If you aren't sure what #NaNoWriMo is, please check out my previous post about it: here. Okay, time to check in fellow authors. Where are we on our NaNoWriMo goals? Yes, we're supposed to hit 50k, but most of us have jobs or children or both to take care of. Mentally, I prepared myself to get 35k done. At this point I should have 17,500 done. How has it gone, you ask?
I started writing the novel at 18k, but I will be excluding that from my NaNo count to follow the rules. It's a sequel, so when I finished the last book, I kept it going to flesh out a bit of my conflicts so that I was sure that I planted seeds in the previous book for them. It's part of my continuity method as I am not really a plotter. Outlines feel confining and are largely ignored by me. Aside from the general conflicts set up and the first few chapters down, I had an ending. My brain works off inspiration, not organization, so I never write in order or start to finish. I jump around where inspiration takes me. I had a great visualization of how I wanted the book to end.
Going into NaNo, I had no idea how the start would get to the end except for a few things I needed to happen strategically: my main characters would have to be divided up somehow for the end to come about. I would need to pull together all loose ends before the ending I wrote since it is book 3 of a trilogy. I would have 3 villains each dispatched by the end. These were things set up in my mind that built from the other two books. This is the extent of my plotting, as I'm a pantser at heart.
I started off extremely well. The first 6 days I logged in with 2,000 or more, having a great day of 6,500. Grading got in the way here and there, so there were days off. On Nov. 10th I had 22,000 in the bank, which was absolutely astounding and incredible. Considering I was grading 4/10 days and was sick, this was amazing. I logged in at the halfway point on November 15th with 32,089 words to be exact. Will I make it to my 35k? For sure. Will I make it to 50k by the 22nd? (my NaNoWriMo2019 ends early as I get research papers to grade). Only time will tell. No matter what, this experience every year is worth it just to get motivated and to write a big chunk of my book.
What are you word counts?
A couple months ago, I decided to join a writers' group. I was wary. I was hesitant. I was not afraid of the criticism at all. I was afraid of not fitting in. Either they might be way more experienced than me and talk down to me or they would be all new aspiring writers who I would need to help and the relationship would stress me out rather than be reciprocal. I hope no one takes the latter as snobbery, but I have degrees in English, teach grammar, and am published, so it was a legitimate concern that I would be "grading" or editing for free, and I'm nice, so refusing to help would be difficult. As for the former--despite being confident--I still feel a bit inferior to authors who are able to sell well, who have fans, as I'm still starting out with a zero marketing budget, so things are trickling in slowly. I am a very busy person, so I thought this would be too much: special needs child, career as an English Lecturer, and slotted to publish 2 books a year.
When I contacted them, they were nice and were inviting. They did tell me writing was a hobby for most of them, but there were a few successfully self-published authors in the crew. When I arrived, I was the youngest in the room. I was nervous about that. Despite being close to 40, I'm short, and I look a decade younger (or more, according to some crazy, flattering people). What this usually means is I'm treated as inferior, ignorant, and naive--even if it is a topic of my expertise. This treatment drives me crazy and sets me off into rabid-chihuahua mode.
To be honest, walking in late, I felt some tension. I listened the entire time since I hadn't read any of their works yet. I noticed a stern woman giving criticism in a tone some would say was harsh. Her advice was correct and she knew her stuff, but the delivery was a bit condescending. Another woman was pretty combative about any advice. Afterward, the one who tried to give advice asked to speak with me. After a conversation with her, I realized she was a former professor and had books published through publishers too. She said she joined the group wanting to help people, but they didn't want her help. I didn't know the group yet, so didn't know if this was true or if it was because her delivery was kind of old-school academia (treating "pupils" as lessers).
I knew I could not judge the group off the one day, so I went back. I figured if it went badly again, I'd quit and have a blog topic at the minimum. This time, both women were not there and others were there I hadn't met last time; I went through the meeting, knowing this would be my deciding factor. The meeting was great. There was no tension, no rough criticism--all told in constructive ways--and no one was angry about advice given. I was able to contribute what I knew. Unlike what the one woman had told me, I found people were eager to learn about how I was published and what I knew. But it was not in a way that made me feel exploited or used, but I felt useful. I love helping people if I can, so this made my day. I officially joined the group and jumped into critiquing and sending in a half completed book of mine that I was having trouble with.
Meetings from there on went well. Everyone gave advice about others' books and things were running smoothly. With my book, I got the positive feedback I needed--since this book is out of my normal genre, age category, and was personal--to go forward with it. They had great advice to help me get through my usually nonexistent writer's block. In the end, a few women shared their stories of their children or their own problems that related to my story. Some were in tears. It was a powerful and moving, and I knew then and there I made some friends.
I sometimes have a difficult life. If it isn't difficult, it is busy. These people have given me a community, a friendship that was and is needed. A place where I don't talk about my problems, but my craft. A place where I don't talk about my job, but my passion.
I was skeptical, but so glad I joined up with fellow writers. I feel happy helping and get so much back. I suggest anyone who feels alone as a writer, who seeks connection, to try to find a group out there near you. If it doesn't exist, create your own.
YA Book Review:
Fate and Fortune
I won Fate and Fortune, by Robin Daniels, at a book launch for a different author and was pleased with my bounty. It's an adorable contemporary romance with dynamic characters, realistic dialogue, and a touch of magic.
After Paige is dumped by her boyfriend of two years, she retreats from life until her brother and her best friend, Amy, force her to go to a county fair where she is pressured into seeing a psychic. To make matters worse, Paige runs into her ex and her friend Kennedy tries to make him jealous. Kennedy tells everyone her brother, Bryce, is dating Paige. Meanwhile, Bryce, a lifelong friend who has loved Paige since he was six, also sees this psychic. After that night, Bryce is visited by a genie named Genie who will grant him wishes of her choosing, while Paige is given a magical message in a bottle that keeps disappearing and reappearing. Both these magical forces push the two into a fake relationship that might just become real if fate and magic can make it so.
I loved the plot and I loved how things seemed magical, but their tight-knit group of friends acted weird at times showing they were involved. The only drawback was we didn't get the explanation of how it was pulled off by everyone or whether there really was some magic. The good news is, there is a sequel that tells us just that (I'll be reviewing that in the future). The events are complex but that doesn't detract from the novel; the POV is only Paige and Bryce, so it's easy to follow. I can imagine the second book will be very interesting.
Another great attribute is the dialogue and characterization. They go hand in hand. They are a bunch of funny teens who are always teasing siblings and making fun of each other for a laugh. I teach college freshman, so know first-hand that these characters ring true. It's the kind of banter I hear daily. This helped character development. Bryce was serious and sweet, while Paige was your everyday girl who was wholesome and clever so any girl can relate. They were normal teens--not stereotypes or caricatures.
In all, an adorable read for any teen or even adults who like to reminisce in the days gone by and first loves. Available for purchase here.
What is NaNoWriMo?
NaNoWriMo is a movement beloved and participated in by thousands of writers annually. Every November authors prep to start writing like mad Nov. 1st through the 30th with the quest of reaching 50k words. That is roughly 1,600 and change words a day. It is a lofty but possible goal to strive for. To find out more about NaNo and to sign up see here.
Why should you do it?
It is motivational, sets up a schedule in your life that makes writing a daily habit, and you feel accomplished and part of something. Authors cheer others on, you report your daily progress to get yourself motivated, and you get a lot done. Will you make it to 50k? Does that even matter? Any progress towards finishing your manuscript is a win.
What about my day job?
I'm a college English Lecturer, so each November, I get a stack of 80 research papers to grade. I never made the word count amount after I starting teaching, but NaNoWriMo makes me motivated enough to pound out a lot of word count prior to this grading avalanche. Basically, I get 3 weeks instead of 4 and mange to get anywhere from 30-35k written. So yeah, the day job might prevent you from reaching the goal, but anything you've gotten down is a success. Without this motivation, I probably would only get about 15k completed. And now NaNoWriMo also does a summer "camp" version in the summer so I rocked 50k then.
My weigh in?
Try it no matter what. You don't have to register on their site or announce it, but test yourself. You might just see you're capable of writing more than you thought you could. You'll get things done and maybe write more than you ever have in one month before. You might just alter your lifestyle to fit writing in even more, and gain the confidence to finish your manuscript. It can't hurt, so give it a go.
I've had requests from the #writingcommunity about editing. New authors sometimes aren't sure where to start or how to go about it. It's extremely intimidating to look at the entire finished book at once, so having a process to edit helps us see it in smaller, more manageable pieces. I'm going to give you two perspectives: one from a writing instructor's point-of-view--basically what I teach my students for all types of writing--and then from an author's point-of-view--meaning the exact steps I've taken with two different publishers.
Revision-- the focus is on global issues, meaning you look at the ideas, organization, content. The key is to NOT look at grammar or sentence structures.
Edit--here's when you look at sentence structures, the flow, fixing word choices and grammar, polishing it up. The trick is to read it aloud to hear problems.
Copyedit--this is when you hyperfocus on grammar, format, word choices trying to find any remaining mistakes. The key is to print it out so you can correct it like a teacher--you see things differently when switching mediums.
As you see, this starts global, looking at it as a whole, then works to narrowing the focus. If you try to do it all (and are not an editor or teacher), it can be extremely overwhelming.
With publishers, I've had three similar levels called different things but in a sense have the same concepts:
Developmental--they look for important content issues, such as plot holes, and discrepancies in timelines, long lulls, info-dropping, character motivation, consistency, and arcs, etc. This is much like the revision process in that it seeks to fix global issues.
Line edits--this is focusing on word choices, grammar, cohesion what you think of when it comes to an editor trying to fix everything in your work. It is pretty much the same as educational editing, but it is very focused, looking for everything.
Copy edits--this is another round of looking for grammar, typos, but also formatting, spacing, every little detail of how it looks on the page. Usually, the publisher will have a proof copy to read through. seeing it in print, in the novel makes it easier to see errors. Sometimes this is considered a fourth step, proofing.
This looks a global and specific issues, but I notice editors tend to do it more organically, mixing these steps together at times--particularly if they don't have too much to note developmentally, they'll get ahead. The idea is roughly the same in the end.
So how much do you edit? That is up to you. I'm an English professor who teaches grammar and yet I make a ton of errors in a rough draft. I also am a pantser and find that I write faster than plotters, but must revise more for those plot holes I create. Usually, I revise twice, then edit once, send it to a couple betas, edit, copyedit, and then submit. My publisher then does the above steps developmental, line, and copy edits/proofing. That's a minimum of eight rounds of editing after the initial rough draft. The thing I notice most when books are not professionally edited is not just grammatical mistakes, but also more global--long lulls, strange character behaviors or forced motivations, time incongruity, info-dumping, and more. It cannot hurt an author to seek professional advice and can help them see issues easily overlooked.
The takeaway? Do all three rounds as much as needed before querying. Breaking it up in 3 stages makes it less daunting. Know when to let go, when to seek help, and always have some kind of pro help you. No matter how good of a writer you are, you cannot catch all your mistakes or be unbiased. Professional editors even have editors look over their work
Julian Michael Carver
It's the first day of fourth-grade for twins Andy and Anna. Andy is a shy boy obsessed with dinosaurs and Anna is an adventurous girl willing to take risks. One day when they step off the school bus, Anna suggests taking a shortcut through a dark alley to get home.
As they navigate through the abandoned alley, they find a mysterious large egg tucked under a bush. They take it home and try to hatch it, careful not to tell their parents who are strict about pets. After building a makeshift nest in the attic, the egg hatches into a friendly baby velociraptor, whom they later name Tennyson, due to his infatuation with destroying tennis balls.
Now they must convince their parents to keep the little dinosaur, while overcoming bad grades and the school bully.
When the Saunders go camping in the Pennsylvanian wilderness, Mr. Saunders tells the kids a scary story about a legendary creature named Fatfoot, who lives in the forest nearby. At first, the children don't believe the strange tale, until things begin to go bump in the night. It's up to Andy, Anna, and everyone's favorite raptor, Tennyson, to investigate the legend themselves.
The Man Himself
Julian Michael Carver (born Joey Kelly) is a novelist specializing in the lost world sub genre of science fiction.
Carver grew up loving dinosaurs, and aims to bring them back into the literature spotlight.
In 2013, Carver graduated from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, with a bachelor's degree in Visual Effects and Motion Graphics. Since college graduation, Carver has worked full time in the world of commercial advertising.
He uses his skills in filmmaking, motion graphics, and animation to market and develop his works of literature. Currently, he is writing and developing a children's chapter book series, The Backpack Dinosaur, and plans to release the series through his publishing imprint Pteranodon Press.
The Man with A Plan
I asked Carver what was next for him, and he responded with, "My next steps are to continue writing The Backpack Dinosaur stores, giving kids a safe and fun form of chapter books. I have plans for at least ten stories in The Backpack Dinosaur. Additionally, I have one novel Triassic, currently under consideration from a major publisher as well as a short story that I've submitted for an anthology. I want to keep focusing all of my fictional work towards dinosaurs or prehistoric themes, and become known as the 'dinosaur writer'."
Where it all Comes From
When asked about his inspiration for the series, Carver said, "My inspiration for the series came from my love of dinosaurs in my childhood. I love Jurassic Park and The Lost World. Additionally, the book style came from Goosebumps, The Bailey School Kids, A to Z Mysteries, and other popular children's chapter books from the 1990's. I felt as if children's chapter books never really touched on dinosaurs, so I figured I'd come up with a concept because it's something I could go on and on about."
All authors want to know the magical question of what works the best for marketing. Carver shared his wisdom: "As far as marketing strategies go, the least effective is probably cold-emailing bookstores or librarians. Usually there are no replies, but sometimes you will get someone who wants to buy a copy. The best strategy for me is to create commercials and run them through YouTube as ads. I work full-time as a commercial editor, so I can write the script, animate the spot, and upload/render it like second nature. I think this gives me an edge over a lot of other writers and I want to try my best to keep that going. I am toying with the idea of also submitting the spot to a movie theater and seeing how it works running the ad on the big screen."
Wow, the "dinosaur writer" has a lot going on and an amazing marketing strategy. I'll be posting a review of book 1 after I get my son's help. He is a fan, for sure. Let's support fellow authors by sharing, following, and uplifting each other. You can find Carver through the following links:
NA Book Review:
(The Crescent Chronicles)
Although Flight had a great premise and interesting characters, it did not take flight due to one fatal flaw: the "hero." This is not a book for any female who believes in gender equality. Warning, Spoilers!
Allie decides a summer working at her father's hotel is exactly what she needs before she goes to college. With her entire life mapped out for her by her parents, she's feeling a tad rebellious. After breaking up with her boyfriend who can't seem to grasp it is over, Allie swears off guys which doesn't last when she feels a deep attraction to the arrogant and mysterious Levi. Soon she finds herself immersed in a supernatural world that makes her feel truly alive, but being with Levi might just ruin her life or even get her killed.
Overall, it is worth the read for some audiences, but I will not be continuing the series due to some issues such as characterization of the hero, disjointed scenes and plots, and negative messages to females.
There were some plot issues. There are a lot of scenes in the book that are just characters talking that to do not tie in well to the central plot. This confused me. It felt contrived. Like her friend has a one-night-stand to lose her virginity and leaves, only so Allie would suddenly be alone. Her mother comes down for one day (because we all fly two hours and then leave) just to tell her she suddenly had a boyfriend who was moving in--so Allie would have no home to return to. It felt like random things to simply have the character be alone. Some things were never explained. Now, I've never been to New Orleans. I've heard the drinking age is 18 if a PARENT is with you. The fact Allie is drinking everywhere she goes at that age and no one questions or cards her seemed weird. Perhaps laws are slack in the city. In that case, as an 18-year-old from up north, she would be worried about it or marvel over this new freedom. There were many excuses the author could've made to explain it, but it was ignored.
This leads me to negative messages. I'm not going to bash the underage drinking; this is a New Adult novel. What I will bash is the girls' behavior around strange men. They are too trusting, allow strangers to buy and handle their drinks, walk away from their drinks, etc. I completely thought date rape was going to be a plot-point and thankful it wasn't. Girls! Watch your drinks at bars, please!
Some readers do love a domineering hero, so this book is for those readers only, not feminists. On the surface, Levi is attractive and has a devil-may-care quality. His witty remarks seem like a sexy flirtation until it keeps occurring after they're together and you just want Allie to punch him in the face. Underneath the surface, his actions prove he is arrogant, spoiled, and selfish. He is controlling and refuses to tell Allie anything, hiding things, and lies to her. Then when things are going well--even though she needs to leave town soon--he completely ruins Allie's life, stealing away all her options and putting a target on her head. She is stuck with him and in New Orleans forever. She doesn't accept his behavior, but you get the vibe she'll forgive him in the next book, since she loves the city and is attracted to him still. The message I'm getting is controlling, domineering men who strip you of your rights, autonomy, and your future are dreamy, as long as they love you.
Now, there are positives if you can get passed all of this. The premise is kind of cool and the supernatural being Levi is was creative. If the ending had been different, I would have less qualms with this book. Perhaps he redeems himself and changes throughout the series and I'm judging too quickly? I did like the rest of the characters including Allie who struggles with a mapped out life that rubs against her real needs; she is strong deep down, but it never rises to the surface because she is young and unsure. It all makes sense that she would go from controlling parents to a controlling boyfriend, but I wanted better for her. Also, the sexuality was tantalizing, not graphic, and well done.
If you prefer the domineering and controlling type of hero in your romance and don't consider yourself a feminist, you will probably enjoy Flight. It just wasn't for me but might be for you.
If you're not up to speed on a huge aspect of the writing community, there's an ongoing discussion about being a plotter or pantser. A plotter plans the writing process out, a pantser flies by the seat of his pants, planning nothing. Of course, most writers fall somewhere in between. I'm writing this post in response to a curious author's desire to know how a pantser actually writes. I could not explain it properly on Twitter in limited characters, so here we go.
Many plotters have asked how a pantser can possible write the way we do. The other way around is pretty easy for us pantsers to understand because plotters plan things out. True, there are many varying methods of how to plot, but these things can be researched or understood through different aspects of our lives--planning a trip/vacation, a child's birthday party, etc.--life is full of planning. But if you plot, you wonder how the hell pantsers are able to just write like these weird muse-driven demons. I'm going to explain my process with examples from how I wrote my novels. Forgive me being vague, since the first example is not out yet. Interestingly enough, they were written ten years apart so you might see how my methods have altered or stayed the same.
Quiver--publication date Feb. 2020--started in winter 2006
I had always planned out my writing when I was young but these were short stories or screenplay-type stories. My first two attempts at novels were planned out and left unfinished. I just deviated off the plan and ended up ruining them or getting stuck. I decided with the third attempt, I would simply use a prompt and plan nothing. I reread a Greek myth, hoping to recapture it in modern times, which is kind of cheating since the general plot is technically outlined. I sat down and started writing. I realized what I quickly ended up with was not a myth retelling, but a whole new story that used Greek gods alive today creating new stories. I kept on writing, not knowing myself what would happen next.
To describe the experience of one's mind when writing without a plan--I see my characters beginning to act out a scene. Perhaps in the back of my mind I know boy meets girl in this chapter, so I envision them in my mind as one would a movie. I don't have much control. My imagination plays the movie scene, and my fingers are busy recording it. I have little thought to the words I'm writing (that's what revision and editing is for), but just record this movie as quickly as possible. After I'm done that scene, I flesh out around it with needed info to make it a nice rounded chapter. I repeat this process.
Surprisingly, when I went to revise this completely unplanned manuscript, I recognized it had a legitimate plot structure and great character arcs; it was as solid as it would be if I had planned it all out. I did add a few chapters in here and there to connect my pantser scenes better, but then later on took a couple out. I do think a lifetime of plotting, reading many books, and my degrees in English did help me unconsciously write a solid plot, so if I tried pantsing without a background in writing, it might not have turned out so well. Regardless, I was onto a method that worked well for me.
Fyr--publication date July 2019--started in summer 2017
After I'd written quite a few pantser manuscripts, a couple published, a couple put aside for another day, I decided I wanted to write something new. A term popped into my head: the celestial spheres. I knew it was the ancient way to understand the universe, so I thought, maybe I could do a historical paranormal series. When I researched that term, I immediately knew I'd be writing a fantasy--not my strongest genre. Fyr is an elemental planet people had believed was there long ago, so this "planet" would be my setting. I was a no fantasy writer, so I pondered on whether to change genres or go with my instincts. Then I had a dream about a prince who had fire magic. One of my MC's was born.
I just started writing. I wrote his first chapter which inadvertently established his conflicts and that of his land. It would be too overwhelming to unload the entire land on the reader--one I hadn't fully developed yet--so knew the female MC would need to be us--someone entering this world unaware and learning. I added her chapter in before his. After that, I just wrote. I wrote scenes out of order, the climax before the middle, the romance peak and problems next, and exposition chapters last. I was stringing together scenes that my imagination ran like a movie again. A romance formed, lots of death-defying stakes, a villain appeared from what I had intended just to be a nuisance or roadblock character, and side characters became a bit more important inadvertently setting up plot threads for book 2. Checking back through, I had to add some transitional chapters between these scenes which opened more depth to my world building, but overall, again, a solid plot was there, character arcs were present, and for the first-time I had decently built a world. Fair play, the publishers did have to help me with a few aspects of my world, but as for plot, again the pantser method had worked for me.
What I hope I explained here was how this chaotic process can come together to make something brilliant. And I hope I clearly explained how my muse-driven imagination works by seeing the book play out like a movie, not thinking of words or plot points to get down. I hardly consciously think at all when I write. But I do think a lot when revising or editing. As always, the pantser method is no better or worse than plotting everything out. It is just different like all of our minds are, and if our minds are different, then it makes sense our imaginations run differently. I hope I shed some light on how the pantser brain works. Would any other pantsers like to add their methods, as I'm sure we all write differently?
YA Book Review:
Instinct, the sequel to Niki Cluff's Breed, and is an interesting, action-packed, continuation that leaves you wanting more. Spoilers! So please go back and read about book 1 if you have not, here
Kyle and her boyfriend Ichiro survived the meteor hitting Earth and the devastation of the end of the world as we know it. Feeling guilty about living while so many others have died, Kyle hacks into the compound's saved computers files only to find Hartman, their savior and nemesis, was tracking their families. What is strange is her family's last whereabouts were the caves and they might have survived after all; what is weirder even still is Ichiro's family aren't really dead--at least before the comet hit. Keeping this a secret from Ichiro creates a rift and they go their separate ways in search of their families. Kyle puts her life on the line escaping into the frozen wilderness on the dawn of a new ice age--with a murderer, a pregnant girl, and a crafty mechanic. Survival is slim when you have Hartman on your tail, survivors are desperate, and the temperatures are plummeting. Will Kyle ever find her family? Will she live to see Ichiro again? Will Ichiro make it back from his own quest to find his family?
Cluff continues with her penchant of well-told action sequences and strong plots that create page turners. The reader can tell it was heavily researched and crafted to persuade us this future world is real. Everything made sense. Kyle and Ichiro had to have a fight so they could plausible split up to look for their families as well shift their relationship into a new territory. The novel also grew the characters, developing them even more. The only negative thing I have to say is that I wanted more. It was over too soon, but I guess that is the point. At the end of Instinct, it is unclear whether a third installment is coming, but I know readers most likely want there to be. It remains to be seen if Cluff will return to it after her current project involving monster folklore haunting village kids which sounds equally tantalizing too.
If you like fast-paced books, check out Instinct here (after you've read book 1 Breed here).
Tales in Publishing:
I've spoken about my newest series in passing, and announced how it was my first completed novel (the story of how it got published a decade later here). However, I have gone silent about details since. A little backstory here. Quiver, book 1 of The Immortal Transcripts, was my first finished novel after lots of false starts. I made many revisions, had too many betas whose advice I listened too--all of their advice--destroying the book; then I had a student editor who helped me revamp it developmentally and grammatically. I still wasn't satisfied so I shelved it, pulling it out thinking of how I should revise it. As the article mentioned above outlines in more detail, it was queried, almost picked up, but I chose to stick to my vision rather than change everything just to get published. Back to the shelf it went.
Fast forward, I published a novella, and two novels. Even though I'm currently working on the Celestial Spheres series with my publishers, I wanted to see how they'd feel about The Immortal Transcripts as well. At this point, amazingly, I did not have to query--for the first time ever. I got to directly submit to the publisher. It was a heady feeling. It was accepted, and we've gone through developmental edits, making a few changes that don't alter my vision, a round of edits, and awaiting the last stage of copy edits, then proofing. We've discuss the cover, and it is being drawn up as we speak. Soon will be entering the marketing part where blurbs will be drafted and ads will be discussed. It's almost wrapped up, and I'm so excited for the world to see it.
In the meantime, in future posts, I'll release the pitch and query for the novel which I had used in the past and saw results from both. Even though the representation and I did not line up at the time, I had great results in sparking interest through my pitch and query. Stay tuned as I reveal details about the series, and I hope it alleviates the wait for those of you who are "dying" for the next Celestial Spheres book (July 2020). Quiver will hit shelves February 2020. Can't wait? Then check out my website for news about it here.
Tips for Writers:
Again, I love getting topics via Twitter's #writingcommunity. There's constantly talk within this community about the way in which writers generate their ideas. Basically, there are plotters and pantsers, and everything in between those two camps.
Plotter: a full-on plotter author will painstakingly plan everything out, chapter for chapter. I've seen spreadsheets, charts, outlines, post-it notes, etc. There are programs used, patterns followed like the snowflake method, books on plotting, and more. There's a stringent process that is created before they ever start writing the novel. Everything adheres to this pattern and is planned out with careful attention to characters arcs, plot lines, timelines, etc.
Those who know me might think that this is the type of author I am, since it is the type of person I am. I hate canceled plans, love routines--cannot function without them--and honestly, I'm anxious a lot. However, when it comes to creativity and writing stories, I've always been more of a loose cannon. Any rigidity is life-threatening to my creative juices. I think this stems from how my stories began--daydreams from an atypical kid.
Getting an education in Theater and English and becoming a college Lecturer taught me all the dynamics of what goes into character and plot. I know the structures and arcs necessary, but every time I tried to follow something plotted it was ignored for the greater attribute I had: imagination. I started calling it "the muse" because there was no other way to describe HOW I wrote. I pretty much see a movie in my head that I haven't ever planned out and record it in words. From my discoveries, this seems to be the same mentality as a lot of pantsers.
Pantsers: they fly by the seat of their pants. They're authors who just write and slap that imagination down on paper without worries or hindrances. They simply write and see what happens. Sometimes there may be a premise or not, or an idea of how it should begin and end. Sometimes they write their dreams down.
I'm a pantser and proud of it, but I'd never speak discouragingly of a plotter. From my study of writing in school and out of it, the quality of the final outcome isn't affected by how it began. Plotters seem to take much longer to write a draft, but draft 1 is usually much more polished than pantsers' draft 1. What it all comes down to is the author's ability to revise (plot, character, etc.) and editing (grammar, sentences, etc.). I've noticed the best writing I come across has had an ample amount of developmental revision as well as editing.
I have not talked about the in between process, which I would say the majority of authors fall into. They plot but the imagination sometimes leads the way. This, to me, seems like the perfect combo, but I could never emulate it. I've been flying by the seat of my pants--in only this aspect of my life--and I will continue to do so. But authors should do what they're most comfortable with and what works for them. One method is not better than the other; the debate simply shows us how creative minds vary.
So what type of first-drafter are you?
YA Book Review:
The Inevitable Fate
of E & J
The Inevitable Fate of E & J is an interesting story about past lives echoing into the future, showing great potential.
Elizabeth and Jimmy, former childhood friends who had a fallout, suddenly and inexplicably are drawn to each other after she turns sixteen, despite her having a boyfriend. Aside from this intense attraction, they have strange dreams, phantom pains, and hallucinations of what seems like someone else's past. Their personalities begin to change as well where Elizabeth casts aside the fake popular life and Jimmy works to prove himself worthy of her. Their love seems to blossom until a psychic tells them they must stay away from each other or something terrible will happen. They must decide whether or not to play it safe and break up or to risk everything for love.
There were some great things about this book and some things that I was not a fan of. Let's start with the cons, as there are only a couple. To me, the dialogue at times felt contrived, like an episode of Full House--you know, at the end, when everyone talks about their feelings/problems and sort through them calmly and therapeutically. Although this information is great for teens to read and emulate, people rarely sort through their feelings/problems easily and not everyone can spout out self-help advice to others who will calmly listen. I admit, since he had been through years of therapy, that Jimmy could have this allowance in his thoughts, but these heart-to-heart aloud conversations were a bit frequent to be believable. Second, there was repetition of characters' thoughts in the narrative. For example, both Jimmy and Elizabeth think about their fallout several times, rendering more detail each time about what happened, instead of just having one of them reveal the details earlier on. This happened with a couple other things in the novel as well. However, neither of these issues detracted too much from the overall enjoyment of the story.
The pros of this novel outweigh the cons. The concept of the entire story was neat and unique. One could say I've done a spoiler by explaining the past lives concept but this is clear in the first couple chapters. I love dramatic irony, so seeing the characters grapple to figure it out, when readers already know, keeps us turning pages. It makes sense it would take them a while to figure it out since the supernatural would never be anyone's first assumption, making this pretty realistic. I liked the character of Jimmy. He had a great backstory to explain his maturity and good nature. He was sweet, adorable, easy for Elizabeth to fall in love with. I disliked Elizabeth due to her treatment of Jimmy, and even though she acts like she's not comfortable with the superficial crowd she's in, her actions are very superficial. However, there is a great character arc where she changes for the better due to these past lives and Jimmy's positive influence over her. I love a good character arc and this one was done superbly. The dual POV was done well and the characters were believable. I'm a sucker for romance that has he said/she said views and this was done in an engaging way. Last, although I was not a fan of the self-help dialogue, the psychological aspects and understanding of therapy is well studied or researched--the author definitely knows what she's talking about. And I can see, despite my qualms for realism, that this would be beneficial for teens to read and sort out their feelings in positive ways.
Overall, I was delighted by the novel, and on learning this was a debut self-published novel, I was impressed with the execution (and I'm highly critical). I would recommend people give this novel a chance, particularly due to the entertainment value mixed with a fantastic price. Pick it up here.
Tales in Publishing:
Book Launch Parties
When I published my novella, it felt fantastic. We had an online book launch party for the entire anthology which was a fantastic learning experience. I was a bit sad though, as I couldn't have an in-person one with all my friends, you know the kind of posh event you see on TV and in movies.
Then I published a full-length novel, Apidae. It came out at a bad time financially and time-wise for me: five weeks before Christmas. Yes, this was good for sales, but I had no budget. Christmas presents must be bought. The end-of-the-semester crunch of paper grading was slaughtering me. I gave up on the idea of an in-person book launch--after I painstakingly made grand plans in my head I could never afford. The online launch was pretty successful though.
So when I published my second book, Fyr, in the summer, there were really no excuses since I wasn't teaching and no presents needed buying. And I figured, I deserved it, but I still needed to budget well. You must spend a good amount upfront with the expectation to only make some of it back.
It all started to take shape when I was talking about it at happy hour at a local bar/restaurant. The bartender, who is also manager and part owner, offered to let me have a party there for free. Since I had another book out already, I decided to have the party be a launch and signing combination and scheduled it 3 weeks after the second book was out. I did this so those who ordered it during the online book launch would have it delivered in time to be signed.
- Books. By far, the most expensive thing was buying the paperback books to sell. You do get a discount by ordering through publisher, but you still need to pay for printing and publisher's share of the the royalties. I played it safe, thirty books of each. Because most of my close friends who would come would've already bought it, I figured if I sold half that, it would be great. Then I could try to get the indie bookstores in the area to buy the rest or sell a few on Ebay autographed. Thirty would be easy to move, but fifty or more intimidated me.
- Door prizes. Everybody likes winning. For incentive to buy a book or to bring one to be signed, I decided to have a raffle. Grand prize was an Amazon giftcard, and I set up smaller gifts such as color changing mugs with the book cover on it thanks to the affordable Printifyus through Etsy, and a thematic gift of stone necklaces created by a little boy entrepreneur.
- Bookmarks. They are a must. I had 100 made by a very affordable company, GotPrint.com, that allowed me to design it through their online template. I urged everyone to take one, even strangers who happened to come take a peek at what was going on. They might just throw it away, but they could check it out, buy a book, or give it to someone who might be interested. The book marks were fairly cheap, so this was definitely worth it.
- Food. The idea of buying food and drink for my guests was going to be pricey, especially if a lot of people showed or if restaurant goers decided to join in to get free stuff. The alcohol consumption could be a liability issue as well. Research told me that book signings in bookstores would have no food or something simple like chocolates or cookies. I decided to serve thematic cookies that I made and guests could buy from the restaurant what they wished which would make the establishment money.
- Decor. Choosing a chill place and not renting it saved me loads. Their decor has a humble fishing pier vibe, so I simply decorated a table. I printed things out myself on special photo paper, used my crafting skills, and hit up the dollar store for table decorations.
- Invitations. I simply used Facebook to create an event through my author page, so it was free. It would take a lot of prep time to get everyone's address and to send off invitations. Not everyone sees these invites so a week before the party, I sent out personal messages. I only sent the message once weeks after the original invite; I didn't want to be too pushy or seemingly desperate.
In the end, only my friends came and a few strangers looked but didn't buy, which I heard can be common for a newly published author. My friends had held off on buying the books, so now bought them. I sold about twenty books altogether, and then eight more to people online who missed it but wanted an autographed copy (for this, I put the items in an Amazon cart to estimate tax and shipping). I have books left, but intend on keeping some on hand for another book launch in February for my next book. This time, I'll expect few people. Overall, it was a great learning experience, while I had fun with friends. I intend to do it again with lower expectations. Who knows, maybe this time I'll be surprised by more people.
Note: my area has zero book signing events, except one local bookstore that brings in authors sporadically. Otherwise, the closest place is two hours away and that is only for big-time best-selling, traditionally published authors who tour the nation. I'm hoping I'm onto a need in the area and get something going annually with other local authors.
"Dash you to Hyphen!"
From a Twitter post a while back, a lot of authors were confused about dashes and hyphens and when to use them. I found that interesting since I can't remember when it was taught to me or if I organically figured it out. I'm a avid reader with a couple English degrees under my belt, so hard to figure out the when and where it entered my brain. I found this to be a finer point of grammar that most teachers probably wouldn't get to. So let's get to it, easy and quick.
Em Dash: The em dash looks like this—which happens to be the length of the letter M, hence its name. It can be used in place of some commas or parentheses. I suggest only using them where a comma won't work: too many elements, things are confusing, or it is an aside that could go in parentheses.
She was sure—almost positive—that he liked her back, but he was shy, and she wasn’t sure if he was over his ex.
Okay, not the best sentence off the top of my head, but it illustrates the use of the Em dash as a parenthetical. If we replaced them with commas, this would be a confusing, comma-happy sentence that the writer might need to revise to avoid them or simply slap in some em dashes to keep the tone. Parentheses could be used, yes, but that kind of downplays the idea enclosed and a lot of publishers don't favor them.
En Dash: The en dash is often confused with the em. I only really use it in dates and page numbers. It is shorter than em dash and longer than the hyphen, precisely the length of the letter N. It actually has a pretty forward definition: through.
Please read pages 198–210 in your textbook.
I would assume you'd rarely use this one in writing fiction, so put your efforts into differentiating the other two.
You should see her I'm-going-to-murder-you glare firsthand.
Or more common ones:
The twelve-year-old kid was moody.
Note, it is the smallest and there is no extra spacing around them (also, you might see first-hand in places which is the British usage). The hardest part is figuring out whether or not it is a combined compound or if it is a hyphenated one. And there are a ton of hyphen rules, some strictly enforced and some pretty lax. Honestly, looking it up is the easiest thing to do if your not sure. And I might revisit it as it's own post.
Hope this helps a bit in differentiating dash punctuation!
Being an author who was lucky enough to get published in Evernight Teen's anthology Kissed, I wanted to also read the anthology that came before ours: Summer Crush. Just like our anthology, the previous one had a stipulation centered around the setting needed to be during summer break.
Here's the breakdown of the six stories by six great authors:
Sutton Summer (by Sasha Hibbs): A grieving McKenzie gets a dose of regret after dissing Dylan who is now suddenly shed his ugly duck syndrome. Dylan exacts revenge on the girl who shattered his heart with a cross between leading her on and torturing her. What was great about this story were the character arcs. You love and hate them at times making them so relatably human. I felt at times the characters were too cruel and catty, but by the end I did end up liking them and felt they were almost fully redeemed.
Exquisite Torture (by S.D. Wasley): Ryan spends the summer at his grandmother's in the middle of no where, without any internet, fixing up her house. Soon the boredom is broken by a girl who isn't quite what she seems and he finds himself unraveling a mystery while falling in love with a girl who might not quite be alive. What was great about this one was a blend of genres. It felt paranormal, horror--in a ghost story way--but was predominantly a romance. These blends did work, not to mention a twist ending wowed me.
Forbidden (by Melissa Frost): Olivia, your typical well-behaved teen, falls for the new bad boy, Gavin. As their relationship blossoms, she learns that "bad" is a relative term and she starts breaking rules due to her rigid mother's judgmental rejection of Gavin. This one seemed like the same old plot seen often, but it was still worth reading. This one was cute, and the scenes where you see them falling in love were addictive.
Taking the Plunge (by Diana Stager): Jessica is a teen mom raising her son all on her own while trying to finish high school. When she starts falling for Erik, a swim instructor of mom-baby swim class, and he pursues her, embracing the idea of her child rather than shying away, she is in too deep. This was a refreshingly different read showing the struggles young single mothers go through on many levels, not to mention a sweet love story of acceptance.
Boarderline Love (by Deanna Dee): Dayla is saved by Mason after almost drowning and is instantly drawn in by his hot factor, but hesitant due to his over protective attitude and shifts in moods. There's a reason Mason acts so odd: a past that he hasn't come to terms with. Enter an overprotective brother and it seems as if their romance is doomed from the start unless Dayla can get through to Mason. This one had a great plot but felt a tad melodramatic but I think only because a story with this much depth needed to be full-length. I'd like to see it as a full novel.
An Ocean of their Own (by Birdie Hall): Lola, an artist, draws a girl while on the beach which sets off a romance between them. Lola struggles with her feelings but more about how others will react to her homosexuality. Not only is this a great love story, but a coming out tale that avoids the common cliched melodrama. It really is an internal struggle and how one needs to accept herself to truly be in love. I liked this story and wished there were more diverse tales like this one in Summer Crush.
Overall, Summer crush was adorable with a nice mix of different tales. It could use a little more diversity as there was only one LGBTQ tale which seemed an afterthought being at the end all alone, but one could argue the single mom story is a bit diverse in comparison of the other stories. I think the publishers realized this which might be why Kissed has eight stories, three involving LGBTQ characters. Either way, both anthologies have some great YA stories and can lead you to some new great authors, most of which have other full-length works as well.
Tales in Publishing:
Trial and Error of
Part of getting traditionally published means your publishing company markets for you, but if you think that gets you out of doing it yourself as well, you'll soon learn you're sadly mistaken. Unfortunately, marketing is part of being an author (unless you only write for yourself and don't want to sell many copies). If you are like me, published by a small press, you will need to do even more marketing to get sales as these presses do not have as many resources as the Big 5 conglomerates. After talking to many authors, I've learned that with the big 5 or small press, you are expected to and even sign contracts for your minimal marketing requirements. This means, if you don't try at all, you could get dropped. Sounds daunting, but usually it is simple like a social media account and website. I'm not trying to deter anyone from publishing traditionally, but stating the norm. Note, this is something you have to do as well if self-published but it will be all by yourself or you might need to pay a professional.
My publishers made ads, but I wanted to make my own as well. I felt like it would double the advertising effort. For my first novel, Apidae, I downloaded and altered a professional's book trailer he was offering free. It was through PowerPoint, so I learned quickly, I had to upload it elsewhere to add music (it's possible but difficult). It was a painful learning process and I should've known myself better. I never do well adjusting other's work or ideas to fit my own; I'm a do-it-from-scratch kind of person.
With my second book, Fyr, I decided to plan marketing early. You see, using ads from photos on the internet can be troublesome due to breaching copyright laws. There are a few websites where photographers donate their pictures to a database to be used for free, but they are a little limited. Notice how some indie books have similar covers? Plus my search yielded nothing useful for me as they had for my first book. One theme in Fyr is stone magic. I have an college friend who works with them, so made inquiries. She was willing to take some special photos of her stones for me in exchange for a free autographed copy of my novel. When I got the photos, I added excerpts in good ole reliable PowerPoint, which allows you to customize slide sizes. I made banners and social media ads without the need of cropping.
This all took a while because I'm a perfectionist and I kept toying with different effects for the wording. I also made a book trailer in PowerPoint but broke down and bought Windows Movie Maker to add music and better compatibility and sharing options. Next time, I plan on using Movie maker from the start to see if I prefer it over the multi-step process I went through.
So here's what I did for my ads and trailer:
- Downloaded friend's photos on phone
- Enhanced them using Instagram
- Moved them to Google Drive app (to transfer to computer)
- Went on computer and added words, transitions, and timing in PowerPoint
- Saved as an MP4 file (for trailer) or JPEG (for ads)
For the ads, that's all. Due to having everything synced on Drive, I can post them from my phone and computer.
The trailer had a few extra steps:
- Uploaded trailer into Windows Movie Maker
- Dowloaded copyright free music from YouTube's library and uploaded into Movie Maker
- Save and export where you'd like it--to phone, YouTube, etc.
Having it on YouTube is great as I have easy access to it wherever. In fact, when I went to upload it onto my blog just now, there's an option for my video from the site.
Sounds kind of simple, but honestly it took a while due to me trying to perfect things and my timings being off--when that happens, I had to go back to the editable form--PowerPoint. It's not as perfect as I wanted it to be, but I'm getting better.
If you are interesting in purchasing this novel, click here.
The Truth About
“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they're like dandelions. If you have one in your lawn, it looks pretty and unique." --Stephen King
This is well meant advice but I've noticed as of late how the #WritingCommunity has run wild with it, taking it at times as an ultimatum. I'm weighing in here today to discuss the truth behind adverbs in creative writing.
Myth 1: King's quote means don't use adverbs
If you read the meme below, the quote is out of context and it does sound like he is telling writers to never use adverbs in their writing, but that is what happens when you read a snippet out of context. See the above quote as it was meant to be read: "To put it another way, they're like dandelions. If you have one in your lawn, it looks pretty and unique" (King). Here the quote is saying one here and there can be beautiful, but if they are all over, some should be weeded out. So King is not actually saying NEVER use them, but to do so sparingly.
If you use adverbs you are not a poor writer, but if you heavily rely on them, as King points out, you might want to look into rewording things to improve. The entire adverbs are evil mentality stems from them sometimes telling the reader something instead of showing. Some writers hate the "show don't tell" slogan, but as a reader picturing something is so much more enriching than being told.
Example: She said angrily, "I don't like you." versus
With her fists balled up and her eyes glimmering with fiery rage, she said, "I don't like you."
This is what King is referring to. By telling writers adverbs are bad, he was trying to get more out of them as writers.
Adverbs have a time and a place. Should we think about them and try to avoid them? Perhaps, it depends if you naturally over or under use them. I use them a lot just to get the mood down around dialogue, notoriously using them in dialogue tags which I know is a big no-no. I do make a note to go through and revise the passages. My publishers usually catch more that I miss. The point is, think about them, note your usage of them, but don't let it stifle your writing process. For me, this is a revision and editing concern.
What other well-meaning but abused advice should we discuss next?
YA Book Review:
Despite not being a gamer or a fan of Alice in Wonderland (I'm weird), Niki Cluff still sucks me in and delights me with an intricate world full of surprises, action, and romance.
In Head Case, Allyson--gamer and hacker extraordinaire--is left in a coma after a terrible car accident. Able to hear sense everything going on around her, she discovers the doctors are forcing her coma for an experimental "treatment" that would give coma patients a virtual chance to live a full life. At first, the VR world seems great, but Ally misses her family, socialization, and real life. She hacks into the VR system and uses astral planing to communicate with the living in hopes to be woken up. A big no-no it seems, so she is thrown into another world where a mad queen rules, a boy with rabbit ears steals her heart, and another whom is half cat befriends her. The problem is the mad queen Aishwarya has her heart set on the bunny-boy Harrison as well. Soon Ally and her friends are racing to escape the mad queen and are fighting for their lives both virtually and in reality.
This book is definitely for teen and adult readers who are into technology. Some of the references were lost on me when it came to gaming, but Cluff does make and effort to slip in some old school titles us adults who don't play anymore would recognize. The world building is phenomenal. From describing the sensations of being in a coma without being able to see anything, to a Sims world, to a fantastical place inspired by Alice in Wonderland, Cluff shows a penchant for world building. I felt completely immersed in the game as if the imagery was projected right in front of me. The plot is refreshing and not predictable. The beginning sucks the reader in, then admittedly there is a lull before action resumes, but I felt it was necessary because the fantasy VR world and characters are so intricately detailed that a lot of the novel's strengths would be lost if the book was merely plot-centered.
Overall, the world building, descriptions, and plot make this a great read. If you'd like to check this book out, click here.
Query time! As promised here is another query that worked and snagged me a publisher. The letter itself is in blue with read explaining the method to my madness. I hope it helps you craft your own.
Dear AGENT or REPRESENTATIVE (in response to #PitMad), (here, I had to tag the publishing rep to remind her she had requested my query during this Twitter pitch party)
The Selection meets Poison Study. Toury arrives in Fyr where magic is power, a prince’s love is deadly, and female autonomy is a dream. Prince Alex realizes Toury can break his curse and save his people, but Earth girls aren’t so easy. (This was my pitch I used during #PitMad. I have a post on this pitch itself here)
Let me introduce you to Fyr, book one of the YA fantasy romance trilogy Celestial Spheres, which is 86k words. (This is common to get to the point so the reader doesn't waste time or can pass it on to someone who works with that genre if he/she doesn't. You do need work count, genre, and title. Note how I warned them it would be a trilogy but said nothing about having written more than this one. Agents always say to never say you have more books lying around as it sounds like an inability to snag a deal). Toury, an unloved loner thrust into a new world, realizes this fire sphere is not all it’s cracked up to be, with its strict rules in propriety and young marriageable age. Then she makes the gravest mistake of all by offending an ogler who just happens to be the Prince. Alex, the Prince of Fyr, has many challenges to conquer such as his father’s ailing health, the pressure to marry soon, and the hidden necromancers trying to take over the realm with dark magic he is vulnerable to because he’s cursed. But there’s hope in a cheeky earth girl savior who deems her independence as more important than a suit from him. Together they can break the curse and save the world, but cooperation is difficult due to Alex robbing Toury of her freedom, her ignorance of their world and her own powers, and their enemies’ nefarious plans. And worst of all, Alex learns the only way to break the curse is through true love, not the kind of magic he can conjure but must earn. They must risk their lives, hearts, and futures to save the land from a darkness of apocalyptic proportions. (This is the synopsis portion and was one of the hardest I've had to write yet. As you can tell, it is a complicated plot and a dual point of view, each character having multiple conflicts to deal with. I started with something twice this length and then cut out words, combined ideas, regrouped them according to character to simplify and boil it down).
Transforming Renaissance astronomical theory into a fantastical world and love story seems an arduous task, but having BA’s in English, Dramatic Arts, and an MA in English, gives me a vast background of knowledge of character and world building. I’ve published the story “A Jaded Life” (Circumambulations literary journal), the novella “Dare” in the Kissed anthology (Evernight Teen) and have a novel Apidae (Evernight Teen) debuting this winter. I’m also a college Lecturer and strongly believe in the effectiveness of publicity through social media, and use a blog and other digital venues. However, living in the deep south, I am looking for official representation in the publishing world to champion my full-length manuscripts. It would be a pleasure to be a part of a start-up company, taking a lucrative journey together from the very beginning. (This section doesn't vary much in my queries since it is my credentials that do not really change. I did add a novel in this one that was coming out since that was new. In this section, you want to give them any relevant information that lends you credibility when it comes to writing. This is hard if you do not have any works or degrees in English, so you may have to get creative. My first ever query discussed my degrees only and how I taught the age group of my audience, and it did get a few responses but no contracts. The point is, put what you can. If there's nothing to put, think about trying to publish some shorter works or entering contests).
I look forward to hearing from you soon and humbly thank you for your time.(Here you might want to add some phrasing asking if you can send them your full-length manuscript or something in addition to whatever they asked for with this query. Pay attention to their submissions website. My publisher asked for the entire manuscript, so there was no need to ask. Some ask for first 3 chapters, 50 pages, a 2 page synopsis, etc. If they do not ask for the entire thing, then ask them if they want it.)
Lisa Borne Graves
I hope this helps you craft your own and please comment with questions or suggestions about what you'd like me to tackle next when it comes to writing and publishing. In a few months, I will post another successful query--incidentally, my first query ever written. This will be my last query for a while as I'm now on a submission basis with my publisher without a need to query (which feels amazing).
If interested in reading book 1 of Celestial Spheres, Fyr, you can now purchase the book here.
If interested in reading book 1 of Celestial Spheres, Fyr, you can now purchase the book here.
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