which character is talking loudest in my head. He or she gets written first, just to shut them up! When the characters have something to say, their stories just flow out of me. I wrote Some Boys in about six or seven weeks. In fact, when I feel blocked with a story, I know it’s usually because I haven’t yet figured out what its characters need to say. 

Meat is bad for you, grains are bad for you, vegetables have e.coli. What’s left?

Chocolate. 

In a perfect world, chocolate would be all I ever ate. ☺

Monday, December 1, 2014

I'm Doing That Writing Thing Again

So... I hit File>New Document over the weekend.

It was really scary.

There's nothing quite like a white surface to truly make a writer feel inadequate and terrified. But it also stands as a challenge, and my brain was ready to churn out the words.

My last foray into writing a novel is all nicely packaged up, ready for you to get curious about it when September of 2015 rolls around. That one is a Gothic historical thriller set in an insane asylum - very cheery. It was a ton of work to write, research, double-checking, caution with dialogue, moody ambience and tip-toe phrasing.

Kind of like torture with your own brain and a laptop.

So this new thing... it's pretty different. It's the kind of story that might actually pull an Athena and just pop out of my frontal lobe fully formed. Writing a story that wants to be written is a rush, but it's also terrifying in it's own way.

Am I writing this too quickly?
Am I deluding myself that this is decent?
Is it coming too easily to actually be worthwhile?
Is it coming so quickly that I'm not able to capture everything in time?

Answer to all the above is: I don't know.

I'm just going to keep writing. We'll see about the rest.