Wednesday, March 4, 2015

March 2015 Mystery Agent Critique Forum - OPEN NOW!

Welcome back to the Mystery Agent critique portion of our contest! Those who wished to be included in the open forum are ready for your critiques.

Our rules are simple:
  • Be helpful.
  • Be relevant.
  • Be kind.
Thank you to all of you and to all our amazing entrants! Happy critting!

You can visit the entries in the tab under the OA blog banner: MA Critiques.

Just a little more info about the forum:
  • You DO NOT have to register to comment.
  • To comment on a pitch, just click Reply on the main post in the thread. It will bring up a comment box where you can enter your name and comment.
  •  To return to the full list, click March 2015 Mystery Agent in the top left corner of the forum.
Any questions? Leave in the comments below this post.



March 2015 Mystery Agent

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Share With Us!

I'm curious! (as writers tend to be) :-) How is your current writing project coming along? Are you keeping up with goals you might have made at the first of the year?

I'm in the editing stages of book 3, waiting on the first round of beta readers, working on the back cover blurb and cover art...semi-distracted by the spring cleaning bug.  

How 'bout you? Anything exciting going on in your world? Share with us!

March Mystery Agent Lottery Winners!

The results are in and here are our randomly selected winners of the March Mystery Agent Contest Lottery!

Congratulations to . . .

Mindy Gray Schmidt

Aniko Rajci

Lyndsay Ely

Christopher

Debra Daugherty

Ilana Ostrar

Tina Spear

Tamara Girardi

Heather Murphy Capps

Diana Pinguicha

Laurisa White Reyes

John Berkowitz

Krista Wayment

Keely Parrack

Laura Rueckert

Kelly DeVos

Terri Paquin

Elena Tabachnick

Jeri Baird

Sue Berk Koch

Tiffanie

Megan Reyes

Rachel

Carissa Taylor

Tonja Tomblin

You all made it to the next round of the contest!


Be sure to check back tomorrow March 4 for the critique forum. All entries from winners who opted to participate will be posted for cheerleading and feedback.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Pets and Peeves, the Unexpected Heroes of Fiction

Here's a Friday writing tip to get you started on your weekend writing binge.

Add an animal.

Or a spook.

Give it a personality, a driving motive, setbacks, and final triumph.

Remember Peeves, the poltergeist of Harry Potter fame, who would only listen to Fred and George Weasley?

In the book, as Fred and George ascend on broomsticks amid a tantalizing display of illicit fireworks, ready to leave Hogwarts for good (for now), their parting words are, "Give her hell for us, Peeves." It's not in the movie, but here's the scene to jog your memory:




Throughout the well-woven story, ghosts play a contributing role, whether the conundrum is solving a murder, figuring out a clue, or finding the final Horcrux.

In the same series, animals play pivotal roles. There's Hedwig the loyal snowy owl, without whom Harry's lonely summers would be unbearable. And there's Buckbeak, a hippogriff who is only misunderstood, according to Hagrid. Buckbeak flies in to save another misunderstood creature, Sirius Black, from the kiss of death.

Tumblr n1cw69BhDo1s3ulybo5 250
Hippogriff Wiki

If one were to take out all the ghosts and animals from the Harry Potter series, the story would fall apart. There'd be no Aragog the giant spider or Moaning Myrtle to tell the morbid story of her death or Fluffy the Three-Headed Dog to guard the Sorcerer's Stone.

For a more realistic fiction approach to animal characters, read Where the Red Fern Grows. There's a story about two canine characters with personality, heart, and character arcs to rival any human story.

Do you have an animal muse at home?

Here's one of mine doing what she does best: Playing with the kids in all weather.


Happy Writing Weekend!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

March Mystery Agent Contest Lottery!

Welcome to the lottery for our March Mystery Agent contest! Are your manuscripts polished and your pitches ready to go? We are looking for your twitter pitches, plus the first 250 words of your manuscript.
What is our Mystery Agent seeking?
Our Mystery Agent is searching for YA, MG, SF/F, Romance and Erotica
When can you enter?
Right now! The lottery will close Sunday March 1st at 11:59 pm CST.

How to enter:
•  Enter your name and email address in the Rafflecopter below.
•  Make sure you complete the last step in the Rafflecopter and email your entry to operationawesome6 (at) gmail (dot) com. Email the following in this format:

Name:
Email address:
Pen Name: (if applicable--this will be the name posted in the forum)
Genre:
Word Count:
Twitter Pitch: 
First 250 words:
Do you want to be included in the forum for feedback?

Important: Once you have completed this last step, type “Done” in step 3 of the Rafflecopter and click "Enter!" to complete your entry.
And that’s it.
Please enter only once and only if your manuscript is finished and query-ready.
The lottery will close Sunday, March 1 at 11:59 pm CST. Lottery winners will be posted here on the blog hopefully March 2 or 3. Apologies for this being late.
Twenty-five lucky entrants will be selected and not only will the Mystery Agent take a look at them for a chance to win fabulous prizes, but we'll be posting all 25 entries here on the blog on March 2 or 3 for cheerleading and constructive feedback. And last but certainly not least, the reveal, along with the to-be-announced prizes, will be posted here sometime in the month of March.
If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments. Also check out Wendy Nikel's interview with Melody Winter, also on the blog today! (We ended up having to double post).

Good luck!!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday Debut Interview: Sachael Dreams by Melody Winter

Today for our WEDNESDAY DEBUT INTERVIEW, we have some questions for Melody Winter, whose new adult romantic fantasy, Sachael Dreams, debuted yesterday from REUTS Publications.




Hi, Melody! First off, tell us a bit about yourself!
I’ve been married to my hubby for over 15 years, and we have two energetic boys, aged fourteen, and twelve. I’ve lived in York, England, all my life, and never been much of a traveller apart from summer holidays to Majorca with my family. I’d love to buy a villa out there and spend my time writing while drinking sangria.

I work part-time as a finance manager, which I always think makes for a strange combination with writing. I view them as complete opposites, but I know several other ‘finance’ people who write as well, so may be the two are a natural combination.


Tell us about SACHAEL DREAMS! What's the one thing you love most about it?
The mood of the book. I feel that it’s almost mythical at times, and I think it’s like that because of where it takes place. The book is set in Ravenscar, which is known as ‘the town that never was.’ It’s on the North East coast of England, about an hour drive from my house.

It’s a beautiful place to visit. It’s quiet, secluded, and has an air of mystery that is difficult to place. It’s very easy to slip into Estelle’s head whenever I walk along the coastal paths there.

Without Ravenscar, I doubt I would have ever caught the true sense of peace and tranquility that’s experienced by Estelle in the book.


How long has this process taken for you, from the time that you began the first draft of this book until the date of its publication?
I first started planning Sachael Dreams in September 2012, started writing it in January 2013, and completed the first draft by June 2013. I spent a lot of time editing, before feeling confident to send it to a select number of writing friends to look through. After I received feedback, it was on to more edits. Then I started sending it out into the real world.

I signed with REUTS in May 2014, and published on 24th February 2015 so from the very start to publication it’s taken me 2 years 5 months.


What aspect of writing do you find easiest? Most difficult?
I think it all depends on the mood I’m in. Sometimes I have plenty to say and therefore the words flow and I write quickly. Other times I prefer to plan or go over a scene that I know needs more work. Because I’m writing a series each of my 4 manuscripts is at a different stage. I’m now marketing and promoting Sachael Dreams, I’m about to start line edits on Sachael Desires, Sachael Delusions is going through its first ‘hard’ edit, and I’m writing Sachael Destiny.

Like most authors, I enjoy the writing the most, and it’s potentially the easiest (When it’s going well) and also the most difficult (When no words will come.) I've been surprised by how much I enjoyed doing line edits—perhaps it’s because I could see my story getting stronger.


Every writer experiences some rejection and setbacks along the way. How did you learn to cope with them and move on?
My first rejection hurt the most. It was almost a shock. You spend so much time creating and nurturing your characters that you fall in love with them—how can it not hurt? I realise now, I sent my MS out too early. There was still a lot of work to do on it. But I received some wonderful advice as well. So after the first shock and then a few more after, I picked myself up and carried on. This meant ignoring my MS for a month. When I went back to it, it was fresh and I saw many ways to improve it, and armed with the advice I had received, I attacked it again. I always believed in myself and my story, and convinced myself there was someone out there who would love it as much as me—I just had to find them. Eventually I did :)


Tell us about your publisher and how they came to acquire your book. What makes them a good fit for you and your book?

The whole series, the Mine series, is due to be published by REUTS Publications. I’m very lucky that they fell in love with my characters and the world I’ve created. I never imagined that they’d want to offer me contracts on the full series. It was a dream of mine for Estelle and Azariah to have a home—and now they have.

I first noticed REUTS on twitter and started following them, they followed back, and after a few tweets I sent them my submission in line with their guidelines. I heard back very quickly, within two weeks, and they asked for the full manuscript. Then began the waiting. I noticed on twitter through various tweets that they were inundated with manuscripts. I think I was one of the last to pass through the initial submission before this hit them. I waited months for an answer from them, only sending my manuscript out to a few others during this time, as I really wanted to sign with REUTS. Their friendliness and general support are areas they excel at, and I had my eyes on their editor, Kisa. I really wanted to work with her.

As far as a good fit for my book—I think this comes down to their openness and approachability. Kisa was so in tune with my characters that she saw things even I hadn’t.

When she gave me initial feedback I knew there wasn’t anyone else I wanted to work with. And they haven’t let me down. Their support and encouragement have never wavered and I’m pretty excited about sending the second book to them to read. I think there will be a few surprises in there.


Was there anything that surprised you about the publishing process?
The waiting. There are long periods of time spent waiting for responses to queries and submissions. And even when signed, there is still the waiting in line for your manuscript to be dealt with by editors, and cover illustrators. Even though you like to think you are the only person they deal with, the reality is that there are many others also in the waiting line. You have to wait your turn.


After signing a contract with a publisher, what comes next for a debut author? What have you been doing in these months between then and now?
For me, it was some structural edits. There were a few little changes to make and one major one. So I was immediately involved in discussing these details with my editor. Once I had the go-ahead to the changes, I had to write them.

After the edits were finished I had to wait until line edits started several months later—evidence of the ‘waiting line’ I mentioned earlier. Then everything started happening a few months before release. Marketing kicked in, line edits, and cover designs all hit. It was crazy, but great fun.

I filled all my waiting time by writing the other books in the series. If I hadn’t had those to turn to, I would have started writing my next book, or at least planning and researching it.


Tell us about your book cover. Who designed it? How much say did you have in it? What do you hope it will tell your readers about your story?
I LOVE my book cover. Ashley Ruggerilo, REUTS Publications designed it. I had a lot of say in it, but felt that Ashley really caught the mystery and the dream like qualities that the book revolves around. I hope the cover tells the reader that Sachael Dreams is a book featuring romance, mystery, a connection to water, night-time walks into the sea, perhaps even the hint of the moon reflecting on the surface. There are a lot of subtle clues in the cover as to what the book contains.


Tell us about your title. Was this the original title you'd had in mind? If not, what made you change it?
It was always the title I had in mind, but that was only after I’d decided on what to call the species of men from the water. I didn’t want them to be mer-folk (even though they feature as Oceanids in my books) I wanted a unique species, something that was ‘mine’. After searching through random things connected to water, I saw a reference to a ‘Sachael’ as one of the 7 arc-angels of water—they help purify our thoughts and evoke a feeling of peace. It fit exactly with what I wanted, and hence the name was used. The ‘Dreams’ part of the title was always there, as so much revolves around dreams for a Sachael.


What's next for you after this debut? What are your plans for the future of your writing?
There are three more books in the series which continue Estelle’s journey into this mysterious and unknown world of Sachaels. There’s a lot to learn, and I hope the reader enjoys the first book enough to continue reading. I may also be tempted to write the first book from Azariah’s POV. Whether this is released on my website for members, or as an actual book, I don’t know at the moment.

I’m also drafting out ideas for a NA Dark Romantic Fantasy—The Ascent. We’ll have to see what happens with that.


How does it feel to finally have your book out in the hands of readers? Do you have any events planned you want people to know about?
It feels GREAT! When I started writing Sachael Dreams, all I wanted was to hold my book in my hands. Not only do I get to do that with Sachael Dreams, but with the whole series!

It’s very exciting at the moment, but also incredibly nerve-wracking. It’s out there now, there’s no turning back. I just hope people like it.

I’ll be running a Goodreads giveaway at the end of March for a signed copy of the book.

Also, my website will be selling signed copies and a few extra items that cannot be found anywhere else!


Is there any other advice you'd like to pass on to others pursuing publication? Any mistakes you've made that other writers might be able to learn from?

Never give up. If you have a story in you that demands to be told, keep going. Find like-minded writers through talking to people on twitter and facebook. You’d be surprised how many people are out there who want you to succeed, and who will help you along the way.

Join facebook groups, check what your favourite authors are doing, and enter twitter pitch competitions—they are amazing at building friendships with other authors, not just for trying to get an agent or acquisitions person’s attention. Mistake wise, I’d say that I sent my manuscript out too early, but it’s difficult knowing when it is ‘ready’. If possible, once you think it’s ready, shut it away for at least a month, and then attack it again. If you can’t find anything to alter then it’s as ready as you can make it.


And, just for fun, what celebrity do you think would enjoy your book? Why?
That’s difficult. Rather than what famous celebrity do I think would enjoy my book, I’ll mention who I’d like to read it, purely because I see them as characters in the book. In no particular order we have Mila Kunis, Angelina Jolie, Julianne Moore, Clive Standen, Chris Hemsworth, and Alex Pettyfer. I’ll leave you to guess who should play which character.


Thanks so much for the interview! Congrats on your debut!

Buy Sachael Dreams now!
Amazon US
Amazon UK
REUTS

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Celebration of the Arts by PK Hrezo


This past Sunday was the 87th Academy Awards. Did you watch? I love the Oscars and always put it on my schedule. Why? Because it's not just about celebrities and glamour--although it's a big part of what makes it entertaining--but the entire show is one hundred percent devoted to celebrating the arts.

And the biggest prizes go to the best stories.

That's right, STORIES.

That's what films are, and they don't get awards for being action-packed. They get recognition because a writer or writers put their heart and soul into the story. Sound familiar? That's exactly what we do.

Screenplay writers, adaptation writers, directors ... they all have a vision, and bringing that vision to life to make people feel something is what the arts are all about.

Then there's the makeup artists and costume designers and graphic artists. They create based on the writers' ability to create an image using words. It's all so amazing that they really deserve to be celebrated.

But that's not why I'm writing this post. I mean, it's not like the Oscars need more recognition, right? ;)

Watching the award show always inspires me to get back to doing what I love--crafting a story! And dreaming up characters and worlds and conflict Because a celebration of the arts of Oscar magnitude gives me such a rush of hope and possibility. Maybe we can reach that point one day. Maybe one day, it will be one of us sitting in that audience because an actor was nominated for playing the role of a character we created. Or because the adaptation of our novel to film has just won Best Picture.

Who knows! Watching the Oscars reminds me that art is important and people love it--they NEED it. And we have the ability to offer more of it. It's not beyond any one of us.

Do you remember the movie Juno? The screenplay writer was just an average woman making her way through life and craving experience so she'd have something to write about. She won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Wow!

There are plenty more success stories like that, too. The Oscars prove that there is room at the top for everyone and anyone who works hard enough and is dedicated to their art.

Consider the actors and actresses for a moment. Receiving an Oscar nod is one of the biggest accomplishments of their career, and actually winning is another ball game entirely. Their resume is forever impressive to whoever glances upon it. What an achievement!

But think about what it took for the actor to get there. Many of them started at the very bottom. Like writers, there is a slush pool of aspiring actors out there. I would imagine it's as hard to get a talent agent as it is to get a literary one. And many start with commercials and low-budget films or TV shows. It's a lot like us writers starting out with manuscripts that will never go anywhere because our writing hasn't reached a publishable level. Just as a brand new actor doesn't receive a starring role in a blockbuster film.

We have to work our way through the artistic trenches and earn our ranks.

All part of the process. So next time you feel like your writing sucks or your stories aren't up to snuff, think of the worst commercial you've ever seen and imagine the actor(s) in it. Think they're proud of their work?

The only thing NOT to be proud of is giving up.

By the way, if you missed the Oscars this year you can see the replay on YouTube with a search.

Celebrating the arts is so important. Storytelling is so important. Pursuing our dreams is so important. If you ever start forgetting that, pull up an old Oscars award night and just watch.

Tell me, do you make it a point to watch award ceremonies like the Oscars? Why or why not? Do they inspire you? Can you see yourself at the Oscars? 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Using our Better Selves to Sort Through our Lesser Selves

As writers, we're constantly confronted with what we do well in craft, and what we don't do as well (this ratio might be higher if you're part of a critique group or an MFA program).

The thing is, most writers know what they need to fix. But the problem isn't in the knowing. It's figuring out how to execute the things we have trouble with. For example, I've consistently struggled with character development, one of the basic corner stones of any story. The gist of my feedback usually goes along the lines of, "I don't really know this character..." or "I don't really care about this character..."  or "I'm not sure what this character's motivation is..."

But I think my favorite was the most recent feedback I got from a writing instructor: "What will she sacrifice or learn about herself to meet her goals? Give the girl a STORY!"

And it's not like I hadn't thought about ways to enhance my protagonists. But even after that, I still had trouble translating them to the page.

Then it occurred to me. What if I used what I did well to help the things I didn't do as well? Used my better self to sort through my lesser self?

Like this, but much more convoluted.
I've been complimented on my world-building, so I decided to use that as my catalyst, and see how my characters were affected by the places I'd created for them.

When I did this, I discovered the following: 

My external worlds played directly into my protagonists' main motivations

Both my current works-in-progress deal with characters who feel trapped in their situations. And I realized--the settings I'd created for them had no literal windows. None.

It turned out my world-building self was trying to tell my character development self something. That these characters wanted windows. Wanted options. And I could use that to motivate their actions and move their stories forward.

My external worlds demanded that my characters take action

One reason my characters tend to fall flat is I put them in these rich worlds but don't let them do anything. It's almost like I'm afraid to give them freedom to move within the spaces I've created.

So today, when crafting a scene where my protagonist finally has to confront the antagonist, I had her speak up and be an active agent of change in her own story.

While it was harder to write because I was stretching myself to places that weren't as comfortable, it helped me get more into her head. I ended up writing a scene where she actually had to struggle (I'm also way too easy with my protagonists a lot of the time).

Instead of taking the usual advice I've heard about character development, I made it work for me by putting it in terms of world-building, something I knew inside and out.

And now, I pose the following to you all:

  1. First, consider which writing aspects you receive the most compliments on.
  2. Now, consider something you don't do as well.
  3. Consider how you think through the thing you do well. For example, if you're good at characters, how do you build them? If you're good at plotting, how do you develop it?
  4. Use this same thought process for the thing you don't do as well, and discover ways to perceive it in a newer light.
  5. Apply this to your writing.  
What do you struggle with in your writing? What strategies do you use to work through challenges? 





Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Distribution of a Writer's Work

It would be nice if being a writer was just about writing, huh? Back when I was younger and still writing stories in my journals, that's what I thought. That authors just got to write all day long and spend their lives in their imaginations. And maybe sometimes they had to talk about their books. Maybe edit them a few times.

Lol, young me. You were so naive.

Today, here's what I've found to be the actual distribution of work.

Writing- 15%

Editing- 30%

Marketing and social media- 20%

Reading and Researching- 10%

Avoiding Writing- 15%

Getting Distracted by New Ideas- 5%

Crying and Watching Disney Movies- 5%

Maybe that last section is just me.

Whatever the case, so little of being an author involves writing the rough drafts of books. Editing takes an eternity. You have to constantly build your online presence. You clean the house to cure writer's block. You want to write anything but what you're supposed to. Sometimes you might get time to read a book. It can be tough.

But we still love it. As writers, we still put ourselves through this because, deep down, we really enjoy ourselves through the pain. Writer's block and editing are killer but the result is worth it as we push through. And that's the amazing thing about writers, isn't it?

Also...

NEWS ABOUT MARCH MYSTERY AGENT CONTEST

It is still happening but the rafflecopter might be going up a little bit late. I'll post it as soon as I can. If the schedule is a little pushed back, never fear! It will be happening! Just be on the look out if you're game for a contest soon!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Debut to Watch: MONSTROUS by MarcyKate Connolly





The coolest thing about being a part of the online publishing community is that you get to see the genesis of all kinds of success stories.

I remember, for example, following The Writer's Voice contest in its first year, and seeing a particularly strong query+first page that was garnering a lot of requests. That page always stuck in my mind. And by the time I was fortunate enough to meet MarcyKate Connolly a year or so later, MONSTROUS was already on its way to become a book.

(That page stayed exactly the same, by the way.)

MarcyKate's revision process was almost compelling as the book itself (it began its life as a young adult MS!) But let's talk about the story:


The city of Bryre suffers under the magic of an evil wizard. Because of his curse, girls sicken and disappear without a trace, and Bryre's inhabitants live in fear. No one is allowed outside after dark.
Yet night is the only time that Kymera can enter this dangerous city, for she must not be seen by humans. Her father says they would not understand her wings, the bolts in her neck, or her spiky tail—they would kill her. They would not understand that she was created for a purpose: to rescue the girls of Bryre.

Despite her caution, a boy named Ren sees Kym and begins to leave a perfect red rose for her every evening. As they become friends, Kym learns that Ren knows about the missing girls, the wizard, and the evil magic that haunts Bryre.

And what he knows will change Kym's life.

MONSTROUS is an absolutely unputdownable read. Kym's first person narration hooked me as she learned to navigate the rules and boundaries of her new life. The world of Bryre just comes alive as the pages go on, and The reader takes it all in as Kym does. But occasionally the reader sees things Kym doesn't, too. While I can't dive too deeply into plot details without spoiling all of you, the story rarely seems to take the easiest turns for its characters. I had to keep reading just to make sure everyone would be okay!

This MG fantasy has been described as "Frankenstein as told by The Brothers Grimm," which I think is about as accurate as you can get, and MarcyKate seamlessly combines the fear, love, and sacrifice of a great fairy tale with Shelley's question of what it truly means to be human.

MONSTROUS comes highly, highly recommended from this reader. Go check it out now!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Will Write for Food


Writing is often like climbing a mountain. Think about the struggle to the summit of a difficult chapter. The joy of finishing a scene/chapter/edit. The odd down moments when things don't go right. Sometimes you need a little push via a place I call the motivation station.

What can be found in the motivation station? Anything you like. It's kind of a donkey trying to get to the carrot on a stick. In math terms: 

G (Goal) + W (Want) x D (Do) = R (Reward) 

But how do you figure out when to use this reward method? I'll have to admit I'm often (always) tempted to reward myself in random ways for very little. But I have a few levels: 

Level 3: Food. There is nothing like finishing that tricky chapter before allowing yourself to and indulge in a cookie treat.

Level 2: Relaxation. This is when I'm taking a break. This is for the times your eyeballs are ready to explode. Watch a movie. Take a bath. Whatever you like to do to relax is golden here. 

Level 1: New books/music. Now I know books are something to buy at anytime, but finishing a first draft/major revisions means a BIG reward. That reward, for me, is a book or a track off iTunes. This works in two ways:
1) I get inspiration from the music. 
2) Reading helps with my own writing.

I love writing, but there's something fun about reaching the end of a stage with something to look forward to. A completed MS is a wonderful thing (and the achievement that comes with it), but I've learnt it's the little things can help push me that little bit further.

How about you? How do you reward yourself for a major writing achievement?

Monday, February 16, 2015

Such a Tease

A few weeks ago, I needed a break from drafting the Crow's Rest sequel, No Man's Land, and realized I didn't have any teasers made for Crow's Rest. You know, those images with a quote from the book that get shared around Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, etc? (Here is a helpful post on what goes into a great teaser at the Cover Your Dreams site)

In true writerly fashion, I seized on this excuse not to write opportunity to envision my book in another medium and started combing Crow's Rest for quotable text. This was much more difficult than I thought it would be--a lot of the sections I love from the book either needed more setup, or they were too spoilery.

But I eventually had about nine excerpt possibilities, several of which got trimmed down even further for the actual teaser and a few that didn't get used at all. The opening lines even fit perfectly with some video footage I'd taken, so I have one video teaser as well as the still teasers I made.

There are lots of programs you can use to make your own teasers, btw; PicMonkey is popular and writer Sarra Cannon walks you through how to do that here, or check out this roundup of online sites to combine quotes and images. I used Photoshop because I already have it, and know how to use the tools. I also have tons of my own photos since I'm a photographer, but I didn't have very many that exactly fit how I envisioned the teaser.

Fortunately, Shutterstock sends me 15 or 20% off coupons every once in a while, so I got 5 downloads fairly cheaply. Then I spent some time finding just the right images for each quote--with some false starts. For example, one teaser features a kiss in the hay, and I found one that I thought was perfect--but the hay in the picture was so busy-looking that it was difficult to read the text overlaid on it. Tried various ways to make the text stand out, but ultimately abandoned that photo for a different background (and I love the way it turned out).

I'm planning on revealing one teaser on the Crow's Rest Facebook page every other Tuesday, but I've only shared one so far so I'll use it as an example. I started with the text:

Overhead, the stars unfolded without the interference of streetlights, and a chorus of summer insects buzzed...the leaves of the sycamore shifted and rustled. But—no breeze. A sound like muffled croaks and squeaks—or whispers—joined the rustling. Am I more rattled than I thought, or is there really something in that tree?

Those lines begged for a spooky tree in a field of stars, and I found several candidates on Shutterstock. I narrowed my choices down to three, and played around with the watermarked versions to make mockups and see which one worked the best. The one below was a clear winner, so I used one of my credits to download the high-res version and added the text, book title, my name, and the publisher's logo.


I mixed up the styles of the images and text for each of the rest of the quotes, since they all have different tones: sexy, whimsical, spooky, suspenseful, etc. I could easily have gone crazy and made enough of them to post every week until the release in three months, but it just didn't seem like that much time spent on it could be justified.

So I settled on a reveal every other week until the launch, and I took advantage of scheduling them ahead of time on Facebook and Twitter (using Hootsuite). The teasers will also find their way onto my blog, my website, and maybe my author page on Amazon--wherever I think I can make them earn their keep, lol.

If you have a favorite teaser, feel free to share the link in the comments!

Friday, February 13, 2015

A Valentine By Any Other Name

Source



Holidays mean different things to different people. I remember a couple of years into our marriage, my husband demonstrating this in an entertaining, slightly obnoxious way.

Our first child was nearly a year old, and we were discussing the month's schedule. I brought up February 14th as being a special day, recalling with pleasure that this was our child's due date, though he'd been born a week earlier. The other special thing about it is, of course, that it's Valentine's Day. So imagine my surprise when he said, "Oh yeah, that's the day our lease is up on the Saturn Ion."

Um, what? (As I'm writing this, he is looking over my shoulder to remind me that he was joking. Okay, Bill, whatever.)

So romantic, right? I still give him a hard time about it all these years later. But the truth is that returning our car and deciding what to do for our family vehicle in the future took up a lot of space in his mind. Just as our baby's due date had taken up a lot of space in mine.

If you asked my mom about that date, its importance would be her mother. My grandma was born on Valentine's Day, and for every birthday that was a sweet conjunction for her entire family.

Recently I met a woman who was excited to do her daughter's vicarious work in the temple. Her daughter had led a rough life, ending in an early death, so going to the temple on her behalf was particularly soul-healing for her mother. The date for this temple work was undetermined and seemed to keep getting hindered by something or other. Finally, the date that seemed to line up was Valentine's Day. For my friend, this was especially sweet because her daughter had always loved Valentine's Day. It had been a special day in which her father always left a Valentine on her pillow, and in her future relationships, that tradition continued, a cycle of love and wholeness. To think that her daughter had, from beyond the veil, chosen this date, added healing symbolism to the occasion.

For some people, Valentine's Day is about commercialism or the bitterness of seeing happy couples. (I think we all have to deal with this feeling at least one February 14th in our lives,) For them, Valentine's Day hardly ranks as a holiday at all.

The difference between a holiday being a point of rebirth and reconnection or being about emptiness and fakery... is the person. Is the day an opportunity or a reminder? Does it mark the occasion of birth, death, or union? Well, that all depends on who you ask.

If you happen to be writing an elevator scene about a group of strangers who have never met before, or co-workers who often share this ride in silence, think about what THIS day means to them. Is it the anniversary of their first date with the wife? Or the anniversary of their brother's death? How recent were these original events? How does time impact the state of mind and therefore the motivation of your main character?

This topic is particularly fascinating to me because you cannot run from a day. Even if you are all alone in the world, you can't simply forget that it's Christmas, or Valentine's Day, or Halloween. How will your people meet the day?

Happy Writing Weekend! And Happy Valentine's Day, whatever it may mean to you!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

February Mystery Editor REVEAL and WINNERS!

Today's the big day! Everyone please give a very warm Operation Awesome welcome to McKelle George from Jolly Fish Press!


McKelle has very generously chosen seven winners with awesome prizes!

Full Manuscript Request:

Darkness Whispered by Amber Riley
-I’m not particularly looking for YA Fantasy, there is a LOT out there, but this is a good example of how a good idea and good writing can triumph over timing. The pitch was really excellent, and the opening got right to the point of what made the premise interesting, which was a smart move.

Malicious Desire by Leehotline
-I felt the premise was dark and interesting, and when I read the first line, I really wanted to know in more detail what the “human line” meant.

Boldly Go by Kara Reynolds
-I’m actively looking for Women’s Fiction right now, and I admit I have a weakness for family secrets.

Rescue Me by Kelly Heinen
-Most LGBT pitches seem to be YA-based lately, and a contemporary, mature take on an LGBT marriage had my editor’s heart salivating.

First Chapter Critique:

Between Good and Evil by Remington Cross
-I really liked the pitch of this one. Very catchy. The first line, however, almost lost it for me. Wordy and sort of unclear; a dense, verbose opening of setting description, which is never a good idea if you can help it. Overall though, I’m really intrigued by my what happen.

Donovan by Gifford MacShane
-I’m a sucker for crime westerns (especially with a hint of romance), but I felt the voice was a bit bland and modern for first person. However, I’d really like to see what could be done with it.

The Scent of Bergamot by Nikola Vukoja

-The pitch told me essentially nothing about the story, but I really liked the first line. Caustic and funny, and also interesting.

Please email us a operationawesome6 (at) gmail (dot) com with the subject February ME Winner for further instructions.

McKelle was kind enough to answer a few questions for us so we can get to know her a little better.

OA: Any tips for writers struggling with their pitches? Common mistakes you see in them?

MG: Especially for editors and agents who see a lot of pitches and queries, it’s important to get to the heart of your story quickly. Too often I see pitches that are essentially a description of the main character, or a description of the setting. Get to the story arc. The conflict. The hook. Don’t be cute or teasing or ask rhetorical questions. Be plain and clear as you can.

OA: What books have you read lately that you’ve fallen in love with (manuscripts you’re currently working with or others)?

MG: I recently read Flora and Ulysses for the first time, which won the Newbery last year. It was quirky, smart, and adorable. I loved it. I loved Grasshopper Jungle for its allegorical weirdness—it was a book that did something I hadn’t really seen much in YA. And as I mentioned earlier, I’ve gotten a craving for books like Liane Moriarty’s—which are often about murder and stalking and mystery, but the voice is always funny, domestic, and personal.

OA: What are you seeing a lot of in your slush pile lately? What would you like to see?

MG: I see a lot of YA Fantasy, and a lot of Contemporary with premises that are just okay and a voice that doesn’t really carry the weight of a “been-done” premise. Because I work with a small press, and I really feel that’s a great avenue to keep a talented author published until they have something mainstream enough to catch the eye of the one of the Big 5, I’m always looking for manuscripts that do something different, that tackle a hard issue or try a style no one has before.

OA:  Any exciting news to share?

MG: Jolly Fish Press has recently signed with Gotham Media and we’ve been getting a lot of movie deals for our authors, which has been especially exciting to see since we’re still pretty young.

OA: And a few just for fun:

Favorite caffeinated beverage? Dt. Mt Dew
Sea or mountains? Mountains (I live right in the Rockies!)
Chocolate or bacon? Chocolate-covered bacon?
Ebook or print book? Print
Favorite TV show? Right now, it’s Parenthood (see? I just love domestic drama.)

Thank you so much to McKelle for being our Mystery Editor this month! And congrats to all the winners!

Stay tuned for info on our next Mystery Agent contest!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Wednesday Debut Interview: Heartsick by Caitlin Sinead

Welcome to this week's WEDNESDAY DEBUT INTERVIEW!

Today, we're chatting with Caitlin Sinead, whose debut contemporary romance novel, Heartsick, debuts Feb 16 from Carina Press.




First off, tell us a bit about yourself!
I’ve loved writing and reading since I learned to write and read. There’s nothing better than getting lost in a story, whether it’s my own or someone else’s.


Tell us about HEARTSICK! What's the one thing you love most about it?

I had a lot of fun writing in Quinn’s voice. She’s an artist and I wanted her unique and creative perspective on the world to come through in her descriptions and observations. 


How long as this process taken for you, from the time that you began the first draft of this book until the date of its publication?
Technically, I started writing scenes related to this idea in January 2013, however that idea and those characters are pretty far from what HEARTSICK became. Quinn and Luke’s story really started to take root in May 2013. I finished an “agent-ready” draft in October 2013 and signed with an agent in December 2013. Under the expert advice of my wonderful agent, the story underwent a major revision, which took two months. We went on sub in February 2014 and we got an offer on the book in March. It will be published February 16, 2015!


What aspect of writing do you find easiest? Most difficult?
I absolutely adore just “swiping” scenes over and over again until they are just right. I really hate writing that first draft. It’s like pulling teeth—teeth that are perfectly content to just stay snug in the gums—but I need a first draft before I can get to the fun “swiping” part!

Every writer experiences some rejection and setbacks along the way. How did you learn to cope with them and move on?

It sounds a little nutty, but I set up rejection goals. I wish I could take credit for this approach, but I heard it from other writers. I decided I wanted to get 125 rejections in my inbox in 2013. (Not hearing back didn’t count.) As you can imagine, to get 125 rejections, you have to write and submit a lot of short stories and novels. While I didn’t quite get to my goal (I did get over 100!) I closed 2013 with several published short stories and an agent. And every time I got a rejection, I was happy, because I was that much closer to my “goal.”

Tell us about your publisher/editor and how they came to acquire your book. What makes them a good fit for you and your book?
Kerri Buckley at Carina Press acquired my book after my agent pitched it to her. I think she’s the perfect editor for me for many reasons, but mostly because I sometimes get a little too creative with the language I use and she reins me in when I need it while leaving my vision intact. My book is also a big ole’ hodgepodge of genres (a swirl of mystery, speculative suspense, and contemporary romance), and I love that Carina Press embraces those kinds of genre mashups.

Was there anything that surprised you about the publishing process?

Yes, how much work still needed to be done after the book was acquired. I naively thought once it was bought it would just get a bit of a polish before being published. I’m very happy to be wrong. I’m still amazed and supremely grateful for how much work everyone at Carina Press put into my book to make it even stronger.


After signing a contract with a publisher, what comes next for a debut author? What have you been doing in these months between then and now?
I was lucky enough to get a two book deal! So, I spent a lot of time writing that second book. It’s another New Adult book, and it’s about the daughter of a vice presidential candidate and how she copes with the campaign while also going through a bit of a personal crisis. It also has a rather sexy political junkie as the love interest.

I love the cover for HEARTSICK. Can you tell us how it came to be? How much say did you have in it? What do you hope it will tell your readers about your story?

I sent Carina Press a few covers I liked along with a few ideas. They incorporated some of those and I couldn’t be more pleased with it. Sometimes I bring it up on my phone and just stare at it with a goofy smile. I do this much more often than I should admit. But it’s gorgeous!


What about the title? Was HEARTSICK the original title you'd had in mind? If not, what made you change it?
Oh boy, was the title another difficult part of the process. Originally, I named it PATIENT ZERO, but my agent thought that was a little too scifi, which it really was. Don’t get me wrong, the speculative disease is a major part of the story, but there are several other things going on too, and that title just didn’t represent the story very well. So we spent some time thinking up tons of new titles before we went on submission. Finally, we came up with LOVE AND OTHER EPIDEMICS. I thought, yay, we’ve got a new title! But then my publisher didn’t like that title because they didn’t think “epidemics” really brought to mind sexy fun romantic times. And, of course, they’re right about that. So we had another couple rounds of idea swaps.

My agent and I probably thought of over 30 ideas in all. My husband, helpfully, contributed three ideas. 

Of course, my publisher picked one of his ideas—HEARTSICK. My husband brags about naming the book to anyone who has ears.


What's next for you after this debut? What are your plans for the future of your writing?
As I said, I have another book coming out with Carina Press. Look for RED BLOODED this summer! I’m also working on two other New Adult projects right now, another speculative suspense and a contemporary romance.


How does it feel to finally have your book out in the hands of readers? Do you have any events planned you want people to know about?
It feels amazing! I don’t have any events now, but I’m always open to questions (on Twitter, on Goodreads, on my website), so don’t be shy!


Is there any other advice you'd like to pass on to others pursuing publication? Any mistakes you've made that other writers might be able to learn from?
It’s true that you need to work on marketing and building your platform, but don’t get so caught up in that that you neglect your craft. Great books are always going to be your best marketing tools.


And, just for fun, what famous celebrity do you think would enjoy your book? Why?
I’d like to think Taylor Swift would like HEARTSICK. I even made a small reference to her in it, so maybe she’d get a kick out of that. (Though, being Taylor Swift, she might already have her fill of being referenced.)


Thanks, Caitlin, for the interview! And best of luck with HEARTSICK and RED BLOODED!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Backloading --Tricks of the Trade -- PK Hrezo

Are you familiar with the technique of backloading? Before I took a deep editing course with Margie Lawson, I'd never heard of it, but since I was introduced to it, I try more and more to use it. It's smart, and can have just the right after-effect.



But it's not as easy as you may think.

Backloading is taking the most powerful word in your sentence, paragraph, or scene and placing it at the very end. This packs a punch, and it will propel the reader on to the next sentence ... or if it's the end of your chapter, it'll send your reader on to the next chapter, without them even realizing what's happened.

Cool, right?

Mind you, this isn't something to do with every sentence or paragraph. The art is finding the appropriate time to pack your punch. Often, the end of a chapter is the excellent choice, but let's not limit ourselves. This technique can be used anywhere it will fit, as long as it's not overdone.

How about an example ...

Lucy couldn't breathe. She knew the intruder was in the room, but only because she sensed his presence. He was silent, the carpet absorbing his footsteps, the darkness consuming his silhouette. How close he was, Lucy couldn't tell, but she knew better than to flinch. Concentration on what her next move would be gave her stability, controlled her nerves. If she let it, the situation would have her chest swelling with horror. 

That paragraph is meant to be tense. Very tense. And by backloading it with the word horror, it creates the very feeling of horror in the reader. If this were the end of the chapter, the reader would be left with that same sense of dread as Lucy, and most likely would feel compelled to turn the page.

This technique is best used after your first draft is written and during your edits. Try picking out a few pages of your current work in progress and see if you can't backload a few different places. Is your sentence better? More powerful?

Try it out and see how you like it. I love using this technique. As always, practice makes perfect. :)

How about you? Ever tried backloading before? Is this a new word for you? Please share ...


Monday, February 9, 2015

Lessons Learned: Writing as Performance Art

Last week, I heard a presentation that discussed performance anxiety, given by music professor John Masserini. As I listened, I realized the tips he gave could also be applied to writing. Because all creative pursuits, whether they be art, music, or theater, share the same anxieties.


Translating this...
       
...to this. 

And as artists, we can use these anxieties and translate them into bigger truths. Such as:


1. You are the vessel.

This was probably the most useful tip of all. When John coached his music students on performing, he reminded them they were just a vessel for the music--that the audience wouldn't be focused on them--but on the music itself. It was the the notes, instead of the person playing them, that truly mattered.

And it got me thinking about how nervous I've gotten when putting my writing out there, and worrying about what people will think of me. When all this time, I've only been a vessel for the words that choose to come through my fingers and onto the page. This helps takes the onus off me as a person, and puts it where it belongs--on the story.

Elizabeth Gilbert alluded to this sort of thing during this fabulous TED Talk (it's lengthy, but definitely worth watching):




It's worth mentioning that Elizabeth Gilbert's use of "vessel" (8:41) is different from what I'm implying. I'm treating vessel as a conduit, a way to sail somewhere, rather than the full vat of creativity, or, the boat itself. As writing vessels, we write the words, but they do not necessarily always come directly from us.


2. Establish a routine.

This seems pretty basic, and as writers we hear it a lot, but John took it a bit further in his talk. As in, when his students are preparing for a recital for 7 p.m. on a Friday, he advises that they run through the repertoire at the same time (7 p.m.) on the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday before the performance. That way, by the time Friday rolls around, the student's brain will be attuned and accustomed to running through the repertoire by the time they have to do it in front of a crowd.

In writing, the equivalent of this is anything potentially big that could happen along the way (meeting with an agent, editor, or perhaps pitching at a conference). So, for example, if you have a pitch appointment with an agent at noon, run through your pitch at noon as many days as you can before that meeting. Then, it will seem like it's old hat.

One final note about routine: even though we often hear that we "should" establish some sort of routine, it can sometimes be easy to brush off as, "Well, that's not my process." I told myself that for years. "I'm not an early riser, so I'll write at night." But recently, one of my MFA writing instructors recommended writing with the "best brain"--which means first thing in the day. And after trying that for the past few weeks, I've realized how much of a positive difference it makes. By getting my writing done in the morning, I get to do the thing I love most first--and then I'm not as resentful of the time taken away by other things throughout the day.


3. The art is in the recovery.

As a former pianist, one of my biggest anxieties was making a mistake during a recital. John admitted that mistakes were inevitable, but he advocated going on anyway. "The art is in the recovery," he said. A bad note may happen--but it's the notes that come afterward that count.

And of course, this can be applied to all stages of writing. Rejections at the query stage--what writers do afterward is what counts. Do they quit? Or do they hunker down at the desk and strive to write something better? Same goes for abysmal sales. What does the writer do next? Give up? Or write the next book?

Mistakes, nerves, and insecurities are inevitable in music, art, writing and life. But if we can learn ways around them, and not make them a hindrance, we'll go farther than we thought possible.

What about you? What are your fears? Where is your focus? When are you at your best? And how does all this translate to your writing?


Sunday, February 8, 2015

Earn your Endings

Here's a topic that has been on my mind lately: Endings. In my Fiction II class this semester, we're been talking about a lot of important story elements, and endings are chief among them. They're important because they are the last thing your reader sees before they close the book. An ending is supposed to satisfy them and perhaps make them ask questions or leave them wanting more. If an ending fails, the reader feels cheated and it leaves a sour taste in their mouth.

As we investigated the different types of endings in my class, there became a clear theme: Earn your Endings. Everyone and everything in your book has to earn those final words. The characters have to earn it. The story arc has to earn it. The writing has to earn it.

YOU have to earn it.

So how does one earn an ending?

The short answer is: No one really knows. But that's a lame answer, so instead, let's think about a few categories that endings can fall into and how to make them work.

1) Happy or Sad?

While the final pages of your novel can be a combination of happy and sad, oftentimes endings can be grouped into these two categories. Does the novel have an uplifting end? Or does everything come crashing down, leaving the characters stranded? Whatever the case, you have to make sure the tone of the ending feels true to the rest of the story.

How to do this? Well, in a few simple words, happy endings don't work without struggle, and tragic endings don't work without hope. A happy ending does not feel true to us unless we think their might be a chance that things might not work out. We must worry for the characters and wonder how they're going to get out of this situation. Likewise, a tragedy doesn't work unless we have some hope that they'll make it through. We can't be resigned to the fact that everyone is going to die or we don't care. Remember this line from Hunger Games?

That's important story advice from President Snow. Without a little hope, we don't feel the loss. In your endings, happy or sad, a taste of what will not be makes the outcome all the more sweet. Or bitter.

2) The Great Twist

So you want your ending to be unpredictable, huh? I mean, that's what a lot of people want from their stories. They want a twist a la Sixth Sense to shock the pants off their readers. Everyone likes a good twist. But the funny thing about twists is that they're never completely unpredictable. If they are, then they don't feel true to the story. For instance, Bruce Willis, at the end of Sixth Sense, could have been revealed to be a vampire. But that wouldn't work because it wasn't built up. There were several hints throughout Sixth Sense hinting at his true nature throughout the movie. That's why it hits us so hard. Because we should have SEEN that. It was right under out noses and then it socked us right in the mouth.

When it comes to your ending, the audience reaction shouldn't be confusion. It should be "What?" followed immediately by. "Oh. Of course!"

3) Arc Completion

When you start a story, you begin an arc. So that arc, for better for worse, must come to a resolution. That means your characters have to go through some sort of satisfying change and that their story line needs to be resolved. It doesn't have to be tied up in a little bow, but if you leave things unsaid, at least tease at a resolution. That way the reader can imagine what might have happened after the 'The End'. The characters don't have to reach an epiphany. But they should reach SOMETHING and that something should be built into their arc throughout the story. If your characters earn the ending, then chances are you will too.

Those are just three tips to look at when writing endings. Obviously you could probably write a whole book on this topic. But remember, your ending is the final thing the reader sees before they return to the real world. Make the words linger. Don't let them leave completely.

A good opening hooks you in. A good ending echoes in your mind for days after.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Preserving Your Work

Our power went out this morning and one of my first thoughts was that I needed to shut down my computer before the battery backup died. Do you have a battery backup? No? Let me tell you why it's worth the investment.

First, power outages happen all the time and there's no way to know how an outage might affect your computer until after the fact. Plus, if you're actually working on something when the outage happens, everything you've been working might just disappear forever.

Second, freak things happen sometimes. Several years ago when we lived in the middle of the Arizona desert--a winding, bumpy dirt road made it impossible to get in or out during heavy rain; surrounded by undeveloped land; so many desert critters--we had a little lightning storm. This was not uncommon. An Arizona thunder and lightning storm can be a pretty spectacular thing to watch. It's one of the things I miss most about living there.

Anyway, it was early morning and we were trying to get going for the day. The rain had started to come down pretty hard and I was worried about making it through the mud bog to the end of our street so the kids could catch the bus. Concerns about lightning hadn't entered my mind.

But then the power went out preceded by a loud bang at one end of the house. I'm not talking like a toddler hitting a pan with a metal utensil loud, more like a car slamming into the roof of our house loud. At that point, I started to get just a little concerned about the lightning.

My husband and I ran outside to see where it had struck, but there was no damage to the house. In fact, we looked everywhere at that end of the house, inside and out, and couldn't find any damage. But there was this smell, like burnt metal. When I realized where the smell was coming from, I almost started crying.

Lighting had struck the little power pole in front of our house and gone directly to my computer. By some miracle, despite the motherboard and power supply being fried, I was able to plug my hard drive into another computer and salvage most of the information stored there, including almost a decade's worth of pictures of my kids.


I'm no expert, but the way the tech guy who tested our motherboard explained it, the motherboard and power supply had absorbed most of the power surge before it reached the hard drive. If we'd had a battery backup, it probably would've absorbed most of the power surge and totally fried it, but it would've saved the computer. I know the chances of a lightning strike reaching my computer a second time are probably pretty slim, but now I always have my computer on a battery backup.

I also have an external drive that I hook up and run a full system backup whenever I download pictures from my camera, and I use OneDrive to keep an updated backup of whatever I'm working on at the time. I love that with their desktop app it automatically syncs once a file is saved and closed. There are no extra steps. It's also nice to be able to access my writing from my tablet or phone when I'm out and about.

I use Google Drive as well, though not as much as OneDrive. From my experience, the functionality is similar to OneDrive. And if you have a Google account, you have access to Google Drive, and, like OneDrive, there's an app you can download to your desktop for easy saving.

Evernote is another popular one. I personally don't care for the set up, but that's just a matter of taste. I know someone who thinks it's the greatest thing ever created. The. Greatest. Thing. Ever. So it might be perfect for you. :)

There are several other online backup services out there. If you're not using one, I highly recommend doing some research to find one that works for you.

And don't forget the battery backup. It just might save you some tears. :)

What do you do to preserve your work? Do you have a favorite backup service? Any horror stories of lost work you want to share?

Friday, February 6, 2015

Remember: check out our February 2015 Mystery Editor pitches!

Happy Friday, everyone! Does anyone else feel like winter is just starting? Between the bitter cold and feet upon feet of snow, being outside doesn't sound terribly promising right now.

But one awesome thing to do while stuck inside (besides, of course, flail at your deadlines, which is what I've been up to lately?) Critique our amazing Mystery Editor pitches! Our critique round is still ongoing, and we have some fabulous pitches on the forum waiting for your feedback. Please do swing by and cheer them on! And be sure to keep an eye out for our Mystery Editor reveal later this month!