Monday, December 30, 2013

I've Written a Book. How Do I Get Published?

How many times have you been asked that question? For me, it's like once a month.

I will usually spend some time talking to the person about how they should blog and use the internet for resources. Sometimes I will suggest they join an online group of writers to learn more. Sometimes, people take my advice. Sometimes they look disappointed -- as if there's a secret short cut I'm keeping from them.

I wrote about that once -- the F13 Button. (Shhh. Don't tell the uninitiated!)

But today I stumbled upon the PERFECT reference chart for someone new to the publishing world. I bookmarked it. You should bookmark it.


I wonder if the creator would sell laminated copies of this chart for me to hand out ...

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Slice of Salerni Life 2013

A Slice of Salerni Life 2013   (Twelfth Edition)

Dianne: Gina, can you do me a favor? I’m swamped with writing deadlines this month. Proofreading for The Eighth Day, revisions for The Inquisitor’s Mark ... Can you write the Christmas skit this year?

Gina: Why me?

Dianne: Well, Gabbey had a crack at it a few years back. She wrote it – and then you had to chime in with a rebuttal at the end. Now I’m giving you the chance to write it first.

Gina: Can I make it weird?

Dianne: What do you mean by weird? (Gina shrugs.) Like, put us on the moon, or what?

Bob: Who needs the moon? With all the places we’ve taken the kids this year, there’s plenty to write about! Vermont. Kansas. London. Paris. Cardiff, Wales for heaven’s sake.

Gabbey: The Doctor Who Museum! The most awesome place in the universe! We were on the set of the TARDIS. I stood where Matt Smith has stood. My feet touched the same floor that Matt Smith’s feet touched. It could only have been better if it was David Tennant’s TARDIS.

Dianne: And of course, Daddy got to go to Japan on business …

Bob: Where I was almost defeated by the high tech toilet at the airport. BUT, the little automated robots at the hospital that carried blood samples on tracks that ran across the ceiling and disappeared through walls was really cool.

Dianne: We also took the train to NYC this fall and visited Central Park Zoo.

Gabbey: Where you took pictures of the cages and the locks and bolts instead of the animals.

Dianne: Book research is weird. What can I say? Is that weird enough for you Gina?

Gina: Not really. I was thinking… well…. maybe we’re all reincarnated as squirrels. Or maybe it can be written from the point of view of Sorcia in her Cone of Shame.

Sorcia: (ears down) Please don’t put that on me again. I won’t bite my paw anymore. I swear.

Dianne: New idea, folks. Let’s share the skit on Google Docs, and we can all contribute to it.

Bob: Okay, everybody’s on board now. Besides driving the daughters to play practice, musical rehearsals, and band and orchestra concerts, what did we do in 2013?

Gabbey: We got Grandma hooked on Facebook.

Bob: A very unexpected development indeed.

Gina: Daddy and I competed in triathlons at Lums Pond. That’s not weird though. We did that before.

Bob: But Gina came in third in her age group this time. Very cool! We also did some biking as a family. The trail along the Schuykill River at Valley Forge was fun, and there were great days riding, walking and jogging in White Clay Creek. Sometimes ending with ice cream or Rita’s!

Dianne: We got a fair amount of exercise this year between biking, hiking over Roman and Norman ruins in Wales, and skiing. Sadly, I am now the weakest link in the Salerni ski team. I can’t believe Gina outlasts me. I was crushed by that.

Bob: Yes, terribly crushed. You went back to the hotel, had a massage, and drank wine, as I recall.

Dianne: Crushed, I tell you. Absolutely devastated that I couldn’t join you in throwing myself down the headwall of Superstar.

Bob: Yeah, I need a helmet if we do that again. Oh -- how about Gabbey winning Honorable Mention in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest? I mean, L. Ron Hubbard was weird. Gabbey winning a contest for writing is not.

Gabbey: Also weird was me winning the Rotary Club’s Student of the Month Award this December. Not sure how that happened.

Dianne: Not weird at all. Your teachers think highly of you. How about seeing one of my books turned into a film that went to the Cannes Film Festival? Now that was weird!

Bob: Also not weird at all. Anyone who hasn’t seen the trailer should visit

Dianne: Thanks for the shameless plug, sweetie.

Bob: No problem. Should I also provide the link for everyone to pre-order The Eighth Day on Amazon? Or is that going too far?

Gina: Hey, everybody. You know what’s really weird? The noise Sorcia is making right now.

Gabbey: Oh no! Remember when she … and then the carpet cleaner fell apart … and we had to call Daddy in California for help … and Mommy cried?!?

Bob: Let her out, quick!!! (Everyone scrambles to open the door for Sorcia before she repeats that memorable thing she did in 2013.)


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Waiting and Stalking and Holding My Breath

E-galleys of THE EIGHTH DAY were recently released via Edelweiss and NetGalley, and I believe the physical ARCs will be mailed out soon, if they haven't been already. I started seeing THE EIGHTH DAY appear on To-Read lists on Goodreads tagged with egalley or for review and other similar tags.

I believe I've mentioned before that I tend to avoid reviews on Goodreads -- or at least, that I only read the ones from friends or ones that my husband points out to me as especially good to read.

But that's not entirely truthful.

I definitely reach that point, after I've seen a few reviews and I know what readers, in general, think. But it's really, really hard to resist stalking the first reviews for a new book. There are 153 text reviews for THE CAGED GRAVES on Goodreads, and I've only read only a small percentage of them. But when that first review for THE EIGHTH DAY appears, you can bet I'll read it. And the second. And the third.

Waiting for them to appear is scary. And it feels even more so this time than for my previous books because the reviewers will be much older than my target audience.

Evangeline, one of the characters in THE EIGHTH DAY, lives only on a secret, hidden day of the week, skipping over 7 days at a time every midnight. This makes for a lonely and unhappy life, but right now I envy her a little. I'd like to skip over some time myself -- and land in that future where I already know what people think of the book and I don't feel compelled to read all the reviews!

Monday, December 16, 2013


About a month ago (when I was too swamped to do anything about it), fellow Project Middle Grade Mayhem-er James Mihaley shared the awesome news that his middle grade book, You Can't Have My Planet But Take My Brother, Please, was named a Best Book of 2013 by the Bank Street College of Education in NYC.

To help keep the momentum going, James and some rather well-connected friends (an editor on Matt Damon's Elysium and a cameraman on Breaking Bad) created a six minute short film called Jimbot, The Movie.

I thought this was a funny and original way to promote a book. So did my students. They are currently working on a writing sample to impress James -- an action scene about robots, aliens, or obnoxious siblings (their choice) -- as part of a contest to win a copy of his book.

Please enjoy Jimbot, The Movie, and perhaps add You Can't Have My Planet But Take My Brother, Please to your MG reading list! Or Project Mayhem to your blogging circuit.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Taking the Right Path

To everyone who reached out to me and sent me well wishes last week – thank you! I did recover from the sinus infection, and I got all my grades turned in on time. I also completed my first pass through THE INQUISITOR’S MARK, making the revisions requested in just over a week … thanks to the patience of my family and a couple snow days. That leaves me another week and a half to read through the manuscript a couple times, tweaking, smoothing, and making sure I addressed all my editor’s issues.

I even got to ski opening day at Jack Frost Mountain with my family this past Saturday. Not all trails were open, and we were confronted more than once with a scene like this:

Hmm … Which trail should we take?

I had to laugh when I saw this, and of course my first thought was how this related to writing. (Everything in life is a metaphor for writing, as far as I’m concerned.)

I worry a lot about my first drafts. I’ve been worrying for months about the first draft of the third book in my series – which keeps getting interrupted for work on the other two books. Any time I build up momentum on it and start getting enthusiastic, I have to put it aside to meet deadlines for proofing Book 1 or revising Book 2. The longer I’m away from it, the more insecure about it I feel. Is it going the right way? Did I make the right choices?

But ultimately, I look at this intersection of ski trails, and I see only one way to go. There’s no taking the other path. (“Maybe, but only with rental skis,” says my husband jokingly.)

My first draft is like that too. For each of my characters, there is only one way to go. It may seem as if they have choices, but they don’t. Not if the story is to move forward. They (and I) have to keep following the path that’s open until we all get to the bottom of the hill.

Later on, the ski resort will open more trails, and there will be alternate routes down this hill. The same goes for revisions on that draft. If I need to change the route a little, I’ll have the opportunity to do so later.

But for now, I need to trust in the process. And gravity. And the fun of getting there.

Monday, December 2, 2013


It's been a rough couple weeks.

November is always a tough time, with report cards and evening parent conferences that some days require me to be at school for 12 hours straight. And this year, my district decided the first trimester didn't have as many days as the other two (well, it didn't), so they moved the end of the trimester to December 3, thus ensuring that teachers would still be required to correct papers and enter grades online right through conferences and Thanksgiving Break. Awfully sweet of them.

As often happens, I hung on just fine until Thanksgiving. Once I had a moment to relax, my body let down its defenses and I was clobbered with a sinus infection. I had planned to grade papers, write lesson plans, schedule blog posts, and work on the second round of editorial revisions for THE INQUISITOR'S MARK (Book #2 in the Eighth Day series). Instead I spent the break feeling miserable and sorry for myself. And whimpering. There was definitely some whimpering.

Now I'm behind on everything. Plus it's December. Need I say more?

For the first time since Marcy and I started, we had no submissions for First Impressions in December. So, I'm going to take a small break from blogging while I catch up (and hopefully get better).
Getting ready at Jack Frost Mt.

I'm going to turn off comments, too, but first ...

a) I'd love to get back to First Impressions in January. (Perhaps with some NaNo projects undergoing revision?) Directions for submitting are on the sidebar!

b) I am still taking names for any bloggers who'd like to review or spotlight THE EIGHTH DAY
early in 2014. You can use the contact info under First Impressions on the sidebar to contact me and request an ARC.

c) Over Thanksgiving, just a few hundred yards from our little ski condo on Jack Frost Mountain in Blakeslee, PA, the snow guns were getting ready for the season. Isn't it pretty? I really want to get better ASAP so I can return and enjoy this year's early opening!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Chris Fries -- this post is for you! (Or inspired by you, at least.)

Last week, I posted a blog about "fitting it all in" -- how I juggle a teaching job, a writing career, and a family. Chris commented on how intense it all was and wondered: What do I do to recharge?

Good question, because yes, the burn-out rate has been especially high this year.  This is how I recharge, so that I can keep plugging away at the demands of what has essentially become two full-time jobs:

1. Bike riding with my husband.

2. Walks in the White Clay Creek Preserve with my family and the dog.

3. Watching the fish in our pond.

4. Relaxing in our Pocono Mountain condo.

5. Skiing.

6. Reading.

7. Television.

So, you see, I'm not really a robot after all. However, I happen to know an author who IS a robot.
More on that next month ...

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Lost in Book Three: Ellen Jensen Abbott

When local author and fellow KidLit Author's Club member Ellen Jensen Abbott mentioned that the third book in her WATERSMEET trilogy was releasing this month, I asked if I could host her here at In High Spirits.

In particular, I wanted to pick her brain about the writing of Book 3. Because, as you might know, I'm working on one of those right now. When I read the post she sent to me, I felt relieved. Yes, yes, yes ... this is what I'm experiencing!

Before I get to her post, let me tell you about the WATERSMEET trilogy:

In the Watersmeet Trilogy, readers follow the outcast Abisina as she leaves her village to search for her father and for acceptance. On her journey, she discovers the whole land of Seldara: the dwarves of the Obrun Mountains; the fauns of the western forests; the centaurs of Giant’s Cairn—some friends, some foes. When she reaches Watersmeet, she thinks she’s found the home of her dreams where all of Seldara’s folk are welcome, but soon Watersmeet’s existence is at risk and Abisina finds herself outcast again. Can she save the home she loves? Can she unite the land against a gathering evil? Can she embrace her destiny and become the Keeper of Watersmeet? 

And now I turn the blog over to Ellen Jensen Abbott for Lost in Book Three:

In some ways, writing The Keeper, the final book in my Watersmeet trilogy, should have been easier than writing the first two. I knew vast majority of my characters. I knew my setting, right down to geography, climate, government and religion. I even knew the conflict: the series is about the creation of the nation of Seldara and the coming of age of Abisina, Seldara’s founder. But writing The Keeper was not easy; it was the hardest book I’ve ever written.

Writing a book is like finding a route through a maze of streets. You begin at point A and are headed to Z, but how you get there is the work of the writing. Each time you make a choice for Pine Street instead of Elm Street you have cut off possibilities, even as you’ve opened others.  Sometimes you get within sight of Z and you realize that really, the best way to get there is via Elm, and you have to back up and try again. But maybe by choosing Elm, another route you loved is no longer an option. More backing up. There are going to be wrong turns and backtracking, but eventually you’ll get there.

The process changes, however, when you’ve written a book or two that are out in the world. You are locked into the decisions you made in those books. If your route in Book 1 went through Pine, you will always have to go through Pine and can never go through Elm. Once I placed a mountain range across the land of Seldara in Watersmeet, there was no taking it out for The Keeper. More problematic than geographic features, however, were characters. Our job as writers is to create characters who are so real, they have full psychologies. Like Frankenstein’s monster, they quickly become independent beings who insist on acting in specific ways. Once my main character, Abisina, fell in love with Findlay, she would not look at anyone else. As I wrote The Keeper, I knew that their love had to be challenged, but a love triangle was not an option, hard as I tried to make it one. Abisina was too smart to risk her relationship with Findlay unless she had no other choice, and writing new flaws into Findlay’s character was not an option. He existed already, and he was the one Abisina loved.

There were more than a few times when I thought that I would never, ever get to the end because I had simply made a wrong turn in Books 2 and 3 and now the route was impossible. But it also felt impossible to change the ending. I had been heading toward it for 5+ years! It had dictated all sorts of decisions; what became of my earlier books if Z was no longer my goal?

I never found an easy solution to writing that third book. I had written outlines and summaries of the series early in the process and these helped a little. Outlines and summaries are general by nature, however, and it was usually in the details where things got difficult. Sometimes rereading my former books helped. There were seeds planted in them that I forgot about, or characteristics of geography or character I could exploit to get closer to my goals.  But the most foolproof means of getting to the end was to simply keep writing. And writing and writing and writing. I had to cling to my belief that there are no wasted pages—that even when I have to delete scenes or sentences, I have learned something valuable in those pages.

Finally, what kept me going was the knowledge that I had done it before. Faith in my story, faith in my characters, and faith in my process kept me writing—sometimes with gritted teeth. And now, I have a complete series—a series that ends at Z as planned. I also have files upon files of rejected pages—maps of journeys I have taken to L, W and X—beautiful destinations in their own right. And now that I’m thinking of a companion book to the Watersmeet trilogy, destinations I may still get to explore. 

I have to tell you, my blogging friends, it made me feel a whole lot better to know that Ellen's journey was similar to my own! Like her, the one thing that keeps me going is the knowledge that I did this twice before. Like Ellen, I have to believe I can do it again!  Thank you, Ellen!

Ellen Jensen Abbott lives in West Chester, PA and teaches at the Westtown School. Her debut novel, Watersmeet was an IRA Young Adult Award Notable Book, and was nominated for YALSA’s Teen Top Ten. The adventure continues through The Centaur’s Daughter (Skyscape, 2011) and The Keeper (Skyscape, 2013).

You can meet Ellen at her blog
And you can find the first book in her trilogy, Watersmeet, on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Serial Killers on the Prairie

One of my Facebook friends posted an article about the Bender Family on my timeline this weekend, asking if I'd ever heard of their story before. I'm sure she thought of me because of the connection to Spiritualism. (She read my book We Hear the Dead about the Fox sisters.)

I had not heard this story before, and it is chilling and gruesome.

Because I'm hurting for post topics this week -- drowning in student work to grade -- preparing for parent-teacher conferences -- and trying to make a little progress on my WIP, I'm going to link to the article for your morbid amusement instead of writing a real post.

At first, I was confused by the reference to Laura Ingalls Wilder at the beginning, because these people have nothing to do with the Ingalls family.  But then I got it.

This is a twisted version of Little House on the Prairie, with an evil Ma and Pa, and a little house where visitors were welcomed ... killed ... and buried.

From Mental Floss: The Bloody Benders, America's First Serial Killers.


Thank you, Katrina Dix!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Fitting It All In

Gotta leave some time for
my new passion: sushi!
People ask me all the time how I manage to fit it all in – writing and family and a full time job teaching.

The fact is, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I feel like I’m drowning, and I can’t get it done. You might be surprised (or maybe not) that it’s the teaching job most likely to make me feel this way … not writing. Last week was a particularly bad one, but I’m not going to write about that. People have asked me how I schedule my time, and that’s what I’m going to share.

One thing in my favor is that my daughters, at age 16 and 13, are self-sufficient. By the time I get up in the mornings, they’re already dressed and getting ready to catch the bus to school. After they leave, I generally have 30 minutes to read and comment on blogs while I have my coffee. I've given up responding individually to people who comment on my blogs, but I try hard to visit theirs as often as I can.

I live 2 miles from the school where I teach, and somewhere over that brief drive, my mind switches from blogs and writing to school-related matters. Teaching can be all-consuming. Usually, I can’t even remember to use my planning time to make a doctor’s appointment if I need to. I have to plan ahead just to use the restroom.

I’m allowed to read my personal email over my lunch break, and sometimes I do. Often, I will try to read a book for pleasure while I eat lunch.

Recess duty is, in my opinion, a gross waste of the tax payer’s money. When Governor Corbett cut the funding to Pennsylvania schools, we lost most of our aides. Now, the highly paid teachers spend 30 minutes of their day watching kids on the playground. I often find my mind wandering to my WIP during this time. You’d be surprised how many plot problems I’ve worked out in between breaking up the game where boys see how close they can run up to the swings without getting kicked in the face.

When I get home after school, I need to unwind before doing anything productive. That’s my social media time – Facebook, Twitter, maybe some more blogs.

Writing takes place after dinner. I'm lucky that my husband will voluntarily cook dinner when he’s at home. When he’s away on business, I do it, but my daughters help. The daughters also clean up most nights.

If I must have certain papers graded before class the next day, I’ll do that in the evening. But most of the time, I save grading papers and lesson planning for the weekend. Weekend is also usually when I write the two posts for my own blog. I almost never watch TV during the week, except for The Big Bang Theory if there’s a new episode.

I can revise a manuscript at any time of the day. But new words come best late at night. So, if the only task ahead of me is writing the first draft of a new chapter, I will probably work on promotional posts (guest blogs and interviews) or family things in the early evening. The Muse generally shows up around 9pm, whereupon I’ll spew words fast and furious across the page until 11pm, when I reluctantly head to bed.

So, that’s a typical week for me. Of course, I’m leaving out some things – driving daughters to and from play practice or attending one of their concerts, days when I flop down on the sofa and read a book cover-to-cover, an occasional encounter with the Bow-Flex … Mostly, it all seems to get done, even if I do have weeks that drive me to tears.

Don’t we all?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Sushi and Other Things I Never Thought I’d Do

If you think the Take Out platter is pretty, you
should see what they serve in the restaurant!
Up until the beginning of October, I would’ve sworn that raw fish would never pass my lips. I mean, it’s fish. And it’s raw. And it’s sometimes wrapped in seaweed. Why would anybody eat that?

I can’t explain what happened to me. Perhaps, because my husband orders sushi regularly at our favorite local restaurant Sake Hana, I just got used to the sight of it.

One night, out of the blue, I asked Bob if I could have a taste. A small one. And then I asked for another.  The next time we went to Sake Hana, I asked him to choose a small sushi appetizer for me. And the next time … we went for the full Sushi Platter for Two.

Now, I can barely make it through the week without craving succulent sushi. Here’s me, dreaming about sushi …

Maybe sushi has something my body desperately needs at my age? I don't know what. Iron? Fish oil? Something!

Now here’s the part of the post where I try to connect this phenomenon to writing. Ahem ...

After writing six historical novels -- yes, six, even though only two have sold (so far) – I never thought I’d write a contemporary fantasy series that featured a teen hero with numerous tattoos who rode a motorcycle and carried an ornamental dagger. Where did that even come from? It is so foreign to my usual tastes and interests.

Back when I was working on the first draft of that novel, I remember blogging repeatedly about how strange a departure it was from my normal writing. I disclaimed loudly and often that I didn’t know if I would finish it. I also shared this graphic to explain what gave me the courage to attempt it … even though I was sure it would be a disaster. (Just like I thought sushi was yucky.)

via Laurie Baum Olson
There are a lot of other things I’m scared to try – like writing an adult novel and sky-diving. But I think the past year has shown me that many things I thought I’d never do have turned out to be my favorite things to do. I can honestly say, I don’t know what I’ll do next.

(Not sky-diving though. I REALLY think NOT sky-diving …)

What have you done that you never thought you’d do?

P.S. Unicorn Bell has Part 2 of my interview up today: How I moved from self-publishing and a contract with a small pub to finding an agent and her first deal for me.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Your Choice: Business or Humor

I don't often do this -- sneak out of writing a blog post at In High Spirits by directing you somewhere else ...

But today I have two posts (hopefully) worth reading elsewhere in the blogosphere, and maybe you'll find a new blog you'd like to follow!

You can find me at Unicorn Bell, where I have the first of a 3-part interview on my journey from a self-published author (back when that was still the Kiss of Death) to a contract with a small publishing house, and from there to representation and a book series deal with one of The Big Six.

If you'd prefer something more light-hearted, head over to Project Middle Grade Mayhem where I take a meeting with the characters in my series and they rip apart my proposed outline for Book 3.

Hope to see you in one place or the other!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

In Which I Make J.D. Salinger Turn Over in His Grave

Last Friday night, I had the pleasure of signing books at Otto’s Bookstore in Williamsport, PA. I was invited by the owner, Betsy Rider, after she read THE CAGED GRAVES. (Betsy also wrote a review for the local paper and did radio spots on my upcoming visit.) I wish I could say I was responsible for the crowd that came into Otto’s on Friday, but the fact is, First Friday in Williamsport is a community event worth seeing!

On the first Friday of every month, the citizens of Williamsport head downtown to celebrate the arts. Stores stay open late to host local artists, authors, and bands. I was seriously impressed by the amount of foot traffic the store got on a Friday night in November.

Otto’s is an interesting store, too. Although for a long time they believed the business had been around (in multiple locations and under a couple different names) since 1877, Betsy and her son recently discovered ledgers proving that it actually dated back to 1841, making it one of the five oldest book stores in the country. It was actually in business at the time Sarah Ann Boone and Asenath Thomas were buried in those caged graves. My fictional heroine Verity might have shopped there! Catawissa is only 45 miles away, and Williamsport would have been easily accessible by train.

Because Catawissa is fairly local to Williamsport, a number of the people who came into the store on Friday had already visited The Hooded Grave Cemetery, or were planning to visit after they read my book. One lady brought photographs she had recently taken there. A mother and daughter stopped by who used to live right down the road from the graves.

But I’ve got to tell you why I owe an apology to J.D. Salinger. A young man came into the store, walked up to me, and asked where he could find The Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby. I explained that I was an author signing books and not a store employee, and pointed out one of the staff members. A little while later, he came back to my table, removed his purchased copy of The Catcher in the Rye from his bag, and asked if I would sign it.

I gaped at him. “You want me to sign it J.D. Salinger?”

He shrugged. “You can sign it as yourself.”

I offered to sign one of my bookmarks instead, but he really wanted the book signed. When I admitted I felt strange doing that – and that I’ve never even read The Catcher in the Rye, he offered me The Great Gatsby instead. I lowered my voice to a whisper. “I hated The Great Gatsby when I read it in high school,” I admitted.

He lowered his voice too. “Then you should probably sign the other one.”

So I did. What else could I do?

Monday, November 4, 2013


November is a month for Robins! Our second First Impressions comes from Robin Hall. This is the first page of her MG fiction titled LIFE IS A TONGUE TWISTER:

Ruby woke long before her Hello Kitty alarm beeped. Watching the pink flip-down numbers turn to 5:21, she knocked it from her nightstand. Maybe this time it would crash into a million billion pieces and her brother Brian wouldn’t be able to fix it. Her brain felt like a boa constrictor was squeezing it and that at any second it would forget to tell her heart to pump, her lungs to breathe.
Today was happening without her permission. Today Ruby wouldn’t sit next to her best friend Olivia in the back of Mrs. Newton’s white Durango. Today, she’d ride the Yellow Whale. The bus that swallowed kids whole then spit them out by the cafetorium.
Ruby couldn’t get Brian’s jab out of her mind. “The only place you’ll be okay is sitting with the bus driver.” The one thing she knew for certain was that she couldn’t sit with the driver. If Ruby designed busses they’d have individual seats so no one could sit together, even if they wanted to.
Ruby sat up, the boa constrictor wriggling down to her vocal folds. Her underarms felt clammy. She never remembered to use that deodorant Mom gave her, but today she would lather it on.
Charlie, the neighbor’s hound, started singing his lament. She felt like Charlie, but she doubted her throat would let her talk without stuttering, much less sing. It was the worst day in her life and she hadn’t even gotten out of bed.
Her stomach rumbled, a reminder of last night’s dinner of overcooked spaghetti and slimy canned peas. How she detested those peas. But right now, if she could eat a whole can and never have to ride the bus, she would choke them down—even without the butter. Ruby peeled back the sheets, admitting today might as well start now.
It was weird being the first in the kitchen, turning on all the lights, the table bare, no cereal bowls with grapefruit halves next to each one. Wanting today to be as normal as possible, Ruby set the table herself.
Turning the blinds on the kitchen window, the soft, fuzzy gray sky peeked through. Soon the whole house would wake up. Mom would be glad Ruby set the table and think what a wonderful girl she was. Ruby straightened the spoon by her mother’s bowl and nodded to herself, certain that would do the trick.

The first thing I want to do is take that sentence about the boa constrictor squeezing her brain and move it up so it’s the second sentence in the paragraph. I want to see that emotion first – then have her dash the Hello Kitty clock to the floor. It makes more sense that way, because in reverse order, it seems like she’s upset by the clock. On a grammar note, she knocked the clock off the table after the numbers clicked into place, so starting with the gerund phrase “Watching …” is not correct because the actions don’t happen simultaneously.

I love the sentence Today was happening without her permission. It’s spot on perfect for voice. Of course, I have lots of questions about what’s happening today. Why will she not be riding with Olivia? Is she going to a new school, or just riding the bus for the first time? I think we need clarification on that soon – maybe right in that paragraph.

I also wondered why her brother Brian seemed helpful in the first paragraph (fixing her clock) but seemed to be making her anxiety worse later on by telling her there was no safe place to sit on the bus.

Finding out the answers to those questions interests me more than how she sets the table for breakfast. How about interspersing that action with Ruby’s thoughts about today, so we can get some questions answered while she moves around the kitchen? From the title and the reference to stuttering, my guess is she’s attending a new school for the first time, riding the bus, and anticipating being teased for her speech problem. But I’d like a better idea if I'm right, because there's no mention of a new school, only the bus. 

Character, conflict, and voice is what you want to see on the first page. We've got the character and the voice; I just want a clearer hint of the conflict, especially because this is MG. Since most kids ride the bus every day, they will want to know why Ruby is so afraid of it.  Readers, what do you think?

Robin, thanks for sharing the first page of your MG with us. I know that’s a change from your normal YA manuscripts! Readers can find Marcy Hatch’s critique of the same page at Mainewords and say hello to Robin at her blog, Robin Writes!

Friday, November 1, 2013

First Impressions: OUT OF TOUCH

Today for First Impressions in November, we have a submission from Robin Richards. This is the first page of her Adult Paranormal Mystery/Romance, OUT OF TOUCH.

Until one Saturday morning in July I was only a mildly damaged seven year old kid living in a mostly dysfunctional house.  All of that changed when I went to the Patterson garage sale with my best friend, Franny, and her mom.
Like all self-respecting garage sale junkies, we arrived at the crack of dawn.  All of the good stuff was always gone by 7:30 a.m.  Mrs. Patterson's house was our first stop.   We had chosen it for two reasons:  the merchandise and the gossip were known to be in abundance.  Mr. Patterson up and left Mrs. Patterson about a month ago and tongues were wagging.    Mrs. Fitzgerald's eyes opened round as quarters when she saw the contents on the lawn. 
Franny said, "Do you think there is anything left in the house?"
Mrs. Fitzgerald didn't answer, but she hustled out of the car.  We bounded out after her.  It appeared that the house had vomited up the sum of its contents all over the yard.  I had never seen so much furniture outside of a home.  I didn't have any money, but I still liked to look.
 It was when I picked up the ivy trimmed teacup that my entire life changed forever - and I can't say it was for the better.  A feeling of panic engulfed me and the following scene rolled out like a movie:  I  saw Mr. Patterson drink from that teacup, clutch his throat, while his face turned a mean red, and then he pitched face forward into the table and looked...dead.
The cup slipped from my hands, I started screaming, and I tripped and fell into a wheelbarrow that was parked on the grass and marked with a "For Sale" sticker.  Then it happened again...
This time the feeling was satisfaction.  But not the good kind.  It felt black and mean.  And the image of Mrs. Patterson wheeling Mr. Patterson in the wheelbarrow across the backyard to the garage popped up like I was actually there.  She took a shovel, dug a grave, put his body in it, and parked her Oldsmobile right on top.  Her car, right this minute, was sitting on top of Mr. Patterson. 
That was when it sunk in that I was sprawled where his dead body used to be.   I couldn't get out fast enough.  However, my brain and muscles were no longer working in tandem, so I just flailed around like a beached fish.  Mrs. Fitzgerald yanked me out and we all made a beeline to the car.

Buried her husband under the Oldsmobile, huh? And was going to sell both the teacup and the wheelbarrow? A nasty piece of work, that Mrs. Patterson!

Because I know this story is intended for adults, I assume these events are in the distant past of an adult narrator. But the opening of the story gives me no clue about the time frame. I don’t know who the narrator is, how old she is now, or how long ago this event happened.

I think we need a brief orientation. It could be really brief, as in:

All my problems started twenty years ago at a yard sale with a teacup. (Now we have a reference to the time frame – twenty years ago.)

Or – since I gather from the reference to a dysfunctional household that she already had problems:

I can’t say all my problems started twenty years ago with a teacup, because I was already a damaged seven year old from a dysfunctional household by then, but a whole lot of new problems began the day my best friend Franny and her mother took me to Mrs. Patterson’s yard sale. (Now we’ve got the time frame, plus a little more about her.)

Alternatively, you could show the narrator in the present either using her (I assume) troublesome gift or avoiding using it, and then bring this scene in a little later. But since I don’t know what else is planned for the first chapter, I can’t say whether this is a good option or not.

Finally, I’d like to address the scene itself. If this is not so much a true flashback as a reflection on the day her life changed forever, it could benefit from a more adult voice in the narration. Instead of making us feel like it’s happening right now, give us a sense of the adult narrator looking back on her damaged seven year old self – the one with no money in her pockets who liked to touch the merchandise. Was Mrs. Patterson’s furniture nicer than hers? Did she pretend she was Franny’s sister and part of the Fitzgerald family instead of her own? Did she hope strangers would think that's who she was? Or did everyone in that neighborhood already know all about her? A little commentary from the adult version of the girl in this scene will help us connect to the character and demonstrate her distance from this event in time -- as well as her distance emotionally.

Readers, what do you think? Do you favor a short orientation to place this scene in time, or would you rather meet the present-day character and get this scene later?

Robin, thank you for sharing your page with us! Everyone should check out Marcy’s critique of the same page at Mainewords, and be sure and say hello to Robin at her blog, Your Daily Dose.

Monday, October 28, 2013


I've been working pretty intensely on Book 2 of the Eighth Day series, and there's also been a lot of exciting benchmarks in the publication of Book 1 this month -- a cover reveal, ARCs, and THE EIGHTH DAY is now listed on Amazon and available for pre-order! I also found out the release date, which is APRIL 22!

But every once in awhile, I get reminded that I have other ideas simmering in the back of my mind, waiting for their turn. For example, I can never pass by this abandoned house -- located on the property of the White Clay Creek Preserve near the Pennsylvania/Delaware border -- without remembering half an idea for a story about this place.

I have in mind a teenage couple, enjoying a walk in the preserve when they get caught in a downpour and take shelter inside this house. One of them never comes out again. The other is suspected of murder (tried and convicted on social media, of course) and nobody believes what really happened. Inspiration for this story comes from chilling tales of disappearances reported by Ambrose Bierce.

The problem is, I only have a premise, not a real story. No character arcs, no plot structure, no idea how to resolve it.

I comfort myself by remembering that I had the premise for a secret day of the week almost 2 years before I finally came up with the plot for THE EIGHTH DAY. So, for now, I'll just let this house simmer on the back burner. Some day, it will either boil over -- or boil away.

Do YOU have any ideas on the back burner?

I'll be skipping Wednesday this week and returning on Friday for First Impressions in November.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Lexa's Cover Reveal Challenge

Lexa Cain has come up with a unique twist on "the cover reveal!" She is holding a contest/scavenger hunt by revealing her cover on 10 selected blogs (including mine!). But here's the twist. All 10 blogs are showing a cover with an error in them. Identify all 10 errors and win a prize!

Can you find the error on this cover?

To win a prize, find the cover error in each of these blogs, plus mine:

For the correct cover, rules, and prize list, go to Lexa Cain’s blog 

Soul Cutter releases from MuseItUp Publishing on December 6, 2013.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


The winner of the VERY SUPERSTITIOUS Kindle book is AmyMak! I'll be contacting Amy by email so she can claim her prize.

For anyone interested in a chance at winning a physical copy -- or an e-book of one of the anthology authors' works -- there is still a Rafflecopter Giveaway, which you can find at Chapter by Chapter.

In other news, 25 ARCs for THE EIGHTH DAY are up for grabs in a Goodreads Giveaway, courtesy of HarperCollins Childrens Books.

The giveaway is running until January, so if you don't like the odds of winning there, and you have a blog where you'd be willing to spotlight the book or post an honest review, let me know. I'm compiling a list of blogger-friends interested in advance copies to submit to HarperCollins in December.

What am I doing with my personal copies of the ARCs? Well, right now, they are making the rounds of 6th grade classes at my school. My students from last year -- whose names are listed in the Acknowledgments -- are scattered throughout our huge building. I want to make sure they all see the ARC, the last stage of the publishing process before the real book. They've lived through every step of the process with me up to now. They should get to see me reaching the finish line!

Aaaaand my current class is clamoring for me to read the book aloud to them. I think the actual quote was: "Hurry up and finish reading NO MORE DEAD DOGS, Mrs. Salerni, so you can read us THE EIGHTH DAY."

Sorry, Gordon Korman. In this one venue, I outrank you!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Book Research: An NYC Lunch Meeting, a Statue, and an Eye Bolt

One of the things that makes you feel like a real author (even when you already know you are and have held your own books in your hands) is traveling some place for book research. Even if you travel all the time for work, vacation, to visit family, etc, there's something really cool about saying, "I'm here researching my next book ..."

I've researched books in a creepy Catawissa cemetery, on top of a 2000 year old Mexican pyramid, and at a Roman amphitheater in Wales. Most recently, I went to New York City to visit the Central Park Zoo.

My family made a whole day out of it. We took the train from the University of Delaware Amtrak stop in Newark, Delaware. It's a little station.

I mean LITTLE. When the train stops for you, there's only one car you can board, and you have to cross the tracks to do so.

When we arrived, we went for lunch before the zoo, and I got to meet up with blogger-friend Melissa Sarno.

Then it was off to Central Park. Before the zoo, we made a point to visit the Balto statue. I have an important scene here in The Eighth Day #2.

My daughters were impressed that the entrance to the Central Park Zoo looked just the way it did in the movie Madagascar.

But I was really here to replace a scene I had already written in the manuscript. You see, the polar bear tank played an important part in my Central Park Zoo scene, but sadly, Gus the Polar Bear recently died. The fate of this exhibit is uncertain. I chatted with a zoo employee who said that the Zoo -- and Mayor Bloomberg  -- would really like to have another polar bear. But acquiring one is tricky. It would have to be a rescue situation, and it would have to be determined by experts that this exhibit was right for that bear.

Chances are, this exhibit will no longer exist by the time The Eighth Day #2 is published. So I spent most of my visit to the zoo surveying a replacement: the snow leopard exhibit. While we were there, the male snow leopard made one of his rare appearances, approaching the observation platform and showing himself to the visitors.

And ... we totally FAILED to get a picture of him. We were too busy taking pictures of the eaves of the observation platform. You can tell you're a writer when people are climbing over each other to take pictures of a beautiful snow leopard, and you're off to the side taking pictures of how a steel net is attached to a building with eye bolts.

There it is folks, the thing I went to New York City to see. Bolts. It's a glamorous job, researching books!

I'll be posting late on Wednesday with the winner of the Very Superstitious e-book. (See below)

And I'll be back on Friday with a very clever scavenger hunt leading up to Lexa Cain's cover reveal for Soul Cutter.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Very Superstitious

How superstitious are you? Would you walk under a ladder? Open an umbrella in the house?

What about urban legends? Would you pick up a hitchhiker on a deserted road? Stand in front of a mirror and invoke the name of Bloody Mary?

Yesterday was the release day for VERY SUPERSTITIOUS, a Month9Books charity anthology benefiting SPCA International, with stories based on urban legends, myths, tribal tales, and superstitions from around the world. The contributing authors are all YA authors: Shannon Delany, Jackie Morse Kessler, Stephanie Kuehnert, Jennifer Knight, Marianne Mancusi, Michelle E. Reed, Pab Sungenis, and me.

My story takes on the Bloody Mary legend. I have to admit I'm very superstitious about looking in a mirror in a dark room. It's a habit ingrained from childhood when I was absolutely convinced that a vengeful spirit would claw my eyes out if I looked in the mirror in the middle of the night (and accidentally said her name three times).

In celebration of the release, I'm giving away a Kindle edition of VERY SUPERSTITIOUS. If you'd like to win, simply comment on this post and tell me what YOU'RE superstitious about! (Edited: I suppose I should give an end date, huh? How about one week from now -- 10/23.)

For a much BIGGER giveaway, visit Cassandra Lost in Books where you can enter a Raffecopter giveaway for an e-copy of each author's work and a physical copy of Very Superstitious.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Special Edition First Impressions: GUTTER GIRL

We have a special edition of First Impressions today, to help Robin Hall get her new YA contemporary manuscript ready to share. This is the first page of GUTTER GIRL:

I rip open a blue Pixy Stix—the same color as my lucky bowling ball and the streak in my hair—and dump all that sugary tartness on my tongue. Even though my world is going right, I don’t want to mess with our night-before-school wish. V and I have been doing this tradition since sixth grade, and even though it’s lost some of its mystical power, I’ve convinced V we have to do it for senior year—the Pixy Stix, the elementary school swings, even the flying. As the sugar melts, I begin to swing.
“For my senior year,” I yell, pumping my legs harder, “I’m coming as confident Jules, no more Gutter Girl for me.” I swing higher as Veronica cheers.
“It’s back-to-school night,” she projects in her best on-stage voice. “Can Jules make it? There’s nail biting in the stands”—I launch into the air—“and there she goes”—I fumble to the ground—“It’s too close to tell, folks, but there’s no instant replay, so of course her night-before-school wish will, I repeat, will come true. This year will be a new start for the lovely and newly boyfriended Julia Burkman. Monroe High won’t recognize what hit them.” V laughs. “You’ll bowl them down, Jules.”
“Hardy, har har.” I spin in a slow circle, my arms out as if I’ve won Nationals. The twinkling stars are clapping for me, and that the great bowling ball in the sky is granting my wish.
V throws the pack of Pixy Stix at my head. “Enough already. Let’s get this over with before anybody sees us.”
“Like anyone is coming to the elementary playground after sundown besides Zach.”
“I’d like to have this ceremony over before he gets here, thank you very much.”
I fish a Pixy Stix off the ground and chuck it at V.
“Orange. Great, So not my color.”
“It is this year.”
V bites off the end and takes a long pull. “For my senior year,” she yells, moving to a swing, “I’m getting the lead in Antony and Cleopatra.”
“You won’t even have to change your eye makeup.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be commentating?”
I get serious. “Veronica couldn’t be higher, folks. Look at those long legs.” I whistle. “She’s about to jump. If she clears the line, she will not only have the best year ever, but also the lead role in the fall production.”

I have a couple of picky editing points to start with. First, I think people have traditions; I’m not sure if they do traditions. Secondly, I would recommend capitalizing both words in Confident Jules. That way I know it’s a persona she’s hoping for, to wipe out “Gutter Girl.” As it is, when I read it, I thought it was missing a word -- “as confident as Jules” – not realizing Jules was her name. Also, it might be better to give her friend’s name, Veronica, first and call her V thereafter, rather than name her V to start with.  (And should it be Vee?) Finally, is the expression “bowl them down” or “bowl them over?”

But the biggest thing I think this page needs is at least a partial explanation for the name Gutter Girl and the bowling references. I know I read a query or a pitch for this story at some point, and I think Jules works in the family bowling alley – although I don’t remember for sure.

We definitely don't want a big long, telling explanation, but I think a sentence slipped into the right spot would do wonders. Perhaps, right after V makes her “bowl them down” joke and Jules responds , “Hardy har har,” she could add, “Like we don’t hear that joke daily at the Burkman Bowling Alley.” Or something to that effect.  Readers, what do you think?

Robin, thanks for sharing your page with us! You can visit Robin at her blog, Robin Writes, and don’t forget to check out Marcy’s critique of the same page at Mainewords.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Allow Me to Introduce -- THE EIGHTH DAY!

I can't tell you how excited I am to finally be able to share with you the cover of THE EIGHTH DAY, my debut MG fantasy! The book will soon be appearing in HarperCollins's Summer 2014 catalog, and HarperCollins gave me the opportunity to scoop the catalog by revealing the cover here on my blog. That's just a tiny bit of it right there ... Jax's bike, in fact ... but before we get to the whole thing, how about the front cover flap copy?


When newly orphaned Jax Aubrey awakes to a world without people the day after his thirteenth birthday, he thinks it’s the apocalypse. But then the next day is a regular old Thursday. Has Jax gone crazy? What’s going on?
            Riley Pendare, Jax’s sort of clueless eighteen-year-old guardian, breaks the news: Jax just experienced the Eighth Day, an extra twenty-four-hour period between Wednesday and Thursday. Some people, like Jax and Riley, have the ability to live in all eight days. But others, like Evangeline, the teenage girl who’s been hiding in the house next door for years, exist only on this special day.
            At first it’s awesome to have a secret day. But as Jax gets to know the very guarded Evangeline, he discovers that she is the sought-after key to an ancient spell rooted in Arthurian legend. And Riley—who forgets to pay bills and buy groceries!—is sworn to keep her safe from those who want to use her to eliminate the seven-day world and all who live there.
            Jax tries to protect Evangeline, but with his new friend’s life on the line, as well as the threat of human destruction, he is faced with an impossible choice: trigger a real apocalypse or sacrifice Evangeline.
            With a whole extra day to figure things out, it couldn’t be too hard . . . right?

Okay, and now for the front cover ...

Jacket art © 2014 by Mike Heath

Well, what do you think? I LOVE it, and so did all my students who had the scoop on you guys months ago. Would you believe HarperCollins sent me early versions of the cover specifically to share with my classes at the end of last school year, just so my students could experience that part of publication with me?

Have I mentioned that the HarperCollins team is amazing?

What do you think, friends?