Thursday, December 29, 2016

To MFA or Not To MFA Part Two

MFA in Creative Writing SignThe journey to an MFA continues. I've narrowed the low-residency programs to three:

1) Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, Vermont
2) Antioch University, Los Angeles, California
3) Warren Wilson College, Asheville North Carolina

Each program consists of two week intense residencies followed by a semester of independent study for a total of four semesters.

While I've narrowed down the field, I also want to delve deeper into each program to see if it's a true fit. Luckily each program provides opportunities for visits, information sessions, and online conversations (in case you can't make it to the college). 

Vermont College offers an incredible opportunity for interested students. Applicants can visit the school during the first week of residency in Montpelier.  Room and board is provided by the college for the time that the applicant is visiting (most applicants choose between 1 to 3 days). There is an opportunity to attend the residency workshops as well as tour with the administration. If you cannot visit the school in person, the college also has scheduled conference calls where applicants can converse directly with administration.

Antioch University offers information sessions two to three times a month (Mondays and Saturdays) on campus where interested students can visit, receive information from administration and learn more about the program. You can also schedule individual class visits and campus visits. At Antioch, if you attend an information session, you receive a waiver that waves the cost of your application ($50 USD). 

Warren Wilson is quick to reply via email when you are interested in learning more about the MFA program. I have requested additional documentation to be mailed to me and am waiting for the information to arrive (stay tuned!).

Next week, I'll be headed to Vermont College for the school visit. I look forward to keeping you posted in "The MFA or Not To MFA Part Three".  

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Twitter Pitch Contests: The Basics

If you follow people in the writing community on Twitter, you may have noticed some of them participating in Twitter pitch contests. These are organized a few times a year and are an opportunity to pitch your work to agents and editors (some of whom are closed to queries, so you might not be able to pitch them another way!).

Twitter pitching can seem intimidating at first. Once you get the hang of it, though, it can fun and beneficial—just ask the writers who've signed with agents or publishers thanks to a well-crafted tweet.

Here are six basic rules for Twitter contests.

1. Take the time to craft your pitches.
Don't make the mistake of thinking that because the pitches are short, they'll be quick and easy to dash off. In fact, it can be much harder to come up with 140-character pitches for your book than longer ones. You'll usually want to come up with a number of different pitches, too, since Twitter doesn't allow you to tweet the same thing twice (and you'll want to try out different angles to see which ones get more bites).

Here are some good resources to help you write your pitches:
Dan Koboldt's Brief Guide to Twitter Pitching
Literary agent Carly Watters' Guide to Twitter Pitch Contests
How to Win a Twitter Pitch Contest from Writer Unboxed

2. Follow the rules.
Each Twitter pitch contest is hosted by someone, and they'll have a post up with the rules for that particular contest. This is where you'll find out things like how many pitches you can do total, how often you can pitch, and what types of manuscripts are included in the contest.

Don't be the jerk who thinks they're above the rules. People who pitch too often get noticed by contest organizers and industry professionals—and not in a good way.

3. Use the hashtag(s).
Every Twitter pitch contest will have a unique hashtag that marks the pitches as part of the contest. These will generally be short to give you as much room for your actual pitch as possible. Some examples include #pitmad (Pitch Madness), #WVTP (Writer's Voice Twitter Pitch), and #DVPit (Diverse Pitch, designed to showcase work that's about and/or by marginalized voices).

You can also use additional hashtags, like #YA for young adult, #SF for sci-fi, #R for romance, etc. These can help agents and editors filter the contest feed. Don't get carried away, though—you need to leave room for the specifics of your pitch.

4. Support others.
One of the best things about these kind of contests is finding pitches that sound intriguing and connecting with other writers. If you see pitches you like, most contests allow retweeting or quoting those pitches to increase their visibility. An important note: don't favorite pitches you like, because this is normally the way agents and editors indicate their interest. It's a terrible letdown to see that favorite notification and then realize it's just a fellow contest participant.

5. Do your homework.
You're not under any obligation to submit your work to anyone who favorites your pitch. Take the time to research agents and editors who request. If you see red flags, trust your gut.

6. Don't take it too seriously.
Twitter contests can be a lot of fun, but they're just one more way to get eyes on your pitch. Even if you don't get requests, you can still query the agents who participated in the contest. It's often a lot easier to hook someone's interest with a full query than a one or two line pitch.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Write a book by writing letters.

I have posted this tip before - when writing pretend to write to someone you know - by the way, this was one of Stephen King's ideas.  The idea is that writing a letter can help you keep the audience in mind and really connect with them.  Pretty neat trick, eh?!

Well, over the past year, I've come across a few examples of this and thought the books were pretty cool. Perhaps the best example I've seen of this is so far was in the children's book, Unusual Chickens For The Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones.

This book was a fun read and was written entirely out of a series of a few letters. I really enjoyed the freshness of this book and others like it.   Hmm, maybe these writers on to something.  Can't wait to try it out now!!!

Happy writing . . . and of course reading!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Top Reads of 2016

Another year down, another mountain of books devoured.

I'm a nerd and get an unnecessary amount of satisfaction from tallying my book count for the year and comparing it to previous years. With three weeks left in in 2016, I'm pleased to say that I've read fifty six books--eleven more than the forty-five I read last year. And I think I'll finish at least another one to two before year end. Huzzah!

In addition to bragging rights, reading lots of books means I get to recommend lots of books. And it's that time of year. 

Without further ado, here are my top reads of 2016 by category, in no particular order. All of them were good if they made my list, but the ones noted with a ** are not to be missed (IMHO.)

Historical Fiction

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah** 
The story follows two sisters as they struggle to survive in Nazi-occupied France. This was easily my favorite read of the year.
Salt to Sea by Ruta Sepetys**
I loved Between Shades of Gray so my expectations were high, but Sepetys second historical fiction didn't disappoint. Inspired by the single greatest tragedy in maritime history, Sepetys introduces us to well imagined characters struggling to hold onto hope (and their lives), while weaving in the events of a shockingly little-known event in World War II.
Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse
Described as Code Name Verity meets Gone Girl. The description slightly over promises, but I enjoyed the fast pace, the Nazi-occupied Amsterdam setting, and the relateability of the MC.
Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez
Set in a small East Texas town in 1937 where race is just one of the many dividing lines. This book received loads of early critical acclaim, and for good reason. It is as beautifully written as it is heartbreaking. 


Scrappy Little Nobody, by Anna Kendrick  
Full of snark, laughs and showbiz growing pains. If you are an Anna Kendrick fan, you will be an even bigger one after reading this.
Girl Walks Into a Bar, by Rachel Dratch
I loved reading about Dratch's improv days and her time at Saturday Night Live. I'm a former improv geek and actually studied at the same Chicago theaters as Dratch (Second City and IO) so it was fun to hear her talk about her time there. But what really makes the book is Dratch's personal journey.
The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer*
If you are an Amy Schumer fan, be prepared to love her even more. Her memoir is funny at times and surprisingly honest and heartfelt at others. I especially loved hearing about her comedic perseverance. There's a lesson for everyone trying to break into a creative industry--you need thick skin and a never-give-up attitude if you want to be successful. 


Before the Fall by Noah Hawley
Scott Burroughs, a down-on-his-luck painter, hitches a ride on a private jet flying from Martha's Vineyard to New York. Sixteen minutes after takeoff, the plane and all but two of it's passengers - Scott and the son of two wealthy passengers - disappear into the ocean. Filled with twists and turns, this story will keep you guessing right up until the end.

I'm currently listening to Dear Amy, by Helen Callaghan, and if it continues at its current pace it will likely get a place in my 2016 Thriller section as well.

Middle Grade

Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan
The story interweaves several tales together - from WWII Germany to Depression-Era Philadelphia - all connected by a harmonica. The unique format and heart warming story rightfully won the 2016 Newberry Honor Award.
The School for Good and Evil (The School for Good and Evil, #1)
Every few years, two children are kidnapped from the village of Gavaldon and forced to attend the fabled School for Good and Evil, where kids are trained to become the things of fairytales. A fun read for any age.
11 Birthdays (Willow Falls, #1) by Wendy Mass
Described as Groundhog Day meets Flipped--Amanda must relive her eleventh birthday until she can get it right and break the curse.
A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd

This book is a perfect example of how to successfully develop a fun, charismatic MG voice. Twelve-year-old Felicity tries to bring the magic back to Midnight Gulch and mend her mother's broken heart so that they can finally call one place home.

Fantasy & SciFi

Replica by Lauren Oliver
Oliver is one of my favorite authors, and her latest release did not disappoint. After an attack on the Haven Institute - a military-run covert facility that clones hundreds of children - Lyra, a clone, escapes and bumps into Gemma - a girl with surprising ties to Haven's secret past.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Because it's a play, it lacks some of the colorful world building you expect from a J.K. Rowling novel. But once I got used to the format I really enjoyed it--it was great to see familiar characters and meet some new ones along the way. And I love that Harry Potter grows up to be a father struggling to raise and understand his children--just like any other father, magical or muggle.
An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes, #1) by Sabaa Tahir**
A Torch Against the Night (An Ember in the Ashes, #2) by Sabaa Tahir**
This series will likely end up ranking up there with Daughter of Smoke and Bone for me, which is high praise. An Ember in the Ashes was my February YA book pick. You can read the full review here. Book two is just as good as book one, and book three can't come out fast enough.
The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
After spying on her father, Faith discovers his secret--a tree growing in a dark cave. Tell the tree a lie, and a fruit will grow. Eat the fruit, and it will reveal something true. The greater the falsity and the further it spreads, the greater the secret the tree will reveal. But Faith soon discovers that learning the truth is not always worth the cost.
Alive (The Generations Trilogy, #1)by Scott Sigler
Alight (The Generations Trilogy, #2) by Scott Sigler
This Sci-Fi series gets better with each book. It starts with M, a teenage girl who wakes up in a coffin with no memory of how she got there. She soon discovers more kids like her, and the fight to learn how they came to arrive in the coffins becomes a fight for survival. I can't share details of Alight without giving away the plot to Alive, but I will say that the ending to Alight (book 2) is one of the best cliffhangers EVER.
The Raven King (The Raven Cycle, #4) by Maggie Stiefvater* 
If you've been following this blog for a while you know about my obsession with Maggie Stiefvater and her The Raven Boys Series. The final book in Steiefvater's epic series is all the things I wanted and needed. I had a book hangover for at least a month afterward.


Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero* 
Gabi chronicles her last year in high school: college applications, Cindy's pregnancy, Sebastian's coming out, boys, her father's meth habit.  If I were giving out an award for best voice, this would be the winner of the 2016 prize. Funny, poignant and heartbreaking all at once--I found it hard not to cheer (and sometimes cry) for Gabi.
Life by Committee, by Corey Ann Haydu
Tab discovers a note in the margin of a book that leads her to LBC (Life By Committee.) The rules are simple: share a secret, complete the challenge, find comradely with the other members of the site. Fail to complete the assignment, and your secrets get revealed. At first, Tab believes the assignments are helping her to become a braver, happier version of herself. Until they threaten to tear her family apart.
Me Before You (Me Before You, #1) by Jojo Moyes*
If you're thinking of skipping the book in favor of the movie, don't. The movie does not hold a candle to the book. But regardless, have the tissues ready. This book will break your heart in all the right places.

Monday, December 12, 2016


Note from Triona: Since my current WIP is upper MG rather than my usual YA, I've been immersing myself in the world of MG lately. So I'm cheating a little with this month's YA Book Pick and making it an almost-YA book pick instead!

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 ADVENTURER'S GUIDE TO SUCCESSFUL ESCAPES by Wade Albert White.

Synopsis (from Goodreads): A thrilling debut novel where fantasy and science fiction meet, dragons aren't as innocent as they look, and nothing is quite what it seems.

Anne has spent most of her thirteen years dreaming of the day she and her best friend Penelope will finally leave Saint Lupin's Institute for Perpetually Wicked and Hideously Unattractive Children. When the big day arrives, a series of very curious happenings lead to Anne being charged with an epic quest. Anne, Penelope, and new questing partner Hiro have only days to travel to strange new locales, solve myriad riddles, and triumph over monstrous foes—or face the horrible consequences.

Packed with action, humor, and endless heart, this debut novel marks the first volume in an irresistible and original fantasy series.

First Line: "At Saint Lupin's Institute for Perpetually Wicked and Hideously Unattractive Children, every orphan is treated with the same amount of disdain and neglect."

This is a great first line because it clearly telegraphs what type of book you're about to read—funny and irreverent.

Highlights: The book featured several things I absolutely love: interesting fantasy elements, humor, action/adventure that kept me turning the pages quickly to find out what was going to happen, and a really cool twist at the end that turned it all on its head.

One of my other favorite things about the book was that it features a diverse protagonist—but the story isn't about her diversity. That doesn't seem like it should be such an unusual thing, but I haven't encountered it much in my reading.

Notes for Writers: The reader is rooting for the main character of this book, Anne (short for Anvil), from page one. If you're looking for an example of how to create a likable protagonist, this is a great one.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

To MFA or Not To MFA?

I've been really lucky. I have a fantastic critique group based out of San Diego Writers Ink. It's a group that meets once a week and is led by a seasoned facilitator. But while I've seen significant improvement in my writing, I can't help but think, should I take the next step? Should I apply to an MFA? If I do take this step, is it the right step? 

Vermont College of Fine Arts

1) Opportunity to engage with like minded individuals 
2) Structured time to learn craft 
3) Continuous feedback from seasoned writers

Not To MFA:

1) Significant cost
2) Significant time commitment
3) May require relocation

Each of these issues is critical to deciding whether an MFA is right for you. One of my initial concerns was the need to relocate full time but nowadays there are low residency MFAs that give you the opportunity to hone your craft through intense one week residencies followed by a semester of self-created study. 

I know what you're thinking. "But that isn't real immersion?" Yes and no. Sure, you aren't seeing your professors or other students on a daily basis, but writing is an exercise done mostly in solitude. The bonus of a low residency MFA is that you are in constant communication with your faculty advisor who only has a handful of students to focus on (not a classroom of 50). 

In my case, I was to focus on one project and see it through. This would be a great opportunity for me to be able to experiment in a safe environment (and for less cost than a full time residency MFA). 

Low residency MFAs are gaining wider traction and recognition these days. For a list of the top five low residency programs, click here

It's not easy. There is still the lengthy application process. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Reasons to Write . . . Gulp. . . Fan Fiction.

 For starters, I'll admit it is a little fun.

See, I have a close friend who has been bitten by the writing bug and decided to write fan fiction. She tells me all kinds of funny stories about what her characters are doing and how people are reacting to her writing.  It seems like fun.

So on this year's Thanksgiving road trip, I did a little google search on writing fan fiction and then decided to give it whirl myself.  Why not?  What else am I going to do for a five hour car trip?

By the way, I never did finish my story, but it was fun to do and it got me writing again.  But here is what I learned from listening to my friend, internet searches, and my own experience:

1. It is fun.
2. Good writing practice.
3. Learn to come up with and focus on new ideas and plots.
4. Acquire Beta Readers
5. Learn from reviews on how to be a better writer and what your target audience wants.
6. Build a following.

FYI - I'll keep y'all posted on whether I finish my fan fiction piece and if I decide to post it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Successful Author Chat: Kendra Highley shares her path to pub story, writing advice and a chance to win a $25 gift card.

I'm thrilled the have author Kendra Highley here to share her path to publication story (spoil alert: perseverance is key!), writing advice, and her latest release The Bad Boy Bargain. Make sure you scroll to the bottom of the post for a chance to win a $25 Amazon gift card and more!

Guest Post: Author Kendra Highley
I started writing toward publication in 2008. I was in English major, and had been dabbling in writing for some time, but finally had an idea that made me feel like I should be serious about it. Naïve enough to believe it was great (this book will never see the light of day), I subbed it to agents. 110 rejections later, I took a step back, started a new project and found a great online critique group. The second series went a little better—fifteen partial requests, six full requests, and two offers for representation. What people don’t tell you, though, is getting an agent isn’t the same as having it made. After the book failed to sell, my agent wasn’t interested in any of my other work—including Sidelined, which was ultimately my first traditionally published novel—so we parted ways and I pursued self-publishing. I had some real success in that arena, but when I heard Entangled wanted sports’ related contemporary YA, I sent in Sidelined—unagented—and the rest is history.

My writing process has slowly evolved from total pantser, to plotter, to outliner. Over time, as my craft developed, I realized how many words I had to delete by not planning ahead. I still surprise myself and the story sometimes drives in a different direction, but the discipline has helped shorten my timeline—which is good because my deadlines have become tighter, too.

One of things I do that helps is set aside time to write. My biggest blocks of writing time come on the weekends, when I try to sit down for three to four hours each day and put down as many words as I can. This isn’t the time to smooth things out. “Push the story forward, clean it up later” is my mode of attack to finish a draft on time. I do fine tuning and put down additional words during the week, so I have sense of where to go when the next weekend comes.

I don’t have many secret tips other than read in your chosen genre, find a good critique group who will push you to develop, and practice your craft. Write a little every day, even if it’s two hundred words. I’ve found a few books helpful, also: Save the Cat (plotting), Self-editing for Fiction Writers (Editing), and The Emotion Thesaurus (to help vary emotion tags). The most important thing, though, is to believe in yourself and your story. It might take time (for me, it was 4 years) before you have a piece of work polished enough to put out into the world. Don’t do it too soon—reviews are tough, and you want to be ready.

If I had a chance to do things differently, I probably wouldn’t. Everyone’s writing journey is an iterative process, and it’s as unique as leaves on a tree. What works for one writer won’t always work for another. My biggest pieces of advice is you do you—if something is working for you, don’t change it even if “conventional wisdom” says otherwise. Stay true to your story, and it’ll come out in the end. 

About The Bad Boy Bargain by Kendra C. Highley 
Publication Date: November 14, 2016
Publisher: Entangled Teen Crush

Baseball player Kyle Sawyer has many labels: bad boy, delinquent, ladies’ man, fearless outfielder… Only one of them is actually true. But then sweet ballet dancer Faith Gladwell asks him to help wreck her reputation, and everything goes sideways. 

Faith knows a thing or two about love, and what she had with her cheating jerk of an ex wasn’t it. When he starts spreading rumors about her being an Ice Queen, Faith decides it’s time to let a little bad into her life.

Lucky for her, Kyle Sawyer—dark, dangerous, totally swoonworthy Kyle Sawyer—is landscaping her backyard over Spring Break. Shirtless. And if she can convince him to play along, “dating” Kyle will silence the rumors.

But Faith’s plan threatens to expose Sawyer’s biggest secret of all…and that’s a risk he’s not willing to take.

Disclaimer: This book contains drop-the-book-and-fan-yourself kisses…and touches. Fall in love with a bad boy at your own risk.

About the Author 

Kendra C. Highley lives in north Texas with her husband and two children. She also serves as staff to four self-important and high-powered cats. This, according to the cats, is her most important job. She believes in everyday magic, extraordinary love stories, and the restorative powers of dark chocolate.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Queries: To Personalize, or Not to Personalize?

I started the query process again this week (after a few months off buried in intensive revisions, thanks to being selected for Brenda Drake's Pitch Wars contest!). As always, I was torn on whether to personalize my queries or just jump right into the manuscript pitch. If you search for advice on the subject, you'll find conflicting opinions. What to do?

One of the biggest proponents of skipping the personalization and getting right to the point is the Query Shark herself, Ms. Janet Reid. She likens querying to calling around to find a plumber—would you tell them all the reasons you're calling them, rather than someone else?

You might also find people making the argument that agents get hundreds (some even thousands) of queries a week. To have the best chance of hooking them, don't you want to lead with your best material? Hopefully, that's your manuscript pitch, not reminding them what their own website or Twitter posts say they want.

On the flip side, querying can be very impersonal. Agents hate it when authors address queries to "Dear Agent" instead of using their name like a person. So maybe it makes sense to humanize yourself right off the bat by proving that you chose them for a reason. In addition, adding reasons why you're querying that agent with that particular project—as long as your reasons are good ones—shows you have some knowledge of the publishing industry and your genre and themes, or similarities between your novel and others. Former agent and author Nathan Bransford admits that he used personalization as a way to flag queries that deserved a closer look.

In the end, I decided to personalize my queries going forward—but only when I have something that legitimately makes me think that agent is a good fit for my manuscript. If the agent doesn't have much online about their tastes, clients, or wishlist, I won't try to make something up. It's easy to tell when people are reaching—and a clumsy personalization seems like it would be worse than none at all.

Do you personalize your queries?

Monday, November 14, 2016

NaNo on and keep it real.

As many of you know, I never NaNo.  This time of year is just too busy for me.  Sometimes I JaNo and sometimes I SEPTEMBO, but never NaNo. I wish that I could, but I just can't.  I do, however, enjoy the excitement other authors are sharing as they embark on this endeavor.

For example,  I do have a close friend who has decided that not only she, but that her whole family will NaNo.  I am so thrilled for her and have been cheering her on for nearly two weeks.  I try to give her space so that she can get those words out in peace, but I am also available for walks and talks so that she can work through various writing issues.  It is fun to be a part of her writing process.

 Now as she and countless others fast approach the halfway mark, I just thought I'd put out a reminder call for you all to keep it real not just in your stories, but also your personal lives.  Don't forget to get out in experience life this month; it'll only help to make your writing that much stronger.  I think it is important to write as much as you can while on a roll, but sometimes, you hit a snag in the writing process and no matter how hard you try to force the writing it just doesn't come naturally.  Fine - take a break.  Get out and experience life.  Inspiration will come again and you'll be back at those keyboards in no time.

Best of luck NaNo writers.  Keep it real, find that voice, and torture those poor characters a little.  Your readers will thank you.

Now lace up those shoes and get out there!
And don't worry, your characters will be with you every step of the way.

Enjoy life, enjoy writing!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Pick Up Your Pen And Write. Your Voice Matters.

I was supposed to post our monthly YA book pick today, but in light of everything that's happened it doesn't feel right.

Some of you woke up this morning with broken hearts. Some of you woke up feeling optimistic. I am not going to tell you how you should feel or whether or not you are right or wrong. But I am going to tell you that I believe your voice matters.

If there is nothing that last night taught us, it should be that words have impact. They have the power to hurt and divide. They have the power to motivate people into action. They have the power to sway, the power to change and the power to break. And hopefully in the coming months, they have the power to heal.

You are a writer. You have a gift. It's time to pick up your pen and write.

Write what you are feeling, even if it's only for you to read. The simple act of putting your words down can give you reprieve.

Write a story with an ending that makes you happy, because as writers we have the power to see our dreams come true, even if only on the page.

Write something that has the power to transport someone to a new place, because sometimes we all need a way to escape.

Write what you are hopeful for, even if today you aren't sure what that is.

Write a new beginning. Write a new ending. Write something true. Write something made up. But whatever you do, don't stop writing.

Because you cannot motivate change if you you remain silent.

Because your voice matters.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Authors are Marketers, Too

I was talking to an acquaintance at a party recently who mentioned that she also wrote books. She said she was pursuing traditional publication so she could "just concentrate on the writing, not all that marketing stuff."

I said something polite, but internally I was thinking about all the traditionally published authors I know who are constantly working on their marketing. Some of it, like doing market research or coming up with a synopsis to sell the book to a publisher, isn't visible to people on the outside. But most authors I see are also hard at work on improving their social media presence, doing blog tours, and in person appearances like school visits and book signings.

(Agent Jessica Faust has an excellent blog post on this topic here.)

The writer's conferences I've attended have been eye-opening, too. Many authors sign up as faculty for these conferences, not because they get paid extremely well (they don't, trust me on this), but at least in part because it raises their visibility and gives them a chance to network with other industry professionals and aspiring writers.

The bottom line is that anyone who thinks they can just write a book and forget about it immediately in this day and age is probably in for a very rude awakening. Publishers and authors form a marketing team, and an author who's willing and eager to pull his or her weight is going to look far more attractive than the alternative.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Homecoming and Friday Night Lights

In Texas, there's a saying:  "Football is king." 

Now, that's not true everywhere, but still football season is a big deal and so is HOCO or homecoming.  In fact the HOCO and Friday Night Lights season is so huge that several books have been written about football (Friday Night Lights by HG Bissinger, Always A Catch by Peter Richmond, The Blind Side by Michael Lewis, Bleachers by John Grishman, and Concussion by Jean Marie Laskas to name a few) and so many movies have been written about dances like homecoming (Pretty in Pink, Never  Been Kissed, and of course Carrie). Thus, fall for high school students is both a busy and stressful time.

As a mom of a high school football player, I find this time of year to be so alien.  (I don't have brothers and was never into football). The lingo and the experience is lost on me, but I still try to rejoice in his excitement.  Try as I might I am really still just clueless when it comes to football, but the HOCO buzz I can follow and I do. Every year my son asks a girl to the dance and because I live in the south, every year I make a homecoming mum (which is fake flower glued to cardboard with bears, stickers, trinkets, and three feet of ribbon glued to the bottom of it).  People think they are tacky and pointless, but I think they are kind of fun and rather beautiful. 

Even though my son and I embrace the tradition, every year I listen to my son and his friends talk about girls at their school - nothing bad - it's just that they complain that girls always complain that no guys ask them out, but when the guys finally do ask the girls out, the girls tell them boys no.  Ah, yes.  That is high school as I remember it.  The people you want to ask you out never do and the ones you don't do. Sigh.  That's life.  Still it makes me really want to write a book about HOCO from the south's point of view and it has to have mums - lots and lots of mums.  

And OMG.  Have you seen how the poor guys have to ask girls out to the dance these days?  Yeah, that has to be in the book.  I know a boy who asked a girl to the dance by throwing a back of chips at her with note attached.  She said no.  It wasn't a very good way to ask.  He then went through three more girls before he finally gave up.  And sadly he isn't the only story I know like that.  Many other boys have been shot down because the girl didn't like the way the guy asked her to the dance - although that might have been a polite way for the girl to say no.  Whatever the case, that's a lot of pressure on these young men.  

And then of course what's HOCO without drama?  I can't even begin to tell you how much drama is involved in the dance and related activities.  Like did you know that not only do they go to eat (often in limos), and then to the dance, but then they have after parties?  Holy cow!  Really?  And then there is always someone who doesn't like someone and they then refuse to go somewhere if that person is there and then all the plans change.  Goodness!

Yes, if ever I have the time, I think it would be fun to write a book about a truly Southern HOCO experience.  I think it would be funny and enlightening to people from different parts of the country.  I often giggle whenever someone new moves to town and I have to show them pictures of mums off the they internet.  They are often just blown away.  I think it is funny.  Not sure if the kids find it so funny, but maybe someday, they will look back and laugh at the time when they did something like hit some girl in the face with a back of chips that has a scribbled note reading:  "Will you go to homecoming with me?"

Or perhaps it would be fun for Mitchell to write the boy's book - Friday Night Lights book and I can write the sister book from the girl's POV and it would center more around HOCO because while prom is all about the dress, HOCO is all about the mum.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Interview with ALL LACED UP author Erin Fletcher, plus a chance to win a signed copy and $10 Amazon giftcard!

Hi everyone! Please join me in welcoming author Erin Fletcher to Thinking to Inking. She's here to talk writing advice, current reads and of course her latest release, ALL LACED UP. Don't forget to scroll to the bottom of this post for a chance to win a signed copy of All Laced Up and a $10 Amazon giftcard!

Hi Erin! Thanks so much for coming to Thinking to Inking. We're so excited to have you here! Tell us a little bit about ALL LACED UP.

Thank you so much for having me! I appreciate it! ALL LACED UP is a contemporary YA romance novel about talented figure skater Lia Bailey and hockey superstar Pierce Miller. There are plenty of ice skating scenes, an online secret identity, and lots of romance.

How did your writing process for ALL LACED UP differ from other books you've written?

My writing process didn’t differ very much for this one. I have a good system worked out where I plot all of the major events, put them into Scrivener, and then fill in the scenes and chapters as I progress through those events. It works for me!

How do the ideas for your stories come to you? How did you come up with the idea for ALL LACED UP?

It depends on the book. Sometimes my ideas are random, like when I walked into my parents’ garage, sneezed, and that gave me the idea for my first book, WHERE YOU’LL FIND ME. For ALL LACED UP, I’ve always wanted to write a hockey player/figure skater romance. I was a figure skater most of my life, and therefore was around a ton of hockey players, too. It’s a natural match!

What (if anything) surprised you most about the publishing process for this book vs. your first book?

It happened really super quickly! My first book took more than three years to write, revise, submit, edit, and publish. This one took less than a year from the day I started working on it until the day it was released!

What advice would you give writers still working to make their publishing dreams a reality?

Don’t quit. My first published novel was the fourth manuscript I’d written. ALL LACED UP is my third published novel, but the eighth manuscript I’d written. Be willing to face rejection and keep going!

What are you reading now?

Right now I’m reading THE BAD BOY BARGAIN by Kendra C. Highley. I am loving Faith and Kyle’s story about a bad boy who might not be so bad after all! I’m also reading THE THOUSANDTH FLOOR by Katharine McGee. I don’t read a lot of sci fi, but the premise of this one sucked me in!

Who's your favorite character from All Laced Up?
My favorite character from ALL LACED UP is Pierce Miller’s younger brother, Carson. I’m slightly biased, but he’s an adorable little brother. He struggles with sensory processing disorder, and I love how good Pierce is with him.

If you could be one character from any book or movie, who would it be?

I would be A from David Levithan’s EVERY DAY. Jumping from one person’s life to the next every day would be so fascinating! I imagine you would learn a lot about the world and about yourself.

Congrats on the launch of your latest and greatest, and thanks so much for stopping by!

Great questions! Thank you for having me!

About All Laced Up by Erin Fletcher
Publication Date:  October 10, 2016
Publisher:  Entangled Teen Crush

Everyone loves hockey superstar Pierce Miller. Everyone except Lia Bailey.

When the two are forced to teach a skating class to save the rink, Lia’s not sure she’ll survive the pressure of Nationals and Pierce’s ego. Not only can’t he remember her name, he signed her bottle of water like she was one of his groupies. Ugh.

But if there’s one thing Lia knows better than figure skating, it’s hockey. Hoping to take his ego down a notch—or seven—she logs into his team website under an anonymous name to give him pointers on his less-than-stellar playing.

Turns out, Pierce isn’t arrogant at all. And they have a lot in common. Too bad he’s falling for the anonymous girl online. No matter how much fun they’re starting to have in real life, she’s afraid he’s going to choose fake-Lia over the real one…

Disclaimer: This book contains a swoony hockey player (and his equally swoony friends!), one-too-many social media accounts, kisses that’ll melt ice, and a secret identity that might not be so secret after all…

Goodreads Google Play | BAM | Chapters | Amazon | B&N | Kobo | iBooks

About Erin Fletcher

Erin is a young adult author from North Carolina. She is a morning person who does most of her writing before sunrise, while drinking excessive quantities of coffee. She believes flip-flops qualify as year-round footwear, and would spend every day at the beach if she could. She has a bachelor's degree in mathematics, which is almost never useful when writing books.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Young Politics

Youth Protest

There has never been a time in current history when the voices of young people have become so important. The minds of our future judges, politicians, teachers, corporate leaders and writers are being shaped by the political messages and actions we see today. 

There are voices who have helped us to rise high and those that teach us to act low. Sesame Street focused on "empathy" on a recent episode with Elmo and Mark Ruffalo. It's a term that requires learning and development that we don't often get. That's why its so important that we continue to give our children and students varied reading material from all walks of life.

Bernie Sanders will be coming out with the young adult version of his non-fiction book "Our Revolution" in the spring of next year. Even if you don't believe in his message, it's a great opportunity to expand the minds of our young ones and provide opportunities for open conversation and debate.

Here are a few other recommendations (new and old, fiction and non) to help our young minds grow. 

1. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

3. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

4. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

5. The Secret Side of Empty by Maria E. Andreu

Monday, October 17, 2016

Writing Exercise Inspired by Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathizer

I am...

Last year's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Sympathizer, begins with the following paragraph: 

I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces. Perhaps not surprisingly, I am a man of two minds. I am not some misunderstood mutant from a comic book or a horror movie, although some may have treated me as such. I am simply able to see any issue from both sides. Sometimes I flatter myself that this is a talent, and although it is admittedly one of a minor nature, it is perhaps also the sole talent I possess. At other times, when I reflect on how I cannot help but observe the world in such a fashion, I wonder if what I have should even be called talent. After all, a talent is something you use, not something that uses you. The talent you cannot not use, the talent that possesses you--that is a hazard, I must confess. But in the month when this confession begins, my way of seeing the world still seemed more of a virtue than a danger, which is how some dangers first appear. 

I love it when a novel begins with a confession about a personal trait in a way that we are forced to re-examine the virtue of the trait and question the narrator from the get-go (think Nick in The Great Gatsby). Today, I think I'm going to write one of these paragraphs for my mc in my WIP. It won't be the first paragraph, and I doubt it'll make it into the novel, but I'm excited to learn what secrets my mc will or will not reveal to me...

Feel free to join me and do the same on this lovely fall Monday. :)

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The "You Have to Know Someone" Myth

If you've been pursuing traditional publication for a while, you've probably heard it over and over again from well-meaning friends and family: you can't break into the publishing industry unless you're well connected, unless you "know someone."

While this may be true in other arenas (screenwriting, I'm looking at you), it's definitely not the case in publishing. I have many friends who have agents and book deals. About half of them got their agents by sending a query to an agent they'd never met, just like everyone else. A few more were signed through online contests—again, by agents they'd never met or interacted with.

The rest got their agents by attending conferences where they pitched something in person. While technically this means they knew their agent before signing, anyone can go to these conferences and pitch agents. There's no mystical connection, no mysterious foot in the door.

(For a more extensive survey, check out this great post from To the Shelves.)

If you're having trouble getting an agent or publisher interested in your fiction, I can say with 100% certainty that it isn't because of your lack of connections. It's far more likely that your writing or presentation aren't up to their standards, or the subject simply isn't one in which they have interest.

Debunking the myth that you have to be connected to get published is good news for aspiring authors. If you write a good book, craft a decent query letter, and do your research on agents who might be a good fit, you have just as much of a chance of getting published as everyone else.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

YA Book Pick - The Cursed Child

The second Monday of every month (or this month Tuesday) we feature a review of a published YA book.  The purpose of this feature is to spotlight books of interest to aspiring writers as well as promote some of our favorite books and authors.

This month, I've chosen something from the Harry Potter world since J.K. Rowling as influenced some many writers.

The book (or written script) was filled with nostalgic scenes, interesting premises, and promising new characters.  For me, the biggest enjoyment was the emotional pull towards the end of the play.  I cried and cried and really enjoyed the message which is full of hope.  So even though the script in book form may have had some holes that left me less than satisfied, the emotional impact and new twist was enough to make me enjoy the story.

Notes for writers:  Be aware of your target audience when writing a series or spin off series.  Fans will already have expectations on how the story should go.  Also avoid too much nostalgia - fans can always read the original story.  Finally, keep note of your pacing.  The pacing in this story was too fast.

Good read for: Harry Potter fans, those into fantasy, and tweens.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Writer Tip: Don't Be an %&# on Social Media

Participating in social media can be a very good idea for aspiring writers.  Besides the networking and educational opportunities, an active social media presence is a plus for agents and editors.

There's a big but, though. It's important to keep in mind that there are some lines that shouldn't be crossed on social media. For one thing, a steady stream of nothing but self promotion often comes off as desperate. It's better to have real conversations and share content from others far more than you promote your own work.

This week, VOYA magazine (a journal of YA literature) provided a stunningly terrible example of something else to avoid on social media. There's a more extensive summary of the whole garbage fire here on SorryWatch, but the general gist of it is that VOYA published a review with an offensive line in it. When the issue was (politely) pointed out, the person handling VOYA's social media responded with an escalating series of defensive, angry posts. Instead of handling the situation quickly and responsibly, they drew more and more attention to themselves and their mistake.

It's generally not hard to avoid offensive speech or language on social media, but there's always the chance that you might inadvertently upset a person or group. If this happens, the correct thing to do is always to apologize—immediately and sincerely. Listen to what people tell you. Learn from your mistakes.

While it's completely acceptable (and encouraged!) to be yourself and express your opinions on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and the like, make sure it's your best self you're putting forward.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Sleep Positions and Personality.

Time for a little more pop psychology.

Just for fun, let's take a look at a woman's sleep position and see what it has to say about her personality.

I am going to keep it short and sweet and look at Robert Phipps four basic sleep positions and see what hidden secrets these positions give away.  Maybe I'll even use them in my next books.

                                                  Four Basic Sleep Positions:

1. Fetal position means the person is anxious and/or looking for comfort.

2. Stomach with arms and legs out (or freefall) means the person is also anxious, but feels out of control.

3.  Log position (on side with arms at side and legs straight) means person is a bit stubborn and controlling.

4. Side sleeper with arms and legs outstretched (yearner) means person yearns for something and is a bit creative and talented.

Well, thanks Robert Phipps.  I guess my dog, kids, and I are the creative talented  types.  Or maybe we are just yearning for something.

For more answers check out:'s-sleeping-position-says-about-her-personality

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Author Dana Provo shares writing, pub advice + a chance to with a copy of BLEEDING HEARTS!

I'm excited to bring you another successful author chat, this time with Dana Provo. Her debut, BLEEDING HEARTS, is available now. Don't forget to scroll to the bottom of the post for a chance to win your own copy!

Hi Dana!  Thanks for joining us on Thinking to Inking. Tell us about the path to publication for Bleeding Hearts. What advice do you have for writers still working to make their publishing dreams a reality?

Bleeding Hearts started back in April or May of 2015 when I realized I wanted to write a story with several timelines. I took about two months thinking about what I wanted and how I was going to write it then I created a chapter outline. The first draft took two months to write and each chapter I finished, I uploaded it onto Wattpad to get feedback. Little did I know that my story would get over 12,000 reads on that free reading/writing site.

I knew I wanted to publish BH in November, 2015 so I asked my good friend Alyssa to beta read and edit it for me. Before I sent it to her I had already edited it 4-5 times myself. Alyssa and I worked on my book for an additional two months; she would edit one chapter and send it to me, then I'd edit and send it back for more critiques.

Now, while I was editing BH, I started working on my synopsis and short blurb while also researching agents and publishers. I created my social media platforms, joined a local writing group, and attended a writer's conference to gain more knowledge.

As January came along, I started crafting three different query letters and created a spreadsheet for all the agents and publishers I wanted to query and which letter I would send them based on their requirements. There were several Twitter pitch parties I participated in as well. I submitted close to 50 agents and publishers. Half of those responses were straight out rejections. Some rejections were from my favorite agencies.

At the end of January, I received a full manuscript request from another publisher and boy was I excited! I waited many weeks to hear back from them. During that time, I sent out more queries and another full request to Clean Reads (my publisher). When you have multiple fulls out to different agencies it's important to let the other companies know that they have competition if you haven't heard back from them within 6 weeks of the request, but don't be pushy, stay professional in your letter.

Stephanie with Clean Reads emailed me the middle of February with a publishing contract. As excited as I was, I wanted to hear back from the first publisher before I accepted the first contract, so I asked some questions and waited a full week before I made my decision. The first publisher got back to me with another rejection right at the same time I was planning on accepting the CR contract.

After the contract was signed, there was so much to do. Editing, building my social media platform, editing some more, filling out paperwork, more social media, and last but not least editing. It took six very full months to publish Bleeding Hearts from the day I signed the contract to release day. But that doesn’t include every month writing, editing, and querying the book. I don't think I would change anything I did to get where I am today.

For aspiring authors, the most important thing that helped me through this process is good friends and lack of procrastination. I knew what I wanted and I went for it. Don't hesitate to ask for help from other writers you may know, and don't stop until you've reached your goal of publishing a book. There will be times where you think the world is against you, but it's not. People are busy and since no one knows your name, you are always going to be put on the maybe pile until someone reads your story and takes a chance on you. It takes time, but don't let time slip away.

About Bleeding Heats
by Dana Louise Provo
Publication Date: August 25, 2016
Publisher: Clean Reads

Orphaned at an early age, now twenty-four-year-old Camryn Lucks is ready to commit to find that special someone, and so accepts a date from a charming, gallant, handsome stranger. The last thing she imagines after accepting that first date with Carson would actually be the beginning of her worst nightmare.

Red roses, a reminder of her parents' killer, soon become an emblem of horror for Cami as one by one, those closest to her fall victim to a serial killer. Cami becomes an obsession for Carson, the man she had finally allowed herself to love. Not only is he vying for her heart, but also her life.

Finding herself in a whirlwind of torments shadowed by the blood-colored bloom, Cami finds solace in Isaac, a neighboring police officer. She’s desperate to escape the haunting memories, but she must revisit them in order to catch her would-be killer. Living life in constant fear has driven Cami to second-guess every choice she makes. Will the police catch the illusive murderer, or will Cami be forced to face him once again?

About the Author

Dana Provo has always loved books and reads everything from young adult fantasy to adult historical romances. When she’s not reading or writing her next novel, Dana can be found riding her horses and getting ready for competition. Dana lives with her husband and two house plants in Richmond, Virginia.

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Friday, September 9, 2016

Author Lisa Brown Roberts Shares Writing Advice, Her Newest Release + a Chance to Win Swag and a Signed Copy of THE REPLACEMENT CRUSH!

Today, Lisa Brown Roberts joins us to talk about her latest release, The Replacement Crush, her path to publication amd her advice to writers still working to make their publishing dreams a reality.  Don't forget to scroll to the bottom of the post for a chance to win a signed copy of The Replacement Crush + some fun swag!

Hi Lisa! Welcome, and thanks so much for coming to Thinking to Inking! We're so excited to have you here! Tell us a little bit about THE REPLACEMENT CRUSH.

This book is my love letter to everyone in the romance community: authors, bloggers, and readers. It’s a book about books, and one girl’s love of romance novels, along with her own story of being blind to the perfect hero who’s right in front of her.

It’s also a love letter to adorkable nerds, Star Trek, and friendship.

How did your writing process for The Replacement Crush differ from other books you've written?

My process has improved with each book I write, but some books are harder to write than others. This one was honestly a true joy to write and most days the story came easily. I had a rough outline and knew my characters very well, though they surprised me, too. Dallas in particular had one very big surprise up his sleeve I didn’t see coming, but it’s spoilery so I can’t say what it is. Let’s just say it surprised Vivian, too.

How do the ideas for your stories come to you? How did you come up with the idea for The Replacement Crush?

Most of my story ideas start with the characters who start talking to me. I may have a very vague idea of a story, but as soon as a character shows up, they tend to take it over and the plot morphs in unplanned ways.

For this book, I really wanted to write about a book blogger who knew all about romance novels but not much about true love. And I liked the idea of her making a list of “safe crushes” that were all wrong for her.

What (if anything) surprised you most about the publishing process for this book vs. your first book?

The publication of a first book is overwhelming. You’re learning the whole process as you go, developing relationships with your editor and publicity people, second-guessing and worrying over so many details – at least I did.

This book’s publication process was smooth and fun. It’s the fourth book I’ve done with Entangled, and my editor and I have a great working relationship. We talk through changes, often via funny text convos, and I know she always has the end goal of creating a great book, so I trust her suggestions for changes to the book. I love the marketing and publicity staff at Entangled, and the authors are a tightknit group, too, giving each other lots of support.

That’s not to say I still don’t freak out before publication. I woke up at 3:00 a.m. one morning after a ton of ARCS had been shipped to librarians, convinced I’d misspelled the name of a Star Trek character. I ran down the hall and booted up my laptop to double-check the galley proofs and confirm the correct spelling online. It was fine, I was just having a pre-publication freak-out, which I do for every book.

What advice would you give writers still working to make their publishing dreams a reality?

I always tell people to never give up. If you’re meant to do this, you won’t be able to give up even if you try. I know, because I tried to stop but always came back to it. Find community whether it’s through organizations like RWA or SCBWI, or just another writing friend, find your tribe. They will keep you sane and buoy you up when you need it.

Also, write every day if possible. Nora Roberts says it best: “Butt in chair.”

What are you reading now?

I always have several books going at once: Kindle, hardcopy, Audible….

At this very moment- Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, Bite Me, Your Grace by Brooklyn Ann, and Olivia Decoded by Vivi Barnes, another Entangled author. Her book releases the same day as mine, so we’re release day sisters J. I was lucky enough to get an early copy to read.

Who's your favorite character from The Replacement Crush?

That’s like picking a favorite child or pet! I love them all. Of course I love Vivian and Dallas, but today I’m going with a side character- the sexy surfer Toff who’s one of Vivian’s best friends. He’s lovable, loyal, and really needs a girlfriend. I hope I get to tell his story someday.

If you could be one character from any book or movie, who would it be?

Probably Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice.

Congrats on the launch of your latest and greatest, and thanks so much for stopping by!

Thanks for having me on the blog!

About The Replacement Crush
The Replacement Crush by Lisa Brown Roberts 
Out September 6, 2016 
Publisher: Entangled TEEN 

True love can’t be strategized.

After book blogger Vivian Galdi’s longtime crush pretends their secret summer kissing sessions never happened, Vivian creates a list of safe crushes, determined to protect her heart.

But nerd-hot Dallas, the sweet new guy in town, sends the mission and Vivian’s zing meter into chaos. While designing software for the bookstore where Vivian works, Dallas wages a counter-mission.

Operation Replacement Crush is in full effect. And Dallas is determined to take her heart off the shelf.

About Lisa Brown Roberts

Lisa Brown Roberts still hasn't recovered from the teenage trauma of nearly tweezing off both eyebrows and having to pencil them in for an entire school year. This and other angst-filled memories inspire her to write YA books about navigating life's painful and funny dramas, and falling in love along the way.

Her almost forever home is Colorado, though she occasionally pines for the days when she lived within walking distance of the Pacific Ocean. Her house is full of books, boys, four-legged prima donnas, and lots of laughter.

Giveaway Information 
One (1) winner will receive a signed copy of The Replacement Crush, Nerd glasses necklace, button, signed poster, bookmark, and Spock Funko Pop!