Sunday, September 30, 2012

Seeing Differently: Where Ideas Come From

Where do ideas come from? I'm getting ready for Picture Book Idea Month, which is about opening your mind to story ideas -- seeing the world as a story to be written. But to be a story, an idea isn't about just recording the world -- it's about seeing it differently and describing it in a way that's simultaneously fresh and recognizably true.

It's easy to see the difference in picture books. An anecdote is something cute or funny that you see your child do or that you remember from your own childhood. A story is that anecdote transformed -- bigger, neater, funnier, more universal, more specific, better. It's making that anecdote magical, even when you're writing contemporary realism.

Ideas for novels are more complicated. Sometimes they start as an original idea -- a blast of inspiration, even in a dream. Sometimes it's a twist on a trope. Sometimes it's a "what if" from looking at the ordinary world in a different way.

The story of DEADWOOD was inspired by one of those little "what ifs." I noticed how certain trees in the park were carved with messages and names, some of them really old. I didn't even know what kind of trees they were (beeches). I didn't know that the messages have an anthropological name (arborglyphs). But I wondered, "What if the messages were mystical? What if they were a channel for magic? What if the tree could use them to communicate?"

That idea isn't a story, and it certainly isn't a book. I need plot, character, setting, voice, dialogue, description -- but all those things came from seeing something ordinary and looking at it in a different way.

I'm sharing some photos from my tree blog as a fun example. I started taking pictures of arborglyphs, then I started noticing that a lot of trees (bumpy London planetrees especially) look a lot like people -- generally grumpy people. Here are a few of my favorites -- they might take a little imagination and squinting, but once I started looking, I started seeing them differently.

And that's what writers -- and photographers, and all kinds of artists -- do. The thing, person, or experience that washes over others can be a source of inspiration.

Contemplative tree, Belmar, Nj

Cartoon tree. Looks like Bart Simpson. Wynnewood, PA
Cubist tree. Eyes on same side of head. Wynnewood, PA

Skeptical tree. Philadelphia, PA

Saturday, September 29, 2012


After my agent, Jill Corcoran, sold my novel to Spencer Hill Press, I became busier than ever.  I often have people ask me how I find time to market my book. To be honest, I have a lot of help. I consider myself very fortunate to have a wonderful team of people at Spencer Hill Press to help me.   

My Marketing Team:

Kate Kaynak, is not only a skilled editor, she is also a marketing genius and founder of Spencer Hill Press. Kate has created many cool promotional items for my book, including T-shirts, jewelry, bookmarks, stickers and more.

Kendra Saunders is my literary publicist and she has a very busy job. She works hard to ensure that authors at Spencer Hill Press get the maximum exposure in order to market their books. A successful publicist, like Kendra, keeps very busy contacting key people by phone, email, facebook, texting and in person. Kendra also helped to create my book trailer and she is very good at management and suggestions.

Rachel Patrick is a marketing intern with Spencer Hill Press.  Rachel is setting up my book signings. She records what dates and times work for me and how far I am willing to travel to each signing or events. She is also a great spokesperson.

I also want to mention that I receive endless support from my fellow authors and friends at Spencer Hill Press. Everyone is very kind and I’m so fortunate to be working with them.

I am also very lucky to have all the encouragment of everyone at Operation Awesome!

Have a wonderful weekend!
Don’t forget to visit my blog and follow me!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Darth Vader... saves kittens?

I subscribe to and today Larry Brooks has a guest post up by Art Holcomb that you really ought to read, you know, if your story has like a bad guy or something. 

It's called The Hopes and Dreams of Truly Awful People.

In it, Art points out that your villain's motive must be clear, and must be more specific than merely good and evil (unless that's the main theme of your work). But something he said almost in passing just made me giggle.

He said, "If appropriate, repay him and delight your reader by writing for the bad guy a humanizing “Darth Vader Rescues the Kittens” scene at least once in a story."

This is brilliant. It made me think of all the stories I've read, or watched or listened to, that have done just this: humanized the villain to get me even more emotionally invested. It makes it all the more heartbreaking when the conflict between the hero and antagonist crushes the sometimes-good villain. Let's see an example.

Here's my version of Darth Vader Rescues the Kittens:


The sound of his mechanical breathing never bothered him before, but this evening in the dark alley behind the Burger Emperor, it sounded more hollow than ever. 

He'd just killed his mentor, his savior from the stupid little dust planet he'd been brought up on. Somehow over the years, that savior had become his nemesis. It might have had something to do with Vader's massacre of all the baby Padawans. Really, who keeps track of these things? 

None of that mattered now. Obi-Wan was gone. 

Slumping to the garbage-stained asphalt, Vader tortured himself, reliving his old master's last moments over and over again. If Obi-Wan hadn't been so damned self-righteous, he could have gotten by with a severed arm or leg, easily repaired. But no. He always had to fight to the death. It was his fault he was dead. Vader slurped the last of his Jabba Hutt shake through a drinking hole in his helmet. 

Next he'd probably have to kill his long-lost son. His breath caught at the thought, and that one moment of pure silence allowed him to hear something he never would have heard in the cacophony of his normal existence. 

A tiny cry. 

He jerked his heavy headgear to the side so his eyes could behold the source of the whimperish sound. It came from the garbage unit. Prying off the lid, Vader searched the dark recesses of the bin. At last he found the crying creature. Creatures. There were five impa-kittens curled up in a box, naked of their fur, huddling together for warmth. Only one of them still had the strength to cry out, its tense little neck jutting up from the rest to make its voice heard.

Something inside him melted as the death-defiant creature pressed its cheek against his black-gloved finger.  "I'll call you Anakin," Vader purred. 

All at once, a terrifying noise disrupted the moment. It was the beeping of the garbage unit, the only warning before the walls would slowly, methodically crush everything within their filthy realm. Vader had mere minutes to act, but he only needed a millisecond. 

Lightning fast, Vader held the walls back with the sheer force of his will... er, the force. The dark side of the force. (It's super powerful.) He scooped up the box of impa-kittens and, holding them close to his cold, hard chest-plate, he blew up the offending garbage unit, again with the sheer force of... the force. 

It was done. He had ended a life today. But he had saved five. The balance was more than restored. As the sun rose beyond the vaulted walls of the alley and the last embers of the garbage unit faded to black, little Anakin purred. For Vader, it was a new beginning.

A bit about the screenwriter who wrote the article...
ART HOLCOMB began his writing career in the sixth grade (at age 13) when one of his plays was professionally performed by the American Conservatory Theater. 
He has published poetry, essays and short stories and has written more than 50 comic book stories for franchises such as THE X-MEN, as well as original and licensed properties for Defiant, Valiant, Acclaim, Big Entertainment, FUNimation, Marvel Comics, DC Comics. His screen work has appeared on UPN, the Sci-Fi Channel and the SHOWTIME Channel. 
He is the co-founder and former Editor-in-Chief of the creative development firm ANDROMEDA ENTERTAINMENT, which adapts screenplays into graphic novels, creating one of the earliest sources of “illustrated screenplays”.
Read more about him here.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Unrequited Love

I was over at The Naked Hero this week talking about unrequited love. There are so many great examples out there - A Tale of Two Cities; The Last of the Mohicans; Andrew Lincoln's character Mark from "Love Actually" who was in love with Kiera Knightly's character. And of course, one of my favorites, Severus Snape.

I, of course, love the unrequited love stories that end with the love finally being reciprocated, but some of the most beautiful stories do not have such a happy ending (the original Little Mermaid anyone?)

What is your favorite unrequited love tale?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

September's Mystery Editor Reveal and Winners!!

Our September Mystery Guest recently made a big career move. Formally of BookEnds Literary Agency, she is now an assistant publisher and editor at my very own publisher Entangled! She writes the popular SlushPileTales blog along with its QueryDice posts in which she critiques queries. Please welcome the fabulous Lauren Ruth!!

Lauren's first place winner, who will receive a 10 page critique, is....

Triona!! With her entry for her novel The Long-Timers

and the runner up, winning a query critique, is....

Vicki Tremper with her entry for her novel The Transparents!! 

Congratulations to both of you!! Please email me at authormichellemclean (at) yahoo (dot) com and I'll give you further details on claiming your critiques.

And thank you so much to Lauren for being our judge this month! Lauren kindly answered a few questions for us. Let's get to them :)

OA: You’ve recently made a big career change. Can you tell us a bit about what you are up to now? 

LR: I’m so glad you asked, because I love to talk about my job. I’ve always loved working in publishing, but in my current role, I’m involved in almost all aspects of the industry, rather than just editorial. I have a hand in many, many different functions from cover approvals to contract negotiations, to marketing, advertising and publicity to—of course—reading the wonderful books at Entangled! Specifically, I am the assistant publisher of four digital imprints at Entangled. Covet (short paranormal romance), Brazen (short sexy romance), Scandalous (short historical romance) and Bliss (short sweet romance). I’ve also just recently become the assistant publisher for two print imprints as well, Entangled Select and Entangled Teen.

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

LR: I can answer this question four times, once for each digital imprint: Covet: We’re looking for short romance (50k-70k words) in which one of the main characters has some sort of paranormal ability in a contemporary setting with an alpha hero and a tried-and-true trope. Anything goes: demons, witches, angels, vampires, psychics, shapeshifters…come up with a new ability and you’ll have my ear. The paranormal element should hang in the background while the romance and the characters’ relationship are evolving in the foreground. The voice for these should be upbeat and contemporary—even a little humorous—and very specifically, I’d like to see more stories with demons. 

Bliss: short (50k-70k), sweet romance set in small-town America. For this line, I like to see something very emotionally satisfying, and with a hero who cares more about the heroine than anything else. The roughest, toughest alpha heroes don’t seem to work for this line.

Brazen: If your story’s short (50k-70k), sexy as hell, has at least one proven trope, an alpha hero and tons of sexual tension, send it on over.

Scandalous: We’re looking for short (60k-70k) romance that is set at some point between 900 and the 1930s, have an alpha hero and at least one trope, and some sexiness.

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

LR: Don’t reach out to me on Twitter to tell me you’re still waiting. It feels like you’re calling attention to my backlog in public.

OA: Are there any concepts that you are seeing way too much of?

LR: Vampires. Vampires are arguably the most bad-ass heroes in history, but unless you find a way to make your vampire story different than the bazillion I’ve read, you’re putting me to sleep. For example, in Covet new release, TAKE IT LIKE A VAMP, Candace Havens has built a world she imagines vampires could plausibly inhabit. Then she adds magic and werewolf inheritance and tells it in this fresh, youthful voice. Love it. For another example, True Blood: vampires, yes, but they’re suddenly outed as part of the general community and fighting as a minority. One beverage makes all the difference and turns the world on its ear. 

OA: Any tips for writers struggling with their one-line pitches?

LR: I think a one-line pitch should not be drafted initially as a one-liner. It should be a simple listing of three to six words. Then, flesh out your one-liner, making sure to touch on the main character, the conflict, the conclusion and a dash of voice. For example, a word-listing for The Hunger Games would be:

1. Katniss
2. Fight
3. Elite
4. Survives
5. Outsmart
6. Change

After you’ve carefully chosen the words you want to include, all you have to do is fill in the blanks, like so: 17-year old Katniss is chosen to participate in a bloody fight to the death for the entertainment of her country’s elite, (more shock) but against all odds she survives—and craftily outsmarts the heartless onlookers to change her world forever.

OA: Any last thoughts for queriers?

LR: The most important thing to keep in mind when querying Entangled editors is that we’re a romance publisher. For Covet, especially, make sure your story is actually romance and not urban fantasy with a romantic element. For Bliss, make sure your story isn’t women’s fiction with a small romantic element.

Many, many thanks to Lauren for being with us this month and congratulations again to the winners!!! If you'd like to query Lauren, check out the submissions guidelines for Entangled.

And stay tuned for more Mystery Agent/Editor contests and tons more fun!!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Revising = Mama Panda Syndrome

So. Revisions. I haven't started mine yet, but they're inching closer and closer. All I can think about is that fateful moment when I become this Mama Panda:

Yep. My Baby Panda a.k.a. my manuscript is going to make me go \O_O/. At some point. Or several. 

[insert dramatic sigh]

I can try to brace myself for the Mama Panda Syndrome as best as possible, but folks, I will fail. Freakouts are in my near future. Perhaps with a frightened ninja kick included. Because seriously. 

So I'm curious: how do you deal with Mama Panda Syndrome when you're revising? How do you push through the \O_O/ and make sure Baby Panda gets rid of an epic case of the sniffles?

Now if you'll excuse me, I must go watch this video at least a billion times more. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Looking Ahead to November

While much of the U.S. is focusing on the next election cycle in November, many writers are preparing for our own grueling test: National Novel Writing Month (NaNo). I join another set of writers in a different challenge: Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo).

Picture book writer Tara Lazar (author of the upcoming THE MONSTORE,  I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK, and LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD) started PiBoIdMo on her own in 2008 and launched it publicly in 2009. Now involving more than 600 participants, the event includes an impressive slate of guest bloggers and a slew of prizes -- critiques, art, and more The challenge is the same: Generate 30 new picture book ideas in 30 days.

I took part last year, and although I fell short with only 14 ideas, I count it as the turning point for me in writing picture books. I had written two previously (one of which I'm happy will never see the light of day), and wanted to try more, but I had been waiting for ideas to hit me in the head. PiBoIdMo helped me realize that if I want ideas, I have to chase them down instead of waiting.

Idea generation is a muscle -- you have to use it, and once you do, you get stronger.

Only one of my ideas last year turned into a finished manuscript, but I have written several others from new ideas in that time.

I'm confident that I'll do better this year -- my goal is focused on higher concept, more commercial ideas. But getting ready for PiBoIdMo is a bit different than gearing up for NaNo -- with NaNo, it's all about the preparation. With PiBoIdMo, once you start thinking about it, the ideas themselves start flowing.

Are you getting ready for NaNo? Interested in trying PiBoIdMo? If you participated in the past, what results did you get -- ideas, a draft, a finished manuscript, a polished or published book?

Saturday, September 22, 2012


Several months ago I started working on translating my book trailer into a professional film trailer to be previewed as an advertisement before the start of popular movies. Even though I am still in the production stages, I would like to share with you some of the steps we have taken in our journey.

First, I want to make it clear that I am not working alone. I am so blessed to have a lot of help from a professional crew of people from all areas of film, editing, directing and production experience. David Henderson is one of those talented professionals. David is a film and visionary genius from England who has had a lifetime of experience. At the start of the project David gave me some very good advice. “Think about movies that you love, consider what makes you love them. What makes them interesting? Is it the characters, the theme, the visuals? These are the elements you want to keep in mind as I’m filming the trailer. I want your input on this. ” This really started the wheels to turn. Suddenly I had many new ideas about what I wanted for each scene.

Next David and I were able to plan some of the camera angles, and draw out some of the scenes. Because trailers are visual, it was important to spend some time on the look and feel of it. I had to consider costume design. Films rely heavily on costumes to communicate character traits to the viewer. Another important design was the set. How did I want to capture the look of the film? A real location will offer more dimension while a built set can offer more control. I wanted a real location and so that is what we went for.

Lighting was another key factor to consider. Some movies feature soft, almost cloudy light that will give a dreamy effect, while a darker set will give a more ominous tone.

In the end, I hope everyone will enjoy my film trailer as much as I have enjoyed being part of such an exciting process.

Come check out my blog for updates

Have a wonderful weekend everyone and happy writing! – -Angela Townsend-

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Jennifer Armentrout's OPAL Cover Reveal!!

No one is like Daemon Black.

When he set out to prove his feelings for me, he wasn’t fooling around. Doubting him isn’t something I’ll do again, and now that we’ve made it through the rough patches, well... There’s a lot of spontaneous combustion going on. 

But even he can’t protect his family from the danger of trying to free those they love. 

 After everything, I’m no longer the same Katy. I’m different... And I’m not sure what that will mean in the end. When each step we take in discovering the truth puts us in the path of the secret organization responsible for torturing and testing hybrids, the more I realize there is no end to what I’m capable of. The death of someone close still lingers, help comes from the most unlikely source, and friends will become the deadliest of enemies, but we won’t turn back. Even if the outcome will shatter our worlds forever.

Together we’re stronger... and they know it. 

Follow this link to an ~~~ EPIC CONTEST ~~~ Announcement. You will want to bookmark this page! 

 USA TODAY Bestselling author, Jennifer L. Armentrout, lives in Martinsburg, West Virginia. All the rumors you’ve heard about her state aren’t true. When she’s not hard at work writing, she spends her time reading, working out, watching really bad zombie movies, pretending to write, and hanging out with her husband and her Jack Russell, Loki. Her dreams of becoming an author started in algebra class where she spent most of her time writing short stories….which explains her dismal grades in math. Jennifer writes young adult paranormal, science fiction, fantasy, and contemporary romance. She also writes adult romance under the name J. Lynn.

Find Jennifer on: Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Website | Blog

Interview with Breaking Glass Author Lisa Amowitz

Today we have the lovely and amazingly talented Lisa Amowitz, a good friend of mine, a wonderful artist, awesome writer, and my twin on the big hamster wheel of life :) Her book Breaking Glass comes out next summer from Spencer Hill Press and believe me ya'all, you WANT to read this one. Here is the cover (which Lisa got to create herself) and the blurb:

On the night seventeen-year-old Jeremy Glass winds up in the hospital with a broken leg and a blood alcohol level well above the legal limit, his secret crush, Susannah, disappears. When he begins receiving messages from her from beyond the grave, he's not sure whether they're real or if he's losing his grip on reality. Clue by clue, he gets closer to unraveling the mystery, and soon realizes he must discover the truth or become the next victim himself.

Lisa was kind enough to answer some questions for us :) Take it away Lisa!

OA: Give us the Twitter pitch :) What’s your book about in 140 characters or less?

LA: Yikes that was hard!

The night his secret crush disappears, Jeremy Glass winds up in the hospital with a devastating injury and begins to receive messages from her from beyond the grave.

OA: What inspired the story?

LA: It’s hard to say, but most like it was the location. The fictional town in the book, Riverton, is based on the very real town of Croton-on-Hudson, a quasi suburban town forty-five minutes north of the New York City border. It’s an upscale town with winding rural roads, rivers and gorges, reservoirs and lots of history. It’s got that spooky Sleepy Hollow kind of vibe. I’ve spent a lot of time there visiting good friends, and this story, I guess just came to be. I’d had this germ of a story festering for years about a boy who conjures the ghost of his crush, someone whom he could never have in real life. And, in a huge irony, the person who helped me figure out Jeremy and all his complicated psychological issues, is my therapist friend who lives there. I want to add, that the evil therapist in this book, Dr, Kopeck is by no means based on my wonderful and brilliant friend.

OA: What was the hardest part about writing this book?

LA: Probably revising it to smooth out the crazy wild plot twists. Writing the first draft was remarkably easy. Jeremy basically narrated the whole thing to me. I’ve never felt the presence of a character so deeply, and worry I never will again. Strangely, Jeremy is not based on any living person I know. He just is.

OA: Do you have a favorite quote from the book?

LA: History is only a crutch that won’t support me any longer.
But history, because of my love of it and her, is why Susannah is entrusting her secrets to me.

OA: What books have influenced you the most in your life and writing?

LA: John Green PAPERTOWNS, Markus Zusak, THE BOOK THIEF, Maggie Stiefvater, THE RAVEN BOYS. These three books pretty much encompass everything I hope my writing can be. There are many, many, books I’ve enjoyed, but these three are the books I’d like to have written.

OA: What is next for you? Can you share a bit about current and/or future projects?

LA: I recently finished a YA psychological thriller about a boy with a psychic connection to murders called DARK SIGHT. I am currently re-writing a book I’d shelved in the past, called LIFE AND BETH. It’s nothing like BREAKING GLASS at all. It’s pretty much a rip-roaring adventure packed YA urban fantasy with a kick-ass girl mc who can kill with her mind. It just wouldn’t leave me in peace, and to be honest, I have no idea if there is a place for this book.

I am also working on a book that’s kind of in the BREAKING GLASS mode. It’s the semi-autobiographical tale of a moody art geek who is dealing with the trials and tribulations of high school and first love while trying to solve the mystery of the ghost that may or may not be haunting her art class. It’s called EXCEPTIONAL. I have a long way to go on both of these and am only in the first draft mode.

Additionally, I have been doing a lot of book cover design. I teach graphic design at a community college, and was a designer long before I became a writer. My amazing publisher, Spencer Hill Press, not only let me design my own cover but has given me numerous commissions, none of which have been revealed yet. I’d love to share, but just let’s say that so far I’ve done two YAs, one middle grade and will be designing the first adult series in their new Imprint, Spence City. Exciting stuff to be involved with!

OA: Fast Fun Five:

  • Sweet or salty? Salty. 
  • Panster or plotter? Both, I guess. First I plot an outline, and then I just kind of wing it. 
  • Ocean or mountains? Mountains.
  • Morning person or night owl? Both. I hate sleeping! 
  • Shoes or bare feet? I also like this both ways---sandals!!! Until it’s just too cold.

Wow—I realized I like my cake and to eat it, too, don’t I?

LOL that makes two of us ;D

Thanks so much for joining us, Lisa!

For more info on Lisa and her works, check out her blog, where you can find an excerpt for Breaking Glass, along with the amazing trailer and some Breaking Glass themed art. You can also find her on FB and over at Goodreads.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Submission Opportunities

Today I thought I'd post a couple of submission opportunites for you all.

The first is from Haper Voyager

For the first time in over a decade, Harper Voyager are opening the doors to unsolicited submissions in order to seek new authors with fresh voices, strong storytelling abilities, original ideas and compelling storylines. So, if you believe your manuscript has these qualities, then we want to read it!
We’re seeking all kinds of adult and young adult speculative fiction for digital publication, but particularly epic fantasy, science fiction, urban fantasy, horror, dystopia and supernatural. For more idea of the type of books we love to read and publish, check out our authors and their titles at
Submissions for digital originals will be open for a limited two-week period from 1st to the 14th of October, 2012. Click HERE to find out more.

Short story submissions from Month 9 Books:

They are looking for novella and short stories, under15k, that have a strong romantic element. Any genre is accepted. To pitch your novella go to their facebook page at

Entangled is looking for steamy romance:

Forget the flowers and stuffy boxes of chocolate—Brazen, the bestselling sexy romance imprint affectionately coined “the naughty little sister of Indulgence,” is on the hunt for scintillating Valentine’s Day seductions readers won’t soon forget.
Submissions must:

  • Revolve around Valentine’s Day.
  • Be 45,000 to 65,000 words in length.
  • Feature an alpha hero in either a heroic or high-powered profession.
  • Revolve around familiar story lines such as enemies to lovers, one night stand, mistaken identity, matchmaker, best friends to lovers, office romance, etc. Stories that utilize more than one of these tropes are preferred. 
  • Maintain strong sexual tension throughout.
  • End in a satisfying happily ever after.
Submissions are open until November 25th, 2012 Find out more HERE. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Nom Nom Nom: Why I Want Food In Your Story

Confession: I am obsessed with food. I eat about a bazillion times a day (that's a rough estimate). I am not ashamed of stealing cupcakes and cookies and pizza slices from my loved ones. They know I'm a lost cause. 

Perhaps it's this obsession with food in my real life that I'm always on the lookout for food in novels. I almost pass out every time I read scenes inside the Great Hall in the Harry Potter series. My tummy went berserk when I not only read about the November cakes in Maggie Stiefvater's The Scorpio Races, but also when I saw BOTH of her posts with the recipe. I've yet to actually make my own November cakes, but it's forthcoming :)

Similar to your main character's Impala, I think food tells your readers a lot about him or her. Do they like sweet stuff? Sour stuff? Spicy stuff? Or are they like me and eat EVERYTHING EVER IN THE UNIVERSE EVER? Perhaps your MC is an aspiring chef, and food is their whole life. Or perhaps your MC is allergic to halibut, but their love interest is all over that halibut. Awkward first dinner date, huh? Or perhaps your villain knows about your MC's allergy, sneaks in bits of halibut in your MC's dish, and OMG I don't even want to finish this sentence. 

My point? Food is just another layer of who your characters are. Sure, there are tons of other things that can deepen characterization better, but why pretend food isn't a big deal? I think it totes is. You should, too :)

Now tell me: how do you incorporate food into your manuscript? Do you go about it casually or are there detailed descriptions of yummyness? 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Writers Blogging About Other Things

Photo of Arborglyphs from Tree and Twig,
To blog or not to blog? That's a question a lot of writers ask, but another question to ask is what to blog about. Blogging about the writing process or books we love is a natural extension of our bookish tendencies, but is it the best way to reach readers?

As in all things, it depends. Many writer and book blogs have strong followings, particularly in YA, and I've found the online community of writers to be a fabulous source of knowledge, community, and support. But why not reach beyond that community to create content related to your book?

I follow a few wonderful, informative blogs that are rarely about writing at all.

Marissa Doyle, author of YA historical fantasy romances BETRAYING SEASON, BEWITCHING SEASON, and the new COURTSHIP AND CURSES (all published by Henry Holt Books for Young Readers), writes the blog Nineteenteen with fellow author Regina Scott about life for a teen in the nineteenth century. It's an invaluable resource for fashions, manners, and customs for a writer or reader of historical fiction.

Dee Garretson, who writes middle-grade adventures WOLF STORM and WILDFIRE RUN (HarperCollins), also does double-duty as a writer of adult historical fiction. On her blog, she writes about topics related to her books -- facts about presidents or Camp David (the setting for WILDFIRE RUN) and other topical tie-ins to her genres. She also maintains, with resources for other MG adventure stories.

Benjamin Martin, author of YA fantasy SAMURAI AWAKENING (coming from Tuttle Publishing in October) blogs at More Things Japanese about Japanese culture, food, politics, and more. His novel, first in a series, is about an American teen who discovers Jitsugen Samurai powers in modern Japan.

I asked them both a few questions about their writing experiences.

How did you decide to create content-based blogs? 

Marissa: I started Nineteenteen along with friend and fellow writer Regina Scott (who writes Regency romance) as a place where we could talk about the interesting little history tidbits we were always turning up when doing research for our books but didn't fit into our WIPs.  After all, you can only cram so many cool history factoids into a work of fiction.
Dee: Out of necessity. I couldn't think of enough posts about writing, plus I knew there were so many writing blogs out there, anything I posted would most likely be lost in the noise. I was also hoping to attract potential readers who are not interested in the writing process.

Benjamin: I had come to Japan teach English and learn more about the history and culture I had learned about at the University of Arizona. I hadn't planned to start writing, but felt there were too many unique experiences to keep to myself. I had a budding interest in photography and food as well so the three new delights came together in the blog. My first post was in 2010, but I only did a few each month. I moved the blog to its own domain and wrote five posts a day for four months starting January of 2012, and it has jumped from 800 views to nearly 30k just this year. For now, MTJ is the non-fiction cousin to Samurai Awakening.
What do you personally get out of it? Is it more fun or more work than writing about writing?
Marissa: Part of why I write historical fiction is because I want to show readers just how fascinating history is--so writing a history blog is just an extension of my sooper sekrit mission to spread history geekiness across the planet.  It's both fun and work--we're just entering our sixth year of blogging, and it's getting harder to find topics to write about than it used to be...and yes, it takes a couple of hours to write each post because it usually involves some research.  But honestly, I wouldn't find it much fun to blog about my writing...I find this much more satisfying personally because I feel I'm offering something useful (at least a little bit) to the world, rather than blog posts about me me me.  Besides, I'm kind of like a centipede when it comes to writing.  You know how you're not supposed to ask a centipede how it walks, because that'll just confuse it and it won't be able to?  Well, that's me.
Dee: It's far more fun than writing about writing. I like odd facts and random bits of information. One of my favorite posts was about all the actors who have played Sherlock Holmes on television and in the movies. I'm both a big fan of Sherlock Holmes and an avid movie watcher, so when I thought of the idea, it seemed a good choice for one of my blogs which I put up for my historical mystery.
Benjamin: I'm not a writing expert. I had never written anything longer than a business plan until I sat down to start working on Samurai Awakening. There are all kinds of writing blogs, but anything I ended up writing (on writing) at the point where I started More Things Japanese would have been of little value to anyone. Why not share what I had learned living on an island with a population of 550 people instead? Personally, it’s a way to give back for the amazing opportunity to live in Japan. I feel strongly about the need to promote cross-cultural understanding and learning, plus it’s just good practice. 
Two years later there are things I could probably share about my experiences writing, but they wouldn't fit. I'll probably get them into bytes at some point, just not on MTJ. 

What kind of practical marketing outcomes have you seen -- exposure, content, sales, etc.?
Marissa: Honestly, I don't know.  We average between 6,000 and 8,000 hits per month, which I suppose isn't bad for a blog that is hardly advertised.  I think, though, that it must be giving us some exposure as people google topics we've blogged about and run across us.  We've also had some well-known historical romance authors ask to guest blog with us...requests we've regretfully had to turn down as we're strict about sticking to a G/PG rating, in light of our target audience.  So someone must have heard of us. 
Dee: I wish I could measure sales, but I haven't been able to tell if any of my posts are making an impact. I have seen from Statcounter that some people who come to one of my blogs because of its content on presidents, do click on information about my middle grade books, so I'm very pleased about that. Both my blogs and my websites have my book covers prominently placed in the sidebar, so people can't help but become more aware of them.

Benjamin: Since my blog is about Japan, and since it’s a way to give back, I don't do any advertising on my sites (I have three now). Just as there are a lot of writing blogs, there are a lot of great Japan blogs too. I try to keep mine original by producing unique posts about what I know, rather than trying to chase a fad. I do link between my sights though. I get a lot of search traffic for people looking for information about Japan. I try to create posts that answer real questions, without being too encyclopedic or too personal. I do include links on the blog to my book, so it is a great for people interested in Japan to find out about Samurai Awakening.
Since SA is out in October it will be some time before we know just how well its going, but it has been fun connecting with other bloggers, and of course new readers.

Inspired, I started a blog called Tree and Twig with photos and links about trees. I'm not an expert, but I've researched the topic for DEADWOOD, my MG novel about a cursed tree, and I might as well share what I've learned for readers, educators, and librarians.

But mostly posting about trees is fun and easy (and I'm pretty silly about it because I especially like trees that look like people if you use your imagination a lot), and it generates an entry point for searches -- people looking for photos of trees or tree carvings might stumble upon the site. They might not turn into readers, but most of them are people who don't dwell in writerly corners of the Internet and would otherwise never have heard of me at all.

So will my tree blog work to reach readers? It's too early to say, but at least it has me paying more attention when I walk around the neighborhood. And it's fun for me, so I might as well keep doing it.

Do you blog about anything besides writing and books? Do you know of other good blogs by writers who blog about other things? Post them here!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Guest Post by Kai Strand: Writer in the Middle: Writing for Middle Grade

Please welcome to the blog author Kai Strand whose middle grade book, Save the Lemmings, was released August 10, 2012 by Featherweight Press.

Kai is one of my favorite social networking authors who is always supporting other writers and making meaningful connections. I'm delighted to see her work in print and to have a chance to introduce her to you if you haven't already met.

Writer in the Middle – Writing for Middle Grade Readers

 by Kai Strand

When learning that I write for children, a non-writer acquaintance of mine made a wise crack that was something like, “How hard can it be to write for a five year old?”

Love those comments.

It’s funny because to outsiders there is so much about children’s writing that seems simple. They’re just children after all. How much can they know? Yet when you really begin to dig deep into the world of children’s writing you learn that there are three distinct divisions in the age groups. Children - to age 8 (which can be broken down further, but for the sake of this article, we will lump the poor, misunderstood readers together.) Middle grade - to age 12 and young adult - to end of life, really.

Readers are broken down into these categories because of the learning curve in their education. Stories for younger children should have fewer characters and only one story arc. As the reader gets older, you can add a sub-plot or two and use first person. By the time the reader advances into young adult, they are ready to process deep emotion, complex story lines and heavy subject matter.

The middle grade years are formative. Children are growing at different speeds. Some are happy to stay young and carefree while others think they are old enough to start dating. They can be very self-conscious at this age, too. Especially as they navigate through middle school (or junior high school).

When I think back to my friends and I at this age – well, first I laugh, because I was wearing tube socks and learning disco – I think of the challenges we faced. Family issues, some of us growing interested boys, others not there yet, curfew, transportation challenges, unexplained emotions. Then I compare it to my children and their friends as they navigate through the middle grade years and there aren’t many differences. The fashions they are trying to keep up with have changed, but they are still fashion conscious and struggling with their self-image. They are still dealing with family issues, broken marriages, unemployment, etc. They whine when we can’t drive them everywhere they want to go, whenever they want to go. They don’t have unlimited funds, but have chores they must do before they can hang with friends.

Writing for middle graders can be tricky only because there is a huge maturity gap from an 8 year old to a 12 year old and between one 12 year old and another. However, if your story speaks to the core issues middle graders have faced throughout history, it is likely to resonate with today’s tweens as well as tomorrow’s.
Read an excerpt @ Featherweight

About the Book: 

SAVE THE LEMMINGS! 8th grade inventor, Natalie Isabelle Cailean Edwards is the N.I.C.E. girl who finishes last with the kids in school. Sappy inspirational phrases and monochromatic outfits have all but her best friends wrinkling their nose at her. When Natalie’s invention, the Texty-Talky, goes nationwide, she becomes an overnight sensation. Suddenly her days consist of photo shoots and interviews with little time left for her friends. A local reporter shatters her good-girl image by reporting a graffiti incident and the media launches into a smear campaign. It is so bad, even her friends start to believe the stories. Will Natalie be able to overcome the lies being printed about her? 

Read an excerpt and order your copy of Save the Lemmings.

Kai's website
About the author:  Kai Strand writes fiction for middle grade and young adult readers. Her debut novel, The Weaver, was a finalist in the 2012 EPIC eBook Awards. The Wishing Well: Another Weaver Tale is set in the same storytelling village as The Weaver. She is a (very lucky) wife and the mother of four amazing kids. The most common sound in her household is laughter. The second most common is, "Do your dishes!" She and her family hike, geocache, and canoe in beautiful Central Oregon, where they call home.

To find out more about Kai’s books, download companion documents, find links to her published short stories and discover all the places to find Kai both virtually and in person, visit her website: She loves to hear from readers, so feel free to send her an email or visit her facebook page, Kai Strand, Author.  

Operation Awesome housekeeping: 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Aubrie Dionne's Haven 6 Blog Tour Stop and Giveaway!

I am very excited to give a shout out to fellow Entangled author Aubrie Dionne and her new book Haven 6. Take a peek:

A product of an illegal pairing, Eridani is the only woman without a lifemate aboard the colonization ship, the Heritage, and she is determined her less than perfect DNA will not get in the way of finding love. As the ship nears it's final destination of Haven 6 after five hundred years of travel, images of the surface show evidence of intelligent life on a planet that's supposed to be uninhabited. Commander Grier assigns Eri to the exploratory team to spy on the alien society and return with information on how to defeat them.

When Eri's team lands, tribes of humans attack and Eri is saved by Striver, the descendant of a colonist and a pirate from Old Earth's colonization efforts in other parts of the galaxy. Striver helps Eri rescue her team and they are drawn to each other despite their different allegiances. While Striver battles with trusting Eri, Eri must decide whether to warn him and his people about the commander's intentions, or follow orders and complete her mission.

Does that sound like an amazing story, or what!? :)

Aubrie is also giving away this absolutely gorgeous necklace.
To enter the giveaway, fill out the Rafflecopter form: a Rafflecopter giveaway

Haven 6 will be available soon on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. And in the meantime, you can add Haven 6 on Goodreads. :)

Be sure to check Aubrie out on Twitter, her website, and her blog. And go get a copy of Haven 6!!

Aubrie grew up watching the original Star Wars movies over and over again until she could recite and reenact every single scene in her backyard. She also loved The Goonies, Star Trek the Next Generation-favorite character was Data by far-, and Indiana Jones. But, her all time favorite movie was The Last Unicorn. She still wonders why the unicorn decided to change back to a unicorn in the end.

Aubrie wrote in her junior high yearbook that she wanted to be "A concert flutist" when she grew up. When she made that happen, she decided one career was not enough and embarked as a fantasy, sci fi author. Two careers seems to keep her busy. For now.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Your Character Could Use An Impala

For those of you who don't know, I love TV shows. There's this one show I've been watching for years and am ridiculously fond of. It's called Supernatural. There are two brothers in it. And demons. And angels. 

And a Chevy Impala.

My favorite character on the show, Dean Winchester, owns said Chevy Impala. The fandom refers to it as the Metallicar. I find this to be a fitting name, especially since Dean's love of heavy metal is no secret. But to Dean, the Impala is simply Baby.

Sometimes he loves his Baby.

Sometimes not so much.


Regardless of how he feels about the car, the point worth remembering is that he feels for the car. His Baby means a lot to him. Not only is it part of his father's legacy, it's the one place where Dean thinks he's safe. Untouchable. The Impala is a shield from the outside world, from the drama wrapped around his demon-hunting job. The Impala is home. 

Many writers stress over creating awesome characters. But sometimes, it's easy to forget (or willingly ignore) the importance of Things. Your characters aren't only defined by what they do or how they see the world, but also by what belongs to them and why they keep it. Dean isn't Dean without his Impala. The car is pretty much a character in its own right. It helps viewers get deeper into Dean's psyche without even uttering a word. 

So yeah. Whenever you feel like your characters aren't meaty or authentic enough, they could probably use an Impala. Just make sure it's a complement to the character, not an accessory to make him or her super awesomesauce cool for the sake of super awesomesauce coolness.

Now tell me: do any of your characters have an Impala? If so, is it a car like Dean's Baby or something else?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Do the thing that scares you: switching genres

Is there a genre you love to read but won't even try to write?

For me, it's commercial science fiction. I absolutely love a story based in science gone awry. It tickles my brain and makes me feel like my world is much, much bigger than day-to-day life.

But when it comes to writing it, I chicken out. It's the preparation time, the painstaking process of creating an entire alternate reality: world-building. And if you just pants it, it ends up missing a lot of important elements, like a consistent history explaining how the current status quo came to be or a social caste system which there always must be. The idea of writing a science fiction novel is overwhelming to me.


Because I've been looking at the masters.

In a similar vein, I've always wanted to be an artist and never have been one. It's the details there, too. The shading and lighting, the organic flow of a subject's hair or feathers. My drawings are awkward, my eye completely untrained. I'm no artist. Don't you have to be born with that talent? Despite my American upbringing, I've always kind of believed that there were some things I just couldn't do. Like math. Art. Science Fiction.

Again, too much looking at the masters. 

While drawing with my five-year-old yesterday I decided to do something about it. See, I've been making a point of telling him that he won't be perfect at anything the first time he tries it and that everything takes practice.

"But I'm not good at tennis." 

"Keep trying. Everything takes practice."

"But I'm not good at reading."

"Keep at it. Everything takes practice."

"But I'm not good at writing on the lines."

"Keep going, sweetie. You're doing better than you know. And with practice, you'll get even better."

Suddenly the hypocrisy of my words hit me. (If you're a parent, you know exactly how this feels.) So I picked up my husband's sketch pad and a regular old pencil and, armed with a giant eraser, started sketching. Nothing original, yet. Like fan fiction or formula fiction, copying the art of others makes me better. I took my time, was patient with myself, and accepted that the first several things I draw will be goofy-looking. Sure enough, everything so far has been quite goofy.

But I'm doing it.

My first animal drawing: a crane

And someday, maybe I'll actually draw something I've only seen in my imagination and combine two of my great loves: art and creative writing.

What scares you?

Benjamin Franklin Homework:

Ben Franklin used to go to the library to copy essays from the great writers. When he was done, he'd set aside the copywork and try to duplicate and improve upon the essay from memory. Then he would compare his new essay to the master's essay and spot areas where he was yet lacking. Eventually he was able to improve even upon the masters' work. 

So your homework is to pick up your favorite sample of the genre or style you've always wished you could write, and read the very first chapter. Then, without looking at the original, try to duplicate and improve upon it. If a story springs up in your mind, by all means veer off and write your own thing. 

But above all, keep practicing. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Why Bother?

This naughty little phrase sneaks its way into my head on many, many occasions and I've made it a goal to kick its booty to the curb whenever it makes an appearance.

It appears most when there is some daunting or seemingly insurmountable or pointless task ahead of me. Like doing dishes or laundry or getting my kids to clean their rooms. Why bother? I'm just going to turn around in 15 minutes and find another mess, another pile of dirty clothes, another sink full of dishes.

But if I didn't do it, I'd have twice the work to do later on.

The same rotten phrase sometimes attacks my writing goals. Starting a new project is daunting. It's a LOT of work and there's no guarantee that the book will be published at the end of all that work. Same with revisions - why bother? There will just be another round as soon as I finish this one. Querying? The ultimate Why Bother. All that's waiting for me there is a big pile of rejections.

It's a good thing I'm stubborn or the Why Bothers might derail me. :D

Yes, my house is going to get trashed again. But if I don't pick it up occasionally it'll be a much bigger job later on. Yes, that new project is going to be a lot of work and yes, it might never see the light of day. But I'll never know if I don't try. And yes, querying is going to get me a ton of rejections. But it might get me an offer or two as well.

The only thing that is certain is that if I let the Why Bothers win, I'm guaranteed to fail. And that just isn't okay with me :)

So - no matter what it takes, I'm determined to kick the Why Bothers to the curb. No matter the endeavor, no matter how daunting/scary/just-plain-no-fun the task, I'll never reach my goals if I don't work at them.

So work at them I will. :) Who's with me? Do the Why Bothers ever plague you? How do you get rid of them?

Monday, September 3, 2012

From Draft 1 To Draft 2--How Long Do You Wait?

So. Last Friday, Katrina posted about absence. Not only did I love her post for what it was (super helpful for my writing), but it got me thinking about another kind absence. You see, a few weeks ago, I finished the first draft of my WIP. 

*throws confetti* 

*dances the Samba* 

My initial plan was to set it aside for a month, but with my comp exams drawing nearer and nearer, I settled for two months instead. Hopefully, two months of space from my WIP will help me spot its flaws easier when I come back to it.  *crosses fingers*

But I know not everyone goes about their post-first draft space the same way. Which leads me to the following question:

How long do you usually wait between finishing Draft 1 and starting Draft 2? Does it vary from project to project?


Oh, and since I'm currently battling the flu + asthma demon from Hades, I wish y'all a happier Monday than mine!! :)

Saturday, September 1, 2012

September's Mystery Editor Contest!!


Today's contest is a little different - our mystery guest today is an editor who will be offering First 10 page or query critiques as prizes!

So post your best tweet pitch (140 characters) in the comments below.

The rules:

1) Entries must be left in the comments section of today's post (please don't email us your entries!) - don't pay attention to the comment numbers. We'll close the contest when we've reached our limit.

2) Pitch only completed manuscripts.

3) You can only pitch once today (only one project). If you participated in previous MA contests, you can enter this one as well.

4) Please include TITLE and GENRE along with your pitch. (This does not count as part of your 140 characters. So, Title, genre, then a 140 character tweet pitch). GENRES: MG, YA, or adult fiction (our editor has a special interest in romance).

5) Your pitch must be 140 characters or less. A Twitter Pitch. If it's too long to tweet, it's too long to enter. We will be checking this so please do not go over the 140 character limit! (Again, this does not include the genre and title. The character limit only applies to the actual pitch).

6) The contest will close when we receive 50 qualifying entries.

7) The winner(s) will receive a critique on the first 10 pages of his/her manuscript or a query critique!

8) If the rules aren't followed, your pitch will be disqualified. Please read the guidelines and follow them.

Good luck to all who enter!