Wednesday, September 28, 2016

0 A Narrow-Minded Writer in a Broad World

We're excited to announce Kim Zarins, author of SOMETIMES WE TELL THE TRUTH, as our Writer on Writing guest as she talks about the importance of writing what you love. 

"As a writer, opportunities will present themselves—contests, calls for submissions, a librarian who reports there are not enough YA nonfiction texts on the Zika virus or freshwater fish. But what I’ve learned is that I’m not the person to scramble to a keyboard and write that book on fish...I learned to embrace writing only the things I’m passionate about."

Long ago I reached the low-point of my writing career. I did not sell my first novella, but I realized a novella is an unusual format. I wrote my first novel, which I loved, and failed to sell that too. 

I floundered. I’d heard about magazines being a better way to break in. I started submitting stories and poems. I didn’t sell those either. Writing contests? Also a no-go.

Ah, everyone said nonfiction was an easier way to break in—I tried that. Several fails, but one well-researched piece got a nibble and a request for revisions from a major children’s magazine. Yay, that was huge! I did the edits. Held my breath. Got back a letter from the editor apologizing because his colleagues thought that the topic I’d chosen was too similar to another article of theirs from a previous year.

Major. Slump. Around then, I found a notice for writers needed for greeting-card content. I set to work. Scribbled various happy birthday jokes on an envelope. Stared at my list. And then it dawned on me painfully…

"I actually hated greeting cards. I did not want to write them. The publishing credit wasn’t worth it to me. That’s when I realized I needed to figure out what was worth it to me."

As a writer, opportunities will present themselves—contests, calls for submissions, a librarian who reports there are not enough YA nonfiction texts on the Zika virus or freshwater fish. But what I’ve learned is that I’m not the person to scramble to a keyboard and write that book on fish. There are better-qualified people to do that, people passionate about those subjects. Those writers will joyfully respond to that call.

I learned to embrace writing only the things I’m passionate about. After my epiphany, I started writing again—but only the things I wanted to write. 

"If I never got published, I at least would have the satisfaction of following my dreams."

This might not be your philosophy, and that is fine. If you knew nothing about fish, but someone said you’d likely score a contract, and so you hit the library and the lakes to whip up a proposal, then you are a broad-minded person. You’re curious and willing to write anything, which shows an adventurous, healthy mindset. A good writer friend of mine has discovered wonderful projects through serendipity. As a random example, responding to a contest to write the best circus story for a middle grade audience can lead some writers to a fresh setting and voice…perhaps material for a future novel or a nonfiction book on the history of clowns. Contests and opportunities lead to new projects. New horizons.

But I’m not that person. I’m a narrow-minded writer. I’m using this term affectionately—and I’m making this recipe up and serving it to you to see if it tastes right—but I’ve often read that you should write everyday (a separate topic), but no one says what you should write. It’s not an issue for a broad-minded writer, but for a narrow-minded one, writing can be draining when it’s so far from the writing you actually want to do. 

"So if you are in a slump, it might not be you. It might be your project. You might need to read for a while to reorient and get back into your zone. Because narrow-minded writers needs to fill their well more often, in a more targeted way."

I finally have a debut novel just published called Sometimes We Tell the Truth. It’s a YA novel about teens telling stories on a long bus ride to pass the hours, and as the tales flow, secrets about the storytellers start getting revealed. It’s also a retelling of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. In the day job I’m lucky to have, I teach Chaucer to college students. Before then, I studied Chaucer for my PhD. I’ve spent my entire adult life with Chaucer, which is wonderful, because he makes me laugh.

This novel was the perfect project, the story about storytelling that I wanted to tell above all others. I love this project so much I’m telling you about it today, just like I told the guy at the grocery store and the doctor and even my dentist in between bouts of drilling. The project is pure passion, and I’ve finally bridged my creative life with my English-major nerd, medieval side. But I would not have gotten to this point to write this novel and champion it if I hadn’t stayed on my own course, reading the things I desired to read, teaching the texts the desired to teach, writing the unpublished drafts I desired to write. This trajectory and novel could not have happened if I hadn’t been stubborn. 

"Because passion’s best ally isn’t talent or even time. It’s stubbornness."

If you’re narrow-minded like me, your creative brain needs your advocacy, not just to carve out hours, but to pursue the work your heart truly desires. Yes, contests and such might coincide with your interests, and there is a gray area here, but passions do not invite compromise, and there is something to be said for ignoring the contests and just writing the thing on your heart—if you can write that thing, that’s pretty much winning the best contest ever.

"Whether you are a broad-minded or narrow-minded writer, and both are great, I wish you all the very richest creative lives. The moral of my novel, I think, is that everyone has a story to tell. May your story bring out the depths you never knew you had."


Sometimes We Tell The Truth
by Kim Zarins
Simon Pulse
Released 9/6/2016

In this contemporary retelling of The Canterbury Tales, a group of teens on a bus ride to Washington, DC, each tell a story—some fantastical, some realistic, some downright scandalous—in pursuit of the ultimate prize: a perfect score.

Jeff boards the bus for the Civics class trip to Washington, DC, with a few things on his mind:
-Six hours trapped with his classmates sounds like a disaster waiting to happen.
-He somehow ended up sitting next to his ex-best friend, who he hasn’t spoken to in years.
-He still feels guilty for the major part he played in pranking his teacher, and the trip’s chaperone, Mr. Bailey.
-And his best friend Cannon, never one to be trusted and banned from the trip, has something “big” planned for DC.

But Mr. Bailey has an idea to keep everyone in line: each person on the bus is going to have the chance to tell a story. It can be fact or fiction, realistic or fantastical, dark or funny or sad. It doesn’t matter. Each person gets a story, and whoever tells the best one will get an automatic A in the class.

But in the middle of all the storytelling, with secrets and confessions coming out, Jeff only has one thing on his mind—can he live up to the super successful story published in the school newspaper weeks ago that convinced everyone that he was someone smart, someone special, and someone with something to say.

In her debut novel, Kim Zarins breathes new life into Chaucer’sThe Canterbury Tales in a fresh and contemporary retelling that explores the dark realities of high school, and the subtle moments that bring us all together.

Purchase Sometimes We Tell The Truth at IndieBound


I'm a medievalist at Sacramento State University, and I also teach a ton of children's literature. I'm coming out with my debut YA novel in Fall 2016, a modernized retelling of the Canterbury Tales called Sometimes We Tell the Truth. 

You don't have to know anything about Chaucer to enjoy the story, and if you know the Canterbury Tales, you'll see the novel on a whole other level. I hope you'll like it!

If you want to chat about books, it would be great to hear from you.

Monday, September 26, 2016

6 New Releases this week 9/26-10/2 plus Giveaway for SWARM

Happy Monday! This week, we have a giveaway of SWARM to offer as well as announcing all the winners from last week! Don't forget to check out all new releases and enter to win SWARM below.

Happy Reading,

Shelly, Sam, Jocelyn, Martina, Erin, Susan, Michelle, Laura, Anisaa, and Kristin


* * * *

by Scott Westerfeld
Hardcover Giveaway
U.S. Only

Simon Pulse
Released 9/27/2016

X-Men meets Heroes when New York Times bestselling author Scott Westerfeld teams up with award-winning authors Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti in the second book of an explosive new trilogy about a group of teens with amazing abilities.

They thought they’d already faced their toughest fight. But there’s no relaxing for the reunited Zeroes.

These six teens with unique abilities have taken on bank robbers, drug dealers and mobsters. Now they're trying to lay low so they can get their new illegal nightclub off the ground.

But the quiet doesn’t last long when two strangers come to town, bringing with them a whole different kind of crowd-based chaos. And hot on their tails is a crowd-power even more dangerous and sinister.

Up against these new enemies, every Zero is under threat. Mob is crippled by the killing-crowd buzz—is she really evil at her core? Flicker is forced to watch the worst things a crowd can do. Crash’s conscience—and her heart—get a workout. Anon and Scam must both put family loyalties on the line for the sake of survival. And Bellwether’s glorious-leader mojo deserts him.

Who’s left to lead the Zeroes into battle against a new, murderous army?

Purchase Swarm at Amazon
Purchase Swarm at IndieBound
View Swarm on Goodreads


Ripple by Heather Smith Meloche: Caitlin O, Rosie G, D S.
The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis: Alisha S
The Lying Planet by Carol Riggs: Karin M.
The Odds of Lightning by Jocelyn Davies: Morgan M.
The Swan Riders by Erin Bow: Kara S
Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter: Kelsey M


* * * *

Bright Smoke, Cold Fire
by Rosamund Hodge
Balzer + Bray
Released 9/27/2016

When the mysterious fog of the Ruining crept over the world, the living died and the dead rose. Only the walled city of Viyara was left untouched.

The heirs of the city’s most powerful—and warring—families, Mahyanai Romeo and Juliet Catresou share a love deeper than duty, honor, even life itself. But the magic laid on Juliet at birth compels her to punish the enemies of her clan—and Romeo has just killed her cousin Tybalt. Which means he must die.

Paris Catresou has always wanted to serve his family by guarding Juliet. But when his ward tries to escape her fate, magic goes terribly wrong—killing her and leaving Paris bound to Romeo. If he wants to discover the truth of what happened, Paris must delve deep into the city, ally with his worst enemy . . . and perhaps turn against his own clan.

Mahyanai Runajo just wants to protect her city—but she’s the only one who believes it’s in peril. In her desperate hunt for information, she accidentally pulls Juliet from the mouth of death—and finds herself bound to the bitter, angry girl. Runajo quickly discovers Juliet might be the one person who can help her recover the secret to saving Viyara.

Both pairs will find friendship where they least expect it. Both will find that Viyara holds more secrets and dangers than anyone ever expected. And outside the walls, death is waiting. . . .

Purchase Bright Smoke, Cold Fire at Amazon
Purchase Bright Smoke, Cold Fire at IndieBound
View Bright Smoke, Cold Fire on Goodreads

* * * *

Crooked Kingdom
by Leigh Bardugo
Henry Holt and Co.
Released 9/27/2016

Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn't think they'd survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they're right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and left crippled by the kidnapping of a valuable team member, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz's cunning and test the team's fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city's dark and twisting streets―a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of magic in the Grisha world.

Purchase Crooked Kingdom at Amazon
Purchase Crooked Kingdom at IndieBound
View Crooked Kingdom on Goodreads

* * * *

Darcy Swipes Left
by Courtney Carbone and Jane Austen
Random House Books for Young Readers
Released 9/27/2016

Pride and Prejudice, one of the greatest love stories ever told . . . in texts?!

Imagine: What if Lizzy Bennet and Mr. Darcy had smartphones and dated IRL (in real life)? A classic is reborn in this clever adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice!

A truth universally acknowledged: a rich guy must want a wife.

A terrible first impression.

A couple that’s meant to be . . . if they can just get over themselves. #hatersgonnadate

Don’t miss: Lydia taking selfies with soldiers, Mrs. Bennet’s humble-brag status updates, Lizzy texting from her long walks, and Darcy swiping left on a dance card app.

Jane Austen’s most famous novel told through its characters texting with emojis, posting photos, checking in at locations, and updating their relationship statuses. The perfect gift for any teen (or any reader with a sense of humor)!

Purchase Darcy Swipes Left at Amazon
Purchase Darcy Swipes Left at IndieBound
View Darcy Swipes Left on Goodreads

* * * *

Like a River Glorious
by Rae Carson
Greenwillow Books
Released 9/27/2016

After a harrowing journey across the country, Leah Westfall and her friends have finally arrived in California and are ready to make their fortunes in the Gold Rush. Lee has a special advantage over the other new arrivals in California—she has the ability to sense gold, a secret known only by her handsome best friend Jefferson and her murdering uncle Hiram.

Lee and her friends have the chance to be the most prosperous settlers in California, but Hiram hasn’t given up trying to control Lee and her power. Sabotage and kidnapping are the least of what he’ll do to make sure Lee is his own. His mine is the deepest and darkest in the territory, and there Lee learns the full extent of her magical gift, the worst of her uncle, and the true strength of her friendships. To save everyone, she vows to destroy her uncle and the empire he is building—even at the cost of her own freedom.

The second epic historical fantasy in the Gold Seer trilogy by Rae Carson, the acclaimed author of The Girl of Fire and Thorns.

Purchase Like a River Glorious at Amazon
Purchase Like a River Glorious at IndieBound
View Like a River Glorious on Goodreads

* * * *

Scrooge #worstgiftever
by Brett Wright and Charles Dickens
Random House Books for Young Readers
Released 9/27/2016

A Christmas Carol, one of the holiday’s greatest traditions told . . . in texts?!

Imagine: What if Scrooge, Marley, the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, and the whole Cratchit family had smartphones? A classic is reborn in this clever adaptation of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol!

One grouchy old man who can’t stop asking “How did you get this number?!”

Three ghosts who communicate in the most modern ways, including one who ONLY uses emojis!

And a status update with the most “likes” ever: God bless us, everyone!

This retelling will cure even the worst bout of Bah hummingbird! #darnyouautocorrect

Purchase Scrooge #worstgiftever at Amazon
Purchase Scrooge #worstgiftever at IndieBound
View Scrooge #worstgiftever on Goodreads

* * * *

The Fever Code
by James Dashner
Delacorte Press
Released 9/27/2016

Once there was a world’s end.

The forests burned, the lakes and rivers dried up, and the oceans swelled.

Then came a plague, and fever spread across the globe. Families died, violence reigned, and man killed man.

Next came WICKED, who were looking for an answer. And then they found the perfect boy.

The boy’s name was Thomas, and Thomas built a maze.

Now there are secrets.

There are lies.

And there are loyalties history could never have foreseen.

This is the story of that boy, Thomas, and how he built a maze that only he could tear down.

All will be revealed.

A prequel to the worldwide Maze Runner phenomenon, The Fever Code is the book that holds all the answers. How did WICKED find the Gladers? Who are Group B? And what side are Thomas and Teresa really on? Lies will be exposed. Secrets will be uncovered. Loyalties will be proven. Fans will never see the truth coming.

Purchase The Fever Code at Amazon
Purchase The Fever Code at IndieBound
View The Fever Code on Goodreads

* * * *

The Women in the Walls
by Amy Lukavics
Harlequin Teen
Released 9/27/2016

Lucy Acosta's mother died when she was three. Growing up in a Victorian mansion in the middle of the woods with her cold, distant father, she explored the dark hallways of the estate with her cousin, Margaret. They're inseparable—a family.

When her aunt Penelope, the only mother she's ever known, tragically disappears while walking in the woods surrounding their estate, Lucy finds herself devastated and alone. Margaret has been spending a lot of time in the attic. She claims she can hear her dead mother's voice whispering from the walls. Emotionally shut out by her father, Lucy watches helplessly as her cousin's sanity slowly unravels. But when she begins hearing voices herself, Lucy finds herself confronting an ancient and deadly legacy that has marked the women in her family for generations.

Purchase The Women in the Walls at Amazon
Purchase The Women in the Walls at IndieBound
View The Women in the Walls on Goodreads

Sunday, September 25, 2016

1 Carol Riggs, author of THE LYING PLANET, on being inspired by noises in the night

We're thrilled to have Carol Riggs join us to chat about her latest novel THE LYING PLANET.

Carol, what was your inspiration for writing THE LYING PLANET?

This story was born one night in 2010 as I was lying in bed trying to go to sleep, and I thought I heard a noise out in the living room. It was probably our “haunted refrigerator” as we called it at the time—that thing made more noises than a backfiring old jalopy. But even though nothing was really there, my mind started spinning scenarios about What If. I figured this could be the initial pivotal moment of a YA novel, the story about a teen lying in the darkness of his room, and hearing… something…and getting up to investigate. That decision would be the beginning of a chain of events that would change his life forever.

1 Kerri Maniscalco, author of STALKING JACK THE RIPPER, on having your work critiqued with an open mind

We're excited to have Kerri Maniscalco stop by to tell us more about her debut novel STALKING JACK THE RIPPER.

Kerri, what was your inspiration for writing STALKING JACK THE RIPPER?

My inspiration for writing SJTR can definitely be credited to my grandma. She loved a good “whodunit” and once I figured out that I wanted to write a YA CSI, there was really only one unsolved mystery that was worthy of the ultimate whodunit. I think she would have really enjoyed it.

How long or hard was your road to publication? How many books did you write before this one, and how many never got published?

Oh my gosh. I started writing with the hope/intent to get published back in 2009/2010. I signed with my agent in 2012 and before that there were hundreds of rejections for a couple of projects. I think I signed with Barbara on my fifth novel? It gets hard to keep track of ;) We’d gone out on submission with two other projects and had come SO CLOSE to selling them, but editors even get rejected from their bosses when they really love something.

SJTR was a bit different. We went out on sub and a few weeks later my agent called me over a holiday weekend to let me know an offer was likely coming the next day. It STILL feels like the most surreal thing even as I sit here holding my published book in my hands, and sobbing like the emotional mess I am. I never thought I’d say it, but the struggle to get here—with all the rejections and close calls and tears and laughter from other projects—were worth it once I got the phone call that changed my life.

1 Heather Smith Meloche, author of RIPPLE, on writing what you feel inside

We're delighted to have Heather Smith Meloche with us to share more about her debut novel RIPPLE.

Heather, what was your inspiration for writing RIPPLE?

RIPPLE came out of the experiences my husband and I had when we were younger, so it’s a very personal book. I met my husband our senior year, and immediately realized his home life was just as crazy, if not crazier, than mine. We both had to deal with addiction with a loved one at home, and we both had our own destructive ways of reacting to that addiction, thus the “ripple” of addiction and dysfunction that inspired the title. Knowing there were other people my age going through what I was going through, just having that support and friendship from my future husband and then friend, gave me hope that life could eventually be better and less painful.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

0 Sarah Porter, author of VASSA IN THE NIGHT, on finding your own path

We're pleased to have Sarah Porter with us to give us more info about her novel VASSA IN THE NIGHT.

Sarah, what scene was really hard for you to write and why, and is that the one of which you are most proud? Or is there another scene you particularly love?

There are two scenes right near the end that were devastating for me: the voluntary death of a major character, and a dream-encounter Vassa has with her mother. I wrote those two scenes right on the heels of a heartbreaking event in my own life, and my private emotions got mixed up with the emotions in the story, so that I was pretty much sobbing uncontrollably the whole time I was writing, grieving for my characters and for my own loss at the same time. I still can’t reread that part of the book without crying. And yes, I’m quite proud of those scenes, even if they have painful associations for me.

0 Erin Bow, author of THE SWAN RIDERS, on revising being like carding wool

THE SWAN RIDERS is the second book in the Prisoners of Peace series, and we're delighted to have Erin Bow join us to share more about it.

Erin, what was your inspiration for writing THE SWAN RIDERS?

The Swan Riders is a the second book in a duology. But the odd thing is, I was most of the way through writing the first book before I discovered a second book at all. It happened while I was writing one particular chapter. (If you've read The Scorpion Rules, you'll know the chapter I mean. It's the one that starts: "Talis, I want you to kill me.") I remember sending it to a friend -- RJ Anderson, who was a read-along cheering section/sounding board for Scorpion -- and saying "am I crazy or do I need an entire new book to explore these themes?" She's a hopeless Talis fangirl so she said I could have another book. Let's all thank her.

You can still read The Scorpion Rules as a stand alone if you want, but I am very happy to have writerly enablers who helped me discover The Swan Riders. It is in some ways a better book, and it was a hoot to write. I've never had so much fun.

0 Sara Raasch, author of FROST LIKE NIGHT, on the importance of moving forward

FROST LIKE NIGHT is the final book in the Snow Like Ashes series, and we're excited to have Sara Raasch here to chat.

Sara, what do you hope readers will take away from FROST LIKE NIGHT?

That they are enough as they are.

What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?

Keep moving forward -- the only difference between a published author and an unpublished author is perseverance!

What are you working on now?

The first book in my next series, coming Fall 2017! Another YA fantasy, this one about pirates :D

1 Mindy McGinnis, author of THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES, on gaining experience to properly execute a story

We're thrilled to have Mindy McGinnis stop by to tell us more about her latest novel THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES.

Mindy, what was your inspiration for writing THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES?

SPECIES is actually the first novel I wrote, over 15 years ago. I was a freshman in college and cable was a new experience for me. I was watching some sort of true crime show about a murder that had occurred in a small town. It was a situation where it was fairly obvious who the killer was, but there wasn't enough proof for the courts. The documentary named the small town, and I thought, "Man, if someone watched this and was convinced of that guy's guilt, they could just go kill him." And then I thought.... huh. Interesting story.

I had always known I wanted to write a novel, but I hadn't done it yet. The idea of vigilante justice stuck with me, and with all the freshman warning talks about parties and date rape and self-defense classes, the story came together for me. As I said, it was my very first novel, and I didn't execute it well at all. It was honestly, quite terrible. I worked on that book for years. Revised. Scrapped. Revisited. Scrapped. After hundreds of rejections I decided it was unpublishable and moved on.

When I was throwing possible ideas for future projects at my agent Adriann Ranta, I happened to mention the concept behind SPECIES. It was originally an adult novel, but I knew it could very easily be adapted to YA. Adriann was excited about it, so I re-read my original novel. It was terrible. Actually unreadable, to be honest.

I started from scratch, using only the concept and character's first names. It's a complex story with a killer for main character so I needed to be able to build empathy for someone who is morally questionable... not easy to do. I don't think I was a good enough writer to execute that the first time I tried. Fifteen years later, I had more experience.

0 Free 1st 5 Pages Writing Workshop Opens October 1!

Our October workshop will open for entries on Saturday, October 1 at noon, EST. We'll take the first five Middle Grade or Young Adult entries that meet all guidelines and formatting requirements. (Double check the formatting - each month we have to disqualify entries because of formatting.) Click here to get the rules. I will post when it opens and closes on Adventures in YA Publishing and on twitter (@etcashman), with the hashtag #1st5pages. In addition to our wonderful permanent mentors, we have Anne Pillsworth as our author mentor, and Shannon Powers as our agent mentor. So get those pages ready - we usually fill up in under a minute!

Happy writing (and revising!)


October Guest Mentor: Anne Pillsworth

Anne lives in New England, which informs much of her fiction. One day she hopes to find Lovecraft's portals to his mythical towns of witch-haunted Arkham and Kingsport, shadowed Innsmouth and accursed Dunwich. Until then, she'll just have to write about them. She’s a member of SFWA and HWA and a rabid Austenite. Apart from writing, she likes gardening, swimming, king cobras, jumping spiders, and cats. No cobras or cats at the moment, but the jumping spiders are always with her. In spite of maintaining a mental age of between twelve and sixteen, she just married her partner of more than thirty years.


Sean Wyndham has tried to stay away from the lure of magic—the last time he tried to dabble in the dark studies, he inadvertently summoned a blood familiar, wreaking havoc on his town and calling the attention of the Elder Gods.

Still, Sean has been offered the chance to study the occult with a proper teacher and maybe gain a handle on his tempestuous callings. And it seems like a safe choice—overseen by Helen Arkwright, a friend of Sean’s father and heir to an ancient order of much power, founded to protect New England from that which lurks in the coastline’s unseen depths. But will learning theory be enough, when there is a much greater magical secret hidden in Helen’s vaulted library? 

Accompanied by his best friend, Eddy, and their enigmatic new friend, Daniel, Sean wades out deeper into mystical legend and shadow. With hints and secrets buried long in family lore, they turn to the suspicious Reverend Orne once more for assistance. But as Sean deepens his understanding of his power, the darkness is waking.

Get a copy!

Add it to your shelf on GOODREADS!

October Guest Agent Mentor:Shannon Powers

Shannon is a graduate of New York University. She began her career in publishing at McIntosh and Otis as an intern in 2011, and then went on to intern at The Book Report Network and W.W. Norton & Company. She has also worked as a bookseller. She returned to M&O in 2014, where she assists Shira Hoffman and Christa Heschke and is also looking to build her own list as a junior agent.

Shannon is interested in representing a range of both adult and children's genres. Above all, she looks for projects with a strong hook, smart plotting, memorable characters, and an addictive voice. She is open to both lighter projects and projects with a darker edge. For adult, her reading interests include literary fiction, mystery, horror, popular history, and romance. In YA and middle grade, she is searching for mysteries and thrillers with high emotional stakes, projects with romantic elements (whether fun or angsty), horror, light sci-fi or fantasy, and contemporary with a unique premise.
Twitter: @S_E_Powers / Blog: Spine & Page

Friday, September 23, 2016

0 Three Steps to Engaging Your Readers By Making Your Characters Vulnerable

One of the most impressive people I have met in the writing world is the brilliant Angela Ackerman, writing coach, international speaker, and author of a slew of utterly indispensable reference books, including The Emotion Thesaurus: a Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, which I recommend to anyone writing fiction. Her ability to explain concepts clearly and concisely is truly eye-opening, and I have never yet read one of her posts without feeling like I've learned something that I want to apply immediately to my own work. I'm truly honored to have her here today for a guest post. Enjoy!

Want To Write a Compelling Romance? (Or Anything Compelling?) 

Make Sure Your Characters Feel Vulnerable

By Angela Ackerman

The connection between two characters is one of the most magnetic forces in storytelling, especially in romance novels. Whether they welcome the relationship, fight it, or fall somewhere in between, emotional friction creates an energy that leaves readers anxious to see what will happen next.

Building a compelling romance is not easy, and to make the pairing realistic, a writer must know each character down to their bones, including any past hurts experienced at the hands of others. Why? Because pain is a necessary component of any fictional romance. I know, it sounds crazy, but here’s why.

  1. Romance isn’t simple. You can’t throw two people together and expect pheromones and sex drive to do all the work. Readers have expectations that a rocky road lies ahead, because obstacles, suffering, and hardship are what makes a romance so satisfying. Characters willing to walk through fire to be together is what convinces readers that they belong with one another. Love is powerful, and there is great beauty in the struggle to obtain what the heart wants most.
  2. Healthy relationships (especially romantic ones) require vulnerability. In the real world, a person must be willing to trust and put their true feelings out there. Being genuine and honest allows people to connect on a deep, emotional level. This openness, this sharing of one’s innermost feelings and beliefs, is the foundation of all meaningful relationships. If a character is unable to open up and be vulnerable by showing their true selves, the romance will read as false.

And this is where things get tricky for the author. Being willing to bare oneself emotionally is difficult, especially for anyone who has been hurt by someone they once loved. And, let’s face it—our job as authors is not to create happy characters in a happy land. We specialize in broken, damaged and emotionally wounded characters. It’s a safe bet that one or both people in the romantic relationship we’re writing are going to have some deep trust issues.

For example, if our protagonist was manipulated by an abusive ex-husband, her painful experience with him becomes a wound she can’t forget. To cope, she will harden herself, maybe push people away using emotional armor (flaws), keeping herself from being hurt in the same way again.

Convincing Jaded Characters To Trust Again

In a romance, our protagonist must at some point yearn for the love and affection that is missing from his or her life. The fact they were hurt by someone in the past becomes a huge obstacle--they don’t want to lower their guard because they might get hurt, but to love another, they MUST. You can’t have love and intimacy without vulnerability.

Writing the inner transformation of a character letting go of their fears so they can open themselves to love again is tricky and must be done slowly to feel authentic. Showing their changing attitude toward vulnerability has to be done in small, careful stages to ring true. Here are a few tips:
  1. Hone in on the desire for “something more.” A common need we all have as people (and therefore all characters should have it as well) is the desire for growth and fulfillment. Fears hold a character back and leave them feeling unfulfilled, affecting their happiness. They must realize there’s a void in the way that they connect to people, something missing that love and belonging can fill. As they yearn for something to change, they take the first step to being open to it. For example, if your character is having a hard time with trust and openness, have her look within and see the dissatisfaction she feels at not having close relationships, or people to hang out with, trade gossip or confide in. This realization will lead her to probe for what she truly wants (genuine friendship and deeper connection) and create the desire within her to obtain it.
  2. Create positive experiences for vulnerability. There are many times when opening up and being genuine pays off. It feels good to tell someone a secret fear and then discover they understand this fear because they feel the same way. Or to ask for help, and actually get it. Even when we share a problem, we feel the weight of it lift because it’s no longer ours alone. Experiencing love, intimacy, trust, and friendship are all positive experiences that can build a person up, encouraging them to be more open and vulnerable with others.
  3. Allow understanding to seep in that the character’s past wounding event is negatively impacting them, either holding them back or limiting them in some way. In the example above of the woman seeking friendship and connection, it will take time for her to learn how to trust and feel comfortable sharing details about herself, but if the desire for change is strong enough, it can be achieved.
The path to vulnerability is often the meat of a romance, so it’s important to get a good grasp on it as it plays into the obstacles, hardship, and struggles that must be overcome to end up with a deep, loving connection.

Angela Ackerman is a writing coach, international speaker, and co-author of the bestselling book, The Emotion Thesaurus: a Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, as well as four others including the newly minted Urban Setting and Rural Setting Thesaurus duo. Angela is also the co-founder of the popular site, Writers Helping Writers, as well as One Stop For Writers, an innovative online library built to help writers elevate their storytelling. She loves connecting, so please say hello on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

0 Thank You to the Mentors and Participants of the September 1st 5 Pages Writing Workshop!

Congratulations to all of the participants who worked so hard during our September 1st 5 Pages Writing Workshop! And a big thanks to our wonderful guest mentors, Mackenzi Lee and Sarah Manning! Both provided fantastic critiques. And as always, thank you to our talented and fabulous permanent mentors, who read, comment, and cheer on our participants every month!

Our October workshop will open for entries on Saturday, October 1 at noon, EST. We'll take the first five Middle Grade or Young Adult entries that meet all guidelines and formatting requirements. (Double check the formatting - each month we have to disqualify entries because of formatting.) Click here to get the rules. I will post when it opens and closes on Adventures in YA Publishing and on twitter (@etcashman), with the hashtag #1st5pages. In addition to our wonderful permanent mentors, we have Anne Pillsworth as our author mentor, and Shannon Powers as our agent mentor. So get those pages ready - we usually fill up in under a minute!

Happy writing (and revising!)


Thursday, September 22, 2016

1 3 Ways to Hook Your Reader From Page One, with Joanna Meyer

Today on AYAP we're joined by Joanna Meyer, who's here to share some novel openings that she thinks showcase writing that grabs a reader's attention right from sentence number one. We'll be looking at what makes a great opening for a few weeks, in anticipation of our upcoming Red Light/Green Light contest!


All writers know that beginnings are hard to write, or rather, hard to get right. Here’s a few of my favorite books that do it beautifully, and why I think they work so well:

First up, a slightly obscure but completely mesmerizing novel by Diana Wynne Jones. Fire and Hemlock grabbed me from its opening notes and never let go. It’s a strange and haunting retelling of Tam Lin.

It starts like this:

Polly sighed and laid her book face down on her bed. She rather thought she had read it after all, some time ago. Before she swung her feet across to get on with her packing, she looked up at the picture above the bed. She sighed again. There had been a time, some years back, when she had gazed at that picture and thought it marvelous.

This instantly gives us a sense of intrigue and raises a ton of questions. Why did she think she’d read the book before? Why did she once think the picture was marvelous, but she doesn’t anymore? Why does it make her so unhappy?

Dark figures had seems to materialize out of its dark center—strong, running dark figures—always at least four of them, racing to beat out the flames in the foreground. There had been times when you could see the figures quite clearly. Other times, they had been shrouded in the rising smoke. There had even been a horse in it sometimes. Not now.

Now this is interesting. Did she just have a good imagination as a child? Why would she have imagined that? Did the picture itself change?

Here, now, she could see it was simply a large color photograph, three feet by two feet, taken at dusk, of some hay bales burning in a field. The fire must have been spreading, since there was smoke in the air, and more smoke enveloping the high hemlock plant in the front, but there were no people in it. The shapes she used to take for people were only too clearly dark clumps of the dark hedge behind the blaze. The only person in that field must have been the photographer. Polly had to admit that he had been both clever an ducky. It was a haunting picture. It was called Fire and Hemlock. She sighed again as she swung her feet to the floor. The penalty of being grown up was that you saw things like this photograph as they really were.

We get the title of the book here, as well as Polly’s second, wildly varying perspective on this picture. We feel her disappointment, and wonder if her grown-up realistic view has more widespread implications than just the photo…

It’s a wonderful set-up for a book that causes Polly to question her reality, her memory, and her world.

Onto one of my favorite books in my all-time favorite series: The King of Attolia, by Megan Whalen Turner. Anyone who has read MWT knows she’s a master at sparse prose speaking volumes, intricate plotting, and perspective shifts. I think this is most evident in King, the third book in her Queen’s Thief series.

In an attempt to avoid spoilers, I’ll just say that book one is told in first person from the POV of our hero Gen. Book two is told in third person and includes additional viewpoints, but is still about Gen. Book three is in third person as well, but is told from the POV of a young soldier:

Costs sat in his room. On the table in front of him was a piece of paper meant to hold a report of the squad of men he directed. He’d scratched out the first few lines of the report and written underneath the beginnings of a letter to his father. It began, “Sir, I must explain my actions,” and then stopped. Costs couldn’t explain his actions. He rubbed his face with his hands and tried again to compose his anguished thoughts into cold words and orderly sentences.

This paragraph introduces us to Costis, seeds conflict (what exactly did he do and why can’t he explain it??), and makes you feel sorry for him all in one fell swoop.

He looked over the mess in his quarters. His small trunk of clothes was tipped out onto the floor. The tray that had sat in the top of it to hold his sleeve links and buttons and pins was thrown down by the bed. The links, the spare buttons, and the small image of his god were scattered everywhere. His books were gone. He’d had three. So, he assumed, was his wallet with what money he kept in his room. That was a pity. He would have given the money to his friend Aristogiton. His sword was gone from its rack on the wall. He would have given that to Aris as well.

This paragraph gives us lovely details, and paints a vivid picture of Costis’s character. We also get the feeling that whatever it is he did was Very Bad and he’s not thinking he’s going to have a future, which makes us worried for him.

The two soldiers who’d brought him back from the training ground, almost dragging him along by their grip at his elbows, had taken every sharp thing out of the room.

Oh man. Very Bad Indeed…

The opening of this novel does a fantastic job of introducing a brand new character to the series—and getting you to empathize with him—while simultaneously giving us masterful world-building and a thread of intrigue that continues throughout the novel. (If you haven’t read this series, I beg you: DO IT NOW. But start with book one, The Thief).

And now a 2016 release that delighted me to no end, My Lady Jane, by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows. This book made me snort-laugh right from the first page:

The king, it turned out, was dying.

“When?” he asked Master Boubou, the royal physician. “How long do I have?”

Boubou wiped his sweaty brow. He disliked giving bad news to royalty. In his line of business, sometimes it led to the stockades. Or worse.

“Six months, perhaps a year,” he croaked. “At best.”

Bullocks, thought Edward. Yes, he’d been sick for several months now, but he was sixteen years old. He couldn’t be dying. He had a cold, was all, a cough that had been hanging on longer than it should, perhaps, a tightness in his chest, a recurrent fever, some headaches, sure, frequent dizzy spells, a funny taste in his mouth sometimes, but dying?

The opening speaks for itself: it’s infused with humor and warmth and tragedy, and totally nails the voice of Edward, a 16-year-old king whom we empathize with immediately. Is he really dying? Or will the authors give him a better ending? It does a wonderful job setting up a re-imagining of history that’s hilarious, irreverent, and overflowing with heart.

So there you have it! Three different openings that all work extremely well. All three books:
  1. Introduce a character and give you a reason to empathize with them.
  2. Raise a question that needs answering—and will keep you reading to find out more.
  3. Build the world, and hint at what’s coming next, whether style or foreshadowing or even just the mood of the novel.

Happy reading, and happy writing!

Joanna lives in Mesa, Arizona with her dear husband and a rascally feline named Bertie. When she's not writing, she's trying to convince her piano students how awesome Bach is or plotting her escape from the desert. She loves good music, thick books, looseleaf tea, rainstorms, and staring out of windows. She aspires to own an old Victorian house with creaky wooden floors and a tower (for writing in!). Joanna is represented by Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary.