Friday, October 20, 2017

Flash Fiction Contest #36



It's fall, which means you've probably seen a pumpkin or two sitting about. Write a piece of 350 words with a pumpkin(s) in it, and enter it by noon on Sunday 10.15, EST, in order to win! Rules found here.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Preparing for NaNoWriMo: Minimizing Distractions

November is National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo. It's an entire month dedicated to writing, or, more specifically, to amassing fifty thousand words on an original novel. Last year, over 400,000 writers from around the world participated. The NaNo website helps you track your word count, provides regional support and chat boards, and allows you to "win" when you hit your 50,000-word goal. Every November, bookstores, coffee shops, and 24-hour diners fill up with writers - you can practically feel the creativity in the air! NaNo provides a great community, and it's a great motivation for starting or continuing a novel project. 2017 will be my seventh year tackling NaNo, and I can't wait to get started!

That said, there are a few ways to set yourself up in advance for NaNo success. We'll explore these each Thursday in October, so you'll be ready to hit the ground running on November 1st!

This week, let's discuss minimizing distractions. Life is full of distractions, and many of them (like urgent work projects, family emergencies, and natural disasters) are unavoidable. If these types of events happen in November, there's not much you can do about it. But how can you prioritize NaNo writing in light of more typical, everyday distractions? Here are a few ideas:

1) After you've set your NaNo schedule, make sure your family/roommates know about it. If you're planning butt-in-chair, uninterrupted writing from 6:00 a.m. through 7:30 a.m. every weekday in your bedroom, plan to have your door closed during that time, and any obligations (feeding kids, pets, etc.) already covered. You can put a note on the door, or some other reminder that you are not to be disturbed during that time.

2) Use an internet blocker on your laptop during your writing time. I've used Freedom in the past, with good results. If you only have an hour a day to devote to NaNo writing, you don't want to get to the end of that hour and realize you spent most of it on Twitter. If you need to do research for your book, put a placeholder in the manuscript so you can go back and do the research after November's over. You don't want the Wikipedia rabbit hole to disrupt your writing day!

3) If you're planning a long writing stretch, consider setting alarms. I like to do an hour for writing, then a fifteen minute break, then another hour, etc. The alarms make the whole thing seems more official, and I'm less likely to take breaks during the writing time when I know I've got an official break coming up.

Distractions happen. Don't beat yourself up if you can't make your days words because something out of your control happened. But working to minimize distractions ahead of time can help you meet your word goals, and eventually, win NaNo!

How do you minimize distractions during writing times?

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Meet Catherine Schaff-Stump in this Debut Author Spotlight

Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6

The Vessel of Ra (The Klaereon Scroll Book 1)
by Catherine Schaff-Stump


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

Plan ahead, yet think laterally.

2- Can you share a story from your life that shows who you are as a person and why you are a writer?

I was a lonely child who grew up in an abusive family. Reading was important for me to learn how to behave, because my family didn't teach me. I spent a lot of time in the pages of novels learning about people who lived bravely and honorably in spite of hardship. In a way, my two dads were Alexander Dumas and Charles Dickens. Many authors gave me a skewed code about how to behave, but they also taught me how to overcome odds and adversity with strength. Since authors taught me how to live, I wanted to be one of them, and write about the same kinds of characters that inspired me. I gotta tell you though, I was a pretty weird kid.

3- What ignited your passion for writing?

My mother's praise. I wrote a poem for her one mother's day, and she thought I was Shakespeare or something like at eight years old. It was probably a very bad poem, but due to my mother's encouragement, I thought, "Hey. This is something I can do. It's mine." I never stopped writing.

4- What inspired you to write a story featuring Ra?

Ra is an interesting god from the Egyptian pantheon. His story has the potential to become one of great redemption. Check out the whole story of Hathor/Sekhmet, and see how Ra gives up his eye and changes his behavior. The Ra we see in The Vessel of Ra is who is left after giving up his eye, a god who believes that humanity are not equal to the Egyptians. The Klaereon Scroll series is largely about redemption at many levels, and Ra is one of those levels.

5- Would you share a picture with us of your book at an interesting location?

Meet Catherine Schaff-Stump in this Debut Author Spotlight


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

Short term I'm working on two manuscripts for two different series. The one you might expect for me to be writing is the sequel to The Vessel of Ra which is called The Pawn of Isis. The other book is about a junior high monster hunter and is called Abigail Rath Versus Mad Science. Long term, I'd like to finish both of these series and see what other trouble I can get into as a writer. My heart's wish for my writing is for none of you to remember me, but to have all of you remember one of my characters.

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

My husband Bryon is my longest term, most loyal fan. For him, he's happy to see this novel in print because we've talked a lot about the world and characters over the years, even in books you haven't seen yet. I have a great group of beta readers, and there is a healthy debate among them as to whether Octavia belongs with Drusus or Khun. I'm more Team Drusus, but I can see why many of them are Team Khun.

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 want my readers to find The Vessel of Ra creepy and spooky. Yet, at the same time, I want them to see the heroic in the books, and I want them to see that people can change their destiny.

9- What's the most unusual book swag you've come across?

Jim C. Hines gave out tattoos for his Jig the Goblin series. These still remain the coolest items I've seen an author give out. Ann Leckie gave out lanyards with the names of her spaceships from Ancillary Justice. That was cool. Finally, Mary Robinette Kowal gave out fans for her initial novel in the Glamourists Histories series. I used that fan for a year!

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

In 2009 I went to the Viable Paradise workshop. In 2012, I journeyed to the Taos Toolbox workshop. Both of the teachers at these workshops helped me stretch my craft in incredible ways. I will recommend writer education as a way to get the technique you need to improve. Talent gets us all so far, but we need to be pushed and stretched, and made to practice.

11- Why do you consider "The Vessel of Ra (The Klaereon Scroll #1)" as your debut book rather than "Hulk Hercules Professional Wrestler"?

I wrote Hulk Hercules Professional Wrestler in 2010. It was a collaboration between myself and Cats Curious Press, and it was a retelling of the 12 Labors of Hercules in today's world, with some characters of my own, but mostly a replay of Greek mythology. There are mythological elements in The Vessel of Ra, but the majority of that novel's world building and characterization are of my own making, and the mythology in the novel is a blending. I think for me it comes down to a matter of how much material I created versus how much I found in already established sources.

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

When a Klaereon is bound to a demon, their skin is albino. Their blood is blue, their eyes are blue, and they have black hair. I always think of them as characters from black and white Hollywood in the technicolor world, or live Edward Gorey drawings.

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

I cover a few squares. Carlo Borgia is a displaced person as the novel progresses, and will remain so for a great chunk of the series. Lucy Klaereon, a little person, is a main character with an underrepresented body. Octavia Klaereon has the invisible disability of a curse that makes her function as a schizophrenic. Sofia Borgia is not a main character, but is in a wheelchair. Octavia and Drusus are in an arranged marriage.

14- Which character has your favorite Personality Contradiction?

Lucy is my classic smart but naive character in this book.

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

You know, if we gave everyone social security and health care, I think that more people would write awesome books for all of us to read. One of the many reasons I didn't start writing seriously until after I started another career was because I wanted retirement and health care. If I'd had a chance to start working on books, even in 2001 after I'd just finished my PhD, I might be through the Klaereon series now. Just saying.

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

When the book is set is a big one. I like histories. I also like humor, and I tend more toward fantasy. Covers will sometimes do it. Word of mouth recommendations will sometimes do it. One of the biggest things is if I meet the author in real life or online, and the author is a nice person. That makes me more curious to check out their work.

17- How will you measure your publishing performance?

I want to immerse my readers in the experiences of my characters to the extent that they care when the next book comes out. AND I really want them to remember my characters, even when I'm gone.

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

Curiosity Quills offered, and I liked that they'd been around in the small press business for a long time. They had beautiful covers and great author support. Their authors had great things to say about working with them, so I went with them. From there, I signed with my agent, who has been professional and thoughtful about my work. I know I would not have learned as much about publishing without her.

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

I'd be happy to talk about the book or writer education.

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

My short bio:


Meet Catherine Schaff-Stump in this Debut Author Spotlight
Cath Schaff-Stump writes speculative fiction for children and adults, everything from humor to horror. Her young adult Gothic historical fantasy The Vessel of Ra is available from Curiosity Quills in September, 2017. Catherine lives and works in Iowa with her husband. During the day, she teaches English to non-native speakers at a local community college. Her most recent fiction has been published by Paper Golem Press, Daydreams Dandelion Press, and in The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk. Catherine is a co-host on the writing and geek-life fan podcast Unreliable Narrators. You can find her online at:
Facebook
Goodreads
Amazon
@cathschaffstump
http://cathschaffstump.com
http://unreliablenarrators.net

Meet Catherine Schaff-Stump in this Debut Author Spotlight

A short blurb about the book:


Octavia Klaereon knows her sister Lucy is the weakest demon Binder in the Klaereon family. To save Lucy's soul, she must kill her sister after Lucy is possessed by the god Ra. Lucy tries to cut the tie between herself and Ra, but Ra possesses Octavia, with his eye on recreating the world in his image. Lucy Klaereon will save Octavia and stop Ra, even if she has to come back from the dead to do it.


The Vessel of Ra (The Klaereon Scroll Book 1)
by Catherine Schaff-Stump

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Seek First to Understand, then to Be Understood

Time to explore another habit of highly effective writers!


Habit #5 is Seek First to Understand, then to Be Understood. Honestly, there are so many ways I could take this habit and apply it to writers. But because I wrote about communication with other humans last time, I thought I'd write about our characters this time.

For me, and I think for many of us reader/writers, what really makes a book dear to my heart is the characters. Usually, though, when we're pitching a book (querying, or even just describing a book to a friend), we tend to focus on plot. So sometimes, when starting a new project, we think more about the plot than about making the characters memorable. And that's okay for planning and drafting. But there comes a point where we really need to focus on our characters.

Seek First to Understand means really getting to know your characters; why they are the way they are, why they choose certain things, why they like some people but not others. It requires a lot of thinking time, and maybe some writing time, too, if you want to keep track of all your thoughts.

My current book features three girls investigating a haunting in their town. I started writing this book fully intending for the girls to be a tightly-knit team that got along really well. But the main character kept being rude and thinking mean things about one of the others, which was not according to plan! I had to sit back and think about this. I realized that the main character was jealous of a lot of things about the other character, including how easily she navigated social situations. And that jealousy was causing her to be petty.

I thought that was great! Jealousy is a fascinating character nuance that can provide all kinds of insights and interpersonal conflicts. But how would I get that on the page? How could I make my character be understood?

This is where "show, don't tell" (everyone's favorite writing advice!) comes into play. If I have my character say upfront, "I was jealous, and that's why I was being so mean," it doesn't pack the same emotional punch as it would if the reader and the character discover it together over the course of the book. So we help the character be understood by showing her feelings. Being mean out of jealousy is different than being mean out of spite or disgust. You can show those differences through the character's gestures and internal sensations described on the page.

My favorite resource for showing emotions is The Emotion Thesaurus, by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.

Understand your characters--make them rich, nuanced people, not just props for your plot. Then help them to be understood by your readers by showing their emotions on the page.

What are your tips and tricks for showing emotion?

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Preparing for NaNoWriMo: Choosing Your Project

November is National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo. It's an entire month dedicated to writing, or, more specifically, to amassing fifty thousand words on an original novel. Last year, over 400,000 writers from around the world participated. The NaNo website helps you track your word count, provides regional support and chat boards, and allows you to "win" when you hit your 50,000-word goal. Every November, bookstores, coffee shops, and 24-hour diners fill up with writers - you can practically feel the creativity in the air! NaNo provides a great community, and it's a great motivation for starting or continuing a novel project. 2017 will be my seventh year tackling NaNo, and I can't wait to get started!

That said, there are a few ways to set yourself up in advance for NaNo success. We'll explore these each Thursday in October, so you'll be ready to hit the ground running on November 1st!

Today, let's talk about how to choose the novel project you'll be working on for NaNo. The NaNo rules specify that, to win, the 50,000 words must be on a brand-new novel. However, many people, self-described 'NaNo Rebels,' will do something different. They may write on a work-in-progress, or a non-fiction project, or revise 50,000 words on an existing draft. Assuming you choose the traditional route, and you don't have a story idea already in place, how do you decide on a concept that's going to hold your interest for an entire month and allow you to get 50,000 words written? Here's one idea:

1) Open a newspaper or click on an internet news site. Scroll past all the big news items, and look for the features, or local news, or interesting smaller stories. Let's say you find an article with a headline reading, "Local Woman Finds Alligator in Her Swimming Pool," and lets say you live in Wyoming. That raises a whole lot of interesting questions: How did the alligator get to Wyoming? What did the woman do when she discovered it? How did she remove it (or did she)? What did her neighbors do? What happened to the alligator afterwards? Write down as many questions you can think of that are raised by the article.

2) Next, ask yourself 'what if?' What if the woman just started living alone? What if her town's animal control didn't have a clue how to help her? What if the woman discovers she's one of five families who have discovered alligators in their swimming pools over the past year? What if the alligator starts talking to her? What if the alligator is pink? What if the town decides the alligator's arrival is a harbinger of the apocalypse? Ask yourself all the 'what if' questions you can think of - let your imagination go wild!

3) Write down the 'what if' questions that intrigue you the most. Maybe you decide on 'what if the alligator started talking?' Then, decide what kind of book this will be. A humorous, tongue-in-cheek sci-fi? A mystery? Fantasy? A children's book? A romance between the homeowner and the animal control officer?

4) Start brainstorming your protagonist, using a character questionnaire. Think about what other characters might fit into your story world. Flesh out your setting. Create an outline, or a list of ten scenes you know you want to see in your book.

5) Start writing on November 1st!

What techniques do you use for brainstorming story ideas?


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Meet Janelle Milanes in this Debut Author Spotlight

Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6

The Victoria in My Head


1- Which library is your favorite and why?

The New York Public Library! It makes me feel like I'm in a church that worships reading. I'm particularly into the Rose Main Reading Room. My husband likes it because of the iconic Ghostbusters scene filmed there. I like it because it's pretty...

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

Loyalty, kindness, humor, creativity, family.

3- Would you elaborate on rolled ice-cream? Does it taste different or just photograph well?

The sad thing is, it looks more interesting than it tastes! I was slightly disappointed when I tried it after taking the picture, because the ice cream tasted like...well, ice cream. But it is pretty absorbing to watch it being made in front of you!



4- What ignited your passion for writing?

Reading. I have been an obsessive reader for most of my life. It made me want to create content to put out into the world. Even now, if I'm lacking inspiration, I'll read a book and I get a burst of energy to write. The first book that inspired my reading obsession was the Baby-Sitters Club in fourth grade. I always wish I could point to a more literary classic, but I have to be honest. I desperately wanted to be Stacey, but I was completely Mary Anne.

That's funny, because I had a crush on Mary Anne. I'm loving the new graphix version of the books.

Meet Janelle Milanes in this Debut Author Spotlight

5- Would you share a picture with us of your book with your cats?
Meet Janelle Milanes in this Debut Author Spotlight
I will always share pictures of my cats. The fat, grouchy one is Murphy, and the one with the white paws is Ripley.

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

My short term goal is to finish my revisions for my second book, which comes out next year. I'm due to give birth in a month, so I'll need to shift my focus from book baby to human baby for a little while. My long term goals are, honestly, to keep writing. Writing is really, really hard and time-consuming and it's easy to toss it aside when life gets busy.

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

My family, including my husband, will kill me if I single any one of them out. I can't choose so I'll just say that together, they make an enthusiastic fan club. They really loved the humor in the book and the family dynamic.

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 my book will make readers feel hopeful and inspired. The book ends on an uncertain note, but it's about seeing the beauty in the unknown and embracing the present.

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

The actual act of writing! The more you do it, the better you'll become. I always like each subsequent book I write more than the previous one. My first book was this terrible sci-fi novel riddled with plot holes. It taught me that a) sci-fi isn't really my thing at this point in life and b) I should probably write scenes in the order they occur. I was skipping around so much in that book that it became a headache to finish. I learned a lot from Victoria through the revision process as well. I liked to ramble quite a bit in the beginning, which slowed down the pacing of the novel's plot. I grew attached to that rambling, but it had to get chopped for the good of the story.

10- Could you share a Cuban-American recipe, bit of culture, or little-known fact with us?

Ropa vieja is my favorite Cuban dish. It literally translates to "old clothes," which sounds incredibly unappealing, but the food is delicious. Shredded beef with onions, peppers, and tomato sauce. I recommend eating it with maduros (sweet plantains), beans, and rice!

Another bit of culture I have to mention is not specific to Cubans--it's a quinceanera, which is similar to an extravagant Sweet 16 party. Picture poofy dresses, salsa dancing, and dramatic video montages. I didn't have a quinceanera for myself, but like Victoria in the book, I participated in one. This is a throwback pic of me, on the right, with my sister and my parents. Unfortunately, the poofy bottom part of the dress is not shown! But I vividly remember having to dance a salsa routine in a hoop skirt.

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

Okay. So. In my book, I had jokingly written about the love interest, Strand, and his "midwinter sky" eyes. Victoria hates herself for thinking of this metaphor, comparing it to a cheesy saying in a harlequin romance novel. Well, almost every outlet that's reviewed the book has quoted this characteristic with complete sincerity. I'm not sure that's a good look for my writing skills.

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

Own Voices Latinx MC, Own Voices. Some of the other squares do relate to the supporting characters, but not the MC!

13- What's one way you've contributed to the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement?

The only way I know to contribute is to keep writing diverse characters and buying the work of marginalized authors! I've also tried reaching out to diverse schools and getting the books into the hands of their students. I would love for more Latinx kids to see themselves represented through Victoria.

14- Which character has your favorite Personality Contradiction?

Oh, they're all loaded with contradictions, but I would have to go with the obvious choice of Victoria. The entire book consists of her grappling with these contradictions--she's shy but outspoken, terrified but brave, insecure but confident. It goes on and on.

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

The MC's voice. I'm always attracted to stories written in first-person, especially if the character is honest, funny, and has a unique point of view.

16- How will you measure your publishing performance?

I'm actively trying NOT to measure my publishing performance (which is nearly impossible.) What's most important to me is that someone connects to my story. That said, it's difficult not to get caught up in things like sales and reviews. I have a history of anxiety, so I try my best to focus on improving as a writer and staying unaffected by the things that are out of my control.

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

I considered each form of publication, but I ultimately decided to at least try the traditional route. I was excited to work with a team that could help make my book the best it could be and to have the book distributed more widely.

18- 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 love to know their favorite and least favorite tropes in YA. I'm personally a huge sucker for the hate-to-love relationships, which is why I write them all the time. My least favorite trope is parents who just don't understand. Can you talk to your kids, please?

That reminds me of:




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

Meet Janelle Milanes in this Debut Author Spotlight

Janelle Milanes is originally from Miami, FL and received her BA in English Literature from Davidson College. A lifelong YA addict, she moved to New York for her first job as a children’s literature associate at Simon & Schuster.

For the past five years, Janelle has worked as a teacher and librarian throughout the New York City area. Her first novel reflects many of her own experiences growing up as a second-generation Latina in America. Janelle currently lives in Brooklyn with her husband and their two cats. Her favorite Disney princess is Belle, since she was also a big book nerd.

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The Victoria in My Head

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Lessons Learned from Pass Or Pages


I say it over and over again on this blog, and I'll keep saying it: You can always learn something from Pass Or Pages, even if the category/genre you write in isn't the same as the one featured that month. I have learned a lot from putting on Pass Or Pages this year, so I decided to sum it up here for you:

Agents are nice people who genuinely want to help writers. We don't offer our agent panel members anything but the opportunity to provide feedback to our entrants. They put a fair amount of time and effort into it, as evidenced by the emails we send back and forth. They truly care about helping writers improve.

Queries need to feature characters, not just plot. Readers need to feel a connection to a character to feel compelled by the conflict and stakes. But exceptions can be made for killer voice!

Typos are not a good first impression. Some agents are more forgiving of them than others, but why risk it?

If you are going for a shocking opening, then you better do an amazing job. I can't tell you how to be amazing at it, though. Shocking openings are not my thing.

POWER. WORDS. I already wrote about this concept and how much I love it, but I thought you all might need a reminder.

Taste is subjective. You can have a fantastic concept, a strong query letter, and beautiful writing, and your story still won't appeal to everyone. That is a fact of publishing that we all need to reconcile ourselves to.

Did you learn anything from Pass Or Pages, whether specific or general writing advice? Share in the comments!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Preparing for NaNoWriMo: Setting a Realistic Schedule

November is National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo. It's an entire month dedicated to writing, or, more specifically, to amassing fifty thousand words on an original novel. Last year, over 400,000 writers from around the world participated. The NaNo website helps you track your word count, provides regional support and chat boards, and allows you to "win" when you hit your 50,000-word goal. Every November, bookstores, coffee shops, and 24-hour diners fill up with writers - you can practically feel the creativity in the air! NaNo provides a great community, and it's a great motivation for starting or continuing a novel project. 2017 will be my seventh year tackling NaNo, and I can't wait to get started!

That said, there are a few ways to set yourself up in advance for NaNo success. We'll explore these each Thursday in October, so you'll be ready to hit the ground running on November 1st!

Today, let's talk about setting a realistic NaNo writing schedule. 50,000 words over a 30-day month breaks down to roughly 1667 words per day. Very few of us will be able to devote all of November to writing, without the obligations of work, school, family, friends, etc. interfering. So take a good look at your schedule, whether you have unusual obligations coming up (travel, presentations, exams, etc.), and plan accordingly.

Many people stick to the strict 1667 words/day method. That's what I usually do. In November, I set my alarm for 5:30 a.m. on weekdays so I can write for a few hours each day before work. If I write more than 1667 words one day, that means I can stress a little less as the end of November approaches. But, as often happens, if I write less than 1667 words, I know I'll need to make it up over the weekend. Knowing the intense schedule is only for 30 days helps me stay committed to waking up early and writing until my fingers ache.

Others will devote their weekends to writing, and not stress too much about it during the week. Write-ins, or in-person or online meet-ups dedicated to NaNo writing, can be very effective for this. Setting aside three or four-hour blocks for writing on weekends will get you to the 50,000-word count just as effectively as writing every day.

Many regional chapters will also set up all-night writing parties during the month. If you find yourself very behind on your word count by mid-month, this can really help.

Keep in mind that November also means Thanksgiving, so for many of us, we won't be able to write over the holiday, what with cooking, cleaning, eating, family/friend time, more eating, Black Friday shopping, more eating, etc. It can help to plan to take a day or two off over Thanksgiving weekend, because then you'll know in advance that you won't make your word count on those days, and you can make up for it on other days.

What's your scheduling plan for tackling NaNo this year?

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Meet Matt Harry in this Debut Author Spotlight

Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6

Sorcery for Beginners: A Simple Help Guide to a Challenging & Arcane Art


1- What is your favorite snack or drink that's only available in autumn?

I know most people would go with the Pumpkin Spice Ice Blended on this one, but there’s an amazing pumpkin cake my family makes every Thanksgiving — pumpkin pie mix, yellow cake with streusel and pecan topping — that I look forward to every year. Now I’m hungry!

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

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity — and Cake

3- What ignited your passion for writing?

I was interested in writing from a very young age. As early as third grade, I was writing neighborhood newspapers, short stories, and plays. In seventh grade, I wrote my first novel (which was 120 pages of terrible). Somehow I convinced my eighth grade English teacher, Mr. Werner, to meet with me after school once a week to discuss my writing. One day he sat me down and showed me a letter — he’d secretly sent one of my short stories to a local literary magazine, and it had been accepted for publication! I had never before considered that writing was something I could do professionally, and I’ve been pursuing it as a career ever since. Sadly, Mr. Werner passed away last year, and though he knew Sorcery for Beginners was being published, he never knew I dedicated my first book to him.

4- Which time period do you believe had it easier -- pre or post 20th century?

Definitely post 20th century. For starters, until the last 100 years, 50% of all children died before age 10. Most people never went beyond 20 miles from their own house. The food was terrible and repetitive, unless you were royalty. In the last 50 years, our advances in science and technology have made the average person smarter than the most educated genius of years past. There’s definitely growing pains and push back to all our advancements, but I feel lucky to be living in such an amazing, progressive time. That said, it would have been incredible to see the great herds of buffalo in the pre-settled American West.

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

One of my recurring fantasies is that I could stop time so I can finish all my projects. Short term, I’d like to complete my latest book, which has been going slowly but takes place in awesome, unique fantasy world. I’m also developing Sorcery for Beginners as a TV show, which I’ve been pitching as “Stranger Things with magic.”

Long term, I have at least three more ideas for sequels to Sorcery for Beginners, as well as a couple of other novels in various stages of completeness. I just need to stop time so I can write them.
Meet Matt Harry in this Debut Author Spotlight -Sorcery for Beginners
Meet Matt Harry in this Debut Author Spotlight - Sorcery for Beginners


6- Have you read many (nonfiction) "for Beginners," "for Dummies," "Idiot's guide to," or other simplified instruction books? Do you have a favorite?

Several! In fact, I got the idea for Sorcery for Beginners while reading The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Einstein. I thought, if these guys can make incredibly complex ideas like the theory of relativity look easy, what if they could do that with other difficult, supernatural topics? Magic immediately popped into my head as an option, and the book wrote itself in a week. (Just kidding, it actually took me five years and 11 drafts to finish. So much for making things easy!)

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

Sorcery for Beginners hasn’t been seen by that many people yet, so currently our biggest fan is our seven year-old son. He was very excited to learn “real” sorcery and keeps trying to cast the Spell of Suggestion on me so I’ll give him extra dessert. Luckily, I know the counter-spell.

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 readers will be excited and encouraged by the way my characters stand up to bullies in the story. I was bullied when I was a teenager, and I know how hard it can be to find the courage to say the right words or do the right thing in those situations. The key is knowing that they’re just as unsure and fearful as you are. It also helps to have a few magic spells at your disposal.

9- Twitter tells me you scored #HamiltonLA tickets. What most excites you about seeing the show?

I have a background in theater, so I know that every performance is unique. I can’t wait to be in the room where it happens, sing along with all the songs, and hopefully not upset my neighbors with my constant cheering.

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

I had a lot of help from writing mentors throughout the years —teachers, friends, and family who took the time to read my work and offer notes and encouragement. But I think what most improved my craft was just writing. Writing as much as I could, then rewriting and rewriting. If you keep at it, you can’t help but get better.

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

My favorite character in Sorcery for Beginners is Perry Spring, a diminutive but very moral and intelligent eighth grader. However, she has the bad habit of frequently saying “Think about it” when talking to others. She doesn’t understand that it can be annoying, but I kind of love that about her —she’s too excited about learning new stuff to realize other people might be ticked off.

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

Of the three main characters in Sorcery for Beginners, Perry is an African-American MC, and Trish is a Korean-American MC (who also happens to be gay, though it’s never mentioned in this book).

13- Which character has your favorite Personality Contradiction?

I love Hermione in the Harry Potter books. She’s incredibly smart and good-hearted, but she can also be egotistical and superficial. Like when she uses magic to fix her teeth, then gets all embarrassed about it. She knew it was a cheat, but couldn’t help herself.

You're the first debut author, other than myself, to answer with characters someone else wrote. High five! ;)

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

Four words: AI beta readers. I struggle sometimes with finding enough friends to read (and re-read) the books I write, so I propose inventing artificially intelligent readers than can digest your novel in moments and provide literate, cross-referenced feedback, in varying degrees of toughness. (The settings could go from “Mom” to “Feared Professor.”) And you wouldn’t have to worry about putting your friends out. Get on it, Silicon Valley!

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

There are authors whose books I buy as soon they come out, but my biggest purchasing motivator is story. Does the idea intrigue or excite me? I’ll spend twenty bucks on anything if I think the idea is cool.

16- How will you measure your publishing performance?

Honestly, I’m not sure yet, since this is my first published book.

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

I had an offer from a traditional literary agent for this book, but she was “a little nervous” about the unusual formatting. I went with Inkshares because the CEO Adam Gomolin was incredibly excited about the project from the first moment we spoke. He was also one of the only people to immediately embrace the “help guide” format, which was time-consuming and finicky to execute. But he never wavered, and I think the finished book looks amazing. Thanks Adam!

18- 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 love to hear what motivates other people to spend money on books these days.

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

ABOUT SORCERY FOR BEGINNERS:



A Booklist Notable YA Novel for Fall 2017

Meet Matt Harry in this Debut Author Spotlight

What if you found an easy-to-read help guide … for magic?



Thirteen-year-old Owen Macready doesn’t think he’s particularly special. But when he finds a how-to guide for sorcery, he unwittingly becomes the target of a ruthless millionaire and secret society of anti-magic mercenaries, all of whom wish to steal the book for themselves.

A fresh take on the modern fantasy genre, Sorcery for Beginners features illustrations, timing charts, and actual spells to draw the reader into the world of magic. This is the first book in a proposed series that presents ancient topics such as spell casting, alchemy, and cryptozoology to the modern young person in a fun and exciting way.







ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Meet Matt Harry in this Debut Author Spotlight

Matt Harry has been writing since he was a middle grader. He learned to make movies at the University of Southern California, which was the closest he could get to attending Hogwarts in the real world. He has worked as an editor, screenwriter, director, producer, and college professor. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two sons, all of whom (thankfully) like to read. SORCERY FOR BEGINNERS is his first novel.

Instagram: mattharrymh
Twitter: @mattharrymh

Facebook: @mattharrywriter
Website: www.mattharrywork.com





Sorcery for Beginners: A Simple Help Guide to a Challenging & Arcane Art

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

NaNoWriMo is coming!

It's October, and that means Halloween movies, costumes, and oh yeah--prepping for National Novel Writing Month! We here at Operation Awesome love NaNoWriMo, and we love helping writers get prepared! Our Writing Resources tab has a section on NaNoWriMo, and every Thursday this month Jaime will have some great tips to help you out.

I've been doing NaNo since 2010, and this year I'm taking on a new role: Municipal Liaison! I'm a little nervous, TBH, but excited to take on the challenge. It's been interesting to see more of what goes on behind-the-scenes at NaNo HQ. I look forward to shepherding my region's brand-new Wrimos through the month of November.

Do you have any great NaNo advice for newbies? Share it in the comments, and I'll pass it along to my region! And if you have any NaNo questions, ask away. I'll do my best to help you out.


Friday, September 29, 2017

September Pass Or Pages Entry #5

It's time for the last Pass Or Pages reveal of 2017! We're so grateful to our agent panel for taking the time to critique these entries. We hope you can find something to help you in your quest for an agent, even if you don't write middle grade!

Entry #5: THE BOY FROM THE MIST



Query:
For your consideration I enclose the first 250 words of my middle grade [MLS1] fantasy novel The Boy From The Mist [MLS2], which is complete at 42,000 words. The story is set in an alternative medieval earth and follows 14 year old Rhi [MLS3] as he discovers that everything he has been told about life is a lie. [MLS4]

Rhi’s village lies isolated, surrounded by a mysterious and deadly mist sent by the gods as punishment for the way humans abused the planet – or so the citizens have been told. The villagers’ lives are overseen by a trusted council of Elders who claim to be channelling the will of those same gods and guiding the populace towards redemption. In reality, as Rhi discovers, they are hiding several alarming truths, including the fact that the outside world still exists. Rhi tries to share what he has discovered [MLS5] and is branded a dangerous traitor. [MLS6] Faced with no other option, he heads into the mist to find the outside world and bring back proof of the Elders’ lies.

Wholly unprepared for the challenges and realities of the outside world, Rhi finds himself attacked, kidnapped and about to be sold into slavery. [MLS7] He bands together with a pair of young outcasts who open his eyes to the ways of a strange new world, one where everyone has abilities and magic is the most sought after resource. Enthralled with his new freedom, Rhi begins to forget those he has left behind, until a numbing tragedy [MLS8] reminds him of his mission and reignites his determination to bring the rest of his village back into the real world. [MLS9]
**********
Emily's Notes:
Nothing about this concept or character stands out or grabs me. 
   
Ben's Notes:
I don’t really get enough about the main character in this to spark my interest. The world building sounds cool, but I don’t get where the story is going or why this character is the one to follow through the story. Those need to be addressed for this to be a good query. I’d pass here, unless after reading a few lines in the sample it turns out to be really good.
    
Meg's Notes:
[MLS1]: Upper middle grade? 
[MLS2]Titles should be in ALL CAPS.
[MLS3]Fourteen is a tricky age, as it hovers between MG and YA. Tread carefully! 
[MLS4]This is too vague. Give us specifics to the plot/story!
[MLS5]How does he discover it? 
[MLS6]By the Elders? (Assuming it’s because they don’t want people leaving for some reason? I’d love that hashed out a bit more.)
[MLS7]Need more specifics here: who kidnaps him? Why is he being sold into slavery? 
[MLS8]What tragedy? Again, we need more story-specific examples here. 
[MLS9]Typically, you want to end your plot summary with the stakes: what’s at stake for your protagonist and the world at large. So… If he brings proof of the real world back to the village, what happens? Will his people be freed of the Elders’ rule? Who’s to say they won’t be happy/prefer to stay where they are?

First 250:
Rhi poked the dying fire with a stick and gave a deep sigh. He hated working as a sheep herder, hated the long, lonely hours and the sheer monotony. With nothing else to do, he counted the flock again and found himself wishing the mist would take one, just to liven things up a bit. When he’d been assigned the role, at last year’s Coming of Age ceremony, such had been his disappointment that he had taken to his bed and cried. His father hadn’t spoken to him for days, frustrated with his son’s disregard for the village’s traditions and ashamed at his emotional display. [MLS1] When he did break the silence, it was to deliver a long sermon about the importance of doing your duty and putting the village’s needs above your own. A youth of thirteen years [MLS2], Rhi couldn’t have cared less.[BG1]

For three seasons now he had spent his days sat at the very boundaries of his world. Whatever the weather, the sheep needed watching, and Rhi had sat through wind and rain, unrelenting sunshine and bitter frost. With each day his resentment grew. There has to be more than this? He thought to himself, as he stared unseeing toward the woolly creatures before him.

The sun dipped below the horizon and took the last of the day’s warmth with it. Not that Rhi could see it – it was forever veiled behind the never-ending mist. [MLS3]
**********
Ben's Notes:
[BG1]: I’d stop reading here and give the author a pass.


Meg's Notes:
[MLS1]: As a reader, this line is distancing me from your character's immediate emotions. Here's an example of what you could write instead: For days, his father hadn't spoken to him. He supposed his father had said all he wanted to in the hours after the ceremony--jabbing a calloused finger at Rhi and prattling on about putting the village's needs above your own.
[MLS2]Your query said he’s fourteen?
[MLS3]While the concept of the story is interesting, I found myself not fully invested in the character. I think by working on his voice and the immediacy of descriptions, that would make the reader bond more quickly with the story and character--which could be done with a few additional rounds of editing. 

Results:
Emily: PASS
Ben: PASS
Meg: PASS