Friday, June 24, 2016

Flash Fiction Contest #15

Welcome to our #OAFlash fiction contest! Apologies for the small hiatus. This year just keeps kicking my rear. But never fear, I'm back again with a new prompt!

Rules for our flash contest can be found here.

Flash Fiction Prompt For Friday, June 24, 2016

When posting, remember to include your name and your Twitter handle.

Have fun and come back Sunday night to find out the winner!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

That Moment When You Want to Quit

I remember my moment well. 

It was September of 2013. I’d just given my first pitch to a literary agent at a conference. For weeks before the conference, I feverishly prepared for that pitch, watching YouTube videos, researching, and gleaning wisdom from others who have pitched before. I wrote and rewrote what I would say. I practiced a dozen times in front of my very-bored children. I walked into that room, nervous, but knowing I’d done absolutely everything I could do to make the pitch the best it could be. I’d packed an atomic bomb’s worth of emotional and mental energy into that moment.

But, bombs have a tendency to explode.

I gave my pitch, but I failed to impress the agent.

I told myself it was okay, that I’d find another way. But, after receiving nothing but rejections on my work for years, I began to spiral downward. I struck the ground hard. I went to my room and detonated. I was done. I couldn’t do this anymore.

I’ve lost count of how many writers and other artists I’ve spoken to who have experienced “that moment.” I’ve watched friends withdraw and become depressed, hopeless. I’ve seen it so many times, that I know what exactly what’s happening to them. The industry has worn them down. Their strength has given out under the constant crushing weight. Their dream to do this thing they love, feels dead.

Have you been there? Are you there right now?

That weekend in 2013, I quit for about two hours. When I got beyond the tears and gnashing of teeth, I realized that, in my quest to be published, I’d lost sight of my first love—writing. Would I still love writing even if my books never achieved publication? Absolutely. I took a little break from querying to heal and focus on my writing.

I started sending work out again, but at a slower pace. I realized that I’d been sprinting and this is a marathon industry. I also realized that I couldn’t hold so tightly to my narrow dreams. Perhaps I needed to broaden them and allow them to take shape within the realm of reality. I invested in positive friendships with other writers for much needed encouragement, shoulders to cry on, and the often needed kick in the pants to keep going.

Most writers have experienced moments where they want to quit. These feelings are normal. The question is, what will you do with that moment? Will you allow it to win? Or will you keep going?


Melinda Friesen, author of the dystopian One Bright Future series, writes novels for teens and short stories. She is an avid collector of rejection letters.

Meet Jamie Zakian in this Debut Author Spotlight

Welcome, or welcome back, to debut author Jamie Zakian. The first writing contest to feature this author's query was Operation Awesome’s mystery agent contest back in 2014!

Ashby Holler by Jamie Zakian
Ashby Holler series Book #1
Genre: NA Criminal Suspense
Release Date: June 14, 2016
Publisher: Limitless Publishing

1- What was the inspiration behind Ashby Holler?
At its core, Ashby Holler is a story about a young woman who refuses to live by the standards that society places on women, and of course the fallout of daring to live out loud. I’ve struggled since childhood to have people accept me for how I prefer to dress, had a million snide comments about the masculine traits I was born with pierce my ears. That struggle inspired the character of Sasha Ashby. She could be violent, raw, say the things I’ve always been afraid to speak, think the thoughts I was told were wrong. The storyline, and adventures she ended up taking just sort of happened as I wrote.

2- Has living in South Jersey affected your research for your book about organized crime?
A long time ago, in the era of B.C. (before children), I studied criminal justice. Thankfully I still had my old college books, and one of them was solely based on organized crime. The books were in-depth, detailed the structure of many criminal organizations, and described the mentality of certain types of criminals. That resource helped immensely when perfecting later drafts of this novel.

3- Your query letter mentioned “drug trafficking Mack truckers.” Did you visit the Mack Truck Museum in Allentown, PA for research?
Mack Truck Bulldog statue Allentown, PA

I didn’t know there was a Mack Truck Museum in Allentown, but I’m definitely going to visit it now that I do! I actually am a trucker, just not a Mack trucker. I’m more of a backwoods mud-trucker. But, to get a feel for the authenticity of a big rig, I browsed a lot of pictures on the internet, talked to a few friends who are owner/operators, and even studied the schematic of a semi.

4- Have you ever run up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum?
I did run up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum! Just once in 1997, when I was seventeen. It also happened to be the place where a boy first told me he loved me. It was very romantic, set a rather high bar for the people who followed. There was a little balcony around the side of the museum overlooking the Schuylkill, which we sort of climbed/trespassed on. The moon was shining on the river, and icicles hung down the stone railing around us, sparking. I was just about to tell him I wanted to go back to the car because it was too cold, and he leaned close and said, “I love you.” It was so sweet! I have no idea what that guy is up to now. He was a bad-boy, we had to go our separate ways.

5- What most contributed to your choice of publication method?
After a few rounds of querying agents, I knew Ashby Holler was going to be hard to place based on the feedback I received from full/partial requests. The story was romantic, but not a romance. It had criminal elements, yet it didn’t fit the crime genre. It was heavily dramatic, had a southern feel, but wasn’t quite a southern drama. Genre-crossing can be good, but when you straddle so many there’s no one place to situate your book. Plus, figuring out who to market to is a disaster. So, I decided to take the script to small presses who were open to motorcycle club stories, since that’s where my novel seemed to fit best. In the end, I received three offers from small presses for Ashby Holler, but decided to go with Limitless Publishing because of their passion for my story.

6- As a reader, what most motivates you to buy a new book to read?
Since I honestly love every type of story, I usually don’t bother with the back cover copy of a potential new read. I always go straight to the first page. The voice of the main character is very important to me. It doesn’t matter if that voice is quirky, crude, dorky. As long as it’s unique, I’ll want to follow it through whatever world the author created.

7- What is the most memorable trait or visual oddity of one of your characters? (Example: Lou’s mother never sitting down in Me Before You, or Harry Potter’s lightning bolt scar.)
My main character, Sasha, loves brass knuckles. To her, that strip of metal is the great equalizer. It makes her skinny girl-sized fist pack the same punch of the large, brutish men around her. Sasha doesn’t go anywhere without a set of brass knuckles in her pocket, and she’s never afraid to swing them.

8- Given your archery skills, might there be a “Katniss Everdeen” or “Legolas” character in your writing future?
There is definitely a foul-mouthed, bow-wielding character in my future! Archery is one of my passions, and I’ve longed to incorporate it into my writing. I actually just outlined a story featuring a hardcore archeress who leads an intergalactic mission, seeking out a habitable planet for her species to migrate to. I’m very excited to get started on it as soon as I wrap up the Ashby Holler series.

9- What diversity can readers look forward to in your pages? (age, race, LGBQT, etc)
My main character is exploring her sexuality with both genders. Since the book is set in 1984 Kentucky, she has to do it in secret. Back then, in most places, it wasn’t okay to be gay, and bisexuality wasn’t even recognized. Some of the subject matter in Ashby Holler, the phrasings used to harm my main character, the things done to her just because she’s different than those around her can be uncomfortable but was necessary to reflect real life. Especially now, with how volatile the world’s become, I feel it’s important to show the perspective of the one’s falling victim to stereotypes. It’s 2016, and we as a people are still hating what we don’t understand instead of trying to learn more about it. My hope with Ashby Holler is that people will see—no, feel the damage that stereotyping does through the eyes of my main character.

10- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?
I recently shared an excerpt on my blog, which you can find here:
I know this site is family friendly, and my book is quite explicit so I’ll just share my PG-rated blurb:

Sergeant at Arms for a deadly club of drug traffickers doesn’t sound like the ideal job for a nineteen-year-old girl…

But Sasha Ashby has never been typical, and she’s waited her entire life to sew a club patch on her leather jacket. Raised on violence and crime as part of Ashby Holler Trucking, while hiding her own dirty little secret, Sasha knows she can handle anything.

Now there’s a spot open at the table, and Sasha will do anything to secure it—including betray herself…

Her best friend and fellow prospect, Vinny, devises a stupidly brilliant plan—they fake a relationship. It’s a match the club president, who happens to be Sasha’s mother, has longed to see. It’s a good idea, in theory. Vinny knows she’s into girls, and what’s a little sex between friends? The ruse works well, elevating her in line for the coveted position, until Vinny’s older brother Dez gets out of jail and breezes into her seat.

There’s something about Dez that Sasha can’t shake…

She should hate him. It’s only natural after he snatched away her opportunity of a lifetime. But the instant Dez locks his fierce gaze on her, Sasha’s world turns upside down. In the midst of a war with a rival biker gang, Sasha must figure out what she needs most. Is it the gentle touch of her best friend Vinny, the savage hold of his dangerous brother, or the soft skin of the many women who crawl into the cab of her semi?

The timing couldn’t be worse, but the lies, deceit, and death that dwell in Ashby Holler wait for no woman.

About the Author:
Jamie Zakian lives in South Jersey with a rowdy bunch of dudes, also known as family. A YA/NA writer, her head is often in the clouds while her ears are covered in headphones. On the rare occasions when not writing, she enjoys blazing new trails on her 4wd quad or honing her archery skills. She’s a card carrying member of the Word Nerd Association, which means she’s probably stalking every Twitter writing competition and offering query critiques so keep an eye out.


Thanks, Jamie! Interviewing you was a pleasure.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Tuesday Museday gets a sibling?

If you have siblings, you likely know that there are things you can get away with doing to your siblings that you can't do to anyone else. Take this photo for example:

This is me and my cousins, plus my sister, my husband, and my cousin's wife (none of us were married at the time; this photo is OLD).

If you study the photo, you will notice that my sister, in the stripey sweater, is thrusting her hips forward and has her arms behind her back. This is because a second before the photo was taken, I credit-carded her. 

Do I go around swiping my hand up random people's butt cracks? Nope. That behavior is reserved for my sister. Poor Cassi.

Your characters will similarly have things they do or personality traits that they can show only around their siblings. Use those interactions to your advantage! Show a gruff character's silly side. Show someone who always acts cheerful dropping the facade around their family.

As a writing exercise, write a scene (even one that doesn't make it into your book) between characters and their siblings. This is a good way to get to know your secondary characters as well as your main character. It'll be interesting to see what it reveals about them!

Need fresh eyes on your query letter? Comment below, and I will select a few random commenters for a critique.
By the way, when you get in the business of critiquing people, you often worry that someone will react badly to your critique and flame you publicly or privately. I've been doing Tuesday Museday for nearly a year now, and I have yet to have this experience. All you OA readers who receive critiques from me have been polite and grateful. I'm grateful to YOU for your classy behavior. Thank you!

Monday, June 20, 2016

July 2016 Pass Or Pages Details

We are so grateful to the agents willing to participate in Pass Or Pages. Without them, we straight up could not host this contest. For July's contest we have four awesome agents on our panel, and we can't wait to hear what they have to offer for query help.

In July, the category for Pass Or Pages will be Women's Fiction. Please note that women's fiction and contemporary romance are different genres, and while we do plan to host a round of Pass Or Pages dedicated to contemporary romance in the future, this is not that round. If you aren't sure if your book is women's fiction or romance, please check out these helpful links:

Here are the important dates for this round:
July 4: Agent announcement and recap of rules
July 11-12: Entry window open (via a form here on Operation Awesome)
July 25-29: Feedback reveals!

To learn more about Pass Or Pages, please take a look at the rules and previous feedback reveals.

Spread the word to your friends writing women's fiction! We can't wait to see those entries!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Motivate yourself to do anything with Habitica

A few weeks ago, I found myself less than enthused about once again washing dishes. Or replying to emails. Or doing just about anything except lying on the couch watching Downton Abbey on Netflix. But, alas, I had fired my housemaid (she was stealing pearls), and my executive assistant was on vacation (the ingrate--can you believe she wants a week off every year?), so I had to get off my rear and get some things done.

Whilst my elbows were dripping with suds, I concocted an app I'd love to have: a "game" that awards you xp and levels you up based on marking things off your to-do list. Confession: I'm a gamer girl at heart, even if I haven't had time to game since before the toddler was born.

An inquiry (also know as a tweet) gave me a few likely candidates, and after test running them for you (yes, I do this all for you, our loyal readers), I decided that MY LIFE IS NOW COMPLETE. The app we all need to start using is...

Look at me, in all my mage glory:

That's right, I'm wearing my badass mage suit, riding a Shade Flying Pig, and standing behind my Skeleton Bear pet. (The ZZZ over my head is because I camped in the Tavern overnight, which I'll get to in a minute.)

There are a ton of features that I haven't even dipped into yet, like guilds, parties, quests, boss fights. But even without those things, this app gave me exactly what I needed. It works like this:

You assign yourself tasks based on one of three categories: Habits, Dailies, and To-Dos.

  • Habits are things you want to do over and over throughout the day/week (i.e. drink a glass of water, write X words). The more you do it, the less xp you get but the more gold you get. They turn from yellow to green to greener to blue the more often you do them. You can also schedule stuff you don't want to do and give yourself a "-" every time you do it, which knocks off health.
  • Dailies are things you want to do on a regularly scheduled basis (i.e. floss your teeth every day, review/update your short story submission spreadsheet once a week). If you don't check it off, you'll take a hit of damage overnight. If you want to preserve your dailies, you can camp in the Tavern. I usually don't, but right now I'm having some health issues & can't get to all my chores.
  • To-Dos are one-time things that you need to get done. You can assign a due date or leave it blank. The longer something sits on the To-Do list, the more xp you get for getting it done, but it also turns an angry shade of red. And then an angrier one. *guilty look*

How you use this is completely up to you. Maybe you want to write 1,000 words every day, so you could make that a Daily. For me, I made it a Habit since I go in spurts where I write/revise intensely over a few weeks and then take a break.

For each task, you add how difficult the task is, which governs how much xp you get: Trivial, Easy, Medium, Hard. I try to stay with Easy and Medium. (And why do they even have Trivial? "Ate 1 grape." "Washed one dish." But I suppose it has its use--I won't discourage you from using it!)

Another great feature is that you can add categories. So I have a bunch of Writing tasks, Chore tasks, Morrigan (the toddler) tasks, Adulting tasks, etc. Then if I want to check off getting 1,000 words written, I open my Writing Habits and come up with three tasks instead of a long list:

For me, motivation comes by having a list I can use to ensure I'm am not forgetting important stuff and by getting to click that big old "+" sign when I'm done. However, as I mentioned earlier, there are options for socializing for those who benefit from a boost from their friends. I'd love to figure out parties someday and maybe go on some of the quests I've accumulated, but I've kept myself too busy to get to that yet!

I know for sure that Habitica is available on their website and as an Android app. I don't have an iPhone, so I don't know if it's available there, but I would be quite surprised if it wasn't. Go check it out. I'll wait.

*waits patiently*

There are things I'd like to see added to the app, primarily the ability to see what I've already checked off in my Habits and what I haven't. (I suspect I've double-credited myself for doing things more than once.) The website also has more features than the app, but I carry my phone everywhere, so I'm rarely on the website. I'd like to see some of the website features added to the app, but still, it's great how it is now and serves my purposes.

We all struggle with motivation sometimes, and this just gives me a boost to get things done. When I get off track (like this week, with my back problems), it helps me focus myself to get things under control. You can use it for writing or chores or whatever it is you need motivation for.

Tell me in the comments -- Have you ever used an app like this before?

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Meet C. Solet in this Debut Author Spotlight

Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6

Greetings, OA readers! I have interviewed a very ambitious debut author this Wednesday. Please welcome C. Solet.

So, tell us, what is your main character’s most admirable quality?

I try to give each of my main female characters the ability to go out and get what they want, even if perhaps it's scary or outside of her comfort zone. I also try to make sure my main female characters are comfortable in their skin, no matter how their skin might look. I have enough body issues in my life; I don't need to drag down readers with them. And amazingly, focusing on body-positive imagery in my stories is helping me focus on it in my life. So there's that little side benefit to this endeavor of mine - increased confidence, for the win!

Increased confidence is always wonderful.
What is the most memorable trait or visual oddity of one of your characters? (Example: Lou's mother never sitting down in Me Before You (June's Operation Awesome Book of the Month), or Harry Potter's lightning bolt scar.)

I'm not certain if it's memorable, but so far all of my main female characters are big, beautiful women. I am a tall woman with ample curves, and of all the romance and erotica I have consumed, precious little of it portrays women of a larger size in a positive light. I believe all body shapes can be beautiful, and it's important for me to note that in my writing.

Is there any other diversity or underrepresented ideas featured in your book?

Not particularly, not at this point. That may change as time goes on, but my experiences influence my writing, and my socioeconomic status doesn't give me a lot of diversity in my life to use. I am not adverse to writing diversity or underrepresented ideas, but it is critical to me to be authentic. As I develop as a writer, I hope to be able to work more on this aspect of my writing. Right now, though, it's fun, it's fast, and yes, I expect people to be masturbating while reading.

Is there any charitable organization that is close to your heart?

While National Novel Writing Month (formerly The Office of Letters and Light) offers structure, community, and encouragement instead of funding, I have to list it. It has been an invaluable resource in my development as a writer, along with the friends I have made along the way. I would encourage anyone who has ever thought they have a story in them to give writing a 50,000-word novel during one of the dreariest weather months of the year along with thousands of other humans a chance. It is an enormous amount of fun.

That it is! I, too, love partaking in NaNo. 
How do your stories stand out from others in your genre?

I'm not certain this qualifies, but I'm focused on safe sex in my stories. In erotica (I have heard from some) it is to be assumed that the sex is safe unless the application of prophylactics moves the plot forward. I say, f*** it. Sex without protection in some form is unsafe, so I mention it. Sometimes frequently. More than once I mention the lack of it and have my characters deal with the consequences. I seem to be making an effort to be certain that everything is purposeful.

I think that's admirable.
Now here's a tough question. As a reader, what most motivates you to buy a new book to read?

Let's assume that all books are free, because the honest truth is that cost can eclipse all other interests at this point in my life. Once all books are on that level playing field, recommendations from friends motivate me to purchase new books. It helps if I know the friend, and they are recommending a book they've written, but a friend who loves a book will drive me to that book faster than a cattle drover in a particular Aussie epic.

For your author debut, you stacked the shelves with several books almost overnight. Can readers expect that same level of enthusiastic publication to continue?

Well, I certainly hope so! I am currently (although it hasn't always been the case) of the opinion that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to do. And right now, I have set my mind to write at least one short story a week, even though I am definitely capable of more. Especially now that I've got the whole "formatting for Smashwords" thing under my belt. My most recent story, "In the Stacks", is begging me to go back to it and engage its characters Shelbi and Sawyers for more fun.

What was the deciding factor in your publication route? 

Frankly, it's a control thing. Right now, I want to be in control of my work, where it gets distributed, how it looks, how it reads, everything. I don't mind being responsible for all of my marketing, proofing, and design. I enjoy those things separately from my writing life, and so it's easy to turn to self-publishing. I am working under the umbrella of the independent publisher, Ivey Books, but I am doing all the work myself. It's a good arrangement. I'm not excluding the possibility of writing for other publishers, or for trying traditional publishing at some point, but I'm not searching out those opportunities right now. I'm certain when the time is right events will unfold as they should.

As your books are classified as erotica, what "heat level" should readers expect? 
1- Just above romance, 2- Some dabbling in fetishes, 3- Plenty of spicy scenes on nearly every page, 4- Do NOT try this at home without an experienced partner, 5- Even the Dom's will be taking notes.

That's an odd scale that feels (to me) less like an incline and more like the middle of a roller coaster. If I might present my own:
1: Romance with "fade to black" sexual encounters
2: Romance with plot-driven, possibly graphic sexual encounters that will not offend the mainstream, "vanilla" reader
3: Romance with gratuitous, graphic sexual encounters and adult language, may offend "vanilla" readers
4: Erotica with extreme sexual encounters and language that will offend "vanilla" readers and appeal mostly to specific kinks
With the erotic romance I have published so far, I probably rank somewhere between my two and a three (currently leaning towards the two). For me, it feels like plenty of spice. Like a lovely, kettle-cooked jalapeno chip, but not ghost pepper heat. I'm capable of hotter stuff, but I'm just getting some things I've been carrying around for a while washed out of my head. As I grow more comfortable with my characters, the heat will likely increase.

Anything else you would care to share about your book (an excerpt or blurb) and yourself (short bio, social media)?

Well, since you asked. :)
"Friends and Lovers"
It's taken Ami a while to get back into the swing of things after her husband left her. But when she finally finds the nerve to go to dinner with friends, she proves to herself that she's not ready for this "functional adult" thing by confessing her true feelings for her friend, Alec.
Humiliated, Ami retreats, full speed ahead. But there's someone out looking for her, and he wants to prove that he can be the man she needs in her life, and in her bed.
Friends and Lovers is an erotic romance that wonders if losing control of your tongue can sometimes be the best path to opening your eyes.

If you enjoyed the blurb, and you haven't already read any of my stories, and you find at this point perhaps you might like to, allow me to make it easier on your wallet! Use coupon code "TC76V" at to purchase "Friends and Lovers" for the low, low price of $0.00. (Psst...tell your friends.)

C. Solet is a hopeless romantic with a lusty streak, quick to both fall in love and to forgive. She writes the characters she wants to be; the ones not afraid to face their fears to get what they want. She is driven to share her fantasies, pushing them into other people's brains, hoping they can enjoy them as much as she does. She also suspects she may have been named after something that appeared on a billboard that one time. She can be found online on Twitter (@csolet_pen) and all her stories are on display at her website (

Thank you so much, C, for agreeing to be my first debut author in this spotlight.
- J

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Find Your Writing Tribe

The business of writing books is a tough industry to be in. It's tough to finish an entire book, for starters. It's tough to query--rejections can be soul-crushing, making it hard to pick yourself up and keep going. It's tough to be on submission to publishers. It's tough to self-publish!

What keeps me going through all the rough spots is my writing tribe. These are friends I've made along the way that I know are willing to listen to me vent, or will help me workshop my query, or read the ending of my book one more time to make sure I've really nailed it. Every friendship is different; some of them read my whole manuscript for me, some help me with pitches and query letters, others bounce ideas off me and let me do the same.

As I was reflecting on my writer friends and how I came to establish ties with all of them, I realized that they were all people who supported me publicly, and in turn who I supported publicly. Sometimes a couple of RTs on a #PitMad day were all it took to become friends. During the last NaNoWriMo, several of my friends on Facebook would cheer each other on every night as we wrote. When NaNo was over, we decided to keep the good vibes rolling by forming a private Facebook group where we could continue to share writing insights, challenge each other to writing sprints, and keep each other posted on where we were in the revision process. The strength I get from them is amazing.

I couldn't survive this writing journey without the help of my writer friends. I encourage you to support others in their writing, from complimenting a Twitter pitch to shouting about their books as much as you can. If you want to add more people to your tribe, look to those that already support you, and reach out to them. Ask for help when you need it. Keep yourself sane on this stressful wonderful journey!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Meet the Illustrator: Donelle Lacy

Hello, everyone!

I'm Donelle, newest member of Operation Awesome, and giddy first-timer to a group blog. (Yay!)

I'm an illustrator and sci-fi/fantasy author. I love connecting online and in person with readers, writers, and creators alike. My favorite creative partners include writers, gamers, artists, and imaginative people from pretty much anywhere.

Armed with an MFA in Illustration, I draw images suitable for children's books (including YA and middle-grade covers), coloring books, and graphic novels. The project I'm currently shopping around is an ocean-themed fantasy coloring book entitled Dangerous Sea which depicts scenes of adventure, danger, and beauty of the deep in a graphic novel/comic book style.

I write historical fantasy YA and short stories. I've also fallen heavily in love with flash fiction, marrying it to a steampunk experiment I like to call The Adventures of Captain Trav. These Trav nuggets show up from time-to-time in the Flash Fiction Challenge on the Absolute Write forums. Once I spruce them up, I'm sure you'll see them other places too.

Mild-mannered alter ego: 
Most creative folk have a day job that brings in a steady paycheck while they do work on the side. I'm blessed that mine is being a library clerk. While in this job, I've fed on fantasy YA and any strange and unusual darlings hugging the shelf. A few of my favorite authors are Terry Pratchett, Frances Hardinge, and Catherynne Valente. I've been known to abuse the #amreading tag on twitter. If you do too, feel free to hit me up.

I'm a former PK (preacher's kid) of an Apostolic Pentecostal minister who was also a history teacher. I was born and now live in Ohio, but my family traveled many states during my father's ministry. Each of my siblings was born in a different state. Since my dad passed, my growing, tight-knit family now includes several nephews, one yappy, small dog, and a few longsuffering cats. I love different styles of music, starry skies, wintry nights, Lapsang Souchong tea, wintergreen Canada mints, and any means of stepping into a fictional world.

You can stop by my personal blog A Little Dversion
Find me on Twitter
on Instagram
and also my Illustration website

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Greetings and Salutations from J Lenni Dorner

Hello, Operation Awesome fans! I'm J. (It's like Jay, but without the superfluous "ay.") I'm from the Lenni Lenape tribe of Native Americans. (Lenape is pronounced “Leh-NAH-pay.") I'll be running the Debut Author Spotlight on Wednesdays.

I write speculative fiction (which is what happens when fantasy, sci-fi, and horror make a baby... and, in my case, Nanny Lore raises that baby). The name of my website,, came from the question I intend my readers to ponder.

I also wrote a reference book for writers. It sprang from a conversation where a friend asked me what an agent meant by "settings that feel like characters." Years of being a DM in RPs gave me significant insight. By the time I got to the end of the explanation, there was the basis of a book (and a month of blog posts for the A to Z challenge). It's a book about preparing to write settings that feel like characters. It is NOT about how to write settings, or how to write characters, or a manual on what to do once you’ve fleshed this particular type of character out.

Silhouette image of @JLenniDorner
I consider gender to be among the least interesting facts about a person, which is why I don’t care to use pronouns for myself. The religion I grew up around in Lancaster County, PA, prohibits photography of people. Here's a silhouette of me by a tree, which is where I prefer to be. (I have hugged many trees. Literally, I have walked up to large trees and hugged them. Side note- be careful when hugging a maple.)

Introduction posts are HARD! Here's an "about me" that sprang up from the OA Mad Libs post.
J Lenni Dorner is a fantasy author who has written about everything from immortality to sociable dragons and has won publication in the Philadelphia Inquirer for an essay about summer. J is happily married and living in Pennsylvania. The author was a student at PSU and has enjoyed spelunking in Crystal Cave, drinking Yogi tea, and horseback riding with some Lenni Lenape elders. J aspires to become the first novelist to write a book while living in a submarine under the waters of Lake Erie.

I'd love to connect with you online.
WHAT-ARE-THEY is the website of J Lenni DornerPlease visit the blog of J Lenni DornerFollow @JLenniDorner on Twitter please WhatAreThey is J Lenni Dorner's Facebook fan page so please Like it Follow JLenniDorner on Pinterest please Follow and friend J Lenni Dorner on Goodreads please Please visit the author page of J Lenni Dorner on Amazon Please visit author J Lenni Dorner on Smashwords Become a NaNoWriMo buddy J Lenni Dorner please Please find J Lenni Dorner on BookTropolousSocial Please add Author J Lenni Dorner on G+ Google Plus Please visit J Lenni Dorner on Quotes RainPlease connect with J Lenni Dorner on LinkedIn Please follow J Lenni Dorner on Tumblr Find J Lenni Dorner on AboutMe

FAQ page for Debut Authors:

If you're a debut author who is ready to be interviewed, get in touch with me! If you're anyone else, tell me about your favorite ice-cream.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Tuesday Museday gets stabbed in the back

Betrayal is a fascinating subject to write about, due to the fact that there are so many different ways people (and therefore characters) react to it. Including a surprise betrayal in your manuscript can be a brilliant plot point, but it is also a great opportunity to show your character's emotions. Betrayals can range in their degree of severity; they aren't always huge things.

This week, try including a betrayal of some kind in your MS. Put some thought into how each of your characters would choose to react, whether it's curl into a ball and retreat or lash out at others.

I have time this week to do a few query letter or Twitter pitch critiques, so if you'd like fresh eyes on yours, please let me know in the comments! #PitMad is this Thursday; if you want your Twitter pitch critiqued in time to use it for that, let me know!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

May 2016 #OABookClub: Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

Welcome back! In May and in honor of our MG Pass or Pages, the members of Operation Awesome read Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt.


I hate to say that I was disappointed by Tuck Everlasting. I was so excited by the premise; immortality in any shape or form is guaranteed to catch my attention, but I felt that so much of this premise was wasted. Not only were the Tucks super boring, they were wasting immortality! They could have done so much with their longevity, and instead they just spent it in hiding. I much prefer the way the vampires in Twilight, for example, spend their eternity: learning new languages and skills, and helping the community.

I wanted much more exploration of what immortality meant to the characters. I liked the older brother’s sadness at the loss of his family, and I wanted to know more about how immortality affected the other members of the Tuck family. Apparently it turned the younger brother into a perv; the way he treated 10-year-old Winnie made my skin crawl. I’m glad that in the end, she chose not to drink the magical water.

The prose was beautiful, I will say that. But overall, I would prefer a lot more action in place of so much description.


Ever since watching the movie as a teen, I have been wanting to read this book. When it popped up at a library sale for 25 cents, I swiped it up as quick as I could! Now I wonder why it took me so long to read it!

The poetry of the words alone is worth the read! The overarching theme of the wheel of time and interdependence of life, and the clever descriptions also make it deep, thought-provoking, and entertaining. The toad may have been my favorite character. Isn't he just like Tuck himself? Very touching ending.

I do think if I read this as a child I would not have appreciated the ending, but I certainly do now, as a mother. To be frozen at 17 seems an awful curse when I think how much joy I'd have missed without aging through motherhood. Very thought-provoking.


I didn't love this book, nor did I hate it. It was kind of meh, but then again, I don't read much MG. When I do, I have an eye toward whether I think my 21-month-old will eventually like it. I think she will, but I found it slow going, especially the beginning. The descriptions dragged on and I kept wanting them to get to the point. And, to be honest, I still don't get why the Tucks kidnapped a little girl, but she did get to have a nice adventure, so there's that.

The one thing bothered me was the promise of gaining immortality at seventeen. I know that as a ten-year-old, seventeen seemed like the perfect age: so grown-up, but not ancient and withered like my parents. (And I had my daughter three years later than my mom had me--yikes!) But as an adult, stopping growth at seventeen seems horrifying, unless emotional growth keeps going.

I'll take immortality in my late twenties, please and thank you.


June's Operation Awesome Book of the Month

In June, we're reading Me Before You by JoJo Moyes.

Lou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick.

What Lou doesn't know is she's about to lose her job or that knowing what's coming is what keeps her sane.

Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he's going to put a stop to that.

What Will doesn't know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they're going to change the other for all time.

Come back on Friday, July 1, to discuss what you thought of the book!

#LesMisRead2016 Update from Samantha

I'm finally all caught up again, although it helped that I skimmed the chapter on the nuns. I might have paid more attention if it was a real order of nuns, but apparently Hugo decided to make them up, according to the translator's note before the book. It was a little bit weird, to be honest, and almost seemed like he was projecting some kind of fantasy onto these fictional women, but maybe I'm being unkind.

On the whole, I'm liking the actual story. Cosette's story is heart-breaking, and I'm so glad that Jean Valjean rescued her. She didn't deserve all the horrible things those people did to her. It was a little mean of him to use Madame T-whatever to keep her quiet when they were being chased by the police, although I understand why he did it. But there's still more than half the book remaining, so I imagine (or, well, hope!) that their troubles aren't over.

Thanks for stopping by. Let us know what you thought of Tuck Everlasting in the comments!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Wednesday Debut Interview: THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN ME IS YOU by Lily Anderson

Time for another Wednesday Debut interview! Today we're chatting with Lily Anderson, debut author of the new YA contemporary novel, THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN ME IS YOU.

First off, tell us a bit about yourself! What's one thing people might not expect about you?
Oh, hello! I’m Lily Anderson. I’m an elementary school librarian from Northern California. I’m mixed race, deep voiced, and a part-time potty mouth. I hate the word “foodie,” but I do love all things relating to cooking and baking. Growing up, I was an incurable musical theater geek and am still a bit snobby about it, even though late-in-life stage fright keeps me from performing anymore. I have 2 showtune lyric tattoos, one from Bat Boy and one from Once On This Island—both written by composers who went on to have much bigger, more noteworthy shows.

How would you describe THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN ME IS YOU in one sentence?
Genius teens fall in love, read comics, and solve a mystery.

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? How many novels had you written prior to this?
I started the first draft of THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN ME IS YOU in 2013 while a New Adult novel I’d written (my second completed novel) was being rejected by every literary agent in the business. I wanted to write something fun and just for me, so I decided to try retelling my favorite play. When it was done and polished, I sent it out to 4 literary agents. I didn’t want to get my hopes up again. But all 4 agents ended up requesting the book. I signed with Laura Zats the last week of January 2014. St. Martin’s Press made an offer on the manuscript on my twenty-sixth birthday on December 15, 2014. After a rewrite, 2 title changes (I’m dreadful at titles), copy edits, and a lot of waiting, the book came out on May 17, 2016! It’s been a long three years, but totally worth it.

I definitely consider myself a Whovian/Browncoat and love the idea of two teens bonding over shared fandoms. Are there any of your own experiences as a fan that served as inspiration for parts of the book?
Well, I’m definitely deep into many different fandoms, most of which are represented in TOTWTMIY. I’ve been a huge Joss Whedon fan since middle school when Buffy was wrapping up and I started catching it in syndication. Loving Whedon led me to comics—between his run of Astonishing X-Men and, later, Buffy Season 8. Of course, I’m ride or die with Harry Potter. I read Sorcerer’s Stone the year it was released in America and then kept up all the way through to the end, including working at Barnes And Noble during the release parties for Half Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows (dressed as Luna Lovegood for both—go Ravenclaw!).

Fandom is a beautiful thing, allowing so many people of different backgrounds to come together over something they love. But there’s also the nasty gatekeeping aspect, the idea that one person is more deserving of the fan culture than another. And there’s a healthy dose of that unpleasantness in the book because I think it takes a while to learn that it’s nice just to share your enthusiasm, rather than use it as a trump card.

What character from this book did you most enjoy writing?
Ben West, the main male character and occasional antagonist, was my favorite character to write. He was never without something to say, usually a quote or a scathing comeback. As someone who was 100% a teacher’s pet in school, it’s a delight to dabble in class clowning.

Every writer experiences some rejection and setbacks along the way. How did you learn to cope with them and move on?
I queried my first novel when I was nineteen—back when query letters and all manuscript requests had to be sent by mail! The rejections were slow, but firm. The book wasn’t ready. I hadn’t done enough research. It was definitely too long! So, I wrote something else. A New Adult novel when New Adult had a name but wasn’t as defined as it is now. And again, I got tons of rejections, this time with more positivity. I was told that the book was good and it was fun but it didn’t fit into any one category enough to be marketable.

I cried and I ranted and I railed, of course. It hurts to be rejected. But the main takeaway from all of those rejections was that this is a business. Be businesslike. Do your research. Know your category and your genre (and know that there’s a difference!).

Read, read, read and then write, write, write. You wouldn’t bake your first cake and then try to sell it for a hundred dollars. The same thing is true with your book. You can’t sell your first draft and you wouldn’t want to! Make it the absolute best you can do, give it to someone else, and have them tell you how it could be better. Present your best self to everyone in the industry, starting with the best manuscript you can deliver.

How did you find your publisher? What makes them a good fit for you and your book?
My absolutely incredible agent, Laura Zats, sent the manuscript to St. Martin’s Press through a connection at our literary agency. We’d been on submission for about six months. I had already written a new YA novel and was ready to put TOTWTMIY on the back burner. While Laura was submitting the book, I asked to not be told where she was sending it out unless we got an offer on it. I knew from looking for literary agents that I didn’t have the stomach to put a name to the rejections. So, when she emailed me to say that Sylvan Creekmore at St. Martin’s Press was interested in having me revise the manuscript, I was floored. I think the first thing I said was, “St. Martin’s Press like RAINBOW ROWELL’S St. Martin’s Press?!”

But it was just a revise and resubmit, so Laura told me not to get my hope up too high. I got an editorial letter from Sylvan. She totally understood the heart of the story—the friendships, the fandom, the kissing—but she really cracked open the manuscript, shining a light on characters that had been too much in the background. I wrote the revision and was ready to wait for months to hear back but it was only a few weeks before we had an offer on the table. I’ve never looked back. Every step of the way, the entire team at St. Martin’s has been so incredible.—even when my emails are nonsense and emoticons.

I love the comic-book feel of your cover. Who's the artist? How much say did you have in it?
Elsie Lyons designed the cover. Isn’t it wonderful? I didn’t have a say in the cover, which was fine by me because I would have had no idea where to start! It appeared in my inbox the same as you see it now, a perfect balance of classic YA romance and Lichtenstein. I can’t wait to hang a copy in my office.

Tell us about the title: THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN ME IS YOU. Was this the original title you'd had in mind? If not, what made you change it?
The original title was THE MERRY WAR, based on the quote that’s now the epigraph of the book from the first scene of Much Ado About Nothing, “There is a kind of merry war betwixt Signor Benedick and her. They never meet but there’s a skirmish of wit between them.” Admittedly, it’s not the catchiest title, but it captured the essence of what I wanted to come across in the story. When I signed with St. Martin’s, my editor suggested ALL OUR BAD PARTS, based on the Much Ado quote, “For which of my bad parts didst thou first fall in love with me?” But we tried it out for a few weeks and found that it was kind of mushy when said out loud. It ended up sounding more like Aller Bad-Parts. We knew we wanted something that evoked the same sort of feeling as 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU, punchy and fun.

I made a long list of alternate titles, some dreadful (Tricksy Trixie comes to mind) and some boring (The Mess). THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN ME IS YOU was the last on the list with a note that it could be switched around to The Only Thing Worse Than You Is Me. But Sylvan really loved the less self-deprecating version and we took it to the marketing department for clearance! Poof! New title. (Although I do still mentally call it Merry War out of habit. Shh! Don’t tell anyone!)

What's next for you after this book debuts? Have you started working on another book?
While TOTWTMIY was on submission, I wrote the first book in a mystery series that I’ve been chomping at the bit to share with the world. I’m also working another book about nerdy geniuses set at a summer camp.

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?
I honestly still haven’t quite wrapped my head around the idea that people are reading my book! Even after months of having friends and editors and blurb-ers read it and then moving onto those who had ARCs, I’m kind of shocked every time someone talks about these characters. I can’t help but think, “But wait! I made them up! Who told you about all these people I made up?” It’s very cool, but very strange. Hopefully I’ll adjust to it soon. So far, I haven’t heard from many teen readers. And while I love my grown up YA readers (solidarity, friends!), I’m truly looking forward to the book finding its audience with the teen nerds I wrote it for.

My launch party will be at A Great Good Place For Books in Oakland, California on May 21 at 7pm. I’ll also be making appearances at Barnes And Noble’s Teen Festival in Emeryville, CA on June 10 at 7pm and Roseville, California on June 11 at 12pm.

Is there any other advice you'd like to pass on to others pursuing publication? Anything you would have done differently?
To everyone on the road to publication: make friends! The writer community is so, so, so cool. Talk to other writers. Writing itself can be so solitary and isolating. Talking to other people who have been there really does make a difference. I joined the debut author’s group The Sweet Sixteens because I had NO IDEA how to build a social media platform. And then those folks ended up being invaluable, not only as part of this new business I’m in but as friends.

Fellow writers will hold you up when you stumble and cheer you on when you succeed. They’ll tell you that it’s totally normal to feel jealous and insecure at times. They’ll drag you out of your writer’s block. And they’ll send you some real rad swag.

And, just for fun: what comic book characters would Trixie and Ben cosplay together and why?
Oh my goodness. That’s the best question! Trixie and Ben would go through a very long list of people they could cosplay—Rogue and Gambit come to mind since Trixie deeply believes that she looks like 90s Rogue and Ben speaks French. They’d also make a very convincing 10th Doctor and Donna.

But at the end of the day, I think they’d both want to be in the Spider-Verse. Ben would be Peter Parker’s Spiderman and Trixie would be Spider-Gwen. Head canon established.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Pass Or Pages Lessons

Guys, I love Pass Or Pages. I learn so much every time, both from the behind-the-scenes stuff I do and what you guys see on the blog. The agents that participate in Pass Or Pages aren't compensated in any way except the satisfaction of helping people write better queries, and the possibility of finding a gem in our entries. Agents aren't the bad guy gatekeepers. They love authors, and books, and want to help those books find homes. I love working with them to bring this contest to you. I also love all those that entered. You are brave, and I admire you.

Here's what I learned this time around:

  • At least three entrants misspelled the title of their book when filling out our form. Guys, precision is key when entering a contest: It's like practicing querying for real. So I guess what I learned is that while typos may not be the end-all-be-all, they do create a first impression. Spoiler alert: It is not a good one.

  • At least one person who I critiqued through Tuesday Museday entered, and I could see how much their query improved from the first time I saw it. I'm not saying it was my feedback; I am saying that in general, feedback works and you CAN improve. How great is that!?

  • Every time we do this, I relearn the lesson that taste is subjective. What one person thinks is boring or overdone, another person will think is clever and fun. You MUST query widely to improve your odds of finding the right person to champion your work.

  • There are clear differences between MG and YA, and trying to blend the two doesn't seem to work. Know the differences between the categories, and use them as you write to help define your work.

  • Similarly, don't make an agent have to work to figure out what genre your work is in. If it's contemporary, fantasy, mystery, whatever--make it clear.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Introducing Our New Operatives!

A few weeks ago we advertised for new bloggers to join the Operation Awesome team. We had several people apply; they made it really tough to narrow it down to two people. We're so grateful to those who applied, and hope they'll consider applying again in the future.

We're very excited to have two new members of the team. They'll introduce themselves in the next few weeks, but for now we can tell you who they are!

J Lenni Dorner
will conduct the Wednesday Debut Interview feature. If you or a friend has a book coming out this year, please reach out to J! We'd love to have you on Operation Awesome.

Donelle Lacy
  is our new weekly blogger, covering Mondays. We look forward to reading her thoughts (and seeing her artwork; seriously, it's amazing!).

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Why Write a Picture Book?

Some amazingly successful picture books seem to be created on a whim or as art for the sake of art. Dr. Seuss wrote Green Eggs and Ham to win a bet, which apparently never paid out. Good thing the book did! It is still his best-selling work. 

David Weisner's reason for creating the winning picture book Art and Max was to explore and capture the creative process.

But Dr. Seuss was a writer (in advertising until his breakthrough into children's publishing)...

and David Weisner is an award-winning artist!

It's fascinating to read about the very strong reasons regular people feel drawn to the picture book format. 

For instance, there's Nicholeen Peck.
Her bio:
Nicholeen Peck is a mother of four and previous foster parent of many. She has been trained and certified in using the “Teaching Family Model”, which was developed at Boys Town and is used by the Utah Youth Village. Nicholeen did foster care for very difficult teens. She taught children with ADHD, OCD, kleptomania, compulsive lying, anger control issues, etc.
Would you believe she's written an entire manual for families on teaching self-government in addition to four beautiful picture books that reinforce what she calls the Four Basic Skills?

available here

People inspired by a sense of mission write picture books for a different reason than whim or artistic passion. Undoubtedly Nicholeen Peck would agree with Dr. Seuss when he said:
"Children’s reading and children’s thinking are the rock-bottom base upon which this country will rise. Or not rise. In these days of tension and confusion, writers are beginning to realize that books for children have a greater potential for good or evil than any other form of literature on Earth."

Sarah looked up from her piano music and saw Jessica through her window. 
Bolting outside, Sarah caught up with her neighbor. "Hi Jessica! Can you play?" 

 A sense of mission is what's brought me to the endeavor of picture book writing. And my first picture book is not likely to break any records or win any awards, despite my illustrator's obvious talent (see the gorgeous black-and-white sketch above). But that's okay, because my story isn't art for the sake of art. It is art for the sake of change.

My story is about a little girl and her homeschooling family, and the opportunities they find for growth and connection as they look around their community and see the needs of others. Specifically, it's about a family who looks to their community's deep historic roots and considers starting something new, a commonwealth for cultural enrichment, to strengthen those roots, even as the great branches of the community tree continue to spread outward to the bigger cities surrounding it. I'm writing it to explain my vision for a new commonwealth we're building in our area. I hope when parents in our community read it to their children, they'll feel a sense of loss and longing for the connectivity we've long-since outsourced to technology and big institutional programs. I hope to stir up some of the nostalgia that brought many of my friends to these small towns in the first place, and to remind them what we're capable of when we come together to share our most personal passions and talents with one another on a collaborative, volunteer basis.

That's my why.

What's yours? Have you ever felt inspired to write a picture book that would reach the rising generation? What would you say if you had to say it in pictures and less than 1000 words?

Friday, May 27, 2016

May Pass Or Pages Entry #5

Welcome to our feedback reveal for Pass Or Pages. In this contest, randomly chosen entries were critiqued by our agent panel. We hope it will give everyone a sense of what is going on in an agent's head as they read queries and first pages. We're so grateful to the members of the agent panel who gave their time to provide feedback on these entries. We'd also like to thank the entrants. It's hard to put yourself out there. Thanks for being brave!

Entry #5: WORST VILLAIN EVER (36,000 words)


When twelve-year-old George Pruwell finally gets admitted to the Academy of Villainy and Wrongdoing, he has big plans of making his family proud. Unfortunately George is anything but villainous. So to secure a slot in the school's best roster of classes and prove himself worthy of his family's wonderfully terrible villainy [RW1] name, he takes on a nearly impossible assignment: defeat Captain Perfecto, the world's best superhero.

Now, George has to figure out how one too-nice-villain-in-training can defeat the most impressive superhero of all time. And when Perfecto turns out to have some seriously big problems of his own, George must choose to follow his instincts and help the superhero or crush him and become the most villainous Pruwell ever.

The Incredibles meets Despicable Me [RW2] in this 36,000 word story for kids [RW3] who love comics and capes. I'd be delighted if you would consider WORST VILLAIN EVER for publication [RW4] .
Moe's notes:
[MF] So this sounds absolutely adorable. There are a lot of books with similar premises (either heroes in school or villains in school) so you need to do what you can to make yours stand out as different and unique!

Roseanne's notes:
[RW1] This isn’t really necessary.
[RW2] Great comp titles.
[RW3] MG book for readers
[RW4] Representation, not publication.
[RW] The query looks pretty good. Nice use of specifics without giving too much away, doesn’t read like a synopsis, and gives us the character, conflict, and choice of the story.

Emily's notes:
[EK] This feels like it has been done?


If the Pruwell family villains were a perfectly groomed head of hair, twelve-year-old George would be the cowlick that kept sticking out no matter how much spit was firmly applied.

In yet another attempt to reverse this unfortunate reality, today George peered out his second-floor window wearing his Mastermind Magnifying Goggles. With those bad boys on, he could see the yellow centers of Ms. Wutherford's daisies all the way across the street. But George was far less interested in the daisies than in what would hopefully be his first successful villainous trick.

He zeroed in on the location of the tripwire stake next to the sidewalk and saw nothing. Excellent. He’d perfected an invisible tripwire using Gloss Over-It to cover Rule Number One of High Villainy: Don’t get caught.

The thought of someone tripping and landing in a glorious pile of limbs and scattered papers should make George smile with anticipation. It was a classic. Any self-respecting villain would be rubbing his hands together. Perhaps even cackling maniacally. Instead, George felt like he had swallowed a dozen white mice from a mad scientist’s laboratory.

Chewing a thumbnail, he turned his gaze north. Mike Kahn was coasting down the sidewalk on his skateboard as he did every night.
Moe's notes:
[MK] I love the various inventions through out and how much we’ve learned about George in just a few paragraphs. I think there’s something weird going on in paragraph 3 and I can’t tell if there’s a few missing words in there. In spite of that, this sounds like a lot of fun. Please email the first 50 pages and synopsis to MFsubmissions (at) bookendsliterary (dot) com, with the subject OPERATION AWESOME and the submission pasted in the body of the email.

Roseanne's notes:
[RW1] This metaphor isn’t working because it requires too much explanation, and doesn’t really help us visualize that much. And it seems like a different voice than the rest of the text.
[RW2] This voice sounds like an adult, but not on purpose.
[RW3] Again, a little overwrought.
[RW] The story sounds great, but the narrative is overly wordy, even with the narrator’s voice styling, and the metaphors need to be simpler and snappier. I’m also not sure why we are starting in this place, but it might become more obvious after the 250. I would read pages with revisions.


Moe Ferrara: PAGES!
Roseanne Wells: PASS
Emily Keyes: PASS

Thursday, May 26, 2016

May Pass Or Pages Entry #4

Welcome to our feedback reveal for Pass Or Pages. In this contest, randomly chosen entries were critiqued by our agent panel. We hope it will give everyone a sense of what is going on in an agent's head as they read queries and first pages. We're so grateful to the members of the agent panel who gave their time to provide feedback on these entries. We'd also like to thank the entrants. It's hard to put yourself out there. Thanks for being brave!

Entry #4: VAMPIRE MASK (?? words [MF1] [RW1])


Piper is a thirteen-year-old vampire. [MF2]

Unless you ask her mom. [RW2] [EK1] To Mom, she’s an adorable thirteen-year-old daughter who was diagnosed with lupus—right after she lost her father to complications from lupus.

But in Piper’s mind, she’s a vegetarian vampire, waiting for her magic powers to come in. [RW3] She can’t go in the sun, she has to watch what she eats, she’s tired and hurting all the time and she can’t hang out on the beach with her friends [RW4] . It leaves her feeling very alone in a sea of sun-kissed people. Thank goodness for her mom and older brother, who refuse to “lose her to the dark side”. [MF3] [RW5]

And then she meets Devon, a homeless boy trying to feed his little sister by dumpster diving. In Piper’s eyes, he’s even weirder than she is, but her curiosity is piqued, and an unlikely friendship is formed. While Piper struggles to hold on to her mask—refusing to admit she has an incurable disease—Devon disappears and her “vampire powers” almost get her killed while she’s trying to find him. It takes the strength of a mother’s love and a brother’s unwavering support to pull her out from behind her “vampire mask” and into the sun once more. [RW6]
Moe's notes:
[MF1] What's the word count?
[MF2] Vampires. Why did it have to be vampires? /Indiana Jones reference. Not the agent for vampires and I would stop here.
[MF3] I’m having a hard time with these two paragraphs. Her family doesn’t want to lose her to the dark side, but in the paragraph above it feels like her mom doesn’t know she’s a vampire.
[MF] What are the stakes? (No pun intended!) This feels rather quiet to me from the query.

Roseanne's notes:
[RW1] I don’t see the category or the word count.
[RW2] I like this switch. It sets you up to think it’s paranormal, but then it makes it a coping mechanism.
[RW3] This should come after what she can’t do because it’s the result of her “logic” that she’s a vampire.
[RW4] This is repetitive of going out in the sun. If you want to emphasize that she lives in a place where the beach is the culture, then make it it’s own thought. We don’t know where she is geographically, which would also help.
[RW5] Does she want to be lost? This is not clear. Does she think she’s a vampire, or does she want to be one?
[RW6] This is not clear, and I don’t see what she wants or what the stakes are.

Emily's notes:
[EK1] My first thought was “oh no not another vampire book.” But if she’s not actually a vampire, why start with that?


I remember the day I was reborn into this new life. The day they told me not to go outside because the sun could kill me. That day, my whole life changed.

It was not a change I am [MK1] happy with. [RW1]

"Piper, eat your breakfast."

I blinked at my mom. "Vampires don't do mornings."

Long suffering sigh. "You aren't a vampire."

"Then why can't I go in the sun?" I asked, mushing up my pancakes.

"You can go in the sun. You just have to cover up. Wear that cute floppy hat I bought you."

I pushed away from the table, glaring at my mom. She would never understand me. I resisted the urge to bare my fangs at her and instead I jumped to my feet and stalked out…or at least, I tried to stalk out. But the big black combat boots she bought me yesterday make it very hard to stalk [MK2]. I think they weighed as much as I do, and they made my knees ache.


Vampires wear black. And since I'm sure I'll have to be fighting other vampires soon, [RW2] I must have combat boots.

"Piper!" Crap. My mom had noticed my retreat and my still-full plate left behind on the table.

"I'm going back to sleep." I called as I tried to bound up the stairs. I only fell once.

Do vampires sleep in their combat boots? I was new at this, so I wasn't sure.
Moe's notes:
[MK1] Don’t switch tenses.
[MK2] Watch your repetitions!
[MK] Sorry, but vampires just aren’t my cup of tea.

Roseanne's notes:
[RW1] This isn’t doing much to draw me in. It’s vague, sounds cliché, and makes it feel like a memory rather than the moment we’re in. And there are much more interesting ways to express a character’s displeasure with change.
[RW2] I’m not sure why she’ll be fighting other vampires? Does she know, or she assumes that’s part of being a vampire?
[RW] The MC sounds very young, more like 10 than 13, but I like the idea of her disassociation with her condition by accepting that she’s a vampire. Please send 30 pages following the guidelines on


Moe Ferrara: PASS
Roseanne Wells: PAGES!
Emily Keyes: PASS

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

May Pass Or Pages Entry #3

Welcome to our feedback reveal for Pass Or Pages. In this contest, randomly chosen entries were critiqued by our agent panel. We hope it will give everyone a sense of what is going on in an agent's head as they read queries and first pages. We're so grateful to the members of the agent panel who gave their time to provide feedback on these entries. We'd also like to thank the entrants. It's hard to put yourself out there. Thanks for being brave!

Entry #3: THE TIME TRAVELERS’ INSTITUTE (48,000 words)


Thirteen-year-old Lexi has straight A’s, one friend, and socially-induced stomach cramps [RW1]. When a series of vivid, violent daydreams overtakes her in public, she’s sure she’ll die from embarrassment – if her parents don’t institutionalize her first. Instead, her mom hands her a top-secret [MF1] orientation manual from the Time Travelers' Institute (TTI), the organization that will guide Lexi in her new work [RW2] of stabilizing timelines as her consciousness jumps into the minds of her ancestors. But when TTI can’t lock onto Lexi’s jumps, they realize she isn’t Traveling to the past, but to the future — a rare and dangerous anomaly known as “Leaping.”

Now, even the brains at TTI won’t help Lexi figure out her mission [RW3] for fear of causing a catastrophic ripple through time. The last known Leaper, Adam, was killed on the job decades earlier. So when Lexi meets Adam’s teenaged consciousness [RW4] during her next Leap, she embraces him as a friend, an advisor, and a totally unfulfillable first crush.

Together, Lexi and Adam work out that their mission is to stop Jonas Washburn, the man who sparks an oppressive movement that will destroy much of North American civilization. Lexi knows Adam will fail to stop the child Jonas, so now it’s up to her to stop the grown man. [RW5] From spying on white supremacists to dating Jonas’ (possibly murderous) son, Lexi's never ventured so far from her comfort zone. And if she messes up, she’ll lose a lot more than Adam — TTI itself will never exist, changing the entire course of the future… and the past.

The Time Travelers’ Institute is an upper middle grade [MF2] [RW6] work of speculative fiction, complete at 48,000 [RW7] words.
Moe's notes:
[MF1] Why does her mom have it? Does she come from a line of time travellers?
[MF2] Just be careful this doesn’t wind up skewing more toward YA.
[MF] I have a thing for time travel, but when you’re dealing with time travel in a query, make sure everything is as clear as possible. Try and streamline your query a bit more and you’ll have a strong one.

Roseanne's notes:
[RW1] I’m not sure how all of these are connected, and I wouldn’t want to be put in the same sentence as my friend’s stomach cramps.
[RW2] This set up sounds very familiar.
[RW3] When did she get a mission?
[RW4] When did they meet, in what time frame? Is he in her present or in her future?
[RW5] This logic doesn’t make sense, if Adam is Leaping into the future, why does he have to stop the child instead of Lexi? Why is she stopping the adult?
[RW6] This feels much more like YA than MG, even upper MG. Aging the MC up would make more sense than calling it MG.
[RW7] This does not seem long enough to keep track of all of these threads.


The first time I Traveled [RW1], I was in the back seat of my mom’s old Volkswagen on a gloomy February afternoon. Using my fleecy hat as a pillow against the chilly window, I was hiding from the group of popular kids waiting at the curb. We hadn’t made it out of the school parking lot before I drifted off.

A deafening thump jolted me awake. I jerked upright and slammed my head into a roof of wood and rusty metal. Scraps of sunlight flickered through holes in rotting beams, illuminating the clouds of dust circling my throbbing head. Everything was vibrating hard, like I was in some kind of old vehicle [RW2].


I jumped again as a middle-aged woman, face smudged with dirt, leaned forward out of the shadows beside me. Her eyes were wide with concern. We went over another bump and she caught herself on my knee, calloused hand scraping my bare skin. I looked down to find I was wearing ragged grey shorts fit for the heat of summer.

“Alex!” she repeated, “Are you alright?”

I sputtered and struggled to respond to her simple question. Nobody ever called me Alex, just Lexi or Alexis.

“Wha… who are you?” I croaked.

She gasped, and I groped around for something familiar, something to give me a clue as to what was going on.

I found nothing.

I bounced and trembled. My vision blurred and my stomach gave an ominous groan.
Moe's notes:
[MK] While opening with a scene like this can be tricky and runs the risk of being a bit cliché, there’s something about this that intrigues me. I will say that I want to feel Lexi’s confusion a bit sooner.

Roseanne's notes:
[RW1] Why is the manuscript starting here, with her first jump, rather than with the inciting incident?
[RW2] Not very specific? Car? Train? Wagon?
[RW] I think this is misidentified as MG, and the story is starting in the wrong place. The query was confusing, especially problematic for a story about time travel.

Emily's notes:
[EK] This might work better as YA but would like to see 1st 30 pages to see if it gels. Please email them to me at queryemily (at) fuseliterary (dot) com, with the subject OPERATION AWESOME and the submission pasted in the body of the email.


Moe Ferrara: PASS
Roseanne Wells: PASS
Emily Keyes: PAGES!