Saturday, March 31, 2018

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.

Nineteen-year-old Freja assumed being claustrophobic while living in a compact, fully enclosed, underwater home was the worst that could happen to her. I feel like the crossed out words are implied by the fact that it's underwater. Technically, compact could still say, but I think it's also implied by her mention of claustrophobia. That is, until someone sabotages the food supply, murders her fellow citizens, and sends her anonymous messages suggesting more is to come. But the warnings don’t have much impact on Freja Really? That seems kind of... sociopathic. until her best friend, Markus, befalls an ‘accident’ that puts him in a coma. To save Markus and protect the cloister from further sabotage, Freja must trust herself, break the strictest laws of the cloister, and risk being sentenced to death.

So many questions. Why do they live underwater? Who is being murdered? What do these messages say? What's the purpose of the sabotage? what are these laws? Why would she be sentenced to death?

SUBMERGED – a young adult science fiction novel complete at 84,000 words – follows nineteen-year-old Freja as she struggles with claustrophobia and anxiety while attempting to uncover who is attacking her home and threatening the lives of her family, friends, and the last dregs of humanity. It will appeal to fans who enjoy futuristic worlds with new technology and strong, bold female characters like in the TV show Ascension and Emily Skrutskie’s The Abyss Surrounds Us.

Right now your second para here just sums up the first, and neither one of them has the details that we need to make this stand out from any other enclosed SF story. In summary - there's an enclosed space, and there's danger. That's about all I'm getting from this. The same summary could apply to Alien, The Abyss, or Event Horizon. Why is this different? All of you plot points hinted at above are generic - what makes this story different? Work on getting those details in by answering the questions I posed above.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: RIDE ON by Gwen Cole

The law can't help her. But one outlaw can.

In the near post-apocalyptic future, the skies are always gray and people are constantly searching for the sun. For teenage outlaw Seph, it’s the only world he’s ever known. With his horse, his favorite pistol, and his knowledge for survival passed down from his dead father, Seph knows it’s safer to be alone. But after a run-in with a local gang that call themselves the Lawmen, and having been wrongly accused of murder, Seph teams up with Avery—a determined girl whose twin brother has been taken by the same gang.

After living in a small, rundown town her whole life, Avery knows nothing of the Wild—the lands controlled by nobody where travel is risky. With Seph’s help, they track down her brother but quickly find the tables have turned and they are now the ones being hunted. With rumors of mysterious dangers to the south and a safe sanctuary to the west, they’ve only got one option, but getting there won’t be easy with the Lawmen on their trail. The only thing that matters in the Wild is how fast your trigger hand is, but Seph doesn’t know if his will be fast enough to save them all.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

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.

Flip your lid means to explode with anger. My understanding has always been that the saying has its origins with teakettles. A teakettle left boiling too long holds a tremendous amount of steam pressure and the lid can literally flip or blow off (some people say blow your lid).

But that seemed too simple so I dug a little deeper and a lot of people seem to think that flip your lid originates with the song "Little Deuce Coupe" from the Beach Boys:

She's got a competition clutch with the four on the floor
And she purrs like a kitten till the lake pipes roar
And if that aint enough to make you flip your lid
There's one more thing, I got the pink slip daddy

Well, it's definitely there, but I kind of doubt that the Beach Boys made it up, since teakettles were around a little before they were. I'm guessing they borrowed it, and perhaps cemented the usage as a common idiom?

I can't give you a totally solid answer on this one, but my money is on the teakettle.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Debbie Manber Kupfer On Building Fiction from Personal Experiences

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

Today's guest for the WHAT is Debbie Manber Kupfer, author of the P.A.W.S series. Debbie grew up in the UK and has lived in Israel, New York and North Carolina. She ended up in St. Louis, where she works as a writer and freelance puzzle constructor of word puzzles and logic problems.

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, P.A.W.S. begins with my lead character, Miri, receiving a silver cat charm from her omama (grandmother) the night before her omama dies. Miri is ten years old at the time. I also lost my omama, whom I was extremely close to, when I was ten years old. I was on my own with her when she had her heart attack and there when they took her in the ambulance. I grew up with this as a pivotal point in my childhood. I used to share so much with my omama. We’d bake together. She’d tell me stories about my father as a child, about their cats, Kitty and Susie, about their life in Vienna, and later during the war in Northern Ireland and after the war, in London. She didn’t tell me too much about the Nazis who forced her to put my father on the Kindertransport. And how he traveled on his own to England when he was just six years old. But the story came out over the years and the idea that this would be part of a book series I’d write in the future was always with me.

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

The plot unfolded during a trip to the zoo with my son, Joey. I’d clearly seen the beginning sequence: Miri receiving the silver charm. I knew it was important, but didn’t quite know where it was leading. Then one Saturday in October 2012 I took Joey to the zoo and told him the story. How Miri was pulled from her life in New York, taken to St. Louis by her aunt, sent to a boarding school and bullied by the kids there for being different. And how this all led to her finding her magic and P.A.W.S.

When I got back home from that trip to the zoo, I started writing and slowly the plot unfolded.

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. Those who have read P.A.W.S. will know that the antagonist is an extremely evil werewolf by the name of Alistair. What you wouldn’t expect is that Alistair wasn’t in my original concept of P.A.W.S. at all. Rather I had thought that the main antagonist would be Miri’s uncle, David. But several chapters into P.A.W.S. Miri meets Josh, the young werewolf that will bring her to P.A.W.S. and become her mentor and friend, and while Josh tells his story, Alistair forces his way in and makes it all about him. 

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

My mind is constantly abuzz with new ideas and new characters. The key is not to get sidetracked, so when I get a new idea I write it up quickly in a different file and then go on with my work-in-progress. Some of these new characters will end up in the P.A.W.S. Saga. Others will be part of short stories. 

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

I’ve got a pact with myself that I *have* to finish my series before I write anything else novel length, but I do occasionally take a break to write short stories in different genres.

I have 8 cats (seriously, check my Instagram feed) and I usually have at least one or two snuggling with me when I write. Do you have a writing buddy, or do you find it distracting?

Eight kitties – yay! You really need to come on my blog, Paws 4 Thought, sometime. My readers love anything cat related! I have just the one kitty currently, Miri Billie Joe (named for my lead character and Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day). She sadly is not a lap kitty, but does like to sit somewhere near me while I work at my computer each day.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Call for Submissions! Betty Bites Back: Horror Stories for Young Feminists


A few years ago I was involved with a self-published anthology titled AMONG THE SHADOWS. The project was spear headed by Demitria Lunetta (author of IN THE AFTER series, and BAD BLOOD), Kate Karyus Quinn (my first guest on the podcast and author of ANOTHER LITTLE PIECE and DOWN WITH THE SHINE). We put together a successful kickstarter campaign to launch the collection, and brought on ten other authors to fill out the work.

We loved working with our amazing authors; Gretchen McNeil, Justina Ireland, Phoebe North, Geoffrey Girard, Lydia Kang, Rachel Lewis, Joelle Charbonneau, Lenore Appelhans Eisenhour, and Beth Revis.

Now, we're at it again! This time the theme is dark and feminist...and we're sending out a call for submissions.

*Please note that subject matter should be 16+, though there is no restriction on the age of the protagonist.*

1) Must feature a female (or female-identifying) character.

2) Unpublished authors are welcome to submit.

3) All lengths welcome! Stories should be copied into the body of the email. Include a short bio with previous works and submission word count.

4) We are actively seeking writers of color, #OwnVoices stories, LGBTQ and differently-abled submissions.

5) Submit to BettyBitesBackSub@gmail.com Subject line should include Title and Author Names. Submission Deadline May 11, 2018.

THE FINE PRINT: This is an unpaid collection and will be funded by a kickstarter campaign. Authors retain all the rights to their stories. Five author copies will be provided to each contributor, as well as other promotional materials, such as bookmarks and postcards. As with AMONG THE SHADOWS, BETTY BITES BACK will be priced for maximum exposure. We want to move copies! All profits will be put back into advertising. Please check out our previous short story collection AMONG THE SHADOWS. We would be happy to provide you with a complimentary ebook copy!

Friday, March 23, 2018

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: HEARTSEEKER by Melinda Beatty

A vibrant fantasy-adventure debut about a girl who can see lies.

You're a Fallow of the Orchard. You're as tough as a green apple in summer . . .

Only Fallow was just six harvests old when she realized that not everyone sees lies. For Only, seeing lies is as beautiful as looking through a kaleidoscope, but telling them is as painful as gnawing on cut glass. Only's family warns her to keep her cunning hidden, but secrets are seldom content to stay secret.

When word of Only's ability makes its way to the King, she's plucked from her home at the orchard and brought to the castle at Bellskeep. There she learns that the kingdom is plagued by traitors, and that her task is to help the King distinguish between friend and foe. But being able to see lies doesn't necessarily mean that others aren't able to disguise their dishonesty with cunnings of their own.

In the duplicitous, power-hungry court, the truth is Only's greatest weapon . . . and her greatest weakness.


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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Wednesday WOLF

I'm a nerd. I'm in fact 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.

The living room... we like being in there, right? It's where the TV and microwave burritos get us through slow evenings, a spot to crash with friends, and (in my case) a gathering place for cat and dog hair.

You might think we call it the living room because we do a fair amount of our living there, but there's a... let's call it, a slightly more macabre reason why.

The beginning of the 20th century marked some great strides forward for modern medicine. Germ theory was widely accepted, and simple procedures such as washing hands and the introduction of public health measures drastically reduced death rates. So much so that many people felt that humans were on the verge of eradicating illness.

At that time, the room in the home where guests were received was called the parlor. Generally reserved for public gatherings, it was also used for the purpose of a laying out. At the time, it was still common practice for families to hold a wake in their home, with the deceased laid out in the parlor for family and friends to say their goodbyes before burial.

Due to the rise in public health, and new discoveries in medicine, the Ladies Home Journal boldly suggested renaming the parlor the living room, since we wouldn't be gathering there quite so often after a death.

Then the flu epidemic of 1918 hit...

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Kaitlyn Sage Patterson On Dealing With Submission Anxiety

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 Kaitlyn Sage Patterson who grew up outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. After completing her M.F.A., she moved to South Korea, where she taught English and started writing her debut novel. THE DIMINISHED will be published by HarlequinTEEN on April 10, 2018, followed by its sequel in 2019.

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

I am, in the deepest part of my soul, a researcher. Before I went on submission for THE DIMINISHED, I tried to learn as much as I could about the process, but honestly, aside from your blog, there’s not much out there! I’m actually on submission again, and it is just as harrowing as the first time!

Did anything about the process surprise you?

I was surprised the first time with how contradictory the feedback was! One editor would love the voice, but find the pacing too slow. Another editor would love the pacing, but not get into the voice. It felt like taste tug of war! This time has been super interesting in that the rejections are universally very complimentary, far more so than with my debut, but no bites yet! *fingers crossed*

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

I did and I don’t! Like I said before, I am fueled by research. I dove DEEP when I was on sub with my debut. I’m talking reading ancient interviews that I pulled from the depths of the internet. I read every applicable entry in Publisher’s Marketplace. I read into every tweet.

And honestly, in all of that research, the only thing I really learned was that I can’t see the future. So as I go through this round of submission I have done some minimal research, but the only thing I’m really looking at is the other books that the editors have acquired to get an idea of their tastes.

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

In both cases we’ve gotten responses anywhere from a couple of days to several months! The one thing I hold close is that no response means just that… no response. I know that editors are really good about getting back to agents as soon as they read and make a decision.

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

Ugh. If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them! I tend to do a lot of reading, both beta reading and catching up on my TBR. I know people say that you should write, but I find it difficult to really get words down when I’m so focused on something else. It is, however, a good time to do that kind of staring at the wall, thinking really hard work of figuring out a story that’s been brewing for a while.

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

Here’s the thing for me with submission rejections. I don’t want to work with someone who isn’t DEEPLY, MADLY in love with the books that I write. So the passes, for me, just feel like stepping stones to the person who will say yes.

It’s different, too, from query rejections, because I already have someone on my side who believes in the book. That’s really huge for me. I know that even if the book isn’t right for *that* editor, it doesn’t suck, you know?

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?

Like I said, with THE DIMINISHED, the feedback was ALL OVER THE PLACE. As each pass came in, I assessed how I felt about it. Was there a kernel of truth? Something I could work on?

Truth be told, the way I process feedback doesn’t changed based on who is giving the feedback. I trust my beta readers, I trust that editors have good taste, and I know that every book is not right for every person. So I try to think about how or if each piece of feedback would change or shape the vision I have for my book for the better.

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

Oh goodness, I was totally over the moon. I work in fundraising for non-profits in my day job, and I was in a meeting with the chair of my board of directors, my boss, and my boss’s boss the day I got the call. I knew I’d gone to acquisitions, so I had my phone with me, which I normally wouldn’t do, and, because of the combination of nerves and trying to get ready for this big meeting, I’d forgotten to turn my ringer off. So as I was presenting our Year to Date Budget, my phone started blaring “Formation” by BeyoncĂ©. It was really hard to say, “I’m so sorry. I need to take this,” with a straight face, but I grabbed my phone and ran out of the room before anyone could say anything.

When I eventually finished giddily screaming with my agent on the phone, I went back to the meeting and after about 30 seconds of congratulations, I resumed my presentation. #reallife

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

I did, but thankfully not for long! It was SUCH a whirlwind time for me. My boyfriend and I bought a house in October, I signed with my agent in November, my boyfriend and I got engaged in late November, I went on submission in February, got the news about the sale in early April, and signed the contract the day before my wedding at the end of April. So at my wedding, when people were asking me about my book, all I could do was smile! It was intense!! I was so relieved to finally be able to tell people when we made the announcement in May.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Secret Hijinks, What I'm Up To, A New Podcast Episode & A Panda Update

I have been on the move so much lately that my dog jumped in my lap while I was still in the car last week when I got home. He misses his mommy :)

Where have I been? What I have I been doing?

My most recent trip is actually hush-hush, as I'm co-authoring a project in development with SerialBox, a publisher that produces serialized audio and e-book downloads. I'm excited to be doing something different, and I just returned from a writing summit for the series I'll be working on. I can't say much, but I'll share this tweet...


I'm home now and currently working on getting the podcast wrapped up for the month of March, and scheduling my interviews for the month of April. Today's episode features MG author Liesl Shurtliff, and we cover such topics as writing a four-book series, always asking "but why?" and the transition from writing has a hobby to a career.



What else am I up to? Honestly - lots. GIVEN TO THE EARTH releases April 11th, I've got a ton of appearances coming up, and to be brutal - I need a shower.

I came home to Mr. Panda needing his mommy, too. He jumped into my lap and refused to relinquish it, which I'm fine with. I ended up sitting on the couch longer than necessary, but no one refuses cancer cat cuddles.

Panda is doing well! He received his second round of chemo and it appears that his tumor is shrinking. He is eating and gaining weight back. Fingers crossed for my alpha male!


Saturday, March 17, 2018

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.

Twenty-four-year-old Emma likes to play it safe. She prides herself on her good judgment. But one bad decision has led to another since the day in the garden when her eyes wandered from her small son, Jonah, and she survived by being pulled from the muddy pond that killed him. Slightly confusing wording here, as she took her eyes from her son, yet she somehow also ended up in the pond... so she would have dove in after him, thus having seen him again. Now all Emma wants is to feel like herself again, but she can’t quite get there. Thinking that a change of scene might help, her husband Nathaniel entrusts her to deposit their harvest bonus money and take a weekend away with her sister, Jo. In another bad move, Emma arrives at the bank after closing.

When Brooks Davis, a grifter just up from Texas who’d been hired by Nathaniel as a field hand, shows up in the hotel bar where they are staying, Emma is caught off guard. Brooks is the one who saved her life that day with Jonah. Emma is drawn to him. I'd combine some of this information from two choppy sentence into the two previous She overdrinks not a word? and ends up back in her room with Brooks. But before anything can happen between them, she passes out. In the morning Emma discovers that he has taken off with the money.

Emma has no choice but to tell Nathaniel what happened. Nathaniel chases Brooks to South Dakota and returns with the money. When the sheriff shows up with news that Brooks has been found dead, torched in a tee-pee outside of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, Emma confronts Nathaniel. Nathaniel is vague at first but later spills his version of the story. Emma must decide if she believes her husband and what the consequences are for her life if she doesn’t.

So - it seems odd that the biggest part of fixing the problems her mistakes have caused (losing the money) is fixed by her husband? It seems like there's a lot of action that your main character is missing out on by not being present - or at least involved peripherally - in such a pivotal moment. While I know you're just looking for a query critique, and not a plot breakdown, this is a red flag for me.

Also, I admittedly don't know much about women's fiction, but it feels like the plot goes from tragic (dead toddler), to kind of madcap zany (series of mistakes, including a bedroom mishap), to a murder mystery. The tone of the query feels uneven, which will make an agent wonder if the ms suffers from the same. Make sure that the tone of the query accurately represents the manuscript itself.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: THE STRANGE FASCINATIONS OF NOAH HYPNOTIK by David Arnold

This is Noah Oakman → sixteen, Bowie believer, concise historian, disillusioned swimmer, son, brother, friend.

Then Noah → gets hypnotized.

Now Noah → sees changes: his mother has a scar on her face that wasn’t there before; his old dog, who once walked with a limp, is suddenly lithe; his best friend, a lifelong DC Comics disciple, now rotates in the Marvel universe. Subtle behaviors, bits of history, plans for the future—everything in Noah’s world has been rewritten. Everything except his Strange Fascinations . . .

A stunning surrealist portrait, The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik is a story about all the ways we hurt our friends without knowing it, and all the ways they stick around to save us.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Author Sheryl Scarborough On Writing for TV vs. Novels

Today's guest  for the SAT is Sheryl Scarborough, an award-winning writer for children’s television, is the author of To Catch A Killer and To Right The Wrongs, a YA mystery series with Tor Teen. The appearance of a habitual Peeping Tom at her home when she was twelve, sparked an obsession with forensics. After each visit, Sheryl diligently photographed his footprints and collected the candy wrappers he left behind. Unfortunately, he was never caught. But the desire to use evidence to solve a great mystery was sparked inside Scarborough all the same. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and lives with her husband and writer-cats in Washington state, across the river from Portland, OR.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

I am a “plotter.” Twenty years writing children’s TV made me so strong on plot that I almost can’t enjoy a book or movie with a weak, no-where plot. This is not to say a pantster can’t succeed with a strong plot, they definitely can. But, they will most likely spend more time in the rewriting process. 

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

I have written a first draft in 10 weeks. That book simply poured out of me. Going back to that manuscript now, two years later, I see the flaws. And I will easily put in another 10 weeks fixing them. I know we’re all goal-oriented – tick, tock, write, finish, wash, rinse, repeat – but I don’t really think our writing can be quantified in time. It’s all about when it is a book? 

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

Demands often dictate multi-tasking and my brain simply LOVES to think about the exact thing I’m NOT working on at the moment. But generally, I love to stay with one project until it’s complete. 

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

Only the first time? How about this…when I started writing for children’s television, I was on staff at an animation studio. On staff meant that I was expected (required) to write a certain number of scripts. We were paid a weekly salary, plus script bonuses. But the weekly salary was charged against the budget for script fees, similar to how an advance is charged against actual sales. I would be super enthusiastic about my latest assignment until I got home…and started thinking it through. That’s when the panic would set in and I would become convinced I couldn’t write this script as assigned. It wasn’t for me. I couldn’t get my head around the concept. And I would start coming up with ideas for how I could off-load this assignment and… um, still keep my job! In the course of that creative cluster, a miracle would happen and I would come up with the approach to writing the script. (Hallalullah!) The scary part, as I look back on it now, is that this fear cycle thing lasted for THREE YEARS! And, the reason this incident is so fresh in my mind is because I went through it all over again as I faced writing the sequel to To Catch A Killer. 

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

I have no trunked books prior to To Catch A Killer. But that was because I was absolutely relentless in believing in it and trying to sell it. I do have two trunked books since I sold TCAK…though I’m reworking one now. 

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

I have quit on many a story, but once an idea makes it to manuscript stage it’s pretty much go-time. That means I’ve thought it through and picked it apart enough that I’m pretty sure I can make it happen. There are only two reasons I would abandon a manuscript: 1. If I no longer cared about the story or 2. If I decided I couldn’t execute the idea. 

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

My agent is the fabulous Jessica Regal at Foundry + Media. Our hook up was somewhat non-traditional. I had signed on to Foundry with a different agent, who had been in publishing for a long time, but was new to agenting. She and I hit it off and she began submitting my book. Half way through the submission process, she received an offer she couldn’t refuse from her previous employer. It was great and fortunate news for her…devastating for me! I was in the middle of submission with some rejections! One of the partners at Foundry reached out to me and asked me not to panic. She knew they were bringing Jessica on board and she sent my MS to her. Jessica liked the concept enough to take it on even though there were rejections and we’ve been a formidable team ever since. 

How long did you query before landing your agent?  

My query process took almost a year – I had a list of 20 agents I was interested in and I queried nearly all of them before landing at Foundry. BUT… the actual first offer came from a face-to-face meeting at a conference. 

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

Don’t give up. Just keep sending your work out. If you get the same comment 10 times, then go back and look at your writing with a more critical eye. Maybe you are missing something. Also, believe in yourself that you can do it. 

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

To see my name on a book…on the shelf…in a bookstore? It is indescribable. Surreal. And the best feeling ever. 

How much input do you have on cover art?

My editor asked for my thoughts on the cover, but what I ended up with wasn’t anything like I described or anticipated. But… I LOVE my covers. I think they do an excellent job of selling the books. I’m perfectly happy to let my publisher do what it does best. 

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

I don’t know that it was that much of a surprise, but the most important things I’ve learned is that this writing game is not a sprint. It’s a marathon! Pace is super important. Whenever I get flustered about what I need to be doing to further my career, I use my calming voice to tell myself that all I really need to do is write the next book. And to write it well. That’s all. 

How much of your own marketing do you?  

I have the complete social media collection and I’m just about as savvy and befuddled as everybody else. I use it, but try not to overdo it. First of all, I don’t have time to spend all day on social media and still get books written. 

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

If at any point in your writing career you think you have a platform…start building. The only way it could hurt is if you accidentally stick your foot in your mouth and post something unpopularly controversial. If you’ve got something to say and a group to say it to, I say go for it! 

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

I think it can’t hurt, for sure. I know that my publisher did a lot of social media for my first book and my cover was everywhere. I’m sure that tremendously helped the sales. 

Enter below to win a tracker bookmark - never lose your book again!

It’s an electronic bookmark that can be tracked from an app on your phone. Once the book is safely on your shelf, you can clip it to something else, like a purse or backpack.

Instructions and demo video

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Monday, March 12, 2018

New Podcast Episode: THE PROS OF CONS Authors On Co-Authoring & Loving Con Life

Today on the podcast I'm excited to bring you my first ever group chat episode featuring co-authors Alison Cherry, Lindsay Ribar and Michelle Schusterman who joined me to talk about the inspiration for their upcoming release, THE PROS OF CONS, as well as the co-authoring experience and lots of information about taxidermy.



In other news, I want to thank everyone who reached out over Twitter and Facebook to wish my Panda kitty the best. He was diagnosed last week with both feline leukemia as well as a lymphoid tumor in his lung. We have begun chemotherapy and I'm happy to report that he is doing well so far. I was gone most of the week at SEYA in Murfreesboro, TN, but I was kept well informed on how my big guy was doing, by my other big guy, the boyfriend.

This week I'm taking off again for NYC, so further good hopes and wishes for Mr. Panda Bear are much appreciated.

In other (and happier) news, I've updated my appearances page! So, if you're looking to run into me anytime soon, these would be good places to try:


Also, GIVEN TO THE SEA releases in paperback tomorrow! The paperback edition includes the first four chapters of GIVEN TO THE EARTH, so if you'd like a sneak peak - get in on that.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

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.

Arcad is an island-kingdom where the word Possession has a singular meaning. Meaning that possession only has one meaning? I get that's what you're saying, but (ironically) the word singular has more than one meaning so this is a slightly confusing hook. The Possessed are taken forcibly to King Treista’s castle, a journey from which no one returns, dead or alive. Ten years ago, apprentice-potter Kumi’s brother was Possessed and her grief-stricken mother took her own life. When her father too is taken to Treista’s castle, Kumi determines to discover his fate with the help of Lillian of Sallika, the greatest living witch. Okay, not bad. But I did get a little giggle out of referring to her as a living witch, as opposed to... a dead one?

Kumi arrives in Sallika to find the city-state in upheaval. A plebiscite I'm a pretty smart person, but I had to Google plebiscite. The simpler your query, the better. A power hungry priest has taken leadership? Okay has catapulted a demagogic priest into power. Witches and mages are arrested by authorities and murdered by mobs. Resistance is impossible because using magic to harm humans is the ultimate taboo. But can't they resist without using magic? 

Kumi’s need gives Lillian a way out. Together they journey to Arcad where Lillian uncovers what what Possession means. King Treista plans to conquer the world through a system of mind-control. Lillian realizes that stopping him is the greater priority, especially since Kumi's father has become a minister to the king. Kumi, though, cares nothing about saving worlds. She just wants to take her father home. If Lillian is not willing to help her, she will try on her own, even if it means putting herself, Lillian and their world in peril.

So, the thing that's not working here is that the middle paragraph appears to have nothing to do with the rest of the plot, other than being the reason why Lillian is willing to leave Sallika to go with Kumi. If what's going on in Sallika has any plot tie to the King and Possession, that needs to be clarified. If it doesn't, even mentioning the plebiscite, the priest, and the magical purge, only takes word space away from the real plot - Arcad, the King, Kumi's father, etc. - which honestly, could use a little more oomph. 

Is there friction between Lilian and Kumi because of their differing goals and motivations? Is Kumi terrified about what's going on, or is she marching off with her chin in the air and her hand in a fist? Use your query to get small clues about character as well as plot involved.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: HURRICANE CHILD by Kheryn Callender

Twelve-year-old Caroline is a Hurricane Child, born on Water Island during a storm. Coming into this world during a hurricane is unlucky, and Caroline has had her share of bad luck already. She's hated by everyone in her small school, she can see things that no one else can see, and -- worst of all -- her mother left home one day and never came back. With no friends and days filled with heartache, Caroline is determined to find her mother. When a new student, Kalinda, arrives, Caroline's luck begins to turn around. Kalinda, a solemn girl from Barbados with a special smile for everyone, seems to see the things Caroline sees, too. Joined by their common gift, Kalinda agrees to help Caroline look for her mother, starting with a mysterious lady dressed in black. Soon, they discover the healing power of a close friendship between girls.

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Thursday, March 8, 2018

Randy Ribay On Plots That Shift While Drafting

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 Randy Ribay, Randy Ribay is the author of the contemporary YA novels AFTER THE SHOT DROPS (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018) and AN INFINITE NUMBER OF PARALLEL UNIVERSES (Merit Press/Simon & Schuster, 2015). He's also a high school English teacher, reader, gamer, watcher of great TV, husband, and father of two dog-children. He can probably be found somewhere making lightsaber sound effects with his mouth.

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?

Sports were a major part of my teen years, so I’ve always wanted to tell a story that explored some aspect of high school athletics. At the same time, I didn’t want to tell the standard sports story which focuses on the star athlete and their path to the championship. As such, I decided to write instead about two best friends and what happens to their friendship when one experiences success while the other does not. 

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

I had a vague idea of the climactic scene before I started writing, but I didn’t know how I was going to get there exactly. Drafting, then, was a process of finding the plot beats that would get my characters into that situation. 

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

It definitely shifted as I drafted and in each round of revisions, which I think always happens to me. Because as I get deeper into the story, I understand the characters better. Suddenly, actions or decisions I planned for them suddenly don’t make logical or emotional sense for their character anymore. 

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

When I’m in brainstorming mode, it’s pretty easy for me to find those ideas. But I really do have to approach the world hunting for inspiration. If I’m not in that mindset—like when I’m trying to hit a deadline—then I might not add anything to my running list of ideas for weeks. 

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

I go with the one that is the “stickiest.” By that, I mean the idea that my mind naturally keeps drifting back to whenever I’m bored. When an idea feels “sticky” for months or even years, that’s an indication that I’m interested in the story enough to spend (probably) several years developing it.  

I have 8 cats (seriously, check my Instagram feed) and I usually have at least one or two snuggling with me when I write. Do you have a writing buddy, or do you find it distracting?

I do have two dogs, and they love to cuddle. But since I’m an early morning writer, they’re usually still in the warm bed snuggled against my wife while I’m left working alone in the predawn darkness. It’s very sad for me. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Author Abbie Fine On Writing A Book 20 Years In The Making

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.

Abbie Fine is the author of THE LAST FIRST DAUGHTER, and has directed more than 20 professional theatre productions. She works full-time as a nonprofit manager, supporting local arts and culture organizations. She currently works to enhance a large public library system and loves working with librarians, publishers, and authors.

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?

The kernel of the idea for THE LAST FIRST DAUGHTER came to me 20 years ago! I was 12 when the ANASTASIA cartoon movie came out. I developed a huge crush on Dimitri (my first crush!) and I thought the story was fascinating. Way back then, I had the idea that the story would be so much cooler if Anastasia knew she was a princess, but was going around in disguise. Then she’s asked to pretend to be the missing princess, but she doesn’t reveal her true identity right away. I guess I’ve always liked heroines who control their own destiny!

I’ve had many story ideas in the past two decades, but somehow this idea really stuck with me. I didn’t start drafting it until more than 16 years after getting the idea, when it was the right time for me to tackle it. My lesson learned? Don’t dismiss those “wouldn’t it be cool” ideas, no matter how or when they come!

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

In the 20 years since getting this story idea, I didn’t pursue writing—I became a professional theatre director, with a particular interest in the works of Shakespeare (total Shakespeare nerd here!). My favorite play is AS YOU LIKE IT, mainly because I love the heroine, Rosalind. She’s smart and complicated and sets her own course. One day I realized the play uses the same plot device as in my Anastasia-inspired idea. So that’s how my main character Rosalind (Lindy) was born, and how I built a lot of the plot. I stole from the best! I borrowed elements from the play that I loved and discarded others that weren’t as exciting to me. This helped get me through those stuck moments in the drafting process, even if plot points later changed during revisions.

You never know when your deep study of the classics will pull you through creative projects!

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

The path of THE LAST FIRST DAUGHTER changed many times throughout the process. I had been thinking of this as a “princess story” for two decades, but when I started putting characters to paper, it didn’t feel quite right. It turns out I was more interested in the unique challenges of present-day, so Lindy became a contemporary version of a princess—the First Daughter. It felt more relevant to have Lindy’s mother as President (rather than Queen) and gave me a chance to tackle some themes about technology. The setting became even more relevant as the years progressed (when I started drafting, our current administration hadn’t even announced a run for office).

I also found myself adding more obstacles in Lindy’s way as I put words on paper. Why would I make it too easy for my characters? That’s no fun!

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

I tend to stay fairly focused on my current creative endeavors, so I don’t have new story ideas to jot down weekly or even monthly. I do have several ideas in the queue, and I find I’m most inspired by some unique experiences I’m lucky to have. Write what you know, yes? My husband is a private pilot and we enjoy the hobby together—I’m dying to write a story about a teenage girl pilot.

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

With my background in theatre, I use the same method in writing that I do in directing. When choosing a play to direct I ask myself two main questions: why this play now, and what is there to enjoy in this play? The “why this story now” question looks at why it might be important for this story to be told, today, in the current climate. Writing and publishing takes so long, I don’t mean writing to a specific trend or current event. But I do mean finding bigger themes that feel relevant. For THE LAST FIRST DAUGHTER, I wanted to write about a girl engineer who isn’t naturally the best leader, but works really hard at it—with her friends—to make change.

With the “what is there to enjoy in this story” question, I want to make sure there are elements that I think readers will find fun and, more importantly, that I will love writing. In my new manuscript, I’ve included a magic system based on the arts just because I love art. If I’m going to be working with a story for multiple years, I want to be passionate about it. I think this leads to a better end result, too. 

I have 8 cats (seriously, check my Instagram feed) and I usually have at least one or two snuggling with me when I write. Do you have a writing buddy, or do you find it distracting?

I don’t have any furry friends, but I’m having a baby girl this year—my first! She’ll be my snuggly writing buddy, and my inspiration. We’ll make it work! For now, my preference is listening to music while I write. My favorite is Lindsey Stirling and her badass violin. Her music has great energy, but not many lyrics to distract. Highly recommend!

Monday, March 5, 2018

New Podcast Episode With Tricia Springstubb PLUS - ARC Giveaways for GIVEN TO THE EARTH and DREAD NATION!

A new episode of the podcast is up, featuring fellow Ohio author Tricia Springstubb, who was one of my first guests on the blog all the way back in March of 2011. In this episode, Tricia joined me to talk about the transition of changing from being a lover of stories to a writer of them, and why she writes for the age groups she does, how she takes real life inspiration and uses them in her fiction, and the challenge of writing chapter books for the readers who are in between picture books and novels.



And - there's a giveaway running right now for advance copies of GIVEN TO THE EARTH!

Duty, fate, desire, and destiny collide in this intricately wrought tale.

Although she was born to save the kingdom by sacrificing herself to the rising sea, Khosa's marriage to King Vincent has redeemed her. As the Queen of Stille, she's untouchable. But being Queen hasn't stopped her heart from longing for the King's stepbrother, Donil. And it hasn't stopped her body from longing for the sea itself, which still calls for her.

While Khosa is made to choose between loyalty and love, Dara is on a mission for vengeance. Years ago, the Pietra slaughtered the entire Indiri race, leaving only Dara and her twin, Donil, alive. Now, spurned by King Vincent, Dara has embarked on a mission to spill the blood of Pietra's leader, Witt, and will stop at nothing to show his people the wrath of the last Indiri.

As the waves crash ever closer to Stille, secrets are revealed, hearts are won and lost, and allegiances change like the shifting sand.

"The end of the world is nigh, and the characters from Given to the Sea (2017) must decide how to meet it. The distinct perspectives shine, and the harsh-yet-hopeful conclusion ensures this duology doesn’t succumb to the tired trope of happily-ever-after, making this a worthwhile read." - Kirkus, starred review 

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AND there's a giveaway running for DREAD NATION by Justina Ireland!

Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.

But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

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Saturday, March 3, 2018

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.

Alliances are fragile, especially between galaxies. I think we need a little more bite for the hook. Lilavata Dewa hates space. More than that, she hates being Raejina. At seventeen, she was thrust into the position after her mother’s sudden passing, and now needs to appear to be the leader her planet deserves, despite her lack of training. Instead of enjoying her lush planet, she must attend the Intergalactic Peace Summit. There she must accomplish two things: protect her planet’s power source and keep her mother’s darkest secret about an unknown galaxy, one that’s been whispering of an interstellar war. Okay, not a bad start. I do think we need to know what the power source is, and why it's in need of protection, and how an unknown galaxy can threaten interstellar war. That's something that can come later, just making a note of it here.

Mako Nakamura, youngest Captain in Earth’s intergalactic fleet, knows his destiny. He will be General, better yet, he’ll be the youngest and most decorated General in history. However, his recently botched mission threatens that destiny, and now he’ll do anything to prove himself. His only option lies in an off-the-record mission: kidnap the Raejina of Chandra and locate her planet’s power source.

Though Mako succeeds in securing the Raejina, he doesn’t account for her impulsive actions. She sends a distress call to nearby ships, accidentally alerting the Slaver planet this is a previously unmentioned planet with no relation to either of them? to their position. As if crash landing why did the crash? on a hostile planet wasn’t trouble enough, Lila receives a message from the unknown galaxy: their fleet is headed for her home planet and they expect full cooperation. Realizing that they must work together to break free from who?, Mako and Lila make a truce. With his military knowledge and her unprecedented instincts, they manage to evade slavery, and even find enough middle ground to exchange information about each other’s governments. But as unveiled truths reveal deep rooted lies both their leaders fed them, Mako struggles with his grasp on destiny while Lila will have to decide whether to trust the enemy she knows or stand alone against the enemy she doesn’t.

BETWEEN BRIGHT STARS is a YA science-fiction fantasy complete at 80,000 words. It is DEFY THE STARS meets EMPRESS OF A THOUSAND SKIES, and is the first in a planned duology. I have an MFA in creative writing from the Red Earth MFA Program at Oklahoma City University and am an active member of SCBWI. My flash fiction has been published in Mock Orange Magazine.

Great bio!

Overall I think this is a good query, but it might be trying to do a little too much. When querying SF or fantasy it's easy to overload world building and proper names into the query, which can quickly make it a mire. I'd eliminate mentions of a planet that doesn't seem to have a connection to either one of them, by simply identifying it as "hostile" and that they have to band together to survive, in the course of which their previous allegiances... from there, you've got it.

Not bad at all, just get some of the unnecessary information out, and more necessary information in, such as why the power source of her planet is such a big deal, and how a completely unknown galaxy has the power to cause such a panic

Friday, March 2, 2018

GIVEN TO THE EARTH Advance Copies - Giveaway!

Duty, fate, desire, and destiny collide in this intricately wrought tale.

Although she was born to save the kingdom by sacrificing herself to the rising sea, Khosa's marriage to King Vincent has redeemed her. As the Queen of Stille, she's untouchable. But being Queen hasn't stopped her heart from longing for the King's stepbrother, Donil. And it hasn't stopped her body from longing for the sea itself, which still calls for her.

While Khosa is made to choose between loyalty and love, Dara is on a mission for vengeance. Years ago, the Pietra slaughtered the entire Indiri race, leaving only Dara and her twin, Donil, alive. Now, spurned by King Vincent, Dara has embarked on a mission to spill the blood of Pietra's leader, Witt, and will stop at nothing to show his people the wrath of the last Indiri.

As the waves crash ever closer to Stille, secrets are revealed, hearts are won and lost, and allegiances change like the shifting sand.

"The end of the world is nigh, and the characters from Given to the Sea (2017) must decide how to meet it. The distinct perspectives shine, and the harsh-yet-hopeful conclusion ensures this duology doesn’t succumb to the tired trope of happily-ever-after, making this a worthwhile read." - Kirkus, starred review 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Book Talk & Giveaway: DREAD NATION by Justina Ireland

Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.

But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

a Rafflecopter giveaway