Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Author Stephanie Elliot On Loving (And Hating) Social Media

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 Stephanie Elliot, author SAD PERFECT, which was inspired by her own daughter’s journey with ARFID, Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder. She has written for a variety of websites and magazines and has been a passionate advocate of other authors by promoting their books on the Internet for years. She has been, or still is, all of the following: a book reviewer, an anonymous parenting columnist, a mommy blogger, an editor, a professional napper, a reformed Diet Coke drinker, a gecko breeder and the author of three self-published novels.

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 didn’t really think, “Oh I’m going to write this book.” In fact I wasn’t even thinking of writing YA. I was in the middle of writing women’s fiction. My daughter had met a boy in a very interesting way, a sort of meet-cute, and I thought I would write a vignette about the way they met, maybe a quick one-page scene. And from there, I kept writing for three months.

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

Sad Perfect is loosely based on my daughter’s eating disorder, ARFID (Avoidant /Restrictive Food Intake Disorder), her therapy, and her recovery so that was the basis for the plot.

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

Yes, but I don’t ever go in to a writing session expecting my plot to stay the same. I don’t plan to stick with everything I have in my mind—that would be pretty boring for me. Since I’m what they call a pantser, I go where the story takes me. It’s more fun that way, also a lot more surprising. 

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

I think of story ideas all of the time. The hardest part for me is sitting down to write them. I have four story ideas on paper and in my head right now that I could sit down and get working on. Am I sitting down and working on them? No. I’m on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram! I hate social media! I love social media!

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

I either talk with my agent (who is also YOUR agent and a wonderful sounding board!), or I work on the one that I have fleshed out in my mind the best. Which is usually the one where the most characters are talking to me. 

I usually have a cat or two with me while I write. They’re good for a pet if I need a moment away from the screen, and don’t seem to mind if I ignore them completely as long as I’m sharing body heat. Do you have a writing companion? 

Facebook and Twitter, but I hate them! LOL! But seriously though, The Swanky Seventeens debut writing group has been a lifesaver in this journey. The authors are so supportive and motivating when I need someone to get me moving on my work in progress, or when I’m feeling down about something. They are my current companions in this crazy journey! But lucky for them, I don’t ask to pet any of them!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Announcing the Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire Podcast

In 2010 I signed with a literary agent after having spent ten years in the query trenches. Many of the mistakes I made were easily avoided, and I probably could have been published much more quickly if I'd done the necessary research. After learning the ropes through a large and scattered network of writer sites, blogs, and forums, I had finally found a measure of success.

I started this blog Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire shortly after landing my first book deal. I decided to pay it forward by hosting a blog where I asked published and agented authors all the questions I'd had when I was still aspiring.

This blog has been regularly updated for six years now, taking a lot of my time and attention, with no monetary return. Often I have thought it was time for me to hang it up, but whenever the thought crossed my mind I would get an email from a follower who let me know how the blog had helped them on their publishing journey.

In 2017 I decided that if the blog was going to keep existing it also needed to grow and offer my followers something new. The Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire podcast came from that idea. I am excited to bring this new medium to my followers, but it has also demanded an enormous amount of my time as I set up interviews, record, edit, and go through post-production with each episode. I'm a perfectionist, so I'm editing out filler words, dead air, and anytime that myself or my guest bumble about a bit.

If the blog or podcast have been of any assistance to you in your writing life, I would very much appreciate monetary support so that I can continue to produce them. The crowdfunding site provides award tiers for donors at each level, starting at $1 a month.

Want to support me but don't like the idea of a monthly charge? I understand. You can support me by buying me a coffee in exchange for my content through Ko-Fi or giving a one time donation to me through the PayPal button below.




New episodes will go up every week! Please follow the podcast to be notified of each new episode, or subscribe through iTunes.

And with that I bring you my first episode! Please enjoy my conversation with Kate Karyus Quinn about writing, publishing, gaining (and losing) an agent, and the pitfalls that exist even once you have a finished book in your hand.


Friday, February 24, 2017

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: FOREVER OR A LONG, LONG TIME by Caela Carter

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.

Flora and Julian weren't born. They have no baby pictures, and cannot remember their beginnings. They are Only's - only able to depend on each other as they cycle through an endless parade of foster homes, where Flora's words keep getting stuck in her throat and Julian hides food in his room, always afraid of hunger.

But now there is Person, who promises she will be with them forever. Flora has called too many people Mother; the word has lost all meaning. It feels like this time they might actually have a home, but then change comes again. Person is going to have a baby. A baby that is born, a baby that will be so much easier to love than a fourth grader that can't communicate and her brother that hides chicken fingers in his coat pockets.

Somehow, Person seems to understand, and she wants to help Flora and Julian stitch together what little memories they have of their pasts in order to get back to when they were born. With a scant trail of paperwork, patchy memories, and overworked foster parents, the family goes on a trip to find where Julian and Flora came from, and try to understand who they fell through the cracks of the system.



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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Wednesday WOLF

I'm such a big nerd that I tend to look up word origins in my spare time because I'm fascinated by our language. The odder the origin, the better. I've got a collection of random information in my brain that makes me an awesome Trivial Pursuit partner, but is completely useless when it comes to real world application. Like say, job applications.

I thought I'd share some of this random crap with you in the form of another acronym-ific series. I give you - Word Origins from Left Field - that's right, the WOLF. Er... ignore the fact that the "from" doesn't fit.

This week I came across something awesome and fitting. As I am such a big fan of the inane and trivial I looked up the origin or the word... trivial.

Trivial has its origins in the physical layout of Ancient Rome. Say what? No really. We've learned a lot from the Romans but one thing we didn't take from them is street grids. Ancient Rome was a twisty, turny city. There were many places where three roads converged, dumping all their foot traffic into a convenient location for temples and food carts. And who wants to eat alone? Lollygagging and gossiping became a trademark of these areas, and any news that one overheard there was usually of the non-important sort, thus it was tri (Latin prefix for "three") via (Latin for "way" or "road").

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Christina Farley On Creating Swag That Works

Most authors will agree that the creative part of the job is where we excel, the business and marketing side, slightly less. It’s lovely when the two can meet in the form of SWAG – Shit We All Generate. I’ve invited some published authors to share with us their secret to swag… little freebies that can sell a book longer after the author is no longer standing in front of a prospective reader. In order to create great swag, you have to be crafty – in more ways than one.

Today's guest for the SWAG is Christina Farley, who became an author because "write a book," was on her bucket list. She did, and - it was awful. But a very strange thing happened. She realized she liked writing, and after much perseverance her GILDED series was released from Skyscape. Her newest release THE PRINCESS & THE PAGE is a mystical adventure about a pulls-no-punches princess and the power of her magical pen, releasing March 28 from Scholastic.

Finding something that represents your book and hasn’t been played out by a million authors before is difficult. What’s your swag?

For the swag for THE PRINCESS & THE PAGE, I wanted to portray that whimsical, fairy tale feel as well as highlight on the theme of the power of writing.

First and foremost, I had bookmarks created. The great thing about bookmarks is that they are useful advertisement. After all, aren’t we all always in need of a bookmark? To give the bookmarks their own special bling, I ordered castle charms and attached the charms to the bookmarks with ribbon. I ordered my bookmarks through GotPrint which has great prices. The charms cost around 10 cents apiece.

I also decided to offer a pre-order giveaway as well as a book launch gift for everyone who purchased a copy of my book. The giveaway was a special swag pack that I named the Word Weaver Pack (a term used in the book). This included a poster, the castle charm bookmark, sticker, and of course a pen! I chose a crystal stylus pen, which I felt was versatile and gorgeous. The cost for each pen came out to 38 cents apiece.



An extra bonus for those who pre-ordered my book, I collected a whole basket full of my favorite fairy tale and French themed items. One lucky winner will get the basket which included a Loire Valley castle book, French purse, Eiffel Tower scarf, Eiffel Tower bracelet, Thomas Kincaid fairy tale calendar, Paris notebook, Paris pillow, and a Happily Ever After mug.


Do you find that swag helps you stand out at an event? (or) Does your swag draw people to your table at an event or conference?

I don’t think that having special swag at a table at an event draws people. But I always give a poster to every person who purchases my book and that has encouraged them to buy the book once they’ve stopped at the table.

When I hold a book launch, I always offer a special gift or prize to those who came to the party. I feel that has been a very effective tool and this has helped draw people to my past events.

What do you think of big item swag pieces versus cheaper, yet more easily discarded swag like bookmarks?

Bookmarks are a must-have I feel like for an author. They’re not only a great advertisement, but they can be useful. It’s great for kids at school events who can’t afford your book but still want to get your autograph. For other swag items, I would only use them for a specific purpose such as a draw to an event or to order a copy of a book.

What’s the most clever / best swag by another author?

I love the candles designed to match the book. There are some Itsy candle shops that offer this surface, but it’s not cheap!

And the biggest question – do you think swag helps sell books?

I think if used effectively—definitely. The key is to make sure that the swag is targeted to the book’s buyer and/or the event you are hosting. Also, really consider the costs. Is what you are giving away cost effective? My biggest advice is to have fun with your swag because it can be a fun way to celebrate all the hard work you’ve put into your book.

Brian David Johnson On Storytelling And Knowing What To Cut

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.

Brian David Johnson is the co-author of MWD: HELL IS COMING HOME, a graphic novel about Liz, a young soldier who returns from Iraq suffering from PTSD, and the two dogs that help her cope; Ender, the military working dog who saved her life, and Brutus, a stray she connects with after her boyfriend nearly hits him with her car.


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 don’t believe there was a specific origin point for MWD in terms of an “a-ha” moment.

My co-author Jan Egleson approached me with the idea of writing about a returning female soldier from Iraq, who was also a dog handler. He also felt strongly that she was suffering from PTSD and the dog would be central to her healing. Therefore, her primary struggle was going to be getting her dog back from the army.

Jan is an artist who has explored PTSD several times in his career as a theater/film director and author. In the mid 70’s, he produced and directed a play called “Medal of Honor RAG,” with the Theater Company of Boston, that play was also televised in 1982. In addition, he wrote a book called “Zero,” which focused on his father’s experiences in the Pacific Theater in WWII.  He is also the father of two daughters and has a dog named Max, so the idea flowed from that amalgam of experiences.  

For myself, the idea resonated because I was both a journalist who had covered soldiers returning home from war. In addition, I had a sister-in-law who worked with female veterans and another sister –in-law who works as a dog trainer. For me, the idea appealed on several levels.

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

For me, storytelling is a process of answering a series of questions, with the mission of narrowing a broad concept into a narrative that is compelling, logical and plausible. When we had an outline of an idea about a female veteran and her dog, we set about finding out as much as we could about her character. Why was she in the military? What did she experience while she was there? We repeated that step with the other characters that would appear in the book.

Following the character work, we had to construct a dramatic narrative, so we had to take what we knew about our character and decide how and what we would reveal her story in a way that showed the reader, rather than told them about how her experience in war would shape her homecoming. This involved a lot of construction of scenes using whiteboards and notecards, which we would arrange and rearrange accordingly. Note cards are the best way to frame a story because you can visualize the journey of your characters and easily arrange/rearrange. Several programs now allow you to do this digitally but we used note cards.

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

Every story changes when you try to put it to paper because the mind works much faster than your hands can. I find that it’s best to try and flesh out the scene with very obvious dialogue that expresses what your characters are trying to convey and then re-write it as you go along to get more subtle and add more subtext.

Plot wise, MWD changed dramatically over its many iterations. First, it was a screenplay where our main character was older and had a child. As a result, we delved more into what mothers who come home from war face with their children. In addition, we had a much more complicated plot, that included a mystery, which was slow revealed over the course of several flashbacks.

As we modified the story, the main character became younger, we eliminated the child character and several other characters as well. In addition, we internalized several of the flashback scenes. By that, I mean that as writers we agreed that just because we didn’t place those scenes in the final draft it didn’t mean they didn’t happen. Instead, we would use those experiences to shape the way our character reacts to her surroundings. I think this enabled us to create a much more nuanced picture of PTSD without having to show everything that ever happened to our character.

In some ways, cutting almost 50-75 pages of scenes, characters and dialogue was really freeing as a writer. It also helped create a much more nuanced piece.

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

I come up with ideas constantly. The good ones tend to stick around my memory for a while and if that happens I will write them down in a notebook, or start a Scrivener file with that idea in it with the intention of one day returning to it. Ideas are not hard to come by, which means the art is in the discipline it takes to flesh out an idea to its fullest extent. Remember, any good book will take a minimum of six months to a year to write so those ideas have to really capture your attention.

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

Even the great ideas, which I know I want to write one day, require some sort of inspiration to tackle. I have ideas that have been in my head for decades but I just don’t feel like I have the skill or the patience to tackle them at the time, so the story has to choose me as well. Momentum is really important to me. I have to feel like I’m writing downhill or else I’ll get frustrated and stop. Writing for me is mood and discipline. I have to be in the mood to tackle a project and then the discipline to work on it every day until it’s done.

Technically, I will say that programs like Scrivener are really handy because you can easily build the spine of a story with their notecard feature and then store research materials and other things into the story file. I like to take pictures of things and find a lot of historical material to use as reference points so that’s helpful to keep in the same file. Filling the research file also helps you feel like you’re working even if you’re not working on the text. Also, project notes/writing exercises are all really helpful to kick start the process.

Interestingly, the first and final scenes of MWD were buried in a notebook that I had lost and then found when we were writing the final drafts. It was rather amazing to open this notebook and find that I had written these pivotal scenes as a throwaway writing exercise some five years earlier.  The lesson there is, keep your notes.

I recently got stitches in my arm and was taking mental notes the entire time about how I felt before, during, and after the process of being badly injured. Do you have any major life events that you chronicled mentally to mine for possible writing purposes later?

I’m not much of an autobiographical writer but I will frequently incorporate my own experiences into my stories. For example, I was at the beach and a young woman starting drowning right in front of me. I swam in and, along with another man, was able to help her until the lifeguards arrived. As I was trying to help her I could feel myself starting to tire really fast and I had to let go of her for a moment to try and not drown myself. When we finally got her rescued I felt very guilty about that one moment where she thought I was abandoning her. That night I wrote into the book I was writing a drowning scene and explored those feelings of guilt.

Monday, February 20, 2017

A Walk In The Woods

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Saturday Slash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 17, 2017

Book Talk & GIveaway: BLOOD ROSE REBELLION by Rosalyn Eves

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

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

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

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



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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Wednesday WOLF

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

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

So where do we get it from?

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Rachele Alpine On the Whispering What-Ifs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 13, 2017

Valentine's Day For The Non-Romantic

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

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

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

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

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

So yeah, not a fan.

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Saturday Slash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 10, 2017

Book Talk & Giveaway: ADDIE BELL'S SHORTCUT TO GROWING UP by Jessica Brody

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.

Addie thinks that being twelve is pretty lame. Her older sister Rory has drawers full of makeup, great clothes, and a different Boyfriend of the Week. Addie has frizzy hair, a flat chest, and the same best friend since forever. Grace only wants to do the same things they've always done, things that Addie is starting to think are childish. On the night before her thirteenth birthday, she says so, hurting Grace's feelings.

Upset, Addie visits her neighbor - an elderly woman who claims to be descended from Marie Antoinette's favorite court witch. She gives Addie a box, and warns her that whatever she wishes for and puts inside, the wish will come true. Throwing caution to the wind, Addie decides to give it a shot. She wants to be sixteen. Now.

Addie wakes up with chemically straightened hair, a closet full of great clothes, and yes... a chest. She's got a string of texts from the most popular girl at school - with whom she apparently runs a very popular makeup and fashion YouTube channel - a car in the driveway she doesn't know how to drive, and a cute boy who likes her that she doesn't know how to talk to.

Worse yet, Grace isn't even speaking to her. Something awful happened between them in the four years that have passed, and Addie is determined to find out - even if it means discovering that the person Adeline Bell became isn't very nice.



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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Wednesday WOLF

I'm such a big nerd that I tend to look up word origins in my spare time because I'm fascinated by our language. The odder the origin, the better. I've got a collection of random information in my brain that makes me an awesome Trivial Pursuit partner, but is completely useless when it comes to real world application. Like say, job applications.

I thought I'd share some of this random crap with you in the form of an acronym-ific series. I give you - Word Origins from Left Field - that's right, the WOLF. Er... ignore the fact that the "from" doesn't fit.

So many of the things we say make no sense. Take for example the term baker's dozen - which, if you don't know, actually means 13 of something, not 12.

Why?

Bakers were subject to pretty strict laws in medieval times, and sold their wares often not by the number but by the weight. In the year 1266 Henry III passed a law that established a correlation from the price of what to the price of bread. Bakers who short weighted their bread (by putting less actual wheat in it) could be fined, pilloried, or even flogged.

To avoid even the whiff of being guilt of such a thing, bakers would add an extra loaf to their dozen, nicely ensuring that the scale would save their skins.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

STARFALL Author Melissa Landers On Writing A Companion Novel

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 writers where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers. 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 Melissa Landers, a former teacher who left the classroom to pursue other worlds. A proud sci-fi geek, she isn’t afraid to wear her Princess Leia costume in public—just ask her husband and three kids. She lives outside Cincinnati in the small town of Loveland, "Sweetheart of Ohio,” where she writes science fiction and fantasy for Disney Hyperion.


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?

STARFALL is the second book in a duology, so its origin point was the first book, STARFLIGHT. Instead of a sequel, STARFALL is more of a companion novel. It picks up right after the previous story ends, but it’s told from the points of view of Cassia and Kane, who were supporting characters in the first book.

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

To me, building a plot for a companion novel is infinitely harder than crafting a fresh plot with original world-building and a cast of characters that I can shape to fit my needs. It’s confining to write a sequel because so much is already established. For that reason, it took a lot longer to craft Cassia and Kane’s story than it did to create Doran and Solara’s. But I still drew inspiration from American history. In book one, I modeled a large part of the premise after the events of Westward Expansion, and book two was largely inspired by the rise of Las Vegas, particularly the mafia’s nefarious means of getting—and keeping—employees.

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

Oh, yes. All the time. Any synopsis I write beforehand is just a guide.

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

Ideas come to me often, but they’re rarely as cool as I think they are in the moment. Often times I’ll go back and read my file of “Shiny New Ideas” and roll my eyes at some of the concepts I thought were sooooooo exciting when I first wrote them down.

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

I’m a practical gal, so when I have more than one story concept in mind, I pitch them to my editor and let her decide which one is the most marketable. Then I develop that idea into a proposal (3 chapters and a synopsis) and wait until I have a deal before writing the rest of the book.

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

You’re right—2016 wasn’t an easy year, and 2017 isn’t shaping up to be a carnival ride, either. I still draw inspiration from the world when I can, but mostly I use writing as my escape. The biggest challenge for me is staying focused on writing when my mind is occupied by other things. Characters can’t whisper ideas to me when I drown out their voices with worry.

But, hey, a little escapism is an essential part of self care. (Or at least that’s what I tell myself.) So if you love sci-fi adventure and need some time away from reality, I hope you’ll pick up the Starflight duology today. Starflight and Starfall are both available in stores and online. ☺

Author Macye Lavinder Maher On Finding Inspiration

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 writers where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers. 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 Macye Lavinder Maher, author of Fireworks & Fertility. Macye divides her time between writing fiction and managing Live Water Properties, a brokerage firm specialized in hunting, ranching, fly fishing, and conservation properties in the Rocky Mountain West and Pacific Northwest. A member of the board of the Jackson Hole Writer’s Conference, she holds a Bachelor’s of Science from the McIntere School of Commerce at the University of Virginia where she also earned a minor in Environmental Science.  She lives in Jackson, WY with her husband and three children.

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 believe a lot of well-written works of fiction are conceived as an essay or short story. Mine was birthed at the Dave Matthews Band Concert in Chicago…eons ago. Good vibes, good birth.

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

I wanted this scene at the concert to be the beginning of Fireworks and Fertility, but it was moved to the middle on the rewrite/edit. Apparently major action is needed to engage readers!

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

My mind transfers the thoughts pretty efficiently to the page. I make sure to eat well beforehand, so that indecision is in another building.

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

Fresh material is everywhere from the guy carrying the ladder to fix something in your office to the latest story on what it takes to get pregnant when you are in your thirties. The world is quirky. That’s the best fodder for a story idea.

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

If I have more than one idea or inspiration, I make little notes that I cut into triangles that then form a pile or pyramid of triangles on my desk. I never forget about those lovely triangles. 

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

Struggles and triumphs are long processes; they’re journeys. Losing my 98-year-old Grandfather, Roy C. Kinsey, Jr., was traumatic for me. I wanted him to live forever. He left a lasting star—the famous neon star on Mill Mountain in my hometown (Roanoke, VA). He shines brightly and reminds me that you have to do it for you. He created that star. So many people told him it was foolish, it wasn’t worth it, and he and his brothers conquered it anyway. I feel like there is this amazing connection between the souls on this side and the ones on the other. The proof for me is in that gigantic star so I dedicated the book to Roy C. Kinsey Jr. and my family, who also appreciates five points on a Blue Ridge Mountain.

Monday, February 6, 2017

THIS DARKNESS MINE Cover Reveal!

Today is the day! YABC is hosting the reveal for the cover of THIS DARKNESS MINE, my newest contemporary, which will release October 10th from Katherine Tegen Books / Harper Collins. Head over to YABC to enter to win an ARC!


Sasha Stone knows her place—first-chair clarinet, top of her class, and at the side of her oxford-wearing boyfriend. She’s worked her entire life to ensure that her path to Oberlin Conservatory as a star musician is perfectly paved.

But suddenly there’s a fork in the road, in the shape of Isaac Harver. Her body shifts toward him when he walks by, her skin misses his touch even though she’s never known it, and she relishes the smell of him—smoke, beer, and trouble—all the things she’s avoided to get where she is. Even worse, every time he’s near Sasha, her heart stops, literally. Why does he know her so well—too well—and she doesn’t know him at all?

Sasha discovers that her by-the-book life began by ending another’s: the twin sister she absorbed in the womb. But that doesn’t explain the gaps of missing time in her practice schedule or the memories she has of things she certainly never did with Isaac. As Sasha loses her much-cherished control, her life—and heart—become more entangled with Isaac. Armed with the knowledge that her heart might not be hers alone, Sasha must decide what she’s willing to do—and who she’s willing to hurt—to take it back.

Edgar Award–winning author Mindy McGinnis delivers a dark and gripping psychological thriller about a girl at war with herself, and what it really means to be good or bad.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Saturday Slash

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

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

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

Indy Ramsay has studied and trained pick one her entire teenage life technically if she's done it for her entire teenage life, then her teenage years might be in the past. How about "childhood?" for the day she would be recruited to the Reverend Council—the elite corps that runs the Aet-El Empire, the Ever Empire pick one. Okay, that's a heck of a mouthful and a lot of information for a hook. See my above strikethroughs for how to pare down. It's not bad, just long in the tooth. Instead, it is her grandfather, Eldritch, who is chosen and then promptly sent away on a mission of the utmost importance, leaving behind a shattered and dejected Indy.

The very next day, the Council is under siege from an unknown enemy; the annual market My first thought on this phrasing was that this was their DOW Jones or something, then I rethought and was like, wait, people only go shopping once a year? has been burnt to cinders, the Parliament stands destroyed in an earthquake, and Eldritch returns home to find his entire family murdered, all except his grandson. Right now we're in Eldritch's POV... a grandfather. Not sure on the focus of the query being on him at any point makes for a solid YA push.

He will get his grandson Who might that be? back Nothing in the earlier para indicated he'd been kidnapped, only that he was alive, he is told, if he betrays the Empire. A simple act . . . Still in grandpa's POV and the ellipsis is a tease. Queries aren't the place to tease the agent about what might happen next. They need to know exactly what it is so they can judge whether it's a cliche or something new and interesting.

Unbeknownst to him, Indy is also alive . . . Humanity, kindness, justice, and above all else, the Empire. Not a sentence. These are the lessons Eldritch has taught her. Back to Indy, good. But I'm not sure there was a reason to switch over to Eldritch focus in the first place, query-wise.

Targeted for death Except, no one knows she's alive? as Eldritch's blood, she manages to learn of the enemy's plan for the Empire and Eldritch. Which is what exactly? And what about that grandson? Now, as riots rage throughout the city and the enemy brings its true might to bear upon the Empire, Indy will prove herself worthy of the Empire and the validation she was denied. She will find and stop Eldritch, she will save the Empire at any cost.

Then what if the cost be Eldritch himself? Convoluted. Also, don't end on a question. 

THE BURNT STATE is a fantasy novel about a girl and her grandfather, and the Empire that tilts on their decisions. It is complete at 113,000 words. Word count might be a touch heavy, but it is fantasy so you get some wiggle room for world building. I would see if you can pare it down to just under 100k, if possible. 

I have previously had a short story titled "Something Something" published in Apex Magazine, a Hugo award nominated science-fiction and fantasy magazine. Other than that, I am an anonymous voice from the ether. Cool. Those are laurels. Wear them. Get rid of the self-effacing bit at the end.

I think you've got a great angle here with the focus not being on a romance, or rescuing a sibling, or the fracturing allegiance with a former best friend. You've got a girl and her grandpa - that's awesome. But in order to keep this firmly in the YA realm you need to keep your teenage protagonist as the focus of your query, as I assume she is the focus of the book. Unless this is a dual POV narrative (which you need to mention, if so) keep a tight focus on Indy.

Plotwise, I'm muddled. So, there are good guys (Grandpa, Indy) and bad guys (here only called "the enemy") a crumbling empire, a last bloodline situation, betrayal and loss... basically everything any number of other fantasies have. What makes yours different? What is Indy's goal? (Save the Empire! From who? How is she going to do that?) She's going to prove herself worthy... how? (Physical fighting? A bake off?)

I have no idea what Indy's talents are, where her worth lies, or what this training is that she's had. Also, the grandson is mentioned as a blackmail type of narrative for Eldritch but is a non-mention for Indy. Is this her brother? Cousin? What bearing does he have on anything?

Friday, February 3, 2017

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: DREAMFALL by Amy Plum

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.

Cata can't sleep, and as insomnia tears away both her day and nighttime hours, desperation sets in. When she qualifies to be a test subject in an experiment that could deliver her from suffering, she gladly agrees... and soon finds out it was a mistake.

When a black out seriously interferes with the technology monitoring their brain waves, Cata and six other teen subjects are pulled into a world populated by each other's worst nightmares - one they can never wake up from.

Pursued by their worst fears and living through the exposure of their deepest secrets, the six teens struggle to remember who they are, how they ended up here in the first place, and what they need to do in order to escape a living nightmare.

Want to help me with all the mailing costs? I do giveaways at least once week, sometimes more. It can add up. If you feel so inclined as to donate a little to defray my mailing costs, it would be much appreciated! Donating has no impact on your chances of winning.


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Thursday, February 2, 2017

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately are animal-centric...

1) "Get lost" is probably the worst possible insult to a dog.

2) Bats menstruate. Seriously.

3) I have a mouse somewhere in my house but I can't find an upside down U anywhere in the baseboards so I don't know here he lives.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Wednesday WOLF

I'm such a big nerd that I tend to look up word origins in my spare time because I'm fascinated by our language. The odder the origin, the better. I've got a collection of random information in my brain that makes me an awesome Trivial Pursuit partner, but is completely useless when it comes to real world application. Like say, job applications. I thought I'd share some of this random crap with you in the form of an acronym-ific series. I give you - Word Origins from Left Field - that's right, the WOLF. Er... ignore the fact that the "from" doesn't fit.

Do you love avocados? Me too.

Did you know that they get their name from the Aztec word for testicles?

So while that might make you feel a little gross, I doubt it's going to stop you from going to the grocery to buy avocados... but did you know that the word grocery has it's own base in the word gross?