Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Stuff In Between Dialogue

Sometimes when you’re writing a scene, you need to avoid the “talking heads” syndrome where 2 people are chatting on the pages but doing absolutely nothing to further the plot. They need to have this conversation—but what do you have them do while they’re discussing?

1. Absolutely nothing. Don’t be afraid to have a simple back-and-forth with no action, or even (gasp!) no dialogue tags like “he said” and “she said.” Just be careful not to go on too long or your reader may lose track of who is saying what. It depends on the interchange, but 6-12 non-tagged lines are usually long enough before you have to tag or identify:

A looming presence appears beside my desk, like a specter of doom. “Curtis.”
“Yes, Mrs. Taylor?”
“Your assignment was due last week, and I don’t see it in my homework box.”
“Um…this may sound hard to believe, but my dog ate it.”
“You’re right. I don’t believe that for one microsecond.”
“No, really! I know it’s a freakin’ cliché, but Rambo was locked inside my room while my mom was doing some girlie hair dye thing with my sister—”
“I’m going to need a note from your mother about that, then.”
I slouch in my desk. Oops, definite snag. Used the wrong alibi for that one.

2. Have the character think or do a simple action. Especially useful when writing in first person, this Shows the reader the character’s personality rather than Telling what someone is like. For instance, the last 2 lines of thought in the previous example. Actions also work, such as Curtis slouching in his desk—just be careful not to overdo it and have an action for nearly EVERY single line. That gets old and tedious, fast.

3. Actions that actually propel the scene forward. Integrate the actions into the dialogue so that something is happening to get the characters from point A to point B. Be careful of doing a lot of overused actions such as sighing, glancing, blinking, lip pursing, and hair smoothing. Use these sparingly and make sure they fit the character you are describing.

Also, don’t have EVERYONE have a habit of twirling strands of hair or biting his/her lower lip whilst thinking under pressure. That’s unrealistic. Keep it to one character as his/her specific trait.

How long have you gone on with a dialogue, with no tags in a scene?
Do you find writing dialogue difficult, or fairly easy?
Do you have trouble figuring out what actions your characters should be doing while they are in a conversation, so they don’t sound like “talking heads”?


Tuesday, September 1, 2015


The day has finally arrived, at loooong last! It’s been a 5-year journey, people. My YA sci-fi novel, THE BODY INSTITUTE, is now available for anyone to read. It’s both thrilling and scary to think about.

Thanks to all of you, my loyal blogging friends, for riding along with me on my trip into publication. As a group, you are mentioned in the acknowledgments at the end of my book! I appreciate your encouragement, support, and word-hugs throughout the past years.  

The Body Institute
When 17-year-old Morgan Dey joins up as a Reducer at The Body Institute, her job is to take over another girl’s body, get her in shape, and then return to her own body. It’s innovative weight loss at its finest. Only there are a few catches…it’s not long before Morgan must decide if being a Reducer is worth the cost of her body and soul.
Are we our minds...or our bodies? 

Preorder links:   Amazon  Barnes & Noble  |  Kobo  Indiebound Powell's Books  

Fun Facts While Writing The Body Institute
1. BUGS. I was writing the rough draft and my grown daughter was visiting. She sat out on the back porch, sunning like a cat, and soon came whipping back in—squawking that some sort of insect had flown into her ear. So, since I happened to be writing a scene where my main character was outside, I incorporated that bug-in-the-ear experience right into my scene. Fun!
2. BEFORE and AFTER photos. I adore them! Even when I was around 9-10 years old, I was fascinated by articles about people who had lost weight, carefully studying the Before and After photos. As I got older, I was also intrigued by before and after photos of women who applied makeup…photos of house renovations and improvements…photos of pictures drawn by people before they read the book Drawing On The Right Side of The Brain (by Betty Edwards) and then after they did the book’s drawing exercises—and so on.

Have you read other YA books that deal with weight and body image?
What do you think of Before and After photos—are you as entranced as I am?
Have you ever incorporated something that happened in real life into your scenes, from either your memories or from something that happened while you were writing?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Book Release: HOT PINK IN THE CITY by Medeia Sharif

I’m happy to be helping celebrate the book release for my online writer friend, Medeia Sharif. Her new contemporary YA novel, HOT PINK IN THE CITY, releases today, August 19th. CONGRATS, Medeia!!

Asma Bashir wants two things: a summer fling and her favorite '80s songs. During a trip to New York City to stay with relatives, she messes up in her pursuit of both. She loses track of the hunk she met on her airplane ride, and she does the most terrible thing she could possibly do to her strict uncle…ruin his most prized possession, a rare cassette tape.

A wild goose chase around Manhattan and Brooklyn to find a replacement tape yields many adventures—blackmail, theft, a chance to be a TV star, and so much more. Amid all this turmoil, Asma just might be able to find her crush in the busiest, most exciting city in the world.

Available from Prizm Books: LINK
Available on Amazon: LINK
More purchase links on Medeia’s site: LINK

I was born in New York City and I presently call Miami my home. I received my master’s degree in psychology from Florida Atlantic University. After becoming a voracious reader in high school and a relentless writer dabbling in many genres in college, I found my niche writing for young people. Today I'm a MG and YA writer published through various presses. In addition to being a writer, I'm a public school teacher. My memberships include Mensa, ALAN, and SCBWI.


Connect with Medeia – YA and MG Author:

Blog   |   Twitter   |   Goodreads   |   Instagram   |   Amazon

WIN STUFF! WIN STUFF! Enter the HPITC book blast giveaway!

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

Have you ever been to New York City, specifically Manhattan or Brooklyn?
Did you know about this YA book before you read this post?
Do you remember using and listening to cassette tapes?

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Five-Word Book Reviews

Okay, this is just for kicks and giggles. I’ve seen people who write short-short reviews (or summaries) for movies, so I thought I’d give it a whirl with BOOKS. I mean, really short. As in, five words long…er, short.

Can we summarize the essence of a book in 5 words? Let’s try.

Here are my attempts:
Charlotte’s Web: Pig lives, thanks to spider.
Scorpio Races: Night mares rise from the sea.
Lord of the Flies: Island of boys, primal instincts.
1984: Big Brother is watching you.
What’s Left of Me: Double souls, one doesn’t fade.
13 Reasons Why: Tapes reveal reasons for suicide.
The Body Institute: Losing weight FOR other people.

Can you describe these (or other) popular books in only FIVE WORDS? 
Gone With the Wind
Pride and Prejudice
Hunger Games
Maze Runner
The Book Thief
The Giver
Looking For Alaska
City of Bones
If I Stay
Hush, Hush
Imaginary Girls
Treasure Island
Howl’s Moving Castle
Shatter Me
A Wrinkle in Time
The Lightning Thief
Doll Bones
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
The Golden Compass
Harriet the Spy
Bridge to Terabitha
The Hobbit
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Go ahead! Give it a whirl in the comments. Do a completely different book if you want.
Have you heard of these books—did you recognize them even without the authors listed?
Can you summarize your OWN books you’ve written in just five words?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

CROW'S REST book blitz!

Today I’m part of the CROW’S REST blog blitz and giveaway, celebrating Angelica R. Jackson’s YA novel!

Avery Flynn arrives for a visit at her Uncle Tam's, eager to rekindle her summertime romance with her crush-next-door, Daniel.

But Daniel’s not the sweet, neurotic guy she remembers—and she wonders if this is her Daniel at all. Or if someone—some thing—has taken his place.

Her quest to find the real Daniel and get him back plunges Avery into a world of Fae and changelings, where creatures swap bodies like humans change their socks, and magic lives much closer to home than she ever imagined.

Add to Goodreads
Buy Links: Amazon  Barnes & Noble  |  Kobo Books 

Check it out! Crow's Rest is on sale for $0.99 through July 31!

ARJ’s Top Ten Urban Fantasy Influences
1. The Borderland series, which starts with an anthology of the same name edited by Terri Windling, and moves on to some novel-length works like Elsewhere by Will Shetterly. It may have actually established the "collision of the strange and the everyday" definition in my mind.
2. Ariel by Steven R. Boyett is a cult favorite from 1983, which takes place in a post-Apocalyptic landscape--where the Apocalypse was caused by technology failing and magic returning to our world.
3. Books by Charles de Lint, who made Urban Fantasy popular with his Newford stories. I recommend starting with Little (Grrl) Lost for the younger YA set, or Svaha for older readers.
4. Faerie Tale by Raymond E. Fiest is a great example of UF that straddles the line into horror.
5. The Craft Sequence by Max Gladstone, which starts with Three Parts Dead, is a great example of what makes UF so hard to compartmentalize--this fantasy novel takes place in an urban environment where the natural laws on the existence of magic are completely different from our world, and yet aspects of the city and its denizens still seem so universal and relatable.
6. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black can stand in for the vampire books that are sometimes labeled "paranormal" (with or without "romance" added to it), sometimes fantasy, but in my mind are UF.
7. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor is another that fits the above description (but not with vampires).
8. Gail Carriger's YA Finishing School series, which begins with Etiquette and Espionage, is another world that could equally be described as steampunk or UF. 
9. Cassandra Clare's books, especially her Infernal Devices series, also straddles that steampunk/UF/paranormal line.
10. Christopher Moore’s books, which are shelved in general fiction in most bookstores, although they have elements of magical realism, urban fantasy, fantasy, mythology, and horror to various degrees. My favorite is his A Dirty Job, and there’s a sequel to it coming out in August.

About the Author:
In keeping with her scattered Gemini nature, Angelica R. Jackson has far too many interests to list here. She has an obsession with creating more writing nooks in the home she shares with her husband and two corpulent cats in California's Gold Country. Fortunately, the writing nooks serve for reading and cat cuddling too.

Other pastimes include cooking for food allergies (not necessarily by choice, but she’s come to terms with it), photography, and volunteering at a local no-kill sanctuary.

She blogs at Angelic Muse, and is a contributing member of Operation Awesome and the Fearless Fifteeners.

Author Links: Website  Goodreads  Twitter  Facebook   

I whipped on over and got my 99-cent copy of CROW'S about you? 
How many of Angelica'sTop 10 urban fantasy novels have you read? I've just read TWO, #6 and #7.

Book Tour Organized by: YA Bound Book Tours

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Book Launch Prep 101

Now that I’ve reached 55 days prior to the release launch of my debut YA sci-fi novel, THE BODY INSTITUTE, I’m a busy little chicken. If you haven’t already experienced this, here’s a checklist of Stuff You Can Do to help you prepare for launch day, compiled from various sources. These are roughly in order of 6-8 months out, to the actual book birthday.

Banner printed at Vistaprint for signings; image used for Twitter/FB headers

1.  Make an author website. This is a must. Readers, bookstores, etc. will want to check out your online presence. You don’t have to spend a lot; my site is simply Blogger, refashioned into a website. Cost: roughly $12/year for GoDaddy hosting.
2. Get good-quality author photos taken. Also a must. Everyone wants to see your face to connect a real person to your name—NOT the cover of your book.
3. Write up a marketing plan. What will you do in what month? Sketch it out so you have an idea of your game plan ahead of time. Consider holiday tie-ins or work-arounds.
4. Join and participate in various social media sites. Check out Twitter or secure a Facebook author page. Instagram, Tumblr, Goodreads, and Pinterest are also ways to connect (hint: see followers as people to interact with, not potential buyers). Learning to navigate these sites is easier if you aren’t under a time crunch; join early and build friendships/followers.
5. Make crucial connections. Scope out: potential reviewers, published authors to request blurbs from, and blog tour sites. Get to know your local librarians, teachers, and bookstore personnel for potential speaking opportunities. 
6. Reveal the cover of your book. Your publisher may have a hand in this, or you may need to organize a reveal tour with your blogging and writer friends. 
7. Design promo materials, and research sites to purchase them from (,,,, etc). This can include postcards, bookmarks, business cards, flyers, banners, personalized book bags and mugs, t-shirts, pins, and pens. Hire someone or ask a friend if you don’t feel qualified to design these. Include your book title, cover photo, ISBN, release date, website URL, and your name.
8. Plan your launch event. Where do you want it held? Do you want a full-blown party with catered food? More low-key with just drinks and cookies? Consider display, too—you might consider a stand to ensure at least one of your books is presented vertical, to catch people’s eyes. You may need a folding table and chair, a drape to cover the table, a bowl of candy, or a vase of real or silk flowers. Many bookstores work 4-5 months ahead, so book your event as soon as possible.
9. Consider creating a newsletter. Interested people can sign up on your website or other social media. This lets them know of upcoming sales, giveaways, promos, and events. You can also begin collecting people’s email addresses for a contact list—people who want updates, or friends who want to help promote.

Glossy 2x6 bookmarks from
10. Draft Facebook updates, Tweets, and other shout-outs ahead of time. Include purchase or website links, catchy phrases, review snippets.
11. Compose guest and interview posts; record radio podcasts or videos. These don’t all have to occur on the actual day of your launch. Content ideas: character interviews, publishing journey info, fun facts, bonus scenes, related nonfiction ideas or book themes, etc.
12. Make a book trailer if you wish. Your publisher often does this (mine does). You can post this on youtube, your website, or share on Twitter/Facebook/other social media.
13. Organize a book launch tour, plan giveaways. Your publisher might help you with this (mine did). Goodreads offers giveaway opportunities, as do many review blog sites.
14. Send out ARCs, or Advanced Release Copies. Your publisher may do this for you. These are usually sent to high-profile book bloggers or reviewers, and trade reviewers like Kirkus. ARCs can also be used as giveaway and contest items.
15. Send out postcards to libraries, groups, and book stores. Introduce yourself with a hand-written note, inviting them to consider your book. If you wish, offer yourself as available for events or to sign their stock of books when you’re in the area.
16. Start inviting people to your events. This includes online Facebook “parties,” bookstore signings, book festivals, and library or book club appearances.
17. On your book’s birthday, send out those Tweets, Facebook updates, Tumblr photos, etc. Engage and have fun.
18. Continue the promo. Enjoy the launch parties, attend signings, make connections, offer giveaways, and keep your eyes open for further fun opportunities to showcase your book!

If you’ve already had a book published, can you add any helpful thing to this list?
Do you have a book coming out soon, and if so—how ready are you with prep/marketing?
If pre-published, what are some of the things you’ve already done to establish yourself as a writer, and get your online presence or platform in place?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

12 QUOTES for Writers

Here are 12 quotes about writing that give me great food for thought.

A book is simply the container of an idea—like a bottle; what is inside the book is what matters.   
Angela Carter

I don’t believe in being serious about anything. I think life is too serious to be taken seriously.     —Ray Bradbury

If you have other things in your life—family, friends, good productive day-work—these can interact with your writing and the sum will be all the richer.     —David Brin

Writing is something you do alone. Its a profession for introverts who want to tell you a story but don’t want to make eye contact while doing it.    ―John Green

Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.     —E. L. Doctorow

Writing is its own reward.    —Henry Miller

All the words I use in my stories can be found in the dictionary—it’s just a matter of arranging them into the right sentences.     —Somerset Maugham

If you write one story, it may be bad; if you write a hundred, you have the odds in your favor.      —Edgar Rice Burroughs

I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.     —Harper Lee

Write. Rewrite. When not writing or rewriting, read. I know of no shortcuts.
Larry L. King

For your born writer, nothing is so healing as the realization that he has come upon the right word.     —Catherine Drinker Bowen

It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly.     —C. J. Cherryh

Which of these is your favorite, that inspires or resonates with you? 
(I like them all, but I like John Green's the best!)

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Making of Great Books

Recently I attended an Oregon SCBWI conference, and enjoyed listening to Lin Oliver, co-founder and executive director of the SCBWI—and a writer herself. She’s a funny personality with tons of good information. One of her talks was on the making of great middle grade fiction; I’ll touch on some highlights here. The book cover shown here is Lin Oliver's middle grade novel, WHO SHRUNK DANIEL FUNK, first in the series about a boy who gets shrunk to the size of his fourth toe.

Some of these concepts apply to writing novels in general, not just middle grade.

1. The journey. Middle grade often involves leaving home, setting out into the world, having experiences, and then going back home wiser and experienced. (In contrast to YA where the character often does NOT return home, and the goal is independence or separation.)
2. Middle grade, for kids ages 8-12, is the MOST SOUGHT AFTER books. It’s the “bread and butter” of publishing. I didn’t know that, with the focus on YA in recent years.
3. Your “canon.” Make a list of books you like and study it to find out WHY these are your faves. What themes are repeated? Do certain subjects crop up repeatedly? Are they linked by humor, adventure, quirky characters? This will teach you about your OWN voice—because it’s reflected in what you love to read.
4. Common MG themes: adventure, a secret that must be kept, interacting with friends, making sacrifices, rising to a challenge, exploring one’s bravery.
5. Act 1 is the beginning third of a novel. The character’s flaws and vulnerabilities are exposed. Get those characters out of their comfort zone!
6. Act 2 is roughly the middle third of a novel. This involves a testing, which results in failure—there’s no growth if the problems are solved too easily. Problems need to BUILD, with a period of learning before things can be solved.
7. Act 3 is the ending third of a novel. It’s the resolution of the plot as well as the character development. How is he or she different by the end of the book? There doesn’t have to be a happy ending, but a satisfying one…moving forward with hope.
8. Plot. In middle grade, the plot doesn’t have to be complex. It can be linear and simple; kids don’t necessarily care about subplots; they just want to know “what happens next.”
9. BIG excitement and adventures: Kids love to have these!
10. Humor. Kids love it, so include that if you can do it well.
11. Pacing is crucial. New things must be happening on every page—fun things, adventuresome things!
12. Climax. You need a scene that is SO dominant that everything builds toward it. Put all your emotional chips there. The hinging scene where things have to change or else can’t go on. The point of no return. This happens roughly around the end of the second act or the beginning of the third.

Do you have a dominant scene, a point-of-no-return climax, in your novel?
Did you know that middle grade is the “bread and butter” books of publishing?
Do you feel like you can do humor well? Is yours more of a middle grade or young adult or adult flavor of humor?