Monday, May 26, 2014

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Female Stranger

I was in Alexandria, Virginia this past weekend for a book event and a visit with my brother, who loves to take visitors on the walking Ghost Tour of Old Town. Probably the most fascinating story on the tour was that of the Mysterious Female Stranger. Afterward, I was on the internet until midnight, reading everything I could about this subject, and in the morning before we left for home, I talked my family into visiting her grave.

My family's used to visiting strange graves by now. At least this one was in a pleasant cemetery! The morning was bright and cheerful, and the popularity of the grave is attested to by the fact that we found a bouquet of flowers lying in tribute to the mysterious young woman when we arrived.

The story of the Female Stranger begins in September 1816, when a ship from the West Indies made an unscheduled stop in Alexandria long enough to put off two passengers: a man and a woman. They were, by appearance and clothing, well-to-do, and the young woman was said to be beautiful. But she was also very ill. The gentleman carried her to the City Hotel, now known as Gadsby's Tavern, where she was placed in Room 8. The frantic gentleman then called for the best doctor in town, as well as two nurses. Before letting them into the room he made each of them swear an oath on their sacred honor that if -- while delirious -- his wife revealed her identity, they would take that secret to their graves.

Despite everyone's valiant efforts, the woman died on October 14, 1816. Her husband paid for an elaborate funeral and a lavish headstone where she was identified as "a Female Stranger." The epitaph read:
To the memory of a
whose mortal sufferings terminated
on the 14th day of October 1816
Aged 23 years and 8 months

This stone was placed here by her disconsolate
Husband in whose arms she sighed out her
latest breath and who under God
did his utmost even to soothe the cold
dead ear of death.

How loved how valued once avails thee not
To Whom related or by whom begot
A heap of dust alone remains of thee
Tis all though art and all the proud shall be

To him gave all the Prophets witness that
through his name whosoever believeth in
him shall receive remission of sins
Acts. 10th Chap. 43rd verse

By this time, the man had built up an enormous bill at the hotel -- as well as gambling debts in the tavern. Rather than press him to pay up immediately, the hotel owner granted him the night after his wife's funeral to grieve in peace. When morning came however, the man had vanished, leaving all his debts unpaid.

Who was she? One popular theory (though discounted by most historians) is that she was Theodosia Burr Alston, daughter of disgraced vice-president Aaron Burr. Theodosia had vanished at sea four years earlier and was presumed dead, but some stories say she really ran off with a lover and the lost-at-sea tale was concocted to spare her reputation (or more importantly, her husband's). Other people speculate that the Female Stranger was a European princess who had eloped or possibly been kidnapped -- or that the couple was wanted for murder abroad. It's also been suggested that the whole thing was a con, and that both the Male and Female Strangers left town alive after swindling a lot of people out of their money.

The most outrageous theory I read? That the lady was Naploeon Bonaparte in drag.

Yeah, I'm not buying that one. But the story of the Female Stranger has some intriguing possibilities, doesn't it?

Monday, May 19, 2014

Heroes and Villains

I'm over at Project Middle Grade Mayhem today, talking about why flaws and mistakes create a middle grade hero kids can relate to. This is part of an ongoing series on Project Mayhem called Heroes and Villains.

There are a few previous posts you may want to check out, including mine on antagonists, Matthew McNish's discussion of villain archetypes, and one called Villains are People Too by editor/author Harrison Demchick. Check out the series HERE.

Have an idea that would fit right in? Talk to me about guest posting for Project Mayhem.

Speaking of middle grade fiction, there are a couple days left for you to enter to win an e-book of Sherrie Petersen's Wish You Weren't. See the post directly below this one!

Happy Monday, everyone.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Wish You Weren't: An Interview with Sherrie Petersen

Today I'm bringing you an interview with Sherrie Petersen, author of Wish You Weren't, a middle grade time traveling adventure.

Marten doesn't believe in the power of wishes. None of his have ever come true. His parents ignore him, his little brother is a pain and his family is talking about moving to Texas. Not cool. So when he makes an impulsive wish during a meteor shower, he doesn't expect it to make any difference.

Until his annoying brother disappears.

With the present uncertain and his brother’s future in limbo, Marten finds himself stuck in his past. And if he runs out of time, even wishes might not be enough to save the ones he loves.

1. Sherrie, thank you for joining us here today. Tell us, what was the original inspiration for Wish You Weren’t?

Real life inspires so much of what I write. I’ve been known to drag my kids out of bed to watch the stars, I listen to them bicker, I have a younger brother that I’ve probably wished away on more than one occasion. J I still make wishes when I go through a tunnel or find an eyelash on my cheek. More than once when I’ve made a wish, I’ve had to stop and think, “Is that really what I want to waste my wish on?” I loved the idea of having the one wish that comes true be the one that you threw out there thinking it would never happen.

2. What is your writing process like?

My process has evolved over the years. I always have a general idea of how the story is going to end before I start. But when I first started writing, I was a total pantser. I completely rejected the very concept of an outline. I saw it as too forced, too restrictive. But as I worked on Wish You Weren’t and realized parts of the middle weren’t working, I found it really helpful to at least sketch out where I thought each chapter should go in order to get me to the end. The last novel I wrote I outlined about halfway before I started. Things changed along the way, but I kind of liked having a map to follow. It helped me write a lot faster.

3. Were there any characters who surprised you during the writing of the book – maybe turned out different than you expected?

Paul was definitely a surprise. In the first version he only played a small part in the last third of the book. But an editor who read and loved the story thought he brought so much to the narrative that he should be along from the beginning. At first I resisted because it meant a complete rewrite, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. He was such a complete opposite to Marten, but still a great kid. I kind of fell in love with him. He added a lot of humor to the scenes.

4. Writers today are presented with many routes to publication – seeking representation, submitting to small publishers un-agented, self-publishing in both ebook and paper book formats. How did you go about your decision-making process?

I had an agent for a while and I tried the small publisher route with another story. But I spent many years as a freelance writer and graphic designer so the idea of being an entrepreneur and taking complete control of my book wasn’t foreign to me. It can be overwhelming to see all the opportunities out there, but with pioneers like Susan Kaye Quinn and Hugh Howey out there paving the way and sharing everything they learn, it’s a lot easier for people like me to find their way.

5. What are you working on now?

Outlining a companion novel for Wish You Weren't.

Sherrie is giving away e-copies of Wish You Weren't. Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway below for a chance to win!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

SHERRIE PETERSEN still believes in magic and she loves to write (and read!) stories that take her on fantastic adventures. In addition to writing middle grade novels, Sherrie moonlights as a graphic designer, substitute teacher, freelance writer, school newspaper advisor, yearbook advisor and mother of two children. She spends her free time watching movies, driving kids around and baking cookies. Or eating them. Wish You Weren't is her debut novel.

Find her on:

Monday, May 12, 2014

Beautiful Things

Please bear with me while I engage in some bragging rights. My daughter, Gabrielle, attended the Junior prom at the beginning of this month ...

See that patterned lining on the underside of her dress? Gabbey is giving us a peek at next month's prom dress. Yes, she is attending the Senior prom, too, and this dress is reversible. Turn it inside out, and it's a different dress. (Pictures to come in June!)

This one is my absolute favorite. There's a certain Daenerys Targaryen quality to her expression, and a gargoyle is as good as a dragon, right?

Not quite as lovely, but beautiful in its own way to me ...

First pass pages (or galleys) of The Inquisitor's Mark.  And then there was this ...

The Inquisitor's Mark showed up on Amazon. Not a lot of information uploaded yet, but the publication date is there: January 27, 2014. Yippee!

So, what's beautiful in your life lately?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

First Impressions: THE DWELLERS

Our third submission for First Impressions is a YA sci-fi/fantasy titled THE DWELLERS from Mary O’Donnell.


By time the world listened, the pain was too much to bear. A new dawn had risen above them that cast a shadow so large that the sun couldn’t fight it. Now all there was to do was become something else, a dweller.
 It was a cold winter, and Merrow didn’t want to be out in it longer than she had to be. Her thin coat was a gift given out of love, but it wasn’t as warm. Bright torches led her way through the moist cave as they made the dust within the walls sparkle like the diamonds she had seen up in the sky. The cave seemed to go on forever, and that only fed Merrow’s fear. She didn’t know why she had to come here, this forbidden place. All she did know was that you didn’t ignore a dying wish, especially from an elder. The light ahead became warmer and brighter as she walked. A smile crossed her face, Merrow was only ten, but that was old enough to know that warmth kept them alive in winters like this. The opening widened and there were places made for sitting cut of the rocks all around a large fire that came from the very depths of the earth.
  “Your footsteps are loud. Do you have nothing to hide child?”
 Merrow recognized this man, he used to lead them many moons ago. It took her breath away to know that a man who had been dead since before she had ever been thought of was here, and talking to her. Donn didn’t look like a ghost to Merrow. She couldn’t see through him, and there was dirt over his shaggy black hair and beard. His leather winter wraps that protected him from the cold looked solid enough for her to reach out and touch it. Merrow stayed where she was, taking slow and careful breaths.
  “No, there is nothing left for me to lose,” Merrow said, standing tall, her shoulders rigid. Her fear didn’t show, which she was glad of. It was only her pride that gave her away.

This is an intriguing beginning, and as far as the content is concerned, I’d definitely turn the page to read more. It was easy to connect with Merrow. She’s cold, but walking toward warmth. She’s afraid, but honoring someone’s last request. She’s going someplace strange and forbidden – where she finds it remarkable to meet a dead man, but not entirely shocking. More like, she knew to expect this but found the reality of it different than anticipated.

I’m going to focus on editing. There are several places where pronouns are used without a discernible referent, most notably in the second sentence: A new dawn had risen above them … We don’t know who them refers to. And because we don’t know, we also don’t know the subject of this sentence: Now all there was to do was become something else, a dweller. Personally, I’d remove the reference to them and leave out that next sentence altogether. Introduce us to the concept of dwellers somewhere else.

Another place where them is not identified is in this phrase warmth kept them alive in winters like this, and although I know they means the torches in this sentence -- Bright torches led her way through the moist cave as they made the dust within the walls sparkle – something about the phrasing struck me as wrong. Maybe: The bright torches that led her way through the moist cave made the dust within the walls sparkle … or some other rephrasing?

Here we have an incomplete simile: Her thin coat was a gift given out of love, but it wasn’t as warm. I think Mary means the coat is not as warm as the love which prompted the gift, but rephrasing would make that more clear. There are also a couple comma splices in here – places where two complete sentences are incorrectly joined with a comma – and another place where a comma is used for a compound predicate and should not be.

Mary, thanks for sharing your first page with us! I think with a little editing and adjustment of the language, you’ll have an excellent opener. Readers, what do you think?

Don’t forget to check out Marcy Hatch’s critique of the same page at Mainewords.

Monday, May 5, 2014

First Impressions: THE ANIMATE

Our second submissions for First Impressions in May comes from Elizabeth Arroyo. It’s a New Adult Science Fiction/Dystopian with a working title of THE ANIMATE.

Morph could almost forget that Earth was a dying planet. It looked normal from space: a bright blue sphere with a stable atmosphere. Most of its natural resources, including humans, had been depleted as the Earth crumbled in on itself, unstable and volatile.
“Lieutenant Murphy.”
Morph turned to the cyborg. Its sole purpose to record and retrieve information, Aislyn, priest and executioner, listened when you thought you were alone and backstabbed you to Crux with the information. Morph could forgive it since it didn’t have a conscience. “Aislyn, how are you?”
“I am well, thank you. This way.” Aislyn led him into the circular chamber hovering between Earth’s atmosphere and space. The Needle.
The blackness of space jolted Morph’s nerves. Shyla had demanded his council eighteen times in the last six months, and he’d denied her until now. Keeping the supply ship from him had convinced him of her power. As leader of the world government, Shyla was not used to waiting. She was going to be pissed.
“Well, well, it’s about time.”
Morph drew a smile on his lips and turned to the shadow figure outlined in red. “Hello, Shyla.” He had to admit, though never to her, that he was relieved she decided to use a holograph. It had been three years since he’d last set foot on the Phoenix where Crux had settled. Since his mother died.
“I thought you were dead,” she said.
“Not yet.”

There were a lot of names – both people and places – in this sample of less than 300 words. I counted 7, not including Earth.  I assume Morph is a nickname for Lieutenant Murphy, but I think it would be better if the page started with his full name, first and last, and the nickname was explained afterward. (Maybe when the cyborg addresses him by his title, he could be startled because he’s so used to being called just Morph? Something like that?) Other than the name, I really liked the description in the first paragraph. I get a strong sense of the setting of the story.

I had trouble with this sentence and read it several times: Its sole purpose to record and retrieve information, Aislyn, priest and executioner, listened when you thought you were alone and backstabbed you to Crux with the information. I concluded that Aislyn was listening through the cyborg, therefore I was surprised when the cyborg was called Aislyn further down. I think my confusion is the use of the pronoun it at the beginning of the sentence in conjunction with such a feminine sounding name – not to mention referring to the cyborg as a priest. I thought they were two different entities at first.

After that, there was a lot of information for me to absorb. This is something I struggle with myself—as my crit partners, beta readers, and editors will be quick to tell you! It usually takes me several drafts to find the right place to introduce information at the beginning of a story.

My suggestion is to focus on Morph going to meet Shyla and especially his feelings as he accompanies the cyborg: This is a meeting he’s tried to avoid. Help us make a connection to him through his feelings. His supply ship, his mother, Phoenix, and Crux – perhaps all those things can be held back and slipped into the conversation in later pages? Also I’d like a little more physical description of his surroundings. I had trouble picturing a circular chamber that hovered over the Earth, and I didn’t know exactly why it was called The Needle. Oh, and one last thing – council should be counsel, so we know Shyla is seeking advice from Morph, not demanding he turn over his own council of advisors.

Elizabeth, thanks for sharing your first page with us! Readers, please tell us what you think. Elizabeth can be found at her website, and don’t forget to check out Marcy’s critique of the same page at Mainewords.

Friday, May 2, 2014

First Impressions: INDUCTION DAY

I’m happy to be back (after our hiatus in April) with First Impressions for May! Our first submission is a NA science fiction novel, a sequel in fact: INDUCTION DAY, Book II of Butterman Travel, Inc. by Pk Hrezo.

I’m a time traveler, not a superstar. Tristan doesn’t get it. He forgets people around him aren’t used to the spotlight—with hordes of fans drooling over his every move. That’s his reality, not mine. I have more important things to consider.
His serving-droid delivers a fruit smoothie from its tray to my hand, the midday sun glinting off its shiny metallic torso. “Anything else for you, mademoiselle?”
“No.” I chuckle at its ultra-feminine, sultry voice and refocus on Tristan in the lounger beside me. “French, huh? I’d have pegged you for someone who prefers a Southern drawl on their cyber help.”
“Tried the Southern Belle feature. Felt all wrong, like generations of repressed slave spirits were cursing me from the shadows.” He resets the sliver of his shades on his nose and maximizes them for full coverage, concealing his twilight-blue eyes. “Gave me the creeps ordering it around.”
“But it’s okay ordering around the French?” Squeezing the orange slice at the rim of my glass, I miss my aim in the glass and ejaculate droplets onto Tristan’s cheek. I chuckle.
He purses his lips, wipes his face. “What can I say? I prefer my droids with a French accent. Rolls off the tongue like butter, Butterman.”
He seems to be studying me but it’s hard to tell. Once his lips ease into his superstar grin, I know he is.
“I do like the fuchsia stripes,” he says, referring to my hair. “Trés glam-rock.”
I brush my highlighted strands back from my face in mock supermodel style. “Magenta Marvel. Not fuchsia, thank you very much.”
He arches a brow as if to say who-gives-a-damn, and I wait for his smartass retort because that’s how we play, and I’ve been more than just a little eager to continue this flirty slow-dance on the skirt of an emotion we haven’t yet come to declare. 

I enjoyed the flow of the conversation between Bianca Butterman and Tristan in this scene. As the beginning of a sequel, it suggests that they know one another, but not completely – since Bianca has not encountered Tristan’s serving droid before. There’s also a playfulness about it that comes across as genuine.

With that said, I hope the flirtation will give way on the second page to information that tells readers exactly where in time they are in relation to previous events (no easy task in a book about time travel!) and a hint of the premise/conflict for this sequel. In other words, I like opening with this coy exchange, but Pk shouldn’t let it go on too long without moving into the plot.

The one thing that I’d like to see tweaked is the opening paragraph. Bianca says she’s not used to the spotlight like Tristan is, therefore I expected this scene was going to put her in an uncomfortable spotlight situation. However, they appear to be alone. So, unless hordes of drooling fans are going to gate-crash on the next page, I’d suggest changing the phrasing to say that Bianca is not used to luxury (like serving droids with French accents), or something else that reflects what’s going on in this scene.

Readers, what do you think? Thank you, Pk, for letting us be the first people to glimpse the sequel to Butterman’s Time Travel, Inc. And everyone, please check out Marcy’s feedback at Mainewords.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Starting from Scratch

It’s a good thing I’ve been doing all these promotional interviews and guest posts for the launch of The Eighth Day. I’ve been asked to talk about my writing process a lot, and – with the self-assurance of someone whose book just got published – I've been blithely telling everyone how awful and torturous and soul-killing my first drafts are. Several people have commented how relieved they are to hear that, since they're struggling with the same issue.

I’ll bet nobody guesses I’m one of the writers reading those interviews and taking comfort from my own words! Because I recently started from scratch on a brand new project.

And I’m afraid it's going to suck! I don’t know what I’m doing! Waah!

This is the first time I’ve put words down on a completely new manuscript where I did not already know the main character and his world since April of 2012 when I started writing GRUNSDAY, which became The Eighth Day. And yes, since then I’ve written The Inquisitor’s Mark and the Not-Yet-Officially-Named Book 3 – and yes, I agonized over them for various reasons. But at least I knew Jax and his voice would carry me through.

This main character is a complete stranger to me. I don’t know her voice or her world yet. I have a premise that’s pretty cool (at least I think so), but the plot is merely some “dots” that need to be connected.

I’ve said many times that my plot and characters develop on the page as I write them. Only when I’m finished the first draft do I realize what the story was supposed to be about all along.

Now, starting from scratch with something new, I just need to believe my own words!

I’ll be here on Friday for First Impressions with a page from Pk Hrezo’s sequel to Butterman (Time) Travel, Inc. I took a break from First Impressions in April because my partner-in-crime Marcy was doing A to Z, but I am glad to have this feature return in May. I missed it!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Heartfelt Thanks to You All

My cousin Barry Abernethy posted this one.
You guys rock.

I can’t believe the number of bloggers who helped me celebrate the release of The Eighth Day last week. I felt … popular. It was a totally new feeling for someone who’s been a wall-flower since elementary school.

Thank you, everybody – to Writer Unboxed who hosted my guest post about Franken-drafts, to Michael Gittel-Gilmartin who not only gave me the release day to talk about antagonists at Project Mayhem, but surprised me with a reprisal of his review and interview later in the week. There were three wonderful bloggers hosting reviews or interviews along with a giveaway (still going on, btw): Eli Madison at Tweens Read Too, Robin Hall, and Susan Kaye Quinn. Robin at Your Daily Dose surprised me by highlighting one of my posts in her A to Z series, and Julia Tomiak at Diary of a Word Nerd wrote a lovely review! (I hope I didn't forget anyone. The week was such a blur!) And the blog love continues today, because Natalie Aguirre is offering another giveaway at Literary Rambles, and Susan Kaye Quinn let me take over her blog for the day to discuss trusting your writing process.

Sheri Larsen's copy is floating!
Then there was everyone who Tweeted about my book or posted pictures of The Eighth Day in the wild or – thanks, Sheri Larsen – apparently floating in the clouds! Co-workers, friends, and family members shared the Facebook announcements and/or went out to buy the book during the release week (or had it delivered on the day of release by Amazon.) I was overwhelmed by the generous show of support from everyone.

Back in 2010, when I attended an event celebrating the joint launch of We Hear the Dead and Picture the Dead by Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown, I had an interesting conversation with author/illustrator Lisa Brown (also the wife of Lemony Snicket). She said that publishing was a strange business in that by the time your book finally hits the shelves, you’ve usually written a couple more books and have your head mired in a completely different project.

I found this true last year when The Caged Graves released at the same time I was hip-deep in major revisions for The Eighth Day. (I barely remembered who Verity and Nate were at that point!) And this time, I find it hard to wrap my head around the fact that, for the reading public, Jax is only beginning his journey – when I just turned in the third installment of his adventures to my editor.  It makes me wonder: When Book 3 in this series hits the shelves, what will I be working on?

I have no idea, but I can’t wait to share the journey to find out with all you wonderful people!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Reviews: Good and Bad

Sorcia says: Instead of reading reviews,
you should play with your dog.
In general, authors seem to agree that you shouldn’t read reviews of your book but that it’s almost impossible to resist doing so. Let’s face it. We want to read the good reviews. We don’t want to read the bad ones (or even have them exist at all, frankly).

Some authors say that maybe there is something to be learned from bad reviews – that the feedback will help you become a better writer. But liking or not liking a book is so subjective, it’s rarely the case that a negative review will give you something useful and substantial to work on. Author Victoria Scott recently wrote a blog post in which she bravely and honestly displayed positive and negative reviews of her books side-by-side to show just how contradictory they are. What do you do when VOYA praises the development of your characters and School Library Journal calls them “cartoonish?”

And don’t get me started on the star rating system! I have seen 4-star reviews that are mostly a laundry list of complaints and 2-star reviews which are extremely complimentary. What’s up with that?

So, should an author read them or not?

Personally, I have a screener – my husband – who reads reviews as they appear and forwards me links to the ones I might like to read. Additionally, if the reviewer tags me on Twitter, I assume she/he wants me to read the review, and so I do. (And I’ll follow up with a comment or thank you.) I also scan the “Friend” portion of my Goodreads page so that I don’t overlook when a friend writes a review, so I can thank them.

Other than that, I try not to look. (Sometimes, in a moment of weakness, I peek. This may end in delight or getting crushed, and if it’s the latter, I swear off peeking for a good long time.)

The one iron-clad rule that an author must NEVER break is this: Do not respond to bad reviews. No matter how unfair, nasty, or completely inaccurate they are.  NEVER. Not even when the reviewer sees fit to Tweet it, and re-Tweet it, and dredge it up out of archives to Tweet it again every three months. Grit your teeth and look away.

Then go re-read one of the good ones!

By the way, I've got a hardback giveaway going on over at Susan Kaye Quinn's blog (along with an interview). Stop by to enter!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Release Dates

Ellen Jensen Abbott, Kit Grindstaff, Nancy Viau, and me
at a Barnes & Noble Educator Reception
One thing I’ve learned after the release of two previous books is that – unless you’re JK Rowling, Rick Riordan, Jeff Kinney, or someone else in that stratosphere of authorhood – release dates are just a suggestion.

If you’ve pre-ordered a book on Amazon, it will be sent to your Kindle on the release date, and generally, Amazon tries to ship in advance so the book will arrive on the release date. (Sometimes they miss and it arrives a day early or a day late.) Sometimes, if Amazon miscalculates how many books to stock, they can run out and list your book as “out of stock” on the release date – which is really devastating. (This happened to a blogger friend of mine.)

As for book stores, they don’t have the space or inclination to store books in their back rooms until the release date. If it doesn’t have a strict “sell date,” they will unpack books and put them on the shelves as soon as they arrive. Their goal, of course, is to see them walk out the door with paying customers as soon as possible.

A picture of the book "in the wild" sent by a friend.
I'm right next to Luke Skywalker, uh, I mean
Johnny Tremain. (Really, doesn't that look like Luke?)
That’s why my first two books were on shelves in advance of their release date and why I was able to sell copies of The Eighth Day last Wednesday, at a Barnes & Noble Educator Reception seven days ahead of its “release.” (Would’ve been cool if it was eight days – but since we had sleet and snow last Tuesday, it’s just as well it didn’t happen that way.)

Does that mean I’m not looking forward to tomorrow, April 22, the official release date for The Eighth Day? No, of course I am! But when people ask what I’m doing to celebrate, I tell them it’s a regular work day. My husband won’t be home to share a glass of champagne with. But I will turn up the volume on my phone so I can hear all the Twitter notifications for Happy Book Birthday Tweets – and so can my students. We might even do a Happy Dance for each one. (While keeping our heads down and nose to the grindstone meeting our Common Core learning targets, of course …)

And by the way, remember Book 3, the one that gave me so much trouble? I sent the manuscript off to my editor. That’s worth a Happy Dance, too!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


That's pretty much what I'm doing right now, flailing helplessly.  I'm cooked. The last couple weeks have been real killers at work. Plus, I've got a book releasing and another book due.

So far, the only creative thing I've produced all week was this (after Sunday's Game of Thrones episode):

So no real blog post today.

However, in an effort to recharge my batteries, I have been reading.

Have you read The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen?


If you haven't, I suggest you leave this blog and acquire the book immediately. There is so much to be learned from Nielsen's The False Prince. The last time I met a narrator as tricky and deceptive as Sage was in Code Name Verity.

Go read it now.

Why are you still here?

Monday, April 14, 2014

10 Random Monday Updates

1. It's only a week and a day until The Eighth Day releases, and some book stores have already received their stock and put the books out on the shelves. If you see one, send me a picture by Tweet or FB! If you actually buy one and want the temporary tattoos that go with it, I'll be happy to mail you a set!

2. I received my author copies, which is always a thrill. In this case, they were a bright spot in an otherwise stressful week.

3. I experienced several "LASTS" in my teaching career last week: The last time I will do parent-teacher conferences on the teacher side of the table.  The last time I ever have to administer the state standardized tests.

4. I hated the tests more than ever this year. I really need to wait until I am officially retired before I start venting. I don't want anything I say to be linked to my current students. But on behalf of all my colleagues who will still be in the trenches next year, I need to state LOUDLY AND CLEARLY why test scores are NOT a measure of teacher effectiveness.

5. I'm almost ready to send my manuscript of Book 3 to my editor for her first look. Last week, I read the manuscript on my Kindle, took notes, and made changes in the document. I need to let it rest a couple days -- read somebody else's books, kind of like cleansing the palate -- and then repeat that process one more time. Then it will be time to send it to the person who will help me take it to the next level.

6. I am not entirely thrilled with my Kindle Paperwhite. I needed a new Kindle, because my 2nd generation model was dying, and I thought the Paperwhite was going to be a good choice. But although the visual look of the page is superior to my old model, I'm not crazy about the way the home screen is organized. The highlighting function is awkward. (A dictionary screen keeps popping up instead of the highlighting function.) The method for viewing your notes -- and deleting them when you're through with them -- is also very clunky.

7. The weather is finally pleasant in Pennsylvania. The crocuses have come and gone, the daffodils are in full bloom, tulips and hyacinths are not far behind.I enjoyed my first bike ride of the season this past weekend.

8. Gabbey got invited to both the Junior and Senior prom. When I mentioned she was going to need two dresses, Gina suggested we get her a reversible dress. The husband Googled "reversible prom dress", and would you believe he not only found one, Gabbey fell in love with it and my husband managed to buy it on clearance! You can see pics HERE and HERE.

9. This is the week formerly known as Spring Break, but I will be teaching until Wednesday. We had our "spring break" back in February when the ice storm closed school for several days. (Lucky for me, I actually got my first draft written on those days.)

10. After I turn in Book 3 -- and given time for a Brain Break -- I am going to play with my Shiny New Idea. Step 1 is learning a little more about string theory. (I do worry it's too hard for me to understand, if even Dr. Sheldon Cooper recently gave up on it!!)

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Charlie's Scribes Answer My Call for Help with ... Well, Grab a Fan, Ladies ...

Knowing I would be ridiculously busy this week, I put out a call for help to Charlie's Scribes. I didn't specify a topic, so I knew I would be at the mercy of their whimsical nature. 

And I wasn't wrong ... nor can I say that I'm disappointed. Take a lookee below ~

I journeyed far and wide looking for a certain...impeccable topic to do for Dianne. I mean have you been here often? It's always full of wise and awesome tales, topics, and to-do's for writing!
How could I top that?
Until I slammed the brakes on my Chevro-legs. I asked a few questions, drooled quite a bit, then discovered...FARMERS CAN WRITE!

They have a wonderful writer's vocabulary that they just HAD to show me.
And show me they did!!
Come...gather my FARMING WRITERS!

So what did we learn today that's writerly? Always carry a fan!
I mean, never think because someone DOESN'T SEEM like a writer, that someone CAN'T BE a writer. Everyone is just different...and sometimes shirtless...and buff...and tan... oh my, where's my industrial fan!!!???
Post by Charlie's Scribes Angel: Tammy Theriault

Need help with a post? Want to take a much needed break?? 
Contact Bosley at
You snooze...we muse!!!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Writing Process Blog Hop

A couple weeks ago, J.E. Oneil at Still Writing tagged me for the Writing Process Blog Hop.

1) What am I working on?

I’m currently putting the finishing touches on the 4th draft of the third book in the Eighth Day series so I can send it to my editor later this month. It won’t be the final draft, of course. I expect to go through at least 3 more drafts with my editor.

I’m also doing preliminary research and brainstorming for a new project I hope to start this summer. I don’t want to give away the premise at this point, but let’s just say it will be another MG adventure, with science instead of magic at its heart. Okay, one more hint: String theory for kids!

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I know the editor who acquired the Eighth Day series researched the “secret day of the week” idea before she offered for my work. She told me later that she didn’t find much on that topic, although Scott Westerfield wrote a series called The Midnighters in which there is a secret hour. (I had never heard of it until she mentioned it, and I don’t plan on reading it until I am finished the Eighth Day series.)

School Library Journal said that The Eighth Daymelds Arthurian legend into present day in much the same way that Rick Riordan uses Greek and Egyptian mythology, with characters being descendants of heroes long thought to be folklore.”

Some readers have commented on the uniqueness of my weaving YA characters so prominently into an MG story. (See the post below.)

As for the Shiny New Idea, I hold my breath every time I scan the Rights Report in PW Children’s Bookshelf, hoping I don’t see anything similar to my new project.

3) Why do I write what I do?

I write the kinds of books I like to read, whether that be historical, mystery, fantasy, science fiction, or adventure.

4) How does your writing process usually work?

First comes the premise, followed by the characters, and then a few basic plot points that create a sketchy dot-to-dot outline of the story.

Then comes the torturous first draft, in which I lose my way, doubt my sanity, complain, tear my hair out, and whine a lot on this blog.

Around the time I type THE END on the first draft, I realize what the whole story was supposed to be about in the first place, and I dive immediately into a series of successive drafts, revising until I have the real story polished enough to share with my agent.

Then I hold my breath, waiting to hear what she thinks.

Thanks, J.E., for inviting me to participate. I’m supposed to tag other writers, but I’m pretty shy about doing that, and most people I know are caught up in alphabetical blogging. So, I’m going to cheat and tag Christine Danek, because I know she’s already participating in this hop on April 11!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Non MG Characters in MG Books

Recently, I was asked whether it was difficult to write non-MG characters into a major role in The Eighth Day without fear of losing my audience. The answer was NO, although before the book sold, I was worried about losing potential publishers.

If you write MG or have even considered it, you’ve probably heard that the story must revolve around characters under the age of 14, adult characters are to be kept in the background, and you should never, ever, ever have an adult POV.

Art by high school student Rachel Gillespie
The thing is … this seems to be a publishing industry rule that a) is ignored when the story is good enough and b) gives no credit to MG readers. Kids know when the story is good. They are completely unaware of industry standards, and they couldn't care less about them!

There are three main characters in The Eighth Day:
  • Jax, the protagonist and primary POV, age 13
  • Riley, his guardian, age 18
  • Evangeline, the alternate POV character, age 16 

That’s right. Two important YA characters in a MG novel. Luckily, the editor who acquired my novel saw no need for me to change their ages. She called them aspirational characters, and I think that’s the perfect name for them. I’ve read this book out loud to two reading classes for two years in a row now, and all four groups of MG students LOVED Evangeline and Riley. In fact, the #1 question they all had about Book 2 in the series was: Will Riley and Evangeline be in it?

The fact is, MG readers are not as narrow-minded as some publishers/agents might think. Take Brandon Mull’s wildly popular fantasy series, Fablehaven, and oh yeah, his other wildly popular series, The Beyonders. In each case, there are only 2 MG characters in the books – one boy and one girl. The rest of the cast is composed of adults.

But oh, what adults! Fablehaven has a crossbow-wielding Grandma, and The Beyonders features the displacer Ferrin, who can disassemble his body parts, send them on errands, and then call them back together.

Consider also the Hero’s Guide series by Christopher Healy, where ALL the main characters are adults. There are four adult Princes Charming, not to mention their four corresponding Princesses. Prince Duncan and Snow White are actually married! (Gasp!) But the reason this works in MG is that all these characters have childlike qualities. MG readers relate to their endearing playfulness.

Perhaps that’s the key – whether its playfulness, outlandishness, or aspirational-ness – all characters must bring something to the story that appeals to young readers. Age doesn’t really matter as much as you think.

My CP Krystalyn Drown worried a lot about including an adult POV in her MG book, Tracy Tam: Santa Command (Month9Books, Oct 2014) Tracy is a child and the protagonist, but Phil, an adult, provides an alternate POV. In fact, Phil’s POV opens the book. Krystalyn wondered if she should change that, and I encouraged her to leave it. Her opening is brilliant. Phil works at Santa Command, and he has a crisis with Santa. Who cares how old Phil is?! He has to save Santa!

Luckily, Month9Books felt the same way. They had no problem with Phil, his point of view, or opening the book with him. They told Krystalyn that readers will “love and cheer” when Tracy proves Phil wrong during the climax of the story.

So, I think, when industry professionals tell MG writers to stay away from adult characters, what they really mean is stay away from characters who make adulthood look boring and stodgy. Awesome adults (and young adults) are welcome!

Monday, March 31, 2014

My MG Reader Switches to YA!

How did it happen? My voracious little MG reader has suddenly gone completely YA! Gina has reviewed many a book here on my blog, but today I'm interviewing her as a newly converted YA reader.

1. Gina, thanks for visiting my blog today! Can you list the YA books you’ve read in the last month?

The Fault in Our Stars, Looking for Alaska, The Twilight saga, Champion by Marie Lu, The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Kootz, Countdown by Michelle Rowen, and Mind Games by Kiersten White.

2. What do you think all these books have in common that draws you to them? (Except for the John Green books, it seems to me that most of them are speculative fiction. Am I right?)

I do enjoy dystopian novels the best, which makes up a good portion of the list above. I really love seeing a whole new world and form of society crafted into a story. I like books that have enough action, not necessarily fights or anything like that, and romance.

3. I was surprised to see you recently reading Kiera Cass’s Selection trilogy, because I thought that was primarily YA romance. (The girls are competing for the prince, right?) So, are you into romance now, or is there something else that drew you to those books?

I don’t have anything against romance related novels, in fact I quite enjoy them, but The Selection wasn’t entirely romance. I once saw a review that said it was like The Hunger Games without all the killing. Which is pretty accurate. It’s just a good book.

4. You saved your money and bought your own Kindle at age 10. Then you proceeded to devour MG books as fast as you could buy them and download them. Now, you’ve upgraded from a second generation Kindle to a Kindle Fire, and suddenly, I notice you only read physical books. What happened? Is the Kindle Fire not as good for reading? Or is there something about YA books that makes you want to hold them (and their gorgeous covers) in your hands?

I don’t particularly enjoy reading on a kindle for several reasons. For one, you don’t get the feel of the book. I enjoy physically having them. Also, it’s much harder to take notes for school or find a scene you are looking for. And in my school, if I try to read on my kindle, I get so many people saying that I’m not allowed to have a kindle in school. Even though I am, in fact, allowed. And even if I tell them that, they bug me endlessly and accuse me of playing games. It’s just much simpler to have the physical books. I only usually buy something on kindle if I want it so badly that waiting a few days just won’t do.

5. I don't think you completely answered my question there, because you used to read TONS of books on your old Kindle.  (Gina shrugs at me.) O-kay, moving on ... What’s the biggest turn-off to you in a YA book?

Well, in the case of the Selection series, the MC’s name was almost enough to make me not buy it. America Singer? Why? And guess what -- she sings. It took me a really long time to get over that. Don’t name characters such cheesy things. PLEASE!

6. What book or series do you wish there had been more of?

This is a hard question. For most of the books I’m thinking of, it simply would not work for more things to happen after it is over. It would have to be in the middle. My two favorite series were The Legend Series and Divergent. I would have loved to see more from those series. Although not just retelling of scenes I’ve already read from another character’s point of view, which is what the author of Divergent is doing.

7. Now it’s time for a shameless plug. Do you recommend THE EIGHTH DAY – and why?

Hmm, I think it’s a good book, but I’ve heard the author is a real pain. (Oh, very funny.) But I mean in all seriousness, I was unable to put The Eighth Day down for almost half the book, while in most YA books only a few chapters are usually that way. I thought it was extremely well written and filled with enough action to keep the story moving on, and makes you want to keep reading.

Gina, thanks for being here today! You've heard it folks: Don't give your characters cheesy names. Don't retell your novels from another character's POV and call it a new book. And write more dystopian despite agents and editors telling you that genre is dead!

And now, my other daughter Gabrielle will reprise her role as the Cue Card Girl from this weekend's high school production of Hairspray to announce the winner of a copy of Marcy Hatch's debut novel, WEST OF PARADISE.

Amy Makechnie, you are the winner! Yay! I will be in touch!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

What's Cool, What's Not

First of all, what's NOT cool is that the designers of Wii Fit Plus programmed the darn thing to nag and taunt me. I feel pretty good about trying to exercise after I come home from school, alternating between the Bowflex and the Wii. Considering how many other things I have competing for my attention, I feel downright virtuous just trying to fit it in.

It's not cool for the Wii to criticize my commitment, no matter how small a commitment it is.

Wii: Hello, Dianne. I hope you've been staying away from those afternoon snacks.

Dianne: (glances at snack bowl formerly filled with pretzels) That's none of your business.

Wii: Want to hear a fitness tip?

Dianne: No.

Wii: It's been two days since your last visit. Too busy to work out yesterday, huh? 

Dianne: (flips the bird at the Wii)

It pretty much goes downhill from there. What's MUCH cooler than being nagged by your Wii is getting a box like this on Friday:

Having already been dissed by the Wii, I wasn't going to let a BOX tell me what to do, so I opened it, even though it wasn't Grunsday yet, and found these!

The real, finished, beautiful hardback copies of The Eighth Day!

Then, also very exciting and very cool, yesterday PW Children's Bookshelf carried a trade ad for my book. It's really, really cool to see your book advertised in the PW newsletter!

HarperCollins is giving away more ARCs, so if you can't wait until April 22 -- or if you want your eighth day FREE -- you can enter the giveaway HERE.

So, what's cool and uncool in your life lately?

(I was tempted to discuss the PA state standardized test as another really uncool thing going on right now ... but then we'd be here all day. My rant on the test is going to have to wait for another day ... either a secret eighth day, or a day after I am safely retired.)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Mistaken Identity, Romance, and Murder: An Interview with Marcy Hatch

Marcy Hatch is one of my oldest blogging buddies and alpha readers, as well as my partner in First Impressions. So I’m delighted to spread the news about West of Paradise, her debut novel releasing this week from WiDo Publishing – a book I read wa-a-a-y back when it was just a manuscript.

Separately, Katherine Kennedy and Jack McCabe are drawn to Paradise Tours on the privately owned Cristobel Island, a resort promising life-altering adventure -- just choose the time and place.
They find themselves over 125 years in the past, 1881 to be exact. Neither of them knows the other is a fellow time-traveler. Jack's at the top of his game -- until his run-in with Alanna McCleod, the beautiful but deadly train robber. As for Katherine, she no sooner lands back in time than she’s mistaken for Alanna McCleod and can't understand why -- until she sees the wanted poster.
Set in the Old West, this high-spirited tale of mistaken identity, romance, and murder is part historical fiction, part time travel fantasy, and completely captivating.
Today, I’m interviewing Marcy about her new book and her journey to publication.

1. West of Paradise is your debut book, but it had a winding road to publication. Can you tell us when you wrote it, when you queried it, why you shelved it, and – most importantly, what made you decide to take it off the shelf and dust it off?

West of Paradise was the third complete book I’d written and I was querying it when I first started blogging in 2009. I got quite a few positive responses but after all was said and done, no takers, and I started working on something else. After seeing a few folks get deals with smaller publishers, I wondered if that might not be a good place for my story and so decided to query again.

2. What was the inspiration behind West of Paradise? Did you set out first to write about time travel? Or about the Old West?

Oh, the Old West for sure. I’ve always loved a good historical romance, one with plenty of romance AND history. I like all those details of what people wore, how they traveled, what they ate. But if I had to pick something specific I’d probably say A Knight in Shining Armor, by Jude Devereaux. It’s a great time travel romance.

3. Having read early drafts and several revisions of this novel, I already know how much research went into your depiction of the Old West. How did you do your research? What details were the most difficult to pin down?

Well, I’m a history major, so I happen to have a lot of books about history and quite a few about the Old West specifically. I also bought a few, and I used the internet where I was lacking. Some of the sites devoted to Tombstone were especially helpful as were some old maps that helped me navigate around the town as it was. It wasn’t difficult, but it was time consuming!

4. I also know you experienced the pain of many historical fiction writers – cutting some of those delicious historical details you unearthed for the sake of pacing. Let me ease the pain by inviting you to share something you cut.

Oh, you are so sweet to offer, but just the first paragraph of what was originally chapter 16 – yup, the whole chapter ended up on the cutting room floor! 

Jim Woolbridge had been a Pinkerton Agent for almost a year when the Adams Express was robbed in 1878. Over $700,000 in cash, bonds, and jewels had been stolen. Robert Pinkerton, who by that time had taken over the management of the business along with his brother William, put Jim on the case with the more experienced Larry Sweet. Jim Woolbridge actually met Larry Sweet for the first time in New York City, where the messenger had been held for questioning. 

5. Many of my readers know you are my partner-in-crime for First Impressions. They may not know it was YOUR idea. Can you tell us what inspired you to offer first page critiques?

I thought it would be fun AND educational for everyone involved, including myself. I still think it’s fun and I learn more with every submission we get.

6. I also happen to know that you write in widely diverse genres. Can you tell us a little about the projects you’ve worked on recently as well as the one in progress?

Oh, wow, well, I’ve written a few books since West of Paradise

GRIMOIRE – A Witchy YA Regency Romance
NO REST – NA Scifi
PEACE AND FORGIVENESS – YA Paranormal – my current wip.

7. What else would you like us to know about you or West of Paradise?

Just that I still love it. Even now after having read it God knows how many times, I still love it. It’s a fun romance throwing modern day people into the past. Think Tombstone meets Romancing Stone :)

To help celebrate Marcy’s debut, I’m giving away a copy of West of Paradise. Simply leave a comment on this post to be entered in the drawing by this Sunday at midnight, and I will buy you a paperback copy! (Trust me. You won't be disappointed. I'm reading a galley of it right now for review purposes and enjoying it all over again.)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Lots of Good Stuff Happening!

The Spirit Game
It's a little more than a month until The Eighth Day releases, and lots of fun stuff is happening all at once! Reviews are coming in from professionals and advance readers, and I'm starting to schedule signing events. (Check the sidebar for places and dates! Most of them are local to me, but I've got one in Alexandria, Virginia. Any blogging buddies live out that way?)

Last Friday I got a sneak peek at what HarperCollins is brewing for the cover of The Inquisitor's Mark. I can't share it yet, but I can tell you I'm really impressed. It's nothing like I had imagined for this book, but it's thrilling and sinister and perfect.

This past weekend, I got word that The Spirit Game, the short film inspired by my book We Hear the Dead, is available to rent or own through Vimeo on Demand. You can find it HERE and watch it for $0.99 on your computer or other video-playing device.

Finally, I'm confident I'll have my manuscript for Book 3 ready to turn in on time to my editor. I still have some issues to work out and revise in Draft 4, but I'm feeling SO MUCH BETTER about this book than I did back in January. And I know that when my editors gets their hands on it, they'll help me take it to the next level.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Going Hybrid and Getting Elevated: An Interview with Elana Johnson

I’m pretty sure most of you are already acquainted with Elana Johnson, author of the dystopian Possession series from Simon & Schuster. Last month, Elana independently published a new book, a standalone contemporary romance in verse, called Elevated. Today I have Elana here talking about her new book and her new hybrid author status.

The last person seventeen-year-old Eleanor Livingston wants to see on the elevator--let alone get stuck with--is her ex-boyfriend Travis, the guy she's been avoiding for five months.
Plagued with the belief that when she speaks the truth, bad things happen, Elly hasn't told Trav anything. Not why she broke up with him and cut off all contact. Not what happened the day her father returned from his deployment to Afghanistan. And certainly not that she misses him and still thinks about him everyday.

But with nowhere to hide and Travis so close it hurts, Elly's worried she won't be able to contain her secrets for long. She's terrified of finally revealing the truth, because she can't bear to watch a tragedy befall the boy she still loves.
1. In Elevated, which came first, the premise of the story or the idea of writing it in verse?

The premise. I thought of writing about people being stuck in a huge elevator when I went to a planetarium with my kids -- probably 4-5 years ago. I struggled with who should be in the elevator, why they'd be there, what would happen, etc. for a couple of years. (This is how most of my books start -- this slow kernel of an idea.)

I wrote the first 100 pages of the book in regular prose. It just wasn't working. The story was over, dead.

I wanted to stretch myself, and I thought I'd like to try writing in verse. So I took those 100 pages, and I changed them into poetry. I cut A TON -- and suddenly the book/story had new life. Thus, ELEVATED was truly born. 

2. Was your writing process for a novel in verse (and a contemporary romance) any different from the writing process for your dystopian novel series?

Light years different! First off, contemporary is a whole different beast than dystopian or any other kind of plot-based fiction. There's no "bad guy" in contemporary. No villain. No evil forces. Everything is internal; the fight is within as the MC struggles to learn and do what they think is right.

So plotting is different, absolutely. And character development too. As for the actual writing, yes, it's also different. I recently just completed my second verse novel, and I find that I have to have a style. Something on the page that dictates how the verse flows. I don't have to do that in my other novels. So it's an interesting process.

3. The premise -- a girl stuck in an elevator with her ex-boyfriend seems humorous, as does the cover -- but the synopsis seems very serious to me. How would you characterize the mood of Elevated?

High angst. It's all angst, all the time. Ha!

4. I understand you were present at a photo shoot for the cover. Can you tell us about it?

The photo shoot was awesome! My good friend and fellow author, Erin Summerill did it with some teens from her neighborhood. We went to a sports arena to find this cool industrial elevator with two doors (which is harder than you might think to find!). It was a lot of laughing, and trying to get the doors to stay open -- because you know, elevator doors don't like to stay open. It was an awesome experience, and I'm glad we got a cool shot for a unique cover.

5. You recently signed with a new agent. Why then, did you choose to go indie with this book?

My previous agent had shopped this book in the New York traditional market. It got a lot of attention and editors seemed to like it. But no offers came, even when it was passed on to higher-ups and shown at acquisitions. The reason? The verse market is "soft" and "doesn't make publishers money."

That was okay for me. I get it. Publishing is a business, and they only buy books they think will make money. That didn't mean Elevated wasn't a good book, well-written, or worthy of being published. It is all of those things, and I determined to do it myself.

During all that, I split with my first agent and started querying again. I did recently sign with a new agent, and I'm grateful she is okay with the idea of me being a hybrid author!

6. What's next for you?

I hope a sale in the national market for my YA time travel! I am nearing the end of revisions on it and hope to have it on submission soon. After that, I will be releasing another YA contemporary romance novel in verse in September, titled Something About Love.

Thank you, Elana, for sharing your journey and experiences with us! Elevated is available to purchase now, and if you don’t already follow Elana’s blog, you can find her here.

PossessionSurrender and Abandon -- all available now from Simon & Schuster!
Digital short stories Regret (only 99 cents) and Resist (free!) round out the trilogy.