Friday, March 31, 2017

Book Talk & Giveaway: WHO KILLED CHRISTOPHER GOODMAN? by Allan Wolf

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.

Christopher is the new kid, different, interesting, nice to everyone. He shows up in 1979 a small Virginia town, fresh from California with a tan, lots of hair, and bell bottoms. Nobody quite knows what to think of him, but everyone knows that they like him. With his affable ways and easy smile, Christopher Goodman is set to make friends.

Until someone murders him.

Based on a true story from the author's life, WHO KILLED CHRISTOPHER GOODMAN explores the experience of pranks gone wrong, reactionary violence, and the consequence of everyday actions in this part prose, part verse novel.

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, March 30, 2017

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately focus on family portraits...

1) Family portraits are a fake moment in time of the best versions of ourselves. We are dressed nicely. We are smiling. We look happy.

2) Hanging family portraits in your own home is odd to me. You know what you look like. You know what your spouse looks like. You know what your kids look like.

3) Those portraits are really there as a passive-aggressive way to make other people look at them and compliment you and / or your family.


Wednesday, March 29, 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.

In any case, I thought I'd share some of this random crap with you in the form of the new 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.

OK, big fat confession time. I didn't know the origin of the word "blog." Yeah, really. Apparently it comes from the phrase "web log," being shortened. 'Cause really, it takes so freakin' long to say "web log."

A brief history of the evolution, courtesy of Wikipedia:

The term "weblog" was coined by Jorn Barger on 17 December 1997. The short form, "blog," was coined by Peter Merholz, who jokingly broke the word weblog into the phrase we blog in the sidebar of his blog Peterme.com in April or May 1999. Shortly thereafter, Evan Williams at Pyra Labs used "blog" as both a noun and verb ("to blog," meaning "to edit one's weblog or to post to one's weblog") and devised the term "blogger" in connection with Pyra Labs' Blogger product, leading to the popularization of the terms.


So 'fess up. Did you know that's where we got "blog?" Can you think of a better name? How about self-talker... or stalker? No... that's not quite what I want...

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Meg Eden On That Folder Full Of Rejections

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 Meg Eden, whose work has been published in various magazines, including Rattle, Drunken Boat, Poet Lore, and Gargoyle. She teaches at the University of Maryland. She has four poetry chapbooks, and her novel Post-High School Reality Quest is forthcoming from California Coldblood, an imprint of Rare Bird Lit.

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

As soon as I became serious about writing (around freshman year of high school) I started sending my writing out for publication. I'm the kind of person who doesn't read instruction manuals and learns with my hands: I have to just jump right in. I started submitting to literary magazines and agents --I don't think I really researched much on how to do it, I just did it. The most research I did really was grab a copy of The Writer’s Guide from my library, take pictures of the listings for agents that might like my novel, and then I sent it off to them. When I sent my first novel out, I had some experience having minor publications in lit mags that I was able to put in my query letter. I made a lot of mistakes at the beginning (especially w/ lit mags—I remember one place was like “You spelled Philippines wrong”). I look back at my old query letter, and there’s a lot I’d fix. But I’m proud of myself too—I threw myself out there, and I did get my first agent my junior year of high school, which I think is pretty cool.

Did anything about the process surprise you?

When I got my agent, I thought that that was the end of my “hard” journey, that I’d found my “happily ever after”, but that wasn't the case. My agent was really great, and I was so lucky to have her. She became a vital mentor, hand-wrote notes all over my novel, and carefully edited it with me for several drafts to make it stronger. She believed in me, and I still have the letter the head agent of the agency wrote to me when it was accepted, that my agent spoke highly of me. If I hadn’t gotten my agent then, I don’t know where I’d be as a writer, and I know it’s done wonders for my confidence.

We got an editor who wanted my book, but she couldn't convince the house. I had that agent for about five years, and no sale. I guess I was surprised to learn that just because you have an agent doesn't mean a book will sell, and that it can be such a long process. Initially, my goal was to have that novel published before graduation. Ha! As if I had any control over the process. ☺ That’s what I learned—that very little is in my control when it comes to publication. All that is in my control is to submit, so I submit like crazy.

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

When I had an agent and she sent my book to editors, she told me who she was sending to and asked if I was alright with that, and I was like, sure! I think if I was still working with an agent, I would probably research the editors more, and get a sense of if they’d be a good fit for my work, or what it might be like to work with them. It's really important to have good chemistry with your editor--it's like a marriage in a way. You have to work together on so many different levels for a long period of time. So any way of getting an idea of if you could work with them I think is really good.

However, like I said, I broke it off with my agent when we weren't really getting anywhere, and I wanted to go in a different direction. I like having the control over the submission process. I’m a go-getter and I’ve really enjoyed being my own “agent” in a sense. In that situation, I’ve done a lot of research, directly querying small press editors and getting a sense of who might be a good fit for my work. I enjoy this because I really know who I'm choosing and feel really happy with the editor I'm working with now. I like that the power's in my hands now, so I can submit where and when I want. I think when I had an agent I felt like I was a princess in a tower, waiting powerlessly for my prince to come. Now, I feel like I have a little more control and awareness over the process.

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

I honestly have no estimate on that. Some people replied quickly, most took a really long time. I really try to distract myself after getting something sent out, either by sending out more things and/or working on something new. I find when I keep myself busy, every acceptance letter is an exciting surprise. ☺

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

Submit and write more! I submit poems and short stories to literary magazines all the time. I try to have at least 100 things out at a time. This means I'm not sitting around, waiting for news, but get nicely surprised now and then with replies. It also gives me a chance to get more acceptances--I've checked it, and for litmag submissions I get about 1 in 10 accepted. So if I submit 100 things, I'll probably get about 10 acceptances. It's easier to send out those small things than books, so it's a nice balance. I try to have one fiction manuscript out in the world at a time (sometimes—rarely—two), one poetry manuscript, and some individual pieces out at magazines. It takes a long time for editors and agents to get through all their submissions—they have quite a bit to get through, and want to treat each submission with respect—so I find this way, I can use that time to let my work sit while I work on something else. It also lets me switch between projects, giving my fiction a “break” sometimes to focus on poetry, and vice versa. So I guess I’m saying it can help both my bio and my creative stamina.

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

I'm very used to rejections. I keep a folder of them on my computer, and have a physical folder from when people still sent out paper submissions. My Submittable account currently has 758 rejections in it (and this isn’t of course including hard copy, email and other submission manager rejections).

That novel my agent worked with still hasn’t found a home, and my debut novel “Post-High School Reality Quest” is technically the thirteenth novel that I’ve written. I’ve sent out several of the others and none of them have found a home yet. Many of them need some massive re-hauling (remember, I started sending out in high school). I don’t know off the top of my head how many rejection letters PHSRQ got, but it must be at least 20 or so I’d imagine. I’ve had a few existential crises over my rejections, but try to distract myself by sending something new out, binge watching some Downton Abbey or Degrassi, and/or getting a pep talk from my husband, who says I’m a great writer and I need to get over myself and keep writing ☺  

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 LOVE getting feedback--that's the jackpot! An editor's feedback is great because it means they want the book, and they want to make it better. Depending on the beta reader, this can be the case as well, but beta readers aren't invested in the same way editors are--editors are tied to the book as well, they want it to succeed. I think realizing this is really helpful for taking the feedback to heart.

My editor asked me to cut one of my characters out of my novel—and being a character-driven writer, he might as well have asked me to saw my arm off and give it to him! It was the most emotionally challenging thing anyone’s asked me to do, but my husband reminded me that for my editor to take the time to talk to me about these edits (we had several phone calls about this) and to want to work with me to make the novel stronger means he really cares about the book and wants it to be the best it can be. I cut out the character, and I can proudly say “Post-High School Reality Quest” is so much stronger for it. I’m so grateful to my editor for asking me to do such a hard thing. It’s made me grow as a writer, and helped me open up to new ideas for my work, even seemingly inconceivable ideas like cutting out my beloved characters ☺

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

I got an email a couple days after sending my book to Bob (from California Coldblood). Maybe I’m exaggerating, maybe it was a week, but seriously--he read it in a crazy short amount of time. Then he called so we could talk about it more. He said he loved it, and I could tell how excited he was about my book: not just by how quickly he responded, but also in his tone. I realized in that moment even if Bob’s the only person who ever reads this book, it’s been a success. I knew right then that “Post-High School Reality Quest” would be in good hands, being with CCB, and that Bob’s passion for it would make it shine.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Writer, Writer, Pants On Fire Podcast March Roundup Plus Mindy's Best (And Worst) Writing Advice

Publishing can be overwhelming, and for the most part new writers are dropped into the ocean of the business without a lot of idea of what to expect. Agents are there for you, but sometimes you have questions about the most basic of things that maybe you don't want to bother them with (bother them, they don't mind).

Still, knowing is half the battle, and being a new writer often feels like an all-out war against ignorance. I came up with a new weapon for aspiring and newly published authors alike, and introduced it earlier this month.

The Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire podcast - where I interview a published author once a week with questions about their publishing journey, writing process, and careers - has been going well, and I've had quite a few listeners reach out to let me know that it's helped them.

I thought I'd take the last Monday of each month to roundup the episodes, with a little recap.

Enjoy this episode, and please, consider donating to support the show if you're able. If you don't like the idea of recurring monthly support, you can make a one-time donation - it's greatly appreciated!


Saturday, March 25, 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.

I am seeking representation for Power Surge, a complete, 78,000 word YA novel that blends elements of contemporary fantasy with missing word? of dark/psychological thriller and literary fiction. (The Darkest Part of the Forest meets Sharp Objects). It takes readers on an action-packed yet emotional adventure as 17-year-old Erin Evanstar, a recovering cutter, is plunged into a reality full of reality full oops, got a repeat in there of monsters that want to eat her.

So, this is a great intro. It's well written with good comp titles that help illustrate the niche for his genre-crossing book. Usually I say to put the hook first, not the specs, but you do a good job here of introducing a complex concept that might have an agent muddling before they get to this bit. I say adjust the little boo-boo's here and keep it.

Half-Elven twins with superpowers, pixies, sharpshooting nuns and bloodthirsty demons populate the stories Erin’s Grandpa loves telling. When Erin stops taking her ADHD meds and antidepressants I would just simplify this as "meds." Also, why did she stop? at the end of her senior year, she starts seeing creatures from Grandpa’s stories. At first, she thinks they’re hallucinations, but José, her best friend and long-time crush, sees them too. As Erin finds herself drawn deeper into the disturbing world of the need the? demon hunting, she is forced to face her inner-demons: she hasn’t fully overcome her cutting addiction and has very little control over her temper. While she struggles to defeat mental illness, her demon stalker, and the ever-present threat of expulsion from high school, Erin discovers that fighting literal demons is quite therapeutic.

I think this is good but it's also very broad. All we have here is a world and a vaguely defined struggle. What's the goal? Who is this demon stalker? Why her? Who is the "bad guy?" What's the main conflict? Why is she hunting the demons in the first place? If she hasn't overcome cutting, why go off the meds?

Erin’s struggles with anxiety, depression and ADHD are drawn from my own experiences. She controls her inner demons by battling literal ones. I write stories. I was the second place winner of Women on Writing’s Winter 2016 Flash Fiction Contest. My short fiction has been published in Helios Quarterly, Secrets of the Goat People, Centropic Oracle,  Dark Magic: Witches, Hackers and Robots, Youth Imagination and Spaceports & Spidersilk. I have a story forthcoming from Ability Maine’s Breath and Shadow.

Good bio with your pub creds, but right now you've almost got more words about yourself in this query than you do about the book. Answer some of the questions that I'm asking. Basically - what makes this book different from any other fantasy wide world demon hunter? The mental illness angle? Cool. So tie them together more concretely. Why is this therapeutic for her? Is she too drawn to it? What's the deal with Jose? Is he worried about her involvement with this? What's his opinion on it? Is her going there with her? You don't have to answer all these questions in a query, but you do need to address some. Right now the query raises more questions than it does pique interest.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: DONE DIRT CHEAP by Sarah Nicole Lemon

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.

Tourmaline doesn't have the normal life of a teenager. Her dad is the head of a notorious biker gang, the Wardens, that - even though she's convinced they do nothing but good - the cops take a serious interest in. Even though she's planning on going to college in the fall, she's spending the summer trying to figure out how to smuggle comfy socks to her mom in prison - and she wouldn't even be there if Tourmaline hadn't made the phone call that got her arrested.

Virginia can't claim normal either. She's been working for the questionable lawyer who got her mom off since she was fifteen - her services being accepted for a cash payment her mom couldn't make. Virginia knows how to maneuver people to get what she needs. And now her boss wants her to befriend Tourmaline Harris to find out what's really going on with the Wardens. Because if they're running drugs, he wants to run them out of the business and take it over himself.

Both girls have had it rough, and neither knows how to have a real friend - until they meet each other.

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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Wednesday, March 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.

I have to admit that I'm not very good at eating crow. In that vein, I've got a fun one today. While the origin story I found is somewhat dubious, it's just interesting enough that I wanted to share it with you. 

Supposedly, the phrase "to eat crow," meaning something disagreeable a person faces after they are caught in the wrong (like er... apologizing?) has its roots in the last days of the War of 1812. At that time there was an armistice in effect along the banks of the Niagra River, and during such periods the members of each garrison often went hunting in order to fill the larders. 

During one such hunting trip that proved fruitless, an enterprising Yankee solider cross the river to the British side in search of larger game. Finding nothing, he took a shot at a passing crow. While the bird fell, it also brought the Yankee to the attention of a British officer, who came upon the enemy soldier while he was reloading. The Brit was unarmed, so instead of threatening the Yank he feigned friendliness and amazement at such a great shot and asked to see the gun that had brought down the crow.

The hapless Yank handed it over, and the Brit turned the gun on him, berated him for trespassing and then made him take a bite of raw crow to drive the lesson home. The Brit then returned the gun (whatever else you can say about them, the British have excellent manners) and the Yank in turn aimed it at him and made him finish off the meal.

The incident became public knowledge when the British soldier came to the Yankee garrison the next day to demand that the foot solider be punished for breaking the armistice. When the soldier was brought before his Captain and asked if he'd ever seen the Englishman before he replied, "Why yes, we dined together yesterday."

Is it true? I don't know, but it makes a good story.

And that's almost better, right?

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Holly McGhee: A Literary Agent On the Other Side of 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 is Holly McGhee, author of MATYLDA BRIGHT & TENDER. What makes this interview particularly interesting to me is that Holly happens to be an agent as well as an author. And not just any agent. Holly is the President and Creative Director of Pippin Properties, so she knew the ins and outs of the industry already. But what was it like being on the other side of the desk?

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

As a literary agent by trade I knew quite a lot about it, but being the author is completely different. First you have to revise and revise and revise until your agent thinks there’s a decent chance of placing the story . . . and then the book goes out . . . and you have no idea who’s reading it when, if ever . . . and if they are loving / hating it / figuring out how to pass on it without hurting your feelings . . . you feel so exposed, naked really—all these people reading something that you put everything you had into, something so personal, something that you hope resonates . . . these editors are forming an opinion, deciding your fate at that publishing house. It’s the most uncomfortable situation in the world!

Did anything about the process surprise you? 

I was surprised by how difficult it was to try to forget that the manuscript was on submission; I was haunted 24 /7 wondering if somebody would like the story. I felt lucky sometimes that I had a full-time job and three children and a husband and a dog and a leopard gecko to distract myself. But the only time I truly got respite was when I was sleeping or watching The Voice (and that was only on two nights a week . . .)

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

We tried our best to submit to people I don’t do much business with as an agent / to try to keep it simple that way. So I wouldn’t be calling the editor one day as an author and the next as an author’s advocate . . . We did tons of research on what each editor had acquired and then we read as much as we could about the way they work. I wanted to be sure to work with someone who had enough time to help me make the story as strong as it could be / who was ready to roll up their sleeves with me.

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

There is no average. We had our first great response in two days (!) but that spoiled us because the entire process took two months . . . I knew enough to try not to get excited till we had a firm offer but it was hard . . . I know how easily everything can fall apart and that a deal’s not a deal till you have the contract . . . wine helped . . . as did working on a new project while waiting. Doing planks helped too—I did them every single night. I thought even if the whole thing implodes I’d have a tight core.

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

If you can compartmentalize that’s undoubtedly the way to go. I can’t—but I think assuring yourself that it’s going to be over at some point and then committing that no matter what the verdict, you will keep on writing is essential. Surrounding yourself with people who’ve been through it helps a lot; also focusing on anything positive you hear back, even if it’s not an offer—it’s so much easier to think about the negative notes than the positive ones . . . and give yourself permission to be anxious too / I mean here you’ve put your heart out there for the world to see / it’s the hardest thing ever, but you know you’d do it again in a second. 

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

Reading about other people’s rejections helped / knowing that some of the biggest success stories are novels that only had one offer (and dozens of rejections). For me, what got me through too was knowing that I’d written the best book I was capable of at the time, that I held nothing back, that I offered up the highest level of writing I could do then . . . that makes it a lot easier. The hope is that you’ll always keep growing and improving as a writer, but you have to be able to look in the mirror and say that you gave it all you had.

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? 

My beta reader gave me three hundred track changes and tore the book apart . . . what the editor had to say was easy to take after that . . . And as far as rejections, as long as you find somebody who loves your story to pieces, the rejections don’t matter.

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

I talked to the editors who were interested and then they made their offers . . . I loved them all and so it came down to figuring which editor seemed to love my story and my characters the most . . . you have to rely on your gut, and it’s not always the editor offering the highest advance. The road to publication is so difficult; if you don’t start with absolute love then your foundation’s always shaky.

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

We were able to share the news immediately and had some pink champagne!!!! The time between selling the book and receiving the editorial letter is precious. You have nothing to do but share your good news . . . it’s the lull before the storm of revising rolls in. Enjoy it!!!




Saturday, March 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.

I don't get why we have to be all uncomfortable in pants and stuff, but squirrels are allowed to just run around naked. How is that fair? I totally bet it's because they don't make squirrel pants. Which I guess isn't the squirrels' fault, but still. I wonder if they did make tiny squirrel pants, would they have to have elastic waists? Because how could the squirrels do like zippers and stuff if they don't have thumbs? Dude, I hate elastic waist pants. That's what Tia Juanita wears with her kitten sweaters, and she hasn't had a date in like six years. So this is definitely funny and I like it, but it's generally not a good idea to open with lines from the actual book. You want to find a way to work this humor into your query, possibly into the hook.

Fifteen-year-old Alonzo Bartolo frequently ponders these and why squirrels don't wear pants, kitten sweaters, and other mysteries of life, especially when he is sitting outside of the principal's office (again) waiting to be disciplined (again). It seems not everyone in Oaxaca is charmed by his lovable scamp persona. As an opener, something like this would work better. It's fitting what an agent expects to see - hook first - and getting the humor into the traditional query format at the same time.

Oswaldo, conversely, is a bowtie-wearing, five-dollar-word-spewing, mostly homeschooled, fifteen-going-on-fifty unabashed nerd-for-life who possesses a charming naiveté and a complete inability to be cool for even five seconds, despite his slight British accent. Cute.

Their Odd Couple-esque friendship solidifies when the first colossal Olmec head discovered in fifteen years is uncovered in nearby Veracruz, causing shocking history surrounding Oswaldo's only living family member, his elderly grandfather and legal guardian, to come to light. This is a very convoluted sentence, break this down. Soon the two boys find themselves--with the help of Alonzo's older sister, Xochitl--racing to find the scattered pages of an ancient Hispanic codex that has the power to stop the Olmec gods from enslaving the people of Oaxaca and Veracruz as they did almost three thousand years ago. I'd cut the mention of the older sister since it's producing a "name soup" situation, and consider limiting you place name mentions to a single one for the same reason. Also, we need to know what the connection between the discovery of the head and the resurrection of the Olmec heads is. 

Can this trio of misfits reassemble the codex before the final colossal heads are uncovered and the Olmec gods regain power? As the author I'm predicting that they will, but you can weigh in on that if you have strong feelings one way or another. Cute, but ending with a question isn't a good idea in general. Honestly I think you can cut this entire para, as you're ending with a good stinger above.

Oswaldo and the Giant Heads is the first in a duology and is complete at 72,000 words. Middle grade and young adult readers Cool... but is this MG or YA? Definitely pick one way or the other, and if you get in front of an agent who feels that it has a better sell chance in a different age range, you can adapt then who enjoy mythology-themed adventures by authors such as Nancy Farmer and Rick Riordan will like this story, as well as immigrant and Latino readers who are eager for stories with relatable characters from this underrepresented region of the Americas.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Signed Giveaway: BAD BLOOD by Demitria Lunetta

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.

Heather can't shake the nightmares. A girl burning to death, and a Celtic knot that she keeps seeing and can't stop herself from carving into her own skin. Therapy helped... kind of, but she still feels anxiety rippling under her skin, not bad enough that she can't hide it though. She has to, if she wants to go to Scotland to visit her aunt for the summer.

Meeting a nice Scottish boy and spending time with good friend should help, but Scotland - with it's long history of witchcraft - actually seems to be making things worse. And Heather can't slip the feeling that the twin girls she keeps dreaming about are connecting to her somehow, and she has to find out before the next cut she makes plunges too deep.


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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Thursday Thoughts - YouTube Style

So I know some of you love my Thursday Thoughts (and some of you could probably care less), but I was really busy last week traveling and being at SEYA Book Festival, so I wasn't having a lot of thoughts other than getting to and from and making sure I was where I was supposed to be when I was supposed to be there.

However, there are two YouTube videos from last week that accurately capture how my brain works, and hold a plethora of Thursday Thoughts. Everything from Russian space exploration, to Alien quotes, to sex and explosions (my life is mundane, those two things are usually not related).

First up, a video from a panel with myself, Amy Christine Parker, and Beth Revis. It's a good example of what happens when you have chemistry, dark humor, and tired authors on a panel. Then, I did an interview with my favorite book blogger, Trina, from Between Chapters. It's particularly amusing if you watch it without audio because I'm so physically effusive.





Wednesday, March 15, 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... ignore the fact that the "from" doesn't fit.

A recent tweet caught my eye in which the tweeter was wondering where the phrase "cry uncle" comes from. In case you don't know, to cry uncle means to admit to the physical superiority of someone attacking you, usually in a bullying situation.

While I can't back it up with any serious proof, there are two really interesting theories I wanted to share with you. Crying uncle didn't appear in written English until 1918, and one theory posits that perhaps the use of the term arises from the Gaelic anacol, meaning "protection" or "safety." There would've been plenty of Irish immigrant children to bully during that time period, and their native cry for help could've been misinterpreted by their English speaking aggressors.

I like that one, but there's a Roman version too. In Ancient Rome, the paternal uncle held nearly as much power over a child as the father. Courtyard games included a physical wrangling in which the loser had to cry, "Patrue, mi Patruissimo!" (Uncle! My favorite Uncle!) in order to be freed. In doing so, they were naming their attacker as a person who had real power over them, and that sign of respect allowed their freedom.

Hmmm... both interesting. But I don't have a paternal uncle, so I guess I'll just have to keep taking those self-defense classes.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Interview With A PSALM FOR LOST GIRLS Author Katie Bayerl

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 is debut author Katie Bayerl, whose book A PSALM FOR LOST GIRLS releases today! Katie is a proud graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts Writing for Children and Young Adults program and teaches in Grub Street's creative writing program. She has an incurable obsession with saints, bittersweet ballads, and murder. It’s becoming a problem. You can find Katie on her site, Twitter, and Facebook.

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. Well, actually there were a few different experiences and obsessions that fed this book (insert long backstory about my Catholic childhood, struggles with being labeled a “gifted” kid, lifelong obsession with female religious figures, etc), but the bits came together and sparked into a story while I was visiting the Basilica of Our Lady of Fátima in Portugal—the site where three children claimed to see the Virgin Mary in 1917. I made my visit in 2008, the same year Pope Benedict decided to hurry up and beatify Lúcia Santos, the last of the Children of Fátima to pass away.

A little backstory on her: Lúcia was 10 years old when she and her two cousins saw the Virgin Mother. The cousins died soon after, leaving Lúcia to carry this legacy on her own. She joined a convent (which, I guess, is what you do when everyone around thinks you’re a saint) and remained a cloistered nun until she died at age 97.

Now, by all accounts (including her memoirs), Lúcia was a woman of deep faith, but as soon as I learned the bare bones of her story, I became consumed with a completely fictional question: What if a young girl got stuck with a reputation of sainthood when all she wanted was to be a normal girl?

That question became Tess. 

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

Well, so, if you’ve read the description of A PSALM FOR LOST GIRLS, you know the main character isn’t Tess. It’s her younger sister, Callie. So the story’s concept shifted a lot.

I had the Fátima question knocking around in my head when I began studying at Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2008, but I wasn’t sure yet what type of book it would be, and I had three other novels I wanted to write first. But then I had a workshop deadline and cranked out—what I thought was—a completely different short story about a semi-delinquent girl rebelling in the wake of her holy sister’s death. Ha. Hahaha. 

(Fact: I am terrible at short stories. They always want to turn into novels.) 

I got excited enough about Callie’s story and decided early on that the plot would center around an investigation, with Callie going up against her community. I had a sense of where it would end and some of the things Callie would need to do to get there, but… the first attempt was a mess. 

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

All. The. Time. I especially seem to have a lot of discoveries around page 100 or so. I will often cycle back a few times to sort out the opening before I can see to the end.

This novel had more drafts than I know how to count, thanks to all of the circling and some smart feedback. My first draft included chapters from dead Tess ‘s point of view (think: The Lovely Bones), looking down on, and into the minds of, her community. And she was amazing! But several readers pointed out that this voice robbed the story of its main mystery—i.e., whether Tess was truly a saint.  

So I took out her voice and felt sad about it, even as I kept working on getting Callie’s story right—and then I landed my wonderful agent, Erin Harris, who asked: Would you be up for a revision? What if you tried including Tess’s voice? When I was done laughing, I realized Erin really shared my vision for the book and, suddenly, I saw a way to bring Tess into the story in a way that wouldn’t be such a spoiler. The original sparkle came back, and I fell in love with both Callie and Tess in a much deeper way. 

And then I met my brilliant editor, Stacey…

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

I have way more ideas than I can handle. I had another one last night! Sometimes it feels like a traffic jam of ideas. Because, see above, it takes me a loooong time to execute a truly finished draft. (I keep hoping I’ll get smarter and more efficient.) (Don’t laugh. A girl needs to dream!) 

Anyway, shiny new ideas = my favorite. It’s a little like an amazing first date. I lose my head a little, getting caught up in the imagining, day dreaming and scribbling notes when I should be working on bill-paying things, stopping in the middle of sidewalks to leave myself voice memos. (Voxer is my savior!) 

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

So far I’ve been guided by stubbornness. The next story I work on seems to be the one that I’ve been working at longest and that I’m too hardheaded to drop. I do cheat on my main projects sometimes just to mix things up. (That’s how I ended up with four substantial projects in the pipeline.) But it’s been a long time since I questioned which one was next. I’m kind of head over heels for the book that comes after PSALM (title is, ironically: WHAT COMES AFTER), and I needs/must finish it soon!

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? 

Two cats over here! One on each arm. But let’s keep that between us, eh? If my physical therapist caught wind of what’s going on, I’d get zero sympathy for this creaky shoulder and wrist. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

SEYA Book Festival Storified

I had an amazing week/end at SEYA Book Festival and thought I'd Storify it - enjoy!

Also, you can't miss the Going to Extremes panel with myself, Amy Christine Parker, and Beth Revis. It was a fitting title for the panel.



Wednesday, March 8, 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... ignore the fact that the "from" doesn't fit.

I know I'll probably date myself if I say that whenever I hear the word maverick I picture a red and black fighter-pilot's helmet, but I'm going to go ahead and say it anyway. And while not everyone has that visual stumbling block, I'm guessing very few people actually know where the word comes from.

In the 1800's a South Carolinian named Samuel Augustus Maverick transplanted himself to Texas and accumulated plenty of land (which he rather liked) and was given 400 head of cattle (which he wasn't terribly interested in) to settle a $2,100 debt. Maverick was so unconcerned with his livestock that he didn't even bother to have them branded. So when a loose cow wandered onto someone's property not bearing a brand, it was assumed to be "a Maverick."

Time lost the capitalization, but the idea of a loose cannon or someone who refused to fall into line and wear the brand as a maverick stuck.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Allan Wolf On The Urge To Create

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 Allan Wolf, author of WHO KILLED CHRISTOPHER GOODMAN? which is based on a true crime. Allan is an educator-writer-musician extraordinaire. He has literally hundreds of poems committed to memory. He is a veteran traveler through all the diverse worlds of poetry--from poetry slams to public schools, salons to saloons. He turns classic poetry into acoustic tunes as the drummer for The Dead Poets band. He put the Oh! in poetry as the educational director for national touring company Poetry Alive!

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?

Out of the gate, I should say that I am not a writer in the usual sense. I am more of a creator. I have an urge to create. Writing and poetry is my default medium. We all have these urges to create life from the clay of our imaginations. And in that respect we are all amateur gods. (I’ve been writing a rock opera for more than twenty years now. But I didn’t even know it was a rock opera until about a year ago!) My point is that “Book Ideas” are just observations in process. The seed of my novel, Who Killed Christopher Goodman?, was planted in me in 1979, the day I learned that my friend, Ed, had been murdered.

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

So I carried this confusion and grief around with me for years. How can a living person simply vanish from the world? Why wasn’t I able to stop it? I began meeting old high school buddies at the New River near Blacksburg, VA every August, which is the anniversary of Ed’s death.  I started a habit of shouting out Ed’s name during my first leap from the river’s diving rock. This went on for years before it occurred to me, out of the blue, that I could turn the memories into a book.

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

The plot for Who Killed Christopher Goodman? started out “firm as a church” as they say. After all, the plot was based on a real event, and facts are facts.  But I found that the more I stuck to the facts, the more I failed to control the emotional pace of the novel. My personal feelings kept interfering with the needs of the story. I found myself fictionalizing the facts, changing names, altering timelines, and adding fabricated details in order to insulate myself from the pain of my personal connection.

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

Story ideas come to me quite easily. As a person who writes books, the perfect premise is always on my mind. Just like a painter is always evaluating what she sees through her painterly lens, so the writer does. Or the dancer. Or the sculptor. Even as a preteen skateboarder, I evaluated every remotely skate-worthy surface through the lens of a skateboarder. Once an artist identifies himself (whether by professional practice or personal habit) as “a writer,” he pretty much wears those lenses 24/7.

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

I’m almost always working on multiple projects all at once. But this is largely due to the fact that I work in a variety of mediums. While researching a longer novel, I can always divert myself by writing poetry or song lyrics. That said, there comes a point where I have to put in my earplugs, tie my leg to the desk, and get the project done. No messing about. I’ll get a head of steam and everything else falls away.

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?

In my journals, I have chronicled broken bones, childbirth, potty training, car wrecks, and a botched vasectomy that would make the most unflappable of nurses run screaming from the room.  It’s all in my journal. Who Killed Christopher Goodman? includes a run-in I once had with a lady police officer who threw me against her cruiser and checked me for weapons. The whole outrageous event happened pretty much exactly as I depict it in the book. I suppose everything that happens to a writer is just a dress rehearsal for the next novel, poem, picture book.


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Hayley Long & The Negative Voice In Your Head

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Hayley Long, author of several award-winning books for teenagers, including What’s Up with Jody Barton? and the Lottie Biggs books. She also works as an English teacher. Her newest release is SOPHIE SOMEONE releasing March 28th from Candlewick Press. Hayley Long lives in England.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

Total pantster. I am also a total hypocrite because when I was an English teacher, I used to tell the kids in my classes that IT’S REALLY IMPORTANT TO PLAN. But the truth is, I just can’t do it! I begin with a very vague outline of a story in my head. I know where I will start, I have a rough idea of how I will end, and I have a few thoughts about what is going to happen along the way. And from there I just make it all up! It’s worked for me so far. All the best ideas I have had are ones which have occurred during the writing process – they’re not ones that I could ever have planned or predicted.

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

It varies. The fastest I’ve ever written the first readable draft of a novel has been six months – but it was still longer than that really because I was thinking about it for at least four months before I got going. SOPHIE SOMEONE is the book which took me the longest to write. Because it was the hardest to write. Making up my own coded language was harder than I anticipated. It took a lot of adjusting and readjusting. From start to finish, it was about two years before I had a draft which I was happy for anyone else to read.

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

Inevitably, I’ve found that I have to be a multi-tasker to a certain extent because there are always other things that need to be done. In between writing fiction, I visit schools and libraries, I sometimes write articles for newspapers or websites, and other times - like now - I answer questions. But I find it impossible to concentrate on two big writing projects at a time. I can’t switch my mind from one major puzzle to another. So if I’m writing one thing and asked to do edits for another, I have to put the new writing on hold until I’m free to give it my full attention again.

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

Gosh YES. But I STILL DO.  Every time I start a new book, I go through this same old rigmarole. There’s this voice in my head which is saying, ‘Hayley, what are you doing? This won’t work. Nobody is going to like it. And you need to write about three hundred pages and you’re only on page four. This is a waste of time. GIVE UP NOW.’

That’s what the inside of my head is like every single time I start a new book. And sometimes it stays like that until I’ve had feedback from my agent and editor!

At least, there’s no danger of me getting over-confident and carried away with myself.

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

None. It wasn’t like that for me because I was having books published before I had an agent. I lived in Wales and I had two novels published with a small Welsh publishing house. By the time I was ready to look for an agent, my Welsh publishing friends were suggesting names of agents who I might try. I sent my manuscript of Lottie Biggs is not Mad to the first name on the list and I received a positive reply.

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

Oh yes. But I always quit early on - before I even have 10,000 words. And then I delete all memories of it from my head.

I know I have to quit when I’m struggling to write more than five words an hour.

How did it feel the first time you saw your book for sale?

Oh, it was totally lush. I think I hung out around the shelf for a while.

How much input do you have on cover art?

Honestly? Not a lot. But I’m not a designer or a marketing expert so I’m very happy for others to take the lead. The production of a book is not just about me – it’s a team effort.

I’m always shown the cover ideas and asked whether I like them or I don’t. I’ve only strongly objected once and that was because the message communicated by that cover really worried me. On every other occasion, I’ve liked my covers. While we’re on the subject, I think the cover of SOPHIE SOMEONE is very stylish. I like the way the artwork is a subtle nod to Brussels and London.

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

It’s not really surprising - but the suggestions of editors are almost always right. They see things that the writer doesn’t. And sometimes it amazes me how a seemingly simple suggestion from an editor can have such an enormously positive impact on my novel. It’s nice because it has the overall effect of making  me seem cleverer than I am ☺

How much of your own marketing do you?  

I have a website. It’s not very flashy but I built it all myself which is nothing short of extraordinary because I have extremely limited skills! And I’m on Facebook.

And that’s it. Social media? Less is more ;) 

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Monday, March 6, 2017

Organizer Tips for Author Visits: The BatCow

Organizers for events almost always ask me what my needs and wants are prior to arrival. I'm a very low-maintenance person, so it's pretty easy to answer. There are a few things that I've noticed over the years that are nearly universal across authors, so I've put together a few tips for event organizers on the most imperative things authors need the second we walk in the door.

Just remember this mythical animal - the BatCow.

Bathroom. Coffee. Water.

In most cases authors have just driven - or flown - in from places unknown in order to show for the event. It's pretty typical for a welcoming committee to spot us at the door, and immediately tell us how glad they are to see us, how much they loved our books, and if they can help carry anything.

All these things are really, really cool.

But usually the author really, really has to pee.

Point us to the bathroom before you tell us how much you love our books. Trust me, we all love compliments, but it's hard for us to respond to you with the appropriate amount of thankfulness when we're concentrating on not wetting down our legs.

The second thing I've noticed is that there is almost never enough coffee at events like festivals or gatherings with more than one author. Organizers seem to underestimate how much coffee authors are going to drink. The answer is a lot. We are going to drink a lot of coffee. Overload on the caff (not the de-caff) and I promise you there will be little to nothing left over.

Third - water. If we are on a panel, speaking to a group, or just hand-selling books from a table all day we are going to be talking - a lot. We need water. Bottled water with caps is best (take it from the girl who has spilled stuff all over her table - and books - more than once). If you're relying on jug dispensers and open containers there will be spills, and possibly, damaged books as a result.

These are the universal basics.

What else can you do? Plenty!

Parking can be a thing - especially if the author is appearing at a library and the spaces are taken by regular patrons as well as those attending the event. If authors bring their own books to events for sale, the nearer the entrance, the easier (and faster) setup will be. If you're able, assign a spot for the author near the entrance.

I've had schools use chalk to mark my spot, and libraries put a sign up to let patrons know not to park there. Either way is great (and I've never requested it, to be pleasantly surprised when it's provided). Definitely let the author know you've done this, though. We won't look for a special spot for us if we don't know it's there.

Tech is of the utmost importance. I've had a couple of visits where we were scrambling for tech to make things work before go-time. It's fine, things happen. But good communication before hand (and this applies to the author, too) can keep this from occurring. Ask your presenter if they need a projector, a screen, a mike, or if they have audio in their presentation. Also, be aware that a lot of authors are relying on flipping through slides with a remote during their presentation. Will the laptop be in the back, or the front of the room? Will the remote signal go that far? Stuff like that can be handled on the fly, but be aware of it beforehand so you can plan.

Book sales can help pad the author's takeaway from the visit, so always ask if they are willing to sign and sell. Some authors will request that you have a book seller available to handle sales, others have gone through the process of getting a vendor's license through their state so that they can handle sales themselves. 

Then - make sure it happens.

I've found Indie bookstores to be much more reliable when it comes to author visits, so ask a local bookseller if they'll do offsite sales before going to a big box store. If you do contact a bigger store, check, double-check, and check again to make sure they're going to be there. Once I had a bookseller no-show because there were too many people involved in the communication line, and things were dropped. Indies can be more dependable, but again - always double check that they are planning on being there a few days before the event.

If you are hosting a large festival or event, be absolutely sure that the bookstore has the books for every author who will be there. More than once I've been at events where an author has fallen through the cracks. Big festivals and fairs are a huge amount of work for the organizers, and things happen. 

But authors travel to most events on their own dime, and if they show up to discover that the bookseller has everyone's books but theirs... well, it's more or less a waste of their time - and money. Yes, we can still do a panel, answer questions, and pass out bookmarks. And chances are, most authors are going to do so with grace (there's not point upsetting librarians, organizers, and booksellers). But inside, trust me, they are not happy.

How to stop this from happening? Check. Re-check. Check again. Go down the list of books with the bookseller by author - and title - to ensure that books have been ordered for every author appearing.

Last thing when it comes to a bookseller providing the books - be sure if the author is promoting a series that you have ALL the available titles in that series. The author isn't going to have much luck hawking the third in a trilogy if s/he doesn't have the first and second ones on hand as well.

If the author is bringing books themselves have either people or a cart available to help move them inside the building - and don't freak out when you see how many boxes we have. Don't worry, we know we're not going to sell them all. I personally bring way more than I expect to sell. Better to have them and not need them than need them and not have them.

Lots of things to remember, I know. But there are just as many responsibilities on the authors as well - and I'll talk about those next week.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: HUNTED by Meagan Spooner

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.

Yeva has always been the hunter in the family, a skill passed down from her father that skipped her two older sisters. But when their mercantile business is ruined and the family returns to the deep woods, it becomes clear that their father's skills are no longer what they used to be - and neither is his mind. Stories he told Yeva when she was little of odd beasts in the woods now seem to be all he thinks about.

When he doesn't return from a hunt, Yeva is determined to find him - even if it means leaving behind a proposal of marriage from a noble that doesn't care that she is ruined, or that she loves the wild more than the drawing room. Yeva's heart does not belong to her fiance, but to the woods.

She goes in search of her father, only to find what she believes is the place where he died, at the hands of a monstrous beast. Taken captive, Yeva learns that her skills are necessary to this oddly human-like beast - a human now cursed to his current state until a hunter can take down the one who set the spell upon him.

But how can Yeva act to free the beast from his curse, when she blames him for the death of her father?


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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately are of a medical bent...

1) Medical professionals always tell you what your blood pressure is after they take it, but I have no idea what those numbers mean or how I'm supposed to react.

2) I wish they'd tell me my blood type. I don't know it and that's probably important info.

3) If you empty a colostomy bag on the side of the road can you be fined for public urination?