Thursday, April 30, 2015

Making the Most of Your Writing Time

Today's post was inspired by this post from McKelle George (@McKelleGeorge), who was our Mystery Editor a few months ago.

In McKelle’s post, she talked about how she wrote a whopping 61,000 words in 18 days! This got me thinking about whether a feat like this was a possibility for me. With my schedule (and needy children always expecting crazy things from me, like food and my attention), probably not, but there are ways I can stifle my inner editor and increase my word output.

I'm one of those wierdos who loves editing and revising. I hate drafting. It's messy and ugly, and so daunting at times. I wish I could just hook up a machine to my brain, have it record the the first draft in all its awfulness, and get right to revisions. That device hasn't been invented yet, unfortunately, so I'm stuck with finding ways to more efficiently extract the words manually so I can get to revisions faster. :)

One thing I did during NaNo 2013 and haven’t done enough since then is word sprints. Our local NaNo group held them on our Facebook page, but they're also happening all the time on Twitter--check out #WritingSprint and #WordSprint. Word sprints are great for powering through those parts of the story where you feel stuck. The worst that could happen is you end up with a bunch of words that you cut, but you could also come up with some really great writing and maybe even a spark of an idea or two that will make your story even better.

Another thing I do sometimes is write it out in a notebook. By the time I'm done, there are usually notes and doodles all over in the margins, but this usually keeps me from editing as I go and, in turn, keeps me from getting stuck on the same scene for days, revising and rewriting--my favorite form of procrastination. And I don’t care if it sucks because I’m going to edit it when I transcribe it anyway. This is a great way (for me, anyway) to circumvent my inner perfectionist. She’s crazy neurotic, so I try to avoid her whenever possible. Plus, this gives me an excuse to buy lots of notebooks and that's always a good thing. :)

This post also has some great suggestions for apps that help you avoid distractions and stay on task. 

Those are just a few of the things that work for me. What about you? What helps to get the words flowing when you're stuck?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

I'm Reading a Book!

You're reading.

You've gotten to that point in the book where the stakes are hold-your-breath-punch-you-in-the-nose fantastic and someone talks to you...


Thanks to Medeia Sharif for introducing me to the funny!

Happy Wednesday.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A story and a sentence walked into a bar together...

Guest post by Kristen James

They both noticed a woman with long, dark hair and an inviting smile, so they sat at the bar, four stools away from her. She glanced over at their entrance before turning back to her conversation with her friends. Sentence told Story, “Watch this. I’m going to wiggle my perfect construction at her. She won’t be able to resist!”

Story watched as Sentence tried to catch the woman’s eye. The woman and her friends gave Sentence a few polite glances, but they weren’t interested.

When Story had enough, he announced, “My turn!” He walked around Sentence to sit closer to the woman and gave her a nod and a wink. The woman immediately moved down the bar three seats to talk to Story.

“Your characters are amazing! How did you come up with this idea, anyway?” She leaned closer and tilted her head back to tease him with a half smile. “And the twist at the end! I didn’t see that coming, but then it made perfect sense. Please tell me there’s a sequel. Does Jake ever win Kathryne over, and does his father ever forgive him? Is there another mystery to solve?”

Story motioned for another round of drinks and murmured, “I’ll tell you everything if you have a few hours…”

Sentence sulked in his seat. What had he done wrong?

“Sentence” missed the simple fact that readers don’t go into bookstores and online retailers to buy groups of sentences. There aren’t any reviews that read, “This book is full of perfect sentences! Check out the metaphor on page 82. The sentences were so wonderful that I forgot about the story and highlighted the comas and semicolons. This author knows how to vary sentence length! Wonderful!”

Readers often say a novel is well written, and they might mention the imagery or fresh use of language, but that alone won’t win readers. Personally, I don’t want to throw a reader out of the story with a impressive sentence. I want the plot and characters to pull the reader in so she’ll keep reading past her bedtime. Of course, I don’t want poor writing to distract the reader either, but I know the point of the novel is the story.

As an artist, do you want others to see the picture you’re painting or the brushstrokes?

Do you need to write well on a sentence level to write good stories? Yes, of course! But are the sentences more important than the story you’re telling? Not in my opinion. Aren’t authors selling stories, not sentences?

Writing well is very important. I don’t mean to argue that point, but it really bugs me when I hear someone put down a mega bestselling author for their writing. It’s usually on a sentence level: “Look at all the clichés, passive voice, and simple sentences! A fifth grader could write better.” It could be true–the given book might very well be full of sentences that could be written better. Maybe their modifiers don’t line up. Maybe they like using clichés as shortcuts in certain places. Maybe they choose choppy or run on sentences over proper grammar to show the character’s thoughts and emotions. But, if the writing really is that poor, then the author must be doing something else right. And that “something else” really sells copies. Millions of readers are buying those books. Despite what people say, you can’t sell a book month after month on marketing alone. If it’s not a good story, people complain. They won’t tell other people about the book.

Readers want an experience away from their life. They want to get sucked into a great story that makes them forget everything else for a few hours. They want to connect with the character and see the world differently. They want to experience a great story. They want to feel.

So, yes, please learn to write sentences well and play with language. Study English, spelling, and grammar. Create fresh images and strive to be original. Learn how to write well so readers can understand what you’re saying. And if you want to sell that writing, remember your job is to tell a damn good story.

Kristen James has written over twenty books and ranked in the top 100 Bestsellers in Kindle US, UK and Canada, #1 in ten different categories, #1 in Movers & Shakers, and #1 free rankings.

Visit Kristen's WEBSITE

Monday, April 27, 2015

More Changes Afoot at Operation Awesome

So we've said "goodbye" or "til we meet again" to a few Operation Awesome members lately, and my own role will be changing just a bit.

I've been handling the Twitter and Facebook sharing for OA a while now, in addition to blogging every other Monday, but I need to put some serious BIC* time in on my second book in the Crow's Rest series. So this will be my last regularly-scheduled post for some time, though I'll pop in occasionally as my (and OA's) schedule allows. We're mixing things up a little and our operatives won't have such rigidly assigned days here on the blog, so that should make it easy when some of the alumni and I want to jump in!

For example, I'm doing a bloghop for the release of Crow's Rest on May 12, and no way am I leaving OA out of that! I'll be sharing photographic proof that the Fae are real, with a photobombing _________ (You'll have to check back on the 12th to see what it is!)

But from here on out, I'll still be handling the Facebook sharing for Operation Awesome posts; following our Facebook page is a great way to keep up on new posts. Karen will be taking over Twitter after May 1st, so you can all look forward to her take on Operation Awesome tweets!

Thanks for all the comments and interactions on all my posts over the years, and I'll see you around the web!

*Butt in Chair

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Community of Writers Is Large

It was a big day for me when I started writing for Operation Awesome nearly five years ago.

I felt unnecessary. There were a lot of bloggers out there, a lot of more accomplished writers with more to say about writing craft.

I felt exposed. For the first time, I was standing up in public and saying that I am a writer.

In the past five years, the industry has changed so much, and so have I. I lost my agent, published a book. Gained an agent, lost my publisher. Published a book again, sold another one. That's the short version. The long version happened day by day, word by word. It happened in my real life, and and a lot of happened here, with the writers and readers of Operation Awesome.

And now, as I'm stepping down as a blogger here, it's another big day.

I feel necessary. There are always more writers, always more books. I hope what I write matters to readers, but I can't control that part. Regardless, what I write matters to ME.

I feel exposed. This part is fine -- it's how a writer should feel. When you feel exposed, there are real emotions on the page. You have to open yourself if you want your words to matter.

And that's why I feel like I belong. Being part of Operation Awesome meant I was part of the community of writers. This community is large. It's diverse, inclusive, factional, and argumentative at times. It has big communal rooms, dark corners, murder holes, and secret passage ways. It's a magic castle and a home at the same time.

I'm leaving Operation Awesome, but Operation Awesome brought me into the writers' community. I'm grateful for all the posters and bloggers, and especially for the original group who dragged me along into blogging. I'm grateful for the people who I met here.

I'll see you all in other corners of the community we built together and that we all share.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Not Farewell ... Just See You Later by PK Hrezo

First off, I'd like to extend my sincere gratitude to everyone at Operation Awesome for inviting me to contribute these last few months. I've enjoyed every minute with the authors, bloggers, and followers here.

BUT ...

Due to an overwhelming calendar of obligations, I must step away. It's not farewell, it's just see you later.

I'll stop in when I can for guest posting. I still have so many things to share!

In the meantime, feel free to contact me anytime with questions or just to say hello. You can find me on my website at

And in case you didn't know, I offer developmental editing services at very reasonable rates. Stop by the Story Scientist page to learn more.

I'd also like to invite you to an online auction starting next Monday the 27th. You've got to see some of the items up for bidding. Things like agent critiques and consultations, writer software from Save the Cat, Scrivener, and more! Plot consultations from superstars like The Plot Whisperer and Mary Kole. Not to mention all the author signed paperbacks from bestselling authors.

And it's all to raise money for a great cause! Check out our auction page to learn more about the amazing young survivor we're supporting.

On that note, I'd like to leave you with some of my favorite writing advice. Over the years of trial and error, I've come to many of my own conclusions, and here's a nugget I came to realize on my own:

Not every story you write will turn into something great, but every effort you make in trying is the key to turning you into a great writer. Put your heart and soul into all of your work, then learn to let it go and move on to the next project. This will build and strengthen your writer's muscle, and take your creativity to the next level.

Until next time ... tootles!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Wednesday Debut Interview: Nobody's Goddess by Amy McNulty

For today's WEDNESDAY DEBUT INTERVIEW, we're chatting with Amy McNulty about her new YA Romantic Fantasy, Nobody's Goddess, which debuted yesterday!

First off, tell us a bit about yourself!
I’m a total geek, and I get really immersed in my favorite books (particularly YA), anime, manga, comic books, TV shows, movies and video games. I’m a freelance writer and editor from Wisconsin, and I mostly work on general business and marketing content, although I’m a reviewer at Anime News Network, too. I try to squeeze fiction writing or editing into my daily routine, including editing for other writers, whenever I can.

Tell us about NOBODY'S GODDESS; it sounds like a really interesting premise. Where did the idea for this story come from?
Thanks! There were a number of factors that came together into NOBODY’S GODDESS. First, my love for the Byronic hero in fiction, which developed when I was a kid because Jim Henson’s Labyrinth has long been my favorite film. Second, I had just become obsessed with The Hunger Games, and I wanted to take the fantasy I was working on and add some dystopian elements to it.

I’d heard about other popular YA books where women were forced to marry/partner up with men, and I realized I hadn’t heard of many (any?) where it was men forced to partner up with women. Since I’d already veiled my hero in the draft I was working on (I also have a predilection for masked men), the idea of all of the men having to cover their faces popped into my head. I also liked the idea that all of the women in Noll’s village were “special snowflakes” because they were all goddesses to their men. Of course, Noll wound up an even more special snowflake, anyway.

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?
That’s sort of a complicated question because I consider a manuscript I started in 2003 to have been the seed for NOBODY’S GODDESS. I worked on it sparingly for nine years, and it was a mess. When I read The Hunger Games and got inspired to write again, I scrapped the vast majority of that manuscript (although a small amount made it in to the final draft) and wrote the first draft in just nine days! (I didn’t do much else but write during those days!) That was in 2012, and that was the year I got an agent, but not before a major revision. (Followed by three more major revisions and a few minor ones.) So 12 years or 3 years, depending on whether or not I consider that early draft the first one.

What is your favorite part of the writing process? Your least favorite?
I like editing best, probably about halfway through the editing process. (That initial first edit can be brutal.) There are times when I’m initially drafting that I get really into it and adore the process, but it’s still my least favorite because it’s so daunting. It took me a long time before I could even finish a first draft.

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

Rejection is like a kick to the stomach sometimes, but it helps to tell yourself it’s not personal. It’s not even an attack on your work and writing skills, usually. Your work just might not have connected with that person, or she has business and market-related reasons for not investing her time and energy in it. Rejection does actually get easier over time. You sort of get used to it.

How did you find your publisher? What makes them a good fit for you and your book?
My agent at the time and I were looking for indie publishers making waves, and Month9Books seemed perfect. They specialize in YA spec fiction and don’t reject manuscripts based solely on genre so long as it’s spec. At the time, a lot of bigger publishers were passing or not even reading the manuscript solely because of the fact that there are dystopian elements to the book (although it’s primarily a fantasy) and they were done buying those. Month9Books embraced my manuscript’s odd mix of genres.

NOBODY'S GODDESS is the first book in a series. Did you write it knowing that you were going to expand its story?
When I initially wrote it, I didn’t know I’d want to write two more, but by the time I wrapped it up, I knew I had to keep the story going. The first book’s ending is somewhat open-ended; it could be considered the end, but I hope readers will want to know more. The second book deals with the aftermath of what happens at the end of the first book, and the third finally explains why odd things happened in the first and second.

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?

More revisions! There are always so many revisions to be done, but my book is so much better because of it. There’s a lot of waiting without doing anything, but then you’ll hear from the publisher or your editor with another stage in the process. Our first order of business was coming up with a new title, which I’ll elaborate more on below. After that, there were three rounds of edits spaced a number of months apart. Meanwhile, I wrote both book 2 and book 3 in the series.

Now I’m working on revising those.

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

Thanks! I love it, too. The designer was Kim Beurre Lait. She worked with Georgia McBride, owner of Month9Books, to come up with the amazing design. I offered some ideas early on and gave my input for a few mockups along the way, but it was pretty much just the two of them. I think it does a great job representing the story. I love the spooky-like atmosphere in the village, and Noll wears that outfit in the book. I think the young woman really conveys Noll’s sense of strength, too.

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

Nope! It used to be called The Veiled Man’s Goddess, but we worried that was too “adult” sounding. My editor at the time suggested the new title from a line in my book. Noll is both “the veiled man’s goddess” and “nobody’s goddess” in a way, so it’s perfect. It took quite a while and many ideas to decide on it, though!

What's next for you after this debut? What are your plans for the future of your writing?
Book 2 in The Never Veil Series comes out sometime in 2016, with book 3 to follow in 2017. I don’t have any other releases lined up yet, although I hope to find a home for another YA fantasy manuscript about four teens who are the children of villains in what I consider Marvel’s Runaways meets Game of Thrones. In the meantime, I need to work on a page one rewrite of a YA suspense manuscript I almost finished a couple of years ago, but I didn’t think it quite worked. Still, I’m attached to the idea; it’s about a teen with prosopagnosia (face blindness) and a still-burning flame for his ex-girlfriend, whom he can’t always recognize.

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?
Exciting and a little nerve-wracking! Readers have shown a lot of passion for the book even before reading it, based on the synopsis and/or the cover. I’m so grateful they’re willing to give a new author a chance and I’m thankful for all those bloggers who’ve helped spread the word. I’m going to be signing copies at BookCon in NYC on Saturday, May 30th if people would like to buy a copy there.

Is there any other advice you'd like to pass on to others pursuing publication? Anything you would have done differently?

Don’t give up! It seems so easy to do so because there are so many roadblocks and so much rejection along the way. However, you only need a few professionals to really believe in your work for it to become a published book. If not this manuscript, then maybe the next one. If you really want to be a published author, you have to fight what’s sometimes an uphill battle. And don’t be afraid to explore all of your options, even self-publishing, if you think it’s right for you.

On the other hand, I wish I would have not gotten my hopes up so much along the way. That seems strange, but the more you think you’re “almost there,” the harder it will be when things don’t work out the way they do in your daydreams. You need to find a balance between realistic expectations and still holding on to your confidence and your belief in your work.

And, just for fun, which book in your own library do you think would be your main character Noll's favorite?
I like this question! Noll actually isn’t an avid reader, but she’s a huge fan of sprawling adventure and action stories, especially those starring young women like her. She’d probably really like Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore because of Bitterblue’s yearning for adventure.

Thank you so much for your participation in this Wednesday Debut Interview!
Thank you!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Is your character someone to root for?

As I've mentioned before, effective character development is something I constantly strive toward. This was especially apparent last Friday, when my story was up for critique in my MFA class. 

During the workshop, people said they didn't really like the main character--and some of them even sympathized with characters who were supposed to be adversaries. 

One classmate hit the nail on the head as to why. She said, "She wasn't really someone I could root for."

This really struck a chord with me. Because we all want our characters to be relatable. Likable. Someone our readers will want to stick with for several pages. 

But if I'm rooting for a character, I'm with them all the way, even after the wheels fall off. 

So I asked myself the following:

Which characters make me feel like this: ("Rick 'em, rack em!")

From Tumblr: "A Girl Worth Fighting For"

Instead of this: ("If he can't do it, GREAT!")
From Tumblr: "Darling You'll be Okay"

Here are a few examples I came up with:

Matilda Wormwood (Matilda, by Roald Dahl): Matilda grows up in a family that doesn't appreciate her. But what really keeps us with her the whole way is she doesn't let this get her down, nor does she act superior (even though she is). As an agent of chaos, she fights back by playing subtle pranks on her family and other adversaries.

What Matilda teaches us: Protagonists need to see the humor in their situations, no matter how bleak they are.

Claire Beauchamp (Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon): In contrast with Matilda, Claire is an inherently strong-willed person. But what keeps us for the long haul is her vulnerability as well as her strength. Like Matilda, she's cunning, and willing to be an agent of chaos to get what she needs. Steal a horse to return to the standing stones that brought her to eighteenth century Scotland. Or defy a priest to save the life of a young boy.  But in both those situations, Claire is also inherently vulnerable. 

What Claire teaches us: Protagonists' actions need a distinct purpose in concordance with the chaos they create, and strong characters need to show their softer sides.

Tally Youngblood (Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld): Tally, like Matilda, is put in a weak position from the onset, especially after she loses her best friend Peris to the "pretties." Although Tally considers herself an "ugly," she doesn't wallow in that. And through her journey to dismantle what's been created, she figures out that being "pretty" isn't all that important anyway. 

What Tally teaches us: Protagonists need enough flexibility to grow and change. 

Notice that all three characters have something in common: a willingness to be an agent of chaos. To turn their external worlds upside down. What makes the difference is how that change relates to them as human beings.

So in this short story I wrote (it's probably going to turn into a book chapter), I've decided to make my character a little wiser (like Claire), more stoic (like Matilda) and more flexible (like Tally). And, like all three, a true agent of chaos.

What about you? Which characters do you root for most? And in turn, what do you think makes readers root for the characters you've written?

Friday, April 17, 2015

Story Cubes for Writer's Block?

Perhaps this would work best for picture book authors, but I think it'd be fun to try for plain old novel-length writer's block, don't you?

Rory's Story Cubes are a game of dice that you can play alone or with friends. It's pretty hilarious with a group of adults, and equally funny with little kids because of the completely unique ways they interpret the images on the dice.

It's even better if you have a time limit or someone you must pitch your story idea to immediately after rolling. But if you're alone, you can still have fun filling the blanks in your novel with flying sheep with golden keys, pyramids that were used anciently as washing boards, and mobile phones from the 1980s. *wink, wink* There are several sets of dice, and I admit to only having one set myself (the Action cubes). You can also get the Voyages, Original, and special dice for space, medicine, and sports. I'm still waiting for the Adverbs dice set to be invented. Until then, I'll roll with the punches, or other Action cubes.

How do you get yourself out of a writing funk?

Happy writing this weekend!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Blast from the OA past: Spinning a Story

A spider begins a web with a frame. It takes time to create the structure. Sometimes it seems like no progress is being made. That it will never be strong enough to be usable. But the spider is clever. The spider knows what makes the web stronger is the detail.

It travels round and round. Spinning the silk into the shape it needs, but knowing the truth can't be seen until the end. But it still works. Detail after detail. Hour after hour. A spider may falter, but it never gives up. It rests and returns to work.

We spin our story in the knowledge that it could fall apart at any moment. We push on with the fine thread of our plot, layering it with the detail we need. Until the day we step back and (hopefully) reveal something beautiful. The structure holds it together, but the power is all in the details. The details catch the reader in our story web.

What stage are you at spinning your story right now? 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Artistry for Authors

It's been just over a year since I started making my miniature book charms for authors, and it's been an amazing experience! I've met so many wonderful people in the process.

I think it has something to do with my clients being in the final stages of a book. It's the stage when you are DONE with all the nit-picky editing and the cover is finalized...when it's time for getting fun presents and swag items for contests and celebrations. The stage when you finally have something to show for all that hard work you've put in, and you can finally start showing off a finished product!

No one knows better than an author (or perhaps an involved spouse), how much time and effort goes into the creation of a single book. I'm so proud of all the people who've endured the process to the end, and THANK YOU for letting me be part of the celebrations. :-)

Check out the brand New Blog (especially the gallery of charming clients!) and 'like' my Facebook Fan Page for special announcements and offers.

If you're going to BEA 2015, stay tuned for a special deal on these mini booklets! (Features your front/back cover and approximately the first thousand words of your novel)

Don't you love swag?
I think it ranks right up there with "The End," "Send me a full ms," and, "You have a deal."

BE PROUD of your accomplishments and show it off to the world!

Monday, April 13, 2015

On Contests and Community

Since I'm usually the one watching our OpAwesome6 Twitter account, I get to see a lot of excitement flitting through the Twittersphere about our Mystery Agent/Editor Contests. I love the support and sense of community that comes from cheering on, and commiserating with, our fellow authors in the query trenches. Some of the writers who I went through contests with remain friends to this day, even as much as five years later.

In particular, I was thinking back to when I was submitting Crow's Rest (by query and in contests) around this time in 2013. My manuscript had been out since February, after some early interest from the WriteOnCon forums, but hadn't found a home yet.

Each contest round was a learning experience--it can be a tremendous motivation to nail down your specific voice and style, once you've read a dozen entries for your genre. Seeing them all in one place really brings home what the agent experiences in their inbox, and how your work must be fresh and different to stand out.

One of the last pitch contests I entered was The Writer's Voice, run jointly in 2013 by Brenda Drake, Cupid of Cupid’s Literary Connection, Krista Van Dolzer of Mother. Write. (Repeat.) and Monica B.W. of Love YA . The format was meant to encourage writers to establish their characters and voice right away, and grab the attention of an agent in those first 250 words. I entered Crow's Rest and crossed my fingers.

But here's the thing--I never made it past the first round in this contest, and I still learned a ton (and made those connections that I started out talking about in this post). And yes, it stung that CR didn't make the cut, but I also knew there were other opportunities out there--and I just needed to find the right match.

That right match for Crow's Rest didn't end up coming through a contest--a few weeks after TWV, I submitted the winning bid on a 70-page critique with editor Vikki Ciaffone of Spencer Hill Press in an auction. That critique turned into an offer of publication, and Crow's Rest is coming out from SHP in only a month (okay, so I glossed over a TON of steps in between)!

I likely wouldn't have even heard about the auction without my writerly connections, nor would I have taken a chance on bidding for the critique if I hadn't earned some confidence from the contest feedback.

So in honor of those connections, I caught up with some of the Alumni of The Writer's Voice 2013:

Leslie S. Rose, who I actually got to meet in person recently! She's had several short stories included in anthologies

Me on the left, Leslie on the right!

Marieke Nijkamp, who blogged about the part contests played in landing her own agent, and whose debut THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS is coming from Sourcebooks in 2016

Lucas Hargis, whose TWV entry is here, and who got two agent offers (and accepted one) by the end of that year

Christie Murillo, who also feels the contest camaraderie so strongly that she thanked a bunch of us who had been in the trenches with her in her "I Have An Agent!" announcement

Molly Pinto Madigan, whose TWV entry also had a contemporary twist on a fairy tale/legend

Pete Catalano, alias Billy Payne, whose debut novel ARTIFACTS is coming from Month9 Books in Fall 2016

Heidi Lang and Kati Bartkowski, co-authors of Mystic Cooking, who signed with Jen Azantian in February

J Larkin, who signed with Carrie Pestritto of Prospect Agency, as a result of TWV 2013

And, if you'd like to read an excerpt from Crow's Rest, Brenda Drake is hosting a reveal on her blog today! Go check it out by clicking her banner below!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Goodbye for now

Hello there, Operation Awesome!

Well, y'all, this is a bittersweet post to make. After two, well, awesome years at OA, I will be stepping down as a regular contributor to the blog. This will not be goodbye forever - you may see me around these parts from time to time as a guest poster, and you will absolutely see me haunting the comments section!

It's been such an honor and a joy to give back to a blog that gave me so much throughout my writing journey, to help arrange the Mystery Agent and Editor contests that introduced me to so many amazing people as a querying writer. I have enjoyed the warmth, wisdom, and insight these ladies have offered over the years, and I know I will keep on enjoying it going forward.

And most of all, it's been wonderful to meet all of you and watch all of these journeys in progress. And if I could leave you (for now) with one last bit of advice, it would be not to decide, ahead of time, how your journey will or should go. The publishing way of life has a way of defying the narratives we craft in our own writing. It has a way of sidestepping the foregone conclusions and bringing on the curveballs. It has a way of taking forever, and when we stop expecting it, it has a way of moving forward all at once.

It can be overwhelming, all these ups and downs, all this uncertainty. And there's so little of it you can control, including, sometimes, how you feel about all of it - especially, sometimes, how you feel about all of it. But you can be positive when it's time to be positive, and when it sucks, you can let it suck. You can be understanding and patient, while never forgetting to advocate for and value yourself. You can work hard and be passionate about what you're working on, and if you need to step back, you can step back. And you can be kind to the people you meet along the way. And that includes being kind to yourself.

And with that, I will take a step back and let the fabulous ladies of OA take it from here. Thank you all for having me. I look forward to seeing where your journeys take you from here!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Farewell for Now

Well, this is one post I never thought I'd be writing for this blog :) I've been a part of Operation Awesome for many years now and it's been an experience I've truly loved. I have met incredible people, both those I blog with here and of course our amazing readers. It's been a privilege to be a part of this "awesome" team :)

But there seems to come a point in many of our lives where we've got so many balls in the air that a few start dropping, and that point has come for me. I have a lot of exciting things happening, things I've worked very hard for over the years and am thrilled to involved in. But those things require time and until someone figures out how to add a few more hours to the day, I've found the need to step away from a few things.

I won't totally disappear. I'll still drop in to read the wonderful posts of my fellow OAers and maybe they'll have me back for a guest post now and then :) But for now, I'll say farewell. I wish everyone much success along their publishing journeys :)

If you'd like to keep in touch with me or see what I'm up to every now and then, I'm still all over the place so please come hang out! :) Here is where you can find me:

Facebook profile
Facebook Author page
Entangled Publishing Author Page
Embracing Romance

Friday, April 10, 2015

O.U.R. Mission to Fight Child Sex Trafficking


For this special occasion, I'm taking a break from writing about writing to support a cause which I believe warrants everyone's attention: Child slavery across the world.

This cause has been a passion of mine since high school when I first learned of child soldiers and the girl children who were forced to "comfort" them by the adults who should have prized the innocence of all these children.

I'm an abolitionist because innocence is precious.

In recent years, more attention has been drawn to this cause by celebrities and non-profit groups who are raising money to free child slaves.

One group's efforts are of particular note. Operation Underground Railroad was started by Timothy Ballard who began his career in the CIA, then was chosen to head up the Child Crimes division of U.S. Homeland Security. As a father, he describes how difficult it was to watch video of children being horrifically abused, and how it changed him. While he'd been hesitant to take this job and be immersed in the terrible stories of these children, after his first rescue mission he held an abused child in his arms and knew he would make this his life's work. Frustrated by the enormous scope of the problem and the limits of working with just one country's government on a worldwide problem, Timothy Ballard founded O.U.R., which now works with all governments who are committed to saving their children from these awful crimes. Recently, O.U.R. combined forces with The Elizabeth Smart Foundation, which is uniquely capable of rehabilitating rescued children. Together, they don't just arrest the bad guys and remove the children from their grasp, but they also place these children in safe houses and programs to help them heal and end the sometimes generational cycle of slavery.

In Port-au-Prince, Haiti:

This is just scratching the surface of a plague, as Timothy Ballard calls it, which UNICEF estimates impacts 2 million children around the world. In the U.S. alone, 100,000 children are trafficked for sex each year. I met one of these women who as a young woman was sold to an American to be his "wife." Years later, a domestic disturbance called police to her house, and she was finally liberated from her owner. My confidence in O.U.R. and The Elizabeth Smart Foundation led me to participate in a campaign to raise money and awareness to rescue these children. I believe them when they say that every dollar donated goes directly to funding these real-world missions where bad guys are arrested, trafficking avenues are closed for good, and children are given the chance to be masters of their own bodies. This grass-roots campaign was started by U.S. citizen Stephen Palmer, and you can donate and join the effort at #flOURbomb #OURrescue


In the first day and a half, this campaign raised over $5,000. It's estimated that it takes $1800 to liberate one child. People in high places are doing their utmost to end this scourge, but it will take all of us. I hope to put my pen to use in this cause in the future. All you who feel so inspired, take a leaf from Harriet Beecher Stowe's life book:

I wrote what I did because as a woman, as a mother I was oppressed and broken-hearted, with the sorrows and injustice I saw, because as a Christian I felt the dishonor to Christianity — because as a lover of my country I trembled at the coming day of wrath.
It is no merit in the sorrowful that they weep, or to the oppressed and smothering that they gasp and struggle, not to me, that I must speak for the oppressed — who cannot speak for themselves.

On Uncle Tom's Cabin in a letter to Lord Denman (20 January 1853). -from Wikiquote

Thursday, April 9, 2015

And the Mystery Agent is..... (plus winners!!)

Please give a warm round of applause to our Mystery Agent, LANE HEYMONT, of the Seymour Agency.

Lane has chosen three winners from the batch of 50-Word Blurbs, so without further ado, congratulations go to: 

Michelle Rose: OUTLANDER meets TITANIC when a girl is sent back in time to the ship after holding a séance to summon a boy aboard Titanic. There, she discovers the witchy powers that send her there can no longer get her home. She has a choice: save the ship, or save herself.

Laurence King: Deirdre Walsh (16) finds herself at the center of a faerie quest to conquer humanity using a magical stone that has been in her family for generations. Unawares, she teams up with the son of her family’s archenemy to retrieve the stone, ransom her kidnapped grandfather, and stop the faeries.

Salma T. Wahdy: Set in a world reminiscent of the Balkans during WWI with an energy-field that is manipulated by second-class Loders, HEIRESS OF DANISKAR is a reimagining of Shakespeare blended with elements of STAR WARS and DOWNTON ABBEY. Hamlynne’s thirst for revenge is complicated by her Loder abilities and approaching war.

WINNERS! I'll be in touch to tell you what to send the amazing Mr. Heymont. 

We couldn't let Lane go without an introduction and asking a few questions. :-)

Hi all, Lane Heymont here. I’m an agent at The Seymour Agency. My fellow agents include Mary Sue SeymourNicole Resciniti, and Julie Gwinn. We represent a range of genres from Christian/Inspirational to Fantasy/Science Fiction and a great deal of Romance.

(OA) How did you become an agent?

(Lane) I saw a tweet that The Seymour Agency was looking for an intern/reader, so I applied and got the job! After a few months they bumped me up to literary assistant. Then, a year and a half later our senior agent Nicole Resciniti asked me if I wanted to make the switch to an agenting position. That’s where I am today.

(OA) What draws you to Sci-Fi and Fantasy?

(Lane) I grew up on science fiction and fantasy. I was a huge Trekkie as a kid, read fantasy novels intended for adults in middle school, and played Dungeons and Dragons, Shadowrun, and even Marvel Legends. As kids we all have our ways to escape during tough times, and science fiction and fantasy film and literature were mine.

(OA) Best advice for querying authors? (besides "never give up")

(Lane) Do. Your. Research. I cannot express that enough. I have submission guidelines. All agents do. If I ask for five pages pasted in the body of the email you should give me five pages pasted in the body of the email. If I sound curt, it’s because this is something I see constantly and don’t understand why. If having your baby (book) published is your dream, then why wouldn’t you go for that dream as hard as you can. People may say, “I don’t know where to begin” and I feel that’s a cop out. Google “how to find a literary agent” and go from there. You cannot run a marathon if you haven’t trained a day in your life. Just like you cannot succeed as a writer without learning the craft and industry.

(OA) Will you be at any conventions this year?

(Lane) Yes! I will be at several, including RT Booklovers Convention in Dallas, RWA National in NYC, Unicorn Writers’ Conference in New York, The Southern California Writers’ Conference in Los Angeles, and the 2015 Florida Writers’ Association Annual Conference.

I’ll be taking pitches, sitting on several panels, and presenting a workshop on worldbuilding. For dates, registration, and more information you can click here to view my conference schedule.

(OA) Are there trends in plots that you get tired of seeing? 

(Lane) I’m tired of post-apocalyptic and dystopian settings. Demons as antagonists is getting old for me, mainly because I have clients and agency mates who write demons so perfectly that it’s an unfair competition. I’m also not a big fan of space opera. For me it’s become oversaturated with outlandish settings and alien species that just don’t make sense. Flying toilet people don’t sit well with me. I thrive on subtlety and subtext.


Sugar or Salt? Truvia in my coffee and salt on my popcorn.

Coffee or Tea? Both! I have a constant IV of coffee and only drink green tea.

Dream Vacation spot? Only one? The Caribbean.

Dream Car? A Bugatti Veyron 16.4, or Ford Mustang (I’m simple).

Proudest moment of your life? Reading letters from Holocaust survivors thanking my grandfather for changing their lives while he oversaw the Landsberg DP Camp.

Most embarrassing? Winter. Ten years ago. Walking outside, I slip on a patch of ice and land on my ass in front of my boss. I’ve never heard a man cackle so loud.

You can connect with Lane Heymont on Twitter, Facebook, and follow his blog

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Wednesday Debut Interview: Any Way You Slice It by Kristine Asselin

Today's WEDNESDAY DEBUT INTERVIEW features Kristine Asselin, telling us about her new YA contemporary novel, Any Way You Slice It, which comes out this month!

First off, tell us a bit about yourself!

I grew up just south of Lowell, Massachusetts—and still live five miles from where I grew up. I’m a Girl Scout volunteer. I love Doctor Who and Harry Potter. My favorite band is America (best known for winning Best New Artist of 1971 and their best known hits of the 1970s Horse with No Name and Sister Golden Hair). I’ve seen them over 30 times. Basically, I’m a giant nerd—and not embarrassed to admit it!

I love food, music, and books.

I write Young Adult, Middle Grade, and nonfiction for kids. I love to do school visits, and talk to kids about writing.

Tell us about ANY WAY YOU SLICE IT. It sounds delicious. :)
AWYSI is about Penelope Spaulding who defies her parents and ditches shifts at the family pizza restaurant to sneak around and play hockey with bad boy Jake Gomes. The lies get deeper the more she plays, and she has to figure out how to come clean without losing everything that’s important to her.

It’s straight up light YA contemporary romance—and I like to think of it as having a sporty girl twist.

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?

This was a quick one. My editor, Meredith Rich, accepted the idea from a pitch. I wrote the actual first draft during NaNoWriMo 2013—it’s coming out in April 2015. So about 18 months from first draft to publication.

What is your favorite part of the writing process? Your least favorite?
I really like the creative process, coming up with new plot lines and characters that work. But I don’t always love the rigors of getting that first draft on paper. I love the revision process—polishing the words until they shine. I love reading over the words after not seeing them for a while and saying, “Whoa, I wrote that? Not bad!”

That’s a spectacular feeling!

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

I decided early on that I wasn’t going to take rejection personally. My first two agents left the industry, so by necessity, I’ve been through the query process several times. You develop that thick skin or you don’t continue.

In fact, over the years, I’ve sent over 150 query letters. It’s actually why I started my query critique service—because I wanted to help people write better queries. I signed with Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency in August 2013, and I love her. She takes great care of me!

How did you find your publisher? What makes them a good fit for you and your book?
I found out about Bloomsbury Spark and Meredith Rich through twitter. She was just starting to acquire her list, and she requested another novel I was querying at that time through #PitMad (a twitter pitch contest) in May 2013. She liked my writing, and that relationship turned into her acquiring AWYSI from a one paragraph pitch.

I noticed you have written some children's books. How has breaking into YA been different?
It’s a completely different process. Believe it or not, I’ve been writing YA about the same length of time as I’ve been writing my nonfiction children’s books for the school library market—since about 2008. Those are assignment-based, freelance projects. My agent isn’t involved with those, and they are assigned to me on a case by case basis. I like taking on those projects periodically because they challenge me in a different way.

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?
For me, after I signed the contract, I actually had to write the book. That’s fairly unusual for a debut author; my situation is more similar to a sophomore project. Since I finished AWYSI, I’ve been writing the next book, I’ve taken some freelance projects, worked on promotion.

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?
I *love* my book cover. Ashley Poston is the designer. She’s also a fellow Spark author, which is so cool. I was very involved in the decision-making. They originally gave me 12 or 13 different options, and we narrowed it from there. The existing cover was my favorite from the beginning. The colors changed a bit, but it stood out immediately. The girl IS Penelope. I also love that it doesn’t scream hockey—I wanted to the book to be about Penelope, not about hockey.

Tell us about your title. How did you choose it?
When I pitched the book, there wasn’t a title. Between my agent, Kathleen Rushall, and my editor, we brainstormed about 30 titles. ANY WAY YOU SLICE IT was our collective favorite.

It really was a team effort!

What's next for you after this debut? What are your plans for the future of your writing?
My next YA contemporary is in the hands of my wonderful agent—we hope to have news about it soon. It’s another sporty girl book. I’m also working on a contemporary middle grade novel. I do a lot of school visits for my nonfiction, but I’d love to start getting out to schools to talk about fiction and creative writing (shameless plug to teachers and librarians, I *will* travel!)

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?

I’m absolutely thrilled to have this book out in the world. I’m so proud of it. I’ll be at the New England SCBWI conference (April 24-26) after my launch date and can’t wait to celebrate—both my agent and editor will also be there, so we’ll be partying all weekend! I’ll also be at New Jersey SCBWI in June.

I’m planning on doing some workshops for the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts around the theme of good sportsmanship because of the sports theme in the book. I’m excited to talk to girl athletes.

For my launch (which is April 21), I’m asking people to post pictures of themselves eating pizza or playing hockey and tag me, with the hashtag, #AWYSI. Can’t wait to see all the pizza! Yum!

What a fun idea!

Is there any other advice you'd like to pass on to others pursuing publication? Anything you would have done differently?

My biggest piece of advice is just to persevere. Take opportunities to learn your craft; attend workshops, meet industry pros face to face—if you can. Keep writing. Celebrate the small victories along the way—and enjoy it.

And, just for fun, what celebrity do you think would enjoy your book?
Ooh. I’d love say David Tennant (the 10th Doctor), but he’s not the target demographic, so it’s not likely.

Thank you so much for your participation in this Wednesday Debut Interview and congratulations on your debut!

Thank you so much for having me!

Order Any Way You Slice It here!

Monday, April 6, 2015

What's Your Easter Egg?

I hope everyone had a wonderful Easter! I spent mine trying to get some relaxation time in, while fixing some plot and character problems in one of my manuscripts. There was a place, a little more than 30% in, where it felt flat, and had no direction. Kind of like this:

Now what?

Ultimately, it meant I hadn't yet gotten to what that story really was--it was floundering, with nothing holding it together. I'd added too many directions, and made the story wider instead of deeper.

But it needed to go deeper. That was the creamy filling that the book's egg was missing.

Which meant my character needed a clear focus, a motivation, even after she'd experienced a pretty significant trauma. And it had to directly relate to the mid-point reversal.

And then, when I saw the the end of an episode of Better Call Saul, called Pimento, I finally found my missing Easter egg.

I won't ruin Better Call Saul for those who want to see it, but suffice to say that Saul (Jimmy) finds out that he's been strung along for quite awhile by someone he thought he trusted (which is exactly what happens to my protagonist). Watch if you dare:

My protagonist's motivation was not only to try to fill the holes in her life, but acknowledge that they were there in the first place. And because the antagonist would never allow her to do that, that's where they could bat heads at the mid-point reversal.

Armed with my Easter egg (and its creamy filling) I'll go back to revising that section with a completely new purpose--both with what the antagonist intends and how my protagonist has to get around it.

To to sum up, if you have a section of your book that's falling flat, revisit the following questions:

  • What does my protagonist really want here (their Easter egg)? Why do they want it? How will it help him/her?
  • What does my antagonist really want here (their Easter egg)? How will he/she thwart my protagonist's efforts to get what he/she wants?
  • How will this section relate to the mid-point reversal (or other places where protagonist and antagonist go head-to-head)?

Hopefully, by the time you've worked through this, you'll find Easter eggs that you might not otherwise have discovered.

Your turn. What's your protagonists's Easter egg? Antagonist's Easter egg? How will they help your plot and character development?

Friday, April 3, 2015

Writing for a Cause

Why do you write?

Some people write for the fun of it. Some write to get the voices out of their heads and onto paper where they're more socially acceptable. :) Some write to fill a void. Others write to tell a story that demands to be told. This latter reason is what I want to address today.

Writing for a Cause

Throughout history, there are authors who have written books at just the right time to bring awareness to a societal problem.

Jane Austen wrote books that addressed social inequalities, laws that damaged livelihoods of women and servants, and customs that caused people to act outside of their consciences. Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, etc.

Charles Dickens wrote books that tunneled through the darkest streets of England to find every urchin and every suffering soul ignored by the too-oblivious higher social castes. Oliver Twist, a Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, etc. 

Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote in Uncle Tom's Cabin about the disgusting realities of slavery in America, the people who enabled abuse and degradation, and the people who helped to set them free.

Lindsey Leavitt wrote in Sean Griswold's Head about the difficulty of MS in real life, and the psychological healing of a girl who must watch her father suffer through it.

Simone Elkeles wrote in Perfect Chemistry about gang life, the pervasiveness of gangs in the communities they terrorize, and how difficult breaking free truly is.

Kell Andrews wrote in Deadwood about the ills of cold-hearted ambition and the duty of humanity to be caretakers of Nature.

Each of these authors has a special place in my heart for the stories they told that needed to be told. They are all fiction, and yet they are all true (even Deadwood, with its paranormal elements). They are true because they address true troubles and true heroes.

I'm inspired to be a better person when I read books like these. Sometimes called "issues books," other times, "classics," books that are written to tell important stories and elucidate troubles that hide in the darkest parts of society serve humanity by elevating our thoughts to compassion and service to one another.

I challenge you to begin today to write something that matters to you. Make it short. Make it long. Just begin.

And tell me, what's your favorite issues book or classic of all time? 

(If I had to choose, I think I'd say the New Testament. "Suffer the children to come to me.") - Pick a cause, any cause

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

April 2015 Mystery Agent Critique Forum - OPEN NOW!

Welcome to the Mystery Agent critique portion of our contest. Those who wished to be included in the open forum are ready for your critiques. The entries are extremely short, so I encourage you to read through them and see what's trending. Pretend you're an agent! What catches your attention? Which ones stand out after you've been through them all, and more importantly... why?

Our rules are simple:
Even though it's April Fool's Day...
Be helpful.
Be relevant.
Be kind.

*For THIS contest-- I decided to list Runner Ups who were NOT chosen by Raffelcopter, but wanted to be in the forum for critique. (Sorry I couldn't rearrange the topics--- or Runner Ups would have been moved to the bottom of the list.)

Congratulations to all our winners, and to these lucky winners who opted to not be included in the forum:
Amber Riley
Tlotlo Tsamaase
Nicki Pau Preto
J.C. Welker

All entries have been forwarded to our marvelous Mystery Agent, and in a couple of weeks, I'll reveal our Mystery Agent and his top picks in a post of amazing awesomesauce.  :-) 

Thanks in advance to everyone who chimes in, and to all of our fantastic entrants. Happy critting! 

One last thing....
For easy access to the entries throughout the month, look in the tab under the OA blog banner: MA Critiques.

Just a little more info about the forum:

-You DO NOT have to register to comment.
-To comment on a pitch, just click Reply on the main post in the thread. It will bring up a comment box where you can enter your name and comment.
-To return to the full list, click April 2015 Mystery Agent in the top left corner of the forum.

Still have questions? Leave them in the comments below this post.