Thursday, March 31, 2016

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately...

1) Is there any dirt under all the ice in Antarctica? Or is it just a floating ice cube? I'm sure there's dirt, but I wondered nonetheless.

2) I see a lot of posts about how to get smokey eyes just right. It's easy guys. Sleep in yesterday's makeup.

3) I don't think horseradish was ever meant to be eaten. Somebody made a mistake a long time ago and we're all paying for it now.

Monday, March 28, 2016

My Events This Week!

Want to meet me?

It's okay, I don't bite.

Well, I do, but I've had all my shots.

First up, if you're in the Marion, Ohio area I will be speaking at a Pad Party at OSU Marion Campus. What's a Pad Party? It's to benefit local women who don't have access to basic (and expensive) feminine hygiene needs. Neither WIC nor SNAP cover pads or tampons, if you can believe that. My speech is highly entertaining. At least, I think so.

I'll also be signing and selling books at the event!


Then, on April 2 from 2-4 PM I will be teaching a class on writing YA fiction at the Worthington Library. Registration is required for this event so if you're interested you should let people in charge know about that. (Hint: I'm not in charge. Follow this link). 





Saturday, March 26, 2016

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.

Of all the things sixteen-year-old Grace thought she’d inherit after her mom’s death, visions of the future never made the list. Pretty good hook. But when a vision allows her to save Max Hubbard, a guy with a cute smile and a questionable background, she decides to uncover all the secrets her mom took to the grave. First on the list: why was Max’s name written in her mom’s planner?

Unlike Grace, Max has no interest in digging up the past. For generations, his family has hunted down women descended from the Greek Fates. His father swears there will be no freewill until the last Fate is killed, but Max knows it’s his father who controls Max’s choices. Sentence is a bit awkward.  He’s next in line to take over the family business, but Max only wants to get away from his father and start a normal life. When he meets Grace, he hopes she’ll be his new beginning. You might need to do some explaining here - he knows she's a Fate, he's supposed to kill Fates but he resents his controlling father. But what actually stops him from killing Grace? Has he killed Fates before? Is it because she saved him? But the closer they become, the more he realizes she may be the last Fate his father has been pursuing.

When his father and brother make the same discovery, Max must decide if he’s willing to risk his newfound freedom from his father at what point did he become free from his father if he's next in line to get the business? Do you just mean the freewill to make his own choice? And how would helping Grace to escape risk his freedom? Wouldn't it cement it? to help Grace escape. Whether Grace will accept his help is another story. She discovers that her mother sought out Max because she was trying to change his fate. But if she meant to bring Max and Grace together or keep them apart, Grace can’t be sure. You could use a stronger ending here, but overall this is pretty well done! Get a little explanation in there as to Max's motivations and you're looking good.

Friday, March 25, 2016

What Is GIVEN TO THE SEA About, Anyway?

I've been fielding a lot of questions on social media about my fantasy series, GIVEN TO THE SEA, coming from Putnam/Penguin in April, 2017. Today I get to share some details with you!


Kings and Queens rise and fall, loyalties collide, and romance blooms in a world where the sea is rising - and cannot be escaped.

Khosa is Given to the Sea, a girl born to be fed to the water, her flesh preventing a wave like the one that destroyed the Kingdom of Stille in days of old. But before she’s allowed to dance – an uncontrollable twitching of the limbs that will carry her to the shore in a frenzy – she must produce an heir. Yet the thought of human touch sends shudders down her spine that not even the sound of the tide can match.

Vincent is third in line to inherit his throne, royalty in a kingdom where the old linger and the young inherit only boredom. When Khosa arrives without an heir he knows his father will ensure she fulfills her duty, at whatever cost. Torn between protecting the throne he will someday fill, and the girl whose fate is tied to its very existence, Vincent’s loyalty is at odds with his heart.

Dara and Donil are the last of the Indiri, a native race whose dwindling magic grows weaker as the island country fades. Animals cease to bear young, creatures of the sea take to the land, and the Pietra – fierce fighters who destroyed the Indiri a generation before – are now marching from their stony shores for the twin’s adopted homeland, Stille.

Witt leads the Pietra, their army the only family he has ever known. The stone shores harbor a secret, a growing threat that will envelop the entire land – and he will conquer every speck of soil to ensure the survival of his people.

The tides are turning in Stille, where royals scheme, Pietrans march, and the rising sea calls for its Given. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

YA Author Laurie Crompton On The Submission Process

If there's one thing that many aspiring writers have few clues about, it's the submission process. There are good reasons for that; authors aren't exactly encouraged to talk in detail about our own submission experiences, and - just like agent hunting - everyone's story is different. I managed to cobble together a few non-specific questions that some debut authors have agreed to
answer (bless them). And so I bring you the submission interview series - Submission Hell - It's True. Yes, it's the SHIT.

Today's guest for the SHIT is Laurie Crompton author of ADRENALINE CRUSH (FSG/2014, Square Fish/2016), BLAZE (or Love in the Time of Supervillains), and THE REAL PROM QUEENS OF WESTFIELD HIGH (Sourcebooks/2013, 2014). Laurie graduated first in her class from St. John’s University with a BA in English and minor in Journalism. Since then she’s written for national magazines like ALLURE, survived a teaching stint at an all-boys high school, and appeared on Good Day New York several times as a Toy Expert. And yes, a ‘toy expert’ is an actual thing that people sometimes get to be.

How much did you know about the submission process before you were out on subs yourself?

I was a very active member of Verla Kay’s Blueboards back before it merged with the SCBWI message board and I found it super educational. Thanks to that supportive online community I felt pretty well informed from the beginning. While querying agents I spent a lot of time on the blueboard in what we called The Trenches. Each month we’d start a new trench thread and then find new and creative ways to complain about how looooong response times were and how much we hated the sound of crickets in our inboxes. It was very cathartic; until someone kindly pointed out that the message boards were a public (and searchable) place and that maybe we should knock that whining shit off. So for editor submissions we all shifted our whining to private – ha! The trenches taught me that holding hands with others going through the submissions process is the best way to stay sane during the long wait.

Did anything about the process surprise you?

I thought that hearing that first yes from an editor meant that my waiting days were over. *cue maniacal laughter* My super-human ability to wait for news has come in handy again and again since getting my first book published. Even now, I have an eye on my email because I have a number of things in various stages that I’d love to get some good news on. Meanwhile, I’m trying to finish a draft on a really fun but challenging new project. It turns out that it was never just about hanging in there waiting to get my first ‘yes.’ Building a career has meant learning to ignore the things that are outside my control while I focus on writing.

Did you research the editors you knew had your ms? Do you recommend doing that?

Ha! I am quite skilled at editor stalking. It’s not something I’m proud of, and I’ve mostly given up the practice, but for a time I’d study editor’s bios as if they were tealeaves. Of course everything I saw just confirmed how PERFECT each editor was for my book and made the sting that much worse if they rejected my project. I’ve gotten much better at focusing on writing while on submission, but I’d be lying if I said I completely gave up stalking researching potential editors on our submissions lists.

What was the average amount of time it took to hear back from editors?

In my (vast!) experience, hearing back from editors can take anywhere from one weekend to a few months. Sometimes a longer wait time meant my book was getting passed around for second reads or heading to acquisitions. And other times it just meant it was a longer wait time. It took nearly two years and several submission rounds to sell the third (!!!) book that I wrote. Then five months later my awesome agent sold the fourth book I wrote. So far that five-month wait has been the most lightning-fast thing that’s happened to me in publishing, so, yeah. *see super-human waiting ability mentioned above.* We often hear stories of fast sales and big auctions, but my slow, deliberate pace is just as valid and I suspect more common. As long as we continue to push ourselves to grow as writers we’ll get where we belong.

What do you think is the best way for an author out on submission to deal with the anxiety?

Be kind to yourself and acknowledge that waiting to hear on submissions truly is a unique and torturous form of hell. I absolutely believe writing is both the cause and the cure and diving into another project is the best way to deal with the waiting. But sometimes being kind to yourself means doing other things like exercising or drawing or binge-watching Netflix. Submission hell is a no-judgment zone.

If you had any rejections, how did you deal with that emotionally? How did this kind of rejection compare to query rejections?

In my (vast!) experience with rejections, I’ve found that the closer one gets to a ‘yes,’ the more the ‘no’s sting. On one hand it is great to hear that a book is worthy and just missed the mark for whatever small reason, but on the other hand, getting shot down at the acquisitions stage can be pretty painful when it happens. Like exercise, I’ve found that it’s the second day afterwards that the soreness really sets in. Riding out that pain is just part of getting to play the sport.

If you got feedback on a rejection, how did you process it? How do you compare processing an editor’s feedback as compared to a beta reader’s?

I have awesome beta readers who I trust and so I’m accustomed to that thing where I push through defensiveness in order to see what is missing/unclear/wrong/badly written/garbage etc… I’ve had a few R&Rs (request to revise and resubmit) over the years and have never regretted diving back into a project with an editor’s feedback. I’m pretty grateful any time someone’s willing to read my work and help me improve it. Or even just read it, really – I’m sort of needy that way.

When you got your YES! how did that feel? How did you find out – email, telephone, smoke signal?

I knew we were going to acquisitions on a specific day and then I saw a bunch of hits on my website through my stat counter. I actually set up my webcam at my desk and hit ‘record’ when my agent’s number came up on my cellphone. Here’s a link to a small bit at the end of that phone call – needless to say I was pretty excited to hear the good news. 

Did you have to wait a period of time before sharing your big news, because of details being ironed out? Was that difficult?

I was very fortunate and got to share my news publically about a week after The Call. Which was good because after years of telling people I was a writer I was ready to explode with the happy news that I was about to become a published author. No matter what happens with submissions, as long as we continue writing we’re still writers. And that’s the very best part.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

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.

At forty-seven, Lane Stevens is still America’s sweetheart as the host of the Foodie Channel’s hottest show, Food Made Whole. That is, until she wakes up on the floor of her San Francisco hotel room with a nasty bump on her head, a silver platter of bacon wrapped chicken livers, and a corpse. Oh my goodness, I want to read this. Perfect hook. 

Unfortunately, the dead man has been hiding a secret—a flash card Okay, you might want to rephrase this as a thumb or jump drive or simply a photo... b/c I immediately thought of addition and subtraction flash cards said to contain proof of a twisted conspiracy to design, manufacture and maintain disease for corporate profit. The card is a powerful bargaining chip against the U.S. and is presumed missing. But when the coroner declares murder by Rumaki, Lane’s favorite appetizer, and it’s discovered the dead man is Lane’s estranged uncle, all raised brows turn to Lane. And when target practice ensues on those around her, the message is clear—hand over the card or the next corpse will be someone she loves. So does Lane have the card, or was the card on the corpse? Unclear.

The federal agent in charge of the investigation has finger-worthy salt and pepper hair, and a voice reminiscent of warm caramel. He is definitely too yummy to be trusted, but he’s the only one championing her innocence. So, despite the nagging knot in her gut, she works with him to cook up a dangerous plan that will take her loved ones out of the crosshairs and clear her name. Together, they will risk their lives to trap her uncle’s killer, recover the flash card, and end the nightmare. Or so she thinks. Still unclear about the card. How did anyone even know it existed if it wasn't on the corpse in the first place?

FIRST CORPSE: THE APPETIZER is the first book in the mystery series, A Seven Corpse Meal, complete at 90,000 words. Women who enjoy well-seasoned characters like Stephanie Plum, Goldy Schulz, and Kinsey Millhone are sure to enjoy Lane Stevens. As for me, I’m a veteran whole foodie, an ardent researcher and writer, and evil mastermind behind the website that takes the mystery out of whole foods—foodmadewhole.com.

Honestly I think this is great. I don't know enough about the particular genre to know if it's a good idea to pitch it as a series, but I don't think it would hurt you terribly either. Find a way to clearly and succinctly explain the confusion about the card and I think this is gold.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately...

1) Every now and then my finger slips and I sign emails as "Mindu." Then I think, "that's a cool name too."

2) Mindy is not a hard or weird name, but I get called all kinds of things. Mandy, most usually, but also Wendy, Minday and Monday.

3) Today is St. Patty's Day! If you're Protestant you should actually wear orange - green is for the Catholics. So I guess you could say orange is the new Irish.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

AFTER EDEN Author Helen Douglas On Inspiration From A Photo

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

Today's guest for the WHAT is Helen Douglas, author of the young adult time-travel romance novel AFTER EDEN (Bloomsbury USA Childrens, July 2013) and the upcoming sequel CHASING STARS  (Bloomsbury USA Childrens July 19, 2016).

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?

Very much so. I came across a photograph from Vanity Fair that imagined what New York City would look like if sea levels were to rise as a result of global warming. It was a frightening, but beautiful illustration. I started researching the likely effects of global warming on communities around the world – not just the effect of rising sea levels on our coastlines and cities and islands, but also on our food production and landscape. And then I began imagining what it would be like to live in a world so recently changed. Because Chasing Stars is the second part of a time travel duology, it had to take place in the future. It was fun – and alarming – to set it just a hundred years in the future, using some of these projections. Then I asked myself how my main character, Eden, would cope if she suddenly found herself living in this world where once powerful nations were struggling to feed their people, and other countries had risen up as world leaders. How would she cope in a world where cereal crops were impossible to grow and insects formed a large part of our diet? 

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

Once I’d decided the story would take place in the future, and that there would be a scene set in New York, I plotted backwards and forwards from that. In After Eden, Eden and Ryan had broken the laws of time travel in order to be together. I knew there had to be consequences. And so, at the beginning of Chasing Stars, a ‘cleaner’ is sent back to ‘clean up’ any trace of Ryan’s presence in the past, and to transport him back to his own time for a trial. As Eden knows about time travel and bits and pieces about the future, she has to go to, to prevent any contamination of the past. The story built 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?

I don’t like to outline in too much detail, because for me, the ‘fun’ part of writing is the discovering of the story. If I’ve already worked out in detail what is going to happen every step of the way, the writing itself feels like a chore. So, I have an end point and a journey in mind, but usually find myself taking unexpected detours along the way. With After Eden, however, the book I submitted to my agent had a very different ending to the one that was eventually published. Without giving too much away, the original ending was quite bleak.

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

I have more ideas than I have time to write. They’re not fully fleshed stories, but bare bones of ideas just waiting to be assembled into an interesting shape and given substance. 

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

Generally one of them is yelling just a little bit louder to be heard. That’s the one I’ll go with – the one that makes me most excited. Other times I’ll pass on a story idea for the time being, because I know it will require lots of research and I don’t have the time to do the research at the moment.

When it comes to naming characters, I just rest my hands and let them tell me what their names are. What’s your process? 

It depends. Some of the names of characters in the After Eden series are quite significant. Eden, for instance, is the name not just of the main character, but also of a new world – I wanted to draw on the symbolism of an unspoilt paradise. And because many of the characters in the series live at a time when space exploration is happening, they are names after famous constellations or stars. Many of the minor characters are named after friends. Sometimes I really struggle to fit a name to a character though and have to go through several name changes before it feels right.

Monday, March 14, 2016

THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES ARC Giveaway!

ARCs of THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES arrived at my house Saturday morning, and I'm ready to give one to you! Enter to win in the Rafflecopter below.


Alex Craft knows how to kill someone. And she doesn’t feel bad about it. When her older sister, Anna, was murdered three years ago and the killer walked free, Alex uncaged the language she knows best. The language of violence.

While her crime goes unpunished, Alex knows she can’t be trusted among other people, even in her small hometown. She relegates herself to the shadows, a girl who goes unseen in plain sight, unremarkable in the high school hallways.

But Jack Fisher sees her. He’s the guy all other guys want to be: the star athlete gunning for valedictorian with the prom queen on his arm. Guilt over the role he played the night Anna’s body was discovered hasn’t let him forget Alex over the years, and now her green eyes amid a constellation of freckles have his attention. He doesn’t want to only see Alex Craft; he wants to know her.

So does Peekay, the preacher’s kid, a girl whose identity is entangled with her dad’s job, though that does not stop her from knowing the taste of beer or missing the touch of her ex-boyfriend. When Peekay and Alex start working together at the animal shelter, a friendship forms and Alex’s protective nature extends to more than just the dogs and cats they care for.

Circumstances bring Alex, Jack, and Peekay together as their senior year unfolds. While partying one night, Alex’s darker nature breaks out, setting the teens on a collision course that will change their lives forever. Acclaimed author Mindy McGinnis artfully crafts three alternating perspectives into a dark and riveting exploration of what it means to be the female of the species.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, March 12, 2016

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.

In the lands of Terra Dira, it is a time of courage and treachery, a world of fear and unrest, it is the age of wolfborn. This isn't much of a hook. To you it resonates, because this is your world. To anyone unassociated it it sounds like a voiceover for a video game.

Nineteen-year-old Shiro Volk is wolfborn. He has the body of a man, but the soul of a wolf. And with the power of the moon, he can transform into a deadly humanoid wolf. So, are you avoiding using the word "werewolf?" I understand that you don't want to be seen as using a trope but at the same time you can't disguise the fact that's basically what this is. Go ahead and embrace it. Long ago, the wolfborn forged an alliance with the kingdom of Starfall, vowing to guard the kingdom from invaders in exchange for having their lives free of persecution. This is all fine, but I don't know much about setting

When Shiro’s father takes in his three orphaned cousins, he assures them the kingdom of Starfall is unlike their former home in Tymeria, where Paladins freely hunt wolfborn and other non-human races. But time has made the wolfborn feared for the same reason they were loved during times of war: They are superior warriors. And beneath the growing cloud of anti-nonhuman sentiment, tensions between the Paladins and the wolfborn are reaching a boiling point.

Amid assassinations, rebellions, betrayals, and internal family conflicts, the fate of Shiro, his family, and his friends hang perilously in the balance, as each is forced to make impossible decisions. Decisions that will affect both their lives and perhaps all of Terra Dira. One thing is certain – survival is impossible without staining hands with blood. Good stinger here.

Told through several alternating viewpoints, WOLFBORN is a New Adult Fantasy novel of 95,000 words with a George R. R. Martin-esque narrative and a unique twist on the werewolf genre. Is it New Adult because of the age of the MC alone, or because of content? NA (in general) means that there is more sexual content than in YA. If that isn't the case, go ahead and age him down and call it YA.

This query is well written but here's the thing - I have no idea what this book is about. Werewolves, a kingdom that used to be a good place to live but now isn't b/c they aren't needed anymore... except, aren't they? If there's assassinations, rebellions, and what sounds like political unrest in general, aren't these super warriors needed for something? I don't understand what the impossible decisions that could affect all of Terra Dira, etc are when I don't have a grip on what the actual plot revolves around other than vague "troubles."

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately...

1) We use the term cradle robber for someone dating a person much younger than them, and gold digger for someone (usually) dating someone much older than them, but grave robber for someone who digs up dead people looking for jewelry. Wouldn't it make more sense to switch the last two?

2) Ever notice that all the people in the ads for depression medication and / or counseling are really good looking? That doesn't help, people.

3) The people in the STD med ads are also really attractive. Where are all the wince-inducing pics from high school health class?

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

MarcyKate Connolly On Switching Gears In Between Projects

Whether you’re under contract or trying to snag another deal, you’re a professional now, with the pressures of a published novelist compounded with the still-present nagging self-doubt of the noobie. How to deal?

Today's guest for the SNOB is MarcyKate Connolly, author of the MG titles MONSTROUS and RAVENOUS, available from HarperChildrens. MarcyKate has written poetry as long as she can remember, and began her first full-length novel in 2008. Since then she's completed many other novels including MONSTROUS (Upper MG Fantasy, Frankenstein meets the Brothers Grimm) and have several others languishing in various states of incompletion and disarray.

Is it hard to leave behind the first novel and focus on the second?

It definitely can be. You spend so much time writing, revising, and planning for the launch of book #1, that when it’s finally accepted as “done” switching gears can be tricky. However, in my case I think the fact that my second book was a companion novel set in the same world and involving some of the same characters made that transition easier than it might have been if both books were completely unrelated standalones.

At what point do you start diverting your energies from promoting your debut and writing / polishing / editing your second?

You don’t (or at least, I didn’t) and that’s what makes it tricky. Once the editing on that first book is complete, you need to start writing the second. And at the same time, you also need to plan and begin to carry out promotion for the first book. Unless your books are slated to be published more than a year apart, chances are you’ll be doing those things concurrently. It can be hard to balance, but it certainly keeps you busy :) I found using a project management tool to be very helpful in keeping me on track with all the tasks I had for both writing/editing and promotion.

Your first book landed an agent and an editor, and hopefully some fans. Who are you writing the second one for? Them, or yourself?

All of the above! Which is pretty weird (also awesome). When you’re writing the first book the only real expectations are coming from yourself. But now that the book is out there, your agent and editor have professional expectations of you, and your fans have expectations for the next book too. It’s both wonderful and stressful.

It can be hard to do, but the best advice I’d have is to try to tune all that out as best you can. I would have psyched myself out if I’d been focused on writing for someone else. For me, the key was to keep writing the book I wanted to write. If I hadn’t loved the book and the characters and their journey, it would have been a lot more difficult. Also, having a great team of people to work with at HarperCollins certainly helped a ton!

Is there a new balance of time management to address once you’re a professional author?

Definitely! I thoroughly underestimated the amount of time I would end up spending on emails, let alone everything else. Again, investing in a good To Do list app or project management tool is what really helped me. (If you’re looking for a recommendation, I use the free version of Zoho Projects – it also has an iPhone app).

It takes some trial and error to determine how much you can reasonably take on, and I definitely took on more than I probably should have with the first book, but that gave me a more realistic idea of what I could accomplish the second time around. Basically, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get it right on the first book. Just do the best you can.

What did you do differently the second time around, with the perspective of a published author?

With editing I had a much better idea of what to expect and of what red flags my editors would be looking out for when I was writing my second book. That meant my first edit letter on Ravenous was only 8 pages instead of the 20 page edit letter I got for Monstrous. I learned from the initial experience (thankfully!) and grew as a writer.

When it came time to promote, I made a more realistic plan for myself. I adore blogs and bloggers, but I found that outreach directly to librarians, teachers, and booksellers was more effective for my particular books, so I added in more of that and fewer guest posts. I cut a couple other things I did for Monstrous that saw no returns (press releases, for example) and expanded some of the things that were effective (for example, personalized packets to local librarians). Really, the key for me is to be flexible and chalk up things that don’t work as well as you’d hoped as learning experiences. :)

Monday, March 7, 2016

The Freedom of Fantasy

If you're a faithful reader it's pretty obvious to you by now that I'm a genre jumper. My first two novels were post-apocalyptic, the third a historical, my upcoming fourth novel THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES is a contemporary. Hot on the heels of that - coming from Putnam/Penguin in April of 2017 - will be the first in my fantasy series, GIVEN TO THE SEA.

Any author, regardless of genre, will tell you that every novel presents its own unique issues. When I felt the tiny seeds that were to become my fantasy series starting to bud in my mind, I was ecstatic. I'd just come off of writing A MADNESS SO DISCREET which came about after nearly two years of research, followed by a frantic writing period that nearly killed me.

I thought writing a fantasy was just what I needed. No rules. No boundaries. No having to worry what type of lighting would be in use in 1890 so that one person could correct me on it. No more ten minutes of research before finishing a sentence because I need to know what a cop would have been called in 1890 in Boston.

Pure freedom. Or so I thought.

Instead what I discovered is what Janis Joplin could have told me a long time ago. Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose. Or, in my case... freedom's just another word where nothing is assumed.

Yep. That's the catch with fantasy. If I'm writing a contemporary and I tell you that my main character goes to a wealthy private school, that's all I need to say. You know what that school looks like. You know what her house probably looks like. You have a good idea of her culture without me saying much more than that.

If I tell you that my main character in fantasy is the Given, you're like, "Cool... um, what?"

So I have to explain that. And underneath her role as the Given lies an entire cultural mindset which the reader is entirely unfamiliar with. Yes, I get to create my own world and make my own rules, but I also have to paint it for you, and - even more difficult - sell it to you. I can't rely on any assumptions because this is an entirely new world for the reader, even if I have been inhabiting it for quite some time in my own mind.

I've been working on GIVEN TO THE SEA for over a year now, and it's consumed me in an entirely different way than any of my other books have. Yes, there's freedom in fantasy - one that I've been enjoying a lot. But there's also a lot of responsibility and heavy lifting in the world building.

Here's hoping I got it right.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

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.

Seventeen-year-old horror fanboy Cain Shannon thought helping a ghost track down her killers would be the supernatural adventure of a lifetime. Now, he just hopes to stay alive long enough to protect his family and friends from her. Oh goodness, I'm definitely liking the sound of this.

After agreeing to help Sarah, the ghost of a recently missing I'd cut these words as not terribly relevant, they're adding to a convoluted sentence teenage girl gender implied by her name, find those responsible for her death, Cain’s life takes a strange turn – he begins having blackouts and acting out of character. Only comfortable being the center of attention on a soccer field, Cain has a very public breakup with his diva girlfriend—something he actually wanted to do, but not with an audience.  Then he finds himself stalking football players - natural born enemies of soccer players. Finally, he realizes Sarah has been hijacking his body for her own twisted scheme. Terrified of what could have happened while he wasn't in control, he immediately commands her to leave his house.

But Sarah has no intention of going anywhere and adds Cain to her hit list. The use of Cain’s body increased Sarah’s power, and she retaliates against her alleged killers in bloody, horrific ways, each
death making her stronger. With the help of his friends, Cain seeks protection for himself and those he cares about, while searching for a way to rid himself of Sarah and stop her before she kills again.

MALEVOLENT RETRIBUTION is a YA horror novel, complete at 62,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Okay, this actually looks really good. The one thing I'll mention is that you might want to include details that will make this stand out. Right now it's a bit trope-y, ghost seeks retribution, deal with the devil doesn't go quite as planned, possession, etc. What about your book is different from any other stories that utilize these same elements? Get that in the query - you know how to write one, now write one that specifically lays out what makes your story different. 

Friday, March 4, 2016

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: LIES I LIVE BY by Lauren Sabel

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.

Callie Sinclair is the youngest covert CIA operative in a special program so secret, her own mom doesn't know about it. Every day she goes to school, sees her boyfriend, does her best to be normal, then heads to a nondescript building where she goes out of her mind - literally. Callie is a psychic who can use remote viewing to see what's happening anywhere in the world. Her mentor hands her an envelope with coordinates and she reports back what she sees going on there.

Her job is only to view and report. Callie is not to infer or try to piece together anything other than what she actually sees. But when her sessions start to become more violent, Callie has a hard time disassociating herself from images of bodies burned by gas explosions, or children swept away in tsunamis.

Her new partner, Jasper, can do more than view - he can also affect what's going on when he does. And his abilities aren't the only thing impressive about him. Jasper is cute, funny, and understands her in a way that her "normal" boyfriend never will. As her sessions become more frightening, Callie questions what impact she can have on future events - and what lies she's willing to keep telling to those she loves to keep them safe.

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Thursday, March 3, 2016

Thursday Thoughts

1) Why is evaporated milk still a liquid?

2) I started knitting a sweater for Boyfriend when we first started dating, and it was way too big. I had to unravel it and start again. I tried again, made a stupid mistake, unraveled it, started again. I'm almost done with the third attempt... nine years later. Basically I'm Penelope and he is Odysseus.

3) If you cut an earthworm in half and it regenerates, can the two parts then meet up at a later date and have a baby earthworm together? Is this incest, or youcest?

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

SKY JUMPERS Author Peggy Eddleman On Building Plot

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

Today's guest for the WHAT is fellow League of Extraordinary Writers member Peggy Eddleman, author of the MG series SKY JUMPERS, the first of which is a Texas BlueBonnet nominee this year.

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?

I had a very specific origin point for Sky Jumpers. I was on an airplane, sitting by the window, staring out at the wrong side of the clouds for 3 ½ hours, imagining how fun it would be if I could jump into those clouds and have them slow my fall, then set me more gently on the ground. It was an idea that was so exciting to me, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. So I started asking myself more questions about it. 

Like What could’ve happened to our world to make a fifteen foot thick layer of air that was dense enough that if you went above it and jumped into it, it would slow your fall? 

Then I asked, What if, instead of looking like clouds, how would things change if it was invisible? 

And then, the question that changed the story the most—What if that air was also deadly? Because if it was deadly, not only would it change how people felt about it, but it would become more of a player in the story. Something to cause more conflict.

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

It was actually figuring out the setting that led to the plot. I’d decided that I wanted a post-apocalyptic world, 40 years after the green bombs of World War III wiped out nearly all the population and all of technology. So when I thought about where to have Sky Jumpers take place, I chose the open plains in Nebraska—a place where the landscape would’ve been as barren as the population. But they needed to be near mountains to be close to the Bomb’s Breath, so I put their town inside one of the massive craters left behind by one of the green bombs. I realized how safe and protected they’d feel there. After all, they had the Bomb’s Breath above them to stop any bandits from coming over the mountain and into their town. And if they felt all nice and safe and protected, of course I had to threaten that security. And that’s when the plot was born.

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

I plot the main story points, and those don’t change. I never plot out how they are actually going to get to those points, because that’s when the magic happens. I have to get into the story—really be working closely with it during drafting—to figure out all the details that can only be figured out when you’re that intimate with the story.

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

Fragments of ideas come to me all the time—things about characters, setting, plot, random ideas, inciting incidents, concepts. I put them into an ideas file to look at later. Ideas that quickly morph into a full story idea come much less frequently.

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

Many times, when I’m ready to start a new story, I’ll go through my idea folder and just let things bounce around until one awesome idea collides with another and then another until a story begins to take shape. Usually more than one story starts to get enough ideas colliding that I have to stop and decide which to write. I start fleshing out both (or all three or four) stories and writing synopses along with random idea parts. When one starts to really grab me more than another, and I find myself thinking about it the most, that’s when I stick with it and start developing it even further.

When it comes to naming characters, I just rest my hands and let them tell me what their names are. What’s your process?

I do that sometimes, too! Other times the right name doesn’t just come. I have a names document that I add to whenever I come across a name that really speaks to me in some way. It has hundreds of names now. When I’m naming a new character, I go to that file first. Many times, I find just what I’m looking for. When I don’t, I usually have a sense of what letter their name starts with, so I look at online baby name books, starting with that letter.