Saturday, January 31, 2015

GUEST POST: Learning from Rejection by Holly M. Campbell

About three years ago, I began the submissions process for my novel Foreshadowed. I had a feeling about this one. Sure, I’d had that feeling before, but this time it was real. This time, I was going to get published. It was “the one.”

I used a spreadsheet to keep track of my submissions. If an agent sent a rejection, I would highlight his or her name in red. If an agent requested pages, I would highlight in green. And if I was still waiting for a response, yellow.

Most of the names ended up highlighted in red, but there were a few in green…at least for a little while. Eventually, I had an entire spreadsheet dedicated to my failure.

Except I didn’t fail. Foreshadowed was released by 48fourteen Publishing on December 31st.

Despite all the rejection I faced, it was still “the one.” In fact, as I look back on my personal road to publication, I’ve decided that it wasn’t “the one” despite all the rejection, but because of it. I learned a lot from all those rejection letters. And I’m not just talking about lessons of perseverance and believing in myself. I learned to view rejection letters as invaluable feedback from experts. If an agent said she just “couldn’t connect with the characters,” I believed her…and I tried to fix it. If agents said the pacing was too slow, the novel too long, or the ending too flat, I believed them…and I tried to fix it. And if all I got back was a form letter or no response at all, I asked myself “Why?” and—you guessed it—tried to fix it.

I added layer after layer to each character, trying to flesh them out, trying to make them relatable. I cut scenes, added new ones, and rewrote others. I changed the ending. I rewrote, and rewrote, and rewrote until I finally got the answer I had been waiting for: an offer of publication.

Now, granted, writing is a subjective business. You can’t please everyone and you shouldn’t try.

But if you just keep getting, “Thanks, but no thanks,” over and over again, it may be time to take a hard look at, first, your query letter, and then your novel. Try to see rejection as a tool. Don’t look at it as failure, but as a free critique from a seasoned professional.

Keep writing. Keep rewriting. And eventually you’ll write “the one” too.

She can’t avoid the dark forever…

Hope Murdoch was born dead. She took a breath two minutes later , and now is an almost-normal sixteen-year-old. Normal: a hopeless crush on the boy next door, a negative body image, and a (mis)diagnosis of ADHD. Not-so-normal: an exhausting and distracting ability to read minds. And high school is hard enough without hearing what everyone really thinks of you.

Lance Hampton used to be normal until a car accident killed him and his parents. Paramedics brought him back to a life he doesn’t want: orphaned, uprooted, living with his uncle, and suddenly able to see how people die. At his new school, he tries to keep to himself. Seeing how complete strangers die is torture enough, let alone friends.

At first glance, Hope doesn’t think much of Lance (though a lot of the other girls do). He looks like the typical bad boy. No thank-you … but then she meets his eyes and everything goes dark. 

She hears labored breathing. Rapid footsteps. And then a thud as someone falls to the ground. 

Inside Lance’s head, Hope just witnessed a vision of murder … her own.

Together Hope and Lance try to catch a killer before he’s red-handed. A killer who could be anywhere. Anyone. Sure Hope can read minds and Lance can see death, but they still can’t see in the dark.

Foreshadowed can be purchased here:
Amazon (print & eBook):
B&N (print & ebook):
48fourteen (print & ebook):


Holly M. Campbell started writing stories at an early age. In junior high, she completed her first“novel” and enjoyed sharing it with friends and family.

She earned a Bachelor’s degree in English, with an emphasis in Creative Writing, and a Minor in Modern Dance from Brigham Young University-Idaho. As a member of Contemporary Dance Theatre, she performed and toured with the school’s Dance Alliance. She graduated in 2006.

In 2007, Holly met her husband-to-be, but didn’t pay much attention to him until he asked her to help him teach swing dancing at their church. After he flipped her around and hoisted her above his head with relative ease, she fell (not literally) head-over-heels. They married a few months later.

Holly lives in Washington State with her husband and two daughters. She blogs at

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Source of Inspiration, or 28 Sources

One of the first questions big-time authors are often asked is, "What inspired you to write this book?" I'm always fascinated by the answers, whether it was a dream or reading another book, or staring at the night sky. Inspiration is an important component of creativity. We seek it whenever we want to begin something new, or if we feel stuck where we are. Many of us have go-to places for inspiration, like a favorite bookshelf or a Thinking Spot (Thotful Spot).

Think, Think, Think

I'm of the opinion that mixing it up is always a good thing when it comes to inspiration and creativity, so here we go: SOURCES OF INSPIRATION

  • The Zoo
  • The Park
  • The Coffee Shop (people watching)
  • A favorite book
  • A book from a different genre
  • An old favorite song
  • A folk song
  • A new favorite song
  • A biography
  • Historical fiction
  • Science magazine
  • Church
  • Hymns
  • Poetry
  • A self-help book
  • A survival how-to manual
  • Interview a child
  • Interview an adult
  • A painting 
  • A whole museum
  • A play
  • A movie
  • A TV show (e.g. Firefly or anything by Joss Whedon)
  • A daycare center
  • A school (make sure to get a visitor's pass)
  • Twitter #amwriting #scifi (etc.)
  • Meditation
  • Dream Journal

You can't properly claim writer's block until you've tried all of these things, right? Right!

Happy Weekend and Be Inspired!

(random capitalization brought to you by Katrina LantZ)

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Writer’s Perspective: The Death of Beth Greene

With only ten days until The Walking Dead starts back up for the season, I thought I’d give my perspective on the death of Beth Greene. If you don’t watch Walking Dead ... well, there is no help for you right now, and I've just given you a huge spoiler. Get to Netflix and get watching. I think they are playing some episodes on Superbowl Sunday, as well. You have a few days to get caught up.
Not only do I watch The Walking Dead, I actually visit forums and read discussions from other fans. Needless to say, there was quite an uproar from Beth fans and the Bethyl community (those who are shipping Beth and Daryl) when they shot a bullet through her brain. They complained; they sent hate tweets to some of the actors and writers; they wrote petitions and mailed packages of plastic spoons to AMC. Many of the fans said that it was “bad writing” to kill off a character that was growing and finding her own place in the zombie apocalypse. That all of the growth was a promise to the viewers of good things to come. They say that her romance with Daryl was just blossoming, and that killing her ruined the show. (I disagree with the romance part, but that is another post entirely). They claimed that Beth was too good to die. They believed that the writers were jerkwads and they did it just to bring Daryl manpain.

Well, my friends. In a story where you are trying to bring down your characters, where you are creating a situation to become as bleak as possible. Where one is attempting an emotional climax of sorrow and despondence and despair. Then yes, oh yes, you kill off that positive little spark of light. It is good writing to yank the chain of your readers (or in this case, viewers) and make them squirm. It’s called emotional conflict. And conflict is good.

Heck, I've killed characters in my books. Even nice sweet ones who didn't deserve to die. One of my readers left me a great review saying: “It was so good I almost threw it across the room several times” 

So, I’m sorry to say, my little bethyl shippers, it isn't bad writing because they killed off your favorite character, even if you wanted her to hook up with the crossbow shooting redneck of love. It sucks, yes. But it does not mean that the writing is bad. The fact that the writers brought Beth up enough to become your favorite, proved that they knew what they were doing. They wanted to create an emotional impact. They wanted it to hurt when she died. And worked.

That is called GOOD writing, not bad.

And I know they killed her in a horrible way. (And no, she can't come back from the dead with a bullet to her brain.) But it really made the moment that much more shocking and horrible, which was the effect they were trying to make. Personally, I think it will be very interesting to see where this death takes everyone, especially Beth's sister, Maggie.

Will Beth's death push anyone over the edge?

Will Rick ever shave his beard?

Will Daryl finally take a shower?

Only ten more days to find out.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Wednesday Debut Interview: Tunnel Vision by Susan Adrian

Welcome to this week's WEDNESDAY DEBUT INTERVIEW! 

Today, we'll be talking with author Susan Adrian about her debut novel, Tunnel Vision, a YA sci-fi thriller published January 20 by St. Martin's Griffin.


Tell us a bit about yourself!

By day I'm a scientific editor. I edit other people's words, do layout of reports and publications, do marketing and publicity, and manage a staff. I live with my husband and daughter in Montana, and get to do all the full-time mom stuff too! I write in the early mornings and on weekends, and am part of a great, supportive community of YA and MG authors, the Fearless Fifteeners. Short answer: I keep busy. 

Tell us about your book! What makes TUNNEL VISION in particular an important story for you to tell?

TUNNEL VISION is the book that brought me back to writing. I had actually quit, out of frustration after 10 years of trying, but this story came into my head and I had to write it down. It's adventure, but it's also about family, and how to deal with life when you have a power that affects other people. I love the characters, and the story is all me! 

The brief summary: Jake Lukin has an incredible power he's been hiding his whole life...but one (big) mess-up later, and the U.S. government knows all about it. Suddenly he's juggling high school, tennis tryouts, flirting with Rachel Watkins, and work as a government asset, complete with 24-hour bodyguards. When his family is threatened, Jake has to make a terrible choice.

How long as this process taken for you, from the time that you began the first draft of this book until the date of its publication?

I started writing this book in summer 2011. I got a new agent with the book in April 2012, and we sold it in April 2013. It's coming out in January 2015. So about a year of writing and signing an agent, and then almost two years in publication!

What is your favorite part of the writing process? Your least favorite?

I honestly like revision, when I already have the draft down, so I have something to work with. Though there are fun things about drafting too.

Every writer experiences some rejection and setbacks along the way. How did you learn to cope with them and move on?

When I quit and then came back, I rediscovered what I'd forgotten: how much I love to create stories. I've had some setbacks since then too, but that knowledge helps me keep going, over and over.

After signing a contract with a publisher, what comes next for a debut author? What have you been doing in these months between then and now?

A lot more than I would have ever thought! There's a lot of waiting, to be honest, but it's smart to try to use that time to work on the next book. I actually wrote a sequel to TUNNEL VISION while we were on submission, and ended up tearing that book apart and using it for editor-suggested revisions. I worked on setting up my website and some other social media I didn't have covered, worked with marketing and publicity, advised on the book cover, and set up the Fearless Fifteeners. I checked copyedits and proofed final pages. The past six months have been crazy busy working on setting up my launch party and my tour, doing interviews, and setting up events for this coming year.

Tell us about your book cover. Who designed it? How much say did you have in it? How do you feel about how it reflects your story?

There is one part of this cover that I love love love...The Chucks.

There is a long and complex story of how I came to write this, but the gist is that I told the story to myself, night after night, long before I thought to write it down. At first I thought—since I am a girl—that it was a girl narrator, as all my others had been. I followed the narrator blindly through adventures. But one night, I looked down in the story, and I was surprised to see black Chucks, a boy's Chucks, on what were most definitely a teen boy's feet. From that moment I knew my narrator was Jake, and the story flowed from there, until I finally wrote it down.

I never put it in the book, other than that he wears "sneakers," but it was always clear in my head. I gasped with shock when I saw that the designer (the talented Young Lim) had put Jake in Chucks, as the focus of the cover. It was perfect. It was Jake, right there.

Tell us about your title. Was this the original title you'd had in mind? If not, what made you change it?

Originally the title was THE TUNNEL, but St. Martin's asked for something a little more catchy, and I suggested TUNNEL VISION. I couldn't believe I hadn't thought of it first, as it fits so much better.

What's next for you after this debut? What are your plans for the future of your writing?

I'm working on a new version of the sequel, and have a middle grade out on submission too! I also have another thriller lined up next about two sisters from Spain…

How does it feel to finally have your book out in the hands of readers? Do you have any events planned you want people to know about?

It feels simultaneously amazing and terrifying. 

And yes! I'm doing a Tunnel Tour. Dates and times are being added, so please check out my events page for the latest: So far, I'm having a big launch party in my hometown of Butte, Montana January 20th, and then Seattle January 28th, Los Angeles February 14th, San Diego February 17th, Pasadena March 12th, and Berkeley March 24th. Definitely more on the way!

Is there any other advice you'd like to pass on to others pursuing publication? Any mistakes you've made that other writers might be able to learn from?

Don't quit. And if you do, don't let it stick!

And, just for fun, what famous celebrity do you think would enjoy your book? Why?

I'd love it if Zachary Levi or Josh Schwartz, from CHUCK, ever read the book. At my lowest point I was inspired by CHUCK, which is a great adventure show, and there are a lot of CHUCK easter eggs in the book.

Awesome! I love Chuck!

Congratulations on your debut!

Buy Tunnel Vision now at!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Making Good Use of Irony

Do you intentionally use irony in your stories? Or does it ironically happen on its own? I suppose that may depend on whether you're a plotter or pantster, but it never hurts to begin marinating the notion that our stories deserve irony where we can pull it off.

Why? It's satisfying to the reader to notice these ironies, and often, the more subtle, the better. Irony adds a special flavor to the story, much like that tangy lemon I squeeze in my butter before bathing a succulent crab leg into it.

As a plotter myself, I try to add irony into my plotline before ever drafting. For instance, in Butterman (Time) Travel, Inc., the main character, Bianca Butterman, is a futuristic version of a goth-glam girl, who's also somewhat of a control freak. Being as that she's also a time-craft pilot, she has to be. So where is it that the last place an eighteen-year-old futuristic goth chick who spends more time on the web then with real people should end up?

1969 Woodstock ... with free love, drugs, and music, man. Flowers, hugs, and community weed.

And she is 150% uncomfortable. It's why Bianca ended up being the way she is. I knew she'd end up at Woodstock, so I needed her to be the opposite of someone who'd fit in there.

The result is so much fun, and so ironic.

How about a few of these stories and their use of irony?  See if you can name the book, movie, or TV show:

1.  A ruthless serial killer who skins his victims ... and has a cute and cuddly little toy poodle named Precious.

2. A genius diagnostician sought by sick people from around the world for his incredible ability to solve medical puzzles ... and who's addicted to pain pills to the point of being self-destructive and harmful to others.

3. A self-righteous professor who treats students like criminals and inflicts bodily harm on them as punishment for insubordination ... and who has an affinity for sweet little kittens, which she has decorated her entire office with.

4. A recovering alcoholic who owns a bar and serves other people drinks for a living.

5. A single dad whose wife left him, and who also happens to be a divorce lawyer with absolutely no faith in romance or happily ever afters ... and he falls for a beautiful girl right out of fairy tale who sings to animals and who has never said a harsh word to anyone in her entire life.

6. A young scientist with an IQ off the charts, devout atheist, and fully sold on the theory of evolution ... who grew up in Bible Belt, USA with a mother who is even more devout Christian than the Pope.

Some of these are obvious ironies, others more subtle. The point is, they're so much fun, they really give the stories a special twist.

Next time you're plotting or drafting, ask yourself how you can twist it up a little bit and make good use of irony. Try picking it out of the next book, movie, or TV show you watch. The more we notice it, the easier it is to use it in our own work.

So tell me, can you identify these stories? Do you practice using irony? If so, do you have a special technique? If not, what's holding you back? Please share ...   

Monday, January 26, 2015

To MFA, or not to MFA? That is the question...

When people find out that I'm enrolled in an MFA program, they often ask me if it's an essential part of becoming a part of the writing profession. And while there are some who believe that an MFA is necessary, I'm in the camp that says it might not be.

Which sort of makes me look like this.
You might be asking why I'm in a program at all. Simple. I'm in a situation where my MFA fits my lifestyle and doesn't break my bank (my body, however, is a different matter, but we'll get to that in a bit). Besides, I feel like I need it to grow as a writer.

So here, in my experience so far, are my suggestions if you're considering an MFA program:

Like I said before, don't break your bank.

In my MFA program, I'm surrounded by writers who are battling huge debt, loans, broken-down cars, and other horrors. While I'm sure getting a writing degree has been the right choice for them, I wouldn't recommend it if you're not a situation where you have to break your bank to do so.

With my librarian job, I get a tuition discount, which basically adds up to about $100 or so a class, and I work in a job where my time is somewhat flexible. So if you're in this kind of position, and you're looking to grow, that's when an MFA might be the right thing for you. (But I also know many people who have been successful writers without one.)

Surround yourself with other writers, but keep writing on your own, too.

A lot of my classmates tell me how astonished they are with how much I write. Right now, I'm drafting a new project while working on an old one, because I'm making the time to do what I can, when I can.

Even some of my writing instructors are encouraging us to make time to write outside of class, which I'm thankful for. Some people are good at talking about writing (see the OA blogger typing to you right now), but my instructor mentioned this great book called, Do the Work, which encourages the doing rather than the talking.

So, write what what you can, when you can, no matter what your current situation might be.

Be open to learn new things, but only use the information that works for you. 

I'm lucky that I have instructors who are open (and sometimes even insistent) on plot-driven material. But this isn't always the case in MFA programs. A lot of times (perhaps more twenty years ago than now) literary writing is encouraged to be poetic more than anything else, and "commercial" fiction is sometimes looked down upon. I'm lucky that my program covers a lot of disciplines (fiction, nonfiction, poetry) and allows for flexibility in creativity. Just know that not all programs will emphasize this.

And so far, I've gotten some good guidance on how to help my writing grow. One instructor helped me see how I could make my characters more empathetic to others (and therefore more sympathetic to readers), and another encouraged me to "write with a heartbeat," because my prose tended to fall a bit flat. Both these suggestions have helped my writing immensely.

But if there's a guy either in your MFA class or critique group who wants you to change the plot because that's not how he would have written it, you can go ahead and tell him to suck his hot air.

Make sure you take care of yourself.

I'm mentioning this one last, but it's the most important, and one thing I've neglected lately. Ever since I've started my MFA program, whenever I had a week of vacation, or a bit of down time, I've always gotten sick. Even now, the scratchy throat and congested chest I have are so closely following my previous illness that I'm not sure if it's the same iteration of it, or something different. And while I did take the advice of my instructors to write in the morning, I didn't make the effort to get to bed at a decent hour and get enough sleep.

So here are some suggestions (especially while in a graduate program) that might help:

Get enough sleep.

Spend at least 20 minutes a day doing something that's completely unproductive.

Choose physical exercise that fits your lifestyle and routine.

Stop being so hard on yourself, you perfectionist, you.

That last one was mostly for me, but you get my point. Which brings me to my last one. Do whatever helps you grow the most as a writer, whether that means an MFA or not.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Reasons for Requesting: Magic Systems

Been awhile since I've posted but I'm back! Yeah, this past month has been busy with the holidays and school starting back up. Fortunately I'm finally back into a normal routine. So let's start back up with a Reasons for Requesting post!

I'm a fantasy nut. Most people know this about me. And I especially like magic in my fantasy. Probably because magic can mean so many things. It can be whimsical and enchanting or dark and terrifying. It can be a blessing or a curse. It can corrupt or inspire. There are all sorts of ways writers can approach magic systems in their fantasy. It can also range from pure magic to magic in its most scientific form. A combination of the two is often a great way to construct a good magic system.

But there's the key word: system. Because magic, like anything, must have rules. Its such a vague term that if you don't define it, it quickly turns into a deus ex machina plot device. And readers quickly start questioning your plotting and world building when you explain everything in your story with: 'Because MAGIC'.

What really grabs my attention is a magic system with great possibilities but also extreme consequences. As one of my favorite shows once said 'Human kind cannot gain anything without first giving something in return. To obtain something of equal value must be lost'. This is the first law of equivalent exchange in alchemy, the magic-science system of sorts from Fullmetal Alchemist, which is my favorite anime ever. Nerd pride.

But this truth holds true for a lot of different magic systems. No one wants to see limitless magic with no cost. That's not interesting. We want to see characters grapple with their abilities and, in some cases, suffer for them. And there are a lot of different directions you can go with the rules and limitations of your magic system. Does it drain the characters physically? Does it mentally unhinge them? Does it make them lose their humanity? Does it ostracize them from others? Does it gain them unwanted praise and attention? It is from these questions that conflict arises. And from conflict, we get a great story.

Want to get a request? Make a unique, well thought out magic system that will grab any fantasy lover's eye. Personal favorites of mine include Alchemy from Fullmetal Alchemist, Alkehestry from Mistborn, the super powered characters of Vicious, and contractors from Darker than Black. All of these are very different but very unique in their approach.

What are some of your favorite magic systems? Let me know in the comments!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Mystery Editor Lottery Winners!

Congratulations to . . .

  • Marcel Smithers
  • Leonie C. Kelsall
  • R. Michael Phillips
  • Peggy Rothschild
  • Kelly Heinen
  • Amber Riley
  • Beverley Baird
  • Nikola Vukoja
  • Gifford MacShane
  • Julie Weathers
  • Sara R.
  • Shari Schwartz
  • Virginia Lee
  • Rich Penney
  • Hilary Harwell
  • Kara Reynolds
  • Chelly Pike
  • Zainab Khan

You all made it to the next round of the contest!

Be sure to check back February 1st for the critique forum. All entries from winners who opted to participate will be posted for cheerleading and feedback.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Writing while swamped

Different writers divide their time differently - but all of us have big, important things in our life that have nothing to do with writing.

(Unless you have decided to eschew human contact and live a life of quiet reflection in the mountains. In which case, you presumably still have to go hunt for your food to store for the long winter months ahead, so you also have some stuff to take care of.)

And those big, important, non-writing things? Can sometimes end up taking over most of your free time. My year got off to a pretty shaky start writing-wise as my day job picked up steam significantly, but three weeks into the new year, I think I have finally carved out a balance.

This post is not necessarily for those looking to take their manuscript to word count bootcamp - I tend to save that frenzy for deadlines. This is a kinder, gentler, 'take care of your brain or it will turn against you' time management post. Here are some of the things that work for me when non-writing life gets taxing:

Plan around your most productive time. For the intrepid early birds of the 5am Writers Club, the crack of dawn can be an extremely productive time. For me, less so. I've found that, when I have a free day, I get the most done between 9am and early afternoon, before that post-lunch crash - so when my day is less than free, I try to work as much writing into the first part of the day as possible. Though my lunch break is on the later side of this window, it's generally the best time to get some serious word count in.

Which brings me to my next point...

Extended that routine to everything else! Though 'don't skip lunch' seems like a pretty simple directive... really, don't skip lunch. If you need to have a reminder on your phone at a certain time telling you to drop whatever you're doing and go get your sandwich, that can be helpful. (I have found it pretty helpful from time to time.)

Allow for forgiveness. This is why I tend towards weekly goals instead of daily ones, since it leaves space to skip a writing session if I need to decompress and make up for it the next time around. But it also means reminding yourself that if you fall a little short, that's okay. You're not a machine. You can readjust later!

Remember that this is the best reason to pursue projects you love and are passionate about. You're making the time for your writing, so that's all the more reason to make sure it's the kind of writing you want to do, rather than the kind you worry that you should be doing. If you're not excited about it, then don't be afraid to make changes as needed.

Have fun, everyone, and happy writing!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Mood Music

Every writer has their own habits and routines. Some write in the morning. Some need snacks or caffeine as they work. Some need silence. I write to music. 

I've read a few books recently where the author has included the playlist they used while writing the book. Music can help create a scene/moment/mood in your mind just as powerfully as words can. It got me thinking how useful this tool can be.

Usually, before I start, I'll sit and make a playlist. I like to have a few songs my main character likes/identifies with to help understand the character. I may find I have an idea of certain songs that might fit the mood of a specific scene. Those are added to the playlist.

I typically start with about ten songs, but each playlist tends to grow I write. I find the more I get into the story, the more songs seem to fit.

Music also plays a part during editing. Sometimes the beat will help with the pacing of a scene. Sometimes the mood. Songs, for me, also add the extra layer of emotion. So, if I have one picked out, I'll play the song/s that match the scene I'm working on.

Even if I'm not writing, I'll often have the playlist on while doing something else. Sometimes inspiration for a scene or dialogue will hit simply while listening to a song. It can be a great too if you find yourself stuck on a plot point.

Even if you need silence to write, a playlist can be a great tool for those stuck/needing inspiration moments.

How about you? Do you listen to music when writing?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

52 Tip Pick Up

Let me start by saying these lists of Writing Tips are not mine—they’ve been traveling around the internet for many, many years, entertaining writers with their humorous wisdom. :-)

1. Avoid Alliteration. Always.
2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
3. Avoid clichés like the plague. (They’re old hat.)
4. Employ the vernacular.
5. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
6. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.
7. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
8. Contractions aren’t necessary.
9. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
10. One should never generalize.
11. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.”
12. Comparisons are as bad as clichés.
13. Don’t be redundant; don’t use more words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous.
14. Profanity sucks.
15. Be more or less specific.
16. Understatement is always best.
17. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
18. One word sentences? Eliminate.
19. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
20. The passive voice is to be avoided.
21. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
22. Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
23. Who needs rhetorical questions?
24. Parenthetical words however must be enclosed in commas.
25. It behooves you to avoid archaic expressions.
26. Avoid archaeic spellings too.
27. Don't repeat yourself, or say again what you have said before.
28. Don't use commas, that, are not, necessary.
29. Do not use hyperbole; not one in a million can do it effectively.
30. Never use a big word when a diminutive alternative would suffice.
31. Subject and verb always has to agree.
32. Placing a comma between subject and predicate, is not correct.
33. Use youre spell chekker to avoid mispeling and to catch typograhpical errers.
34. Don't repeat yourself, or say again what you have said before.
35. Use the apostrophe in it's proper place and omit it when its not needed.
36. Don't never use no double negatives.
37. Poofread carefully to see if you any words out.
38. Hopefully, you will use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.
39. Eschew obfuscation.
40. No sentence fragments.
41. Don't indulge in sesquipedalian lexicological constructions.
42. A writer must not shift your point of view.
43. Don't overuse exclamation marks!!
44. Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of 10 or more words, to their antecedents.
45. Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.
46. If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
47. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
48. Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing.
49. Always pick on the correct idiom.
50. The adverb always follows the verb.
51. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors.
52. If you reread your work, you can find on rereading a great deal of repetition can be by rereading and editing.
52. And always be sure to finish what

Monday, January 19, 2015

Crow's Rest Book Trailer, and the Making Of

Today's the day that I get to share my book trailer for Crow's Rest! Since I made this video myself, I wanted to give a little behind-the-scenes info on the images.

But first--the book trailer! And make sure you have the volume on; you won't want to miss the soundtrack.

Hope the trailer entertained and intrigued you! You can find pre-order and Goodreads info on Crow's Rest here.

These are all my images, by the way, which saved me a tremendous amount of licensing fees. I did end up buying a program to give the whistling of my original song a little reverb, and then bought some stock audio of the crows, so the entire trailer cost me $3.89!

First off, once I had the script finalized, I knew I wanted to set the mood and place the story into its setting. To open the trailer, I used a few photos set in the Sierra foothills town that inspired Crow's Rest--and its haunted Castle. Here's another look in case they went by too quickly:
This is taken from the town cemetery, looking towards the Castle

This is an interior shot of the haunted Castle--which was abandoned for years after it did its duty as a boys' reformatory--and the perfect shot to accompany "Rumors that strange happenings are on the rise"

The exterior of the Castle, with one of the turrets that helped earn it its nickname (it was more properly called the Preston School of Industry when it opened in the 19th century)
With the setting established, I moved on to the characters: Avery, Daniel, and the corbin. The shots with the (human) models were actually taken as test photos for a possible custom cover shoot, and I didn't want them to go to waste--and I think they work really well here.

Uncle Tam is the caretaker for an historic cemetery, so Avery and Daniel spend a lot of time hanging around tombstones

The corbin picture is actually of a rook in Ireland--we definitely don't get these birds around here! But the crows that flock around my garden won't hold still for pictures, and I loved this ones's soulful expression.

For the trailer, I added a little violet to his eye color and cropped in tight on his face
 For a photo to depict the passage to Faerie, it was no contest--this lovely view is of the Stourhead Estate gardens, taken from inside the grotto

And the next one is the ruins of Kilcatherine church, which date back to the 7th century

That cheeky raven pic is from a trip to Bryce Canyon, but this post is already rather long so I'll skip adding that one! I just wanted to give you all an idea of what you can do with images that might already be in your photo collections, and that you don't need to spend a lot. For the links on the Power Point tutorials that helped me create this book trailer, see my post from November 24 here on Operation Awesome.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

February Mystery Editor Lottery - NOW CLOSED

Welcome to the lottery for our first contest of 2015the February Mystery Editor contest! Yes, you read that rightMystery Editor! Are your pitches ready to go? We are looking for your 25-word pitch, plus the first 250 words of your manuscript.

What is our Mystery Editor seeking?

Our Mystery Editor is open to read anything but is particularly looking for good women’s fiction, along the lines of Liane Moriarty’s books.

When can you enter?

Right now! The lottery will close Friday, January 23rd at 11:59 pm EST.

How to enter:

  Enter your name and email address in the Rafflecopter below.

  Make sure you complete the last step in the Rafflecopter and email your entry to operationawesome6 (at) gmail (dot) com. Email the following in this format:

Email address:
Pen Name: (if applicable--this will be the name posted in the forum)

Word Count:

25-word Pitch:

First 250 words:

Do you want to be included in the forum for feedback?

Important: Once you have completed this last step, type “Done” in step 3 of the Rafflecopter and click "Enter!" to complete your entry.

And that’s it.

Please enter only once and only if your manuscript is finished and query-ready.

The lottery will close Friday, January 23rd at 11:59 pm EST. Lottery winners will be posted here on the blog on Saturday, January 24th.

Twenty-five (25) lucky entrants will be selected and not only will the Mystery Editor take a look at them for a chance to win fabulous prizes, but we'll be posting all 25 entries here on the blog on February 1st for cheerleading and constructive feedback. And last but certainly not least, the reveal, along with the to-be-announced prizes, will be posted here sometime in the month of February.

If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments.

Good luck!!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, January 16, 2015

It's the Middle of January; Do You Know Where Your Resolutions Are?

Well, do you?

I know not everyone is as organization-challenged as I am. I have some amazing organizational examples as blogmates here on Operation Awesome. But for me, it's generally a trick to remember, exactly what were those fifty goals I set on January 1st on the high of New Year fireworks? By the middle of the month, I'm awash in daily life and lucky if I remember to follow through with two or three of those original fifty.

If you're feeling a bit swamped by daily life, you're not alone. I'm right there with you. Fortunately for us, there are organizational genius like Abby who create downloadable spreadsheets entitled, "2015 Writing Goal Tracking Spreadsheet."

Yay, Abby! Does it get any better? I submit that it does not.

So while Abby's awesome tool helps you keep your writing goals, I'll just mention a new tool I've been using. It's called THE VISION BOARD.

It's not a storyboard. It isn't framed in filigree, although it could be. Shoot, it would be so much better in filigree. Don't judge me, Pinterest.

It's just a poster I made to include some of my favorite hopes and dreams, as cut out of magazines or as coined in clever phrases, like "Live Life On Purpose!" But mostly my vision board is personal. It's customized to me. I plastered the background with images of lush, green gardens; cozy, stone fireplaces; and rich, hardwood bookcases filled with treasured tomes. These are the places where I want to write. These are the inspirational images that lure my imagination from its daily-sludge hiding place.

Writing goals--or any goals, for that matter--ought not to be about the guilt you feel when you don't keep up, or even the totally awesome feeling you get when you reach them (though that is the huge payoff we all crave). Goals are about the journey. 

I may not have read all 500 something books on my bookshelves (one of my lofty previous New Year's Resolutions), but looking back on the past year, I can say that my time was well-spent. The journey took me through a pregnancy, the discovery of an amazing ancestor, a failed attempt to buy our first house (the one owned by that ancestor)... followed by a successful attempt to buy a different first house (one frankly more suited to us), and the birth of my fourth child. We enjoyed celebrating our first Christmas in our own, really-own place. I even made a construction paper fireplace.

We hiked, we danced, we camped, we watched sunsets, we randomly met old friends in unexpected places, and read a billion books that found us (ones that weren't on my to-read list, incidentally, so they don't count toward that goal). We lived. It was absolutely unusual and inspiring. And I wrote.

I could make a list of things that didn't happen. But that would be ungrateful. As the guru says, "Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans." Or maybe that was John Lennon.

Never be afraid to make those other plans. That's how the journey begins! Bon Voyage!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Wednesday Debut Interview: Fractured Immortal by EL Wicker

Welcome to the first of our new WEDNESDAY DEBUT INTERVIEWS

Today, we'll be talking with author E.L. Wicker about her debut novel, Fractured Immortal, a paranormal romance self-published December 21, 2014.

First off, tell us a bit about yourself!
Hi! I always find this the worst part so I’ll stick with the basics. As you know, I’m a writer. I spend the majority of time tapping away at the keyboard, working on one of my manuscripts. I’m also a firm believer in helping all writers achieve their goals in any way I can.

Tell us about Fractured Immortal! What makes this story in particular an important one for you to tell?
Fractured Immortal is the first in the series about Ilia Rose, a vampire whose life takes an unexpected turn when she returns home. I had written stories before, largely unfinished, but this tale wouldn’t leave me alone therefore I had to write it! Ilia faces many problems. Aside from the cruel vampire who is intent on making everyone’s live miserable, Ilia also has to deal with her ex, Kyle and a mysterious vampire (Nathaniel) who seems to show up whenever Ilia needs him most. Peculiar still, Nathaniel is affiliated with Sol yet he seems determined to protect her.

How long has this process taken for you, from the time that you began the first draft of this book until the date of its publication?
Fractured Immortal took a long time. From writing the first word, until release it took almost a year with many rewrites and a lot of cutting. At one point it was made up of multiple points of view, including Lucas and Kyle, however there were too many so I cut it to Ilia only. I also started writing it in third person omniscient but changed it as I couldn’t quite connect with Ilia that way and if a writer can’t connect with their own character, there’s no chance the awesome readers will.

What is your favorite part of the writing process? Your least favorite?
My favorite process is the final polishing. This is the part where I read it over and over again from start to finish on my kindle. At this point it would’ve already been to the editor but I like to read it as much as possible to try to catch any small errors.

My least favorite part is the first redraft. Ugh, so much to do in that one although it can provide laughs at times when I come across some of the ridiculous mistakes I’ve made.

Every writer experiences some rejection and setbacks along the way. How did you learn to cope with them and move on?
Well, I only queried Fractured Immortal once and that was way back when it contained multiple POVs and, quite frankly, was a mess. Obviously, I got rejected but in a nice way. All I can say is, rejections are part of the process, don’t take them personally and move on from them quickly.

How did you decide on self-publishing? What makes it a good fit for you and your book?
When I first began writing Fractured Immortal, I intended to self-publish. I did a lot of research, and so should everyone considering each route. It was only when I took part in Pitch Wars (an online slush competition) that I became a little more interested in the traditional route. I mulled it over for quite some time, wavering between the two but eventually settled back on self.

It appeals to me because I have complete control over every aspect of my book from the content to the sales. Of course, marketing can be tricky, after all, I want my book to sell, but whether traditionally or self-publishing, marketing is something we all have to contend with. In addition to this, the simple fact with a book such as mine, is that agents don’t particularly want them. Therefore self-publishing seemed the obvious choice.

Did you face any other unique challenges in getting your work published?
No. I was incredibly lucky to have a team of incredible people behind me. From critique partners to beta readers and a talented cover designer, I was well looked after.

What have you been doing to get your book ready for others to read?
In the run up to the release, I just read and reread Fractured Immortal as much as possible. I also had a very talented writer, Nancy Griffis, reading it again only days before release to make sure it was as ready as it could be. I also arranged a book tour, with many friends being kind enough to allow me to hijack their blogs for the day, and I contacted reviewers. It was a crazy couple of weeks but so very worth it.

Tell us about your book cover. Who designed it? How do you feel about how it reflects your story?
I love my cover and many have commented on how much they like it. For anyone who reads the book, the message behind the cover becomes very clear as it’s symbolic to the story. The designer, betibup, does it as a hobby, therefore it was reasonably priced. Honestly, I won’t use anyone else now.

Tell us about your title. Was this the original title you'd had in mind? If not, what made you change it?
The original title was The Blood that Binds however, once I began to write it, elements of the title popped up within the book. When I gave it some thought, I realized that Fractured Immortal seemed a perfect choice because of who and what Ilia is.

What's next for you after this debut? What are your plans for the future of your writing?
I’m working on book two at the moment, but aside from that, I am also writing a New Adult Dystopian called Evangeline. I’m really excited about it and I can’t wait to finish it but Finding Immortal takes priority at the moment. I will continue to write for as long as there are stories in my head asking to be told, and I have another idea rattling around in my brain – another NA Paranormal.

How does it feel to finally have your book out in the hands of readers? Do you have any events planned you want people to know about?
Ah, the feels! Incredible and scary. You can’t brush aside the concerns that people won’t like it. You’ll have people say that’s the way it goes and that’s true, but I can’t say that I wouldn’t be upset about that. The trick is the dealing with it. Take a deep breath, know it’s never going to appeal to everyone, and move on.

I will be running some giveaways in January on Goodreads once the paperback comes out and more promotions still to come late February/March in time for the release of Finding Immortal.

Is there any other advice you'd like to pass on to others pursuing publication? Any mistakes you've made that other writers might be able to learn from?
It takes longer than a month to write a book. If it were a case of sitting down at the computer and tapping furiously until finished – everyone would be doing it. There are several stages to the process and completing these stages takes months. From redrafting to beta reading to redrafting again, editing, cutting and everything in between, know that it’s going to take a considerable length of time.

My mistake was thinking that it was ready when it wasn’t. As I mentioned, I sent out a query regarding Fractured Immortal way before it was anywhere near ready. Also, if you can, find yourself some critique partners that will go through your manuscript line by line, they are worth their weight in gold.

And, just for fun, what famous person or celebrity do you think would enjoy your book? Why?
This one is an easy one because I read a comment saying that Christina Perri likes paranormal romance. I hope she would enjoy Fractured Immortal.

Thanks for joining us, and congratulations on your debut!

Buy Fractured Immortal now at!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Method Writing

Are you familiar with method acting? Ever applied this vein of thought to your character development while writing?

It's the use of sensory techniques to get into character. Things like drawing on personal emotions and memories, and what's called affective memory. Emotional recall and sense memory use the act of recalling physical sensations surrounding events to apply it to your character's reaction and make your scene real and character believable.

I don't know about you, but since I began actively learning craft, I also began taking mental note of body reactions and facial expressions during certain high intensity moments so that I can use them later while writing. As for the sense memory, friends and family have probably wondered why I stare at them as though I'm studying their every move while in the middle of an emotional conversation. I want to remember how someone looked, sounded, felt, etc. when tension is high.

All for the writer's toolbox.

There's another method I use to stay in character while writing, and this I use mainly when writing first person. I have to be that character while narrating. Think like them, act like them, breathe like them. It's no secret around my house that my lingo changes depending on the story I'm telling. So does what I listen to, what I watch, etc.

Much like method acting, I import the character into my very being so that I can stay in that character's frame of mind while telling the story. If I don't believe I'm the character while writing, then why would my readers believe the narrator is the character and not the author?

Think about it.

How about you? Do you believe in method writing? Do you have any tricks of the trade to stay in character or help develop them in order to tell their story? How do you think writing in third person is different?  

Monday, January 12, 2015

Pixar and High-Impact Fiction

A lot of writers know that the people at Pixar are master storytellers. For starters, there's a list that discusses 22 Rules of Storytelling according to Pixar. They've also been mentioned previously here at Operation Awesome, and I explained on my other blog, The Writer Librarian, how Wreck-It-Ralph helped me learn about plot and character motivation. (Wreck-It-Ralph was officially "Disney," but was produced by John Lasseter, the chief creative officer at Pixar.)

And, in starting a new manuscript for the new year, I stumbled upon this video from Michael Arndt, one of Pixar's screen writers. This gem helped me work through the beginning of my story:

After watching this video, I figured out that my main character was a perfectionist, and that was the motivating factor that led into her journey. And as Michael Arndt so brilliantly points out, "the seeds of failure have to be planted in the beginning." So even though I'm only about 12,000 words in, I know exactly what happens next, and how it will affect my main character later in the story. 

It was a reminder how Pixar's storytelling has been a key element in their success. 

In reading submissions for a literary magazine, I've come across a lot of pieces that were well-written, but there was no actual story involved. Just a bunch of vignettes where nothing really happened, and the characters weren't really changed by the end. 

On the flip side, a lot of commercial fiction (particularly YA) is thought of as plot-driven only. I've definitely run into this as a YA writer in my MFA program, and luckily for me, my cohorts are supportive of what I write, and don't try to steer me in any particular direction. 

But all that aside, there's room for storytelling in all facets of fiction. Literary agent Donald Maass talked about this in his book Writing 21st Century Fiction, regarding what he called high impact fiction. "High impact comes from a combination of two factors: great stories and beautiful writing" (2). 

So, think back to other Pixar movies you've watched (or Disney movies that had obvious Pixar influence, like Wreck-it-Ralph, Meet the Robinsons, and Frozen). What kept you watching? What made the movie memorable? What seeds were planted in the beginning that showed up throughout the story?

Now think about your own current Work-in-Progress, and ask yourself the following:
  • What does my character want more than anything? How will this get in his/her way?

  • What are the bad choices my character will make, and how do I get the audience to root for him/her in these decisions?

  • How will my characters change as a result of their journey?

Feel free to watch a Pixar movie in the meantime, if it helps. Even Pixar/Disney movies that didn't do as well are informative, because they're examples of stories that might have been lacking.

What about you--what have you learned while crafting your own stories?

Saturday, January 10, 2015

2015 Writing Goal Tracking Spreadsheet - Done and Ready to Download!

Sorry for the delay, but I think I'm finally done. For this year's spreadsheet, I modified my NaNo Tracker spreadsheet into a year-long version. With this version, you just have to enter your total word count at the end of each day and the spreadsheet calculates everything for you--total words written each day, total for the month and year, remaining words to meet your goal for that month, etc.*

Enter total word count in the green column and the spreadsheet does all the work for you.
In addition to a sheet for each month, the workbook includes a setup page with the options to enter a later start date and a starting word count. I've also included a stats page so you can keep track of how you're doing for the year.

I've created three separate workbooks to allow you to set a daily, monthly, or annual goal based on what meets your individual needs. Click below to download.

Annual Goal
Monthly Goal
Daily Goal

Please note, the spreadsheets are locked. You will only be able to modify the green cells. These are the cells that drive all the formulas. To protect my work, I will not be giving out the password. If you have issues downloading or getting it to work, please let me know either in the comments or by email, and I'll send you the file(s) directly.

I think I've worked out all the bugs*, but it's possible I missed something. If you find that something doesn't work like it should or if you have any questions, please let me know. Happy writing! :)

*Spreadsheets were created with Microsoft Excel 2013. They may lose some functionality with earlier versions of Excel.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Differing Points of View

The two most popular points of view for fiction seem to be third person or first person. And most people I've met have pretty strong opinions about what they like to read or write. But do you know about all the other POVs out there?

Here are the main choices:

First person - the narrator is generally the main character in the book and tells the story in his or her own point of view, as "I" (I did this, I said, I felt). Here’s an example:

Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter for the way was barred to me. Then, like all dreamers, I was possessed of a sudden with supernatural powers and passed like a spirit through the barrier before me.

~ Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

 First person plural - more rare, with the story told by "we" (we did this, we said that). An example:

Then we noticed that in the second pillow was the indentation of a head. One of us lifted something from it, and leaning forward, that faint and invisible dust dry and acrid in the nostrils, we saw a long strand of iron-gray hair.

~ A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner

Second person - very rare - the reader is treated as a character and is referred to as "you." This type of POV works well for some non-fiction works. For example, if I was writing a guide book or How-to article on painting, I could use this to say "First, you gather your supplies. Then you take the paint brush and apply paint. Then you do this and this and this." For fiction though, this POV isn't used often and mostly for books like the Choose Your Own Adventure series or other interactive stories. Here is an example:

What a singular moment is the first one, when you have hardly begun to recollect yourself after starting from midnight slumber! By unclosing your eyes so suddenly, you seem to have surprised the personages of your dream in full convocation round your bed, and catch one broad glance at them before they can flit into obscurity.

~ “The Haunted Mind” in Twice Told Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Third person limited - the narrator is outside the story but focuses on one character at a time. (He said, she said). While the POV may change between different characters, these changes would be separated by scene or chapter breaks. While in the point of view of a particular character, the narrator cannot tell the reader what anyone else is thinking, feeling, or experiencing. The narrator only knows what the point of view character knows. An example:

Just then the stern line came taut under his foot, where he had kept the loop of the line, and he dropped his oars and felt the weight of the small tuna’s shivering pull as he held the line firm and commenced to haul it in. The shivering increased as he pulled in and he could see the blue back of the fish in the water and the gold of his sides before he swung him over the side and into the boat.

~ The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

Third person omniscient - the narrator is outside the story but doesn't focus on one character. The narrator knows all, sees all, conveys all.

This planet has — or rather had — a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much all of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movement of small green pieces of paper, which was odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy…Many were increasingly of the opinion that they'd all made a big mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place. And some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left the oceans.
~ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

While some of these POVs seem to be more or less popular in “mainstream” fiction, all of them can work if executed well. Do you have a favorite POV you prefer to read or write?