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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Craft of Writing, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 168
1. Craft of Writing: Why I Read Reviews... Even the Soul-Crushing Ones by Gwendolyn Heasley

There are two genres of young adult fiction that I absolutely devour, and contemporary is one of them. Gwendolyn Heasley has written one of my absolute favourite books in that genre, WHERE I BELONG, and with the upcoming release of DON'T CALL ME BABY, i'm sure i'm going to have another favourite! Her new book arrives on shelves April 22nd and is supposed to be an amazing look at the relationship between mothers and daughters. I can't wait!

Why I Read Reviews…Even the Soul-Crushing Ones by Gwendolyn Heasley

Recently, someone wrote a review for my upcoming novel. Actually, the word review doesn’t describe it quite adequately as all it said was, “I’ve never wanted to punch a book in the face so much.” And that was it. Part of me wanted to laugh and the other part of me wanted to sob. Like many other authors, my books are my babies and no one wants someone to punch their baby. (And if someone punched my real-life baby, they would have another thing coming.) Even more puzzling, the reviewer then gave book two stars. If you want to punch a book, does it even deserve one star?

But here’s the thing…I love reading reviews, even the ones that don’t heart my books. In fact, I would have LOVED to know why that reviewer wanted to punch my book and I would’ve taken his or her reasoning very seriously. While I know many authors avoid review sites like GoodReads, I flock to them…and not in that I –want-to-rubber neck-and-see-my-own-car crash sensation. Rather, I read reviews because my readers are my customers and reviews can contain very valuable information.

(Of course, I’ll admit the reviews and fan letters that say my books changed their life are my favorites. I even save those in a secret file for when I’m feeling down and need an emotional writing boost.)

But the reviews that I learn the most from are the ones that specifically state what they didn’t like about my books in terms of craft. For instance, in my first novel, Where I Belong, the characters don’t use contractions when they speak. It was a simple choice I made that apparently drove readers bonkers. I respectfully read their opinions and contemplated my choice not to use them…and I realized I was in the wrong. It does make it harder to read when contractions are not used…and in my future books, I do use contractions. It’s a small thing, but it can make a big difference.

As an author, I spend a lot of time alone writing and being in my own head. It can be lonely. Reviews are a wonderful way to connect with readers because I don’t write just for myself. I write for teens (and those who are teens at heart), and it’s important for me to read and absorb what they think…even if it doesn’t change how I write or what I think. As in all aspects of life, I find it to be important to engage with people who’s opinions differ from your own and I think that applies to writing too.

But while I think it’s important to read general reviews, I think it’s even more important to find a group of beta readers. I recently graduated from Vermont College of Fine Arts where I earned my MFA. The entire experience was incredible but the best part is the community I gained during my time there. I know now that I have over dozen people whose opinions I trust completely. I respect and admire their writing and I know that they’ll give me honest and helpful feedback on mine. Since the line that “everyone is a critic” is definitely true (especially in the day and age of social media), it’s important to establish and foster relationships with other writers, ones whose opinions you value. While I read everyone’s reviews, the notes I get from my beta readers is what’s most important to me.

If you are an inspiring writer, try to open yourself up to feedback and critique. It can be hard, but it’s something that you’ll have to deal with throughout your writing life so it’s good to star early. And truthfully, you can learn so much from what others see in your writing. (And it’s also great to find out what people love about your writing too.) Also, once you get a book deal and have a editor, you’ll be getting a lot of feedback from him/her. If you are already open to critique and suggestions, you’ll be a step ahead. Of course, it’s always your story, so stick your ground on the parts that matter most to you… but also remember to listen to what others have to say too :)

So to all the writers out there, don’t be afraid of critiques and reviews. They can be crushing but they can also be inspiring and illuminating. Personally, I find readers’ ability to contact and connect with authors to be one of the most magical aspects of being an author in the 21st century.

So if you have opinions on my work, please share...And to whoever it is who wants to punch my book in the face, please let me know why. Also, if you want to hug my book, I’d love to hear about that too.

About The Author

Gwendolyn Heasley is a graduate of Davidson College and the University of Missouri-Columbia where she earned her master’s degree in journalism. When she was a little girl, she desperately wanted to be the next Ann M. Martin- the author of the beloved The Baby-Sitter’s Club series. She’s incredibly grateful that the recession rendered her unemployed and made her chase her nearly forgotten dream. She lives in New York City, teaches college and eats entirely too much mac and cheese for an adult.

Website | Twitter | Goodreads

About The Book

All her life, Imogene has been known as the girl on THAT blog.

Imogene's mother has been writing an incredibly embarrassing, and incredibly popular, blog about her since before she was born. Hundreds of thousands of perfect strangers knew when Imogene had her first period. Imogene's crush saw her "before and after" orthodontia photos. But Imogene is fifteen now, and her mother is still blogging about her, in gruesome detail, against her will.

When a mandatory school project compels Imogene to start her own blog, Imogene is reluctant to expose even more of her life online...until she realizes that the project is the opportunity she's been waiting for to tell the truth about her life under the virtual microscope and to define herself for the first time.

Don't Call Me Baby is a sharply observed and irrepressibly charming story about mothers and daughters, best friends and first crushes, and the surface-level identities we show the world online and the truth you can see only in real life.

Amazon | IndieBound | Goodreads

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2. Craft of Writing: Become A Story Detective by Darren Shan

Darren Shan is the widely known author of creepy, thrilling horror novels and is considered the master of horror in YA. His newest novel in the Zom-B series came out April 8th!

Become A Story Detective by Darren Shan

Where do a writer’s ideas come from? That’s a question wasted on writers, since it’s part of a much bigger question — where does ANY idea come from? How did mankind learn to think, to reason, to dream, to tell stories, to plot, to plan, to evolve? The genesis of ideas is key to the genesis of mankind itself. Great scientists, philosophers and theologians have addressed the question as far back as history recalls. While I certainly think writers can help prod and poke at that great question, I can’t see any of us providing a nice, neat answer any time soon!!!

But what people are really asking of writers when they ask that question, is how do you get ideas for a STORY, i.e. how do you develop ideas and turn them into stories or novels or plays or whatever. That’s a much easier one to answer — we investigate. Writers are, in essence, story detectives. I think just about everyone dreams, daydreams, has nightmares, imagines themselves in other positions (e.g. wondering what it would be like if you were a footballer or a rock star or a vet). We all have ideas. But a writer isn’t content to let an idea sit idle. When we have an idea, we start asking questions of it. We play around with the idea, bounce it off other ideas, imagine different outcomes if we roll it this way or that way. That’s a how a story grows and develops. My books always begin with a specific scene. Sometimes it’s a long scene. Other times it’s just a brief flash. That scene – that idea – can come from anywhere, at any time. What I then do is stick on my detective cap (metaphorically speaking) and interrogate the scene. For instance, if it’s a scene of someone dying, and somebody else crying, I ask why is the person crying? What happened to the person who died? Where are they? How did they get there? Is anybody else around?

Sometimes the answers come quickly, other times it can take years to figure them out. Pretty much like a murder case really — sometimes the police find the killer within a matter of hours, sometimes it can take months or years. Sometimes a case never gets solved, and you can bet everything you have that every writer has ideas that will never lead anywhere, no matter how long or how hard they work on them! You never know starting out where a story will lead — you just have to take what you have, examine it closely, and ask lots and lots of questions.

Of course, you could carry on asking questions forever, but that wouldn’t be very productive. At some point you’ve got to decide to press ahead — you take the answers that you have, sit down and start writing, and wait for more questions to crop up as you progress. It’s usually an eagerness to write a certain scene that impells me to begin. For instance, a few years ago I wrote a four-book series called The Saga Of Larten Crepsley. I’d been playing around with ideas for a number of years and had developed quite a lot of the plot, but nothing was compelling me to take it any further. Then I had an idea for a scene set on a ship — I saw the scene unfold in the cinema of my mind, and knew I had to start writing ASAP, because it was a scene I didn’t want to wait any longer to get to. I think this is probably the case for most writers. You ask questions, consider all sorts of answers, and wait for one that strikes a match and lights a fire in your mind. Once that happens, I believe that every writer KNOWS in their gut that it’s time to begin. I don’t know HOW we know. We just do. And that’s when you begin to take your smattering of ideas and leap off a cliff, in the hope that more ideas will open up into a lovely big parachute above you, allowing you to safely touch down in the middle of a fully-formed story.

About The Author

Darren Shan (born July 2, 1972 in London, England) is the pen name of the Irish author Darren O'Shaughnessy, as well as the name of the protagonist of his book series The Saga of Darren Shan, also known as The Cirque Du Freak Series in the United States. He is the author of The Demonata series, as well as some stand-alone books, and a series of books for adults under the alternative name of D.B. Shan.

Website | Twitter | Goodreads

About The Book

B Smith and the other Angels are relieved to finally receive their first mission - to safely escort a group of human survivors from the zombie-infested streets of London to New Kirkham, a barricaded safe haven in the country. But after battling through crowds of undead monsters, B discovers that the survivors of the town don't necessarily represent the best of humanity. And when evil influences make their way to New Kirkham, unearthing demons from B's past, the humans will be forced to choose between being honorable and being safe.

Darren Shan continues his adventures of a teenage zombie trying to right the wrongs of a flawed human life, exploring the morality and ills of society through the lens of an apocalypse gone wrong--and a terrifying hell on earth reigning.

Amazon | IndieBound | Goodreads

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3. Craft of Writing: How To Make A Killer Trailer (For No Money) by Amy Talkington

Amy Talkington's debut YA novel has been blowing up the blogosphere with the creepy, original story, and has made me want to read the book from the instant I heard of it. I am a complete sucker for boarding school books and LIV, FOREVER should be bumped up on your tbr lists!

How To Make A Killer Trailer (For No Money) by Amy Talkington

When I’m not writing books, I’m a filmmaker and screenwriter. As a director, I’ve made seven short films and one feature film so I welcomed the challenge to create a book trailer for LIV, FOREVER.

My publisher was a little leery of the whole trailer idea (I don’t think they’ve had great success in this area before). But I told them I wanted to do it and we wouldn’t have to use it if they didn’t think it helped. Before I started, they offered a few suggestions. They told me the best book trailers are short (a minute or less) and convey the tone of the book (versus the story). These were very useful words of wisdom.

My book, overall, has a dark but romantic tone with some creepiness. The publishers kept referencing “American Horror Story” in the press materials (though I admit I’ve never seen the show!) so I looked at the “American Horror Story” trailer and title sequences and drew some inspiration from them. I also looked at several other horror film trailers and credit sequences.

Looking at these sequences and thinking about LIV, FOREVER, I realized how much tone I could convey in very close shots. I knew I didn't want to assign clear, crisp faces to Liv or Malcolm, so I decided to shoot the trailer almost entirely in extreme close ups (ECUs). I thought this would keep some mystery around the characters but still convey a lot of tone. And, also this could be done cheaply (key!).

I realized I needed some help. I am not a good shooter or editor (and didn't have time to deal with a lot of the details of casting and prep) so I asked my assistant (for my film and screenwriting work) Victoria if she'd like to co-create the trailer with me. By sharing the director credit with her, I felt more comfortable asking her to contribute all that work for little money. (Plus, she knows the book inside-out and brought a lot of great ideas to the table.)

First, I made a shot list of all the key images from the book that could be conveyed in close ups. There were many. And, together, Victoria and I set about gathering props and equipment.

I did think it'd be a good idea to have some establishing shots of a school like Wickham Hall. Luckily Victoria had a trip to NYC planned (Thanksgiving!) so I asked her to "steal" some "establishing" shots up at Columbia University (my alma mater). Those are the shots at the beginning of the trailer that show columns and the sculpture. To me, they suggest a fancy school in an elegant but kind of oblique and eerie way.

The only equipment we rented was a very long lens (for the ECUs). We borrowed a few lights and a tripod from my brother (a documentary filmmaker) and Victoria had a camera. The only props we bought were fake blood, a vintage white dress, a locket, some dead moths, and some old yearbooks. Pretty much everything else we borrowed or made.

We cast two young actors (letting them know they would be mostly seen in extreme close ups). And we scheduled a shoot day. On the shoot day, we worked in my basement (creepy!) and shot hundreds of close ups and extreme close ups. We also recorded the actors reading “Bright Star,” the Keats poem that's featured in the book. And the final task of the day was to start a small fire in my driveway (you can see it in the final shots of the trailer). I’m really glad my neighbors didn’t call the fire department (And, yes, we had a fire extinguisher on hand!).

But, honestly, most of the work was done in post. We spent weeks editing and sound designing the trailer to get the perfect balance of romantic and creepy. We strived to give the trailer a narrative shape—all building to a dramatic ending—while keeping it under a minute. We played with effects, like layering in old Super 8 film grain to give the video a grainy, dated feeling and making flash cuts to create eerie, ghost-like moments. My husband Robbie Adams is a super talented music supervisor so he secured the music (for free!) and did the incredible sound design (along with the help of his nephew who recorded some sound effects). The sound design was crucial for making this abstract kind of trailer work.

When I shared the final cut with the publisher they were pretty excited. They gave me a few notes on the sound and then submitted it to USA Today, where it premiered just a few days later.

Of course many people debate whether a trailer is “worth” it. In my case, I think it certainly was. The publisher was excited to see the pre-orders of the book soar after the premier of the trailer. To date the trailer has been seen by almost 4000 people.

About The Author

amy talkington is an award-winning screenwriter and director living in los angeles. before all that she wrote about music for magazines like spin, ray gun, interview, and seventeen (mostly just as a way to get to hang out with rock stars). as a teenager in dallas, texas, amy painted lots of angsty self-portraits, listened to the velvet underground and was difficult enough that her parents finally let her go to boarding school on the east coast. liv, forever is her first novel.

You can see some of her short films on her website. And, if you want to know all the latest on Liv, Forever follow Amy on TwitterTumblr and Goodreads

About The Book

When Liv Bloom lands an art scholarship at Wickham Hall, it’s her ticket out of the foster system. Liv isn’t sure what to make of the school’s weird traditions and rituals, but she couldn’t be happier. For the first time ever, she has her own studio, her own supply of paints. Everything she could want.

Then she meets Malcolm Astor, a legacy student, a fellow artist, and the one person who’s ever been able to melt her defenses. Liv’s only friend at Wickham, fellow scholarship kid Gabe Nichols, warns her not to get involved, but life is finally going Liv’s way, and all she wants to do is enjoy the ride.

But Liv’s bliss is doomed. Weeks after arriving, she is viciously murdered and, in death, she discovers that she’s the latest victim of a dark conspiracy that has claimed many lives. Cursed with the ability to see the many ghosts on Wickham’s campus, Gabe is now Liv’s only link to the world of the living. To Malcolm.

Together, Liv, Gabe, and Malcolm fight to expose the terrible truth that haunts the halls of Wickham. But Liv must fight alone to come to grips with the ultimate star-crossed love.

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4. Craft of Writing: The Secret Art of Word Choice by Kristin Bailey Plus GIVEAWAY!

The second book in Kristin Bailey's The Secret Order is here and you have a chance to win it today! RISE OF THE ARCANE FIRE came out in February and has readers just as enthralled as they were in the first book. Kristin is here with us today talking about how a single word can leave a huge impact.

The Secret Art of Word Choice by Kristin Bailey

World building is a tricky and necessary task for every novel. Whether you're building a world within a suburban high school in Colorado, or a high fantasy realm in an alternate universe, the world a story inhabits should become real for the reader. Many writers get caught up in building their world in the form of worksheets and intricate guides for their stories, and that is great. The better you know your world, the better it comes across on the page.

But there is a more subtle form of world building that we should all pay attention to, word choice.

Word choice is deceptively simple. It is the art of choosing which words to use on the page. When it comes to world building, though, things can get a little tricky. An author can do a lot to set the tone of a book with single words placed here and there. If I choose to use the words timepiece, correspondence, visage, or comeuppance, you immediately know you're reading a historical novel. If I use neurotransmitter, biosource, transwaves, or molteric transponders, you know you're probably looking at some form of science fiction.

Every setting, every world, has a dictionary that comes along with it, even if you have to make that dictionary up. The trick with word choice is that it is a lot like using a potent spice while cooking. Just enough makes things interesting, too much, and you've ruined the soup.

This is especially true, ironically, for contemporary novels. Writers often feel a pressure to add "modern slang" to a story to make it feel authentic, but that same language can turn things anachronistic and stale very quickly, or, in the case of too many curse words, the words themselves lose their impact. Along the same lines, if there are too many "historical" word choices in a short passage, it can go from feeling authentic to a farce very quickly.

There's something about, "Lady Beatrice adjusted her wide crinoline and clutched her reticule, before alighting from her curricle on the drive of Wingwick manor. Lord Dolton had a sullen look upon his visage as his normal perambulation became hasty," that just feels forced.

So, how do you use just the right amount of spice? As I write my first draft, I tend to do it with fairly neutral language with my focus on avoiding language that doesn't belong in my world. That way, the writing has a base that is easy to read and feels solid and clear. In revisions I look for moments where I can change a word here, or tweak a description there with something that feels more specific to my world. In doing that adjustment on the revision instead of the draft, I avoid overwhelming the text with too many technical or historical terms.

However you handle it, word choice is important so take care with it.

Words are what we do, let's use them well.

About The Author

Kristin Bailey grew up in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley in California. As a kid she enjoyed visiting the beach, camping and skiing with her two brothers.

Now she is a military wife and mother of two young children. She is also terrible about spoiling her pets. She has one fluffy mutt, two cats who think they own the world, and a fish tank with some really plump little fish and a pair of snails who are secretly ninja assassins.

In the course of her adventures, she has worked as a zookeeper, balloon artist, and substitute teacher. Now she enjoys writing books for teens who enjoy mystery and adventure as much as she does.

Website | Twitter | Goodreads

About The Book

After her parents died in a fire and her grandfather disappeared, Meg Whitlock thought her life had come to a standstill. But when she learned that the pocket watch her grandfather left her was really an intricate key, Meg, with the help of a stable hand named Will, uncovered the Amusementists: members of an elite secret society dedicated to discovery and shrouded in mystery.

Now the Amusementists are convening in London, and Meg is determined to join their ranks. But being the first girl in the Order has its difficulties, and with Will away in Scotland Meg fears she can’t trust anyone but herself. Her worries are only supported by the sabotage happening at the academy, with each altered invention being more harmful than the last.

With threats lurking around every corner, and while trying to prove her worth as the first female Amusementist, Meg must uncover the identity of the academy’s saboteur before the botched devices become deadly. And after she finds evidence of a sinister and forbidden invention, Meg must stop it - or risk the entire future of the Amusementists.

Amazon | IndieBound | Goodreads

And now for the awesome giveaway Kristin has so graciously provided! Your chance to win a signed copy of RISE OF THE ARCANE FIRE!

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5. Craft of Writing: THE WALKING DEAD VERSUS TRUE BLOOD How Game Theory Can Help Your Fiction Plot Stasia Kehoe Plus GIVEAWAY

Stasia Ward Kehoe is the author of the beautifully written verse novel, THE SOUND OF LETTING GO, which came out at the beginning of February! Stasia is here today to talk about a really cool subject, and I am going to let you go on because I can't do it justice by trying to summarize it. Read on!

How Game Theory Can Help Your Fiction Plot

I recently got into a debate with my husband about why he enjoys TRUE BLOOD (HBO) but not THE WALKING DEAD (AMC), which is “appointment TV” for the rest of our family. We concluded that the reason had to with neither the scripts nor the acting, but with Game Theory.

WHAT IS GAME THEORY? Don’t run! I’m not going to math geek out on you. But we do need a quick definition, courtesy of THE CONCISE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ECONOMICS (David R. Henderson, ed.):

GAME THEORY is the science of strategy. It attempts to determine…the actions that “players” should take to secure the best outcomes for themselves in a wide array of “games.” (http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/GameTheory.html)

TRANSLATION FOR WRITERS: Let’s look at “games” as competitions, or better still, relationships involving a struggle. Think Monopoly, football, war, school play auditions, first dates, business exchanges and, most importantly, STORY PLOTS. The PROTAGONIST and ANTAGONIST are the PLAYERS in our game/manuscript.

Now, back to blood-suckers and rotting meta-dead, meet TRUE BLOOD and THE WALKING DEAD first print versions (not television adaptations). I’ve underlined what I identify as the MAIN CHARACTER (protagonist) and MAIN ENEMY (antagonist).

DEAD UNTIL DARK (True Blood, Book 1) by Charlaine Harris
Sookie Stackhouse, a waitress in small-town Louisiana, can read minds, making relationships tricky. Then she meets Bill, whose thoughts she cannot read which would be perfect—except the reason is that he’s a vampire. Then a co-worker is murdered, and Sookie worries that not knowing what Bill is thinking may put her in mortal danger.

WALKING DEAD (Issue 1 - comic format) by Robert Kirkman, illus. by Tony Moore
Small-town sheriff Rick Grimes awakens from a coma to discover that a worldwide epidemic has caused the dead to become zombies whose only apparent goal is to consume the living. Armed only with scanty supplies and his strong will, Rick sets off to try to find his missing wife and son.

Featuring small towns, non-human characters, and lots of death, these stories seem superficially similar. But there is a critical structural difference.


When a policeman interrogates a suspect, his tactics affect the responses given by the would-be. Similar to criminals, vampires may have appealing characteristics balancing their blood lust. The human protagonist is not necessarily bent on destroying the vampire but may seek some kind of relationship. The definition of “best outcome” changes as the players, protagonist and antagonist, learn more about each other.


Consider a race, pitting runner against the track and time. The runner cannot change the duration of a minute. Like time, zombies have neither redemptive qualities nor strategy. They are forces of nature--kill-or-be-killed antagonists. Change is evoked only through the protagonist’s changed approach or through scenarios established by secondary protagonists and antagonists

Depending on which type of scenario you have created in your book, you face the task of telling a story in which the character must invoke strategies to CHANGE the outcome of the narrative OR a story in which the character must come to terms with an UNCHANGEABLE situation or fact. Understanding this is critical for making your plot move forward in a believable fashion.


THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE by Jandy Nelson. The primary antagonist is the DEATH of protagonist Lennie’s sister. Lennie must face life in this new reality. Trying to deny Lennie’s death would be unrealistic. Failing to come to grips with the loss and, instead, pursuing only plotlines involving secondary antagonists would make an unsatisfying book.

THE FIFTH WAVE by Rick Yancey. Cassie seeks to survive—and find her brother—in the wake of an alien invasion. Questions of the aliens’ identity drift in the background while whether Evan Walker, Ben and others are aliens in human shells or still actual humans are critical to Cassie’s survival. However, the aliens themselves are unchanged, throughout the book.

EXAMPLES OF GAMES AGAINST OPPONENTS IN YA (historical fiction & fantasy)

WHAT I SAW AND HOW I LIED by Judy Blundell. When handsome stranger Peter disappears, Evie must decide who he really was, and whether her parents played a role in his fate. The actions of these antagonists shift in response to Evie’s words and choices. So while the nature of lies is a critical motif in the novel, the mystery is perhaps summed up best by Evie: “He would come back. He would tell me the truth behind the lies.” (p. 194) Peter. Parents. “Opponents.”

THE COLDEST GIRL IN COLDTOWN by Holly Black. Tana must sort the wannabe vampires from the infected and outwit famous Lucien Moreau as she tries to help her newly-bitten ex, Aidan, and sort her feelings for mysterious Gavriel. There is a way to NOT turn vampire if bitten, and choices to be made that result directly from the words, actions and loyalties of others. In Coldtown, Tana is not the only character who “changes” (not a spoiler, pun intended).


When slogging through the “messy middle” of your manuscript, or struggling to write an organic, satisfying conclusion, try applying these principles of game theory analysis to literature.

Who are the players?
What is the primary game?
Is it a game against nature or a game against opponents?
Based on this determination, what type of outcome does the reader need to discover?
What types of plot threads are essential to make the story flow naturally forward?
Have you satisfied the reader by making clear the outcome of the primary game?

And, if you’re really miserable working through a manuscript, ask yourself whether you prefer zombies or vampires and what it says about the story you are telling versus the kind of story you enjoy. Because, unlike the undead, a manuscript can be resurrected myriad times on the author’s terms.

I’ll leave you with a final Game Theory tip, courtesy of The Hunger Games’ Haymitch

“You just remember who the enemy is…”
(CATCHING FIRE by Suzanne Collins, p. 260)

And now, Stasia has very kindly offered up a seriously awesome giveaway for you guys!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

About The Author

Stasia Ward Kehoe grew up performing on stages from New Hampshire to Washington, DC. She holds a BA in English from Georgetown University and an MA in Performance Studies from New York University. She now lives in western Washington State with her husband and four sons. Stasia's novels include Audition and The Sound of Letting Go.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

About The Book

For sixteen years, Daisy has been good. A good daughter, helping out with her autistic younger brother uncomplainingly. A good friend, even when her best friend makes her feel like a third wheel. When her parents announce they’re sending her brother to an institution—without consulting her—Daisy’s furious, and decides the best way to be a good sister is to start being bad. She quits jazz band and orchestra, slacks in school, and falls for bad-boy Dave.

But one person won’t let Daisy forget who she used to be: Irish exchange student and brilliant musician Cal. Does she want the bad boy or the prodigy? Should she side with her parents or protect her brother? How can she know when to hold on and when—and how—to let go?

Amazon | IndieBound | Goodreads

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6. Craft of Writing: Conflict Resolution- Upside Down by Eileen Cook

Eileen Cook is the incredibly well known and wonderfully talented author tons of YA contemporary novels, including favourites like GETTING REVENGE ON LAUREN WOOD and THE ALMOST TRUTH, as well as the popular middle grade series FOURTH GRADE FAIRY. Her newest release was YEAR OF MISTAKEN DISCOVERIES and it released in February 2014! We are really excited to have her here today on the blog to impart on you lovely readers some of her worldly advice!

Conflict Resolution- Upside Down by Eileen Cook

In my former work as a counselor I worked with individuals to reduce and address conflict in their lives. I train them to use techniques to diffuse conflict and assist them in creating healthy, happy relationships. In fiction, unlike real life, the opposite it true: we want conflict. No conflict equals no story.

Common feedback from editors or agents is that the story is missing enough conflict. So how do you increase it? The same techniques I use for counseling can be used in fiction, only instead of reducing conflict, they can provide a springboard to take your conflict to the next level.

1. Pick the Right Atmosphere: In real life you want to choose the right environment to have a difficult conversation. You want to choose a place where the individual can focus on what you are saying and not instantly feel defensive, trapped or uncomfortable. In fiction, try and have the conflict happen in the most uncomfortable place and time possible for your characters: in the middle of a school hallway, at work, or in the middle of their solo at the band concert. If your character is about to discover that their boyfriend is cheating on them, when is the worst time for them to get that news? Where is the worst place? Who is the worst person to tell them?

2. Address Issues Promptly and Clearly: While it is better for your relationships to address problem areas before they build up, in fiction a pressure build up is preferred. Let characters stew until they suddenly explode with emotion. Instead of stating clearly what issue you want to have addressed, have your fictional characters dance around the real issue. There is nothing like confusion to make conflict more difficult and increase the chance of misunderstandings.

3. Listen and Maintain Emotional Control: Instead of listening and reflecting on what is said, allow your characters to lash out, even before they might fully understand the situation. Because they are already formulating a response instead of listening, they increase the chance that they misunderstand what the other person is trying to say or do. Conflict is raised one step at a time, and the more emotional the characters become the more likely they quickly move up these steps. This increases the chance they will say something they’ll regret.

4. Avoid Accusations: In real life we encourage people to focus on the situation, not the people. Fiction should follow the opposite behavior. Characters should use “you statements” not “I statements.” You statements put people on the defensive, such as, “you always do this!” I statements are personal and less accusatory, “I feel hurt when this happens.” In real life we often confuse what someone does with what it might mean. We turn: “You didn’t invite me to go with you for dinner” becomes “you don’t want to be my BFF anymore, you want to hang out with them instead!” What meanings does your character put on things that happen?

5. Create win-win situations: In real conflict resolution situations we try to search out areas of common ground. This allows each party to gain something from the solution. In fiction, we want to keep our character’s focus on not what they have in common, but what sets them apart. If your character perceives giving ground means they may risk something, they will fight to win rather than compromise. What does your character think they might lose if they don’t win the conflict?

Taking these top five conflict resolution tips and turning them upside down you can take the conflict between your characters to the next level. While this might make your characters miserable (at least until they get to their happy ending) it will keep readers turning the page.

About The Author

Eileen Cook is a multi-published author with her novels appearing in eight different languages. Her books have been optioned for film and TV. She spent most of her teen years wishing she were someone else or somewhere else, which is great training for a writer. Her latest release, YEAR OF MISTAKEN DISCOVERIES came out in February 2014.

You can read more about Eileen, her books, and the things that strike her as funny at www.eileencook.com. Eileen lives in Vancouver with her husband and two dogs and no longer wishes to be anyone or anywhere else.

Website | Twitter | Goodreads

About The Book

Friendship is a bond stronger than secrets in this novel from the author of The Almost Truth and Unraveling Isobel.

As first graders, Avery and Nora bonded over a special trait they shared—they were both adopted.

Years later, Avery is smart, popular, and on the cheerleading squad, while Nora spends her time on the fringes of school society, wearing black, reading esoteric poetry, and listening to obscure music. They never interact...until the night Nora approaches Avery at a party, saying it’s urgent. She tells Avery that she thought she found her birth mom—but it turned out to be a cruel lie. Avery feels for Nora, but returns to her friends at the party.

Then Avery learns that Nora overdosed on pills. Left to cope with Nora’s loss and questioning her own actions, Avery decides to honor her friend by launching a search for her own birth mother. Aided by Brody, a friend of Nora’s who is also looking for a way to respect Nora’s legacy, Avery embarks on an emotional quest. But what she’s really seeking might go far deeper than just genetics…

Amazon | IndieBound | Goodreads

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7. Writing Factions, Divergence, and Following the Spark of Creativity -- The Writing Process Blog Tour

Yes, that's a Georgetown Cupcakes, cupcake. Yum!

Today is my first WOW Wednesday in a long time. I was going to write about fear, something with which I've become intimately acquainted. Then the lovely Erin Cashman tagged me to participate in the My Writing Process Blog Tour, which was perfect timing because my writing process is what actually got me out of the paralyzing fear that had my current WIP at a standstill. 

What Am I Working On?

I'm feverishly working on book two of the Heirs of Watson Island series, and my deadline is looming.  Writing to deadline, writing for a new editor, writing a sequel is all a little overwhelming. Three weeks ago, I was a weeping mess every time I stared at the paltry few words I was managing to add to book two. 

For those who haven't tried it, writing a sequel is hard. HARD I tell you. You have to remind readers what happened in book one, and also what happened between book one and book two. That's a lot of backstory to weigh down a beginning! (And lest we forget, backstory and telling are no-no's.) I tried so hard to avoid the dreaded telling that I ended up having forty pages of aftermath "events" and reaction "scenes" before I ever got to the story question. 


Forty pages. 


And there I was, staring at a blank page all over again, still with the same old problem: I needed to set up a very complex new story while simultaneously refreshing the reader about an already very complex backstory. 


Unique Mythology and Challenges (What makes the series different?)

Compulsion is a Southern Gothic. That means it comes with the requisite supporting cast of quirky characters, including a woman who has never left her house, a maternal drag queen in size fourteen Louboutins, a modern-day Scarlett O'Hara, a gorgeous, dyslexic baseball player, and of course, the innocent heroine who not so innocently charges into trouble. Each of these characters has their own reason (backstory) for being quirky. There is also Watson Island, the setting, which becomes a character in its own right, complete with a town and three individual picturesque plantations near Charleston, SC. Add to that a blend of magical realism, paranormal elements, and a mythology that I'm building toward across all three books, plus several active mysteries, two wishes, a curse, a lost Civil War treasure, assorted nefarious doings, a tale of forbidden and ill-fated love, a three-hundred-year old family feud, a sense of historical continuity and family obligation, and a sizzling romance. Whew. I like to think that all these things set Compulsion apart a bit. :D But truly, I think it's the fact that all of these things work together to drive the story that makes the series unique. 

I love that there are so many different layers. But all of that takes page time to set up.

Thinking about how to weave it all into place succinctly for the start of the second book, and how to take the story in unexpected new directions is what made me cringe. I'm also facing the added pressure of a deadline and people counting on me, people who have invested their own time and effort and money into believing in this series.

Bottom line? I froze

For weeks.

Following the Characters -- (Why Do I Write What I Do?)

Part of what got me past the paralysis is that I simply love having the opportunity to do what I do. I love reading books with layers and with characters that live beyond the page. I love settings that make me want to dive in and move in, and books with new twists on mythology or familiar themes. I love reading books like that, so I'm beyond honored and thrilled that someone is paying me to actually write books like this. What frightened me was the sheer enormity of the task.  

And I realized something. Any task can be broken down into pieces.

With book two, I'm not starting from scratch. I already have a discovery draft of the book. I have the background from book one that was giving me fits, but that also provides a foundation. And I have the tools that I had accumulated in my writer's toolbox as I learned my craft. 

In short, I have a writing process, my writing process. I learned something en route to selling this trilogy, so all I had to do to write this sequel was trust myself and fall back on that knowledge.

Easier said than done, of course, but the realization was both liberating and reassuring. It made me realize I'm not going into wholly uncharted territory.

My Writing Process and the Writing Factions

If you've been around other writers or the online community for any length of time, you'll have discovered that we like to identify ourselves as one of two main writing factions, to use the word-of-the-moment. 

Plotters: These are the writers who take the time to figure out the beginning, middle, and end of their book before sitting down to write it. Their actual processes are many and varied, including countless daunting things like outlines, beatsheets, worksheets, character bios and journals, and so on. The advantages of doing these things is that at the end there's a direction, a blueprint, that provides the structure for the novel and gives the writer confidence that there will be a cohesive story at the end of all those words. But it's not a lot of fun doing worksheets, and the structure can feel like a noose, blocking the joy that comes from the unexpectedness of creation.

Pantsers: These are the writers who wallow in the unexpectedness. They wing it. They sit down every day, and guided by nothing save the voices in their heads, create a story a word at a time that they must then shape into a cohesive story. There's a certain beauty in that, a wild, joyful freedom. But then to get the book into publishable condition, there's also a lot of revision, a heartbreaking amount of beautiful words and ideas that cannot help but be thrown away.

Recognize these two factions? Which one are you in?

Are YOU Divergent? 

Divergent writers do exist. We're the ones who, when pressed, will call ourselves Plotsers, or Plantsers, or any number of other creative variations. We do a little planning, a little free writing, a lot of rewriting, and I suspect, a lot of butt-in-chairing.

Don't get me wrong. I arrived at being divergent by trying every worksheet and outlining system I could find. Heck, I created plenty of my own. And I still use many of them. I've also written one book without any of those structural tools. And then spent years making changes trying to get that book "right." 

What I've found when it comes to process is that the various writing factions aren't so different. No matter how a writer gets there, a successful story requires certain steps. The difference is in how we writers internalize those steps and the order in which we take them.

The Writer's Toolbox

Prewriting: Whether we formalize the process by brainstorming and jotting notes, creating outlines, completing worksheets, talking it through with a writing partner, or keeping it entirely in our heads, there's a level of planning that goes into writing a book. The refining of the story question and concept, the development of symbols to underscore themes, the building of the world, the creation of a story bible of names, characteristics, timelines--all of that is necessary unless you have a phenomenal memory. 

Many writers formalize the pre-writing planning after the first draft is written. Some do it as they go along. I need to do quite a bit at the beginning to discover a sense of place and of people, and I've learned the hard way that I need to begin with characters before I try to formulate a plot or the plot, however cool and intriguing, ends up feeling cardboard and disconnected from the reader.

Before I write, at the very least I have to know:
  • who my characters are, 
  • what each of them wants most in the world,
  • what each of them is most afraid to lose,
  • what wound or internal fear is going to hold them back,
  • and how what each character wants and is afraid to lose is going to conflict with what the others want and are afraid to lose.
Writing: The joyful part of the process, where we have to immerse ourselves in the story world and think about nothing except how the characters react to each other and to events, and how those events inspire additional events. I used to call my first stab at a book an "outline" -- but since I've yet to write one of those under 30,000 words or one that doesn't contain dialogue to help me work out what happens next, I've decided I write a discovery draft. In other words, I really am winging it, more or less.

Between discovery and the first full draft, the one I'm tackling now, there's a lot of subconscious thinking that goes on, a lot of percolating, but I don't necessarily do a lot of formal analyzing.

But to stay on track, to give the writing purpose, whether I do it before, during, or after the first full draft, I need to know some basic information about every scene:
  • where and when the scene takes place and the action going on around the dialogue,
  • the emotional tone of the scene and how that differs from the previous scene,
  • the goal of each character in the scene, especially the MC, and how some element or opposition  in the scene keeps her from getting it,
  • whether the MC simply failed to achieve her goal, achieved it but was presented with another new and compelling objective, or failed spectacularly and on top of that was set with a new reason (stakes) that made her goal even more important, and finally,
  • how the scene changes the main character's situation and overall goal.
Revision: Knowing that every scene in the story has to change the story, and knowing the tools through which I can identify the changes that I need to make makes it relatively painless to think of making the "big picture" changes that fall into the revision process. 

I had a great conversation with my editor last week about book two, and she's on board with everything I'm doing so far. That's enormously energizing. But the other thing that she said that lifted a giant weight from my shoulders was that she wants to see my first draft.

On the one hand, that's a terrifying thought. My first drafts are UGLY. But it's also freeing, because it means I won't have spent hours and days crafting and polishing words and sentences that will eventually need to be cut because they don't serve the story.

I realized that part of what was holding me back from writing was the sense that I needed to turn in something perfect.

If I've learned one thing that I wish I'd learned sooner, it's that there isn't any point editing before you've finished revising!

Editing: For me, this is the slowest, most arduous part of the process. I've been putting words together all my life, but I still have a hard time doing it well. My writing sins are many, but I did learn a few things during the editorial process with Compulsion. Before focusing merely on the sound and feel of the words, the critical elements in every sentence include:
  • Clarity--Can every reader understand and visualize what the sentence means?
  • Specificity--How are the details in the sentence unique to the character and the story?
  • Conciseness--Are there words or ideas that don't add value?
  • Lack of Repetition--Are there words or ideas that you've used before?
  • Flow--Does each sentence flow naturally into the next and create a sense of forward momentum, or does the narrative jump back and forth?
  • Appropriate Spelling, Grammar, and Punctuation--Within the context of the voice and characters, is the language correct?

Following the Spark of Creativity

I'm not stuck at the beginning of book two anymore. I'm not paralyzed by fear.  I'm more than a quarter through. The characters have taken over, and there is joy in the process again.

Thinking about the structure of the writing process made me realize that I already have all the tools I need to fix anything that goes amiss in this draft. But I'm not going to fix it now. I'm going to just keep writing.

Knowing there's a structure to the writing process gave me permission to follow the spark of creativity and take joy in discovering the unexpected again. And those are my favorite moments, the ones where I realize why something happened, or how it connects to something else in a way I didn't anticipate.

Which Faction Are You?

Are you a plotter, a pantser, or a divergent? What's your favorite part of the writing process? How do you get through the fear?

Previous Stop on the Tour

For more tips and insight into writing process check out Erin Cashman's post for the My Writing Process Blog Tour last week:

Erin is one of our fabulous First Five Pages Workshop Mentors, one of my fellow members at The Enchanted Inkpot, and the author of THE EXCEPTIONALS, a Bank Street College of Education Best Children's Book of the Year!

The Exceptionals
by Erin Cashman
Hardcover, 2/1/2012
Holiday House

Born into a famous family of exceptionally talented people, fifteen-year-old Claire Walker has deliberately chosen to live an average life. But everything changes the night of the Spring Fling, when her parents decide it's high time she transferred to Cambial Academy--the prestigious boarding school that her great-grandfather founded for students with supernatural abilities.

Despite her attempts to blend in, Claire stands out at Cambial simply because she is normal. But unbeknownst to her new friends, she has a powerful gift she considers too lame to admit. Suddenly, the most talented students in school the Exceptionals begin to disappear. In an attempt to find out what happened to them, Claire comes across a prophecy foretelling a mysterious girl who will use her ability to save Cambial students from a dire fate. Could she be that girl? Claire decides there is only one way to find out: she must embrace her ability once and for all.

Purchase on IndieBound | Purchase on Amazon | Add to Goodreads

Next on the Tour

As instructed (shocker, yes, I know--I'm following directions!) I've tagged a couple of author friends to be the next stops on The Writing Process Blog Tour:

Tracy Clark, the author of the metaphysical fantasy SCINTILLATE, just out from Entangled Teen and recently sold for foreign rights in multiple languages, will be posting on 3/28 on her blog: http://www.tracyclark.org/Blog.html

by Tracy Clark
Paperback, 2/4/14
Entangled Teen

A mighty flame follows a tiny spark.

Cora Sandoval’s mother disappeared when she was five and they were living in Ireland. Since then, her dad has been more than overprotective, and Cora is beginning to chafe under his confines. But even more troubling is the colorful light she suddenly sees around people. Everyone, that is, except herself—instead, she glows a brilliant, sparkling silver.

As she realizes the danger associated with these strange auras, Cora is inexplicably drawn to Finn, a gorgeous Irish exchange student who makes her feel safe. Their attraction is instant, magnetic, and primal—but her father disapproves, and Finn’s mother orders him home to Ireland upon hearing he’s fallen in love. After a fight with her father, Cora flees to Ireland, both to follow Finn and to look for her missing mother.

There she meets another silver-haloed person and discovers the meaning of her newfound powers and their role in a conspiracy spanning centuries—one that could change mankind forever…and end her life.

Scintillate is the first book in this lush and exciting new trilogy, full of romance, adventure and metaphysical mystery.

* * * * 

Sara Raasch, the author of the upcoming and very exciting SNOW LIKE ASHES fantasy from Balzer and Bray, will be posting on 4/7 on her blog: http://SaraRaasch.Tumblr.com. 

by Sara Raasch
Hardcover, 10/14/14
Balzer & Bray

heartbroken girl. A fierce warrior. A hero in the making.

Sixteen years ago the Kingdom of Winter was conquered and its citizens enslaved, leaving them without magic or a monarch. Now, the Winterians’ only hope for freedom is the eight survivors who managed to escape, and who have been waiting for the opportunity to steal back Winter’s magic and rebuild the kingdom ever since.

A heartbroken girl. A fierce warrior. A hero in the making.

Sixteen years ago the Kingdom of Winter was conquered and its citizens enslaved, leaving them without magic or a monarch. Now, the Winterians’ only hope for freedom is the eight survivors who managed to escape, and who have been waiting for the opportunity to steal back Winter’s magic and rebuild the kingdom ever since.

Orphaned as an infant during Winter’s defeat, Meira has lived her whole life as a refugee, raised by the Winterians’ general, Sir. Training to be a warrior—and desperately in love with her best friend, and future king, Mather — she would do anything to help her kingdom rise to power again.

So when scouts discover the location of the ancient locket that can restore Winter’s magic, Meira decides to go after it herself. Finally, she’s scaling towers, fighting enemy soldiers, and serving her kingdom just as she’s always dreamed she would. But the mission doesn’t go as planned, and Meira soon finds herself thrust into a world of evil magic and dangerous politics – and ultimately comes to realize that her destiny is not, never has been, her own.

Sara Raasch’s debut fantasy is a lightning-fast tale of loyalty, love, and finding one’s destiny.

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8. Craft of Writing: Wonder Woman's Invisible Jet of Creativity by Tonya Hegamin

Tonya Hegamin is the award winning author of picture books, as well as Young Adult lit. Her historical novel, WILLOW hit shelves in February and has been making waves through the YA book community. She has a brilliant background working with teens as a crisis counselor, creative expression group leader, sexual health educator and many more for years. We are so pleased and excited to have Tonya here with us today!

Wonder Woman's Invisible Jet of Creativity by Tonya Hegamin

I think of writing a novel like flying Wonder Woman’s Invisible Jet. First of all, WW can’t see it; she has to imagine the very steps to climb into the invisible pilot seat. She has to imagine where all the controls are, and even has to find invisible fuel. She figured out how make her tiara summon it, ‘cause a girl can’t carry a thing like that around in her purse. After all, WW comes from an island where all women live up to their natural potential and your mother is a goddess. She has to believe that it can blast the bad guys and fly to space just like (or better than!) Superman. And while everybody else is like, “Girl, where you think you going in those sassy red boots? You can’t fly without a plane!” Wonder Woman just does what she needs to do; she has faith in her Invisible Jet and so everyone else sees the exquisite outline of her imagination.

In order to create authentically, I believe that you have to have utter and complete faith in the world you have created. Even if you think it’s not what others consider “good”, you have to be able to trust your own vision, even if it’s vague. Clearly that means you have to be very connected to what that vision is from the beginning, usually in an emotional way. I begin most projects because some aspect of history or current events interests me enough to hear a voice or a tone that sparks something in my heart before my imagination. Usually after that I carve out that voice or tone, or sometimes it’s just a mood, into a “what if” story. If I am connected enough to the protagonist’s voice, I will write out the beginnings of a storyline in a few days, usually in a gush of thoughtful adrenaline. It doesn’t matter what I say or think in this stage, I allow myself to put as much of the plot down as I can imagine. It’s amazing how names and details will come together and form new ideas when you allow yourself freedom from self censorship. With Willow, I had been doing research for so long on the time period, and wanted to put the information I had into a full length historical novel, and had been searching for many years for the right angle to approach all of that. I knew I wanted to create a historical world that was faithful to reality yet had the perfect storm of impossibilities that make any story compelling. In my notebook from the first “sketches” of the plot, I originally wrote exclusively in letters from Willow to her mother, which is how the character presented herself to me. I just kept writing those, accepting whatever the muse showed me until that mode outlived the span of the world I wanted to present.

That’s when it comes to the uncomfortable part—changing or adapting your vision when all that beautiful work comes to a crossroads of self-indulgence and strength of purpose, or as others like to call it: structure. I think that Wonder Woman must have had some kind of technology where her jet upgraded according to her needs. No one with superpowers wants to deliberate over roadblocks, they just take action. The writer, on the other hand, may not be so easily adaptable when their original idea needs to be upgraded, so to speak. I got so attached to one way of looking at the world I created, then I had to shake it up and re-vision something even bigger. The structure of the novel is crucial for conveyance to the reader. We recognize story structure as being the spine of our culture, the way that we are able to communicate experiences to strangers. As a novelist, I have to be both mother and master of my imagination. Story structure is what both of those roles rely upon—structure nurtures, protects, rules and drives the raw imagination. Months into working on Willow, the other characters began to want to have voice in different ways that the original epistolary form would not have allowed. Although I was confident in the characters, I had to also have confidence in my ability to tap into my imagination and structure it so that the soft, intangible electric energy of the original idea or the heart of the story (what Turkish author Orhan Pamuk calls “the secret center” of the novel) are bolstered and illuminated. Structure is always what I go back to when I’m feeling panic or insecurity. I acknowledge that being a human writer, I get in my own way a bit. From the perspective of having the actual book in my hand, I can say that those doubts are necessary for growth and creating new ideas. I ran out of gas quite a few times, and creativity juice is just as precious and hard to come by as invisible jet fuel.

This is also the point where projects often will sputter and end up in the graveyards of the imagination. Indeed, my research is often what saves me at these points. Going back to what I already found exciting in some archive or text will often help me to re-vision, or even just looking at my original notes. Of course, there are the moments of pure grace where imagination sparks itself, but those times can’t be counted upon in the long haul. There requires a personal method of organization and sense of purpose at this time, which comes when you are ready to detach yourself from ideas and construct a vision. Everyone has their own way of doing it—I like making mind maps and “soundtracks” for my books that help me organize thoughts and support my creativity through different expressions. Perhaps Wonder Woman had a penchant for ceramics when she wasn’t deflecting bullets with bracelets…

Will my next book follow all of these rules? Will I rely on the same rituals to conjure creativity? Maybe, maybe not. Hopefully each project is unique, and so it seems logical that each process will be, too. Creative writing is a translation of the human imagination; since language is flexible and ever evolving, as a writer I must also bend and change while having faith in what I create. Each book is a new adventure!

About The Author

Tonya Hegamin was born in Westchester, Pennsylvania, and later moved to Rochester, New York. After college, she was heavily involved in social justice work, and she also owned two small businesses for vintage clothes and vegan food. In 2003, she received her MFA in Writing for Children from the New School University. She put together a Multicultural Children's Literature conference, where she was introduced through friends to Andrea Davis Pinkney, who bought her first work. Her books include M+O 4EVER, PEMBRA'S SONG: A Ghost Story and MOST LOVED IN ALL THE WORLD: A Story of Freedom.

Website | Goodreads

About The Book

In 1848, an educated slave girl faces an inconceivable choice — between bondage and freedom, family and love.

On one side of the Mason-Dixon Line lives fifteen-year-old Willow, her master’s favorite servant. She’s been taught to read and has learned to write. She believes her master is good to her and fears the rebel slave runaways. On the other side of the line is seventeen-year-old Cato, a black man, free born. It’s his personal mission to sneak as many fugitive slaves to freedom as he can. Willow’s and Cato’s lives are about to intersect, with life-changing consequences for both of them. Tonya Cherie Hegamin’s moving coming-of-age story is a poignant meditation on the many ways a person can be enslaved, and the force of will needed to be truly emancipated.

Amazon | IndieBound | Goodreads

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9. Advice on finding a writing or illustration mentor

I've been gradually updating my FAQ, including answering questions I'm frequently asked about getting into the business of writing and illustrating children's books. Here's the most recent update:

Q. You've talked about having a writing and/or illustration mentor. Do you have any advice about how I can find my own mentor?

Background to my own mentorship experience:

One of my first writing mentors was Lee Wardlaw, a Santa Barbara children's book writer who was kind enough to read one of my first novel manuscripts and critique it for me. Then she worked with me on the manuscript and eventually recommended me to her agent at Curtis Brown, Ginger Knowlton. Ginger became my agent.

I will always be grateful to Lee, who agreed to read my mss after hearing about me from my father-in-law, a friend of hers.

In illustration, I entered the SCBWI Illustration Portfolio Showcase in 2010 in L.A. and won a Mentorship Program Award. That was a different type of mentorship: as part of the program, I receive 15 minute sessions with each of the six Mentors that year. I also received permission from some of the Mentors to send them occasional questions and updates after the convention.

There is no formal application for the SCBWI Illustration Mentorship Program -- everyone who enters the Illustration Portfolio Showcase at the annual SCBWI conference in LA is considered. Here is information about the 2012 SCBWI Illustration Mentorship Program.

CANSCAIP also has a Mentorship program for aspiring children's book writers and illustrators.

How to find your own mentor:

- Decide why you want a mentor. Are you looking for specific advice? Someone to recommend you to people in the industry who might help you? etc.

- Start by asking for one (possibly two) piece(s) of specific advice. That way you can see how the information is delivered, if it makes sense to you, whether your personalities are a good match, how receptive the person is to helping you. Avoid starting with a mega-long detailed e-mail that will require a lot of time and effort to answer.

- Choose a mentor you truly respect. When you approach them for advice, explain why you are asking them specifically. Flattery helps :-) but only if it's honestly given. 

- I'd advise against saying you are looking for a mentor. That implies a ton of responsibility/commitment upfront and will probably make them uncomfortable. Understand that asking someone to be your mentor is like asking someone to go steady; DON'T ask unless you already have a good relationship with that person, because it puts them in an awkward position.

- Remember that it's okay to have more than one mentor.

- Don't waste their time. Don't ask them for advice that you could have easily looked up yourself online.

- Don't assume that everything your mentor suggests is right for you. You still have to think for yourself. 

- If your mentor tends to always make you feel bad about yourself, get away from them!

- If someone's advice works for you, let them know. They will appreciate the thanks and will be more likely to want to help you in the future. 

- Don't take it personally if someone doesn't have time to help you. Good mentors are often very busy.

A few suggestions about where to meet potential mentors:

- Small writing or illustrator groups that interact regularly in person or online.

- Local writers' or illustrators' organizations that meet regularly.

- Conferences, then keep in touch afterward.

- Writing classes.

When people ask me, "Will you be my mentor?"

I've had aspiring writers and illustrators ask if I'll be their mentor. In almost every case, the question comes from someone I have just met, or have never met. Some offer to pay.

My answer: With my own career just starting to take off (my first children's book was published in 2012) and multiple book deadlines coming up over the next few years, I lack the time to be a proper mentor. I also find that the older I get, the more curmudgeonly, and I get impatient with those who ask basic questions whose answers could be easily found online. 

While I don't have time to be a formal mentor, however, I do what I can to encourage aspiring writers and illustrators, especially those whom I like. I also try to summarize things I've learned along my career path and post them online, like my Twitter Guide For Writers and Illustrators.

I no longer have one formal mentor. Instead, I learn from several, especially the people I work with. I also am learning so much from my writer and illustrator friends, and share what I can with them as well.

Don't stress if you can't find a mentor! Attend conferences and other events where you can meet others in the industry. Form meaningful relationships. Share your own experiences and what you've learned.

Related resources:

13 Tips On Finding A Mentor

44 Ways To Find A Mentor

How A Writing Mentor Can Help You - by Julie Rayl

How to Find (And Keep) A Mentor In 10 Not-So-Easy Steps

You can find the above entry in my FAQ entry: How do I find a writing or illustrator mentor?

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10. Interview with Jo Knowles on writing process, writer advice & SEE YOU AT HARRY'S

I've been a fan of Jo Knowles ever since reading Lessons From A Dead Girl and even more so after See You At Harry’s (Candlewick, 2012) plus I love her fun and positive tweets from @JoKnowles on Twitter. I've also heard great things about Jo's Pearl and Jumping Off Swings, so am looking forward to reading those next!

 Jo has a master’s degree in children’s literature and taught writing for children in the MFA program at Simmons College for several years. Some of her awards include a New York Times Notable Book of 2012, Amazon's Best Middle Grade Books of 2012, An International Reading Association Favorite 2012 Book, an SCBWI Crystal Kite Award, the PEN New England Children's Book Discovery Award, and YALSA's Best Fiction for Young Adults. Jo lives in Vermont with her husband and son. Her next book, Living With Jackie Chan, a companion to Jumping Off Swings, will be available September 2013.

Q: What's your writing process? What was your writing process for SEE YOU AT HARRY'S?

So far for all of my books, I've just started writing and discovered the book as I went. Not surprisingly, my first drafts are big messes. After I clean things up a bit and have a basic rough draft, I create a storyboard to help me get organized and figure out the themes, plot and rhythm of the book.

Storyboard from Jumping Off Swings.

The storyboard process I use I learned at a workshop with Carolyn Coman. Basically, you get a sheet of paper that's large enough to fit enough squares to represent each chapter of the book. Then you follow these steps:

1. Think of a scene with the strongest image that best represents that chapter. Draw it as best you can in the first box.

Part of a storyboard series from READ BETWEEN THE LINES, Jo's newest project.

2. Write a very brief phrase that describes the point of that chapter and write it in the bottom of the box.

3. Think of the strongest emotion conveyed in the chapter and write it at the top of the box.

Repeat for each chapter, one per box.

Part of a storyboard series from READ BETWEEN THE LINES, Jo's newest project.

This leaves you with a big visual that illustrates the movement of the book both actively and emotionally.

Part of a storyboard series from READ BETWEEN THE LINES, Jo's newest project.

Since my books tend to be less action driven and more emotionally driven, seeing the book this way is a big help. I can see the spikes of emotion and how they play out in the text, and where I need to insert more or less action, or emotional peeks.

Seeing the images also helps me to think about how stagnant certain chapters or groups of chapters might be, and helps me pinpoint where I need to move my character around more. (For example, in PEARL, Bean spent way too much time on the roof, which was her place to escape. I don't know that I would have realized this if I hadn't drawn a storyboard and had that visual.)

Q: What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Remember that getting published is not a race. I recently read a blog post by someone who had taken three years to sell her first book, referring to her journey as "The Long Road to Publication." Long road? Three years?? Oh my.

In reality, I think the average time it takes most people going the traditional publishing route is more like ten. I think people tend to measure success on how quickly they can sell their first book. This is a shame because speed has nothing to do with it. I think longevity AFTER you sell your book would be a better marker.

Childhood restaurant that inspired Harry's in SEE YOU AT HARRY'S.If you want to be an author, you need to take time to learn the craft and learn it well. Read a thousand picture books. Study the rhythms of your favorites. Type out the text and close- read it without the pictures. Pay attention to the types of details that are in the text versus the ones that are implied or easily and more effectively shown in the illustrations.

The next step is to learn how to revise. To learn how to listen to feedback and make the best use of it. I can't tell you how many aspiring writers I've met who have told me they didn't want feedback because they felt their work was as polished as it could get. But they hadn't shared it with anyone but family members!

One of the hard lessons I learned when I first started out was that I really didn't understand what revision meant. When an editor suggested a revision without a contract, I happily addressed the changes she proposed, but not to the degree I should have. I tweaked, I didn't revise. There is a very big difference.

Revising is rewriting. Not rearranging. Not fixing typos. Not deleting a sentence here and there. That’s what you do at the copyediting stage. Better to learn this with critique partners guiding you than with an editor who doesn’t have the time or patience to teach you him- or herself.

There is just so much to learn and so many early mistakes to be made when you're first starting out. It's worth it to take your time and get lots of feedback from other writers (and make those mistakes with them, not an agent or editor). Not only that, you will develop some wonderful relationships and create a community–a support network–which will be invaluable when you DO start submitting.

I am as impatient as the next person, but for new writers, I can't emphasize this enough: Please don't treat the time it takes you to get published as a race, or measure your journey against someone else's and use that as a marker for success and failure. Instead, think of your journey to publication as a travel experience to savor. The more you learn, the more people you connect with, the better prepared you will be for your final destination. And the more people you will have to celebrate your success with!

Q. What are you working on now? Any other upcoming events or other info you'd like to share?

I'm currently working on two projects. One is a contemporary YA novel called READ BETWEEN THE LINES. After writing JUMPING OFF SWINGS I swore I'd never write another book with multiple points of view, so naturally this book has ten. It's kind of a "day in the life" sort of story about how each character's actions affect the next. While I wait for my editor's comments on that, I've started a humorous middle grade/tween novel tentatively called FROM THE COMPLAINT BOX, about a boy who goes to a funky independent school and the adventures/mischief he gets into with his two best friends. When I told my agent I was writing something funny he said, "That's how you described SEE YOU AT HARRY'S and it made everyone weep!" So, he's suspicious. We'll see!

Where can find out more about Jo Knowles:

Jo Knowles website - Jo Knowles blog - Twitter (@JoKnowles) - Facebook

SEE YOU AT HARRY'S book page


Also see other Inkygirl Interviews.

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11. I Want To Write a Novel. Where Do I Start? by Robyn Bavati

This is a common question, and usually what the person asking wants to know is: Do I start with an idea, a character, an image, a plot? Do I start with a setting? A theme? Or perhaps a conflict?

The truth is, while a novel must contain all of these elements, it doesn’t much matter where you start. Perhaps a better question is: How much do I need to know about my story before I start writing it? And the answer is: That depends on what sort of writer you are.

There are four main types of writers:

1) The word builder – doesn’t know where she’s headed but painstainkingly reworks each sentence until it’s perfect. She won’t precede to the second sentence until she’s happy with the first, won’t precede to the third sentence until she’s happy with the second, etc. (This kind of writer is rare indeed, but amazingly, she does exist. Not surprisingly, it can take her a very long time to finish her story.)

2) The intuitive writer – doesn’t know where she’s headed but fully trusts her intuition. She has such a strong, innate sense of storytelling that no planning is required. She begins her novel with no idea of the twists and turns it might take, or where it will end. She constantly surprises herself, and allows her characters to surprise her too. (Ursula Dubosarsky, a wonderful children’s and YA writer, works this way.)

3) The detailed planner – knows exactly where she’s headed for she has planned out every chapter before she begins. This writer will rarely deviate from her well thought-out plan – she knows before she starts that this story works. There are no surprises. (Writers who work this way usually finish their novels quickly. This is the method used by the very accomplished and prolific writer Morris Gleitzman.)

4) The relaxed yet focused traveler – has a strong idea of where she’s headed, but doesn’t know precisely what she’ll encounter on the journey. Somewhere between the intuitive writer and the detailed planner, this writer may know how the story ends, but often discovers twists and turns along the way. (Most writers, myself included, fall into this category.)

While I can’t tell you what you need to know before you begin, I can tell you what I need to know – and this will be true for the majority of writers.

Before I begin, I need a concept – but what is a concept?

I’ll use my own book, Dancing in the Dark, by way of illustration.

I want to write about dance: that’s an idea, it’s not a concept.

I want to write about religion: that too is an idea, it’s not a concept.

I want to write a book about both dance and religion: still an idea – a strong idea, perhaps, but not yet a concept.

I want to write about a girl from a very orthodox Jewish family who longs to take ballet lessons but for religious reasons, her parents don’t let her: we’re getting closer, but it’s still not a concept because I can’t see a story here, not yet. I need to know how her parents’ refusal affects her, how she reacts. If she accepts their refusal, there is no story.

I want to write about a girl from a very orthodox Jewish family who longs to take ballet lessons, and when her parents refuse their permission, the girl begins to dance in secret, and is soon caught up in a web of deception. Now, that’s a concept. I can see the story – I can see the girl sneaking out to class, lying to her parents, wrestling with her conscience.

A strong concept suggests a story. It suggests character, plot and theme.

Once I have my strong concept, what else do I need before I start to write my story?

I need names for my main characters – the sooner I name them, the sooner I can get to know them.

And I need a voice. I need to know who is telling the story. The protagonist? A third person narrator? Someone else? (With Dancing in the Dark, I wasn’t sure whether to tell the story in first person or in third – I had to experiment to find out what worked best for the story.)

If you’re the kind of writer I am, then you too will need, at the very least, a strong concept and a voice before you begin.

But only you can know whether you’re a word builder, an intuitive writer, a detailed planner, or a relaxed yet focused traveller.

Trust yourself, and let your story emerge.

NB: To “unlock the story within you”, I recommend The 90-day Novel by Alan Watt. It contains some great advice, tips and techniques (though I don’t necessarily recommend trying to complete a novel within 90 days). I also highly recommend Story Engineering by Larry Brooks.

About the Author

Robyn Bavati lives in Melbourne, Australia. Dancing in the Dark is her debut novel. Her next novel, Pirouette, will be out in November.

Check Out Robyn's Webpage
Friend Robyn on Facebook

About the Book

When Ditty Cohen first sees a ballet on TV, the beautiful, gravity-defying dancing captivates her.

She’s instantly connected to the graceful performers, realizing her passion is to be a dancer. There’s just one problem: Ditty is from an ultra-orthodox Jewish family and her parents forbid her to take dance lessons.

Refusing to give up on her newfound love, Ditty starts dancing in secret. Her devotion to dance is matched only by her talent, but the longer Ditty pursues her dream, the more she must lie to her family. Caught between her passion and her faith, Ditty starts to question everything she believes in. How long can she keep her two worlds apart? And at what cost?

DANCING IN THE DARK is the dramatic, inspiring story about a girl who discovers the trials and triumphs of pursuing her greatest dream.

Find DANCING IN THE DARK on Goodreads

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12. Craft Post: Anna Collomore

Leaving Room for Inspiration/Creativity Within an Outline 
by Anna Collomore

The question of outlining in novel-writing is generally very polarizing. Some feel strongly that outlining hampers the creative process; otherwise swear it’s the necessary hand that holds ours through the duration of the first draft.

Initially of the former camp, I wrote my first novel according to scenes that popped into my head out of nowhere and voices that felt whispered from some divine source. I paid homage to the writing gods and waiting for emotion and inspiration to drive me. What I did not consider enough, however, is how to drive the novel—and I wound up deleting over one hundred meandering pages.

I have also experienced the opposite extreme. I once took on a work-for hire project that required me to write a novel based on a 40-page (single spaced) outline that someone else created for me. The outline was 1/3 the length of the novel and so detailed that it occasionally provided bits of dialogue. It enumerated everything from characters’ favorite breakfasts to their morning routes to school. It left zero room for creative freedom and perfectly illustrated the way in which an outline doesn’t always translate easily to the page. I deleted 50+ pages of awkward transitions that seemed A-okay in the outline itself but felt off when the characters finally came to life.

Now, though, I’m an outline convert. This is because I think I’ve hit on a happy median: a loose—or semi-planned—outline. In the “loose” outline, I give myself just enough direction to write a tight first draft and just enough freedom to play within the borders I’ve established. (This is also, incidentally, how I like to plan my life.)

A very simple model for a loose outline is as follows:

1.) Nail your concept.
2.) Create a 3-Act structure.
3.) Fill in emotional and plot beats.
4.) Jot notes/ideas/inspiration (as they come) within the 3-Act structure.
5.) Optional: create a chapter breakdown.

My most recent book, The Ruining, is a thriller about a nanny who is driven mad by her employer (who harbors a dark secret). I used a five-page outline (including vague chapter breakdown) to write The Ruining. It left me just enough creative freedom but also kept the process streamlined—I was able to write the first draft in two months and took another month to write a second, more solid draft. (During the second draft process I added approximately 75 pages to the first draft.)

The concept line I started with was this: Annie, a live-in nanny for a wealthy San Francisco family, is slowly driven mad by her nefarious employer—who holds a dark secret.

You DO need to know your concept in order to create an initial outline. You DO NOT need to have more than a few vague ideas about your plot. (For example, I did not yet know what the “dark secret” was going to be.) Your concept should clearly summarize the story you want to tell in one specific sentence. There is a very big difference between concept and topic/theme. So, “madness” cannot be a concept. Nor can “nannying” or “manipulation.” It can take some time to nail your concept—but it’s the hardest part. Once you have a concept, you already possess the general framework for a story.

The 3-Act structure:

A simple model for outlining a novel is to break your story into three parts. In Act I, something big happens that sets the novel in motion. Act II is the unfolding action—everything that results from the Big Moment in Act I. At the end of Act II, we have a major revelation or climax that leads into Act III: resolution.

So a very simple 3-act structure for my novel, The Ruining, would have been this:

Act I:
-open with Annie (protagonist) in her OLD LIFE (Detroit).
-Annie moves to NEW LIFE (San Francisco)—end on dramatic moment in which she is dazzled by her new “family’s” wealth, i.e. the first time she sees their sprawling mansion.

Act II:
-Annie starts job
-Annie bonds with Libby, the kids’ mom
-Annie meets love interest
-strange things start happening
-Annie is overworked, overwhelmed, stressed out
-Annie’s sanity starts to falter
-relationship with boy develops
-Annie runs into evidence that something is amiss. Rationalizes evidence.
-Libby finds out that Annie saw evidence.
-Libby becomes aggressively manipulative, controlling
-relationship with boy hits major stumbling block
-Libby acts worse, Annie loses her grip
-Annie fails out of school
-Annie has breakdown
-[SPOILER] Libby puts Annie in hospital
-Annie is trapped
-With love interest’s help, Annie solves mystery behind Libby’s malice

Act III:
-consequences for Libby
-Annie’s resolution/reconciliation with boyfriend

As you can see, this is virtually unplotted—but it provides a general arc for getting started. As I wrote the first act, which I had envisioned clearly (and is generally very short—no more than 30 pages), ideas for the second act came to mind. (“Annie bonds with Libby,” for example, came to life in the form of Libby giving Annie some designer hand-me-downs and taking an interest in her college major.)

Later, you can add more character and plot details to your outline, which should ultimately serve as a place for structuring your notes and ideas into usable form. So if you have an idea for the way “Annie meets love interest,” write it in. (I.e. Annie wipes out on pool patio and cute next door neighbor rushes to her aid.) It then unfolds into a scene.

Your initial outline may be even less detailed than the above. It may use placeholder terms such as, “big emotional moment” or “clue is revealed.” You may not stumble across the exact nature of that moment or that clue until after you’ve written a chapter or two—but you’ll know exactly when in your draft you should be hitting these points, because you’ll be able to see clearly (via the outline) where the action picks up and slows. And you’ll know to build toward big moments from the beginning. These important structural and emotional “beats” in your novel will keep you from going off on tangents that seems fascinating at the time but stretch for 30 pages and ultimately derail your plot.

You need not know the ending right away. You don’t need to know whether the girl ends up with the boy or whether the con artist gets caught and sent to jail. You only need a very rough idea of what questions ought to be answered—and then you can keep these in mind as you write. For example, a later version of my outline (actually was served as my final version) contained an Act III that looked like this:

What’s going on? Is it possible she imagined the entire thing?

The ending is decidedly ambiguous, leaving readers wondering whether Annie will ever be released and reunited with Owen. What’s more, it’s not clear whether Annie is truly insane. Is the story of Libby’s dark secret the truth? Or is it the wildest of Annie’s delusions?

I clearly did not have these questions answered for myself—and yet I had a point to work toward and questions to address within the text. (Incidentally, loose-outlining is not risk-free! I wound up writing three separate endings before my editor was happy.) A loose outline is like a map: it guides you to the point you eventually want to reach and keeps you from veering off track. But what you’ll discover along the way? That comes later, and that’s the fun of it.

About the Author

Anna Collomore--a devotee of dairy products, small mammals, and thrift stores--is a former book editor from New York City. Now she lives, writes, and au pairs in Paris. Find out more about Anna and The Ruining at www.annacollomore.com.

About The Ruining

Annie Phillips is thrilled to leave her past behind and begin a shiny new life on Belvedere Island, as a nanny for the picture-perfect Cohen family. In no time at all, she falls in love with the Cohens, especially with Libby, the beautiful young matriarch of the family. Life is better than she ever imagined. She even finds romance with the boy next door.

All too soon cracks appear in Annie's seemingly perfect world. She's blamed for mistakes she doesn't remember making. Her bedroom door comes unhinged, and she feels like she's always being watched. Libby, who once felt like a big sister, is suddenly cold and unforgiving. As she struggles to keep up with the demands of her new life, Annie's fear gives way to frightening hallucinations. Is she tumbling into madness, or is something sinister at play?

The Ruining is a complex ride through first love, chilling manipulation, and the terrifying depths of insanity.

Buy The Ruining at Amazon
Find The Ruining on Goodreads

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13. Writing Scenes: Cooking at the Right Temperature by Lorin Oberweger

Scenes: Cooking at the Right Temperature
Guest Post by Lorin Oberweger

Just as with any element of fiction, the SCENE can be understood in many ways. Foundationally, it’s the building block of the novel, the bricks where elements such as emotional sequels or transitions that move characters from one place to another can be viewed as mortar.

At its core, a scene is a negotiation of some kind, the struggle between one character with a critical desire in the moment and another character or force with an opposing agenda.

Another way to consider scenes, however, comes in the form of emotional TEMPERATURE, the strength with which they grab hold of readers, involve them on a visceral level, keep them anxious, aroused, or invested in some way. The lower the scene temperature, the lower the likely reader investment.


CONFLICT between two or more characters--physical, emotional, or psychological. The scene contains a potent source of tension and friction, which can only occur when agendas clash.

OBSERVABLE, INTERESTING behavior on the part of characters, rather than summary or exposition. In other words, something is being enacted fully for our mind’s eye (and ear and heart).

TENSION in the form of unanswered questions—information withheld from the reader and/or from the protagonist.

POWER absent from protagonist upon entering the scene. When a character enters a scene in the position of being humbled or unsure, the scene carries far greater tension than if the character enters the scene with perfect certitude or with obvious physical advantage.

POWER taken away from protagonist during the course of the scene.

SURPRISING revelations, reversals of fortune, the unanticipated moment or response.

EMOTIONAL challenge of the protagonist--heightened feeling, loss of control, self-revelation, reckoning with things previously kept hidden in the emotional realm.


AGREEMENT between two or more characters—often found in scenes where characters are commiserating with one another or filling one another in, procedurally, on elements of the quest at hand.

Characters in ISOLATION, REFLECTING on their actions, their lives, the decisions they now face.

IMPARTING of information, answering of questions. When characters are simply offered every answer they seek, there’s very little to pique reader interest.

EXPOSITION--summarizing of events, “telling” instead of showing.

POWER being bestowed upon the viewpoint character within the course of the scene—especially if they have not really worked toward achieving this end.

Protagonist entering the scene in the POWER position.

ELEMENTS acting in the protagonist’s favor. (Coincidences, luck, etc.)

Events unfolding just as EXPECTED--by both reader and characters.

Protagonist feeling CALM/COLLECTED/UNFLAPPABLE--entering a scene with full confidence, full knowledge, and an unshakable faith in the scene’s outcome.

While not every scene in a novel can or should unfold at the highest temperature, it’s often the case that readers don’t challenge themselves as fully as they might in this arena. They give us long passages of static exposition or of characters alone in thought. They answer questions for the protagonist before he or she has really had an opportunity to test him/herself in the pursuit of answers. They create scene after scene with characters alone with only their thoughts for company and no source of tension—or “heat”—on the page. The result can be a bit dreary, keeping the reader at an emotional arm’s length.

So challenge yourself to look at the scenes in your novel—either the ones you’ve written or the ones you have planned. What questions do you prompt the reader to ask? What sources of conflict do you throw in the path of your protagonist? How fully do you immerse your characters in a well-realized and sensory world, one in which they are physically and emotionally tested, and then tested some more?

Turn up the heat in your novel to make your reader suffer, dream, and truly LIVE on the page along with your characters. In the end, they’ll love you for it and keep coming back for more.

About the Author

LORIN OBERWEGER is a highly sought-after independent book editor and ghostwriter with almost twenty-five years experience in publishing. Her company, Free Expressions, offers writing seminars nationwide with literary agent Donald Maass and others, as well as the acclaimed Novel Crafting Retreats--intensive story development weekends for writers in all genres of fiction. The Your Best Book Workshop she and the company put on last October was hands-down the best workshop I've ever attended! To find out more about workshops, retreats, or editorial services, visit the Free Expressions website.

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14. Clear the Clutter

Our cluttered refrigerator door.
Photo | Elizabeth K Humphrey
Clutter. Many of us have it. One area of clutter in my house is the refrigerator door. (Yes, to the left.)

Clutter can also appear in our writing.

This week, while editing a couple pieces of writing, I ran across clutter in sentences that made me think of my kids' refrigerator art. The work is all on display and we keep adding to it--proud of all the work and believing that it all needs to be displayed.

One sentence I ran across was something like this:

She walked quickly to a closet full of clothes and pulled a T-shirt from a shelf and a skirt from a wire hanger and dressed slowly then sat in the middle of the couch, laughing.


If I'm in the middle of a story, I want to see action. Isn't this action? There is movement--she's getting dressed, right? Isn't that enough? Well, I don't know about you, but I don't want to wade through all that action to get to the important action of the character's laughter.

Why do we need to work through a long sentence of walking, pulling, dressing, sitting, and laughing?

Often writers sense that the reader needs to "see" all the actions. Just like a parent needs to see all the art on the refrigerator. But when you try to show everything, you cover or avoid other elements that might be important.

Here are some tips to attack the clutter in your work:

  • Trim excess in your sentences: If you are in love with some of the work, tuck it away for later.
  • Determine what actions are essential to the plot: Is the action moving the story forward or is it treading water and not moving?
  • Read your work aloud: When you hear your story out loud, it helps you catch clutter in your sentences. You hear what is working and what's not.
  • Review how you tell a story to a friend: Which details do you include, which ones do you exclude? (Is the wire hanger really an essential element in the story?)

I'm spending the weekend clearing out some clutter. How about you?

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and editor living in North Carolina. She plans some spring cleaning this weekend, at her keyboard and not in her closet or, ahem, her refrigerator door.

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15. Making the Payoff Scene Count by Stina Lindenblatt

One of our goals as writers is to create stories that keep the reader flipping pages, desperate to see what happens next. And if we’re really good, the reader will be flipping pages well beyond her bedtime. Several different elements (e.g. pacing) are used to create the necessary forward momentum. Along with these elements is The Big Scene.

The ‘big scene’ (or payoff scene) is defined as any scene that contains high drama. The intensity within the scene and the level of importance of the scene are greater than for the majority of your other ones. They are most often the turning points scenes (e.g. the inciting incident, the end of the first act, the climax). While the scene will contain heightened conflict, compared to your other ones, car chases and explosions are not required. In YA, a big scene can be the first kiss, but only if the scene has been properly set up and the first kiss is importance (which is usually the case in YA).

When you write your payoff scenes, you need to go big. And I mean BIG. Wimpy stakes need not apply. The same is true for your internal and external conflict. Paint layers of sensory description, theme, symbolism, subtext, emotion (without crossing into melodrama). Each will add impact to the scene and help it stand out from the crowd. Also, the characters’ actions need to be powerful. The big scene is comparable to the Fourth of July fireworks. It is the difference between a few fire crackers and the spectacular display in New York City. One is memorable; the other isn’t.

In addition to the above, you need to create the appropriate set up. When done correctly, this will guide your reader so they have an idea where the story is headed. If you have a ‘big scene’ without the appropriate set up, the emotional impact wouldn’t even be a blip on the Richter scale. You want more than a blip. You want to aim for at least a ten. You also want to use several techniques to help the payoff scene feel even bigger. One technique is the reversal. The reversal is when an event is headed in one direction and then suddenly takes an abrupt turn. A common example in romances is when the hero and heroine are in a heated discussion one moment, and kissing passionately the next.

Another technique is foreshadowing. An example of this is when the protagonist comments early in the book, when she sees a character, that she wouldn’t be surprised if one day that character’s ass is kicked in a fight. If the information is casually added into the narrative as a simple line, the reader won’t remember it by the time she gets to the ‘big scene,’ but subconsciously she will be waiting for it. The trick to foreshadowing is subtlety. If the reader sees that line and thinks, “Oh, there’s going to be a big fight at some point and the guy is going to get his ass whipped,” then you’ve failed. The reader is going to be waiting for the fight and the element of surprise will be lost. Another thing you want to avoid is heavily foreshadow something that has no relevance to the story. If your protagonist goes on and on about her love of horses in the beginning of the book, horses had better show up later in the book and be important to the plot, or else your reader is going to feel cheated. And a reader who feels cheated is not a happy reader, and will be less likely to read your next story.

Juxtaposition is yet another way to add power to your big scene. Juxtaposition simply refers to elements in opposition (e.g. love/hate, happy/sad, large/small). For example, you could have a big scene occur during Valentine’s Day, when the protagonist is anticipating her first kiss with the guy she’s been crushing on since elementary school. Her emotions are high. And then she witnesses his death. The contrast between the two emotions adds impact to the big scene.

The YA contemporary novel Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry has one of the most powerful payoff scenes that I’ve read. The story is told from two points of view, but the one that leaves most people in tears is Noah’s. (Spoiler Alert) During the story, we learn that eighteen-year-old Noah has been bounced around the foster care system after his parents’ death and has been physically abused. He now lives in the mildew-filled basement of his current foster parents’ house. Before his parents’ death, he had great grades and played varsity basketball. After their death, he was forced to quit basketball, couldn’t be bothered with his grades, and developed a reputation for being a stoner who slept around, a lot.

Noah’s two younger brothers mean the world to him, but because he was wrongly labeled as emotionally unstable, Noah can only see them on supervised visits, which are far and few in between. As a result of his experiences with the system, Noah is positive his brothers are being mistreated. The emotional punch to the gut comes when Noah, after being banned from seeing his brothers, winds up being invited to lunch with the family who wants to adopt his siblings. Katie McGarry brilliantly uses juxtaposition in the scene to heighten the emotions. Unlike the foster families Noah has lived with, the brothers’ foster parents are financially stable and give his brothers the things Noah has been deprived of. The boys get to go to basketball camps and attend a fancy private school. Their foster parents love them. The boys also have something else Noah doesn’t have: a photo of their dead parents. When Noah sees that picture, few readers can make it through the scene without crying. The build up to that moment is worth it—no matter how many times you read the book. Without the build up, the scene wouldn’t have had the same impact. (End of Spoiler Alert)

What books have you read that have moved you because of the powerful payoff scenes? Your homework is to analyze the book and see how the author made those scenes count, and apply what you’ve learned to your own story.

About the Author

Mother of three. Adoring wife. Photographer. And a fiction writer who's addicted to YA and NA (New Adult) novels, chocolate, and exercise. I'm a member of the RWA and SCBWI, and a contributing member of the Querytracker.net Blog.

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25 Comments on Making the Payoff Scene Count by Stina Lindenblatt, last added: 4/7/2013
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16. The Benefits of Constructive Criticism and Critique Partners by Kimberly Ann Miller

The ability to handle constructive criticism with grace is very important for writers at all stages of the publication process. I had the great luck of having an honest person critique my very first book – my sister. Though family and friends tend to praise our writing for fear of hurting our feelings, she was brutally honest to the point of tearing the book apart and defining every little thing I did wrong, which was pretty much everything!

But she taught me how to accept criticism and use it to my advantage, which is a critical skill in the publishing business. People who have difficulty accepting criticism of their work will have a hard time working with agents and editors who will, undoubtedly, call for some amount of revisions prior to publishing any manuscript.

No writer should be without a critique partner or two and a few good beta readers, especially writers at the start of their careers. The ability to accept and integrate the opinion of other writers, agents, and editors is critical in polishing your manuscript and improving your craft. Critiquing for others is important, too, as it can teach you a lot about your own writing as you comb through a manuscript and learn to find its trouble spots.

I found my live critique group through the SCBWI website and my on line beta readers through the QueryTracker.net forums. Without the help of these wonderful men and women, I would be lost.

Each type of group brings a different experience to the table. With my live group, we meet monthly and submit a set amount of pages to each other via email a week prior to our meeting. That gives us enough time to read through the work, critique it, and then discuss it with the group when we get together. I enjoy this group because we meet at a Barnes and Noble and have the ability to discuss each critique with the other members. It’s also fun because as writers, we tend to spend a lot of time at home in front of our computers, and hanging out with real people in public gives us a chance to socialize while we improve our work.

My beta readers work differently than the critique group. Everything is done via email, and we set no limits on the amount of work we share with each other. We send a chapter or a scene at a time, and usually within twenty-four hours, it is returned to the writer with helpful comments about the plot, theme, character, or dialogue. Some comment on grammar and spelling issues and also suggest great ideas that I’d never thought of!

Having a diverse group of people involved in critiquing your manuscript is helpful as well. Each person brings a different perspective to your story and a different method of critiquing. Whether they go line by line suggesting changes or just comment on the things they see that are—or are not—working, every piece of advice will bring your story one step closer to perfection. Having writers at different stages in writing and publication also helps. Newer writers tend to comment more on broader ideas, such as things they like about the story, characters, and dialogue. People with more experience tend to be pickier, commenting on such things as grammar, style, voice, and consistency. No matter where your partners are in their writing life, they all bring value to the table.

Here are some links and suggestions for valuable sites to find critique partners and beta readers online:

* The Query Tracker forums are where I found all of my beta readers. Query Tracker is one of the most supportive writing sites I have found since I began this journey a few years back. The feedback from the members is excellent and helpful, and the resources on the forum and the main site, QueryTracker.net, are fantastic.

* The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is a great place to find critique groups focusing on writing for children and young adults. I found my critique group there almost two years ago, and the women I meet with are amazing.

* Many authors now have Facebook pages. Social media is a great way to connect with other writers and find people who are willing to critique your work.

* Many authors are also on Twitter, which is another social media site in which to find help.

* author blogs - There are a ton of author blogs out there, all at different stages in the writing and publication process. Many of them look for critique partners and beta readers to swap chapters or manuscripts with for help in their own work. In return, they’ll help you with yours.

* agent and editor blogs and websites – Most, if not all, agents and editors are online. Many of them put up great posts on the craft of writing and offer links to help writers improve their books.

* Goodreads is an amazing place for writers as well as readers. The site has many groups for writers of all genres to connect and help each other out.

* The Writer’s Digest forum has a critique tab where members can read and critique each other’s work, and critique guidelines are offered to help newbies learn the ropes.

There are many other sites on the web that can be found via your favorite search engine.

Other options for finding critique partners and beta readers include networking at writer’s conferences, participating in online and live writing workshops and classes, and just sending out emails to writers you already know, asking to swap your manuscripts for feedback.

When reaching out for the first time, a great idea is to suggest swapping only the first chapter of your manuscript. That way, you and the other writer can get a sense of how you both write and how you both critique. If it’s not a good fit, you can go your separate ways. But if you get lucky like I have, you’ll end up with great help for you book as well as new friends.

Do yourself and your book a favor. If you don’t share your work with anyone, find the courage to get a trusted reader or two who will give you honest feedback. Understand that the feedback is meant to help your manuscript, not criticize you or make you feel bad about your skill as a writer. You won’t regret it, and your work will be much stronger in the end.

About the Author

Kimberly Miller received Bachelor's degrees from Georgian Court University and Rutgers University and a Master's degree from The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. She is an avid reader and particularly enjoys true crime and young adult novels. She grew up in New Jersey and currently resides in Monmouth County with her husband and three cats. When she’s not writing, she loves to travel to sunny islands where she snorkels by day and stargazes by night. She always takes her Nook with her.
Her first book, TRIANGLES, by Spencer Hill Press, is due for release this June.

Find Kimberly online:
Twitter: @KimberlyAnnNJ

About the Book

A cruise ship. A beautiful island. Two sexy guys. What could possibly go wrong?

In the Bermuda Triangle--a lot.

Hoping to leave behind the reminders of her crappy life--her father's death years ago, her mother's medical problems, and the loser who's practically stalking her--seventeen-year-old Autumn Taylor hops on a ship with her sister for a little distraction. When she wakes up in the Bermuda Triangle, she fears she's gone nuts for more than one reason: that loser's suddenly claiming they're a happy couple... a hot guy is wrapping his arms around her and saying "Happy Anniversary"... and suddenly, she's full of bruises, losing her hair, and getting IV medication. Autumn visits the ship's doctor, hoping for a pill or a shot to make the craziness go away. Instead, she's warned that these "alternate realities" could become permanent.

She just has to ask herself one question--how the hell is she going to get out of this mess?

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14 Comments on The Benefits of Constructive Criticism and Critique Partners by Kimberly Ann Miller, last added: 3/20/2013
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17. The Art of the Rewrite by Heather Anastasiu

I’ve made no secret that writing OVERRIDE, the second book in my trilogy, was crazy tough. I’d heard other writers talk about have to start a book from scratch several times over because it wasn’t working, but I’d think, nah, that will never happen to me!

Ahem. Yeah. Famous last words. I wrote one complete draft of OVERRIDE, then half of it over again, and then I had to scrap all of that and start over AGAIN. The good news is, I’m really, really happy with the final product.

When do you know that you need to do a rewrite?

Usually, you know because of feedback. Also important to note here is that you need critique partners who will be brutally honest with you. Or you need to read between the lines about the critiques you are getting. I recognized I’d need a rewrite when all of my beta partners, my agent, and my editor seemed less than enthusiastic about the draft. Nobody came out and said it was horrible, but there was a lot of beating around the bush about how bad it was. I think I probably scared my editor with that first draft. I imagined her in the office reading it and being like ‘why on earth did I ever buy this trilogy?’

Eventually, though I balked and balked and balked internally, I finally looked at the draft again myself and realized the problem—it had no soul. Which is a flowery way of saying I hadn’t connected to my main character emotionally as I was writing, so she was just like this lifeless puppet I was swinging around through various plot points. The thing is, when you as a writer don’t connect to a character, the reader isn’t going to either. Which you know, is kind of a big problem—the kind of systemic problem that requires you to chuck everything you’ve got and start over. Usually you also need time away from a draft, maybe a month or more while it’s out with critique partners, to be able to have the perspective to see your own work clearly enough to see the problems.

Commence freaking out and screaming, no I don’t WANNA!!! But alas, the bad draft is still sitting there staring at you. Now what?

I’m not one of those crazy people who just starts a new document and begins over at page one. That’s far too daunting and scary. So what I do instead is take some time to outline the book as it is currently. I’ll re-read sections and decide what the big problems areas are. Then I brainstorm possible fixes to the problem. In OVERRIDE one of the biggest problems (in addition to the lack of voice) was the first half. Nothing really happened in it. There was no tension, no cause and effect to keep pulling the reader along from one chapter to the next, just a bunch of people kind of sitting in one place being boring.

A lot of times with a rewrite, I’ll find my favorite part and start working there, to give myself incentive to actually start (usually for me this means working on the romantic storyline and scenes), but because of deadlines with OVERRIDE, I had to dive straight into this problematic first half. Instead of having my characters sit still for a hundred pages, I found ways to make them be on the run. In almost each chapter dramatic things happen to push them from one location to the next. And as I worked on making them move, I tried to also key in on the bigger voice problem. At every step, I kept asking myself, what does Zoe want? What are her motivations and her worst fears? This is key to figuring out voice. It’s the most basic question writers should always be asking themselves: what does my character want and then, what obstacles can I throw in their path to keep them from getting it?

I finally realized that what Zoe wants most is family, a safe place where she can protect the people she loves. This was key to unraveling her character for me so that I finally firmly knew who she was.

After I’d gotten the beginning fixed, then I moved onto the other big problem areas (aka, the middle and the end!), both of which centered around action scenes. As you write more and more, you’ll discover your own strengths and weaknesses. One of my weaknesses is writing action scenes. There’s so many moving parts and people you have to keep shifting around like chess pieces and there’s so much going on at once. For me action scenes can too easily turn into a boring list: this happened, then this and this. And on top of all the moving parts, you also have to weave in emotional stakes in each action scene.

So here’s the key: knowing your weaknesses, you can work around them. Some people are excellent at writing huge tableau battle scenes like Scott Westerfeld did in his Leviathan series. I am not like that. For me, the solution lay in cutting a few characters off from the melee and focusing in on them. I could keep track of two or three important characters at once.

Another trick was to change the nature of the battle. In my first couple drafts there was a huge all-out fight with everyone there at once at the end. In my last rewrite, I made the conflict a lot more intimate—it’s Zoe alone going in to search for something, and the main obstacle I threw in her way forces her to face her worst fears. That way I brought both the action plot and the emotional plot to a climax at the same time, which is the best way to pack an emotional wallop for your readers.

So these are the big things to keep in mind when you do a re-write:

Take some time away from the draft. Get feedback and then try to look at it with fresh eyes. And be brutal with yourself—not the self-defeating kind of brutal, aka, ‘I suck and will never be successful at this writing thing!’ Instead, you need the productive kind of brutal, acknowledging that this is a work in progress, that all writers (both published and unpublished) are facing these same problems, and gearing yourself up to dig in to do the work that needs to be done.

What does my character want and what do they fear? Am I crafting the plot to really push these desires and fears to the forefront so I can get a full emotional arc for my characters? Your characters are what stay with a reader, not clever plots. Your character’s emotional arc is what will make readers laugh and cry.
Do I lose tension during any section of the book? Do I keep the stakes high? Usually this ties back into the first point—does the reader genuinely feel like the main character has something important to lose, that their wants and desires are challenged in some way in each chapter? Don’t be afraid to hurt your main character or take them scary places. Being a writer means being willing to gut your main characters and then kick them while they’re down. Conflict is what stories are all about.

What are my strengths and weaknesses as a writer? How can I key in on those weaknesses and what do I need to change to work around them? Often this means figuring out a way to be tricky and use your strengths to hide your weaknesses. Good at writing lively characters but have difficulty with plot? Brainstorm obstacles to your main character’s happiness by having them challenged by another character and let the personality sparks bring on the conflict. Good at plot but weaker on characterization? Craft plots that will threaten your main character’s wants and desires (I realize I’m kind of a broken record on this point, but seriously, it’s the single most important way to create an emotionally powerful story!!!).

And at the end of all that work? A book I’m very proud of, and one that almost across the board has garnered more critical and popular acclaim than GLITCH did. That’s the real magic of the rewrite—you can create something truly special, a book that others will want to read and then think about for weeks after they finish it.

About the Author

Heather Anastasiu recently moved to Minneapolis with her family, and when she's not busy getting lost exploring the new city, she spends most days writing at a café or daydreaming about getting a new tattoo.

She is the author of GLITCH, OVERRIDE, and the forthcoming SHUTDOWN.

Find out more on Heather’s website 
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About the Book

Zoe lives in a world free of pain and war. Like all members of the Community, a small implanted chip protects her from the destructive emotions that destroyed the Old World. Until her hardware starts to glitch.

Zoe begins to develop her own thoughts and feelings, but nothing could be more dangerous in a place where malfunctions can get you killed. And she has another secret she must conceal at all costs: her glitches have given her uncontrollable telekinetic powers.

As she struggles to keep her burgeoning powers hidden, she finds other glitchers with abilities like hers, and together they plot to escape. But the more she learns about beauty, joy, and love, the more Zoe has to lose if they fail. With danger lurking around every corner, she’ll have to decide just how much she’s willing to risk to be free.

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6 Comments on The Art of the Rewrite by Heather Anastasiu, last added: 4/10/2013
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18. Patience is a Virtue? by Anne Cassidy

Today, we're so happy to have Anne Cassidy for our Craft of Writing post. Patience is something I think most writers struggle with. Personally, my maximum level of patience is about 3 minutes. (Martina can vouch for this!)


Twenty years ago, when I first decided to write a novel, I felt this whirlwind of impatience inside my chest. I saw the book cover, the blurb, the place on the bookshop shelf where it would sit (the single copy in the window where it would be BOOK OF THE WEEK).

All I had to do was write it. If only I didn’t have a full time job.

I had an idea. I had a plot. I had an audience in mind, teenagers. I had a main character based on me when I was a teenager. I had a grisly murder.

All I had to do was write it. If I ever got any time to myself.

I had a title BIG GIRLS’ SHOES, triggered by the title of an Elvis Costello song, Big Sister’s Clothes.

I had to work around my job and develop patience. I agreed a target with myself. I thought it would take a year. I did it in short bursts; early in the mornings, free time in work, in the evenings, at weekends and holidays. I never wrote for longer than about thirty minutes without a break, going and doing other things. This piecemeal way of writing a complex story actually helped rather than hindered. It meant that I never got so attached to a piece of writing that I didn’t mind tearing it apart the next time I looked at it. It also meant that the plot grew as I wrote and as characters developed I began to think of things that they would really do instead of things I wanted them to do. The plot began to twist and turn and I never minded going back and changing things, this process made much easier for when I got my first Amstrad.

I think the fact that I wrote the book while at work meant that for many hours I couldn’t do any actual writing but I had loads of time to THINK about the story. That thinking meant that the plot wasn’t rushed. The story slowly unfolded.

Now I write full time but my piecemeal approach is still there simply because with it, I believe, I write a better novel. So the very things I was forced to do at the beginning, have patience, write little and often, have long periods of time when I couldn’t write, established a template for the way I would write even when I had no full time job to go to. It worked for me.

Developing patience as a writer is probably the best piece of advice I can give. Once your book is written there is then the interminable wait for agents/ publishers/ contracts/ edits/ book covers/ publication dates.

And what should you be doing while this is all going on?

As soon as I sent off my first novel, BIG GIRLS’ SHOES, as soon as I posted it (snail mail,) I started my second novel IN REAL LIFE. I’m currently writing my thirtieth novel.

About the Author

Anne Cassidy was born in London in 1952 and was a teacher in London schools for 19 years before she turned to writing full time.

Anne has been writing books for teenagers for many years and concentrates on crime stories and thrillers.

Before she began to write Anne was an avid reader. Her favourite kind of books are those that have a mystery of some sort at their centre. She has a passion for crime books, mystery stories and detective novels. It's not just 'whodunnit' books she likes but why something happened, how a crime was committed, the effects of terrible events on ordinary people's lives. Her favourite crime writers are Ruth Rendell (particularly when she's writing as Barbara Vine), Sue Grafton, John Harvey, Lawrence Block, Scott Trurow and Donna Tartt.

Teenagers inhabit a transitory world between childhood and adulthood. Certainties and expectations are often turned upside down in this period. It seemed therefore an ideal point at which to throw a young adult in the path of crime. To see what happens if a young girl, previously only interested in clothes and records, is late to a meeting with her best friend and when she arrives, finds her murdered. Does she ignore it and get on with her life? Or does she find herself drawn into it?

To Anne there seemed to be a lack of these sorts of books for younger readers so since then she has written a variety of mystery and crime novels for teenagers.

Check out Anne’s website 
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About the Book

Rose's mother and Joshua's father have disappeared. Police inquiries have gone nowhere and the case, it seems, is closed: Rose and Joshua have been told that the police believe their parents are dead. But Rose and Joshua still hold out hope that they are alive. Joshua is determined to follow up his own inquiries, which includes working out the meaning of the cryptic notebooks - the murder notebooks - they have discovered. Then Rose is distracted by odd, desperate messages she receives from Rachel, a former best friend from her school, followed by the terrible news that Rachel is dead. But perhaps Rachel's death will provide one more piece of the puzzle about what has happened to Rose and Joshua's parents.

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19. Lynn Joseph on Diversity in Writing

Diversity, By Any Other Name, is Still Sweet

By Lynn Joseph

I am known as a “Caribbean” writer. Is it because I am from Trinidad, where I was born, and where I lived for the first nine years of my life before assuming a bi-country existence; nine months in the United States and three months in Trinidad every summer until I was 21? Or is it because, birthplace aside, the settings for most of my books are on Caribbean islands? But suppose I was born in the U.S. or England, or Thailand, and I wrote books set in the Caribbean, would I still be considered a “Caribbean” writer?

I ask that question because most of my schooling, from the age of nine has been in the United States. I attended a predominately all-White high school, college and law school. Now, I am happily pursuing my craft in a MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts where the majority of students and teachers are White. Why am I considered a “Caribbean” author if I learned to write creatively in all-White establishments? If I grew up reading books about White protagonists (Beverly Cleary’s as a child; the Trixie Belden series as a tween)? Why is it “acceptable” that I write about people of color but another writer fears she might offend someone? And, why did I feel compelled to write two books set in the Dominican Republic, featuring Dominican characters, when I can’t even speak the language there?

The truth is that lately I’ve been hearing so much “concern” about authenticity in diverse literature that even I, a “Caribbean” author, am becoming fearful to write about characters from a background that is not mine! More importantly, if I had immersed myself in this puzzling issue of what it means to write diverse stories, I might have steered away from writing The Color of My Words or Flowers in the Sky knowing I am not Dominican and can not speak Spanish, try as I might. Because if the measuring stick is that we write only about what we know, maybe I would have stuck to writing about the high school friends I knew so well, who are all Caucasian.

So, I am just going out on a limb here and saying it plainly: Please, dear writers of YA fiction, please consider coloring your characters without fear of criticism. Write them with the same conscientious mindset you give to creating any of your characters. Because writing authentically means doing so across the board, not just if you have a diverse character in mind. And if you are writing conscientiously then you can write diversely.

It makes me, a reader, very happy when I discover characters of color doing ordinary things in novels, like the character of Julia in Rebecca Stead’s Newbery winning When You Reach Me. She’s Black! I had no idea. It wasn’t obvious, and in fact, when I discovered her race, I re-read the beginning to see if Stead had mentioned it and she had! With an art project. But it was subtle and technically brilliant.

In Susan Fletcher’s dracling novel, Ancient, Strange, and Lovely, there is an Indian graduate student and a Black professor/scientist who play major roles although the novel is set in Oregon and Alaska. In Sarah Dessen’s novel Just Listen, protagonist Annabel has a Chinese best friend named Clarke who is adopted. I feel a thrill when I see diverse characters in novels, so I can just imagine how children and teenagers like me must feel, too. It’s a recognition, an affirmation, and a empowerment that, oh yeah, we exist, we are worth writing about, and we are strong, individual characters in our own right.

Patricia McCormick, with whom I was in a writers workshop two years ago, plunged headfirst into researching and writing about characters from other cultures; a Nepalese teenager sold into sex slavery in Sold, and a Cambodian kid who survives the horrific genocide of the Khmer Rouge in Never Fall Down. Both are amazing books and no one cares that McCormick is White.

The same is true about my writer friend and neighbor, Peggy Kern. Peg is White and has successfully written two novels for the Bluford High series, The Test and No Way Out, both featuring Black teens in urban settings. Her new novel Little Peach is coming out next year and is about two Black teenagers caught up in the gritty world of teen prostitution. Do we care what Peggy’s race is? Hell no. This is an important topic and Peg has done her research. And since all of Peg’s books are about Black characters dealing with real-life urban issues, can we call her a “Black” writer? Probably not.

The bottom line is, we need books with diverse characters doing ordinary things, and books that address multi-ethnic situations, and books about the complex issues from the margins of society. All of our world’s children benefit from reading books that represent this planet’s multiple points of view. Because ultimately, there is only one human view and we writers need to open our minds and hearts to presenting the views of others who may be less represented so that we can be co-joined. It’s like what the great mythologist Joseph Campbell said, “Beyond the world of opposites is an unseen, but experienced, unity and identity in us all.”

So, with that in mind, here are some suggestions on how to write authentically about other cultures and how to feature ethnic diversity in your books regardless of your race and background.

1. Look at where you live

Most of us live in multi-ethnic communities, even if, from your vantage point as an adult writer, it may seem homogeneous. For instance, my sons attended high school in Long Beach, New York, a predominately all-white enclave. I stayed at home and wrote, and I hardly saw anyone at all unless I ventured to the Mall thirty minutes away. That was until my sons began bringing their friends to our home. Suddenly, I was surrounded by a talented Black artist named Shaakir, an Ecuadorian girl, Poullete, whose second language is English, a half-Puerto Rican football star named Lorenzo, the president of the high school African-American Club named Gavin, who is 100% Irish, a perky cheerleader named Kelly, also Irish, a beautiful videographer named Sarah who is Italian, and a Peruvian guitarist named Mike. My sons are both African-American. My home was a melting pot of racial identities. I didn’t have to go far to experience divergent viewpoints.

However, if your immediate surroundings are less than stellar in terms of diversity, then expand your horizons. Visit museums, restaurants, give talks at high schools, attend documentary film festivals, read magazine articles, join clubs that feature other cultures, because if you’re interested in including some diversity in your work, you will need to open your mind and heart to EVERYTHING!

2. Interview People of Other Cultures

Pat McCormick told of how she was introduced to her neighbor in New York City who turned out to be the source for her story Never Fall Down. It is his story that she fictionalized. But first she interviewed him extensively to bring his life and words alive in print. I do the same thing. I interview everyone! I probably drive people crazy but I ask a million questions whenever I meet someone whose life is different from mine. For The Color of My Words, I met a waiter named Guario in a restaurant in the tourist area in Sosua, Dominican Republic. I began asking so many questions that I ended up going to his home and meeting his family. I went back often talking to them in my awful broken Spanish and just hanging out as an observer and I ended up setting my story right there on their porch.

3. Look for the Similarities

This was the key for writing about Ana Rosa, my main character in The Color of My Words. She’s a girl who longs to be a writer. I know this girl. It doesn’t matter that she lives in a foreign country or speaks a foreign language that I can’t grasp. She’s a twelve-year-old like any other, with a crush on her older brother’s best friend. She feels isolated and different in her neighborhood because she likes to sit in a tree all day and write, and she has dreams that she thinks no one else understands. Worst of all, her major crush is in love with her older sister! Sheesh!

While your character may be a different race or ethnicity, ultimately he or she is human and has the same emotions, desires and dreams as any teenager. Identify your protagonist’s shared humanity before you focus on her culture and differences. Write from inside her heart before you write from outside of it.

4. Read Up on Diversity Issues but Don’t Be Paralyzed By Them

The Children’s Book Council Diversity Committee was recently formed by a group of book editors interested in promoting and increasing diversity in children’s literature. I read their articles regularly and find some that reinforce my beliefs, some that open my eyes to issues of stereotypes such as Diversity 101, and some like Forced Multiculturalism, about the fact that to many kids what adults perceive as “forced multiculturalism” is not forced to kids, so do include minorities in your group of characters. There will always be “issues” to argue over when it comes to how we identify groups of people. Should we capitalize the word Black and White? Should we say African-American instead of Black? Don’t fret too much on the politically correct names. The copyeditors will figure out the appropriate words for the time period of your novel when the time comes.

I wanted to accurately identify the orchids in Flowers in the Sky that Nina grows on her fire escape, but I wrote and left bank spaces and went back later and filled them in. The same is happening with my current work in progress. My male protagonist is a surfer. I am concerned about nailing the surf lingo, but I am not letting that hold me up. I write the story and leave blanks whe I don’t know the exact word for something. Later, I do more research either online or I hang out on the beach and interview surfers or I watch surfing documentaries and read books on surfing, because I want to be authentic. Which brings me to my last point.

5. Be Authentic By Doing Your Research

I cannot stress this enough. You can write about anything at all. Anything. As long as you are committed to doing the necessary research to bring your topic alive for readers. Be real! It may involve traveling, interviewing people, just sitting and observing, but do it! Writers tend to overlook the research because they are so busy focusing on plot and character and structure and outlines. But the craft part of writing is the last thing I worry about. First, I want to know my subject, and my characters, and their world. And I can only do so by living it.

Not for nothing, Rita Williams Garcia acknowledged six different high schools that allowed her to roam their hallways and take a seat in the back of their classrooms so that she could research her National Book Award Finalist novel, Jumped. Now, that’s what I’m talking about! Rita is Black, and her characters in Jumped are mostly all Black or Hispanic, yet Rita was out there in the high schools doing her research before she took pen to paper to portray the truth.

And isn’t that what we writers ultimately are trying to do. Tell the truth. So I urge you to tell it from every viewpoint, from every perspective, and include as many divergent voices as you can. But make it Real! And at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if they call me a “Caribbean” writer because of where I was born or my subject matter. I’m going to write what is dear to my heart.

About the Author

Lynn Joseph was born and raised on the island of Trinidad and is the author of books for children and young adults, including The Color of My Words, A Wave in Her Pocket, The Mermaid's Twin Sister and Coconut Kind of Day, all of which take place in the Caribbean. She travels extensively and has lived in the Dominican Republic, and on the Caribbean islands of Carriacou, Anguilla, and Water Island. She is also an attorney and mother of two wonderful sons, Jared and Brandt. Her new Young Adult novel, Flowers in the Sky will be published by HarperCollins Children's Books in Winter 2013.

Lynn's Website
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About the Book

Fifteen-year-old Nina Perez is faced with a future she never expected. She must leave her Garden of Eden, her lush island home in Samana, Dominican Republic, when she's sent by her mother to live with her brother, Darrio, in New York, to seek out a better life. As Nina searches for some glimpse of familiarity amid the urban and jarring world of Washington Heights, she learns to uncover her own strength and independence. She finds a way to grow, just like the orchids that blossom on her fire escape. And as she is confronted by ugly secrets about her brother's business, she comes to understand the realities of life in this new place. But then she meets him—that tall, green-eyed boy—one that she can't erase from her thoughts, who just might help her learn to see beauty in spite of tragedy.

From the acclaimed author of the color of my words comes a powerful story of a girl who must make her way in a new world and find her place within it.

Buy Flowers in the Sky on Amazon
Find Flowers in the Sky on Goodreads

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20. Finding Your Voice as a Writer by Lauren Miller

Voice. Agents and publishers use the word "voice" a lot, especially when asked what they’re looking for in a story. But what is it, exactly? And where can you find yours?

I like to think of voice as a story’s personality. Every book, TV show, and movie has one. It’s shaped by the writer's tone, style, technique, word choice, and use of narrative devices, but it’s not just the sum of these parts. It’s what you, a unique individual with a particular genetic makeup and particular set of life experiences and a particular point of view, bring to the story you are trying to tell.

Having a voice means seeing the world a particular way -- YOUR way. It means knowing what you believe to be true of the world and the people in it. It means having your own point of view. The problem is, we aren’t born with a point of view. It’s something we develop over time, and it changes as our lives change. As we change. Part of the reason I struggled as a writer in my teens and early twenties was because I wasn’t yet sure how I saw the world. I thought I knew, but I was still figuring it out. When I look back at some of the short stories I wrote in college, I see that uncertainty on the page.

I remember having such a love/hate relationship with writing because of it. I had so many ideas for plots and characters, but no real connection to them. No sense that the stories I was creating were uniquely mine to tell. That, I think, is the key to it: to find a story that only you could tell, and to trust yourself enough to tell it in the way that only you could. It's hard work, both finding the story and committing yourself to the most authentic telling of it. It's easier, sometimes, to go barreling forward with a clever idea, hoping that the voice thing will just work itself out.
I promise you. It won't.

But if that’s where you are right now, don’t panic. It’ll come. The trick is learning to get out of your own way. A great place to do this is in a journal if you’re a private person or on a blog if you’re not.

In high school and college I kept very detailed journals where I attempted to process all the things I was experiencing. Reading those pages now, I hear a very distinctive voice. The writer I was becoming. Journals are a great place to cultivate your voice. Try to be as honest as possible when you write, and do your best to turn your brain off. Just let it pour out. Unless you’ve got snoopy parents or friends, no one is going to read what you’ve written but you.

Blogs are also great for developing voice. I wrote a blog almost every day while I was writing PARALLEL and it kept me in touch with my voice while I was so deep into Abby’s. Blogs are a great format for improving your writing skills generally. And, it’s a great way to develop a body of written work. It might even help you get published! I sold PARALLEL because of my blog. A woman who followed my blog forwarded it to an agent friend of hers, and that agent reached out to me and asked if she could read my just-finished manuscript. Two months later, that agent became my agent, all because a girl in Tennessee connected with my blog voice enough to want to share it with her agent friend. Voice is powerful. It’ll sell your story. But it has to be authentic.

About the Author

Lauren Miller is an entertainment lawyer and television writer. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter.

Thanks to Kristyn Keene at ICM and Sarah Landis at HarperTeen, her debut novel, entitled Parallel, hit bookstores on May 14th. Her second novel, Free to Fall, will be out next Spring.

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About the Book

Your path changes. Your destiny doesn’t.

Abby Barnes had a plan. The Plan. She’d go to Northwestern, major in journalism, and land a job at a national newspaper, all before she turned 22. But one tiny choice - deciding to take a drama class her senior year of high school - changed all that. Now, on the eve of her 18th birthday, Abby is stuck on a Hollywood movie set, wishing she could rewind her life. The next morning, she’s in a dorm room at Yale, with no memory of how she got there. Overnight, it’s as if her life has been rewritten.

Abby soon discovers that this new reality is the result of a cosmic collision of parallel universes that has Abby living an alternate version of her life. And not only that: Abby’s life changes every time her parallel self makes a new choice. Meanwhile, her parallel is living out Abby’s senior year of high school and falling for someone Abby has never even met.

As she struggles to navigate her ever-shifting existence, forced to live out the consequences of a path she didn’t choose, Abby must let go of The Plan and learn to focus on the present, without losing sight of who she is, the boy who might just be her soulmate, and the destiny that’s finally in reach.

Amazon | Indiebound | Goodreads

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21. Question of the Week: First or Third Person?

Hey everyone! It’s Clara Kensie, back with a new Question of the Week! Pretty much the only thing writers love as much as writing is talking about writing. So each week here at Adventures in YA Publishing, I post a question for you to answer. The questions cover all topics important to writers: craft, career, writers’ life, reading and books. Together we’ll become better writers by sharing tips and discussing our habits and practices.

September 15, 2013

My answer: I’ve always written in first person. It’s what comes naturally to me when I write. Maybe it’s because when I was a kid, I used my diary to write stories about a girl who used her psychic powers to solve mysteries. I purposely did not hide my diary, in hopes that someone would find it and assume I was writing about myself. So of course, I wrote those stories in first person. The habit, I guess, stuck with me my whole life. When reading, I don't have a preference. I like both. But with writing, it’s first person for me! One day, though, I'd like to try writing in third person. Who knows, perhaps my next manuscript will be in third person.

YOUR TURN: Do you write in first or third person, or both? Why? Do you have a preference for reading?

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22. Influential Teachers

An article in The Writer's Chronicle got me thinking about
a teacher. Credit: Elizabeth King Humphrey

Were you born a creative writer or were you taught to be a creative writer? I picked up a copy of the September issue of The Writer’s Chronicle, a publication for the Association of Writers & Writing Programs. It’s a publication I read often when I was getting my MFA in creative writing. One article immediately drew my attention: “Borges as Self: Toward Teaching Creative Writers” by Eric LeMay.

There is a line in the article, which I will paraphrase, that poses the question about whether creative writing can be taught or can students be taught to be creative writers. The article discusses various programs and what they may offer writers.

But when I read that, I didn’t look back on my master’s program. I didn’t reflect on an undergraduate poetry class with Kenneth Koch or a graduate workshop with Denise Gess (both incredibly passionate writers). I immediately thought of my high school English teachers.

And one in particular: Marilyn Griggs Riley.

To my knowledge (okay, to my memory!), she didn’t teach me anything about creative writing. I don’t remember the whys and wherefores of points of view or how to create suspense in a novel.

But Marilyn taught me a lot. She taught me about a love of writing. She opened a world of writing that I had never seen before—she wrote the introduction for poetry collections and, later in life, penned a collection of profiles of spunky Western women. Areas for writing that I hadn't considered before. Her enthusiasm didn’t teach me the craft of writing. Her Carol Channing hairstyle didn’t convince me to become a writer (or even influence my style choices).

Her enthusiasm helped me to discover writers I wanted to identify with—and could. Her passion and laughter and encouragement helped me to feel that writing—and being a writer—is an important skill/job/vocation/life.

We kept in touch even after I graduated and she remained a wonderful cheerleader and a fantastic teacher.

In my mind, writers can be taught. Writers can even be taught to be creative writers. But passion is a lot harder to come by. But when you have a teacher who is passionate and believes in you, you can become anything you want to be.

Including a writer.

I enjoyed LeMay's article because he made me think about those personal connections with teachers and their many influences throughout the years.

Do you have a teacher who helped move you to become a writer? Is there someone whose passion set you on the writerly path? Who was he or she?

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and editor living in Wilmington, NC. Her kids just started back at school, so she is excited for a bit more free writing time. (Ha!)

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23. This Week for Writers 12/22-12/28

Hi everyone! I really, really wanted to resurrect the weekly round-up of articles for writers, and Martina graciously said I could. Since this is my first week posting, I'm going to cheat a little and sneak in a few links from earlier in December. Enjoy!


Is Your Manuscript Ready To Submit?  - Mary Keeley at Books & Such Literary gives you ten things to address before submitting.

What I Learned From 10 Queries in 10 Tweets - lessons learned from Sara Megibow's #10queriesin10tweets.

Successful Query Letters - Galley Cat links to 23 query letters that worked.

Writing Groups: A Field Guide - Jane Lebak talks about writing groups on the Query Tracker blog.

K.M. Weiland's Structuring Your Story's Scenes:
Part 1 - Mastering the Two Different Types of Scenes
Part 2 - The Three Building Blocks of the Scene 
Part 3 - Options for Goals in a Scene 

Unleashing the Internal Editor: A Self-Editing Checklist - Jody Hedlund shares the checklist she uses when editing.

How I Fast Draft - Leigh Ann at YAMisfits talks about fast drafting.

Is Hubris Holding You Back? - Lorin Oberweger guest posts on Writer Unboxed about ego.

How an Agent Spends Her Holidays - Stacey Donaghy of Corvisiero Literary Agency tells about her holidays. 

Pub Crawl's Best of 2012 - a round-up of the best posts on Publishing Crawl this year.


Read with Purpose  - DIYMFA posts their best articles on how to read like a writer.

Underrated YA Books of 2012 - a list of books that didn't get as much attention as they deserved this year.

Other Weekly Round-Ups

Twitterific 12/23/12 by Elizabeth Craig 

Cynsational News & Giveaways by Cynthia Leitich Smith 

Do you have any great links you want to share? Suggestions for things you would like to see on this weekly post? Let us know in the comments!

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24. Three Ways Cause and Effect Can Build Your Story

“Shallow men believe in luck or in circumstance. Strong men believe in cause and effect.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

I just finished a revision on my last novel and then tackled the bookmap of my new WIP during a wonderful eight-week workshop with Cheryl Klein. The back-to-back process gave me lots of opportunity to see that the bulk of the places where things didn't quite work in my manuscript pre-revision had to do with either missing goals or a missing exposition of cause and effect. It also made me examine ways to strengthen things for my new work. What I eventually realized is that the problem wasn't necessarily that my character didn't have the goals or that the causal link between events wasn't strong enough. It was more that I hadn't made the causality or the motivation clear and compelling.

Cause and effect is the root of fiction, and it's the flip side of looking at goal and outcome. On the macro level, it links events, and on a micro level, it forms the stimulus and response pairs that form how our characters respond to events. All together, cause and effect, goal and outcome, stimulus and response form the impetus of story by motivating the characters to engage with what is happening to them in believable and interesting ways.

Jack M. Bickham does a great job laying down some guidelines in SCENE AND STRUCTURE:

  • Stimulus must be external--that is, action or dialogue, something that could be witnessed if the transaction were on a stage.
  • Response must also be external in the same way.
  • For every stimulus, you must show a response.
  • For every desired response, you must provide a stimulus.
  • Response usually must follow stimulus at once.
  • When response to stimulus is not logical on the surface.
For most of those statements, we could substitute cause and effect and end up with a valid guideline, too. The difference is, I think, that readers are more tolerant of when they find out the cause and effect relationship than they are about seeing the response to a stimulus.

As I was going through my bookmap, I realized that it helped me to examine the scenes in different ways. I found it helped to use three different perspectives: lack, cause, and goal.

The Lack of Something

There's an old proverb that Madeleine L'Engle used in The Wind and the Door, the sequel to A WRINKLE IN TIME. It's also used in the movie TOKYO DRIFT. In each case, it illustrates the cascading effect of something seemingly inconsequential.

  • For want of a nail the shoe was lost.

  • For want of a shoe the horse was lost. 

  • For want of a horse the rider was lost.

  • For want of a rider the message was lost.

  • For want of a message the battle was lost.

  • For want of a battle the kingdom was lost. 

  • And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

In essence, this same relationship has to exist in the novel, beginning with the inciting incident. Whether you want to phrase it as a "lack" or a goal doesn't matter as much as the fact that there is something that happens that causes something else to happen, and that we understand why.

BeCAUSE of Something

To illustrate this, let me rewrite the events in the proverb and turn them into an actual story. Let's say that Fiona is a girl in a castle threatened by an advancing army. The castle protects a critical road. With every able bodied male engaged in fighting the enemy, Fiona's father sends her through enemy lines with information for the King and a plea for help.

  • Because Fiona must stay off the more traveled road, her horse loses a nail from its shoe.
  • Because she can't stop on that road, the whole shoe comes off.
  • Because she can't find a blacksmith, the horse goes lame.
  • Because the horse goes lame, Fiona cannot get out of the way of the rebel army fast enough.
  • Because she cannot get out of the way fast enough, she is captured.
  • Because she is captured, the message is found by the enemy.
  • Because the message reaches the enemy and not the King, help doesn't reach the castle. 

  • Because the castle falls to the enemy, the enemy can now march down the crucial road and conquer the entire kingdom.

Striving for Something

The problem with the story above is that it still leaves too many questions unanswered. As a writer, I still need to understand the motivation and the cause and effect of the story both on a macro and a micro level. It helps me to look at that same scenario as a series of scene goals and complications.

Story Question: Can Fiona get the message to the king?
Complication: The enemy is already surrounding most of the city and cutting off the exits.

Scene Goal: Fiona needs to get around the enemy army.
Complication: She takes a road that skirts the marsh and the mud sucks a nail out of her horse's shoe.

Scene Goal: She wants to circle around the ranks of the enemy before rejoining the main road.
Complication: She doesn't stop until the horse's shoe comes off.

Scene Goal: She wants to find a blacksmith.
Complication: The horse goes lame before she can find one.

Scene Goal: She wants to steal a horse.
Complication. She is captured.

Scene Goal: She wants to destroy the message before the enemy finds it.
Complication: Dropping it on the road leads to it being found.

Etcetera etcetera, to quote the King of Siam. But now I am going to digress.

A Plea Against Gratuitous and Easy Violence

Obviously, the story I just sketched would be a period piece. It would be very easy to jump in here and say that the enemy finds the message by searching her. If the mc was a boy, I would go there. But she's a girl. They wouldn't necessarily find it right away if she had it hidden in her voluminous skirts. They wouldn't necessarily even suspect her of carrying a message. I have to think of the time and the circumstances, put myself in the shoes of my character and her captors.

A lot of writers, too many, would immediately jump to a rape scene here, or at least a scene where Fiona is stripped or violated and the message is found and the battle is lost. I'm not going to go into this topic deeply, because Maggie Stiefvater did that beautifully in her post last week on Literary Rape.

Instead, I'm going to throw out an alternative. As writers, our job is to think of what drives our characters--all of them. We need to consider all the possibilities and make the most dramatic choice—and that doesn't involve having things happen to the protag. Rather, it involves having our protagonist drive the action. To do that, we need to consider the dramatic effect of having the character make a choice that leads to her own downfall and then battling back from it.

Goal, Outcome, and Change

If I look at goal and complication and combine it with the perspectives I gained into cause and effect by examining lack, outcome, and change, I end up with a more complete story.

Inciting/exciting incident: The enemy at the gates.

Goal: Fiona needs to get out of town.
Motivation: Get the message to the king.
Complication: To avoid the enemy, she has to take the muddy road that skirts the marsh.
Outcome: The mud sucks a nail out of her horse's shoe.
Change: The shoe is loose, slowing her down.

Goal: Take a shortcut back to the main road.
Motivation: To avoid capture and make up the time she has lost.
Complication: The terrain is even worse than on the previous route.
Outcome: The shoe comes off.
Change. The horse is starting to limp.

Goal: Walk a while to rest the horse.
Motivation: She can't make it to the king without a horse.
Complication: She is slowed even further and encounters something—wild animal, human, deserter, something she wouldn't have encountered if she was still on horseback.
Outcome: She has to get back on the horse.
Change: The horse goes lame.

Goal: Find a blacksmith.
Motivation: She can't get to the king on a lame horse.
Complication: There are enemy soldiers in the village.
Outcome: She can't stay while her horse is reshod and she can't let anyone see her.
Change: She decides to steal a horse.

Goal: To steal a horse.
Motivation: To continue on her journey.
Complication: Someone sees her and raises an alarm.
Outcome: She is captured.
Change: She and the message are both in the hands of the enemy.

Goal: To avoid having the enemy read the message.
Motivation: To avoid being killed as a spy and preserve the potential for escape.
Complication: A soldier sees her drop the message and kick it out of the way.
Outcome: The message is read by the enemy.
Change: She and the message are both taken to the enemy commander.

As I originally wrote this, this could have been the beginning of the end. But now, knowing Fiona better, I realize she's nowhere close to done. And the capture of the castle isn't the end of the story either. Because the way I wrote the motivation said she needs to get the message to the king.

What happens after Fiona is captured depends on the type of book I want to write. Mostly, it depends on Fiona though. Who she is internally will dictate how she reacts externally. When her horse lost a shoe, she could have sat down and given up. But that would have been a boring story.

Examining all the different ways that events hinge together gradually reveals more about any protagonist, her surroundings, and the drama of the situation. Knowing how the protag thinks about events and how she responds to them is what brings the story into life and focus, at least for me. It never ceases to amaze me how much there is to discover about a story even after many drafts. Examining the prism of the novel from different angles reveals increasing depths and beautiful possibilities.

What about you? How do you connect the dots? Do you outline events, or do you outline motive and goal? How do you track cause and effect?

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25. Stop Trying to Fit Yourself into the Publishing Box by Brittany Geragotelis

Like so many writers before me, I had the goal of becoming a published author one day. Ever since I was 15 years old and wrote my first book, I had dreams to see my novel on the bookstore shelves. And when I began to seriously pursue those dreams, I made sure to do my research on how to make it happen. This is what I was told I had to do to achieve published author status:

--Write an awesome book
--Query agents
--Get an agent to take a chance on an unknown author
--Have that agent pitch my book to editors
--Find an editor who likes the book enough to bring it to their publishing company
--And if I’m lucky, that publishing company will offer a deal
--Become successful author

Thinking this was the only way to reach my goals, I set out to follow all the guidelines given me. I queried dozens of agents and finally found one who liked my book! He brought it around to about 7-8 editors at major publishers, but everyone passed on the project. He tried again with my next book and while we came close to a sale at one publisher, it ultimately didn’t sell. Then, after that, my agent dropped me as a client.

At this point, I wondered if writing books was what I was even meant to do. I didn’t want to be naïve and miss the signs that were all telling me to stop wasting my time with a dream that was never going to happen. So, I took a 6-month hiatus from writing. But I quickly began to get the itch to write again. And that’s when I realized I needed to change the way I was approaching everything.

So I asked myself why I was writing. Was it only to get published and achieve fame and success in a very specific way? Ultimately, no. I write because I love it and I feel compelled to do it. I feel like I have stories to share with the world and I’d like to try my best to do that. And if this is my real goal—writing books because I love it and getting my books out to people who will hopefully enjoy them—then I needed to open my mind to the possibility that it might not happen the way I always assumed it would.

It was around this time that I discovered the online writing community site called Wattpad. Wattpad is like a YouTube for writers, where anyone can join and post short stories, full-length novels, poetry, screenplays….just about any writing you can think of.Up until this point, I’d always been told by traditionally published authors (whom I admire greatly), that you never give anything away for free. But I had a new goal: get my books out to people who might enjoy reading them. If this was true, and here was a platform with which I could do that, then why would I say no simply because I wouldn’t be getting paid for it?

So I began to post something for free on the site. I’d done my research on what the users were reading on there (which happened to be paranormal romance, surprise, surprise) and decided to write an original book in this genre. The result was a YA novel called LIFE'S A WITCH, which was about a teen witch who was a direct descendent of Bridget Bishop, the first person killed in the Salem Witch Trials. It had magic, spells, drama, love and action…and quickly became a huge hit among teens and adults alike.

Within 6 months, I’d finished writing and posting LIFE'S A WITCH on Wattpad and had garnered 6 million reads of it. Nearly a year after beginning to post the book, I had about 19 million reads of it and readers were re-creating scenes from the novel in public and calling themselves Twitches (teen witch). Then, my fans began to ask where they could buy it. So, because there was a demand for it, I decided to publish the book myself.

Soon after that, the press caught wind of my success on the site and decided to write a few articles on me. And once the publishing industry heard about the popularity of LIFE'S A WITCH, they came calling, and within a month of self-publishing, we found ourselves in an auction between four publishing houses. In the end, I went with Simon & Schuster in a 3-book, six-figure deal.

I think what I’ve learned most from my experience is that we live in a really exciting time right now. Whereas 10 years ago, there was really only one way of becoming a successful author, now we have so many opportunities available to us. IF we’re willing to keep an open mind to how it’s supposed to look and happen. Had I insisted on getting my book deal the old-fashioned way, I’m not sure it would have materialized. At least, not at this time and with a built-in fanbase like I have. And even though I’m working with a traditional publisher now, I still plan to continue thinking outside the box when it comes to my writing career.

Do you think there’s only one way to go about getting published? Or are you willing to allow your big break to happen in its own way?

About the Author

Brittany Geragotelis, a former Olympic-bound gymnast and magazine editor, is a self-professed pop culture junkie turned author. Her paranormal action book LIFE'S A WITCH received 19 million reads on the writing site Wattpad, before she sold the series to Simon & Schuster. WHAT THE SPELL? is her first published book in the series. Brittany currently lives in New York City with her fiancé and two cats, Murray and Cohen.

Visit Brittany's Website

Follow her on Twitter

About the Book

A teenage witch juggles popularity and romance while keeping her powers a secret in this spellbinding debut. 

Almost-sixteen-year-old Brooklyn feels invisible, but she desperately wants to be pretty, to be popular, to be adored by a cute guy. Luckily for her, she’s a witch about to come of age—so she’s only a few spells away from making it all happen.

On her milestone birthday, Brooklyn’s conservative parents finally unbind her powers, which include the ability to magically match couples with a love spell. Brooklyn uses her special skills to get a makeover, new friends, and the attention of her crush, Asher. But the popular clique Brooklyn wants to infiltrate puts her in the same precarious position as her Salem ancestors: If she’s found out, she could be vilified—and lose Asher in the process. Can she make the most of her magic, or will she be luckless and loveless? Be careful what you witch for!

Buy WHAT THE SPELL? on Amazon
Find WHAT THE SPELL? on Goodreads

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