Saturday, December 16, 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.

Eleven-year-old Alexander Sighs hates being the middle child. I think you'll need a stronger hook here. His mother spends most of her time with his youngest sister teaching her the art of beauty pageants, while his father spends his time with his older brother teaching him little league jousting and sword fighting. Sounds like an interesting family... but I think we need to know more about Alexander himself - what does he like? What are his interests? Why aren't they fostered is this home? His family never notices when he’s there, so he decides to teach them a lesson and run away from home. His original preparations get botched when he captures two leprechauns. Hmmm.... maybe a little more about the how of that?

Alexander is convinced to join them on a quest to find unicorns that were stolen by the evil King. It'd be just like running away only better because he's promised an exciting adventure, fraught with danger. Unfortunately, leprechauns take that promise seriously. They get unexpected help from the evil king's daughter--a witch. While she helps Alexander escape one near-death experience after another, he is surprised to find himself on the King's most wanted list for helping her run away. If Alexander fails to retrieve the unicorns, leprechauns and all they stand for will cease to exist. But if he succeeds, his own existence might come to an end.

But why? Like in order to succeed he has to die? Or something else? We definitely need to know more about what is going on here, plotwise. Is he in our world chasing these unicorns? Or another one entirely? What's the actual danger here? The King? Why? What can he do / not do to Alexander? Why did he take the unicorns in the first place? How did Alexander help the princess run away? Why would he do that, anyway? 

Also, I think we need to know more about why Alexander wants to run away. It sounds like his family is slightly quirky if they have a jouster in the family - what is it about Alexander that doesn't fit in?

ALEXANDER is a 40,000-word MG standalone fantasy novel, with sequel possibilities.

I am a member of Springfield Writer’s Guild, and the Ozark Romance Authors, where I have been the Vice President for the past year. I also have one historical, CHASING ETERNITY. THE LAST CHANCE, and one MG book, A SOMEWHAT TRUE ADVENTURE OF SARA ROBERTS published. Traditionally, or self-pubbed? You'll want to clarify. Also, if your sales aren't good for these, I wouldn't mention them until you are at the phone call stage.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: BLOOD, WATER, PAINT by Joy McCullough

Her mother died when she was twelve, and suddenly Artemisia Gentileschi had a stark choice: a life as a nun in a convent or a life grinding pigment for her father's paint.

She chose paint.

By the time she was seventeen, Artemisia did more than grind pigment. She was one of Rome's most talented painters, even if no one knew her name. But Rome in 1610 was a city where men took what they wanted from women, and in the aftermath of rape Artemisia faced another terrible choice: a life of silence or a life of truth, no matter the cost.

Joy McCullough's bold novel in verse is a portrait of an artist as a young woman, filled with the soaring highs of creative inspiration and the devastating setbacks of a system built to break her. McCullough weaves Artemisia's heartbreaking story with the stories of the ancient heroines, Susanna and Judith, who become not only the subjects of two of Artemisia's most famous paintings but sources of strength as she battles to paint a woman's timeless truth in the face of unspeakable and all-too-familiar violence.

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, December 13, 2017

Wednesday WOLF

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

Here's an interesting little bit of language history that I happened upon the other day, involving silent letters.

I've always been kind of amused at the fact that you don't pronounce the "h" in ghost. It's kind of funny, if you think about it. It's there... but you never hear it, and no one dare say it... Oooooo. Anyway, why is that pesky letter there?

People were writing long before the dictionary existed. Mostly it was the monks who did the copying and writing of books, and pretty much everyone wrote words however they felt they should be spelled. Likewise, the printing press existed before the dictionary, and we ended up in the same situation. Lots of people from all different kinds of backgrounds were printing in the English language, but bits of their own heritage were filtering in to the mix.

The word ghost was originally spelled without the "h," nice and phonetically. But printers from Holland tossed an "h" in there because that's how they spelled it, and for some reason, it stuck.

Interestingly enough, the printers weren't only tossing in letters because of cultural differences. They also liked nice straight lines (who can blame them?) and so if they had to knock an extra letter off of a word or two in order to get a nice, tidy justification, they'd go for it. Words like, logic, magic, and music used to have a "k" at the end, but they got nicked.

In 1755 Samuel Johnson had enough of arbitrary spelling, and made the first English Dictionary. Shortly after the American Revolution, Noah Webster waged his own kind of war against the English by writing an American Dictionary, in which he knocked the "u" out of words like color, flavor and honor.

How do I know all this? Well, it's because I read books. Most of this stuff was news to me, I learned it from THE WORD SNOOP by Ursula Duborsarsky. If you're as big of a nerd as I am, you might want to check it out.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Savannah Hendricks On Combatting The Fear Of Never Selling Another Book

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

Today's guest for the SNOB is Savannah Hendricks who holds a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice, an Associate degree & CCL in Early Childhood Education, and a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice/Criminology. She works full time as a medical social worker and writes because to write, is to listen, to everyone, including yourself.

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

For me it was easy to start on other work. My first book, Nonnie and I took seven years from draft to sale so I already was well on my way through other stories, even submissions. There was a lot of focus on sales, which kept me distracted around and after the release date. I felt as though I was always checking to see where the book stood and if it had any reviews yet, plus my own marketing kept me busy. I did get the nagging feeling when I was submitting my second manuscript that I would never sell again, and still feel this way some three years later.

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

I would say that today, I still have some energy focused on Nonnie and I. I think that unless you have a huge publisher (and even if you do), the work never ends. You don’t want your books to ever fall onto the “out of print list.” What writer doesn’t want their book to be considered a classic? I do have the fear as I work on a second book that Nonnie and I will be the only one I will ever have in reader’s hands. That can cause a lot of anxiety when you want to focus on other manuscripts. You don’t want to be a one hit wonder. 

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

I sold Nonnie and I on my own, without an agent. But, I’m in the process of finding one. The publisher I worked with only had minor editorial changes. For any book, this is kind of unheard of, but for Nonnie and I it just worked out that way.

My second book I’m writing for me, one hundred percent, but the feedback I’ve gotten from the industry has really helped me/pushed me to make it better so that it can sell. I’ve learned you can’t write for anyone but you, especially in a profession that is subjective as this one. Overall, I want readers to love my stories. That is how it was with Nonnie and I, and how it will continue. My worse fear is getting a book published only to have readers hate it. Reviews where a reader didn’t connect with the story. That the characters were flat and the reader didn’t care what happened to them.

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

For me time management has always been a balancing act since I have a full time job outside of writing. As a social worker, most of my evenings after work are “wasted.” Because I don’t have the energy to devote to writing, and if I do, I almost become wired and then can’t sleep, which causes issues the next day at work. I do try and use the week nights for reading and researching so that when the weekend comes I can devote most of the day to actual writing and editing. If I’m able to get a lunch break during work I will try and read, edit or create a new rough draft of a story idea, but this is pretty rare.

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

The second time around, as I write I have learned that most of my drafts, which I thought were ready to go and perfect are not at all. I submitted too soon on so many of them. Also, I have thicker skin in a sense that I know it’s a waiting game, I just hope it’s not a seven year game. I have learned this second time around that it’s important to keep writing, when creativity strikes write it down. It’s important to have more than just one other manuscript, especially in the picture book world. The other day I submitted a picture book to an agent and the agent replied right away asking if I had any other picture books she could look at as well. If I only had that one, then I would have missed an opportunity. Regardless of the outcome of that agent, it’s important to have more than one thing in your portfolio, illustrators do, and writers should too.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Where To Get Signed Books For Christmas!

If you're finishing up your Christmas shopping (or just starting, I won't judge) and have a book lover on your list who might enjoy a signed book from yours truly, there are a couple of options for you.

There are signed copies of my books in Colorado at The Tattered Cover (Aspen Grove), Old Firehouse Books and BookBar. If you're in Ohio, try the Barnes & Noble at Sawmill or Akron - call ahead, as there may not be signed copies still available. If you're in the Cleveland area, try Loganberry Books, and take time to pet their beautiful store cat, Otis! You can also stop by the B&N in Pickerington on December 16 @ 11 AM to meet me.

If you're not near any of these stores, always feel free to contact my local indie, Fundamentals ((740) 363-0290 or funbooks@rrohio.com) to order in time for the holidays. I will sign and personalize for you!

The newest ep of the podcast is up as well. Listen to middle grade author Gayle Rosengren discuss how to patch together a freelance career through things like writing copy, copy editing and being a research assistant.


Saturday, December 9, 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.

You wake up alone and scared. Probably not a good idea to frame the query in second person, unless the entire novel is written that way - which I doubt.  Finding your way back to your life, you find you've been missing for two years. To complicate matters, you know you're you, but everyone else sees someone completely different when they look at you. Literally? Or figuratively? Your family has broken apart and moved away, your friend is obsessed with finding you, but of course they don't know you're you, alone you decide to find out what happened to you. Honestly with the repetition of various forms of "you," this is becoming flat out confusing. I would definitely take this out of second person. You need a strong hook, and the concept of amnesia and disappearance has been done many times - what makes this story different from every other one? Get that into a hook, and start there.

During your investigation you uncover the town's dark secret, you're not the first person this has happened to. As you learn more about what happened to the other people you hope to learn more about what happened to you, even as the town you've thought of as home becomes more unwelcoming and the shadows grow thicker around you. Even as you find out that it wasn't a who that took you, but a what. Why did it take you? What does it want? Can you stop it before it takes someone else? Definitely don't end with rhetorical questions.

Combining the creepiness and terror of Daniel Kraus's Scowler with the mystery and suspense of Paula Hawkins's The Girl on the Train (although with a shot of supernatural not a shot of gin and tonic), The Disappearance of Desmond Willows is a supernatural coming of age story. A horror who-done-it, where the victim of the crime is also the naïve and inexperienced detective bent on solving his own kidnapping.

This is my first attempt at a true young adult book. And this is the very first indication of have that this is a YA book. I've tried my hand at micro-publishing my work on Amazon.com, where you can find several of my novellas and two novels published under the name ____. I wouldn't mention your self-published work until you're in a more personal contact level with the agent. If they're interested in your work they will request pages of what you are querying them with.  My short story Warm Blooded earned an honorable mention from L. Ron Hubbard's Writers of the Future in 2014.  Most recently my play, The Last Stand on Mango Street, was performed at the Liminus Theater in Cleveland as part of the NEOMFA Playwright's Festival.  In May of 2016 I earned my MFA in fiction from the NEOMFA program where I studied with author Christopher Barzak.

The bio you have here is good, but you definitely need to scrap the query and start from scratch. Like I said, the very first indication I have that this is a YA novel is at the end of the query. The second person POV makes the main character whoever is reading the query. We need to know who Desmond Willows is in order to care about what happened to him when he disappeared. Look at other queries on this blog, and check out sites like Writer's Digest to see good queries in action.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: LOVE, LIFE & THE LIST by Kasie West

Seventeen-year-old Abby Turner’s summer isn’t going the way she’d planned. She has a not-so-secret but definitely unrequited crush on her best friend, Cooper. She hasn’t been able to manage her mother’s growing issues with anxiety. And now she’s been rejected from an art show because her work “has no heart.” So when she gets another opportunity to show her paintings Abby isn’t going to take any chances.

Which is where the list comes in.

Abby gives herself one month to do ten things, ranging from face a fear (#3) to learn a stranger’s story (#5) to fall in love (#8). She knows that if she can complete the list she’ll become the kind of artist she’s always dreamed of being. But as the deadline approaches, Abby realizes that getting through the list isn’t as straightforward as it seems… and that maybe—just maybe—she can’t change her art if she isn’t first willing to change herself.

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, December 6, 2017

Wednesday WOLF

Before we do this week's Wednesday Wolf, I need some volunteers from the audience. I'm all caught up on my willing victims for the Saturday Slash, so if you think your query is ready to go out there, let me and my hatchet tell you what we think first. Remember you must be follower of the blog (through Google connect) to get slashed.

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.

Recently I hit a deadline by the skin of my teeth, and my nerd brain immediately said, "Hey, what's that mean?" So, librarian section of nerd brain went to work and Religion Major section of nerd brain was humbled when I discovered the answer.

Turns out we get this handy-dandy close call reference from poor long suffering Job. Quoting Job, 19:20 (NIV) "I am nothing but skin and bones; I have escaped with only the skin of my teeth." If you're not familiar with Job's story, basically the man lost everything he had - family, wealth, possessions, health - but it seems he still had good teeth so that says a lot of the Biblical era dental hygienists.

Other translations have the verse reading as, "by the skin of my teeth," but either one translates the same. Old Job was saying he'd escaped something "by a very small margin" as we don't actually have skin on our teeth. If you do, I suggest your visit a Biblical dental hygienist, apparently they knew how to handle that. There is some argument that perhaps Job was referring to his gums being the only part of his body not covered in boils, which may or may not be the case, but the translation remains the same as the gums would compose a small margin of his body.

Either way, I doubt it was much consolation to him at the time that he was coining a phrase.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Hannah Carmona Dias On Turning A Real Life Struggle Into A Creative Project

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 Hannah Carmona Dias a writer who currently resides in Tennessee. Beautiful, Wonderful, Strong Little Me is her debut book which tackles a topic she herself has struggled with.


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

Yes I remember the day exactly! I was shopping at Target with my daughter and while I was checking out the cashier looked at my daughter and said, “She’s beautiful. What is she?” My daughter was 2 years old at this time and while I had gotten this question all my life (referring to the complexion of my skin and curly hair) I had never had this question directed towards my daughter. It was then that it hit me… she would be living her life hearing this question over and over again just like I had. My brain bulb flashed—someone should write a book about about this! And so I did. 

…Also just for kicks I told the cashier she was part alien par t dinosaur and walked out.

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

This was a really rare case where the story seemed to flow out naturally. Instead of running it through my mind for weeks or doing extensive plotting, on the drive home I could already visualize the words in my head and see the beginning, middle, and end. My fingers were itching to get the story down on paper, which I did that night.

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

Abosolutly! In the case of my debut picture book the story didn’t change much. Like I said above, it was a very weird and unusual occasion where the story just flowed. Now my current WIP is a whole different beast. If you saw my initial outline as compared to what’s currently on paper you wouldn’t think they are the same story! I love outlining because it gives me a starting point and I don’t feel overwhelmed when I begin to write. However sometimes inspiration strikes when my fingers hit the keyboard, which is what happened with this WIP. New characters emerged, minor plot points became major plot twists, and my ending changed a total of five times!

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

I have a notebook of story ideas. I blame it on the fact that I’m a children’s theatre director in addition to being a writer. Constantly being around the creativity of a child keeps my brain flowing faster than I can keep up with it. I realize that this is a good problem to have which is why I keep avid notes in case the day comes when this is a struggle.

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

I start what I call brain plotting. Nothing on paper, but I begin by telling myself the story over and over again in my mind. Once I can tell myself the complete story I know it’s a workable idea. If this idea sparks a fire where I can’t function until I get it out of my system then I know it’s time to begin writing.

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?

You are achieving my life goal! I currently have two cats, a dog, and iguana in addition to my two kids …so I have an abundance of writing buddies. Though my favorite writing buddy is a hot mug of tea and giant bag of chocolate!

Monday, December 4, 2017

Where I'll Be This Week & A New Podcast Episode

I'm home from an amazing time in Colorado and getting back into the grove of daily life... kind of. You may have noticed that this blog post is going up way late. Chalk it up to the 20 hour drive.

This week you can come meet myself and fellow YA fantasy author Cinda Williams Chima as a part of the Literary Cleveland Young Adult Showcase that will be taking place at Loganberry Books.


And don't miss the newest episode of the Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire podcast, with guest Corey Ann Haydu. Corey joined me to talk about how the acting world helped thicken her skin for the ups and downs of publishing, writing about OCD from a place of understanding, and the moment of choosing a voice for a story that determines whether it will be middle grade or YA, and what to try - and not try - at school visits.

Saturday, December 2, 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.

My name is_____ and I am seeking representation for my debut novel, The Last Child. I am interested in your strong editorial background, and your enthusiasm for rich stories such as __________ makes me think you would be a fantastic fit for my book. So, if you're going to personalize  a query it can be a good idea to open with why you're querying that specific agent. It's always been my theory that a great hook is going to beat personalization, and that this para can go last. Others may disagree with me - it's strictly opinion.

In 1532, a young orphan's desperate wish creates a world where children's wishes come true. To remain there, however, imposes a terrible price... one the boy is willing to pay. And, I definitely think you have a great hook. Children's wishes can come true? Cool. We definitely need to know what that price is by the end of the query though. 

500 years later, the children of our world are disappearing at an alarming rate. Ten-year-old Danny Thompson isn’t truly scared until his mom goes missing. Alone, he finds himself teetering on the edge of a centuries-old mystery. He learns his mother has been kidnapped, taken to a dark and twisted world where only children can survive-- and every moment there brings her closer to death. Again, very cool - however, we just went from being a medieval story to a Sci-Fi story. From 1532 to 2032. It raises questions of how much time we're spending in each century, and how much world building is spend on each.

Danny must now place his trust in the Keepsakes, an underground resistance of militant stuffed animals devoted to returning missing children to their families. Wielding night-lights, blankets and other childhood trinkets, now transformed into extraordinary weapons, he dives into the world of monsters to rescue his mom and unlock the mystery at the heart of her disappearance. Honestly, I love this - but we just added a third dimension and world building - so we've got historical, futuristic, and now a fantasy dimension.

He desperately wants to find his mother, but the fiend who kidnapped her is desperate too, longing for a secret Danny's mother alone possesses. With this knowledge, the tyrant's godlike powers will become absolute, threatening not only Danny and his mom but every child on the face of the earth.

Cool. I like it a lot - but what's the choice the original child had to face? And is he the tyrant in the fantasy world? These things need to be connected in order for a full circle plot to be obvious within the query. 

THE LAST CHILD is an 117,000 word Portal Fantasy for middle readers, but will appeal to older readers as well. It is the first in a trilogy, and moved ahead of 4,000 other submissions before advancing to the second round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest.

And this is where it gets tricky -- 117k is way too long for an MG, and it's too long for a debut, and it's the first in a trilogy... ouch. Granted, you've got three different worlds to build, but you're still draping a chain around your neck with that word count, with the added weight of a trilogy. If you can find any way at all to make this a stand alone - do it. Also, get this work count down. 

You've got a fantastic query and premise here - don't shoot yourself in the foot with the word count.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Book Talk & Giveaway: WHERE I LIVE by Brenda Rufener

Linden Rose has a big secret--she is homeless and living in the halls of her small-town high school. Her position as school blog editor, her best friends, Ham and Seung, and the promise of a future far away are what keep Linden under the radar and moving forward.

But when cool-girl Bea comes to school with a bloody lip, the damage hits too close to home. Linden begins looking at Bea's life, and soon her investigation prompts people to pay more attention. And attention is the last thing she needs.

Linden knows the only way to put a stop to the violence is to tell Bea's story and come to terms with her own painful past. Even if that means breaking her rules for survival and jeopardizing the secrets she's worked so hard to keep.

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, November 29, 2017

Wednesday WOLF

I'm a nerd. 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.

Anybody who plays Wheel of Fortune knows that this little character - & - is called an "ampersand." But why? What the hell does that mean? Me being me, I used to think it was actually called an "and for stand" meaning, "it stands for and." But, uh, no, that's too easy, and much too sensible to be the real answer.

It appears that back in the day when few people could write, and monks were doing most of the transcribing, they got really, really tired of writing "and" all the time, so they came up with a little symbol that was the equivalent of the letters from the Latin "and"(et) mashed together, which explains why it looks the way it does, but not why it would be called an ampersand.
Evolution of the ampersand, jpeg from
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ampersand
That bit comes from the education of children in the Middle Ages, when they were taught their alphabet and the distinction between the letter "a" and the word "a," as in A-B-C as opposed to "A boy and dog." The Latin term per se meaning "by itself," when the teacher wanted the children to understand the difference between "A" the letter and "A" the word, they said "a-per-se-a," meaning, "A (the letter) by itself means a (the word)." The pronoun "I" and the letter "i" were distinguished from each other in the same manner.

Subsequently, the children were taught the symbol & to mean "and" by saying "and-per-se-and," and we went ahead and bastardized that a little bit and got the word "ampersand."

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Horror Author Azzurra Nox on Writing While Driving (In Your Head, Anyway)

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 Azzurra Nox, Born in Catania, Sicily, she has led a nomadic life since birth. She has lived in various European cities and Cuba, and currently resides in the Los Angeles area. Always an avid reader and writer from a young age, she loved entertaining her friends with ghost stories.  CUT HERE, her debut paranormal urban fantasy was inspired by a nightmare.

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

For my short story, “Whatever Happened to Peyton Rose?” in the anthology I put together, My American Nightmare – Women in Horror Anthology, my inspiration for the story mostly came from a nightmare I had this year. I was re-reading Pet Semetary from Stephen King this past winter and for the whole week I read it I was plagued with strange dreams, the worst being one about how every time I entered my bedroom, everything in the room was rearranged, the furniture, everything. And in the dream there was a secret door on the ceiling where at some point a myriad of dolls were visible from the opening. For some reason there was this underlining feeling of dread that permeated into my waking life as I startled myself awake. The nightmare left me feeling a little disturbed so I wrote down what the dream was about and figured at some point it might become useful to me. Sometimes nightmares I've had years ago, because they were recorded I've been able to use for stories years later. Like for my novel CUT HERE, where I began writing the novel in 2011, but actually had the nightmare that inspired the novel in 2008. 

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

After the initial idea, at least for the short story, "Whatever Happened to Peyton Rose?", I used the nightmare as inspiration, but I also knew that I wanted the story to be set in Hollywood, because I find that it can be a very dark, and creepy place. Many people often see it as the place where your dreams can come true, but more often than not, it's the place where your dreams don't come true, so broken dreams make for dark consequences, as perfectly embodied by the suicide of young actress Peg Entwistle in the 1930's when she launched herself from the letter H of Hollywood. I also was listening to System of a Down's Lost in Hollywood song on repeat to get into the dark, twisted mood of the story.

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

No plot of mine has ever been set in stone. I often am only certain of two things, how I want the story or book to begin, and how I want the story or book to end. The middle part often goes with the flow of whatever is inspiring me at that  moment or my current mood. So it's pretty much ever-evolving, and the only thing I know is where I want to get to, but the direction I take is a lot more fluid and less rigid than most writers allow themselves to be. Although I do use a rough outline of what I wish to cover that helps me to stay focused and not stray too far from the original plot I had in mind. 

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

I get lots of ideas, especially when listening to music. My mind somehow creates mini-films around the lyrics and music that often lend to writing short stories. I also get a ton of writing ideas when driving. Many times I've had whole pages written in my head whilst driving, only to find myself trying to recreate what was in my head a few hours later once I'm at the destination and can write, and failing to find the same words. I've seriously considered to get a tape recorder for those moments. 

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

It's often not me who does the choosing but rather the characters. The story with the loudest characters (as in their voices will taunt me in my sleep and throughout the day for weeks or months on end) are the ones who get their story written. It's a way to get them to shut up before going mad. Although all writers have a seed of madness in them. 

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?

When I had kitties, I'd snuggle with them as I wrote. Now I've got dogs instead, and they're good writing buddies too, except when they get restless of me not leaving the room, so they try to bark me back to reality. Pets aren't a distraction for me or my writing though, I get more distracted by people. Unlike most writers nowadays, I just can't seem to master the whole writing in coffee shops sorta thing. Probably because I need my cluttered notes scattered all over the bed, the TV playing some horror movie as background noise, and my cute pups resting their heads against my feet. 

Monday, November 27, 2017

Colorado, I'm Coming!

I've got three signings in Denver this week! If you're excited about that, then you should come see me at one of them. I even bought a new sweater which, if you know me, is a pretty big deal. I went to the store for cat food so that everyone is covered while we're gone but I walked away with a new sweater. Also the cat food, plus three mouse toys for them and a laser pointer.

You can see where my priorities are.

My first stop in Denver is Tuesday Nov. 28th 7 PM at The Tattered Cover at the Aspen Grove store.


On Wednesday, November 29 @ 6PM I'll be at Old Firehouse Books in Fort Collins:


And finally on Friday, December 1 @ 7PM I will be at BookBar in Denver!


Come see me at any of these three events, or call ahead so that I can sign and personalize a copy for you if you can't make it!




Friday, November 24, 2017

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: PEOPLE LIKE US by Dana Mele

Kay Donovan may have skeletons in her closet, but the past is past, and she's reinvented herself entirely. Now she's a star soccer player whose group of gorgeous friends run their private school with effortless popularity and acerbic wit. But when a girl's body is found in the lake, Kay's carefully constructed life begins to topple.

The dead girl has left Kay a computer-coded scavenger hunt, which, as it unravels, begins to implicate suspect after suspect, until Kay herself is in the crosshairs of a murder investigation. But if Kay's finally backed into a corner, she'll do what it takes to survive. Because at Bates Academy, the truth is something you make...not something that happened.

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, November 22, 2017

Wednesday WOLF

I'm a nerd. In fact, 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 guys 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, and also that this first feature of WOLF is actually an idiom, not a word.

Today we'll tackle the phrase "raining cats and dogs." There are a lot of  erroneous assumptions about where we got this little gem, but the truth is that we have the same guy to thank for this as we do the outrage over eating Irish babies a little while back. Yeah, Mr. Jonathan Swift.

You might have guessed this, but big cities in the 17th and 18th centuries didn't exactly smell great. The unwashed masses... well... they were unwashed, and massing. Personal hygiene wasn't a big priority, and your neighbor's hygiene even less so. Got a full piss-pot? Toss it out the window! Done with you lunch? Throw it out the door! Did your cat die? Give her the boot!

I don't know if many people actually kept household pets back then, but the streets were overrun with strays sniffing out the garbage, and multiplying just as prolifically as the people. Crushed by carts, kicked by mean assholes, or just falling dead in their tracks of sickness and starvation, dead doggies and kitties could probably be found in streets everywhere.

And a good hard rain could run down those cobbled streets, turning it into a river and picking up all the detritus on its way, creating the image that it had actually rained cats and dogs. We probably never would have had this lovely idiom without Jonathan Swift immortalizing it in the last section of his poem, A Description of a City Shower:

Now from all Parts the swelling Kennels flow,
And bear their Trophies with them as they go:
Filth of all Hues and Odours seem to tell
What Streets they sail'd from, by the Sight and Smell.
They, as each Torrent drives, with rapid Force
From Smithfield, or St.Pulchre's shape their Course,
And in huge Confluent join at Snow-Hill Ridge,
Fall from the Conduit prone to Holborn-Bridge.
Sweepings from Butchers Stalls, Dung, Guts, and Blood,
Drown'd Puppies, stinking Sprats, all drench'd in Mud,
Dead Cats and Turnips-Tops come tumbling down the Flood.

Awesome! Who wants to go live in the Middle Ages??

What's your favorite word origin? Tell me, or ask one you've always been curious about - I'll do my best to find the answer and get back to you in a future WOLF!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Laney Nielson On Being Given the Who & What... Then Coming Up With the How & Why

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 Laney Nielson author of Peppermint Cocoa Crushes, the second novel in the new Swirl line for tweens from Sky Pony. Laney is a writer of middle grade stories and lots of to-do lists. She is a former classroom teacher with her masters in education. As a teacher, Laney loved teaching reading and writing (surprise, surprise) and nothing makes her happier than a student falling in love with a book or finding their voice.

Be sure to check out the giveaway!

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?

Unlike other stories I’ve worked on, the seeds (maybe I should say, the ingredients!) for Peppermint Cocoa Crushes were given to me. Becky Herrick, an editor at Sky Pony approached me about writing a novel for their new line for tween readers. I was super excited about her initial idea. She gave me the who (Sasha and her two best friends) and the what (they want to win the school talent show) and I needed to come up with the how and the why. Fun!

Figuring out why winning was important to Sasha was the first step. I also wanted to explore how Sasha who is a high achiever handles change. As we know, middle school is all about change—shifts in friendships, interests, and family dynamics. Not to mention physical and hormonal changes! Plus Sasha has experienced a number of recent upsets (her parents’ divorce, moving, her older sister going to college). That’s a lot! She copes by trying to take control. But she ends up not seeing every situation clearly. So there are mishaps and a major disappointment. As I developed the initial idea, I kept asking the questions we, writers ask: what if and so what. 

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

As I developed the synopsis, ideas for specific scenes kept popping into my head. I’d decided most of the story was going to take place between Thanksgiving and right before winter vacation. So I printed out the month of December from the calendar and filled in the events I knew I wanted. There were a couple of critical scenes I built the story up around. Then I began to break everything into chapters. 

This is the point in the process when I’m spreading index cards out on my dining room table and doing a lot of arranging and rearranging. I love my index cards! A few years ago I attended a Highlights Foundation Whole Novel Workshop where Alan Gratz showed us how he uses index cards to plan his stories. It was a light bulb moment— a great lesson for someone like me who previously wrote without a plan. I’m not too meticulous about it, but my index cards definitely give me a roadmap. Anyway like a lot of writers (and teachers) I believe in office supplies. If you’ve got a problem, there’s an office supply that can fix it! Plotting isssues? Grab a stack of index card! Okay, if only it was that easy, but you never know, a field trip to your local office supply store might just help. 

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

Yes, all the time, but with this project I needed to stay focused. (The deadline loomed large!) So the story didn’t change that much. After the first draft, my editor (the fabulous Becky Herrick) highlighted the areas that needed addressing. And then those changes were made but they were adjustments not a major plot overhaul. 

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

Ideas come to me all the time! For me, the hard part is figuring out how to grow the idea into a cohesive story readers will care about. Writing a pitch and a synopsis before I begin working on a story can help me see where the holes might be or if there isn’t enough there beyond the hook. Other times, I will get an idea that seems interesting but then I realize I’m not the person to write that story. Having an idea is only the beginning! I think for a story to work it needs to tap into an emotional truth that is personal to me.

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

I try to write the one that’s been percolating the longest. That being said, I’ve recently stepped away from a manuscript I’ve been working on for a couple of years. It was a hard decision to make because I’d spent so much time with these characters but ultimately I didn’t have a clear enough vision for the story. I’m hoping a little time in the virtual drawer will help that one! I love it when I’m living inside a story. It’s hardest for me when I’m starting a new project (so many decisions to make!) or when I’m in between stories. 

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 cats! I’m impressed. I also have a writing buddy (just one): my sweet dog, Olivia, but she likes her space. We both move from room to room. She’s looking for the perfect place to nap and I tend to set up in different spots depending on where I am in the process. When I’m working on the overall story which involves laying out index cards, I’m at the dining room table and when I’m writing a tough scene, I might sit on the sofa next to Olivia, hoping some of her serenity will rub off on me. The best thing about my writing buddy is that she is also my walking buddy! While she sniffs and does her thing on our walks, I often try to unknot a story tangle I’ve created or think through the next scene. 

Do you struggle finding inspiration to write when you are on deadline, or do you find that perspiration beats inspiration?

Writing Peppermint Cocoa Crushes was the first time I’d ever written a novel on a deadline. And it was a tight one! I wrote the first draft in six weeks. This required perspiration (and extra strength deodorant)! It also required daily writing goals. Rather than focusing on word count, I set goals for what scenes I was going to write each day. I keep an old school weekly planner for my writing life and when I finished my work for the day, I’d write down what I needed to do next. That allowed me to stay focused and it kept the story alive as I moved through the rest of my day. As for inspiration, most days it showed up. 

Writing Peppermint Cocoa Crushes was a lot of fun. I hope tween readers will curl up with all the Swirl novels! From pumpkin spice to peppermint cocoa to cinnamon bun to salted caramel, each one is great flavor! 


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AftenBrook Szymanski On Finding New Ways to Stand Out With Your Swag

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

Today's guest for the SWAG is AftenBrooke Szymanski, author of KILLER POTENTIAL, a young adult psychological thriller with a psych ward, a murder trial and revenge.

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

I attempt to find novel ways to engage readers/writers, but honestly, the best I do is twist things to fit my personality. I’m crap at hard sale methods. Salesmanship is not my strength. I do connect with people conversationally and hate pissing people off with spammy stuff. So, I post gif games and try to have fun. I have no evidence any of my interactions lead to sales. 

But, I feel like less of a desperate loser begging readers to pay for my creative powers and more like a the everyday-loveable quirky-nerd I am, interacting with a wide range of readers (not all readers who like gif games and quizzes are going to be interested in my writing, but we can still connect with shit I generate) 😉

I bring colored gel pens to signings, attendees pick their favorite pen for me to sign with and get to keep the pen.

I also carry mini Pokémon figures in case younger kids stop by—they have to pick a Pokémon without looking because the Pokémon picks them. It’s fun for everyone and I get adults wanting to pick Pokémon all the time.


I have a book filled with pictures of things I’ve done since choosing to pursue writing full boar, very fun things, like being haunted in a hotel for three days, flying a Cessna, running in a 200ish marathon with Mercedes Yardley, and other nuts stuff I’d never have done if I wasn’t a writer. I have the book available to flip through at events. So aspiring writers can go, ‘daaaang, I want to be a writer too!’—hahaha). I didn’t have any pictures saved on my phone. Also, plug for chatbooks. I totally use them 😉


For online swag, I’ve created a free quiz connected to my book Killer Potential. It can be accessed at anytime, not just for those who’ve read the book. And it goes through personality strength to determine an area where the persons potential can shine through in their real life. I’ve been amazed at the accuracy and responses so far.

I also created a contest for photo uploads as part of a release I have coming out next year. That contest hasn’t launched yet, but it’s going to be awesome. Based around the tag line “forget covering your butt, cover your code. Cheat Code is coming.” The early feedback I’ve seen for the contest is awesome. I will have a $100 gift card for Amazon as a prize, as well as possibly featuring winning entries during promotional run.

How much money per piece did your swag cost out of pocket?

For signing event swag, it’s less than $.50 per item. I am happy to give the gifts to passers by without feeling like I’m blowing money. And I don’t offer candy unless it’s gluten/peanut/allergy free. That’s why I try to have useful swag such as pens.

Contest items are generally gift cards, because if I’m winning something, I want to spend however the blast I want and I might not want a necklace. I don’t wear jewelry other than my wedding ring and prescription glasses (my glasses count as both makeup and jewelry). For prizes requiring big actions I offer 50-100$ gift cards.

Do you find that swag helps you stand out at an event? 

I see other authors with bigger swag and bigger names. I honestly don’t see my swag as having an impact other than I appear prepared and ready to interact/aware of my audience. Even if I don’t compete with bigger names, I feel it matters that I come to events showing I care about my fans and want to demonstrate appreciation for their time. Maybe that’s quantifiable, maybe it’s not.

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

I think of gift cards and electronics as big items. I’ve seen people give away skateboards, tickets to events, and baskets of book specific items. These are more engaging than bookmarks to me. I intend to have hourly giveaways at my next launch signing, where  I’ll gift a store card at the bookstore I’m signing in, every hour. It’s fun and keeps patrons in the store, which benefits the bookstore as well

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

Things that have driven me to enter things include illustrated Harry Potter Books, big money gift cards, and tickets to events I won’t pay for myself but would attend if I won tickets (such as a comic con or concert) I also admire when authors offer to put someone’s name in their next story. So fun.

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

No. At least not directly. I think swag helps generate name recognition, author/book awareness and a connection to author/book. I don’t think it directly affects sales other than getting people talking about an author/book, which might lead to future or later sales. 

I keep all my online swag links available at my website

If anyone has particular shit they’d like me to offer, they’re welcome to contact me through the website contact form. If it’s feasible, I’ll make it happen. 😊

Monday, November 20, 2017

Research, But Not Too Soon by Julia Glass


Research, But Not Too Soon by Julia Glass

When I teach, I like debunking the mythical dictates carved in the styrofoam pillars supporting the shrine built to deify the Real Writer. (Picture the Lincoln Memorial, but it’s Ernest Hemingway up on that throne, fountain pen clenched in a fist as big as a Thanksgiving turkey.) There’s a reason, I point out, that novelists do not have to pass exams to practice their trade. Architects and sea captains, sure. Surgeons, you bet. Why not novelists? Simple: Our form of malpractice won’t kill anybody. The worst we can do is bore you silly, fail to suspend your disbelief, make you waste a little money. So we get to do this thing we do by whatever rules and rituals we devise.

Prominent among those dictates (close on the heels of Write every day) is Write what you know. Which holds true, admittedly, to the extent that every journey begins at home. But I like Grace Paley’s retort: “We don’t write about what we know; we write about what we don’t know about what we know.” Write what you want to know, and start out pretending you know a lot more than you do. Surmise, invent, and bluff your way through it as far as you can. Flex your imagination. Why else are you here?

One of the ancillary pleasures in writing fiction, however, is finding out stuff, “real” stuff, stuff you never knew before, stuff you need to know if the story you’re telling is to hold up as true. Curiosity is the apprentice to your imagination. Yet I have found that the longer I can put off my research, the stronger and tighter my stories are. This is personal, of course; maybe you, setting out to write the great modern Western, need to pack up and live as a Wyoming cowhand before you can write a single word. Herman Melville went on an honest-to-God whaling voyage, no luxury cruise, before sitting down to write Moby-Dick. I hasten to add that I am not writing historical fiction, so the broad context of my work is the world we live in now; nevertheless, I delve deeply into my characters’ personal histories, which means I’m facing history with a capital H. I may need to find out about, for instance, the rationing of farm equipment during World War II. (Wars of the last century have influenced the lives of my fictional people as dramatically as they have the lives of actual people.)

I won’t deny that laziness factors into my method. Years ago, I loved nothing more than a good excuse to roam the library stacks. Now, even heading downscreen to Safari seems like a chore when all I want to do is hang around with my characters, eavesdrop on their secrets, and get them in trouble just to find out how they’ll endure (or not).

In every story, I challenge myself to create characters outside my know-it-all zone, but never arbitrarily. Though I may not understand why, I will have felt a deep curiosity to inhabit the psyche of a wildlife biologist, a pastry chef, a Guatemalan gardener, an elderly widower, a music critic, the devout Catholic mother of two gay sons, a cancer patient, a cellist, a lonely film star, an insolent young man bent on what he sees as constructive anarchy.

To know their passions, preoccupations, and afflictions, I have researched the infrastructure of wedding cakes, the culture of a 1960s summer camp for teenage musicians, the pathology and treatment of AIDS in the 1980s, the training of Border collies, the politics of water rights in the Southwest, the conservation of grizzly bears – but I began by writing from instinct and hearsay. The problem with doing research too soon is this: If I uncover too much captivating knowledge in advance, I cannot resist including it, nor can I tell when it dilutes or distracts from the story I’m trying to tell. If, on the other hand, I must pack it into the brimming suitcase of an existing story, only the pertinent details will fit. (The vast lore I uncovered on the variously eccentric traditions surrounding wedding confections was hard to leave behind, but because I was working to authenticate an existing scene, the narrative had only so much give.) The story must be the boss of the research, not the other way around.

I like doing my research live, using people as sources whenever I can. And sometimes those people find me. Years ago, while struggling to craft a character living with the after-effects of head trauma, after reading medical journals had left me more confused than informed, I was called for jury duty – where I happened to meet a stranger who had gone through an experience parallel to that of my character. I conducted some enormously fruitful “research” over lunch breaks from the courthouse.

Inevitably, you miss things. If you’re lucky, people who read your work early on catch those gaffes before it’s too late: the clam sauce with onions, the cello seated behind the flute; an idiom or a gadget or a popular song deployed before its time. Sometimes, however, alternative facts wind up in print. In Three Junes, I began by using memory and guesswork to describe the surroundings of a Scottish country home, an essential setting, knowing I’d fine-tune the details later. Several drafts later, I consulted a guide to British birding, overwriting my placeholder blue jays, robins, and cardinals with yellowhammers, chiffchaffs, and collared doves. Botanically, however, it turns out I wasn’t so thorough.

There I was, out on tour, closing my book after reading to a small audience, when a hand shot up, emphatically. “Excuse me,” said my questioner, “but please see page 117. It isn’t possible, you realize, for the women’s final at Wimbledon to fall within the month of June. And, on page 47, can you tell me what a dogwood tree is doing in Scotland? Dogwoods grow only in North America.” He was holding a copy of my book sprouting a thicket of Post-Its. He was my first of a certain kind of reader. I want to hug and slug these people at the very same time. They are, after all, devoted to the truth.

Okay, so he had me on Wimbledon – a necessary torqueing of reality that I had hoped no one would notice. “But as for the dogwood,” I said, keeping my cool, “there were these American houseguests who, wanting to make a memorable impression on their Scottish hosts, and knowing how much they cherished their garden, smuggled a dogwood sapling in their luggage as a house present. The climate proved perfectly hospitable. The guests were invited back. Next time, they brought a pair blue jays.”

Julia Glass the author of six novels, including the best-selling Three Junes, winner of the National Book Award, and I See You Everywhere, winner of the Binghamton University John Gardner Fiction Book Award. Other published works include Chairs in the Rafters and essays in several anthologies. Glass is a Distinguished Writer in Residence at Emerson College. She lives with her family in Marblehead, Massachusetts.

Julia's essay is excerpted from Signature's 2017 Ultimate Writing Guide - which you can download for free!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Book Talk & Giveaway: ALMOST MISSED YOU by Jessica Strawser

Violet and Finn were “meant to be,” said everyone, always. They ended up together by the hands of fate aligning things just so. Three years into their marriage, they have a wonderful little boy, and as the three of them embark on their first vacation as a family, Violet can’t help thinking that she can’t believe her luck. Life is good.

So no one is more surprised than she when Finn leaves her at the beach—just packs up the hotel room and disappears. And takes their son with him. Violet is suddenly in her own worst nightmare, and faced with the knowledge that the man she’s shared her life with, she never really knew at all.

Caitlin and Finn have been best friends since way back when, but when Finn shows up on Caitlin’s doorstep with the son he’s wanted for kidnapping, demands that she hide them from the authorities, and threatens to reveal a secret that could destroy her own family if she doesn’t, Caitlin faces an impossible choice.

Told through alternating viewpoints of Violet, Finn and Caitlin, Almost Missed You is a powerful story of a mother’s love, a husband’s betrayal, connections that maybe should have been missed, secrets that perhaps shouldn’t have been kept, and spaces between what’s meant to be and what might have been.

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, November 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. Er... ignore the fact that the "from" doesn't fit.

It's always bothered me that a baker's dozen actually equals thirteen. Now why would that be? Turns out bakers weren't the most trustworthy of shopkeepers back in the day. Air pockets can slip into loaves of bread, and it seems that some bakers took advantage of this, charging full weight for bread that was actually a little light in the ... loaf.

This was such a problem in England that Parliament passed a law in 1266 regulating the weight of bread, the penalty for shorting your customers being that you were nailed to your own doorstep by the ear. Uh, yeah. Shopkeepers decided that was a line they didn't want to cross, but there was no way to be sure that their loaves didn't contain an air pocket or two.

In order to stay within legal limits as well as assuring their costumers they weren't being shorted, it became common to bake thirteen loaves of bread, using the extra 13th as a "bonus" loaf. When a customer bought a regular loaf of bread, the baker also cut a chunk off the 13th loaf, to make up for any air pockets inside the first loaf.

Fascinating stuff, eh?

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Natalie Rompella On Plots That Change As The Story Evolves (And That's Okay)

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 Natalie Rompella, a former museum educator, elementary and middle school teacher, as well as the author of more than forty books and educational guides for young readers. She is also the winner of a Work-in-Progress grant from the Society for Children's BookWriters and Illustrators. Her most recent release, COOKIE CUTTERS & SLED RUNNERS releases November 21 from SkyPony Press!

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

I wish I could remember! I know the idea of sled dog racing came from doing research for another of my books: Famous Firsts about sports that started in the U.S. Ironically, sled dog racing was the last sport I chose. I knew nothing about it until I began my research. Then I fell in love with the sport so much I traveled to Alaska to see the start of the Iditarod.

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

I’m not even really sure how it all pieced together. My main character has OCD—I’m not sure how that came to be. I believe the baking part came from my own experience of loving to bake growing up. And then a lot of it wrote itself. I wasn’t aware of the twists and turns that ended up occurring until I put fingers to the keyboard.

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

Definitely. This story used to have the main character moving to Alaska. But it took about fifty pages for that to even happen. Eventually the idea of the main character moving got taken out all together.

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

I get tons of story ideas a day. Usually the timing is poor, though (such as in the shower or while driving), and I forget them. I do find that if I need to write something new and get stuck, I will not get re-inspired unless I go do something else, such as go for a run.

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

I really bounce around a lot. I often set timelines to stay motivated, so maybe I plan out to work on one chapter of project X on Monday and then work on edits of project Y on Tuesday just to keep things fresh.

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?

LOL. Absolutely. My writing buddy is the reason I finished this book!

As I mention in my Acknowledgements, this book had been put away in a drawer. Then I got a call from the SCBWI Work-In-Progress committee that I had won the WIP grant. I immediately pulled my manuscript out of the drawer to see if I could finish it.

At the same time, we had just gotten a puppy: Luna. As is typically done with potty training a puppy, we limited her to a small space. We had just expanded to include the living room/dining room area for her. Because I was doing the training, I also was confined to those rooms of the house to hurry her outside if need be. I set up camp at the dining room table and thought, might as well work on my novel while I’m in here. I ended up finishing it.

Luna is still my writing companion today. When she hears that I’m making coffee, she knows I’ll be headed to my computer. She joins me in my office and “gets to work”/naps. She has heard so many versions of this novel. But really, I do think of her as my muse/writing buddy/lazy assistant.

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Kate Larkindale On Plots Falling Into Place For Pantsers

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 Kate Larkindale, author of An Unstill Life and Stumped. She is a writer, marketing executive for a national film agency, and a film reviewer.

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

For An Unstill Life, I actually started with a title – The Boyfriend Plague. This is really unusual for me because I usually struggle with titles. But once I had the title, I started thinking about how friendships change and sometimes get destroyed when boyfriends come on the scene. And then I read an article in the newspaper about a school that was refusing to let same-sex couples attend the leavers’ ball or prom and I started thinking about what might happen to those friendships when one of the group decided they’d rather have a girlfriend.

With Stumped, it was a much faster process. I ran a movie theater and we hosted the New Zealand premiere of a documentary called Scarlet Road one night. There was a panel discussion afterward and the subject of the film, an amazing woman called Rachel Wotton, was there. She’s an Australian sex worker who works with severely disabled clients and hearing her speak was inspirational. Rachel told a story about a mother who hired her to work with a son who had Down Syndrome and Stumped came to me the same night I heard her speak.  

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

Again, it was quite a different process for each book. With An Unstill Life, I really struggled to make the story work until I introduced the sister with cancer. Once I had that element, everything else fell into place. Livvie really needed her friends at this difficult time, and they were pre-occupied with boys and couldn’t offer Livvie the support she needed. That opened the door for Bianca to come into Livvie’s life in a way that feels quite natural and organic. Or at least I hope it does!

I wrote Stumped very quickly because I was asked to participate in a challenge by another writer who had missed out on doing NaNo and wanted to gather a group of writers together to write a book in 8 weeks. As soon as I started writing, Ozzy’s voice was so distinctive he basically drove everything. And because he makes some spectacularly bad choices, where the plot ended up going was quite a surprise to me! There were some scenes I wrote giggling with embarrassment, and others where I was practically crying

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

To be honest, I never have a plot firmly in place when I start a book. I don’t outline or plan that much at all. I just know my characters and want to see what will happen to them when I put them into a situation that might challenge them. Like taking away Livvie’s support network at the time she needs them most and throwing a mysterious girl into her path at key moments. Or by putting Ozzy into a wheelchair…

And everything always changes in revision too. The part of the story that actually sparked Stumped has been revised out of the finished book. I also brought a character back to life who died toward the middle of the book in draft one.  

There was a whole big family dynamic in An Unstill Life I dumped in revision. A lot of the things Livvie does in the finished book actually happened to her older brother in the first few drafts. But I wrote him out eventually, along with Livve and Jules’ dad.

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

Ideas come to me all the time. Most of them don’t come to anything much, but every now and then, two things rub up against one another and ignite a spark that won’t go out. I’m a huge fan of documentary films and I often find myself thinking about them afterward. Some of my best ideas have come from documentary films.

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

There’s always one that won’t stop nagging at my brain. That’s the one I have to write, even if there are others floating around in there. Especially if I already have a scene or two in mind.  And once I start writing, things tend to escalate.

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 cats? That’s a lot! I have two and they are as different as you could possibly imagine two cats to be. Lola is super friendly and loves being around people. You will often find her on a chair next to me or curled up at my feet while I’m writing. Frankie is almost pathologically shy and runs away if anyone comes within a few feet of her. She’s enormously fun to watch out the window when she doesn’t know I’m watching so I take little breaks while I’m working to watch her play. Take a look at the pair of them!