Friday, May 29, 2015

Weekend Writing Prompts: Magic Stinky Carpet, Gossamer Curtain, The Question

a) The stinky carpet in your grandmother's hospice room has gone missing, and so has she. Where did they go?

b) The house at the end of the street lies empty, except for a single gossamer curtain that hangs from the very center of the dark and decaying room. Is anything hidden behind it? What does it represent to its discoverer, and what does it represent to the one who left it behind?

c) If you have to take one more exam, you'll scream. It's finals week and every teacher has surprised the class with a pop quiz. It's the last period of the day when someone taps your shoulder. You turn around and see that in your fog of tests, you failed to notice your long-time crush walk in and take the seat behind you. Now he wants to ask you something, you can see it in the slant of his perfectly oceanic eyes. What does he say? What impact does it have on this moment, the day, and the entire upcoming summer? How do the people around you react?

Happy Weekend Writing! If you use a prompt to get you kick-started this weekend, comment below. You can share your masterpiece or just nod if you'd rather keep it to yourself.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Wednesday Debut Interview: The Rearranged Life by Annika Sharma

Happy Wednesday! This month's final Wednesday Debut Interview features Annika Sharma, author of THE REARRANGED LIFE, a NA contemporary romance novel that debuted May 15th.

First off, tell us a bit about yourself!
Thank you for having me! My name is Annika. I’m in my twenties. I’m an avid lover of Starbucks, online shopping, Once Upon a Time, pizza and thunderstorms. I’m still scared of the Wicked Witch of the West. I know all the words to A Little Princess, which is one of my all-time favorite movies. And every one of my celebrity crushes is British (including the girl crushes).

How would you describe THE REARRANGED LIFE in one sentence?
A mix of east meets west, where a first generation Indian girl in the United States has to make a big choice between her past and her future when she falls in love with a handsome American.

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?

Two years, ten months and two weeks to the day. I wrote the book in six weeks—then sat on it for a year in graduate school! I spent three months revising. It took nine months to get an agent, three months to get a book deal, and another five months to my publication date. Phew!

How have your own experiences as an Indian-American influenced those of Nithya, your protagonist?
Indian culture is absolutely beautiful—the customs, rituals and magic is thousands of years old and I come from a traditional family so I’ve been lucky to embrace it. But being first-generation comes with its own struggle: sometimes the culture we are raised in, American, and Indian can tie together seamlessly. Other times, they clash so spectacularly; there are choices to be made about which direction to go in. Things like marriage and dating are an ideological clash, and it was interesting to watch friends (and myself) go through things that made us choose one over the other. Those definitely shaped the way I wrote the story.

What part of this book did you most enjoy writing?
I loooved writing the scenes where Nithya spends time with her love interests. It’s always fun to write banter between two people who are interested in each other because it’s relatively universal how they react to each other. But between Nishanth and James, I got to weave some cultural differences in the way they speak and it was so fun to simultaneously write a flirty, similar relationship and differentiate the two with the nuances.

Every writer experiences some rejection and setbacks along the way. How did you learn to cope with them and move on?
It can be so hard to drown out the voices! I don’t know if I’ve ever completely gotten over it—some comments definitely stick harder than others. An agent once said she wasn’t interested in knowing what happened to the characters, which hurts after you’ve spent months creating them. You have to learn to filter the criticism that helps, like, “Your pace isn’t steady,” versus “You suck,” and see what you can use to make your future work better.

How did you find your publisher? What makes them a good fit for you and your book?
My agent, Stacey Donaghy, had experience with CQ and said they really catered to authors. For a first timer, they were gentle (ha) and really showed me the ropes gradually. I felt so taken care of and they tried so hard to a) allow me in on every process and b) make me happy. The editing process between Lisa, my editor, and I felt so collaborative. I loved my experience with CQ.

Tell us about your cover. Who designed it? How much say did you have in it? What do you want it to tell your readers about your story?
Eugene Teplitsky of CQ designed this cover. We must have gone through forty drafts!

Marketing, Eugene, my editor, agent and I all had to agree—and I had a lot of say. This cover was so hard because we wanted to capture the “Indianness” of the story—but Nithya grew up in the United States so she blends into American culture. We also had to capture the American side—but we couldn’t go too far in that direction either. Add a relationship, college, and fun/flirtiness with a serious twist to it…there were a LOT of elements to sort through! Ultimately I think we got it.

I think so! It's lovely!

Tell us about your title. Was this the original title you'd had in mind?

It was the original title, believe it or not. I briefly toyed with Threads that Bind or something, but I wanted to play on arranged marriages, how Nithya’s life takes a different direction than expected and how it wasn’t broken—just set up differently.

What's next for you after this book debuts? Have you started working on another book?
I turned in my second manuscript to my agent and am currently with toying with ideas for a third! I’m so excited to hopefully have more books out there soon.

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 currently alternating between being so excited I can’t speak and breathing into a paper bag.

So far, reviews have been largely positive so I’m taking that to heart and reminding myself to look at those when the inevitable negative one comes through. On May 26th, I’ll be a part of a mult-author New Adult Debut Party on Facebook and I’ll be at RWA in July!

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

I went to this leadership conference in college and their tenet was, “Have a healthy disregard for the impossible.” I loved that. The odds are always against you but it’s up to you how much credibility you give them. Work hard. Wanting to give up is natural. Keep going anyway, especially if you feel passionate about it. If I could have done something differently…I might have done more research into storytelling tactics, so I could pinpoint what I love about certain stories. But overall, I like to think things happen for a reason, so the story and the process happened the way it should.

And, just for fun, which book in your own library do you think would be your main character Nithya's favorite?
All of my college textbooks… And Michael Crichton, Robin Cook, Jhumpa Lahiri, Abraham Varghese...literary fiction and fiction with a medical edge.

Thanks for joining us and congrats on your debut!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Weekend Writing Prompts: a Defiled Cave, a Lab Monster, and the Biggest Library in the World

Welcome to another edition of Weekend Writing Prompts by Operation Awesome! *cheesy grin*
For more prompts, check out last week's first edition.

a) You enter a cave filled with graffiti. Chipped stalagtites hang everywhere like ragged shark teeth. An eerie drip is coming from somewhere, echoing through the main chamber. Several tunnels snake away from you. Brightly colored spray paint, still fresh, points an awkwardly drawn arrow down the tunnel to your left. How did you get here, and why don't you want to run away from this dark, eerie scene?

b) An elderly librarian sits in the biggest library in the world, surrounded by a mixture of the world's oldest, most ornate leather-bound books and a row of state-of-the-art touchscreen kiosks. The girl who just walked in holds an ancient key in one hand and a memory drive in her pocket. She is dripping wet with a determined, yet weary expression in her eyes. What are the first words out of her mouth? Will the librarian be inclined to help or stop her?

c) The lab on the forty-seventh floor leads out to a series of labyrinth offices, some covered in dust, others immaculate with the smell of hospital. In the main lab, a white-coated figure stands over a gurney. What lies on the gurney isn't strictly human. Nor is it any animal this doctor has ever seen. The sound it makes sends a resonant tingle from his toes to his neck. It's purring. The doctor is alone on a Sunday night, with only the rent-a-cop night guard downstairs for back-up. The lower floors serve as corporate offices, rented out to myriad companies. Nobody is crazy enough to be working except for him. Looking at the needle in his hand, the doctor gets the unsettling impulse to stab and run. What does he do instead? What special and unexpected skill does the night guard have that can help?

Happy writing this weekend!

Enjoy those finals, or the first days of summer, whichever!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Wednesday Debut Interview: Run Away by Laura Salters

It's Wednesday again, which means we have yet another Wednesday Debut Interview for you! Today Laura Salters is telling us all about her New Adult Suspense novel, RUN AWAY, which debuted yesterday!

First off, tell us a bit about yourself!

Okay! I’m a 24-year-old chatterbox with a coffee addiction. I come from the northernmost town in England, so I’m a proper northern girl. I’m a trained journalist and worked at a lifestyle magazine for two years after graduating. Addicted to Netflix, running and all things chocolate.

How would you describe RUN AWAY in one sentence? Where did the idea for this mystery come from?
One sentence?? That’s mean! How about this: When the love of Kayla’s life vanishes in Thailand, she returns to England with the niggling feeling that his disappearance is linked to another recent tragedy in her life—and with the help of her shrink and an ambitious detective, she’s determined to get to the bottom of the mystery.

The idea for the story was inspired by a few things. I was intrigued by the up-and-coming New Adult genre (college age characters and mature themes) but most of what I was reading was contemporary romance. Which is awesome, but I wanted something a little different. So I thought, what if we could combine this sexy romance with something darker and more suspenseful?

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 the first draft of RUN AWAY in July 2013 and finished eight weeks later in September. I signed with Suzie Townsend in April 2014, went through a lot of edits then sold my manuscript to Emily Krump at HarperCollins in September 2014. So I guess it was pretty fast!!

This book takes place in Thailand and England. Do you have any personal connection to these places? How did you research these settings?
The England portions of the novel are set in Northumberland, which is where I’ve lived since I was born, so I didn’t have to do much research for those scenes. However, I’ve never been to Thailand so that required a lot more thought. I used Lonely Planet a lot, but my favourite thing to do was to search for pictures of the locations on Pinterest or Instagram, then describe what I saw in my own words! It was so fun to do. I think I’ll always use exotic settings in my work.

What part of this book did you most enjoy writing?
Without a doubt the fun scenes when Kayla is in Thailand with her new group of friends. I loved writing the witty dialogue, romantic moments and drunken antics.

Every writer experiences some rejection and setbacks along the way. How did you learn to cope with them and move on?
I think you have to accept that it’s always going to be a part of the journey. I know a romcom author who’s had an incredibly successful career, publishing over 15 books, but she;s having a huge dry spell and hasn’t sold a project for years. It’s heartbreaking, but it’s part of the journey—it’ll always be an inherently subjective industry. I mainly get through it by drinking wine, cuddling my dog and visiting my best friend and lovely goddaughter.

How did you find your publisher? What makes them a good fit for you and your book?
Through my wonderful agent! She pitched it to Emily Krump, who works for HarperCollins imprints William Morrow and Witness Impulse, and thankfully she loved the book as much as we do. From day one she’s been so enthusiastic, calling RUN AWAY “highly addictive” and “pure entertainment”—so by the time I spoke to her on the phone for the first time (she’s based in New York), I already knew it was going to be a great fit. I was right!

Your book cover is very striking. Who designed it? How much say did you have in it?
Thank you! The wonderful design department at HarperCollins produced it. I had a lot of say, which was so awesome—I sent them a selection of covers I really loved, one of which was Beautiful Disaster. In the end, that hugely inspired our finished cover, but we used black, white and red to give it more of a suspenseful vibe. I adore it!

Tell us about your title. Was this the original title you'd had in mind? If not, what made you change it?
Oh, titles. My Achilles heel. I can’t quite emphasise enough how awful I am at thinking of titles. I think RUN AWAY was the sixth or seventh working title? It changed three times as I was writing until I settled on THE WING CLIPPER. When I signed with Suzie it became SPREAD YOUR WINGS AND FALL, then just AND FALL. It’s been a lot of different things! We wanted something punchy and gripping.

Can you tell us about some of the things you been working on between signing a contract for RUN AWAY and its release?
Sure! I’ve been working on another suspense novel called JUMP, which is set at a music festival in Serbia, plus I’ve been throwing myself into a YA fantasy series. I like to have lots of different things on the go at once. Currently fighting the urge to try my hand at screenwriting after I attended an amazing workshop through New Writing North!

How does it feel to finally have your book out in the hands of readers?
Terrifying. Surreal. Exciting. Nervewracking. Exhilarating.

Is there any other advice you'd like to pass on to others pursuing publication? Anything you would have done differently?
Just finish your manuscript. You wouldn’t get halfway through a marathon and think, “Well, I’ve got this far, but I think I could have done it better, so I’ll go back and do the first half again.” It’s the same with writing—don’t get halfway through a project and be tempted to go back and edit the first half. Reach the end. Once you have a first draft, then you can think about editing, restructuring and polishing. And don’t get disheartened! You’ve all heard the lines. “You can’t break into publishing unless you know someone.” “You’ll never make a living from writing.” “It’s not a real career.” Ignore them. Be positive. Be ruthlessly optimistic. Throw yourself into your passion.

And, just for fun, which book in your own library do you think would be your main character Kayla's favorite?
What a fun question!! I think she loves THE HUMANS by Matt Haig.

Thanks for the interview, Laura, and congrats on your debut!!

Buy RUN AWAY here!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Pre-Writing a Novel, Making a Road Map

The next time I start a brand new project with new characters, I plan to follow these steps BEFORE I spend any time writing the actual story. At the beginning of my writerly life, I would have considered this a huge waste of time—when I already know (mostly) how the story will go in my head. But ultimately, for me, writing panster-style (and writing by consensus) created years of rewriting, reorganizing, and countless cleanups to make sure all the details were still true to what was kept (and that details or character comments didn’t pertain to something that got cut).

This recommended process (a writing assignment from my publisher) took me about two weeks and ended up being about 25k. I have referred to it often in the course of writing my series, because some plot threads span more than one book, some characters aren't fully revealed in a single book, and I can't forget who and what they are (lest I end up with loose threads and characters who vanish for no apparent reason.)

1. List every character who has a name and give them a face (a real picture from google images—no one but you will ever see this image, so no worries in regards to fame or legal rights)

2. Give each person a life—age, family status, why, who, where, how, what they want, goals/dreams/fears. What part do they play in the story? Where do they end up by the time the story is finished?

3. What are the plots? What are the sub-plots? Play all the plots out to the every end, including all major turning points, climax, and end (for every plot, like a synopsis!). This will give you a steady pace to follow, and keep you from giving away too much info too soon (if you know exactly how much is there in the first place).

4. Think of questions that could potentially rip your story apart, and figure out the answers before you start writing. (How does an entire community of shifters stay hidden? Why can’t Ariel write Eric a note to declare her love (after she’s lost her voice) when it’s clear she knows how to write? Who has access to the ‘magic’ and why?)

5. Connect all the dots. How does each character interact with the main character/s? Do they help or hinder? If they do neither, maybe they shouldn't be involved at all (if you’re doing this AFTER your story has been written, and you’re looking for ways to cut. If you love the character too much to cut, make him/her earn his way into the story by giving him a purpose that makes sense. Or save him/her for book 2, or another story entirely.) :-)

This is a great way to determine how much value a character or plot adds to your story. You don’t want or need extra wordage the reader could do without, or “talking heads” with no real cause.

Have a solid plan and know your characters’ personalities before you begin the writing, and you’ll save hours and hours (maybe months) of fixing timelines, filling plot-holes, and tweaking details for pace, believability, and dimension. With each character and plot, you should know exactly where they need to go and why. How they get there can still be a surprise in the writing, but the destination (along with the critical gas stations) should be mapped out before the journey begins.

*bonus tip! If your ideas gets tweaked along the way, do you best to keep this master document updated as you go. Because every time you come to roadblock in the writing, you'll have an accurate map to get you back on course.

If a *shiny new road has your wheels spinning faster, you can more accurately predict how much change one little detail might have on the overall story--if you can still get to the same destination on a different route.

*There's no harm in changing the destination before you get there, you just have to make sure all the details agree to change direction. If you've already written stuff that no longer's not the end of the world (just more work). Sometimes a different destination is well worth the effort. ;-)

Friday, May 15, 2015

Friday Fun: Three Writing Prompts for the Weekend

I wonder sometimes if other people's weekends are as unproductive as mine when it comes to writing. If you are like me and get busy with family and faith over the weekend, you may need something to draw you into writing like I sometimes do. That's what writing prompts are for!

I'll give you a couple to choose from. Pick a prompt, get your pen or keyboard, and get writing. Once you're in the groove, open up your WIP (work in progress) and keep going!

Prompt a)  A family is reunited in the posh conference room of a law office for the reading of their mother's last will and testament. Amid the expected inheritances, a few surprises emerge. Write what happens next.

Prompt b) Two missionary brothers travel to opposite sides of the world. One has been living in a renovated French palace, the other in a hut which has been burned to the ground by roving gangs at least once. When they return to their small town parish, the congregants ask them to tell their stories. A girl they have been vying for since boyhood is among them. Tell how they behave.

Prompt c) Seven strangers are thrown together in a Walgreens to shelter from a sudden monsoon. Two are running from the law, and one is a techie with a photographic memory who lives in his parents' guest house. Describe the actions and reactions of each stranger.

Happy Writing Weekend, All!

p.s.  In case you missed it, Angelica's book baby had a birthday. Check out the Crow's Rest bloghop.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Regarding mind space--and a partial farewell

Like Angelica and a few other Operation Awesome operatives, I will be posting on more of a limited basis. But I'll still be in the Operation Awesome Twitterverse, so feel free to find me at @OpAwesome6

And now, to today's post:

Mind space. The final frontier.

Cue Star Trek theme.

I've attended workshops where writers talk about mind space in relation to creativity. But what exactly is mind space, and how can writers capitalize on it?

Step 1: Admit there's muck to clean

For starters, ask yourself:

a) What gets in the way throughout your day?

b) What's occupying your brain region normally reserved for creative endeavors?

For me, it was something very palpable.

A childhood friend of mine recently passed away from breast cancer. And even though we hadn't seen each other in quite a few years, she had an active influence on my life. One I wasn't able to express to her fully before she passed.

So to keep my mind occupied, I decided to resume my work-in-progress edits the day after I found out she died.

Big mistake.

Later, I looked over those words and went. Oh. Boy.

I was not in the mind space for this.

Which is why admitting it is the first step.

Step 2: Step away from the muck until it's a tiny speck. 

But then what?

That's where the space comes in. The day after my disastrous edits, I took a few days for myself, where I didn't have to do anything. Where I could reminisce about my friend with those I cared about, and those who knew her. This allowed me to work through my grief to the point where it wasn't all-consuming.

Step 3: Clean out the speck so your eyes can see clearly. 

Once you can see the muck for a speck, removing it is easier (though sometimes step two takes longer than I'd like). And once it's gone, you can see things you didn't before. Case in point, I had a plot flaw that was making all kinds of dust bunnies in my manuscript. I'd thought about this problem for weeks, months at a time, with no solution.

But after the speck vanished--the solution came, and it actually tied into another plot element I hadn't known what to do with before that point.

An ideal mind space is clear enough to see a path forward. Wide enough to let in possibilities.

But sometimes, steps one through three will have to be repeated, depending on how much muck you have. Which brings me to this:

Step 1-A: When the muck's purpose is recognized, it can be easier to clean.

Once I realized the purpose my friend had in my life, it was easier for me to be at peace with her passing. She was not only someone who influenced me, but also brought me to my truer self. And in that way, her memory still has purpose for me.

What about you? What's in your mind space? What's not there that you think should be? And in what ways will you allow yourself space?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Wednesday Debut Interview: The Tulip Resistance by Lynne Leatham Allen

Today's WEDNESDAY DEBUT INTERVIEW features Lynne Leatham Allen, author of The Tulip Resistance, an Adult Historical Fiction debut published with Cedar Fort.

First off, tell us a bit about yourself! 

My name is Lynne Leatham Allen, I use my maiden name as a middle name because if you google Lynne Allen you will find hundreds of them on line.

How would you describe THE TULIP RESISTANCE in one sentence? 

It is a unique fun read, with a lot of plot twists and turns.

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? 

About twenty months.

Your story takes place in the Netherlands. Do you have a personal connection to the Dutch? 

No. I got the idea from a biography on Audrey Hepburn I learned she worked for the resistance in WW2, but I thought it was the French Resistance. In my research I learned she lived in Holland and worked for the Dutch resistance. At first I was disappointed it was the Dutch resistance because it is not as well known, but I soon learned it was a great idea because it wasn’t as well known.

What part of this book did you most enjoy writing? 

The first chapter. Second-- was the barn dance.

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

I had help. I have a wonderful friend that kept telling me to keep going because she believed in my writing that it is unique and different and to keep going. If it wasn’t for her I probably would have quit. She is an English teacher who teaches writing.

How did you find your publisher? What makes them a good fit for you and your book? 

I paid a $20.00 fifteen minute pitch at the League of Utah Writers Conference. The editor seemed to be immediately interested when I told her about ww2 story and Audrey Hepburn. They have been wonderful to work with.

Tell us about your cover. Who designed it? How much say did you have in it? What do you want it to tell your readers about your story? 

Cedar Fort Publishing designed it. I had no say in it. People I have shown it to have loved it. It tells what it is a WW2 story in Holland. The story is a fun story but also tells some of the trials of war. It is not a heavy, depressing story but there is a lot of humor and love throughout the book. I highly recommend it.

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

Sort of. I had a devil of a time naming it. I thought about “A tulip Among the Thorns,” “The White Lily,” I settled on “War and the Tulip Resistance” but Cedar Fort didn’t like it and changed it to “The Tulip Resisitance,” after a lot of negotiations about different titles. They wanted to change it to “Underground Tulips,” but I didn’t like it I thought it sounded like a gardening book. I like what we decided to name it.

What's next for you after this book debuts? Have you started working on another book? 

Yes, I am working on a sequel right now, I’ve tentatively named it “Operation Tulip.” It is more of espionage, secret missions etc. The same characters are involved but it tells what happened to them after they flew out of Holland at the end of the first book.

How does it feel to finally have your book out in the hands of readers?

Exciting! But at the same time I am nervous too. This is my first book. This is my baby. I love it! But will others? I’m sure all will have their own feelings about it, parts of it will have a certain effect on some, while others will have different feelings about different parts of the book. I guess that what makes a good book!

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

Don’t get discouraged and quit! Don’t ever quit! If you want to publish set that as a goal and work toward it. Don’t let the critics get you down. It is just their opinion, doesn’t make it true. You are the author of your story. It is your baby, you love it, let it be yours instead of theirs. The first year in the group of LUW I didn’t do anything they said. I listened to them, and got way discouraged. But it was hard to do what they said because I felt they didn’t understand what I was trying to say. It took a long time before I got myself in a place to really listen to them. In the meantime I wrote down words they would say like “show not tell,” I didn’t know what that meant and had to look it up. I studied a lot at home alone, trying to understand their lingo. I didn’t have any college background in writing. All this is a whole new world for me. I had to learn from the ground up.

And, just for fun, which book in your own library do you think would be your main character Marieka's favorite? 

The Stone of Iscar by: Me

Thanks, Lynne, and congrats on your debut!


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Welcome to the Crow's Rest Bloghop!

Today I'm celebrating the release of my debut novel, Crow's Rest, by taking part in a bloghop, yay! You can see the complete schedule here. Participants were asked to share a real-life ghost encounter, or other strange happening, and boy do I have something special to share. And, there are giveaways!

But first, I wanted to share a section from Crow's Rest, which features a sinister encounter for Avery at Warren Castle (which is modeled on the real, haunted Preston Castle in Ione, California). Here she is telling Daniel about it:

The story behind the story is that the spooky events Avery describes actually happened to me at Preston Castle. And also like Avery, I've been involved in documenting the Castle's restoration in photographs. Preston Castle has been featured in an episode of Ghost Adventures and The Great Escape, and it's a pretty creepy place. They offer overnight events, but I'm not quite that brave!

Since I already indirectly shared a ghost story, I'm not going to count it as my bloghop post, lol. Instead, I offer you photographic proof of a living Fae being--I'm not sure exactly what kind he is, but this enchanted forest citizen was captured on film at the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park fifteen years ago:

You can click on the picture to see it larger, btw. Can you see the little bearded, pointy-eared man to the right? He's peering around the smaller trunk and looking very cheeky in his tophat. Perhaps my feet are blocking the entrance to his home under the tree? Tell me what mischief you think he's contemplating in the comments!

And now, for the giveaway!

One grand prize will be awarded, and it includes a signed copy of Crow's Rest, signed bookmarks, a Celtic knot necklace, and fun swag items

And two Swag Packs will also be awarded, and include signed bookmarks, a Celtic knot necklace, and fun swag items

These giveaways are open to U.S. addresses only, and you can enter through this Rafflecopter

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Title:  Crow's Rest
Author:  Angelica R. Jackson
Published:  May 12, 2015
Publisher:  Spencer Hill Press
Isbn: 9781633920040
Pages: 288
Retail: $9.95
Buy Links: Barnes and Noble |  Amazon | BookDepository

About the author:
In keeping with her scattered Gemini nature, Angelica R. Jackson has far too many interests to list here.

She has an obsession with creating more writing nooks in the home she shares with her husband and two corpulent cats in California's Gold Country. Fortunately, the writing nooks serve for reading and cat cuddling too.

Other pastimes include cooking for food allergies (not necessarily by choice, but she's come to terms with it), photography, and volunteering at a local no-kill cat sanctuary.
Twitter  |   Facebook  |   Goodreads  |   Photo Galleries  |   Blog  |   Website

Monday, May 11, 2015

Pre-Writing: Getting Into Character


For May, our OA Writing Tips topic is Pre-Writing. How do you get ready to write a novel?

When I first started writing, I didn't know pre-writing existed. I dove in, head first, and felt befuddled when I bonked my head on the bottom of the pool. Through the years, I've begun to appreciate the idea of pre-writing. My favorite way to get ready for a big project, and the one I'm going to talk about today, is...

Getting Into Character:

So, taking a leaf from Twilight's Stephenie Meyer--who wrote her first book beginning with the intense emotional dream she'd just had: a conversation between a girl and a vampire about how much he wanted to kill her and how hard it was for him to refrain--I like to begin by writing a conversation between two or more characters. This gives me an idea who my main characters are, and why they are at odds with each other. It immediately establishes the main conflict, each character's main motive, and the justification each will use to feel like the good guy in the conflict.

This comes naturally to me because I often feel the impulse to open a new scene with dialogue. It's counter-intuitive for me to do what the experts say and begin by setting the scene. In my mind, it's the conversation that means the most. This type of pre-writing works with my natural inclination and gets the creative juices flowing.

Even if the conversations won't ever feature in the finished novel, they put me firmly in the heads of the characters I'm going to be leading on their wild goose chase of adventure, woe, and resolution.

How do you pre-write?

Look for answers from the rest of the OA gang throughout the month.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Wednesday Debut Interview: Anna, Banana, and the Friendship Split by Anica Mrose Rissi

Today, we're excited to chat with Anica Mrose Rissi about her MG debut that just came out yesterday, Anna, Banana, and the Friendship Split!

First off, tell us a bit about yourself!
Hello! Thanks for having me. My name is Anica Mrose Rissi and I am a writer, storyteller, and editrix, based in Brooklyn, New York. I like dogs, ice cream, and dancing around the room.

How would you describe ANNA, BANANA, AND THE FRIENDSHIP SPLIT in one sentence? What gave you the idea for this particular story?
Anna, Banana, and the Friendship Split is the first book in a new series about a girl named Anna who navigates the ups and downs of third-grade best friendship, with a little help from her wiener dog, Banana.

The idea for the book started with the title, and the story spun out from there. I had a lot of fun writing it!

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?
I spent more than two years writing and revising (and revising, and revising) the draft of the manuscript that sold to my editor, the super-fabulous Kristin Ostby at S&S. Kristin signed up the first four books in the series in July 2013—at which point I revised Friendship Split twice more.

So, from the start of the first draft to publication day took over four years.

The next three books in the series (which I wrote under contract, and therefore with a much stricter and more regular writing schedule) took about six months of writing and revision each.

They will all be released within two years of conception. Book two, Anna, Banana, and the Monkey in the Middle, comes out on July 7.

And the "Banana" in the title is a little wiener dog -- too cute! Do you have dogs of your own?
Yes! My dog, Arugula, is a long-legged hound mix who wiggled her way into my heart six years ago when I saw her sitting in the window of an adoption bus that was parked on my street in Brooklyn. I’d been on my way to the train station to visit my parents, but I called them said, “I’m going to be late. I’m adopting a dog.” My father said, “Bad idea. Call us when you know what train you’ll be on.” Her middle name is “Badidea” in honor of him. She’s the very best bad idea I’ve had.

A rather adorable "bad idea"

What part of this book did you most enjoy writing?
Some of my favorite scenes to write were the ones with Anna and her family, especially the moments with her older brother, Chuck. Chuck loves teasing Anna, and Anna both likes and hates being teased, and the dynamics of their relationship were really fun to draw out. (They were inspired, in part, by my relationship with my own older brother, who has always been a key figure in my life.) I use Chuck throughout the series for moments of comic relief, but he also has some surprising big-brother wisdom to offer, and serves as a great example of how sometimes someone you love can drive you nuts, make you angry, or make you want to scream or cry, but no matter what, the love is always there. That’s what family and good friendships are all about.

Every writer experiences some rejection and setbacks along the way. How did you learn to cope with them and move on?
I spent more than thirteen years working as an editor at three major publishing houses, so I know from first-hand experience on the other side of that fence that rejection is not personal. As an editor, I turned down hundreds of manuscripts every single year. Most of the projects I rejected were good manuscripts, I just wasn’t the perfect editor for them at the time. An editor needs to fall head-over-heels in love to acquire a manuscript—she has to want to spend her nights and weekends with it, because if she acquires a project, that’s when she’ll be editing it—and it has to be something she feels she can publish well in the current market, at her current publisher, considering the other projects currently on her imprint’s list and out in the world. And although rejection stings, it’s like dating: You don’t want to be matched with just any editor, you want to land the editor who is the right match for you and your book. That can take time, luck, and perseverance. When a rejection comes in, I remind myself that finding the right editor is worth the wait. (And, I try to listen with an open mind to any feedback or suggestions that might come in the rejection note—a thoughtful rejection letter can be a real gift.)

How did you find your publisher? What makes them a good fit for you and your book?
My literary agent, Meredith Kaffel at DeFiore and Company, crafted a careful submission list of editors and imprints she thought might be a good match for the project. After we discussed it, she sent out the manuscript to our top picks. Rejection letters almost always come first, and I was prepared for that (and got some very nice ones, for which I’m grateful). But after a few weeks, Meredith got a call from Kristin at S&S, who was bringing the manuscript to her editorial meeting. I knew that this didn’t necessarily mean she’d be making an offer, but I allowed myself to start dreaming—and to learn everything I could about her from Twitter, which led to an immediate editor crush (she’s smart and funny and loves dogs too! how could this not work out?). By the time the offer came in, I was convinced she’d be a wonderful editor and advocate for Anna, Banana, and me, so Meredith and I accepted a pre-empt offer. And I was right.

Tell us about your cover. Who designed it? How much say did you have in it? What do you want it to tell your readers about your story?
The adorable cover is thanks to illustrator Meg Park (who also did the interior art) and designer Laurent Linn, who added wonderful touches throughout. The publisher chooses and hires the illustrator (after consulting with the author), and I was thrilled when S&S matched the project with Meg—she draws especially wonderful animals, and when I saw her online portfolio, I was immediately smitten. I sent my editor some character descriptions for Meg to work with and gave reactions to the sketches, but really the cover is the domain of the publisher, and I think they did an excellent job with it. Seeing the art for each book has been one of the most exciting parts of the process—so fun.

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

The idea for the book actually started with the title, though at first I was missing a comma. The breakthrough moment in coming up with the plot happened when I realized this wasn’t a book about a girl named Anna Banana, it was about a girl named Anna and her wiener dog, Banana.

That a-ha moment happened while I was out walking my dog in the park. We ran straight home and I wrote the opening scene.

Tell us about the other books in the Anna Banana series! They're already written?

Yes, they are already written and Meg Park is hard at work on the interior illustrations. Anna, Banana, and the Monkey in the Middle comes out this July, followed by Anna, Banana, and the Big-Mouth Bet in September and Anna, Banana, and the Puppy Parade in January 2016. I can’t wait to see them all together on the shelf!

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’s hugely exciting, especially getting to share the story and talk about writing with kids. I did a few events in the weeks right before publication, including the Newburyport Literary Festival in Newburyport, MA, and release parties and school visits in Decatur, GA and Alexandria, VA. I’ve got one more release party (at BookCourt in Brooklyn, NY on Saturday, May 9–if you’re in NYC, please come!) and several more school visits coming up. I’ll also be at the Decatur Book Festival in September. If you’d like me to visit (or Skype with) your class, school, or library, please reach out! You can find my email address on my website,

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

An author I adore, the wonderful Rebecca Serle, once told me: “You have to celebrate every good thing along the way, no matter how small.” I think that’s an excellent way to approach the writing life. I celebrate everything from finishing a tough chapter to getting a personalized rejection letter (hey, that’s better than a form rejection!) to signing a contract to seeing a comp of my next book cover. When something good happens, I text a close friend, buy myself an ice cream, or sometimes even break out the prosecco. Celebrating the good moments helps me push through the less fun parts of this career and remember how truly lucky I am.

Excellent advice! And, just for fun, which book in your own library do you think would be your main character Anna's favorite?
Anna can’t wait for Erin Soderberg’s Puppy Pirates series, which comes out this summer. Pirate puppies! Brilliant. (And she already loves Erin’s other series, The Quirks.)

Awesome! And thanks for the interview, Anica!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Operation Awesome Reads: May's Books 2015 #amreading

Happy May!

Here's what the OA troops are reading this month:

Katrina just finished Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner, and is reading For Elise by Sarah M. Eden.

They were inseparable in their youth, the very best of friends, two halves of a whole. For four years, Miles Linwood, the Marquess of Grenton, has felt incomplete without her. When a carriage breakdown leaves him temporarily stranded in a tiny town, Miles makes an unexpected discovery that will alter the course of his life, and rewrite the pages of his past.

Based on a Rocky Mountain legend, Stone Fox tells the story of Little Willy, who lives with his grandfather in Wyoming. When Grandfather falls ill, he is no longer able to work the farm, which is in danger of foreclosure. Little Willy is determined to win the National Dogsled Race—the prize money would save the farm and his grandfather. But he isn't the only one who desperately wants to win. Willy and his brave dog Searchlight must face off against experienced racers, including a Native American man named Stone Fox, who has never lost a race.

Exciting and heartwarming, this novel has sold millions of copies and was named a New York Times Outstanding Children's Book.

Angelica just finished The Man Who Loved China by Simon Winchester. She is now reading The Romance of the Colorado River by Frederick Dellenbaugh.

In sumptuous and illuminating detail, Simon Winchester brings to life the extraordinary story of Joseph Needham, the brilliant Cambridge scientist who unlocked the most closely held secrets of China, long the world's most technologically advanced country.

He soon became fascinated with China, and his mistress swiftly persuaded the ever-enthusiastic Needham to travel to her home country, where he embarked on a series of extraordinary expeditions to the farthest frontiers of this ancient empire. He searched everywhere for evidence to bolster his conviction that the Chinese were responsible for hundreds of mankind's most familiar innovations—including printing, the compass, explosives, suspension bridges, even toilet paper—often centuries before the rest of the world. 

The Romance of the Colorado River is Dellenbaugh’s personal story, written thirty years after the great adventure. The volume includes twenty of the author’s original illustrations, as well as nearly 150 contemporary photographs, which provide an accurate image of what the explorers encountered during their expedition. Dellenbaugh also recounts previous attempts to explore the valley, by both Europeans and fellow Americans, adding a historical element to the story. Part adventure narrative and part geography survey of the Colorado River, this book offers a unique firsthand account of a fascinating scientific expedition.

Toni just finished Shatter Me/Unravel Me/Ignite Me series. She is listening to Into the Woods by Kim Harrison, and the 3rd book in the Divergent series, Allegiant
I have a curse
I have a gift

I am a monster
I'm more than human

My touch is lethal
My touch is power

I am their weapon
I will fight back

Juliette hasn’t touched anyone in exactly 264 days.

The last time she did, it was an accident, but The Reestablishment locked her up for murder. No one knows why Juliette’s touch is fatal. As long as she doesn’t hurt anyone else, no one really cares. The world is too busy crumbling to pieces to pay attention to a 17-year-old girl. Diseases are destroying the population, food is hard to find, birds don’t fly anymore, and the clouds are the wrong color.

The Reestablishment said their way was the only way to fix things, so they threw Juliette in a cell. Now so many people are dead that the survivors are whispering war – and The Reestablishment has changed its mind. Maybe Juliette is more than a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she’s exactly what they need right now.

Juliette has to make a choice: Be a weapon. Or be a warrior.

Enter the Woods...If You Dare

For centuries, the woods have been a pivotal part of the wonder and danger of fairy tales, for once you enter anything can happen. Elves, druids, fairies - who knows what you will find once you dare step into the forest?

And now, New York Times bestselling author Kim Harrison ventures into these mysterious, hidden lands of magic and mystery in her first short-story collection. Into the Woods brings together an enchanting mix of brand-new, never-before-published stories and tales from Harrison's beloved, bestselling Hollows series.

The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered - fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she's known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories.

But Tris's new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningliess. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend to complexities of human nature - and of herself - while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love.

Wendy just finished If You Find This by Matthew Baker.
Nicholas is a math and music genius with no friends and a huge problem: His father has lost his job, and they'll have to sell their house, which holds the only memory Nicholas has of his younger brother. Just in time, Nicholas's senile grandfather arrives, filled with tales of priceless treasure he has hidden somewhere in town--but where?
With the help of misfit classmates, two grandfathers, a ghosthouse, hidden messages, séances, and an uncanny mind for numbers, Nicholas stages a nursing home breakout, tangles with high schoolers in smugglers' tunnels, and gets swept up in a duel with the biggest bullies in the neighborhood. Will it be enough to find the treasure and save his house?

Lindsay is reading The Duff by Kody Keplinger and Aflame by Penelope Douglas, the last book in the Fall Away series. She's also begun Pride and Prejudice with her darling niece.

Seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper is cynical and loyal, and she doesn’t think she’s the prettiest of her friends by a long shot. She’s also way too smart to fall for the charms of man-slut and slimy school hottie Wesley Rush. In fact, Bianca hates him. And when he nicknames her “the Duff,” she throws her Coke in his face. 

But things aren’t so great at home right now, and Bianca is desperate for a distraction. She ends up kissing Wesley. Worse, she likes it. Eager for escape, Bianca throws herself into a closeted enemies-with-benefits relationship with him.
Until it all goes horribly awry. It turns out Wesley isn’t such a bad listener, and his life is pretty screwed up, too. Suddenly Bianca realizes with absolute horror that she’s falling for the guy she thought she hated more than anyone.

The tables have turned. Now I have the power—and it’s his turn to beg…

Everyone wants to be me.

Maybe it’s the sway of my skirt or the way I flip my hair, but I don’t care. Even though their attention is the last thing I crave, I just can’t stop. I dominate the track, the speed rattles my bones, and the wind and the crowd screams my name.

I’m her. The girl driver. The queen of the race. And I’m surviving—something he thought I’d never do.

They all still talk about him. Did you see Jared Trent on T.V? What did you think of his last race, Tate? When is he coming back to town, Tate?

But I refuse to care too much. Because when Jared does come home, I won’t be here.

Tatum Brandt is gone. I’m someone new.

Since its immediate success in 1813, Pride and Prejudice has remained one of the most popular novels in the English language. Jane Austen called this brilliant work "her own darling child" and its vivacious heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, "as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print." The romantic clash between the opinionated Elizabeth and her proud beau, Mr. Darcy, is a splendid performance of civilized sparring. And Jane Austen's radiant wit sparkles as her characters dance a delicate quadrille of flirtation and intrigue, making this book the most superb comedy of manners of Regency England.
BIG NEWS ABOUT JANE: Her face is on money!

Have you read any or all of these? No spoilers, please! Tell us what you're reading in the comments...