Thursday, December 27, 2012

Awesome Present for a Writer + An Editing Lesson

I hadn't planned on posting this week, but I just had to share an awesome Christmas present (that only writers can appreciate) which turned out to also be a head-scratching editorial moment.

My 12 year old daughter Gina, all on her own, conceived of this present.  She took my current manuscript for THE EIGHTH DAY, made it into a Wordle, and turned it into a framed poster via Staples.

Wow. My first thought was: I love it.

My second thought was: Why the heck is the word BACK so big? Can that really be the fourth most common word in my manuscript? The most used word after the names of the principal characters? (In the words of 30 Rock's Liz Lemon, "What the what?!?")

So, two lessons here:

1. A Wordle of a manuscript makes a good present for a writer.
2. Wordle is a useful tool to use after completing a manuscript to make sure you haven't over-used some lame word like BACK!

And, I just want to mention that Marcy and I still have one spot open for a First Impression in January (and three spots open in February). We started this monthly feature almost two years ago, and we've yet to have an opening go unfilled. Is there anybody out there getting ready to query who wants feedback on their first page? Ahem, can I mention that First Impressions participants PK Hrezo and Robin Hall both found agents?  Of course, I'm sure their own talent had something to do with it (obviously!), but both PK and Robin shared their first pages for feedback, then shared their REVISED first pages for more feedback, and then went on to successfully woo agents.  Just sayin'. :D

Directions on submitting can be found on the sidebar.

I hope you are having a wonderful holiday with family and friends!
Cheers from the Salerni household ... and Happy 2013!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Slice of Salerni Life 2012

A Slice of Salerni Life 2012 
The End of the World

Gabbey: (looking over Dianne’s shoulder) You too, Mom? All my friends on Facebook are being weird about the world ending, and I’m like, “Really, people? Don’t make me unfriend you.”

Bob: You can tell them Mommy and I saw the actual Mayan calendar at a museum in Mexico City this summer, and it said nothing about …

Dianne: That was the Aztec calendar, dear. Not the Mayan one.

Bob: It was? Oh. I got nothin’ then.

Gina passes by with a suspicious-looking can in her hand and sticks it in the refrigerator.

Dianne: That better not be crickets!

Gina: (snorts in derision) Why would I put crickets in the refrigerator?

Dianne: What was in the can, then?

Gina: Worms.

Dianne: I can’t believe we let the girls get lizards. Feeding raw chicken to the dog wasn’t enough, we’ve got to keep live vermin to feed the lizards?

Sorcia: Whine, bark, whine, whimper, sob. (Translation: I can’t believe you got lizards either. Stop looking at them! Look at me! Look at me! Look at me!)

Bob: 2012 was a good year for us. If the world has to end, at least it’s ending on a high note.

Gabbey: I’m not listening to this anymore. (puts ear buds in her ears) I’m putting on The Legend of Zelda, Symphony of the Goddesses.

Dianne: (snaps fingers) That’s right. Gabbey went to see her first concert this year. A symphony. Very highbrow. My first concert was Journey.

Bob: (raises a hand) Huey Lewis and the News.

Gina: I’ve never been to a concert, but I really, really, really want to see Justin Bieber.

Gina: (looking over Dianne’s shoulder) ARRGH! Take that out! That is NOT true!

Dianne: (applies strikethrough) Okay, okay. I was just making a joke. So Gina has never been to a concert, but she went to an air show with Tara and competed in TWO triathlons.

Gina: And Dad was awesome in the Atlantic City Triathlon with Chris and Andy! He did the bike leg in just over an hour.

Bob: Thus in the middle of the pack and thoroughly beating my goal of not being last. We even got Mom on Gina’s bike this year and built her stamina up to almost 10 miles. All she needs is one of her own, and we can go riding as a family.

Gina: You think Gabbey will come with us?

Gabbey: (pulls out one ear bud) What? In the sunshine? Unlikely. (hunkers over her laptop and types intensely)

Dianne: Don’t give us that dark, teenage attitude. We know you can do “bright and perky” after your performance in Snow White this fall. And you were pretty animated in the Avon Grove Community Theater’s production of The Music Man, too.

Bob: Wow. I almost forgot about the show this summer. How did we squeeze that AND Gina’s band camp between Spiderman on Broadway and Teotihuacan, Mexico?

Dianne: You know, not many husbands would plan a spur-of-the-moment trip to Mexico just so the wife could write a better climactic scene to her fantasy novel.

Bob: (coughstax write off”) Well, climbing to the top of the Sun Pyramid was well worth the effort, considering The Eighth Day sold to HarperCollins in a 3-book deal.

Dianne: 2012 was a darn good year, but I’m looking forward to 2013, too. Gina in Oklahoma! at the middle school, our annual Pocono ski trip …

Gina: The Spirit Game film, The Caged Graves getting published …

Bob: Maybe Vermont over Spring Break and Europe over the summer ...

Gabbey: (perks up) Driving lessons!

Silence. A long, LONG silence.

Bob: Maybe we should hope for the end of the world.

Gabbey: Ha, ha. Very funny.

Dianne: Regardless, 2012 has been a wonderful year. (gives Bob a big kiss)

Gina: Ewwww. Gross! (This from someone who puts worms in the refrigerator.)

Sorcia: Whine, bark, whine, whimper, sob. (Translation: Stop kissing her! Kiss me! Kiss me! Kiss me!)


Monday, December 17, 2012

Facing Monday

I'm writing this over the weekend, wondering exactly how I will face my classroom on Monday. How I will look at it. How I will look at my students. And how they will look at me.

Exactly a week before the Sandy Hook incident, we had an intruder drill at our school. Note: We have lots of drills. The state of Pennsylvania requires a fire drill each and every month. Plus, we have inclement weather drills and lockdown drills thrown in as well.

On that particular Friday, I was annoyed to have the drill interrupt my instructional time. I had quite a bit of work I wanted to get done, and I knew the disruption would put some kids off learning for the rest of the afternoon. I warned my students it was coming, so I could go over the safety rules.

Several of the students cheered when I told them we were doing a lockdown drill. I wanted to know why. "Because it's fun," they said.

The announcement came, and the kids went to their positions. I locked the door with the key I wear on a lanyard around my neck whenever I'm in the building. I covered the windows on the door, and one boy asked, "Couldn't someone shoot through that?"  I gave him the stinkeye, and he went to his place and stopped asking questions.  I seated myself where I could see the children and the door.

What the boy didn't know was this: I was already rehearsing in my mind what furniture I could use to barricade the door. At the time it seemed both silly and morbid for me to plan such a thing, but it's something I think about during every intruder drill.

The kids squirmed and giggled and farted. If you don't believe that fifth grade boys can fart on purpose, then you've never locked yourself in a room with a bunch of them and ordered silence. It happens every single time.

After about 10 minutes, the drill ended, and we all went back to work.  End of story.

Or at least, it was the end of the story until this Friday, when we all understood exactly what the drill is for. Now I know. And sadly, I'm sure my students know too.

Part of my job description is defending my students from armed intruders, and why this should be true in a country not at war defies explanation. While the media erupts with arguments over gun control and security and suggestions are made in all seriousness that arming teachers with handguns is a better solution than banning weapons that can be used to blow apart the entrance to a school -- I don't think the situation is going to change any time soon.

I NEEDED to write this, to get it out.
But I've turned off comments.
Thank you for reading.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Deja Vu 2012 Blog Fest: The Day of the Do Over

Welcome to the Deja Vu Blog Fest: The Day of the Do Over, where we recycle old blog posts that might have been missed or under-appreciated during the year.  I picked this one because I had NO IDEA where it was going to lead me.

In February of 2012, I wrote a post titled Leaving the Comfort Zone:

I saw this image on Facebook last week. It was posted by Laurie Baum Olson and came to my attention via my high school friend, Kathryn Kane. And it made me think.

Specifically, it made me think about two writing projects lurking in the back of my mind, which I’ve been reluctant to attempt because they’re outside my comfort zone.  In fact, I already made a half-hearted attempt at one of them and gave up after only a couple weeks of working on it because it was “just not me.”

But if it wasn’t really my thing, why is the idea still hanging around, bothering me?

If I tally up all my completed and in-progress manuscripts – I’ve got 1 historical fiction, 1 historical mystery, 3 historical with a paranormal bent, and 2 historical with a science fiction bent.  See the pattern?

But one of the stories “bothering” me is a contemporary ghost story and the other is a contemporary fantasy.  The second one might even have the potential to be MG instead of YA, if I play around with it a bit. (My fifth grade students keep asking why I don’t write anything for their grade level!) 

Both these projects are well outside my comfort zone. The contemporary setting scares me a little, because I know I have to nail the voice of modern characters instead of historical ones, and the world building I’d need for a fantasy scares the bejeebers out of me.

But this little graphic got to me. I don’t know if there really is a place just outside my comfort zone where all the magic is happening. However, I’ll never find out if I don’t stretch and grow a little.

I’ve made up my mind to attempt one of those projects this year.

I ended up choosing the fantasy, in spite of my worries about world-building, and started writing it in April. This manuscript led me in August to Mexico, to research the setting of the climax ...

And in October, it led to this:

Author of the forthcoming YA novel THE CAGED GRAVES, Dianne Salerni's MG debut THE EIGHTH DAY, about a mysteriously orphaned boy who discovers a secret day hidden between Wednesday and Thursday and the beautiful girl he finds next door, hiding from people who'd use her to destroy the seven day world as we know it, to Barbara Lalicki at Harper Children's, in a good deal, in a three-book deal, in a pre-empt, by Sara Crowe at Harvey Klinger (world English). 

I think the moral of the story is pretty clear.
In 2013, how will YOU leave your comfort zone?

I totally failed at transferring Mr. Linky's link for the participants of this blog. :( But you can pop over and see the list at Cruising Altitude 2.0.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Guest Post: Gina Spoofs Commercials

There's nothing that gets under my 12 year old daughter's skin than television commercials for drug companies, advertising medicine directly to the public -- who totally aren't qualified to choose their own treatment.

She wrote a spoof on these commercials that she wanted to share:

Do you get sleepy late at night?  Hungry when you don’t eat for several hours?  Do you feel pain when you scrape your knee?  Or out of breath when you’re underwater? These problems are horrible, and we have found a solution. Ask your doctor if you should try our new medicine, Probabliewontkilu.  This will fix all your problems! Our pill has been tested by many people we have found on the streets, so you know it is safe. It only has a few side effects, but, why don’t you look at these happy pictures instead of reading them?

Possible side effects include trouble breathing, sudden death, loss of vision, vomiting, coma, heart attack, lung explosion, hair falling out, depression, growing an extra nose, eyeball disappearance, awkward outbursts of song and dance, inability to taste tomatoes, yelling at towels for making you dry, and curling up into a ball on the floor.

Ask your doctor now if Probabliewontkilu is right for you.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Monday Night at The Practice Room

Today I’d like to put in a plug for Tina Laurel Lee’s brainchild, The Practice Room – which operates as a little think tank for the writing community. You can check out the sidebar on her site for the weekly schedule, but I usually run a session on Monday nights, while Tina and other writers host sessions in the mornings and afternoons during the week.

We’ve got a wonderful group of people who attend the Monday night session: many regulars like Krystalyn Drown, Maria Mainero, and Marcy Hatch. Krystalyn’s sister Serena has started coming, as well as Krystalyn’s friend Jen, and Marisa Hopkins is sometimes there. I’ve recently invited Mary Waibel and Christine Danek, and there are other visitors as well.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Come to The Practice Room anytime in the 30 minutes before a session to “check in” and set a goal. (On Monday nights, that’s between 7:30 and 8:00 pm EST.)
  2. During the “Unplug” time, write like crazy. (On Monday’s that is 8pm to 9pm EST, but people do what suits them best. If you can’t write for that hour, you can still chat afterwards. Some people in the later time zones come to the chat first and then write afterwards.)
  3. Return to The Practice Room (IMPORTANT: REFRESH THE PAGE) after the Unplug to attend the chat between the writers. (The chat starts at 9pm EST on Mondays.)

Why do this? Well, the one hour dedicated writing time is important, but the real gem here is the live chat between the writers. We vent; we share; we brainstorm. I have seen people share links, match up as critique partners, and brainstorm through trouble spots. You might not think that a simple question posed by another writer who has never even read your story might solve the one thing that’s been giving you fits – but I’ve seen it happen lots of times.

We always love to have new participants, so I hope you’ll check us out! Maybe I’ll see a new face (okay, a new profile pic) there tonight!

Friday, December 7, 2012

First Impressions: NOT A HOLIDAY

Our final First Impressions post comes from Sharon Mayhew. This is the first page of her MG historical fiction manuscript: NOT A HOLIDAY.

August 1, 1940
            I flung my gas mask over my shoulder and plopped down in a kitchen chair.
            “But I don’t want to carry a gas mask around all the time,” I said.
            “It’s not a choice, Joyce, you have to.  Everyone has to, from grandparents all the way down to babies.” Mummy stacked a pile of newspaper on the counter, and then dug around in the odds and end drawer.
            “Well, I don’t think it’s fair that the war is coming to London.  That Mister Hitler is a real rotter!”
            “I think everyone in England would agree with you on that, Love.” Mummy brushed her long auburn hair out of her eyes.  “But right now I need you to show Gina carrying your gas mask is all right and not fuss about it.  Imagine how grateful you’ll be to have it, if something horrible happens.”
            “I still don’t like it.”  I scratched the back of head and thought about Gina being scared of bombs and gas masks.  “I’m going to make Dolly a little gas mask box. That should make it less scary for Gina.”   Dolly was special to Gina, she was her only doll.  Gran gave her to Gina on her last birthday.
             “That’s a wonderful idea!”  You can make it while I’m getting the house ready in case the air raids start.”
            I found a matchbox, a roll of sticky tape, the crayons, and some string in the odds and ends drawer.  I separated the matchbox into two parts. I cut off a piece of string and taped it to the inside of the outside part of the matchbox, then I slid the drawer part back in.  I colored Dolly’s gas mask box blue.  Gina liked blue and it covered up the words on the matchbox.
            Gina came in the kitchen carrying Dolly.
            “Look what I made for Dolly.”  I held up the tiny gas mask box.
            “Oh!  Now, Dolly will be safe too.”  Gina slipped the gas mask box over Dolly’s shoulder, gave me a cuddle and then plopped down in the chair next to me.

My first thought, as I was reading, was I wanted to know more about Joyce, our main character. I didn’t know why she didn’t like the gas masks (ie: bulky, smelly, uncomfortable, scary) or if she even understood what they were for. And she changed her attitude rather quickly, from being petulant over the masks to making one for a doll so her sister won’t be afraid of them.

I think we need to get into Joyce’s head a little more in the opening page, so that her voice will shine. I want to know how much she knows about “Mr. Hitler the rotter” and the reason everyone carries gas masks. Has she learned about it in school? What has she overheard adults talking about?  Is she scared? Letting us glimpse her inner thoughts will go a long way towards establishing voice and our connection to this MC.

I’d like it to take a little longer before she buys into putting on a good show for her little sister – at least long enough to mull the situation over and decide why it’s important for her to do so. The details of making the mask for the doll could be glossed over in favor of some reflection on Gina and Joyce’s determination to be a good big sister. Readers, what do you think?

Sharon, thanks for sharing your first page with us! Marcy Hatch has a critique of this same page up on her site Mainewords, and you can say hello to Sharon at her blog.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

First Impressions: HAUNTED

Our second submission for First Impressions is from Susan Oloier, a YA manuscript Susan describes as “Paranormal Lite” called HAUNTED.


          It’s raining, so I shouldn’t have agreed to be the designated driver. But here I am. There are no alternatives. I take the keys from Jeremy and dash toward his Subaru. The earthy smell of water soaking into the dirt and pavement rises around us. Jeremy ducks down as if his little exercise is a way to walk between the raindrops, as if he will live forever within their spaces.
            “Let me drive,” he says, though his speech is drowned in grogginess.
            “I’ve got it,” I say as we scramble for the car. “You just relax. Get some rest.” I can use the rest myself as I teeter on the edge of sleep, too. But I want to take care of him. He had so much to drink.
I fire up the engine and crank the heat. Jeremy slips into the passenger’s seat, pulls his door closed, and immediately turns on the stereo. Before taking off, I eye him briefly: his brown bangs hanging limply in his face as he tugs his plastered shirt from his chest. He pushes his head into the back of the headrest and closes his eyes. As our song plays, Jeremy lifts his lids and reaches out to finger the ends of my hair. His eyes mingle with mine for a moment, then he grabs my hand. “Love you, Hailey.”
“Love you, too.”
“I’m so drunk.” Then he lets go and balances between sleep and wakefulness.
I turn on the wipers and try hard to focus on the wet and blurry road ahead of me. My hands choke the wheel. I hate driving in the rain—at night. But I promised I would, which is why Jeremy drank at the party, then drank some more.
I wind my way along the county roads, twisting and turning. The vehicles that pass in the opposite direction douse my windshield in a blinding spray. I sit all the way forward in the seat, feeling the muscles in my neck tighten and the tendons in my fingers strain.

This is a promising beginning. I can feel the tension – the drunken but affectionate boyfriend, the rain, the darkness, and the nervousness of the driver. I anticipate what will happen next, and I would definitely turn the page to find out if I’m right.

My feedback mainly focuses on individual sentences. Jeremy ducks down as if his little exercise is a way to walk between the raindrops, as if he will live forever within their spaces. This was my first hang-up. I am guessing this is meant to describe Jeremy drunkenly dodging between the raindrops – and possibly to foreshadow what happens to Jeremy next. But his actual movement needs rephrasing for clarity.

I also thought Hailey’s line “You just relax. Get some rest.” didn’t ring true.  You tell someone to “get some rest” when they are sick or overwrought, not drunk. I want her to say something else here.

To me, "taking off” suggests a plane or at least a speedy start (tires squealing). Hailey will drive more timidly, so I would choose a phrase that reflects this.  I also want to know why their song automatically comes on. Did Jeremy have it queued up? Was that something he did all the time? If so, I’d like to know it, because it suggests that Jeremy is a romantic – and not just when he’s soppy drunk.

Other than that, I think this is a great beginning. Readers, your thoughts?

Susan, thanks for sharing your first page with us! Everyone should stop by Mainewords for Marcy’s critique of the same page and say hello to Susan at her blog.

And let me know if you've got a first page you'd like to share in January. Maybe that NaNo project, hmmm?

Monday, December 3, 2012

First Impressions: DREAM THIEVES

Happy December, everyone! Our first submission for First Impressions this month comes from Christine Danek. It’s a YA Paranormal titled DREAM THIEVES.

The eyes I sketch on my notebook send chills up my spine. Those eyes are the only thing I remember from my sleepless nights. I glance down at my mangled arm. The hideous bruise and cuts are souvenirs from last night. I rub my elbow and pain shoots up to my shoulder. Thanks to my ex-boyfriend, Graham, these nightmares have invaded my life for the past three months.  
I wince as I pull my hair up in a loose knot and crack the window. Everything is quiet except for a lone cricket and an owl. It seems a little warm for May, but it means school’s almost over. My bed creaks as I sit on the edge. A large stack of papers topped with a yellow Post-It stare back me from my nightstand.

Go through these applications and think about a major. We need to visit more schools when I return. Your father and I want to see what you got on your English exam. I set up a tutoring session on Saturday at 1:00. Keep in mind, if your grades and attitude don’t improve, there’s a spot at a boarding school for you next year.

I pick up the large pile of college applications and drop them on the floor, rustling up a ton of hidden dust. The pressure to pick a major is annoying. I have no idea what I want to do. Of course, my brother knew he wanted to be a doctor, like my dad, since he was five. Of course he got into Yale for undergrad. Of course he got accepted to USC for medical school. He’s the child that paved the way and I’m the pothole growing in the middle. 
This weekend was for me to breathe. No parents to drill into my head how worthless I am. Nothing like adding more pressure--a study session with probably some nerd. Crap. And the threat of boarding school. Double crap. My relaxing weekend has turned into anxiety hell.

For me, the narrative clicked into place with the note from Sadie’s mother and Sadie’s reflection on her “perfect child” brother.  I loved the line about him paving the way and Sadie being a pothole. (Although – I think the note is a little long to be on a post-it unless her mom has very tiny handwriting.)

The first paragraph tells me too many things at once – and too little about each thing.  Sketching eyes on her notebook. Disturbing dreams. A mangled arm. An ex-boyfriend who’s apparently responsible – although I’m not sure if he’s responsible for the dreams or for hurting her arm. 

My suggestion would be to start with Sadie discovering her mother’s instructions on how she is to spend the weekend she thought she had all to herself.  Then weave in some of those details from the first paragraph. Her arm hurts when she reaches for the stack of papers.  Underneath the stack of college applications, Sadie sees the eyes she sketched on a notebook from the last time she had a sleepless night.  Bring Graham in when you have an opening to do so, but I’m not sure you want to link him to the dreams yet. 

Readers, your thoughts? Christine, thank you for sharing your first page with us!

You can find Christine at her blog, Christine's Journey, and don’t forget to check out Marcy Hatch’s critique of this same page on Mainewords.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Evestering: An Alternative to Black Friday Shopping

In response to my post describing my distaste for Black Friday, my brother-in-law Larry O'Donnell has contributed a guest post about the extreme other end of the continuum. Evestering.  I'll let him take it from here ...

EVESTERING by Larry O'Donnell

There is a holiday shopping alternative to Black Friday, which we'll call Evestering.  Evesters are cut from the same bolt of cloth as pantsters: adventuresome, creative, and solving difficulties on the fly.  Evesters are ordinarily men.  I’ve heard stories, but I’ve never seen a woman Evester.  They must exist but are rarely seen.  You just don’t find many women with really bad shopping sense.

Evesters are extreme shopping procrastinators.  I was part of the movement until lately, having wound down considerably since I married Deb.  I still feel the urge sometimes but Deb has gotten very good at hiding the car keys, shutting off the internet, and disabling my cell phone.

Evesters don’t worry about waiting in lines nor do they have crowd concerns.  There is camaraderie among Evesters, with high fives all around when one gets the last floor model of some hot item.  Of course, it is a bit shopworn but what the heck, the season is about giving, not sticky controls, scratches, dents, missing parts, and no instructions.

Evesters will climb a three story rack system to grab that last circular saw at Lowes and will gladly toss down Dremel Tool kits, cordless drills, orbital sanders, and routers to kindred souls below.  It’s a lot like looting, only you pay for the stuff you find.

No problem with traffic or parking spots.  No mugger in his right mind is going to get in the way of a man who has to buy gifts for a wife, four children, four parents, and six friends in two or three hours. 

Evesters often get great bargains.  A Christmas tree that cost $40.00 on Black Friday goes for about $6.00 at 8:00 Christmas Eve.  The tree guy will even throw in a stand and give you a cup of coffee.

There are some challenges.  Some stores’ merchandise has been picked over and the shelves look like nuclear Armageddon happened last Tuesday.  Evesters start to think that the wife would love a new set of pillowcases that don’t match anything at home or in the store.  Then they snap out of it and head for the penultimate source, the all-night pharmacy.  These places expect Evesters and always have gift items for sale on hand late Christmas Eve.  Of course, the merchandise is not always mainstream but you can get a Pony VHS player, a Samasonic alarm clock with digital display and built in cassette deck, or a Falcon keyboard with forty pre-recorded show tunes.

Then there is the ultimate source, the Evester’s last resort, a jewelry store.  It is here that the Evester finds the perfect gift for his wife.  There is no haggling, and generally the Evester gets to learn exactly what his credit cards limits are.  It is not a problem since the jeweler has a telephone number the Evester can call to get another $2500.00 added to the limit of each card.  So, the bass boat goes up on Ebay on December 28th, no big deal.

The Evester gets home around 11:15 pm., puts up the tree and rapidly distributes his treasures underneath it.  The wife’s glare is softened somewhat by a very little box placed in a prominent position on her pile.

Of course, there's another kind of shopper -- the kind I am. The sort-of anti-shopper who doesn't like to set foot in an actual store on Black Friday, Christmas Eve, or any day in between. The Internet Shopper. But I'll have to tackle that subject on another day ... if I'm willing to confess my sins.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Spirit Game -- The Film

Last week was pretty exciting. I got sneak peeks at the filming of The Spirit Game from afar, via Facebook – and I can finally tell you more and share some photos!

The Spirit Game is a short film directed by Craig Goodwill and based on my novel WE HEAR THE DEAD. It will be released in early 2013 and will make the rounds of film festivals next year. Filming was done at Melody Ranch Studios, the place where Deadwood was filmed.

This is a photo of the principal cast, seated around the séance table.

The lovely Katie Boland is a perfect Maggie Fox.

Katherine Isabelle plays her enigmatic younger sister Kate.

Their older sister Leah, the brains behind the séance business, is played by British model and actress Liberty Ross.

Canadian singer Chantal Kreviazuk plays the part of Mrs. Hopkins, a grieving mother who has come to the Fox sisters to speak to her dead daughter.

And I am thrilled that well known actor Charles Shaughnessy (The Nanny, Mad Men, etc.) is playing the part of Mr. Hopkins, a reluctant participant in the séance with a few skeletons in his closet.

You can “like” The Spirit Game on Facebook to see LOTS more production photos, and I finally broke down and created my own Facebook author page too, where I will post updates.

You know how when it rains, it pours? Yeah, it feels like that right now – with The Spirit Game in production, promotions for The Caged Graves soon to start, The Eighth Day #1 to revise and The Eighth Day #2 to write … But it’s a happy kind of downpour! 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Stuff Going On

I’ve been a little ridiculously busy lately, so I haven’t been getting around to other blogs as much as I like. I tried not to miss any WRiTE CLUB rounds, but I’ve been scarce everywhere else. Here’s a little update from all the Stuff Going On:

Ready to cut words.
  • Report Cards and Parent Conferences – I had a ton of student work to mark in order to complete my grades, but I got it all done with time to spare and had my grades entered online a few days early. Parent conferences started last week and continued through to this Monday, which included spending two evenings at work.
  • Contract – I signed my contract with HarperCollins and got all the due dates for the three books. Revisions for book one are due in a few weeks (and just like the report cards, I will consider myself “behind” if I don’t have them finished early). I don’t have any publication dates yet, but I’ll let you know when I do.
  • Revisions and Outlines – I am well into my revisions for book one and also working on outlines for the other books in the series. For those of you interested in numbers, I need to take a 77k manuscript down to 65k, while still adding a few new things to it. (Cue Requiem music while I don my Grim Reaper robe and bring out my Word Scythe.)
  • The Spirit Game Movie – I’m only peripherally involved in this, but it’s still very exciting. Filming for the 7-minute film short based on We Hear the Dead started Monday. I did get a chance to review the script (and suggested a line change, which they made – go me!). I’ve got some information on casting which I can’t talk about yet, but hopefully I can reveal all and share photographs very soon.
  • Teaching – In spite of all the exciting happenings in my writing career, my employers, my students, and their parents still expect me to show up every day and teach for several hours. Luckily, I’m about to start my students on one of my favorite literature units (science fiction) and history units (the American Revolution), and I am also getting a kick out of reading The Eighth Day manuscript to my class. Last week I received a compliment that was better than any good review I’ve ever gotten. One of my students said, “I’d totally play this at recess.”

I am really lucky my family supports me as much as they do or I’d never be able to manage all this and I would have have vanished from the blogging scene entirely by now. My husband and daughters do SO MUCH around the house to give me time to write (and blog).

Sorcia, I can’t say the same about you. You’ve been slacking off, and your breath stinks. WHAT did you eat?

And the new lizards. Zeus and Pandora. Can't say they've helped out much. I keep running upstairs to see if you're okay. STOP turning brown, you two. You're supposed to be green.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Black Friday and Greed

Via Wikimedia Commons and
You won’t find me setting foot outside the house on the Friday after Thanksgiving. That’s partly because I have a deadline to meet and lot of revision to do. But I’ve never been a Black Friday shopper, because there’s nothing I hate worse than a crowd!

Lots of people don’t feel that way. I know some people who love shopping at midnight – or who view Black Friday as a yearly tradition, going with family members or friends to pick up bargain Christmas gifts. And I can see that – or at least, I could see it with the old Black Friday.

Not the new kind we have now. Not the kind where shoppers use pepper spray on others to get to the video games first. Not the kind where muggers wait by your car to shoot you for your merchandise when you come out. Not the screaming, elbowing, ugly mass of people I’ve seen on the news for the last few years.

I don’t believe it’s the economy that created this. These people aren’t trampling each other for food and clothing. They’re doing it for electronics.

I don’t believe they’re trying to get Christmas gifts for their precious children either. Not for a second. They’re buying the items for themselves, or to resell on eBay.

The retail community has encouraged and promoted this for their own benefit. They’ve set up a yearly invitation for the criminal element, the people with no ethics, the greedy and the truly ruthless to congregate in specific places at specific times to do their worst.

Regular bargain shoppers don’t stand a chance. And I think the retail stores should be legally culpable for anyone injured during the mayhem they have fostered.

What about you? Will you shop on Friday? If so, where and when? Daylight or nighttime? Do you feel safe at a Walmart? At a Best Buy?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Last week, I went through my Twitter list and weeded out about 250 accounts. This took FOREVER, and if anybody knows a way to do it without looking at each and every account, please clue me in!

I had already noticed an increasing number of people who follow me to get me to follow back, then promptly unfollow me. File that under skanky self-promotion! I also cleared out a lot of inactive accounts and people who only ever tweet their contest entries. (ie: I just entered to win …)

Almost immediately, I saw an improvement in my Twitter feed. Less BUY MY BOOK bleats and a lot more conversation. On Saturday night, a tweet about Anne of Cleves prompted me to reply to someone I didn’t really know. After a few tweets, I learned that she writes about Mayans for MG readers and is going to Mexico City next month and visiting Teotihuacan. I was just there in August! I sent her the list of recommended restaurants my brother had given me (He works for the FCC and spends a lot of time in Mexico City.), and then we found out she is using the same tour company I used! Awesome coincidence, huh?

Anyway, Twitter is a lot more fun with less advertisement. Yes, we all want to promote our books there sometimes, but I’m going to get more finicky about who I follow. I’m there for the twitversation – not the ads.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Teacher and Author: The Reading-Writing Connection

My 5th grade students were excited when they heard the book I’d been telling them about was going to be published as a series. And both my reading classes wanted THE EIGHTH DAY to be their next read-aloud. When I cautioned them that the current version is unrevised and not the one that will be printed, they were even more adamant.

“We’ll be the only ones to hear the original version!!!”

This was a new thing for me. My other manuscripts were all YA. They weren’t necessarily inappropriate in content; they were just over my students’ heads. Reading my own book to my students was going to be a first.

I was surprised by how nervous I was. My mouth got dry, and I wasn’t sure I was going to make it through the first chapter. But the students were enthusiastic, interested, and encouraging. And wonderful reading-writing conversations ensued.

 “Why do you have to end every chapter like that – so we don’t want to stop?” complained one boy. It was a rhetorical question. He knew the answer. (I checked.)

“How did you come up with the names for your characters?” asked a girl. I'll never forget the dead silence in the class when I told them the characters chose their own names. They looked at each other with raised eyebrows, and I could see them trying to figure out if I was joking – or nuts.

And then there was the afternoon one of my students wailed in great distress, “I don’t get it! I don’t understand this book at all!”

I turned to him with concern – as a teacher and as an author – and asked, “What don’t you understand?”

Then he fired off a series of questions that proved he understood everything perfectly. He had noticed every event that was mysterious. He was halfway toward connecting the dots that would explain those events, and he was wondering all the things I wanted him to wonder.

I had one of those TEACHER REVELATION moments.

You see, some students do not start out as strong readers, and they know it. Their grades have always told them so. They know they’ve always been in the lowest reading group. They know they get extra help. When they start to become stronger readers (and when teachers stop giving them low level materials), they don’t recognize their own improvement. When they encounter a place where they have to draw their own conclusions or wait to get more information, they just assume they don’t understand … which is business as usual for them.  They haven’t learned to differentiate between a comprehension problem and anticipation/suspense set up by the author.

I assured this young man that he was not confused. “You are exactly where the author wants you to be,” I said. “You are noticing all the right things and asking all the right questions. The author is trying to keep you puzzled right now. The answers are coming. You have to wait for them.”

This isn’t the first time I’ve had a conversation like this with a student. But usually the response is a frowny face from a downtrodden reader who thinks the teacher is trying to be nice.

This time, I got a big grin. My words carried more weight than usual because I was the author I was talking about.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

First Impressions: PARADOX

Our final submission for First Impressions this month comes from Blake Haysel. This is the first page of her YA Paranormal Romance, PARADOX.

             Sleepy Hollow, Say It Proudly!
My high school’s slogan was printed at the top of the bulletin board I found myself examining in the empty hallway. It was the middle of July. The summertime and I was in school. Voluntarily.
How lame.
Sleepy Hollow High School is located near the East bank of the Hudson River, with a total of eight-hundred fifty students. The entrance of the school is right along Route 9, like most other important places in town. The large brick and granite sign that reads Sleepy Hollow High School Home of the Horsemen makes sure you can’t miss it. Once you enter the front parking lot you can see and appreciate the high school’s structure. The outside, with its deep warm brown shaded bricks, makes the school appear as if it was erected only a few years ago. The inside is brightly lit, the walls are painted a soft gray – which I guess was in effort to keep rowdy teenagers as calm as possible -- and the floors are freshly buffed and waxed industrial tiles.
I was waiting for my mother, Bianca, to finish her discussion with the assistant principal. It was about allowing me to enter the summer bridge program to earn extra credits for college; I was determined to graduate a year early. My schedule this year was already going to be filled with more classes than any sane student would ask for. So naturally there was resistance from my mother along with my guidance counselor, Ms. Tolkin, but I didn’t budge. After realizing that they didn’t have a choice but to let me take the extra classes they surrendered. “Too stubborn for your own good,” my mother had said, as she always did when there was no changing my mind.
“Thanks again,” I heard a voice call out as the person attached to it exited the secretarial office.
That is when I first see Him. My eyes eat up the body that lies underneath His burgundy Nike T-shirt and beige shorts. I was acutely aware of the way His tight T-shirt showed off His tan and tall, athletic physique enhanced by his obscenely hot broad rounded shoulders. His black hair is cut short and His brown eyes are complimented by a long rounded nose and Orlando Bloom lips. The strength and long length of his fingers quickened my pulse as I pictured them running down my bare back. This guy had All-American quarterback down to a T.

I love the idea of Sleepy Hollow as the setting for a paranormal romance! Lots of potential there, and the school slogan is delightful.

The first thing that needs addressing is verb tense, since the paragraphs switch between present and past tense. The author should pick the one that best serves the story. Present tense is popular with first person POV these days, but if the writer is more comfortable with past tense, that works too.

Secondly, I suggest trimming the description of the school down to the best two sentences to keep it brief and move the focus to the MC faster. Also, if the narrator was eavesdropping on the meeting between her mother and the assistant principal, some of the MC's back story could be conveyed through their dialogue. Having the MC listen to them discuss her class schedule and the summer bridge program might be preferable to explaining it through exposition. Just be careful to avoid the “As you know, Bob …” scenario where the principal and the mother tell each other things they both already know. And keep it brief, too. If necessary, some explanations can wait for later.

Finally, I’m not sure if the boy gets a capital letter for He and Him because he’s divinely hot – or because he’s really divine! (This IS a paranormal romance, after all.) Just be careful not to overdo it, because it can distract the readers and pull them from the story. Maybe Blake could capitalize that first Him and leave the rest of the pronouns alone?

Thank you, Blake, for sharing your first page with us! Readers can find Blake at her blog, The Tattered Page, and don’t forget to visit Marcy at Mainewords for her critique of the same page.

Monday, November 5, 2012

First Impressions: MINGLED

Our second First Impressions this month comes from Angela Brown, author of NEVERLOVE. This is the first page of her YA urban fantasy WIP, titled MINGLED.

Rubbing my parents’ gold coins for luck was a bad habit.
And a terrible idea. Their disappearance was proof enough. I just couldn’t stop myself. Until graduation, that’s all I had of them, all I could turn to when I needed to feel their presence the most.
I shook my head and slipped their coins into my pocket. Leaning into the hallway, I took in the dim lighting and shadows.
 Empty. Perfect.
Carpet muffled the clunky footfalls of my hand-me-down boots and the loud click from closing my bedroom door. I crept along the wall, listening for anything at all. No surprise I only heard my pounding heartbeat. The other kids were at school, the same place I should’ve been five minutes ago. Screwy alarm clock! Why didn’t it work?  Each step downstairs brought me closer to the first floor, closer to getting away from…
“Whitley!” The corners of my lips curled into a hurried grin.  “Didn’t expect to see you.” At least it was the truth.
She stood at the foot of the stairway, pinning me with narrowed eyes. A familiar gelatinous material molded flush to her ear, whisper thin. Her Collective Communications Tag. Unlike mine, hers included the virtual extension with the wrap-around lens fitted to the eye. A major upgrade overnight? Wonder who she sold out to get it?

This first page raises a lot of questions, which I’m sure the author did intentionally. Where is the narrator – possibly in a group home or the dormitory of a boarding school? Who is Whitley, and what is a Collective Communications Tag?

There are a couple things that could be tweaked. I really liked the first two paragraphs and the tantalizing information about the gold coins. But if her parents “disappeared,” why does she think she’ll see them at graduation? Because that’s the impression I got. Rubbing the coins for luck is a bad idea, because her parents disappeared. (The connection between the coins and the disappearance is implied, but not yet explained.) Then she says the coins are all she has of her parents until graduation, implying that at graduation she will have her parents back. If she knows they’re coming back, is disappearance the right word?

Regarding the Collective Communications Tag – if the narrator has one too (I’m guessing they are standard), then the earpiece is not the first thing she’s going to notice. It’s the upgrade lens that will catch her eye first, so the lens should be described before the earpiece.

That’s all I have. Readers, do you see anything else that needs to be addressed?

Angela, thanks for sharing your page with us! You can find Angela at her blog, and don’t forget to stop by Marcy Hatch’s blog to see her feedback on the same page.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Spooktacular Winners & First Impressions: THE SUMMER SHAKESPEARE SAVED MY LIFE

First, the winners of the Spooktacular Giveaway were selected the old-fashioned way. I put all the names into jars, where they were pulled by Dread Daughter the Younger. The winners are:

  1. signed copy of WE HEAR THE DEAD -- Caroline
  2. signed ARC of THE CAGED GRAVES -- nfmgirl
  3. Kindle ebook of TWO & TWENTY DARK TALES -- vicjbr
Winners, congratulations and please contact me at so I can send you your prizes! If I have not heard from you by November 9, I will select other winners.

Next, our first submission for First Impressions in November comes from Serena Kaylor, who happens to be the sister of my critique partner, Krystalyn Drown. This is the first page of her contemporary YA, THE SUMMER SHAKESPEARE SAVED MY LIFE.

Today is the first day of the rest of your life. 
A drug rehabilitation group coined this phrase in the 60s, as a way for its members to feel like they could reinvent themselves.  You can find this sentiment in song lyrics, on coffee mugs, and encouragingly uttered by my Nana Quinn when I update her on the status of my love life.  The problem with this phrase is that it indicates I am unhappy with the way things are, that I don’t find myself to be an absolute delight. 
Well, maybe I’m a little rough around the edges, but theater camp is not the way to polish me up.  I imagine that all of Oxford University’s other incoming freshmen are taking summer courses, or moving to England to become oriented with the campus.  My summer is apparently going to involve tights. 
I really didn’t have a choice.
You’d think most parents would be thrilled that their progeny had studied their ass off for years, could debate on a great number of topics, and was one of the few chosen to continue their education in the most hallowed of halls. 
My parents are both sex therapists and want me to continue living at home, and follow in their footsteps at Berkeley. 
This is what I’m dealing with. 
I didn’t even get a boisterous “Hallelujah!” when I told them the good news.  They just sat down on the worn, leather love seat in their study, and fixed their therapist stares on me.
“Honey, don’t you think you’re a little young to move that far away?” Sophia said tying her long, dark hair up with one of her many floral scarves.
“Please. I’m seventeen years old, which actually means a lot more in England.  I’m practically drinking age! Plus, I finished all my high school classwork almost two years ago!  I can’t just hang out here forever.” I folded my arms across my chest and gave them my beat-that look.
“Ellie, we’re just concerned because you’ve never really had classmates before, and that can sometimes be a difficult transition,” Edwin, my dad, piped up in solidarity. 

I love the premise of this story: A straight-laced, serious, home-schooled girl with Berkeley-educated sex therapist parents gets accepted into Oxford but has to jump through her parents’ hoops (including a summer Shakespeare camp) to get permission to go. I also liked the first line, but after that I think the order of presentation could be improved.

Serena could jump straight from the quote in the first line to Ellie sitting down for this interview with her own parents, which sounds more like a therapy session than a family conversation. The information from the opening paragraphs could be conveyed just as easily through dialogue and Ellie’s internal monologue. Certain lines – like the one about Nana Quinn worrying about her love life and what other Oxford freshmen were doing and how their parents were proud of them – could be woven between the lines of dialogue with Ellie’s parents.

Imagine the first page happening this way:

1. Positive-sounding therapist double-speak from Ellie’s parents.

2. Reasoned, logical spoken response from Ellie.

3. Internal indignant rant from Ellie.

4. Repeat 1-3 as needed until conclusion of scene.

The reader would see the complex dance between Ellie and her parents, grasp the situation, and watch Ellie lose her case (and be sent to Shakespeare camp) in one dynamic scene. What do the readers think?

Serena, thanks for sharing your page today, and I hope the feedback is useful! Readers can say hello to Serena at her blog, See Serena Write, and don’t forget to check out Marcy Hatch’s feedback at Mainewords.