Monday, September 30, 2013


Totally unrelated to this post -- But look at this massive
frog who lives in my goldfish pond!
That's me. Stubborn.

Even though it's hard to find time to blog while I'm adapting to massive changes at school, working on this MG series with 3 books at various stages of development, keeping my family together, and -- uh, that other thing I can't tell you about which may or may not come to fruition -- I don't want to give up blogging.

I was at a book event this weekend, and the other authors were talking about how they never blogged any more -- and also that the bloggers who used to promote their books didn't blog any more. Is blogging on its way out? I hope not! That's how I met all of you guys!

I used to blog 3 days a week. A year or so ago, I cut back to 2 days. Lately, when I'm stressed (like last week) I just skip. But it's a slippery slope ... and I don't want to reach a point where I stop altogether.

I'm going to keep posting as much as I can, and make it a point to visit YOUR blogs -- as many as I can -- over coffee every morning.

One thing I'm giving up is responding to comments by email, unless you ask me a specific question or I have something I'm dying to tell you. I figure you'd rather I visit and comment on YOUR blogs than just acknowledge that you commented on mine. I can't do both right now.

And I miss you.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Three Books at Once

On Friday, before I left work, I received an email from an assistant editor at HarperCollins giving me a heads-up that I could expect galley copies of THE EIGHTH DAY to arrive on Saturday for my review.

Around 7pm on that same day, I received an email from my editor with attached revision notes for THE EIGHTH DAY #2 (I'm withholding the title until it's official and I can share).

Meanwhile I'm still struggling through the first draft of THE EIGHTH DAY#3 (Title? Struggling with that, too!!!)

So here we go. I can officially announce that I'm working on all 3 books at the same time.

As if that wasn't enough, on Sunday, I got something else to look at. Something exciting. Something fun. Something I can't tell you about. (Sorry, was that teasing?)

Posts here at In High Spirits may become irregular for the foreseeable future, although I do hope to keep up with First Impressions. Assuming we have submissions. Ahem. Get the hint? Who's out there with a first page that needs polishing?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Bad Blogger

I don’t mean Blogger the host of my site. I mean me, the blogger. I’m trying, but I know I haven’t been visiting as much as I’d like to.

School’s back in session, and this year I have:

  • A new curriculum
  • A new report card
  • A new online grade book
  • A new classroom website for listing daily homework
  • A new teacher evaluation system
  • A new required format for lesson planning
  • And oh yeah, a new group of students to get to know

I’m also awaiting galleys on THE EIGHTH DAY and an editorial letter for Book 2 while working on a first draft of Book 3. I’ve got a short story in an anthology coming out next month, and the approach of Halloween has spurred requests for book signings and blog guest posts for THE CAGED GRAVES since it’s a murder mystery with a creepy premise and ‘tis the season for such things.

Do you know what I do when I feel overwhelmed and want to hide from my To-Do list? I should visit all your blogs and say hello. Instead, I buy books on my Kindle and read them voraciously in every spare moment I have – avoiding the computer altogether.

The one thing I’ve been able to count on, blog-wise, is First Impressions every month, although we came pretty close to not filling up all our spots these past couple months – getting submissions just in the nick of time. I can’t believe we’re more than halfway through September already, and we have 3 spots open for October. So if you’ve got a manuscript and you want feedback on the first page, now’s a great time to submit! (hint, hint!)

I have no picture to go with this post, so here’s a totally random photo – one of my favorites taken by my husband during our August vacation. That’s my daughters on the London Eye.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Connecting the Dots

I’ve often called myself a pantster on this blog and confessed that I cannot outline a book I’d want to write. (I can outline a story that sucks … no problem there.) But I’m not really a pantster in the sense that I take off writing with no idea where I’m headed. I generally have several broad plot points in mind, a beginning, a conflict, a few key events, and an ending.

These plot points are the dots in a mysterious picture that will become my first draft. Connecting the dots is the ultimate challenge, and I don’t really see the big picture, including themes, until I’ve connected the last dot and realize, Aha! Now I know what story I was trying to tell. That’s why I always roll right into my second draft without a break. It’s kind of like the real first draft, with the first one being an exploratory venture.

I was stuck this past week, trying to find my way from the current dot to the next one. And worrying about how I’d get to the ones after that. These particular plot points make sense in my tentative summary of the story. They sound really good, in fact. Making them happen – that’s trickier.

A couple of long emails with CP Marcy Hatch reassured me that the emotional state of my main characters was in the right place for what I needed them to do. I’ve still got a new character with important backstory that I haven’t found a place to fit in, and a plot thread that hasn’t wormed its way thoroughly into the main action, even though my gut says it has to be here.

This book is particularly tricky to write because it’s the third in the series. I know my main characters well, but I have to put them under a great deal of stress, testing their loyalty to each other in ways that make me uncomfortable. This book could be the end of the series, or – if the publisher picks up the option for two more – it could be the midpoint. That puzzled me in my initial planning, but now I know what has to happen in this book. Regardless of whether this is the end or only just the middle, certain things must happen.

So, I’m currently fumbling my way toward the next dot like I’m playing Blindman’s Bluff or Pin the Tail on the Donkey.

What are you currently working on?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Happy Tweets

You know what I love? Unexpectedly seeing the Twitter bird in the notification bar on my phone screen in the middle of the day. It’s like, Yay – here I am, stuck at work, and somebody out in the world is thinking of me!

I just wanted to share some tweets that made me smile this week. First, this one:

Not only am I psyched to get my first starred review ever, I was doubly honored to have the School Library Journal tweeting about it! (If you want to read the review, you can find it HERE.)

Then, there was this tweet:

That’s the very first occasion of a reader tweeting about my next book. She’s a marketing director at HarperCollins, which is why she got the early preview. And I’m not sure about that publication date, because I was told “Summer of 2014.” (But April would be awesome if it were true.) Still, first shout-out for The Eighth Day!

And finally, loved this one:

Theresa shared her first page with us in August for FirstImpressions. I am really excited that she’s getting interest on her manuscript, and if Marcy and I helped at all, I’m honored.

Get any good news lately?

Monday, September 9, 2013

First Impressions: THE SOUL HUNTER

Our final submission for First Impressions in September comes from Jody Moller. This is the first page of THE SOUL HUNTER, a romantic tragedy set in Hell.

She moved among them as though she were one of them – she liked to pretend. She moved at a leisurely pace, as if she were out for a Sunday stroll. Though she seemed to be meandering aimlessly she was, in fact, paying a great deal of attention to the people around her, listening intently to their every whim and desire.
She was tall, almost six foot, and slender, but not skinny, the toned muscles that covered every inch of her body ensured that. Her blonde hair, so fair it bordered on white, was less than an inch in length, set into an impossible array of spikes. Above her perfectly chiseled cheek bones sat a pair of violet, almond-shaped eyes.
If those around her had been able to see her they would have noted that she was stunning to behold. But they couldn’t see her, for they were human and she was not.
Her name was Zepherina, though she preferred to go simply by Zeph, and she was a Soul Hunter.
Zeph had caught sight of her proposed target only a few hours earlier and she’d already decided he was a perfect candidate – his desperation visible to all, not just those who possessed her unusual talents.
She’d been canvassing one of her favourite spots, just outside St Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney. She was in Sydney because that was her assigned hunting zone, the limits of her district sat just outside the CBD so all in all she was responsible for an area of just over twenty square kilometres. She owned that area, it was hers, no other hunters were allowed to enter. But that also meant, of course, that she was unable to leave. The borders of her zone were impenetrable, even if she was following a target the moment they crossed the border they were out of reach.
The reason she chose the church was also simple, the people coming and going from the religious edifice before her were the most desperate in society. They went to pray, to hold onto some slim hope that their greatest desires would be delivered to them. But if there was one thing she knew, it was that the God they were praying to would not answer their prayers.

The first thing I want to note (and the easiest thing to fix) are the comma splices, where two independent clauses are connected only by a comma. The comma can be replaced by a semi-colon, but that should be used sparingly. The others can be divided into separate sentences, or a conjunction can be added after the comma.

I also noticed that the first two sentences begin She moved and include a phrase with the word as. I’d suggest a re-write to eliminate repetition, something along the lines of:
She liked to pretend she was one of them, walking at a leisurely pace as if she were out for a Sunday stroll.

Finally, I’m wondering what type of POV Jody wants to achieve. Third person, obviously – but is it meant to be a close third person, getting us into Zeph’s head? Or is it a more distant third person POV, told from an aloof and omniscient observer?

If Zeph is the main character and the book is going to follow her actions and thoughts, the author should avoid sentences like Her name was Zepherina … and descriptions of her unless there’s a purpose for noting her physical traits at that particular point.

It’s a common misconception among writers that in third person you can describe the main character from the outside and say pretty much anything you want. (I thought so, too!) But while working with the wonderful editors for The Caged Graves (Dinah Stevenson, Clarion) and The Eighth Day (Alexandra Cooper, HarperCollins), I learned to avoid putting anything in a close third person narration that wouldn’t be in the main character’s thoughts. People don’t usually describe their hair and eye color to themselves. Or name themselves. Or go over the territorial rules for soul hunters they already know. It would be better to move directly from the opening paragraph to the church and Zeph’s target, allowing all that information between to come out naturally later in the story.

If Jody is going for a distant, more omniscient approach and will be visiting the heads of many characters – like Dan Brown does, for instance – or if Zeph is not the main character, but a secondary character we are being introduced to as part of the inciting incident – the physical description is not as big a problem. Even so, the background information on territories probably doesn’t need to appear on the first page.

Jody, thanks so much for sharing your page! Readers, do you have any feedback for Jody? Please be sure to read Marcy’s critique of the same page at Mainewords, and say hello to Jody at her blog.

Please note: Blogger freaked out on me Sunday night when I checked my posts -- wouldn't load -- deleted my saved post for Monday morning -- and I tried to put it back together late at night. I hope this is coherent and I haven't forgotten anything. (BAD Blogger! Don't do this to a working teacher/writer/mom!)

Friday, September 6, 2013

First Impressions: THE MIGHTY MILO

Our second selection for First Impressions comes to us from Bob Sweet. This is the first page of his YA novel, THE MIGHTY MILO:

My parents left yesterday to save the world and still haven’t returned.
A catfight in the alley behind the apartment woke me up an hour ago, about 5 a.m. With all that snarling and banging trashcans, they must have been lions. Or at least leopards.
When the cats finished, silence enveloped me. But it shouldn’t have.
I rolled out of bed and opened the door, where a dark hallway swallowed me.
No light, no movement. Like a ghost town. No Dad singing in the shower, no clinking plates with Mom pumping iron in the gym.
Never, in all of my 14 years, have I awakened to a dark, empty apartment. I rubbed my arms, cold inside and out.
I walked from room to room, calling out, “Hello? Mom? Dad?” Turning on the lights didn’t help much. “Mom? Dad?”
I rubbed my eyes, trying to remember. Did they say anything at dinner? No. Am I missing something? Nope. Nothing but my parents, the superheroes Big Mouth and Medusa.
My phone. They must have left a message.
I ran back to the bedroom for my Moto X. And found the text Mom sent just after 2 a.m.“Dad n I workin late. dk when return. Will text l8r.”
Warmth flooded me, and my body relaxed.
For about a second. Then breath fled from my lungs, and my shoulders stiffened.
That message isn’t good news. 
My mother, Carrie Minor, works as a beautician. But hair never keeps her out late. My father is Maximus Minor, the food critic. His job doesn’t keep him up at night, either – unless a chef serves bad shellfish.
If superheroes tell you they don’t know when they’ll get back from work, worry.
How long I sat there worrying, I can’t say.
“We were made to be courageous …”
The bass line burst into my ears like a gunman kicking down a door.
That song and a dozen more like it were my parents’ brilliant idea. Ever since they discovered I don’t have superpowers, they’ve worked hard to convince me I can still be a hero. So every morning I wake up to a song on my phone designed to, as Mom likes to say, empower me.
But I don’t need empowerment because I do have superpowers. I just can’t tell my parents – or anyone else – about them. All the encouraging songs in the world won’t change that fact.

There’s a lot of interesting and promising things going on with this page, including voice and imagery and a lot of great humor! I see two small things to critique, and one larger issue.

On the small side – There are a lot of short paragraphs, many of them exactly the same size. Visually speaking, it’s better to have variety on the page and paragraphs of differing sizes. The one-liners should stand out for emphasis.

There are also slips in verb tense. The passage is primarily in past tense, but Never, in all of my 14 years, have I awakenedI can’t say … and the whole last paragraph of this selection are in present tense.

Now, here’s the larger thing. I really like the premise, but I think the opening would hook us better if information were presented in a different order. For example, we’re told in the first line that Milo’s parents are out saving the world and haven’t come home. Great hook! But then we find out they’ve only been gone a few hours, which deflates the tension. He reads a text message saying they’re working late and don’t know when they’ll be back. He thinks about their day jobs first and only secondly about their superhero jobs (even though the first line already told us they were out saving the world). And then he worries. Why?

It seems to me that superheroes wouldn’t keep regular hours. Shouldn’t the message they send Milo be the usual thing, given their jobs? Of course, if they’d been missing for a long time and that text was the last he heard from them … that would be different! I could see him rattling through the empty house and obsessing over that text if it came a week ago.

Finally, Milo tells us he doesn’t have superpowers, and in the very next paragraph he tells us he does have them. I feel like there’s a missed opportunity for a “reveal” here. Obviously I don’t know what happens in the rest of the chapter, but revealing that he keeps powers secret from his parents would make a really good end of the first chapter, rather than be given away on the first page.

Thanks for sharing your first page with us, Bob. I really like this – I just want to grab the mouse and do a little copy-and-paste-and-rearrange. Readers, tell us what you think, and don’t forget to check out Marcy’s critique of the same page at Mainewords.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


We have a rather unusual submission for First Impressions this month.  POST MARKED: PIPERS REACH is a contemporary epistolary novel by Adam Byatt and Jodi Cleghorn. Adam wrote the character of Jude, and Jodi wrote the character of Ella-Louise. The original letters were hand written and sent in real time through the post under a 'no spoilers policy' of organic narrative development. From April 2012 - June 2013 the letters were published as a web serial. This novel is a reworking of those letters.

Friday 6th January, 2012

Dear Jude,

Please excuse the crappy yellow legal pad. Had I waited to find fancy stationery, I might never have sat down to write. Your parents are still listed at Blecker Street, so I’m sending the letter there and hopefully they’ll pass it on to you.

Why don’t I just ring your Dad, see if you’re alive and well, and get your phone number or an email address? I can’t. I need to write and do it old school with pen and paper. Think about each word before I put it down (and swear because my hand is already aching from writing more than I have in a decade). To send an email would be like warping the fabric of space and time. But then again, writing a letter to you after so long, feels a little like that anyway.

When we sat at The Point watching the sun come up on 1992 I believed in an eternity of New Year’s Eves with you, my best friend, by my side. I had no idea that it would be our last.

Just so you know, it hasn’t taken me twenty years to forgive you for not showing up at my farewell party. Or at the bus the next day. You did me a favour. Had you come to say good-bye, I don’t think I would have had the courage to go and leave you behind.

I quit my job at the end of last year. Decided it was time for a sea change, to reassess what’s important in life. Important to me. I’ve bought an old weatherboard cottage just up the coast from Coffs Harbour. It’s not Piper’s Reach (I couldn’t go back there) but I’m near the ocean again. I can lie awake at night and hear the crash of the waves, smell the salt and seaweed.

Finding the shoebox with your letters and other teenage stuff (I still have the chewie wrapper you gave me the first day we met) it felt like no time had passed. But at the same time, like I’ve lived several lives since then. Guess I have in a way.

Reading your old letters there were events I remembered and others I’d forgotten – like the first thing I ever said to you was I didn’t kiss boys so you thought I was a lesbian until I pashed Bart Lehmann at the Year 10 social.

First of all, I have to say that I’ve never heard of a novel being written this way before, especially in today's world of instant communication. It’s quite original – and because I’m a pantster who also lets stories develop organically, I'm intrigued! The voice of the first letter writer (Ella-Louise) comes through strongly in this opening, and the premise is clear: She is trying to re-connect with a close friend (possibly a lover) whom she hasn’t spoken to in twenty years via the medium they used in the past. Letters.

There’s not a lot of things I can critique in this passage, because it’s pretty smooth. There’s just the right amount of past and present mixed together, and enough places mentioned to provide a clear image of setting without being confusing.

I did have to look up the phrase “sea change,” and then I felt dumb because it’s from Shakespeare. I also had to look up “pashed” to learn it mean “passionately kissed.” I guessed it was something like that from the context, but I’d never heard of the word. Jodi and Adam are from Australia, so maybe the word is more common there? Or maybe I’m just out of touch.  Can anyone else chime in on that?

I also stumbled over Finding the shoebox with your letters and other teenage stuff – because I wondered what “teenage stuff” meant. Maybe it could be re-phrased as Finding the shoebox with your letters and other remnants of our teenage years, or something like that.

Other than those small points, I found the selection engaging and well-written. Readers, what do you think?

Jodi and Adam, thank you for sharing your first page with us! Everyone should be sure to check out Marcy’s critique of the same page, as well as visit Adam and Jodi at their website.