Saturday, July 19, 2014

Cover Reveal! The Summer of Crossing Lines

Friends, today I'm so happy to reveal the cover for my next contemporary YA novel, The Summer of Crossing Lines.

Here's the blurb:

When her protective older brother disappears, sixteen-year-old Melody loses control of her orderly life. Her stuttering flares up, her parents are shrouded in a grief-induced fog, and she clings to the last shreds of her confidence.

The only lead to her brother's disappearance is a 30-second call from his cell phone to Rex, the leader of a crime ring. Frustrated by a slow investigation with too many obstacles, and desperate to mend her broken family, Melody crosses the line from wallflower to amateur spy. She infiltrates Rex's group and is partnered with Drew, a handsome pickpocket whose kindness doesn't fit her perception of a criminal. He doesn't need to steal her heart--she hands it to him. 

With each law Melody breaks, details of her brother's secret life emerge until she's on the cusp of finding him. But at what point does truth justify the crime?

The Summer of Crossing Lines is coming soon! You can add it to your Goodreads list here. If you're willing to help me spread the word when the time comes, just holler! Guest posts, interviews, tap dancing while juggling name it. I'll appreciate any help I can get :D

Are you looking for a new summer read? Have you enjoyed your summer reading so far? Wanna share some good news? I'd love to hear it!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Advice for Writers from Author Sarah Skilton

Friends, we have a special treat today. My good buddy and amazing author, Sarah Skilton, is here to answer a few questions. Sarah is the author of HIGH AND DRY and BRUISED. If you'd like to read about my writing lessons learned from Sarah's books, click here for HIGH AND DRY and here for BRUISED.

And now, a Q and A session with Sarah Skilton:

1) What sparked the idea for HIGH AND DRY?

The idea for High and Dry came about because I love mysteries, and I love 1940s hardboiled movies such as Double Indemnity and In a Lonely Place. I also liked the show Veronica Mars (a mystery series set in high school that was recently revived by Kickstarter), and I wanted to try my hand at writing a boy narrator point of view. High and Dry is quite different from Bruised, my first novel, in that it takes place during a single week rather than over several months' time. It was great challenging myself to write a completely different style of book and I really enjoyed the process!

2) You used to be a script reader. How did that experience help you when it came to writing your own fiction?

I used to be a professional script reader for the company that puts out the casting Breakdowns. Basically that entailed reading scripts for TV shows and films that were casting, and writing up character descriptions so the talent agents and managers would know which of their actors to send out on auditions for which projects. I read hundreds of screenplays a year and it was fantastic for learning about pacing, dialogue, characterization, and tone. Another rule in screenwriting (besides "show, don't tell") is "enter the scene late and get out early," and I try to take that to heart when I'm writing my novels. 

3) Tell us a bit about your writing process. Plotter? Pantser? Somewhere in between?

As a complete cliche, I carry around a small notebook in my purse that I use to jot down ideas whenever I get them. I definitely like to have a sense for where the story's going before I begin. I know the ending very early on even if it changes in some specifics once I get there. I keep one document for notes/vague outline, and another document for the actual manuscript, and the two don't always end up matching. However, to sit down each morning and write, I have to know the direction of at least one chapter in advance or I'll panic. I call it the cushion.

4) What's the best writing advice you've ever received? Why did it resonate with you?

The best writing advice I ever received was to write the story you most wish to read. If you're writing something to please somebody else, or because you think it will be popular, but it's not something you're passionate about or excited to do, I think it will show in the writing.

5) Any additional advice you can offer writers who are seeking an agent or pursuing publication?

I would say don't beat yourself up if you have days where the writing doesn't come easily or you fear that everything you've written is junk. Give yourself a day or two off. Your brain will continue working on the story, and it'll come up with answers you didn't know you had.

As for seeking an agent or pursuing publication, follow all the directions posted on an agent's website to the letter. That'll already put you ahead of 85% of the other people who are sending queries! No joke :) Also, check out @SaraMegibow "10 queries in 10 tweets" series on Thursdays for more hints and help.

Sarah, thanks so much for the valuable information! And I love the advice about writing the book you most wish to read. Kristin Hannah, author of one of my favorite books--Firefly Lane--said something similar. She was frustrated by the lack of "friendship novels" for women. Her mom said, "Then write one."

Are you a fan of hardboiled movies? Are you a plotter or pantser? When submitting to an agent or publisher, do you study and follow their guidelines? Any tips you'd like to add?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Bestselling Author Jody Hedlund on Research Trips--Plus a Giveaway!

Friends, today I'm honored to have award-winning, bestselling author Jody Hedlund here to tell us about her research trip for her latest release, Captured by Love. (Btw, I recently finished her book, and will share writing lessons learned in the near future)

Take it away, Jody!

Behind the Scenes of Captured by Love
A Research Trip to Mackinac Island (Part 1)
Research is an integral part of writing historical novels. Obviously there are many ways to research including reading biographies, studying time-period books, finding original journals or documents from that era, and reading other novels or watching movies about the topic (and then analyzing them). 
Those are all critical and important ways to research for a novel. 
Another way I like to research is by taking trips to the location of my books. While a trip is a helpful and fun way to glean more information for my stories, I don't consider those trips to be quite as crucial as the other kind of research I mentioned. 
Yes, trips can be helpful. But usually SO much has changed in one hundred and fifty years, that it's difficult to "see" the location as it would have been at the time of the story. Buildings, landmarks, vegetation, and physical geography (like coast lines, rock formations, clearings) have changed, sometimes even drastically.
Nevertheless, whenever possible, I try to go visit the settings of my books. I'm still able to glean
tidbits about weather, some local history, and even sensory details about the place that add authenticity to a story.
When it came time to plan a research trip for Captured by Love, I was really excited. It had been several years since I'd visited Mackinac Island in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and I was eager for an excuse to go back! I asked my mom and two older daughters if they'd like to go with. And I really had to twist their arms to go! *wink!*

As time would have it, the trip had to wait until the end of September. But that actually ended up being a beautiful time to drive north because the leaves were just beginning to change. That meant we were greeted by vibrant shades of yellow, orange, and magenta as we drove the three hours from my home in the central part of the state, crossed the five-mile-long Mackinac Bridge, and entered the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Mackinac Island is only accessible by boat and no motorized vehicles are allowed on the island. Many visitors bring their bikes along and others rent bikes when they arrive. There is also the option of taking horse-drawn carriage rides, which was our preferred mode of transportation. 

With the breeze blowing off Lake Huron, even on the sunny day, we were actually quite cool and had to use the wool blankets they provided to stay warm during our carriage ride.
Our guide for the tour was a history connoisseur of the island which the history buff in me absolutely loved. 
I learned an incredible amount during the several hours we rode about the island. Here are a few interesting facts:
  • Lilacs aren't native to Mackinac Island. The French brought them over as well as dandelions (which they used for wine)
  • The island is 3 miles wide and 4 miles long
  • Mackinac is the old French spelling for the island and Mackinaw is the English version
  • In the winter ice forms 3 miles wide around the island, so that it is inaccessible to ships
  • Because of the lake effect, it's not unusual to have up to 8 ft. of snow at one time 
  • Only a couple of feet of soil cover the island. The rest of the island consists mostly of limestone.
During the carriage ride, we stopped at Arch Rock, which is a fascinating rock formation that is in the shape of–you guessed it–an arch.  The view of the island from the top of the arch is spectacular. I could see up and down the coast of the island in both directions. 
It was the perfect place to imagine that I was Angelique MacKenzie (the heroine of Captured by Love). I wanted to get into her mind, fall in love with the island, and see it's amazing beauty and the solidness it offers amidst the seas the surround it.
Join me in the next post as I share more about my research trip on Mackinac Island, specifically my visit to the old military fort there. 

How about you? Have you ever visited Mackinac Island? What's your favorite thing about the island? And for those who haven't visited, what's your favorite vacation destination?
Want to win a book? Enter a Rafflecopter giveaway by July 15th!  
Jody Hedlund is an award-winning and bestselling author of inspirational historical romances. As a busy mama-writer, she has the wonderful privilege of teaching her crew of 5 children at home. In between grading math papers and giving spelling tests, she occasionally does a load of laundry and washes dishes. When she's not busy being a mama, you can find her in front of her laptop working on another of her page-turning stories. She loves reading almost as much as she loves writing, especially when it also involves chocolate and coffee.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Living vicariously...through YOU? #IWSG

Welcome, fellow Insecure Writers! Click here to sign up for this amazing group.

Do you embark on dangerous missions? Do you wield a sword or rob banks? Me neither. We writers usually leave that sort of thing to the pros...our characters.

On the other hand, my hubby is a risk-taker. He does barrel rolls on his Sky Ski, and jumps triples off the diving board. For his recent birthday, he did a tandem jump out of an airplane.

People may assume I live vicariously through him, but I don't. I have no desire to do those things. Not even a little. My bucket list includes tamer options, like visiting Alaska and Mount Rushmore.

As I watched my hubby hurtle toward the ocean at 120 miles per hour, an idea hit me: some writers may live vicariously through other people, and even through their characters. But what if other people are living vicariously through you, the writer?

Yes, you.

Imagine all the folks out there who want to write down their thoughts, but don't. Or wish they could share stories, but think they can't.

If you're putting words on the page, or on the screen, or in a blog post, you're doing what other people wished they would do. If you've gathered the courage to submit your work, or if you've taken the leap into indie publishing, you're putting your heart and soul out there for others to read and offer judgement. That takes a parachute full of courage.

The next time you feel as if you don't have guts, or that everyone else is wild and adventurous, remember this: others are watching you. They may even be inspired by you. And maybe, just maybe, someone is living vicariously through you.

(Here's my hubby on his tandem jump)

Are you a risk taker? Do you live vicariously through someone else? Or do you feel like someone else lives vicariously through you? Have you ever jumped out of an airplane? Is it on your bucket list?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Stuck in Your Story? Try Roadmapping!

In case you missed it, check out my guest post at Fiction University--Marketing Strategy: The Next Book.

Friends, today we have a guest post by author and editor, Laurisa White Reyes. She's here to share tips about roadmapping. Take it away, Laurisa!

By Laurisa White Reyes
A friend of mine has been working on his novel for years but has yet to complete it. “I just get bogged down,” he told me recently. “I don’t know where the story is going.”
Does this sound familiar?
Too many potential writers have partial manuscripts lying around, and I say potential because an unfinished manuscript is nothing more than a good idea—and unless you’re Nora Roberts or Tom Clancy, all a good idea is good for is collecting dust. It will never sell. 
We all have good ideas. The question is how to turn that brilliant concept for the next bestselling novel into a complete manuscript?
Some writers manage to get their novels down by writing as they go, a process called pantsing (referring to writing by the seat of their pants). But this doesn’t work for everyone. If it did, there would be no such thing as writers’ block and no partial manuscripts cluttering our hard drives.
The other popular method of writing is called plotting or roadmapping—planning a story in detail from beginning to end before the actual process of writing begins. I’ve written novels using both methods, and each has positive and not so positive aspects. However, for writers who have hit a brick wall, plotting might be just the ticket to put you back on track.
Writing is like driving a car. If you were to get behind the wheel without knowing where you want to go, you may very well wander aimlessly around town. You could end up on the same roads you drove down before. Without a destination in mind, you might never leave your driveway at all. 
Most of us, however, know before we ever get in the car where we plan to go. We look up the address and get directions. We may print a map, or even check the traffic before we head out. Without proper planning, our journey would waste time and cause frustration.
Writing a novel is no different. Every story is a journey with a specific destination. Writers can avoid common obstacles such as writers’ block and meandering storylines by knowing their destination and planning the route before they start writing.  I call this planning process ROAD MAPPING.
Road Mapping requires patience on the part of the writer. Like the traveler who wouldn’t just jump in his car and take off without knowing where he’s going, so the writer ought not to rush into writing before she’s good and ready. There are four simple steps to Road Mapping. They are: brainstorm, outline, summarize, and chapter breakdown.
When I get a good idea for a novel, I never rush over to the computer and start writing. I may jot down a sentence or two so that I will remember it later, but after that, I let the idea mull around in my brain for awhile. I spend as much time as I need to develop the characters and plot details, often writing my thoughts on sticky notes. I like sticky notes because I can move them around at will, organizing all those seemingly random ideas into a linear storyline across my bedroom wall. This is the time to work out the entire story from beginning to end. Knowing how the story will end is vital. Only once I am certain of my destination will I move on to step number two.
I earned my degree in English eons ago, and I often joke that my diploma has done nothing for me but line the bottom of my hope chest. However, I did glean one very useful skill from all those years of study. I know how to write an outline. In high school and college, I had to write outlines for countless essays. (You probably did, too.) Later, as a newspaper and magazine columnist, I wrote outlines for the articles I published. An outline is perhaps the easiest way to visualize an entire novel from start to finish on a single piece of paper. Just as with any 5 paragraph essay, I break the story down into 5 sections: the hook (how my story begins), 3 plot points (these are the three biggest moments of conflict in a story—much like you’d find in a movie screenplay), and the conclusion (how the story ends—the destination).
Once my outline is finished—what I refer to as a story’s skeleton—I am ready to flesh it out in my synopsis. This is where the actual writing process begins. I describe the characters and storyline using complete sentences and paragraphs and plenty of detail. It is almost like writing a short story version of my novel. This can take anywhere from three to twenty pages, and can be used later when submitting to agents and publishers.
The final step is to breakdown the entire novel into individual chapters or scenes. Each chapter is assigned a number and a title that reflects what occurs in that chapter. The titles are for quick reference while writing and revising the manuscript and are eventually deleted from my completed manuscripts. I include a brief (no more than a paragraph) description of the setting, events and conflict for each chapter.
Once these four steps are complete, I am ready to write my novel. I like to write at least 500 words per day, but I don’t always write scenes in order. By referring to the chapter summaries, I can choose any chapter I like and write that one. I save each chapter as a separate file using the chapter number and title as the file name. (ie. 01-Exile; 02-Found; ect.) Later, if I need to rearrange the chapter order, all I need to do is rename the files.

Getting to the end of a story is not as daunting a task as it may seem. All it takes is a little pre-planning. Know your destination. Take the time to plan your route. Then pull out that incomplete manuscript, blow off the dust, and GET IT DONE.
Great advice, Laurisa! Thanks for sharing your process. I'm a big fan of plotting.

Friends, are you pantsers? Plotters? Do you know your ending before you start writing? Have you ever tried roadmapping?

Wanna win a copy of Contact? Enter a Rafflecopter giveaway!

Laurisa White Reyes is the author of three published novels: The Rock of Ivanore, The Last Enchanter (books 1 & 2 of The Celestine Chronicles) and Contact, a young adult thriller that just came out this week. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of Middle Shelf, a digital book review magazine for middle grade readers.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Writing lessons learned from HIGH AND DRY

I recently read High and Dry, a noir YA novel by Sarah Skilton. It was a fun, dark, gritty read. Full disclosure: Sarah Skilton is a buddy of mine. But believe me, I'm not saying nice things about the book because Sarah's my friend. I speaketh kind words because they're the truth.

First, a quick look at High and Dry (from Amazon):

Framed for a stranger's near-fatal overdose at a party, blackmailed into finding a mysterious flash drive everyone in school seems anxious to suppress, and pressured by his shady best friend to throw an upcoming match, high school soccer player Charlie Dixon is juggling more than his share of drama. Add in a broken heart and the drinking he's been doing to soothe it, and he's near the breaking point. In this fast-paced, layered mystery, Charlie spends a frantic week trying to clear his name, win back the girl of his dreams, and escape a past friendship that may be responsible for all his current problems. 

Now on to the writing lessons learned. Warning: if you haven't read the book yet, and don't want to know any plot points, read no further!

  • Begin with voice and character: Skilton's novel begins with a great first line. "I wasn't invited, but I showed up to the party anyway so I could talk to Ellie Chen and find out why she dumped me two weeks ago." Already we know the main character has attitude, and that he doesn't mind breaking rules.
  • Create empathy for the anti-hero: Charlie Dixon's internal dialogue makes readers care for him. Yes, he's drinking. Yes, he crashed a party. But we know why--his heart is broken because of a bad break up. Teens (and most adults) can totally relate.
  • Motive for blackmail: Blackmail happens, and in fiction, it has to be totally believable. Why would someone blackmail Charlie Dixon? His mom was tasked with school reform and become Enemy #1 in their small desert town. This may or may not be the real reason why Charlie is blackmailed, but he assumes it has something to do with his current predicament.
  • Fun slang for only this story: Skilton came up with fun terms used by kids at the high school. Cliques within the school were known as Song Birds (girls' choir), Dot Govs (student council), and Beckhams (soccer players), to name a few. Skilton wrote a great post over at Janice Hardy's blog about Slinging Slang: The Case for Made-Up Words.
  • Believable reason to do the wrong thing: Charlie Dixon does many questionable things, but these actions make sense in context. Characters do bad things all the time, and if the reasons are believable, the reader will forgive them--and even root for them.
  • Create a cast of suspects: Sheesh, Skilton's book was packed with suspects. Even walk-on characters had dirt under their nails, which kept things interesting.
Have you read High and Dry yet? What's your opinion on these writing lessons? Have you used any of these tips before? Any you'd like to add?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Inspiration for Writers (and Graduates!)

Last week we learned that our son was Salutatorian of his 8th grade class. Pretty darn cool. We also learned he had to write a speech over the weekend.

He wanted to write his own speech, which I totally respected. I did help with editing, and with finding inspirational quotes for him to work with. As I read these quotes, I realized they not only applied to business folks, graduates, and life, they applied to writers as well.

I hope they inspire you as much as they inspired us!

I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed. -- Michael Jordan

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. -- Mark Twain

Winning isn't everything, but wanting to win is. -- Vince Lombardi

Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're right. -- Henry Ford

Everything you've ever wanted is on the other side of fear. -- George Addair

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma--which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. -- Steve Jobs

When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, I used everything You gave me. -- Erma Bombeck

Which quotes did my son choose? Um, none of these. He chose the wise words of Spongebob Squarepants and Hannah Montana. After all, he's fourteen.

Have you ever written a graduation speech? Did these quotes spark something within you? Any cool quotes you'd like to share?