Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Meet Gloria Chao in this Debut Author Spotlight

Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6

American Panda

Here's an interview that has been on the books since September 2016! Gloria Chao and I both competed in WRiTE CLUB 2016 (as Chun-Li and JavaInMe, respectively). We didn't face off against each other though.

1- Would you recommend WRiTE CLUB to other new authors, and would you care to give a shoutout to our pal DL Hammons?

I highly recommend WRiTE CLUB to new authors! DL Hammons is one of the kindest writers out there, and the format of his contest is brilliant. I love the anonymity, the ability to share longer passages, and the valuable feedback from the community.

2- What ignited your passion for writing?

I found my passion for writing in my mid-twenties, having focused on math and science for the time before that. When I was unhappy in dental school, reading young adult fiction was my favorite escape, and under my husband’s urgings, I started writing, quickly falling in love with it. Five years later, I’ve grown to love it even more each day.

3- Rumor is that you've turned the brass rat. What was MIT like?

MIT was one of the most supportive, fun, and nurturing communities I’ve ever experienced. Everyone values knowledge and the advancement of society, and they balance hard work with fun! When I hear “MIT,” I think of liquid nitrogen ice cream, chair surfing in underground tunnels, and playing pranks—which I’m sure is different than the reputation we have among the rest of the world. Because of this, I worked hard to capture the MIT experience in AMERICAN PANDA.

4- What are some of your short and long term writing goals?

Short term: Finish book 2, MISALIGNED, which will be released fall 2019 Long term: Continue writing and improving my craft. Eventually, I’d like to explore different genres and subject matters, though I have a feeling my next few books will center around Taiwanese-American characters struggling with their identity. I still have a lot to explore!

5- What is your favorite book (by someone else), and what do you love most about that book?

It’s hard to pick just one favorite, but I am a huge fan of Kerri Maniscalco’s STALKING JACK THE RIPPER series. The main character, Audrey Rose, is a girl ahead of her time, wanting an education and career when that wasn’t the norm for females. She fought arranged marriages, snuck out behind her father’s back, has a passion for science, and is badass enough to go after a murderer. Yet, she still loves pretty dresses and gossiping. I admire her intelligence, confidence, and all-around badassness. And the books are page-turners. So much suspense yet gorgeously written—I highly recommend!

6- Is that cadaver dissection scene (WRiTE CLUB playoff round 2) in the book?

Yes, the cadaver scene from WRiTE CLUB is in the book! It’s gone through revisions, but the bulk of it can be found in chapter 15. My other 2 WRiTE CLUB excerpts are also in the final version of the book!

Meet Gloria Chao in this Debut Author Spotlight

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

My husband is probably my biggest fan (he’s read every version of my book) and he was the one who encouraged me to first start writing, then pursue it as a career. He definitely ships Mei and Darren’s relationship, but his favorite part of the book is the honest portrayal of a Taiwanese American family, which he has had plenty of experience with. For our first six years together, he saw my parents every Saturday.

I’ve also been lucky to have heard from readers who have connected with Mei’s story (and Darren), and I have also received several starred trade reviews.

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?

I hope the book will 1) make readers laugh, 2) help them see either a mirror of their own experience or a window into another culture, and 3) feel empathy for both Mei and her parents. I really hope chapter 26, when Mei and her mother talk openly with each other for the first time, particularly resonates with readers. This conversation was based on real conversations I had with my mother while writing this book, and while it was the most difficult chapter to write, it was also the most rewarding.

9- What most helped you to improve your writing craft?

Reading (a lot!!) across genres and age categories. Craft books help as well, but by far my best writing education came from studying other books.

10- How do you feel about papaya smoothies?

I actually love papaya smoothies even though I despise the history behind it. Because of a village in China that eats a lot of papaya and churns out big-breasted women, my mom, just like Mei’s mom, pushed me to eat papaya to make my breasts grow. After drinking papaya smoothies for a while, they really grew on me, though I never believed in their magical properties.

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

Unique Visual Trait: Mei has a mole on her forehead that her mother’s friends are constantly saying how she was so unlucky to have just missed out on it being in the center. After the hundredth friend touched it without permission, she took matters and the scissors into her own hands and gave herself bangs to hide the mole. Memorable habit: Mei’s mother clucking her tongue to show her disapproval (and sometimes accompanying it with an air slap).

12- #WeNeedDiverseBooks recognizes all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, Native, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities. In what ways are the main characters in your book diverse?

My main character and her family are Taiwanese and her love interest is Japanese American.

13- Which character has your favorite Personality Contradiction?

Mei is intelligent and perceptive but because of her sheltered upbringing, she is socially awkward and naive, having experienced much less of the world than her peers.

14- Can you please tell us more about the American Panda cartoon?

I am happy to share the cartoon here!
American Panda comic. Meet Gloria Chao in this Debut Author Spotlight

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

I read widely across genres and age categories, but I tend to be drawn to books that explore experiences that differ from my own, and realistic fiction is my main love. I like to read the first few pages, and usually I’ll know then which ones I have to buy immediately!

16- How will you measure your publishing performance?

My goal when I wrote this book was to be able to reach at least one reader who struggled with the cultural gap the way I did, and I have already heard from many readers of all ages and races who had similar experiences. In that way, I feel I have already achieved my dream, and I am focusing on writing my second book, which will be released fall 2019.

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

Because I did not have capital to invest in self-publishing and my own marketing, I pursued the traditional publication route.

18- What's the best book marketing strategy you've come across?
Meet Gloria Chao in this Debut Author Spotlight

I haven’t looked at any data and I’m not sure what has been successful in terms of sales, but one thing I’ve learned about book marketing in this journey so far is that you should pick promotion strategies that you’re excited about, with sales being only a small part of the equation. You also shouldn’t feel like you have to do what everyone else is doing, and in fact, choosing unique strategies that only fit your book can help you stand out. For example, I commissioned a cartoon adapted from one of the AMERICAN PANDA scenes since the humor in my book lent itself to be captured as a comic strip. I did this more for myself because it was something I wanted to have, and it was worth the cost to me even if it doesn’t sell any books.

19- What is one question (or discussion topic) which you would like the readers of this interview to answer or remark on in the comments?

What is something that you think only your family does? For example, I am pretty sure my family is unique in ordering so much food at restaurants we need at least one extra table to be brought over (yes, it’s as embarrassing as it sounds).
Meet American Panda author Gloria Chao in this Debut Author Spotlight

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

Please say hi! You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @gloriacchao, and on my website at .

Gloria Chao currently lives in Chicago with her ever-supportive husband, for whom she became a nine-hole golfer (sometimes seven). She is always up for cooperative board games, Dance Dance Revolution, or soup dumplings. American Panda is her debut novel, and Misaligned is forthcoming fall 2019.

American Panda

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Happy Birthday Giveaway!

Today is my birthday, so I'd like to give YOU a present: an ARC of The Summer Wives, by Beatriz Williams!

It's literary fiction, which I don't usually read, but I found it very engaging. This would definitely be a good book for a book club. It doesn't pub until July, so if you'd like to read it now, enter my giveaway! 

To enter, comment below with the best book you've read lately. Please include your email address or Twitter handle so I can follow up with you if you win! U.S. only, please, because so far no one's paying me to write anything and funds are limited at the Reynolds house. I'll choose a winner Friday evening at 9pm Mountain time.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Reminder: Apply to Write for Operation Awesome!

If you missed it last week, head's up: Operation Awesome is looking for a blogger to post every Monday. Details are here. Application deadline is February 6th. We hope to hear from you!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

2018 Resolutions #4: Write More

I love New Year's resolutions. They're a great excuse to evaluate the past year, decide where I want to be at the end of this year, and figure out a game plan to get there!

I have four writing-related resolutions this year, and I'll share one every week in January. This week, I resolve to WRITE MORE.

This one is pretty self-explanatory. In 2017, I resolved to complete 3 full-length manuscripts. I wrote one from scratch and revised it countless times, revised an existing manuscript several times, and got 50,000 words into a NaNoWriMo novel I'll probably never complete. So, I didn't quite make my goal last year.

For 2018, I'm sticking with the same resolution. Three full-length manuscripts. I've started brainstorming the first, and will work on outlining it during January. We'll see what happens after that! More than anything, I don't want to go more than a few weeks at a time without writing next year, even if it's writing something that doesn't end up in a full-length novel.

What are your writing goals for 2018?

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

We're looking for a new blogger!

Operation Awesome is looking for a new team member!

We are looking for a writer to commit to blogging every Monday. The schedule will be flexible around contests and other date-sensitive posts, but this blogger will still be expected to blog approximately four times a month. We also need help running our Pass Or Pages contest, and we expect our new team member to help with all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into the contest.

We'd like our new blogger to come up with a feature that they would implement on the blog. Not every week would have to be devoted to the feature post, but it should be something that will appear at least once a month. On non-feature weeks, you would be welcome to post about anything you'd like! As far as blog posts go, pretty much anything related to the craft or business of writing is welcome.

Each blogger is responsible for promoting their own posts on social media. You will receive the passwords to the Operation Awesome Facebook and Twitter accounts to help you reach more people.

We welcome applicants from any background, and are especially interested in bloggers from groups that are underrepresented in the writing world.

We see membership in Operation Awesome as an opportunity to make meaningful connections in the publishing community no matter where you are in the journey. Each of us has grown and learned from the experience of group blogging, and if that sounds like something you’d be interested in, please send an email to OperationAwesome6 (at) gmail (dot) com with a short message on why you think you would be a good fit for Operation Awesome, as well as your idea for a new feature for our blog. Please include links to your social media and blog sites. If you don't have a public blog where we could see examples of your writing, please include a theoretical guest post with your application.

If you have applied before, and are still interested in blogging with us, we strongly encourage you to apply again.

We will accept applications until end-of-day on Tuesday, February 6th. Questions may be asked as a reply to this post, or on Twitter @OpAwesome6 or @Kara_Reynolds7.

Thank you!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

2018 Resolutions #3: Critique More

I love New Year's resolutions. They're a great excuse to evaluate the past year, decide where I want to be at the end of this year, and figure out a game plan to get there!

I have four writing-related resolutions this year, and I'll share one every week in January. This week, I resolve to CRITIQUE MORE.

In 2017, I read and critiqued 6 or 7 full manuscripts (a few more than once!). I love critiquing, and I think I have my system down to a science (first, I read the manuscript on my Kindle for story, then I go back and re-read it on my laptop and make in-line notes/comments on plot, character, narrative, etc., and finally send it back to the author with a longish email explaining my thoughts). Critiquing this way is a lot of work, but I think (I hope!) it's valuable for my critique partners.

For 2018, I resolve to take on 10 full manuscripts for critique. I've got one in the queue already, so I'll be looking for 9 more after that! It's so exciting to see what my critique partners are working on, and to find and develop relationships with new critique partners.

Are you planning to beta read or critique manuscripts in 2018? What's your process for doing so?

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Meet David Donaldson in this Debut Author Spotlight

Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6

We Follow the Dying Light

1- Have you any New Year's Resolutions you can share with us?

Well I recently cancelled my gym membership so we can exclude the most obvious choice. My resolution would be to take at least a minute once a day to slow down and live more fully in the present moment and soak up the world around me. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in living a busy life and forget to appreciate life and the world around me as I bounce from task to task.

2- What five words represent your most notable characteristic or values? #In5Words


3- What ignited your passion for writing?

My imagination tends to run in overdrive all the time, so I’ve never had a shortage of ideas to write about. What I lacked was the focus to dedicate myself to one idea full time. When I started to struggle with anxiety and depression after some difficult life events collided, my imagination became a curse. It would take a simple thought and turn it into something catastrophic. To battle this anxiety I started to write about it and developed that writing into a story about a psychiatrist trying to help others as she struggled under the weight of her own mental illness. When the writing helped me improve my mental health, the story changed with it, morphing from something deeply introspective, but without a well constructed plot to a significantly tauter thriller as I realized there was a more exciting book buried within all the words I had written.

4- Would you share a picture with us of your book in an interesting setting?
Meet David Donaldson in this Debut Author Spotlight

In this photo, my book is next to a cookie a local baker made for me with the cover on top. I gave these out to anyone who asked a question during the Q&A at my book launch. They were a big hit and the Q&A ended up being the best part of the event.

5- What are some of your short and long term writing goals?

In the short run I want to do a book tour for We Follow the Dying Light, continue to produce flash fiction for my blog at , and finish the sequel. I’m over 43K words towards finishing a first draft. Because I don’t write full time, I have to be realistic with myself in terms of how quickly I can do all of this while maintaining a day job.

6- What is your favorite book (by someone else), and what do you love most about that book?

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy. McCarthy’s writing is incredibly poetic. He picks words out of the air and strings them together in these magical ways. Yet, in No Country for Old Men, it’s embedded in this great suspenseful crime story about a man on the run that keeps you turning the pages. That is no small feat in my opinion.

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

My readers are only just starting to provide their feedback as my book only came out in November and the book launch was held December 12th. But I actually had a cousin who works for an airline come to my launch while she was in Toronto on a layover between India and France. And she doesn’t even live in Toronto. If that’s not a super fan, I don’t know what is.

8- In what ways is writing a mute character easier than a speaking one? In what ways is it more difficult?

Great question! Dialogue is often how a character’s emotions and motivations are revealed in a story, as they interact with other characters. A character that is mute doesn’t have that ability, so you need to work harder to write down actions, facial expressions, and other features that elicit the same information for the reader.

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?

The journey I take the protagonist through is not only a suspenseful ride through a broken man’s traumatic memories, it’s a walk through someone’s struggles with immense guilt. I hope the readers feel dread, fear and sadness as they explore what haunts the characters, but also feel an optimism about the future and one’s ability to stand up to their past and find closure.

10- In short, what is the Vancouver opioid crisis?

In Canada, Vancouver is the epicenter of Fentanyl related overdoses and deaths. The East Hastings region of the city in particular is known for its problems with poverty and drug addiction, and when Fentanyl started to surface, it was this area that was hit hardest. When I started the novel I read about the staggering number of overdose deaths and the way it was overwhelming the city’s capacity to deal with the issue. If the technology Dr. Chambers uses really did exist, I envisioned Vancouver being a city where they would try anything to get ahead of a problem that isn’t slowing down.

11- What most helped you to improve your writing craft?

Working with an editor was a huge help. I had plenty of experience writing with my day job so being concise and knowing how to pull various ideas together was not an issue. But knowing how to structure a piece of fiction, what parts you need to include, what parts don’t contribute to the plot…all these elements is where the fact I was a first-time author shined through. But my editor had so much valuable feedback to provide and I’m immensely grateful for the work she did on the book. Now that I’m working on the sequel, these new skills are making the process far more productive than my first novel.

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

The antagonist has a pair of pale blue eyes that look like ice on a frozen lake. His eyes seem vacant, cold, dead, and they fill the protagonist with an immense dread every time she catches his gaze.

13- #DiversityBingo2017 Which squares does your book cover on the card?

MC with an invisible disability MC with chronic pain

14- Which character has your favorite Personality Contradiction?

My protagonist for sure. She maintains a strong sense of duty towards her patients and pours all of her energy and resources into seeing them get well, but by the same token, she convinces herself her lies, theft and manipulation of others is a justifiable means to this end.

15- Can you think of any small change in the world you could make to benefit hundreds of other authors or readers potentially?

My book touches upon different aspects of mental illness, including PTSD, anxiety, depression, addiction and suicide. If the book or anything else I have to say on mental health can remove the stigma surrounding it, that would be a small change with big ramifications. Just like we can become physically ill, we can become mentally ill, and there’s no reason we should judge one differently than the other. #sicknotweak

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

The back-cover blurb is what will typically seal the deal. If it gives away most of the plot I will put the book back on the shelf. That’s like a movie trailer that gives away all the best scenes. Conversely, a two line blurb from an author I’m not familiar with isn’t enough to make me a buyer. I spent more time writing and re-writing my back-cover blurb for these reasons. And I’m still not convinced I nailed it.

17- How will you measure your publishing performance?

I have no illusions about winning any writing awards and never set out to write the next great piece of literary fiction. I think I still have a long way to go as a writer before I can stand in that kind of company. Obviously selling a boatload of books is a good barometer of success, but more importantly would be strong reviews from influential critics in literature as well as important people in topical fields which my book touches upon.

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

We Follow the Dying Light is self-published. A few pieces of information came together to convince me to go this route. 1) Tellwell Talent, a Canadian company, had a service offering that took all the work out of the areas of self-publishing I knew nothing about. Their pricing structure meant they didn’t take any royalties, given they also didn’t take any of the risk in writing and investing in the book. 2) The statistical probability of landing a deal as a first-time author with a traditional publisher are very low, and if you do win a deal, it could still take years before your book sees the light of day. 3) Small presses don’t have significant marketing budgets, leaving most of that work on the author. Given this is what I would consider the most valuable part of having a publisher (since you can outsource editing and cover design yourself) it didn’t make sense to me to give up a large percentage of royalties and still have to do all that work.

19- What's the best book marketing strategy you've come across?

The best strategy will depend on your book and its target audience. Social media is an inexpensive method to get a massive global reach. On the flip side though, you’re competing with a lot of eyeballs and attention spans spread across a lot of other marketers doing the same. If your novel deals with topical issues, then you have a much better chance of landing an interview with mainstream media as part of their coverage. That’s the route I’ll be taking in the new year. As powerful as social media is becoming, I still think people are more likely to make a purchase decision hearing about an author on mainstream media than they are through social media. It helps establish an extra trust factor.

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

I would be interested to hear about how reading and/or writing fiction helped other readers and authors deal with PTSD, anxiety and depression and what books were particularly important to them in this regard.

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

I can be found on:
Meet David Donaldson in this Debut Author Spotlight

Twitter @AuthorDonaldson -

Facebook at the page David Donaldson – Author

or directly at my website

One of my favorite excerpts from the novel is below:

A thick cord stretched into the darkness at the edge of the lattice. I pulled myself along its length. The lattice grew dark as I wandered into a nebulous, suppressed place. Gavin's trauma loomed immense before me: a black orb of epic proportions haloed in a ring of light. Its watery surface undulated, as if bodies were struggling to breach the memory for a breath of air. Long tendrils emanated in all directions, stretching for miles to wrap around the healthier parts of Gavin's mind.

A chill ran up my body as I tried to mentally prepare myself for entry. To enter is to breach the event horizon, to say goodbye to Catarina as she is, for I never exit quite the same. A piece of me is left inside the memory, a piece of my patient comes out.

I placed my hand against the orb in front of me and my acusensory suit grew hot as the edges of the memory opened. The lattice let out a low, rhythmic pulse. Negative energy rippled out of the trauma as the gates of Gavin's hell opened.

We Follow the Dying Light

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Sharpen the Saw

It's time for the last post in the 7 Habits of Highly Successful Writers series. The 7th habit is Sharpen the Saw.

We can never become complacent as writers. We should always work to improve our skills. As we do so, we experience what Covey calls the "upward spiral" of progression.

Self-improvement doesn't happen by accident. We must make conscious choices about what we want to improve and how we're going to go about it. There are many resources out there for writers who want to improve their craft--we have lots of them here at Operation Awesome, for one--it's just a matter of finding something that works for you and having the tenacity to stick with it.

Good luck to you!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

2018 Resolutions #2: Read More (and Differently!)

I love New Year's resolutions. They're a great excuse to evaluate the past year, decide where I want to be at the end of this year, and figure out a game plan to get there!

I have four writing-related resolutions this year, and I'll share one every week in January. This week, I resolve to READ MORE (AND DIFFERENTLY).

I read a lot. Always have. This resolution isn't so much about reading a greater quantity of books (I'm pretty happy with how my GoodReads challenge turned out in 2017), but about reading different kinds of books. I write contemporary, so I mainly read contemporary (both adult and YA). This year, I resolve to read more sci-fi, fantasy, romance, and other genres I'm not as familiar with. I don't want to continue saying that I don't know key (or classic) books in those genres, or that I don't understand what makes a good book in different genres from the one I write in.

In 2017, I tried to alternate YA and adult books, and made an effort to read more books authored by people of color. I want to continue both of those methods in 2018, and also include more books in genres I'm not as familiar with.

What books should I read in 2018? What books are you planning to read in 2018?

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

What Books are You Afraid to Read?

There's this book I want to read, but I'm afraid to. Not because it's a scary book (I don't want to read scary books, I'm a big ole chicken). It's because this book deals with a topic I'm very knowledgeable about, and I'm afraid to read it in case the author didn't get it right.

This book sounds awesome. It's gotten a lot of buzz, people speak highly about it on Twitter, and from what I know of the author's social media, she seems like a really cool person. So I would love to read this book. But if the book doesn't get this one aspect correct, or worse, doesn't even include it, then it'll be ruined for me and I'll be disappointed.

I don't know what it will take for me to get over my fear and read the book. If I go to the library tomorrow and it's on display, that will be my sign from the book gods that I can read it. I will definitely take that as a sign (hint hint, book gods).

What books are you afraid to read? Why? What helps you give a book a chance? Let me know in the comments!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

2018 Resolutions #1: Focus on Craft

I love New Year's resolutions. They're a great excuse to evaluate the past year, decide where I want to be at the end of this year, and figure out a game plan to get there!

I have four writing-related resolutions this year, and I'll share one every week in January. This week, I resolve to WORK ON CRAFT.

I'm not talking about grammar or punctuation. I'm talking about narrative structure, plotting, and characterization... big picture things. I want to find four great craft books and read/work through one every quarter of 2018. I love Donald Maass' THE EMOTIONAL CRAFT OF FICTION, and I'm going to start with re-reading and working through the exercises in that one. Then, I'm hoping to find a book about world-building (I write mostly contemporary, but world-building can be just as important in real-life settings as fantasy settings). After that, the sky's the limit - I'll see where 2018 takes me!

Are you resolving to work on craft this year? Do you have any recommendations for books on craft?

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Meet Kari Maaren in this Debut Author Spotlight

Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6

Weave a Circle Round

1- I love that your book cover has an upside down house, making it extra eye-catching. Can you tell us about how that incredible cover and how it relates to your book?

The cover was a surprise to me. I heard nothing from the publisher about what it would look like, and then one day, it suddenly appeared online. I believe the original concept for Jamie Stafford-Hill’s design was thought up back when the book still had its old title, THE HOUSE ON GROSVENOR STREET. In the book, the house on Grosvenor Street is technically a relatively ordinary house (with a few unusual features) until a couple of mysterious people move into it, whereupon it begins to change in unexpected ways.

As soon as I saw the cover, I went, “Yeah…that’s it exactly.” The house on Grosvenor Street isn’t literally upside down, but the upside-down house on the cover represents the shift in perspective inherent in the house and its inhabitants. Everything becomes strange and new and exciting when you look at it upside down. Possibilities open up. Rules seem less like rules. The familiar becomes alien. It’s also worth noting that on the cover, some of the stars are IN FRONT OF the house. So we have something ordinary seen from an unusual perspective…and then, subtly, made impossible. That’s WEAVE A CIRCLE ROUND in a nutshell.

2- What five words represent your most notable characteristic or values? #In5Words

Weird, grumpy, volatile, imaginative, terrifying.

3- What ignited your passion for writing?

When I was little, I was an early talker but a late walker. Apparently, I used to crawl around the house with a book tucked under my arm, talking in complete sentences. I haven’t really put the books down since. So I guess I would have to go with…books. Just books. All the books everywhere.

4- What are some of your short and long term writing goals?

Short term, I would like to finish the new novel I’ve been working on. The first draft is technically done, but the climax is deeply problematic, and I really need to figure out how to fix it. However, I can’t because I have to mark all the essays in the world. There are essays everywhere, and they all go hundreds of words over the limit, and they sit in their piles, staring at me.

Long term, I would like to keep writing novels. Right now, I have a job that consumes a lot of my time, and it would be great if I could eventually cut back on that so I could have time to write. I tend to put aside a couple of months in the summer to work on my writing, and it’s not enough.

5- What is your favorite book (by someone else), and what do you love most about that book?

What…I get only one? I can’t pick only one. The other books will get jealous.

I always have a hard time with this question, so I’ll choose a book at random from my huge pile of favourites:

Terry Pratchett’s NIGHT WATCH is a book to which I return again and again. In fact, my paperback copy has been read so many times that it is on the verge of falling apart, and I’ve just acquired a hardcover that will doubtless eventually suffer the same fate. As far as I’m concerned, NIGHT WATCH is the pinnacle of Pratchett’s achievement. It takes one of his best characters, Sam Vimes, who has been growing more powerful (against his own will) in every book, and effectively flings him back into the gutter from whence he came. Pratchett combines elements ranging from time travel to the hunt for a serial killer with a LES MISERABLES parody and somehow produces a funny, heart-wrenching reflection on time, destiny, second chances, and choice. Plus the history monks are in there, and those guys are always fun.

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

I’m pretty sure my biggest fan is my dad, who hasn’t read the book. He’s just my biggest fan because he’s my dad. Last spring, he went to rural Norway and tried to convince all our distant Norwegian cousins to buy the book when it came out.

7- 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 hope readers will recognize some of what Freddy’s going through in the novel. WEAVE A CIRCLE ROUND is a fantasy with a lot of impossible things in it, but it’s also about growing up and how uncomfortable, confusing, and infuriating a process that is. I know not everyone identifies with Freddy, but those who do so tend to identify with her hard, and I think that’s at least partly because while she’s definitely got the typical teenager-who-feels-lost-and-alone-and-without-a-place-in-the-world thing going on, she approaches it in a very particular way. Freddy wants to disappear into the background. For the first several chapters, whenever she witnesses anything that seems impossible, she immediately decides it hasn’t really happened. She doesn’t get a “Harry, you’re a wizard” moment, and she doesn’t want one. It’s not even refusal of the call, really. Freddy doesn’t have a call. She’s fine with not being special; in fact, she prefers it. I think a lot of people can identify with that. Being the Chosen One is a grand daydream, but the Chosen One is generally miserable and bullied by fate. Sometimes growing up is about wanting not to be forced into your place in the world.

Some of the scenes I hope will resonate with readers constitute huge spoilers, so I’ll just go with the first day of school, which happens in an early chapter. There are no fantasy elements in this chapter. It’s all embarrassment and awkwardness and Freddy’s growing feeling that she’s negotiating a dangerous situation badly. Surviving school is, in a way, harder for Freddy than surviving an impossible adventure through time and space.

8- What most helped you to improve your writing craft?

Probably the decades of quietly writing alone and NOT sending my work out to publishers. I was able to fail repeatedly all by myself and, in the process, figure out WHY I was failing.

9- Are you someone who likes to be noticed, or who wants desperately to not be noticed-- like Freddy?

If you took all the introverts in the world and lined them up in a little row in order of the intensity of their introversion, I would be near the head of the line, though I wouldn’t want to be because being near the head of a line of introverts would be extraordinarily stressful. That doesn’t mean I don’t like to be noticed, but it does mean that even while I sometimes yearn for recognition, I squirm in embarrassment when I get it, then have to spend a day at home alone, recovering.

I wasn’t quite like Freddy in high school. By the time I hit grade 8, which was Junior High for me, I was already a pariah, and my pariah status got worse and worse until about grade 11, when I found a few other misfits to hang out with. I understand how Freddy feels—I can’t even count the number of times during my teen years I would have loved to be able to fade into the background—but I was never willing to compromise who I was, which is where Freddy and I part ways.

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

Hmm. Probably Cuerva Lachance’s head tilt. She has this twitchy little bird-like head tilt that can mean everything from “I’m not sure what you meant just there” to “You’re in actual physical danger right now.” When she does the head tilt and smiles at the same time, run. Don’t look back. Just run very quickly in the most convenient direction.

11- #DiversityBingo2017 Which squares does your book cover on the card?

WEAVE A CIRCLE ROUND partly lands on the “non-Western setting” square; bits of the book do take place in non-Western locations, though the majority of it happens in Canada. My main character doesn’t explicitly fit any of the squares. Her race is left ambiguous, though she and her sister Mel are at least partly white. Their father is Quebecois. Freddy’s sexuality doesn’t really come up in the book. She worries briefly at one point about not being interested in boys, and she shows no interest in girls either. The other characters are pretty diverse. Freddy’s stepbrother Roland is Deaf, and he and his father are of Japanese ancestry (Roland may be mixed race; we never meet his mother). Freddy has classmates and teachers of many different races, and Roland has two Deaf friends. One of them, Marcus, is mixed race. Cuerva Lachance and Josiah are…well…I can’t really say anything about Cuerva Lachance without introducing many spoilers, but Josiah is definitely a POC. Once the spoilerific weirdness starts, Freddy meets a lot more people of many races and cultures. I could definitely pay more attention to sexual orientation, though I think the fact I don’t is an offshoot of my reluctance to write any love plots at all.

12- Which character has your favorite Personality Contradiction?

Oh my goodness. This book could be subtitled: “All the Characters Have Personality Contradictions.” Roland is defined at least partially by the fact that he is simultaneously messy and neat. Freddy is sensible but misses the forest for the trees. Mel is super smart but overly trusting. Josiah is a stickler for rules but eminently disruptive. Cuerva Lachance is a walking, talking contradiction in terms who cannot be defined by any one personality contradiction. She’s ALL personality contradictions. She probably eats personality contradictions for breakfast. For that reason, she would have to be my favourite, but I can’t pick just one personality contradiction for her because that would be thinking way too small.

13- Can you think of any small change in the world you could make to benefit hundreds of other authors or readers potentially?

I would like to make all the books free while simultaneously allowing their authors to make enough money to quit their day jobs. This would probably have to involve magic, a time machine, or both.

14- Would you share one of your comics with us?

Here’s a comic from 2012 that is about the frustration of writing and that kind of includes my book cover, except not as it is now. Back in 2012, when I was still shopping the novel out to agents and publishers, I slyly worked it into the title panel of a WEST OF BATHURST Sunday-style comic. People who have read WEAVE A CIRCLE ROUND may recognize the scene on the cover of the novel featured in the panel.

Meet Kari Maaren in this Debut Author Spotlight

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

It depends. Sometimes I read something about the book that intrigues me; sometimes a friend of mine recommends it. Sometimes I’m just walking through a bookstore, and I see a cover or a title that seems promising. If the story’s premise and the first page continue to draw me in, I’ll probably keep reading. There are also, of course, some writers whose books I’ll always read, but I’m happy to discover new authors as well. My TBR pile is a little too scarily huge at the moment.

16- How will you measure your publishing performance?

Definitely the number of times my friends see people reading my book on public transit (current count: one).

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

Sheer unadulterated coincidence. Admittedly, I’ve always leaned towards traditional publishing, simply because I’m old-fashioned. I appreciate that self-publishing is attractive to some people (often people who are good at marketing their own stuff, which I am not), and I wish them well. I’ve even self-published a collection of my first comic. However, where novels are concerned, my dream has always been to be traditionally published, though when I was younger, I was more interested in small presses than large ones because the small presses were the ones accepting unsolicited manuscripts. Besides, most of the Canadian presses of which I’d heard were small, and I wasn’t, at the time, interested in going to the States. I assumed they’d change my spelling and make me set everything in Seattle, and though I was wrong on both counts, I didn’t know that back then. I would have continued to send out manuscripts to publishers and agents if I hadn’t been accidentally discovered when a Tor editor bought one of my CDs from a friend of mine at a convention I wasn’t even attending, then later, at a different convention on a different continent, bumped into another friend of mine who had read WEAVE A CIRCLE ROUND. I’m happy it all turned out as it did, but I’m not sure “Produce an independent album full of geeky music about Batman, then sit back and let the magic happen” is the most useful advice for aspiring authors.

18- What's the best book marketing strategy you've come across?

In terms of my book, I’d have to say it was the ingenious decision of someone at Tor to attach tiny little keys to the WACR bookmarks. EVERYONE WANTS A TINY LITTLE KEY. People who would never otherwise notice those bookmarks just have to have one because of those keys. The moment when they realise that there are multiple different key designs is often rather beautiful.

In terms of all books, I’m tempted to say that Margaret Atwood’s THE HANDMAID’S TALE is being marketed stupendously well by reality. Otherwise, I’ve noticed that some of the best marketing comes from authors being themselves. My friend Debbie Ohi, who writes and illustrates picture books, is a fount of boundless creativity, which she pours out onto the Internet. People want to read her books because they know that when they do, they’ll get something as unexpected as one of her broken crayon drawings (in which she breaks a crayon and draws something emerging from the break) or her coffee-stain illustrations (in which an oddly shaped coffee stain provides the base shape of an imaginative drawing). Here she is finding the Grinch in a halved green pepper:

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

Do you prefer plain socks, patterned socks, or wildly unexpected graphic socks that make people stare at you on the subway?

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

Things I Would Care to Share:

a)Here are a couple more little comics about writing and publishing. I drew these to go with two blog-tour posts that were later combined into one and published on a blog that didn’t want illustrations. Therefore, no one has seen them yet.
Meet Kari Maaren in this Debut Author Spotlight
b)If anyone is interested in my comics, here’s the info: WEST OF BATHURST is my complete webcomic, which ran between 2006 and 2014. It starts out as a relatively realistic comic about a graduate residence at the University of Toronto but eventually turns into a surreal fever dream of a fairy tale. It can be found here: . IT NEVER RAINS is my current webcomic; it started in 2014. It shares one major element with WEAVE A CIRCLE ROUND, though that was an accident; I started IT NEVER RAINS at a time when I was losing hope that WEAVE A CIRCLE ROUND would ever be published. This comic, like the last one, starts out relatively realistically, but this time around, I was aware from the beginning that things were eventually going to get a bit science fictiony.
c)My music is here: and here:
d)I’m pretty active on at least some forms of social media. I don’t have an author page on Facebook, so at the moment, I post writing-related news in public posts on my personal account: . On Twitter, I’m @angrykem. Perhaps my friends will eventually bully me into opening an Instagram account. Who knows?
e)If you’re not sure you want to take a chance on this weird-sounding book, Macmillan has an excerpt up at It’s not actually the very beginning of the book; it’s Chapter 1, but there’s a prologue before that. However, it gives you a general idea of what you’re in for.

Weave a Circle Round

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Learning from 1-Star Reviews

While I'm not a published author, I like to read advice given to published authors while dreaming that it will someday apply to me. One piece of advice that I've always thought sounded good is Don't Read Your Reviews. That seems like a good way to stay sane.

Randy Ingermanson, who sends out the Advanced Fiction Writing e-zine every month, offers up some advice on how to learn from 1-star reviews that I thought was valuable. Even better, you don't have to read your own reviews to do it! Here's how:

Yes, 1-Star Reviews Can Be Useful

The answer is “Yes, if.”
Yes, a truly bad author’s 1-star reviews could contain valuable information that would point the author in the direction of improving his or her work. If …
If the author doesn’t freak out and go into a deep depression after reading a toxic, cruel, slashing review.
If the reviewer is able to explain what’s wrong AND how to fix it, in a way that an author can easily put into practice.
If the author doesn’t just dismiss the review out of hand with the easy phrase, “haters gonna hate.”

But Here’s the Problem

The problem is that those three ifs are hard to meet.
Not going to admit anything here myself, so I’ll take the usual dodge that “I have a friend” who has failed to benefit from 1-star reviews for all three of these reasons. And this “friend” has had a few toxic reviews. Ahem.
It’s just hard to read your own 1-star reviews objectively. But that suggests an idea …

How To Benefit From 1-Star Reviews

It occurred to me that an author can still benefit from 1-star reviews. In fact, even if you’ve never been published, and therefore you have no 1-star reviews of your own, you can still benefit from 1-star reviews.
The trick is to benefit from the 1-star reviews of OTHER WRITERS.
Here’s a simple exercise you can do:
  1. Go to the Amazon page for the last really excellent book you read. It should be one that you consider a no-brainer to get 5 stars. 
  2. Read all the 1-star reviews (or if there are more than ten, read only the first ten 1-star reviews, because they start repeating pretty quickly). 
Did you learn something? I bet you did. So that’s a win. That’s something you can use in your own writing, and it cost you nothing.

Did you find any toxic, cruel, slashing reviews? I bet you did. But you didn’t go into a deep depression because it’s not your book, so all that rat poison had no effect on you.

Were any of the reviewers able to explain enough about the craft so you could see how to improve the book? I’m taking no bets on this. The reviewers undoubtedly exposed some flaws in the book you liked so much. Unfortunately, most reviewers don’t know enough about the actual craft of writing to explain how to fix the problem. Most reviewers are readers, not writers, and so they know what they like, but they don’t necessarily know the mechanics of fiction. But if you believe they’ve exposed some real flaws in the novel, you could always go find a good book on craft that would explain how to fix those flaws.

Did you dismiss any of the reviews with the phrase “haters gonna hate?” I bet you did. Because there are some truly angry, hateful, vindictive people out there so some of the bad reviews are just people being spiteful. But I also bet you didn’t dismiss them all with that phrase. Because some of the haters had REASON to hate the book you liked so much. Since you have no vested interest in the book, you can be objective in classifying some reviewers as merely hateful and some of them as reasonable. 

So this exercise has value for you, because IT’S NOT YOUR BOOK, so you aren’t going to take the 1-stars personally.

That’s the danger of reading your own 1-star reviews. You can’t help taking it personally.

But What About Your Own 1-Star Reviews?

Now there is a way for you to benefit from your own 1-star reviews, but you can’t do it on your own.

Here’s what you do: Find a writer friend and agree to eat each other’s rat poison. You read her 1-star reviews and have her read yours. Then each write up some helpful advice for the other, writer-to-writer. Maybe some hateful reviewer said that your friend’s characters are so 1-dimensional, you could floss your teeth with them. That’s pretty cruel, but if it’s a valid concern, you could rephrase it by suggesting ways for your friend to deepen her characters. 

That’s constructive advice. That’s turning rat poison into gold.

And that avoids ever having to eat your own rat poison.

This article is reprinted by permission of the author.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 17,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit