Monday, April 24, 2017

On Character Movement: I Don't Care If They Have An Itchy Nose

About a year ago I started offering manuscript critique services for aspiring authors. I give the kind of feedback that I want from my own critique partners - a heavy dose of tough love along with a touch of praise. The tough love is what makes all writers (including myself) improve. The touch of praise is there because creating is a difficult job, and even the act of putting words to the page deserves recognition. 

What doesn't deserve recognition is every footfall, head turn, eyebrow rise, nose scratch, and finger twitch of any character. 

This is a hangup of mine, and I freely admit that I often go too far in the other direction and have one (or more) of my trusted critique partners let me know that my characters went from talking in the library to riding in a car without a transition. And no, that's not acceptable. 

What is acceptable?

Movement pertinent to plot and setting.

Is your character shading their eyes from the hot California sun? Bingo - that matters because you just found a way to get setting in there without saying, "I live in California."

Is your character scratching their nose because they're allergic to cats and that fact plays into the meet-cute you've got planned with the manager of the local Humane Society? Okay, cool.

This is the kind of movement that matters because it's relevant. Too much character movement can kill a scene. So if you've got dialogue that reads like this:

"I don't understand," Samantha said, her eyebrows coming together.

It doesn't work, in my opinion. The eyebrows coming together are to illustrate confusion. But the confusion is already there in the words she said. What's happening here (and I was completely guilty of this when I started) is that you're trying too hard to control the picture. You want your reader to see what you see, and that means you're overwriting. The nose scratch shows confusion, or nervousness - but good dialogue will show that on its own. Let your reader fill in the body language. 

A bigger issue with character movement is getting characters from one point to another. 

For one thing, if it's not all that important, throw in a scene break. If they're in school for a scene, and then the next thing that happens relevant to the story is over dinner, scene break. You don't need to fill in with meaningless stuff just to make time pass - your book isn't delivered in real time. We assume stuff happened in between first period and dinner, but that it doesn't matter to the story. You don't narrate every time your character, eats, drinks, bathes, or goes to the bathroom. We assume they do those things.

Getting them from one place to another within a scene can be trickier. You don't want a scene break every time the setting changes or you'll have a bunch of two paragraph chapters. If you start with your character waking up and next thing is them eating breakfast, you don't have to narrate that they went downstairs. We figure that out on our own.

Everything I say above is subjective. This is me speaking about what I prefer to read, and how I like to write. That being said, I do think that shaving down character movement gives your reader more freedom to visually interpret scenes in their own way, pulling them deeper into the book through that very interaction.

And that's where you want them.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: HOW DARE THE SUN RISE: MEMOIRS OF A WAR CHILD by Sandra Uwiringiyimana

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

Sandra Uwiringiyimana was ten years old when she watched her mother and six year old sister be gunned down in front her. A member of a displaced tribe in Africa, Sandra had never found a place to fit in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where other children thought she was Rwandan and taunted her for it.

When many of her family members are killed inside the refugee camp, Sandra and what's left of her relations have no money and nowhere to turn. Eventually through a United Nations refugee program, Sandra finds herself in New York as a middle schooler - still unable to find a place to fit in.

In this memoir, Sandra tells the story of her survival, of finding her place in a new country, of her hope for the future, and how she found a way to give voice to her people.

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


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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately...

1) I've been watching the original Planet Earth in the background while revising. As a result, whenever I'm about to kill a character I hear "Wolf Takes Down Baby Caribou" music.

2) The Deep Sea episode had me gaping. I think I would be a lot of fun in a submersible. There would be numerous sound bytes of me going, "WTF IS THAT?!?!"

3) Now, no matter what is going on, Richard Attenborough narrates it in my head. It can be damn funny when applied to a high school library.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

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.

So the other day I referred to someone as my chum. Yeah, it's not a word that gets tossed out there a lot, but I enjoy my oddness and kind of revel in my vocabulary. After that had slipped out, my random brain said, "Hey, wait a minute - isn't that also what you call...."

And yes, it is. So here my friends are two standard definitions of chum:

1. A close friend
2. Chopped fish, fish fluids, and other material thrown overboard as angling bait

Assuming that you would never substitute one for the other, I did a little digging.

The word chum as used in the first instance popped up in the 17th century, as slang for a roommate. It's a clipped form of "chamber mate."

The origin of the second instance (use of dead small fish and fish parts to attract larger fish) is most likely from the use of a specific type of Pacific Northwest salmon called chum Salmon.

But the two are not related at all, alas. I was so hoping for some great story about someone chopping up their roommate and making them sleep with the fishes.

How about it? Got something you want to know more about? Ask me!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

MG Non-Fiction Author Nancy Roe Pimm On Finding Inspirational Subjects

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 Nancy Roe Pimm, a MG narrative non-fiction writer who has been published in Highlights for Children, Hopscotch, Boy’s Quest, The Horseman’s Corral, Guideposts for Kids and Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Her published books include: The Indy 500-The Inside Track (Junior Libray Guild Selection), The Daytona 500- The Thrill and Thunder of the Great American Race (JLG Selection), The Heart of the Beast-Eight Great Gorilla Stories (JLG Selection). Endorsed by Jack Hanna, Colo’s Story—The Life of One Grand Gorilla (JLG Selection),  Flying Solo—The Jerrie Mock Story, and her latest book, Bonded by Battle: The Powerful Friendships of Military Dogs and Soldiers.

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? 

Well I write nonfiction, so I’m always looking for stories that seem unbelievable, or I look for the “WOW” factor--something takes my breath away or keeps nagging at me in the middle of the night. Then it’s research time.  I chase it down. For instance, while watching the news one evening in my kitchen I learned that the first woman to fly around the world was a housewife from Newark, Ohio. The newscaster said that the big event had happened fifty years ago. I wondered why I had never heard of this woman and why the first person who came to my mind while thinking of around the world flights was Amelia Earhart—but she disappeared. I had to learn more about this little known lady who circumnavigated the world, solo, in a little plane five decades ago. The more I learned about Jerrie Mock, the more I needed to know. After speaking with Jerrie on the phone, I packed my bags and set out from my Ohio home to Florida, to meet and interview eighty-eight- year-old Jerrie Mock. 

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

My niche is narrative nonfiction. For me the plot already happened, I need to find an engaging way to tell the story. Once I’ve been hooked on the subject, I dig deep. It’s like a treasure hunt and I won’t stop digging until I’ve uncovered some gold. I try to find little known, or quirky and interesting facts on the subject. While researching my Daytona 500 book I went to the race track as a writer instead of as a driver’s wife. I learned things I never knew, even though I worked in the pits for many years. In the past I hung out in the motor home or the car trailer, waiting for driver introductions. As a “reporter” I watched for the first time as the pit box was sprayed with cans of soda pop in preparation for the big race. The crew member explained how the sticky surface kept the pit crew from slipping and sliding while they changed four tires, made any necessary adjustments, and refueled in about 11 seconds. While digging around in the Jerrie Mock biography I learned she had eloped. She never shared that with me or with her own family. No one in her family knew her wedding anniversary date. I also discovered her flight around the world became a race against another lady pilot, a fact that made the plot even more intriguing.

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

When I write fiction I am a total pantser. I love being surprised by the characters or by a turn of events. In nonfiction I have to find the format that best serves the story. But when I wrote about military war dogs, the history of them and how they were trained, I found a better story inside of the story. Time and time again, I discovered the most amazing thing about military war dogs is the bond of friendship and trust they developed with the soldiers they served. So BONDED BY BATTLE made a complete turn around and focused on the soldier/dog relationships. COLO'S STORY also surprised me. I never expected the first gorilla born in captivity to have so much personality and such attitude. She gave me a lot to write about, which is a good thing because interviewing gorillas can be quite challenging.

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

Fortunately or unfortunately story ideas come at me fast and furious. I find it hard to sleep at night! There are so many stories I want to write, both fiction and nonfiction, from picture book to young adult novel. I write what I am the most passionate about at the time. After all, I know I’ll be spending days and nights researching and writing so I need to love the topic.

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

Right now I am working on the biography of a World War II veteran. I met the soldier while I was writing my latest book, BONDED BY BATTLE. So, one book birthed another so to speak.  Bill sent me an e-mail and said, “Nancy, if you are serious about writing my biography, let’s get started. I’m 94 years-old!” So Bill’s story went straight to the top of the pile. Bill Wynne was a photo reconnaissance soldier who fought for two years with a Yorkshire Terrier by his side. The Yorkie became a war dog hero and is credited with being the first therapy dog. Once I have the biography complete I am anxious to revise my young adult novel and a nonfiction picture book.

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

I draw all of my inspiration from the world around me. Even though I am not a race car driver, (some of my friends will argue that I am a racer, just not a professional!) I found living from racetrack to racetrack something to write about. I worked at the Columbus Zoo and wrote a couple of gorilla books. I love animals and will happily write about any of them. Manatees and whooping cranes are on my radar right now. Learning about World War II from a man who lived through it has been fascinating, and I think it’s important to have a good account of what our soldiers went through fighting for our freedom. And I loved writing about a lady who followed her childhood dream and I hope Jerrie Mock’s life story will inspire others, old and young, not only to have a dream, but to believe in them, and most important, to follow them. So I’ll keep writing as long as I keep breathing. There is so much to write about—inspiration is all around us!

Monday, April 17, 2017

What I'm Up To This Week & Giveaway Roundup!

For those of you following the podcast there won't be a new episode this week, as I've been busy drafting NORTH COUNTRY, and of course had the release of GIVEN TO THE SEA last week.

If you follow me on Patreon, I'll be getting your short stories, cat pics, and monthly update video posted this week!

I have updated my Appearances page on the blog after adding a bunch of signings recently. If you're wondering if I'll be near you anytime soon, check it out.

This weekend I will be at SOKY - Southern Kentucky Book Fest!

I've also had quite a few giveaways posting last week, so am re-sharing them here!

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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Friday, April 14, 2017

Book Talk & Giveaway: YORK by Laura Ruby

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

Tess, Theo and Jaime live in - and love - their city of York. With the mysterious technology of the genius Morningstarr twins powering it since 1798, the city boasts towering glass buildings, flying cars, twisting rail lines that run both above and below ground. Somewhere it also holds the key to the Old York Cipher, an enigmatic riddle that the Morningstarr twins left to the citizens of York before they disappeared in the 1850s, promising that whoever could solve it would find unimaginable treasure.

Tess & Theo are descended from the Morningstarrs, but that's never helped them get any further in the cipher than anyone else. They live in one of the last five original Morningstarr buildings, but a real estate developer is buying them up, and the twins - along with Jaime - decide if there was ever a time to solve the cipher, it's now.

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, April 12, 2017

Debut Author Joanne O'Sullivan On Finding Inspiration

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask 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 Joanne O'Sullivan author of BETWEEN TWO SKIES. Joanne is a journalist for the Asheville Citizen-Times. She lived in New Orleans for several years and returns to southern Louisiana frequently. Between Two Skies is her debut novel. She lives in Asheville, North Carolina, with her husband and children.

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

I tend to pick up threads for several places and weave them together. When Hurricane Katrina hit, I tried to understand the full impact it had had on the people in an area I love. I started to draw a parallel between the people displaced by Katrina and the characters in one of Louisiana’s most iconic stories “Evangeline:” an epic poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Longfellow’s “Evangeline” starts in Acadia (what’s now Nova Scotia) at the time when the French-speaking population is being driven out by the British, becoming refugees and eventually settling in Louisiana. It struck me that there was a new exodus of people leaving Louisiana. They were called “Katrina refugees” and like the Acadians (the original Cajuns), many ended up far from home. My mom is an Irish immigrant, and I grew up listening to old Irish ballads filled with heartache and longing for a home you could never return to. I think those songs subconsciously supplied a melody for my story in a way, while “Evangeline” supplied a bit of the lyrics. 

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

Because I had Longfellow’s “Evangeline” as a very loose inspiration, I had the idea of a painful separation in a young love. That led me to envision a new Evangeline and a love interest for her. The plot around that had two obvious poles: coming together and separating, but everything else in between took some work! The family story was interesting: I knew that there would be tension; that everyone in the family would want something different in the face of the disaster. That turned into some interesting opportunities for character development. 

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

Oh, absolutely! In fact, when I met my wonderful agent Claire Anderson-Wheeler, she suggested a major plot change from the original story I showed her. When you’ve been working with one idea for a long time, it can be hard to see a story any other way. But once I let myself imagine something different for these characters, I realized she was right: it was what was needed to keep the story moving forward. 

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

I get loads of ideas, but a lot of them are fleeting. I feel like I would never have enough time to write all the stories I’ve come up with. 

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

That’s a great question. I give it time. Whichever idea sustains my interest over the long term is the one I pursue. Because I know I’m going to be spending a lot of time with it, I’ve got to be really invested. 

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

I try to be in the moment during major life events, so I’m not great at being meticulous about my observations. I’m better at remembering the details of smaller moments and everyday interactions: the snatch of conversation I overhear in line at the coffee shop or a look exchanged between two people. The major life events I remember more in impressions and feelings, but that can actually be really helpful in guiding a narrative, too. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

GIVEN TO THE Sea Release Day & Signed Giveaway + E-Book Giveaway!

It's here!

I'm excited to bring my readers my first fantasy, GIVEN TO THE SEA, releasing today from Putnam/Penguin.

Enter to win a signed copy from me below.

International readers, if you're looking for a giveaway, check out my buddy RC Lewis' tweet stream....




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

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

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

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

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

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

Praise for Given to the Sea:

"Star-crossed love is at the heart of this darkly vivid tale, woven with hypnotic prose and captivatingly intense characters [. . .] Readers will be hypnotized by their relationships as well as the allure of the created world in this first book of the Given duet."—Romantic Times

"[T]his book isn't just about love triangles (or squares): themes of duty and fate are thickly woven into the fabric of this tale as each character grapples with balancing moral obligation against desire."—Kirkus Reviews

"Four neatly interlocking narratives build a riveting story about destiny [. . .] There’s plenty of gore, romance, plot twists, and cliff-hangers, but readers will also find thoughtful challenges to racism, misogyny, and cruelty—plus a strong feminist element too."—Booklist

"Readers willing to look at the larger ensemble cast, the characters’ connections, and the subsequent political machinations may appreciate the world building and the disturbing but satisfying ending."—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

Monday, April 10, 2017

First Middle Grade Podcast Episode & GIVEN TO THE SEA Giveaway!

Today the Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire podcast welcomes our first Middle Grade writer, Janet Sumner Johnson, author of THE LAST GREAT ADVENTURE OF THE PB&J SOCIETY. She joined me to talk about querying when you already have a book published, and the complexities of having different agencies handling your separate projects.

We also discuss the challenge of writing for middle graders, the assumption that books for children are somehow lesser than books written for adults, as well as the question of what content to include for younger readers.

Then we geek out with favorite books from our childhood and how we interpreted them differently as adult readers, and the skill involved in layering a children’s book in a way that will change the meaning for an older reader.

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

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




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



And TOMORROW is the release day for GIVEN TO THE SEA! I am so excited to get my first fantasy book out into the world. I'm celebrating with a signed copy giveaway - enter to win below!

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Friday, April 7, 2017

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: RAMONA BLUE by Julie Murphy

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

Ramona has always known who she is. A too-tall girl poor white girl with blue hair who happens to be one of the only two lesbians in her small Mississippi town. She's also little sister to Hattie, who's always been the pretty one and known how to have a good time - and now she's pregnant. With summer setting on their tourist own and Ramona's crush going back home, life has never felt quite so restrictive in Eulogy.

Then Freddie - a former summer visitor only - comes to stay, for good. His grandma decided Eulogy was where she wanted to end up, so he's along for it, leaving behind a girlfriend and a relationship he thinks can handle the long distance. Ramona hopes it can, and not only for his sake. If his can work out, why shouldn't hers? Even if her summer crush was still in the closet, that doesn't mean they can't make it work, right?

But as she and Freddie become closer, Ramona finds her feelings for him deepening from a lifelong friendship into something unexpected. With all the things she thought she knew suddenly becoming slippery, Eulogy feels too small to contain everything she could possibly become.

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, April 5, 2017

Wednesday WOLF

I'm a nerd. Yes, 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. Er... ignore the fact that the "from" doesn't fit.

Today we're going to talk about nicknames. I've got a real name (Mindy) and a few derivatives of it. I've been called Mind, (not pronounced like a brain), Minn-o, Little Minnow (this was awhile back), and my sister calls me Minner (unsure why). Even my screenname of bigblackcat97 quickly got adjusted to BBC over on AgentQueryConnect.

So where does the word "nickname" come from?

Apparently we have our lazy-tongued ancestors with bad diction to blame. In Old English, "eke" means to add. I still find myself using that particular word occasionally, like when moving furniture. "Just eke it to the left a bit," or cooking, "Eke some salt in there." But I read a lot and pick up a bunch of old words that get odd looks from the b/f sometimes, which culminate in the occasional Dictionary Challenge, so if you don't use "eke" in general conversation, don't feel bad.

In any case, "an ekename" would be an additional name, one by which someone is known even though it's not the name they were born with. "An ekename" got blurred together and there you have it.

What's your "ekename?"

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

YA Scavenger Hunt


Welcome to YA Scavenger Hunt! This bi-annual event was first organized by author Colleen Houck as a way to give readers a chance to gain access to exclusive bonus material from their favorite authors...and a chance to win some awesome prizes! At this hunt, you not only get access to exclusive content from each author, you also get a clue for the hunt. Add up the clues, and you can enter for our prize--one lucky winner will receive one book from each author on the hunt in my team! But play fast: this contest (and all the exclusive bonus material) will only be online for 72 hours!

Go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page to find out all about the hunt. There are SIX contests going on simultaneously, and you can enter one or all! I am a part of the BLUE TEAM--but there is also a red team, a gold team, an orange team, a red team, and an indie team for a chance to win a whole different set of books!

If you'd like to find out more about the hunt, see links to all the authors participating, and see the full list of prizes up for grabs, go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page.

SCAVENGER HUNT PUZZLE

Directions: Below, you'll notice that I've listed my favorite number. Collect the favorite numbers of all the authors on the blue team, and then add them up (don't worry, you can use a calculator!). 

Entry Form: Once you've added up all the numbers, make sure you fill out the form here to officially qualify for the grand prize. Only entries that have the correct number will qualify.

Rules: Open internationally, anyone below the age of 18 should have a parent or guardian's permission to enter. To be eligible for the grand prize, you must submit the completed entry form by April 9th, at noon Pacific Time. Entries sent without the correct number or without contact information will not be considered.

SCAVENGER HUNT POST


Today, I am hosting Julie Eshbaugh on my website for the YA Scavenger Hunt! Julie Eshbaugh now lives in Philadelphia after having called Utah, France, and New York City home. Early on, Julie focused her artistic energies on filmmaking and online video. She made two short films and then spent several years producing an online video series for teens which received several honors from the Webby Awards. Creating videos for teens led to writing novels for teens, and Julie has never looked back. Her debut, IVORY AND BONE, was published by HarperTeen in 2016, and the sequel, OBSIDIAN AND STARS, is due this June. Find out more information by checking out the author's website or find more about the author's book here! 
EXCLUSIVE CONTENT



Hunting, gathering, and keeping his family safe—that’s the life seventeen-year-old Kol knows. Then bold, enigmatic Mya arrives from the south with her family, and Kol is captivated. He wants her to like and trust him, but any hopes of impressing her are ruined when he makes a careless—and nearly grave—mistake. However, there’s something more to Mya’s cool disdain…a history wrought with loss that comes to light when another clan arrives. With them is Lo, an enemy from Mya’s past who Mya swears has ulterior motives.

What's on Mya's TBR? (if she lived in a time when books--or even written language--existed...)

We met Mya in IVORY AND BONE, and in OBSIDIAN AND STARS (out in June from HarperTeen,) the story continues from her point of view.
Mya lives in a time before the advent of reading and writing, so we can only speculate which books would be on her TBR. Still, I know Mya pretty well! Here are a few books I'm certain she would want to read:

MONSTER by Walter Dean Myers
Mya cares a lot about personal responsibility, and she spends a lot of time thinking about issues of guilt vs. innocence, justice, and  identity. I think she would be pulled in by the story of Steve Harmon's arrest and trial. Plus she's never seen a movie, so the sections written in screenplay format would fascinate her.

SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson
Mya is intensely private, often choosing silence over participating in meaningless niceties with people she doesn't know. She even closes herself off to people she'd like to let in. Overcoming the past can be challenging, and I think Mya would find SPEAK's heroine, Melinda, very inspiring.

A STEP FROM HEAVEN by An Na
Mya would feel so much empathy for Young Ju, a girl who is expected to leave what she knows and loves behind. She also would love the way A STEP FROM HEAVEN immerses you in Young Ju's head, because Mya would be so happy to get out of her own head for a while! Though they are separated by time and culture, Mya would see herself in some of Young Ju's experiences.

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen
Mya can sometimes be proud--even arrogant--and unwilling to open up to someone she feels would never understand her unique circumstances. Sound familiar? Mya is a bit of a female Mr. Darcy, and I think she'd be quite interested in his love story with Elizabeth Bennet.

I'm sure once Mya got started, there would be many more books she'd like to read, and her TBR list would grow. But these four books would definitely get her started, introducing her to the transformative magic of reading.

And don't forget to enter the contest for a chance to win a ton of books by me, Julie Eshbaugh, and more! To enter, you need to know that my favorite number is Add up all the favorite numbers of the authors on the blue team and you'll have all the secret code to enter for the grand prize!

CONTINUE THE HUNT

To keep going on your quest for the hunt, you need to check out the next author Kathleen Baldwin!

Sarah Nicole Lemon On Empowering Female Characters

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 Sarah Nicole Lemon, author of DONE DIRT CHEAP. Born and raised in the Appalachians, she spent the first fifteen years of her life doing nothing but reading and playing outside, and has yet to outgrow either. When not writing, you can find her drinking iced coffee in a half-submerged beach chair near her home in southern Maryland.

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 joke that DONE DIRT CHEAP is a book made entirely out of the pond scum of my life—all the slick, weird stuff that coagulated at the top. Sounds incredibly sexy, I know, but let’s just pretend the pond of my life is a magical one in the forest between worlds (The Magicians Nephew/ C. S. Lewis) and if you skim the weird off the top, it smells like a chip-on-your shoulder and honeysuckles. 

Joking aside, it all began with jealousy and failure and writer angst. 

I kept trying and failing to sell a novel. Everyone loved my writing, no one wanted to spend money on my books. They were not commercial. There was great gnashing of teeth and shaking of fists on my part, but when it was all said and done, I packed up my kids and went to lick my wounds at my parents’ house in southwest Pennsylvania. One late summer afternoon, sitting on the front porch swing, I mulled over what I was going to write next. Because, of course I was going to write something next. A crit-partner had recently told me “Lemon, you need to write the book of your heart.” Okay, it was Renee Ahdieh, she deserves the credit for both the gross sentimentality and absolute truth of that advice. Despite the guidance, the only part of my heart I could find was “it must involve a motorcycle” –and I was trying to think of something more, when my dad roared over the crest of the hill on his bike, coming to pick my mom up for a ride. 

There were two things that struck me in that moment. The first was my mom’s response, because it’s been the same response for thirty years. She practically wagged her tail and ran off to get boots on. It reminded me of being a teenager and listening to all her stories about their romance. Like “he had this blue Chevy Nova and my dad hated it.” And “my boss knew him from the bar” which would be followed by a giggle. My mom considers herself a good Baptist church girl, and this was her epic romance with a partially reformed bad boy. It always ended with a groan-worthy “isn’t your father so cute?” (Seriously Mom, WHY do you ask me that question?). 

None of this was new that afternoon. It was pleasant backstory. Adorable and embarrassing. But when I turned from my mom, I was just in time to see my dad barreling away. He’s not patient enough to wait for her to put on shoes, so he circles the block before coming back. The sun was setting right at the end of the road and for a moment he looked like every idyllic image of a man (because it’s always a man) riding into the literal sunset. His hair ruffled in the breeze, and the brap of the engine echoed back down the hill. Because yes, he was riding a street-to-trail dirt-bike on the road and not wearing a helmet. 

Children, don’t try this at home. 


He always says something about wanting to die, not live and suffer, if he wrecks—which please don’t tweet me about how stupid this is, he knows. That’s just what he says when someone asks. I don’t think he believes he’ll wreck. I think he believes if he wrecks and dies, it was his time to go anyway. That he’d be dead no matter what he was doing. 

That afternoon on the swing, while I watched him disappear into the sun with that trust in his own fate and the power to disregard for anyone who might disagree—it made me insanely jealous. It was more than just the bike—it was everything. He might have passed on his personality and intensity to me, but they were changed under the mantle of womanhood and motherhood. His power was a kind I’d never had, always wanted, and couldn’t find. As a girl, I’d thought I’d grow into it. But as a full grown woman, with three small children, I realized that power had never been intended for me. And right then I knew what the book of my heart was. It was a book about motorcycles. But also about girls determining their own stories, their own fate, and their own power. 

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

My struggle with writing is always the plot. I had this idea—this ephemeral grain of sand in my soul--and no idea how to give it shape. I was literally staring at the wall, thinking about it, while my husband was in the next room yelling at me about why all the bikes on Sons of Anarchy were the same? I quit watching Sons after the baby was stolen to Ireland. (You do not fuck with kids for real is a TV rule, I thought!), but had enjoyed Charlie Hunnam and the fast plotting. I had motorcycles, I had girls, and listening to Sons in the next room, I had….

The Wardens. Or something that I hoped might end up being a plot. 

My books are like a witch’s brew, I throw a bunch of shit in and stir until I get an explosion. 
This time it worked. 

The caveat is, this was a world I was semi-familiar with. I grew up riding dirt-bikes, there were always clubs around somewhere. Even in church! I know exactly what those men, in real life, were like. I understood the world. I knew the people. The rest was just details. 

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

Only always! 

My first draft of this book was nothing of the book I have now. Though I’m very pleased with where I ended up, I’m not even sure how I got here. Probably a lot of lying on the floor with a bag of chips, staring at the ceiling and thinking “what the fuck is the story of my heart?”

That explains why I’m violating the terms of my own blackmail agreement to write it. (re: pond scum, except this bit is churned up from the bottom and smells like Black’s law books and terror)

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

I have a hard time coming up with ideas. I always have one ready when I need it, but never a backlog competing for attention. Sometimes I’m afraid I’ll run out of ideas, and will just be left with useless words. But then I always hear Amy March (movie version) in that scene where she tells Meg “you don’t need scores of suitors, you only need one, if he’s the right one.” And I feel like that applies to stories. 

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

Three children, who are very much like cats in that it’s impossible to herd them anywhere. And a pit-bull named Maggie who hogs my heater in the winter. 

Monday, April 3, 2017

10 Tips For Authors Doing Library & School Visits

Last month I posted tips for organizers hosting an author event. There are a lot of responsibilities on the host, but there are just as many (if not more) on the author, and so this month I'm sharing what I've learned from four years of driving around the state, eating Whoppers while I drive, and - hopefully - finding some new readers along the way.

Authors - the first thing everyone must know is that having a book signing is not a red carpet event. I don't know if it ever was, but somewhere in my mind I had an idea (probably gleaned from films) of an author sitting at a table, stacks of books piled on either side of them, staring down a long line of adoring fans.

And that does happen - for like, 1% of writers.

More often you're at a festival, flanked by two authors with a larger fan base than you (especially if you're just starting out), and you're staring down at tunnel made by the long lines of either side of you. It looks like a gauntlet, and that's exactly what it is - a gauntlet for your professionalism. Smile, be polite. Don't sulk. It hurts. It sucks. It's demoralizing. Welcome to publishing.

However, all of these people standing in line are bored, waiting their turn to meet their favorite author. Their eyes are wandering and whether they pick up your book or not, your name, cover, and title are making a visual impression on them, and that's important. You are gaining exposure, if not sales. You are there. You are in front of them. And that does mean something.

When my second book, IN A HANDFUL OF DUST, released I had an event that zero people showed up to. I mean that. The library staff didn't even pop in. I drove three hours, set up my tech, pulled up the first slide of my presentation... and waited. Nobody showed. Not a single soul. I waited 15 minutes, took a pic of the empty room, and left.

Yes, it sucked. But here's the thing - that was rock bottom. Never again would I feel hurt or shamed if only one person showed up. I would be grateful for that one person.

Lesson learned.

Others came, and I'm gathering them here so that fellow authors know what to expect - and not expect - from an author visit.

1) Always have copies of your own books on hand. If you're able to set up a bookseller to be present to handle sales at a school or library event, great! Still have your own books on hand. Twice I've had booksellers commit to showing up, and then fail to do so. Travel with boxes of books and enough cash to make change. The back of my car has literally hundreds of my titles in it. If I ever get rear-ended on the freeway I'm going to look like the world's biggest narcissist.

A caveat to handling your own sales: If you're going to do this and are traditionally published, make sure that it's permissible according to your contract. Some houses prefer that you not do this. Some are fine with it. Ask your agent for clarification. I won't go into how to handle reporting sales and applicable taxes here, because that could be it's own post. However, if that's something you're interested in knowing, say so in the comments.

2) Ask the organizer to recommend an Indie to handle the sales. Indies are more likely to take a personal approach, and to remember that the event is happening. Typically you'll be dealing with a single person at the store to handle you, and not relying on messages to be relayed on - and possibly lost. You're also sowing good faith and putting yourself in front of someone who makes the decisions on what gets stocked on their shelves - not corporate.

3) Know your tech. Really. Seriously. Know your tech. As a librarian for 15 years I've had presenters (not authors - they're smarter than that) show up with a laptop I don't have a convertor for, no thumb drive, demanding a screen, a projector, and speakers 5 minutes before go time. Those people suck. No one likes them.

Be in touch with your host before hand. Ask if they have a projector, and what inputs it has. Know your own laptop. What ports do you have? What kind of convertor do you need that will make it compatible with just about any projector? Buy one. Travel with it. Have your presentation on a jump drive, or available online (Google Drive or Dropbox) so that if your own laptop won't fit the bill (and it happens) you can pop the jump drive into their laptop. And if that isn't software compatible (and it happens) you can do it from an online platform. And that line of last defense? Make sure you know your Dropbox or Drive password. Did you change it recently? Check before you leave so you're not resetting passwords and clicking confirmation links while your audience patiently waits.

4) Get there early. Aim for half an hour. The library or staff or organizers will want to greet you, show you the presentation area, and get some face time. You will want to use the bathroom, check your breath, and get a drink. Allow time for these things. Nobody wants to see you pee down your leg.

5) Have something for everyone. Yes, making sales is nice. Not everyone who shows up is going to have the financial freedom to buy. Give them a bookmark. This puts your name, your title, and your cover in front of them. They may request it from the library, recommend it to a friend, or put it on their Christmas list. Putting yourself in front of people is always beneficial, immediate results or not.

6) Establish a mailing list. Here's something else you can offer for free that gives people an inside track, and keeps you (and your books) in front of them after they leave the building. I use Mailchimp. It's easy. You can go as simple as having a notebook and a pen for gathering information, and asking people for their name and email addresses.

Mailchimp offers an app that you can set up on your phone or tablet where people input their information and it's synced to your mailing list. Know your audience - if they are younger they are more likely to use the app. If they aren't, they will shy from the tech and not sign up at all, even if they are interested. Have both. The pen and paper has a downside - you have to input everything manually when you get home, and sometimes you can't read people's writing. However, it's better to have a chance of gathering a new reader than not at all. Make sure you pitch upcoming works during your presentation, then at the end mention the mailing list and say if they want to keep updated on when that new book is coming out - or for a cover reveal - they should sign up.

7) Ask Staff to be present, especially if you're at a school. The vast majority of schools are going to have teachers with their classes when they come to your presentation, but I've been in situations where I was shunted into a gymnasium with the entire high school body, and all the other adults shut the doors and sprinted away.

8) Be aware of any recent events in the community. I know that might seem like a lot, but bear with me. I usually book talk NOT A DROP TO DRINK when I am in schools, which opens with a girl shooting someone. I did a school visit where there had been a shooting a few years before, with multiple fatalities. I asked the librarian ahead of time if there were younger siblings, or people closely related to the incident still in the school so that I knew what I should - or should not - be stressing in the presentation. If I had launched into talking about gun violence casually, it could really land wrong. Fast.

9) Be aware of the politics of the community. A simple question ahead of time about what you should - or shouldn't - say in front of your audience is smart. How conservative is the crowd? Can you make a sex joke with the seniors? Better to ask than have a teacher standing in the back making a SHUTUP face at you.

10) If you're at a school, be chill. Not everyone is going to listen to you. Trust me. There are going to be pockets of kids that could care less. The teachers are there to handle that, not you. If you call out a kid, they might be chagrined. Or - they might answer you with an attitude that makes you look like the idiot, not them. Should they respect you? Yes. Will they? Not always. This is my personal take after 15 years standing in front of kids in the day job. If you're going to call someone out, make sure you're capable of shutting it down instead of amping it up.

I could go on... and on. I probably will in a separate post at a later date.

Questions?

Ask me in the comments!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Surprise Sunday Giveaway! DEFY THE STARS by Claudia Gray

Usually I don't post on Sundays, but I recently finished reading an amazing book that releases this week and I wanted to help boost in any way I can. Here's a bonus giveaway for everyone - on a Sunday!

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

Noemi would do anything to protect her home planet of Genesis from the attackers of Earth - even volunteer for a suicide mission. Earth-dwellers destroyed their own planets and are avid to find more space to settle - even planets that are already occupied. But it's not their own flesh they put in danger to conquer new worlds, but mechs - robotic soldiers built specifically for war.

When Noemi's recon mission mortally wounds a friend, she aborts to the nearby safe-space of an abandoned Earth ship, unaware that a highly revolutionary mech has been left aboard, abandoned for 30 years. Abel - the only mech of his kind - wants nothing more than to return to his maker, the progenitor of all mechs, whose likeness Abel is fashioned after.

But a glitch in his programming makes Abel unable to defy human orders - something Noemi quickly realizes when she discovers him. By releasing him she's earned his undying programmed devotion, which she can use to crash the gate that connects Earth to Genesis. Replacing her own suicide mission with one using a mech at the helm should be easy - but the more she's around Abel, the more Noemi believes she can see glimpses of a soul trapped where none should be.

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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Saturday, April 1, 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.

Being told he is going to die is an unacceptable diagnosis for Alex.  After all, he is not even shaving yet, and he is already having to decide who should have his things when he is gone. Decent hook, but it could be punchier. Rearrange some of these thoughts and use word economy to give it more zip. Ex: Learning that he's going to die before he needs to shave is unacceptable to Alex. -- There's everything in the able lines (minus giving your stuff away, which isn't necessary to the query, I don't think). Word economy is your friend in queries. 

But there is another option besides death.

Alex enters a life pod to preserve his body until a cure can be found for his illness, but he remains in the cylinder far longer than he ever expected. When he is revived by the binder Nezbit, Alex discovers that he is in a world that bears little resemblance to the one he left. Technology has disappeared, extinct animals have reappeared, and humans are no longer the only people. Interesting... but if technology has disappeared how would his life pod be sustainable? There may be a good answer for this (green tech?) but it raises the question. Also, I don't know what a binder is? That might need explaining. If it's a genre thing (like most agents who rep the genre would know) then you might be okay, but I would still recommend some illumination on that.

Once he accepts the unsettling notion that he is not dreaming and that these people seriously believe him to be the fulfillment of a prophecy, Alex decides that dying while trying to stop the imminent invasion by the disturbingly-named Monster King (and his army) beats just sitting around and dying anyway. So... he's still sick, right? Also, this is a single sentence. A bit longish. Also, the tone here is very light, with an edge of humor. If this is the voice of the book, that's fine. If it's not, don't got for being flippant.

With the help of Nezbit and a dozen “specialists” from around the kingdom, he begins a mission to slip through the enemy army, avoid the living dead, and slay a creature best described as an armored rhino standing on his back legs. What could possibly go wrong? So, what's a "specialist?" Is there a reason it's in quotes? Again, this voice is light and we're talking about heavy stuff. Like I said, if this is the voice of the book, that's fine. If not, it won't do you any favors in the query. "What could possibly go wrong?" is a generic way to end the query, so definitely come up with something better.

Overall, this is pretty generic. It's the future, the MC is a "Chosen One" type character, there are good guys and bad guys. What makes this different from every other story with that same base? The illness could be a differentiating factor, but we need to know more about it. Is he still sick? Does he need to save his people before he dies from it? What's a binder? Are these the other "people" you reference in the opening? Right now this is raising more questions than answers, so get some details into it.

Friday, March 31, 2017

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

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

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

Until someone murders him.

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

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


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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately focus on family portraits...

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

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

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


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Wednesday WOLF

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

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

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

A brief history of the evolution, courtesy of Wikipedia:

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


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

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Meg Eden On That Folder Full Of Rejections

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

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

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

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

Did anything about the process surprise you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 27, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Saturday Slash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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