Thursday, December 29, 2011

You Tell Us....

What was your favorite book of 2011? Or books...because heaven knows I can't pick just one :D

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Happy Holidays!

Just a short post today, but I wanted to say a huge Happy Holidays to everyone.

Here is a little festive message from the BBC that always makes me smile when I watch it. Enjoy: 

P.S. I think my favourite bits are these:

Something about the Twister playing/dancing Cyberman that makes me laugh. 


Are you ready for the festivities?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Your WIP = Zombies. For reals.

So. There's this show I'm obsessed with. Actually, I'm obsessed with a lot of shows. But this post only works with this one:

AMC's The Walking Dead

Many people (writers included) suggest aspiring authors not to watch TV. The quality's terrible. It's filled with cliches/stereotypes/bad dialogue and plotting. As an avid TV watcher, I can safely say that yes, some shows are like that. But guess what? The opposite is also true. It's important to soak in as many stories as you can, especially if you're a writer. Even author Janice Hardy backs me up on this. And since she's a lot wiser and awesome-er than me, you should totally believe her.

Which leads me to The Walking Dead.

Sure, it's got zombies and blood and all that jazz. But the show, and the graphic novels it's based on, are about a group of people who're struggling to find hope in a dying world. They're also struggling to survive. Part of that survival is learning how to leave things behind. More importantly, leaving those we love behind. 

What the heck does that have to do with your WIP?

If you won NaNoWriMo, or if you didn't participate but are currently revising a manuscript, you have to think like the characters from The Walking Dead

Here's a timeline:

Stage One

Before loved one gets infected = Reaching THE END on your first draft = You are so happy it hurts and life is awesomesauce.

Stage Two

Loved one gets infected = You reread your first draft = O_O HOW DO I FIX THIS NOW????????

Stage Three

Loved one turns into a zombie + You don't want to kill them = Edits are going to be daunting + You don't want to start them = *does nothing*

Stage Four 

Loved one wants to eat you for dinner + Loved one is no longer the same person after infection, and is lost forever = First draft can't be queried/sent to editors because it will eat your career for dinner + First draft won't be the same after edits, but it will be so much better = Survival instincts kick in.

Stage Five

You off your loved one = You revise your first draft.

My point? In order to go from aspiring to the real deal, you have to know when to follow your heart, and when to follow your head. Revisions are a bit of both. It's up to you to figure out how to proceed from there. 

And remember, this is what your first draft looks like to you:

And this is what it really looks like:

Nuff said.

Now tell me: what's the infection/post-drafting experience like for you? Good? Bad? A bit of both?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

My middle-grade novel has found a home!

So finally I have some good news to report here on Operation Awesome!

I sold my MG novel, DEADWOOD PARK, to Pugalicious Press, a new small publisher specializing in MG/YA fantasy and adventure. My book should be out September 2012! I'm so excited to have found the right home for DEADWOOD PARK, and I couldn't have done it without the women of Operation Awesome.

Truthfully, I don't think I would have finished the novel without them. I had written my first novel without any other readers except my husband until I got my agent. When that book didn't sell, I was devastated. Now I know how common that is, how many manuscripts many writers craft before finding one that hits all its marks to reach an agent, editor, and readers, but then, the last thing I felt like doing was finishing the draft of another book when the first one hadn't sold. But I knew I had to keep writing. While on submission, I had a lot of wonderful writer friends, but I was intimidated. I needed something new to find a way to push through.

Despite my reluctance to share work, I joined the talented women of Operation Awesome. I showed them my very raw first pages, and they encouraged me to keep going. It felt worthwhile and achievable, and at the very least, I had to write enough to have something to turn in when my time was up for critiques.

I'm very proud of DEADWOOD PARK, and I'm so happy to have found Pugalicious Press so I can share this story with readers.

So thank you to Operation Awesome and to all the awesome writers, agents, and readers who have supported us. Thanks to all my writer friends on the magical interwebs because now it all starts again as I try to write my next book.

Here's the story:

Twelve-year-old Army brat Martin Cruz hates his rotten new town. He counts the days until his mom returns from Afghanistan to rescue him from his controlling aunt, who barely feeds him and won’t let him play his favorite multiplayer online role-playing game. Then two things change everything. His aunt forces him to join Junior Junior Executives of Tomorrow. And he gets a text message from a tree telling him it’s cursed — and so is he.

It’s not just any tree. It’s the Spirit Tree, the ancient beech the high school football team carves each year to commemorate the home opener. Every year they lose. And Junior Junior Executives of Tomorrow isn’t just any club. If he can find the connection between the two, he can heal the cursed tree and reverse the town's crappy luck. But first the curse turns more sinister. If Martin can’t save the town he despises, he’ll be stuck in Deadwood Park at the mercy of the psycho who cursed it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

We'll Start At The Very Beginning

"It is the truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

Did I get your attention? Then I'll begin.

They say the opening is the most important. It's the one that grabs the reader. The one that makes us want to spend 300+ pages with the hero/heroine. It's also the one that can have us staring at the blank page tearing our hair out.

But how do you get that opening just right? How do you go from an so-so opening to a great one? You know the one I'm talking about, right? The one that makes agents excited enough to read on. That makes them see the potential in you/your MS baby and request your full and then offer representation. The opening that - once published - makes readers buy your book and set up those fan pages dedicated to great quotes.

Sorry, I got a bit carried away there. Back to reality.

His Dark Materials author Phillip Pullman was asked how he wrote great books. His reply was that it's easy; all you have to do is write a brilliant first page. And then a brilliant second page. And then a brilliant third page... And well, you get the idea.

My first line trick? Get the darn first draft out of the way. Once the whole thing is done, I can then go back to focus on the first line during edits. It may be that killer opening line is a sentence or paragraph further down. Time and re-reading (and amazing CP's) can help pull it to the surface.

 I wish I had a magic formula to share. If they're are any hard and fast rules then I'm still looking, but there are a few other things that can help:

Choose a few books off your shelf. Read the first lines. See what grabbed you as a reader.

You can also check out these links:

Stina Lindenblatt has a few posts on awesome first lines here.

So over to you. Do you have a favourite opening of a novel? How do you work on yours to make it great?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

New YA Publisher: Strange Chemistry

A while back, I wrote about my submission to the publisher, Angry Robot. They had an open door month a while back, and I was able to climb my way up the slushy ranks to the editors desk. Well, 9+ months later, I am STILL waiting. Just think, if I were pregnant, I could have already scheduled a C-section and gotten the dang thing over with. But since the birth of a book takes a lot longer than the creation of of a human....I just have to deal and wait.

So it goes a lot of times in publishing. Waiting. We've blogged about it a lot. I'm sure you've all experienced the excruciating pain of waiting for an answer. If not with a publisher, with an agent. If not with an agent, waiting in line at the store. IT. NEVER. ENDS!

Ah, hem.

Anyhow, during all of this waiting, I've learned a few things. If you haven't heard by now, Angry Robot is opening a new imprint for YA. It's called Strange Chemistry. You can learn more about them here.

So while you wait for an answer, you can write. Or, if you are feeling petrified to write, at least find something to do besides click on your email refresh. It isn't healthy. I know. Really. I KNOW.

So for your enjoyment, I took it upon myself to put some creativity to use. I browsed the Angry Robot website and instead of lamenting about an answer, I looked over the cover artwork to see what would inspire me to paint. (I'm a face painter, in case any of you don't know that about me.) Using the cover of Andy Remic's book, Vampire Warlords, I came up with a face paint inspired design.

Here is the cover:

Here is my replication. Enjoy. :o)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Magan Vernon's HOW TO DATE AN ALIEN: Book Review/Interview!!

High school senior Alex Bianchi's estranged father gets her an internship at Circe Operations Center to pad her college applications. But Circe isn't your typical military base. It's an alien-run operation center and not all of the aliens are friendly, especially the one that tries to kill Alex on her first day. When Ace, a dark-eyed Caltian, enters and saves the day, she can't help but be drawn to him. Can these star-crossed lovers survive when they're on the brink of intergalactic war?

I've been following YA author Magan Vernon's blog for quite a while now, and let me just say: she sure can entertain. That's why it's no surprise I freakin' l-o-v-e-d her debut novel, How To Date An Alien. Alex Bianchi is not only a fun narrator, but a relatable one. She's self-conscious yet confident. Kind yet badass when the situation calls for it. I particularly love how she reacts to the whole aliens-and-humans policy inside Circe--aliens are forbidden to date humans, and some members of the latter believe themselves to be superior than the former. The novel's tone is light and fun, but scenes where this bias was explored really spoke to me. How mean can people be to those they don't understand? To those they feel threatened by? Alex certainly had a few low points in regards to learning how to deal with this, but as the story goes on, she manages to handle herself like a pro (an awesome moment inside a cafeteria will forever be my favorite scene). 

And my other fave part about this book? Ace. A-c-e. He's probably one of the most complicated love interests in YA, and that's why I love him. At times, I was like, "Ooooh, I SEE WHAT YOU'RE DOING THERE, ACE." Then I was like, "Umm... WHAT?" But I never stopped rooting for him. As a victim of prejudice and petty jokes, Ace is guarded. He's dedicated to his work (monitoring blogs/websites to make sure aliens aren't revealing their true identities to humans), and he treats Alex with respect, but at a distance. Their chemistry is undeniable, though, which grows even stronger as the story moves along. And I LOVED how they weren't afraid to tell it like it is to each other (a conversation about guyliner comes to mind...). By the end, I understood why they'd fallen in love, and why they'd done everything they did in order to protect that love.

If you like your scifi with a buttload of laughs, How To Date An Alien is for you, folks. 

And now I have a special treat for y'all: an interview with ze author herself, Magan Vernon!!

Check it out:

On the book

1) Tell us about How To Date An Alien's inception. How did this story come to you?

Oh geeze, good question. About two years ago I started really focusing on writing. I wrote a contemporary new adult novel that didn’t get anywhere when I started actually looking at trends. The market was so saturated by vampires at the time that I thought, “You know, I think we need to throw some aliens in the paranormal mix.” Slowly but surely the idea of an alien operations center and a kick-butt heroine came into play and the seed of How to Date an Alien was planted.

2) Your novel is described as a YA sci-fi. What is it about science fiction that appeals to you?

 Truth be told, I’m deathly afraid of aliens. I think that is probably why I’m so attracted to the idea. Aliens may frighten me, but they also intrigue me at the same time. I can’t help but get sucked into all of those alien specials on the History channel even though they give me nightmares.

3) You recently blogged about why you went with an indie publisher for How To Date An Alien. What have you enjoyed most about going indie? What's the hardest thing about it?

The thing I love the most would have to be DarkSide publishing. The girls are so supportive and I love how they’ve given me suggestions that have made my story even better than I ever imagined. I also love the freedom. I was able to pick out my own book cover and I had the final say on changes. The hardest thing is the fact that Indie publishers don’t exactly get the same respect as traditionally published. Somehow we got a bad reputation and people will try to knock us down just because we aren’t with a big publisher. But I’m a fighter and I know that fans of this story will agree.

4) Is How To Date An Alien a standalone, or does it have sequels on the way? 

There are two sequels (I’m not giving away the titles yet) and then two shorties that will go along with the series. The first one is Ace’s story, which is titled ‘A Very Alien Beginning.’ That should be out in Spring of 2012 and the second book in the series should be out by Summer/Fall of 2012.

On writing

1) Are you a pantser or a plotter? 

Pantser, all the way. I actually had no idea where How to Date an Alien was going the entire time and just let the characters tell me.

2) Revisions. Love them or hate them?

I used to hate them, but now that I’m working with DarkSide I actually enjoy them. GP Ching, Karly Kirpatrick, Megg Jensen, and Angela Carlie give the best suggestions and I look forward to my revisions when I get their notes back.

3) How much of How To Date An Alien's first draft made it into the final version?

Funny you should ask. The first chapter was written and re-written at least five different times. Alex’s name actually started out as Sofie White (shortly after she became Italian and Bianchi means white in Italian.) There were a lot of changes along the way and I didn’t even have a name for Ace until Stacey Kade came up with it. About the only thing that made it into the final version from that original draft was an alien operations center and a girl with glasses.

4) What's your #1 piece of advice for aspiring authors?

Never stop loving what you do. If you stop loving the story, then it’s time to move on.

On randomness

1) Favorite TV show/movie: Roswell the TV series and Dogma the movie

2) Favorite candy: Reese’s

3) You're stranded on an island by yourself. Which book would you read over and over again? Ugh this is a hard one!  I would probably go with the Bible. Not only for the religious aspect, but there are so many different stories to choose from with so many different interpretations.

4) If you weren't a writer, you would be: I currently work as Claim’s professional for a   major insurance company by day and I actually love my job. It’s kind of like people watching on the  phone.

Thanks so much to Magan for letting OA be a part of her blog tour!!! Make sure you go follow her blog, her Twitter, and buy your copy of How To Date An Alien over at Amazon!  

Friday, December 9, 2011

Be happy with where you are

I cannot believe it's Friday again (which is why I'm posting in the evening rather than this morning when I was supposed to). :)

December has got to be the fastest month in the history of the calendar. As soon as December 1st arrives, I get this rushing sensation like hanging onto the bar of a convertible jeep on the freeway. Yeah, it's that fast!

After the fast writing marathon of November, December is usually break month for a lot of writers and agents - a time to focus on family and the warmth-inspiring holidays.

To be honest, I've been taking a break from writing for a while now. I haven't really gotten back into it since my accident in June. I'm all better now from that, but the writing splendor I was enjoying daily prior just hasn't returned. Maybe it's because I needed some time to let my survival soak in. My husband told me the guys at the impound lot, or junk yard or wherever they take cars to die, took one look at the non-existent front of the car and asked wide-eyed what happened to the driver. I don't take my survival for granted. My kids and I are still here because of angels. So that's something that has taken a lot of processing.

Now I'm expecting my third child and taking care of two little munchkins who are growing up way too fast - like every day is December 1st. Sometimes there are things in life that just throw you for a loop, make you realize what matters the most. That's what this accident did for me. Lying in bed the next day, unable to move at all without tremendous pain, the concept of my mortality felt really close.

While there was a part of me that thought what a waste all my rough drafts would be if that had happened, it was a very small part. I LOVE writing. But not as much as I love being a wife, a mother, a sister, and a daughter.

I'm not giving up on writing by any means. Now that November is officially over (It's December 9th already!!!), I'm sure I'll get a swift kick in the rear from my awesome CPs and we'll start sharing again. I'm looking forward to that because writing is something that fulfills me, even if it's not THE THING that fulfills me or makes me ME.

To be honest, I'm kind of relieved to have discovered that. It's liberated me from this deep-rooted competitiveness within that made me feel less-than just because I'm nearly 30 and not published. Because of my accident, I'm staring down my high school reunion at the end of this month, just a few Christmas-y weeks away. And I'm excited.

Who cares what I've accomplished? I'm alive and I'm in love with my husband and my kids. I fall for them more every single day. That's who I am.

Writing is just the cherry on top.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

We've Got A List... Of Winners

Just a quick reminder that the December Mystery Agent contest winners have been revealed.

Third place (query critique):

28. Siege of the Heart (historical romance) (Bluestocking)
7. Woven (YA paranormal fantasy) (David P. King)

Second place (partial request):

19. Thief of Hearts (historical romance) (Elizabeth Michels)

First place (full request):

43. Wandering Star (YA sci-fi) (Kendall A.)

Please send your materials to me at and mention that they're from the contest.

You can check out the full post, and an interview with the awesome Hannah Bowman, here.

Monday, December 5, 2011

December Mystery Agent Winners!!!

That's right! Our agent of awesome has her winners already chosen! First off, let me introduce you to our fabulous December Mystery Agent....

Hannah Bowman of Liza Dawson Associates!!!!

Hannah answered a few questions for us so we can get to know her -

OA: Is there anything specific you’re just dying to get your hands on?

HB: I’d really love to find a big, epic space opera (think Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga), a YA high fantasy in the vein of Tamora Pierce, a sweet, funny contemporary romance or women’s fiction, and a quirky YA contemporary in the vein of John Green or Maureen Johnson.

OA: What is your biggest pet peeve when it comes to queries or submissions?

HB: No pet peeves, really! I just want a query letter that tells a story itself and that’s so vivid that I have to read more.

OA: What is your favorite part of being an agent?
HB: Getting to work with amazing authors. I love doing revisions with clients and watching their books get better.

OA: What book are you currently reading?

HB: Fiction-wise, I’m in the middle of Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind, which is beautifully written and just envelops you in the fantasy world. I’m also reading Shantung Compound by Langdon Gilkey, a nonfiction book published in the 1960s about Americans in a POW camp in China during World War II, which is a fantastic description of how people interact under pressure (and a great source of character inspiration for writers!).

OA: Do you have any fun client or agency news you’d like to share?

HB: Our agency is always excited about our authors’ successes. Among other things, last month Robyn Carr’s newest romance debuted at #1 on the New York Times mass-market bestseller list, Rob Ziegler’s debut SEED (Night Shade Books) received a starred review from Publishers’ Weekly, and Sarah Prineas’ new middle grade fantasy WINTERLING (HarperChildrens, January) made the Winter 2011-2012 Kids’ Indie Next List. Plus Rachel Neumeier’s THE FLOATING ISLANDS, Jennifer Sattler’s PIG KAHUNA, and Charles Stross’s RULE 34 all made the Kirkus Best Books of 2011 list. And that’s just a sampling!

OA: Any last thoughts for queriers?

HB: The key things for me when I’m reading a query are: 1. Who’s the main character, and why is he or she interesting/appealing?; 2. What’s the plot, and how will it surprise me and take my breath away?; 3. What’s the setting, and what interesting elements of it make it seem real? If I see a compelling, three-dimensional character in a well-realized setting (whether it’s realistic or speculative) with a page-turning story to tell...I’m hooked.

Now - on to our winners!!! Hannah had a wonderful surprise - she picked not 3 winners...but 4!! And included a ton of awesome comments as well. So I'll turn the blog over to her :D


These were a fantastic bunch of pitches! Pitching is really hard, so I'm very impressed, and it made my job much harder. In the end, my decisions were very subjective (so other agents may feel differently), as they were influenced by my own preferences both in story concept and pitch style. I'll try to give you some insight into my thought process, though.

As I read the pitches, I had two basic criteria in mind: 1. concept and 2. structure. By concept, I mean both the concept of the book and hints at interesting setting or worldbuilding that come through in the pitch. By structure, I mean how elegantly the pitch was written and how well it expressed an interesting narrative. A one-sentence pitch is just telling a story in a very short form, and that story is generally expressed by first, the description of a cool concept, and second, a clue as to where the plot goes from there (the structure).

In terms of concept, the things that I found were the most important were hints at worldbuilding (from something as simple as an unusual name or description), and that the elements in the pitch made sense together and shared some logical connection. You want to hint at enough elements of the world that it's clear the concept can carry an entire novel, but you don't want the pitch to feel like a list of cool stuff that doesn't quite cohere into a story.

In terms of structure, I found that the most effective pitches were short and specific. It's very hard to distill a story into a short pitch, but almost universally I found that the longer pitches seemed less clear and exciting. Your pitch doesn't need to contain everything, or even most of everything, in your story, but only the real narrative heart of it. I also generally prefer pitches that either have some kind of reversal or show how the stakes are raised dramatically partway through the story--otherwise the plot seems flat to me. But it's important that the description of the reversal or stakes be specific, or the story doesn't stand out.

Again, this is all very subjective! It's relatively easy to say which pitches worked for me, but harder to explain why. And I was really impressed by all the entries, so it was hard to pick just three winners (I actually cheated and picked four). Congratulations to all of you on your great pitching skills!

Without further ado, the winners:

Third place (query critique):

28. Siege of the Heart (historical romance) (Bluestocking)
7. Woven (YA paranormal fantasy) (David P. King)

Second place (partial request):

19. Thief of Hearts (historical romance) (Elizabeth Michels)

First place (full request):

43. Wandering Star (YA sci-fi) (Kendall A.)

Please send your materials to me at and mention that they're from the contest.

And thanks again, everyone, for participating!


Congrats to the winners!! And a HUGE thank you to Hannah for being our Mystery Agent this month!

If you'd like more information on Hannah and the Liza Dawson agency, check out the links. Thanks again everyone!!

Hannah's blog
Liza Dawson Associates

Thursday, December 1, 2011

December Mystery Agent Contest!!

Good luck!

Welcome to 2011's last Mystery Agent Contest!!! 

This month our agent is taking ONE SENTENCE PITCHES. 

Genres Awesome Mystery Agent would like to see:

Fiction: all kinds of commercial fiction, especially:

  • science fiction and fantasy (and all subgenres) 
  • high-concept women’s fiction
  • contemporary and historical romances 
  • cozy mysteries
  • young adult books, including sci-fi and fantasy

No MG or picture books.

Non-fiction: particularly interested in books on popular mathematics, popular science (especially anything about particle physics), and spirituality, especially church history and philosophy (but not for the Christian market).

We'll accept the first 50 entries (pay no attention to the number of comments you see - when we've reached 50 eligible entries we will close the contest).

The prizes will be: First Place - a FULL manuscript request; Second Place - a partial manuscript request; Third place - a query critique.

What a fun way to end our year!!

And now...Le Rules:

1) Entries must be left in the comment section of today's post. (Please do not email us your entry.)

2) You must have a completed manuscript and be ready to send it upon request.

3) You can only pitch once per contest. If you participated in any of our previous M.A. contests, no worries--you can submit your pitch today, too.

4) Please include TITLE and GENRE along with your pitch.

5) Pitches are to be one sentence and one sentence only. We spent a lot of time during the last contest trying to contact people whose entries weren't eligible so they could fix them. We aren't going to do that this time. Please be sure your pitch is only one sentence long or it will be disqualified.

Good luck everyone!!!