Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What's Up Wednesday Year End Spectacular!

It's the last What's Up Wednesday of the year! What's Up Wednesday is a blog hop created by Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk, to help writers connect. Swing by other WUW blogs, get to know other writers taking part, and spread some writerly encouragement around.


I tore through Dahlia Adler's Last Will and Testament, which she self-published this month. This is one of the few New Adult category books I truly liked. The main character swears like a sailor, and this is pretty hot in a graphic way romance, so be forewarned if that is not your thing. The best part is the character development and story did not take a backseat to the romance.

Now onto My True Love Gave to Me holiday anthology.


I've been on a break writing-wise for my mental sanity, though today I actually had the thought "I should reorganize my Pinterest boards," so I guess that's my cue to get back to work. 

My goal is to begin some not-fun-for-me examination of several projects in need of revision. My plan is to read through Michael Hauge's screenwriting book gifted to me by one of my critique group. He's a frequent speaker at RWA conferences, and his teaching translates to novel writing. Think three act structure plus character identity and essence and blending those elements together. Author and uber-blogger Jami Gold has a few extremely helpful posts that dissect his teaching.

Also, I need to submit my manuscript to RWA's unpublished Golden Heart contest. I had a good streak with contests this year, and the Golden Heart is the mega one. Can't win the lotto if you don't have a ticket, right?


Seeing what's selling in Publisher's Marketplace gets me thinking plot stuff the most. My struggle now is turning ideas into sellable, high-conflict stories. 


Holiday everything! Early gift exchanges, parties, food, the All Of It. Also, while relaxing my writer brain I've been powering through Dragon Age: Inquisition. My husband and I are both the same way with video games; when we're in, we're in

Happy holidays everyone! And stop by the other Wednesday blogs.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Book Review: Creed by Trisha Leaver and Lindsay Currie

By: Trisha Leaver and Lindsay Currie
Published: November 2014

Creed is the type of book that takes me back to the days of Christopher Pike thrillers. This is a more updated take on the YA thriller, where you will find nary a supernatural being to be found. Just creepy cultists masquerading as perfectly normal townsfolk. *shudder*

At first I thought the tagline was a spoiler: Three went in. Three came out. None even a shadow of who they once were. So, everyone makes it out okay? No suspense there. Except, this doesn't say the SAME three came out. Hmmm.

The story begins with a normal enough scenario: three kids on a road trip to a concert. Dee rides with her boyfriend and his brother, who is along because she bribed him to keep the details as a surprise. Dee forgets her coat since she won't be able to bring it into the venue anyway. When their car breaks down in the middle of northern New York, they trudge through the snow to the nearest town. Cell phone reception patchy at best. In town, they find a gas station completely functional but with no one running it, and no patrons. A walk through town finds the place eerily vacant. Even houses, no one is around. Where are they?

This kept me guessing what would happen next. Violence and gore, so be mindful if that is not your thing. And given how the story wraps up, this is definitely in line with horror, where there isn't quite as neat an ending as you might like, but one that leaves the reader wholly unsettled.

I was lucky enough to meet the authors this fall at a book signing:

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Book Review: A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev

image: Goodreads
A Bollywood Affair
Sonali Dev
Contemporary Romance
Published: November 2014

A Bollywood Affair is a great entry point to romance. It offers a little something different, with the staples of a contemporary romance. I've had the pleasure of watching this evolve from manuscript to published book, and I'm so excited to share this debut from my fellow Windy City RWA chaptermate.

Mili arrives to the United States from India after living a sheltered life overseen by her very traditional grandmother, who prepares Mili every day for her impending marriage to a husband arranged for her when she was a child. Only it's been over twenty years, and no husband has materialized.

What she doesn't know, is the village ceremony so many years ago did not result in a legal marriage. At least that's what her husband thinks, especially since he's married to another woman. He'd been told the child bride arrangement was handled and done with, as modern Indians did away with such archaic customs. Now, with a baby on the way, he's desperate. He sends his brother Samir to sort out the whole debacle, and to get the girl to sign papers saying the marriage is null. Only Mili's been coached her whole life that this man is who she should live for. That even bettering herself with education is to please her future husband.

Which all is a perfect recipe for disaster and romantic shenanigans when Samir finds Mili. I loved the contrast between old Indian customs and modern values, and also how different Mili and Samir's experiences were adjusting to the U.S., as well as Mili's roommate who is an American-born Indian. The book shows very distinctly that someone's cultural identity is just one facet of them; their family, upbringing, and values matter just as much. As for Bollywood, Samir is a filmmaker, so that's the tie in. Also, family elements tie into the story, as well as a wedding, so there is a real Bollywood flair to the story, especially toward the end.

Since this is a romance, it gets a little spicy! So be forewarned, this isn't your mama's women's fiction book club pick.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

What's Up Wednesday

Welcome  to What's Up Wednesday, a blog hop to check in with other writers. See Jaime Morrow's blog for details.

What I'm Reading

image: Goodreads
I finished a holiday romance Sleigh Bells in the Snow which was nominated for a Romance Writers of America RITA award this year. It got me in a sufficient holiday mood.

Now I'm reading an agency-mate's urban fantasy Dangerous Calling by A.J. Larrieu. The first book Twisted Miracles was an excellent start to a series, setting up the world of shadowminds and exploring Cass' past. I used to read a lot of UF, and the world building here is really good with some unique takes on fantasy elements I hadn't seen before.

What I'm Writing

I'm on a break after Nano to catch up on reading and holiday stuff. I have a few different projects to choose from, so deciding what to tackle next.

What Works for Me

Speaking of that time off ... I spent almost the entire last year working on two different manuscripts on and off, so it's strange to not be working on something. My brain goes into story mode daily, so I can't really shut it off. I just want to be really mindful on what I take on next, so I'm giving it time.

What Else is New

photo credit: Stephanie Scott
Holiday shopping, wrapping, planning! I need to mail stuff and I'm getting together with my Mom early this year so I have days not weeks.

Friday was my RWA chapter's holiday party. The picture shows me with two writers from our smaller critique group--the third couldn't come. We have a little program time to acknowledge people's accomplishments and contributions. Really good stuff this year--multiple book deals for our members, with Big 5/NYC, small press, and some self publish successes. Contest wins, and Nanowrimo conquerors. Also, we recognize those who serve the chapter.

What hits me every time is none of these people are not busy. Everyone has families, many have full or part-time jobs, and other commitments. Writing is what they love and they make time. Serving the organization is all on top of that.

Tell me how your week is going! And please check out the other What's Up Wednesday posts!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Insecure Writer's Support Group IWSG

To find out more about Insecure Writer's  Support Group, check out their website here.

National Novel Writing Month just ended. If you participated, you're either in possession of a finished draft or a partial draft. Or you're cackling somewhere buried beneath a pile of plot charts and character sheets. Come on out, November's over.

If you finished, celebrate the victory! Even if your draft has plot holes, inconsistent characters, or nonsensical scenes, you are still further along than the majority of people who say they want to write a book. I  know because I used to be one of those people.

"I'd like to write a book someday," I'd say.

And then I'd never do anything toward trying to write a book. Or learn about writing a book. I read books, sure. But writing a novel seemed such an intangible concept, I didn't know where to start.

NaNoWriMo was a jumping off point for me. I love how encouraging the experience can be. It's proof that when you set goals and surround yourself with encouraging people, you can accomplish much more than you expect.

If you did not finish, or had to quit somewhere mid-month, there's still a lot to be gained from attempting. Again, you have the point that many, many people who say they have ideas for books, never attempt to do anything with those ideas. The hard truth is you can't copyright an idea. Your ingenious series about a boy wizard defeating evil is nothing if you don't sit down and write it.

So, this week, stay encouraged! Celebrate the small victories. You have a draft to work with, an idea to work with, and every day going forward to turn around and make it happen.

Please visit a few other IWSG blogs linked here and share the support.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Book Review: Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins


Isla and the Happily Ever After
Stephanie Perkins
YA Contemporary Romance
Published: August 2014

In the world of YA fiction, this third book in a series of loosely interconnect characters was highly anticipated. Readers return to the elite private school in Paris we were first introduced to in Anna and the French Kiss. Isla is a wonderfully quirky, charming gal whose hometown is NYC, and she crushes hard for dream boy Josh.

They're lovely people who make mistakes and survive many blunders both relatable and fantastic (not many of us have the dilemma of whether to share our secret Paris rooftop hideaway which overlooks the city. Oh, to have such problems). I enjoyed this same world in Anna and the French Kiss, and it's one of the few YA books I've reread in recent years. Both books are romances that don't pretend otherwise. Perkins has a distinct voice that nails the emotion of being young, naive, open, and impulsive. She's built a loyal fanbase, including myself, who want to be friends with her characters.

The curious point for me, as a writer as well as a reader, is only a certain type of author can get away with a book like this, mainly because not much happens in Isla and the Happily Ever After. If you study plot structure, or the Hero's Journey, or Save the Cat beat sheets or any other number of writing advice sources, reading something like this will either be a gentle reprieve from such frustrations as stage acts and turning points, or  you may question, loudly, why nothing is happening other than a crush who doesn't show up for class one morning. The plot here is really secondary to the characters' experience and emotions. Sometimes I need a show like Breaking Bad or Hannibal, other times Rory's failing grade on Gilmore Girls fills what I'm looking for.

This is a book only Stephanie Perkins can write, and I'm grateful for her addition to young adult fiction. These are books about first love that will be exactly what you want if you already like her books. If you're a completist, then you're already going to read it anyway.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

What's Up Wednesday

Hi! I haven't posted for What's Up Wednesday in a while. For more info on that, see go to Jamie Morrow's blog. Check here for participating blogs.

What I'm Reading

I'm finishing up the YA thriller Creed by Trisha Leaver and Lindsay Curie. They are debut authors who also were fellow Pitch Wars mentors this fall. AND I got to meet them at Anderson's for a YA author panel!

What I'm Writing

NaNoWrimo! I'm plowing through plot holes galore in the spirit of literary abandon! This time I'm trying out a YA with spies and intrigue--the antithesis to my little summer beachstory I wrote last Nano.

What Works For Me

This section is new for me! So this month, the built-in goals of Nano work for me because there's a deadline, a goal, and a larger community to support reaching it. I have not yet lost a Nano in the 3 years I've done it, so that's motivation for me. Plus, having a new draft that's something different than the two manuscripts I worked on over the past year is really refreshing. Even if it's terrible, it's something different!

What Else Is New

I survived mentoring through Pitch Wars, I finaled in three RWA chapter contests (and won one of them! The Molly via Heart of Denver RWA). I've had ups and downs with my writing but I've been really encouraged by my writing colleagues. Still plugging away.

Oh, and I was in tropical bliss during our first snowfall back home. Happy birthday-slash-anniversary to me :)

Enjoy your holiday! (Americans).

What have you been up to? Leave a comment!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Book Review: Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis

image: Goodreads

Not a Drop to Drink
Mindy McGinnis
Young Adult Dystopian
Published: 2013

I am not huge on dystopian world YA novels. I loved The Hunger Games and Legend. Divergent was OK, and I saw The Maze Runner movie (so you can see my investment waning).

Not a Drop to Drink scales the focus way, way back from governments and factions to one girl and her mother, who live off the grid and spend virtually every waking  moment defending their freshwater pond, as water is scarce. Sixteen-year-old Lynn has known nothing else other than her remote farm, her mother, and a nearby neighbor they are on cautiously friendly terms.

Until Lynn loses her mother (not a spoiler, it happens early), and she is on her own. When people camping nearby need medical attention, Lynn and her neighbor go to help. Only Lynn has been taught not to trust anyone. Even leaving her pond for an hour sets the tension high. Distant smoke sets off alarm bells, and stories of men traveling in packs to steal and destroy cause Lynn to further distrust. Every page there is survival, fear, and determination, and Lynn's struggle between her newfound compassion for others and the strict teachings of her mother provide a boatload of tension.

Warning here: there are some intense scenes in this book, and I will state right out that while there is a romantic thread, this is not a romance. While there is a hopeful ending, this is not a happy shiny rainbows type of book. If you're cool with that, I wholly recommend this book for showing the emotional impact of a post-apocalyptic world-gone-wrong, and one where you don't need to roll your eyes at forced world building. The fears built up in this world are human nature at its core, and that's compelling enough when it's written this well.

The author's companion novel In a Handful of Dust is available as of September 2014.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Insecure Writers Support Group IWSG

This month's timely IWSG post hits right during the middle of Pitch Wars agent requesting. Talk about insecurity--and I'm not even pitching! But I've mentored a writer for the past two months, having gotten to choose a writer from the Pitch Wars contest "slush" to help out for this very agent round. Whew!

And so far, no agent requests based on the pitch and first page. 
Which doesn't mean that the story isn't good, or that the writer isn't there yet. She's a phenomenal writer who I ended up choosing because her voice is excellent. When I read her stuff, I thought, she can write ANYTHING. 

Maybe this story didn't get bites from these agents with this contest, but this is only the beginning. 
Still, it's tough to see others get page requests when this one did not. We've still got another day. 

Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween! 

And Happy NaNoWriMo EVE.

Tomorrow,  November 1st, is when writers all over the world blast forward with a new draft.

Here's a little inspiration:

Kristen Lamb's blog has a great article (from a great series) on  how to write a terrific Nano novel, minimize revision, and improve your odds of finishing. Even if you're not much of a planner or plotter, coming up with a core story idea and a pitch keeps you focuses on a central goal:

Kristen Lamb's Nano novel article

To sign up for National Novel Writing Month, go here:

Monday, October 27, 2014

Book Review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We Were Liars
E. Lockhart
Young Adult Mystery
Published: May 2014

image: Goodreads
The Goodreads summary:

A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

Oooh, compelling, yes?

This is a more literary take on mystery, and for me, it really worked. The whole time I knew *something* was majorly messed up with this family. Cady, her cousins, and a family friend their age run free and wild on their family's private island (who wouldn't want that?), but among the bickering of the Aunts and Cady's grandparents, something sinister brews.

And then, a tragic accident. Only you, as the reader, only get to know the aftermath--not what actually happened. Cady spends a year with depression and memory loss before she finally returns to the island to sort out what happened. Everything is different. Her cousins aren't the free spirits they once were, and they want to ditch the aunts and hang out by themselves. Even their family friend is acting more mysterious. No one will tell Cady what happened, so she's left to uncover the mystery herself.

It's true, the less you know going in, the more impact. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

We Need Diverse Books

Are you passionate about books? Do you want to see stories that reflect every child, even those who don't commonly see themselves represented on book shelves?

The We Need Diverse Books group has a fundraising campaign going on right now. The different levels of one-time donation support have perks including stickers, buttons, totes, posters, and even agent critiques!

Details here at

Some great authors are behind this group and project. Lots ongoing on twitter under #WNDB or #WeNeedDiverseBooks or their tumblr site:

Monday, October 20, 2014

Book Review: Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

image: Goodreads
 Meg Wolitzer
 Young Adult Contemporary
 Published: September 2014

I love this premise: emotionally damaged kids surviving their loss at a tucked-away Vermont boarding school, and the teacher who encourages them to journal while reading Sylvia Plath. This book is like gateway reading to The Bell Jar, one of my favorite books. 

Wolitzer is a wonderful writer, with a number of adult market books of note. Plus, I saw her speak at Anderson's Books YA Literature Conference and bought this book a few days prior to its release (special!). I wanted to 5 star this book in the first chapter, though something about the overall execution knocked this down a bit for me. Perhaps my own inflated expectations. 

I read  Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar at fifteen. It's a complex novel exploring depression. Belzhar, which is a take on the words bell jar, takes a somewhat lighter approach, though the trauma the characters have experienced is quite serious. The lead character Jam (a nickname though I can't remember the full name) plays somewhat of an unreliable narrator. All we know going in is that her boyfriend died, and the details are revealed over the course of the book. To me it seemed the story started in a moody place, but ultimately did not go as deep into their grief and depression as I expected. Instead, the story takes a somewhat higher level approach, and focuses on the friendships between the kids enrolled in the special English course they were each handpicked to take. 

Also, there is a mystical element. I thought I'd mention that, though it sort of veers more Magical Realism than fantasy. I would definitely recommend this for teen readers, especially as a companion to reading The Bell Jar, which might make the classic feel more accessible. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Writing Retreat

This time last weekend, I headed up north with my critique group for two days of writing, plotting, brainstorming, and few distractions (we didn't turn the TV on once!)

If you're interested in trying out a weekend writing getaway, I'll share some insight and tips!

Photo:Stephanie Scott

We rented a bungalow a block from a lake and brought our own food. This was a pretty basic, not-at-all-fancy rental. Our main requirements were enough places to sit and spread out our work, a full kitchen, and Wifi access (you gotta!). We also did not want to drive far, so places within a 2 hour drive were on our list.

Split between four of us, this was a very affordable retreat. We did go out for Saturday dinner and walked two blocks to a local place right on the lake.

As for writing, each of us had different goals, and we determined ahead of time to write out specific goals so we weren't just sitting around chatting (though some of that happened too). In our group, two writers are under contract with deadlines, and two of us are working on drafts.

Since I recently realized my current project has some *issues* I decided to overhaul the plot completely. And I needed help. BAD.

One of my critique group members brought materials that I originally shared with her (LOL) and we went over my new plot idea to determine the story's inciting event, first turning point, mid-way turning point, third turning point, crisis/black moment, realization, and ending. Plus a bunch of character stuff.

(Some of what we used came from writer Robin Perini's website, some handouts linked here.)

So while I literally had these materials already, what I needed was hand holding someone to help  me brainstorm through these points. The collaborative aspect of writers getting together cannot be understated! We went through several variations of the plot, including a few dead-ends that forced us to go back and reconsider.

This is stuff I would have given up on if I was doing this myself, thinking I'll figure it out as I write. But I really didn't want to get stuck again with a plot that didn't have large enough stakes built in.

Tips to a Successful Writing Retreat:

  • Find out what you want out of a retreat
  • Write down your Must list
  • Make it affordable, convenient, and/or flexible for those involved
  • Set realistic, tangible goals for yourself
  • Create a basic agenda and include flexible or fun time
  • Bring games 
  • Share what you know

Have you gone on a writer's weekend away by yourself or with a group? Please share in the comments!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Still Me by Amy Patrick Book Blitz

Still Me by Amy Patrick 
(20Something #3)
Publication date: October 10th 2014
Genres: Contemporary, New Adult, Romance

Fall in love like a 20 Something….

23 year old Kenley Moran is going through a mid-life crisis… WAY early. Pushed since childhood by a nightmare stage-mom to use her looks to “land a rich man”, she’s reeling from a broken engagement and regretting the day she gave up her career in TV news for a guy.

Now Kenley’s determined to change her life, shunning makeup and fashion and fighting her way back into the highly competitive career she loves, off-camera this time. When she lands a producing job at Worldwide News Network in Atlanta, she plans to keep her head down, work hard, and prove she’s not just another pretty face. And vows NO ONE is EVER going to make her compromise herself again.

WNN anchor Larson Overstreet has it all—old money, good looks, a prestigious job, and more women than he can count throwing themselves at him. Problem is… none of it is real. He’s known his whole life that people are only interested in him for his fortune and his famous family name, in that order. Except for Kenley. The shy news producer isn’t interested in him at all.

Working closely with the anchor of her new show, Kenley’s dismayed to feel an instant spark. Larson’s everything she doesn’t want. He’s too good looking, too charming, and worst of all, too rich. She’s not looking for another big money honey. In fact, she’d prefer a nice little guy from the mailroom, maybe a guy who lives at home like she’s been forced to do.
But when they must travel together for a special report, Kenley realizes Larson’s not the spoiled pretty rich boy she pegged him as, and she’s not as immune to him as she’s pretended to be.
Now, even at the network level, what happens behind the scenes is the real story.

Add to your To Read on Goodreads 
Purchase: Amazon 

And for a limited timeCHANNEL 20 SOMETHING book 1 in the series is FREE on the following formats:

Amazon / B&N / iTunes / Kobo 

Amy is a two-time Golden Heart finalist (2013 and 2014) who writes Young Adult fiction as Amy DeLuca and New Adult romance as Amy Patrick.  She lives in Rhode Island with her husband and two sons and actually craves the heat and humidity of Mississippi, where she grew up. She's been a professional singer and news anchor and currently narrates audio books as well as working as a station host for a Boston TV station.

Author links: 
Twitter: @amypatrickbooks

Friday, October 3, 2014

It's Friday! Plus: Writing Resources

Hey everyone! Today I wanted to share some writerly things in a catch-all type of post.


The YA chapter of RWA (YARWA) has a bunch of online courses coming up this month which are open to non-members. $20-$25 gets you some pretty great stuff:

The YARWA group also has a closed group pitch fest with pre-selected agents coming up at the end of the month. It's exclusive for members of  YARWA, and I'm excited I get to work with some agents on planning that!

Romance Writers have a ton of workshops and conferences open for non-members. Many are applicable to writing in general and not specifically romance. ChecFacebook pagek here for updated classes.

Blog Pitch Contests

Nightmare on Query Street starts 10/15 Info Here

The Bakers Dozen hosted by Miss Snark's First Victim in November. Details here
Practice your pitch next week on the blog!


Here's a great post from Delilah Dawson on finding story ideas. I reviewed her Southern Gothic YA Servants of the Storm recently here.

Writing Support

Check in with the YA Buccaneers on twitter for #FallWritingBootcamp They have a fun care package exchange coming up.

Insecure Writers Support Group has a Facebook group, a twitter hashtag #IWSG and a website. Go forth and network!

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Insecure Writers Support Group (IWSG)

Happy Wednesday! We're back for another check in with a great supportive network of writers. Make sure to check out a few blogs posting today. The full list here.

When You Become the Writer Giving Advice

I haven't been doing this fiction writing thing for very long. Not so many years ago I attended a free, public library writers group with a friend and was completely intimidated to share my work with a table of twenty plus writers.

I didn't know how to critique.
I didn't know plot structure.
I didn't know character sheets.
I didn't know writers calculated word count vs. pages.
I didn't know market trends.

What I knew, was that I loved reading, I was okay at writing things like opinion articles, and blog posts, and diatribes on message forums. I started college as a journalism major. But I knew jack about fiction writing, and once I got a taste, I dove right in. Call me a sponge, because I soaked up everything.

The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It . . . Successfully
link: B&N
One of the best books I've read on the business of writing is The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published. The reason this book is so great is that it showed me I had no business reading about getting my book published when I didn't know how to write a book. Let alone a marketable one.

It's truly essential to have this pointed out. The book helped me see: OH, this whole book biz is complicated. When I showed up to the signing event for this book, which included a panel of publishing professionals, I 'd never seen my local indie that full. Everywhere, people practically exploding from the aisles, tightly wedged and muscling their way toward the front with hopes of pitching to the panel. (Because unknown to me, this was also a pitch event).

Yeah, a lot of people want to publish books.

So, I spent a few years learning the craft of writing. I did what the Essential Guide advised me to do: I signed up for Publisher's Weekly's free newsletter. I found links to blogs about writing, publishing, and author sites who support new writers. I followed authors on twitter. I found SCBWI and RWA. I attended local writing workshops and conferences. Every six months, I progressed, even surprising myself with what I could accomplish.

Fast forward to now, and it still feels strange to have writers come to me for advice. I'm no longer my agent's newest client. I started a critique group who look to me to organize our meetings (and an actual event!). I am mentoring a writer in Pitch Wars.

Every little bit I've learned I will pass on to those who want it. I have many more milestones ahead, and have so much more to learn from writers further along. But what I have now, I can share. And I'm loving that journey.

What milestones have you achieved in your own writing or reading life? 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Fall Writing Bootcamp check in

YA Buccaneers are hosting a Fall Writing Bootcamp to help you make and achieve your writing goals. Check out the details here

So far I finished everything on my initial checklist! Critique group completed, beta reading notes for a writer friend completed, notes to my Pitch Wars mentee and alternate completed (though we still have more work to do!). 

What I'm working on this week:

  • Final tweaks on manuscript changes; will send back to agent in the next 2 days
  • Potentially beta readfor a new-to-me writer
  • Continue to brainstorm how to increase the story stakes in my WIP (so far, not much luck)
  • Sketch out preliminary new story idea notes

I want to have sufficient material to work on during next month's writing retreat with my critique group! We booked a cottage near a lake and everything. I need to go in prepared, and right now I'm sort of stuck between projects; not sure how to proceed with WIP. 

Check in on twitter #fallwritingbootcamp and let's keep each other encouraged and accountable. Also, check here for scheduled writing sprints for the week.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Book Review: Servants of the Storm by Delilah S. Dawson

Servants of the Storm
by: Delilah S. Dawson
YA Paranormal
Published: August 2014

Do you like the idea of combining Southern Gothic, hurricane aftermath, and abandoned demonic amusement parks? Then this is your bag.

In the year following a hurricane that devastated the city of Savannah, seventeen-year-old Dovey wanders through life in a meaningless fog after watching her best friend Carly get swept up by the storm right before her eyes. Only her fog might not be purely post-traumatic. The mysterious unmarked pills her parents urge her to take every day, and strange sightings--thinking she sees Carly running through the streets--lead her to question what really happened to her best friend.

I loved the Gothic undertones depicting a crumbling and decaying post-storm Savannah, Georgia. The creepy factor is upped further with hints of witchcraft or magic, it's not too clear at the start. Most characters are suspect here, given how Dovey has been in a pharmaceutical haze for the past year, and doesn't know who she can trust. Parts of the mythology reminded me a bit of Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, especially how the paranormal world exists within a contemporary "unknowing" world.

And this book gets creepy. People die, and some pretty brutal things go down. There is definitely a horror element here, though in YA you're never really going to get too far in. Still, I was really impressed at the world set up here, and the exploration of the relationships with Dovey, her allegiance to her friend. Add in her school buddy Baker who's by her side no matter what, and the mysterious Isaac, who possibly holds answers to Carly's disappearance, and there's a love triangle that doesn't really feel like a love triangle, in all the best ways.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Take Me On Blitz: Katie McGarry

Release Date: 05/27/14
Harlequin Teen

Summary from Goodreads:
Acclaimed author Katie McGarry returns with the knockout new story of two high school seniors who are about to learn what winning really means.

Champion kickboxer Haley swore she'd never set foot in the ring again after one tragic night. But then the guy she can't stop thinking about accepts a mixed martial arts fight in her honor. Suddenly, Haley has to train West Young. All attitude, West is everything Haley promised herself she'd stay away from. Yet he won't last five seconds in the ring without her help.

West is keeping a big secret from Haley. About who he really is. But helping her-fighting for her-is a shot at redemption. Especially since it's his fault his family is falling apart. He can't change the past, but maybe he can change Haley's future.

Hayley and West have agreed to keep their relationship strictly in the ring. But as an unexpected bond forms between them and attraction mocks their best intentions, they'll face their darkest fears and discover love is worth fighting for.

Excerpt from Take Me On:

She pretends I didn’t speak. “Have you ever wrapped your hands before?”

“None of the fights I’ve been in have included advance notification so I bare-knuckled it.”

“And that,” she says with her best under-eyelash schoolteacher glare, “has to stop. Outside of 

this gym, there are no fights.”

“Hey, I don’t go looking for trouble. It finds me.”

Haley inclines her head at a stool and I sit. “Put your hand up, like this.” She sticks her hand in 

the air, palm down, with spread fingers.

I follow directions and Haley hooks a circle of material at the end of the wrap on my thumb. 

“Do you see the tag?”

I nod.

“It goes faceup. The trick to wrapping is to think in threes.” She winds the material around 

my wrist in layers. “Three up the wrist and then three back down. Tight enough that you create 

tension, loose enough that you don’t cut off circulation and cause your fingers to fall off.”

Haley’s thigh applies pressure to my own and I drop my knee open so she can slide between 

my legs. Every cell within my body hums and, when I breathe in, all I smell is the sweet scent 

of wildflowers. Her fingers work diligently, brushing against my skin as she weaves the material 

around and around again.

The seriousness of her face tells me she has no idea how close she is. How with each caress of 

her fingertips, I go up in flames.

Available from:
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Books in the series:
(covers linked to Goodreads)
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About the Author
KATIE MCGARRY was a teenager during the age of grunge and boy bands and remembers those years as the best and worst of her life. She is a lover of music, happy endings, and reality television, and is a secret University of Kentucky basketball fan.

Katie would love to hear from her readers. Contact her via her website,, follow her on Twitter @KatieMcGarry, or become a fan on Facebook and Goodreads.

Author Links:
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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Book Review: SEKRET by Lindsay Smith

Image: Goodreads
By: Lindsay Smith
YA Historical/Paranormal
Published: April 2014

Psychic Russian teen spies. Do you need any more than this? The premise of SEKRET, set in early 1960s Cold War Russia, intrigued me from the start. Yulia is recruited by force by the KGB for her capability to read minds, joining a small group of other teens with similar mind-manipulating abilities. Only, of course, not all is as it seems! Yulia's  father disappeared prior to the story, and her mother and brother are taken right before Yulia is taken in with the KGB. She has quite a bit to uncover with her own family, as well as whether she can trust her fellow students.

I really liked the historical factors which blended actual history with embellished psychic abilities, making this more like a speculative, alternate history, which is really exciting to see in Young Adult. Kind of like a YA spin on the TV show The Americans (though this story actually takes place in Russia).

The love story subplot reads a little clunky, but overall the tension from love interests adds to the story's stakes, so it works. If you're looking for a different read with a bit of suspense, a unique setting, and historical details, SEKRET is a fresh read.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Pitch Wars Thoughts and Experiences ... So Far

This is my first time as a mentor with Pitch Wars, the writer-mentors-writer project and contest Brenda Drake hosts on her blog. Check it out here.

Check out my Pitch Wars mentee Dawn on twitter here @norman99
and alternate Adrianne here @writersrepublic

Pitch Wars

I wanted to put together thoughts on what I experienced in my brief stint as pseudo-agent, when potential mentees submitted a query and first chapter to me. The goal being to help the chosen writer prepare their manuscript, pitch, and query letter for the agent round, and for querying beyond that.

You Are All Awesome

Overall, I was super impressed by the quality coming through. So much variety, and so many great stories. I could only choose one writer to mentor, plus an alternate.

I posted on my bio I was mainly looking for Young Adult contemporary since that is what I read and have most of my writing familiarity with. And the entrants delivered! I received mostly contemporary stories, with a few fantasy thrown in based on my request for Magical Realism (more on that later), and a number of YA with suspense or mystery elements, which I also said I would like, plus a few other random subgenres. I based these category preferences on what the agents in our agent round are looking for. No sense in saying I would love to read a vampire mermaid Cinderella retelling if no one in publishing is in the market for that.

Anything I discuss in this post, I saw examples of more than once. I am not singling out any one manuscript or any one writer. These were common occurrences.


Let me just say this: queries are difficult. They are this weird, extremely specific piece of persuasive writing that is not at all something you just whip up and call it a day. If you want to be successful in pitching to professionals in publishing, this is one aspect that pays to do your homework. The beauty of Pitch Wars is that's what the mentors are here for: to help with queries.

Limit how much you talk about yourself

Most writers had the basic formula down (think cover letter for a job), though some spent half or more of the query discussing themselves as a writer, their story inspiration, their love of books, etc, rather than the story. A few lines is all you need about yourself, primarily limited to writing credentials. When I first drafted a query, I had no writing credentials. I wrote that I was a member of SCBWI and later RWA. That was it, and it worked just fine.

Know your wordcount

I didn't see anything outlandish on wordcount, though a handful were on the very low end or very high end, which I commented on. The industry has guidelines for wordcount per genre. Yes, there are exceptions, though as a debut author trying to break into traditional publishing, it is to your advantage to stay within these parameters. If your pages are amazing and wonderful for your romantic contemporary YA at 120k words, an agent *might* respond anyway. They are inevitably going to ask you to cut that down to 90k or lower. This is reality.

Know your genre

We can debate nuances of subgenres all day. A few I received challenged the conventional norms of YA, and in each of those I appreciate the story and what the author was attempting, I advised to reconsider genre because I knew agents would question it. It had nothing to do with the quality of their story, but more that agents and editors have expectations for what they pitch to publishers.

Magical Realism. My agent loves this subgenre and I've seen her tweet numerous times about what this genre is, comparative novel examples, and she still receives subs for high fantasy and paranormal thinking they fit in this category. Magical Realism is very subtle unexplained things, or very light magical occurrences that are often not fully explained. Sarah Addison Allen writes them, Like Water For Chocolate is one, and so is Nova Ren Suma's Imaginary Girls.

Again, it's not that I'm picky, is that when you label a story this way and send it to an agent who expects this, and they see something else, it's an easy reason to reject without even reading. You could have a great story, but your portal world with a magic race of fairy elves pitched as Magical Realism might get an auto-reject based on wrong genre alone.

When in doubt, ask! That's what twitter, blogs, writer friends, Absolute Write, and teh Internetz are for.

Resist the urge to be vague

Red flag anytime you see a cliche in a query. Or generic description that could be anybody's book, Cliches aren't so welcome in manuscripts, but they are even more glaring in a query. Lives "spiraling out of control" for example. What specifically about the character's life spiraled out of control? More so, what does the character WANT, and what stands in their way?

People say write a query like a back cover blurb. I think this is bad advice. Back cover blurbs often have cliches in them. Once you get to a point where you are working exclusively with an editor or have multi-book contracts, use all the cliches you want. Until then, I'm telling you. Cliche, go away.

Drive the hook home

Some queries had a great set up, and then the final hook .... a character must seek truth. A character must question their being. These are vague with no stakes. It may be true, but you need a bigger, or perhaps, more specific, ending hook. Even if the story is more internally focused, there have to be external factors moving the plot forward or else there's no plot. Get that plot in the query:

Jerrica must stop the Misfits from stealing her band's gear, or else she will be forced to forfeit the talent competition. 

(Thank you Jem and the Holograms for the inspiration). This hook names specific people, a specific action, and a specific result. Sure,  it could be written with a little more pizzazz, but honestly, getting the basics in there is really key.

Not every weak query led to weak pages

Several of my top choices had either vague or not-quite-there queries. Ultimately, I'm going to evaluate a work on the writing, not just the cover letter to the story. So it wasn't always the case that a weak query meant weak writing. Queries are fixable. The point again is, will an agent or editor keep reading? I did because I'm not either of those; I'm a writer helping writers.

First Chapters

Reminder: I am not singling anyone out here: I saw multiple examples of these issues.

Predictable or cliche starts

Beginning a book with a character driving or just arriving somewhere.

Beginning a book with a character waking up, eating breakfast, getting ready, and driving somewhere.

Yes, you can do these things. But should you? Often these scenes had great interaction between characters, showing their personalities or sharing essential information. Sometimes they had characters explaining mundane details, or even explaining plot, right there on the first page.

Strive to do more. Make your opening page engaging with a scene we haven't seen before. Yes, you can have a character wake up and start their day. Take two sentences for that--now what?

Beginning a book with a character staring into space and pondering their life.

Do you want your story, that you've sweat over, cried over, dissed time with your friends and family over, to start out the way so many other stories do?

Resource: Donald Maass Writing the Breakout Novel. Get your characters out of the car, and out of the kitchen.

Disoriented starts

Some pages started out great, and then I found myself backtracking. Who did what now? Wait, who's that guy? Is he the guy who said the thing, or the other guy? A general good rule is to limit how many characters you introduce on the first page; no set rule, but introducing five characters and they are all talking and interacting can be tough to engage with.

There's a sweet spot with starting with action. A chase scene *might* be too much if we don't know who the main character is, what they are running from, and why we should care. Backing up a little to show how the character got there could help show them in a current state before the chase. However, backing all the way up to 7 a.m. and breakfast--probably not needed. Start as close to the action as you can, but not necessarily in the middle of it.

Easy right?

That's why you have your writer friends, and why Writers Digest makes money. We all want to know how to do this book thing better.

I hope everyone who subbed to me stays encouraged and keeps pressing on. This biz isn't easy, but we're here for each other as much as we can be.

Happy editing.