Monday, January 16, 2017

Take Your Novel to the Next Level with Specifics

Carrie fidgeted with the cardboard sleeve on her black dark roast. It wasn't easy meeting new people, but she was pushing herself to interact with other writers. Laura, an urban fantasy writer, sat across from her, nursing a grande caramel frappuccino. Did she know how many calories were in that thing?

Their get-to-know-you coffee was going well. Laura finished her lengthy oration about how she got involved in writing and took a breath before asking, "how many brothers and sisters do you have?" Carrie wrapped her hands around the hot paper cup and squeezed. Why that question? "Um."Carrie's heart sped and her mouth went dry. "That's a damned personal question for our first coffee."

One of my favorite books on writing is Wired for Story by Lisa Cron. I'd read it a couple years ago and a particular chapter really stood out to me--chapter six, The Story is in the Specifics.

Last week, during my writers' group, this chapter came to mind as I listened to one of our members, Gabriele Goldstone, a historical fiction writer, read from her work-in-progress. If you haven't read one of Gabriele's books, you should. She's mastered this technique of bringing in specifics without bogging down her story.

The specifics can mean the difference between the reader just reading a story and living a story. Cron quotes neuroscientist V.S. Ramahandran,"Humans excel at visual imagery. Our brains evolved this ability to create an internal mental picture or model of the world in which we can rehearse forthcoming actions, without the risks or penalties of doing them in the real world."

Cron goes on to write, "Yet writers often tell entire stories in general, as if concepts alone are captivating or worse, because they've fallen prey the misconceived notion that it's the reader's job to fill in the specifics."

In the above example, Carrie didn't just fidget with her coffee cup, but with a specific type of coffee cup with a specific type of coffee. Laura is not just a writer, but a specific type of writer. What has the reader learned about these characters? By getting into the specifics, I've been able to convey information that creates a strong visual image for the reader, but also gives insight into the personality of the characters. We now know that Carrie is an uptight, controlled, and reserved person with a past. Laura, on the other hand, is more outgoing, light, and open. I've shown the reader those characteristics, without telling them.

While the specifics can make a story shine, they can also bog it down. Cron tells writers, "Your job is to filter out the details that don't matter a whit so you have plenty of space left for the ones that do." The writer must choose which items to get specific about and which to gloss over. How do you do that? Ask yourself if the specific description serves a purpose. Does it move the story forward? Does it tell us something important about the setting or characters? Does it engage one of the five senses to bring the story to life? Is the pacing in the scene conducive to providing details?

Take a look at one of your scenes. Are there places where you can tuck in brief details that will bring your story to life?

Any questions? Please post them in the comments.


Melinda Marshall Friesen writes speculative fiction for teens and adults. Her YA dystopian novel, Enslavement, has been nominated for multiple awards. She works as marketing director and aquisitions editor at Rebelight Publishing Inc. Learn more about her and her books at 


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Flash Fiction Contest Winner #25

Thanks so much to our entrants! I always enjoy reading the entries so much, and for this contest I found myself drawn to K. Mulkane's entry the most (though they were all entertaining). Congrats, K!

The aquarium should have been beautiful. 
That’s what everyone said when they saw it. "Look at all those pretty fish, ooh what an amazing gift", but it 
wasn’t - it wasn’t at all. Those fish were prisoners, and I knew exactly how they felt.
It showed up last December - a brand new present. 
Two guys in brown uniforms came to our door and had my grandma sign their paperwork. 
“Well now, we didn't order anything like this. Must be a mistake,” my grandma said.
One of the guys handed her an envelope. She turned it around in her hands and gave what I can only say was a giggle. It sounded like this girl Emma in my class when she had to answer a question she didn't know. It was not a usual sound.
My grandma took forever to open that envelope, like it was a bomb or something. 
“Oh Eli, It says that it’s a gift from the Masons! Well that is so very thoughtful of them, isn't it?”
I just sat there, because I could not ever think of the Masons in that way.
The two guys took my grandma’s enthusiasm as a yes and wheeled the monstrosity in on a cart.
“Ok, ma’am, where would you like it?”
“Oh my, I’m not sure. It’s pretty big, isn't it? Well, I think put it here in the front room. Yes, it will look nice right over here.”
Nice? It was going to take up half the room. 
It didn't match any of the other furniture.
“Ok, and here are all the instructions on how to feed and take care of the fish. It comes with six months of free cleaning and maintenance service.”
My grandma took a quick, deep breath and twirled the pen the guy gave her. She looked at me, looked at the fish and then quickly signed her name on their form.
The delivery guys cleared out.
We just sat there and looked at the aquarium like an alien had landed in our living room.
I finally wandered over to see it. Fish swirled through the water, and a few hung out at the bottom. A bunch of colorful fake trees and rocks were scattered around. My grandma finally came over and ran her hand over the smooth glass. She bent down a little and peered in at the fish.
“Hmmm, well now,” was all she said and then walked into the kitchen.
It figures that the Masons would give us this with no thought. My grandma had been cleaning and cooking for them for fifteen years, but they knew nothing about her. If they had, they would have known what a stupid present this would be for us. How’re we going to afford this? We’re lucky we can feed ourselves, let alone a bunch of fish. 
I looked at it again as the fish glided through the water so easily. It was kind of pretty.
Maybe the dumbest and prettiest thing I had ever seen.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Flash Fiction Contest #25

For our first flash fiction contest in 2017, it seems appropriate to go with a theme of new. In your entry of 500 words, show us a new relationship starting off, a new pet, a new car (I'd like one of those), a new anything. Winner will be announced on 1/15, in the afternoon. Get your entry in before noon EST on 01/15, peeps, and as always, have fun!

Rules for contest can be found here.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Meet Meg Eden in this Debut Author Spotlight

Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6

1- Any New Year Resolutions or big goals for 2017?

A few of my goals include: Start assuming less, and asking more questions. Prioritizing being in conversation with God daily. Lose enough weight so I can fit back into my GAP jeans from undergrad. :)
I’m also working on another YA right now, and it’s really emotionally hard for me—somehow, I thought it would get easier after publication—haha! But I’m chugging along and I hope by the end of the year I can be sending it around.

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

I grew up in my father’s childhood home: a 50s rancher built by a team of builders who should not have had the right to build a house. So most of my childhood was pretty much my father rebuilding this house. I joke that I became a writer because my childhood produced so many weird things to write about: our dog killing a neighbor’s chicken and dragging it to our doorstep, power outages that could last up to a week, finding snake skins in the walls and crickets in my bathtub… I was an only child, and grew up very content entertaining myself. I used to write to entertain myself, but I find myself now writing to process, relive and cope with experiences. Writing helps me slow down and think, allowing me to be that girl again during power outages, where there was nothing to do but lay on the floor with my eyes closed and listen to cassette books.

3- Do you have a favorite MMORPG?

Funny enough, I don’t really play MMORPGs. I don’t really play any online games—mostly single player PC games (my most recent favorite is Life is Strange) and Nintendo DS games (mainly Fire Emblem (!!!!) and Pokemon right now). Maybe it’s that only child thing again, but I usually end up going on my virtual adventures alone :)

4- What ignited your passion for writing?

There’s a lot of answers to this. I started writing poetry in seventh grade because “all the cool girls were doing it.” And it stuck. I grew up on books—my mother lived off books, so much so that I’d open the pantry for cereal and instead find an omnibus of CS Lewis. When I’d ask Mom where the cereal was, she’d say it was behind the Brit Lit. And I’d have to pull CS Lewis out if I wanted to eat. I used to hate books (because they weren’t brightly animated TV shows) but came to love them as my mother literally paid me to read books and give her reports on what I learned. So I guess another answer is that I fell in love with writing because I inherited my mother’s love of stories.

5- You also published Your Son, Rotary Phones and Facebook, and A Week With Beijing; what about Post High School Reality Quest makes you a debut author?

PHSRQ is my first published novel. It’s the thirteenth one I’ve written, but the first one to actually get out into the world :) I’ve found the worlds of poetry and prose publication are so different—and already, my journey with bringing PHSRQ has been so different than anything else I’ve ever experienced, and I’m so new to it all!

6- Do you have a fun story to share with us that illustrates a time when a benefit of being a published author came to light for you?

That’s hard to say because I’ve been thinking about and dreaming of those benefits since high school. I think recently, the benefit of publishing with a great press became clear to me when I learned I was eligible to join the amazing 2017 Debuts group—which has been an invaluable resource.

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

Definitely my husband. But I’m going to also bring my mother-in-law into this too. My mother-in-law is my ultimate advertiser. Everywhere she goes, she tells people about my book. I gave her some of my new bookmarks, and apparently she’s been giving them out to clerks at Books A Million and Chick Fil A servers. She hasn’t even read the book yet!
But really, my husband is my biggest fan—and that goes for all my writing. I think he’d say that he loves the video game world and aesthetic of the book, the humor, and the spiritual allegories. He’s working to become a game designer, and has already started building an actual text adventure game of the first chapter. Stay tuned—I’m hoping we’ll get it live online for people to try in the next couple months!

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?

In whatever I write, I hope that it makes my readers think about the world around them, and interrogate their own world views and assumptions. I know every time I write, I’m constantly interrogating myself.
I’m not sure a particular scene, but I want my readers to walk away thinking about the relationship between Buffy and the text Parser. In writing the book, I thought a lot about my own choices and decision making. I want people to think about how the story would’ve went if Buffy had made different choices—if we all made different choices. I’d love people to think about those who pursue after them, who desire what’s best for them. I think emotion-wise, I hope people read this, walking away with hope—that even if we can’t respawn at save points, there are always opportunities to start over.

9- Your book cover (on Amazon) playfully states "MS_DOS compatible. Mouse and Joystick optional." Do you think today's teens will get the joke, or is that aimed to make parents/ 90's kids remember their youth?

I doubt it. But the 80s/90s nostalgia is strong right now—so I feel like teens will probably be like, “LOL outdated technology joke I don’t quite understand but appreciate because 90s nostalgia is cool.” :)

10- Is there any diversity we can look forward to in your book?

Something that’s really personally important for me is neurodiversity and neurodivergence. I don’t want to say much more for those who haven’t read the book, but I hope PHSRQ encourages us to re-evaluate how we view “mental illness,” and provides a doorway into conversations about neurodivergence.

11- How did you come up with the name "Buffy" for your main character?

I used to go through and find names that had a meaning or sound that intrigued me. I chose that name probably around 2012, and so it stuck.

12- What new release book (other than your own) are you most looking forward to in 2017?

I’m in the 2017 Debuts group so my answer is SO MANY. Some of my favorites are Psalm for Lost Girls by Katie Bayerl, Kat and Meg Conquer the World by Anna Priemaza, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, and The Black Witch by Laurie Frost :)

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

Can I afford this? Does the cover excite me? Do I relate to some component of the book, the description, the title? I can be persuaded pretty easily to buy new books :)

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

That’s a long story. I’ll try to give the abridged version. Pretty much I got an agent when I was in high school and dreamed about the traditional route. That didn’t quite work out the way it expected. As I went to conferences and learned about all my otpions, I realized that there’s a lot of pressure debuting with a traditional press, that you have less control over the process, and that it really isn’t at all in your control. I’m very much a person who likes to have control. I queried California Coldblood, and Bob (the editor) talked with me about CCB’s values, and the small press model. Having been in the poetry world for a while, I realized I appreciated the small press model, where it’s more of a relationship and a conversation. Bob understood PHSRQ and was passionate for it. I could tell that right away, and I knew he was the right person to bring this book into the world. I love working with CCB and am a big fan of small presses. Bob and I have had some amazing conversations about PHSRQ, and he’s made it a much stronger book—I’m eternally in his debt for his honest and thorough feedback, and dealing with me through that whole editing process! :)

15- How did you come up with your Twitter handle?

I wish I could remember. I really can’t remember why the narwhal was confused. But it’s stuck, and it’s catchy. @ConfusedNarwhal

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

Which video game would you like to see adapted into a book, and why?

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

Let’s be friends! I’m on Twitter as @ConfusedNarwhal and Facebook as @megedenwritespoems. Feel free to check my site out at:
Also check out Post-High School Reality Quest on Goodreads and Amazon.

Excerpt! Enjoy the first two pages:

Hello, World: May 25th, 2010

You are in a psychiatrist’s office.

>No, I’m not.

I’m sorry, I don’t understand “No, I’m not”. Who do you think they’re going to believe? The narrator, or the character who is here because she was found living in a telephone booth on the other side of town, talking to yourself?

>This is a doctor’s office. It’s a safe space. Psychiatrist sounds so…


>Yes. Exactly.

Well, I’m sorry to break it to you but you are in a psychiatrist’s office. You’re here because yesterday, your father found you in the last existing telephone booth in your town, after driving around for days. You were sitting at the floor, stuffed up against the phone, telling someone you wanted them to stop following them, that you were tired of being hacked into. When your father finally wrestled you out of the telephone booth, you accused him of working for the game and tried to hit him with the telephone receiver.

>I did?

Do you remember any of this? Your mother brought you in first thing this morning, says she’s been worried about you for a while. That you’ve never been very social.

>What do I have to do to get rid of you?

Don’t rage quit, Buffy. It’s unbecoming.

You look down at your wrists. They’re locked into the chair you’re sitting in. Man, they must really think you’re crazy.

You know your mother means well. She just wants to make sure you feel like there’s a way for you to talk about what you’ve been experiencing recently—

>What’s there to talk about? If you’d just leave me alone, then there’d be no telephone booths, no problem!

Isn’t that oversimplifying a little? What exactly does a player do without a game?

>You make it sound like I want to be playing a game in the first place.

Well, you are the one that started it, so yes—it sort of seems to be a given that you would want to be playing a game. Just maybe not the one that this turned out to be.

You sigh and lean back in your chair. You hit the headrest. You hit it over and over, into what might almost be a consoling rhythm.

You wonder: Is that something a normal person does? Or only a crazy person? Or maybe just any kind of person, when they’re fed up with everything not going the way they planned?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Tuesday Museday freezes and thaws

I grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, which most people know to be a pretty chilly place. When my husband's job asked us to transfer to Wyoming, many of our friends said, "Can you handle it? It's so cold there!" I brushed them off, because please. I am from ALASKA. I know cold.

Except in Anchorage, it gets cold, stays cold, gradually warms up, then stays warm. Here in Wyoming? The weather fluctuates wildly in the winter, and on top of that whoever was supposed to turn off the wind machine clearly forgot. Monday was sixty-five degrees warmer than Friday. SIXTY. FIVE. DEGREES. That is some bullshirt right there.

When world building or setting a scene, don't forget to include the temperature! It has a significant effect on characters, which you can use to your advantage. I challenge you to describe the temperature as perceived by your characters in a scene of your WIP this week.

Want a query critique from me? Let me know in the comments! I will reply to a few comments to select winners of the critiques.

And finally, here is a funny poem about winter in Wyoming. The author is unknown, but every Wyoming-ite on Facebook has seen it about a hundred times:

It’s winter in Wyoming

And the gentle breezes blow

Seventy miles an hour

At twenty five below

Oh how I love Wyoming

When the snow is up to your butt

You take a breath of winter

And your nose gets frozen shut

Yes the weather here is wonderful

So I guess I’ll hang around

I could never leave Wyoming

‘Cuz I’m frozen to the ground!

Monday, January 9, 2017

9 Places to Meet Writers and Start Building Your Network

It's essential, as a writer, that you get out into your writing community and start networking with other writers even before you have a published book in your hands. But if you're just starting out, how do you do that? Where do you go to meet other writers? 

Here are eight places to meet writers and start building your network:

  1. Book launches. Check your local bookstore's bulletin board, get on their newsletter list, and check your local newspaper and community message boards to find out when these are happening. Look specifically for books in your genre that are being launched. You'll have an opportunity to meet the author and, it's probable, that they have writer friends who will be there to support them. When you have a book signed, introduce yourself. However, keep it brief, remembering this is their big day. 
  2. Book signings and readings. Depending on how busy the signing is, these can great opportunities to interact with writers. By showing your support for others, others will be more
    likely to show their support when it's your turn. Those first few signings you do as a new author can be pretty lonely.
  3. Writers' groups. To find writers' groups, look at your local public library bulletin board, talk to the librarian, or contact a local writing organization. In writers' groups you'll make long-term contacts, receive, feedback on your work, and learn tons from the other writers. A writers' group becomes your writerly support system.
  4. Conventions and shows. Whether it be a writers' convention or a convention like Comic Con, you'll be able to meet loads of writers. At Comic Con for example, find authors amongst other artists, stop by their table, and chat about their books. Again, always be mindful of their need to interact with readers. 
  5. Local writers' organizations. Here in Winnipeg, we have a number of different organizations for writers' including the Manitoba Writers' Guild and the Writers' Collective. Get a membership, and you'll be in the know for what's going on in your local writing scene from launches, to seminars, to writing markets. Call and ask about opportunities to network with other writers or volunteer at one of their events.
  6. Classes and seminars. You can find these through local community colleges or writers' organizations. You'll meet an industry professional who will be the instructor and a classroom full of other people like you who want to take their writing to the next level.
  7. Writers' retreats. Spend a weekend writing and socializing with others who share your passion. Again, local writers' organizations and writers' group will be in the know about how to find these. 
  8. Social Media. Follow and interact with local writers on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any other social media outlet you frequent. This can be a great ice breaker when you finally meet face to face.
  9. Online forums. If you're in a remote area, it doesn't mean you can't make connections in the writing world. There are online forum, including online critique groups. Do a web search and you're bound to find plenty of them. A word of caution, though. If you're an introvert like me, online forums are going to sound more appealing than going to a book launch where you don't know anyone. You need to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Will it feel awkward? Yes. Will it feel awkward forever? No. When I started, I knew no one. Now, I look around and see lots of familiar faces when I attend writing events. It takes time, but there is no replacement for meeting people face to face.

Now get out there, and meet some writer people! You won't be sorry.

Have you found a great place to meet other writers? Share it in the comments.


Melinda Marshall Friesen writes speculative fiction for teens and adults, including the One Bright Future series and The High-Maintenance Ladies of the Zombie Apocalypse. She belongs to the Anita Factor writers' group. She's a hard-core introvert who has pushed herself to go out and interact with real people even when she doesn't feel like it.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Meet Jennifer Acres in this Debut Author Spotlight

Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6

1- Which Hogwarts house would the hat sort you into?

I've actually taken the sorting hat test on Pottermore (because I'm a HUGE Harry Potter nerd) and I can proudly say I'm a Hufflepuff! I'm super excited about the Fantastic Beasts series since Newt Scamander is a Hufflepuff too.

2- You recently took part in Raimey Gallant's Nano Blog & Social Media Hop. Was it an enjoyable experience? Did you learn anything from it?

It was fun! A LOT of work, but fun too. I've been able to meet some amazing writers who I might not have met otherwise, so it's been a great experience. It's also taught me a lot about how other authors converse with their readers. Readers are so important and I love mine so much, but even on social media, it can be a challenge to not be the awkward kid in the class bumbling their way though human interaction.

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

The short version: I'm a writer because my mother said I couldn't.
Slightly longer version: when I was 6, I butchered a story I told my mom (leaving out important details, telling things out of order, etc). She laughed after all the confusion and I took it as a challenge to my obviously stellar story telling abilities. I lived and breathed stories after that. What I didn't realize was that I would fall in love with it.
I suppose this would prove that I can be blindly stubborn, but often end up in the right place anyway.

4- I found this share on your Facebook page to be very interesting. Could you describe the color blue to someone who cannot see it?

That's so tough! Hmm, let me think. I would say it's a cool but rich color. Not icy. It's akin to if slow jazz were a color - smooth and rapturous but not fully becoming a part of your body. It's the color of your soul in active peace.
Reading back over this, I probably sound crazy! Lol

5- What ignited your passion for writing?

I took a screenwriting class in college that completely changed the game for me. I had story ideas and wrote a bit before, but during that class, I couldn't get enough. I honestly believe it affected me as much as it did because for the first time in my life I was in a room full of writers and the conversations and ideas flowed in a whole new way for me. I'd bring in my work and hear their responses and that feedback turned writing from this completely solitary self-edification into a living, breathing experience I could share with others.

6- Did you have any New Year's Resolutions?

I honestly have too many! But my main goal is to take more time for self-care. I tend to burn the candle at both ends until I'm forced to not do anything at all - usually for health reasons. I know that if I want to do all the things I've dreamed of doing, I'm going to have to strike a balance.

7- Do you have a fun story to share with us that illustrates a time when a benefit of being a published author came to light for you?

It got me out of a partial day at work at my day job! I usually keep a low profile at my office, so only a few people knew I was published. One of those people had purchased a copy and wanted me to sign it...which drew the attention of the rest of the office. Everyone was asking me about my book - what it was about, where they could get it - and it took quite a while for things to settle back down again. I felt like quite the celebrity for a bit.

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

My good friend and author buddy Jessica Calla has been the biggest fan and champion of ON THE WAY TO SIMPLE. She has been incredibly supportive and I can't thank her enough. I think the thing she loves most is also the thing she hates most! Without spoiling anything, I can say there's a real rip-your-heart-out-and-serve-it-on-a-platter moment that, based on feedback, has me thinking I should sell Kleenex with each copy. I would also be remiss if I didn't include my husband J.P. Dailing (also an author). It was a seriously rough journey writing this novel and he was there cheering me on the whole way.

9- Houston is an amazing city. Do you have a fun picture or two you can share that's really "worth a thousand words" about that part of Texas?

Here's a couple. Most of our time is spent dealing with weather craziness, the rest is spent at Whataburger:

10- 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 this story will help readers see through the eyes of someone who is labeled a control freak. Oftentimes, we look at these people and think they have deemed themselves gods who selfishly manipulate everyone's lives for their own benefit, but that's not always true. Some people just have scars so deep that they would do anything to prevent getting hurt like that again. It's selfish, sure, but it's really closer to fear.
For the scene I hope most resonates, I honestly couldn't say. I've had surprising reactions from my readers when they've told me their favorite scene, but that makes an interesting sort if sense. We all have had different life experiences, so it's only logical that different scenes would resonate with different people. I would say the one that hits me the hardest is when Dakota's father makes her confront her old wounds. It's such a difficult scene for her but their relationship needs it so badly.

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

Dakota's derisive look of pursing her lips happens quite often, but what's fun is when those in her life use that face against her during her not-so-bright moments.

12- Do you have a favorite Eos lip balm?

I don't have a favorite yet, but I'm working on it! I want to try a few more flavors before I pick, but I'm always a sucker for vanilla. A friend turned me on to them recently and I just love it.

13- Is there any diversity we can look forward to in your book?

Yes, there is some. Dakota's best friend Kaylee is African-American, her father has a disability, and she herself is dealing with anxiety issues/attacks.

14- What is your favorite game night game to play?

I actually have two: Cards Against Humanity and the Firefly board game. There's a picture up on my Instagram showing the Firefly board. It's great for intense game play, but when I just want to have some fun, you can't beat Cards Against Humanity.

15- Which character has your favorite Personality Contradiction?

Dakota probably has the biggest contradiction. She is both stubbornly sure about everything yet questions every move she makes. Most of the time, it's because she thinks she knows what she wants but ends up being completely wrong. Her fear-driven logic is at odds with her desires and passion.

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

I have so many answers for this, but I'll try to keep it brief. I would say the MOST motivating thing is a recommendation from someone I know and trust. If a friend disliked a book, that wouldn't keep me from reading it, but it would make me think twice. But they would have to REALLY hate it for me to start questioning it.
Also, if the story or characters pique my interest, like it's an interesting take on an old trope or has diverse characters - especially if it's people I don't know much about, then I will mostly likely add it to my tbr.
I enjoy reading most when I get to see through different eyes. To be honest, I think that's the most important aspect of reading. How amazing is it that we get to step into someone else's shoes, if only for a few hundred pages?

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

I decided to go Self-Published because of creative control. I came from film, as a writer and script supervisor, and I had to watch some incredible stories get torn apart - often not for the better. But the writer had no say at that point. I promised myself I wouldn't let that happen to my stories. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I write as an island because that would be terribly stupid on my part. I have editors and beta readers all giving me notes and critiques, pointing out what works and what doesn't. It's too easy as a writer to gloss over problems because our heads are full of the world we've created. We know all the answers to the questions, but the reader doesn't. When the notes come in, though, I want to make sure the questions are answered by someone who has been living in this world, rather than someone on the outside of the snowglobe who's looking to patch it.

18- Did you ever have a life plan like Dakota does, and how has that worked out for you?

Boy have I! I tend to fall into the trap of rigid planning when I feel like my life is mostly out of my control, which is completely ridiculous because most of the time most of our lives are outside of our control. Plans can often be illusions of stability. Not that they're not important and even necessary at times, but leaning on them to the point of inflexibility is where we get in trouble. For the plans in my life that I held on as tightly as Dakota does in the story, it usually ended for me about as well as hers did.

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

I would love to find out what makes your readers give a new book a try, and what's the aspect they love most about reading.

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

Sure! I'm most often on Instagram and Twitter as @jenniferacres, but you can find links to everywhere I am on my website -

And here is the blurb for ON THE WAY TO SIMPLE:

Dakota Ames had everything under control, or so she thought.
Ever since her father's accident on duty as a fireman, she promised herself she would always have a plan. Life couldn't throw her a curve anymore.
That is until her best friend Alex enlisted in the Navy.
This couldn't happen. It wasn't part of her plan. She hadn't even worked up the nerve to tell him she loved him. Alex was wrong to go and she was going to prove it.
But when she meets Will, one of Alex's fellow recruits, she finds that things aren't always so simple.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

New Year, New Resolutions for Writers!

Happy New Year! Who's looking forward to 2017?

I hope you read Melinda's post yesterday. I found it to be encouraging; it made me want to knuckle down and get writing, even with my fears!

I love making New Year's resolutions, even though I'm super not-great at keeping them for long. I've been fighting a sinus infection for more than 2 weeks now, which has put a damper on keeping some of my resolutions right out of the gate, such as exercising more (I can't even breathe properly when sitting down, so getting on my elliptical machine just doesn't make sense). But I'm still making resolutions, even if I have to wait until next week to really dive in to them.

What kind of writing resolutions are you making this year? I plan on creating an author website and finishing another novel. I also have reading resolutions, like reading more books in 2017 than I did in 2016.

I hope that you are able to accomplish whatever you are resolved to do in 2017. If you have writing or reading goals, maybe Operation Awesome can help! Check out our Resources for Writers page. If you are looking for more good books to read, come by on Wednesdays for J Lenni Dorner's Debut Author Spotlights. If you plan on querying in 2017, my Tuesday Museday feature offers an opportunity for a free query critique. And if you've resolved to be more involved in the online writing community, consider joining Operation Awesome! We're looking for another weekly contributor to join the squad. Details are here; applications are accepted through Friday.

Monday, January 2, 2017

One Thing I Want Every Writer to Have in 2017

I get the honor of being the first blogger of 2017. But what do I want to give all the writers reading this blog for the year to come?

I considered encouraging you to be fearless. But I realized that's not what I'm wanting to convey. Unless you're a robot, you're going to have fears--fear of rejection, fear of criticism, fear of never getting published, fear of bad reviews, fear of not finishing that novel, fear of running out of ideas, fear of failure, fear of not being able to accomplish edits or rewrites, fear of what others think. As writers, we have so much to be afraid of.

You are going to be afraid.

Nelson Mandela said, "I learned that courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear."

  • You are going to be afraid when you ask for critique of your writing.
  • You are going to be afraid the first hundred time you query your manuscript.
  • You are going to be afraid of never getting published.
  • You are going to be afraid the first time real readers read your book.
  • You are going to be afraid no one will buy your book.
  • You are going to be afraid of one-star reviews.

And I could list a hundred more things that, as a writer, you are going to fear.

But have courage. Face your fears and never let them rule you. Stand up to them. Take the hits. Fall down and get back up. Fail and try again. Get rejected and keep sending out queries. Get writer's block and keep writing. Get bad reviews and keep moving forward.

Canadian writer, Emma Donaghue wrote, "Fear is what you're feeling. Brave is what you're doing."

So this is what I want to give you as you go forward into 2017:

Be courageous.

Melinda Marshall Friesen writes speculative fiction for young people and adults from her home in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. She's the author of Enslavement, Subversion, and  The High-Maintenance Ladies of the Zombie Apocalypse. She works in marketing and acquisitions at Rebelight Publishing Inc.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Operation Awesome's Top Posts of 2016

We had a great year in 2016. We started a new query contest, Pass Or Pages. We started a book club. We ran several flash fiction contests. We welcomed new team members. We celebrated debut authors. We had giveaways! We're hoping for an equally fantastic time in 2017.

These were our top posts in 2016, excluding Pass Or Pages and Flash Fiction contests:

Jeri Baird's Debut Author Spotlight

Guest Post by A.P. Fuchs: Why you should stop selling your book

Interview with the SIRENS anthology authors

Using Punctuation Correctly

Kara Analyzes Pixar Movies: Toy Story 2

What kinds of posts would you like to see more of in 2017?

We're looking for a new blogger to join our team! Details here.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Flash Fiction Contest Winner #24

First, sorry I am so late in announcing the winner. Christmas-- along with being on vacation with limited internet access-- kind of wreaked havoc on my schedule.

After much going back and forth (lots of good entries!), the winner is...A.M. Hounchell:

I wanted to knock, but the wreath was encircling the entire door like a holiday version of poison ivy.

Congrats! I'll be contacting you on the best way to send your gift card to you! 

Book Buying Motivation SURVEY RESULTS from the Debut Author Spotlights

All of the Debut Authors featured in the Spotlight were asked what motivates them to buy a new book. Here's a graph to summarize the results:

A recommendation is the strongest book seller.
A compelling character, a great description or blurb, and a book's rating and reviews were tied for second most important.

What most motivates you to buy a new book?

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Operation Awesome's Favorite Books of 2016

I love the end of the year--I love looking forward to the new year, and looking back at the good times of the old year. We read a lot of books in 2016, and here are some of our favorites!

J. Lenni Dorner:
The best book I read in 2016 (though not pubbed in 2016) was:

My most anticipated book of 2017 is:

Leandra Wallace:
My favorites this year were...

Kara Reynolds:
It is so hard to pick a favorite book--don't make me do it! (wait, this post was my idea) Okay, I can't pick one favorite, but here are some highlights of what I read this year:

And the books I am most looking forward to in 2017:

This one is by one of my CPs and dearest writing friends, Laura Heffernan. Yes, technically I've already read it, but it is still one of my most anticipated reads of 2017 because I can't wait for all of YOU to read it!

What were your favorite reads of 2016? What books are you eagerly anticipating in 2017?

Don't forget, we're looking for a new blogger to join the Operation Awesome team in January! Details here

Friday, December 23, 2016

Flash Fiction Contest #24

First lines always intrigue me. They either catch our attention and draw us in, or don't, and we close the book. So let's have some fun with first lines! Submit what would be the first line to a story, including one of the holiday words below. Any genre acceptable (picture books, middle grade, young adult, adult). Just keep it clean, please!

The winner will receive a $5 Amazon gift card, announced on Dec. 25th. Have fun!

Here's my contribution: Christmas lights are blurry when you're crying, making them even prettier. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Meet M.A. Griffin in this Debut Author Spotlight

Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6

1- What is one "must-do" place or activity you'd recommend to someone visiting Manchester for the first time?

Good question! It’s a city with a great sporting and cultural heritage so I’d suggest seeing Old Trafford, England’s biggest club football stadium and home to Manchester United, or catching some live music in which case I’d head for Gorilla, a great club nestled under a railway arch, or The Deaf Institute; it seems a weird thing to say, but as well as the music and the people, I love the wallpaper there. Seriously!

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

Yeah, here’s one. I’ve been a big horror fan since I was a teenager, starting with Clive Barker and Steven King. I try and deny it but it keeps coming back to haunt me. Like there was this time I hired a chainsaw to cut down a tree in my garden. It came with a ridiculous safety helmet and visor, plus some heavy-duty overalls. When I got kitted out I looked like some ludicrous serial killer. So I got my girlfriend at the time to take some photos of me, and gave a lunatic roar at the camera wielding the saw. We printed the pics, had a good laugh then I forgot all about it. The next morning, the chainsaw was stolen from my car and I had to call the cops. A police officer came to interview me a few days later. She was very attractive and I found myself desperate to impress her. Unfortunately she said, “Have you any photographs of the missing equipment?” I considered denying it, but there was nothing I could do. I sheepishly showed her the pictures of me bellowing like a psycho. It was pretty much the most embarrassing moment of my life. Despite this chastening experience though, I can’t help myself – I still love horror.

3- What ignited your passion for writing?

It all started with those books where you could direct the course of the plot. Remember the Fighting Fantasy series?
“If you want to open the door, turn to 207. If you’d prefer to continue down the corridor, turn to 315.” I went crazy on them. I drew maps of their structure, re-played them over and over, tried to write my own. I remember a turning point was realising the motivations of the characters weren’t strong enough. (What was this guy with the broadsword doing in this room all day? Waiting for me to show up? Why was he there? Did he have a family to go home to?) I figured I could build a better one myself. That’s when I started writing.

4- Do you have a fun story to share with us that illustrates a time when a benefit of being a published author came to light for you?

There’s nothing like seeing your book on a table-top or face-out on a shelf in a store, particularly if there’s a little hand-written review underneath from an enthusiastic member of the bookshop’s staff, something they do in big stores here in the UK. It transforms your day, your week, your month!

5- Do you have any advice or tips for writers who are considering using a nom de plume?

Ah – good question. This is because I wrote a novel called The Poison Boy under the name Fletcher Moss. It was a great experience – very liberating. I’m naturally quite self-critical so the pseudonym gave me the chance to shut-off that inner voice. It was like armour to hide behind, especially because I was working full-time as I wrote; I was a Deputy Headteacher at a big school in Manchester. So I wanted to keep the two parts of my life separate. Then, when I wrote Lifers, it came out as a very different book to Poison Boy. And I felt I was a different person too by then. I’d cut down my teaching hours and was making a transition from one life to another. The change of name felt like it made sense.
My advice? Use a nom de plume if it helps you manage your inner critic. It can take you through blockages that might otherwise phase you!

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

That’s be my little girl. She’s five. She reckons Lifers is the best book ever written. Needless to say she’s never read it.

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?

Yeah, I wanted to write about how spaces imprison us, but how choices do too. Sometimes we make decisions which trap us. That’s what happens to my main character Preston; he sends a cruel text message and that mistake closes in on him. We all make these mistakes, but some of us let them define us and some of us are strong enough to move on. In my dystopian prison, which I call Axle 6, some children become wild, and some retain their humanity. Some of my favourite scenes are set in the prison – there’s a riot over dwindling food supplies; the writing of that was a dark and scary ride! Ultimately I think a society can be judged by how it treats its prisoners. For me, prison is about rehabilitation as much as punishment. But Axle 6 doesn’t give prisoners chance to change – it condemns them to death. I’d love to hear other’s opinions on the nature and purpose of imprisonment; feel free to use the comments box to contribute.

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

I have this guy called Mace who’s a conspiracy theorist. I loved writing Mace. As he gets unwittingly involved in the events of the story he’s convinced he’s stumbled upon something huge, so he records all his observations as voice memos on his phone. While my protagonist is trying to achieve something, Mace is often in the background describing the situation into his phone (“We’re trapped in a small room with a single locked door…”) It leads to a considerable amount of tension between the two of them, as you might expect!

9- Is there any diversity we can look forward to in your book?

I live in a diverse city, teach in diverse schools and spend time with kids from all heritages and backgrounds. It’s one of the things I love most about teaching. When I wrote the book, I just wanted to reflect the reality of that, so characters come from a range of cultural heritages and have different perspectives as a result. I don’t claim to be any kind of expert but I hope I’ve managed to capture some of that, at least.

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

It doesn’t take much to persuade me I need more books! At the moment, I’m all about structure, so I get myself a new novel to try and work out how it’s built. I do a lot of deconstruction to try and isolate the building blocks. I think the The Poison Boy had a working structure almost by accident, whereas there was a more deliberate building of the structure of Lifers. But I still don’t know how to build a story, as it were. I’m still figuring it out. Successful authors often say something like, “the book seemed to emerge fully formed.” That’s amazing to me. I can find a thousand ways to screw up the structure of a book. Reading helps me work out where I’m going wrong!

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

My journey wasn’t typical! I entered an annual competition run by Chicken House Books, my British publisher. They have huge numbers of novels entered each year, and they publish the winner. I had this crazy few months where I made it to the longlist (wild celebration!) then the shortlist (more wild celebration!) then won (shocked disbelief!) I’d recommend writers check out competitions like this, they’re a great way of getting noticed. And you don’t have to win to get a deal either.

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

Yes please! Lifers is a magic door story. When I was a kid, I wanted my sci-fi and fantasy epic and otherworldly; Middle Earth, not planet Earth. I wasn’t up for stories of an ordinary world tipped on its axis by the existence of a magic door to a parallel place. Until I read Alan Garner’s Elidor. Then Stephen Donaldson’s fantasy. Then Terry Brooks’s Landover stories. Soon, I was sold on this idea of throwing one world into sharp relief by juxtaposing it with another. I’m still hooked now. Late period Stephen King does this beautifully; From A Buick 8, or his JFK time-travel novel 11.22.63. I wanted to try it to, and I’d been waiting for an idea to come along so I could go for this particular ride. Then one day driving to work I had the idea of a nightwarden – a nocturnal protector of a secret prison – and Jonathan Shade arrived virtually fully formed in my head, patrolling his secret Manchester locations, nursing his guilty secret. I’d been addicted to an Urbex site called 28 Days Later ( ), and the two ideas collided. Prisons and urban exploration – what’s not to like?

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

We're looking for a new blogger!

We're looking for a new team member to join Operation Awesome in 2017!   

We are looking for a writer to commit to blogging every Thursday. 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 hope that if you are interested in blogging with us, you'd like to help with the contest as well!

Currently our blog has 3 regular features: Tuesday Museday, Debut Author Spotlight, and #OAFlash Flash Fiction contests. We'd like our new blogger to come up with an additional 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. We tend to stay away from controversial or emotionally-charged topics, because it's hard to reflect the views of everyone in the group in such a post. However, we're flexible and we communicate well with each other behind the scenes, so it's a good atmosphere to bounce potential ideas around.

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 Friday, January 6th. Questions may be asked as a reply to this post, or on Twitter @OpAwesome6 or @reynoldstribe.

Thank you!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Book Marketing Chaos and Shortcuts to Success

I've been on a documentaries kick lately. One in particular sparked my interest. It was about chaos mathematics. Doesn't sound very writerly, does it? However, believe it or not, it really gave me something to think about in terms of book marketing.

First, we're word people, so let's get a definition down. We usually equate chaos with complete randomness, but this is not the case.

Chaos theory:the branch of mathematics that deals with complex systems whose behavior is highly sensitive to slight changes in conditions, so that small alterations can give rise to strikingly great consequences. (Google) This is commonly referred to as the butterfly effect.

Book marketing and, therefore the success of a book, is one such system. Hundreds if not thousands of systems combine to create an extremely chaotic system that Joe Writer is plunged into and told to swim once he has a published book. This is why there are no 7 keys to making your novel a New York Times bestseller. Anyone who claims to know the secret to this is trying to take your money. Certainly you can do a number of things that will increase your success, but you can't forecast trends, you can't dictate what movies are produced, you can't foresee what people's disposable income will be, you can't predict what other books will be released, or any number of other variables. 

While this could be discouraging, I find it encouraging. If you've worked hard at marketing and your book hasn't gone viral, don't feel bad. As authors do all they can to get our books noticed. We keep plugging away, in hopes that at some point this chaotic system will work in our favor. The longer and harder you keep at it, the better your chances. The more books you have in the marketplace, the better your chances. Don't give up just because your initial efforts aren't met with success. And please be extremely cautious about anyone who promises instant success, whether it would be vanity publishers, publicists, or marketing gurus. The system is just too complex to reduce it to a step-by-step process. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Meet Jenny Manzer in this Debut Author Spotlight

Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6

ON SALE TODAY AT AMAZON $11.69 List Price: $17.99 Save: $6.30 (35%)

1- What’s your favorite Nirvana song?

“All Apologies.” It’s hopeful, wistful, strange and sad.

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

When I was pregnant with my son, he began having an erratic heartbeat and I was flown by helicopter to a bigger city. I have never been more worried. I had to stay in hospital there until he was born, leaving my friends, my belongings, and my dog (my husband later joined me). Unlike many of the pregnant patients, I was allowed to move around, so I left my room one day to get my hair trimmed at a nearby salon. It was an odd place.

I sat there, in my hospital gown, and realized the woman in curlers under the dryer was reading a magazine article I had written telling the story of how my mother died of cancer just two days before my wedding. The woman looked like someone from the 1950s—big hair, dramatic makeup—and as she read, she sobbed. “Joseph, bring me some tissues!” she called to one of the stylists. “This story is so sad.”

This strange coincidence was an intersection of elements—the power of story, the power of a mother’s love, the pain of loss and grief. It was a bizarre experience, made weirder by me sitting there, watching, wearing a hospital gown. Happily, my son is fine. But I have never forgotten that scene in the salon.

3- What ignited your passion for writing?

I have always been nosy. When I walk past a house at night with the curtains drawn I always want to know what’s going on inside. I used to put on plays with my friends when I was little. I guess that passion for story has always been there.

4- What’s the best part about running?

Being outside and exploring. Clearing your mind. I have also seen some amazing things while running: from owls to otters. One time while running in Canyonlands I nearly did a face plant right onto an enormous green snake.

5- What story had the most impact during your investigative journalism days?

It depends, I guess, on how you define impact. I once flew to a small seaside community in Eastern Canada to report on the health problems of the people there who’d grown up near a toxic waste site. The community had sky-high cancer rates. Now that I am a parent, I remember meeting the children. I still think about how generous those people were to me then, sharing their lives. So that story had a big impact on me.

6- Who is currently your biggest fan?

My sister. Her enthusiasm is not tempered at all!

What does that person love most (or "ship") about your debut novel?

Perhaps the sad parts? She has a tender heart, for sure.

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 hope readers find the book funny and entertaining, but yes, the book is sad—though it is ultimately hopeful. I hope the readers remember the scenes of Nico and Cobain in the cabin, in the storm, when anything can happen.

8- If you could only have one coffee order from one coffee house for all of 2017, what would it be?

Dark-roast drip coffee in a cup the size of a rain barrel.

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

Nico’s best friend Obe likes to wear fingerless gloves and has the posture of raw bacon—he’s unusual but lovable.

10- Does anyone in your book wear pajamas to a wedding or other major life event?

The incident you reference is mentioned in the book—but as a historical event.

11- Is there any diversity we can look forward to in your book?

No, there is not much—and that really had to do with the confines of the premise. The current books I am working on are very different in this regard, and I am really enjoying that freedom.

12- Which character has your favorite Personality Contradiction?

Well, Cobain in the story is caring, but crazy—he’s eccentric, yet also effective in helping Nico.

13- Do you think Courtney Love has read your book? What review do you think she would write?

I really doubt Courtney Love has read SAVE ME, KURT COBAIN. I could not guess her review. Mind you, she loves music, and this is definitely a book for people who love music.

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

One key thing is simply wanting to know from the description—what happens next? I am also trying to make a point of reading more widely—from authors with different experiences and backgrounds than me.

15- Do you tune in to the Lithium station on Sirius XM?

No, but I probably should. I love radio.

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

I finally connected with my wonderful agent who helped me get a book deal with a wonderful publisher—that was pretty much my good fortune. It took a lot of perseverance, though.

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

What if you discovered that Kurt Cobain is not only alive, but might be your real father? Nicola Cavan has been an outsider since age four when her mother vanished from their home in Victoria, British Columbia. Now 15, Nico is determined to find her beautiful, music-obsessed mother. After glimpsing “Cobain” on a ferry from Seattle, Nico follows the man with the blazing blue eyes to a remote Vancouver Island cabin—and her life will never be the same.

READERS- If you could only have one coffee order from one coffee house for all of 2017, what would it be?