Grammar Woes: "Dash you to Hyphen!"

Grammar Woes: 

"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.

Hyphen: Not sure how poor hyphen gets thrown into this mess with such a different name, but it looks like a short dash. It's used to create compounds or combining two words to create adjectives. I love making my own compound adjectives.

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!

YA Anthology Review: Summer Crush

YA Anthology 

Summer Crush

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.

If interested in Summer Crush, click here.
If interested in Kissed, click here.

Tales in Publishing: Trial and Error of Ad Making

Tales in Publishing: 

Trial and Error of 
Ad Making

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.

Grammar Woes: The Truth About Adverbs

Grammar Woes:
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.

Myth 2: Adverbs show inferior writing
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: Head Case

YA Book Review:

Head Case

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.

Publishing Tips: The Ever-Dreaded Query

Publishing Tips: 

The Ever-Dreaded 

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

(Social media accounts are necessary these days to prove you can market, your own website or blog looks even better. It only costs me $12/year for my own domain name. If you do have published books, having author accounts on Goodreads and Amazon are imperative too. All these show you are serious about selling your work and will work as hard as your publisher in doing so).

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 SpheresFyr, you can now purchase the book here.

Publishing Tips: Return to the Dreaded Pitch

Publishing Tips: 

Return to the 
Dreaded Pitch

Here's a sneak peek to my upcoming novel--out next week!

In a previous post on pitches, I explained the use and my process for writing pitches. I promised that once my books were safely out and protected under copyright, I'd share my path to getting them snagged by a publisher. As I've discussed before, I'm a fan of Twitter pitch parties and found success in the two I've entered: #pit2pub and #pitmad. Here is one of my pitches that successfully attracted the attention of a publisher, whom I queried, and they picked up the book:

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 one was a struggle. It is a way more complex book than my first one, meaning the two characters have separate conflicts that come together and they are numerous. I still feel this could've been stronger but it got the job done. I started with a comparison to other novels. This gives the reader a taste of what to expect and shows you're well read in your genre. I introduce the female protagonist and her complications while also painting a picture of the world. I also insinuated my genres too, through particular word choices: a romance "love" and the fantasy genre "magic." The second sentence shows he is another protagonist, a dual POV novel, with his own problems. My pitch focuses equally on plot and romance because this is a romance driven novel. I never state "teen" or "YA" because in pitch days posts, you must label your category and genre with hashtag abbreviations; this novel had a #YA #F #R tagged onto it. Plus the comparisons should be of your category/genre and both are edgy romance novels with similar themes to my own.

Overall, I'm seeing a content pattern in my pitches which might be the recipe for success: genre, protagonist, complications, hook. These are essential to get in, but most importantly, it has to sound good. The best advice I have is to fully participate in these pitch parties, even if you're not pitching. Retweet authors' pitches you think are well written (do not like them--that is for the agents and publishers to mark their interest). This helps them and it'll go on your page where you can view them later and make a study of them. The only way I learned how to pitch was reading other authors. The same goes for queries, which I will post in a couple soon for you.

You can pre-order this book here

Tips for Writers: Info-Dumping

Tips for Writers: 

What is info-dumping?
You're writing a complex novel. There's info you need to get across to your reader so that they can understand what it going on. You start writing some of it--maybe the character is reflecting on it or a character tells someone a story. You feel like you've got a good grip on it only to realize you've written four pages in a row of backstory. You've just committed the cardinal writing sin of info-dumping.

Info-dumping is when the author gives the reader a large chunk of info all at once usually in narration or dialogue. Usually the author is telling the reader about the setting and its history, it's laws/rules, a character's history or personality, technology, creatures, etc.

Why is info-dumping bad?
It is seen by some as lazy writing, telling the reader instead of showing, or just plain boring since no brain work is involved for the reader. Just telling the reader about the world, character, or history of it simply is not as engaging as showing it. We need to connect to the story and its characters in an emotional way, to care about them. Giving us a list of who the characters are and what they've been through doesn't do that, but showing us how they struggle through obstacles does.

How can we fix it?
If you've done this, don't feel bad. It happens to the best of us. 

Get it out of your system. Sometimes I purposely info-dump to get a grip on my world. I color-code it at the start of my manuscript get it out of my system, and then work it in as I write in more effective ways. So this is one way to avoid it. I'm a pantser (write without an outline or plan) author for the most part, but do allow myself this "planning" paragraph to wrap my mind around my world. I only tend to do this with fantasy.

Break it up. Self-explanatory, take these chunks and of info and divide them up in more interesting ways. Perhaps someone is telling a story or having a conversation but they get interrupted which leaves the main character and the reader wondering for another chapter or so until they can be alone again to resume the story. 

Add action around the info. As long as there is some action breaking up or preventing a long passage of info, you are no longer committing info-dumping. You're giving your reader and interesting, informative scene. Perhaps two characters are having a conversation/argument that reveals the laws of the land while they're setting the table. Described actions help us see a scene, picturing the two characters while we soak up the info.

What if you HAVE to info-dump?
Sometimes you might feel it is unavoidable. Perhaps it's some historical info about your world or characters and a flashback won't work. Your character needs info but other than someone telling a story, you can't think of a way to get it across. It can be okay if it's engaging--shows personality, irony, a conflict, etc. Think of Harry Potter. In the later books, there's a sub-villain of Rita Skeeter, the journalist. We see her articles and books telling biased information about characters which creates irony, a whole other narrative voice, and sets up a conflict for Harry (how he is viewed and later how Dumbledore is viewed). It's engaging and in a journalistic style that sets it apart from the rest of the text. 

We all want to be engaging and for our readers to enjoy our writing, so dump the info-dumping. 

New Adult Review: With Me Now

New Adult 
Book Review: 

With Me Now

With Me Now, by Heather Hambel Curley, is exactly what a new adult novel should be, but I wasn't a fan of the ending. In a book category that seems to lack a definitive definition, this novel is a prime example of what New Adult should be.

The story follows Madison Monroe on a rocky start where getting in trouble for underage drinking dashes her plans of going on an archaeological dig that would set her up for grad school. Feeling like her life is over, she instead is shipped off to Gettysburg, PA, for a routine dig. Only nothing is routine about the dig, nor her ability to see and hear the dead. Things are complicated by her dig team, including Mike who she is beginning to have feelings for. With the help of her paranormal friends, she unearths a discovery that could be the making of her career or might just end her life.

Overall, the characters were relatable, lovable, and the protagonist was normal, strong, but beautifully flawed. I'm a bit unsure about the overly stereotypical gay guy, as I felt he was too over-the-top. He could be real, and perhaps I'm being too sensitive, but I felt he was more a cliched stock character rather than a unique individual. The love interest as well was adorable but bland. I found I liked this because he was realistic and he was given some PTSD issues that made him unique. I wasn't exactly enthralled by him, but it was refreshing to see a guy who wasn't the hero type. Mike doesn't brood, condescend, or save her. Madison can get herself out of a situation.

The love story is great, as well as the plot. The scenery of Gettysburg gives you that historical and realistic vibe. It was obviously well researched when it comes to location and archaeological digs. Details were painted out well for the reader enabling us to picture it clearly. The paranormal aspects with ghosts was cool and weaved well in with the romance. The sex in the novel is not blatant or pornographic, but quickly told without any cheesy or crude detail. It was executed better than I have seen in other NA novels.

The biggest drawback for me was the bad guy and the end. Without spoiling much, I didn't understand the bad guy's motivation. Yes, I understood what the author was trying to execute, but it rang false. And I don't want to spoil the end, but the protagonist acted out of character, was honestly being stupid, and everything could've been prevented with a phone call. When something could be prevented by something simple and the character is normally intelligent, it seems like a plot cop-out. I had absolutely loved the novel up until the end. However, if you like a dramatic end and do not mind a character acting rash, then you would love this book.

Overall, it is worth the read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Although it's ending and villain could be fleshed out or planned better, this is a prime example of what authors should do with a NA novel when it comes to romance, sexuality, setting, plot, and a heroine. Anyone interested in history, romance, or anyone who wants to write NA should purchase this book here.

Coming soon! Cover Reveal: FYR

Cover Reveal:

My publishing team and I have been hard at work getting my book ready, and I honestly never had so much fun tinkering around with ads, drawing maps, and all the other little things that go into a book, aside from the actual writing and editing. Today, I'm revealing the book cover, but I want to explain the process and why we chose this route.

First, my series Celestial Spheres take place in a different world imbued with fire, light, and stone magic. Tapping into my network of friends, I reached out to an old college buddy Tiff who owns The Wild Blue Bear Studio (check her out on Instagram) and is into the lapidary arts (works with stones). She was able to take some fantastic photos for me to use in ads.

Sneak Peek
Second, my novel gets complicated when it comes to geography, particularly later in the series, so the publisher suggested a map. I felt so Tolkien-like and special putting my world onto paper. I sent it to my publisher and they traced and enhanced it digitally.

Last, my husband is an illustrator and drew the stone for my cover, while Authors 4 Authors Publishing incorporated it and designed the rest. The stone is a labradorite sphere, a stone that looks kind of like Earth but is the magical transportation that takes Toury, my MC, away from here and lands her in the land of Fyr. Without further ado here is the cover of Fyr, book 1 of the Celestial Spheres.

Marble frame is not part of the cover--for viewing purposes

Overall, I'm pleased with how everything is turning out and glad I went with a publisher who lets me have a say in a very collaborative process and is much more savvy than I am when it comes to digital arts. If you'd like to see the map and read the synopsis of the novel please visit my website Celestial Spheres series.

Grammar Woes: Commas (Part 4)

Grammar Woes: 
Commas (Part 4)

To see previous blogs about commas see these links: the rules, rules in detail part 2, part 3.

6. Between adjectives that don't relate before a noun
  • When adjectives relate to one another, you don't need commas: The dark green house describes an olive green house
  • When you use adjectives and they don't directly relate, you need commas: The dark, green house describes a regular green house with the lights out.
The trick? If you can put "and" in between the adjectives, use a comma.

7. Before you shift into quoting
When your characters go to speak or you're introducing any quote really (like in an article or paper), you offset with a comma. There's the exception if you can read through the quote, but I rarely see that in fiction: he said that "[quote]."
  • Arms crossing and eyes narrowing into slits of rage, she said, "What do you want?"

And the hardest rule of them all...

8. Whenever it's needed
Commas can be used for a shift in content, a needed pause, to offset the end of the sentence that relates to the beginning. This is difficult to determine, but ask yourself these questions. Does it make sense with it? Does it makes sense without it? If it makes sense with a comma, put a comma in. If not, leave it out. These are the commas not to stress over since professional editors should help you with them. I don't think an agent or publisher would judge the value of a manuscript on these gray-area type commas, but they might if it comes to improperly using all commas and creating comma splices. Multiple kinds of grammar issues would show them a lot of work might be needed.

In the end, commas are hard work. I leave them out all the time because I'm in a hurry, which is why editing is key. Knowing how and when to use them can sharpen a manuscript and that cannot hurt your chances of getting published.

What other grammar issues would you like me to discuss in upcoming blogs? Comment below.

Playing with Fyr: Where to House a Series

Playing with Fyr: 

Where to House 
a Series

I have had a blog with a couple pages on it for a few years, and I have books coming out. I wasn't interested in trying to run a bunch of additional websites, but I recently got two separate book-1 novels of series picked up. I wondered how I should go about promoting my work without overburdening myself.

I read plenty of articles. A bunch said to create social media accounts for characters, create separate websites, create complimentary content--A LOT of work. But these articles were a bit dated to be honest, about ten years ago. Yet I still saw some authors doing these things. I do want to support other authors, but these accounts clogged up my feed when I really just want to engage with other authors and readers on a personal level. It would be cool if I was really into the series, but the ones I saw didn't convince me to buy it. Then there were articles proclaiming that making series and book alone websites were "so yesterday." I decided to investigate further.

What I did next was cyberstalk a bunch of famous YA authors (important to note because results might be influenced by the age of their target audience). Their websites varied, but I noted similarities--simplicity, accessibility, and personality.

Less is sometimes more. I prefer the look of a sleek homepage. A lot of authors had everything on the home page and links on both sides. Some authors had waaaaay too much going on that I was almost intimidated and did the typical moving on instead of actually reading. To defend myself, quite a few of these sites did not have a mobile version which is necessary in this day and age. It's kind of rough browsing on the phone to find a website that is like a novel and the words are too small to read without zooming in and having to move constantly left to right. People like simple, particularly my young adult audience whom I teach; they freely admit they will not read it if it's too complex.

On those simple websites, everything was on one page or linked to it. My favorite template was one main page with just links, so I revamped blog to emulate that. I created several pages and had to fight with coding and settings--as always--to redirect my domain to a home page and move my blog to a new page. The point is, they are all on one site, easy to get to via a page bar at the top and links on the home page. On each of my pages there are links to my novels (or will be for some). With my audience, it must be mobile friendly. It took a lot of time to work the kinks out, but I hope it's worth it.

Every author I looked at had a blog or the super famous crew had an updates page. Here was writing advice, opinions, projects, etc. You really felt like you got to know the author. I've been blogging for a few years. I change it up but mostly stick with what I know: grammar, publishing, book reviews, writing, etc. You should have a target readership in mind. I focus on aspiring authors and anyone who reads YA. I like to help people learn the craft--especially young adults who read and may want to be writers. The blogging seems essential to me. I've read a lot of blogs via Twitter and end up following, sometimes buying books, and engaging with fellow authors. Blogging seems to be a net to pull in potential readers if done properly.

In the end, I kept my blog and, as I mentioned above, revamped it to try to emulate these three things. I would love if you could take the time to check out my home page, the various links, and see what you think. I'm open to suggestions to make it even better since it is still under construction.

Link to the series Celestial Spheres, book 1 Fyr can be found here.
Link to my homepage can be found here.

Short Story Reviews: Authors 4 Authors Publishing

Short Story Reviews:

Authors 4 Authors Publishing

In the theme of changing up reviews, I'm tackling four short stories today. As a precursor, I should say the only short stories I normally dealt with in the past were capital-L literary fiction which I teach to students. Okay, every now and then there's a romance novella, but these novellas get to do more than short stories because they can be half a novel length. In short, I kind of didn't know what to expect when reading contemporary popular fiction short stories. Spoiler alert--I was pleased with them.

Seeing Through Him by BC Marine--This story sucked me in right away. It's an amazing Beauty and the Beast type story imbued with nuances of subtle magic. A man with the power of invisibility he can't control is forgotten by others. A girl who has magical charisma but refuses to use it and instead perfects her work as a mirror maker crosses paths with him. Romance ensues. The tale reads like an abridged novel, so I was left wanting to draw out every part of it more. I hope the author expands it to a full-length novel one day.

I Loved You Tomorrow by BC Marine--This story was interesting. Unlike the former story, this reads as a short tale. There's an interesting grapple with seeing the future, a concept I love to dwell over. What would you do if you foresaw you spouse and your entire lives together and then suddenly met him/her? This story tackles that and all the awkwardness it would bring when said future spouse can hear your thoughts.

The Measure of a Princess by Rebecca Mikkelson--The style of this tale was refreshing. Told in a mix of contemporary language and fairy tale adage--Grimm comes to mind--a princess is summoned to compete for a prince she doesn't want. This hardcore feminist poses her servant as her sister in hopes to trick the prince and no more could be said without spoiling an amazing twist that dropped my jaw in equal amount of shock and appreciation.

The Princess and the Frog by Renee Frey--I do not think I ever wrote this or will again, but the coolest thing about this story was a frog's point-of-view. Okay, he's really a human in a frog's body, but he's been a frog so long the narrative from him felt uniquely half human. The plot of this one and how it unravels does call for an entire book. I wanted the prequel--to see him become the frog--and to draw the action and romance out a bit more. However, there is already a beautiful tale of love, betrayal, and redemption all within few pages.

Overall, I realized, I've been missing out on a genre of short stories. I didn't think I was a short story person or that I'd enjoy a romance short story. A lot of short romances get into the nitty-gritty right away--not a fan. These stories don't cross any lines like that, but portray a beautiful or painful lesson of love that resonates even after you put it down.

You can buy these stories and others, including full length novels, here.

Tales in Publishing: A Never Giving up Story

Tales in Publishing: 

A Never Giving up 

Some much-needed background info for this tale, condensed: At 23, I attempted my first novel. And failed. I had written stories and screenplay-type manuscripts my entire life. When I tried to flesh out the description and create a narrative voice, I struggled. I tried again and again, but wasn't satisfied. I never finished them. Then, 3 years later, I went for it creating an ambitious 4 character 1st POV mythology-based YA paranormal romance. I finished a massive 120k manuscript. This I named Quiver.

After having 7 betas read it, a grad student editor go through it, I trimmed, added, and trimmed more. Then I queried. With my first attempt at a letter and go for an agent, I did fairly well. Out of 30 agents, I got 5 positive replies for the manuscript. The waiting killed me. 3 were interested, even my dream agency who only took on books that they could sell to movie studios and the Big-5 publishers. A dream come true!

Or so I thought. Agent #1 asked for a revise and resubmit, wanting me to change it to 1 POV which would take the entire mythological aspect out of it. I wanted readers to see into the minds of Greek gods. I passed. Agent #2 wanted me to cut to just the boy and girl POV's which would've lost me my crossover adult audience and simplified the novel into only being a love story. I passed. Agent #3 wanted it, spoke of how it would transition well onto the screen, and we had 3 conversations about it. I wanted this dream agency and everything seemed almost set in stone. And then disaster. The agency votes on projects. 3 agents were on board out of 6, and they drop a project if there's not a majority. The agent asked me to send again in a year. She was kind and sounded a bit angry she was losing me. I couldn't deal with that kind of let down again, so did not resubmit. Rejection is one thing all authors must get used to, but believing you hit it big to have it taken away...rough.

I queried about 40 more agents, I was ignored for the most part or rejected with standard forms. Then I had a child. There was barely enough time for writing over the next three years, so researching for an agent? Forget it. I tried to revise, to limit POVs believing that maybe the agents had been right. I hated any cuts. I put it aside, focused on other works.

Then I got a novella I wrote in a week published by entering a submission call. This same publisher accepted, via a Twitter pitching event, a full-length book I had written, revised, and edited in 4 months. I got a second novel picked up by a different publisher during another pitching event. This book I only wrote on and off for about a year, probably taking 5-6 months total on it. That's when I realized something. I was finding success when I didn't "overcook" my novels. I needed to be more confident in my initial writing and not over revise, not employ too many betas since I cannot filter their advice well, and not make major cuts agents suggested. For these published books, I had 2 betas, 2 drafts, 2 edits. Not suggesting this method for everyone, but I learned about myself as a writer, while I grew my resume.

Back to Quiver, my first completed novel. I reread the original version before anyone had a hand in it. Then I read the newest version; something in between them was my target. I made cuts, mostly of two of the POVs making the characters subordinate. This was taking a smidgen of agent #2's advice who said to drop them completely. I didn't get rid of them, but lessened their import, slightly. I went from the 118k it had been to 88k, then redeveloped areas totaling 93k.

My current publisher has a first right of refusal clause, which is common, so I submitted the manuscript thinking it would be amazing if they took it, but if not, I still had my query and some titles under my belt and could try elsewhere. I waited anxiously...for a day! My publishers wanted it and we signed immediately.

Thirteen years after the first words were written, I signed a contract to see them in print. 

Hold onto your writing. I was sitting on 14 completed manuscripts. Once one was published, the dam holding me back was broken. I can only manage 2 novels a year with all of life's other obligations and another career, but I'm determined for these 14 to be in print one day. If all goes as planned, 9 so far will have homes. So authors, please hold onto your writing. If it isn't ready or not getting picked up, put it aside, work on something new, come back to it. Look for the flaws in your writing or your process. Learn to turn them into strengths. When you have improved your abilities, pull that writing back out. One day, someone will see the beauty in it. But no matter what they say, never give up.

Genre Review: Sweet Romance

Genre Review: 

Sweet Romance

I'm not sure if I dislike the genre as a whole, only having read ones that weren't amazing, but the last book I read left me blah. I refuse to name the title as I would probably only give it 2-stars and I'm questioning myself the validity of my low rating. Was this book a great example of the genre and I happen to not to like the genre or was it a poorly written book?

I'm a sucker for a love story, and I'm not a fan of erotica (not knocking on it as a genre, but personally not a fan). I like reading romance. A lot of romance novels buck (pun intended) the line, shifting so close to erotica that I wonder what the line truly is. For a change, I've been reading sweet romances ("clean" just sounds awful and insinuates romance is dirty, so not using that term although some use clean/sweet interchangeably). I've read four sweet romances now and only enjoyed one.

So the question I had to ask myself was who is the intended audience for these sweet romances? This I couldn't pin-point. Are they for people who simply don't want the nitty-gritty sexual details like myself? Or for asexual readers or any readers who want to read about love without any hormonal influence? 3/4 sweet novels I read seemed for the latter group. It made me feel as if love was in a vacuum, and I lacked connection to the character, never truly being privy to all their feelings. I have a hard time envision love without attraction. So is this genre not for me?

The Duds:
To generalize, the plots of a couple of these books were dull, so ordinary, real-life that I didn't feel transported outside of my bland-but-happy reality. I read to escape the world and to enjoy another character's life. This didn't happen. In one of them, the plot was so ludicrous I couldn't believe it. Second, the characters ages were in their 20's and 30's, but they acted like they were fifteen or younger--extremely immature, stubborn, absolutely ridiculous in one. I could not view them as real people but caricatures. I could not align myself with them or understand them (and I write/read YA and can fully understand and align myself with protagonists that are truly 15). In one of them the heroine and hero were both so normal and dull I was bored.

The great one:
The one great sweet romance I had the pleasure of reading had emotion, drama, and feelings, even the hormonal kind. There was a teaspoon of steamy attraction, but the characters did not act on them due to rules/customs of the time period, their morals, and wanting that confession of love and marriage before acting upon impulses. This one ended with a steamy kiss. This is what I see as sweet. This is what I want to read. The longing for indulging in our feelings but refraining is such sweet tension that I feel is almost necessary in romance. In the end, I liked the romance aspect, but the plot and a few other character inconsistencies prevented me from loving it.

So am I alone? I googled the definition of the genre and wow! So many conflicting versions. I even found articles about these conflicting definitions. Here are some things that cropped up in all of them--no sex, HFN or HEA endings after a conflict or struggle, no majorly offensive language--after that all the definitions vary. Those are some broad parameters to work with, so no wonder what I had read varied so drastically.

I'm contemplating writing a sweet romance because I want to see more tension and denial of feelings--heck, it's what I do in my upper-YA novels--but I definitely will have to read more of these to get a grasp on how I would define the genre or who my intended audience is.

How do you define "clean" or sweet romance?

Grammar Woes: Commas (Part 3)

Grammar Woes: 
Commas (Part 3)

Please see this link for a list of comma rules, or the last post for rules #1-3.

4. After an introductory phrase

This is by far the most forgotten comma I come across when grading student papers. Poor comma! We are supposed to offset an introductory phrase or word with a comma. Why? It helps your reader find the subject of the sentence. In the English language, we unconsciously look for subject--> verb--> object in order to make sense of what we read. By offsetting important fluff that comes before it, we help our reader.

  • Before she submitted her manuscript, Amy spent hours perfecting her commas. 

We want to keep the introductory phrase because it makes it interesting, adds detail, and varies up sentence structures (rather than always starting with "Amy" for example). We just need that comma to pause the reader's brain so he/she can focus on the upcoming subject.

5. To offset parenthetical "asides"

We use these for the same reason as above. We want our subject-verb-object sequence clear for our readers. Sometimes we modify part of the sentence that could technically go in parentheses or parenthetical commas, that works like an aside would in a play. Grammar books say these are nonessential items, meaning not needed for the sentence to make sense.

  • Jenny, along with her cousins Gregg and Jordan, was coming to the party.
The "meat" of the sentence is in bold. An indicator that this should be an aside and the author is focusing on Jenny is the word "was" instead of "were" (but this is another grammar function we'll tackle later). A good way to check if it is parenthetical (nonessential) is that it could be cut and the sentence could still make sense: Jenny was coming to the party. 

I think that's enough for our brains today. Stay tuned for more comma rules.

Tales in Publishing: Playing with Fyr

Tales in Publishing: 
Playing with Fyr 

So I announced a successful #PitMad ages ago (story here) and have been silent about landing a publisher since. The silence did not mean nothing was going on nor was there any drama. My publishers and I have been hard at collaborative work, bringing my book to life.

I'm pleased to announce, my book Fyr, Book 1 of the Celestial Spheres trilogy, will be released to the world on July 14th. Fyr is an upper YA novel that crosses over to adults with a rating of 17+ that older teens and adults can both enjoy. The book is like 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.

So far, so good. I love my editor's ability to get a lot out of me, considering how I put a lot of important stuff off for book two or accidentally left details behind in my mind. It's all been pushed into book one, fleshing it out to create a wonderfully developed world, complex and realistic characters, and a solid plot of twists and turns leaving the reader--I hope--wanting more. We've passed through two edits and now in the last copyediting stage.

We're looking at cover art, discussing pronunciation for the audiobook and choosing voice actors, and formulating the marketing plan. I've reached out to an old college pal to take specific photos for me that my publisher will jazz up to use in marketing. I've never realized how much went into marketing and audiobooks. I'm very excited to hear them do the voices--accents and all.

My publisher creates such a tight-knit community all about collaboration that I know I've chosen the right publisher for me. They are even having my illustrator-husband draw the cover art which makes it mean so much more to me (since this book will be dedicated to him). In all, I'm happy with the publishing path I've chosen; smaller presses really are the best since you get most the support traditional pubs have at no cost and almost the same control you'd get if self-publishing.

I'm so excited to share more, so keep on the lookout for future posts as the release date draws closer.

YA Book Review: War Storm

YA Book Review: 
War Storm

Right, so my fears were well-grounded when it comes to Victoria Aveyard's War Storm. I did not like this book which unfortunately colors my view of the entire series. In all, I'm left with a blah, how-is-this-so-popular? feeling.

The plot of this book continues right after King's Cage where Cal--no surprise here--chooses the crown over Mare. She's brokenhearted and bitter but must work with Cal to defeat Maven and his allies. They struggle with their feelings not able to choose each other over their causes but unable to stay away from each other. There are battles and politics that increase until a final showdown.

If that seems like a short synopsis for a 650+ page book, there's a reason for that and no I'm not avoiding it for spoilers. The book it utterly slow, repetitive, and there is a ton of political filler that is dull. The positives? The battle scenes, the world Aveyard creates has magnificent landscapes and wonderful precision. I just wish there was less fluff between the battles. And speaking of the plot, the ending is terrible. It is anticlimactic and Cal and Mare end up where they always were: on the precipice of a decision that might eventually be made. If you're looking for a HEA or a HFN ending or even a sad ending or any real ending at all, this isn't it. It leaves the reader turning the page and thinking "That's it?"

Aveyard again tries to toy with more points-of-view: Mare, Iris, Maven, Evangeline, and Cal. Again, they all sound like a version of Mare, Maven's fragmented mind not convincing, Iris annoying, Evangeline repetitive, and Cal a simpleton. I had wanted so bad to see Cal's side of things only to be let down that he is stupid. He doesn't notice anything around him or understand courtly politics that he grew up in. I was utterly disappointed in his character. From the outside, he seemed to know things and struggle, but inside she made him empty-headed, the struggle from ignorance not from moral fiber. The biggest flaw of this splintered narrative was the characters like Iris revealing the plan to move against others, so when others are surprised I saw repetition, not dramatic irony. I think if the novel stripped out all narrative except for Mare's we'd have a fantastic fast-paced book with lots of surprises.

Characterization rings false. Lots of plots are left incomplete--like the main romance and the fate of Norta. And the book leaves the reader pretty unsatisfied. I don't regret buying or reading the series, as it was entertaining enough, but I won't suggest it to others.

However, if you do like open-endings and overlapping POVs, you can purchase here.

Tips for Writers: Grammar Woes: Commas (Part 2)

Grammar Woes: 
Commas (Part 2)

A full list of comma rules can be found here.

1. To separate lists

Yes, we all know this one. Pretty simple except for the Oxford comma debate. And Oxford comma is the commas that goes before "and" in the end of a list. Some people leave it out. Some times that is okay, and some times it's downright catastrophic. Here's the thing, using it is rarely wrong, so why not use it? If not this could happen.

2. For places and dates

Yes, we know this one too, but I bet you sometimes forget your second comma. The year or state after a date or town is seen as a parenthetical--anything you can read around where the sentence still makes sense is a parenthetical. Here are some examples:
  • September 11th, 2001, will be remembered as our generation's Pearl Harbor.
  • She's from Orlando, Florida, which is my favorite place to visit.

3. To join sentences (only if they are joined properly with FANBOYS)

Grammar books tell you about dependent clauses, but to simply this, let's just say sentences. You can join them together via comma, but you need help. Without a helping hand, you create a comma splice which actually can confuse your reader. It is one of those mistakes that is notably a mark of unedited writing. I'm not an agent, but guessing one of these puppies in a query letter is tantamount to a cardinal sin.
  • Comma splice She hated strawberries, we wondered why her mother made her a strawberry birthday cake.
  • Corrected She hated strawberries, so we wondered why her mother made her a strawberry birthday cake.
Adding that helping hand, FANBOYS (For And Nor But Or Yet So) corrects this issue. There are other ways to fix this as well--create two sentences, use a semicolon, make one sentence no longer one by stripping it of a subject or verb, or making it no longer one sentence by adding a word that makes it dependent (like adding Because to the front of the first bullet).

The key to avoiding comma splices is to realize what makes a sentence--subject, verb, object, and makes sense on its own. Another trick is the age old "pencil test" which I've renamed the "cursor test." You put a pencil/cursor over your comma and look left and then right. If only one side is a complete sentence, you're good. If both sides are full sentences (without FANBOYS), it's a splice. Make one of the above mentioned moves to correct it.

YA Book Review: King's Cage

YA Book Review: 
King's Cage

So I was about to give up on this series, but they were purchased for my birthday. I was definitely going to see it through now. In short, I'm still torn. This book is not nearly as good as the first one but by far better than the second. I'm happy I read it, but it does have drawbacks. Spoiler alert! See previous two posts here: book 1 or book 2.

The plot of this third installment of the series, King's Cage, sees Victoria Aveyard's storyline continue where it left off: Mare is a prisoner in the palace under Maven's rule. She is forced by the tedium to relive her mistakes and to suffer. Meanwhile, Cal and the Red Guard are recruiting in hopes to overthrow Maven and rescue Mare. At the same time, Maven is using lies and politics to convince new bloods and reds to his side, tearing the kingdom in two. Maven has two wars to fight, while the Guard finds it almost impossible to save Mare or win this war. Things aren't as they seem, though, and assistance comes from unusual places, alliances on both sides are surprising, and it culminates into a huge battle that seems to be the end for one of the sides.

Unfortunately, that kind of is it, which leads to the first issue I had with the book. It was 500 pages of slow pacing, and there wasn't a whole lot of action going on. Hundreds of pages were of Mare being depressed and bored in her room. I was happy to see it, for I like her now. Seeing her suffer after all her self-serving attitude and using people repeatedly tipped the scales. She is still selfish but at least realizes her mistakes. And yet, she still doesn't learn from them. The plot itself repeats book 1: she's stuck in the palace, pines for Cal, wants revenge, and even in the end she depends on Cal to make the right decision and predictably he doesn't. History repeats itself. We're pretty much at the end of book 1 again. The war with Maven still ongoing.

On top of plot repetition, the author uses different points-of-view (POV). I get why, because to just have months of Mare doing nothing would get really old, but it felt like a cop out and forced. We're in Cameron's head only so we can see what is going on with Cal and the Red Guard. I would've loved to be in Cal's head to see how torn he is in every decision he must make, particularly the one in the end. We also get to see inside Evangeline's head. Odd choice too, seemingly done to show us a subplot that might be more important later, but not needed in this book. The largest issue with these POV's were they weren't unique. They were facets of Mare. I often forgot whose head I was in within the chapter because they sound exactly like Mare--Cameron as the bitter angry Mare of book 2, and Evangeline was like Mare from book 1. Evangeline's thoughts are way too kind to align with her outward actions. Irony is not created but a superficiality that does not make me like her. The attempt to humanize her after her treatment of others was overreaching.

Speaking of humanizing, what went well for this book was Aveyard's humanizing of Maven and even Mare who now thinks of others. I think some readers may hate Cal after this book, but I love his struggle and I don't love Mare enough to feel awful for her. It was a frustratingly great ending. The new characters that appear were interesting and well-developed, and more layers are added to this amazing world Aveyard created. The plot twists that weren't predictable, and the huge battle at the end, were well told. Seeing all the new bloods powers was cool, as well as the behind-the-scenes politics, and explanation of where this land really is. The best thing about this book was seeing another side of both Maven and Cal.

I really feel though that this should've been the end of the series. I honestly can't see much but more repetition in book 4 until we finally get an ending of restoring the kingdom and Maven's downfall. After reading book 2 and 3, I feel this should've been a trilogy. I'm hoping though, that by the end, I will end up loving the series as a whole but just wishing it was shorter and less repetitive.

We shall see.

If interested in purchasing, the book can be found here.


Tales in Publishing: Query example

Tales in Publishing:  Query example I'm sharing my successful query to others in hopes it exemplifies what to do and helps other au...