Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Middle Grade + Sentence Clarity

2015 releases! I'll be a 15er!
How's everyone doing? I'm writing gung-ho on my new middle-grade novel, back into the swing of it after abandoning it for 5 months while I moved from California to Oregon in the fall and did some artwork for my website-programmer brother.

I've read MG novels are generally 20,000-55,000 words. For upper MG like I'm writing, I'm aiming for somewhere around 35-55K. So far I have 36K and am nearing writing the final climax scenes. Should be about right! Anyway, I've been doing that writing instead of *coughcough* stuff like blogposts.

At this rate, I've written half my MG novel in 4 weeks, and will finish the book within another 4. (Helps that it's a shorter novel, though.) My usual speed for rough drafts is 3-4 months. I haven't ever tried NaNo, attempting to cram 50K words into one month of writing. That's a bit TOO fast for me, and I like to have a semblance of a life and sanity while I work.

I was recently excited to find my contracted YA novel, THE BODY INSTITUTE, on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It's available for preorder, and not only that, I discovered it had a release day set for September 1 instead of October 6 like I'd thought! I confirmed that with my editor, and plan to do launch parties and blog tours around September 1, 2015. Woo! I've seen my cover mockup too, people, and I like it!

I caught myself writing a sentence similar to this a few days ago:

Kara bounced and smiled in her high heels.

Not sure about the clarity of this, so I decided to reword it. Someone can BOUNCE in high heels, but can someone SMILE in high heels? I'm thinking not. The "and" sentence structure implies she's doing both in her high heels.

Is this anyone's pet peeve besides mine? Snuck is NOT the past tense of sneak. Sneaked is. I constantly see this word in printed and published books. I'd definitely be okay using it in dialogue—because people really do talk that way—but…the narrative?? Eeek. (Sorry, Grammar Queen peeve, here. Although if you look it up, I suppose you'd find "snuck" is becoming more widely accepted.)

Do you find it difficult to get back into a project after you've been away for a while?
How long does it take YOU to write a rough draft of a novel? (no wrong answer, here)
How do you feel about the word SNUCK? :)

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Order of Written Things

Fishy photo I took in Oregon
Happy New Year 2015! I wish all of you much happiness and productivity in the coming year.

As you may know, Entangled Teen is my new publisher, and my YA sci-fi novel, THE BODY INSTITUTE releases October of this year. (Woo!) I'm currently eyeball-deep working on the first round of revisions with my editor, Stacy Abrams. She made some really great suggestions, and I've been busy making changes since December 11. I've even written about 4 new scenes, which has been really fun. My cover is also being designed—cue nervous excitement!!

When writing or revising, I keep finding myself putting certain actions ahead of other ones, and to the reader, these aren't in the best order. It's a subtle thing sometimes, but it's worth fixing because it can puzzle someone or throw someone out of your story for a moment.

Example 1
"Oh, how thoughtful!" Tara said, grinning at Michael as he sauntered into the restaurant with a bouquet of gorgeous red roses.

Here, we see Tara's reaction, but it's not until the end of the sentence that we know to what she's referring. In a normal progression of time, Michael and the roses would happen first, then Tara's exclamation. It's usually less confusing to the reader—avoiding that momentary "huh?"—if events are described in the actual order they happen.

This is even more important in present tense, where things are unfolding in REAL TIME, as it's happening:

Example 2
Oh. My. Gosh. She's doing it again. Frowning, I watch Mom stir her ice tea and dip the spoon back into the sugar bowl for another dose of sweetener. I so despise lumps in the sugar bowl.

Again, the thoughts and reactions occur before the actions, before the reader knows what the character has seen. It makes more logical sense time-wise to show Mom creating the sugar lumps, then the main character having her internal reaction to it. Even the frown in this case comes before the reader knows what is worth frowning about.

Do you ever find yourself doing this "cart before the horse" kind of sentence structure?
What do you hope to accomplish in 2015—what are your goals?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014


 Today I'm announcing a new book release by my blogger friend, Medeia Sharif! This novel is a Middle Grade historical and fantasy, and sounds very intriguing. It's about Lily, a learning disabled girl, who attempts to unravel the mystery of her abducted mother using supernatural clues from an ancient stranger—even when it means posing a danger to herself.

Learning-disabled Lily desires to prove herself, although her mind freezes when presented with big problems - such as her mother's abduction. With a French father and Egyptian mother, Lily worries that her mother hid her ethnicity from her French in-laws. However, there's something deeper going on. Lily finds a way into an attic that's normally locked and encounters a mysterious, moonlit Egyptian night world. There she finds Khadijah, an ancient stranger who guides her to finding clues about her mother's whereabouts. Lily becomes a sleuth in both the real world and a magical desert, endangering herself as she gets closer to the kidnapper.

The book takes place in 1976. Every host for this book blast is going to post one fun fact for that year. For some of you, this will bring back memories. For younger blog readers, you’ll learn something new.

This blog's FUN FACT: The main character, Lily, loves detective and crime shows like Baretta, Charlie’s Angels, and Kojak.

Find Medeia online– Multi-published YA and MG Author:
Blog   |   Twitter   |   Goodreads   |   Instagram   |   Amazon Author Page

The lovely Medeia herself
Amazon  OmniLit  Barnes & Noble  |  Kobo  Featherweight Press   

I really HAVE to read this, especially since my latest WIP is Middle Grade. Combining research and enjoyable reading at the same time, oh boy!

Do you read much Middle Grade, or have kids who read it? (ages 8-12)
Do you have a difficult time writing around the holidays?! Any words of advice?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

COMPULSON: now released!

The beautiful Martina Boone
Hi all, I've transformed from a California resident to an Oregon one the past few weeks, and I'm pretty much settled in my new home. But boy, am I behind on all things writing-related!

My blogger/writer friend Martina Boone has written a YA Southern Gothic novel that I can't wait to read. It was released October 28, and it's called COMPULSION. As Martina describes it: "Like everything else I write, COMPULSION combines the slightly twisted ordinary with the extraordinary and fantastic. Beneath the veneer of even the happiest of families, there's often something very dangerous. Throw in a curse, a little magic, some jealousy, and centuries of tradition, and it all comes to a boiling point."


Three plantations. Two gifts. One ancient curse.

All her life, Barrie Watson has been a virtual prisoner in the house where she lives with her shut-in mother. When her mother dies, Barrie promises to put some mileage on her stiletto heels. But she finds a new kind of prison at her aunt’s South Carolina plantation instead–a prison guarded by an ancient spirit who long ago cursed one of the three founding families of Watson Island and gave the others magical gifts that became compulsions.

Stuck with the ghosts of a generations-old feud and hunted by forces she cannot see, Barrie must find a way to break free of the family legacy. With the help of sun-kissed Eight Beaufort, who somehow seems to know what Barrie wants before she knows herself, the last Watson heir starts to unravel her family’s twisted secrets. What she finds is dangerous: a love she never expected, a river that turns to fire at midnight, a gorgeous cousin who isn’t what she seems, and very real enemies who want both Eight and Barrie dead.


“Darkly romantic and steeped in Southern Gothic charm, you’ll be compelled to get lost in the Heirs of Watson Island series.”
                          — #1 New York Times Bestselling Author Jennifer L. Armentrout

Some order links:
IndieBound | Barnes & Noble | Amazon | Walmart | Target | Book Depository (free worldwide shipping)

Add COMPULSION to your Goodreads reading list by visiting THIS LINK.

Martina is also the founder of the very popular writing blog: Adventures in YA Publishing. Writing insights galore are featured on this blog, as well as fantastic and frequent book giveaways.

Visit Martina's website and see the trailer for COMPULSION by clicking HERE!
Follow her on Twitter here: @MartinaABoone

Have you heard of Martina's book, or have you purchased it already?
Do you enjoy reading—or writing—books with magical, eerie twists in them?
Three plantations. Two gifts. One ancient curse. Isn't that a great tagline?

Hey. Blogger won't let me shift my images/photos to anywhere lower in my post. Anyone else having this specific technical problem? It's most annoying...

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

ARC Winners + Blog Award

It's time to announce the book winners from the last post! (drumroll please)

The winners of my celebratory "I-Have-A-Book-Contract" giveaway:

1. BLYTHEWOOD: Crystal Collier!
2. CITY OF A THOUSAND DOLLS: Marcy Hatch! (mshatch)
3. A SPARK UNSEEN: Sheri Larsen! (SA Larsen)
4. CROWN OF EMBERS: Amanda Mouras! (amouras)

Congratulations! I'll be contacting the winners and sending out their books, pronto.

NOTE: I won't be posting the first Wednesday of November as per my usual blogging schedule, since I'm moving to Oregon and who knows when I'll get my Internet hooked up. I'll see you on the Other Side, sometime after Oct. 29th. :)

Last month Elizabeth Varaden gave me the Inspiring Blogger Award! Visit her own inspiring blog HERE. Among other things, she posts intriguing posts of her travels abroad, accompanied by fascinating photos. In one of her recent posts, she described eating a spicy octopus dish—fun!

 As per the award, I'm revealing 7 things about myself:

1. I have a degree in Studio Arts from Pacific University, Oregon. I used to do pencil or colored pencil portraits from photographs. Then I got tired of being a "camera," and now I prefer more creative endeavors. I really enjoy doing miniature fabric art, combining bright scraps into pleasing combinations. I've also been designing some graphics for a website my brother is programming.

2. THE BODY INSTITUTE was the 14th book I wrote, after over 350 rejections and 11 years of writing. At least as far as MY journey into the publishing world, persistence (and improving my craft) is the name of the game. I've since written 3-4 more books.

3. I had thyroid cancer when I was 18. Nope, I didn't do chemo or radiation. That was back in 1978 and they just did surgery. No recurrences since, so the only thing that changed is I've been taking thyroid medication for the last few decades.

4. I met Dennis, my current husband, through a Christian dating site. No kidding! Like any online dealings, you definitely have to be careful, but Dennis is definitely a "keeper." 

5. I don't drink coffee, and don't even like the taste. Ew. I also don't like soda/soft drinks—all those irritating little bubbles! So hard to swallow. Give me a nice glass of fruit juice any day. Herbal tea is great in the winter, too.

6. I have two daughters who are almost 26 and 28. Time flies. When they were young, we had fun reading library books, making blanket forts, and making "jewelry people" on the carpet. (The latter being draping necklaces for hair and mouths, using clip-on earrings for eyes, etc.)

7. My eleven-months-older brother and I went to the same university. It was nice having him right across the campus in the guy's dorm, but he was a bit overprotective. One time after visiting him, I remember wandering across the hall with one of his friends into his friend's room, and big brother Lyle came right after us. Maybe he trusted his friend less than I did? Ha.

Do you prefer coffee, or tea? Or do you prefer something entirely different?
Do soft drink bubbles tickle your fancy, or do they perturb you?
How many novels have you written, or is poetry or short stories more your thing?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

I Have a (New) Publisher! + Giveaway

I can announce it at last, since the final T's are crossed and the I's dotted—I've signed a contract with Entangled Teen to publish my science fiction debut, THE BODY INSTITUTE. Woo!

My release date will be fall of 2015, so I can still be a part of the Fearless Fifteeners, a group of authors with books releasing next year. Check out the awesome MG and YA books and their writers on this site, HERE

To celebrate—as well as helping downsize for my upcoming move from California back to Oregon next month—I'm giving away the following ARC books! (advanced reader copies, which means they are uncorrected proofs and may have a few typos)

To enter:
1. Comment below, and mention that you'd like to be entered.
2. If you have a preference which book you want to win, tell me!
3. Enter before midnight PST on October 6, 2014.
4. The winners will be chosen in a random drawing.
5. Winners will be contacted and announced here on October 8, 2014.


BLYTHEWOOD by Carol Goodman
At seventeen, Avaline Hall has already buried her mother, survived a horrific factory fire, and escaped from an insane asylum. Now she’s on her way to Blythewood Academy, the elite boarding school in New York’s mist-shrouded Hudson Valley that her mother attended—and was expelled from. Though she’s afraid her high society classmates won’t accept a factory girl in their midst, Ava is desperate to unravel her family’s murky past, discover the identity of the father she’s never known, and perhaps finally understand her mother’s abrupt suicide. She’s also on the hunt for the identity of the mysterious boy who rescued her from the fire. And she suspects the answers she seeks lie at Blythewood.

But nothing could have prepared her for the dark secret of what Blythewood is, and what its students are being trained to do. Haunted by dreams of a winged boy and pursued by visions of a sinister man who breathes smoke, Ava isn’t sure if she’s losing her mind or getting closer to the truth. And the more rigorously Ava digs into the past, the more dangerous her present becomes.

The girl with no past, and no future, may be the only one who can save their lives.

Nisha was abandoned at the gates of the City of a Thousand Dolls when she was just a little girl. Now sixteen, she lives on the grounds of the isolated estate, where orphan girls apprentice as musicians, healers, courtesans, and, if the rumors are true, assassins. She makes her way as Matron's errand girl, her closest companions the mysterious cats that trail her shadow. Only when she begins a forbidden flirtation with the city's handsome young courier does she let herself imagine a life outside the walls. Until one by one, girls around her start to die.

Before she becomes the next victim, Nisha decides to uncover the secrets that surround the girls' deaths. But by getting involved, Nisha jeopardizes not only her own future in the City of a Thousand Dolls—but also her life.

A SPARK UNSEEN by Sharon Cameron
The thrilling sequel to Sharon Cameron's blockbuster gothic steampunk romance, THE DARK UNWINDING, will captivate readers anew.

When Katharine Tulman wakes in the middle of the night and accidentally foils a kidnapping attempt on her uncle, she realizes Stranwyne Keep is no longer safe for Uncle Tully and his genius inventions. She flees to Paris, where she hopes to remain undetected and also find the mysterious and handsome Lane, who is suspected to be dead.

But the search for Lane is not easy, and Katharine soon finds herself embroiled in a labyrinth of political intrigue. And with unexpected enemies and allies at every turn, Katharine will have to figure out whom she can trust—if anyone—to protect her uncle from danger once and for all.

The second book in Rae Carson's award-winning fantasy trilogy, perfect for fans of Game of Thrones and Kristin Cashore. A seventeen-year-old princess turned war queen faces sorcery, adventure, untold power, and romance as she fulfills her epic destiny.

In THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS, Elisa won the war. She saved her kingdom. But no one prepared her for how hard it is to recover from a battle, or to rule a people who still don't trust her. She's still fighting—against assassination attempts and more—and her enemies lie both outside her court and within it. So Elisa will cross the ocean in search of the perilous, uncharted, and mythical source of the Godstone's power. With her go a one-eyed warrior, a loyal friend, an enemy defector, and the man she is falling in love with.

Have you heard of the Fearless Fifteeners? Check them out on Facebook HERE!
Have you read the steampunk novel, THE DARK UNWINDING?  (the giveaway book is the second in this series)
Have you read the fantasy novel, THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS?  (the giveaway book is the second in this series)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

ADDING TENSION to your writing

On Monday, I met with local writers to hear a mini-workshop given by Erin Lindsay McCabe, author of the historical novel I SHALL BE NEAR TO YOU. Her website is HERE, and her book is described as:

An extraordinary novel about a strong-willed woman who disguises herself as a man in order to fight beside her husband, inspired by the letters of a remarkable female soldier who fought in the Civil War.

In her talk, Erin listed ways to increase tension in our writing—some surprising, as I'd never thought about how some of these things relate to tension.

1. Make a likeable character, one readers will care about. If readers are invested and feel close to a character, every obstacle the character faces will be sensed more keenly, with the interest in their welfare heightened.
2. Make a likeable character, which doesn't mean a wholly "good" character. A wholly good (or evil) character can be flat or stereotypical. Erin described the "good-bad character" and the "bad-good character," one who performs acts of both evil and kindness. These more complex characters amp up tension because they aren't as predictable, and often have conflicting inner desires.
3. The character needs to WANT something. A dream, a goal separate from the action of the story. What's important to the main character? If he/she wants something badly, the roadblocks along the way create more conflict and thus more tension.
4. Make life difficult with confrontation. Don't be too easy on your characters; take them to their limits, their darkest places. Make them experience the worst day of their life. Stretch them and have them make active choices that put them in yet more complex places, full of more difficult choices. Don't give characters what they want!
5. In dialogue, find ways to make characters say No to each other. This wise nugget Erin found in WRITING FICTION by Janet Burroway. If characters are in conflict and at odds with each other, tension is increased. People often don't think the exact same way about issues; show those differences. Make your interchange complicated. Also, make sure the characters aren't saying No to the exact same conflict throughout; explore different angles of that conflict.
6. Pay attention to pacing. When editing, cut scenes that don't further the plot; wandering or slow passages dilute tension. Look for places where your characters aren't talking for a half-page or more. Do you have too much sitting around and thinking? Often you can transform that into dialogue with another character, but be sure to further plot or relationships rather than writing needless talk. Don't have your characters dole out exposition or info dumps: show with actions and blend the details. Also, often tension can be increased by slowing action down. Don't rush important scenes. Explore the emotions and actions (by describing, not Telling) to make the reader FEEL what the character does.
7. Remove filters, phrases such as "she looked" or "I heard" or "he saw." Those words add distance and dilute tension because the writer is reminding the readers they're in someone's head. Just BE in that person's head, and describe the noise or sight without the filter words. Filters also slow scenes down, which again relates to the pacing issue.   

Have you ever thought about how character plays a part in tension?
Do you have any other ways you like to add tension to a scene or story?
Do you enjoy historical fiction, such as Erin McCabe's 19th-century Civil War novel?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Writing Middle Grade

Greetings, fellow Earthlings! I hope you are doing great with life and your writing.

My agent and I developed a better plan for my writing a few weeks ago. Instead of me writing entire novels and then having her decide some weren't marketable (due to being dystopian, not fresh enough, etc.), we decided to have me write sample chapters and run the premises by her FIRST. Seems a no-brainer, but hey. We're on track now.

This strategy also forced me to write a one-sentence pitch line before I started writing the novel—which is very focusing. I have to boil down the essence and ask the crucial question: "What's this story about?" 

My agent also suggested I try my hand at writing a Middle Grade to supplement my usual Young Adult. At first I was like… "Whaaat?" but I was definitely intrigued. She gave me a reading list of MG novels, most of them fantasy, since that's the genre I like to write. I read their first pages on Amazon; that's a great way to do quick research, by the way. I'll read further later.

1. Middle Grade is for kids who are pre-high school. The SCBWI describes MG as a whole as books for 8-12 year olds. My agent suggested I write Upper MG, targeting 7th and 8th graders.
2. MG manuscript lengths are shorter, roughly 30,000-60,000 words—in contrast to 55,000-90,000 for YA. 
3. Chapters for MG novels are also shorter. 5-8 pages vs. 8-12.
4. White space is the MG reader's friend. When some kids open a book, if they see solid blocks of paragraphs instead of friendly white space (around dialogue or shorter paragraphs), they often put the book back down. It's intimidating.
5. Chapters are more often titled in MG. But chapter titles shouldn't give too much away. Be vague but intriguing.  
6. Most MG books are written in third person, past tense. At least for fantasy, because this allows for multiple points of view to reveal everything going on in the story. I checked out 12 novels; 8 were written in third/past. The remaining 4 were first person, with 2 of those past tense and 2 present tense. The choice of which to use depends on what works for each story. I ended up settling on first person, past tense, for mine. It's the minority, but it felt "right."
7. Most MG readers don't like long-winded passages of description. Descriptions need to be spare, or trickled throughout the narrative. Upper MG is more lenient, though.
8. There are more vocabulary restraints with MG. With YA, anything goes (as long as it doesn't sound stilted or overly intellectual). I'm constantly having to weigh my words and decide if it's the right vocabulary for the MG reader as well as for my main character.
9. MG books often start right off with action. This catches a young reader's interest. The pace is also brisk throughout, to keep that interest. Adventure tales work well. 
10. The MG focus is more on friendships rather than romance. If there is romance, it's light, and at the most involve a kiss. No sex; that's a topic reserved for Young Adult.

I'm now 6 chapters (12K words) into my new MG novel. My agent approved my first chapter and pitch line, and said to keep going. I'm having fun! Isn't that what writing is all about?  

Have you ever tried your hand at writing a Middle Grade novel?
Have you read many Middle Grade books, or do your children read them?
Any additional tips or comments you'd like to share about writing MG?