Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Eternal Struggle

I can't believe we almost into May! Now we are saying goodbye to April, I've started to think about the writing projects I want to finish (and start writing) in the next few months. I don't know about you, but I like having a potential idea that I can think about/make notes on. 

I'm almost done with the first draft of a new MS (with two others that are in the various stages of writing and editing). We all know that writing, while wonderful, is a bit of a roller coaster. There, as always, those high peak moments when the words are flowing. When everything feels like it is coming together. Then you get those stomach dropping moments where every. single. word. makes. your. brain. bleed. 

And here is the eternal struggle of a writer: 

Also, I just wanted to remind you about the pitch opportunities Angelica posted about on Monday. Missed the post? Here's Angelica to remind you: 

With our Mystery Agent Contests still in limbo while we figure out how to streamline them--and also how to add some new energy--I know you all are itching to enter something! Here are a few opportunities coming up in the next few weeks:

First up is a Pitch Event with Spencer Hill Contemporary, the contemporary YA imprint of Spencer Hill Press. The fabulous Brenda Drake will be hosting it April 28 through April 30.

You’ll need only the meat of your query (hook & mini-synopsis), and you only have 200 words (max). The submission post with instructions will go live on April 28 12:01AM EDT on Brenda Drake's blog.

Then on May 1st, a Rafflecopter will go up on Brenda Drake's blog for The Writer's Voice Contest. TWV is open to the following genres:
Adult Historical
Adult Fantasy
Adult Science Fiction
Adult Romance
YA fiction (all genres)
MG fiction (all genres)

If you're one of the 150 randomly selected entrants, you'll get to post your query and first 250 words for agents to fight over!

But maybe novels aren't your thing and you're more into short fiction. WOW! Women on Writing has quarterly flash fiction contests, and their spring contest closes May 31. This time around the judge is literary agent Sally Apokedak, and she'll be looking at entries that fall within the 250-750 word limit. There is an entry fee of $10 for this one, FYI.

So polish up your pitches and take a leap into a contest! What are you waiting for?

Monday, April 28, 2014

Upcoming Pitch Opportunities

With our Mystery Agent Contests still in limbo while we figure out how to streamline them--and also how to add some new energy--I know you all are itching to enter something! Here are a few opportunities coming up in the next few weeks:

First up is a Pitch Event with Spencer Hill Contemporary, the contemporary YA imprint of Spencer Hill Press. The fabulous Brenda Drake will be hosting it April 28 (yes, that's today) through April 30.

You’ll need only the meat of your query (hook & mini-synopsis), and you only have 200 words (max). The submission post with instructions will go live on April 28 12:01AM EDT on Brenda Drake's blog.

Then on May 1st, a Rafflecopter will go up on Brenda Drake's blog for The Writer's Voice Contest. TWV is open to the following genres:
Adult Historical
Adult Fantasy
Adult Science Fiction
Adult Romance
YA fiction (all genres)
MG fiction (all genres)

If you're one of the 150 randomly selected entrants, you'll get to post your query and first 250 words for agents to fight over!

But maybe novels aren't your thing and you're more into short fiction. WOW! Women on Writing has quarterly flash fiction contests, and their spring contest closes May 31. This time around the judge is literary agent Sally Apokedak, and she'll be looking at entries that fall within the 250-750 word limit. There is an entry fee of $10 for this one, FYI.

So polish up your pitches and take a leap into a contest! What are you waiting for?

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Democracy of Storytelling

A lot of things said on Twitter are inscrutable or inane, but sometimes it feels as if someone is talking right to you, whether they are @messaging you or not.

Like this:

It often feels that publishing is a tiered system. At the top are the kings and queens -- the bestsellers, award winners, and A-listed. The tiers below are multiply layered and hard to define -- lead title,  published or unpublished, published by big 5, published by major press, hardcover, paperback or ebook, carried in bookstores, self-published, agented, unagented, genre or literary, adult or children's. 

As a writer, I often feel slighted, whether a bookstore or library won't carry my book or a reviewer won't look at it -- sometimes something as simple as a writer I admire won't follow me back on twitter. I know I'm not a king or queen.

So it's nice to be reminded that no one is. This is a democracy of storytellers.

We all have stories to write and share. We represent ourselves when we write, and when we publish or choose not to. One writer, one vote.

We represent ourselves when we read -- one reader, one vote every time we pick up a book.

Sure, democracies have power shifts, tiers, and factions of their own. The comparison doesn't hold up to heavy scrutiny.

This may be a multicultural republic, but representation on the shelves, lists, and award rosters doesn't match the citizens who are writing and reading. Everyone can write, but not everyone has not have equal platform to be heard. There may room for everyone, but most of that room is on the bottom.
But at the moment when I write a story and when a reader reads it, the relationship between us is the same. One story, one reader, one vote with every book.

About Kell Andrews:  Kell Andrews writes picture books and middle grade novels. Deadwood, her middle-grade contemporary fantasy about a cursed tree, comes out from Spencer Hill Middle Grade in June 2014. 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Social Media and Writing

Marketing your book can be a daunting job. Authors need a platform to sell books, and they need to connect with their readers--but authors also need time to write and to edit.

I've seen some of my author friends play Facebook games, post pictures, chat and then escape to coffee shops to write--but once they arrive--they end up spending even more time reading status updates on Facebook, and other social media websites. 

Don't let social media steal your precious time!

I've found a few helpful tips that keep my time online short. I hope they will be of help to you also.   

1. Spend a set amount of time each day for social media--for me its 1 hour. This can be split up into 30 minutes in the morning and 30 at night. 

2. Schedule blog posts and messages to automatically post for you.

3. Spend a few moments pinning images from your blog to Pinterest. By doing this--your blog's URL will attach to the images. This will increase traffic from Pinterest to your website.
3. Keep Tweets (on Twitter) short. By doing this your message will have better odds at being  retweeted--followers like to be able to have room to add their username and comments. 

4. Research and make use of apps that can assist you. For example, Hootsuite, MarketMeSuite and many other apps will allow you to post to Facebook, Twitter and others, all at once which saves time.

5. Remember, being an author is a social business--but it is still a business.


Friday, April 25, 2014

The Magic of 'Reading Time'

I have one child who reads independently and one just starting to sound words out, so when I say every morning, "It's reading time," their behavior is pretty predictable. The independent reader piles up a bunch of books he wants to read by the La-Z-Boy and the new reader does one of two things: tells me he'd rather jump on the trampoline (and proceeds to do so), or brings me a big book of stories to read to him. It looks like this:

On amazon

There's also a giant bag of library books in the corner by the bookshelf and that is a favorite through-out the week.

Gotta love the polka-dots!

Reading time is when the magic happens. Either we'll get an idea that simply must be acted upon...

From reading the Wright Brothers biography to this:

...or we'll discuss whatever new thing we learned, and whether we want to learn more about it. 
But my favorite bit of magic is when my oldest puts down a book he's been reading and picks up the stapler. Because that means he wants a blank staple book. And that means he wants to write a story of his own. And that means he's inspired

"Reading stimulates the ecology of the imagination." Whatever your writing goals this weekend, pick up a book by somebody else and be...

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Write what you... want

This goes without saying (or at least, I hope it does...), but today I was watching my youngest daughter play softball, and I turned to my husband and said, "You know what? I need to write about a softball-playing MC."

and then he said,

"You don't know enough about it."

This was me, then:

Of course, he wasn't saying I couldn't write. He's quite the supportive guy. He wasn't *trying* to be negative at all. But, like so many do, he immediately thought that since I've only watched my girls play but don't know all of the technical stuff, I really shouldn't be trying to write about it.

To which I say...


We see "write what you know" so often (true, it's good to do, it works--I can't just presume I know what life in Belgium is like and write like I do), but at the same time, it's okay to step out of that box and do research. It's okay to push the envelope a little and strive to learn about things you might not know much about. It's okay to educate yourself in order to be a better writer.

So, that's the point of my post today. Short and sweet, and to the point. Write what you want, folks. Write what makes you happy. And at the end of the day, you'll not only be proud of what you've accomplished, but you will have had a good time doing it. Isn't that what makes writing worth it, in the end, anyway?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


I know what you're thinking. What does Earth Day have to do with writing? Well, the answer is nothing if you look at it from a purely environmental perspective. But today, I want to use the idea of Earth Day to remind writers that there's a lot more to life than staying inside and focusing on your work.

As we all know, writing can be a very solitary profession. It's easy to get caught up in a new world you're building, or characters you're creating, and forget about everything else in your life. Personally, I know how time can get away from you as you sit at your desk and allow the words to flow out of you. One moment you look at your clock and it's 9 am and what feels like only moments later, it's lunch time.

Even if you're on deadline though, you need a break. Time to rest your mind (and fingertips). So I recommend today not only be a day to celebrate the beauty of the Earth, and how we can protect her for future generations, but to stretch our legs and minds beyond the confines of our home/office and computer screen.

Now I'm not saying to stop writing completely (yes, I need to edit desperately today too) but what I AM suggesting is you take a moment to enjoy the day's beauty. Take a ten minute walk. Pack a lunch and go to the park. Jump on your bike and take a quick tour of your neighborhood. Whatever you choose, use today as an opportunity to get out of your head for a while and enjoy the serenity around you.

Even the most brilliant of writers need down time, and what better day than today to enjoy the new blooms, fresh air and a chance to reboot your mind! Your body, and your creative mind, will thank you for it!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Sailing Through Fog: How Writers Can Chart Toward an Unseen Horizon

Writing (and submitting, and selling, and promoting) can often feel like sailing through fog:

 photo 694968_zps97a5008f.jpg
Fog Photo by Psytrom, courtesy of Photobucket

It's pretty, but can you spot land on the distant horizon? Me neither. And the perils that lie ahead (other rocks, or, even worse, quicksand) are concealed, making the path more difficult. How can we make informed decisions when we can't even see properly?

Sometimes this happens on the novel level. Okay, I've plotted to the middle. Now what? I can't see my way through.

The same fog hits those of us querying or submitting manuscripts for critique too soon (something I've done more times than I'd like to admit). The book feels ready, doesn't it? We want to believe the rock is closer than it is, and then, crash. Cue rejection.

Or, for the published among us--trying to guess which audience your book will reach, and how to reach them. If this was clear sailing for everyone, all authors would have books flying off the shelves. But alas. Boat collides with rock.

Before we get too bruised, there's a better alternative. In her book Mystical Hope, Cynthia Bourgeault brought me the metaphor of sailing through fog in the first place. And offered this solution: "You find your way by being sensitively and sensuously connected to exactly where you are, by letting 'here' reach out and lead you...part of the local knowledge that all fishermen and natives use to steer by." (p. 49).

So it's not a matter of guessing your way ahead. It's about using what's immediately around you to chart your way. If I'd done that with my first novel, I would have realized it wasn't ready, and waited longer to submit it. Or, conversely, gotten the nerve to submit my more marketable novel to the WIP Contest instead of relying on the old, tired one just because it was complete.

On the novel level, this means looking at where your character is now...and why (not how) they got there. And using that to drive them forward.

As far as marketing and promotion go, use what avenues work for you instead of what everyone else is doing (or what's trending). Or, if you're agented but not yet published, this may mean trusting the course the river takes you, and adjusting accordingly.

Of course, hitting rocks is guaranteed. But we don't have to hit them all. Luckily, as writers, we can help one other navigate snags. It's why I love Operation Awesome, and the other writer communities I'm blessed to be a part of.

So, sail on. The horizon is there. Enjoy what surrounds you while you chart your way forward.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Reasons for Rejection: "As you know, Bob" Dialogue

Happy Sunday everyone! And welcome to my first official non-intro post on Operation Awesome!

As mentioned in my introduction post two weeks ago, I am an intern at a literary agency and one of my responsibilities involves reading the slush pile. The agency asks for a query, synopsis and the first fifty pages with submissions, but usually, I can tell if something is for me in the first ten pages.

Within the first ten pages, I either fall in love with the voice or I don't. There a lot of different things that make me fall and love and a lot of things that make me reject but today we are going to talk about a reason for rejection I call "As you know, Bob" dialogue.

This is a way of exposition dumping that seems clever because it is done through dialogue but comes off sounding very unnatural because... well... the characters have no reason to bring it up. Consider this scene.

"I can't wait to visit the rain forest this summer." Bob said.

"Are you sure? As you know, Bob, your parents were killed by a vicious tiger in the rain forest leaving you an orphan when you were very young." John replied.

This is a slightly exaggerated example, but the issue should be obvious. John is telling Bob something he already knows. Why bring it up? Its not as if Bob spontaneously forgot this life scarring trauma. This dialogue is here solely for the benefit of the reader and it comes off as awkward.

Exposition is hard. We have to find lots of clever ways to hide it. Sometimes we stick it dialogue but if not executed right, it will stand out like a sore thumb and the agent will be quick to throw the pages in the rejection pile, as natural dialogue is one of the most important elements of any novel. So what's a simple way to fix 'As you know, Bob' dialogue?

Simple: Put someone in the conversation who DOESN'T know.

JK Rowling is a genius in many ways but the best thing she ever did for the Harry Potter books was to make the main character Harry Potter, a boy who knows nothing about the wizarding world. He has to learn as he goes along, just as the audience does. In this way, Harry is an effective narrator. If he was a wizard like Ron it would be much harder to explain the world to the audience without some exposition riddled dialogue.

Exposition in dialogue is fine. But make sure that it makes sense. Put a confused outsider in the mix and you are on your way to a much more natural conversation. And that's another reason for rejection you can cross off your list!

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Writing Project Love Quadrangle

I'm a committed woman right now. What with the end-of-the-school-year crunch at my day job, the precious few hours I have for writing have to go towards one project, and that project is currently elbow-deep in revisions. Until I get this manuscript polished to go out into the universe, in other words, it's going to have my full attention.

Once it does go out into the universe, however, I'm going to have a fight on my hands. There are currently three other projects trying to seduce me.

There's the project that waited: the one that I started a little fling with last summer, that has patiently waited for me to wrap up my current MS. There's the wildly ambitious project: a sexy genre-blender that I'm really excited about... if I can pull it off right. And there's the dark horse: a thoroughly random idea that came out of nowhere and swept me off my feet. How's a girl to choose?

I know people who can juggle multiple manuscripts at the same time, and I'd very much love for those people to teach me their secrets one of these days. But until they do, I will have to contend with the writing project love quadrangles. True, it's an excellent problem to have, and you can always come back to a project next time. It'll probably be better for the extra time it spent steeping in your head. But it's so hard to take a world and characters you're already in love with and say, "Sorry, not yet."

If you've found yourself caught in a love quadrangle, maybe you've found a way to consider the pros and cons: whether you weigh market concerns, write a little of each project to see what shakes out, or imagine each of your love interests wrestling in jello. But one way or another, you have to choose eventually.

Best of luck. ;)

How about you? What's your strategy?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Can I Use That Picture?

First of all, I must preface this by saying that this post in no way constitutes legal advice in any way, shape or form. I'm just passing along some hopefully helpful information that I've come across :-)

I write a lot of blog posts. In addition to this blog, I'm also a part of 3 other group blogs (Scene 13, Embracing Romance, and The Naked Hero), as well as my personal blogs (my author blog, and Oven Mitts and Other Bits). And as we all know, a good picture spruces up a post very nicely.

But how do you know if it's okay to use a particular picture?

I always try to use pics that I know for sure are free to use. I carefully read the licensing agreements on the sites where I find my pictures and I always try to link to the source of picture, even if it's free to use and doesn't require a link. And for the most part, if I can't find a picture on a site that I know for sure is free and safe to use, or that I've purchased the rights to, I won't use a picture for that post.

Occasionally I'll write a post like the one I just did for The Naked Hero on Comic Book Heroes, that really could use a good picture. But using one nowadays when you don't own the copyright is scary. So I did some googling and found this post on Navigating Copyright and Fair Use Online. Be sure to visit the site and read the post in its entirety; it's got some great info.

But this is the gist I gleaned from it:

  • If you are using the photo as part of a discussion or review on the item/person pictured - for instance, if you are reviewing a product and include a picture of that product - that is most likely okay.
  • If you are using the picture in an abstract way (the post used the example of using a portion of the Dumb and Dumber movie poster to discuss dumb actions, but nothing in the post was actually discussing the movie) then that is not okay.

In other words, if you are using the image to physically identify what you are discussing in your post, you are probably okay. Again, can't stress this enough, this is just my understanding and I'm sure there are instances when this is not true.

So, for my post on Comic Book Heroes, in which I discussed various heroes from the current comic book movies, I used pictures of those heroes. To further cover my butt, I used the promotional movie posters instead of stills from the movie, my thinking being that since those are created to promote the movies, there would be less objection of them being spread around. Kind of like sharing a book cover. I'd love to see my covers plastered all over the place ;-)

Am I certain I'm in the clear? No...which is why I very, very rarely use pictures like this :-) I also keep a few credits going on sites like,,, etc. I can usually find a great photo for one credit and then I know for sure I am okay because I've purchased the right to use the picture.

Bottom line, if you want to be sure you are safe to use a picture, don't use one unless there is express written permission specifically giving others the right to use the picture, or unless you've contacted the artist to gain permission.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Query Sushi

Since it's the Easter school holidays, I'm spending the day with my gorgeous niece (we're making Easter baskets and cards and Easter nests filled with chocolate eggs. Yum). Being rushed off my feet means I'm revisiting a post today. 

I love Sushi. There's always something yummy going around on the conveyor belt at Yo! Sushi.

For anyone who hasn't been before the idea is you sit in front of a conveyor belt and choose what you like from a selection of dishes. Each dish is colour/price coded. And you can order off a menu if you want something in particular.

(Image: Voucher Mum)

So I'm sat watching all the yummy dishes going round, waiting to be chosen and enjoyed, and I realised that this is the same as querying.

I imagine an agent is pretty much sat at the table looking at all these dishes going around. We know they have a huge number to choose from depending on their preferences, but they only have a short moment to make up their mind before they pass. What they choose could be different on any given day. 

Just like what you pick from the sushi bar.

Some days all you see are California roll/urban fantasy and you want Katsu curry/dystopian YA.

But the agent could still pick your California roll query out if it looks appetising.

The job of the chef/writer is to make our dish/query stand out from all the others on offer.

So next time that 'I'm afraid this isn't a good fit for me' email pings in your inbox it just means the agent wanted a different dish that day.

One day an agent will pick your yummy California Roll/query off the conveyor belt.

It's just a matter of appetite.

*No sushi was harmed during the writing of this post. It did make me hungry though. :)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Blood Moon

(Reuters/Marcos Brindicci)
If you're living in the United States and haven't figured out filed your taxes yet—you'd better get on that. Today's the day!

Did anything exciting happen during the big Blood Moon event last night? I set my alarm to see it, but the clouds sort of ruined any chance of visibility, so I went back to bed and used my imagination to create all sorts of paranormal mayhem. I mean...all those unsuspecting, vulnerable people gathering in parks in large numbers. At night. And not just any night with any ol' full moon, but the night of a BLOOD Moon! (Surely a Blood Moon has more potential for danger than a BLUE Moon.)

And I wonder how many babies were born (or conceived!) across the world during last night's eclipse, if they are now bonded by some (evil?) force that will become apparent on the night of the next Blood Moon. Actually, since there are four more Blood Moons this year, we'd better change the age to 16 or 18 — since Baby Blood Moon Zombies probably won't go over very well. Also, why do these things never happen when a kid turns 17?

It's no wonder I can't sleep.  :-)

All I can say is, in light of the Blood Moon, none of my pets turned "corrupt" like they do in the game Terraria, and I'm pretty darn happy about that. :-) Although, I haven't checked the rabbit and chickens yet this morning. :-)

If you missed seeing the Blood Moon last night, here's video and article at CNN:

Great information for writers!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Sold: Angelica R. Jackson's Crow's Rest, to Spencer Hill Press

Yay, I finally get to announce that my book, Crow's Rest, and I are joining the Spencer Hill Press family!

And the release date is May 12, 2015!

(Illustration by Arthur Rackham for the fable, The Crow & The Pitcher)
That image for The Crow and The Pitcher is particularly fitting--this deal has been in the works for a while, but so many things cropped up in the meantime (some in my control, some not--I guess it would have been quicker to type "life happens") that it wasn't until last week that I signed the contract. Took awhile to be able to get a drink of that water! Even so, that May 2015 date seems like it's coming up awfully fast!

One thing that's helping with the timeline is that I did a lot of the "homework" ahead of time. Especially since this was a book that I got very close to starting the self-publishing process on, I had an entire list of things ready to go. Some publishers want more or less of this info, but Spencer Hill Press has a pretty exhaustive Author Information sheet to fill out. I provided links to cover art and artists that I like, elements that I want to include or don't want to see in a cover for Crow's Rest, and some choices for back copy and loglines.

That back cover copy is especially important--all the research I had done said to keep it below 200 words. I managed to do that--and then I learned that it may need to be as short as 500 characters. Yes, that's characters-- as in barely longer than 3 tweets!

So I encourage you all to put thought into this kind of thing before you get that deal (or while you're sitting on the news, waiting for permission to announce). You may not use your draft of the back copy on the final cover, but having several different ways to sum up your book helps with promotional opportunities down the road.

Here's the draft I've been using on my blog, so check back for the cover reveal and see how much it changed (or didn't):

Avery Flynn arrives for a visit at her Uncle Tam's, eager to rekindle her summertime romance with her crush-next-door, Daniel.

But Daniel’s not the sweet, neurotic guy she remembers—and she wonders if this is her Daniel at all.

Or if someone—some thing—has taken his place.

Her quest to find the real Daniel—and get him back—plunges Avery into a world of Fae and changelings.

Where creatures swap bodies like humans change their socks, and magic lives much closer to home than she ever imagined.

So excited to join our other Operatives at Operation Awesome who have also chosen to go with Spencer Hill--do we have a group signing in our future, Kell Andrews and Angela Townsend?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Lunchbox Lit: The Stories We Carry

The other day my daughter asked if she could take my old thermos in her lunch. And when I say old, I mean old -- I got it in first grade. Here it is:

 And this is what I carried it in:

I posted the pics on Facebook, and some friends commented on what THEY carried -- Star Trek, Emergency, Scooby Doy, Hardy Boys. It occurred to me that the lunchboxes they carried held more than lunch -- they carried stories that those kids chose then, and that the writers were still carrying in the stories they wrote and read. Maybe that's a stretch, but we're all the sum of our influences. 

So what does my lunch kit say about me? I like to mix genre. I write about everyday childhood, with an imaginative twist. And I still can't resist a princess or a happy ending.

Who was on your lunchbox? What does it say about you then and now? What stories did you carry?

About Kell Andrews:  Kell Andrews writes picture books and middle grade novels. Deadwood, her middle-grade contemporary fantasy about a cursed tree, comes out from Spencer Hill Middle Grade in June 2014.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Adaptations and Loose Interpretations: Frozen vs. The Snow Queen

Like any literature buff, I was excited to see at the end of Disney's FROZEN that the movie was based on a story by Hans Christian Andersen called The Snow Queen. So, like any good literature buff, I looked up the story in my copy of his collected works and read it, searching for the root of the story that had managed to inspire the movie FROZEN.

I got nothing.

I mean, I got something, but it was buried very deep down in what Disney had done. The names had all changed completely, the good witches who helped and hindered Gerda on her journey had been replaced with trolls that look like rocks and sing a lot about love, and in the end there were only four things the original story had in common with Disney's supposed retelling:

  • the setting
  • the randomly placed sauna in the middle of the woods (yep, really in the original story)
  • the shards that struck Anna in the heart and head (though they actually struck Gerda's friend Kay, a boy, whom the Snow Queen kidnapped and kept as a pet, and they weren't ice but pieces of a shattered demonic mirror that reflected all things beautiful as if they were ugly)
  • a queen with icy powers (though the actual Snow Queen was an elemental creature who traveled in the snow and had no compassion)
This is Hans Christian Andersen learning that they renamed the Snow Queen 'Elsa' and made her look like a lounge singer in an ice castle.

So, Saving Mr. Banks wasn't the only example of Disney taking so many artistic liberties as to make a story unrecognizable. And I know you can offer me many more in the comments. (Please, do.) 

At the end of the day, I still enjoyed watching Frozen, though not as much as my husband and four-year-old who think Olaf is HIL-arious and can't stop singing the songs. I was a little disappointed to learn that the original story, mentioned in the end credits, was so far warped in their animated adaptation. 

With all that said, I'm looking forward to reading THIS this week:

Thyra Winther's seventeen, the Snow Queen, and immortal, but if she can't reassemble a shattered enchanted mirror by her eighteenth birthday she's doomed to spend eternity as a wraith. 
Armed with magic granted by a ruthless wizard, Thyra schemes to survive with her mind and body intact. Unencumbered by kindness, she kidnaps local boy Kai Thorsen, whose mathematical skills rival her own. Two logical minds, Thyra calculates, are better than one. With time rapidly melting away she needs all the help she can steal. 
A cruel lie ensnares Kai in her plan, but three missing mirror shards and Kai's childhood friend, Gerda, present more formidable obstacles. Thyra's willing to do anything – venture into uncharted lands, outwit sorcerers, or battle enchanted beasts -- to reconstruct the mirror, yet her most dangerous adversary lies within her breast. Touched by the warmth of a wolf pup's devotion and the fire of a young man's desire, the thawing of Thyra's frozen heart could be her ultimate undoing. 
CROWN OF ICE is a YA Fantasy that reinvents Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen" from the perspective of a young woman who discovers that the greatest threat to her survival may be her own humanity.

Just look at how many similarities there are already to the original story: The shattered, enchanted mirror, Gerda, Kay (okay, she renamed him Kai), and the fact that the Snow Queen has a frozen heart. And yet, it's fresh and different, and packaged for a YA crowd. It releases December of this year, so I'm very excited to get to read it early. 

Happy Friday, everybody! What's on your reading list this weekend?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Cover Reveal and Giveaway! Rewind to You by Laura Johnston

Cover Reveal, About the Author, a Sneak Peek of REWIND TO YOU and Rafflecopter Giveaway

Genre: Clean Contemporary YA Romance
Release Date: September 15, 2014; Available for PREORDER now

One last summer before college on beautiful Tybee Island is supposed to help Sienna forget. But how can she? This is where her family spent every summer before everything changed, before the world as she knew it was ripped away.

But the past isn’t easily left behind. Especially when Sienna keeps having episodes that take her back to the night she wants to forget. Even when she meets the mysterious Austin Dobbs, the guy with the intense blue eyes, athlete’s body, and weakness for pralines who scooped her out of trouble when she blacked out on River Street.

When she’s with Austin, Sienna feels a whole new world opening up to her. Austin has secrets, and she has history. But caught between the past and the future, Sienna can still choose what happens now…

About the Author:

Laura Johnston lives in sunny Arizona with her husband and two children. Growing up in Orem, Utah with five siblings, a few horses, peach trees, beehives and gardens, she developed an active imagination and always loved a good story. Laura enjoys running, playing tennis, sewing, dancing (deduced to dancing around the kitchen while cooking dinner these days), traveling, writing, writing and more writing, and above all, spending time with her husband and kids. REWIND TO YOU, her debut novel, was inspired by the loss of her father as a teenager.

A Sneak Peek of REWIND TO YOU:

Giveaway: Signed Copy of REWIND TO YOU and $25 Amazon Gift Card

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Winning Entry will be verified prior to prize being awarded. The winner, chosen by Rafflecopter, will be announced here on April 29th as well as emailed. The winner will have 5 days to respond at which point a new winner will be chosen. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

An Essential Part of Writing: Critique Partners

I originally shared this post on my personal blog, but wanted to share it on Operation Awesome as I feel very strongly about this topic.

Without my CPs, I would be lost. They steer me in the right direction when my plot is going off course. They lift me up when I'm feeling low about my ability and are always good for a laugh or smile when I need it. Writing can be a solitary job, but it doesn't have to be if you lean on the very supportive writing community.

I recently read a post on a writing forum where a person was rejoicing after getting a full request. It was awesome! The author got so many comments of congratulations, and I loved it. But then as I read further down in the thread my stomach started to knot. The person had written the entire MS, and queried it, without any beta readers or critique partners.

Now don’t get me wrong, this author could be the next Hemingway for all I know, but in my personal opinion not having another person look at your manuscript is NOT the best idea. Even if the story is pristine, it could always use another set of eyes to locate a misspelled word or a missing comma. Or on a grander scale, where the dialogue is awkward or the pacing slow.

My point? It always helps to have other people look at your work. Sure your sister and Grandma can give you great feedback, but what really helps is having another writer take a look at your manuscript. Someone who understands the ferocity of the publishing world and can help you make your work a hundred, maybe even a thousand times, better!

So where do you find a beta reader or critique partner?

1) You can start on the writing forums like AgentQueryConnect or AbsoluteWrite and a new one I recently found, CP Seek.

2) YA writer Maggie Stiefvater has a critique partner hook-up on her website as does former literary agent, Mary Kole.

3) Local writing associations like Romance Writers of America (RWA) and The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) also have local websites which allow you to connect with other writers in your community.

4) Twitter is an amazing place to find like minds! Just type in #amwriting or #writingtip and you’ll see how many talented authors tweet every day. Some may even offer up tweets looking for critique help.

The best thing about finding a really good beta reader or critique partner? They get you. They understand the daunting process of getting published, and can be a great source of not only inspiration, but support as you write the next amazing novel.

Have I missed another place where you can locate a critique partner? If so, please let me know in the comments.


Monday, April 7, 2014

What Improvisational Theater Can Teach Writers

Recently, I got an opportunity to explore something I'd always wanted to try: improvisational theater. The university where I work has their own troupe, and after a few auditions, I was selected to perform in a show.

Not only has this helped me tap into my creative brain, it's also bred writing opportunities. There's a sketch show along with the improv set in a couple weeks, and I wrote a couple scripts for it. It was tons of fun, and great for honing dialogue.

The more improv I do, the more I realize some of the basic rules (yes, there are rules), tie into writing. Here are a couple I've found that relate:

Don't deny (also known as "yes, and...")

This is probably the most important rule in improv. Both people in the scene need to agree on the premise. If I say, "How about those buscuits?" and the other person says, "Uh, those are scones," then there's nothing really to build from. That's the "yes" part.

The "and" part is even more important. If no one adds anything new, then the people in the scene just stand there. To keep things going, I need to say something like, "Wow, those buscuits must weigh fifty pounds!" and then the other person needs to agree and act like they're carrying really heavy buscuits.

How it relates to writing: This is often referred to as rising action. Once you establish a goal or conflict, you have to add to it--otherwise the plot will fizzle out. Always begin a new conflict before resolving an old one, as long as there aren't too many threads at once.

Don't violate the world (or, the walking through the table rule)

Most of the time, improv doesn't involve props or sets. So if someone establishes that there's a "table" in the middle of the scene, I can't accidentally walk through it. Or, if there's a door, I have to pretend I'm knocking it. Otherwise, the sense of scene is lost, and the audience isn't engaged.

How it relates to writing: When you design fictional worlds, make sure the elements are consistent. Like if warlocks use staffs in one scene, and wands in another, it doesn't work so well. Sometimes I'll write my rules down (particularly if they involve magic). This also goes for established plot lines that may inadvertently get dropped.

Don't try to be funny

This might sound counter-intuitive, but it's true. If someone tries to be funny in improv, it makes it harder for other people to add to what's being built because they aren't a part of the attempted joke.

How it relates to writing: When people try inserting humor into their writing, often it comes off feeling forced. Just let things come organically--if it doesn't feel right, it probably isn't.

Have trust and confidence

Improv is by no means a solitary sport. Everyone in a scene depends on one another--and if there's no trust, it gets tricky. Improvers need to have confidence in others as well as themselves.

How it relates to writing: If I don't trust myself or my abilities, it shows in my writing. All of us struggle with this, I think, at various stages in the process. We just need to listen to our instincts and do what's true for us. Whatever that might be.

For fun, here is an excellent example of improv done right (courtesy of Whose Line is it Anyway?):

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Intro: Aimee Hyndman

I was still half asleep the morning I got the email from Operation Awesome saying that they wanted me to be their newest contributor. Soon after reading this email, I was no longer asleep. It’s a huge honor to have been chosen, especially considering my experience level.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been writing for a long time, like we all have. I caught the writing bug before I could even write actual words and started filling random sheets of paper with scribbles. I claimed I was writing books in my own secret language. When people asked me to read them the story, I spun tales of dragons and dinosaurs and adorable talking animals. As soon as I could write in a real language, I did, horrible spelling and all. For me, writing truly has been a lifelong passion and something I’ve been working toward since my little toddler fist put pencil to paper.

I’m a wee little college student now, but still working at it. I just landed an agent in February (squee) and hope to go out on submission with my steampunk fantasy novel HOUR OF MISCHIEF. Fantasy is my wheel house and lifelong passion, especially in the young adult catagory (since I am technically still a young adult). I also work on the other side of the table as an intern for a literary agency where I sort through the slush. It has been a very rewarding experience.

My other interests include movies, theater, music (of many sorts), anime, good food and, of course, READING. Things I become rabidly protective over if provoked include Harry Potter (I AM the HP generation), Inkheart, Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, Les Miserables, everything Disney, and a long list of Animes I can’t even begin to list.

I have a personal blog here, I tweet on occasion, and I am active on pintrest and youtube. I’m so excited to start contributing on this site!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Waiting Game

This has been a crazy week, especially the last couple of days. We found a minor leak under our kitchen sink that has apparently been going on for a while. Good times, right?

Before the insurance would cover any house repairs, we had to fix the leak. My husband is pretty handy and I enjoy taking things apart and figuring out how they work, so fixing it was no big deal, except that when we turned off the water before the leak, it continued to leak behind the shut-off valve. So more repairs.

Then when we turned the water main back on, it pushed a large amount of calcium buildup straight to our only shower and completely blocked the hot water. Maybe if we were in the middle of the summer and we still lived in AZ, this wouldn't be a problem. But we live in ID and though it's technically spring, we've had a lot of snow lately. So more dismantling of plumbing.

Five exciting trips to the hardware store in one day. And more aches and pains than I've had in a long time. Nothing like plumbing repairs to make me feel like an old lady.

Did I mention the dishwasher broke too? That's actually how we found the leak. And the ice maker in my fridge stopped working. Both the dishwasher and the ice maker are still incapacitated. We're living like cave people. Not really, but I had to buy ice. And there was snow outside at the time.

Okay, so I have a point. This isn't just a whine-fest for me. Really.

In the midst of all this, I still got all anxious and my heart fluttered a little every time the email on my phone dinged. I might've even obsessively checked it a few times. Why? Because I'm waiting to hear back from someone about my manuscript, and this week was the last week in the time frame they gave me to expect hear back from them.

I'm not complaining. I understand this business moves at a snail's pace, and there's a good chance I'll have to wait quite a bit longer and maybe even send a nudge. I'm okay with that. The point is, if I can't be distracted by all this chaos, is there really anything that can distract me?

We even went to see Captain America yesterday and I found myself thinking about my email at one point. And it was a very exciting, engaging movie. I didn't even try to dissect it to see why it worked so well. This is getting serious. ;)

So I'm turning to all of you for solutions. How do you distract yourself when you're waiting? Do you ever truly forget that you're waiting? Or is it always there, picking at the back of your mind, telling you that your email probably stopped syncing and you need to check it and manually sync it one more time just to be sure?

Friday, April 4, 2014

No Rule is Absolute

If I have to read one more line about hearts in throats, I'm going to scream.

I've probably seen tweets along those lines from editors lately as much as I've seen passages about hearts in throats. And with good reason, I'm sure! Often, in an effort to show instead of tell, writers will lean more heavily on physical descriptors so the protagonist isn't just telling the reader how s/he feels. It's a crutch, to be certain, to the point where certain physical reactions - hearts in throats, knots in stomachs, and so on - become a cliche.

But on the other hand, I'm a horror writer. And most of us, at one point or another, have experienced the visceral physicality of intense fear. The body's fight or flight response brings with it a litany of powerful, unmistakable sensations.

When tackling my current manuscript, I had to wonder: how could I address those sensations without tipping into overused tropes? My protagonist's emotions were so heavily suppressed, after all, that physical reactions were the strongest signifiers of her fear. And eventually, I did find the tone that worked for me. I was able to work out reactions that were completely specific to my protagonist, with an uncomfortably close focus in the narrative that made my squeamish side twitch. Gothic horror is particularly good for that!

Publishing has a stronger presence than ever on social media, and with it comes tweet upon tweet of advice from industry pros. But there's one important thing to keep in mind when reading those tweets: writing advice is not one size fits all. It's important to listen to that advice, and to be aware of those crutches and cliches that editors see every day. But maybe you can turn that cliche on its head, or spin it in a way that would be absolutely perfect for your story. And even if it doesn't work, you can only benefit by trying. Taking risks doesn't just make us better writers - it's also really fun. (Even when it makes you want to tear your hair out.)

Happy writing this weekend, OAers! And if you feel so inclined, tell me in the comments: when is the last time you tried turning an overused trope on its head? And did it work?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Greatly improving your vocabulary

Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say infinitely when you mean very; otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something very infinite. ~ C. S. Lewis

Hello, fellow writers! The other day, Angelica shared an article in our OA group forum about word choices and how some words can be used so much, their true meanings no longer hold value (more on that article in a bit); and it got me thinking about how those words can become crutches to the actual story and characters and whatnot in our writing.

For instance, what if every time something great happened I said the word great?

"Great," she said.

"It looks great," he told her.

"Great job," he told his kid.

"I think it went great!"

You're all great and the greatness that comes from your great uncle Peter means you've inherited great traits; gee, isn't it great? 

These potatoes are great, too. Please pass the bowl this way.

When using the same word over time, we slowly (though unintentionally) diminish its meaning until it really isn't that great at all. In fact, it's barely even nice at times. It's like saying soda... when you say, "I'd like a soda" you don't really mean a soda, you mean Coke or Dr. Pepper or Sprite or diet something. But soda is just soda and if all anyone ever said was soda, then the people serving could grab whatever kind of soda they wanted and the people could be drinking Shasta or Mr. Pibb instead of the real thing, but who would know the difference? (Hmm... Perhaps that's not the best example.)

Let's use one of the words in the actual article: awesome.

It's so awesome to know that all of you awesome writers do such awesome work and appreciate the awesomeness that is Operation Awesome. (What?)

I, for one, definitely use that word way too much. It seems the only two words I ever use for my (much loved) cover artist are awesome or amazing. Not that she isn't both of those, because she is, but wow, there you go... those are the two words mentioned in said article (I promise--it's coming!) which means it is time for me to find some new ones!

So when Angelica threw stupendous out as an alternate choice for awesome, I had to laugh, and agree, because it really is more exciting and unique, don't you think? And then I thought for a bit and decided that when my next cover is revealed *cough* *Monday* *cough* I'm going to tell everyone how splendiferous Hafsah is. Because she is.

Here is the article. (Thanks for being so patient.)

Before you click on it (or after you do and come back), I'd like to ask you all to participate in sharing some fascinating, inspirational words that we may not normally use in writing or conversation (but totally can). Let's expand our vocabulary beyond amazing, people!  See you in the comments!