Thursday, March 24, 2016

Wonderful World of Boys

                                                   This month's top ten.

1. Willing to play video games all day without ever changing out of PJs.
2. Ask for weapons daily - if they are into Minecraft, then a pickax is something highly desirable.
3. Will sleep anywhere - in the closet, under the bed, on the couch, in a chair, at a desk, on the floor,  
     in your bed . . .
4. LOVE to play in the rain.  Don't be surprised to hear this "Hey, I'm going to play in the rain for a minute."  Only to have the kiddo return an hour later sopping wet.  And this is the same kid who just spend the last three days playing video games at his friend's house.
5. "It seemed like a good idea at the time" is there motto.
6. LOVE forts.  Pillows, blankets, and stuffed animals make for some of the best fort supplies.
7.  Clog the toilet.
8. Just do weird things like "Um, I got a plastic airsoft bullet stuck in my ear because I wanted to see what it would feel like in my ear."  Please refer back to #5 and consider living near an ER.
9. Basically are Minions.  Your son's friends will get into your car for the first time and will push every single button available and will laugh uncontrollably as the lights and sounds go off.  For some reason rolling the windows up and down is lots of fun and this is just coming from the teens.  Don't get me started on the younger ones.
10.  Sweetly innocent.  For them the term "booty call" means a "butt dial."  Um, no, but I like your way of thinking.  Stay sweet, little one, stay sweet.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Author Jessica Arnold's Advice to Writers + a chance to win THE LINGERING GRACE

Today, we're excited to have author Jessica Arnold join us to share her advice to writers still slogging their way through the trenches. Her latest book, THE LINGERING GRACE, is the second book in her THE LOOKING GLASS series. Don't forget to scroll to the bottom of the post for a chance to win your own copy of The Lingering Grace!

The question: What surprised you most about your path to publication, and what (if anything) would you do differently looking back?

The Lingering Grace is my second book to reach publication. This newest book release will mark a full eight years since I started writing my very first manuscript. It took me about a year to finish that project, and what I created was, at best, unpublishable. But at the time I didn’t know that. When I started querying agents about seven years ago, I thought the journey to publication would take a year at most.

Looking back, part of me wishes I could travel back in time and shatter my delusions bat-on-glass style. But, on the other hand, I’m glad no one told me at the time exactly how many years it would be before I got an agent, before I got a book deal, before that book was released, and so on. Knowing the size of the hurdles ahead is less important than knowing why you’re jumping them.

I get asked sometimes what my advice is for writers fighting their way towards publication. My answer usually is something along these lines: Write because you love it and don’t give up.
Your journey to publication might be shorter or longer than mine. But if you know why you write—if you write because that’s what makes you happy—and if you refuse to give up, you’ll get there.
One of the biggest secrets I’ve learned as my friends have gotten book deals and as I’ve seen my own books reach publication is that the hurdles don’t disappear. Everyone still struggles with the same things—revisions, crises of confidence, lacks of inspiration, and self doubt. Whether you’re just starting the querying process or you’re looking a pub date in the face, it’s knowing why you’re doing this crazy amazing difficult hard thing that keeps you going.

So keep going! Say it to yourself when you’re pushing past writers block. Say it to your friends when they’re trying to get up the courage to query again. Say it, and we’ll all get there.

Good luck and love to all of you! 

More about Jessica and The Lingering Grace:
The Lingering Grace (The Looking Glass #2)
by Jessica Arnold
Publisher: Month9Books

All magic comes with a price.

The new school year brings with it a welcome return to normalcy after Alice’s narrow escape from a cursed hotel while on summer vacation. But when a young girl drowns in a freak accident that seems eerily similar to her own near-death experience, Alice suspects there might be something going on that not even the police can't uncover.

The girl’s older sister, Eva attends Alice’s school, and Alice immediately befriends her. But things change when when Alice learns that Eva is determined to use magic to bring her sister back. She must decide whether to help Eva work the highly dangerous magic or stop her at all costs. After all, no one knows better than Alice the true price of magic.

The Lingering Grace (The Looking Glass #2) by Jessica Arnold:

The Looking Glass (The Looking Glass #1)
by Jessica Arnold
Publisher: Month9Books

Find the diary, break the curse, step through The Looking Glass!

Fifteen-year-old Alice Montgomery wakes up in the lobby of the B&B where she has been vacationing with her family to a startling discovery: no one can see or hear her. The cheap desk lights have been replaced with gas lamps and the linoleum floor with hardwood and rich Oriental carpeting. Someone has replaced the artwork with eerie paintings of Elizabeth Blackwell, the insane actress and rumored witch who killed herself at the hotel in the 1880s. Alice watches from behind the looking glass where she is haunted by Elizabeth Blackwell. Trapped in the 19th-century version of the hotel,

Alice must figure out a way to break Elizabeth’s curse—with the help of Elizabeth's old diary and Tony, the son of a ghost hunter who is investigating the haunted B&B—before she becomes the inn's next victim.

The Looking Glass (The Looking Glass #1) by Jessica Arnold:

Jessica Arnold lives (in an apartment) and works (in a cubicle) in Boston, Massachusetts. She has a master‘s degree in publishing and writing from Emerson College.

Giveaway Information:  Contest ends April 1, 2016 
Five (5) winners will receive a digital copy of The Lingering Grace (The Looking Glass #2) by Jessica Arnold (INT)

Click here if rafflecopter doesn't appear

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

YA Book Pick: Not If I See You First

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 is Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

The Rules:

Don’t deceive me. Ever. Especially using my blindness. Especially in public.

Don’t help me unless I ask. Otherwise you're just getting in my way or bothering me.

Don’t be weird. Seriously, other than having my eyes closed all the time, I’m just like you only smarter.

Parker Grant doesn’t need 20/20 vision to see right through you. That’s why she created the Rules: Don’t treat her any differently just because she’s blind, and never take advantage. There will be no second chances. Just ask Scott Kilpatrick, the boy who broke her heart.

When Scott suddenly reappears in her life after being gone for years, Parker knows there’s only one way to react—shun him so hard it hurts. She has enough on her mind already, like trying out for the track team (that’s right, her eyes don’t work but her legs still do), doling out tough-love advice to her painfully naive classmates, and giving herself gold stars for every day she hasn’t cried since her dad’s death three months ago. But avoiding her past quickly proves impossible, and the more Parker learns about what really happened—both with Scott, and her dad—the more she starts to question if things are always as they seem. Maybe, just maybe, some Rules are meant to be broken.

Combining a fiercely engaging voice with true heart, debut author Eric Lindstrom’s Not If I See You First illuminates those blind spots that we all have in life, whether visually impaired or not.

Highlights: I like that this is a novel whose protagonist is blind, but it's not about her blindness. She's just a normal spunky teenage girl who is navigating friendship and love the way any of us do. Cluelessly!
Diet Coke, a pedicure, and some fun reading

Notes for writers: I noted how much dialogue was used pretty quickly. While I was initially concerned that the novel would suffer due to a lack of imagery and interiority, I quickly came to believe that the heavy use of dialogue enhanced the work. There was enough interiority to keep me connected to the protagonist and the lack of visual imagery made sense in this case as the protagonist is blind (a fact that we mostly forget when so heavily immersed in dialogue and comes back occasionally when grounded in interiority).

A great read for: Anyone who wants to see someone who has been knocked down a bit get back up and fight for love and friendship.

Happy spring & happy reading!

*Note: I received an arc of this and reviewed that copy.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Advice to writers in the query trenches + giveaway from FACSIMILE Author Vickie Weavil

I'm thrilled to have Vickie L. Weavil, author of CROWN OF ICE and the newly released FACSIMILE with us today to offer her invaluable advice to those of us still in the query trenches. Be sure to scroll to the end of the post and enter for a chance to win your own copy of the fantastic and not-to-be-missed FACSIMILE!

My Advice for Writers Still in the Query Trenches
by Vickie L. Weavil

Authors still struggling to make that connection with an agent and/or publisher often feel that there is some special “thing” they can do to make their dream a reality. If they can just write the perfect query letter, or get into that one contest, or write a book that will scream “future bestseller,” everything will work out.

Having been there, here are my bits of advice on this topic:

1. There is NO perfect query.

No one writes a query that will instantly attract everyone who reads it. This is not because no one writes a brilliant query, it is more a factor of the subjectivity of the publishing business. What is attractive to one agent or publisher makes others yawn.

Polish your query, but don’t wait to query until you have the “perfect” letter. Once you have done your best, send out a few and see what response you get. You can always tweak the query for future submissions if you don’t initially get a good response rate.

2. Word Count DOES count.

Let’s be honest – unless you have written a book so compelling it makes angels weep, NO ONE wants your 175,000 word young adult debut novel. Research and learn the appropriate word count for your age group and genre, and try to stay within those limits.

“But,” you say, “Author X just published a 900 page novel that’s selling like beer at the Super Bowl.” Well yes, but Author X is a famous, established writer. Their book is a sure thing, whereas a book from a debut author is a very iffy proposition. It actually does cost a lot more to produce a longer book, and publishers are (rightfully) leery of investing in a huge book that may or may not sell.

So, my advice is to trim that 150,000 YA fantasy down to a more reasonable 75,000 to 80,000 words. Because if you don’t, I’m afraid you are guaranteeing yourself a LOT of automatic rejections.

3. Query vs Synopsis: One thing is not like the other.

A query is NOT a synopsis. You do need a synopsis (more about that later) but the query should not read like one.

Queries should read more like the blurb on the back of a book. Queries are meant to hook and sell your book concept to an agent or publisher. Even plot details you consider essential can be omitted if they do not SELL the book. My query for CROWN OF ICE (which you can read here: omits many important plot points. But it presents the essential idea of my character, her challenges, and the stakes. (Trust me, I struggled to get it into this shape!)

Oh and, if you think writing queries is only something you have to do while attempting to snag an agent or publisher, think again. You will write them for every new book, only now they are called “pitches” or “blurbs.”

4. Use something like Query Tracker.

If you are not already doing so, it is helpful to use something like Query Tracker ( -- it’s free!) to organize your query submissions. This will help avoid the dreaded “I sent that query to the same agent twice” issue and will keep you sane. (Well, with querying, that’s probably impossible, but it will alleviate some of the confusion). Some people use spreadsheets or other methods, but whatever you do – keep track! There’s nothing worse than sending another query to an agent who has already rejected you. (Uhm, I may have done this once, when I first started out!)

5. Yes, you DO need a synopsis. In fact, you need more than one.

Look, I hate writing the things too, but you really should have a synopsis written before you query. Why? Because when your killer query and first pages get you umpteen full requests, the agent or publisher will want a synopsis ASAP. So write one – a longer version to start (maybe up to 5 pages), then cut that down to a 2 page version, then cut THAT down to one page version. If you do that, you will likely be ready for whatever is requested.

Also, just like the query, a synopsis is something you will need to write for all your future books, even after you are agented/published. So it pays to learn how to write them!

6. You are playing a long game.

Being an author is not a one-shot, I “made it,” deal. You need to prepare yourself to be in this business for the long haul, and handle a lot of ups and downs. Even after you snag an agent, and that marvelous pub. deal, there will still be books to write, revise, and promote. Some of those books may sell well, others will not, and that’s the way it is. The best plan I have discovered to cope with all the stress and uncertainty is – KEEP WRITING. (Also, connect with, and promote other authors. They will be your best allies, along with your readers).

You may not make enough on your first book – or your tenth book – to retire and write full-time. But, when you build a catalog of titles, you also build your skill level, a reader base, and the ability to generate income with your writing. So, hang in there, and always remember that you have the power, and privilege, to create new worlds, filled with wonderful characters. There really is nothing better than that!

Facsimile by Vicki L. Weavil
Publication Date:  March 8, 2016 from Month9Books

For a ticket to Earth, seventeen-year-old Anna-Maria “Ann” Solano is willing to jettison her birth planet, best friend, and the boy who loves her. Especially since all she’s required to do is escort Dace Keeling, a young naturalist, through the wilderness of the partially terraformed planet Eco. Ann‘s determination to escape the limitations of her small, frontier colony never falters, until Dace’s expeditions uncover three secrets. One offers riches, one shatters Ann’s perceptions of herself, and one reveals that the humans stranded on Eco are not its only inhabitants.

Ann’s willing to sacrifice friendship and love for a new life on Earth. But when an entire species is placed in jeopardy by her actions, she must make a choice – fulfill the dream that’s always sustained her, or save the planet she’s never considered home.

About Vickie L. Weavil
Vicki L. Weavil was raised in a farming community in Virginia, where her life was shaped by a wonderful family, the culture of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and an obsession with reading. She holds a B.A. in Theatre from the University of Virginia, a Masters in Library Science from Indiana University, and a Masters in Liberal Studies from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. After working as a librarian at the NY Public Library at Lincoln Center, and the Museum of Television & Radio (now the Paley Center for Media) in NYC, she is currently the Director for Library Services at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

Vicki loves good writing in any genre, and has been known to read seven books in as many days. She enjoys travel, gardening, and the arts. Vicki lives in North Carolina with her husband and some very spoiled cats. A member of SCBWI, Vicki is represented by Fran Black at Literary Counsel, NY, NY. 

Enter to win a copy of Facsimile!

Five (5) winners will receive a digital copy of Facsimile by Vicki L. Weavil (INT.) Contest ends March 25, 2016.
Embed Code: a Rafflecopter giveaway

If the rafflecopter doesn't appear, click on the direct link here.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Writing and Small Children: Making it Work

I had my first child a little more than a year and a half ago. I read a ton of pregnancy and baby books and thought I was pretty well prepared, but I didn't consider the enormous impact having a child would have on my writing.

I'm just gonna come out and say it. Writing with a small child around is hard. (I'd imagine it's even harder with multiple small children. We're expecting a second at the end of the summer, so I guess I'll find out!)

Hard doesn't mean impossible. Since my son was born, I've done major edits on one manuscript and finished two others that were languishing in first-draft land. It has taken some major determination, though, and a willingness to drop everything and write whenever the opportunity presents itself. Sleep schedules become vitally important (this post is being written during nap time, for example). I used to be picky about creating just the right atmosphere for a long writing session, but now I snag fifteen or twenty minutes wherever I can.

Since many writers are parents, there are some great resources for commiseration and help around the web. Here are some of my favorites:
Are you a parent? How do you carve out your writing time?

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

An Essential Question to Ask When Writing Teenage Male Characters

What is his relationship with his dad?

Having taught teenagers for over a decade, I have noticed a deep truth with my male students. Their sense of self is deeply tied to their relationships with their dads. I know it sounds obvious, but I'm still surprised how frequently their fathers come up in them defining who they are. My female students talk more about their moms (often as a "best friend"), but don't seem to be as desperate for a connection to/define themselves through/etc. as much.

Even in the literature I teach, so many of the male characters are haunted (in Hamlet's case it's quite literal) by their fathers' wishes. 

As I've been thinking about this, I think I need to go back through all of my male characters (even minor ones) and really consider the backstory of their relationships with their fathers, and from here on out I want to do a quickwrite on that relationship when I create a character. I probably won't use any of the quickwrite, but I need to consider the question more deeply if I want to flesh out my male characters more. 

Some sub-questions to consider:
*Is his dad in his life?
*How often does he see his dad?
*How many minutes per day (on average) do they talk?
*How does his dad treat his mom?
*How does his dad treat women in general?
*Is his dad in a career he likes?
*Does his dad consider himself "successful"?
*Does he consider his dad "successful"?
*When is his dad most proud of him?
*Does his dad have any unfulfilled dreams he is putting on his son?
*Is his dad happy?
*When does he do his best bonding with his dad? What are they doing at the time?
*If his dad is not in the picture, who is the closest he has to a "father figure" and how do these questions relate to him?
*Is his dad religious? Political? 
*What does he see as the way he is similar to his dad?
*How does he differentiate himself from his father?
*Does he feel loved by his father?
*What does he desperately hope to do differently than his father? 
*What does the family name mean to him?
My dad, brothers, and husband at my wedding

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step - Lao Tzu.

But for writers that journey begins with one word followed by thousands more. 

So how to stay on track and get the ball rolling?  As you know, I like to "keep it real," but  I do have three secret sources for my mojo.

1. Coca-Cola
2. Chocolate
3. Walks

And of course a little DR34Ming never hurt anyone either!

Happy Trails!!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Building On That Writing

My  youngest has a state writing test coming up, so we been swamped with lots of writing material lately.  Most of the material deals with ways to expand sentences by adding details.  Over the past few months, we've done several writing exercises and have even made up our own silly games. One of our favorite games is to take a simple sentence and pile on the details.

For example, here's my favorite one he wrote.

It's not -

The man cooked.

But -

The big, sweaty, hairy man leaned over his pot of chili and stirred the beans as sweat dripped down his chin and into the pot.


He's pretty proud of that one and I guess I am too.  Sadly, now everything is big, sweaty, and hairy. 

Here's another similar one - the WHO, WHAT, and WHY game.


WHO:   Collin picked strawberries.
WHAT: Collin picked a bucket full of strawberries.
WHY:   Collin picked a bucket full of strawberries to share with his friends.

Hopefully all this writing will make my little one a stronger one and me too.  When I am editing I tend to go back and add more detail, but I like the idea of playing the WHO, WHAT, WHY game.  This last game might help me clarify my writing to my readers.  I often know what I am talking, so sometimes I forget the readers may get confused if I leave out too much detail.

Another thing I like to do is thing about the five senses and add those into my story.  See, piling on more detail.

 So what secrets do you have to building onto your writing?  As a writer and a mom, I'd love to hear some more fun ideas.

Well, time to get back to building.  Happy Writing.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

To Critique Group or Not To Critique Group

Girl with Coffee Cup saying "A Critique Group? Of course! I thought you'd never ask!"It's the age old question for every burgeoning writer. Should I join a critique group or should I not? The benefits are many fold, camaraderie, consistency, fresh eyes and possibly wine to boot.

But the downside of critique groups can also be challenging to new writers. Who's advise should you listen to, what if you have a bully in your group, what are the skill sets of the participants? Integrating yourself in an already existing group can be a daunting task.

So how do you find the right partners for you?

There are a number of options:

1) Start one with like minded friends

Groups don't have to be large. Sometimes it might just be two or three participants. The goal is to come together to support each other and push your writing forward. Sometimes knowing that you have to meet to read five pages the next week is enough to push you to continue to write.


There are a number of groups that meet to write or critique in your local community and the best way to search them out is through It can seem a bit daunting to put your writing out there to strangers but the benefit of this is consistency (there is usually a specific day each week that the group meets) and fresh eyes. Participants can also choose when they want to participate so if you can't make it one week, it's not going to hurt you the next.

3) Faculty Led Critique Groups

For those that have a little extra cash to spare, the are critique groups out there that are lead by seasoned writers and editors. I am currently participating in one and it is by far the best critique experience I've had to date. Not only do you get feedback from fellow writers but you also get the structure and technical input that you would not from a regular critique group. Organizations such as San Diego Writers Ink. offer these types of critique services.

The most important thing to remember is that everyone in the group is there to help. The goal is to push everyone's writing to make it better (in a constructive and mature manner). You don't have to take the feedback that individuals provide but if you're getting the same input from several writers, then you know, there's something in your writing that you need to revisit.

Happy Writing and Critiquing!