Sunday, March 31, 2013

Celebrate a New Day

Happy Easter and happy Passover to those who are celebrating!

And happy spring to all. It's been a long, hard winter for many of us. The weather has kept its chilly grip far too long, but it's the challenges of the past six months that have really worn me down. Time for renewal and fresh starts -- and I hope we all get them, including Operation Awesome readers in the Southern Hemisphere. Spring is a state of mind and heart.

Begin the season with tomorrow's Mystery Agent one-sentence pitch contest, which will be posted tomorrow at April 1, 10 a.m. EDT.  Our Mystery Agent is looking for MG and YA. Get the details here and come back to the blog to post your entry tomorrow.

Now celebrate the day. Whatever the day means to you, make sure it has meaning.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Quick Word About Editing

Editing has always been my favorite part of the writing process. I love to see my manuscript blossom and grow into something I can be proud of. 

I have developed a system that works well for me. I like to use colored pencils, highlighters and sticky notes. I use long sheets of butcher wrap or hobby paper so I can put my high action scenes in red and my low action scenes in green. If I have a lot more green than red I know my pace is to slow.  

It's very important to put your manuscript away for a few weeks so that you have a good bit of distance from it. I like to re-read the manuscript at that point and look for conflict, character development, passive prose and voice.

I do not like to use a computer in the editing process. I prefer to work on my own with a printed manuscript. I cut and scribble and rearrange all I want without anything between myself and my project.  

I don't worry about grammar, spelling, and formatting until the second to last revision. After everything is done, I then send it to my critique partners for review.  

After I check and double check everything again, I then put the manuscript away for a second time. I let it sit for another week or two before re-reading it again and sending it to my agent.

What methods do you use for revisions?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Blog Tour Interview: STUNG by Bethany Wiggins

Yesterday, Michelle featured Bethany Wiggins' STUNG as part of the Book Paparazzi's STUNG Blog Tour. Her post includes the essential Top Ten Necessities for a Girl on the Run. The blog tour continues its second day at Operation Awesome (yes, we loved it that much). 

Today we've got an interview with the lovely author and an excerpt from the book!

Scroll to the bottom of the post to enter a giveaway for one of four signed copies of STUNG and some delicious honey sticks (which will make total sense once you've read the book). I had to laugh because Michelle and I had the same impulse to hoard honey after reading STUNG. Bethany might single-handedly increase honey demand globally. (I am in no way giving stock advice.)

About the Author
Bethany Wiggins has always been an avid reader, but not an avid writer.  She failed ninth grade English because she read novels instead of doing her homework. In high school, she sat alone at lunch and read massive hardback fantasy novels (Tad Williams and Robert Jordan anyone?). It wasn't until the end of her senior year that the other students realized she was reading fiction--not the Bible.
Once upon a time, Bethany's sister dared her to start writing an hour a day until she completed a novel. Bethany wrote a seven-hundred page fantasy novel that she wisely let no one read--but it taught her how to write.  She is the author of SHIFTING, STUNG (April 2013), and CURED (2014).

Find Bethany: Website | Goodreads | Twitter

About the Book
Releases April 2nd, 2013 by Walker Childrens
304 Pages

There is no cure for being stung.

Fiona doesn’t remember going to sleep. But when she opens her eyes, she discovers her entire world has been altered—her house is abandoned and broken, and the entire neighborhood is barren and dead. Even stranger is the tattoo on her right hand—a black oval with five marks on either side—that she doesn’t remember getting but somehow knows she must cover at any cost. She’s right.

Those bearing the tattoo have turned into mindless, violent beasts that roam the streets and sewers, preying upon the unbranded while a select few live protected inside a fortress-like wall, their lives devoted to rebuilding society and killing all who bear the mark.

Now Fiona has awakened branded, alone—and on the wrong side of the wall.


Katrina: I loved this early description of STUNG by you: "STUNG is about (in a nutshell) bees, child beasts, and a hot guy. It's the best thing I've ever written." Having read SHIFTING, I thought that last bit was high praise indeed! What do you love most about STUNG?

Bethany: Wow! You kept that description? That was from a long time ago! What do I love about STUNG? I love that the minute you read the first page, you are in the story. It is sort of like this whirlwind that sweeps you up, takes you on a furious ride, and then spits you out and leaves you gasping for breath. 

Katrina: Fiona awakens with a mark on her right hand, dubbing her one of the infected. Was the mark/tattoo—a black oval with five marks on either side—difficult to design or did the design just sort of come to you as you were writing the first draft? Is there any special meaning behind it other than what's described in the book?

Bethany: The mark sort of just happened, without a whole lot of thought. Even the ten lines on the sides--that has a HUGE meaning in the story, but when I originally gave Fiona the mark of a Level Ten, I didn't realize how crucial it would be to the plot. The meaning is just what I described in the book--nothing less, nothing more--but I do call it "the mark of the beast," which is a reference to a Biblical term.

Katrina: How many books are slated for this series? (Are there sequels in the works for the universe of SHIFTING, too?)

Bethany: There are definitely two books in the STUNG series (book two comes out January 2014), and probably three. As for SHIFTING, I don't know if that will ever go beyond one book. 

Katrina: STUNG has been called by many "the next Divergent" or "the next Hunger Games." But I'd like to hear from the author herself, what were your biggest influences in creating the universe of STUNG?

Bethany: Wow. I don't know who is calling it "the next Divergent" or "the next Hunger Games," but those are two incredible books to live up to. Just reading this question made me gasp! The biggest influences for Stung came from several sources (and actually, I didn't read Divergent until after I'd completely finished writing STUNG). The main inspiration for this book came from a nightmare, which is now chapter one. Also, I started writing STUNG at the time the Swine Flu was this big deal, and everyone was storming the health departments around the USA for a vaccination against the flu. I remember thinking to myself, "What if the government got the vaccine wrong and all of these people are going to turn into mindless zombies or something?" I did not get myself or my family vaccinated! A third factor was an article I read about the dying off honey bees. If you mix those three things, add some romance, some deceit, guns, and child beasts, you have STUNG.

Katrina: Since you have zombie-esque creatures, how difficult was it to write a romance in the midst of such carnage?

Bethany: The romance was the easiest part to write! The beasts and violence? Not so easy. Everything I write, I think to myself, "Will my daughter be able to read this when she's twelve?" So writing about insane teenagers who want to tear everyone to shreds was hard to do in a way that wasn't too gory or gratuitously violent. The romance was sort of like a breath of fresh air in the midst of the carnage!  

Katrina: What was the hardest scene/chapter to write and why? Or, alternately, which was the easiest to write?

Bethany: Believe it or not, the most important chapter, the one that ties everything together into a neat little package, was the very last--and hardest--chapter I wrote! It's in the middle of the book, the scene in the dark alley with the governor and the Raiders. When I very first finished the book I realized that it needed more, needed to be tied together earlier on, so I sat down and re-plotted the whole thing out, and then stuck a brand new chapter smack dab in the middle of the book! Easiest chapter? Chapter one, since I dreamed it and knew exactly how it looked, smelled, sounded, felt.

Katrina: What is your advice to new and/or struggling writers?

Bethany: If you love to write, don't give up! If you get rejections from agents/publishers, keep writing . . . BUT don't be afraid to write something new and better. SHIFTING was the fifth book I wrote. The first four weren't good enough, and I accepted that fact and put them permanently on the shelf. STUNG is the tenth or eleventh book I wrote, but when I started it, I knew it was good, so all the others I'd written were gladly stacked onto the shelf. So my point is, never stop trying. Never stop honing the craft of writing. Never be afraid to start something new. The more you write, the better you get.


The world swims before my eyes, a blur of brown coats, golden skin and guns, and my knees buckle. Bowen’s arm snakes around my waist and he drags me the last few steps toward the beast. In one swift move, he throws me down to the ground. And then he sits on me, his legs on either side of my hips. 
His eyes flicker to my bound chest and he freezes, as if everything in the world but the two of us has disappeared. Time stops, my eyes grow wide, and his green eyes take in every detail of my body before meeting mine again. When our eyes lock, his brow furrows, his eyes narrow in confusion, and he blinks. But then the cuffs on my arms fall from my skin. Bowen picks them up and stands, taking a slow step away from me.

Read my gushing Afterglow review of STUNG.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Blog Tour! STUNG by Bethany Wiggins

I am thrilled to have Operation Awesome be part of the blog tour for STUNG, written by the incredibly talented Bethany Wiggins (who also happens to be a very good friend of mine so I am triply thrilled!).

While I love a lot of books, I don't often completely gush over them. But this one is a gusher. I feel the same way about STUNG as I did when I read The Hunger Games and Divergent. It's THAT good.

Operation Awesome is hosting two stops for this tour, today and tomorrow. Tomorrow, Katrina will have an awesome interview with Bethany along with an excerpt of the book.

Today, we have Bethany's Top 10 List of what a girl on the run would need to survive. Be sure to scroll to the bottom of the post to enter a giveaway for one of four signed copies of STUNG and some delicious honey sticks (which will make total sense once you've read the book. The second I finished the book I ran out and started stocking up on honey lol).

Without further ado:

Necessities for a Girl On the Run

These are not only for a girl on the run, but a girl on the run who lives in the world of STUNG.

1. A gun. If you can't protect yourself and your food, you're dead.
2. Ammunition. For the previously mentioned gun.
3. A source of food--something easy to carry--like calorie tablets or dehydrated food.
4. A water purifier.
5. A Swiss army knife.
6. Knowledge. You've got to know what you're running from, where you're going, and how to beat the crap out of anyone or anything standing between you and your destination.
7. (Optional but highly recommended) A hot guy to watch your back, make out with on occasion, cuddle with on cold nights, and risk his life for you if need be.
8. Good shoes. If your feet hurt and you can't run, you're screwed.
9. A boy's haircut. Just trust me on this one. Or read STUNG.
10. A tooth brush and tooth paste, especially if you opt for the hot guy (see #7).

( :D great list! And I'd definitely recommend opting for the hot guy - especially if he's Bowen!)

About the Author

Bethany Wiggins has always been an avid reader, but not an avid writer. She failed ninth grade English because she read novels instead of doing her homework. In high school, she sat alone at lunch and read massive hardback fantasy novels (Tad Williams and Robert Jordan anyone?). It wasn't until the end of her senior year that the other students realized she was reading fiction--not the Bible. Once upon a time, Bethany's sister dared her to start writing an hour a day until she completed a novel. Bethany wrote a seven-hundred page fantasy novel that she wisely let no one read--but it taught her how to write. She is the author of SHIFTING, STUNG (April 2013), and CURED (2014).

Find Bethany 

Website | Twitter | Goodreads

About the Book 

Releases April 2nd, 2013 by Walker Childrens
304 Pages

There is no cure for being stung. 

Fiona doesn’t remember going to sleep. But when she opens her eyes, she discovers her entire world has been altered—her house is abandoned and broken, and the entire neighborhood is barren and dead. Even stranger is the tattoo on her right hand—a black oval with five marks on either side—that she doesn’t remember getting but somehow knows she must cover at any cost. She’s right. 

Those bearing the tattoo have turned into mindless, violent beasts that roam the streets and sewers, preying upon the unbranded while a select few live protected inside a fortress-like wall, their lives devoted to rebuilding society and killing all who bear the mark. 

Now Fiona has awakened branded, alone—and on the wrong side of the wall. 


Goodreads | Barnes and Noble | Amazon | The Book Depository | IndieBound   


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Details on April's Mystery Agent Contest

In case anyone was wondering, yes, we're having a Mystery Agent Contest on April 1st! So get your one-sentence pitches polished and ready to go. And this time around, our Mystery Agent will be considering 75 pitches, so more people will get a chance at a full manuscript request!
This month our mystery agent is looking for all genres of:

YA (Young Adult) Fiction
MG (Middle Grade) Fiction
And would specifically like to see:
  • Grounded YA, especially serious or darker or twisty contemporary YA
  • YA or MG fiction that touches on what it means to be a member of the LGBTQ today
  • Fantastic MG with heart and humor and fast pacing.
  • Mystery Agent is especially keen on MG at the moment, and loves stories about complicated family dynamics
See you all back here at 9 AM Central on April 1st for the Mystery Agent fun! 
And if you'd like to see examples of one-line pitches that got some attention, go check out the entries in Brenda Drake's Pitch Madness, going on now! 

Monday, March 25, 2013

A Few of My Favorite Things: Recap of #MGLitchat Tips from the Pros

As I mentioned in my post last week, I’m one of eight hostesses for the weekly middle grade twitter chat at hash tag #mglitchat. This month we’ve featured our second annual Tips from the Pros, weekly chats focusing on insights from middle grade authors, agents, editors, and publicity experts. This series is not only fun to plan, but very inspirational and motivating. I thought I’d share a few of the tweets from the #mglitchat Pros that I favorited from this month’s chats. If you want to see the full transcripts from the chats, they are available at  I thought some of these might get the creative juices flowing on a snowy spring Monday morning…
Fav #MGLitchat Tips from the Pros
Tips from MG Authors on Drafting and Revising
@springstubb I always put my work away until I'm able to re-read it with the eyes of a stranger--or even an enemy
@springstubb: I think we risk failure every time we begin. It's part of creating
@JenGenn When I can't find my character's voice, I write a poem. Almost always gives me a scene idea. Always gets me to the core desire.
RoseCooper (Blogtastic Novel Series: Gossip From The Girls Room, Rumors From The Boys Room, and Secrets From The Sleeping Bag)
@RoseCooper  i never start a book at the very beginning for a first draft.  sometimes i start in the middle. or at the end. and then i piece everything together like a big puzzle.
Greg Fishbone (Galaxy Game series)
@tem2 Last word: When you find yourself in the zone during a writing session, thank the universe for cooperating
Tips from MG Authors and Agents on Querying and Working with Agents
Geoff Rodkey (CHRONICLES OF EGG series)
@GeoffRodkey 11-year-olds can't give actual notes for improving things, but they will usually tell you if something sucks. Which is critical.
John Cusick (Greenhouse Literary Agency)
@johnmcusick Also, know the first novel you complete may not be the one that sells. It can take a few turns at bat before you hit a homerun.
Tips from MG Authors and Editors on the Path to Publication
Zareen Jaffery (Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers editor)
@zareenjaffery Write to please yourself first. It's originality and authenticity that stand out most
Kevin Emerson (OLIVER NOCTURNE series)
@kcemerson If I can see a character, really hear them, then I can find the right story for them
Deborah Kovacs (Walden Pond Press editorial director)
@deborahkovacs Also trust your subconscious. It is telling you the story. You must listen to it.
@clairelegrand but more than that, it's about creating something worth remembering. if you lose sight of that, you lose the specialness of Story
Hopefully one or more of these tips are inspirational or motivational to you as you start a new week pursuing your writing and publishing goals. And if you have time on Thursday at 9 pm eastern, join us for the final Tips from the Pros chat on marketing MG. Then, in April, we’re doing a What MG Readers Want, featuring teachers, librarians, booksellers, and bloggers/reviewers.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Plinkett Test

I'm about to do something unfair.

Under no circumstances click on the following link unless you have two hours to kill and want to see an amazing takedown and analysis of the Star Wars prequels, during which you will alternately wince in horror and laugh uproariously depending on your own personal damage.

The Plinkett reviews (of which there are more—that's the second unfair thing I'll do today, tell you there are more of these) are one of my favorite guides to how movies, and stories in general, can go wrong.  This also makes them a good resource for figuring out how to make stories go right.

About twenty minutes in, the reviewer analyzes characterization problems in Star Wars: Episode I compared to the original trilogy.  He gives some friends a simple test—describe a given character from the original trilogy without using their name, physical description, or job.  Then do the same for a character in the prequel trilogy.  Han Solo, Obi Wan Kenobi, Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, all prompt excited responses, and dead-on descriptions.  When we get to the prequel trilogy, the interviewees umm and aaah all over the place.

When I first watched the Plinkett Review a couple years ago (yes, dear reader, I've watched these multiple times, and no, I'm not sure what that says about myself), that test stuck with me.  Afterward, editing, I posed the question to myself: could I describe my characters without reference to their job, name, or appearance?  We remember characters who pass—Han Solo, Ellen Ripley, Marian Ravenwood, Indiana Jones, Sherlock Holmes, Phillip Marlowe, Aerin Firehair, heck, even Humbert Humbert—while those who fail slip away into memory.

(Failing isn't necessarily a bad thing if your main character isn't the point of your story.  The narrator of Kafka's Penal Colony doesn't pass this test.  The Officer, though, does…)

Whatever you think of the Plinkett reviews as a whole, I think this test is useful for structural and character edits.  What about you?  How do you test your characters?  What happens when one doesn't hold up?

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Numerical Motivation: Spreadsheet Awesomeness

About a year ago I went back to work full time for the first time in ten years. Between that and the husband and the kids, it's been extremely difficult to make writing a priority. That's not even considering how fried my brain usually is when I get home from work. Weeks have gone by where I haven't written anything. So much guilt. But that's not what this post is about. No one wants to read about that.

This post is about my love for spreadsheets and how they've helped motivate me to write, even when I'm exhausted.

I started with your basic keep-track-of-how-much-I've-written type of spreadsheet. Excel is great for adding things together, but what most people don't know is just how awesome Excel is and how many other amazing things it can do.

And there's a new version out. I'm so jealous of anyone who has it. *drools*

Anyway, since I know what Excel is capable of, I can never have just a basic spreadsheet. I want my spreadsheets to do more for me than just addition and subtraction. And they should look pretty, too. So my basic keep-track-of-how-much-I've-written spreadsheet evolved into a tracking device with colorful rewards for reaching my goals and charts to show me how I'm doing over the year. I even added a WIP calculator.

And I thought I'd share it with all of you. :)

Here's a sample version:

Click on the ... next to March to see the other sheets.

The last three sheets in the workbook have the WIP Calculator, Stats, and Instructions. Don't let the fact that I included instructions scare you off. It's very simple to use. All you have to do is enter your daily goal and then your daily word count each day and the spreadsheet does the rest. :)

I modified my original version to accommodate the following schedules: Weekends Only (2 days per week), Mon-Fri (5 days per week), Mon-Sat (6 days per week), and Sun-Sat (7 days per week). They can be downloaded by clicking the links below. If none of these will work for your schedule, I put together a tutorial to show you how to customize the spreadsheet based on your schedule. That tutorial is up on my personal blog today.

Weekends Only
Monday thru Friday
Monday thru Saturday
Sunday thru Saturday

Please note, you will have to download the spreadsheets and you will probably have to enable editing to use them.

When you click on the links, you will likely get something like this :

Just click OK and then click the appropriate button to open the file.

Internet Explorer:


Chrome automatically downloads the file and displays it in the bottom left corner of your screen. Just click the button and it will open.

Once the file is open, you may need to enable editing. To do this, simply click the yellow Enable Editing button at the top of the spreadsheet. If you don't see this button, you don't need to do anything--you should be good to go.

Don't forget to save your file when you're done. :) Also, Skydrive automatically converts the file to the newest format (xlsx) when uploaded. If you need the 97-2003 format (xls), leave me your email address in the comments and I'll send it directly to you.

And the spreadsheets are all locked to protect the formulas. You'll still be able to enter your daily words and your daily goals with the locks in place.

If you're comfortable with Excel and aren't worried about erasing formulas, you can unlock the pages by going to the Review tab and clicking Unprotect Sheet. They're not password protected. (Pictorial instructions for removing protection are included in the tutorial on my personal blog.)

If you have any questions or if something isn't working correctly, please let me know in comments.

Now go write, so you can get started on filling in those numbers! ;)

Friday, March 22, 2013

Revising with an Agent

Happy March 22nd, everyone! What's so special about March 22nd? Well, for starters, it happens to be the anniversary of this blogger's birth. *tosses confetti in the air*

But this time of year, besides being awesome for other reasons, will now always remind me of this time in 2010, when I started querying agents for the first time. Since I signed with my agent at the begininng of December, my entire agent-hunting process spanned two manuscripts and almost three years. And I know I wouldn't be at this point now if I hadn't gotten such awesome feedback along the way.

Some people do get an offer of rep right off the bat, but for others, there's some trial and error involved. Sometimes your book isn't quite sub-ready, but an agent thinks it could be, and sends you some suggestions. In QueryTracker parlance, this is an R&R - a revise and resubmit.

So if you get an R&R, what does that mean? Here are some things to keep in mind:

- Do a happy dance! Agents are under no obligation to provide feedback, and are under tremendous time constraints elsewhere. They're taking time, for free, to work on your manuscript with you. Even if there's no guarantee this could lead to an offer, this is something to be proud of. Yay!

- While you are doing your happy dance, remember: this is a test of your abilities. The ability to revise effectively is a crucial one. This is your chance to put your best foot forward as a potential client, both on a professional level and a personal one.

- Remember that this could be your potential agent, too. This is an excellent chance to see how well you click with this person. When you're talking to someone with a great editorial eye who really gets your book, you get this immediate sense that this person is saying, "I see what you're going for, here - and here's how you can do that even better." When you're talking to the agent, do you feel excited and energized and ready to go, or do you feel like the agent is talking about a different book?

- At the same time, if you do have a negative reaction to what the agent is saying, give yourself time to think it over. When considering a fundamental change to your book, a little distance from the issue is key, and once your brain has time to let the suggestion percolate, you may realize it's actually perfect. Or maybe you'll still feel the same, but that's okay, too. Not every editing suggestion is going to be right for you.

- Don't rush! I know that's hard, but I've been told more than once that this is the most common mistake writers make. Agents want you to take the time to get this right, so use that time to really make sure it's perfect. This is what your betas and CPs are here for!

- And remember: you are going to rock this. Go forth and kick ass.

Best of luck, everyone, and have a great weekend!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Hurry Up and Wait...Again :D

A lot of this business seems to be "hurry up and wait". Write a book in a month (NaNo anyone?)! Get those queries out! You're on deadline, get that manuscript to your editor!! And wait....and wait.....and wait some more :)

There are a lot of bumps in the road when it comes to publishing, but I think the waiting is hands down the worst. Waiting to hear from your crit partners, waiting on an editing letter, waiting on an agent response, waiting to see if that pub is going to sign you. The not knowing is enough to drive a person insane :)

I was going to post about my upcoming book A Bandit's Stolen Heart today. But I'm going to wait :D Its pub date was pushed to Monday (the 25th) so I will wait until then to share all the fun tidbits.

Until then, I wish you all happy reading and writing (and hopefully a very short wait to whatever you may be waiting on) ;)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Passion For Reading

I sometimes take it for granted that everyone loves reading (and books) the same way that I do. That they share the excitement that comes with choosing and buying a new book. The thrill of starting a new adventure. The excitement of getting home to continue reading after a long day. Or the mix of joy and sadness that comes when you close the book for the final time.

But not everyone does. It could be they're too tired. Or they don't have enough time. It could even be that they didn't enjoy reading at school. Maybe they never had someone to nurture their love for reading.

I've been thinking more about how people can encourage a love of reading. It's something I've tried to do with my nieces since they were babies. We read together. A lot. And they love going to the bookstore to buy a new book.

They've even asked if they can have the books on my bookshelves when they're old enough to read them. I'm taking this as a sign that the reading bug has them hooked.

Your love of books can be a terrific way to encourage others. You can't force someone to read, but enthusiasm can be infectious. How many people pick up books because of word of mouth? Or read something because it was bought as a gift for them? Sometimes sharing a book you've loved with a friend could open them up to a new genre. It could even ignite their passion for reading.

How do you encourage a passion for reading in others?

Want some fabulous resources to encourage reading in younger children? Check out World Book Day. World Book Day in the UK aims to encourage children to explore the pleasures of books.

Also, Kelly wrote a great post about people who are a reading and writing inspiration here.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Writing on Vacation

Do you have a plan for Spring Break?

Spring Break is just around the corner, but not everyone is lucky enough to get a real break. Some scramble for day camps to keep the kids occupied, others have relatives or neighbors to chip in. For me, one of the great perks of working at home is that I can keep my schedule flexible to accommodate the holidays.

Tip#1 Plan Activities in Advance.

My kids are content to wait if they know what they're waiting for. I like to make a list of all the things I'm willing to do (be sure to include everyone while making this list), then go to relevant websites for Spring Break specials BEFORE you fill in the calendar. For example, our skating rink offers $2.00 admission on Tuesdays. The movie theater has $1.25 deals on Mondays... Try to have something planned for each day, especially if you can't do anything big or extraordinary.

Can't think of anything unique? Google things to do in your hometown. Maybe you'll find something you've forgotten about. Or maybe there's some sort of spring-fling festival going on. We have an indoor rock wall that's fairly new... but we're always too busy to check it out! Now's a great time.

Do your kids enjoy crafty stuff? Do your research now, so you can have the necessary materials on hand. Plan sleepovers now, so you can add to the grocery list accordingly. (the goal is... the more organized you are, the more time you'll have to write!)

Tip#2 Plan Your Writing in Advance.

I'm certain a few of you would rather write than go to a pizza parlor playground, but it's Spring Break! Give yourself permission to let the writing routine slip. Or try being more efficient. If you only have one hour before it's time to do something with the family, use it wisely and you'll feel better about leaving the keyboard. If you know you're going to be sitting around while the kids play (or swim, or climb, or skate), use that time wisely as well. It's always amazing how much more I get done when there's a shortage of time or a actual deadline.

Try carrying a notebook this week. I don't normally, because I can type 10x faster than I can write by hand. But consider the time it takes to ponder a scene (or chapter)—not only to develop the point of it, but to work out the progression of each character or plot thread. In a notebook, try finishing the scene/chapter in an outlining format. Hopefully, any flaws in the plan will reveal themselves and you'll be able to iron out the kinks before you get back to the computer.

Start a list of description words that fit the scene your working on, so you're not wasting time at the computer trying to think of a word you haven't used in a while.

If you don't feel like working on the scene-in-progress, work on log-lines, query blurbs, or synopsis blurbs. Elevator and twitter pitches. Title possibilities. Considering these things before you need them might help focus the writing itself.

Work on character development by writing paragraph-length events that shaped his or her life. This history might never see the light of day, but knowing your character more thoroughly makes the writing go faster.

Be flexible! It's only a week. Well, nine days if you're counting.
Or not. Sometimes an honest and true break is exactly what you need.

Do you try to write when you're supposed to be on vacation? Any tips for working more efficiently when you do have time to write? (like turning off the internet... Ha!)

Whether you get a break or not, I hope you all get a chance to do something fun this week.

Happy Writing!
Toni Kerr

Monday, March 18, 2013

Turning the Page with a Grandparent

My original thought for a post this week was to talk about some of the fabulous guests on the weekly twitter chat #MGLitchat that I help to co-host every Thursday night. It is Tips from the Pros Month on the chat and we’ve featured some excellent middle grade authors and agents for the first two weeks.

But I’ve decided to save a recap for my post next week after I co-host the chat on the path to publication with middle grade authors and their editors this Thursday. (***Did I mention it's on Thursday?? 9 pm eastern. Join us!***)

This week I’m on vacation in Florida with my parents and my 86 year old grandmother, as well as my husband and kids. Besides the beach, there’s a lot going on with my gram’s failing health. I hate dementia and how it is dismantling her life bit by bit. One of the things that really makes me sad is to see her not able to enjoy one of her lifetime loves…reading. For as long as I can remember, she’s had a TBR pile on her nightstand, layered with classic and the latest mysteries, Agatha Christie usually dominating the stack. Now when I ask her what she’s reading, she shakes her head, giving me a wistful look as if to say she hasn’t been able to connect with her old friends and it weighs on her heart.

I owe a lot to my gram, including my love for reading and, by extension, my love of writing. I want to find a way to reinvent her literary life to ensure her new chapter includes good books. Instead of Agatha Christie, I’m thinking I’ll introduce her to Peter Brown (A CURIOUS GARDEN) or Philip and Erin Stead (BEAR HAS A STORY TO TELL, A HOME FOR BIRD, SICK DAY FOR AMOS McGEE).

I never really thought about the day that I’d read to my gram the way she read to me, but I have to accept the fact it’s here. I hope that it gives us the chance to enjoy our time together and celebrate the love of books that we’ve shared for 40 years.

Who has been the reading and writing inspiration for you in your family? What picture books have you shared with an elderly loved one who can no longer read on their own?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Is Your Character Wearing Green?

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Are you wearing green? More importantly, is your character?

Your book may not take place on St. Patrick's Day, but what would your character do? Wear little shamrock deely-boppers? Dress in green head to toe? March in a parade with his bagpipe brigade? Swill a green beer? Sip a Guinness? Roll her eyes and dress in black? Or have absolutely no idea what St. Patrick's Day is?

Holidays and celebrations can reveal a lot about characters, and they are even more important in historical and fantasy fiction, showing the values, rhythm, and shape of society. While you may not be strongly aware of Lughnasa, Soyal, Carnival, or the Spring Festival, if you have your characters going about their daily business during an important time on the calendar, you're missing an opportunity. If you are building your own world, and you don't have a few holidays figured out, you haven't yet created a full society.

So ask yourself:
  • What holidays and celebrations would take place during the events of the story?
  • How are they celebrated?
  • What is the historical and religious significance?  
  • What do these days mean to the people in society? 
  • What do these days mean to your characters?
  • How might the events of the plot be tied to this event?
  • What kind of personal conflict or societal strain might be attached to the holiday?
  • What is the thematic, symbolic, or emotional meaning?
Happy St. Patrick's Day, whether your characters are wearing green, Sunday best, or pajamas right now.

(Mine are bedecked in fuzzy green sweaters and green plastic beads, if you were wondering)

Saturday, March 16, 2013


Today I would like to thank everyone for your support with my novel.

This past week Amarok reached the best sellers list on Amazon in three different categories. 
I couldn't be happier.

I would also like to thank my Literary Agent who never gave up on me--Jill Corcoran. My publisher--Spencer Hill Press
and everyone here on Operation Awesome!!

For many months, I've been working with a great team of professionals on a new book trailer for Amarok. 
I can not express how much I appreciate all their efforts. The video turned out better than I could have ever imagined. 

I would like to acknowledge the following people:
 Executive producer, Dale L. McGarvey, C.J. Cummings, and Cinematographer Ary Dalton. Musician, David Thomas Owen IV. I would also like to thank, actress, Mariah McGarvey, actors Willy Rodriguez, Tanner Hafer, and David Henderson, my publicist, Lisa Munoz. And Linden and Jesse Rigler for providing their dog, Kato.

Please take a look. I hope you enjoy it.

Friday, March 15, 2013

March Mystery Agent Winner and Reveal!

Introducing our March Mystery Agent...
Tricia Lawrence of Erin Murphy Literary Agency!

Tricia is the "Pacific Northwest branch" of EMLA—born and raised in Oregon, and now lives in Seattle. After 17 years of working as a developmental and production-based editor (from kids book to college textbooks, but mostly college textbooks), she joined the EMLA team in March 2011 as a social media strategist hoping to learn from Erin and Joan about agenting. 
As associate agent, Tricia represents picture books/chapter books that look at the world in a unique and unusual way, with characters that are alive both on and off the page, and middle grade and young adult fiction and nonfiction that offers strong worldbuilding, wounded narrators, and stories that grab a reader and won't let go. (bio and pic from agency website)

And the winner is!

Genre: MG Sci-fi/Adventure

Eleven-year-old Mike can only escape bully Brutus when daydreaming of becoming super-hero Mighty Mike until he meets a little blue alien and agrees to test candies from an Alien Pez Dispenser, each of which give him a different super (or not-so-super) power!

Congratulations,  GSMarlene!! (Congratulate Marlene on twitter)

And thank you to all of our worthy participants. You guys are awesome!

Katrina: What was it about the latest author you signed that really stood out to you in his or her work and made that book a must-have?

Tricia: Oh, I must be on a voice kick right now, but voice. Her voice was so strong, that I felt compelled to keep reading, because I had to find out what happened next. An editor that just read the manuscript wrote to tell me she had the exact same experience, it was hypnotic/addictive/can't stop. 
Once a manuscript's voice gets me into its clutches, I'm done for! I must talk to that author!

Katrina: Your agency website indicates you value strong worldbuilding. Could you name a book that does this really well, as an example?

Tricia: I'm a big fan of our agency's client, Robin LaFevers. Her GRAVE MERCY, a YA that came out last year, is amazing. A world in which assassin nuns operate? I'm so there. I'm getting a sneak peek at the next book in the trilogy now, DARK TRIUMPH (it comes out later this year). Amazing world. You get in and then you don't want to leave. 

Katrina: Favorite TV shows/Movies?

Tricia: I'm a WALKING DEAD devotee. (Who isn't?) I even got zombie apocalypse survival gear for Christmas from my husband, so I'm set. I just need to schedule some archery lessons. 


I adored LES MISERABLE, THE HOBBIT, and am rewatching HUNGER GAMES because isn't the next one coming soon? It should be!

Katrina: Biggest perk of being a literary agent?

Tricia: Getting to think about, brainstorm, talk about, and work on stories to my heart's content. Our culture is so story-oriented and I love looking at the moving parts of stories, sorta like a story mechanic, in my own stories, in my client's stories, in the submissions I receive. It's a good life!
And I get to talk about stories with the best in the business. Nothing like spending an hour chatting about what we love and don't love about this story or that with editors, other agents, authors, even the marketing folks! It's a wonderful perk!

Other places you can find Tricia:
"Tricia loves hiking, camping out in the woods, and collecting rocks. She loves BBC America and anything British. She has way too many books and not enough bookshelves. You can find Tricia's writing about blogging, Tweeting, Facebooking, and other social media topics (for authors and the publishing industry at large) here."

Submission Policy

"EMLA is closed to unsolicited queries or submissions. We consider queries that come to us by referral from industry professionals we know, and individual agents are open to queries from attendees of conferences where they speak. If you have met us at a conference or have a referral, please paste your query into the contact form on this page. Please note that we are no longer responding to unsolicited queries or submissions sent in hard copy form via post or other means, and those sent via email will receive a form rejection."