Thursday, January 22, 2015

Book Review: Rites of Passage by Joy Hensley

image Goodreads

Rites of Passage 
Joy Hensley
YA Contemporary
Published: Sept. 2014

From page 1, I was so into this book. Sam McKenna is part of a handful of girls starting at the all-male military academy, the very first group of girls to do so. Her motivation is being from a military-bred family, and a promise--more like a dare--from her older brother to make it through the rigorous training at the Denmark Military Academy. Cementing the dare further, is this older brother committed suicide, so she's determined to live up to their family legacy.

Sam and the other female recruits are threatened, coerced, and belittled by their student superiors, many of whom believe girls have no place at their academy. At every turn, Sam is determined to stick it out and not give up. Being in her head as she resolutely puts up with constant verbal and physical abuse is heartbreaking. Sam finds a few allies, but who she can trust is a constant game. When she uncovers inklings of a secret society, she understands that the drive to keep the academy "traditional" runs even deeper.

This is one of those books that from the first page you know who the character is and what she wants. The military aspects are so tightly wound into the story and character, it makes for a submersive experience. Never in a million years would I want to add boot camp to my high school experience, but Sam's determination is inspiring. Plus, the deeper look at questioning gender and politics comes out organically. A highly recommended read from this debut author!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

What's Up Wednesday

Quick post today! For more on What's Up Wednesday, click here.

What I'm Reading

I just finished Breathe Annie, Breathe, a contemporary YA by Miranda Kenneally. I think this is her best book since her debut Catching Jordan. Such a lovely story about a girl training for a marathon in memory of her boyfriend who died before he could run it himself.

What I'm Writing

I had all my goals set for a blog writing challenge that started this week: Winter Writing Fest via Ruby Slippered Sisterhood blog. I'm still going forward, but the manuscript I'm working on has changed due to a *development*. That's all I can say. So I'll be doing more revising, cutting, and shaping vs. new wordcount. The best part of the writing challenge is it's flexible. The point is to finish projects. I also have a deadline. Eep!

What Works For Me

Deadlines! Again: Eep!

What Else is New

A friend of mine lost 40 pounds in six months from changing her eating and lifestyle. She works out 1-2 times a day most days--one of those workouts is a light walk, but she's moving. Let's just say that's motivating. I've been working in more regular exercise since December (actually earlier than that but I slipped after I went on vacation). I'm not viewing it as a New Year's thing but a life thing.

I've been having fun with Forever YA's #fyaphotoaday on Instagram. And I've been busy booking speakers for my RWA chapter. Tonight is our first meeting of the new year, so glad to get back in the swing.

Let me know how your week is going! And check out the other blogs linked here

Monday, January 12, 2015

Writing Motivation for the New Year

Need some motivation or guidance? I found a few writerly things going around that may help!

Today, the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood's group blog (started by former RWA Golden Heart nominees) is beginning their Winter Writing Festival. This is open to all genre of writers. Set your own goals and points system, then starting today through March 2, track your points, and find support with other writers to reach your goal. They're hosting writing sprints and check ins. I just signed up!

More info here Ruby Slippered Sisterhood Winter Writing Fest 2015

If tracking points and writing sprints are not your thing, the Insecure Writer's Support Group blog put together a helpful post on creating a writing schedule. This is a short, basic post with some great information!

IWSG: Have a Schedule Yet? ... Write Already!

Even more options! The Communicate Resources for Writers blog list includes ROW80 (round of words in 80 days), various off shoots of NaNoWriMo (there's one for poetry), and the A to Z blogging challenge.

If you just need a low key reading challenge, YA Buccaneers have a Wintry Mix challenge featuring winter-themed YA books.

What are you doing to stay motivated?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Insecure Writers Support Group IWSG

Welcome to a new year of networking with writers! This is a great time to get connected with Insecure Writers Support Group. They have an active Facebook page here.

I'm going to steal a prompt from Motivational Monday's quote by an author I respect:
"In my opinion, trying to guess what readers want is the wrong approach. You have to tell your story as best you can and as true to yourself as possible. You have to be honest and fair and vulnerable and foolish and brave, and not care what anyone thinks of it." Jeannette Walls.

This is a tough one. I wrote a manuscript last year that wasn't very marketable as far as the plot, and I struggled to get the story where it needed to be. I'm now beginning the process of a total rewrite. I spent a few months agonizing over how to fix the story, and how to craft something readers would want and what the market wanted. Trying to figure that out WILL drive you insane.

The takeaway here I think is to tell a good story the best you can, and if you can't do that, learn how to tell a better story. Learning more about plot and structure and what DOES sell has helped a lot to get my best to a better level. I'd devolved into trying to guess what the market wanted, but going back to basic craft is what I needed most. I needed to fine tune the structure. Then, I could write the story I wanted.

For anyone new to IWSG, we're doing quick introductions this month!
Stephanie J. Scott
YA contemporary writer with agent representation (no sales--yet!)
Romance Writers of America member
YARWA chapter member
I'm very active about writing on Twitter: @stephscottyaSee the About Me section of my blog for more!
Please visit a few IWSG blogs listed here.

What is holding you back from writing your best?

Monday, January 5, 2015

2015 Goals, and 2014 Wrap-Up

Photo: WANA Commons
Last week I wrote about how landing a publishing deal will not make my list of 2015 writing and reading goals. (Though I will welcome that to happen!)

I find it really helpful to list not only what I want to do this next year, but the accomplishments from last year.

So, here's a wrap up from 2014 and what I plan to do for 2015. I hope you share your own goals in the comments, or leave a link to your blog. Thanks!

2014 Goals:

  1. Finish revisions on Contemporary YA #1. Submit to agent > sub to publishers
  2. Complete subsequent drafts of 2013 NaNoWriMo Contemporary YA #2
  3. Possibly revise a Historical YA novel
  4. Develop a new novel idea and/or participate in NaNoWriMo 2014
  5. Expand freelance writing to pop culture websites (something I did previously but the site folded)
Update: Both contemporary YA manuscripts were completed, though both required rewrites, which prevented me from revisiting the historical YA. Rewriting is still writing, so I was busy! 

I did manage to draft a brand new manuscript for NaNoWriMo. Yay!

I did not expand freelance writing to pop culture websites BUT 2015 has that on the horizon!

  1. Develop/maintain new blog content: TV reviews, blog challenges. Potentially focus some posts on writing advice or the query process
  2. Write a guest post 
  3. Feature guest post
  4. Host a book launch or cover reveal
  5. Contribute to a group blog (if anyone has leads, please let me know!)
  6. Read through slush/coach/assist with a pitch contest on a writing blog
Update: I participated in several book launches and cover reveals, mainly for writers affiliated with RWA or YARWA in some capacity, to share the love. 

I did not end up doing guest posts, and have not done specific writing advice regularly; that has been mostly occasional. I still have an interest in a group blog, so keeping my eyes open.

One big thing I did was #6: I joined Brenda Drake's Pitch Wars as a mentor! Through that contest, I read through 50+ queries and first pages submitted to me. I gave feedback on all of them, though that was not required. Then, I chose two writers to help prepare their query and first pages for an agent round. I learned SO MUCH. I probably--no, definitely--learned more than I could have ever passed on. I feel really fortunate to have been a part of that experience and to work with the wonderful writers who reached out to me, Also, all the fellow mentors have been great to keep chatting with on a private Facebook group.

Professional (writing):
  1. Attend a workshop (planning for: Chicago North Spring Fling, April 2014)
  2. Develop a workshop/skills/experience for a future presentation
  3. Take on a leadership role within RWA (currently Historian, assisting w/ auction gift basket, judge for annual contest)
  4. Read 2-4 new writing craft books
  5. Sign up for 2-4 RWA monthly courses through YARWA/Pro/main site of RWA
  6. Golden Heart finalist?? (Hey, it could happen!)
Update: For my conference, I attended Spring Fling, pitched to an editor, and put together a kick-ass Supernatural themed gift basket for the charity auction. 

While I organized query information for a critique session with my RWA chapter, I have not gone so far as to develop a full workshop. Though I have checked off #3 there--along with being historian and on the program planning committee of my local RWA, I volunteered for YARWA's board, the online YA chapter. We're planning the Day of YA for the national convention in NYC--it's going to be awesome!

I read more than 2 crafting books, and I took an online course through Margie Lawson's writing coaching, and through YARWA (which has some fantastic options for CHEAP! Link here). 

I did not final in the Golden Heart, which is really not so much a goal as a wish. But! I finaled in Georgia RWA's Maggie Award, which is considered a noteworthy contest, and I won first place for YA in the Heart of Denver Molly Awards, plus a second place win in Indiana RWA's Golden Opportunity (and lost to the GH winner from 2014, so good company). These contest wins really boosted my confidence as it's peer recognition and fuel to keep striving for that publishing dream.

I also planned a writing retreat with my critique group--a weekend up north to focus on our projects. It was so fun, and we are tentatively looking to plan something again this year.

  1. Goodreads challenge set at 50 books
  2. Read at least 2 classics
Update: I upped the challenge to 60 books and read 63. If unpublished manuscripts and contest entries counted, I'd be over 100! 


Here's what's in store for 2015:

  1. Finish rewrite of contemporary YA from Nano 2013.
  2. Edit and develop Nano 2014 manuscript.
  3. Potentially revisit historical YA MS, and/or develop new idea
  4. On the freelance front: starting tomorrow, I'll be posting a joint chat-review of Downton Abbey season 5 over at pop culture site The Stake. Please go visit their site and follow on twitter!
  1. Keep an active blog.
  2. Continue to host book tours and cover reveals.
  3. Feature a guest post.
  4. Potentially find a group blog to contribute to.
Professional (writing):
  1. Expand YARWA's online presence through my VP Communications role.
  2. Attend local RWA chapter retreat craft workshop feat. agent and author Donald Maass (March)
  3. Plan & attend Day of YA at RWA Nationals in New York City (July)
  4. Attend and network at Lady Jane Reading Salon (Naperville, every other month). Also network and attend author signings at Anderson's Bookshop.
  5. Attend a Chicago North RWA meeting.
  6. Submit to contests with editor final judges, including the Golden Heart.

2015 Reading Challenge

2015 Reading Challenge
Stephanie has read 1 book toward her goal of 50 books.
  1. Goodreads goals set at 50 books. 
  2. I spent 2014 reading more outside of YA. I'd like to return to YA for a bit to get caught up on new and recent releases.
  3. Read more books from my Bradford Lit agency mates.
So that's it! If you've read this far, thank you! Please share any goals you have for the coming year or link to your blog.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Why Getting a Book Deal is not my New Year's Resolution

Happy New Year everyone!

I'm planning a post to detail what I accomplished last year in the writing and reading sphere, and then I'll plan some new goals.

But first, I've been mulling this over for a few days.

This book helps so much--applies to novels!
I'd love to get a book deal. Of course I would! But landing a publishing contract did not make my list of goals for the new year, because I can't control who wants to offer me a deal for my manuscripts. While there is a lot I can do to prepare and learn and work toward that goal, ultimately who decides this is not up to me.* To base a goal on a factor outside of my ability to make a decision sets me up for failure.

*The star here is to note that I do have more options in the new world of self-publishing. If that is the direction I planned to go, I absolutely have control over when and how I am published. For now, I am still planning to go the traditional publication route first.

So instead, I'm focusing my goals on what I CAN do to prepare for the best possible chance of selling my manuscripts. Arguably, I've been laying that groundwork for a few years now. Writing is a craft, which takes time. I'd like to think I'm done waiting around, but we all know this business defies predictability, unless it's to predict things take longer than expected. Those who stick it out for the long haul are often who see their books in print.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on what you plan to use for goal setting this year!

Book Review: My True Love Gave to Me, YA holiday anthology

My True Love Gave To Me
By: Various YA authors, edited by Stephanie Perkins
Young Adult holiday short stories
Published: Oct. 2014

I'm wrapping up with this short story collection from a really great selection of YA authors. I'd previously read all but two of the twelve authors in the collection, and there is so much variety here, even if you skim or skip ahead, there is a lot to offer.

The stories almost all bear the distinctive mark of their authors. Rainbow Rowell's is absolutely her story from the first page, with the chatty characters and heartfelt awkwardness. Some stories provide surprising depth, including Matt de la Pena and Stephanie Perkins, who touch on deeper family issues. The strangest is Kelly Link's, though I've read a short story collection from her before, which is heavy on magical realism and oddities. Laini Taylor's writing is just gorgeous, which reminds me I need to finish reading her current series.

Plus, all the skaters on the pond in the cover represent the twelve stories in the book! So cute. I highly recommend this and plan to revisit the stories next holiday season.