Thursday, May 31, 2012

Heads Up! Mystery Agent On The Way!!

Tomorrow is our June Mystery Agent Contest, so polish up those pitches! Full details for the contest will be posted tomorrow, but just a little heads up and a few reminders.

Our Mystery Agent this month is looking for any sub genre of YA, MG, and picture books. More specifically:
- Magical or inspiring MG in the vein of Savvy, The Tales of Despereaux, or Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
- Smart MG action/adventure novels, either high-concept fiction or re-imaginings of existing mythology, in the vein of Rick Riordan, Michael Buckley, and Trenton Lee Stewart
- MG or YA that hints at secret societies, espionage, film noir or high-stakes international intrigue (contemporary or historical)
- MG mysteries or YA thrillers (with the latter category being fairly edgy)
- Contemporary YA with humor and emotional resonance similar to John Green or Matthew Quick
- Intense, challenging or even gritty YA (think Laurie Halse Anderson or Jay Asher…)


  • Pitches should be for completed manuscripts only.
  • You can enter one pitch for one novel - if you make a mistake, just delete your entry and repost.
  • Yes, you are eligible to enter even if you've won MA contests in the past.
  • The first 50 qualifying pitches will be accepted - don't pay attention to the comment numbers. We will close the contest when we've reached our limit.
  • If the rules (which will be posted tomorrow) are not followed, your pitch will be disqualified. Please carefully read the guidelines and follow them
  • Pitches should be one-line pitches - try not to push the boundaries on this one - Four sentences separated by semi-colons will NOT count as a one line pitch. ;)
  • Anyone can enter as long as your novel falls under the genres our MA is looking for. If this particular MA doesn't rep your genre, no worries - we hold these contests often and try to find agents with diverse tastes so there will be a contest in the future for your particular genre
The contest will go live at 10 am ET/9 CT / 8 MT/ 7 PT

Stay tuned tomorrow for complete details! And good luck with your pitches :)

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Writing Avengers

I can't believe that it's almost June. June! We're almost halfway through the year. 

I also wanted to remind you all that we have another fabulous Mystery Agent contest here on June 1st (stay tuned for details). But, as with most things writing related, we need the words to help us get there. And wherever we all are in the writing journey (planning, first drafting, second drafting, finishing, revising, querying...), I have a little message to keep us all going when things get tough. 


(note to self) (also, drool)
Image from Tumblr

Now I'm off to do as the Avengers tell me. I'm also going to open the comments up to all you writing Avengers out there. 

What are you writing? 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Stubborn Shall Conquer the Earth: Announcement

About a month ago, I posted about rejection and how I was grateful for the hard journey. If you haven't read my post, you can catch it here.

Well, ironically enough, exactly 1 week after I posted this blog entry, I received an offer of publication from Month 9 Books. 

Here is my Publisher's Marketplace listing.

In case you can't read it, it says:

Children's: Young Adult
Kristal Shaff's debut THE EMISSARY, in which a seventeen-year-old must defeat an ageless king and his powerful army in order to save their land from a cloud of darkness that threatens to destroy him, and those like him, who possess one of six deadly powers, to Courtney Koschel at Month9Books, in a two-book deal, for publication in December 2013 (World).

I want to send my OA ladies, and my writing friends, a BIG thanks. It's been a really long and difficult journey. It goes to prove that perseverance--and a dose of stubborn, hardheadedness--does pay off.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Social Media Sites: What's Your Fave?

Confession: I've just started using Pinterest, and whoa, my productivity? Done. 

DONE, I tell you. 

But there's also Twitter and Facebook and Tumblr and, of course, blogs. Those suck up time out of my days, too. Anyone who can balance ze Internet and real life is my champion. For reals. 

Now tell me:

Do you blog/Tweet/Facebook/Tumbl/Pint? If you do more than one, which is your fave? 

Bonus points if you link to your pages! And if you'd like to find more authors/bloggers on either Tumblr or Pinterest, check out YA Highway's awesome roundup.

Now if you'll excuse me, I must continue adding pictures to my Jensen Ackles board on Pinterest. *stares at all the pretty* Feel free to follow me over at 

Can't wait to follow you back!! 

Happy Monday! :)

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Measuring Progress When Word Count Doesn't Work

I am a writer, and I want to be a primarily novelist. That should mean I spend a lot of time writing novels, but it doesn't always. Novels are long and hard, and lately my word count isn't where I want it to be. I often feel anxious and inadequate when I see the word counts that many other writers log day after day and month after month.

This week I have to remind myself that a lot of the other things I'm doing are still "writer things," and they count. For example, this week I wrote:

  • A 1,200 freelance article
  • A picture book draft
  • This blog post (not sure this counts!)

I also beta read a friend's novel.

I didn't get anywhere on the novelette or novel I'm supposed to be working on and I don't expect to this week. In progress: another revision on my contracted novel, revision of my picture book, critique of a friend's picture book.

But there are ways to measure productivity other than word count. Part of being a writer is revision, working on jobs that pay (like freelance), and helping other writers. Here I note that I this week I benefited from two awesome picture book critiques -- both from writers who I have not yet critiqued. We all have to pay it forward.

So I decided to take a weekly tally of what I've done instead of focusing on what I haven't.

How do you measure productivity when you're not in drafting mode? What goals do you set? 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Publishing and Cataloging in Publication Program

Today I’d like to talk briefly about a program that some authors
may be unaware of. Cataloging in Publication record or CIP  is a
bibliographic record prepared by the Library of Congress. This
process begins before a book is published in the United States.
When a novel is being printed the publisher includes the CIP data
on the copyright page thereby assisting book processing for
libraries and book dealers.   

Certain Libraries will buy a novel based on the CIP data alone. According to many sources, library sales are still holding with over a billion dollars--a real boost to publishers and authors!

For more information visit:

Angela Townsend

Author of Amarok, Spencer Hill Press, November 2012

Friday, May 25, 2012

Nail Your Novel: A Blog Tribute

I got SO many great book recs from Amparo's post, Books on Craft: Which Are Your Faves?

Then today I found one on my own I'd like to add to my library. If it's anywhere near as helpful as the author's blog, it's a winner! 

on amazon

As a writer who has six books under her belt, this subtitle spoke to me: Why writers abandon books and how you can draft, fix and finish with confidence. 

I didn't start writing any of my books with the intent to abandon. Well, maybe one, but that was a guilty pleasure based on a dream. (Don't ask.) *blushes insanely* Okay, I shouldn't have brought that up. 

But mostly I write with the hope of sharing my work with others. The despair that causes all authorial abandonment comes from a lack of confidence in one's work. 

Maybe we're just inherently hard on ourselves, or maybe we've been rejected one time too many. Maybe we've been reading freakin' bestsellers all year and are comparing ourselves unfairly to the finished product of dozens of publishing pros!

Whatever the reason, I know I'm not the only one ever to abandon a pseudo-finished book. But it's a problem I don't want to repeat. So I clicked over to check out Roz Morris's blog with the same title as her book: Nail Your Novel

Come to find out she just won Website of the Week from Writers' Digest! 

She also has very clever posts like Doctor Who and the Infinite Possibilities: How Original Ideas Take Time, which is made of win for anyone who has ever come up with a brilliant novel concept that lacked focus; and Writing Fast, Writing Slow - and Why One Book a Year Suits Hardly Anyone, including a pretty neat little 6-bullet description of her writing process. 

I've already found a lot of helpful stuff there, so I'm paying it forward to you in hopes you find it as mind-stretching as I have.

So... I'm three and a half weeks away from popping out this baby (real baby, not a book). Before or after you visit  Roz's blog to explore the awesomeness...

Leave me your favorite children's books recommendations in the comments! (Baby is a boy, if that matters.)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The "Over-Many-Nights" Success

I read a 2007 post by Rick Riordan, about when people ask what it feels like to be “an overnight success.” It took him nearly ten years to reach his “overnight success.” His story parallels that of so many writers I know or have read about. I don’t think people realize oftentimes just how hard these overnight successes had to struggle before they “made it.”

Since my book deal was announced, I’ve had people ask me about my journey. When people hear that Treasured Lies was the first book I ever wrote, I think they sometimes assume I didn’t have to struggle much. After all, I sold my first novel!

However… :D

The very first draft of Treasured Lies was finished about five years ago. Since then, it has been completely rewritten at least three times, and I mean COMPLETLEY, with countless revisions of those rewrites in between. And I wrote other books between those TL rewrites. I queried that poor baby over 200 times (and then I stopped counting). I got many requests, some revise/resubs, and lots of “I love it, buts" :)

I’ve started other projects that I’ve abandoned. But this one I just couldn’t leave alone. I believed in it too much. So every so often, I’d pull it out of its virtual drawer and start all over again. So while it might technically be the first book I wrote, if you count up all the rewrites and books in between, it’s at least book number 5 or 6 :)

I’m glad I had a hard road of it, because now I can truly appreciate the success I've earned. And I know, and accept, that there is another hard road ahead. More importantly, I know I can handle the speed bumps that are going to come my way. Getting published is just one more step up. It's a good step, a very very good step that makes me smile whenever I think of it :) But I know there are still some rough times ahead, and probably always will be. And it's good to know that I can deal with all the ups and downs that will come with the journey to true success.

Rick Riordan says all this so much better than I am doing here :) Be sure to read his article. It’s inspiring – and wonderful to know that even the big names out there had to go through the same things I am :)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


It's time to announce the winner of our RAOK BLITZ contest. 

Dramatic drumroll...

And the winner is...

*Tense silence in an Academy Awards announcement style*


Congratulations, Nicole. You've won a either a book (or pre-order) of your choice. 

Please send me the name and author of book/pre-order of choice (and your address) to operationawesome6(at)gmail(dot)com 

Don't forget that we've got lots more contests on the way, including our June Mystery Agent!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Introducing, Wesley Chu

Back when I submitted for Angry Robot's open door month, a group of us joined together, those of us who were waiting on the verdict of our submission, those who had been elevated to the editorial level.  One of these friends, Wesley, can finally spill the beans about his new Science Fiction book.

Wesley Chu joins Angry Robot with his debut novel, The Lives of Tao.

Needless to say, after 14 months (when he originally entered the Angry Robot slush) he deserves a shout out. Stop by his blog and wish him congrats. You'll see, by his witty blog posts, that his book is a lot of fun to read.

Visit him at his BLOG or on Twitter.

And check out the announcement on ANGRY ROBOT.

Wish him congrats. Drop him a line. He deserves it!

Wesley Chu was born in Taiwan and immigrated to Chicago, Illinois when he was just a pup. It was there he became a Kung Fu master and gymnast.

Wesley is an avid gamer and a contributing writer for the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland. A former stunt man and a member of the SAG, he can also be seen in film and television playing roles such as “Banzai Chef” in Fred Claus and putting out Oscar worthy performances as a bank teller in Chicago Blackhawks commercials.
Besides working as an Associate Vice President at a bank, he spends his time writing and hanging out with his wife Paula Kim and their Airedale Terrier, Eva.
You can catch up with Wesley online at his, or on Twitter: @wes_chu

The Lives of Tao follows an out-of-shape loser and IT technician called Roen, who finds his world turned inside out and upside down when a friendly alien hitches a ride inside his mind. Because this is no ordinary friendly alien: the entity in question is a secret agent, fighting an aeons-old war against the Genjix, a rival alien organisation hell-bent on destroying the Earth in their quest to return to their rightful place in the galaxy.

And poor old Roen really has his work cut out for him. He needs to develop a stiff jab, make the grade as a covert operative and find a way to save the planet, all while being hunted by the deadly agents of the Genjix.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Books On Craft: Which Are Your Faves??

So. Writing is hard, isn't it? Like, really, really , really hard.

But you knew that already.

And since you knew that already, you've borrowed or bought books on craft. Or, if you're like me, Googled books on craft, then stared at the laptop screen for an embarrassing amount of time. 

Why? Because there are so. Many. Books.

And they all look fascinating. And perfect. And oh-so-right for me.

That's why I'm sending out a call for help: 

Which is your favorite book on ze craft of writing? 

Bonus points if you tell me why :)

Happy Monday! And thanks in advance!!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Guest Post: R.H. Russell on Her Two-Book Deal and Self-Published Series

A year ago I had no publication story to share. Just thirteen years of writing and polishing and submitting. Piles of manuscripts and files full of ideas. Today, I have two publication stories—how I decided to self-publish, and how I landed my first book deal with Sourcebooks.

Were my self-published books such a smashing success that the offers came pouring in, Amanda Hocking style? Um, no. Did I get a book deal, then get disillusioned, decide to “go indie,” and publish on my own? Nope. My two publication stories, though they involve different books, are really one story. A story of choosing both self-publishing and trade publishing.

In 2009, I signed with an agent for Venture, a YA about a bonded servant who dares to dream of being a champion fighter, and who falls in love with his master’s daughter. But after a bumpy year-and-a-half, we parted ways. It was tough to leave an agent who still felt strongly that she could sell my book—especially since Venture was close to my heart like nothing else I’d ever written. I’d gone through rough periods over the years, questioning why I was writing, whether I’d ever get anywhere, whether it was worth it even if I did. But this time I felt something that terrified me—absolutely no desire to write. For the first time, I thought I was done.

This was a crisis beyond the usual soothing powers of chocolate and tub-soaking. There were tears and prayers and half-crazed laughter. I’d really thought the book of my heart could be published! Haha! Sigh. And then there was an idea. An idea that eventually became Wonder Light, a middle grade about a scrawny, unwanted girl named Twig, a mist-shrouded island, a mysterious boy—and unicorns. I originally titled it Unicorns of Lonehorn Island, and I began to love it the way I loved Venture.

As I finished the first draft of Wonder Light, I was seeking new representation for Venture. One agent e-mailed me several times to tell me how much he was enjoying reading Venture, asking me questions about its history. Soon I’d done what some had told me was impossible. I’d gotten an agent with a recently shopped manuscript. Yay!

Agent Man sent Venture to an editor who’d expressed interest in the past. While I waited to hear from her, I polished Wonder Light. I fell in love with Twig and Wonder, her feisty unicorn, and with misty, mysterious Lonehorn Island all over again. But Agent Man didn’t fall in love. He didn’t see the manuscript as viable at all. I told him that my beta readers enjoyed it. “Your readers are wrong,” he said. Wow. What could I do, but laugh? Not quite as crazily as last time, but still.

I could stay and wait to see if Venture sold, but then what? Leave the agency soon after to find a home for Wonder Light? And if Venture didn’t sell, I’d have wasted precious time. I had to tell Agent Man the truth. I was not okay with trunking Wonder Light.

We parted in spring 2011. I’d been watching the changes in the industry, in particular some shifts in attitude toward self-publishing. I was already working on getting my tween novel, Linked, ready for self-publication under a pen name. The self-publishing learning process was surprisingly fun. And once Linked was out, I got to see readers enjoying my writing for the first time, too.

As I queried agents with Wonder Light, I debated what to do with Venture. The traditional advice was to wait and hope to find a publishing home for it after I sold something else. But I felt like its time had come. I’d also been through a lot of revising Venture for others, trying to make it fit into the market. But how does a mixed-martial-arts-inspired fantasy that reads more like alternate history fit into anyone’s list? Especially with a teenage male lead and a love story as a primary part of the plot?

I revised Venture again, with self-publication in mind. My only goal was to make it the best story it could be. It turned into a series, starting with Venture Untamed and Venture Unleashed, both published in 2011. Finally, Venture’s story was out there, being read. What a gift, to have readers waiting for the next book!

Meanwhile, there was strong agent interest in Wonder Light, but I was pretty particular this time around, and I hadn’t found the right fit. I thought about self-publishing Wonder Light, but I felt that it had a strong hook, and would fit nicely into the middle grade market. So I decided to query editors directly. The amazing Aubrey Poole of Sourcebooks was interested, and soon I was working with her on a revision. Just a few weeks after that, I had what I’d been waiting thirteen years to get—an offer for a series, tentatively called Unicorns of the Mist. Wonder Light, the first in the series, will release in hardcover, spring 2013.

I love working with Sourcebooks, and I enjoy self-publishing. I’m glad that I chose both. Though it’s taking a different shape than I expected, I’m living a publication story that’s uniquely mine.

About R.H. Russell: R.H. Russell has had a head full of stories for as long as she can remember. She grew up traveling the world as an army brat, and now travels the country as a coach with a non-profit judo team. She’s been an active member of Verla Kay’s Message Board for Children’s Writers and Illustrators since 2009, and she blogs at Her upcoming middle grade series, Unicorns of the Mist, begins with Wonder Light (Sourcebooks 2013). She writes the Venture Books, a YA / adult crossover series about a fighter, and is the author of Linked, a tween / young teen novel about a magic charm bracelet, written as Lisa Alden.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Amarok: My Publishing Journey

After my book was signed with Spencer Hill Press, a publication date was set for November. A few days later, the editing process began. There is nothing harder than seeing your manuscript marked in red. It’s like standing on the edge of a cliff and letting go, but that’s exactly what every good author must do—let go. You will be glad you did. One tip my editor, Kate Kaynak, gave me, is to accept all changes and then read the document. Once I got rid of the red, I could see she was right. My story was much tighter, and the pace quicker.

I believe that every author can improve with the use of a skilled editor or a critique group. But you need to listen and consider all suggestions. Ask yourself if it will read better, stronger with the changes.

If you are going to hire a professional, get one who is well versed in your genre. Years ago, I made the mistake of paying a very expensive editor I found in an advertisement of a writer’s magazine to help me with a YA project. The editor specialized only in Women’s fiction—not Young Adult. Although editing was very insightful, the story warped into something strange. My teenage character sounded more like fifty than fifteen. Needless to say, I learned my lesson. For major revisions, stick with a professional editors in your particular genre. You don’t have to agree with everything— but do try to keep an open mind.

Next time we’ll talk about marketing.
Stay tuned and happy writing!

Friday, May 18, 2012

I Hope You Dance!

TGIF! This weekend remember that living makes for better writing. So when you get the choice to sit it out or dance...

Songwriters: Sanders, Mark D.; Sillers, Tia;

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger
May you never take one single breath for granted
God forbid love ever leave you empty-handed

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens
Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance
I hope you dance

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Living might mean taking chances but they're worth taking
Lovin' might be a mistake but it's worth making

Don't let some hell-bent heart leave you bitter
When you come close to selling out reconsider
Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance
(Time is a wheel in constant motion always)
I hope you dance
(Rolling us along)
I hope you dance
(Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder)
I hope you dance
(Where those years have gone)

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens
Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance
I hope you dance
(Time is a wheel in constant motion always)
I hope you dance
(Rolling us along)
I hope you dance
(Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder)
I hope you dance
(Where those years have gone)

Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder
Where those years have gone

And then come back and bring that sense of wonder with the world to everything you write. Happy Weekend!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

7 Bad Habits of Successful Writers by Rachelle Gardner

The other day, agent of awesome Rachelle Gardner blogged about the 7 Bad Habits of Successful Writers (an idea she adapted from the Copyblogger - go check out both posts - totally excellent!)

I had to laugh while reading Rachelle's post because EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THE HABITS are habits of which I'm totally guilty :D

Impatient? Check

Inclined to Panic? Totally Check

Addicted to BookScan Reports? Totally Guilty

Thin-Skinned? To a point - the initial zing hurts but fades pretty quickly now :D (though this also depends on the zing. Some linger longer than others...)

Insecure? I definitely have my moments

Unscheduled? Uh, yeah - I'm seriously amazed I get anything done

Easily Distracted? LOL oh yeah, I get totally dis- oooo look at the shiny over there!

I must say though, knowing that most, if not all, writers share the majority of these traits makes me feel much better :)

What bad writer habits do you have that didn't make Rachelle's list?

Be sure to head to Rachelle's blog for her full article!!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Random Acts of Kindness BLITZ!

A smile. An encouraging word. A thoughtful gesture. Each day people interact with us, help, and make our day a bit brighter and full. This is especially true in the Writing Community. 

Take a second to think about writers you know, like the critique partner who works with you to improve your manuscript. The writing friend who listens, supports and keeps you strong when times are tough. The author who generously offers council, advice and inspiration when asked. 

So many people take the time to make us feel special, don't they? They comment on our blogs, re-tweet our posts, chat with us on forums and wish us Happy Birthday on Facebook.

To commemorate the release of their book The Emotional Thesaurus, Becca and Angela at The Bookshelf Muse are hosting a TITANIC Random Acts of Kindness BLITZ. And because I think KINDNESS is contagious, I'm participating too! 

Kindness ROCKS! 
There are a lot of wonderful people out there in the writing community, but I'd like to say a huge thank you to everyone who takes time out of their day (and writing schedule) to visit us here at Operation Awesome. You read the posts. You enter the contests. You wow us month after month with your Mystery Agent contest entries. We may write the blog, but YOU all help make OA the place it is. 

So, as a small thank you, I decided to run a little mid-week contest. The prize? A book (or pre-order) of your choice. Want to win? All you have to do is leave a comment before Tuesday the 22nd to be in for a chance to win. I'll announce the winner next Wednesday using, of course, an awesome random method (I'm thinking names in a hat *grins*).

Do you know someone special that you'd like to randomly acknowledge? Don't be shy--come join us and celebrate! Send them an email, give them a shout out, or show your appreciation in another way. Kindness makes the world go round. :)

Becca and Angela have a special RAOK gift waiting for you as well, so hop on over the The Bookshelf Muse to pick it up. 

Have you ever participated in or been the recipient of a Random Act Of Kindness? Let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

How to Make Your Characters Behave.

So I went to the Query Tracker forum yesterday. FYI, I was one of the first members of that forum in its baby stage. I used to spend loads of time posting on that forum, as you can tell since I still am one of the record holders to most time online. (Yes yes, I was on there a LOT back then.)

One of the topics was about how you get past the sludgy bits in a manuscript, especially when you have exciting scenes a few chapters ahead. We've all been there, when the writing feels like you are walking through curdled chocolate pudding. It feels like it takes forever!

A few suggestions I thought were very interesting. One person said that when their characters aren't cooperating, she tells them they are going to Disneyworld. And when the charters say, WTF, they end up taking her by the hand and leading her where they need to go.

Another person said that she writes a "shower scene". Can you all imagine what would happen if BAM, all of sudden your characters are in a shower? I"m sure interesting conversation would develop for sure.

I thought that they were both creative and fun suggestions to a problem we all face in the slow, transitional bits of our writing. It got me thinking: Wouldn't it be fun to have a topic that you went to in those situations? A topic that you pull out of your bag of tricks to make your characters get their butts moving? My current project is a MG fantasy, so I don't think a shower would be quite appropriate for them. Disneyland might be good, but I think I'd like to come up with something completely different.

So I thought I'd ask you all, my wonderful blogging buddies, for brainstorming ideas. Lets figure out some fun ways to force our characters into submission, by manipulation and humiliation. If they aren't going to corporate, lets share some ideas to MAKE them behave.

Oh, and by the way, more than likely, these scenes will not stay in a manuscript. I though it was a great strategy to get past writer's block. Computers are great. You can always delete it later once you've moved on.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Sirius Black Problem

So. Yesterday, I watched two super awesome movies. One of them was ze following:

Yes, that's Sir Gary Oldman. I typically adore Gary's performances in everything, so I decided to check Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy out. Obviously, Gary was amazeballs. But there was one moment where I FLIPPED OUT and screamed at my TV: during one scene, Gary's character (an agent working for British Secret Intelligence in the 70s) is speaking to someone else. He starts by saying "If Witchcraft is genuine..."


Then I realized two things.

1) I wasn't seeing Gary Oldman as Agent Dude From British Secret Intelligence. I was seeing him as Sirius Black, super awesome wizard badass from the Harry Potter series. 

2) I have issues (this is a recurring realization, actually...).

But the most important thing that dawned on me is this: sometimes I have trouble setting aside a writer's/actor's previous work, and blur the lines between that and the current one. I blend both projects together. Don't know why, but I tend to do so. In Gary's case, when he mentions "Witchcraft," he's referring to an operation, not magic. And yet, BOOM. I thought magic. 

The Sirius Black Problem, ladies and gentlemen. Oh, how it haunts me...

So now I'm wondering: has this ever happened to you?? If so, which two (or three...) projects have you blurred into one?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Guest Post: Kurtis Scaletta on the Difference between MG and Chapter Books

Kurtis Scaletta, author of middle-grade novels (The Tanglewood Terror, Mudville, and Mamba Point, all from Knopf), recently launched a new chapter book series of baseball mysteries, Topps League. I had some questions for him. I've tried my hand at chapter books -- short books that act as a transition between easy readers and middle grade -- but I hadn't found many resources about writing them. Rather than just pestering Kurtis for insights and hoarding them for myself, I asked him to write a guest blog for Operation Awesome. He generously agreed.  -- Kell Andrews

Kurtis Scaletta: Six Things I Learned About Writing Chapter Books

Last summer I wrote four transitional books for ages seven to nine, each about ten thousand words long. I figured chapter books would be a great way to branch out from my middle grade novels. Chapter books are breezy and light, so they’d be a piece of cake, right? Well, wrong.

1.    I realized setting out on my first chapter book how much of my writing is the kind of stuff younger readers skip: descriptions, flashbacks, narrative commentary and speculations about what might happen. Cutting back on those passages made my prose more economical, but my daily word counts were smaller and harder to come by.

2.    For most novelists the secret to giving a work a feeling of urgency is to raise the stakes. You can’t do that in a chapter book, or rather, you have to get good at making small stakes feel large: friendships tested, worries about succeeding at small tasks. Those are kinds of challenges young children really experience day by day, so I had to trust that they would related and keep reading even if zombies weren’t banging down the door.

3.    Middle grade novels are all about the changing main character. I’ve built my entire writing process around that idea. But the main characters in chapter books don’t change as much. For one thing, lower stakes translate to slighter changes. For another, kids should be able to pick up a chapter book series anywhere or read the books out of order, so things have to be more static in that world. I relied on small but significant changes, like the hero gaining respect for a rival or mastering a new skill. There’s nothing preachy, but I hope readers feel like the hero is learning things along the way.

4.    Because of the lighter stakes and less-changed character, it’s tempting to see chapter books as vignettes, without the necessary structure of a novel. That’s a mistake. They must have exposition, conflict, rising action, climax, and denouement.

5.    Chapter books usually don’t enjoy the same “buzz” as middle grade or young adult or even picture books. I think this is because they have fewer grown-up readers, where chapter books are still mostly kid-exclusive territory. However, I did find kids, parents, teachers and librarians who’d read the books and appreciated them.

6.    After completing the four-book series in a busy summer, I returned to my middle-grade novel in progress and found myself slashing thousands of words from the first few chapters. I had learned how few words are really needed sometimes to convey a scene or tell a story. Writing chapter books made me a better middle grade author.

I will always write middle grade novels, but now I hope I can keep writing chapter books alongside them. They are not as easy to write as I imagined, but they are fun and rewarding. It’s a great format. I love seeing my books illustrated, and considering the many adventures a character can have. I like being able to see a project through in a few weeks (they may be slower to write, but they are a heck of a lot shorter!) I love having books to share with younger kids, and I love hearing from parents and teachers who see kids who usually don’t read picking up these books. Although lighter in tone, I don’t think we can underestimate how important chapter books are to helping turn kids into lifelong readers.

About Kurtis Scaletta:  Kurtis is the author of three middle-grade novels (for ages 8-12), Mudville (2009), Mamba Point (2010) and The Tanglewood Terror (2011). All are published by Knopf Books for Young Readers. The Topps League, his chapter book series about the batboy for a minor league baseball team, launched in April 2012 with Jinxed! and Steal That Base! 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Angela Townsend: Journey of Amarok and Zombies

If you were to ask me, what was the most exciting event of my writing career, I would tell you it was getting the call. Although it actually started with an email and then a phone call.
I came home after a very long day to find an email message from my super-agent, Jill Corcoran. It said I had an offer from Spencer Hill Press. I can honestly say for a fraction of a millisecond, I felt like it just couldn’t be real. So many, many emotions poured over me I couldn’t even think straight.
Gathering myself together, I immediately called my agent Jill. The first thing I wanted to do was to thank her for not letting me give up when I wanted to toss in the towel, for cheering me on and for giving me advice on how to make my manuscript stronger.
Jill Corcoran is truly an amazing agent who rolls up her sleeves and fights hard for her clients. Thank you Jill!
The next few weeks were like a whirlwind. Working with Spencer Hill Press was an awesome experience. I learned so much in the following weeks.
Kate Kaynak, editor in chief of Spencer Hill press, is an absolute genius in the publishing field. She assigned me the fabulous Kendra Saunders as head of marketing for Amarok. Kendra not only provides awesome marketing feedback for Amarok, but she is a positive person filled with encouragement and endless energy for my project.   
After all the blood, sweat and tears and then more tears…My novel Amarok will be in print, November 2012!   
Anyone interested in Amarok Swag? Please email Angela with your snail-mail address and email I’d be glad to send you some.
On May 15th, please tune in to my Zombie Radio broadcast. Here is a little more on the program:
Zombie movies have always been a hit, but in the last 10 years they have multiplied. And it's not just TV. Zombies are taking over the television, books, and even ambling down our streets. (Has your town hosted a Zombie walk yet?)
Join us as the Geek Chicks and a special guest host to talk about everything ZOMBIE! It will be a blast. Find out more information HERE.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Stickler for Rules (with funky grammar contest)

Update: giveaway closed, winner notified by facebook message. :) Thanks, Ilima!

From now on, ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I shall not put.
-Winston Churchill

I was always one of those annoying kids who went around correcting other people's grammar. When I read Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots & Leaves I thought I had met my other half. She just seemed to get me and my compulsion to fix (or at least point out) signs with the dreaded apostrophe in place of a plural.


I love that someone actually DID fix this!

But when I started writing seriously, I discovered that all those rules I absorbed about grammar don't matter half as much as I thought they did. I've since read dozens of published books filled with what child-me would point out as grammatical errors.

The thing is, though, that they aren't errors at all. These authors broke the rules on purpose to avoid sentences like Winston Churchill's up there.

When you write fiction, and especially when you write for young people, it seems a whole new list of rules takes the place of the old list. Some of these rules are easy to identify after reading half a dozen books in your chosen genre. Others are more abstract and require additional reading to absorb. But the one that reigns supreme is this:

  • Keep it conversational - If you wouldn't say it in real life, don't make your character say it. That means letting him end sentences in prepositions when it feels natural. And while this is obvious in dialogue, it holds true for narration, too.
Okay, fun time. I want you to scour the internets for the most ridiculous but grammatically accurate sentence you can find. One that insists upon keeping prepositions away from the period shouldn't be too hard to find. Grammarians are word contortionists!

I'll pick the best sentence and whoever posted it gets this:

On amazon

Everyone can participate but only a U.S. entrant will win.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Pens for Paws Auction

There is some great stuff up for auction over at Pens for Paws, including a 20 page critique by all the OA ladies and some Amarok swag from our own Angie Townsend. Bidding for this ends tonight so head on over!

There are also TONS of really great items available. It's for a good cause and you might get something really awesome to boot :) I just bid on a beautiful necklace. They have signed books, crits from authors and agents, swag packs, t-shirts and TONS more.

Come check it out :)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Writing is Believing

    Every time a child says, "I don't believe in fairies," there is a fairy somewhere that falls down dead.
Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie.

Children have an amazing ability to believe. They read Dumbo and believe he can fly. They believe  there are mermaids living under the sea. That animals can talk. That if you wish on a star all your dreams come true. 

Then children grow up. 

We don't believe in magic the way we used to as a child. We learn to look for the logical explanation behind the things we don't understand. Sometimes, no matter how much we might want them, we even stop believing in our own dreams. 

As a writer, I like to think the only thing that can hold us back is the ability to believe. I need to believe in the words I weave. Believe in the worlds I create. The characters who live there. Because, even though I know they aren't real, I have to believe in my characters. If I don't then why should a reader? 

And maybe, when I write, I'm still that child who believes. 

So I'll clap for the fairies... just in case. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Query Virginity

So, my blogging friends, I have a question for you all. Think back to when you send off that first query letter. Everyone remembers their first time, right? You have these lofty expectations, envisioning the agent dropping everything, mouth opened wide as he/she stared at your awesomeness. So when your first rejection--you very, very first rejection--comes back, you remember it quite well. Tell me, friends, who was it that took away your query virginity. For me, it was the handsome, Nathan Brandsford

So tell me: Who was your first?

Monday, May 7, 2012

On Batman And Letting Go

Confession: The first time I saw this poster for The Dark Knight Rises, I cried. I also cried the first time I saw the teaser trailer. And I also cried the first time I saw the two trailers after that one.

But back to that poster. You see how the words "The Legend Ends" sit at the top? Yep. Those did me in, folks. I read the stupid words and bawled.


Well, I'm a h-u-g-e Batman fan. Christopher Nolan, director/screenwriter extraordinaire, has re-envisioned my childhood superhero into someone I don't want to say goodbye to. Of course, I'm aware that even after Nolan's trilogy wraps up, more Batman films will be greenlit in the future. 

But Nolan won't direct or write them.

Christian Bale won't be Batman anymore, either. Some new dude will take over and re-envision the man/mythology all over again. 

That's one reason I don't want to let go.

The other? I suck at letting go of my favorite characters. Big time. I can convince myself that it's for the greater good and that it's not a real person I'm saying goodbye to, but in the end, those pesky tears always come back. Something tells me I'm never going to change. I'm destined to be a sort of character hoarder, unwilling to part ways with the fake people ruling my heart, and eventually burying myself underneath their awesomeness. 


Which leads me to today's questions: how do you let go of your favorite characters? Which character proved the hardest to let go of for you? They can be from books/movies/TV shows you love, or they can be from your very own WIPs!!!

Also, for the Batman lovers out there, here's the latest trailer for The Dark Knight Rises: *sobs*

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Being Naomi Watts

Last week Kristal recently wrote a brave, honest post last week about a rejection while many of her writing cohort has gone on to publication, and it got me thinking about Naomi Watts. Yep, the Australian actress best known for remakes of The Ring and King Kong.

Actually, Kristal's post made me think about something I thought about Naomi Watts a long time ago. (It's funny how random thoughts come back years later. Is this a writer thing?)

When Watts had her big break in Mulholland Drive in 2001, the media made a huge fuss over the fact that she was Nicole Kidman's best friend. And my thought was, why didn't Kidman give her best friend a hand in the 10 or 12 years that she was a big star?

Now I know.

I know a lot of writers at all stages of their career -- from newbies starting out to multiple NYT best sellers. That includes old friends from high school and college, co-workers from the day job, and friends I've made through writing networks, including online.

And I know now what friends can and can't do. Writer friends CAN read, critique, support, and offer leads and referrals. They can help me be a better writer and be happier while I do it.

What they CAN'T do is offer contracts or representation. But if I'm a better writer, I hope to get contracts on the merits of my own books.

Sometimes it seems like groups of writers must give each other all kinds of big breaks, but it's more like Naomi and Nicole. They are friends because they share interests. They are successful because they are good. Naomi was working for those all those years that Nicole was a star, and eventually she hit it big. She earned her own way. Now another decade has passed, and they both have matured in their lives and careers -- the way old friends do.

That's better. I want to earn my way. I'm trying to pay it forward to other writer friends as I go, and I'll keep doing it once I get to the next level. I just hope it doesn't take 10 or 12 more years.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Least Satisfying Endings

Not to be confused with a Terrible Ending

A Terrible Ending is one which makes you put a book down and feel like you just wasted hours of your life. 

Least Satisfying Endings are in another class. They come at the end of an epic, moving book that raised your expectations and just. didn't. quite. deliver.

Without naming names, I want to talk about such an ending. I read what I originally thought was a trilogy. The first two books left me feeling unsatisfied with the two main characters and their relationship left hanging in the air. Then FINALLY at the end of Book 3, there was the catharsis I was seeking. Angels sang hallelujah. It was a beautiful thing. I think I actually let out a happy sigh. 

Then came a fourth book. I put off reading it for a long time because the reviews all said the same thing: this book shatters the feel-good you got at the end of the trilogy. Some of the reviews even suggested never reading Book 4. 

I knew I'd pick it up eventually out of curiosity and a love for the characters, but I am glad I gave myself time to enjoy the bliss of a happy ending wherein most loose ends were tied up and every character had grown in unique ways. After investing over a thousand pages into these characters, I needed that rest. But after a long rest, it was time to find out what happened next.

I finished Book 4 last night and now I know what the reviewers were talking about. 

The author pulls the rug out. 

You think you're about to get another nice resolution with most loose ends tied up, and then...

Something epically disastrous happens and... END SCENE. 


That's it. 

It reminds me of a story my mom told me about The Lord of the Rings trilogy actually starting out as one long book. The publishers, she says, split the books somewhat arbitrarily into three installments. As a result, one book ends with the characters in fatal peril and emotional turmoil... which means that the reader is also left in emotional turmoil. 

Books are hard to write. I'm still trying to figure out the ideal story arc for my own beloved character creations. Endings are probably the hardest. As a writer, I totally sympathize with authors on this. But as a reader, it's just hard not to be disappointed.

So for the sake of learning the craft from published works, I'll start a list of Ways Never to End Your Book (my opinions, of course). Please join me in the comments. 

  • Never leave your main character on a sacrificial altar with a dagger hovering over his heart.
  • Try not to end with a shallow conversation between the romantic leads.
  • If you end with a joke, make sure it doesn't fall flat.
  • Don't end with a flashback.
  • If you must leave your antagonist mysteriously missing (is he dead or alive?), at least avoid the cliches (e.g. his black cloak blowing in the wind). 
Your turn. 

What kind of endings drive you nuts as a reader?