Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Book Review: Behind the Scenes: Dahlia Adler

image: Goodreads
Behind the Scenes
By: Dahlia Adler
YA Contemporary
Published: June 2014

This book has everything: Hollywood, teen TV dramas, prom, and deeper family issues. In Behind the Scenes, Ally's childhood best friend Vanessa is in the Hollywood spotlight, having just been recruited as the lead for a hot new teen soap (think The Vampire Diaries or The O.C. ). Ally, a top student,  may need to sacrifice her Ivy League college dreams after her dad's melanoma diagnosis turns fatal. She picks up a job as her friend's personal assistant where she meets and falls for Vanessa's costar, Liam.

The balance of Hollywood vs. real life felt so realistic here. Seeing, literally, behind the scenes of a TV production with the publicists and paparazzi and the press who skews the truth, makes that whole side of life seem far less glamorous. Ally is a great character because she's loyal to Vanessa, not a TV show. Liam has a great backstory, and his relationship with Ally, with his costars, and his own family are explored and played off of Ally's experience. Lots of conflict that felt realistic despite being set among celebrities and the TV/movie scene.

I recommend this for fans of writers like Sarah Dessen and Morgan Matson. A great summer read with that touch of depth from the family issues to provide a really engaging read.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Write Fast, Meet New Writers: Fri. August 15 #ChiWords Write-in + prize!

Photo: Shan Jeniah Burton via WANAcommons
This Friday join Chicago area romance writers for a twitter 1,000 word/1 hour write-in hosted by me!


From 8:45 pm CST to 10:15 this Friday August 15 join us with the twitter hashtag #Chiwords

You do not need to write romance or be a part of RWA to join. The point is to encourage you to get some wordcount down with the online support of other writers.

Did I hear something about a prize?

There will be a prize. A book of romance fic-leanings from one of the many great books RWA conferences have netted me.

Why Write-ins are Awesome

Last year I joined my first blog accountability group. A group of YA writers decided they wanted to check in with each other weekly, so they did. As simple as that. I've done 3 different check-in challenges over the past year where I set my own weekly goals for writing, revision, critiquing--whatever, and then checked in.

The results: last year I drafted two manuscripts in 4 months. Yup. Two manuscripts. Four months. 

These were first drafts*. One was for Nanowrimo, which has its own built-in word count goals and motivation system, but I don't think I would have attempted Nano last fall if I hadn't had so much progress with my other draft.

Checking in with other writers--whether it's word sprint check-ins on twitter, goals on blogs, or a simple text or phone call to a writer friend--works. Maybe overwhelming to some, but go ahead and try it. You might find you finish more than you would since others are counting on you.

*those unwieldy beasts which will be later dissected and torn apart, but without their existence THERE IS NO BOOK.

Hope to see you this Friday!

#Chiwords sponsored by: Chicago North RWA and Windy City RWA chapters

Additionally, Windy City's Four Seasons contest is currently open to entries through Sept. 30.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Ready. Set. Write! #10

Welcome to Ready. Set. WRITE! A summer writing intensive with the purpose of writing, revising, planning, and keeping each other accountable.

We will share goals on Mondays. You can sign up at any of the host blogs (JaimeAlisonKatyErin). Don't forget to hop around to encourage other participants!

I missed last week's check in due to my Pitch Wars bio going up. See Brenda Drake's blog for more details. Or, check out the twitter tag #askmentor today at 2 pm and 6 pm EST for a Q &A on all things Pitch Wars.

Last week's goals:

Revising my priority manuscript. My agent has been patient, which I appreciate. I've read 2 crafting books and have gone through the whole MS on changes, now weeding stuff out (this is the book that was supposed to be done already!).

I received feedback from a paid charity critique from an NYT mega YA author. Let me tell you, this author does not pull punches. And I'm grateful. I've met her a few times and I know her "voice" but it still made me cringe to see some of the feedback. And yet--she's right. What doesn't kill your manuscript, must make it stronger, right?

The good news from these challenging few weeks, is this very manuscript is a finalist for RWA's Unpublished Maggie award! (Yes Mom, there is writing award named after you ;) ) The Maggies are chapter contest award and are considered one of the big ones, like a path to the Golden Heart, which is RWA's national level award. I got a phone call notification from Georgia and everything. Pretty cool!

This week's goals:

Keep plugging away at my edits. Come up with something for my critique group next week. Pitch Wars prep.

A favorite line from my story:

RE: worrying about her upcoming summer fashion internship: 
I’d already had nightmares about dropped stitches and dropped crotch pants, which I would never for the life of me understand.

The biggest challenge I faced this week:

Making this current draft work. Questioning everything. But progress!

Something I like about my WIP:

I will LOVE it when it's finished.

How is your writing this week? 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Insecure Writers Suport Group IWSG

In world (cue movie voiceover) where writers lack no resource to aid their craft, where writer-geared software, word count trackers, Wikipedia, the Internet, and social media provide ease, access, and tips galore, this should make book writing a virtually seamless process, right?

We can easily chat with published authors, aspiring-to-be-published authors, and every stage in between. We set goals and benchmarks, which are all fine and good, and arguably necessary. But we also compare ourselves. We worry. We might even panic.

When is it my turn?

The question might actually be, when is it time to slow down?

Wait, no. Not slow. Fast! Everything in publishing is slow. That's why I need to finish my book fast or it will another one/two/five/ten years will pass.

Am I the only one?

I've been reminded lately it's okay to take time with writing. I still have my goals and deadlines, but that panic I feel to get XYZ finished, where does that panic source from? And what's the hurry?

Now, if you're on an actual deadline from a publishing professional, or even with a critique partner, obviously we need to be mindful. But for me, I'm learning to balance downtime--personal stuff outside of writing, reading for enjoyment--without feeling guilt that I'm not one of those writers who writes every day with a set wordcount. I write most days. Some days I stare at the screen awhile and then go write a blog post instead. Some days I move the same two chapters around and edit the same three sentences.

And that's okay, too. Someday I'd like to be that writer who gets up at 6 am and writes exactly 1000 words a sitting, then goes about her day. I am not that person right now because there are days I stop to read a book about plot when I can't solve a plot problem, or I lose focus and need renewed inspiration. Sometimes that inspiration takes five minutes, or it might take five days.

What have you done to slow down? What pressures do you feel to finish a project?

Don't forget to check out the other participating blogs here.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Pitch Wars Mentor Time!

NOTE: I am mentoring for Young Adult Pitch Wars entries

Hi, everyone! I am beyond excited to join this round of mentors for Pitch Wars. This post is where you read all about me, my preferences and my mentoring credentials, and determine whether we are meant to be Pitch Wars besties.

I kept a close eye on the specific preferences and wishlists of our cultivated agent list. This contest isn't about me or what I like. It's about you and your book, and prepping your manuscript for agent consideration. This is your dream, and if you're reading this, it means you're willing to take the next step, even if it's scary, or will push you further than you've gone so far with your writing.

What I Like To Read
My favorite YA book
As a writer of Young Adult Contemporary, I am drawn to stories that balance themes of family, self-discovery, and romance. Think the Sarah/Saras: Dessen, Ockler, Zarr. Morgan Matson, Gayle Forman and Rainbow Rowell are also favorites. All of those authors blend romantic tension and family issues with characters who have their own desires and talents outside of love interests. Leila Sales' Past Perfect and Jessi Kirby's Moonglass are excellent examples.

I enjoy issue-driven books like Jen Mathieu's The Truth About Alice, and high-concept YA like Libba Bray's Beauty Queens, David Levithan's Every Day, and I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga (all are executed wonderfully).

I love stories where characters have a rich cultural background, regardless of ethnicity. Diverse characters are an immediate draw, both where culture and identity are explicitly explored like The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, or stories that feature diverse characters but that isn't the main focus of the book, like Will Grayson/Will Grayson or Brandy Colbert's Pointe. Stories with a strong sense of place, a high-concept scenario, or a character with unusual sensibilities or family circumstances.

Beyond contemporary YA, I enjoy facets of Magical Realism (Nova Ren Suma's Imaginary Girls, or Sarah Addison Allen), mystery and gothic elements like Sarah Rees Brennan's Unspoken, and high-concept historical YA (think high stakes, big hook, like Code Name Verity or Jennifer Donnelly's Revolution).

While I tend to watch a lot of sci-fi and fantasy TV and movies, I am not a huge reader of those genres, specifically in YA. Same with dystopian. My attention has been far more focused on the genres I mentioned which is what I read, write, and where I focus a critical eye.

What I'm Looking For In Pitch Wars

Young Adult as described above. And I've done my research, folks. Familiarizing myself with the chosen lot of agents for the pitching round, I've scoured agency websites, interviews, and the manuscript wishlist tag on twitter (#MSWL). Every entry I receive I am keeping close in mind what interests our agents.

Trends in our selected agents' wishlists for YA:
  • strong voice
What is strong voice? Beauty Queens is FULL of voice. Compare that to say, the most recent book you didn't finish or thought was "blah." I would gamble part of that book ditch was due to lack of voice or a voice you didn't care for. Generic, cliche, bland = no voice. Fresh, dynamic, cliche-free, moody, funny, all of this can be voice. Believe it or not, YA voice isn't limited to angst.
  • diversity 
Multi-faceted characters. Characters who may be disabled, challenged, of a non-white race, of a unique heritage, LGBTQ. Agents are looking for this. #WeNeedDiverseBooks is making an impact.

  • Other trends: tight writing, commercial YA (great hook, pitch), YA stories that reach beyond high school/romance/shopping, mystery, fresh romance, thrillers, gothic/creepy, high concept/unique (not playing to trends), emotional and visceral YA, sports themes and/or MC has a passion beyond love interest.

Why You Should Pick Me

I found my agent through a contest. One of Brenda Drake's contests netted me agent requests, which led to revisions, which led to the Baker's Dozen agent auction contest where my entry received fast and furious bidding from several agents who were at war over my manuscript. The bidding closed in something like three minutes.

I know, it was crazy.

The real hard work came afterward with editing. For the past two years, I've taken writing craft courses both in person (Story Studio Chicago), and online (Margie Lawson Writers Academy), and through Romance Writers of America.

I've judged my RWA chapter's Four Seasons contest (which is currently open to entries), the RWA Golden Heart, and YA-RWA's YA and New Adult-only contest The Rosemary.

Contest judging made me a stronger writer, and has given me perspective on what works, what can work better, and how to shape up a manuscript. I've entered several of my own manuscripts in various contests and learned greatly from that experience.

I work with a critique group of YA writers in person and critique with other agented and published YA authors.

No Really, Pick Me

I am the contest judge who has spent hours on entries because it takes guts to get your work out there, and if you're willing to sub to a contest for feedback, I want the experience to be worthwhile.

There is no one right way to write a story. I like to point out options that will make a work stronger by using the writer's voice, not my own. I want writers to go deeper, beyond the cliche, beyond the expected.

Fun Stuff
  • I love twitter. Chat me up @StephScottYA
  • I have a zillion band names on retainer but cannot title a book even if held at gunpoint
  • I <3 cats
  • My name is shared with an up-and-coming Disney star (though she is Stefanie with an F)
  • I love Star Wars
  • My husband looks like Nev from Catfish

I'm just one blog stop among many for the upcoming Pitch Wars! See This Post on Brenda Drake's blog for submission details and the full list of agents for the agent round.

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