Monday, March 23, 2015

Cover Reveal: Sweet Madness by Tricia Leaver and Lindsay Currie

Today I'm happy to be a part of fellow Pitch Wars mentees Tricia Leaver and Lindsay Currie's next cover reveal! To see my review of their first YA horror release Creed go here.

Coming September 18, 2015 from Merit Press

Lizzie Borden took an axe,
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty one.

Who was Lizzie Borden? A confused young woman, or a cold-hearted killer? For generations, people all over the world have wondered how Andrew Borden and his second wife, Abby, met their gruesome deaths. Lizzie, Andrew’s younger daughter, was charged, but a jury took only 90 minutes to find her not guilty. In this retelling, the family maid, Bridget Sullivan, shines a compassionate light on a young woman oppressed by her cheap father and her ambitious stepmother. Was Lizzie mad, or was she driven to madness?

Mark it to read on Goodreads
Preorder Sweet Madness:


Trisha Leaver lives on Cape Cod with her husband, three children, and one rather irreverent black lab. She is a chronic daydreamer who prefers the cozy confines of her own imagination to the mundane routine of everyday life.  She writes Young Adult Contemporary fiction, Psychological Horror and Science Fiction and is published with FSG/ Macmillan, Flux/Llewellyn and Merit Press. To learn more about Trisha’s books, upcoming shenanigans, and her quest to reel in the perfect tuna, please visit her website:

Lindsay Currie lives in Chicago with her three awesome children, husband, and a one hundred and sixty pound lap dog named Sam. She has an unnatural fondness for coffee, chocolate and things that go bump in the night. She spends her days curled up in the comfortable confines of her writing nook, penning young adult psychological horror, contemporary fiction and science-fiction and is published with Flux/Llewellyn, Merit Press and Spencer Hill Contemporary. Learn more about her at Twitter Instagram Facebook

To celebrate, we are giving away four AMAZING books from our publisher Merit Press. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Book Review: Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

image: Goodreads

Under a Painted Sky
Stacey Lee
YA Historical
Published: March 17, 2015

I'm so excited to share a review of this book, which releases today! I got to know Stacey through the Pitch Wars blog contest last year, and was lucky enough to get passed an early copy of the book. I read this through in about two sittings. It's exactly the kind of book I like, and I'm glad it's finally out to the world!

The story involves Samantha, a Chinese American girl living in the Midwest in the 1840s. When a tragic accident leaves her homeless, parentless, and sought after by the law, she and runaway slave Annamae take off for the Oregon Trail, disguising themselves as boys.

There's all kinds of danger here--the rough trails, untrustworthy strangers, and authorities on the hunt for two girls they believe are criminals. The two meet a band of cowboys along the way (still disguised as boys), and the group pursues westward together, enduring snake bites, wild horses, and bandits.

I loved how accessible the history is within the story, and how every scene is couched in looming tension, threats, and adventure. Sam and Annamae's cultural backgrounds factor into every aspect of their journey given racial prejudices of the time. This is one of those books that for entire chapters I forgot everything else going on and just immersed myself in the story.

To add this book to Goodreads Go Here

To buy:
Amazon / B&N / Indiebound

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

What's Up Wednesday

While snow still covers the ground where I live, it's melting, so I'm going with the spring image this week! For more on the What's Up Wednesday blog hop, go here.


You guys, I'm FINALLY reading Jane Eyre! This has been on my list for ages, and lately I've been feeling some author shame that I haven't red such an important classic. I meant to just read a chapter or two, but read through the first 100 pages Sunday afternoon.

What kicked this off was the YA book Always Emily, a fictional account of the lives of Emily and Charlotte Bronte--and they solve a mystery!


I see the light ... the light at the end of the manuscript. I keep thinking it's near, and then I go back and nitpick before moving forward. My goal this week is to either write to the end OR at least make progress by filling in what's needed. Of course I'm going to need to go back, but right now, I need to move forward. For my own sanity. 


If you're looking for writing inspiration, hop over to #PitMad on twitter today (3/11). You will either be inspired by the ideas writers are pitching to prospective agents and editors, or it will light the fire beneath you to finish a project so you can pitch. Add me to the latter. OK, to both.


My RWA chapter is hosting a workshop this Friday and Saturday--we're bringing in agent and author Donald Maass for Writing 21st Century Fiction. His book Writing the Breakout Novel was one of the first writing craft books I read, and the sage advice to get characters out of the car and out of the kitchen is one I regularly apply and pass on (it's painfully true). I've heard one of his speaking engagements from an RWA conference recording, and he has some really interesting writing exercises to pull as much emotion out of your characters and plot as possible. I'm looking forward to it, plus it's a chance to hang out with writer buddies :)

Please share what's going on with you this week!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Book Review: First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen

First Frost
Sarah Addison Allen
Published: January 2015
Contemporary Fiction/Magical Realism

This is one of those authors who I discovered about a year ago and subsequently went on a mad dash to read all her books. First Frost is the first of her books to continue on with characters from a previous book--Garden Spells. I don't know that you have to read Garden Spells first, but it certainly deepens the experience.

Reading First Frost was like visiting old friends. In book time, nine years have passed since we first met Claire Waverly and her odd family. Claire lives in the old Waverly house she inherited from the grandmother who raised her. Out back they have an apple tree said to give eaters a glimpse into the biggest event of their future, so thankfully the Waverly's themselves are prone to dislike apples. Claire's catering business is successful for the unique recipes that help people feel better about themselves, or give them confidence, all thanks to ingredients from her special garden. Her sisters and cousin have their own subtle abilities, and it's fun to see how this low key magic threads through their lives and the small community they live in.

With First Frost, the crux of the story revolves around a mysterious stranger with secrets, and how the Waverly women struggle with their own identities, mainly reconciling their family legacies with their own desires and plans.

The small town aspect and focus on female friendships gives me a real Gilmore Girls vibe. If you're up for book that does not hinge on a murder or stuff blowing up or people being threatened or hunted or killed, then this is a great comfort read.

Monday, March 9, 2015

When Bad Advice Attacks

Not all advice is good advice.

I felt compelled to write this after reading a marketing write-up in a trade publication I receive through my Romance Writers affiliation. My intention is not to single out the author of the article (which is not available online, but in a print publication via Romance Writers). The writer clearly meant to be helpful, but unfortunately missed the mark in some areas. It's the missed the mark aspects I think are worth discussing. The article was regarding a set of unwritten rules authors should consider in order to portray a professional presence on social media.

The trouble came when some of these rules strayed from sensible things like not posting your home address on Facebook, to resisting the urge to post anything political, religious, or controversial (to which the author then listed a few items including gay marriage and the Ferguson, MO shooting court ruling). It then went on to prescribe advice on not sharing revealing photos of oneself, and warning of the dangers of being "overtly happy," because nobody wants to read about a faker, and nobody can really be that happy, so just cut it out because you're making us all jealous and now we won't buy your books.

Say What Now?

Okay, so that's a lot to take in. Naturally, some members took their concerns to twitter (the irony) to say how hurtful this advice is when say, they themselves write same sex romance, or want to share on issues that affect them, or that they are passionate about, or even that they are genuinely happy people, so why should they not be allowed to be themselves without fear or shame?

Some advice is just bad advice.

The mention of Ferguson is what lit my fire. Twitter in particular was hugely influential in discussion and attention to what happened in Missouri last year. When mainstream media wasn't covering a teen left for dead for hours in the road, an oppressed, impoverished community took to social media and said: Enough. What followed was passionate and angry, and also hopeful and motivating. Focus was given to those who are frequently silenced, continually oppressed, and regardless of where you stand on anything political, the tragedy in these mostly-black communities sparked a national and international level conversation about racial politics that can no longer be swept aside.

I was proud to see writers speaking out. Writers were largely responsible for an initiative to raise money for the Ferguson library, which is a safe haven for the community. Being able to freely share our voices, even if they aren't always politely smiling, is exercising the freedoms we have in this country. Sometimes if you can't say something nice, it's best to not say anything. It's up to each person to determine where that line falls. Other times, speaking out means supporting those whose voices are silenced, or maligned, or not well-represented.

Often writers are doing just that with their books. Prolific writers share their created worlds which speak truths about our society, or show how things could be with dynamic characters risking their lives for change. Yes, even in romance books. In YA. In kid lit. In mainstream fiction, and horror, and non-fiction. Writers are often passionate people, and to suggest we take a back seat in exchange for not offending potential book buyers is not only poor advice for writers, it's poor advice for life.

That's not to say consequences don't exist. I look up new writers all the time. Recently, I came across a book and immediately searched the author online. The author's twitter account had her book cover as the header image, so I knew I had the right person. Yet, her tweets were full of profanity (this was a YA writer), and often unintelligible with poor grammar. We all have the occasional typo or auto-fill, but this was chronically awful. That's a consequence of representing yourself poorly. But those things have nothing to do with the author's viewpoints, and everything to do with communicating effectively, which this person failed.

What Does Work?

For social media advice that I think gets it right, check out Kristen Lamb and her Warrior Writers blog. Her main point is that social media for writers has never been about selling books. It's about being you, and providing a landing point for readers to find you. It's about forming relationships, and you can't do that effectively with automated tweets that don't respond back, or spam links to buy one's book churning on a feed ten times a day. That's all noise, and it's not effective. It's always been about being a real, living person on the other end, and about connecting.

What Now?

In a social climate where women's voices in particular are continually challenged and silenced, items in this article felt like a real blow. Here are yet again more rules to direct us to play nice, don't offend, and by golly don't be too sexy or too happy either. No one wants to hear that.

Except we do. We need these voices. I'm counting this article as one under-vetted blunder that is not representative of the organization as a whole. What I've found in my experience is a community of mostly women writers who support one another through mentoring, advice, education, and friendship. They stand up for what's right, and stand by writers when something jacked-up happens in the publishing universe. The last thing we need is to lose that, especially for something as intangible as "not losing readers."

We have the opportunity to do and be so much more than a nice, tranquil social media profile that politely excuses itself when things get hairy. Writers are needed voices who have the ability to communicate well, and powerfully. Losing those voices, or shushing them, comes at a great cost.

Please feel free to share your thoughts on the larger subject of what to share on social media.
Note: the writer of the article I mentioned is someone unknown to me, and others online in this discussion have chosen not to post the person's name. The point is not to single this person out, but to highlight the content.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Book Review: I'm Glad I Did by Cynthia Weil

21467481I'm Glad I Did
Cynthia Weil
YA Contemporary 1960s
Published: January 2015

This is a great read for younger teens or tweens ready to "read up." Set in 1963 in the music industry, 16-year-old burgeoning songwriter JJ struggles to find her place within her family and among the cultural shifts of the civil rights era. The author is a songwriter who worked in the music industry during this era, which is a fun angle.

JJ feels like the outsider in her family, who frowns on the music industry and creative pursuits. The summer before college (though she's still 16?), JJ strikes a deal with her attorney parents: she can keep the music industry job she just landed so long as she sells a song by the time school starts.

She's learning a lot, but soon the evils of the industry her parents warned her about start to show. JJ has an industry family member who takes her under his wing. Soon, she's seeing just how the deals are made, or not made, and evidence of family secrets. All this is set in the midst of a tumultuous summer of civil rights unrest, protest, and a call for change. Interracial relationships are explored--JJ is Jewish and she has a budding relationship with an African-American boy. The theme of justice runs throughout (cute or not--your call, JJ's real name is Justice, named by her attorney parents).

Given the younger storytelling voice and the moderate depth to which the book explores cultural issues, this is a good option for the younger spectrum of YA.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Insecure Writers Support Group: IWSG

Happy March! It's time for Insecure Writers Support Group's monthly blog hop. Sign up or visit blogs here: Insecure Writers Support Group website

They also have a Facebook Group

This past week, I've been working with Brenda Drake on the #PitchMadness contest she hosts on her blog. Writers submitted their 35-word pitch and first 250 words of a completed manuscript for showcase on 3 writer blogs, and consideration to a panel of pre-selected agents who "bid" on entries. All of these agents can be queried through their normal submission process, but the contest allows for more of a platform and exposure for the writer, as the entries are vetted ahead of time by readers.

Cue me: a reader! I helped Brenda and her teams read through, wait for it, over 900 entries!

Yes, that was a correct number of zeroes. NINE HUNDRED ENTRIES.

Which got me thinking. How do you get noticed among 900 entries?

Really, it's the same question on how do you get noticed among the hundreds of entries agents receive weekly/daily/monthly into their infamous "slush pile"?

This whole writing for publication thing is intimidating. You hear 900 entries, and in the case of Pitch Madness, if only 60 are chosen (they ended up taking 68 overall, each team taking 2 more entries since there were so many), it's easy to throw up your hands and say, screw it.

Being on the other side of the contest, I see how subjective it is. I also see how CLOSE so many writers are.

A pitch might be catchy, but the first page is kind of boring (anything from cliche: character waking up to start the day, or driving somewhere thinking about their life, or prose that doesn't connect), or it's well-written but maybe doesn't offer anything new, is missing the hook, OR none of the agents for the panel are looking for what the writer is writing.

All of those factors are the same with querying. A lackluster first page might get a skim ... and then a form rejection. If the genre is something the agent doesn't rep, they aren't going to consider it anyway. It's up to the writer to pay attention to those details when they submit. Same as a contest--if none of the agents rep what you write, it (likely) won't matter how great your first page is. You need to find agents or editors who are looking for your type of story.

The best part of contests like this is the community aspects. Twitter has been blazing the past week under the #PitchMadness tag, and that's really cool to see.

Congratulations to all the writers who entered. It's a great step to put your work out there. It's scary! While there's no easy path to publication, no real shortcuts, no easy answers, the best advice I've come away with from being on both sides of contests is this:

  • Find writers who can help you; online or in person.
  • Join a writers group, professional or local at a public library. SOMETHING.
  • Read books about writing.
  • Read BOOKS. Lots of them.
  • Keep writing. For many published authors, their debut was not their first book. It could be their third or their tenth or their twentieth manuscript. There is no formula.

Tell me in the comments about a memorable experience of sharing your work publicly. How did you deal? What did you after that to move forward?

Please visit other IWSG blogs in the link above!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Cover Reveal: J. Leigh Bailey's Nobody's Hero

I've hosted a few cover reveals over the years, but THIS cover reveal is near and dear. The author is not only in my home Windy City RWA chapter, but she's the first person I befriended when I walked into the group and didn't know a soul. Now, we're in a critique group together, and we're roomies for RWA Nationals in NYC this summer.

So, let's just say I'm a little excited.

This is a New Adult book (meaning the age group beyond high school into early 20s) and features a romance between two guys. What I love about J's writing is how accessible she makes her stories. Admittedly, I'd never read a gay romance before we started trading pages, and the best recommendation I can say is she writes a good love story. Period. The characters happen to be two guys. Her characters are real, and funny, and I'm so glad she gets to share them with the world.

OK, details:

Nobody’s Hero (Letting Go Series, #1)
j. leigh bailey
Publication date: April 27, 2015 Carina Press
Genres: New Adult, Contemporary Male/Male Romance
Bradley Greene’s family all but discarded him when his brother caught him fooling around with another boy. Now Bradley has seventeen dollars and a gas card, and he’s sleeping in his car. He’s an emotional mess and if he doesn't land a job soon, he’s up the proverbial creek.
Danny Ortega can take care of himself…most of the time. When what started as a date turns into sexual assault in a dark parking lot, he’s grateful for Brad’s help—and an instant admirer of Brad’s military school-honed muscles. He certainly doesn't expect to see him again, and definitely not as the newest hire at Ortega Construction.

As Brad and Danny’s quiet attraction turns into more, things start to go sour before they've even started. Danny grows frustrated that Brad won’t open up emotionally. And Brad is terrified of being responsible for someone else’s feelings. When Brad’s family makes one last attempt to turn him into an “acceptable” son, all bets are off—he and Danny will need to decide if they’re in this together…or apart.
Now for the cover:

About the Author:
j. leigh bailey is an office drone by day and the author of New Adult and Young Adult LGBT Romance by night. She can usually be found with her nose in a book or pressed up against her computer monitor. A book-a-day reading habit sometimes gets in the way of... well, everything...but some habits aren't worth breaking. She's been reading romance novels since she was ten years old. The last twenty years or so have not changed her voracious appetite for stories of romance, relationships and achieving that vitally important Happy Ever After. She's a firm believer that everyone, no matter their gender, age, sexual orientation or paranormal affiliation deserves a happy ending. 

Links: Website | Twitter | Facebook