Monday, March 31, 2014

Writing Back Cover Copy

Back when I was first working on a query for my YA Urban Fantasy, Crow's Rest, I wrote the query "blurb" section with back cover copy in mind. I thought, "Why not make it do double duty, and have it ready to go when I need it?"

But although that query blurb got my book lots of interest and requests, I came to realize it wouldn't work very well for a back cover blurb. For one thing, it was too spoilery for cover copy, and that meant it didn't have that hook a reader is looking for. The hook that makes them actually crack open the book (or download the sample) and keep reading.

In the end, the text for the back of a book is much simpler than a query. As I said in a post about queries on my blog, "a query serves as your introduction to an agent or editor, gets them excited about your premise and how you've enacted it". In an ideal query, you also want to show some voice, and possibly reveal one or more plot twists.

But none of that belongs in your back copy--except the excitement about the premise, which is where your hook comes in. Copywriter Carly Hoogendyk, in a post on the Book Country blog, says this about a hook:

"There’s something about your novel that makes it original and specific and intriguing to readers. That’s your hook. Working your hook into a tagline that opens your copy is a tried and true way to get a reader to continue on to the rest of your synopsis and, ideally, the first page of your book."

I'm still playing around with my hook for Crow's Rest, but I've moved on to tackling the actual blurb and have discovered that the version I like the best is pretty bare-bones. It's only 5 paragraphs, and each paragraph is only 1 or 2 sentences. A few years ago, I probably would have been aghast at using something that short to convey my entire book, but since then I've learned that you're not trying to do that.

The blurb is a sales tool meant to intrigue the potential buyer into opening the book, and that's all! I found some helpful resources on writing back cover copy and wanted to share them here:

7 Secrets to Writing Persuasive Back Cover Sales Copy

How to Write a Blurb (Back Cover Copy)

What to Avoid When Writing Back Cover Copy

Tips for Writing Back Cover Copy

How to Write Kick-Butt BCC

And the best way to get a sense of successful back cover copy is to read a bunch of them! Go to the library, a bookstore, an online seller, or your own bookcases, and read a wide sample. Which ones make you want to crack open that book, even if you've read it before?

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Tips For An Organized Writing Space

I am a firm believer in having a professional writing space. I just recently moved to a new office (outside of my home) that is dedicated to writing. I think its very important to have your own space filled with things that motivate you.

Here are some helpful tips for organizing your writing space.
1. Have good lighting.
2. A comfortable chair that fits your body.
3. Have everything you need within reach--such as your printer, extra paper and supplies.
3. Make sure you have a calendar that is visible.
4. Set up a tea or coffee area. Take a break every hour.
5. Have timecards and record your writing schedule--this will keep you on task.
6. Stickers--I love anything visual that helps me stay organized. I use stickers to mark the days I stay on task.

It also helps to have a writing pal. This is my dog Montie. Isn't he cute? 

Staying organized has helped me accomplish another important task--being part of  great program--Authors for Our Troops. This amazing program gets books directly from authors into the hands of soldiers.

Here are the signed copies of my books that are on their way to troops in Afghanistan and Kuwait.

For more information about this program please visit
Authors For Our Troops (Facebook Page)

Friday, March 28, 2014

Copy Editor Quick Tip #1: Varying Sentences

Quick Tip #1: Vary your sentences. 

I know it seems obvious, like it should go without saying, but this is probably the biggest, best tip I can give anybody who wants to make his or her copy editor happy.

Varying sentence structure means several things. Let me break it down for our skimmers out there:

  • Some long sentences, some short sentences (e.g. It wasn't simply that I occasionally misread algebraic expressions or that calculus turned my mind into jelly-textured mush. I hated math.)
  • Avoid overusing passive voice (I'm one who appreciates passive voice in certain books, especially if it goes well with the narrator's voice, but every sentence should not contain passive words and phrases: had, has, were, was -ing. Variety is the spice of life.)
  • Use similes AND metaphors, as well as symbols that only the deep readers will get (otherwise, you may end up with a lot of 'like' and 'as' in your manuscript, which will wear down even your patient readers. Try changing it from, "My legs were like jelly," to, "My legs turned to jelly.")
  • Dialogue and exposition (Few readers have the patience to read through pages and pages of exposition without any action/dialogue, but too much dialogue can present the same problem, particularly if the action during dialogue is unclear. The rule of thumb seems to be half a page of each, and keep things moving.)
  • Mood or tone (i.e. Don't depress the reader with a narrator who constantly has the same low mood. Just as reading a constantly peppy narrator would exhaust anyone, reading a moody, broody voice will also wear over time. Let readers see your characters through a natural scope of moods and emotions. If you don't see how this is possible, consider that even someone who is depressed will sometimes put on a smile and fake it for company or genuinely laugh at something unexpectedly funny. Kiersten White is my hero for mixing the peppy with the dark and broody in her trilogy, Paranormalcy.)
Being that I'm fairly new to this copy editing gig, I find that I'm learning new things constantly from the amazing authors I get to pre-read. I hope you find something helpful in these quick tips, as well. 

P.S. If you're looking for a good read this week, brand new off the presses is Jen McConnel's DAUGHTER OF CHAOS from her Red Magic series. Or for middle grade age zombie lovers who want to learn more about the dark and sinister workings of Capitol Hill, there's Ty Drago's UNDERTAKERS: Secret of the Corpse Eater also out this week.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

UPDATE: New OA Member

Howdy all!

I just wanted to give a shout out to our new member applicants. We've been combing over your submissions and have decided one thing for certain so far.


We will have an answer for you by the end of the week.

In the mean time (and very off topic) Who else is excited for the Walking Dead season finale this Sunday?

**Raises Hand**

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Writing: Breaking out of the white mold

File:Diversity and Unity.jpg
photo courtesy of Frerieke via Wikimedia Commons

Hi guys. Today we're going to talk about diversity. Not because I'm trying to be politically correct or because I think this is a heated topic (in fact, I almost *didn't* bring it up because it is a heated topic), but because the more I see YA covers the more I see white females and a whole lot of white males and the more books I add to my TBR the more I see how many white females lead YA literature (that I, myself, read, too--I want to be clear about this). So the reason for my post isn't to stir anything up; it's to ask you, as writers, what you think about it. (I have no idea what the demographics are for authors (white versus everyone else) but to me, white authors seem to take precedence in the media. It's just how it is.)

So. Diversity. Recently, I got addicted to CW's Arrow. Lovemuffin and I watched a ton of shows back to back for an entire weekend, and were only a few episodes in when I observed that almost every scene had a white character right alongside an African-American. This has changed a bit as the series has progressed, but at that point I was like, "Wow. This is so cool." (Keep in mind that I don't watch TV ever, really, so perhaps this is now the norm. If so, whoops.) But to me, seeing both in almost every scene was proof that this wasn't some coincidence; their show was seriously trying to make it happen.

As someone who is very active on Twitter and Goodreads, I've noticed that many of the teens I interact with or follow or "squee" over stuff with are *not* white. And, I've noticed that they read the same things I do. Which means they too are not reading much about characters like them. And that, I think, is  quite unfair.

I have one series where almost every character is a different nationality specifically because I wanted it to look like a skin rainbow when the entire group hung out. My other series? Well, let's just say I saw them all as white Cali kids. Of course, neither of these make me (or anyone else) a better or worse author, but after watching Arrow I got to thinking: How hard would it be to throw in a nationality or two (even as secondary characters), and why don't we, as a society, do it more often?

Like I said, this post wasn't to start anything, but to see what you guys think. Sometimes books are best written to where the readers can decide for themselves what nationality a character is. But, I tell ya what: I can't even imagine how frustrated I would be if almost every book cover and character showed a Portuguese girl (when I am so *not* remotely Portuguese at all). It would probably be fine at first, but after years upon years of this, I'm pretty sure I'd be like, "Can't they find anyone else to put on their covers? Don't they know there are many more people in this world besides girls with dark hair?"

The mic is on! I'd love to hear your thoughts. :)

***Note: It occured to me days after writing this post that I had seen another post recently about diversity by Aimee Hyndman. You can check it out here.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

#Pitmad: Defining Your Story in 140 Characters or Less


Well, it's that time again...time for #Pitmad on Twitter. It's a crazy day filled with endless RTs and creative ways to define your completed and polished manuscript in 140 characters or less (and it's less because you have to include category and hashtag in the tweet).

Don't know what Pitmad is? It's a day long Twitter pitch party hosted by the amazing contest hostess with the mostest, Brenda Drake. From 8am EST to 8pm EST, you can pitch your book (any category & genre) in the feed. Literary agents and publishers will scroll through the feed and favorite those pitches they'd like to see. Most times, agents/publishers will give specifics as to what materials they want submitted after they favorite.

It's a fun day and a great way to learn how to pitch, but there are rules:

1) You can only pitch 2x/hour

2) Pitch should include category (PB, MG, YA, NA, Adult) as well as #Pitmad designation (or you won't see it in the feed.)

3) It's okay to RT pitches you like so they have more exposure in the feed, but don't hit the "favorite" button - this is reserved for agents or publishers who want to see more.

4) Don't pitch directly at agents - use #Pitmad and agents will see everything in the feed

Want more details? Check out this link on Brenda Drake's blog:

If you're participating in the pitch frenzy today, good luck and may you get many favorites!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Random Musings from the Funny Girl by Gini Koch

Gini Koch has published a truckload of books under various pen names, including The Alien Series--a great sci-fi/romance romp with aliens that look like supermodels, and a novella called The Happy Acres Haunted Hotel for Active Seniors that made me laugh until my sides hurt. She has truly mastered the art of writing funny.

From Gini, I also learned how important it is to write from your "hindbrain"--in essence, your subconscious mind. When I remember to do this, I can tell my inner editor to go to hell, and my characters and story come more naturally. She offers full sessions on this--and many other workshops that I've found infinitely helpful.

This month, she's released an anthology of some of her shorter works--including both old and never-before-seen pieces--available now from and the other usual places. Here's a glimpse:

Want to know the untold story of Gini Koch? Did Gini really spend time in the Peace Corps? And did she really get arrested for stalking Nathan Fillion? Is she fluent in any language other than sarcasm? And what's the real reason she's banned from Denny's. The answer to these and other burning questions are in this book! So what are you waiting for? Buy this book NOW! It's not getting any younger, you know. Is it fact or fiction? You decide.

Gini Koch lives in Hell’s Orientation Area (aka Phoenix, AZ), works her butt off (sadly, not literally) by day, and writes by night with the rest of the beautiful people. She writes the fast, fresh and funny Alien/Katherine “Kitty” Katt series for DAW Books, the Necropolis Enforcement Files series, and the Martian Alliance Chronicles series for Musa Publishing. As G.J. Koch she writes the Alexander Outland series. She also writes under a variety of other pen names (including Anita Ensal, Jemma Chase, A.E. Stanton, and J.C. Koch), listens to all kinds of music 24/7, and is a proud comics geek-girl willing to discuss at any time why Wolverine is the best superhero ever (even if Deadpool does get all the best lines). She speaks frequently on what it takes to become a successful author and other aspects of writing and the publishing business. She is also the Lead Editor at Raphael’s Village, an online, nonpaying ’zine. Because she wasn’t busy enough, Gini’s added on featured guest columnist, reviewer, and webcaster for Slice of SciFi and It’s Comic Book Day. She can be reached through her website at

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Spaghettification: Making Up Words for Your Story

Image credit: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center
For those of you who are not familiar with black holes, spaghettification is a real-life term used to describe how the gravity of a black hole (or anything with a very strong gravitational pull) affects objects that get too close and are subsequently sucked in to their deaths or maybe transported to another place or time. Lots of sci-fi possibilities in black holes. If you want a more detailed explanation, you can find one here.

I'm not a scientist, so I don't know how frequently this term is used outside of television (I watch a lot of astronomy shows because I'm a huge nerd), but every time I hear it, it makes me laugh. And the last episode I watched on black holes had the black holes rolling around in space looking like space Roombas, so I don't think that helped.

The use of the term spaghettification (and my amusement over it) got me thinking about how it applies to writing. Doesn't everything apply to writing?

If you write in the worlds of science fiction and fantasy, you've probably, at some point, had the need to make up words unique to your worlds. But how do you know what works and what doesn't? You don't want the reader to laugh because it sounds too ridiculous or totally made-up.

Personally, nothing pulls me out of a story like a made-up swear word. I know that most pretend worlds wouldn't have the same swear words that we do, but most of the made-up ones sound silly and we all know what they're supposed to replace so why not just use the real thing? Okay, so that may or may not be one of my pet peeves. ;)

In my own writing, if I need to come up with a world-specific word or even a name, I'll usually turn to other languages and try to find something I can tweak to fit my world. Or I might type the meaning into a baby naming site and see if there's something I can use there, and not just for names. I've come up with at least one world-specific word using a baby naming site. Even then, I'm not always sure that what I've come up with is working. I just try to go with what feels and sounds right for the story.

And I always google the word to make sure it doesn't already exist. Except for when I forget to do that and one of my crit partners has to point out that one of my character names is a gelato flavor. :)

What about you? How do you feel about made-up words in stories? Have you made up any words for your own stories? If so, how did you go about it?

Friday, March 21, 2014

Friday Night Writing Prompt

We've made it to the end of another week! And for those of you who need a little boost for their weekend wordcount, I come bearing a little picture prompt for you.

Just what's at the other end of that darkened street? You could, of course, keep the answer to yourself - but if inspiration strikes and you'd like to share, feel free to post your writing response in the comments here. We'd love to read it.

And I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Peeta Won Me Over

I went and saw Catching Fire for my birthday. I was very excited as this is one of my favorite series and book 2 is (by a small margin) my favorite book of the series. Watching Gale and Peeta strut their hotness across the screen got me thinking about bad boys vs good guys.

When I first read The Hunger Games, I was totally Team Gale. By the end of the book, I was on the fence. Peeta was just sooo sweet. By the end of book 2 I was even more conflicted because Gale is just hot and fiery and a bit of a bad boy (and I love me some bad boys). But Peeta...OMG Peeta. With the nighttime cuddling and constant sacrifice and his whispered "Always", he was just killing me. In a good way ;-) By the end of book 3, I was firmly entrenched in the Peeta camp and haven't budged since (though Gale can still make me drool a little) ;-)

I found this a bit curious because I'm generally a bad boy lover through and through and Peeta is anything BUT a bad boy. He can fight when he has to, he is definitely strong, courageous. But he is NOT a bad boy. Not even a little. Not even in the midst of the games or at the end after everything he's gone through. But you know, that unswerving devotion (minus his Captial-engineered freak out) is just hard to resist. :-) After reading the whole series, I think book 2 became my favorite mostly because that is the book where the Katniss and Peeta get a little lip action and snuggle time :-D It takes a special kind of character to woo me from the dark side, and Peeta Mellark is just such a character :)

Are you Team Peeta or Team Gale? Like good guys or bad boys? Or a bit of both? ;-)

(originally blogged on The Naked Hero)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Creativity FTW!

I'm stepping away from a writing related post today to share something fun. 

I love the fact that there are so many talented, creative people who share their gifts on the internet for us to enjoy. You may have already seen this floating around the interwebs already, but I hope this brightens up your Wednesday. 

Happy Wednesday. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Irish Myths and Legends: The Pooka

For some of you, the first time you ever heard of a pooka (also spelled puca, pwca, pwwka, or bucca) may have been in the Jimmy Stewart film, Harvey. (Or maybe the Changeling games from White Wolf Studios are more your speed?)

However you discovered them, these creatures are ripe with story possibilities. Primarily from Irish fairy lore, the pooka is a trickster character, able to take on many shapes to further his mischief. Most legends say he's particularly fond of taking on the guise of horses, goats, and rabbits (this latter form was how Harvey manifested--even if he was invisible to most).

Or, you can go by the definition from Harvey, when the orderly, Mr. Wilson, looks up Pooka in the encyclopedia:

"P-O-O-K-A. Pooka. From old Celtic mythology, a fairy spirit in animal form, always very large. The pooka appears here and there, now and then, to this one and that one. A benign but mischievous creature. Very fond of rumpots, crackpots, and how are you, Mr. Wilson?"

[Inverts and shakes the dictionary]

"'How are you, Mr. Wilson?'" Who in the encyclopedia wants to know?"

I love how this movie plays with reality and fantasy, and beliefs and happiness. The main character, Elwood, initially seems like a drunken loafer, albeit a well-dressed and garrulous one. His family certainly considers him a trial and embarrassment, but there is more to Elwood than first meets the eye.

To me, the pooka Harvey becomes a metaphor for how Elwood's nature changes, depending on whose eyes we see him through. And how the choices Elwood has made have shaped him. That can be hard to capture on the page, but when it's done well I'm always in awe of the author's skill.

It's great when even minor characters have this entire backstory--that may or may not be revealed in the course of the story--and I feel like they are completely fleshed out.

What are some books you've read recently that accomplished that?

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Come Help Me Celebrate My New Release coming March 31st.




Natasha remembers little from her Russian childhood, other than the lingering nightmares of her mother's tragic death. So when someone close to her hands her a one-way ticket to Russia, along with the deed to her family farm, and then is brutally murdered, she has little confidence about what awaits her in that distant land.

With doubt and uncertainty, Natasha has no choice but to leave her life in America for an unknown future. Once overseas, the terrifying facts as to why she was really summoned home come to light.

Fact one: Monsters do exist.

Fact two: The only thing keeping those monsters out of the world is an ancient mural hidden below her family's farm.

Fact three: The mural that keeps the evil out of the world is falling apart.

The final fact: It's up to Natasha to restore it and save the world from a horror unlike anything seen before.

Luckily, Natasha isn't alone in her mission. Three Russian Knights are tasked with protecting her from the demons as she restores the mural. And leading the Knights is the handsome and strong Anatoly, who seems to be everything Natasha could hope for in a man. Unfortunately, there is one huge problem. Her Knights are forbidden from having relationships with the artists they protect, and Anatoly is a hardcore rule follower. But rules cannot stop the way she feels.

When a horrifying demon breaches the barrier and pulls Anatoly inside the mural, Natasha can’t help but charge, once again, into the unknown—this time to save the man she secretly loves. Now on the demons’ turf, she risks her own life to free the very one who is supposed to be protecting her. Little does she realize that if she should fail, it could mean the destruction of the very last barrier shielding mankind. Will Anatoly refuse Natasha’s help? Or will he finally realize, when love is at stake, the rules will be broken.


Friday, March 14, 2014

Favorite Childhood Books... Go.

From the Mixed-up Files of Middle-Grade Authors has some fabulous lists of books for children.

I'm curious today to find out which books most impacted your childhood/life. Was it If You Give a Mouse a Cookie or The Lord of the Rings, or both?

For me, it was Christopher Pike's See You Later...

Willo Davis Roberts' The Girl with the Silver Eyes...

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis...

and Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery.

These are not all strictly middle grade books, of course. But what kid reads only at her own "level"? I sure didn't. Whatever level these books were marketed for, I devoured them, and they remain a big part of my personal canon. If you look at the books I choose to read from today's market, you'll see some similarities, to say the least.

Paranormalcy by Kiersten White...

Shifting by Bethany Wiggins...

Across the Universe by Beth Revis...

Possession by Elana Johnson...

and The Maze Runner by James Dashner.

Heck, I even chose to work for a children's/YA publisher that specializes in speculative fiction: Month9Books. Here's some of their selection:

How have the books you loved as a child shaped you today? Are they still your favorites?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Editing vs. Drafting

So today I thought I'd talk about editing vs. writing, and ask you all what camp you belong in.

Do you like the creative process of getting the story down for the first time?

Or do you prefer taking what is there and shaping and forming it into something else?

Do you prefer drafting or editing of that draft?

 Me, personally ... I'd much prefer to edit. Getting that first draft out can be tortuous and never ends. It keeps going and going like an energizer bunny. (And yes, that probably dates me a bit. lol). I much prefer taking what is there and making it shine.

Now, if you were to ask me if I liked editing after I've done the same manuscript at least a dozen times... Well, that is different. Editing THAT much makes my eyes bleed. As much as I love my upcoming novel, I truly don't want to look at it ever again.

My favorite draft is probably the 3rd. Second draft can be hard, as you restructure problems that came up through the creation. But by the 3rd or 4th time though, it is more like painting a piece of potter that is molded and formed. THAT kind of editing, I love.

I'm currently trying to finish writing my sequel to THE EMISSARY (psst, it's up on goodreads if you want to check it out). I've been editing, and avoiding the last two chapters of drafting. Terrible, aren't I? I use editing to procrastinate finishing the dang book. So if anyone wants to give me some cheers and "you can do it", you can add that too. lol.  About two more days, if I work, and that bit will be done. Then I can go back and continue to edit until it shines.

photo credit: Nic's events via photopin cc

With that being said, I'm off to pound out some pages. Remember: Time is running out for applications for our blog as well as our survey in the sidebar. We want to hear from you.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Dialogue tags: Which side are you on?

Recently, I've been working on a novella for the Flora series. The books in the series are in the main character's point of view, but this novella is in someone else's--it bridges the gap between book one and book two. Being as the character isn't from "here" (he's from a place where they are yet to use electricity, and the clothes are different, and they speak differently, et cetera...), I'm writing from a different point of view than I'm used to. And, in trying to make this character stand out on his own but not be boring, I'm finding myself more aware than ever of dialogue tags and the way writers use them. Which, of course, made me wonder what most of you all do, and if you're as aware of them when reading as you are when you write.

Screen shot from

To me, the word conversation pretty much says it all... people don't stare at one another, deadpan, their voices monotone, when they interact in real life.  When they respond, they interact, they shout, they whisper, they stand up straight, they cower, they crouch. To say he said without adding anything, always, can (in my opinion) make a read feel stiff.

I've seen fellow writers on a few different sides over the years, including:

*Never do anything other than he said/she said because the readers are smart enough people to get what's left unsaid.

*Throw every description available out there, because the reader will appreciate it.

*Hey--whatever works and is necessary to make a great story--do a mainly she saids, along with a few glowers, a few grimaces, a few chuckles...

As a writer, I am on the "whatever works" side; but I do think it depends on the book and the characters and the author's voice. 

How about you? Have you ever found yourself pulled from a story because of specific dialogue tag use? What do you prefer to write? I'd love to hear about it in the comments! :)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Come Join Our Team!

Last week, we sent a shout-out that Operation Awesome is looking for a new blogger to join our team. Here is the post with more details:

We have received some A-MAZ-ING applications, and the submission window will stay open until this Saturday, March 15 - so get those applications in!

Because we've received so many great submissions, we want to extend an invitation to all applicants to participate in a guest blogger post. Even if you are not selected, we would like to provide an opportunity for you to share a post on Operation Awesome. If you are interested, please let us know.

Until then, get those applications to us by Saturday!

Good luck!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Why Perfectionism Gets in the Way of Actual Achievement

So, I'll admit it. I am a recovering perfectionist. I blogged about it here, after a 12-hour editing bender left me begging for ways to improve my writing process.

Many of us want to strive toward great heights, write the best books we can, because we want to be successful in this business. But doing so also makes us vulnerable, and when that happens, perfectionism sometimes gets in the way.

Brené Brown explains this further:

So perfectionism, if left unchecked, is not only a shield that protects, but also one that blocks.

This past week I had the fortune of meeting author T.C. Boyle when my creative writing class sat with him and asked him questions. Mine was, "What is the biggest mistake writers can make?" And yes, if you're keeping track, that question is riddled with perfectionistic tendencies.

But his answer surprised me: "There are no mistakes."

There are no mistakes. It took a minute for this to sink in.

Perfectionism waves a finger and says mistakes aren't okay. Mistakes will make you ache. Make you sad. Make you face what you can't fix.

But they aren't mistakes. Not really. They're a necessary part of the journey, one I shouldn't shy away from. Even when I think I'm bungling, it leads me further along the path. Gets me closer to my goals.

And there's no growth without it. If we face our struggles head on, on our own, without letting the judgment of others get in our way (Amazon book reviewers, I'm looking at you), there's no limit to what we can do.

So with that in mind, I leave you with the following quote:

“Start shaping your own day. Start walking your own walk. This journey is yours, take charge of it. Stop giving other people your power to shape your life.” - Steve Maraboli

Question to all: Do you consider yourself a perfectionist? If so, how has it hindered you, and what strides have you taken to overcome it?

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Mystery Agent Contest Survey!

Hi all!

We're hoping to make some revamps our Mystery Agent Contest, and we'd like to hear from you regarding changes you might like to see! We've posted a brief survey here and on the blog sidebar. A random respondent will be chosen to win a prize package.

We look forward to hearing what you think!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

WANTED: Stream of Consciousness Recorder

Recorder should be especially accurate in capturing the perfect phrasing and plot solutions for my WIP that runs through my mind right before I fall asleep. I need it as soon as possible, so if you have a Stream of Consciousness Recorder I can borrow or you know where I can buy one, please let me know in the comments. And if it can record my dreams, even better. ;)

ETA: Check out this TED talk from Mary Lou Jepsen. Could future devices read images from our brains? Thanks, Vicki Rocho, for the info!

Friday, March 7, 2014

We want YOU to join Operation Awesome!

TGIF, everyone! I come bearing a message from all of your friendly neighborhood Operation Awesome bloggers:

Some changes have been happening behind the scenes here at Operation Awesome, as we’ve moved a few members over to the Alumni section (a big thanks to Kellie DuBay Gillis and Max Gladstone for all their contributions!) and welcomed a new member, Karen McCoy.

We’re even in the process of revamping our popular Mystery Agent contest, so we’ll be checking in with you all on that in a few days. But in the meantime, you may have noticed that two members have moved on, and only one has joined, so that means we still have one spot left!

We’d like to open up the every-other-Sunday slot for a new Operative who can commit to posting on that day, and also pitch in with the Mystery Agent contests and other special events we run as a group.

As far as blog posts go, pretty much anything writerly is welcome. There are a few things that we avoid though, such as politics, religion, etc. We have a fairly diverse group on here, and something political will likely offend someone else. Also, we don't bash a blog post or article on someone else's blog. Let’s just say, if it is a topic that is controversial and might not reflect the collective beliefs of everyone on here, you will want to share that on your personal blog.

We maintain a calendar on our private forum to make it easy to keep track of your posting obligations—and with the wonder of Blogger Scheduling, you can always schedule your post ahead of time when you know you’ll be busy on your day. We understand that life events can sometimes put blogging lower on the priority list, but our members are more than willing to switch spots on such occasions to ensure that the posts keep coming.

We see membership in Operation Awesome as an opportunity to make meaningful connections in the publishing community—with writers, agents, and editors—no matter where you are in the journey. Each of us has grown and learned from the experience of group blogging, and if that sounds like something you’d be interested in, please send an email to OperationAwesome6 (at) gmail (dot) com with a short message on why you think you would be a good fit for Operation Awesome, and please include links to your social media and blog sites. Thank you!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

CURED by Bethany Wiggins - and a Giveaway!!

I am thrilled to have my dear friend Bethany Wiggins with us today. Bethany is celebrating the release of her new book, CURED, the sequel to her book STUNG. They are both absolute must reads! You'll never look at honey the same way again :)

She's not only stopped by to answer a few questions for us, but she'll also be giving away a copy of the book!! Just leave a comment and we'll choose someone at random to receive a copy of this awesome book :) And now on to our questions!

OA: Tell us a little about CURED. 

BW: CURED is the story of a girl (Jacqui aka Jack) who is pretending to be a boy, and she's all cooped up inside of herself and dying to break free.

Here is the official blurb: Now that Fiona Tarsis and her twin brother, Jonah, are no longer beasts, they set out to find their mother, with the help of Bowen and a former neighbor, Jacqui. Heading for a safe settlement rumored to be in Wyoming, they plan to spread the cure along the way--until they are attacked by raiders. Luckily, they find a new ally in Kevin, who saves them and leads them to safety in his underground shelter.

But the more they get to know Kevin, the more they suspect he has ties to the raiders. He also seems to know too many details about Jacqui and her family—details that could endanger them all. For the raiders will do anything they can to destroy the cure that would bring an end to their way of life.

OA: CURED is the sequel to the amazing STUNG. What was the inspiration for this series? 

BW: Believe it or not, STUNG was primarily inspired by a horrible nightmare I had, about waking up in my childhood home and finding everything abandoned, and then being chased out a window by an insane beast who used to be someone I loved. That nightmare is chapter one! Other parts of STUNG were inspired by the frenzy in the United States to get the flu vaccine when the swine flu was going around and the bees dying off (colony collapse). CURED continues with those themes, but goes into more detail about how the normal world became a post apocalyptic disaster.

OA: What do you have in the works now?

BW: Currently, nothing. I recently had a baby, and the lack of sleep is seriously eating into my creativity! But there are a couple of possible stories brewing around in my head. I am hoping one decides to make a strong creative impression soon!

OA: What sort of research did you have to do for these books, if any?

BW: I did a lot of research. I Googled everything from "honey bee colony collapse" to "genetic modification gone wrong," to "criminal male behavior after hurricane Katrina" and "underground bomb shelters." I even went to my local police station (with a group of cub scouts) and asked the sheriff who was showing us around how close I would have to be to him to shoot through his Kevlar vest. He gave me a funny look.

OA: What are three things you need in order to write?

BW: Music, a great idea, and long walks when I am having writer's block.

OA: Anything you'd like to reveal about yourself that your readers might find surprising?

BW: I have five young kids. I am LDS (Mormon). I'm really quite sweet and goofy and nice, so a lot of people who know me in person are surprised at the type of books I write. I am older than my husband, but I look and act a lot younger.

OA: How can readers connect with you?

BW: I love Facebook! And I have a website and a blog (which I inherited from my sister a number of years ago. Her name is Suzette Saxton, if you're wondering about the unusual blog address).

Thank you so much for stopping by!! And congrats on the release of CURED :)

Remember, one lucky commenter below will win a copy of this awesome book so comment away!!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

In the Words of...

I was on the interwebs doing writing research...okay, I was procrastinating by looking at pictures of cats doing things. Like this:

Belinda! Who Sed You Cud Jus Take Off Wif Carlos, Ennyhow?
But then I found some wonderful writing/storytelling tips that to share with you: 

Kurt Vonnegut:

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
5. Start as close to the end as possible.
6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia
8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

George Orwell:

1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which are used to seeing in print.
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. (I’m charmed by his example: use “snapdragon,” not “antirrhinum.” Snapdragon is so much nicer.)
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

E. L. Doctorow:

Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. 

Do you have any writing tips or quotes you'd like to share? Leave them in the comments. 

Happy Wednesday. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Sibyl Reborn

Like wildfires loose on a western mountain, the karmas of eight people, a teenage ghost, the CIA, mankind and its parent race converge on Bighorn Peak in Colorado, forcing Cassandra, the sibyl reborn, to outwit the bane of our spiritual past and solve a seemingly hopeless riddle: how to save her species from enslavement and her planet from her species.

Extended blurb: An Ancient Riddle for a Modern Crisis

Reputedly cursed to be disbelieved, a famous sibyl in a town called Troy once shared the dooms of family and friends—enslavement and violent death—when they laughed at her futile warnings. In The Sibyl Reborn, she reincarnates to save the future only to find that her words remain impotent however true. A fan of The Secret and What the Bleep, she petitions the universe for a fighting chance to finally make a difference. The universe responds with the tale that follows, entangling passions, agendas, karmas, and dreams. The Sibyl Reborn: where the human spirit and its ancient bane wage a final battle with forever at stake.

About the author:  Twice a surrogate spokesperson for the White House, James ended five years of biotech activism in 2006 in protest over Conservative plans to distort the science of Climate Change. Prior to a 1997 auto accident that left him paralyzed, he enjoyed a twenty-year railroad career in signals & communications, locomotive electronics, and rail traffic management. Together with his wife Selene, he restored antique furniture, redecorated old houses, and rambled along backcountry roads or Appalachian paths with Homer, their mostly beagle. The Kellys live at the foot of Pikes Peak in Colorado where James meets Selene daily on her return from Cassandra-like treks on mountain trails or through a nearby park called the “Garden of the Gods.” They hope you enjoy “The Sibyl Reborn.”

Add it on Goodreads

My Review:  The Sibyl Reborn is difficult to summarize. It's long, complicated, and full of thought-provoking ideas and characters. It entangles every genre with a wide range of personalities, from a tree-hugger activist to government-sanctioned serial killers, a cat who thinks he's God's gift to mankind, everyday men and woman who just want to succeed in life, and yes, inquisitive aliens. There's romance, horror, comedy, and this writer doesn't pull any punches when it comes to dishing out the Karma.

If the Sibyl is cursed to never be believed, who better to portray such a fate than an ambitious environmentalist? The whole premise was just fascinating. Read it! But don't expect to read it in one sitting, or even two. Digest it slowly.

I happened to see this tagline and I think it sums it up nicely to give you an idea. "If Erin Brockovich threatened the X-Files to fight Climate Change...."

And guess what? I have the author, James Kelly, with me here today! And let me tell you this man is the kindest, most amazing man I've met in quite a while. :-)

Me: Welcome, James! Obviously, I loved The Sibyl Reborn. It has the feel of a Tom Clancy novel with incredible details in government conspiracies with what could only be "insider information", so I just have to ask... how on Earth did you come up with this story? I have this fear that you'll be on someone's hit list after publishing something like this!

James: Hi Toni! Thank you very much for your interest in TSR and its backstory! I came up with its story [in part] through a personal 'UFO' experience and events that led to my falling asleep while driving in 1997--resulting in a spinal cord injury and my being paralyzed below the shoulders. Regarding my accident, I'd used creative visualization (i.e, "The Secret" or metaphysics) about a month earlier in a desperate effort to stay in Colorado. My job with the Southern Pacific Railroad would soon be moved to Omaha, and my wife and I loved the mountains. My accident and paralysis gave me what I asked for--I live in Colorado today--but definitely not what I wanted. It was a perfect example of the "Monkey's Paw Effect." My awareness of this possible connection affected me so much at the time that I wrote TSR to suggest that its characters and plots had collided through the "quantum magic" of its heroine.

As you know, TSR uses an aspect of human psychology as its underlying premise. I wrote about this when I first sketched TSR not because of climate change or the environment, but rather because I had stubbornly kept driving--minutes before my accident--due to my ego and to reach a target destination despite knowing I was falling asleep. It seemed perfect to reincarnate the cursed prophetess of Troy, Cassandra, if I wanted to 1) write a high-concept novel that takes place in the present and connects why humans arrived on Earth with our pending dooms, and 2) use entertainment to alert readers to a far-reaching aspect of human nature that scientists now describe as “universal.”

You're totally right in supposing that insider information contributed to my writing TSR. After sketching the novel's bare-bones story, I'd set it aside for years because I knew nothing about writing commercial fiction. Instead, I studied Neuroscience to understand the practical medical implications of peer-reviewed research. This led to my activism in the stem cells debates, to my serving as a White House surrogate spokesperson, and to my daily correspondence with national biotech policy advisers between 2002 and 2006.

The result of these experiences was that I came to believe that political and worldview leaders (including my former stem cells 'allies') consistently use Cassandra's 'Curse,' --the human tendency to interpret reality to support the ego, ambitions, beliefs, or convenience--to manipulate public opinion, to serve their corporate masters, and to exploit us for power and profits. This concern caused me to study novel writing in earnest and to return to TSR, determined to place my behind-the-scenes experiences in a global warming context. My goal in writing TSR was first and foremost to entertain readers, but also to warn them of aspects of human nature that allow others to control us through 'divide and conquer.'    

Me: So many directions this could go-- I'll bring up the UFO sighting first. :-) While I've never seen one, I'm not 100% closed off to the idea. (I confess I rather enjoyed listening to Art Bell in the early 90s, when his midnight interviews felt like fiction on the surface, but always had that underlining essence of truth that made it hard to deny.) What was your experience?

James: Years ago, my wife and I lived in rural Pennsylvania where we took long walks daily past Mennonite farms near the Susquehanna River. One evening at twilight, we noticed a metallic sheen very high in the sky moving in a southerly direction. My wife, whose lifestyle and spirit were my templates for Cassandra, wondered aloud what the object was. In my role as ‘know-it-all male,’ I explained it was a weather or communications satellite. No sooner had I said this than the object darted eastward while instantly moving at a much higher rate of speed.

My first comment was something like, "...ummm!"

I recovered to announce that is must be something the military was testing--possibly a robotic drone. Again, as soon as I put my foot in my mouth, the 'thing' began to zig-zag across the sky, moving much faster [I'm sure] than anything man-made. Its changes of speed and direction seemed impossible according to Laws of Physics. While we watched it agog, it stopped suddenly without any deceleration. Selene and I gaped at each other in amazement. When we again looked upward, the sky was empty; the thing had vanished.

This experience (including our sense that the object had been toying with us in response to my stupid comments), along with the Roswell legend and reports of military encounters with UFOs, definitely influenced my novel's basic concept.

Me: Sounds like an unforgettable evening! It's so sweet that Cassandra in TSR is a depiction of your wife. She's snarky, intelligent, and clearly has a heart of gold. She knows exactly what she wants, and doesn't give a hoot about what others think, or what it takes to make something happen. She's so ambitious, I can't imagine anyone not being a bit inspired by her actions. That said, you did an amazing job with the many characters who stand against her, balancing out the whole "go-green" plot line and making her seem like just another dimwitted activist. I was so proud of her for standing strong with her beliefs, regardless of what people or the press threw at her. (Your wife must be an amazing woman!) Anyway! Back to the questions :-)

One of the impressive things for me about TSR is the degree of complexity and depth of each character, and how seemingly unrelated plots click together throughout multiple PoVs. You have a bit of romance, horror, comedy, sci-fi, paranormal, thriller, suspense.... Since most of us at OA are writers, how did you keep this organized without going insane?

James: I'm especially glad that you thought the plots clicked together. I say this because the agents I queried were either daunted by TSR's length or doubted whether a debut novel should mix genres, POVs, or multiple plot threads. One agent, after reading only a query, advised me to simplify TSR by limited its story to Cassandra's POV in the first person. I decided to leave TSR as it was and publish it because I felt that presenting multiple threads from each character's POV offered an effective way to suggest that Cassandra's metaphysics had caused the lives of its characters to entangle and crash, because I believed they added depth, drama, and realism, and because I thought the book as a whole actually worked.

To suggest the threads were connected and keep them ‘on track’ (until they overlapped and merged), I dropped hints to imply that the characters of each might be relevant to the goals or problems of the others. Plus, the threads develop so the reader soon realizes that all the threads somehow involve a single event (Dr. Mickey's blunder), The Taint, or both...even if the characters don't know it. Lastly, I use third person omniscient narration to give a common 'feel' to the plots.  

Regarding Cassandra, I cast her as being ditsy [at the gold mine, but less so as the book moves forward] because I wanted to draw the reader into the story purely as entertainment without taking Cassandra seriously. After all, she's been famous since The Fall of Troy for being laughed at for telling the truth. Plus, Dr. Mickey and his wife would later need "someone whom no one will believe" to be their guinea pig. As the story unfolds and readers discover "The Taint," it's my hope they’ll come to see Cassandra in a different light while still being entertained.

Me: Well, TSR is long, complex, and does have a lot of characters, but I definitely agree it was necessary to reveal the overall story. Plus, the reviews from your readers have been excellent, so I'd say they agree as well. Great job and congratulations! Is TSR going to have a sequel?

James: Thank you and yes, I wrote TSR to have a satisfying conclusion [hopefully] that invites the story to continue. I’m presently writing a sequel.

Me: Quick 5:

Tea or Coffee? Both!!! Coffee all morning, herb tea till bedtime--especially Lemon Ginger by Celestial Seasonings:<)
Sugar or Salt? chocolate LOL!
Indoor or Outdoor? Outdoor--definitely!
Book or Movie? Book!
Starry sky or Neon glitz? Starry Sky!!!

James: Thank you so much for reading TSR and offering to interview me. It's been an honor to join you on Operation Awesome and a pleasure to answer your questions!

Me: Thanks, James! Though I feel the honor is mine. And if it hadn't been for your rafter contest, I might not have met you on such personal terms. *insert the universe at work*