Monday, June 29, 2015

First Drafts: Camp NaNoWriMo!

Today, I'm wrapping up our July writing tips on first drafts by talking about one of my favorite times of the year to hammer out a first draft: Camp NaNoWriMo!

For those of you for whom November means the stress and chaos of holidays and/or school year obligations, the lovely folks of NaNoWriMo (that's National Novel Writing Month) offer two additional opportunities for the camaraderie and excitement of the NaNoWriMo challenge: one "camp" in May and another in July.

Unlike regular NaNoWriMo, in which all participants are encouraged to write a 50,000-word novel in the 30 days of November, in Camp NaNoWriMo writers can set their own goals. Feel like writing a 25,000-word MG novel? Great! Want to challenge yourself to a 100,000-word high fantasy novel? Go for it! Determined to finish a 1,000-word flash fiction piece each day? That works, too!

What's more, in Camp NaNoWriMo, you can choose to be placed in "cabins" -- groups of up to 12 writers (either invited by you or randomly picked) who share their own private chatroom that allows these small teams to cheer one another on throughout the month.

Just like NaNoWriMo, the camps help writers stay on track with their daily writing goals, provide encouragement and support, and facilitate opportunities for writers to connect with others who enjoy writing, too -- locally and around the world!

You've still got a few days to sign up -- just head on over to the Camp NaNoWriMo website and join the fun!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Weekend Writing Prompts: a Rumor, a Coma, and a Thousand Years

Welcome to another gorgeous Friday at Operation Awesome! If you're writing this weekend, or even if you weren't planning on it, give these prompts a try. They may just help you get your creative juices flowing!

Prompt a) The ballroom din falls to a hush as your main character enters alone. Nothing but the swishing of ball gowns and whispers fills the empty air. What are they whispering about? How does your character react? Is he or she stoic, melancholy, or jubilant? 

Prompt b) She's been jumping in and out of books in the old magic library for the better part of three days, and she still can't find the one her dad read to her before he fell into his coma. She's certain the villain of that story had something to do with it, and the answer to reviving him lies in that same story. If only she could remember the title, or the author, or anything. Why had she been half paying attention during his reading? What part of that world had distracted her from the main plot which had so affected her father? How does she feel about her mother's reaction to the coma? What will happen to her family if she doesn't find the book and save her dad?

Prompt c) To Sam, every thousand years of humanity is simply a day. In the morning, he sees one civilization rise, and in the evening, he raises a generation of warriors to re-establish order after a period of anarchy. Every half hour is a little more than 20 years, and he's weary. A time travel experiment gone awry has doomed him to this strange and disconnected existence. Humans regard him as a god, not something that was once human like themselves. Their lives are like sand slipping through his fingers, and his relationships are with family lines, not individuals. Love is out of the question. Is there any hope for Sam? How could he possibly get out of the time warp he's in, and would his problems be solved if, say, he resumed human life, only to end up in a time period of war and unrest? Can he have romance after all, or is he doomed to be alone forever? Where is the end of time?

From shallow to deep. What did you come up with? If you use one of our prompts, we'd love to hear about it in the comments! Happy weekend and happy writing!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

UtopYA Con 2015 and Beyond

One of my original critique partners, Christina Mercer, started going to the UtopYA Con in Nashville a few years back, and raved about the experience. Which is why that con was the first one to come to mind when I decided earlier this year that I wanted to travel to a fun con as a debut author.

It took some planning (and more money than I anticipated) to be able to attend this year, and I'm so glad I did! UtopYA started with a focus on YA paranormal and fantasy books, and has evolved over its four-year lifetime. For 2016 and the fifth year, they're expanding the scope to include MG through Adult categories, in the paranormal, fantasy, and contemporary genres, with a name change to Utopia Con to reflect that it's not just YA any longer.

Panel on "Is Time Travel Really Possible?" with Myra McIntyre, PK Hrezo (an Operation Awesome alumna), Robert Scherrer, Rysa Walker, and Sherry Ficklin

This is the most fan-based con I've ever gone to, and there was so much enthusiasm given to each and every author--we all joked that we're spoiled for other cons now, because we know what it's like to go to a great one. EVERYONE I interacted with was friendly and welcoming, and the creepster factor encountered at a lot of cons was nearly completely absent (I only heard of one incident with a member of the public trying to push his book idea on authors on fan day). Oh, and I got to have fellow Operative Karen McCoy as a housemate!

For me and Crow's Rest, going to UtopYA Con allowed me to peek into an entire other world of bloggers and fans that I haven't been tapping into. These authors (mostly indie- and self-published, and even trad pubbed authors like Rachel Harris) at UtopYA were doing everything right, and have a fan base that I wasn't even aware of. I hadn't ever heard of many of them before the Con, and yet they had fans traveling cross-country to squee over meeting them--and then those fans bought every single print book by that author to get it signed. I know of several people that left with close to 200 books they'd purchased at UtopYA. 

And not only did the con offer good-quality workshops, panels, and talks, there were tons of opportunity for letting loose! On karaoke night, the theme was time travel, so I wore one of my steampunk outfits and got lots of compliments

L to R: me, Karen McCoy, Michelle Kellogg, and Lora Beth Johnson

Karen and I rented a condo with critique partner Alison Kemper, and we got out into the humidity for a walk and to see some of Nashville. We were located on the Cumberland river and my photographer side fell in love with all the rusted metal

The railroad bridge near our condo

The drawbridge upriver from our condo

The view from our balcony
A statue of a French dude which I mocked mercilessly
And then on Saturday, there was a Fan Day and signing event, and Alison and I both had tables set up

Alison's books are rom-zom-com (romantic zombie comedy), so she gave out eyeball lollipops at her blood-spattered table

My display included my trailer on a loop, free bookplates, buttons, and bookmarks. You can't see it in this picture, but my skirt has blackbirds embroidered on it!
On Sunday, one of the attendees, Eva Pohler, organized a tour of the Parthenon replica in Nashville's Centennial Park.

I know I'm not doing this con justice--there were just so many cool things that happened, large and small--oh, oh, we saw nuns playing basketball!

Actually, that unintenionally-rhyming brain detour captured it pretty well! I'm still on overload and trying to process all the things I learned and saw. I even got video of Karen's lip sync contest performance, but it didn't turn out well. The best footage is in another post by Michelle Kellogg if you'd like to see her in action.

I really hope to be able to swing the finances to attend again next year--will I see any of you there?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Wednesday Debut Interview: Syeira by Gill L. Holland

Today's Wednesday Debut Interview features Gill L. Holland, author of the YA paranormal novel, Syeira,

First off, tell us a bit about yourself! What's one thing people might not expect about you?

Well I’m Gill; fifty three years old from rainy Manchester in England. I’m married to Andrew. I have six grown up children, nine grandchildren and four cats. I have always been interested in creative projects for as long as I can remember. I have worked with many different mediums in the past. I once had a local market stall selling artwork that Andrew and myself produced. It was very successful, but I made little profit so I had to change direction. I still love doing craft work. Recently I sold an events business I started with my Andrew. I made Swarovski crystal, wedding bouquets that looked stunning, the brides adored them.

I work part-time in the local High School as a Behavioural Manager and Counsellor, which is very demanding, but also extremely rewarding.

Apart from writing my novel, which my friends and family still can’t believe I’ve done, most people are surprised to learn I am a Clinical Hypnotherapist.

How would you describe Syeira in one sentence?

Syeira…she’s a typical, ordinary teenage girl coming to terms with growing up, she suddenly discovers there is more to her and her life than she could possibly have imagined, especially the vampires.

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? How many novels had you written prior to this?

I have been planning the book for five years, but it has taken six months to write and complete. The endless editing and re-editing has been the hardest aspect. You have to read the book time and time again, checking every single punctuation mark, spelling and grammar. It is the only way to ensure it is correct, but it is very time consuming.

What part of this book did you most enjoy writing?

The first chapter and the last chapter. The first chapter was so exciting getting started, it is so satisfying when you look back over it and see what you’ve done, it motivates you to go on. The last chapter was so emotional, the feeling you get when you finally finish writing the story is amazing. The sense of achievement is tremendous. I couldn’t wait to show it to my friends.

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

I haven’t experienced rejection as yet, I am self publishing so I haven’t got anyone judging my work, only the reader, who I hope will enjoy what I have produced, but not everyone will enjoy it, that’s just the way it is. I am happy with what I have written. The only setback has been trying to decide who to go with for E-Publishing and Print On Demand, this can be a very confusing task to deal with and takes up a lot of your time. Finishing the book is only the beginning of the work, getting it out there and earning money from it very demanding.

What brought you to the decision to self-publish Syeira? What do you think has made this the best choice for your book?

The decision to Self-Publish was made because I wanted total control of my work, there are plenty of services out there to achieve this. The likelihood of rejection is also low as your work is not being scrutinised by an agent, who may not like your work, even though others might. I also, to an extent have control over the revenue from sales because I can choose who to publish with.

This is my first book so I think by Self-Publishing I can choose how to market it. My intention is to follow it up as soon as possible with the sequel so I need to get as much exposure as possible as a new author. Getting established is very important for the long term.

As you mentioned, in self-publishing, a lot more falls onto the author to do. What steps did you go through in order to prepare SYEIRA for publication?

The story was written using Microsoft Word, then it was “fleshed out” into a book using Adobe Indesign, it was converted into PDF, EPUB and the various other formats that required for reading on the various devices out there. I am lucky, Andrew is competent in all these areas, we have done everything ourselves.

Tell us about your cover! Who designed it? What do you want it to tell your readers about your story?

The cover and the back, and all the additional artwork was designed by Andrew, he is a whizz with Graphic Design, he uses Adobe Photoshop for all the graphics. Photoshop works seamlessly alongside Indesign.

I wanted the cover to reflect the genre. It had to be striking and dramatic with high contrast, predominantly in red, white and black. The colours most often associated with the genre. The picture is of my daughter Rachael and it also features Syeira’s Talisman to add intrigue.

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

Syeira is taken from Romania and it is a traditional gypsy name, meaning Princess. It is the original name I chose for the title.

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

I am going to get working on the sequel as soon as this book is launched, I already have the basic story worked out. I feel I have more creative freedom with the next book having now established the characters. Readers will be familiar with them so the hard part is done. I am looking forward to writing the next book more because I can take it anywhere now. You have to assign so much space in the first book to establish your characters, so you have limited space to take them to where you really want to go.

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 is very satisfying and also very frightening knowing the book is available for others to read and criticise, it is like your baby, it’s hard to let go of. I am arranging for local book launches when I have the book printed and I will take it from there, I haven’t really given much thought to this side of things, suppose I will now it’s out there.

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

My advice to anyone thinking of producing there first novel is simple; Don’t Give Up!...keep at it. Once you have the first few chapters down you will relax and settle into a rhythm. You will find that once you have a very basic story written down you will go back over it and enhance the grammar and punctuation and the story. You have the benefit of knowing the ending so you can change the beginning. You can repeat this process, until you are happy with it, but first you need to get your basic story down.

I am not sure whether I would do anything different for the next book, everything seemed to work and fall into place, so I can’t think what I could do differently, maybe pay someone else to write it. That would be easier.

And, just for fun: what fictional character would your main character most like to have dinner with?

I think Syeira would love to sit down in an Italian restaurant with Boudica, (queen of the British Iceni tribe). She is Syeira’s inspiration, she gives her strength in times of need, Syeira models herself on her. I think they would both love a good Lasagne and a Tiramsu to follow, and then they could have a good chat about the best way to defeat the enemy. I would imagine they would get a few stares.

Sounds like they'd have a great time! Thanks for telling us about your writing/publication journey!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Cover Reveal: Red Blooded by Caitlin Sinead

Caitlin Sinead's RED BLOODED releases from Carina Press on August 3rd and we can't wait for everyone to get their hands on it! While you wait, check out the beautiful cover below!

 Red_Blooded_final_cover (1)


Instead of eating ramen and meeting frat guys like most college freshmen, Peyton Arthur is on the campaign trail. Traveling with her mother, the Democratic pick for vice president, she's ordering room service, sneaking glances at cute campaign intern Dylan and deflecting interview questions about the tragic loss of her father. But when a reporter questions her paternity, her world goes into a tailspin.

Dylan left Yale and joined the campaign to make a difference, not keep tabs on some girl. But with the paternity scandal blowing up and Peyton asking questions, he's been tasked to watch her every move. As he gets to know the real Peyton, he finds it harder and harder to keep a professional distance.

When the media demands a story, Peyton and Dylan give them one—a fake relationship. As they work together to investigate the rumors about her real father and Peyton gets closer to learning the truth, she's also getting closer to Dylan. And suddenly, it's not just her past on the line anymore. It's her heart.

Add it to Goodreads HERE!
Preorder RED BLOODED now for just $3.24 - Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Kobo

Excerpt from RED BLOODED

Lisa taps on her clipboard and calls for more makeup. “She needs more blush.” A brush dances across my nose as a makeup artist examines me without seeing me. “Remember to smile. A lot. After every question,” Lisa says. Dylan, her intern, stands next to her, gliding his fingers over his tablet. She snaps her intense focus to him. “Torres, do you have them?” Dylan holds the back of the tablet against his chest so it covers the big Yale on his gray T-shirt. There are three images of me on the screen: me accepting my high school diploma from the principal, me speaking at the US Organization for Learning Disorders’ annual meeting, and me exiting a pizza place with Annie and Tristan. “Now, remember, we’re going for this smile,” Lisa says, pointing at the pizza picture. “You are a natural, welcoming, American girl who’s happy and excited that her mom’s been nominated as the Democratic Party’s Vice Presidential Candidate.” “I am all those things,” I say. She nods and emits a cursory mmm-hmm as she looks at her tablet. “Of course you are.” I roll my fingers over the armrests and stare at the shiny camera lens in front of me as I attempt to mentally prepare for the onslaught of questions about to assail me. Five via-satellite interviews. Bang. Bang. Bang. Just as I’m going over what it was like to learn my mom would be the vice- presidential pick, Dylan holds his tablet, with the pizza picture, up to my face. “Pizza smile, I got it,” I say, with more edge than I mean. It’s not the best time to have a conniption, but I can’t help myself, and more words spurt forward. “Sorry, it’s just—it’s not like I’m a stranger to media attention.” Dylan presses his lips together and takes a step back. “Sorry, that wasn’t much of an apology.” I shake my head and some girly mushiness tingles in my chest when his eyes crinkle into a smile. It doesn’t mean anything. He’s got dark, Latin features any girl would get mushy over. “I’m just a little nervous, but I didn’t mean to snap—” “It’s cool.” Dylan shrugs. Right. As long as I’m performing well, what’s it to him. “We know you’re used to the spotlight.” Lisa tilts her head and purses her lips in the ever-common—at least to me—sorry-your-dad-died expression. Thankfully, she doesn’t hold it for long. “But this is going to be different than…that. Your dad’s book made you a celebrity, but a sympathetic one. Politics can be, well…” “Mean?” I supply. She crosses her arms and nods. “I’ve been on the campaign trail with my mom before, I know—” “Only in Virginia, where she’s already very popular. Now we want the whole nation to love her. And, given that many people already feel they know you, and even love you, well, we’d like to use—” she swallows and holds a finger up “—we’d like to leverage that appeal and make it an additional asset in this campaign.” I glance at Dylan. He nods. “I hope I can be an asset as well,” I say, trying to calm the jitters in my stomach. “You will be,” Dylan says with a sharp certainty I wish I could catch and stuff in a glass jar for safekeeping. They back away and in a sliver of a moment the red light on the bulky studio camera bursts on, full force.

About Caitlin Sinead Caitlin Sinead is represented by Andrea Somberg at Harvey Klinger, Incand her debut novel, Heartsick, is available now from Carina Press. Her writing has earned accolades from Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery MagazineGlimmer Train, and Writers & Artists, and her stories have appeared in multiple publications, including The AlarmistThe Binnacle, CrunchableJersey Devil Pressand Northern Virginia MagazineShe earned a master's degree in writing from Johns Hopkins University. Website | Twitter | Facebook | Newsletter

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Wednesday Debut Interview: Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave by Jen White

It's time for another Wednesday Debut Interview and today we're chatting with Jen White, whose MG novel Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave debuted last week!

First off, tell us a bit about yourself! What's one thing people might not expect about you?
Hi, Wendy! I’m a native Californian. I love the outdoors, especially the beach. I also have five children. When I was little I wanted to be an actress, until my dad signed me up for acting classes, and I was so mortified over the thought of getting up in front of the class to do improv, that I cried the whole way home. Since that moment, I decided I wanted to be a writer. And that was a great decision because I can sit behind a computer screen and still connect with people through story.

How would you describe SURVIVAL STRATEGIES OF THE ALMOST BRAVE in one sentence?
Two sisters find themselves on an unexpected adventure home, after their long lost father abandons them at a gas station.

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? How many novels had you written prior to this? 

Wow, it took a really long time! I began writing SURVIVAL STRATEGIES OF THE ALMOST BRAVE during my last semester of my MFA program in creative writing. After I graduated I finished my book, and then went to a writer’s conference where I met my editor, Joy Peskin. She read the first twenty pages and then asked for the full. Soon I received a very thoughtful letter that asked a lot of questions and made some suggestions. She wanted to see the manuscript again, if I would consider some of her suggestions. I was so excited! But, I was really stuck. It took me a long time to figure out what to do with SSOTAB. Years, in fact. I wrote two more books and had two babies before I could figure out how to get Liberty and Billie safely across the desert on their own. After I figured that out, I wrote the book quite quickly. I then sent it to Joy. She still remembered me and the rest is history. She is now my very, excellent editor at FSG/Macmillan.

You've had quite the publishing journey already!
I absolutely love road trips, and this sounds like a great road trip book. Were any parts of this book based on actual trips or locations you've been to? 

Yes, I used to go camping with my family all of the time. In fact, the idea for this book came from when I was vacationing with my family and was accidentally left at a gas station with my sister and my cousin. My parents didn’t see us climb out of the back of our camper truck to use the restroom. They thought we had fallen asleep and drove three hours to their destination before they realized we were gone.

We were so scared. Eventually, a policeman came and took us to the police station, where we were interviewed, and then sent to a foster home where we ate bean burritos and watched the movie Mary Poppins. After six hours, we were finally reunited with our family. I remember I looked out of the foster home window at the desert, and wondered if I had to live there. I could not figure out what had happened to my parents. I knew they wouldn’t leave us on purpose, but I couldn’t understand why they hadn’t returned. That raw emotion is what propelled me to write about Liberty, and her sister, Billie in SURVIVAL STRATEGIES OF THE ALMOST BRAVE.

What part of this book did you most enjoy writing? 

I really enjoyed writing all of the many characters Liberty and Billie encountered. I loved writing Star Wars Kid; he has a special place in my heart. And, of course, I loved writing the sisters, Liberty and Billie. They had such a great dynamic that was really fun to write. I also loved Lavender Lady and Orson (another sibling combo) because they made me laugh. And finally, I’d say, I loved Tattoo Guy. I loved him because upon first observation he seems intimidating and scary, but as the book progresses we get the whole picture of who he is (compassionate, funny, and smart). In the beginning he is not who he seems. In general, I think this is true of most people. There is so much more to a person than what we see on the surface. Deep down everyone has a story that we can relate to.

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

Absolutely there are setbacks and rejection, but if you want to write and create there are always discouragements. I have this quote on my desk at home that says: A published author is an amateur who never quit. I have to remind myself of this every day. You must be tenacious to reach your goals. Do the work. Read every day. Learn all you can about your craft. And don’t give up.

Great advice! Your cover is great; it reminds me a bit of "I Spy" books, which are always a road trip favorite. Who designed it? How much say did you have in it? What do you want it to tell your readers about your story? 

Elizabeth Holden Clark designed my book cover. From the moment I laid eyes on the cover, I loved it. The items are all things in SURVIVAL STRATEGIES OF THE ALMOST BRAVE, so they have a special meaning. I love the sprinkles on the front, and the prairie dog on the back. I had little, to no, say about the cover. So I’m glad I liked it. Of course the publisher and publishing team want authors to like their book covers, but in general, an author doesn’t have much of a say.

What's next for you after this book debuts? Have you started working on another book?
When SURVIVAL STRATEGIES OF THE ALMOST BRAVE was purchased it was part of a two-book deal, so yes, I am working on Book 2. It is not a sequel to SSOTAB, but it is a middle grade novel. It has been really fun to write and I can hardly wait until it comes out, but I am still working out some of the kinks in the manuscript.

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

It feels wonderful to have my book in the hands of readers. What a happy and sobering thought. I find it a great privilege to write for young readers. I can’t think of a better audience.

I have links to my upcoming events on my website: and also on the Macmillan author website I hope to visit with some of your readers sometime soon!

And, just for fun: what do you think your main character, Liberty, would pick as the ultimate road trip song and why? 

I seriously think Liberty would probably forgo the road trip song, and instead watch an episode of NatGeo’s Hunter and Hunted. She would absolutely love BBC’s Planet Earth. Liberty is a serious nature girl.

Sounds fun! Thanks for the interview and congrats on your debut!

Order your copy of Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave here!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Call for Submissions from a NEW PUBLISHER

Check out this new publisher! 

From their website:

Here at Jack Sprat Press, we are inspired by the independent music movement that dared to go against the mainstream and produce something the larger companies refused to touch. Our mission is to emulate that rebellious attitude to give readers  something a little different, and artists a place to explore.

We believe that a work shouldn’t just be enjoyable, it should be art. Push the boundaries of your talent. Dare to break the rules. Write the story everyone told you no one would read. And draw in ways that defy the mainstream.  But don’t take yourself too seriously, either. Have fun with your creations. Experiment.

At Jack Sprat Press, we think anything done well is worth reading.

What are they looking for?

We are now accepting submissions for flash fiction and comics no longer than four pages (think 2000 AD‘s future shocks) for our debut issue, coming September 1, 2015.

Submissions will run through June 1st to August 1st.

Genre mash-up, inspired by a song title (e.g. Diary of Jane about alien zombies, a fairytale apocalypse titled Iridescent, etc.), no more than 1000 words. It must be a complete, stand-alone story with a unique twist. Make us go, “hmmm…”

Complete 4-page comics, art included, also inspired by a song title. We like dark stories with a whimsical twist (e.g. Tim Burton or Neil Gaiman). Any style is accepted. We’re fans of manga, superhero, even stick figures. Wow us with your originality.


Science Fiction
Magical Realism

Check out their website for more information and spread the word! 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Maximizing Productivity on First Drafts: The NaNo Way

Katrina did a great job of covering how she does first drafts. I'll expand by how I get through my first-draft explorations by maximizing productivity. Keep in mind, my way isn't the right or only way; it's just what's worked for me.

Like Katrina, I begin with Save the Cat beat sheets, but add a Fiction University twist on the Three-Act Structure. And, because characters don't always come as quickly as my worlds and plots do, I also draft character profiles on a master sheet, including a character poem for the protagonist.

I borrowed the character poem idea from author Shelley Coriell.  It works great for figuring out a character's likes, dislikes, weaknesses and flaws early on. And whenever I add a new character while writing (I'm more of a pantser than a plotter) they also go on the master sheet. I'm also playing with the idea Stephsco brought up on Katrina's last post because a character arc beat sheet would better show how characters grow and develop as a result of story events. It's not just about what happens, but how the characters react and change throughout their journeys.

Once my beat sheet and character profiles are done, I usually dive in full force. I borrowed a NaNoWriMo spreadsheet from a fellow writer back when I wrote my second novel and have used it ever since. The first column is for minimum word count per day required for a NaNo win (50,000 words in one month), the second is for actual word count, and the third is to measure the difference between the two (all Excel formulas have been calculated beforehand, so the spreadsheet automatically determines the differences between counts). I don't fill out the sheet daily (just during each draft session), but it encourages me to get words out as often as I can. I also do virtual writing sprints with people to motivate me to keep working when the going gets tough.

Here's a word-count sheet from my last (fifth) novel (notice I expanded the formula from 50,000 to 80,000):

Green indicates when my word count exceeded the NaNo measurement, and dashes show when I broke even. Luckily, this last go-round, I went above and beyond the minimum more often than not. This is rare, but shows I'm getting better (and quicker) at drafting which each new novel.

But I also need to point out the dramatic down-side to this method, one I've seen in my writing after the fact. Paying too much attention to word count causes my first drafts to be too skeletal. Things happen way too quickly (or are inconsistent throughout the story), and transitions are often rushed and forced. So just be cautionary if you choose this method--don't be afraid to take your time, flesh out details, and let the novel romp around in the mud as much as it wants to. See where the words take you!

What about you? What has helped your productivity during a first draft?

Friday, June 12, 2015

Weekend Writing Prompts: Moon Cheese, Moonflower, and Djinn Revolt

It's Friday!! I have some writing prompts for you to whet your imagination:

a) (This one's for my eight-year-old son:) Write about a troll that lives on the moon and mines it for cheese. Who is his competition for the moon cheese? And how does he resolve conflicts with the natives?

b) The moonflower only blooms in the light of the full moon. Then it lasts three nights before it withers and its power becomes null. You've heard of a hill across the water where moonflower grows like clover among the grass, but nobody in the kingdom has seen one in over a hundred years. You wonder if it's just a myth, but it can't be, because you desperately need its power: the power of invisibility. Why?

c) The djinn are in full revolt against their masters and each other. The favoring of djinn of one province over the djinn of the outer realms has long been a source of jealousy and contention when the djinn meet in the between place. What mistreatment brought this friction to a boiling point? Is there any way a small child can broker peace between them before their war destroys both the between place and the human world?

Happy Weekend Writing!

If you use one of our prompts, let us know in the comments. Even better, share your flash fiction.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Always Know Yourself Before...

During my trip to New York, I saw a lot of interesting sites, and had a great conference experience at Book Expo America.

Before visiting the city, I had a chance to go to Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs, where the likes of Bob Dylan and other folk musicians have performed. That night, it was a unique blend of blues--sliding guitar, tuba, and trombone. But most fascinating was what I encountered in the bathroom:

"Always know yourself before making a decision that may change your life"
While the walls were covered in inspirational quotes, I picked this one above the others because it's so deceptively simple: "Always know yourself before making a decision that may change your life." Because better decisions are made when you have your own best interests in mind. And knowing what those interests are is key in determining whether a decision is a good fit.

As with anything, this can be applied to writing at all levels:

Crafting stage: When you are still in the process of editing your work, and getting it critiqued by others, make sure feedback resonates with the story you want to write. Don't assume that someone knows more than you, or that negative feedback means you have to change the story entirely.

How to Know Yourself: Think, reflect, and figure out which feedback resonates with you most. Be with it for awhile to see what sticks and what doesn't. That way, you can save having to revert to a previous draft when someone else's recommendations aren't working (though this isn't unheard of--I've had to do it myself).

Agented/publishing/selling stage: From what I understand, this can be a perilous stage because it involves a lot of waiting. And waiting can inevitably morph into unnecessarily questioning yourself. Or settling for a deal that might not be right for you in the long run in order to relieve immediate stress.

How to Know Yourself: Be sure of the direction you want your career to go. Make the decisions that honor that, even if it means waiting to see yourself in print. Because settling for something lesser means possibly having to undo it later on--and that isn't always an option.

What about you? In what ways do you know yourself? And how do these inform your decisions going forward? 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Bookplates the Inexpensive Way

I'm going to an event cross-country in Nashville, UtopYA Con, and one of the things that's been stressing out all of the authors attending is how many books to bring with us to sell and/or sign. Bring too few and you'll be turning people away empty-handed, and bring too many and you'll have to decide whether to pay shipping home (or take up your valuable suitcase space again).

I will be bringing my guesstimated amount of 40 books, but I still have that nagging fear that I'll run out and miss out on some fans. My solution was bookplates that I can sign and hand out, and the more I thought about it, the more I liked that idea.

If a fan has already bought an e-book of Crow's Rest, this is a way for them to have something physical to take away. Or if they're not buying my book that day (there is a very longs list of authors who will be signing, and let's face it, no one can buy every book), they can buy a copy later from the retailer of their choice and stick the bookplate in there. Voila, signed copy!

I looked around for some good prices on bookplates, but since I'm already paying for buttons to give out, as well as the transient vendor license that Nashville requires*, my budget was really tight. I wasn't able to find any that were within my budget, so I designed my own bookplates to print on my ink jet printer.

It obviously helps if you have some design skills and access to your book art, but you could make some pretty sharp bookplates with stock images. For the technical-minded, my image dimensions are 3.55x2.663 inches at 300 dpi to fit on the Avery 6464. Even with the cost of the ink figured in, I estimate that these will cost me about .15/each!

These are also great if someone out of my area wants a signed copy--instead of them sending me their copy to sign, and then me having to ship it back again, I can send them a signed bookplate instead.

What do you think? Are you going to give these a try?

*A lot of us were caught by surprise by the $112 transient vendor fee that Nashville requires to sell items, even if you're selling as part of an event like this con. Make sure you always check for these license requirements when you're thinking of selling your books out of your county (if you have a business license, you're covered in your county) because getting caught without one can mean fines.

Monday, June 8, 2015

First Draft: A Process of Evolution

For June, we get to talk about the glorious first draft phase of writing a novel. I love first drafts! Until I hate them. But today, I'm just going to write about the fun part: beginning.

The sparkly new idea begins like a flower, a bud full of possibility. I wait for it to open a bit before I sit down to write, but as soon as I can see the unfolding of petals, I begin.

My bud looks like a title and a main character with a challenge, so I have a big job ahead of me. I have to flesh out the setting (my kryptonite), other characters, and their full character arcs.

I begin with Save the Cat beat sheets. That's my initial pre-writing. Usually, I have to do this more than once because the first one isn't completely right. It takes me a while to put those pieces together. At the same time, I allow myself to have some fun with character dialogue, as I mentioned in my Pre-writing post last month.

By the time I have these snippets of dialogue and a beat sheet, I have a pretty good idea how my story is going to go. I'm excited. I'm filled with the sense of mission that goes with a new project.

Following my beat sheet/outline, I start at the beginning. I try to follow the advice of The First Five Pages by avoiding passive language, starting with a lead-in to the main conflict, and keeping a feeling of forward motion.

But beyond that, I let myself go a little bit. I have my beat sheet within easy access but I am not its slave. It's my servant. I let the dialogue take me to places the beat sheet wasn't quite prepared for, and I edit the beat sheet as I go. I'm more of a pantser at heart.

About midway through the novel, I hit my crisis. The best way for me to describe this moment is to use a running analogy. During a race of 3 miles or longer, there is a wall. Pushing through that wall is the hardest part of the race, but if I just stick it out, the wall is behind me and then comes euphoria, the runner's high. I feel the same thing once I've worked through the plot issues, the character inconsistencies, or the general malaise of being almost done. On the other side of that wall is the feeling of completion.

The in-between-the-wall portion of my first draft writing is the time I get up from the computer. I have to sit at the dining table staring off into space, or think about the big picture while I shower. I have to let it simmer until the flavors magically merge into something wonderful.

And when I type the final words of the final chapter, it feels amazing. I post it to facebook and twitter and celebrate with ginger ale. And I don't even look at it again... for a while.

Because the time for revision will come, and it will come all too soon. Then I'll see all the flaws afresh. But for now, I just get to enjoy the creation of something that didn't exist before, something that I willed into being.

That's my first draft, baby!

How do you first draft?

Friday, June 5, 2015

Interview: Karen Akins, Author of LOOP and TWIST

I’m so excited to have Karen Akins with us today! Not only is she an amazing writer, but she’s also a really awesome person. Her debut, LOOP, is so much fun. I love her take on time travel and I’m usually pretty anti-time travel, so that’s saying a lot. I’m currently halfway through the sequel, TWIST, and loving it even more than LOOP. I just need more hours in the day so I can read until the wee hours of the morning and be mentally present at work the next day. ;)

Welcome, Karen!

How do you manage your writing time with two little ones to keep you busy?

Magical elves. Oh, WAIT. That's the fairy tale version of my life.

I started writing, period, soon after my older son (who is now six) was born. He was a great napper, and it wasn't too difficult to find two-hour (or more) chunks of time in which to write.

Then, the same week that I received my editorial letter for LOOP, I found out that I was pregnant with our second son. Having a second child threw my whole writing system out the window. That first year with revising LOOP, drafting and rewriting and revising TWIST, and then launching both of them into the world was rough.

I tend to snatch snippets of writing time where I can find it--ten minutes in car line, twenty minutes while my toddler is playing nicely with his cars, jotting down ideas as I'm ironing.

Do you have any unusual writing rituals?

I don't know that it's a ritual, per se, but I find that I'm most creative when I sit (or stand) somewhere other than my desk. So when I'm stuck on a scene, I'll take my laptop and curl up on the floor.

Do you prefer drafting or revising?

Basically, whichever I'm not doing at the moment. Just kidding. Sort of.

There are things I like about each. I like the unfettered possibility of a brand-spanking new story. I always hit around 25K, though, and go, "Blerg. What was I thinking?" My inner editor is a loudmouth.

With revisions, I love that it's like a logic problem. I know the raw material I have to work with. I know what I want it to look like by the time I'm done with it. To me, revising almost feels like piecing it together backward. Which is great when the pieces are fitting well but stinks when I have to rip the whole thing apart.

What is your favorite type of scene to write? And your least favorite?

I love writing action scenes and rapid-fire banter. Hmm...least favorite? Probably dense monologues. Not many of those in LOOP or TWIST. :)

What authors do you like to read? What book or books have had a strong influence on your writing?

Oh, goodness. I'm pretty eclectic in my tastes. I devour anything by Jane Austen, Agatha Christie, and Daphne du Maurier. And then, I love anyone who can make me laugh.

I'm a fan of Meg Cabot's Mediator series, and when I met her at RT, she mentioned she's releasing an adult installment next February. Yeah, I basically tackle-hugged her.

Right now, I'm reading TINY PRETTY THINGS by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton and really enjoy it. It follows three dancers competing for the top slot in a prestigious ballet school. It's one of those books that makes you cringe at all the self-destructive decisions that the main characters make, but at the same time, you're rooting for all of them, even the antagonist.

Is there a published book you wish you could have written?

I'm sure this will sound cliche, but Harry Potter. Not the worldwide phenomenon aspect of it. It's just that every time I re-read it, I catch new, minute details in the earlier books that she weaves into the later books. I'm in awe of her scope of vision. 

What writing advice do you have for other aspiring authors?

I can't remember who originally said this. I read it in a blog post years ago. (I want to say, maybe Aprilynne Pyke?) Basically, she (it was definitely a she) said: Write the best story you can. Revise it until you think it's perfect. Then put it away for six months and come back and revise it again. I think she even mentions trashing it and starting over. It was painful to read that at the time, but there was wisdom in it.

Oh, and get as MUCH feedback as you can. You won't have the opportunity to get as varied feedback once you're under contract and on deadlines. And you'll miss it.

Are you working on anything new? Any exciting news you want to share?

I am working on something new. Unfortunately, I can't talk about it on the internets yet. All I can say is that it's fun. No time travel, but I think the LOOP gang would fit in well in this world.

Just for fun:

Paper and pen or computer monitor and keyboard? Paper and pen for revising. Monitor and keyboard for drafting.

Paperback, hardcover, or ebook? Ebook. I like to fall asleep reading.

Favorite caffeinated beverage? Coke.

Chocolate or bacon? YOU CAN'T MAKE ME CHOOSE.

Favorite TV show? Sherlock

If you had a superpower, what would it be and why? Teleportation. Obviously, for the vacation possibilities. Plus, my hubby's family lives twelve hours away. I'd love to be able to see my nephews and in-laws whenever I wanted.

Anything else you want to share?

Thank you so much for having me on Operation Awesome today! I hope you and your readers enjoy LOOP and TWIST. <3

Thank you, Karen, for joining us!

LOOP Synopsis:

At a school where Quantum Paradox 101 is a required course and history field trips are literal, sixteen year-old time traveler Bree Bennis excels... at screwing up.

After Bree botches a solo midterm to the 21st century by accidentally taking a boy hostage (a teensy snafu), she stands to lose her scholarship. But when Bree sneaks back to talk the kid into keeping his yap shut, she doesn't go back far enough. The boy, Finn, now three years older and hot as a solar flare, is convinced he’s in love with Bree, or rather, a future version of her that doesn't think he’s a complete pain in the arse. To make matters worse, she inadvertently transports him back to the 23rd century with her.

Once home, Bree discovers that a recent rash of accidents at her school are anything but accidental. Someone is attacking time travelers. As Bree and her temporal tag-along uncover seemingly unconnected clues—a broken bracelet, a missing data file, the art heist of the millennium—that lead to the person responsible, she alone has the knowledge to piece the puzzle together. Knowledge only one other person has. Her future self.

But when those closest to her become the next victims, Bree realizes the attacker is willing to do anything to stop her. In the past, present, or future. 

Buy your copies of LOOP and TWIST here!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Wednesday Debut Interview: Secret of the Sevens by Lynn Lindquist

It's Wednesday again! Time for another Wednesday Debut Interview! Today, we're talking with Lynn Lindquist about her YA Mystery debut, Secret of the Sevens, which will be released June 8.

First off, tell us a bit about yourself! What's one thing people might not expect about you?
I wrote this book after reading an article about how teen boys don’t read anymore. Both my sons are reluctant readers (I always say this is more proof for my switched-at-birth theory on them). Anyhow, I asked them, “What kind of story would it take to get you to read a book?’ They answered “something with sex, sports and things blowing things up” (a thousand dollar bribe might have also been mentioned). When I asked for a serious suggestion, they said something involving a conspiracy theory or secret society set at a high school… that also had sex, sports and things blowing up. So I wrote it. I didn’t get all of it in there, but you’ll have to read it to see what I came up with.

How would you describe SECRET OF THE SEVENS in one sentence?
Take a deep breath…

“A senior at a boarding school for kids from troubled homes accepts an invitation to join a secret society, expecting parties and pranks, but instead finds he must solve a decades-old murder involving the secret society in order to save his school from closing.”

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?
It took me over two years to write the SECRET OF THE SEVENS and another two years to see it in print, so 4-plus years altogether.

Was Singer, the boarding school in your story, based on any particular location?
Singer was based on two real boarding schools that help kids from underprivileged and troubled homes- The Milton Hershey School and Mooseheart Child City and School. The Milton Hershey School was founded and funded by the chocolate tycoon who started the Hershey Company. Mooseheart is funded by the Moose organization. The Mooseheart campus actually borders my neighborhood, and I used to drive past the front gate and think, “This would be an awesome setting for a book.”

What part of this book did you most enjoy writing?
The romance scenes between Laney and Talan. I loved watching their relationship deepen as their true feelings were revealed. I hope my readers like it, too. Kirkus Reviews said, “At the end of the day, it’s Talan and his endearing combination of bravado and vulnerability, coupled with the crackling chemistry he shares with Laney, that will keep readers turning the pages. A satisfying read for secret-society fanatics and romantics alike.” I guess their reviewer is a romantic, like me.

Every writer experiences some rejection and setbacks along the way. How did you learn to cope with them and move on?
Truthfully, I’ve had a lot of tough times in my life to overcome, so rejection over a book really didn’t seem so devastating. For my first manuscript, I queried 60 or so agents who rejected me before Katherine Boyle finally signed me, and then that first book never sold. But fast forward two years later, and Flux bought the SEVENS. The rejection honestly made the experience even sweeter. In life and in writing, the secret is to always have hope and be prepared to start over when things don’t work out. I used to quote Babe Ruth to my sons: “It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.”

How did you find your publisher? What makes them a good fit for you and your book?
My agent pitched Flux Publishing and my editor (Brian Farrey-Latz) connected with the story. Flux is a young adult imprint for Llewellyn, but my story is a little different from their usual releases, or so I’ve been told. I honestly think selling a story is 99.9 percent luck- you have to find an agent that loves your novel who then pitches it to an editor who likes your style and is in the mood for your specific storyline at a particular point in time when the marketplace is asking for it. That’s just better odds than being struck by lightning at the exact moment you win the Powerball.

Your cover is quite chilling! Who designed it? How much say did you have in it? What do you want it to tell your readers about your story?
Oh boy, I hope my editor isn’t reading this. There were actually a few tears spilled over this cover. Brian and I came up with another cover first that I totally adored. I even had a poster made of it for my office (yeah I know, I’m a dork). Then a major bookseller requested a change and a new cover had to be rushed. Honestly, I was very unhappy with the change. The artwork is beautiful and all, and the artist is obviously very talented, I just feel like it’s wrong for my story.

But I had to defer to my publishing house on this one.

Tell us about the title: SECRET OF THE SEVENS. Was this the original title you'd had in mind? If not, what made you change it?

My first title was Resurrection of the Sevens, then I changed it to Return of the Sevens. Brian and crew at Flux finally settled on SECRET OF THE SEVENS, which was fine with me. I think they thought Return of the Sevens sounded like a sequel.

What's next for you after this book debuts? Have you started working on another book?
That first novel that never sold (that I spoke of above) will always be near and dear to my heart for personal reasons. It deals with anxiety disorders and OCD (and romance, of course), and I believe it could really help kids. I’d love to see it in print, but we’ll wait and see if it ever sells.

Since I finished the SEVENS, I’ve also started two other stories, but I’ve been sidetracked by an awesome new YA project. The problem is that I’ve never written nonfiction and it’s a true story. It’s a great story and I really want to do it justice, so I’m very intimidated by the prospect. Of course I never wrote a thriller/mystery before the SEVENS either, so I’ll probably give it a try and see how it turns out.

Good luck with that!
So 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?

Scary. It feels very scary. LOL. I am very tenderhearted and really want readers to love it. But I assume that’s a natural reaction. Right now, the only public events I have planned are my blog tour.

Is there any other advice you'd like to pass on to others pursuing publication? Anything you would have done differently?
I can’t remember if my agent told me this or I read it somewhere, but it’s true. When you’re done writing your story and you think it’s absolutely polished and awesome, go back through one more time and delete every single chapter that isn’t absolutely necessary to forward your plot. Then when you are certain you are done, go back through another time, and delete every paragraph that isn’t absolutely necessary to your plot. Then when you’re done with that, go back through again and delete every single word that isn’t absolutely necessary to your plot. You’ll be amazed how trimming out so much actually improves your story and pacing. Not to mention that your agent and editor would have made you do that eventually anyway.

And, just for fun: your main character, Talan, is a high school senior in this book. If he had to pick one song to describe his class, what would it be?
More Than Fine by Switchfoot.

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

Buy your copy of SECRET OF THE SEVENS here!