Saturday, December 22, 2012

Holiday Wishes & Lame Poetry

The year is coming to a close, and despite what the Mayans predicted, the calendar will click over to 2013. Crisis averted!

What time of year is it? Time for lame poetry, you say? You're right! Here's my 2012 attempt:

Full of laughter, full of cheer
Thankful for another year

Highs and lows, then side to side
Writing is a crazy ride

Every day, each writer knows
We're thankful for the gift of prose

The right word here, a comma there
Polish, send it, do I dare?

Of course you do, the world deserves
To delve into your worthy words

Beaten down? Then start anew
That dream of yours looks well on you

My kids are home from school again
I'll close the laptop, cap the pen

I wish for you what you love most
Let's raise a glass and make a toast

Friends and family, hands held tight
Bringing in the new year right

There you have it! I'll return to the blog on January 8th. As always, I'm so thankful for the joy and wisdom you've brought into my life. I sincerely hope you have a wonderful holiday season, and an exciting 2013.

What's your most special memory from 2012? And where will you spend the holidays this year?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Study Writing Until We "Get It"

My mom has always been sort of a "baby whisperer." She has a way about her that comforts a fussy baby or an antsy toddler. I wish I'd written down all the little nuggets of advice she dispensed while my kids were smaller.

Disclaimer: I know that parenting styles differ. A lot. And there's more than one way to raise a child.

One piece of my mom's advice stood out. When my first son was little, and I didn't want him to do something, I'd tell him no. He'd try to do it again, and my mom reminded me to remind him again. After several reminders, I was frustrated and asked my mom, "How many times do I need to teach him?"

Her answer? "Until he gets it."

Stay strong, be firm but gentle, and don't give in. Choosing our battles comes into play here, too, but that's another subject.

"Until he gets it." That little piece of gold has helped me through all stages of parenthood, even as we're deep in the teen years. How many times did I teach which letters made which sounds? Until he got it. How many times did I teach him to be a good friend, even when others weren't? Until he got it.

That same piece of advice could be helpful for writers.

  • How often should we learn about plot? Until we get it.
  • How often should we learn about character? Until we get it.
  • How often should we write new material? Until we get it.
  • How often should we refill our creative wells? Until we get it.
  • How long should we pursue our publishing goals? Until we reach them.
And when we finally "get it?" We keep going, because there's always something to learn, and many ways to improve.

What's your opinion of the "until he gets it" advice? If you're a parent, what's the most valuable piece of advice you received? As a writer, what's the best piece of advice someone gave you?

photo credit

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Truth More Horrifying Than Fiction

I had a different post planned for today, but after the awful school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, I felt the need to change it up.

A shooting at a movie theater, a mall, or a school leaves our nation shocked and sad. And when children are involved? It's even worse. As a parent, I pray with my children every day before school, hoping they'll be okay. My mom did that with me as a child, and it gave me a sense of peace. Try as we might, we can't predict everything that will happen.

We read and write books about tragic events, but when reality out-horrors fiction, it's shocking. Parents, communities, and a nation will grieve. There's no sense to it all, but I'm hoping theses quotes about grief will help anyone who's suffering:

"Grieving is a necessary passage and a difficult transition to finally letting go of sorrow--it is not a permanent rest stop." --Dodinsky

"There are things that we don't want to happen but have to accept, things we don't want to know but have to learn, and people we can't live without but have to let go." -- Author Unknown

"In the night of death, hope sees a star, and listening love can hear the rustle of a wing." --Robert Ingersoll

"Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal." --From a headstone in Ireland

"Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o'er-fraught heart and bids it break." --William Shakespeare

My heart breaks for anyone going through such an awful tragedy. Do you know someone who was affected by the recent mall shooting in Oregon or the school shooting in Connecticut? Have you ever grieved for someone you loved dearly? If you feel comfortable enough, please share your story.

photo credit

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Does Quiet = Boring?

I think everyone would agree that Lord of the Rings is a huge success. My brother-in-law and niece love those stories. My critique partner, Leslie, is a total LOTR fangirl.

Recently, I watched Lord of the Rings for the first time. For the first 90 minutes, I loved it. The rest of the time? I was...bored. I know, I know. I've just tilted the world off its axis. I'm definitely not their target market.

Thankfully, there are stories that meet everyone's needs. Fantasy, sci fi, thriller, romance, whatever. Some of my favorite books can be described as "quiet," but quiet books aren't for everyone. Many people would even describe them as boring. On the surface, they may seem that way, but down deep there's so much more.

I've become a fangirl of Sarah Dessen's books, and I'd describe them as quiet. When I first read the jacket copy of JUST LISTEN, I wondered what all the fuss was about. But as I read the book, I learned her stories were quiet, but deep.

Other opinions may differ, but for me, these are the best qualities of quiet fiction:

  • Lovable characters with interwoven dramas. It's not just about the MC achieving her story goal. Her life is connected with other lives, and there are complex, tangled relationships.
  • High personal stakes. In the quiet fiction I've read, there usually isn't a threat of physical death. The stakes are personal, and usually involve some sort of personal death, like death of a societal position, death of a marriage, death of a friendship, etc. These stakes are definitely relatable, because these worries are common to everyday people.
  • Heartbreaking choices. I know a book has been well written when the personal choices the MC makes cause my heart to quicken. I've learned her fears, I've learned how difficult the choice is for her, and my heart breaks for her. Like the mother who was forced to choose between freedom and her child in THIS BURNS MY HEART.
Is quiet fiction boring? I'm biased, of course, but in my opinion, no. Quiet fiction can be beautiful, and memorable, and painful. As long as there's a lovable character, an important story goal, and significant stakes, it's a story worth telling. For me, quiet fiction has staying power. 

Tell me, do you read quiet fiction? Or have you tried reading it, and couldn't get past the first page? What do you think makes a story great, whether it's quiet or otherwise?

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Unique Gifts Writers Can Give

As writers, we have the opportunity to give gifts that can't be bought. Here are a few ideas for unique gifts we writers can give:

  1. A poem--Write a poem to someone you love and/or appreciate. A family member, a friend, or a teacher. Make it funny, make it inspirational, or make it short and sweet. I've done this a few times for my hubby--for Christmas and Father's Day--and he loved it. 
  2. A hand written note--These days it's all about emails, and we've lost the art of the hand-written note. There's still something lovely about writing in script on pretty stationery. I plan to jot down short notes for each of my sons about what makes them special.
  3. Character name--Name a character after someone you know. If they have a great sense of humor, and wouldn't mind, you could even make them the villain. Or the sidekick. Imagine them reading your story, knowing Uncle Harold was named after them. (Btw, my late Uncle Harold had a 2-quarter plumber's crack and played Boogie Woogie on the piano like nobody's business. Seriously.)
  4. Character traits--Does a friend or family member have unique traits? Got a grouchy uncle who knits blankies? A friend who only washes her hair on Mondays? Use it! Heck, you can even create a cross blend of quirky character traits. The cousin who always smells their food before eating will get a kick out of reading about it. 
  5. Record history--Know an elderly person who would like to record their personal history? Writers can experience the joy of preserving history for an aging friend or family member. Imagine the amazing stories they'd have to tell.
  6. Pay attention--The best gift of all may be our time. We can set the laptop or notebook down and be in the moment. Sure, we can think about character or scene details, but when it comes down to it, the people we love want to know they matter most.
These are just a few ideas. Can you think of other ways writers can give unique gifts?

And if you've given a character the name or traits of someone you know, did you tell them? What did they think?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

How to Write a Page Turner

I'm always looking for ways to improve my writing. I subscribe to Children's Writer newsletter, which is great for craft tips and market research (click here if you'd like to's affordable, and awesome!)

In the October issue, Chris Eboch wrote a great article, "Make Your Novel a Page Turner." She wrote "A page-turner keeps the reader wondering with interesting questions arising from the story. If your readers never wonder, or if their questions are answered the second they are introduced, there is no suspense."

Here are some tips she offers for writing a page turner:

A Mystery

"When readers pick up a new book, they have certain questions. Who is this book about? What does the main character want, and why? How is he or she going to pursue that, and what is going to stop them?"

She reminds us that readers should never be left without a question, but that those questions should not build up indefinitely. She quotes Kate Sullivan, Editor of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, who says:

"Reading is all about wanting to know what's going to happen next. It's all about balance, and thinking about these questions as individual plot threads. Too many and your reader won't have anything solid enough to follow into the next scene. Too few and the reader may lose interest. But just a few that the reader can braid together are like a guide rope: Imagine the reader holding on to it as they follow it into the next scene. It's very helpful for one question to lead to another."

Pull the Reader Along

Eboch quotes Kendra Levin, Editor at Viking.

"If you're revising a draft and trying to make it more suspenseful or beef up these questions, ask yourself what information you're sharing with readers that could perhaps be held back or reserved for a later chapter. How can you pull back from what you're revealing? How can you turn an unknown into a mystery?"

Scene by Scene

Eboch suggests focusing on scenes in order to find the right number and type of questions we ask and answer in our fiction.

"Start each scene with a clear character goal. This goal relates to the main problem or story goal, but is a smaller, scene-specific goal that is focused on a next step. With the goal comes a question: Will this character succeed? If the answer is yes, the character moves on to the next step, reaching for that ultimate story goal. If the answer is no, the character has to try again or try something else."

I plot using index cards. After reading Eboch's article, I made a master card that sits on top of all the others, which asks, Character goal? Will she succeed? Purpose of scene? Next step? New questions? This reminds me to address these issues in each scene.

For an excellent post about writing scenes, see Jody Hedlund's A Method Through the Madness: 5 Tips for Writing Scenes.

Asking and answering questions goes a long way toward improving the pacing of our fiction, and it's something I'm constantly working on. Eboch's article was interesting, and full of practical tips. 

For more of Chris' tips, visit her blog here, or the "for writers" section of her website here.

Do you have a good ask/answer cycle in your fiction? Do you have a well-established skill for pacing? If so, please share your secrets!

All content used with permission

photo credit

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Helping Kids Tell Stories

"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." -- Maya Angelou

Friends, today I'd like to bring your attention to a good cause, The Story Project, which "...impacts students living in challenged communities through a unique storytelling curriculum rooted in the media arts."

What's The Story Project? From

The Story Project: Imagine.  Create.  Live.Change your story / Change your life 

Behind every successful business, businessperson, and individual is a terrific story. From world class entrepreneurs to everyday people, understanding story is credited as the single most important factor in determining innovation and prosperity. People such as Richard Branson, Michael Jordan, and even Thomas Edison have publicly acknowledged storytelling as a device that helped chart their paths. 

The story behind The Story Project:

So what's the story behind The Story Project?  It's simple: Kids. Students more precisely. Our demographic typically falls under the categories of: Title 1, At-Risk, Under-Served, Middle & High School ages. If you're wondering why, the answer is simple. More obstacles.

Obstacles are a way of life. In screenwriting, adding an obstacle creates drama; in life, if unprepared, an obstacle can cause disaster.  

With generous donations, The Story Projects gives kids the opportunity to tell stories.

Our programs are rooted in: documentary and fictional filmmaking, poetry, spoken word, photograhy, murals, screenwriting, and many other means based in the media arts.

Want to see what the kids are up to? Visit If you're able to donate to The Story Project, please click here. If you can't donate money, it would be awesome if you could help spread the word. Thanks so much!

How has the power of story changed your life? When you were young, were you itching to tell stories? Who nurtured that in you? A parent? A teacher? A mentor?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Writing lessons learned from ALONG FOR THE RIDE

While on vacation last week, I devoured "Along for the Ride," by Sarah Dessen. I realized that one of things I love most about her books is that they make me smile. Not because they're meant to be funny, but because she has a gift for turning a phrase, and for simple, quiet, emotional character arcs. (For more gushing about Sarah Dessen, see my post "Writing lessons learned from JUST LISTEN.")

Here's a brief description of ALONG FOR THE RIDE from Amazon:

Ever since her parents began fighting, Auden has been unable to sleep at night. Now, spending a summer at a charming beach town with her father and his new family, she has to find new places to pass the time she spends awake. And so she meets Eli, a fellow insomniac who becomes her nighttime guide. Together, they embark on parallel quests: for Auden, to experience the carefree teenage life she has missed; for Eli, to come to terms with the death of a friend. In her trademark blockbuster-style, Sarah Dessen creates a powerful and irresistible story of two people learning how to connect.

Here are some of the writing lessons I learned from this book:

  • Give characters unlikely traits: in Dessen's book, a BMX bike rider is good with babies. A ditzy Barbie-style girl is wicked smart. The sometimes cold and calculating main character longs for the simple childhood she missed--she'd never even learned how to ride a bike. This book reminded me not to stereotype.
  • Character voice through dialog: this is the second book I've read of Dessen's, and now I definitely recognize (and love) her "author" voice. But each of her characters also have their own voices, and this is mostly revealed through dialog. Demanding mother uses sharp, condescending language. Carefree brother uses "chill" language. People-pleasing main character uses serious language. It all matched the characters.
  • Use current life situations to add flavor and authenticity: in her acknowledgements and on her web site, Dessen explains how she wrote this book with a newborn at home. In "Along for the Ride," the main character spends the summer living with her dad, stepmom, and newborn stepsister. She witnesses and experiences the stresses of living with a baby, and the sensory details in these scenes were authentic.
  • Show character traits through action: Dad was selfish and clueless, but instead of saying "dad was selfish and clueless," the author showed us. One example is a scene where the main character goes to dinner with her dad and newborn stepsister. The baby goes ballistic. Dad acts helpless, and then hands the baby over the main character, goes inside the restaurant, orders his food, and eats in peace. *Insert looks of disgust from moms here*
  • Add something unique that binds the two main characters together: in this case, insomnia. While everyone else was asleep, Auden and Eli traveled around town together, doing childish things Auden had never done, and getting to know each other better.
  • Jump ahead, then fall back: I've noticed a device this author uses well. She jumps ahead to the next important scene, but if there's a mini episode from the recent past that matters to the story, but doesn't need a full scene, she refers to it in a couple of paragraphs to bring the reader up to speed. In his book Plot & Structure, James Scott Bell refers to these short bursts as "back flashes."
So there you have it, my writing lessons learned from "Along for the Ride." Have you read this book, or any other books by Sarah Dessen? Are there any writing lessons you've learned lately from a great book? Please share!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Giving Thanks

Friends, instead of creating a lame Thanksgiving poem of my own (I'll save that for Christmas!), I've decided to post something short, sweet, and meaningful by Ralph Waldo Emerson.


For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food,
For love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.

I'll return to the blog on Tuesday, November 27th. In the meantime, I wish you all a happy, safe, and blessed Thanksgiving.

Where will you spend Thanksgiving this year? With family? Friends? Volunteering? 

And...this is important...are you the brave soul who cooks the turkey? Or does someone else have the honor of reaching into the cavity and pulling out the parts? Inquiring minds want to know!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Show & Tell in a Nutshell

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Friends, today we have a special message from author Jessica Bell about her new craft book, "Show & Tell in a Nutshell." Here's what she has to say...

Have you been told there's a little too much telling in your novel? Want to remedy it? Then this is the book for you!

In Show & Tell in a Nutshell: Demonstrated Transitions from Telling to Showing you will find sixteen real scenes depicting a variety of situations, emotions, and characteristics which clearly demonstrate how to turn telling into showing. Dispersed throughout, and at the back of the book, are blank pages to take notes as you read. A few short writing prompts are also provided.

Not only is this pocket guide an excellent learning tool for aspiring writers, but it is a light, convenient, and easy solution to honing your craft no matter how broad your writing experience. Keep it in the side pocket of your school bag, throw it in your purse, or even carry it around in the pocket of your jeans or jacket, to enhance your skills, keep notes, and jot down story ideas, anywhere, anytime.

If you purchase the e-book, you will be armed with the convenient hyper-linked Contents Page, where you can toggle backward and forward from different scenes with ease. Use your e-reader's highlighting and note-taking tools to keep notes instead.

The author, Jessica Bell, also welcomes questions via email, concerning the content of this book, or about showing vs. telling in general, at

“Jessica Bell addresses one of the most common yet elusive pieces of writing advice—show, don't tell—in a uniquely user-friendly and effective way: by example. By studying the sixteen scenes she converts from “telling” into “showing,” not only will you clearly understand the difference; you will be inspired by her vivid imagery and dialogue to pour through your drafts and do the same.” ~Jenny Baranick, College English Teacher, Author of Missed Periods and Other Grammar Scares
“A practical, no-nonsense resource that will help new and experienced writers alike deal with that dreaded piece of advice: show, don’t tell. I wish Bell’s book had been around when I started writing!” ~Talli Roland, bestselling author

Purchase the paperback:
$4.40 on Amazon US
£3.99 on Amazon UK

Purchase the e-book:
$1.99 on Amazon US
£1.99 on Amazon UK
$1.99 on Kobo

About the Author:
The Australian-native contemporary fiction author and poet, Jessica Bell, also makes a living as an editor and writer for global ELT publishers (English Language Teaching), such as Pearson Education, HarperCollins, Macmillan Education, Education First and Cengage Learning.

She is the Co-Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and co-hosts the Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop on the Greek Isle of Ithaca, with Chuck Sambuchino of Writer’s Digest.

For more information about Jessica Bell, please visit: 

Thanks, Jessica!

Do you tell when you should show? Do you know how to find those oops moments and make corrections? Do you have any advice you can share with the rest of us?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Writing lessons learned from JUST LISTEN

Guys, I have a new love. The object of my affection is Sarah Dessen's writing style. Dessen is the author of JUST LISTEN, and several other YA books. In YA circles, I'd heard Sarah Dessen this, Sarah Dessen that. Now that I've read JUST LISTEN, I can see why teen girls love her books.

A brief description from Amazon:

When Annabel, the youngest of three beautiful sisters, has a bitter falling out with her best friend--the popular and exciting Sophie--she suddenly finds herself isolated and friendless. But then she meets Owen--a loner who's passionate about music and his weekly radio show, and always determined to tell the truth. When they develop a friendship, Annabel is not only introduced to new music, but is encouraged to listen to her own inner voice. With Owen's help, can Annabel find the courage to speak out about what exactly happened the night her friendship with Sophie came to a screeching halt?

Here are some of the writing lessons I learned from this amazing book:

  • Keep secrets--I feel like I mention this all the time, but that's probably because I really admire authors who do this well. In JUST LISTEN, something bad had happened between Annabel and her best friend Sophie. Something bad had also happened with a guy. But we don't know what these Big Bad Things are until much later. 
  • If the protagonist does something out of character, set up the why--Annabel wasn't a rule breaker, but when her new friend Sophie suggests breaking a rule, Annabel crosses that line. Why? An older guy had shown interest in Annabel, and Sophie used that information to lure Annabel to the other side.
  • Show important character traits early--Sophie, the best friend, is insecure and controlling. This is shown, not told, very early. As a matter of fact, it's shown in a long flashback (which totally worked, by the way). We learn early on that Sophie is someone you don't want to cross, and her behavior with Annabel makes total sense.
  • Consider placing an important romantic moment in an unlikely place--Annabel and Owen don't share their first romantic moment with candles and soft music. Instead, it's at Owen's house, with five thirteen-year-old girls running around, having a fake modeling shoot. It was unlikely and took me by surprise.
  • No banging over the head necessary--JUST LISTEN had many layers of important emotions and issues. But Dessen didn't bang the reader over the head. Instead, she quietly and expertly wove a complex story, and she took her time doing so. It was beautiful.
  • Quiet books work--JUST LISTEN had zero explosions, zero car chases, and zero shouting. It was a real-life drama at its best and worst, and played out with memorable characters. Even in the quietest moments, something important was happening. Not all readers are fans of quiet books, but I am, especially when they're packed with strong emotion.

When I grow up, I want to write books that affect people the way JUST LISTEN affected me. As a reader and a writer, this book changed me.

Have you read any of Dessen's books? What did you think of her writing style? And what do you think of the above writing lessons? Please share!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Instructions For Life

My family spent the weekend in Mammoth Lakes, CA a little while ago, and the following message was hung on the wall in our rented condo. I hope you enjoy it.

Life's Little Instructions
(credit H. Jackson Brown)

  • Every so often push your luck
  • Never underestimate the power of a kind word or deed
  • Never give up on anybody--miracles happen every day
  • Become the most positive and enthusiastic person you know
  • Learn to listen
  • Think big thoughts, but relish small pleasures
  • Don't expect others to listen to your advice and ignore your example
  • Opportunity sometimes knocks very softly
  • Leave everything a little better than you found it
  • Don't forget--a person's greatest emotional need is to feel appreciated
  • Never waste an opportunity to tell someone you love them
  • Treat everyone you meet like you want to be treated
  • Make new friends but cherish the old ones
  • Don't use time or words carelessly--neither can be retrieved
  • Judge your success by the degree that you're enjoying peace, health, and love
  • Smile a lot--it costs nothing and is beyond price
I don't know about you, but sometimes I sweat the small stuff in life. It's nice to be reminded of these little instructions.

Have you seen these instructions before? Do you sometimes need to be reminded to appreciate the little things in life? 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


For Americans, today is election day. Rest assured, this is not a political post. Instead, I'd like to focus on the wonderful reality of choice.

My family lives in a small, rural town, and our son is a sophomore in the local high school. There are only about 110 students in his class, and over 400 teens in the entire school. Some parents have chosen to pull their kids from our small school and enroll their kids in large high schools in neighboring cities. We chose to leave our son in his small school close to home. He's doing great there, and he loves it. For us, an easy choice.

As writers, sometimes our choices are not so clear...

Publishing Choices

Do we go the agent/big publisher route? Do we go the small publisher route? Do we leap over the gatekeepers and take the self-publishing route?

I don't know about you, but I'm glad the traditional vs. indie battle has died down a bit. There are plenty of successful authors on both sides, and lots of authors who choose an all-of-the-above approach.

Me, I'm just thankful for the choice.

Artistic Choices

Setting? First person? Third person? Past tense? Present tense? Light and flirty mood? Dark and chilling? Who's the narrator?

A slight shift in any of these questions alters the story completely. I sometimes struggle with these choices because I want to make the right decisions up front.

But again, I'm thankful for the choice.

The Choice to Persevere

I don't know about you, but sometimes rejections or bad news is like a sucker punch that makes me doubt everything. If you've ever wondered why in the heck you continue to do something that brings such joy, but also such heartache, believe me, I know how you feel.

Thankfully, we don't allow those moments to last very long. After a bit of time, we come back. And if we choose to, we use those disappointments to fuel our desire to become better. No one holds a Nerf gun to our heads and forces us to create and polish and lay our hearts bare. Perseverance is a choice.

Whether it's leadership, publishing, artistic choices, or the decision to persevere, it's a beautiful thing to have a choice.

Are you intimidated by the amount of choices available to writers today? Do you regret any of the choices you've made as a writer? What's the best writing related choice you've made so far?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

How Writers Can Help Victims of Hurricane Sandy

(photo credit:

We've all heard about the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy. We've seen haunting images of boats washed ashore, houses knocked off their foundations, and entire neighborhoods burned to the ground.

How can writers help?

Here are a few opportunities...

From Kate's web site:

What is KidLit Cares?
It’s an online talent auction to benefit the Red Cross relief effort for Sandy. Agents, editors, authors, and illustrators have donated various services to be auctioned off to the highest bidder, with donations being made directly to the Red Cross disaster relief fund.
Click here for more details, and for a list of all the amazing items up for auction. Guys, there's a lot of great stuff there for writers.

2. Not that we're geeks or anything, but had 6 Ways for Geeks to Help with Hurricane Sandy Relief.

3. Donate directly to the Red Cross--Click here to donate online, or you can text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

The full damage, physical and emotional, has yet to be tallied, and it's heartbreaking to see these folks suffering. For those of you who were affected by the storm, just know that a whole lot of people are praying for you.

Were you, or anyone you know, affected by Hurricane Sandy? Do you know of other ways we can help? Please share in the comments, and if possible, add links. Thank you!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Author Interview with Melissa Buell

Friends, today we have author Melissa Buell here to discuss the writing life, and to chat with us about her YA book, "The Seventh Blessing."

First, a quick blurb about her book:

Unlike most royal eighteen-year-old girls, Samantha finds it difficult to be a prim and proper princess. When she discovers her seven fairy blessings that were bestowed at her birth are a lie, her entire world is turned upside down. Although she can forgive the feuding fairies who made this large error on her behalf, she must find a way to control her real blessings--which may be more trouble than it is worth. 
Things start to become complicated when her best friend's brother becomes seriously injured just weeks before the annual knight competition. Samantha realizes the only way to help him and his family is to enter the competition by disguising her true identity. Balancing her mandatory princess lessons while hiding her secret blessings on top of this becomes difficult, but things begin to get challenging when Prince Nolan, a childhood friend, reenters her life. Samantha, bitter about their constant bickering relationship, suddenly begins to see Nolan in a new, and often confusing, light. 
But when she finds out her seventh blessing has yet to be decoded from the ancient tongue, Samantha's most dangerous quest of all is discovering the true power her real blessings hold. Now, the fate of herself, her future, and her kingdom lie in her hands.
1. From idea to final product, how did The Seventh Blessing come to be?

When I was finishing up with THE SEVENTH BLESSING, book 1 in the series, my CP asked me what the sequel was going to be about. I hadn’t thought about writing a sequel at that point. I sat down and asked myself, “What other adventures could happen in this land? What characters do I want to highlight?” I decided to write about Samantha’s daughter, Emma, for book 2. She was a fresh, new character that I could do so much with. I outlined my idea for Emma’s story and then started writing it. After several edits, it came to be the story it is now.

2. Can you give us a brief summary of your writing process? Plotter? Pantser? Somewhere in between?

I am definitely a plotter. I need to know where the story is headed from the beginning. I outline the entire story, then start writing descriptions and dialogue into the outline and then start writing. Sometimes (okay, every time) the characters take over and the final product does not look exactly like my outline. I’m good with that.

3. The Seventh Blessing is published by The Little Things Publishing Co. Can you tell us a bit about your experience with a small publisher?

It’s been great working with TLT. I have been able to have input about the cover art and have a close relationship with my editor. Not many authors have that.

4. Can you offer us any advice about book promotion? What's working for you and what isn't?

Book promotion is very important. I do most of the marketing myself. I organized a blog tour, book signings, school visits, maintain a website and a blog. I love to do these things and it doesn’t cost me very much money. What works is contacting book bloggers in a friendly, non-aggressive manner. Bloggers love to read books and I love to share my books. What hasn’t worked is getting into big bookstores. Being a newer author, it’s hard to get into big bookstores. I am so appreciative of the indie bookstores out there.

5. Is there any writing or publishing advice you'd like to share with us?

If you like to write, keep writing. Don’t be afraid to show someone else your work. Find a critique partner that you trust and respect. It’s hard to gauge your own writing at times. That’s why you need to share your work with others. Get honest feedback but don’t let it break your writing spirit.

Thanks so much for stopping by Melissa, and for sharing your publishing experience with us.

Writer buddies, what do you think about small publishers, book promotion, and trusted critique partners? Please share!

Melissa Buell's Young Adult fantasy series The Tales of Gymandrol, includes Book One, THE SEVENTH BLESSING, and Book Two, THE HIDDEN BLESSING. Published by The Little Things Publishing Co., the books are available through, Barnes and Noble, and other bookstores in paperback. It is also available for your Kindle/Kindle reading app. 
Her children’s picture book, SOMETIMES MY BROTHER BUGS ME, was published September 2012 by MeeGenius Publishing Co. as an e-book.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

NaNoWriMo Boot Camp

Before we get to the NaNo boot camp, I wanted to share something cool. Jody Hedlund, bestselling author and Super Blogger, reposted my post about "Writing lessons learned from UNENDING DEVOTION." She added her own thoughts about each point, and of course, we get to absorb more of Jody's wisdom. Be sure to check out "9 Tips for Creating a Compelling Novel."

Now, on to NaNoWriMo Boot Camp. For those of you who don't know, November is National Novel Writing Month, when ambitious writers around the world set out to write a 50k-word novel in 30 days. Totally crazy. Totally fun.

If you want to write a novel and haven't yet plotted or planned, fear not. There's still time to prepare. And if you never plan before writing your novels? Maybe these ideas will help you as your pants your way through November.

I hope the following links help!

Janice Hardy wrote a great series of posts about planning your NaNo novel:

And she wrote this really cool post--Query First? The Query as a Plotting Tool (love this idea, and tried it myself)

And she has great advice about creating characters in this post--Who is That Guy? Discovering Your Characters

And in The Bookshelf Muse Writing Resource Newsletter, Angela Ackerman offers lots of great tips (WHAT? You don't subscribe? YOU SHOULD!! Sign up here):

From the newsletter:

Write Or Die Hardcore incentive to write. Achieve a set Word Count by a certain time, or it will unwrite itself.
HiveWord An online writing tool that lets you keep all your brainstorming & writing organized and in one place. It's free, and you can write from anywhere.
Handy-Dandy Nano Story Outline Roz Morris nails out an excellent path of questions to ask about your story before you write!
Worksheets For Writers Jami Gold has put together a delicious mix of worksheets to help you plot. To avoid a snag or two in your plot, take the time to plan. Even Pantsers will find some brainstorming helpful!
Rainy Mood I can't write to music, but I can write to white noise. Rainy Mood is perfect for drafting & shutting out the distractions.
Plotting With Note Cards Want structure, but not too much structure? Try this plotting method and get the basics down before D day.
Listology: Character Archtypes This is the biggest list I've found of Character Archtypes. It is sure to get you started on building your cast!
The Character Trait Thesaurus Heck yes I will use my own blog tool for Nano! I want to build a credible hero and scanning character traits will help me on my way. And if I get stuck on settings, I'll browse The Setting Thesaurus, too. :)

And Angela offered these additional tips for the November madness:

Set firm rules for Social Media and Email. This is a MUST. Don't break the flow by checking what's going on every 5 seconds.
Prepare food in advance. If you are a Mom or Dad, you don't want your kids turning feral from Hunger. Likewise if you are married, etc. Plan meals, freeze, buy easy-cook items, whatever your fancy.
Find your routine. Busy schedules make writing a challenge. Get into a schedule before Nano starts so you'll know what works for you.
Create rewards. Pick up some of your favorite chocolate noms, or candy, special coffees...whatever will make reaching a set WC your goal.
Visit the Nano site. There is a ton of knowledge, support and people willing to brainstorm when you hit a wall. Get to know other Nanoers!

GUESS WHAT ELSE??? Angela and Becca, of the fabulous and ever-helpful The Bookshelf Muse, are giving away TEN COPIES of their amazing Emotion Thesaurus to NaNo winners. Have you seen their amazing book pasted everywhere? And everyone is talking about it? And darn, you wish you had a copy? Clicky clicky at super speed over there and enter to win. Deets and form are here. Even if you own a copy, if you win, you can give your prize away. How cool is that?

So? What do you think? Are you in? Have you ever done NaNo before? Are you doing it this year?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Author Interview With Nancy S. Thompson

Today I'm super excited to have fellow blogger buddy, Nancy S. Thompson, here to share some wisdom about publishing her book, THE MISTAKEN. Here we go...

Thanks for having me over, Julie! 

1. From idea to final product, how did The Mistaken come to be?

The idea came from a song, 30 Seconds To Mars’ Hurricane.  The lyrics—“Tell me, would you kill to save a life?  Would you kill to prove you’re right?”—intrigued me, and really got me thinking:  I wondered, what could drive a good man to commit a violent crime, and could he redeem himself afterwards?  Though I added many layers to the story, and the characters’ motivation evolved, the heart of the story never changed.  In the end, the story’s theme of forgiveness emerged.  

2. Can you give us a brief summary of your writing process? Plotter? Pantser? Somewhere in between?

I sat down each evening while watching TV and handwrote what I thought was an outline, so that would make me a plotter, right?  But now I’m thinking that outline was really a first draft, sans dialogue and setting.  After all, it was fully detailed.  So maybe I’m actually a pantser since I wrote that first draft off the top of my head.   

3. The Mistaken is published by Sapphire Star Publishing. Can you tell us a bit about your experience with a small publisher?

After querying fifty or so agents, I decided to submit directly to a new small press I’d been hearing about.  Shortly thereafter, SSP offered me a contract contingent on one major revision.  Once I agreed, the deal was done, and I’ve been very happy.  SSP owners Amy Lichtenhan and Katie Henson are both knowledgeable and work hard, promoting each book and author.  They gave me a great deal of control over cover design and promotion, and support me like I’m a member of the family, because that’s what we are at SSP.  And a happy family at that!    

4. Can you offer us any advice about book promotion? What's working for you and what isn't?

It’s early, but so far Twitter and Facebook are working well.  Even more effective is blogging.  Besides my own blog tour, my publisher has an extensive tour set up with a slew of book bloggers and reviewers.  They’ve also sent my book out to all the well-known, major book reviewers.  I’ve also had a great response from the successfully published authors I’ve requested blurbs from.  Amazon will prove to be a great resource, as is Goodreads, both of which publish ratings and reviews for The Mistaken.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have great preliminary feedback well before my launch date.  

5. Is there any writing or publishing advice you'd like to share with us?

Oh, I have tons, but I’d say the most important things to remember are to always be true to yourself and write what you love most; finish your first draft before trying to revise it; find and utilize as many critique partners—not beta readers—as you can, especially the really tough ones; query widely; and, as Winston Churchill famously said, “Never quit!”

Thanks again, Julie!   

Thank you Nancy for stopping by and sharing your experience with us :)

Visit Nancy’s blog, follow, and leave a comment during her book tour for a chance to win an ARC of The Mistaken.  Plus, 5 runner-up winners will each receive an ebook.  

You can also find her on her publisher’s website, Goodreads, Twitter, and Facebook.  

Purchase here:
Also available at Sony, Kobo, iBooks, Diesel Bookstore, and Baker & Taylor in 2-3 weeks

Praise for The Mistaken:
“A deliciously slow burn that builds to a ferocious crescendo, Nancy S. Thompson's THE MISTAKEN kept me riveted until the very last page. Tyler Karras is a complex and flawed protagonist, and his redemptive journey makes him the perfect anti-hero. This psychological suspense is a standout, and I can't wait for Thompson's next book.”
~ Jennifer Hillier, author of CREEP and FREAK

“Nancy S. Thompson's debut novel, The Mistaken, is a first-rate thriller full of hair-raising twists and turns.  Pursued by the police and the Russian mafia in San Francisco, brothers Tyler and Nick Karras are fascinating, fully-drawn, desperate characters.  The action is non-stop.  Thompson's taut, intriguing tale of revenge, mistaken identity, kidnapping and murder will keep you enthralled and entertained.” 
~Kevin O’Brien, New York Times Bestselling Author of DISTURBED and TERRIFIED

“Fast-paced and emotionally gripping - once the ride begins, you won't stop reading until it ends."  ~Alex J. Cavanaugh, author of CASSAFIRE and CASSASTAR

The Mistaken Blog tour:
10/23:  Julie Musil
10/25:  Matthew MacNish
10/26:  LG Smith
10/27:  Aimee Jodoin
10/31:  Jennifer Hillier
11/1:    Angela Peart & Livia Peterson
11/19:  Arlee Bird

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Benefits of Clunkers

My hubby and I both come from large families, five kids each, and when it was our turn to drive, we drove the cars that had been handed down from older brothers and sisters. I was grateful for the car because it allowed me to putt around town on my own, and gave me some independence at 16.

My car wasn't bad at all. It was a cute little VW Bug my older sister had bought and my parents then bought from her. But it wasn't my dream car, and it wasn't mine.

My now hubby, but boyfriend at the time? His cars deserved their own special names. An old Cougar was called the "Bondo Mobile," because there were bondo patches all over the body. We named an old El Camino the "Leak Mobile," because water dripped through when it rained. And another car of undetermined make was affectionately named the "Kitty Litter Mobile" because it smelled like kitty litter. Let's just say I didn't fall in love with my hubby because of his slick cars. 

At the time I would've loved a brand new fancy car. What teen wouldn't? But I'm so glad my parents weren't in a position to give that to me. If we're given something without working hard for it, or given something brand new without realizing how lucky we are, then we miss an opportunity for ambition and gratitude.

Buying my own car was the very first thing I worked toward once I had a job. I scrimped and saved, and felt such pride when I plunked down my own hard-earned money and drove that new car off the lot. Nothing like it. And I babied that car, washing it once a week and putting the car cover on it each night. 

I compare clunker cars to the early stages of our writing journeys. Our firsts attempts at writing may deserve their own quirky names, and probably didn't garner much success. In my opinion, that's a good thing. Those clunkers made us ambitious, and hungry to learn more and become better at our craft. And with each new manuscript we write, we're better than before. And for that we can be grateful.

If awesome writers were awesome from the start, then what would they learn? When they reached success, would they value it as much? Would they be as thankful? Probably not. From what I've seen, awesome writers are so grateful they've reached their goals, knowing it took a lot of hard work to get there. 

When I look back on my early work, I cringe. Oh, the things I didn't know. And then I think about what I still don't know, and how I'm going to move to the next step. But instead of being frustrated by those early attempts, we can be thankful our successes are built on a mound of clunkers. Those clunkers can give us an attitude of gratitude as we move from one achievement to the next.

Do you cringe when you look back on your early work? Are you thankful for those clunkers, knowing they brought you to where you are today? And what was the first car you drove? Any funny breakdown stories you'd like to share?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Writing lessons learned from UNENDING DEVOTION

"Unending Devotion" by Jody Hedlund was a compelling book, and I blew through it in no time. It was a deliciously romantic and inspirational story. For a brief book blurb and more about Jody, click here.

Of course there's always plenty to learn from reading great books, and here are the lessons I learned from "Unending Devotion:"

  • Open with character-revealing action: Lily, the main character, is devoted to rescuing young girls from a life of prostitution. But we aren't told this. We're shown through the opening scene, where Lily orchestrates an escape.
  • Unanswered questions, stat: On page two we already have unanswered questions. Why is Lily's sister suffering? And where is she? Why are the sisters separated?
  • Introduce the love interest early: We meet Connell McCormick on page 15. Sparks fly right away, and we know we're in for a great love story.
  • Give the MC more than one enemy: Lily not only fights an evil bully in a small town, she also fights the woman who runs the brothel. Lily makes enemies of both characters, and they later work together to hurt her.
  • Explain why the MC can't run to the police to solve her story problem: Lily soon learns that the logging town of Harrison is lawless because the villain has paid off the sheriff. This explains why she doesn't arrive on the sheriff's doorstep and ask for help.
  • In a romance, tether the couple together to create a bond: Lily and Connell are caught in a snowstorm, and forced to survive the elements together. A great opportunity to fall in love, yes? Or kill each other, depending on the story :)
  • Think of the worst thing that can happen to the MC, then make it happen: Connell loves Lily, and the town bully knows this. When he wants to exact revenge on Connell, he knows capturing Lily gets to the heart of the matter.
  • Give the MC a physical and moral battle: Lily's main objective, or her surface story problem, is to find her sister. But there's also a larger moral objective--to rescue young girls from lives of prostitution, and erase evil from a lawless town. These multiple goals kept the pacing tight.
  • Use a symbol to reflect a character's journey: In this case, a quilt. Lily reflects on all the mis-shaped pieces, and the seemingly ugly patterns. But those pieces, just like the imperfect pieces of our lives, come together to make something beautiful.
Have you read "Unending Devotion" yet? Is there another book you've read lately that taught you important writing lessons? Please share!