Tuesday, January 31, 2017

January Reading Roundup

Here's what I read this month:

 I don't read a lot of literary fiction, and I don't remember why I picked this book out, but I'm glad I did. I wanted to keep reading because I was so engrossed in the characters and how their lives were affected by Lydia's death. And the ending surprised me, which is something I require from literary fiction.
 One of Jodi Picoult's sensitivity readers pointed out on Twitter that this is not a book teaching black people about their own experience--it's a book that will hopefully help white people wake up to some of their own privileges. It frequently made me uncomfortable, and I'm glad it did.
 Leandra recommended this series to me some time last year, and I've finally gotten around to it. I love the premise of ghost-hunting teenagers, but I guessed the big reveal long before it was actually revealed, which disappointed me. I can't tell if this book is supposed to be middle grade or young adult, but since I'm neither of those target audiences I decided to let it go and enjoy it regardless.
 Book 2 in the Birth of Saints series. I like that the fantasy world isn't your typical ripoff of medieval Europe, and I'm excited to see where the characters go next!
 My sister got this for me for Christmas. The design is gorgeous, both inside and out. I liked it, and just like with HP & the Cursed Child, I wished it was a complete book instead of just a screenplay. I liked Newt Scamander, but felt like the American characters were a caricature of what J.K. Rowling thinks Americans are like. It reminded me of the episode of Doctor Who with Martha and the tenth Doctor that's set in 1920s NYC.
I enjoyed Nicola Yoon's debut, but I LOVED this one. I loved the way the story was told just as much as the story itself. You should definitely recommend this one to the teens in your life.

Reading this after Carrie Fisher's death last month made it even more sad. I liked getting some behind the scenes detail about filming Star Wars, but it's mostly about her affair with Harrison Ford and how it made her feel like junk.

I thought this was a contemporary novel, and then about 20 chapters in it became paranormal. Nothing against paranormal, but the "bait and switch" feeling annoyed me. I enjoyed the book, but wish the description wasn't misleading.

 The thing about Historical Romance that I love is that the flooded market demands that each book have a unique premise or conceit. The conceit in this book is ridiculous, yet compelling. I will probably end up reading the whole series to find out what happens to all those silly Stud Club tokens.

See above.
In related news, I don't think I will ever read 3 historical romances in a row again, because by the third book I was skipping over the sex scenes because I could not handle another one.
I cried a lot while reading this book. It was a poignant reminder that you never know what people are struggling with, and you should always try to leave people better than you found them. It makes me want to read Strayed's memoir, WILD.

What books did you read and love this month?

Monday, January 30, 2017

How to Make Podcasts Part of Your Book Marketing Strategy

A hearty welcome to guest blogger, Josh Pantalleresco of Just Joshing, a literary podcast. He's here to tell you how to make the most of this great book marketing resource.

 Just Joshing
Podcasts are a great resource for authors. These days, promotion is a necessary evil all writers must engage in. As amazing as your book may be, you need to let people know about it. Interviews are a great way to let your fans or potential fans know who you are and what you offer, and maybe make them care about it at the very end.

After all, you want people to care about your book. Each one of you reading this has worked your butt off constructing a book.  It deserves to find an audience—the right audience—reading it.

So if you are looking for press and promotion, try to keep a few of these things in mind when you do seek podcasts to promote it.

The first question you should ask yourself is what kind of book did you complete? One of the key things about promotion today is that general promotion is no longer an efficient form of advertising. Don't get me wrong, there's no such thing as a bad kind of promotion. That said, I'd argue that identifying the niche of your book is one of the most crucial things you need to do to is identify your niche. Are you a steampunk romance? Or are you a cyberpunk world war two alternative history story? Believe it or not, there are places that promote each.

Podcasts are no different. There are horror podcasts, science fiction podcasts, graphic novel podcasts, and so on and so forth. They love their niches and talk about them all the time. If you are in that niche, chances are they will gush at what you've done.

My podcast (the twice a week literary podcast Just Joshing, which airs Tuesdays and Fridays) is a little bit more general. But if you look real closely at my guest list, most of my guests do some kind of science fiction, fantasy, young adult, or horror. I do diverge from this from time to time, but that is what I'm looking for by and large. So if you are unsure what audience the podcast is trying to reach, check out their guest list. Do they do the kind of thing you are doing? The more they do it, the better the chances that podcast would be interested in you.

The last thing you should do before you go on a podcast of any kind is listen to it. After all, you need to know what kind of interview do they do. In my podcast, Just Joshing, I do a casual interview.  I rather have an interesting conversation, over the general question and answer session. I feel a podcast is best for a conversation and that's how I do my show.

Beyond that, I leave it up to you. Find your niche; I cannot stress that enough. It seems like such a common sense approach, but the truth is, a lot of creators fail to realize who they are in the literary world. Figure it out, and then go forth and find that audience. Once you find that niche, make sure you come across as genuine and comfortable. Beyond that, be yourself. More so than the book, people will connect with you if you come across as someone honest and sincere with your audience—which you've hopefully achieved with the interview. And if you're lucky, you've found more readers that are into what you do. And isn't that the goal?

Have any questions for Josh? Please post them in the comments.


Joshua Pantalleresco writes stuff, and podcasts too. His podcast, Just Jo
shing, airs Tuesdays and Fridays at http://jpantalleresco.podomatic.com or on itunes at https://itunes.apple.com/ca/podcast/just-joshing-podcast/id1199328015 .
His books The Watcher and Stormdancer are published by Mirror World Books and are available at http://www.mirrorworldpublishing.com, Amazon or at bookstores. His next book The Cloud Diver will be released this spring. Learn more at http://jpantalleresco.wordpress.com.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Flash Fiction Contest #26

Have you ever been told a tall tale and you know it? Little kids are famous for it, spinning out yarns that it's hard to listen to with a straight face.

Show us your tallest tales-- reasons why you were late or why you didn't get X done. The wilder and taller, the better!!

The deadline for entry is noon Sun 1/29, with the winner announced later in the afternoon. Rules can be found here. As always, have fun!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Tackling the Dreaded Synopsis - Part One

Here's an increasingly common scenario. An agent has had your partial or full manuscript for several weeks, and you finally get a long-awaited email from her. Your heart pounding, you open the email. "Can you please send me a synopsis?" she asks.

Or you just found out about a contest you know you want to enter. The contest judges will be deciding which entries move on to the agent round based on a query letter, the first page/chapter of the manuscript... and a synopsis. The entry deadline is tomorrow. Your query letter and the manuscript itself are word-perfect, edited, beta-read, and revised. But can you write a great synopsis in 24 hours?

In this post, we'll discuss what a synopsis is (and isn't), how synopses are used by agents and authors, and the basic requirements for writing a good one.

Next week, we'll go through the mechanics of synopsis writing, and I'll post an example of a synopsis that works.

After that, I'll be critiquing your synopses - we'll add a form to next week's post so you can submit!

What is a synopsis? A synopsis is a summary of your manuscript's plot. It details the entire main plot arc (including the ending) and also mentions the most important subplots and characters. It doesn't include many character or setting details, and also doesn't include dialogue, metaphors, or detailed descriptions. Think of it as the blueprint for a house. You don't need to show the tablecloths and chandeliers, but you'd better make sure the dimensions of all the rooms are accurately represented.

Why does everyone hate writing synopses so much? Because it's hard! You've spent months (maybe years) writing your book, weighing every word, stressing over character arcs, settings, and plot points. Now you have to condense tens of thousands of words into a couple of pages? It's definitely daunting, but it's doable.

How is it different from a query letter? I like to think of a query letter as 'teasing your story' and the synopsis as 'telling your story.' It may not sound like a huge difference, but think about it: With the query, you want to say just enough to entice an agent, to excite her so much about your story that she just has to request pages. You don't want to give away the ending in a query - you want to end on an uncertain note, a cliffhanger, with the action or decision your main character will have to choose. You want to hook the agent, but you don't want to reel her in. On the other hand, with the synopsis, you're reeling her in by telling the entire story.

Why do agents and contest judges want synopses? An agent might be reading your full manuscript, but also have 100 other fulls to read. If she starts reading and knows right away she likes your voice, your writing, your characters, and the concept, she may request a synopsis so she can get a 'cheat sheet' for the plot without having to read the entire manuscript. It's a way for her to confirm the plot isn't going to go off the rails in the middle or end of the manuscript, and that you can sustain momentum throughout the book. Same with contest judges - they often have hundreds of entries to pore over. A synopsis helps cut way down on reading time.

How long does it have to be? The most common requests seem to be 'no more than two pages' and 'no more than five pages.' I've always started by writing a five-page synopsis, and then cut it down to two pages. The opposite works just as well. Once you've got both, you're ready to go, and can comply with a request for either a short or long synopsis.

What formatting should I use? Use the same font/size as your manuscript (12-point Times New Roman, etc.). For the five-page synopsis, double-space and indent paragraphs. For the two-page synopsis, you can single space and add a space between paragraphs instead of indenting.

What parts of my manuscript do I need to cover? All of it! Well, okay, that's not exactly true. You need to set the scene, introduce your main character, and run through the entire main plot. All of the significant events (and characters) from the main plot need to be included. Subplots and secondary characters can be included if they are directly relevant to the main plot. And you MUST give away the ending.

How many characters can I name? Rule of thumb is no more than 5. More than that, and it starts getting difficult for the reader to keep track. For all other characters, you can refer to them using their relationship to the main character (for example, John's brother, Mary's teacher, etc.).

Do I need comps, word count, genre, a bio, etc.? Nope. Save those for the query.

Does the writing have to be stellar? Why not? This is another opportunity to show the agent or contest judge that you've got the chops. Write your synopsis like you're answering the question, "What happens in your story?" You want that answer to be colorful, intriguing, and complete, and for it to showcase your writing abilities.

My book has a great twist at the end. I can't possibly give it away? Too bad. If an agent has requested a synopsis, then he wants to know how the plot of your book progresses, and that necessarily includes the ending.

When should I write my synopsis? I usually write my synopsis when I'm about halfway through the first draft of my manuscript (note: I do create broad outlines before I start writing, so if you're a pantser, you might prefer to wait until the first draft is done). Writing a synopsis while I'm writing the book lets me know whether the plot is working. Is there a clear through-line for the main plot? What's missing to connect Points A, B, and C? Does a character appear in the first chapter of the book and then isn't heard from again until the 50% mark? A synopsis helps you see the forest for the trees - you can make sure your main plot is working while you're writing the draft. Besides, after you're done editing the manuscript and sweating over the query letter, it's nice to know you've already got a draft synopsis waiting in the wings!

Got questions about the 'Tackling the Dreaded Synopsis' series? Feel free to ask, or start a discussion, in the comments. And tune in next week for more on the mechanics of synopsis writing, a sample synopsis of a novel 99% of you will be familiar with, and the official call for submissions!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Meet Kate Hart in this Debut Author Spotlight

Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6

J Lenni Dorner of the Lenni-Lenape tribe welcomes Kate Hart of the Chickasaw Nation to this Debut Author Spotlight.

1- Where did you learn to do embroidery?

My mom taught me cross stitch, and my grandmothers taught me how to crazy quilt. I figured out the rest from there on my own.

2- How will you measure your publishing performance?

My only measurement of success is
a) did I write to the best of my ability and
b) did I execute edits to the best of my ability.
Everything else it out of my control, so I'm making a concentrated effort not to focus on it while I try to write a follow up book.

3- What ignited your passion for writing?

I honestly don’t know. I always aspired to be a writer as a kid, and read like the library was on fire. My ambitions changed as I grew up, but I always knew in the back of my head that I was a writer at heart.

4- How has being from of the Chickasaw Nation impacted your life?

Growing up, I just knew that we were Chickasaw and Choctaw, but didn’t have much idea of what that meant. My immediate family is estranged from the relatives in that line, so I’ve had to build my knowledge through research (good thing I majored in history!) It’s a struggle to figure out what I’m “allowed” to claim as mine in the present, so rebuilding our story and how we got here is the route I’ve taken so far.

5- Can you share a picture of a treehouse you built?

I mostly do marketing tasks for the business, but I did help to put the floor in this one.

I’ve also been using leftover scrap wood to make jewelry to sell in my Etsy store (http://thebadasserie.net ).

6- Do you have a fun story to share with us that illustrates a time when a benefit of being a published author came to light for you?

I accompanied some friends to the LA Times Festival of Books one year, and happened to be hanging out in the Green Room when Billy Idol and LeVar Burton walked by. I didn’t embarrass myself but I didn’t exactly keep my cool, either.

Follow up question! Did seeing LeVar Burton cause a "Reading Rainbow" flashback?

I had actually just seen him speak at my local library a few months prior, so I was mostly trying to gauge "Can I approach him and thank him for all he's done?" (The answer was definitely "No, be cool, Hart.")

7- Who is currently your biggest fan? What does that person love most (or "ship") about your debut novel?

My friend Jennica Schwartzman, who’s an actress and producer, has been a huge supporter of the novel – she even included it in her last movie. I know she likes the setting a lot (it’s based on my hometown, where her husband Ryan and I became friends in junior high), but she’s also had kind words to say about the ways it explores different kinds of feminism and what consent really means.

8- What was the first concert you attended?

My poor mom took my sister and me to see New Kids On The Block in the late 80s. The first concert I got to attend on my own was Pearl Jam in 1993, right after Vs. came out – my best friend won tickets from a radio station, and it was definitely a formative experience of our young adulthood.

9- What emotions do you hope your book will evoke for the reader, and is there a particular scene you hope will resonate with readers?

I don’t care about emotions so much as making people think, but I hope that the final scene leaves people feeling like there’s hope even life’s most heartbreaking moments.

10- What is the most memorable trait or visual oddity of one of your characters?

I had a lot of fun coming up with weird things for Trenton Alexander Montgomery the Third to say. He was a character who appeared in the novel’s rewrite and he definitely added some much needed levity to the story.

11- #DiversityBingo2017 What's your favorite book that covers a square on the card?

MC of color in SFF: Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia.
I had a hard time finishing any books in 2016, but I raced through this one in a single evening. Indigenous! Latinx! Vampires!

12- Which character has your favorite Personality Contradiction?

Andrew’s combination of slacker + secretly smart and sensitive dude is probably my favorite.

13- As a reader, what most motivates you to buy a new book to read?

Word of mouth. When multiple people whose opinions I trust recommend it, I know it has to go on my TBR.

14- How did you come up with the character name/ spelling for Raychel?

I actually have a friend named Raychel, and at some point when I was looking at her name, “Raychel with a why” popped into my head. That turned into “Raychel with no why,” which became a line in the manuscript… which later got deleted because it was too melodramatic. But the name stuck.

15- What is one discussion topic which you would like the readers of this interview to remark on in the comments?

I want to hear everyone’s first concerts!

16- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?

Kate Hart is the author of AFTER THE FALL, a YA novel coming January 24, 2017 from FSG. She is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, and owns a treehouse-building business in northwest Arkansas, where she resides with her family.

snapchat: katehart226


“Seventeen-year-old Raychel is sleeping with two boys: her overachieving best friend Matt…and his slacker brother, Andrew. Raychel sneaks into Matt’s bed after nightmares, but nothing ever happens. He doesn’t even seem to realize she’s a girl, except when he decides she needs rescuing. But Raychel doesn't want to be his girl anyway. She just needs his support as she deals with the classmate who assaulted her, the constant threat of her family’s eviction, and the dream of college slipping quickly out of reach. Matt tries to help, but he doesn’t really get it… and he’d never understand why she’s fallen into a secret relationship with his brother.
The friendships are a precarious balance, and when tragedy strikes, everything falls apart. Raychel has to decide which pieces she can pick up – and which ones are worth putting back together.”

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Tuesday Museday is Surprised

I like that quote from Robert Frost that says, "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader." Today I want to talk about surprises and how they can help you as a writer.

They're surprised. Are you?

I LOVE when a book surprises me. When I fully expect something to happen, or think I know who the bad guy is, but then the author zigs where I expected them to zag? It's like bookworm nirvana.

How can you do the same for your readers? I like the idea of listing out all kinds of possible outcomes of a choice, or actions for a character to take, or whatever. See which ones you'd think people would anticipate, and which ones would surprise them.

What are your best tips for creating surprises in your work?

Do you need help with your query letter? Let me know in the comments! I will reply to a few comments to select winners.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Is Your Author Page the Place for Political Opinions?

My Facebook feed is full of political opinions and, of course, I have a few opinions of my own. In fact, there are some I feel strongly about, however when it comes to my author page, I never share political posts and rarely do so on my personal page. The reason? I don't want to alienate my audience.

Authors have a public presence. Those who read our books seek us out online and follow us on our social media channels. The last thing I want is to put someone off of reading my books because I came out strongly on one side of a debate. Whenever I consider blogging or posting about something political, I think long and hard about the repercussions. I think about my audience and how it might be construed. Not only could I potentially alienate readers, I could actually hurt them by devaluing something they feel passionate about. 
The opinions we share online are, like it or not, forever in the public eye. They are there for our readers to find and for potential publishers and employers to find. 

I'm not trying to make anyone paranoid. My hope is that you'll think it through thoroughly before you post something you may regret in the future. 

Ask yourself some key questions before you make that next political post on your author page:
  • Who could I be alienating by posting this? 
  • Could my post possibly hurt my audience? 
  • Would I be comfortable with my future readers, publisher, or employer reading this? 
  • Will this post build others up or tear them down? 

When in doubt, don't post it. Let it lie and see how you feel about it in a week or a month. It's better to err on the side of caution than to have regrets.


Melinda Marshall Friesen writes speculative fiction for teen and adult audiences. She lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada with her family.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Writing Spaces

The general consensus in the writing world is that it's good to have a dedicated writing space. It doesn't have to be a whole room to yourself. It can be a favorite chair, or a spot at the kitchen table, or even in your car. Or it might not even be a space, but an object or ritual that tells your mind, "Hey, time to settle down and get to work." Like pouring yourself a beverage (maybe in your favorite cup), or putting on a certain type of music.

But, then again, there are never any real 'rules' in the game of writing. As much as having a dedicated space/object/ritual can help you get in the groove of things when it's time to put words on the screen/paper, so can sometimes shaking things up. Writing at a new locale (like a cafe or park) can help spark the brain and invigorate your writing if you find yourself in a rut.

As for myself, I have two main writing spots: my couch and my kidlet's bed. The couch reclines and is super comfy (though that's not great when I'm feeling tired). As for the kidlet's bed, I'll often sit at the end of it while I'm waiting for him to go to sleep at night (I know, he's super spoiled) and can usually get in a few hundred words by the time Mr. Sandman arrives.

What about you all? Where do you find yourselves writing at most of the time?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Greetings from the Newest Operation Awesome Blogger, Jaime Olin!

Hi there! I'm Jaime Olin, and I'm pleased to introduce myself as the newest blogger for Operation Awesome.

I'd like to to answer a few questions you might have about me and tell you what I'll be doing for Operation Awesome - I'm looking forward to getting to know all of you!

What do you write? Mostly YA Contemporary. I also dabble in mysteries, and would love to someday write a sci-fi book set on the moon.

Who is your agent? Mallory Brown at the TriadaUS Literary Agency.

How did you find your agent? I entered my YA Contemporary manuscript, Forgotten, in the 2016 PitchSlam contest (this is a GREAT contest for those who don't know about it - www.pitchslamcontest.com). I made it to the agent round, and Mallory was one of the agents who requested the manuscript. She made an offer of representation, and after notifying the other agents who had the manuscript (some of whom also ended up offering), I ended up choosing Mallory because she felt a real connection with the manuscript. I'm excited to see where things go from here!

How long have you been writing? Casually, since I could hold a pen. Seriously, about seven years ago, once I began participating in some local creative writing workshops. Forgotten is my fourth completed manuscript.

Where do you live? Dallas, Texas now, but I've lived all over the country.

What's your day job? I'm a lawyer for a non-profit.

What kinds of posts do you plan to do for Operation Awesome? My first order of business is to start a weekly (or so) synopsis critique. There are several great options for query critiques on the internet, but I haven't seen any specifically dedicated to synopses. Writers seem to universally dread writing synopses, but it can be done (and done well!), and there are some tips and tricks to it. Since many agents, editors, and contest judges are requiring writers to provide synopses of their manuscripts, and since synopses are also excellent tools to maintain 'the forest for the trees' while writing first drafts, I want to help writers draft and edit them. Details to come next Thursday...

I'm also hoping to create a 'What's the Big Idea?' critique, which will focus on concept. I'll encourage readers to submit a short summary of a work in progress (or work not-yet-in-progress), and allow commenters to ask the author questions about the concept. The questions should help the author hone in on the necessary plot and character points to determine if the idea is viable.

What Hogwarts house would you get sorted into? I'm a Hufflepuff through and through, with hints of Gryffindor occasionally poking through.

What books are you currently reading? Colson Whitehead's Underground Railroad and Bruce Springsteen's memoir Born to Run. I most recently finished Nicola Yoon's The Sun is Also a Star. I'm trying to alternate reading adult and YA fiction this year, and I like to always have a non-fiction book going at the same time.

Don't you have a couple of really cute dogs? Funny you should ask! Here they are...

What do you mean, we're not supposed to be on the bed?

Come find me on Twitter (@jkolin27) and visit my website (www.jaimeolin.com, which is very much a work in progress)!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Meet Josh Rhoades and Mike Rutledge in this Debut Author Spotlight

Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6

1- Can you please tell us more about the cats in Skysail?

Josh: Mentioned briefly in Vol. 1, there are three cats aboard the *Apotheosis Break*: Dill, Vinegar, and Mister Pickles. Their primary duties involve keeping the ship free of rodents, which would otherwise eat and spoil the food stores, chew through ropes and sails, and spread disease. They’re also loving, loyal companions to their shipmates. Except for Mister Pickles. There is a standing bounty on the head of Mister Pickles that hasn’t been collected in at least a decade.

2- Can one of you share a story from your life that shows who you are as a person and why you are a writer?

Josh: The only time I got a detention in school was when I sent a bomb threat.

Middle school. Everyone knew I was good with computers. I had my own web page, after all. But a new kid, Justin, had a computer lab quiz next hour. He hadn’t studied.

“Why not?” I never needed to study. I had a *web page*.

“I didn’t study,” Justin shrugged, then trilled his strange laugh.

Justin was deep into his campaign to edge me out. He and my best friend, Brennen, listened to cool music and played guitar. I didn’t. They went to the gym and played football. I didn’t. I was losing my best friend, but I didn’t want a new enemy.

We were in study hall. Not studying. If we didn’t have any work, the teacher let us go onto the Internet or make weird shapes with the 3D graphing tool. She graded papers while we experimented with equations and Google.

The teacher’s email was left open. New message.

“Say there’s a bomb,” Justin watched over my shoulder. “It’s fine.”

I hit send. Luckily, it was long before school shootings, bombings, or terrorism. The email was obviously written by a student who didn’t know how email worked. The computer lab teacher reported us. We got detention, and banned from the study hall computer.

After, I told myself that I would learn how email works. And how to not write like a middle schooler. And that detention is essentially just study hall, but after school.

3- What ignited your passions for writing?

Josh: Oh, probably the Internet. Having an outlet that wasn’t proofread was freeing. It wasn’t until a lot of years later, cringing as I looked back to whatever nonsense I was trying to accomplish that I remembered that the rules are there for a reason. Prior to Mike and I’s project, though, it was all just meandering blog posts, face-melting work emails, and lots of conspicuous files titled like, `Notes.txt`.

Mike: I spent most of my childhood on an army base in the remote interior of Alaska, and when it was —50F and pitch black outside, I took refuge in the worlds of others. Fantasy novels and roleplaying games led me to creating my own stories, first with scrawled maps on notebook paper, then cooperative writing with family and friends. The years trickled by and I found I had all these notes on a universe I so desperately wanted to play in, but nothing concrete or realized. When I welcomed my daughter into the world in 2012, it became obvious I needed to make something more permanent. As I spoke of this atop a mountain, Josh suggested we write a book. Months later, he revealed a custom-programmed writing tool, and I discovered I had made a commitment and that there was no going back.

4- Mike, what's it like being a horticulturist living in the arctic? Have you had some growing breakthroughs?

Mike: My mother was the horticulturist, though I happened to stumble upon gardening through a disjointed path; studied architecture, moved to Alaska, worked in landscape architecture, bought some land, became frustrated with 10 day old vegetables shipped to the arctic, started growing edibles. I’ve managed to get red tomatoes two years in a row in our greenhouse.

5- Josh, which do you prefer, the desert or Anchorage?

Josh: Anchorage, and Alaska, over pretty much anywhere else. My vague, irreverent author’s bio refers to my having spent some years in Arizona for school. The desert valley was a hard place. A hot place. And, at the time, I think the car theft capital of the world. In senior year my car was stolen and I ended up having to bike everywhere I went. It was so hot that my bike pedals quite literally melted off. You can dress for the cold in Alaska. But you can’t dress for being a chubby computer programmer living in an oven. But, you know, I came away with a lifelong love of cycling and a nice tan despite spending most of my time in a computer lab, so… Fond memories?

6- Who is currently your biggest fan? What does that person love most (or "ship") about your debut novel?

Mike: Our friend John has probably digested the most amount of Skysail content. But we may have coerced him with guilt-debt by supporting the Anchorage improv scene over the years. I think John enjoys and appreciates the amount of work it takes to create something from nothing.

Josh: My mom. She took me aside this last Christmas morning while nieces and nephews went to town on gifts. She gave me a look, then asked, “Aren’t you forgetting something?” And then she made me sign and write a heartfelt message in one of the printed copies I’d brought to share.

7- With fishing being such a major industry in Alaska, do either of you happen to have a recipe for a favorite fish dish?

Josh: My diet consists of yogurt, fruit, and anything else that can be blended with my beloved Vitamix. However! In the event that I get halibut, my quick-and-tasty solution is: wrap single servings of your desired fish with aluminum foil (let us call these ‘fish-pods’). Inside each fish-pod place 1) a pad of butter, 2) a healthy dash of lemon-pepper or lemon juice. Seal all fish-pods well, and bake at, say… 350? Sure. That. Until it’s done. 20 minutes? Gosh. I should stop here, otherwise I’m probably legally liable for something. You should probably ignore this one. Make whatever Mike suggests.

Mike: Do I ever. If you find yourself with a filet of King Salmon, cut it into thick strips and marinate for 30 minutes in the following:

  • *   1/3 cup olive oil
  • *   1/4 cup lime juice (or use a can of frozen Lime-Aide)
  • *   1/4 cup soy sauce
  • *   1/4 cup lemon juice
  • *   1/2 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
  • *   1 teaspoon rosemary
  • *   1 tablespoon garlic salt
  • *   1/4 tablespoon pepper

Throw it straight on a grill at 350-400F. Cooking time will vary with the thickness, but it shouldn’t take much more than 5 minutes to cook through.

8- What emotions do you hope your book will evoke for the reader, and is there a particular scene you hope will resonate with readers?

Josh: I’ll shoot for child-like wonder being dashed on the rocks of an indifferent, uncaring universe. But I’ll settle for awkward teen ennui. A scene I would call on as an example: discovering horrible motion sickness after stepping on the airship you’ve dreamed of your whole life.

Mike: We tried to create a story of adventure and of growing up. This meant writing a POV protagonist that has, perhaps, a misguided perspective. His expectations do not always meet reality, but ideally the reader can have some empathy for the eternal optimist confronting a selfish and cruel world. There is a scene in a tavern that was at once exhilarating and gut-wrenching to write. I hope the readers find that moment as compelling as I did dreaming it up.

9- What is the most memorable trait or visual oddity of one of your characters?

Josh: Cauderon, the engine room worker, is an amnesiac who can’t keep the ship’s maintenance schedules straight. He has strange powers, and wears only evening robes, or nothing at all.

Mike: If Gert Karnaugh, the first mate, isn’t chewing the end of a cigar in a particular scene, we didn’t properly set the stage.

10- Did either of you make any New Year's resolutions you can share?

Josh: Buy. `*clap*` Some. `*clap*` New. `*clap*` Clothes. `*clap*`

Mike: I’ve been battling Lyme Disease for years. I aim for 2017 to be the year I run again.

11- Is there any diversity we can look forward to in your book?

Josh: Our salty airshipmen and airshipwomen pretty equally terrible and racist towards each other. Does that count?

Mike: We’ve made a concerted effort to shape our world so as not to be defined by either traditional gender roles or demonized sexuality. The land our heroes start in is mostly a meritocracy, in that talent rises to the top, regardless of gender. That said, we also don’t make overt efforts to elucidate much on this topic. Such things are simply the way of the world.

12- Which character has your favorite Personality Contradiction?

Josh: Jonas, the ship’s engineer, doesn’t know the first thing about the ship. But he’s an airmanshipman’s airshipman, and he can talk his way into and out of any situation.

Mike: We wrote the first part of a broad story we wanted to tell, based on a world we had dabbled in, and with characters we had already become to know. When the dust settled it became apparent that a 300k word tome might be difficult to market. Skysail was split into three volumes, divided along the structure of the acts we originally penned. What was lost in Volume 1 was a character of mine that started it all. This is a roundabout way of saying I can’t really answer the question without spoiling Volume 2. I will tease that the airship is in desperate need of a hard-drinking, towheaded, organ-playing pilot.

13- As a reader, what most motivates you two to buy books to read?

Mike: I want to live in someone else’s universe. I want to baste myself in the details until I disappear into their environments and become a part of the world. If the rules are sufficiently complicated, make sense, and compliment but don’t distract from the character development, I’m in. Josh keeps my own rambling world-building to a reasonable level within Skysail, ideally satiating my own expectation for others work.

Josh: My workflow is the following. Is it by Patrick Rothfuss? If so, buy it. If not, does it check at least two the following boxes?
`[ ]` Space. `[ ]` Sad robots. `[ ]` A journey through the wreckage of human souls.
If two or more boxes are checked, buy it.

14- What was the deciding factor in your publication route?

Mike: Access. The gate-keeping to traditional publishing was demoralizing and seemingly insurmountable. With our combined skill set of programming and graphic design, self-publishing was a viable option to produce something that looked reasonably professional.

15- What is one question which you would like the readers of this interview to answer or remark on in the comments?

Josh: A creepy wizard has turned you into a skywhale. Is this awesome? Discuss.

Mike: What happened to Vasili’s father, Anton Mikhailovich?

16- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?


> *The life of an airshipman is violent and short, but every sailor still breathing in the clouds has a tale of Anton Mikhailovich.*

> *Vasili, his fourteen year old son, never knew the man. The swashbuckling captain died mysteriously when the boy was five, leaving only tall tales and long shadows. His father’s remembrance ever looming, Vasili wants to leave his tiny frontier village and become a skysailing legend of his own accord.*

> *A charismatic traveler arrives on an airship, a bishop with robes as worn as his smile. He comes to convey a funerary Telling of Anton some nine years overdue. Late but still timely, the traveler hints that his vessel may be looking for a new deckhand. He could put in a good word for the son of Anton.*

> *The twinkling lights of home disappear over the horizon and the boy begins his own adventure, starting his own tale as he learns the truth of his father’s.*

> *But the world and its skies are nothing like Vasili’s books. The serendipitous airship is the famed Apotheosis Break, Anton’s old vessel, filled with beguiling shard hunters now at the end of their line. They have already lost good men looking for Vasili. They may still lose everything seeking the forgotten legacy of Captain Mikhailovich.*

> *Vasili will learn that the memories you try to escape are the ones you will always carry with you. And if half of what his crew says is true, his father’s story was one of loss, betrayal, and madness. If Vasili is to survive in the skies he will have to be as clever as his father and twice as lucky. Otherwise a traveler will return home with a Telling of another Mikhailovich boy.*

Author Biographies:

Josh Rhoades leads a life dancing awkwardly between quiet desperation and simple truths. He went to the desert to find himself and came back years later more machine than man; communicating strictly in beeps and boops. Rehabilitation has been slow. Everyone has been commendably patient. Every so often you look into his distant, cold eyes and it’s like there’s something there. Then the flicker is gone and he’s talking about the machine again. When Josh isn’t working on fiction he toils as a computer programmer, helping to keep the lights of your ereader flickering.

Mike Rutledge lives to create. Whether it be stories, crude renderings, or life, he seeks to find his place in this world by imprinting his asinine imagination onto any available surface. The son of an army officer and a wandering horticulturist, he never had a place to call home until meeting a woman that hauled him off to the arctic. Mike’s wife has long suffered through his parade of insolence with the undying patience only a mother of two could endure.

Both Mike and Josh hail from Anchorage, Alaska. We can be found on
[Facebook](https://www.facebook.com/skysailsaga/) at @skysailsaga.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Books on Writing

I really love books about writing. Whether they are straight-up "how-to" craft books or more inspirational books, they are my jam. Last year I finally got around to On Writing, by Stephen King, which I enjoyed immensely. (You can read the OA discussion of the book here.) The year before that I discovered Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder, which has helped me think about plot in different ways.

This year I'm reading The Breakout Novelist, by Donald Maass. I've heard good thing about his other books, and this one is supposed to be a sort of compilation of them, so I'm looking forward to getting into it and using it to examine my WIP.

What writing book should I read next? Let me know in the comments!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Take Your Novel to the Next Level with Specifics

Carrie fidgeted with the cardboard sleeve on her black dark roast. It wasn't easy meeting new people, but she was pushing herself to interact with other writers. Laura, an urban fantasy writer, sat across from her, nursing a grande caramel frappuccino. Did she know how many calories were in that thing?

Their get-to-know-you coffee was going well. Laura finished her lengthy oration about how she got involved in writing and took a breath before asking, "how many brothers and sisters do you have?" Carrie wrapped her hands around the hot paper cup and squeezed. Why that question? "Um."Carrie's heart sped and her mouth went dry. "That's a damned personal question for our first coffee."

One of my favorite books on writing is Wired for Story by Lisa Cron. I'd read it a couple years ago and a particular chapter really stood out to me--chapter six, The Story is in the Specifics.

Last week, during my writers' group, this chapter came to mind as I listened to one of our members, Gabriele Goldstone, a historical fiction writer, read from her work-in-progress. If you haven't read one of Gabriele's books, you should. She's mastered this technique of bringing in specifics without bogging down her story.

The specifics can mean the difference between the reader just reading a story and living a story. Cron quotes neuroscientist V.S. Ramahandran,"Humans excel at visual imagery. Our brains evolved this ability to create an internal mental picture or model of the world in which we can rehearse forthcoming actions, without the risks or penalties of doing them in the real world."

Cron goes on to write, "Yet writers often tell entire stories in general, as if concepts alone are captivating or worse, because they've fallen prey the misconceived notion that it's the reader's job to fill in the specifics."

In the above example, Carrie didn't just fidget with her coffee cup, but with a specific type of coffee cup with a specific type of coffee. Laura is not just a writer, but a specific type of writer. What has the reader learned about these characters? By getting into the specifics, I've been able to convey information that creates a strong visual image for the reader, but also gives insight into the personality of the characters. We now know that Carrie is an uptight, controlled, and reserved person with a past. Laura, on the other hand, is more outgoing, light, and open. I've shown the reader those characteristics, without telling them.

While the specifics can make a story shine, they can also bog it down. Cron tells writers, "Your job is to filter out the details that don't matter a whit so you have plenty of space left for the ones that do." The writer must choose which items to get specific about and which to gloss over. How do you do that? Ask yourself if the specific description serves a purpose. Does it move the story forward? Does it tell us something important about the setting or characters? Does it engage one of the five senses to bring the story to life? Is the pacing in the scene conducive to providing details?

Take a look at one of your scenes. Are there places where you can tuck in brief details that will bring your story to life?

Any questions? Please post them in the comments.


Melinda Marshall Friesen writes speculative fiction for teens and adults. Her YA dystopian novel, Enslavement, has been nominated for multiple awards. She works as marketing director and aquisitions editor at Rebelight Publishing Inc. Learn more about her and her books at www.melindafriesen.com. 


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Flash Fiction Contest Winner #25

Thanks so much to our entrants! I always enjoy reading the entries so much, and for this contest I found myself drawn to K. Mulkane's entry the most (though they were all entertaining). Congrats, K!

The aquarium should have been beautiful. 
That’s what everyone said when they saw it. "Look at all those pretty fish, ooh what an amazing gift", but it 
wasn’t - it wasn’t at all. Those fish were prisoners, and I knew exactly how they felt.
It showed up last December - a brand new present. 
Two guys in brown uniforms came to our door and had my grandma sign their paperwork. 
“Well now, we didn't order anything like this. Must be a mistake,” my grandma said.
One of the guys handed her an envelope. She turned it around in her hands and gave what I can only say was a giggle. It sounded like this girl Emma in my class when she had to answer a question she didn't know. It was not a usual sound.
My grandma took forever to open that envelope, like it was a bomb or something. 
“Oh Eli, It says that it’s a gift from the Masons! Well that is so very thoughtful of them, isn't it?”
I just sat there, because I could not ever think of the Masons in that way.
The two guys took my grandma’s enthusiasm as a yes and wheeled the monstrosity in on a cart.
“Ok, ma’am, where would you like it?”
“Oh my, I’m not sure. It’s pretty big, isn't it? Well, I think put it here in the front room. Yes, it will look nice right over here.”
Nice? It was going to take up half the room. 
It didn't match any of the other furniture.
“Ok, and here are all the instructions on how to feed and take care of the fish. It comes with six months of free cleaning and maintenance service.”
My grandma took a quick, deep breath and twirled the pen the guy gave her. She looked at me, looked at the fish and then quickly signed her name on their form.
The delivery guys cleared out.
We just sat there and looked at the aquarium like an alien had landed in our living room.
I finally wandered over to see it. Fish swirled through the water, and a few hung out at the bottom. A bunch of colorful fake trees and rocks were scattered around. My grandma finally came over and ran her hand over the smooth glass. She bent down a little and peered in at the fish.
“Hmmm, well now,” was all she said and then walked into the kitchen.
It figures that the Masons would give us this with no thought. My grandma had been cleaning and cooking for them for fifteen years, but they knew nothing about her. If they had, they would have known what a stupid present this would be for us. How’re we going to afford this? We’re lucky we can feed ourselves, let alone a bunch of fish. 
I looked at it again as the fish glided through the water so easily. It was kind of pretty.
Maybe the dumbest and prettiest thing I had ever seen.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Flash Fiction Contest #25

For our first flash fiction contest in 2017, it seems appropriate to go with a theme of new. In your entry of 500 words, show us a new relationship starting off, a new pet, a new car (I'd like one of those), a new anything. Winner will be announced on 1/15, in the afternoon. Get your entry in before noon EST on 01/15, peeps, and as always, have fun!

Rules for contest can be found here.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Meet Meg Eden in this Debut Author Spotlight

Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6

1- Any New Year Resolutions or big goals for 2017?

A few of my goals include: Start assuming less, and asking more questions. Prioritizing being in conversation with God daily. Lose enough weight so I can fit back into my GAP jeans from undergrad. :)
I’m also working on another YA right now, and it’s really emotionally hard for me—somehow, I thought it would get easier after publication—haha! But I’m chugging along and I hope by the end of the year I can be sending it around.

2- Can you share a story from your life that shows who you are as a person and why you are a writer?

I grew up in my father’s childhood home: a 50s rancher built by a team of builders who should not have had the right to build a house. So most of my childhood was pretty much my father rebuilding this house. I joke that I became a writer because my childhood produced so many weird things to write about: our dog killing a neighbor’s chicken and dragging it to our doorstep, power outages that could last up to a week, finding snake skins in the walls and crickets in my bathtub… I was an only child, and grew up very content entertaining myself. I used to write to entertain myself, but I find myself now writing to process, relive and cope with experiences. Writing helps me slow down and think, allowing me to be that girl again during power outages, where there was nothing to do but lay on the floor with my eyes closed and listen to cassette books.

3- Do you have a favorite MMORPG?

Funny enough, I don’t really play MMORPGs. I don’t really play any online games—mostly single player PC games (my most recent favorite is Life is Strange) and Nintendo DS games (mainly Fire Emblem (!!!!) and Pokemon right now). Maybe it’s that only child thing again, but I usually end up going on my virtual adventures alone :)

4- What ignited your passion for writing?

There’s a lot of answers to this. I started writing poetry in seventh grade because “all the cool girls were doing it.” And it stuck. I grew up on books—my mother lived off books, so much so that I’d open the pantry for cereal and instead find an omnibus of CS Lewis. When I’d ask Mom where the cereal was, she’d say it was behind the Brit Lit. And I’d have to pull CS Lewis out if I wanted to eat. I used to hate books (because they weren’t brightly animated TV shows) but came to love them as my mother literally paid me to read books and give her reports on what I learned. So I guess another answer is that I fell in love with writing because I inherited my mother’s love of stories.

5- You also published Your Son, Rotary Phones and Facebook, and A Week With Beijing; what about Post High School Reality Quest makes you a debut author?

PHSRQ is my first published novel. It’s the thirteenth one I’ve written, but the first one to actually get out into the world :) I’ve found the worlds of poetry and prose publication are so different—and already, my journey with bringing PHSRQ has been so different than anything else I’ve ever experienced, and I’m so new to it all!

6- Do you have a fun story to share with us that illustrates a time when a benefit of being a published author came to light for you?

That’s hard to say because I’ve been thinking about and dreaming of those benefits since high school. I think recently, the benefit of publishing with a great press became clear to me when I learned I was eligible to join the amazing 2017 Debuts group—which has been an invaluable resource.

7- Who is currently your biggest fan? What does that person love most (or "ship") about your debut novel?

Definitely my husband. But I’m going to also bring my mother-in-law into this too. My mother-in-law is my ultimate advertiser. Everywhere she goes, she tells people about my book. I gave her some of my new bookmarks, and apparently she’s been giving them out to clerks at Books A Million and Chick Fil A servers. She hasn’t even read the book yet!
But really, my husband is my biggest fan—and that goes for all my writing. I think he’d say that he loves the video game world and aesthetic of the book, the humor, and the spiritual allegories. He’s working to become a game designer, and has already started building an actual text adventure game of the first chapter. Stay tuned—I’m hoping we’ll get it live online for people to try in the next couple months!

8- What emotions do you hope your book will evoke for the reader, and is there a particular scene you hope will resonate with readers?

In whatever I write, I hope that it makes my readers think about the world around them, and interrogate their own world views and assumptions. I know every time I write, I’m constantly interrogating myself.
I’m not sure a particular scene, but I want my readers to walk away thinking about the relationship between Buffy and the text Parser. In writing the book, I thought a lot about my own choices and decision making. I want people to think about how the story would’ve went if Buffy had made different choices—if we all made different choices. I’d love people to think about those who pursue after them, who desire what’s best for them. I think emotion-wise, I hope people read this, walking away with hope—that even if we can’t respawn at save points, there are always opportunities to start over.

9- Your book cover (on Amazon) playfully states "MS_DOS compatible. Mouse and Joystick optional." Do you think today's teens will get the joke, or is that aimed to make parents/ 90's kids remember their youth?

I doubt it. But the 80s/90s nostalgia is strong right now—so I feel like teens will probably be like, “LOL outdated technology joke I don’t quite understand but appreciate because 90s nostalgia is cool.” :)

10- Is there any diversity we can look forward to in your book?

Something that’s really personally important for me is neurodiversity and neurodivergence. I don’t want to say much more for those who haven’t read the book, but I hope PHSRQ encourages us to re-evaluate how we view “mental illness,” and provides a doorway into conversations about neurodivergence.

11- How did you come up with the name "Buffy" for your main character?

I used to go through BehindTheName.com and find names that had a meaning or sound that intrigued me. I chose that name probably around 2012, and so it stuck.

12- What new release book (other than your own) are you most looking forward to in 2017?

I’m in the 2017 Debuts group so my answer is SO MANY. Some of my favorites are Psalm for Lost Girls by Katie Bayerl, Kat and Meg Conquer the World by Anna Priemaza, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, and The Black Witch by Laurie Frost :)

13- As a reader, what most motivates you to buy a new book to read?

Can I afford this? Does the cover excite me? Do I relate to some component of the book, the description, the title? I can be persuaded pretty easily to buy new books :)

14- What was the deciding factor in your publication route?

That’s a long story. I’ll try to give the abridged version. Pretty much I got an agent when I was in high school and dreamed about the traditional route. That didn’t quite work out the way it expected. As I went to conferences and learned about all my otpions, I realized that there’s a lot of pressure debuting with a traditional press, that you have less control over the process, and that it really isn’t at all in your control. I’m very much a person who likes to have control. I queried California Coldblood, and Bob (the editor) talked with me about CCB’s values, and the small press model. Having been in the poetry world for a while, I realized I appreciated the small press model, where it’s more of a relationship and a conversation. Bob understood PHSRQ and was passionate for it. I could tell that right away, and I knew he was the right person to bring this book into the world. I love working with CCB and am a big fan of small presses. Bob and I have had some amazing conversations about PHSRQ, and he’s made it a much stronger book—I’m eternally in his debt for his honest and thorough feedback, and dealing with me through that whole editing process! :)

15- How did you come up with your Twitter handle?

I wish I could remember. I really can’t remember why the narwhal was confused. But it’s stuck, and it’s catchy. @ConfusedNarwhal

16- What is one question which you would like the readers of this interview to answer in the comments?

Which video game would you like to see adapted into a book, and why?

17- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?

Let’s be friends! I’m on Twitter as @ConfusedNarwhal and Facebook as @megedenwritespoems. Feel free to check my site out at: http://www.megedenbooks.com
Also check out Post-High School Reality Quest on Goodreads and Amazon.

Excerpt! Enjoy the first two pages:

Hello, World: May 25th, 2010

You are in a psychiatrist’s office.

>No, I’m not.

I’m sorry, I don’t understand “No, I’m not”. Who do you think they’re going to believe? The narrator, or the character who is here because she was found living in a telephone booth on the other side of town, talking to yourself?

>This is a doctor’s office. It’s a safe space. Psychiatrist sounds so…


>Yes. Exactly.

Well, I’m sorry to break it to you but you are in a psychiatrist’s office. You’re here because yesterday, your father found you in the last existing telephone booth in your town, after driving around for days. You were sitting at the floor, stuffed up against the phone, telling someone you wanted them to stop following them, that you were tired of being hacked into. When your father finally wrestled you out of the telephone booth, you accused him of working for the game and tried to hit him with the telephone receiver.

>I did?

Do you remember any of this? Your mother brought you in first thing this morning, says she’s been worried about you for a while. That you’ve never been very social.

>What do I have to do to get rid of you?

Don’t rage quit, Buffy. It’s unbecoming.

You look down at your wrists. They’re locked into the chair you’re sitting in. Man, they must really think you’re crazy.

You know your mother means well. She just wants to make sure you feel like there’s a way for you to talk about what you’ve been experiencing recently—

>What’s there to talk about? If you’d just leave me alone, then there’d be no telephone booths, no problem!

Isn’t that oversimplifying a little? What exactly does a player do without a game?

>You make it sound like I want to be playing a game in the first place.

Well, you are the one that started it, so yes—it sort of seems to be a given that you would want to be playing a game. Just maybe not the one that this turned out to be.

You sigh and lean back in your chair. You hit the headrest. You hit it over and over, into what might almost be a consoling rhythm.

You wonder: Is that something a normal person does? Or only a crazy person? Or maybe just any kind of person, when they’re fed up with everything not going the way they planned?