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!


 



Monday, November 13, 2017

Where I'll Be This Week & NaNoWriMo Check-In

I've got a busy week this week - three appearances and (hopefully) will be finishing a draft of HEROINE. So yes, I'm busy! But, as always, I'm happy to be so.

TODAY! November 13 @ 7PM I'll be at Lakewood Public Library to discuss writing and the processof publication to help celebrate NaNoWriMo.


On Thursday, November 16 @7PM I will be at Geauga County Public Library (Geauga West Branch) to talk about my journey from aspiring to published writer, as well as give a little overview of all my books. You do need to register for this event so call the number below or follow this link to do so!

If you're located in Central Ohio and are looking to get a jump on the Christmas shopping I will be signing and selling at both of these events, as well as at the Cardington Holiday Bazaar on November 18, 9-3.

I just got back from the AASL (American Association of School Librarians) Conference in Phoenix, where I got to meet Daniel Jose Older and Alexandra Bracken. We had a great panel and I got to sign in both the Harper Collins and Follett booths, which was a good time. Although once again I ended having to explain that I might be funny and charming, but my books are not funny. Or charming.

Really my entire persona is misleading.

So how did I do on Nano while traveling and putting together these week's podcast episode? Not bad at all. I've written 19k words already this month, putting me slightly ahead of schedule and also pushing HEROINE into the home stretch. Nano helped me finish GIVEN TO THE EARTH last year, and it's going to top off HEROINE for me this year - thank you, Nano!


If you're doing the Nano thing and want to take about a 40 minute break to hear from another author and how they have managed their career, listen to the newest Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire podcast episode, featuring author Tori Rigby.


Friday, November 10, 2017

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: ULTIMATE SACRIFICE by S.E. Green

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.

Vickie's small town life has always been predictable... until the little neighbor girl turns up slaughtered in the woods, with evidence of a Satanic ritual surrounding the crime scene. Suddenly Vickie's family - her older brother's relationships, her younger brother's anger outbursts, and the fact that she babysat the victim - is of interest to the entire country.

With reporters camped on the road and her life under a microscope, Vickie works to clear her family's name, but begins to learn things she isn't sure she wants to know, such as how close her father was to the dead girl's mom, and some of the extracurricular activities that her parents' circle of friends participated in when they were teens themselves.

As her supposedly normal family unravels before her eyes, Vickie begins to realize that the people she knows best may not be who she thought they were.

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 8, 2017

Wednesday WOLF

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

Here's something interesting - because I majored in Religion in college, I learned Koine Greek so that I could read the New Testament from the source. And while that particular language has kind of slipped away from me since then (you try finding someone to speak Koine Greek with in the Midwest) I can still nail down a word or two that we've inherited in English.

One of these is a little piece of punctuation that everyone loves - the apostrophe! And what does that word mean?

If you know anything about Greek plays (and why don't you, I ask?) you know that there was a word that applied to just about everything contained therein - for example, an ode is composed of a strophe, antistrophe, and an epode. And no, there won't be a quiz later. But if you ever walk up to me in public and reiterate any little piece of knowledge I bestowed on you during the WOLF I'll be totally flattered.

What does this have to do with apostrophe? A lot, I swear.

In Greek plays, an apostrophe was when the actor addressed someone who wasn't there, whether they be offstage or simply uh... not there. Is Hamlet's speech to Yorick technically an apostrophe? Um... yeah I'm not as smart as I pretend to be so you'll have to ask someone else that question.

So what do we use an apostrophe for in English? To smash up our words, of course. "Do not" becomes "don't" - and the apostrophe stands for... the "o" that's not there. 

And while I know you're getting ready to blindside me with the ownership argument, (as in Mindy's pants) let me put it down in the ground with Yorick. Old English used "es" to denote ownership, and we dropped the pesky "e" and put in... the apostrophe to show that we went ahead and ditched the "e."

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Gayle Rosengren On Finding Inspiration in the Present to Illuminate the Past

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

Today's guest for the WHAT is Gayle Rosengren author of WHAT THE MOON SAID and COLD WAR ON MAPLE STREET. Gayle has worked in both the children's and young adult's section of public libraries, and as a copyeditor for The Pleasant Company, which produced the first American Girl books. In addition to her MG novels, Gayle has published short stories for children in Cricket, Ladybug, Jack and Jill and Children's Digest magazines.

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 and no. I had wanted to write a story about the week of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 for quite a while and had made a start on it more than once, but I didn’t really get serious about it until I realized how many people had never heard of it. I couldn’t imagine that a week that had brought our country the closest it had ever been to nuclear war had been forgotten! It seemed the fact that “nothing happened” meant it wasn’t important, whereas that was precisely the reason I found it of great significance. Nothing happened. The Soviet Union and US didn’t let pride and ego be their guide. They talked. They negotiated. And war was avoided. Isn’t there an invaluable lesson to be learned from this? 

So I wrote my story and finished it a few weeks shy of September 11th. The first attack on our own soil. I thought how frightened kids had to be seeing the twin towers crumble over and over again on TV and the focus for my story shifted ever so slightly. How does a parent or a teacher address the very natural fear of another person, especially a child?

Thus, communication became the underlying theme for my story. It was already there, but it wasn’t as strong as it could be, so I developed it more. The underlying message became, “When you have a problem or a worry or a fear you can’t handle on your own, speak up to a trusted adult in your life. Just by saying the words out loud the burden is lightened substantially. Talking about it makes it seem more manageable. Sharing it is comforting. Let’s face it; no one likes to suffer alone.

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

In this instance I already had much of the plot. I had based the story on my own experience of that frightening week. Some images remained vivid in my mind: John Fitzgerald Kennedy's special news announcement the night of October 22nd; the clusters of frightened kids on the playground the next morning, the bold headlines in the newspaper that week. I had a brother who’d been in the navy a few years earlier, so I decided to give my main character a brother in the navy who was smack in the middle of the action around Cuba.  

This gave her one more reason to be afraid of what might happen—not just to her but to her beloved brother. And instead of a mom who was open to talking about the possibility of nuclear war, I made Joanna’s mother a Great Pretender, refusing to admit that she was frightened herself, especially for her son, and eager to act as if there wasn’t anything to worry about, redirecting the conversation whenever Joanna did try to talk about her concerns, insisting everything was going to be fine. And that works for a 5 year-old and maybe even a 9 year-old, but not so much for a 12 year-old.

Do you draw any inspiration from the world around you, or do you use writing as pure escapism?

What was happening around the world definitely impacts what I write. In this case the book was published in August of 2015, before everything went completely off the rails. The wars in the Middle East were raging on and terrorism created a constant level of fear that really shot up if you had to fly and go through airport security. But it’s what’s been happening more recently in 2017 with North Korea that brought back all the emotions of the Cuban Missile Crisis and therefore made me think about my book all over again.

Monday, November 6, 2017

6 Tips For Table Selling

Any writer today will tell you that the time of just being an author is over. We're now marketers, publicists, promotion machines, and even hawkers of our own wares. The last one is the element that most of us like the least, and yes, it can be both intimidating and awkward. The first time someone put me behind a card table with stacks of my books on top and said, "Okay, now sell these to strangers," I was like, Dear God, but how?

Five years later, I kind of get it.

1) Stand up - Seriously. Stand. Up. If you're sitting, you're passive, and people are less likely to make eye contact with you. Stand up and say hello to people. Most often, they'll say hi back. This makes them pause - in front of your table. Good job.

2) Give them something - People love free things. Candy always works, but think about who that's going to attract - mostly kids. Do you have a book about rape culture or lobotomies on your table? I do. Can you sell those books to these free sugar bandits? No. So what's the point? No matter where you are, your audience is always readers not eaters, and the people that are interested enough to come to an event where books are being sold probably like books. They might even like yours.

So give them something related to your book... like a bookmark. Even if they only stop long enough to lift free loot off your table, now they're carrying around something they're going to use that has your name, book cover, and title on it - not something they're going to eat and then throw away the wrapper. Anyone can give them candy. Why don't you give them something that actually markets your book?

3) Hand them the book - This one can be tricky, but a good way to judge interest is to watch their eyes. If someone makes eye contact with you, ask them the question in #4. If they're not into you but you see their eyes scanning your wares and pausing on one, attracted by the cover, give them the one sentence pitch - then hand them the book, flipped to the back cover or opened to the dust jacket flap that has the summary.

Not taking it is rude, and they don't want to be rude. So they'll take it from you, and you just kind of cornered someone into reading your book summary. Yes, this move is a touch pushy and not for everyone - but remember - these are book people that came here to buy books. It's not like you're standing on a street corner selling meat out of the back of your van to vegetarians.

Example: I spot someone's eyes lingering on NOT A DROP TO DRINK, so I take the top copy of the pile and say, "This is post-apocalyptic survival set in a world with very little water," and hand it to them with the back facing up.

The vast majority of the time if I can get someone to read the back or the flap, they end up buying the book, and I just turned a browser into a buyer.

4) Ask them what they like to read - If you're like me and write across genres, you want to make sure you're leading them the right direction. Eyeing what else they're buying can help, too. If they've got an armful they picked up at other tables, say, "You're a mystery / fantasy / sci-fi reader? You might like..." + hand them the book + one line pitch.

Example: I spot four fantasies tucked under a lady's arm. "You like fantasies? This is the first in my fantasy series, set on an island continent with rapidly rising sea levels." Then I hand her GIVEN TO THE SEA.

Pro-tip: Are their hands full from other books they already bought? Offer to hold them, or at the very least let them set their load on your table so their hands are free to flip through your book.

Super pro-tip: Do you get a ton of tote bags from all the conferences and book fairs you attend? Take them to events like this and offer them to particularly weighed down persons.

5) Know your audience - Be a total Sherlock and dissect their clothing, then pitch appropriately.

Educators and librarians tend to shop in pairs or groups, and most of the time at least one of them will be wearing something that announces their profession, or school affiliation. If I see librarians or educators shopping I am sure to point out that DRINK was a Choose To Read Ohio title with cross-curricular applications, and that both THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES and THIS DARKNESS MINE were JLG selections. That won't mean much to the average reader, but it's selling gold to educators.

Likewise, if I spot that mystery reader I'll add that A MADNESS SO DISCREET won an Edgar Award - something that doesn't carry weight with the Sci-Fi crowd, but will impress them.

What else? Look for geek t-shirts promoting movies, video games, fandoms, or anything else you might be able to tie one of your titles to. But don't be a pretender - if you don't have the street cred to participate in the conversation you just started, you're going to look like an idiot... unless you're a consummate bullshitter. (Ahem).

Lastly, for the adults - check their hats, coats, pullovers, and windbreakers. A lot of employers give apparel with their logo to their employees, and there's a chance - small, but it's there - that you can sell them a book that way. I've sold DRINK to people who work for the water company, SPECIES to police officers, and MADNESS to mental health workers.

6) Make that pitch honest - I use this one-liner for MADNESS - "It's a Gothic historical thriller set in an insane asylum." People either dive for it, or back away - and I mean they actually back away with their hands in the air. That pitch is either a 1 or a 10, much like the book. You're either way into what I'm selling, or you're terrified of me. I'm fine with either reaction (hey, lobotomies aren't for everyone), and I'm being up front with you about content.

Same for my other books, especially SPECIES and DARKNESS. When a younger teen is looking at either of them and a parent is present, I typically ask how free they are with them and reading material. If it's even a question, I suggest that the parent read it first - or I direct them to NOT A DROP TO DRINK and IN A HANDFUL OF DUST. Yes, I want the kid to read a book of mine - but I want to make sure it's something they're ready for... and that their mom agrees with that assessment.

I know I make it sound easy, but it's not. Even for me. Sometimes I'm just not in the right head space to put myself out there, and most of the time I can't keep it up for the full 6 to 8 hours of the festival. I'll retreat into myself for a little bit, ten or fifteen minutes. Check my phone, talk to the author beside me, trade texts with my friends who I know are at the event, just take a little down time and a minor recharge before standing up again and saying hello to people.

Another author who is really good at table selling is my guest for today's Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire podcast episode. Listen below!



Friday, November 3, 2017

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: GIRL IN A BAD PLACE by Kaitlin Ward

Mailee and Cara take care of each other. Mailee is the star of the high school plays; Cara is the stage manager. Mailee can't keep her life together; Cara has enough organizational skills for the both of them.

So when the girls are invited to visit the Haven, a commune in the mountains near their suburban Montana homes, it seems like an adventure. Until Cara starts spending every waking minute there ... and Mailee thinks it's creepy, almost like a cult. When Cara decides she's going to move to the Haven permanently, Mailee knows it's a bad idea. But how far will she go to save her best friend ... from herself?

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Want to help me with 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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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Katie A. Nelson On Mixing Trial & Error With 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 Katie A. Nelson, author of THE DUKE OF BANNERMAN PREP, available from SkyPony. Formerly a high school English and Debate teacher, she now lives in Northern California with her husband, four children, and hyperactive dog.

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?

In my former life, before I became a full-time writer, I was a high school English teacher. One of the challenges that high school teachers face is trying to find a way into classic literature for their students. I taught American Lit for years, and when I taught The Great Gatsby it was always a struggle to relate the story to my students’ personal lives. So I’d been thinking about the themes and characters in the book for years before the story really took shape. 

One of the things we always discussed when I taught Gatsby was the idea of the American dream and the concept we have accepted as a society that if you just work hard enough, you can achieve anything you want. At the same time, I was coaching Speech & Debate. Speech & Debate is similar, in that it doesn’t take physical prowess to be successful, just a lot of hard work. And yet, as I taught and coached, it became obvious that there were issues of privilege at work in that area, just as there are in modern life. If your school has a large budget for Speech, if the students don’t have to work part time jobs and can spend their free time researching, etc. then that team has an advantage over less privileged schools. I thought it would be interesting to mash up the two ideas, and the initial idea for The Duke of Bannerman Prep was born. 

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

Initially, I tried to stay pretty close to the plot of Gatsby, hitting the major plot events in the classic novel. I found out relatively early, though, that it wouldn’t work for my story. In Gatsby, the narrator, Nick, observes the story, but it isn’t his story. I didn’t want that for my book, partly because it was one of the things that always bugged me about the original. So I made my Nick character (Tanner, in my novel) more of a central player, and the plot changed as a result of it. 

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

Definitely! My first draft of this novel was very different. It opened after the climax in the book, then flashed back to earlier scenes. While I like books that are written this way, it didn’t work for my story because it was hard for readers to care about these characters in crisis when they hadn’t met them yet. 

I also wound up changing the plot of the last third of the book, so that required a massive rewrite as well. My critique partners were so patient with me, especially because I kept saying that I’d finished the book, only to re-write it six or seven more times.

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

Seeds for stories come to me all the time. I think I have four in various notebooks right now. I usually need a lot of time to think about them, to develop characters and see if there is any kind of plot that can come out of those seeds. I’ve been known to bring several first chapters to my critique group, only to set them aside and work on something else. I don’t know why, but that’s just how my brain works.

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

Usually through trial and error. I’ll start working on something, only to find that the story isn’t coming. Either I can’t quite hear the character’s voice yet, or I’m telling the story from the wrong point of view, or the story isn’t developed enough to be an actual story. When I find that I’m really struggling to write, usually that means that I need to set it aside and work on something else. 

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

Both? I usually find that my story ideas come out of the “what if” questions that I often ask. I see a story on the news and wonder what could have happened if a choice had been different. Or I read or hear about a person and wonder what it was that led them to a crucial point in their lives. All of my novels have been contemporary novels, so there are usually seeds of the world around me in all of them.

At the same time, when I’m watching too much news or spending too much time on social media, it can be really scary and overwhelming. So I like to write to create a way out of darkness for my characters, which is invariably really what I need in my life at that particular time. 2016 was a difficult year, but I’ve also seen that out of all of the noise, some really amazing things have happened. People are speaking out more, getting involved and trying to make a difference. We’re having difficult conversations that we need to have. I’ve learned so much from the conversations that are happening, and I hope that my writing will be more empathetic as a result of it.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Do You NaNo? & Books By The Banks 2017!

We're close! November is National Novel Writing Month, and for a lot of us, this means warming up the knuckle joints and stocking up on K-Cups.

What is NaNoWriMo? It's a worldwide effort to get writers in front of laptops, typewriters, or just plain notebook paper, and write 50k words in a month. That might be a whole novel for you, it might not. You can start a book, finish one, or just crack out a lot of shorts over the course of the month. The daily word count goal is 1,667 words - totally doable.

I'll be NaNo-ing this year, looking to finish one project and perhaps start another!

And don't miss the newest Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire podcast episode, with guest Kate Watson. We talk about a variety of things, from how to market a quieter book, to the many different ways a person can be strong... and of course, we talk NaNo.



I spent the weekend at Books by the Banks in Cincinnati -- and of course I had to Storify that.

Saturday, October 28, 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.

Freja first experienced a claustrophobic attack when her aunt was sentenced to death. It's an interesting hook, but it sounds more like an anxiety attack than true claustrophobia if it came on suddenly. Still plagued by the memory, Freja dives into the planet-wide ocean if it's planet-wide how does she dive into it? Wouldn't she require something to dive off of? to escape the constant torment of her underwater home. Confusing. She dove into the ocean to escape her underwater home? Wouldn't it make more sense to simply say she ran away? Too bad the o-mask doesn’t protect her from the toxicity of the water. Or from her dead aunt’s voice. Definitely confused when it comes to world building. She lives underwater yet requires a mask, so are there underwater cities that are built for humankind? When you say she dives into the ocean you mean that she left her home, right? Definitely clarify. Right now it's foggy. And why would she leave if she knows the water is toxic?

Freja thinks she’s imagining it until her dead aunt leaves messages on her task screen so she's out in the massive ocean wearing only a mask? warning of sabotage and murder. When she overhears the cloister leader So she didn't leave? She's back home? Did the toxicity of the water drive her back? whispering about the same things behind closed doors, Freja searches for evidence. She abhors the cloister, but she won’t stand idle while something -- or someone -- attacks her home. It is, unfortunately, still the only habitable place left on the planet. This is the first real grounding we get for setting in this query. Unfortunately the plot is still really murky - she's getting these warnings of sabotage and murder, but sabotage of what, and murder of who? Why does she hate the cloister and her home life so much, especially if it's the only place to live? We need reasons.

To assist her, Freja recruits her best friend and partner-in-crime: Markus. He helps unravel their leader’s secrets until an accident puts him in a coma. He may know the last piece of information needed to expose the truth and rescue their home, but the cloister leader refuses to heal him. With magic, or medicine? To save Markus and protect the cloister, Freja will have to break stricter laws than ever before. But, in doing so, she’ll risk death by removal from the cloister. So what? She already left once of her own volition. Just like her dead aunt. Is she actually dead if she's receiving these messages?

SUBMERGED is a young adult science fiction novel complete at 84,000 words. It will appeal to fans of the TV show Ascension and Emily Skrutskie’s The Abyss Surrounds Us.

Right now you're being too vague about what the secret is. The biggest job of a query is to set the stakes - what's at risk? The only habitable place on the planet, okay. But WHY would anyone want to attack / sabotage such a place unless they are located elsewhere? Is it the only habitable place? Is that part of the plot? Don't be cagey in a query - tell us who the bad guy is, what their goal is, and how the protag is going to try to stop them. 

You're opening with an attack of some sort, but that doesn't actually seem to be key to the plot. Freja hates her home (why?) but can't leave (clarify) yet becomes the unlikely savior of it because... her dead aunt says so? It sounds like you have an interesting setting for an SF - spruce up the query to get the plot across.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: THE TEMPTATION OF ADAM by Dave Connis

Adam Hawthorne is fine.

Yeah, his mother left, his older sister went with her, and his dad would rather read Nicholas Sparks novels than talk to him. And yeah, he spends his nights watching self-curated porn video playlists.

But Adam is fine.

When a family friend discovers Adam’s porn addiction, he’s forced to join an addiction support group: the self-proclaimed Knights of Vice. He goes because he has to, but the honesty of the Knights starts to slip past his defenses. Combine that with his sister’s out-of-the-blue return and the attention of a girl he meets in an AA meeting, and all the work Adam has put into being fine begins to unravel.

Now Adam has to face the causes and effects of his addiction, before he loses his new friends, his prodigal sister, and his almost semi-sort-of girlfriend.

*********************************************************************************
Want to help me with 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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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Alex Lidell On Using Swag To Build Rapport

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.

Master and Commander meets Sarah J
Maas in a seafaring adventure of duty,
love, magic, and a princess’s quest to
protect her kingdom on her own terms.
My guest today for the SWAG is Alex Lidell, an Amazon bestselling author of AIR AND ASH (Danger Bearing Press, 2017) and an Amazon Breakout Novel Awards finalist author of THE CADET OF TILDOR (Penguin, 2013). She is an avid horseback rider, a (bad) hockey player, and an ice-cream addict. Born in Russia, Alex learned English in elementary school, where a thoughtful librarian placed a copy of Tamora Pierce’s ALANNA in Alex’s hands. In addition to becoming the first English book Alex read for fun, ALANNA started Alex’s life long love for YA fantasy books. Alex is represented by Leigh Feldman of Leigh Feldman Literary. She lives in Washington, DC.  Learn more at www.alexlidell.com

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

I have two very different freebies and they each have a purposeful role in my marketing strategy.  

Silicone bracelets. They are colorful, they stay on the wrist for others to see and ask about, and they have a reminder of my books on them along with a “Challenge The Odds” slogan. The greatest impact of these comes not from the freebie itself, however, but in the way I deliver it.  I shoot them like rubber bands at kids and teens who answer/ask a question, make a comment, or do something else I can find a reason to reward them for.  There is always laughter and people ducking to not get hit, and a general demolition of the barrier to interact. Also, ducking away from a rubber band creates an emotional engagement, that helps people remember who I am and wear the bracelet longer.

E-novella. FIRST COMMAND is a prequel novella to my TIDES series and for a while I used it as a freebie magnet to entice people to join my mailing list, interact, and get familiar with my writing. I still sometimes gift it to readers for things like answering a riddle in my newsletter correctly.

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

The bracelets were maybe $0.30-40 each?  I got them in such massive quantity that I don’t remember.  The novella is an ebook.

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

The bracelets seem to be fairly high value swag as far as in-person freebies go - however putting things out on a table has never worked as well for me as “shooting” bracelets at readers. I have learned to be careful - the bracelets really don’t fly far or hard but some people think they will.  So if I see a little fear, I aim at the floor or throw high up in the air.

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

I think it’s about utility, and people USE bookmarks more than other things. I had some expensive swag like dog-tags, which cost me $2 a piece, and I found that the low quantity made them less than helpful. I now stick to bookmarks, bracelets and e-books.

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

Bracelets. I stole that idea from another author :) 

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

Bracelets do not help me sell books directly, they build rapport, my brand, and people’s memory of me. Bracelets are one of seven touch points of advertizing the customer goes through before deciding to buy.

The novella absolutely helps sell books by getting readers to try the series. 

Saturday, October 21, 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.

Seventeen-year-old Zaymie is sick to her soul of living in the super-cramped, domed city that shields humanity from the over-polluted Earth. Cool, good opening with setting and genre very clear. So when she and her two friends almost discover a way to eradicate the contagion how do you "almost" discover something?, the government lets them in on a whopping secret: The pollution is about to finally eat through the dome and annihilate everyone. Impressed by the teens’ genius and dedication to improving humanity, the government selects them for a desperate, top-secret mission of traveling back in time and preventing the advent of the pollution. Wait - so they almost discover a way to fix the problem that is going to kill everyone, and instead of giving them the resources to try and actually fix the problem and use their genius in that way, they instead send them traveling through time? I mean, I get that it's a government solution but this seems pretty backwards.

But shortly after blastoff, so the time machine is like a rocket? Zaymie and her friends’ time machine malfunctions, stranding them in an unknown time filled with giant, mechanical spiders and ferocious, outlandish beasts, including bears with tusks and alligators with shark heads. Without tools to fix their machine so they can resume their mission, the teens climb a mountain in search of intelligent life—only to eavesdrop on a government meeting. Why would they climb a mountain in search of intelligent life? Are they going towards something like a building or a city?

Turns out Zaymie and her friends have been in the current time all along and were dispatched in a deadly jungle, left to die. Apparently the rulers lied to the public about Earth still being polluted, the jungle created by one of the cities’ sadistic rulers out of sheer enjoyment. What about the jungle makes it sadistic? Has it been created to dispatch problem humans? Or is the animal experimentation the sadistic angle? The rulers seek to relish unsure of word choice here planet Earth all for themselves, and the teens are a threat to that. Even worse, the rulers catch the teens eavesdropping on their meeting. Now Zaymie and her friends must make their way back to the domed city and inform everybody of the leaders’ corruption before the rulers liquidize the teens—or worse. Is liquidizing a common punishment? You might want to clarify.

Okay, so, the fakeout of the time machine not being a time machine does clarify some of the questions I had about that being a weird approach in the first para, but it makes more sense as I go. However, it still raises the question of how smart these kids are supposed to be if they are like, time machine - yeah! Sure! I'd consider starting the query with them already having been duped - and realizing it. Right now the query feels confusing, and raises questions about whether or not the manuscript itself is as well.

EXTINCTION DAY is a 65,000-word young adult LGBT light science fiction that will appeal to fans of Elizabeth Briggs’s FUTURE SHOCK. This is a multiple submission. Generally speaking they will assume it's a multiple submission so I wouldn't worry about saying so. My debut young adult dystopian novel, THE FOURTH GENERATION, was released by Clean Reads/Astraea Press on August 2015, with a middle-grade science fiction novel called PICKET TOWN on the way. Meaning it has a publication date, or that you're working on it? Clarify. I have a degree in Creative Writing from Fairleigh Dickinson University and won the individual award for Outstanding Achievement in Creative Writing. I also obtained an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University in 2013. I interned at Kensington Publishing Corp. in New York City in the Publicity and Marketing departments. Nice - great bio! I would clarify as well if you were formerly agented or if you submitted to the press on your own.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Book Talk & Giveaway THE 57 BUS by Dashka Slater

One teenager in a skirt.
One teenager with a lighter.
One moment that changes both of their lives forever.

If it weren't for the 57 bus, Sasha and Richard never would have met. Both were high school students from Oakland, California, one of the most diverse cities in the country, but they inhabited different worlds. Sasha, a white teen, lived in the middle-class foothills and attended a small private school. Richard, a black teen, lived in the crime-plagued flatlands and attended a large public one. Each day, their paths overlapped for a mere eight minutes. But one afternoon on the bus ride home from school, a single reckless act left Sasha severely burned, and Richard charged with two hate crimes and facing life imprisonment. The case garnered international attention, thrusting both teenagers into the spotlight

*********************************************************************************
Want to help me with 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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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Margo Kelly On Deleting 10,000 Words

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Margo Kelly, author of WHO R U REALLY? which was published by Merit Press in September 2014 and UNLOCKED which was published by Merit Press in October 2016. Margo welcomes opportunities to speak to youth groups, library groups, and book clubs.

Margo loves to be scared … when she’s reading a good book, watching a good movie, or suffering from the hiccups. She enjoys writing thrillers for young adults and hopes her stories give readers the goose bumps or the itchies or the desire to rethink everyday things. Margo is represented by the not-so-scary, but totally awesome, Brianne Johnson of Writers House.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

Writing the first draft of UNLOCKED is what converted me from a “pantster” (just see where the story takes me) to a “plotter” (detailing major plot points in an outline). I was having a blast writing that first draft of UNLOCKED until I wrote myself into a corner. I stopped and brainstormed for days, wondering where I’d gone wrong with the plot. Once I figured it out, I had to delete 10,000 words. TEN THOUSAND words. Deleted.

That turning point in the story happened when Plug and Hannah stopped to watch the firemen at Manny’s house. In the original draft, Hannah was arrested right there. In the final draft, she’s not. And that one change altered the entire outcome of the story. I will always be an outliner from now on. One of my favorite quotes from the story comes from that very scene in the book. Hannah said to Plug in the story: “We just fled the scene of a crime. … What does that make us?” Plug replied, “Determined.” Really, it was me, the author, feeling very determined in that moment to make the story work.

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

I can spew out the initial draft of a story in as little as thirty days, however, it’s messy and unfinished. I never let anyone see that first draft. For me, the real magic happens during revisions, and it takes me nearly a year to revise and polish a story. Somedays I feel like the process takes forever, but I know the extra time makes the story better.

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

I used to only work on one project at a time, because it was too hard to keep all the characters and stories straight in my head; however, recently, I’ve stepped away from one project, because I’ve become quite passionate about another. As soon as this new project is in my agent’s hands, I will go back to the unfinished project. Oh. But. I guess that means I can only work on one project at a time. Ha. 

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

No. The first time I sat down to write a novel, I had no fears because I was clueless. I had no idea there were so many things I did not know. 

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

One. And I still love that story. Maybe someday it will see the light of day. Maybe not.

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

I stepped away from my first manuscript, because I recognized after a gazillion rejections that I needed to start over with a new idea. I took everything I’d learned from the process of writing that first manuscript and everything I’d learned from studying the craft of writing and began again.

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

Brianne Johnson of Writers House is my agent, and I connected with her through the traditional query process. I sent her a query letter along with the first ten pages of the manuscript. She requested the next fifty pages; then the whole manuscript; and then a phone call. During the phone call, we discussed revision options, and I loved her ideas. After working together on the revisions, she offered me a contract.

How long did you query before landing your agent?

I queried for over two years before signing a contract. That time period included querying my first manuscript and my second. My second manuscript, WHO R U REALLY?, is the one that got me an agent.

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

Don’t quit. Rejection is part of the publishing process, but dejection is a choice. Let yourself be disappointed sometimes, but put a time limit on it. Do a day of pajamas, Netflix, and ice cream (or whatever works for you). Then get back to work. Make sure your manuscript is as polished as possible and when you receive feedback from agents or editors, consider the advice carefully and improve your manuscript based on the feedback you’ve received. Then throw yourself back into the querying trenches and keep at it. It takes time to connect with the right agent.

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

Seeing my debut novel in a bookstore for the first time felt like I’d released a breath I’d been holding for years. Huge sigh. Then a fist pump. And then I rearranged the shelving so my book would sit at eye level for the customers. (At the time, I didn’t realize the books were arranged alphabetically, and I’m sure an employee corrected it after I left, but it felt great to see it at eye level.)

How much input do you have on cover art?

Zero. The fabulous Frank Rivera designed both of my book covers. I had final approval on both covers but zero input on their design.

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

Writing can be such a solitary experience, and I was honestly surprised by the sense of community I found with other writers. Fellow writers can provide excellent moral support. One of the best things about the publishing industry is the people. Other writers are going through the same things I am, and being able to discuss issues with them has been a huge blessing in my life. Critique partners, agency siblings, and publishing siblings—these are some of the people with whom I’ve aligned myself. They bolster me up when I’m feeling dejected, and they cheer me on when I’ve received good news.

How much of your own marketing do you?  

I have participated in online book blog tours, contests, giveaways, and local in-person events. The publisher has also done marketing efforts, including sending advance reading copies to industry reviewers and providing giveaways. You can also find me on my site, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Goodreads, or sign up for my email newsletter!

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

It’s important to connect with fellow writers and readers, but it’s also important to focus on the act of writing your novel. So make sure you balance your time appropriately. Of course, if you’re writing nonfiction, you must build your platform before trying to get an agent. With fiction, the size of your platform is not as essential to getting an agent or a publishing deal.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

Maybe. Coming from the business world, I know statistics show that typically someone needs to see something seven times before finally saying yes to it. So if potential readers see me or my books online because of social media, then theoretically, it should increase readership. Maybe.

Monday, October 16, 2017

#PitchWars Critique: WILD ONES


My PitchWars mentor-partner Kate Karyus Quinn and I agree that we didn't read a single query that was bad - nor did we read any first pages that were unsalvageable. And honestly with as many submissions as we had, we were surprised at the quality of them. Which is why we decided to offer query and first page critiques on our blogs to everyone who submitted to us.

Quite a few people have taken us up on the offer. Through November, Kate and I will be posting these critiques on Mondays and Wednesdays. Any writer can learn from these - not just the author of the material being critiqued. You'll see my comments in green. Echoes are highlighted in blue.

Query:

WILD ONES is a YA fantasy novel in the same vein as Legend of Korra and Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Complete at 83,000 words, it features an #ownvoices protagonist who is queer and chronically ill. Normally I say to put this at the end of the query, b/c everyone has a title and word count. But I like your #OwnVoices angle so I would say this is an exception.

Ror flees the cracked earth and yellow grass of home, traveling to forbidden territories to hunt for food. But in the forest, Ror meets a monster, sunken within folds of strange, wrinkly skin, and hears more crashing through the forest. A hunting party, and she is the prey. Right now you're using your query more as a narrative, not as a query. It's reading like fiction, in other words, which is the wrong setup for a query.

Ror turns to run, but her body is wracked by a transformation. Limbs lengthen, knees bend backwards. Pale hands grow like bony spiders tethered to her arms.

She has become one of the monsters. She has become… human.

She’s brought to a city- an infestation of humans. Everyone seems to think she’s someone else, Why would they think this? Who do they think she is? and she’s imprisoned by the priests who control the city.

Humans are complicated, and their dark religion terrifies her. A few of them seem capable of kindness, but they all have their own agendas. As Ror struggles to escape, she discovers secrets that shatter her identity and threaten the priest’s iron grip on the populace. Ror must discover who she is, and decide whether to return to the forest, or stay and join the revolution. This is the first paragraph where you have it phrased the way a query should be, but it's coming way too late.

WILD ONES is told from three P.O.V. – Ror, the reluctantly human, Vega, a tech genius, and Leo, a young soldier invited to join a military coup against gods. So there are three POVs which I assume all get equal page time, but the entire focus of the query is only on one? That's not a good angle. 

WILD ONES is written as a stand alone, with the option of being the first of a trilogy.

This is the first novel to escape my “work in progress” drawer. I’m a member of multiple writing groups through SCBWI and attended the Writer’s Digest Conference in 2015. When I’m not writing or reading, I’m grilling my high school students for YA book recommendations.

Right now this query isn't working. We don't have a sense of why Ror was being hunted in the first place, what happened that made her turn human, why she would continue to be hunted as a human, why the priests would keep some humans prisoners but not others, what the secrets are that she discovers, what the revolution is, who is leading it and why, and we know virtually nothing about the other two POVs. Also, you say that it's #OwnVoices b/c of chronic pain and queerness, but there is nothing about pain or attraction in the query. 

My advice is to go back through some of the queries I've reviewed here on the blog using the #PitchWars tag and see how others have setup their queries. Look at them as a model and answer the questions I asked above, as well as get your other two POV's in there.

1st Page:

Ror looked at the cliff in front of her. You definitely need a better opening sentence, something that will get attention rather than show us something that could start just about any novel.        

"Remember that time mom found us right before we jumped from the high rock?" Orion asked, glancing over.

She was trying to avoid thinking about their parents. She and her brother had slipped off two days ago, claiming they were going hunting. They had barely stopped moving since. They ran away? Why? 

Orion nudged her. "Do you remember?"

Ror turned. "Grandfather said that broken bones heal stronger. We had this idea that if we broke all of our bones, we'd get super strength." I like this line.

Orion grinned. "So if we fall on the way down, let's just hope our theory was right." So they are at the top of the cliff, not the bottom? Opening line is ambiguous.

Ror squinted, trying to find a path. "Is this the stupidest thing we've ever done?"

"Your idea as usual."        

She paused to gaze at the ocean glittering beyond the isle. Then a few pebbles slid underneath her, and she half slipped, half ran down the mountain.

Her muscles sang with joy. For so many years she had silenced their cries of “Further! Faster!” At night when she slept her legs mimed freedom. Her body dreamed of wandering.

Now her muscles shouted, hoarse with happiness. She couldn’t quench her thirst to see what was just around the bend, just over the hill. It burned her to know she would eventually reach the edge of the isle. Maybe she could learn how to swim and continue forever, chasing the sun.

Overall not a bad opening, but you need a stronger first line and also to explain why they are out, away from home. And... judging by the query Ror is not a human at this time, right? You definitely need to get that out there. Readers are going to assume that your narrator is a human if you don't say otherwise.

Saturday, October 14, 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.

Carla Dubrov has taken the lives of many immortals, but the one that will forever haunt her was given. Maybe insert "willingly" here?

Bad blood has always run between the Dubrovs and D’Carteys. The Dubrovs and their kind, the Shadows, feed on human misery. They can manipulate a human’s mind, forcing him use "them" assuming that they can also manipulate females to kill, or hurt himself themselves and others. The D’Carteys, and their kind, the Luminaries, have the power to soothe humans, heal their suffering, and it is their responsibility to make sure no innocent dies at the whims of their enemy. Is the Shadow power something that is specifically of use to the plot? Right now humans don't come into this story at all, according to the query. Do their powers matter in terms of the query? Right now, they don't - which means you can trim everything after "human misery."

Despite the feud between their families, Carla falls in love with Anthony D’Cartey. When their love is discovered, her father condemns her to death, but Anthony gives his life to save her. His murder turns the smoldering feud into the war Carla’s father has long yearned for. Shattered by Anthony’s brutal execution, Carla’s grief turns her into the very killer her father wishes her to be; a killer he molds into his most lethal weapon. Great para here.

Carla barely escapes from under her father’s control, and manages to stay hidden for two hundred years. Okay, so that's a really long time and it raises the question of how that's handled in the plot in terms of pacing. Is it necessary for her to be gone that long? Are you just using a scene break and then saying Two Hundred Years Later.... But when she learns Anthony has a brother, Jason, she must resurface. Why? Her father wants nothing more than to bring D’Cartey to his knees by killing his second son as well. Now, Carla can finally honor Anthony’s sacrifice by saving his brother. But a sense of duty isn’t her only motivation. His kind, strong heart reminds her of Anthony, and no matter how hard she fights against it, Carla starts falling in love with Jason. Her feelings for him fill her with guilt of betraying Anthony’s memory, but even so, they are impossible to stop. Honestly I'd slice a lot of this extra verbiage as obvious. You can simply say, she finds herself "struggling with her feelings."
 
As her father’s assassins close in, Carla realizes she is the ultimate target. Her father used Jason to lure her out of her hiding and into his trap. If he kills Jason, her heart will be shredded again, and her grief will push her back into the darkness controlled by her father. He will use her against the very ones she's trying to protect. Humans? Or D'Carteys?

But before facing her father, Carla must find a way to silence the dark voice inside her head. The voice that craves the same things as her father: death and destruction. Her Shadow’s voice. This is the first indication that she isn't entirely against everything that her father stands for, the first indication of an internal struggle. If this is pervasive throughout the ms, it needs to be so in the query as well.

SHADES OF DARKNESS: THE LIGHT is a fantasy novel with series potential, complete at 83,000 words.

So, you're calling it a fantasy but it sounds more like urban fantasy. You mention humans, but I have no feel for setting. Is this on Earth? Is this high fantasy, but there are regular humans present? You'll need to clarify the genre and setting.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: THE SPEAKER by Traci Chee

Having barely escaped the clutches of the Guard, Sefia and Archer are back on the run, slipping into the safety of the forest to tend to their wounds and plan their next move. Haunted by painful memories, Archer struggles to overcome the trauma of his past with the impressors, whose cruelty plagues him whenever he closes his eyes. But when Sefia and Archer happen upon a crew of impressors in the wilderness, Archer finally finds a way to combat his nightmares: by hunting impressors and freeing the boys they hold captive.

With Sefia’s help, Archer travels across the kingdom of Deliene rescuing boys while she continues to investigate the mysterious Book and secrets it contains. But the more battles they fight, the more fights Archer craves, until his thirst for violence threatens to transform him from the gentle boy Sefia knows to a grim warrior with a cruel destiny. As Sefia begins to unravel the threads that connect Archer’s fate to her parents’ betrayal of the Guard so long ago, she and Archer must figure out a way to subvert the Guard’s plans before they are ensnared in a war that will pit kingdom against kingdom, leaving their future and the safety of the entire world hanging in the balance.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Mira Bartok: Write The Most Extraordinary & Beautiful Thing Possible

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Mia Bartok, author of THE WONDERLING. Winner of the 2011 National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography, Mira Bartok is an artist and writer living in Massachusetts. Her writing has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has been noted in The Best American Essays 1999 and other anthologies. She is the author of over 28 books for children and author/illustrator of the New York Times bestselling memoir and ALA Notable book, THE MEMORY PALACE, published by Free Press/Simon & Schuster.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

A little bit of both! I’m a planner, but am always open to sudden change. 

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

Since this is my first one, I guess there’s nothing typical about it! It took me about 2 ½ years from start to finish, including all the illustrations and rewrites. Long days of writing and intense nights of drawing! 

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

If a project is huge, like The Wonderling, I go full steam ahead on that project. However, I always have other things going on in different stages for the times when I have breaks. Right now, I have several things in the queue: a book of stories for adults, the start of a collaborative illustrated novel with a friend, a YA trilogy that’s part graphic novel, and several picture books that are half finished. And then…there’s that poetry book that’s in the drawer….and the series of collages with strange monsters….a couple podcasts and…and…now I’m nervous I won’t live long enough to finish them all!

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

I wrote the first draft of nonfiction book on the history of wonder (called The Book of Wonder) right after my memoir, The Memory Palace and before I began The Wonderling. I felt a lot of pressure to write another nonfiction book and so I gave it a rather unenthusiastic try. I knew it was time to stop when my agent left me this message, after reading some of my short stories: “Mira, I get it now. You’ve been trying to write about wonder— but these stories are wonder. You should do what’s in your heart, and it seems like what’s in your heart is fiction right now.”

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

My agent is Jennifer Gates from Aevitas Creative Management in NYC. I knew her a little before she was my agent because her ex-husband and my husband used to play in a band together. I never thought to ask her about representation because I didn’t want to seem opportunistic. (I know. That was stupid!) I called her up after I finished my first draft of The Memory Palace because I needed advice on how to gently and kindly fire my first agent who was lovely, but just not right for me. Jen gave me great advice and then immediately asked to see my manuscript. I thought she was just being nice. She wasn’t. ☺ She read it overnight and the rest is history. I simply adore her!  

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

Although I never had to query agents, I would say, knowing the business like I now do, writers really need to do their homework. They need to know what kind of work the agent represents, and also, send the most polished sample they have. There are so many great websites and books out there on this process. It’s worth taking one’s time and researching the info. Also, I know a lot of writers meet great agents at writing conferences, like Bread Loaf or other places. If you take a long time to write a book, your book deserves the same care to find the right person to represent it.

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

I had four books come out simultaneously, all nonfiction books on ancient and living cultures for middle grade children from a series I created from 1990-98. Suddenly, I saw them in every bookstore window in Chicago, my home town. I just couldn’t believe it! I had never intended to write books, so it felt like a very strange surprise. I also had another feeling, which was: who am I now? I had always been a working artist in the avant-garde gallery world and now suddenly I am writing children’s books? So I suppose I had mixed feelings. Happy, confused, concerned…but mostly happy.

How much input do you have on cover art? 

I’ve had a lot of input on every single cover. Lucky me! 

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

I learned that illustrating one’s own book is one of the hardest things on this planet! 

How much of your own marketing do you?  

I used to have a blog but don’t anymore. I’m on Facebook and Twitter. I do as much as I am able to handle while living with a brain injury. I get overwhelmed by too much input, especially online. But before a book comes out, I do do a lot on Facebook and Twitter, and also send out emails. 

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

I have always approached making books not from building a platform or having a brand (I kind of cringe when I hear those words—sorry!) but from the belief that one should write the most extraordinary and beautiful thing possible. That is the most important thing of all. A strong, lyrical voice and a story full of heart come first. The rest is secondary. 

Do you think social media helps build your readership? 

I don’t really know. I know I’ve connected with some people on social media, but most of my deeper connections have happened in person—at book events, conferences, bookstores, and through friends of friends. Most of the people I connect with on twitter are medievalists, climate change scientists, folklorists, and mapmakers—all things I’m interested in. I don’t know if a single one would read my books. As for Facebook, it’s a huge mix, and probably I have many more readers there. But my favorite way to connect with readers is through the ancient art of telling someone a story, face to face. Now, that’s magic!