Friday, July 21, 2017

Book Talk & Giveaway: HOW TO DISAPPEAR by Sharon Huss Roat

My book talks are coming at you from a librarian, not a reviewer. You won't find me talking about style or craft, why I think this could've been better or what worked or didn't work. I only do book talks on books I liked and want other people to know about. So if it's here I probably think it won't injure your brain if you read it.

Vicky Decker has perfected the art of hiding in plain sight, quietly navigating the halls of her high school undetected except by her best (and only) friend, Jenna. But when Jenna moves away, Vicky’s isolation becomes unbearable.

So she decides to invent a social life by Photoshopping herself into other people’s pictures, posting them on Instagram under the screen name Vicurious. Instantly, she begins to get followers, so she adds herself to more photos from all over the world with all types of people. And as Vicurious’s online followers multiply, Vicky realizes she can make a whole life for herself without ever leaving her bedroom. But the more followers she finds online, the clearer it becomes that there are a lot of people out there who feel like her— #alone and #ignored in real life.

To help them, and herself, Vicky must find the courage to face her fear of being “seen,” because only then can she stop living vicariously and truly bring the magic of Vicurious to life.

Want to help me with mailing costs? I do giveaways at least once week, sometimes more. It can add up. If you feel so inclined as to donate a little to defray my mailing costs, it would be much appreciated! Donating has no impact on your chances of winning.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

PitchWars! What To Know About Me As A Mentor


Yes, it's true. I'm going to be co-mentoring again this year with Kate Karyus Quinn for PitchWars!

What is PitchWars? For those who don't know, check out this post on Brenda Drake's site. It's got all the info you need.

If you're interested in having me for a mentor, there are some things you need to be aware of. First off, I'm not here to make you feel good about yourself. You have friends for that, and probably a mom too. I'm a tough love mentor. I believe that my job is to make you better, and compliments don't make you improve. Criticism does. And I've got that in spades.

I will say nice things to you when you deserve them.

But for every kind word there will be three to five points that I think need work, and I won't hesitate to point them out. Be ready for that. Be cool with it. Embrace the monster that is having me for a mentor.

What am I looking for?

Kate and I both write dark, edgy YA. We also both write across genres, so neither one of us is looking or any specific genre to mentor. We want that ever-elusive element called voice. We're okay with sex. We're okay with violence. We're okay with language. However, none of those things can exist only for shock value. Do it well, do it right, and we'll notice you.

However, any eroticism of rape is completely off the table.

Kate and I will also be offering query and first page critiques to those who apply for us as mentors, but are not chosen. These will be posted on our blogs, so you must be okay with the criticism being out there, online, if you agree to the query and first page critique.

And THERE'S MORE -- if you'd like a first 500 word critique from me, I'm happy to do that. Comment on this blog post and I'll randomly choose a winner one week from this post going live. Be sure to leave your email address in the comment so that I can get a hold of you if you win.

A great way to learn more about Kate and I as writers and people is to listen to the debut episode of my podcast, Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire. Kate was my first guest, and you can easily garner a lot about us from listening in. The podcast is for aspiring and established writers, so if you like that first episode, keep on listening. It's free, and you can learn a lot.



And WHAT ELSE?! I am doing a giveaway below for an ARC of my October release, THIS DARKNESS MINE. Enter to win, and be sure to check out ALL of the #PitchWars Mentors below!

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Jennifer Fenn On Finding Inspiration In Real Life

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask any writer where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers, and in that vein I created the WHAT (What the Hell Are you Thinking?) interview. Always including in the WHAT is one random question to really dig down into the interviewees mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well.

Today's guest for the WHAT is Jennifer Fenn, author of FLIGHT RISK. She is a graduate of Lycoming College and Rosemont College's MFA program.

Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your book?

My book was inspired by a true story, that of Colton Harris Moore, aka “The Barefoot Bandit.” When I first became aware of Harris Moore’s story in 2010, he was still on the run from law enforcement after stealing several planes. I was fascinated by this story immediately. While I knew what he was doing was dangerous and illegal, a large part of me did not want to see him caught. I’m a mom, a former teacher and a law-abiding citizen, so I was very interested in exploring what about Harris Moore made me so sympathetic toward him. I first wrote a fictional piece inspired by his story in the form of a flash fiction piece. A year or so later, I was teaching “Maniac Magee” in my 7th grade classroom. The rhyme Jerry Spinelli created about his main character on the first page of that book gave a new layer of meaning to the story I already had percolating in my mind: how are legends and folk heroes created in our media-saturated society? Both the appeal of the anti-hero and that question drove the creation of my novel “Flight Risk.”  

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

I’m a “pantser,” but I nearly always write my endings first, and that was the case with “Flight Risk.” I had a particular image, that of a giant, “lollipop” moon as seen from the pilot’s seat of a stolen plane. I knew I wanted to end with that and wrote it first. I also knew I wanted to work with multiple points of view, so I began writing scenes in several different voices. Basically, if there’s a scene I’m pumped to write, I write it, no matter where it exists in the story chronologically. Then I have to work to connect my scenes to create a coherent structure.  

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

Yes, particularly as someone who rarely outlines. I find that to be the most satisfying, magical part of writing—when suddenly I’m typing a scene that I didn’t know was coming!!  

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

Story ideas come to me often enough, but unless I can envision an ending, I rarely pursue them further. As I’ve said, I don’t outline, but I need a destination on the map!  

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

Usually, one story starts to interest me more than another. Another thing I always do is ‘soundtrack’ my stories. Creating a playlist to go with a work in progress helps me determine the story’s mood and really inspires me. If a playlist starts to emerge for a particular idea, that’s become, for me, a sign that it could be a keeper.  

I always, always, always empty my bladder before I start writing. Nothing stops short a burst creativity like a burst of urine. Do you have any “musts” before you sit down to write? 

As the mother of a small child, I’ve learned to not be as choosey about the conditions under which I write. I’ve written with my newborn daughter napping on top of me, in the car on family vacations, and recently knocked out 19 pages in a Target cafĂ©. Flexibility has become a part of my style!

Monday, July 17, 2017

A Thing Or Two In My Life

Last week I stayed in a dome in the middle of nowhere that had been built in preparation for the fallout of Y2K (which didn't happen, but they still got a pretty cool second home out of the deal). Staying there with no cell service, no wi-fi, and no TV was a good experience. I recommend being unplugged to anyone that might need a mental reset.

I'm back in the land of the busy this week, and wanted to keep everyone up to date on what's going on with me.

I got advance copies of GIVEN TO THE EARTH! They are gorgeous... and I'll be sharing a sneak peek of the cover for anyone who supports me on Patreon on the $5 dollar level this month.

At that level you get a monthly update video in which I'll share what's been up with me lately, and know in advance what ARCs I'll be giving away on the blog (I've got some really awesome ones lined up for August), and also who my upcoming podcast guests will be. You can also feel free to ask me any questions that you might like to have answered - about publishing, writing, my books, or whatever you'd like - and I'll answer them in the video.


In other news, I will be appearing at the WizardWorld ComicCon in Columbus August 4-6. I have two panels and will be selling and signing GIVEN TO THE SEA at the con all three days. I don't know where my table is, but if you're there and curious shoot me a tweet and I should know once I'm on the floor where my table will be located.


Last week I was the guest on the podcast About The Author with Kristen Flowers from 96.5 KOIT out in the Bay area. I talked about my publishing journey, the research methods I used while writing A MADNESS SO DISCREET, and a little bit about my writing process. 



My own podcast, Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire, was featured on Podbean last week. I've got lots of new followers, and if it's led you here to the blog - awesome! Today's ep features guest Jody Casella, author of the YA novel THIN SPACE, and regional director of the Central/Southern Ohio chapter of SCBWI. Jody joined me to talk about MFA’s, querying as an already published writer, the benefits of joining SCBWI - the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators - and how attending book festivals geared for readers can also be beneficial to writers.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Saturday Slash

Meet my Hatchet of Death (or, some other colorful description RC Lewis and I come up with at any given moment). This is how I edit myself, it is how I edit others. If you think you want to play with me and my hatchet, shoot us an email.

We all know the first line of a query is your "hook." I call the last line the "sinker." You want it to punch them in the face, in a nice, friendly kind of way that makes them unable to forget you after having read the 300 other queries in their inbox.

If you're looking for query advice, but are slightly intimidated by my claws, blade, or just my rolling googly-eyes, check out the query critique boards over at AgentQueryConnect. This is where I got my start, with advice from people smarter than me. Don't be afraid to ask for help with the most critical first step of your writing journey - the query. My comments appear in green.

Everyone wants to control the most powerful magical being alive. Too bad she's escaped her universe, Coronam, and spent the past eight years pretending to be human. Until she's caught. Hmm... I feel like I need to know who caught her, and why?

Now, sixteen year old Selena Bennet is living in her former palace once again, this time as a prisoner. Her only chance of getting out: convincing her captors they've found the wrong girl. To do that, she must pretend her memory's been erased – something that could only happen to a human. I think I need to know why she left in the first place, and why it's so important to have her back. Also, is the memory erasing thing a common tact used by the citizens / soldiers of Coronam? It seems like an odd plan otherwise. 

Back in Coronam, Selena learns a lot has changed since she was still the princess. She's spent the last eight years trying to disassociate herself with the homeland that now hates her, but what she discovers may no longer make going back an option. Selena is the only one strong enough to start another war, and it might just be time to fight. Again, we need to know her motivation for leaving, and why they hate her now. Also, I'm not sure I'd put so much emphasis on the plan being try to convince people she's the wrong person, if she then has to turn around and convince people to follow her into a war. Seems like really shaky logic, and a very abrupt change of heart, which will make agents wonder if the text suffers because of the flip-flop.

Coronam's Lost is a YA fantasy completed at 92,000 words, and is available upon request. It will appeal to lovers of strong, female characters, political and moral issues, as well as readers who enjoyed Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, The Young Elites by Marie Lu and Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi. I've attended creative writing classes, and am a member of SCBWI.

So you say it has these things - strong female characters, political and moral issues - but I don't see them in the query. I see a girl who ran away from responsibility (why?) then flip-flops on what she wants (stay or go?) and a war against... ? and for... ? I have no idea. Get those things in the query.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Book Talk & Giveaway: THESE THINGS I'VE DONE by Rebecca Phillips

My book talks are coming at you from a librarian, not a reviewer. You won't find me talking about style or craft, why I think this could've been better or what worked or didn't work. I only do book talks on books I liked and want other people to know about. So if it's here I probably think it won't injure your brain if you read it.

Dara's first day back at her old school after a year away is nerve wracking - and not because she doesn't know what to wear. Everyone believes she killed her best friend, Aubrey - and over a boy, of all things. When Aubrey fell (or was she pushed?) in front of a truck, she died instantly, leaving Dara with the consequences.

A year living with her aunt and uncle and receiving therapy has helped clear her head. Returning to her old school to graduate is something she feels she has to do. But that means coming face to face with all of her old friends, as well as the person who has the most cause to hate her - Ethan, Aubrey's little brother.

But Ethan - of all people - actually defends her from the taunts in the hallway, though she doesn't recognize him at first. The skinny kid she knew has grown into something else, someone she might even be attracted to - if that didn't mean one more, final, betrayal of her best friend.

Want to help me with mailing costs? I do giveaways at least once week, sometimes more. It can add up. If you feel so inclined as to donate a little to defray my mailing costs, it would be much appreciated! Donating has no impact on your chances of winning.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Melanie Crowder On Writing For Yourself

Welcome to the SNOB - Second Novel Ominipresent Blues. Whether you’re under contract or trying to snag another deal, you’re a professional now, with the pressures of a published novelist compounded with the still-present nagging self-doubt of the noobie. How to deal?


Today's guest for the SNOB is Melanie Crowder, author of many books for young readers including PARCHED, A NEARER MOON, and her newest, AN UNINTERRUPTED VIEW OF THE SKY

Is it hard to leave behind the first YA and focus on the second?

The hardest thing was getting out of the form and voice of my first YA. In Audacity, my protagonist was such a force, and by the time I had finished revisions, the verse novel form was like second nature to me. But I had no interest in writing the same book, only with different characters in a different situation, so I really had to yank myself out of that first book so I could give An Uninterrupted View of the Sky the space to be its own story.

At what point do you start diverting your energies from promoting your debut and writing / polishing / editing your second?

Really early on. There are two philosophies here—one where you devote months and sometimes years to promoting one book, banking on the first’s success to propel the second into even greater success, and another where you launch the one (of course doing every last thing your publicist asks of you) and then let go, freeing up the creative space for something new.

I chose the second. I’m happiest when I’m working on that next book, so that’s where I put my energy.

Your first book landed an agent and an editor, and hopefully some fans. Who are you writing the second one for? Them, or yourself?

My stories are for my readers, but I write for me. It’s become a huge part of who I am. When I have a productive writing day, I feel good about myself and my place in the world. When I don’t I’m a little like a runner who takes a day off and then feels sluggish as a result. There is nothing else that fills me up like writing does. So yes, I write for me.

Is there a new balance of time management to address once you’re a professional author?

Absolutely. Correspondence with editors, publicists, and the school and library team. Social media. Bookkeeping and taxes. School visits. Award acceptance speeches to write and banquets to attend. Conferences keynotes to deliver and book festivals to gear up for.

All of this takes energy, and it takes time. (Of course, some of it is much more fun than other parts. Yes, taxes, I’m looking at you.)

I have found that scheduling myself to prioritize writing time is essential. I try to stay off email and social media until the late morning, after I’ve had time to work on my story. If I’m traveling, I try to plan for a day of reading when I get home to replenish my energy and inspiration.

I don’t have the luxury of writing a book and setting it aside for months to simmer anymore like I did before I was published. My deadlines won’t allow for it. So that means I need to be disciplined with my time and I also need to take care of my creative energy. If I let myself become too depleted, my stories will suffer. And no amount of writing “business” is worth that.

What did you do differently the second time around, with the perspective of a published author?

I think the biggest difference was that my editor and I were familiar with one another this time around. Audacity’s success set a really high bar for An Uninterrupted View of the Sky, but it also gave us a great foundation to build upon.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Lots Going On!

There is a lot going on in my life online right now, which of course means it's the perfect time for me to disappear to a hideaway in the woods with no internet connection.

First off, don't miss the newest podcast episode featuring Middle Grade author and playwright Tara Dairman. Tara talks about how to use social media when your target audience may not necessarily be online, and how writing plays influences her fiction, as well as the value of contests when you're in the query trenches.



What else is going on with me?

GIVEN TO THE SEA has been released on audio book! With performances by Monika Felice Smith, Robbie Daymond, Alex McKenna, and Sunil Malhotra, it's a winner. If you're looking for something to do over the next eleven hours or so, give it a listen.

If you want to read a physical book instead and think that getting books before their publication date is cool, check out this giveaway of THIS DARKNESS MINE on Goodreads.

And lastly, if you follow me on Instagram you'll notice that I've been doing an Instagram challenge for #Pitchwars on there. Writing advice, pictures of cats, more about me... who knows what all is going to end up on there.


Friday, July 7, 2017

BookTalk & ARC Giveaway: A LINE IN THE DARK by Malinda Lo

My book talks are coming at you from a librarian, not a reviewer. You won't find me talking about style or craft, why I think this could've been better or what worked or didn't work. I only do book talks on books I liked and want other people to know about. So if it's here I probably think it won't injure your brain if you read it.

Jess and Angie are best friends, and even though Jess has long harbored romantic feelings for Angie, she manages to keep it a secret. But her feelings are bubbling out, finding expression in her artwork, especially the series of comics she works on that Angie is a fan of.

When Angie meets Margot, a girl from a neighboring private school, sparks fly - but some are from Jess. Angie and Margot instantly hit it off, but Jess struggles with anger, and more than a little jealousy. When a friend from Jess' art program tells her an alarming story about Margot and her cohorts, Jess worries that warning Angie will only make her look spiteful.

With tension in their friendship seeping into her artwork, Angie has a hard time avoiding her feelings. Margot is unbearable, Angie is changing, and everything seems to be going wrong. When Angie invites Jess along to one of Margot's parties, personalities explode, tempers escalate, and a line is crossed that leaves someone dead.

Want to help me with mailing costs? I do giveaways at least once week, sometimes more. It can add up. If you feel so inclined as to donate a little to defray my mailing costs, it would be much appreciated! Donating has no impact on your chances of winning.

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Monday, July 3, 2017

June Podcast Roundup & A Quick Copyright Lesson

I know a few things about copyright, some of it coming from my research training, and a big chunk learned over 15 years working as a librarian. It's a highly complicated - and often contentious - subject. However, I'm always amazed at how little authors know about it. I thought I'd use the podcast to help illuminate a little... and if you'd like to know more, I'm happy to continue with the topic next month.


Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Saturday Slash

Meet my Hatchet of Death (or, some other colorful description RC Lewis and I come up with at any given moment). This is how I edit myself, it is how I edit others. If you think you want to play with me and my hatchet, shoot us an email.

We all know the first line of a query is your "hook." I call the last line the "sinker." You want it to punch them in the face, in a nice, friendly kind of way that makes them unable to forget you after having read the 300 other queries in their inbox.

If you're looking for query advice, but are slightly intimidated by my claws, blade, or just my rolling googly-eyes, check out the query critique boards over at AgentQueryConnect. This is where I got my start, with advice from people smarter than me. Don't be afraid to ask for help with the most critical first step of your writing journey - the query. My comments appear in green.

Fifteen-year-old Prince Kyan has been preparing to be Creftenbaugh's next king for as long as he can remember. But so has his quick-tempered identical twin brother, Sayled. With the coronation ceremony quickly approaching and confusion over who was the first-born prince, King Rowden announces a series of five trials that? will determine the next ruler. Each prince will compete using nine criminals from the prisons, leading them as a general would his troops.

Kyan knows he’s studied harder than his twin and is determined to prove he’s the better prince to keep Creftenbaugh peaceful and prosperous. Unfortunately, his memorized facts and figures are useless for training his prisoners. He struggles to keep the peace and make them work together, even after he offers their freedom if they win. Very good. I think you might want to add here what Sayled's training has been. Is her more military minded? Do these trails favor him over Kyan? We also need to know more about what these trials are like, even if they are vastly different from one another. Are these troops facing each other in battle? Solving puzzle like traps? Fighting dragons? Use this opportunity to get more genre-feel into the query. This is fantasy, sure. But is it high fantasy? Are there creatures? Is there magic?

One of Kyan’s prisoners, thirteen-year-old Enna, is desperate to return to her orphaned younger sister and sees an opportunity to help the prince. She shares information about the other prisoners with Kyan, which he then uses to gain their loyalties. Maybe a touch more detail here. Typically sharing information sounds like sabotage, not something that leads to gaining loyalties. It might even help to give more of an overall view of what the relationship here is like. Does Enna help Kyan learn how to relate to his troops, bringing them together as one? Something like that might be more helpful than going into detail about information?

After Kyan win(s) the first two trials, he can practically feel the crown on his head. But when a notorious gambler blackmails Enna with her sister’s life to ensure long-shot Sayled is Sayled the long-shot b/c Kyan won the first two? Or was he always? is the next king, her focus turns from winning the trials to sabotaging them.

Told in alternating points-of-view between the boy trying to win the crown and the girl who would do anything to stop him, PRINCES AND PAWNS is a 70,000-word upper-middle-grade fantasy. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Honestly, this looks pretty good. There's a lot of green type up there, but it's mostly for guidance. I think you need to blend the two paras that deal with Enna together, which will give the query a more focused look, and also illustrates the change in her character and goals over the course of a small amount of type, which is ideal for a query. There are a couple of echoes in the first para that I highlighted, and I think we need a feel for what the trials are like, which will in turn illustrate your world. Other than that I think you're in good shape.