Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Wednesday Debut Interview - Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard

Our first Wednesday Debut Interview of 2016 is Sara Barnard, here to talk with us about her debut YA novel, BEAUTIFUL BROKEN THINGS!


Welcome! First off, tell us a bit about yourself!
I live on the south coast of the UK, just outside Brighton - where I lived for five years - in a small town with my boyfriend and my tuxedo cat. When I'm not writing books I'm a freelance content professional, which means I help companies with their online materials and websites. I'm a big reader, strident feminist and somewhat-lapsed Quaker.

How would you describe BEAUTIFUL BROKEN THINGS?
Beautiful Broken Things is a platonic love story about best friends. It follows three girls - Caddy, Rosie and Suzanne - as they learn about the world and each other. Along the way there's tears and giggles, beaches and Nandos, trauma and survival. And a lot of hugging.

Let's talk a bit about your writing process. How long has it been from the time that you began the first draft of this book until the date of its publication?
A long time! I wrote the very first version of this book when I was 13, which was 15 years ago now. It's obviously gone through a lot of incarnations since then - and so have I! I'm glad now that it took its time coming; it was worth the wait!

What scene, character, or aspect of this book did you most enjoy writing?
I always loved writing the scenes between the three girls when they're just being together. I honestly could have written entire novels based around just this, but I don't think that would have been as interesting to everyone else! The conversations were the easiest for me and when I was at my most relaxed as a writer. The best ones always felt like I was listening to a conversation instead of writing it myself - like they were there in the room with me.

BEAUTIFUL BROKEN THINGS deals with, among other things, mental illness. What research did you do to portray this in an accurate, realistic, and respectful way?
As with most things I write, I started with the characters. With Suzanne, understanding where she was coming from and how she'd react to things was central to the struggles she was facing with her mental health. If I'd started with research on depression or suicidal ideation, it wouldn't have been *her* in the way it needed to be. I needed to know her first and then do more specific research - and by that stage it was all coming very naturally.

It was slightly more complicated with a character like Tarin (Caddy's older sister), because I knew less about bipolar disorder, but again I researched everything from the perspective of her character. It's always character first and though that is of course influenced by things like mental health, it was important to me to show that it's not everything. Having bipolar disorder is the least interesting thing about Tarin - I hope!

On the topic of your publication journey: every writer experiences some rejection and setbacks along the way. How did you learn to cope with them and move on?
Unfortunately there's not a magic phrase or piece of advice that will make rejection hurt less - it's just something you have to go through as a writer. I remember when I got my first "real" rejection through (from a literary agency) I felt like I was earning my chops as a professional, because being rejected is what happens to professionals! It helped a *tiny bit* to think of it that way!

How did you find your publisher? What makes them a good fit for you and your book?
My brilliant agent - Claire Wilson - did all the hard work for me. She submitted the finished book to a number of editors at different publishing houses and then it was a case of seeing who was interested and what the offers were. The first publisher I met was Macmillan, and I knew immediately that was where I wanted to be. Their enthusiasm for the book was so clear and they're such a brilliant publisher. It was a no-brainer. The team who work with me and BBT at Macmillan Children's are so talented and passionate. I couldn't be happier.

Tell us about your book cover! Who designed it? How much say did you have in it? What do you want it to tell your readers about your story?
Rachel Vale at Macmillan designed it! It is obviously the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. I was lucky in that I had some say in the cover design, but luckily I didn't need to get involved much because Rachel did such a brilliant job. We went through just one different design before this final one came through.

Above all, I wanted the cover to tell readers that this is a story worth reading, without giving the wrong impression of what they'd find inside and without giving too much away. I think it does it perfectly.

Tell us about your title. Was this the original title you'd had in mind? If not, what made you change it?
Beautiful Broken Things went through a *lot* of titles! It actually had a different title at every stage of the process! While I was writing it, I was calling it Third Wheels, but it was also known as Cracked and Thanks To You at various stages! My publisher felt the book needed a stronger title, and I'm VERY happy with the title it ended up with.

Can you tell us about some of the things you been working on between signing a contract for BEAUTIFUL BROKEN THINGS and its release?
I spent some time working with my editor to polish up Beautiful Broken Things, but I've also been working on my next book, which is another contemporary standalone about love, communication and anxiety.

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! (And a bit scary!) I'm going to be doing several events that I'm excited about, such as the World Book Day Teen Fest event in March with Holly Bourne and Juno Dawson.

Is there any other advice you'd like to pass on to others pursuing publication? Anything you would have done differently?
KEEP GOING. There is honestly no better advice I can give than that. Maybe I could have done some things differently, but I'm glad I didn't. I've ended up with the best agent, editor and book I could ever have hoped for. It was worth it!

And, just for fun, which book in your own library do you think would be your main character Caddy's favorite?
I feel like Caddy would be a big John Green fan, to be honest! I can imagine her shedding some tears over The Fault in our Stars.

Thank you so much for your participation in this Wednesday Debut Interview! And congrats on your new book!



Do you or someone you know have a debut book coming out this year? If you'd like to be featured in a Wednesday Debut Interview, please email wendynikel at gmail dot com with your book's title, release date, publisher, and category/genre.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Tuesday Museday is back!

I missed doing Tuesday Museday--I can't believe that this is the first one of 2016 and it's February! So, for your inspiration today... (drumroll, please)

Write a scene in which your character does something that makes another character very nervous.

Need fresh eyes on your query letter or Twitter pitch? I'm offering up a critique this week. Speak up in the comments (include your twitter handle or e-mail) and I'll select someone at random for a critique!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Guest Post: Taryn Skipper: Using Text-To-Speech Programs to Develop Characters

Using Text-To-Speech programs to Develop Characters

I tend to talk to myself. Some people like to call it “thinking out loud” but I won’t deny it; myself and I have some great conversations, and sometimes I’m a really great sounding board. But not always. Sometimes I just wish I had someone else who was just as passionate about and interested in my developing manuscript as I am, and could answer me every time I asked something like, “Okay, how does this sound,” or “Does that really sound like something this character would say?” And sometimes I just need other-me to forget they’ve written anything, and read it with fresh eyes. I’m not ready for beta readers, but I need some new insight. How can I cleanse my palate a little bit and get a new perspective on my characters, or on my work as a whole?

Try online Text-To-Speech (TTS) readers. It’s a tactic I’ve found enlightening, not to mention pretty entertaining.  My main character is male, so I worry sometimes about whether or not he sounds masculine enough.   Running his lines through TTS programs have helped me realize which lines really work and which need tweaking.  When I can hear him speak his lines, I get a better feel for his personality, and how he might actually phrase his thoughts. 

Here are few helpful TTS exercises you might try:

-Run whatever chapter you’re working on in a UK accent (or an American accent if you’re from the UK). Hearing it so differently from what I hear in my head really puts a new spin on the words and helps me pick up on little things, working and non, that I normally skip over. Plus it just sounds so fancy. 

-Try lines for each character in different voices until you find one that is closest to how you think they probably sound. You may be surprised, and learn something something new about their personality.

-Create audio files for each line in a dialogue in each character’s voice, and play them back in order. You will actually hear your characters converse, which is amazing, but you’ll also be able to gauge whether each character is speaking as he or she would.

-If you’re a woman, have a man read your book out loud, and vice versa. It might help broaden your perspective to hear how it sounds to someone who isn’t you.

-Instead of reading a couple paragraphs back before you pick up writing or rewriting for the day, try playing those paragraphs out loud.  You never know what ideas might flare up.

Although TTS programs have come a long way since the MagicSpell wizard used to read your ICQ messages to you, keep in mind that a computer still doesn’t sound like a fully-produced audiobook. It will still sound somewhat robotic, with incorrect cadance and strange emphases. Do your best to listen past the weirdness!

Below are a few free online TTS readers to try out:  No character limit, US English is female, and UK English is Male. I like the UK English, and I like this reader because it’s quick and responsive. This is one where you have the option to download seperate files for each line.  Also no character limit, and several different voices, including an Indian accent. This has the most choices and it’s wonderful for hearing lines from diverse characters! In US English you can hear children’s voices, a teenager (Scott), an old man, a Texan guy (Michah), a child with an Hispanic accent (Emilio), a child who sounds like she’s from France or something (Valeria), a sad guy, a super happy guy, and yes, even a Yoda voice, with which I may or may not have spent my evening playing. Warn you I must: get distracted, you will.  There are also several other choices under British, Scottish, Australian, and Indian English.  If your character is from another country, select any language (Russian, Dutch, German, Japanese, etc etc) and the voice will read your English text with a thick accent.  You can’t download for free from here, but you can listen online.

Do you have any readers you love, or any other methods for seeing your work with fresh eyes? I’d love to hear them!

Check out Taryn's books:
The Bear, The Box and the Boy (also available in bilingual English/Spanish, Russian, or Chinese) 
The Girl Who Knew She Was a Princess

Follow her on Twitter: @Skipper_Bay

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Flash Fiction Contest #9 Winner

Thanks to everyone who stopped by! Without further adieu, I present our contest #9 winner:

Flash Fiction Contest #9 Prompt: "The last thing I need is another child. I already have twelve to look after."

Entry by Gretchen Mayer

The pod was sitting on the step when I opened the door this morning. The last thing I need is another child. I already have twelve to look after.

I looked up and saw nothing but dirty gray smoke rolling across the sky. A drone must have dropped it off last night. Perhaps it was a mistake and they would return for it. I lifted it up. It was heavy and would hatch within a month’s time. I placed it in the incubator, closed the lid and turned back to the clones. They were ready. All my hatchlings were ready in time. They were five years old now and would soon be taken away to be trained as warriors. I had done my job perfectly as always – except for one thing.

For sixty years I had been attending hatchlings – 144 total clones – teaching them the state-approved curriculum and nothing more; feeding them the special diet that would cause them to grow quickly and nothing more. But commandment four, “Show no affection,” was one I could not follow. Indoors, where there were no drones to monitor me, I would kiss their identical cheeks and hug their identical bodies.

And for sixty years the war had raged on.

As they slept or studied I would walk the barren hills outside my hut. Being a preceptor is an honorable but lonely calling.

A week passed, then two. No one had come for my hatchlings. This had never happened before and I feared the reason. The war was over. There was no more need for me or my hatchling warriors.

But now I paced the hills for another reason – what was I to do with twelve grown clones? I worried and fretted this for many days.

Finally the new pod opened. It was a slow birth – not the ripping and tearing I had witnessed a hundred times and more. And I could see right away that she was different. This last pod that had been so unceremoniously dropped on my doorstep was a consolation prize – a child I could love and raise t0 adulthood to care for me in my aging. I fed her milk from my cow and food from my garden. I cuddled her and played with her and taught her silly rhymes.

And I sheltered her from the sight of the clones as they rapidly aged and died one by one like stars blinking out at sunrise.


Come back again in two weeks for the next #OAFlash Fiction contest. The week after, I (Samantha) will be sharing a week-long blog series on how to book your own book blog tour. Come back then!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Flash Fiction Contest #9

Hi everyone, and welcome to this week's #OAFlash Fiction Contest. If this is your first time joining us, check out more about the contest here. Remember: my preferences are speculative fiction and stuff that gives me the feels; however, this is your story and you do what you want with it.

When you're ready for it, here's the prompt:

Flash Fiction Prompt For Friday, February 5, 2016

Please use the prompt ("The last thing I need is another child. I already have twelve to look after.") within your entry somewhere. You can replace the word "child" with anything that fits. Robots, baby cheetahs, male concubines, whatever. Make it interesting (but PG-13 rated, if you indeed decide to create yourself a harem).

When posting, remember to include the name you want on your badge should you win and your Twitter handle. And... make me cry. (Not that you actually have to. It's just what we've started saying as a writer's equivalent of "Break a leg." You can help make it a thing, if you want.)

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Kara Analyzes Pixar Movies: CARS

I have three kids: two boys, and a girl. This means I've watched a lot of movies designed for children that I might not have chosen to watch on my own. Some just outright suck. Others are excellent opportunities to learn something I can use in my writing.

CARS is one of the latter.

If you haven't seen the movie, I suggest you watch it with your writer brain and pay close attention to the plot. Go do that, and come back. Just kidding, you can keep reading even if you haven't seen the movie.

The inciting incident in a story is the one that propels the story. If the inciting incident doesn't happen, the rest of the story doesn't happen. In CARS, it's Lightning McQueen falling out of Mack's trailer and getting lost on the highway. If this doesn't happen, he doesn't get to Radiator Springs, doesn't learn any lessons, and doesn't change.

The inciting incident is often something that passively happens to a character. Which isn't terrible, if the rest of the story happens because of choices actively made by your character. But in CARS, the inciting incident happens because of the main character's flaw. I'd say that is probably the strongest way to start a story.

Lightning McQueen is a selfish a-hole at the beginning of the movie. He forces Mack to drive through the night to get him to his race, instead of allowing him to sleep. He promises Mack he'll stay awake with him and keep him company while they drive, but instead he falls asleep. Finally, he surrounds himself with all kinds of crap that reminds him of how great he is (remember, the trailer door opens because a stupid Lightning McQueen toy falls on the switch).

Lightning finds himself in a pickle (or CONFLICT, the heart of all stories) because of his flaws. He spends the rest of the movie trying to overcome those flaws. We get to see how he slowly becomes less selfish and more mature, which makes the ending feel completely earned instead of rushed. Of course the new Lightning would have the heart to lose the most important race of his career. We have spent the entire movie watching him become that person (or racecar, if you will). He has earned his new heart.

(Don't get me started on the ending of CARS 2, which is a post for another day on how NOT to earn an ending.)

How can you apply this to your own writing? Examine your inciting incident. How does it come to pass? Does it happen to your character, or because of your character's choices? How does it affect the subsequent choices your character makes over the course of the book?

Incidentally, the inciting incident is also an important part of your query letter. You must show in your query what the inciting incident is, and how it's going to affect your character over the rest of the book. Writing the query letter can help you evaluate the strength of your inciting incident.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Re-imagining a Book Title

Novel titles are not my strong suit. Writing 80,000 words—no problem. Coming up with a couple words to encapsulate those 80,000 words—huge problem. Titles present a ton of pressure. The title must hook the reader, stand out, look good on a book cover and reflect the tone and themes inside those covers.

Think of your favourite books. The title is part of what makes them awesome. Would The Hunger Games have caught on if it had been called The Volunteer? Or if The Fault in our Stars had been called Augustus and Hazel’s European Vacation? Title are important. The pressure!

A couple years ago, I wrote a blog post about my novel-naming woes called, “No Name Novel.” I wish I could say that in those years I somehow mastered the art of titles, but it’s just as much of a struggle as ever.

So when my publisher approached me and asked to change the name of the second book in my One Bright Future series, I wasn’t surprised. The first book, originally titled The Enslavement of Rielle James, was trimmed down to Enslavement. I’d given the second book the working title of Captivity, which had grown on me as I worked through the edits.

A new title was suggested, but I wasn’t keen on it for a number of reasons. I did an Amazon search to see how many other books had that title or something similar. There were a lot! So, rather than coming back to my publisher and shooting down their idea, I decided to put together a list of titles I could live with. I brainstormed on my own, then with some writer friends. When I’m serious about brainstorming ideas I like to write them on my hand and wrist. Don’t ask me why.
So, with a list of about 15 titles scrawled on my skin, I narrowed it down to three. Writers are word people, so to me, each title word not only had a unique definition, but had nuances, undertones and a shape (dull, sharp, round, jagged) that played into my decision.

I presented my reasons for not wanting their suggestion along with the short-list of my suggestions to my publisher. After some back forth via email, we settled on the new title. It’s taken some getting used to and some habit breaking, but I’m thrilled with this new moniker. What did we agree upon? Book two in the One Bright Future series will be called Subversion. And it’s the perfect title for this book.

* * * * * *
Melinda Friesen writes novels for teens and short stories from her basement in Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada. Presently, she's trying to pretend there's something outside besides snow and ice.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Pass Or Pages Takeaway Message

A peek into what goes on in an agent's mind as he or she reads submissions is a very valuable thing, which is why the team here at Operation Awesome wanted to give Pass Or Pages a try. We hoped everyone participating and watching would get something out of it that would help in their writing, whether it be how to craft a compelling query letter, or something they could do to improve their first page. As a contest organizer and observer, here's what I learned:

  • It takes guts to enter something like this, where your work will be made public. People were willing to take the chance, however, because they were willing to do something that would improve their work. That's an admirable trait.

  • Agents read queries quickly, and make judgements on them quickly, too. This is not because they are jerks, but because they get so many queries a day that they HAVE TO. Do you want an agent who spends most of their time on their clients, or reading queries?

  • Sentences we think are clever, they've seen over and over again because of the sheer volume of queries they read. Getting several different opinions on your query letter will help you avoid clichés.

  • Characters are not what make a query stand out--plot is. The flip side is that what makes a book memorable is usually the characters! I think this is why people often emphasize their unique characters in the query letter. Do things in the proper order: Get an agent interested in your plot via the query letter. THEN put memorable characters in the book so that interest turns to love!

  • Personal taste counts for so much. One agent might not like your writing style, but another will love it. This is why people advise writers to query widely. The wider you cast your net, the more likely you are to find people who love your writing.

  • Some agents are sticklers about things like word counts. Some are not. Some agents don't mind graphic violence. Others are turned off by it. Researching agents' preferences is worth your time!

We hope you out there in reader-land found something useful from this round of Pass Or Pages. We'll host another one, with a different category and genre, sometime in the spring. Follow us on Twitter (@OpAwesome6) so you don't miss out!

Monday, February 1, 2016

January 2016 #OABookClub: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

So ends the first month of our new feature, #OABookClub, wherein we read a book together. In honor of our inaugural #PassorPages agent feedback contest, which was open to mystery/thriller writers, we chose The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie.

Did you read it, too? If not, I would highly suggest doing so. It's considered one of Christie's best works. If you did, we'd love for you to join in the discussion. Either way, please note:


Read on to find out what our operatives thought of the book...


What a twisty ending! This is a classic whodunit where the person you suspect least ends up being the guilty party. The problem for me was that the person I suspected least wasn't even on my suspect list. I was quite thrown for a loop! I am proud of myself for guessing right on a few minor predictions, but as a whole I failed to keep up with M. Poirot.

Agatha Christie is a writer with wit and flair. She makes fun of human nature through characters who act precisely how you'd expect them to act, while slipping a few in under your nose who are merely acting. I very much enjoyed the writing style, the narrator's tone and personality, and the small town English setting. The drama of each person's secrets and open struggles plus the mystery of whodunit make this book quite the page-turner.

Find Katrina on Twitter here.


My love of all things Agatha Christie stems from my grandmother and her love of pocket-sized cozy mysteries. One summer, while visiting her, I explored her den and was amazed to find dozens of books stacked on top of each other in barely balanced piles.

"Can I read these?" It was a question I asked a lot at that age; I liked to borrow books from my parents' bookshelves, which sometimes got us all into trouble. But Agatha Christie was deemed safe, and my grandmother handpicked And Then There Were None for me to read.

My reading level might have been that of an adult, but I was 8. And Then There Were None terrified me. I stayed away from Agatha Christie and her psychological terrors for a long time. When I was finally ready to give Dame Agatha another chance, someone directed me to The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Interestingly, it was not my grandmother. Ackroyd is one of the few Agatha Christie novels she doesn't own.

I consider Ackroyd to be the pinnacle of the mystery genre, the king of the unreliable narrators. I never saw the ending coming. I know many people consider it to be a cheat, but I found it absolutely brilliant. If I had the power to erase memories, I'd erase that book so I could have the joy of reading it and being shocked yet again (I'd also delete the Harry Potter books so I could experience them for the first time again). I've now read most of Agatha Christie's mysteries (my grandmother gave her collection to me several years ago), and Ackroyd has always stood out as the best.

One caveat: Don't watch the TV version before you've read the book. The reveal is nowhere near as masterful.

Find Kara on Twitter here.


I have a confession to make: I already knew the ending before I started reading. I was doing research for one of my books, and I found it on a list of famous works with unreliable narrators.

Still, I had trouble detecting the truth about what was really happening because Christie buried it quite deeply. Instead of creating some elaborate lie over cover up the truth, the narrator glossed over what happened. If you're going to lie and get away with it, that's the way to do it--don't give too much information--but in analyzing it as a writing device, I was a bit disappointed.

I love the flamboyant Tyler Durden in Fight Club or the smooth-talking Verbal Kent in the movie The Usual Suspects or even the creepy, confusing Humbert Humbert in Lolita. My preference for unreliable narrators is to have them spin a yarn that sucks me in and spits me back out again when I realize it was a lie all along.

Find Samantha on Twitter here.

So what did you think? Chat with us in the comments below!

February's Operation Awesome Book of the Month

For this month, we're reading a book that's so burning hot right now, it's been made into a movie starring Matt Damon.

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate the planet while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded on Mars' surface, completely alone, with no way to signal Earth that he’s alive — and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone years before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark's not ready to quit. Armed with nothing but his ingenuity and his engineering skills — and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest source of strength – he embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive, using his botany expertise to grow food and even hatching a mad plan to contact NASA back on Earth.

As he overcomes one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next, Mark begins to let himself believe he might make it off the planet alive – but Mars has plenty of surprises in store for him yet.

Grounded in real, present-day science from the first page to the last, yet propelled by a brilliantly ingenious plot that surprises the reader again and again, The Martian is a truly remarkable thriller: an impossible-to-put-down suspense novel that manages to read like a real-life survival tale.
Join us! We'll be posting comments on Tuesday, March 1, so come back then and let us know what you thought.

Tweet: I'm reading THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD by Agatha Christie in January for @OpAwesome6's #OABookClub. Join me?Click to Tweet: I'm reading THE MARTIAN by Andy Weir in February for @OpAwesome6's #OABookClub. Join me?

And finally, before you go...

#LesMisRead2016 Update from Samantha

I got a little bit behind with my reading in Les Miserables when I got the stomach flu a week and a half ago, but I'm caught up again. I'm glad I've done it this way. Breaking it into bite-sized chunks (3.3 pages per day) is keeping me motivated.

The entirety of Part 1, Book 1 is a character sketch on Bishop Bienvenu, which as a writing device, is poorly done. When we finally meet our main character Jean Valjean in Part 1, Book 2, Chapter 1, no tension exists around what's going to happen to him once he gets pointed in the direction of the bishop. Hugo just spent seventy pages telling us how terribly, wondrously nice the bishop is, so all the worry for our main character deflates.

The writing itself, however, is moving. The scene where the bishop goes to comfort the dying man who plotted the overthrow of the king during the French Revolution is touching. Since we know that the bishop is a good man, seeing his conflict over how to treat this hated political dissident is interesting. And when the dying man's story finally comes out, I might have had tears in my eyes.

Check out my other impressions on the Twitter hashtag #LesMisRead2016. And if you want to read it this year with me, there's plenty of time to catch up.

Tweet: I'm reading LES MISERABLES in 2016 with @Saboviec. Join me? #LesMisRead2016
Click to Tweet: I'm reading LES MISERABLES in 2016 with @Saboviec. Join me? #LesMisRead2016

Thanks for stopping by, everyone, and don't forget--let us know what you thought of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd in the comments!

Friday, January 29, 2016

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!



There is no how-to manual for coping with a stalker/killer bent on ruining your life no matter where you try to hide.  Nor is there a manual for dealing with the grief/relief felt after the murder of two ex-husbands[CF1].  Allison Franks really needs both.

A killing crusader known as the "Dirtbag Killer" is relentlessly pursuing Allie no matter where she tries to hide.[CF2] This persistent stalker/killer[CF3] has made her life a living hell.  The recent slaughter of her latest ex-husband, Dirk Daggett, [US1] has ensured law enforcement spot lighting her as the prime suspect and threatens her job as a civil servant with the Indianapolis Police Department.  She risks her life and that of life-long friends[CF4]. James Ivan McArthur, a military criminal lawyer, and Elson Moldavian, ex-lover, and retired syndicate enforcer in an attempt to detour the investigation and get the detectives to focus on someone else. [US2]

Daggett's murder ignites a series of events exposing the secrets of two rival crime syndicates, a crooked FBI agent, as well as her personal killer/crusader.  In a final dramatic encounter,[CF5] Allie comes to grips with her troubled past and her serial killer/stalker while realizing everything we do in life has consequences, both good and bad. 

I'm sending my query in hopes you will consider my novel, LOW FLYING DIRTBAGS, a woman's mystery/domestic noir novel, complete at approximately 82,661 words.

[CF1]This feels like a clichéd opening. I see the use of “character could use a manual” in at least a couple queries a month. Find another way to reward what’s going on.

[CF2]Don’t use the same phrase twice in your query

[CF3]Try to limit the use of x/y – pick one term and use it.
[US1] She should just stop getting married, then there would be no killer/stalker.

[CF4]This is awkwardly worded maybe change to “She risks her life and the lives of her life-long friends….”
[US2] Awkward sentences, I would stop here. The way the characters are introduced is confusing.

[CF5]Cut this – we don’t need to know that doesn’t happen until the dramatic encounter and you don’t need to tell us there is one. It is a mystery – they should always end with one.
[LA] I’m passing on this entry. It sounds like it might be interesting but the query is very confusing, so I’m not sure what I’d be getting. I suggest tightening and restructuring so the query so it reads more like a pitch, or an invitation to read, than a summary or synopsis of the book. Focus on the main theme or plot and what is driving the story and the main character(s).

FIRST 250:

Dirk Daggett woke screaming.  He felt as if thousands of fire ants were crawling along the length of his body, biting and gnawing on his flesh.  He shivered while trying to lift a hand to his mouth.  He couldn't move.  He blinked, trying to focus as he realized he was naked and strapped to a metal table.  He screamed again as his pulse beat like a hammer banging into an open wound.  He closed watery eyes and willed himself to wrestle down the panic while trying not to struggle against the restraints knowing it would only intensify his agony. [US]

Dim light filtered through a small grimy window set high on the cinder-block wall above his head.  He smelled mold and mildew and felt an icy chill causing him to shiver again.  It was quiet as a burial ground except for the sound of water slowly dripping.

"Help me!"  Daggett coughed.  His mouth felt cottony and his throat raw.

A soft chuckle snaked through the gloom.

"Please, help me!"

The clip-clop of hard-soled shoes echoed on concrete as overhead florescent bulbs clicked on, flooding the room with light, forcing him to wince from the burning glare. 

Carefully Daggett cracked his lids allowing light to leak into his pupils.  When his eyes finally focused on his captor, he saw sky blue orbs looking at him with curiosity, draped in a loose-fitting, long sleeved, green hospital gown.

[US] I dislike gerunds and there are 8 in one paragraph. Find a better way to describe the action and bring the reader into the story.
[CF] This is a little too familiar. I feel as if I have read a scene just like this before. You may be starting in the wrong place.

Uwe Stender: PASS
Caitie Flum: PASS
Mark Gottlieb: PASS
Lisa Abellera: PASS

Thursday, January 28, 2016

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 RAKER


I am seeking representation for my 75,000 word new adult, suspense thriller, Raker.

Two detectives and a beautiful, visually impaired, young woman must identify, [US1] confront, and subdue an elusive killer.[CF1] Marvell Lake, a summer resort and university town that appeals to an upscale clientele with an active nightlife scene, is plagued by a series of homicides. The vicious killer utilizes a modified garden tool as a weapon to dispatch victims in a graphic method unique to the motives of the perpetrator. [US2]

The characters are comprised primarily of university students of various ethnicities and members of the local community.[CF2] Jezebel Rhodes, a beautiful, young dancer and university student, may be the only one capable of ending the bloodshed.

Laced with insight into dance techniques and a strict, unwritten code of etiquette, a gathering of young dance contestants compete for the ultimate dance trophy while shadowed by a vengeful killer.[CF3]

Thank you for considering Raker. I look forward to hearing from you.

[US1] There are certainly punctuation errors here, first concern.
[CF1] Is this young woman Jezebel? She seems to be the main character. If it is the same person, start with her. “Jezebel, a beautiful, young dancer. must identify……”
[US2] Awkward phrasing. I would stop here. My advice is to read a lot of jacket copies to get a better idea as to what a pitch is.

[CF2] This sentence isn’t needed. Tell us about the main character, the antagonist (which you have done) and one other character – usually the main characters love interest, best friend, or in this case, one of the detectives she is working with. 

[CF3] I suggest moving this to the beginning of the query. Add a little to the beginning of the sentence and it is your hook. It shows what makes this different from other suspense thrillers. If you move this to the beginning, you will need a new last line to tie it together
[MG] Falls under 80k, the minimum book length

FIRST 250:

As she straddled her companion, Jessamine Rhodes pulled the black rayon, neck [US1] tie firmly around the bare skin of her lover’s neck.

The young man located beneath her, Kurt Degen, instructed Jessamine.

“Tighter…,” he gasped.

Dressed only in crimson red, Chantilly lace, baby-doll lingerie, the young woman clenched her fists and drew the fabric taught, constricting the trachea of her companion. Jessamine simultaneously increased the frequency and rate of motion [US2] of her hips.

“Almost there…,” Kurt murmured.

The face of the young man turned red.

“Okay, remove…take it off…”

Jessamine complied and relaxed her arms. The neck tie slackened.

Kurt inhaled deeply and paused for several moments. The deafening silence was disrupted by the slow and audible exhale of the young man. Jessamine removed the neck tie and discarded the tie to the floor.

Jessamine smirked and discreetly removed the forest green, satin sheet covering her legs. She carefully removed herself from her lover, placed the soles of her bare feet on the cool, hardwood floor and rose to a standing position. Jessamine stretched her arms and casually walked across the floor in the direction of the bedroom window. She pulled both panels of the forest green, room darkening drapes aside along the curtain rod and proceeded to raise the window sash.

Jessamine arched her back and closed her eyes as an early autumn breeze entered through the open window into the bedroom. She raised her pale, slender arms above her head exposing her petite frame to the warm air.

[US1] Misplaced comma

[US2] If this is supposed to be sexy, it is not working for me.  I do not connect with the narrative voice at all.
[CF] I don’t think you have started in the right place on this. This is not showing us anything about your main character or the main story. It feel like gratuitous sex and made me go from wanting to read more to no longer being interested.
[LA] I’m passing on this entry. It ‘s just not for me, plus I’m already working on a thriller with a visually-impaired young woman..

Uwe Stender: PASS
Caitie Flum: PASS
Mark Gottlieb: PASS
Lisa Abellera: PASS

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

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 BENEATH


Journalist Cora Mayburn doesn’t believe in demons, at least not those with horns and pitchforks.
When she receives an assignment on a snake-handling church in Appalachia, she’s hesitant. A survivor of sexual abuse at the hands of a supposed holy man, Cora ran from the church and never looked back. But taking the story is a smart career move, so she agrees. [US]

Cora observes the town preacher's naked [CF1] lust for a teenage girl in his congregation and decides to stay and expose the minister for what he is. But something more than desire is drawing the preacher to the girl, something much older than the devil, something that wants to remake first the town, then the world beyond, in its abominable image.

Cora must fight against a being that has always slumbered deep beneath the earth, a being that will usher in the end of everything she has ever known.

Beneath is an adult horror thriller complete at 80,000 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

[US] I don’t like to read sexual abuse stories so stop. But even if I did, I don’t like the writing here. The query is (un)intentionally vague.
[CF1] I suggest deleting this word.
[CF] I would have to pass on this because it is not the type of horror thriller I represent.
That said, it is a very strong query. Your main character is intriguing, the plot is creative, and the writing is strong.
[MG] Horror is a tough genre

FIRST 250:

Cora Mayburn had read about sleepy little towns like Hensley, North Carolina, had passed by more than her share of them on her drives from Atlanta to New York, but she had never actually stopped longer than the time it took her to fill up and use the ladies. This time, however, she was staying longer, not on her accord, but because Jimmy had told her not to come back until she had her story. [US]

“Snake handling,” he said as he stubbed out his cigarette and lit another. “People love to read about extremism in religion. Makes them feel better about their own shitty lives to know that somewhere out there is someone whose life is more fucked than theirs. If they know that there are people who have never seen a television, they can handle one more day of not ramming their car into oncoming traffic.” He blew a thin stream of smoke into the air, took a sip of coffee, winced, and set the mug on the edge of her desk.

“I don’t touch the religion stuff, Jimmy. You know that.”

“It’s a hot story, Cora. I’m talking national attention kind of hot. Alan put a teaser on the site last week. Most clicks we’ve had in a while.”

“You put a teaser up without a story?”

Jimmy grinned and traced his toe across the navy carpet like a little boy caught doing something he shouldn’t. “Way I figured it, I needed my best reporter on it.

 [US] I don’t like the writing here at all. Just uninteresting. I would stop here. I need to know Cora better before I am invested in her point of view.
[CF] I think you could make this leaner. Look at cutting “had” from the first paragraph. It reads better as “Cora read about…passed by…never actually stopped”
Also look at cutting words from last sentence of the first paragraph. Every word should need to be there and right now it feels wordy. You could cut “however” and “not on her accord, but” and it flows a little better.

[LA] I’m passing on this entry. The writing isn’t pulling me into the story. I didn’t feel grounded enough in the scene and didn’t connect with the characters.

Uwe Stender: PASS
Caitie Flum: PASS
Mark Gottlieb: PASS
Lisa Abellera: PASS

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Pass Or Pages Entry #2

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!



Meet Sam Jameson. [CF1] She’s an athlete with a self-deprecating sense of humor trying get [US] her life on track after a family tragedy. Just as she takes up hot yoga to work through her grief, she becomes the target of a stalker. There are notes left on her windshield, a strange package on her doorstep, and her car is keyed with a nasty epitaph. As a former sprinter, Sam realizes she can’t run from her pain or her fear, but learns to gather strength in and out of the yoga studio. [CF2]

Sam is the protagonist in my novel titled Corpse Pose, the first in a series of suspense novels set in the enigmatic world of health and fitness. In the next installment (Finish Strong), Sam competes in a sprint triathlon, where a dead body is found floating in the water. The following book (Defensive Stance) takes place in a high-energy kickboxing class.[CF3]

Sam Jameson and Corpse Pose have been floating around in my head for years. I finally decided to write the book I wanted to read: a little intrigue, a little inspiration, and a lot of heart. [CF4] I'm in the process of looking for an agent, and would be thrilled if you would consider my tales.

[CF1] This is a little overused. You can just start with “Sam Jameson is an athlete….
[US] Missing “to”. Careless. I would actually stop here. Please, always proofread.
[CF2] I want to know more in the last sentence. Right now, it sounds like you are trying to sell readers on going to a yoga studio, not your book. What does she do about the stalker? Is it someone from her past? Gives some hints to the mystery and leave agents wanting to read more.
[CF3] I just want to hear about the book you are querying, not the other books. You can mention that it is the first in the series, but don’t need to provide details
[CF4] I would pass, on the query as it is right now, because of the above and also because I am not sure where it is on the mystery/suspense spectrum. The crime sounds like it would be very suspenseful, but this sentence makes me think it is lighter.
[MG] need to know word count

FIRST 250:

The music was loud, which was good. Head-banger stuff, trite and unimaginative. [US] But it afforded a cover for quiet footfall through the apartment, which was an added bonus. The first phase of the plan had gone unexpectedly well. It was almost a disappointment, how easy it was. Everything else – admittance into the locked lobby, memorizing her schedule, attacking the perfect moment – had been scrupulously researched and executed. The Metallica was pure serendipity.

After moving in buried silence to the bathroom, the door frame was a perfect hiding spot to watch her parade before the mirror. She faced away from the door and appraised herself from the side. Now there was a woman trying too hard. Much too old to be wearing skin-tight jeans and a slutty top. As she turned her torso from left to right, looking back over her shoulder at the bloated body she offered the world, it was easy to use her distraction to reach in and turn out the light.

“Shit. Now what?” she mumbled, as if somebody was there.

She moved toward the light switch, and it required only one sudden move to wrap a hand around her weak little wrist. As fingers curled tightly against her skin, she shrieked, a high-pitched scream that echoed off the bathroom tile.

It was a shame the knife couldn’t be seen in the dark, but that couldn’t be helped. Sleek and serrated, it would feel as good going in as it did coming out.

[US] I don’t like it when a novel begins with non-sentences. I know the intent is to create suspense, but we need a setting, not a breathless introduction. Place the reader into the novel’s world by guiding him into the world.
[CF] These first 250 words do not match the tone set in the query. If this is closer to the tone of the book, you should edit the query to match.
While I really like this tone in the 250 words, if the tone matches more the tone of the query, I think you have started in the wrong place. If you are going back and forth between Sam and the stalker, I think you should start with Sam. Let readers know that this strong, inspirational voice is the main tone of the book and the darkness is beneath the surface.
The writing in this is VERY good.

[LA] I’m passing on this entry. From the query, I was expecting to meet Sam Jackson with her self-deprecating humor. Opening with a murder is somewhat overused as a “hook.” Also the transition to a new character’s perspective in the last paragraph didn’t work for me.

Uwe Stender: PASS
Caitie Flum: PASS
Mark Gottlieb: PASS
Lisa Abellera: PASS

Monday, January 25, 2016

Pass Or Pages Entry #1

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 #1: COLLARED


Hidden from the world by century-old pines,[US1] is a small Midwest town populated by a stuttering priest, a lesbian biker, a palm-reading waitress, and a strange hermit.[US2]

Sheriff Jimmy Beal sits in the cruiser pondering life after death, Vera Henderson looks in the mirror and ponders whether she's capable of committing murder, and Ham Forney simply wants his mother back.

COLLARED is a 73,500-word[MG] adult mystery novel - Garrison Keillor meets Fargo. Told from a multiple POV with interwoven story lines, COLLARED is the story of Eden Bay, where people have gone missing, cats are being killed and someone keeps sending large sums of money to the church.
 In the book's climactic scene between the vengeful Ham Forney and his surprise killer, some residents of Eden Bay will be freed from the collars that restrain them while others will remain forever bound.

[US1] Misplaced comma, 1st concern, awkward first sentence.
[US2] So it is populated by these four, i.e. a population of four. I would stop right here. I think you ought to be more precise in your descriptions and what they actually mean.
[CF] This query is very confusing. It lists four people in the Midwest town, then describes three. Also - the sheriff doesn’t sound like he is one of those original four. You don’t want to mention too many characters in your query as it leads to confusion
It also doesn’t show what the central story is. Instead, it has a lot of hints at several stories. What is the main plot? Is it the missing people? Is it Ham’s vengeance? Find that central point and focus the entire query around that. The sheriff is the main investigator, are any of these other characters helping him investigate or all they all suspects? That would be something that would be helpful to know.
You don’t need to mention everything that is happening in the query, but you do need to make sure it hooks the agents. Right now, I am confused, which is too bad because this is exactly the kind of mystery I am looking for. 
[MG] Under 80K is too short for me. Pass.

FIRST 250:

Chapter 1 - The Fourth Cat
To say that Sheriff Jimmy Beal was angry would have been a vast understatement. Anger was simply the flame under a bubbling cauldron of loss, frustration, despair, resentment, and fear that made up his life. [US]

“This is the last thing I need,” he mumbled as he leaned against the sun-warmed metal of the cruiser and took a drag off his second cigarette of the morning.

It was a sunny, almost balmy day March day, a fact for which he was grateful. He was bone-tired of the low-slung leaden clouds that had covered the sky like a dome for the past five months.

He squinted down at what was left of the carcass, cocked his head and studied it for a long moment. It had been there a day, maybe two. And it looked like all the others.
 Something or someone was killing the cats in Eden Bay. Not dogs, not even puppies. Just cats.

And whatever it was, was very tidy. The guts - intestines, lungs, heart - were in one pile and the fur was laying nearby. Like the others, this cat’s head was set carefully on the pelt looking up at the sky. [CF1] Four cats in two months. At least that’s what had been discovered so far. This recent kill had been found in a weed-choked abandoned lot near Brantley Road. 
 Sheriff Beal eased down on one knee, tugged a pen out of the pocket protector of his shirt and lifted up one side of the pelt.

[US] Over the top description , poor imagery. I would stop here had I requested a sample. Images need to be used more cautiously and precisely.
[CF1] These sentences are wonderfully gruesome. Feels like it is setting the tone for the manuscript.
[CF] This is a solid start, and I really feel like I know who this character is immediately. 
Do look at your use of metaphor and simile. Too much too early can be a little distracting.
[LA] Interesting start. Although I’m not into books with animal killings or mutilations, I like the voice and how the writing pulls me in. I’m interested in reading more, please email the 1st 50 pages and 1-page synopsis to lisa at (@) kimberleycameron dot (.) com with #Passesorpages referenced in the subject line and your query pasted in the body of the email. Thank you.

Uwe Stender: PASS
Caitie Flum: PASS
Mark Gottlieb: PASS
Lisa Abellera: PAGES!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Flash Fiction Contest #8 Winner

Many thanks again to Julia Despain for being our guest host and judge this weekend!

Flash Fiction Contest #8 Prompt: It was the end of our summer trip. We looked so young, skinny, and kind of like hostages.

Entry by Stephanie Adams-Hawkins

It doesn’t snow in the south- you should know that before moving here. If snow does arrive, it’s a mere dusting that melts away by mid-morning so it can be slick as snot by noon. 

It doesn’t snow as far south as Galveston though.
There are stories of snow in Galveston, and even of people freezing to death if you can imagine that. How does one freeze to death in Galveston, even pre global warming? Die of a blood born disease from mosquitoes? Sure. Die from humidity? Absolutely. Die from hurricane force winds and flooding? Perfectly feasible. But freezing? I mean, you’d really have to put your mind to it, right? There are so many easier ways to die here. 

That’s how I ended up here looking at this over exposed picture I keep tucked away for these moments of self-loathing, my only companion to a recurring pity party. But I wasn’t going to let myself go there. It was the end of our summer trip. We looked so young, skinny, and kind of like hostages. We may as well have been- arrested by our optimism of what life was going to be like. We thought we’d always have those bodies; those natural sun-kissed highlights rather than the streaks of wiry gray hairs that worry our scalps these days. But it doesn’t snow in the south so I’ve got that going for me. 

I don’t even know where those other girls are- somewhere floating in the Facebook ether, deciding whether to send that friend request because maybe thirty years is too soon. Well, except for Audrey. She didn’t make it out of this picture. No matter what happened in the hours after this pic was taken, my last and enduring memory of her is like this- stuck in this pose, forever twenty, never having to pull the loosening skin from her eyes to try and find the face that looked into the camera that day. 

I can’t find her anymore, that younger, more optimistic me. I see Audrey on every corner, at every beach, and she’s exactly the same- she’s actually as she looks in this picture. There’s a causeway that stretches from the island to the mainland, attaching Galveston to Texas. A beach in Texas has always sounded like a non-sequitur to me. Boots and beaches just don’t seem to go together despite what all those country songs try and say. But they don’t wear boots on Galveston, they wear island casual attire if they’re going somewhere important, and as little as possible if they’re going anywhere else. You can certainly die in anything you want. The dress code isn’t prohibitive to anywhere you’d like to go. 

But there are cold spots that you walk through and can’t shake. These are the places where Audrey lives now, where I’ve condemned her to spend her posthumous existence- at least until I die. I’m sure her parents see her differently and let her memory live on more dignified up north where it snows enough for Bing Crosby to convince you that a white Christmas is more than wishful thinking. No, her parents would surely be dead by now, so her memory is left to me. I seriously doubt the other girls think of her at all, having been counseled to not dwell on the tragedies of that summer so very long ago. But I’ll stay here with her and miss another winter that has the decency to let you shiver and hug your coat around your shoulders. Besides, any semblance of winter allows me the only respite from a perpetual summer that holds me hostage in this faded picture. Freezing wouldn’t be such an embarrassing death after all.

This week is our Pass or Pages feedback reveals! Stop by every day to pick up tips on your query letter and get to know our agent judges' individual tastes!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Flash Fiction Contest #8

For this installment of our flash fiction contest, we have a guest host and judge! Say hello to Julia Despain.

Hi Julia

If this is your first time joining us, check out more about the contest here.

Here is your prompt:

It was the end of our summer trip. We looked so young, skinny, and kind of like hostages.

You must include the prompt somewhere inside your story. Julia has chosen 750 words as the maximum story length. You have until noon EST on Sunday to enter the contest. Don't forget to include your name as you'd like it on your winner badge, and your twitter handle if you have one! Winner will be announced Sunday night whenever there's a break in the football game. Go Broncos!
(You can still enter if you're a Patriots fan. I GUESS.)

Annnnnnnnd, go!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Cover Reveal: PARASITE by KT Hanna

Hello, everyone! Operation Awesome is excited to be participating in the cover reveal for the third and final installment of KT Hanna's "Domino Project" series. Let's get right to the gorgeousness!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Using Personality Tests to develop characters

Raise your hand if you've ever taken a personality test.

Oh, good, we found the one thing everyone has in common.

There are many different personality tests out there; explaining our different quirks and tendencies is rather a popular thing. Most tests claim that knowing your individual type is key for anticipating how you will deal with stress, how you might best achieve success, or even what path to take to happiness.

I've certainly taken a few myself; I suppose it's due to my narcissistic streak: I like knowing things about myself.

Narcissism aside, though, a lot of people advocate using personality tests to help writers learn more about their characters. I've never done so myself, because I couldn't really see the point. So what if my character is an INFJ or an ESTJ?

As I was reading Crafting Unforgettable Characters, by K. M. Weiland, I stumbled (with my brain, not my feet) on the word enneagram. Weiland mentions it in passing as she describes techniques for fleshing out characters. But I'd never heard of it before, and she included a handy link, so I checked it out.

The link did not take me to the official enneagram website (you can find it here), but instead to a page on Laurie Campbell's website that covered creating fatal flaws in characters. She explained the enneagram types, and then went on even further to explain how knowing their types could create conflict between characters. It was absolutely fascinating. I always think of using personality tests to learn about positive traits, but this opened my eyes even further--knowing the flaws inherent in personality types helps generate conflict, which is crucial to a story.

Maybe this is all obvious to you guys, but it was revolutionary to me. I will definitely use it in the future when I work out character details.

What are your favorite character personality tools?