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 Amazon.com, 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!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Using Classics to Deepen our Fiction

As I wrote in my last post, Writing lessons learned from A LESSON BEFORE DYING, I absolutely loved that book. I'd never even heard of it until my son was assigned to read it through school.

I was working on a revision at the time. My main character was a sophomore in high school, just like my son. I saw an opportunity to refer to a classic, and thought it would enrich my story. I was tempted to just refer to the book, but then I thought if I'm going to refer to a classic, I should read it. And wow, I'm so glad I did.

Referring to classics is not new, of course. In my post Writing lessons learned from THE PULL OF GRAVITY, I mentioned how the author, Gae Polisner, threaded in details of "Of Mice and Men." It added a cool element to the story, and hopefully encouraged teen readers to pick up a copy. Even "50 Shades of Grey" referred to a classic book, although I can't remember the title. I was a bit distracted ;)

Here are some ways in which I hope A LESSON BEFORE DYING enriched my story:

  • Main characters look beyond themselves--sometimes our characters see only what's in front of them. Their lives, their problems, their happiness. When real and fictional people read classics, they realize the world is bigger than their own sphere. It sometimes allows them to think deeper. Using classics in our fiction offers an opportunity for our characters to grow. I had my character read the book as a school assignment, and then she related some pieces of it to her own life.
  • Relatable conflicts--even though our characters, our worlds, and our story circumstances are different, there are plenty of similarities between classics and our world today. Betrayal, revenge, love, fear. Seeing the bigger picture helps. Even if our character is afraid of public speaking, like mine is, if she reads a story like "A Lesson Before Dying" she may realize there are worse things in life than speaking before a live audience (although people like me may see it as a sort of death!)
  • Relatable emotions--frustration, helplessness, sadness, fury...these are common emotions in fiction, whether it's new or from a different generation. If our character resolves to make things better, she can think back to her favorite characters, and how they found the strength to carry on.
In "A Lesson Before Dying," one of the characters said, "We're all pieces of drifting wood until we decide to become something better." I'd like to think that classics can make our stories better.

What's your opinion on this subject? Have you written or read fiction that refers to a classic? Did it strengthen the story or distract from it? Do you like reading classics, or are they too slow for this day and age?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Writing lessons learned from A LESSON BEFORE DYING

"A Lesson Before Dying" is one of the many classics I hadn't read yet. But now I'm so glad I finally got to experience this amazing book by Ernest J. Gaines.

From Goodreads:

A Lesson Before Dying is set in a small Cajun community in the late 1940s. Jefferson, a young black man, is an unwitting party to a liquor store shootout in which three men are killed; the only survivor, he is convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Grand Wiggins, who left his hometown for the university, has returned to the plantation school to teach. As he struggles with his decision whether to stay or escape to another state, his aunt and Jefferson's godmother persuade him to visit Jefferson in his cell and impart his learning and his pride to Jefferson before his death. In the end, the two men forge a bond as they both come to understand the simple heroism of resisting--and defying--the expected.

I'll probably keep thinking about lessons learned from this book long after I've written this post. But here's the writing lessons on my mind today:
  • Have your main character fight multiple battles--Grant Wiggins fights epic battles against long-established cruelties, prejudices, rules, and perceptions. He fights battles against his aunt, who pushes him to help their friend. He fights battles with his aunt and the plantation preacher about religion. He fights battles within himself about leaving the south. This poor man needed an octopus with sledgehammers to help with his multiple battles. 
  • Add deeper meaning to dramatic events--Jefferson's execution was scheduled around Easter, and this date was not lost on Grant Wiggins. Not only did he compare it to Jesus dying on the cross--Jefferson did too. This correlation brought deeper meaning to an already painful event.
  • No need for a play by play--There's a part in this book where there's a play by play of a ... well, a play! It's a Christmas play, and several paragraphs are used to say who showed up, who's sitting by whom, and who brought what to the potluck. After two paragraphs, I skimmed through this section, making sure I didn't miss anything useful. Of course we can't get away with that now. Unless it matters to the story, that sort of thing must make a date with the cutting room floor.
  • Give your main character an uncomfortable task--The plantation preacher was worried because Jefferson wasn't "saved." At this point in the book, Grant Wiggins was the only person who could really reach Jefferson. The preacher asked Grant to make sure Jefferson came to the Lord, but Grant knew he wasn't the right person for this task. He'd given up on religion long ago. When the preacher kept pushing, Grant squirmed under the pressure. Note: This push back on religion was established early. By the time the preacher started pressuring Grant, I already knew this would make him very uncomfortable
  • Provide a window into another character's soul--"A Lesson Before Dying" was told in Grant Wiggins' point of view, so we only saw events through his lens. But during one of his visits to Jefferson's cell, he brought the condemned man a pencil and blank journal. He asked Jefferson to write down any thoughts or questions that came to mind. In the end, this journal is given to Grant. These journal entries broke my heart. We experience how Jefferson felt on the last days before his execution. We learn how he didn't sleep the night before, knowing he'd sleep for a long, long time. We experienced that final sunrise with him. Powerful, powerful stuff.
  • Give characters unexpected outcomes--You'd think Grant Wiggins would be the hero of the story, and in a way, he was. But he'd also empowered Jefferson, and in the end, Jefferson was the character who carried the weight of surprising the town and walking tall to the electric chair.  Jefferson had helped Grant as much or more than Grant had helped Jefferson. It was a powerful twist. 
In my opinion, this book is a masterpiece. I read the final two chapters with a tissue in hand, and believe me, I needed it. Classics are classics for a reason, and "A Lesson Before Dying" was no exception.

Have you read this book? What were your takeaways? And do you like classics, or do you shy away from them? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Writers & Leaving the Nest

I recently heard how eagles build their nests. As the story goes, the eagles build their nests with stones and sticks, and then soften it with bits of feathers. Their babies grow in this nest, and as they near the stage when they're supposed to leave, the parents start pulling away the soft bits of feathers.

These babies aren't meant to stay in the nest. They're meant to fly.

I'm no expert on the subject of eagles' nests, and I don't know how true this story is, but I couldn't help but think about my own children. Like most parents, I hope my sons will be well-prepared when it's time to leave the nest.

But then I thought beyond that. I thought about the characters in our stories, and about us as writers, and how sometimes discomfort is the best thing for us.

When I think about writing fiction, I need to keep reminding myself to make my characters uncomfortable. Loving comfort the way I do, and the way I'm sometimes naive, it's not always easy to push the boundaries and make my characters squirm and take broken paths. I need to remind myself that my characters need to be pushed out of their nests so they can fly.

I love comfort. Who doesn't? Comfort food. Comfortable bed. Comfortable home. But one of the best things that ever happened to me was to be laid off from a comfortable job. It set it motion a string of events that would allow me to stay home with our children, and eventually pursue publishing. Had I not been forced out of my job, I probably wouldn't have left. In a way, I was pushed out of the nest.

As writers, it's intimidating to push ourselves out of the nest. We don't have someone picking away the soft feathers for us, nudging us to the edge. We must do it ourselves. It's not always easy to write from the heart and then send our work out to be picked apart or rejected by critique partners, agents, editors, or readers.

But we do it anyway. We summon our courage, hold our breath, and take that leap. Like eagles, and like our children and our characters, we too were meant to fly.

Is it hard for you to take leaps of faith? Do you stick with what's comfortable instead of taking risks? What nudged you to pursue publishing?

photo credit

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Conquer the Synopsis Summit

synopsis |səˈnäpsis|noun ( pl. synopses |-ˌsēz| )-A brief summary or general survey of something: a synopsis of the accident.-An outline of the plot of a book, play, movie, or episode of a television show.
Like the query, a synopsis can be intimidating. Thankfully there's plenty of great advice out there for conquering the Synopsis Summit.

If you visit Elizabeth Craig's "Writer's Knowledge Base" and type "Synopsis" into the search bar, you'll find a treasure trove of resources. Here are some of my favorites:


The Sum of the Parts: Writing a Synopsis, by Janice Hardy
(As always, her advice is spot on)

(Nuts and bolts of a synopsis)

(Cool tips for making a good synopsis stronger)

(Get it and get out, and don't lose your voice)

How to Write a Synopsis, by Nathan Bransford
(Cover the major plot points)

This time around, I tried something new. On a fresh sheet of paper, I wrote down each of Dan Wells' 7 plot points. Then, next to each plot point, I wrote one sentence summarizing that plot point in my book. Then I fleshed out each of these points.

My synopsis is still in its infancy, and there's a lot of smoothing, tweaking, trimming, and refreshing that I'll be tackling. But this system gave me a place to start. 

Do you have any tips you can share with us about writing a synopsis? Please share in the comments!