Friday, October 30, 2015

Guest Post: On Rejection, by Paul Genesse


How do I deal with my novels when they are rejected by agents and publishers? Overall, not very well. Every rejection takes the wind out of my sails for a while and I have to spend some time recovering to bounce back.

I find nothing redeeming about it, though sometimes I think I may have dodged a bullet when I didn’t sign with a certain agent who offered to represent me and has since left the business. Be careful what you wish for, as what you thought you wanted might turn out to be the worst decision you ever made.

Rejection might actually be the best alternative in most situations, as getting into a relationship with a publisher or agent might be a terrible venture that will only end in even worse misery than you think you’re in now.

I’ve gotten better at dealing with rejection of my novels over the years, but it still hurts a lot and leaves me frustrated.

I remember being crushed in my early years of writing, 2001 to 2006, when my first novel, The Golden Cord kept getting rejected by agents and publishers. It was almost always a form letter. For years all I ever heard was “No.”

Closer to 2006, which was the year I finally sold The Golden Cord to a publisher, Five Star Books, and editor John Helfers, I started getting personal rejections with notes about my novel. They were all very encouraging and some of them actually helped me become a better writer. I was still green, a work in progress, but I was close to that professional level.

I used to save my rejection letters, just to keep track of who and where I’d sent things, but I eventually recycled all of them. I found a couple of them recently, and immediately put them in the recycle bin. They just bum me out and make me feel bad. I need lots of positivity in my life. Now I do save the rejections in my “Agent” folder in my email. I never look at them. I’m glad things have moved to email, as they don’t seem as bad as the paper rejections I used to get in the early 2000’s.

The best rejection I ever received was from an older agent who had been in the business a long time. She took the time to make notes in the first 25 pages of The Golden Cord . She provided a lot of advice and sent me a pamphlet with lots of tips on how to improve writing in general. It had the famous joke I’ve used many times since then:

“There are three rules in writing. But no one knows what they are.”

She gave me very encouraging advice, writing it on the last page of the partial manuscript I sent: “Keep at it.”

Those words meant a lot. I’ve never forgotten them. We’re all a work in progress.

The Golden Cord came out in 2008 and became the bestselling fantasy novel my publisher had ever had and went through six printings. I was feeling great, and then the second book came out, The Dragon Hunters . This happened right during the economic downturn in 2009, and my publisher folded up their fantasy line leaving me orphaned. That was the worst “rejection” I ever had. The publisher wanted to keep me, but one author, even with good sales, could not keep an entire line open. Recovering from that took about two years, and found out that no major publisher will touch an orphaned series. I had to self-publish the third book myself.

During all this time of not knowing what would happen to my series, I kept writing short stories and novellas. I had a lot of success, and have sold 17 shorter works (as of June 2015) but not everything sold.

A recent rejection I received was entirely my fault. I was invited to submit for a steampunk anthology, but I did not follow the guidelines. I wrote a story (a novelette actually) that was nearly 15,000 words. The word count limit was 7,000. The editor liked the story, though he wanted more steampunk elements in it, which I could have done, but the deciding factor was the length. That one hurt, but it was self-inflicted damage. The story, “The Lightning Men,” will come out someday, but it really needs to be a lot longer, and keeping it at 15K was not an ideal solution. I need to expand it to become a novella, way over 20K someday. I think it needs to be at least 35K to do the huge story justice. It’s a super bad idea to blow the word count like I did, especially when the anthology is going to be printed up and published. Trying to do too much in a short work is a terrible idea. Better to trim it down.

That rejection of my steampunk novella was the first rejection of one of my “short” stories. I’ve had novels rejected many times, but never short stories. I don’t intend to repeat that experience.

I thought recently that I was finally going to sell a novel in a new series I’m writing. Things were looking good, and the publisher was into me, but the editor chosen to work on it said “No.” That sucked. I got my hopes up and shouldn’t have.

The novel I’m shopping now, and that has been getting rejected by agents and publishers over the past three years is, Medusa’s Daughter, a gritty and dark fantasy set in ancient Greece. It’s a love story with a supernatural element, and I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever written, but I can’t seem to sell it. The process has been very disheartening. The time it takes is also a killer. Waiting for six months to hear back from someone, and then another someone, really adds up.

I see that email in my inbox now and freak out a little. Could this be the one? Could this be the time when an agent says “yes”? Then I read a rejection, often with a few kind words, but in the end, it’s a “No.” Anger. Disappointment. Obligatory binge TV watching and feeling sorry for myself. I snap out of it, and get back to writing, but it’s never easy.

Being resilient and determined are probably the best qualities a writer can have. Oh, and writing well doesn’t hurt either, though it won’t get you through the tough moments.

Learning coping skills to deal with rejection is key. I think the best thing we can do as writers is support each other. Encouragement is priceless. Don’t forget to give your writer friends a kind word when you review their manuscript. Getting rejected by strangers (agents and editors you’ve never met) is hard enough, but getting rejected by your friends is often much worse.

Look for something good about the draft of their novel or story you just read, and let the writer know what they did well. Start with the good stuff, and provide advice that can be acted upon to make the work better. When/if it gets rejected by an agent or editor, be there for your friend and let them vent.

We are all going to have our work rejected, but that’s not the most important thing. The most important thing is moving on. No matter how long it takes.

Paul Genesse spends endless hours in his basement writing fantasy novels, adding to his list of published short stories available from DAW Books and various other publishers, and editing the demon themed Crimson Pact anthology series. His first novel, The Golden Cord, book one of his Iron Dragon Series became the bestselling fantasy his publisher has ever had. Book two, The Dragon Hunters, and book three, The Secret Empire, all set in the treacherous plateau world of Ae'leron, are out now and available as trade paperbacks and eBooks.


Author of The Iron Dragon Series The Golden Cord: Book One The Dragon Hunters: Book Two The Secret Empire: Book Three
A Walk in the Abyss "Of the Earth, of the Sky, of the Sea" in Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters
Editor of:
The Crimson Pact Volume 1 The Crimson Pact Volume 2 The Crimson Pact Volume 3 The Crimson Pact Volume 4 The Crimson Pact Volume 5
Author Website: Author Blog: 
Join me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter @Paul_Genesse

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Guest Post: The Nitty Gritty on Children's Books by Nancy Fulda

Let’s get one thing straight. I’m not really a children’s book author. I usually write science fiction, generally involving space ships, often with obsessive attention to scientific accuracy. I’ve written stories about accelerated evolution, artificial intelligence, cloning, orbital habitats, extraterrestrial cultures and glasses that let you see dead people. This is not the stuff of children’s literature.

So what business do I have talking about children’s books?

Well, I sort of wrote one.

  It happened more or less by accident, and I’m not here to claim I’m an expert at it. I am here to share what I’ve learned, and what I’m still learning, and what seems to be working. I’m also going to leverage my twelve or so years of experience as a mother, which, for anyone who’s unfamiliar with the job description, involves a lot of hours spent reading to children.

The first thing I noticed (as I started writing this chapter book that was not on my schedule, that I really was not supposed to be writing) was the intriguing juxtaposition between children’s writing and fiction meant for adults. All those years I’ve spent studying the art of wordcrafting, searching for just the right image to bring a scene to life, finding the narrative beats in a conversation… It all applies in children’s literature. All of it.

I was surprised, as my project began to come together, at how easily the scenes flowed into one another. The story evolved quickly. The characters sprang to life. (Yes, even the cat. Perhaps especially the cat.) And I didn’t have to stop, not even once, to look up the specifications for a space elevator or research the nucleotide sequences of a protovirus.

In short, it went fast. And I was able to use almost every writerly tool I’ve been introduced to thus far.

Even so, the discovery left me vaguely unsettled. If the distinctive aspects of a children’s chapter book did not lie in the craft and nature of storytelling, then where were the differences? Because I think most everybody would agree there’s a clear and tangible difference between a chapter book for early readers and a 400 page fantasy novel intended for adults.

After mulling it over, I came up with four concrete differences.

Generally speaking, a book for children is shorter than a comparable book for adults. For example, the next book in my children’s series is called The Cat who Ruined Thanksgiving. The cover is rather indeterminate. It could be a children’s book, but it could also be a cozy novel aimed at adults. If I were to write the same book in both styles (which I’m not! That would be insane), the adult novel would be at least twice as long as the children’s version.

This is partially related to attention span, but it has even more to do with story structure. A children’s book tends not to have subplots or secondary conflicts. There’s a very direct progression from points A-Z, with a tight focus on the thoughts and needs of the primary character.

Subject matter
Aside from the obvious – certain types of conflicts are distressing to and/or inappropriate for children – there are powerful thematic differences between an adult novel and a children’s book. The best children’s books I’ve read focus on concrete problems that are easy to identify. Challenges that will resonate with a child.

Going back to our (hypothetical) two versions of The Cat Who Ruined Thanksgiving, the variation for adults would probably focus on the cat’s mysterious behavior and rising conflicts between the various adults in the household. The children’s version will focus exclusively on the cat’s frustration with the way events begin to unfold.

In An Owl goes Trick-or-Treating, the primary conflict is one that nearly every child raised on continental America will understand: Arthur wants to ring doorbells and collect candy, but no one will let him.

I’m a big believer in the power of complex words, so I don’t shy from the polysyllabic, even in a children’s manuscript. Even so, I try to keep the general tone and presentation simple. Straightforward vocabulary. Direct sentences with few or no subordinate clauses.

I was about to say that I also “tell” a bit more often than in works written for adults, especially when it comes to the character’s internal landscape – but I just flipped back through the book and that’s not actually true. I simply “show” in more concrete ways. Interesting…

Most chapter books for early readers include interior art. For a long time, I tried to ignore this fact. How important could it be?

When the third person in a row asked whether I was planning to include interior sketches, I finally caved to peer pressure. I figured the book was fine as it was, but I might as well include pictures if everybody expected me to. So I did some pencil drawings, scanned and reworked them in Adobe Fireworks, and added them to the book.

And the book got better because of it. I hadn’t expected that. My art is not spectacular on a technical level. But having a concrete depiction of Arthur, and especially an emotional context for some of the challenges he faces, brought a vivacity to the story that hadn’t been there before. Further books in the series will definitely be including interior art.

* * *

So there I was with a children’s book. But was it any good?

I decided to put my finished project to the ultimate test. I read it to my children. Children, you see, are the ultimate arbiters of quality. They like a story, or they don’t. They don’t hedge comments, and they don’t stick around to hear the end unless the actually care how things turn out. I knew my children would not lie to me. But I did not know if they’d connect with the story.

The first few chapters had me on pins and needles. The kids listened attentively (that was good) but they didn’t laugh in the places I thought they should have (that was bad). They jostled each other to look at the pictures (good), and objected loudly when I suggested stopping for the night (good), but were they really connecting with the characters?

Then the magic happened.

“Poor Arthur,” My six-year-old said, turning towards me at the end of chapter four. Her big blue eyes sparkled with empathy. She cuddled close for the final chapter while my older children leaned in from either side.

Nancy Fulda is a Phobos Award winner, a Jim Baen Memorial Award recipient, and a 2012 Hugo and Nebula nominee. During her graduate work at Brigham Young University she studied artificial intelligence, machine learning, and quantum computing. In the years since, she has grappled with the far more complex process of raising three small children. All these experiences sometimes infiltrate her writing.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

NaNoWriMo Prep: You CAN do it!

So here we are, the last Tuesday before NaNoWriMo begins. I can only speak for myself, but MAN. I am dying to write. I usually take a writing break in October, saving my free time for plotting and whatnot (for more on the whatnot, see the previous prep posts). So come November 1st, it feels like the words are dying to come out.
However you've chosen to prepare for NaNoWriMo '15, I want to leave you with one last piece of advice: Tell yourself you can do it. We've already established that yes, it is hard to write 50,000 words in a month. Now let's establish that yes, YOU, of all people, can do it. I believe in you. I hope you believe in you, too.
Be sure to sign up at if you haven't yet. If you'd like to add me as a writing buddy, my user name is karareynolds.
I typically post excerpts of my work every 10,000 words or so on my personal blog. If you do the same, and you'd like to be featured on Operation Awesome, send me an e-mail during November and I'll schedule you in. If you'd like to blog about your experience as a first-time NaNo-er, we'd love to hear that, too! Perhaps you have a great story about how NaNoWriMo changed your life? Send it along. All e-mails should be addressed to me (Kara), at and include "NaNoWriMo" in the subject line.
Good luck!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Bizarro Twilight by Stephenie Meyer: an Analysis

Remember Bizarro from the Superman legends? He's that guy from Htrae, instead of Earth. Htrae is a cube-shaped planet, where Earth is a sphere. The S on Bizarro's chest is backwards, and he even thinks backwards. 

Buy it

Well, that's the first feeling you get when you open up Stephenie Meyer's 10th anniversary edition of Twilight upside-down and backwards. The title becomes Life and Death. The apple is green, not red. The hand is a man's, because the forbidden fruit isn't Bella anymore, it's Beau Swan. 

But it gets even better. Turn the page and you get to read a letter from the authoress herself, apologizing that you're not reading Midnight Sun, the much-hoped-for, unpublished volume of The Twilight Saga that tells the story from Edward's point of view. This is not that. But it's the second-best thing. I loved two things about Stephenie Meyer's foreword:

1) Her publisher contacted her with the idea in mind of having her write an exciting letter for the 10th anniversary edition of Twilight, but Stephenie thought that might be difficult. How could she make a simple letter exciting? It sounded boring to her. So... 
2) She decided to answer the critics of Bella "Damsel in Distress" Swan by doing what she often suggested one could easily do: switching Bella out for a human boy, who would be just as distressed when surrounded by superhumans. 

I have to confess that I have been a Twilight fan from the beginning, and I survived all the comparisons between Katniss and Bella, as if they were anything close to comparable (I think it's more honest to compare Katniss to Scarlett O'Hara, that self-preserving socialite from the Civil War era). I have pretty strong feelings about Bella's personal strength, a strength evident on every single page of The Twilight Saga

For example, the first page of Twilight has Bella explaining how dying in place of someone she loves is a pretty good way to go. But try to figure out which someone she's talking about, and you realize she isn't saving just one person; she's saving, in her mind, at least nine. Possibly all of Forks. Everything she does is calculated to save someone else. That's not damsel-in-distress behavior. Last I checked, that's hero behavior. 

Don't get me wrong, Katniss has her selfless moments, but she really has to milk them for all they're worth for the screens, doesn't she? In contrast, Bella spends every waking minute thinking about others. Now, we could argue about the psychological health of someone so martyred, so thoroughly invested in the idea of her own ordinary-ness. But her status as a hero is unquestionable. It's her mission in life. It's who she is. 

And it's who Beau is, too. :)  

First thought as I started reading: This is weird. I had to focus to keep all the names and genders straight. Okay, so this is a girl name, which means it represents a boy name from Twilight, so who had blond, straight hair and a round, cute face? Oh, right. McKayla is Mike. Got it. You may not suffer as I did if you aren't quite as OCD. In fact, I think the best way to read Life and Death is to pretend you never read Twilight. And if you never did read Twilight, you'll really love Life and Death

Now for ten observations about Life and Death:

  1. Beau makes a better Bella that Bella does. I think this feeling comes from my initial disconnect with Bella as a fellow girl. I'm a girly girl and she's not. She doesn't like to wear pink, paint her nails, go shopping, nada. Hence, when she became a boy, it just worked for me. If you read Life and Death first, you'd think Beau was possibly sexist, insisting on opening doors for Edythe, even after he knows she could crush him with a pinky. He refuses to lie down after almost being slammed into his truck by a sliding van on an icy day. He tries to be tough even when he faints at the sight of other people's blood during Biology. Everything tough Bella tried to do in Twilight looks stereotypical male when Beau does it.   
  2. Edythe makes more sense than Edward does. She writes in pretty calligraphy, just like Edward does. She listens to classical music, just like Edward does. She laughs at everything Beau says and does, like Edward did to Bella. The graceful way she moves--a vampire thing, I know--matches a female more than a stereotypical male. 
  3. The spider-monkey scene is awkward. So awkward I couldn't even picture it right. Beau is super tall, even taller than Carine (the female counterpart to Carlyle) and Edythe is short. Wearing Beau like a backpack just isn't feasible. My brain hurt a little trying to see it.
  4. Traditional stereotypes of the cultures represented in the book become glaringly obvious. For instance, I hadn't noticed that all the teachers at Forks High School were men until they all became women. The office receptionist became a balding guy, which reminded me that all office receptionists are actually women. The alpha male system for the werewolves is now matriarchal. Carine becomes the father of the family, er... mother. There is a definite power shift from men to women that I think has less to do with Stephenie Meyer's prejudices and more to do with the standing cultures she is writing about. I could sense the author was having fun with this shift.
  5. Royal is less forgivable than Rosalie. I recognized this may be my personal bias, and likely is. Even after hearing his backstory, I felt less sympathy for him than I had for Rosalie. It's sad, really, that I could recognize he had been a victim and yet still want to blame him when I wouldn't dream of blaming Rosalie for her victimization, no matter how shallow she had been prior to her death. Something for me to think about.
  6. Jules is more pitiable than Jacob. For some reason I didn't feel bad for Jacob during Twilight. Not really. But I felt really bad for Jules. I attribute this to two things: 1) I already know how Breaking Dawn ends and it could never end that way with Beau being unable to create life with Edythe. 2) Again, my natural bias and sympathy goes to women and girls because of what I am. 
  7. Beau is funnier than Bella, and Charlie gets along with him better. (Only Beau's parents remained the same gender for reasons Stephenie Meyer explains in her foreword.) The relationship between Charlie and Beau lacks the over-protectiveness Charlie endearingly feels toward his only daughter in Twilight. While Charlie still does protective things, like ask about Beau's social life and put snow chains on his truck's tires, it feels less--for lack of a better word--patriarchal. When Charlie says, "Beau, you're easy to live with," it's easier to believe. This is probably due to the simple difference between dads and daughters and the slight anxiety which is healthy to any relationship in which one does not naturally understand the other. It's that anxiety of not understanding, after all, that impels us to try to understand. Just as Bella relates more to Charlie than to her mom, Beau is basically a miniature Charlie. This makes it all the more heartbreaking when Beau lies to Charlie to protect him, and tells him his worst fear is ending up like him, trapped in small-town Forks. 
  8. Beau's voice is easier on the ears. Despite Bella's tomboy-ness, there were still times her voice came across as a bit whiny. Beau's voice is literally different. His character is almost exactly the same as Bella, but the way he talks to people and to himself is different. 
  9. The teasing at school feels different. When the guys tease Beau about his aversion to blood, it feels more mean-spirited. Jessica's envy and passive-aggressive behavior toward Bella was easy to write-off as harmless. Beau seems to have a higher bar to clear.
  10. The ending. That's all I have to say about that. Read it. You'll see. *wink*
In closing, read Life and Death. You'll get a kick out of it, and maybe have an opportunity to analyze your own gender-based assumptions, always a good thing. In fact, I can see this being a great English class project or Gender Studies essay prompt. 

I can't resist a book that gives me this much to think about.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Guest Post: The Attraction of Dark Forests by Alexa Piper

Update 10/23: Alexa Piper is not a pseudonym of A. E. Decker. See Alexa's updated bio at the end. Apologies for the confusion.

Today we have with us Alexa Piper. She is author of Luminous Dreams, a short story collection of paranormal erotic romance, published by World Weaver Press:

Dear Reader, allow me to begin this little post by explaining to you one of the (many) idiosyncrasies of the common writer. Sometimes we write stuff. We finish writing stuff and then we write more stuff. This process may repeat a couple more times depending on the individual writer's aptitude in procrastination, but eventually, we will come back to read what we wrote, and sometimes we notice that there is an overarching theme there, something that connects the thing we wrote three months ago to the piece we just finished the other day.

For me, I found that one of these themes was the attraction of forests dark and brooding, so it seems only fitting to collect my thoughts on the matter in a post.

First, let us ask what it is about the woods that makes you want to go there and get lost? Personally, I think that there are two aspects to this attraction.

One, and probably most obviously, is the need to get away from everything, escapism pure and simple. This is the very beast on whose back you rode to Middle Earth and Hogwarts, it's the trickster that seduced you into daydreams and comforted you more times than you can count. I explore this (among other things) in my short story The Acorn Princess (from my collection Luminous Dreams). The main character of the story, Alice, drives out to the woods because she has to get away from all the rest of the world. And of course she does, more so than she ever dared hope.

The other aspect that I think drives our longing for the woods is that--while we might get lost--we also hope to bring something back from among the loneliness of the trees. There are aspects of the quest in this for sure, but the woods are older, wilder, they follow their own ancient rules. It is perhaps not an accident that a story that plays with this aspect can also be found in Luminous Dreams. Candy and the Witch introduces Gretel, a rather competent witch. She heads for the woods, already searching for something. What--or rather who--she finds is not what she was looking for...or is it?

Is the enthralling power of the woods strong enough to make us misremember why we came there to begin with? If so, then what about the things and people we do find and take back home with us?

In romance (and it is something I love about the genre) the writer can take you right along for the ride of figuring that last part out, and it's a lot of fun, hopeful also for you, dear Reader.

Basically, if a reader has their her story-sized bite of escapism combined with the joy of discovering something she didn't know she wanted before, then all's well, as Shakespeare says. And of course it always ends well too; in your dreams, dear Reader, you can always go back to the woods after all, the place the writer introduced you to, but ultimately a place you created in your own mind, a place you own. And whenever you choose to re-read a tale, a story, these woods will always feel like your own place of discovery, something to hold very dear indeed, something to take home with you.

Alexa Piper enjoys writing, romance, and the paranormal. This said, becoming a paranormal romance writer seemed perfectly reasonable, but for Alexa, it is more than that; it's fun. Alexa’s work has appeared in the Red Moon Romance anthology Demons, Imps, and Incubi and The Naughty List. Luminous Dreams is Alexa's first collection, and she hopes her readers will have as much fun reading it as she had writing it. Check out Alexa’s online home ( for all things related to her writing and be sure to follow her on Twitter @prowlingpiper.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Wednesday Debut Interview: Stillwater by Melissa Lenhardt

This Wednesday, we're joined by debut author Melissa Lenhardt, who's telling us about her new mystery novel, Stillwater.

Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed at Operation Awesome! Your bio on Goodreads mentions that you did not want to be a writer when you were a kid! So what was your dream job?
Honestly, I never had a childhood dream job. I went to college a complete blank slate, got a degree in an industry I hated once I started working in it, and ended up a stay-at-home mom. Writing isn’t my second career, it’s my first.

STILLWATER is a mystery with a former FBI agent-turned-police officer as the protagonist. What kind of research went into writing a character with that background?
There’s a reason Jack is an ex-FBI agent; when I started writing the book, or this version (more on that later), I didn’t have a FBI agent contact to interview about their job. So, I spoke to local police officers about small town policing, read books about police procedures and took a Citizen’s Police Academy class through my local PD, which gave me more contacts. I have a friend in my Writer’s Workshop who’s a retired Secret Service Agent so he gives me general Fed information, such as no way in hell would Jack drink a latte. You know, the important stuff.

Tell us about the fictional town of Stillwater. Were there any towns you had in mind while developing your setting for this story?
I grew up in a small East Texas town so of course everyone will think Stillwater is based on it. It is, to a degree. But, it could also be based on the suburban neighborhood I live in now, which is close-knit and like a small town in many ways.

In the first draft, I had a lot of information about the town. I wanted to make the town a major character and I thought the way to do that was to load the MS down with history and detail. Trouble was, it was boring. I cut almost all of it. Over time, the reader will learn more about the town, but I can tell you Stillwater has a major inferiority complex and competitiveness with Yourkeville, the county seat. No matter how hard the town tries, it just can’t match the success and prosperity of Yourkeville and it chafes the Stillwaterites to no end.

Let's talk about your writing process. How long did it take you to draft this novel? How long from that first draft until publication?
I was looking through some old files on my computer and came across what I think is the first mention of Stillwater, the town, in another story outline. From 2003! I couldn’t believe it was twelve years ago, but that sounds about right. This particular story started as a retelling of Jane Austen’s PERSUASION, with Ellie being the main character. Unfortunately, I never could get the story to work because I wasn’t a good enough writer. I abandoned the PERSUASION plot and changed it to a mystery during NaNoWriMo one year. Of course, I set it aside, unfinished. I came back to it in 2012, after I tried to query my historical fiction without success, thinking a mystery would be more marketable. It changed considerably during that edit. I pitched it to my agent in May 2013, signed with her in July, and the book sold to Skyhorse in July 2014.

Can you tell us about how you got your book deal with Skyhorse and what makes them a good fit for your book?
STILLWATER is a little different from your “typical” mystery. It was gritty but not dark enough to be noir. It’s not a straight crime novel or police procedural. Sex, profanity, grit and multiple POV kept it from being cozy. One publisher liked it but had tried a mystery with a romantic element that didn’t do well so they passed. So much for it being more marketable! Skyhorse publishes all different genres so they aren’t constrained by making sure the mystery “fit their list.” My editor liked it, and they took a chance on it.

What about the title? Was STILLWATER the original title you had in mind? How did it come about?
I’m terrible at titles and, when in doubt, I name it after a location in the book. With STILLWATER it worked because the title brings to mind the saying, “still waters run deep” which I adapted into a tagline to fit the theme of the book: “Big secrets run deep.”

Your cover definitely evokes a feeling of disorientation, things not being quite right. How does the cover line up with what you envisioned for it? How much say did you have in it?
Ha! Covers! I have lots of cover ideas. Most authors do and we rarely get what we want, so it was surprising when my editor asked for my input from the beginning. I scoured the internet for photos, created a Pintrest mood wall, filled a lightbox with every photo I could find for the different ideas I had. The photo on the cover was one I sent her with the comment, “Stillwater is more dilapidated than this, but this is the ballpark.” I was also adamant that I didn’t want water on the cover. How pedestrian would it be to have a cover of still water on the STILLWATER cover? So, when she sent me the cover I was shocked and very happy. They managed to evoke water with the bright blue sky without having water on the cover. They were also able to show how the town isn’t quite what it seems with the upside down photo. We didn’t change a thing.

Tell us about your book launch! What, where, when, and how do you plan on celebrating?
I’m having two! Why? Because I love parties! We’re having one in the suburb where I live at a small bar downtown on October 3. I hope that little bar bursts at the seams from all the people we cram inside it! A few weeks later, I’m having a launch in my hometown at the local Arts Center.

It was recently announced on Publishers Marketplace that Skyhorse has picked up the second Jack McBride mystery — congrats! What's in store for our hero next?
Poor Jack. He thought he was taking an easy job and the bodies just keep piling up. He personal life is in shambles and his twin brother, Eddie, is in town and making his life difficult. Ellie is running for a vacant city council seat and Miner’s trying to redeem himself.

You also have a historical mystery coming in spring from Redhook called SAWBONES. Can you tell us a little bit about that? Which was written first — STILLWATER or SAWBONES? What are you working on next?
This is my chicken and the egg question. I honestly don’t know which one I started first, but I can tell you I finished SAWBONES first. It was the first MS I finished. SAWBONES’s one line is “Outlander meets the American West.” I love this book so much. SO MUCH. Right now, I’m editing the sequel and will start writing the third in the series as soon as I’m done.

Is there any other advice you'd like to pass on to others pursuing publication? Anything you would have done differently?
Two pieces of advice: learn to finish and learn to move on. Finishing isn’t just writing THE END, it’s editing, sending the MS off to beta readers, more editing and revising and polishing. When you send queries off for your polished MS, start working on the next project. You won’t grow as a writer by reworking the same project over and over.

And, just for fun! Which other small-town law enforcement agent do you think your protagonist Jack McBride would most like to sit down and have some coffee and donuts with: Andy Taylor (from The Andy Griffith Show), Rick Grimes (from The Walking Dead), Cordell Walker (from Walker, Texas Ranger), or Nicholas Angel (from Hot Fuzz)?
Rick Grimes, for sure. Jack would probably take him aside and tell him to take a damn shower, put on some clean clothes, and shave his beard.

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

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Tuesday Museday On A Plane

Stuck in a rut? Brainstorm all out of thunder? Do you guys remember the "Numa Numa" song that was popular back before YouTube was a thing? (Side note--if your memory doesn't go back that far, there's the door.) The song is Dragostea Din Tei, by O-Zone, and it has the silliest music video. Go watch and enjoy: (You can X off all the little windows.)
Perhaps you will be inspired to write a character who doesn't know how to button a shirt! Or you will include a horrific plane crash! Just don't allow yourself to keep watching videos when that one is over. GET BACK TO WRITING.

If you are working on a query and you'd like fresh eyes on it, let me know in the comments! I'll pick someone for a query critique.

Monday, October 19, 2015

5 Steps to Fresh-eyed Editing

I'm pleased to introduce today's guest blogger, Deborah Froese. In addition to being the editorial director at Rebelight Publishing, she's also the author of two award-winning books for young people. 
Welcome, Deborah!
Five Steps to Fresh-eyed Editing
As a writer, editing your own work is one of the toughest things you’ll ever have to do. For optimum results, don’t be yourself.
That may sound like a ridiculous challenge, but it’s simply a reframed view of an old adage: read with fresh eyes. Because you are intimately familiar with your own words, you can’t possibly interpret them as readers will. Experience with backstory and development taint your perspective. They trick your brain into seeing things that aren’t there and overlooking things that are—like typos, punctuation errors, and any excess you’ve spilled onto the page.
You could simply put your manuscript away for six months or a year before reading it again, but who wants to do that? Here’s a five-step approach to tackling an edit without leaving yourself—or your manuscript—behind.
  1. Invite passionate, discerning readers (preferably other writers) to critique your work. Bribe them with chocolate if necessary. Accept their comments graciously, but also ask questions. What did they like? What didn’t they like? Was there anything they didn’t understand or found missing? Did attention wander? Where did it wander? Let feedback simmer and then incorporate the ideas that resonate with you.
  2. Root out passive language by annihilating expressionless “to be” verbs wherever possible (be,
    am, is, are, was, have, do, can, could, should, would—you get the idea). That approach forces you to rethink your text and shift from “He was holding his hand over the control switch and trying to decide whether or not he should press the launch button,” to “His hand hovered over the launch button. Go or no?”
  3. Uproot personal pronouns (PPs) and PP statements to yank readers into the story for a more dramatic experience. “She felt the raindrops pummeling her face,” for example, becomes “Rain pummeled her face.”
  4. Read your words aloud. Let me repeat: READ YOUR WORDS ALOUD. Ears detect what eyes miss—from poor flow to lack of clarity and excessive text. Your neighbours might think you’re crazy—but they might just pull up a chair and listen.  
  5. After taking the previous four steps, apply a splash of magic and trick your brain into thinking it sees something new: change the style and size of your font. Yes. Really. When words assume a slightly different shape and line breaks shift, your brain reboots the script.

Editing is an essential part of writing, but learning to do it well takes time. Finding ways to analyze your words logically and through different lenses makes the job easier.
Do you have any editing tips to share?

Learn more about Deborah Froese by visiting her blog: Story Matter

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Flash Fiction Contest #3 Winner

Thank you to everyone who participated in this week's contest. You did not disappoint. Some of you even seemed intent on giving me nightmares. At least now I have some new things to occupy my thoughts while doing a midnight bathroom run.

Flash Fiction Contest #3 Prompt: 2-sentence horror story

Entry by Theresa Milstein

"The surgery to replace your failing kidney was a complete success," the surgeon says. She lifts your hospital gown to reveal the x on the left while the incision is on the right.


Honorable Mentions


Category: From Worse to Worser

Red eyes stared out at me from the crawl space and a voice whispered, "Demon." I backed away and ran into my dead sister standing behind me.


Category: D-: EW

"Can you feel me eating your heart? That's why I only took a few bites."


Category: BOO!
Winner: ShennonDoah

When Jenny took the trash out the back door of the health club, she didn't remember rain being in the forecast for that evening. Shielding her eyes and squinting upwards, she realized it wasn't rain, but the bloody arm and lifeless face staring at her through the grated emergency escape.


Category: Made Me LOL
Winner: Kacey Card

Rebecca looked around at her five companions then into the merciless eyes of the killer. An icy chill crept up her spine when she realized she was the character with no last name.


As a reminder, our grand prize winner (grand prize: the badge; yes, we're fancy around here with our prizes) can't win again for another three months. For those who won an Honorable Mention, you didn't get the badge; therefore, you have no waiting period.

Our next contest is Friday, Nov. 6! Come back then!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Flash Fiction Contest #3

Hello, everyone, and thank you for joining us! If you're here for the first time, might I suggest having a gander at The Rules, etc.?

NEW! Please include your name (or, at least, what you want your badge to say when you win) and your Twitter handle (if, ya know, you're on Twitter).

Flash Fiction Prompt For Friday, October 16, 2015

Because we have a fun format that's different from the first two, I want to underline not plagiarizing. These are short enough that I'll be checking the Reddit thread. If you created your entry somewhere else that I might find it, please say so, provide a link to where, and if your name doesn't match with what you're submitting here, why.

*rubs hands together gleefully* I can't wait to see what you guys come up with!

P.S. I fully expect to select more than one, since you guys are so creative and these are so short. It depends on the number of entries, though. Tweet us! Get your friends to enter!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Cover Reveal: GRUDGING by Michelle Hauck

Today Michelle Hauck and Rockstar Book
Tours are revealing the cover for GRUDGING, Birth of Saints Book One, which
releases November 17, 2015! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to win a copy
of the eBook!
I'm going to brag a little--I got to read the synopsis of GRUDGING last December, and I remember thinking, "Man, this is so cool. I hope it gets published so I can read the actual book!" And it did! Trust me, it's gonna be good.

On to the reveal!

Author: Michelle Hauck
Publication Date: November 17, 2015
Publisher: Harper Voyager Impulse
Format: eBook
Find it: Amazon  Barnes&Noble  iBooks  Goodreads

A world of chivalry and witchcraft… and the invaders who would destroy everything.

The North has invaded, bringing a cruel religion and no mercy. The ciudades-estados who have stood in their way have been razed to nothing, and now the horde is before the gates of Colina Hermosa… demanding blood.

On a mission of desperation, a small group escapes the besieged city in search of the one thing that might stem the tide of Northerners: the witches of the southern swamps.

The Women of the Song.

But when tragedy strikes their negotiations, all that is left is a single untried knight and a witch who has never given voice to her power. And time is running out.

A lyrical tale of honor and magic, Grudging is the opening salvo in the Book of Saints trilogy.

About Michelle:

Michelle Hauck lives in the bustling metropolis of northern Indiana with her hubby and two teenagers. Two papillons help balance out the teenage drama. Besides working with special needs children by day, she writes all sorts of fantasy, giving her imagination free range. A book worm, she passes up the darker vices in favor of chocolate and looks for any excuse to reward herself. Bio finished? Time for a sweet snack.
She is a co-host of the yearly contests Query Kombat and Nightmare on Query
Street, and Sun versus Snow.
Her epic fantasy, Kindar's Cure, is published by Divertir
Publishing. Her short story, Frost and Fog, is published by The Elephant's Bookshelf Press in their anthology, Summer's Double Edge. She's repped by Sarah Negovetich of Corvisiero Literary.

Website  Twitter  Facebook  Tumblr  Goodreads

And we have a giveaway! 3 winners will receive an eBook of GRUDGING. Open internationally.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Cover Reveal: S. L. Saboviec's REAPING ANGEL

Welcome, everyone, to the cover reveal for S. L. Saboviec's Reaping Angel, Book #2 in the "Fallen Redemption" adult paranormal series.

The first book, Guarding Angel, was released in May 2014. Both covers were done by the super-fabulous Regina Wamba, of, who's done covers for Random House, Penguin Books, and multiple New York Times best-selling authors.

But a picture is worth a thousand words, so here's the blurb and cover for Guarding Angel, Fallen Redemption #1:

Guardian angel Enael can't seem to keep her human Wards in check. They're the ones who choose their paths before reincarnating--she's just there to help make sure they stay on track. But it's not as easy as it might look.

When she meets and falls in love with charismatic Kaspen, a fellow Guardian, Enael's feelings about Heaven, Hell, demons, and the life she's known are turned upside down. Worse, angel-turned-demon Yasva, Kaspen's former love, still holds him in her clutches. Even as Yasva works toward obtaining complete control of Earth, she taunts and haunts Kaspen's and Enael's lives.

Now Enael is forced to face her past (which is centuries long and bursting with secrets), her present (which is terribly unfulfilling and full of questions), and her future (which becomes more uncertain as time passes). Armed with a newfound love and fear of losing it all, she must figure out how to save the world--and the angel she loves. Which side will win? Who will Kaspen choose? Will Heaven and Earth continue to exist, or will everything go to Hell?

But you're not here for the first book, you're here for the second book. So without further ado, here it is:

After the battle at the Bastille, the Council of Seraphim offers reluctant demons Enael and Kaspen a chance to return to Heaven—but only after they’ve completed sufficient penance. Ready to move past the ugly chapter in their lives, they settle into their assignments. 

Until Enael’s former lover, Voctic, a powerful demon, interferes.

Voctic seduces and demeans, taunts and entices Enael, stirring centuries-old longing in her while infuriating Kaspen. Caught up in the demands of their duties, Kaspen and Enael drift apart until she finds herself isolated.

Fed up with Voctic’s harassment, Enael prepares to fight back. When he targets the new human she’s responsible for protecting, she creates her own plan. His self-proclaimed “gala of the century” will be the perfect cover for her revenge. But will a hasty decision cost her Kaspen—or even her spot in Heaven?

Add it on Goodreads here.

Get up-to-date release information by subscribing to S. L. Saboviec's newsletter here.

About the Author

Samantha grew up in a small town in Iowa but became an expat for her Canadian husband, whom she met in the Massive Multi-player Online Role-Playing Game Star Wars: Galaxies (before the NGE, of course). She holds a B.S. in Physics, which qualifies her to B.S. about physics and occasionally do some math for the sci-fi stories she concocts. Her dark, thought-provoking science fiction & fantasy contains flawed, relatable characters and themes that challenge the status quo.

She contributes to Operation Awesome, including hosting a twice-monthly flash fiction contest. She tweets both more than she should and probably not enough @Saboviec. Her fiction is being included in the Realmwalker Publishing Group upcoming anthology The Legacy. You can find out more about her at

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

NaNoWriMo Prep: Outlining vs. Pantsing

Today's prep topic brings us to what is perhaps one of the greatest dividers among writers: Using an outline versus writing by the seat of one's pants (also called "discovery writing").
I have done both, and I see merits to both sides. I'm not here to persuade you to my way of doing things, especially not if you're comfortable with your own method of plotting. But if this happens to be your first NaNoWriMo or you want to try something new, then let's explore different styles of drafting.

Discovery writing can be a lot of fun. It allows you to uncover your characters as you get to know them. Surprises often abound as you make spur of the moment decisions to try something new. With discovery writing, you probably have at least a vague idea of plot and who your main characters are, but there's plenty of room to grow and change as you write.

This is how my first NaNo project was. I had an idea for a girl and a boy to go on a road trip to see Shakespeare festivals and fall in love. That was all I had, and I ran with it. It was a lot of fun! I learned a lot about writing during that project.

I also learned a lot about editing, because it was a hot mess when I was finished. Remember last post, I told you that I killed the main character's mother so she'd have a reason to stay at home, but then I didn't have her think or feel anything about it at all? By the end of November I had discovered that yes, she did indeed have feelings about her mother's death. So when I edited, I had to go back and load up the front half of the novel with thoughts and feelings so that the ones I organically wrote in the end wouldn't feel out of place. For me, discovery writing usually means a lot of backtracking. Which is not always a bad thing.

With later attempts at NaNoWriMo, I've tried outlining in various degrees. For my 2012 project, I spent fifteen minutes at the end of each writing session figuring out where I'd go next. For 2013, I used Scrivener and listed out every single scene that would go in the novel, so that all I'd have to do in November was open up each scene and write until I made it to the next one.

I found that to be incredibly stifling.

In fact, I ended up discovering another character along the way that completely changed the course of the novel. I had to go back and add more scenes with this character, which of course messed up the scene list I'd so lovingly created back in October. But believe me, the novel is much better for it.

This year I have a synopsis for the novel I'll be writing in November. There will be room to stretch, but I also know the beginning, middle, and end. I think this happy medium between outlining and pantsing will make drafting both smooth and enjoyable. I'm looking forward to it!

Do you have a method of drafting that you love? Share in the comments!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Editing and Polishing: Time to Add Some Ellipses!


Back in July, I tackled the topic of how I do my first revision in a brilliant and witty piece entitled Cooling Periods and Paper. Sorry if my description raised your expectations higher than the piece actually warrants, but there are no refunds.

Editing and Polishing is the topic of the month, and I will say that past that first difficult revision, I rather enjoy editing. It's my chance to nitpick and shine up each sentence, add in some extra ellipses just for drama ...

I'm kidding, guys. Don't add extra ellipses. But they are fun ... and dramatic ...

It is the time when I look at aesthetics, though. I see if there are unwieldy blocks of exposition or pages of dialogue without time for a reader to catch his breath. I might tag a sentence for solitary confinement.

Because I can.

I'll check for overusing my poetic license, adverbs, and starting sentences with conjunctions. Because ... kryptonite.

And, honestly, by this time, I'm also editing and polishing my query letter. I've done my due diligence, had several pairs of eyes look the manuscript over and give me a green light. Mostly, I'm just a little bit sick of looking at it myself. I know every crossed t and dotted i in the whole darn thing.

So this is when I start emailing my query to my friends to see if anyone bites. If they respond sounding more confused than excited, then I know I need to go back to the drawing board.

How do you polish? Is it something you mainly outsource or something you handle personally?

Friday, October 9, 2015

Writer's Digest Round-up

As I've said before on this blog, I love getting Writer's Digest. For me, it feels validating to get mail that says "Writer" on it. I particularly enjoyed the Nov/Dec 2015 issue, so I thought I'd share some highlights.

-A new (to me) agent
I'd never heard of Jud Laghi before, which surprised me because he's Ken Jennings' agent and I love Ken.

-I always read the Breaking In feature, which is a short interview with 3 debut authors about their publication journey. It's good to have a reminder that everyone has a different road to travel in the attempt to get published. This issue featured Kim Liggett (BLOOD AND SALT), Jackson MacKenzie (PSYCHOPATH FREE) and Adam Rakunas (WINDSWEPT).

-The main feature of this issue is called "It's Never Too Late" which is a reminder I need all the time. I often feel like time is slipping away from me, or that I got started writing too late, or my chance has passed. That's just doubt creeping in and whispering its sweet nothings in my ears. I found this section to be very inspiring.

-Interview with David Baldacci. Wow. Just wow.

-And my favorite section, Barbara Poelle's Funny You Should Ask column. I get such a kick out of it every time. :0)

And now my sick kids need me, so I'll leave it to you in the comments: Did you have a favorite article from this issue?

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Cover Reveal: KT Hanna's HYBRID!

Good morning, everyone! Operation Awesome is excited to be participating in KT Hanna's puzzle-piece cover reveal.

Hybrid is finally almost ready for release. S.P. McConnell worked magic again here.

Hybrid (The Domino Project #2) is the sequel to Chameleon. It's set in the wasteland of earth after a meteor shower causes ecological disaster, damages the atmosphere, and gives the gift of an alien parasite to the world. Book two furthers Sai, Bastian, and Dom's journey in their fight to live free from GNW imposed rules.

The goodreads blurb is as follows:

As Sai recovers from her life-threatening injuries, she struggles to piece together her damaged relationship with Dom. He fights the parasite within, suddenly freed from the interference of the other Dominos in his head.

Inside Central, Bastian’s Shine dosing has become a dangerous dance. Enhanced security protocols and endless meetings have him on a tightrope, with little room to move without revealing himself. When the GNW release the Damascus to begin their systemic hunt of the Exiled, the noose closes around the rebels and their allies. If they can’t disable the threat, the Exiled won’t be the Damascus’ only agenda

Without further ado - here's a teaser of the cover by the amazingly talented S.P. McConnell.

Go see the full cover at YA Interrobang!

Isn't it GORGEOUS!?!?!

Sit back and bask in this for a moment.

It's available for pre-order for $3.99 and will go live on November 10th, 2015!

Amazon Link

It will also be available in print via CreateSpace, Amazon, but best of all, the local indie store is being really supportive and already has it available for pre-order in print there!

Haven't read Chameleon? There's still time to catch up!

Get it HERE!

About the Author


KT Hanna has a love for words so extreme, a single word can spark entire worlds.

Born in Australia, she met her husband in a computer game, moved to the U.S.A. and went into culture shock. Bonus? Not as many creatures specifically out to kill you.

When she's not writing, she freelance edits for Chimera Editing, interns for a NYC Agency, and chases her daughter, husband, corgi, and cat. No, she doesn't sleep. She is entirely powered by the number 2, caffeine, and beef jerky.

Note: Still searching for her Tardis.


To celebrate, we're giving away a copy of books 1 & 2! With an Amazon e-card, and a SWAG pack!

Winners will be announced on Monday October 19th!