Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Saturday Slash

Meet my Hatchet of Death (or, some other colorful description RC Lewis and I come up with at any given moment). This is how I edit myself, it is how I edit others. If you think you want to play with me and my hatchet, shoot us an email.

We all know the first line of a query is your "hook." I call the last line the "sinker." You want it to punch them in the face, in a nice, friendly kind of way that makes them unable to forget you after having read the 300 other queries in their inbox.

If you're looking for query advice, but are slightly intimidated by my claws, blade, or just my rolling googly-eyes, check out the query critique boards over at AgentQueryConnect. This is where I got my start, with advice from people smarter than me. Don't be afraid to ask for help with the most critical first step of your writing journey - the query. My comments appear in green.

A vampire, a fae prince and a mutant werewolf enter the bar. You may know the joke. This is a really different approach to a hook, and I think I like it. That's going to be highly subjective though.

But Claire doesn’t. Not when she travels through the States no one within the US calls it "the States." If you're sending to American agents you might want to rephrase with nothing but a suitcase of clothes and the memories from Chicago haunting her steps. Then, circumstances lead her to take the job of a doorkeeper to a mansion outside a small town, somewhere between Virginia and North Carolina. Technically, there's nothing between VA and NC so the mansion is either in one or the other.

And the mansion’s residents? There is Todd, the vampire who likes a good J.R. Ward book and marshmallows in his cup of blood. He likes to banter, a lot, with Elfas, the Fae Prince from the second floor who likes books by Karen Marie Moning and drinks lots of tea. Which comes from human waste. BLARGH. Holy crap I'm imagining his breath. Other than that, the literary allusions might be a little heavy here. Do all supernatural creatures read novels in their leisure time?

And there’s Jericho, the werewolf of the third floor who likes cooking and woodcarving. For him everything would be better if he wasn’t born in his wolf form and didn’t dread the moment the full moon touches him every month. Making a note here that this is the only creature for whom you have given an insight into their feelings rather than their preferred snack or reading material.

Claire also has to consider the cursed willow tree by the garden, as (and?) also the gargoyle named Fred who comes to life every night and guards the skies. Consider it in what way? She already took the job, right? The job couldn’t be worse, right?

Then a witch, named Mina appears, claiming that the curse around the house and the residents is failing. She is the only one who can save them and free them from the confines of the house. Or else, she’ll die losing her powers. Wait, I'm confused - the curse keeps them inside the house, so that sounds like a bad thing (curses generally are, right?) So if it's failing, why do they need saved and freed? And I'm confused about the tie between her powers and the curse.

Claire will have to work along with three creatures of pop culture and myth, help the witch break the spell and stop her growing feelings for Jericho. When her past from Chicago catches up with her? Well, things will become complicated for everyone.

THE OUTCASTS is a stand-alone Young Adult, Paranormal Romance of 67.323 words. It will appeal to readers of Rachel Hawkins, Julie Kagawa and Claudia Gray.

I’m a graduate student of History and Archaeology and I have participated in short story contests hosted by REUTS Publications. Two of my short stories will be published in the forthcoming anthology "Not-So-Local Legends of Triumph & Terror" by the same Publishing House. The first trilogy I’ve written is also published on Tapas.

I have also been a blogger/reviewer since 2013 with wide reading range of almost all genres, so I have a great deal of knowledge of the Young Adult market. I live in Greece and write novels in the genres of sci-fi, paranormal, romance and fantasy. The full manuscript of THE OUTCASTS is available upon request.

Good bio.

Right now what this query is doing is giving us the setting, but not much else in terms of plot. You hint at the beginning and the end that Chicago and things that went on there are going to be an element, but I don't know what happened there, or how it will tie into anything at all. Don't be coy in the query - things need to be laid out here.

Also, you say right away that Claire doesn't have a foot in the supernatural world, but she picks up this job and there's no reference whatsoever about her feelings or reactions to this new world. Is she scared? Shocked? Intrigued? Is she staying only because she doesn't have other options at first? It's clear at the end that she's all in - possibly for romantic reasons - but we need to know more about her initial reactions, and cause for remaining.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: THE DAZZLING HEIGHTS by Katharine McGee

New York City, 2118. A glittering vision of the future, where anything is possible – if you want it enough.

Manhattan is home to a thousand-story supertower, a beacon of futuristic glamour and high-tech luxury… and to millions of people living scandalous, secretive lives.

Leda is haunted by nightmares of what happened on the worst night of her life. She’s afraid the truth will get out – which is why she hires Watt, her very own hacker, to keep an eye on all of the witnesses for her. But what happens when their business relationship turns personal?

When Rylin receives a scholarship to an elite upper-floor school, her life transforms overnight. But being here also means seeing the boy she loves: the one whose heart she broke, and who broke hers in return.

Avery is grappling with the reality of her forbidden romance – is there anywhere in the world that’s safe for them to be together?

And then there’s Calliope, the mysterious, bohemian beauty who’s arrived in New York with a devious goal in mind – and too many secrets to count.

Here in the Tower, no one is safe – because someone is watching their every move, someone with revenge in mind. After all, in a world of such dazzling heights, you’re always only one step away from a devastating fall…

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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Wednesday WOLF

I've got a collection of random information in my brain that makes me an awesome Trivial Pursuit partner, but is completely useless when it comes to real world application. Like say, job applications. I thought I'd share some of this random crap with you in the form of another acronym-ific series. I give you - Word Origins from Left Field - that's right, the WOLF. Er... ignore the fact that the "from" doesn't fit.

Dowager means a woman who holds the property and/or title of her deceased husband. The word comes from the Middle French douage, meaning a woman's marriage-portion.

It's not a huge hop, skip, or jump to see how the word dowry comes into play, then, is it?

And while it does indeed make one sound rather grand to use the word in reference to oneself, there's also the rather unfortunate (though, I assume, outdated) reference to dowager's hump, which is an outward curvature of the upper back due to osteoporosis.

I'll just take the money and title, please.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

AMONG THE RED STARS Author Gwen C. Katz On Illustrated YA Covers

I love talking to authors. Our experiences are so similar, yet so very different, that every one of us has a new story to share. Everyone says that the moment you get your cover it really hits you - you're an author. The cover is your story - and you - packaged for the world. So the process of the cover reveal can be slightly panic inducing. Does it fit your story? Is it what you hoped? Will it sell? With this in mind I put together the CRAP (Cover Reveal Anxiety Phase) Interview.

Today's guest for the CRAP is Gwen Kacz, writer, artist, game designer, part-time mad scientist (retired). Her debut novel, AMONG THE RED STARS, releases October 3rd from HarperTeen.


World War Two has shattered Valka’s homeland of Russia, and Valka is determined to help the effort. She knows her skills as a pilot rival the best of the men, so when an all-female aviation group forms, Valka is the first to sign up.

Flying has always meant freedom and exhilaration for Valka, but dropping bombs on German soldiers from a fragile canvas biplane is no joyride. The war is taking its toll on everyone, including the boy Valka grew up with, who is fighting for his life on the front lines. 

As the war intensifies and those around her fall, Valka must decide how much she is willing to risk to defend the skies she once called home.

Inspired by the true story of the airwomen the Nazis called Night Witches, Gwen C. Katz weaves a tale of strength and sacrifice, learning to fight for yourself, and the perils of a world at war. 

Did you have any pre-conceived notions about what you wanted your cover to look like?


I'm an artist myself, so I actually made a couple of mock covers just for fun while I was writing AMONG THE RED STARS.


Not totally amateurish, but it clearly needs work. It's too low-contrast, and it's obvious that I'm working with preexisting artwork that wasn't designed to fit the space. Also, artwork that looked great on my DeviantArt account was not necessarily cover quality. Later on I made a second one.



This one is nice and clean, but it doesn't communicate the basic information that this is a YA book about girls. No one would be able to tell what this book is about or who it's for based on this cover. Clearly I needed a professional designer.

How far in advance from your pub date did you start talking covers with your house?

About a year in advance, I think.

Did you have any input on your cover?

I was amazed at how much input I got! The designer actually emailed me to ask for photos of the planes and uniforms, so not only does it look amazing, it's all historically accurate, too.

One of my requests was that if Valka was on the cover, she should be facing forward. A lot of YA covers feature girls looking back over their shoulders, a pose that looks vulnerable and powerless. I wanted Valka to look like she was in control. I love the assertive pose she has on my cover!

How was your cover revealed to you?

I just got it in an email. There was some back and forth with tweaks, but the final cover is still very close to the original draft.

Was there an official "cover reveal" date for your art?

Yeah, I did a cover reveal on YA Books Central and it went great!

How far in advance of the reveal date were you aware of what your cover would look like?

It was a process, but I think we'd gotten the final draft nailed down about a month ahead.

Was it hard to keep it to yourself before the official release?

Of course! The cover reveal is really your first big book news after the deal announcement, so it's a very exciting moment. It was hard to be patient!

What surprised you most about the process?

I was completely surprised that they went with an illustrated cover. I love illustrated covers, but you really only see them in middle grade these days; YA usually goes for photo covers instead. So I didn't even ask for an illustrated cover. I was thrilled when that was what I got!

Any advice to other debut authors about how to handle cover art anxiety?

Remember that everyone involved wants to give your book the most amazing cover possible!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Join Me For An Online Character MasterClass!

Tonight I'll be joining the Wattpad4 lineup of authors doing master classes through a Google chat. I'll be live TONIGHT at 8PM Eastern on this channel!

I promise to wash my hair, and stuff.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: JANE UNLIMITED by Kristin Cashore

Jane has lived an ordinary life, raised by her aunt Magnolia—an adjunct professor and deep sea photographer. Jane counted on Magnolia to make the world feel expansive and to turn life into an adventure. But Aunt Magnolia was lost a few months ago in Antarctica on one of her expeditions.

Now, with no direction, a year out of high school, and obsessed with making umbrellas that look like her own dreams (but mostly just mourning her aunt), she is easily swept away by Kiran Thrash—a glamorous, capricious acquaintance who shows up and asks Jane to accompany her to a gala at her family's island mansion called Tu Reviens.

Jane remembers her aunt telling her: "If anyone ever invites to you to Tu Reviens, promise me that you'll go." With nothing but a trunkful of umbrella parts to her name, Jane ventures out to the Thrash estate. Then her story takes a turn, or rather, five turns. What Jane doesn't know is that Tu Reviens will offer her choices that can ultimately determine the course of her untethered life. But at Tu Reviens, every choice comes with a reward, or a price.

Want to help me with mailing costs? I do giveaways at least once week, sometimes more. It can add up. If you feel so inclined as to donate a little to defray my mailing costs, it would be much appreciated! Donating has no impact on your chances of winning.

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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Kes Trester On The Cover Process

I love talking to authors. Our experiences are so similar, yet so very different, that every one of us has a new story to share. Everyone says that the moment you get your cover it really hits you - you're an author. The cover is your story - and you - packaged for the world. So the process of the cover reveal can be slightly panic inducing. Does it fit your story? Is it what you hoped? Will it sell? With this in mind I put together the CRAP (Cover Reveal Anxiety Phase) Interview.

Today's guest for the CRAP is Kes Trester, a former feature film development executive, independent film producer, and television commercial producer. In an attempt to raise kids who could actually pick their mom out of a line up, Kes turned to writing full-time. Her contemporary novels for young adults are cinematic, fast-paced, and above all, fun.



Seventeen-year-old Riley Collins has grown up in some of the world’s most dangerous cities, learning political strategies from her ambassador dad and defensive skills from his security chief. The only thing they didn’t prepare her for: life as an American teenager.

After an incident forces her to leave her Pakistani home, Riley is recruited by the State Department to attend Harrington Academy, one of the most elite boarding schools in Connecticut. The catch: she must use her tactical skills to covertly keep an eye on Hayden Frasier, the daughter of a tech billionaire whose new code-breaking spyware has the international intelligence community in an uproar.

Disturbing signs begin to appear that Riley’s assignment wasn’t the walk in the park she’d been promised. Now, Riley must fight for her life and Hayden’s, as those around her reveal themselves to be true friends or the ultimate betrayers.

Did you have any pre-conceived notions about what you wanted your cover to look like?

My book, A DANGEROUS YEAR, is fast-paced and action-packed (think “Alias” meets “Gossip Girl”) so the cover had to convey elements of action and romance. I also wanted colors and a font that were a bit playful, so readers would know this book is fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

How far in advance from your pub date did you start talking covers with your house?

Just after I signed my contract, which was about eighteen months before publication, I sent my publisher ten book covers I liked. I listed what I liked about each one, and even sent headshots of actors/models as visual references for the main characters.

Did you have any input on your cover?

As it turned out, I had a tremendous amount of input. The first two sets of cover mockups were, in my opinion, targeted to the adult fiction market. The Riley Collins series has crossover potential, but Riley is a 17-year-old high school senior. I was concerned about being overlooked by YA readers, and conveyed my reservations to the publisher. To my surprise and delight, they tossed the covers and brought in a new designer.

By the time we settled on the final cover, my publisher had presented me with seven distinctly different choices. Once we decided on the general design, they allowed me to influence color and edit the objects pictured on the cover. It was a long, stressful process, but I’m tremendously happy with the final image. 

How was your cover revealed to you?

Designing the cover was a three-month process with mockups sent at intervals. The “reveal” was the moment I saw the cover revised with my suggestions and realized the designer had nailed it.

Was there an official "cover reveal" date for your art?

The cover turned out so well, Hypable.com offered to do an exclusive cover reveal! 

How far in advance of the reveal date were you aware of what your cover would look like?

The cover was finalized about three weeks prior to the reveal.

Was it hard to keep it to yourself before the official release?

I had shown it to a few trusted friends for input, but I was dying to send it out into the world. It would be the first impression people would get of my book, and it was hard to keep it under wraps!

What surprised you most about the process?

The generosity of my publisher, and the respect I have been shown as a writer. The CEO of the imprint personally communicated with me during the design phase to insure I was satisfied with the direction of the cover.

Any advice to other debut authors about how to handle cover art anxiety?

Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. Carrie Fisher got stuck with the Princess Leia hair buns because she was afraid to tell George Lucas what she really thought. Don’t get stuck with hair buns. Politely and respectfully communicate your opinions. You’ve got nothing to lose.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Where I'll Be This Week!

I've got two events this week!

Tomorrow I will be at the Barnes and Noble in Akron, OH with fellow YA author Lisa Maxwell. Come see us at 7 PM for reading and signing!

On Wednesday, August 9th I will be at the Sandusky Library to talk about the inspiration behind NOT A DROP TO DRINK, as well as my other books. Find me there at 6 PM!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Book Talk & Giveaway: THE SUMMER THAT MELTED EVERYTHING by Tiffany McDaniel

Fielding Bliss has never forgotten the summer of 1984: the year a heat wave scorched Breathed, Ohio. The year he became friends with the devil.

Sal seems to appear out of nowhere - a bruised and tattered thirteen-year-old boy claiming to be the devil himself answering an invitation. Fielding Bliss, the son of a local prosecutor, brings him home where he's welcomed into the Bliss family, assuming he's a runaway from a nearby farm town.

When word spreads that the devil has come to Breathed, not everyone is happy to welcome this self-proclaimed fallen angel. Murmurs follow him and tensions rise, along with the temperature as an unbearable heat wave rolls into town right along with him. As strange accidents start to occur, riled by the feverish heat, some in the town start to believe that Sal is exactly who he claims to be. While the Bliss family wrestle with their own personal demons, a fanatic drives the town to the brink of a catastrophe that will change this sleepy Ohio backwater forever.

Don't miss my podcast episode featuring Tiffany, where she talks about eleven years of rejection, making sure that human emotion and characters trump the setting, being a female author who prefers to write dark themes, and the cons of using technology in your manuscript.




Want to help me with mailing costs? I do giveaways at least once week, sometimes more. It can add up. If you feel so inclined as to donate a little to defray my mailing costs, it would be much appreciated! Donating has no impact on your chances of winning.

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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Geoffrey Girard On Getting YA Into The Hands Of The Audience

Welcome to the SNOB - Second Novel Ominipresent Blues. Whether you’re under contract or trying to snag another deal, you’re a professional now, with the pressures of a published novelist compounded with the still-present nagging self-doubt of the noobie. How to deal?

Today's guest for the SNOB is fellow Ohioan, Geoffrey Girard, who writes thrillers, historicals, and dark speculative fiction. Simon and Schuster published two Girard novels simultaneously in 2013: CAIN'S BLOOD, a techno thriller, and PROJECT CAIN, a companion novel for teen/YA readers which was nominated for a Bram Stoker award for "Superior Achievement in a Young Adult Novel."

Girard's short fiction has appeared in several best-selling anthologies and magazines, including Writers of the Future (a 2003 winner), Prime Codex, Aoife's Kiss, The Willows, Murky Depths, Apex Horror & Science Fiction Digest, and the Stoker-nominated Dark Faith anthology.

His newest, TRUTHERS, releases today from CarolRhoda!

Is it hard to leave behind the first novel and focus on the second?

By the time the two CAIN books (PROJECT CAIN and CAIN’S BLOOD) were off to the publisher, I was already reading a dozen-plus books about 9/11 and all the conspiracy stuff and noodling over the characters and plot of what would become TRUTHERS. In short order, I had Katie and her dilemma of trying to figure out if dad is truly crazy (claiming she’s not his daughter but, rather, some kind of living proof to the “Inside-Job” 9/11 conspiracy) or if, possibly, he may know something about the truth of what happened that day. So, it was very easy to give myself over to that new world/story. Haven’t read PROJECT CAIN or CAIN’S BLOOD, or even thought about them – beyond promotional activities – since the last draft.

What’s proven fun/interesting, however, is how other people make it hard to leave behind the first novel. Readers and publishers and agents and friends, etc. ALL assume I’m totally into serial killers (the CAIN books are about famous serial killers) and that’s what they want to talk about at book events, or they’ll send me news links and pass on new books to read, etc. But, I haven’t given serial killers a real thought since I turned in those books five years ago. Since then, I’ve written about 9/11, eugenics, Scottish ghosts, WW2, and I’m now working on a nonfiction book set in feudal Japan. There’s other stuff already in my head, replacing the old.

I expect much of this year – the “TRUTHERS Year” – will be spent talking about 9/11 and various conspiracy theories, and while I’ll happily talk about all that with anyone who wants, I’ve secretly already moved on to feudal Japan. To be clear: it’s über cool when forensic psychologists and criminologists or old neighbors of the Dahmer family find me at book fairs and want to talk – that’s why you write! But, when we’re talking, for me, it’s like talking about old high school stories or, maybe, an ex-girlfriend. Fondly, some fun nostalgia, but not what’s driving/challenging me right now.

At what point do you start diverting your energies from promoting your debut to writing / polishing / editing your second?

They happen simultaneously. I’d started writing/editing “next” books in the months leading up to the first books coming out and during the release, etc. Promotional stuff, when it has/had to be done, I mostly do/did at night while watching TV or a quick warmup exercise prior to writing. (For instance, I’m answering these questions for 15 minutes before tackling an outline for a new book I’ve got to get done.) I’ve also hired a virtual assistant to handle a lot of the nuts and bolts part of promotion (events, blog tours, school visits, contests, etc.). Part of what I’ve learned is knowing which “energies” should, or can, be diverted/delegated to others. Writing and editing and research is what I’m most interested in, and where I’m of most value. It’s a win-win. With every new project and experience, writers get a better idea of what they’re good at, what’s important artistically and professionally, etc. That’s different for each of us, and part of the fun is figuring out who you are as an artist/person; what matters to you. For instance, I most prefer school visits or working face-to-face with writers getting started in their career/craft. That’s the teacher in me. Social media, on the other hand, I’m no good at, don’t like, and do only enough to prove I exist in the universe. As for promotion in general, and its worth, I know authors who are simply amazing at it (they do everything you’re “supposed to”) and sell nothing and authors who suck at it and sell a ton. What’s that tell you? In any case, I am looking forward to getting out and talking about TRUTHERS this fall.

Your first book landed an agent and an editor, and hopefully some fans. Who are you writing the second one for? Them, or yourself?

My YA novels, I’m still writing for my own students. PROJECT CAIN is an intro to serial killers. TRUTHERS is an intro to 9/11 and conspiracy theories. I know teens and young adults pretty well (spend most of my waking hours with them as a teacher) and have built a career around being able to make stuff interesting for them – whether my own sons, my students, or when presenting at some other high school or college or book event. That’s my audience. Writing YA fiction, in particular, can be somewhat difficult/frustrating because before you can get these books into the hands of the intended audience (who you’re really writing for), you first have to first get past gatekeepers – agents, editors, publishers, reviewers. All adults. Mostly well-educated “literary type” adults who have ideas about YA fiction that don’t necessarily always match what I’m finding success with 8 hours a day.  [NOT to be confused with librarians, who are fellow teachers and spend all day with young adults also]. I got a lot of “9/11? Too soon!” from many adults, when I was writing for some readers who literally weren’t alive when it happened. My goal was a balanced book that would intro young-adult readers to 9/11 and our escalating conspiracy culture, and it was quite gratifying when Publishers Weekly and the School Library Journal claimed TRUTHERS achieved that. Looking forward to seeing what YA readers think!

Is there a new balance of time management to address once you’re a professional author?

For sure, I’m more focused now. CAIN’S BLOOD took me a year to write. MARY ROSE (a thriller/ghost novel coming out this fall) took four months; and really less than three but I don’t want you to think it was rushed, so we’ll say four. I carved out additional time to write early morning I’d never used before which added 10-14 hours of writing a week. And on top of my usual weekend afternoon writing, I got quite serious at night often, skipping bad TV to head upstairs early and finish a chapter. As noted above, I also brought on some help to take care of the stuff I have no interest in. And THAT, is true time management.

What did you do differently the second time around, with the perspective of a published author?

Not making the mistake of waiting around this time to get the third book moving; or waiting for others to beg me for another book. Do that, and four years can go by in a hurry. When the CAIN books came out, I was like: Cool, well now Simon & Schuster will love my next thriller idea for adults and my next YA idea and I’ll publish there for the next twenty years. Ermm, OR: my agent will quit his agency (putting me in limbo for almost 6 months), both of my editors will move on to other companies (one leaving publishing completely!), the publisher who gave me a huge deal and specifically urged “get that second book done!” departs publishing without warning. Suddenly I was in a room of strangers, including “my” editor who told me she “didn’t like thrillers.” Now, thinking back, it’s funny. Four years ago, I was all: Ohhh, shit…

NY publishing can be a carousel and also super slow at the same time. I recently “made a deal” three months ago – no contract yet, and don’t expect a dime for another 3-4 months; the book won’t come out for two years. To that point, you – and you alone – gotta stay on top of your career and what’s up next. Everyone else is too busy, and moving at a different pace, and there are 10,000 writers ready to take your spot if that’s a problem. So. I’ve now got two books coming out in 2017 – TRUTHERS and this creepy paranormal/suspense novel: MARY ROSE. But am banging the drum almost daily to get the next three, four, five books lined up. The first time, I filled the huge gap of time between books with getting an MFA and putting out my debut short story collection. Which ain’t shabby, but still feel I wasted some creative years. This time out, I’m more focused on lining up the next deal and am borderline obnoxious (very dog-on-a-bone) about it with my agents and publishers. My aim being that a third YA comes out in 2018 or early 2019 – which sounds like ages from now but a mere blink in traditional publishing. Doesn’t mean it’ll happen, but it won’t be for lack of trying on my part.