Friday, June 23, 2017


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.

Mercedes Moreno is supposed to do something great with her art... if only she could remember how to create it. Last year she won awards, this year nothing is happening. With her abuela in a coma in Puerto Rico and her mom gone to be by her side, Mercedes finds herself at home with her younger sister, who has suddenly developed a musical talent that borders on genius, all because of a gifted piano that appeared in their front lawn one morning.

With her sister blossoming and her own gifts dying on the vine, Mercedes finds inspiration when Lilia, her mysterious new neighbor, invites her to the Red Mangrove Estate. In Lilia's studio, Mercedes and other artists find creativity without having to search for it. Each room could house a painter, a sculptor, a band, or even a bartender, but the catch is that nothing you create inside of the Estate can leave. Any canvases that slip outside the door suddenly become blank.

As she worries over her grandmother's health, her mom's absence, the new turn of her sister's life, and the secret love she harbors for her best friend, Mercedes must find a way to bring her art to life outside the walls of the estate.
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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Monday, June 19, 2017

What I'm Up To This Week

Today on the podcast, Tiffany McDaniel, author THE SUMMER THAT MELTED EVERYTHING joins me to talk about eleven years of rejection, making sure that human emotion and characters trump the setting, being a female author who prefers to write dark themes, and the cons of using technology in your manuscript.

On Tuesday, June 20th I will be at the Mentor Public Library, where I will be talking about the true story of mental health care in the 1890s and the history of the Athens Lunatic Asylum, the setting for A MADNESS SO DISCREET.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Book Talk & Giveaway: THE ART OF STARVING by Sam J. Miller

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.

When Matt's sister Maya runs away, he's convinced that Tariq and his friends did something terrible to her. He knows that Maya called Tariq the night she split, but has no idea why. Anger swells in Matt - anger at Maya for leaving, his mom for letting her, at Tariq for whatever he did, and at himself. It's hard to hate Tariq when he's gorgeous, which makes Matt hate himself even more.

The only thing Matt can control in his life is what he eats - or how little. With a dwindling calorie count - and sometimes days passing with no food - Matt makes a discovery. Food is slowing him down, dumbing his senses. When he doesn't eat, Matt finds he develops super powers. He knows when people carry secrets, can hear conversations across their collapsing town, and can even suspend time if he tries hard enough.

But his plan to get close to Tariq only to destroy him soon backfires, as Tariq's own secret is something Matt could have never guessed. With his body wasting away, his heart falling hard for Tariq, his mother slipping further into alcoholism and his sister nowhere to be found, Matt keeps pushing himself harder while eating less.

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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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Elle Cosimano & The Inspiration for THE SUFFERING TREE

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 Elle Cosimano, whose debut, Nearly Gone, was a 2015 Edgar Award finalist and winner of the International Thriller Award. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, Horror Writers Association, and Sisters In Crime. She was selected for the 2012 Nevada SCBWI Agented & Published Authors’ Mentorship Program, where she worked under the guidance of Ellen Hopkins.

Her newest release, The Suffering Tree, is available today!

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?

Back in September of 2010, I chaperoned my youngest son’s kindergarten field trip to a local apple orchard. I had just finished drafting my very first book. This was a few months before I’d found an agent and knew I would have a career as an author, but my mind must have been hungry, already searching for that next potential story. As the school bus rattled down a winding country road, I caught a glimpse of an old, private cemetery in the middle of a grassy field. It was little more than a small ring of leaning headstones under a dying tree.

The image struck me hard and the memory of it stayed with me for days. The fields along that stretch of road were lush with soybeans and corn, almost ready for harvest. The trees surrounding those fields were dense and high and emerald green everywhere you looked. But that field . . . Under that tree was a circle of weeds and dying grass. It was as if nothing wanted to live near those headstones. The tree itself looked like it had died a long time ago. The bark had already mostly peeled away and the branches were bleached white by the sun. I started wondering what had sucked all the life from that tree and the ground around those graves. I started wondering who was buried there.

A few days later, I drove back to the field with my camera. I walked through the cemetery, trying to read the names and dates on the stones. They were old and worn thin, covered in moss. Some had heaved up and others leaned as if they’d fall over. The tree and that ring of fallow ground, felt so grossly out of place in that sunny, green field. And all those questions—who lived here before, who died here, who lived here now and did they also feel out of place somehow—became the seed for the rest of the story.

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

I always start with character. Going into it, I knew I was telling two stories—the story of the person who was buried under the tree, and the story of the person who lived on this farm now. So I started by creating those people (their lives, their circumstances, the struggle that brought their stories together) first. I had to figure out who each of the characters were, and how they both ended up here, in this cemetery, on this farm, in the same moment in time. 

I started with Nathaniel Bishop, kidnapped as a child from the streets of England in the 1690s and sold illegally into a seven-year indenture into the Maryland tobacco colonies to the unscrupulous and violent owner of a tobacco plantation. From there, I had to figure out how he died, what his connection was to that tree, and what reason would he have for coming back from the grave.

Then came my present day story. Who would find Nathaniel when he emerged? Why was she there? What connected their backstories? What was their shared objective? What did they most yearn for and why? And that’s where Tori Burns’ story was born—a modern day high school student struggling with depression and self-harm and the death of a parent, and her ensuing move to a strange farm and the mysterious inheritance of a home and cemetery there.

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

I think my plots are always a moving target. I know my beginning and I usually have a hazy destination in mind for the end. But the middles are often a mystery to me, and I have to write my way through them. Often more than once. Sometimes more than twice. Revision is usually where I uncover the truth in my stories. The theme and the threads all seem to make themselves known at the end of that first draft, and come together as I begin to tinker with it.

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

I always have at least three of four unexplored story ideas floating around my mind. A moment, a picture, a conversation, or a place will inspire an idea that becomes the seed. It grows into a scene in my mind, and eventually an idea for a story. And each one nags at me until I start hashing it out and start putting it down on paper.

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

It’s usually the one that’s nagging the loudest. Once I clearly hear the character’s voice in my head, and picture at least one scene that sets the mood and the tone of the story, I’m off and running on that one, and the others have to sit quiet for a while.

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

This book was mostly written before 2016 began, but I do think there are some relevant themes and ideas running through it, namely the corrosive effects of hidden prejudices and latent bigotries, everyday racism and sexism that goes unnoticed or unchecked. How fear and greed can make us want to demonize others, twist the facts or bury the truth about ourselves when it doesn’t suit our own ends. And how the damage can rise up and haunt us over generations, until we’re finally forced to confront our ugliest fears and dredge up our deepest secrets.

I guess you could say I write for escapism. Because I love making up and telling tales. But my stories are alive and my characters are real to me. They breathe and they bleed, and there’s a whisper of our own world blowing through all of them.

Monday, June 12, 2017

I Worked All Day... And Didn't Write A Word

Last week I tweeted this:

Quite a few authors seconded me on that - and then it happened again this past Friday. I was up at a decent hour (for a self-employed person) and spent the entire day working, yet didn't write a word on a WIP. How's that possible?

I'll break it down.

9-10 AM: Exchanged texts with a writer whose book I'm blurbing about talking points of her novel and what kind of wording worked best to get those across in a small snippet.

10-12 PM: Answered emails. Yes, honestly, for two hours. I was on a trip with very little internet access (but many, many ticks) from Monday-Wednesday and had a buildup of emails that needed answering. Even without that influx, I do generally spend roughly two hours on emails every day.

On this particular day I needed to listen to audio snippets from three different actresses for the audiobook version of THIS DARKNESS MINE to choose who I liked best for the narrator, answer emails from both the agent and the editor about marketing things coming up, confer with the coordinator for my event that evening to make sure necessary tech was in place, answer questions about a different event concerning best time / date options, and fill out questionnaires about yet another event concerning tech, content, and what books I would like to have available for sale at said event. I also fielded and sent emails with upcoming podcast guests, looking to find good times for us to get together to record our sessions.

12-1 PM: Read and critiqued a project pitch for a fellow author, then conferred with her over text about whether it not it represented the manuscript well. (It did, because this is RC Lewis we're talking about, and the woman knows how to write a pitch.)

1-2 PM: Finished writing up notes for a manuscript critique of a Middle Grade I had read for an aspiring writer. (If you're interested, click here). Emailed editorial letter and line edits to the author.

2-4 PM: Wrote a proposal for a manuscript of my own, sent it off to trusty RC Lewis who read, reviewed, and sent back to me with her nitty-nit-picks which keep my work so clean in the first place. (I don't know how to use a semi-colon, basically). Sent proposal off to the agent, realized I desperately needed to put on pants and head to an event.

4-7 PM: Drove to an event, did my thing, met with some awesome teens and had a great talk at a library, sold some books, signed some books, drove home - I did also eat at this point, you'll notice I hadn't done that yet - and upon getting home checked in on email once again in order to follow up on all the conversations that resulted as part of those earlier emails.

7-8 PM: Uploaded artwork and ordered swag for THIS DARKNESS MINE bookmarks and postcards, then dealt with formatting issues when they came back and needed adjustments. Said bad words. Re-uploaded.

8-11 PM: Read a book! Yes, it's part of what I consider work - with a healthy dose of pleasure, as well, of course. I've got ARCs piled on the nightstand that need to be read, some for blurb purposes, some for being featured here on the blog, as well as for giveaways. I also read the novels of my upcoming podcast guests, so that I can have informed, intelligent conversations with them about their work and process.

That's an entire day of work, and very little writing. This is the life of a writer - and so little of what we do is writing.

Friday, June 9, 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, June 7, 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.

Ever heard someone say they had to run the gauntlet? Most people know what this means, but not perhaps the origin of the word. And for those of you who don't know what it means, I'll enlighten you.

During the Thirty Years War (1618- 1648) the English army adopted a punishment they observed their German counterparts employing. The offending soldier stripped to the waist and ran between two lines of their fellow solders, each of whom was holding a whip or a lash, and they beat their buddy on the back as he passed. Number of run throughs and number of knots in the lashes depended upon the severity of the soldier's crime.

Sound rough? Well, we're German. However, the German army claimed to have picked it up from the Swedish, where it was known as gatloppe, literally translated as "the running of the lane."

So think about that next time you're in a really nice development whose streets are all called "Insert Relaxing Word Here - Lane."

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Alexandra Ott On Continuing to Write While On Submission

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 Alexandra Ott, author of RULES FOR THIEVES, from Aladdin (Simon and Schuster). She graduated from the University of Tulsa with a BA in English and is currently an editorial intern at Entangled Publishing.  In her spare time, she plays the flute, eats a lot of chocolate, and reads just about everything. She lives in Oklahoma with her tiny canine overlord.

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

I had a basic understanding of the process; at the time, I’d been interning at a publishing company for about 6 months, so I knew a little about what acquisition is like on the editor’s side of things. But it was a completely different experience to actually go on sub myself!

Did anything about the process surprise you?

I was actually surprised by how quickly the process went! I knew that it could take a year or more, so I tried to prepare myself for a long wait. I didn’t even consider the possibility that we might get an offer after only a few months, but we did!

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

I did look up a few of the editors at first, but I stopped pretty quickly. Imagining those editors reading my manuscript made me too nervous. Personally, I found it less nerve-wracking to try and focus on other things.

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

It really varied, but I think the majority of the responses came in around the two month mark. Since we received an offer relatively quickly, my agent had to nudge quite a few of the editors we hadn’t heard from yet; I don’t know how long it would have taken otherwise.

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

Work on the next project, if you can. I ended up finishing a draft of a novel that’s very different from the one on sub, which helped me to focus on something else. I also highly recommend leaning on your critique partners for support!

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

For the most part, I found it much easier than querying. I asked my agent not to share the actual rejection emails with me, which helped a lot. There was one rejection in particular that was very disappointing, but I didn’t have much time to get too discouraged, because we received an offer soon afterward. :)

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

It was so surreal. My agent emailed the offer to me right away. I wasn’t expecting an offer to pop up in my inbox, but it was a great surprise! At first I didn’t believe it was real.

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

Yes, I had to wait several months while the contract was negotiated before the deal was announced. At the time it felt agonizing, because I didn’t know how long the wait was going to be and I was so excited to share the news! But in hindsight, it could have been a much, much longer wait; I was incredibly lucky to have both the submission process and the contract negotiation go quickly. :)

Monday, June 5, 2017

Why I Push My Backlist

As an author you quickly learn that a big part of your job is marketing. Once you are published you are no longer just a writer - you're a promoter, marketer, social media director, and even a traveling salesman. Many of us aren't well-suited for standing behind a table and hand-selling our books at events, but it's a skill you must learn if you plan on doing many events.

Hand-selling becomes easier as your backlist deepens. When I was a debut author with one title on my table - and, only in hardback for the first year - I might sell 7 or 8 copies at an event... and that was a good event. If post-apocalyptic survival wasn't your bag, I didn't have anything else to offer you.

This remained true for my second release, IN A HANDFUL OF DUST, as it was a companion novel to NOT A DROP TO DRINK. However, now that DRINK was out in paperback, readers were more likely to take a chance on a $10 paperback and a writer they weren't familiar with, rather than shelling over $18 for a hardcover just out of curiosity.

It gets easier.

Now I've got a table of titles. I can push DRINK & DUST to readers as young as 13, because they don't have the content that my newer titles do. I've also go that extra tag-on to add that DRINK has been optioned for a film - which never fails to drawn interest.

I snag older readers - and many, many adults, with A MADNESS SO DISCREET. Do you like mysteries? Historicals? Serial killers? Asylums? I've got all four right here, with a gorgeous cover that makes for an easy sell. And if I'm in Ohio I always add that it's set in Athens, home of Ohio University.

No matter where I am, THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES continues to be my best seller, even though it's only available in hardback at the moment. Teachers, librarians, booksellers, reviewers and bloggers have already done the work for me. I have readers arrive at my table knowing what they want already. And if you're not familiar with it I'll tell you it's a rape revenge vigilante justice story... so it's either right up your alley or it's not.

If you're a fantasy reader I've got GIVEN TO THE SEA fresh off the press, its eye-catching cover stopping many people who would normally pass on by. In my experience as a librarian, you either are or are not a fantasy reader, so I don't have to push that one too hard. I simply say if you like fantasy, check this out, place it in their hands with the back cover facing up so they can read the summary - they're either going to jump or not.

With this array - and more to come - I'm easily moving 50 to 60 copies at events now. Yes, it helps that I have established readers and a fan base now, but at many of my recent events I was out of state, and my returning fans tend to be Midwesterners. When I've got a reader new to my work in front of me, they often ask what's the best one to start with, and I invariably hand them NOT A DROP TO DRINK.

It's a good introduction to me - sparse, brutal, and honest. But it's also got the least amount of objectionable content, so I can hand it to a reader unfamiliar with my stuff as a way to dip their toe in the water. DRINK released in 2013, and continues to sell for me. When I'm asked which titles I want stocked at events (most cap your table at 5 books, some at 3), I always make sure DRINK is listed. It's a reliable stand by, a safe book to hand to a younger reader or a parent or grandparent looking for a gift.

And of course, it's my debut. The fact that it continues to find new readers makes me happy, and it's out there doing its job - introducing people to me.

Saturday, June 3, 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.  

Please consider representing my speculative thriller, Song of the Forest. Complete at 88,000 words, it appeals to fans of Kat Richardson, Kelly Armstrong, and Charlaine Harris. Cool comps, but sometimes using big names can backfire because a lot of other queries may be using them too - as long as it's accurate, that's great. Just be sure it is.

Serial killer Karl Marsburg held gifted later on in the query it becomes clear that by gifted you mean something other than that she's good at her job. It changes he nature of the genre, so I'd make it clear earlier that you mean psychic abilities. NYPD detective Ellen Pijiw captive for three days. He tortured her and told her his plans for future crimes that he wanted to commit with her by his side. He had planned to keep her permanently – to make her into his companion, so he could use her mind reading abilities to attain more victims, but she was rescued by her friends in the NYPD before he finished "changing" her into a monster like him.

Three years later, Elle is finally starting to win a long battle with depression and PTSD. She’s returned to her small hometown in the middle of Maine where she works as a reporter for her uncle’s small newspaper. She is in love with her best friend, Deputy Camille Desjardins, but is afraid of being anything more than friends that because of what Marsburg did to her. What do you mean by this, specifically? Because she's afraid maybe he actually did change her in a fundamental way, or is this still a PTSD issue?

When the children of women who are Marsburg’s “type” the women are the type or the children are the type? start disappearing from The County, not caps the sheriff calls on Elle to use her abilities to find them the missing people. As she finds herself working side by side with Cam, it becomes difficult to deny her feelings for him. Okay, I totally thought Camille was a chick. The problem is, every touch carries the threat of a flash back. Marsburg’s return not only offers Elle a chance at revenge, but an opportunity to heal wounds that never closed.

Elle’s disabilities are partially based off my own experience with depression and social anxiety. Her struggle with PTSD was drawn from research and my experience with a minor case of PTSD caused by a car accident. I was the second place winner of Women on Writing’s Winter 2016 Flash Fiction Contest. My speculative, short fiction has been published in Secrets of the Goat People, Helios Quarterly,  Dark Magic: Witches, Hackers and Robots, and Theme of Absence.

Nice, good bio. Overall, this is strong. I would say that we need to know more about what Elle's specific abilities are, and how she is using them to aide in the investigation. Also, does she feel that Marsbrug is targeting her, or is it simply a case of him popping up in the same place as she is?

Friday, June 2, 2017

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: US KIDS KNOW by JJ Strong

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.

Brielle and Ray know that Cullen Hickson is trouble, but that doesn't mean they can say no to him. Brielle is suspicious that Cullen might have orchestrated the car crash that made her finally notice him, but now that he's in front of her she can't make herself look away. Cullen is different from her other friends, and makes her feel alive in ways they can't.

Ray feels it, too. Cullen makes it possible for him to do things he never thought he would - like committing some small-time crimes that slowly escalate as his need to push the edge grows. Ray's looking for God, and the only time he feels close to understanding anything is with Cullen.

Cullen, meanwhile, finds himself fulfilling the role the siblings have cast him in - even if it isn't who he truly is. The three of them push and pull each other through life changing - and ultimately deadly - scenarios.

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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