Monday, April 20, 2015

Is your character someone to root for?

As I've mentioned before, effective character development is something I constantly strive toward. This was especially apparent last Friday, when my story was up for critique in my MFA class. 

During the workshop, people said they didn't really like the main character--and some of them even sympathized with characters who were supposed to be adversaries. 

One classmate hit the nail on the head as to why. She said, "She wasn't really someone I could root for."

This really struck a chord with me. Because we all want our characters to be relatable. Likable. Someone our readers will want to stick with for several pages. 

But if I'm rooting for a character, I'm with them all the way, even after the wheels fall off. 

So I asked myself the following:

Which characters make me feel like this: ("Rick 'em, rack em!")

From Tumblr: "A Girl Worth Fighting For"

Instead of this: ("If he can't do it, GREAT!")
From Tumblr: "Darling You'll be Okay"

Here are a few examples I came up with:

Matilda Wormwood (Matilda, by Roald Dahl): Matilda grows up in a family that doesn't appreciate her. But what really keeps us with her the whole way is she doesn't let this get her down, nor does she act superior (even though she is). As an agent of chaos, she fights back by playing subtle pranks on her family and other adversaries.

What Matilda teaches us: Protagonists need to see the humor in their situations, no matter how bleak they are.

Claire Beauchamp (Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon): In contrast with Matilda, Claire is an inherently strong-willed person. But what keeps us for the long haul is her vulnerability as well as her strength. Like Matilda, she's cunning, and willing to be an agent of chaos to get what she needs. Steal a horse to return to the standing stones that brought her to eighteenth century Scotland. Or defy a priest to save the life of a young boy.  But in both those situations, Claire is also inherently vulnerable. 

What Claire teaches us: Protagonists' actions need a distinct purpose in concordance with the chaos they create, and strong characters need to show their softer sides.

Tally Youngblood (Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld): Tally, like Matilda, is put in a weak position from the onset, especially after she loses her best friend Peris to the "pretties." Although Tally considers herself an "ugly," she doesn't wallow in that. And through her journey to dismantle what's been created, she figures out that being "pretty" isn't all that important anyway. 

What Tally teaches us: Protagonists need enough flexibility to grow and change. 

Notice that all three characters have something in common: a willingness to be an agent of chaos. To turn their external worlds upside down. What makes the difference is how that change relates to them as human beings.

So in this short story I wrote (it's probably going to turn into a book chapter), I've decided to make my character a little wiser (like Claire), more stoic (like Matilda) and more flexible (like Tally). And, like all three, a true agent of chaos.

What about you? Which characters do you root for most? And in turn, what do you think makes readers root for the characters you've written?

Friday, April 17, 2015

Story Cubes for Writer's Block?

Perhaps this would work best for picture book authors, but I think it'd be fun to try for plain old novel-length writer's block, don't you?

Rory's Story Cubes are a game of dice that you can play alone or with friends. It's pretty hilarious with a group of adults, and equally funny with little kids because of the completely unique ways they interpret the images on the dice.

It's even better if you have a time limit or someone you must pitch your story idea to immediately after rolling. But if you're alone, you can still have fun filling the blanks in your novel with flying sheep with golden keys, pyramids that were used anciently as washing boards, and mobile phones from the 1980s. *wink, wink* There are several sets of dice, and I admit to only having one set myself (the Action cubes). You can also get the Voyages, Original, and special dice for space, medicine, and sports. I'm still waiting for the Adverbs dice set to be invented. Until then, I'll roll with the punches, or other Action cubes.

How do you get yourself out of a writing funk?

Happy writing this weekend!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Blast from the OA past: Spinning a Story

A spider begins a web with a frame. It takes time to create the structure. Sometimes it seems like no progress is being made. That it will never be strong enough to be usable. But the spider is clever. The spider knows what makes the web stronger is the detail.

It travels round and round. Spinning the silk into the shape it needs, but knowing the truth can't be seen until the end. But it still works. Detail after detail. Hour after hour. A spider may falter, but it never gives up. It rests and returns to work.

We spin our story in the knowledge that it could fall apart at any moment. We push on with the fine thread of our plot, layering it with the detail we need. Until the day we step back and (hopefully) reveal something beautiful. The structure holds it together, but the power is all in the details. The details catch the reader in our story web.

What stage are you at spinning your story right now? 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Artistry for Authors

It's been just over a year since I started making my miniature book charms for authors, and it's been an amazing experience! I've met so many wonderful people in the process.

I think it has something to do with my clients being in the final stages of a book. It's the stage when you are DONE with all the nit-picky editing and the cover is finalized...when it's time for getting fun presents and swag items for contests and celebrations. The stage when you finally have something to show for all that hard work you've put in, and you can finally start showing off a finished product!

No one knows better than an author (or perhaps an involved spouse), how much time and effort goes into the creation of a single book. I'm so proud of all the people who've endured the process to the end, and THANK YOU for letting me be part of the celebrations. :-)

Check out the brand New Blog (especially the gallery of charming clients!) and 'like' my Facebook Fan Page for special announcements and offers.

If you're going to BEA 2015, stay tuned for a special deal on these mini booklets! (Features your front/back cover and approximately the first thousand words of your novel)

Don't you love swag?
I think it ranks right up there with "The End," "Send me a full ms," and, "You have a deal."

BE PROUD of your accomplishments and show it off to the world!

Monday, April 13, 2015

On Contests and Community

Since I'm usually the one watching our OpAwesome6 Twitter account, I get to see a lot of excitement flitting through the Twittersphere about our Mystery Agent/Editor Contests. I love the support and sense of community that comes from cheering on, and commiserating with, our fellow authors in the query trenches. Some of the writers who I went through contests with remain friends to this day, even as much as five years later.

In particular, I was thinking back to when I was submitting Crow's Rest (by query and in contests) around this time in 2013. My manuscript had been out since February, after some early interest from the WriteOnCon forums, but hadn't found a home yet.

Each contest round was a learning experience--it can be a tremendous motivation to nail down your specific voice and style, once you've read a dozen entries for your genre. Seeing them all in one place really brings home what the agent experiences in their inbox, and how your work must be fresh and different to stand out.

One of the last pitch contests I entered was The Writer's Voice, run jointly in 2013 by Brenda Drake, Cupid of Cupid’s Literary Connection, Krista Van Dolzer of Mother. Write. (Repeat.) and Monica B.W. of Love YA . The format was meant to encourage writers to establish their characters and voice right away, and grab the attention of an agent in those first 250 words. I entered Crow's Rest and crossed my fingers.

But here's the thing--I never made it past the first round in this contest, and I still learned a ton (and made those connections that I started out talking about in this post). And yes, it stung that CR didn't make the cut, but I also knew there were other opportunities out there--and I just needed to find the right match.

That right match for Crow's Rest didn't end up coming through a contest--a few weeks after TWV, I submitted the winning bid on a 70-page critique with editor Vikki Ciaffone of Spencer Hill Press in an auction. That critique turned into an offer of publication, and Crow's Rest is coming out from SHP in only a month (okay, so I glossed over a TON of steps in between)!

I likely wouldn't have even heard about the auction without my writerly connections, nor would I have taken a chance on bidding for the critique if I hadn't earned some confidence from the contest feedback.

So in honor of those connections, I caught up with some of the Alumni of The Writer's Voice 2013:

Leslie S. Rose, who I actually got to meet in person recently! She's had several short stories included in anthologies

Me on the left, Leslie on the right!

Marieke Nijkamp, who blogged about the part contests played in landing her own agent, and whose debut THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS is coming from Sourcebooks in 2016

Lucas Hargis, whose TWV entry is here, and who got two agent offers (and accepted one) by the end of that year

Christie Murillo, who also feels the contest camaraderie so strongly that she thanked a bunch of us who had been in the trenches with her in her "I Have An Agent!" announcement

Molly Pinto Madigan, whose TWV entry also had a contemporary twist on a fairy tale/legend

Pete Catalano, alias Billy Payne, whose debut novel ARTIFACTS is coming from Month9 Books in Fall 2016

Heidi Lang and Kati Bartkowski, co-authors of Mystic Cooking, who signed with Jen Azantian in February

J Larkin, who signed with Carrie Pestritto of Prospect Agency, as a result of TWV 2013

And, if you'd like to read an excerpt from Crow's Rest, Brenda Drake is hosting a reveal on her blog today! Go check it out by clicking her banner below!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Goodbye for now

Hello there, Operation Awesome!

Well, y'all, this is a bittersweet post to make. After two, well, awesome years at OA, I will be stepping down as a regular contributor to the blog. This will not be goodbye forever - you may see me around these parts from time to time as a guest poster, and you will absolutely see me haunting the comments section!

It's been such an honor and a joy to give back to a blog that gave me so much throughout my writing journey, to help arrange the Mystery Agent and Editor contests that introduced me to so many amazing people as a querying writer. I have enjoyed the warmth, wisdom, and insight these ladies have offered over the years, and I know I will keep on enjoying it going forward.

And most of all, it's been wonderful to meet all of you and watch all of these journeys in progress. And if I could leave you (for now) with one last bit of advice, it would be not to decide, ahead of time, how your journey will or should go. The publishing way of life has a way of defying the narratives we craft in our own writing. It has a way of sidestepping the foregone conclusions and bringing on the curveballs. It has a way of taking forever, and when we stop expecting it, it has a way of moving forward all at once.

It can be overwhelming, all these ups and downs, all this uncertainty. And there's so little of it you can control, including, sometimes, how you feel about all of it - especially, sometimes, how you feel about all of it. But you can be positive when it's time to be positive, and when it sucks, you can let it suck. You can be understanding and patient, while never forgetting to advocate for and value yourself. You can work hard and be passionate about what you're working on, and if you need to step back, you can step back. And you can be kind to the people you meet along the way. And that includes being kind to yourself.

And with that, I will take a step back and let the fabulous ladies of OA take it from here. Thank you all for having me. I look forward to seeing where your journeys take you from here!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Farewell for Now

Well, this is one post I never thought I'd be writing for this blog :) I've been a part of Operation Awesome for many years now and it's been an experience I've truly loved. I have met incredible people, both those I blog with here and of course our amazing readers. It's been a privilege to be a part of this "awesome" team :)

But there seems to come a point in many of our lives where we've got so many balls in the air that a few start dropping, and that point has come for me. I have a lot of exciting things happening, things I've worked very hard for over the years and am thrilled to involved in. But those things require time and until someone figures out how to add a few more hours to the day, I've found the need to step away from a few things.

I won't totally disappear. I'll still drop in to read the wonderful posts of my fellow OAers and maybe they'll have me back for a guest post now and then :) But for now, I'll say farewell. I wish everyone much success along their publishing journeys :)

If you'd like to keep in touch with me or see what I'm up to every now and then, I'm still all over the place so please come hang out! :) Here is where you can find me:

Facebook profile
Facebook Author page
Entangled Publishing Author Page
Embracing Romance

Friday, April 10, 2015

O.U.R. Mission to Fight Child Sex Trafficking


For this special occasion, I'm taking a break from writing about writing to support a cause which I believe warrants everyone's attention: Child slavery across the world.

This cause has been a passion of mine since high school when I first learned of child soldiers and the girl children who were forced to "comfort" them by the adults who should have prized the innocence of all these children.

I'm an abolitionist because innocence is precious.

In recent years, more attention has been drawn to this cause by celebrities and non-profit groups who are raising money to free child slaves.

One group's efforts are of particular note. Operation Underground Railroad was started by Timothy Ballard who began his career in the CIA, then was chosen to head up the Child Crimes division of U.S. Homeland Security. As a father, he describes how difficult it was to watch video of children being horrifically abused, and how it changed him. While he'd been hesitant to take this job and be immersed in the terrible stories of these children, after his first rescue mission he held an abused child in his arms and knew he would make this his life's work. Frustrated by the enormous scope of the problem and the limits of working with just one country's government on a worldwide problem, Timothy Ballard founded O.U.R., which now works with all governments who are committed to saving their children from these awful crimes. Recently, O.U.R. combined forces with The Elizabeth Smart Foundation, which is uniquely capable of rehabilitating rescued children. Together, they don't just arrest the bad guys and remove the children from their grasp, but they also place these children in safe houses and programs to help them heal and end the sometimes generational cycle of slavery.

In Port-au-Prince, Haiti:

This is just scratching the surface of a plague, as Timothy Ballard calls it, which UNICEF estimates impacts 2 million children around the world. In the U.S. alone, 100,000 children are trafficked for sex each year. I met one of these women who as a young woman was sold to an American to be his "wife." Years later, a domestic disturbance called police to her house, and she was finally liberated from her owner. My confidence in O.U.R. and The Elizabeth Smart Foundation led me to participate in a campaign to raise money and awareness to rescue these children. I believe them when they say that every dollar donated goes directly to funding these real-world missions where bad guys are arrested, trafficking avenues are closed for good, and children are given the chance to be masters of their own bodies. This grass-roots campaign was started by U.S. citizen Stephen Palmer, and you can donate and join the effort at #flOURbomb #OURrescue


In the first day and a half, this campaign raised over $5,000. It's estimated that it takes $1800 to liberate one child. People in high places are doing their utmost to end this scourge, but it will take all of us. I hope to put my pen to use in this cause in the future. All you who feel so inspired, take a leaf from Harriet Beecher Stowe's life book:

I wrote what I did because as a woman, as a mother I was oppressed and broken-hearted, with the sorrows and injustice I saw, because as a Christian I felt the dishonor to Christianity — because as a lover of my country I trembled at the coming day of wrath.
It is no merit in the sorrowful that they weep, or to the oppressed and smothering that they gasp and struggle, not to me, that I must speak for the oppressed — who cannot speak for themselves.

On Uncle Tom's Cabin in a letter to Lord Denman (20 January 1853). -from Wikiquote

Thursday, April 9, 2015

And the Mystery Agent is..... (plus winners!!)

Please give a warm round of applause to our Mystery Agent, LANE HEYMONT, of the Seymour Agency.

Lane has chosen three winners from the batch of 50-Word Blurbs, so without further ado, congratulations go to: 

Michelle Rose: OUTLANDER meets TITANIC when a girl is sent back in time to the ship after holding a séance to summon a boy aboard Titanic. There, she discovers the witchy powers that send her there can no longer get her home. She has a choice: save the ship, or save herself.

Laurence King: Deirdre Walsh (16) finds herself at the center of a faerie quest to conquer humanity using a magical stone that has been in her family for generations. Unawares, she teams up with the son of her family’s archenemy to retrieve the stone, ransom her kidnapped grandfather, and stop the faeries.

Salma T. Wahdy: Set in a world reminiscent of the Balkans during WWI with an energy-field that is manipulated by second-class Loders, HEIRESS OF DANISKAR is a reimagining of Shakespeare blended with elements of STAR WARS and DOWNTON ABBEY. Hamlynne’s thirst for revenge is complicated by her Loder abilities and approaching war.

WINNERS! I'll be in touch to tell you what to send the amazing Mr. Heymont. 

We couldn't let Lane go without an introduction and asking a few questions. :-)

Hi all, Lane Heymont here. I’m an agent at The Seymour Agency. My fellow agents include Mary Sue SeymourNicole Resciniti, and Julie Gwinn. We represent a range of genres from Christian/Inspirational to Fantasy/Science Fiction and a great deal of Romance.

(OA) How did you become an agent?

(Lane) I saw a tweet that The Seymour Agency was looking for an intern/reader, so I applied and got the job! After a few months they bumped me up to literary assistant. Then, a year and a half later our senior agent Nicole Resciniti asked me if I wanted to make the switch to an agenting position. That’s where I am today.

(OA) What draws you to Sci-Fi and Fantasy?

(Lane) I grew up on science fiction and fantasy. I was a huge Trekkie as a kid, read fantasy novels intended for adults in middle school, and played Dungeons and Dragons, Shadowrun, and even Marvel Legends. As kids we all have our ways to escape during tough times, and science fiction and fantasy film and literature were mine.

(OA) Best advice for querying authors? (besides "never give up")

(Lane) Do. Your. Research. I cannot express that enough. I have submission guidelines. All agents do. If I ask for five pages pasted in the body of the email you should give me five pages pasted in the body of the email. If I sound curt, it’s because this is something I see constantly and don’t understand why. If having your baby (book) published is your dream, then why wouldn’t you go for that dream as hard as you can. People may say, “I don’t know where to begin” and I feel that’s a cop out. Google “how to find a literary agent” and go from there. You cannot run a marathon if you haven’t trained a day in your life. Just like you cannot succeed as a writer without learning the craft and industry.

(OA) Will you be at any conventions this year?

(Lane) Yes! I will be at several, including RT Booklovers Convention in Dallas, RWA National in NYC, Unicorn Writers’ Conference in New York, The Southern California Writers’ Conference in Los Angeles, and the 2015 Florida Writers’ Association Annual Conference.

I’ll be taking pitches, sitting on several panels, and presenting a workshop on worldbuilding. For dates, registration, and more information you can click here to view my conference schedule.

(OA) Are there trends in plots that you get tired of seeing? 

(Lane) I’m tired of post-apocalyptic and dystopian settings. Demons as antagonists is getting old for me, mainly because I have clients and agency mates who write demons so perfectly that it’s an unfair competition. I’m also not a big fan of space opera. For me it’s become oversaturated with outlandish settings and alien species that just don’t make sense. Flying toilet people don’t sit well with me. I thrive on subtlety and subtext.


Sugar or Salt? Truvia in my coffee and salt on my popcorn.

Coffee or Tea? Both! I have a constant IV of coffee and only drink green tea.

Dream Vacation spot? Only one? The Caribbean.

Dream Car? A Bugatti Veyron 16.4, or Ford Mustang (I’m simple).

Proudest moment of your life? Reading letters from Holocaust survivors thanking my grandfather for changing their lives while he oversaw the Landsberg DP Camp.

Most embarrassing? Winter. Ten years ago. Walking outside, I slip on a patch of ice and land on my ass in front of my boss. I’ve never heard a man cackle so loud.

You can connect with Lane Heymont on Twitter, Facebook, and follow his blog

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Wednesday Debut Interview: Any Way You Slice It by Kristine Asselin

Today's WEDNESDAY DEBUT INTERVIEW features Kristine Asselin, telling us about her new YA contemporary novel, Any Way You Slice It, which comes out this month!

First off, tell us a bit about yourself!

I grew up just south of Lowell, Massachusetts—and still live five miles from where I grew up. I’m a Girl Scout volunteer. I love Doctor Who and Harry Potter. My favorite band is America (best known for winning Best New Artist of 1971 and their best known hits of the 1970s Horse with No Name and Sister Golden Hair). I’ve seen them over 30 times. Basically, I’m a giant nerd—and not embarrassed to admit it!

I love food, music, and books.

I write Young Adult, Middle Grade, and nonfiction for kids. I love to do school visits, and talk to kids about writing.

Tell us about ANY WAY YOU SLICE IT. It sounds delicious. :)
AWYSI is about Penelope Spaulding who defies her parents and ditches shifts at the family pizza restaurant to sneak around and play hockey with bad boy Jake Gomes. The lies get deeper the more she plays, and she has to figure out how to come clean without losing everything that’s important to her.

It’s straight up light YA contemporary romance—and I like to think of it as having a sporty girl twist.

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?

This was a quick one. My editor, Meredith Rich, accepted the idea from a pitch. I wrote the actual first draft during NaNoWriMo 2013—it’s coming out in April 2015. So about 18 months from first draft to publication.

What is your favorite part of the writing process? Your least favorite?
I really like the creative process, coming up with new plot lines and characters that work. But I don’t always love the rigors of getting that first draft on paper. I love the revision process—polishing the words until they shine. I love reading over the words after not seeing them for a while and saying, “Whoa, I wrote that? Not bad!”

That’s a spectacular feeling!

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

I decided early on that I wasn’t going to take rejection personally. My first two agents left the industry, so by necessity, I’ve been through the query process several times. You develop that thick skin or you don’t continue.

In fact, over the years, I’ve sent over 150 query letters. It’s actually why I started my query critique service—because I wanted to help people write better queries. I signed with Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency in August 2013, and I love her. She takes great care of me!

How did you find your publisher? What makes them a good fit for you and your book?
I found out about Bloomsbury Spark and Meredith Rich through twitter. She was just starting to acquire her list, and she requested another novel I was querying at that time through #PitMad (a twitter pitch contest) in May 2013. She liked my writing, and that relationship turned into her acquiring AWYSI from a one paragraph pitch.

I noticed you have written some children's books. How has breaking into YA been different?
It’s a completely different process. Believe it or not, I’ve been writing YA about the same length of time as I’ve been writing my nonfiction children’s books for the school library market—since about 2008. Those are assignment-based, freelance projects. My agent isn’t involved with those, and they are assigned to me on a case by case basis. I like taking on those projects periodically because they challenge me in a different way.

After signing a contract with a publisher, what comes next for a debut author? What have you been doing in these months between then and now?
For me, after I signed the contract, I actually had to write the book. That’s fairly unusual for a debut author; my situation is more similar to a sophomore project. Since I finished AWYSI, I’ve been writing the next book, I’ve taken some freelance projects, worked on promotion.

Tell us about your book cover. Who designed it? How much say did you have in it? How do you feel about how it reflects your story?
I *love* my book cover. Ashley Poston is the designer. She’s also a fellow Spark author, which is so cool. I was very involved in the decision-making. They originally gave me 12 or 13 different options, and we narrowed it from there. The existing cover was my favorite from the beginning. The colors changed a bit, but it stood out immediately. The girl IS Penelope. I also love that it doesn’t scream hockey—I wanted to the book to be about Penelope, not about hockey.

Tell us about your title. How did you choose it?
When I pitched the book, there wasn’t a title. Between my agent, Kathleen Rushall, and my editor, we brainstormed about 30 titles. ANY WAY YOU SLICE IT was our collective favorite.

It really was a team effort!

What's next for you after this debut? What are your plans for the future of your writing?
My next YA contemporary is in the hands of my wonderful agent—we hope to have news about it soon. It’s another sporty girl book. I’m also working on a contemporary middle grade novel. I do a lot of school visits for my nonfiction, but I’d love to start getting out to schools to talk about fiction and creative writing (shameless plug to teachers and librarians, I *will* travel!)

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’m absolutely thrilled to have this book out in the world. I’m so proud of it. I’ll be at the New England SCBWI conference (April 24-26) after my launch date and can’t wait to celebrate—both my agent and editor will also be there, so we’ll be partying all weekend! I’ll also be at New Jersey SCBWI in June.

I’m planning on doing some workshops for the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts around the theme of good sportsmanship because of the sports theme in the book. I’m excited to talk to girl athletes.

For my launch (which is April 21), I’m asking people to post pictures of themselves eating pizza or playing hockey and tag me, with the hashtag, #AWYSI. Can’t wait to see all the pizza! Yum!

What a fun idea!

Is there any other advice you'd like to pass on to others pursuing publication? Anything you would have done differently?

My biggest piece of advice is just to persevere. Take opportunities to learn your craft; attend workshops, meet industry pros face to face—if you can. Keep writing. Celebrate the small victories along the way—and enjoy it.

And, just for fun, what celebrity do you think would enjoy your book?
Ooh. I’d love say David Tennant (the 10th Doctor), but he’s not the target demographic, so it’s not likely.

Thank you so much for your participation in this Wednesday Debut Interview and congratulations on your debut!

Thank you so much for having me!

Order Any Way You Slice It here!

Monday, April 6, 2015

What's Your Easter Egg?

I hope everyone had a wonderful Easter! I spent mine trying to get some relaxation time in, while fixing some plot and character problems in one of my manuscripts. There was a place, a little more than 30% in, where it felt flat, and had no direction. Kind of like this:

Now what?

Ultimately, it meant I hadn't yet gotten to what that story really was--it was floundering, with nothing holding it together. I'd added too many directions, and made the story wider instead of deeper.

But it needed to go deeper. That was the creamy filling that the book's egg was missing.

Which meant my character needed a clear focus, a motivation, even after she'd experienced a pretty significant trauma. And it had to directly relate to the mid-point reversal.

And then, when I saw the the end of an episode of Better Call Saul, called Pimento, I finally found my missing Easter egg.

I won't ruin Better Call Saul for those who want to see it, but suffice to say that Saul (Jimmy) finds out that he's been strung along for quite awhile by someone he thought he trusted (which is exactly what happens to my protagonist). Watch if you dare:

My protagonist's motivation was not only to try to fill the holes in her life, but acknowledge that they were there in the first place. And because the antagonist would never allow her to do that, that's where they could bat heads at the mid-point reversal.

Armed with my Easter egg (and its creamy filling) I'll go back to revising that section with a completely new purpose--both with what the antagonist intends and how my protagonist has to get around it.

To to sum up, if you have a section of your book that's falling flat, revisit the following questions:

  • What does my protagonist really want here (their Easter egg)? Why do they want it? How will it help him/her?
  • What does my antagonist really want here (their Easter egg)? How will he/she thwart my protagonist's efforts to get what he/she wants?
  • How will this section relate to the mid-point reversal (or other places where protagonist and antagonist go head-to-head)?

Hopefully, by the time you've worked through this, you'll find Easter eggs that you might not otherwise have discovered.

Your turn. What's your protagonists's Easter egg? Antagonist's Easter egg? How will they help your plot and character development?

Friday, April 3, 2015

Writing for a Cause

Why do you write?

Some people write for the fun of it. Some write to get the voices out of their heads and onto paper where they're more socially acceptable. :) Some write to fill a void. Others write to tell a story that demands to be told. This latter reason is what I want to address today.

Writing for a Cause

Throughout history, there are authors who have written books at just the right time to bring awareness to a societal problem.

Jane Austen wrote books that addressed social inequalities, laws that damaged livelihoods of women and servants, and customs that caused people to act outside of their consciences. Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, etc.

Charles Dickens wrote books that tunneled through the darkest streets of England to find every urchin and every suffering soul ignored by the too-oblivious higher social castes. Oliver Twist, a Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, etc. 

Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote in Uncle Tom's Cabin about the disgusting realities of slavery in America, the people who enabled abuse and degradation, and the people who helped to set them free.

Lindsey Leavitt wrote in Sean Griswold's Head about the difficulty of MS in real life, and the psychological healing of a girl who must watch her father suffer through it.

Simone Elkeles wrote in Perfect Chemistry about gang life, the pervasiveness of gangs in the communities they terrorize, and how difficult breaking free truly is.

Kell Andrews wrote in Deadwood about the ills of cold-hearted ambition and the duty of humanity to be caretakers of Nature.

Each of these authors has a special place in my heart for the stories they told that needed to be told. They are all fiction, and yet they are all true (even Deadwood, with its paranormal elements). They are true because they address true troubles and true heroes.

I'm inspired to be a better person when I read books like these. Sometimes called "issues books," other times, "classics," books that are written to tell important stories and elucidate troubles that hide in the darkest parts of society serve humanity by elevating our thoughts to compassion and service to one another.

I challenge you to begin today to write something that matters to you. Make it short. Make it long. Just begin.

And tell me, what's your favorite issues book or classic of all time? 

(If I had to choose, I think I'd say the New Testament. "Suffer the children to come to me.") - Pick a cause, any cause

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

April 2015 Mystery Agent Critique Forum - OPEN NOW!

Welcome to the Mystery Agent critique portion of our contest. Those who wished to be included in the open forum are ready for your critiques. The entries are extremely short, so I encourage you to read through them and see what's trending. Pretend you're an agent! What catches your attention? Which ones stand out after you've been through them all, and more importantly... why?

Our rules are simple:
Even though it's April Fool's Day...
Be helpful.
Be relevant.
Be kind.

*For THIS contest-- I decided to list Runner Ups who were NOT chosen by Raffelcopter, but wanted to be in the forum for critique. (Sorry I couldn't rearrange the topics--- or Runner Ups would have been moved to the bottom of the list.)

Congratulations to all our winners, and to these lucky winners who opted to not be included in the forum:
Amber Riley
Tlotlo Tsamaase
Nicki Pau Preto
J.C. Welker

All entries have been forwarded to our marvelous Mystery Agent, and in a couple of weeks, I'll reveal our Mystery Agent and his top picks in a post of amazing awesomesauce.  :-) 

Thanks in advance to everyone who chimes in, and to all of our fantastic entrants. Happy critting! 

One last thing....
For easy access to the entries throughout the month, look in the tab under the OA blog banner: MA Critiques.

Just a little more info about the forum:

-You DO NOT have to register to comment.
-To comment on a pitch, just click Reply on the main post in the thread. It will bring up a comment box where you can enter your name and comment.
-To return to the full list, click April 2015 Mystery Agent in the top left corner of the forum.

Still have questions? Leave them in the comments below this post.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The YA Scavenger Hunt is Almost Here!

Want a fun way to spend your Spring Break? Hop on the YA Scavenger Hunt!  This bi-annual event was first organized by author Colleen Houck as a way to give readers a chance to gain access to exclusive bonus material from their favorite authors...and a chance to win some awesome prizes! At this hunt, you not only get access to exclusive content from each author, you also get a clue for the hunt. Add up the clues, and you can enter for our prize--one lucky winner will receive one book from each author on a team! But play fast: this contest (and all the exclusive bonus material) will only be online for 72 hours!

Go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page to find out all about the hunt. There are EIGHT contests going on simultaneously, and you can enter one or all! I am a part of TEAM TEAL and my stop will go live on my Angelic Muse blog on April 2nd, at noon PST. And you'll have two opportunities to win an ARC of Crow's Rest--one in the grand prize, and another giveaway on my page.

There are so many great authors involved this year (including many Fearless Fifteeners and our own OA alumna, Jessica L. Brooks), I feel like I'm in pretty stellar company! I've had a lot of fun researching the author that I'm hosting, and hopefully all you scavengers hunters will too!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Antiheroes, heroes, and Superman


I've never been a huge fan of antiheroes in literature. My favorite example of an antihero is Scarlett O'Hara. She's awful. Her inner voice makes all the good things she does selfish and duty-bound to the image of goodness. House, M.D. is another story with an antihero. Since he's modeled after Sherlock Holmes, we could include him in this category. It's all about the game, not necessarily the lives in jeopardy.

We all tend to love the reluctant hero, but the antihero is different. He isn't just reluctant at first, before he finally responds to the call of duty and honor. He's resentful of the duty all the way through. He has his own reasons for doing what he does, and they have nothing to do with the traditional heroic mind.

Captain America is a hero. He sacrifices willingly for a cause he perceives to be greater than himself. A reluctant hero who stays resentful of the people he must help and the cause he must serve becomes an antihero.

It's tricky to write an antihero successfully and keep people engaged. It can grate on the nerves, especially if there's no perceptible arc or growth in the character.

On the opposite side is the flawless hero. That's Superman. His only weakness is a rock from his home planet, not any kind of relatable human frailty. Just as important as being good and dependable is the necessary human foible or two that make a person relatable. Han Solo is not an antihero because he truly does care about causes and friends, though he prides himself on being tough and detached.

So go ahead and knock your heroes off their pedestals! Just don't knock them too hard. :)

Who is your favorite hero? Favorite antihero?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Wednesday Debut Interview: Everything that Makes You by Moriah McStay

Welcome to this week's WEDNESDAY DEBUT INTERVIEW!

Today, we're talking with Moriah McStay about her YA contemporary debut, Everything that Makes You, which debuted March 17 from HarperCollins.

Tell us a bit about yourself, Moriah. What do you like to do when you're not writing?

Outside of writing and family, I don’t have as much time as I’d like for other things. I try to exercise every day—either the gym or walking my dogs or yoga. I’m a certified yoga teacher, and I teach aerial yoga a few times a month. I spend so many hours in my head, that coffee or lunch with friends is critical to my sanity, as least a few times a week. I read a ton and travel all that I can manage.

Tell us about Everything that Makes You. What made this an important story for you to tell?
ETMY is the story of Fiona—and Fi—Doyle. Same girl, two different stories. Fiona’s face is scarred, after a freak accident when she was little. Fi was never in the accident. In two parallel story lines, ETMY follows them both, looking at how their lives are the same, different and where they overlap. It’s not a paranormal book; there’s no magic. It’s two, equally plausible options about what a girl’s life would be like, based on different circumstances.

I’d thought about writing this book years before I actually did. When I was little, I was in an accident that left me blind in one eye. You can’t notice much now, but at the time it felt significant. People could tell. I got lots of questions, couldn’t play sports, had to wear big glasses. Later on—in high school and college—I began to wonder which parts of my personality were shaped by the accident. If it never happened, who would I be? And what about my brother and sister? My parents? How did the accident effect their lives? What about everyone else’s individual experiences? What about my friend whose father died when she was young? Or the classmate with cancer? How did those events change them?

There are so many “what ifs”--we all have them. It’s an interesting question to explore, I think.

How long has this process taken for you, from the time that you began the first draft of this book until the date of its publication?
The drafting and revisions took about eight or ten months—but I had the idea for almost fifteen years. I probably worked on it most of 2012. I signed with my agent Steven Chudney in November 2012. He sold the book in March 2013. Two full years later, it’s in book stores. The other day, I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in ages. When I told her the book comes out March 17th, she said, “Wow! That was fast!” I replied, “We really need to go out more often."

What do you love most about writing? What do you struggle with most?
I struggle most with balance. Since I’m writing full-time now, I have to consciously make myself go out into the world. It’s great to have so much time to write, but if I spend ALL the time writing, I feel creatively drained. Yoga and exercise helps, but this year, I’m trying to be better about seeking out different things. Art shows, new restaurants, even driving different routes to the grocery store. Anything to get my synapses to fire in new ways!

Every writer experiences some rejection and setbacks along the way. How did you learn to cope with them and move on?
I wrote two complete manuscripts before I found an agent for ETMY. Ugh, they were terrible--I can’t believe I let actual, real people read them—but the process was critical. I learned necessary lessons, and I’m a better writer for it. Sometimes I go back to those earlier ideas, when I’m working on setting or character.

I submitted both manuscripts to agents. The process is LONG, so I started new projects while waiting. I did the same while submitting ETMY, and that bare-bones effort was the spring board for my second novel, which I’m revising now. I’d say this "Keep Writing" coping mechanism was the most helpful for me. Throw yourself into something new. Not only will it keep you too busy to refresh your inbox 80 million times a day, but if bad news comes in, you’ll be excited and focused on a new project. It helps takes out some of the sting.

How did you find your publisher? What makes them a good fit for you and your book?
My agent Steven Chudney was in charge of the submission process, so he gets the credit for my awesome placement with Katherine Tegen Books. I love the depth and breath of HarperCollins--not just with range of things they publish but their long history, too. As a newbie, I feel respected and supported. The experience has been great.

Also, my editor Jill Davis is a godsend. I’m such a better writer now, because of her. She’s my own, personal MFA program.

Was there anything that surprised you about the publishing process?
The time frame can be surprising, and everything that happens behind the scenes. There are so many elements beyond me coming up with the idea and then writing down the words. ETMY feels like a joint effort now, and it's much stronger because of it.

After signing a contract with a publisher, what comes next for a debut author? What have you been doing in these months between then and now?
Social media is a biggie. I wasn’t very involved on Twitter or the blogosphere prior to my contract. My debut groups—Fearless Fifteeners and Class 2k15—have been a great resource. I’m trying to work out the balance between promoting ETMY and revising my second novel.

I remember seeing your cover around the web -- it's definitely eye-catching! How much say did you have in it? What do you hope it will tell readers about your story?
Isn’t is great? I feel like I lucked out with this. It’s not what I envisioned at all—I actually didn’t want a girl on the cover. But Erin Fitzsimmons—the art director at HarperCollins who designed it—did such a fantastic job. She gets all the credit. The hand lettering of the lyrics on Fiona’s side of the face is all her work. She ripped out a moleskine page and worked on that, to make it the most authentic.

Tell us about your title. Was EVERYTHING THAT MAKES YOU the first title you had in mind? If not, how did its change come about?
The original title was Progressions of Fate. So horrible, right? I didn’t even like it, then. When my agent said, “We’ll probably have to change it,” I was like, “Yes! Please! Come up with something better!”

My editor Jill Davis and I tried out so many titles, some better than others, but none exactly right. She sent me an email one weekend. The subject line was EVERYTHING THAT MAKES YOU!!!! It’s a line in the book, and she’d just read it while revising. Once we had the title, I wrote one of the later songs to go with it.

What's next for you after this debut? What are you working on now?
I’m revising my second book for Katherine Tegen. It’s been a long road—very normal for a sophomore novel, I’m told—but I’m pleased with the direction the book’s taken. I’m not sure when it’ll release, but it will be another standalone, contemporary YA.

How does it feel to have your book out in the hands of readers? Do you have any events planned that you'd like to tell people about?
So crazy! HarperCollins has gotten lots of ARCs in the hands of bloggers and readers. I love the unsolicited love—the emails, tweets and reviews--I get from people I don’t know. It’s surreal seeing conversation threads of people talking about your book, like it’s a real thing.

My book launch is March 17 at Booksellers of Laurelwood, an awesome Indie bookstore in Memphis. I’ll be in Jackson, MS March 31 for some school visits, all organized through Lemuria Books. We’re still fine-tuning the other events, but I’ll announce them on my website as they get nailed down.

Is there any other advice you'd like to pass on to others pursuing publication?
For me, it was getting involved in social media. I hadn’t done much of it before my contract. I got on board with the Fearless Fifteeners early on—Jasmine Warga and I are in charge of the ARC tours—and that network had been invaluable. Similarly, I’m a member of Class 2k15. I can’t recommend this type of networking enough. Not only can you bounce ideas off of people in your same boat, but you’ve got a supportive group behind you, when your turn to pub comes.

And, just for fun, what's one song that you think relates well to EVERYTHING THAT MAKES YOU, and why?
“We Made a Mountain” by the Mynabirds. While I’m sure it’s not the original intent of the song, it seems like something Fiona and Fi would share with the other, if they could. It makes me teary every time I hear it.

Thanks so much for the interview, and congrats on your debut!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Rhetorical Devices -- by PK Hrezo

What are rhetorical devices? Is that a rhetorical question? Erm, huh??


Learning about these devices in the craft of writing really helped me tidy up my prose and create a lasting effect. Here's what you should know:

Repeating a word or phrase at the beginning of three or four successive clauses or sentences. 

Example:  But her whole body was shivering, trembling, quaking. And she couldn't stop thinking about her empty bedroom. She couldn't stop thinking about that one window. She couldn't stop thinking that should she swear, she would swear that Ed had been standing there all along. 

Cool, right? It creates a lasting effect in the reader's mind. 

Omitting conjunctions between words and phrases. 

Example:  To be honest, I had been restless. It had started back in the fall--this feeling of time passing, of being postponed, pent up, not wanting to leave the house. 

By deliberately leaving off the word "and" in the end sentence, there is a feeling of despair. 

The use of many conjunctions. Using "and" or "or" several times in the same sentence but without commas between them. 

Example:  She noticed the dark circles beneath his eyes. They appeared whenever he was sick or overtired or just worried. 

These three rhetorical devices are tried and true techniques writers use to create an effect. Try going back into your WIP and finding a paragraph or two to try these out on. Once I'd learned these and went back into my own WIP at the time, they made a huge difference. 

Hope you find them helpful. Are these new terms to you? Or do you already employ these devices in your work? Please share ...

Monday, March 23, 2015

More on Contests, April Mystery Agent Lottery, and Nestpitch

I really enjoyed Aimee's post yesterday about contests--and I agree that they're a great opportunity for writers to get their work in front of agents and editors.

I also agree that organizing contests is a lot of hard work--and I'm lucky to have all my Operation Awesome operatives to help when we run pitch contests here (have you entered the April Mystery Agent Lottery yet? Time is running short!)

I'd also like to plug another contest I'm involved in from the other side--Nestpitch, which will be commencing April 1. It's a pitch contest with an Easter theme.

Though I'm sure the judges will be more tolerant than this egg.

More information on Nestpitch can be found here, but here's a brief run-down:

The submission consists of:

(i)    35-word pitch

(ii)    Answer to this question: If YOUR MC was an Easter Egg, what flavor would s/he be? (no more than 15 words)

(iii)   1st 300-words of your manuscript

Throughout the month of April, multiple teams will look at the entries and pick their favorites. Yours could be one of them.

And of course, you should still enter the April Mystery Lottery too, if you can.

Finally, here are some tips if you plan to enter a contest:
  • Make sure you have something ready and polished. Nothing like getting a request for half-done manuscript!
  • Make sure your pitch includes your protagonist, what they want/need more than anything, and what gets in their way
  • Make sure you follow all the contest specifications, especially submission guidelines, which can vary greatly 

And here are some tips if you plan to be a contest judge:
  • Make sure you know the full extent of what's expected
  • Make sure the timetable fits into your schedule, and that you are clear on what is supposed to happen when
  • Make sure that you can glean/learn something from the experience

Question for all: What has been your experience with contests? 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Importance of Contests (And their Hosts)

I've always been a big advocate of query contests. Its a great way to stand out from the slushpile and find agents that you may not have queried on your own. It also provides a lot of opportunities to get feedback for fellow writers and form a community online with those who are on the same path as you. There's really nothing bad about contests.

I entered in my share of contests while still in the trenches and, let me tell you, most of my partial and full requests came from said contests. In fact, my now agent, the wonderful Laura Zats, found me through #pitmad.

But now I've seen contests from the other side of the show, whether it be judging, or, in the case of this past month, organizing. And let me tell you, I was unprepared for the amount of work it can take to put together a contest. This was my first time putting together the Mystery Agent contest and it was stressful. I don't know how some people run much bigger contests on a regular basis!

So today, let's give a collective shout out to all those writers who host and help out behind the scenes with contests to give other writers a chance at landing their agent. I wouldn't be where I am today if not for those lovely people and they deserve all of the gratitude.

We are always told to give back to our community. And for many writers, this online collection of people at various stages of the writing and publishing process, is their community. So thanks to the writers who give back! We appreciate all of your hard work.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Importance of Reading

Before I get started, I want to apologize that I'm not posting the deadline calculator today like I said I would. I've gotten to the point where it consistently has one of two problems and the solution to each problem causes the other problem. I don't know if that makes sense, but I honestly can't look at it anymore. Maybe I'll revisit it in the future or just start over from scratch, but at this point, it isn't happening. Sorry. :(


The other day, I was talking to my daughter and her friend about writing. Both of them like to write, but they both say they hate to read. So, since I will do just about anything to get my kids to read (how I ended up with only one kid who likes to read, I'll never understand), I tried to impress on them the importance of reading if you want to be a writer, but for some reason--probably lack of sleep and spending all day looking at time cards and Excel spreadsheets--I couldn't come up with any compelling reasons other than that you should know your market if you want to be published and it's makes you a better writer.

Knowing your market is important, but to a teenager who only writes for pleasure and isn't looking to publish anytime soon, it's not important. So that wasn't helpful. And when I mentioned it helps you become a better writer, they, of course, wanted specifics. I told them there were things you gleaned from reading that you can't learn anywhere else. That wasn't specific enough for them. After that, they started talking about something else and the topic was forgotten.

About a week later, I was listening to an audiobook at work and something magical happened. I know listening to an audiobook isn't technically reading, but sometimes that's the closest I can get. Anyway, I have a story I started about four years ago. I love the characters and the premise, and I'd really like to finish it, but I keep getting stuck. I know how I want several of the subplots to go and I have a pretty good idea about the main plot arc--even did a complete outline at one point--but every time I sat down to write, it just felt wrong. The plot needs to go one way but my MC has had no reason do the things she needs to do to move the plot forward. And so it's been sitting, waiting while I work on other things.

So, back to the audiobook. The climax was over and things were wrapping up. The MC was talking about something with her boyfriend and one of them said something (I don't remember exactly what it was) and even though I wasn't thinking about my story, something in my subconscious latched onto some aspect of their conversation, my MC's motivation became clear and everything for my story clicked into place. And it's such a simple solution, it's a little embarrassing I didn't come up with this a year ago. Major duh moment.

This isn't the first time something like this has happened--reading has always been one of the ways I recharge my brain when I'm stuck--but this is the first time it's happened with something this important.

So now I just have to choose between my current WIP and going back to that story. It feels like choosing one child and completely ignoring the other. Such an easy decision. At least now I have more ammo for the next time my daughter asks me why reading is so important for a writer.

What about you? Do you think reading is important if you're a writer? What do you get from reading that helps you to be a better writer?