Friday, February 16, 2018

Good-bye, #OAFlash Fiction & Hello, #QueryFriday

Sadly, not all blog features stick around forever, and that is why #OAFlash Fiction is going away. But! To take its place, comes #QueryFriday. To find out how you can get an outside opinion on your query, keep reading...


Queries are the first step in the journey to seeing your book published. As a professional letter to an agent or publisher, it is intended to interest them in your work. The end game of a query letter? To entice the agent/publisher to request MORE of your work. So stressful? Queries? Oh, yeah. But never fear, as Operation Awesome is here!

On #QueryFriday, one lucky commenter will be chosen for a query critique. Fresh, outside eyes are often helpful in pinpointing problematic areas within a query. Your critique will be respectful of your feelings, while trying to add just a bit more shine/clarification/strength to your query. And if your query is already pretty dang good-- we'll tell you!


1.) You must comment on the #QueryFriday post in order to enter, as well as comment on one other Operation Awesome blog post from that week. This will be checked, and failure to comment on another blog post will result in your entry being invalidated.

2.) In case of being the winner, please make it easy to contact you. If you are not comfortable with leaving your email in your comment, then please make sure that your blogging profile has your contact information listed.

3.) Entry comments will be accepted until Sunday 2/18, Noon, EST. The winner will be selected by a random number generator, and announced Sunday evening in the comments section.

4.) Your critiqued query will be returned to you via email, in an attached document, with notes in the margins, within 7 days.

5.) If you have won a query critique, you will not be eligible to win another until 3 months have passed. Critiques will not be done multiple times on the same query. If you enter again, it must be with a query on a new story.


Good luck! 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

What Do You Love About Writing?

The path to publication can be extremely frustrating, full of rejections, doubt, and uncertainty the whole way. It's great to take a step back every now and then to remind yourself why you write in the first place.

For me, I write because the characters chattering in my head need somewhere to go. Putting them on the page, expanding their world, and letting them come to life is the most magical thing I can do. When I'm not writing, my brain can get awfully crowded, and it's a relief to sit down with a blank Word doc and let my characters play.

I also love playing the 'what if' game. Writing lets me experience things that may never happen in real life, but can play out on the page. My characters can make terrible decisions, and I get to follow them through the accompanying consequences.

What do you love about writing that keeps you coming back to it, even when you're fed up with the publication process?

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Meet Megan Bannen in this Debut Author Spotlight

Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6

The Bird and the Blade

The colors on this cover seemed an appropriate choice for today.

1- What song do you think is today's equivalent of "Everybody Hurts"?

I was a huge R.E.M. fan when I was a teen, although my teen years happened well before "Everybody Hurts". Today's equivalent? Hmm, maybe something Avett Brother-y? "No Hard Feelings"? And, hey, speaking of R.E.M. Carrie Fountain's 2018 novel, I'M NOT MISSING, is not only a fantastic book but a wonderful homage to R.E.M. I can't recommend it enough.

2- What five words represent your most notable characteristic or values? #In5Words

Funny, unpretentious, anxiety-ridden, musical, kind.
Note: Funny, unpretentious, and kind are values I strive for, but I don't know how well I succeed. I definitely don't succeed at "musical" but that never stops me from bursting into song. I am, however, quite successful at being anxiety-ridden.

3- What ignited your passion for writing?

In a recent interview with Trevor Noah on the Daily Show, Jason Reynolds talked about approaching his writing career as a service, that we, as writers, work in the service of kids. That resonates with me, and I think that idea is the same reason why I became a librarian, too. Books helped me grow up by showing me that the world was bigger than I imagined, and that I was not alone in it. As a librarian, I've been putting stories in kids' hands for a long time in the hope that they will find stories that do the same thing for them. Now, as a writer, I hope I'm offering a story that will move readers, expand their experience of the world, and inspire them to ask questions about who they are and what they think and where they fit in the world.

4- Would you share a picture with us of your book with your favorite fountain in Kansas City?

There are bajillion fountains in Kansas City, but my favorite is the one at Crown Center because you can play in it. Fountains should be played in, I think.

Meet Megan Bannen of Kansas City in this Debut Author Spotlight

5- What are some of your short and long term writing goals?

My short term goal is to finish another YA book this year and maybe possibly a middle grade novel as well. My long term goals are to keep writing and improving my craft and (hopefully) selling. I don't ever need to be a bestseller or a household name, but I'd sure like to have a writing career ten, fifteen, twenty years from now.

6- What is your favorite book (by someone else), and what do you love most about that book?

One book? One?? There must be a twenty-way tie for my favorite book. So, off the top of my head, I'll go with I AM THE MESSENGER by Markus Zusak (or really any book by Markus Zusak. That guy could write the phone book, and I'd read it). Ed Kennedy (the protagonist) is unapologetically vulnerable and self-deprecating and yet he figures out that he has as much potential to act and do good in the world as any other human being. Most of us are not exactly born to greatness, but we can do great things. And that part at the end when WARNING: SPOILER Markus Zusak puts himself in the book to prove his point?? Brilliant. Just brilliant.

7- Can you enlighten us as to what makes KC BBQ legendary?

It's the sauce, people. The sauce. Not the rub. The sauce, in all it's smokey-spicey-vinegary-molassesy goodness. Quite frankly, I'd eat just about anything slathered in Gates barbeque sauce.

8- What emotions do you hope your book will evoke for the reader, and is there a particular scene you hope will resonate with readers?

If there's one emotion I want the reader to experience while reading this book, it's longing. All three of the main characters in THE BIRD AND BLADE are longing for something they can't have (or think they can't have). In terms of a particular scene, I wrote the entire book because of the ending, so I definitely want the end to stand out in my readers' minds. More specifically, I hope that scene will inspire readers to question what it means to be brave and heroic, and to examine how we tend to privilege the male narrative (defeating others) over the female narrative (sacrifice and resilience).

9- What most helped you to improve your writing craft?

I've written a blog post on this very topic! I have a Master of Arts in English, and I used to teach secondary language arts, and I've been a librarian for most of my professional career, but the one thing that truly taught me how to write was theater. I did theater all through high school, and I went to college on a theater scholarship. I learned the Aristotelean plot structure from theater. I learned character motivation from theater. I learned subtext from theater. I learned pacing from theater. Most importantly, I learned how to take criticism from theater. That last point? Pure gold. If you can learn how to listen to critique and use it to make your art better, you've learned the most important thing you need to know about doing any artform.

10- What is the most memorable trait or visual oddity of one of your characters?

Khalaf rubs his bottom lip with his thumb when he's stressed out or trying to work through some difficult issue. Jinghua refers to it as "Khalaf's Thinking Face."

11- #WeNeedDiverseBooks What's your favorite book with a diverse main character?

Sorry, but I definitely cannot limit my response to just one title. As a librarian who works with kids and teens, I'm thrilled to see so many great #ownvoices books coming out this year, especially by my fellow 2018 debuts: LOVE, HATE AND OTHER FILTERS by Samira Ahmed, AMERICAN PANDA by Gloria Chao, A GIRL LIKE THAT by Tanaz Bhathena, A BLADE SO BLACK by L. L. McKinney, and PEASPROUT CHEN: FUTURE LEGEND OF SKATE AND SWORD by Henry Lien are just a few that come to mind, and they're all wonderful. Also, I can't wait to get my hands on Kati Gardner's BRAVE ENOUGH.

We know something about Gloria Chao and her awesome American Panda book around here. That interview was not too long ago!

12- Which character has your favorite Personality Contradiction?

Timur Khan is a self-centered, irascible jerk and yet he loves both Khalaf and (by the end) Jinghua ferociously.

13- As a reader, what most motivates you to buy a new book to read?

The author motivates me more than anything. I love to meet writers, to listen to them talk about what inspires them to write. It's that human connection that makes me want to buy a book and read it.

14- How will you measure your publishing performance?

This is going to sound so barftastic, but quite honestly, I'm already successful. Just getting this far? Success. When I first started writing THE BIRD AND THE BLADE, I didn't intend to publish it. Writing that book was the one thing I did for myself at a time in my life when my sense of self seemed like it was being erased by motherhood. It wasn't until draft four or five-three years later-when I finally thought, "Hey, this might be good enough to publish." If this book inspires readers to learn more about the Mongol empire and the Song Dynasty? Success. If this book leads readers to seek out novels set in times and places with which they're unfamiliar, especially those written by #ownvoices authors? Success. And if this book causes even one non-reader to love reading? Huge, glorious success.

15- What's the best book marketing strategy you've come across?

Well, here's my two cents, and since my book isn't out yet, I can't really speak to its efficacy. One of my husband's favorite phrases is "Love the art in yourself and not yourself in the art" (pretty sure Constantin Stanislavski first said those words) and I think that sums up what little marketing philosophy I have. The truth is that I have no control over the market or how readers are going to respond to anything I write. The only thing I can do is write the best book of which I'm capable. So, I plan to write the next book and the next, developing my craft, and focusing on the art rather than myself in the art. In short, I'm just going to be the most genuine person I know how to be and write the best book I can write, and hope that leads to book sales in a roundabout way.

16- What is one question or discussion topic which you would like the readers of this interview to answer or remark on in the comments?

What's the book that made a reader out of you and why? (For me, it was MY FRIEND THE MONSTER by Clyde Robert Bulla which I read when I was in the third grade, a book about a shy, awkward kid like me who found a friend in a monster.)

17- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?

Megan Bannen is a librarian and the author of The Bird and the Blade. In her spare time, she collects graduate degrees from Kansas colleges and universities. While most of her professional career has been spent in public libraries, she has also sold luggage, written grants, and taught English at home and abroad. She lives in the Kansas City area with her husband, their two sons, and a few too many pets with literary names.


The Bird and the Blade

Tuesday, February 13, 2018


I've had several conversations with my writing friends lately about how everyone's writing process is different. That's why there's so much writing advice out there. We're all trying to find our way, and when we find something that works for us, we want to share it with everyone else.

I've never been the type of writer who can switch between projects easily. Before I had an agent, that wasn't a big deal, because I was the only person who cared what I was writing and when. Now, though, I'm accountable to someone else. So in the fall, when my agent gave me revision notes on my manuscript, I dropped the WIP I had been working on all summer and threw myself into revisions.

But after the revisions were done, it was not as easy to throw myself back into the WIP. With the holidays and everything, I ended up taking a three month break from it. I wanted to get back to work. I just couldn't.

And then I noticed some of the writer people I follow on Twitter using a hashtag I hadn't seen before: #AHundredOrDie. I tried just stalking them for a little while to figure out what it was all about, but I eventually broke down and asked (human interaction! so stressful!). Beau (@INukeYou) started doing it in December to get out of a writing rut. Basically, the idea was to commit to writing at least a hundred words a day. The rationalization was that a hundred words was manageable no matter what kind of day he was having.

I agreed. A hundred words is nothing. I mean, the word count for the first two paragraphs I wrote for this post is over a hundred words. Over the next few days, a little over a hundred words at a time, I got through my writer's block and was able to make real progress in my WIP. Some days I only wrote a hundred words. Other days I wrote over a thousand. But I made sure I wrote every day. Having accountability buddies is a strategy many writers use, and this one was the perfect amount of casual commitment for me.

It helped (is helping!) me so much, and that is why I wanted to share it with you. Will it work for everyone? No writing advice does. But if you are feeling stuck, or feeling guilty for not writing, try to write a hundred words. We'll cheer you on at #AHundredOrDie.

Friday, February 9, 2018

We're Going to See Peter Rabbit!

Tomorrow. Today I'm working and once I get off of work, I just want to go home, and not wait in line at the movie theater to pay for over-priced popcorn. But once Saturday arrives, you will find me and my son excited to see the latest book-to-movie adaptation.

Though this version seems much saucier than Beatrix Potter's original imaginings, lol! But it looks like it promises quite a bit of fun, and I'm all for a good laugh. My anticipation over this movie had me doing some digging lately. Imagine my sadness to find that poor Beatrix's first fiancee (her editor) died before they could be married. =(

I also came upon a movie called Miss Potter, starring Renee Zellweger, that came out in 2006. I hope to rent it at the library next time I go. And I recently just purchased a book called The Tale of Hill Top Farm, that is a cozy mystery series starring the author. I am always all about talking animals, and an idyllic English setting.

So, anyone else seeing any movies this weekend? If you do, I hope your popcorn will be cheaper than mine!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Are You Ready to Query?

You've got your manuscript finished, beta-read, edited, and polished. You're confident it's ready to go. You want to try for traditional publication, so you know finding an agent is the next step. You've done some research, so you know you'll have to query to find the right agent. But that's not all you'll need. If you're getting ready to enter the query trenches, here's a checklist of things to do before you begin.

1) Prepare your list of agents. Make sure you do your research and develop a list of agents you'd want to work with if they decide they'd like to represent you. Check, Publisher's Marketplace, and of course, the agent/agency's own website for details. Double or triple-check each agent's submission guidelines to ensure you're sending exactly what they're asking for.

2) Write and polish your query letter. There are lots of resources out there for doing this, but you can't do better than reading every entry on When you've completed your query, give it to a couple of critique partners for input. Often, you'll be so close to your manuscript at this point that you won't be able to read your own query objectively.

3) Write and polish a synopsis. More and more agents are asking for these, and it makes sense to have one in your arsenal before you start querying. I suggest writing a long (5 page) and a short (2 page) synopsis so you can send whichever one is requested. Check out my posts here for plenty of tips on writing the synopsis, along with my 14 synopsis critiques!

4) Clean up your social media presence. Some agents will do their diligence on prospective clients before signing them, or even before requesting more pages. Make sure your Twitter, Facebook, and other social media accounts reflect what you want an agent to see in you.

5) Create a submission tracking system. is great for this, or you can create a chart or spreadsheet to keep track of who you've submitted to, when, and what the result was. You don't want to accidentally double-submit to someone, and being diligent about tracking is the best way to avoid this.

Best of luck to all of you, and QUERY ON!!!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Meet Amy Trueblood in this Debut Author Spotlight

Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6

Nothing But Sky

OA is excited to have an alumna in the spotlight. Welcome, Amy Trueblood!

1- What ignited your passion for writing?

I've always loved to read. As a kid, I would try to find hidden away, quiet places where I could curl up with a good book. Even as I grew older, my interest in storytelling never wavered. Ideas and characters would pop into my head and finally one day I decided it was time to put them on paper.

2- The Charlaine Harris series The Southern Vampire Mysteries, also known as The True Blood Novels and The Sookie Stackhouse Novels; given your surname, do you love or hate those books and subsequent TV show?

Full disclosure: I've never read the books or seen the show. It didn't really bother me until the show started to get popular on HBO and then all these weird mentions started to pop up in my Twitter feed. I was at a writing conference a few years ago with Charlaine Harris and I wanted to mention my name to her for a laugh but she was surrounded by too many fans to talk to her.

3- What are some of your short and long term writing goals?

My goal has always been to keep writing. There's a lot of self-doubt that pops up in this business. I hope I can keep that at bay and continue to craft stories I love and that publishers will continue to buy and share.

4- What is your favorite book (by someone else), and what do you love most about that book?

If you've read my blog you know I always mention one book that I've read over and over: Cassandra Clare's CITY OF BONES. I don't write fantasy (and really have no intention to) but Cassandra Clare is a master of all things writing. Her plotting, characters, worldbuilding, and dialogue are all brilliant. I feel like every time I read the book I learn something new about the craft of writing.

5- Does Bessie Coleman make an appearance in your book?

Yes, she does! I can't tell you when and where (as it's a spoiler) but she does make two appearances. I specifically did research on her so that I could make it plausible that she could show up in Grace's life. She also offers Grace a piece of advice that I think is very timely!

6- Who is currently your biggest fan? What does that person love most (or "ship") about your debut novel?

It may sound funny, but I think my biggest fan is my brother-in-law. He's a retired Navy pilot and he read every flying scene in the book (many times over) as my consultant/expert. Whenever I would send him a scene he would email me back VERY ENTHUSIASTIC comments. He even had a meeting with someone who was a friend of a friend of a friend in Hollywood and tried to pitch my book (LOL!)

7- What emotions do you hope your book will evoke for the reader, and is there a particular scene you hope will resonate with readers?

I tend to write very flawed characters. What I adore about Grace is that she keeps making mistakes but doesn’t allow it to deter her. She gets knocked down a lot before she realizes there has to be a better way to accomplish her dream. Some may call her unlikeable, but I see a young woman on the verge of growing up who is struggling to find her way. There is one scene in particular that illustrates this about her character and I think readers will recognize it right away.
Meet Amy Trueblood in this Debut Author Spotlight
My image of Grace!
(illustration created by Linnea Gear)

8- What is the most memorable trait or visual oddity of one of your characters?

Grace's Uncle Warren chews on several gross, old cigars throughout the entire book. At first I just wrote it as a character tic, but after a while I realized it was his way of dealing with his frustration/stress over Grace.

9- #WeNeedDiverseBooks What's your favorite book with a diverse main character?

In 2017 I read three diverse books I loved:

-When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
-Love, Hate and other Filters by Samira Ahmed
-Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

10- As a reader, what most motivates you to buy a new book to read?

The storyline has to be unique. Whether it's the setting, characters, or the plot, I'm intrigued if an author shows me something way outside my own world and experience.

11- What's the best book marketing strategy you've come across?

Right now I'm really enjoying Instagram. I'm learning how to optimally share "stories" as well as how to post the most intriguing pictures. I am by no means a photographer, but I love trying to use lighting and design to put my book, and others, into a visually pleasing set-up.

12- What is one question (or discussion topic) which you would like the readers of this interview to answer or remark on in the comments?

I'd like to talk about the need for more historical fiction in Young Adult. Many times the stories that can be told about our past are just as relevant today as they were a hundred years ago.

13- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?

Blurb: Grace Lafferty, an eighteen-year-old wing walker, thrills crowds with barrel rolls and loop-the-loops in hopes of making enough money to get to the 1922 World Aviation Expo. When one of her maneuvers saves a pilot's life, a film studio offers Grace a chance at a coveted Hollywood contract. But after a stunt goes wrong, Grace must decide whether her life is worth risking for one final trick.


A devotee of reading and writing from a very young age, Amy Trueblood grew up surrounded by books. As the youngest of five children, she spent most of her time trying to find a quiet place to curl up with her favorite stories. After stints working in entertainment and advertising, she began writing her first manuscript and never looked back.

Her debut novel, NOTHING BUT SKY is a Spring 2018 Junior Library Guild selection and will be published March 27, 2018 by Flux.

For more on Amy, check out her website, or follow her on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or Tumblr.

Nothing But Sky

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Last Chance: Apply to Write for Operation Awesome!

If you missed it last week, head's up: Operation Awesome is looking for a blogger to post every Monday. Details are here. Application deadline is today, February 6th. We hope to hear from you!

Friday, February 2, 2018

Flash Fiction Contest #37

If you live in a cold weather area, you'll have no problem imagining bone-chilling wind, snow, and icy streets. And if you live where it's warm most of the time (jealous), then have some fun brainstorming what it's like to wake up to frozen windshields in the morning. Deadline is Sunday 2/4, noon EST. Winner will be announced later that evening. Rules can be found here.

Have fun!

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Synopsis Critique #14: YA High Fantasy

And now, it's time for this week's synopsis critique! The author of SENTERRA LEGENDS: ARMS OF DESTINY, a YA High Fantasy, submitted this synopsis. My in-line comments are [blue and in brackets], and I'll include a summary at the end. Feel free to comment below!

If you'd like a primer on how to write a synopsis, see my posts here and here. And if you want your synopsis critiqued on this website, fill out the form here, or email your 1-2 page synopsis to me at, and I'll post one critique per week (NOTE: I'll email my critique to the author as soon as I'm done, so the author won't have to wait to see his/her synopsis on the site). Thanks for participating!


As [how old is he? Are there any other identifying characteristics you can include?] DYMER (does not know his own name)[you don’t need this unless it’s significant. Enough to say he’s an orphan] heads out to do the week's shopping for the orphanage [can you add something like, ‘the orphanage he’s lived in his whole life,’ or something else that gives the reader a character detail?], he runs into CIGMA, a girl who should not be alive [what does this mean?]. He learns that she is looking for her aunt and decides to help her escape her pursuers [who is pursuing her? Why?]. Meanwhile, DYWELF (one of the strongest magicians in the land) is mourning the son he lost ten years ago and runs into Dymer [while he and Cigma are escaping? What happens when they run into each other?]. Things come to a head when two powerful beings [who are they?] come for Dymer, and he is asked to run for cover by MATRON. Matron and Dywelf fend off the pursuers. [Four named characters is a LOT for the first paragraph. I’d include Dymer and Cigma, and leave the others out for now. You can describe Dywelf as ‘one of the strongest magicians in the land’ and leave out Matron for now, since the last part of this pargraph is pretty vague. Focus on what Dymer has to do, rather than what others are doing for him]

Thus begins Dymer’s journey through the world of Senterra, as he meets an Echo Beast [what is this? The reader won’t know] and learns of his own [real/true] name, before traversing through dangerous forests with Cigma as he helps her find her aunt [is her aunt someone significant?]. By chance, they run into Dywelf again at the castle of the CROW [no need to capitalize this one, but do explain why this family is significant. Below, we learn it’s an evil family. Include that here] family but do not get a chance to speak with him. They rescue SAMSON [who is this?] from the clutches of the evil Crow family and eventually manage to find Cigma's aunt, who turns out to be Dymer's orphanage matron [had Dymer and Cigma ever met before this?]. Samson is revealed to be an Imbued Tortengof, a highly sought-after humanoid [sought after by who? Why?].

Matron [I’d identify her as ‘the matron’ or ‘Cigma’s aunt.’ There are enough named characters in the synopsis already] informs them that Cigma and she herself are both being hunted [why?]. Faced with the difficult decision of where to look for sanctuary, they decide to venture towards Authet, the central city-state where all spellcasters [are they spellcasters? If so, tell the reader earlier] are sorted into different houses based on their latent abilities. Dymer is made to lie [about what?] and take on the family name FAOSSTIN, [instead of using the name, just say ‘take on the family name of…’] one of the three crown families in the land. All this while, LEPAUG (an other-worldly being) and TOGRIN BALMUNG (Chief Tracker) [rephrase this as ‘All this while, an other-worldly being [and describe it] and the Chief Tracker…’] are hunting them down and closing in.

As all three are sorted into the house Sylwenbard [instead of naming it, say they’re all sorted into the same house], Matron urges them on westward but Togrin Balmung [change to ‘the Chief Tracker’] catches up to them [why does he want them?]. In the ensuing battle, Matron sacrifices herself so that the three can escape. They run into Dywelf again, and proper introductions are made. [What does this mean? Haven’t they all met already?]

Dywelf agrees to help them, but things get more complicated as Dymer learns that Dywelf's full name is Dywelf Faosstin [this doesn’t mean much standing alone. Is the significance that Dywelf and Dymer are related?], and Dywelf too feels conflicted. Before they can discuss any of this, both Lepaug and Togrin Balmung [change to ‘the Chief Tracker’] catch up with them in the city of Dos Erina [don’t need this name. Just say, ‘in a neighboring city,’ if that’s accurate]. Dywelf promises to stop at least one of them and delay the other.

Reluctantly, the three children [are the three Dymer, Cigma, and Samson? We haven’t heard anything about Samson since they rescued  him. If he’s significant, give a little more detail earlier] leave Dywelf behind to deal with the two pursuers as they make their way towards the Cave of Six Paths, a very dangerous place but also their only option [why is it dangerous and why is it their only option?]. Inside the Cave, Samson comes alive [you don’t need to say he comes alive unless he is literally doing so. Just say he takes the lead] and takes the lead because he instinctively feels he can navigate the intricate tunnels. However, they realise that Togrin Balmung [the Chief Tracker] has once again caught up with them and there is no way out. As Cigma and Samson are knocked out, Dymer is cornered by Balmung [the Chief Tracker]. However, displaying a rare breed of spellcasting [what does he do, exactly?], he manages to fend off Togrin Balmung [the Chief Tracker] and deal a telling blow.

Dywelf and another man find them in the nick of time and the day is saved. The man is revealed to be the Headmaster of Sewellyn's School for Spellcasters & Spellweavers, and he offers them all safety [in/at] his school.


This sounds like a really interesting story! The synopsis leans a little too heavily on the reader understanding why each of these characters is significant to the story, without giving those details. Spell it out more – I’ve indicated in the synopsis where I want more information. Make sure you include character motivations (why does Togrin want to find these kids? Why are the matron and the magician bending over backwards to protect them?).

Try to keep the synopsis to 4-5 named characters – it gets character-name soupy otherwise, especially in Fantasy, when so many of the names are made up. You can use character descriptions instead of proper names, and that’ll do the trick. For example, you can describe Dywelf throughout the synopsis as ‘the magician’ and Togrin as ‘the Chief Tracker,’ and that’ll be understandable to a reader.

Overall, this is nicely written and I can track the main plot throughout the synopsis. Work on paring down the character names and answering some of my questions, and you should have a thorough, tight synopsis. Best of luck!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Meet Gloria Chao in this Debut Author Spotlight

Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6

American Panda

Here's an interview that has been on the books since September 2016! Gloria Chao and I both competed in WRiTE CLUB 2016 (as Chun-Li and JavaInMe, respectively). We didn't face off against each other though.

1- Would you recommend WRiTE CLUB to other new authors, and would you care to give a shoutout to our pal DL Hammons?

I highly recommend WRiTE CLUB to new authors! DL Hammons is one of the kindest writers out there, and the format of his contest is brilliant. I love the anonymity, the ability to share longer passages, and the valuable feedback from the community.

2- What ignited your passion for writing?

I found my passion for writing in my mid-twenties, having focused on math and science for the time before that. When I was unhappy in dental school, reading young adult fiction was my favorite escape, and under my husband’s urgings, I started writing, quickly falling in love with it. Five years later, I’ve grown to love it even more each day.

3- Rumor is that you've turned the brass rat. What was MIT like?

MIT was one of the most supportive, fun, and nurturing communities I’ve ever experienced. Everyone values knowledge and the advancement of society, and they balance hard work with fun! When I hear “MIT,” I think of liquid nitrogen ice cream, chair surfing in underground tunnels, and playing pranks—which I’m sure is different than the reputation we have among the rest of the world. Because of this, I worked hard to capture the MIT experience in AMERICAN PANDA.

4- What are some of your short and long term writing goals?

Short term: Finish book 2, MISALIGNED, which will be released fall 2019 Long term: Continue writing and improving my craft. Eventually, I’d like to explore different genres and subject matters, though I have a feeling my next few books will center around Taiwanese-American characters struggling with their identity. I still have a lot to explore!

5- What is your favorite book (by someone else), and what do you love most about that book?

It’s hard to pick just one favorite, but I am a huge fan of Kerri Maniscalco’s STALKING JACK THE RIPPER series. The main character, Audrey Rose, is a girl ahead of her time, wanting an education and career when that wasn’t the norm for females. She fought arranged marriages, snuck out behind her father’s back, has a passion for science, and is badass enough to go after a murderer. Yet, she still loves pretty dresses and gossiping. I admire her intelligence, confidence, and all-around badassness. And the books are page-turners. So much suspense yet gorgeously written—I highly recommend!

6- Is that cadaver dissection scene (WRiTE CLUB playoff round 2) in the book?

Yes, the cadaver scene from WRiTE CLUB is in the book! It’s gone through revisions, but the bulk of it can be found in chapter 15. My other 2 WRiTE CLUB excerpts are also in the final version of the book!

Meet Gloria Chao in this Debut Author Spotlight

7- Who is currently your biggest fan? What does that person love most (or "ship") about your debut novel?

My husband is probably my biggest fan (he’s read every version of my book) and he was the one who encouraged me to first start writing, then pursue it as a career. He definitely ships Mei and Darren’s relationship, but his favorite part of the book is the honest portrayal of a Taiwanese American family, which he has had plenty of experience with. For our first six years together, he saw my parents every Saturday.

I’ve also been lucky to have heard from readers who have connected with Mei’s story (and Darren), and I have also received several starred trade reviews.

8- What emotions do you hope your book will evoke for the reader, and is there a particular scene you hope will resonate with readers?

I hope the book will 1) make readers laugh, 2) help them see either a mirror of their own experience or a window into another culture, and 3) feel empathy for both Mei and her parents. I really hope chapter 26, when Mei and her mother talk openly with each other for the first time, particularly resonates with readers. This conversation was based on real conversations I had with my mother while writing this book, and while it was the most difficult chapter to write, it was also the most rewarding.

9- What most helped you to improve your writing craft?

Reading (a lot!!) across genres and age categories. Craft books help as well, but by far my best writing education came from studying other books.

10- How do you feel about papaya smoothies?

I actually love papaya smoothies even though I despise the history behind it. Because of a village in China that eats a lot of papaya and churns out big-breasted women, my mom, just like Mei’s mom, pushed me to eat papaya to make my breasts grow. After drinking papaya smoothies for a while, they really grew on me, though I never believed in their magical properties.

11- What is the most memorable trait or visual oddity of one of your characters?

Unique Visual Trait: Mei has a mole on her forehead that her mother’s friends are constantly saying how she was so unlucky to have just missed out on it being in the center. After the hundredth friend touched it without permission, she took matters and the scissors into her own hands and gave herself bangs to hide the mole. Memorable habit: Mei’s mother clucking her tongue to show her disapproval (and sometimes accompanying it with an air slap).

12- #WeNeedDiverseBooks recognizes all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, Native, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities. In what ways are the main characters in your book diverse?

My main character and her family are Taiwanese and her love interest is Japanese American.

13- Which character has your favorite Personality Contradiction?

Mei is intelligent and perceptive but because of her sheltered upbringing, she is socially awkward and naive, having experienced much less of the world than her peers.

14- Can you please tell us more about the American Panda cartoon?

I am happy to share the cartoon here!
American Panda comic. Meet Gloria Chao in this Debut Author Spotlight

15- As a reader, what most motivates you to buy a new book to read?

I read widely across genres and age categories, but I tend to be drawn to books that explore experiences that differ from my own, and realistic fiction is my main love. I like to read the first few pages, and usually I’ll know then which ones I have to buy immediately!

16- How will you measure your publishing performance?

My goal when I wrote this book was to be able to reach at least one reader who struggled with the cultural gap the way I did, and I have already heard from many readers of all ages and races who had similar experiences. In that way, I feel I have already achieved my dream, and I am focusing on writing my second book, which will be released fall 2019.

17- What was the deciding factor in your publication route?

Because I did not have capital to invest in self-publishing and my own marketing, I pursued the traditional publication route.

18- What's the best book marketing strategy you've come across?
Meet Gloria Chao in this Debut Author Spotlight

I haven’t looked at any data and I’m not sure what has been successful in terms of sales, but one thing I’ve learned about book marketing in this journey so far is that you should pick promotion strategies that you’re excited about, with sales being only a small part of the equation. You also shouldn’t feel like you have to do what everyone else is doing, and in fact, choosing unique strategies that only fit your book can help you stand out. For example, I commissioned a cartoon adapted from one of the AMERICAN PANDA scenes since the humor in my book lent itself to be captured as a comic strip. I did this more for myself because it was something I wanted to have, and it was worth the cost to me even if it doesn’t sell any books.

19- What is one question (or discussion topic) which you would like the readers of this interview to answer or remark on in the comments?

What is something that you think only your family does? For example, I am pretty sure my family is unique in ordering so much food at restaurants we need at least one extra table to be brought over (yes, it’s as embarrassing as it sounds).
Meet American Panda author Gloria Chao in this Debut Author Spotlight

20- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?

Please say hi! You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @gloriacchao, and on my website at .

Gloria Chao currently lives in Chicago with her ever-supportive husband, for whom she became a nine-hole golfer (sometimes seven). She is always up for cooperative board games, Dance Dance Revolution, or soup dumplings. American Panda is her debut novel, and Misaligned is forthcoming fall 2019.

American Panda

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Happy Birthday Giveaway!

Today is my birthday, so I'd like to give YOU a present: an ARC of The Summer Wives, by Beatriz Williams!

It's literary fiction, which I don't usually read, but I found it very engaging. This would definitely be a good book for a book club. It doesn't pub until July, so if you'd like to read it now, enter my giveaway! 

To enter, comment below with the best book you've read lately. Please include your email address or Twitter handle so I can follow up with you if you win! U.S. only, please, because so far no one's paying me to write anything and funds are limited at the Reynolds house. I'll choose a winner Friday evening at 9pm Mountain time.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Reminder: Apply to Write for Operation Awesome!

If you missed it last week, head's up: Operation Awesome is looking for a blogger to post every Monday. Details are here. Application deadline is February 6th. We hope to hear from you!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

2018 Resolutions #4: Write More

I love New Year's resolutions. They're a great excuse to evaluate the past year, decide where I want to be at the end of this year, and figure out a game plan to get there!

I have four writing-related resolutions this year, and I'll share one every week in January. This week, I resolve to WRITE MORE.

This one is pretty self-explanatory. In 2017, I resolved to complete 3 full-length manuscripts. I wrote one from scratch and revised it countless times, revised an existing manuscript several times, and got 50,000 words into a NaNoWriMo novel I'll probably never complete. So, I didn't quite make my goal last year.

For 2018, I'm sticking with the same resolution. Three full-length manuscripts. I've started brainstorming the first, and will work on outlining it during January. We'll see what happens after that! More than anything, I don't want to go more than a few weeks at a time without writing next year, even if it's writing something that doesn't end up in a full-length novel.

What are your writing goals for 2018?

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

We're looking for a new blogger!

Operation Awesome is looking for a new team member!

We are looking for a writer to commit to blogging every Monday. The schedule will be flexible around contests and other date-sensitive posts, but this blogger will still be expected to blog approximately four times a month. We also need help running our Pass Or Pages contest, and we expect our new team member to help with all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into the contest.

We'd like our new blogger to come up with a feature that they would implement on the blog. Not every week would have to be devoted to the feature post, but it should be something that will appear at least once a month. On non-feature weeks, you would be welcome to post about anything you'd like! As far as blog posts go, pretty much anything related to the craft or business of writing is welcome.

Each blogger is responsible for promoting their own posts on social media. You will receive the passwords to the Operation Awesome Facebook and Twitter accounts to help you reach more people.

We welcome applicants from any background, and are especially interested in bloggers from groups that are underrepresented in the writing world.

We see membership in Operation Awesome as an opportunity to make meaningful connections in the publishing community no matter where you are in the journey. Each of us has grown and learned from the experience of group blogging, and if that sounds like something you’d be interested in, please send an email to OperationAwesome6 (at) gmail (dot) com with a short message on why you think you would be a good fit for Operation Awesome, as well as your idea for a new feature for our blog. Please include links to your social media and blog sites. If you don't have a public blog where we could see examples of your writing, please include a theoretical guest post with your application.

If you have applied before, and are still interested in blogging with us, we strongly encourage you to apply again.

We will accept applications until end-of-day on Tuesday, February 6th. Questions may be asked as a reply to this post, or on Twitter @OpAwesome6 or @Kara_Reynolds7.

Thank you!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

2018 Resolutions #3: Critique More

I love New Year's resolutions. They're a great excuse to evaluate the past year, decide where I want to be at the end of this year, and figure out a game plan to get there!

I have four writing-related resolutions this year, and I'll share one every week in January. This week, I resolve to CRITIQUE MORE.

In 2017, I read and critiqued 6 or 7 full manuscripts (a few more than once!). I love critiquing, and I think I have my system down to a science (first, I read the manuscript on my Kindle for story, then I go back and re-read it on my laptop and make in-line notes/comments on plot, character, narrative, etc., and finally send it back to the author with a longish email explaining my thoughts). Critiquing this way is a lot of work, but I think (I hope!) it's valuable for my critique partners.

For 2018, I resolve to take on 10 full manuscripts for critique. I've got one in the queue already, so I'll be looking for 9 more after that! It's so exciting to see what my critique partners are working on, and to find and develop relationships with new critique partners.

Are you planning to beta read or critique manuscripts in 2018? What's your process for doing so?

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Meet David Donaldson in this Debut Author Spotlight

Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6

We Follow the Dying Light

1- Have you any New Year's Resolutions you can share with us?

Well I recently cancelled my gym membership so we can exclude the most obvious choice. My resolution would be to take at least a minute once a day to slow down and live more fully in the present moment and soak up the world around me. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in living a busy life and forget to appreciate life and the world around me as I bounce from task to task.

2- What five words represent your most notable characteristic or values? #In5Words


3- What ignited your passion for writing?

My imagination tends to run in overdrive all the time, so I’ve never had a shortage of ideas to write about. What I lacked was the focus to dedicate myself to one idea full time. When I started to struggle with anxiety and depression after some difficult life events collided, my imagination became a curse. It would take a simple thought and turn it into something catastrophic. To battle this anxiety I started to write about it and developed that writing into a story about a psychiatrist trying to help others as she struggled under the weight of her own mental illness. When the writing helped me improve my mental health, the story changed with it, morphing from something deeply introspective, but without a well constructed plot to a significantly tauter thriller as I realized there was a more exciting book buried within all the words I had written.

4- Would you share a picture with us of your book in an interesting setting?
Meet David Donaldson in this Debut Author Spotlight

In this photo, my book is next to a cookie a local baker made for me with the cover on top. I gave these out to anyone who asked a question during the Q&A at my book launch. They were a big hit and the Q&A ended up being the best part of the event.

5- What are some of your short and long term writing goals?

In the short run I want to do a book tour for We Follow the Dying Light, continue to produce flash fiction for my blog at , and finish the sequel. I’m over 43K words towards finishing a first draft. Because I don’t write full time, I have to be realistic with myself in terms of how quickly I can do all of this while maintaining a day job.

6- What is your favorite book (by someone else), and what do you love most about that book?

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy. McCarthy’s writing is incredibly poetic. He picks words out of the air and strings them together in these magical ways. Yet, in No Country for Old Men, it’s embedded in this great suspenseful crime story about a man on the run that keeps you turning the pages. That is no small feat in my opinion.

7- Who is currently your biggest fan? What does that person love most (or "ship") about your debut novel?

My readers are only just starting to provide their feedback as my book only came out in November and the book launch was held December 12th. But I actually had a cousin who works for an airline come to my launch while she was in Toronto on a layover between India and France. And she doesn’t even live in Toronto. If that’s not a super fan, I don’t know what is.

8- In what ways is writing a mute character easier than a speaking one? In what ways is it more difficult?

Great question! Dialogue is often how a character’s emotions and motivations are revealed in a story, as they interact with other characters. A character that is mute doesn’t have that ability, so you need to work harder to write down actions, facial expressions, and other features that elicit the same information for the reader.

9- What emotions do you hope your book will evoke for the reader, and is there a particular scene you hope will resonate with readers?

The journey I take the protagonist through is not only a suspenseful ride through a broken man’s traumatic memories, it’s a walk through someone’s struggles with immense guilt. I hope the readers feel dread, fear and sadness as they explore what haunts the characters, but also feel an optimism about the future and one’s ability to stand up to their past and find closure.

10- In short, what is the Vancouver opioid crisis?

In Canada, Vancouver is the epicenter of Fentanyl related overdoses and deaths. The East Hastings region of the city in particular is known for its problems with poverty and drug addiction, and when Fentanyl started to surface, it was this area that was hit hardest. When I started the novel I read about the staggering number of overdose deaths and the way it was overwhelming the city’s capacity to deal with the issue. If the technology Dr. Chambers uses really did exist, I envisioned Vancouver being a city where they would try anything to get ahead of a problem that isn’t slowing down.

11- What most helped you to improve your writing craft?

Working with an editor was a huge help. I had plenty of experience writing with my day job so being concise and knowing how to pull various ideas together was not an issue. But knowing how to structure a piece of fiction, what parts you need to include, what parts don’t contribute to the plot…all these elements is where the fact I was a first-time author shined through. But my editor had so much valuable feedback to provide and I’m immensely grateful for the work she did on the book. Now that I’m working on the sequel, these new skills are making the process far more productive than my first novel.

12- What is the most memorable trait or visual oddity of one of your characters?

The antagonist has a pair of pale blue eyes that look like ice on a frozen lake. His eyes seem vacant, cold, dead, and they fill the protagonist with an immense dread every time she catches his gaze.

13- #DiversityBingo2017 Which squares does your book cover on the card?

MC with an invisible disability MC with chronic pain

14- Which character has your favorite Personality Contradiction?

My protagonist for sure. She maintains a strong sense of duty towards her patients and pours all of her energy and resources into seeing them get well, but by the same token, she convinces herself her lies, theft and manipulation of others is a justifiable means to this end.

15- Can you think of any small change in the world you could make to benefit hundreds of other authors or readers potentially?

My book touches upon different aspects of mental illness, including PTSD, anxiety, depression, addiction and suicide. If the book or anything else I have to say on mental health can remove the stigma surrounding it, that would be a small change with big ramifications. Just like we can become physically ill, we can become mentally ill, and there’s no reason we should judge one differently than the other. #sicknotweak

16- As a reader, what most motivates you to buy a new book to read?

The back-cover blurb is what will typically seal the deal. If it gives away most of the plot I will put the book back on the shelf. That’s like a movie trailer that gives away all the best scenes. Conversely, a two line blurb from an author I’m not familiar with isn’t enough to make me a buyer. I spent more time writing and re-writing my back-cover blurb for these reasons. And I’m still not convinced I nailed it.

17- How will you measure your publishing performance?

I have no illusions about winning any writing awards and never set out to write the next great piece of literary fiction. I think I still have a long way to go as a writer before I can stand in that kind of company. Obviously selling a boatload of books is a good barometer of success, but more importantly would be strong reviews from influential critics in literature as well as important people in topical fields which my book touches upon.

18- What was the deciding factor in your publication route?

We Follow the Dying Light is self-published. A few pieces of information came together to convince me to go this route. 1) Tellwell Talent, a Canadian company, had a service offering that took all the work out of the areas of self-publishing I knew nothing about. Their pricing structure meant they didn’t take any royalties, given they also didn’t take any of the risk in writing and investing in the book. 2) The statistical probability of landing a deal as a first-time author with a traditional publisher are very low, and if you do win a deal, it could still take years before your book sees the light of day. 3) Small presses don’t have significant marketing budgets, leaving most of that work on the author. Given this is what I would consider the most valuable part of having a publisher (since you can outsource editing and cover design yourself) it didn’t make sense to me to give up a large percentage of royalties and still have to do all that work.

19- What's the best book marketing strategy you've come across?

The best strategy will depend on your book and its target audience. Social media is an inexpensive method to get a massive global reach. On the flip side though, you’re competing with a lot of eyeballs and attention spans spread across a lot of other marketers doing the same. If your novel deals with topical issues, then you have a much better chance of landing an interview with mainstream media as part of their coverage. That’s the route I’ll be taking in the new year. As powerful as social media is becoming, I still think people are more likely to make a purchase decision hearing about an author on mainstream media than they are through social media. It helps establish an extra trust factor.

20- What is one question or discussion topic which you would like the readers of this interview to answer or remark on in the comments?

I would be interested to hear about how reading and/or writing fiction helped other readers and authors deal with PTSD, anxiety and depression and what books were particularly important to them in this regard.

21- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?

I can be found on:
Meet David Donaldson in this Debut Author Spotlight

Twitter @AuthorDonaldson -

Facebook at the page David Donaldson – Author

or directly at my website

One of my favorite excerpts from the novel is below:

A thick cord stretched into the darkness at the edge of the lattice. I pulled myself along its length. The lattice grew dark as I wandered into a nebulous, suppressed place. Gavin's trauma loomed immense before me: a black orb of epic proportions haloed in a ring of light. Its watery surface undulated, as if bodies were struggling to breach the memory for a breath of air. Long tendrils emanated in all directions, stretching for miles to wrap around the healthier parts of Gavin's mind.

A chill ran up my body as I tried to mentally prepare myself for entry. To enter is to breach the event horizon, to say goodbye to Catarina as she is, for I never exit quite the same. A piece of me is left inside the memory, a piece of my patient comes out.

I placed my hand against the orb in front of me and my acusensory suit grew hot as the edges of the memory opened. The lattice let out a low, rhythmic pulse. Negative energy rippled out of the trauma as the gates of Gavin's hell opened.

We Follow the Dying Light

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Sharpen the Saw

It's time for the last post in the 7 Habits of Highly Successful Writers series. The 7th habit is Sharpen the Saw.

We can never become complacent as writers. We should always work to improve our skills. As we do so, we experience what Covey calls the "upward spiral" of progression.

Self-improvement doesn't happen by accident. We must make conscious choices about what we want to improve and how we're going to go about it. There are many resources out there for writers who want to improve their craft--we have lots of them here at Operation Awesome, for one--it's just a matter of finding something that works for you and having the tenacity to stick with it.

Good luck to you!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

2018 Resolutions #2: Read More (and Differently!)

I love New Year's resolutions. They're a great excuse to evaluate the past year, decide where I want to be at the end of this year, and figure out a game plan to get there!

I have four writing-related resolutions this year, and I'll share one every week in January. This week, I resolve to READ MORE (AND DIFFERENTLY).

I read a lot. Always have. This resolution isn't so much about reading a greater quantity of books (I'm pretty happy with how my GoodReads challenge turned out in 2017), but about reading different kinds of books. I write contemporary, so I mainly read contemporary (both adult and YA). This year, I resolve to read more sci-fi, fantasy, romance, and other genres I'm not as familiar with. I don't want to continue saying that I don't know key (or classic) books in those genres, or that I don't understand what makes a good book in different genres from the one I write in.

In 2017, I tried to alternate YA and adult books, and made an effort to read more books authored by people of color. I want to continue both of those methods in 2018, and also include more books in genres I'm not as familiar with.

What books should I read in 2018? What books are you planning to read in 2018?

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

What Books are You Afraid to Read?

There's this book I want to read, but I'm afraid to. Not because it's a scary book (I don't want to read scary books, I'm a big ole chicken). It's because this book deals with a topic I'm very knowledgeable about, and I'm afraid to read it in case the author didn't get it right.

This book sounds awesome. It's gotten a lot of buzz, people speak highly about it on Twitter, and from what I know of the author's social media, she seems like a really cool person. So I would love to read this book. But if the book doesn't get this one aspect correct, or worse, doesn't even include it, then it'll be ruined for me and I'll be disappointed.

I don't know what it will take for me to get over my fear and read the book. If I go to the library tomorrow and it's on display, that will be my sign from the book gods that I can read it. I will definitely take that as a sign (hint hint, book gods).

What books are you afraid to read? Why? What helps you give a book a chance? Let me know in the comments!