Friday, September 30, 2011

13 Best Articles This Week for Writers 9/30/11

First Five Pages Workshop Announcement: Almost forgot! Since it's the end of the month, I need to remind everyone that we are starting a new First Five Pages Workshop tomorrow! The details are here, but in a nutshell, the first five people to send the first 1250 words of their MG or YA ms (plain text in body of email) tomorrow after noon Eastern Time will get a month-long examination of their work.

And another announcement:

Bestselling author Catherine Ryan Hyde guests at Joan Swan's blog this weekend. Best known for her book-turned-movie Pay It Forward, she has written 17 outstanding novels in both mainstream and young adult fiction. She’s chatting about her newest release, DON’T LET ME GO, offering an excerpt and giving away 3 copies of the novel, each with a handmade bookmark. Stop by  to enter.

After the Sale
Book Reviews
Craft of Writing
Just for Smiles
Social Media
To Market
Other Weekly Round-Ups:
Did we miss anything? Anyone? Please leave a comment! Happy reading and joyous writing, Martina, Marissa and Clara

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

15 WOW Wednesday: Cynthia Leitich Smith--Your Only Real Competition is Yourself

Our WOW this week is from the incredible Cynthia Leitich Smith, the New York Times and Publishers Weekly best-selling author of Tantalize, Eternal, Blessed, Tantalize: Kieren’s Story, and the forthcoming Diabolical (Candlewick). Her award-winning books for younger children include Jingle Dancer, Indian Shoes, Rain Is Not My Indian Name (all HarperCollins) and Holler Loudly (Dutton). She has also published several middle grade and YA short stories.

Her website at was named one of the top 10 Writer Sites on the Internet by Writer's Digest (so well deserved!) and an ALA Great Website for Kids. Her Cynsations blog at was listed as among the top two read by the children's/YA publishing community in the SCBWI "To Market" column. You can also find her on the Web at Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and LiveJournal.

Your Only Real Competition is Yourself

By Cynthia Leitich Smith

Your only real competition is yourself. Yes, you should read—avidly—and come to an understanding of what the benchmark for publication is in today’s competitive market. Study the voices of the past as well. Storytelling is a tradition that spans countless generations, not a mere exercise in individual ego.

You should read with a critical eye but also a celebratory one and consider what’s possible at the zenith of excellence. For that matter, you should reconsider phrases like “the zenith of excellence.”

Writing and reading are all about discourse. It’s worth knowing where your work falls in the conversation of books, where you’re making a fresh contribution and where you’re thoughtfully nodding to those who’ve come before.

But that’s secondary to facing off against yourself, day after day, page after page, for the rest of your writing life. In your literary art, set against an always-changing publishing landscape, this is where you should focus as a competitor.

Where you should challenge and s-t-r-e-t-c-h and go for the win.

If you’ve been competing against other writers, try instead to reframe them as friends, soldiers-at-arms, brothers and sisters, colleagues and especially teachers.

When I was in my writing apprenticeship, I studied Paula Danziger’s body of work. I read all of her books in the order that they were published.
She always had a sparkle, a kid-friendliness, an understanding of heart and humor. But what impressed me most was how she grew as a writer over time. Not always in a straight line. A book or two may not have been as strong as its predecessor. (Who knows? Maybe they were written in a different order.) But big picture, she pushed herself. She pushed against herself. She taught me the importance of that.

I’m talking about me versus me and what that means to my writing life. I’m talking about you versus you and what that might mean to yours.

It’s about starting over again and again like it matters—making no excuses, holding nothing back. Working in sprints and working in marathons. It’s about giving yourself a sidelong glance and saying, hey, that was fun. Rock on with what you’ve accomplished today. I appreciate your work, the skills you’ve built, and your passion.

Now, let’s write better tomorrow and the day after that and in the years to come.

Ready? Set. Write!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

19 Write What You Love, But Make Sure Only You Can Write It

I know I am overdue for a really good, meaty craft post, and I am thinking about craft, I promise. I just haven't had any huge revelations that have inspired me lately. My writing journey is a bit of a leaky faucet. At the beginning, knowing nothing, learning craft was like an open spigot. So much information poured through, I couldn't absorb it fast enough. New knowledge, new flashes of inspiration come more slowly now. I've read and heard enough craft advice that it's not as much about hearing something new as it is about hearing it in a different way, and being ready to hear it. I have to wait for something in my writing to need that information for it to process. Or maybe I am looking for the small droplets to gather enough momentum, to pool together and grow big enough to fall and create the ripple that will reshape my work.

For various reasons, I've done a lot of thinking and discussing about critiquing and workshopping recently. In part this is because I had one of the worst critique experiences of my life a couple of weeks ago, when a new member joined my local critique group. I read her work ahead of time, and loved it. LOVED it. But it was a like reading two different manuscripts all jumbled together. Although she hadn't yet finished her first draft, she had been workshopping and critiquing and submitting it to many different contests. Everyone recognized her talent, but she had gotten so much different advice that the work read like it had been written by committee. And when I suggested she needed to go back to her own voice, she said, "but that's not what people are publishing." And yet it is. Within her genre, that's what the best books are like. She got so upset by my critique, so defensive and offended, that I actually resigned my group. I just felt I couldn't work with her and didn't want to stand in her way, or in the way of the rest of the group as a whole. In the long run, sadly, she is going to be the one leaving, and I truly, truly hope she will find the faith in the voice of her heart to see that she can write what she loves.

It's such a fine line. Trusting yourself versus trusting what critique partners, or agents, or experts have to say. The market is fickle, and we are all here searching for answers. I wish I had them. There are so many writers I want to hug and remind that they need to BELIEVE. Just BELIEVE. It will come. Maybe not tomorrow, or the next day. But it will come, because they have something important to say.

For me, I think that's the whole point of writing. We're communicating. It's entertainment, sure, but the stories I love and connect with are those that have some essential truth to share. Some inner core of beauty or ugliness that makes its way from the page to burrow into my soul.

Last week, I talked about the emotional heart of a story. For me, THAT is what writing is about. It's not about a great plot, or the mot juste, or a finely crafted sentence. Those have to be there too, but writing is also about creating a line from one heart to another.

There are many different hearts out there. Everything we read, every critique comment we receive, every workshop we attend grows ours a little more. Opens the spigot of our craft and knowledge a little bit more.

So if you are struggling, BELIEVE. Keep looking for the critique partners who will support you but give you honest feedback while letting you be yourself. I'm so blessed to have Marissa, Clara, Cici, Carol and Lisa Green along with my "real world" critique partners Karen and Elizabeth. Despite the solitary nature of writing, sometimes it takes a village to give us the courage to continue writing. The trick is that no matter how many critiques we get, no matter how many workshops we attend, we have to make our writing sound like it is our own, wholly our own. It can't be written by a village.

Write what you love. Love what you write. But make sure there is something in the manuscript, on every page of your manuscript, that contains an essential truth--a different truth--from what is already being published. If your pages could have been written by anyone else, there probably isn't enough of you on them yet.

So there. That's my droplet of knowledge for the day. I hope it will ripple through my own writing.

What about you? What's the essential truth of your writing journey? Have you found the nugget in your own story that only you can write? What makes  you keep believing?

Happy writing,


Monday, September 26, 2011

3 1st 5 Pages Workshop - Final Sept Round & MY NOT SO STILL LIFE Giveaway

Happy Monday, everyone! Do I sound as manic as Effie Trinket, or what? So sorry. But it is the start of a new week and we may as well make it a good one, right? I've had an amazing writing retreat weekend with my fabulous critique partners Cici and Carol, who flew out to stay with me on Friday and are heading back to Texas tomorrow. Friday night we got to spend time with Marissa, too, who then promptly ditched us for a weekend in her sick bed. Meanwhile, the three of us plotted and polished and sound-boarded, watched movies, and drank a LOT of wine, but did I mention that we also made serious writing progress? Having those extra eyes and ears and hearts to help you wrap your head around something is just incredible, and the extra hands cracking the whip don't hurt either.

All of that being the case, here's the final round of edits for the September First Five Pages workshop. We are down to three manuscripts due to illness and a new job that started last week. But I hope you will give these three entries the extra attention. Help us out. Tell us what you think about each one. Does it hook you? What makes you stop reading? What would make it even stronger?

Comment on all three and you'll be eligible for a copy of Liz Gallagher's MY NOT SO STILL LIFE.

Here's what Goodreads has to say:

Vanessa is wise beyond her years. She's never really fit in at school, where all the kids act and dress the same. She's an artist who expresses her talent in the wacky colors she dyes her hair, her makeup and clothes. She's working on her biggest art project, and counting the days until she's grown up and can really start living. That adult world seems closer when Vanessa gets her dream job at the art supply store, Palette, where she worships the couple who runs it, Oscar and Maye. And she's drawn to a mysterious guy named James, who leads her into new, sometimes risky situations. Is she ready for this world, or not?

5 1st 5 Pages Workshop - September Entry #5 Rev 3

Kimberly C. Stickrath
Middle-Grade Fantasy
The Woon of Bink

Chapter One

Three years. It had been only three years since the tyrant Woon had taken control of all the countries of Bink. Only three years since he built the first Great Paper Wall of Daily Laws around the capital. For the tiny people of Bink, the weight of the Wall was the foot of a giant grinding down hard on their necks. For in three years, the Woon had banned laughing, dancing, and so much more, and this made three years seem like a very long time indeed.

Once, the green, misty hills had looked like a parade of handsome green soldiers guarding the flowers of the central plain. Now, the countryside around the capitol of Bink was grey and dead. Any observer might think that the land was dying of grief

… any observer but the strange little fellow hurtling up the dirt and gravel road at a break-neck pace. He didn’t have much time for observing because it looked like he was going to truly break his neck!

“Ohhh-Whoa-Oh! Help! Stop!” he hollered, though no one was around to hear him. “Oh, My! Oh! Whoa! Oh! Heh-ELP!”

He was a curious sight because he was no more than three-feet tall, and was therefore a good half-foot shorter than the average Binkarian. He was even more curious precisely because he had no good feet. Instead, he had polished cherry-wood rockers where his feet should have been. Once he got started, it was all he could do to get stopped again. To move forward, he had to take big hops that rocked him to and fro when he landed. Each time he rocked “fro”, he would almost overbalance and fall on his rump. Each time he rocked “to”, he would almost land flat on his nose. This caused his face to go all squinchy. (Though what really caused his face to go all squinchy was that he couldn’t help but imagine how much it would hurt his face if it really did knock into the ground. The simple truth was that his imagination made his face hurt almost as much as a real bump!)

Gasping and red-faced, Funny-Foot finally flopped down to rest his face near the entrance to the Great Paper Wall. He hated hurrying. His face was all squinched up tight with the strain of traveling, and just as sore as could be. And he had awful cramps in the bowed parts of his rockers. He rubbed his thumbs hard into the achy wood to ease it, and then sucked on one thumb that had caught a splinter.

Funny-Foot sighed around his thumb.

“Ohhhh,” He said to himself. “I wish I could have come here in a pambanouche. It would have been so much easier.”

For a long time, Funny-Foot huffed in great, deep breaths. He rolled over and flopped on his back, staring at the sky. (He wanted to count the sheep in the clouds, but he didn’t dare for it was against the law.) Eventually, his lungs stopped hurting so much, and his face relaxed back into its normal appearance – that of a happy gentle clown. It still felt ouchy, but at least he could unclench his teeth now. He sat up, and scooted himself against the Wall. After taking a quick look around and assuring himself that no one was watching, he scratched his lower back against its crinkly flash paper and sighed in relief. Then he turned his head to the Wall, and spoke to it. (Not many people take the time to talk to walls, but Funny-Foot had always found them to be good listeners.)

“In case you didn’t know, a pambanouche is that light, cheerful buggy drawn by a pair of three-legged donkeys.” He paused, considering. “It’s very important that the donkeys have only three legs, for it is always the forth leg of a donkey that makes it go along all jerky and bumpy.”

The Great Paper Wall said nothing, but a few pieces of paper shifted politely in the wind, and Funny-Foot took that as an invitation to continue.

“My Uncle Mizz was the inventor of the pambanouche… and he even raised the very first three-legged donkeys.” He chewed on his thumb, and finally released the splinter. He frowned and spat it out. “The prettiest pambanouches were made in my country. The Woon wanted them all, but didn’t want to pay for them. So, he declared pambanouches against the law in my country. Then he confiscated all of the pambanouches for the capital of Bink. And my Uncle Mizz… my poor Uncle Mizz --…”

It took a moment for Funny-Foot to go on. “Uncle Mizz is in a Jug-jail forever an’ ever, along with most of my people. And what makes it even worse is that I never even got a chance to ride in a pambanouche. Not even once. And now I never will.”

The Great Paper Wall rustled sympathetically. The wind blew on Funny-Foot’s face, and dried his tears a little. The sun felt warm on his rockers. But the world felt so very big. And he was so very small.

To distract himself, Funny-Foot unpinned a shiny, copper ribbon from his vest and held it up for the Wall to see.

“See this?” The ribbon was a lovely smooth satin, and had the words ‘Nicest Person Ever!’ written on it in big silky letters. “The people in my country gave me this. Said this little copper ribbon meant I was to be their ‘Bassador. When I asked what a ‘Bassador was, they said it meant ‘Somebody-Who-Goes-To-the-Woon-To-Ask-Him-To-Stop-Making-So-Many-New-Laws.-Or-At-Least-Ask-Him-To-Hold-Off-A-Bit-Until-Everyone’s-Learned-the-Old-Ones’.”

Funny-Foot stroked the ribbon and pondered it uncertainly.

"Wonder what it would have meant if I’d gotten a little green ribbon?”

The Wall had no response for that.

Funny-Foot sighed something that sounded like apologetic hiccup. Initially, he’d been flattered when they’d given him his ribbon and new title. Still, he couldn’t help but feel the people of his land were, well … a little silly. (And this was quite true. The people of his country were always known to be remarkably good-hearted, but they were also known to be terribly naïve.) They thought that if they liked and listened to Funny-Foot, that everyone would like and listen to Funny-Foot. But that said, it should also be mentioned that none of them – including Funny-Foot -- were naïve enough to actually want the job of ‘Bassador. They said Funny-Foot’d talk to anyone or anything, and that made him qualified, but Funny-Foot had his doubts. Frankly, he didn’t have the vaguest idea how to go about changing the Woon’s mind. Funny-Foot didn’t get the feeling that the Woon was very impressed with nice people. The very thought of facing the mean old Woon and his five-hundred lawyers made Funny-Foot’s face squinch up and hurt more than all the imaginary bumps he’d ever almost had.

“Ohhhh, if only there weren’t so many things against the law,” moaned poor Funny-Foot, daubing liniment on his face with his handkerchief. The liniment made his sore face feel a little better, but it didn’t quite do the trick. Funny-Foot decided to put his face back in the cool grey grass. He did so, and his face felt better still. Then he thought about all of the laws of Bink, and his poor Uncle Mizz -- and that made him cry, and the tears cooled off his face even more. That was why he did not see the Detective coming. He was so busy crying, with his face down

5 1st 5 Pages Workshop - September Entry #3 - Rev 3

Sheri Levy
Middle Grade
Dog Days of Summer

Chapter 1

My dogs and I wrestled in my bedroom until I giggled so hard my insides hurt and their barking made me deaf. I said, "Sit." Sydney, my red-haired Australian shepherd, sat, tilted his head sideways, eyes glued on mine and waited for my next command. Jake, my newly rescued Black lab, followed Sydney’s example. Momma’s voice boomed through the door, “Trina, are you packed?”

“Almost.” I turned to the dogs and gave the release word, "Okay." Both dogs bounced up ready to play again.

I slid my desk chair backwards into the closet and climbed up. My duffel bag sat on the top shelf with its handle hanging over the ledge daring me to grab it. I stood on my tiptoes. Ah. Crud! I rebalanced and bounced. The ring of the phone startled me, but my fingertips reached the handle.

“I’ll get it,” I shouted to Momma and yanked the bag to the floor. I rolled it to the phone. Since Sydney was in-training to be a service dog, I gave him a hand signal for ‘Down’ and he lay at my feet. “Hello?”

Sarah never even said, “Hey,” or “How are you?” She just started yakking, "I've out-grown everything so Mom took me shopping and I bought lots of new stuff. Wait till you see my new bikini and…"

I ran my fingers through Sydney's long hair like a comb, listening, waiting, wanting to get a word in. I squeezed the phone to my ear with my shoulder and continued packing last year’s clothes. Sydney, never more than inches from my legs, panted. His bobbed tail wiggled. His gold eyes gave a saddened look and his floppy ears drooped. During his fourteen months with us, he'd learned the suitcase signaled a trip somewhere and he wasn’t always invited.

Jake flopped in the middle of the floor. Only his eyes followed me. When I moved, his long tail thumped. He worried, too.

During the moment Sarah paused to catch her breath, I blurted out, “Why do you want so many clothes? All we’ve ever needed is our bathing suits, t-shirts and shorts, and your soccer ball. This summer we’ll both have dogs. They’ll be so much fun!

Sarah interrupted me this time. “I know. But this time I want to meet boys.”

“You want to do what?” I looked at the phone receiver as if it spit out a different language. I had never cared about talking to boys. “Sarah, this week is supposed to be about you and me and our dogs.”

“But Trina. This’ll be the perfect place to learn how to talk to boys. No one will know us there.”

I choked back what I wanted to say and changed the subject. “Mom’s calling. We’ll meet at your house in one hour.”

With my last items packed, I rolled the bag to the back door. As I sat on the soft top, air whooshed from the zipper. I waited for Dad and worried about Sarah’s ideas. I remembered her talking to Tyler on the last day of school and exchanging pieces of paper. I bent my head and held my face in my hands. I know I chose to be a Puppy Raiser, but I never thought I might lose my best friend over training Sydney.

Each dog plopped their favorite toy, a red ball, in my lap. I lifted my head, patted their heads and said, “I hope you guys’ll be safe at the beach?” Sydney cocked his head. “At least I know you can swim in Mrs. Brown’s pond, chasing her geese, but Jake." His ears perked up. “I sure hope you can swim and not run away.”

I tossed their balls so they'd jump in place to catch them. They returned them to my lap, dripping with foamy slobber. We did this over and over until my cutoffs stuck to my knees and my fingers wrinkled from the slime.

I carried the dog bowls to the backseat car floor not noticing the open garage door. Sydney’s eyes never left my hands, but Jake immediately darted up the driveway. I gasped. “Crud. Crud. Crud. Jake. Not again!”

I ran up the drive, calling his name. A scent in the woods caught his attention. I grabbed his collar, headed into the house and clicked on his leash. He blinked his brown eyes and bowed his head. “I know! You just couldn’t help yourself.” I lifted his face and kissed his nose. “But, you have to do better if you’re going to be my Forever dog. I promised Syd’s trainer you wouldn’t interfere with his training.” He licked my face.

“M-o-m-m-a." I called. "Dad’s ready.” I pushed my wild curls behind my ears. “Sarah’s probably waiting outside. I’m putting on Syd’s cape and I’ve loaded all our gear.” With Syd’s purple working-cape velcroed around his chest, I gave the hand signal, “Let's go, boys."

Sydney rushed through the back doorway into the garage. Jake followed. Sydney slid into his learned 'Sit' at the car door and waited for his next command. Jake watched him and copied Sydney’s ‘Sit.’

“Syd, we have a whole week to train at the beach and I’ll get lots of pictures of us together before I have to give you away.” His ears moved backwards. “And Jake, I expect you to learn, too. “ He wagged. I opened the car door. Both dogs rushed to get in. “Silly boys. Sydney, Wait…Jake, in you go… Good boy!”

My eyes locked with Sydney’s. Pointing my finger at his face, I counted one thousand-one, one thousand-two, one-thousand three in my head, and then said, “Okay!” Sydney leaped to the seat. I smiled. "I'm so proud of you."

We drove across the street to Sarah’s house to caravan. Mr. and Mrs. Neal were loading the last of their supplies. I blinked and looked again. I couldn't believe my eyes. What the heck? Someone's taken over the body of my best friend.

Sarah stood at the end of her driveway wearing black shorts with blue and green sea shells along the cuff and a tight, blue tank top layered over a white one with lace at the bottom. And her blond hair was French braided with a matching ribbon.

She looked weird in her fancy outfit, dribbling her soccer ball. Darby, her black and white Springer spaniel, chased the ball, barked and wiggled her stub of a tail. I wedged my head out of the window and said, “Wow! Where’re your soccer clothes?"

“Gone!” She tittered, fluttered her eyelashes and twirled, showing off.

I noticed her eyes matched her new top, but I didn’t want to tell her. I blushed. My bathing suit was under my t-shirt and shorts. “Are you and Darby riding with us?”

“I will. Darby can go with my parents.” She climbed in with her backpack. “Hi, Mr. and Mrs. Ryan.”

“Hi, Sarah,” Momma turned around. “You look very pretty! Are you excited about going to the beach?”

“Oh, yes.” She played with her ribbon. “I can’t wait to lie on the beach and work on my tan.”

The windows went up and the air conditioner blew. Sydney climbed on my lap. I scooted over and Jake pressed his nose to the window.

“Well. Uh. That’ll be fun for a while,” I said. “Then we'll learn to surf? Or bogey board? Maybe ride a wave runner? Last year we said we’d do those things. Remember?”

“Hmm... I’ll have to see how cold the water is, or how many jellyfish I see on shore, first.”

“Oh, you know I can’t go to the beach without swimming.” I fidgeted in my seat. “And this house is right on the beach.”

“Oooo! That’ll make it easier to walk up and down.” Sarah’s eyebrows rose as she smirked. “You never know who we’ll meet.”

I scrunched my nose. "Like I care!"

6 1st 5 Pages Workshop - September Entry #4 - Rev 3

Name: Sarah Laurenson
Genre: Middle Grade
Thirteen Black Cats Under A Ladder

Chapter 1

My idiot brother knocked my breakfast off the counter. I grabbed for the bowl, but it slipped through my fingers and shattered on the cement floor.
His laugh echoed off the vaulted ceiling. Great. Nothing to eat and an early start to the madness. At least my cereal was sans milk.

"You're running out of time, Sasha. Less than seven months left." He snaked his cane back across the kitchen island and jabbed the salt shaker towards me. "Spill it. Work on the cure."

So not playing this curse game. "Careful or I'll break your other leg." I stuck out my tongue.

"Ah, but it's your leg in danger," Marcus said. "Trust me. Spill the salt.
It's easy."

"Yeah?" I waved at his cane - evidence of his failure to cure this supposed curse.

"I did not complete the tasks. Learn from my bad example."

The salt shaker was halfway across the island.

"You're deranged."

"That is not nice." His lower lip pushed out beyond the three hairs he called a moustache. The salt shaker wobbled. He whimpered. The cane clattered on the counter.

Shattering his leg had seriously mushed his brain. Dropping out of school sure didn't help. I grabbed the broom and dustpan to sweep up the Golden Puffs before Mom could come down and add her bit to the insanity.

"You were clumsy. The curse doesn't exist." I was so not freaking out about mumbo jumbo from some punk's mother. And getting the cure from a psychic?
Hah! Not for me. No breaking mirrors. No popping umbrellas open in the house. Not even stepping on a crack and breaking Mom's back.

"You'll rue the day you turn thirteen," he said.

"Yeah right." I understood the broken leg part - eye for an eye stuff.
Wrapping it around a thirteenth birthday? That made no sense. Only my crazy family would buy this. With real money, too. Shaking my head, I tapped the pedal on the trash. The bowl shards and corn puffs tumbled into the can.

"What's that!" Mom shrieked.

Too late. I dropped the broom and scampered out of range.

She yanked her long brown ponytail as she flipped the lid on the trash.
"Milk? Spilt milk!" She whipped around. "Did you cry? Cry!" She caught her breath. "Wait. Is it don't cry?" Mom's head jerked from Marcus, to the trash, and then to me. "Which is it? Cry? Don't cry? Tell me!"


Silence fell in the wake of the hard wooden cane bashing against the hollow island. Marcus knew how to command attention. "It is salt."

"Salt?" Mom asked. "Who ever heard of crying over spilt salt?"

He lowered his head and looked at her through his bushy eyebrows. "She must spill salt. Neither milk nor crying are involved."

"Salt. Not milk. No crying." She snatched up the salt shaker and held it out to me. "Please?"

I backed up a step. There was no curse, so there was no cure. The salt could stay in the shaker.

Mom plopped down on a stool. Her attention turned from me to Marcus. "My poor baby boy. My fault. I should've been there. All my fault." She started rocking, then dropped her head into her hands. Her shoulders shook. The wailing would start soon.

"Morning. What's for breakf. Whoa." Dad stopped short in the doorway. His ice blue eyes bulged under his hairless eyebrows. His gaze darted around the room and finally landed on the wall with the bird song clock. "Is that the time? Golf with a client. See you tonight."

"Dad!" My hand reached out for him, but it was too late. He was the fastest escape artist I knew.

The clock's minute hand reached twelve. The little bird popped out and spoke my family's language. Cuckoo. Time to make my escape.

With half an hour to kill before school, I took the stairs two at a time and locked my door. The only curse in this family was a lack of sanity. I shoved myself under the bed and yanked on the box up against the wall. The velcro gave off a nice ripping sound. Nothing but a direct assault would dislodge that box.

I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and let it out slowly as I opened my box of treasures. The photo of me at one-day-old went beside similar photos of Marcus, Mom and Dad. Next I pulled out the copy of my birth certificate with the suspiciously crooked words. And last came the magnifying glass.
There must be a chance I was adopted.

Friday, September 23, 2011

10 Best Articles This Week for Writers 9/23/11

Happy Friday, everyone! A little housekeeping today before we get into the round-up.
The copy of Jennifer Brown's BITTER END goes to Anne Greenwood Brown.

The copy of Susan Beth Pfeffer's BLOOD WOUNDS goes to Halli Gomez.

And courtesy of the fabulous Georgia McBride, one copy of Pittacus Lore's THE POWER OF SIX goes to Lydia Sharp.

The other copy of Georgia's donation of Pittacus Lore's THE POWER OF SIX goes to Holly Dodd.
Ladies, please email me your smail addresses and Georgia and I will get your books out!

Happy reading,


After the Sale
Book Reviews
Craft of Writing
Issues, News, and Trends
Just for Smiles
Social Media
To Market
Other Weekly Round-Ups:
Did we miss anything? Anyone? Please leave a comment!

Happy reading and joyous writing,

Martina, Marissa and Clara

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

9 WOW Wednesday: Jackson Pearce on Permission to Be a Writer

We're honored to  have a guest post today from Jackson Pearce, the best-selling author of SWEETLY, SISTERS RED, and AS YOU WISH. Jackson is twenty-six years old and currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with a slightly cross-eyed cat and a lot of secondhand furniture. She graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in English and a minor in Philosophy. She auditioned for the circus once, but didn’t make it; other jobs she’s had include obituaries writer, biker bar waitress, and receptionist. In addition, Jackson coaches both colorguard and winterguard at a local high school.

You can find her on her website, her blog, or on twitter.

Permission to be a Writer

by Jackson Pearce

“What advice do you have for people who want to be writers?”
Chart by I Love Charts

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I get asked that a lot. A whole lot. In fact, for a while it was a standard part of my school visit talk—I’d talk about inspiration, my writing schedule, and close with advice for young writers.

The thing is, the advice is the same thing your mom or dad or grandma told you when you were little. The thing you’ve forgotten, and maybe they’ve forgotten, the thing that’s been smashed a little bit by years of standardized tests or college admissions essays or fallback careers.

You can be anything you want to be.

(Well, except a bird, dinosaur or robot. Actually, that robot thing might be possible now. I’m pretty sure the bird and dinosaur still aren’t though.)
(But anything else. You can be.)

We’ve increasingly become a world obsessed with the bottom dollar—and that makes sense, of course, since being broke is no fun. But because of that bottom dollar obsession, we’ve started going to school to get degrees in fields we don’t even care about, just because “the pay is great.” Or “companies NEED people with this degree.” Or “I’ll be able to be fast-tracked into management with this degree.”

We’ve started taking sucky jobs just for the benefits package, or the security. We’ve started giving up more and more of our dreams, our goals, our souls, in order to find the bottom dollar and hold onto it with everything we’ve got.

And in doing so, we’ve forgotten that we can be anything.

People are paid to be authors. They’re paid to be circus performers and motorcycle repairmen and horse trainers and aerobics instructors. They may not get an awesome benefits package. They may have to eat ramen noodles for a while, waiting for the first book to sell or their aerobics studio to really take off or Cirque du Soleil to need more people who can bend their body in unsettling ways. They may have to live in a studio apartment, pinch pennies. They may even have to have a fallback career for a little while. But they're still doing exactly what they want to do, being exactly what and who they want to be. They aren't special, they aren't unique, they aren't better than you—they're just people who didn't give in to the bottom line.

Don’t misinterpret this as permission to live in your mom’s basement till you’re thirty, slaving away at the Great American Novel you’ll never send out to agents because “it still isn’t ready.” You can be anything you want to be—but only if you’ve got guts, determination, and are willing to work for it. People aren’t handing out dreams right and left, and no one will ever be as invested in your dream coming true as you are—so don’t expect them to be. The rejections or industry or economy aren’t what’s holding you back—you are. Change yourself, change your outlook, change your work ethic, change your perception of time and effort and maybe even of what the real end goal is.

But don’t fall for the bottom line. Especially if it isn’t the anything you want to be.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

15 Finding the Heart of Your Story: A Tip from Donald Maass

A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: 1. What am I trying to say? 2. What words will express it? 3. What image or idiom will make it clearer? 4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?
~ George Orwell

If you've read any of my previous posts, you'll probably have noticed that I frequently recommend literary agent Donald Maass' books among the best resources for a wide variety of techniques. That's why when I came across a teleseminar workshop opportunity with him, I jumped on it. And he didn't disappoint. Of course he shed new light on the subject of microtension, which is a whole other topic in itself, but he also came up with the best tip I have ever heard on theme. I sat down and thought about it, and here it is--embellished a bit, of course, because I'm a drama queen and Donald Maass isn't.

Are you ready? Are you sitting down all cozy with your cup of tea and your WIP?


Now think of one scene in your WIP, just one. The one scene that you would keep if someone locked you in a room with a shredder and withheld food and water and the new season of Vampire Diaries until you shredded every other scene in the only existing copy of your manuscript.

Have you got it? Excellent.

Next, consider what you adore about that scene. Why does it speak to you? What emotion, phrase, or idea do you take away or want your reader to take away?

Chances are, THAT'S the emotional heart of your book, the glimpse of life truth your story is really all about.

Theme is a nebulous thing. It's much easier to define plot, the cause and effect that connects events into a pattern. As writers, it's our job to show plot in a way that the reader sees and understands. But theme in fiction, the meaning behind that pattern, is different for every reader.

By its nature, theme can't be obvious. At its best, it's open for interpretation, thought, and discussion, an echo left to resonate long after the book itself is read. We can't present theme directly. Sometimes we have trouble grasping it ourselves. We know what our characters want and the obstacles that may keep them from achieving their goals. We know they must struggle with conflict on every page, from their antagonists and within themselves. We know their life histories, their thoughts, their emotions in every scene. But do we know what they take away once the last word is written? What they will do when the story action is over? What philosophy or life view will carry them through whatever will come next?

Discovering that truth, that echo, is the part of writing that I love best. Once I know it, I can start layering in the richness and complexity that makes me fall back in love with my book after all the months of wanting to hurl the computer across the room. The minute I grasp that, I can go back and follow the trail of symbols and clues my subconscious left scattered in the manuscript like breadcrumbs, and see where I need to add something, or delete something, or sharpen something. It all comes down to knowing the heart of my story.

And that, just as Donald Maass said, is in that one scene that I would never, ever cut.

What about you? Can you think of a scene like that in your WIP? Past WIPs? How do you develop theme? And is it your favorite part of the story?

Let me know your thoughts! I've got a copy of Jennifer Brown's BITTER END for a random winner.

Happy plotting,


P.S. -- Want more on theme? Here are some good resources:

Deepening Your Novel with Symbolism, Imagery, and Figurative Language
Know Your Selling Point
Does Your Novel Have a Theme (Had to edit the title, but the post is worth reading!)
Fiction that Wows: Theme vs. Plot
Strengthening a Thematic Motif Through Repetition
Thematic Significance
How Do I Plot the Thematic Significance of a Novel, Memoir, Screenplay?
Character Emotion and Thematic Significance
If You Can't Describe Your Story, There Probably Isn't a Story

Theme and Strategy: How to Build a Strong, Narrative Structure to Help Your Fiction Stand Tall, Run Fast, Hit Hard, and Soar to Success (Elements of Fiction Writing)
Writing the Breakout Novel
The Breakout Novelist: Craft and Strategies for Career Fiction Writers

Want to know about future teleseminars? Check Bruce Hale's site.

Monday, September 19, 2011

2 1st 5 Pages Workshop Round 3 Revs Are Up -- Comment to Win BLOOD WOUNDS

It's a new week, and a new series of revisions for this month's First Five Pages Workshop. Happy Monday, everyone! I've posted the revisions below, and Lisa and I want to invite all of you, writers and readers (especially readers!!!!) to comment on them. This helps not just the writers, but also all of us who want to improve our craft, giving us a chance to learn together.

Please tell us (kindly and constructively) what you like and don't like in each entry. There are no right or wrong answers--that's the beauty of writing and critiquing. Everyone has their opinions. Give us your thoughts on voice or plot or pacing, on the authenticity of the characters, on the appropriateness of the language used. Most of all, tell us how engaged you were. Did you love what you read? Do you want to read more? What stopped you from reading?

Help us whip these entries into shape. Treat these like the first pages of five books you picked up at the bookstore. Would you want to read them? Would you buy the hardback or wait for the paperback? What makes the difference for you in general?

Comment -- again, because it bears repeating, kindly and constructively -- on each entry and I'll put you in for a random drawing of Susan Beth Pfeffer's BLOOD WOUNDS (Sorry, U.S. and Canadian entries only.) Here's the Goodreads blurb:

Willa is lucky: She has a loving blended family that gets along. Not all families are so fortunate. But when a bloody crime takes place hundreds of miles away, it has an explosive effect on Willa’s peaceful life. The estranged father she hardly remembers has murdered his new wife and children, and is headed east toward Willa and her mother.

Under police protection, Willa discovers that her mother has harbored secrets that are threatening to boil over. Has everything Willa believed about herself been a lie? As Willa sets out to untangle the mysteries of her past, she keeps her own secret—one that has the potential to tear her family apart.

And before I forget, the winner of last week's copy of Caroline Bock's LIE is Halli Gomez. Halli, please email me your smail address!

7 1st 5 Pages Workshop - September Entry #1 Rev 2

Author: Sara Bautista
Genre: Young Adult

Chapter One

The plus side of looking like a total freak was finding the note that led to the truth about my mother. I’d decided that the solution to my boy problems—namely, there were no boys—was to make myself stand out. And now I stood alone, dripping wet, clutching the box for #52 Black as Night and hoping the frightening reflection in the mirror was an illusion. Closer inspection revealed the unfortunate reality: that scary thing in the mirror was me. And I was late for work.

I quickly rummaged through my closet for something to conceal the ghastly mess, but came up empty-handed. In a last ditch effort, I raced to the attic, taking the narrow steps two at a time. I pushed by the skeletons of old lamps and ghostly sheet-covered furniture until I found a Tupperware crate stuffed with clothes I no longer wore. I dug through until I found a kelly green scarf. It would have to do.

On my way out of the dusty space, another box caught my eye. “Suzanne” was scratched across the side in my father’s writing. I paused, glancing at the hole of light from downstairs. Mrs. Liu was going to kill me if I wasn’t there by five, but I couldn’t resist pulling apart the box’s worn cardboard flaps.

I picked up the top item—a photo album—and opened it at random. My mother looked up from the page, holding what must have been a baby me. My throat caught at her warm, open smile and easygoing stance. I traced her face with my finger before shutting the album with a kiss. As I slid the box back into its spot, a small, folded piece of paper fluttered to the ground. The graceful cursive read “To Jocelyn with Love.”
I carefully unfolded it. In contrast to the sparse writing on the outside of the note, sketches covered the inside. Flowers and vines laced with six-legged creatures lined the edges and twisted to encircle the small square of writing in the middle. I picked out the words in the weak light.
My dear Josie, pocket full of posies,
I miss you more with each day that passes. The good news is that I should be back soon. I can’t wait to give your sweet little self a big hug and a kiss. In the meantime, I’ve been catching bugs for you. See? Here’s a beetle and a cricket. I hope you’ve been finding lots of worms, and that you’re taking good care of Daddy.

Love you more than you’ll ever know,


I wanted to devour the remaining contents of the box, ferreting out more lost memories of my mother, but it would have to wait until later.

I had barely settled in behind the hostess’ podium in the dim lobby when the entrance bells jangled. I tugged at the hem of my kimono uniform—as if that would make it longer—and clamped my teeth together in what I hoped would pass for a smile.
A whoosh of cold greeted me, along with a tall, snow-dusted figure. Cliff Crawford. Joy. A little harassment from Neighbor Boy was just what I needed.
“Whoa, Jocelyn, is that you? Did you spend Christmas rescuing baby seals from an oil spill or something?” He laughed and circled around me, inspecting the damage from all sides. “Looks like you missed a piece back here. Actually, a few pieces…” 
“Shouldn’t you be flunking out of community college somewhere?”
“It’s called a leave of absence, there, Bettie Page. I realized I haven’t found my calling yet, you know? Decided to move back in with the folks, maybe get a job at the Photo Hut. Pretty sweet deal, eh?” 
“Yeah, every kid’s dream.”
A family filed in behind Cliff, crowding the entrance. Mrs. Liu, the restaurant owner, pushed in after them, making her first appearance of the evening.
“What’s going on here?” she squawked in my direction. “This is bottleneck! You want to talk to cute boys, you work at carwash!”
In the same breath, she turned to the embarrassed customers, and in a saccharine voice cooed, “Welcome to Emperor Wok. Four for dinner, please?” It wasn’t until she passed the hostess podium for the menus that she actually saw me. I worried that she might start convulsing right there, but she managed to keep walking. My scarf was clearly not doing its job.
“So where can a cute boy get some take-out around here?” Cliff asked, grinning.
I rolled my eyes and gestured toward the cashier.
Soon Mrs. Liu was back, ranting about the gravity of my hair-don’t. It registered as a Category Four catastrophe in her book, but she didn’t stop there. It was the bony hips (“men want ladies to make babies!”) and skinny arms (“you weak!”). I tuned her out when she started going off about my eyebrows—the center of a woman’s power—which were too light and thin for her liking, but I snapped right back to attention when she licked her finger and starting rubbing the purplish-black smudges tracing my hairline.
I was shielding myself with the podium when Cliff passed by on his way out.
‘You look odd,’ he mouthed.
Yes, yes I did, and I could count on Cliff to point that out. Ever since the summer after seventh grade when he pushed me into the Harrisons’ pool, fully clothed—thus revealing to the whole neighborhood that I still didn’t wear a bra—he had found endless ways to embarrass me. And now he was back. Fortunately, I was halfway through my senior year, and I would be enrolled at RISD and strolling the streets of Providence before I knew it.
That night, as I ran the water for another shower—I had to get a head start on those 28 washes—I pulled out my mother’s note. I held the thin paper to my nose, hoping to find just a touch of the elusive fragrance that lay somewhere on the edge of my memory. It smelled of nothing but dust and faint mildew. Still, I savored it.
I opened the note again, and this time, in the bright light of the bathroom, I noticed a date hidden among the sketched foliage. I stared at it. The steam from the shower swirled near the ceiling and slid down the walls. It was suffocating, as if the very vines had burst forth from the page and were closing around my neck.
My mother couldn’t have written a note on that date. By then, I would be two; by then, she would be dead.

6 1st 5 Pages Workshop - September Entry #2 Rev 2

Jessi Elliott
YA Urban Fantasy

Chapter One – Jack

This is the third day in a row a Dream has made me late. And I don’t It’s a pattern could snap my mom and step-dad out of their workaholic comas to turn their combined energies into rectifying the problem that is me. My hands shake and tense as I loop the half Windsor into my monotone tie. It’s hard enough to hide what I am with just the regular Dreams to deal with, let alone the roiling colors of this latest one.

The magic thrums behind my eyes, a hangover-like pulse in my head. I pause as I hear Brantley’s gait just outside my door. Great. He and my mom are usually long gone by now. This amazingly wonderful day just got even better.

“Jack? he asks, voice already indignant as he peers around the corner of my open door. “Why are you still here?”

The magic in me churns, the feeling heightening as my adrenaline prepares to flare. I’m caught. It’s not like my response really matters. “Why are you here?” I snap.

The expression underneath his short salt and pepper hair is definitely not amused. “You can stop with the attitude,” he says, his voice even but holding the promise of some future retaliation. “Haven’t you been on the tardy list for two days in a row now?”

Shit. So he has been looking at that. I wasn’t sure if the list of tardy students was something he, the almighty Head of Whitford School, would have time or reason to even think about in the midst of all the political ass-kissing and campaigning he’s been doing lately. Then again, he always has time for the things that might make my life suck more.

I grab my phone and my keys and try to push through the doorway. He blocks me. The magic is begging to be released.

“Where do you think you’re going?” he demands, expression still cool.

I blink as, almost imperceptibly at first, Brantley is surrounded by a sheen of a red so faint it looks pink. I roll my eyes, trying to play it off, but panic holds me in its grip as the pinkish tone darkens into red.

“School.” I heave in a breath to keep from raising my voice. “To my English test.”

“I’ll give you a ride,” he says.

The red is glaring now as his furious eyes bore into me. He’s enraged, and I can feel it. My own anger answers his, and I look away, clenching my fists, hoping that I can hold the power in just long enough. He steps closer, trying to use his height to intimidate me. I don’t back away.

“The Metro’s faster,” I argue.

Brantley smiles, then. His I’ve got you now smile. The cloud of red around him flickers with the pleasure he takes in what he’s going to say next even though he gives his best effort to sound pissed off. “One of your teachers reported that you came to first period yesterday smelling like a damn Starbucks.”

“I –”

“No. You’re riding in with me today. If you want to argue, you can hand over your car keys now and forget about your plans this weekend.”

My heart hammers in my chest, blood pulses in my ears. My dad bought me that car, and the fact that Brantley can keep it from me just like that sears underneath my skin. I meet Branley’s puke green eyes not even bothering to hide my anger even though he basically gets off on that kind of a response. I choke back the words I want to say, place my keys in my pocket, and sling my messenger bag over my shoulder. A brain-flattening sensation that wells over me at the color flashing around him now. I push back that sick little feeling in my stomach, denying the power demanding to be released.

An understanding reached, he sighs the impatient sigh I hate as we cross the space of the condo to the door. It always comes down to this - me being the turd in the punchbowl of his and my mother’s happy professional life.

As we walk, the harsher edges of the red around him soften, but the magic is still shaking through me, an erratic cocktail. I have to calm down before I get in the car with him.

I clomp toward the elevators, pushing some of the power out with the impact of each step. Its grip on me subsides just enough. A couple of deep breaths and I feel slightly more normal, though the anger is another issue. I tap my foot against the slate of the elevator floor as it hurtles toward street level.

When we get to Brantley’s glossy black luxury car, I throw myself into it and slam the passenger door. He doesn’t show his annoyance and eases into the driver’s seat like I’m not even there. I cross my l left leg over my right, allowing my shoe to rub up against the plush padding of the door beside me, daring him to open his jack-ass mouth.

He eases out of the parking garage, and I blink at the full glow of morning. I stare out window as we glide over the road running parallel to the Potomac. I try to focus on the crisply dressed business men and women striding down the sidewalk in their monotone suits, clutching their monotone briefcases.

“I’m not bailing you out this time,” he says, eyes on the road.

“Fine. Like I care if I get a freaking detention.”