Thursday, February 28, 2013

Mystery Agent Tomorrow...and thoughts

So I just wanted to send a reminder out to you all.  Remember that tomorrow morning our mystery agent contest goes live!

Here is what our fabulous MA is on the lookout for:

Picture Books
Middle Grade
Young Adult

And specifically, our MA is seeking the following:

For MG and YA: currently seeking mysteries, historical, or contemporary with mystery elements

For PB: seeking manuscripts that have a voice, aka an author who is putting forward a sense of place, personality, and storytelling. Voice, voice, voice!

This contest is open to veterans and newbies alike - so long as you have a complete and query-ready manuscript on your hands within the genres of interest, our guest agent would love to hear from you.

Contest goes live 9 AM central time. The first 50 entries we receive will go on to our MA. Remember, this is a one-sentence pitch. Cheating with grammar doesn't count. Meaning that you can't have 3 sentences with commas between them. The sentence needs to work.

And, if you think that you can't tell your story with a single sentence, I'm going to leave you with this beautiful video called "Thoughts" It tells a story without a single word at all. the song has words.  But it is beautiful, none-the-less.

Annimation by:

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Writing Is Not My Life

Years ago, when I first began exploring online writers' forums, I kept seeing members declare, "Writing is my life!" Some would go on to brag about how all-consuming their writing was, about how they had no friends, no time for other activities. At times, especially when I saw one of them making strides toward publication, I wondered if they were right. Would only those who poured everything into their writing succeed? If that was true, there was no hope for me.

See, as a young adult, I'd already learned the painful lesson that writing was not my life and never could be. It's sometimes tempting to let myself disappear into a world of my own creation, to completely give in to my drive to write and to succeed as an author. But I married and had children young, and they needed me to be more than a writer. Just being a member of my newly created family made it clear to me that there was more I had to be. Was I doomed to failure as a writer, then? Did successful writers shut out their families and the world?

Soon enough, I noticed that veteran writers didn't throw around that phrase. They managed to finish books and publish them without being swallowed up by their desire to write. What a relief! But this realization was more than a relief, because not only is there more I have to be, but there's more I have the privilege of being.

Now I'm so grateful to be able to say, "Writing is NOT my life." And when I hear people say, "Writing is my life," I cringe. Because what happens when writing doesn't seem to be going anywhere? When the dream seems to come crashing down around us? When all the work appears to be for nothing? Every writer has those moments. I've certainly had my share. And during those times, the people who loved and needed me, and the other purposes I had, were what kept me going.

Living a full life has done more than help me through the tough times in my writing life; it's enriched my writing in ways I never expected. Though there are many other aspects of my life that impact my writing, the clearest example of this is how the time I've spent practicing and coaching judo has fueled my Venture series. From the real personalities that help me to shape realistic characters, to the struggles I've observed and shared on that mat, which shape the story's themes, to the technical knowledge that helps me write about fighters, this series would not be what it is if I hadn't peeled my rear end off of my chair and gone to judo practice.

Though I love judo, I used to worry that my commitments were getting in the way of my writing goals. But the very hours I thought I was sacrificing, taking away from writing time to spend all evening at practice or all weekend at a tournament, turned out to be a great investment not only in people, but in my writing. The more I take time away from writing to just live, the more my writing comes alive.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Cover Reveal: LIVES OF TAO by Wesley Chu

Today we have exciting news! Our very own Wesley Chu has his cover for his SF book.  Introducing


When out-of-shape IT technician Roen woke up and started hearing voices in his head, he naturally assumed he was losing it.

He wasn’t.

He now has a passenger in his brain – an ancient alien life-form called Tao, whose race crash-landed on Earth before the first fish crawled out of the oceans. Now split into two opposing factions – the peace-loving, but under-represented Prophus, and the savage, powerful Genjix – the aliens have been in a state of civil war for centuries. Both sides are searching for a way off-planet, and the Genjix will sacrifice the entire human race, if that’s what it takes.

Meanwhile, Roen is having to train to be the ultimate secret agent. Like that’s going to end up well…


Here is the link on good reads: HERE

It comes out in just a few short months (April 30th) so add it to your list.

Or go ahead and PREORDER it now!


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 Screen Actors Guild, 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.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Big Writing Bug, Small Changes

Writing has always been part of my life. I won my hometown library’s Be An Author contest when I was 10, and the writing bug bit me. But it’s only been the past three or four years that I’ve seriously committed to writing picture books and middle grade.  A lot has changed in my life since then.  Nothing monumental. But I find these small changes interesting. And they help to feed my writing bug.  
Reading. My interest in writing, as well as reading, started at the library. But you know how some bugs go underground during their lifecycle?  Well, my writing bug was like that. It burrowed deep down for awhile. During that time, my reading list was mostly adult fiction and largely based on book club picks. There were times, as much as I hate to admit it, that my literary life was a wee bit nonexistent. When my writing bug emerged and dried off its wings, my reading habits changed dramatically. Now my weekly library haul is a bit embarrassing, with more picture books than my canvas bags can handle. Most days I’m juggling a few middle grade novels because it is so hard to choose. I don’t think I’m learning to write well unless I’m reading. Unfortunately, some of my recent library fines could probably fund a writing workshop.  Whoops.    
Driving.  Before I got back into writing, my commute to the office consisted of music or a phone call to my sister.  Now my drive into the office is spent chatting with my characters. I’m not actually talking (or maybe I am and I just haven’t noticed), but it’s time to get to know my characters more and find out what they have planned for our work-in-progress during my evening writing time.
Watching movies.  Before I got back into writing, I talked a lot during movies.  A lot.  To the point my husband would sigh and say “Ok, are you ready to just watch the movie now?” I still talk during movies.  A lot.  But instead of commenting on who’s been in what movie, I’m blabbering on about story structure or why all of sudden I care about a particular character.  These were things I never actively tried to dissect before I got back into writing.  So, when I said no one would really notice how I’m doing things differently, this might be one that my husband notices.  He still sighs and says, “Ok, are you ready to just watch the movie now?”  I say sure, but I don’t just watch.  I try to learn from the story on the screen.  I think about the beat sheets from Blake Snyder’s SAVE THE CAT, I try to figure out how it applies to the movie, and I think more about how I can bring some elements of a great screenplay into my own writing.
Consuming news. Before I got back into writing, I read the news on a regular basis, looking mainly for stories that interested me politically or emotionally.  I consumed the headline, the content, and moved on. Now I consume the news not only to educate myself, but to look for interesting characters and situations that might inspire an aspect of a story I’m working on or give me a spark to capture in my notebooks for future use.
Listening to conversations.  As a kid, I was known for my unbelievable eavesdropping skills.  I’ve tried to keep that superpower in check as an adult.  But as a writer, I see where this talent can come in very handy. I eavesdrop during carpool to figure out what the preschoolers think is hilarious or worrisome. I eavesdrop in line at Panera to figure out what the high schoolers on lunch break think is hilarious or worrisome.  And when I go into the middle school to volunteer?  That’s right.  I’m eavesdropping on my son’s classmates to figure out what they think is hilarious or worrisome.  The gossip doesn’t show up in my writing, but I certainly use what I hear to inform different aspects of my writing—characters’ mannerisms, word choice, and sometimes plot points. (Did you know that Finn gave Molly a necklace for Valentine’s Day? Ssssh, don’t tell Maggie or she will get so sad.)
So, those are the little ways my fluttering, buzzing writing bug has changed me lately.  There is one thing hasn’t changed much.  My house is still insanely messy.      
But the excuse is new…I’m busy feeding my writing bug.
Has your writing bug affected the way you do small things?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

What's in a Number?

Online, discussions of writing spin around wordcount like ships spin around a whirpool.  Which makes sense: writing's a weird pursuit without many hard numbers, and it's no surprise that we who invent characters, situations, and sometimes whole worlds for fun grab any numbers we can find with both hands and a stranglers' grip.  Wordcount first, during the writing process.  Then, once the book's written, we recite litanies of pages edited, drafts complete, queries sent. If the book's published (by a press or by ourselves), we obsess on sales figures and ranks and star ratings.

Now, metrics are important.  Businessfolk are swift to praise hard numbers, and for good reason.  Hard numbers help multinational corporations know (more or less) when they're doing well, and when poorly.  Hard numbers make plans possible, and execution easier.  Whole industries exist to help businesses decide which numbers to track, and how to track them.

Reread that last sentence, though, and you'll see the nut of the problem: whole industries exist because it's not obvious which numbers are meaningful.  Just because a number's easy to measure doesn't mean that number matters.

Wordcount, for example, is an intuitive but irrelevant metric.  Sure, it's easy to track.  Scrivener even gives me a nice progress bar to tell me how close I am to my daily target.  But if I write three thousand words to make that target, then delete half in the editing process, what does that three thousand figure really mean?

I don't have an alternative in mind—I certainly don't recommend that we abandon our daily word count goals and wander the woods waiting for perfect sentences to shine into our minds like God's light.  We work, and we build, and refine.  Some days the product is good, some days less so.  We find goodness in the work, rather than the results of our labor.

That said, if anyone out there is working on sabermetrics for writers, I'd be really interested to hear what you have to say.  I need a few more numbers to keep me awake at nights.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Embracing Success

What’s that supposed to mean, you say, embracing success? Of course I’d embrace success.Yeah, well, I’m not talking about success in terms of getting an agent and publication. I’m talking about success in our writing. Yes, on some level it’s the same thing, but not for today. Don’t argue with me. :)

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I tend to focus on the negative aspects of my writing abilities—knowing exactly what my weakest points are. And if someone compliments me on one of my stronger points (deep down, I know I have strong points), my brain automatically writes off the compliment with a, “She was just being nice,” or, “She had to come up with something positive to say, so I wouldn’t smear all her critique marks with my tears.”

Focusing on the negative to try to improve is not always a bad thing, but it’s so easy to get bogged down in it. I've received a few painful, though extremely helpful critiques recently, but I think I made them out to be more painful than they actually were. There were plenty of positive comments, BUT—there’s always a BUT—anything positive disappeared in the sea of red pen.

My lovely negative brain tells me, “Sure, you did okay over there, but look at these red marks! And these are things you knew needed to be fixed, even if it was only subconsciously. How could you not get it right the first time?!”

Even when I’m able to accept the positive, there’s always that little nagging voice telling me I could do better. And we need that little voice, or our writing will never improve. For today though, we’re going to tell it to Shut up! and leave us alone so we can be happy with our successes.

So, I want to know what your strengths are. What areas of your writing are you particularly proud of? Or even something unrelated to writing that you're proud of? No fair qualifying it with a “but it could be better” or “but this is where I need to improve”. And don’t try to tell me you don’t have strengths. We all have strengths, even if we’re blinded to them sometimes.

Okay. To get things started, I’ll go first. I’m good at writing dialogue. It comes very naturally to me. And I really want to put a BUT here, but I won’t. :)

Now it’s your turn. No chickening out. You’ll be happy you did it. You can even list two or three strengths if you’re feeling particularly awesome today. :)

Friday, February 22, 2013

Brand New Mystery Agent - COMING SOON!

It's that time again, everyone! Next Friday, March 1st, a brand new Mystery Agent is coming to Chez Awesome to take a look at your pitches! That gives you exactly one week to shine up your one-sentence pitches and get ready to go!

Here is what our fabulous MA is on the lookout for:

Picture Books
Middle Grade
Young Adult

And specifically, our MA is seeking the following:

For MG and YA: currently seeking mysteries, historical, or contemporary with mystery elements

For PB: seeking manuscripts that have a voice, aka an author who is putting forward a sense of place, personality, and storytelling. Voice, voice, voice!

This contest is open to veterans and newbies alike - so long as you have a complete and query-ready manuscript on your hands within the genres of interest, our guest agent would love to hear from you. Watch this space for more details closer to the contest!

Happy Friday, everyone - I hope your weekend is a great one!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Genre, Genre, Genre

There has been a lot of news here in the U.K about horse meat being sold as beef. I'm not going to get all political etc., I know people do eat horse meat. That's not the problem. The problem is that people are being sold something different to what they expected. What was on the label isn't what is inside the package.

Why am I talking about horse meat being sold as beef? I started thinking about writing (I love that pretty much anything can be related to writing *grin*).

The fact is that, when writing, it's important to know what your product/novel is. You know your story. You know your characters. You've spent time on the plot. You might know all these things, but do you know your genre? What will a reader (or agent) expect to get when they pick up the book/query?

We know genre can be tricky. Genre's can be combined. Genre's can be invented. Not sure what genre you are writing in? Spend some time researching. Compare your book with already published novels in that genre and see if your book would sit alongside them on the Sci-Fi/Romance/Fantasy shelf.

There's always the temptation to try to fit your novel into the genre of the moment, but spend the time getting right before putting your completed novel out there. Only then will everyone know what they're getting without compromising your finished novel/product.

What genre are you writing at the moment?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Day in the Life of THIS Published Author: Shannon Duffy

So today on Operation Awesome, we welcome, Shannon Duffy, one of my fellow Month9Book authors.  Shannon's MG book, GABRIEL STONE AND THE DIVINITY OF VALTA, released earlier this month from. If you haven't yet bought your copy, I suggest you run out and do so now! Here is her link on Amazon so you can take a peek.

To get to know Shannon a little better, she is sharing with us what a day in her life is like. Feel free to add your version of a writing day in the comments below. And, without further ado,  I bring you A Day in the Life of Shannon Duffy:

On weekdays, first I take my son to school. Once I get back home, it’s coffee time. I so can’t start the day with my java. I work out four days a week in my gym downstairs so that’s what I do next. After that I’ll eat breakfast before diving in to answer emails and do a bit of social media stuff. Yes, I love Twitter! It’s addictive, I’m not gonna lie. In the afternoons is my time to write if I'm working on something. I’ll either write in my office or on my laptop in my bedroom. If I have a blog tour like now, I'll work on doing blog posts. At night, I love to watch reality TV and then read before bed. On the days I'm not writing, I hang out with friends or my mom. We do all the girly stuff. And of course I spend lots of time with my husband and son. Anything at all with them is awesome. And we like to travel--someplace sunny is always my favorite destination.
Thanks for inviting me to your blog today!

Gabriel Stone is a twelve-year-old boy still reeling from the unsolved disappearance of his mother. With a dad who’s hard to relate to, and mounting pressures at school, Gabriel lets off steam by hiking in the place where his mother was last seen. There, Gabe and friends find a crystal that proves not only beautiful, but magical beyond their wildest dreams. Only, magic and beauty come with a price: in order to return home, they must save the dying world of Valta.

Gabriel Stone and the Divinity of Valta is a magical, fast-paced story that takes readers on a journey they won’t soon forget. It has enough mystery, intrigue and wonder to keep readers up, lamp lit, and reading into the night.

GABRIEL STONE AND THE DIVINITY OF VALTA is perfect for the classroom. Reading and Teacher Guides are available. Contact Caroline Patty at: to request guides. GABRIEL STONE AND THE DIVINITY OF VALTA also makes a great gift for readers ages 9 and up who enjoy fantasy stories like THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA and THE BRIDGE TO TARABITHIA.

GABRIEL STONE AND THE WRATH OF THE SOLARIAN, Book 2 in the Gabriel Stone series will be available from Month9Books in February 2014!


Shannon Duffy grew up on the beautiful east coast of Canada, and now lives in Ontario, Canada with her husband and son, Gabriel. She’s mom to one boy, and several pets. Shannon loves writing, reading, working out, soccer, and the sport of champions: shopping. Shannon Duffy is available for quotes, signings, video or podcast appearances, and all opportunities relative to GABRIEL STONE AND THE DIVINITY OF VALTA. 



Month 9 Books is a publisher of speculative fiction for teens and tweens… where nothing is as it seems. Month9Books will donate proceeds from each of its annual charity anthologies to a deserving charity. Individually, authors may donate his or her advances and royalties to a charitable organization. Month9Books will also release 10-12 non-charitable titles annually. GABRIEL STONE AND THE DIVINITY OF VALTA is Month9Books’s first Middle Grade release. Month9Books is distributed by Small Press United, a division of IPG. You may visit for more information.


Shannon Duffy Twitter: 
Shannon Duffy Website
Goodreads Month9Books: 
Month9Books Blogger Central: 
Month9Books Facebook: 
Month9Books Twitter

Monday, February 18, 2013

Building a Better Query

I'm sending out the first batch of queries for my second book, Crow's Rest, and wanted to pass on some of my go-to resources for writing queries.

The best place to start with query craft advice is straight from the horse's mouth on agents' and editors' blogs and websites. You can find those through their Twitter accounts, and Krista Van Dolzer has done much of the work for you with her agent interviews on Mother.Write.Repeat. And our own Mystery Agents contests (tab above) are a great way to see many pitches at once, and which one caught an agent's eye.

Searching for the term "query" will get you a ton of good resources, plus here are some that I've found particularly helpful:

*A great starting point is Agent Query's page on How to Write a Query

*Lisa Gardner has a lecture series on Conquering the Dreaded Synopsis that includes a query section (and you will eventually need a synopsis as well, so take a look at those lectures while you're there).

*Sydney Laine Allan has posted a workshop she did on Writing a Dynamite Query Letter

*The Nelson Literary Agency website, and Kristin Nelson's blog, are a mine of information on queries and pitches, and the agency site has links to webinars that Kristin Nelson did on pitches.

*Backspace has a brief query letter workshop with Jeff Kleinman of Folio Literary Management

*WriteOnCon had a wealth of interesting workshops in 2011 and 2012, now archived to view at your leisure.

*Pitch University is where I truly honed my teeth on pitches and queries, and their Pitching 101 lessons are a must read (scroll down and they're in the righthand sidebar)

*Roni Loren has earmarked all her posts on queries from her Fiction Groupie blog

*YA author Elana Johnson has a free ebook called From the Query to the Call that is essential reading

*Noah Lukeman also has a free ebook on Amazon, How to Write a Great Query Letter: Insider Tips and Techniques for Success

With so many resources out there, there's really no excuse for a lame query. Remember, your goal is to get the agent or editor to read your pages, and whether for good or ill your query is a reflection of your writing proficiency. If the query is amateurish, they will assume your pages are in the same state.

The good news is that writing killer queries is a learnable skill, if you're willing to put the time and work into it. All the best in your query ventures! In my next post (March 4), I'll share some places where you can get feedback on your queries before sending them out to agents and editors.

Did I miss any great query resources that you'd like to add in the comments?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Dizzy: When publishing is stranger than fiction

I thought publishing is supposed to move slow, but lately it's moving so fast I'm getting dizzy. Publishing itself is stranger than fiction.

The Penguin and Random House merger is approved.

Trade presses are developing digital-first and digital-only lines.

New small presses are emergent.

Self-published titles are lighting up the NYT lists.

The new subgenre of New Adult is capturing readers and starting debates.

Barnes & Noble is closing many branches.

Trade presses launched Bookish to compete with Goodreads and Amazon for book recommendations, book selling, or possibly something else.

Agents are offering new writer-paid services, from assisted self-publishing to editing to workshops and seminars.

Not just new but established agents are leaving the business.

Published writers are getting dropped by their presses mid-series -- even for contracted, edited, completed books.

And other new writers are getting new contracts and new agents. Others are breaking out as new successes.

It's said that the only thing we writers can control is writing, and if we're lucky, now we feel about it. I'm working on both of those, but I don't think it's not all we have to do. Yes, more of the marketing and publicity falls on our shoulders, but it's more than that. Writers have to manage their careers -- whether trade published, self-published, or both -- because the only constant we have is ourselves.

Agents, editors, presses, formats, and distribution change, but there will always be writers. We are content creators. We are spinners of stories. We capture imaginations and bring order to the world, at least until we get to the end.

How (if?) we will get paid for it in the future is anybody's guess. It's tough out there. So yes, I'm a little dizzy waiting for whatever is next.

Have the changes in the industry changed your idea of what your career will be? What kind of press and what kind of professionals (agents, editors, freelancers, consultants, publicists) you will work with?

Saturday, February 16, 2013


I’m so excited to announce a new interactive online workshop by my literary agent Jill Corcoran.
A Path to Publishing allows writers to talk directly to editors, literary agents, film/tv agents, art directors, sales, marketing and publicity directors, and more. A Path to Publishing is powered by Shindig, a video chat platform that allows you to not only watch presentations but also participate with faculty directly--as though you're in the same room.
This awesome website offers a variety of workshops on crucial topics:
• Editors share what they publish and what they are looking for.
• Agents share who they represent and what they are looking for.
• Editors and Agents share what made them choose the books they publish/represent.
• Marketing, Sales and Publicity Directors share what makes a book sell.
• Querying agents
• Getting noticed by editors
• How to get your book noticed by Hollywood
• Creating characters readers will love
• Revving up your plots
• Refining your ideas before you get lost in the rabbit hole
• Revision
• 21st Century Marketing
• and much more...
Or visit


Friday, February 15, 2013

Cover Reveal: The Emissary

Today I wanted to take a moment and reveal my cover for my epic YA fantasy novel, THE EMISSARY. It's coming out this December from Month9Books.

I hope you all love it as much as I do.

THE EMISSARY, by Kristal Shaff (Coming December 2013 from Month9Books)

Six rare and fading powers govern the land of Adamah. Possessing one demands entrance to the king’s army. To refuse means a traitorous death.

 In a land where a few privileged youth come into one of the six extraordinary and often-feared abilities called Shays, Nolan Trividar hides his own flawless accuracy, the Shay of Precision, behind the guise of a scribe. He teams up with a deserter from the king’s army and a hot-headed young fighter in order to resist an ageless king who has deceived the people for centuries. To save their land, they must defeat the king and his elite Shay-empowered army before an enveloping cloud of darkness chokes out the Shays which define them.

THE EMISSARY, on goodreads.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Piñatas and Other Rejection Fun

Well, it looks like I wasn’t so mysterious with the lie in my "Three Truths and a Lie" Mystery Blogger post:

Mystery Blogger gathered all her old-school paper rejections and papier-mâchéed them into a piñata. She filled it with chocolate and took a bat to it when she signed her first book deal.
Just about everybody guessed that one was made up. It must be because it sounded too good to be true. I did just get my first contract (with Sourcebooks) last spring, but the reality is that as long as we’re writing and pursuing publication, the rejections never end. Still, I’m seriously considering that piñata to honor all those years of no. Or, as I suggested to my fellow Operation Awesome bloggers, I could wallpaper my office with my rejections—except that I don’t have an office.

Other options:
  • Interpretive dance—Picture me in a black leotard, waving torn paper and doing a dance of despair.
  • Set them to music:
To the tune of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat":
Try, try, try again, query someone else . . .
To Beethoven’s Fifth:
Not right for me.
Not at this time.
Your manuscript makes me wish that I had more wine.

Rejections are part of the game, and most of mine were polite. Some were even kind and thoughtful. But as they piled up over the years, I did my share of fantasizing about how to display or destroy them once I finally got a yes. And now I think, why not open up that file and do something with them?

Any ideas for me? What do you do with your rejections?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Joys of Scrivener. And Cake.

Hello all,

This is my first Awesome post so I thought I'd ambitiously start off with a bang. I got up at 6AM, got my chocolate protein coffee, and now I'm trying to be clever. That's the thing about forced wit and creativity. It doesn't come easily. And for those aspiring to become professionals, it's the first thing you'll encounter once that ink dries. You have to produce. On a deadline. Be contractually creative. It's a lot of work. And isn't happy-go-lucky fun like it used to be.

So I guess that's what I'm going to talk about: writing like it's a job. But wait Wes, you're first book isn't even out yet! You're barely a baby pro.

That's true. April 30th is my book release (buy my book!) for The Lives of Tao. I probably write in the most inefficient way you can imagine and made every single mistake in the book. That's what happens when English is your third language and it takes five drafts before you get a coherent manuscript. Sound familiar anyone? If it is, here's my first piece of advice:

Get organized. Fast!

If you want to be a paid writer, you have to treat it like a career. Whether you're a plumber or a project manager or a ballerina, you have to be able to work in a professional, organized fashion.

For me, it's Scrivener.

Some writers swear by it; others hate its guts. I say download the trial, sit through the boring ass (can I say ass on this blog?) tutorial, and muddle through all the options. By the end of the day, you will know if it's for you or if you think it's the dumbest piece of software some know-nothing jackass asked you to download.

So what's so great about Scrivener? It looks like a bunch of folders and files and stuff. And it has this silly virtual cork board. What is this madness?!

Well, yes. The great thing about Scrivener is that it has a bunch of complicated folders and files and stuff. And it has this silly virtual cork board. Which is Awesome!  It gives the writer a top down view of his story. For me, I organize my book by chapters, and then label each chapter by point of view and what sort of chapter it is (development, plot, action). That way, I can gauge the flow of my book. There's many ways to set it up. It tracks your word count, has full screen mode (for those with ADD),  project targets and stats, and a whole lot more. There's also repositories where you can store your images, notes, file synopsis, outlines...etc...everything you need at your finger tips. Play with it and find out what works best for you.

But Wes, it's forty bucks!  True, it isn't cheap for us poor struggling writers. That's like three scotches or two deep dish pizzas. So here's a 20% discount code: NANOWRIMO
Go get the trial for free. See if you like it. Let me know what you think.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Kellie DuBay Gillis: Making an Entrance

Please excuse the glitter in my hair and the streamers stuck to my socks. I’m cleaning up from my daughter’s whirlwind birthday party weekend. She’s the one I alluded to in my lie for the Operation Awesome Mystery Blogger reveal. When I said that I single-handedly delivered a baby in less than 50 minutes in a bathroom, most of that was true. Five years ago, I did deliver my daughter in less than 50 minutes in our 2x3 powder room off the kitchen, but I had the help of five EMTs and one queasy husband. (The only thing I did single-handedly was dial 9-1-1.)

I always joke that the way my daughter burst onto the scene says a lot about how she approaches life. Her nature. Her character. And that got me thinking about our characters and how they make entrances and introductions in our stories. What does it say about them and how they approach their life on the page?

As a picture book writer, nothing makes me more giddy than having a dozen five year old girls come over for a party. These are the kids I write for and about. It’s a perfect opportunity to swim around in their kidness and absorb as much as possible. While I painted nails or led a party game, I watched and listened. You never know when something will spark a new idea or help spit-shine an old one.

But what I found really fascinating was how each girl made their entrance. Some bounded through the door oozing with confidence and excitement, ready to show off their party clothes and eat up whatever I was dishing out. Others were very reluctant to have the group flock to the door upon their arrival and wanted to slip into the party without a bunch of hoopla. Some didn’t want to see their parents leave and others ran in without saying good-bye. I thought I knew most of these girls pretty well, but how many of them made their entrance surprised me. And, like any good character, many of these girls had a transformation at the end of the two hour party. Some found their voice (literally on the karaoke machine), others helped put a new friend in the spotlight.

We are told that we should really know our characters and that they should have a life beyond the page. I’m taking this to heart as I strive to write interesting, multi-dimensional characters. So, if your main character was about to walk into a birthday party, what sort of entrance would he or she make? Consider this your MC’s formal party invitation and feel free to write a line or two from your MC’s POV in the comments about how they’d make their entrance. If you supply the guests, I’ll bring the cake. I have a lot left to share! Looking forward to posting every other Monday on the ups and downs of writing picture books and middle grade with the fans of Operation Awesome. Thanks for reading!

-- Kellie DuBay Gillis

Sunday, February 10, 2013

'Not-that' and Writer's Fear

I don't get writer's block.  Instead, I get writer's fear.

While the white page doesn't bother me, filling that page involves navigating strange territory.  Even detailed maps and outlines warp in the act of writing.  Settings shift.  Characters refuse to be the people I imagined at the outset. This is wonderful: surprise is one of the best and truest parts of writing. But the more I press into new territory, the more the worries grow.

They start out logical: does this character make sense?  Is this response authentic?  Does this scene matter?  Will my readers understand this story and setting?

But then they reproduce like tribbles in heat.  I trip over them.  They change character, become accusations.  Your story's irrelevant.  Pretentious. You don't know what you're doing.  You don't have a right to talk about this topic.  Give it up.  And so on, and so forth.  Fears fill the empty space in my head, and strangling characters, plot, and world.

Wrestling with fears is part of every writer's life, but I've been slow learning the wrestling technique.  These fears feed on anticipation and attachment.  Which means that tools designed to approach excessive anticipation and attachment can help with fear.  Recently I've used a simple Buddhist meditation trick, which I think I first read in Tricycle somewhere: 'not-that.'

'Not-that' means confronting thoughts that arise during a period of meditation (and writing is a kind of meditation) and saying, 'not that'—this isn't the point, this isn't the problem, this isn't the focus of my existence.  'Not that,' said in silence or aloud, is a lot faster than arguing my fears into submission, and more effective: a few minutes' work can clear out a pile of emotional laundry, and free up time, and more importantly, mental and emotional space, that I didn't realize were occupied by fear.

Besides, it's fun.  My plot sucks—not that. Nobody wants to read this story—not that.  I should have gone with your other idea—not that.  Let everything go, except of course for the act of writing.  When I have a draft, when I'm editing, then I can invite all those concerns back in, and determine which are justified, and which aren't.

I don't expect this technique to work for everyone.  Like all techniques, it's just a finger pointing at the moon.  But if you find yourself stymied by fear, give this a shot, and see if it helps.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

How Did I Get Here?

Hello, fabulous Operation Awesome readers! This is my first post on the blog and to introduce myself, I thought I’d tell you a little bit about where I am in my writerly journey.

You probably remember this bit of truth from my Mystery Blogger introduction: My AP English teacher from my junior year in high school made me HATE writing. And though I’ve journaled my whole life, I didn’t discover that I actually enjoy writing fiction until four years ago.

In her defense, she was a great teacher and her motivation behind making me rewrite and rewrite and rewrite my papers was to help me improve. The real problem was that my motivation to do anything school related was turning to vapor at that point. I’d taken on too many AP classes, plus I was in the marching band (I know I’m cool. Don’t be jealous.) and I had a part-time job. So really, I was just burnt out—something I still manage to do to myself on a regular basis.

Fast forward to September 2008 when I read a very popular sparkly book and its sequels—which I enjoyed—and within a week I had decided that if that could get published, I would have no problem writing something publishable. Bring on the fame and fortune.

Hey, stop laughing.

Seriously though, sometimes I wish I could go back to that delusional stage, at least for my first drafts. Just getting words on paper was so much easier then. I wrote the first draft of my first novel in about six months and found I loved doing it. Even crazier was when I realized I love revising and rewriting and how shiny it makes everything. Hmm... Could that be because of a certain high school English teacher? ;)

So after feasting on writing blogs and books for the last few years, I’m finally starting to feel like I might know what I’m doing. And maybe someday that will lead to an agent and that ever elusive dream of publication. In the meantime, I’m happy to be where I am, and I’m happy to be part of Operation Awesome so I can share everything I’ve learned with all of you. :)

What about you? Where are you in your writerly journey? How did you get to where you are? 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Secondhand triumph

Hello out there, Operation Awesome!  My name is Becky Mahoney, and I’m one of your new bloggers. I’ve been a huge fan of this site for a while now, having participated in my first Mystery Agent contest almost exactly two years ago, and I am thrilled to be part of this sensational team.

I am rather newly agented (and I’ve been trying for the past two months to get this to sink in!) but my publishing journey thus far definitely hasn’t been straightforward. And yet, shockingly, I ended up exactly where I desperately wanted to be. It’s funny how these things, on occasion, work out absolutely perfectly in the end.

So here I am, on sub for the first time, doing what people on sub do. Which is to say, I alternate between periods where I feel like it's not real, and periods where I realize it is real, and then absolutely freak out. On top of that, though, I've noticed that one thing in particlar has intensified. It makes me ridiculously happy to see people succeed.

I'm not sure when this started - probably around the time I started querying in earnest - but success stories became my drug of choice. Suddenly I couldn't get through the Olympics, or an award show, or even one of those cheesy singing competition shows without misting up a little, because awww, they look so happy!

But, of course, that impulse is the strongest when it comes to writing. I love reading agent stories. I love reading book deal stories. And last week, that impulse almost got me in trouble - it would have been hard to explain to my boss that I was beaming at my desk because I'd set my Twitter feed to #ALAyma. For whatever reason, bosses don't like it when you're ignoring your work to watch authors find out, in real time, that they've just achieved another dream.

Part of it is, of course, that feeling is stronger now that I've been in this community for so long, and I've gotten to know these authors, agents, and editors through the beauty that is social media. But it's mostly that I can't help but be absolutely thrilled for them, because I know exactly how it must feel. When it comes to my own publishing journey, I am quite the stubborn realist, more out of sheer self-preservation than anything. But I've been where these people are a thousand times in my own head, sometimes so intensely that it takes me out of wherever I am and puts me right in that moment. It's the kind of moment you don't want to leave - and sometimes, I don't even try.

But for whatever reason, bosses aren't too fond of that, either.

So happy Friday, Operation Awesome! Indulge yourself in a little daydreaming today. It's good for you. ;)

And in the spirit of this post, if you'd like to post in the comments about something fan-freaking-tastic you've accomplished lately, have at it!

Thursday, February 7, 2013


I'm pretty sure I've talked about Dr. Wicked's Write or Die before. It's been around a while. Many of us use it. I've even used it before.

But I've recently rediscovered it and I am completely in love. And I'll tell you why. It's not because it forces me to just get the words out because it will start deleting my words if I don't. That is a handy feature, and during the occasions when my mind goes blank or I'm trying to hard to find the exact right wording instead of just getting it down it does make sure I keep going instead of getting stuck in limbo land all day.

But no. I love it because I have an extreme problem with getting distracted. Remember the "Squirrel!" scenes from Up?


Yeah....totally me :D I'll be plugging along nicely and then I'll notice that an email has come in. So I'll click over to check it. And then, since I'm already online, I click over and check Twitter. And Facebook. And while there I might see some cool article I want to read, or something on Pinterest I want to Pin. And since I've gone through all the trouble to go Pin something, I might as well hang out and Pin some more. And I can't log off without checking my Amazon rank or Goodreads adds....oh and look, another email just came in!



This is why I love Write or Die. Because it forces me to stay focused. It's my Squirrel Killer. An email comes in? TOO BAD!!! WRITE WRITE WRITE!!! You only get one pause while doing a session and that must be saved for extreme emergencies like the nurse's office from your kids' school calling or someone at the door.

Write or Die FORCES me to put my blinders on and just work. It's amazing how much I can get done. I set the timer for 30 minutes with a goal of 1000 words....and I get it done every time. Which means I can get in 4000 words in 2 hours. Now that's productivity :)

Have you ever used Write or Die? What tricks do you use to keep yourself focused?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Shopping for Agents

Imagine the scene. You've been dragged to the shops to participate in the tradition of buying things on sale. You wait outside the doors. People push and shove around you. The doors open. There's running. Elbows attack. Shins are kicked. You fight into the store to find the bargain you think might be right. When you get it home you discover that, even though you thought you liked it/wanted it, that bargain doesn't look right. It looks good. It'd be great for someone else. It just doesn't feel right for you.

How about this?

You've finished your novel. You're happy with it. Your query is written. Agents researched. You type in the email address then close your eyes and hit send. Your email waits in the agent inbox. Other queries shove around you. There's hooks and plot twists and sample pages. Your query waits, moving up the queue. You've done your work. It's a genre xxx agent loves. A story they said they'd LOVE to see. This is the one. The one that gets you a partial request. A full request. An agent. 

Queries, and agents, are kind of like shopping in the sales. We know what we want. We love a bargain when we see it, but we don't always know if that particular bargain will suit us once we get it home. Sometimes we buy it hoping it'll be what we want. It's the same when searching for representation.

We all have the agent goal on our writing shopping list. But we don't want an agent who might fit. We want the premium product. The one who loves our MS and knows it's the right fit for them. And, in the end, who is the best fit for us. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Where's the Love?

I thought I'd start my OA posting history with where I am right now in my writing life. My first novel is due to be released into the wild this November, and for now, it is in the hands of an editor. So I got organized and developed a fantastic idea for a shiny new project (something to keep me busy while I wait).

All of my characters showed up the first day, each dutifully carrying note cards with character traits and arcs and a very clear outline of my expectations. And after the first 1,500 words, they got up and left.

Hello!? I need this first draft by the end of February! My goal seems completely reasonable, and I know I can write awesome first drafts—I've got one simmering as proof! What's going on here?  

Let's call my characters Team A and Team B. Team A has been around for years. They check in at all hours of the day and night, and I can count on them being ready to go at 5am, when I write best. They'll do anything I ask, and I don't argue when they say I'm wrong. Heck, even when I'm pretty sure what they want will be nothing more than a "candy bar" scene, I'm always willing to let them have a little fun. They've earned it!

Team B? They have no clue what's going on. Sometimes I think they sleep in 'til 3pm. Don't they know I'm long-gone by then, picking up the kids from school? Sheesh! And their eagerness to correct me all the time is not helping this first draft, it's putting a screeching halt to it.

So, I came to the creative conclusion that this issue is not about my skills as a writer (thank goodness). It's about the relationship I have with this new set of characters. They don't know me, I don't know them. I assumed they'd have the same work ethic as Team A, because, you know, I'm the author! I am not going to change what I've been doing successfully for years and years. Am I?

So, Team B and I got together for a pow-wow session and here's what I learned:

1. Where Team A was love-at-first-sight, Team B is more like an arranged marriage. We're going to have to get to know each other before we can expect to make anyone truly happy.

2. Team B is tired of being compared to Team A.

3. Team B doesn't reject my overall plan, but they don't trust me with the details.

4. With every wrong assumption I make in this first draft, they lose respect and motivation to participate. (Apparently, I've been wrong quite often)

5. They want more freedom and I'm not trusting them to stick to the plan. (Yeah, that's true.)

6. They don't like acoustic guitar, nor do they like silence. They want upbeat dance music during writing sessions (ugh).

7. Relaxing candle scents make the two youngest characters gag.

8. They don't care if my work space is organized, and get annoyed by the unnecessary delay if I take a moment to put things away. So basically, if I'm not ready when they are, they're not going to be ready when I am, just to make their rebellious point. (This one makes me mad—total lack of respect.)

9. They like chaos and crowds of people. If I can't find them when I need them, they will NOT be waiting in the orchard next to the river for a private pep-talk. They will be at the mall with their friends, one in the arcade, the other in the food court, texting her best friend who's sitting at the same table.

But the most important thing I learned from this WiP time-out, is that I'm trying to write this first draft as if it was a final draft, wasting precious time guessing at details I can't possibly know yet. The point of this draft is to test the overall plot and get to know the characters, to see how much stress each one can handle. Because nothing is set in stone at this point—not my writing routine, the PoV, personality traits, voice... not even the main character.

I never thought I'd say the characters aren't important, but maybe Team B should play elsewhere while I work out these first draft details—that way I can test some ideas without being ridiculed to death. (I swear they're worse than the "internal editor". SO dang picky.)

Right now, my only goal is to write the bones. I'll be more than happy to let the characters add heart, soul, and flesh to the story on the very first round of editing, after I've gotten to know them on a more personal level. I might even let them add a few scenes as incentive if they'll agree to keep quiet for now.

Anyone else having first draft issues, where everything is an obstacle and there's no love or motivation to make it work?

And here's a funny thing... this quote found its way to me today. ‎"We should be taught not to wait for inspiration to start a thing. Action always generates inspiration. Inspiration seldom generates action," Frank Tibolt

As of this moment, I would reply with, "But action seems so pointless when there's no inspiration."
Fake it 'til you make it? 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Truths and A Lie with A Cautionary Tale

For my first post, I thought I'd help you all get to know me better by expanding on the truths and lies from my Mystery Blogger introduction.

Truths first:

  • On her very first time volunteering at a regional SCBWI conference, Mystery Blogger introduced Well-Respected Editor without any verbal stumbles. And then as MB exited the stage, she promptly tripped over Well-Respected Editor’s purse and nearly faceplanted. There's more to this story--after my near-pratfall, I tried to recover with a "Ta-da!" Which might have worked, except that apparently no one had noticed me trip. So instead, they were wondering why I was ta-da-ing while Well-Respected Editor was trying to talk. Memorable for all the wrong reasons!
  • The most cats that Mystery Blogger has ever had piled on her at one time is seven, distributed equally between her lap, feet, head, face, and shoulders. There were another five in the queue waiting for an opportunity. Or a fight to break out, which also clears the decks. I only have two cats (both reformed ferals and special needs) but I volunteer at a wonderful no-kill, cagefree cat sanctuary called Fat Kitty City.

There are over 100 cats, some adoptable but many permanent residents due to special needs. "Does this tie into writing at all, Angelica?" you may be asking. Yes, because last year I started up an online auction called Pens for Paws to raise money for FKC and it is chock full of critique opportunities for writers. If you're one of those, you might want to bid (starting March 12).

  • While recording a video pitch for a PitchFest, Mystery Blogger misspoke “sets a ship afire” with a bad word that rhymes with ship. And then couldn’t stop laughing for the next twenty takes. Now whenever she talks about that book, most of her brain cells are devoted to screaming, “make sure you say ship!” This works approximately none of the time.

  • Mystery Blogger once scared an agent on Twitter by trying to make a joke. Agent had tweeted something along the lines of “you don’t ever want to send me a query so bad it ends up on my Special List” and Mystery Blogger responded with “Challenge Accepted!” Agent tweeted back that the Special List was not meant to be aspired to and Mystery Blogger apologized profusely. They shared a laugh and became the best of friends. Yeah, I'm pretty sure I ended up on that list without even querying. So the moral of this cautionary tale is not to assume that agents can spot sarcasm in a 140-character tweet. Unless . . . she was being sarcastic and I've worried for nothing all this time???

On another note, in my "hello" paragraph I failed to mention exactly what kind of writing I do. I started out freelancing, with articles published on gardening, family travel, local history, natural history, pets, green living, and recipes for special diets. These days, I mostly write poetry, picture books, short stories, and young adult novels. So you can expect to see my future posts populated with any of the above subjects.

Thanks for reading, and I'll see you all back here in two weeks for my next post!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Cover Reveal(s)

Yesterday, my publisher, Month 9 Books, revealed this AWESOME trailer which includes a bunch of new cover reveals. Among my cover for THE EMISSARY! (Squee!)

Can you find it in with the others? I'll post a photo once I get it. But for now, enjoy all the pretty.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Harbored Secrets by Marie F. Martin

Today I would like to congratulate my friend, Marie F. Martin on the release of her physiological mystery, Harbored Secrets by 4D Publishing. Marie is a gifted author. I'm lucky to have her as a local critique partner. All of Marie's novels contain the word 'harbor' or 'harbored' in the title.  Her last book, Maternal Harbor celebrated over 22,000 downloads in just days on kindle.
Download Harbored Secrets today for just $2.99 at


Blinny Platt's life story has been one filled with longings and betrayal, a legacy that unfolds with all the complexities of a conspiracy. Even as a small girl, she should have known, connected the whispers and snippets, but never did - Not until her secretive step-mother tossed a cache of poems on her lap, exposing lonesome words that break the heart.

After years of internal angst, Blinny suddenly feels compelled to leave her father's ranch to buy land and build a home herself. In her few restful moments, she finds the image of her mother lingering in the acres around her, in the toast-browns of the prairie grasses, in the colors beneath the browns, in the hint of deep green lingering at the base of seemingly dead grass - the promise of life to come. Maman would always be part of the landscape - first thin and graceful, then cumbersome with child, then wistful and wan, then gone, leaving behind an emptiness she had not prepared Blinny for. The mystery left in the ashes of a burned home unravels slowly, until finally, Blinny learns of the last betrayal, and the truth of why the Platt family fractured.

Marie F Martin_edited-1.jpg
Marie Martin lives in a fertile valley at the base of the Rocky Mountains. She enjoys a quiet life where laughter comes easy, love easier. Marie and her four siblings were raised on ten acres of clump grass and bull pine trees. They roamed nearby creeks, woods, and the cemetery. All places for good fun. Her father worked in a sawmill, and her mother was a librarian; an upbringing that fostered love for people and books. In her blog, Shady Nook, you may read stories of her exceptional childhood growing up in a rich, rural area filled with unique people and a magnanimous landscape known as the Big Sky County. Marie is the mother of four grown children and shares her life with a side-kick cocker spaniel by the name of Katie Lou.

 visit Marie's blog here:

Friday, February 1, 2013

One is Silver and the Other's Gold

A song I learned in Brownies keeps playing over in my mind.

Make new friends, but keep the old.
One is silver and the other's gold.
A circle's round. It has no end.
That's how long I want to be your friend.

You probably don't know that in the midst of all our exciting new beginnings, we're bidding farewell to Amparo Ortiz as an Operation Awesome blogger. 

Thank you to Amparo for being instrumental in Operation Awesome's pay-it-forward theme, and helping us to find new and useful ways to help other writers. The New Year's Revisions Conference we just had? Yep, Amparo's idea. 

Amparo, you will be greatly missed at OA. We anticipate lots of amazing guest posts from you in the future. 

Pretty please. :)


We'll be watching her writing career with interest, and you can still follow her adventures on her writing blog.

In case you managed to miss all the excitement here earlier this week, I'm talking about our new Operation Awesome blog members:

Angelica R. Jackson
Becky Mahoney
Max Gladstone
Abby Annis
Kellie DuBay Gillis
Toni Kerr
Wesley Chu
Robyn Russell (R.R. Russell)

joining the originals:

Michelle McLean
Kristal Shaff
Kell Andrews
Katrina Lantz
Lindsay Scott
Angela Townsend

The New Schedule:

Check out the new additions to our Operation Awesome books gallery: