Thursday, February 26, 2015

FINGERS IN THE MIST Bloghop, Review & Giveaway!

O'Dell Hutchinson
I'm thrilled to bring you yet another exciting new release - FINGERS IN THE MIST by O'Dell Hutchinson.  Make sure you scroll to the bottom of the post for your chance to win a copy!

I started reading FINGERS IN THE MIST on a dark and stormy night...which was a terrible idea because the story starts with a spine-tingling scene on--you guessed it--a dark and stormy night. It's a great read for anyone who likes horror, suspense and creepy leave-the-light-on stories.

In addition to the scare factor, I loved Caitlyn, the main character, who had just the right amount of bite to her. She was nicely juxtaposed by the small-town setting, complete with a fire-and-brimstone pastor and the stuck-up pastor's daughter. Add in the mystery surrounding the town and Caitlyn's mother, Caitlyn's questionable past, and a creeping killer-mist with ghoulish figures climbing out of it, and you have a nice page-turning suspense-filled roller coaster ride.


Title: Fingers in the Mist
Publication date: February 24, 2015
Publisher: Month9Books, LLC.
Author: O’Dell Hutchison

Sixteen-year-old Caitlyn Foster never believed in the legend of the Redeemers. That was before the trees started to whisper her name. Before a murder of crows attacked the town. Before she and her family came home to find a bloody handprint on their front door, marking one of them as a sacrifice. As Caitlyn’s friends are ripped from their homes, she knows it’s only a matter of time before the Redeemers come for her. Caitlyn has the power to stop the terror, but she’ll have to decide if she’s willing to sacrifice herself to save those she loves.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | TBD


O’Dell was born in a small rural town in Idaho. There were no Redeemers living there (that he knows of). After attending college in the Pacific Northwest, he found his way to the Houston area. By day, he is a Business Systems Analyst and at night you can either find him sitting at home, dreaming of random super powers he wishes he had, or directing plays and musicals at various theaters around Houston.

Connect with the Author: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Are You Really Writing YA, or Is It Actually MG?

Brenda Drake's annual Pitch Madness contest is going on right now (you can check out the details here, but be aware that the submission window has closed!). The readers going through the entries and deciding what entries will move on to the agent round have been tweeting general tips on the hashtag #PitchMadness based on what they're seeing. There are some really good tips on query pitfalls to avoid, so it's worth taking a look.

I noticed that one in particular keeps coming up: people calling their manuscript young adult when they're really writing material that's more suited for a middle grade novel. It's more common than you might think. So what makes a YA novel YA and not MG?

1. Targeted Age of Reader
This one's a bit obvious, but let's start here. A middle grade novel is intended to be read by kids who are roughly ages 8-12. Young adult novels are targeted toward 12-18 year olds (although, as we all know, they are often read by people much older than that!).
middle schoolers reading
2. Age of Main Character(s)
As a general rule, middle grade main characters tend to be preteen or below, and young adult characters tend to be fourteen or above. (There's an odd gray area with thirteen-year-old characters that sometimes makes them a hard sell.)

That said, there are a few exceptions to this rule. For example, Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson books are all considered middle grade because the main character started out as twelve years old, even though he's sixteen when the series ends.

3. Word Count
You'll find many different opinions about what constitutes proper word count for each age range, but the general consensus seems to be about 30,000-60,000 words for MG and 50,000-80,000 for YA. Sci-fi and fantasy books in either can have a high range that's ten or fifteen thousand words above this.

4. Primary Focus
Readers of middle grade fiction are focused on their immediate environment--friends, school, family--and the books targeted to this age range tend to reflect this. A MG protagonist often discovers something about themselves by the end of the book.

In contrast, YA protagonists are figuring out things about the outside world and how they fit into it. They're influenced by the world outside their small sphere and often have to deal with adult problems.

5. Content
Elements like swearing, drug use, graphic violence, and sex tend to be very light or nonexistent in middle grade novels, but they're all fair game in YA. This doesn't mean MG novels can't be dark or scary, but writers will do well to consider that most of the books for this age group are purchased by parents or teachers and they will often take exception to edgier content.

Knowing the correct age category for your manuscript will make it easier to target the right agents and editors, and it will also help you market your book correctly. For further reading on this subject, check out this post on the YA Highway blog or this one from Writer's Digest.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Keeping It Real - Diversity in Books

On an evening when we're watching one of the least diverse Oscars in recent history, one wonders if this is the norm across all forms of media and entertainment.  

Unfortunately, the discussion of race in young adult novels is still a hot topic and has been  for sometime.  As Jen Doll in her article "The Ongoing Problem of Race in Y.A." notes, the three most popular Y.A. series, Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games all feature main characters who are white. Even a story aptly titled Divergent focuses on lead characters that are caucasian. 

However, things are changing.  We're excited about the range of stories that are now being told about people of colour in children's literature.  The Cooperative Children's Book Center tracks diversity in children's books and has seen their figures increase in recent years, specifically in African American and Asian/Pacific American titles.  

If you are interested in seeing more diversity in books, check out We Need Diverse Books, an organization focused on promoting diversification efforts and increasing visibility for diverse books and authors in children's literature. 

Hopefully by this time next year we'll see something a little more colorful at the Oscars than just the red carpet.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Tweets Heard Round The World: What You Tweet Can Haunt You

If you have not read the New York Times article "How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco's Life" I suggest you click the link and check it out now. Go ahead, I'll wait.

Photo illustration by Andrew B. Myers. from original article "How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco's Life"

Now take a deep breath and think about the last thing you tweeted, posted or blogged about. Could something like this happen to you? What would happen if your Twitter fans read your Facebook posts? Saw those pictures of you from that party?

We all know by now that we should be careful what we tweet, but the article provides a good reminder about the speed at which a single tweet can make its way around the web. More than that, it's important to remember that all of your social media interactions are public. No matter how selective you are about accepting Facebook friend requests or how few followers you have on Twitter, people can still screen shot, share and retweet all of the things you put out into the world.  Which means you're always one retweet away from going viral.

I use different social media platforms for different things: Facebook and Instagram for friends and family, Twitter and Blogger for author/writing connections, and LinkedIn for my day job and alumni networks.  The topics I tweet about are completely different from the things I post on Facebook. But what's to stop that old friend from high school I haven't talked to in ten years from turning my funny Facebook post into a tweet, or sharing it with her Facebook friends I've never met? Nothing. Nothing at all. Which is why I have to ask myself how I would feel if that Facebook post landed on Twitter or LinkedIn before I put it out into the world.

This is even more important because I am about to be a published children's book author. Yes, I'm entitled to have social media conversations with my adult friends, post funny jokes and share pictures from parties, but I have to remember that the information can be accessed by my younger readers as well. Even if I think the platform I'm using is private, I need to be mindful of the entire potential audience, not just the intended audience.

So consider this my PSA: think before you share things online, and remember that everything - no matter how private you think it is - can go viral if posted.

How do you think about your public vs. personal personas on social media?

Monday, February 16, 2015

YA Book Pick: The Ruins of Gorlan (The Ranger's Apperentice)

The Ranger's Apperentice

Once a month, we choose an outstanding YA book to review.  We want to spotlight books of interest to aspiring writers, as well as highlight some of our favorite books and authors.

This month's book pick is The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan.  While not a new book this season, it is the first book in a long line of a series designed to create an interest in reading among boys. 

Synopsis (from Goodreads):  They have always scared him in the past - the Rangers, with their dark cloaks and shadowy ways.  The villagers believe the Rangers practice magic that makes them invisible to ordinary people.  And now 15-year-old Will, always small for his age, has been chosen as a Ranger's apprentice.  What he doesn't yet realize is that the Rangers are the protectors of the Kingdom.  Highly trained in the skills of battle and surveillance, they fight the battles before the battles reach the people.  And as Will is to learn, there is a large battle brewing.  The exiled Morgarath, Lord of the Mountains of Rain and Night, is gathering his forces for an attack on the kingdom.  This time, he will not be denied. . .

Highlights: Mitchell and I read this book over four years ago and have been reading slowly through the series.  His books are part of what inspired us to write.  His later books are even better than his first.  Flanagan started writing the book to help inspire his son to read and ended up helping an entire generation of boys to want to read and write.  Part of what makes the series so compelling is the bonds that he has created among his characters.  The loyal relationships Will has with his mentor, Halt, his horse, Tug, and his best friend, Horace endures the reader to Will.  He is intelligent and skilled, but he still seeks counsel from his trusted companions.  In short, he is a charming and likeable character.

Notes for Writers: We love Flanagan's use of language and his vivid imagery.  The hiss-thud of Will's arrows is one of my all time favorite lines.  In addition, he provides rich description to life based on a made-up medieval world.  His characters are believable and likeable complete with both flaws and attributes. Best of all though is that his books have high action to captivate boy readers attention and have great pacing to keep their interest.

A good read for: boys between the ages of twelve to twenty (possibly younger if parents allow), for those who enjoy medieval fiction or high fantasy, or anyone who enjoys high adventure. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Do You Need a Break from Social Media?

I'm going to start out by saying this: our modern social media outlets are awesome. I've met some of my closest friends through them, and I can't even count the number of times I've been feeling down about my writing and gotten much-needed support through social media. I even wrote about my love of Twitter for writers a while back.


I also firmly believe it's important to take regular breaks from social media. For one thing, you won't get any writing done if you're spending all your time chatting about TV shows and news articles with your buddies. It's also easy to get discouraged and feel like you don't measure up if you're exposed to a constant stream of everyone else's greatest hits. And like many corners of the internet, the anonymity can sometimes bring out the worst in people.
Wondering if this applies to you? Obviously, if your social media time is interfering with your writing, it's a good idea to step back. This Huffington Post article lists some other signs (and includes some tips on how to accomplish the break).

Author Janice Hardy also has a good post here that explains why you should stop stressing and give yourself a pass to take it easy.

I've been on something of an enforced social media break since my son was born seven months ago. Now I'm feeling refreshed and ready to jump back into more active participation. But I'm going to keep an eye out for signs that I need a social-media time out.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Sundance 2015 from a Writer's Perspective

I’m a conference junkie, and one of my favorite places to pick up tips on the art of the story is Robert Redford’s film festival Sundance in Park City, UT. While seeing premiers of movies can be fun, and the parties often border on the outrageous, the gem of Sundance (at least for my best friend and me) is the panels. I’m also intrigued by how often places like Sundance set the zeitgeist in motion, and am on the lookout for how trends originate and which marketing teams are most effective.

Here are some of my key takeaways this year:

--Sara Silverman on selfishness (a unifying theme this year was a disdain for selfishness) “self-hate is not modesty. It’s self-centered. There’s no room for anybody else.”

--“The Golden Age of TV” panel spent a decent chunk of time talking about long-form storytelling now that we have the Netflix binge. I couldn’t help but think about how the long-form novel rose up in tandem (The Goldfinch=Pulitzer last year). Will we see an official YA novel follow suit soon?

--The TV panel also talked about the importance of creating the moment when “the character becomes real for us” and I was surprised that most of the clips chosen were not from the first episode. I appreciated how slowly the writers liked to build the fa├žade first.

--RJ Mitte of Breaking Bad led a thoughtful panel on shifting perceptions in our society by including a more realistic landscape of complex characters of all colors and “different-abilities.” 

--Even Johnny Knoxville is obsessed with craft. He watches old classic cartoons over and over for inspiration and to get timing just right on stunts, and will re-do as many times as necessary (revision) until they fit conventions of a specific cartoon.

--At the party for The Abolitionists (story of former CIA/FBI guys who freelance save girls from
sex-trafficking), they told about how same producer who produced Schindler's List produced this because "what if that movie had been made during the holocaust? Would things turn out differently?" so he made one on this atrocity. Will it turn out differently? How powerful is the power of story?

--One of the trends in films chosen/submitted this year was rape/sexual assault stories, and the panel emphasized the need to speak openly, non-judgementally, and with complexity (include the perpetrators) in our stories in order to really address/make better what is happening in our society. (I have also officially added Pat Mitchell and Regina Scully to my list of heroes. Lin Oliver, Kevan Lyon, and Andrea Davis Pinkney have some company on the list now).

--On promotional branding: AirBnB house did an amazing job at integrating their message with their promotional activities. To mirror the idea of building community in their brand, they had people drawing portraits of others, and it was a really popular/memorable stop (always a line) for the artsy crowd (really knew their target audience). 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

To Fiction or Non-To Fiction

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand CoverTruth be told, I've spent a lot of time these past few weeks reading adult non-fiction and it's been intense and eye opening.  From JUST MERCY by Bryan Stevenson to UNBROKEN by Laura Hillenbrand (which coincidentally also has a young adult adaptation) to my most recent read BEING MORTAL: MEDICINE AND WHAT MATTERS IN THE END by Atul Gawande. BEING MORTAL speaks to how we deal with the end of our long lives - talk about an issue that's at the totally opposite spectrum of what our youth are thinking about today. 

We've discussed many young adult fiction novels here at Thinking to Inking, but there are many great non-fiction titles that evoke stories of strength against adversity, unbelievable circumstances and take you to a place you've never been before. 

John Green Biography by Eric Braun CoverThe winner and finalists of the 2015 Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) do all of the above.  LAUGHING AT MY NIGHTMARE by Shane Burcaw details with humour how he deals with the trials and tribulations of living with spinal muscular atrophy.  INDA M. TARBELL: THE WOMAN WHO CHALLENGED BIG BUSINESS - AND WON! by Emily Arnold McCully is especially poignant given how far we've come from the 1800's and yet in some cases, how easy it is to slip back (Bratz toys anyone?). This story is sure to inspire any young girls and her pursuits.  

A biography was just recently published by Eric Braun about everyone's favourite YA author John Green.  That's at the top of my reading list. 

So what non-fiction YA books are you reading right now?  I'd love to know!

Monday, February 2, 2015

You Have to Change Something In Your Life If You Want to Write

A few weeks ago a coworker found out about my upcoming book release and confessed that he's been trying to finish a novel for several years now.

"How do you find the time?" he asked, after admitting that time had been his greatest barrier.

I thought about sugarcoating my answer, but what good would that do him? So I told him the truth: if you really want to write a novel you have to suck it up and make the time. Period. Which means something in your life has to change.

We've all set goals we've failed to achieve (New Years resolutions anyone?) But I'm willing to bet that nine times out of ten, the reason we fail is because we didn't change anything about our current lives to better enable success.

Think about it: let's suppose you decide you want to run a marathon.  You currently allot one hour every day for exercise.  If you ever want to achieve your goal, then you're going to have to make more time to run, otherwise, simply put, you're going to fail. (Unless you're a scientific anomaly and can run a 2.3 minute mile.)

The same is true of writing. If you don't have time in your current schedule to write, then you have to give something up to make time for it. That may manifest itself in less sleep, less TV time, or even less time with friends and family, but it's a simple truth. Otherwise you are setting yourself up for failure, and that's not fair to anyone.

Truth be told this post is just as much for me as for all of you.  Since the holidays I've fallen off the writing bandwagon.  I want to say it's because I brought this guy home to live with me:

Meet Elvis Presley, The World's Cutest Dog 
How Can You Write When I'm Sitting Here Looking All Cute??

But really, it's because the time I'd previously carved out to write has been occupied with other things. Which means I need to reassess my schedule and give up something to accommodate my writing.  Otherwise I'm setting myself up to fail, and I love this new story to much to let that happen.

How do you make time in your busy day to write?