Tuesday, July 31, 2018

So long, and thanks for all the words

I started out on Operation Awesome about three years ago. I thought I would have a platform for sharing the many thoughts about writing that had been piling up in my head. I had no idea what else I would be getting.

I made some amazing friends, both on the team and through the blog readership. I learned how to critique query letters, and had the opportunity to help so many people with theirs through my Tuesday Museday feature. As one of the co-creators of Pass Or Pages, I got to help even more people get amazing feedback, and from literary agents, too! Pass Or Pages is unique in that way, and I'm proud of the role I played in creating it.

The amazing thing about Operation Awesome is that it persists through member turnover. Even though the team changes, Operation Awesome is always the same: a place for writers to find craft tips and encouragement no matter what stage of the publication journey they are on. I know it'll be in good hands when I leave. Will they be yours? Fill out the new member application here.

Operation Awesome has given me so much, and I wish I could give it more of me. But sadly, there are only 24 hours in a day, and I cannot do all the things I'd like to. Something had to give, and this time it was Operation Awesome. It was a hard decision, but it was the right one.

I hope the next time I'm on here it's for one of J's Debut Author Spotlights! Until then, I wish everyone reading this the best of luck with the next step in their writing journey.

Monday, July 30, 2018

A Depressed Writer: Taking Small Steps

When I first decided to write about being a depressed writer on this platform, all the way back in March, I didn't expect that it be more than four months before I wrote another installation in the series.

Yet here we are, the end of July, and I'm just now checking back in. That delay, in part, is of course due to the "creativity coma" that I talked about two weeks ago.

And now that I'm finally feeling better, creatively, in the sense that I want to write again, that I have ideas for writing again, I'm slamming into another wall: my depression.

The symptoms of my mental illness are something that I encounter, in some mutation, on pretty much a daily basis. Whether it's lethargy pushing me to hit the snooze for three hours; anxiety keeping me awake even though my eyes are so tired they burn; or a general sense of malaise, like the end of the world is nigh and my doom is imminent; on any given day, I am fighting off my depression and anxiety.

It's constant. And it's exhausting.

I feel like being, or at least pretending to be, "well" takes up so much of my energy. And the time! Between personal hygiene, and rest, and eating, and being social, and reading, and relaxing, and also spending 45 hours a week at work (plus commute!), what time is left to be creative?

And yet creativity, writing, is such an integral part of my mental wellbeing. It's how I express myself, yes; it's how I communicate with people, yes; it's how I hope to change the world, of course.

But in so many ways, writing is how I learn. About myself, and about others.

So often, when I sit down to write an article or a blog post, it's because I'm trying to explore an idea, an issue, a scenario.

It's the same with novels. They start as an image, or a certain feeling I want to explore.

An image: A girl standing in the midst of a crowd of people singing her praises, making eye contact with the one person who's always had the ability to make her doubt herself.

A feeling: A girl in her mid-20s, trying to achieve her dreams and have it all, wondering why her life doesn't look like the TV shows, wondering where her "Friends" are.

I write because it's how I process, and I write because it's how I survive.

Depression clouds that. It makes me forget that I even want to write, much less be able to do so well.

And so being a depressed writer is a combination of taking breaks and allowing yourself to rest, and then, eventually, just forcing yourself to do it. Because in the end, you know it's what's best. It's what you need to do. To survive. To come out, in any way, ahead.

And sometimes, "just doing it" means taking it slow. It means sitting down to write, scrounging out 500 or 1,000 words, and celebrating that fact with a slice of cake or, if you're me, an episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

Taking it slow means relieving the pressure, the wildly fake pressure, that there is a timeline by which you need to "make it." And it means rethinking what "making it" looks like at all. It means diving into the fact that I'm 25, three years out of college, have completed four novels and don't have an agent yet. And here I thought I'd be signing my book deal before graduation...

The only way to survive as a depressed writer, I've found, is to acknowledge reality, including my limitations, and eventually embrace overcoming them. 

And sometimes, it means thinking ahead: I began writing this post on Thursday morning, knowing I wanted to publish it on Monday morning. I wrote it in chunks over the weekend. And here it is, ready for you, as scheduled. Because I knew if I waited until the last minute, something would come up — something always does.

You get better with time, at being a depressed writer. The more you get to know yourself and your depression, the more you can deal with it. But if you're overwhelmed — when you're overwhelmed — it's important to go back to the basics: small steps. One thing at a time.

You'll get through it. I believe in you. I believe in me. We've got this.

Friday, July 27, 2018

July Pass Or Pages Entry #5

Time for the Pass Or Pages feedback reveals! We're so thankful to our agent panel for taking the time to critique these entries. Shout out to the brave authors whose work will be on the blog this week. You are awesome!

Entry #5: ART GIRL


Seventeen-year-old Korean-American artist Lillie Kang has one more painting to do for the high school’s art contest. The winner will receive a cash prize and an exhibit of their work in an art gallery—which is one of Lillie’s big dreams[WA1]. With her label of 'Art Girl,' all her classmates expect her to win. After finding out her dad is unemployed[WA2] stepdad and mom[JD1] is pregnant, she's determined to win the cash prize.[JD2]

There’s one problem: all the pressure has made her so anxious she’s lost inspiration to paint anything. But when Lillie meets Zevi, a boy who saved his cousin in a fire and has vivid scars to prove it, she may have found her subject. Despite her social anxiety, Zevi attempts to coax her out from hiding behind her canvas.[JD3] In a desperate attempt to finish the painting, she tries to paint him, but fails to express the image in her mind.

The pressure increases when she finds out the gallery has a scholarship opportunity for one of the participants to her dream university—a rare opportunity and her ultimate wish.[JD4][WA3] The only way she can achieve her goals is to fall in love with art all over again and paint Zevi. With the deadline approaching fast, Lillie must finish the painting, or she loses all chance for her future.[WA4]

ART GIRL is a young adult contemporary novel at 53,000 words.[JD5] It will appeal to readers of Starfish and Since You Asked.[JD6]

Jess's Notes:
[JD1] There is no separation of thought here.
[JD2] For her family? Or to save it for herself? 
[JD3] This should be about her and what she does to/for Zevi, not the other way around. Since this appears to be her story, it needs to be about what she is doing.
[JD4] I would delete this since you already talk about big dreams earlier. Perhaps something like ‘a rare and incredible opportunity’
[JD5] A short word-count like this makes me believe the characters and the story aren’t quite as developed as they should be.
[JD6] Capitalize your titles and add the authors.

Whitley's Notes:
[WA1] Cut. Unnecessary
[WA2] Awkward phrasing. I think something is missing after “unemployed”
[WA3] Cut, unnecessary info
[WA4] So if she doesn't get the scholarship, she can never paint again?
I wish I reached the end of the query with a clearer sense of why Lillie needs *this* exhibit, *this* scholarship.

Andrea's Notes:
The query is well written but I do wonder if there is enough happening in the novel? Some editors might feel that the story arc feels too quiet.

First 250:

My hand trembled as I eased the brush over the canvas. With a light coat of black paint, it glowed. I was retouching an old painting of a starry sky in an attempt to spark back my lost art mojo. When I created this, the topic was ‘Freedom’ and I thought of the infinite stars scattered around the cosmos and drew the backside of a girl reaching out to all those possibilities[AS1]. Cheesy as hell[JD1] , but at the time, the idea possessed me. 

I didn’t feel any sense of freedom anymore, and a broken laugh escaped my throat at the irony. Now, the concept of stars reminded me that we only saw the past in the sky. Not the present or the future. The girl stood in front of the darkness.

Mr. Akhiro gave me a gentle smile. “Your work is fantastic, Lillie.”

Tension slipped away from my shoulders.[WA1] As I inhaled the familiar, bitter scent of paints in the art room, I ignored the empty, twisted feeling in my stomach[WA2]. Since lunch time was almost over, I had to leave.

The upcoming submission to an art gallery was due in one month, and an outside judge would pick the best artist. The cash prize attracted every art student in Lincoln High, but Mr. Akhiro narrowed down the list to ten, with my name being first on the list. He needed my best paintings because he knew it was my golden ticket to university. If only I could paint.

Jess's Notes:
[JD1] Try "It's cheesy as hell now"
Even with the short word count, the query left me interested enough to want to request. Please send your first 3 chapters and your revised query in the body of your email to jess@browerliterary.com. Put Pass or Pages in the subject line.
Whitley's Notes:
[WA1] Is she just using the old paintings to find inspiration, or is she trying to retouch so they can be good enough for entry?
[WA2] Lovely

Andrea's Notes:
[AS1] I found the phrasing of this sentence to be a bit confusing.
I'd be happy to take a look at the first fifty pages. Please feel free to send them to andrea@harveyklinger.com

Jess: PAGES!
Whitley: PASS
Andrea: PAGES!

Thursday, July 26, 2018

July Pass Or Pages Entry #4

Time for the Pass Or Pages feedback reveals! We're so thankful to our agent panel for taking the time to critique these entries. Shout out to the brave authors whose work will be on the blog this week. You are awesome!

Entry #4: THE DEBUT


I am looking for an agent and would like to be considered for my young adult [WA1]novel, THE DEBUT.

At approximately 71,000 words, it is a cross between the sarcastic humor of Riley Redgate’s "Noteworthy" and the teenage turmoil[WA2] of Julie Murphy’s "Dumplin’". [JD1]  [WA3]

Freshman year at St. Ambrose Catholic School wasn’t exactly the amazing new beginning Lisbetta (Betta) Meyer had hoped for when she left middle school with a backpack full of anxiety and self-doubt but very few friends. In fact, her first day of high school left her with a nickname no one could question; a nickname[WA4] she tried very hard to escape all year.[JD2] [AS1] 

Freshman year was also the year her father died.

Betta wants nothing more than to move on from her unhappy past [WA5] nd find her place in a world where everyone, it seems, has it figured out but her. But how do you find your place when you don’t even really know who you are yet?

The one thing Betta does know, however, is that Far Hills is where she wants to be. Far Hills—a small, affluent bubble of a beach town along the Jersey Shore, where all the pretty, rich, happy people live peaceful, normal lives. Or so Betta believes. She wants that life, a life so different that she could only ever dream it…[JD3] until the day Far Hills Theater opens auditions for its next show, the controversial [AS2]  musical, "A Chorus Line".

From auditions and call-backs, through rehearsals and to the final curtain call, readers will get to know [JD4] Betta and her castmates in shocking [AS3]  and unforeseen ways as they learn about life and about themselves in chapters paralleling the memorable songs from "A Chorus Line" such as “What I Did for Love”, “The Music and the Mirror”, “Nothing” and “At the Ballet”. [WA6]

THE DEBUT is meant to be the first in a series of Far Hills Theater novels as Betta and her new theater friends perform their way through high school.[JD5]

Jess's Notes:
[JD1] Move this to the bottom. I want to jump into your query. However, this is a personal preference. 
[JD2] What’s the nickname? 
[JD3] This is repetitive. It’s been mentioned how she wants to be there and it’s easy to gather why, therefore this isn’t needed.
[JD4] Keep it about Betta. That she will learn about herself and her castmates in shocking and unforeseen ways. 
[JD5] The theater is separate from school, isn’t it?

Whitley's Notes:
[WA1] Be sure to state the genre.
[WA2] I’m not sure “teenage turmoil” is the best choice of words. What about “drama”?
[WA3] I’m not sure about these comp titles. While similar in setting/atmosphere/tone, NOTEWORTHY is recognizable for its tackling of gender identity and norms; and DUMPLIN’ is widely known for its body positivity / fat girl representation. I’d recommend comparing to these books in situations of similar representation, or if your book has a similar voice and gives representation to another marginalized group
[WA4] If the name isn’t going to be disclosed in the query, I’m not sure it needs to be referenced at all.
[WA5] When does this take place? Summer? Sophomore year? A large amount of real estate is spent on what happened Freshman year, which seems to be a thing of the past
[WA6] This paragraph isn’t really doing anything for you. Nearly all this can be assumed from the line above, and we’re left without knowing anything about the story arcs or the characters.

I have a somewhat descent sense of the world here, but almost no idea what the story will be. What is Betta’s arc? What is at stake? What is the hook, beyond A Chorus Line?

Andrea's Notes:
[AS1] This feels a bit cryptic and I’m not sure if it needs to be? Perhaps it makes sense to simply mention the nickname or leave out reference to it?
[AS2] I’m not sure if A Chorus Line would be seen as shocking to a contemporary teen?  
[AS3] I think it’s usually best to avoid the word “shocking” in emails because it presupposes a readers’ reaction to something.

First 250:

Pale yellow cotton granny panties.

No, I am sadly not referring to the undergarment in which they buried me at a respectful age of 89.


Pale yellow cotton granny panties happened to be the unfortunate piece of clothing not so hidden beneath my kilt when I learned the hard way what the term “skirted” meant to my fellow Catholic school disciples.

I would gladly hand over every cent of the $167.38 I have saved from years of birthday money, backyard chores, and bi-annual good grade rewards to erase the memory not only from my own mind, but from those who saw the incident (and the subsequent pictures spread across social media). “Granny Panties” isn’t necessarily the handle a girl would want to earn on her first day at a new school.[JD1]

I had woken up that first morning of high school so excited. I was finally leaving behind the last few crappy years of my life and moving on, meeting new friends and making new memories…better memories. But, naturally, my sad fate was decided for me halfway through the lunch line.

It was almost like I had a flag sticking out of my forehead that told all upperclassmen I was easy prey. Hey guys, here she is, your fresh meat! And man, they nailed it.

I was minding my own business, scoping out the different groups of my fellow students and trying to interpret the lunch table situation so I could successfully sit at one without getting laughed off.

Jess's Notes:
[JD1] I would change this to ‘of high school.’ That way the reader can get a sense of how old she is and that she’s experiencing an AWFUL first day of school.

It’s a cute premise and the query did leave me interested, but the voice is a little young for me so I’d have to pass.

Whitley's Notes:
I don’t think this first page starts at the right place. From how I read the query, freshman year is in Betta’s immediate past, so this would all be exposition.

Andrea's Notes:
[AS1] I found these opening sentences to be a bit confusing—perhaps think about starting a different way?

These paragraphs are telling us what happened vs. immersing us in the story—perhaps think about approaching the opening in a different way?

Jess: PASS
Whitley: PASS
Andrea: PASS

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

July Pass Or Pages Entry #3

Time for the Pass Or Pages feedback reveals! We're so thankful to our agent panel for taking the time to critique these entries. Shout out to the brave authors whose work will be on the blog this week. You are awesome!



Ryan Rojas’s[JD1] academic dreams come crashing down when he’s expelled for doing drugs on campus. Condemned to independent study and community service, Ryan has one chance to convince the school board to readmit him. That’s all he wants—until he meets Penny, the bald girl with whom he’s been assigned to volunteer.[JD2]  (She has alopecia, a hair loss disorder.)[JD3]  Penny thinks he’s a troublemaker [AS1], but Ryan’s problems with drugs and his reluctance to lend his musical talents to the local BandMasterz program run much deeper—he’s battling guilt about his military dad losing his leg in Afghanistan.[WA1]

While Ryan tries to meet his parents’ and the school’s expectations, he’s also wants to prove to Penny that he’s not the loser she thinks he is. But Penny's got more important things than Ryan to worry about, like keeping her suicidal older brother, Brett, alive.[JD4] [WA2]

Told from alternating points of view,[JD5]  MEMORABLE tackles drug abuse, mental illness, and suicide, while delivering a promise of hope and second chances. Comparable titles include Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher and Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman.[JD6] [WA3]

MEMORABLE, an 80,000 word contemporary YA novel,[JD7]  received second place in the Rosemary YA Romance Writers of America contest and was a finalist in the Serendipity YA Discovery Contest.

Jess's Notes:
[JD1] Give his age.
[JD2] Not quite sure what you mean here. Do you mean shadow? Be a mentee? She’s his babysitter?
[JD3] This should be added into the description of Penny and not added in parenthesis. It took me out of the query the way it is.
[JD4] While your query shouldn’t be too long, I also want more information. What exactly is this story about? How do these two people with heavy issues come together? What is the journey each of them take? How do they help each other?
[JD5] Because it’s alternating POV and Penny is a large part of it, she should get her own paragraph and then the two of them should come together. His story, her story, their story together.
[JD6] All titles should be in caps 
[JD7] You already mentioned the title, so the word count and contemporary YA should go with the introduction of the title.
Whitley's Notes:
[WA1] This feels tacked on, and don't really bear any weight on the rest of the pitch.
[WA2] Almost all of the stakes here seem to be based on the personalization of someone else's pain (suicidal brother, amputee father, ...). 
[WA3] Honestly, this would be an instant pass for me. While I more than understand that disabilities such mental illness have an effect on more than just the individual, this feels as though the disability (and the individual directly affected) is being presented as a hardship on a family member. Looking at disabilities only from that lens often ends up being either preachy or inaccurate, and it helps to further the narrative of ableism.

Andrea's Notes:
[AS1] Word perhaps feels a bit old fashioned?

First 250:

Most people don’t get what it’s like living on the edge of a knife.

I do.

For me, life is a constant juggling act between peace and an all-out Mt. Vesuvius eruption. I wish I could change it, but I can’t. All I can do is try to keep all the balls from crashing down. Right now, I’m not doing a very good job of it. [AS1]

When I push open my brother’s door, I half expect to see his bedroom plastered with band posters and his shelves piled high with sheet music. But the freshly painted beige walls are blank, the shelves empty. We’ve lived here almost two months and the posters are still rolled up in the corner, the music and his other stuff still packed in boxes, like he doesn’t plan on staying long.

I spot him curled up on his bed. There’s a familiar tension in the air, like a predator lurking in the shadows ready to strike.[AS2]

“Brett?” I step cautiously into the room. “I’m sorry, okay?”

He growls a warning. “Leave me alone, Penny.” [WA1]

It’s my fault Brett’s acting like this. He borrowed my Beats and broke them, but why did I have to lose my temper over it? My short fuse set him off, so Brett’s angry, but not at me.[JD1] He’s pissed at himself, and under normal circumstances he ought to be. But life with Brett is anything but normal, and I can’t afford to go where I know this road is heading.[AS3]

Jess's Notes:
[JD1] There’s something about this sentence that isn’t sitting right with me. Why did her short fuse set him off? And wouldn’t that initial anger be at her because of the short fuse? I would reword it.

I like the writing, but based on the query letter and what I gather the story is about, I would pass.

Whitley's Notes:
[WA1] With the query so heavily focused on Ryan, it's jarring to be dropped into Peggy's POV.

Andrea's Notes:
[AS1] I tend to prefer when protagonists don’t talk directly to the reader, when we are simply immersed in the plot and the action itself (and this type of information is shown through the narrative as it progresses). 
[AS2] Perhaps too much? The “growls” a few lines later helps take care of this image.

Jess: PASS
Whitley: PASS
Andrea: PASS

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

July Pass Or Pages Entry #2

Time for the Pass Or Pages feedback reveals! We're so thankful to our agent panel for taking the time to critique these entries. Shout out to the brave authors whose work will be on the blog this week. You are awesome!



Like most seniors, Cortez has a few goals for his last year of high school: get the girl, get into college, don't piss off the one-eyed murderous psycho in control of the island of convicts. [JD1][WA1] [AS1]

Cortez is sent to the government-owned island housing the most hardened criminals for a crime he didn't commit.[JD2][WA2] He stumbles into a commune of convicts [WA3] ruled by Mason[JD3] and tries to find allies among the murderers. After he gets on Mason’s bad side, Cortez is rescued by Sam—the leader for a group of female convicts hidden on the island. Together, they learn Mason is a puppet for a group using the island to manufacture drugs and that once his servitude is complete, the gang will take Mason off the island and kill those left behind.[JD4] Cortez and Sam must come up with a plan to escape before Mason sadistically punishes the islanders that oppose them. [WA4]

A combination of The Maze Runner and Arrow[JD5][WA5], CONVICT ISLAND is an 80K-word YA adventure centered on the humorous voice [AS2] of a minority[JD6] protagonist [AS3] outside the typical urban setting. [WA6] The story also touches on the issue of the overflowing US prison system. When the number of inmates becomes too great, perhaps something similar to the British unloading convicts on islands to fend for themselves isn’t too far-fetched.[JD7]

Jess's Notes:
[JD1] The fact that he is living there should be mentioned here.  
[JD2] Rework this sentence; it doesn’t make sense.
[JD3] How does he stumble into it if he was sent there?
[JD4] I would have stopped reading here. I don’t quite understand who Cortez is or why he’s been sent to this island or what the crux of the story is.
[JD5] Capitalize titles and include author/network of show.
[JD6] Specify which minority group he belongs to.
[JD7] If this is a theme your manuscript touches on and is important to the story, it needs to come out more in the description. Based on the paragraph above, this wouldn’t have entered my mind.

Whitley's Notes:
[WA1] For YA, we know going in that the MC is a teenager. We don't need it to be spelled out how "like" other teens they are. Cut to the chase, and hook us with an exceptional book.
[WA2] While good to note, I wouldn't lead with this detail since it doesn't appear to have any weight on the major plotline.
[WA3] I want a clearer understanding of what the world of the island is. Is landing on the island a life sentence, or are some inmates eventually going to get out? (Noting Cortez wants to get into college makes me think the latter). Are the inhabitants wholly ungoverned, the convicts free to do anything so long as they leave the island? Or is there some sort of body (beyond Mason's gang) overseeing the island?
[WA4] So the main motivation in the novel for both Cortez and Sam is escape from Mason?
[WA5] Comp title choice? When I hear Arrow, I think superhero. (But then, I don't watch Arrow, so maybe I'm just missing something?)
[WA6] Unnecessary. The setting is understood from the query. I'd just say "A combination of The Maze Runner and Arrow, CONVICT is an 80K-word YA adventure that features a latinx protagonist."

Andrea's Notes:
[AS1] I think that this could potentially be misleading/confusing to agents. You might be better off simply leading with the title of the book, the genre and comp titles. 
[AS2] It’s usually best to let agents determine whether the voice is humorous from the sample pages (vs. telling them in the query letter).
[AS3] One thing to be aware of: with the prominence of OwnVoices these days, it’s important to editors that the author share their protagonist’s ethnic or cultural background. So if this is an OwnVoices project you’ll definitely want to mention that in your query letter. 

First 250:

The sunlight is blinding after an uncertain number of days and nights held captive below deck. I squint to see the island that’s likely to be my grave.

The ship lurches and turns until it’s parallel to the island like [WA1] we’re about to walk the plank [AS1]. The officer speaks. I hear nothing. He puts a knife in my hand. I shove it in my pocket absentmindedly as if just given spare change.

“You animals aren’t the first brutes to be dropped off,” the officer tells us [WA2]. “There’s more like you here. Unless they’ve killed each other.” He laughs with his subordinates. They enjoy this—like spectators watching gladiators. “You’re jumping overboard here. We’re not wasting fuel to get closer for your convenience.”

The island looks big enough for me to possibly avoid the others for awhile. Unless it’s crawling with them. With us.

Deadly scenarios had run through my mind on our trip here—being beaten to death by heartless men free to do what they wish or being devoured by a man-eating cat—but surfacing now is the possibility of drowning before I even get to the island. I can’t swim.

The guard reads my concern. “Don’t worry, buttercup. I’ll lend you a raft.” He chucks a bag overboard. It pops open and morphs into a bright yellow raft, the wind tossing and spinning as it descends [AS2] to the water.

Me and the two others look from the raft to each other, realizing the game of survival starts now. [WA3][AS3]

Whitley's Notes:

[WA1] I’m not sure I understand the connection here, and honestly, I don’t think this needs to be stated. “You’re jumping overboard” doesn’t hold as much shock value when we already have walking the plank in our minds.
[WA2] Us being who, exactly? We later learn it’s the two other convicts, but that should be stated up front.
[WA3] Overall, this sample feels so removed from the speaker. For such a terrifying moment, I don't feel any of Cortez's fear, and I don't have a sense of whether he's a fighter or a flyer.

Andrea's Notes:
[AS1] Maybe not necessary? We already have a sense of the situation from the surrounding context.
[AS2] ….spinning it as it descends…
[AS3] Nice sense of tension straight from the start. 

Jess: PASS
Whitley: PASS
Andrea: PAGES! Please send first 50 pages to andrea@harveyklinger.com.

Monday, July 23, 2018

July Pass Or Pages Entry #1

Time for the Pass Or Pages feedback reveals! We're so thankful to our agent panel for taking the time to critique these entries. Shout out to the brave authors whose work will be on the blog this week. You are awesome!



I’m currently seeking representation for THE JOURNEY WE SHARE, a contemporary, #ownvoices[WA1] YA novel complete at 78,000 words.

In rural India, during the early 2000s, fifteen-year-old Mira longs to complete her education, but her abusive father forces her to work in the family restaurant and plans to marry her off to a man twice her age.

Thirteen years later, fifteen-year-old Steven’s severe anxiety obstructs his everyday life at a wealthy New England boarding school and he questions his will to live.

Meanwhile, fifteen-year-old Mpholo faces the challenge of raising and supporting his younger siblings in stigma-rich Uganda after his mother dies from AIDS and his father commits suicide.[WA2]

On the surface, the three teenagers have almost nothing in common; however, their lives become inextricably linked when Mpholo and Steven both come across a memoir[JD1] Mira wrote years’ prior.[JD2] Driven by a combination of aspiration and uncertainty, the two use Mira’s story and the people they meet along the way to try and find peace [AS1]in a challenging world. Will they succeed, though?[JD3][WA3]

From the rural villages of India, to the tree-covered hills of New England, and the vast savanna of Uganda, THE JOURNEY WE SHARE illustrates how fear and dreams are universal and the ways they connect us are more meaningful than they appear. It will appeal to readers of WRITTEN IN THE STARS by Aisha Saeed and THE REST OF US JUST LIVE HERE by Patrick Ness.[AS2]

Jess's Notes:
[JD1] Journal
[JD2] They are both in different countries, so where did they come upon the memoir? Is this an adventure they go on together?
[JD3] Instead of asking a question, make it more personal to the characters. Something about how the journal helps Steven deal with his anxiety and Mpholo becomes his own person, separate from a caretaker for his siblings. Questions can be off-putting in queries, so try to stay away from them and get into the heart of your story instead.

Whitley's Notes:
[WA1] When there are multiple marginalized voices represented in a book pitched as #OwnVoices, I tend to recommend that authors clearly state how they relate as "own"
[WA2] While providing great insight into the individual characters, these paragraphs take up a lot of real estate yet feel wholly disconnected from the story being set up. Besides Mira, I don't have a clear understanding as to what the story will be or what journey these characters will be undertaking.
[WA3] A rather vague set up. I wish we had a more concrete sense of what the book will be… and what will happen if they don’t succeed.

Andrea's Notes:
[AS1] This is a bit vague—you might want to clarify and further define the conflict and the stakes.
[AS2] I thought these were strong comp titles. I suggest clarifying the OwnVoices connection.  

The way the query structured is a bit confusing—which makes sense, as it can be challenging to introduce three separate story lines, especially if they span time and space! What I suggest doing is starting with the description of Steven and Mpholo. You would then transition with the sentence, “On the surface, the two of them have nothing in common….” You could then mention Mira, as you do, but give us her background information that you include initially at this point instead.

First 250:

The journey to the restaurant was a reminder of broken dreams for Mira. Each time she [JD1]felt as if she was walking through the[JD2] museum exhibitions she [JD3]read about in books. Only[JD4] this exhibition did not highlight crown jewels or famous portraits, but rather her hidden desires and failures. 

On one corner, she passed the school she used to attend[JD5]. In a couple hours, other girls her age would sit on wooden benches diligently taking notes about astronomy or literature, while she would be slaving away in the kitchen submitting to a barrage of insults from her father. Mira’s chest tightened at the thoughts[JD6] and she clenched her jaw.

A few meters further, she crossed past the sweets stand where[JD7] an overweight man groped her and squeezed her from behind while she waited in line for jalebis. At the time, she bit her tongue and did not fight back, knowing it would get her nowhere.[AS1] 

“Arre…move out of the way! Why are you just standing there?” a man screamed waving his hand as he pushed a cart of coconuts.

“Sorry, sir. Sorry,” Mira responded. She moved out of the middle of the road, ashamed that her thoughts caused her to stop in her tracks and forget her surroundings.[AS2] 

“Stupid girl. Don’t just stand in the street like that. People have work to do unlike you.”[AS3] 

Jess's Notes:
[JD1] delete "she"
[JD2] delete "the"
[JD3] add "had only"
[JD4] Try "except" instead of "only."
[JD5] When did she stop attending?
[JD6] delete "at the thoughts"
[JD7] When did this happen? Give the reader a timeline.

I would have been intrigued enough to read the first chapter, but ultimately it would be a pass for me. I was hoping to see Mira’s story strictly from the POV of her journal while the boys went on their journey.

Whitley's Notes:
I loved the first couple paragraphs, but I wish it’d moved on to the now—and to father’s restaurant—rather than continuing to the sweets stand memory, thus making the first present action a man calling her out of her memory.

Andrea's Notes:
[AS1] It feels as if we’re being told what happened to Mira vs. engaged in the action itself.
[AS2] I’m not sure if we need this? The dialogue and her actions give us some insight into what she’s feeling, and usually it’s best to let readers infer some things vs. spelling everything out. 
[AS3] Perhaps too heavy-handed and unnecessary? We already have a sense of the dismal state of her life. 

Jess: PASS
Whitley: PAGES! Please submit the first 50 pages, query, and synopsis to QueryMe.online/jdlit_whitley/PassOrPages
Andrea: PASS

Friday, July 20, 2018

Volunteers Wanted

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Thursday, July 19, 2018

Synopsis Critique #25: YA Fantasy

And now, it's time for this week's synopsis critique! The author of A WITCH AWAKENING, a YA Fantasy novel, submitted this synopsis. My in-line comments are [blue and in brackets], and I'll include a summary at the end. Feel free to comment below!

If you'd like a primer on how to write a synopsis, see my posts here and here. And if you want your synopsis critiqued on this website, fill out the form here, or email your 1-2 page synopsis to me at operationawesome6@gmail.com. (NOTE: I'll email my critique to the author as soon as I'm done, so the author won't have to wait to see his/her synopsis on the site). Thanks for participating!


[1]Aviana Greenwood spends her days at the family bakery creating sweet breads and savory pastries while using her magic to quicken the process. It’s a pleasant life, but she yearns to do more with her magic and wants to do it without keeping her powers a secret. 

In the Kingdom of Falder, a woman with magic is a witch, and witches have no place in society. Aviana grew up hiding her magic, but when she turns 16 she’s given another option. 

Her great uncle Nero offers to train her [2], and Aviana jumps at the chance, even though it hurts to leave the bakery and her family behind. [3]On the journey, Nero surprises her with a new idea. She could enroll at the University—all she has to do is enroll as a boy. 

If she get’s caught, she’ll become an outcast, forced to leave the life she knows behind. [4]But if she doesn’t, she’ll get to spend the next years learning from the best professors in the realm. She’ll get to follow in her late father’s footsteps. It’s what she’s always wanted, a dream she’d thought was impossible. Aviana agrees to his plan. 

Avi (as she goes by now) begins training for admissions and befriends Nero’s apprentice, Gavin. He’s planning to start at the University this year too, and he’ll be there to help her when Nero cannot. Their friendship is easy—maybe because he knows her secret, or maybe that’s just Gavin. 

They pass admissions. Classes are difficult, and Avi (who’s had little training) is behind from the start. But she works hard, gets help from her friends, and gains confidence when she realizes she’s skilled at potion making. [5]

She befriends other students, and is guilt–ridden over keeping her secret from them. Avi isn’t hiding her magic, but now she’s hiding another part of herself. [6]It’s especially hard lying to Celia, a girl from the local finishing school who has feelings for Avi. Avi feels guilty for potentially leading Celia on, for lying to her, and for hurting her by not reciprocating feelings. 

Adding to her worries, Avi meets Jax, an arrogant student who seems determined to ruin her time at the University. At first Avi isn’t sure why, but she soon discovers he’s jealous of her friendship with Celia. His family is close to Celia’s, and he hopes for an arranged marriage but thinks Avi is in the way. 

Gavin’s always there to cheer up Avi when Jax is being an ass[7], but under Gavin’s happy demeanor hides a sad secret. His sister has magic and is locked up at home because of it. Gavin was sent to Nero’s before he could help, but he has a plan to save her. His father wants an heir, a male heir, so Gavin offers his life in exchange for his sister’s. He’ll return home, run the family estates, marry whomever his father picks, and live a life he never wanted. 

When Gavin confides his plan to Avi, she gives another solution: she could reveal her secret. If people knew witches weren’t dangerous, Gavin’s sister could be freed. The idea distresses him. He’s seen the vicious reactions people have to a girl with magic. [8]

So Avi drops the conversation, but the idea doesn’t go away. Society believes men were given magic because they’re superior; they alone have the cool logic and control needed to properly cast spells. Would women be treated as equals if society knew they could safely wield magic too? 

Celia worries over the future planned for her, lamenting the fact that she’s meant to marry and run a household instead of pursuing her own dreams. Like Avi, she wants to study and learn—to know more about the world around her. Avi brings her to the University library, a chance to read books she can’t access elsewhere. Jax finds them there, and later that week the University bans girls from visiting. If society knew witches weren’t dangerous, would they think of women as more than future wives and mothers? [9]

As the year continues, Avi can’t rid herself of the idea that she should be doing more. She gets to be at the University while other witches live in hiding, suppressing their powers. Women are treated as lesser because it’s thought they can’t properly wield magic. And what will Avi do when she finishes her studies? She doesn’t wish to dress as a man forever. She decides she’ll reveal her secret and waits for an opportune moment. 

On the last day of term, Gavin’s father calls him home. It’s time for Gavin to fulfill his father’s wishes. If Avi wants to help him, she has to act now. She goes to the headmaster and reveals her secret. The headmaster supports her, but not all professors do, and some call for her to be locked up or sent away. 

Instead she’s expelled; her dream of studying at the University is snatched away. But there’s still hope of a happy ending. A council is formed to determine if women can safely use magic. Nero is appointed to lead the council and asks Avi to help. They’ll recruit other witches and show that Avi is not an exception. 

But the night after the council is formed, Avi’s endangered. Nero’s house is defaced with a message calling Avi to leave town, and Avi learns of Jax’s plan to stop her. He’s recruited people to take her magic, something Avi didn’t even know was possible. She’s scared but determined to continue her work for the council. She’s a witch and she’s no longer hiding. [10]


[1]You don’t need to specify her exact age in a synopsis, but I’d like to get a sense of whether she’s a teen (younger or older) or adult. In the next paragraph, it’s mentioned she’s given an option when she turns sixteen, but does that mean she’s newly sixteen at the beginning of the book? It’s worth mentioning, just to prevent confusion.

[2]I assume you mean train her to use her magic, but it’s worth specifying.

[3]Why does she have to leave to get the training? Does Nero live elsewhere?

[4]Leaving the life she knows is a negative, but what else does becoming an outcase entail?

[5]This makes sense, given her skill at baking. If these are related, I’d point out this detail.

[6]I would remind the reader here that Avi is pretending to be a boy.

[7]The tone of “an ass” doesn’t quite match the rest of the synopsis

[8]Is there more to this plan? Seems to me that people are so entrenched in the belief that witches are dangerous that Avi revealing herself wouldn’t be enough to change their minds.

[9]This sentence doesn’t quite seem to lead from the one before it.

[10]This ending feels really abrupt. Is this the actual ending of the book? If not, add a few more details explaining what happens at the end.


This is a really strong synopsis for what sounds like a great book. My notes are mostly nit-picks. Great job!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Meet Ronel Janse van Vuuren in this Debut Author Spotlight

Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6

Once.: Tales, Myths and Legends of Faerie by Ronel Janse van Vuuren

I'm excited to introduce all of you to Ronel, a talented writer and blogger I met during the A to Z challenge. Check out this interview. - J

1- Your book has debuted in English. What other languages is it in?

Afrikaans. It originally won a publishing competition in November 2017 and I’ve since published it in English – it took a while to learn everything I needed to know about being an indie publisher.

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

Dependability. Perseverance. Open-mindedness. Compassion. Environmentalism.

3- What ignited your passion for writing?

What if…? I love asking that question. It made sense to start writing it all down, truly seeing where a story could lead and perhaps entertain others, too.
Meet Ronel Janse van Vuuren in this Debut Author Spotlight

4- Would you share a picture with us of your book in an interesting setting?

Of course. I’ve been playing around with pictures of books I’ve read for Instagram and came up with this one for both language editions of mine incorporating the Dark Fantasy elements of the book.

5- How do you research myths from all over the world?

I have a couple of folklore books that serve as a basis – my favourites being Encyclopedia of Norse and Germanic Folklore, Mythology, and Magic by Clade Lecouteux; The Forest in Folklore and Mythology by Alexander Porteous; Encyclopedia of Fairies in World Folklore and Mythology by Theresa Bane; Encyclopedia of Giants and Humanoids in Myth, Legend and Folklore by Theresa Bane; The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies by Lucy Cooper. I also consult The Poetic Edda; the sacred texts site that archives all ancient folklore and mythology texts; and the folklore and mythology site hosted by the University of Pittsburgh that lists, categorizes and hosts all folk texts imaginable.

You’d be amazed at what you can find when you start researching a specific subject. Google can be your friend – just verify your sources.

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

In the next six months I want to finish the first book in my middle-grade Adventures of Saphira the Faery Dog series and get it published end of November 2018 (in English and Afrikaans), polish the young adult novel (in Afrikaans) for the Sanlam Youth Literature Prize competition and send it in before deadline, enter the Insecure Writer’s Support Group short story competition (details on that will be shared in September on their blog), and write the long fantasy short story requested by Reimaginings Books for an anthology they’re planning.

Long term? Enter more anthology competitions (that’s a good way to get your work in front of new readers), publish the entire Saphira series, publish my work in as many formats as possible (ebook, paperback, audiobook, etc.), (finally!) finish and publish my YA trilogy I’ve been rewriting for ages, and then work on the other projects I’ve been tinkering with. I know, my six-month plan is much more detailed and obsessed over (you should see the post-its on my calendar). This is what May looked like with finalising this book and doing the launch.

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

Looking at Goodreads, I have several. (Which is awesome!) I even had a reader tell me in person how much they loved the book – and how much it made her cry. Turns out the themes of change and loss throughout the book, even though it’s all “make-believe”, has a powerful effect on readers.

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

I have so many favourites! Right now, “The Darkest Part of the Forest” by Holly Black is my favourite. I love how she used folklore and the reversal of roles (a girl is “the knight in shining armour” and she has to save her prince), the book has great diverse characters, it looks at the darkest part of our natures (which Dark Fantasy is all about, of course), and it’s a fast-paced story that keeps you guessing.

Click for my Goodreads review.

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?

It is my wish that each story helps the reader on their own journey, making them feel each emotion with each character, and ultimately leave them with hope. As for a particular scene? There are a few that capture different emotions… but I think the scene where a character punches someone out cold for her pet might be the best one.

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

Reading a lot of books on the subject (and doing the exercises) and writing – a lot. It’s only by implementing the lessons learned in books that you get better.

Click for my Goodreads shelf of books that I've found useful!

That's awesome! I have a shelf like that too. Click for J's shelf of books on writing.

11- What's your favorite part of NaNoWriMo?

Letting go of fear (of failure, of wasting time, of whatever is bothering me at the moment) and just writing the story. It’s already plotted – just write! A bad page can always be rewritten.

12- What is one thing tourist are most often surprised to learn about South Africa?

That lions don’t actually wander the street, except after a rugby game featuring the Lions Rugby Team. Jokes aside, there are many wonderful and beautiful places to visit that tourists hardly ever see because they aren’t as widely advertised as the “safe” and expensive places. If you go exploring – keeping your wits about you and listening to your instincts – you can immerse yourself in our cultural diversity.

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

Carina, one of my many “damsels/princesses” in this book, loves to eat fried worms for breakfast.

14- In what ways are the main characters in your book diverse? https://diversebooks.org #WeNeedDiverseBooks

Some of my Fae characters cannot wield magic – which is almost unheard of in a society where even the smallest Pixie has magic. This causes the end of a relationship, a complete migration of this character’s family and friends who are like him to another realm, resulting in catastrophe for others. Another character is so viciously cursed that she has to live in isolation – and the guy who falls in love with the “normal” side of her has to learn to deal with her cursed side. There’s also a weird cultural/religious aspect to a specific family of Fae in one of the stories who has to marry a mortal to keep everyone safe.

I’m sure there are a few things that I’ve used in the book that I’m not even aware of, but readers will notice.

For the most part, I don’t ask my characters if they’re green, blue or a fantastic shade of purple. I’ll add it if it’s relevant to the plot, but otherwise I think readers should be able to fill in their own details of what the characters look like. Besides, if I describe every character in detail all the guys will look like Ian Somerhalder/Ryan Reynolds/Jesse Williams/Chris Hemsworth depending on my mood. How boring! And if my characters don’t tell me who they’re attracted to/in love with, I’m not going to guess – that’s just rude. They’ll tell me when they’re ready for a next story.

15- Which character has your favorite Personality Contradiction?

Beira. She’s vicious and caring. I can’t wait to write more stories featuring her.

16- Does your book hold a mirror up to society, and in what way?

Yes. Mostly it looks at relationships – of all kinds – and our preconceptions of what they should be. It shows that you should do what is right for you, not necessarily society, and the cost if you don’t.

17- What do you enjoy most about the #AtoZchallenge for bloggers?

The rush of having to blog every day, visit and comment on various blogs, meeting new people and catching up with old friends.

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

By not offering my books for free, readers won’t fill up their e-readers with yet another book they won’t read “because it’s not good enough to be sold, so not good enough to read” which in turn will benefit them by having to spend expensive-coffee-money on a book they’ll actually read (value perceived is value achieved) and that will help other authors by creating sales of their books. I’ve heard a lot of other authors talk about this, but not doing. This has the potential of teaching a lesson: you have to give to get. (Maybe it has to do with my country’s current political climate, but I strongly believe that you cannot just take without compensation: someone had worked hard for that thing you want, so treat them fairly.)

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

The cover in combination with the blurb. I’ve been burned by a great combo a few times with the actual story not fitting with either, but that’s still the number one way for me to find a new book to read. Just the other day I visited a bookstore without the intent to buy, just looking at covers, when one pulled me in so completely I had to buy it. I haven’t had the chance to read it yet, but I have high hopes.
Goodreads Link   

20- How will you measure your publishing performance?

Probably by my fans. I’ve won awards for my writing before, but hearing from fans how much they love my stories is so much more satisfying than a trophy gathering dust.

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

After trying the traditional route for longer than I care to think about, hearing about so many good things happening to indie author friends and then winning the publishing competition with this collection, I had an A-ha! moment and knew that this was the way I should publish. I like to be in control of everything, so why not?

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

Doing interviews about my latest release. It turns out that readers love to know more about the person behind the book.

😊 You just hit the heart of why I'm committed to the Debut Author Spotlight here at OA! 💘

23- 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’d really like to know what their views are on character description (question 14 about diversity in books): do they prefer filling in the details or do they want to know exactly what I mean when I say that Carina has “unruly curly hair”?

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

Meet Ronel Janse van Vuuren in this Debut Author Spotlight #myth #books Ronel the Mythmaker


Damsels in distress, curses, echoes of faery tales and tragic love affairs swirl together in sixteen stories found in a dragon’s lair by a curious half-fae. Unexpected changes to reality causes more than one damsel to turn into a strong, independent woman who takes charge of her own life.
A collection of short stories about Faerie and the fae that live in the human realm. A few of the stories had won competitions and all of them had enchanted readers.

Learn their secrets and enter the realm of the fae…
ISBN EPUB: 978-0-6399476-2-4
ISBN Paperback: 978-0-6399476-3-1
Publication date: 23 May 2018
Available on most online retailers.
Also available in Afrikaans as “Eens…”.
Universal Book Links for Afrikaans and English versions of this book:
“Eens…” https://www.books2read.com/u/bwYWzZ
“Once…” https://www.books2read.com/u/bzPPpD

Meet Ronel Janse van Vuuren in this Debut Author Spotlight #myth #books Ronel the Mythmaker


Mortals cannot perceive the veil unless they are invited to – or extremely gifted. For centuries, Man and Fae have been kept apart, for nothing good ever comes from them mixing. The collection of The Adventures of Saphira the Faery Dog is proof of this.

Still, there are magical creatures that side neither with Man nor Fae.

Dragons are such creatures. They hold the knowledge of both worlds. Some even collect it in the written word, keeping it safe in their lairs.

An inquisitive half-fae once broke into the lair of a dragon known to hoard books. The knowledge she found was too much to keep to herself…

Here are a few tales, myths and legends from Faerie. Some may sound remarkably similar to legends held by mortals, while others are… well… as otherworldly as the fae themselves.

Meet Ronel Janse van Vuuren in this Debut Author Spotlight #myth #books Ronel the Mythmaker

Author Bio:

Ronel Janse van Vuuren is the author of New Adult, Young Adult and children’s fiction filled with mythology and folklore. Her dark fantasy stories can be read for free on Wattpad and on her blog Ronel the Mythmaker. She won Fiction Writer of the Year 2016 for her Afrikaans stories on INK: Skryf in Afrikaans. Her published works can be viewed on Goodreads.

Ronel can be found tweeting about writing and other things that interest her, arguing with her characters, researching folklore for her newest story or playing with her Rottweilers when she’s not actually writing.

All of her books are available for purchase on Amazon.

Meet Ronel Janse van Vuuren in this Debut Author Spotlight #myth #books Ronel the Mythmaker

Connect with Ronel on:

Amazon: http://amazon.com/author/roneljansevanvuurenmythmaker
Twitter: https://twitter.com/@miladyronel/
Pinterest: https://za.pinterest.com/miladyronel/
Google+: https://plus.google.com/+RonelJansevanVuurenMythmaker
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17528826.Ronel_Janse_van_Vuuren
Ronel the Mythmaker: https://ronelthemythmaker.wordpress.com/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/miladyronel/?hl=en

Once.: Tales, Myths and Legends of Faerie by Ronel Janse van Vuuren