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!