Sunday, July 28, 2013

Don't Be Afraid to Be Honest

'Honesty' is a watchword for writers.  "What do you honestly think?" we ask, showing our second or third draft to a friend for the first time.  "Be honest," we say to our writing group, or "let me be honest" when we're on the giving end of criticism.

But a different kind of honesty has been on my mind since I saw Pacific Rim.  That'd be the Guillermo del Toro movie with all the giant robots and giant monsters.  Go see it now, in fact.  It's in theaters.  I'll wait.

No really.  I'll still be here when you get back.  So will the rest of the internet.

Now that we're on the same page: did you notice how frank everybody was?  How the film wasn't afraid of the emotions it was invoking, how it didn't flinch from love, awe, fear, and rage?  How it went beyond 'not flinching' to showcase these feelings, even in moments when many modern movies would turn to wink at the camera and say, yeah, we know this is a bit ridiculous?

This is a 'cool' film, in that there are giant monsters everywhere, and robots, and Idris Elba, but at its core Pacific Rim doesn't care about looking cool.  Nobody appears impassive or above the action, except for Ron Perlman's character—and look how well that turns out for him.  (Not well, if you didn't listen to me a few grafs back when I told you to go see the dang movie.)  Nobody holds ironic distance from the kaiju, and as a result the movie feels fresh and exciting and new, even when it's invoking common tropes.

When I'm writing first drafts, I have a tendency to get clever, to wink at myself or at the camera.  There's a strong temptation to have cool guys not look at explosions.  That approach is great and has its place, but in a world full of self-awareness and irony, maybe we can make better art by being emotionally honest, by feeling the situations through which we force our characters to stumble.

Have you ever caught yourself being too clever in a scene?  Or too distant?  How did you respond?

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Amarok Audio contest and Necklace Giveaway!

Hi Everyone!

To celebrate my audio release we are having an exciting Amarok giveaway at Curvey Writer Blog. Enter for a chance to win an audio of Amarok or a beautiful necklace by Tammy Archambeau !

Come check it out! Click on the link below to enter now!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Writing horror: creating a Pavlovian response

Happy Friday, Operation Awesome! Well, the sun is still trying to melt us out there, so I'll be writing another post on horror-writing today - because as I said in my last post, if you don't have some ice cream on hand, giving yourself goosebumps is actually a pretty great way to cool down.

So, if horror movies are your thing, you might have gone to see the new movie The Conjuring last weekend, as I did. And I enjoyed it very much! It was a fun, gore-free, 70's throwback kind of creepy, which is very much my weakness. But as someone who likes to write horror, it's hard to just turn my brain off and enjoy the scary - I usually end up breaking the movie down to its working parts as I'm watching. This doubles as a pretty good way to avoid sleepless nights, but it also means taking a look at each trope and technique to see how effective they are. There's one in particular I noticed the director seems to enjoy (it popped up in his past effort, Insidious, as well) and when used properly, it's chillingly effective indeed.

Creating a Pavlovian response is all about setting a creepy precedent early on centered around a word, phrase, object, or character, and turning that word/phrase/etc into an instant tension-builder. In the movies I mentioned above, the director sets the precedent by associating each film's monster with a distinct sound (claws slowly unfurling and the sound of a straining rope, respectively) and using that sound to suggest that stuff's about to go down.

But you can be sneakier than that, if you want. Sometimes it's even scarier if your callback is buried in a perfectly normal scene, without any attention called to it whatsoever. Your reader's imagination is the scariest thing you've got in your arsenal, and I know for me, it's extra unsettling to run across a passage like this and wonder if I've imagined the creep-factor altogether.

Have a great weekend, all, and happy writing! I hope you're staying cool - even if you're not doing so by scaring yourself silly. ;)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

New MA Contest Coming Soon!!

We've got another great Mystery Agent all lined up for August 1st!!

This time, our MA will be taking 50 3-line pitches. That's right.....3 LINE PITCHES! You get three whole sentences to wow our MA, so get them polished up! (As a reminder, please make sure you are posting three actual sentences and three sentences only. Creative punctuation can really only be stretched so far)  ;-)

Here are a few deets on what our MA is looking for:

Current wish list:

New Adult
Young Adult
Middle Grade

In these genres:

Light SF

Specifically looking for:
  • A MG mystery full of wit, suspense, and adventure. 
  • An authentic and relatable male protagonist in YA.
  • Something truly unique and different in NA - a story where the characters and their stories linger long after the book is finished.

So, get those pitches polished and ready for August 1st! The first 50 qualifying pitches will be accepted.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Writing Unplugged

I’ve been “unplugged” for a month now and my to-do list is 300 miles away. It’s stressful being so out of touch with the world and my normal routine, but it’s been a learning experience too. Life is slow and constant and focused; such a huge contrast from the hectic, crisis-management mode I tend to be in at home. It’s not like we’re not super busy, we’re working or playing by the first light of dawn and crashing hard when the sun goes down.

I think the difference is that I’m not being pulled in a million directions. I usually take pride in my ability to do many things at once, but now I’m seeing the benefits of focusing on one thing at a time. I make an effort to get up extra early for dedicated writing time, and without Internet, the time is used quite efficiently. It's amazing how much I can get done when I’m not so easily distracted. 

And another odd thing I’ve discovered, when I’m done with a bit of writing, I’m done. I don’t linger on various scenes throughout the day, or replay conversations between characters, or dwell on how to blend sub-plots. A few days ago I realized my WIP didn’t cross my mind all day, and it didn't mean I've lost interest in working on it. I'm ready to dive in every morning.

So this summer, I’m seeing proof that I don’t have to be obsessed with my writing at all times to keep up the momentum. I can devote 100% of my attention to the day’s major and minor events without the guilt of neglecting my characters, and I know I’m not going to lose that driving dedication just because I’m thoroughly invested (and enjoying) something unrelated. I just hope that in the fall, I can remember how relaxing it is to have a less cluttered, more focused mind, and how efficient my writing can be if I’m not multi-tasking at the same time (like checking email or reconfiguring the mental to-do list). 

So I think that’ll be my new goal when I get back home: to gradually increase my unplugged, focused, dedicated writing time from the current 45 minutes to at least a few hours. Makes me happy just thinking about it.:-)

Enjoy the summer while it lasts! Whether it be relaxing with a book or challenging your physical and mental limitations.

Monday, July 22, 2013

A Post Covering Covers

I went to Westercon a few weeks back and attended quite a few panels, including one on the evolution of cover art. Despite the fact that the presentation could have benefited greatly from visual aides (I find it hard to believe that they couldn't find anyone at a geek con who could create and play a slideshow), it spawned some discussion of how the great book covers manage to straddle the line between  placing a book firmly within its genre, while standing out among other similar titles.

And while no one on the panel claimed to know the secret of finding that cover art sweet spot, one of the recommendations was to look at a lot of covers in your category/genre and get a sense of which ones make you pick up the book. I think this is particularly crucial with self-published books because you're already up against a perception that the writing and editing might not be up to par.

More and more readers are willing to give self-published books a chance, but the cover is seen as a reflection of how much time and effort the writer put into the book as a whole. Amateurish, poorly-designed covers are often a sign that the author wasn't willing to spring for a professional editor or book designer either. If you don't have a background in graphic design, there are so many people out there working on a freelance basis that there's really no excuse for grabbing your nephew's drawing off your sister's refrigerator and slapping it on your book.

But before this post gets too long, back to that advice to look at a bunch of covers--this has become a lot harder now that there are fewer book stores with sections to browse. You can certainly do a search for your genre on Amazon or Barnes & Noble and check out covers that way, or wait for Kate Hart to do more YA Book Cover Infographics, but I wanted to point out a few more helpful sites.

The Book Designer does a monthly roundup of e-book Cover Design Awards and though they are subjective critiques, what I find particularly helpful is that they include information on the designer. So if you like a particular cover, it's easy to do a search and get in touch with that artist/designer about what you'd like to see on your book.

And Design Observer spotlights 50 outstanding book covers; you can see winners and nominations for 2011 and 2012 on their site. The winning book covers going back even further are in the archives of AIGA. The individual artists and designers also comment on what the assignment was and why they went with that particular artwork, which can be a mini-seminar on the evolution of book covers in itself.

If you know of anymore sources for book cover design ideas, feel free to leave them in the comments. Or maybe give a shoutout for your favorite cover! This is one of my favorites:

Sunday, July 21, 2013

When You Need a New Hobby

Writing used to be a hobby. Now I've realized I need a new one.

Not that I mean to stop writing -- I don't. But writing fiction has changed for me. It's not something I do as a form of escapism from real life, or something that relieves stress and angst. It IS my real life. And it's often a source of stress and angst. I don't think the change came from being published -- it comes from focusing on becoming (and staying) published.

I don't make a living from writing fiction -- not by a long shot. Still, I have acknowledged myself as a writer and it's part of my public persona, but more importantly, it's too big a part of my private identity. It's no longer a no-stakes endeavor. The emotional stakes are high.

So now I need a hobby as relief from my hobby. Before I had children, I used to garden and still do, but my schedule doesn't give me free time during prime gardening hours. It's hard to prune roses at 9:30 p.m.

So I've returned to childhood pursuit that fell by the wayside -- drawing. I was a serious art student in high school, but now I find myself shockingly rusty. Still, it's fun for now. I'm actually trying my hand at illustrating my own stories, just pencil, ink, and brush pen. I'm strictly unprofessional and hope to stay that way -- if I start angsting about developing an illustration career, I'll be back scrambling for another hobby.

Is writing a hobby for you, or is it more? When did it change? What other personal pursuits do you have, and how do they interact with your writing?

Saturday, July 20, 2013


Maybe it’s my anthropology background, or my fondness for historywhatever the case may be, I love to research ancient cultures and prehistoric times. Some of my favorite eras are the Ice Age, Precambrian, and Jurassic. I am also a huge fan of Palaeobotany—I can only imagine what cool giant foliage thrived in the age of the dinosaurs and beyond! 
When I’m not busy researching and reading about prehistoric times, I like to learn about ancient dwellings. I am fascinated by the creativity in the construction of primitive shelters, whether it’s a cave, an overhanging mossy rock slab or a tent made of bones, or hides. Isn't it amazing how thousands of years can pass and archeologists are still finding messages from early man hidden in stone recesses or painted on ceilings yet to be discovered?

Historical research sets my imagination ablaze, gives me new ideas in my creative writing and fills me with inspiration and hope for a fun new manuscript.
 What fuels the creative flame within you?

Friday, July 19, 2013

Dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic Fiction: Life Goes On

It fascinates me when there's an idea in the air that seems to spring up simultaneously from different places. There are writing trends in pop culture, but that's not necessarily what I mean. I mean two people in different places feeling the same vibe from this moment in history who get inspired to write...


Or cowboy space opera.

Or fallen angels.

Or dystopia.

I guess with that last one it's easy to see where the inspiration comes in. A world in financial unease and geo-political unrest. Newspapers sensationalizing every awful thing. It's easy to see where dystopian ideas spring up. In fact, this isn't a modern phenomenon by any means. This genre is as old as oppression and as relevant as pain.

STUNG by Bethany Wiggins (highly recommend, by the way) sprang up from the vaccine craze of the last few decades combined with the mysterious dying off of honey bees.

THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins sprang up from a world at war that is too entertained to realize it is at war.

ENDER'S GAME by OSC sprang up in 1985 inspired by zero population, genetic engineering, and the question of war-time military ethics.

1984 by George Orwell sprang up in the late 1940's in response to the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.

MEMENTO NORA by Angie Smibert sprang up from uber consumerism and corporate culture.

WITHER by Lauren DeStefano sprang out of science's obsession with immortality.

PITY ISN'T AN OPTION by Jessica Brooks sprang out of economic depression and political disenfranchisement.

The overarching theme in most--not all--of these is that life goes on, however miserable things get, and that there is hope. 

Sometimes that hope resides in one person who holds the cure. Or in teaming up in the face of incredible odds. Or in sacrificing yourself for your family. Or faith in a higher power. 

Have you read something in this genre recently? What did you take away?

Monday, July 15, 2013

What I Learned From My Summer Reading

When I’m working on a project, the books that I happen to read for entertainment start to do a funny thing.  They teach me and remind me about important things that I must do (or not do) in my own work. 

Lately I’ve read (and re-read) novels by the wonderful Linda Urban.  Specifically, A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT and her latest, THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING.  I’m particularly fond of THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING because of how Linda Urban crafted the character of Ruby Pepperdine, a twelve year old who recently lost her Gigi and is hanging her hopes on one wish and an essay about her town’s founder and inventor of the donut.  One thing that really impressed me about this book is that it’s told from close third-person and weaves between past and present tense. It took me a while to read THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING because I found myself engaged in “How did she do that?” with every chapter. 

And in a story filled with great lines, there was one that jumped out at me because of its meaning to the story and the meaning for novel craft.  You can find it on page 137 in the chapter entitled “The Hole that Turns Things Inside Out.”  Ruby and her friend Nero are at the library researching a torus and how it changes.  During this scene, Nero tells Ruby, “The hole is what lets it change.”

And I thought….BAM.  There you go, Linda Urban.  Teaching me something important about my own story.  I have a character who is missing something very important in her life and without that hole, there would be no way for her to change.  And, as we all know, transformation of our characters is key to a strong story.

What have you read lately that entertained you as well as taught you something new about your craft? And are there any lines from a novel that stay with you because they remind you something important about your approach to writing?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

I'm Not a Dreamer

All men dream but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes to make it possible.

--T.E. Lawrence

Sometimes, I feel like all of this is for nothing. I spend hours upon hours pouring words onto paper with the hope that someday someone will find my work worthy of publication. But behind that hope is fear. Fear that I’m wasting my time. Fear that it’s only arrogance that has gotten me this far. Who am I to say that I could ever be good enough?

Yet here I am, still writing, still striving to hone my craft. We’re all still here, and that's what separates us from those who merely dream.

I like to think I’m not a dreamer. I’m a doer. Though I may never reach the end of this road, I’m not just sitting on a rock watching others pass me by. I’m walking there beside them or behind them and learning everything I can. I’m finding my way step by step and maybe someday I’ll get there. Maybe someday I’ll be one of those “dangerous [wo]men” who “make it possible.” For now, I’m enjoying the journey. :)

Friday, July 12, 2013

Writing horror: when the familiar becomes the unknown

When you think about what kind of fiction complements these hot summer months, generally people will bring up romance or summer action blockbusters first. But one of the great things about living in Tokyo during the summer (one of the only great things, considering how brutally humid it was) was
that summer goes hand-in-hand with ghost stories - not only does this coincide with O-bon, but those cold chills down your spine might even help you deal with the heat. So today, I'm going to talk a little about one of my favorite elements of horror: familiarity.

I get nightmares on a fairly regular basis. Regular enough, at least, that it takes a lot to make me wake up breathless with terror nowadays. And it's probably my own fault for watching so many scary movies, anyway.

When I was younger, it was much worse - I don't know if those dreams were actually, objectively more terrifying, or if it was just because I hadn't built up the tolerance to creepy I have now. But I remember those dreams more clearly than I do the ones I've had this week alone: I remember an endless black hole in my driveway, a creepy deserted cabin that suddenly appeared in our back woods, and a strange, high voice coming from my brother's room next door. (Which might have been him talking in his sleep, now that I think about it.)

But out of all the horror movie stylings of my subconscious, this one scared me the most: I was sitting in the backyard, rocking back and forth on the swing and watching my father mow the lawn while someone moved, a little too quickly for me to make out, inside the house. I hopped off the swing and walked closer to the house so I could see the person inside, until I realized that he was my father, too. And then he stopped, turned, and smiled at me as the dream ended.

That was years ago, and it still makes me shudder!

There's one thing all the examples above have in common: each one featured something intimately familiar, whether it's a place or a person. I had the usual monster nightmares when I was a kid, and those were scary at the time, but no monster is quite as terrifying as an everyday sight suddenly turned completely alien.

The same principle is true in horror. There's a big difference between momentary chills and the kind of unease that lingers with the reader long after they set your book down. Even a well-executed horror sequence can lose its potency after the fact if the reader can 'think their way out of it,' so to speak. If the protagonist's circumstances seem completely removed from mine, I would be able to talk myself out of being scared.

Even if there's no way your reader would be in the situation your protagonist is, there are other ways to hit your reader where they live - and this is why it's just as important to balance the more fantastical elements of a horror story with a more down-to-earth terror, something in your protagonist's life that your reader might recognize in him or herself. Horror is a very personal genre when you get down to it, so the author needs to make it personal, both for their characters and their readers.

So go forth and inflict those cold chills! Given how scorching it is in DC right now, I could do with a few myself...

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Blog Tour! Breaking Glass by Lisa Amowitz

We are very pleased to be a stop along the amazing Lisa Amowitz's blog tour for her new book, Breaking Glass, which just released on Tuesday :D

About the Adults in Breaking Glass

Against the advice of more seasoned authors, I’ve been reading my reviews. But these are bloggers---people who review seriously and constantly. They are not the same as reader reviews, which as of this writing I have not yet received and I fully begin to understand the warning.

That being said, I do want to discuss a topic that was raised in a few of my early reviews. The complaint was that all of the adults in my book are incompetent oafs or villains. And it’s true to some extent— at least three of the adults in Breaking Glass are really creepy and reprehensible. That would be the arch bad guy, Patrick Morgan, the town patriarch and main heavy whose great joy in life seems to be to rub salt in Jeremy’s wounds. And then of course there is the borderline personality persona of Susannah’s mother Trudy who is a deeply angry and scarred individual. Then there is the sadistic therapist who traumatizes Jeremy.

My reasons for creating all of these strange characters is that the book is about secrets the whole town is keeping, secrets that have festered and will be exposed by Jeremy and his exploits. Also, this book is written in the POV of Jeremy Glass, your classic unreliable narrator and angst-ridden teenager. I was an angsty teenager once, as I recall, and that’s pretty much how I viewed adults.

But, seriously, they are not all bad. I rather like Jeremy’s hapless dad Paul Glass. Paul may not be the perfect father or the perfect person but he loves Jeremy and has tried to do right by him even though he has no idea how to communicate effectively. I don’t think that makes him a bad guy. Then there is Chaz the semi-sadistic physical therapist who just wants to help Jeremy. He’s a tough guy, but bad? Not at all. And Celia Morgan, Patrick’s wife.

So, yes, maybe there is a fair amount of disreputable adults, but hopefully I’ve given them depth and their own story arcs.

What do you think? Do you have a beef with books where all the adults are no-goodniks? Can you name any? 

On the night seventeen-year-old Jeremy Glass winds up in the hospital with a broken leg and a blood alcohol level well above the legal limit, his secret crush, Susannah, disappears. When he begins receiving messages from her from beyond the grave, he's not sure whether they're real or if he's losing his grip on reality. Clue by clue, he gets closer to unraveling the mystery, and soon realizes he must discover the truth or become the next victim himself. 

About the Author:

Lisa Amowitz was born in Queens and raised in the wilds of Long Island, New York where she climbed trees, thought small creatures lived under rocks and studied ant hills. And drew. A lot.

When she hit her teens, she realized that Long Island was too small for her and she needed to escape. So she went to college in Pittsburgh. Go figure.

On leaving college, Lisa became a graphic designer living in New York City. She eventually married her husband of a zillion years, had two lovely children, and was swept away to a fairy tale life in the Bronx, where, unbelievably there are more trees and wilderness than her hometown. She can see the Hudson River from her kitchen window.

Lisa has been a professor of graphic design at her beloved Bronx Community College where she has been tormenting and cajoling students for nearly seventeen years. She started writing eight years ago because she wanted something to illustrate, but somehow, instead ended up writing YA. Probably because her mind is too dark and twisted for small children.

BREAKING GLASS, available now from Spencer Hill Press, is her first published work. VISION, the first of the Finder series will be released in 2014, along with an unnamed sequel in the following year. LIFE AND BETH will also be released in the near future, along with really cool graphic novel style art. So stay tuned because Lisa is very hyper and has to create stuff to stay alive.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A New Release!! A Bandit's Broken Heart by Michelle McLean

Toni graciously let me steal her day so I could share my new release with you :) A Bandit's Broken Heart is the second book in the Blood Blade Sisters trilogy and tells the eldest sister, Brynne's, story. My blog tour will be kicking up next week (and we'll be giving away some fun prizes so stay tuned!). But for now, here is the gorgeous cover, blurb and book trailer! :)

A Bandit's Broken Heart (Blood Blade Sisters #2)

A woman with a past

Widowed mother, Brynne Richardson, gave up her bandit activities when she left California to make a fresh start with her young daughter in Boston. Working for a handsome doctor fulfills her need to be useful and independent, but he creates another yearning she cant deny.

A man with a purpose

Dr. Richard Oliver assumes Brynne is just another debutante hunting for a rich husband, until she intrigues him with her steady hand for stitchesand guns. He cant put her out of his mind, but the young widow has mysteries hes determined to unravel.

A love in danger

When smugglers raid the much-needed supplies from the clinic, Brynne must resurrect her bandit persona for the good of the sick and the poor. Her secret life threatens to destroy everything shes worked so hard to protect her life, her family and her heart.

 Buy Links: Amazon | iBooks | B&N | Kobo | All Romance eBooksAdd to Goodreads

Monday, July 8, 2013

Query Crit: Heritage Blade Awakening by L. L. McKinney

Today we have another query critique, with L. L. McKinney's YA urban fantasy novel, Heritage Blade Awakening.
So, first, the unaltered query:
Due to bittersweet circumstances, my agent and I have parted ways. As such I'm querying again, and wondering if you would be interested in representing this and future works of mine.

Fifteen-year-old Jay Mitchell is the most lethal secret walking the streets of Chicago. He's killed before, and he'll kill again. Trained to protect an unwitting mankind from rogue Pandorans—supernatural beings who cross into this world through Pandora's box—he’s good at what he does. The problem? No one’s supposed to know he does it.

While rescuing a damsel in distress, Jay inadvertently reveals himself. Now the Guild knows he exists, and worse, he’s Unsanctioned, a crime punishable by death. On the run, Jay discovers there’s a price on his head, and everything that goes bump in the night arrives to collect. If he wants to survive he’ll have to draw on every ounce of his skill, and seek help from the most unlikely allies, including the hottie who got him into this mess in the first place.

HERITAGE BLADE AWAKENING is a young adult urban fantasy with series potential complete at 93,000 words. Thank you for your time and your consideration.
All the best,
~About Me~

And now the query with my (Angelica's) comments:
Overall I think this is a great query--full of active language, with just enough terminology to set us in the world, and good use of archetypes to firmly place it in the urban fantasy genre. As long as they're not overused, archetypes/tropes are great shorthand tools and free up some word count in your query for the aspects that make your story unique.

Due to bittersweet circumstances, my agent and I have parted ways. As such I'm querying again, and wondering if you would be interested in representing this and future works of mine. Nice, professional way to handle this--you're not whining, not slandering. Just laying it out there so that they're aware of the situation.

Fifteen-year-old Jay Mitchell is the most lethal secret walking the streets of Chicago. He's killed before, and he'll kill again. Trained to protect an unwitting mankind from rogue Pandorans—supernatural beings who cross into this world through Pandora's box—he’s good at what he does. The problem? No one’s supposed to know he does it. This paragraph is really tight, and the voice and tone are coming through well.

While rescuing a damsel in distress And this is where archetypes can come back to kick you in the tail. When I read "damsel in distress", I picture a completely passive female character. Granted, this may be a term from Jay's point of view and not entirely accurate, but you've made me afraid that a passive girl (
not a potential ally as she's labeled later) is exactly what I'll find in the pages., Jay inadvertently reveals himself. Now the Guild knows he exists, and worse, he’s Unsanctioned, a crime punishable by death. On the run, Jay discovers there’s a price on his head, and everything that goes bump in the night arrives to collect.<--Love this line! I could see this being a tagline on the cover. If he wants to survive he’ll have to draw on every ounce of his skill, and seek help from the most unlikely allies, including the hottie who got him into this mess in the first place.
I fully admit that the "damsel in distress" usage might be a hot button for me (and maybe commenters can add some feedback whether they were bothered by it), but it did throw me out of what was a great ride up until then. The rest was good enough that if I'd encountered this as back copy, I'd probably crack open the book and see how the characterization for the girl was handled.
But really, all that feels like nitpicking. ;) So congratulations for submitting a stellar query!
Encouragement and feedback are welcome in the comments, but please make sure they're constructive and helpful. If we get a good response, query critiques will become a regular feature of the blog, so please let us know if seeing this critique gave you any insights into your own work!

(Michelle's comments: I agree with Angelica's points. I also love the line about everything going bump in the night. Very nice! Damsel in distress didn't really bother me, but I can see Angelica's point. And it doesn't really tell us much about her (which is okay since she's not the MC but it does make her seem weaker than the last line seems to indicate). 

I think the world building could use a little beefing up. One question I had - who (or what) is the Guild and why do they have such power over his life? Are they a secret organization with authority over the supernatural policing or are they THE authority in this world? Who trained him if it wasn't the Guild? They seem to be the enemy (as they put the price on his head, yes?) but are they EVERYONE'S enemy or just his? Because if they are the ones who usually run this sort of thing, that would make them protectors of mankind as well, right? :D

I know you can't explain the WHOLE book in a query, but it's a world building issue that is leaving big holes for me. Instead of focusing on the cooler aspects of this query (are there are many, it's definitely raised my interest :D ), I'm left trying to figure out how this world works. I have no idea how this world is set up, what the rules are. 

I get that he's out protecting mankind, but the Guild sounds like the type of organization that would run that kind of thing, especially since they are out to punish him for doing what he's doing. But if they don't know about him, and his offense is so extreme as to be punishable by death, then is anyone helping him or did he just stumble upon this? 

So if you could add a line or two or just expound a bit on a few details, give us a bit more info on how things work in this world, that would be good. 

Other than that, I really like this :) )

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Tale of Two Bookstores

I have discovered the worst place in the world to be inspired as a writer.

It's a bookstore.

Not just any bookstore, but the Bargain Book Warehouse that popped up about a year ago in the vacant shell that used to be a Borders. With bare, dingy walls and acres of tables piled high with remainders, it's a great place to discover a new book for a dollar, but a terrible place to reflect on the need to add your own story to the sad lot of unwanted tales throughout history.

When I look at those tables, I think, "There are enough books in the world. There are more than anyone could ever read, and here there are more than anyone wants."If there were still a cafe in the dreary space, I can't imagine anyone sipping coffee and tapping out a novel there.

How many of those books would have been sold, might have been solid successes, had Borders not closed? And here they are, gathering dust, in the very same place that is a graveyard to writers' hope. I'm normally delighted to see my friends' books in the wild, but this was one time I didn't whip out my camera. (If I had enemies, it might be different, as Clive James wrote so well.) Note that my feelings of futility did not prevent me from picking up a few good discoveries. 

Fortunately, it's not the only bookstore in town. 

Yesterday, I went to Children's Book World in Haverford, a gem of an independent store that carries just about every title I could think of, classic to new, picture books to YA, even a small, carefully curated adult section. I didn't visit CBW nearly as often when Borders was alive, and now I do. And it's CBW's shelves where I long to see my own books, alongside the autographed editions by Kate DiCamillo, Laurie Halse Anderson,  and Jerry Spinelli.

Did I start longing again?? That's pretty close to inspiration -- better get to writing!

What settings or situations are motivating -- or demotivating -- to you?

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Bad Habits and Postive Thinking

 I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of bad habits. I stay up way to late at night. I sit in a recliner instead of at my desk and I drink way to much coffee (with cream) than I should. I’m driven, I’m obsessive and I’m a perfectionist. Out of all the bad habits I have, the single worst—is being too hard on myself.
I struggle everyday to stay positive. To guard my mind from negative thoughts. Staying positive isn't easy. Writing is hard work. Writing is stressful. Writing is depressing at times. 

But no matter what—I do not let the industry get me down and you shouldn’t either. 

Writing is a subjective art. What one editor or agent doesn’t like maybe another one will. Try to give yourself a break. Do not take rejections personally and do not let them stop you from moving forward with a fabulous new project.

Remember to always give yourself a break. Have patience and hone in your skills. Do the best you possibly can and then pat yourself on the back for job well done. 

Have a wonderful Holiday weekend everyone!

P.S.~~My audiobook is finally out!!!

Friday, July 5, 2013

COVER LOVE: Daughter of Chaos by Jen McConnel

I've been enjoying my status as a peon in children's publishing for nearly half a year now. I work for Month9Books as an editorial assistant. Month9Books is a fantastic publisher and we see eye to eye when it comes to good fiction. Case in point: Daughter of Chaos by Jen McConnel. This is the first book I read for them that will be published, and the date is set for March 2014. It seems SO far away, so I am thrilled to share this crucial step on the road to publication: the cover reveal! I found it here, and here and here and here and here and here and here on Jen McConnel's author website. (Also the author is hosting a Rafflecopter giveaway of two other great books.)

Add it on Goodreads

Witches must choose the path they will follow, and Darlena Agara is no exception. She’s been putting it off long enough, and in her case, ignoring it has not made it go away. In a moment of frustration, Darlena chooses to follow Red Magic, figuring she had outsmarted the powers that be, since there’s no such thing as Red Magic. But alas, Darlena’s wrong (again) and she becomes a newly declared Red Witch.
Her friends are shocked and her parents horrified by the choice Darlena has made. As a Red Witch, she now governs one third of the world’s chaos. She is the walking personification of pandemonium, turmoil, and bedlam, just as the patrons of Red Magic would have it to be.
But Darlena believes there must be more to Red Magic than chaos and destruction, and she sets out on a journey to achieve balance. Only doing so puts her at odds with the dark goddess Hecate, who simply will not allow Darlena to quit. She encourages Darlena to embrace who and what she is and to leave good magic to the good witches. If only Darlena could, life would be simple, and she would not be the Daughter of Chaos.

DAUGHTER OF CHAOS is the first in a YA paranormal trilogy.

I can't even tell you how fulfilling it is to see something I had a (very, very small) part in turn into a real out-there book. I have experienced it as a critique partner to the amazing Operation Awesome blogger/writers and it never gets old. I LOVE WORKING IN PUBLISHING!!

Jen McConnel is an experienced writer whose other books also have a creeptastic witchcraft motif and stunning book covers. Check them out:

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy 4th from Oliver Plus Cymbal Fail.

For our American followers, I wanted to wish you all a happy 4th. Oliver wants to wish you a happy 4th as well.

To commemorate our holiday, I thought I'd show this. Some times things don't go the way you'd planned. But it doesn't mean you still can't hold your head up high anyway. Love this kid.

Monday, July 1, 2013

A Dose of Reality

Doing research on topics related to my writing projects has long been an obsession of mine, especially when I was in my Salem witch trial phase. (Thank you very much THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND).
As I write my contemporary middle grade project, I’m making a list of the things I need to research and how best to get the information. I’ve emailed a friend’s husband who works for the FBI to get information on kidnappings, federal/state jurisdiction issues, and how family involvement varies from case to case. During last summer’s annual family vacation to Maine, I convinced my husband to stop at the Hope General Store where my main character’s best friend hangs out. And, much to my surprise, a few recent news stories have had relevance to my plot, giving me some insights on how real people react to similar situations that my characters are experiencing.
What more should I do to give my contemporary middle grade project a dose of reality?
During the 2012 Northern Ohio SCBWI chapter’s annual conference, agent Tina Wexler talked about knowing when a manuscript was ready to query. She gave this piece of advice that stuck with me:
Read at least two non-fiction books related to a subject in your novel.
So now I’m making a list of non-fiction books that could help me enhance aspects of my middle grade novel.  The list includes memoirs on anxiety disorders, how to investigate cold cases, and how to run a bed and breakfast.  According to my main character’s grandma, if you read 62 books on a topic in two years, you’re an expert on the subject.
I don’t need to be an expert.  I need to learn just enough that I’m not faking my way through my fiction.
What sort of research do you do for your fiction projects? Have you tried reading non-fiction titles related to topics in your WIP?