Wednesday, May 25, 2016

YA is NOT Dumbed-Down Adult Fiction

Last week, it was announced that Dan Brown is currently working on a special YA version of his mega-bestseller The Da Vinci Code. As you can imagine, this sparked a lot of conversation—much of it incredulous.
It isn't clear exactly what will be different about the YA-specific version of the book, other than the fact that it will be "abridged." What does that mean, exactly? Hard words taken out? Sex scenes removed? The religious/historical aspects toned down? All of those can be found in YA novels, so the whole concept has many people confused.

In the interest of full disclosure, I wasn't a particular fan of the original. But the idea of changing a book that's perfectly readable for young adults (I was nineteen when I read it, and I know plenty of people who were younger!) is just insulting.

There's a pervasive attitude that young adults aren't smart or sophisticated enough to understand adult fiction. This couldn't be further from the truth. Sure, there are plenty of simple, uncomplicated books in YA... but just like adult fiction, there's a whole range (surely no one's going to argue that most category romances are dense or difficult to understand?). YA novels often feature beautiful, well-written prose, plenty of literary devices, and complex social and moral issues. Show me someone who thinks all YA is simplistic, and I'll show you someone who hasn't read widely in the category.

Time will tell if young adults flock to the "abridged" version of The Da Vinci Code like Brown and his publisher are hoping. But I think I'll stick to YA written by people who don't talk down to their audience.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Screenwriting Classic "Save the Cat" Tips for YA Writers

After looking back through the screenwriter's classic text Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, I jotted down some notes on key points that are really relevant for YA writers today.


*"...liking the person we go on a journey with is the single most important element in drawing us into the story" So true for any storytelling.

* A great way to get the reader to like your lead character is to have him/her do something humanizing/kind like saving a cat in the opening scene (think Katniss taking her sister's place in The Hunger Games).

* You need to be able to sum up "what is this about" in a single short logline. Novels are no different since a book often needs to be sold based on a cool title, a picture that can sum up the point, and a paragraph.

* A compelling logline is based around irony.

* You have to have a hero/main character (or two) for us to connect with.

* Protagonist must have a PRIMAL (survival, hunger, love, death, etc.) motivation that is what will make the hero succeed.

* After determining the PRIMAL motivation for your hero, now look to structure. Blake Snyder has created an awesome 15 beat single page document that is well worth checking out. If you're someone like me who loves a great simple worksheet, this one is for you as we know that many great writers use screenwriting technique to get an engaging plot.

* Snyder suggests writing out each scene on a card and that there should be 40 cards total divided up between Act One, Act Two (part one), Act Two (part two), and Act Three. The cards should be placed there. He recommends using them to chart plot and emotional beats. Writers often use similar cards on Scrivener to great success.

* "Pope in the Pool" trick is a nice way to bury backstory. The basic premise is that you make the scene so funny (a Pope in a pool) that the information dump being delivered by a character isn't that boring anymore; the longer backstory piece just serves as a deadpan counterbalance to heighten the comedy occurring in the action.

* Avoid "Double Mumbo Jumbo." In world-building with fantasy/sci-fi you only have so much suspension of disbelief. If you push the line too far or are inconsistent with your imaginary world's rules, your reader won't trust you.

* Avoid too much "laying pipe" which means taking too long to get to the action. If you're 25 pages in with setup, you've gone wayyyyy too long & you've just killed your audience off.

* Avoid "too much marzipan." Marzipan is delicious in small doses, but if you keep adding more and more and more and overdoing the awesomeness of something it overwhelms and ruins it.

For the rest of the
awesome tips, you'll have to get the book (which I highly recommend) and get writing!!! 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Happy Birthday National Parks

National Parks turn 100 this year.  Pretty awesome!  But for me, National Parks are extra special.  I have chosen to use National Parks as settings for my Mason Davis series.

My first novel, Mason Davis and the Rise of the Storm Makers, takes place in the Southwest and covers many of the parks from Texas to Arizona.







My second book, Mason Davis and the Storm Maker's Song, takes place in parks ranging from Florida to Texas.











My last book, Mason Davis and the Fight for Freedom, covers the parks and sites surrounding our country's capital.








Now, I may draw from nature (and our National Parks) for my inspiration, but my ideas are often dwarfed by the significance of these national treasures.  I can only humbly pay homage to these beauties, but I do hope that my stories, settings, and knowledge within my written works can help to inspire others to love National Parks the way I do. . . .  They have inspired me and taught me to keep it real.

So Happy Birthday National Parks and thanks for all the fond memories and all the inspiration.

You rock!!!





Friday, May 13, 2016

Advice to Writers + How Pantsing Can Help You Write More + A Giveaway from ARGOS Author Philip W. Simpson

We're excited to welcome Philip W. Simpson to Thinking to Inking! Today, he shares how becoming a pantser helped him become a more prolific writer, as well as advice for those of us still slogging it out in the query trenches. Don't forget to scroll to the bottom of the post for a chance to win a copy of Philip's latest release, Argos.

Guest post from author Philip W. Simpson:

Pantsing vs. Plotting and How it Can Help You Write More Books

I’m much more of a pantser now than I used to be. I’ve just about finished my 9th novel and to honest, I’m not really sure what’s going to happen next. I just know that when my fingers hit the keyboard, ideas come. Some are good, some are bad but I just get the draft down first. I can look for inconsistences and poor writing later (and trust me, there’s going to be a lot).

I planned my first three novels meticulously but I have found over the years that I don’t like to be restricted like this. Often unexpected ideas come during the writing process. This initiates a somewhat awkward confrontation between the pantser and planner parts of my brain. One is saying ‘you have to do this because it says so here. See!’ and the other one is saying ‘bollocks to that. This new idea is better. Go with it.’

The pantser often wins out. In fact, I think the planner has given up. Once they’ve done a rough outline i.e. main character starts at this point, get him or her to the end point in the most interesting way possible—then their job is done. The pantser takes over. So, what I’m saying is don’t restrict yourself. Who cares if you write yourself into a corner. Ben Okri once gave me some good advice which was essentially this: writing yourself into a corner is an opportunity for creativity and for some of your best writing to emerge. You are literally forced to come up with some inventive ways for your characters to get out of their dead end/and or sticky situation.

Advice for writers slogging it out in the query trenches:

If you’re looking for an agent, do your research. I checked out Editors and Predators. Look for feedback from other authors on chat sites. Make lists. Look for books that are similar to yours, check out the authors and find who they are represented by. If they look legit, I’d query them. Make more lists.

Many agencies and publishers hate multiple submissions. And I do mean hate. Check their submission criteria. Every one is different. Queries are fine. Send out lots of queries (cover letter, blurb, a bit about yourself—once again, check their webpage to see what they require). Never send a partial or full ms until they ask for it. Some are fine with multiple submissions. Keep a spreadsheet listing with dates and either query, partial, or full. And outcome obviously. One of my spreadsheets has 50 odd entries.

If you do get an offer, however, you must, MUST, let other agents know. If you don’t, you run the risk of being blacklisted. Also, it gives other agents a chance to get in an offer (a multiple offer situation—makes all authors swoon).

To reiterate: do your research. Look for writers who write for the same genre and market. Find out who their agents are. Check out their website. Research individual agents and find out what they are looking for. Tailor your query letter to them i.e. “I see that you are looking for …. And that you represent…” Agents hate form letters (even though they send out form replies). Only send them your ms if it’s the genre they are after. Otherwise, you are wasting their time and yours. Only put things in your cover letter that are relevant. Don’t tell them that you worked at McDonalds in the holidays. Do tell them if you won awards or have been previously published. Don’t tell them that your mom loves your work. Keep a tab on who and what you have sent. I once made the mistake of sending the same ms twice to the same agent because I hadn’t updated my query spreadsheet. He was not impressed. Most of all, if you think you need an agent, be persistent. Don’t give up! Take on board any feedback (you probably won’t get much).

The Process of Writing Argos

I got the idea for Argos from a page in Homer’s Odyssey. This is where Odysseus returns after twenty years to his island of Ithaka and finds his loyal dog Argos still waiting for him. He’s lying forgotten and dying on a dung heap but sees Odysseus, raises his head, wags his tail and dies. I cried when I first read it and have cried every time since. I love stories about dogs and I love first person narratives so hence the reason I chose to tell the story from Argos’ eyes. Besides, I had a blank canvas of twenty years to fill in which gave me creative license.

I’m a full time elementary teacher and as a matter of necessity, I have to write fast. I write in my holidays and weekends. In a two week term break, I can write 40k words so Argos took me around 4-5 weeks to write. You have to remember that I already have a pretty strong idea of the story in my head.

This is not too dissimilar to the writing process for my other books with the exception of last year. I was lucky enough to have a sabbatical last year where I completed my Masters in Creative Writing. The course work for that was to write a novel. I wrote it fairly quickly (4 months) but then had the luxury of spending the rest of the year reworking it. It was a fantastic experience. I wish every year was like that.



Argos by Phillip W. Simpson
Release Date: May 10, 2016
Publisher: Month9Books


Loyalty has no limits

Raised from a pup by Greek hero, Odysseus, Argos has come to learn the true meaning of love and loyalty. But when Odysseus leaves for the Trojan War, little does Argos know it will be 20 years before he sees his master again. With Odysseus gone his wife, Penelope, and son, Telemachus, are easy prey for neighboring kings and the Gods themselves.

But Argos was tasked to keep them safe until Odysseus returns and that is a promise he is determined to keep – whatever the cost. Told through his eyes, Argos recounts the story of his life – his pain, his joy, his triumphs and failures; his endurance in the face of hardships almost too great to believe.

Above all else, Argos strives to do what is right – and to remain loyal to his King when all others have given up hope. To live long enough to see his beloved master one more time.

This epic myth of love and loyalty proves that a dog really is man's best friend.




About the author

Phillip W. Simpson has written over 50 children’s books for both middle grade and young adult readers. He has a background in Ancient History and Archaeology, and has partially completed his doctorate in Archaeology. He lives in Auckland, New Zealand, with his wife Rose, their son, Jack and their two border terriers, Whiskey and Raffles. When not writing, he works as an elementary school teacher.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Writing the First Book in a YA Series

When you’re writing a book, it’s normal to wonder if it would work better as a standalone novel or the beginning of a series. While a series might seem appealing (after all, your fans will get to read more in the world you created and you’ll make more money, right?) there are many books that simply work better as standalone novels. You are the only one who can make a decision about whether there’s enough story to tell to justify more than one book.
If you decide to go the series route, there are some things you’ll want to keep in mind. First, current advice is to have the first book stand alone for the most part. That might sound confusing—how can it be a series if it stands alone?—but another way to put this would be to ensure the first book’s story arc wraps up in a conclusion that’s satisfying for the reader. If your intended first book in a series has a cliffhanger ending where the hero/heroine is about to be devoured by a horrible monster, that’s a problem.

Having the first book stand alone doesn’t mean you can’t leave some loose ends at the end, however. JK Rowling does a great job of this in HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S/PHILOSOPHER’S STONE. While the main plot of the book is resolved (Harry finishes his first year at school, bests the villain who threatened him, and finds a place to belong at last), the reader knows that Voldemort is still out there somewhere and that Harry will be returning to Hogwarts the next year.

When pursuing traditional publication, don’t make the mistake of putting in your query letter to agents that it’s book one of a planned fifteen-book series. Even if you are planning fourteen more books, you’ll have to sell the first one first, and then it will have to do well enough so the publisher wants to publish the others. In a query, the best way to express that your book could be a series is with some variation of the wording “standalone novel with series potential.” (Of course, then you have to make sure the book actually does stand alone.)

If you know you want to write further works in same world and/or about the same characters, but don’t necessarily want to continue forward directly from events of the first book, companion novels might be the perfect compromise. Some good YA examples include Kristin Cashore’s GRACELING and FIRE, and Stephanie Perkins’s ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS and LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR.

Are you planning or have you written a YA series?

Monday, May 9, 2016

How (And Why) I Got My Agent

If you can't tell from the title of this post, I have some exciting news to share. :-) But first I hope you'll indulge me with a trip down memory lane, because the story of how I got my agent starts many years ago, when I was first querying my debut, Where the Staircase Ends.

Going it alone

I queried Where the Staircase Ends on and off for almost two years, taking breaks to revise. While I had some requests from the slush pile, I found most of my success through contests. (I'm pretty sure I
entered every single query contest I could get my hands on.)

It was through one of these contests that I received two full requests from small presses. I hadn't thought about publishing with a small press, but I figured, why not give it a shot? So I sent them my manuscript. At the same time, one of my critique partners suggested that I check out Month9Books and a few other smaller publishing houses. So I decided to query them as well, because I wanted to improve my odds.

Weeks passed. Thumbs twiddled. Twitter feeds were stalked.

And then one day an offer of publication showed up in my inbox. Then another. To say I was in shock was the understatement of the universe.

After several squeal-induced sessions of jumping up and down, I managed to get my head on straight and remembered that I still had manuscripts out with several agents. So I gave them the appropriate heads up. Most politely passed, one went back and forth on a potential R&R, and one made an offer of representation.

More jumping. More squealing.

But here was the rub--when I had "the call" with the offering agent, I learned that she hadn't read the manuscript yet. She was offering to negotiate the publishing deal for me without even know if she liked my story. She was incredibly nice and very generous--in short, she wanted to make sure that I was receiving a fair deal and offering her services to help me get there. But something didn't feel right. I didn't just want someone to help negotiate a deal for me--I had a lawyer and felt like I knew enough to negotiate a deal alone if absolutely needed. What I wanted was someone who was excited to work with me. Someone who loved my writing. Someone who wanted to work with me whether or not I already had an offer of publication.

So I surprised myself and passed on the agent's offer.  Ultimately, I signed with Month9Books sans agent, and Where the Staircase was released onto the world on April 14, 2015.

I am very fortunate to have had a wonderful debut experience. My publisher is open, friendly, helpful, and provides tons of information to help their debut authors when needed. But here is the honest truth--as great as my publishing experience was, I often found myself wishing I had someone to help guide me through the process. Someone who could answer the millions of questions I had that I didn't feel comfortable bugging my editor with. Someone who could offer perspective about marketing plans, cover artwork, and what I should expect from the process.

Someone like an agent.

What does not kill you makes you stronger (also known as the part where I find my dream agent)

Earlier this year when I finally finished revisions for my latest project, I knew without a doubt that I would enter the query trenches again. Even though I knew from the past that the trenches were hard, painful, and wrought with rejection. Even though I knew that I could still come out on the other side without an agent.

It was around this time that I learned Brenda Drake was hosting a contest called Pitch Madness. I've been stalking following Brenda Drake's blog for years, so I jumped at the chance to participate in one of her amazing contest. (If you don't already follow her blog, run over there right now and start. And check out her amazing books Thief of Lies and Touching Fate while you're at it.)

I was over the moon when I found out that my manuscript, THE DARKNESS RISES, was picked to participate. And like (I imagine) the other entrants, I bit my nails down to nubs the day of the actual event.

I was thrilled to receive multiple requests from the main contest and the Twitter party that followed, but I knew better than to get my hopes up. After all, I'd been down this road before.

Weeks passed. Thumbs twiddled. Twitter feeds were stalked.

Then one day an email appeared in my inbox from an agent who had requested my full during the contest. She wanted to let me know that she was greatly enjoying my manuscript AND that she had ordered a copy of Where the Staircase Ends and couldn't wait to read it.

I nearly fell out of my chair. Not only did she take time out of her day to let me know she was enjoying my story, but she wanted to read my debut, even though it's already been published and wasn't open for representation? What?!

I told myself not to get my hopes up. I'd been down this road before and I knew what kind of disappointment could be waiting on the other side. What if she hated the ending? What if the plot twists didn't work for her?  Suddenly all I could think about were all the reasons she wouldn't want to rep me

Two more weeks passed. My thumbs were now nubs from all the twiddling. I thought I might die.

Then THE email came--she loved my story, and wanted to find a time to chat.

I did my homework. I prepared my questions. And because this wasn't my first time to the rodeo, I didn't hold back when it came time to ask them. Because I knew what I wanted this time around.

I was blown away by her enthusiasm and passion. She'd thought of potential comp titles. She had a list of potential editors in mind and was ready to start building my submission plan. But more than a plan, I felt like she could give me the thing I'd been missing the first time around--a business partner who believed in me, my writing, and the future of my writing career.

I couldn't ask for anything more.

So without further ado, I'm excited to announce that I am represented by the fabulous Jessica Schmeidler. And I'm feeling pretty darn excited to see what the future holds for us.

Thanks for indulging me while I shared my story.

And because I know how much everyone loves the numbers, here are my query stats:

Queries submitted: 36
Full Requests:  5
Partial Requests: 6 (5 of the 6 turned into fulls)
Number of fabulous agents now representing me: 1



Thursday, May 5, 2016

Author Julie Reece talks writing Book 2 vs Book 1 + a chance to win THE PALADINS


We are thrilled to bring you another successful author chat, this time with Julie Reece, author of THE ARTISANS and its recently released sequel, THE PALADINS.  Don't forget to scroll to the bottom of the post for a chance to win your own copy!

Without Further ado, please join me in welcoming Julie Reece to Thinking to Inking!

Hi Julie!  Thanks so much for joining us.

Thank you so much for having me here today. I’m really excited for the chance to talk about my new book.

How did the process of writing the second book (THE PALADINS) differ from the first (THE ARTISANS)? How did you make sure the two stories flowed together and built on each other?

This is a great question.

I tend to describe the first book (THE ARTISANS) as a (very) loose retelling of Beauty and the
Beast, and I actually wrote it as a stand=alone. The story poured out of me with zero writer’s block. I used the basic outline from the fairy tale to get a start—that is—until the plot took a hard left turn 1/3 into writing it. But that’s a story for another day. I had a blast creating my twisted fairy tale version of B and B. Start to finish, the manuscript took around four months to complete. I gave it to my agent, said goodbye to the characters and thought I was done.

Not so much. Because when Month9Books acquired the story, they asked me to write more books based on the new world I’d created. I can honestly say I was shocked. The story line seemed so clearly finished in my head. I couldn’t think where I would take these characters next. They had their happily-ever-after, didn’t they? What more could happen to them? Did I want to torture them further? I told my editor thanks, but I didn’t think that there wasn’t enough material to make a good sequel. Since I was green, and maybe a little slow on the uptake, the folks at Month9 were very patient and assured me they believed there was more to say.

Turns out they were right.

Writing The Paladins was a completely different experience. I didn’t have a concept, and the story took me a whole year to write. Where the first book came swiftly, I dug this one out of my heart slowly, using a very dull, metaphorical spoon. The funny thing is, that made me love this story even more. Maybe I’m weird, (okay, forget I said that) but it’s true. I don’t always appreciate things as much as I should when they come easily. Paladins made me work for it, and, as an artist, the journey was more satisfying for the effort. While writing, I realized that though the hero and heroine fought hard to be together in the first book, they still had a lot of baggage that they’d brought with them into their relationship. Baggage doesn’t simply evaporate when you’re in love. At least, not in my world. And the reality was their past issues were either going to bring them closer or rip them apart. In addition, there were supporting characters’ whose stories hadn’t been told yet, along with questions I’d left unanswered in book one.

I brought the two stories together based on those ideas. That happily-ever-after isn’t a guarantee. We have to work for what we love, maybe accept what we can’t change, and exercise some demons along the way. If The Artisans is twisted around the tale of Beauty and the Beast, I would describe The Paladins as Alice in Wonderland meets Labyrinth, only creepier. I should give readers fair warning that The Paladins is darker than the first book. And while I think the stories complement each other in style, they definitely have their own vibe. I hope you enjoy the story. It’s a wild ride and took it’s time getting here, but I’m really excited about the result. : )

Thank you again for having me here today! If you’ve read the book (or plan to read) I’d love for you to drop me a line on Twitter, Goodreads or IG and tell me what you thought. XOXO

Thank you Julie! I can't wait to read The Paladins!

About The Paladins:

The Paladins (The Artisans #2) by Julie Reece
Publication Date:  May 3, 2016, from Month9Books

The Artisan curse is broken. Souls trapped in a mysterious otherworld called The Void are finally released. Now, Raven Weathersby, Gideon Maddox, and Cole Wynter can finally move on with their lives...or so they thought. If the ancient magic is truly dead, then why are mystical fires plaguing Gideon at every turn? What accounts for Raven’s frightening visions of her dead mother? And who is the beautiful, tortured girl haunting Cole’s dreams?

Last year, a group of lonely teens sacrificed secrets, battled the supernatural, and faced their own demons to set one another free. Yet six months later, the heart of evil still beats within The Void. And the trio is forced to face the horrific truth: that their only way out is to go back in.


The Paladins completes this eerie YA Southern Gothic where loyalties are tested, love is challenged, and evil seeks them on the ultimate battlegrounds—in their minds, their souls, and their hearts.

Add it to GoodreadsGoogle Play | BAM | Chapters | Indies | Amazon | B&N | Kobo | TBD | iBooks

About Julie Reece

Born in Ohio, I lived next to my grandfather’s horse farm until the fourth grade. Summers were about riding, fishing and make-believe, while winter brought sledding and ice-skating on frozen ponds. Most of life was magical, but not all.

I struggled with multiple learning disabilities, did not excel in school. I spent much of my time looking out windows and daydreaming. In the fourth grade (with the help of one very nice teacher) I fought dyslexia for my right to read, like a prince fights a dragon in order to free the princess locked in a tower, and I won.

Afterwards, I read like a fiend. I invented stories where I could be the princess… or a gifted heroine from another world who kicked bad guy butt to win the heart of a charismatic hero. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? Later, I moved to Florida where I continued to fantasize about superpowers and monsters, fabricating stories (my mother called it lying) and sharing them with my friends.

Then I thought I’d write one down…

Hooked, I’ve been writing ever since. I write historical, contemporary, urban fantasy, adventure, and young adult romances. I love strong heroines, sweeping tales of mystery and epic adventure… which must include a really hot guy. My writing is proof you can work hard to overcome any obstacle. Don’t give up. I say, if you write, write on!


Giveaway Information:  Contest ends May 20, 2016.  Five (5) winners will receive a digital copy of The Paladins (The Artisans #2) by Julie Reece (INT)


Direct Link:  http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/c08c9e8e541/?