Thursday, October 17, 2019

Dear O'Abby: Can I use someone's life in my novel?

Dear O'Abby,

A few years back I was working with someone to help write their autobiography.  The project never really came together, but I have tons of awesome notes about their very exciting life and career.  I was wondering if I could use these to write a novel because it's a great story, full of drama and passion and adventure. 

Would there be any ramifications if I was to ficitionalize this person's life?

All the best,


Dear Naughtybiographer,

This is a tricky question to answer because I don't know the circumstances under which you started working on the autobiography project or why you stopped working on it.  I also don't know what kind of contracts you may have signed as part of this deal.  If you signed a non-disclosure agreement, you are legally bound to keep the things the subject told you to yourself, so I would tread very carefully if you want to use their life story in a novel.

If you didn't sign a non-disclosure agreement, I would still tread carefully.  If you are still in contact with the subject of the autobiography and you feel the relationship is still good enough you could get in touch, maybe send them a quick email outlining what your plan is and ask if they are okay for you do it.

If this isn't possible, and you are determined to write this novel, you will need to make sure you change this person's life story enough that it could be just coincidence that the story's plot follows the trajectory of this person's life.  Change the character's profession, name, looks, family structure and anything else you can so that the autobiography subject would struggle to recognize themselves as the inspiration for this character.

If they are a famous sports-person who struggled with addiction only to overcome it and become one of the top performers in their field, change them into a super-model who struggles with a disfiguring injury only to overcome it and walk in Paris Fashion Week. Or something along those lines.  Just make sure you change enough of the detail it can't really be said to mirror this person's real life or any of the side characters could be identified.

Good luck!

X O'Abby

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Jordan Zucker's Debut Author Spotlight #ODFS is #Cooking up #20Questions at Operation Awesome

Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6

One Dish - Four Seasons: Food, Wine, and Sound - All Year Round by Jordan Zucker

1- What's your favorite memory from being on Scrubs?

When Bill Lawrence directed and he’d throw new lines at us between takes. It was so much fun to be part of a professional process where talent was trusted all around.

2- Would you please, in 160 characters or less, give a #WriteTip ?

It doesn’t matter what time of day it is, when you have an idea or inspiration, start typing. Don’t judge the process. You may never think it’s finished, but one day it may be printed.

3- What ignited your passion for writing?

Clear expression, communication, entertainment, and humor.

4- Of all the songs listed in the book, which is your favorite?

A mother doesn’t pick favorites.

5- What's your Twitter handle, and do you have two or three writer friends on there to shout-out to for #WriterWednesday ?

@jordzuck - two of my sorority sisters are bad ass authors - Allison Winn Scotch @aswinn and Laura Dave @lauradave

6- Would you share a picture with us with one of the dishes from the book?

Crab Guacamole

7- Where, in your opinion, is the best place to buy a bottle of wine to go with dinner?

That depends on your access. Straight from the winery if it’s within shot. If not a local wine merchant with a curated list.

8- What most motivates you to read a new book?

Subject matter and writing style.

9- What is your favorite book by someone else, what's the author's Twitter handle, and what do you love most about that book? #FridayReads book recommendation time!

Author name: Richard Feynman
Title: Six Easy Pieces
Love because: I’m a math/science girl. My high school boyfriend gave it to me.

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

Do I have fans?!?! That’s so nice!

11- What emotions do you hope your book will evoke for the reader?

Community, hospitality, joy. Eat together, drink together, groove together, love together.

12- Who should play in the next Superbowl?

KC vs NO
I’m a Saints fan so that’ll always be my pick. With or without Brees.
And anyone but the Patriots for ALC but that’s not the reality of our times right now. I want to see some of that Mahomes magic in Miami.

13- How do you hope your book will help readers in their life?

Eat locally, take risks in the kitchen.

14- Which recipe from your book do you feel is the most original, unusual, or unique?

I’ll go with my fish prep. It’s my signature dish and I haven’t seen anyone else put the fish on top of the greens enabling the fish juices cook into the greens while it’s all roasting.

15- #WeNeedDiverseBooks What's your favorite book with a diverse main character?


16- Who is your favorite book review blogger?

I'm not sure - This is all new to me!

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

I wasn’t a big enough celebrity to get a book deal so I did it myself and benefited from complete creative control.

18- Why do you think readers should write book reviews?

To spread the good word! It may inspire someone else to pick up the book.

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

Have you ever noticed a seasonal pattern in your music choices. e.g. is your favorite winter album different from your favorite summer album?

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

Jordan Zucker is an accomplished writer, actor, host, cook, and entertainer. She loves to creatively incorporate meals into every type of celebration (and who can’t find at least one reason to celebrate a day…). She has shared her expertise as a guest star on Food Network’s Grill It! with Bobby Flay, and has entertained audiences as “Lisa the intern” on NBC’s Scrubs. She continues to educate, engage, empower, and entertain through her own comedic sports series, Girls Guide to Sports, which she writes, hosts, and produces. She combined her love of football and food in her “Monday Night Matchup Menus” series, creating meals each week based on the teams playing in Monday Night Football. She has expanded into cooking for other sports on the Girls Guide website. Jordan attends live music concerts religiously and keeps abreast of current gems and classic legends in the music world. Here, she combines three of her biggest passions, food, wine, and music, to bring you her first book.

Social Media:
Pinterest link:
YouTube link:
Author website:

To read J's review of the book, go to:

One Dish - Four Seasons: Food, Wine, and Sound - All Year Round by Jordan Zucker

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Let's Talk About Prologues

The Prologue. The thing that every J.R.R. Tolkien novel must have, and must be at least 50 pages long. The thing that you - yes, you - do not need in your manuscript.

I'm calling you out. You know who you are.

Prologues have come under fire on Writer Twitter in the past year or two. Increasingly, agents are saying that they don't want to see them as part of a query package, and a lot of agents seem to be advising writers to cut the prologue from their work. I found that this was best summed up in an #AskAgent thread from earlier this year:
Writer Question: When querying, is it true you should never send a prologue as part of your initial novel sample? Should you start with Ch 1 even if you have a prologue?
Agent Answer: If your prologue can be dropped that easily, it sounds like you don't need the prologue at all!
The agent here has a point. If you wouldn't show an agent the prologue, why would you show it to a reader? And if you wouldn't show it to a reader, does it really serve a purpose in your manuscript? Maybe it really is better to just give it the old highlight-delete. And here are a few reasons why that might be the case:

Problem: It's world-building. 

A lot of prologues I've seen as a beta reader and a CP fall into this category. This is especially true for fantasy, where the writer has a lot of setting up the world to do. Sure, sometimes it feels like a prologue is the place to stash that information. I mean, how else are you supposed to explain to the reader that magic is illegal now because of that one Big Bag Guy who used magic wrong without interrupting the story? Isn't that the whole point of show, don't tell?

The best way to get around this is to gradually weave that background into the opening chapters. Some writers do it by having the characters go to school where they study the history of the Big Bad Guy, or with a campfire tale, or a bedtime story. Sometimes it can be done by having the main character consider an artifact - a fountain, a statue, a book - and rehash the history to themselves. Sometimes it's best to let the history be a mystery for a while to build up intrigue and curiosity.

Problem: It's background about the character(s).

This is another common one. This usually involves a scene where the main character is very young, and it's often a tragic story about how their parents died. If your first chapter starts with "X years later..." you fall into this camp.

Like the previous type of prologue, weaving the character's backstory into the manuscript is the way to go. Make the reader wonder! Make them wait for that tragic sob story! Build mystery about your character so that you can reveal the truth at the opportune time! Giving up all the good stuff in the prologue is showing your hand way too early. Let the main character open up to someone and use that story to explain why they are the way they are.

Problem: It's only tangentially related to the plot or characters.

While this is less common, it does happen. The prologue of THE BOOK THIEF falls into this category (in my opinion). I even wrote a prologue like this for the first manuscript I queried, where two side characters had a meeting that would only influence the plot much, much later. It ended up spoiling part of the story for the reader and let them in on things too early.

When it comes to this type of prologue, the most likely course of action is just to let it go. If the link to the rest of the manuscript is tenuous, then what's written there doesn't need to be said. Is it really that important?

If you're on the fence, or even if you're sure that your manuscript needs a prologue, really consider your prologue. Does it advance the plot? Does it impact the characters? Does it tell the reader anything they desperately need to know? If the answer to these questions is no, it's time for the prologue to disappear.

Monday, October 14, 2019

First 50 Critique - MG #3

NASA's 50th Anniversary
For all the details of how this works, click here.  We are NOT accepting entries this week.  But if you want to enter when we DO open the entry period, you must post a critique on at least TWO previous entries before you'll be able to submit.

Reminder: Be nice, but be honest. [Comments that are not polite/respectful will be deleted.] What would YOU like to know if this was YOUR first 50 words? Do you think it's a good opening line for the category/genre? Does it have a hook? Does it pull you into the story? Do you want to read more? Why or why not? Be specific, so your critique helps the person who wrote the entry.

Here's this week's awesome entry! 

First 50 Words – MG Entry #3

For a whole month, well, almost, I’d done everything I’d been told to do. I popped some gum in my mouth watching the other kids laughing and goofing off, acting like nothing was weird here. Yeah, right. I wanted to ditch lunch. Sneaking out wasn't easy. Unless I yelled "fire."

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Not Dear O'Abby

There were no questions for O'Abby this week, so I thought I'd do something a little different this week.

I've been doing a lot of beta reading and critiquing recently, and there are a few things I keep seeing in the various MS's I've been looking at.  So this week, let's take a look at some common mistakes people seem to make.

These are not developmental things (not this time, anyway), but writing things.  I know not all beta readers comment on these things, but I just can't help myself because bad grammar or misused words really throw me out of the story.  So here are a few things you could look for in your own work to make sure any reader you have isn't catapulted away from the action.

Sentence fragments.

These can be effective, but when overused, or used badly, they can really ruin the flow of the writing. I have read a couple of MS's recently where they were used constantly, and always without a verb in them.  And without a verb, the fragment not only didn't make sense, it didn't take the story anywhere. In most cases the fragment can be part of the preceding sentence where it makes grammatical sense.  Or just erased.  Or re-written into a full sentence.

Mis-used homonyms.

I blame spell-check for these, to some degree.  But when the same words are repeatedly misused throughout a manuscript, I have to think the writer doesn't know the difference between a cord and a chord or peek and pique.  This is where your early readers/crit partners are invaluable.

Unvaried sentences

Good writing has a rhythm and this is created by varying the length and structure of sentences.  I've read a couple of stories recently where almost every sentence and paragraph follows the same structure.  It makes the writing boring and lacks any sense to rhythm or motion.  You can create urgency and a sense of peril by using a lot of really short sentences in action sequences and slow things down by using longer, more languid ones in times of peace.  But the most important thing is to switch it up.  Try starting some sentences with a verb and seeing where that takes you.  If you notice you have a whole paragraph of sentences starting with 'I' when writing in first person, see if you can switch it up.  If all your sentences have two commas in them, see if you can break some of them into shorter sentences.  If you're using 'and' or 'but' a lot, see if there are ways to vary the sentences to get rid of a few.

Tense switching

Most books tend to be in either the present or the past tense.  But this can become complicated because people in the present look back at the past and people looking back to the past, live in the present.  Knowing which parts of the narrative to write in each tense can be difficult, but that's not an excuse to jump around, sometimes even within single paragraphs.  If you're writing in present tense and your characters are remembering something that happened previously, they can remember that event as past tense.  But any reactions they have to the memory will be in the present.  Likewise, if your characters are still living and your story is presented in a way where events of the past are being described, there may be occasions where you might use present tense to indicate a character is still the same, even now.  This is fairly difficult to do well...  Often it just comes across like you don't know what tense you're telling your story in.

And that's just a few of the things I've noticed recently.  Maybe next time there are no questions for O'Abby I'll talk about some of the developmental problems I've been seeing.

Until next time.

X O'Abby

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Selectively Keeping My Mouth Shut about My Writing

As I’m sure you all know, since I’m all you think about, I’m participating in Preptober to get ready for next month’s NaNoWriMo. The other day, I was reading the book I’m using to guide my prep work and these lines stuck out to me: 

Don’t talk about your story to others. Talking about it dissipates the urgency to write it…Carry your story with you like a delicious secret.

I couldn’t stop thinking about this. At first, I thought, “That’s BS. I should be able to talk to people about my writing all I want, and I do!” But then I realized that I’m incredibly tight-lipped about what’s going on in Writer Brain. I consider myself part of the writing community on Twitter, where I’ve been talking sporadically about my NaNoWriMo project. Last year, when I wrote GIRLS BREAK THINGS, I also commented occasionally about it on Twitter. To some extent, I LOVE talking about what I’m writing – I like to throw little ideas out there into the Twitterverse and see what kind of response they get. But for the most part, those comments are few and far between.

Most of the time, I don’t like to talk to people about what I’m working on. It’s not because it diminishes the “urgency” to write, it’s because I’m afraid of letting people down. I don’t want to tell someone, “In this manuscript, the princess rescues herself” and then they get all excited about it, and then they ask me about it later and I have to tell them “yeeaaahhhh that didn’t work out for plot reasons, now she gets rescued by a horse…” It’s a silly example, but it’s one of my top five fears. I've been let down by books too many times to not be afraid.

But in those little in-between moments, there are some people I always talk to about my writing. There are the cheerleaders, writing friends who always prop me up and tell me I’m doing great, even when I have to delete seven chapters. They’re the ones who remind me that all is not lost and the core idea is a good one. There are my critiquers, who of course have to know what’s going on so they can give me good feedback. And then there’s my bouncers, so named because I like to bounce ideas off them. They alone really know what’s going on behind the scenes as I scramble to make the cheerleaders and critiquers happy.

Deep down inside, though, I like to keep some things hidden. I like to keep a select few delicious secrets. I hardly talk about works in progress because there's a point where I want everyone to be surprised. I want those secrets to have their time to shine - and if that time is when people have the final physical book in their hands, then so be it.

What about you? Do you like to talk to readers or other writers about your work? Or do you like to keep things secret?

Monday, October 7, 2019

First 50 Critique - MG #2

Let's start this week with a bit of housekeeping.

First, THANK YOU SO MUCH to all of you who commented on my first 50 words AND those of you brave souls who sent us an email with YOUR first 50 words.  You are all AWESOME!

Second, two of the First 50 Critique entries we received by email last week were misdirected and finally forwarded to us by the person who accidentally received them [hi Michelle, and thanks!]  We're not entirely sure how that happened, but we want to try to prevent that happening in the future.  So, when you send us an entry by email, please be sure to open a brand new email and address it to our gmail account at OperationAwesome6.  Click here for more info on contacting us.  Also, the entry window will probably close on a Wednesday, and we will send a confirming email to everyone who enters.  If you do NOT receive a confirming email by that following Friday, please contact us by Twitter DM and we'll track it down and/or give you an alternate email address to use.

We sent a confirming email last week to those of you who emailed us your First 50 Critique – MG.  If you sent us an email and didn't receive our confirmation, please send us a Twitter DM.

Now on to the good stuff!

For all the details of how this works, click here.  We are NOT accepting entries this week.  But if you want to enter when we DO open the entry period, you must post a critique on at least TWO previous entries before your submission will be accepted for use on the blog.

Reminder:  Be nice, but be honest.  [Comments that are not polite/respectful will be deleted.]  What would YOU like to know if this was YOUR first 50 words?  Do you think it's a good opening line for the category/genre?  Does it have a hook?  Does it pull you into the story?  Do you want to read more?  Why or why not?  Be specific, so your critique helps the person who wrote the entry.

Here's this week's middle grade entry from an awesome OA blog reader!

First 50 Words – MG Entry #2

Crouched down, quiet as a mouse, Octavia Bloom was holding her breath. The dust floating like glitter in the old attic was tickling her nose. Laughter bubbled up inside her, which she quickly suppressed by biting down on her lip. It wouldn’t do to make a noise and give away her position behind the old striped sofa.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Dear O'Abby: Multiple agents offered. How do I choose?

Dear O'Abby,

I've been querying a new book for about six months and finally got some agents interested enough in it to schedule some calls.  I wasn't expecting it, but three of the four agents I talked to made offers of representation.

So now I have to choose which one to go with.  And I have no idea how to do that.  They're all good agents - I wouldn't have queried them if they weren't - and I would be happy to work with any of them.

Do you have any advice on how to handle this situation?



Dear Over-Agented,

Firstly, congratulations on having written a book that generates this kind of response.  This level of agent interest is a really positive sign!

I understand how difficult this decision is, but you're right - you have to make it.  And it's an important decision.  You are going to have to work with this agent very closely and you need to make sure your decision is a sound one.

In your calls with the agents I'm sure you talked to all of them about revisions and their plans for the book going forward.  Think hard about the comments made.  Which agent's vision for your book most aligned with your own?  Which revision suggestions really resonated with you?  This is always a good place to start.  If an agent's vision of what your book is differs from your own, it might point to problems down the track.

Think about other things you spoke about during the call.  Did the agent's communication style gel with you?  Did she explain her process when taking the book on submission?  Did she answer your questions in a way that satisfied you?

If you've got that far through and you still don't have a preference, look at the larger picture.  Does the agent work for a larger agency which will support her when her workload is large?  What books has she already sold?  Is she just starting out on her agenting career or is she experienced?  If she's new, does she have a more experienced agent mentoring or supporting her?

And don't be afraid to reach out to any of these agents other clients to ask about working with them.  If she's a good agent, she has nothing to fear from you doing this and it's an excellent way to learn from someone who is already working with them whether she responds promptly to emails or if she's good at hand-holding during nerve-wracking moments.

At the end of the day, it's decision you have to make and be happy with.  Don't ignore your gut feelings, but do your due diligence as well.  If you're lucky, this will be a long and successful relationship!

Good luck!

X O'Abby

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne's Debut Author Spotlight #NewBook at Operation Awesome

Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6

Holding On To Nothing by Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne

1- What are some great beers to try this autumn?

@SingleCutBeer Jennie Said, @lamplighterbrew Birds of a Feather, @exhibitAbrewing Cat's Meow and @CollectiveBrew Ransack the Universe.

2- Would you please, in 160 characters or less, give a #WriteTip ?

Don’t write, type. Don’t get hung up on perfection, just move your fingers.

3- What ignited your passion for writing?

My mom was a writer and I always admired that. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing or telling stories. I wrote my first book at age 7 with a friend - it was an illustrated book about homophones, words that sound alike but have different meanings. One of our truly inspired illustrations was a steak on a stake.

4- What are your views on American gun reform laws?

I grew up hunting so have no problems with rifles and shotguns for that, but I find handguns terrifying and can see no justification for assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons.

5- What's your Twitter handle, and do you have two or three writer friends on there to shout-out to for #WriterWednesday ?

@ecshelburne . I would shout out: @kellyjford , @jenniewoodanddid, and @emilyross

6- Would you share a picture with us of your book on a nightstand book pile?

7- In your opinion, what's one way to improve the health, and healthcare needs, of the world?

Preventative care. I grew up in a place that has a distinct lack of good primary care, and is currently subject to what looks like a truly terrible consolidation of care at the hospital level. We need more primary care doctors and more hospitals that cater to the needs of their communities.

8- What most motivates you to read a new book?

The characters and the setting. I’ll read anything that it is set in Appalachia and anything that features regular people trying to live their lives.

9- What is your favorite book by someone else, what's the author's Twitter handle, and what do you love most about that book? #FridayReads book recommendation time!

Author name:Robert Gipe @robertgipe
Title: Trampoline
Love because: It’s an incredibly complex novel/graphic novel about growing up in Appalachia. Dawn Jewell is one of the toughest characters I’ve ever met, and I just couldn’t stop reading her story.

10- 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 my book hits all the emotions! There is a lot of sweetness and laughter, but also a hefty dose of sorrow in my book. I think the scene that will resonate most with people is the one in which Jeptha has to make a tough decision about his dog, Crystal Gayle.

11- Do you have a favorite #bookstagram image or account/ profile?

I have two! I always read Amy at @thesoutherngirlreads. I love her reviews, and her stories always make me feel like I’m sitting on a porch drinking wine and talking about books with a friend. And, of course, Stacey at @Prose_and_Palate. She reads great books, has a wonderful way with words, and she and Amy have both been huge supporters of my book, for which I will forever be grateful!

12- How do you hope your book will help readers in their life?

Jeptha and Lucy don’t have a lot going for them and yet, they keep going. They keep pushing through and trying to achieve their desire. I think we all have those times in our lives and I hope their story, while sad, will leave people with some hope.

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

Cody’s mullet.

14- #WeNeedDiverseBooks What's your favorite book with a diverse main character?

Right now, On the Come Up, Angie Thomas. I recently read this and loved it. Her protagonist Bri is whipsmart, so focused, and determined to triumph over her circumstances. I loved it.

15- Why do you think readers should write book reviews?

My favorite books have come from friends telling me about a book they think I would love, whether that’s over a cup of coffee or in a conversation on social media. It’s such a joy to be able to connect someone with a book they love and reviews help do that!

16- Do you have one question or discussion topic which you would like the readers of this interview to answer or remark on in the comments?

My goal with this book was to try to portray the Appalachia I grew up in more accurately than I saw it being portrayed in the news media. I’d love for people to read this interview and want to read other novels set there, such as Trampoline by @robert_gipe , Southernmost by @silasdhouse and anything by @CrystalWilki

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

Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne grew up reading, writing, and shooting in East Tennessee. After graduating from Amherst College, she worked at The Atlantic Monthly. Her nonfiction work has been published in The Atlantic Monthly, Boston Globe, and Globalpost, among others and her short fiction has appeared in The Broad River Review and Barren Magazine. Her essay on how killing a deer made her a feminist was published in Click! When We Knew We Were Feminists, edited by Courtney E. Martin and J. Courtney Sullivan. She is a graduate of Grub Street’s Novel Incubator. She lives outside Boston with her husband and four children. You can find her at @ecshelburne(twitter), @ecshelburneauthor (instagram) and Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne (Facebook).

You can find an excerpt from the book at:

Or see me reading another excerpt at:

Holding On To Nothing by Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Preptober: Gearing Up for National Novel Writing Month

I know what you're thinking: "NaNoWriMo ALREADY??? Pump the brakes, Ortega, NaNoWriMo isn’t for another month!”

Yeah well I’m an overachiever I guess. I’m also very, very superstitious. And it's time to start planning.
Image result for preptober
Image courtesy of Fangirl Likes

Last year, I used the 90-Day Novel process to prep for NaNoWriMo. In this post from last October, I was only on day twelve and very worried about actually keeping up with the daily writing requirements. Well, as it turns out, the process worked really well for me and acted as a super awesome amazing rad way to get myself in the right mindset for writing that manuscript. And ultimately, that’s the manuscript that helped me sign with my agent. So I’d say the foundations I laid down last October were not a waste of time.

Of course, my superstitious habit-driven brain has been screaming at me for the past month that I have to do things exactly the same way this year or I WILL FAIL.

Being in my brain is fun J

Anyway. I’m starting the prep process on October 3. For the past month, I’ve been writing down ideas as they came to me – my coworkers think I’m a very diligent note-taker, and I am, but it’s half work stuff and half fiction – and I already have about 30 pages of world building, character notes, and a rough outline. I'm very excited to get started, but I'm also trying to manage my expectations. I very much doubt that things are going to go as well as they did last year. But I can dream.

Anybody else doing NaNoWriMo prep in October, aka Preptober? How do you prepare? Are you more of a pantser or a planner, or maybe a plantser? Drop a comment and let us know!