Wednesday, August 24, 2016

0 Eight Steps to Writing a Coherent Novel

We're continuing our Writers on Writing Wednesdays with another new writer! Please welcome Monica Hoffman, represented by Laurie McLean and Tricia Skinner of Fuse Literary, today as she shares eight steps to writing a novel.

First time placing a string of words on the page in your very first attempt at writing a book? It's scary, yes? You're thinking, "Where do I start? Do I really have what it takes to write a coherent novel?" 

The answer is YES! You do have what it takes...

...but there are many steps you must take so one day you will see your name on your own book, nestled between works of art you love and admire! So…

Step one: 

Write the book you were meant to write. What does this mean exactly? Write the book you would want to read. It doesn't matter how crazy or wacky. If you are passionate about werewolves and clowns, go for it. Writing to a trend is never a good idea. Back when vampires were hot, I know many thought they would write the next Twilight series. By the time you write your own vampire book, revise it, and possibly snag an agent, the trend is long gone. Trends pop up out of nowhere and disappear almost as fast. Write a book that inspires you!

Step two: 

Read. I know you're thinking, why do I have to read when I want to write? In many ways, this should be the number one thing you should do. Read in the genre you want to write in, be it young adult science fiction or even middle grade fantasy. Whatever it is, read and read A LOT! By getting the sense of what's out on the market, what's popular, you're able to apply the common tropes within your genre and give it a major twist. And many would say, read outside of your genre too. If you write young adult, read some adult books. Explore and expose your mind to as many books as you can. You won't believe the ideas you can gain by doing so!

Step three: 

Make mistakes. Pretty simple, huh? Back when I was a baby writer and sat down to write my first novel about superheroes (yes, you heard it correctly…superheroes), I thought at the time I had learned enough to construct a proper sentence, I knew a story had to have a climax and a satisfying ending. That was about it. I wrote and wrote to my heart's content, not thinking about the rules, what a trope really was and how to make it unique. I did everything wrong. Let's just say after sending out a dozen query letters for a book that was far from ready, I quickly got my wake up call. This leads me to…

Step four: 

Read everything you can about the craft of writing! When I say everything, I mean everything. Read about how to structure a novel using a beat sheet, how to write compelling dialogue, what dialogue tags are and how to make them pop. Read about the art of revision and find the best system for you! Figure out what a query letter should have and a synopsis. Ask questions. If you don't understand something, find someone who does. There is no stupid question because if you ask it, you are one step closer to refining your craft and that's great!

Step five: 

Explore. I'm not talking about exploring the world, though that would be pretty awesome. I'm talking about exploring your writing voice. I know you hear this a lot, agents are looking for voice within a book that makes them beg for more. Believe it or not, when you go into a bookstore, you're looking for that as well even if you aren't aware of it. If you have an irresistible premise, but your voice is lacking, it doesn't matter how awesome your story is. So with that said, experiment and explore with your style of writing. In many ways, this cannot be taught. This is why reading is so important. Study how other writers construct their prose. Learn from seasoned authors.

Step six: 

So you have written a book. Give yourself a pat on the back. It’s an accomplishment that you should be proud of because so many people say they should write a book but never do! What do you do next? Truth, put it away for at least 3 to 4 weeks. What?! Yes, no joke. If you jump into your freshly baked manuscript with the intent of revising, trust me, nothing will happen. You will reread your masterpiece and think everything should stay and nothing needs to change. WRONG! You need to walk away from your baby. You both need space. Because when you come back to it, you'll see it in a new perspective, and killing your darlings (words) will make more sense. And ultimately, your story will thank you.

Step seven: 

You have done a few rounds of revisions and with each draft, you start to see your story evolve into something you never thought possible. FANTASTIC! Are you ready to start querying? NO! When you think you are ready to start querying, you aren't. What will make you ready? You can start by getting a handful of beta readers or a few CPs (critique partners) to give you constructive feedback. You need someone other than you to read your manuscript and look at it with objective eyes. Where can you find beta readers and CPs? If you are on the social network, try Twitter or even Facebook. Goodreads has a forum where you can find beta readers. I wouldn't pay for this service, however. You can find them at writing conferences and the SCBWI website. Usually where writers congregate, someone is also looking for a CP or a beta reader. Don't be afraid to reach out!

Step eight: 

Once you have received and incorporated feedback from your CPs/beta readers, you may be ready to query. But before you do, I'm serious about this, get feedback on your query letter. And find people who know nothing about your book. A little tip, the best time to write a rough draft of a query is BEFORE you sit down to write your book. Having a solid reference with the core plot of your story will keep you true to what your story is about, especially if you're a panster and you don't follow an outline. Send out your query letter to a handful of writers and polish it until it shines. 

Nothing in publishing is fast. Patience is a virtue that you will gain whether you like it or not. Stay positive and write. Write as much as you can. Because nothing distracts you more than a new story! Good luck!


Monica M. Hoffman is a Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy author represented by Laurie McLean and Tricia Skinner of Fuse Literary. She is an active member of SCBWI and the writing community. 

She dislikes getting up early, but a good cup of coffee can usually motivate her. She enjoys any movie/book (particularly fantasy and Sci-fi) that can make her cry, laugh, or gets her blood pumping from an adrenaline rush. 

She’s a Trekkie, Dr. Who, and Star Wars fanatic, and a PC gamer when she’s not writing or reading. You can find her tweets about all things YA lit & entertaining GIFs on Twitter and Facebook.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

4 Paperbacks, Progress, and Gratitude

I was chatting with readers at the recent book festival I attended about the frustration of mxing paperbacks and hardcovers. I'm strictly a matchy-matchy girl when it comes to books. If I buy hardcovers of a series, I want all hardcovers. If I buy paperbacks, I want all paperbacks. And it seems I'm not alone. We readers are a picky bunch. We love the vanilla and paper scent of books, the way they look on the shelf, the feel of the paper between our fingers.

Today marks the official release of the PERSUASION paperback, which seems terribly strange to me somehow. Paperbacks are odd ducks. It may technically be the same old book, but this whole process of being published still feels so miraculous to me that I can't help celebrating every milestone. Honestly, when I got news that I had a three-book deal, I never thought of it in terms of books on the shelf, but it's a shelf all on its own with all the different versions. And each one is a new reason to be grateful. Each one is a mark of progress, not only for the series, but also for my own growth as a writer. I feel like I learn a lot between every release.

Anyway, here's the paperback in all its glory:

And here's a glimpse of the ILLUSION teaser from inside:

Buy It Now:


And since I haven't done this in a while, I'm going to do a handful of giveaways with some of my favorite bloggers to celebrate. 


Because the series is gothic and southern and magical, anyone who loves it is likely to enjoy BEAUTIFUL CREATURES, HOURGLASS, and BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA. And I'm throwing in SIX OF CROWS, because the like the characters on Watson Island, the Leigh Bardugo's characters all share a certain brokenness, but in finding each other they create a family.


Because COMPULSION and the other books in my series have been called BEAUTIFUL CREATURES meets THE RAVEN BOYS, and because I love the series so much, I'm giving away a full set of Maggie Stiefvater's Raven Cycle books. 

Go here to enter (Opens at 10 am CST 8/23/16)


Because there are trapped souls and beautiful people, I'll be giving away THE JEWEL and its sequel, THE WHITE ROSE, together with REBEL BELLE which shares a love of killer heels with COMPULSION. And BLOOD MAGIC features heavily all all three books of the Heirs of Watson Island series.


Because the HEIRS of Watson Island are ONE to a family, and the families are ELITE, and because ILLUSION is all about THE SELECTION, I'll be giving away signed copies of Kiera Cass' series over at YA Books Central. Check back soon for more details!

Monday, August 22, 2016

6 New Releases this week 8/22-8/29 plus FOUR Giveaways

Happy Monday! This week is extra special, as the paperback version of PERSUASION (by our very own Martina Boone) is releasing! We also have some great giveaways for you all to enter. Don't forget to read more about all the new releases!

Happy Reading,

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


* * * *

Scavenger of Souls
by Joshua David Bellin
Signed Hardcover plus Swag Giveaway (2 Copies)
U.S. Only

Margaret K. McElderry Books
Released 8/23/2016

Querry Genn must face the truth about the past and fight to save humanity and the future in this stunning sequel to Survival Colony 9, which New York Times bestselling author Jonathan Maberry called “a terrific novel.”

Querry and the members of Survival Colony 9 have defeated a whole nest of the creatures called Skaldi, who can impersonate humans even as they destroy them. But now the colony is dangerously low in numbers and supplies. Querry’s mother is in command, and is definitely taking them somewhere—but where? Some secret from her past seems to be driving her relentlessly forward.

When they do finally reach their destination, Querry is amazed to discover a whole compound of humans—organized, with plenty of food and equipment. But the colonists are not welcomed. Everything about them is questioned, especially by Mercy, the granddaughter of the compound’s leader. Mercy is as tough a fighter as Querry has ever seen—and a girl as impetuous as Querry is careful. But the more Querry learns about Mercy and the others, the more he realizes that nothing around him is as it seems. There are gruesome secrets haunting this place and its people. And it’s up to Querry to unearth the past and try to save the future in this gripping conclusion to the Survival Colony novels.

Author Question: What is your favorite thing about Scavenger of Souls?

Can I cheat and name two? One of the things I love about SCAVENGER OF SOULS is that it gave me a chance to create a number of survival colonies. It seemed to me that, with the almost complete collapse of worldwide civilization depicted in this series, various colonies would develop along very different lines depending on any number of factors: who led them, what access to technology they had, where they were situated geographically, and so on. So in SCAVENGER OF SOULS, the reader meets a number of colonies that are very different from—and sometimes in conflict with—Survival Colony 9.

Which brings me to the second thing I love about the book: a new character named Mercy, who’s a feisty teenage girl living in one of the colonies encountered by my narrator, Querry Genn. She was one of those characters who was a pure joy to create—a character who developed so naturally she seemed to take on an independent life, and I would sometimes forget that I was the one who created her!

Purchase Scavenger of Souls at Amazon
Purchase Scavenger of Souls at IndieBound
View Scavenger of Souls on Goodreads

* * * *

by Martina Boone
Paperback Giveaway
U.S. Only

Simon Pulse; Reprint edition
Released 8/23/2016

Beautiful Creatures meets Gone with the Wind in the spellbinding second novel in the Heirs of Watson Island trilogy that “skillfully blends rich magic and folklore with adventure, sweeping romance, and hidden treasure” (Publishers Weekly, on Compulsion).

Grieving the death of her godfather and haunted by her cousin Cassie’s betrayal, Barrie returns from a trip to San Francisco to find the Watson plantation under siege. Ghost-hunters hope to glimpse the ancient spirit who sets the river on fire each night, and reporters chase rumors of a stolen shipment of Civil War gold that may be hidden at Colesworth Place. The chaos turns dangerous as Cassie hires a team of archeologists to excavate beneath the mansion ruins. Because more than treasure is buried there.

A stranger filled with magic arrives at Watson’s Landing claiming that the key to the Watson and Beaufort gifts—and the Colesworth curse—also lies beneath the mansion. With a mix of threats and promises, the man convinces Barrie and Cassie to cast a spell at midnight. But what he conjures may have deadly consequences.

While Barrie struggles to make sense of the escalating peril and her growing feelings for Eight Beaufort, it’s impossible to know whom to trust and what to fight for—Eight or herself. Millions of dollars and the fate of the founding families is at stake. Now Barrie must choose between what she feels deep in her heart and what will keep Watson’s Landing safe in this stunning addition to a series filled with “decadent settings, mysterious magic, and family histories rife with debauchery” (Kirkus Reviews, on Compulsion).

Author Question: What is your favorite thing about Persuasion?

The research for the book was long and involved, and delved into all sorts of rabbit holes like hoodoo and the connection between jinn and bottle trees, and the similarities in different magical systems from all around the world, as well as Civil War lost treasures and privateering and Sherman’s march through South Carolina. Obviously, there were more difficult things, too. Reading first hand accounts and journals about slavery, both among enslaved Africans and enslaved Native Americans, was devastating, and researching the statistics about how many people, most of them women and children, are enslaved in the world today made me question whether I was ever going to be able to finish the book. Added to that, since the book is a Southern Gothic with heavier overtones of fantasy, I didn’t want the book to feel like work--I wanted it to “compel" readers to turn the page as has often been said about COMPULSION. Most of all, I wanted it to continue the romance between Barrie and Eight, and the love story between Barrie and her aunt and the magic of Watson’s Landing that she is only just discovering. I wanted so much to write more of the delicious banter and tension between Barrie and Eight, and have them save each other. But to save each other, they had to first each save themselves, and for Barrie, that means saving Watson’s Landing both from the effects of the past as well as the increasing threats in the present. She finds it so hard to know who to trust as she discovers her own strength. Perhaps that was the hardest thing about the writing. As the author, I have to step back and let my characters make mistakes that I could save them from. But saving Barrie and Eight the pain of their lessons wouldn’t be honest. Characters can only do what they would do in their shoes. Barrie’s happen to be kickass designer shoes, but she gets them really dirty in PERSUASION, and when she’s done, she’s not at all the same girl as when she started.

Purchase Persuasion at Amazon
Purchase Persuasion at IndieBound
View Persuasion on Goodreads

* * * *

Under the Lights
by Abbi Glines
Hardcover Giveaway
U.S. Only

Simon Pulse
Released 8/23/2016

In the follow-up to Abbi Glines’s #1 New York Times bestseller Until Friday Night—which bestselling author Kami Garcia called “tender, honest, and achingly real”—three teens from a small southern town are stuck in a dramatic love triangle.

Willa can’t erase the bad decisions of her past that led her down the path she’s on now. But she can fight for forgiveness from her family. And she can protect herself by refusing to let anyone else get close to her.

High school quarterback and town golden boy Brady used to be the best of friends with Willa—she even had a crush on him when they were kids. But that’s all changed now: her life choices have made her a different person from the girl he used to know.

Gunner used to be friends with Willa and Brady, too. He too is larger than life and a high school football star—not to mention that his family basically owns the town of Lawton. He loves his life, and doesn’t care about anyone except himself. But Willa is the exception—and he understands the girl she’s become in a way no one else can.

As secrets come to light and hearts are broken, these former childhood friends must face the truth about growing up and falling in love…even if it means losing each other forever.

Purchase Under the Lights at Amazon
Purchase Under the Lights at IndieBound
View Under the Lights on Goodreads


Cherry by Lindsey Rosin: Megan C.


* * * *

100 Days
by Nicole McInnes
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Released 8/23/2016

Agnes doesn't know it, but she only has one hundred days left to live. When she was just a baby, she was diagnosed with Progeria, a rare disease that causes her body to age at roughly ten times the normal rate. Now nearly sixteen years old, Agnes has already exceeded her life expectancy.

Moira has been Agnes’s best friend and protector since they were in elementary school. Due to her disorder, Agnes is still physically small, but Moira is big. Too big for her own liking. So big that people call her names. With her goth makeup and all-black clothes, Moira acts like she doesn’t care. But she does.

Boone was friends with both girls in the past, but that was a long time ago—before he did the thing that turned Agnes and Moira against him, before his dad died, before his mom got too sad to leave the house.

An unexpected event brings Agnes and Moira back together with Boone, but when romantic feelings start to develop, the trio’s friendship is put to the test.

Author Question: What is your favorite thing about 100 Days?

Without a doubt, the friendship between Agnes, Moira and Boone is my favorite thing about 100 DAYS. Because their friendship was shattered in an ugly way several years before the book begins, it’s beyond satisfying to see their re-connection take place, even if the path to that re-connection isn’t always smooth.

Purchase 100 Days at Amazon
Purchase 100 Days at IndieBound
View 100 Days on Goodreads


* * * *

Ghostly Echoes: A Jackaby Novel
by William Ritter
Algonquin Young Readers
Released 8/23/2016

Jenny Cavanaugh, the ghostly landlord of 826 Augur Lane, has enlisted the services of her detective-agency tenants to solve a decade-old murder--her own. Abigail Rook and her eccentric employer, R. F. Jackaby, dive into the cold case, starting with a search for Jenny’s fiancé, who went missing the night she died. But when a new, gruesome murder closely mirrors the events of ten years prior, Abigail and Jackaby realize that Jenny’s case isn’t so cold after all, and her killer may be far more dangerous than they suspected.

Fantasy and folklore mix with mad science as Abigail’s race to unravel the mystery leads her across the cold cobblestones of nineteenth-century New England, down to the mythical underworld, and deep into her colleagues’ grim histories to battle the most deadly foe she has ever faced.

Purchase Ghostly Echoes: A Jackaby Novel at Amazon
Purchase Ghostly Echoes: A Jackaby Novel at IndieBound
View Ghostly Echoes: A Jackaby Novel on Goodreads

* * * *

Thieving Weasels
by Billy Taylor
Dial Books
Released 8/23/2016

Cameron Smith attends an elite boarding school and has just been accepted to Princeton University alongside his beautiful girlfriend, Claire. Life for Cameron would be perfect, except that Cameron Smith is actually Skip O’Rourke, and Skip O’Rourke ran away from his grifter family four years ago…along with $100,000 of their “earnings” (because starting a new life is not cheap). But when his uncle Wonderful tracks him down, Skip’s given an ultimatum: come back to the family for one last con, or say good-bye to life as Cameron.

“One last con” is easier said than done when Skip’s family is just as merciless (and just as manipulative) as they’ve always been, and everyone around him is lying. Skip may have given up on crime, but there’s one lesson he hasn’t forgotten: always know your mark. And if you don’t know who your mark is . . . it’s probably you.

Witty and irresistibly readable, this standout debut will always keep you guessing.

Purchase Thieving Weasels at Amazon
Purchase Thieving Weasels at IndieBound
View Thieving Weasels on Goodreads

* * * *

Unscripted Joss Byrd
by Lygia Day Peñaflor
Roaring Brook Press
Released 8/23/2016

Hollywood critics agree. Joss Byrd is "fiercely emotional," a young actress with "complete conviction," and a "powerhouse."

Joss Byrd is America's most celebrated young actress, but on the set of her latest project, a gritty indie film called The Locals, Joss's life is far from glamorous. While struggling with her mother's expectations, a crush on her movie brother, and a secret that could end her career, Joss must pull off a performance worthy of a star. When her renowned, charismatic director demands more than she is ready to deliver, Joss must go off-script to stay true to herself.

Purchase Unscripted Joss Byrd at Amazon
Purchase Unscripted Joss Byrd at IndieBound
View Unscripted Joss Byrd on Goodreads

Saturday, August 20, 2016

1 Paula Stokes, author of VICARIOUS, on the importance of trust

We're delighted to have Paula Stokes stop by to chat about her latest novel VICARIOUS.

Paula, what was your inspiration for writing VICARIOUS?

My inspiration came from a few different places. When I started working on this book, I was finishing up a work-for-hire project, a trilogy set in Renaissance Venice. I was having some trouble because I wanted to make the heroine really tough and cool but her established station in society and the Renaissance setting made that really difficult, so I had to pull back on her character to maintain plausibility. I remember telling my crit partner "I wish I could write this kickass action hero girl" and my crit partner said "Why don't you?"

But an action hero girl without any action is no good, so Winter's role in this story of being a sensory stunt girl who goes out and engages in high-adrenaline activities and records her sensory impulses so that her boss can sell them as vicarious experiences actually came from a dystopian drawer novel I wrote back in 2010. That project was inspired in part by cool tech-oriented movies like Inception, The Matrix, and Strange Days.

Finally, my blog tour will tackle this in depth, but one of the reasons most of the main characters are Korean is because I taught English in South Korea and wanted to share the amazing setting of Seoul with people who aren't able to see it for themselves. Seoul is very fast-paced and futuristic (they had smart phones years before they were common here) and is a great setting for a high-tech thriller. However, the book ended up splitting itself into two books (something which gave me great sadness because everyone knows I am #TeamStandalone), and so the first book is set in St. Louis and the sequel is set mostly in Seoul. It will make sense when you read it, I swear ;)

1 Kate Elliott, author of POISONED BLADE, on listening to the main character's heart

POISONED BLADE is the second book in the Court of Fives series, and we're thrilled to have Kate Elliott here to tell us more about it.

Kate, how long did you work on POISONED BLADE?

Because Poisoned Blade is the second volume of a trilogy, in some ways I have been working on it for as long as I’ve been working on the trilogy. The first draft of Court of Fives was written in Winter 2012-13, and I had started plotting it out about a year before that.

As for the actual work, I wrote a first draft in Winter 2014-15, and then did three major revision drafts through the rest of 2015. So if I were to add up the time spent JUST on Poisoned Blade I would say about ten months from writing the first line of the first draft to turning in the final final draft.

What did this book teach you about writing or about yourself?

That I have to listen to the main character’s heart, even when it is something I don’t want to hear. Often the plot twists and character decisions that make me most uncomfortable are the most gripping and true.

Friday, August 19, 2016

3 Author Dana Reinhardt Tells Us Something True About Being a Writer

Today we welcome Dana Reinhardt who shares some insights on the writer's life. As I sit here in 90 degree heat in North Carolina, I would sure like to be with her in that small cabin in Yosemite. Be sure to check out her newest release, Tell Us Something True at the bottom of the article.

Most of the time, writing feels like a mystery to me. I don’t know why it works some days. I don’t know why it doesn’t work others. I don’t know where ideas come from. And just when I think I have developed a writing process, or honed some hard and fast rules about how to structure my working life, I change them, most often to suit whatever I’d rather be doing at that particular moment.

But I do have two suggestions for those who want to write; two things that help me get the work done.

1. Find some quiet.

I’m writing this post about writing while sitting on the porch of a tiny cabin in Yosemite National Park. I have no Internet access. It’s lucky I have an outlet to charge the laptop on which I am writing this post about writing.

Though this is not a place I can get to regularly (the drive is long and winding and also, you know, there are things to attend to back in the real world) I believe that writing should be done on a porch of a tiny cabin in Yosemite National Park with no Internet access. I’m speaking metaphorically of course. What I mean to say is that the best way to lose yourself in the craft of writing is to create a space in your day that is like a porch of a tiny cabin in the middle of nowhere.

I’m not going to lie: I’m not very good at this. In fact, I’m pretty terrible at it. The Internet provides so much crucial information—what’s on the menu at the restaurant I’m going to for dinner? What will the weekend weather be? What did Donald Trump say today?

Of course, there’s also Facebook, where writers like to post status updates such as: “1500 words before breakfast!”

It’s tough out there in the virtual world.

And there’s the world inside your head, where you can’t help but hear the critical voices of imaginary readers, or reviewers, or your editor. You worry what everyone else might think, even your family, though you know they’ll probably tell you nice things no matter what.

But sometimes, when the writing going well, when the story I’m working on has captured my attention, everything else falls away, and I can find that quiet: that porch of that tiny cabin in the middle of nowhere.

2. Learn to cook.

When you are a writer, especially when you are a writer of books rather than articles or blog posts or other short pieces, you don’t get much back in the way of daily affirmation. After a day of writing, nobody puts a hand on your shoulder and says: “Hey, great job today!” or: “I can see how much effort you put into your work today, it really shows!”

And you don’t get to finish what you started. That can take years. Day by day you may advance the project a little bit (if it was a good day), but you don’t get the satisfaction that comes with completing a task.

Sometimes it’s hard to know if you accomplished anything at all. Yes, there are daily word counts. But how do you know they were good words?

This is why I recommend learning to cook. Cooking is a task you will begin and you will finish, all in the same day. You will have created a product that is ready for consumption and ripe for feedback.

This, I promise, will make you feel better about how you spent your day. If you become a good cook you’ll eat well and your friends and family will appreciate your hard work.


If you aren’t a particularly good cook, those who love you will probably find nice things to say about your cooking anyway. Just like they might about your writing.

About the Book: Us Something True
by Dana Reinhardt
Wendy Lamb Books
Released 6/14/2016

For fans of Sarah Dessen, Jennifer Smith, E.L. Lockhart, and John Green, this delightful, often comic coming-of-age novel stars the lovable, brokenhearted River, the streets of LA, and an irresistible cast of characters.

Seventeen-year-old River doesn’t know what to do with himself when Penny, the girl he adores, breaks up with him. He lives in LA, where nobody walks anywhere, and Penny was his ride; he never bothered getting a license. He’s stuck. He’s desperate. Okay . . . he’s got to learn to drive.

But first, he does the unthinkable—he starts walking. He stumbles upon a support group for teens with various addictions. He fakes his way into the meetings, and begins to connect with the other kids, especially an amazing girl. River wants to tell the truth, but he can’t stop lying, and his tangle of deception may unravel before he learns how to handle the most potent drug of all: true love.

Purchase Tell Us Something True at Amazon
Purchase Tell Us Something True at IndieBound
View Tell Us Something True on Goodreads

-- posted by S.P. Sipal, @HP4Writers

Thursday, August 18, 2016

6 Critique Partner Match Up Opens Today!

Happy Thursday, everyone! Today our Critique Partner Match Up is officially opening. Here are your instructions.

The submission window will be open from today (August 18th) till midnight on Sunday, August 21st. 

 Submissions should be emailed to AYAPlit(at)gmail(dot)com and formatted as follows:

Subject line should read CP MATCH UP ENTRY (in all caps, please).

Within the body of the email, please provide the following information:

Category: (A, NA, YA, MG)
Genre: (Contemporary, Fantasy, Sci Fi, Mystery, etc.)
Stage of Completion: (Work in Progress, Rough Draft, Mostly Polished and Looking to Query)
Preferred Critique Style: (Straight to the Point, A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down, All the Flails)
Cat Person or Dog Person: (What, you thought I was joking about asking potential CPs this question???)
Tea or Coffee: (This is a vital question. Just take my word for it.)
Short Pitch: (50-100 words)
Writing Sample: (First 250 words of your MS)

On August 25th, all Critique Partner Match Up entries will appear as individual blog posts on the dedicated Adventures in YA Contests website, found here. I'll create an index post which will be the first thing you see when you visit the contests website on the 25th. From there, you'll be able to quickly navigate to entries that interest you.

Now, listen up, because this part is important!!! If you find a writer you want to exchange chapters with, you will need to comment on their entry, leaving some way of contacting you (website, email address, Twitter handle, etc). For those who submit entries to the Match Up, please be sure to bookmark the post for your entry and to check the comments in case your work has sparked someone's interest!

Go get to work on sending in those entries, and good luck with your critique partner search!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

3 Relearning to Live

We're very fortunate today to welcome another new writer, Joan He, represented by John Cusick of Folio Lit, here to the blog today to remind us all how important it is to live outside of writing.

"Living is an ability and like all abilities, it rusts when neglected"

When I first began writing seriously, I often heard one piece of advice: write everyday. Put your butt in the chair, your hands on the keyboard, and write whether you’re inspired or not. You are not a servant to your muse, but its master.

I took this advice to heart. I followed it the best I could, and when I failed (and I did fail, sometimes for days, sometimes for months) I would beat myself up about it, wondering why I couldn’t be like so and so, or why I couldn’t just hole myself up in my room and force the words out. But by falling into the guilt cycle after every unproductive spell, I ended up wasting time. Not writing time, or reading time, but living time. And now, five years into writing seriously, I’ve been trying to live again.

Or at least learning to live again. Living is an ability and like all abilities, it rusts when neglected. Over the years, as I’ve become more and more entrenched in my writing, I’ve found it easier and easier to just hole myself up in my room and stare at the screen. I’ll push people away. I’ll walk around campus, head lost in the scenes, words, and chapters that I’ve already written or have yet to write. And sometimes, by the time I resurface for air, I realize that yet another day has passed where I’ve forgotten that the best way to replenish the muse isn’t to wrestle it into submission but rather to replenish its owner.

"When we rejoice or grieve, win or lose, we live, and by living, we collect in our subconscious all threads that make the fabric of our stories"

Because while it is true that we don’t have to write what we know, we inevitably write what we know. This doesn’t mean that we’ve battled dragons or traveled back in time. Instead, it means that writing is similar to dreaming. Every face we see in our dreams is actually a face that we’ve seen—even if fleetingly—in real life. Every emotion, reaction, and decision of our beloved characters takes shape from the clay of our own experiences. And like a sponge, we are constantly absorbing experiences. Thanks to this, robots aren’t likely to replace authors in the near future. Artificial intelligence would need to gather an enormous amount of data before it’d be able to recreate the nuances of humanity, and though that day may arrive, we remain the natural experts on living. When we rejoice or grieve, win or lose, we live, and by living, we collect in our subconscious all threads that make the fabric of our stories. Ever wondered why it’s the stories that we relate to that call to us? It’s because we relate to what we’ve lived through (even if we don’t realize we’ve lived through it), and when what we’ve lived through is reflected back at us on the page, then the art strikes true and resonates.

So while the dream is to become a full time writer someday, I’m grateful that I’m currently in college majoring in something that’s not creative writing and meeting people from all different kinds of fields. I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to work abroad and interact with people not of my age, all the while immersing myself in a new culture. Above all, I’m grateful that I didn’t always know I was going to be a writer. I’ve had so many chances to live a life outside my stories. Now I need to do it again.

For some writers, living happens naturally. They put on their writing hats for several hours a day and take it off after those hours pass. Others put on their writer hats and don’t take them off for extended periods of time. I’m the latter, and for me, the key to experiencing fully again lies in acknowledging that I’m not the type to write everyday. I’m an all or nothing kind of person. I will have times when I’ll breathe my story and nothing else. I will have dry spells. This perhaps will never change. 

"But the next time I run into a block and step away from the writing, I’ll check my guilt and actually go out to experience something else. I’ll remind myself that it’s okay—and necessary—to live"


Joan He started out in art - the pencil-sketching, oil-painting kind of art - only to quickly discover the art of the written word. 

When she's not trying to balance writing and sophomoring at the University of Pennsylvania (where she is majoring in Psychology), she over-indulges in her love for wombats, Mao Feng tea, and scary anime.

She am represented by John Cusick of Folio Lit. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

7 The Four Misconceptions of "Show Don't Tell" that Can KILL Your Book

Immersing readers into our stories is one of the things we all struggle with as writers. The plot and characters can all be right there in our heads, the premise can be fantastic, the setting phenomenal, and we can still fall down. Why? Because the art of writing isn't in the sentences. It’s in how we choose to take the reader by the hand and plunge with them into our story world. Usually, this is done by “showing.” But in my opinion, the “show don’t tell” cliche is one of the most frustrating pieces of writing advice I’ve ever heard bandied about. It’s not only too often misunderstood, but also deeply misleading. Really, it's all about the lens.

Misconception #1: Never “tell”

Voice is the holy grail of writing. Readers (and agents and editors) will follow a great voice anywhere. But how do you have “voice” if you don’t “tell”?

Let’s take a look at a the beginning of a much-loved bestseller from Julie Murphy. It’s delightful precisely because the quality of the telling surprises and entertains. The reader falls in love with the insights the narrator offers up. That’s voice.

All the best things in my life have started with a Dolly Parton song. Including my friendship with Ellen Dryver.

The song that sealed the deal was “Dumb Blonde” from her 1967 debut album,
Hello, I’m Dolly. During the summer before first grade, my aunt Lucy bonded with Mrs. Dryver over their mutual devotion to Dolly. While they sipped sweet tea in the dining room, Ellen and I would sit on the couch watching cartoons, unsure of what to make of each other. But then one afternoon that song came on over Mrs. Dryver’s stereo. Ellen tapped her foot as I hummed along, and before Dolly had even hit the chorus, we were spinning in circles and singing at the top of our lungs. Thankfully, our love for each other and Dolly ended up running deeper than one song.

I wait for Ellen in front of her boyfriend’s Jeep as the sun pushes my feet further into the hot blacktop of the school parking lot. Trying not to cringe, I watch as she skips through the exit, weaving in and out of after-school traffic.

El is everything I am not. Tall, blond, and with this impossible goofy yet sexy paradox going on that only seems to exist in romantic comedies. She’s always been at home in her own skin.

I can’t see Tim, her boyfriend, but I have no doubt that he’s a few steps behind her with his nose in his cell phone as he catches up on all the games he’s missed during school.

The first thing I ever noticed about Tim was that he was at least three inches shorter than El, but she never gave a shit. When I mentioned their vertical differential, she smiled, the blush in her cheeks spreading to her neck, and said, “It’s kinda cute, isn’t it?”

Murphy, Julie (2015-09-15). Dumplin' (pp. 1-2). HarperCollins. 

Misconception #2: “Showing” is always better

Julie could have done the obvious thing. I can tweak this to "show" more of the information:

I wait for Ellen in front of her boyfriend’s Jeep. The sun swelters, melting the blacktop of the school parking lot until my feet sink in. Trying not to cringe, I watch as Ellen skips through the exit, weaving in and out of after-school traffic.

El is everything I am not. Tall, blond, and with this impossible goofy yet sexy paradox going on that only seems to exist in romantic comedies. In the midst of the crowd she stops and turns, shrugging and smiling as kids eddy around her until the tide washes Tim, her boyfriend, up to where she waits. As usual, he’s got his nose in his cell phone, probably catching up on all the games he’s missed during school. El taps him on the arm. He looks up three inches to meet her eyes and grins at her before sliding his arm around her, the gesture a little off because of their vertical differential. He says something, and she grins back, the blush in her cheeks spreading to her neck.

There’s nothing wrong with this “showing” version, but apart from the Julie pieces that I’ve reused, there’s nothing “right” about it either. Nothing that makes it very unique and special. We don't know what it's about, and we have no hook to keep us reading. And without that, what’s the point?

If a reader/agent/editor can find the same writing/ideas in other books, they don’t need this book.

Misconception #3: “Telling in dialogue isn’t telling

Writing convoluted dialogue is another way we too often twist ourselves into knots to avoid using narrative to “tell” a story.

Julie Murphy could have put some of the important bits of this opening into dialogue. I've rewritten it that way here:

“You know, all the best things in my life have started with a Dolly Parton song,” I say as Ellen Dryer’s boyfriend Tim turns the ignition of his jeep and Dolly’s “Dumb Blonde” blares from the stereo speakers.

The school parking lot still bustles with after-school traffic, and the stench of melting asphalt fills the car before El slams the door. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. Remember the first day we heard this one? We were siting in my mother’s living room and . . . ”

Well, you get the idea. Bleh. Also—and here’s the most important point—this is still telling. Why? Because there’s no reason for the characters to be discussing this. The only purpose of the dialogue is to convey information to the reader, and that’s not a get-out-of-jail-free card for telling.

Misconception #4: “Telling” is something that happens within a scene

Choosing what to show is perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle—especially when it comes to where to start a story. Starting in the wrong place, with the wrong scene or situation, forces us to tell where the right scene would put us into action that enables us to let the reader experience the important information along with the character to create an immersive read.

Information selection is the key thing, here. My first book editor, the brilliant Annette Pollert, gave me a piece of advice that I come back to over and over again as I write:

"Why does the reader need to know this, and why does she need to know it now?”

The most obvious answer, and the most valid one, is that the reader needs the information in order to understand the story. As for timing? Stories are structures. They fall apart without a solid foundation, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need a few hidden passages and unexpected corridors along the way.

Great storytellers give readers enough information to ground them in the certainty that they understand what is happening presently, while simultaneously teasing the reader with hooks, hints of interesting information yet to be discovered about why it’s happening. Hooks can be glimpses of backstory, insights into past events or motives the reader doesn’t yet know, or questions that pique curiosity about coming events that will arise because of what is happening now. Anything that makes us curious about what, why, who, how, or even when (as in when something aniticipated is going to happen) will create a sense of urgency. Done well, this feels seamless and almost magical to the reader, and she feel as though she must keep turning pages.

That’s one of the many things that Julie Murphy does really well in the opening of Dumplin'. As a reader, I want to know why Willowdean, the narrator, isn’t comfortable in her own skin the way her best friend is, and why El is one of the best things in her life. I get a sense of vulnerability from the way that Julie reveals the accidental nature of the way the two friends bonded, a wistfulness in Will that makes me want to know more about her long before I get to the explanation of what she wants:

But I want what they have. I want a person to kiss hello.

Sometimes, “Telling” is the Better Part of Valor

That whole grounding the reader thing? The size of the foundation depends on the size, genre, anticipated pace, and audience of your story. If you're writing literary fiction, more backstory is needed. If your story world is exactly like the world in which the reader lives, there’s probably not a lot of foundation needed. But if you have an enormous fantasy world, a hidden world (real or imagined) without our own, or a character who may not be exactly what readers expect (and ideally, all major characters should be truly unique), then showing the reader the foundation and backstory a stone at a time may simply take too long. After all, the reader needs that information, but foundation is only there to help her understand the conflict that’s the real heart of the scene and book.

Revealing foundation information in dialogue or showing it in action is often too convoluted and derails the forward momentum of the story. There are times when you just have to be brave and “tell” it like it is. You can do that successfully. Remember the song from Mary Poppins? Well, in our case, it’s a spoonful of character that makes the information go down in a most delightful way.

My personal theory is that readers buy books for premise, but they fall in love or hate with major characters. Give them enough unique character insight along with a piece of information, and the “telling” becomes “voice” instead.

Julie Murphy could have shown Will trying on a pair of pants or looking in the mirror to show us that she is fat. Instead, she gives us El and Millie as a mirror, letting us see that Will falls somewhere in between. And then she straight up tells us:

The word fat makes people uncomfortable. But when you see me, the first thing you notice is my body. And my body is fat. It’s like how I notice some girls have big boobs or shiny hair or knobby knees. Those things are okay to say. But the word fat, the one that best describes me, makes lips frown and cheeks lose their color. But that’s me. I’m fat. It’s not a cuss word. It’s not an insult. At least it’s not when I say it. So I always figure why not get it out of the way?

Because Julie gives us this passage, we know that Will isn't going to be your stereotypical fat girl who secretly hates herself for being fat. She's aware that other people judge her for it, sure, but she doesn't see it their way. And that puts her in conflict with the world--and that's a story.

Like Julie said: 

Sometimes, you just have to get things out of the way. As with anything else, there's good telling and there's bad telling. Good telling is surprising/fresh/insightful both in information and in the way it's conveyed.

Like most writers, figuring out what to show and giving myself the courage to rock the telling are the things I struggle with the most. It's where I fall down most often, but that's the lifelong quest of any writer.

Doing justice to the telling is what makes us plunge so deep within the skin of our characters that it hurts. And it's the biggest risk, because when we're that deep, we're exposed. We're vulnerable. Readers can like us or hate us, and that's a scary, scary, scary place to go. Telling that way can mean throwing out entire manuscripts if they don't work. But when the risk pays off, like it did with Dumplin', it pays off big.

What about you? Thoughts on telling versus showing? As a reader? As a writer?