Monday, October 28, 2013

Simmering

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

VERY SUPERSTITIOUS Winner + EIGHTH DAY ARCs!

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?

Monday, October 7, 2013

First Impressions: GERALD AND THE AMULET OF ZONRACH

Our third submission for First Impressions is an upper MG humorous fantasy by Carl Hackman, GERALD AND THE AMULET OF ZONRACH.

A flash of blinding blue light filled the room, followed by a billowing cloud of dark, acrid smoke.
 “Oops...”
 Now this is not the sound you want to hear from a wizard, especially a short one and Gerald was only five feet tall, meaning he wasn’t very good yet.  He had dreams of exceeding six feet but only the best wizards in the land ever reached those dizzying heights.
 A rumble under his feet, steadily increased in strength until the floor beneath him rolled like a ship in a storm.  Trying to stay upright, he staggered to the window at the front of his weather-beaten cottage.  The small hill supposed to be growing outside - to improve the view - failed to materialize.  But the cotton ball clouds normally gently drifting on the warm summer breeze were fairly whizzing by.  The sight of villagers clinging to structures for dear life deepened his frown of consternation.  His flint grey eyes nearly popped out of his head when the village herbalist flew past his window and, as he followed her progress across the green, he spotted Lord Moleheart hanging onto a tree like a flag in a gale.
 “Kack!” said Gerald.
 “Gerald!  What have you done?” shouted Colin, dodging flying crockery as he made his way across the room.
 “Hmm?” replied Gerald. The point of his especially tall and illegally obtained wizard’s hat twitched, as his bushy eyebrows bumped against the brim in a tattoo akin to a drum roll.
 Colin, who had only been posted to Molehaven as Gerald’s assistant two weeks ago, very rarely shouted.  If he could get away with it he even whispered his spells.  So, shouting indicated Gerald had been especially naughty and confirmation came when he shrank one inch before Colin’s eyes.
 At this rate Gerald would not be a wizard much longer.  Four feet eight was the statuary minimum for all wizards.  Anything less and Gerald knew he would be back working in the fields, or shoveling horse poop until he reached the minimum height again. 
 “Double Kack!”
 “Have you been buying words again to strengthen your spells?” said Colin.

Okay, this is really cute! I love the idea of a wizard’s height changing in relation to his competence, and the image of the villagers being blown about like pieces of litter is hysterical. When Gerald shrinks, and he worries he’ll have to return to shoveling horse poop until he regains minimum height standards for a wizard, I laughed out loud.

I think there are sentences that could use cleaning up, in terms of punctuation and word selection. The first sentence in the third paragraph is missing a comma before the second independent clause, and the first sentence in the fourth paragraph has a comma incorrectly placed between the subject of the sentence and the verb phrase. This sentence is a little too wordy: But the cotton ball clouds normally gently drifting on the warm summer breeze were fairly whizzing by. It’s a short sentence, but it still has three adverbs, three adjectives, and two –ing words -- one in the subject and one in the predicate.

There’s a point-of-view switch when he shrank one inch before Colin’s eyes, because that’s the only place in the narrative we see things through Colin’s eyes. If the narrative is meant to show POV from multiple characters (and I can’t tell from just this short passage), then the switch needs to be done more carefully so readers aren’t confused. Here it would be simpler to reword the sentence.

Finally, the relationship between Colin and Gerald is a bit confusing. Colin is Gerald’s assistant, but Colin can apparently cast spells better than Gerald, even if he whispers. It’s fine that he’s shouting at Gerald in this scene, especially if he has to be heard above the wind, but referring to Gerald’s actions as naughty makes it sound like Colin is Gerald’s superior. This could be re-worded – or, alternatively, Colin could just enter the scene and demonstrate his alarm by shouting, and the relationship between them could be explained after this little crisis is resolved.

Readers, do you have anything to add? Carl, thanks for sharing your page with us! Marcy has her own critique over at Mainewords, and you can say hello to Carl at his website.

Marcy and I will have a Special Edition of First Impressions next Monday so that Robin Hall can put the final touches on her latest manuscript before sending it to her agent – so please come back to help her!

Plus, HarperCollins gave me the green light to share my cover for THE EIGHTH DAY! I’ll be doing a special post at my blog tomorrow (Tuesday) at 4pm, as well as splashing it everywhere else I can think of. I’d love your help Facebook-sharing and re-Tweeting!

Friday, October 4, 2013

First Impressions: THE LEGACY OF THE EYE

Our next submission for First Impressions is a return visit from Patricia Moussatche and THE LEGACY OF THE EYE, an adult science fiction novel. Patricia shared her first page of this manuscript with us back in February and has revised it since then.

CHAPTER 1
David: Proposal

After following Cat into the traveling pod, I covered the keypad and faced our instructor, who blocked the doorway. "Max, we're leaving the school anyway, why not let me punch the code?" It might be a symbolic gesture, but I was not budging.
Arms crossed over his loose-fitting black outfit, Max obscured the pod's exit despite his short stature. "The council should have made you wait until after graduation like everyone else."
Cat and I had been confined in the school since we were two. What difference would two weeks make after sixteen years? "We've earned the distinction."
"Next you'll ask to stop for a black uniform on the way out," the instructor said.
We probably earned that too, but I knew how to pick my battles.
Cat's hand pressed my shoulder. "David, we'll be late."
"Tell him that," I said.
"You're only making him more stubborn, Max," she said. "You know we have no reason to run away."
The instructor hesitated. Would he make us miss our appointment with the council? Max knew Cat and I could not navigate the maze of buildings to get to the gates--even disregarding the risk of being detained as soon as we left the governance complex. Our gray uniforms would give us away as soon as we stepped outside because students were not allowed to leave their home departments. How long would it take to convince every instructor in our path that we had an appointment with the council? We had one, not fourteen daylight hours to reach the government building. The easiest way to the front entrance was by pod. I had never been in one of these vehicles, but I was certain the motorized spheres did not travel at the speed of light.
"CO3X04W." Max pointed his rolled up hat at me. "If you don't behave, I'll deny you my recommendation and the council will veto the Tutor Program."
He must be bluffing. I doubted we needed his help to defend the proposal. We had discussed the idea with students and faculty for months. Plus, Cat had written a meticulous petition.
"We don't have our hats," Cat said as I turned to the keypad and pressed the first two letters.
Max stepped out of the pod. "Then go get them."
I finished inputting the destination code to the front entrance and grabbed Cat by the waist before she could exit the pod for our hats.

This is a lot of world-building information packed onto the first page. The first paragraph alone introduces three characters, a traveling pod, and a keypad. The one line of dialogue is not attributed, so you have to infer it’s the narrator speaking. I admit, I was lost.

Why not start with David’s thoughts as he enters the traveling pod with Cat? Explain what this means to him and why he wants to enter the code himself. If the entire first paragraph was just about David, it would ground us in the here and now while helping us understand the character and the whole page.

When Max says, "The council should have made you wait until after graduation like everyone else." I want to know, wait for what? Based on what comes later (and on the previous version of this page), I assume Max means they shouldn’t be allowed off school grounds until graduation, but why not directly say so?

Then, Cat says, "You know we have no reason to run away." Well, it’s clear they’re leaving the school, but this must not be what she means by “running away.”  Does she mean, they have no reason to take the pod anywhere except to the council meeting? They can be trusted to fly it without Max’s supervision? Was he planning to go with them – or just punch in the code for an automated flight?

I think these problems could easily be eliminated if the author let us into David’s head right from the first paragraph and shared his thoughts and feelings on this momentous occasion. If we knew the importance of this trip and why he wants his instructor to stand aside and let him punch in the numbers, we’d automatically learn a lot about this world in one swoop: the rarity of students leaving school, the purpose of the pod, where they were going and why. 

Readers, what do you think?

Patricia, thanks for sharing your page with us again. Don’t forget to check out Marcy’s feedback on the same page, and you can say hello to Patricia at her blog, My Middle Years.



Wednesday, October 2, 2013

First Impressions: DREAMIE'S BOX

Our First Impressions post today comes from Claudette Young. This is the first page of Claudette’s women’s cozy mystery, DREAMIE’S BOX

 “I have to leave early this morning. I have a breakfast meeting in Westley and won’t be able to drop you at the library. I guess you’ll be able to get extra cleaning done today, won’t you?”
Dreamie listened as Martin’s voice washed over her, managing her day’s hours. This line of instruction had followed much the same morning routine for nearly twenty years. She often contemplated arguing but declined the invitation for confrontation. Too messy. Instead, she nodded to signify that she’d heard him. If he took that as agreement, he had only himself to blame.
She kept her face neutral as he patted her on the shoulder like the neighbor’s dog before heading out the backdoor. Dreamie could go about her day now unimpeded and unrestricted.  A house quiet with solitude soothed its mistress. Dreamie Simple stared out the kitchen window as she finished the breakfast dishes.
Martin was gone.
With that knowledge her anticipation broke free. A smile broadened her mouth, bringing with it a glimpse of the understated beauty of her youth. There would come a time when Martin’s dictates would have no meaning for her, except as a training ground for patience and endurance.
 Dreamie emptied the sink without moving her eyes from the cardinals that devoured seed scattered below the bird feeder. Her sad smile quirked her lips as she recalled the silent argument she’d had with Martin regarding that feeder.
“You’re not going to hang that contraption out there on that maple, Dreamie. I won’t have you putting up things like that to hit me in the head when I’m mowing.”
Dreamie had continued assembling the simple feeder purchased at the local Dollar Store without looking up at her husband. He knew that she’d heard him. He knew that she wouldn’t sass back.
As soon as she’d readied the feeder, she filled it with store-bought birdfeed. She went outside immediately and hung it from one of the lower branches of the big maple. She’d stood, admiring it.
Her marital war with Martin had begun in earnest that day. Martin had removed it and tossed it into the trash. She’d retrieved the feeder and replaced it. He removed. Dreamie replaced. In the end, each time Dreamie heard the mower fire up in the storage barn, she would go to the feeder, remove it from its hanger, and take it to safety on the back porch. As soon as the mowing was done, Dreamie returned it to its place on the tree limb.
Ten years had passed since the argument began. Ten years filled with complacency on Martin’s part and active waiting on hers. Some things took time, she knew.
Martin exacted a high price for the completion of his marriage obligation. Her own mother could never have understood Dreamie’s disillusionment and aching loneliness throughout the years.

First of all, I have to comment on the main character’s name, Dreamie Simple. It seems to fit her perfectly – dreamy and rather simple-minded – but it becomes apparent by the end of this page that she’s not passive. She’s passive aggressive, and not simple at all.  I wonder if Martin’s complacency, his belief that he dominates this marriage, is going to end in a rather messy and spectacular way? (He seems like a jerk, so is it okay for me to wish that it does?)

There are several lines I had to read more than once. They were imprecise, or maybe just not needed. For example: This line of instruction had followed much the same morning routine for nearly twenty years. The sentence could be rewritten as: His instructions had been part of their morning routine for nearly twenty years. But I wonder if the middle lines of the paragraph are needed at all. It doesn’t seem like Dreamie is really contemplating arguing, so why say that she is? Why not streamline the paragraph and let us draw our own conclusions:

Dreamie listened as Martin’s voice washed over her, managing her day’s hours. She nodded to signify that she’d heard him, just as she had every morning for the last twenty years. If he took that as agreement, he had only himself to blame.

This was another sentence that bothered me: There would come a time when Martin’s dictates would have no meaning for her, except as a training ground for patience and endurance.
What time was coming? Why would his dictates have no more meaning for her – especially when it seems they have little meaning for her now? She ignores them. I get the feeling the author is planting the suggestion that Dreamie anticipates a change coming, a plan for her life which will make all the years she has endured this marriage worthwhile. But I’m not sure this sentence is the right one for conveying that.

Claudette, thanks for sharing your first page with us! I, for one, will shed no tears if Dreamie bashes Martin over the head with the bird feeder tomorrow at breakfast. I do think you could take out some of the global, general statements and let the situation unfold before us. Readers, any suggestions or comments?

Be sure to check out Marcy’s feedback on Claudette’s page at Mainewords, and you can say hello to Claudette at her blog/website.